The issue here is this; are we monotheists or henotheists? Do we believe that there is only one true God, or one “big G” God and a bunch of “little g” gods? In other words, can we establish absolute monotheism from the Scriptures?
My opponent attempts to refute my position on monotheism by asserting that I’m “ignoring the specific reference in view.” This view being that the gods mentioned are idols. And not just any idol—those “casted, molten, images”. I have a few problems with this approach.
If this were the case, that the only gods in view are the images of idols for that particular period of time, then the Bible would have to be continuously rewritten for every new idol that came along; whether it be Allah, Michael the Archangel, or Michael Jackson. The reason Israel should reject these gods is because they aren’t true gods at all (Galatians 4:8). And if someone comes along two thousand years later proclaiming a new god that can’t correlate directly to the idols referenced in Scripture, then we can’t learn anything at all.
If all YHWH is doing is denying the true divinity of the pagan idols of the time, and not the true divinity or existence of other gods, then the phrase “besides me there is no god” makes no sense. Otherwise, it might as well say, “besides me there is no idol.” But the point is, no idol can be considered a true God.
In Isaiah 43:10, YHWH is not only denying that idols are worthy of worship, He is denying anything in its fullest sense to the category of “the one true God” to anyone except Himself. This makes more sense considering the specific wording of the passage, “before me there was no God formed, and there will be none after Me.” Is Isaiah telling us that there were no idols formed before or after YHWH? The only rational possibility is that YHWH is trying to tell us that no god, idol or true divinity, can be formed before or after God.
Exodus 7:1 and Psalm 82:6 are quoted to portray an apparent contradiction between my interpretation of the Isaiah passages. I’m a bit perplexed as to how this might be considered a contradiction. Exodus 7:1 is referring to Moses as God. Obviously, Moses isn’t divine in any sense. He is simply acting as God’s representative. We could rightly place him into the category of “figurative gods,” which are not divine at all. And because ontology isn’t even an issue here, he doesn’t fit in the category of true or false. The same can be said of Psalm 82:6, which speaks of the judges of Israel who represented God in their judgments. Obviously, they were figurative as well, especially considering the fact that they will “die like men and fall like any of the princes.” (v. 7) So again, ontology isn’t even a question here.
Therefore, I must ask: is my opponent suggesting that Christ is a god in the same way that the sinful judges of Israel were gods? Is he suggesting that theos, as applied to Christ, is not portraying anything in regards to his ontology?
Allow me to address Psalm 8:5 and Hebrews 2:7. Translating the text as “a little lower than God” makes sense and parallels the fact that man was created “in the image of elohim.” (Genesis 1:26-27) This is much more reasonable than saying that man is made a little lower than angels. The question then arises, “why does Hebrews 2:7 say ‘angels’ rather than ‘God?’” As my opponent correctly points out, the author of Hebrews is quoting from the LXX. The fact that the writer of Hebrews quoted the LXX does not imply that the LXX rendering was a literal or word-for-word translation of the Hebrew. This is especially considering the fact that “angels” is certainly not a literal translation of “elohim.” Instead, Hebrews 2:7 is a paraphrase of Psalm 8:5 that gives us a new understanding of it, but doesn’t contradict it.
Let me provide a brief explanation behind this reasoning. Psalm 8 says that mankind (or “son of man”) was made a little lower than God; Hebrews 2 says that the “son of man” was made a little lower than the angels. The psalm speaks of man’s exalted status, while Hebrews speaks of Christ’s temporary humbling (see Phil. 2:5-7). Since angels are lower than God (obviously), and since Christ’s humbled status was that of a man, the Hebrews rendering goes beyond the Psalmist’s portrayal while not contradicting it.
If this explanation is not sufficient, let me provide another. It is possible that Hebrews 2:7 does implicitly understand Psalm 8;5 to be calling angels “gods.” If this were correct, it would not mean that angels were truly gods in the ontological sense. It might then mean that Psalm 8:5 was speaking of man being made just a little lower than the creatures that are so wrongly worshipped by men as gods. And this would place angels in the ontological category of true or false gods; which again, is in reference to their nature as gods. This would fit in the context of Hebrews 2:7, since from Hebrews 1:5 to the end of chapter 2 argues for the superiority of the Son over angels. That is, Hebrews might be taken to imply that even God’s angels can be idolized if they are wrongly exalted or worshipped as gods, which is exactly what happens in Revelation 19 when John wrongly bows down to an angel, who says, “do not do that…worship God.”
This interpretation would also fit Hebrews 1:6, which quotes Psalm 97:7 in saying that all of God’s angels should worship the Son. Psalm 97:7 in Hebrew is a command to the “gods” (or idols) to worship YHWH. Thus, Hebrews 1:6 testifies both to the fact that angels, if they are ontological gods at all (which they aren’t, of course), are false gods, and that Jesus Christ is worshipped by angels as YHWH, the true God.
Next, John 17:3 is raised to conclude that the Father is “the only true God,” and not the Son. This is an argument from silence and not an argument from the text. The text does not say anything in regards to the lesser ontological nature of the Son. Rather, it is a simple affirmation from the Son to the Father in praising Him as “the only true God.” And to see this as denying the deity of Christ, my opponent must assume Unitarianism and refuse to see that “God” can refer to the Father or could also be used generically of the triune God en toto.
Secondly, my opponent must assume that if there is any difference between the Father and the Son, then the Son is not truly deity, which denies that a difference in function does not indicate an ontological inferiority in regards to the Son’s nature. But rather assuming something the Bible doesn’t say, we should read what the text is actually saying: that to have eternal life, one must know both the one true God and Jesus Christ, who was sent by the Father.
But what about the phrase, “the only true God?” Does this mean that Jesus is not the only true God as well? No, for how else would Jesus categorize His Father? Would Jesus deny the deity of the Father by claiming He isn’t the only true God? As the God-man, Jesus shows us how the incarnate God Almighty, who created the universe, would behave and relate to the divine persons (the Father and/or Holy Spirit) who did not enter into human existence. So again, it is only through the assumption of Unitarianism that Jesus couldn’t, in fact, be the only true God along with the Father. They are both the only true God because they share the one divine nature, which is consistent with the Old Testament’s monotheism and the New Testament’s application of theos to Jesus.
If the Father is “the only true God” (granting Unitarianism), then what kind of god is Jesus? The problem comes with my opponent’s application of the word “true” in that he thinks that I’m implying that all gods other that YHWH are false Gods. As I’ve mentioned in my opening statement, this is not the case. When we are speaking of gods ontologically, yes, there is only one God. Period. But when addressing gods figuratively (or representationally, perhaps?), there are many gods—but not in the ontological sense.
There are many more issues I’d like to address, so hopefully I’ll be able to in a future segment.