Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Cross examination (part 2) of the debate: "what does the Bible mean when it calls Jesus 'G/god'?": questions for Mike (Trinitarian position)

This section is the cross-examination where David (non-Trinitarian position) has the opportunity of asking Mike (Trinitarian position) questions. The questioner also has an opportunity to give a 200 word rebuttal at the end of each answer.

1. You have argued from Deutero-Isaiah that Jehovah alone is ontologically a true God, making all others claimed to a position of ontological godship false gods. Those passages find Jehovah speaking by Isaiah who recorded and delivered his words. In Hebrews 1:1 the author speaks of this one who 'spoke by the prophets,' including Isaiah. According to Hebrews this one was only the Father for in verse 2 we learn this one came later to speak by his son Jesus. Thus, as the Father alone is the speaker in Deutero-Isaiah and per your position he claimed to alone be ontologically God, how can Jesus also possess this deity as Jehovah when the Father expressly limits this to himself?

Hebrews 1 is speaking in incarnational language. The Father spoke through the prophets concerning His Son, but has given one final word of Revelation through His Son, who came into the world as a man. In no way does this diminish Christ's deity, for the author goes on to speak of Christ as "the exact representation of His nature," as well as many other divine attributes; things that no creature could posses, no matter how highly exalted. In fact, if Christ is a representation of the Father, he could not be anything other than a poor representation if he is, as you say, a creature. To the contrary, the Scriptures speak of Him as the "exact" representation of the Father. It would make no sense for the author to describe the Son as ontologically inferior to the Father and then go on to describe Him the way He does in chapter 1.

But even if the Father alone is the speaker in the Hebrew Scriptures, this does not refute my position any more than it was the Son, not the Father, who entered into human flesh and accomplished eternal redemption. Your question claims that the "Father expressly limits this to himself," which is true. But it is not true that the Father limits the attribute of deity to Himself to the exclusion of any other divine persons. The text simply states that it was the Father who spoke through the prophets concerning His Son. And to draw from this an ontological inferiority of the Son is to go beyond what the text is saying. I submit that the whole of Hebrews chapter 1 declares the exact opposite; that Jesus Christ is none other than YHWH Himself.

Rebuttal: In reality, as a creature Jesus would be only as poor of a representation of God as he wanted him to be, for to say anything else would limit God’s creative ability. This, however, does not address the point.

According to Hebrews the God who spoke “by the prophets” was the Father, not the Son, for that one more recently spoke by the Son. Thus when we look in the Old Testament whenever it refers to the one who spoke by the prophets it is always the Father. As this is the case any Old Testament reference where God spoke “by the prophets” and limited certain things to himself would make those things limited to the Father, to the exclusion of the Son. Therefore my opponent’s view of Deutero-Isaiah limiting deity to Jehovah ontologically would result in deity being limited to the Father alone, for the Father is the speaker, expressly limiting it to himself.

2. With no ambiguity in Hebrews 1:1, it expressly identifying the Father as the one who spoke “by the prophets,” not merely concerning his son but generally, when we look to Deutero-Isaiah you have maintained that in association with your interpretation of God’s denials there is no conflict with identifying Jesus as a distinct person of God. Yet as the Father says, “I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me? (Isa. 46:9 ASV) can you provide an exegetical basis in this text for the son to be “God” when according to the Father “there is none else” and how is God Jesus like the Father when he says “there is none like me”?

With regards to Hebrews 1:1, my opponent makes the assumption that the text is “not merely concerning his son but generally.” This is an idea that he is importing into the text. But until he provides a Scriptural basis for this position, I have no reason to believe that Hebrews 1:1 is speaking of something other than “He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways. In these last days has spoken to us in His Son?” If further explanation is needed for my position, my answer to question one should be sufficient.

As far as Isaiah 46:9, I am being asked to provide an exegetical basis that this includes the Son as, “God, there no one like Me.” If by “exegetical basis” my opponent is implying that I can only engage this text without the use of outside texts, I simply cannot. Assuming that this is not what my opponent is asking, I’ll provide a brief explanation as to how this text must include the Son.

Although my opponent would disagree, the fact that YHWH claims “I am God, and there is no other, I am God, and there is none like Me,” (46:9, ESV) necessitates that only YHWH can be God ontologically. The following verse answers why this is so, for only God can “declare the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My council shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.’” (46:10, ESV) If angels, or Jesus, can be ontologically identified as theos, Elohim, etc. then “I am God, and there is no other, I am God, and there is none like me,” makes no sense.

Hebrews 1:3 provides a sufficient basis for Jesus being included in Isaiah 46:9 because He is the “exact representation of His nature.” No one could be described in such a way and not be “like me [YHWH].” In other words, if there is none like YHWH, then the author of Hebrews is only confusing the reader by identifying a creature as “the exact representation of His nature.”

Rebuttal: That Hebrews 1 is “speaking generally” is evident based upon the lack of any qualification. It refers to God speaking “to the Fathers by the prophets,” without reference to any one subject, such as the Son. So my preceding claim is based upon what the text says.

I have demonstrated that the context of Deutero-Isaiah references idol gods explicitly and all made into gods by men and even demons implicitly, with no bearing on those made so by Jehovah even if they be such by nature. Jesus is “the exact representation of his being,” but that does not make Jesus comparable to God who is the source of all things in contrast to Jesus whom they only come through (1Cor. 8:6). In fact Jesus solidified the difference between himself as the Father Jehovah more than once (John 5:19, 30).

Here the point is really that in light of Hebrews 1:1-2 demonstrating the speaker in Deutero-Isaiah to be the Father, if we accept my opponent’s interpretation of God’s statements to mean that deity is limited to himself, there is no exegetical basis for find the Son to be an exception. Therefore his interpretation is wrong or the Bible is contradictory.

3. You have suggest that Colossians 1:19 is compatible with the Trinitarian incarnation because "the human nature had to be 'given' a divine nature." To be given something you must by definition lack it. Colossians 1:19 speaks not of the fullness coming to dwell simply in a human nature but "in him." When did Jesus exist as a human and lack deity for it to come to be "in him" and how do you justify your position when the doctrine of the hypostatic union does not allow for Jesus to be identified with the human nature apart from the divine nature, the formed being something that was only added to the latter?

My opponent is correct in pointing out that a particular angle in which to view incarnation involved the human nature being given a divine nature (with careful qualification). But I would feel much more comfortable viewing it as the divine nature being given a human nature. This is fully compatible with Philippians 2:5-7, where Christ is described as existing “in the form of God,” hence possessing a divine nature. Verse 7 describes an “emptying” where He takes the form of a bond-servant and is “given” a human nature. Without going into a full exegesis of the Carmen Cristi, it is my understanding that the passage describes Christ as being both God and man in the incarnation.

With that said, there must be a way of reconciling both Colossians 1:19 and Philippians 2:5-7. As I stated earlier, the incarnation is beyond the grasp of our finite understanding. But however incomprehensible the concept may be, I believe that it can be apprehensible through a careful explanation of the texts.

First, it must be stressed yet again that this “fullness of deity” is defined as “the state of being God” according to Thayer. My opponent has yet to refute this. And I only point this out because if Christ is in possession of “the state of being God,” then He is by definition YHWH Himself! Consequently, even if my explanation is lacking as to how or when the human nature possessed the divine nature, the fact remains that Christ is YHWH.

Lastly, I will attempt to answer my opponent’s question as to how the human nature could be identified apart from the divine nature. And my answer is: it can’t. This confusion might have stemmed from a few statements in an earlier rebuttal:

In order for the incarnation to be possible, God the Son had to enter into human flesh. Therefore, it could be viewed from two different angles.

1. The divine nature had to be “given” a human nature.

2. The human nature had to be “given” a divine nature.

Either way, the divine nature has always remained divine. Therefore, my statement that his “eternally possessed deity was given to Him as a man” remains correct in that Christ never “gave up” His full deity. Instead, He voluntarily gave up some of His divine privileges by “taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.”

Although I am hesitant to agree with point 2, I will be open to it as a possibility since I view the incarnation as an incomprehensible event. However, I feel that my explanation was clear in affirming that the “divine nature has always remained divine.” But I was careful to qualify this by affirming that this “remains correct in that Christ never gave up His full deity.” And if that forces me to retract any implications of “the human nature had to be given a divine nature,” then I have no problem in doing so.

Rebuttal: On the meaning of qeoths I would note that BDAG defines this as “the state of being god [not simply God], divine character/nature, deity, divinity.” Further this reference along with Friberg point out that this is an “abstract noun for qeos.” This and early use generally demonstrate how the term would well apply to Jesus outside of identifying him with Jehovah.

My opponent has proven unable to defend his position for he cannot define a time when Christ lacked the fullness of deity so to have it come “in him.” He suggests that the passage in question must be reconciled with Philippians 2:5-7 as if would be some type of contradiction without doing this. These passages are not contradictory but his interpretation is. From his interpretation of Philippians 2 Christ never lacked deity but only added humanity to himself, but Colossians 1:19 dictates he at one point lacked deity so that God chose for him to have it.

4. Other than your fallacious response as what I see to be poisoning the well by your repeated emphasis of “creature,” your primary objection to worshipping Jesus if he is not God is based upon God’s unwillingness to share his glory with another even though Philippians 2:11 expressly says the worship of Christ is “to the glory of God the Father” and not “from” it. As when the Bible provides a basis for Jesus' worship the only given is the Father’s will and action resulting in it (see John 5:22-23 with the purpose clause seen in "so that" and the same in Philippians 2:10-11 with "because of this" in verse 9, providing the basis for the action resulting in him receiving this), how does this serve as evidence that Jesus is the Almighty when in fact if Jesus were the Almighty these would not be the basis for him receiving this, it instead being his nature and identity which are never given as a basis for it?

Although my opponent argues that the worship of Jesus is “to” God’s glory rather than “from” God’s glory, this does not solve the problem for him (Trinitarians would never insist that the worship of Jesus detracts from the Father’s glory). Instead, it only presents more problems and raises more questions. Allow me to restate why true biblical worship is due to YHWH alone. Although space would not permit for an exhaustive case for my position, I hope the following will suffice.

For you shall not worship any other god, for YHWH, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God. (Exodus 34:14)

This passage presents to us a foundation as to why my opponent’s view cannot be correct. The reason YHWH doesn’t want us to worship anyone but Him is because we would be giving something to other gods that should be due to Him alone. This is why I oppose my opponents view, because he is claiming that worship is not due to YHWH alone. Instead, it is to be given to a created being “to the praise of His glory.” But I submit that this could not be to the praise of YHWH if it is given to someone other than Himself. For if this were the case, then Exodus 34:14, Isaiah 42:8, Deuteronomy 8:19 and others would have no meaning.

My opponent suggests that if Jesus were the Almighty, then His nature and identity would be the basis for it. But I argue that His nature and identity are given as a basis. Hebrews 1 is an excellent example of this.

In Hebrews 1:6, it reads, “And let all the angels of God worship Him.” As I’m sure my opponent would agree, Hebrews 1 is based on the identity of Jesus. He is identified as the “heir of all things, through whom He made the world.” (v.2) He is also identified as the “exact representation of His nature.” (v.3) Thirdly, in verses 10-12, a passage descriptive and unique to YHWH Himself is applied to Jesus (Psalm 102:25-27). Hence, the worship in 1:6 is entirely centered upon Jesus as Almighty since these attributes are specific and unique to YHWH. Therefore, my opponent’s argument that His nature and identity aren’t the basis for the worship is false.

Last, the worship of Jesus “to the glory of God the Father” is completely consistent with the Trinitarian framework, given the fact that the specific worship of one divine person is equivalent to the worship of YHWH since each personage exhausts the divine nature. In the specific case of Philippians 2:10-11, it is to the “glory of God the Father” for a specific purpose. For it was the Father who “exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name.” (Phil. 2:9) But just because this worship is to the Father’s glory, does not mean it isn’t to the Son’s glory as well, since they both share the divine nature. This is why Jesus could say, “Whoever has seen Me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9)

Rebuttal John 5:22-23 and Philippians 2:10-11 both possess a purpose clause. These define the basis for what follows. In John 5 God grants judgment to Christ for the purpose of his honoring. God’s granting this result in Christ’s honoring. This too is seen in Philippians 2:10-11 where Christ’s exaltation is given as the basis for the worship defined.

In contrast to this Hebrews 1:6 provides no explicit basis for the angel’s worshipping Jesus other than God’s command. Here God is commanding the angels to worship Christ, so to say that this requires Jesus to be by nature God is unfounded. I further submit what is noted by a number of scholars, that an inclusio begins in only the final portion of verse 3 (with the allusion to Psalm 110:1) or perhaps 5, ending in 13. As such the focus within is Christ’s exalted position as spoken of throughout, resulting in 1:6 highlighting this and not his nature. My opponent’s submission that this worship is based upon nature is not explicitly defined in the text, derived from only his opinion. John 5 or Philippians 2 define the bass for worship as something other than nature and so this we should accept.

5. You have appealed to Hebrews 1 to provide a basis for Jesus' worship in his nature and identity, but in doing so you have provided nothing more than your personal interpretation of this text in contrast to the explicit basis seen from the specific grammatical structure provide in Philippians 2 and John 5, resulting in an argument on your part that is contradictory to these passages. For your position to be valid you must be able to provide an exegetical basis in agreement with the purpose clause used that would agree with your view that the basis for Jesus' worship is his nature and identity and not the basis I have suggested, so could you please do so?

This question suggests that my interpretation of Hebrews 1 is contradictory to Philippians 2 and John 5 without providing a reasoned argument. Furthermore, he wrongly characterizes my interpretation as “personal” without providing a basis. I’m not sure what “personal” means other than the fact that he might be accusing me of eisegesis. But unless my opponent proves otherwise, my interpretation of Hebrews 1 still stands as a basis for Jesus’ worship in 1:6. Simply stating that this interpretation is contradictory to Philippians 2 and John 5 will not suffice unless he provides a specific reason as to why it is contradictory.

There is another problem with his argument. He states that my interpretation is incorrect because it contradicts to Philippians 2 and John 5. This could just as easily be turned around on him, for his interpretation of Philippians 2 and John 5 could be wrong because it disagrees with Hebrews 1. However, I would not argue this unless I could provide an exegetical comparison of the two (which he has yet to do).

In my answer to my opponents last question, I argued that the worship of Jesus in Hebrews 1:6 is based upon Jesus’ identity and nature. If identifying Jesus as, “the exact representation of His nature” is not dealing with His identity and nature, then I don’t know what is. If my opponent believes otherwise, then he must provide an argument.

I thought I was clear in my answer to the last question in stating that Philippians 2 had a specific context for the worship of Jesus to the Father’s glory. I stated that this was not inconsistent with the Trinitarian position, for the glory of one divine person will always result in the glory of the others since they all share the divine nature. Again, this is why Jesus could say, “if you have seen Me you have seen the Father.” (John 14:9)

In Philippians 2, the worship is to the Father’s glory. But it is also to the glory of Christ, since every tongue will confess that, “Jesus Christ is Lord.” Therefore, both persons are glorified, and there is no reason to think that one receives less worship and glory than the other, for John 5:23 states that we must “honor the Son, just as we honor the Father.”

Similarly to Philippians 2, the basis for this “honoring” is that the Father has given all judgment to the Son. Again, if this is to the Father’s glory, it doesn’t negate the fact that it is to the Son’s glory as well. Furthermore, just because no specific qualifications are made for the Son’s nature as YHWH (unlike Hebrews 1, although not inconsistent with), it can certainly be inferred based upon the fact that we are to honor Him just as we honor the Father. This is completely consistent with Hebrews 1 in identifying Jesus as YHWH, for no created thing could be honored like the Creator if He unless He Himself were the Creator.

Rebuttal: It would seem that my opponent has failed to understand what John 5:22-23 and Philippians 2:10-11 explicitly define. My preceding response further explained this beyond what is given in this question. In light of this my question was not answered. He suggests that my interpretation of John and Philippians could be wrong, but what he terms my “interpretation” is not a theological reading, it is derived from a specific grammatical structure that allows for no other reading.

To suggest that Jesus could not be honored as the Father unless both are Jehovah is to suggest that Jehovah cannot exalt one and allow the worship of that one. God has no such limitation. While passages have been cited to suggest that Jesus could not be so worshipped, such commands preceded God’s exaltation of Christ for the purpose of him receiving this worship. Further suggested is that God would be jealous over what he has cleared articulated a desire for his son to receive (Heb. 1:6). Such is not the case and as it is “to the glory of God” it is not taking anything away from the Father so to make him jealous.

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