Sunday, June 26, 2011

F[L]air-minded Reinvention of the Wheel


Your defense of Davies is fair, except that he has other sentences like that. So far as I have read him, I couldn’t say his presentation is even-handed.

Maybe Davies is heavy handed at times. I forget since I usually focus on the good arguments when I read a work, not so much on the bravado, posturing, argumentum ad populum and other logical fallacies. That's because a mixture of good and bad arguments can be used to defend a true position (as well as a false position). Knowing that, it's also useful to be able to indentify bad arguments and logical fallacies.

That such verses can be read as fitting into a doctrine of Trinity is far from saying they teach the doctrine of a Trinity. These verses do present a trio of names, but there are also verses in the New Testament which present a pair of names.

I don't think the Bible EXPLICITLY teaches the doctrine of the Trinity. You won't find the Nicene formulation in the NT. Though, I believe the Bible IMPLICITLY teaches normative or basic Trinitarianism. I believe that just as there was a progression in God's Revelation about His nature and the nature of salvation (i.e. "Progressive Revelation") DURING the days of inscripturation when infallibly inspired and inerrant public universally binding revelation was still BEING given, so there is, I believe, progression or development of doctrine after such public infallible revelation has ceased (e.g. the closing of the canon of Scripture).

By the way, I'm not only a Trinitarian, but also a Calvinist and a Continuationist with respect to the charismatic gifts (as opposed to Cessationist). So, I believe private fallible non-universally binding revelation which is not on par with Biblical authority is still being given by God at times.

Back to my point. Even during the early Church and during the lives of the apostles there was a growing progressive understanding of right doctrine (orthodoxy) and right practice (orthopraxy). For example, Christ intentionally delayed explicitly acknowledging His messiahship publically for most of his ministry till the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem when he more openly claimed to be the Messiah by fulfilling the prophecies in Zech. 9 and Daniel 9 to the exact day that Daniel predicted. Before that time, he let his actions speak for him since his miracles were the signs and seal of his messiahship per OT prophecies. Up until then, most people weren't sure who he was or what he claimed. That's why Jesus had to ask his disciples "Who do men say I am?". It was only then that the disciples fully understood his messianic claims when he praised Peter for having the right answer. In the same way, the Apostolic church grew in it's understanding that the Gentiles were to be included in salvation (Acts 10 and 15). It grew in it's understanding of the application and non-application of the Law (e.g. circumsion, unclean meats, holy days etc. cf. Rom 14; Col. 2 and the entire book of Galatians). Just as it grew in it's understanding of the doctrine of justification.

This doctrinal development both during and (even) after the lives of the apostles continued because the church continued to be exposed to new situations where disputing parties needed to determine which was/is the correct orthodox view on a particular subject. However, now that there are no longer any living Apostles, no post-apostolic doctrinal development or practical decision that might be made can be binding on all Christians as if it were inspired infallible revelation from the lips or pens of the Apostles. In our current situation, where we are without Apostles to make such dogmatic pronouncements, we need to go back to Scripture to determine which view, if any, is most in keeping with the (explicit and implicit) teaching and spirit of Scripture. That's because Scripture is the only sure source available to the church for infallibly inspired, inerrant, revelation. Hence, the principle of Sola Scriptura.

This doctrinal development included questions about who and what Jesus was/is, who and what the Father is, and who and what the Holy Spirit is. These questions weren't immediately pressing on the early apostolic Church because it was originally Jewish. Unlike the Greek philosophic mentality that asks about issues of ontology/metaphysics/being, the Jewish mentality focused primarily/firstly on right practice/conduct/behavior (orthopraxy). Then secondarily on issues of right doctrine (orthodoxy). But as the church was more and more exposed to and challenged by pagan religious and philosophic beliefs, she (the church) was forced to refine its doctrinal understanding to contrast it with error. That's why there are those passages in Colossians and Ephesians about the supremacy of Christ.

1 Cor. 11:19 says,
For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you. (KJV)

For there must be also factions among you, that they that are approved may be made manifest among you. (ASV)

for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. (ESV)

For there must also be factions among you, so that those who are approved may become evident among you. (NASB)

In the history of the Church doctrinal factions and disputes arose that required resolution. 1 Cor. 11:19 is almost prophetic in that way. And it was those factional disputes that helped to uncover who were most faithful to Scripture. They are the ones who fit the description of having been "approved, made manifest, recognized and become evident[ly true]".

In Ephesians chapter 4 Paul says the following,

11 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers,
12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ;
13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.
14 As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming;
15 but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, (NASB)

Notice that verse 13 say, "until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ."

I believe this is prophetic of what will happen and has been happening in the history of the Church. It will probably continue to happen till Christ returns. For example, it took time for doctrines and principles like Sola Scriptura (Scripture as the highest authority), Sola Gratia (salvation by grace alone), Sola Fide (justification by faith alone), Solo Christo (sufficiency of Christ work alone for salvation) to develop and mature.

Trinitarianism is the fruit of that kind of necessary refinement as the church was challeged by various ontological questions. For example: Did Jesus pre-exist his physical birth? Was it a personal or impersonal "existence"? Is Jesus Michael the Archangel? Is Jesus created? Is Jesus a demigod? Is Jesus *half* human and *half* god (or half demigod or half angel)? OR is Jesus *fully* human and *fully* God? Does Jesus have only one nature or two natures? If there's one nature is it a mixture of two (or more) natures? If there are two (or more) natures, are the natures distinct or do the attributes of one affect the attributes of the other(s) and vice versa? Is Jesus one person or two persons? Does Jesus have a human soul? Does Jesus have two wills or one will? While on earth did Jesus only appear human but was actually only spirit and not flesh? Was Jesus only human/flesh? After the resurrection is Jesus now only spirit or now only flesh? If spirit and flesh, what's the nature of his glorified body? Is Jesus the same person as the Father? Was Jesus the Angel of the LORD in the OT? Was Jesus the "Word (debar/memra) of the LORD" in the Old Testament? Is Jesus the first and only direct creation of God the Father through whom he (i.e. the Father) created everything else? Or is Jesus God so that he is not a creature and therefore not created? Did the pre-incarnate Jesus begin to exist in time? Or is his pre-existence eternal? Is God temporally (i.e. everlastingly) eternal or timelessly eternal? What kind of eternality does/did Jesus have if any? Is it only an eternality that's forwards. Or does it go backwards as well? Did Jesus know everything (i.e. omniscient)? Could Jesus sin? Is the Holy Spirit personal or impersonal? Is the Holy Spirit a created creature or God?

All of the above (and more) are questions people who to take the Bible serious will NATURALLY ask and will NATURALLY attempt to answer not only because people are curious by nature, but because they understand that truth is precise, polarizing, and exclusive/discriminating. What are the right answers to these questions? It's not enough to merely say, Jesus is the Messiah and Son of God. Everyone who claims to believe the Bible can parrot those Biblical phrases yet have TOTALLY different meanings and understandings of that scriptural phrase.

That's why doctrine is important and why logic and philosophy has been used to help understand and describe what the Bible teaches both explicitly and implicitly on this subject. Philosophy should take a back seat to theology. Philosophy should be the servant of theology, rather than it's master. So long as philosophy is used in the right way, it can aid in doing theology (e.g. Biblical theology, systematic theology).

If the mere presence of three names in a verse teaches a Trinity, then a presence of two names would present a Binity…and we would have a contradiction in the Scriptures on our hands. Moreover, there are far more NT verses that present a duo than there are that present a trio.

Well, when I was once Arianistic, I also flirted with something like Binitarianism because I used to be influenced by Armstrongism (i.e. Hebert W. Armstrong's theology) 20 years. I don't claim that the presence of 3 names conclusively proves Trinitarianism.
I presented those passages as data which help us to inductively and abductively understand what the correct (i.e. orthodox) teaching is.

I hope you see therefore that the three cited verses just don’t do the work that Trinitarians claim they do.

Well, most knowledgeable Trinitarians don't attempt to proof-text or spoof-text the doctrine of the Trinity. It takes exegetical finesse. It's not just a science, but an art. An art that requires illumination by the Holy Spirit who guides us into all truth. It's an abductive endeavor just like one would make if one were to set forth a case for pre-millennialism or amillennialism or post-millennialism. There is no one verse that teaches all aspects of any one doctrine (whether Christology, eschatology, pneumatology, angelology, demonology, ecclesiology, predestination, etc). We have to piece together all of what Scripture says on a subject in a coherent and non-contradictory way that gives the same emphasis and priority/weight the Bible does to the various Biblical premises and axioms available.

Since I don’t believe in the doctrine of the Trinity, what do I believe? The doctrine of Christ. This is what I believe the Scriptures teach.

I don't know what you mean by "The doctrine of Christ".

For some specifics, let me point you to The Biggest Problem with the Trinity and Six Objections to the Trinity.

I'll deal with those posts of yours at the end of this blog.

One of the difficulties with discussions about Trinitarianism is that it’s a philosophical, not a biblical, construct.

There are aspects of higher level trinitarian theology that are philosphic, abstract and speculative. That's true. But the basics of Trinitarianism can be understood with a minimum amount of philosophy. Leaving aside for the meantime Social Trinitarianism, and Eastern Orthodox Trinitarianism, Latin Trinitarianism only requires an understanding of the distinction between the categories of 1. "being" and 2. "person".

The category of "Being" has to do with having the "stuff" of existence. It has to do with the "WHAT-ness" of something. While the category of "Person" has to do with consciousness. That is, with the "WHO-ness" of something. So, for example, a rock you find at a beach has physical being, but it doesn't have personality. Angels and demons on the other hand are conscious persons even if they don't have physical being (though they do have spiritual being).

Now when it comes to the Trinity, Latin Trinitarians believe God is one "what" and three "whos". That three persons eternally share the one being that is God. We believe that God is ONE in *being* and (at the same time) THREE in *person*. That's not a contradiction.

It would be a contradiction if it was formulated as "God is one in person and three in person." It would also be a contradiction if it was formulated as "God is one in being and three in being."

It can get more philosophic than that if we started talking about substance and subsistence, hypostasis, hypostases, hypostatic union, perichoresis, circumincession, eternal generation, eternal sonship, filioque, subordinationism, eternal procession of the Holy Spirit, is the Father fons deitatis, or fons trinitatis etc. But what I outlined there is the basics of the Trinity and easily understood by most people. I'm personally forced to hold to it because I can't think of any better way to piece together all of the Biblical teaching on the subject. Or find any other better resolution to all of the problems and questions that have been brought up down through history. I don't think it's necessary, practical, wise, or humble to re-invent the wheel. We can learn from those who have gone before us. Both in what they got right and (sometimes even more importantly) from what they got wrong. We have 2000 years of theology to build upon. Unless we got stranded on an island, I don't think God expects us to start from scratch. Having said that, we should also always follow Paul's command to "Test ALL things, and then to HOLD FAST that which is good." That includes the traditional doctrine of the Trinity since Christ warned us not to nullify the Word of God by our [human] traditions.

Mike Gantt said in his blog "The Biggest Problem with the Trinity"

The biggest problem with the concept of trinity is that it obscures the light of Christ.

He who is called the “second” person of the Trinity is taught by the New Testament as coming to have “first place in everything.” (Colossians 1:18)

How does it specifically "obscure the light of Christ". I don't see how it does since Trinitarianism teaches the full deity of Christ. I don't know what you (Mike) believe about Jesus. So, it's difficult to compare and contrast our beliefs. A person who denies the full deity of Christ would argue that the doctrine of the Trinity gives too much honor to Christ by affirming his full deity. Since you're claiming the doctrine of the Trinity takes away from the honor of Christ, I'm guessing you hold to the full deity of Christ. If so, then I would have to ask you what you believe the relationship is between Jesus and the Father. Are they the same person? I can only guess that you possibly hold to a Modalistic understanding of God. If so, then I highly recommend the book "Jesus Only Churches" by E. Calvin Beisner and Alan W. Gomes. It deals with Oneness Theology (AKA Jesus Only theology). Modalism doesn't take serious the distinct personalities of the Trinity. It doesn't adequately explain how God has eternally been love since there's only one person prior to creation. Who was there for the uni-personal God to love from all eternity before creation? Why did Jesus pray when he prayed to God the Father if Jesus IS the Father? How can the Father witness to the Son (John 5:32, 37; 8:18) when it takes two or three witness according to Scripture to verify something? How was the Word "WITH" God as John 1:1 states if the Word was the same person as God? If Jesus is the Father, why didn't he simply say, "I am the Father" or "I AM the Father"? Why his constant reference to the Father as if the Father were some other person? Jesus' statement "...he that hath seen me hath seen the Father" (John 14:9) is not equivalent to "I am the Father." Jesus says in John 6:46 "Not that any man hath seen the Father, save he which is of God, he hath seen the Father."

Mike Gantt said in his blog "Six Objections to the Trinity"

The Trinity concept contends for attention with the New Testament’s focus on Christ (that is, it obscures God’s mystery, Christ, and replaces it with man’s mystery, the Trinity).

Again, I don't know what that means. How does it contend for attention? What do you mean by the Trinity obscuring "God's mystery"? What do you mean by "God's mystery"?

The apostles did not articulate it as it has been articulated by post-apostolic fathers and people today (i.e. it is not explicitly taught in Scripture, that is, not explicitly taught by prophets, apostles or the Lord; and it is an inadequate and unsatisfying explanation of what is taught by them).

I answered this above. I would disagree that it's an unsatisfying explanation of what they taught.

There was not a Binity recognized in the Old Testament even though the Father and Holy Spirit had been revealed. If we should accept a Trinity from the New Testament, there should be a Binity in the Old Testament.

I don't understand why there should have been a Binity in the OT if we're to accept a Trinity in the NT. How does that follow. That seems like a non-sequitur. It seems to me that we would expect a Trinity revealed or at least hinted at in the OT if the NT teaches a Trinity. And that's what I think we do find. There are various passages in the OT that alludes to multiplicity with respect to God. Sometimes triple plurality. I would point to the fact that one of the words for God is "elohim" which is plural. As I've posted elsewhere:

Here are some examples of plurality with respect to God implied in the Old Testament-

Genesis 19:24 "Then the LORD rained brimstone and fire on Sodom and Gomorrah, from the LORD out of the heavens."

This passage suggests that there are two persons with the name [or who share the name of] YHWH. One on earth who had been speaking to Abraham and one in heaven.

Isaiah 54:5: "For your Maker is your husband…" [Literally: makers, husbands.]

Ecclesiastes 12:1: "Remember now you creator…" [Literally: creators.]

Psalm 149:2: "Let Israel rejoice in their Maker." [Literally: makers.]

possibly Job 35:10 too, see John Gill on that verse

Joshua 24:19: "…holy God…" [Literally: holy Gods.]
John Gill says of this verse, "In the Hebrew text it is, 'for the Holy Ones [are] he': which may serve to illustrate and confirm the doctrine of the trinity of, persons in the unity of the divine Essence, or of the three divine holy Persons, holy Father, holy Son, holy Spirit, as the one God..."

Hosea 1:7: "Yet I will have mercy on the house of Judah, will save them by the LORD their God, and will not save them by bow, nor by sword or battle, by horses or horsemen."

Here YHWH speaks about another person as YHWH.

Zechariah 2:8-9: "For thus says the LORD of Hosts: "He sent Me after glory, to the nations which plunder you; for he that touches you touches the apple of His eye. For surely I will shake My hand against them, and they shall become spoil for their servants. Then you will know that the LORD of hosts has sent Me."

This passage could be referring to the prophet (Zechariah) himself, or (possibly) it has YHWH speaking and saying that another person who is YHWH has sent Him (i.e. YHWH).

Isaiah 48:16
" Come near to Me, hear this: I have not spoken in secret from the beginning; From the time that it was, I was there. And now the Lord GOD [YHWH] and His Spirit Have sent Me."

Here's another passage where YHWH is speaking and says that another person whose name is also YHWH and YHWH's Spirit (evidently the Holy Spirit) has sent Him (i.e. YHWH who was speaking).

There are places where God speaking speaks of "Us" as if there's a plurality in the Godhead.

Gen. 1:26 "Then God said, "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness..."

Gen. 3:22 "22 Then the LORD God said, "Behold, the man has become like one of Us..."

Isa. 6:8 "Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying: " Whom shall I send, And who will go for Us?" Then I said, "Here am I! Send me."

Also, I've recently heard the following argument that is based on Hebrew from an episode of the John Ankerberg show I watched on I've posted the link that directly goes to the part in the video where the argument is made (at minute 1, second 13).

In essence it said that there are three ways to say "god" in Hebrew. "EL" (singular), "ELOHIAM" (dual) and "ELOHIM" (three or more). "ELOHIAM" (dual) is never used of God in the Old Testment while "ELOHIM" which means 3 or more is used of God over 2000 times. Ankerberg cites Gesenius' Hebrew Grammar p. 244 which state "[The dual] in Hebrew, however, it is almost exclusively used to denote those objects which naturally occur in pairs." If this argument is true, then that would support (though not prove) the doctrine of the Trinity. However, I'm not sure this argument is true. I need to confirm it since I believe this is the same Gesenius who some claim foisted the anachronistic hoax that pluralis majestiticus (royal plurality of majesty) was a concept known and used by ancient Semitic cultures. This is according to Robert Morey in his book Trinity: Evidence and Issues. Though Morey's scholarship is itself suspect at times (cf. his so-called "scholarship" on Islam).

The Trinity concept defies understanding and logic (How can 3=1?)

That's because the doctrine teaches that God is one (1) in a different sense than God is three (3). As explained above, God is one in the sense of being, and three in the sense of person. That's why it's not a contradiction.

it must simply be accepted without understanding (to say 3 persons in 1 being is dodging the Deuteronomy 6:4 issue with verbal gymnastics).

The word for "one" in Deut. 6:4 is "echad" which allows for "composite unity". The same word is used in Gen. 2:24 - “They [two persons] shall be one [echad] flesh,” or Gen. 1:5 - “the evening and the morning were the first (or one) [echad] day,” or Numbers 13:23 - “one [echad] cluster of grapes.” If the Holy Spirit wanted to indicate that God's unity was absolute oneness, then he could have inspired the use of the Hebrew word "yachid". Even then, Notice what the verse says:

""Hear, O Israel! The LORD [1] is our God [2], the LORD [3] is one!" (NASB) It could also be translated "Here O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD alone!" Or, "Here O Israel, the LORD our God is one LORD!" Regardless of how it's translated, notice that God is mentioned 3 times in this verse which is called "the Shema" (meaning "Hear") by the Jews because it is the centerpiece of their monotheistic creed and theology. Yet, as I noted, God is mentioned 3 times! This might hint at the tri-personal nature of God.

Scripture may instruct us to accept a stated truth that we cannot understand, but there is no reason for us to infer propositions from it that cannot be understood.

Regardless of whether the doctrine of the Trinity is true or not, the doctrine itself can be understood even if it cannot be exhaustively comprehended. I would recommend James Anderson's book "Paradox in Christian Theology: An Analysis of Its Presence, Character and Epistemic Status"

Here's a link to Paul Manata's review of the book:

There are no types, patterns, or analogies for it in Scripture (and perhaps elsewhere either) even though God commonly gives types, patterns, and analogies for those things He wants us to learn.

This isn't so much a good objection to the doctrine of the Trinity, more than an unfufilled expectation. But we have to understand that in the Old Testament God wanted His people to avoid all forms of idolatry. This could include likening God to some analogy. Especially since it would be difficult to find such an analogy since God is sui generis (unique and one of a kind being). If God wanted to indicate that he was singular in every sense (one in person and one in being) then God could have only inspired and only sanctioned the use of the word "el" (the singular generic word for deity) to refer to himself. Yet, God allows himself to be referred to in the plural over 2000 times (2249 times)! Also, various languages have different way to emphasize things. In English we might highlight something, or make it bold, or place an exclamation point at the end of it. In Hebrew, the way to emphasize something was to repeat it. For example, "woe, woe" or "truly, truly". To emphasize something to the superlative degree one would repeat things three times. I find it interesting that God is described as "Holy, Holy, Holy", that is trice Holy, in Isaiah chapter 6. The same chapter that alludes to the multiplicity of God in various other ways. Compare that with Rev. 4:8 "..."Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come." God is often called, "Lord", and "God" and the "Almighty". Yet we have here God being called the "Lord [1] God [2], Almighty [3], who was [1] and who is [2] and who is to come [3]. This too might hint at (not prove) the Triunity of God.

Revelation 22:1 says, "And he shewed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb." Here you have mentioned God [evidentally the Father], the Lamb [clearly a reference to Jesus] and the pure river of the water of life [which is a clear reference to the Holy Spirit]. Compare that verse with John 4:10ff and 7:37ff.

John 7:
37 Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink.
38 "He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, 'From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.'"
39 But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

Isa. 44:3 'For I will pour out water on the thirsty land And streams on the dry ground; I will pour out My Spirit on your offspring And My blessing on your descendants;

It seem to me that Revelation 22:1 strongly hints at the Trinity.

The Trinity concept is an impractical way to relate to a God who wants us to trust, love, and obey Him (i.e. when you’re praying do you pray to your Father or your Lord; or do you just pray to the two of them knowing they will say the same thing, and if they’ll say the same thing, why do you need two of them – why doesn’t one of them do something else while you are praying?)

There are Biblical examples of prayer directed to the Father. Just as there are prayers directed to the Son. Just as there are prayers directed to the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, the New Testament [specifically the post cross/resurrection/ascension epistles] teaching on prayer is prayer TO the Father, THROUGH the [mediatorship of the] Son, BY the [power, presence and accessibility of the] Holy Spirit [who dwells in you and prays through you]. All 6 of the objections made have been addressed hundreds of times by real Trinitarian theologians, pastors, scholars, apologists and philosophers (unlike myself a pseudo-theologian/scholar/apologist/philosopher).

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