Friday, 27 February 2015

Responding to Popular Anti-Trinitarian Arguments

     Clear and effective communication is possible only when those involved define, understand, and employ the same terminology in the same way. We therefore begin with clarifying some key words and concepts.

Definition of Terms:

     Monotheism is the belief in only one God, in contrast to the multiple gods of polytheism (cf. Ex. 20:3; Deut. 4:35, 39; 6:4; 1 Kgs. 8:60; 1 Chron. 17:20; Isa. 43:11; Zech. 14:9; Gal. 3:20; Jas. 2:19; etc.). However, there is significant disagreement among monotheists as to how God is to be understood and explained. Unitarianism is the view that God is a single Person or entity, the concept generally held by orthodox Jews and Muslims. Binitarianism is the idea that the one God is comprised of two divine Persons (the Father and the Son),1 espoused by 7th-day Church of God groups such as the General Conference of the Church of God (7th day), United Church of God, Living Church of God, and a few splinter groups of the Worldwide Church of God. Trinitarianism is the belief that the one unified God is comprised of three divine Persons (the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit)2 and has been considered the orthodox view of most mainline believers throughout church history.
     Seeing that strict unitarianism is very difficult to harmonize with the overall teachings of scripture, it is no surprise that a wide variety of unitarian subgroups have proliferated. Sabellianism, named after the 3rd-century theologian Sabellius,3 is the idea that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all the same Person, espoused by the United Pentecostal Church and various other so-called “Oneness Pentecostals” or “Jesus-Only Pentecostals.” Arianism, named after Arius of Alexandria (ca. 250-336), the first on record to have promoted this view, is the idea that Jesus the Son was created by God the Father and is therefore inferior in essence to the Father. A form of this doctrine is held by religious groups such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, and various Unitarian sects. Socinianism is a view maintaining that Jesus did not exist until he was conceived by the virgin Mary.4 This theological concept is named after the 16th-century Italian theologian Fausto Sozzini (Lat. Faustus Socinus) and was popularized in Poland. Modern-day proponents of this view include the Unitarian Church of Transylvania (also Poland and England), the Christadelphians, and the Church of God General Conference.

Responding to Popular Anti-Trinitarian Arguments:

     1. The word 'trinity' is not in the Bible. Well, the word “Bible” is not in the Bible. Neither are terms such as "monotheism," "incarnation," “omniscience,” "omnipotence," and “providence,” but these words do convey biblical concepts. Irrespective of the descriptive terminology that might be employed for communicative purposes, the question should be whether or not the words convey biblical truth. Perhaps English terms such as Godhead, Divine Nature, Divinity, and Deity are to be preferred.

     2. The concept of trinitarianism is at variance with the biblical doctrine of monotheism. This is a false antithesis. The concept of trinitarianism conflicts with unitarianism but not with monotheism (see definitions above). Monotheism is the belief in only one God, which is a conviction held by both trinitarians and unitarians. The unitarian concept is God as a single entity, while the trinitarian concept is one God (the Divine Nature) consisting of three distinct personages (the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit) in perfect unity. Trinitarianism is not the same as tritheism (belief in three separate gods). Note one of the primary differences in the way in which certain passages of scripture are interpreted by unitarians and trinitarians. When unitarians read about “God,” they are thinking of one Person; when trinitarians read about “God,” they allow the context to determine whether one or more divine Persons are intended. When a unitarian imposes his view of God on the text, and reads it with a misconstrued idea of the trinitarian view, he makes nonsensical arguments like: “How could Jesus be his own father?,” or “Was God speaking to himself?,” etc.

     3. The trinitarian doctrine originated in the 3rd–4th centuries along with other Roman Catholic heresies like transubstantiation, indulgences, maryolatry, etc. This argument is similar to the sabbatarians’ accusation that Roman Catholicism (viz. Constantine) is allegedly responsible for changing the Sabbath to Sunday. It is a smoke-screen diverting attention from the real issue of what the Bible says. What about the history of the unitarian beliefs of sabellianism, arianism, and socinianism? If modern-day advocates of these teachings claim the Bible as the source of their beliefs rather than Sabellius, Arius, or Socinus, it is disingenuous to make shallow and misleading historical claims about the alleged origin of trinitarian beliefs.
--Kevin L. Moore

     1 Some have claimed that the 2nd-century Melito of Sardis held this view, but this is disputed. By the 381 Council of Constantinople, it was a topic of debate and its proponents (a.k.a. “semi-arians”) rejected both arianism and trinitarianism.
     2 This doctrine was affirmed in the 2nd-century writings of Ignatius of Antioch, Justin Martyr, and Theophilus of Antioch, and in the 3rd-century writings of Tertullian of Carthage.
    3 This idea has at times been attributed to Theodotus of Byzantium (ca. 190), but the first on record to have promoted it is Sabellius of Libya (ca. 215-220). He denied the concept of the triune Godhead and maintained that the designations Father, Son, and Holy Spirit merely denote different capacities or manifestations of the same divine being. The 16th-century Spanish Reformer Michael Servetus reaffirmed this teaching (resulting in his execution by Calvinists in Geneva), as did the 18th-century Swedish philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg.
     4 This doctrine was espoused as early as the 4th century by the Pannonian bishop Photinus.

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Friday, 20 February 2015

The Triune Godhead

     While it is not possible for human beings to understand everything about God (Rom. 11:33), we can know some things about him, namely what he has revealed about himself (Deut. 29:29).My purpose here is not to wade into the quagmire of the historical debates between unitarians and trinitarians or dissect and evaluate sabbelianism, modalism, arianism, socinianism, et al. My primary concern in this study is simply, what does the Bible say? 
     In Acts 17:29 “God” is described as to theion, an expression referring to everything that belongs to the nature of God and is variously rendered “the Divine Nature,” “the Godhead,” “the Deity,” “the Divine,” “the Divinity” (cf. Rom. 1:20; Col. 2:9; 2 Pet. 1:2-4). The human equivalent would be “Man” in the sense of “Human Nature,” “Humanity,” or “Mankind.” Just like the word “Man” can be used to describe either an individual (Rom. 5:12) or all persons who comprise humanity (Psa. 8:4), the question is whether or not the word “God” is used in a similar way.
     The Bible clearly affirms that there is only one true God (1 Cor. 8:4; cf. Deut. 4:35, 39; 6:4; Jas. 2:19; Acts 17:23-29), and since God is the Divine Nature, there is only one Divine Nature. Seeing that the word “Man” does not imply that humanity is comprised of a single person, and even though many assume that “God” is a solitary entity, the fundamental question is whether or not the Bible indicates a plurality within the one God.
     In Genesis 1:26 God speaks using plural pronouns: “us,” “our” (cf. 3:22; 11:7). What does this indicate about God? The Hebrew word translated “God” in Gen. 1:1-31; 2:2-22; 3:1-23, etc. is elohim (the plural form of el), found 2,570 times in the Hebrew scriptures. This plural form, in reference to Almighty God, is used with singular verbs and adjectives throughout the Old Testament. Despite the potential confusion generated by this anomaly, God’s complete revelation did not end with Malachi. That which is somewhat ambiguous in the Old Testament is more clearly revealed in the New Testament (cf. Matt. 13:17; Mark 4:22; Acts 17:30; Eph. 3:3-11; 1 Pet. 1:10-12).
     In Matthew 28:19 the plurality within the one God (Divine Nature) is identified as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Since “name” in this verse is singular, a unity among these three is presumed (see also Mark 1:9-11; Rom. 8:9-11; 1 Cor. 12:4-6; 2 Cor. 1:21-22; 13:14; Eph. 4:4-6). While mentioned here collectively, note that elsewhere the Father is acknowledged as “God” (Phil. 2:11),2 Jesus is acknowledged as “God” (John 1:1; 20:28),3 and the Holy Spirit is acknowledged as “God” (Acts 5:3-4).4 Nevertheless, the biblical doctrine of monotheism forbids the conclusion that there are three separate gods and therefore requires a unity of these three divine Persons as one God or a single Divine Nature. In John 17:20-23 a plurality of human persons is depicted as “one,” providing a parallel to the similar concept of a plurality of divine Persons depicted as “one” (see also Gen. 2:24; 11:6; Judg. 6:16; John 10:16, 30; 11:52; 17:11; Acts 17:26; 1 Cor. 12:12).
     In Deuteronomy 6:4 [the monotheistic 'Shema' of Judaism] the word “God” is translated from the plural elohim, so how can the plural elohim be “one”? There are two Hebrew words translated “one” in the Old Testament: (1) yachid = “only, solitary, only one” (Gen. 22:2, 12, 16; Judg. 11:34; Jer. 6:26), never used in reference to deity; and (2) echad = “unite, join together” (Gen. 2:24; 41:1, 5, 25; Deut. 6:4), used in reference to deity and signifying a compound unity.
     WHAT THE DOCTRINE OF THE TRINITY DOES NOT TEACH: (a) there are three separate gods; (b) the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all the same Person; (c) only one of the three, but not the other two, is God. WHAT THE DOCTRINE OF THE TRINITY AFFIRMS: (a) there is only one God; (b) the one God is the Divine Nature consisting of three divine Persons; (c) the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct Persons; (d) the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are each God with the same essence collectively comprising the Divine Nature; (e) while equal in essence, each member of the Godhead has a different role, giving the appearance of a superior to inferior relationship within the Godhead, though the distinction is essentially in function not in nature or substance.5
--Kevin L. Moore

     1 See also Isaiah 55:8-9; Job 9:10; Psalm 147:5; Proverbs 20:24; Philippians 4:7; and Romans 1:19-20; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; Ephesians 3:1-5; John 4:24; 2 Peter 3:16.
     2 See also Malachi 2:10; John 8:41; 1 Corinthians 8:6; Ephesians 4:6.
     3 See also John 5:18; 10:33; Colossians 2:9; Revelation 1:8, 17-18; 22:12-13.
     4 The Holy Spirit is a Person in that he speaks (1 Tm. 4:1; Acts 8:29), teaches (Jn. 14:26), guides (Jn. 16:13), has a mind (Ro. 8:27), has a will (1 Co. 12:11), and can be grieved (Eph. 4:30). He possesses the attributes of God: eternal (Heb. 9:14), omniscient (1 Co. 2:10; Is. 40:13-14), omnipresent (Ps. 139:7-10), creator (Gen. 1:2; Job 26: 13; 33:4), sanctifies (2 Thess. 2:13), gives life (Ro. 8:11), can be blasphemed (Mt. 12:31).
     5 Helpful resources for further study include Loraine Boettner, Studies in Theology (Washington DC: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1985): 79-139; Carl Brumback, God in Three Persons (Cleveland, TN: Pathway, 1959); Billy Lewis and David Lipe, The Lipe-Lewish Debate (Winona, MS: Choate, 1984): 1-52; J. J. Turner and Edward P. Myers, Doctrine of the Godhead (Abilene, TX: Quality Publications, 1985).

Related PostsResponding to Anti-Trinitarian Arguments, Deity of ChristResponding to SabellianismResponding to ArianismResponding to Socinianism

Related articles: Wayne Jackson's Biblical Doctrine of the Godhead; Ben Giselbach's Why the Trinity Matters

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Friday, 13 February 2015

Did Jesus die for “many” or for “all”?

     The Lord Jesus stated that he came “to give his life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28; Mark 10:45)1 and that his blood “is shed for many” (Matthew 26:28; Mark 14:24). The inspired writer of Hebrews also affirmed, “so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many …” (Hebrews 9:28). So did Jesus die only for the sins of some but not for all?
     Note the Jewish context of each of these statements as Jesus, the Hebrews author, and their respective audiences all viewed things from a Jewish perspective in light of the Hebrew scriptures. Each of the above statements appears to be an allusion to the prophetic teaching of Isaiah 53, one of the clearest messianic prophecies in the Old Testament,2 wherein God’s messianic servant prophetically “bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors” (v. 12). In both the Hebrew and Aramaic languages there is no word for “all” in the plural, therefore the Hebrew adjective rab (“many”) functions analogously. The sense is not exclusive ('some instead of all') but rather inclusive ('all in contrast to one'), a common semitic idiom.3
     The nearest equivalent in the Greek New Testament is polloi (plural of polus), simply denoting the large number of something with no implicit exclusionary contrast.4 For example, when the Lord said, “you are of more value than many sparrows” (Luke 12:7), the gist of the word “many” (polloi) here is the vast number of sparrows (= “all”), but it certainly does not imply that there are some sparrows of greater value than the Lord’s disciples. To reason otherwise is to force the terminology beyond its customary usage and original intent.
     Since the Bible is its own best commentary, note comparable affirmations addressed to non-Jewish audiences (unfamiliar with semitic idioms): “For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again” (2 Corinthians 5:14-15).For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time…” (1 Timothy 2:5-6).And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world” (1 John 2:2). See also Romans 5:18; 8:32; 1 John 4:14.
--Kevin L. Moore

     1 All scripture quotations are from the NKJV, with emphasis added in italics.
     2 See Matthew 8:17; Mark 15:28; Luke 22:37; John 12:38; Acts 8:30-35; Romans 10:16; 1 Corinthians 15:3; 1 Peter 2:22, 24; cf. 1 John 3:5; Revelation 5:6.
     3 D. E. Nineham, The Gospel of Saint Mark (New York: Penguin, 1963): 386. Compare Hebrews 2:9 and 9:28.
     4 W. Wilson, Old Testament Word Studies (McLean, VA: MacDonald, n.d.): 268. Note Romans 5:15-19.

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