William Lane Craig and the Trinity – Part 1

Over the next 2 (or so) posts, I’m going to argue how William Lane Craig’s formulation of the trinity, undoes his own argument (which is a very common argument) for the trinity, thus destroying the need for a formulation of the trinity in the first place.

In his article, A formulation and Defense of the Doctrine of the Trinity, Philosopher/Theologian and Apologist William Lane Craig surveys various theories of the trinity and then gives his own. He starts off, however, with a short argument for the trinity. In this post, I will only, very briefly, go over some of his scriptural arguments, which are made on a very surface level (and thus I will only respond on a very surface level, perhaps on a later post I’ll take up some of them more substantially). I will then summarize his basic argument for the trinity.

He begins with an argument for the highest Christology.

Although many New Testament critics have called into question the historical Jesus’ use of explicit Christological titles, a very strong historical case can be made for Jesus’ self-understanding as the Son of man (a divine-human eschatological figure in Daniel 7) and the unique Son of God (Matt. 11.27; Mk. 13.2; Lk. 20.9-16). Moreover, something of a consensus has emerged among New Testament critics that in his teachings and actions—such as his assertion of personal authority, his revising of the divinely given Mosaic Law, his proclamation of the in-breaking of God’s Reign or Kingdom into history in his person, his performing miracles and exorcisms as signs of the advent of that Kingdom, his Messianic pretensions to restore Israel, and his claim to forgive sins—in all these ways Jesus enunciated an implicit Christology whereby he put himself in God’s place.

So the claim here is that the son of man figure of Daniel 7 and the claim to be the Unique Son of God are claims of the highest Christology, for the purpose of this post I won’t go into rebutting those completely. Needless to say, however, the son of man is presented to Yahweh and is given dominion, glory and kingship by Yahweh, this assumes subordination. Also the Son of God claim in a Roman context is an imperial claim, and in a Jewish context could mean many things, from an angelic title to a royal title, but there is no reason to believe it is a claim to be Yahweh.

As far as revising the divinely given Mosaic Law, all it takes is a quick look into the rabbinic debates of the Mishnah and Gemara, or the Qumran documents, to show that Jesus’ interpretation of the Mosaic Law was not an extra-ordinary claim of authority over the mosaic law, but rather a quite typical rabbinic interpretation and application of the law. He performed miracles and exorcisms, yes, as did many prophets, he also did so to sign the advent of the kingdom, but I don’t see any Christological claim to be deduced from that. Jesus did claim to forgive sins, but he also gave an argument, the argument against his authority to forgive sins was that only God can forgive sins, Jesus said he wanted to show that the son of man can forgive sins … the argument wasn’t that he was God, but that his accusers were wrong in assuming only God could forgive sins.

As far as Gods Kingdom breaking into history in his person, yes, he did claim that, as he was Gods appointed King appointed to bring about the messianic age, again, no Christological claim there, every messianic claimant was saying more or less the same thing (and there were a few of them at the time).

But we get the general point. Dr. Craig is asserting that in the text of the New Testament Jesus is claiming a kind of divinity, if not outright divinity.

Dr. Craig continues:

The New Testament church remained faithful to its heritage of Jewish monotheism in affirming that there is only one God (Mk 12.29; Rom. 3.29-30a; I Cor. 8.4; Jas. 2.19; I Tim. 2.5). In accord with the portrayal of God in the Old Testament (Is. 63.16) and the teaching of Jesus (Mt. 6.9), Christians also conceived of God as Father, a distinct person from Jesus His Son (Mt. 11.27; 26.39; Mk. 1.9-11; Jn. 17.5ff). Indeed, in New Testament usage, “God” (ho theos) typically refers to God the Father (e.g., Gal. 4.4-6).

This is one very important part of the argument. Jews and Christians were monotheists, they only believed in One God, yet according to Dr. Craig’s earlier arguments Jesus claimed to be God.

It’s very important to read the scriptures there, to understand what the monotheistic claim actually was, and get it precise in one’s head. Mark 12:29 was an affirmation by Jesus of the Shema. Romans 3:29-30 is the claim that Yahweh is the God of everyone, not just the Jews, and εἴπερ εἷς ὁ θεὸς … (since he is one …), citing, again, the Shema. 1 Corinthians 8:4 is saying there is no God but one, because there are many other gods, but for us (Christians) there is only one. James 2:29, is affirming the belief that there is one God, 1 Timothy 2:5 is saying there is one God and one Mediator.

Notice that other than the last 2 scriptures, none of them demand a rigid monotheism, denying the existence of any other deities. And the finally one of them designates one God but differentiates him from the mediator (Jesus).

Dr. Craig then points out that the Father is a distinct person from the Son.

Then Dr. Craig goes on to make some more arguments for the highest Christology:

In response to this difficulty the New Testament writers appropriated the word for God’s name (Yahweh) in the Old Testament as it appears in Greek translation in the Septuagint (kyrios = Lord) and called Jesus Lord, applying to him Old Testament proof-texts concerning Yahweh (e.g., Rom. 10.9, 13). Indeed, the confession “Jesus is Lord” was the central confession of the early church (I Cor. 12.3), and they addressed Jesus in prayer as Lord (I Cor. 16.22b). This difference-in-sameness can lead to odd locutions like Paul’s confession “we believe in one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist” (I Cor. 8.6). Furthermore, as this passage intimates, the New Testament church, not content with use of divine nomenclature for Christ, also ascribed to him God’s role as the Creator and Sustainer of all reality apart from God (Col. 1. 15-20; Heb 1.1-3; Jn 1.1-3). In places restraint is thrown to the winds, and Jesus is explicitly affirmed to be (ho)theos (Jn. 1.1, 18; 20.28; Rom. 9.5; Heb. 1.8-12; Tit. 2.13; I Jn. 5.20)

Now here we get the old kyrios confusion we find so often in Trinitarian apologetics. In this post and this one I deal with instances of the kyrios confusion.

Now concerning Romans 10:9, 13, Craig makes the claim that Paul is applying proof texts concerning Yahweh, to Jesus. Now this claim assumes that Romans 13 is identifying Jesus as Yahweh. But if we keep reading to 16, 18, Paul was pointing out that in the past the Jews did not obey the commandment to preach about Yahweh, whereas now that commandment is being accomplished throughout the nations through the word about Jesus, so they are calling on Yahweh through the word about Jesus. A very important distinction is being made. Paul’s argument is basically that Yahweh is being brought to the nations, and it is being done through the declaration of the gospel. Not that Yahweh is Jesus, but rather that Yahweh has exalted Jesus as king and lord over all (in the sense of Psalm 110:1 and 1 Corinthians 15:24-28), and that Gospel is being brought to the nations, thus completing the command to declare the name of Yahweh, which is being done through the gospel about Jesus.

He goes on to list some scriptures ascribing Jesus the role of Creator, which basically requires you ignore the difference between doing something, and having something done through you, there most certainly is a difference.

After all this Dr. Craig makes an argument for the personhood and divinity of the Holy Spirit, an argument which I won’t deal with in this post.

His argument for the trinity is summed up thus:

In short, the New Testament church was sure that only one God existed. But they also believed that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, while personally distinct, all deserved to be called God. The challenge facing the post-apostolic church was how to make sense of these affirmations. How could the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit each be God without there being either three Gods or only one person?

This is the basic form the argument takes. Jesus is called God, the Holy Spirit is called God and the Father is called God, yet there is only one God, and so we must theorize a Trinity.

Now, I do not for one minute Accept Dr. Craig’s exegetical arguments which equate Jesus with Yahweh. But I will grant him this much, Jesus is most certainly called God in the New testament, various forms of “theos” and even some times including the article “ho.” So the last part of the quote prior to the last one I quoted, where Dr. Craig says Jesus is explicitly called “(ho) Theos,” is true, and I agree with him (other than perhaps some of the scriptures he cited in support of the claim, some of which I may go into in a later post).

It is also true that the Father is called God. As for the Holy Spirit, I will lay that aside for now, I don’t believe the Holy Spirit is considered personal in scripture, or described as “God” in a personal sense, but for the sake of argument, I will grant it.

It is also true, that there are verses where it is said that there is only one God, very often saying there is only one God for us, or we should only give sacred service to one God, but sometimes simply saying there is one God, or God is one, or some variation of the sort.

So given that, the problem presented to us is clear, Jesus is God, the Father is God, the Holy Spirit is God, yet there is only one God.

William Lane Craig then implies that the solution is to formulate a Trinitarian theology.

Notice the presuppositions here:

  1. If one is (properly) called God, or has God’s authority, then he must be equated to the one God Yahweh.
  2. There being but one God excludes anyone who is not that One God from being assigned the title of God.
  3. There is a possible distinction between “persons” who are God and the “being” that is God.

Getting those presuppositions clear, is very important, as the argument Dr. Craig makes relies on them. It’s also important for when we go over his formulation of the trinity.

In the rest of his article, he surveys various theories presented of the Trinity, from Gregory of Nicaea, to Thomas Aquinas, and everywhere in between. He then formulates his preferred theory as the best theory of the trinity which fixes the problem of 3 being God but only one God existing.

In the following post (or 2), I will go over Dr. Craig’s preferred theory of the Trinity, and specifically examine the implications it has for the argument he makes for the need to formulate a Trinitarian theory in the first place. My claim is that his formulation of the Trinity, undercuts his need the argument for the Trinity in the first Place.

Read Part 2 here.

William Lane Craig and the Trinity – Part 1

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