Robert Bowman’s Anti-Trinitarian Theology Challenge – Part 1

Robert Bowman, in this blog post, challenges anti-Trinitarians, telling them what they need to do in order to defend their position as superior to a Trinitarian view. In his view anti-Trinitarians need to fulfil 5 Demands.

  1. Refute one or more of the essential propositions of the doctrine of the Trinity.

  2. Present a clear alternative.

  3. Identify the religion associated with that alternative.

  4. Show that your alternative theology does not suffer from the defects you claim to find in Trinitarianism.

  5. Demonstrate that your theology explains the full range of biblical information better than the doctrine of the Trinity.

Demand 1 is clearly fair. Demand 2 is not that difficult but unnecessary, it is unnecessary because one could argue that there is no obvious, or clear alternative, but that we know that the trinity is not a possible option. Demand 3 is not really a good demand at all, prior to the reformation there was no Church in the west other than the Catholic Church, that did not make the arguments of the reformers invalid at all. Demands 4 and 5 are fair claims, although for 4 it would be enough to argue that the alternative suffers from less defects.

Starting with his first demand for a non-trinitarian position we can look at his 6 core propositions that he claims form the biblical basis of the trinity, they are as follows:

  1. There is one God (i.e., one proper object of religious devotion).

  2. This one God is a single divine being, called Jehovah or Yahweh in the Old Testament (the LORD).

  3. The Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is God, the LORD.

  4. The Son, Jesus Christ, is God, the LORD.

  5. The Holy Spirit is God, the LORD.

  6. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are each someone distinct from the other two.

For a further outline of those 6 demands Robert Bowman provides us with a more in depth investigation of those 6 propositions.

Proposition one is very slippery one, as we’ve seen before there is a lot of equivocation with words that trinitarians like to use, such as the word “Theos” or the word “Kyrios” or they like to throw in categories like “essence” or “being” and so on which are not found in scripture, but are rather interpretive frameworks place over scripture. Robert Bowman defines God as one proper object of religious devotion. This is a distinction which I don’t think is clear, at what point does devotion become religious? Especially given we are talking about a collection of books all writen before the distinction between secular and religious was invented. So for example in 1 Chronicles 29:20 the assembly bows down and “worships” both Yahweh and the King, in the greek it’s κάμψαντες τὰ γόνατα προσεκύνησαν τῷ κυρίῳ καὶ τῷ βασιλεῖ. προσκυνέω, means obeisance and worship, it is used in conjunction with human beings, patriarchs, people’s friends, as a sign of common respect, but it is also used in connection with gods and Yahweh. In 1 Chronicles 29:20 it seems muddy, this is only because in our time we separate the religious from the political, in the biblical context the king sat on Yahweh’s throne (1 Chronicles 29:23), the Kingship was a holy position, so obeisance to the King was a kind of religious devotion.

So what is the difference between that and worship of idols or “false Gods.” Well clearly the King was appointed by God, and thus devotion to the King was in another sense devotion to God and his order, whereas idols and false Gods were not appointed by God for his divine purpose, and were not subject to God’s rule as the King was.

So in what way is Yahweh unique? It is not enough to say that he is God, there are many Gods, many who can rightly be called God, it is not enough to say that he is the “True God” Unless you properly define what that means, otherwise it’s just semantic. The 3 ways I would argue Yahweh is unique is that he is the creator of all things, Genesis 1:1, and that he is the ultimate ground of what is right and he is the God of history that has a purpose for creation.

Robert Bowman in his argument says that there is none like God “In his essence” and then lists some proof texts. Look through those proof texts, seriously and carefully, look at their contexts, and see what exactly the point is of what those texts are saying. For example look at Psalms 86:8 (One of the texts Robert Bowman lists and a proof text) in context, it’s only 17 verses so I’ll include the whole chapter (from the NRSV):

Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me,
    for I am poor and needy.
Preserve my life, for I am devoted to you;
    save your servant who trusts in you.
You are my God;

be gracious to me, O Lord,
    for to you do I cry all day long.
Gladden the soul of your servant,
    for to you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving,
    abounding in steadfast love to all who call on you.
Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer;
    listen to my cry of supplication.
In the day of my trouble I call on you,
    for you will answer me.

There is none like you among the gods, O Lord,
    nor are there any works like yours.
All the nations you have made shall come
    and bow down before you, O Lord,
    and shall glorify your name.
10 For you are great and do wondrous things;
    you alone are God.
11 Teach me your way, O Lord,
    that I may walk in your truth;
    give me an undivided heart to revere your name.
12 I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart,
    and I will glorify your name forever.
13 For great is your steadfast love toward me;
    you have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.

14 O God, the insolent rise up against me;
    a band of ruffians seeks my life,
    and they do not set you before them.
15 But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious,
    slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.
16 Turn to me and be gracious to me;
    give your strength to your servant;
    save the child of your serving girl.
17 Show me a sign of your favor,
    so that those who hate me may see it and be put to shame,
    because you, Lord, have helped me and comforted me.

It’s a beautiful psalm. What is it saying? Is it giving us some metaphysical description of the category of God? Is it making a statement about some Aristotelian concept of an essence of God? No, not at all. It’s David declaring that for him, there is only one God he turns to, the one he can trust, it’s a Doxology, it’s a divine love song, in the text itself in verse 8 it acknowledges other Gods, but there are none like Yahweh. I can say the same thing about my wife, there are many women out there, but none like her.

Go over the rest of the verses, and you’ll see the context will show that the writer is not making a metaphysical statement about Aristotelian categories, rather he is comparing God to the false Gods, or declaring that God is unique, or is glorifying God.

Robert Bowman next tries to dispense of the idea that other “Gods” can be called gods, by pointing out that the bible calls idols false gods. Fair enough, and very often they are declared as impotent. But does this mean that there are no other Gods that can be rightly called God? No, not at all. He says Daemons are behind the idols, fair enough, but who says Daemons can’t be called gods? Paul clearly describes Satan as the God of this system.

As for the rest he talks about mighty men and tries to argue that they are not really gods. Read the verses he cites, read them in context, are they really making a metaphysical statement? Are they really defining categories?

He talks about Psalm 82, and says they aren’t really gods they are human judges. So what if they are? If the bible calls them gods, then they are rightly in that Category, just as Jesus said in John 10. There are various places in the bible where angels are called Gods, and humans.

Robert Bowman then makes the claim that if angels are called God’s then they are false Gods. Then he cites a bunch of scripture which really only talk about Yahweh’s uniqueness.

Here’s the fundamental error Robert Bowman makes. He assumes that the word “God” is a special category of being, and that this category of being can only be held by equals. So if Yahweh is the most high, and unique, and he is God, that must mean that all those who are also called gods are called god falsely. He also assumes that because idols are sometimes described as false gods, thus anything which is not Yahweh cannot properly be called a god.

These are a priori biases not found in scripture. Moses is said to be “God to Pharaoh” (the original language does not say “As God” it literally says “god to Pharaoh” in both the Hebrew and the Greek in the LXX, unlike what Robert Bowman says, look it up for yourself), not because Moses is now some metaphysical category which puts him at a par with Yahweh. Angels are called gods, and rightly so, not because they are categorically the same as Yahweh. But rather, because god is used as a descriptive term to describe these beings as mighty beings, as powerful, that’s it, no Aristotelian metaphysics necessary.

So when we get to the question of is there only one God, the answer must be, what do you mean by God? If you mean is there only one ultimate creator of everything, sure, there is only Yahweh. If you mean there is only one ultimate source of moral value, yeah, Yahweh’s law is the ultimate law. If you mean is there only one being who is all powerful and will accomplish his purpose, then yeah, its Yahweh. If by “there is only one God” you mean there is only one being who can rightly be described as God, or called God? The answer is obviously no, of course not.

To think otherwise would take the kind of sloppy and silly exegesis we see in Robert Bowman’s usage of Psalms 86, where he pretends scriptures say things they obviously don’t.

Now I’m not going to go verse by verse and show that each verse Robert Bowman is citing actually isn’t saying what he thinks it’s saying. This kind of cheap verse citing to defend a claim without doing any exegesis is terrible apologetics, and really doesn’t get one anywhere. I wish instead of just citing the scriptures he actually exegeted them in context and argued for that exegesis rather than just assuming it, and instead of just assuming the word “God” is some metaphysical category I wish he would have actually argued for it.

So the conclusion of the matter is simply that the statement “there is only one God” taken as a categorical statement is obviously untrue, there are many who are called Gods, but there is only one Most High God and only one creator, there is only one Yahweh.

In the next Post I’ll get into the proposition 4, which is that the son, Jesus Christ is God.

Read Part 2 here

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Robert Bowman’s Anti-Trinitarian Theology Challenge – Part 1

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