Robert Bowman’s Anti-Trinitarian Theology Challenge – Part 2

Continuing with Robert Bowman’s Challenge to anti-Trinitarian theology, I will be dealing with his argument for proposition 4, the proposition that The Son, Jesus Christ, is God, the LORD. In the previous post I introduced the challenge, and gave some thoughts about Robert Bowman’s requirements for anti-Trinitarian theologians, then I addressed the first proposition, the proposition that there is one God, showing that the question cannot be put so simply, and that it assumes the false assumption that the word “god” is a specific category of being. For the sake of brevity and the need to focus on the real divisive issues, I’ll skip propositions 2 and 3 and move right on to proposition 4, since 2 and 3 are propositions I can readily affirm.

Proposition 4 is really 2 propositions, one that Jesus is God, which can mean more than one thing as we saw in the previous post, and two that Jesus is the LORD, that Jesus is Jehovah himself. Both Robert Bowman and myself admit the obvious fact that in various places Jesus is given the title of God, the question is what does that mean, we cannot assume that that title demands that Jesus is Jehovah, because we know in the old testament and the new that other beings who are not God are called Gods, and not just false Gods. Some of these verses are John 1:1, John 1:18, perhaps John 20:28 (but it’s not that clear if Jesus is actually being called God here). Then there are verses where it is claimed Jesus is being called God but in fact, it’s not that clear and in some cases clearly false, for example Acts 20:28, Hebrews 1:8, Titus 2:13, 2 Peter 1:1, 1 John 5:20, Romans 9:5 and so on. The number of verses that are at stake here don’t show anything in favour of anything until we actually look at what they say, the context they are in, and the larger picture. So let’s get into it.

We have John 1:1 of course, as a clue, to what Jesus being called God means. I have written about the grammar of John 1:1 here, and the prologue of John, its structure and its relationship to the Jewish thinking of the time (Wisdom Literature and Philo’s Logos theology) in a 4 part series here, here, here and here. I think those five posts do a decent Job of laying out at least a beginning for an exegesis of the prologue of John. In Robert Bowman’s argument for a Trinitarian reading of John 1:1 he assumes there is only one God, something which we dealt with in the first post, and then argues that the shift from ὁ θεὸς to θεὸς doesn’t imply a shift of meaning, then he appeals to various scriptures. Here’s the problem, all the scriptures he cites, are obviously talking about the same God, the God is introduced and then something is said of him, or God is used in the dative or genitive form in reference to something else and then talked about. John 1:1 is a completely different beast. θεὸς without the article is identified as the Λόγος who is with ὁ θεὸς (τὸν θεόν), so it’s obvious we are talking about two different Things. The difference between the two different type’s of statements is not a difficult concept; we can exemplify it in English.

Let’s take the sentence “I was given a doctor, the doctor treated me,” as opposed to “I was with the doctor, who himself was talking to doctor Bill,” it’s obvious that the first sentence has only one doctor, whereas the second has two doctors. When we get to John 1:1, what makes the lack or the article interesting, is not just that it is used in conjunction with the same word including the article, it’s the fact that (as you can read about in this post) it is describing the logos, not identifying it, and then declaring that this logos was in fact with that which is identified as God, using the article. The only way you get to a Trinitarian argument is if you demand that the term God, cannot in any way shape or form, be attributed to anyone other than Yahweh, in which case you have an extremely strange sentence to which you have to add all sorts of Greek Philosophical categories.

Now How about John 1:18, I’ll accept the textual critical point that it most likely was originally “God” rather than “Son.” However, Robert Bowman argues for a translation of “God the only Son,” a translation that many bibles use, but why is that? The literal text says, μονογενὴς θεὸς, literally only begotten God, why not actually have the text say what it actually says? The reason is begotten God (as Robert Bowman realizes) implies a distinction between the God that Begets him. However that is the actual text, that’s what the verse says. As Robert Bowman rightly points out, μονογενὴς is always used in the context of a child which is begotten. So why not accept that usage here as well? Seeing as Jesus is called the “only begotten Son” various times in the Johannian literature, with the normal meaning of begetting being used, why should we suddenly take the meaning in John 1:18 to mean something different than what it literally says? The answer is obvious, it is theological bias.

Much of Robert Bowman’s argumentation for the highest possible Christology is based on a kind of loose equivocation. Jehovah does X, Jesus does X, thus Jesus is Jehovah, or Jehovah has X trait, Jesus has X trait thus Jesus is Jehovah. This sort of argumentation, if taken consistently would lead to all sorts of characters in the bible being Jehovah, and frankly that sort of argumentation is silly and I would rather focus on actual substantive arguments.

One place I think would be good to go to from here (of course I can’t address each issue, as it would take forever to give a full exegesis of every scripture Robert Bowman cites, so understand this will only be a partial refutation), is to the role of Jesus in creation in the New Testament, And Jesus’ relationship to God in various verses. The reason I’d like to go there is that if we agree that God in the sense of Jehovah God can be simply defined, as I defined him in the first post of this series, as the Creator of all things, the ultimate ground of what is right (in other words the Highest Authority), and the God of History whose will is supreme, then we can see how Jesus would relate to those attributes.

Let’s start with Jesus’ role in creation. We have a few verses, John 1:3 and 10, Colossians 1:16, 1 Corinthians 8:6, Hebrews 1:2 (we will come to verse 10 later) and some other verses dealing with Jesus role in creation. Read those verses, notice they all have the word “through” or “διά” all things were created “through” him. This is significant if we understand Jewish Wisdom and Logos theology, the creation in those writings is by God, but through an agent. This concept of something being done by God but through someone else is not a foreign concept to the bible, it happens all the time. Who delivered the Hebrews out of Egypt and into the Promised Land? It was Jehovah of course, the Old Testament is clear on this again and again, he brought them out of Egypt, yet the Bible also says that Moses did, take for example Acts 7:

35 “It was this Moses whom they rejected when they said, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge?’ and whom God now sent as both ruler and liberator through the angel who appeared to him in the bush. 36 He led them out, having performed wonders and signs in Egypt, at the Red Sea, and in the wilderness for forty years.

Moses also led them, does that mean Moses is Jehovah? Obviously not. The scripture also tells us that an angel appeared to Moses in the Bush, does that mean that the angel is, ontologically Jehovah? No, we all understand the concept of someone using an agent.

Going back to the creation verses it’s obvious what the term “διά“ is being used for, it’s signifying an agent just in the same way Philo’s logos theology talks about the logos being an agent of creation. Let’s look at some of the scriptures specifically, starting with Colossians 1:15, 16:

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16 for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him.

And in the Greek:

15 ὅς ἐστιν εἰκὼν τοῦ θεοῦ τοῦ ἀοράτου, πρωτότοκος πάσης κτίσεως,

16 ὅτι ἐν αὐτῷ ἐκτίσθη τὰ πάντα ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς καὶ ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς, τὰ ὁρατὰ καὶ τὰ ἀόρατα, εἴτε θρόνοι εἴτε κυριότητες εἴτε ἀρχαὶ εἴτε ἐξουσίαι· τὰ πάντα δι’ αὐτοῦ καὶ εἰς αὐτὸν ἔκτισται·

There are two very important things we need to keep in mind. The first thing is that πάσης κτίσεως is in the genitive form, meaning Jesus is the first born of all creation, not over all creation, not to all creation, but rather of all creation. This construction demands that Jesus is included within creation. If I am the firstborn of all the sons, that means I must be one of the sons, if I am the best player of the team, it means that I must be part of the team. If Jesus is the firstborn of creation, even if firstborn is simply a status title, it demands that Jesus is part of creation. The second thing is the usage of διά, meaning things are created through him. To perhaps get a clearer example of this we can look at 1 Corinthians 8:6

yet for us there is 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.

And in the Greek:

6 ἀλλ’ ἡμῖν εἷς θεὸς ὁ πατὴρ ἐξ οὗ τὰ πάντα καὶ ἡμεῖς εἰς αὐτόν, καὶ εἷς κύριος Ἰησοῦς Χριστὸς δι’ οὗ τὰ πάντα καὶ ἡμεῖς δι’ αὐτοῦ.

Notice the obvious distinct roles. God is the source of everything, and Christ is the one through whom all things come, this fits perfectly with the model of Jesus not being the creator, but the first created, firstborn, agent of creation. At least this model has some precedence in Jewish thought; a multi-personal God has no precedence what so ever.

In the next post I will continue dealing with proposition 4, on whether or not Jesus is God, Yahweh, not dealing with every argument, but enough to show that the proposition doesn’t stick when you examine the New Testament texts.

Read Part 3 here.

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Robert Bowman’s Anti-Trinitarian Theology Challenge – Part 2

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