I’ve been asked to comment on this:
“Which I put in quotes to help identify this unique understanding of ‘person’ relative to Trinitarianism.”
Stafford is taking human personhood as the standard of reference. At an epistemic level, that’s only natural since we are human. So, as a matter of experience, we make ourselves the standard of reference.
But we’re not the paradigm of personhood. God is. And there are disanalogies as well as analogies between God and man. Pace Mormonism or open theism, God is not a scaled up human beings. So it comes as no surprise if there’s something unique about divine personhood, for God is in a class by himself (sui generis).
“I then challenged all Trinitarian readers to give me a 1-2 paragraph (200 words or less) answer to the following question, without assuming Trinitarianism”
This is seriously misleading in a couple of respects:
i) He’s probably treating unitarianism as the default assumption, so that Trinitarianism must overcome his unitarian presumption. But that would be prejudicial.
ii) We shouldn’t assume something like Nicene orthodoxy when we come to Jn 17:3, for that would be anachronistic.
However, it doesn’t mean that we bring no assumptions to the text by treating the text in splendid isolation. We should construe Jn 17:3 with a view to Johannine theology in general, both in the Fourth Gospel and 1 John.
“Since the Father is the ‘only true God’ according to Jesus [John 17:3], what kind of g/God is Jesus?”
Here he commits a basic semantic blunder by failing to distinguish between:
i) ”God” as a proper name
ii) ”God” as a generic descriptor
Take the following passage:
“If Yahweh is God follow him, but if Baal, then follow him…You call upon the name of your god, and I will call upon the name of Yahweh, and the God who answers by fire, he is God” (1 Kgs 18:21,24).
Here, “God” is being used as a generic descriptor, while Baal and Yahweh are proper names. And the point of the passage is to distinguish the rightful divine claimant from the imposter.
But many times, in OT usage, “God” (Elohim) functions as a proper name. Since there’s only one true Deity, “God” can be used either as a proper name or generic descriptor—unless there’s a need to distinguish between differing referents.
Take another comparison: what does “Adam” refer to in Scripture?
The Hebrew word can either function as a generic descriptor for mankind (“man”), or else it can designate a historic individual who was the patriarch of the human race (the first man).
Johannine usage alternates between “God” as a proper name and “God” as a generic descriptor. That distinction is necessary to sort out the two divine referents in1 Jn 1:1 and 1:18.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
In its first occurrence (second clause), “God” is being used as a proper name for the person of the Father, while in its second occurrence (third clause), “God” is being used as a generic descriptor for the person of the Logos, who—along with the Father—belongs to the category of the divine.
One could paraphrase the passage as follows:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with the Father, and the Word was divine.”
However, John prefers to use the same word (God) twice to accentuate the divinity of the Logos. It’s understood that the Father is divine. To then apply the same word to the Logos is an emphatic way of stressing the divinity of the Logos.
“No one has ever seen God, the only-begotten God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.
Once again, in its first occurrence (first clause), “God” is being used as a proper name for the person of the Father, while in the second occurrence (second clause), “God” is being used as a generic descriptor for the person of the Son, who reveals the invisible Father by becoming incarnate.
That’s how the incarnate Son reveals the discarnate Father. And the Incarnation would only serve this revelatory role if the Son were divine in his own right.
One could paraphrase the passage as follows:
“No one has ever seen the Father, but the divine Son, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known (by becoming Incarnate).
Both Jn 1:1 and 1:18 have two divine referents. John therefore attempts to do two things:
i) Indicate that both referents are divine:
ii) Distinguish one divine referent from another.
So his usage attempts to establish both identity and difference. Identity in nature or essence, but difference in person. In the course of the Fourth Gospel and 1 John, this relationship will be further explicated—along with his pneumatology.
In Jn 17:3, “God” is being used as a proper name for the Father, to distinguish the person of the Father from the person of the Son.
In Johannine usage, the “Father” is a proper name for one member of the Trinity, while the “Son” is a proper name for another member of the Trinity. It’s necessary to have different names to differentially designate different members of the Trinity.
I reject Wiseman’s Nicene subordinationism, so I won’t use that to frame my own analysis.
As to Heb 1:3, we need to keep a couple of things in mind:
i) To speak of the Son as a “copy” of God is figurative image. A metaphor is an analogy. Every analogy has an element of disanalogy. So the question at issue is to single out the intended point of commonality.
Stafford, with wooden literality, acts as if the process of replication is the point of commonality. But x can be a copy of y in another sense: resemblance. A copy, while numerically distinct, may be essentially identical with the original. And that’s the point of comparison in Heb 1:3. Not the process, but the product.
And keep in mind, once again, that this is figurative. The Son is not the actual end-product of a process. The intention, rather, is to establish the consubstantial identity of the Son with the Father.
Likewise, “radiance” or “reflection” is another picturesque metaphor, with literary debts to the Alexandrian wisdom tradition, but also allusive, I suspect, of the OT Shekinah. Once more, Christ is the visible manifestation of the invisible God.
ii) This interpretation is reinforced by the fact that, in chapter 1, the author of Hebrews goes out of his way to emphasize the deity of the Son by several different lines of evidence.
“Trinitarians are forced to define this reference [Heb 1:3] to ‘God’ as ‘the Father’ (whom they consider a ‘person’ of the ‘one God,’ the Trinity), and they are right in seeing in this reference the Father, but the Father is never in Scripture or in literature contemporary with the Bible, defined as a ‘person of the ‘one God.’ He is always, by himself, the ‘one God”’(1 Corinthians 8:6).”
i) Pauline usage is not necessarily interchangeable with the author of Hebrews. Each NT writer may have his own nomenclature for distinguishing the Trinitarian persons. John often uses “Father/Son” terminology, while Paul often uses “God/Lord” terminology.
ii) The Father is divine in his own right, but he is not the “one God.” That fails to distinguish between a generic descriptor and a proper name. We could also say that the Son is divine in his own right—as well as the Spirit.
In 1 Cor 8:6, “God” is a proper name for the Father,” while “Lord” is a proper name for the Son. Yet both designations are divine titles.
“This understanding is also consistent with the use of terms such as ‘God’ in written literature from the biblical periods, and it is consistent with the conceptual model of divine representation found early on in the Bible for other spirit “sons of God” (Exodus 3:2; Deuteronomy 5:4; Judges 13:21-22; Acts 7:30, 38, 53; Hebrews 2:2).”
i) Since Trinitarians generally regard the Angel of the Lord as a Christophany, this appeal in no way favors the unitarian position.
ii) And Heb 2:2 is not a reference to the Angel of the Lord. Hebrews distinguishes the Son from the angels.
“In order for me to accept the that the Bible teaches the Trinity, a Trinitarian must show me where the Bible articulates the term ‘God’ 1) as ever referring to the Trinity or as a God who is described or who is at least clearly understood as triune in nature, and then 2) they must show me that the use of the term ‘God,’ while it should according to the above model, in particular premise I., only be applicable to the Trinity, is nonetheless in fact used in the Bible to mean a non-being ‘person’ who subsists equally in the nature of the one God, and that when applied to, say, the Son it does not identify him with the ‘one God,’ that is, the Trinity. The two understandings of the term must be established by argument from the text, not assumed and brought to it at the start.”
Stafford is now committing yet another semantic fallacy by failing to distinguish between words and concepts. Trinitarian theology is not limited to the usage of the word “God” in Scripture. You can also establish the deity of the referent through the biblical ascription of divine titles, economic roles, and attributes to the referent.
“Again, I am not aware of any place in the Bible, or in any literature prior to the first century CE (and quite possibly prior to the second or even later centuries CE), that provides any articulation or usage of ‘God’ that supports the two senses for ‘God’ as found in the Trinitarian model given above.”
i) For reasons I’ve already given, that’s the wrong way of framing the issue.
ii) I’d add that even liberal scholars like John Collins (The Scepter & the Star) see the evolving theme of a divine Messiah in OT and 2nd Temple literature.
“Therefore, I consider Trinitarianism an anachronism with respect to the Bible.”
The Trinitarian terminology may be anachronistic, but this doesn’t mean that the Trinitarian conception is anachronistic. We can employ extrabiblical nomenclature to denote Biblical truths.
Indeed, even Stafford uses extrabiblical nomenclature to describe his heretical, unitarian alternative.
Stafford also skips over the detailed evidence for the deity of Christ which has been marshaled by such classic writers as Warfield and Vos, not to mention more recent writers like Fee, Hurtado, and Harris.