Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Pauline Shema

We know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.” 5For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”— 6yet 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 (1 Cor 8:4-6).

My fundamental disagreement with Tuggy has been a disagreement over theological method. Where do we start?

Take this text. It’s an allusion to the Shema (Deut 6:4). More than just an allusion. This is modeled on the Shema.

Only Paul has reformulated the Shema. In the Shema, “God” (Elohim) and “Lord” (Yahweh) are two different names for the same Deity.

However, Paul has rewritten the Shema to distribute the names between the Father and the Son. Rewritten the Shema to insert Jesus directly into the heart of the Shema. Rewritten the Shema to make Jesus the “Lord” (=Yahweh) of the Shema.

So he’s creating a direct synonymous parallel. Jesus is to Yahweh as Yahweh is to the Shema.

In the way he structures his statement, counterbalancing one against the other, as well as how he restructures the Shema, Paul is putting the Father and the Son on a par.

Now suppose you’re unitarian. Suppose you come to the NT with your unitarian assumptions, and you encounter this text. How should you respond?

Do you cross your arms and say to yourself, “Whatever Paul means, he can’t me that!” Do you begin with a preconceived notion of what it means for God to be “one,” then use that as a grid to filter out any interpretation that challenges your preconceive notion? Or do you take your notion of what it means for God to be “one” from the very text at hand? Is that something you bring to the text, or something you take from the text?

Just suppose, for a moment, that Paul really did want to teach the deity of Christ. As a unitarian, that confounds your expectations, but for the sake of argument, imagine if that’s what Paul wanted to say. Wouldn’t this be one way to do it? To take the Shema has his backdrop, then write Jesus into the Shema?

You may think Paul is unitarian, but if Paul wanted to affirm the deity of Christ, what should he say differently? Is there any formulation he could use that would change your mind?

What could the NT writers possibly say to show you that you were wrong about Jesus? Under what circumstances, if any, will you allow them to correct your preconception?

Or is your unitarian framework unfalsifiable? Nothing could ever count as evidence against your prejudgment.

In my exchanges with Tuggy, he has a topdown theological method in which he begins with his preconception of what it means for something to be “one” or be the “same,” and that preemptively eliminates any possible interpretation to the contrary.

He doesn’t start by asking how Paul or John or the author of Hebrews understands the unicity of God. Rather, he begins and ends with his preconception. That dictates the outcome before we even crack the Bible open.

He doesn’t listen to the text. Rather, he tells the text what it can and cannot say.

BTW, this isn’t, in the first instance, an issue of Biblical authority. Rather, when we study a text, any text, it’s incumbent on the reader to bracket his own beliefs in the sense that he lets the writer speak for himself, whether or not the reader happens to agree with the writer. For the reader is not the writer.

When I read Dante, I bracket my own beliefs in the sense that while I don’t share the same beliefs as Dante on many issues, I also don’t make my own beliefs interfere with the interpretive process. Indeed, it would be terribly egocentric of me to proceed in that fashion, as if my prior beliefs dictate what Dante could mean.

Of course, Christians are supposed to submit to the authority of Scripture, so that’s even more reason to let the writer speak for himself. 


  1. I never looked at 1 Cor 8:4-6 being an allusion to the great shema...excellent point.

    I may have missed it, but have you referenced Athanasius' Contra Arianos? He makes some very relevant arguments regarding the Fatherhood of God, and persuasively argues for the equality of the Son based on that.

    It could all boil down to this:
    If Jesus is not the eternal, uncreated, God of very...the Son, then no Father.

    I wonder if Tuggy's god, being only a father by way of creation (and thus, a "father" only by convention), can even be described as a person. All the qualities of personhood come by way of interaction with the what sense can his god be described as a "person"? I'm not sure such a god could even be said to be "conscious".

  2. "If Jesus is not the eternal, uncreated, God of very...the Son, then no Father."

    Should read: If Jesus is not the eternal, uncreated, God of very (God)...the Son, then (there's) no Father.

    i.e. what we call "father" is not a description of who God is.

  3. Steve, this is an... interesting piece of exegesis. I may deal with the interpretation of this passage in a future post.