Thursday, March 09, 2017

The "Jesus as Yahweh heresy"

Apostate Dale Tuggy recently attacked Christian apologist Jonathan McLatchie because Jonathan affirms the Trinity:

Of course, Jonathan wouldn't even be a Christian if he denied the Trinity. 

Williams makes the reasonable point that for a (consistent) trinitarian, Jesus is not the Trinity, while God just is the Trinity. 

In a sense, that's correct. 

So then, for the trinitarian, Jesus is not God (not numerically identical to God) 

1. This is Dale's patented shellgame. He always acts as though the issue is reducible to the word "God". Maybe he really is that dense.

Now, even at that superficial linguistic level, the word "God" is ambiguous. "God" is a noun. And there are different kinds of nouns. For instance, there are proper nouns, common nouns, abstract nouns, and concrete nouns. "God" can mean different things depending on the kind of noun it is. What does X is God mean? Depends:

i) Proper noun: In this sense, "God" is often employed as a proper name for the Father. That's typical in Pauline and Johannine usage. 

In this sense, "X is God" can mean the Father. That's in Trinitarian settings, where it's used to distinguish the Father from the Son or Spirit.

In addition, though, "God" is frequently used as a generic designation for the Deity–where it doesn't single out the Father in particular. In this sense, "X is God" can mean the one true God in contrast to false gods, where it's used to differentiate Yahweh from pagan polytheism and idolatry. 

ii) Common noun: In this sense, "God" denotes a class as opposed to a particular individual within a class. Of course, God is one of a kind. Sui generis. In a class by himself. So in that respect, God is the only member of that ultra exclusive class. 

In this sense, "X is God" means the one and only true God. A categorical term, differentiating the Deity from other classes of existents. 

iii) Abstract noun: In this sense, "God" is a synonym for the divine nature or divinity. 

In this sense, "X is God" means X is divine. X has the divine nature. 

2. However, it's necessary to distinguish between the meaning of words and the meaning of concepts. For instance, the theory of general relativity isn't reducible to the dictionary definition of the words "general" and "relativity". Ideas are typically more complex than the meaning of words. 

Or, to take another example, both Catholic and Protestant theology use the word "justification," but the Catholic doctrine of justification is very different from the classic Protestant (e.g. Lutheran or Reformed) doctrine of justification. Even though it's the same word, that word is used to denote divergent theological ideas. These are not synonymous doctrines. "Justification" involves a detailed theological construct. And one construct is not equivalent to another. 

3. To say the Trinity is God uses "God" as a common noun. To say the Father is God uses "God" as a proper noun. To say the Son is God uses "God" as an abstract noun.  

4. What do we mean by "divine". That's a concept we can unpack at increasing levels of specification:

i) To be divine is to possess the divine attributes

ii) The divine attributes include omniscience, omnipotence, aseity, impassibility, eternality.

iii) To be eternal is to be timeless. And so on and so forth.

The son is divine in that sense. (As is the Father and the Spirit.)

the relation between Jesus and God is going to have to be something less than that.

Not less, but different. 

Battling the infidels with stock rhetoric and a fistful of prooftexts…

The deity of Christ isn't based on a "fistful" of prooftexts. Few doctrines are as well attested in Scripture, by multiple lines of evidence. 

…is far more enjoyable than working out the problems with one’s own theories.

We need to distinguish between exegetical theology and philosophical theology. We begin with the witness of Scripture. That teaches the deity of Christ. And that takes precedence. Formulating models of the Trinity is an exercise in philosophical theology. An important exercise, but revelation takes precedence. Philosophy can't decree what God is allowed to be like. 

They then move (as in the last half of this video) to show that New Testament writers are always slyly (but in their view clearly) asserting the numerical identity of Yahweh (pronounced YAH-hu-way) and Jesus. 

i) No, we don't think NT writers "slyly" assert that Jesus is Yahweh. 

ii) They equate Jesus with Yahweh. As Yahweh Incarnate. 

They employ here what I think is a beginner’s mistake in reading the NT – what I call the fulfillment fallacy. (I’ve lampooned it here.) 

Isaiah predicts that a baby will be born,“Immanuel.” This occurs in his lifetime, in the 8th or 7th c. BCE. Obviously, this baby is God, because his name “Immanuel” means “God with us,” and it would be blasphemous to give that name to anyone other than God. But my point here is that Matthew says that Jesus’s birth is a fulfillment of this prediction. (Matthew 1:20-25)

So many mistakes in the space of three sentences:

i) Presumably, even a unitarian apostate like Dale still thinks Isa 7:14 is a messianic prophecy. If so, he himself must believe that in some sense it refers to the future Messiah. That it's not confined to a baby in the 8th or 7th c. BC. 

ii) Dale commits a common blunder, by isolating 7:14 from the larger context. But as Alec Motyer has documented, this is part of a messianic motif that continues for several more chapters, and extends far beyond the immediate historical crisis in Isa 7. The projected fulfillment lies not in Isaiah's lifetime, but sometime in the indefinite future:

iii) No astute Christian infers that someone is God just because his Jewish name incorporates "God" in the name. Obviously, many Jewish names incorporate elements of divine designations.

iv) That said, it's a common OT theme that God is very "jealous" about his name. Very protective and proprietary about his name. When NT writers use Kurios as a title for Jesus, that's a Septuagintal synonym for Yahweh. Imagine how that would sound to Jewish ears. 

v) But over and above the designation is the further fact that in the OT, there are passages in which Yahweh describes himself in exclusive terms. Yahweh has no peer. Passages in which Yahweh's unrivaled divinity is set in contrast to the false gods of heathen polytheism and pagan idolatry. 

Yet we find various NT writers applying these very same passages to Jesus, passages that emphatically distinguish God from all that's not God. That puts Jesus on the divine side of the categorical divide. 

Although Isa 7:14 is a significant messianic prophecy, it is illicit for Dale to act as though that's equivalent to other NT prooftexts for the Yawistic identity of Jesus. He's substituting what he thinks is an easier target. It's a bait-n-switch. 

In the clip Bart Ehrman quite correctly resists the confusion. 

Of course, Ehrman's lumbering theories about the evolution of NT Christology have been subjected to searching scrutiny, and found wanting in crucial respects. For instance:

All NT writers habitually and clearly distinguish God and his Son as two selves and two beings.

Once again, this is Dale's trademark shellgame. NT writers frequently distinguish the word "God", as a designation for the Father, from the person of the Son. But that just means they distinguish the Father and the Son, where "God" is often reserved as a proper name for the Father. In order to refer to two different individuals or grammatical subjects, they have different designations at their disposal. Dale has been making the same rudimentary blunders year after year. 

This “supreme source” is God, aka the Father…

The source of what? God is the source of creation. That doesn't mean God is the source of the Son. And that doesn't mean the Father is the source of the Son (or the Spirit). 

(note the allusion to 1 Corinthians 8:6 at the end). 

Which is treacherous for Dale. As scholars like Richard Bauckham and Gordon Fee have documented, in painstaking exegesis, Paul adapts the Shema in 1 Cor 8:6 to include Jesus. He uses "God" as a proper name for the Father, and "Lord" as a proper name for the Son, in a context where "God" is the Greek equivalent of Elohim and "Lord" is the Greek equivalent of Yahweh. And in the original context (Deut 6:4), these are both exclusive titles for the one true Deity.  

This is the locus classicus of Jewish monotheism, to demarcate Jewish piety from pagan idolatry. Yet Paul's adaptation puts Jesus right on par with the God of the Shema. 

So yes, there have been many Christians – mainstream ones, in good standing with the majority, and even leading thinkers – who asserted that it is a serious mistake to identify the eternal Son with his (and our) God. 

The Son doesn't have a God. That's one of Dale's inveterate equivocations. 

Eusebius is no oddball here. Other examples would be the outstanding catholic apologists of their generation, Tertullian and Origen. (Many like Origen also distinguish this Son from the man Jesus, but they’d say it’d be at least as great a mistake to identify the man Jesus with his God too.)

They were faithful, courageous Christians, but they were theological pioneers who made the kinds of mistakes you'd expect at this primitive stage in the development of post-NT theology. Indeed, there's a precipitous drop in theological quality as we pass from the NT to the church fathers. It's a slow, steep climb back to the pinnacle of NT Christology. Athanasian Christology improves on Origen and Tertullian. Calvin's Christology improves on Athanasius. Warfield's Christology improves on Calvin's. 

Problem is, Dale doesn't have the same excuse as Tertullian and Origen. They can plead attenuating circumstances. But there's nothing to mitigate his heresy. And it's telling that the best Bible scholars whom contemporary unitarianism can tap either occupy the far-left end of the theological spectrum (Kirk, McGrath) or are outright atheists (Ehrman).  


  1. Quite a helpful post, Steve. People will learn a lot from this.

  2. ==The source of what? God is the source of creation. That doesn't mean God is the source of the Son. And that doesn't mean the Father is the source of the Son (or the Spirit).==

    Interesting take, given the fact that such a view runs contrary to the teachings of the pre-Nicene, Nicene and a good number of post-Nicene Church Fathers. It also runs contrary to the express teaching of the original Nicene Creed. Even Augustine takes issue with the above view; note the following:

    Partly then, I repeat, it is with a view to this administration that those things have been thus written which the heretics make the ground of their false allegations; and partly it was with a view to the consideration that the Son owes to the Father that which He is, thereby also certainly owing this in particular to the Father, to wit, that He is equal to the same Father, or that He is His Peer (eidem Patri æqualis aut par est), whereas the Father owes whatsoever He is to no one. (On Faith and the Creed, 9.18 -NPNF 3.328-329 - bold emphasis mine.)

    Just as the Father has life in himself, so he has also granted the Son to have life in himself (Jn. 5:26). As he had, as he gave; what he had, he gave; he gave the same king he had; he gave as much as he had. All the things which the Father has are the Son's. Therefore, the Father gave to the Son nothing less than the Father has. The Father did not lose the life he gave to the Son. By living, he retains the life he gave by begetting. The Father himself is life, and the Son himself is life. Each of them has what he is, but the one is life from no one, while the other is life from life. (Answer to Maximinis the Arian, II.7 - The Works of Saint Augustine, vol. 1.18, Arianism and other Heresies, p. 284 - bold emphasis mine.)

    Thus, then, the Son according to nature (naturalis filius) was born of the very substance of the Father, the only one so born, subsisting as that which the Father is, God of God, Light of Light. (On Faith and the Creed, 4.6 -NPNF 3.324 - bold emphasis mine.)

    Only one natural Son, then, has been begotten of the very substance of the Father, and having the same nature as the father: God of God, Light of Light. (On Faith and the Creed, 4.6 - FC 27.323 - bold emphasis mine.)

    Being Son by nature he was born uniquely of the substance of the Father, being what the Father is, God of God, Light of Light. (Faith and the Creed 4.6 - LCC, Augustine: Earlier Writings, p. 357 - bold emphasis mine.)

  3. David, I'm well aware of the fact that the Nicene Creed and patristic theology in general affirm the eternal generation of the Son. So what? That's not my standard of comparison. I think it lacks adequate exegetical justification in Scripture. And I'm hardly alone in that.

  4. I am a Christian who denies the Trinity. By what authority do you say that I am not a Christian, Steve?
    Also, you helpfully distinguish between the different possible uses of 'God'. But where in the Bible is 'God' used as a proper name referencing the Trinity? Where in the OT? Where in the NT?

    1. I say you're not a Christian by the authority of Scripture, since you deny the cardinal doctrines of God, Christ, and the Spirit.

      In addition, you're confusing words with concepts. it isn't necessary for the Bible to call the Trinity "God" for the Trinity to be God, any more than it's necessary for Scripture to call Abraham or Joseph a patriarch for us to classify them as patriarchs. This is just a question of what the Bible says individually about the Father, Son, and Spirit, then putting that together. For that matter, where does the Bible call itself "the Bible"? It doesn't.