Thursday, June 08, 2017

Unitarian weasel watch

Apostate Dale Tuggy attempted to refute a post by Jonathan McLatchie:

I assume he means here something like a substitutional theory of atonement. That’s right, I don’t think anyone has to believe that in order to be saved. A person doesn’t have to believe any developed theory about the mechanics of forgiveness, i.e. a theological atonement theory, in order to be saved. That is as it should be. All Peter tells them in Acts 2, is if they repent and get baptized, they’ll be forgiven.

Tuggy's response fails on two levels:

i) There's an elementary distinction between what's necessary to believe to be saved, and what's necessary for the Christian faith to be true. For instance, a convert might be ignorant of the fact that Jesus is, among other things, the Davidic messiah. A convert might not believe it because he doesn't know that much. He could exercise saving faith despite that theological lacuna. 

However, the truth of Christianity depends, in part, on the fact that Jesus is the definitive heir of the Davidic covenant. The fact that knowing and believing that may be inessential to salvation doesn't render it inessential to the Gospel. It's a necessary presupposition or precondition of messiahship.

ii) In addition, there's a difference between innocent unbelief and defiant disbelief. There's a difference between not believing something because you don't know that you're supposed to believe it, and refusing to believe something you're supposed to believe, after you've been informed about your epistemic duties. 

Here Mr. McLatchie introduces a red herring, a distraction. The use of “philosophical categories” (i.e. terms) is irrelevant. I would count it here if in any way, the tripersonal God were mentioned as such, or the “deity of Christ” or the two natures of Jesus were taught. The terms needn’t have time-traveled back from Constantinople (381) or Chalcedon (451). Any sort of explicit statement or clear implication would do.

That's the tactic of framing an issue to the advantage of your own position. Why require an "explicit statement"? "Clear implication" in reference to what?

For instance, when addressing a Jewish audience, Jesus and the Apostles take many things for granted. Because a Jewish audience has a background in OT theism and messianic prophecy, the deity of Christ is implicit in many statements and actions by comparing NT statements by or about Jesus with the OT exemplar. It is, in part, generated by a relationship between the OT and the NT. That's different from a theological formula. 

Next, McLatchie serves up an example of the fulfillment fallacy.

i) Here Dale resorts to well-poisoning tactic by inventing a prejudicial label which he slaps onto Trinitarian hermeneutics. 

ii) In addition, Dale is appealing to his refuted arguments:

Amazingly, Mr. McLatchie celebrates having (he thinks) proved the numerical identity of Yahweh and Jesus, and then immediately mentions that they qualitatively differ!…Right Jesus received the spirit from the Father. (Acts 2:33) The Father didn’t receive his spirit from anyone. It follows that they are numerically two. Mr. McLatchie needs to learn this self-evident truth, the indiscernibility of identicals, and then theologize (and interpret scripture) accordingly.

i) To begin with, if the Trinity is true, then that's a necessary truth. God is a necessary being. What is true of God's essential nature is necessarily true. 

ii) The indiscernibility of identicals isn't Dale's starting-point. For instance, Dale believes in the reality of change. He takes that as his standard of comparison. Yet change makes something different. So is it the same thing? 

That forces Dale to weaken the indiscernibility of identicals to make room for his common sense belief that personal identity is consistent with change. 

If you want an example of a philosopher who takes the indiscernibility of identicals as his standard of comparison, consider McTaggart. He denies the reality of time because he takes the indiscernibility of identicals as his starting-point and standard of comparison. Dale does the opposite.

Ironically, Dale is, in that respect, using the same methodology as Trinitarians. Our understanding of reality conditions our metaphysical commitments. 


  1. In a previous Triablogue blogpost I interacted with Dale on this issue of Acts.

    I wrote, "Dale's statements seem to either prove too little or prove too much. Dale said the speeches recorded in Acts present a fairly complete explication of the Gospel. Or as he put it, "The apostles loudly proclaimed all the essentials." Yet, where in all of the speeches in Acts is Jesus portrayed as the logos of John? Or the one who was "in the form of God" in Philippians? Where is any explication of some kind of incarnation? Where is the doctrine that all the fullness of deity (or however a Unitarian would translate it) dwells in Christ in bodily form as found in Col. 1:19 & 2:9? Where in Acts is Jesus said or implied to be "...the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature..." (Heb. 1:3)? Or said to be the Lord who "laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning" (Heb. 1:10 quoting Ps. 102:25)?

    My point is that the identity of Jesus isn't fully explicated in the Acts speeches just like I argued. I argued that the Acts speeches 1. are merely the gists of their actual speeches, 2. that they were basic because evangelistic (geared toward the ignorant or newbies), and that 3. there is a distinction between milk doctrines and meat doctrines. I also denied a gnostic secret knowledge among Christians.

    If the Acts speeches are basically complete explications of the Gospel, then the book of Acts contradicts the rest of the New Testament, including the Gospel of Luke (of which Acts is volume 2)!!! That's why I think Dale's statements either prove too little or too much." END QUOTE

    1. Quickly going through Acts here are some instances where it suggests Trinitarianism and/or its foundational blocks. I'll leave out some of the passages and arguments Jonathan McLatchie already used in his blogpost.

      - The Apostles pray to Jesus when it comes to picking Judas' replacement (Acts 1:24ff.). See Putting Jesus in His Place by Bowman and Komoszewski on why it was likely Jesus they prayed to. Notice too that they expected Jesus to determine how the lots would fall out. Suggesting their belief in His sovereignty over lots (cf. Prov. 16:33 where YHVH is sovereign over lots). There are many other places in Acts where Jesus is prayed to.

      - Jesus is called the "Author of Life" in Acts 3:15. A description best fitting with full deity (cf. 17:25).

      - In Acts 5:9 Peter says it's possible to test the Spirit of the Lord. As if the OT prohibition to test YHVH applies to the Holy Spirit. Thus suggesting His personality and divinity.

      - Acts 7:51 talks about the sin of resisting the Holy Spirit. This parallels OT passages where the Israelites were obstinate, stiffnecked and rebellious against YHVH. Isaiah 63:10 states they "rebelled And grieved/vexed His Holy Spirit" (cf. Eph. 4:30).

      - Stephen, as he was dying, prayed to the Lord Jesus to receive his spirit. It's reminiscent of how the Psalmist prayed to YHVH (cf. Acts 7:59ff. with Ps. 31:5).

      - Stephen says, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them" (Acts 7:60). He seems to ask Jesus not to hold his stoners' sins against them as if Jesus were God and had the power to pardon and passover sin.

      - Ananias responds to the Lord Jesus with "Here I am Lord" in a way reminiscent of how Samuel responded to YHVH (Acts 9:10ff.).

      -Ananias refers to calling on the name of Jesus in a way reminiscent of how OT saints called on the name of YHVH (Acts 9:14, 21; cf. Acts 22:16; 2:21; 7:59; Joel 2:32; 1 Cor. 1:2).

      Acts 9:31 refers to "walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit.." That parallels the OT teaching of fearing only YHVH (Isa. 8:13). The NT also states that God is the source of all comfort (2 Cor. 1:3-5), yet here the Holy Spirit seems to be the source.

      -Beliving in Jesus is termed "turning to the Lord" (Acts 9:35; 11:21) which is reminiscent of many OT pasages like:

      "Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other.- Isa. 45:22


    2. - The Holy Spirit speaks, sends and commissions in Acts (e.g. Acts 10:19; 13:2-3; 11:12). The Holy Spirit also forbids in in the book of Acts (Acts 16:6-7), as well as constrains (Acts 20:22). He also testifies (Acts 20:23).

      - The disciples weren't hesitant to refer to the words of Jesus as "the word of the Lord" (Acts 11:16; likely also Acts 8:25; 13:49; 15:35-36; 16:32; 19:10; 19:20 cf. Isa. 2:3). Given Unitarianism, one would think the disciples would have avoided that phrase lest people think Jesus is YHVH since that phrase is common in the OT in reference to YHVH.

      Jesus' hand is termed "hand of the Lord" (Acts 11:21) paralleling the OT phrase "hand of YHVH" which is used over 30 times in the OT.

      Grace is also from the Lord Jesus according to Acts 15:11, 40. It's described in a way suggestive of a divine prerogative.

      It may have been Jesus who is the Lord referred to as having opened Lydia's heart. That's another divine prerogative (the opposite of hardening, as in the case of Pharoah).

      Jesus as the Lord tells Paul a.) not to be afraid because He is b.) with him (Acts 18:9-10). Which is reminiscent of OT passages like:

      fear not [ a.) ], for I am with you [ b.) ]; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.- Isa. 41:10

      The "way of the Lord" is used of Jesus in a way paralleling the phrase and concept of the "way of YHVH" in the OT (which is used at least 7 times in the OT).

      The name of Jesus is extolled/magnified ("praised" NET) in Acts 19:17. Given Unitarianism, one would think this borders on idolatry or IS idolatry.


    3. the Lord be done" in Acts 21:14. The previous verse refers to the Lord Jesus. Therefore, the context STRONGLY suggests that Paul is referring to the Sovereign Will of the Lord Jesus. This type of submission to the will of another was reserved for God alone among Jews. Therefore, this strongly suggests the disciples believed in Christ's full deity. See my blogpost on this topic HERE.

      -The disciples are Jesus' Witnesses (Acts 1:8) corresponding to the Israelites being YHVH's Witnesses (Isa. 43:10,12; 44:8).

      - Acts 1:9-11 seems to identify Jesus with Yahweh in Zech. 14:3-5. Notice how both passages refer to someone coming from above to land on the Mount of Olives. Zechariah even saying Yahweh's "feet" will stand on the mount of Olives.

      - In Acts 5:41 Jesus' name is called "the name" similar to how Jews refer to Yahweh's name as "Ha Shem" (i.e. The Name). Compare with Lev. 24:11

      -Finally, we also have to remember that the book of Acts is a continuation of the book of Luke. It's Luke's volume II. In which case, we should add to the the book of Acts all those places in the Gospel of of Luke where Jesus' full deity is also alluded to as well. Since Luke was a companion of Paul, we should see Luke's Christology as being compatible with Paul's; and Paul has been shown to have an "Early High Christology" (see the writings of Larry Hurtado, Richard Bauckham, Chris Tilling, N.T. Wright, Michael Bird, and Simon J. Gathercole et al.).


      the Lord be done" in Acts 21:14.

      The above sentence was cut off. It should read:

      Paul said, "Let the will of the Lord be done" in Acts 21:14. The previous verse refers to the Lord Jesus. Therefore, the context STRONGLY suggests that Paul is referring to the Sovereign Will of the Lord Jesus. This type of submission to the will of another was reserved for God alone among Jews. Therefore, this strongly suggests the disciples believed in Christ's full deity. See my blogpost on this topic HERE.

  2. Annoyed, you've got a serious case of text-dumping there - you might want to see a doctor! :-)

  3. Annoyed, you're multiplying words trying to show that in Acts, each of the three is "divine." But you need to attend to the two meanings of "trinitarian" which I explain in the post linked above. To show that Acts is "trinitarian" in the sense which rules out "unitarian," you'll need to get around to the part where Luke says or implies that the one God just is the Trinity, all three of them together.

    Good luck finding that part!

    1. I don't believe Acts needs to formally and explicitly teach Trinitarianism. I don't just believe in Sola Scriptura, but also Tota Scriptura (ALL of Scripture). Like many Biblical doctrines, the building blocks of the doctrine of the Trinity is scattered throughout the Bible. We shouldn't limit ourselves to one book to formulate our Paterology, Christology, Pneumatology and Triadology. As a former Unitarian, I can feel the force and weight of both Trinitarian and Unitarian arguments. Yet, while (admittedly) there are various Trinitarian formulations, I honestly think that some kind of doctrine of the Trinity better accounts for ALL of the Biblical data when compared to the various Unitarian options. Unitarianism uses too many ad hoc and sophistical exceptions, special pleading fallacies, explanations, excuses, underemphasis or imbalance of data/evidences etc.

    2. Often Unitarians construct formulations of Unitarianism in a way so as to be virtually non-falsifiable. For example, they will use philosophical sophistry to argue for why Jesus can be worshipped despite being merely human. Use sophistry to get around the OT teaching concerning idolatry (i.e. worship of other gods beside YHVH, and worship of inferior gods than YHVH).

      I get the feeling that sometimes some Unitarians feel the weight of Trinitarian arguments and evidences, and that when that happens they try to formulate ways that mitigate Unitarian culpability. But Steve has pointed out the problem with that.

      Steve wrote:
      ii) In addition, there's a difference between innocent unbelief and defiant disbelief. There's a difference between not believing something because you don't know that you're supposed to believe it, and refusing to believe something you're supposed to believe, after you've been informed about your epistemic duties.

      In all likelihood Jesus is linking belief in His full deity as a prerequisite for salvation in passages like John 8:24; 8:28 in light of John 8:58. Paul links belief in Jesus as YHVH as a prerequisite in Roman 10:9 as he links it with Joel 2:32 four verses later in Rom. 10:13. Paul does it again in Phil. 2:10-11 where he applies (arguably) the most monotheistic verse in the most monotheistic chapter in the entire OT to Jesus (Isa. 45:23). The author of Hebrews does so repeatedly in the first chapter. The author of 1st John apparently does so in 1 John 5:20 (cf. my blogpost here). Other NT authors do so implicitly in a way that seems to take it for granted. For example, Peter does so in 1 Pet. 3:14-15 by applying Isa. 8:12-13 to Christ. James does so by calling Christ the "glorious Lord" and seemingly/possibly relating the Lord Jesus with "YHVH of Sabaoth" (see HERE and HERE). Mark does so with such repetition that I think gMark has a VERY HIGH Christology (as I've argued in my blogpost HERE). Matthew is more explicit than Mark, though he's less emphatic. And the author of Revelation has such a high Christology that (IMO) it should be embarrassing to Unitarians (e.g. my blogposts HERE and HERE).

  4. Steve: a bit slap-dash, I'm afraid. But at least it shows us some important pitfalls to avoid.