Thursday, June 22, 2017

Unitarian body-snatchers

Continuing my response to a hapless unitarian:

Given that these beings are called gods, and they were called “god” by Yahweh, the word of God came (γνετο—it’s the aorist tense, meaning this happened in the past) to them…

That's a popular misunderstanding of the aorist. 

The aorist-tense form predominates in narrative or when events are spoken of as complete….Although it is often used in contexts where an English past tense (e.g., "he want," "she bought") is required in translation, it is not limited to an English past tense. Sometimes the aorist tense is used to refer to present action, general truisms, or even timeless truths…More important is how the aorist tense-form depicts the event from the standpoint of the speaker or writer as a complete event. Stanley Porter, Jeffrey Reed, & Matthew Porter, Fundamentals of New Testament Greek (Eerdmans, 2010), 38-39.

Evidently, Montero hasn't studied verbal aspect theory. 

In “the father is one” … a phrase that doesn’t come up at all; anytime the Shema is invoked it uses the actual language of the Shema (God and Lord); so you’re speaking hypothetically about something which didn’t happen and thus can’t really be a frame of reference. 

Why can't hypothetical cases furnish a frame of reference?

However even so, the “one” in the phrase “the Father is one” would be the masculine ες, and refer not to “unity”, but rather to what it means in the Shema, a Unique personal identity, Yahweh is one, he alone is the God of Israel, that’s what it means. In John 10:30 “one” is the neuter ν and refers NOT to unique personal identity but to unity—thus the word doesn’t mean the same thing, it’s in a different form and has a different meaning. So no, it doesn’t evoke the Shema at all, because not one word is the same, and the one word that IS the same is in a different form and has a completely different meaning.

i) Since Deut 6:4 wasn't written in Greek, why does Montero insist that a Greek translation must use a particular synonym for "one"?

ii) Moreover, is he suggesting that ες means "unique personal identity"?

Why wouldn’t the Unitarian interpretation provoke that reaction? How many first/second century messianic pretenders died violent deaths? I have the answer, all of them.

Is Montero suggesting they were all executed on a charge of blasphemy? 

You’re assuming by the way that they are saying he makes himself “God” and not “a god” …. There is nothing in the text to warrant that assumption.

Here's a unitarian dilemma. On the one hand, they say the anarthrous construction means "a god" rather than "God". And they say that's not blasphemous because it's is used in the OT for human kings as well as angels. On the other hand, the Jewish establishment accused Jesus of blasphemy, even though, on the unitarian interpretation, that's not blasphemous. 

They ended up killing him for claiming he was the “son of man” (never interpreted in Judaism as being Yahweh), so there are plenty of reasons.

Actually, they convict him of blasphemy for calling himself the "son of God". 

If Jesus said he was from the Father, the unique agent of the Father, and that he was the Christ—and then he was contradicting what the religious leaders said, is it a surprise they wanted to kill him? Is it a surprise that someone who they thought of as a heretic who claimed to be the messiah and speaking on behalf of God would be seen by his enemies as committing blasphemy?

That's quite surprising–indeed, highly incongruous–on unitarian assumptions. On the unitarian interpretation, there's nothing heretical about those messianic claims. So there's this internal contradiction in the unitarian explanation of the Jewish allegation. 

Right but John was written in Greek and it quoted the LXX when it quoted the Hebrew Bible. 

I don’t really understand your point here, why then do the gospel writers constantly use the LXX in regards to scripture quotations? 

Where does Montero come up with that notion? For instance, in his standard commentary on the Greek text, Nolland documents how often Matthew, when quoting the OT, translates straight from the Hebrew text, producing translations that are independent of the LXX. Cf. J. Nolland, The Gospel of Matthew (Eerdmans, 2005), 29-33.

Likewise, Keener says:

John's eclectic use of Hebrew and LXX text-types suggests either knowledge of Hebrew or a memorized, strongly Palestinian tradition. C. Keener, The Gospel of John (Hendrickson, 2003), 1:173.

Montero is overgeneralizing about use of the LXX in the Gospels. 

Everything attributed to Jesus you claim necessitates him being Yahweh in the flesh was also attributed to figures in the OT. Hebrews talks about how Moses took Israel out of Egypt, countless passages in the OT say that it was only Yahweh who took them out of Egypt—does that mean Moses is Yahweh? No. The OT says salvation only comes from Yahweh, yet it calls various kings and judges saviors of Israel, are they Yahweh? Common now.

Here's another central dilemma for unitarians. On the one hand, they vehemently deny that Jesus is Yahweh. On the other hand, when the NT repeatedly attributes Yahwistic claims to Jesus, they say that's possible because an agent can act on Yahweh's behalf. Ironically, their creaturely Jesus becomes interchangeable with Yahweh because there's nothing left to distinguish Jesus from Yahweh. Everything the OT says about Yahweh to set him apart from false gods is transferrable to Jesus. If a creature can always step into Yahweh's shoes, then there's nothing uniquely divine about Yahweh. Let's take a few examples:

i) Yahweh is the Creator of the world

This is one of the defining features of OT theism that differentiates the true God from false gods. The foundational text is Gen 1, yet Jn 1 identifies Jesus as the Creator God of Genesis.

Another striking example is Ps 102, which depicts the God of Israel as the eternal, preexistent Creator of the world. Yet Heb 1:10-12 identifies the Son as the Creator God of Ps 102. 

ii) Yahweh is the eschatological judge

This is another defining feature of OT theism that differentiates the true God from false gods. Jer 17:10 is a good example. Not only does that describe Yahweh's role as the eschatological judge, but what qualifies Yahweh to exercise that prerogative is his omniscience. 

Yet Rev 2:23 ascribes this passage to Jesus. Not only does Jesus assume the role of eschatological judge, but he can discharge that role because he enjoys the divine attribute of omniscience.

iii) Yahweh is the first and last

That occurs in a locus classicus of OT monotheism (Isa 41:4; 44:6, & 48:12). That's a distinction which demarcates the true God from false gods. Yet that's applied to Jesus in Rev 22:13.

iv) Obeisance proper to Yahweh

In a locus classicus of OT monotheism, Isa 45:23 describes the obeisance due to Yahweh alone. Yet that's applied to Jesus in Phil 2:9-11. 

v) Vision of Yahweh

Isa 6:1-5 describes Isaiah's overwhelming vision of Yahweh's incomparable holiness and glory. Yet Jn 12:41 says Isaiah actually saw the Son on that occasion. 

vi) The Shema 

Deut 6:4 is the fundamental creed of OT monotheism. Yet 1 Cor 8:6 is a binary Shema making the Father "God" of the Shema and Jesus "Lord" of the Shema. 

Unitarianism is like Invasion of the Body-Snatchers, where Jesus replicates everything that makes God God. He is said to be a creature, yet he's a duplicate of God. 

Jesus is distinguished from Yahweh, Yahweh acts THROUGH Jesus, not vice-versa

Once again, appealing to agency to salvage unitarianism is self-defeating. In that event, Yahweh is not the Creator of the world. At best God made one creature, and the first creature made everything else. Yahweh is not the eschatological judge. That's delegated to a creature. Yahweh is not the recipient of unique obeisance. That's reassigned to a creature. And so on and so forth. Unitarianism strips Yahweh of everything that makes him Yahweh. A creature co-ops every Yahwistic role, attribute, and prerogative.  

So those to “whom the word of God came” are called gods, does that mean that the readers of the prologue are called gods? 

John's readers aren't characters in Ps 82, so that's a non sequitur. 

Also the “distinction” between Yahweh and the other gods of Psalms 82 is that the other gods die … Jesus died, if that was Jesus’s point then that’s a very contradictory point.

On the mythopoetic interpretation, the gods in Ps 82 don't actually die since they don't actually exist. That's a satirical fiction.


  1. Steve, I don't think it gets discussed enough in these debates with unitarians but the OT in many places emphasizes Yahweh's role as Savior. "I, I am the LORD, and besides me there is no savior." But the unitarians want to have Christ as Savior but not as Lord/Yahweh.

    So they believe that Christ is a creature, a sort of demi-god that God created the world through and is the Savior of the world. And the NT patterns the church's religion and worship around him. We see here that Trinitarianism is far more consistent with OT monotheism than is unitarianism, which cashes out to a sort of polytheism.

    1. Unitarians do not believe that Jesus is a sort of demi-god, they do not believe he pre-existed, and they do not believe God created the world through him. They believe he was a mortal human being, miraculously conceived to the virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit (thereby making him God's son), and made immortal at his resurrection.

      "I, I am the LORD, and besides me there is no savior."

      There are two problems for Trinitarianism here:

      * You need to identify who exactly is speaking here, and how you know. Is it God the Father, God the Son, or God the Holy Spirit? Remember, it can only be one of them, and by your logic, choosing one excludes the others.
      * The OT refers to multiple 'saviours'

    2. You are clearly speaking for yourself. Those who style themselves as biblical unitarians do indeed say that Jesus pre-existed and that God made the world through Him. This context is what Steve and I are dealing with over in the Facebook comment section of Jonathan McLatchie's page.

      Your second comment imputes to the trinitarian position something we don't believe. God can certainly speak as a consolidated Godhead rather than singling out one of the members of the Trinity.

      How can there be multiple "saviors" if "beside me there is no savior"? You need to distinguish the other senses that the term can be used.

  2. You STILL, won't do it you STILL refuse to give a coherent Reading of John 10:34-36 that actually acounts for the text coherently ... why won't you do it?

    Listen, I'm not interested in arguing over all these side issues ... this entire thing was about John 10:34-36 ... thus far you've given no exegesis. It's time to put up or shut up.

    1. You have a funny habit of raising objections, when your objections are shot down, you suddenly exclaim that these are "side issues".

    2. Hi Roman Montero,

      I'm curious, did you write this book All Things in Common: The Economic Practices of the Early Christians (published by Wipf & Stock)?

    3. Steve, I'll deal with all those issues, but for now I want to deal with the actual text that this debate was to be about—which you still have not exegeted. Ignoring the text in question to argue other issues is not honest debate.

    4. Rockingwithhawking, I did, and yes it was put out by Wipf and Stock. Did you read it?

    5. Thanks, Roman Montero. Unfortunately I have not read it.