Category Archives: Trinity Study

Exploration of the Trinity – Introduction

Why Teach Trinity in Sunday School?

Dude…it’s the framework!

  • “Trinitarianism is the encompassing framework within which all Christian thought takes place…Trinity makes possible incarnation, which makes possible atonement” – Fred Sanders.
  • “The Trinity is not one doctrine among others; rather, the Trinity is our interpretive framework for all Scripture and doctrine. The doctrine of the Trinity…shapes and structures Christian faith and practice in every way” – Michael Horton.


Michael Bird puts it this way:

“The Trinity is not simply a convoluted debate about theology but comprises the essential fabric of Christian talk about God. The meaning of salvation, the identity of Jesus Christ, the nature of the church, and a whole lot more stuff rides on the operation and being of God as Trinity. So it is crucial that Christians get some kind of grip on the Trinity as part of their faith in God and as part of their attempt to know God better” – Michael Bird.



The Plan:

To hopefully show why Michael Bird is correct in his above assessment (and if the Trinity is a framework), we will:

  • Survey the relevant Biblical and 2nd Temple Jewish landscape.
    • Including Monotheism.
    • Including Christology.
    • And specific relevant Biblical passages (contrasting Trinitarian and Unitarian takes).
  • Survey recent philosophical attempts to make sense of how one God can be three persons.
    • Mysterian Trinitarianism (MT).
    • Latin Trinitarianism (LT).
    • Social Trinitarianism (ST).
    • And a few others.
  • Demonstrate the significance of the Trinity to the Christian life.


My hope is that, when we are done, we will demonstrate the following to be wrong.

  • “When it comes to the doctrine of the Trinity, most Christians are poor in their understanding, poorer in their articulation, and poorest of all in seeing any way in which the doctrine matters in real life” – Kevin DeYoung.


Let’s begin with various descriptions of the Doctrine of the Trinity.

  • These will lay the foundation we will build upon throughout this series.



The Trinity Described:

The first place we find a formalized view of the Trinity is in the Nicene Creeds.


The Nicene Creeds – from 325 and then modified in 381 – describe the Trinity as follows (edited):

  • “We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.”
  • “And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.”
  • “And we believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.”


Some centuries later a creed affiliated with Athanasius popped up…summarized as follows:

“As the venerable Athanasian Creed puts it, ‘So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God; and yet they are not three Gods, but one God.’ Belief in both the distinctness and divinity of the three persons, on one hand, and belief in the oneness or unity of God, on the other hand, are essential to orthodox Christian belief” – Thomas McCall.


The creedal beliefs described above are often presented in the form of a septad.

  • (P1) God is one.
  • (P2) The Father is God.
  • (P3) The Son is God.
  • (P4) The Holy Spirit is God.
  • (P5) The Father is not the Son.
  • (P6) The Son is not the Holy Spirit.
  • (P7) The Holy Spirit is not the Father.


We will refer to this septad frequently throughout this series.



Modern Descriptions of the Trinity:

Michael Horton describes the Trinity this way:

  • “God as one in essence and three in person” – Pilgrim Theology.


Michael Bird says this:

  • “God is a Triune God and always has been a Triune God—a God who is three-in-one, consisting of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, all equally divine but fully distinguished persons” – Evangelical Theology.


James White puts it this way:

  • “Within the one Being that is God, there exists eternally three coequal and coeternal persons, namely, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit” – Forgotten Trinity.


Justin Taylor, on Desiring God, echoes the above language, and then adds:

  • “We are saying that the Trinity has one What and three Who’s” – Trinity 101.
  • Remember the “one-what”; about to use it again.



So, Why all the Confusion?

All this sounds simple enough.

  • God is one essence, substance, or being and three persons.
  • God is “one-what” and three who’s.


In fact, as Matt Perman argues on Desiring God (What is the doctrine of the Trinity?):

  • “It is not a contradiction for God to be both three and one because He is not three and one in the same way. He is three in a different way than He is one…This is very important: God is one and three at the same time, but not in the same way”.


James White agrees:

  • “We are not saying there are three Beings that are one Being, or three persons that are one person. Such would be self-contradictory” – Forgotten Trinity.


Well, not so fast!

  • We need to look at the septad again.


Trinitarian Septad:

  • (P1) God is one.
  • (P2) The Father is God.
  • (P3) The Son is God.
  • (P4) The Holy Spirit is God.
  • (P5) The Father is not the Son.
  • (P6) The Son is not the Holy Spirit.
  • (P7) The Holy Spirit is not the Father.


We need to own up to some basic logic entailing the transitive property of equality.


The transitive property is simply this:

  • If A=B and B=C, then A=C.
  • “Equals” here means, “is identical to”.
  • It is an “is” of identity not predication (more on this later).


An illustration will help us here.

  • Let’s say we have a person, Mark Twain (A).
  • Let’s say we have a “one-what”, “author of Tom Sawyer” (B).
  • And, let’s say we have a person, Samuel Langhorne Clemens (C).


We can then run this through the transitive property.

  • If Mark Twain (A) is identical to “author of Tom Sawyer” (B), and “author of Tom Sawyer” (B) is identical to Samuel Langhorne Clemens (C), then Mark Twain (A) is identical to Samuel Langhorne Clemens (C).


Yep…sounds right.

  • And it certainly wouldn’t make sense here to say, “Mark Twain is not Samuel Langhorne Clemens”.


So, lets run P2 and P3 of the Trinity septad through the transitive property.

  • If the Father (A) is identical to God (B), and God (B) is identical to the Son (C), then the Father (A) is identical to the Son (C).
  • And, as we saw above with Mark Twain, it would make no sense to say, “The Father is not the Son”.


Whoa! This is not what we want.

  • And with this, we begin to see the problem.


To further clarify, look at it this way (using the God as “one what” idea).

  • The Father is a person who is identical to “one-what” – and he is fully “one-what”.
  • But, Jesus is also a person who is identical to “one-what” – and he is fully “one-what”.
  • If they are each fully “one-what”, then they are the same person – “one-what”.
  • And, like Mark Twain and Samuel Langhorne Clemens, “one-what” has different names.


And consider this line of reasoning from Dale Tuggy.

  • We affirm that Jesus is God.
  • But, aren’t there things true of Jesus that aren’t true of God?
  • For example, “God is a Trinity. Jesus is not a Trinity.”


Well then, if Jesus is God, shouldn’t he be Trinity?

  • If God is something that Jesus is not, Jesus is not God.



Hold Up!

Obviously, all of this is something we can’t accept as Trinitarians.

  • We need to find some resolution to these problems.
  • And if the Trinity is true (which I believe it is), the solution can’t be to deny that Jesus is fully God.


And as if the logic of the Trinity isn’t confusing enough…

  • The Bible itself says things that seem to be confusing when we have the Trinity in mind.
  • We will hit on some of these in the coming weeks.


So where does this honest examination of the problems of the Trinity leave us?

  • It leaves us in the position of deconstructing our unexamined beliefs about the Trinity and rebuilding them.
  • It leaves us in the position of having to give good reasons for affirming the Trinity.
  • But…we will have to dig deep to get them.



Not Easy:

And it ain’t gonna be easy!

“Immanuel Kant famously concluded that the dogma of the Trinity was inconceivable as a concept and irrelevant to practical religion” – Scott R. Swain.


And even those who are a bit more optimistic readily admit that it is a “mysterious reality” (William Hasker).

  • “If the doctrine of the Trinity is true…we should hardly be surprised that it is mysterious” – Thomas McCall.
  • “There are only three great mysteries at the very heart of Christianity: the atonement, the incarnation, and the Trinity” – Fred Sanders.



The Mystery:

But what does it mean to call the Trinity a mystery?

  • On a topic like this, it is a huge temptation to appeal to mystery at almost every step of the way.
  • When we do so we need to be clear about what we are doing or saying.



Dale Tuggy says there are 4 kinds of appeal to mystery when faced with the problems we just raised.

  • (1) Redirection
  • (2) Restraint
  • (3) Resolution
  • (4) Resistance



(1) Redirection:

Appealing to this version of mystery is to just ignore the problems and change the subject.

  • Something like, “I’ll leave that to God it doesn’t really concern me”.
  • “I don’t really care”.


Redirection is an approach to be avoided.

  • It comes across as a cop out and avoidance of the issue.
  • It comes across as intellectually lazy.
  • It comes across as showing contempt for understanding the things of God.


Peter would have a problem with this approach.

  • 2 Peter 3:18a (ESV) — 18a But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.


Fortunately, the appeals to mystery that are left are a bit more intellectually honest.

  • They concede that special pleading (ignoring the problems) doesn’t make them go away.
  • “Able and responsible thinkers squarely face the appearance of contradiction, and seek to deal with it” – Dale Tuggy.


Who doesn’t want to be an “able and responsible [Christian] thinker”?



(2) Restraint:

The one who appeals to this version of mystery faces up to the problems and…

  • Will admit, “that a certain way of understanding the doctrine of the Trinity seems inconsistent” – Dale Tuggy.
  • But, nevertheless, this person will remain “committed to the truth” of the Trinity – Dale Tuggy.


And a reason for doing so is simply this:

  • Certainly, “Smarter, or more informed…” folks, from Athanasius, to Leibniz, to William Lane Craig, have all “…understood it” (Dale Tuggy).
  • So I defer to them; I piggy back on them.
  • Tuggy sees this view as a stalling tactic, which will ultimately have to be abandoned.



(3) Resolution:

Those who appeal to this version of mystery also face up to the problems…

  • And they deal with them, “by reinterpreting or revising the doctrines in question” – James Anderson.
  • In other words, the mystery arises because the creeds weren’t precise enough, or maybe too precise, or maybe got something wrong, or had poor presuppositions, etc.
  • Fix the creeds and we fix the problem.



(4) Resistance:

Those who appeal to this version of mystery also face up to the problems…

  • And they do so by believing “that the reasonable response is to learn to live with them” – Dale Tuggy.


In other words…

  • “We may not be able to banish the [problems], but we can at least tolerate them without sacrificing our rationality in the process” – James Anderson.
  • This is the “Mysterian Trinitarianism” mentioned earlier and which we will cover later.
  • It argues that the contradictions are merely apparent and not real.


Now, I said Tuggy gives 4 appeals to mystery.

  • But, I think we need to add one more…just for fun.
  • We will call it “Relational”.
  • Even though I think, at the end of the day, it is just a form of the “Redirect” approach.



(5) Relational:

This approach seems to flatten out the problems altogether.

  • “…God’s Mystery is not marked out by a realm that lies beyond our knowing…” And it does not, “lie beyond the finite limits of our intellect. Rather God is Real in our encounter with Him, and in just this way, is exceeding Mystery…” – Katherine Sonderegger.


This approach is rather shocking.


It doesn’t source the mystery to:

  • God’s transcendence.
  • Or, our creaturely brainpower.
  • Or, problematic propositions.


Mystery, on this approach, turns out to be:

  • Just who God is.
  • God is Mystery like Mark Twain is Samuel Langhorne Clemens.
  • So to encounter God is to encounter Mystery.
  • (Not to sure about this one folks.)



Mystery Wrap-Up:

So whatever we do going forward we have to avoid the first approach – Redirection.

  • Too much is at stake.
  • The Trinity informs our view of Jesus and the Incarnation.
  • It impacts our witness to Jews.
  • It impacts our witness to Muslims.
  • And on and on…


Next week, we begin to cover the Biblical landscape that informs the doctrine of the Trinity.



Exploration of the Trinity – Part 2 – “God Is One” Biblical Landscape

Our aim over the next few weeks is to:

  • Dive deep into the Biblical Landscape that informs our discussion of the Trinity.
  • Everything we uncover will be the backdrop for later discussions.
  • It will be our claim that the Biblical landscape is best explained by the Trinity.
  • Enjoy the ride!



God is One:

The first line of our septad from last week is:

  • (P1) God is one.


This seems like a good place to start Part 2 of our exploration of the Trinity.

  • Does the Bible affirm that God is one?
  • What exactly is meant by the proposition, “God is one”?


Let’s start with most obvious relevant verse – the Shema.

  • The Shema affirms for us that God is “one”.
  • Deuteronomy 6:4 (ESV) — 4 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.


But what does the Shema mean with its affirmation that God is one?


To get at the answer, we need to see that the verse uses two significant words to refer to God.

  • It uses “Lord” which is English for the Hebrew YHWH.
  • It uses “God” which is English for the Hebrew “elohim”, the plural of “el”.


Insert these back into the verse and we get:

  • “Hear, O Israel: YHWH our elohim, YHWH is one (elohim)”


And, even more helpful, there is wide agreement that the verse should be translated:

  • “Hear, O Israel: YHWH is our elohim, YHWH alone (is our elohim)”
  • (See any descent study Bible).


So let’s ask some basic questions about this verse.

  • By doing so we will flesh out the meaning of “one”.


Is YHWH an elohim?

  • Yes.


Whose elohim is YWHW?

  • Israel’s.


How many YHWH “elohim” are there?

  • Context makes clear that there is one.


How many “elohim” are there?

  • The Shema makes no sense if YHWH is the only “elohim”.
  • In fact, “The Shema doesn’t deny existence of other gods, it presupposes them and treats them as ‘real competitors for Israel’s devotion’” – Nathan MacDonald.


Look at Deuteronomy 6:14 (just a few verses later).

  • Deuteronomy 6:14 (ESV) — 14 You shall not go after other gods, the gods of the peoples who are around you—
  • “gods” here is Hebrew for “elohim”.
  • (More on “elohim” in a moment).


So now we have enough info to understand what is meant by “one” in context of the Shema.

  • 1) There are many “elohim” (such as Egypt’s “elohim” from Deut 6:14).
  • 2) There is only one YHWH “elohim” (Israel’s “elohim”).
  • 3) So to be the only YWHW “elohim” among all “elohim” is to be what?



  • Unique!
  • What we have here is talk of “the uniqueness of the one God” (Larry Hurtado).


Scholar, Mike Heiser puts it this way:

  • The Shema teaches the “belief in [YHWH’s] uniqueness and incomparability: There is only one YHWH and He is unique.”
  • “Yhwh is elohim but no other elohim is yhwh.” – Mike Heiser.


So, when the Shema speaks of “one God” it is telling us:

  • YHWH is unique.
  • YHWH is incomparable.
  • No other “elohim” compare to YHWH.



Biblical Landscape Alert:

(1) Some argue that the Shema itself points to the Trinity.

  • The TWOT, for example, says that the Hebrew word for “one”, “ehad”, can mean:
  • “Unity while recognizing diversity within that oneness”.


Yet, it concedes that context is what makes this determination.

  • The Shema doesn’t contain the right context.
  • The context here is not YHWH’s ontology (his inner nature as a being).
  • It is YHWH’s outward relationship to Israel and other elohim.


So, the Shema is neither a:

  • Trinitarian proclamation.
  • Binitarian proclamation, or a
  • Unitarian proclamation.


(2) We need to take the proclamation of the Shema at face value.

  • This will be very important in a couple of weeks.


The Shema makes a very simple and straightforward claim.

  • If an “elohim” is unique among the “elohim” then that “elohim” is…YHWH.
  • To be Israel’s YHWH is to be or possess (?) this uniqueness.
  • (We will see what this uniqueness consists of shortly).


Importantly, this means there is no talk of “substance” or “essence” in the Shema.

  • These are, after all, Greek ideas that came much, much later.
  • The language to identify and set apart YHWH here is “oneness” as “uniqueness”.


This is a very important feature of the Biblical Landscape we are surveying.

  • File this away for later.


Remember, we are seeking to gain an appreciation for the Biblical Landscape.

  • A landscape that suggests the Trinity as its best explanation (our contention).


For now, we need to flesh out all this “elohim” and YHWH stuff.

  • We need to understand what makes YHWH unique among the “elohim”.
  • This is going to be fun!



YHWH’s Uniqueness and the Elohim Intro:

For this to make any sense, you have to rework your modern concept of monotheism.

  • A word that, is itself, only a few hundred years old.
  • The modern dictionary idea of monotheism is not ancient Jewish monotheism.


If you look up the word “monotheism” you will find something like:

  • The belief that there is only one god or deity.


Here is the problem:

  • The idea that there is only one god or deity is foreign to the Bible.


Scholar, Michael Heiser (Understanding Israelite Monotheism):

The Shema has often wrongly, “lead to the assumption that the OT Israelites did not believe in the existence of other gods. According to this assumption, the definition of monotheism rules out the existence of other gods. In light of many OT passages, these assumptions cannot be sustained.”


Scholar, Larry Hurtado (One Lord, One God):

“It is a fair point that the dictionary meaning of ‘monotheism’ (the term a relatively modern coinage) scarcely fits the ancient world-views in question…The key distinguishing factor, and the most blatant expression of ‘ancient Jewish monotheism’ was not in denial of the existence of other divine beings but in an exclusivity of cultic practice [worship].”


Scholar, Richard Bauckham (Jesus and the God of Israel):

The element that makes ancient Judaism monotheistic, “is not the denial of the existence of other ‘gods’, but an understanding of the uniqueness of YHWH that puts him in a class of his own, a wholly different class from any other heavenly or supernatural beings, even if these are called ‘gods’.”


Is this for real?

  • Does the OT affirm the existence of other gods – “elohim”?
  • Does the Bible locate YHWH’s uniqueness with comparisons to other “elohim”?


The answer to both questions is…yes!



The Elohim:

The obvious thing to do now is figure out the identity of the “elohim”

  • In the OT, there are at least six “different entities” designated as “elohim” – Michael Heiser.
  • (The source for this info is Michael Heiser’s Unseen Realm.)


(1) Yahweh

The OT uses the word “elohim” for YHWH literally thousands of times.

  • Deuteronomy 4:35 (ESV) — 35 To you it was shown, that you might know that the Lord is God [elohim]; there is no other besides him.
  • Jeremiah 26:13 (ESV) — 13 Now therefore mend your ways and your deeds, and obey the voice of the Lord your God [elohim], and the Lord will relent of the disaster that he has pronounced against you.
  • Micah 4:5 (ESV) — 5 For all the peoples walk each in the name of its god [elohim], but we will walk in the name of the Lord our God [elohim] forever and ever.


(2) Members of Yahweh’s Divine Council

God’s Divine Council, or heavenly host, appears throughout the OT

  • Psalm 82:1 (ESV) — 1 God [elohim] has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods [elohim] he holds judgment:
  • 1 Kings 22:19–21 (ESV) — 19 And Micaiah said, “Therefore hear the word of the Lord: I saw the Lord sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven [these are elohim] standing beside him on his right hand and on his left; 20 and the Lord said, ‘Who will entice Ahab, that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?’ And one said one thing, and another said another. 21 Then a spirit [“ruah”, an elohim] came forward and stood before the Lord, saying, ‘I will entice him.’


(3) Foreign Gods

Called a Deuteronomy 32 worldview, the OT understands there to be gods over other nations.

  • Deuteronomy 4:7 (ESV) — 7 For what great nation is there that has a god [elohim] so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon him?
  • Judges 11:24 (ESV) — 24 Will you not possess what Chemosh your god [elohim] gives you to possess? And all that the Lord our God [elohim] has dispossessed before us, we will possess.
  • 1 Kings 11:33 (ESV) — 33 because they have forsaken me and worshiped Ashtoreth the goddess [elohim] of the Sidonians, Chemosh the god [elohim] of Moab, and Milcom the god [elohim] of the Ammonites, and they have not walked in my ways, doing what is right in my sight and keeping my statutes and my rules, as David his father did.


(4) “The deceased Samuel”

  • 1 Samuel 28:13–14 (ESV) — 13 The king said to her, “Do not be afraid. What do you see?” And the woman said to Saul, “I see a god [elohim] coming up out of the earth.” 14 He said to her, “What is his appearance?” And she said, “An old man is coming up, and he is wrapped in a robe.” And Saul knew that it was Samuel, and he bowed with his face to the ground and paid homage.


(4) Demons (“shedim”)

  • Deuteronomy 32:17 (NRSV) — 17 They sacrificed to demons, not God, to deities [elohim] they had never known, to new ones recently arrived, whom your ancestors had not feared.
  • Paul references this in 1 Corinthians 10:20 – “they sacrifice to demons and not to God”.


(5) “Angels or the Angel of Yahweh”

  • Judges 6:20 (ESV) — 20 And the angel of God [malak elohim] said to him, “Take the meat and the unleavened cakes, and put them on this rock, and pour the broth over them.” And he did so.
  • 2 Samuel 14:17 (ESV) — 17 And your servant thought, ‘The word of my lord the king will set me at rest,’ for my lord the king is like the angel of God [malak elohim] to discern good and evil. The Lord your God be with you!”


BTW – “elohim” has many other uses, such as idols, but they are obviously not living “entities”.


So what do all the referents of the word “elohim” have in common?

  • Maybe a leading question will help.
  • In what realm do all “elohim” live?


Mike Heiser helps us out here:

  • “What all the figures on the list have in common is that they are inhabitants of the spiritual world.”
  • “The word elohim is a ‘place of residence’ term. Our home is the world of embodiment; elohim by nature inhabit the spiritual world.”


This leads us to some very important questions.

  • What is the difference(s) between YHWH and all other “elohim”?
  • Why is YHWH unique and incomparable?
  • Why is it true that, “Yhwh is elohim but no other elohim is yhwh”?



YHWH’s Uniqueness and Incomparability:

The Bible will help us out quite a bit here.

  • Nehemiah 9:6 (ESV) — 6 “You are the Lord, you alone. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and you preserve all of them; and the host of heaven [elohim of Divine Council] worships you.
  • Deuteronomy 10:17 (ESV) — 17 For the Lord your God is God of gods [elohim] and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe.
  • Psalm 148:1–5 (ESV) — 1 Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord from the heavens; praise him in the heights! 2 Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his hosts! 3 Praise him, sun and moon, praise him, all you shining stars! 4 Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens! 5 Let them praise the name of the Lord! For he commanded and they were created.


YHWH is the uncreated, eternal creator of all things – including the other “elohim”.

  • And all other “elohim” are to worship him.
  • You can’t get any more unique and incomparable than that.


Let’s look at some more Scriptural examples of YHWH’s uniqueness.

  • Deuteronomy 3:24 (ESV) — 24 ‘O Lord God, you have only begun to show your servant your greatness and your mighty hand. For what god [el] is there in heaven or on earth who can do such works and mighty acts as yours?
  • Deuteronomy 32:39 (ESV) — 39 “ ‘See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god [elohim] beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.
  • Exodus 15:11 (ESV) — 11 “Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods [el]? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?
  • 1 Kings 8:23 (ESV) — 23 and said, “O Lord, God of Israel, there is no God [elohim] like you, in heaven above or on earth beneath, keeping covenant and showing steadfast love to your servants who walk before you with all their heart;
  • Psalm 89:6–7 (ESV) — 6 For who in the skies can be compared to the Lord? Who among the heavenly beings is like the Lord, 7 a God greatly to be feared in the council of the holy ones [refers to elohim], and awesome above all who are around him?
  • Psalm 97:9 (ESV) — 9 For you, O Lord, are most high over all the earth; you are exalted far above all gods [elohim].


The above texts are “statements of incomparability” – Michael Heiser.

  • No “elohim” compare to YHWH!
  • Again, “YHWH is elohim, but no other elohim is YHWH!” – Heiser.


But wait, there is more!

  • Scripture is chocked full of “unique qualities” that pertain only to YHWH – Heiser.
  • Examples are too numerous to list.


And of the many examples, Job 9 has a curious one.

  • Job 9:8 (ESV) — 8 who alone stretched out the heavens and trampled the waves of the sea;
  • YHWH’s uniqueness includes the ability to subdue and walk upon the sea.
  • His control over creation is one reason why He is the one unique God of Israel.
  • He controls it and subdues it because He made it.


Such examples are important parts of the Biblical Landscape relevant to our exploration of the Trinity.

  • As is our final topic under YHWH’s uniqueness – worship.



Worship and Ancient Jewish Monotheism:

Ancient Jewish monotheism cannot be fully understood outside of the worship of YHWH.

  • YHWH is unique
  • YHWH is incomparable.
  • YHWH alone is to be worshipped.


Scholar, Thomas McCall:

  • “Because YHWH is utterly unique as Creator and Lord, worship is to be devoted exclusively to him.”
  • “Worship is central to early Jewish monotheism” – Thomas McCall.


Again, the Bible makes this clear!

  • Exodus 34:14 (ESV) — 14 for you shall worship no other god [el], for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God [el],
  • Deuteronomy 8:19 (ESV) — 19 And if you forget the Lord your God and go after other gods [elohim] and serve them and worship them, I solemnly warn you today that you shall surely perish.
  • Deuteronomy 11:16 (ESV) — 16 Take care lest your heart be deceived, and you turn aside and serve other gods [elohim] and worship them;


Biblical Landscape Alert:

We need to note something very important about the Jewish idea of worship of YHWH.

“For Jewish monotheism, this insistence on the one God’s exclusive right to religious worship was far more important than metaphysical notions of the unity of the divine nature” – Richard Bauckham.


In other words, YHWH was worthy of worship because He was the Israel’s elohim.

  • The unique and incomparable elohim.
  • YHWH was not worshipped because he was, in His inner nature, numerically one.


Scholar, Thomas McCall puts it this way:

“It is important to see that this account of monotheism is not centered on numerical oneness, nor does it obviously dictate that there is at most one divine person” – Thomas McCall.


As with the other features of the Biblical Landscape we have mentioned in this section…

  • We will revisit this in a few weeks.


As well as one other thing that needs fleshing out:

  • What did it mean, exactly, for an ancient Jew to worship?
  • And was it ever kosher to worship any being other than YHWH?


For now, let’s end with the words of Jesus:

  • Mark 12:28–29 (ESV) — 28 And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.



Exploration of the Trinity – Part 3 – Divine Agency, Visible YHWH and The Two Powers

Last week we dealt with the first proposition in our Trinity septad:

  • “God is one”.


To that end, we unpacked the meaning of ancient Jewish Monotheism.

  • We saw that its main feature was the uniqueness of YHWH.
  • This uniqueness was highlighted by comparisons to other “elohim” – other gods.


And importantly, we noted that:

  • Ancient Jewish monotheism as a concept did not affirm or deny that YHWH’s nature was singular.


The significance of this is that it is part of our efforts to…

  • Lay out the Biblical landscape that is relevant to an affirmation of the Trinity.


Today we continue to build on this Biblical landscape with more weird, wild stuff.

  • Specifically, Divine Agency, Visible/Invisible YHWH, and Two Powers.
  • All of these expand on what the uniqueness of YHWH can accommodate.



Divine Agency:

Divine Agency is an idea prevalent throughout the OT and 2nd temple Judaism.

  • It is “the fundamental idea that God might have a chief agent prominent over all other servants of God and associated with him particularly closely” – Larry Hurtado.
  • This chief agent “stood far above all other servants of God” – Larry Hurtado.
  • This agent was “associated with God in a unique capacity in the manifestation of his sovereignty” – Larry Hurtado.


Some examples of OT divine agents are.

  • God’s Wisdom
  • The Angel of YHWH
  • Cloud Rider Son of Man



Proverbs is full of references to a personified Wisdom seen as a divine agent of YHWH.

  • Proverbs 8:22–31 (ESV) — 22 “The Lord possessed me [Wisdom] at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of old. 23 Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth. 24 When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water. 25 Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth, 26 before he had made the earth with its fields, or the first of the dust of the world. 27 When he established the heavens, I was there; when he drew a circle on the face of the deep, 28 when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep, 29 when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth, 30 then I was beside him, like a master workman, and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, 31 rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the children of man.


Angel of YHWH:

Exodus 23 contains one of many well know examples of the Angel of YHWH.

  • Exodus 23:20–21 (ESV) — 20 “Behold, I send an angel before you to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place that I have prepared. 21 Pay careful attention to him and obey his voice; do not rebel against him, for he will not pardon your transgression, for my name is in him.


About this text, Larry Hurtado says:

“Given the enormous significance of the name of God in ancient Jewish tradition, the description of [the angel] as indwelt by God’s name suggests that this figure has been given exceptional status in God’s hierarchy, perhaps superior to all but God himself” – Larry Hurtado.


Cloud Rider Son of Man:

  • Daniel 7:9–14 (ESV) — 9 “As I looked, thrones were placed, and the Ancient of Days took his seat; his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames; its wheels were burning fire. 10 A stream of fire issued and came out from before him; a thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him; the court sat in judgment, and the books were opened. 11 “I looked then because of the sound of the great words that the horn was speaking. And as I looked, the beast was killed, and its body destroyed and given over to be burned with fire. 12 As for the rest of the beasts, their dominion was taken away, but their lives were prolonged for a season and a time. 13 “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. 14 And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.


Notice here that more than one throne is in view – presumably two.

  • One is obviously for the “Ancient of Days” since he “took his seat”.
  • Is the other for the cloud rider who appeared to be a “son of man”?
  • It seems rather odd to be “given dominion and glory and a kingdom” and not given a throne.


And about this text, Larry Hurtado says:

“The description of this figure supplies us with evidence that ancient Jews of the time of Daniel were comfortable with picturing God as exalting some figure to the position of chief agent, with no threat to the uniqueness of God” – Larry Hurtado.


We have only skimmed the surface of divine agency in ancient Judaism.

  • There are many more examples to be found both in the OT and in 2nd Temple Jewish literature.


But from this very brief survey, it should rather obvious that:

  • Divine agency provides us with yet another important piece of the Biblical landscape relevant to the Trinity.
  • There will be more on this when we get to the “Jesus is God” premise of our septad.



Visible and Invisible YHWH:

In the OT there exists a distinction between YHWH in visible and in invisible form.

“The startling reality is that long before Jesus and the New Testament, careful readers of the Old Testament would not have been troubled by the notion of, essentially, two Yahwehs — one invisible and in heaven, the other manifest on earth in a variety of visible forms, including that of a man” – Michael Heiser.


The Angel of YHWH (which we have seen is also cast as a divine agent) is the most intriguing example.

  • Exodus 3:1–6 (ESV) — 1 Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. 3 And Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.” 4 When the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” 5 Then he said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” 6 And he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.


Look what Stephen says in Acts 7:

  • Acts 7:30–32 (ESV) — 30 “Now when forty years had passed, an angel appeared to him in the wilderness of Mount Sinai, in a flame of fire in a bush. 31 When Moses saw it, he was amazed at the sight, and as he drew near to look, there came the voice of the Lord: 32I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham and of Isaac and of Jacob.’ And Moses trembled and did not dare to look.


As is demonstrated in the above verses:

  • The OT constantly blurs the lines between the visible YHWH – the Angel of YHWH – and the invisible YHWH.


Who was speaking?

  • Who was visible?
  • If it was only the heavenly YHWH, why the appearance of the Angel of YHWH?


Another great example of this is when the OT talks about who led the Israelites out of Egypt.

  • Deuteronomy 4:34–37 (ESV) — 34 Or has any god ever attempted to go and take a nation for himself from the midst of another nation, by trials, by signs, by wonders, and by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and by great deeds of terror, all of which the Lord your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes? 35 To you it was shown, that you might know that the Lord is God; there is no other besides him. 36 Out of heaven he let you hear his voice, that he might discipline you. And on earth he let you see his great fire, and you heard his words out of the midst of the fire. 37 And because he loved your fathers and chose their offspring after them and brought you out of Egypt with his own presence, by his great power,


Who or what is the presence of YHWH from verse 37 above?

  • Judges 2:1 (ESV) — 1 Now the angel of the Lord went up from Gilgal to Bochim. And he said, “I brought you up from Egypt and brought you into the land that I swore to give to your fathers. I said, ‘I will never break my covenant with you,
  • Once again, the OT blurs the lines between the two.


One more example of blurring the lines between the visible Angel and the invisible God is Genesis 48.

  • Genesis 48:15–16 (ESV) — 15 And he blessed Joseph and said, “The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life long to this day, 16 the angel who has redeemed me from all evil, bless the boys; and in them let my name be carried on, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.”


This passage connects “The God” and “the angel” textually in parallel.

  • Does doing so mean God is a mere angel or is the angel God?


Michael Heiser answers the question this way:

“The parallel position of elohim and mal’ak is unmistakable. Since the Bible very clearly teaches that God is eternal and existed before all things, and that angels are created beings, the point of this explicit parallel is not to say that God is an angel. On the other hand, it affirms that this angel is God. But the most striking feature is the verb (“may he bless”). In Hebrew, the verb “bless” in this passage is not grammatically plural, which would indicate two different persons are being asked to bless the boys. Rather, it is singular, thereby telegraphing a tight fusion of the two divine beings on the part of the author. In other words, the writer had a clear opportunity to distinguish the God of Israel from the angel, but instead merges their identities” – Michael Heiser.


This visible/invisible YHWH stuff is yet another crucial piece of the Biblical landscape relevant to the Trinity.


And, we also need to note something else fairly significant.

  • These Jewish beliefs about divine agents and the visible/invisible YWHW were held BEFORE Jesus came on the scene.
  • In other words, we are not reading something into the text that isn’t there just to suit our purposes.



Two Powers:

There is one more feature of ancient Judaism that is relevant to our construction of a Trinitarian Biblical landscape.

  • It is called Two Powers.
  • And it does have overlap with divine agency and the visible/invisible YHWH.


What is Two Powers?

  • It is “interpreting scripture to say that a principal angelic or hypostatic [embodied] manifestation in heaven was equivalent to God” – Alan Segal.
  • And that this angelic or personal manifestation was equal in authority to God.


Alan Segal tells us that:

  • “The early biblical theophanies which picture God as a man or confuse YWHW with an angel are the basis of the tradition” – Alan Segal.


Our knowledge of this tradition comes from 2nd Temple Judaism and Hellenistic Jews like Philo.

  • Philo was born before Christ in 25 BC in Alexandria, Egypt.


But even more interesting is what we learn from the Jewish rabbis of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd centuries.

  • They characterized Two Powers as a heresy.
  • One that jeopardized their monotheism.


The rabbis acknowledged “that God manifested Himself in two ways” – Alan Segal.

  • They rejected two authorities.


And like divine agency and the visible/invisible YHWH traditions:

The “two powers in heaven was a very early category of heresy, earlier than Jesus” – Alan Segal.


Two Powers Examples:

Daniel 7 provides us with our first example.

  • We just saw it as an example of divine agency.
  • But it also serves as an example of two powers.


We only need to look at verse 9.

  • Daniel 7:9–14 (ESV) — 9 “As I looked, thrones were placed, and the Ancient of Days took his seat; his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames; its wheels were burning fire.


Alan Segal simply says this:

  • This passage “may easily be describing two separate, divine figures” – Alan Segal.
  • Why? Two thrones.
  • Thrones represent authority.
  • And this text gives us two seats of authority.


Daniel 7 gave the rabbis such headaches that one, Rabbi Akiba (mid 2nd century), opted for the idea that:

“Both figures in heaven were seen to be divine, one God in two hypostases [embodiments]” rather than allow for the “Son of Man” to be the Messiah – Alan Segal.

  • In other words when faced with two powers or Messiah – he oddly went with two powers.


Some other examples where two powers were believed to be present:

  • Exodus 15:3 (ESV) — 3 The Lord is a man of war; the Lord is his name.
  • Exodus 24:9–10 (ESV) — 9 Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up, 10 and they saw the God of Israel. There was under his feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness.
  • Exodus 24:1 (ESV) — 1 Then he said to Moses, “Come up to the Lord, you and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and worship from afar.


Deuteronomy 32:39 gives us a peculiar one.

  • Deuteronomy 32:39 (ESV) — 39 “ ‘See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.
  • The two “I’s” were seen as two powers of YHWH.


Interestingly, the LXX changed this verse.

  • It changed the two “I’s” to two “sees”.
  • It reads, “See, See that I am, and there is no god except me”.
  • Alan Segal says such a change implies “an early [two powers] sensitivity to the verse” – Segal.


Joshua 24:19 also gives us an interesting example.

  • Joshua 24:19 (ESV) — 19 But Joshua said to the people, “You are not able to serve the Lord, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins.


“Holy” here is plural whereas “jealous” is singular.

  • In other words – it can be read as “they is/are a holy God”.



Philo and The Two Power Tradition:

Philo has a very interesting version of the two power tradition:

  • He believed in “…a second, principal, divine creature, whom he calls a ‘second God,’ who nevertheless is only the visible emanation of the High, ever-existing God” – Alan Segal.


Philo’s two power beliefs centered around a hypostasized (embodied) logos.

  • The logos was “a separate, second divine hypostasis [embodiment]” – Alan Segal.
  • Logos was Philo’s explanation for “all the angelic and human manifestations of the divine in the OT” – Alan Segal.
  • The Angel of YHWH was the logos, for example.


Philo believed that:

  • “The logos becomes the actual figure of God, who appears ‘like a man’ in order that men may know His presence” – Alan Segal.
  • “…God is able to reach into the transient world, act in it, fill it, as well as transcend material existence, without implying a change in His essence” – Alan Segal.


Another interesting tidbit about Philo and logos:

  • “Philo maintains that the logos was God’s partner in creation…he calls the logos, ‘The Beginning,’ ‘The Ruler of the Angels,’ and significantly, ‘the Name of God.’” – Alan Segal.



Place Where God Stands = Logos:

Philo saw any text that spoke of “place” in reference to God’s presence as the manifestation of the second power – the logos.

  • Yes…this overlaps with our visible/invisible YHWH discussion.


Some examples of this are found in the following passages (LXX):

  • Exodus 24:10 (LXX) – “And they perceived the place where God stands…
    • Philo read this as “they perceived the logos”.
  • Genesis 31:13 (LXX) – “I am the God who appeared to you in the place of God…
    • Philo read this as “appeared to you as logos”.


Philo says that these two power passages:

  • Demonstrate that God assumes the “likeness of man”.
  • “Thus God can actually appear to men as a man or angel” – Alan Segal.


Rabbis judged all of these views as heresy.

  • Such views seemed to advocate two equal powers and authorities with YHWH.
  • Something they soundly rejected.




Over the past two weeks, we have surveyed the Biblical landscape as it pertains to the Trinity.

  • We have seen nothing that would render a Trinitarian view as unreasonable.
  • Over the coming weeks, we will look at Jesus in light of this Biblical landscape.



Exploration of the Trinity – Part 4 – “One God” and the New Testament

Where are we headed?

  • We took a few weeks to understand ancient Jewish monotheism.
  • We saw the richness of its landscape.


We also got a small taste of some of the weird stuff that exists within this Jewish monotheism.

  • Divine Agency, Visible/Invisible YWHW, and Two Powers in Heaven.


We now need to establish if the NT continues to affirm ancient Jewish monotheism.

  • And find out if it flattens out the weird Biblical landscape present in the OT.
  • Doing so will give us yet another piece of the ever-growing Biblical landscape relevant to our Trinity study.



NT Monotheism:

As we survey the NT’s monotheism passages, we need to remember what OT monotheism affirmed.

  • (1) YHWH is Israel’s elohim.
  • (2) YHWH is unique and incomparable among all the elohim.
  • (3) YHWH alone is to be worshipped.


There are seven significant passages.

  • We will quickly look at five and then dive deep into a sixth – Gal. 3:19-20.
  • We will save the seventh – 1 Cor. 8:6 – for a later lesson.


Quick take texts:

  • Ephesians 4:4–6 (ESV) — 4 There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
  • Mark 12:29 (ESV) — 29 Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.
  • Romans 3:29–30 (ESV) — 29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, 30 since God is one—who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith.
  • 1 Timothy 2:5–6 (ESV) — 5 For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.
  • James 2:19 (ESV) — 19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!


All of these affirm ancient Jewish monotheism.

  • They do so with similar language – “one God”, “the Lord is one”, “God is one” and “there is one God”.


And some of them affirm the “oneness” of God while affirming the “oneness” of “one Lord” and “one mediator”.

  • It seems odd to affirm that Jesus is one.
  • But remember, “oneness” refers to uniqueness and incomparability.
  • The question we will deal with in a later lesson is do the NT writers see Jesus’ uniqueness as consisting of the same uniqueness as the Father’s.


For now, let’s deal with Galatians.



Galatians 3:18-20:

18 For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise. 19 Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary. 20 Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one.


The context of this passage is the law vs. the promise.

  • Paul is showing the superiority of the promise made to Abraham.
  • It came before the law and it was “by promise”.


He contrasts the promise made to Abraham with the law.

  • He says the law was “added because of transgressions” (vs. 19).
  • And was temporary – “until the offspring should come” (vs. 19).


And then the weird bit.

  • The law, he says, “was put in place through angels by an intermediary” (vs. 19).
  • Angels and an intermediary?
  • What is all this about?


But then comes the even weirder bit – verse 20.

  • A verse that is notoriously difficult to figure out.
  • Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one” (vs. 20).


How difficult?

  • Highly respected New Testament scholar Dan Wallace says this about verse 20: It is a “real problem”.
  • “Why does Paul add this? How does it in any way contribute to his argument?”
  • He jokes that there must be 300 interpretations of verse 20.
  • He even concedes that the meaning of Paul’s argument here may be “lost to us” – Dan Wallace.


But, importantly, he does believe that it has something to do with the Shema.

  • Which is why we are dealing with this passage.


So, what we want to explore is:

  • Who is the intermediary in this passage?
  • Why does the intermediary require that Paul affirm the Shema?



First – What We Know:

The event that Paul is referring to in our Galatians passage is the giving of the law.

  • An event that took place on Sinai.


The Bible has much to say about what happened on Sinai and who was involved.

  • We know that YHWH was involved.
  • We know angels were involved.
  • We know Moses was involved.
  • We know Israel was involved.


We can illustrate how they all related to each other:

  • YHWH –to– Angels –to– Moses –to– Israel.


In other words, the law originated with YHWH.

  • And it ultimately was given to Israel.
  • But it was apparently delivered through Angels to Moses.
  • So we have, in effect, two intermediaries – Angels and Moses.


A quick survey of some relevant texts will bear this out.

  • Acts 7:53 (ESV) — 53 you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.”
  • Hebrews 2:2 (ESV) — 2 For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution,
  • Leviticus 26:46 (ESV) — 46 These are the statutes and rules and laws that the Lord made between himself and the people of Israel through Moses on Mount Sinai.
  • John 1:17 (ESV) — 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.


These texts clearly teach us that:

  • Both angels and Moses were intermediaries between YHWH and Israel on Sinai.
  • The Bible has much to say about the nature of Moses’ mediation.
  • But, we are not told the nature of the Angels’ mediation (at least in the above texts).
  • More on that later.


There is one more important bit of relevant information that comes from Stephen in Acts.

  • Acts 7:35–38 (ESV) — 35 “This Moses, whom they rejected, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge?’—this man [Moses] God sent as both ruler and redeemer by the hand of the angel who appeared to him in the bush. 36 This man [Moses] led them out, performing wonders and signs in Egypt and at the Red Sea and in the wilderness for forty years. 37 This is the Moses who said to the Israelites, ‘God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers.’ 38 This is the one [Moses] who was in the congregation in the wilderness with the angel who spoke to him at Mount Sinai, and with our fathers. He received living oracles to give to us.


Stephen tells us something rather remarkable.

  • The Angel of YHWH was present at Sinai.
  • And He “spoke to him [Moses] at Mount Sinai”.


This is a new wrinkle that has to be accounted for in the events on Sinai.

  • Here is our illustration: YHWH –to– Angels –to– Moses –to– Israel.
  • Where does the Angel of YHWH fit into this?
  • We will find out.



Second – Identifying Paul’s Intermediary:

Let’s look at the relevant part of Gal. 3:19-20 again.

  • 19b and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary. 20 Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one.


Remember, we are trying to answer two questions about this text.

  • Who is the intermediary in this passage?
  • Why does the intermediary require that Paul affirm the Shema?


Having looked at all the players involved at Sinai, we are left with three choices.

  • (1) Moses.
  • (2) Angels.
  • (3) Angel of YWHW.


Michael Heiser helps bring some clarity.

“This verse can either mean that the angels handed the law to an intermediary (i.e., Moses) who then gave it to the Israelites, or an intermediary among the angels handed the law to Moses. In the former case (in which Moses is the intermediary), the text does not actually say that angels gave the law to him. If Moses was the intermediary, then, it is still unclear whether angels, or an angelic figure, mediated the law. According to the latter case, an angelic figure was the intermediary”


So he describes two options.

  • Let’s look at our illustration again to flesh this out.
  • YHWH –to– Angels –to– Moses –to– Israel.
  • Heiser says Paul is speaking of two possible scenarios within this illustration.


Option 1 – Paul is describing the “Angels –to– Moses” scenario.

  • In which case Moses is the intermediary Paul is talking about.


But, he notes, if this is the case, the text doesn’t actually say the angels gave it to him.

  • It still could be the angels or an intermediary from the angels.
  • through angels by an intermediary” (vs. 3:19).


Option 2 – Paul is describing only the “Angels” scenario.

  • In other words, the intermediary was an intermediary from the Angels.
  • This intermediary – an intermediary from the angels – gave the law to Moses.
  • through angels by an [angel] intermediary


And who might this Angel that came out from the angels be?

  • The best Scriptural candidate* is Stephen’s angel, the one that spoke to Moses on Sinai.
  • The Angel of YHWH.
  • (*Some 2nd Temple texts identify this angel as Michael.)


So which is it – option (1) or option (2)?

  • Is Paul’s intermediary Moses or the Angel of YHWH?
  • Or a different option altogether – Angels generically?


Identifying the intermediary will show us why this passage…

  • Is part of the rich and varied Biblical landscape relevant to our Trinity study.




Most see Moses as Paul’s Galatians intermediary.

  • The NLT represents this most common interpretation.
  • God gave his law through angels to Moses, who was the mediator between God and the people”.


There are at least 3 problems with Moses as the intermediary.

  • Together they provide a reasonable, cumulative case against Moses.
  • We will see other evidence later.


(1) The problem with the NLT translation, specifically, is that Moses is not in the Greek text.

  • And more widely relevant is the fact that there is no mention of Moses anywhere in Galatians.


(2) It also may be significant that the only other time Paul uses the word (mesites – μεσίτης)…

  • He does not refer to a human.
  • 1 Timothy 2:5 (ESV) — 5 For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,


(3) Finally, the biggest problem is that Moses at Sinai would not have been a threat to the uniqueness of YHWH – the monotheism Paul is affirming/defending in verse 20.

  • Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one” (vs. 20)



  • Moses was neither an elohim, nor was he unique and incomparable, as defined by the OT.


Michael Heiser puts it this way.

  • “Why would Paul feel the need to clarify that God’s uniqueness wasn’t disturbed by this intermediary if it was just Moses?” – Michael Heiser.
  • Good point!


Heiser says in verse 20, Paul is “clarifying…the intermediary” – Michael Heiser.

  • (1) It must be an intermediary that could be seen as jeopardizing “God is one” (vs. 20).
  • (2) Yet, at the same time, it must be an intermediary that “does not violate God’s ‘oneness,’ as articulated in the Shema” – Michael Heiser.


He expands on this logic:

“If Moses was the intermediary, Paul would not need to reaffirm God’s oneness. But if the intermediary was an angel—even an angel giving the law—this qualification would make sense” – Michael Heiser.


Moses is simply not a candidate for this type of intermediary.

  • He is a human and not an elohim (while on Sinai).


So we have two choices left.

  • Angels
  • Angel of YHWH




Are angels the intermediary Paul is referring to?


About this, Dan Wallace makes the following comment:

“If Paul is arguing that the angels were more than ‘official eyewitnesses’, then he is telling us that they functioned as perhaps some kind of go-between [intermediary] between Moses and YHWH in the giving of the law. If so, then Paul cannot be thinking of the giving of the ten commandments primarily because there was direct contact between Moses and YHWH [Deut. 9:10] on that occasion” – Dan Wallace.


In other words…

  • Wallace has just added a new wrinkle.
  • He says angels can’t be Paul’s “intermediary” as it relates to the law delivered on Sinai.
  • In fact, if angels were Paul’s “intermediary”, then Paul would be talking about an event other than the giving of the law at Sinai.


He gives two reasons for this.

  • (1) The angel’s role at Sinai was that of an eyewitness.
    • The law came through them in that they were eyewitnesses to it.
  • (2) Moses received the law directly from YHWH [Deut. 9:10].
    • More on this in a moment.


Where does Wallace get the idea about the angels as eyewitnesses?

  • Deuteronomy 33:1–4 (ESV) — 1 This is the blessing with which Moses the man of God blessed the people of Israel before his death. 2 He said, “The Lord came from Sinai and dawned from Seir upon us; he shone forth from Mount Paran; he came from the ten thousands of holy ones [angels], with flaming fire at his right hand. 3 Yes, he loved his people, all his holy ones were in his hand; so they followed in your steps, receiving direction from you, 4 when Moses commanded us a law, as a possession for the assembly of Jacob.


The LXX (the main OT text for NT writers) is even clearer:

  • It has verse 2 as, “He made haste from Mount Paran with ten thousands of Kadesh, at his right, his angels with him” – Michael Heiser.


Ancient Jewish Rabbi’s reference Psalm 68:17 when they say (Tehillim 68:18):

  • “When the Holy One revealed Himself on Mount Sinai, twenty-two thousand angels descended on Him, as it is written, ‘God’s chariot includes twice ten thousand, thousands of angels’”.


From all this info, we can identify the angels’ role at Sinai.

  • They were not Paul’s “intermediary”.


They were part of the elohim that participated in God’s divine council (Heiser).

  • Much more can be said of this.
  • Suffice it to say that the OT connection between the council, God and mountains is huge.


Here is one further example of this connection.

  • Psalm 68:15–18 (ESV) — 15 O mountain of God, mountain of Bashan; O many-peaked mountain, mountain of Bashan! 16 Why do you look with hatred, O many-peaked mountain, at the mount that God desired for his abode, yes, where the Lord will dwell forever? 17 The chariots of God are twice ten thousand, thousands upon thousands; the Lord is among them; Sinai is now in the sanctuary. 18 You ascended on high, leading a host of captives in your train and receiving gifts among men, even among the rebellious, that the Lord God may dwell there.


So, the point is that, in their role as part of the divine council, the angels were, in effect, covenant witnesses (Heiser).

  • The angels were “at God’s right hand [Deut. 33 LXX]— the position of authority— witnessing the giving of the law to Israel” – Michael Heiser.
  • This was the nature of their mediation.


Moreover, we know the angels weren’t Paul’s “intermediary” from the logic of Gal. 3:19.

  • In verse 19, Paul makes a distinction between “through angels” and “by an intermediary”.
  • “Angels” is plural and “intermediary” is singular.


This distinction is part of the point Heiser was making earlier in our discussion.

  • Paul’s intermediary appears to have come out of the angels.
    • Out of the elohim of the divine council.


So where does that leave us?

  • It leaves us with our third choice – Angel of YHWH.


As we read through the relevant passages…

  • We need to remember the Visible/Invisible YHWH info from last week.



Angel of YHWH:

Deuteronomy gives us this nugget:

  • Deuteronomy 9:9–11 (ESV) — 9 When I went up the mountain to receive the tablets of stone, the tablets of the covenant that the Lord made with you [Israel], I remained on the mountain forty days and forty nights. I neither ate bread nor drank water. 10 And the Lord [YWHW] gave me the two tablets of stone written with the finger of God [Elohim], and on them were all the words that the Lord [YHWH] had spoken with you on the mountain out of the midst of the fire on the day of the assembly. 11 And at the end of forty days and forty nights the Lord [YHWH] gave me the two tablets of stone, the tablets of the covenant.


Here Moses tells us that:

  • YHWH/Elohim literally spoke, wrote and gave him the two tablets of stone.
  • The tablets were written (a physical act) with the “finger of God”.
  • Moses went up Sinai with no tablets – he came down with two literal tablets.
  • How did YHWH write on stone?


Michael Heiser describes the significance of this passage:

“This language is by now very familiar— the language of human physicality (‘finger’) applied to Yahweh. This is the stock description of the second Yahweh, the Angel” – Michael Heiser.


He says this is why the Bible does not hesitate to point to the role of Angels at Sinai.

“It shouldn’t be a surprise that the New Testament speaks of angelic mediation for the law— it was written by the Angel who is God in the presence of council members (‘the holy ones’) and then dispensed to Israel through Moses” – Michael Heiser.


But wait…there is more…again!


We need to look at Stephen’s passage again in light of Deuteronomy 9 that we just read.

  • Acts 7:37–38 (ESV) — 37 This is the Moses who said to the Israelites, ‘God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers.’ 38 This is the one [Moses] who was in the congregation in the wilderness with the angel who spoke to him at Mount Sinai, and with our fathers. He received living oracles to give to us.


Remember the blurred lines we talked about last week?

  • Here they are again.
  • Deuteronomy says it was YHWH that spoke on Sinai.
  • Stephen says it was “the angel who spoke to him at Mount Sinai” (vs. 38).




So, now we can make sense of Galatians 3:19-20 and Paul’s affirmation of monotheism.

  • Let’s go back to our illustration of the players involved at Sinai.
  • YHWH –to– Angels –to– Moses –to– Israel.


Remember, Heiser said Paul could be saying one of two things when speaking of the intermediary.

  • (1) He is referring to the “Angels –to– Moses” bit.
    • In which case, Moses is the intermediary.
  • (2) Or Paul is referring to just the “Angels” bit.
    • In which case, the Angel of YHWH is the intermediary from the “Angels” to Moses.


The textual evidence aligns itself with option 2.


So, we can rewrite our illustration of what happened on Sinai to account for this.

  • YHWH –to– Angel of YHWH (who spoke God’s word) –to– Moses –to– Israel.


BTW – There is a striking parallel to this illustration in the NT with the Gospel message.

  • YHWH –to– Son of God (who spoke God’s word) –to– Apostles –to– Israel/Nations.


And remember, we said that to make sense of Paul’s intermediary and his need to affirm the Shema in the presence of the intermediary…

  • (1) It must be an intermediary that could be seen as jeopardizing “God is one” (vs. 20).
  • (2) Yet, at the same time, it must be an intermediary that “does not violate God’s ‘oneness,’ as articulated in the Shema” – Michael Heiser.


There is only one candidate that fits this bill.

  • The Angel of YHWH.


So, “the intermediary is Yahweh in human form” – Michael Heiser.

  • This is the visible YHWH we learned about last week.
  • The Angel of YHWH.


When Paul says, “Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one” (vs. 20)

  • He is affirming that the uniqueness and incomparability of YWHW is not in jeopardy.
  • The intermediary was YHWH – the visible YWHW – the Angel of YHWH.


Now we can see why the Galatians passage presents us with a crucial piece of the Biblical landscape.

  • We have Paul affirming the Shema while affirming plurality in YHWH.
  • Something that it is confirmed by Stephen’s vision before he was stoned.
  • The NT does not flatten out the OT landscape we have explored.



Exploration of the Trinity – Part 5 – “My Lord and My God” and Unitarian Presuppositions


It is time to move on to the third premise in our Trinitarian septad.

  • (P1) God is one.
  • (P2) The Father is God.
  • (P3) The Son is God.
  • (P4) The Holy Spirit is God.
  • (P5) The Father is not the Son.
  • (P6) The Son is not the Holy Spirit.
  • (P7) The Holy Spirit is not the Father.


There is really no need to explore premise 2.

  • The phrase, “God the Father” appears 18 times in the ESV NT.
  • Its construction in Greek is almost always “ho theos” – literally, “The God”.


And “Father” referring to “God” appears in 149 verses in the ESV NT (Logos Search).

  • And to my knowledge, there is no Christian tradition that disagrees with (P2).


So, given all we have learned thus far about the Biblical landscape:

  • Jewish Monotheism in the OT
  • Divine Agency, Visible/Invisible YHWH, and Two Powers in Heaven
  • Jewish Monotheism in the NT


It is time to explore where it is in this Biblical landscape that the NT writers place Jesus.

  • For as we saw, nothing in the landscape excludes the possibility that Jesus is God.
  • In fact, the Biblical landscape allows for it.
  • (The kind of “is” – identity, predication, and constitution – will be addressed in later lesson.)



Our Ground Rules:

Moving forward, we want to take the writers’ message at face value.

  • It is their landscape, it is their context, it is their intent, and it is their language that takes priority.
  • The substance of their message is communicated through their literary form (Daryl Charles).
  • In other words, it is their messaging.


And it is our contention that the NT writers’ messaging affirms that Jesus is divine, not merely a human being.

  • A divinity that is established by and defined as possessing the same uniqueness as the Father.


When we say Jesus possesses the same uniqueness as the Father, we might mean:

  • Jesus is one of the three persons of a Tri-Personal God.
  • Jesus shares with the other persons a “single concrete nature, a single trope of deity” – William Hasker.


This view of Jesus’ deity is just one example available to us.

  • We are not yet wrestling with the philosophical working out of such a claim.
  • This will come later (like the “is” from above).



Jesus Identification in NT:

There are least two different ways, textually, that Jesus is referenced within the Trinitarian Biblical landscape.


(1) The writers identify Jesus as God explicitly.

  • This is precision plain to modern thinking.
  • For example, “The piece of gold is an earring”.
  • This is obvious in meaning to us.


(2) The writers identify Jesus as God implicitly through their messaging (as described earlier).

  • This seems to us as only an implicit identification.
  • But in light of the Biblical landscape and the writers’ messaging, this is every bit as explicit.


For example, “The piece of gold is a hoop that attaches to a hole in the ear”.

  • This is every bit as clear.
  • We can obviously see that the piece of gold is an earring.
  • We will tease out these sorts of identifications next week.


It is my belief that the second of these is as valuable as the first.

  • But, today we will deal only with the explicit identifications.


Explicit Identification:

Here are a few of the handful of verses that explicitly tell us Jesus is God.

  • John 20:28 (ESV) — 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God [ho theos]!”
  • Titus 2:13 (ESV) — 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God [ho theos] and Savior Jesus Christ,
  • 2 Peter 1:1 (ESV) — 1 Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God [ho theos] and Savior Jesus Christ:
  • John 5:17–18 (ESV) — 17 But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” 18 This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God [ho theos].


We only have time today to deal with one of these identifications.

  • We will explore the first of our textual examples – John 20:28.
  • We will, however, have something to say about John 5:17-18 at the end.
  • But note that our coming observations are applicable to these other verses as well.



John 20:28:

Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”

  • This seems simple enough.
  • Thomas calls Jesus “Lord” – “ho kyrios”.
  • Thomas calls Jesus “my God” – “ho theos”.
    • The same way the Father is identified as God – “ho theos”.


The “Lord” bit doesn’t give anybody problems.

  • It is taken to be a clear statement about Jesus’ identity.
  • Jesus is The Lord.
  • The NT says so over a hundred times.


Unitarians, however, reject the “God” bit, as a clear, explicit statement about Jesus’ identity as God.

  • Even though it contains the same construction as references to the Father as God – “ho theos” (The God).


We need to deal with a few of the reasons they reject this as an explicit statement.

  • Specifically, we will look at a couple of very important presuppositions behind their interpretation.
  • And finally, we will hope to show why both their interpretations and presuppositions make less sense of the NT revelation than a Trinitarian approach does.


The fundamental reason Unitarians reject this text as Thomas confessing that Jesus is God is…

  • Divine Agency


A rule of thumb for any Unitarian interpretation of Jesus is this:

  • All texts that appear to identify Jesus as God are actually affirming he is a Divine Agent.
  • The texts are reinterpreted around Divine Agency.


We defined Divine Agency a few weeks ago as follows:

  • It is “the fundamental idea that God might have a chief agent prominent over all other servants of God and associated with him particularly closely” – Larry Hurtado.
  • This chief agent “stood far above all other servants of God” – Larry Hurtado.
  • This agent was “associated with God in a unique capacity in the manifestation of his sovereignty” – Larry Hurtado.


At the time we talked about three types of divine agents:

  • Wisdom; Angel of YHWH; Son of Man.


But there is a fourth type relevant to our discussion today.

  • Divinely Appointed Human Agents (DHA)



Divinely Appointed Human Agents and Moses:

It is obvious and uncontroversial that God called out human beings to be his agents.

  • He gave them authority.
  • He gave them a mission.
  • He elevated the position of some.
  • He gave some special powers.


Some examples are:

  • Adam, Abraham, Joseph, Isaiah, Elijah, John the Baptist, etc.


The clearest example, however, is Moses.

  • Exodus 3:10–12 (ESV) — 10 Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.” 11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” 12 He said, “But I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.”


We know that Moses performed all sorts of supernatural things under God’s direction and power.

  • Exodus 14:21 (ESV) — 21 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided.


Also interesting is that Moses’ got his words from YHWH.

  • Exodus 4:10–12 (ESV) — 10 But Moses said to the Lord, “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue.” 11 Then the Lord said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? 12 Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak.”


But the most interesting thing about Moses is that God refers to him as “god”.

  • Exodus 4:15–16 (ESV) — 15 You shall speak to him [Aaron] and put the words in his mouth, and I will be with your mouth and with his mouth and will teach you both what to do. 16 He [Aaron] shall speak for you to the people, and he shall be your mouth, and you shall be as God [elohim] to him.
  • Exodus 7:1 (ESV) — 1 And the Lord said to Moses, “See, I have made you like God [elohim] to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron shall be your prophet.


We have already learned that “elohim” is used to describe a number of different beings.

  • Ultimately, we learned it was a word that describes a spiritual being – a being that lives in the unseen realm.


But in our Moses example, we find another way “elohim” is used.

  • YHWH is not telling us that Moses is an elohim by nature.
  • Moses is not an angel, demon, god of another nation, etc.


YHWH is making the point that Moses will:

  • At a minimum, act and speak in the power and authority of YHWH.


So “elohim” here means Moses is YHWH’s human divine agent.

  • Again, this is nothing controversial.



The Leap – Divinely Appointed Agency and Jesus:

The parallels to Jesus’ ministry are obvious.

  • Moses did say, after all –
  • Deuteronomy 18:15 (ESV) — 15 “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen—


The Unitarian will press the parallel in a different direction than a Trinitarian.

  • They argue that Jesus is an DHA, like Moses – though a very special DHA.
  • He is the virgin born Messiah.
  • But…Jesus is not God.


How does this relate to Thomas’ words?


They suggest that Thomas could simply be calling Jesus “God” in recognition of this.

“Thomas, upon being confronted by the living Christ, instantly believed in the resurrection, i.e., that God had raised the man Jesus from the dead, and, given the standard use of ‘God’ in the culture as one with God’s authority, it certainly makes sense that Thomas would proclaim, ‘…My Lord and my God’” – John Schoenheit.

  • We will come back to this interpretation momentarily.


So What?

  • All concede that DHA is a feature of the OT/NT Biblical landscape.
  • As are, by the way, the visible/invisible YWHW, Two Powers in Heaven stuff, etc.


And as such, DHA does not flatten out the Biblical landscape we have explored.

  • It is part of it.


So, there is nothing about the existence of a DHA that precludes (P3) of our septad…

  • “Jesus is God”.


Let’s put it like this:

  • Is Jesus human?
  • Is He given authority?
  • Is He given a mission?
  • Is He elevated in position?
  • Is Jesus an agent of the Father?


The answer to all of these questions is, “Yes”.

  • So what?
  • None of this rules out identifying Jesus as God.


BTW – There are some fundamental differences between Jesus’ agency and any other.

  • We will deal with these in another lesson.


Here is the thing.

  • The concept of DHA is neutral on whether or not Jesus shares in a divine concrete nature with the Father and Spirit.
  • On its own, it says nothing about what Thomas might have meant.


So why is the appeal made to human divine agency?



The Biblical Landscape Smash:

There must be more going on with this appeal.

  • And there certainly is.


So to effectively argue that Thomas is not identifying Jesus as God…

  • A couple of presuppositions about God and Agency have to be in play.
  • These presuppositions are where the Unitarian’s appeal to DHA is supposedly vindicated.



(1) Presupposition 1:

  • Only the Father is God.
  • Jesus is not the Father.
  • Therefore Jesus is not God.


The problem with this presupposition is that it comes from philosophy and not the Bible.

  • Philosophy, and specifically analytic philosophy, is not a hermeneutic.
  • If used as one it becomes an anachronistic wrecking ball flattening the Biblical landscape we have uncovered.



  • It a priori declares, “Jesus can’t be God”.
  • It burdens the NT writers’ messaging with a modern expectation of precision and metaphysics.
  • As a result, any precision contained in the NT writers’ messaging, especially in light of the relevant Biblical landscape, is reinterpreted (usually within a Unitarian framework).


If Jesus doesn’t share a “single concrete nature, a single trope of deity” as the Father…

  • This will have to be something the NT writers tell us in their own way.


Their messaging will have to convey to us that Jesus is “non-God” and a mere creature…

  • …not the logic of, for example, analytic philosophy’s “Indiscernibility of Identicals”.



(2) Presupposition 2:

  • Jesus is a human divine agent.
  • The Jewish law of agency is applicable to Jesus’ agency.
  • The Jewish law of agency states, “a person’s agent is regarded as the person himself”.
  • Therefore Jesus, as an agent, is only “regarded” as God in the NT.


As anachronistic as the first presupposition is, this one is even worse.

  • A quick look at the Jewish law of agency will bear this out.


Just about every Unitarian I have read appeals to the Jewish law of agency.

  • They usually give the source as The Encyclopedia of the Jewish Religion.


Here is John Schoenheit’s version:

  • In this particular citation, he is using it to show why the Angel of YHWH is not God.
  • The same is implied about Jesus.

“A study of the appearances of the angel of the Lord reveals that sometimes he is addressed as the angel and sometimes he is addressed as ‘the Lord’ or ‘God’ (see Gen. 16:14 and Judges 6:16). The Jewish law of agency explains why this is so. According to the Jewish understanding of agency, the agent was regarded as the person himself. This is well expressed in The Encyclopedia of the Jewish Religion”.


Unitarian Kermit Zarley makes the same argument (and specifically about John 20:28).

“This indwelling of God in Christ, and God sending Christ, reflects the concept of agency. In antiquity, especially in the business world and among Jews, a principal would select someone to represent him as his agent. It was common knowledge that a man’s son usually proved to be the best candidate as his agent. So, with the son as agent, dealing with a man’s son was akin to dealing with the man himself, as if the father was inhis son…To rightly understand Jesus in the Gospel of John, Agent Christology can hardly be over-emphasized.”

  • He calls this the “God-in-Christ” approach versus that “Christ-is-God” approach.


Here is the problem with citing the Jewish law of agency.

  • (1) It comes from the Mishnah and not the Bible.
    • Specifically, Kiddushin 41b.
  • (2) This puts it about 200 years after Jesus.
  • (3) The context for its introduction was civil law – specifically marriage and divorce.
    • Kiddushin literally refers to “the first part of the two-part process of Jewish marriage”.
    • Later, it was used in discussions about guardianship, trusts, letting, etc.
  • (4) It has nothing to do with the Biblical landscape of Divine Agency we learned about…NOTHING.


And even if point (4) weren’t so, we still wouldn’t have a problem.

  • As we saw with Alan Segal’s insights into the “Two Powers in Heaven” Biblical landscape which existed before Jesus…
  • The rabbinic literature was openly opposed to anything that could be construed as a second YHWH.
  • So using something characterized as Biblical and made up by Christianity’s critics 200 years later to debunk the Trinity is a bit problematic.



John 20:28 Conclusion:

Back to the text:

  • Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”


John Schoenheit sums up his Unitarian view of this text as follows:

“There is no mention of the Trinity in the context, and there is no reason to believe that the disciples would have even been aware of such a doctrine. Thomas spoke what he would have known: that the man Jesus who he thought was dead was alive and had divine authority.”


Again, I say, “So what?

  • There is nothing in this summary that requires us to conclude…
  • (1) Thomas was not affirming Jesus to be God.
  • (2) Jesus was only a human agent of the Father.


Both of those conclusions rest, not on the text, but on the earlier presuppositions.

  • Philosophically, Jesus can’t be God.
  • Jewish law of divine agency.


We can restate our “so what” as follows:

  • Does Thomas need to believe in the Trinity or have a conception of the Trinity to identify Jesus as God?
  • Absolutely not.


To borrow from John Schoenheit’s own conclusion:

  • Thomas needs only to speak within the context of “what he would have known”.


And what would Thomas have know?


As a 2nd Temple Jew, he would have known:

  • (1) Jewish Monotheism was about affirming the uniqueness, incomparability and exclusivity of worship of the one true God – however God revealed His uniqueness.
  • (2) The distinction made between the Visible and Invisible YHWH.
  • (3) The existence of a Two Powers in Heaven position (documented so well by Alan Segal).
  • (4) Various forms of Divine Agency.
  • (5) The blurred lines that existed between some of the agents and YHWH.


But wait…there is more!


Thomas would have known that only YHWH could defeat death.

  • Isaiah 25:8 (ESV) — 8 He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken.
  • Deuteronomy 32:39 (ESV) — 39 “ ‘See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.


And, likewise, that Jesus Himself swallowed up death – multiple times.

  • Luke 8:53–55 (ESV) — 53 And they laughed at him, knowing that she was dead. 54 But taking her by the hand he called, saying, “Child, arise.” 55 And her spirit returned, and she got up at once. And he directed that something should be given her to eat.
  • John 11:43–44 (ESV) — 43 When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” 44 The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”


Thomas would have known that Jesus didn’t cry out to God to raise these from the dead like Elijah did.

  • 1 Kings 17:20–21 (ESV) — 20 And he cried to the Lord, “O Lord my God, have you brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I sojourn, by killing her son?” 21 Then he stretched himself upon the child three times and cried to the Lord, “O Lord my God, let this child’s life come into him again.”


Thomas would have known that by His own authority – Jesus restored life.

  • John 10:18 (ESV) — 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”
  • John 11:25 (ESV) — 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live,


But wait…there is even more.


As a follower of Jesus he would have also known other things the Gospel of John tells us.

  • John 6:38 (ESV) — 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.
  • John 8:54–59 (ESV) — 54 Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ 55 But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word. 56 Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” 57 So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” 58 Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” 59 So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.


And even more interesting, as it relates to Thomas specifically:

  • John 14:4–7 (ESV) — 4 And you know the way to where I am going.” 5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.


So, given all of this…

  • Could Thomas have literally meant what he said?
  • Jesus is “ho theos”.
  • Absolutely!


Or put another way, Thomas could have agreed with something else he would have known – the accusations of Jesus’ critics:

  • John 5:17–18 (ESV) — 17 But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” 18 This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God [ho theos].


What about the relevance of Moses being called “elohim”?


Thomas’ words about Jesus are a declaration of identity.

  • Thomas sees Jesus’ and identifies Him.
  • My Lord and my God”.


When Moses is called “elohim” by YHWH, it is clearly a declaration of function.

  • Huge difference!


Moses’ identification as “elohim” has no hermeneutical relevance to John 20:28.

  • Other than to show the differences that exist between the two.


So, there is nothing relevant in anything we have seen that would require that we:

  • Declare that Jesus is only a creature.
  • Declare that, ontologically, Jesus is “non-God”.




Here is a quick, and important observation about John 5:17-18.

  • There is an important distinction made here between “God” and “Father”.
  • Both Jesus and His critics make this distinction.




Neither Jesus nor His critics thought Jesus was “equal with” the Father.

  • This is not the accusation leveled at Jesus.


Jesus and the Father were obviously phenomenologically different.

  • The NT affirms this over and over.


But here…

  • Jesus’ critics thought that Jesus, by claiming the Father as “My Father”, was making Himself “equal withGod (not the Father).


Importantly, the phrase “equal with” means to be equal in authority.

  • A few weeks ago, we saw that the rabbinic tradition rejected this concept of the Biblical landscape as part of the “Two Powers in Heaven” heresy (Alan Segal).
  • An idea that existed before Jesus’ time.


So the issue here is that Jesus possesses the authority of God, but he possesses it not as the Father.

  • Again, this is exactly the Two Powers idea.
  • And this idea is what led Jesus’ critics to want to kill Jesus “all the more”.


The Unitarian’s handling of this verse is much the same as John 20:28.

  • “When Christ said that God was his Father, the Pharisees correctly interpreted that to mean that he had God’s authority on earth, something that Jesus was in fact saying” – John Schoenheit.


In other words, Jesus is an DHA.

  • Therefore the Jewish law of agency is in play.


But, we just saw that the presuppositions of both it and analytic philosophy are anachronistic.

  • So we can make the same conclusions about this text.
  • The passages are best understood as indicating that Jesus really is, as Thomas says, “ho theos”.



Exploration of the Trinity – Part 6 – Mark’s Jesus and the Uniqueness of YHWH


Last week, among other things, we began to examine how the NT writers saw Jesus.

  • Specifically, how they saw him within a specific Biblical landscape.
  • A landscape that blurs the lines between a visible and invisible YHWH.
  • A landscape that rabbis identified as a threat to the authority and uniqueness of YHWH.


It is within this Biblical landscape that the NT writers:

  • (1) Identified Jesus as God explicitly.
    • For example, John 20:28 – “My Lord and My God”.
  • (2) Identified Jesus as God implicitly – through their messaging.


Today, we explore the implicit messaging of the NT writers.

  • Messaging that identifies Jesus with God.


And as we anticipated last week:

  • This type of identification will prove to be every bit as explicit as John 20:28.


In fact, our examples will demonstrate something of great importance to our study.

  • How Jesus is identified with, and as participating in, the uniqueness of YHWH.



Gospel of Mark:

All of today’s examples will come from the Gospel of Mark.

  • We will deal with some very important “others” next week.


Why Mark?

  • Mark’s Christology is generally considered to possess a “low” Christology.
  • In other words, Unitarians use Mark to support their case that Jesus, early on, was portrayed as “a mere human being, even if a highly exalted prophet or messianic figure” – Daniel Johansson.
  • This is the divinely appointed human agency we talked about last week.
    • Exemplified by Moses.


Scholar Daniel Johansson takes issue with this view.

“The common opinion that the Gospel of Mark espouses a ‘low’ Christology and presents Jesus as a merely human being needs to be reassessed” – Daniel Johansson.


Why reassessed?

  • The “low” view overlooks the implicit messaging that pervades the Gospel of Mark.
  • Messaging that identifies Jesus with the uniqueness of God.


Johansson says that “for Mark, Jesus is considerably more than” an exalted human prophet and Messiah.

  • Jesus is identified “with the God of Israel” – Daniel Johansson.
  • And, more than that, the Markan view of Jesus overlaps “with that of YHWH”.


To put this within the ancient Jewish monotheism framework we have been working under:

  • Mark provides us with an ever-growing number of Biblical landscape features.
  • And Mark’s “landscape features” identify Jesus with a uniqueness that belongs to YHWH alone.
    • All of which is best explained by the Trinity.


BTW – The source of this study is Daniel Johansson’s doctoral thesis.

  • Its title – “Jesus and God in the Gospel of Mark: Unity and Distinction”
  • Larry Hurtado supervised the thesis at the University of Edinburgh.
  • I am only presenting Johansson’s conclusions.
  • For his in depth exegesis, I refer you to his thesis.



Mark 1:1-3 – The Divine Name:

Mark 1:1–3 (ESV) — 1 The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 2 As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, “Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, 3 the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’ ”


Mark’s opening verses are crucial for understanding his Christology for three reasons.

  • (1) They are “important indicators of [Mark’s] own understanding of Jesus” – Johansson.
  • (2) This in turn is “significant for how the audience will interpret the story that unfolds” – Johansson.
  • (3) They establish at the onset “a close linking of Jesus to Israel’s God” – Johansson.


Mark begins by telling us immediately about whom he is speaking.

  • Jesus Christ, the Son of God”.
  • In other words, Marks opening is about who Jesus is.


Mark then tells us, “as it is written in Isaiah”, and quotes the OT.

  • Interestingly, Mark actually draws from a number of OT texts.
  • This is not unusual and citing Isaiah indicates that it takes priority in Mark’s messaging.
  • “He sees the Isaiah text as the most important one in this context” – Johansson.


The OT texts that Mark draws from are:

  • Isaiah 40:3 (ESV) — 3 A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
  • Malachi 3:1a (ESV) — 1a “Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me.”


In their OT context these verses are anticipating a time when:

  • A messenger prepares the way for YHWH’s coming.


So what is the point Mark is making by citing these texts?


For Mark, the messenger – the “one crying in the wilderness” – is John the Baptist.

  • There really isn’t any disagreement about this.
  • After all, verse 4 tells us, “John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness…
  • “There is no doubt that Mark identifies the messenger and voice of the wilderness with John the Baptist” – Johansson.


And “the Lord” from verse 1:3 – whom John the Baptist is preparing the way for – is clearly Jesus.

  • Mark 1:9 (ESV) — 9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.


It is a straight-forward observation, and not a controversial one, that:

  • The OT “biblical texts, which in their original contexts refer to YHWH, are applied to Jesus” – Johansson.
  • “The promises of God’s own coming in Mal. 3:1 and Isa 40:3 are now being fulfilled in Jesus” – Johansson.


The million-dollar question is does Mark intend to make a closer connection between Jesus as Lord and Isaiah’s Lord of the OT…YHWH?


Rikki Watts thinks so:

“The application of these texts to Jesus suggests that he is to be identified in some way…with none other than the ‘Lord’ and ‘YHWH’ of Malachi, and, in terms of Isaiah 40:3, the presence of Yahweh himself.”


Johansson agrees.

  • “The significance of Mark’s explicit identification in 1.2 of the original context of his citation [Isaiah’s YHWH/Lord] must not be overlooked here” – Johansson.


One reason has to do with the fact that Mark cites the LXX version of the OT.

  • The LXX translates “YHWH” as “kyrios”.
  • This means that, contextually, Mark 1:3 links Jesus directly to the divine name of “kyrios”.
    • Prepare the way of the Lord [kyrios]” – who is Jesus.
  • Yet, “kyrios” is also the Isaiah LXX’s YHWH.


Knowing this, (and other observations from Johansson) the messaging of Mark is fairly clear.

  • “‘Kyrios’ refers to both God and Jesus and, consequently, links Jesus to the God of Israel” – Johansson.

“Mark explicitly cites passages about YHWH with reference to Jesus, seeing the fulfilment of these in Jesus and applying the divine name [kyrios] to Jesus. The application of the ‘kyrios’ of Isa. 40:3 to Jesus, in particular, suggests more than a mere functional overlap between Jesus and God. In a unique way, and unparalleled in the early Jewish literature, Mark associates Jesus with Israel’s God and the presence of YHWH himself” – Johansson.

  • Was there any figure in the OT to whom the divine name was applied?


What about agency?

  • Mark’s messaging is certainly consistent with divine agency.
  • But, like we saw last week, this truth is irrelevant to Jesus’ divinity.
  • And the language of Mark goes well beyond divine agency.


Remember, Moses was never identified with the divine name “YHWH”.

  • He was called an “elohim” not “YHWH”.


And more than that:

  • “Elohim” was a statement of Moses’ function (what), not his identity (who).
  • Just as God gave words to Moses, Moses would give words to Aaron.


Mark, on the other hand, is telling us who Jesus is.

  • He is telling us why we need to pay attention to what he is saying about Jesus.
  • Jesus is the “Son of God” (1:1) and the visible “kyrios” from Isaiah 40:3.



Markan Implication:

There is one final implication of Mark’s connection of Jesus to the divine name of YHWH (kyrios).

  • Mark does this at the very beginning of his Gospel.
  • Immediately, Mark “links Jesus in the closest possible way to the God of Israel” – Johansson.
  • Therefore this, “…identification of Jesus with ‘kyrios’ in Isa. 40:3 and Mal. 3:1 provides the reader with a hermeneutical key to the Christology of Mark” – Johansson.


And we are about to see that Mark has much more to say.

  • Throughout his Gospel, he regularly portrays Jesus as participating in the uniqueness of YHWH.
  • And sharing in the divine name of YHWH (no time to cover these examples but there are quite a few).



Mark 1:13 – With the Animals:

Mark 1:13 (ESV) — 13 And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him.


What does this have to do with identifying Jesus with the uniqueness of YHWH?


Johansson says we need only look at Isaiah 43 again – as we did with the verses 1-3.

  • Isaiah 43:19–20 (ESV) — 19 Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. 20 The wild beasts will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches, for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people,


Johansson makes this observation.

  • 43:19 alludes to Isa. 40:3 via the use of the “make a way in the wilderness” language.
  • 40:3, as we just saw, is the text Mark used in 1:1-3 to link Jesus to the divine name, Lord (YHWH).


Moreover, it seems fairly obvious that Jesus is doing what is attributed to YHWH in Isaiah 43.

  • Jesus is certainly bringing “water” to His chosen people.


But, Isaiah goes on to say of YHWH that:

  • the wild beasts will honor” him (43:20).


Mark 1:13 actually alludes to this part of the Isaiah passage:

  • And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him” (1:13).


What is the significance?


The idea here is that “the animals are aligned with the angels in their honoring service of Jesus” – Johansson.

  • The “wild animals” are, like the angels, on the side of Jesus.


So, as with Mark’s opening verses, this event is yet another that identifies Jesus with the uniqueness of YHWH.

  • In Isaiah – It is YHWH that is bringing water to the wilderness.
  • And only YHWH is worthy to be honored as Creator by His creatures (animals).


In Mark – Jesus is inserted into the place of YHWH.

  • It is only Jesus bringing water to the wilderness.
    • Bringing water to the wilderness is creation language – an allusion to Genesis.
  • Therefore, it is only Jesus who is worthy to be acknowledged by the animals and angels.


Johansson sums it up this way:

“This may…be Mark’s way of saying that the wild beasts recognize Jesus’ true identity, just as the demons will do later in the narrative (1:24; 3:11; 5:7). If this is correct, then Jesus is…acting in the capacity of the creator himself.”



Mark 2:5-7 – Forgives Sins:

Mark 2:5–12 (ESV) — 5 And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” 6 Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, 7 “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” 8 And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you question these things in your hearts? 9 Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’? 10 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic— 11 “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” 12 And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!”


The question here is by whose authority does Jesus forgive sins.

  • Unitarians have an opinion.
  • Trinitarians have an opinion.
  • We will deal with the Trinitarian view first.


The Trinitarian view is simple enough.

  • “The Markan Jesus does not claim that he has been given authority (cf. Matt 28:18) to forgive sins, but that he, as does God, has this authority.” – Johansson.


And more than this:

  • “Jesus forgives the paralytic’s sins, not merely announces God’s forgiveness” – Johansson.
    • Your sins are forgiven” (vs. 9)
  • These words, “ascribe to Jesus himself power to forgive sins in an absolute sense” – Johansson.


Johansson supports these claims in numerous ways…one way is as follows:

“…the parallel between the healing, effectuated by a word of Jesus, and the absolution of the man implies that Jesus personally has forgiven the man. The word of forgiveness (2:5) and the word of healing (2:11) must both be understood as creative words accomplishing what they say” – Johansson.


In other words…Jesus healed and Jesus forgave.

  • He didn’t announce healing – He healed.
  • He didn’t announce forgiveness – He forgave.


And finally:

“The Markan text states unambiguously that only God can forgive sins (2:7)…There is thus no reason to believe that the first readers would qualify what the Markan scribes say. On the contrary, they would agree with them: Only God can forgive sins. It seems clear, then, that Jesus is assuming a role which belonged to Israel’s God alone” – Daniel Johansson.


This is yet another Markan example of Jesus being identified with the uniqueness of YHWH.



Unitarian Objections:

It has been pointed out by Unitarians that “human agents” can forgive sins if given the authority to do so.

  • Such as 2 Samuel 12:13 and when Jesus sent out the disciples.


They suggest this is the simple explanation for what Jesus did in Mark 2:5.

  • Jesus as an agent of God – as non-God – was given the authority to forgive sins.
  • Jesus is simply announcing the forgiveness that comes from the Father.


Given this, Unitarian Dale Tuggy says this about Mark 2:

  • “Note that at the end of the Mark passage, the people glorify God for what he’s [God] done [forgave sins – agency action] through Jesus. This is the norm through Mark – God is someone other than Jesus.”


Three things must be noted.



  • William Hasker argues that there are three things a Trinitarian can mean by “God”.
  • The most common usage (for the Bible and us) is that “God” is a referent to the Father.


So…yes, God (The Father) “is someone other than Jesus” (Tuggy).

  • So…yes, the people glorified the Father because of the Son.
  • Trinitarians do this as well.


Second, we already established two shortcomings of the agency argument last week:

  • (1) Assigning Jesus to the “divinely appointed human agent” category does not preclude His sharing in the divine nature.
    • Agency is a neutral claim.
  • (2) The force of the “agency only” critique is grounded in the “Jewish law of agency”.
    • This has nothing to do with the agency in the Bible and is 200 years later than the NT.


Third, even Jewish scholar Alan Segal…

  • Concedes that Jesus was claiming to have authority within Himself to forgive sins.
  • “One of the things which, according to the NT, most upsets the Jews about Jesus is precisely that he does claim the power to forgive sins” – Alan Segal.


And then Segal notes the rabbis’ “Two Power” aversion to Jesus’ authority/power to do so:

  • “The forgiving of sins…was enough for the rabbis to conclude that the principal figure of the heretics was supposed to be more than an angel. Or it might have involved the belief that the angel participated in God’s divinity by appropriating one of His names” – Alan Segal.


For Jesus’ critics, Jesus was a competitor to YHWH’s uniqueness not His agent.

  • This is precisely the “two authority/two power” idea that the rabbis fought against.


This makes perfect sense.

  • Because the blasphemy Jesus was accused of means, “arrogation of divine prerogatives for oneself” – Johansson.
  • So by their charge of blasphemy, Jesus’ critics understood, “…that Jesus in various ways claimed a divine status. In their view, these claims were blasphemous and threatening God’s uniqueness” – Johansson.




Mark’s messaging says far more than Jesus was just a divinely appointed human agent forgiving sins on the Father’s authority.

  • As Johansson already pointed out, Mark has already set the tone for his Gospel.
  • He has identified Jesus with the divine name of God – “kyrios/YHWH”.
  • And by forgiving sins, Mark, once again, identifies Jesus with the uniqueness of YHWH.



Mark 4:35-41 – Calms the Storm:

Mark 4:35–41 (ESV) — 35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36 And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. 37 And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39 And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. 40 He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41 And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”


Only 4 chapters in, we have Jesus doing something remarkable – calming a storm.

  • Once again, the question is, “is Jesus, in Mark’s view, acting in the role of Israel’s God, perhaps even being his visible manifestation on earth, or is he merely portraying Jesus as man uniquely endowed with divine power?” – Johansson.


The answer is found in the answer to this question, “Who can calm storms?”


“The OT is unambiguous. There is only one whom sea and wind obey: the God of Israel” – Daniel Johansson.

  • Psalm 89:8–10 (ESV) — 8 O Lord God of hosts, who is mighty as you are, O Lord, with your faithfulness all around you? 9 You rule the raging of the sea; when its waves rise, you still them. 10 You crushed Rahab like a carcass; you scattered your enemies with your mighty arm.
  • Psalm 147:18 (ESV) — 18 He sends out his word, and melts them; he makes his wind blow and the waters flow.


God made it; God controls it.

  • “…according to the Hebrew Bible, it is a prerogative of the God of Israel to control the wind and the sea” – Johansson.



Small Rabbit Trail:

Our study of Joshua some time ago provides us with an ancient Near Eastern context for this story in Mark.

  • In other words, the cultural context that really drives home what is happening in Mark 4.


As we saw then, water:

  • Played “an important role in the cosmogony [how the world came to be] of the ancient Near East” – John Currid.
  • “Water [was] the stuff and material of creation” in just about all the major ANE cultures – John Currid.


Specifically, at the beginning of creation, the waters were seen “as chaotic” in ANE cosmogony.

  • They “represented a hostile power” – Joseph Lam.


Creation was therefore the act of overcoming the “hostile power”.

  • It was the act of bringing order to its chaos – John Currid.
  • Something done only by God/gods.


We see this play out in the OT.

  • Psalm 74:12–17 (ESV) — 12 Yet God my King is from of old, working salvation in the midst of the earth. 13 You divided the sea by your might; you broke the heads of the sea monsters on the waters. 14 You crushed the heads of Leviathan; you gave him as food for the creatures of the wilderness. 15 You split open springs and brooks; you dried up ever-flowing streams. 16 Yours is the day, yours also the night; you have established the heavenly lights and the sun. 17 You have fixed all the boundaries of the earth; you have made summer and winter.



The Point:

Mark presents us with a scene containing chaotic waters and a great windstorm.

  • And the water’s waves were “breaking into the boat” filling it with water.


So Mark is describing for us a scene of aNE water chaos.

  • Order is under attack by chaos.
  • And this chaos can only be defeated by the creative power of god – YHWH.


Knowing all of this, Mark drops this bomb:

  • And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm” (verse 39).


The disciples then asked a question with only one answer.

  • Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (verse 41)
  • Answer – the Markan Jesus that has already been identified with the divine name and uniqueness of YHWH.


Johansson sums up the significance of this story:

“The disciples’ question can just have one answer: there is only one whom sea and wind obey in the OT and the early Jewish literature, the God of Israel. This would suggest that Jesus somehow is the visible presence of YHWH on earth. It is simply not sufficient to say that Jesus possesses the power of God. There are no parallels of humans being given this power, at least not in the Jewish tradition. Furthermore, authority over stormy waters is not just any divine power. It is precisely this power which at numerous places and in different contexts demonstrates that the God of Israel is the only true God” – Daniel Johansson.



Mark 9:2-13 – Transfiguration:

Mark 9:2–4 (ESV) — 2 And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3 and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. 4 And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus.


The transfiguration is a weird and tantalizing passage.

  • The question for us is, “What is ‘the message it communicates to its audience’ about Jesus identity”? – Johansson.


A typical approach is that Jesus is being seen as fulfilling a Moses typology.

  • But, for many reasons, Johansson argues that, “…the evidence points in another direction, namely that Mark more than anything else presents Jesus as acting in God’s role in the Exodus accounts” – Johansson.


Johansson makes his case as follows:

  • The key to understanding Jesus’ identity is the presence of both Elijah and Moses.
  • And specifically, the link they share in the transfiguration story.


A couple of OT texts will show us what they had in common – their link.

  • Exodus 24:15–18 (ESV) — 15 Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. 16 The glory of the Lord dwelt on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days. And on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the midst of the cloud. 17 Now the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. 18 Moses entered the cloud and went up on the mountain. And Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights.
  • 1 Kings 19:8–11 (ESV) — 8 And he arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mount of God. 9 There he came to a cave and lodged in it. And behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and he said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 10 He said, “I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” 11 And he said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake.


So what is the link?

  • Both Moses and Elijah, “encountered God on a high mountain, Moses on his two ascents of Mt. Sinai and Elijah on Horeb…” – Johansson.


How does this identify Jesus with the uniqueness of YHWH?


We need to see that, “Jesus is not acting in a role similar to [Moses or Elijah] or being compared to them” – Johansson.

  • (1) Jesus does not speak with God like Moses and Elijah did.
  • (2) The glory of God didn’t surround Jesus; it was Jesus.
    • And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them” (vs. 3-4).


This means Jesus is cast in a different role!

  • The two points above help us uncover it.


The importance of point (1) is that it exposes a parallel Mark is making with these words:

  • And there appeared to them, Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus” (vs. 4).


Elijah and Moses were on the new Sinai.

  • But instead of Moses and Elijah speaking to God the Father (as they were in the OT), they were speaking with…Jesus.


Johansson explains the significance of this scene:

“[Mark’s] point is precisely that Moses and Elijah now speak to Jesus as they spoke to God in the past. For Mark, then, Jesus is acting in the place of God in this ‘new Sinai’ theophany. What once took place on Sinai and Horeb is now repeated, but with some significant variations” – Daniel Johansson.


The importance of point (2) is that it reveals another point Mark is making about Jesus:

  • “Jesus’ glorious appearance is neither limited to the face nor the result of an encounter with God. Jesus is transfigured before God appears on the scene. Thus…Jesus’ glory is ‘intrinsic to himself’” – Johansson.


The point here is that Jesus shares in “the divine glory” His Father.

  • Mark has already told us that Jesus shares the divine name – YHWH/kyrios.
  • Now, he is showing us that Jesus shares in divine glory.
  • John 17:5 (ESV) — 5 And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.


What about when the Father makes his “appearance”?

  • Mark 9:7 (ESV) — 7 And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.”


This gives us a significant and important difference between this scene and the Sinai/Horeb scenes.

“What is said of the God of Israel alone in the Exodus accounts is split between Jesus and God in the present narrative: God appears in the cloud and speaks from the cloud (Exod 24:16-17); at the same time Jesus manifests the glory of YHWH, and Moses and Elijah see and speak to him (Exod 33-34; 1 Kgs 19:8-18).


In other words, at the transfiguration:

  • The Father is the invisible YHWH.
  • Jesus is the visible YHWH.


Johansson suggests that this “splitting” of YHWH’s uniqueness between Jesus and the Father is exactly what Paul does in 1 Corinthians 8:6.

  • A text that inserts Jesus into the Shema.
  • A text we will deal with next week.



Mark Conclusion:

The Biblical landscape that Mark presents us with concerning the identity of Jesus is dense.

  • Jesus is identified as sharing the divine name – YHWH/kyrios – from Isaiah.


Jesus is associated with the uniqueness of YHWH who alone:

  • The wild beasts honor.
  • Has the authority to forgive sins.
  • Has the power to control nature.
  • Appears on Sinai to his chosen agents.


BTW – There are many more examples in which Mark identifies Jesus with the uniqueness of YHWH:

  • Jesus’ power over death.
  • Jesus’ walk on water.
  • Jesus’ healing miracles.
  • Jesus’ role in Mark’s parables.
  • , etc., etc.


Mark’s identification of Jesus is clear.

  • He has articulated, “Jesus’ unique and intimate association with YHWH” – Johansson.
  • An association that “…is communicated within an OT/Jewish framework of a maintained Jewish monotheism, and with the language of the OT and Jewish concepts and categories” – Johansson.
  • The implicit messaging and identification we talked about last week.


The question is this:

  • How is Mark’s messaging about Jesus best understood?


Given the divine plurality that runs throughout the Biblical landscape we have uncovered…

  • And the context it provides for the Gospel of Mark…
  • It certainly makes sense to see Jesus’ identity on the God side of the God/Non-God divide.
  • Mark’s Jesus is not presented as just a creaturely agent.


For one to see Jesus as a mere creaturely agent on the non-God side of things would require:

  • (1) An appeal to the two Unitarian presuppositions we discussed last week.
  • (2) A subsequent flattening of the Biblical landscape and messaging we have learned about thus far.



Exploration of the Trinity – Part 7 – The Christianized Shema Background

1 Corinthians 8:4–6 (ESV) — 4 Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.” 5 For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”— 6 yet 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.




Before we dig into this verse we need to clear up two things.


(1) Paul is not denying the existence of other gods (theos/elohim).

  • The ESV puts quotes around “gods” and it could mislead.


Paul understands that there exist “cosmic powers” (Ephesians 6:12) in the spiritual realm.

  • He understands the implications of the Divine Council and a Deuteronomy 32 worldview.
  • After all, Paul affirms the OT repeatedly, speaks of demons, and “the prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2), etc.


For example, later in 1 Corinthians he says this:

  • 1 Corinthians 10:21–22 (ESV) — 21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. 22 Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?
  • Demons” are elohim/theos.


The ASV is much clearer in its translation:

  • For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or on earth; as there are gods many, and lords many


(2) Consequently, when Paul says, “there is no God but one” it is an affirmation of the ancient Jewish monotheism we discussed a few weeks ago, not a denial of other elohim.

  • In other words, Paul is saying that YHWH is the unique, incomparable God of Israel.
  • The only God worthy of worship.
  • The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who called Israel out of Egypt.
  • The uncreated Creator God.


Or to put another way – Paul is affirming the Shema:

  • Deuteronomy 6:4 (ESV) — 4 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.


Larry Hurtado sums up both of these points:

“In short, though Paul (with a good many other ancients) thought that there were multiple ‘divine’ beings of various sorts, he seems also to have held the one God of Jewish tradition as in something of a category of one apart from all others” – Larry Hurtado.


And this leads us back to 1 Corinthians 8:6.

  • A text where Paul distinguishes the “one God, the Father” and the “one Lord, Jesus Christ” from all other elohim/theos.


We are not exploring Paul’s primary concern in this passage – eating food offered to idols.

  • But we will concern ourselves with a particular idea he uses to deal with his primary concern.
  • Specifically, what he says about the Father and Jesus in 8:6.


Before we do, we need to look at some OT background.

  • It is deeply embedded in Paul’s messaging about the Father and Jesus.
  • It will be something we need down the road as we unpack 8:6.



OT Background:

Just like Mark’s Gospel, Paul is deeply indebted to Isaiah for his understanding of the Father and Jesus.

  • Scholar Trent Rogers tells us that in our text Paul is…
  • “drawing on the idol polemic in Isaiah 40-44”.


Interestingly, Douglas Oss says the template for Paul’s use of Isaiah probably came from Jesus Himself:

“There is no doubt…that it was Christ himself who originated the approach to Isaiah that was followed by Paul. It was Christ himself who first cited Isa 61:1-2 and then proclaimed, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing’ (Luke 4:18-21); and it was Christ himself who first taught the church that all the scriptures spoke of him (Luke 24:25-27, 44-45).”



Idol Worship:

Isaiah 40-44 shows us an Israel that was faltering in its allegiance to YHWH.

  • They whored after other gods and fashioned idols of those gods.


It might be helpful here to clear up something about ancient idol worship.

  • “Ancient people did not believe that their gods were actually images of stone or wood. We misread the biblical writers if we think that” – Michael Heiser.


What is idol worship?

“What ancient idol worshippers believed was that the objects they made were inhabited by their gods. This is why they performed ceremonies to ‘open the mouth’ of the statue. The mouth (and nostrils) had to be ritually opened for the spirit of the deity to move in and occupy, a notion inspired by the idea that one needs to breathe to live. The idol first had to be animated with the very real spiritual presence of the deity. Once that was done, the entity was localized for worship and bargaining” – Michael Heiser.


Paul Rainbow puts it this way:

  • “It was generally believed in the ancient world that a divinity and its physical image interpenetrated one another and thus formed a sort of unity. The god, of course, transcended the physical object, but it was embodied in it in such a way that it could be contacted through the object.”


Much of Isaiah 40-44 is YHWH’s response, His polemic, against this behavior.

  • YHWH points out the absurdity and futility of worshipping other gods and making idols.
  • Something, BTW, that was declared over and over in the OT (see Deut. 4:1-40).



Isaiah’s YHWH:

Generally, Isaiah 40-44 speaks of three reasons whoring after other gods was absurd and futile.

  • (1) YHWH is unique and incomparable.
  • (2) YHWH alone was Creator of all things (including Israel).
  • (3) YHWH alone was Savior and Redeemer of Israel (and eventually the nations).


YWHW speaks of His incomparability:

  • Isaiah 40:12–14 (ESV) — 12 Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand and marked off the heavens with a span, enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure and weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance? 13 Who has measured the Spirit of the Lord, or what man shows him his counsel? 14 Whom did he consult, and who made him understand? Who taught him the path of justice, and taught him knowledge, and showed him the way of understanding?
  • Isaiah 40:18–20 (ESV) — 18 To whom then will you liken God, or what likeness compare with him? 19 An idol! A craftsman casts it, and a goldsmith overlays it with gold and casts for it silver chains. 20 He who is too impoverished for an offering chooses wood that will not rot; he seeks out a skillful craftsman to set up an idol that will not move.


YHWH declares He alone is Creator:

  • Isaiah 40:25–26 (ESV) — 25 To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him? says the Holy One. 26 Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name, by the greatness of his might, and because he is strong in power not one is missing.
  • Isaiah 40:28 (ESV) — 28 Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.
  • Isaiah 44:24 (ESV) — 24 Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, who formed you from the womb: “I am the Lord, who made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth by myself,


YHWH declares He alone is Savior:

  • Isaiah 41:14 (ESV) — 14 Fear not, you worm Jacob, you men of Israel! I am the one who helps you, declares the Lord; your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel.
  • Isaiah 43:1 (ESV) — 1 But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.
  • Isaiah 43:12 (ESV) — 12 I declared and saved and proclaimed, when there was no strange god among you; and you are my witnesses,” declares the Lord, “and I am God.
  • Isaiah 44:22 (ESV) — 22 I have blotted out your transgressions like a cloud and your sins like mist; return to me, for I have redeemed you.


So who is Israel’s God?

  • He alone is the unique and incomparable Elohim.
  • He alone is the Creator of all things – including Israel.
  • He alone is Redeemer of Israel (and the nations).
  • He alone is to have Israel’s loyalty.


All of the above is woven into 1 Corinthians 8:4-6 in some surprising ways.

  • Let’s begin to explore how.



Paul’s God and Lord:

1 Corinthians 8:5–6 (ESV) — 5 For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”— 6 yet 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.


The most obvious feature of verse 6 is its relationship to verse 5.

  • It serves as a stark “Isaiah-ish” contrast between gods and the one true God of Israel.
  • Or as Paul puts it, between the “many ‘gods’ and many ‘lords’” (vs. 5) vs. “one God, the Father…one Lord, Jesus Christ” (vs. 6).


To properly unpack this contrast we need to recognize yet another OT allusion.

  • We have already noted Paul’s allusion in 1 Cor. 8:6 to the Shema found in Deut. 6:4.
  • Deuteronomy 6:4 (ESV) — 4 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.


But in 1 Corinthians 8:5, there is also an allusion to, “an echo” of, Deuteronomy 10:17 (G.K. Beale).

  • Deuteronomy 10:17 (ESV) — 17 For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe.
  • Interestingly, “[Deut. 10:17] is the only text in the Hebrew Bible where ‘gods’ and ‘lords’ appear in the same sentence as in 1 Cor. 8:5” – G.K. Beale.


Why is all this significant?


Deuteronomy 10:17 is contrasting two wildly different species of “elohim” – beings who reside in the spiritual realm.

  • The two species of elohim parsed out here are:
  • (1) “LORD your God” – YHWH the God of Israel.
  • (2) “gods” and “lords.


This basic understanding of Paul’s starting point – his contrast – is where the fun begins!



  • In 1 Corinthians 8:6, Paul modifies the contrast of Deut. 10:17 and the affirmation of Deut. 6:4 to include Jesus Christ.


In other words, Paul does two remarkable things:

  • (1) He inserts Jesus into the ancient Jewish monotheistic formula affirmed in verse 4 – “there is no God but one”.
  • (2) He places Jesus Christ on the “LORD your God” side of the Deuteronomy 10:17 contrast.


This mutation of the Shema to now include Jesus is called the “Christianized Shema”.

  • There is much to be gleaned this handling of Jesus.
  • Especially when we understand his Corinthian converts.



Accounting for Christ at Corinth:

The Church at Corinth presented Paul with a challenge.

  • (1) It existed in the midst of open worship of various gods and their idols.
  • (2) Its pagan Christian converts formerly worshipped various gods and their idols.
  • (3) Its pagan Christian converts switched to the worship of the Father and Jesus…
  • (4) While simultaneously affirming that “there is no God but one” – the Christianized Shema.


Larry Hurtado describes the situation:

  • “There was a veritable cafeteria of divine beings of various orders, attributes, and functions…peoples were rather richly supplied with deities” – Larry Hurtado.
  • And the “residents of any given city were expected to participate in the worship of the civic deities, who were typically seen as protectors of the city” – Larry Hurtado.
  • But, “Early Christians…typically departed from these religious customs and defined ‘God’ in a very exclusive manner in beliefs and also in religious practice. For them, there was really…only one deity worthy of worship, as Paul affirms in 1 Corinthians 8:4-6” – Larry Hurtado.


So given this info we need to setup an important question:

  • The ex-pagan now worshipped the Father.
  • The ex-pagan now worshipped the exalted Jesus Christ.
  • In their pagan life, this would obviously have been the worship of two gods.


The problem Paul faced at Corinth was how to reduce a pantheon of gods down to one God.

  • And do so while calling the Corinthian ex-pagan to worship both the Father and the Son.


So how is it that the ex-pagan can see the worship of the Father and Jesus as the worship/affirmation of the one God of Israel?



Unitarian Answer:

Unitarian John Schoenheit thinks he has the answer to this question:

  • “This verse, when properly understood, is actually strong evidence that Jesus Christ is not God.”
  • In other words, Christ isn’t God so there is no problem.
  • He is the human-only “one Lord” – an exalted divine agent – and worship is given him at the Father’s pleasure not as “a god”.


He goes on to say:

“Polytheism was rampant in Corinth, and Scripture is clear that ‘…there is no God but one’ (1 Cor. 8:4)…[and that] there may be many gods and lords, [but] for Christians there is but one God, the Father, and one Lord, Jesus Christ. If the doctrine of the Trinity is correct, then this text can only be construed as confusing. Here was the perfect opportunity to say, ‘for us there is only one God made up of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost,’ or something similar, but, instead, Scripture tells us that only the Father is God. That should stand as conclusive evidence that Jesus is not God” – John Schoenheit.


There are a number of problems with this approach.


(1) The obvious one is the question begging – “Scripture tells us that only the Father is God”.

  • As we have seen, Scripture affirms both explicitly and implicitly that Jesus participates in the uniqueness of YHWH, shares the divine name, and is “my Lord and my God”.
    • Suggesting that these claims are better understood as only agency is one thing.
    • Denying their existence all together is bogus.


Moreover, this idea that only the Father is God is not in the Bible.

  • This is an idea that finds life only in a misrepresentation of ancient Jewish monotheism.
  • And in the philosophical Unitarian presuppositions we discussed a few weeks ago.


(2) The second problem is that this Unitarian approach is no less “confusing” and does nothing to solve the question we raised.

  • The ex-pagan worshipped Jesus Christ and the Father.
  • In their context, to worship a being is to acknowledge it as god or a god.
    • Something the pagan did with all kinds of “gods”.
  • Simply calling one “Lord” and one “God” does nothing to alleviate the predicament of worshipping two “entities” and thus having two “gods”.
  • Actually, the Trinitarian approach is the only one that makes sense of this practice.


(3) But even more of a problem than these two is:

  • (A) The suggestion that when Paul uses “Lord” and “God”, only one rightly refers to YHWH.
  • (B) And…that Paul’s silence on a Trinity means Jesus is not God.


Both of these ignore the fact that Paul did say, in Schoenheit’s own words, “something similar” about Jesus’ and the Father’s identity.

  • And the way Paul implicitly identified Jesus with the divinity of YHWH is not obtuse.


The problem for many, it seems, is that Paul did this in the style of a 2nd Temple Jew steeped in the messaging of a high context culture.

  • He didn’t do this as a 4th century Greek or Latin philosopher or 21st century analytic philosopher.


So where does Paul say “something similar” about Jesus’ and the Father’s identity?

  • (1) Paul’s OT allusions in 1 Corinthians 8:4-6.
  • (2) The meaning behind the Greek prepositions used in verse 6.


We will unpack both of these.

  • And in so doing, provide the Trinitarians answer to our question.
  • So how is it that the ex-pagan can see the worship of the Father and Jesus as the worship/affirmation of the one God of Israel?



Exploration of the Trinity – Part 8 – The Christianized Shema – Jesus, One God, and Polytheism

After setting up some foundations last week we left off with this question:

  • How is it that the ex-pagan can understand the worship of both the Father and Jesus as the worship/affirmation of the one God of Israel?
  • We explored how the Unitarian might answer this question.
  • Now we need to explore how the Trinitarian might answer the question.


BTW – The same question can be posed about Paul’s Jewish monotheism.

  • Interestingly, the ex-pagan was “subtracting”, Paul was “adding” (Trent Rogers).



Pagan Polytheism:

There is one more piece of information we need.

  • It concerns the nature of pagan polytheism.


The pagan had no qualms with a fluid and varied pantheon of gods.

  • For the pagan, “a god need not always be a god, some gods are not complete gods, other gods are supercomplete gods, hence some gods are more god that others” – Henk Versnel (Coping with the Gods).
  • Thus the Father and Jesus could each have easily been added to the pantheon as being two more of one of the above gods.


So what would be required to bring a pagan from this polytheism into ancient Jewish monotheism?


Henk Versnel helps us here – the pagan’s pantheon of gods would need to be:

  • Relegated to a position, “beyond the political or cultic horizon of the community”.
    • The pagan would have to give exclusive worship to just one God – YHWH in our case.
  • Cast as being, “powerless, wicked or demonic…without any real significance”.
    • The pagan would need their gods be marginalized.


Given that this obviously occurred among the ex-pagans of the Corinthian church…

  • We can deduce from the above observations two things accomplished by Paul’s words in 1 Cor. 8:4-6.
  • (1) Distinguished Jesus and the Father from all other gods – relegating the other gods to inferior status.
  • (2) United Jesus and the Father in a way that Jesus was not seen as a “not complete god” to the Father’s “supercomplete” god.


BTW – And one would think that each of these would have to involve not just function (what they did), but also their nature (what they were – ontology).

  • Something we will briefly consider at the end of this lesson.



Paul’s Christology:

This brings us back to our text:

  • 1 Corinthians 8:4–6 (ESV) — 4 Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.” 5 For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”— 6 yet 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.


The above text contains at least six truths that accomplished the two things just mentioned.

  • (1) Distinguished Jesus and Father from other gods.
  • (2) United Jesus and Father.
  • We will take the time to unpack all six (they come from Paul Rainbow).



(1) Divine Name:

The first thing Paul does is associate Jesus with the divine name of YHWH.

  • He does this using Deuteronomy 10:17.
  • Deuteronomy 10:17 (ESV) — 17 For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe.


We see that Moses told us something quite specific about YHWH in Deut. 10:17.

  • For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords
  • In other words, in Moses’ text (LXX), YHWH is both God (ho theos) and Lord (ho kyrios).


And then we see Paul tell us something rather peculiar in 1 Cor. 8:6

  • Yet 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.


Paul (or someone, and Paul endorsed it) split Moses’ declaration about YHWH into two.

  • He assigned the Father to Moses’ “God”.
  • He assigned Jesus Christ to his “Lord”.
  • Paul has “glossed ‘God’ with ‘the Father,’ and ‘Lord’ with ‘Jesus Christ’” – N.T. Wright.


In other words:

  • The Father is identified with YHWH by filling the “ho theos” slot.
  • Jesus is identified with YHWH by filling the “ho kyrios” slot.
  • (1 Corinthians 8:4-6 does this with both Deut. 10:17 and Deut. 6:4).


Does our “Divine Name” section…

  • (1) Distinguish Jesus and the Father from all other gods – relegating the other gods to inferior status.
  • (2) Unite Jesus and the Father in a way that Jesus was not seen as a “not complete god” to the Father’s “supercomplete” god.
  • Or both?


It seems to do both and establishes Jesus’ identity in two directions.

  • (1) As it relates to the pagan lords and gods, Jesus is the incomparable “one Lord”.
  • (2) As it relates to the Father, Jesus is the YHWH “ho kyrios” to the Father’s YHWH “ho theos”.


Jesus is cast as the incomparable “ho kyrios” of Deut. 10:17.

  • A title that connotes Jesus’ participation in the unique “divine status” of YHWH – DPL.
  • Something that sets him soundly on the god-side of the “god” and “non-god” divide.



(2) Prepositions United:

In verse 6, Paul tells us that:

  • Yet 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.”


In this verse, Paul distributes three prepositions between the Father and Jesus.

  • Father – “from” and “for”.
  • Jesus – “through” and “through”.


And, importantly, what comes “from”, “for” and “through” the one God and one Lord?

  • Creation – the creation of the universe.
  • Redemption – the “making/saving” of the body of believers.
    • What Fitzmeyer calls the “means through whom Christians attain the goal of their existence”.
    • This includes eschatology.


To elaborate just a bit:

“The universe comes from God through the Lord Jesus Christ and those whom he has redeemed return to God through the Lord Jesus Christ” – Paul Rainbow.


Creation and Redemption are two things attributed over and over throughout the OT to YHWH alone.

  • Something we saw so clearly in our survey of Isaiah 40-44 last week.


This means that Paul unites Father and Jesus in the OT YHWH functions of Creation and Redemption.

Paul …designates the unique functions of the one true Godhead within which God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ are co-workers” – Andrey Romanov.


But wait, there is more!


Attributing Creation and Redemption “through” Jesus has huge implications for His identity.

Christ is an “indispensable participant in the act of creation and the co-worker of God the Father. And therefore not just through Jesus Christ did all things come into being from God but only through him” – Andrey Romanov.

  • So Christ is “a unique and indispensable participant” in creation and redemption – Andrey Romanov.


Why is this hugely significant?

“This makes I Cor. 8. 6 perhaps the earliest documentary evidence for the Christian belief in the personal pre-cosmic existence of Christ” – Paul Rainbow.

  • So the Son of God, “was present with the Father before the world came into being” – Paul Rainbow.
  • Jesus is “the pre-existent mediator of creation” (Fitzmeyer)!


The NT speaks of this elsewhere:

  • John 1:3 (ESV) — 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.
  • Colossians 1:16 (ESV) — 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.
  • Hebrews 1:2 (ESV) — 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.


This has an important implication for our pagans.

  • The Father and Jesus stand over and above all that has been made.
  • They have a transcendent or universal relation to all of creation – Paul Rainbow.


This is a huge contrast to the gods of pagan polytheism.

  • The pagan polytheist, “assigned to each lord [and god] a city, nation, sphere of human life, or part of nature” – Paul Rainbow.
  • But, “Paul sees his one Lord in relation to the whole” – Paul Rainbow.


So when the pagan gods are contrasted with Jesus, the “one Lord”:

  • We find that “they dwell ‘either in heaven or on earth’ (v 5), that is, inside the boundary of all things. As such they are from God through the Lord; they are created beings” – Paul Rainbow.
  • This, “makes God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ unique in comparison with other ‘gods’ and ‘lords’” – Andrey Romanov.


Does our “Prepositions United” section…

  • (1) Distinguish Jesus and the Father from all other gods – relegating the other gods to inferior status.
  • (2) Unite Jesus and the Father in a way that Jesus was not seen as a “not complete god” to the Father’s “supercomplete” god.
  • Or both?


The answer is both.

  • The pagan gods are cast as inferior by virtue of the fact that the One Lord and One God created them.
    • They are “able neither to create, nor to save” – Andrey Romanov.
  • Jesus and Father are united as the pre-existent Creators of creation and Redeemers of God’s people.



(3) One:

The textual parallel of 1 Corinthians 8:6 is a Pauline confession of unity.

Yet 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.


Buy virtue of the parallel, both the Father and Jesus Christ are given equal billing.

  • The parallel unites them in function against the “lords and gods”.
  • It sets them apart in status from the other “lords and gods”.


And, the textual parallel, along with their shared functions, unites them together as the “one” God and Lord:

  • “Each is confessed to be one” – Paul Rainbow.


The extent of their shared “one” is startling:

“Both bear titles of divinity, and the titles have equal dignity. Both were active in creation. Both are active in redemption. Thus they both participate in a unified way in uniquely divine titles and operations” – Paul Rainbow.

  • So both are “one” – one Lord and one God.


And in ancient Jewish monotheism what does one mean?

  • “unique, incomparable, wholly other” – Paul Rainbow.
  • Deuteronomy 6:4 (ESV) — 4 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.


So Jesus and the Father share in the same functions of the one YHWH of Moses and Isaiah.

  • And each possesses what we might call the “one-characteristic”.
    • “unique, incomparable, wholly other”.
  • What makes more sense of this – Trinitarian or Unitarian approaches?


And even more interesting – is Paul raising the idea of a shared, divine nature?

  • Not directly, but Paul Rainbow thinks Paul does think in the category of ontology (nature).
  • Paul is clearly making a distinction between everything and the one God and one Lord.
  • “Implicit in the distinction is the insight that the creator is qualitatively superior to his work” – Paul Rainbow.
  • Again, we will hit this again at the end of this lesson.


Does our “One” section…

  • (1) Distinguish Jesus and the Father from all other gods – relegating the other gods to inferior status.
  • (2) Unite Jesus and the Father in a way that Jesus was not seen as a “not complete god” to the Father’s “supercomplete” god.
  • Or both?



(4) Identical Relations:

The simplest way to unpack this is to make some needed distinctions.

  • Yet 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.”
  • Looking at verse 6 we can pull out the following distinctions.


In one corner “X” we have the following:

  • gods” and “lords” – the powers and principalities, whether of the supernatural or natural variety.
  • all things” – as in creation
  • we exist” – as in Christians and Christian redemption and hope.


In corner “Y” we have:

  • one God, the Father
  • one Lord, Jesus Christ


The corner “Y” observation is simple enough, but very important.

  • There aren’t three corners in this text – corner “X”, corner “Y” the Father and corner “Z” Jesus.
  • The textual parallel we discussed last week unites the Father and Jesus in the same corner.
    • Though Jesus is subordinate functionally to the Father as it pertains to the work described.
  • So, “Paul does not have two foci of divinity, but two foci of divine unity” – Paul Rainbow.


Now, as we saw in Prepositions United (point 2):

  • Everything in corner “X” is “from”, “for” and “through” either the Father or Jesus – the divine unity of corner “Y”.
  • “Neither…has unique responsibility for either creation or redemption. To each is assigned a phrase in v 6 having to do with cosmology and also a phrase having to do with soteriology” – Paul Rainbow.
  • They are co-workers (as we said earlier).


This means that the Father and Christ participate together on the same side of the divide.

  • They are united in their position as both superior to, and the source of everything in corner “X”.
  • This position is their “identical relations” vis-a-vis everything else.


Paul Rainbow sums this up for it:

“A comparison of the relations which God and the Lord each have to the many gods and lords, to the world, and to the people of God, shows that these two figures have identical relations. Even as God is exclusively divine over against the many gods of polytheistic belief, so also the Lord is exclusively divine over against the many lords. Even as God is uniquely transcendent to ‘all things’, so also the Lord is uniquely transcendent to ‘all things’. Both stand together on the side of the creator rather than the creation. Even as God is the unique object of Christian hope, so also is the Lord the unique object of Christian hope” – Paul Rainbow.


Does our “Shared Relation” section…

  • (1) Distinguish Jesus and the Father from all other gods – relegating the other gods to inferior status.
  • (2) Unite Jesus and the Father in a way that Jesus was not seen as a “not complete god” to the Father’s “supercomplete” god.
  • Or both?



(5) Jesus and “one God”:

We can start this point with an observation.

  • Remember, verse 4 affirms, “there is no God but one”.
    • One meaning “unique, incomparable, wholly other”.
  • So, “The basic structure of [verses 4-6] corresponds…to that of Jewish texts which contrast pagan polytheism with the Jewish belief in one God” – Paul Rainbow.


This means that:

“Paul the Jewish-Christian monotheist has no intention of setting over against pagan polytheism a belief in two Gods rather than one. He wishes to define Jewish-Christian faith, in continuity with Old Testament faith, as belief in a divine unity” – Paul Rainbow.


So how does Paul handle Jesus “in continuity with Old Testament faith, as belief in a divine unity”?

  • Paul as already set Jesus in the same corner as the Father.
  • But now what to do with Jesus?


This is an especially pressing question given what we have seen thus far.

  • Jesus and the Father share identical relations to everything.
  • They are co-workers in creation and redemption.
  • Jesus pre-exists creation.
  • Each posses what we called the “one-characteristic”.
  • They both share in the divine name from Deut. 10:17.


To see how Paul answers our question, to see what he does with Jesus…

  • It will help us here to revisit the choices Paul has available to him.


It seems there are at least three choices.

  • (1) Jesus is a divine agent in the Jewish tradition.
  • (2) Jesus is an incomplete god or demigod in the pagan tradition – a “god” or “lord”.
  • (3) Jesus is a full participant in the uniqueness/unity of YHWH.


The pagan god explanation with Jesus as just a “god” or “lord” is ruled out straight away.

  • “Paul plainly means to affirm a divine unity in contrast to pagan polytheism”– Paul Rainbow.


The divine agent explanation has some explanatory power.

  • But, its drawbacks are that it doesn’t fully account for everything we have already learned.
  • Learned not only in our dealing with 1 Corinthians 8:4-6 but in our previous lessons as well.


Jesus is repeatedly explicitly or implicitly (through contextual messaging) called or cast as God.

  • He does what only the YHWH of the OT does – such as pre-exist creation.


Moreover, there was never a time when a divine agent received YHWH-like cultic devotion.

  • Jesus, in huge contrast, received the same cultic devotion as YHWH.
  • (More on this next week).


But even more devastating to the divine agent explanation is Corinth’s pagan context.

  • It is hard to see how the ex-pagan of Corinth would not see an exalted divine agent as just another incomplete god or demigod – a “god” or “lord”.
  • This possibility is too often overlooked.


Remember, Paul is dealing with nations here – not the Israelites.

  • And the pagan Corinthian does not have the category of Jewish divine agency.
  • They have the category of a pantheon of gods.
  • Gods that come in all shapes and flavors.


Travelers into Corinth, like Paul, would have immediately encountered statues of…

  • “…Artemis Ephesia, Dionysos, Poseidon, Apollo Klarios, Aphrodite, Hermes, Zeus, and Athena with some Muses [poetry, music, etc.]” – Paul Rainbow.
  • Not to mention, “in the agora [market] were temples dedicated to Tyche, All the Gods, and Octavia the sister of Julius Caesar, who re-founded the city” – Paul Rainbow.


If the sister of Julius Caesar was venerated as a kind of god, how much more would Jesus be so?

  • “Hey guys, lets slap up another temple to YHWH and make a statue to venerate His Son, Jesus.”


Paul Rainbow gets this when he says:

“The application of the language of monotheism to a man whom Paul did not suppose to be in some way united to God would be a departure from Jewish monotheism of the most radical kind, a virtual assimilation to the pagan environment which [ranked as god] heroes and ascribed titles of divinity to emperors” – Paul Rainbow.


So, the only way for Paul to handle Jesus “in continuity with Old Testament faith, as belief in a divine unity”…

  • Is to assign Jesus to the divine unity and uniqueness of YHWH.


And this is exactly what 1 Corinthians 8:6 does.

In it, Paul “puts God and the Lord together in v 6 where the structure of traditional Jewish monotheistic statements would demand one deity” – Paul Rainbow.

  • “In Paul’s confession, God and the Lord together take the place which belongs to God alone in Jewish confessions. Paul is unconscious of anything in this Christian confession which might threaten or compromise the divine unity” – Paul Rainbow.


In other words, the Father and Jesus share in the “one deity”, the divine unity, and the uniqueness of YHWH.

  • Jesus is “regarded together” with the Father as demonstrating this unity without violating it – Paul Rainbow.


Paul Rainbow sums this section up for us:

“The juxtaposition of this one, divine Lord Jesus Christ with the one God on that side of the antithesis which stresses the divine unity is felt to be a further affirmation of God’s unity and not a surrender of it. How can this be, unless Paul presupposes that the Lord Jesus Christ is in some undefined sense what the one God is?” – Paul Rainbow.


Does our “Jesus and One God” section…

  • (1) Distinguish Jesus and the Father from all other gods – relegating the other gods to inferior status.
  • (2) Unite Jesus and the Father in a way that Jesus was not seen as a “not complete god” to the Father’s “supercomplete” god.
  • Or both?



6) Language of Jewish Monotheism:

It is important to know that Jewish “monotheism was for Paul…a primary tenet” – Paul Rainbow.

  • Romans 3:30 (ESV) — 30 since God is one—who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith.
  • Galatians 3:20 (ESV) — 20 Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one.


And yet in 1 Corinthians 8:6, “Christ is included in a revised proclamation of God’s uniqueness [the Shema]” – DPL.

  • Deuteronomy 6:4 (ESV) — 4 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.
  • Yet 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.”


The revision stipulates that both the Father and Jesus share in the “one-characteristic”.

  • Both are one – “unique, incomparable, wholly other”.


Yet, how can two be unique, incomparable and wholly other in a Jewish monotheistic way?

“The exclusive language of monotheism is inherently bound to one referent. To distribute it to more than one referent would be by that very act to empty it of meaning… the two referents must be in some sense one” – Paul Rainbow.


Moreover, as we alluded to in our dealings with Isaiah 40-44 a few weeks ago…

  • There are some very specific attributions made about the one God of ancient Jewish monotheism.


Paul Rainbow sums these attributions up this way:

  • Ancient Jewish monotheism had, for its one God, a specific list of attributions: “a negative attitude towards idolatry and polytheism, the belief in one creator of all things, in one Lord of all the earth, whose will determines the course of history from beginning to end, and who stands in a special relationship to the one people of Israel with one temple in Jerusalem” – Paul Rainbow.


The mind-blowing thing about 1 Cor. 8:4-6 – the Christianized Shema – is that…

  • Every single one of these fundamental Jewish monotheistic attributions is applied to Jesus Christ.
  • Let’s look at each attribution and confirm this claim.


(1) “Negative attitude towards idolatry and polytheism”:

  • We have seen over and over, Jesus is on the side of the Father in opposition to Corinth’s “gods” and “lords” and their idols.
  • Jesus, like the Father, is on the positive side of the attitude expressed in 1 Cor. 8:4-6.


(2) “Belief in one creator of all things”:

  • We saw last week that 1 Cor. 8:4-6 tells us that “all things” – as in creation – came “through” Jesus.
  • He was a pre-existent co-worker with the Father in creation.


(3) “One Lord…determines the course of history…stands in a special relationship to the one people of Israel”:

  • Here as well we saw what Paul means when he says it is Jesus Christ “through whom we exist”.
  • This is salvation and redemption language – now and not yet.
  • Something that involves both God’s people and history.


In other words, the consummation of the Kingdom of God is wholly the domain of Jesus Christ.

  • It is Jesus’ return that will finally put all things right and usher in the new heaven and earth.
  • This is “the course of history”.


So Jesus Christ is firmly situated within ancient Jewish monotheistic attributions of the one God.

  • He is included in fundamental Jewish monotheistic language.
  • This is without precedent in ancient Judaism (Paul Rainbow).


And it leaves us with two possibilities:

“Either Paul is using monotheistic language with reference to a glorified human being in a way unacceptable to Judaism, or he presupposes that the Father and Jesus Christ share some point of identity” – Paul Rainbow.


And given the fact that:

  • Paul embraced ancient Jewish monotheism…
  • And that, “there is a complete absence in Paul’s letters of any controversy with Judaism or Jewish Christians over the matter of monotheism” – Paul Rainbow.
  • And that we have (today and in past lessons) uncovered many problems with the divine-agency-only approach…
  • We can say the best explanation for what Paul is doing with Jesus is to be found in a Trinitarian understanding of the NT.


Does our “Jesus and One God” section…

  • (1) Distinguish Jesus and the Father from all other gods – relegating the other gods to inferior status.
  • (2) Unite Jesus and the Father in a way that Jesus was not seen as a “not complete god” to the Father’s “supercomplete” god.
  • Or both?




There is no doubt that Paul sees “the gods of polytheism as deficient” as it relates to the Father and Jesus – Paul Rainbow.

  • There is no need to enumerate the reasons here – we have just seen a bunch.


Importantly, however, we do need to know that their deficiencies are functional in nature.

  • The gods can’t do the things Jesus does.
  • Jesus does things that the gods can’t do and that only YHWH is supposed to do.


But, is there anything about Paul’s handling of Jesus that indicates that Paul sees the gods as deficient in nature or essence?


To answer, we need to add a couple more observations of Paul found elsewhere.

  • Galatians 4:8 (ESV) — 8 Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods.
  • 1 Thessalonians 1:9 (ESV) — 9 For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God,


Paul Rainbow argues that in these two texts we see:

  • A distinction of nature or essence between the one true God and the gods.
  • This means that “[the gods] lack the divine essence [or nature] by virtue of which God alone can be and act as God” – Paul Rainbow.
  • So the gods are deficient by their very nature.
  • They do not possess the divine nature of God.


In contrast:

  • “The living and true God of monotheism, who alone is God…is uniquely divine by virtue of his essence [or nature]” – Paul Rainbow.


What’s the point?

“When we place the high Christology of 1 Cor. 8:4–6 alongside of the concept of the unique divine essence from Gal. 4:8 and I Thess. 1:9, we see that all the necessary elements are present for concluding that Paul’s Christ is ontologically divine” – Paul Rainbow.

  • In other words, Jesus possesses God’s divine nature in contrast to the gods and lords who do not.


The simplest way to put this is as follows:

  • The gods can’t do because they AREN’T.
  • Jesus can do because he IS.


We can get at this another way as well.

  • If the function is – just to make a point – flying…
  • Something the Bible says only YHWH can do…
  • And we are told that the gods and lords can’t fly…
  • We have to ask why the gods and lords can’t fly.


If we suggest that they could learn to fly, or be given the power to fly…

  • Then we could argue that they could function as YHWH.
  • But what Paul (and the OT and NT generally) implies is that gods and lords can’t fly because…
  • By their very nature, they aren’t birds – they don’t possess bird-essence.
  • They are something all together different – they have a different essence or nature.
  • The Father and Jesus, on the other hand, “have” or “are” the nature that flies – YHWH-nature.
  • (Not the best analogy, but it might bring some clarity.)


All of these essence implications are things the ex-pagan at Corinth would have understood.

  • And so this, in tandem with everything else we have discussed the past few weeks…
  • Explains why the ex-pagan could worship the Father and the Son, affirm the Shema, and yet…
  • Not see Jesus as a demigod or a “not complete” god.
  • Jesus was altogether something different.



Exploration of the Trinity – Part 9 – Jesus Glory and Jesus Devotion

Jesus Glory:

John 12:37–43 (ESV) — 37 Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him, 38 so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “Lord, who has believed what he heard from us, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” 39 Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said, 40 “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them.” 41 Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him. 42 Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; 43 for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.



In this text, John cites two passages from Isaiah.

  • Isaiah 53:1 and Isaiah 6:10.
  • He does so to explain why so many of Jesus’ own people reject Him.
  • “A major burden informing John’s use of explicit OT quotations is to provide his readers with a biblical rationale for the rejection of Jesus as Messiah” – Andreas Kostenberger.


But, not surprisingly, there is much more going on with John’s use of Isaiah.

  • We will see that, based on John’s use of Isaiah, we have yet another implicit identification of Jesus with YHWH and/or the uniqueness of YHWH.


We have referred to these implicit identifications as the messaging of the NT writers.

  • Jonathan Lett calls this messaging a “field of symbols and metaphors” from which the NT writers draw from.
  • And this messaging about Jesus’ identity is every bit as explicit – in their eyes – as direct proclamations that Jesus is God.



Hermeneutics 101:

To begin, we need to get a quick grip on a hermeneutic in play with the NT usage of the OT.

  • Often, when NT writers quote a verse from an OT passage, they mean to invoke the entire passage.
  • So a reference to one text is a reference to the entire passage.
  • “No text is received in isolation from other texts” – Jonathan Lett.


Furthermore, the connections made to these OT passages are often shaped or directed by…

  • The “exegetical principle of gezera shawa” – Jonathan Lett.


The principle of gezera shawa simply means:

  • “Passages that contain identical or similar words should be interpreted with reference to one another” – Jonathan Lett.
  • Or, better yet, “passages including identical words or phrases may be used to interpret each other” – Richard Bauckham.


Using these principles, John connects Jesus with two significant passages and some significant words.

  • The Passages – Isaiah’s encounter with God (Isaiah 6), and the Suffering Servant (Isaiah 52-53).
  • The Words – Glorify and Exalt.


As we connect all these dots…

  • We will see how John identifies Jesus with the uniqueness of YHWH.
  • Yet another example of how the NT writers blur the lines between Jesus and YHWH.
  • Once again, something we think is best understood from a Trinitarian framework.
  • (The source for this is a recent article by Jonathan Lett in JBL).



The Connections:

(1) The first thing that connects John 12, Isaiah 6 and Isaiah 53 is the display of God’s glory.

  • John 12:23 (ESV) — 23 And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified [doxazo].
  • Isaiah 52:13 (LES) — 13 Look! My child will understand and be raised up and be magnified [doxazo] exceedingly.
  • Isaiah 6:3 (ESV) — 3 And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory! [doxa]”


John associates Jesus glorification with the upcoming Passion events.

  • Isaiah associates the glory of the Suffering Servant with his appearance, “marred, beyond human semblance” – Isa. 52:14.
  • And he associates the glory of YHWH with the nature of his appearance in the temple.


(2) The second thing that connects these passages is the idea of exaltation or being lifted up.

  • John 12:32 (ESV) — 32 And I, when I am lifted up [hypsoo] from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”
  • Isaiah 52:13 (LES) — 13 Look! My child will understand and be raised up [hypsoo] and be magnified [doxazo] exceedingly.
  • Isaiah 6:1 (ESV) — 1 In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up [hypselos]; and the train of his robe filled the temple.


John links Jesus coming glorification with His exaltation to the cross – cross=glorification.

  • “…it is precisely through the Servant’s suffering and death that he comes to be glorified” – Kostenberger.
  • Isaiah links the Servants glorification with being raised up for all to see.
  • And he links YHWH’s glory to his exalted status on His throne.


(3) There is one more thing that connects the passages – the idea of rejection.

  • John 12:37 (ESV) — 37 Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him,
    • John 1:11 (ESV) — 11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.
  • Isaiah 53:3 (ESV) — 3 He was despised and rejected by men…he was despised, and we esteemed him not.”
  • Isaiah 6:9 (ESV) — 9 And he said, “Go, and say to this people: “ ‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’


John links the exaltation and glorification themes with the reason for the rejection of Jesus.

  • Isaiah makes the same link in Isaiah 53 with the rejection of the Suffering Servant.
  • And in Isa. 6 he contrasts his reaction to the exalted YHWH with the Israelites who “do not perceive”.


From this we can see a correlation of events:

  • So, obviously, there is a connection between the three passages around the themes of “lifting up, glorification, [and] rejection” – Jonathan Lett.
  • And the subject of these actions is Jesus, Suffering Servant and YHWH.



The Meaning:

The question, for our purposes, is how does John connect the identities of these three?

  • From a Christian perspective, there is little debate that Jesus is the Suffering Servant.
  • Some argue that the Suffering Servant is Israel.
  • John’s use of the passage creates problem for this approach.


Given this, the real question for us would be:

  • Is the exaltation, glorification and rejection of Jesus/Suffering Servant…
  • Something He experienced as merely a DHA (divinely appointed human agent)…
  • Or are the connections between the passages meant to tell us Jesus/Suffering Servant is the Visible YHWH of Isaiah 6?


John has two things to say about this question.


(1) Firstly he says this:

  • John 12:38 (ESV) — 38 so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “Lord, who has believed what he heard from us, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”


This is a quote from Isaiah 53:1:

  • Isaiah 53:1 (ESV) — 1 Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?


Who is the arm of the YHWH?

  • It is the Suffering Servant.
  • It is Jesus.
  • This language is OT visible YHWH language.



(2) Secondly John says this:

  • John 12:41 (ESV) — 41 Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him.


When did Isaiah see “his glory”?

  • Isaiah 6:1–3 (ESV) — 1 In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord [Adonai] sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3 And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord [YHWH] of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”


Whose glory did Isaiah see?

  • In Isaiah 6, Isaiah says he saw Adonai/YHWH’s glory.
  • And he saw it while Adonai/YHWH was sitting upon His throne.
  • This is the glory of the visible YHWH!


But John just said that Isaiah saw Jesus’ glory.

  • So given all the connections we have discussed…
  • John is connecting Jesus, the Suffering Servant with the uniqueness of YHWH.
  • Jesus’ glory is YHWH’s glory.
  • YHWH’s glory is Jesus’ glory.


Craig Evans puts it this way:

“The glory which Isaiah saw, according to the evangelist, is that of the ‘exalted’ Christ, that is, the Christ who was ‘lifted up’ on the cross and crucified. This was the same glory which was seen when the ‘word became flesh and dwelt among us’” – Craig Evans.


(3) There is one more way John intimately connects Jesus with YHWH.

  • Jesus, the Suffering Servant, is despised and rejected.



  • He is not rejected as merely a DHA of God.


John makes it clear with his connections…

  • Jesus is rejected, like YHWH in Isaiah 6, as the exalted and glorified Lord.
  • John places the “rejection of Jesus onto the wider history of Israel’s inability to respond to God” – Jonathan Lett.


In other words:

  • To reject Jesus and His exalted glory on the violent and jarring cross…
  • Is to reject the exalted and splendid glory of YWHW the Lord on His throne (who John says was Jesus).


Jonathan Lett puts it this way:

“Isaiah’s visions of Jesus’s glory in the temple and in the figure of the servant force the reader to reconcile these seemingly disparate images of Jesus as a dishonored and disfigured servant and as the holy Lord enthroned on high in his heavenly temple.”



I will let Lett conclude this section for us.

“With Isa 52:13–53:12 and Isa 6, John delivers the most startling news: the divine and holy Jesus sits on the temple throne because he also hangs on a cross—scorned, disfigured, steeped in shame—and because he hangs there forsaken, he also presides gloriously over all the earth in his heavenly temple…Israel simply cannot recognize the identity of their God, who is the kind of God that comes to them in the lowliness of Jesus” – Jonathan Lett.



Jesus Devotion:

There is one final element of the NT’s handling of Jesus that is better explained by a Trinitarian view.

  • The worship of Jesus – or cultic devotion of Jesus (Larry Hurtado).
  • (This section is based on the work of Larry Hurtado).



Christian Mutation:

The first thing to take note of is that the worship of Jesus represents a massive change in the Jewish tradition.

  • The “earliest Christian devotion constituted a significant mutation or innovation in Jewish monotheistic tradition” – Larry Hurtado.


Specifically, the Christian mutation was as follows:

It involved “making the exalted Jesus an object of devotion. More specifically, Christ came to be included as an object of the devotional attention characteristically reserved for God in other examples of Jewish tradition” – Larry Hurtado.


And significantly, this addition of Jesus was unprecedented!

  • “…this mutation in Jewish tradition may be seen as an unprecedented reshaping of monotheistic piety to include a second object of devotion alongside God…” – Larry Hurtado.
  • There is no other case in any Jewish tradition of such a thing taking place.


And importantly, this unprecedented mutation, as we saw last week…

  • Happened “among a group that continued to consider itself firmly committed to ‘one God’” – Larry Hurtado.



The Mutations:

Larry Hurtado says there were six specific mutations in Jewish monotheism to accommodate Jesus.

  • (1) Hymnic Practices
  • (2) Prayer Practices
  • (3) Use of Name of Christ
  • (4) Lord’s Supper
  • (5) Confessing Jesus
  • (6) Prophetic Pronouncements of Risen Christ


When we speak of worship as cultic devotion…

  • It is to these 6 mutations that we are referring.



(1) Hymic Practices


The hymns are “mainly devoted to celebrating the work and significance of Christ” – Larry Hurtado.

  • There are three major passages considered to be Christ hymns.
  • John 1:1-18
  • Colossians 1:15-20
  • Philippians 2:5-11


There are many more “fragments of hymns” throughout the NT (Hurtado).

  • Revelation has many hymns sung to the Lamb.
  • And, no doubt, many Psalms were sung in devotion to Jesus (Hurtado).
  • Most notably, Psalm 110, the most quoted OT passage in the NT.


The Philippians hymn is as follows:

  • Philippians 2:5b–11 (ESV) — 5b Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.



(2) Prayer Practices


“Christ was regularly invoked and appealed to in prayer” – Larry Hurtado.

  • A practice usually reserved for YHWH.
  • But in the NT, prayer is now split between the Father and Jesus.


A couple of examples of prayer to Jesus:

  • Acts 7:59–60 (ESV) — 59 And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.
  • 2 Corinthians 12:7–9 (ESV) — 7 So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.



(3) Name of Christ


Invoking the name of Christ was yet another way cultic devotion and worship of Christ were demonstrated.

  • (a) “The most familiar practice involving the name of Christ is the Christian initiatory rite of baptism” – Larry Hurtado.
  • (b) There are also instances of “calling upon the name of Jesus the Lord” – Hurtado.


Some examples of baptism in the name:

  • Acts 10:48 (ESV) — 48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days.
  • Acts 19:5 (ESV) — 5 On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.


Some examples of calling on the name:

  • 1 Corinthians 1:2 (ESV) — 2 To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours:
  • Romans 10:13 (ESV) — 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”


Interestingly, this calling on the name idea:

  • “…apparently derived originally from Old Testament passages that refer to calling ‘upon the Lord’” – Larry Hurtado.
  • Genesis 12:8 (ESV) — 8 From there he moved to the hill country on the east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. And there he built an altar to the Lord and called upon the name of the Lord.
  • Joel 2:32 (ESV) — 32a And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.
    • Does Romans 10:13 suggest that the name of YHWH in Joel is the name of Lord Jesus?
    • Yet another blurring of the lines with the name of YHWH and Jesus.



(4) Lord’s Supper:


The Lord’s Supper is one of the earliest glimpses “we have of the corporate gatherings of Jewish Christians” – Larry Hurtado.

  • Strikingly, it is centered around and shows, “the prominent place of the risen Christ in their devotional practice” – Larry Hurtado.
  • And as with the other mutations, there is no record found in “ancient Jewish devotion” of such a practice.


The obvious Lord’s Supper example comes from 1 Corinthians.

  • 1 Corinthians 11:23–26 (ESV) — 23 For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.



(5) Confessing Jesus


Confessing in Jesus’ name simply meant:

  • “…owning up to one’s faith before others who did not share it and affirming one’s faith in gatherings of believers” – Larry Hurtado.


Matthew attributes it to Jesus Himself:

  • Matthew 10:32 (ESV) — 32 So everyone who acknowledges [homologeo] me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven,
  • ASV version rightly uses “confesses” instead of “acknowledges”.


The most popular example is found in Romans.

  • Romans 10:9 (ESV) — 9 because, if you confess [homologeo] with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.


It is also widely believed that the beginning of Romans has a homologeo of Christ.

  • Romans 1:3–4 (ESV) — 3 concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh 4 and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord,


And so given the practice of confessing Jesus:

  • “We have…yet another example of the distinctive shape of [Christian] religious life” – Larry Hurtado.
  • Distinctive, as we have been saying, from any previous Jewish practice.



(6) Prophesying Words of Risen Jesus


A final Christian mutation of early Jewish devotion that must be noted is:

  • “…prophecy uttered as the words of the heavenly Christ” – Larry Hurtado.


An example of this is found in Revelation.

  • Revelation 1:17–19 (ESV) — 17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, 18 and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. 19 Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this.
  • So John was prophesying, not YHWH’s words, but Jesus’ words.


Why is the prophesying of Jesus’ words particularly significant?


The Context:

The context is a people committed to ancient Jewish monotheism “and its traditional concern about false prophecy” – Larry Hurtado.


Moses reveals why this context is so important.

  • Deuteronomy 13:1–3 (ESV) — 1 “If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, 2 and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, ‘Let us go after other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us serve them,’ 3 you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the Lord your God is testing you, to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.


Moses would go on to say that the prophet prophesying in the name of any god but YHWH should be put to death.

  • This is because prophesying the words of any one but YHWH was a sign of disloyalty and disobedience.
  • And it was a subversion of the authority of YHWH over His people.


And yet, we have ancient Jewish monotheists who confess loyalty to YHWH prophesying Jesus’ words.

So, “If a person was able to command the attention and acceptance of early Christian groups and be regarded as a true prophet by convincing them that he or she spoke the words of the risen Christ [instead of YHWH], this means that these groups gave to the words of this Lord the same sort of authority as they accorded to the prophetic address of God himself or of his ‘Spirit’’’ – Larry Hurtado.


The prophesy from Christ equaled the prophesy of YHWH.

  • It had to; otherwise Deut. 13 would be in play!
  • And those prophesying the words of Jesus would be going after “other gods”.




I will let Larry Hurtado close this lesson out.

“Jewish Christians gathered in Jesus’ name for worship, prayed to him and sang hymns to him, regarded him as exalted to a position of heavenly rule above all angelic orders, appropriated to him titles and Old Testament passages originally referring to God, sought to bring fellow Jews as well as Gentiles to embrace him as the divinely appointed redeemer, and in general redefined their devotion to the God of their fathers so as to include the veneration of Jesus” – Larry Hurtado.



“The proper questions are whether Jesus was included uniquely in the sort of reverence that was otherwise reserved for God, and whether Jesus shared in the sort of reverence that in ancient Jewish and Christian circles was typically denied to any other figure (than God)…the answer to these questions is a resounding ‘yes’” – Larry Hurtado.


Dale Tuggy’s Trilemma – The Tip of the Iceberg



Jesus died.

Jesus was fully divine.

No fully divine being has ever died.


Can an orthodox, creedal affirming Christian (what I call a Creedonian) deny anyone of these? No. All three would have to be affirmed.


So what? What’s the problem? All this God stuff is a mystery anyway.


The problem is that we’re left with a contradiction. The problem is we have to explain how a fully divine being – who is essentially and necessarily immortal – can die. I suppose we can ignore the problem, but Scripture elevates knowing. It doesn’t favor blind allegiance.


We can, of course, avoid the contradiction by denying one of the statements. But then we would lose our Creedonian membership card.


So what are we to do?


We’ll start with the easy bit. The Bible is clear that God can’t die. God’s divine nature renders Him incapable of death. Call it a perk of the job.


How about the “Jesus is fully divine” bit? For sake of brevity, we’ll go with the customary interpretations of all the relevant Biblical passages. Give a nod to Athanasius, the Cappadocians, Augustine, Karl Barth. Affirm this one without the benefit of argument, and move on.


So that leaves us with, “Jesus died”.


Now we have a problem. Based on what we just affirmed, we’re in a pickle. How do we get out?


There are only two ways, as far as I can see. Appeal to mystery, using all the intellectual vigor we can muster. Or, employ the language and concepts of the creeds.


We’ll avoid the mystery card and take the second approach. Doing so means we’ll have to make some adjustments to the trilemma. Specifically, we’ll have to rephrase the “Jesus died” statement to accommodate our Creedonian beliefs.


This changing of the statement means, obviously, that the trilemma as given will be ignored.


So the “right” statement might look something like this – the “One-God’s-eternal-modality-that-is-the-so-distinguished-hypostatic-act-Son’s-assumed-human-nature” died.


Now, we can talk about how the hypostatic union both unifies and distinguishes the “hypostatic-act-Son’s” divine and human nature. We can talk about how the concept of communicatio idiomatum demonstrates how the two natures of Christ communicate properties with each other.


We can talk about the difference between concrete and abstract natures. We can make “qua” distinctions between human and divine natures. We can talk about the difference between a person in the modern sense and a person in the “hypostatic-act-Son” sense.


Now, when I say “we”, I mean somebody else. I’ve been reading on these things for two years and I still can’t explain them.


So when the “we” have finished explaining all of this, does it solve our problem? I’ll leave that for you to discern.


But I will say this. Each road taken to answer this trilemma seems to always dead end with more questions. And eventually, like-mindedness between scholars evaporates, as we travel further into the weeds. Ultimately…the mystery card comes out.


So where does this leave us?


Personally, I think the doctrine of the Trinity is in crisis. I lay the blame at the feet of Trinitarian scholars.


The disconnect between a plain reading of the Bible, and the language and concepts employed by Trinitarian scholarship is massive. As lay folk, like me, are compelled to dive deeper and deeper into a Biblical search for the presence and coherent formulation of the Trinity, the disconnect becomes more and more obvious. Trinitarian language is not Biblical language.


Only the Trinitarian scholar has the chops to find a better way – to find better and more compelling language – to bridge the divide. But too many spend their energy on defending the continued use of this disconnected language. Too many opt for Latin over lucidity. Too many pride themselves on loyalty to Patristics over pastoring the flock.


No doubt, they think this is a false dilemma. They would see their loyalty as a form of pastoring the flock. But this misses the point.


Language and concepts like “communicatio idiomatum” are not inspired. They are not, in any Biblical sense, sanctifying. The truth they contain manifests not within a Biblical context, but within a specific historical setting.


It might help to illustrate my point. I’m not denying the engine. I’m pointing out that language like “carburetor” is becoming obsolete. Fuel injection is not heresy.


I’m suggesting it’s time to employ language and concepts that are more effective at communicating and defending the Doctrine of the Trinity at this time in Church history. This is…after all…what the Church Fathers did so well. They spoke into their historical setting with the tools their setting provided. To honor the work of the Church Fathers, is to do precisely what they did.


But sadly, in fact, when some new field does come along to try and do this very thing – like analytic theology – it’s ostracized by many of those in the systematics and patristics fields. It’s smugly labeled as being “novel”.


Dale Tuggy’s trilemma is the least of the Trinitarian’s concerns. It’s merely the tip of the iceberg.




Scott Swain Misrepresents Larry Hurtado in JETS?



I’ve been studying the doctrine of the Trinity for two plus years. I’m obsessed with it. Can’t imagine a more engaging subject. It’s a topic that overlaps many disciplines – patristic studies, church history, biblical theology, dogmatics and philosophy. I love it. It’s a challenge.


My pursuit of the Trinity has included authors as diverse as Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Origen, GNaz, Dale Tuggy, Fred Sanders, James White, James Anderson, Thomas McCall, Scott Swain, William Hasker, Keith Ward, Luke Stamps, Larry Hurtado, Michael Heiser, Alan Segal, Richard Bauckham, Daniel Howard-Snyder, Michael Rea, Sarah Coakley, George Karamanolis, Kavin Rowe, WLC, and more.


To that end, I recently read an article in the March 2017 edition of the Journal of the Evangelical Society. The article is written by Scott Swain, president of Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando. The title: “The Bible and the Trinity in Recent Thought: Review, Analysis, and Constructive Proposal”.


In a section dealing with “the mode of the Trinity’s presence in the Bible,” Swain makes this point:

The Trinity does not present himself to us in Holy Scripture in the form of the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed. Some, of course, claim this as evidence that the Trinity does not present himself to us in any form in the Bible and that the church’s Trinitarian dogma is the product of later, extrabiblical influences on its thinking, life, and liturgy. Wilhelm Bousset argued that it was only when the church had forgotten its Jewish monotheistic roots that it could, under the influences of its Hellenistic context, affirm the deity of Jesus Christ. The church’s Trinitarian dogma, according to this view, is “a work of the Greek Spirit on the soil of the Gospel,” to use Adolf Von Harnack’s famous description. Martin Hengel and others have undermined Bousset’s sharp distinction between an early Palestinian form of Christianity and a later Hellenized form.


Swain then cites scholars Richard Bauckham and Larry Hurtado as having “further discredited” Bousset’s view:

Richard Bauckham and Larry Hurtado, representatives of what Hengel dubbed the “new history of religions school,” have further discredited Bousset’s theory, demonstrating that the early church identified Jesus with and worshipped Jesus as the one true God of Israel.




What concerns me here is Swain’s representation of Larry Hurtado’s work. Along with Bauckham, Swain cites Hurtado as, “demonstrating that the early church identified Jesus with and worshipped Jesus as the one true God of Israel”. (I’m not dealing here with Swain’s larger point about the work of Bousset).


At the time, this representation of Hurtado struck me as wrong. I’ve read a number of his books, scores of his blog posts, and listened to him multiple times on assorted podcasts. I was certain he never endorsed or espoused this “Jesus is God” view in his published work.


But to be sure, I decided to go straight to the source – Hurtado himself. I contacted him with the following question:

I just read in the March issue of JETS a Scott Swain article. He cites you as demonstrating, and I quote, “that the early church identified Jesus with and worshipped Jesus as the one true God of Israel”. Now, unless I’m mistaken, I’ve never read or heard you make such a claim. Have you ever claimed this in your writings? If so, where? I need to reread the appropriate sections if I have overlooked this.


Hurtado did not disappoint. His answer to my question was clear and precise:

Corby: I too don’t recall making the claim that the early church identified Jesus “as the one true God of Israel.” I’ve noted that the earliest evidence shows the glorified/risen Jesus treated as uniquely linked with God, and as sharing the divine throne, divine name and glory, but also regularly distinguished from “God”. The application of OT “YHWH texts” to Jesus is remarkable (as David Capes showed in his book on the topic). But I myself don’t think that this justifies the sort of statement that you cite.


Hurtado confirmed my suspicions.


But more than that, he actually undercuts the “Jesus as God” point Swain attributes to Hurtado. Hurtado says, “But I myself don’t think that this justifies the sort of statement you cite”. What statement? Jesus is identified “as the one true God of Israel”.


Here is my concern: It appears to me that a highly respected scholar in Trinitarian studies misrepresented the work of another scholar in order to give an additional appearance of credibility to his argument. This is a serious problem.




At this point in the story, I decided to  contact Scott Swain directly. He was gracious enough to private message with me and hear my concerns. He disagreed with my take on his use of Hurtado. And yes, I sent him Hurtado’s response.


I pressed Swain further on the issue and he ended the conversation. I did have a glimmer of hope, however. He said he would seek the opinion of Hurtado directly. I asked him to keep me in the loop. If I am wrong on this, I want to know. I never heard back from him.


Did Swain misrepresent Hurtado? If you think he did, how would you characterize the severity of Swain’s misrepresentation? If you think he didn’t, where have I gone wrong?



Frustrated Trinitarian

I am a frustrated Trinitarian. Let me explain.


As you may know, the mantra “know what you believe and why you believe it” is a staple of thinking evangelical culture. I agree with it. It’s a needed corrective to a whole host of shortcomings.


Unfortunately, the mantra has its problems. It ultimately perpetuates some of the shortcomings it sets out to combat. The reason – it doesn’t go far enough.


The “what you believe”, it turns out, is typically the body of knowledge that informs a particular tradition’s beliefs. And it’s not actually questioned. It’s assumed.


This means the call to know “why you believe it” is not an invitation to critically engage with a tradition’s beliefs. It’s a call to acquaint oneself with the historical content of a tradition’s beliefs. Big difference.


For some of us…this is not enough.


We realize that to critically engage with our beliefs – to truly know why we believe them – requires us to go behind them. Examine their assumptions. Find their origin. Understand their development. But which ones?


Some are captivated by the paradox of the incarnation, provoked by the implications of atonement theories, enthralled by new ideas about Paul, or invigorated by ancient Near Eastern readings of creation. Me? I was frustrated by a myriad of issues surrounding the doctrine of the Trinity.


“Frustrated by the Trinity?”, one might ask. “It’s foundational to orthodox Christian belief. All one has to do is read the New Testament. The Father, Son and the Holy Spirit show up everywhere. How can one be frustrated by the Trinity? There would be no Gospel without it!”


“Oh. Wait. Is the Trinity an ‘it’ or a ‘him’? The Father, Son and Spirit are ‘hims’…that’s right…so the Trinity has to be an ‘it’? Wait…that doesn’t sound right. God’s not a thing. God’s a person…uh…three persons. This stuff is confusing!”


Let me help. The Trinity is not an “it”. The Trinity is a “him”. Specifically, The-one-simple-God-in-three-eternal-modalities-that-are-the-hypostatic-acts-Father-Son-and-Holy-Spirit-whose-only-distinction-are-their-internal-relations.


This is doctrinal language. It is a way we can speak of our tri-personal God with technical precision. A language and precision absent from the Bible. A language that reveals a disconnect between bible and doctrine.


Given this disconnect, scholar Scott Swain has no choice but to concede, “The Trinity does not present himself to us in the Holy Scripture in the form of the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed.” Same goes for scholar Fred Sanders when he admits, the doctrine is a “less revealed doctrine” requiring “some assembly.”


To be fair, they both argue the Trinity is a biblically revealed doctrine. Sanders will speak of the “biblical pressure” or “raw material” for the doctrine. Sometimes He’ll spit-and-shine the disconnect with a distinction between a “Primary Trinitarianism” and “Secondary Trinitarianism.”


But in their academically aimed writings, they release the reigns a bit on the problems presented by the disconnect issue.


In Sanders’ book The Triune God, he makes the following refreshingly frank admission: “Indeed, the doctrine of the Trinity stands today at a point of crisis with regard to its ability to demonstrate its exegetical foundation. Theologians once approached this doctrine with a host of biblical proofs, but one by one, many of those venerable old arguments have been removed from the realm of plausibility.”


This disconnect between Bible and doctrine is where my frustration takes root. A frustration fomented by a significant amount of current Trinitarian scholarship.


My frustrations can be summarized around the following doctrinal issues (a partial list):

  • Development Issues
  • Exegetical Issues
  • Coherence Issues
  • Historical Issues
  • Doctrinal Content Issues
  • Trinitarian Glossing Syndrome


It might be helpful to briefly comment on one – development issues. For the average Christian – the kind I teach – much of this will likely be new.


Orthodoxy’s first full blown Trinitarian creed was in 381. The years that led up to that were crammed with political, theological, philosophical, and polemical discourse on God the Father and his relationship to the Son.


During these years there were many brilliant Christians who were not Trinitarians (there still are). Many simply believed that the one God was the Father. Debate often centered around how the Son was “related” to the Father.


Christian bishops and thinkers argued over whether the Son was: from the will of the Father; from the “ousia” of the Father; “in” the Father; or the “likeness” of the Father. As late as the 350’s Basil of Ancyra argued that the Son is “like” the Father not of the “same essence” (being). This is not a Trinitarian friendly view.


During these years, we have Greek philosophical influences exerting pressure on how Christianity wrestled with concepts like “God”, “Logos”, “divine simplicity”, “nature”, “being”, and “person.”


We have top down political pressure being exerted on the Church in order bring unity to the Byzantine empire. Alongside this we have political alliances being formed within the Church to help advance one position over another. The famous church Father Athanasius incited violence against the “opposition”. Some stocked creeds with specific language intended to stick it to the other side.


We have a variety of other factors that are often ignored. Scholar Sarah Coakley points out that the development of the doctrine is set, “within a constellation of considerations – spiritual, ascetical, sexual, social – which the dominant modern textbook tradition has tended either to ignore, or to sideline…”


And shockingly, we have very little discussion on the status of the Holy Spirit who, for a variety of reasons, was given a back seat. One reason, cited by Coakley, was that the Holy Spirit was seen as inciting sexual desires (I’m not making this stuff up).


My frustration arises in a number of ways within the quick sketch provided.


I’m frustrated that in popular level books on the Trinity there is no hint of the severity and breadth of disagreement, nor of the developmental complexity that attended the doctrine. I’m frustrated that some creeds are completely ignored, while others are spun as nirvana experiences of Trinitarian ecstasy. James White says of the Nicaea Creed of 325, “[its] words were the result of the greatest church council ever convened.”


Scholar Lewis Ayres provides a more realistic view of 325: There was a “temporary victory of one side in early fourth-century debate over ouisa language [how the Son is related to the Father], but it does not demonstrate any substantial advance towards a resolution of that debate.”


Even more telling (from Ayres): “The idea that the creed would serve as a universal and precise marker of Christian faith was unlikely to have occurred to anyone at Nicaea simply because the idea that any creed might so serve was yet unheard of. All the bishops at Nicaea would have understood their local ‘baptismal’ creed to be a sufficient definition of Christian belief…”


The creed was essentially ignored for the next 20+ years. And like John 1:1c, was just as easily deployed to support “non-Trinitarian” views as “Trinitarian” ones (I use quotes around these terms because even in the 320’s, a doctrinal view of the Trinity did not exist).


These are but a few of the frustrations that arise out of the issues surrounding the doctrine’s development. Shielding the average Christian from these issues is not a way to foster thinking Christians. It’s not a way to encourage a sincere embrace of the mantra, “know what you believe and why you believe it.” Quite the opposite. It’s a way to endorse ignorance as a virtue, foment frustrated Trinitarians…or worse.