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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

God is one: On a Unitarian and Trinitarian debate

The Indwelling of Deity in the Believer by Gilbert Torres

(Checkout the amiable and great dialog in the comment section with Rabbi Yisroel Blumenthal. The article was my response to his article Christianity Unmasked. Some of his congregants contributed their thoughts too. gt)
Debate: Unitarianism vs Trinitarianism


This article is not about debates. It is not a refutation of a debate. It is an address of a single aspect of the discussion concerning deity. Debates are a great platform for grandstanding. I do not care to attend debates. I have never participated in one and I have no desire to do so. They can do little or nothing to enlighten the saints who are of the faith that is in Christ Jesus. Worse still, too often the saints are treated to a carnal spectacle between the presenters. The tactics of single word isolation in the original Hebrew and Greek languages are flashed before the audience; each presenter positing alternately what the word means and what it could otherwise possibly mean also. Of course, there is an abundance of verses, which like their word components, are isolated and listed for what they do not say as much as for what they do not say about God.


When it comes to the trinity,
a word for which I have no desire, use or need, much is heard in debates about history and the Council of Nicaea in 325 by Emperor Constantine to whom many ascribe the doctrine of what is called trinitarianism. Also, there is the back and forth about terms not found in the Bible; often noted about Trinitarian/Trinitarianism, but the same holds true of Unitarian/Unitarianism. There are the copious references to scholars and last but not least there is
that point where the presenters wear thin and the veiled, subtle and sometimes slip-of-the-tongue barbs come into the debate near the end of the debate. These are my general observations concerning debates but I will say that Danny Dixon and Marc Taylor were, as the script of the debate seems to indicate, respectful as brothers in Christ.


Invariably, after the debate is over the single unanswered question in the minds of the saints is: what does it mean to say God is one and still speak of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit?


This is the question which neither Unitarians nor Trinitarians have been able to address in an open, clear and understandable manner for the enlightenment of the saints.


Basically, the conclusion is that Jesus was a very nice man, sent from God with great power, it is alright that worship was directed to him and that he never reproved those who said or did anything directed to him in the manner of praise and worship. If the saints were to receive such an enlightenment from those debates maybe their speech would convey their confident conviction concerning the Father, Son and Holy Spirit especially as Christians are confronted more and more by purportedly Unitarian Muslims. The purpose of this article is to address what, both Unitarians and Trinitarians have wittingly or unwittingly circumspectly avoided.


things debaters share in common


Danny Dixon (Unitarian) and Marc Taylor (Trinitarian), those are their own self-descriptive terms, share much more in common than the familiar formal and informal tactics of what is called debate. I encourage readers to take the time and read the fifty five page transcript of the debate. More importantly, they share their theological views, though not their respective conclusions necessarily, in common with Jews, Christians and Muslims. Read the Dixon/Taylor debate here. I have included at the end of this article three video debate links between Unitarian and Trinitarian and their mutually shared, sheer, utter futility. I am waiting on those associated with those debates to provide me the links for debates #2 and #3.


What, you may ask, could these two brothers in Christ possibly have in common between each other as veritable Unitarian/Trinitarian opponents on one hand and Jews, Christians and Muslims on the other hand?


There are other points in common, but really, only one which matters because it is the fundamental root of the problem. It is the quantification with numeric values of one, two or three of the deity who declares himself as being one. One individual argues for God as the quantitative value of one. The other argues for God as the quantitative value of one, but . . . three. It is significant and telling that what Moses pronounced to Israel in the Shema in Deuteronomy 6:4 is summed up for the enlightenment of the saints in this manner by both men in their only reference to the Shema in the debate.


by Dixon, “Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6:4, “Hear O Israel, Jehovah our God, Jehovah is one. ”Did he really mean it, or was Jesus speaking with his fingers crossed behind his back since the divine joke was that in fact he was Jehovah.”


by Taylor: “When Christ quotes Deuteronomy 6:4 in Mark 12:29 it is not at all conclusive that the word for "one" refers to an absolute one for the Hebrew and Greek words for one can be used to represent a "unified one" (Genesis 2:24; Matthew 19:5).


Arguably, the Shema is the single most important and vital passage of the Tanakh (Old Testament) for its pronouncement on the descriptive nature of God. Yet, the above comments by both men are a fair reflection of what is a common misunderstanding about God by Jews, Christians and Muslims. Every one of these different groups cite or quote the Shema, but every one of them holds the same quantitative interpretation of deity as Dixon and Taylor.


I will not lay out any argument from the Hebrew language. I will not present what various reputed scholars have said on the subject of deity. Certainly, this article, as it is probably apparent already, is not a scholarly work in no small part because of the absence of language arguments and scholars’ views. Yes, I value scholarly work. It is just that too often it takes on the consistency of muddle for those who listen in on debates. Yes, there are a number of verses (for example, those with reference to Jesus as a man) throughout the Bible some of which were instruments for engagement between Dixon and Taylor. Although I am prepared to respond to those verses they will not be a part of this article. Those responses may be a part of a further discussion to this article. Do not mistake my decision as avoidance or timidness because I do not address and respond to the familiar and anticipated questions which stem from this verse and that verse. However, the truth of the matter is that much of what is thrown into debates is for their filler effect and nothing more. What I prefer to present is what any reader of the Tanakh and the new covenant (New Testament) can read and examine in the English language for themselves and make their own judgment on these matters. It is my hope that the saints would be built up,encouraged and enlightened.


what God sought to impress on Israel


God sought to impress something on Israel for all time when He spoke through his servant Moses in Deuteronomy 6:4,5; the Shema. There are various words and phrases which appear before and after the Shema. Here are a few of those words and phrases:


the commandment, the statutes and the judgments . . . to teach . . . to keep . . . you should listen . . . Hear, oh Israel . . . These words . . . talk of them . . . bind as a sign . . . You shall write them . . .


All of these words and phrases are about the words God was saying to Moses in that moment. Since Deuteronomy is a second telling of the law to Israel those words and phrases are as much about what God had said (past) already. These were things which Israel was to learn and keep as of that day. (present) Israel was to teach these things to their children going forward. (future) Their children were to learn, keep and teach these things to impress to their children; generation after generation.


the divine revelation of the will of God is one


This is what Israel was to understand from that moment going forward. Israel was to understand that the revelation of the will of God was one in unity and harmony as is God. Israel was to understand that 1) everything that God said was to be obeyed, 2) everything that Moses said that God said was to be obeyed, 3) everything that the prophets said God said was to be obeyed, 4) everything that Jesus said was from the Father said was to be obeyed, 5) everything that the apostles said was from the Holy Spirit was to be obeyed, and 6) everything that the saints in Christ read from the written word as what God said was to be obeyed. There is no variation. There is no discrepancy. What God said is no less the authoritative commandment of God after he spoke it, when it was repeated, before it was written, after it was written, before it was printed, after it was printed and when the reading of his commandments is heard by listeners. The saints in Christ are living in a time when many among them, as in the days of ancient Israel, so desperately and frantically seek after something, surely, anything that is flashier than words.


There is complete, total harmony and oneness from beginning to end from God himself, from Moses, from the prophets, from Jesus, from the apostles and the saints. This is the unity, oneness, true nature, characteristic and description of God who is one; not a quantitative, numeric value; as is his word so too is the Father, with the Son, with the Holy Spirit.


a plurality


There is plural word form in the Shema. It is acknowledged by Jews and Christians alike. There is no denying that the plural form is present in the text. Of course, this is where Christians interject Father, Son and Holy Spirit into the passage. The awareness and response by the Jews to that plural form is aptly stated by Rabbi Goldmark in The Human Jesus; “We just ignore it.”


Amazing. This, from a teacher of Israel? A much earlier Psalms text on the Jewish awareness of that nagging plurality was quoted by Jesus for his listeners. Even before that quotation by Jesus he was quizzed by a scribe. It was a no-brainer affirmation from Jesus on the Shema. It was also the opportune moment for the scribe to parrot in the presence of the Sadducees and Pharisees what was theologically safe. (Mark 12)


Jesus answered,"The foremost is, 'HEAR, O ISRAEL! THE LORD OUR GOD IS ONE LORD;
30 AND YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH.'
31 "The second is this, 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.' There is no other commandment greater than these."


The scribe’s response to Jesus:


The scribe said to Him, "Right, Teacher; You have truly  stated that HE IS ONE, AND THERE IS NO ONE ELSE BESIDES HIM;
33 AND TO LOVE HIM WITH ALL THE HEART AND WITH ALL THE UNDERSTANDING AND WITH ALL THE STRENGTH, AND TO LOVE ONE'S NEIGHBOR AS HIMSELF, is much more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices."


Mark, the writer of the gospel, notes this reaction from Jesus to the scribe’s safe response:


When Jesus saw that he had answered intelligently, He said to him, "You are not far from the kingdom of God."


Clearly, there is nothing contradictory, wrong or otherwise unsound in the scribe’s reiteration of Jesus’ words. Is there a reasonable understanding as to why Mark notes that Jesus saw that the scribe answered Jesus intelligently, or in other versions, wisely if not for the fact that it was a theologically safe and nonthreatening response to Jesus in the presence of the Sadducees?


However, Jesus did not let things be. He proceeded to quote Psalm 110 with its nagging plural references which baffled the Jewish scribes. These references, between The Lord and my lord, are explained neither by the Hebrew language or upper or lower case spellings nor are they explained through the obscure insertion of titles or names such as Father or Yahweh. (Those explanations are as feeble as what some takeaway from Jesus’ quotation of the Shema, namely, that it was his endorsement, to use their word choice, of the Shema.)


THE LORD SAID TO MY LORD, "SIT AT MY RIGHT HAND, UNTIL I PUT YOUR ENEMIES BENEATH YOUR FEET."'


Nobody answered Jesus’ question. Jesus did not state anything new. It was an ancient message of the prophets who, like Moses, revealed the will of God to Israel. Furthermore, Jesus did not offer an explanation, but instead posited another question for them and left it for them and for us to ponder that plurality. I will leave it for the reader to ponder that plurality.


Ephesians: Father, Son, Holy Spirit: role and relationship


As much as there is no denial by Jews and Christians on the plurality of the Shema there are other instances in which God refers to himself in the plural form even as He is referred to in plural. There is no denial that Jesus spoke of the deity of the Father. I prefer to leave aside Jesus’ own reference to himself as being equal with the Father and the implications of deity for himself. Similarly, I prefer to leave aside the claims of the Holy Spirit as deity. This is not a capitulation or avoidance, but it is a matter which is better to be pondered, for the time being, and for the reader to come to his/her own realization and understanding of deity. We ought not be surprised that the saints in Christ struggle to understand God.


If the disciples who walked, talked and lived with Jesus struggled to understand who it was that was in their midst; today, we ought not marvel that the saints struggle to understand the Jesus in the written word of God and the Holy Spirit who remains just as non visible today as in the first century.


Those same disciples, and later the apostle Paul too, all went on become witnesses of Jesus in their proclamation of his gospel. All were indwelt and guided by the same Holy Spirit whom they received from the Father. Their words, like those of Moses and the prophets, were one in unity and agreement with everything Jesus said and what the Spirit received from Jesus to reveal to them.


It was the apostle Paul who bore testimony through his inspired writing in his letter to the saints in Christ at Ephesus concerning the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Paul not only specifies these entities in chapter one, but he reveals 1) what was the role of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and thus, 2) the relationship of Father, Son and Holy Spirit towards his creation; man to be specific.


It was not the Son or the Holy Spirit, but the Father who PURPOSED his will before the foundation of the world to redeem an elect people.


It was not the Father or the Holy Spirit, but the Son who FULFILLED the will of the Father through his own death in order that he might redeem the elect by his blood having been forgiven of their sins.


It was not the Father or the Son, but the Holy Spirit who SEALED the redeemed of the Father as purchased by the Son.


These words of Paul were not conjured up by him but they were from antiquity; since before the foundation of the world _ before God EVEN SPOKE THEM before the foundation of the world. These are words by which Paul explained the specific roles and relationship of each divine entity towards the redeemed. Contrary to the serious misunderstanding by Muslims, Jews and some Christians God is not a man. This mistaken notion is found neither in the scriptures nor is it the teaching of Christians. God TOOK ON the form of a man. It is just as much a serious mistaken notion of the saints to think that they understand the divine transcendent God when they speak of him in terms of person or persons. Although the scriptures present God through the use of anthropomorphisms these were primarily for the Jews and for the saints in Christ to help understand and relate to God who is spirit through the use of human terms. The use of these anthropomorphism by God himself in a human-form vessel named Jesus reveals that he was quite comfortable to extend the reference to himself as a man (John 8:40) in the face of the defiant and arrogant Jews who touted with a purportedly Unitarian fervor to Jesus, we have one Father: God.


the prophet Isaiah


As I stated earlier there is tendency to blithely throw titles (such as Father) and names (such as Yahweh) or prophet into passages where none of these appear in the text. This practice is true of Dixon and Taylor as it is of many other saints on a number of different discussion topics. This is an exercise question on deity to which I will not offer an answer. It is not that I do not have an answer, but rather it is that I will trust in the written word of God and in the reader to make the discovery and reach the realization for themselves and to rejoice in it. I know a proposition without answers is contrary to the question which is so often heard from exhausted minds in their search to understand deity: why didn’t God just say . . .? This open speculation as to what God could have or should have said is trumpeted as a default definitive answer by Unitarians and Trinitarians alike to anything they cannot articulate on their own and without resorting to a maze of biblical language definitions and ancient writers. Both of these groups and individuals throw around labels and names such as Father, Jehovah, Yahweh, YHWH inserting these at will clearly without an answer or understanding of the following question of the same text from Isaiah in two different places. The subject in reference in these passages is YHWH and the unbelief of those who heard his message.


1  According to the scriptures whom did Isaiah see in Isaiah 6?
2  According to the scriptures whom did Isaiah see in John 12?

Read the passages. Read them in your own preferred version of the scriptures whether in Hebrew, Greek or English, New World Translation of the Scriptures, New American Standard, New International Version or other.


conclusion


The question of deity by Unitarians and Trinitarians for those whom they purport to enlighten the saints remains unanswered. What is offered as an answer is obscured, muddled and lost in the tactics of debate.

So much of what is presented as sound findings from the scriptures is to pitch one passage or verse against another. This is an indication of a serious misunderstanding of the total, complete harmony of the revelation of the will of God from God himself, to Moses, to the prophets, to Jesus, to the apostles and to the saints in Christ. It is this harmony and unity which makes Father, Son and Holy Spirit one. 

We, the saints in Christ and as Jesus likened us, are one with the Father and Son when we are one in harmony just as the Father and Jesus are one. (John 17:11) Had the Jews understood and accepted and not ignored what they did not understand concerning the meaning of the Shema which became a part of their daily lives they would not have been so quick to crucify Jesus, the Son of God. The expedient death of Jesus as unwittingly prophesied by Caiaphas (John 18:13) represented the Jewish participation in something which they adamantly asserted as being a vile abomination to God and the Jews themselves. This is a convenient forgetfulness of history involving the virtual human sacrifice at Moriah of Isaac and later the actual sacrifice of the entire firstborn of Egypt. No, that is not, as some might be quick to charge, anti-Semitic. It is a matter of history. peace to all.

The Trinity: Truth or Tragedy? #1
The Trinity: Truth or Tragedy? #2
The Trinity: Truth or Tragedy? #3

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