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Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Book: The Son of God: Three Views of the Identity of Jesus . . . a response

I have no need to rail against, cast aspersions, engage in name-calling or pinning labels on Charles Lee Irons, Danny Andre Dixon and Dustin R. Smith. I am mindful that they are no different than many saints who struggle to know the God who is one. However, inasmuch as they are teachers they bear a greater burden for their teaching. There is, too often, a quickness to flash one’s own righteousness with respect to doctrine and the scriptures when engaged with those whose understanding of doctrine and scripture is at odds with our own understanding. I read all the available excerpts and then the entire co-authored book, The Son of God while I was waiting on my hard copy to arrive.


I did not read the book because I was looking to fulfill some need in my understanding of Jesus.
As I expected, and without surprise, there was nothing significantly new in the book than what has been heard from the different viewpoints. I read the book to provide a response to these brothers. It is not my intention to respond to the entire book. Rather, I thought to take two elements which are shared in common by these brothers.


single element in common


I have noted in the past that there is a single element shared in common between those saints who describe themselves as Trinitarians and Unitarians. It is that both of these seemingly different and disparate views and understanding of God mistakenly apply a numeric, quantitative value to the term one, as in, God is one. The mistake is no less and no greater than with those who apply a value of two or three. Especially egregious is the ranking of deity as persons; the Father first; the Son, second, and Holy Spirit third as though this made for firm understanding of the God who is one. The self-descriptors accepted by the three co-authors respectively are, Trinitarian (Irons), Arian (Dixon) and Socinian (Smith) with some stipulations noted by Dixon. I encourage readers of this article to read the book, not as though I endorse its content, but in order to be fair towards these men rather than just assuming that you know exactly what those people think.


Before I proceed with my response to these men there are a few matters I would like to make known and to explain. First, I have no desire or need to distort the words of these men. Yet, I must allow for the remote (hopefully) possibility that what I write could possibly come across as such or that I have completed misstated their words. Second, I do not feel compelled to cite every word, sentence or thought from the book because as they are the authors and I am addressing them primarily I trust that they can readily know to what it is I refer. Third, although I am confident of my response to other elements as presented by these brothers the scope of my article is limited. Virtually every one of those other elements, as an example, such as concerning Jesus being ignorant of future things, God cannot die*, Jesus as The prophet are a constant flow from Muslims with whom I have engaged over the years to clarify and dismiss their mistaken notions. Fourth, I will not expend time referencing, citing and quoting ancient or modern sources or men of old or modern men. I realize and I anticipate that this can very easily, very quickly create the assumption that I am not aware of, not only something which is contained in the book, but worse still, that I am ignorant of the scriptures. Fifth, I expect to present, not a mental or convoluted academic exercise in word splicing, Bible languages and scholarly publications, but a response, which were the saints to read it, they would receive edification in English much as they are able to do from their own reading of the scriptures.


Yahweh and the Shema


There is a single element shared in common no less by the three men and their three views as between the previously mention two different views of trinitarianism and unitarianism. (I should note that the third view of Socianism as presented by Smith does not affect these similarities simply because it, like Arianism, is a denial of the deity of Jesus.) This brings me to what all three brothers have stated in different ways, with similar words, with different words and different places throughout the book on their understanding of Yahweh. I have chosen to write the name variously as, Yahweh and YHWH with no particular significance intended in the use of those name forms. There is, I believe these brothers would agree, an unavoidable relationship and association in any discussion on the God who is one between Yahweh and the Shema. Here are the sample references from the book concerning Yahweh.


Charles Lee Irons:
“‘“YHWH”’ is basically the name of the Father, but it is a name (unlike the name “Father”) that the Father can share with his exalted Son.” (Philippians 2:9-10) p.20


Danny Andre Dixon:
“If Jesus received life (John 5:26; 6:57) from this Father Jehovah or Yahweh, there is, in that unqualified statement, the implication that Jesus shares in God’s nature; he is a divine being.” p. 65


Dustin R. Smith:
“The unique God, Yahweh, is one and the same as the Father, whom Jesus identifies as the only true God.” (John 17:3, italics, Smith) p.37


plug-ins: names, titles, labels and person


What strikes me as interesting, to understate it, about this statements is the use of words as names, titles and labels. The above statements by all three men equate to the following: YHWH is the Father. This is not my conclusion. It is their own. This reflects a practice common across the spectrum among the saints in Christ, namely, to plug in names (such as, Jesus, Yahweh) and titles (such as, Father, Son) and labels (such as, trinitarian, unitarian/arian and Socinian) or person (such as, first person, second person) where these do not appear in the text. I understand that is not necessarily wrong or a misuse of the scriptures, but it is not the same as allowing the scriptures to speak to the listening reader for him or her to draw the inferences themselves and to declare boldly and confidently their convictions concerning the God who is one.


three passages


There are three passages; two Old Testament; one New Testament involving Yahweh and the Shema from which I will draw my response. All of these passages are referenced, quoted or cited in the book.


The first passage concerning YHWH is Isaiah 6 which is cited two times; both times by Dixon in pages 77 and 79. The bad part about the references to this passage is that they are solely about the seraphim and forgiveness of sins and nothing about Yahweh or the glory that filled the temple both of which are central to that passage. If the Shema is the cornerstone concerning the God who is one, then the vision of Isaiah in chapter 6 could well be likened to the temple building keystone; readily visible to the eyes of all who look upon it.


The second passage (involving verses 38 - 41) which is found in the New Testament is significant. Actually, the passage (v 40) in John 12 alludes to the message of Isaiah 6 with commentary by the apostle John in the gospel according to John with these word: These things Isaiah said because he saw His glory, and he spoke of Him. One challenge of the Isaiah passage as it appears in John 12:38 is that, actually it is Isaiah 53:1 which is quoted. The latter passage (v 40) which John also attributes to Isaiah is a composite of the message of Isaiah. In other words, verse 40 is not to be found in Isaiah. The words of John allude to the message of Isaiah.


Is it too difficult to see the connection between John’s words and the message of Isaiah and. as John emphasizes, the one of WHOM Isaiah spoke and WHOSE glory  he saw?


There is a reaction which is in common between those who heard Isaiah and those who heard Jesus. It was unbelief.


The third passage is on the Shema, arguably the cornerstone concerning the God who is one in Deuteronomy 6. It is cited in the book four times in two different places; all by Dixon. (p. 66, 117) The worse part of it (please read his words) is that as much as Dixon warns of over simplification there is no less an over simplification uttered by Anthony Buzzard on the Shema. Buzzard tells us of Jesus insistence when he quoted the Shema that it (the Shema) is to be “the guide for true theology and faith.” (Mark 12:28-34)


Isaiah 6: adoni and Yahweh of hosts


There has been much discussion and speculation as what or whom Isaiah saw none of which was a part of the book and it is just as well. One explanation which has been offered is that Isaiah thought he saw the Lord (lower or smaller case being irrelevant) but he was mistaken. Let us suppose for the moment that Isaiah was mistaken as to whom he thought he saw. If this were the case the text of Isaiah 6 bears out the seraphim’s own testimony. The seraphim clarify and put an end to such speculation. The seraphim repeatedly gives a nullifying testimony to the much touted, endless speculation between Lord and LORD of hosts or Adoni and Yahweh of hosts. The one to whom Isaiah referred to as Adoni is the one to whom the seraphim refers as Yahweh of hosts. Isaiah is never corrected by the seraphim for his reference to the one whose glory he is seeing as Adoni. Furthermore, Isaiah picks up on the not-so-subtle realization and awesomeness of the moment and changes the manner in which he refers to the one he is seeing as Yahweh of hosts in the same manner as the seraphim. (verse 5) Whatever preferred language or Bible version one chooses to read the passage bears out the testimony of the seraphim as to what and who it was that Isaiah saw. Even more, John draws a connection and association between 1) what Isaiah saw, 2) of whom he spoke, and 3) who it was that was in the midst of the crowd which had just lavished praises of Hosanna on him. Note especially John’s use of the personal pronoun, he saw His glory, and he spoke of Him. The question is a simple one, but the implications for our discernment are profound.


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.


Deuteronomy 6: the Shema


The assumption has been claimed as much by the self-professed Unitarians and Trinitarians concerning the quotation of the Shema by Jesus in Mark 12. Each one will lay claim to the quotation by Jesus as a verification and validation of their understanding concerning the God who is one.


However, this effort, or insistence, to apply a numeric quantitative value to the term one is as mistaken by Christians as it was by Jews. (and Muslims) This mistake is compounded by the assumption that certainly the Jews, being God’s people, have the correct understanding and interpretation. Smith, more than Irons (who admonishes him) or Dixon leans heavily on the ancient literature and the Jewish interpretation. First, this flawed reliance on Jewish interpretation does not seem to clarify much, but only more speculation. Second, it is misplaced because had the Jewish interpretation been as sound as Smith (and he is not alone) would have his reader believe the Jews would not have rejected and crucified the Messiah. I have heard Anthony Buzzard on video. He plays the anti-semitic card to intimate that an interpretation which is different than that of the Jews is hostility against the Jews who received the oracles of God. Buzzard is mistaken because while it is true that the Jews were the recipients of the written oracles of God it was the challenge for every generation for them as for Christians to examine and interpret the scriptures. The Jews were not given the interpretation.


what God sought to impress on Israel


(These last two segments are excerpts from my blog article. gt) 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 was impressed on Israel. They were understand it and continue with it 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, numeric quantitative value; as is his word so too is the Father, with the Son, with the Holy Spirit.


Never mind the plural forms, a source of so much nothing, in the Deuteronomy 6 passage on the Shema. It is not that those form are insignificant, rather it is the lack of understanding which just spins endlessly like a wheel in a rut. Certainly, the Jewish scholars were aware and here is rabbi Goldmark’s egregious admission: We are aware of it. We just ignore it. Utterly amazing. This from a teacher of Israel. What no one ever seems to mind is the peculiar expression, the Lord is one. It is not the same as (yes, I am aware of Ephesians 5; the Shema of the New Testament as I view it) to say, There is one Lord.


conclusion


The fact that none of these three men thought to focus on and examine these key passages concerning Yahweh and the Shema leaves room for some serious doubt as to the end goal of their discussion. Is it merely to engage in scholarly exchanges or to seek the edification of the saints? I understand and I respect the doubts and uncertainties expressed by these brothers concerning the God who is one. However, they can judge for themselves if their conclusions are anything which offers understanding and clarification of the scriptures for the edification of the saints.
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*Please pardon a brief departure from the article message above while I make comment concerning one last point on unbelief which is shared in common by these brothers as well as countless saints in Christ. It is the subtle, but looming presence of the fear of death. How you ask?


I have often seen the smirk and then heard the mocking question after I have asserted the deity of Jesus; namely, that Jesus is God. The question is: So you believe that God died? Answer: Yes. I am glad that you understand that even if you do not accept it or believe it.


This point blank truth is more than what a some saints have been able to grasp. They attempt to compensate for it by creating a delineation between Jesus as a human and Jesus as God. There is no such delineation. (Yes, I am mindful of I Timothy, Acts and other references to Jesus as a man. A discussion for some other time.) It was, they explain, the human part of Jesus who died. Really?


What greater demonstration could the creator, giver and sustainer of live use to show his power over the enemy of death which has paralyzed his people than to come into the world, not just to do some really great miracles including raising some dead people, _ than by laying down his own life to take it up again?


The lie of unbelief is the subtle message that death has the final word a mistaken notion at which Jesus scoffed. God came into his world creation and demonstrated: Death is nothing to me. It has nothing on me. It is in the palm of my hand. I lay down my life and I am able to take it up again. Amen.
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I have seen no less of a similar dismissal and oversight of the Shema in other debates between involving the deity of Jesus. The discussions purport to be about the God who is one, but the truth is the discussion often goes everywhere, including an abundance of resources other than the scriptures, not to produce an understanding or an answer, but only more speculation. I am reminded and am heartened by the two parenthetical expressions within which Jesus frame his admonition to the Sadducees:


“Is this not the reason you are mistaken, that you do not understand the Scriptures or the power of God” and “you are greatly mistaken.” (Mark 12:24; 27)

and

25 At that time Jesus said, "I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants.
26 "Yes, Father, for this way was well-pleasing in Your sight. (Matthew 11)


Grace, mercy and peace to all.

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