Saturday, 26 December 2015


I am currently passing through a lull in inspiration or lack of specific focus. Overall, however, I am highly motivated! This year has seen 93 posts so far on this blog, which I think is something of an achievement. A high point in the year was when in August I felt I was ready to release the first edition of my paper, Trinitarian Interpretations. This paper has continued to evolve and will include some important updates during the next release some time next year (I had promised an Old Testament section and more biblical depth in the categories researched).

The blog hit a low-point when I began to look in-depth at the Greek word arche, which either means "beginning" or "principality" depending on a number of factors that I have explored. The low-point was to realise that this is not what people look for in a blog, and sadly since then my stats have plummeted and remained lower despite returning to more accessible themes, like the posts on Judas. I really want to finish that work, however, but I have a problem that I cannot resolve. While I have something of a theory (with predictive power) for arche, I have one significant exception in a verse from the gospel of John, chapter 8. It is a real head-scratcher for me. I could just push on and say something along the lines of "the exception proves the rule", but I don't want to do that!

What do you do when you hit a lull? My solution is to read again. N.T. Wright, prolific scholar of Pauline stuff, said that the secrets to his writing (and he writes masses of high-quality material) is his reading. He took 20 years to mainly read - not write. (BTW recently heard a great debate here between him and James White here on Paul and Justification)

So I have two new books to get into and through thanks to Father Christmas. I have gone for Kindle version of

The Unseen Realm, by Michael Heiser, which is thus-far excellent, and:

The Virginal Conception & Bodily Resurrection of Jesus
 - yet to receive this one.

The first of these may help me research a future chapter on the Old Testament for my expanding paper.

Happy Christmas everyone, and a very happy new year.

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Judas' death and evangelical concerns on inaccurate details

There have been a couple of posts concerning Ehrman's take on Paul's knowledge of Judas. It was quite striking for me to discover that this key villain to the gospel-writers is just totally absent everywhere else - how strange that no comparisons or warnings were ever levelled in any of the epistles or imagery taken for Revelation from that act of betrayal. It really is something of a head-scratcher.

But today let us just think for a moment about Judas' death. Some people like to use this as an example of where the Bible contradicts itself - Matthew has him hanging himself in a field that was later purchased with the money Judas had returned to the priests and elders, while Luke has him bursting open and his gut falling out.

Matt Slick of claims that the two accounts can be reconciled. I am not comfortable with smashing dissimilar stories together like he does here. Yes, what Slick describes the event with: "the rope or branch of the tree probably broke due to the weight, and his body fell down, and his bowels spilled out", not only do I not find that the most "probable" outcome (both writers selecting different details from an identical story), but it also does not really deal with who bought the field.

What is important to this story is that Judas came to a sticky end as Jesus had predicted in the synoptics (it is interesting to note that John makes no mention of Judas after Jesus is handed over, and is also silent on the "woe" warnings Jesus had previously given). So I think the church have basically gone about this the right way - not worrying exactly who purchased the field or when or the exact mode of death (Papias, early church Father, has a third version, you can read more about this here [see also the comments at the bottom] - it may be an attempt at reconciling these two versions, whereby the hanging was actually unsuccessful). Most people understand that Judas felt the worst kind of guilt possible and killed himself, fulfilling what Jesus had said when he said "woe".

Slick's approach could even be harmful to Christianity's historical credibility - what do you think? I'd be interested to see your comments.

Bart Ehrman - mistaken on Judas? (2)

I did receive a reply from Bart Ehrman:

I’m not saying that any of htese terms means any one thing; but I am saying that if you want to say “betray” in Greek you use PRODIDOMI, not PARADIDOMI. If you want to pursue this further, you might look at my discussion in my book on Judas. (I’m out of the country now and can’t remember which scholar convinced me on this point. Was it William Klassen???)

Ok so I got caught short there - neither have I read Bart's book on Judas nor do I know William Klassen, but I wasn't about to admit that was I?!

Another lady responded, then I also replied with a post that was probably too long to be read by him, but you never know. To the faithful of this blog I am SURE that won't be a problem, right?!

Mark 3:19 is an example of the verb applied directly to Judas, and as I said there are multiple examples from all four gospels. It seems to me that Bart is saying that this is not a pure form of betrayal. It speaks more of a (simpler? more descriptive?) “handing over”, even when applied to Judas like in Mk 3:19.

Couple of problems in trying to protect the two Greek words from possibilities of overlap or of flexibility (at least on the part of the one we are probing more deeply, paradidomi). Firstly, if Jesus hands *himself* over, therefore not implying deceit, how can we see “the man” by whom the Son of Man will be “handed over” in Mark 14:21/Luke 22:22 as equally guiltless? We can’t, whether or not Paul was familiar with these accounts. Secondly, as you mention, it seems that many of the Greek reference sources agree that betrayal IS one of the shades of meaning of this word.

Regarding the whole issue of “the twelve” – I don’t see why, if I put myself temporarily in Bart’s shoes (big and very respectable shoes that I shouldn’t be toying with probably), then I don’t see why I would be so heavily leaning on a book like Acts and its historicity about precisely when the twelfth member was re-appointed. There are waaaay to many “what ifs” that could come into play to explain Paul saying “the 12”. What if Judas did betray Jesus but Jesus also was known to have appeared to him as one of the 12 before Judas banished himself to another country in perpetual shame (hence discordant death stories)? What if Paul made a mistake (hardly anyone would have remembered the very short period when people went around talking about the “eleven”)? What if the only person who EVER mentioned “the Eleven” like that was Luke telling his story decades later in a Tolkienian fashion to engage his readership (before the Mark long-ending-writer grabbed it from Luke) (Luke IS the only one to mention "The Eleven" in the NT)? What if Luke made a mistake about the timings of the replacement apostle, and would it be the first time he fitted events and stories into a timeline he applies to keep a narrative feel? What if Paul really didn’t know much about what happened in terms of the technicalities of the betrayal/handing-over (like Judas’ name)? What if saying Judas’ name (for some) for a relatively short period of early church history was sooo bad that it was like exposing yourself spiritually to similar betrayal? What if… well I’m not as good as Bart is for the what-if scenarios, but I am sure he and probably many others on this blog could come with a really good list if they really wanted to.

Theology really is quite crazy. I just forgot why this Judas-betrayal question even matters! I guess the familiarity of Paul with the gospels is a big one.
BTW I still loved the “spilling the messianic secret beans” post. Seems more and more plausible each time I think about it, unlike this one, which I think has to remain open. I am grateful for being made to think about it quite deeply and discover more of the nuances here in the Greek.

Final thought on Paul’s remarkable ignorance – I can’t find another mention of him after Acts. So it’s not just Paul who does not focus on this key gospel figure.

Sunday, 13 December 2015

In THE beginning (6)

It has been a few posts since we looked at arche. We are almost ready to posit a functional rule for the New Testament books. For it to function outside of the canon would require more research and some tweaking that I am not sure I have the time to do.

We have now covered all the singular occurrences of arche, noting the most complex Greek case to be the accusative, to which the John 1:1 arche, has no connection. The most important thing to remember is that John, like most of the New Testament authors, **drop** the definite article when referring to THE beginning. What distinguishes John slightly from the others is the sheer extent to which he does this (lots and lots). The usefulness of a rule is directly proportionate to its power to predict. Yet to try and come up with some kind of rule requires also looking briefly at the plural.

Orchai (plural nominative), archais (plural dative) and Archas (plural accusative) occur in total 10 times. We have no occurrences of the plural genitive in the New Testament. In only one of the ten occurrences, is there an implied definite article as we can observe in the singular, and these are nearly all from Pauline epistles and used to imply "principalities" or "rulers", which we have already seen negates the implied definite article even in the singular. A new and somewhat obscure meaning pokes its nose into the discussion thanks to Luke: two of the four occurrences of archais are anarthrous and mean "corners". OK!

So what of the tenth plural that **does** drop the "THE" in Greek, while preserving its articular meaning/emphasis? This is an important point, because it really helps us shed light on the Hebrews writer's methodology. Here is the verse Hebrews 1:10, which is a direct quotation from the LXX, that we reference as Psalm 102:25 (in the Septuagint this is 101:26):

In [the] beginning[s], Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands.

Unfortunately, neither the NIBC commentary I have been mainly using, written by Donald Hagner, nor any of the online commentaries, make any effort to explain why a plural lurks beneath this "beginning". My brief forays into the word show that the LXX translators had probably understood from a significant number of Hebrew scriptural sayings (and their own usage of Hebrew as bilingual translators), lə·p̄ā·nîm usually refers to "formerly" or even "the former times" (plural, see Ruth 4:7). This may mean that the English translation here is a bit misleading.

But the key point is that while the Hebrews writer has consistently shown that he does not write like John and the others (who do drop the definite article), here is the one time that we have him writing arche simply by quoting the Old Testament in the version he is most familiar with - the Greek (LXX) version. Hebrews is recognised as being probably the most polished Greek in the New Testament. The writer is careful and all of his quotations are precise. So when he copies the sacred Scriptures into his letter, it seems a fair assumption that he submits his own grammatical preference to what he considers supremely authoritative. In Hebrews 1:10, therefore, the Hebrews writer suspends his preference for explicitly writing the definite article in honour of precise LXX quotation.


Hurrah, now having analysed all occurrences of arche, we will be ready to state our rule!

Saturday, 12 December 2015

Bart Ehrman - mistaken on Judas?

Bart has done a few posts on the crucifixion. In a recent one he doubts that Paul was aware of the whole betrayal incident by Judas (in fact he even goes so far as to say "It is worth noting that the apostle Paul knows nothing of the tradition that Judas betrayed Jesus or that he killed himself". Before I say why he thinks that and why I am not at all convinced, let me share first something he had already said that was very interesting.

Based on the work of Albert Schweitzer, Bart agrees that maybe what happened was that on a deeper level of betrayal, Judas spilled the beans about the Messianic secret, which tied in closely with being the "Son of God", a messianic title. Bart states: "But what do the Jewish authorities accuse Jesus of?  They accuse him of calling himself the messiah (Mark 14:61-62; note: the “king of Israel” was also called “the son of God” – see 2 Sam. 7:11-14).

And that is the charge Pilate tries him on.  Pilate asks him “Are you the King of the Jews,” and [...] this is the reason he had him crucified."

This makes more sense to me than the simple garden-kissing incident alone.

So that is where I feel Bart sheds some potential light. However, where I am much more sceptical (it's so refreshing being sceptical of a sceptic!) is his take on Paul and Judas. He argues that Paul knew nothing of this betrayal. He bases this on two points (I only take serious issue with the first)

1. The fact that the word the gospel writers use for "betray" can also be used to mean "hand over", and not only that, but Paul never uses the word to mean "betray", According to Bart, this means that when Paul writes PARADIDOMI in 1 Cor. 11:22-24,  “On the night in which he was betrayed”, he is very unlikely to be referring to Judas' betrayal, but more the "handing over" of God. 

2. 1 Cor 15:5-8, Paul recounts eye-testimony to the resurrection:  first he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve, then he appeared to more than 500... 12 minus 1 = 11! Fair point. They were only restored to the number of 12, according to Acts, after Jesus had ascended to the Father.

This is my response to Bart Ehrman on his blog (I shall post any follow-up correspondence if interesting):

What is not so clear is that PRODIDOMI has to mean betray. In Romans 11:35 it definitely doesn’t. Bart may well be right (that Paul was not referring to Judas but instead to God handing him over), but the assumptions of clear-cut definitions as he puts them here failed to satisfy me today.

Another thing PARADIDOMI doesn’t mean betray?!
Bart does specify that PAUL doesn’t use it this way, but he also does not draw attention to the fact that all four gospel writers use this word EXTENSIVELY to describe Judas and his act. If Paul doesn’t focus on Judas in his writings (or the very few writings that WE have), what other occasion would he have had to use PARADIDOMI in a betrayal sense? Finally, (smaller point) when Paul (and “Peter”) use PARADIDOMI, it is a bit wider than simply God delivering his son; Jesus also gives himself up, people are delivered to their own depravity, it’s quite general and not specifically located in a narrative, unlike this one passage in 1 Cor. 11:22-24. 

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Jesus inciting outrage for blasphemous association with God: the power of rhetoric

References:       Matthew 9:2-3                 Mark 2:7             John 5:18b          John 10:33         

David Martorana is a friend of mine and also a sound evangelical scholar, theologian, teacher and pastor. He has done a Masters in a specific kind of theology known as kenosis. He is – I think – Calvinist and needless to say also a strong Trinitarian. I was not a very strong anything at the time I was working through some of my early questions, so when I shared some of these with him and he argued without batting an eyelid from John 10:33, I knew I had better shut up and listen:
We are not stoning you for any good work,’ they replied, ‘but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be [a] God.[1]

But is it that simple? No, it definitely is not. I have now discovered this to be another clear example of interpretation, and that the passage is not at all without other sound exegetical possibilities. Context will show us why.

In verse 24, the Jews gathering around Jesus are desperate to get some yes/no clarity on whether or not Jesus really was God’s messiah. As is his typical way, Jesus does not give a straight-up answer, but seems to be basically affirming that he is identifiable as the Messiah by the works he does in the name of his Father (verse 25), and by how his followers know him to be that One, the promised Messiah. Jesus seems to then say that God the Father is the greatest of all[2]. Then we get the “assist” – in football, the player who sets up the team-mate who scores the goal is recognised as having provided the “assist”, and in verses 28 and 29 we get just that. Like the crucial pass before the goal, we get to the “assist” of Jesus’ discourse: no-one shall pluck them out from my hand (Jesus’ hand), and no-one shall pluck them from my Father’s hand (and he is the greatest). You can sense the crescendo here, and then the volley into the top corner of the net: I and the Father are one.

We have already analysed what John means (or the limits of what he means) when he talks about multiple persons being “one” in the preceding section. In addition to this we know that this figurative language is not only at work in the word “one”, but also in the word “hand” – the Father does not have physical hands – only the Son, according to Trinitarian theology, became incarnate. But that does not mean that Jesus’ figurative language was bullet-proof against misunderstanding. The New Testament contains many examples of where Jesus was misunderstood by people, especially the religious authorities, and even at times by his own disciples. Despite my friend David’s traditional interpretation of this passage, we shall see that the ensuing allegations of blasphemy do not automatically qualify Jesus’ claim as that of being Almighty God – it may well even be the least probable idea present in Jesus’ (and John’s) mind.

Now Jesus could have remained silent, as he does later before his crucifixion, in which case we would have been left with less context and open to wider speculation on the blasphemy accusations. But on this occasion, John recalls him replying in the form of two questions – either to affirm the allegations, deny them, or to say something else: that is up to every student of the Holy Scriptures to decide.

Question 1 (verse 34): Jesus answered them, ‘Is it not written in your Law, “I have said you are gods?” (yes/no question)
Question 2 (verses 35-36): If he called them gods, to whom the word of God [be]came – and Scripture cannot be set aside – what about the one whom the Father sanctified as his very own and sent into the world, are you saying that I am blaspheming because I said “I am God’s Son”?
(yes/no question)
Finally, verse 37 reiterates almost exactly Jesus’ initial response (verse 25) to whether or not he is the Messiah – he is doing the Father’s work.

Because I knew (and still know) a lot less in theology than David, and it seemed that Jesus’ answer seemed nuanced and far from affirmative, I did some research into Jesus’ questions in the New Testament. There is a fairly obvious reason why Jesus’ questions do not feel affirmative, and that is because of the way rhetoric works, and also how Jesus consistently uses rhetorical questions. This is what I found out.

Jesus asks approximately 150 questions in the New Testament, and the majority of these are rhetorical. We can divide them into:
“either/or” questions (e.g. “From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes–from their own sons or from others?” [3])
·        “How” questions (e.g. “Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?[4])
·        “What” questions (e.g. “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?” [5])
·        “Where” questions (e.g. “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine?” [6])
·        “Who” questions (e.g. Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” [7])
·        “Why” questions (e.g. Why are you trying to trap me?” [8])
·        Yes/no” questions (e.g. Have you never read in the Scriptures?” [9])

This “yes/no” is the category that is of the most interest to us, but the whole rhetoric strategy needs to be kept in full view to help us answer Jesus’ rhetorical questions. In almost every case of rhetorical questioning, there is something negative in the expected response. That is not because Jesus was a negative person; it is simply part of how rhetoric functions. So the point is that rhetorical questions are designed to make the listeners think and, if possible, align themselves with the speaker. It is not about gathering new information. However, if you were to reply in English, they usually require a negative form to get to where the speaker is driving the conversation.
So it looks something like this:
  Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? OK Jesus, I get it: it cannot.
·        If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? OK Jesus, I see now, I won’t get a good reward that way.
·        Were not all ten cleansed? No, “not not” all ten were cleansed à OK Jesus, it is not true that not all ten were not cleansed (all 10 were indeed cleansed!)
·        Where are the other nine? Sorry Jesus, I do not know, something is wrong, they should be here but they are not.
·        Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? I think I get it Jesus: no-one can!
·        Why are you trying to trap me? OK Jesus, I can see what you are saying: we should not be trying to do that.
·        Have you never read in the Scriptures? Jesus you know that is not true, that I have read it, but maybe I did not understand it…

The double negative “not not” above is ugly. The French have a neat way out of the negative question; they simply say si. If an implied si is required by the speaker to correct the negative tension in the speaker’s yes/no question, then it is probably rhetorical!
So bearing this negative tension in mind we can return to the blasphemy arguments used by Trinitarians.

Jesus answered them, ‘Is it not written in your Law, “I have said you are gods?” (yes/no question)
Si, it is written in our law “I have said you are gods”.
If he called them gods, to whom the word of God [be]came – and Scripture cannot be set aside – what about the one whom the Father sanctified as his very own and sent into the world, are you saying that I am blaspheming because I said “I am God’s Son”?

This second one is a little more complicated, and some translations separate it into two questions. Remember above how some examples of Jesus’ rhetoric were to get listeners to think about what they should not be doing. All we can conclude from this question is that the speaker, Jesus, was driving his Jewish accusers toward this conclusion: “OK Jesus I was saying that, but I should not have been”.

One unresolved point remains, and it will remain as such – should there or should there not be an indefinite article before “GOD”? We have already seen how biased interpretation regarding the articles has meant people inconsistently read into Justin Martyr’s theology. In Greek, the absence of the article might mean nothing. However, its absence could also be the indefinite article, “a”. Both are possible. However, exegesis leads to a distinct possibility of an intended indefinite article here, simply because of the way Jesus responds to the Jews from Psalm 82. Psalm 82 (Yahweh presides over the council of the gods), Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5 (You shall have no other gods before me) and Deuteronomy 32 (the writer tells that the Israelites must remember when Yahweh allotted the nations to various “sons of God”[10]) paint a different picture of monotheism to the one we often adopt today, and certainly do not require us to add the inserted quotations marks around “gods”. Although a more modern scheme of monotheism might require that addition, when we try to understand the Jewish views in Jesus’ time, we need to exercise more caution.

Returning to a similar passage in Mark where Jesus is accused of blasphemy, we see the outrage: who can forgive sins but God alone? Or more literally, who can forgive sins if not one, the God. This time we have the definite article, and indeed for Mark’s teachers of the law, if Jesus, this son of Man, should be forgiving sins then he would be blaspheming on that level. The title The Son of Man applied to the issue of sin-forgiveness is blasphemous precisely because a son of man, in Old Testament parlance, is equivalent to saying “human”[11]. The shocking point of Mark’s gospel is underlined then in this story that Jesus as this human has a very special status and authority as God’s Son (Mark 1:11). The stress of this Markan story therefore is not so much the blasphemous claims of divine identity as the blasphemous claims of divine authority, and is further borne out by Mark 2:8 (and Matthew 9:6): “But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive…”
It would seem that in order for Jesus’ accusers’ outrage to be suggestive of Jesus somehow claiming to be a second member of a triune God, we would need to ignore a distinctively possible alternative explanation: that Jesus incited outrage and was condemned blasphemous, because he claimed he was the special Son of God[12], sent[13], authorised[14], anointed[15] and empowered[16] by God his Father to save God’s people. Not only that, he combined into this claim the counter-attack that the religious authorities were doing quite the opposite. The fight was on and both sides had to get out the biggest guns in their arsenal. Jesus’ was astonishing confidence, appeal to miraculous signs and expounding embarrassing truth with hyperbole, parable and rhetoric. The religious authorities’ was social standing and condemnation of the highest degree.

[1] Obviously there was no “a” in the quote when David recited it!
[2] Alternatively, but less likely in my view, that Jesus’ followers (his “sheep”) are the greatest thing of all – some translations go for this.
[3] Matthew 17:25
[4] Luke 14:34. There are also a few non-rhetorical “how many” questions – I counted three.
[5] Matthew 5:46. Here rhetorical and non-rhetorical questions appear to be of similar number.
[6] Luke 17:17
[7] Luke 12:25
[8] Matthew 22:18
[9] Matthew 21:42
[10] Some modern translations stay with “sons of Israel”, which had been taken from the Masoretic Text. Much more ancient sources like the Dead Sea scrolls and the Septuagint say “sons of God”.
[11] L. Hurtado, New International Biblical Commentary: Mark, p. 37-38, Paternoster, Carlisle, 1995.
[12] We already looked at Mark 1:11 in context. Among the many other examples of Jesus’ sonship, we should also especially note John 5:18, where Jesus’ claims of sonship meant that the religious authorities wanted to kill him.
[13] John 6:29, John 8:42a, John 17:3b, Acts 3:20, John 8:42b, John 16:27, John 16:30, 1 John 4:9 and 1 John 4:10
[14] Matthew 28:18, Luke 1:32, John 5:27, John 13:3a, John 17:2 and Ephesians 1:22                                   
[15] Acts 10:38 and Hebrews 5:10
[16] Acts 10:38 again: …God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Ephesians 5:5 and Granville Sharp

Ephesians 5:5 has not been excluded from Trinitarian debate, but is usually more discussed within scholarly circles. As some of you may have seen from my paper Trinitarian Interpretations, the wording of this sentence in my NIV made me favour a categorisation of it into a slightly dissuasive text.

It reads:
For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a man is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.

There are not two kingdoms, but one, that is certain. But the wording of modern translators sounds a lot like co-ownership. Read in light of the wonderful perspective and language of Ephesians, where Christ has received all authority from his God and Father, that co-ownership still strikes me as a good exegetical perspective.

However, there is more to be said. Granville Sharp, himself a Trinitarian, researched and published back in the early 19th century into Greek usages to promote Trinitarian claims based on Greek grammar. The title of his work is: "Remarks on the uses of the definite article in the Greek text of the New Testament, containing many new proofs of the divinity of Christ from passages which are wrongly translated in the Common English Version". What he establishes there is still frequently mentioned today (all modern translators will have heard of him and his rule). His rule stated that if two nouns of the same case (Greek has four cases, Nominative, Genitive, Dative and Accusative) are separated by kai ("and"), and the first of these two nouns is preceded by the definite article, then both nouns refer to one and the same subject. In his view, therefore, this removed any ambiguity regarding Titus 2:13 regarding the "and": Christ is the great God and Saviour!
I am still out reflecting on Titus, but let us return to Ephesians 5:5, my topic for today. What did Granville Sharp think about Ephesians 5:5? Applying his rule, he came up with a new translation for it:

"in the kingdom of Christ our God".

Daniel Wallace, probably alongside Bart Ehrman, is the greatest textual scholar around; he is also a believer who is also very careful about making unwarranted assumptions. I trust him. He found a number of limitations to Granville Sharp's model, which he had to tone down to allow for some inconsistencies. I have not read it yet (when I do I will update the blog with some highlights), but it will surely comment on this verse and why such a rule cannot be applied so haphazardly, thus also obliterating the Father from the picture in a headlong charge to prove the Son's divinity.

Attempting to prove the son's divinity is a dangerous task, and you have to be sure that you really are doing no harm to the other belief-sets into which you are tied as a Trinitarian tight-rope walker. It also can back-fire on useful research in other areas and on other texts like Titus 2:13.

Monday, 30 November 2015

Triadic formulae

For your perusal and reflection here are some of the more prominent triadic formulae texts and some thoughts about how determinant they might or should be in justifying the doctrine of the Trinity.

References: Matthew 3:16-17     Matthew 28:19 Mark 1:10-11     Luke 3:22            John 14:26       John 15:26          Acts 2:33             2 Corinthians 13:14         1 Peter 1:2                        

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all [1].

These passages are often cited as presenting strong support for Trinitarian views, because they show very close references to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, even connectedness in some cases. However, few actually pause to note that in the key passage of 2 Corinthians 13:14 only one of the Three mentioned is properly called “God”, and that is very consistent with the kind of trinitarianism that we have seen developing in the second and third centuries.

1 Peter 1:2 (salvation) and Matthew 3:16-17, Mark 1:10-11 and Luke 3:22 (Jesus’ baptism) are good verses to prepare for fourth century views on the doctrine of inseparable operations, but again “triadic” ≠ “Trinitarian”. Indeed, in the 1 Peter passage, the unique identification of “God” with one of the three (the Father) is very similar to the 2 Corinthians passage. Overstating the trinitarian ideas at work here is also illustrated by Larry Hurtado’s New International Biblical Commentary on Mark, which sails right through the Markan baptism passage without the slightest reference to any threeness motifs whatsoever[2].

Notice how it is impossible for these passages to be both truly triadic and truly Trinitarian, if God is the One True Triune God. If God is the One True Triune God, then we are forced to say things we actually say ourselves or dream to be in the author’s intentions:

May the grace of the Lord God Jesus Christ, and the love of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, and the fellowship of God the Holy Spirit be with you all[3].

It would appear that consistent application of Trinitarian dogma could even harm the original triadic beauty, and actually dismantle anything “triadic” about the statement anyway. This suggests, therefore, that God, in these triadic formulations, is exegetically, and consistently, the Father (see especially Acts 2:33 for the clearest example).

Continuing on to John’s triadic references, we get to the heart of the Catholic-verses-Orthodox passages, whereby each focus on different parts of these verses to argue their case for how the Holy Spirit might proceed. It is true that for John in these passages in chapters 14 and 15, there are simple Father, Son and Holy Spirit combinations that would seem suggestive, although John seeing “Father” and “God” as pretty synonymous terms is fairly clear by studying the “God sent Jesus” passages: John 6:29, John 8:42, John 16:27, John 16:30, John 17:3b, 1 John 4:9 and 1 John 4:10[4].

The suggestiveness of these triadic expressions seems weak, except for one. The most suggestive example I can see of the Triadic formulae is at the end of Matthew, where Jesus commands his disciples to make more disciples, baptising them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Trinitarians sometimes emphasise the “One Name” here. We do not have time to develop the strength of this evidence here, I simply wanted to acknowledge it and remember that this trifold formula does indeed extend back very early into church practice, as we can see in the Didache.

[1] 2 Corinthians 13:14
[2] L. Hurtado, New International Biblical Commentary: Mark, p. 19-21, Paternoster, Carlisle, 1995.
[3] The absurdity of such attempts has been more documented around 1 Corinthians 8:6: For there is one God, the Father, … and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ…
[4] Acts 3:20 is non-Johannine but also fairly clear.

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Colours as a useful illustration of distinctiveness

To understand what is going on inside of me is going to require more than words. Just now a powerful picture presented itself to me around the theme of colours

Colours are stunning because of the way they contrast, blend, compliment, contrast, inspire wonder. If the Trinity was collapsed into a singular colour, let us imagine for a moment that all that was red, blue and yellow were no longer red blue and yellow but brown. If it were a bucket of paint, then every drop would contain redness, blueness and yellowness in order for it to be sludge-coloured. Yet not one drop would be that colour. I am tempted to do something creative - maybe a video - around this. 

Church, please remember your distinctive God!

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Theology in worship continued: How Great Is Our God

I am still not done with the arche thread, but a song I (mostly) sang last week in a collective worship context reminded me of the theology in worship thread, which is a very open thread. Previous posts tracked a number of songs considered by to be among the best of 2014, grounded on three or four criteria, one of which was apparently biblical faithfulness.

Last week, I turned something of a new page. No, I have not suddenly become a Trinitarian trumpeter, but I do now have a deeper desire to serve God and the church. It's quite exciting. One area where I can see coinciding my own Scripture-minus-creeds reading and the Church's Scripture-plus-creeds reading is on person distinctiveness. Since the fouth century, it has always been heretical to believe that the Father is the Son. Declared orthodoxy is that somehow the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are the one true God in a qualitative way (one essence or substance). The big question is: is it still heretical today to be a modalistic Christian?

Today's song I object to because of the new shared-ground foundation. As before, first the song, then the lyrics to give readers time to have a think about where things might be going awry.

The splendor of a king
Clothed in majesty
Let all the earth rejoice
All the earth rejoice

He wraps Himself in light,
And darkness tries to hide
And trembles at His voice
Trembles at His voice

How great is our God
Sing with me
How great is our God
And all will see
How great, how great is our God

Age to age He stands
And time is in His hands
Beginning and the end
Beginning and the end

The Godhead Three in One
Father, Spirit, Son
Lion and the Lamb
Lion and the Lamb

Name above all names
Worthy of all praise
My heart will sing
How great is our God

As with many modern worship songs, the Father is mainly absent. I actually would say that He is totally absent from this song, and I want to explain why that is because it must seem like a nonsense following on from the line "Father, Spirit, Son".

This song is pure modalism. It is one thing to sing only a song to Jesus - that's more than fine, provided churches do not do this to the overall detriment of the Father or to the detriment of the precious interplay between them and the Spirit. But this song is all about Jesus, it is describing him as king, correct, clothed in majesty, correct, inspiring awe, correct. Then we have the chorus (How great is our God..."), which could just about be seen as a step back to admire the full Triune God, or even more unlikely, letting our gaze now turn to the Heavenly Father by whom we are now connected through Jesus. But then you get to verse 4, and you realise that we are simply too optimistic in evaluating Chris Tomlin's care. His line about Father Spirit Son, Godhead three in one seems to now cast the song in a deep and rich historic depth. But if you had any doubt at all about what I am saying, look at the very next line: the lion and the lamb. BOTH OF THESE DESCRIBE GOD'S SON JESUS.

It's pure modalism, friends; albeit with a slightly different twist to the traditional Sabellian controversy. More on that another time.

We should all consider pushing the eject button on this song!

Thursday, 19 November 2015

God's unconditional love is not enough

When I did my theology diploma in 2002, we had the privilege of inviting Bob Mumford to teach us about the love of the Father, the agape love, totally unconditional. Love without a hook.
I wish I could have asked him about a passage I read this morning in John 16...
Jesus is talking to his disciples:
"The Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God..."
Then Jesus' disciples said, "now you are speaking plainly and without figures of speech".
As a believer in Jesus and follower of him, I am relieved to still be on the benefiting end of this conditional love. But hang on a second, did I just say "conditional love"?
(Anyone just dropping by the blog - my above statement does not summarise my religious beliefs)
This statement warrants some explanation. I believe that John is unpacking Jesus' message after decades of meditation and revelation of what happened during those three short years by means of God's Spirit. Apart from the vine, you whither (John 15:6). For me these chapters have been tremendously helpful this week in re-centering my faith in God and his incredible Son. 

But is God's love truly to be understood as universal and unconditional? Or only in the sense that it is available for anyone who loves (friendship love; agape is not specified) the son and believes that he came from God? The trickiest thing about the way John puts this or remembers this is that it seems to imply that the friendship-love initiative or onus is placed on the believer.

What do you think? If you are a believer, have you embraced a readily available love or a real, already active love? Could we have here is a fascinating complimentarity between the agape and phileo love?

Agape seems to not be a full expression of all God has for us! It is wonderful - but it is general, unspecific, lacks the unique richness of phileo.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

The problem of good...

There was a lot of evil committed last night in Paris. My thoughts go out to the many families touched by these disastrous choices. God please break this evil.

Today's post has been a draft for quite a few months, but I am going to release it now.

A lot has been said of the problem of evil, and from what I have understood in philosophy the very nature of the problem has changed (from a philosophical standpoint). It all began more or less with the issue of the unspeakable evils in this world: how could an infinitely good and infinitely powerful God stand by and watch the horrors of torture, murder etc?

As horrendous as this is, I find my own attention drawn to different philosophical problem: the problem of Good. And this fascination for me goes back to 2007 when I finally realised that some people, non-believers, exhibited far greater evidence (fruit) of Holy Spirit character than some Christians, myself absolutely included. That had been a faith-shaker for me before I felt God showed me a way through this.

However, philosophically, there are other issues. When Philip Yancey delves into stacks of real-life examples that seem to poorly fit the superficial explanations, he focusses on damage caused by wrong (or over-narrow) teaching about evil, that can completely undermine faith in the good God. I remember vividly one example of a plane crash that someone wrote to Yancey about, in hope of an explanation.

In the plane crash, some people survived, some died. In a church service after this event, prayers of thanks for the "miraculous" escape of those that survived and prayers of peace and consolation for the families of the bereaved. It struck the person writing to Yancey as so unfair and inconsistent that God gets no blame when things go bad and all the credit when things turn out well, even in the same incident (accident).

Really both these problems concern how God is interacting with this world. It also concerns how we understand the freedom He has given us. Open theism says that God does not necessarily know in advance all the choices we will make. Yet he does know where history is headed and is Himself involved in guiding it toward that outcome. I think, but do not know for sure, that it also accepts that there are also chaotic and random factors at work. I will have to check with my open theist friend D. and ask him. The mainstream view, however, remains that God knows everything, and that includes the future.

Q: The wages of sin are death. We all deserve to die. Is anything other than death then a bonus?

Some very dubious and profoundly unsatisfying logic begins to flow at this point.
True Christians cannot die in accidental plane crashes, for thanks to our sinless saviour we no longer need to pay that price for our sin.
There truly are random events out there. This creates another problem, but it is one I am much more ready to embrace.
R  a     n  do         m

That word warrants savouring in your mouth (or mind) a moment. You cannot predict for sure the outcome in advance, but you can measure probability.

Let me give a crazy scenario that turns my blood a little cold. Imagine that in the USA, 40 ℅ of air passengers are practising Christians. Let us also imagine that the probability of an incident involving some fatalities but not all fatalities is approximately 1 in a million. It would be mathematically possible to work out how long it would it be before it would be more likely than unlikely that the only survivors in an incident were believers in Jesus. It is precisely the same kind of calculation that as rolling a dice and predicting if you roll a six or not. At first you are not surprised at rolling other numbers, but if you roll the dice a million times and not once roll a six, then your dice is probably weighted, right? Or what about the disease that only 1 in a thousand recover from? How does the Christian thank God if they are "healed"? How can they know it was faith, God's hand etc that did it?
So the problem for me and the question I am asking is how to be thankful when I or others benefit from random good? Does it do my faith any good to publicly or privately express thanks to God as though he caused this good directly? That shows Him that I believe that had He not intervened, or even had we not prayed, the good would not have happened. But I do not believe that can be reasonable.

God is a God of Truth. He will not, I feel sure, be glorified by exaggerated accounts or false accounts of direct intervention. Truth is and must be sufficient.

We rejoice always. Philippians 4:4.

I will do a follow-up post on moving away from direct causal assumptions by believers regarding divine intervention, what that might be and alternative ways to define it that might bring more satisfaction to my problems with the miracle-obsession.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Defending what you know

Yesterday I suffered a real disappointment, and it gave my faith another punch in the gut. If you are a really strong believer in miracles to the point that you describe anything good that happens as miraculous, then you may not find this post comfortable - please feel free to continue to another blog or post that is more up your street.

Some of you know that if I have turned to theology it is in part at least due to a foot injury I sustained back in Spring 2013, which has had a quite profound impact on my life as I was at that time a passionate distance runner. I proceeded to very slowly accept that I could no longer do it seriously and that I could no longer drive manual gear-shift cars without making the problem worse. Cycling was out too.

In July of this year, while attempting once again to resume just a very little running, I tore my calf muscle on the other side. Six weeks rolled by, and I started to realise that it wasn't improving and did some tests. These revealed a tear and the need for some physiotherapy. Around about this time, it occurred to me that this was maybe "a blessing in disguise". I regret that thought. Despite the multiple unanswered prayers regarding my foot and huge disappointment, something in me always aspires back to hope... culminating in fresh disappointment. This time, I though just maybe I could understand God's wisdom: a second injury, because I was always so obstinate in trying to resume, could be just what I needed to allow the main injury to heal. I wanted to show my enthusiasm and desire to still believe and shared this idea of "blessing in disguise", with both fellow believers and non-believers. Right up until Sunday 8th November, two days ago.

Nope, it was not and is not a blessing in disguise: it is simply a second injury in addition to the first. I tried to believe and make others believe in a good and wise act of God that simply was not true. I defended an idea that was not founded in reality; I did not defend what I know. I felt like a phony evangelist.

I realised with a sinking sense of despair because on the Sunday morning I wore some walking boots, which although I purchased to be lightweight (after 18 months of foot injury I discovered rather strangely that the weight of footwear had an impact on the sense of discomfort in the foot), are still a lot heavier than what I normally wear. As the day wore on, the old feeling of inflammation came steadily back to haunt me. The "rest" afforded by the second injury had not improved my long-term injury. It was not a blessing in disguise.

So I want to conclude today with a question to you. What do you defend that you know and what do you defend that you don't know? Do you defend that someone will certainly be healed without knowing it? Do you believe in the doctrine of the one Triune God because you have been taught that the Bible teaches it? Do you quickly shout MIRACLE when it might have just been a fortunate or good natural event? Do you defend the creation of the universe as an event that took place 6000 years ago? There are consequences to this which I can best describe as a punch in the stomach to our faiths, and I want readers of this blog to think carefully about it. Faith is very important to build wisely; it is a long-term process. It can be genuinely boosted when exposed to well documented miraculous events; but even these can be readily deconstructed because of abusive historical church practices about the workings of the miraculous that actually generates scepticism. Yes, I do believe that: flippant unfounded belief can be a direct cause of scepticism, disappointment, wrong and unbiblical perspectives of divine action sucking much-needed hope and faith out of believers.

We defend often for the wrong reasons, because we are so defensive, fragile and vulnerable.

The Bible does not teach defensiveness, although believers do need to stand up for what the Bible does clearly hold to be foundational about God and faith and our story as a people, but the primary purpose is not to defend it. Furthermore, it is not the starting point. The Bible teaches the church that:

My little children, I am writing this to you so that you may not sin; but if any one does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the expiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

Someone defends us; they know us. One often overlooked part of atonement is knowledge about what is being defended. Jesus is often recalled in the gospels as having known men's thoughts. If Jesus is able to defend his own, then it is because he knows them and is known to them. So we are released and required to defend certain things that we know, and to investigate more neutrally perhaps the things we don't.

Please do not try to defend what you do not know, it is not worth the risk and it is not a risk that you are asked to make. Fortunately, there are other risks that are much more worthwhile.