Tuesday, 22 March 2016

The Son of God: Three Views of the Identity of Jesus (2)

This is part 2 of my response to Irons' opening case, which is very focussed on a few specific arguments. This is important to note, as some apologists are not nearly so focussed and are banking on a cumulative effect. For some folk, like myself, this is a less profound or impacting methodology. So, apologies if the previous post was quite critical - it is nothing against Irons or his methodology (except the comment about his and Holmes' use of "being", which I think, is quite telling of the difficulty of the position to which he and other "one-self" Trinitarians hold).

Irons is going to have a lot to say about John - this is right. In my own research I found dozens of suggestive passages in this gospel, and it is the boldest in the claims it attributes to Jesus, and the absolute quietest on the Kingdom of God. One thing Irons rightly highlights is John's emphasis on Jesus coming "in the flesh". Why say that Jesus came in the flesh? That sounds like a strange thing to say if you did not have to defend against faulty thinking about the Christ, one that came from God not in the flesh. So it is readily agreed and understood to be an early or prototype anti-docetic affirmation, a heresy that for some reason Irons neither mentions nor explains. A reason for this perhaps is his keeness to show that the pre-existence of Christ is simply self-evident in such a passage as this. It is a good point that he needs to make in defense of a Trinitarian view, but here it needed better situating, which would have nuanced his quick conclusion somewhat.

Irons leaves John briefly to visit Paul, anticipating the argument that John's writings are late first century, allowing for christological development. He heads unswervingly to Philippians 2, the great, and early christological poem (p12). However, like with some translations (the NIV being among the worst in this instance), Irons does a little paraphrasing. He states:

"Jesus' decision not to regard equality with God as something to be used for his advantage".

Here the lexical decisions are all made for us and all ambiguity removed without any discussion whatsoever. That is a pity.  The Greek word used here by Paul/the poem is rare and difficult to trace within the canon, but outside it is used. Main usage seems to be (and I have checked this in other ancient literature) to pillage, take what is not already owned, like in a raid. So by assuming that this equality with God is something that Christ already has, Irons is steering the translation of Harpagmos away here from a common definition of the word. This assumption ignores other probable (and incompatible) meanings, justified primarily by the exact place he wants to take his readers: pre-existent coequality, which is a separate argument to pre-existence alone. This is therefore a little misleading given the subtitle he provides the reader (simply referring to pre-existence in Paul). A more likely translation is therefore "grasped after", and a more neutral translation that leads both options open (like the NET translation) is simply "grasped": He did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, full-stop. The Greek does not allow for anything more.

Now Irons continues by conflating that Jesus:
"humbled himself by becoming a man".

This is a conflation of the Greek. Irons strikes me again as slipping in his conclusion too early into his argumentation. If you want to look more into this you can check out the "raw" Greek here. There is not space here to discuss Philippians 2 more, but I recently did a post on the conclusion to the poem here.

Two tests of ontological deity

"Does divine sonship mean ontological deity in the sense of being eternally part of the divine being?...That is precisely what I believe the New Testament teaches." 

Where does it teach it? Teaching is explicit right? And how does that square with Irons' inconsistent use of "being"? We already saw that just two pages earlier, p11, he has stated that "the Word existed as a divine being distinct from God the Father". Irons is really confusing me now. Quite how does he define being

When he criticises (p. 13) his finally-fictitious counter-arguments for saying that the Trinitarian claim is a noxious exaggeration, I simply noted in the margin that you cannot exaggerate to a category not yet identified, by which I mean Christ's status as the Christ and Son of God is so totally unique and awesome by everyone's standards, that exaggeration is hardly the name of the Trinitarian game. Irons is trying to battle against 17th century Unitarians, but they just aren't present in this discussion.

His first test of ontological deity is one of my own top-suggestive themes in the New Testament: Creation. John, Hebrews and Paul share this creation-by-God-through-Christ language. 

1. John 1 - there is some great context for understanding John's presentation of logos through Philo, which I found while thinking about this. Wikipedia has a great little summary here on Philo. It is important because it precedes John by a few decades and gives us access into a wider philosophical current, and takes us away from thinking that this kind of language was just invented by God who downloaded it to John this way. This passage fails to defend the eternal begetting hypothesis, or that the pre-incarnate Word pre-existed as a son. He might have been, but like any Christian doctrine, you have to widen the search from any one passage, which Irons I think also agrees with, since he continues.

3. Colossians 1:16. This one is a whopper. Unfortunately, especially for someone who claims to be more influenced by the Greek stream (starting with three and working out how they are one), he opts for the confusing preposition "by" in translating "ἐν". What am I talking about? God the Father is always and consistently the source of creation, and that is precisely why the New Testament authors never place the active emphasis of creation on the Son. If the Son (if he was already the Son, but let us assume that for the moment) was both the active instigator and the means of creation, then the Father's role is totally annulled. The roles as clearly delineated and distinguished in the 1 Corinthians passage above do not permit anyone, especially Trinitarians, to translate "ἐν" with "by". NIV realised this on the 2011 revision and changed this. Irons prefers "by", and leaves me wondering why he thinks he is so Greek in his thinking.

The second argument of ontological deity from Irons is Aseity. I feel fairly sure that David Bercot would disagree with Irons, and fundamentally challenge his so-called Greek-allegiance. They would agree on the definition, a se, a latin phrase meaning that one's being is "from oneself". But they would not agree that aseity is a good Trinitarian-Scriptural argument. If you have some time - check out Bercot's video on the doctrine of the Trinity. Some other time I will probably look at it in more depth on the blog.

Aseity is often argued by evangelicals, even when they don't use the word. What it often looks like, in its most ugly guises, is WHO CARES if there is a Father or his empowering Presence? Jesus is everything, he doesn't need anything or anyone, he is GOD. Of course, Irons is not nearly so crass, but the argumentation, heavily reliant on a single verse (John 5:26) - sorry, I meant John 5:26b. For me, Irons scores much better on his creation argumentation than his aseity. We will see what Dixon and Smith have to say later.

In the next post, let us see how Irons treats the exaltation of Christ.

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