Saturday, 26 March 2016

The Son of God: Three Views of the Identity of Jesus (3)

This is the third instalment of Iron's presentation in the book I am covering:
In the second post, we looked at his primary arguments of creation (Jesus falls on the creator side of the creator-creature divide, his better argument) and aseity (one's being is from oneself, his weaker argument), and I questioned his true allegiance to the Eastern side of Trinitarian development. Today, we will see that Irons resumes a theme he already opened up slightly earlier around page 11, when he talks of the three stages of Christology, for which I already noted a lack of Scriptural evidence because of the phrasing of the divine exaltation language (there is no sense of resuming or taking BACK what was already his rightfully - or ontologically, if we use a word Irons would use). Let us see if he has anything fresh to add to this problem for his position.

The Exaltation of Christ

Unfortunately, Irons shows excessive confidence in his position for such a discussion when he introduces his progress thus far in this chapter: "At this point, the ontological deity of the eternal Son has been proven. Yet the New Testament has still more to say to "seal the deal" (my emphasis). We will see!

Wow - given some of the difficulties we have already identified in his methodology I struggle to see how he thinks this kind of language helpful to open and thought-provoking dialogue. If it is proven already, then it's game over, right?

He continues: Some have attempted to argue for a 2-stage christology that eliminates the preexistence phase. But this would mean that a human being has been exalted to a position of divine honor that does not properly belong to him according to...ONE OF ... His ontological natureS.

The capitals are mine. As with his inconsistent application of the noun "being", we also see a rather particular use of "nature". Perhaps it is Irons' insistence on Christ being as ontologically divine as the Father that causes him to place greater emphasis on his divine nature. But if he truly believes in the two-natures hypothesis (Christ, fully God and fully man), then we need to qualify this statement to argue that the Father exalted Christ to his right hand, that is Christ's right by virtue of his divine nature. Or have I missed something here? This is explained a bit in this video here.

Regarding the point itself, no, that is not the picture I clearly or directly retrieve from Scripture. If this were the first century picture, then I would like to ask Irons why it is that the notion of Christ resuming his previously-owned divine prerogatives is not made more evident? Does he think it is implied? In Philippians 2 it is a clear act of God the Father to exalt his Son. Christ has now inherited the Name, of Lord. Inheritance is not about resumption is it? He has been sat precisely at God's right hand by God and to God's own glory (Philippians 2:11). Irons nuances things slightly now, but leaves us with the unfortunate Trinitarian predicament that prior to his incarnation, the pre-existent Son, was ontologically divine but NOT of the same status to which he was later exalted. Perhaps it was always ascribed to be his, or something like that.

Pages 17-18 show us the features of Christ's exaltation, however, which according to Irons do demonstrate that his divine honors are linked to his ontological deity as the preexistent Son, rather than some active great action of God the Father (I reject any down-playing of active and necessary involvement of the Father, especially when in direct contradiction of Scripture):

Firstly, Christ's sovereignty is Yahweh's. No mere creature could be given that divine authority as Lord of all creation. Neither Dixon nor Smith accept this conceptualisation of their respective positions, for as I pointed out previously, the 17th century unitarians Irons seems keen to engage with are not present in this debate. I think this "mere creature" lingo is nonsense on quite a few levels. One that is less developed by either Smith or Dixon, is that I also don't think humans are "mere creatures" anyway: I'll reserve that for the bugs and the bees, Deuteronomy 4:15-18. Also humans are God's imagers. The bugs and the bees aren't. If you have a bit of time, see Heiser on this and popular misreadings that contradict sanctity of human life ethics with a theology equating divine image bearing with criteria such as intelligence or choice:

Secondly, Christ himself is worshipped through his exaltation. "…the NT, which was largely composed by men brought up within and committed to strict Jewish monotheism that abhorred the worship of any creature…" This is particularly with reference to animal idols presumed to contain the spirits of other nations' gods. This has nothing to do with the natural and normal expectation for people before human kings is to prostrate before them (unless they are self-promoting themselves into that realm, as we see with Pharaoh or Caesar for example).

Irons' quote of Larry Hurtado indicates to me he is off-track here: the OT passage [taken from LXX Isa 45:23], the one that is "among the most fervent expressions of God's uniqueness," has been "adapted (and apparently interpreted) to affirm Jesus as supreme over all creation." - Hurtado, How on Earth, p. 50. Hurtado definitely sees that early Christians understood that Christ was made Lord, i.e. God granted "kyrios-ship" to Jesus. This is a very different picture Irons is painting on early Christian worship. I can only hope that either Irons is misreading Hurtado here; anything else could be deliberate mis-representation.

Thirdly, Christ's third feature of exaltation is his Divine Name. Isa 42:8 "my glory I give to no other" - good spot. If we wanted to be picky, we could perhaps remember that Isaiah doesn't say my name of Lord or my authority I will not give to another.

On Philippians 2:10, Irons paraphrases "God has highly exalted his obedient Son Jesus as the one who bears the divine name (my emphasis, we can note that he has a distinct preference for the verb "bearing" over the vocabulary provided in the text itself, which is interesting.) Irons also presumes YHWH in Hebrew or Kyrios in Greek to be synonymous.



Bascially, they are not quite the same. Yahweh is a proper name, Kyrios is not or certainly does not need to be. Any lexicon will point this out that the meaning goes all the way from God Almighty down to "sir". No-one debates that flexibility, and no-one debates that that YHWH is a proper name for Israel's Almighty God. That said, Larry Hurtado also is helpful to us here, as on his blog he quotes research into the usage of Kyrios in the LXX, wherein it is asserted that without the article, especially in the Pentateuch, Kyrios is used as a name when translating YHWH. This is actually data I think Irons could have used to defend his case, but he did not reach to it in later cross-examination.

"The granting of the divine name, YHWH, to the Son is legitimate...". This is interpretative, and it would have been nice of Irons to acknowledge this before throwing it out there. Why? Because, as pointed out by Hurtado and other scholars (see the above link), while YHWH = KYRIOS (in the relative sense), KYRIOS is not identical to YHWH. Irons is going much, much further than the text explicitly permits, which is **simply** (!) a granting of YHWH's "kyrios-ship". The biblical language regarding the nature of this transferral you can check for yourselves: "granting", "inheriting", "giving", etc. It is from the Father to the Son (see my inquiry into causation language here). Therefore trying to state that "the granting of the divine name, YHWH, to the Son is legitimate" is a muddle even on Irons' own terms, because he is on the verge of saying that YHWH is basically the Father, and he would (correctly) avoid at all costs saying that the Father has granted his name of Father to the Son".

And so we arrive at a page which contains for me the two most intriguing quotes of the whole book. It's page 20, and Irons says two quite striking things. The first telling quote:

"YHWH is basically the name of the Father" 

His argument on the preceding page about YHWH not sharing his glory with another would seem to go against that understanding. If YHWH is the Triune God, then YHWH is not basically the name of one member of the Trinity, but the whole shebang, unless he is arguing for some kind of limited revelation of Isaiah. If that is the case, a lot of his Isaiah argumentation is on shaky ground anyhow. But he doesn't make that concession, so we are simply left to wonder quite how he holds his position together. The confusion continues in quite explicit fashion as he repeats:

"Thus, when the Son is exalted, he receives the divine name, YHWH, because it is fitting in terms of his ontological status."

Let us move on directly to the second intriguing quote, later congratulated by Smith:

"I hesitate to say "Jesus is God," nor would I say "Jesus is not God." 

Great! And do you know why? It is because Irons is acutely aware of the problems around the "fallacy of equivocation" (changing the meaning of a word in a philosophical argument). He proceeds in his most key paragraph (I think) of the whole book, wherein he implicitly lays out the problem of confusing nature, personal attributes and order, which Burcot connects with Latin Augustinian Trinitarianism and the subsequent "Athanasian Creed" (see Bercot video around 24 minutes in, nested in the previous post here).

Irons wraps up (p21-22) with a reminder of two grammatically disputed references to Christ being our great God, "No wonder he is called "our (great) God and Savior Jesus Christ" (Titus 2:13; 2 Pet 1:1), and stating: "Millions of ordinary Christians throughout history have confessed that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, exalted at God's right hand as sovereign Lord over all creation, and have put their faith and trust in him as their divine Savior and have worshipped him as such." Oh. This is a surprising ecumenical conclusion that takes the reader quite by surprise, since all parties are likely to agree with this.

Next: Dixon and and Smith's response highlights.

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