Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Whose Hammer?

Over at God's Hammer, Sean Gerety seems concerned that I am "departing from the faith" following an extended conversation between ourselves and other Scripturalists in a rather long comment thread on facebook (link). Much of the ground Sean covers in his post was trodden in our discussion, so I am not sure whether it was meant for me to address or if Sean simply wanted to warn others about me. At any rate, I am provoked to respond. Sean writes:
However, I would have thought that for Christians everywhere the essential deity of Christ was an issue that was beyond dispute. Silly me. God is, after all, three Persons of one essence or substance; not three Persons of three essences or substances. 
As Sean later notes, I claim that the Father, Son, and Spirit are each deities or divine persons. The real question is what it means to be a deity or divine person, a question I will get to in a moment. Regardless, while I don't have a problem saying the persons of the Trinity are "of one essence or substance" if by that Sean means they are generically united according to the set of divine attributes each univocally but distinctly possesses (link), Sean's statement that "God... is three persons" is problematic, for Sean - as thoroughgoingly Clarkian as one can be - agrees with Clark that "The [divine] attributes constitute the definition of God." But substituting this definition for "God" in Sean's statement, we get the idea that "the divine attributes are three persons." This does not make sense; rather, the divine attributes are exemplified in three persons. Attributes are predicated of persons. Persons are not predicated of attributes.

There seems very little to recommend this definition of God, Clark's approval notwithstanding. Sean's blog is called "God's Hammer." But to whom or what does the hammer of Jeremiah 23:29 belong? A set of attributes? Does a set of attributes "declare"? Is Scripture the "word" of a set of attributes? Of course not. It is the word of the Father (cf. 23:1-6). I am not aware of any Scripture in which "set of divine attributes" can intelligibly be substituted for "God." In fact, the WCF's use of singular personal pronouns for "God" was what first led me to question the idea "God and His attributes are one." Rather, it seems to me there are two primary Scriptural meanings of "God" - 1) the Father in a peculiar, preeminent sense; 2) a divine person in general. In either case, it seems to me it always refers to a single person. 

That there are multiple possible meanings of the word is fairly obvious. For instance, Jesus is referred to both as God (e.g. Romans 9:5) and the Son of God (e.g. Mark 1:1). Obviously, Jesus is not the Son of Himself. Equally obvious is that Jesus is not the Son of a set of attributes. Or consider John 1:1-2. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the word was God. He was in the beginning with God." Sean is correct; the Word, Jesus, was God and dwelt among us. Who could deny it? And yet, the Word was not "with" Himself, He was "with" the Father (cf. 1:14, 18). Jesus was with God - a distinct person - and yet Jesus Himself was God. This seems to me to be a pretty clear case that "God" can have multiple meanings. The trick is to determine which meaning applies when. Sean argues, for instance:
Certainly, Jesus Christ is autotheos, divine of Himself. From Jesus’ confession that he is the self-existent I AM and the Almighty Jehovah of the Old Testament, to John’s insistence that the Word was God and dwelt among us, to doubting Thomas’ confession that Jesus is his Lord and His God, even to Jesus’ own testimony that he is the Alpha and the Omega of Revelation, the biblical and exegetical evidence is overwhelming that Jesus Christ is very God of very God.  Yet, it seems that some men, even those calling themselves Christian Scripturalists, think all this is doubtful and Jesus’ confessions concerning his own essential equality with the Father are really confessions of the Father’s unique divine nature and who alone can properly be called God.
John 8, 20:28, and Revelation 1:8 were primary texts Sean used to support the view the Son is self-existent and autotheos in our previous discussion. I think I responded sufficiently to each of these in the course of the facebook conversation: 1) Granville Sharp's sixth rule would imply that the "God" to whom Thomas referred was someone other than the "Lord" [Jesus]; 2) the Greek word for "Almighty" in Revelation 1:8 everywhere else refers to the Father, and as the Father is clearly the referent of "God" in 1:1 and 1:6, it is most natural to regard "the Lord God... Almighty" in 1:8 as referring to the Father; 3) I am not necessarily opposed the idea that Jesus can bear names usually designated of the Father (e.g. YHWH) insofar as He is the perfect image of His Father whom He represents to us - just as a messenger can come in the name of his king - but in these cases we would do well to distinguish between the proper and improper or derivative attribution of them; 4) in the same breath that Jesus refers to Himself as the "I AM," he says that He was taught by the Father (John 8:28). But given Sean's two-person theory of Jesus and that He was speaking as the divine Son sent by the Father (cf. 8:29), how is this possible if the Son is autotheos? Might "I AM" imply eternality rather than self-existence?

On the other hand, the point that the Father alone is always the referent of "one God" (Romans 3:30, 1 Corinthians 8:6, Ephesians 4:6, 1 Timothy 2:5) or "[only] true God" (John 17:3, 1 Thessalonians 1:9, 1 John 5:20) in Scripture did not seem to make much of an impression. I am not sure why. The idea that monotheism is true because there is one "God and Father" (Romans 15:6, 2 Corinthians 1:3, 11:31, Galatians 1:4, Ephesians 1:3, 4:6, Philippians 4:20, 1 Thessalonians 1:3, 3:11, 3:13, 1 Peter 1:3, Revelation 1:6), one "God our Father" (Romans 1:7, 1 Corinthians 1:3, 2 Corinthians 1:2, Galatians 1:3, Ephesians 1:2, Philippians 1:2, Colossians 1:2, 2 Thessalonians 1:1-2, 2:16, Philemon 1:3), etc. seems like a neat solution to any tension between monotheism and the Trinity - much more neat, anyway, than the little to no support for a view of God as a set of attributes.

Further, on Clark's view, the reason monotheism is true is because there is one definition of "God." Clark equated "essence" with "definition." Because there is one definition of God constituted by the divine attributes, there is, in essence, one God. But while I admire Clark in general, I don't see how he could have thought this was a legitimate response to the charge of tritheism. There may be one definition of "human," but because there are multiple subjects to whom this definition can apply - Sean, Clark, and myself, for instance - there are multiple humans. Similarly, because there are multiple subjects of whom the set of divine attributes may be predicated - the Father, Son, and Spirit - it logically follows that there are, on Clark's view, multiple Gods. And as Clark goes, so does Sean. The difference is that Clark admitted he may have been wrong:

The discussion of the main problem in the doctrine of the Trinity may now be called completed, even if it is not complete. Other students and scholars may add to, subtract from, modify, contradict, or otherwise alter the foregoing. Such responses would be a great improvement over the present almost universal neglect of the doctrine. It would turn the attention of the somewhat faithful churches from their sociological sentimentalism to the basic doctrine of the Bible. (The Trinity, Individuation)
Returning to the question of what it means to be divine, though, Sean is adamant that it includes the predicates of "aseity" (self-existence) and being "autotheos" (God-of-Himself):
The way Hedrich and Shelton get around this juxtaposition of orthodoxy and glaring heterodoxy is through a clever use of redefinition. When it’s argued that self-existence is a distinguishing attribute of the divine nature and is central to God’s essence, self-existence is magically redefined as a “personal property”;  a “personal property” unique to the Father and to the exclusion of the other two Persons (or should that be lower case ‘persons”). But, what can the “personal property” of self-existence be besides a divine attribute?   On the one hand there is a subordination of persons not of nature, on the other there is a subordination of both persons and nature.  In Shelton’s anti-trinitarianism, and despite claims to the contrary, the Father is an ontologically superior being who the other two Persons are united to in a limited and derivative way. 
Firstly, I want to make clear that if and when I have stated the Son is ontologically subordinate to the Father, I do not mean that the Son's divine nature is lesser than that of the Father's. What I mean is that the Father and Son [and Spirit] have their own, unique definitions, and these definitions include more than the fact each are divine; that is, they include the individuating principles or predicates unique to the persons. Given that Sean believes in eternal generation, he should recognize a personal property of the Father is the fact He is unoriginate. A personal property of the Son is that He is eternally begotten. A personal property of the Spirit is that He is eternally spirated. Etc. With this clarification, there should be no confusion as to what it means when I assert that self-existence and being autotheos are personal properties or unique predicates of the Father.

Now, if this view is true, it should be obvious that the definition of the Father has one or more preeminent properties as compared to the definitions Son and Spirit such that although the latter would not have lesser divine natures, their persons would be subordinate to the Father's person. But to say that the persons of the Son and Spirit are subordinate to the person of the Father - a statement which Sean wrote "sounds perfectly fine" - is no different than saying the Son and Spirit are subordinate to the Father. That is all I meant by ontological subordination, although it may be better to simply cut out that middleman altogether and simply say the Son and Spirit are subordinate to the Father.

Secondly, I am curious as to what Sean means when he says I have magically redefined self-existence as a personal property. What is the source of the original definition? The Reformers? Scripture? If the latter, I do not think he has convincingly argued for the Son's or Spirit's self-existence or being autotheos. As I mentioned earlier, I think this leads to tritheism unless the persons are collapsed and/or a faulty definition of "God" is assumed. I'm also not sure what eternal generation and procession entails if not a communication of divine nature from the Father to the Son and Spirit; analogously, what does a human father's generation of a son entail if not a communication of human nature from the father to the son? I don't know why the Father assumed the role of the head of the economic activity of the Trinity or why He is referred to as "God" in special senses - one, only true, Almighty, etc. - if the Son and Spirit are in every way equal to Him.

If I am becoming more entrenched in my position, it is only because I am being underwhelmed by the alternatives.


Max said...

Good response

godshammer said...

Ryan writes "1) Granville Sharp's sixth rule would imply that the "God" to whom Thomas referred was someone other than the "Lord" [Jesus]"

Interestingly I stumbled on the following this morning:

As with some of Sharp’s other rules, there is an exception to the sixth rule. It is as follows:

Except distinct and different actions are intended to be attributed to one and the same person; in which case, if the sentence is not expressed agreeable to the three first rules, but appears as an exception to this sixth rule . . . the context must explain or point out plainly the person to whom the two nouns relate.

One such exception that is commonly agreed upon, and that is offered by Sharp himself, is John 20:28. In this text, Thomas says to Jesus, “Ho kurios mou kai ho theos mou.” A literal translation would be “the [ho] Lord [kurios] of me [mou] and [kai] the [ho] God [theos] of me [mou].” Even though this conforms to Sharp’s sixth rule (two nouns, Lord and God, are joined by “and,” and both are preceded by the article), Sharp rightly determined that this is an exception to the rule. The reason for this is that the context clearly indicates that Thomas was speaking to one person, Jesus, and that he was identifying Jesus as both Lord and God."

Ryan said...

Seems like a clear case of subjectivity to me.

godshammer said...

It's called biblical exegesis Ryan. I'm sorry you don't like it.

Ryan said...

"...The reason for this is that the context clearly indicates that Thomas was speaking to one person, Jesus..."

And, of course, it is impossible to refer to someone else while addressing one person...

"...and that he was identifying Jesus as both Lord and God."

Which assumes what needs to be proved. These two reasons are really Sharp's only contextual indicators for violating his own rule?

Patrick McWilliams said...

Ryan, what else could Thomas be saying? How would you paraphrase his meaning?

Ryan said...

If Granville Sharp's 6th rule is not arbitrarily ruled out, he would be saying "My Lord [Jesus] and my [Father]," following the first possible definition of God I describe in the post.

godshammer said...

Are you for real Ryan? Thomas was saying "My Lord [Jesus] and my [Father]"? He identifies Jesus as his Father? While you're grasping at straws, why not read it that way? Your suggestion that he calls Jesus his Lord and the reference to God really means the Father is pure eisegesis. I don't know if you realize it, but your starting to sound more and more cultish.

Sharp's rules aren't absolutes. They're general grammatical rules that have exceptions given the context and Thomas' confession that Jesus - not the Father - is God is only disputed by assorted Unitarians and Arians (both of whom represent two sides of the exact same coin as both are a denial of Jesus Christ). Besides, Sharp disagrees with you.

Max said...

Since God the Father cannot be visibly seen, Thomas can't be calling Jesus the Father. I am thinking he calls Jesus his theos in the same way that Aaron was a god [lower g] to Pharaoh - Exodus 7:1. Christ affirms he is both "Master and Lord" (Jn 13:13). I think Thomas pledged perpetual obedience to Christ by calling him his god [lower g]. But the word doesn't mean the Father, nor (I think) does the phrase mean "my divine person" here.

Ryan said...

"He identifies Jesus as his Father?"

That assumes "God" refers to Jesus.

"Sharp's rules aren't absolutes. They're general grammatical rules that have exceptions given the context..."

You already provided Sharp's "contextual indicators" and I already replied to them. Sharp's rule seems to provide an interpretation more harmonious with Scripture than Sharp's contextual opinion. What more do you want me to say?

And why are you picking at nits? You mentioned this verse in passing, and I responded to it in passing. It's not really the focus of the debate, Sean. You do realize there are larger issues at stake, such as the very meaning of "God"? I mean, I guess you can take this one instance and say that it's representative of my overall argument, but by not addressing anything else, it looks like you're just trying to evade the responsibility of substantiating the charge.

godshammer said...

>That assumes "God" refers to Jesus.<

Of course it does. It's not "picking at nits" it is central to the absolute divinity of Christ - God Incarnate whom you continually deny in order to fit every verse into your preconceived paradigm.

John warned "No one who denies the Son has the Father." So while you think you're gaining the latter in your quest to "protect monotheism," if it needed your protection, your constant denial of the former will leave you with neither.

Ryan said...

"My Lord and my [divine nature]" just doesn't click for me. Guess I'll keep studying.

Drake Shelton said...

With reference to John 20:28, I found David Waltz' The Trinity: a ‘clear’ Biblical teaching, or a post-Biblical development? very helpful, commenting on DECEMBER 27, 2010 12:43-44 PM,

“Now with this brief background in mind, I shall propose three interpretive options for John 20:28:

1. When Thomas exclaimed: My Lord and my God!”, he was affirming that the risen Jesus Christ was promised eschatological king; the appointed visible representative of “the one true God”, who is invisible, and whom “no man has seen”.

2. When Thomas exclaimed: My Lord and my God!”, he was affirming that the risen Jesus Christ was actually the invisible God of Israel. This view was understood in two different trajectories: modalism and Trinitarianism.

3. When Thomas exclaimed: My Lord and my God!”, he was addressing the Father in heaven who had resurrected Jesus Christ. (This was interpretation of Theodore of Mopsuestia, an early defender of the Nicene Creed, who wanted to eliminate all/any modalistic and/or docetic options.)” [Ioannes-the αυτω signals that Thomas was speaking to Jesus. The nominative is here used for the vocative, and barring indications to the contrary, the only natural interpretation is to take the vocatival address as directed to the person being spoken to.]…"

David affirms #1 and I do as well. Christ is the image of the invisible God, the visible of the invisible. Col 1:15. This is the same answer for John 14:8.

What Sean is advocating is Sabellian heresy, or should I say Van Tillianism.

Drake Shelton said...


“Sean's statement that "God... is three persons" is problematic, for Sean - as thoroughgoingly Clarkian as one can be - agrees with Clark that "The [divine] attributes constitute the definition of God." But substituting this definition for "God" in Sean's statement, we get the idea that "the divine attributes are three persons."”

>>>No, no Ryan, you see, the set of divine attributes is the one prime person God, and then within that prime person are three other persons you see, so technically, God is one person and three persons.

On a more serious note Farrell exposes Sean’s commitment to ADS,

“First, the unity of God [In Augustine's De Trinitate-DS] begins to be seen in impersonal, abstract, and philosophical terms, and does not find an ultimate referent in the monarchy of the Father. But more critical is the fact that the persons and the attributes, as pluralities opposed to the essence, are accorded the same logical status. Speaking of the Father, Saint Augustine says that

‘He is called in respect to Himself both God, and great, and good, and just, and anything else of the kind; and just as to Him to be is the same as to be God, or as to be great, or as to be good, so it is the same thing to Him to be as to be a person.’34

Underlying these mutual identities is the simplicity and, consequently, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that either the persons have been made attributes or the attributes have been made persons.”

Sean is falling right in line with ADS and Monadism. He is a Van Tillian through and through.

Drake Shelton said...


The fact that you smeared me in your recent "blog" and didn't allow me to defend myself as an open diversion from the Trinity issue is cowardly and your followers are seeing it. You are only helping my cause. Your blog actually produced more traffic than I have ever received on my blog. James Anderson thought that by removing my posts against him on ADS he would get rid of me, but just like you, his own people saw in the comments section that I had commented and they searched me out.

Secondly, I was never contacted by any lawyer from the T Foundation. I removed the image because I was not going to let you divert attention away from your Neoplatonic pagan heresy by resorting to all these red herring issues. It was an unnecessary occasion for diversion and I got rid of it right away when you first mentioned this in the GHC forum. I have eyes on that forum.

You have shown yourself completely unable to address these issues regarding the doctrine of God and your own people are recoiling from your meltdown. I am not going to fall for the trap you are trying to lay for me. You want me to lash out at you after the shameful things you continually say about me. You seem like a very troubled and unstable man and I feel sorry for you. The fact that your T Foundation project and other things you have invested in have not turned out the way you wanted them to, is not going to be improved by demonizing me and dragging my name through the mud.

徐马可 said...

Bishop Bull explains the view of primitive Christianity, the Son is not autotheos but subordinate to the Father

"According to the opinion of the ancients, with which common reason agrees, if there were two unbegotten or self-dependent principles in the Godhead, it would follow, not only that the Father would be deprived of His pre-eminence, whereby he has His divinity from Himself, that is, from on one else, (of which point we have already treated largely;) but also that there would necessarily be two Gods supposed. On the other hand, by laying down a subordination, whereby it is taught that the Father alone is God from Himself, and the Son God of God the Father, those doctors thought that both that pre-eminence of the Father and the divine monarchy would be secured. "

Defensio Lib 4, iv

Sean, your interpretation only have two possible result, 1)Son and the Father are one numerical and individual autotheos, thus plane Sabellienism, or 2)Son and the Father are two autotheos, this is plain polytheism, which breaks all the commandments of God.

godshammer said...

Not familiar with Bishop Bull, but fitting name though. I did find this in a sketch of him:

...his undisguised anti-Calvinism, and his unrelenting repudiation of the imputation of Christ's alien righteousness in justification made him a lightning rod for controversy.

You Unitarians make strange bedfellows.

徐马可 said...

Hi Sean,

Thanks for your response, it is not relevant to this post to discuss other stuff of Bishop Bull, or put an Arminian or some other label on him. We may start another post on this, but it is not relevant to this current discussion.

My purpose for quoting Bishop Bull, is to show his study on the said doctrine of the Trinity, namely, the primitive writers all hold to the view contrary to the Son being autotheos.

If you disagree with Bishop Bull's assessment, you are welcome to provide evidence to support your own view, but not to diminish Bull's contribution by simplying showing his theological errors.

BTW, I am not a Unitarian, as this word in our current context means, those people who denied the pre-existence of the Son, and believe the Son to be a creature created at the time of conception, this is not my view. I consider myself a trinitarian after the manner of Nicene orthodoxy.

People like to put label on other people to dimish their valid arguments or sincerity, this is not speaking the truth in love. Some scholars call Dr. Clarke, Sir Newton, Mr. Whiston, Dr. Whity an Arian without even studying their works. Condemning a brethen heretic without even looking into their case, we all will be judged by every single word that come forth out of our mouth.



Max said...

Drake said:

"1. When Thomas exclaimed: My Lord and my God!”, he was affirming that the risen Jesus Christ was promised eschatological king; the appointed visible representative of “the one true God”, who is invisible, and whom “no man has seen”.

David [Waltz] affirms #1 and I do as well. Christ is the image of the invisible God, the visible of the invisible. Col 1:15. This is the same answer for John 14:8."

I still think my explanation is better :)

Calling somebody your god means they have complete authority over you. Thomas' exclamation was a vow of obedience. But your view also makes sense, somewhat.

Drake Shelton said...

I am not sure how being the eschatological king and the appointed representative of God in the flesh excludes having complete authority over people. I think that my view provides the grounds for that affirmation.

徐马可 said...

I think the biblical definition of God pertains to supreme dominion and power and as our object of worship.

Christ after his acension received worship that is properly addressed to him, this has nothing to do with him being consubstantial with the Father, or having exactly the same divinity as the Father, which is true, but his exaltation and worship is because he performed the will of the Father and was slain, and was made by God our Christ and our Lord.

So in this sense, Thomas truly called him my God and my Lord. God as true God, or the only begotten God from He who is God by himself.