Sunday, December 23, 2012

Besides Me...

Malachi 2:10 Have we not all one Father? Has not one God created us? Why then are we faithless to one another, profaning the covenant of our fathers?

That all passages in the New Testament which refer to the “one God” (Mark 10:18, 12:29, 1 Corinthians 8:6, Romans 3:30, Galatians 3:20, Ephesians 4:6, 1 Timothy 2:5, James 2:19) or “only” or “[only] true God” (John 3:33, 5:44, 17:3, Romans 3:4, 16:27 1 Thessalonians 1:9, 1 Timothy 1:17 1 John 5:20) either clearly refer to the Father or at least arguably refer to the Father lends credence to the idea that among the three divine persons who are equal in respect to divinity, the Father is preeminent in respect to His person. The Old Testament can also be used in this way.

In Isaiah 44-45, the speaker, YHWH, says multiple times and in various ways that “besides me there is no God.” I believe this to be the Father’s own testimony. Now, this would no more preclude one’s being able to call the Son [and the Holy Spirit] “God” in some distinct sense than would the idea that if the Father could say “besides me there is no Savior” (Isaiah 43:11), we would be unable to refer to the Son as Savior. It would simply require qualifications as to what it means to refer to Him as such.

That is, we know Jesus comes in the name of YHWH to do the work of YHWH. He may be referred to as YHWH, being the natural Son and, hence, perfect image of His Father, but He is not the same person as YHWH per se. That would be Sabellian. So too would it be Sabellian to say that the Father and Son are both numerically identical to YHWH, as in that case any alleged difference between Father and Son would be purely nominal.

Rather, the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world (1 John 4:14). This fact is attested by both Jesus and His Father in conjunction with the OT law that the testimony of two [distinct] persons is true (John 8:17-18) and further evidenced in Christ’s work (John 10:37-38). Thus, while Jesus has clearly been ordained to be our Savior, Jude can conclude his epistle by referring to the only God, the Father, as Savior:

Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

Further, while we see that the Father is called Savior even in the NT – and so in the context of Isaiah 44-45, YHWH certainly need not, as some think, refer to the Son – the Father is especially called the Savior or Redeemer of Israel in the OT (e.g. Psalm 106, Isaiah 63). So when He besides whom there is no God is referred to as the Savior of Israel in 45:15-17, the natural inference is that it is the Father who is in view (Hosea 13:4, cf. Hosea 11:1, Matthew 2:15).

The previous chapters confirm this. YHWH is the Father in Isaiah 42:1-4 (cf. Matthew 12:18-20). In Isaiah 43:10, the servant of YHWH is mentioned yet again, this time as a witness to what YHWH, the Father, has done. What has the Father done? As noted before, is Israel’s redeemer (43:1) and savior (43:3).

Thus, it would seem the Father remains the speaker until Isaiah 44:8, relevant because by the next chapter it should be clear that it is the Father besides whom there is no God (44:6-8; cf. 45:5, 6, 14, 21). Tangentially, it may be pointed out that this is not an abstract being, nature, or essence – the speaker is a person. It is the Father who pours out His Spirit (44:3; cf. Acts 2:17-22).

The repetition in titles – Creator, Redeemer, Savior – and concerns – “who will be glorified?” “who chooses?” “who blots out transgressions?” – indicates that in Isaiah 44:21ff., YHWH is also meant to refer to the Father. Notice too that Cyrus is called YHWH’s shepherd (44:28) and anointed (45:1). Which makes more sense, that Cyrus is the shepherd of and anointed by the Son or that Cyrus is a type of Christ, the Father’s shepherd and anointed? But if it is the Father speaking in 45:1, then it is clearly the Father speaking in 45:5, 6, 14, 21.

Cumulatively, I believe these points forcibly imply the Father is YHWH in Isaiah 44-45. Just as the idea that one person can be the only true God and that a distinct person can also be the only true God butchers the meaning of the word “only,” so too the idea that besides one [person] there is no God and that besides this one [person] there can be another God – again, in a particular, hypostatic sense – is unintelligible.


Max said...

Ryan, I'm curious to know what you think of something Robert Morey wrote in his book, The Trinity: Evidence and Issues. (He's not a Monarchist Trinitarian). He writes, under a section titled "Jesus Is the Father":

"... Bernard believes that when the Bible speaks about the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, it is actually talking about Jesus. Thus, he had to prove that Jesus is the Father. His first proof that Jesus is the Father is a logical syllogism: If there is only one God and that God is the Father (Malschi 2:10), and if Jesus is God, then it logically follows that Jesus is the Father."

Morey continues:

"This syllogism is interesting. If A (there is only one X) is true and B (the Father is X) is true and C (Jesus is X) is true, then Jesus is the Father according to Bernard. But there is no way you can logically deduce that Jesus is the Father from this syllogism. The distributed term is X (God) and not Jesus. Thus, the only thing you can logically deduce from this syllogism is that, if there is only one God and the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are each God, then the Three must be God. This deduction supports the Trinity." (Morey, p. 519f)

Ryan said...

It depends on two things:

What does "is" mean in B and C? Is it a statement of identity? Then either A is not true or the Father is indeed the Son, both of which would contradict Morey's position.

Related to this question is what does "only one God" mean? Is "God" a sort of [non-identical] quality univocally applied to the Father and Son? In this case there may indeed be only one X insofar as X has one definition (in which case X is the subject), yet X could be predicated of multiple subjects. Likewise, there may be only one [definition of] man but many persons of whom this may be univocally predicated.

Since he notes that Malachi 2:10 equates the only God with the Father - note he recognizes God is the Father, not the Father is God - he falls victim to both of these points.

Max said...

You've got a sharp mind. I think what Morey wrote is nonsense.

Patrick McWilliams said...

Why do you assume singular personal pronouns in Scripture must always refer to a single person, when Clark reminds us that the modern idea of a personal self or ego possibly did not become widespread until Descartes?

I wish this was a Wordpress blog so I could subscribe via email... ;)

Ryan said...

Source? Was there some statement of mine in particular with which you have a problem?

Patrick McWilliams said...

If I've misrepresented you I apologize. I suppose I assumed you must think that as you take the Shema to be referring to Jehovah as a single person (as opposed to the Trinity as a whole). Which leads to your rejection of the Christ's being Jehovah (in favor of your viceregent view).

Ryan said...

I meant what was your source for Clark. And yes, I do think that the Shema refers to the person of the Father. But I wouldn't build my view that the one God is the Father from that alone. For obvious reasons, the New Testament is more clear than the Old when it comes to the Trinity.

Patrick McWilliams said...

Clark, The Incarnation, pg. 8: "A relatively recent scholar argues that individual personality is an idea foreign to antiquity and was only first invented by Descartes, as a Model T Ford which had to struggle hard to become a respectable Thunderbird. This means that many of our questions never entered the minds of those holy Fathers."

p.25-26 "[H.C.] Powell maintains that the early church lacked the idea of an individual personality or Ego. He points out that even Aristotle never tried to define /person/... In order to handle these ancient enigmas, Powell, however queer it may seem to us, begins with Descartes, who according to him was the first person to have at least an elementary notion of a person. As this line of investigation will proceed to and beyond David Hume, one must always be aware of the question, 'Is the Ego the phenomena of consciousness themselves, or do we know /nothing/ about the Ego?' We shall see a bit later that Charles Hodge opts for nothing... Though Descartes initiated the modern study of the Ego or person..."

p.53 "Recall Powell's insistence that no one before Descartes had any clear idea of what an individual person is."

Clark's reason for speaking about this is in order to help establish the meaninglessness of the word 'person' in historical Christology. However, if Powell is correct (as Clark seems to assume), there are implications for the personal pronouns in Scripture. Specifically, why must it be assumed that singular personal pronouns must refer to a single mind? We see this in modern English. Many believing minds comprise the singular church, which is called the singular bride, using singular personal pronouns "she" and "her."

I'm not denying there are verses which distinguish the Father from the Son and Spirit. But you seem to be approaching Scripture with the assumption that the Trinity (especially in the OT, before the recognizing of the three persons) cannot be referred to with the singular "Father." The Father is the Father of the Son, but why couldn't the Trinity (again, especially in the OT) be collectively considered the Father of Israel/believers?

Ryan said...

It should be obvious that as a Scripturalist, Clark is not seeking to establish any doctrine apart from Scripture. Rather, it seems to me Clark is saying post-apostolic theologians have missed a crucial point of emphasis: individuality. If so, I agree with him.

Even considering metaphors such as "church" - a body comprised of individuals and thus diverse in some sense - there is a sense in which the church is one: they have one Lord, one faith, one baptism; they are of one mind; etc. So using the same argument from analogy, the possibility that God is likewise diverse would nevertheless require God to be single in some sense. Furthermore, to answer your question regarding why it seems I approach the OT in particular as regarding the Trinity as "Father," you will have to point to specific instances in which I do that. In this post, for example, I believe I adequately showed why God cannot refer to the Father and Son, viz. the Son as servant is distinguished from the God besides whom there is no other in Isaiah 42-43. Cyrus, as a seeming type of Christ, is distinguished from the God besides whom there is no other. I don't deny the OT is less clear than the New, and that is why I haven't argued from the OT as much as Sean and company. But do you disagree that the Father alone is the referent in Isaiah 42-45?

If you are referring to my citation of Malachi 2:10, the idea that the Son and Spirit can with the Father collectively be called "father" seems superficially specious, but I'll think about it.

Patrick McWilliams said...

"Furthermore, to answer your question regarding why it seems I approach the OT in particular as regarding the Trinity as "Father," you will have to point to specific instances in which I do that."

Sorry, my point was actually that you *don't* do that. Correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems you don't allow for "Father" to refer to the Trinity as a whole, but restrict it only the the First Person. (As in Mal 2:10) Clark says something in The Trinity about God, considered as a whole and not as a Trinity, being referred to as "Father" (of Israel/believers, not the Son). The First Person is Father of the Son, but the Trinity as a whole (in this example) is called our Father. You are denying this, correct?

Ryan said...

Belated reply to Patrick's question which I somehow missed: yes, I would deny that.

Babatunde Adepoju said...

The problem with this whole idea, and why it fails, is that you're trying to explain God, a Being who has no beginning, and no ending.

In order for you to have any kind of qualification to even begin to attempt this topic, you must first be able to tell us "where" He came from. If you can't do this, then you MUST infinitely abandon trying to rationalize what about God does or does not make sense.

And I know--I know--my tone sounds very confrontational, but I assure you I don't mean to. So please forgive me if I've managed to rub you the wrong way with my response.

Ryan said...

"In order for you to have any kind of qualification to even begin to attempt this topic, you must first be able to tell us "where" He came from."

You have not even begun to explain why I must be able to tell you that, and your question is vague in the first place. What do you mean by "where"? The Father is necessarily self-existent. He cannot not-exist as He is.