Monday, June 11, 2012

Critique and Defense of Jesus as God, Part 1

Recently, I was pointed in the direction of a website that claims while the author believes Jesus is the Christ, he is nonetheless not God. This is a huge issue. Denial of the person of Jesus Christ is heretical at the very least, and it's difficult to see how a denial of the divinity of Christ is possible for the truly saved.[1] I will break my critique up into several parts.

First, I would like to examine his criteria for deciding whether or not Jesus is God, and an application of that. He contends the Bible should teach that Jesus is God. This is true. He then decides that if the Bible teaches Jesus is God, then it must predicate qeoV of Jesus explicitly as well. This is far from obvious. The biblical writers tended to use qeoV to refer to the Father in most discussions involving God and Jesus as a point of distinguishing.

Next, he attempts to criticize the points that do in fact seem to identify Jesus as qeoV. Of Hebrews 1:8, which states, "But unto the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of thy kingdom." His critique of this is to say that it presents a problem of "polytheism." But this is only a problem inasmuch as it shows Jesus to be God—the very conclusion he is seeking to avoid! In short, he only rejects Heb. 1:8 as teaching Jesus as qeoV because, well, that would conflict with his conclusion!

Interestingly, he continues the critique by stating that such a verse is not in fact describing God speaking to Jesus, "as our English translations allege," but quoting a Psalm (which presumably is not speaking of Jesus). This is a curious statement. The Greek of verse 8 reads as follows: "proV de ton uiJon  JO qronos sou oJ qeoV eis ton aijwna tou aijw:noV…" The word for "Son," ton uiJon, is in the accusative case, meaning it is the direct object that receives the action of the verb. Interestingly, as can happen in Greek, the verb is implied in the sentence. The word for "you" is in the singular, genitive form. This means it possesses the throne. So, to recap: the Son is receiving the action, so who is the subject? Who is giving the action? The pronoun "he" is attached to various verbs within the passage (e.g, "he said," etc.). The antecedent of this tracks back to verse 1, which is qeoV.

So the subject, God, is speaking (cf. v. 5) to the Son (already identified as Jesus), whose throne is identified as going on for ever and ever. But not only this: qeoV is in the nominative case, which means it is the subject. This means that the Son is being identified with God. The onus is on anyone else for translating otherwise.

But what of the problems of the psalms and polytheism? First, with respect to polytheism, that just is not an objection worth granting. This is because anyone who grants that if Jesus were God, polytheism would be true is either not a Christian or doesn't grant that Jesus is God. The Trinity offers a non-contradictory model whereby polytheism is avoided. As to the psalms, there are myriad examples of Old Testament prophecies mentioned in the New Testament that seem to have little to nothing to do with what the text teaches; so much so that Klein and Blomberg have even dedicated an entire chapter in their hermeneutics book to discussing it. Suffice it to say the text is not obligated to take an entire passage and apply it directly, and to say it does requires some sort of proof, as well as an alternate explanation of each such usage by a NT writer.

Moreover, Jesus as God makes excellent sense of Hebrews 1:3, variously rendered as "the express image of his person," and "the exact representation of his being." However, God is invisible (cf. Col. 1:15, 1 Ti. ). So it cannot be the case Jesus Christ looks like the Father. Rather, he just is the visible representation of the being; in him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead, bodily. These passages become philosophically bankrupt without this interpretation.

Finally, how does he explain John 1:1? By claiming that logoV is correctly identified as an "it" and not a person. This is highly implausible for a number of reasons. First, when one sees the verb "to be" (in this case "was"), one must ask if it is the verb indicating predication or identity. To illustrate, consider the following: "The man is tall." Being tall is predicated of the man; it is a property of the man. Now consider this: "The masked man is Randy." We would not want to say Randy possesses the property of being the masked man, but rather its usage seems to say Randy is, identifiably, the masked man; they are one and the same. The Greek translates to "and God was the Word." Would we say that the Word is predicated of God? Well no, that doesn't really make sense. Instead, this is the "was" of identity. But identity works both ways. If God was the Word, and the Word was an "it" and not personal, then God is an "it" and not personal. This should be biblically, theologically, and philosophically rejected.

The next reason it is highly implausible that logoV is an "it" and not a person is because, contrary to the author's assertion, ouJtoV does not refer "generically." It is a masculine noun in the nominative case, singular in number. It simply means "this" and is following the use of logoV. But look what happens in verse 2. This Word was in the beginning with God. So we have something that is identified with God, yet because the article in verse one was not applied to "God," we can see that this Word is a separate person. Can anyone see Trinitarian implications here? It won't do to go back and insist the Word is a predicate; for how can a predicate be "with God"? In fact, it looks for all the world as though the Word is a separate, concrete entity (which predicates are not).

Third, the "him" spoken of in verse 3 very plausibly refers to the previous subject of the previous sentence (the antecedent), which was the Word (in which case, the Word is again a person). Grammatically, it's not clear why the Word should be excluded. In fact, in Greek it is not uncommon to introduce the pronoun before the subject to which the pronoun refers. More on that in a moment.

Fourth, the "light" spoken of in verses 4-5 is identical, contextually, with the Light spoken of in verses 7-15. Finally, in verse 14, we see the Word referred to as becoming flesh (and again as "his" glory), and the Word is clearly Jesus (cf. The Gospels).

Finally, the author complains that replacing the word for "this" with "he" or "him" would be a "drastic and unacceptable departure from the original words of John. But this is exactly what is inferred with the current speculative translation . . .." The problem with this is twofold: first, the translation philosophy he is referring to is of formal equivalence, or trying to translate word-for-word as much as possible. But unfortunately he thereby infers this philosophy commits one to the fact that the Word cannot be identified as a person. But why think that? Why think that words do not have implicative meaning? No one advocates a translation of a different word—because that is not the word written. But it doesn't therefore follow that such a word could not plausibly be used in such a manner.[2]

That's it for this lengthy critique. I will deal with other claims later, and formulate why I think this is such a serious matter. Suffice it for now to say I think it is of Gospel-importance, for two reasons: 1. If we are wrong we are committing both blasphemy and idolatry. 2. If he is wrong he is committing both blasphemy and idolatry.

                [1] Notice my careful wording: I am only questioning the salvific status of those who have heard and understood the claims of Jesus' divinity, but reject them explicitly.

                [2] As proof, the author should consider the fact that people have, do, and will continue to personify inanimate objects all the time, sometimes using personal pronouns and sometimes not. Since they can do so metaphorically, what's to prevent someone from doing it in the case that it is, in fact, true?

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