This Site Is No Longer Active

Check out RESTITUTIO.org for new blog entries and podcasts. Feel free to browse through our content here, but we are no longer adding new posts.

2nd Rebuttal (4b)


This is the eighth post in a moderated debate between Biblical Unitarian Danny Dixon and Trinitarian Marc Taylor. A complete list of posts can be accessed here.

I think we all can see the lack of value in quoting scholarly sources without providing explanation for the meaning of the sources. Once a theological concept appears in a word it becomes the responsibility of the person using the word to define it clearly so that the reasoning behind the selected scholarly texts can be explained, so that the readers, particularly in a debate, can see the different points of view and argumentation used to establish singular points. Scholars often are appealed to as final authorities on a subject. They are not. Readers are finally responsible for what they choose to embrace. Let me illustrate.

I noted in Comment 6 to your Rebuttal 1b that Thayer, a lexicographer that Marc quotes frequently,

“held, particularly regarding Jesus as the Logos in the first few verses of John 1 that the Logos (the Word) “is expressly distinguished from the first cause” ( J. H. Thayer, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1977 reprint], p. 133).

And while H. Bietenhard has noted that the word arche may be used in the sense of “absolute beginning,” he says that the word can be understood to communicate that Jesus is the “first cause” of creation, citing Revelation 22:13 (where Jesus is called first and last) as a possible passage where the idea may be applied. He sets this idea apart as something different from the admittedly possible understanding as used in John 1:1 which he says “implies something before time, i.e. not a beginning within time, but an absolute beginning, which can be affirmed only of God, of when no temporal categories can be predicated.” Where the Word can be seen “in the strictest sense pre-existent before the world and so before time which begins with the world” (“Beginning”_NIDNTT_I:166).

The contrasting views of “absolute beginning” and of “first cause” as regards the creation of this world are both set forth as possible understandings of arche by the same author. I list this to illustrate that the concept of endless existence need not be the only way to understand what the Word was. There is no reference point as to how long the Logos was “with God,” nor is there a biblical outline of when he as a divine being was given life (Again, John 5:26; 6:57).

Marc charges that I am presenting “’ citationless’ theological opinion/bias [that] will not allow the ‘first and last’ to mean what the lexicons define it as.” On the contrary when one looks at lexicons, take the Bauer-Arndt-Gingrich-Danker one, we find that the words protos, “first” and eschatos, “last” (and any others that we might choose) will give a listing of the word in Greek, then, in italics list the simple meaning of the word in different contexts (A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, 1979, pp. 725ff, 313ff). Theological conclusions then follow in non-italicized text. The authors of the lexicons do it governed by their bias. They classify the words as they see fit, they provide additional commentary to the italicized definitions as they deem appropriate based on their understanding and presuppositions.

Moises Silva in the introduction to his Biblical Words and Their Meaning: An Introduction to Lexical Semantics, Revised and Expanded Edition (1994), reminds the reader that there is a responsible way to use lexicons. Let me give a rather lengthy quotation, which defines lexicography, from his book:

Our goal is not to deduce the theology of the New Testament writers straight out of the words they use, nor even to map out semantic fields that in themselves may reflect theological structures. We have the relatively modest goal of determining the most accurate English equivalents to biblical words, of being able to decide, with as much certainty as possible, what a specific Greek or Hebrew word in a specific context actually means . . . . [Every] exegete must have sufficient involvement in that work to evaluate and assimilate the results of the “experts.” Similarly, all biblical interpreters need exposure to and experience in lexicographic method if they would use the linguistic data in a responsible way.

In a survey of biblical scholars and students conducted in the late 1960s, some respondents commented on the need for “a better understanding of the nature, use, and limitations of a lexicon” on the part of dictionary users . . . (pp. 31-32).

Silva’s book is rather technical, and on pages 176-177 he gives a list of six steps for determining the proper English equivalents of specific words in specific contexts. I hesitate to list them here, and I refer the more ambitious students of the word to get the book (Used copies start at about $5.00 to $20.00 for a new copy). What is not on the list is any sort of method of depending on the uncritical listing of definitions from a theological dictionary as if the discussion provided by the author of an article in it constituted definitions that should be accepted without question.

The majority of professional biblical scholars appear to be Trinitarian in bent. There are recognized biblical scholars who seem to have a Unitarian leaning. For nearly any definition that can be given as regards certain key terms and phrases in biblical studies that seem to support a Trinitarian perspective, as we have seen, there are Unitarian scholars who make comments that are opposite, sometimes within the same volume or within a few pages of a given article. Indeed, as I have demonstrated above, sometimes there can be acknowledgment of ambiguity with regard to the meaning of lexical terms within the same article by the same author within a paragraph of each other.

The Angel of Yahweh and Agency
And the Remaining Difficulty for Marc at Psalm 110:1

Marc’s explanation of Jacob’s interaction with the angel is not convincing even to other Trinitarians who see agency completely at play in Genesis 48:16. The authors of the note in the N.E.T. Bible write to that effect:

Jacob closely associates God with an angelic protective presence. This does not mean that Jacob viewed his God as a mere angel, but it does suggest that he was aware of an angelic presence sent by God to protect him. Here he so closely associates the two that they become virtually indistinguishable. In this culture messengers typically carried the authority of the one who sent them and could even be addressed as such. Perhaps Jacob thought that the divine blessing would be mediated through this angelic messenger (http://net.bible.org/verse.php?book=Gen&chapter=48&verse=16).

This is not to neglect Judges 6:13, which uses the address Adoni. God’s angel (6:20), also called Yahweh’s angel 6:12) speaks to Gideon about Yahweh. In addition consider the article by John M. Wilson which lists a number of similar passages and explains why this angel should not be seen as being God. He writes:

A study of these passages shows that while the angel and Jehovah are at times distinguished from each other, they are with equal frequency, and in the same passages, merged into each other . . . It is obvious that these apparitions cannot be the Almighty Himself, whom no man hath seen [John 1:18, Dixon note], or can see. In seeking the explanation, special attention should be paid . . . two passages . . . In Exodus 23:20ff God promises to send an angel before his people to lead them to the promised land; they are commanded to obey him and not to provoke him “for he will not pardon your transgression: for my name is in him.” Thus the angel can forgive sin, which only God can do, because God’s name, i.e. His character, and thus His authority, are in the angel. Further in the passage Exodus 32:34 – 33:17 Moses intercedes for the people after their first breach of the covenant; God responds by promising, “Behold, Mine angel shall go before thee”; and immediately after God says, “I will not go up in the midst of thee.” In answer to further pleading, God says, “My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest.” Here a clear distinction is made between an ordinary angel, and the angel who carries with him God’s presence (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia: 1:133-134).

In trying to identify the identity of the Angel, Wilson suggests that the angel might be a “temporary preincarnation of the second person of the Trinity.” But he acknowledges honestly and objectively that this and other suggestions that he gives fall into the category of “conjecture.” That there is no indication of Adoni referring to Yahweh himself is reasonably argued, and Marc still has to explain how Yahweh speaks directly to Adoni in Psalm 110:1.

2 Responses to “2nd Rebuttal (4b)”

  1. on 12 Sep 2010 at 9:46 amSean

    Sorry about the delay in posting this. Danny did have it in on time (yesterday) but I was not able to post it.

  2. on 19 Sep 2010 at 11:59 pmMarc Taylor

    How can it be a case of agency when an agent is a substitute? Jacob already entered into God’s presence.

    You wrote: The majority of professional biblical scholars appear to be Trinitarian in bent. There are recognized biblical scholars who seem to have a Unitarian leaning.

    Why do you think a majority of professional biblical scholars are of a Trinitarian bent? Are they all missing something that you see?

    Please list some biblical scholars that have Unitarian leanings.


Leave a Reply