The following is a response by Jaco van Zyl of South Africa to Daniel Wallace’s arguments for the Trinity on a radio show. If you would like to listen to the show, click here (the interview starts at about 5 minutes in). Jaco wrote this response independently from Patrick Navas’ earlier response. To watch Jaco’s fine explanation of Psalm 110.1, given at last year’s Theological Conference near Atlanta Georgia, click here.
On January 19th an interview was held with Daniel Wallace on an ex-JW radio programme and the discussion was mainly around arguments around Trinitarian proof-texts. As I listened I made notes and decided to write a response to some of the points Wallace made in defence of the Nicean/Chalcedonian doctrine of the Trinity. Patrick Navas has also written a response and comparing arguments will be interesting indeed.
The aim of this response is to show where I think Wallace has an inaccurate understanding of these crucial issues. In the same breath I need to make it clear that I do not wish to lend any validity to the Jehovah’s Witness religion. Since the identity of God and Christ is at issue here, my aim is to communicate the reasoning and evidence behind a particular, non-Trinitarian understanding thereof.
Wallace subscribes to the Social Trinitarian model formalised and refined since the Fourth and subsequent centuries. Following this model, Wallace has a pre-determined interpretive frame and a distinct kind of epistemology through which various theologically significant texts are interpreted. This is unfortunate, as one would think that someone like Wallace would use the ancient religious and cultural milieu (to use his word) to determine how the early Christians must have understood the relationship between God and Jesus. Wallace prefers a post-biblical scheme as his interpretive frame and deals with the texts accordingly. His interpretive frame has a peculiar design, consisting of the concept GOD in the category of BEING, and the members Father, Son and Holy Spirit in the category of PERSON. This ontological distinction has no theological, historical and cultural precedent from the First Century, but is one fabricated after the demise of the apostles and facilitated by a different cultural milieu than that of the bible writers.
So, to level out the playing field, let’s get the framework straight: Ancient Judaism was monotheistic/monolatrous. In the First Century Judaism proclaimed one God as Someone (I refrain from using the philosophically loaded and doctrinally equivocal term “person.”) who alone is the Sovereign God and Creator. This Someone was conceived in anthropological terms and presented as a singular entity; but One who manifested Himself and His will through various means – such as angelic messengers, human prophets, his ruach’ or spirit, as well as his wisdom and logos discerned from manifestations around people. These entities were functionally or referentially identical to the Jewish God. In other words, by the activities of these entities it was clear that it was ultimately God’s activity or God-in-action. An event would also demonstrate divine wisdom or expressed logos in action referring to the One who was in fact operational (referential identity). In Second-Temple Judaism God was also expressed in relational terms such as “the God of…” or “man of God” or “sons and daughters of God,” and so forth. These relations were expressed in anthropomorphic titles, such as LORD, Father, Maker, King, etc. God’s relation to man and nature was expressed in reversibly compatible roles, meaning that “son of God” would render God to be the Father of the one who is said to be his son. “Father” and “God” would therefore be numerically identical. In this relation “God” cannot be anything other than “Father” and as such would be numerically distinct from the one who is said to be his son. The same can be said about the other roles, such as LORD, Maker, King, Shepherd, etc.
This is the scheme that should be used if we want to understand the way the ancient bible writers conceived of God.
I shall now discuss several of the texts Wallace raised and used in support of his Trinitarian position.
1 John 5:20
The first text Wallace uses to ascribe “deity” to Jesus is this one. It is true that the demonstrative pronoun, ουτος, is ambiguous and as such could refer to either the immediate antecedent (Christ) or to the referent before that, namely “He that is true,” God. But here Wallace dismisses with broad strokes the latter possibility and insists on the former, namely that the demonstrative refers to Jesus for two reasons:
- This demonstrative is never used of God the Father and
- God the Father is never called “eternal life”
With this line of reasoning I believe that Wallace prefers weak arguments and ignores the more obvious reasons for accepting that the demonstrative, ουτος, refers to God Almighty. Here are the weaknesses and solutions to his arguments:
- It may be true that John never uses the pronoun ουτος in reference to the Father, but that is to ignore the natural reading and progression of the passage, as well as the designation given to God just preceding this clause, in favour of a statistical distribution of a pronoun. The section from verse 18 starts with a reference to Christians being born from God, us originating with God and that we can know God by means of his son. God is called “Him that is true” and that by means of his son we are in “Him that is true.” God is the central theme of this section, so it would only be natural to understand that the ουτος in the last sentence would refer to God and not to Jesus. Furthermore, John uses the expression, “Him that is true,” (ο αληθινος) referring to God. This is nearly identical to ο μονος αληθινος θεος (the only true God) of John 17:3 which John uses as a personal designation of the Father. It is only natural to understand the “He is the true God” of 1 John 5:20 to refer to “Him that is true,” “the only true God,” namely the Father.
- True, God is never called “eternal life,” but why may a distinction between God and Jesus not be created in the final sentence? What is very often ignored in hermeneutics is that the early Christian lived in an oral tradition where these texts were heard and meaning was formed from what they already knew.1 Early hearers of John’s Gospel and Epistles read aloud in church communities would have given specific identity to “Him that is true” and “eternal life,” and this identification would primarily come from their understanding of these phrases, rather than strict grammatical adherence to something like the Granville Sharp Rule, as to whether one or two referents were in mind. If “Him that is true” was understood to be the Father, distinct and superior to “eternal life” understood to be Jesus, then this distinction was naturally made when hearing 1 John 5:20 read aloud.
It is clear that the writer of Colossians assigns a very high position to Jesus. In him (εν αυτω) all things were created – invisible, visible, all authority and powers. These were created through him (δια αυτω) and into or for him (εις αυτω). Assuming that a personal, pre-existent Messiah, even Someone numerically and ontologically identical to God Almighty would be a casual and natural conclusion drawn by the earliest Christians, Dan Wallace says,
[Colossians 1 contains the] strongest language to say that Jesus Christ is the Creator of all things.
Considering the ancient cultural setting within which that text was written and commentary by some eminent NT scholars in our time, this conclusion is of course very simplistic, especially since this isn’t one that should follow by necessity. Not only is ontological identity not something that should summarily be assumed or concluded, but both the writer and his audience were embedded in a particular theological and cultural environment from which a Christological conclusion could be drawn, much more legitimate than and vastly different from that of Wallace.
Both the writer and the audience of Colossians were immersed in a culture where the Jewish/rabbinical notion of pre-existence was understood in a particular way.2 In order to have a proper understanding of this Colossian section, the presupposition pool of the writer and his audience needs to be understood first. According to the Jewish understanding of that time, several things “pre-existed” with God before creation. These included Torah, Paradise, the name of Messiah, Gehenna, throne of glory, the temple and repentance.3 Their pre-existence was understood to be, not literal, but ideal or notional. Heaven and earth, for instance, were understood to have been created by God after taking counsel with Torah.4 In later writings other entities were added to these seven and among these were the saints or believers who also “pre-existed.”5 But of particular interest to us would be the Jewish idea of the “pre-existent” Messiah. Several Jewish sources mention the Son of Man or name of Messiah as having pre-existed the creation of the world.6 But as with these other pre-existent entities it would be patently wrong to presume a literal/personal pre-existence of Messiah in heaven. These and other entities, complete with elaborate anthropomorphisms and personifications, were understood in a particular way, namely, “that the items on the list were predetermined by God to fulfil their function in the outworking of his purpose for his creation and his people.”7
This was the theological and cultural bedrock the writer of Colossians used to show the pre-eminence and superiority of Jesus above everything else. Since the Christ-event was understood to be the ultimate purpose of all creation, all things were created and intended with the Christ-event in mind. Jesus’ pre-eminence is shown in that he was intended before creation and demonstrated to be the firstborn of everything through his resurrection. To the Christian, Jesus is the Torah, the Son of Man, the whole plan of creation, and as such he pre-existed in a specific sense:
God…had in mind in eternity or before anything else was created, the one who was the key to all existence, who would bring al to consummation and for whom (in whom, through whom) all could therefore be said to be created.8
Wallace echoes Dr James White’s position, namely that the Colossian section proves that Jesus is the Creator. But this conclusion is simply too profound, since a much more authentic conclusion can be drawn from the ancient theological environment as well as from the fact that the most crucial proposition which would indeed render Jesus the Originator (Creator) of all things without any doubt is strikingly missing, namely “from/by whom” (εξ ου). This is said of the true God and Creator alone, namely God the Father.9
Dunn concludes, saying:
Once again then we have found that what at first reads as a straight-forward assertion of Christ’s pre-existent activity in creation becomes on closer analysis an assertion which is rather more profound – not of Christ as such present with God in the beginning, nor of Christ as identified with a pre-existent hypostasis or divine being (Wisdom) beside God, but of Christ as embodying and expressing (and defining) that power of God which is the manifestation of God in and to his creation.10
According to Wallace, this text “taken in isolation is problematic for Trinitarianism” and he then continues, stating correctly that texts should be read in their immediate context. He then proceeds to show how the immediate context of John 17:3 somehow resolves what appears to be problematic for Trinitarianism. I will divide his line of reasoning into two sections:
- Immediate context: Verse 2 shows that Jesus was given authority over all flesh. According to Wallace, only God can have such authority.
Verse 3 says that the Father is alone God “as opposed to false deities.”
Verse 5 shows that Jesus would be reinstated in terms of his position. This, according to Wallace, would be his position as God no longer be “veiled.”
There are several serious flaws in Wallace’s arguments. Firstly, to be given authority – any authority, regardless of the extent – renders the recipient of such authority not-God by definition. God does not lack anything, nor does anyone else have what He doesn’t, such that that should be given Him. God possesses all authority by definition (Job 41:11). So unintentionally Wallace provides more proof against the “deity of Christ” position than in favour of it.
Regarding verse 3, it is assumed that the intended audience of the Fourth Gospel are non-believing Gentiles. This target-audience argument lacks unanimous support and it has been shown convincingly that the target-audience was not unbelieving Gentiles, but the hostile Jewish synagogue of the Johannine community instead.11 Moreover, this particular argument is a red herring to be sure. Even if the intended audience were in fact unbelieving Gentiles, Jesus’ identifying the One who alone is the true God over and against false deities, would achieve just that – specifying that the Father alone is the true God, while Jesus is the one sent out by the true God. Not only their identities, but also their relation to each other is articulated. Introducing the aspect of audience specificity as having a bearing on the identity of the true God is simply a non sequitur. “What kind of a god would Jesus be then?” is an irrelevant question to ask, as an uncertain position is assumed to begin with (Gentile audience) and secondly it is assumed that Jesus would lay claim to the identity and position of “true God.” If Jesus did lay claim to the sovereign position of “true God,” then he most certainly would have positioned himself as a rival against the one who is ‘God alone,’ namely the Father (cp. Phil. 2:6-9).
Regarding verse 5, unless the “glory alongside God” is assumed to mean ontological identity with God (which has no biblical support), then this ‘reinstatement in terms of position’ is no proof of Jesus’ deity and does not alleviate the Trinitarian dilemma encountered in John 17:3.
Yet another exegetical error virtually all Evangelical apologists commit in building their arguments for the Trinity is their insistence on ontological identity while the real and authentic understanding of the time involved functional identity. The ancient Jewish principle of shalu’ach involves the full executive and functional authority of the one represented.
The agent was thus functionally equal or equivalent to the one who sent him, precisely because he was subordinate and obedient to, and submitted to the will of, [the one] who sent him.12
[Jesus] stands in the place of God, speaking and acting for him. He is not a divine or semi-divine being who comes from the other side. He is a human figure raised up from among his brothers to be the instrument of God’s decisive work and to stand in a relationship to him to which no other man is called. The issue is whether in seeing him men see the Father, whether, in mercy and judgment he functions as God, whether he is God to and for them.13
If the ancient theological and cultural milieu is to be used as interpretive backdrop to understanding ancient concepts, then functional identity should be the starting point in understanding the role and position of Jesus as expressed in the Fourth Gospel. 14
- Psalm 110:1 is extensively used in the NT. As the one who sits at the right hand of God, Wallace argues, Jesus in fact occupies God’s very throne and “shares the same attributes and authority” of God. As proof of this he cites a German scholar, Martin Hengel, who proved this from Ancient Near Eastern evidence. Thus, Jesus sitting at God’s right hand implies him sitting on God’s very throne, which in turn renders him ontologically identical to God, since he shares “God’s attributes and authority.”
I haven’t read Hengel’s book myself, but I don’t see how this “discovery” conclusively counts in Trinitarians’ favour for several reasons. In ancient times the kings of Israel were said to be sitting “on God’s throne.”15 Theirs was a true theocracy or rulership by God. The Davidic King would sit on God’s throne or exercise divine rulership over Israel. Did the Davidic Kings share the same attributes and authority with God? For as long as they took delight in Yahweh’s Law, they did indeed.
[The] monarch was regarded in some mystic way as a person more than normal because of the fact that he was the anointed of the Lord. The application of the holy oil transformed him into another man (I Sam. 10:6) so that he came to stand in an intimate relation with God Almost of sonship (Ps. 2:7) and certainly of close association (Ps. 110).16
Sharing God’s attributes and authority does not render the bearer of these ontologically identical to God Himself – at least not in the mind of ancient Jewish monotheism/monolatry. Following the ancient principle of agency or shalu’ach, the one authorised by God would act in God’s stead, executing what God would have executed Himself.17 Perhaps the strongest case against the Trinitarian argument comes from the theology and historical understanding of Ps. 110:1 and here the ontological argument from Wallace’s understanding of Martin Hengel’s book proves to be the weakest. A survey of the ancient understanding and evolution of its meaning and application indicates that Psalm 110:1 proves the exact opposite from what Trinitarians argue it to be.18 From the Old Greek Version (OG), the Masoretic Text (MT), rabbinical writings, pseudepigrapha, Qumran and targumim, the following conclusions can be drawn:
- From the OG there probably (clearly, in MT) was a distinction made between YHWH and the second κυριος, indicating the distinction between the One who is YHWH (God) and one who is not-YWHW.19
- Both the OG and MT show that the second lord was “a human monarch in Jerusalem.”20
- Rabbi Akiba indicated that one throne is for God and one for the Davidic messiah;21 Rabbi Ishmael indicated that Abraham was the recipient of the oracle;22 one late rabbinical text applies Ps. 110:1 to the nation of Israel.23
- From the pseudepigrapha we find that this second lord was the pious human Job;24 strong allusions to Psalm 110 in the Enochian documents indicate that the recipient of the divine throne is someone who is not-God.25
- 11QMelch fragment shows heavenly Melchizedek conquering demonic enemies under Belial.
- The targumim on Psalm 110:1 apply it to the righteous Davidic king.
From the above it is clear that the Jewish world at large and the religious culture the ancient Christians were immersed in regarded the recipient of the oracle as a very highly exalted human figure, but still someone who is not-God, distinct from God Almighty, Yahweh. The ancient Christians applied this text to Jesus their Messiah, in full harmony with the overall understanding of the text, assuming what is implicitly implied by the text namely that the one receiving the oracle from YHWH is not-YHWH.26
1 Corinthians 8:6
Wallace admits here what very few Trinitarians are willing to say, especially Dr James White (who argues for a fully developed Trinity doctrine as early as 36 C.E.), namely that Paul and the other NT writers of his time “did not understand the Trinity.” To him 1 Corinthians 8:6 gives an indication of a “primitive binitarian viewpoint.” These admissions are certainly not free from rather serious implications which will be discussed below.
Wallace exegetes this text as one that evokes the Shema of Jewish monotheism, but then takes a hermeneutical leap, saying that the two appellations in the Shema, namely Yahweh and Eloheinu are applied to Jesus and the Father respectively, hence the “binitarian” viewpoint he ascribes to ancient Christian belief. Several remarks on Wallace’s exegesis will suffice:
For Wallace to admit that NT writers did not understand the Trinity implies that later Fourth- and Fifth-Century Christians discerned and believed what “inspired” bible writers failed to believe. This argument is therefore no different from the claims made by the very ones Wallace and others are trying to help since the Jehovah’s Witnesses also proclaim that Jesus and the apostles didn’t know that Jesus would return in 1914 C.E., or that the first Christians did not know that the “great multitude” of Revelation 7:9 would be a second class of Christians gathered since 1935 with a different hope than the literal 144 000 anointed class of Revelation 14, etc.; there is absolutely no difference in argumentation. At least it can be safely said, considering Wallace’s admission, that the first Christians did not believe in the Trinity formulated in the Fourth and Fifth Centuries – that who and what God was to them was different from who God was to these first Christians. The implications of this admission are rather significant.
What is more troubling is Wallace’s explanation of Paul’s understanding of the Shema. To divide the One God of the Shema into Father and Son is to proclaim the One God of Israel to be two, not one. Claiming that Jesus is Yahweh and the Father is the One God would have had devastating theological repercussions to ancient monotheism, as Paul now confesses what Jewish monotheism/monolatry in no uncertain terms denied, namely that there is no true God other than Yahweh. According to Wallace there is an Almighty God besides Yahweh, namely the Father. It is true that κυριος is the appellation used for Yahweh in the NT, but it is also used to refer to dignitaries who were not divine. Claiming that κυριος, associated with Jesus Christ, refers to Yahweh by default is irresponsible scholarship. Such an affair would have us also confess that Mary was the mother of Yahweh,27 that Yahweh is not the Most High since someone else is His God,28 that Christians are brothers of Yahweh29 and the confusion in Luke 2:26, namely that Yahweh (Jesus) is Yahweh’s Christ! Not to mention the possessives associated with κυριος, such as “our” κυριος, “my” κυριος, “your” κυριος, etc. which is a linguistic impossibility if it were understood to mean “our Yahweh,” “my Yahweh,” “your Yahweh,” etc. 1 Corinthians 8:6 is no splitting or dividing of the Shema; it is instead a contextualisation of the Shema using Psalm 110:1 as harmonizing text: 30
It is quite possible to argue, alternatively, that Paul took up the Shema, already quoted in 8.4 (‘there is no God but one’), only in the first clause of 8.6 (reworded as ‘for us there is one God, the Father’); and to that added the further confession, ‘and one Lord Jesus Christ.’ [This would] be a more natural outworking of the primary conviction that ‘the Lord (God) had said to the Lord (Christ), “Sit at my right hand…”’ (Ps. 110:1), a confession set precisely in contrast to the gods many and lords many of Graeco-Roman worship.31
John 1:1; 1:18; 20:28
Wallace covered the Gospel of John in broad strokes, stating that ‘the whole of John speaks for the deity of Christ.’ Volumes of literature have been written on these texts, ranging from textual criticism (1:18),32 to Philo in John, to the probable understanding of the texts in its Jewish monotheistic/monolatrous religious frame, to Evangelical apologetics (with its insistence on a Nicean/Chalcedonian interpretation of the texts). Since a Trinitarian interpretation of these texts is usually given, I shall merely quote what eminent scholars have written on these texts whose voices are oftentimes not heard in populist Evangelical circles:
i). John 1:1, 18
Indeed, Jesus can say in one and the same discourse that ‘the Father is in me, and I in the Father’ and ‘my Father and I are one’ because ‘I am…acting as my Father would’: ‘my deeds done in my Father’s name are my credentials’. Again, in a later discourse, he says, ‘Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father’ because ‘I am not myself the source of the words I speak to you: it is the Father who dwells in me doing his own work’ (14.9f). Christ is the very ‘exegesis’ of the Father (1.18), and indeed himself theos (1.1, 18), because as a man he is utterly transparent to another, who is greater than himself (14.28) and indeed than all (10.29). The paradox is staggering , and it is no wonder that this Christology later fell apart at the seams into a disastrous antithesis between moral unity and metaphysical union.”33
iii). John 20:28
For the intimacy of the relationship between Jesus and God, the bound-togetherness of the Son and the Father, the mutual indwelling of each in the other, is all a way of saying that Jesus really is the Word of God, really is God speaking, though speaking in and through useless flesh (1.13; 3.6; 6.63). And no wonder that the Gospel climaxes in Thomas’ worshipful confession, ‘My Lord and my God’ (20.28)…For Jesus was understood very early on as the human face of God [JAT Robinson’s term], as the one who made the unseen God known and known more clearly and fully than he had ever been known before…Jesus was God, in that he made God known, in that God made himself known in and through him, in that he was God’s effective outreach to his creation and to his people. But he was not God in himself. Jesus is not the God of Israel. He is not the Father. He is not Yahweh.34
Both of these could potentially be understood as designations of the one true God. Yet…it was possible for other figures serving as God’s agents to also bear these titles precisely as designations that were shared by the one true God with his agent. It was also possible for both “god” and “lord” in a broader sense for other figures as well. Once again we are dealing with titles that were used within the context of Jewish monotheism without provoking controversy.35
We must note in the first place that that which is entirely unique in Jesus relative to us is as a rule not expressed with the word “God,” but with the names like: lord, savior, firstfruits. Can we then, however, still speak of God’s becoming man? That, however, is an expression which is not derived from the NT. There the terminology is that of God’s sending his son, and of the Word (God’s creative speaking) which became flesh, and there are few times, on account of the intimate union of God and man in him, Jesus is called “God” (in any case in John 20:28…), but then only for the purpose of capturing in an accentuated formula Jesus’ uniqueness and instrumentality relative to us…; moreover, what is at stake in these passages in Christ as “the representative of God in the world and in history…himself the bearer of the divine office” (TDNT III, s.v. theos, p. 106). What we have here is a covenantal functionality which only in this way agrees with the numerous statements in which Jesus distinguishes himself from God, or is distinguished from God by the writers.36
Just one last observation from this section of the discussion: Wallace says that the Jehovah’s Witnesses split κυριε μου and θεος μου in John 20:28, and that such a split is unwarranted. I’m not certain what the official Watchtower interpretation is of this text – whether it is split or not. I do find it inconsistent on Wallace’s side, though, that splitting the exclamation above is disallowed, while the very thing is done to the Shema in 1 Cor. 8:6.
Further on in the interview Wallace refers to Trinitarian R.T. France as saying that we should not be surprised to find places in the NT where Jesus is indeed called θεος so many times at all, considering the Jewish milieu his followers found themselves in. This statement above is about as circular and as false a dilemma as one can frame it in. It has at its foundational premise the assumption that Jesus was ontologically and numerically identical to God – obviously in the Trinitarian sense. Inconsistency is seen by alluding to the “Jewish milieu” in the First Century, but this “Jewish milieu” is only given priority when it forms part of a construct favourable to their argued position. What has been demonstrated very capably by various scholars is that the ancient understanding of representation (shalu’ach) was sufficient to explain all the contentious areas of Jesus’ “deity” satisfactorily without resorting to post-biblical doctrinal developments framed in alien categories using exotic philosophical arguments to arrive at.37
Another point of disagreement with both France and Wallace is the part of their argument stating that the ancient Jews were so monotheistic that including anyone else in the “divine identity” (Richard Bauckham’s neologism) would simply be unthinkable. My response would be that what was equally unthinkable to the ancient Jews was a suffering, dying Messiah; the inclusion of Gentiles as priests in a sacrificial system; annulment of animal sacrifice; the ban on circumcision, even the doing away of the Old Covenant. If Christians were willing to stake their lives for the above aspects of their worship which evoked the strongest anathemas from their Jewish neighbours, the very fact that the “deity of Christ” was never a point of contention or a breach of monotheism, but in fact well in line with ancient Jewish monotheism, proves very strongly that the absence of such evidence is in fact evidence of its absence.
Wallace does not highlight the grammatical ambiguity of the doxology, instead he proposes an argument in favour of a higher view of Christ, namely that Christ is the great God mentioned in the doxology. Much has been written on this text too, not least of which was by Bruce Metzger who goes into quite some detail on the syntactical and grammatical possibilities, as well as statistical distributions of similar sentence constructs.38 Wallace elaborates also on the thought-progression of this passage and very expressively states that to stop at “Christ according to the flesh” and then to change the subject of the doxology to God in “God who is over all be blessed to the ages,” “makes no sense [to him] whatsoever.” Again, several points can be made in this regard:
- It would be completely erroneous and inaccurate to insist that the only sense in which Christ can be called g/God is in the Trinitarian sense of the Fourth and Fifth Centuries. In any other discipline of enquiry such as anthropology, archaeology and history such an anachronism would meet with immediate contempt from the academic world. So even if Christ were indeed the subject of the doxology, priority should be given to the more likely and natural understanding of Christ-being-g/God from the monotheistic culture of the Christian Century, namely in a secondary or representative sense.39
Even if Paul does bless Christ as ‘god’ here, the meaning of ‘god’ remains uncertain… Is it a title of exaltation, like ‘Son of God’ in the then parallel Rom. 1.3f.? – a status and honor (‘god over all’) accorded to Christ at his resurrection, like ‘Lord’ (cf. Acts 10.36; I Cor. 15.24-6; Phil. 2.9-11) which however Paul uses to distinguish the exalted Christ from God? Or is there a deliberate echo of Ps. 45.2 and 6, where the king is addressed as god? Or is it another way of saying ‘God was in Christ…’ (II Cor. 5.19)?40
- Since the liturgical context of the first Christians were oral rather than textual, complex statistical distributions of word-class arrangements would not be the deciding factor for determining who was understood to be the subject of the doxology. Instead, the hearers’ presupposition pool, theological boundaries on what would be allowed and disallowed in their belief system, as well as signatures or hallmarks of writers’ specific style of writing (again on the level of intelligibility in an oral tradition) would receive priority in assigning meaning to texts. The blessed-statements (ευλογητος) in the Pauline corpus always have the Almighty Father as its subject, never the son.41
- The thought-progression of the lament ending in a doxology to Almighty God rather than to Christ may be totally nonsensical to Wallace, but it is not so to others:
And there is more to be said for this latter reading [with God as the recipient of the doxology] than is often appreciated. Above all there is the fact that the passage is a catalogue of Israel’s privileges, where it is likely that Paul was enumerating the blessings that Israel claimed for itself and in the language that Israel would recognize and affirm – ‘to them [Israelites] belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship and the promises…the patriarchs and …the Messiah.’ It would be entirely fitting after such a listing of God’s goodness towards Israel to utter a doxology in praise of this God, rather as Paul does in Romans 1.25 and 11.33-36. So it remains finally unclear and open to question as to whether Paul here, exceptionally for him, spoke of Jesus as god/God.42
Daniel 7:14 & Revelation 22:3
The final two texts worth examining are Daniel 7:14 and Revelation 22:3. The question was asked whether it can be argued that Jesus is “deity” since, according to the questioner, Jesus is rendered latreuo in both Daniel and Revelation. Wallace is not certain whether latreuo refers to cultic service in the absolute sense, but concedes nevertheless that both Jesus and God receives this worshipful service and this is “casually stated” in Revelation. Based on this rather limited understanding of the word’s usage and application, Wallace then concludes that both Jesus and God then receive worship.
Firstly, latreuo is cultic or sacrificial worship with only Yahweh (in the OT) and God the Father (in the NT) as the recipient of this.43 Why the reference to Daniel and Revelation, then? In Daniel 7:14 we read about the Son of Man being served [ pelach’ (Aram.)] by all nations and tongues. This word was translated λατρευσουσιν [latreusousin, ‘ sacrificial service’] in Aquila’s LXXDan, but later corrected by Theodotian in his master text of the LXX and translated δουλευσουσιν [douleusousin, ‘ served such as by a slave or servant’].44 So Daniel does not present a Son of Man figure receiving cultic worship – not in its Aramaic original or in its corrected OG.
Keeping in mind that the cultural and theological consensus among Jewish and Gentile Christians were that only the Father receives latreuo, and that these were the recipients of the Jewish apocalyptic text by the Apostle John, then one can conclude with relative certainty that the recipient of latreuo is intended to be the Father in 22:3. Another point of confirmation is verse 4, where the nations would “see his face” and have his “name written on their foreheads.” The Johannine community would have been very much aware of the fact that God Almighty has never been seen (cp. John 1:18) and that seeing the Unseen would indeed have been the ultimate reward. Furthermore, chapter 14 makes reference to those standing with the Lamb and the Father on Mount Zion with the “name of the Father written on their foreheads.” To these Christians no one else but the Father could be the One being rendered latreuo to, the One whose face would be seen, the One whose name would be written on their foreheads.
The rest of the interview does not provide any more compelling evidence for “the deity of Christ.” Wallace pushes for a case from the salutations in Paul’s letters, as that somehow proves that Jesus is ‘elevated to the level of God the Father.’ Here again Wallace is too zealous, I’m afraid, as Paul’s treatment of Jesus is never as ontologically identical to God (cp. 1 Cor. 11:3, 15:27, 28, etc.) but as functioning in God’s stead (cp. Ro. 7:25; 16:27; 2 Cor. 5:19, 1 Tim. 2:5; etc.). As the Apostle of God (Heb. 3:1), it would only be fitting to include Jesus as the prime agent and spokesman of God in the salutation (cp. Heb. 1:1-3).
Throughout the interview it was clear that the Trinitarian-converted-JWs were combing Scripture and sharpening their arguments to prove their new-found faith. That is neither honest nor sincere scholarship. Faith is worthless if it does not emerge naturally from hard evidence. Sadly, these ones have traded one make-fit theology for one equally imaginary and fabricated. Wallace added nothing new to what has been published and discussed in innumerable books and journals. All he demonstrated was a prior commitment to an invented and sentimentalised theology and a manipulation of evidence to fit as snuggly as possible into this cherished and glamorised doctrinal mould. Fortunately one needn’t be a Jehovah’s Witness to deny the Trinity. One only needs to be honest to God to admit to what is hard evidence, which can be difficult for those whose minds have been successfully conditioned to believe this artificially sustained doctrine. And then one needs to be brave, since only the brave can handle truth and can stand one’s ground in the face of religiously-induced hostility, ridicule, and condemning rhetoric particularly from the Evangelical world. And finally one can surrender to the comforting fact that truth can stand on its own regardless of anybody’s efforts.
by Jaco van Zyl
1 James McGrath, “On Hearing (Rather Than Reading) Intertextual Echoes: Christology and Monotheistic Scriptures in an Oral Context,” Biblical Theology Bulletin (2013).
2 Some interesting and easily accessible information can be found here: http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/12339-preexistence, last accessed on 31/1/2013.
3 Pesachim 54a.
4 Avot 3:14.
5 1 Enoch 106:19; cp. Eph. 1:3-5, 9-12; 1 Pet. 1:20; Rev. 17:8.
6 Nedarim 39b, Peshikta Rabbah 152b; Targum Pseudo-Jonathan Zechariah 4:7; Similitudes of Enoch 45:3, 4; 48:2-6; 62:6, 7.
7 James D.G. Dunn, Christology in the Making, p. 71, italics his.
8 James MacKey, The Christian Experience of God as a Trinity, p. 57.
9 1 Cor. 8:6.
10 Ibid., p. 194.
11 See Wayne A. Meeks, “The Man from Heaven in Johannine Sectarianism,” in The Interpretation of John, ed., Robert Morgan, T&T Clark Ltd, 1997, pp. 169-206; Francis J. Moloney, “Who is ‘the Reader’ in/of the Fourth Gospel?” AUSTRALIAN BIBLICAL REVIEW 40/1992, pp. 20-33.
12 James F. McGrath, The Only True God, p. 59, italics his.
13 John A.T. Robinson, The Human Face of God, p. 184, italics his.
14 Cp. Dunn, Did the First Christians Worship Jesus? The New Testament Evidence, pp. 67, 68, 71: “One of the most fascinating features of several ancient stories is the appearance of what can be called theophanic angels; that is, angels who not only bring a message from God, but who represent God in personal terms, or who even may be said to embody God. The point that emerges presumably is that the tellers of these stories were primarily intent to indicate the reality of the divine presence in these theophanic experiences. It is not that they wished to deny either the otherness of Yahweh, or that God was invisible to human sight. The angel [or messenger] of the Lord in such stories was a way of speaking of God’s immanence without detracting from his transcendence. The angel of the Lord was not simply an envoy from God and did not simply bring humans into the divine presence; rather he brought the divine presence into humans’ daily reality – not simply a message from Yahweh, but the presence of Yahweh. He did not bring the whole of God (that was never possible), but he brought the real presence of God nonetheless.”
15 1 Chron. 29:23.
16 Henri Frankfort et al., The Intellectual Adventure of Ancient Man, p. 347.
17 Cp. ‘The Parable of the Wicked Husbandmen,’ Mt. 21:33-46.
18 See in particular David M. Hay, Glory at the Right Hand, Society of Biblical Literature, 1989.
19 Ibid., p. 21.
20 Ibid., p. 22.
21 Sanhedrin 38b.
22 Nedarim 32b; Leviticus Rabba 25:6; Sanhedrin 108b.
23 Midrash Tehillim on Ps. 2:9.
24 T. Job 33:2-9.
25 1 Enoch 45:1, 3; 51:3; 52:1-7; 55:4; 61:8; 69:27, 29; 2 Enoch 24:1; 3 Enoch 10:1.
26 Cp. 1 Cor. 15:24-28.
27 Luke 1:43.
28 2 Corinthians 1:3.
29 1 Corinthians 9:5.
30 See in particular McGrath, The Only True God, pp. 38-42.
31 James D.G. Dunn, Did the First Christians Worship Jesus? p. 109.
32 For a discussion on the overall character of the two oldest attestations to the μονογενης θεος reading in P66 and P75, see McGrath, The Only True God, pp. 65, 66.
33 JAT Robinson, The Human Face of God, pp. 189, 190, italics his.
34 Dunn, Did the Early Christians Worship Jesus?, pp. 122, 135, 142.
35 McGrath, The Only True God, p. 66.
36 Hendrikus Berkhof, Christian Faith, p. 294, italics his.
37 Cp. McGrath, The Only True God, p. 70: “And so in the case of John, as in the case of Paul, the evidence leads us to conclude that John’s understanding of God and his portrait of Jesus were firmly within the bounds of early Jewish monotheism.”
38 Metzger, Bruce M. 1973. “The Punctuation of Rom. 9:5.” Christ and Spirit in the New Testament: in Honor of CFD Moule. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
39 Cp. the Pseudo-Clementine Recognitions 2:42: “Therefore the name God is applied in three ways: either because he to whom it is given is truly God, or because he is the servant of him who is truly; and for the honour of the sender, that his authority may be full, he that is sent is called by the name of him who send.”
40 Dunn, Christology in the Making, p. 45.
41 See Ro. 1:25; 2 Cor. 1:3; 11:31; Eph. 1:3.
42 Dunn, Did the First Christians Worship Jesus? p. 133.
43 Ibid., p. 13: “In no case in the New Testament is there talk of offering cultic worship (latreuein) to Jesus.”
44 Henry Wace, A Dictionary of Christian Biography and Literature to the End of the Sixth Century A.D., with an Account of the Principal Sects and Heresies: “Theodotion’s work was not so much an independent translation as a revision of the LXX, with its insertions usually retained, but its omissions supplied from the Hebrew–probably with the help of Aquila’s version. Theodotion’s was the version Origen usually preferred to the other two for filling omissions of the LXX or lacunae in their text as he found it; and from it accordingly comes a large part of the ordinary Greek text of Jeremiah, and still more of that of Job.
Thus in these books we have fuller materials for learning the character of his version than that of either of the others; and still more in his version of Daniel, which has come down to us entire, having since before Jerome’s time (how long before we are not told) superseded that of the LXX so completely that the latter was lost for centuries, and is now extant only in a single Greek copy, the Cod. Chisianus, and in the Syro-Hexaplar translation contained in Cod. Ambrosianus (C. 313 Inf.). Anyone who compares this version with Theodotion’s which is usually printed in all ordinary editions of the Greek O.T. must agree with Jerome (Praef. in Dan.) that the church chose rightly in discarding the former and adopting the latter. Indeed, the greater part of this Chisian Daniel cannot be said to deserve the name of a translation at all.
It deviates from the original in every possible way; transposes, expands, abridges, adds or omits, at pleasure. The latter chapters it so entirely rewrites that the predictions are perverted, sometimes even reversed, in scope. We learn from Jerome (in. Dan. iv. 6, p. 646) that Origen himself (“in nono Stromatum volumine”) abandoned this supposed LXX Daniel for Theodotion’s. Indeed, all the citations of Daniel, some of them long and important passages in Origen’s extant works, agree almost verbatim with the text of Theodotion now current, and differ, sometimes materially, from that of the reputed LXX as derived from the Chisian MS.
He seems, moreover, to have found the task of bringing its text to conform to the original by the aid of Theodotion’s a hopeless one, as we may judge by his asterisks, obeli, and marginalia in the two MSS. referred to. Yet that this is the version which Origen placed as that of the LXX in the penultimate column of the Hexapla and Tetrapla is certain.”