Sunday, May 15, 2016

My blog has been moved to Wordpress

Hello All,

This is to notify anyone who stops by that I've moved my blog with all content over to Wordpress, here:

I made this move even though I like the format on Google better because the formatting of font sizes, spacing, etc, on Google is just too troublesome to get right and keep consistent.  I spent a couple hours today trying to fix some formatting issues and things got progressively worse instead of better.  So, it's farewell to Google for now, and hello to Wordpress. 

See at my new home;-)


Does 'Son of God' mean 'Possesses the (ontological) Nature of God'?

I submitted the following post on another forum years ago, and decided that it might be a useful addition to my blog, though I've tweaked it a little.  Warning:  I was very long-winded!  Nevertheless I hope you enjoy it:

It is often asserted that the phrase Son of God has ontological implications, and that this is why the religious leaders sought to kill Jesus for blasphemy (see John 5:18, 10:30-39, & 19:7). There are at least three serious problems with this view:

1. There was nothing blasphemous about claiming to be a/the Son of God.  I think that a careful consideration of the applicable accounts will reveal that their problem wasn't that Jesus' claim to sonship suggested that he was ontologically Jehovah, but that his claim to be the Son of God (=the Messiah) was a preposterous lie (from their perspective).   

2. The connotation of Son of God that apologists claim the religious leaders understood (i.e. that he had the ontological nature of God) did not exist at the time Jesus claimed sonship, not from the Jewish perspective at least. The Greeks used son of god in reference to figures like Hercules (who were only ontologically 'god' in the very qualified sense that they were superhuman), but most biblical interpreters I've read (though not all) reject a connection, and for good reason, I think.  The reason that Hercules was thought to be ontologically divine in some sense was because he was conceived in their mythology to be the literal offspring of Zeus.  But the Jews rejected any notion that Jehovah literally copulated with a human female to produce his human Son, just as they would have rejected the notion that God was a sort of spirit hermaphrodite who gave literal birth to a heavenly Son. 

3. Even if, based on the prologue of John's Gospel, one could argue that the phrase Son of God had ontological implications from the apostle John's perspective, I think it's still a mistake to interpret the religious leaders' reaction to Jesus' claim to sonship according to this perspective. Why? Because even if John perceived this added special connotation to sonship as it relates to Christ, so that it were therefore a legitimate new connotation, said connotation still did not exist when the religious leaders heard Christ utter the claim to sonship!

Contrary to this, I have had it suggested to me that the phrase Son of used non-literally means possessing the nature of. For example, in his book, Why You Should Believe In The Trinity (pp. 85-88), Rob Bowman notes that at Eph. 2.1, "'sons of disobedience' means those who are disobedient." (pp. 85-88) Another interlocutor with whom I once conversed offered, 'sons of the prophets' to substantiate the claim, arguing that since the 'sons of the prophets' were prophets, so then the 'Son of God' must be God.  However, neither of these examples supports the argument, as they do not have the connotation that they are held to exemplify.  Neither 'disobedience' nor 'prophet' refers to ontological properties. The former is a term that highlights a type of behavior, while the latter is a function. It is the character of the individuals so described that makes them likely to either choose disobedience or be chosen to act as prophets.

Many other examples could be sited: 'sons of singers' were singers (function); 'sons of priests' were priests (function); 'sons of pride' were proud (character trait manifested in their behavior); 'sons of rebellion' were rebellious (character trait manifested in their behavior); 'sons of justice' were just (they behaved or judged justly); 'sons of peace' were peaceful (character trait manifested in their behavior); 'sons of the evil one' were evil (character trait manifested in their behavior); 'sons of the Devil' were devilish (character trait manifested in their behavior).  So the metaphor seems to be used primarily to highlight either the vocation/function or the character of the ones so described (or both, depending on the specific terms and the context in which they appear).

Jesus demonstrated perfect obedience to his Father by surrendering himself absolutely to His will, and thereby showed himself to be the one who perfectly reveals his Father's character and purpose. That is why he could say, "He that has seen me has seen the Father[also]". (John 14:9) Subsequently, Jesus proved to be a model for Christians to follow, and in doing so they too can reflect God's character, allowing them to be described as 'sons':

Matthew 5:43-45
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may [a]be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

Luke 6:34-36
34 If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. 35 But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return.[a] Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

Notice that in these verses sonship is directly tied to how one treats others and that treating others as God would reflects God's attributes of love and mercy. Just as God's sons are those who imitate Him, so the Devil's sons are those who imitate him:

John 8:42-44
42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now I am here. I did not come on my own, but he sent me. 43 Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot accept my word. 44 You are from your father the devil, and you choose to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.

1 John 3:10-12
10 The children of God and the children of the devil are revealed in this way: all who do not do what is right are not from God, nor are those who do not love their brothers and sisters.[a] 11 For this is the message you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. 12 We must not be like Cain who was from the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous.

If calling a man 'Son of the Devil' would not imply that he is ontologically 'Devil' (whatever that would mean), then calling a man 'Son of God' need not imply that he is ontologically 'God'. Biblically, the only time the phrase sons of God may have the potential to suggest that said sons are divine in an ontological sense is when the phrase refers to the angels (Job 1:6), but since most Trinitarians (including Bowman) reject that notion when it comes to angels, you must special plead for such an application in reference to Jesus Christ, who was a man, not an angel (ontologically), while he was on earth.

It seems doubtful in the extreme that First Century Jews hearing a man say that he was 'God's Son' would have understood him to be claiming that he possessed the ontological nature of God (whatever that 'ontological nature' is held to be by a given individual). It seems that such was not how divine sonship was then understood according to Jewish perspective.

From my perspective, to properly interpret John, one must consider his narrative as though it is a story that occurred in history, even if one believes that John reshaped and added to the known historical account for theological reasons.  Why?  Because John probably wrote his gospel with the assumption that his readers would believe that he was conveying true events.  We therefore don't need to even get into the debate over whether or how much of John is historical, because it was written as though it was historical, and would have been shaped by the presupposition pool that existed at the time, even if it was trying to provide fresh insights.  From a historical perspective it is definitely a mistake to interpret the Jews' reactions in light of ideas from a later time.  As stated above, the Jews were not cognizant of any enhanced nuances of 'sonship' that may or may not have been intimated by John, just as they had no inkling of the philosophical concepts that influenced the historical counsels at Nicea and Chalcedon. So, the fundamental question we must ask is this: How might a Jew in Jesus' time have interpreted his claim to sonship in light of the presupposition pool they shared as Jews?

In the book, Eschatology, Messianism, and the Dead Sea Scrolls, edited by Craig A. Evans and Peter W. Flint, there is some information relative to the use of 'son'. In the chapter entitled, "'And When That One Comes': Aspects of Johannine Messianism", Dietmar Neufeld offers the following:

"The title 'Son of God' is an important one in the Fourth Gospel as well as in the Synoptic Gospels. John Collins has studied the occurrence of the term in a number of passages from the Hebrew Bible and the Dead Sea Scrolls..."

"...With 4Q246 in view, he maintains that 'Son of God' in an early Jewish context is a functional title, used of a warrior figure who will subdue the nations, restore Israel, and establish peace. It is not a metaphysical title, yet the human being given this title 'stands in a special relationship' to God; 'he is not an ordinary mortal.'" (pp. 138, 139)

Notice that in an early Jewish context, Son of God had no metaphysical connotations, but was a functional title. Neufeld goes on to quote Collins:

"The notion of a messiah who was in some sense divine had its roots in Judaism, in the interpretation of such passages as Psalm 2 and Daniel 7 in an apocalyptic context. This is not to deny the great difference between a text like 4Q246 and the later Christian understanding of the divinity of Christ. But the notion that the messiah was Son of God in a special sense was rooted in Judaism, and so there was continuity between Judaism and Christianity in this respect, even though Christian belief eventually diverged quite radically from its Jewish sources." (pp. 138 & 139, taken from The Scepter and the Star, pp. 168-69)

While I do not necessarily subscribe to all of Collins's views, the above suggests that viewing the phrase Son of God through metaphysical lenses is to diverge "quite radically" from at least some Jewish sources. As Collins points out, "There was a long process of further development between the Gospels and the Church Councils that defined the Son as a member of a divine Trinity, and this process was definitely influenced by Greek philosophy." (ibid)

As to the Jewish understanding of 'sonship', Marinus De Jonge notes that in some verses Christ's fulfillment of this role is to be understood in terms of his Davidic kingship:

"In a number of texts, we find 'Son of God' together with 'Son of David' or 'Messiah' (see Mark 12:35-37; 14:61-62; Rom. 1:3-4). Here 'Son of God' is associated especially with the period after the exaltation/resurrection (cf. also in Mark 8:38; 1 Thess. 1:9-10). This is also the case in Acts 13:33-34, where Ps. 2:7 is applied to Jesus' resurrection. These occurrences of 'Son of God' should be seen in the context of the use of the term to denote the Davidic king in the Old Testament texts (2 Sam. 7:11-14; Ps. 2:7; Ps. 89:3-4, 26-27; 1 Chron. 17:13; 22:10; 28:6)." (God's Final Envoy: Early Christology and Jesus' Own View of His Mission), p. 106, 107

In answer to the question, "What does 'Son of God' mean in Mark's Gospel?", Thomas P. Rausch observes that:

"It would be difficult to conclude that Jesus in Mark's Gospel is Son of God in more than an adopted or declared sense. There is no virginal conception in Mark, no Christmas story. Jesus is the beloved of God, the Messiah and Suffering Servant who would be revealed as God's Son. He is Son of God in a functional rather than a metaphysical sense." (Who is Jesus? An Introduction to Christology), p. 133

After considering 5 key verses in Mark's Gospel, and noting that Son of God "connotes divine appointment rather than divine nature" (quoting Robert Gundry from his Mark: A Commentary on His Apology for the Cross, p. 909), Roger Haight concludes that:

"…[M]essiahship defines Jesus' status as Son of God in functional rather than metaphysical categories. It should not be construed in the sense it gained by the time of the patristic christological debates. In the end, one cannot say exactly everything that Son of God entails in Mark, but at least it means 'a unique relation to God.'"

Potential connotations of 'divine sonship' that would be likely to occur to the Jews of Jesus' time are suggested by the following comment made by Walter Kasper, in his "Jesus the Christ":

"Although the Old Testament uses the title of Son for the people of Israel (cf., among other texts, Exod 4.22-3; Hos 11.1), for the king as representative of the people (cf., among other texts, Ps 2.7; 2 Sam 7.14) or - as in late Judaism - for any devout and righteous Israelite (cf., among other texts, Ecclus 4.10), this usage is not based either on the background of mythological-polytheistic thinking or on the pantheistic background of Stoic philosophy, according to which all men in virtue of their common nature have the one God as Father and are therefore called sons of God. The title Son or Son of God in the Old Testament must be understood against the background of election-faith and the theocratic ideas based on it. Consequently, divine sonship is not founded on physical descent, but is the result of God's free, gracious choice. The person so chosen as Son of God receives a special mission within salvation history, binding him to obedience and service. The title of Son of God therefore is understood, not as natural-substantial, but functionally and personally." (p. 164)

My use of this quotation should not be taken to suggest that Walter Kasper denies that Christ is God's Son as normally understood by Trinitarians. However, his words here help to demonstrate that at the time Jesus claimed sonship the simple phrase Son of God would not lead one into the rarified world of metaphysical speculations about Christ's nature.  

It is noteworthy that, in Jesus day, "a claim to sonship would immediately imply obedience and dependence, not equality." (John's Apologetic Christology, by James F. McGrath), p. 87

Margaret Davies offers insight in this regard:

"Scripture …depicts the relationship between father and first-born son, in order to emphasize both God's loving care for his people and his people's obedient response (e.g. Exod. 4.22; Duet. 32.6, 8; 1Chron. 29.10; Ps. 103.13). Moreover, as a child is dependent on God for its existence, people are ultimately dependent on God for their existence (e.g. Gen. 1. 26). From the Johannine perspective, however, Israel's history had been the history of a disobedient son. By contrast, the Gospel is the history of the Father's obedient Son.  In modern western society the relationships of sons to fathers are different from those in the first century CE, and the differences need to be born in mind if the biblical metaphor is to be appreciated." (Rhetoric and Reference in the Fourth Gospel), p. 129

She provides some examples of how sonship was viewed during biblical times. She quotes Balsdon and Ferguson in reference to the authority of a father in Roman society:

"A father had the same legal power over a son as he had over a slave; he could put him to death (with the approval of a specially summoned family council); he could sell him into slavery. Except with his consent, his son could hold no property; his money was like a slave's, something which this father, like the slave's master, could annex at will. The exercise of the most horrendous of these powers was illustrated in Roman legend and in early Roman history; they were obsolete by (the first century CE). But the unquestioned authority of the pater familias continued; a man might be a consul, married with children, but he was still in the power of his father." (Rhetoric, p. 129)

She quotes the first-century Stoic philosopher, Epictetus (Dissertations 2.7) to demonstrate that the Greeks had a similar perspective:

"Bear in mind that you are a son. A son's profession is to treat everything that is his as belonging to his father, to be obedient to him in all things, never to speak ill of him to anyone else, nor to say or do anything that will harm him, to give way to him in everything and yield him precedence, helping him to the utmost of his power." (Rhetoric, p. 130)

After mentioning Isaac's complete subjection to Abraham, and how the Jewish tradition of honoring the father was fundamental to their worldview (Ex. 20.12; Duet. 5.16), she quotes Josephus (Apion 2.206; Dec. 165-67):

"Honour to parents the law ranks second only to honour to God, and if a son does not respond to the benefits received from them—for the slightest failure in his duty towards them—it hand him over to be stoned. It requires respect to be paid by the young to all their elders, because God is the most Ancient of all." (Rhetoric, p. 130).

Davies continues:

"This complete dependence of the son on the father, socially, culturally and economically, means that a son was the most useful agent in conducting the father's business. The son's interests were identical with those of his father (see Harvey 1987; Borgen 1968: Part II).  When the Fourth Gospel uses the father-son metaphor to depict the relationship between God and a human being, it is clear that first-
century social conventions are taken for granted." (Rhetoric, pp. 131, 132).

Similarly, John Ziesler, in his Pauline Christianity', elaborates on the biblical and 1st Century Jewish concept of sonship:

"By the Second Century, it [Son of God] came to refer to Jesus Christ as divine, but originally it was not a particularly lofty title. It is not the same as God the Son, the Second Person of the Trinity. Though it was not particularly common, it could be used of human beings, both in the Jewish and in the Greek world...(Hos. 11:1; Exod. 4:22; Isa. 43:6; 2 Sam. 7:14; Ps. 2:7; Gen. 6:2,4; Duet 32:8; Wisd. 2:10-20; 5:1-5)...Such ascriptions did not mean that the nation or the king or the righteous man was genetically related to God. Israel rejected any idea of that. Rather, being Son of God meant obedient service to God on the one hand, and divine commissioning and endorsement on the other. In our society we tend to forget that the first thing about a son was that he obeyed his father; therefore calling Jesus Christ Son of God meant first of all that he did what God wanted. He was the obedient one… …Paul's use of the title reflects Jewish rather than pagan background." (pp. 41, 42)

In his Introduction to the Theology of the New Testament (see pp. 147-–153 for the full discussion), after stating that the world during Jesus' time was "full of 'divine men'" (e.g. the Emperor was divi filius), Alan Richardson notes that the four ways in which the idea of sonship is used in the Hebrew Bible are in reference to:

1. Angels (see Gen. 6.2; Job 1:6; 38:7)
2. The Israelite King (see 2 Sam. 7:14; Ps. 2:7, cf also Ps.
3. Righteous men (see , Ecclus. 4:10; Wisd. 2:18; Pss. Sol. 13:8;
17:30; 18:4; Luke 6:35; Matt. 27:43)
4. The Nation of Israel (Ex. 4:22; Hos. 11:1)

Anderson suggests that the idea of obedience is involved in all four situations. He elaborates on #4 as it highlights vital features of Christ's sonship:

"'When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt' (Hos. 11.1). As throughout the OT the characteristic excellence of a son consists in obedience to his father's will, so at the very call (or adoption) of Israel, the promise of obedience is made (Ex. 24.7)...…He {Christ} is conscious of having been assigned a special mission and task by God; he conceives of his own response in biblical terms, vis. Sonship and obedience. Israel had been disobedient to the vocation of sonship: Christ becomes the sole Israel of God by virtue of his unique obedience—`not what I will, but what thou wilt' (Mark 14.36). He is therefore uniquely the Son of God. It is as the New Israel that Jesus is to be understood as Son of God, not in any Hellenistic sense of {divine man}." (ibid)

Towards the end of his discussion, Anderson specifically refers to Christ's Sonship in the gospel of John, noting that in "the Fourth Gospel the biblical character of Sonship as obedience is strongly in evidence….  The Johannine conception of Sonship is biblical in a way which has nothing in common with pagan myths about 'sons of God'." [i.e. `divine men'] (p. 152)

It is certainly anachronistic to interpret the phrase Son of God according to its use by modern Christians. Yet, how many today can hear the phrase without importing post-biblical connotations? John Reumann discusses this problem:

"'Son of God' calls to mind metaphysical terms like 'substance' and similar words deriving from Greek philosophy. The Phrases of the Nicene Creed, 'the only-begotten Son of God,… Begotten, not made, Being of one substance with the Father,' tempt one to interpret the New Testament affirmations about Jesus in the categories of Greek philosophy…...The New Testament meant something else then such things...`son of God' would mean to stand in a moral and functional relationship to God...'" (Jesus in the Church's Gospels), pp. 289-290

These references support my contention that the phrase Son of God wouldn't have suggested ontological properties during Jesus' time, but would have been understood in a functional sense, highlighting Christ's Messianic status as one commissioned by God and his obedient response to that commission. This is not to deny that Jesus was Son of God in a way that is richer in significance than others who were so called. The idea that God was Jesus' life giver may have been involved in some contexts, along with implications of their close relationship, and of Christ's matchless godlike character. But the fundamental question that one must ask when considering the accounts such as John 5:18, 10:30-39, and 19:7 is:  How would the title have been understood by the Jews during the period of Christ's ministry?

Unless one is going to suggest that God gave the hypocritical religious leaders a divine revelation so that they understood the phrase in a manner comparable to how it was understood in later Centuries, I think one must accept the probability that they understood its meaning within the parameters of the Jewish conceptual categories extant during their time. Thus, when seeking to discern why the Jews sought to kill Jesus, we should seek explanations that do not defy historical probability. The claim that Son of God connoted ontological properties has little to recommend it.

And the Word was God "Qualitatively"?: Torturing Language and Grammar to Preserve a Preconceived View (Part 4)

I've been corresponding with a nice fellow on another forum who offered P.B. Harner's argumentation to support taking QEOS at John 1:1c "qualitatively".  Since I still haven't managed to find the time (or to take the time) to address Harner's thesis in this series, I thought it might be useful to post my most recent response to my fellow interlocutor, as I do provide a bullet list of what I consider the most serious problems with the 'Q Hypothesis', including some of Harner's contentions.  I've omitted my interlocutor's name and his side of the dialogue because I did not get his permission to quote him here.  You can read the dialogue for yourself, at the link following link if you wish:


[Snip comment]

I appreciate the fact that you took the time to consider my perspective. I actually have a number of issues with what I call the ‘Q hypothesis’ as it was formulated by Harner and later “refined” by Dixon, and I hope to elaborate more when I finally post on Harner on my blog (I’m a bit shy about posting an encyclopedic argument here!). First of all, though, I would say that neither of them “arrive[d] at their conclusion that the noun QEOS is ‘qualitative’” via any sort of sound exegesis or demonstrably valid grammatical analysis. Rather, I think that they both came to realize that Colwell’s Rule had been misapplied, and they came to feel that a definite QEOS equated the LOGOS with God in a way that was perceived to be unacceptable, which left them with a problem to solve. As they pondered a potential solution, they came to sincerely believe that a ‘qualitative’ QEOS was the only QEOS that could sit comfortably within their Christological worldview, and so they assumed it to be so before ever picking up pen and paper. At that time there was probably a growing uneasiness among informed people about the once popular Calwell-ian understanding, and so when someone came along and offered an alternative, they embraced it with great alacrity and accepted it with childlike eagerness long before it was properly vetted or demonstrated to be a valid linguistic phenomenon.

From my perspective, what Ken Ham does vis a vis modern science is what Harner and Dixon did vis a vis Greek. Don’t get me wrong, I like Ken Ham, but because he reads the creation accounts as speaking of a literal six day creation, he has to chuck a pretty large part of modern science, including Big Bang Theory (one of the most well established thoeries of our time), and come up with novel counter arguments to make YEC seem plausible. Most of us aren’t about to chuck Big Bang Theory, however, because of the YEC notion that unexpectedly low levels of moon dust tells us that the universe is young (as just one example of the sort of 'novel' counterargument that YEC’s have offered).

Harner was probably motivated by apologetic concerns, and Dixon certainly was, as one can infer when reading the introduction to his thesis. Not only did he explicitly state that both a definite and an indefinite QEOS were unacceptable (i.e. the two valid options, IMO), but he also presented his case as evidence specifically against the ‘a god’ rendering found in the Watchtower Society’s New World Translation. The folks at DTS, which is the Seminary Dixon attended when he wrote his thesis, have historically been a bit obsessed with the NWT. When I see the odd contortions that those folks have gone through to try and disqualify one of the two patently valid renderings, I find myself echoing Queen Gertrude by observing that “The lady doth protest too much”;-)

The Q hypotheses appears to be founded on assumptions about how language works that are confused, unsubstantiated, and rather easy to disconfirm if you're willing to look at the data dispassionately. The following are what I consider the most conspicuous, critical problems:

a. The notion that if a noun is used in a context where nature is inferred, then it may be “technically” indefinite, but in some self-serving way that somehow renders use of the indefinite article in translation as inappropriate or inadequate.

b. The notion that ‘qualitative’ is a separate distinct category of bounded noun, when one can easily demonstrate that the very ‘qualitativeness’ they infer -- if it's even really there in a given context -- actually depends on a bounded noun’s definiteness or indefiniteness.

c. The confused conflation of ‘definiteness’ and ‘indefiniteness’ with meaning itself, when in reality these are more like syntactical tools that contribute to meaning, but aren’t meaning in and of themselves.

To help illustrate this problem, which may be a little vague as stated, I once saw someone on b-greek argue that QEOS at John 1:1c is "qualitative-indefinite". One of the posters there who seemed to favor Harner's/Dixon's approach (if memory serves) responded by saying something like this:

"I'd like to see an example of a qualitative-indefinte noun that does not involve a double entendre."

In making that statement, the gentleman revealed that he considers both qualitativeness and indefiniteness to be interchangeable or synonymous with meaning itself. So, for him, if it is qualitative then that is its meaning, and if it is indefinite then that is its meaning. To be both would be to have two meanings, which would be a double entendre.

I think that this is simply an ill-conceived notion that emerges due to imprecise thinking, and that indefinitness is more like a syntactical feature that contributes to meaning, but it isn't necessarily meaning in and of itself. Moreover, as I pointed out in my blog post, the very qualitativeness that proponents of Dixon's chimera infer to be present with various indefinite bounded nouns actually depends on the nouns' indefinitness, just as the qualitativeness some might infer from various definite bounded nouns actually depends on the nouns' definiteness. If qualitativeness depends on a noun's definitness or indefinitness, then it cannot be the noun's meaning to the exclusion of the noun's definiteness or indefiniteness.

It seems that Dixon himself probably intuitively realized this at some level, as he states in the intro to his thesis that all nouns are "technically" either definite or indefinite, and that he separated the "qualitative" nouns from the class of indefinite nouns for the sake of "expediency". I'd say that the folks at DTS are masters at smoke and mirrors, but they actually seem to be rather clumsy at it;-)

d. The ridiculous notion, seemingly born ad hoc from pure imagination out of utter desperation, that if John wanted readers to infer an indefinite QEOS then he would have placed it after the verb rather than before the verb. I suffered third degree burns from spilling my coffee in my lap when I read that nonsense (humor alert), so bemused was I to see a professed ‘authority’ utter what any first year student of Greek can plainly see is not true. Indeed, statistically, it is more common for pre-verbal anarthrous predicate bounded nouns to be indefinite than anything else, and usually when they’re definite there are contextual factors that make this probable, even unavoidable in some cases. The reason the English translations of all those verses I posted on my blog make such good sense in context even with the indefinite article is because they accurately convey the sense of the underlying Greek.  It's not merely that the use of the indefinite article conforms to English syntax, but that said English syntax actually captures the sense of the Greek.

e. In conjunction with ‘d’, the bizarre notion, again apparently born ad hoc from pure imagination, that merely placing a noun before a verb causes the noun to change meaning, when everyone who’s studied Greek at all knows how flexible the language is vis a vis word order. As far as I can tell, the most that is achieved by fronting may be a mild though useful shift in emphasis, similar to what occurs in English when we rearrange a sentence from the active to the passive voice. If we rearrange a sentence from the active to the passive voice, there is no shift in meaning at the word level; there is merely a shift in emphasis at the sentence level. Likewise, when a noun is placed before the verb in Greek, there is not a shift in meaning at the word level, but there may be a subtle shift in emphasis at the sentence level.

[Snip comment about a Jehovah's Witness he spoke with]

Well, if the JW felt that the mere grammatical feature of an indefinite QEOS by itself meant that Jesus was a lesser god, then I’d say that he was clearly mistaken. One could say that "the Father is a god who is slow to anger”, or “the Father is a god of the living, not of the dead”, or “the Father is a god who designed us in a way that is fear-inspiring”, or "the Father truly is a god (=a supremely powerful supernatural being)", etc., without in any way suggesting that He is something other than the absolute Ruler of the universe.

However, if the JW you conversed with was also considering context, not just the indefinite QEOS by itself, then I would have to agree with him. IMO, in the context of John 1:1, the Bible as a whole, and the Jewish culture from which the NT emerged, the LOGOS could only be either a subordinate ‘G-god’, or 'God/a god' non-literally (=functionally/representationally). In arriving at this conclusion I obviously take different things for granted than you do. For example, I look at the Jewish worldview as expressed in pretty much every form of writing available at the time and note that in every case, without exception, whenever an agent of God has a divine title applied to him, the subordination of the agent to the principal is taken for granted (e.g. angels, Moses, Judges, Kings, Melchizedek, the Israelites at Sinai). Most scholars today recognize how much the agency principle sheds light on the Son’s relationship to the Father and us, and while it’s quite striking to realize that his work as agent began with the act of original creation itself, it was still work performed ‘as agent’.

[Snip interlocutor's concluding comments]

I agree [that understanding QEOS at John 1:1c to mean "the God" has baggage], though I'll simply point out that QEOS wouldn’t need the article at John 1:1c to be definite. Although Colwell’s Rule was misapplied for decades, the part that was misapplied appears to be valid (as actually stated, not as restated or re-conceived by some who abused it):

“Definite predicate nouns which precede the verb usually lack the article" (A Definite Rule…, p. 20)

In other words, say we assume that QEOS is definite at John 1:1c. Granting that assumption for the sake of argument, we can note that it’s actually statistically more likely that it would not have the article. That's why some have pointed out that the only meaningful application of Colwell's Rule is for textual criticism. To exemplify how this is so, let's say that a textual critic were to have before him or her two manuscripts that contain the same verse, and one has a definite pre-verbal noun with the article while the other has the same definite pre-verbal noun but without the article. Were this to occur, the scholar could conclude that it's statistically more likely that the manuscript with the reading that omits the article is the one more likely to have the correct reading.

Anyway, my pillow is calling me, so I'll wrap this up by agreeing that I too have a horse in the race, and theology can influence my judgement just as it can anyone else’s. Having conceded that, however, I will say that I consider myself to be somewhat less biased with reference to the subject text than most people I’m familiar with who’ve used it apologetically. I happily embrace both the traditional translation (‘the Word was God’) and the one that sticks in the craw of the folks at DTS (‘the Word was a god’) as legitimate possibilities, grammatically, contextually, and theologically.  Indeed, though I would probably fear for my sanity in light of my understanding of how bounded and unbounded nouns function in both English and Greek, from a purely theological perspective I wouldn't even mind if someone could prove that I'm mistaken about the 'Q Hypothesis', as this would merely increase the possibilities by a third. I won't hold my breath waiting for that to happen, though;-)

What disappoints me the most isn’t that Trinitarians favor the traditional rendering, or even some paraphrase that is thought to stress ‘qualitativeness’, but that it’s virtually impossible to find a willingness on their part to honestly present the real grammatical possibilities and express their preference in an evenhanded way. Like the rest of us, they want confidence for themselves and their followers that they understand the text correctly, and this drives them, whether wittingly or unwittingly, to try and stack the deck against alternative views. Sadly, they've gone to such absurd lengths to secure this confidence that they've undermined their own credibility. I'm not speaking about you, of course, but about the professed 'authorities' who have demonstrated such a shameful track-record when it comes to the most sacred of all theological cows: John 1:1c.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

John 1:1 as Prooftext: Trinitarian or Unitarian?

To read my 43 page review of Garrett C. Kenney's 44 page book on John 1:1, see:

Ok, so it's not quite 43 pages, but it is overly long, which is somewhat ironic since I praised Kenney for his concision;-)

Friday, July 31, 2015

And the Word was God "Qualitatively"?: Torturing Language and Grammar to Preserve a Preconceived View (Part 3)

Since I haven't had time to address the contribution of P. B. Harner in relation to this series, I decided to make part 3 a reiteration of my response to the rather sloppy article that appeared in the Journal of Theological Studies by Brian J. Wright and Tim Ricchuiti entitled "FROM 'GOD' (QEOS) TO 'GOD' (NOYTE): A NEW DISCUSSION AND PROPOSAL REGARDING JOHN 1:1C AND THE SAHIDIC COPTIC VERSION OF THE NEW TESTAMENT" (JTS, Vol. 62, Pt 2, October 2011)
Note: Caps not mine, but appeared in the original document.

This was not a piece of serious scholarship, and the argumentation offered to support the proposal offered shows breathtaking incompetence, along with a level of bias so extreme that inferences and arguments were not just ill-conceived, but downright bizarre.

Their reasoning is so sloppy and distorted toward their goal that it reminds me of the sort of thing I've read from various anti-cult apologists.  I was so struck by this aspect of their approach that I Googled their names and found that they actually do participate in anti-cult apologetics (see the link below):

Their argument appears to have been born as a reaction to the teachings of Jehovah's Witnesses, which, combined with the sloppiness of their approach and oddness of their conclusions, suggests that a truly enhanced understanding of Coptic or even John 1:1 was not their real objective.  It seems pretty clear that they merely sought to turn the tables, as Jehovah's Witnesses have appealed to the Coptic of John 1:1c to support the "a god" rendering found in the New World Translation published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society.

Since my criticisms are rather harsh, let me offer a few particulars.

Firstly, their approach was methodologically flawed in that they only examined how QEOS is rendered in Coptic.  Their readers would have been better served if they had taken a broader approach and attempted to determine how the Coptic indefinite article is generally used when included in their translation of bounded nouns that originated in PNVS, SVPN, and other types of Greek clauses.  I suspect that the reason they took such a narrow approach is because, had they included other bounded nouns in their sampling, then they would have reached very different results, and their apologetic would have fallen apart.  The Bible is about "the one God" of Jewish and Christian monotheism, and so it is not surprising that most occurrences of the Greek QEOS (God) from the NT and the Coptic NOUTE (God) from the ancient Coptic translation(s) are definite nouns rather than indefinite nouns.  In the NT, God is typically a proper noun, which usually functions like a proper name.

Secondly, the argumentation presented was just plain sloppy.  For example, notice the following argument:

"Our small sample size is itself a clue to the Copts' use of the indefinite article, or their neglect of it altogether. Of the 25 instances of the AnNS [QEOS], the vast majority are reflected in the Sahidic Coptic version with the definite article (21/25; 84%). Of these, the vast majority are also in reference to  the God of the Bible' (20/25; 80%).  It is no exaggeration to suggest, then, that the Coptic translators were disinclined to use anything other than the definite article when translating [QEOS]. If the Coptic translators were so reluctant to use the indefinite article with [NOUTE], our question must not be  'what uniformly required the translators to use the indefinite article?' but instead  'what individual circumstances required the use of a disfavoured construction?'" (p. 502)

The point they seem desperate to massage from the data simply doesn't follow.  Let me restate the pertinent data:

1.  "Of the 25 instances of the AnNS [QEOS], the vast majority are reflected in the Sahidic Coptic version with the definite article (21/25; 84%).  Of these, the vast majority are also in reference to  the God of the Bible' (20/25; 80%)."

2.  "[T]he Coptic translators were disinclined to use anything other than the definite article when translating [QEOS]."

3.  "[T]he Coptic translators were so reluctant to use the indefinite article with [NOUTE] [that] our question must [be] 'what individual circumstances required the use of a disfavoured construction?"

Do you see what they're doing?  They're actually suggesting that the Coptic use of the definite article in contexts where NOUTE is a definite noun implies that the use of the indefinite article with NOUTE should be considered a "disfavored construction"!  This is preposterous.  The only valid inference that we can make from the data is the rather obvious observation that the Copts would not be inclined to render definite nouns with the indefinite article.

Here's another example of their sloppy thinking:

"The same category applies to John 1:1c. This qualitative/descriptive understanding makes the best sense within John's prologue. The Copts understood John to be saying that  'the Word' has the same qualities as  'the God of the Bible'. On the other hand, if one disagrees with our arguments above, the only other viable interpretations given the other usages would suggest that the Copts understood  'the Word' to be either 'a  god of the pagans' (cf. Acts 28:6) or some  'usurper god' (cf. 2 Thess. 2:4). Yet, this leaves one with much wider problems." (p. 509).

Notice how, once again, they seem desperate to massage the data.  They want to make it seem as though one has to either accept the "qualitative/descriptive" understanding or conclude that the LOGOS was either "a god of the pagans" or "a usurper god".  The problem -- well, one of the problems -- with this silly false dilemma is that, contextually (i.e. in the Prologue) it's impossible to infer that the LOGOS is either a "god of the pagans" or a "usurper god," regardless of translation, because the LOGOS is used by God the Father to create all things, and has a special place at His bosom!

Again, this contribution by Wright and Ricchuiti is not an example of serious scholarship; it is instead a rather flaccid attempt to bring the Coptic of John 1:1c into harmony with their preferred theology over against the Watchtower's NWT, which they oppose as part of their anti-cult apologetic.  That we find this sort of thing coming from people associated with Dallas Theological Seminary is not particularly surprising.  That Oxford University allowed this patent nonsense to be published in their respected Journal is most unfortunate, and I've informed them that they need better peer review if their journal is to retain its standing as a quality publication.  Since JTS is a peer reviewed journal, dare I speculate that the reviewer(s) was/were also associated with DTS? 

The truth about God and His Son is the truth, regardless what any minority or majority group has to say.  Christians should not feel the need or succumb to the temptation to massage and distort language itself to support a preferred position.


Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Jesus Identified as YHWH? -- Psalm 102/Hebrews 1:11

Many assert that Psalm 102 is applied to Jesus at Hebrews 1:11 because Jesus is Jehovah.  Is that a necessary or even a likely conclusion?  I don't think so.  First, it's worth noting that other OT verses are applied to Jesus in Hebrews 1, and this is not done to *identify* Jesus as any of the earthly kings referenced in those texts, so there's no reason to assume that Jesus must be identified as the one referenced at Psalm 102.  

The author of Hebrews applied the Psalm to Jesus because he wanted to make the point that the post resurrection Jesus was now immortal and his "years shall have no end" (KJV). Unlike all prior kings, Jesus isn't a king who's going to die and thereby potentially allow his kingdom to be subject to future misrule by some unrighteous successor. Verse 25 from the Psalm was simply carried over with verses 26 and 27 because it was needed to avoid suggesting that Jesus' "partners/fellows" would parish.

Notice what happens when you omit Ps. 102:25 from the quote in Hebrews 1:

"8 [B]ut of the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever; And the sceptre of uprightness is the sceptre of thy kingdom. 9 Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity; Therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee With the oil of gladness above thy fellows. [snip Ps 102:25] 11 They shall perish; but thou continuest: And they all shall wax old as doth a garment; 12 And as a mantle shalt thou roll them up, As a garment, and they shall be changed: But thou art the same, And thy years shall not fail."

When you omit verse 25, then the words AUTOI APOLOUNTAI ("they will parish") in verse 11 of Heb 1 naturally refer to Christ's "fellows". These "fellows" are likely one of two groups of individuals, i.e. the holy angels (they are the only "fellows" in context) or Christians who would reign with Christ in his kingdom. Verse 11 can't apply to either of those groups, as the holy angels won't "parish", nor will and Christian co-rulers in the age to come. So the author retained verse 25 from the Psalm so that the "They" in verse 11 of Heb 1 refers to the heavens and earth that would pass away and be replaced by the "new heavens and new earth" (Matt 24:35; 2 Pet 3:13; Rev 21:1).

As someone who accepts the real personal preexistence of the one who became Jesus the Messiah, I would say that Psalm 102:25 can appropriately be applied to Jesus for another reason: He was the 'Wisdom' or 'LOGOS' through whom God created the original heavens and the original earth.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

John 5:19 - God can do Nothing at All?

“19 Therefore, in answer, Jesus went on to say to them: “Most truly I say to YOU, The Son cannot do a single thing of his own initiative, but only what he beholds the Father doing. For whatever things that One does, these things the Son also does in like manner.”

One of the most remarkable arguments I've seen promoting "the deity of Christ" involves John 5:19, and goes something like this:

"Since Jesus can do nothing at all of his own initiative, but can only do what the Father does, he must be God, because only God can only do what God does.  We can do things of our own initiative, including the commission of both righteous and sinful acts, but Jesus was incapable of doing anything but what the Father does."

This odd argument not only ignores the fact that John 5 obviously presents Jesus role using agency language (i.e. "the agent is equated with the principal" as the Rabbis would put it), but it involves a de-contextualized reading.  Clearly Jesus was speaking in reference to doing God’s work in the carrying out of his commission as God’s representative.  He did not mean that he was incapable of eating, drinking, tying his sandal laces, blowing his nose, etc., without having first beheld “the Father doing [it]”.

The same could be said respecting any number of verses that orthodox folks sometimes tend to de-contextualize.

Take John 16:30 and Matt. 24:36 for example:

John 16:30: "Now we can see that you know all things and that you do not even need to have anyone ask you questions. This makes us believe that you came from God.”

Matt. 24:36: "But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father."

While apparently ignoring context, some will assert that John 16:30 implies that Jesus must be God for he "knows all things" without exception. Yet we know that the verse shouldn't be read that way because Jesus' followers themselves tell us that "This makes [them] believe that [Jesus] came from God" not that Jesus IS God. In other words, the disciples did not have in mind an all-encompassing reference, but they knew that Jesus was not lacking when it came to providing them with the knowledge that they’d need to be empowered for what was to come while they fulfilled their commissions as representatives of God and his Son. Thus, there's no contradiction between John 16:30 and Matt. 24:36, and no need to resort to verbal prestidigitation by asserting that as God Jesus knew all things without exception but as Man he had limited knowledge, as though that were even an intelligible statement.

John 9:32-34 also comes to mind:

“32 From of old it has never been heard that anyone opened the eyes of one born blind. 33 If this [man] were not from God, he could do nothing at all.” 34 In answer they said to him: “You were altogether born in sins, and yet are you teaching us?”

Here Jesus healed a blind man who goes on to defend Jesus to the religious leaders. When the blind man said “If this [man] were not from God, he could do nothing at all”, he didn’t mean that Jesus would be unable to eat, drink, trim his ear hair, etc. The “nothing at all” is clearly in a reference to the sort of miraculous works Jesus had just done.

Note also John 15:5:

“5 I am the vine, YOU are the branches. He that remains in union with me, and I in union with him, this one bears much fruit; because apart from me YOU can do nothing at all.”

Although Jesus tells his disciples that apart from him they can “do nothing at all”, he clearly didn’t mean that in an all-encompassing way. He is speaking in reference to “fruit” that his disciples can bear as “branches”. In other words, he was speaking of the work they would do as representatives of him and his Father, not about other things like eating, drinking, buying fish at the market, etc. And he certainly didn't mean that without Jesus, the disciples would be incapable of sinning!