Archive for March, 2013

One of the many popular anti-Trinitarian arguments against the personhood of the Holy Spirit has to do with the Greek word pneuma, translated “Spirit” or “spirit” depending on context. (A similar argument is used with regards to the Hebrew word ruach, but we’ll focus here on the New Testament.) Anti-Trinitarians often appeal to the etymology, or word origin, for pneuma, pointing out that it originates from a Greek verb meaning “to blow,” which doesn’t sound like a promising derivation for the name of a person. Or in a related argument, they will argue that the “root,” “basic,” or “literal” meaning of the word pneuma is “breath” or “wind,” and from there conclude that the Holy Spirit is merely an impersonal force that issues from God.

Both the argument from etymology and the argument from a word’s supposedly “basic” meaning are exegetically fallacious forms of reasoning. Biblical scholars have been warning against these “word-study” fallacies for years,[1] but most Bible readers, whether anti-Trinitarian or Trinitarian, have not gotten the memo, so the former keep using the arguments and the latter keep being flummoxed by them. As has often been pointed out, the English word nice derives etymologically from the Latin word nescio, which meant “ignorant,” but this tells us nothing about the meaning of the word nice! Read the rest of this entry »

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Perhaps the specific argument against the personhood of the Holy Spirit that I see the most appeals to the parallelism in Luke 1:35, in which Gabriel says the following to Mary:

“The Holy Spirit will come upon you,
and the power of the Most High will overshadow you….”

Anti-Trinitarians commonly argue that in this statement “the Holy Spirit” is parallel to, and therefore synonymous with, “the power of the Most High.” They conclude that this verse teaches that the Holy Spirit is the power of God, meaning, they claim, either that the Holy Spirit is an impersonal force of power that in some way emanates from God or is an abstraction for the divine attribute of God’s power.

There are at least two problems with this argument. Read the rest of this entry »

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A really bad argument from silence is the claim that the Holy Spirit is not a person because he is not mentioned in certain passages. Chief among the offending texts are the salutations—the opening greetings in the New Testament epistles that usually read something like “Grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Anti-Trinitarians commonly infer from the “absence” of the Holy Spirit in these texts that he is not a person.

Besides being an obvious argument from silence, this argument overlooks contrary evidence. The Holy Spirit is mentioned in one of the New Testament epistle salutations: Read the rest of this entry »

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Another bad argument some anti-Trinitarians use is to reason that the Holy Spirit is not a person because no biblical text reports a conversation between the Holy Spirit and someone else. This argument supposedly trumps the positive evidence of the various texts that report the Holy Spirit speaking (e.g., Acts 1:16; 13:1-4; 28:25; Heb. 3:7). Yes, the anti-Trinitarian argues, the Bible says that the Holy Spirit said something, but it never reports anyone responding to the Holy Spirit; there is never any two-way communication between the Holy Spirit and someone else. The Bible reports conversations between the Father and the Son, between Jesus and the devil, and between human beings; so why, if the Holy Spirit is a person, is he never reported to have participated in a two-way conversation?

Here again, the anti-Trinitarian has manufactured an argument that seems to fit the biblical data on this narrow matter of usage, but that assumes that the Bible should present the Holy Spirit in a certain way in order to warrant readers understanding that the Holy Spirit is a person. But we have no reason to place such a demand on Scripture—which is to say, we have no reason to place such a demand on God in the way he reveals truth to us. The argument fallaciously reasons from the “silence” of the text about any conversations involving the Holy Spirit to the conclusion that the Holy Spirit is not a person.

A few moments’ reflection can generate several if not many examples of other persons in the Bible for whom we happen not to have any report of them engaged in conversation. Read the rest of this entry »

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Anti-Trinitarians often employ a number of objections to the personhood of the Holy Spirit that are examples of fallacious arguments from silence. An argument from silence infers from the fact that something is not said that it is being denied, or that it is not true. Arguments from silence seem ubiquitous in religious discourse. However, in order for the silence of a particular text or act of speech to be the basis for any conclusion, we must know that the writer or speaker would have known the point at issue and would have said something about it on that specific occasion if he did. In short, we need to know a lot more than what we usually know about what is in an author or speaker’s mind and what his or her intentions and concerns were. Arguments from silence typically ignore evidence contrary to the assumptions that the person making the argument brings to the subject.

Arguments from silence pertaining to the personhood of the Holy Spirit are perhaps the most common types of arguments used by anti-Trinitarians on this issue. Read the rest of this entry »

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Jehovah’s Witnesses, Unitarians, and many other anti-Trinitarians raise a number of fallacious objections against the orthodox Christian belief that the Holy Spirit is a person distinct from both the Father and the Son. One such objection is that the Bible uses neuter pronouns in reference to the Holy Spirit. One can see this sometimes in English translations such as the KJV, for example in Paul’s statement, “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God” (Rom. 8:16 KJV). Here the English neuter pronoun “itself” translates the Greek neuter pronoun auto. The masculine pronoun “himself” would be autos, not auto. Such neuter pronouns are commonly used in New Testament references to the Holy Spirit. Many anti-Trinitarians view this usage as indicating that the Holy Spirit is impersonal, perhaps a force or energy that comes from God, or perhaps God’s immanent mode of communication and manifestation.

The objection may be properly answered in several ways, but here I simply wish to focus directly on the crucial premise of the objection, which is that the use of neuter pronouns signals an impersonal object or abstraction as the pronoun’s referent. The claim is simply and unequivocally false. For the sake of those with little or no knowledge of the biblical languages, I will explain the matter as simply and completely as possible. Fortunately, it’s really not complicated. Read the rest of this entry »

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Taussig, Hal, ed. A New New Testament: A Bible for the 21st Century Combining Traditional and Newly Discovered Texts. Foreword by John Dominic Crossan. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2013.

Hal Taussig, a founding member of the Jesus Seminar, is the editor of A New New Testament, which combines the 27 books of the real New Testament with ten other ancient texts that historically have had no place in any Christian version of the Bible. These other texts include the Coptic Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Mary, the Gospel of Truth, the Odes of Solomon (divided into four books), Thunder Perfect Mind, the Acts of Paul and Thecla, a Letter of Peter to Philip, and the Secret Revelation of John (also known as the Apocryphon of John). Among the texts not included were the Protevangelium of James, the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of the Hebrews, the Shepherd of Hermas, the Gospel of Philip, the Gospel of Barnabas (which will upset some Muslims) and Third Nephi (no doubt to the disappointment of some Latter-day Saints).

Taussig wants us to know that he didn’t decide on his own which books should be added to his New New Testament. No, he called a church council to decide the matter. His “council” included, among others, the following individuals:

  • Geoffrey Black, the president of the United Church of Christ, the first major denomination to give official endorsement to same-sex marriage Read the rest of this entry »

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Reading Law and Reading the Bible

   Posted by: Rob Bowman    in Biblical studies

Scalia, Antonin, and Bryan A. Garner. Reading Law: The Interpretation of Legal Texts. St. Paul, MN: Thomson/West, 2012.

Antonin Scalia was appointed to the Supreme Court of the United States by Ronald Reagan in 1986, making him currently the longest-serving of the nine Justices. Theologically, Scalia is a devout Roman Catholic who prefers the ultra-traditionalist Tridentine Latin Mass to the mainstream post-Vatican II liturgy. Politically, he is conservative in his judicial philosophy and in his viewpoints on specific contentious issues in American law; for example, he considers Roe v. Wade unconstitutional. Opinions about Scalia are generally polarized, with American liberals often scathing in their criticisms of his views.

Scalia’s most recent book, Reading Law: The Interpretation of Legal Texts, is well worth reading simply within its own intended context of defending Scalia’s approach to interpreting legal texts, called textualism or originalism. He and his co-author Bryan Gardner, law professor at Southern Methodist University, explain textualism as follows: “We look for meaning in the governing text, ascribe to that text the meaning that it has borne from its inception, and reject judicial speculation about both the drafters’ extratextually derived purposes and the desirability of the fair reading’s anticipated consequences” (xxvii). The book is also worth reading for those who are interested in the interpretation of other texts, including the texts of the Bible. Read the rest of this entry »

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