Archive for the ‘Christology’ Category

In a previous article on this blog, “Anthony Buzzard, the Shema, and the Trinity,” I discussed Unitarian writer Anthony Buzzard’s misrepresentations of my statements about the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-5) in Putting Jesus in His Place, which Buzzard quoted out of context in a recent YouTube video. After Buzzard and I exchanged comments there, Dale Tuggy, on his blog about the Trinity, offered four observations or opinions on the matter. In his fourth point, he agreed with me that the Shema is not a “definition” of God, so no comment on that point is needed here. I appreciate Tuggy’s efforts and will respond to his first three points here.

1. According to Tuggy, what Buzzard probably meant was not that Jews in the biblical era were “anti-trinitarians” but that they held to “the view, roughly, that the one God ‘is unipersonal,’ that is, just is a certain self, person, or intelligent agent.” Tuggy thinks I should concede that this is what Jews at the time believed.

So much depends on precisely how words are understood here. The orthodox doctrine of the Trinity views God as a single, intelligent being. If one stipulates that a single, intelligent being is by definition a “person,” then by that definition the Jews believed that Yahweh, the Lord God, was one person. By that definition, Trinitarians also believe that God is one person. Read the rest of this entry »

In my previous article on this blog, “Anthony Buzzard, the Shema, and the Trinity,” I discussed Anthony Buzzard’s misrepresentations of my statements about the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-5) in Putting Jesus in His Place[1], which Buzzard quoted out of context in a recent YouTube video. This was just the first of two subjects on which he took issue with something I had said in that book. In this article, I will discuss his other criticism.

Referring to a comment regarding Luke 1:35 on page 88 of Putting Jesus in His Place, Buzzard made the following statement:

Robert Bowman tries to draw a distinction between being called the Son of God and being the Son of God. That will not work. In the Gospels we have one Gospel saying “Blessed are the meek,” or one of those qualities of Christianity, “they will be the sons of God,” and the parallel says, “they will be called the sons of God.” There’s no difference. I refer to the famous birth narrative book by Raymond Brown where he explicitly says, “There’s no difference. If you’re called the Son of God, that’s what you are.”

Here again, Buzzard ignores the context of the statement in my book. My focus was on responding to the claim that Jesus became the Son of God only at his baptism:

If the Father’s statement at Jesus’ baptism implied that Jesus had become the Son of God at that moment, this subtle implication was missed by both Matthew and Luke. Both of them report the same statement at Jesus’ baptism, yet both agree that Jesus did not become the Son of God at that time. Matthew quotes Hosea 11:1 in his infancy narrative, “Out of Egypt I have called my son,” and applies it to the infant Jesus (Matt. 2:15). Luke states that Jesus would be called God’s Son because he was conceived by the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35). (This is not the same thing as saying that he would be God’s Son only as a result of that virginal conception.) Thus, there is no basis in the Synoptics for the idea that Jesus was “sent” at his baptism.[2]

Now, note first that I did not say that Jesus was called God’s Son but wasn’t really God’s Son. Of course, he is called the Son of God because he is the Son of God. That is not in dispute.

Second, I did not deny that Jesus’ virginal conception and birth were a reason why he would be called the Son of God. That is surely one reason why he is known as the Son of God. But Buzzard wants to claim that his conception and birth is the sole reason that he is the Son of God. That claim goes beyond the text.

Third, Buzzard claims to have found some biblical evidence against the distinction between being the Son of God and being called the Son of God, in a pair of parallel statements he claims are in the Gospels. He says, “In the Gospels we have one Gospel saying ‘Blessed are the meek,’ or one of those qualities of Christianity, ‘they will be the sons of God,’ and the parallel says, ‘they will be called the sons of God.’” Obviously, Buzzard is trying to recall something off the top of his head. Unfortunately, in this instance he mangles the texts. Read the rest of this entry »

On Monday, August 25, the Unitarian writer Anthony Buzzard sent me a private message on Facebook, asking a theological question with no explanation of the purpose of his communication. I responded briefly and he followed with a more elaborate statement of his argument thinly veiled as a question. When I asked the reason for his communication with me, he simply restated his argument. I then asked him again on Friday, August 29, why he was communicating privately with me and if his intention was a private conversation or to get me to say something he could quote somewhere. Before he answered my question, Buzzard posted a YouTube video quoting selectively from my book Putting Jesus in His Place[1] and attempting to make a case that I was knowingly contradicting Jesus’ own teaching! He then sent me another private Facebook message saying he thought the conversation should be with everyone.

Buzzard’s claim that he was seeking a conversation with everyone is strange. He and I are both on Facebook and we even used to be in the same public Facebook group, the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Biblical Discussion Group. He could easily have initiated a public discussion in that group or in any of the other many online groups where I can be found, or by inviting me to join one of his groups. He still has not explained the reason for the private messages. This is not the first time he has done this. In November he sent me a private Facebook message taking issue with something else in my book. I very specifically told him that I was not going to get into a private discussion with him about such things.

In the YouTube video, Buzzard quoted selectively and out of context from Putting Jesus in His Place in order to pose his challenge. This is what he quoted:

If Judaism has a creed, it is the words of Deuteronomy 6:4-5, known as the Shema…. Jesus affirmed the Shema as the first and greatest commandment…. his view was in the mainstream of Judaism.[2]

Read the rest of this entry »

The doctrine of the deity of Jesus Christ shows up in unexpected places. One place few people would think to look is the Sermon on the Mount. Yet it is there, and in the Beatitudes of all places.

In the last of the Beatitudes, Jesus told his disciples:

“Blessed are you when others revile [oneidisōsin] you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account [heneken emou]” (Matt. 5:11).

Compare this statement with the following from the Psalms (quoting from the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament):

“Because for your sake [heneka sou] I bore reproach [oneidismon]….because the zeal for your house consumed me, and the reproaches of those who reproach [hoi oneidismoi tōn oneidizontōn] you fell on me” (Ps. 68:8, 10 LXX [cf. 69:7, 9 in English Bibles]).

The repeated use of the noun and verb for “reproach” or “revile” (oneidismos, oneidizō) combined with the use of the phrase heneka sou (“for your sake,” “on your account”) make it pretty clear that Matthew 5:11 alludes to the Psalm. We know that Matthew interpreted Psalm 69 (68 LXX) Messianically (Matt. 27:34, cf. Ps. 69:21), as did John (see John 2:17, cf. Ps. 69:9; John 15:25, cf. Ps. 69:4).

So what do we have here? In Psalm 69, David says in a song to Jehovah God (note verse 6) that he bore reproach for the sake of Yahweh (Jehovah) God. In Matthew 5:11, Jesus, clearly alluding to Psalm 69, says that his disciples will be blessed when they bear reproach for his sake — for Jesus’ sake. Jesus here says that a religious obligation owed to God — to be willing to bear reproach for his sake — is properly owed to him. And he makes this point in language that clearly alluded to a song of religious devotion to Jehovah God.

Jesus deserves the honors that are due to God — even the honor of being insulted for his sake. The deity of Christ is not a doctrine derived from one or two proof texts. It is the understanding of Jesus that pervades the New Testament.

In light of the so-called Jesus Wife Papyrus, it is worth revisiting the question of what historical evidence actually shows regarding the question of Jesus’ marital status. There are two questions here: Was Jesus married? More specifically, was he married to Mary Magdalene? Some people think so, but I will argue that this idea should be abandoned.

First, let’s assign the burden of proof. The burden of proof is on those who make the assertion that Jesus was married. Since the Bible doesn’t say he was married, and most Christians historically have thought he was not married, those who come along and assert that he was married have the responsibility to provide evidence for their claim. The burden of proof is not on me to prove beyond any possible doubt or loophole of reasoning that Jesus wasn’t married, or that he didn’t sire twelve children, or that he didn’t live in England between the ages of 13 and 29. The burden of proof is on those who make such assertions.

That having been said, a reasonably strong case can be made against the claim that Jesus was married. We will look at the most significant argument that have been made in support of Jesus being married and then present the arguments against this claim. Read the rest of this entry »

Was Isaac Newton a real person of history? If we adopt the historical method of skeptics who question the historical existence of Jesus by constructing lists of parallels between Jesus and such mythical figures as Horus and Mithra, the answer would seem to be no. The table below presents 16 parallels between Jesus Christ and Isaac Newton—and unlike nearly all of the alleged parallels between Jesus and mythical figures, all of these parallels are completely accurate.

 

Jesus Christ

Isaac Newton

His birthday has been given both as December 25 and as January 6. His birthday has been given both as December 25 and as January 4.
His birthday is celebrated by his followers as “Christmas,” and the period between December 25 and January 6 has been called “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” His birthday is celebrated by his followers as “Newtonmas,” and the period between December 25 and January 4 has been called “The Ten Days of Newtonmas.”
His name is that of a famous figure in the Old Testament (Joshua). His name is that of a famous figure in the Old Testament (Isaac).
John described him as “the true light that comes into the world.” He is described as bringing light to the world: “God said ‘Let Newton be’ and all was light” (Alexander Pope).
He was circumcised on the eighth day. He was baptized on the eighth day.
According to tradition, his grandmother’s name was Hannah (usually Anglicized as Anne.) His mother’s name was Hannah.
According to tradition, his mother’s husband died when he was young. His mother’s husband died before he was born.
He never married. He never married.
He was famous for his knowledgeable exposition of the Scriptures. He was famous for his knowledgeable exposition of the Scriptures.
He professed the same faith as that of his countrymen, but they regarded him as a heretic. He professed the same faith as that of his countrymen, but they regarded him as a heretic.
Commenting on the Book of Daniel, he stated that “this gospel of the kingdom must first be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.” Commenting on the Book of Daniel, he stated that “the Gospel must first be preached in all nations before the great tribulation, and end of the world.”
He rejected the idea that people could determine a date for the end of the world. He rejected the idea that people could determine a date for the end of the world.
He is regarded by many as one of the greatest men ever to live on earth. He is regarded by many, in the words of Richard Dawkins, as “one of the truly great men ever to walk the earth.”
He was honored by the use of the Greek title kurios, which can be translated “Sir.” He was honored by the use of the title “Sir.”
Portraits of him depict him with strikingly different appearances. Portraits of him depict him with strikingly different appearances.
Marty McFly used his name in vain in the film Back to the Future. Doc Emmet Brown used his name in vain in the film Back to the Future II.

 

Perhaps we need a better historical method.

 

Ben Witherington III, a well-known evangelical New Testament scholar, recently posted an article on “Why Mormonism is not Christianity.” William J. Hamblin, a Mormon scholar, swiftly responded on his blog with a critique of Witherington’s six criticisms of Mormon belief. The two articles may be read here:

Ben Witherington III, “Why Mormonism Is Not Christianity—the Issue of Christology,” Patheos, 27 Aug. 2012.

Bill Hamblin, “Are Mormons Christians? Witherington Says No,” Mormon Scripture Explorations (blog), 28 Aug. 2012.

For the most part, Hamblin misses the point, as I shall explain. In fact, much of Hamblin’s response misses the context of Witherington’s six points, which are not presented as “six reasons why he believes Mormons are not Christians,” as Hamblin claims. In fact Witherington is very clear as to what the six points represent. Read the rest of this entry »

The cover article of the January 15, 2011 issue of the Watchtower is entitled “Take Refuge in the Name of Jehovah” (3-6). The title is based on Zephaniah 3:12, which the article announces is “the yeartext for 2011” (6), that is, the theme verse for all Jehovah’s Witnesses for this year.

The article repeats some of the stock Jehovah’s Witness claims regarding the divine name Jehovah. It accuses “apostate Christendom” of “manifest hatred of God’s name” (4). Religious leaders have “hidden the identity of the true God from millions upon millions of worshippers” (5). By contrast, “Jehovah’s Witnesses honor and glorify the divine name” (5). This remains part of the mythology of Jehovah’s Witness religion in its demonization of practically every aspect of traditional Christianity. Anyone who has spent much time in evangelical churches, for example, knows this is a myth. The name Jehovah and such Old Testament (OT) compound forms as Jehovah-jireh are part of evangelical piety and hymnody (even in contemporary choruses). The American Standard Version (ASV) of 1901 used Jehovah throughout its OT, and the Holman Christian Standard Bible, one of the newest evangelical English versions of the Bible, uses Yahweh in its OT.

Quoting Romans 10:13 in the New World Translation (NWT), “Everyone who calls on the name of Jehovah will be saved,” the article comments, “There is a connection between calling on Jehovah’s name and the resulting salvation by him” (4). What the article does not mention, and Jehovah’s Witnesses will not acknowledge, is that the original Greek text of Romans 10:13 certainly said, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord [Greek, kurios] will be saved.” The libraries and museums of the world house hundreds of manuscript copies of Romans in Greek, hundreds if not thousands more manuscript copies of Romans in other ancient languages (such as Latin), and none of them use any form of the Hebrew name YHWH; all of them say “Lord” in this verse. One of the earliest and most important of all New Testament (NT) manuscripts, the Chester Beatty papyrus (P46), dated about AD 200, contains Romans 10, and it has kurios just as do all of the other copies of that passage. The Greek NT consistently uses kurios (or occasionally theos, “God”), never YHWH in any form, when quoting OT texts that have YHWH in Hebrew. In context, Jesus is identified as this “Lord” (compare Romans 10:13 with Romans 10:9-12). Probably the main reason why the Watchtower uses “Jehovah” selectively in the NT portion of its NWT is to obscure the fact that in passages like this one Jesus is identified as the Lord Jehovah.

Ironically, despite its citation of Romans 10:13, nowhere in the article is anything said about faith in Jesus Christ or what he did for salvation. Of course, Jehovah’s Witnesses do affirm (elsewhere) that they believe in Christ, but the omission is telling. The main point of Romans 10 is that faith in Jesus as Lord is the way to salvation that unbelieving Jews in Paul’s day missed. While belief in Jesus (or at least beliefs about Jesus) is in some sense part of the Jehovah’s Witness religion, salvation is essentially found by “calling on the name of Jehovah,” engaging in the “true worship” of Jehovah separate from that of “apostate Christendom,” and “serving as his Witnesses.” To serve as his Witnesses means “to preach the good news of the Kingdom” and “share with others the correct understanding of God’s Kingdom and how it will sanctify his name” (3-6). In short, one’s salvation is the result of being a practicing, active Jehovah’s Witness. This is “salvation” by religion.

The omission of any reference to faith in Christ or to what he has done for our salvation is all the more significant when one considers how the NT understands what it means to “seek refuge in the name of Jehovah.” The NT does not directly quote Zephaniah 3:12, but it has much to say that echoes what Zephaniah says about how people must respond to Jehovah. In particular, language and themes regarding Jehovah found in Zephaniah and other OT prophets are applied in the NT to Jesus Christ. This is sometimes less clear in the NWT because of its use of “Jehovah” in the OT and its selective use of that name in the NT, as is the case in Romans 10:9-13. However, the connections are often clear enough even in the NWT or in any other version:

(1) Zephaniah’s message is “the word of the LORD” (Jehovah, 1:1; 2:5). The message of the apostles was “the word of the Lord” Jesus (see Acts 8:25; 13:44, 48-49; 15:35-36; 16:32; 19:10; see also 1 Thess. 1:8; 4:15, cf. 4:16-17; 2 Thess. 3:1).

(2) Zephaniah, like the prophets Joel (1:15; 2:1, 11, 31; 3:14) and Isaiah (13:6, 9), spoke repeatedly of “the day of the LORD” (Zeph. 1:7, 14), a day of his wrath and anger against the wicked (1:18; 2:2). Paul understands this prophetic motif to speak of “the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 1:8; 2 Cor. 1:14), “the day of (Jesus) Christ” (Phil. 1:6, 10; 2:16). This is what he understands to be “the day of the Lord” (see also 1 Cor. 5:5; 1 Thess. 5:2; 2 Thess. 2:1-2).

(3) Zephaniah’s message was that God’s people could be saved from that Day of Judgment by turning to the Lord in faith: they “shall all call upon the name of the LORD” and “shall not be put to shame” (Zeph. 3:9, 11). These statements also echo the prophecies of Joel and Isaiah. Joel had prophesied, “Everyone who calls on the name of the LORD [Jehovah] will be saved” (Joel 2:32), the very verse that Paul quotes in reference to Jesus in Romans 10:13 (see also Acts 2:21). Paul also describes Christians as those “who call on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 1:2). Isaiah had written that God was laying a foundation or cornerstone in Zion, “and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame” (Is. 28:16). Paul also applies this statement to the Lord Jesus (Rom. 9:33; 10:11; see also 1 Peter 2:6-7).

These three points show us that from a NT perspective, we are to interpret the message of Zephaniah in the light of Jesus Christ, as pointing forward quite specifically to him as the ultimate, eternal Savior and Judge. This is, of course, what we should expect based on Jesus’ explicit teaching that the whole OT pointed forward to him and finds its fulfillment in him (Luke 24:25-27, 44-47). Yet Christ is at most tangential to the Watchtower’s interpretation of the message of Zephaniah. Yes, judgment is coming, on those who are really apostates (who have abandoned faith in Christ) and on the whole unbelieving world. Deliverance from that judgment is to be found, however, in appealing to the Lord Jesus, calling on him for salvation, and trusting in his mercy. He is indeed the Lord on whose name we must call, the Lord in whom we must take refuge. To miss this is, according to the NT, to miss what the book of Zephaniah and the rest of the OT are really all about.

Apologists for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (or LDS Church) frequently take exception to the criticism that they believe in “another Jesus.” A common strategy for refuting this criticism is to list various beliefs that Mormons have about Jesus that agree with the Bible and even with traditional or orthodox Christianity. The LDS apologetics group FAIR, for example, points out that they affirm that Jesus is the Messiah promised in the Old Testament, that Jesus lived a sinless life, that he performed the miracles recorded in the Gospels, and other traditional beliefs about Jesus. Daniel C. Peterson and Stephen D. Ricks presented a table in their book that listed twenty points of belief about Jesus where they clearly agree with the Bible and traditional Christianity: Jesus was born in Bethlehem, Jesus was Jewish, Jesus’ mother was Mary, Jesus taught in the temple, Jesus held no public office, and more (Offenders for a Word: How Anti-Mormons Play Word Games to Attack the Latter-day Saints [Aspen Books, 1992], 58).

I think it is quite reasonable for Mormons to point out that they do share some beliefs about Jesus in common with traditional Christians. If it’s not sufficient for critics to list only the differences, however, it’s also not sufficient for apologists to list only the similarities. Perhaps it would be helpful to list both the similarities and the differences in order to get a more accurate picture of the situation.

That’s what I have tried to do in my response to chapter 11 of Gospel Principles. It’s the latest installment of our Gospel Principles Scripture Study Guide, a free online resource that provides a chapter-by-chapter analysis and response to the LDS doctrinal manual. I explain why Joseph Fielding Smith was correct when he stated that Latter-day Saints “part paths with historical Christianity” in their view of Jesus Christ on a number of crucial issues. I also agree with him that “there is no salvation in the worship of a false Christ.” I list a dozen different issues on which Mormons and orthodox Christians agree, and ten issues on which LDS doctrine differs from the teaching of the Bible.

By the way, I don’t think (and I don’t know anyone else who does, either) that Mormons believe in a literally existing but different Jesus than the one who is the central figure of the New Testament. That is, we don’t think that there’s some other guy out there named Jesus that the Mormons are following by mistake. When Paul warned about those who preach “another Jesus” (2 Cor. 11:4), he was warning about those whose teaching about Jesus fatally distorted the truth about him. In a sense, it’s “the same Jesus,” but a fundamentally different understanding of his identity, nature, work, or message, against which Paul is warning. Likewise, our concern about the LDS Church is that its teaching about Jesus Christ gravely distorts the truth about Jesus.

Anti-Trinitarians often accuse those who believe in the Trinity of believing the Creeds over or against or instead of simply believing the Bible. This objection assumes that the Creeds do not faithfully teach what the Bible teaches. Although Catholic and Orthodox Christians typically view the Creeds as having dogmatic authority, evangelical Protestants typically do not. We believe the Creeds inasmuch as, and insofar as, we find them in agreement with the Bible.

In what follows, I will quote in full the Nicene Creed and the Definition of Chalcedon, along with biblical citations enclosed in brackets, and with no interpretive or explanatory comments. No doubt anti-Trinitarians will object to the way some of these biblical passages are understood within the Trinitarian theological framework. Nevertheless, this exercise ought to demonstrate beyond any reasonable doubt that the intent of the Creeds is simply to state in a formal, systematic, confessional way what its authors understood the Bible to teach about the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and especially about the person of Jesus Christ as both fully God and fully human. Read the rest of this entry »