Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Hebrews 5:7 and Trinitarianism:
A Compatibility Crisis

Jesus prayed to the “only true God,”
the Father, and displayed
godly fear and devotion
Hebrews 5:7 says:

King James Version (KJV)
Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared;

American Standard Version (ASV)
Who in the days of his flesh, having offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and having been heard for his godly fear,

New American Standard Bible (NASB)
In the days of His flesh [Footnote: I.e. during Christ’s earthly life], He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety.

Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB)
During His earthly life [Footnote: Lit In the days of His flesh], He offered prayers and appeals with loud cries and tears to the One who was able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverence.

Common English Bible (CEB)
During his days on earth, Christ offered prayers and requests with loud cries and tears as his sacrifices to the one who was able to save him from death. He was heard because of his godly devotion.
http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=heb%205:7&version=KJV;ASV;NASB;HCSB;CEB

Contemporary English Version (CEV)
God had the power to save Jesus from death. And while Jesus was on earth, he begged God with loud crying and tears to save him. He truly worshiped God, and God listened to his prayers.
http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=heb%205:7&version=CEV

NET Bible
During his earthly life [Footnote: Grk “in the days of his flesh.”] Christ offered both requests and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death and he was heard because of his devotion.
https://lumina.bible.org/bible/Hebrews+5

Complete Jewish Bible
During Yeshua’s life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions, crying aloud and shedding tears, to the One who had the power to deliver him from death; and he was heard because of his godliness.

Additionally, The New Testament by William Barclay reads:
In the days of his human life, with loud cries and tears, he brought his prayers and requests to God, who was able to save him from death, and his prayers were heard because of his reverence for God.

From this scripture we learn four things about Jesus Christ:
  1. There was a time when he was a physical man, but not at the time of writing Hebrews 5:7.
  2. He prayed fervently to God.
  3. He relied on God to resurrect him from death.
  4. His prayers to God were answered due to his godly devotion (Greek: εὐλάβεια, eulabeia).
According to Trinitarianism, Jesus was a divine person on earth with both divine and human natures: one will, one person, two natures. So, how can it be that Jesus as a person had faith in God as a person to save him from death? How could the person of Jesus have fear in God and show piety?

Saying that it was his human nature would seem to make it a person, which Trinitarianism has condemned as anathema at the First Council of Ephesus in 431 and the Council of Chalcedon in 451.

To restate: how could the divine person of Jesus have had fear and devotion for God (whom he identified as the Father in John 17:1-5, the “only true God”) and rely on Him for resurrection from the dead?


Jesus relied on another, a superior, to be resurrected. This is incompatible with Jesus simultaneously having an immortal divine nature and being a member of the Godhead with the Father.


Excursus: Who resurrected Jesus?
Paul at Romans 8:11 said it was God’s spirit that resurrected Jesus, and at Ephesians 1:19-20 he said it was God’s power that resurrected Jesus. Thus he appears to have called God’s holy spirit God’s power, which is similar to what the Gospels present. In the account at Matthew 12:28, Jesus used the phrase “God’s spirit,” but in the parallel account at Luke 11:20, Jesus said “God’s finger.” Thus the Gospels present God’s holy spirit as God’s power. Thus God, the Father, resurrected Jesus with his power. Jesus agreed to this arrangement as seen in John 10:18, where he said that he had the authority or the right (NET Bible footnote) to be resurrected by his Father. This harmonizes with Acts 2:24, 32, 3:15, 10:40, 2 Corinthians 4:14, Galatians 1:1 and Hebrews 13:20, which declare that it was God, the Father, who resurrected Jesus. Thus, in light of John 10:18, we can see what Jesus meant at John 2:19-22 where he said he would raise up his body. It was by his perfect obedience that Jesus provided the moral basis for the Father to raise him from the dead. Because of Jesus’ faithful course of life, it could properly be said that Jesus himself was responsible for his resurrection. Jesus himself used the same reasoning at Luke 8:46-48, where he attributed the faith of the one he healed as being responsible for the cure. Thus, Jesus was in full reliance on his God and Father to raise him from the dead. (end Excursus)

How does Trinitarianism account for Hebrews 5:7 in light of the above? Can it provide a clear, direct response? Evidently, it cannot. It must employ what amounts to intellectual absenteeism and insist that John 2:19-22 means that Jesus’ divine person along with the Father raised Jesus’ human nature (not his person) from the dead. It must ignore that Jesus relied solely on his God and Father to be resurrected and ignore the principle that Jesus used in Luke 8:46-48.

Additionally, as Trinitarianism holds that Jesus retained and kept his body that he sacrificed (Hebrews 10:10), and thus is currently in the flesh, Trinitarianism must treat the opening words of Hebrews 5:7 idiomatically, that is, to refer to Jesus’ time on earth and not his physical life that is acknowledged in the NET and HCSB footnotes. It seems it must be understood idiomatically in order to avoid the inevitable conclusion that is obviously inconducive to Trinitarianism, that Jesus’ days of flesh were in the past and not current at the time of writing. Thus, if Jesus kept his human body and has it currently, then why does this passage look back on “the days of his flesh”? Jesus should be “in the flesh” at the time of writing, per Trinitarianism. But per Hebrews, Jesus’ days of flesh were in the past. Thus, while the NASB treats it idiomatically in its footnote, the NET and HCSB place the idiomatic expression in the main text and notifies its readers of what the Greek literally says. This is done to sustain the erroneous belief that Jesus retained the human body that he sacrificed.[1]

In conclusion, we can see that Hebrews 5:7 is incompatible with Trinitarianism on all points:
  1. Jesus was not a physical man at the time of writing Hebrews 5:7. Trinitarianism maintains that he was and still is.
  2. Jesus as a person prayed fervently to God, someone superior to him. Trinitarianism maintains that Jesus prayed, not to God, but to the Father as the first person of the impersonal Trinitarian Godhead. This amounts to ad hoc equivocation.
  3. Jesus as a person relied on God, someone superior to him, to resurrect him from death. Trinitarianism maintains that Jesus relied on himself, his divine person, his Father and the Holy Spirit (the third person of the impersonal Trinitarian Godhead), to resurrect him from the dead.
  4. Jesus’ prayers to God were answered due to his godly devotion. Trinitarianism maintains, again, that it was not God but the Father he showed piety towards and who answered his prayers (thus ignoring that Jesus could have relied on himself as the second divine person of the Trinity).
Either we must accept the ad hoc and convoluted explanation of Trinitarianism, or we could simply accept the face-value reading of Hebrews 5:7, that Jesus was a man when he lived on earth and not one at the time of the writing of Hebrews,[2] and that he prayed to and was devoted to the “only true God,” the Father, whom he relied on to live again. Indeed, an advantage of this explanation is that it harmonizes with Jesus’ declaration at John 6:57: “I live because of the Father.”

Footnotes:
[1] It should be emphasized that those Bible translations fall under the umbrella of Trinitarianism. The non-Trinitarian New World Translation had “In the days of his flesh,” but the 2013 revision has “During his life on earth” with “In the days of his flesh” in a footnote. Thus, while it is ultimately a legitimate translation choice, the Trinitarian translators would have an additional theological reason to side with using the idiomatic translation as a dynamic equivalent of the literal.

[2] Some will point to the resurrected Jesus being called a “man,” as in Acts 17:31 and 1 Timothy 2:5, and then claim that this proves Jesus is a physical man now with a liquid circulatory system (whether they realize that or not). However, this usage would naturally refer to Jesus’ experience as a man on earth during his ministry.

Appendix
  1. From other Bibles across the translation spectrum
  2. From fanciful paraphrases
From other Bibles across the translation spectrum
English Standard Version (ESV)
In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence.

The Message (MSG)
While he lived on earth, anticipating death, Jesus cried out in pain and wept in sorrow as he offered up priestly prayers to God. Because he honored God, God answered him.

Easy-to-Read Version (ERV)
While Jesus lived on earth he prayed to God, asking for help from the one who could save him from death. He prayed to God with loud cries and tears. And his prayers were answered because of his great respect for God.

Amplified Bible (AMP)
In the days of His earthly life, Jesus offered up both [specific] petitions and [urgent] supplications [for that which He needed] with fervent crying and tears to the One who was [always] able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverent submission toward God [His sinlessness and His unfailing determination to do the Father’s will].

Darby Translation (DARBY)
Who in the days of his flesh, having offered up both supplications and entreaties to him who was able to save him out of death, with strong crying and tears; (and having been heard because of his piety;)

Disciples’ Literal New Testament (DLNT)
Who, in the days of His flesh[a] having offered both petitions and supplications[b] with a strong outcry and tears to the One being able to save Him from[c] death[d], and having been heard because of His reverence.[e]
  1. Or, in His days of the flesh.
  2. Or, pleadings.
  3. Or, out of.
  4. That is, peril of death; or, dying; or, physical death (through resurrection).
  5. Or, piety, devotion, godly fear.
Expanded Bible (EXB)
While Jesus lived on earth [In the days of his flesh/earthly life], he prayed to God and asked God for help [L?offered prayers and petitions]. He prayed with loud cries and tears to the One who could save him from death, and his prayer was heard because he trusted God [of his reverence/devotion; referring especially to Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane; Matt. 26:39; Mark 14:36; Luke 22:41, 44].

GOD’S WORD Translation (GW)
During his life on earth, Jesus prayed to God, who could save him from death. He prayed and pleaded with loud crying and tears, and he was heard because of his devotion to God.

Good News Translation (GNT)
In his life on earth Jesus made his prayers and requests with loud cries and tears to God, who could save him from death. Because he was humble and devoted, God heard him.

International Children’s Bible (ICB)
While Jesus lived on earth, he prayed to God and asked God for help. He prayed with loud cries and tears to the One who could save him from death. And his prayer was heard because he left it all up to God.

International Standard Version (ISV)
As a mortal man, [Lit. During the days of his flesh] he offered up prayers and appeals with loud cries and tears to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his devotion to God.

J.B. Phillips New Testament (PHILLIPS)
Christ, in the days when he was a man on earth, appealed to the one who could save him from death in desperate prayer and the agony of tears. His prayers were heard.

Jubilee Bible 2000 (JUB)
Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, was heard because of his reverent fear.

Lexham English Bible (LEB)
who in the days of his flesh offered up both prayers and supplications, with loud crying and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard as a result of his reverence.

Living Bible (TLB)
Yet while Christ was here on earth he pleaded with God, praying with tears and agony of soul to the only one who would save him from premature[a] death. And God heard his prayers because of his strong desire to obey God at all times.
  1. premature, implied. Christ’s longing was to live until he could die on the cross for all mankind. There is a strong case to be made that Satan’s great desire was that Christ should die prematurely, before the mighty work at the cross could be performed. Christ’s body, being human, was frail and weak like ours (except that his was sinless). He had said just a few moments before, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful unto death.” And can a human body live long under such pressure of spirit as he underwent in the Garden, that caused sweating of great drops of blood? But God graciously heard and answered his anguished cry in Gethsemane (“Let this cup pass from me”) and preserved him from seemingly imminent and premature death: for an angel was sent to strengthen him so that he could live to accomplish God’s perfect will at the cross. But some readers may prefer the explanation that Christ’s plea was that he be saved out from death at the resurrection. (italics original, underline added) [The last sentence provides the correct understanding, as Jesus was looking to his God and Father to resurrect him after his sacrificial death. (John 20:17)]
New Life Version (NLV)
During the time Jesus lived on earth, He prayed and asked God with loud cries and tears. Jesus’ prayer was to God Who was able to save Him from death. God heard Christ because Christ honored God.

The Voice (VOICE)
When Jesus was on the earth, a man of flesh and blood, He offered up prayers and pleas, groans and tears to the One who could save Him from death. He was heard because He approached God with reverence.

From fanciful paraphrases
Cotton Patch Gospel
During those days when Jesus was a man, he agonized in prayer, sometimes with pained outcries and tears, pouring out his heart to the one who could have saved him from such a death. And God listened to this kind of devout sincerity.

The Word on the Street
When Jesus was down here he begged God to not let him die. Buckets of tears, sky-piercing screams. And God heard ‘cos Jesus didn’t make demands: he respected God enough just to ask.


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