Tuesday, February 17, 2015

A Rebuttal of Trinitarianism


Presented here is my response to a defense of Trinitarianism on a blog.

A Trinitarian blogger requested that I read his explanation of the Trinity, and I was happy to oblige. I then posted my rebuttal to it. As of yet, the blogger has made it evident that he has no desire to respond to my refutation.

Trinitarian blogger:
Is Jesus God?

Lots of people claim that Jesus is just a good man, or that he's a prophet, a good teacher etc. They say the Bible doesn't claim Jesus was God - but is that true?

As an example, the Jehovah's Witnesses claim that Jesus was the first thing created by Jehovah. Jesus is not God, and so John 1:1 should be translated, "In [the] beginning the Word was, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god" (New World Translation, published by Jehovah's Witnesses). They are right in that you can argue this translation from the Greek, but it can equally be translated, "In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God" (New Living Translation, cf. New International Version). [Emphasis his, underline mine.]

Who is right? The trick is to keep reading. In their own translation verse 3 says, "All things came into existence through him, and apart from him not even one thing came into existence". If Jesus is a created being, this makes no sense. How could he create himself?

Those who heard Jesus understood exactly what he was claiming to be. When Jesus claimed that "The Father and I are one" (John 10:30 NLT), his listeners responded with aggression. Jesus asks why they wanted to stone him, and "They replied, “We’re stoning you not for any good work, but for blasphemy! You, a mere man, claim to be God" (John 10:33 NLT).

We see this again in John 5:18 which says, "So the Jewish leaders tried all the harder to find a way to kill him. For he not only broke the Sabbath, he called God his Father, thereby making himself equal with God." This is all the more significant as this is the Bible stating what Jesus was doing, as opposed to reporting what others understood. [Emphasis his]

Yes, Jesus claimed to be God. The Bible records those claims so that we can evaluate them. In a few weeks Christians around the world will be celebrating Easter. At Easter we remember why God came to the earth. He came to do something awesome - open the way for each of us to know him for ourselves, to be forgiven for everything wrong we've ever done, and to live with him forever.

In his own words: "When he came to the village of Nazareth, his boyhood home, he went as usual to the synagogue on the Sabbath and stood up to read the Scriptures. The scroll of Isaiah the prophet was handed to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where this was written: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.” He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the attendant, and sat down. All eyes in the synagogue looked at him intently. Then he began to speak to them. “The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day!”" (Luke 4:16-21 NLT)

I love that passage! Jesus tells us what he came here to do - and it's quite different to what many people think he's about! He is about Good News, not judgement. He's about freeing the oppressed, not beating us down! To quote the Newsboys, "I'm not following a God that's imagined - can't invent this deity!... I'm not following a God I can read about. I can't train this deity! And that's why Jesus is the final answer to who I want my God to be".

My rebuttal:

Thank you for presenting this case for the Trinity. Indeed this is the type of reasoning that perhaps represents the most popular presentation for Trinitarianism.

That being said, please allow me to start appraising it point by point.

First, it’s always refreshing to see the admission that John 1:1c may be legitimately translated as “a god.” Supporting this translation is the third-century Coptic text which reads the same, showing that Christians from that early era also believed that Jesus was “a god.” This is in accords with Biblical monotheism where only one supreme almighty God is given ultimate worship—the monotheism of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Regarding John 1:3, “All things came into existence through him, and apart from him not even one thing came into existence,” you question how this squares with Jesus being created. Notice though the word “through” (from the Greek word dia). This is the key. Jehovah the almighty creator created Jesus then everything else through him. Thus, Jehovah was the source of creation. This is also the position found in the BDAG lexicon, page 225, where we are told that dia refers to Christ “as intermediary in the creation of the world” at John 1:3.

Next you point out John 10:30 where Jesus said to his hostile audience that he and the Father are one, which resulted in them wanting to stone Jesus for, as they put it in verse 33, for making himself “theos.” Notice that this anarthrous theos can be translated as “a god” or as “God.” Which did they mean? Well, Jesus responded in verses 34-35 as if they had said “a god,” and even said in verse 36 that he is “God’s Son.” Notice how he didn’t say that he’s a person of the Godhead with the Father. And in verse 38 he expanded on his statement that he and the Father “are one.” He said that “the Father is in union with me and I am in union with the Father.” (NWT) This is corroborated in John 17:11 and 21 where his disciples are also said to be “one” like he and his Father are “one” and “in” the Father and Jesus. Clearly, unity is the meaning of Jesus’ expressions of “one” and “in.”

Regarding John 5:18, Jesus’ enemies want to kill him for breaking the Sabbath and for “making himself equal with God.” But did Jesus really break the Sabbath? No, for Jesus also declared that “it is lawful to do a fine thing on the Sabbath.” (Matthew 12:12) Similarly, did Jesus really say that he was equal with the Father, meaning he is the second person of the Trinitarian Godhead? Notice how he responded in the next verse: “Most truly I say to you, the Son cannot do a single thing of his own initiative, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever things that One does, these things the Son does also in like manner.” Thus Jesus quickly corrected his enemies that he was dependent on the Father and not equal to him.

Notice that in both accounts at John 5:18 and 10:33 that it was Jesus’ murderous enemies who were pushing the claim that Jesus was more than what he said he was, equal to God.

Lastly, you point out the scene in Luke 4:16-21 where Jesus said that the “spirit of the Lord,” of God, was upon him. This is a quotation from Isaiah 61:1-2. As Isaiah was a servant of God and not equal to God, Jesus was also a servant of God par excellence, and not equal to his Father and God.

Confirming that Jesus did not claim to be a person of the immortal Godhead is his conversation with Peter found at Matthew 16:21-23 and at Mark 8:31-33. Here, Jesus made it very clear that he would be killed. But Peter with good intentions rebuked him, saying: “God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You.” (Matthew 16:22, NASB) Here Peter tried to console Jesus, naively attempting to reassure him that he would not be killed. Now since Trinitarianism teaches that Jesus is immortal on two counts, an immortal divine person with an immortal soul, it is actually in agreement with Peter’s rebuke in that it too would have assured Jesus that he would not really die. But Jesus called such reasoning satanic and thoughts of men alienated from God, as he proclaimed to Peter: “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me, because you think, not God’s thoughts, but those of men.” I’m afraid a Trinitarian Jesus would not have responded that way. But Jesus did rebuke Peter, for he was really going to die, sacrificing his life. Therefore, this account places Trinitarianism at the receiving end of Jesus’ rebuke.

This point is expanded on at my blog here: jimspace3000.blogspot.com/2013/10/a-lesson-from-jesus-rebuke-in-order-for.html

See also:

I’d like to comment again on a point raised by [the blogger].

(quote) John 5:18 which says, "So the Jewish leaders tried all the harder to find a way to kill him. For he not only broke the Sabbath, he called God his Father, thereby making himself equal with God." This is all the more significant as this is the Bible stating what Jesus was doing, as opposed to reporting what others understood. (end quote, emphasis added)

So he believes that the Bible is stating that Jesus really broke the Sabbath. Or, rather, is this an accusation from Jesus’ murderous enemies? If Jesus was a Sabbath breaker, then he was a sinner and Peter was wrong that Jesus never sinned. (1 Peter 2:22) Rather, Jesus was born under the Mosaic Law (Galatians 4:4) and he kept it perfectly, for he declared: “It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” (Matthew 12:10-12) It thus appears to me that he is ignoring this accusation of Sabbath-breaking and focusing on the other claim of ‘calling God your Father makes you equal to God.’

Again, as Jesus said in the next verse (John 5:19): “Most truly I say to you, the Son cannot do a single thing of his own initiative, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever things that One does, these things the Son does also in like manner.” This is Jesus explaining that he is a different person from God for he imitates his Father and God and obeys him. This arrangement continues even after his resurrection as seen by what he declares in Revelation 3:12.

In conclusion, ones who use John 5:18 to support Trinitarianism must agree with and take sides with Jesus’ murderous enemies that he was a Sabbath breaker, as well as blatantly ignore Jesus’ response in John 5:19 (and must also ignore large swaths of scripture like Ezekiel 34:23-24; 37:24-25, Jeremiah 30:9 and Hosea 3:5 which clearly have the Davidic messiah being another person subordinate to God). Christians should do neither, never taking sides with Jesus’ murderous enemies or ignoring large swaths of the Bible incongruent with a belief.


Appendix
Did Jesus ever break the Sabbath?
Plucking Grain on the Sabbath

The Pharisees, Jesus’ enemies, frequently charged him with violating the Sabbath. The serious nature of this charge is seen in Isaiah 56:2, 4, 6, where keeping the Sabbath is compared to keeping the Covenant with God.

Two cases of this serious accusation of breaking the sacred Sabbath are in John:

In John 5:10, the Pharisees charged a man with breaking the Sabbath for carrying his cot, which Jesus told him to do after curing him. (This charge was repeated in John’s summary in verse 18.)

In John 9:16, the Pharisees charged Jesus with breaking the Sabbath for making mud with his spit and rubbing it on a blind man’s eyes, curing him, and telling him to wash. (9:6-7)

The Synoptic Gospels record two other cases. First, the Pharisees charged him, and his disciples, of breaking the Sabbath on another occasion as recorded in Matthew 12:1-8, Mark 2:23-28, and Luke 6:1-5, for gleaning grains and rubbing them in their hands. Second, Jesus was charged with breaking the Sabbath for curing a man’s hand. (Matthew 12:9-14, Mark 3:1-6, Luke 6:6-11) The Pharisees were outraged and conspired to have him eliminated.

Regarding the Sabbath as the Pharisees understood it, Insight on the Scriptures states:

The Sabbath was originally intended to be a joyous, spiritually upbuilding time. But in their zeal to distinguish themselves from the Gentiles as much as possible, the Jewish religious leaders, especially after the return from Babylonian exile, gradually made it a burdensome thing by greatly increasing the Sabbath restrictions to 39, with innumerable lesser restrictions. These, when compiled, filled two large volumes. For example, catching a flea was forbidden as hunting. A sufferer could not be given relief unless death threatened. A bone could not be set, nor a sprain bandaged. The true purpose of the Sabbath was made void by these Jewish religious leaders, for they made the people slaves to tradition, instead of having the Sabbath serve men to the honor of God. (Mt 15:3, 6; 23:2-4; Mr 2:27) When Jesus’ disciples picked grain and rubbed it in their hands to eat, they evidently were accused on two counts, namely, harvesting and threshing on the Sabbath. (Lu 6:1, 2) The rabbis had a saying: “The sins of everyone who strictly observes every law of the Sabbath, though he be an idol worshiper, are forgiven.” (Vol. 2 p. 832 Sabbath Day, Rabbinic Sabbath Restrictions.) (end quote)

So the only thing Jesus broke was the Pharisaical accretions to the Sabbath, not the Scriptural Sabbath. The only ones in the Gospels who accused Jesus of violating the Sabbath were his enemies. It remains the same today: the only ones who accuse Jesus of violating the Sabbath are his enemies.
  • Jesus was not wrong to cure that man on the Sabbath or to tell him to carry his cot. Only Jesus’ bigoted enemies think that he violated the Sabbath.
  • Jesus was not wrong to heal the blind man’s eyes with mud or for telling him to wash. Only Jesus’ bigoted enemies think that he violated the Sabbath.
  • Jesus was not wrong to glean grains and rub them between his palms. Only Jesus’ bigoted enemies think that he violated the Sabbath.
  • Jesus was not wrong to heal the man’s hand. Only Jesus’ bigoted enemies think that he violated the Sabbath.
Isaiah 53:9 prophetically speaks of the Messiah of not sinning, and 1 Peter 2:22 notes how this was fulfilled with Jesus. However, violating the Scriptural Sabbath would constitute a sin. Thus, the conclusion is inescapable that since Jesus did not sin, that he did not break the Sabbath.

As Professor of Biblical Studies Julia Blum said: “Jesus did not break a God-given commandment. He did break a contemporary tradition of keeping Shabbat [Sabbath] at any cost.”
(http://lp.israelbiblicalstudies.com/lp_iibs_jbnt_jesus_and_shabbat-en.html)


See also:
Credits:
Appendix picture from Plucking Grain on the Sabbath
https://www.jw.org/en/publications/books/jesus/ministry-in-galilee/plucking-grain-on-sabbath/

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