Bowman, the Bible and Trinitarian Apologetics
By Greg Stafford
This is the first part of my response to Rob Bowman's recent, online reply. This is part of our ongoing, online dialogue. My original reply was entitled, Bowman, the Bible, and Trinitarianism. In this new series of replies, we will again focus on the methodology of trinitarians when it comes to making a biblical defense of their teaching respecting God and Christ. I am sending this reply in separate posts, so those reading the exchange will have time to digest the different points, and hopefully they will not feel deluged with material.
In a previous post we discussed various problems with trinitarian apologetics, using Bowman's article on Sharp's rule to illustrate a reoccurring problem: Trinitarians regularly fail to recognize the distinction between sense and reference when it comes to biblical interpretation. However, this is not the only problem that results from trying to read later theology back into the Bible text. I am not at all questioning the sincerity of trinitarians, or their motives. In fact, I happen to have a good relationship with many that profess belief in the Trinity. I am simply pointing out that some trinitarians have been taught to view things a certain way, and that "way" is not useful when it comes to acquiring an accurate view of God and Christ, from the Bible.
Before we begin, I want to say something about the responsibility of those reading our dialogue: I am not going anywhere, and neither is Bowman. If he posts a reply, I will post a reply. If I write a book, then he will write a book, and then I will write another book, and so on. We will likely go back and forth for some time, through various mediums. But what will you do? It is your responsibility to take the time and carefully analyze the different positions. If you hold the Bible to God's infallible Word, then you need to ask yourself, What view seems more in line with Scripture? I want you to make sure of all things. Think about what is being said on both sides, and then look to Scripture to confirm what is said. For only then will our discussion prove fruitful.
Now, let us consider Rob Bowman's recent contribution to our ongoing, online dialogue:
Posted by R. Bowman (via lsi) on June 02, 1998 at 19:47:06:
Here is the Introduction to a series of posts I would like to offer in response to Greg's posts from a few weeks ago. Each of the posts has a separate title and should be short enough to post as a unit. The first three parts (out of a total of five, not counting this introduction) are ready and are being sent immediately. The fourth and fifth parts will be sent within the next half a day or so.
A Guide to the Debate:
Stafford, the Bible, and Trinitarianism: An Introduction
By Rob Bowman
This is an introduction to a series of posts in response to Greg Stafford's recent posts, especially the one entitled "Bowman, the Bible, and Trinitarianism." In this first introduction, I will focus on some general concerns about this dialogue and summarize the contents of the other posts that are included in this series.
I. TERMS FOR THE CONTINUING DIALOGUE
Regarding certain passages I had cited in support of the belief that Jesus is God, Greg wrote:
>Now, I realize you are busy, but I find it rather remarkable that you, an author of books that have discussed these issues at length, could not provide some documentation to support your view of these passages. I mean, you have my book, and I have yours. Why not refer me to those parts of your book that you feel most strongly support your view and I will be happy to discuss them?
I reply: I didn't have your book when I wrote my previous response to you (I have it now). But if you do have my books, you know if and where these specific texts are discussed. Do I have to tell you where to find them? Now that I have your book, shall I post a query asking you to tell me where in your book you discuss John 1:1? Come on, now.
Well, Rob, I figured you would gather from my request that I do not find any section in your book that adequately treats the subjects under discussion. But, perhaps you have a particular section in mind that you feel is representative of your position. So, yes, could you please tell me what section(s) that might be? You show that you have missed the point of my question (this happens very frequently in Bowman's replies-see below) by asking what you consider a comparable question regarding John 1:1, in my book. However, I am asking you for a section in your book that discusses specific issues relating to the Trinity. In your "parallel" question you ask a very general question: Where do you [me] discuss John 1:1? That might be parallel if I had asked where you discuss the Trinity (!), but I am asking about specific aspects of trinitarianism that I believe are not found in your book. Let's try to stay focused this time, Rob, and answer the questions that are asked of you.
I had written in an earlier post:
>In this essay I will not be responding to the whole of Greg's post. Instead, I will focus on a few key points that pervade Greg's treatment, and especially in the first half or so of his post.
To this statement Greg responded:
>That is unfortunate. In fact, I have read through your entire reply and I am most disappointed by the fact that you have indeed chosen to ignore a great deal of my last reply. However, a more focused discussion is needed. Still, I hope you do not intend to make this a habit, for if I am going to give a complete reply to your posts, I expect you to do the same.
I reply: What is unfortunate is that, while Greg says here that he read through my entire reply, he ignored what I said at the end of this very paragraph:
>[Rob] I am attempting, then, to defuse certain misunderstandings and to clear away certain objections, so that discussion of the biblical texts may proceed in earnest. As time permits I hope to post one or more follow-up essays responding to other matters raised in Greg's post.
So, I explicitly stated that I was NOT ignoring the rest of Greg's post and that I was planning on responding to the rest of it.
The problem, Rob, is that you did not address all the issues that in your view precede a discussion of the biblical texts. "As time permits"? How am I supposed to take that, Rob? I know, that you will only reply when you have time. If so, that is fine, but why, then, do you not hold your replies until they are complete? Again, this is one reason why I asked you to refer to sections in your book that discuss the biblical texts, so that I might save you some time. Have you changed your view of such texts? If not, then it should have been easy enough for you to point out what you consider the most well-prepared arguments in your book, that you would like me to consider. Instead, you just left me hanging, wondering when you would find the time to respond. I'd like to move on to other matters, Rob.
In my opinion, there has been too much posturing by Greg and his fellow Jehovah's Witnesses to try to claim "victory" in the dialogue that he and I have been pursuing. The dialogue has been turned into a battle between champions from each side, with the Witnesses quick to claim that I have been defeated, or that I am unable to respond.
There has been no such posturing on my part. Maybe some of the Witnesses reading our dialogue expected a quicker reply from you than you were willing to give. Again, I came to your defense and suggested legitimate reasons why you had not replied. I did this at least twice publicly. So I really do not understand where you're going with this. Also, I think it is hardly fair for you to single out myself and other Witnesses on this matter of "posturing." It seems you have forgotten about the behavior of your trinitarian brethren. But while I made it a point to ask certain Witnesses to refrain from "victory cries," you have made no attempt to calm the trinitarian waters. Instead, you criticized Mike Nelson for his behavior and then proceeded to act in like manner toward him. That was unnecessary, don't you agree, Rob?
I am not going to be able to spend all my time, or even all my "free time" (whatever that is!), engaged in this dialogue. In order to make this dialogue more fruitful, I am setting forth here my own terms of engagement. No one has to abide by them or agree with them, but if you want to
understand the terms on which I plan to continue, here they are.
1. When mistakes or errors are correctly pointed out in something I have said, I will acknowledge them.
2. Criticisms of my arguments that are relevant to those arguments, either by showing some misstep in reasoning or faulty premise, will be taken very seriously, and I will make every effort to respond to those criticisms.
3. Criticisms of my arguments that are irrelevant will probably be ignored, although if I have time I may explain why they are irrelevant.
4. Repeated criticisms based on characterizations of my position that I have already rejected will almost certainly be ignored.
5. Serious, careful attempts to develop a positive case for the Jehovah's Witness position will be taken very seriously, and I will make every effort to respond to such arguments.
6. Arguments that show a lack of awareness of what I have already written in my four books on Jehovah's Witnesses will probably be answered with brief references to the relevant portions of my books. However, I am not responsible to provide references to people who have made it clear they have my books!
Just a second, Rob. Again, I asked for references to specific points that I had not found in your books. I also asked for references to sections in your book that you would like me to consider in lieu of additional discussion over points you had already considered. We would all like to know what sections of your books you feel are most relevant to our discussion, since you apparently do not have sufficient time to address them anew.
7. I welcome responses from anyone, and will reply if I can and if appropriate in light of the preceding principles. I do not see this dialogue as a one-on-one confrontation between Greg Stafford and myself. On the other hand, please understand that I cannot reply to everything.
I do not recall anyone asking you to reply to "everything," Rob. We would, however, like a reply to the key issues, many of which you had previously ignored. These issues are not merely those that revolve around the interpretation of a biblical text, either.
II. MY REPLY TO GREG STAFFORD: A GUIDED TOUR
Now let's get an overview of the posts that are coming in this series.
1. WHAT GOD DOES, THE SON DOES. In this post I defend my twin arguments for the conclusion that Jesus is God based on the premises that Jesus has characteristics that only God has and that Jesus does what only God can do.
2. LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON. In this post I defend my claim that the title "Son" as applied to Jesus Christ does not carry the necessary or even presumed connotation of a temporal origin.
3. THE TRINITY AND THE MEANING OF "GOD." In this post I explain why I believe Greg's rejection of the Trinity is at least in part based on unexamined assumptions about reason and truth, and I respond to Greg's argument that trinitarians cannot consistently use the word "God" in a biblical sense.
4. PLEASED AS MAN WITH MEN TO DWELL. In this post I discuss Greg's claim that Jesus can't be God because Jesus' existence had a temporal origin and because Jesus received his life from the Father.
5. FULLY GOD, FULLY MAN. In this post I discuss Greg's claim that Jesus can't be God because he can't act on his own.
Several points from the above, in relation to my alleged arguments, have not been stated accurately. I will discuss these below, as we consider Bowman's arguments.
At the end of each post is a summary list of the major points made. I urge anyone seeking to refute the arguments in these posts to make sure that their objections have some relevance to these points.
Posted by R. Bowman (via lsi) on June 02, 1998 at 19:51:55:
What God Does, the Son Does:
Stafford, the Bible, and Trinitarianism, Part I
Robert M. Bowman, Jr.
In this post I am replying to an earlier post from Greg Stafford in which he criticizes my arguments for believing Jesus to be Jehovah God based in part on John 5:19. Actually, there was one argument based indirectly on John 5:19, and another one that was parallel to the first argument. These two arguments ran as follows:
(1) Whoever does what ONLY God can do, is God.
(2) Jesus does what ONLY God can do.
(3) Therefore, Jesus is God.
(4) Whoever has characteristics that ONLY God has, is God.
(5) Jesus has characteristics that ONLY God has.
(6) Therefore, Jesus is God.
Allow me to apologize in advance for explaining some things that some people reading this post will find elementary. The two arguments presented here are deductive arguments in the form known as a syllogism. In a deductive argument a conclusion is drawn that MUST be true IF the premises are both true AND IF the argument is structured correctly. The premises are statements that are claimed to lead to the conclusion. Thus, statements (1) and (2) are premises said to lead to the conclusion (3), while statements (4) and (5) are premises said to lead to the conclusion (6).
Now, there are only two rational, appropriate ways to dispute the conclusion of a deductive argument. One must do either or both of the following. (a) One may show that the argument is INVALID, or structured incorrectly, so that the conclusion does not reliably follow WHETHER THE PREMISES ARE TRUE OR FALSE. (b) One may show that at least one of the
premises is false or at least unknown to be true, so that the conclusion is regarded as unproved WHETHER THE ARGUMENT IS VALID OR NOT (i.e., structured in a logically correct fashion or not). If the conclusion follows reliably from the premises, the argument is pronounced VALID (even if the premises are untrue). If the argument is valid AND the premises are true, the
argument is pronounced SOUND.
Now, Greg seemed to change his mind during the course of his discussion of these arguments as to whether the argument was valid. At first he claimed that the argument was invalid:
>[GS] And your conclusion is incorrect for it is 1) based on faulty evidence; 2) couched in ambiguous terms; 3) does not necessarily follow from the premises laid.
Note that Greg states as his third objection to my conclusion that it "does not necessarily follow from the premises laid." In other words, he claimed that the argument was structured incorrectly, and was therefore logically invalid. Later, though, Greg seemed to back away from this claim:
Your conclusion does not necessarily follow because we do not know in what sense you are using the term "God." That is why I qualified my statement with "necessarily." First you have to define your use of the term, for you use it differently in your premise and your conclusion, as far as I can see. If that was not your intention, you need to make that clear, which you later did, only after I kept pointing out that it was necessary for you to do so. Recall the following from our earlier exchange:
<<<<BOWMAN FROM PART TWO OF OUR FIRST EXCHANGE IN MARK ROSS' DEBATELOG>>>>
(d) God (=the divine Being per se) is a Trinity.
(e) Jesus is God (=a person in the divine Being).
(f) Therefore, Jesus is a Trinity.
This argument does commit the fallacy of equivocation, but it is an antitrinitarian argument, not a trinitarian one. The trinitarian argument I presented, to which Greg objected, does not commit that fallacy.
Fortunately, you have illustrated my point quite well. You see, I have all along stated that you must define the term "God" when you use it in an equative sense in order for you to hold to your teaching. In other words, you cannot simply say "Jesus is God" without further qualification. And that is precisely what you do in your parenthetical comment!
I am not arguing like the other antitrinitarians you mention, for I am asking you to add clarification to your use of "God" in equative sentences, and it worked! You have shown quite well that it is necessary for trinitarians to qualify their use of "God" in order to avoid confusion. Now that you have done so, it is easy for us to see that such a use of "God," as given by you, is never found in Scripture. The Bible never qualifies it as you have done with your parenthetical comment, and thus you show that your understanding of the term is derived, not from the Bible, but from later theology.
So, as you have it stated above, your use of the term "God" is fine, but that is not how you used it originally. It was my intention for you to clarify your use of the term, and not to argue that your use is necessarily illogical. Thus, we have spent a lot of time going over points that have sprung from a misunderstanding of my argument on your part, in several respects, and that is unfortunate.
>>>>END OF QUOTE FROM PART TWO OF PREVIOUS DEBATE<<<<
Since you did not make yourself clear (whether intentional or not), I could not state for a certainty if your conclusion followed from your premises. Please reread the emphasized sentence in the last paragraph quoted above.
BOWMAN (Quoting Stafford)
>[GS] Whether your argument is "valid" from a logician's point of view is not the key issue; I am evaluating the accuracy of your conclusion. Your argument may be valid structurally, but the premises are incorrect, and so is your conclusion.
Here Greg concedes that my argument(s) "may be valid structurally," but claims that this "is not the key issue." Well, that is just another way of saying that Greg really has no rational basis on which to dispute the validity of the arguments.
No, Rob, I am saying that your argument may be valid structurally, but if the premises are false then the conclusion is false, and that is what I am concerned about. If you had defined your use of the term "God" then there would not have been a problem in the first place.
This leaves him with only one RATIONAL basis for disputing the conclusion of the arguments: he must show that "the premises are incorrect," as he now explicitly asserts.
So then, anyone wanting to see whether Greg was successful in refuting my argument should ignore any objections he raises to the argument that do not contribute to showing that one or more of the premises is false.
Again, that is only true if you clearly define your use of the terms, which you did not do in the first place. Until we know exactly how you are using the term "God" in both the premise and the conclusion, we cannot determine if your conclusion follows deductively from your premises. Of course, this whole matter involving the syllogism is supposed to be related to John 5:19, which says "Father," not "God." Care to re-word your syllogism using Father in place of God, Rob? If so, we would then be confronted with:
(1) Whoever does what ONLY the Father can do, is the Father.
(2) Jesus does what ONLY the Father can do.
(3) Therefore, Jesus is the Father.
(4) Whoever has characteristics that ONLY the Father has, is the Father.
(5) Jesus has characteristics that ONLY the Father has.
(6) Therefore, Jesus is the Father.
Of course, in saying the above we are confronted with the same error that results from using "God": If we say that Jesus can do something that only God or the Father can do, we contradict ourselves, for if Jesus can do it then it is no longer something that only God or the Father can do! You assume a trinitarian theology is present in verses like John 5:19, but it is not there or anywhere else in the Bible. The Father is the ONE God, the ONLY true God. He is different from the Son in terms of being. (1 Cor. 8:4-6; John 17:3) He is the God of the Son. (Rev. 3:12) Thus, Jesus cannot be viewed as the same God as the Father. You view is that if Jesus does everything the Father does, this must involve some things that only God can do, and therefore Jesus must be God. But this reasoning is hardly representative of the biblical teaching concerning God and Christ. See below.
Those objections may be worth considering in their own right, but they are irrelevant to the question of THE SOUNDNESS OF THE ARGUMENTS that I have presented. These objections include the following:
My point has everything to do with the soundness of the argument. You point has more to do with the validity of the argument. I had said:
FROM PART ONE OF MY EARLIER REPLY TO BOWMAN:
I recognize the valid structure of Bowman's argument and the deductive interpretation if one assumes the premises are true. For, if I said:
1) Whoever does what only dogs can do, is a dog.
2) My cat does only what dogs can do.
3) Therefore, my cat is a dog.
then this, too, would be valid structurally.
Now, this is only a sound argument if the premises (#s 1 and 2) are assumed true, for then the conclusion (#3) must be true. However, this argument contains a false premise: I have not given any proof that my cat does what only dogs can do, and, frankly, that would be tough to do! Thus, the above argument is unsound, and the conclusion is false.
I call on Bowman to prove his premises, for he assumes in them a truth value that is unscriptural. He also misquoted John 5:19 in an attempt to support his argument. That is why I say he has assumed that which he has yet to prove, namely, premise #2.
>>>>END OF QUOTATION FROM PREVIOUS REPLY<<<<
1. The Son cannot do anything on his own initiative. This is true, but it does not negate any of the premises in the argument concerning the Son doing what only God can do. HOW the Son is able to do work 'W' does not tell us whether or not it is true that the Son does 'W.'
First of all, we again find Bowman misquoting John 5:19. He uses "God" in place of "Father." Since "God" to him is a larger concept than "the Father," he cannot make this substitution without qualification. Now, why does the Son do only what the Father does? Well, the fact that it is not of his own initiative is a clue, but John 14:10 makes it clear that the Father is doing His works in the Son. So the Son does not have the ability apart from the Father to do what he did, since what he did is not original to him. Also, the text does not say that the Son does what only the Father can do; rather, the Son does only what he beholds the Father doing. That is simply to say that the Son imitates the Father. Nowhere does the text say that only the Father (or "God") can do these things. Also, remember that Bowman misquotes this verse to support his view: He misquotes it by replacing "the Father" with "God" and he misquotes it by stating that the things the Son does are things that only God can do, for the Father, being God, must be able to do things that only God (!) can do. Thus, if the Son does all that the Father does, this must involve things that only God can do. The problem with this reasoning will be outlined below.
Bowman frequently makes things up in an effort to convince others of his view, but all you need to do is compare what he says (and particularly what he means!) with what the text says and the weakness of his position will be manifest. I am not sure if Bowman has been conditioned to read the Bible this way, or if he thinks we are all unwilling or unable to compare what he says with the actual words of Scripture.
2. The Son was given his life. Again, true, but how does this disprove that the Son has characteristics only God has? It does not. Again, HOW it is that the Son has characteristic 'X' may be interesting in its own right, but it does not change the fact that the Son does have characteristic 'X.'
But that is my point: The Father has eternal life (not dependent upon anyone else) and the Son does not. The fact that he was given life shows he does not have characteristic X (= eternality). The eternal life that the Father has is eternal because it was never given to Him. The fact that the Son's life was given to him shows that it is not the same kind of life that the Father has.
3. Is the Son's doing the works of the Father a function of his "divine nature" or his "human nature," according to trinitarian interpretation? This is an interesting question, but it has no bearing on whether the Son can do those works.
It is far more than "interesting," Rob. For we need to know what "nature" of the Son you are talking about, in order to determine if your conclusions are consistent with your own theology, and with your interpretation of the text. Here is the problem you are faced with: If the divine nature of the Son is at work, then the divine nature is entirely dependent upon the Father to provide an outline of what to do. This is not a characteristic of the Father's divine nature. If it is the Son's human nature that is doing the aforementioned work, then, because you view the doing of such work as that which only God can do (though this is not what Scripture says-see above), you must, then, deify the Son's human nature, and, therefore, you will no longer be able to use this as a crutch for reading later theology into such texts as Rev. 3:12.
In an earlier post I had written, "It is true, of course, that how Jesus came to possess divine nature and prerogatives has a bearing on our understanding of his relation to the Father." In reply Greg wrote:
>If it has a bearing then why do you say, "If Jesus does even ONE THING that Scripture says ONLY God can do, or he has even ONE characteristic that Scripture says ONLY God has, then Jesus is God, REGARDLESS [emphasis added] of how that state of affairs came about"? Does it matter or not?
There are two questions here. WHETHER Jesus is GOD is a question about his relation to US. HOW it is that he is God and yet received life and authority from the Father is a question about his relation to THE FATHER. These are two different questions, even if they are related. How Jesus is God and yet is related to the Father in the asymmetrical way presented in Scripture is an important question. However, our answer to that question does not logically have any bearing on the two arguments I presented, since it does not call into question any of the premises of my arguments.
It calls into question your use of the term "God" in relation to Jesus. No one in the JW camp is arguing against calling Jesus THEOS or ELOHIM, but you wish to pour a meaning into these terms that the Bible does not articulate. Your use of the English word "God," without further qualification, shows that you are either trying to pull a fast one, or do not understand the different senses in which the Bible uses the term G-god for the Father, the Son, the angels, humans, and others. We have already discussed the problems with your syllogism. See above.
Again, RELEVANCY is the issue. To show the relevancy of an objection, one must show that the objection either calls the logical form of the argument into question OR pertains to the truth of one or more of the premises.
I have already shown that the relevancy of my objection lies in the fact that you are using the term "God" ambiguously. I have also pointed out that you have misquoted the scripture in order to avoid what would be for you, a doctrinal problem. Finally, you have also misquoted John 5:19 in that it does not say that the Son does what only the Father (or "God") CAN do. From there, I proceed to demonstrate, scripturally, that you have no ground to stand on, since the Bible uses terms that show Jesus is not eternal, and that he is THEOS in a sense different from the Father, for he came to possess certain divine qualities and prerogatives according to the will of the Father, to a certain degree. How you fail to recognize this is not at all clear. I sense that you may be deliberately trying to obfuscate matters since the aforementioned points make it quite difficult to read trinitarianism into the Bible, but I am not sure. I am willing to grant that you just did not understand the points I had made, and the reason for which I made them, in the context of this discussion.
Throughout Greg's post in which he was replying to my two arguments, the following points were made that seem to have been intended to dispute one or more of the premises of my arguments:
A. "Angels have characteristics that only God has," because like God "they are spirit beings"; yet angels are not God. Here Greg argues that premise (4) is false.
B. "Who admitted to 2 and 5 being true? When you offer proof then we will evaluate it." Greg here disputes premise (5); he does not deny the premise but simply claims that it is unproved.
C. More than once Greg disputes premise (1) on the grounds that God could allow a creature to imitate him. For example, he asserts that the premise is "assumed and unproven. A deity can allow another to perform certain functions that he/she previously performed, without raising that person to the level of deity."
D. Greg argues that premise (2) is not properly evidenced by John 5:19 because John 5:19 speaks of what the Father does, not what God does. He acknowledges that in his own theology there is an absolute equivalency between the Father and God, but argues that since such an equivalency is contrary to the doctrine of the Trinity premise (2) does not follow from John 5:19 according to trinitarian theology. "Thus, Bowman's argument would have to be, If someone does something that only the Father can do, then that one is the Father."
E. Greg also disputes premise (2) on the grounds that there is something that God does that the Son does not do, viz., create the universe. "The Son does not create in the sense that the Father does. The Father is the source and the Son is the agent of the Father's creative acts."
F. In a post replying to someone else, Greg argues that "if he [Jesus] in fact does all that the Father does, and this would necessarily, according to Bowman's logic, involve creation, then he would have to have recreated something that the Father already made, for the Father made 'all things.'" In other words, Greg argues that premise (2) cannot follow from John 5:19 because if the Son does everything the Father does, everything would be done twice.
G. Greg also disputes premise (2) on the grounds that "in context, the statement of John 5:19 seems to be related to the Son's soteriological and eschatological functions, some of which involve raising the dead (vs. 21) and judging (vs. 22). Thus, to make it an all-inclusive statement is not necessary." In other words, John 5:19 properly interpreted does not imply premise (2).
It is evident that Greg gives almost all of his attention, when he is directly dealing with my two arguments, to premise (2). He gives very little attention to the second argument, offering only one objection to premise (4) and claiming that premise (5) is unproved. So before discussing the more hotly debated first argument, let me offer evidence for the premises of the second argument. Again, that argument runs as follows:
(4) Whoever has characteristics that ONLY God has, is God.
(5) Jesus has characteristics that ONLY God has.
(6) Therefore, Jesus is God.
I will now consider Greg's objections to the premises.
A. ANGELS HAVE CHARACTERISTICS THAT ONLY GOD HAS, SUCH AS SPIRIT.
Greg's one objection to premise (4) is that angels have characteristic that only God has because angels, like God, are spirits, and yet angels are not God. But Greg's objection is both irrational and unbiblical. Yes, angels are spirits, and yet they are not God. But "spirit" is not a "characteristic that only God has." If it were, angels could not have that characteristic!
That is precisely my point! I am simply stating that they do! Actually, what I meant to say on this point did not come out the way I intended it. What I was driving at was something like this: What if I said, "Angels have characteristics that only God has. For example, they are spirit beings, and only God is a spirit being." Well, then, for me to say, "The angels have something only God has, namely, spirit nature," would be to assume that a spirit nature is something only God has (the Bible never says this), and that anyone else who is said to have a spirit nature must therefore be God. This is similar to what Bowman is arguing. He assumes that Jesus does what only God can do, when in fact the Bible never says only God can do the things that He allows His Son to do in His name.
Sometimes when we type things we omit certain parts and the rest goes downhill from there. I made this point clear to Bowman almost immediately after I posted the original reply, wherein I did not state my position as I had intended. He obviously chose to ignore relevant sections of my follow-up posts.
Angels are finite, temporal, contingent spirits; God is infinite, eternal, necessary spirit. God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent; angels are none of those things.
Well, first of all the Bible never says these things regarding angels, and only part of the above is said of God. But if we assume all this to be true based on what Scripture does tell us, then it is unimaginable how one could not come to the conclusion that the Son is a created being, in view of all that is said about him. Again, I simply stated as a truism something that I had not proven to illustrate what Bowman was doing.
B. THE CLAIM THAT JESUS HAS CHARACTERISTIC ONLY GOD HAS IS UNPROVED.
Greg's objection to premise (5) was merely that he thought it unproved. Well, premise (5) is easily proved from Scripture. Colossians 2:9 asserts that Jesus has the entirety of the divine nature dwelling in him. That means that ALL of the essential characteristics of God are also
characteristics of Jesus. (I have discussed Colossians 2:9 in a separate post.) The same thing is evident from other passages (e.g., John 14:9; Col. 1:15, 19; Heb. 1:3). If Jesus has ALL of the characteristics of God, then he has those characteristics that only God has (since "the
characteristics that only God has" is a subset of "all of God's characteristics").
Bowman here mishandles Col. 2:9 as he does elsewhere (see Part 2 of my reply). The Christians are spoken of as possessing this same fullness according to Col. 2:10. Also, Bowman has defined the fullness to fit with his preconceived view! The fullness that Christ has according to Col. 2:9 is something that was GIVEN to him. (Col. 1:119) This qualifies the fullness. Also, having the same set of attributes (which attributes constitute one a divine being), does NOT mean that such a being has them to the same degree as the One from whom he received them. That is why anointed Christians in the first century can be said to have had this same fullness. I will discuss this matter in greater detail in Part 2 of my reply. Col. 2:9 says NOTHING about Jesus having attributes or degrees of attributes that ONLY GOD HAS.
It seems to me, then, that premise (4) is logically true by definition, and that premise (5) have ample basis in Scripture. Unless premise (5) can be refuted directly on exegetical grounds (NOT disputed on dogmatic theological grounds or on the supposition that it contradicts what other
Scriptures say), I think both premises (4) and (5) should be granted as proved. But then, since the argument is valid, if the premises are true then the conclusion (6) is also true: Jesus is God.
Bowman has nowhere shown that Jesus has characteristics that ONLY God has. He has merely asserted this to be true. It is like me saying, the angels have characteristics that only God has. He has also reworded John 5:19 to his liking (see above and below).
Now we move on to my first argument, to which Greg gave considerably more attention. Again, here is the argument.
(1) Whoever does what ONLY God can do, is God.
(2) Jesus does what ONLY God can do.
(3) Therefore, Jesus is God.
Let's consider Greg's objections to this argument one at a time, beginning with his sole objection to premise (1).
C. GOD COULD ALLOW A CREATURE TO IMITATE SOME OF HIS WORKS.
Yes, I agree that God could do this. But this really is irrelevant to premise (1), which does not speak of "some" of what God does but of what "only" God can do.
By suggesting that God could allow for some creature to imitate His works, I am explaining the meaning of the text. I am pointing out that Bowman's syllogism is unnecessary (and inaccurate in terms of what John 5:19 says). One does not need to resort to such reasoning or misreading of the text. It is simply a case of Jesus imitating the Father in relation to the works spoken of in this context (see below). AGAIN, nowhere does the text say that the things Jesus does in imitation of the Father are things that ONLY God or ONLY the Father can do. But Bowman's syllogism, if properly constructed per what John 5:19 actually says, would end up identifying Jesus with the Father, for the Father IS the one God. He is not merely a "person" (as understood by trinitarians) of the "Godhead."
Logically, it is impossible for anyone other than God to do what ONLY God can do.
And that is why your syllogism is out of place in this discussion, for it assumes that Jesus does what ONLY God can do. As I pointed out, to which you agreed, if someone else does something that another can do, then it cannot be said that only one person (=being) can do what is said to have been done!
Precisely the same problems attend to Greg's argument here that invalidated his objection to premise (4). If there is something that a creature of God can do, then that is something that by
definition is outside the set of all the things that ONLY God can do.
That, Rob, is my whole point. This is why I offered the obvious explanation that God merely allowed a creature, His Son, to imitate that which He does.
If Greg, or any other Jehovah's Witness, wishes to argue that there is nothing at all that God can do that ONLY he can do, let them have at it. Otherwise, premise (1) will have to be granted.
I do not object to premise (1) as long as the terms are defined. That is what you originally failed to do. Also, the text in question DOES NOT speak of things that ONLY God can do. You are reading this into the text.
D. JOHN 5:19 SPEAKS OF THE SON DOING WHAT "THE FATHER," NOT "GOD," DOES.
This objection to premise (2) seeks to entrap the trinitarian (me!) in a dilemma: to use John 5:19 I must argue, not that the Son does what only GOD does, but that he does what only THE FATHER does. This would mean that I would have trapped myself into arguing that the Son is the Father, which is monarchianism, not trinitarianism. Greg thinks this follows from the fact
that John 5:19 speaks of "the Father," not of "God." But the objection misunderstands my use of John 5:19.
No, the objection corrects your misquotation of the scripture. Now we will deal with the resulting misunderstanding.
In John 5:19, Jesus states that the Son does everything the Father does. Now, both Jehovah's Witnesses and trinitarians agree that the Father is Jehovah God and that if the Father does it, God does it.
Whoops. Let's stop there, Rob. Trinitarians understand "God" to be a triune being. Thus, none of the three "persons" (a concept that is itself flawed) can be called "God" without qualification. But the Bible nowhere gives the kind of qualification that is given by trinitarians. They simply (selectively) read it into the term.
In other words, whatever the Father does, God does, because the Father is God. Now, included in what the Father does are things that ONLY God can do. For example, the Father hears and answers prayer, something only God can do. For a Jehovah's Witness, this will mean the same thing as saying that prayer is something that only the Father can do, because in Jehovah's
Witness theology only the Father is God. But it does not follow on trinitarian grounds that prayer is something that only the Father can do. Nor does it follow on trinitarian grounds that if Jesus can hear and answer prayer he must be the Father.
Bowman here plays fast and loose with the term "God." First, it is not true that Witnesses believe only the Father is God. We believe he is the only true God. Others are gods patterned after His image, or in opposition to Him. See Chapter 7 of my book for details. Second, again, God does not = the Father in trinitarian theology. "God" = three persons. No matter how much word magic you employ, Bowman cannot escape this fact. This will be discussed in greater detail below, and/or in Part 2 of my reply. But, again, the distinction trinitarians make between "persons," that is not at the same time a distinction in being, is post-biblical theology. There is no articulation of any such theology in Scripture.
Let's look at it this way. John 5:19 does not say that Jesus does what only the Father can do. If it did, that would make Jesus the Father. What John 5:19 says is that Jesus does EVERYTHING the Father does. Since on either of our views this must include things that only God can do, it
therefore follows from John 5:19 that Jesus does things that only God can do.
Bowman has clearly not read the text very carefully. First, he assumes that this statement is meant to include all things period. But this text is talking about certain things (see below) that the Father shows the Son. Thus, the Son has to be made aware of these things, before he can do them. The context clearly limits these "things" to that which will be fulfilled in connection with the Father's promises regarding the things that would occur during His Son's earthly sojourn, and end-time events, which the chapter goes on to discuss. The reference is not, per the context, in reference to every single thing the Father has ever done. But, again, if the Father has to "show" (deiknuo) what He does to the Son, then these are things that the Son was not previously aware of. Now, this is where the distinction between the (alleged) two natures of Christ is relevant. If the divine nature of the Son had to be "shown" these things, then the Son could not have the self-same essence of being that the Father owns. But if the Son's human nature is in view, then Bowman ends up deifying the Son's humanity. Another point to keep in mind is that the Son is said to do the things the Father shows him "in like manner" (homoios). So the Son could simply imitate the Father in all he does, without doing the exact same thing, to the same degree.
Bowman is abusing the context in order to arrive at his view. Nowhere does the context say that the "things" done by the Son in imitation of the Father include those things that can only be done by the Most High. The context also does not permit us to understand the reference to "all things" (panta) as a reference to every single thing the Father has done. For if this were true, then the Son would have a Son, the Son (Jesus) would send this Son to earth, and so on, for he would have to do everything that the Father showed him. This would certainly include sending the Son to earth, but it would even involve having a Son, since trinitarians hold that Jesus' prehuman sonship (though they don't all agree on this point) does not limit his conscious life. More will be said about this in Part 2 of my reply, and we will also address Bowman's misunderstanding of how we view the John 5:19, regarding the Son's dependence upon the Father.
Although I have used John 5:19 to prove that Jesus does what only God can do, strictly speaking I do not need John 5:19 to make that point. If other biblical evidence can be adduced showing that Jesus does what only God can do, premise (2) will be established, with or without John 5:19. So even if a Jehovah's Witness like Greg has difficulty seeing how John 5:19 can be
used to support premise (2), the difficulty should not be allowed to obscure the fact that the argument is valid and, as I shall argue further below, that premise (2) enjoys substantial biblical support.
I will evaluate your biblical evidence below, but so far you have not established anything commensurate with your view from John 5:19.
E. THE SON DOES NOT DO EVERYTHING THE FATHER DOES, BECAUSE THE SON IS THE AGENT, NOT THE SOURCE, OF CREATION.
Greg and I have already corresponded at some length about the question of the Son's role in creation. The question deserves extended treatment beyond what I can provide here. Let me try to make three points that I think will enable us to move on and see that Greg's objection does not undermine the truth of premise (2).
1. If the Son was the Father's agent in creation, then for every creative act of the Father, in a sense it was also the creative act of the Son. That is, the Father did not do one creative act apart from his Son (Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:2), the Logos (John 1:3). In this sense, everything the Father did, the Son also did. This is true even if we grant that the Father did these things through the Son. So the "division of labor" that Greg emphasizes between the Father and the Son does not negate the premise that the Son was active in performing all the works of God.
Here again we see that Bowman has extended the context of Jesus' words in John 5:19 far beyond that which it will permit. Now, let's push this matter a little further. If Bowman is correct in his claim that John 5:19-20 is support for the view which holds that the Son does absolutely every single thing the Father does, and that the Son can ONLY do what the Father does first, then why does the Son judge according to verse 22? After all, the first part of the verse says that the Father judges nothing at all (oudeis)! Now, I would say that this all-inclusive statement is not meant to be taken so absolutely, and it is the same with regarding statements in verses 19, 20. The context helps us determine how we should understand the words, and there is nothing that points in the direction of trinitarianism.
2. Greg's way of dividing the labor of the Father and the Son will not hold up to biblical scrutiny. In a post replying to Howie, Greg affirmed that "the Son formed or shaped those things the Father called into existence. . . . But then that still leaves us without an example of the Son calling
something into existence. The Father created all things and the Son acted as His agent, and was used in the 'making/designing' of those things the Father wished to have constructed." Likewise in his book Greg asserts that the Son's role was not creating the world but "forming or designing those things God called into existence" (Jehovah's Witnesses Defended, 172). The problem here is that the OT explicitly and repeatedly attributes the making, designing, forming, and shaping to Jehovah (Gen. 1:7, 16-17, 25-26, 31; 2:2-4, 7-9, 19, 22; Ps. 90:2; 95:5; 96:5; 102:25; 104:2-3; 115:15; 119:73; 138:8; 139:13; 146:6; Isa. 37:16; 40:22; 42:5; 44:24; 45:12, 18;
Jer. 1:5; 10:12). Of course, Greg must identify Jehovah exclusively as the Father.
At this point I will merely identify him as the God of the Son. (Micah 5:4) Bowman fails to recognize that the OT speaks of a created being who may have participated in the creative process. (Prov. 8:22ff) Precisely how we should define the Son's role in creation is not clear, except to say that he is NOT the source, but the intermediate, passive agent. (1 Cor. 8:6; Col. 1:16-17; Heb. 1:2) The Father is nowhere referred to PASSIVELY as the agent in creation. Also, it must be remembered that the Son merely carried out the will of the Father, and so the shaping/designing of all things should actually be credited to Jehovah. When a builder carries out the plans of a designer, it is the designer who is usually credited with the work. Of course, the greatest creation for which Jehovah is to be praised is that of His Son, who gave his life in our behalf.---John 6:57.
The problem is compounded by the fact that Isaiah 44:24 actually says that God made the universe BY HIMSELF. In his book Greg tries to circumvent this problem by making two points. First, Greg argues that Jehovah in Isaiah 44:24 is not denying that Jesus or the angels were with him when he created, but is merely denying that the idol gods of the nations were there
(Jehovah's Witnesses Defended, 172). But this misses the point, which is that Jehovah God created the universe himself, directly, not through intermediaries or in concert with other deities.
Hold it right there, Rob. How often will you continue to read into the text things that are not there? The text does not say Jehovah did not use intermediaries. YOU say that! The text is dealing with the fact that creation originates with Jah, and no one else. Paul makes the same point.--1 Cor. 8:6.
The polytheism of the ancient world depended on the assumption that a multiplicity of gods was
responsible for the diverse nature and forms of the universe; in response to this belief Jehovah insists that he himself made the entire universe by himself. Had he wanted to say, "I did make the universe with the help of a created helper, but the idols were not involved," he could have said so; but he didn't say anything of the kind.
Again, we believe that Jehovah made/created the universe BY HIMSELF. There was no co-creator with Him. Jehovah is specifically addressing this point and this point ONLY. His Son did not create, as the Bible elsewhere makes very plain. It is hard to imagine how you could refer to my book where I make this same point, and yet still not get the sense of what I am saying.
Second, Greg tries to finesse the problem by saying that "Jehovah alone created all things through the agency of the Logos, his 'master worker'" (ibid.; "alone" italicized in original). But this is not what Isaiah 44:24 says. It does not say that Jehovah "created" everything, leaving the
"making," "forming," and so forth to a hypothetical second, inferior deity. Rather, it says, "I, Jehovah, am the MAKER of all things, stretching out the heavens BY MYSELF, and spreading out the earth ALL ALONE" (or, "spreading out the earth - who was with me?"). Here Jehovah says that he alone did the making, stretching, and spreading. What Greg and other Jehovah's Witnesses would have us believe is that actually Jehovah never made, stretched, or spread a thing in his everlasting life other than the Logos.
First, making, stretching, and spreading in this context are parallel in their relation to the creative process. Jesus is not in this category, but is spoken of as a passive agent used by the Father. The role later articulated for the Son, and referred to in Proverbs 8, does not conflict with Isaiah's teaching. It is clear that you will continue to miss this point regardless of how clear I make it. I can appreciate the difficult position you are in. After all, you have committed yourself to this trinitarian teaching, and to abandon it now would require great humility. Don't take this the wrong way, it's just that I feel compelled to make this point after having to correct you on our position so many times. I find it hard to believe that anyone, especially someone with your background, could miss so many points so frequently. But, then again, maybe it is your background that has forced you into a pattern of thinking that forbids you to deal with these issues without involving post-biblical theology.
The basic point I am making here is that it won't work biblically to say that God did the creative work by calling things into existence while Jesus did the actual making, forming, designing, or constructing work using power from Jehovah. This won't work because the OT says over and over again that Jehovah did the making, forming, and so forth. Once it even says flatly that Jehovah ALONE did this work.
Again, there are other terms and expressions that have a parallel meaning to "create," but are more poetic. The context and the referent help us appreciate who is being spoken of, and in what capacity. But sense and reference are a problem for trinitarians, as we saw in my review of Bowman's article on G. Sharp. Similarly, given the fact that the OT allows for another CREATED being (Wisdom) to have existed with God in some capacity relating to creation (though not a co-creator), and since the NT makes this point ever so clear by distinguishing Jesus from the source of creation (1 Cor. 8:6), by saying that Jesus is the "firstborn" and was PASSIVELY involved in the creative process (Col. 1:15-17), together with the fact that the Son was GIVEN life and continues to live because of the Father (John 5:26; 6:57), shows that the trinitarian view is unbiblical.
So, even if we want to say that there is some distinction between the universe being created "by" God and its being created "through" the Son, that distinction can't be explained by saying the Father did one kind of thing and Jesus the Son did something entirely different. And therefore, the distinction Greg draws between the Father as the "source" and the Son as the "agent" of creation cannot be used to prove that the Father did something the Son did not do.
Try again, Rob. I find it amusing that you continue with your argument as if you have actually made some unassailable point. Since the Son is a passive agent, and the Father is the one out of whom all things are, the distinction remains.
I would like to say much, much more on this question, but I really must move on to the next point, which will show that, whatever one thinks about this question of the Son's role in creation, premise (2) in my argument will still stand.
3. I think the inference I have drawn from John 5:19 - that the Son does everything the Father does - is a valid one.
Again, if you use the term Father in your syllogism your argument is turned against you. Also, you assume that the things spoken of in the context of John 5:19 are meant to include every single thing that the Father ever did, when the context limits the reference to those things done by Jesus during his earthly sojourn, and those things he will do in the future. Finally, John 5:19 says that the things the Son does are in imitation of the Father, and done "in like manner." It is not necessary to view these things as that which only God can do, and the text does NOT make this qualification.
And I think Greg's argument against it in regard to creation can be answered (as I have attempted to do at least in part just now). But strictly speaking defending that inference is not necessary to premise (2). It certainly strengthens the case for premise (2) to be able to show that the Son does EVERYTHING that God does, but strictly speaking that is not necessary. All that is necessary is to show that the Son does SOMETHING that only God does.
And this you have not done. The text says nothing about "the Son doing something that ONLY God can do." You assume that is part of the intended meaning, but you have no justification per the context. In fact, the context makes the "things" Jesus does quite clear. The thrust of Jesus' words in John 5:19-47 is in response to the Jews' misunderstanding that he had claimed some equality with God after performing a WORK on the Sabbath. (John 5:14-18) Jesus responded to their accusation by pointing out that he does not do these things of his own will; rather, he does only what the Father reveals to him. He goes on to point out that the Father shows him what He does and will show him greater works than THESE (TOUTWN; vs. 20), that they may "marvel." The reference, then, in context, refers to "the very works that the Father has assigned [Jesus] to accomplish" during his time here on earth, and in relation to his eschatological functions. (John 5:36) So we are talking about certain kinds of works, not every single thing the Father has ever done, which, again, if taken literally, would have Jesus sending his Son to earth, and so on and so forth.
END OF PART ONE
GO TO PART TWO