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Online Debate between Greg Stafford and Rob Bowman (Part 2):

Bowman, the Bible, and Trinitarianism
By Greg Stafford

One day last April I checked my email account and I found a letter from one of my friends, Mark Ross. Attached to it was a question he had posted to a board frequented by trinitarians and others who disagree with the beliefs of Jehovah's Witnesses, but in addition to the question there was a reply by well-known Witness critic, Rob Bowman. Apparently the trinitarians on the discussion board were so taken aback by the question Mark had asked, that they felt the need to appeal to Rob for assistance. What followed was a brief answer-reply discussion between Rob and myself, wherein I commented on his reply to Mark's question, but in the course of the exchange other topics were introduced.

Trinitarianism stems from a controversy concerning the persons of the Father and Son, as well as an inquiry into the nature of the holy spirit, and its relation to both Jesus and his Father. The terms and concepts used by Trinitarians to explain their teachings are, for the most part, not found anywhere in Scripture. When I replied to Rob, I used terms like "God" and "Beingness" in a manner that is consistent with the historical definition and extra-biblical articulation of the Trinity. Bowman has challenged the rightness of my use of such terms, in relation to the Trinity dogma. Let us consider his arguments, one at a time.


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Rob Bowman:
I confess to being amused by the Jehovah's Witnesses who have been posting triumphant notices to the Watchtower Review that Greg Stafford has somehow refuted me into silence. For some reason, the passing of a few days without a reply is taken as evidence that I cannot or will not reply. Meanwhile, I have been steadily working on a reply to Greg.



Greg Stafford:
For the record, this was not something I condoned, believing that you were in fact preparing your reply. In fact, I made a post that offered several possible reasons as to why you had not yet responded. However, it appears your supporters have similarly used such notices to their own ends.



Rob Bowman:
Originally, I had offered a very brief reply to a challenge posed by Mark Ross for a trinitarian to explain how the Bible can speak of Jesus being given life if he was God. Greg Stafford then critiqued my short answer line by line, and I replied with a very lengthy critique. Greg's follow-up response was so long that it was posted in three parts. If we continue on the same trajectory Greg will have to devote his next book entirely to his third reply to me!



Greg Stafford:
No, my next book is of a different sort. While my previous reply may have been long, I tried to keep it as brief as possible, asking questions for clarification and pointing out areas of discussion that you had brought up, that were not necessarily related to our discussion (such as the issue concerning the holy spirit).



Rob Bowman:
I never intended to participate in such a protracted and time-intensive debate. In this essay I will try to lower the trajectory a bit and keep my reply from becoming unmanageably long. This means that I will not attempt to respond to each and every point that Greg raised, and I will reproduce little of his actual post. As it is, my reply will be somewhat lengthy. I hope Greg won't feel that I'm wasting his time or valuable space.



Greg Stafford:
I hope you don't think my comments about "wasting time" were in reference to spiritual discussions, but when it comes to repeating points that have been considered at length, then I think it behooves us to reconsider the quality of our reply. By your words above, it is evident that you agree.



Rob Bowman:
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.



Greg Stafford:
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.



Rob Bowman:
These have to do with theological method, particularly the use of logic, and the meaning of theological terms, especially "Son" and "God." Even with the length of this essay, I cannot claim to have treated these subjects at all definitively. Readers will notice also that I do not offer detailed exegesis of biblical texts here. This is because there are certain presuppositional impediments to a trinitarian exegesis of the Bible being given a fair hearing, as I see it. 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.

1. Methodological Problems

Greg and I have some fundamental differences in theological methodology.  Ironically, we both think that the other is guilty of reading our ideas into the Bible. But that is the result, not the explanation, of our methodological differences. Let me try to explain what I think it is.

a. Use of Logic in Theology

Both of us maintain that logic or reason is to be employed in Christian doctrine. However, we differ in the place we assign to reason. I maintain that its proper theological use is threefold: (1) drawing inferences from the biblical texts, (2) correlating the propositional truths conveyed by those texts, and (3) clarifying and defending those truths soundly based on Scripture. Greg, on the other hand, thinks that, in addition to these uses, reason also may be used to evaluate the resulting doctrinal position for possible irrational aspects or apparently intractable logical problems.
In other words, whereas I see logic as operative only at the level of articulation of doctrine, Greg sees logic also as operative at the level of the assessment of doctrine.



Greg Stafford:
This is not an accurate description of our differences. While it is true that I believe God will not present us with a logical impossibility (not to be confused with a genuine "mystery," that is something we can see as logical, but not fully understand) I do not use logic as a means of creating conflict with explicit statements in the Bible text. In other words, Bowman seems to think that my use of logic in assessing the truth-value of a doctrine is such that even if the doctrine is clearly articulated in Scripture, if it fails my "logic test," it is to be rejected. Because of my belief in the inspiration of Scripture, I look to the Bible for statements of faith, and see them confirmed by logic, in most instances. I do not use logic as a test for whether or not a statement in Scripture should be accepted or rejected. Also, I have emphasized the Bible throughout our discussion, and have never appealed to human logic as a means of accepting or rejecting a teaching that is clearly articulated in Scripture.



Rob Bowman:
For example, Greg looks at the doctrine of the Trinity as formulated in orthodoxy and finds logical conundrums in it, and on that basis he pronounces it DOA. I reject that method.



Greg Stafford:
So do I. That is why I do not employ it. To characterize the doctrine of the Trinity as containing "logical conundrums" is far from the truth of the matter. The problem I have with the Trinity is threefold: 1) There is no explicit articulation of the doctrine in the Bible. 2) There is explicit articulation about the relationship God has with His Son, in Scripture, that, when carefully considered apart from later theology, is irreconcilable with trinitarianism. And 3) the Trinity contains tenets that present logical impossibilities. Now, if the Bible taught what I considered a logical impossibility, then I would be faced with either accepting the Bible's teachings regardless of what I perceive to be logical problems, or rejecting the Bible as the product of human, irrational thinking. Fortunately, I do not see any logical problems with the teachings of the Bible, and I am convinced it is the product of divine thinking. The Trinity, however, is not taught in Scripture, and that is the problem I have with the doctrine, and those who advocate it.



Rob Bowman:
I maintain that if the premises or data on which the doctrine of the Trinity is based are biblical and if the way in which the doctrine correlates those premises does not contain missteps in reasoning, then the doctrine is biblical even if it appears paradoxical, antinomous, or contradictory.



Greg Stafford:
Agreed. But that is precisely the problem I perceive: Where does the Bible teach what may "appear" contradictory? I contend that any paradoxical statements made in Scripture can be understood by appealing to other, clearer texts that pertain to the subject at hand; there is absolutely no need to appeal to the theology of later centuries.



Rob Bowman:
On the other hand, if the premises are not biblical or the inferences are invalid, the doctrine should be criticized ON THAT BASIS and not on the basis that the doctrine is philosophically untenable. At most alleged logical difficulties should be regarded as supplementary evidence against the doctrine, not disproof.



Greg Stafford:
Again, I have in no way limited my rejection of the Trinity to "philosophical differences." I am, in fact, criticizing it on the very two premises you mention, with a clear emphasis on whether or not the Bible teaches the doctrine.



Rob Bowman:
Again, I do think that logic may be used to try to elucidate the rationality of the resulting doctrine in response to objections. I have tried and will try again here to do just that. But I maintain that it is methodologically unsound to insist that such elucidation must be successful and persuasive before a doctrine may be accepted.



Greg Stafford:
Let me restate my position on this matter: The doctrine of the Trinity has no foundation in Scripture, and is also loaded with logical problems. The primary reason it should be rejected by thinking Christians is because it is inconsistent with the Word of God. It is also problematic from a purely humanistic standpoint, as it contains teachings that are nowhere reflected in nature, and cannot be reconciled with our God-given powers of reason. (Rom. 12:1) Again, this should not be taken to mean there are not genuine mysteries or concepts beyond our comprehension. But these do not conflict with other truisms we apprehend in the world around us. Again, I reject the Trinity primarily for its lack of biblical foundation; it just so happens that there are considerable logical problems with the doctrine, also.



Rob Bowman:
This is not special pleading to save a doctrine to which I have some sort of emotional attachment. I apply this same methodological principle in all areas of Christian doctrine. It has led me to accept as biblical other doctrines that Greg probably also considers horribly irrational as well as unbiblical - doctrines such as eternal punishment for the unbelieving and God's predestination of individuals to salvation based on his sovereign will. In each case I myself had an initial prejudice AGAINST the doctrine, saw logical as well as biblical difficulties with it, but was eventually persuaded by the mass of biblical support for the doctrine to accept it despite my initial discomfort with it. The biblical data that I thought militated against the doctrine, it turned out, did so only on the basis of certain rationalistic assumptions. For example, I assumed with regard to predestination that human responsibility to believe was impossible unless human beings possessed the inner, intrinsic ability to choose or not to choose to believe. That sounded eminently reasonable, but it turned out it was an assumption that was not biblical and that flew in the face of clear biblical teaching concerning the bondage of the human will in sin.



Greg Stafford:
Well, when you are prepared to discuss the "mass of biblical support" for these doctrines, let me know. I appreciate what you are saying, Rob, but I think you are missing the point (how I don't know, but you are): I am primarily objecting to trinitarianism on biblical grounds. It appears that you are trying to make it seem that it is you who are championing the Bible, while I am using humanistic rationalizations in rejecting it. Trust me, that is not the case at all.



Rob Bowman:
I bring all this up, not to raise new issues for debate or because I can't focus on one topic at a time (as Greg complained),



Greg Stafford:
I did not say you couldn't focus on one topic at a time, Rob, I pointed out that you were not focusing on the topic at hand. My complaint was intended to get us back on track. I am glad that it worked.



Rob Bowman (continued from above):
but to provide some perspective on the difficulties we seem to have in getting the other side to see the reasonableness of our position. Certain Jehovah's Witnesses (as well as certain evangelicals) prefer to focus in these types of dialogues on the nature of Christ as it pertains to the Trinity almost to the exclusion of all else. I have found that this narrow focus frequently results in a kind of hermeneutical myopia.



Greg Stafford:
We were brought into this discussion over this particular issue. I have placed no restrictions on how broadly we may consider the topic. In fact, I prefer that we explore the issues to the fullest extent possible, for only then will others have a chance to understand the significance of our differences.



Rob Bowman:
b. Meaning of Biblical Language as Applied to God

Greg assumes that biblical terms used of God (Jehovah) must carry certain "ordinary" meanings unless explicitly stated otherwise. For example, he complains that it is illegitimate to import into the biblical language about God "giving" life to the Son the idea that this giving was eternal rather than temporal. The Bible never speaks of eternal giving, so why should we? Or again, Stafford assumes that the term "Son" implies a temporal beginning for Christ, a "difference in age" between the Father and the Son. After all, in everyday language and in every other context in the
Bible, sons have beginnings and are younger than their fathers. Why should the Son of God be any different?

I, on the other hand, hold that Greg's assumption is unwarranted and improper, for two reasons. First, biblical terms used of God will often if not almost always be used in ways that differ somewhat from their "ordinary" usage when applied to created things, simply because God is the
one uncreated, transcendent, infinite reality. Second, explicit statements in the Bible about God must be allowed to preempt what we might consider as plausible or reasonable inferences from language used elsewhere of God.



Greg Stafford:
I agree with your first and second points, Rob. But what may be true of the One we all acknowledge as God, without beginning and end, a teaching clearly communicated and articulated in Scripture, is not necessarily true of others, like His Son. Now, let's consider some of your examples:



Rob Bowman:
Here I'll try to use a less controversial example. Statements in the Bible about God going down to earth to find out what is happening there, or asking people questions, do seem to many readers to imply that God does not know everything. However, since the Bible explicitly and flatly says God does know everything, I take that as a doctrinal premise and on that basis understand the language of God finding out or asking as anthropomorphic.



Greg Stafford:
Anthropomorphic for what? The Bible frequently uses all-inclusive language when, in fact, such statements are meant to be taken in relation to something more specific, and not universally applied. So, if you would care to reference those verses which, to you, support your statements above concerning God's knowledge, then we can evaluate them. I am not saying they are biblically untenable, but I would prefer to examine the particular scriptures you have in mind.

But on this matter of "knowing all things," your view has an inherent problem in terms of harmonizing statements in the Bible that reveal Jesus' dependency upon God for knowledge of divine things. (Rev. 1:1) Thus, while you accept the view that God knows absolutely every single thing that can be known, you do not hold this to be true in reference to Jesus, or, I should say (right?), in reference to his human nature. But this is where we get into real problems in terms of how many centers of consciousness Jesus has, and whether or not the Bible teaches what you claim.



Rob Bowman:
Or, to take a more relevant example, when I read about God the Father in the Bible, a natural inference to make might be that there is a God the Mother. Nor is this hypothetical, as many Mormons popularly believe in just such a being. However, not only is no Heavenly Mother mentioned in the Bible, but the explicit statements about the nature of God as infinite Spirit and various other biblical teachings firmly rule out the possibility of a Heavenly Couple.



Greg Stafford:
Well, actually it is not true that "there is no Heavenly Mother mentioned in the Bible." (Gal. 4:26) So, Mormons could argue, as you are attempting to do, that the concept of "God the Mother" is in fact rooted in the biblical text. You might counter by suggesting that the context refers to this as "Jerusalem," an impersonal entity, and they might argue that you are begging the question, for the text itself uses the feminine pronoun "she." But you and I both know that such terms are anthropomorphic, not because we ignore the text, but because we recognize (at least JWs do) the spiritualization of Jerusalem as the "city having real foundation." Also, there is no unambiguous articulation of an ontological being known as God the Mother. Thus, without clear articulation, Rob, we are not at liberty to insert concepts into the text that clash with ideas expressed elsewhere, just because we can bend the language in some way to conform to an otherwise biblically unsubstantiated teaching. That is why trinitarianism is biblically untenable, for there is no articulation of the concepts that are fundamental to the belief. So, really, trinitarians are no better off than the Mormons, when it comes to establishing their dogma by referencing biblical articulation for their position.



Rob Bowman:
This is more relevant to our discussion, since it shows that the term "Father" is itself an anthropomorphism, not to be taken at all literally. This is something difficult for Muslims, for example, to grasp; they object on principle to calling Jesus God's "Son" because they cannot dissociate that term from the ordinary cause of sons, namely, sexual procreation. Thus, what seems "obvious" or "natural" or "ordinary" about the use of such a word in relation to the divine is very much relative to one's cultural and religious perspective.



Greg Stafford:
Of course, we are talking about "obvious" and "natural" meanings in the Bible, and the terms "son" and "father" are used throughout, both with reference to humans and spirit beings, without any difficulties, except for the Jews who rejected Jesus' identity as one of God's sons. Now, regarding your reference to "literal" meaning, you seem to imply that a literal meaning for the word "father" must necessarily involve physical procreation. How so? When used of humans we would naturally associate physical procreation with the word, but that is not a necessary part of the concept created by the semantic signals "father" and "son." For example, when Satan is referred to as "the father of the lie" (John 8:44), this clearly does not involve physical procreation, but the meaning that is at the forefront of the semantic signals conveyed by the term is similar to physical procreation, in terms of bringing something into existence. So, the terms need not imply the same process, but they do convey same basic idea. The concepts created by the semantic signal "father," whether spoken or written, create certain images that the reader/hearer can appreciate in relation to the everyday meaning of the word "father." And unless those readers/hearers are specifically cautioned against such everyday associations, then the chances are 1) the sender/giver of the semantic signal intended a correlation with the hearer's/reader's everyday understanding of the term, and 2) the hearer/reader would likely associate his/her everyday understanding of the term with the author's usage.

What is certain is that no reader or writer of the Bible would confuse the semantic signals of the words "father" and "son." Additionally, if the semantic signals create different concepts, then what are they? How should we define them in relation to each other? Of course, trinitarians import a functional hierarchy into the text in order to avoid an ontological distinction. To do this they refuse to acknowledge how the words are used and understood in the text itself. This is nothing new, and is, in fact, at the heart of trinitarian reasoning. Consider, for example, Athanasius.

Athanasius and company took as their point of departure the spiritual concepts to which the biblical words refer, made up their mind as to the meaning of these concepts, and discussed them as if they were part of a material world of three dimensions. But this is to start in the wrong end. For an accurate understanding of God we are dependent upon Him for a revelation of Himself, His Son and His spirit. We, therefore, have no other choice but to start with the words in their normal or "biological" sense. They are the three dimensional building blocks, and from these we may get an idea of the concepts to which they refer.

Athanasius would not accept the biblical words as absolute proofs because words had no definite meaning in themselves. He wrote:

"For terms do not disparage His Nature; rather the Nature draws to Itself those terms and changes them. For terms are not prior to essences, but essences are first, and terms second. Wherefore also when the essence is a work or creature, then the words "He made" and "He became", and "He created" are used of it properly, and designate the work. But when the Essence is an Offspring and Son, then "He made" and "He became" and "He created" no longer properly belong to it, nor designate a work; but "He made" we use without question for "He begat." --- Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, vol. 4, page 349.

Aside from making a distinction between "made" and "begat" that is nowhere articulated in the Bible, what Atahanasius also does is to first decide that the Son, who is called the Wisdom and the Word, is eternal and uncreated, and based on this premise, any biblical passage saying that he is created or made cannot be taken at face value. Armed with such an interpretative model, any biblical argument was neutralized, because the words had no meaning in themselves. So, Rob, unless you provide examples of clear articulation, at the hand of the Bible writers, where the terms in question ("father" and "son") carry a meaning different from their normal meaning (in your view, a meaning that is opposite to their normal meaning!), then you are simply following in the path of Athanasius. Since the Bible does not articulate your new definition of the words "father" and "son," but merely applies them to entities that are not human, this so that we humans can have a measure of understanding about these beings and their relationship with one another, it is bad methodology to ascribe new meanings to words straight away, from a philological point of view. Instead of starting with preconceived concepts and interpreting words in light of them, we should begin with the words used and build our concepts from these words.



Rob Bowman:
Now, with respect to the terms mentioned above, indeed it is extraordinary and unprecedented to understand "giving" as eternal rather than temporal. And it is quite true that the Bible never speaks of God "eternally giving" life to the Son. However, we have explicit statements in the Bible about the Son as existing antecedent to all temporal things (e.g., John 1:1-3; 8:58; Col. 1:15-17; Heb. 1:2-3). (I realize that Greg disputes my interpretation of these texts, but I can't prove everything at once. Please be patient!) If I am right about that, then I am driven logically to understand the "giving" of life to the Son in one of two ways.



Greg Stafford:
Again, this is bad methodology. Start with the words and build your concept(s) from them. If the Bible does not define the terms the way you do, then right away you should recognize the possibility that you are reading into the text a view that is not there.

Now, the texts to which you refer do not say anything about the Son "existing antecedent to all temporal things." This is a view that is read into the text in order to support a concept created apart from the text. Now, I realize you are busy, but I find it rather remarkable that you, an author on 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. But in looking at these verses in their respective contexts, Col. 1:15-17 contains a temporal reference to Jesus as the Firstborn, and in verse 19 he is said to have been given the fullness that is later spoken of in Col. 2:9. In Hebrews 1:2-3 Jesus is described in temporal terms, and in John 1:1-3 the context (vs. 18) contains another temporal reference to the prehuman Jesus. Now, unless you are going to argue that these descriptions are not meant to convey their normal connotations because of clear articulation at the hands of those who used such terms, then you are special pleading.



Rob Bowman:
(1) It might refer to an eternal giving of life in himself to the Son by the Father. While this idea is inferred from Scripture rather than stated explicitly in Scripture, it is a possible inference, and has its own coherence on the presupposition that the Father, as an eternal person, would have an eternal Son. However, I do not (and never have) insisted on this explanation as the only correct one, nor is it the only interpretation of John 5:19 and 6:57 that coheres with trinitarianism.



Greg Stafford:
There is nothing in Scripture that infers any such thing. Also, there is nothing to suggest that an eternal person must have an eternal son, as if age were transferable! Also, since the Father gave life to all things through His Son, then all things, according to your reasoning, would have the same life-span as the Son, and, hence, the Father, also. By the way, I think you mean John 5:26. At any rate, there is no qualification made in John 5:26 and 6:57. They both refer to "life" and neither specify or limit that life to human life, or present it as life given "eternally." Apparently the matter was not an issue, and the writers of Scripture, or even Jesus himself, were not concerned about giving the wrong idea in using such language.



Rob Bowman:
(2) It might refer to a temporal giving by the Father to the Son of life in himself as a human being. Arguably this fits John 6:57 better, and it makes good sense of John 5:19 as well. This interpretation, if accepted, does not rule out the "eternal giving" posited in the first interpretation, but it makes it unnecessary with respect at least to these two prooftexts.



Greg Stafford:
Again, you have started with a concept and are trying to bring that concept into harmony with the language used in the text. Rather, we should take the language at its face value, and attempt to build our doctrine from there. If the context or genre of the literature is such that figurative or anthropomorphic expressions are used, then we need to ask ourselves what the anthropomorphic terms are meant to convey. Since God and Jesus are spirit beings and exist on a plane that we cannot understand, Jehovah evidently saw fit to present Himself and His relationship with Jesus in terms that we could relate to, and understand. These terms carry temporal connotations for Jesus. Thus, unless we are specifically told not to understand them in this way, we should take them in accordance with the meaning they conveyed at the time they were used. In the case of the Bible, there is no example for us to use as evidence that anyone who lived in the different periods in which the Bible was written would have failed to appreciate a temporal distinction between the terms "father" and "son." And there certainly is no example to show that the terms "father" and "son" would fail to denote two separate beings.



Rob Bowman:
Greg will probably object that this interpretation still cannot explain why the Son would need to be given life by the Father in his human state. My answer to that question (as I think Greg knows already) is that the Son humbled himself to receive everything in his incarnate state, including life, from the Father for the purpose of reconciling us to the Father. Greg will probably not consider this a reasonable explanation (or complain that it has not been proved from the Bible, despite Phil. 2:6-11). But my point is that some such explanation must be sought IF elsewhere the Bible clearly teaches the eternal preexistence and deity of the Son. It is methodologically unsound to reject this type of explanation because it appears "illogical" or because it involves an unusual use of language. Just about every use of language with reference to God has unusual features.



Greg Stafford:
And here again you are starting with a concept and trying to make it fit with the words of Scripture. If the Bible uses words without qualification, then, aside from recognizing the different nature of the subject (that is, it is now applied to something spiritual and not physical, and therefore the concepts created should be viewed as taking place at a spiritual level), we should transfer the concepts created by those terms as far as were can. The Bible uses anthropomorphic terms to give us an idea of what certain spiritual things are like.

Now, I do indeed have several questions regarding this matter involving Jesus' "human state," but at this point I have but one question: Did Jesus ever use his divine power while on earth?



Rob Bowman:
As for the title "Son," the assumption that it implies temporal beginning and a disparity in age between the Son and his Father is just that, an assumption.



Greg Stafford:
It is an assumption based on the fact that the Bible uses this term consistently to denote a temporal distinction between the one called "father" and the one called "son." Also, the word "son" is nowhere articulated to mean one who is of equal age to the one called "father." The imagery created and the distinction between these two terms is everywhere attested to in Scripture.



Rob Bowman:
Indeed it seems a "reasonable" one insofar as the customary usage of these terms goes. But again, certain reasonable assumptions about the meaning of "Father" turn out to be wrong (God is not male, and he doesn't have a wife).



Greg Stafford:
Again you fail to appreciate the purpose of anthropomorphisms. They are intended to help up appreciate what God is like by creating images in our mind that we associate with objects in our physical world. While we cannot fully understand what God is like, He has described Himself as a Father in relation to His Son, and this carries with it a clear and unavoidable temporal distinction. The word "father" does not need to convey the idea that such a being is male per se or has a wife, as we saw in the case of Satan being called the "father of the lie." But I ask you, where in the Bible is the term "father" used apart from a temporal distinction between the one called "father" and that which is said to have been fathered?



Rob Bowman:
Another "reasonable" assumption about the titles Father and Son would be that the Father himself had a Father (since, with the partial exception of Adam, every father we know of in the Bible and outside the Bible himself also had a father). Again, some Mormons make this claim (Joseph Smith himself taught it), and they even muster biblical prooftexts for it. (Smith cited Rev. 1:6 in the KJV, "to God and his Father" - a place where Sharp's rule comes in handy to refute someone other than Jehovah's Witnesses!) But the idea is unbiblical and unwarranted by Smith's "reasoning" about the meaning of the term Father.



Greg Stafford:
The word "father" does not convey the concept of one who has a father. It is, as you mentioned, not true of Adam. "Father" is generally, in fact, always, understood as the giver of life, and I know of no instance in Scripture where the use of the word "father" is intended to create a mental image of one who himself has a father. Can you provide an example? I also challenge you to find one instance in Scripture where the word "son" does not convey the idea of having a father, when used of persons.

On another note, might I suggest that you lay off the Mormons? I think you can make your point clear without making negative references to groups that do not share your presuppositions. Also, the reference to Sharp's rule and Revelation 1:6 does indeed refute another group: Trinitarians! Here Jesus is said to have a God and a Father. Thus, according to the Bible, Jesus is not the same God as the Father, for the Father is his God. There is no qualification made; it is a simple statement, the meaning of which is readily appreciated apart from later theology. The person of Jesus has One who is God to him. Thus, he could not be grounded in the same divine substance as the One who is his God. That is, according to the way Scripture presents his relationship to the Father.



Rob Bowman:
All of which is to say that IF the Bible clearly says that the Son exists antecedently to all temporal things, and/or IF the Bible identifies Jesus as Jehovah, the one true God (as I maintain it does, e.g., Rom. 10:9-13; Phil. 2:9-11; 1 Pet. 2:3; 3:15), then we must revise our assumptions about the implications of the title "Son." On the other hand, if the Bible does NOT say these things that trinitarians regard as premises of their doctrine, there is no need to complain that the alleged meaning of "Son" is unprecedented. Just refute the claim that the Bible teaches the premises!



Greg Stafford:
Rob, I have from the outset maintained that your view has no biblical foundation. The terms you use and the meanings you pour into them are nowhere articulated in the Bible. Therefore, the burden of proof rests with you. Show us that the writers of Scripture use these terms with the same meaning you do. Also, I agree that if the Bible clearly, as you put it, teaches that the Son is eternal, then we should reconsider the meaning of terms that are inherently temporal. Now, the verses you mention say nothing about the Son being eternal or being Jehovah. In fact, some of them, such as Phil. 2:9-11, militate against such a view. I have called on you to prove your premises, and you have not done so. However, in order to make your doctrine work you have to read later theology into texts like Revelation 3:12. The other passages that you mention deal with biblical parallels and fulfillments, not ontological identity. Unless you are prepared to accept that John the Baptist is ontologically identical with Elijah (Matthew 11:13-14), or Jesus Christ is Solomon (Heb. 1:8-9), then you should recognize that the Bible deals in types and antitypes, and uses figures in one instance to show parallels and fulfillments in another. You see, in order for you to discount the meaning of terms like "son" and "father," which when used of a relationship between two persons always convey temporal distinctions, you have to use parallels and types selectively, to your own ends. That is why you reject an ontological identification between John the Baptist and Elijah, but use parallels in relation to Jesus and Jehovah as if they can only be interpreted in terms of ontological identity. Thus, you have no clear, unambiguous example to support your contention.



Rob Bowman:
Let me give an example of my criticism of Greg's method as seen in his treatment of the word "Son." Greg asked:

Quoting Greg Stafford:
>Pop quiz: If God gives life to another, His true Son, why is he the Son if no difference in age separates them? How is it a giving of life if the Son has always had life?

Rob Bowman:
The answer to Greg's question is that a "difference in age" is meaningless when the Father in question has NO AGE. The Father is not merely older; he is ageless, transcending all time.



Greg Stafford:
That is ridiculous, Rob. You're just making things up in order to support your view. The fact that the Father is eternal has nothing to do with whether or not the Son is eternal. The Bible nowhere makes such a qualification of these terms. In fact, in view of the biblical usage of these and other terms, the distinction between the two as Father and Son necessarily involves a temporal distinction. Your refusal to acknowledge this because of your doctrinal presuppositions is pregnantly obvious to us all.



Rob Bowman:
The terms Son and Father are never used in Scripture with reference to Jesus and his heavenly Father to denote age difference.



Greg Stafford:
That is begging the question. Please show us one example where the two terms are used apart from any temporal distinction.



Rob Bowman:
That is, Scripture never says that the Father is older than the Son. This is an inference Greg has drawn from the language, an understandable inference to be sure, but one that BEGS THE QUESTION when he uses this inference to refute the trinitarian view of Jesus as God's eternal Son.



Greg Stafford:
The Bible does not speak of an "eternal generation." Therefore, it provides us with no other way to view these two terms, other than in the sense in which they were commonly understood. You can't accept that, not because the thought is unbiblical, but because it does agree with your extra-biblical theology. Thus, you must question the use of these terms, and insert a concept that is foreign to Scripture in order to make it fit with your preconceived view. I, on the other hand, need only look at the way the Bible uses these terms and, in the absence of clear articulation to the contrary, use them as consistent with the regular and repeated sense the Bible gives them.



Rob Bowman:
Indeed, if the titles "Son" and "Son of God" are understood to connote the idea that the Son has the same nature as God, we would actually expect that the Son, like his Father, would be eternal.



Greg Stafford:
Why would we expect that? Again, age is never spoken of in Scripture as something that is passed along with the giving (!) of life. The angels are sons of God (Job 1:6). But they are never spoken of as eternal. In fact, the Bible more frequently uses temporal designations of the Son (Jesus) than all the other sons of God combined!



Rob Bowman:
Now here we are actually on solid ground, for Scripture speaks of the Son's preexistence in the same breath as speaking of his having the very nature of God (e.g., Col. 1:14-17; Heb. 1:2-3). It really does not make much sense to say that the Son has the very nature of God and then turn around and assert that the Father is eternal but the Son temporal in nature.



Greg Stafford:
Where do these texts say that the Son has the selfsame nature as God? That is what you mean, is it not? Selfsame nature? Also, the very texts to which you refer use temporal descriptions that clearly communicate an age difference between God and His Son. Jesus is the firstborn, he was given his fullness, he is the charakter of God's being. These not only show that the Son is of a different age than the Father, but also reveal that he is not the same Being, since he is a "copy" (charakter) of that Being. When you think of a copy, and that is the language the Bible has given us so that we might create an accurate mental image of the relationship between the Father and Son, we never think of the copy as having the same age as that of which it is copy! For then how would we rightly say one is a copy of the other in any meaningful sense? Again, with all due deference to you, Rob, I hold that this is trinitarian word magic at its finest.



Rob Bowman:
Obviously, to speak of an eternal Son, or to speak of the Father "giving" his Son life in eternity, would be without parallel in human experiences of sons or of giving. But then, being the Son is without parallel in our experience. How the Son can be eternal, or how his divine life can be dependent eternally on the Father, is beyond our capacity to picture or comprehend, but that is no objection to it. A proper analysis of biblical language, like a proper use of logic, does not dictate what Scripture can
and cannot say.



Greg Stafford:
You are missing the point. Such a view of the terms "father" and "son" is without parallel in the Bible. Thus, we have no license to use the terms apart from the repeated sense in which they are used. Jehovah purposefully used such terms so that we might appreciate the relationship He has with His Son. You are using them in a manner consistent only with later doctrinal developments, not the Bible.



Rob Bowman:
2. The Meaning of "God" in Scripture and in Trinitarian Usage

a. Begging the Question

One of the points made repeatedly by Greg in his post was that I cannot legitimately use the word "God" in any sense other than as a designation for one who shares the divine essence. A couple of his fellow Jehovah's Witnesses thought this was a decisive objection to the trinitarian doctrine. I had pointed out that Greg's argument here in effect amounted to an a priori assumption that the doctrine of the Trinity could not be true. Greg actually agreed that this was what he was doing! I had written:

>First, it [Greg's objection] really amounts to begging the question. For at every turn Stafford can (and probably does!) use the same objection to rule out a priori the trinitarian belief. In other words, saying that "God" cannot be used with these two different connotations (God as triune, one of the three persons as God) really amounts to saying that the Trinity cannot be true.<

Greg replied:

>That's right! I AM arguing that the only proper use of the term "God," by a trinitarian, is in reference to the persons of the Godhead as SHARERS of the same Beingness. A trinitarian cannot simply say, "Jesus is God." They mean, "Jesus shares the nature of God." Of course, you have to use it as a noun of personal description, for that is the only sense in which the Bible uses it. But you do not really believe that any of the members of the Trinity ARE GOD, you believe they share the essence of God. So you have to explain what you mean every time you make such a confession, otherwise you will mislead those who recognize the proper use of the word "God" in the Bible, namely, as a noun of personal description. It is a title denoting one's position, not the substance of being in which He is grounded.<

Rob Bowman continued:
Now, this is precisely the sort of thing to which I object on methodological grounds. Greg is denying the possibility of the doctrine of the Trinity being true on the basis of a linguistic analysis of what he reasons are possible or not possible valid uses of the term "God." This is not biblical theology. It is not valid systematic theology. Rather, what Greg is doing is imposing rules ON THE BIBLE as to what it can and cannot say. Now, I know Greg will object that he is doing no such thing, but read my statement above and Greg's response again. I pointed out that what Greg is saying is that the word "God" cannot be used with the two different connotations of God as triune Being and God as one of the three divine persons, and Greg agreed that he was saying just that. But on what basis? On the basis of an inductive study of the Bible's actual use of the word "God"? No! It is an a priori claim that such usage of the term "God" results in equivocation and leads logically to absurdly unbiblical and unorthodox conclusions such as a divine quaternity. Thus, elsewhere Greg reasoned that if the divine essence shared by the three persons is itself personal, what we would then have is a fourth divine person.

Greg Stafford:
You have misapplied my "That's right!" to a linguistic analysis when, in fact, I was referring to the use Scripture makes of such terms. In fact, if you will kindly reread my above reply, you will notice that I said, "or that is the only sense in which the Bible uses it." Thus, my point was and is simply this: Since the Bible never articulates the word "God" as trinitarians do, then the only proper use of the term by trinitarians is with the understanding they give it. So, you cannot use the term "God" as anything other than a reference to the totality of the Trinity, unless you further qualify your statement. For when you use the word "God," say, in the sentence, "Jesus is God," you do not mean he is the totality of the Divine Being, but, rather, that he shares the divine essence, being the second person of a consubstantial Triad. Again, it is entirely on the basis of the Bible's use of the term that I say you, as a trinitarian, cannot use the word "God" as it is consistently used in Scripture, for Scripture does not use the term the way you do!

Let's take 2 Peter 1:1 as an example. You believe this verse calls Jesus "God," but by "God" you mean he shares (= is grounded in) the divine essence as the second person of a consubstantial Triad. Yet, the Bible nowhere uses such language! Therefore, based on the Bible's use and articulation of the word "God," you cannot use it the same way the Bible writers do, for it is not consistent with your understanding of the term. And since "God" to you is one Being in which three "persons" are grounded, then to use the term "God" without qualification is tantamount to a reference to the Divine Triad, for that is what God is, in your view.



Rob Bowman:
b. "Noun of Personal Description"

The only reference to the Bible in Greg's several paragraphs on this matter of the proper use of "God" in his post is the assertion that the Bible only uses the term "God" as "a noun of personal description." He offered no proof for this assertion (I suppose it's in his book, which I am getting),
nor did he explain what exactly he meant by a noun of personal description when I politely asked for an explanation. I had written:

>d. I'm not sure what Stafford means when he says that the Bible uses the word "God" only as a "noun of personal description." Whatever precisely he means, though, I do not see how it invalidates my argument, as expounded above. But I'll let Stafford explain himself. (My guess is that this is a statement he will later want to retract.)

To which Greg replied:

>You guess wrong. What is unclear about my statement? I have articulated my point enough, and I will not go on and on about a matter that has already been discussed.

Rob Bowman:
There seems to be a double standard here. Greg presses me to give an account of my use of the term "God." He tells me that I am equivocating in my use of the term, and that I have used it in ambiguous and misleading ways. My assertion that I as a trinitarian do not think of God as an abstract, impersonal divine essence is dismissed as indicative of ignorance of what I as a trinitarian must really mean. But Greg refuses to explain what he means by "noun of personal description." This is not a common expression, and I have not seen any definition of it from Greg so far. Yet he says that he will "not go on and on" about it and claims that it "has already been discussed." Perhaps it was in an earlier post (I have only recently started participating here), but I don't think Greg has explained it to me.



Greg Stafford:
Well, Rob, by a noun of personal description I mean a term that is used to describe a person. I was not aware this description was so unfamiliar to you. The Bible uses the term God in its highest sense only of the Father. That is why He is the God of the Son. The Bible does not articulate the term as though it were a reference to a consubstantial Triad, the essence of which is impersonal (see below).



Rob Bowman:
What is unclear is the expression "noun of personal description." Does this include or exclude nouns used as proper names? Does it include only nouns used as titles, i.e., designations of standing positions or relationships? This seems to be what you mean, since after asserting that "God" can be used only as a noun of personal description, you wrote, "It is a title denoting one's position, not the substance of being in which He is grounded." But if we were to use the noun "God" to denote the substance of being in which he was grounded, wouldn't that be descriptive of the person, and so wouldn't it be a noun of personal description? Why isn't "human," for example, a noun of personal description, since it's a noun, it's descriptive, and it refers to a person? I find Greg's use of this expression, then, ambiguous and unclear.



Greg Stafford:
First of all, you misunderstood and proceeded to misstate my position. I did not say that nouns of personal description are restricted to titles, I simply stated that the noun "God," in Scripture, is used as a title, not as a reference to one's substance of being. Trinitarians do in fact use the term God to denote a consubstantial Triad, so "God" cannot be used a noun implying "personhood" for the Divine Being, for only the three persons who are grounded in the Divine Being are said to be "persons." But that is not the way trinitararians consistently use the terms.



Rob Bowman:
When I guessed that Greg would later retract his statement, it was based on the apparent definition of "noun of personal description" as a title denoting a person's position. If this is what he really means, then I think he has contradicted himself. When he discusses Sharp's rule, he claims that the noun "God" can and often is used as a proper name in the New Testament. For example, in Greg's "Public Reply to Dan Wallace" posted by Wes Williams to the Watchtower Review on April 14, 1998 (sent to me by a friend), Greg made the following statement.



Greg:

>In Titus 2:13 I believe that THEOS, together with hO MEGAS, is a case where THEOS has the force of a proper name, as it is a description used frequently of Jehovah in the LXX OT.<



Rob Bowman Continued:

To be consistent, Greg cannot assert that "God" can only be used as a title when accusing me of an unbiblical use of that noun, but argue that "God" functions as a proper name in Titus 2:13 when arguing that it does not call Jesus God. Even here, though, there is some confusion, since he refers to _theos_ with _ho megas_ as "a description," which makes me think that he may intend to include proper names along with titles in the category of nouns of personal description. Strictly speaking, though, the use of a noun as a proper name is identificatory, not descriptive.



Greg Stafford:
You apparently fail to realize that descriptive nouns can be used as proper names and therefore have both an identificatory and descriptive sense. Again, by nouns of personal description, in the context of my discussion with you, I am referring to nouns that are used of persons, not substances of being. You either failed to grasp this point, or are intentionally trying to skirt the issue.



Rob Bowman:
For example, in the sentence "Here comes George," the noun "George" does not describe someone but identifies him.



Greg Stafford:
But in the sentence, "Here comes George the coward," we have an identification that is also a description. This is similar with "the great God" in Titus 2:13. You may want to read my words in context next time.



Rob Bowman:
Likewise, when "God" is used as a proper noun, it functions to identify someone, not to describe him, as in the sentence, "God created the world." Hence, I suggest you have trapped yourself in either contradiction or confusion. Of course, perhaps Greg meant something else by "noun of personal description" and can clear up the matter. That's why I asked for an elaboration, to give Greg a chance to fix the problem before I took him to task for it. (I'm really a very nice guy, when you get to know me!)



Greg Stafford:
I am sure you are, but you have not established your point. My reference to a "noun of personal description" was meant solely in reference to your use of "God" as denoting a substance of being, not a person. Thus, the term, as used by trinitarians, properly denotes a substance of being, not a person. It is not used as a noun of personal description. I find myself wondering how you could get so sidetracked by what I perceive to be a rather simple use of language, in a context where my meaning should have been easily apprehended. Still, I will try to be even clearer were possible. Also, below you try to defend a personal view of the Divine Being, which I believe is not in line with classical trinitarianism (see below).



Rob Bowman:
c. Biblical Precedent for the Trinitarian Use of "God"

Now, let's unpack Greg's objection to my use of the word "God." I have already quoted one of the paragraphs in which he articulated his objection. Here are two more:

Quoting Greg Stafford:
>Third, Bowman again uses God in an equative sense which even he does not accept. Again, when a trinitarian says, "Jesus is God," they mean "Jesus is God the Son, second person of a consubstantial Triad." But they do not put it that way, because the Bible never puts it that way!

>I know that YOU may not have intended to use the term "God" as a reference to the divine essence, but I am pointing out that you, as a trinitarian, can not legitimately use the term in any other way than of one who shares the divine essence.

Rob Bowman Continues:
In reply to my claim that he had misconstrued my understanding of the meaning of "God" in trinitarian language, Greg had asked:

Quoting Greg Stafford:
>To what, then, exactly, does the word "God" properly denote, in your view. Please articulate it for us.

Rob Bowman:
Let me begin my response to Greg on this question by giving a positive answer. The word "God" properly denotes the infinite, personal Being who created the universe and who sustains and governs it. This God, we believe, is triune, that is, his infinite personal Being is fully realized or present in three persons, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The three persons of the triune God do not "share" an impersonal divine essence, because there is no such thing. In fact, the word "share" is imprecise and open to misunderstanding, as it might be taken to imply a distribution of
divinity among the three persons (hence my reference to "subdivided"). Rather, the three persons co-exist as this one transcendent personal Being we call God.



Greg Stafford:
I contend that not only is this description of God nowhere found in the Bible, but that when you say "his infinite personal Being is fully realized or present in three persons, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit" you imply a fourth person, whose being is fully realized in three other persons. I will give you a chance to clarify this matter. Also, since none of the three divine persons is said to exhaust the Godhead, I see no problem using the term "share" in reference to the fact that each of these persons are understood to be grounded in the divine essence. Also, the term "shares the nature of God" is commonly used in discussions with trinitarians, as well as in certain commentaries. It need not imply a subdivision of the essence, as you contend.



Rob Bowman:
While the word "God" properly DENOTES the triune, infinite-personal Being who created the world, it can CONNOTE the divine Being as such without qualification; it can connote the divine Being in his triunity; or it can connote any one of the three divine persons in the divine Being. Thus, in the sentence that Greg says cannot meaningfully be affirmed by a trinitarian, "Jesus is God," the word "God" denotes the infinite-personal Being who is the Creator, while it connotes that divine Being in the person of the Son.



Greg Stafford:
I hold that this use of the term is not only unbiblical, but since you did not previously define your terms in the way you do above, you were in fact guilty of equivocation. Now, you use the term as a direct reference to Jesus, "Jesus is God." But in neither of the above uses of the term "God" do you state that it can be used of Jesus himself, but only of the "infinite Being" and "that divine Being in the person of the Son." Thus, you make the point I stated at the outset: The term God only properly refers (in trinitarian thinking) to the Divine Being, or to the Divine Being in one of the three persons. But it does not refer to the persons themselves! Now, I hold that your use of Divine Being implies a fourth person. If you say that the Divine Being is personal, and that this personal Being exists in the three persons, then you have given us a fourth person. That is why I maintain that the Divine essence must be considered impersonal, and therefore your use of the term God in relation to an impersonal substance of being is not consistent with the Bible's repeated use of God as a noun used in reference to a person (noun of personal description), not in reference to the Divine essence. You have to personalize it in order for you to use the term God as it is used in the Bible, but by doing that you create a fourth person.



Rob Bowman:
Now, I see biblical precedent for everything I have just said. In what follows I am summarizing.



Greg Stafford:
No need to include your summary in this post since you have made the points already. Now, again, you are faced with the problem I outlined above, and the Bible nowhere speaks of God as a triune being. Your one example is:



Rob Bowman:
In a few texts, though, the word "God," while still having the same denotation, appears to speak of God in his triunity. For example, Genesis 1:26-27 speaks of God as a single Being yet presents him as speaking in the first person plural. Here, despite all the protests from antitrinitarians and their many alternative interpretations, I think the trinitarian explanation is the only one that makes sense of the passage (especially when compared with the other plural reference, Gen. 3:22).



Greg Stafford:
Where oh where does this text speak of "triunity" in any sense commensurate with trinitarianism? Also, what other texts articulate the Trinity? Surely if you would have us reject the clear implications of the many passages that separate the being of the Father and that of the Son, and show that the Father is God over the Son, has given the Son life, gives the Son knowledge, then you must have some bullet-proof texts to support your position, right? Then let us have them.



Rob Bowman:
In yet other texts, the word "God" has the same denotation but refers specifically to one of the three divine persons. So, for example, in Hebrews 1:1 "God" refers specifically to the Father (in light of verse 2). Any text that speaks of God in relation to Christ (whether as the Son, the Word, or Jesus Christ) would naturally be taken as referring specifically to the Father. This will be a good number of texts. But there are texts in which "God," while still retaining the denotation of the one divine Being, refers specifically to the Son (John 1:1; 20:28; Rom. 9:5; Tit. 2:13; Heb. 1:8; 2 Pet. 1:1; 1 John 5:20) or to the Spirit (Acts 5:3-4).



Greg Stafford:
And here you assume the "while still retaining the denotation of the one divine Being" idea. The Bible uses the term "God" for angels (Psalm 8:5), Satan (1 Cor. 4:4), the Father (1 Cor. 8:6), and the Son (John 1:1). But the meaning of the term is hardly the same. The use of this title in relation to these beings is made clear by the co- and context of the passages. Nowhere is the term articulated as a reference to a triune Being. The Father is a different God than the Son for He is the God of the Son! Nowhere is there said to be any unity of substance. The angels are not the same God as the Father, either, and neither is Satan. Again, you have not gathered your view from the Bible, but brought your view to the Bible, and then proceeded to make it fit, in spite of the difficulties.



Rob Bowman:
Finally, there are texts where the noun "God" denotes the one divine Being and connotes the nature or status of that Being. These are texts employing the noun "God" in the so-called "qualitative" usage. Arguably John 1:1c is an example, though admittedly a highly controversial one from the perspective of the Jehovah's Witnesses. Mark 12:27 and Luke 20:38, though, are indisputable examples. In these texts Greg may wish to argue that the word "God" expresses status, not nature or essence, and he may be right. I myself cannot think of any example of the noun "God" being clearly used to refer to the divine essence or nature of God. In the New Testament there are other words that express that idea, specifically _theotes_ (Col. 2:9) and the somewhat weaker form _theiotes_ (Rom. 1:20).



Greg Stafford:
And there we have it. You "cannot think of any example of the noun `God' being clearly used to refer to the divine essence or nature of God." Thus, it is not biblical to use it as such. Also, Col. 2:10 states that anointed Christians will possess this same divine fullness, and Col. 1:19 says Jesus was given that fullness. Theotes properly refers to that which constitutes one as "a god." Thus, the Father, the only one who is truly God, in the ultimate sense (John 17:3), gave the Son a divine nature (life as a spirit being) and will do so with those who are to rule with Jesus in the heavens. The Bible does not say that this nature is the same substance of being that the Father has. This view has to be selectively read into the Bible. I say selectively because trinitarians will not allow the Christians of Col. 2:10 to own the same fullness that the Son is given, for this would not fit with the concept that they bring to the text.



Rob Bowman:
d. Does the Trinitarian Use of "God" Result in Equivocation?

There are two questions that Greg will want to ask about this analysis. First, is it really biblical? This is a fair question. I have no objection to Greg asking questions about the interpretations of specific biblical texts that form the basis for the doctrine of the Trinity. Greg's second question, though, is this: Is it coherent?



Greg Stafford:
Where did I ask this? If I did, it was only in the context of whether or not such a view is coherently expressed in Scripture.



Rob Bowman:
Greg claims that it is incoherent or illogical to use the word "God" with the different connotations I have identified here.



Greg Stafford:
No. Rather, I have claimed that it is unbiblical, for it is not in harmony with the Bible's use of the term.



Rob Bowman:
On one level I respond to this question by ruling it out of order. As I have already explained, I deny the propriety of limiting what the Bible can say to what one can logically comprehend. Much of Greg's polemic against the Trinity depends precisely
on such a priori considerations.



Greg Stafford:
In fact, not one of my arguments use such tactics. I have all along maintained that the Trinity is irreconcilable with the Bible, not merely with logic. I have stated the biblical problem you are faced with concerning the Trinity, and other matters such as the "two natures of Christ." This is one of the key points you avoided in your reply.



Rob Bowman:
That having been said, I really don't agree that there is anything incoherent about the varied connotative uses of "God" presented here. Let me see if I can address the alleged problem directly. Greg argues that, to be consistent, a trinitarian should not say, "Jesus is God," or even that the Father or the Holy Spirit is God. His reasoning is that such "equative" uses of the noun "God" contradict the Trinity by inadvertently identifying one of the three divine persons with the triune Being. That is, he thinks "Jesus is God" in trinitarian usage, where "God" is treated as a "noun of personal description" (whatever exactly that means), could only mean "Jesus is the Trinity," since we believe that God is the Trinity (and vice versa). Of course, this would not fit the doctrine of the Trinity, either, so he suggests that what we really mean by "Jesus is God" is that "Jesus shares the essence or nature of God." If this is what we mean, though, Greg thinks we cannot help but equivocate when we present arguments that refer to "God" as the divine Being per se as well as to one of the three persons sharing in the divine essence. For example, Greg wrote:

>Rob, you are equivocating by using the term "God" in two different and misleading senses. You said, "If Jesus has the nature and prerogatives of the only true God, that makes him God, however he got that nature and those prerogatives." Is not the "only true God," according to classical
trinitarianism, a consubstantial Triad? That is, three persons who share the divine essence? When you say, "makes him God," do you not mean "makes him one who shares the divine essence"? Yet you use the term "God" in the second instance in an equative sense as a noun of personal description. You are using the word in a sentence that is ambiguous and which does not state the full truth of your position.<

This seems to be Greg's problem: he thinks that my argument commits an equivocation because it has the following form:

(a) Jesus has the nature of God (=the divine consubstantial Triad).
(b) Whatever has the nature of God, is God (both =the divine consubstantial Triad).
(c) Therefore, Jesus is God (=one person sharing in the divine essence of the consubstantial Triad).

The above argument equivocates by changing the sense of "God" from the premises to the conclusion. However, it is not at all necessary to construct the argument in this fashion. The argument may be reconstructed as follows:

(A) Jesus has the nature of God (=the infinite-personal Creator).
(B) Whatever has the nature of God, is God (both =the infinite-personal Creator).
(C) Therefore, Jesus is God (=the infinite-personal Creator).

If this is deemed unacceptable because it makes no reference to the trinitarian distinction of persons, the argument can be restated as follows:

(A1) Jesus has the nature of God (=a person in the divine Being).
(B1) Whatever has the nature of God, is God (both =a person in the divine Being).
(C1) Therefore, Jesus is God (=a person in the divine Being).

Thus, the argument I presented does not equivocate in its use of God. The problem really arises, not because my argument equivocates, but because Greg would then insist on the following further argument:



Greg Stafford:
First, in all of the above arguments the second premise is false from a biblical perspective. Whoever has the nature of God is not necessarily God, but could also be "a god." Second, God cannot be used to denote a person in your view, for then you would have three Gods (or four persons). That is why you have to define the term God when you use it in this fashion, for you do not mean God equatively but qualitatively. So, when you say Jesus is a person "in the divine Being" you are either using the term God in reference to an impersonal substance (which you earlier rejected) or you are creating a fourth person. I suggest you give this some more thought, and reread Al's post.



Rob Bowman:
(d) God is a Trinity.
(e) Jesus is God.
(f) Therefore, Jesus is a Trinity.

Greg's reasoning may be completed as follows:

(g) If God is a Trinity and Jesus is God, then Jesus is a Trinity.
(h) But Jesus is not a Trinity.
(i) Therefore, either God is not a Trinity or Jesus is not God, or both.

Time and again I have found that antitrinitarians have thought that this argument can be used to falsify the premises that God is a trinity and that Jesus is God. Yet it should be noted that this is not a trinitarian argument, but an antitrinitarian argument. That is, it is here that the equivocation is to be found, in the varying use of "God" in premises (d) and (e):

(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.



Greg Stafford:
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.



Rob Bowman:
e. The Problem of the Quaternity

One other alleged problem may be addressed here. Greg alleges that I cannot hold the triune Being to be personal without resulting in four divine persons (what is known as a quaternity). Al Kidd, likewise, raised this objection in a post agreeing with Greg against me. This objection, again, is a philosophical one, not a biblical one.



Greg Stafford:
No. My objection and reasoning is based on the use of these terms in the Bible. Your use, as I outlined above, does in fact lead to the conclusion that there would have to be four persons, at least according to the language you have used thus far.



Rob Bowman:
Suppose I cannot solve the problem. Should I abandon belief in the Trinity? No, because my inability to solve the problem may be merely a reflection of my philosophical ineptness. It has nothing to do with whether the Bible teaches that Jesus Christ is himself Jehovah God.



Greg Stafford:
It has everything to do with an inability to show that the Bible writers were aware of and articulated a consubstantial Triad. My objection to you from the start has been with regard to the Bible's presentation of God and Jesus, and for you to assert that my, or Al's, objection is merely philosophical reflects a lack of appreciation for our position. I honestly think you know exactly where we are coming from, and have deliberately chosen to obfuscate matters by making it seem like our objection is primarily of a philosophical nature. I say this only because I think you are too clever to miss our point, especially since it has been stated clearly and repeatedly.



Rob Bowman:
I do not, however, think the problem is insoluble. To say that the triune God is himself "personal" is not to say that he is a "person" in the same sense that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are each designated as a person. In our ordinary usage a personal being is, of course, a person. In that sense I grant, and have always granted, that God is one "person." But when trinitarians say that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three "persons," we are not using the word "person" to mean "a personal being." If we were, obviously we would be affirming three divine beings, which strictly speaking would mean three Gods. (The fact that some trinitarians occasionally speak imprecisely of the three as "beings" should not distract us here. It is the doctrine of the Trinity at its most precise and accurate formulation that should be considered.) Rather, we use the word "person" with reference to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in an analogous sense.

Now here I will frankly have to use rather technical language, and I don't profess to have comprehended God, but I will try to make this clear. In trinitarianism the term "person" as used of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit denotes a LOCUS OF RELATIONALITY. This is a somewhat more precise definition than the more popular "center of consciousness," although the latter is close enough for most purposes. The Father has a relationship with the Son and with the Spirit that we would certainly describe as "personal," since it involves mutual knowing, loving, glorifying, and the like. However, these three persons are not three separate or independent beings; they are loci of relationality, not loci of being.



Greg Stafford:
Nowhere have I stated anything differently, as to your position. I have merely pointed out that it is unbiblical. There are also certain logical problems with your view, but I have focused on its lack of biblical articulation.



Rob Bowman:
When, then, we affirm that God is a personal being and that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are persons, we are not driven to a quaternity, because the three "persons" are not three personal beings. That is, we do not have four of anything in the Trinity: not four beings, and not four persons.



Greg Stafford:
How, then, is the triune God "personal," apart from the personhood of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? Also, and more to the point, where does the Bible reveal these distinctions in meaning for the term "person"?



Rob Bowman:
With such rationalistic objections to the doctrine of the Trinity set aside, hopefully discussion of the biblical evidence may proceed apace.



Greg Stafford:
Well, since my main objection to the Trinity is in regards to the biblical evidence, and has been from the start, I would hope so.

Now, why don't we begin where we started. Please harmonize the meaning of John 5:26 and John 6:57 with your belief that Jesus is eternally the Son. In the process, you might also revisit my question concerning the two natures of Christ and which nature was given the authority that you say only the Almighty could possess. Please see my previous reply for details.

When we have finished our discussion of these issues, then we can proceed with others.

Greg Stafford

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