Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A Severe Unitarianism


From the September 2009 E-Block. I'm way, WAY behind on posting these back issues; but for now, this will be it until sometime next week as I take some time off for Christmas and other observations. The Ticker will return next Wednesday.

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The figure who calls himself "Servetus the Evangelical" - hereafter STE - is currently offering a contest to see if anyone can guess who he is. Whatever the ultimate answer may be in terms of a personal name, "competent scholar" is not part of his identity - at least not in terms of what he addresses in The Restitution of Jesus Christ (RJC), in which he argues that Jesus was not divine, save in the sense that God "fully indwelt" Jesus [xii] as a mortal man. 

For my own studies on the subject of the divine identity of Jesus, I generally look at works by critics of Trinitarianism for how well they understand what I consider to be the critical template for understanding the doctrine - and that of course is Wisdom theology. STE, sadly, is barely aware of this thesis, and what few criticisms he offers reflect standard Unitarian arguments that we have already refuted more than once. 

In terms of length, RJC could have been about half its pages and missed nothing substantive for it. Historical surveys are useful to some, no doubt, but the excess length does little save add to the pretense that things like the "name me contest" already emphasize. As we shall now see in this sample survey, pretense is also the order of the day for most of RJC's contents. I see no need to answer all arguments presented therein; some are actually useful (there are many passages used in favor of Trinitarianism that I agree should not be used, like Matt. 28:19); others, though potentially capable of defense, are simply not so useful as to warrant our attention. And so, we shall simply focus on material closest to our experience and expertise, which will be sufficient to show that STE is not a credible witness against orthodoxy.

[x] One of STE's frequent refrains has to do with why he does not see more scholars say that "Jesus is God." The answer, suggested by Murray Harris, is that such a statement suggests in turn a reversal, "God is Jesus," which is not correct. In other words, despite STE's misplaced expectations, "Jesus is God" would be one of the most infrequent assertions we would expect in Trinitarian theology, if indeed it were to be made at all. I would never use it, both because of Harris' warning, and because "God" has been wrongly morphed into a personal name (when mostly, people mean the Father when they say "God"). Thus as well STE's wonderings of why scholars "avoid" this formulation are misplaced.

He does later [19] note that one other reason given is to avoid having others think that Christianity was ditheistic - a real concern, as shown by Segal's book The Two Powers Heresy. STE's reply to this is rather peculiar: "On the contrary, since when do we think that the first Spirit-filled Christians formulated their theology in reaction to others, especially to non-believers? And why should we think that people in the 1st century would so react any more than people in any other century?"

On this latter point, STE shows an appalling lack of awareness of 1st century society. Segal's book shows precisely why Jews would so react; and as for Gentiles, it seems hard to see why STE cannot grasp why such a reaction would emerge in a polytheistic culture.

In terms of the former, STE is misstating the case: We are not talking about formulating of theology, but explaining it. And explaining it in ways it can be understood fits right in with the dictum to "be all things to all men" and the missionary approach in Acts which tailored evangelism to the respective audiences.

[xv] STE's comments that Trinitarians "know quite well about the difficulty in understanding and explaining their doctrine" seems rather much bravado. I have found no difficulty at all in relating the doctrine; the analogy of a source of light (= Father), with the light (=Jesus/Wisdom/Word) and heat (=Spirit), has done very well in every instance I have tried it, with the caveats that light sources are not a) persons, b) eternal. His further issue that "(s)ome Christians find it difficult to relate to such a Jesus" reflects an interesting personal shortcoming on the part of some Christians, and is a good argument for better education in our churches, but reflects nothing else than a problem of an individualist society - an ancient, collectivist person would never be concerned about "relating to" other persons, especially not a transcendent deity.

[xix] STE's demand that Christianity be redefined so as not to exclude heretics such as himself appears far too self-serving, and is especially ironic given that it mirrors the words of a number of Mormon apologists. Will STE next argue for deeming the "God is an exalted human" position orthodox?

[9] STE also commits the frequent mistake of appealing to "monotheism" as a reason why Trinitarianism is false. What then of scholarship by those such as Tigay, Winston and Hurtado that show that it is improper to even use "monotheism" as a category with respect to Jewish beliefs? We shall see what is said of it later.

[12] STE argues that Jesus called the Father "his God" and that this would make no sense if he was God himself. This is simply the confusion of God as a proper name; it is better to say that Jesus shared the divine identity of the Godhead. Jesus calling the father "his God" in this sense is fully intelligible, as the Father is the ontological source of Jesus' divine identity as a hypostasis.

[17] STE lists what he thinks are "The Three Foremost Irrefutable Texts" against Trinitarianism:
  • John 17:3 - as noted in our reply to Buzzard and Hunting linked above, this is misused by confusing Unitarianism with monotheism, as noted:
    A proper regard for what Trinitarianism actually teaches, however, refutes these applications in favor of a Unitarian position. By Trinitarian understanding, the Word and Spirit are by nature attributes of God which proceed from the Father. They are inclusive of the "one Lord" of whom there is "none other" -- they are not separate Lords or Gods, but are part of the divine identity of the one God.
  • 1 Cor. 8:4, 6 - this appeal is especially ironic, as STE fails to recognize that here specifically reformulates the Shema to include Jesus in the divine identity; as we noted:
    Verse 4 clearly alludes to the Shema, as all agree; but recall the Shema again for v. 6: "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD." Paul has used the key phrase "one Lord" and applied it to Jesus Christ, thus including Jesus in the divine identity! And there is more: phrases like "of" or "by whom all things" are parallel to Jewish formulations that express God's relationship to Creation. This is in line with the Jewish concept of Wisdom, God's attribute, as God's tool for creation. Monolatry is maintained by including Jesus within the divine identity.
  • Eph. 4:4-6 - I have not seen this one used for Unitarianism before, but the error is the same as with John 17:3.
[25] STE offers several standard Unitarian "stumpers," many of which confuse "God" to be a personal name, and neglect the hypostatic dimension which allows a hypostatic person of the Godhead to incarnate, and thereby also set aside, as it were, expressions of the divine identity such as omniscience. (See here.) STE also says things like, "If Jesus was a God-man, then He could not have been either fully God or fully man." This "stumper" (and others) frames matters in terms of modern understandings of personality and identity rather than understandings which existed in the Biblical world. Actions, and what others thought of you because of those actions, determined your personal identity. By this reckoning, Jesus need only be recognized as "man" and "God" by his contemporaries to achieve full identity in both. He did not have to always immediately possess and use the attributes of God to be called "God".

Two chapters following this are mostly historical survey. We next offer comment at:

[109] STE discusses what he calls "Kenotic Christology". We would note that there should be no confusion about this, per the article linked above: this is not the kenotic heresy, but something of a different nature. STE discusses two "schools" of thought on the matter, and our view comes closest to what is called the Giessen school, in which "Jesus did not conceal his relative attributes but merely chose not to exercise them." [110] STE raises charges against both schools.

First, he says that this does not cover a charge that Jesus is being duplicitous by not accessing his divine nature and revealing the time of the end. This criticism is flawed on two points.

One, it does not consider that Jesus was ordered not to access information about the time of the end, by the Father, in order that he not do something which might inadvertently reveal it.

Two, and relatedly, it is neglectful of the uses of truth in an agonistic society. Truth was not something any person was considered to have an automatic right to. STE's objection assumes that he and others have a "right" to the truth about the time of the end, and that Jesus was obliged to do what he could to get at that truth. STE's objection is thus anachronistic.

Next, STE raises the proposition that a dual nature suggests that "Jesus was psychologically imbalanced and perhaps even a victim of multi-personality disorder." [110] Let me assure STE that there are plenty of suggestions made by critics to this effect already, and without any reference to the issue of Jesus' identity with respect to the Father. But even if there were, we may return to STE his own words: "Since when do we think that the first Spirit-filled Christians formulated their theology in reaction to others, especially to non-believers?"

After some more historical survey, STE raises other objections [111], but these are based on modern psychological theory (Jung) that have no bearing whatsoever on models and expressions of personality in an agonistic/collectivist society, if indeed on personality as it actually is.

Later in the book, STE returns to kenotic theory with reference to Phil. 2:6-11 and adds the peculiar objection that if Jesus is supposed to be pre-existent, this "does not accord with the Apostle Paul's purpose" which was to "teach humility and its divine reward by citing Jesus as the archetypal model to imitate." [452] One is hard pressed to see why this is the case, and STE does not explain why, save perhaps with an allusion to not being able to relate to such a thing as humans. Why is this such a problematic concept for STE? How hard is it to draw a lesson about humility from a pre-existent, divine being descending to the order of a mere human?

After this, we have much in the way of historical survey and points where there is little to no disagreement with orthodoxy. We do note that STE resorts to explaining Prov. 8 [140] as merely a personification, which we will relate further to his treatment of John 1:14 later. Our own finding is that it is clear that the NT authors took Prov. 8 to refer to a person; and further, that there is no reason to say that any other author - even the author of Proverbs - regarded Wisdom merely as a "personification." The designation is achieved only by circular reasoning. Indeed neither side can assert a surety based on Prov. 8 alone. On the positive side, STE agrees to interpret the critical verb, qanah, as "possessed," which coheres with a Trinitarian view.

Slightly later [147-8] STE discusses the Shema in the OT. Once again he merely assumes that it means monotheism, and here, finally acknowledges [150] recent scholarship by those such as Hurtado who have deemed "monotheism" an inappropriate category. However, STE provides no serious arguments whatsoever on this subject, merely asserting that "Rabbinic Judaism has always argued that any departure from strict monotheism which allows for other divine beings, even if of a lesser divinity than that of Yahweh, never represented normative Judaism." [152] He finds this point "most compelling" but it is nought but a distraction: Rabbinic Judaism was also quite reactionary - notably to Christian assertions. As STE himself admits, unaware of the implications of his own confession, the rabbis had a "strong reaction to the Two Powers Heresy" of the early 2nd century. So likewise, Rabbinic Judaism's strong affirmation of monotheism is suited as a reaction to Christian (as well as Jewish) beliefs which allowed for hypostatic intermediaries.

STE also quietly bypasses a very important matter. As we note in our article, the NT alludes heavily to certain intertestamental works with reference to hypostatic Wisdom. STE objects to a formulation of Christology by Hengel using this material because they are "non-canonical sources, most of which Rabbinic Judaism never viewed as reflecting normative Judaism." [153] And therein lies an obfuscation: For the NT itself alludes to these very sources - and once again, it is arbitrary and erroneous to make Rabbinic Judaism the standard to judge by. Indeed, STE fundamentally contradicts himself here, since he dismisses Hengel's use of "non-canonical sources" while at the same time appealing to the quite "non-canonical" texts of Rabbinic Judaism.

It may also be added that Rabbinic Judaism is hardly to be equated with Judaism of earlier stages. Not only so, Rabbinic Judaism had the Memra, which was itself a hypostatic entity.

Other than this, STE can do little to refute the views of Hurtado, Hengel, et al on this issue, as he can only note that some (he says) disagree with this view, but the persons he cites are in two cases ideological foes of evangelical interpretations (Casey, Cupitt) on nearly all counts, and the third, Harvey, is not even writing about Christology and is not a specialist in the subject. And in not one place does STE confront the data behind the arguments.

STE's treatment of the Son of Man title [171f] requires little comment. Our essay on that title here is barely touched in concept; most of what STE offers on the SoM is non-controversial and in the context of the critical question of Jesus' divinity, of little relevance. In the end STE agrees that Jesus is to be identified with this figure in Daniel 7, but spends almost no time on the question of whether that figure is a divine being [189-91]. His reasoning is circular and again appeals to irrelevancies: To the point that the SoM rides on a cloud, and that divine figures only rode on clouds, STE yet again appeals to rabbinic opinion that the Messiah was not divine, and a rabbinic statement that Moses rode on a cloud to heaven - both clearly intelligible as reactionary statements responding to Christian belief. It is left for us to wonder indeed why STE regards the rabbinic literature as inerrantly faithful to God's purpose, knowing (as he ought to) that Rabbinic Judaism was descended from the Pharisaism that the NT repeatedly repudiates.

STE also offers some equivocation, saying, "Christians should not think someone being in/on clouds necessarily indicates that person is divine," and citing 2 Thess. 4:17 which says Christians will meet Jesus IN the clouds. STE has illicitly expanded the category from "on clouds" to "on OR IN clouds". But the far more important aspects - being seated at the Ancient of Days' right hand, and the sources for the SoM phrase - are untouched.

Past this point STE offers some more substantive engagement with various claims of Jesus' divinity. We will at this point be selecting only certain parts to deal with, for the sake of space and in no sense indicating thereby that we agree with STE's handling of texts we do not address. Some material is also repetitive.

[282f] STE discusses the passages in which Jesus forgives sins. Our treatment is found here and in turn addresses STE's response, which merely appeals to Sanders (whom we have addressed) and offers no other response, save that the people "glorified God" rather than recognizing Jesus as God, which is hardly disputed by anyone. STE also points out that the Angel of the Lord in the OT is permitted to forgive sins, but must assume (as we would not) that the Angel of the Lord is also not a divine manifestation. Finally, it is noted that Jesus gave his disciples the authority to forgive sins, but this too neglects to consider that this only makes sense if Jesus has the authority to extend such authority - as divinity - in the first place.

In commenting on John's Logos [302] we arrive again at something of our special interest, Wisdom Christology. STE shows no direct knowledge of the many allusions in John's prologue to the Wisdom texts of the OT and intertestamental period (per our link far above) but does misuse it for his own purposes as we will see. He opts for a familiar argument from Unitarians, that Jesus "was the man that the Logos became" where prior to Jesus; this we addressed in our article on Unitarian arguments:
As noted in our review, Buzzard and Hunting interpret the prologue as saying that the logos only became personal at verse 1:14, where it is said to have "become flesh," and they call upon Dunn for support. If this is true, one wonders why John used the word logos without qualification earlier in the prologue. John does not say at any point that the logos "became personal" -- saying that it "became flesh" doesn't qualify.

"Flesh" (sarx) is associated with the human body and weakness, but it was not considered the seat of what we would call consciousness -- that was the "heart" (kardia). If John wanted to say that the logos obtained personality, kardia was the word to use, not just sarx by itself, since it is clear from the existence of beings of spirit (God and the angels) that sarx isn't a requirement for personhood. An impersonal entity that "became flesh" would just sit around doing nothing -- the Tin Man did have a heart, he just didn't know it.
STE offers the objection that John does not say "Jesus is the Word" (!) which is rather pedantic, and merely a way of arbitrarily raising the bar of evidence to the necessary height to achieve STE's desired outcome. Other than this, STE merely reiterates the "Prov. 8 is just a personification" argument [305] noted above, and then finally acknowledges the parallels to OT and intertestamental literature, and perversely argues thusly:
  1. In these passages, Wisdom was merely a personification
  2. Therefore, John meant for the Logos prior to Jesus to be understood as a personification
We have noted several problems with this argument. In addition to the matter of John 1:14 above, there are other texts in which the pre-incarnate Jesus is given the characteristics of a person, not merely a personification:
John 17:5: And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was. Buzzard and Hunting have difficulty explaining this one. It clearly indicates Jesus was pre-existent and personal "before the world was" since it is a little hard to experience glory when one is not personal.
However, the question is begged and we are told that we will have to "adjust our understanding" [158] (i.e., assume their view is correct) to really get the point. They go all the way over to 2 Cor. 5:1, "For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens." It is said that since here (and in Mark 10:21) we are said to "have" that which is to come in the future, Jesus is "merely asking for the glory which he knew was prepared for him by God from the beginning. That glory existed in God's plan, and in that sense Jesus already 'had' it. We note that Jesus did not say, 'Give me back' or 'restore to me the glory which I had when I was alive with you before my birth.'"

That Buzzard and Hunting know this is semantic gymnastics is clear in that they immediately thereafter resort to the "completely foreign to Judaism" argument (false, as noted). The reference to the past foundation of the world clearly makes this a "give me back" matter, though expressed in far more respectful terms. It also matches far better with the kenotic emptying (Phil. 2:5-11).

Colossians 1:15ff: As noted in the review Buzzard and Hunting dispense with this rich passage in less than 3 pages, and their keystone is to quote Dunn's overcautious comment that Paul was not "arguing that Jesus was a particular preexistent being" but was rather saying that wisdom was "now most fully expressed in Jesus..." versus previous manifestations. If this is so then it seems odd that the language does not express that Jesus became these things -- the image of God, etc. -- versus that he is, was, and always was, as the language implies. It is hard to swallow that Paul (or the creed he quotes) made these numerous allusions to pre-existent Wisdom and yet did not make this very important distinction clear.
Furthermore, what "fuller expression" could there be than actuality? Dunn accuses Christians of "ransacking" the language in such cases, but this merely assumes that to borrow the language was not intended to transmit a truth about the identity of Jesus. In the end Dunn's argument only assumes what Buzzard and Hunting want to prove, and fails to explain how otherwise Paul could have written in order to directly equate Jesus with Wisdom.

1 Cor. 10:4 And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ.
I have not previously seen this verse used to argue for preexistence of Christ; Buzzard and Hunting read it in terms of as a figure of speech, as in "this cup is my blood". They also state that "obviously, a literal rock did not accompany Israel through the wilderness" and say this is an OT typology.

They are apparently unaware of the use of the Sinai story in later Jewish sapiential literature, as in Philo, who equates the rock with Wisdom and does say that Wisdom guided the Israelites. Philo's intention is allegorical, but nevertheless, Buzzard and Hunting's connection is non-existent, whereas there is a clear reference to the Wisdom hypostasis, and Paul therefore now states that Christ, as Wisdom and as a person, did indeed guide Israel through the desert. (Their use of 10:11 to dismiss all of these as "types" ignores the clear historical references in 10:6-10 which are called "types".)
Notably, and astonishingly, STE has no comment on any of these last two passages in these terms. John 17:3 is briefly disposed of [350] with a contrived explanation that Jesus is referring to the Shekinah glory of the Exodus, which makes no sense of any part of the statement: It says, "glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee"(though STE omits "with thee" in the heading) "before the world was" (not, in the desert).

Concerning the "I am" claims of John 8, STE is at least aware of scholarship paralleling these statements to texts in Isaiah, as we have noted here. STE's responses amount to a non sequitur, as he merely quotes the conclusions (not the arguments) of earlier commentators that such equations would be mistaken, and in one case offers their arbitrary reinterpretation. [365]

STE does argue that if Jesus had indeed so identified himself as divine, the Jews would have stoned him as they later did. In this he does not see his own self-refutation, since he admits they DID try to stone Jesus for this very thing, and they did so at the end of the very statements we are discussing (John 8:59). However, STE also errs in supposing that this ought even be an issue, even if Jesus were not stoned right away: Capital power was held by Rome, and one could only get away with a stoning in very unusual circumstances - or would try it only if one had lost much of their self-control.

STE also declares the orthodox interpretation "preposterous" because Jesus did not make it more clear what he was saying in equating himself with God. In this, STE displays a lamentable lack of knowledge of the nature of the NT world. In an agonistic, collectivist society, direct statements of identity to an outside group (as opposed to one's ingroup) would not satisfy the strictures of honor; implicit statements would be the norm, and be far more effective. STE is essentially imposing an unwarranted, modern demand for "clarity" on the text.

In the final analysis, STE does nothing to refute the parallels drawn to Isaiah. Merely quoting authorities who simply disagree and then provide their own interpretation - as a way of avoiding the correct one - is not a rebuttal to the equations. Nor is it acceptable to contrive some explanation such as that they mean "merely that God manifests Himself as such [e.g., light] through Jesus his agent." [370] This is merely a contrivance that begs the question and adds words and unjustified meaning to the text in the service of a desired, predetermined conclusion.

There is no perfect analogy to the hypostatic relationship in human terms, but roughly, it would be as though there were two persons, John and Jack; and Jack was well known for certain specific statements about himself, such as, "I am the world's greatest hockey player, no holds barred." If John showed up at the local rink saying exactly the same thing, these are the conclusions we could reach:
  1. He is claiming Jack is wrong and that he is taking over the claimed rank of world's greatest hockey player.
  2. He is claiming to be Jack.
Option 1 obviously will not work for Jesus and the Father. But STE would have us believe that it meant, 3) "Jack manifests himself as the world's greatest hockey player through John his agent." Even if indeed Jack has hired John as an agent, who could possibly come up with such a contrived conclusion?

The irony is that STE is surely right about Jesus being the Father's agent. Yet like many Unitarians, he misses the significance of passages like Is. 42:8:
I am the LORD: that is my name: and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise to graven images.(cf. 48:11)
This is far more relevant than we realize. Let us keep in mind the distinction between two forms of personal honor: ascribed honor and acquired honor. Both forms are alluded to here: (ascribed = name; acquired = praise). God will share neither of these with anyone. For the Father to manifest him through anyone, whether Jesus or anyone else, through characteristics to which He has ascribed Himself, would amount to a sharing of glory and honor, contrary to Is. 42:8/48:11 - a point that could not have escaped Jesus or his listeners as he alluded to the very same prophet's words.

The only resolution is that Jesus must somehow have shared in the divine identity - as eternal, hypostatic Wisdom.

STE's further explanations of the "I am" passages are similarly contrived, and similarly add words and concepts to the text, and so require no unique comment.

We move now to Pauline material. As noted, STE is unaware of any connection between Col. 1:15 and Wisdom theology; STE merely refers to Adam and Eve as made in God's image (and not being divine) and quotes Vermes' negative assessment of an equation (without any argument). [416] As our article linked above shows, the parallels are much deeper than this:

Colossians 1:15a He is the image of the invisible God...
Wisdom of Solomon 7:26 (Wisdom is) a spotless mirror of the working of God, and an image of his goodness.
Colossians 1:15b ...the firstborn over all creation.
Philo's reference to Wisdom as the "firstborn son" and offspring of God.
Colossians 1:16a ...by him all things were created..
Wisdom of Solomon 1:14 "for he created all things that they might exist"
Sirach 1:4 and Philo refer to Wisdom as the "master workman" of creation.
Colossians 1:17b He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
Wisdom of Solomon 1:7 ...that which holds all things together knows what is said...
STE's claim that these passages do no more than (again) show Jesus to be God's "agent" [429] fails to capture the full picture.

In addition, STE fails to properly define "image" seeing it merely as a matter of a "representation of an original," neglecting or else unaware of the aspect of authority implied in the words (see on this here).

In the same way, as noted, STE is without awareness of 1 Cor. 8:4-6 as a rewrite of the Shema which includes Jesus in the divine identity. [419] As we have said in our response to Buzzard and Hunting:
And in closing, about 1 Cor. 8:4, 6. Buzzard and Hunting use this as an example of the supposedly pristine unitary monotheism promulgated by Paul, but they are unaware that this passage is essentially a rewrite of the Shema which includes Jesus in the divine identity. Let's see that passage:

As concerning therefore the eating of those things that are offered in sacrifice unto idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one...But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.

Verse 4 clearly alludes to the Shema, as all agree; but recall the Shema again for v. 6: "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD." Paul has used the key phrase "one Lord" and applied it to Jesus Christ, thus including Jesus in the divine identity! And there is more: phrases like "of" or "by whom all things" are parallel to Jewish formulations that express God's relationship to Creation. This is in line with the Jewish concept of Wisdom, God's attribute, as God's tool for creation. Monolatry is maintained by including Jesus within the divine identity.
In light of this, STE's argument (following Dunn uncritically) that Paul calls Jesus "Lord" in order to distinguish him from God is merely an obscene parody of Paul's intention.

STE is further confounded by OT texts reframed by Paul such that Jesus now takes the place of YHWH, and again, merely adds words and concepts to the text to reach the desired conclusion: eg, when Paul in 1 Cor. 2:16 applies Is. 40:13 to Jesus, STE contrives the answer, "The meaning is surely no more than that the risen Christ and Yahweh think alike." [421] The "surety" of this, however, is no argument whatsoever, merely a predetermined conclusion which uses part of the truth (Jesus and the Father DO think alike) to resist the whole truth (WHY they think alike - eg, sharing the divine identity, which is the only reasonable and most natural conclusion for Paul's thematic substitution, especially in light of Is. 42:8/48:11).

Further on [480] we find again the error we have answered against Buzzard and Hunting, regarding Hebrews 4:15:
[There is] the claim that the Trinitarian Jesus could not be a real human being (once again assuming modern anthropological categories illicitly) and could not meaningfully suffer temptation. This rests on an assumption that the Temptations of Jesus were a matter of testing weakness; I disagree. Here is my take on that matter: ...."Could Jesus have failed the Temptations?"...No, I don't think Jesus could have failed -- not in the least. Someone will say, "Well, so what did the temptations prove, then?" I'll explain what they proved with an analogy. Let us recall the story of the Sphinx: Persons approaching this creature were required to answer a riddle posed by it in order to pass. Losers were summarily dispatched. The only way to get past it was to answer the riddle -- right?
Well, let's say that rather than answer the riddle, one of these Greek fellows stopped by the time travel surplus store, and instead of answering the riddle, blew the Sphinx away with a howitzer. So did he defeat the Sphinx? Of course he did. And he did so by rendering the Sphinx's challenge irrelevant.
As I see it, this is what the purpose of the Temptation of Jesus was -- it was to prove Satan to be irrelevant in context. Jesus experienced temptation firsthand (Hebrews 4:15) and knew what it was like, but this is not the same thing as saying that he could have fallen for it (and as Hebrews goes on to say, he didn't fall for it -- cf. Hebrews 2:17-18:
"Wherefore in all things it behooved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succor them that are tempted." ).
A Greek could hear the Sphinx's riddle, and say, "Yeah, so what?" before blowing the beast to smithereens. In the same way, Jesus was tested, and was guaranteed a 100%. The Temptation was a glorious demonstration of what the Incarnation had accomplished.
We come now to a close of this critique, reminding the reader that it has been a critique by example; we do not claim here to have directly answered all of STE's material, for much of it is not relevant; some of it is on target against less competent arguments for Jesus' divinity, and much of it is repetitive, and covered by other material we have written. The purpose here has merely been to show that STE provides nothing new or unique - his arguments are merely the same Unitarian arguments that have circulated for a considerable amount of time; his methods of argument are also the same, involving contrivance, bare denials without actual argument, and begged questions.

STE indicates he will reveal his identity in 2011, but based on his rather poor scholarship, that is a revelation that we expect should be welcomed not with a fanfare, but with a yawn.

Update: In November 2009, STE revealed his identity as retired professional golfer Kermit Zarley. We are not in the least surprised that he is not a credentialed scholar.

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