How Many Persons Were Involved in Creation?

It’s an important part of both trinitarian, Arian, and semi-arian christology that Jesus Christ pre-existed his humanity and played some role in the creation of the universe described in Genesis 1. For many Arians and semi-arians especially, belief in Jesus as creator is an important part of the reason they believe that Jesus literally pre-existed in the first place. Those who deny Jesus’s alleged literal pre-existence point out that in the Hebrew scriptures, a single person, the God of Israel, takes credit for creation, and emphatically states that He created alone (Isa 44:24). The book of Revelation echoes this same teaching, which I’d like to briefly highlight here.

Then the angel whom I saw standing on the sea and on the land lifted up his right hand to heaven, 6 and swore by Him who lives forever and ever, who created heaven and the things in it, and the earth and the things in it, and the sea and the things in it, that there will be delay no longer,

Revelation 10:5-6 (NASB)

Notice here that an angel swears by someone- a person, which we see from this entity being called a “Him” and a “who”. This “Him” is the Creator of all things; and that this single entity performed the rational action of creating further shows us that this is a single person; a person, after all, is simply a rational individual being. Since this is a single entity who has performed an a rational action, the subject here can be seen to be a person, by definition, even aside from the explicitly personal language used.

We must notice then that this single person is described by no other descriptor than “Him who lives forever and ever, who created heaven and the things in it, and the earth and the things in it, and the sea and the things in it”. Now if there were two or more persons of whom this description were true, then we could not know who is being referred to here; yet, obviously this is intended to tell us the identity of the one the angel swore by. This only makes sense, and is only useful, if there is only one person of whom it can be said that they are the Creator of all things. We may note that it begins by simply describing this person as one Who lives forever; but since this is a description that would fit many persons, the additional disambiguation is added that this is He who made all things. Yet this disambiguation is futile and fails to actually clarify the identity of the person the angel swore by at all if in fact both the Father and Jesus were involved in the work of creation. In such a scheme, we are left wondering who is referred to here, with no possible resolution. The fact that this text assumes that there is only one person who created all things, the God of Israel, and that He can thus be uniquely identified by this descriptor, is a serious problem for those who believe that Jesus the Messiah literally pre-existed and acted in the creation of the universe.

And I saw another angel flying in midheaven, having an eternal gospel to preach to those who live on the earth, and to every nation and tribe and tongue and people; 7 and he said with a loud voice, “Fear God, and give Him glory, because the hour of His judgment has come; worship Him who made the heaven and the earth and sea and springs of waters.”

Revelation 14:6-7 (NASB)

Here we see another clear example of the same thing we observed above; mankind is told to worship “Him who made the heaven and the earth and sea and springs of waters”. That there is a single person (a single “Him” and “who”) whose identity can be disambiguated by this description assumes and implicitly communicates to us that there is in fact only one person, the person spoken of here, who created all things. Since all hands acknowledge that the Father is the Creator of all things, and this sort of language in Revelation limits us to understanding that only one person created all things, we must therefore conclude that the Father alone is the Creator of all things; Jesus did not play a role in the creation of the universe.

This holds serious implications for those whose christology depends on Jesus being involved in creation in order to demonstrate his pre-existence. Like God said through Isaiah, we find here that only one person, the God of Israel, the God and Father of the Lord Jesus the Messiah, created all things, which undermines the very core of the distinctive features of trinitarian, Arian, and semi-arian views on creation and christology.

Arguments For Unitarianism

Assuming Unitarianism

In several debates between Biblical Unitarians and trinitarians, the argument has been brought forward by trinitarians that Biblical Unitarians are guilty of “assuming unitarianism”; it is suggested that rather than deriving their unitarian beliefs from the Bible and/or sound reason, unitarians instead begin with the assumption that their views are true, and only by working backwards find what appears to be support for their views in the Bible. If one did not approach the Bible with the pre-supposition of that the one God is only one person and that Jesus Christ is a man, one would not find it there, these trinitarians argue. This is a very common trinitarian argument- is there a good answer to it?

In this post I want to look at some of the “assumptions” Biblical Unitarians are guilty of which lead them to find their views in the Bible, and show that these cannot fairly be painted as mere assumptions being forced upon the text of scripture. Rather I will argue that these are observations arising from the Bible itself, meaning that any support for Biblical Unitarianism arising from these observations will in fact constitute biblical evidence for the Biblical Unitarian position. I hope to show here that we do not in fact read unitarianism into the Bible, but derive our doctrines from it.

“Assumption” #1: A mediator is a third party who intervenes between two parties.

Here Biblical Unitarians are accused of unfairly insisting that a mediator must be a third party intervening between two parties, rather than an individual who somehow is both parties. Is this true? Are Biblical Unitarians stealthily shoehorning our own unitarian assumptions into passages like 1 Timothy 2:5, which tell us “For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,” (NASB)?

The answer becomes clear when we consider what a mediator is by definition: a go-between between two or more parties; mediation by definition involves occupying a middle position between these various parties. In the case of these being two parties between whom there is a mediator, the mediator then, by definition, must be a third party, numerically and individually distinct from the two parties between which mediation is taking place. Anyone is welcome to look up the words ‘mediator’ and ‘mediation’ in the dictionary to verify these claims.

What’s that mean for Unitarians? It means that all Biblical Unitarians are doing is looking at what the words the Bible uses mean, and accepting that as the meaning of the text. God chose to reveal Himself to us using human language, and Christianity teaches that He was successful in this endeavor. Although God is infinite and transcends the limits of human language, He is able to -and in fact does- reveal truth to us using our terms. When He does so, we need to look at what those human terms denote to know what God is telling us. That’s all Biblical Unitarians are doing here; we look at the fact that the Bible tells us that Christ is a mediator between the one God and man, and therefore is by definition a third party standing between God and the rest of mankind. That’s merely looking carefully at what the Bible says and its necessary implications, and believing it, not reading anything into the Bible.

A trinitarian here might suggest that a biblical author such as Paul would be free to invent their own terms, or use terms in new ways, especially if they are seeking to describe something new for which there is not yet an established terminology. This is valid. However, in such a situation, we must expect the biblical author to give us some indication that he is using the term in question in a new or different way; if he does not, then we have no valid reason to assume the term means anything different than what it normally does; we are reasonably required to understand the term within the limits of its normal use and meaning, unless indication of such an exception is made. Therefore, in instances like 1 Timothy 2:5 where no such indication of redefinition is given, we are to understand the term according to its established meaning- which of course, inherently involves the mediator being a third party between the two parties between which there is mediation.

I’d end by pointing out here that not only are Biblical Unitarians being unfairly accused of reading their ideas into the Bible here, but also that their accusers make such accusations hypocritically. When we stop and examine what trinitarians do with the Bible’s teaching that Jesus is the mediator between God and the rest of mankind, we immediately see that they will often attempt to redefine what a mediator is, present an alternative meaning for ‘mediator’ which is not valid, and altogether dismiss the actual meaning of the word, all because the passage’s meaning does not fit with trinitarianism. Nothing from the text indicates the word here is being used in a special way, to mean something other than what it definitionally means; to argue it is appears to be nothing more than special pleading. This is a great example of someone attempting to read their own views into the text of the Bible, the very things they accuse Unitarians of doing.

“Assumption” #2: A son is a numerically distinct individual besides the one whose son they are.

Our method here will be the same as it was in addressing the last accusation; all we need do is stop and consider what sonship is, definitionally. If all Biblical Unitarians are doing is assuming that the Bible is using the words it speaks according to their meanings, this can hardly be considered assuming unitarianism; instead, its simply assuming that the Bible means what it says, and that this is a reliable representation of the truth.

So what’s it mean to be a son? For one to be the son of someone denotes a relation between that one and another individual- a son and a parent. One individual relates to the other as its son, the other relates to the one as its parent. This inherently and necessarily involves the son and parent to be two distinct individuals, since it is a relation between two individuals by definition. Naturally, this relation involves not only a social relation between the two individuals, but also a causal relation, where the son is begotten or born from the parent, and the parent is cause of the son. At its most basic level, a son is simply a male offspring of an individual. Sonship however can simply be used to denote the social relation itself, aside from causation, as in the case of adoption. Either way, though, sonship universally and definitionally involves a relation between one individual and another.

So then, when the Bible in the Old and New Testament identifies the Messiah, Jesus, as the Son of God, we have to ask what these words signify. According to their established meaning, that Jesus is the Son of God tells us that Jesus Christ is another individual besides God, who relates to God as his Father. In the case of Jesus, this father-son relation not only involves the social aspects of sonship (like inheritance), but also causation; we are told that Jesus is the only-begotten Son of God, on account of his being miraculously caused by God in Mary via the agency of the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35). If Jesus is really the Son of God (the only true God -Jn 17:3), then he is then necessarily and by definition an individual distinct from God, who relates to God as another, namely, his Father.

If this isn’t what being ‘son’ signifies in relation to Christ, why? We have acknowledged that a biblical author could, if they wished, use a term in a unique or new way; but we also noted that such a significant change in how a term is used would require explicit explanation. Otherwise, using the term in a different way would be equivocation, and risk being both confusing and deceptive. The fact is, we are never given a reason to think that Jesus’s sonship is somehow definitionally different than what sonship normally is. All Biblical Unitarians are doing here then is making observations off of what the words of the Bible mean; saying that the usage of terms here is exceptional and that they do not mean what they normally do will be nothing but special pleading, unless biblical justification were given for a change in meaning. Wanting to insist that sonship does not denote what it always definitionally denotes because that does not fit with trinitarianism sounds not only like special pleading, but attempting to read one’s own theological assumptions back into the Bible, the very thing these trinitarians are accusing Biblical Unitarians of doing.

“Assumption” #3: YHVH, the one God of the Bible, is only one person.

This one really gets to the heart of the debate between trinitarians who say YHVH, the one God, is three persons, and Unitarians, who insist that YHVH, God Almighty, is only one person. Do Biblical Unitarians read the Bible with this assumption, or is this idea derived from the Bible? Its worth noting here that the answer is actually ‘both’. The fact is, everyone reads the Bible assuming their preconceived theological ideas are true, whether they are trinitarian or unitarian. No one is going to come to the Bible pretending they do not actually believe whatever they understand the truth to be. The difference between trinitarians and unitarians here will then not be whether we assume our positions are true when we come to the text of scripture, but which of our positions is derived from scripture. When someone comes to the Bible without presuppositions in favor of either view, which way does the Bible direct them to go?

We may start here by noting that trinitarians and unitarians both agree that YHVH is a single being, so let’s begin there. YHVH is one entity, one being. What sort of being is YHVH? I will argue that it is clear throughout the Old Testament that YHVH is a personal being. YHVH is referred to using personal language, such as personal, rather than impersonal pronouns. YHVH can be related to; He knows and is known, He acts, He speaks, He loves, has wrath, etc. There can be no doubt that YHVH is personal. We also already noted that YHVH is one individual being. Now we must put these together: is there any particular term human language has to denote a personal being? Indeed, this is exactly what the term “person” is. So, is YHVH a person? Absolutely. As a personal being, YHVH is obviously a person. That’s why all through the OT, the one God, YHVH is spoken of using not only personal pronouns, but specifically singular personal pronouns. He refers to Himself using terms denoting a single self; and when others speak of Him or to Him, they use singular personal language. The one YHVH of the Old Testament scriptures then is presented throughout those scriptures not as an impersonal being, but as a personal being- that is, as a person.

Now, while this explanation is clear, it is a little too imprecise for my comfort. Simply defining a person as a personal being, while not incorrect, does not satisfactorily explain the matter in the sort of precision this discussion often requires of us. So I will note that definitionally, a person is ‘a rational individual being’.

Let’s break down that definition in detail: a ‘being’ is simply an entity; an entity may be either individual or generic. For example, we may speak of human nature, a set of ontological properties which define what it means to be human, as an entity, but this abstract entity is generic or universal, finding existence in many individuals. And individual entity on the other hand would be, for example, an actual human being; this is not an abstract, generic entity, but a concrete individual subsistence. A person is not an abstract nature, but a specific individual entity, that is, an individual being. However, not all individual beings are persons, but only rational individual beings. Classically the idea here is that by rational, we mean to indicate only those being which possess higher rational faculties capable of abstract reasoning; a cow, therefore, is not a person, despite the fact that it is an individual being; whereas a man, or an angel, since they are individual beings which are rational in nature, are persons. Thus we arrive at our definition that a person is a rational individual being.

Is then YHVH a rational individual being? That is, does He meet the technical definition of a person? Yes, He does. That He is an individual being we see again and again; He is clear that He is one entity, and trinitarians and unitarians agree on this. But He is also rational, able to think reason, possess wisdom, speak, and even knows all things. So then, YHVH, God Almighty, the one God of the Old Testament, is clearly a person, according to the standard definition of a person.

A trinitarian may object here, and attempt to argue that other definitions of ‘person’ and ‘being’ must be found which would better fit with their doctrines. This however, we must not allow. It is not Biblical Unitarians who first introduced ‘ousia’ and ‘hypostasis’ into theology proper, but trinitarians, or rather, the Logos-theorists who preceded them. Trinitarians opted to continue using this language employed by the unitarian subordinationists of the third and fourth century, and to make it an integral part of their creedal definitions. If then they will insist on using the terms ‘being’, and ‘person’, they must use them according to their actual definitions. Otherwise, we must politely ask them to not bother using these terms at all, as it only serves to horribly obscure their meaning, and throws the entire discussion into confusion, when they seek to use terms like ‘person’ to denote something other than an actual person.

If anyone doubts the legitimacy of this definition, as with ‘son’ and ‘mediator’, I welcome them to consult common dictionaries. I would also illustrate the validity of these definitions by giving a more familiar example: what is the difference between “a human being” and “a human person”? None exists; they refer to the same exact thing. That’s because all humans are by nature rational, and so, all individual beings which are human, being rational, are persons. Or to return to our much simpler explanation we started with, all human beings are personal. Thus, every human being is a person. This all serves to illustrate the relation of ‘being’ to ‘person’, as classically understood, laid out above.

YHVH then, the God of Israel, the Most High, the Creator of all things, is not only one being, but one person, according to what the very word ‘person’ signifies by definition. Since YHVH is only one rational individual being, and not more than one, He is only one person, not more than one.

All this means that the Unitarian view of God, as being only one person, is not merely a presupposition which we impose upon the Bible; it is a truth which is unavoidably present in the Bible itself, clear to anyone trying to look objectively at the matter. All we have to do it look at how many entities God is: one. And is this entity individual? Yes, thus it is one. Is this entity rational? Indeed, all knowing and all wise. This God, then, the God of the Old Testament, is only one person. Now, if we approach the New Testament with the base assumption that the one God is the same one God in both the Old Testament and the New- an assumption which can be proved from many passages- then we will find that the one God is only one person in the New Testament as well. One passage we may note is John 8:54:

Jesus answered, “If I glorify Myself, My glory is nothing; it is My Father who glorifies Me, of whom you [Jews] say, ‘He is our God’;

John 8:54 NASB

Who did the Jews Jesus here interacted with claim as their God, except YHVH, God Almighty, the God of the Old Testament? But Who then is YHVH, the God of the Old Testament, in relation to Jesus? “My Father”, is what Jesus calls Him; the person Jesus calls “my Father” is the one the Jews call their God, that is, YHVH God Almighty. This is exactly what Biblical Unitarianism teaches: the one God is only one person, the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. The one God of the Jews, YHVH is equated with someone trinitarians acknowledge is a person here, the Father. So again, we have confirmation that YHVH is a person. But we are not left wondering who that person is in relation to Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The Son of which God? YHVH, the God of the Bible. We have already addressed that as Son, Jesus is distinguished as another individual besides His Father.

We find then that the trinitarian accusation of ‘assuming unitarianism’ is an empty and pointless response to unitarian arguments; in fact what trinitarians making this charge are really taking issue with is that unitarians are taking biblical language at face value, and understanding the words the Bible uses according to their standard meanings, rather than according to some sort of special definition contrived to accommodate the doctrine of the trinity. As we saw above, the unitarian understanding that God is a single person and that Jesus is another numerically distinct individual besides the one God is something derived directly from the language of the Bible itself, any not merely an assumption foisted into the text by unitarians; rather, we find it is trinitarians who are repeatedly having to try to get around what the Bible is saying due to their assuming trinitarianism.

Arguments For Unitarianism

Asking Questions That Have Already Been Answered: Why We Don’t Need Literal Pre-existence

In the fourth century, debates raged between leading bishops of the Roman Empire about the precise nature of Jesus Christ; questions concerning his origin, his nature, his sonship, and the precise nature of his relation to the Father stood as the central questions of these fierce controversies. Today, Arians, semi-Arians, Trinitarians, and others, still clash over these questions. We may observe that what was historically at the heart of the disagreement between Trinitarians and Arians was the question of the precise nature of Jesus’s origin; in what manner was he caused by the Father? Trinitarians, holding that the Son is eternally generated from the Father, answered that the Son is timelessly and eternally caused by the Father; others objected that there was a difference in time between the Father and Son, and that the Son was created by God out of nothing. Was the Son generated or created? Of the same nature as the Father, or another? Was he begotten ex nihilo (out of nothing) or from the essence of the Father? These are the questions that occupied some of the greatest minds of the time, and the way one answered could mark one as either a champion of orthodoxy or a vile heretic, depending on which emperor was in power at the time.

Today, trinitarians still value these questions, and suggest that their answers alone satisfactorily fit with the biblical data, informing us that only through the doctrine of eternal generation can we rightly understand the nature of Jesus, His origin, His relation to the Father, and the true nature of His sonship. But is this true?

We must admit that these are all understandable questions being asked. The Bible presents Jesus Christ as being at the center of God’s plan to save humanity, establish His kingdom on earth, and restore the fallen world. And so it is no wonder that the Bible’s teachings about Jesus have always made those who would be his disciples wonder about these things; after all, they have great bearing on how we view the Lord Jesus at even the most fundamental level, and what sort of being we believe him to be. And so it’s no wonder that theologians have tried to piece together answers to these questions; although never spelled out, trinitarians believe that we can follow a veritable trail of bread-crumbs throughout the Bible which eventually lead to their conclusions. Although no one single passage ever defines the relation of the Son to the Father in the terms they do, they are convinced (often in large part by extra-biblical tradition) that clues from many obscure passages around the Bible can be pieced together into a collage that reveals eternal generation as the answer to these questions. Equipped with the right set of philosophical presuppositions about God, metaphysics, and the nature of time, combined with the traditional patristic readings of various passages, anyone can find eternal generation hidden deep within the white spaces of their Bibles.

But is that really the best that we have? Has God left us to figure out the answers to these important questions in such a difficult way? Why does the Bible not tell us such important things in a straightforward fashion? I suggest that, contra both Trinitarian and Arian speculation, it actually does just that.

Here are the questions that these theories seek to answer, and the answers the Bible gives:

1.) Was Jesus Christ caused to live by the Father, or is he uncaused?

Jesus said, “I live because of the Father” (John 6:57). Jesus expressly affirms that the Father is the cause of His life. Historically trinitarianism has agreed with this and said that Jesus is atemporally caused in eternal generation; today’s trinitarians, forgetting their creeds, frequently deny the clear teaching of this passage that Jesus is caused by another. But the truth here is unavoidable.

2.) What is the origin of Jesus Christ?

Matthew 1:18 tells us, “Now the origin of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit.” What follows is a brief account of the miraculous conception and subsequent virgin birth of Christ. Although it is often translated falsely, as either ‘generation’ or ‘birth’, the word used here in verse 18 is the Greek word ‘genesis’, meaning, as in English, ‘origin’. The author of Matthew was familiar with both the Greek word for birth (‘tikto’) and generation (‘gennao’), using both of these terms in the description of Jesus’s miraculous conception and subsequent virgin birth in the passage that follows, but used neither term here; instead, the word for ‘origin’ was specifically chosen by the author. The Bible straightforwardly tells us what the origin of Jesus Christ is then: his miraculous generation by God in Mary, via the agency of the Holy Spirit, and subsequent virgin birth.

3.) Why is Jesus called the Son of God?

Luke answers: “The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God.” (Luke 1:35 NASB)

Here we are very clearly told the basis upon which Mary’s child, Jesus Christ, will be called the Son of God; it is because he was miraculously begotten by God in Mary’s womb through the Holy Spirit. Of course, we may rightly see ‘Son of God’ as a Messianic title as well; and we may rightly note that this title is connected by the Bible not only with this miraculous birth from Mary, but also later with Jesus’s new identity as “the Firstborn of the dead” upon having been resurrected by God. It’s a title full of significance for multiple reasons. But before Jesus had been anointed as Christ at his baptism, and before he had been raised from the dead, he was already the Son of God in a special way- even “the only-begotten Son of God” (Jn 3:16). Why? When was he begotten by God? The Bible couldn’t be clearer in telling us: it’s because of his miraculous generation by God in the womb of the virgin Mary.

4.) What kind of being is Jesus; what is his nature?

John records the words of Christ: “But as it is, you are seeking to kill Me, a man who has told you the truth, which I heard from God; this Abraham did not do.” (John 8:40 NASB). Paul also clearly declares: “For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,” (1 Timothy 2:5 NASB). Note well, the answer is not shrouded in mystery: according to Jesus and the apostles, Jesus Christ was and is a human being. That’s what kind of being Jesus is: a human. What’s his nature? Human. That’s just what the Bible says; and we may note well that the Bible doesn’t qualify it, add to it, take away from it, or otherwise alter it. There’s no mention of dual natures, no mention of an incarnate divinity; just a simple teaching that Jesus is human.

5.) What was the relation of the Son to the Father before the foundation of the world?

Peter writes: “For He [Christ] was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.” (1 Peter 1:20-21 NASB).

So much blood has been shed, and so many men labeled and punished as heretics, over the finest details of the Son’s relationship to the Father before the creation of the world; yet here we are told clearly and simply by the Bible the answer to these great questions: before creation, Jesus Christ was foreknown by God. That’s it; while Peter was on the topic of the relation of the Son to the Father before the ages, he didn’t think to mention anything else. Nothing on if the Son was begotten or created, whether the Son was of the Father’s essence or ex nihilo, or if his generation was temporal or eternal, or if the Son is homoi, homoiousias, or homoousias with the Father; how could Peter miss the chance? He gives us none of this, but rather brushes all these theories aside by telling us that before creation, God foreknew His Son.

We must carefully consider the nature of foreknowledge; nothing which is foreknown is present while it is foreknown; an event foreknown is known when it has not yet occurred, and a person foreknown is known when they do not yet exist. If then God is said to have foreknown, not merely known, Christ, then Christ was not yet present with the Father; Christ did not yet exist. For if Christ were not still future, but had been present with the Father, he would have simply been ‘known’, not ‘foreknown’; and if Christ was co-eternal with the Father, then it would have been impossible for the Father to have foreknown him, seeing as there never would have been a ‘before Christ’ in which to have foreknown him. Peter does here provide the an answer for some of the fourth century’s toughest questions- if only we are willing to listen.

Of course, it’s noteworthy that semi-arians in the fourth century did make exactly these same observations about this passage, when they sought to disprove the nicene notion of co-eternality. But for them this passage proves a challenge as well; for there is no mention of Christ first having been foreknown before coming into existence, and then being created by God before the ages, but simply that he was foreknown before creation, full stop, with no indication that this state of affairs changed at some point before creation. There is no mention here or anywhere of God having begotten or created Jesus before the foundation of the world, to in turn subsequently use him as an instrument in creating the universe. The Arian position, like trinitarianism, must supply a great deal that the Bible does not give us.

Here we see then, perhaps to the surprise of some, that the Bible itself does give us answers to all these questions. In a straightforward manner, we are told the origin of Jesus, the reason he is the Son of God, his nature, and even what his relation was to God before the foundation of the world.

Now of course, in addition to these very clear passages, there are a relatively small number of other passages, the meaning of which has been hotly disputed since the very early church, which are purported to answer these questions differently. Although none do so directly or approach the clarity of the passages listed above, some have argued that we ought to be reading the above passages through a lens of human doctrine inferred from these difficult passages. My question to trinitarians is simple: we have two sets of passages, one which clearly and easily answers these questions, of which those quoted above belong, and another set of passages which have been and continue to be difficult for even the greatest minds to understand the meaning of; why not interpret the unclear through the clear? Why not interpret the difficult passages in a way consistent with the clear picture given throughout the Bible, that Jesus is a man, a human being, the Son of God who took his origin from being miraculously begotten in Mary via the Holy Spirit. The difficult passages, those alleged in favor of eternal generation, can all be interpreted in a way consistent with the Biblical Unitarianism here described; so why interpret them such a way to make them conflict with these clear teachings?

Eternal generation sets out to answer anew a set of questions that the Bible has already answered; what need is there for it? As a theory, it lacks any value in explanatory scope for all these important questions, because, as we have seen, these questions have already been answered, in a much simpler and clearer way. Rather, all eternal generation does is introduce myriad complexities and mysteries to answer otherwise simple questions; it creates more questions than it answers, and causes more problems than it solves. It turns the old axiom of ‘interpret the unclear by the clear’ on its head, insisting that we should either ignore or give extremely strained alternative interpretations to the clear passages given above, so that we may read them through the lens of unclear and difficult to interpret passages being read through a very particular set of traditions and philosophical assumptions.

The point of all this being this: we don’t need to answer again questions we already have the answer to. For instance there’s no reason to look for something more to explain Jesus’s sonship beyond Luke 1:35; there’s no reason to scour Old and New Testament for some hint that Jesus is actually God’s Son on the basis of something mysterious in eternity past, never clearly described anywhere in the Bible, and so obscure and difficult that even it’s defenders often fail to grasp what precisely they are saying, when we have a very clear answer given to us plainly in the New Testament. There’s no reason to keep looking, no unaccounted-for data, and no mystery of why the authors of scripture didn’t bother leaving us with a clear account of the answers to these questions- because they did. They gave us an account of Jesus’s origin, and an explanation of his sonship, but neither have anything to do with a generation in eternity past. If we are willing to accept these clear answers the Bible gives us, we’ll quickly find there is simply no room for either eternal generation, or literal pre-existence of any flavor.

Arguments For Unitarianism

My Journey to Biblical Unitarianism: Interview with Dr. Dale Tuggy

I recently had the pleasure of being interviewed by Dr. Dale Tuggy for his podcast, Trinities. For those not already familiar with Dr. Tuggy:

“Dr. Dale Tuggy served as Professor of Philosophy at the State University of New York at Fredonia for some 18 years. He has taught courses in analytic theology, philosophy of religion, religious studies, and the history of philosophy. Dale Tuggy has a PhD from Brown University. He has authored about two dozen peer-reviewed articles and book chapters relating to the Trinity and other topics in analytic theology and philosophy of religion. He is the producer and host of “The Trinities” podcast which explores theories about the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Dr. Tuggy is the author of the book “What is the Trinity? Thinking about the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” and has published an extensive collection of literature including writings from the early biblical unitarian movement in the United States.” [1]

If you aren’t already familiar with the Trinities podcast and the accompanying blog, they are well worth your time, as Dr. Tuggy covers a wide range of trinity-related topics including the development of the doctrine of the trinity and logical and exegetical problems for various trinity theories. It’s excellent material and I highly recommend it, along with his book and papers.

The podcasts are available here (and can also be found on Youtube):

Interview Part I

Interview Part II

In the interview, we talked about my personal background coming from a nominally Christian family, through my rejection of God and Christianity in favor of ‘science’ and atheism and my dabbling in Buddhism, before being exposed to the Bible and the biblical gospel for the first time in my early teens, when I believed, repented, dedicated myself and my life to God, and was baptized in 2009 at the age of 15. Following that we discuss the many twists and turns of my theological journey as a Christian, from my time as a confused but basically unitarian new believer, to being a modern semi-modalistic trinitarian, to my time as a monarchian trinitarian following the beginning of my in-depth study of the trinity in 2014, sparked by my discovery of Justin Martyr’s unorthodox views on God and Jesus. Following that we talked about my journey through ‘catholic’ Reformed Presbyterianism to my near-conversion to Eastern Orthodoxy, and my return to Protestant principles like sola scriptura, leading to my abandonment of Nicene trinitarianism at first in favor of Homoian/Logos-theorists views, and then finally to adopting the purely human christology of Biblical Unitarianism. Along the way we discussed numerous theological issues related to these various theologies.

If nothing else strikes you in listening, I hope that in my testimony you see God’s glory displayed in how gracious he has been to someone so undeserving as myself. I also hope that my own journey and observations on various views about God and Jesus might be helpful to others who are currently working through the same issues.

___

[1] The biography provided for Dr. Tuggy on the 21st Century Reformation website for the recent debate between Dr. Tuggy and Chris Date.

Church History General

The Forgotten Father

Something I’ve long noticed in popular trinitarianism is that one of the worst and most damaging effects of much trinitarian doctrine is that the Father is dishonored. Not only does trinitarian doctrine do all it can to deny the uniqueness of the Father as the one God of the Bible, the Almighty, the Maker of all things, by instead ascribing all of these glories to a triune being of which the Father is but one person among three equals, but also, there is a trend caused by this to simply ignore the Father, and to exalt the Son above the Father. While it is insisted that absolute and unqualified equality between the persons of the Trinity is of the utmost importance, in fact, this is almost never the case- one person ends up practically, if not officially, being treated and thought and spoken of as supreme and more central than the others; for the average trinitarian, this person is Christ, who is for them “God the Son”.

This can be seen in all sorts of things; in worship songs and hymns, in prayers, in sermons, in books, in systematic theologies, in doctrinal statements of churches; in all these, a clear trend can be seen: one person of these three supposedly equal persons get’s the bulk of the attention, praise, and thought of modern professing Christians- Christ.

This can just easily be observed by the reader for themselves- in any average trinitarian church, the worship songs, whether hymns or contemporary, will generally almost exclusively focus on the person of Christ. Sometimes other persons will get thrown in as well, but this is to disastrous effect just as often as not- modalism, or confusing the Father and Son with each other as though one person, abounds in such songs. Even when the Son is not being thanked for being our loving Father who died on the cross for us, and the songs more strictly focus on Jesus, the results are still problematic: Jesus is exalted with the highest exaltation possible. He receives every name and title of the Father, and is frequently spoken of in supreme and exclusive terms: for example “you alone have saved us”, “you alone have made us”, ascribing absolute supremacy to Christ and ‘most high’ and ‘incomparable’, etc. These sorts of statements, when left totally unqualified, actually elevate the Son over the Father- unless the Father and Son are simply rolled into one person. But so long as some real personal distinction is admitted between them, ascribing absolute supremacy to the Son without any qualification implicitly places the Son over the Father.

The same problems exist in prayers, but sometimes seem even more pronounced. I long ago lost track of how many times I have heard some well-intentioned trinitarian thank the Father for dying for us. And the same problem of exalting Christ to the very highest possible position often comes up in prayer as well, and with it, the same problem: if Christ is absolutely supreme over all, is he another besides the Father, or are they the same person? If they are the same person, then it’s pure modalism we are dealing with; if they are distinct, then the Son has been, at least implicitly, elevated above the Father.

In sermons and books, it’s again easy to observe the centrality of Christ, often to the near exclusion of the Father. I don’t have any formal study showing this, but it would be my educated guess that if trinitarian churches were polled, it would be found that the vast majority of sermons focus on Jesus with very little focus on the Father. The same can be said for Christian books.

When we come to systematic theologies and doctrinal statements, it becomes clear that Jesus receives far more focus than the Father. The standard breakdown of such books and statement is this (and feel free to crack open a couple systematic theologies and see what I’m saying): a long section is devoted to ‘God’; under which is treated the existence and attributes of God, and then the trinity, or, how this God that was just spoken of as if He were as single person for many chapters is in fact not a single person, but three persons. Then, the systematic theology or doctrinal statement will either move directly on to christology, the section on the Son, which is followed by pneumatology, the section on the Holy Spirit, or, on rare occasion, a small section will appear between theology and christology on the Father. The difference in length of this section compared to the others, when it exists at all, speaks volumes to the point I am making here: the Father, robbed of His true identity as the one God of the Bible, and made out to merely be one of three equal persons within the one God, is practically ignored. Sometimes He basically gets a brief ‘shout-out’ as the one Who plans and sends, but then that’s about it, usually. In more archaic systematic theologies and older statements, there may also be some statement that the Father is the source of the other persons of the trinity by eternal generation and procession, but these are often not given much attention or well explained, and on the popular level, these doctrines are frequently rejected and/or totally unknown.

All this means, to sum up, that Christ is worshipped by song, prayed to, preached about, written about, systematically studied, and defined in theological detail far more than the Father or the Holy Spirit. While the persons of the trinity are insisted to be absolutely “equal”, in practice this simply is not the case. The Father is practically forgotten, eclipsed by the Son, and often only bothered to be mentioned at all for sake of His roles in relation to the Son. Meanwhile Christ is central and treated as absolutely supreme.

Christ’s centrality is typically seen as a good thing, and to an extent, it is a good thing according to the Bible. God has exalted Christ, and wills that to him, as to God, every knee should bow. But the key difference is that in New Testament Christianity, Christ is exalted to the glory of the Father, and it is always the Father Who remains ultimately central and supreme (Phil 2:11). It is Christ who is exalted by God to the Father’s right hand, not the Father to Christ’s right hand; it is the Father Who sends the Son and Spirit, not the others sending Him; and the Son has the Father as his God, not the other way around. Whether the subordination of Christ be ascribed to economic differences in the trinity, or to an incarnation, or to Christ simply being a human Messiah and Son of God as is actually the case, it’s undeniable that a clear subordination of Christ to the Father exists throughout the New Testament; one that does not end with Christ’s exaltation to God’s right hand, either. On this point we may firstly note that ‘the right hand of God’ is obviously a position that is exalted above all else, yet subordinate to God. But secondly, we may consider that it was well after the ascension and exaltation of Christ that Paul the apostle wrote that “God is the head of Christ” (1 Cor 11:3), and tells us that in the end, Jesus, though greatly exalted by God, will be perfectly subject to God (1 Cor 15:28), the Father forever being supreme over all. In the New Testament, like in modern churches, there is no equality of Father and Son: but the great difference that in the New Testament, the Father is supreme, and the Son subordinate to Him- something modern trinitarians turn on it’s head, in practice, if not in official doctrine.

The result of all this is that the one God of the Bible is horribly neglected by most professing Christians. Since they have Christ as their one God, as the second person of God, what need is there for the to go to the Father? The one God is the one God, and if Jesus is the one God, then why go to the Father at all? Whereas the New Testament presents us with Jesus as the way by which men can approach God the Father, today’s trinitarians seem to have no desire to do so; for them, the Father is not the ultimate destination and Jesus the one who makes is possible for us to get there, but is himself the final destination in place of God. All of this results in people generally having a horribly muddled view of God, Christ, and Christianity. By exalting Christ above God, they effectively present Christ a rival to God, rather than as the loving and obedient Son and Servant of the one God, who always does what is pleasing to the Father and is perfectly subject to Him. The real Jesus Christ is our perfect example of love and obedience to God, our human king anointed by God, our High Priest who by the sacrifice of his own blood brings us to God- it is this Jesus who is worthy of all the praise, honor, and glory we see him receive in the New Testament. A Jesus who instead of being the humble and obedient Messiah, Servant, and Son of God acts as God’s rival and is worshipped and honored in place of Him is not the real Jesus, has no basis in the Bible, and is more a monstrous idol than a fitting object of love and praise. Trinitarians need to stop presenting Jesus as the usurper of God’s throne, worship, and glory, and go back to the Bible to see that while Jesus is absolutely worthy of worship and honor, his role is not that of the Father, but that of the one by whom we approach the Father. “This is eternal life, that they may know You [Father], the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” (Jn 17:3 NASB).

General

The First Commandment: Trinitarian or Unitarian?

In some recent interaction with Presbyterians I again encountered the claim that it is a violation of the first commandment to reject the trinitarian doctrine that God is three persons in favor of the ‘unitarian’ doctrine that the one God is only one person, the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. It’s an odd charge, in my opinion, because the text of the first commandment seems to obviously present God as a single person:

Then God spoke all these words, saying,

2 “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

3 “You shall have no other gods before Me.

Exodus 20:1-3 NASB

I just want to make a few brief observations here. Firstly, we may note that “God” in this passage is clearly a title indicating a relation, not an essence. The LORD is said to be Israel’s God in verse two; if this refers to an essence or nature, it makes no sense, but if ‘God’ is a title signifying dominion, this fits perfectly. After all, what would it mean exactly for YHVH to be Israel’s divine essence? Does Israel possess a divine nature, so that Israel consubstantial with the Trinity? Or is Israel God incarnate? The Bible has no concept of God as an essence, but rather applies ‘God’ as a title which, as the titles ‘lord’ and ‘king’, denotes dominion, power, and authority. With this meaning in mind there is nothing enigmatic about YHVH being Israel’s God; YHVH is not making an ontological claim about an essence, but declaring Himself to have authority, power, and dominion over His people Israel by being their God.

This also removes the mystery of verse three; for if ‘God’ here is an essence (as the trinitarians must think), and there is only one such divine essence, then the command of verse three is oddly put, at best. To have no other ‘divine essences’, which do not exist, before the one divine essence that is predicated of Israel, is an odd and practically unintelligible commandment. But if we understand that ‘godhood’ is dominion, and that there were on account of dominion and authority many lesser beings called ‘gods’ (Hebrew ‘elohim’, ‘mighty ones’), including both men and angels (Ps 82, compare Jn 10:34; Ps 8:5, compare Heb 2:7,9), then the command to put no other god ahead of YHVH is not so strange at all. In fact, this verse assumes that there are other beings, creatures of YHVH, that can justly bear the title ‘elohim’/’god’, and that YHVH, as being absolutely supreme over them all as the “Most High God” and “God of gods” is to be infinitely preferred above all others. While honor may be given to other ‘gods’ -human rulers and kings, and even to angels- the Almighty God, YHVH, the God of Israel, is to honored, loved, served, and worshipped above all others, with all the heart, mind, and soul (Mk 12:29-30).

Secondly, I’d like to note that YHVH the one God of Israel, the God of gods, can be clearly seen to be only one person here. Scripture doesn’t leave us guessing on how many persons YHVH is: in verse two, we read that YHVH is an “I”, a “Who”, and in verse three, a “Me”. These singular personal pronouns denote a single person in very clear terms. But note what else we can see about YHVH, just from these three short verses: YHVH is a living being, Who brought this nation He is now speaking to out of slavery in Egypt. He is no abstract essence, no lifeless principle or mere idea, but a living individual being, able to act and save His people. We also see that this being is a rational being: He speaks and acts intelligently; indeed, His wisdom is far beyond man’s comprehension. For our purposes here, it’s important to note: YHVH is here portrayed as a single rational individual being; that’s precisely what a “person” is by definition. That’s just the standard philosophical definition of a person, what the word ‘person’ means and has meant for centuries. A person is a rational individual being: and YHVH, the God of the Bible, the God of Israel before Whom we are to have no other gods, is one such rational individual being: a single person.

That conclusion is of course precisely what unitarians believe and have been endeavoring to help people to see from the scriptures. For trinitarians, on the other hand, this is quite a mess. Where is God’s triunity? Why does God imply only one person Who is the supreme object of worship and devotion, if indeed there are three worthy of equally supreme devotion? How can the one God be one person, as He is clearly presented as here, if He is actually three? Why isn’t ‘God’ here, which is being used in reference to the one God, referring to an essence like the creeds say it is supposed to? Perhaps one will also wonder why, in so beautifully revealing Himself to the people He had chosen and redeemed for Himself, God didn’t choose to show them His triunity? Why did God leave His people in darkness about His identity? Why leave them with the misapprehension that He is only one person, if He is really three?

The Westminster Larger Catechism, commenting on the first commandment, finds many possible violations of it, among which are these:

“…ignorance, forgetfulness, misapprehensions, false opinions… of [God]”

WLC 105

We must wonder, in light of this, at the peril the wording of this commandment itself must then have placed God’s people in; for (in the Presbyterian interpretation) while forbidding them that it is a grave sin to misapprehend or misunderstand their God, or to be ignorant of Him, the commandment itself furnishes them with (to the trinitarian) a misleading notion of God’s identity, such that can only leave them confused, ignorant of God’s true identity, and entertaining false and mistaken opinions concerning Him; for the whole lot of these Israelites, if they simply believed what was spoken to them in a straightforward manner, were positively unitarians, and comprehended their God YHVH to be a single rational individual being, that is, one person. But if, as the trinitarians hold, God is in fact three persons, then the command itself must represent, according to their strict interpretation if it, a sort of sinister trap, whereby God will at once trick His people into a false view of Him by speaking as if He is a single person, while at the same time forbidding thinking such as a grave sin of “ignorance”, “misapprehension”, and “false opinions”.

While the trinitarian must wrestle with why God would not only mislead His people into thinking falsely about Him, but also at the same time make it a grave sin to so think falsely about Him, unitarians are able to simply affirm the plain reading of the passage we noted above. If believing the straightforward teaching of scripture that the Lord God Almighty is one person is the sin of ‘misapprehension and false opinions’, we latter-day unitarians find ourselves in good company in committing it, seeing as not one of the prophets or apostles, nor the Lord Jesus Christ himself, can be found innocent of it, all of them having been duped, apparently, by God’s sneaky way of presenting Himself as though He is a single person when in fact He is not. The shema has deceived us all; from Moses, to David, to Jesus, to Paul and Peter, no one until Augustine and his trinitarian comrades in the late fourth century were clever enough to see through the misty statements of scripture with the clarity to discern the indefinable mystery that God is not a single person, but three of persons in one individual God.

All jesting aside, there is indeed serious misapprehension and ignorance of the true God afoot here; but this cannot be said to be on the part of those who, holding the scriptures in high esteem, refuse to trade the clear revelation of God that He is one person for the traditions and doctrines of men saying that He is three. We must take our stand not on the creeds of catholicism, but on the confession of our Lord, that this is eternal life: to know his Father, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom He has sent (Jn 17:3).

“We must obey God rather than men.”

-Peter and the apostles, Acts 5:29

“Test all things; hold fast what is good.”

-Paul, 1 Thessalonians 5:21 (NKJV)

Jesus answered [the Jews], “If I glorify Myself, My glory is nothing; it is My Father who glorifies Me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God’;

John 8:54 (NASB)

For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,

1 Timothy 2:5 (NASB)
Arguments For Unitarianism

The Dying Immortal: How Trinitarians Accidentally Argue For Deism

Trinitarianism makes a lot of self-contradictory claims: on the one hand, trinitarians typically affirm that the one God is immortal, immutable, invisible, un-temptable, all-knowing, etc; but at the same time, they propose that this one God, in his second person, died, changed, was seen, was tempted, and didn’t know certain things. This is an obvious logical contradiction- for the same subject to be said to be un-killable yet be killed, un-temptable yet be tempted, etc, is just obviously a contradiction and a falsehood; and so, this simple line of reasoning about the attributes of God in contrast to the attributes we see Christ had is frequently used to show that the doctrine of the trinity is false. Jesus Christ cannot be the one God if his attributes differ so widely from those of the one God; the difference makes it obvious that the one God is one, and Jesus Christ his human Son is another.

But trinitarian apologists have been working hard to try to answer this, ever since the doctrine of the trinity was invented. It’s an obvious problem for them; and solution has typically been to try to find some way that God can be both immortal, and have died, be immutable, yet have changed, etc. The solution is typically sought through incarnation theories- something about the second nature the second person of the one God assumed allows these things, it’s conjectured. Other theories abound as well though, such as proposing that due to divine timelessness, God can be eternally be two opposite things, like mortal and immortal, because technically He wouldn’t be these things at the same time, thus arguably escaping the charge of being a contradiction.

But here is a serious problem with all these explanations: this trinitarian reasoning used to try to save the doctrine of the trinity from logic is a terribly slippery slope; any trinitarian argument that says that although God is immortal He can die, will generally also lead to the same logic for all God’s attributes; allowing that He can be both evil and good, all knowing and ignorant, unchanging and changing. After all, if God being incapable of dying doesn’t actually mean he cannot die, then on what basis can we say that God being incapable of sinning means that He will never actually sin? If God’s immortality is the kind of immortality where one can still die, and God’s immutability is the kind of immutability where one can still change (which, of course, is in truth no real immortality or immutability at all), then how do we know that God’s goodness is not the kind of goodness where one can still commit evil? How do we know that God’s holiness is not the sort of holiness which allows one to be defiled? How do we know that God’s perfection isn’t the sort of perfection that allows flaws and errors?

Once you reach immutability with this reasoning, it all implodes though. If God can change, that is, in His very nature and character, then revealed religion is worthless, as we have no idea if God will even be good tomorrow. If one responds that He is trustworthy, we may respond that if He can change then He might well not be trustworthy tomorrow. If He can change then He might be unfaithful to His promises. Thus scripture assures us, in the context of those promises, that God does not change, so that we may rest assured in them (Mal 3:6). But if God may be the opposite of anything He is, then we cannot make any certain assertion about God, and what is true of Him now could be false the next minute. In short, these trinitarian arguments would prove too much: they would be an argument for deism rather than the trinity.

And so then, the trinitarian defense of their contradictions is a slippery slope: if God can be temptable although untemptable, mortal while immortal, change while unchangable, etc, then these statements about Him mean nothing, and it would reasonably be just as possible that while being good He might be evil. This trinitarian logic taken to it’s logical ends, if true (which it isn’t) would destroy Christianity and all revealed religion. Our ability to positively assert truth about God would be lost entirely, for anything we say He is, He might in fact turn out to be the opposite; we will have lost out ability to speak meaningfully about God at all.

Of course, sometimes trinitarians seem to affirm this point already- they like to point to the supposed insufficiency of human language to speak accurately about God, whenever they find human language making things to concrete for them to sip their contradictions through unnoticed- which is fairly often. But this point is as slippery of a slope as the one noted above; if our human words are truly incapable of accurately relaying truth about God, then God’s endeavor to reveal Himself to us through human words, in the scriptures, and in the oral teachings of the prophets, Christ, and the apostles, has failed. I reiterate again: if human words cannot accurately communicate truth about God, then God has failed, because this is precisely what God has set about doing. If we believe that God is too wise and too powerful to fail, and trust that He knows what He is doing a great deal better than we do, then we will rather need to accept that revelation- which always comes to us in human language- as an accurate and truthful way of communicating truth about God. As God is ultimately the Maker of man and of human language, we ought not be surprised that He has allowed and designed things such that it is capable of communicating truth about Him.

The alternative to this is deism; if we believe in God, the Supreme Being, but deny His ability to accurately reveal Himself in the main way that He has set about doing so, viz, through human language, then we will be forced to be totally agnostic about God. Our reading that He is good will not mean much, when by now, for all we know, He has already taken on another nature that is evil, and so is now both good and evil. Or, for all we know, He took on an imperfect nature alongside His perfect one, and is now as flawed as we are. These trinitarian defenses, then which all depend on proving that God can actually in some way be the opposite of the way He is, don’t actually help the doctrine of the trinity at all, because the logical end of this reasoning is to deny the validity of special revelation about God altogether. This is something trinitarians need to take to heart; this is a clear reductio ad absurdum for most or all trinitarian attempts to justify how an immortal person can die, and an un-tempable God can be tempted by evil, etc. Yet without these sorts of arguments, trinitarians are left with logical contradictions that are as serious as they are numerous, all of which work to show us that the doctrine of a triune God is false. If we are really committed to the reality of meaningful and accurate divine revelation from God through words, as we have in the scriptures, then we will need to find a better explanation for the biblical data we have been given than what the doctrine of the trinity can provide us with.

Arguments For Unitarianism