My Lord and My God: Obedient as Far as Death

For an introduction, explanation and links to the entire work, click here.

We have demonstrated Bible teaches that both Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit are God. We have also shown that the Ante-Nicene Fathers we have examined are in agreement with this. We have also discovered that the Ante-Nicene Fathers taught that the Son and the Holy Spirit are subordinate to the Father, that is to say of lower rank. These men taught this in ways that most Trinitarians find disconcerting. Is their teaching Biblical? Or is it under the undue influence – and we must say undue because Christianity is never totally free from the culture around it – from outside of the faith?

Traditional Arian (we’ll give the term “Watchtower” a rest because we know the Witnesses are tired of us using it) attacks on the Trinity usually assume that the Trinitarian(s) believe that the three persons of the Godhead are equal to one another. They then proceed to use any Bible passage that even hints of the subordination of the Son and the Spirit to prove that Jesus Christ is not God. Trinitarians are thus faced with having to explain a lot of Scripture that doesn’t really deal with the issue of Christ’s divinity, only his place in the Godhead. In the original debate (that’s a mild way to put it; theological war is closer to what it was) Trinitarians has a broader arsenal because the Bible, although authoritative, was not interpreted or viewed as it is now. There was more latitude to employ concepts from Greek philosophy to explain the Trinitarian position, and the church had the rapidly developing magisterium to back it up.

In the present time, with the organisational fragmentation of Christianity, it is more difficult to make formulae based on the same kind of concepts active during the original debate to “stick.” People are wont to take the Bible out of context to prove their idea, be it in real concord with the Bible or not. Moreover one would like to think that our ability to understand the Scriptures, freed from the need for allegorising or ecclesiastical interpretation, would improve; otherwise put, we should be able to face the facts of the Bible in the face.

The Arians are in a more serious dilemma for two reasons. The first is that they, in denying the fact that Jesus is God, denigrate the author and finisher of our faith to the point where it is hard to see the point of Christianity under such conditions; we have explored this relative to the subject of false “gods” already, and will return to it again. The second is that the Arians, having defined their position on many passages of Scripture based on an opponent who believes in three equal persons of the Godhead, are at a serious loss if their adversary abandons that part of the position. Their position is made worse because such opponents, having kicked out a leg from under their table, are in a position to use the Bible passages the Arian formerly took comfort in against them. This is in fact what we see frequently in the Ante-Nicene Fathers; verses that Arians have used for years to weaken the concept of the deity of Christ suddenly don’t mean what Arians thought they used to.

In recognising the possible validity of the subordination of the Son and the Spirit in the Godhead, the advocate of such a position is, along with everyone else, in a difficult spot. We must recognise that subordinationism was, until the Arian controversy, the accepted belief of Christianity; it had to come from somewhere, and that “somewhere” was, as we will see, the Bible itself. During the original controversy Arians of all shades were able to use the same Greek philosophy in parallel with their Trinitarian opponents to ultimately force them to abandon subordinationism and thus avoid confusion with Arianism. But same belief was dropped from normative Christianity in order to defend a more important idea, the deity of Christ, a necessary prerequisite to real redemption, which was the whole nature of Christ’s mission here in the first place.

Christians, however, who believe in the authority of God’s written Word and desire to interpret it in a fashion that recognises the original meaning of the text have to face a simple fact: if the Bible teaches something, then we are obligated to follow it, and afterwards set ourselves to explain and understand it in a manner that is both makes sense and is consistent with where we started. We can and should use the tools of philosophy, science and other disciplines to help us in our quest. But we ultimately have to start with the truth, and that truth comes from God through an authoritative revelation.

At this point we run the risk of being repetitious with the beginning of our work; let us proceed to examine some passages from the Scriptures that in fact discuss the relationship of the Son and the Spirit with the Father. We will set forth these passages with some comments, although our plan is to expand on these topics later.

…These are the things that the Amen says, the faithful and true witness, the beginning (arche) of the creation by God…” (Revelation 3:14)

“…has at the end of these days spoken to us by means of a Son, whom he as appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the systems of things. He is the reflection of his glory and the exact representation of his very being, and he sustains all things by the word of his power; and after he had made a purification for our sins he sat down on the right hand of the Majesty in lofty places.” (Hebrews 1:2,3)

He is the image of the invisible God, the first born of all creations; because by means of him all [other] things were created in the heavens and upon the earth, the things visible and the things invisible, no matter whether they are thrones or lordships or governments or authorities. All other things have been created through him and for him.” (Colossians 1:15,16)

We want to start this with the “transitional” topic between the two issues, i.e., the fact that through and by Jesus Christ all things were created. In looking at these verses Arians claim that these verses demonstrate a number of things that show that Jesus Christ is not God.

The first obviously is that Jesus Christ is depicted as part of the creation. Arians have traditionally maintained that, since the Son is a creature, he cannot be God, as he comes from God’s (the Father’s to be exact) creative power. Now it needs to be admitted that these verses show that the Son came forth from the Father, otherwise he could not be “the exact representation of his very being” or “the first born of all creations.” But we have shown that this event took place outside of the boundaries of finite time, and this sets the Son apart from the rest of the creation.

The second is that Jesus Christ is depicted as the “beginning” of creation, merely the first in a long series of creative products of the Father. But the Bible is stronger in its depiction of the “beginning” than just being first in line; he described as being the creations arche; this eliminates interpreting “beginning” strictly as a time or place event. Moreover these verses show that the creation is dependent on the Son for its existence; this is underscored by a follow up verse, “Also, he is before all other things and by means of him all others things were made to exist.” (Colossians 1:17) The creative power of the Son as God is implicit in this idea[1].

So these verses are an excellent way to start our subject; we see that the Son is a Son to the Father but at the same time creative God.

“He said to them: ‘You will indeed drink my cup, but this sitting down at my right hand and at my left is not mine to give, but it belongs to those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.’” (Matthew 20:23)

This is a clear indication of the fact that the Son is subordinate to the Father in that there are certain things that the Father has reserved for himself, at least at certain points in time. We make that qualification in light of Matthew 28:18: “And Jesus approached and spoke to them saying: ‘All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth.’” It is not reasonable that the Father give “all authority” to a mere man, but with God the Son this delegation makes sense.

“Concerning that day and hour nobody knows, neither the angels of the heavens nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Matthew 24:36)

The usual Arian inference from this is that the Son could not be God if there is something he does not know. But there are more reasonable explanations of this.

First, it could be referring to the Son’s human knowledge, which is of necessity finite, especially in view of the bodily state he was in at the time he said this.

Second, if we look at this from a subordinationist standpoint, we can see that it is proper for the Father to reserve certain things for himself in view of Jesus’ objectives. It is evident that the disciples were very interested in “setting their watches” for Jesus’ return; it simplifies things if Jesus does not know the hour of his return rather than having to put up with the disciples badgering him for the answer. It is an interesting thing to think about if we consider that the Watchtower, having denied the Son his divinity, has gone on to claim that they knew the hour of his return on more than one occasion. We now know that the Watchtower does not in fact know something that “the greatest man who ever lived” did not either.

“Again, for the second time, he went off and prayed, saying, ‘My Father, if it is not possible for this to pass away except I drink it, let your will take place.” (Matthew 26:42)

“I cannot do a single thing on my own initiative; just as I hear, I judge; and the judgment that I render is righteous, because I seek, not my will, but the will of him who sent me.” (John 5:30)

These verses, and others like them, are used to show that Jesus could not be God because he conforms to the Father’s will. But this is absurd; whether we assume or not that Jesus is subordinate to the Father, the Father and the Son must be one in will and purpose. If this means subordination, then so be it; the way in which Jesus explained it certainly would indicate that kind of relationship.

“For just as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted also to the Son to have life in himself.” (John 5:26)

This is frequently interpreted by Arians as saying that, since the Father granted the Son’s life to him, the Son is inferior to him and cannot be God. What this verse is saying, however, pertains to the subject of the nature of the life of God. We have seen that Jehovah God is “He who is” and his existence is moreover self-sustaining and not dependent on anything or anyone else. This verse certainly tells us that the Son obtained his life from the Father; however, it also says that the Son, having obtained that life from the Father, has life “in himself” that is as self-sustaining and independent as the Father. Since this type of life is unique to God, what we have here is yet another affirmation of Jesus’ divinity. It is in light of this verse that the following be understood: “Just as the living Father and I live because of the Father, he also that feeds on me, even that one will live because of me.” (John 6:57)

“If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going my way to the Father, because the Father is greater than I am.” (John 14:28)

This is yet another statement that the Father is superior to the Son; what we don’t see is a denial of Jesus’ divinity. It is very important here to note that Jesus states that the Father is “greater” not “better” than Jesus. This implies a quantitative difference rather than a qualitative one. It is crucial to make this distinction in understanding both the fact that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are “of one substance” (the “substance” of God) while at the same time the Son and Spirit are subordinate to the Father.

“This means everlasting life, their taking in knowledge of you, the only true God, and of the one whom you sent forth, Jesus Christ.” (John 17:3)

This verse puts forth two issues at once; the issue of Jesus praying to his Father, and the issue of Jesus’ acknowledgement of the Father as “the only true God.”

It should be obvious that, in view of the fact that the Father and the Son are different persons (hypostases as the Greeks would say) that there should be some kind of communication between them. It should also be obvious that, as Jesus Christ was both divine and human, that his human nature – his soul, if you please – should have need of communication with the Father. Finally, since we have the text of this, what is really part of “the real Lord’s prayer” in John 17, since it was spoken by Jesus it was heard by the disciples and John in particular; the contents were as much for their edification (and ours) as they were for the Father.

Turning to the question of “the one true God,” this is another place where our teacher from Alexandria and our friends from Brooklyn agree, but still go in a different direction when it comes to the Son. If we consider the fact that the Father is the arche of the Son, this concept makes sense, at least to the Son.

But when all things will have been subjected to him, then the Son himself will be also subject himself to the One who subjected all things to him, that God may be all things to everyone.” (1 Corinthians. 15:28)

This is another affirmation of the future subjection of the Son to the Father, which again is not really a clear denial of the deity of the Son. The final phrase “all things to everyone” is a curious translation; the KIT puts it “all (things) in all.”

“Keep this mental attitude in you that was also in Christ Jesus, who, although he was existing in God’s form, gave no consideration to a seizure, namely, that he should be equal to God. No, but he emptied himself and took on a slave’s form and came to be in the likeness of men. More than that, he found himself in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient as far as death, yes, death on a torture stake. For this very reason also God exalted him to a superior position and kindly have him the name that is above every [other] name, so that in the name of Jesus every knee should bend of those in heaven and those on earth and those under the ground, and every tongue should openly acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. (Phil. 2:5-11)

We have cited this passage in this entirety because there is a great deal to note here, both things that concern our present subject and things that do not.

  • The phrase “in God’s form” should be understood in terms of such passages as Hebrews 1:2,3. It is rather silly to say that someone is not God just because he is “in God’s form;” what form should Jesus Christ be in to be God?
  • There are a number of ways to deal with the phrase “consideration to a seizure.” The first would be to say that the Son is subordinate to the Father to begin with; the Son knowing this, he gave no thought to achieving equality with the Father. The KIT offers another solution; if we consider the phrase “who in form of God existing not snatching, he considered the to be equal (things) to God,” we could say that he was in the form of God not by theft but by right, and he is considered to be God’s equal, namely that he was and is God.
  • The phrase “obedient as far as death” indicates that the Son is under the Father’s authority, especially in the matter of the Son’s mission to redeem humanity and the agonising consequences that it brought.
  • It is beyond the scope of this work to discuss the matter of the cross versus the “torture stake,” but the concept of the perfect man being put to death on what was in the ancient world frequently used as a phallic symbol (an upright pole) seems to be a very strange way of improving our idea of redemption.
  • The idea of exalting the Son must be understood in terms of “in front of humanity,” thus “And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so the Son of man must be lifted up, that everyone believing in him may have everlasting life.” (John 3:14,15) Jesus’ death on the cross was humiliating immediately and exalting in the long term.
  • It is frequently the custom of the NWT to translate the Greek “Kurios” as “Jehovah” in their zeal to restore the divine name. It would thus make sense to translate “Jesus Christ is Lord” as “Jesus Christ is Jehovah” but this is not done.

Conclusion

We have seen in this section that Jesus showed us that he was in some way subordinate to the Father while still being God; those verses that show the former do not deny the latter. At the point for many the discussion is at an end, because all theology is conceived as piling up one proof text upon another and thus settling the case.

However, as we said at the outset, for those who do not accept the Bible as authoritative, this is not enough. Additionally much of the debate surrounding this subject – historically at least – has had reference to concepts not explicit in the Scriptures. This is true for both sides of the debate. It is our task now to enter into a different type of examination of our subject. In doing this we look for our understanding of it to increase and for us to realise something that many Christians overlook: that God’s ways are not only correct, but that they are rational and make sense.



[1] It is interesting to note that the Qur’an likewise attributes creative powers to Jesus: “When ALLAH will say, ‘O Jesus son of Mary, remember MY favour upon thee and upon thy mother; When I strengthened thee with the spirit of holiness so that thou didst speak to the people in the cradle and when of middle age; and when I taught thee the Book and the wisdom and the Torah and the Gospel; and when thou didst fashion a creation out of clay, in the likeness of a bird, by MY command; then thou didst breathe into it a new spirit and it became a soaring being by MY command; and thou didst heal the night-blind and the leprous by MY command; and when thou didst raise the dead by MY command; and when I restrained the Children of Israel from putting thee to death when thou didst come to them with clear Signs; and those who disbelieved from among them said, ‘This is nothing but clear deception.’” (Sura 5:110)  It is also interesting to note that the Qur’an, like the Bible, only attributes creative power to God: “O men, a similitude is set forth, so listen to it. Surely those on whom you call upon instead of ALLAH cannot create even a fly, though they should all combine together for the purpose. And if the fly should snatch away anything from them, they cannot recover it therefrom. Weak, indeed, are both the seeker and the sought.” (Sura 22:73)

Someday They’ll Scream for the Abolition of Civil Marriage

For stuff like this:

Instead of facing an exorbitant premium increase once their combined earnings hits $62,041 if they were to stay married, each cohabiting adult can earn up to $45,960 before Obamacare’s “tax credit”-free premiums kick in. Their annual after-tax savings at age 60 if they shack up and keep their individual earnings between $31,021 and $45,960 will range from $7,650 to over $11,000. The annual savings will slightly increase every year until Medicare kicks in at age 65. That kind of money can buy a lot of gifts for the grandkids.

But the grandkids will also face the prospect of seeing their moms and dads divorce because of Obamacare.

For an administration that’s gone “hell-bent for leather” for civil marriage for certain groups of people, they’ve come up with some real killer marriage penalties.  In addition to this jewel from Obamacare (I recommend reading the entire piece) we have high rolling same-sex newlyweds (along with their opposite-sex counterparts) hit with this one from the “fiscal cliff” resolution.

In a sense, this is of a piece with the rest of the social welfare system, which has discouraged civil marriage for a long time.  This is no small part of the explanation why lower-income people tend to shack up more.

But that may soon be in jeopardy too:

The law in many if not most states says that you can’t cohabit indefinitely and still claim not to be married.

Because the government will be starved for money, the Internal Revenue Service will task itself with finding cohabiting couples and divorced couples still living together who are “illegally” claiming that they are not married for health care subsidy purposes.

Question to readers: is his first statement true?

I’ve been an advocate for a long time of marriage without the state.  In many parts of the world that’s illegal (France is one such place).  In this country, however, that may start being the case, not because the state cares about stable, committed relationships, but because it’s only in it for the money.  By then people may scream for the abolition of civil marriage, but it may be too late for even that.

We Could Use the Money to Pay Off Litigation Expenses

But we won’t:

“We’re going to raise $700,000 and give it away,” said the Rev. Bob Leopold.

Give away $700,000?

With no strings attached?

To almost anyone who asks?

“This is the start of something really big,” said Leopold.

After hearing about a local church that erected three 100-foot crosses at the cost of $700,000, Leopold and his cohorts at the Southside Abbey — he’s the Episcopal priest at the Main Street church — were inspired. Hmmm, they wondered: What else could we do with $700,000?

Liberals in this town are feeling pretty self-righteous since The Crossing church spent this amount to money to put up three large crosses along I-75.  But they–or at least the Episcopalian ones like Leopold–should pause and consider that their own church has spent (and this is a 2010 reckoning, the lawyers have billed on) in excess of $20,000,000 on litigation, much of which is to keep historical (and expensive) properties without a really good game plan to insure that they are used or self-supporting.

And, of course, we won’t discuss the hijacking of the United Thank Offering

So, Rev. Leopold, if you can raise $700,000, there’s a Presiding Bishop at 815 who would love to talk with you.

Going to the Mat with Reformed Elephants

Well, that’s kinda what Dale Coulter is trying to do:

When Mark Noll’s Scandal of the Evangelical Mind hit the market in the early 1990s it created a “title” wave that continues to move out in multiple directions. This fact alone means that if evangelicalism is going to reboot its examination of its own intellectual resources–a process already begun in the cultural liturgies series of James K. A. Smith–then it must grapple with Noll’s critique.

I’ve commented before that Evangelical Christianity’s intellectual approach leaves much to be desired, but I think a Reformed person like Noll doing the attacking to be supremely ironic, as Coulter does.  My experience with Reformed people (especially those who come from the Scots side of the community) is that they hate the question “why” more than any other, and you can’t build an intellectual tradition with that style of mind.

It will be interesting to see what Noll’s response to this is, if he comes out of hiding.

Praising Richard Nixon, a Act of Liberal Desperation

I never thought I’d live long enough to see this, in Salon no less:

The last president who had a plan for protecting American workers from the vicissitudes of the global economy was Richard Nixon, who was in office when foreign steel and foreign cars began seriously competing with domestic products. The most farsighted politician of his generation, Nixon realized that America’s economic hegemony was coming to an end, and was determined to cushion the decline by a) preventing foreign manufacturers from overrunning our markets and b) teaching Americans to live within their new limits. When the United States began running a trade deficit, Nixon tried to reverse the trend with a 10 percent tariff on imported products. After the 1973 Arab Oil Embargo suddenly increased the price of gasoline from 36 cents to 53 cents a gallon (and just as suddenly increased the demand for fuel-efficient German and Japanese cars), Nixon lowered the speed limit to 55 miles an hour and introduced the Corporate Average Fuel Economy law, which gave automakers until 1985 to double their fleetwide fuel efficiency to 27.5 miles per gallon.

Had Nixon survived Watergate, he might have set the nation on a course that emphasized government regulation of the economy, and trade protection as a response to globalism. We might also have preserved more of the manufacturing base necessary for a strong middle class.

Richard Nixon has been the left’s bete-noire since the 1950’s, when he participated in the anti-Communist campaigns.  That’s why they pursued him with such gusto during Watergate, and gloated at his downfall.

Now they’re having second thoughts.  And, of course, their current hero’s snooping into everyone’s affairs exceeds anything Richard Nixon could have asked for or thought.  But that’s what happens when you allow the “venting of the spleen,” as my mother used to put it, drive your agenda.  So what other left-wing villain will be rehabilitated someday?

My Lord and My God: The Word Was God

For an introduction, explanation and links to the entire work, click here.

Having set forth the positions of the Ante-Nicene Fathers on the subject of the deity of Christ, we need to turn to those “God-breathed” scriptures to see if our position has foundation in inspiration. It is our purpose here to show that the Bible teaches that Jesus Christ the Son of God is God and likewise the Holy Spirit is God. In doing this we want to say that this is the only thing we are trying to show; at this point we are not attempting to establish the hierarchical relationship (if there is one) of the Father with the Son or the Holy Spirit. This is a frequent point of confusion both with Arians and Trinitarians, because both feel an uncontrollable urge to lump the two questions together. If we establish that the Scriptures teach that Jesus Christ is God then we are obligated to take this as fact first and then proceed to the other question.[1]

We now proceed to examine the relevant passages of the Scriptures.

In beginning was the Word, and the Word was toward the God, and god was the Word. (John 1:1, KIT)

Since this is the most important passage dealing with this question, we need to consider it first.

The transliterated Greek for this verse is, “En arche en ho logos, kai ho logos en pros ton theon, kai theos en ho logos.” Since we are using the interlinear translation, each Greek word corresponds exactly with the verse in English as given above.

The key to understanding this verse lies in the term arche. It is the Greek word from which we get our word “architect.” Virtually all English translations render this “beginning” but this is inadequate because we first associate this in the context of the first point in time for something; the Greek word has a much fuller meaning. The word arche can be understood in one of six ways:[2]

  1. In space. It refers to the starting point of something in space, i.e., its starting location. When we map out a car trip, for instance, the beginning “in space” is the point from which we start, where we get in the car and leave from It can refer to a place in an area or on a object that can be considered a key point on the object, thus: “…and behold heaven opened and some sort of vessel descending like a great linen sheet being let down by its four extremities (archais) upon the earth” (Acts 10:11) It can also refer to the starting point of a method or procedure, such as the beginning of a recipe. For example, if we are making “Aggie Oxtail Soup,” our first step is “Take one ox.” (The second and third are, “Cut tail off,” and “Discard ox.”) This can also refer to the start of a book or other work; thus, at the start of Mark’s Gospel, “The beginning (arche) of the good news about Jesus Christ.”[3] (Mk. 1:1)
  2. In time or priority. This is the starting point in time. When we say that “The meeting starts at nine o’clock,” we mean that the meeting has its beginning at that time. It can also refer to those at the top of an authority structure, such as the government: “But when they bring you in before public assemblies and government officials (archas), do not become anxious about how or what you will speak in defense or what you will say.” (Lk. 12:11)
  3. Of Substance. This refers to the stuff out of which a thing comes. Returning to our hapless Aggie who is making oxtail soup, the ox’s tail is the substance (along with any other ingredients he might see fit to add, such as water) are the substance out of which the soup will come.
  4. Of Type and Copy. This is where the architect comes in; the arche is the model after which the final work or product is made. Thus, in designing a building, the architect (or engineer depending on the nature of the building, or both) prepares a set of plans and the building is then built, the plans are the arche of the building. Such a “type” is not restricted to something on paper; if, for instance, one wants to “reverse engineer” a product to copy and produce one just like it, the copied product becomes the arche.
  5. Of Elements. These refer to the elements out of which something is made. Thus, when one assembles something together, the parts are an arche. Such parts were referred to in the following: “For, indeed, although you to be teachers in view of the time, you again need someone to teach you from the beginning the elementary things of the sacred pronouncements (arches) of God; and you have become such as need milk, not solid food.” (Hebrews 5:12).
  6. Of Design And Execution. Since we have spoken of arche as pertaining to the original plans, it can also be applied to these plans as they are used in the execution of the work. It is used in this sense as follows: “…and you according to the beginnings, (archas) Lord, the earth you founded, and works of the hands of you are the heavens;” (Hebrews 1:10, KIT)

Now that we have set forth the various meanings of the word arche, we should proceed to ask the next question: the beginning of what? The verse itself provides the solution: “the Word was toward the God,” or with God. This concept of being next to the Father is repeated a little later: “No man has seen God at any time: the only-begotten god who in the bosom with the Father is the one that has explained him.” (John 1:18) Since “the beginning” is in reality that of God, and specifically God the Father, we need to see how the various uses of the word arche could be applied to the Word.

If we attempt to locate the Word with the Father “in the beginning” with respect to time or space, we run into one serious problem: God has neither a beginning in time nor a specific location. We will discuss later the matter of time with God, but to locate a specific, finite time and location where God has his arche is simply not possible. This means that, since the Word was both “in the beginning” and “with God” then the Word is eternal and not constrained by space.

This point is underscored by the absolutely last usage of the word arche in the Christian Greek Scriptures: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning (arche) and the end.” (Revelation 22:13) Here Jesus Christ, the Son and the Word, underscores his place as eternal both in the past and in the future. Jesus has already been identified as the Word earlier: “…and he is arrayed with an outer garment sprinkled with blood, and the name he is called is the Word of God.” (Revelation 19:13) The Son is also referred to as the arche in Colossians 1:18: “…and he is the head of the body, the congregation. He is the beginning, (arche) the firstborn from the dead, that he might become the one who is first in all things.” Furthermore the lack of a finite beginning is emphasised by the fact that the verb “to be” is used in this verse in the imperfect tense, indicating continuing action.

Moreover we should consider “…to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:24) Now God, in his eternity, has had both power and wisdom from eternity past; therefore, for Christ to be either or both, he would have to be co-eternal with the Father. This is what is meant by the verse “Jehovah himself produced me as the beginning of his way, the earliest of his achievements long ago.” (Proverbs 8:22) The beginning of Jehovah’s way is obviously eternity past, since God is eternal. And, if that weren’t enough, the Son as “the wisdom of God” also fits the use of the word arche with respect to both type and copy and design and execution very well, because without divine wisdom this creation would be impossible, especially if we consider its complexity combined with its harmony. It also can be shown that this wisdom was applied directly to the creative act by the Son himself: “…who (Christ) is image of the God the invisible, firstborn of all creation, because in him it was created the all (things) visible and the (things) invisible, whether thrones or lordships or governments (archai) or authorities; the all (things) through him and into him it has been created.” (Colossians 1:15-16, KIT)

So now we have established that this verse teaches the eternity of the Word. As we will see later, this sets him apart from the creation around him. But now we must turn our attention to the last part of the verse, “…and God was the Word.” There are two ways we can look at this matter, both of which involve a grammar lesson.

The first is to consider the nature of sentences and the verb to be. In our exposition on the word arche, we have transliterated all of the occurrences of this word in the passages cited. The reader will note that the ending of the word varies from one verse to the next. This is because Greek was an “inflected” language, which means that, instead of (or in addition to) sticking various prepositions in front of a word, a different ending would be placed at the end. Thus, if English were done this way, instead of saying “of something” we would change the ending of “something” and omit the “of.” Latin shares this same idea[4]; however, most of the Indo-European languages that exist today (such as English, French, Spanish, etc.) have gotten away from this; important exceptions are Russian and Ukrainian, which still are inflected.

Having said this, a complete sentence has at least two words: a subject and a verb.[5] The case of a noun (the inflected form) for a subject is the nominative case; the verb is in whatever tense it needs to be, but it agrees in number and gender with the subject. Many sentences have objects of the verb, either direct or indirect; but these are not in the nominative case. So if we have a sentence such as “the dog ate the newspaper,” the dog is the subject and thus in the nominative case, ate is the verb, and the newspaper is the direct object and thus would be in the accusative case.

An important exception to this pattern is a sentence with the verb “to be” in it. In such a sentence there is no direct object and both of the nouns directly relating to the verb are subjects; thus, in the sentence, “the dog is a newspaper-eater,” both the dog and the newspaper eater are essentially subjects, both in the nominative case, and both are equivalents to each other.

In the phrase “God was the Word,” this is exactly what we have. Both “God” and “the word” are subjects, in the nominative case, and made equivalents to each other by the verb “to be” (in this case was.) So on the face of it nothing could be simpler; the Word, the Son Jesus Christ, is God.

However, the presence of the article with the first mention of God in this verse (the Word was toward the God) and the lack of it in the second (and God was the Word) has indicated to some that there is a distinction between the “two Gods” in this verse. This is a favourite point of Watchtower theology; they spend a lot of time on this verse and this distinction. They are not alone; Origen makes the same kind of distinction, even in the face of unpopularity:

We next notice John’s use of the article in these sentences. He does not write without care in this respect, nor is he unfamiliar with the niceties of the Greek tongue. In some cases he uses the article, and in some he omits it. He adds the article to the Logos, but to the name of God he adds it sometimes only. He uses the article, when the name of God refers to the uncreated cause of all things, and omits it when the Logos is named God. Does the same difference which we observe between God with the article and God without it prevail also between the Logos with it and without it? We must enquire into this. As the God who is over all is God with the article not without it, so “the Logos” is the source of that reason (Logos) which dwells in every reasonable creature; the reason which is in each creature is not, like the former called par excellence The Logos. Now there are many who are sincerely concerned about religion, and who fall here into great perplexity. They are afraid that they may be proclaiming two Gods, and their fear drives them into doctrines which are false and wicked. Either they deny that the Son has a distinct nature of His own besides that of the Father, and make Him whom they call the Son to be God all but the name, or they deny the divinity of the Son, giving Him a separate existence of His own, and making His sphere of essence fall outside that of the Father, so that they are separable from each other. To such persons we have to say that God on the one hand is Very God (Autotheos, God of Himself); and so the Saviour says in His prayer to the Father, “That they may know Thee the only true God; “but that all beyond the Very God is made God by participation in His divinity, and is not to be called simply God (with the article), but rather God (without article). And thus the first-born of all creation, who is the first to be with God, and to attract to Himself divinity, is a being of more exalted rank than the other gods beside Him, of whom God is the God, as it is written, “The God of gods, the Lord, hath spoken and called the earth.” It was by the offices of the first-born that they became gods, for He drew from God in generous measure that they should be made gods, and He communicated it to them according to His own bounty. The true God, then, is “The God,” and those who are formed after Him are gods, images, as it were, of Him the prototype. But the archetypal image, again, of all these images is the Word of God, who was in the beginning, and who by being with God is at all times God, not possessing that of Himself, but by His being with the Father, and not continuing to be God, if we should think of this, except by remaining always in uninterrupted contemplation of the depths of the Father.

Now it is possible that some may dislike what we have said representing the Father as the one true God, but admitting other beings besides the true God, who have become gods by having a share of God. They may fear that the glory of Him who surpasses all creation may be lowered to the level of those other beings called gods. We drew this distinction between Him and them that we showed God the Word to be to all the other gods the minister of their divinity. To this we must add, in order to obviate objections, that the reason which is in every reasonable creature occupied the same relation to the reason who was in the beginning with God, and is God the Word, as God the Word occupies to God. As the Father who is Very God and the True God is to His image and to the images of His image–men are said to be according to the image, not to be images of God–so He, the Word, is to the reason (word) in every man. Each fills the place of a fountain–the Father is the fountain of divinity, the Son of reason. As, then, there are many gods, but to us there is but one God the Father, and many Lords, but to us there is one Lord, Jesus Christ, so there are many logoi, but we, for our part, pray that that one logos may be with us who was in the beginning and was with God, God the Logos. For whoever does not receive this Logos who was in the beginning with God, or attach himself to Him as He appeared in flesh, or take part in some of those who had part in this Logos, or whoever having had part in Him falls away from Him again, he will have his portion in what is called most opposite to reason.[6]

Here we see an interesting situation. Both Origen and the Watchtower regard the Father as “the only true God.” (John 17:3) Both have recourse to the absence of the article in front of “God” in John 1:1 to help them demonstrate the point. But Origen believed not only that Jesus Christ is God, but that the Son has always been. How can this situation arise?

In a sense the answer to this is the object of this present work, and we will deal with the technicalities later, but the basic issue revolves around the nature of God. Now the Watchtower tells us that the Bible uses the term “god” to refer to beings other than the true God. This is illustrated in passages such as “Jesus answered them: “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I said: “You are gods”’?” (Jn 10:34) and “among whom the god of this system of things has blinded the minds of the unbelievers…” (2 Corinthinans 4:4) Their idea is that Jesus Christ the Son of God is god in this same sense, which means that he is not a real god, but a man, albeit a perfect one.

The whole idea of reducing Jesus to the level of Satan or the Pharisees should put a stop to this kind of thinking, but perhaps a more modern illustration will make this clear. A few years ago I made my first visit to what was then the Soviet Union; while there my business associates and I got into a discussion with our Russian host about the contribution of various figures in Russian history such as Peter the Great, Stalin, and others. When the conversation got to Lenin, our host ended it quickly by making the statement, “Lenin is God for us.” Now we – and when I say we I mean both those of us who believe in God and the atheistic Communists (the few that are left) – agree that Lenin cannot in a proper sense be called God, but he was made out to be same because of his enormous power and influence both while he was living and after he was gone. But the Watchtower would have us believe that Jesus Christ was God in the same sense that Lenin was.

It should be apparent by now that Jesus Christ the Son, who is here described as with the Father from the beginning (arche), who is shortly described as “the true light that gives light to every sort of man” (John 1:9) and whose glory is “such as belongs to an only-begotten son of a father” (John 1:14) is certainly above Lenin or Satan or the Pharisees, who are “gods” only by analogy, and not real gods. We will spend a lot of time on this subject later, but to eliminate the distinction between “God” and “the gods” the Watchtower’s only recourse is to posit that there are many beings that are “god” in the true sense, as the Mormons have done. This is not only patently unbiblical; it is their idea of debasing divinity so as to exalt humanity, and both end up the poorer for the bargain.

We should close this discussion by noting a Biblical distinction of “God” and “the gods.” In discussing the resurrection with the Sadducees, Jesus reminded them “‘I am the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.’ He is God, not of the dead, but of the living.” (Matthew 22:32) Paul made a distinction between the dead and the living: “Furthermore, you though you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you at one time walked according to the system of things of this world…But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love with which he loved us, made us alive together with the Christ, even when we were dead in trespasses…and he raised us up and seated us together in the heavenly places in union with Christ Jesus.” (Eph. 2:1-2,4-5,6) The true God is the God of the living; those who follow Satan or Lenin or the Pharisees are in reality dead already. This verse proclaims Jesus as God; as he gives life, so he is really God.

“On this account, indeed, the Jews began seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath but he was also calling God his own Father, making himself equal to God.” (John 5:18)

“Said to them Jesus, Amen amen I am saying to you, Before Abraham to become I am.” (John 8:58 KIT)

Sometimes when we approach the Scriptures, their meaning is difficult: “Philip ran alongside and heard him reading along Isaiah the prophet, and he said: ‘Do you actually know what you are reading?’ He said, ‘Really, how could I ever do so, unless someone guided me?’” (Acts 8:30-31)

In both of the verses we see clear cases of when the Bible “interprets itself.” In both cases the Jews interpret his words by seeking to kill him for what he said; in the first verse the reason is spelled out in the verse, in the second it follows shortly: “Therefore they picked up stones to hurl at him…” (John 8:59) This wouldn’t be the last time they would do this; we see this again: “Answered to him the Jews, About fine work not we are stoning you but about blasphemy, and because you man being you are making yourself god.” (John 10:33, KIT) The Jews were very clear about the distinction between God and man and calling oneself God when one was not was blasphemy. The Jews, in concert with the Watchtower, obviously believed (and still do, unless they are Messianic) that Jesus’ claims to divinity were false, thus they were blasphemy. Jesus’ claim to be God was abundantly clear to the Jews, if not to the Watchtower.

One thing that may need some explanation is the matter of the title “I am” being a claim to being God. This goes back to Moses’ encounter with God at the burning bush: “Nevertheless, Moses said to God, ‘Suppose I am now come to the sons of Israel and I do say to them, ‘The God of your forefathers has sent me to you’, and they do say to me, ‘What is his name?’ What shall I say to them?’ At this God said to Moses: ‘I shall prove to be whom I shall prove to be.’ And he added: ‘This is what you are to say to the sons of Israel, ‘I shall prove to be has sent me to you.’” (Ex. 3:13,14) Now “I shall prove to be” is the hard way to translate the Hebrew, which is more literally and simply rendered “I am,” and thus the first phrase is more naturally rendered, “I am who I am.” Jehovah God made it clear to Moses that other gods were identified by what they did or their personality, but the true God would be known just by his existence. This is another point for further discussion; suffice it to say now that existence is the most fundamental attribute anyone or anything can have; if they don’t exist, they just aren’t real. As a result of God’s proclamation from the burning bush, the Jews were clear on what “I am” really meant, especially in the context of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. This connect also puts a whole new meaning on the “titles of Christ” such as “I am the living bread that came down from heaven,” (John 6:51) “I am the resurrection and the life,” (John 11:25) “I am the light of the world,” (John 8:12) “I am the door,” (John 10:9) and of course “I am the way and the truth and the life.” (John 14:6)

“’I am the vine, and my Father is the cultivator. Every branch in me not bearing fruit he takes away, that it may bear more fruit.’” (John 15:1,2)

This verse has been used to show that the Father is in the business of correcting the Son; thus, the Son cannot be God. However, the “branches” are explained shortly: “I am the vine, you are the branches.” (John 15:5) Thus those that are being pruned are the disciples, and by extension us (ouch!)

“…in order that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in union with me and I am in union with you, that they may be in union with us, in order that the world may believe that you sent me forth.” (John 17:21)

This is not the only time Jesus proclaims that he and the Father are one (cf. John 10:30), but the Watchtower seizes on the fact that Jesus desires that his disciples – and in this case that includes us – should be one as the Father and the Son are one. They tell us that we cannot be one with the Father (and presumably the Son) in the same way as Jesus can if Jesus is God, since we are only human.

We have mentioned an idea where humanity is exalted through the debasement of divinity, and this is another example of this kind of thinking. The fact is that the only way in which we can be one with God is if God lives in us after the new birth; in our human state such unity is impossible. Paul talks about this in Ephesians 3:16-17 (KIT): “…in order that he might give to you according to the riches of the glory of him to power to be made mighty through the spirit of him into the inward man, the Christ to dwell through the faith in the hearts of you in love; having been rooted and having been founded…” Unless we participate in the divinity from God, we are neither in unity with him nor pleasing to him. Obviously the level of unity is vastly different between the Father and the Son on the one hand and our unity with the Father and the Son, but the kind is basically the same, which this verse proclaims.

In answer Thomas said to him: My Lord and My God! (John 20:28)

This, of course, is where this work gets its name; it is as clear a proclamation of Jesus’ state as God as one could want. It is noteworthy that this came from a sceptic. The usual reply to this is that Jesus was “god to Thomas” but we have examined the subject of relative gods already.

For there has been a child born to us, there has been a son given to us; and the princely rule will come to be upon his shoulder. And his name will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)

And it will certainly occur in that day that those remaining over Israel and those who have escaped of the house of Jacob will never again support themselves upon the one striking them, and they will certainly support themselves upon Jehovah, the Holy One of Israel, in trueness. A mere remnant will return, the remnant of Jacob, to the Mighty God. (Isaiah 10:20,21)

…the One exercising loving-kindness toward thousands, and repaying the error of the fathers into the bosom of their sons after them, the [true] God, the great One, the mighty One, Jehovah of armies bearing his name,… (Jeremiah 32:18)

These are all messianic prophecies that were fulfilled in Jesus Christ, and they all proclaim that the Messiah would be God. This is an important point, not only for the Watchtower, but for Jews as well.

“Jehovah himself produced me as the beginning of his way, the earliest of his achievements long ago.” (Proverbs 8:22)

No discussion of the deity of Christ with an Arian is complete without mention of this verse. We have mentioned it earlier in connection with John 1:1 but we need to expand on this.

As we have said before, the beginning of Jehovah’s way is eternity past; thus, this verse underscores the fact that Jesus Christ the Son has always been and always been with the Father. This also guarantees that the Son, who is Wisdom, is the “earliest of his achievements.” The usual problem with this verse is that it implies that the Son is merely created. But all other creation – the creation that was brought into being through the Son – came into being at a definite, finite time in the past. The Son’s eternity is an important distinguishing feature, one that cannot be overlooked.

It is also noteworthy that the word translated here as “produced” or “created” here (qaanaaniy) is both usually translated as “possessed” or “acquired” and is different from the word used in Genesis 1:1 (“baaraa”, created.) Most of the panic created by this verse has come from the Septuagint, which translated both into Greek with the same word.

All this actually came about for that to be fulfilled which was spoken by Jehovah through his prophet, saying: Look! The virgin will become pregnant and will give birth to a son, and they will call his name Immanuel, which means, when translated, “With us is God.” (Matthew 1:22-23)

This relates the fulfilment of Isaiah 7:14; the name “Immanuel” is given to no one else in the Scriptures. This is a fairly clear indication that Mary’s son was also God’s Son, and God as well. One could object to this by saying that anyone who is sent from God brings God’s presence with them, but if we consider this in its totality – the giving and fulfilment of prophecy, the virgin birth, the name “With us is God” should make clear that Jesus was unique; taken in context with what we have said before, this should settle the real meaning of this verse.

“…because in him is dwelling down all the fullness of the divinity bodily” (Colossians 2:9 KIT)

This is a clear statement of the Incarnation; Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, where “all the fullness of the divinity” dwelt.

“..while we wait for the happy hope and glorious manifestation of the great God and…Savior of us, Christ Jesus.” (Titus 2:13)

“the righteousness of our God and…Savior Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:1)

“…of whom the fathers, and out of whom the Christ, the (thing) according to flesh, the one being upon all things, God blessed one into the ages; Amen.” (Romans 9:5 KIT)

In each of these passages Christ and God are identified as one by apposition, i.e., two words or groups of words in the same case put together as equivalents. The Watchtower translations attempt to both obscure this and explain it away, but their case is unconvincing.

…toward but the Son The throne of you the God into the age of the age, and the staff of the straightness staff of the kingdom of him. (Hebrews 1:8, KIT)

This identifies by apposition the Son with “the God.” This puts into a better perspective the whole business of God with and without the article.

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says Jehovah God, “the one who is and who was and who is coming, the Almighty.” (Revelation 1:8)

And, look! I am coming quickly. Happy is anyone observing the words of the prophecy of this scroll.” … “Look! I am coming quickly, and the reward I give is with me, to render to each one as his work is. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” … “’I, Jesus, send my angel to bear witness to you people of these things for the congregations. I am the root and the offspring of David, and the bright morning star.’“ (Revelation 22:7,12,13,16)

We have spent some time on the subject of the Son being the “Alpha and Omega,” but we see here also that this is applied to the Jehovah God as well. Such a connection at least precludes the lack of eternity of the Son.

“On this account I say to you, Every sort of sin and blasphemy against the spirit will not be forgiven. For example, whoever speaks a word against the Son of man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the holy spirit, it will not be forgiven him, no, not in this system of things or in that to come.” (Matthew 12:31,32)

We now turn to the demonstration that the Holy Spirit is likewise God. The verse above is our first evidence of this; the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is meaningless unless a) the Holy Spirit is God and b) the Holy Spirit is an individual personality. As we have seen with the Son, blasphemy is directed against God; moreover the Son and the Spirit are separated as two distinct entities as well. The high penalty that Jesus ascribes to blasphemy against the Holy Spirit should give pause to those who would deny his divinity and personality.

But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan emboldened you to play false to the holy spirit and to hold back secretly some of the price of the field? (Acts 5:3)

This underscores the personality of the Holy Spirit; Ananias could not have lied to an inanimate something in a meaningful way.

As they were publicly ministering to Jehovah and fasting, the holy spirit said: “Of all persons set Barnabas and Saul apart for me for the work to which I have called them.” (Acts 13:2)

Another demonstration of the personality of the Spirit, who spoke to the believers.

Conclusion

In these passages we have demonstrated that the Bible teaches the following (the fact that the Father is God was implicitly agreed to at the start):

  • Jesus Christ is God
  • The Holy Spirit is God
  • Both are distinct personalities within the Godhead

It is now our task to investigate the relationship of these persons as it appears in the Scriptures.


[1] This work assumes that most Trinitarians believe the Father, Son and Holy Spirit to be equal in all respects. (Most Jehovah’s Witnesses assume Trinitarians to be that way, too.)  The discussion of why this is so is contained in the main body of the work. There are a two important comments to be made about this:

  1. Many creeds and doctrinal statements do not strictly necessitate it. Neither the Apostles’ nor the Nicene Creed state this explicitly, and of course many doctrinal statements simply require that we believe that Father, Son and Holy Spirit are all God.
  2. The idea that the persons of the Trinity are equal is certainly preferable to denying the deity of any of them to make the argument more “Biblical.” This is the main mistake of the Watchtower but other organisations have done this in different ways. Our purpose is not to propound “new” doctrine (subordinationism is anything but new) but to provoke thought and understanding.

[2] For much of this I am indebted to Origen’s Commentary on John, I, 16-22, although his explanation is a lot more detailed.

[3] It is noteworthy that both “good news” and “Jesus Christ” are both in the genitive case and adjacent to each other. This implies that “good news” and “Jesus Christ” are equivalents of each other.

[4] A very readable (and hilarious) treatment of the subject of grammar from a Latin standpoint is given by Alexander Humez and Nicholas Humez, Latin for People (Boston: Little, Brown & Company, 1976)

[5] A very straightforward example of this is the much memorised John 11:35. Both the NWT (“Jesus gave way to tears”) and the KIT (“Shed tears the Jesus”) ruin the impact of the KJV (“Jesus wept) and thus the force of the example. However, the original Greek has a subject (o Iesous, the Jesus) and a verb (edakrusen, shed tears) and thus fulfils the example well.

[6] Origen, Commentary on John, II, 2, 3

Oh, Yes, the 1% (And Then Some) Should Give Back

Harry Binswanger doesn’t think so:

It’s time to gore another collectivist sacred cow. This time it’s the popular idea that the successful are obliged to “give back to the community.” That oft-heard claim assumes that the wealth of high-earners is taken away from “the community.” And beneath that lies the perverted Marxist notion that wealth is accumulated by “exploiting” people, not by creating value–as if Henry Ford was not necessary for Fords to roll off the (non-existent) assembly lines and Steve Jobs was not necessary for iPhones and iPads to spring into existence.

But he’s wrong.

In my review of Laurence Leamer’s Madness Under the Royal Palms: Love and Death Behind the Gates of Palm Beach, I made the following statement:

Through his characters we see the various aspects of life in Palm Beach: the houses, the Worth Avenue shopping, and the charity balls.  These last are not to be underestimated; they define both the season in general and those who attend them.  They are part of the race to the top that Leamer likens to a greyhound race (an analogy I used in my piece Running Rusty.)  Although these have doubtless raised money for worthy causes, the whole spectacle of the things tends to sour the long-term observer to charitable giving as a whole, which is something else that’s hard to explain outside of Palm Beach.  But perhaps the sincerity of the givers and guests should not be underestimated.  Leamer’s epilogue is the aftermath of the collapse of Bernie Madoff’s scheme, which drained funds from both the Palm Beach Country Club and a good portion of its membership.  In the wake of that collapse, one lament many of his Jewish victims made was that they were no longer able to give to charity, something that struck me as heartfelt.

To this, fellow Palm Beacher and Anglican chronicler George Conger replied as follows: “I was also taught that to those who have been given much, much is to be expected.”  That, of course, is an allusion to Luke 12:48.  It’s no secret that starting out in a place like this and the many other upper echelon communities gives a head start to people, and it’s also no secret (especially if you grow up in a place like that) that success, as much a product of hard work and organisation as it is, is also a product of being in the “right” place at the right time.

Irrespective of the sour taste that the charity/social system in Palm Beach left, giving back in one way or another is part of one’s Christian obligation.  (I’ll leave it to my Jewish readers to make the case in Judaism).  There’s no getting around it.  Binswanger is flat wrong is asserting that “giving back” is a Marxist concept; it’s not.  Marxism, among other things, seeks to eliminate charity and ultimately having any one have anything to give back by levelling society through social evolution into the dictatorship of the proletariat, something no “Marxist” state has ever pulled off.

I don’t see a society based on any secular principles–left or right, as is the case with Objectivist Binswanger–doing anything other than Marxism purports to do in “encouraging” people to give back, i.e., prevent it.  Parading it in front of people–and forcing them to do it as one sees in resume enhancing “charity”–isn’t going to make more people generous.  It’s something that has to come from above and be voluntarily accepted, and as our society turns more and more away from that, the giving back will become all the scarcer.

Relink: Mark Thompson’s “Are we really heretics and who cares?”

It’s a document that’s been on site for a long time, but lost in the shuffle.  So I am relinking Mark Thompson’s “Are we really heretics and who cares?”.  It was an address given at the Annual General Meeting of the Anglican Church League, Sydney, Thursday 19th August 2004, and was a presentation of their idea of subordinationism and the Trinity.

Although I will hand it to the Sydney Anglicans that it was bold step to propose this, as I commented at the home page of my work My Lord and My God, I think their execution of this idea is lame.  When I get to the appropriate spot in the serialisation, I will explain why this is so.

My Lord and My God: Faith of Our Fathers

For an introduction, explanation and links to the entire work, click here.

When we engage any group that has missed an important essential of the truth, we usually start with the Bible. If the group with which we are discussing[1] things accepts the Bible as authoritative, then things are to some extent simpler; it becomes a matter of interpretation. If this is not the case, then we either need to discover the truth in that material which they consider authoritative or take another route to arriving at the truth.

When we deal with the Watchtower, we start with the former condition; the Watchtower claims to regard the Bible as an authoritative book. Things get a little complicated when the subject of translation comes up; we can deal with the written Word in their translation as easily as with any one else’s. A more serious consideration is that  the Watchtower claims, in effect, magisterium. This means that the organisation claims to be able to both interpret the Scriptures authoritatively and to further speak for God on various issues.

To actually show whether the Watchtower or any other organisation can claim magisterium is beyond the scope of this work, which proceeds with the following two premises:

  • Christianity is not an “institutional” religion. God never intended any organisation to obtain an exclusive franchise for His plan of salvation or revelation. In the present dispensation God’s first dealings with people are on an individual basis, by imparting to people one at a time the new birth in Jesus Christ; those who receive it come together to form the Church, the body of people called out by His name.
  • The Bible is true because God made provisions for its revelation, transmission, and finalisation of the canon, or list of authoritative books. It is not true because an organisation said that it was (see first premise.) We also need to emphasise that the Bible is “God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16, KIT) and God is not “Bible-breathed”; this is a source of confusion amongst many people. God is at the centre of all things and our thinking and actions need to reflect this.

Having made these assertions, we can proceed to begin our exploration of the matter at hand.

Who are the fathers of the church?

As we said before, in engaging any group of people in a search for the truth, we usually start with the Bible. We certainly plan to spend a lot of time in the written Word, but it would be useful at this point to make an excursion into some “new” territory, namely that of the Fathers of the Church.

Many reading this will be surprised that such “fathers of the church” even exist. Most evangelicals look at church history in a very specific way; there were first New Testament times, then there was the Reformation, and now there’s us. This results in a gap of about a millennium and a half between significant events; surely something happened in that length of time! The Watchtower stretches this concept even further because the Society was founded a little less than four hundred years after the Reformation; their concept of “dead time” for Christianity is even wider!

Fortunately there was a lot going on in the years after the Apostles died and rejoined their Master. The saving power of God was in force and people’s lives were being changed all through that period. The course of church history may not be to everyone’s taste but God’s plan was and is not going to be defeated. It was a time when, as the Egyptian church father Origen had to say:

And if we observe how powerful the word has become in a very few years, notwithstanding that against those who acknowledged Christianity conspiracies were formed, and some of them on its account put to death, and others of them lost their property, and that, notwithstanding the small number of its teachers, it was preached everywhere throughout the world, so that Greeks and Barbarians, wise and foolish, gave themselves up to the worship that is through Jesus, we have no difficulty in saying that the result is beyond any human power, Jesus having taught with all authority and persuasiveness that His word should not be overcome.[2]

When Our Lord came into the world, the lands surrounding the Mediterranean Sea (this includes such places as the Holy Land, Egypt, North Africa, Spain, France, Italy, Greece and what is now Turkey) were part of the Roman Empire. It was the command of that same Empire which caused Mary and Joseph to return to Bethlehem for the birth of Jesus: “Now in those days a decree went forth from Caesar Augustus for all the inhabited earth to be registered…and all people went travelling to be registered, each one to his own city.” (Luke 2:1,3). Now Caesar’s intention was not simply to make a list of the people but to tax them, the inevitable activity of governments.

The Roman Empire would continue to rule this area for a little more than four hundred years after Jesus walked on this earth. The Empire’s existence was both a boon and a bane for Christianity. It was a boon because it provided a large area of land and people to spread the Gospel without the hindrance of borders or nationalistic considerations. It also was the final manifestation of the ancient world, the place where the pagan gods grew tired and people yearned for new meaning and purpose. It is for these reasons that we read “But when the full limit of the time arrived God sent forth his Son, who came to be out of a woman and who came to be under law, that he might release by purchase those under the law, that we, in turn, might receive the adoption as sons.” (Galatians 4:4,5)

The bane part was that Christianity was illegal for the first three centuries after Jesus’ death and resurrection. The reason for this is very simple: the Roman Empire and Jesus Christ both demanded the highest and best allegiance and obedience from people, who in turn could give this to only one or the other. In the early years the persecution that resulted was sporadic, because Christianity was small and the Roman state had enough vestiges of its Republican past to take the edge off its absolute monarchy. As Christianity became more important and the Roman state became more despotic, the stage was set for a head on collision of the two. This took place in the third centuries, when emperors such as Decius and Diocletian attempted the extermination of Christianity.

The Emperor Constantine finally resolved this by issuing the Edict of Milan in 313; this legalised Christianity in the Roman Empire. About this time Arius began his work of denying the deity of Jesus Christ; in response Constantine called the Council of Nicea in 325 to resolve this question.

This is a lot of history but it is necessary to bring some things into focus. We see that Christianity overcame hostility and even attempts at annihilation to become a legal (and later official) religion of the greatest state the world had ever known. We also see that there is in fact an historical continuity from the church of the New Testament forward; those who lived in a period that close to the Apostles deserve some study and respect.

We finally see that the major break came in the early fourth century; having to deal with both legalisation and a major theological issue such as the deity of Christ are important, life-changing types of events in the history of the church. Those from the Watchtower tell us that the confluence of these two events was a major leap into “apostasy,” the place where Christianity fell into such serious error that it took the creation and perpetuation of an organisation such as theirs to bring it upright again. Is this a reasonable position?

While the effects of Nicea and of Christianity’s legalisation on the fidelity of Christianity to the faith of the Apostles is a complex question and beyond the scope of this presentation, let us for the moment lay it aside and restrict ourselves to a brief examination of the opinions of those people usually referred to as the “Ante-Nicene Fathers.” By this set of valiant men we mean those “Fathers of the Church,” eminent men who both wrote about Christianity and frequently led the church as pastors and bishops before the Council of Nicea. In doing this we are accruing to ourselves several advantages:

  • They would be free from any after effects of the Council of Nicea, or for that matter the legalisation of Christianity.
  • They (the Greek fathers at least) had as their native tongue the same language the New Testament/Christian Greek Scriptures were written in. Most of the Ante-Nicene Fathers had Greek as their first language; the Latin fathers such as Tertullian, Novatian, Cyprian, etc. were the exceptions, and most of them knew Greek as well.
  • They lived in basically the same cultural milieu as that of the New Testament, though this fades with time.

So we have here a group of people who actually put their thoughts to paper and who were in an historical and cultural position to say something of importance about Christian belief and practice. Can they be successfully marshalled to defend the Watchtower’s denial that Jesus is God? Or what is their real position on the subject?

Justin Martyr

Justin Martyr (114-165), born in Nablus (on the West Bank), was one of the first Christian “apologists” in that he defended the faith against attacks by others. His moniker is explicit that he gave his life for Jesus Christ. His Dialogue with Trypho is an exposition of Christianity relative to Judaism. The following statement from that work looks to be favourable both to the Jews and to the Watchtower:

I replied again, “If I could not have proved to you from the Scriptures that one of those three (who appeared to Abraham) is God, and is called Angel, because, as I already said, He brings messages to those to whom God the Maker of all things wishes [messages to be brought], then in regard to Him who appeared to Abraham on earth in human form in like manner as the two angels who came with Him, and who was God even before the creation of the world, it were reasonable for you to entertain the same belief as is entertained by the whole of your nation.…Reverting to the Scriptures, I shall endeavour to persuade you, that He who is said to have appeared to Abraham, and to Jacob, and to Moses, and who is called God, is distinct from Him who made all things,–numerically, I mean, not[distinct] in will. For I affirm that He has never at any time done anything which He who made the world–above whom there is no other God–has not wished Him both to do and to engage Himself with.”[3]

Unfortunately a little later in the same work he says the following:

“Have you perceived, sirs, that this very God whom Moses speaks of as an Angel that talked to him in the flame of fire, declares to Moses that He is the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob?”[4]

And since they are compelled, they agree that some Scriptures which we mention to them, and which expressly prove that Christ was to suffer, to be worshipped, and to be called God, and which I have already recited to you, do refer indeed to Christ, but they venture to assert that this man is not Christ.[5]

Justin’s point was that the appearances of God in the Hebrew-Aramaic Scriptures were in fact appearances of Jesus Christ before His incarnation. Serious students of these scriptures will identify the “God of Abraham, Isaac and of Jacob” as Jehovah.

Irenaeus

Irenaeus (120-202) was Bishop of Lyons, in France. He was a student of Polycarp, who in turn was a student of the Apostle John. The following statement is very interesting for those who contend that the only God is the Father:

…what is much more important, [since it is true] that our Lord [acted likewise], who did also command us to confess no one as Father, except Him who is in the heavens, who is the one God and the one Father…[6]

However, earlier in the same work he has already said the following:

For He fulfils the bountiful and comprehensive will of His Father, inasmuch as He is Himself the Saviour of those who are saved, and the Lord of those who are under authority, and the God of all those things which have been formed, the only-begotten of the Father, Christ who was announced, and the Word of God, who became incarnate when the fullness of time had come, at which the Son of God had to become the Son of man.[7]

So the Arian must turn elsewhere for consolation.

Clement of Alexandria

Clement of Alexandria (153-217) was a leading Christian teacher; he was Origen’s main instructor. The following statement should give some consolation to those who deny that Jesus is God:

Why then command as new, as divine, as alone life-giving, what did not save those of former days? And what peculiar thing is it that the new creature the Son of God intimates and teaches?[8]

However, he also has this to say:

But nothing exists, the cause of whose existence is not supplied by God. Nothing, then, is hated by God, nor yet by the Word. For both are one–that is, God. For He has said, “In the beginning the Word was in God, and the Word was God.”[9]

Clement combines both the idea that the Father and the Son are God and are one.

Tertullian

Tertullian (145-220) was without a doubt the greatest of the Ante-Nicene Latin fathers. He was from what is now Tunisia in North Africa. He is also one of the most controversial, not only because of his harsh style (he was a lawyer and many of his works are styled like an argument in a legal case) but because in his later years he was a Montanist, i.e., an adherent of a movement that believed in and practised prophecy and the gifts of the Spirit. In his Against Hermogenes he makes a statement that should be very congenial to the Watchtower:

For He could not have been the Father previous to the Son, nor a Judge previous to sin. There was, however, a time when neither sin existed with Him, nor the Son; the former of which was to constitute the Lord a Judge, and the latter a Father. In this way He was not Lord previous to those things of which He was to be the Lord.[10]

The idea that there was a time when Jesus Christ the Son was not is a key contention for any kind of Arian theology, Watchtower or otherwise. He also makes the following statements in his Against Praxeas that the Watchtower finds interesting:

There are some who allege that even Genesis opens thus in Hebrew: “In the beginning God made for Himself a Son.” As there is no ground for this, I am led to other arguments derived from God’s own dispensation, in which He existed before the creation of the world, up to the generation of the Son. For before all things God was alone–being in Himself and for Himself universe, and space, and all things. Moreover, He was alone, because there was nothing external to Him but Himself.[11]

Thus the Father is distinct from the Son, being greater than the Son, inasmuch as He who begets is one, and He who is begotten is another; He, too, who sends is one, and He who is sent is another; and He, again, who makes is one, and He through whom the thing is made is another.[12]

But the Arian who seeks consolation in Against Praxeas lives dangerously; it was in this work that Tertullian first introduced the term “Trinity” to the world, and worked out the theology of God as one essence but three persons that made Arianism unpopular in Latin Christianity when it was in vogue in Greek. He makes a very clear (and dare we say Pentecostal) statement in this work:

For we, who by the grace of God possess an insight into both the times and the occasions of the Sacred Writings, especially we who are followers of the Paraclete, not of human teachers, do indeed definitively declare that Two Beings are God, the Father and the Son, and, with the addition of the Holy Spirit, even Three, according to the principle of the divine economy, which introduces number, in order that the Father may not, as you perversely infer, be Himself believed to have been born and to have suffered, which it is not lawful to believe, forasmuch as it has not been so handed down. That there are, however, two Gods or two Lords, is a statement which at no time proceeds out of our mouth: not as if it were untrue that the Father is God, and the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God, and each is God; but because in earlier times Two were actually spoken of as God, and two as Lord, that when Christ should come He might be both acknowledged as God and designated as Lord, being the Son of Him who is both God and Lord.[13]

Hippolytus

Hippolytus (170-236) was an eminent Italian prelate. He wrote the following that the Watchtower should find of comfort:

The first and only (one God), both Creator and Lord of all, had nothing coeval with Himself; not infinite chaos, nor measureless water, nor solid earth, nor dense air, not warm fire, nor refined spirit, nor the azure canopy of the stupendous firmament. But He was One, alone in Himself.[14]

But elsewhere he says this:

Many other passages, or rather all of them, attest the truth. A man, therefore, even though he will it not, is compelled to acknowledge God the Father Almighty, and Christ Jesus the Son of God, who, being God, became man, to whom also the Father made all things subject, Himself excepted, and the Holy Spirit; and that these, therefore, are three. But if he desires to learn how it is shown still that there is one God, let him know that His power is one. As far as regards the power, therefore, God is one. But as far as regards the economy there is a threefold manifestation, as shall be proved afterwards when we give account of the true doctrine.[15]

This isn’t very helpful to our Arian friends either.

Origen

The Bible translator and commentator Jerome said about the Egyptian Origen (185-254) “…all but the ignorant acknowledge (him) as the greatest teacher of the Churches next to the Apostles.[16]“  The Watchtower might be willing to agree with this statement in view of the following:

To such persons we have to say that God on the one hand is Very God (Autotheos, God of Himself); and so the Saviour says in His prayer to the Father, “That they may know Thee the only true God;” but that all beyond the Very God is made God by participation in His divinity, and is not to be called simply God (with the article), but rather God (without article). And thus the first-born of all creation, who is the first to be with God, and to attract to Himself divinity, is a being of more exalted rank than the other gods beside Him, of whom God is the God, as it is written, “The God of gods, the Lord, hath spoken and called the earth.” It was by the offices of the first-born that they became gods, for He drew from God in generous measure that they should be made gods, and He communicated it to them according to His own bounty. The true God, then, is “The God,” and those who are formed after Him are gods, images, as it were, of Him the prototype.[17]

God the Father is light incomprehensible. In comparison with the Father, Christ is a very small brightness, though to us by reason of our weakness he seems to be a great one.[18]

The following, however, will doubtless temper their enthusiasm:

His birth from the Virgin and His life so admirably lived showed Him to be more than man, and it was the same among the dead.[19]

We worship one God, the Father and the Son, therefore, as we have explained; and our argument against the worship of other gods still continues valid. And we do not “reverence beyond measure one who has but lately appeared,” as though He did not exist before; for we believe Himself when He says, “Before Abraham was, I am.” Again He says, “I am the truth;” and surely none of us is so simple as to suppose that truth did not exist before the time when Christ appeared. We worship, therefore, the Father of truth, and the Son, who is the truth; and these, while they are two, considered as persons or subsistences, are one in unity of thought, in harmony and in identity of will.[20]

Ignatius of Antioch

Up to this point, we have considered authors whom the Watchtower has considered to be favourable to their position relative to the deity (or lack of it in their consideration) of Christ. At this point we should introduce one more witness, namely Ignatius of Antioch (30-107), who was doubtless acquainted with some of the Apostles themselves. He also provides us with some of the most direct statements about the deity of Christ amongst the Ante-Nicene Fathers that one could want:

For the Son of God, who was begotten before time began, and established all things according to the will of the Father, He was conceived in the womb of Mary, according to the appointment of God, of the seed of David, and by the Holy Ghost. For says [the Scripture], “Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and He shall be called Immanuel.”[21]

I pray for your happiness for ever in our God, Jesus Christ, by whom continue ye in the unity and under the protection of God.[22]

Conclusions

This survey of the Ante-Nicene fathers is brief, but sufficiently long to underscore two of their beliefs:

  • Jesus Christ the Son is God. The way they express this varies, as does their concept of what it means, but their belief in this central fact is quite clear.
  • Jesus Christ the Son is subordinate to the Father, that is to say He is below the Father in rank, to use a military analogy. The way in which they conceive this also varies, but it is a belief that is consistent amongst the Ante-Nicene Fathers.

These beliefs raise several important questions, which will be the focus of the rest of this work:

  • Does the Bible support either or both of these propositions?
  • What is the real nature of the relationship between the Father and the Son? And the Holy Spirit?
  • What is the real reason for the failure of Arianism? Was it just because the government suppressed it? Or is there something else that turned Christianity against it? What significance does this have in our own day, especially when we have an Arian institution (the Watchtower) propagating essentially the same beliefs?


[1]This is the polite term in many cases. Too often such dialogues disintegrate into a shouting match.

[2] Origen, On First Principles, IV, 1.

[3]Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, 51

[4] Ibid., 59

[5]Ibid., 68

[6] Irenaeus, Against Heresies, IV, 1

[7]Ibid, III, 16.

[8] Clement of Alexandria, Who Is The Rich Man That Shall Be Saved?, XII

[9]Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, I, 8.

[10]Tertullian, Against Hermogenes, 3

[11]Tertullian, Against Praxeas, 5

[12]Ibid, 9

[13]Ibid, 13.

[14] Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies, X, 28.

[15] Hippolytus, Against Noetus, 8

[16] Jerome, Preface to Hebrew Names.

[17] Origen, Commentary on John, II, 2

[18] Origen, On First Principles, I, 2, cited by Jerome, Letter 124 (To Avitus), 2

[19] Origen, Commentary on John, I, 34

[20] Origen, Against Celsus, VIII, 12.

[21] Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Ephesians, 18

[22] Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to Polycarp, 8

The Tasteless Nouveaux Riches Take Over Harvard B-School

And no one else is happy with it either:

When Christina Wallace, now the director of the Startup Institute, attended Harvard Business School on a scholarship, she was told by her classmates that she needed to spend more money to fully participate, and that “the difference between a good experience and a great experience is only $20,000.”

“Class was the bigger divide than gender when I was at H.B.S.,” said Ms. Wallace, who graduated in 2010….

Many alumni from decades ago, including Suzy Welch, a former editor of The Harvard Business Review, said they were startled by the culture of spending that was depicted in the article, including the news that one student had lived in a penthouse apartment at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Boston. When Ms. Welch graduated in 1988, money mattered, she said in post on Twitter, “but conspicuous consumption events were rare.”

A reader named Ken H said that the tone at the school in the 1970s was downright egalitarian, and that anyone who “flashed money around” would have earned jeers. “Maybe what has changed isn’t so much H.B.S., but America,” he said.

“Ken H” hit the nail on the head.  Years ago the “upper strata”, for all of their faults, had a much stronger sense of civic responsibility–and an aversion to flaunting their success in front of those who didn’t have what they had–than we see now.  But, with all of our “progress” with the “protected groups”, we’re supposed to live in a better society.

Americans, however, have always had a blind spot towards class differences.  The result of this is that we have more income inequality that we had.  And, if you have gross income inequality, no other form of “equality” matters.  Period.  Not racial, not gender, not sexual orientation, none of them.  Our elites are simply using the latter to hide the problems with the former.