Justin Cobbett and I have recently been having a “written debate” over the topic of trinitarianism and more specifically, the deity of Christ. It began when Justin wrote a rebuttal to my article called “The Deity of Christ I: Christ’s Claims to be God,” which can be found here:http://apologeticexpression.blogspot.com.au/2013/09/the-deity-of-christ-review-of-answers_26.html
This provoked me to write a response, which can be found here: http://answersforhope.com/a-response-to-justin-cobbetts-rebuttal-to-the-deity-of-christ-i/
In Justin’s article, he further gave arguments against my response, to which I will be addressing here in my second response to Justin.
Before I deal with Justin’s continued counter-arguments, I’d like to address what he wrote in the conclusion of his article. He basically contends that there is no passage that 1.) offers proof of Christ’s deity, or 2.) is clear enough to provide a solid foundation for such a doctrine. He bases this from his arguments against my assertion that Jesus claimed to be God in three specific ways: 1.) he claimed to be the Son of Man, 2.) he claimed to be the I Am, 3.) he claimed to be one with the Father. My contention in this article is to defend these three instances, which would give the deity of Christ a clear foundation.
Statement of Trinitarianism:
Also, I’d like to quickly address the doctrine of the Trinity, which always comes up in a discussion on the deity of Christ. To explain, Christian trinitarianism asserts the following teaching:
Within the one being that is God, there are three divine persons.
What is crucial here to understand is the distinction between a person and a being. According to this view, a person is who something is, whereas a being is what something is. To give an analogy, my very being is that of a human (I am a human being), yet my very person is Evan Osborne. I’m an individual person, not to be confused with another person, yet I am united with all other humans in that I share their being: human.
In the same way, the triune God consists of three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Each is an individual person, not to be confused with the other, yet they are all united in that they share the same nature as God.
This position is one that has been misrepresented by Justin more than once, which is why I wanted to address it in clarity so as to avoid confusion. To be fair to Justin, I admit that I haven’t given a statement of trinitarianism in my articles, so any misrepresentation on Justin’s part up to now was likely not intentional.
Justin’s Unitarian Assumption:
To give an example of Justin’s misrepresentation, in his response, he writes, “I do understand the trinitarian position – I just don’t think this is the easiest reading of the texts. It seems much more straightforward to read the text as though it is always referring to individual beings – as this is how we should read any other text.” Here, Justin asserts that trinitarianism can’t account for having two persons being dscribed as distinct, for if they are, they HAVE to be different beings. Such an assumption is one that is unwarranted, since it doesn’t properly distinguish between being and person (and by the way, Justin is assuming unitarianism as he’s reading these texts, since he will not let the trinitarian understanding be allowed in his consideration of the relevant passages).
Justin’s comparison of Deuteronomy 6:13 and Luke 4:8 makes a great example of Justin’s unitarian assumption. Deuteronomy 6:13 says “It is the Lord your God you shall fear. Him you shall serve and by his name you shall swear.” This text, coming out of the strictly monotheistic context of Deuteronomy 6:4 (the Shema) reinforces that there is only one God that is to be worshipped. Luke 4:8 says “It is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.’” As Justin rightly points out, this text is in the context of Christ’s temptation at the hands of Satan (vv. 1-13; cf. Matthew 4:1-11). When Satan attempts to have Christ worship him, Jesus responds with the words of Luke 4:8, which actually is a citation of Deuteronomy 6:13!
Both texts say that only God is to be worshipped, and Luke 4 describes Jesus saying in third-person that only God is to be worshipped. As to how we interpret what Jesus meant by that statement, Justin gives us two choices:
1.) Jesus who is himself Yahweh – is refusing to worship Satan because Jesus is only supposed to worship Yahweh.
2.) Jesus – who is distinct from Yahweh – is refusing to worship Satan because Jesus is only supposed to worship Yahweh. This view Justin believes to be the correct one.
Justin has to assume unitarianism, why? Because, according to Justin, if Jesus is described as distinct from Yahweh, then he’s not Yahweh. Such an assertion is unwarranted if we allow (notice, I didn’t say assume) a trinitarian understanding. Trinitarians find this passage to be no challenge, because here, Christ is simply considering himself to be distinct from “Yahweh.” Well, since the Father and the Spirit are also Yahweh, he may be doing nothing more than simply pointing out his distinction from the Father, who is Yahweh. Justin has to assume that unitarianism is true in order to argue for it, and that is circular reasoning.
Jesus Can be god, but not God?
To continue, Justin states, “the most important thing here is to recognize that ‘god’ is just a title not a name…. It need not always refer to Yahweh (Exodus 7:1; Psalm 82:6 – hence the uncertainty as to whom 2 Corinthians 4:4 is referring to).” He finishes this section by saying, “Even if Jesus is called god – it does not follow that Jesus is therefore deity.”
This is a bold assertion, and a fallacious one at that. Justin points to Exodus 7:1 as evidence that someone can be a god, but not God. This doesn’t work, for in Exodus 7-12, we have the plagues coming to Egypt. In v. 1 of Exodus 7, God is getting Moses and Aaron prepared for these plagues. These plagues were divinely imposed, and so, since God was working through Moses, to Pharaoh, a polytheistic idolater, Moses would’ve seemed like a god. This does not imply that Moses actually was a god, which is why many translations, such as the ESV, translate this passage by stating that Moses will be “like God.” Psalm 82:6 was addressed, which also doesn’t allow for the existence of legitimately true gods. Psalm 82 is describing how the judges of Israel are to be just and righteous in their rule over the people of Israel. We can see in v. 1 that these are individuals that God works his judgment out through: “God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment.” In light of the fact that these judges are not divine in any sense (they die like mere men in v. 7), and that the Bible is emphatic that there is only one God, it would seem better to say that these judges are not literal gods, but that they are like God, since they are the ones through whom he is working.
So, since there are no legitimately true gods other than God himself, we have two options of classifying “god” in Scripture: 1.) a true god, and therefore (since there is only one) God himself, or 2.) a false god (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:4).
I would like to ask Justin: “In light of the fact that Jesus is seen as a god in Scripture, is he God/Yahweh, or is he a false god? Answer carefully.”
Now that Justin’s general arguments have been dealt with, allow me to deal with his specific counter-arguments to my view.
I AM/EGO EIMI
In my original article, I pointed out that in the Greek translation of the OT, the Septuagint (abbreviated LXX), translates God’s unique title for himself apart from all other gods (which would be false gods), as the I AM, from the Greek, “ego eimi.” I argued that in three basic instances, Jesus used this exact same language of himself in a divine context, which would mean that he would be identifying himself as the I AM, God.
Justin responds by saying that “I am was common usage in Jesus time – I doubt anyone would think Peter was claiming to be the great I Am (Acts 10:21) – he uses the same words as Jesus – the same words Yahweh uses in the Septuagint.”
This is all that Justin treats of the ego eimi, which is shocking. When I looked particularly at John 8:58 and 18:4-6, I didn’t just argue that Jesus simply said “I am,” as Peter did in Acts 10. In my exegesis of the texts, I pointed out that it wasn’t simply the words, but the context in which Christ used them that was astonishing. Let’s deal with them.
In John 8:58, Jesus said, “prin abraham genesthai ego eimi” (“before Abraham was, I am”). Jesus isn’t using this as identification of who he is as Peter was in Acts 10. Rather, he is using it in a divine way, which would, in fact, point to him being the deified I Am of the OT: In v. 58, Christ is speaking of how he was pre-existent “before Abraham,” which would point to deity. Also, after Jesus said this phrase, the Jewish leaders tried to stone him (v. 59), which, when compared to John 10, points to the Jews believing that Jesus was claiming deity. Such divine connections show that the ego eimi here isn’t some statement of identity, but a statement of deity.
John 18:4-6 is even more powerful, since, after Christ says “ego eimi,” the soldiers fall back upon the ground. Compare that to Moses’ reaction to experiencing the presence of God in Exodus 3 (where ego eimi is used in the text, by the way), and we have a deified use of ego eimi in the text.
SON OF MAN
When Justin considered Mark 14 and its references, Daniel 7 and Psalm 110, he acknowledges that, “Christ is in some sense divine.” That is my point, but apparently, Justin doesn’t seem to understand the problem with his admission.
There are two kinds of existence when it’s broken down: the Creator, and the created. If Jesus is not the Creator, and he is, as I have argued elsewhere, then he is a mere creature, no matter how glorified he may be. The chasm between Creator and created is too great to be blurred, as Justin tries to do by claiming that Christ is a divine creature. It can’t be done.
Numbers 23:19 was cited to get around the trinitarian understanding of Christ as the Son of Man. The verse says, “God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind.” According to Justin, “Numbers 23:19 is relevant here…. Yahweh (v. 21) is not a son of man. Interestingly in Daniel 7 it is one like a son of man who approaches Yahweh.” To respond, Numbers 23 says that God is not a son of man, unlike in Daniel 7, where Christ is one LIKE a son of man. Also, the context of v. 19 in Numbers 23 is important. Balaam here is saying that “God is not a man.” Here, “man” qualifies “son of man,” so that “son of man” is simply referring to a human being. This is far removed from Daniel 7, where Christ is more than a mere man. To add more, Balaam’s entire assertion in his oracle in Numbers 23 is that God is not unfaithful or deceitful, as men are. This has nothing to do with Daniel’s presentation of a deified one like a son of man!
To continue, Justin cites N.T. Wright, noted Anglican scholar, who says, “son of man: In Hebrew or Aramaic, this simply means ‘mortal’ or ‘human being.’”
Apparently, this refutes my entire assertion that Christ is deified in the passage of Daniel 7:13-14. But such is not the case, since Daniel 7 doesn’t call this Messianic figure the son of man, but rather “one like the son of man.” Now, Jesus does use the phrase “Son of Man” of himself, referencing Daniel 7, in Mark 14. However, the same definition doesn’t apply, as now we’ve moved to the Gospel of Mark, which was written in Greek, not Hebrew or Aramaic. Unless there is more from Wright for Justin to draw from regarding “son of man,” I think the issue of Daniel 7 is settled.
With regards to Psalm 110, Justin claims that I’m wrong to use “Adonai” (Lord) for Christ, since the word “Adoni” was used. To quote Justin, “Adoni… can simply refer to any authority.” I would like to ask Justin where he finds justification in having Psalm 110 use Adoni instead of Adonai? To add, the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) reference Psalm 110, using the term “Adonai,” which would point to a deified Christ (Matthew 22; Mark 12; Luke 20).
Justin gets around Psalm 110:4′s statement of an everlasting being pointing to Christ’s deity by saying, “Evan goes on to say that Psalm 110:4 is a reference to Christ being eternal which he thinks only God can be. Why is it that only deity can be eternal? … Apparently Evan thinks that ‘there is only one timeless being.’ But again – why is there only one timeless being? Evan doesn’t say.” I’ll answer that here: only God can be timeless, because if you are not timeless, then you began to exist. If you began to exist, then you need a cause as to why you exist. In other words, you need a Creator. Therefore, if you aren’t timeless, you are a created being, and are therefore not God. If Justin is going to acknowledge the eternality of Christ, he needs to worship him as God.
How does Justin allow for an eternal Christ who is not God? He says, “I don’t think there is a logical contradiction in saying that Yahweh has co-existed eternally with Christ sustaining Christ in existence.” There may not be an internal contradiction in this statement, but there are two problems with Justin’s idea here: 1.) it’s not biblical, as I asked Justin in my first response to give me an exegetical reason to believe this idea, and he hasn’t yet, and 2.) this sounds a lot like trinitarianism, so Justin shouldn’t have a problem with trinitarianism.
UNITY WITH THE FATHER
Commenting on my use of John 17:21 in my first response, Justin said, “Jesus and the Father are only one in unity, not being.” To respond, it is meaningless to say that the Father and Son are one only in unity. Why? Well, to state it differently, Justin’s asserting, “Jesus and the Father are only united in unity.” That makes no sense, and so a better solution is to be given to John 17′s use of the unity between the Father and the Son.
A typical trinitarian understanding of John 17:21, would simply be this:
John 17:21 is comparing two things, God, and the church
1.) The church: though there are many individuals in the body of Christ, there is only one body (this is similar to Paul’s argument for the unity of the Corinthian church in 1 Corinthians 12:12-27)
2.) God: though there are many persons in the Godhead, there is only one God.
I invite Justin to continue to dialogue, as I’ve found our arguments to be helpful for those who visit our sites. I hope to hear from him on these issues, and I invite him to review my other articles in the deity of Christ series that I’ve been writing, which will soon be completed. God bless!