Saturday, August 13, 2016

Don't Call It a Comeback: Unitarianism Refuted by Christ

by Michael R. Burgos Jr.

It was His final appeal. Just as the Israelite High Priest bore the people of God upon his heart on the Day of Atonement,[2] the Son of God went before his Father in prayer for his people. It was then that he divulged the identity of “the only true God” as Father.[2] Ironically, it is this declaration that the unitarian apologetic has implemented to defy the teaching of orthodoxy.[3] Like the builder of a solar-powered umbrella, unitarianism has engaged in self-refutation by not recognizing the obvious implication of pinning the title “only true God” upon the one who is unrelentingly Father.

When we consider the nature of God we are rightly compelled to look to the person and teaching of the Son of God who is the only one, who is himself God, who makes the Father known.[4] John characterizes the Son of God as the divine logos, for it is he who has explained the Father. Whoever has seen the Son has seen the Father,[5] as it is the Son who is the exact representation of the Father.[6] Therefore, to settle the question of the nature of God we look to the Son. 

The teaching of Christ was marked by the characterization of God as Father. Jesus taught that prayer is to be offered not merely to God, but to “our Father.”[7] Jesus made known his own identity by revealing the unique relationship he has to God the Father. He claimed to be the one who was sent from the Father,[8] of whom “God the Father has set his seal,”[9] and the one who is glorified by the Father.[10] The level of dependence and the specificity of this relational aspect of God employed by Jesus is a departure from the generalized characterization of God as Father in the Old Testament. Jesus’ teaching superseded the Old Testament’s conception of God as Father by means of his depiction of his unique relationship- a relationship that was understood by the theological establishment as a claim of equality with God.[11] Jesus came to make God known to man, and he revealed God as Father. 

Vern Sheridan Poythress has done well to note that, “There is an analogy between God the Father and human fathers.“[12] This analogy stands in one direction as God the Father is the one “from whom every father in heaven and on earth is named.”[13] Earthly fathers derive their office from one Exemplar, and therefore the Father’s identity precedes that of all earthly fathers. The only true God is Father, and that identity is absolutely essential to human existence. Men receive the title because they have engaged in procreation. That is, they have entered into a particular relationship with someone that is unique to those who bear the name. The title father therefore, is one that is necessarily relational. Men are fathers because they uniquely relate to their offspring. It is this office that men derive from God. 

Fatherhood assumes the existence of a relationship that is unique to those that bear the name. To be consistent, unitarianism must contend that the concept of God as Father is one that is deployed within the confines of the economy of creation and redemption. This is due to that fact that the natural estate of the unitarian God is an entirely solitary enterprise wherein the concepts of relationship and love are completely unrealized. Relationality is foreign to the unitarian God as any subject-object existence can only be a convention of creation. Unitarianism therefore subjects the primary revelation of God by Christ to the confines of creation. Yet, unitarians insist that, “The overwhelming testimony of Scripture leads one to conclude that none other than the Father is the one true God.”[14] To this contention Trinitarians hardily agree. The Nicene creed stands as one of the historic statements of Trinitarian orthodoxy, and it begins by confessing, “We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible.” Thus, the unitarian affirmation of the one true God as Father is in fact, an affirmation of Trinitarian orthodoxy.

The incompatibility of unitarianism with Christ’s revelation of God as Father is evident. Jesus taught that he personally pre-existed with his Father, having been with his Father prior to the existence of the world.[15] Jesus revealed that the natural estate of God is not the unbridled solitude of unitarianism, but rather a state wherein the Father was in loving relationship with his Son.[16] Michael Reeves has remarked, 
“…ask what God was doing before creation. Now to the followers of the goat-path that is an absurd, impossible question to answer; their wittiest theologians reply with the put down: ‘What was God doing before creation? Making hell for those cheeky enough to ask such questions!’ But on the lane it is an easy question to answer. Jesus tells us explicitly in John 17:24. ‘Father,’ he says, ‘you loved me before the creation of the world.’ And that is the God revealed by Jesus Christ. Before he ever created, before he ever ruled the world, before anything else, this God was a Father loving his Son.”[17]
God did not need to depend upon creatures to experience relationship. Rather, God is Father and therefore God is eternally relational. Thus, God the Father’s eternity presupposes the Son’s eternity. However, suppose unitarianism affirmed the eternality of the Father while denying the eternality of the Son.[18] Such a position would require the redefinition of the term “father.” Instead of being characterized by the giving of life and love, the term “father” would have to be recast so as to denote a natural state of utter isolation. Alternatively, some unitarians have rooted the eternality of God as Father in his identity as the origin of creation.[19] This position renders the Father dependent upon his own creation to be who he is. 

When the biblical revelation of God as Father is rejected, far reaching repercussions result. Unitarianism results in a God who said of his image bearer, “It is not good that the man should be alone,” and yet the one to whom the image belongs has known nothing but eternal loneliness. Moreover, if the relationship between the unitarian God and his Messiah is one that is predicated upon the difference between Creator and creation, then the relational dynamic is rooted in the superiority of God and the inferiority of Jesus Christ.[20] However, because we are told, “the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God,” [21] unitarianism therefore demands the ontological superiority of husbands and the inferiority of wives.[22]

To the people of Israel, God most often mediated his revelation through his creatures (i.e., the prophets). At times he would appear himself and provide direct revelation. For example, Exodus 24:9-11 states, 
“Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up, and they saw the God of Israel. There was under his feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness. And he did not lay his hand on the chief men of the people of Israel; they beheld God, and ate and drank”[23]
While this kind of occurrence was the exception and not the rule in the Old Testament, a direct revelation of God to man was not unprecedented. In light of this, suppose one were to accept the theology of unitarianism. The New Testament would then depict a new paradigm wherein the Father is exclusively mediated through his created Son. In these last days the Father has spoken by his Son,[24] and therefore a relationship with the Father is restricted to that which is mediated through creation. Not only does this present a reversal of progressive revelation, the unitarian contention also places the burden of revealing the nature of God upon a creature- thereby rendering God truly unknowable to mankind.[25] If the revelation of the nature and character of God is filtered through the dim lens of creaturely finitude; Emmanuel has failed his to live up to his name and his role as the one who makes God known.[26] 

The Son of Scripture is altogether different than that of unitarianism. He has perfectly revealed the Father as it is he is who is “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature.”[27] In the same way in which God has always had his glory, the Father has always been in relationship with his Son. [28] The Son is so very much like his Father that it is foolish to ask of him, “Lord, show us the Father.”[29] To see the Son is to see the Father as the Father is in the Son and the Son is in the Father.[30] When we look to the Son of Scripture, we see in him the authentic revelation of God to man because to the same degree the Father knows his Son, the Son knows his Father and has made his Father known to those whom he has willed.[31]

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[1] See Exodus 28:15-29. 

[2] See John 17:1-3.

[3] See for example, Greg Stafford, Jehovah’s Witnesses Defended: An Answer to Scholars and Critics, 3rd Ed., (Murrieta, CA: Elihu Books, 2009), 129. Also see Anthony Buzzard, Jesus Was Not a Trinitarian: A Call to Return to the Creed of Jesus, (Morrow, GA: Restoration Fellowship, 2007), 20. 

[4] John 1:18. There exists compelling evidence to affirm the cited reading as it is present in the Nestle-Aland 28th Ed. For further study see Michael R. Burgos Jr., Kiss the Son: A Christological Apology in Response to David K. Bernard’s The Oneness of God, (Meridian, ID: Biblical Press, 2012), 44-47. See also James R. White, The King James Only Controversy: Can You Trust Modern Translations?, (Bloomington, MN: Bethany House, 2009), 323-325. 

[5] See John 14:9.

[6] See Hebrews 1:3.

[7] Matthew 6:9.

[8] John 10:36.

[9] John 6:27.

[10] John 8:54.

[11] John 5:18.

[12] Vern Sheridan Poythress, Logic: A God-Centered Approach to the Foundation of Western Thought, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013), 94.

[13] Ephesians 3:14-15. While the Greek text states, “πατέρα, ἐξ οὗ πᾶσα πατριὰ ἐν οὐρανοῖς καὶ ἐπὶ γῆς ὀνομάζεται,” most English translations have opted for a less than literal translation. For example, the English Standard Version translates πατριὰ as “family.” While the ESV includes a footnote for the benefit of the reader, it is well worth noting that this is a choice predicated upon the valid assumption that within the patriarchal context of the Apostle the father was representative for the entirety of a family. 

[14] David Barron, God and Christ: Examining the Evidence for a Biblical Doctrine, (Self-published, 2009), 25. Accessible at http://www.scripturaltruths.com/book/gc.html.

[15] Cf. John 8:38; 17:5. It must be emphasized that the Trinitarian contention is not merely the existence of two divine persons who are temporally titled “Father” and “Son,” but rather that the relationship depicted by the appellations are essential to the nature of God. For an exegetical study of the aforementioned texts see Burgos, Kiss the Son, 85-89.

[16] See John 17:24.

[17] Michael Reeves, Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012), 21.

[18] In a dialogue with Robert Bowman Jr., Greg Stafford took this position. He stated, “The fact that the Father is eternal has nothing to do with whether or not the Son is eternal.” Thus, Stafford has affirmed either the theological equivalent of a married-bachelor (i.e., a Father is not a progenitor), or a god who is dependent upon his creation for his very identity. See http://www.jehovah.to/exe/discussion/stafford_bowman_2.htm.

[19] This was the view of the ancient arians. According to Athanasius, the arians understood the name Father primarily in terms of his role as the unoriginate Creator. However, as Athanasius argued, “[the Son] says not, ‘When ye pray, say, O God Unoriginate,‘ but rather, ‘When ye pray, say, our Father...’” Philip Schaff and Henry Wallace Eds., Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers: Second Series, Vol. IV- Athanasius: Selected Works and Letters, (New York, NY: Cosimo, 2007), 326. 

[20] See for example the “Biblical Unitarian” article “Who is Jesus Christ?,” wherein the primary relationship between the Father and Son is portrayed by means of an ontological division (i.e., the exclusively human Jesus as he relates to God). Accessible at http://www.biblicalunitarian.com/articles/jesus-christ/who-is-jesus-christ.

[21] 1 Corinthians 11:3.

[22] In an effort to mitigate the argument, one could appeal to the egalitarian contention that “head” (Gk. κεφαλὴ) communicates “source” and not “authority over.” However, there exists no biblical lexical source that supports such a definition. For example, see the exhaustive Fredrick William Danker Ed., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd Ed., (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2001), 541-542. For a further discussion of the term see Wayne Grudem, "Does (“Head”) κεφαλὴ Mean 'Source' Or 'Authority Over' in Greek Literature? A Survey of 2,336 Examples," Trinity Journal, 6.1, Spring 1985, 38-59. See also D. A. Carson, Exegetical Fallacies, 2nd Ed., (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1996), 36-37. 

[23] It is beyond disputation to suggest anyone other than YHWH himself appeared in the relevant text. The text itself, Exodus 33:11 and Numbers 12:6-8 preclude the possibility of a created agent acting in place of YHWH. 

[24] See Hebrews 1:1-2.

[25] Unsurprisingly this was the view of Arius. Stephen Holmes has noted that, “There is no question Arius’ theology was profoundly apophatic. God is unknowable, spiritual, simple, and eternal, and in the beginning exists alone.” Stephen R. Holmes, The Quest for the Trinity: The Doctrine of God in Scripture, History and Modernity, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012), 86. For a further discussion of Arius’ apophaticism see Rowan Williams, Arius: Heresy and Tradition, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2001), 156; 207ff. 

[26] Cf. John 1:18; Matthew 11:27.

[27] Hebrews 1:3.

[28] Robertson has noted that the present active particple ὢν in Hebrews 1:3 is indicative of “absolute and timeless existence… in contrast with genemenos in verse 4.” A. T. Robertson, Robertson’s Word Pictures of the New Testament, Vol. 5, (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1933), Entry for Hebrews 1:3. 

[29] John 14:8.

[30] See John 14:9-11. Cf. John 12:45; John 15:24.

[31] See Matthew 11:27.

4 comments:

  1. So well put. Please post more. Regards, Greg.

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  2. Thank you kindly. I currently am in the middle of finishing my masters thesis. Once done, I'll post much more often. However, you can catch some more recent work at my academia page. See the link above. Thanks!

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  3. Many errors here, I'm afraid. A great many unitarian Christians have believed in the pre-existence of the Son, including famous early modern unitarians like John Biddle and Samuel Clarke, and ancient ones like Origen. Reeves's poorly developed a priori argument for a three self Trinity stands refuted. http://trinities.org/dale/SinglePerfect.pdf And note that historically such arguments played no role in developing or justifying the traditional catholic language.

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  4. Essentially we have an assertion of error, but no actual argumentation. I'm sensing a pattern here Tuggy. At least Buzzard would attempt a biblical argument.

    ReplyDelete