Friday, May 20, 2016

Prostrate Before Him: An Examination of John 18:6 in Light of a Survey of the Use of Ego Eimi

by Michael R. Burgos Jr. 

Unitarianism has attempted to repudiate the trinitarian contention that there is a meaning of the phrase ‘I am’ within Scripture that is outside of its normative function as a means of self-identification.

So when he said to them, "I am he," they drew back and fell to the ground. (John 18:6)1

The above text is one that trinitarians have understood to be evidence for the deity of Christ. Moreover, this text is one that trinitarians have understood to be the Son's identification of himself as Yahweh. The point of this study is to demonstrate the deity of Christ as made evident by a consideration of John 18:6 in light of an overview of the use of the phrase ‘I am’ in canonical and extra-canonical texts. Thereafter, several unitarian explanations for the text will be offered so as to magnify the harmony of trinitarian orthodoxy as it relates to the biblical identity of Christ.

The Old Testament background of "I Am"

The phrase ‘I am’ carries a special meaning outside of its common usage in Scripture. Within the Old Testament it is presented as a formula indicative of the God of Israel. In Exodus 3:13 Moses asks God, "if I come to the people of Israel and say to them, 'the God of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they ask me, 'what is his name?' what shall I say to them?" God answered Moses and said, “I Am Who I Am.” The Septuagint renders God's answer, ἐγὼ εἰμι ὁ ὤν (“I am the being”). Since the Septuagint includes ὁ ὤν (“the being”), the participial form of ἐγὼ εἰμι (“I am”) in Exodus 3:14, a one to one parallel cannot be drawn to Jesus’ usage of the phrase in John 18:6 upon that basis alone. However, within the Septuagint an atypical utilization of “I am” occurs repetitiously after Exodus 3:14 without the inclusion of ὁ ὤν.2 The peculiarity of the usage stems from the fact that the phrase is employed at the end of a clause or sentence in such a way that it tends to render the text awkward.

Deuteronomy 32:39 is a case in point. The text states, “See, see that I am, and there is no god except me.”3 Just as in Exodus, the phrase communicates exclusivity- a class of one. Yahweh is the Living God because he is the “I am,” the one existing.

Using the same style, Isaiah employs “I am” repetitiously and formulaically to indicate the exclusivity of Yahweh as the only living God.
Who has wrought and done these things? The one calling her from the beginning of generations has called her. I, God, am first, and for the things that are coming, I am. (Isaiah 41:4) 
Be my witnesses; I too am a witness, says the Lord God, and the servant whom I have chosen so that you may know and believe and understand that I am. (Isaiah 43:10) 
Hear me, O house of Iakob and everyone who is left of Israel, you who are being carried from the womb and trained from the time you were a child. Until your old age, I am. And until you grow old, I am. (Isaiah 46:3-4)
The Hebrew text of Isaiah 45:18 states, “I am the Lord, and there is no other.” However, the Septuagint omits the tetragrammaton in favor of egō eimi alone. The Septuagint reads, “I am, and there is no other,” thereby identifying that the ancient Jewish translators recognized the significance of “I am” as indicative and even synonymous with the name of the God of Israel. Moreover, in Isaiah 45:19 the Hebrew text states, “I the Lord speak the truth.” The Septuagint renders this phrase as “I am, I am the Lord, speaking righteousness.” In light of the rendering of verse 18, the insertion of “I am” a second time within the text is certainly an allusion to who was revealed to Moses at the bush, and this without the use of the participle.

In similar fashion, the Septuagint renders Isaiah 43:25 and 51:12 in such a way that the “I am” formula occurs in succession. These utilizations provide further evidence that egō eimi was a recognized title among the Jews, especially during the second temple period.
I am, I am the one who blots out your acts of lawlessness. (Isaiah 43:25) 
I am, I am he who comforts you. (Isaiah 51:12)
Isaiah 47:8-10 states,
But now hear these things, you delicate woman who sits securely, who says in her heart, ‘I am, and there is no other; I shall not sit as a widow or know bereavement. But now both these things shall come upon you suddenly, in one day; widowhood and loss of children shall come upon you suddenly in your witchcraft, exceedingly in the strength of your enchantments.
In this passage, we see that the "delicate woman" (i.e., Babylon) is characterized as making use of the phrase "I am" in the style and tenor that Yahweh uses it of himself.4 The text is characterizing this people as being prideful to the extent that they believe that they possess sovereignty over their own circumstance like that of God. Therefore, their use of "I am" serves as a receptor of judgment; that the true Sovereign, the authentic "I am," will bring justice to this blaspheming people.5

The Mostly Embarassing Origin of Pentecostalism

by Michael R. Burgos Jr.
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Frank Sandford (1862-1948) was an American seminary drop-out who established the Holy Ghost and Us Bible School in Shiloh, Maine in 1864.[1] Sandford's theology was a combination of Wesleyanism, Anglo-Israelism,[2] and a form of pre-millennial eschatology that viewed the second advent of Christ as being precipitated by a missionary movement that displayed “with utmost patience, signs and wonders and mighty works” (2 Corinthians 12:12). Sandford believed "all the extraordinary powers which Christ had granted to His apostles would be restored to the Church immediately preceding His second coming."[3] Sandford viewed his personal ministry and his school as integral to the second advent.

Between 1893 and 1899 Sandford established a commune in an elaborate victorian styled structure he named Shiloh. "By 1904 some 600 residents had donated all they owned to Shiloh."[4] Sandford's leadership at Shiloh has been described as "authoritarian," "abusive,"[5] and to have included "whippings, beatings, and mind control."[6] Moreover, Sandford grew to eventually teach that he was an eschatological Elijah and one of the two witnesses depicted in Revelation 11:3.[7] In 1911 Sandford was convicted of manslaughter, child abuse, and kidnapping.[8] Needless to say, Sandford and Shiloh constituted a cult.[9]

A former Methodist churchman, Charles Fox Parham left his pastorate of two years and visited Shiloh. "Parham and Sandford were very alike theologically, but Sandford imparted what would bring a new paradigm shift. That was the restoration of signs and wonders as an aid to world evangelism."[10] Through Sandford, Parham "heard isolated reports of xenolaic tongues among missionaries."[11]

In 1900 Parham followed Sandford's example and established Bethel Bible School in Topeka, Kansas. In 1901 Parham instructed his students to study the baptism of the Holy Spirit as it appeared in the biblical text. Upon observing the narrative of Acts, the class concluded that those who were Spirit baptized spoke in tongues. Soon thereafter one of Parham's students, Agnes Ozman, requested "that hands might be laid upon her to receive the Holy Spirit as she had hoped to go to foreign [missionary] fields."[12] What allegedly followed, was nothing short of a "restoration of Pentecostal power"[13] wherein Ozman, followed by her fellow students and Parham himself, began to speak in pre-existing human languages (i.e., xenoglossy). It was reported that Ozman initially spoke and wrote in Chinese, but also spoke an additional 19 languages.[14]

In light of this account and that of Parham's restorationist mindset, it is clear that this restoration of the "power" of Pentecost resulted in the the utilization of previously existing human languages, at least according to what was reported. Hence, the xenoglossy reportedly exhibited was certainly not the glossolalia espoused by Pentecostals today. That is, while some modern Pentecostals do not distinguish between the Lucan description and Pauline teaching regarding tongues on exegetical grounds, Parham and other early Pentecostals evidently viewed tongues only as xenoglossy. The shift from the affirmation of tongues as only xenoglossy to glossolalia among Pentecostals resulted in a shift in the missiological utility and subsequent eschatological purpose of the gift. This shift has formed a doctrine of glossolalia that is more in keeping with tongues as described 1 Corinthians 14:4-28, while still accounting for the Lukan occurrences.[15] Whatever the case, there is a very limited correlation between the theology of glossolalia espoused by modern Pentecostals and that of the movement’s pioneers.

According to its origins, Pentecostalism has been predicated upon a wide array of false doctrines. From Sandford and Parham’s racist Anglo-Israelism, to the embarrassment of the initial Pentecostal missionary effort, the Pentecostal movement has arisen from the fertile ground of pseudo Christian novelty. While Scripture-driven reform has been achieved in the movement, the recasting of Pentecostal distinctives has divulged a dubiousness and a lack of discernment among both primitive leaders and moderns alike. However, there is, despite the overreaching postulations of certain cessationists, a valuable, unique, and praiseworthy element of Pentecostalism. Namely, Pentecostalism is definitionally evangelical heart religion.

In as much as Pentecostalism was a product of the aforementioned persons, doctrines, and events, it was additionally a reaction to the influx of Protestant liberalism and the capitulation to mediocrity of some populous denominations. Pentecostalism has brought a renewal of rigorous personal involvement in worship and devotion, and because of that, evangelicalism is indebted. Hence, Pentecostalism’s origins are an admixture of theological conservatism and theological heterodoxy.

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[1] Burgess, Stanley, Van Der Maas, Eduard Eds., The New International Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charasmatic Movements, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002), 1036.
[2] For a full discussion of Sandford's affirmation of Anglo-Israelism, see Barkun, Michael, Religion and the Racist Right: The Origins of the Christian Identity Movement. Rev. Ed., (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997), 20, 71. See also, Sandford, Frank, "Who God's Ancient People Israel Are - Truth in History," Truth in History, Accessed 01/28/2016. http://truthinhistory.org/who-gods-ancient-people-israel-are.html.
[3] Salbato, Richard. "Frank Sandford and Shiloh." Unity Publishing. Accessed 01/28/2016. http://www.unitypublishing.com/NewReligiousMovements/WhatSpirtPart6.html.
[4] Burgess, The New International Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements, 1037.
[5] Enroth, Ronald, Churches that Abuse, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervand, 1993), 58.
[6] Veenhuizen, Gary. 2011. Spiritual Abuse: When the System Becomes the Persecutor. George Fox Univ., DMin Dissertation, 85.
[7] ibid, 90.
[8] ibid, 75.
[9]Sandford's cult still exists in a modern iteration entitled Kingdom Christian Ministries. See http://www.kingdomchristianministries.org.
[10] Letson, Harry. 2007. "Pentecostalism as a Paradigm Shift: A Response to Hans Kung's Paradigmatic Model." The Journal of the European Pentecostal Theological Association, XXVII, no. 2, 114.
[11] Burgess, The New International Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements, 955.
[12] Parham, Sarah E, The Life of Charles F. Parham: Founder of the Apostolic Faith Movement, (Baxter Springs: Apostolic Faith Bible College, 2000), 52.
[13] ibid, 53.
[14] ibid. See also, 1901. “Was a Pentecost: 'Apostolic Faith' Believers Claim to Speak in Tongues." The Kansas City Journal, Accessed 01/28/2016. http://www.azusabooks.org/kcj.shtml.
[15] See for example MacDonald, William. 2005. "Biblical Glossolalia: Theses 1-7," Enrichment Journal. Accessed 01/28/2016. http://www.enrichmentjournal.ag.org/200501/200501_Glossolalia_1_2.cfm.

Is Alcoholics Anonymous Compatible with Biblical Christianity?

by Michael R. Burgos Jr. 

In addressing a church in compromise, the apostle Paul urged the Corinthians to “Learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another” (1 Cor 4:6). For Paul, utilizing the text of Scripture as the norm of Christian Faith and practice was critical to church unity. Paul taught that Scripture is theopneustos (i.e., God-breathed), and that it is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17). Paul counted the Berean Jews as “more noble” than those in Thessalonica, because they did not unquestionably receive Paul’s teaching, but instead compared it to “the Scriptures daily” (Acts 17:11). Indeed, Scripture serves as the sufficient and authoritative means by which Christians may discern whether a movement or practice is appropriate.

In light of the above, is the movement known as Alcoholics Anonymous (here forth A.A.) consistent with what the Scriptures teach? Below I have cited four reasons why A.A. is not only incompatible with biblical teaching, but it is actually a competing religion.

A.A. Espouses a Relativistic Notion of God

According to Alcoholics Anonymous (i.e., the “Big Book”), “For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority—a loving God as He may express himself in our group conscience.”1 The pamphlet, Members of the Clergy ask about Alcoholics Anonymous, states,

Most members, before turning to A.A., had already admitted that they could not handle their drinking—alcohol had taken control of their lives. A.A. experience suggests that to get sober and stay sober, alcoholics need to accept and depend upon a spiritual entity, or force, that they perceive as greater than themselves. Some choose the A.A. group as their “Higher Power”; some look to God—as they understand Him; and others rely upon entirely different concepts.2

From the biblical perspective, there is only one God (Is 43:10), and any conception of God that is contrary to the God revealed in Scripture is an idol (Ps 96:5; cf. 1 Cor 10:14). Neither the nebulous notion of a “Higher Power,” the collective consciousness of an A.A. fellowship, a “force,” or a subjective conception of God will suffice. While the reasoning behind A.A.’s “ultimate authority” may be altruistic, it is nothing more than idolatry. Moreover, encouraging someone to “accept and depend upon a spiritual entity” that is not the Christian God is both sinful and dangerous. 

A.A. Rejects the Authority of Scripture 

The tenth of A. A.’s “Twelve Traditions” states, 
No A.A. group or member should ever, in such a way as to implicate A.A., express any opinion on outside controversial issues—particularly those of politics, alcohol reform, or sectarian religion. The Alcoholics Anonymous groups opposes no one.3
A.A.intends to portray an innocuous image while remaining neutral on controversial issues. However, such an attempt at neutrality is itself non-neutral. One cannot be lukewarm on an issue such as the Lordship of Christ. Jesus said to his disciples “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters” (Matt 12:30). Jesus said to the church at Laodicea, “You are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth” (Rev 3:15-16). An attempt at neutrality, or even silence, is itself an opinion on “controversial issues.” Therefore, because A.A.intentionally rejects the exclusivistic nature of the Bible’s truth claims (e.g., Acts 4:12; 1 Tim 2:5), it rejects Christianity by implication.

A.A. Calls a Disease What the Bible Calls Sin 

The Bible identifies drunkenness as sin. Paul wrote, 
Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. (Gal 5:19-21a)4
For A.A., alcoholism is a disease, and alcoholics are sick.5 However, biblically speaking, devoting oneself to an addiction to alcohol (or anything else) isn't merely a disease, it is sin. More precisely, it is the sin of idolatry. Because A.A. does not accurately identify the problem, it is unable to provide a sufficient solution. Hence, A.A. members introduce themselves as alcoholics into perpetuity. By distinction, the Christian gospel makes sinners free from bondage to sin6 and the Holy Spirit sanctifies his people. While Christians may still struggle with sin,7 they are no a slave to sin and are a new creation in Jesus Christ.8 Jesus said, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).