Monday, June 3, 2019

Irenaeus on the Trinity [Review]



Trinitarian apologists are often accused of quote-mining the patristic authors for anything that seems to bear a resemblance to succinct formulations of the doctrine of the Trinity in later, pro-Nicene writers. The fact is, however, that while some Christian apologists engage in that kind of superficial reasoning, not all of us do. Some of us go back to the sources themselves and then diligently search contemporary scholarship to gain a better understanding of how they and their colleagues interpret the fathers, and why they it is they affirm or deny a given father holds to one of the cardinal doctrines of the faith. Some of us understand that scholarship often times is driven by philosophical commitments that are assumed to be true and, therefore, are functioning as the grounding of all subsequent conclusions surrounding the church fathers and what they could or could not have known and, by implication, what they did or did not teach directly or indirectly in their texts. The doctrine of the Trinity is one of those doctrines whose complexity over time has led unbelieving scholars to conclude that it is not deducible from the Scriptures but was, instead, the hybrid offspring of Neo-Platonism and Aristotelianism as funneled through later church fathers who would write on the subject. But as Jackson Lashier’s book Irenaeus on the Trinity makes evident, this is not the case.

In fact, Lashier’s work helps us see that the closer one’s theology is tied to the Scriptures, the more clear he is in articulating what is essentially a pre-Nicea pro-Nicene form of Trinitarianism, complete with a distinction between the ontological and economic Trinity. By contrasting the philosophical terminology of Justin Martyr, Athenagoras, and Theophilus of Antioch surrounding the ad intra and ad extra personal relations of the Father and Son and Holy Spirit to one another with Irenaeus’ Biblically constrained language of God’s “two hands,” one readily sees that the former is more prone to misinterpretation than the latter. That is to say, the earlier fathers’ language regarding the Son and the Spirit as the 2nd and 3rd divine “entities” lent itself to the ontological subordinationism and hierarchy within the divine essence/Godhead that Irenaeus’ Gnostic opponents had built into a complex hierarchical ontology of aeonic emanations. Thus, Lashier argues that Irenaeus’ departure from the nomenclature of Justin, Athenagoras, and Theophilus (in most cases) is not due to his lack of a doctrine of the ontological and economic Trinity (a claim which some scholars have advanced over the past 100 years or so), but is due to his desire to employ the language of Scripture in order to avoid bearing a superficial resemblance to the subordinationist theology of the Gnostics.

What is more, by avoiding the Platonic notion of orders of being, or ranking of being, Irenaeus is able to show the equality of the divine persons from the Scriptural teaching that creation, redemption, and restoration are all solely the works of God, and yet they are acts attributed to the Father and the Son and the Spirit. The Father and Son and Spirit all create, all redeem, and all restore – they are perfectly equal, differing only in their ad intra and ad extra relations to one another.

Lashier is, of course, careful not to use later terminology developed at Nicea and beyond, lest his readers suppose he is reading back into Irenaeus’ writing orthodox Christian doctrine that wouldn’t come into being until a few hundred years later. Rather than speaking of the ad intra and ad extra relations of the divine persons, Lashier speaks of Irenaeus’ understanding the relation of the divine “entities” to one another before in creating, redeeming, and restoring all things. This is helpful not only in clearing Lashier of any charges that he is reading back into Irenaeus, but also in understanding that the specific terminology could very well be changed without affecting the substance of the doctrine. This means that Irenaeus’ doctrine of the Trinity may be translated without much difficulty into Nicene terminology, which further implies that the closer the fathers remained to the Scriptures, the more clearly they articulated a doctrine of the Trinity that is nearly identical to what we find articulated in the later in church history by pro-Nicene theologians.

Some attention is paid to the hermeneutical practices of each of these early church teachers, with some attention also given to several key texts which have a long history of being interpreted as articulating the doctrine of God’s Triunity, despite being parts of the Old Testament. For instance, the presence of the Voice of God in the garden of Eden is identified as the Logos, as is every instance of God personally speaking to individuals face to face (e.g. Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Manoah, Samuel, etc). Similarly, Abraham’s meeting with Yahweh at the tents of Mamre (cf. Gen 18) was interpreted as the Lord meeting with his two “angels,” or “two hands,” an interpretation that is found much later in St. Augustine’s De Trinitate as well.

Unlike the philosophical depictions of the Trinity given by Justin Martyr, Athenagoras, and Theophilus, Irenaeus’ exposition of the Scripture brings the three persons into relief, compromising neither their undivided essence and attributes nor their distinct relations to one another (ad intra) and toward the creation (ad extra). Irenaeus on the Trinity is a helpful tool for the scholar, or pastor, or academically inclined Christian who wants to deepen his knowledge of church history and its more well known figures. It also is helpful in providing Christians with an understanding of how the church fathers approached Scriptural interpretation, a process which involved interpreting all of Scripture in light of all of Scripture.


You can find Lashier’s dissertation on the same subject for free here.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Contra Atheism [Pt. 4]

§ VII. Is God Real?

Consequently, atheism is only intelligible iff God is real; but if atheism is intelligible, then God is real, and atheism is necessarily false. This means that given atheism, atheism is logically possible but ontologically impossible. The assertion “God is not real” is proof that he is, in fact, real, and it implies that the atheist knows this to be true. This is so because he utilizes universal truths – e.g. the laws of identity, non-contradiction, excluded middle, deductive inference, etc – which he believes will lead him to objective truth – i.e. knowledge of things as they are apart from his subjective apprehension of them. If the atheist truly does not view the laws above mentioned as anything more than social constructs, then he can offer his opinion about theism, as well as his opinions on any other matter – including, in fact, his opinions concerning what reality is – but he cannot hope to come to know the truth about theism or atheism, or any other matter. Professing himself to be wise, he has become a fool.

§ VIII. Concluding Remarks

In his paper “Atheism,” philosopher Gordon H. Clark, in accord with the view expressed by the present author, wrote the following –
At first it may seem strange that knowledge of what God is more important than knowledge that God is. His essence or nature being more important than his existence may seem unusual. Existentialists insist that existence precedes essence. Nevertheless, competent Christians disagree for two reasons. First, we have seen that pantheists identify god with the universe. What is god? —the universe. The mere fact that they use the name god for the universe and thus assert that god "exists" is of no help to Christianity
The second reason for not being much interested in the existence of God is somewhat similar to the first. The idea existence is an idea without content. Stars exist—but this tells us nothing about the stars; mathematics exists—but this teaches us no mathematics; hallucinations also exist. The point is that a predicate, such as existence, that can be attached to everything indiscriminately tells us nothing about anything. A word, to mean something, must also not mean something. For example, if I say that some cats are black, the sentence has meaning only because some cats are white. If the adjective were attached to every possible subject—so all cats were black, all stars were black, and all politicians were black, as well as all the numbers in arithmetic, and God too—then the word black would have no meaning. It would not distinguish anything from something else. Since everything exists, exists is devoid of information. That is why the Catechism asks, What is God? Not, Does God exist?1
Clark understood that the question of God’s “existence” needed to be clarified in order to be understood and addressed. Once this is done, it is plain to see that atheists are not concerned with the “existence” of God but with his “reality.” This “reality” must be defined as well, but for the atheist there is no way of justifying a concept of such an objective “reality.” Apart from a non-empirical, disembodied, omnipotent, omniscient, eternal, omnipresent mind, the universal truths requisite to cogent reasoning and speculation in the matters of metaphysics, epistemology, and even science do not “exist,” i.e. are not “real.” They are, instead, mere assertions whose truth value is uncritically accepted by the atheist in his complaints against Christianity.

In his attempt to identify God as unreal, the atheist turns to creation and imbues it with divinity. Not only does matter become the source of all power, all order, all modes of being, all knowledge, all history, whose ever evasive essence can only be known by a process of negative abstraction from reflection on physical things (i.e. the via negativa) – it becomes the teleological terminus of all of the atheist’s thinking and acting. Whereas Christianity loudly proclaims Soli Deo Gloria!, the atheist affirms Solam Materiam Gloria! And by so doing confirms that his lack of belief in other gods, including the one true God, does not indicate that he lacks belief in all gods. For the atheist, there is only one ontological entity greater than which none may be conceived; and that entity we all know as Matter.

1 “Atheism,” Trinity Foundation, http://www.trinityfoundation.org/PDF/The%20Trinity%20Review%200032a%20Atheism.pdf, Accessed April 25, 2019.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Contra Atheism [Pt. 3]

by Hiram R. Diaz III


§ V. Disambiguating “Existence”

Having demonstrated that the popular definition of atheism as a lack of belief in gods is untenable, we may now return to the question of existence. As we mentioned earlier on, assertions like “x exists” are either tautologous or non-tautologous. If they are tautologous, they are asserting nothing more than the proposition “This logical subject of predication is this logical subject of predication” or “x is x.” If they are non-tautologous, they are signifying some undefined property by the word exists. Assuming that the atheist intends to communicate something non-contradictory when he denies the existence of God, we must seek to understand what he means by the term exists.

As we begin, let us note that if by saying “There is no God” the atheist means “God cannot be empirically verified” or “There is no empirical being to which the term God properly applies” then he is confusing categories. As the London Baptist Confession of 1689, following the teaching of Scripture, states –
The Lord our God is…a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions.
The lack of empirical evidence for a being who is immaterial does not demonstrate that there is no such immaterial being. Some atheists will retort that immateriality is problematic, for it seems to allow us to affirm that there are other immaterial beings in addition to God. This, however, is neither a logical nor ontological problem. It is a problem for the materialist who believes that “existence” is synonymous with an empirically verifiable material instantiation of a given entity. But arguing against the idea that there is a God on such a basis is an exercise in fallacious, circular reasoning.

What does the atheist mean by the proposition “There is no God”? Given that he cannot say that a lack of empirical evidence regarding a non-empirical being is proof that there is no such being, we can only conclude that his proposition means “There is no non-fictional being to which the term God properly applies.” More to the point, the atheist’s belief is that God is not real. Unlike the unclear assertion that “God does not exist,” the proposition “God is not real” asserts that a particular logical subject [viz. God] is merely conceptual [i.e. is not real].” And while this is much clearer, it still suffers from a host of problems which we will now examine.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Contra Atheism [Pt. 2]

by Hiram R. Diaz III



§ III. The Logical Problem

Thus far we have taken for granted that the assertion “God exists” is one that may be meaningfully denied. However, is this the case? What does it mean to affirm that God exists? Logically speaking the word “is” functions as the copula connecting the subject term of a proposition to its attendant predicate term, as the following diagram demonstrates –
The assertion “God exists,” then, expresses either one of the following propositions –
1. A particular logical subject of predication [viz. God] has the property of being a logical subject of predication. 
2. A particular logical subject of predication [viz. God] has the property of x [i.e. an undefined property signified by the word exists].
Whereas proposition 2. may be translated into a non-tautologous proposition (e.g. “God exists” = “God is an extra-conceptual being with all of the attributes classically and biblically ascribed to him”), proposition 1. is a tautology that is true of any given logical subject of predication. More concisely, if the assertion “God exists” is not idiomatic shorthand for a lengthier proposition in which attributes are predicated of God (e.g. “God is a non-fictional/extraconceptual being”), then it is akin to asserting x is x. This being the case, it follows that unless the atheist defines his terminology, explaining what he means when he says “God does not exist,” his assertion is at best ambiguous. And at worst, it is self-contradictory, for the assertion “God does not exist” would then be logically identical to the proposition “This logical subject of predication [viz. God] has the property of not being a logical subject of predication [i.e. “not existing”].” This is not a return to Anselm’s Ontological Argument, but a simple recognition of a logical problem facing the atheist. If “being” cannot be divorced from “being the logical subject of predication,” and it cannot, then one cannot rationally deny the “existence” of any logical subject once it has been verbally, or by some other means of communication, identified as a logical subject.

§ IV. Who or What are Rightly Called Atheists?

Monday, April 15, 2019

In Defence of Christianity: Early Christian Apologists [Review]

by Hiram R. Diaz III


As we have noted elsewhere, the task of apologetics is one that has been given to all Christians.1 Knowing how that task has been taken up by Christians in the past, then, can give Christians from all walks of life insight into how they may better engage in apologetics to God’s glory. In Defence of Christianity: Early Christian Apologists is a small but densely packed review of apologetics as it was practiced by Christians in the 2nd century, beginning with the much overlooked apologist Aristedes. The book then covers the usual subjects of interest in this matter – Justin Martyr, Tatian, Athenagoras, Theophilus, Mathetes, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, and Octavius/Municius Felix – following up with “the other side of the story,” which is comprised of translations of 2nd century pagan authors on Christians and Christianity. The last chapter is an assessment of how Eusebius employs the apologists in his Ecclesiastical History.

The writers of the collected essays helpfully flesh out the historical context, shedding light on aspects of the apologists’ writings that may be confusing to present day Christians. For instance, within the early church writers there is a strong emphasis on the superior morality of Christians, an emphasis so strong that it could lead the uninformed reader to conclude that these men were legalistic and self-righteous, promulgating a religion of works over and against a religion of grace. This, however, is shown to be a misreading, for the apologists were merely engaging in polemical rhetoric against the pagan philosophers and religious cults of their day who boasted of their moral superiority. The superior morality of the Christians, then, is not always referring to direct actions of Christians, but primarily to the consistency demonstrated, largely considered, between their moral precepts and their daily lives.

Along these same lines, the authors of In Defence of Christianity do an excellent job of showing where the early apologists utilized, rejected, and reformed philosophical concepts (primarily the Platonists, but to a lesser extent the Stoics) pertinent to their stated apologetic goals. While some of the language of the Platonists and Stoics was appropriated by the early apologists, moreover, these authors helpfully explain where they differ. For anyone familiar with the theoretical reconstructions of early Christianity by unbelieving scholars like Elaine Pagels and Bart Ehrman, scholars who deny that there was any single Christianity and argue instead that there were many Christianit-ies (among whom they count the Gnostic heretics), the clarifications of the authors of In Defence of Christianity come as a much needed breath of fresh air. While there were differences between the apologists, there was much unity in central doctrinal matters, doctrinal matters that set Christians apart from their pagan critics and enemies.

Practically speaking, this book offers contemporary Christians insight into how apologetics was not merely a method of persuasively debating unbelievers and demonstrating the truth of the Christian religion, but also a genre of writing that had clearly discernible features. Among those features, there were addresses to persons of power, reductio ad absurdum arguments against the pagan gods and philosophers, arguments demonstrating the superiority of Christian morality to that of the pagan religionists and philosophers, and a demonstration of the antiquity of the Christian faith (another apologetic maneuver that may be misunderstood by contemporary readers of the early apologists, in which the apologists argue that the Old Testament was the first work to contain metaphysical and moral philosophy that was later stolen from the Scriptures by the pagans under the influence of demons). This focus of the book at least raises the question of genre for contemporary Christians – Should Christians employ a uniquely Christian apologia genre? What would or would not be the benefits of doing or not doing this? Is there Scriptural justification for doing so?

Perhaps one of the most helpful suggestions these authors give is that the contemporary Christian consider the fact that the world of the early apologists was not yet Christianized. The time period was still predominantly pagan, and this meant that the apologists were played an important role in explaining the Christian faith to outsiders who may have hear that Christians were incestuous, atheistic, cannibalistic, haters of humanity. And in this respect, the early apologists can give us direction as to how we can, in our “post-Christian” society, persuasively defend the faith once for all delivered unto the saints.

Although In Defence of Christianity is intended for a scholarly/academic audience, its content is valuable enough to warrant even the non-academic’s attention. It is highly recommended for all who are seeking to properly understand the early apologists, as well as utilize the best of the argumentation and rhetorical strategies that they offer their readers.


1 See Diaz, Hiram R., “What is Apologetics?” Biblical Trinitarian, http://www.biblicaltrinitarian.com/search?q=What+is+Apologetics.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Contra Atheism [Pt. 1]

by Hiram R. Díaz III

§ I. Introduction:
There Are No Atheists


For centuries, many apologists have presented arguments in defense of the existence of God to men who self-identify as atheists. Yet the Scriptures are clear –
...what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.1
In addition to having had the sin and guilt of Adam imputed to himself, fallen man also incurs the wrath of God because he knows God is the Creator, Law-Giver, and Judge of all men, and yet refuses to honor God as God or give him thanks. Paul’s words here are universal and, therefore, exclude no person who ever has lived, is now living, or will ever live subsequent to the Fall.

There is no question about the matter – God reveals to us that there are no atheists. Instead, there are idolaters who have “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.”2 Rather than trusting the Word of God, the professed atheist trusts in his own word. Rather than obeying God’s moral law, the professed atheist establishes his own rule of conduct. Rather than working within the metaphysical framework revealed by God to man in his Word, the atheist constructs his own metaphysical framework in which he seeks to operate free from the ontological and providential strictures placed upon him by God.

Psalms 14 and 53 are often cited as proof that the Scriptures recognize some men who are actually atheists, but these psalms do no such thing. Their shared opening line – “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’” – is a concise way of expressing the attitude of the unbeliever who thinks that the one true God will not bring his (i.e. the atheist’s) thoughts, words, and deeds into judgment. As Willem A. VanGemeren explains –
The word “fool” is synonymous with “wicked”...It reflects the wisdom tradition where the “fool” aggressively and intentionally flouts independence from God and his commandments... 
[…] 
The denial of God is not an absolute denial of his existence. The pagans around Israel believed in many gods, and the impious in Israel did not rationalistically deny the historic and cultural links between the Lord and Israel. In their impudence fools disregard God’s expectations. God is not important in their lives. They shut off the affairs of this world from divine intervention and deny any personal accountability to God for their actions.3
No man is truly an atheist; rather, all men know God by means of direct revelation to them. What can be known of him has been made known to them by God. However, fallen men pervert the truth about him, ascribe divine attributes to his creation, and show themselves to be idolaters by worshiping a divinized creation.

§ II. What is an Atheist?

Hence, the atheist is an idolater who replaces the Creator with the creature, imbuing the creation with divine attributes in one way or another. For instance, the materialist believes that matter is everywhere (i.e. omnipresent), the source of all potential and actual power (i.e. omnipotent), and the source of all knowledge and consciousness (i.e. omniscient). Matter is literally the alpha and the omega of all things. It is a se, seeing as it is not dependent on anything for its existence, but instead is the source of all that exists. Even the atheist’s moral code is dictated to him by the creation indirectly (as in the case of deriving one’s sense of right and wrong from observing animal social conduct) or directly (as in the case of issuing commands to others and oneself upon the basis of one’s perceived autonomous authority).

Atheism differs from other forms of idolatry, however, because its “unknown God” is neither a crude mythological deity whose attributes and actions are exaggerated human attributes and actions, nor is its “unknown God” personal and, therefore, an imitation of Yahweh. The “unknown God” of the atheists is an abstraction from both of these theological sources. For, on the one hand, the atheist believes that everything is ultimately physical; while, on the other hand, the atheist believes that the physical alpha and omega is elemental and knowable by means of abstraction. It is not this or that physical object perceptible to the senses that is the atheist’s god, it is the immanent physical ground of all derivative physical beings.

This is not, of course, how atheists would self-identify. Rather, contemporary atheists at the popular level define their position as “a lack of belief in gods.”4 Note that this definition does not speak to the objective state of affairs that obtains (i.e. whether or not God exists), as it is a description of an individual’s psychological state. Whereas “older dictionaries define[d] atheism as ‘a belief that there is no God,’”5 contemporary atheists will often argue that these older definitions are due to “theistic influences,”6 and that “without the (mono)theistic influence, the definition would at least read ‘there are no gods.’”7 However, this is not the case, as philosopher Paul Draper explains –
“Atheism” is typically defined in terms of “theism”. Theism, in turn, is best understood as a proposition—something that is either true or false. It is often defined as “the belief that God exists”, but here “belief” means “something believed”. It refers to the propositional content of belief, not to the attitude or psychological state of believing. This is why it makes sense to say that theism is true or false and to argue for or against theism. If, however, “atheism” is defined in terms of theism and theism is the proposition that God exists and not the psychological condition of believing that there is a God, then it follows that atheism is not the absence of the psychological condition of believing that God exists (more on this below). The “a-” in “atheism” must be understood as negation instead of absence, as “not” instead of “without”. Therefore, in philosophy at least, atheism should be construed as the proposition that God does not exist (or, more broadly, the proposition that there are no gods).
This definition has the added virtue of making atheism a direct answer to one of the most important metaphysical questions in philosophy of religion, namely, “Is there a God?” There are only two possible direct answers to this question: “yes”, which is theism, and “no”, which is atheism.8
From this it follows that it is not incorrect to define atheism as the belief that God does not exist or, what is essentially the same thing, to define an atheist as one who assents to the proposition that God does not exist.



1 Rom 1:19-21.
2 Rom 1:23.
3 The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008), 267.
4 “What is an Atheist?,” American Atheists, https://www.atheists.org/activism/resources/about-atheism, Accessed March 22, 2019.
5 ibid.
6 ibid.
7 ibid.
8 “Atheism and Agnosticism,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/atheism-agnosticism/, Accessed March 22, 2019.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

A Brief Proof of the Holy Spirit's Personhood

by Hiram R. Díaz III

§ I. Introduction

Among those who oppose the Trinity, there are some who argue that the Holy Spirit is not a Divine Person co-equal with the Father and the Son but is, instead, a force identified with the Father’s, as well as the Son’s, activity in the world. Problematically, however, the Scriptures repeatedly attribute activities to the Spirit of God that are personal in nature. Some of the key Scriptural texts that explicitly attribute personal activity to the Holy Spirit have been dealt with elsewhere,1 and, therefore, will not be examined here. Instead, we will be examining a very brief exchange between the Lord Jesus Christ and his opponents in which the Personhood of the Holy Spirit is a logically necessary consequence of Christ’s argumentation.

§ II. An Unclean Spirit vs. The Holy Spirit

In the Synoptic Gospels, it is thrice reported that Christ was accused of casting out demons by the power of the devil. Let us read these reports and then examine their meaning and what their meaning necessarily implies.
Matthew 12:22-32 
Then a demon-oppressed man who was blind and mute was brought to him, and he healed him, so that the man spoke and saw. And all the people were amazed, and said, “Can this be the Son of David?” But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebub, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.” Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or how can someone enter a strong man's house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house. Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. 
Mark 3:22-30

Then a demon-oppressed man who was blind and mute was brought to him, and he healed him, so that the man spoke and saw. And all the people were amazed, and said, “Can this be the Son of David?” But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebub, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.” Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or how can someone enter a strong man's house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house. Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. 
Luke 11:14-23 
Now he was casting out a demon that was mute. When the demon had gone out, the mute man spoke, and the people marveled. But some of them said, “He casts out demons by Beelzebub, the prince of demons,” while others, to test him, kept seeking from him a sign from heaven. But he, knowing their thoughts, said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls. And if Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? For you say that I cast out demons by Beelzebub. And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are safe; but when one stronger than he attacks him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his spoil. Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.

In Matthew and Mark, the Lord Jesus’ work is said to have spurred some of the people to ask “Can this be the Son of David?” Luke does not record the people asking this question, but his report is in agreement with what was occurring in this context, for in it our Lord, God’s anointed King, is destroying the kingdom of Satan. Christ is the Stronger Man who binds the strong man (i.e. devil) and plunders his (i.e. the devil’s) house. Christ does this by the “finger of God” (Luke 11:20), which is to say “the Spirit of God” (Matt 12:28 )/ “the Holy Spirit” (Mark 3:29).

Contextually, therefore, there are two spirits, corresponding to two kingdoms, in diametrical opposition to one another. The devil is identified as “an unclean spirit” (Mark 3:30), “the prince of demons” (Matt 12:24, Mark 3:22, & Luke 11:15), and is implicitly identified by Christ as a personal entity in Luke 11:24-26. 

Speaking of what occurs after demons are exorcised from unbelievers, the Lord Jesus declares –
When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and finding none it says, “I will return to my house from which I came.” And when it comes, it finds the house swept and put in order. Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there. And the last state of that person is worse than the first.
What is clear from these texts is that spirits are not forces but immaterial, self-conscious, morally accountable persons. They differentiate themselves from others (e.g. humans2 and other spirits), and exercise volition as regards various activities (e.g. deciding whether or not to inhabit a lost person's body).

Rather than performing miracles by the unclean spirit Beelzebub, the Lord Jesus Christ reveals that it is by the Spirit of God the he (Christ) “casts out demons” (Matt 12:28 & Luke 11:20). It is blasphemous, therefore, to attribute Jesus’ miracles to the an unclean spirit. Those who attribute the work of God to the devil are guilty of the unforgivable sin. The enemies of Christ are identifying the Holy Spirit as the unclean spirit Beelzebub, i.e. an unclean, immaterial, self-conscious, morally accountable person. The Holy Spirit is not a force, therefore, but an immaterial, self-conscious, and morally accountable person. Christ affirms that the Spirit of God is a person, not a force like electricity.

§ III. Implications of Christ’s Pneumatology

The language used by the Lord Jesus here is significant in a number of ways. Firstly, Christ’s contrasting of the Spirit of God and Beelzebub indicates that his hearers also understood that the Spirit of God was a distinct person, and not a force/power like electricity. Unitarians who assume that the Jewish people did not view the Holy Spirit as a distinct person are hereby shown to be wrong. Secondly, by identifying the Spirit of God as “the finger of God,” Jesus implies that Old Testament passages regarding “the finger of God” should be understood as referring to the Holy Spirit, which is to say a distinct divine person. 

The phrase “finger of God” shows us precisely three times in the Old Testament. We encounter the phrase in the following passages –
Exodus 8:19 – Then the magicians said to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God.” But Pharaoh's heart was hardened, and he would not listen to them, as the LORD had said.
Exodus 31:18 – And he gave to Moses, when he had finished speaking with him on Mount Sinai, the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written with the finger of God.
Deuteronomy 9:10 – And the LORD gave me the two tablets of stone written with the finger of God, and on them were all the words that the LORD had spoken with you on the mountain out of the midst of the fire on the day of the assembly.
The Holy Spirit inscribes the law of God (Exo 31:18 & Deut 9:10) and performs miracles (Exo 8:19), and does so specifically in relation to the deliverance of God’s people from the kingdom of Pharaoh. Christ’s identification of the Holy Spirit as the finger of God is rich with meaning, then, drawing our attention to God’s deliverance of his people from Egypt by the hand of his unique prophet.3 Christ’s working of miracles and his deliverance of prophetic utterances by “the finger of God” should have been noticed by his enemies as the fulfillment of prophecy regarding the prophet like Moses whom Yahweh would raise up.4 They, however, completely failed to see this truth.

Thirdly, while the Lord Jesus ascribes divine power and personhood to the Holy Spirit, he does not identify the Spirit of God as the Father. This is evident from his declaration that
...every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.5
Note the distinctions here between the Father and the Son and the Spirit. While the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit may all be blasphemed against, it is only blasphemy of the Holy Spirit that is unforgivable. Consequently, if blasphemy against the Father is forgivable, then the Father cannot be the Holy Spirit. Likewise, if blasphemy against the Son is forgivable, then the Son cannot be the Holy Spirit. This is not only a refutation of unitarianism proper, but also of the heresy of modalism/oneness theology.

§ IV. Conclusion

Given the context of the Lord Jesus’ interaction with those who claimed he was working miracles by the power of the devil, we see clearly that the Holy Spirit is not an impersonal force. The Holy Spirit is a person, but he is neither the Father nor the Son. Furthermore, we see that the Holy Spirit is neither greater nor lesser than the Father and the Son in honor, dignity, and authority, for blasphemy against him incurs an eternal punishment from which no one can deliver. Lastly, we see that the Spirit of God is God, for the sin of blasphemy may be committed against the Father, the Son, or himself, implying that these Three persons occupy a distinct ontological category excluding all others.


2 Scripture, in fact, refers to men as “spirits” in Heb 12:9 & 12:23, further underscoring the personal nature of spirit, in contradiction to the unitarian belief in spirit as an impersonal force.
3 cf. Num 12:6-8.
4 cf. Deut 18:15-22.
5 Matt 12:31-332.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Did Paul Identify Jesus as the Angel of the Lord?

by Michael R. Burgos Jr.


I have labored elsewhere to demonstrate the robust proto-trinitarianism within the OT, particularly as it relates to the divine angel. Given the trajectory of the work, there remains a significant need for continued research into how the proto-trinitarianism of the OT was integrated by the Holy Spirit into the NT. I have already considered the prologue of the fourth gospel, Jude 1:5, and 1st Cor. 10:1-5 in this regard. In this article, I turned my attention to Galatians 4:14 in order to answer the question, "Did Paul identify Jesus as the Angel of the Lord?" 

4:14 and though my condition was a trial to you, you did not scorn or despise me, but received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus. 
4:14 καὶ τὸν πειρασμὸν ὑμῶν ἐν τῇ σαρκί μου οὐκ ἐξουθενήσατε οὐδὲ ἐξεπτύσατε, ἀλλ᾽ ὡς ἄγγελον θεοῦ ἐδέξασθέ με, ὡς χριστὸν Ἰησοῦν.
Translators have supplied the referent for the Galatians' “trial.” Paul’s condition was the “illness of the flesh” mentioned in v. 13, and what is here described their “the trial in my flesh” (ton peirasmon tē sarki mou). The term peirasmos may be translated either “trial,” “test,” or “temptation” as directed by the context.1 Temptations are either internal or external. Internal temptations are brought about when one is “lured and enticed by his own desire.”2 External temptations occur from without, when an agent does the tempting as in Jesus’ temptation in the desert.3 In this case, the Galatians were placed under a burden due to Paul’s illness, and instead of entertaining the temptation to reject him, they treated this situation as a trial and an opportunity to bless the apostle.

“You did not scorn or despise me” (ouk exouthenēsate oude exeptusate). 
When Paul was among the Galatians, they did not “scorn” him. The verb exoutheneō is translated variously: “treat with contempt,”4 “to reject,”5 “to despise,”6 “to have no standing,”7 “to be of no account.”8 It is defined as “to shown one’s by one’s attitude or manner of treatment that an entity has no merit of worth, disdain.”9 The accompanying term translated “despise,” ekptyō is a hapax. The term originally referred to the act of spitting upon someone as a means of expressing contempt, or to ward off demons or sickness.10 Etymologically, the term is a compound word comprised of ek meaning “from” or “out of” and ptyō which refers to the act of spiting. Thus the term is literally, “to spit out.”11 Over time this term came to take a figurative meaning, referring to the act of loathing or disdaining someone so as to spurn them. Some interpreters push the term back to its former meaning so as to identify Paul’s “illness of the flesh” as a form of epilepsy, which is said to have been a product of demon possession.12 However, such an interpretation rests on speculation. The only thing the text implies is that this illness is a fleshly (i.e., bodily) ailment and that it potentially could have turned off the Galatians such that they despised him.

“But received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus” (all’ hōs angelon Theou edezasthe me, hōs Christon Iēsoun). 

Instead of despising Paul because of his illness of the flesh, the Galatians did him “no wrong” (v. 13) and received him. The adversative conjunction alla confirms an intended contrast. Paul is reminding the Galatians of their former hospitality in the hope that they will remember who he is, and how they loved each other. 



What Paul meant by “received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus” is of considerable debate. The first question is whether the anarthrous hōs angelon Theou should be understood definitely (i.e., "as the angel of God") or indefinitely (i.e., “as an angel of God"). Wallace has argued that the essentially synonymous phrase angelos Kuriou be rendered definitely throughout the NT as though it always refers to a particular angel.13 This viewpoint is not derived from a grammatical or lexical basis, but from his assumption that the angel of the LORD in the OT is the same as the angel of the Lord in the NT. Wallace concluded that the Angel of the Lord in the OT and NT is an agent who represents Yahweh and not Yahweh himself.14


There is however, a substantial reason for distinguishing the Angel of the LORD in the OT from lesser angels in the NT. The angel of the LORD is none other than the God the Son. The appellation “angel” does not indicate the particular ontology of a subject either in the OT or NT, but identifies one’s function as a messenger.15 In fact, God himself is identified as an “angel.”16 The angel of the LORD is identified as God/Yahweh himself consistently throughout the entirety of the OT.17 So too, a trinitarian relationship is depicted in the OT between the divine angel and his Father. 

Indeed, the biblical authors make every effort to communicate that we should not understand the angel of the LORD as an created agent. Take for instance the sending of God’s angel in Exodus 23:20-33. There, God warns his covenant people saying, “do not rebel against him, for he will not pardon your transgression, for my name is in him” (v. 21). Yahweh commands the Israelites to “obey his voice and do all that I say” (v. 22), and calls the angel “the LORD your God,” saying, “You shall serve the LORD your God, and he will bless your bread and your water, and I will take sickness away from among you” (v. 25). The third person verb translated “he will bless” (ūberak) implies a personal distinction between the angel and Yahweh, while the phrase, “the LORD your God” identifies the angel as fully God. Consider also Zechariah’s courtroom vision in Zec. 3:1-5. There, the angel of the LORD is identified as Yahweh and yet distinct from Yahweh by the writer:

Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the Angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. And the LORD said to Satan, "The LORD rebuke you, O Satan! The LORD who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is not this a brand plucked from the fire?

The presence of the unique divine angel throughout the OT cannot be explained by means of a created agent without obliterating any meaningful way of upholding the prohibitions against idolatry.18 

The angel of the LORD is so frequently identified as the key salvific actor in the OT, if the angel is a creature, there would be no legitimate means to distinguish God from his agent. The angel of the LORD was understood by the OT people of God as completely unique and equal with God.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

A Look at Three Passages Oneness Pentecostals Use to Demonstrate Jesus is the Father


by Michael R. Burgos Jr., Ph.D.

Oneness Pentecostals have attempted to marshal evidence that “Jesus is the Father” by appealing to only a handful of biblical texts. This attempt itself divulges the weakness of the Oneness assertion since out of the entirety of the NT, Oneness Pentecostals can find less than half a dozen texts which teach the foundational assertion of their Christology. The classic text Oneness adherents point to is Isaiah 9:6. I have written on this text at length elsewhere,1 demonstrating that the phrase “eternal father” (Heb. avi ab) no more identifies the Messiah as God the Father than say, the biblical names Abijam (“father of light”) or Abigail (“father of joy”). Rather, the appellation “father of eternity” is intended to characterize the Son of God as having something Oneness Pentecostals deny, namely, an eternal existence.

The second most utilized of these “Jesus is the Father” texts is John 14:6-18. The difficulty Oneness adherents face with this text is twofold: First, in order to understand this passage to teach that Jesus is the Father, one would have to atomize the text and divorce it from the balance of the NT. Take for instance the parable of the wicked tenants in Luke 20:9-18; Matt. 21:33-46; Mark 12:1-12. In this parable Jesus depicts himself as one who is numerically and personally distinct both in terms of his sending and death. Second, in order to derive the notion that “Jesus is the Father” from John 14, one would have to omit those many portions of the chapter which explicitly depict Jesus as being personally distinct from the Father. 

For example, in v. 2 Jesus states that he will go and prepare a place for his disciples at his Father’s house, in v. 12 Jesus states again that he is going to his Father, in v. 13 Jesus states that the Father will be glorified in the Son, and in v. 16 Jesus states that he will ask the Father for another helper, namely, the precious Holy Spirit. How then do orthodox interpreters understand statements like, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (v. 9)? Historically, Christians have understood this text to indicate the fact that Jesus is the perfect and final Revealer of God. This is why John characterizes the Son as God the Word. So too, this is precisely the same reason why the author of Hebrews depicts the Son as God as the perfect revelation of God to man and the exact imprint of the Father’s nature.2 Hence, a consistent interpretation of John 14 indicates that Philip needed no other revelation of the Father since Jesus is the co-equal God who makes the Father known.3

The other main passage utilized by Oneness adherents is 1 John 3:1-5. V. 2 states, “Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” Similarly, v. 5 states, “You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin.” Oneness interpreters argue that because the immediate antecedent is God the Father (vv. 1-2), this subsequently implies that the Father (i.e., Jesus) appeared to take away sins. However, the means by which one determines the subject of a pronoun is are the pronoun’s antecedent or postcedent. The pronoun in 3:2 is linked topically and contextually to the pronouns in 2:28-29:
And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming. If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him.
That the subject of 2:28-29 is Jesus the Son is clear since v. 18 begins a section on antichrists and those who deny Jesus Christ and by implication, deny the Father. The verb phaneroō occurs nine times in this epistle and every single time it refers to the Son.4 Additionally, the statement in v. 25, “And this is the promise that he made to us—eternal life” undoubtedly refers to the many places wherein Jesus promised eternal life to those who believed in both himself and the one who sent him.5 Moreover, while the Son of God is the indirect antecedent in chapter 2, and he is the immediate postcedent in v. 8. In v. 8 phaneroō is again applied to the Son. Thus, a more consistent reading recognizes that John did not imply that Jesus is the Father, but that John assumed his readers would know better than to conflate the identity of the Father and Son. 

In conclusion, the few NT passages Oneness Pentecostals call upon to demonstrate that “Jesus is the Father” demonstrate only a flawed hermeneutic. The only exegetical method which affords the Oneness reading of these texts is the one which presupposes Oneness Pentecostalism from the outset.


1 Against Oneness Pentecostalism: An Exegetical-Theological Critique, 2nd Ed., (Winchester: Church Militant Pub., 2016), 98-101.
2 Heb. 1:1-3. 
3 John 5:28; 1:18 resp. 
4 1 John 1:2; 2:19; 2:28; 3:2; 3:5; 3:8; 4:9. 
5 John 3:15; 3:36; 5:24; 12:44; 20:31; cf. John 17:5; 1 John 5:9-13.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Athanasius: The Coherence of His Thought [Review]

by Hiram R. Diaz III



Church history is a subject that, sadly, many Protestants fail to study. This is not only problematic given the propensity of heretics to distort that history,1 but it also can be a hindrance to our present day theological systematizing. The situation isn’t helped by the many pressing time constraints placed upon us by our other, admittedly, more important duties. Not many have the time to read through the entirety of ancient church fathers in a way that can inform our defense of the truth against heretics, as well as provide us with a robust and thought-provoking theological starting point for our study of systematics.

If the job has been done, moreover, why try to reinvent the wheel? Patristic scholars have produced many works in this field, secondary sources that have undergone the scrutiny of other patristic scholars and have held their own as trustworthy guides to understanding the fathers. Khaled Anatolios, a leading Athanasian scholar, has produced not only a clear and concise biography of Athanasius, but an equally concise and clear explanation of his theological system in his work Athanasius: The Coherence of His Thought. In it, Anatolios expertly demonstrates the consistency, coherence, and brilliance of Athanasius’ system of theology, deriving his conclusions not from a single text, nor from a simplistic word study limited to a select few texts written by Athanasius, but from the entirety of Athanasius’ corpus.

Monday, January 7, 2019

The Light of the Mind: St. Augustine's Theory of Knowledge [Review]


by Hiram R. Diaz III



How sensory experience relates to the acquisition of knowledge, especially of universals and absolutes, has always been a major problem in philosophy. Is there a place for the senses in our acquisition of knowledge? If so, then what is that role? If all that we know is reducible to basic sensory experiences, then can we know what is definitionally supra-sensible (i.e. God)? Indeed, can we believe in supra-sensible realities at all if our knowledge is entirely derived from our sensory experiences? Contrariwise, if all knowledge is not derived from sensory experience, then do the senses play any role in the acquisition of knowledge? If they do, then what exactly is that role? 


These questions might seem to be abstruse and impractical, but they are of direct relevance to the Christian life. No one understood this better, perhaps, than St. Augustine. The bishop of Hippo’s writing often touches upon the subject of epistemology and its spiritual significance (e.g. Concerning the Teacher & The Confessions of St. Augustine). However, given the scope of Augustine’s canon, as well as its depth, coming to a fully-orbed understanding of the bishop’s epistemology can prove to be a difficult task for most non-academics. 

Ronald H. Nash’s The Light of the Mind: St. Augustine’s Theory of Knowledge helpfully provides those interested in the subject of Augustinian epistemology with an in-depth yet accessible presentation of Augustine’s theory of knowledge. Citing from a wide variety of primary sources, Nash explains the bishop’s hierarchy of epistemological sources, ranging from sensory experience to the contemplation of God. Nash also resolves the apparent contradiction between Augustine’s early rejection of sensory experience as a means of acquiring knowledge in books like Against the Academics and Concerning the Teacher, and his positive remarks concerning sensory experience as a source of knowledge in other places throughout his corpus. 

Given the importance that epistemology plays in the realms of our quotidian affairs as well as the highest academic pursuits, The Light of the Mind is a good introduction to the well thought out epistemology of one of the church’s brightest theological minds. Whether or not Augustine achieves his goal of tying together sensory perception and the contemplation of God is up to the reader to decide. Yet what can be agreed upon by all sides is that the bishop’s efforts are worthy of examination and consideration. Nash has, therefore, done the church a great favor by systematizing the bishop’s thoughts, from many primary sources, in a single, accessible, and short volume. It is well worth a serious read.