Friday, November 29, 2019

Word of God Speak: A Response to Professor Bobby Killmon

Bobby Killmon is the Dean of Biblical Studies at Indiana Bible College, a Oneness Pentecostal institution. Killmon wrote a blog post entitled John 1 Is Not a Separate Person of a Trinity wherein he has sought to debunk the notion that “the Word/Logos in John 1 is not a separate person of a trinity.” I was pleased to find this article, and I assumed that Mr. Killmon, a professor of biblical studies, would provide good interaction with the biblical text. However, upon examination, I noticed that this article affords almost no interaction with the prologue of the fourth gospel and merely rehearses the well-trodden arguments of Oneness Pentecostals and other theological unitarians. 

Killmon begins his article by asking, 
“Should we use 2nd-4th century creeds and philosophical developments are [sic] how they understood the ‘Word’ in Jn. 1?”
He answered, 
“In order to do this we must dismiss the entire OT usage of the term word and all material outside of Scripture used by Jews of the time.” 
Killmon has implied that the manner in which trinitarian Christians arrive at their understanding of the λόγος is by merely parroting the creeds and some ambiguous “philosophical developments.” This notion, however, is negated by a vast body of exegetical literature that has been produced by Christians for nearly two thousand years. The means by which we should understand John’s Word is an examination of what John actually wrote. Only then, after apprehending what the apostle has said, can we then move on to the analogy of Scripture. Ironically, however, Killmon never interacts with the prologue. 

Killmon then went on to appeal to the utilization of the term “Word” as it appears in the OT:
Numbers 22:38 says, “…the word that God putteth in my mouth, that shall I speak.” Jer. 23:9 says, “…because of the LORD, and because of the words of his holiness.” These references are clearly about the utterances of the prophet spoken by divine inspiration. Even though this “word” of the Lord is spoken of as independent of God, no one can seriously claim these show a second person. This is being readily admitted today by many non-Oneness scholars, such as noted Cambridge scholar James Dunn. Regarding passages that seem to show the Word being independent of God, Dunn states, “…that is more an accident of idiom than anything else.” He further argues, “But for the prophet the word he spoke under inspiration was no independent entity divorced from Yahweh.” Even Rudolf Bultmann says, “God’s word is God…” Dunn affirms this too stating, “God’s word is God’s act … the manifestation of his power, the real manifestation of God.”
Killmon should feel acute cognitive dissonance in his appeal to both Bultmann and Dunn. Neither of these men shares virtually any of the theological commitments possessed by Killmon, including any orthodox understanding of biblical inspiration or inerrancy. In any case, I suppose Killmon believes ‘The enemy of my enemy is my friend.’ 

One would think that learning what John means when he wrote about the λόγος would require that one examine what he actually wrote. Instead, Killmon appeals to a handful of texts in the OT, which are essentially irrelevant to what John wrote. Killmon has argued that since the term “word” is used in the OT to refer to something impersonal (e.g., a prophetic word), John cannot, therefore, intend to identify the Word as a person distinct from God. This sort of argumentation is surprising from a “Dean of Biblical Studies.” Taking the use of a term as it is found in two texts within the OT and imposing that definition upon another text without actually considering what that author wrote is both illogical and eisegetical by definition. Using Killmon’s method, one could take the term άρτος (“bread”) as it occurs in the Septuagint and insist that Jesus Christ is made up of flour, water, and yeast.1 Such an interpretive method is absurd and commits essentially the same error that Killmon accuses trinitarians of committing.

There are multiple pericopes within the OT which describe a personal Word. For example, Genesis 15:1 states that “the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision.” Abram calls this Word, “O Lord God” in v. 2. If the Word is identified as “Lord God” and appears and speaks with Abram, the Word is necessarily personal. In 1 Samuel 3 we are told that the Word of the Lord was revealed to Samuel and “stood” by him (vv. 7, 10). The chapter concludes in v. 21 with, “And the Lord appeared again at Shiloh, for the Lord revealed himself to Samuel at Shiloh by the word of the Lord.” This Word is distinguished from God (v. 21), speaks of God in the third person (v. 13) and is said to have “appeared” and “stood” with Samuel. Clearly, this Word is personal. 

While there are many other OT texts which one could marshal in order to further disprove Killmon’s narrow definition of either dabar or logos, I will now turn to his assertion regarding second temple Jewish literature. Killmon continued, 
Scripture speaks clearly in Psalms and the Prophets of the Word being God Himself acting in creation, in judgment, and in salvation. This is simply OT language used in its right and typical function. Even G. F. Moore says, “It is an error to see in such personifications an approach to personalization. Nowhere either in the Bible or in extra-canonical literature of the Jews is the word of God a personal agent or on the way to come such.” Catch that. This isn’t about PERSONS! Further, NOWHERE in any Jewish literature of the time does saying it’s persons exit. Dunn further admits that, “…a considerable consensus has been achieved by the majority of contemporary scholars would agree that the principal background against which the Logos prologue (Jn. 1) must be set is the OT itself…” The OT, not later doctrinal development. We are against this interpretation. We are anti-trinitarian in this sense.
Not only does the OT describe the Word in personal terms, there is a vast body of second temple literature which does as well. The Aramaic Targums include many passages which identify the Memra (i.e., the “Word”) in many of the same ways the NT identifies the Son of God. Targum Jerusalem translates Genesis 1:26, “And the Word of the Lord created man in his likeness…” In the same way that John identifies the Word as the one through whom are things were made (1:3), Targum Onkelos states, “And the world was made by his Word.” Whereas John associates the Word with light in John 1:4, Targum Neofiti states, “The earth was void and empty and darkness was spread over the face of the abyss, and the Word of the Lord was the light.” The Targums interpret Genesis 15:1 similarly: “Fear not…My Word will be your shield.” 

Some interpreters have argued that the Targumic Memra is merely a linguistic device that was utilized in order to distance God by means of circumlocution.2 The difficulty with this view is that the Targums translate the OT Angel of the Lord, who is both identified as Yahweh and is clearly portrayed as personally distinct from God,3 as the Word. Thus, if one asserts that the Angel of Yahweh is personal, then necessarily, the Targumic Memra must be similarly understood.4

Killmon concluded,
As one man poignantly said, “Right readers must read rightly.” Necessarily then, we must first approach the Bible correctly as the inerrant Word of God. Then, we must read rightly or interpret it correctly by not presupposing our own ideas and reading them into the Scripture. The “Word of the Lord” must be defined by the OT usage, not a post-New Testament invention. The only way one can see a trinity in the reference to the “Word” in John 1 is to presuppose it, ignore the OT usage, interpret it a new way, and disregard the first century usage as well. This is telling “eis-egesis” (reading your meaning into the Bible) not true exegesis (drawing the meaning out of the text’s intention). Which approach is Christian? Which treats Scripture as the inerrant Word of God? The way we use Scripture tells on us. I want to not only say I love and revere His Word, but in my practice demonstrate this is true.
In the final analysis, Killmon commits the very sin that he accuses orthodox Christians of committing, namely, he imports an interpretation upon a text from elsewhere and forces that text to fit his pre-conceived paradigm. His assessment of the use of “word” in the OT and in second temple literature is shallow and inaccurate, betraying even a cursory understanding. Killmon never provided an exegesis of the relevant text and instead appealed to two other texts whose relevance consists only in the fact that the term “word” appeared in them. That isn’t exegesis. Rather, such an approach is, ironically, intensely eisegetical.

1 John 6:48.
2 Martin McNamara, Targum and the Testament Revisited, 2nd Ed., (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010), 162.
3 Gen. 16:7-13; Zec. 1:12; 3:1-2.
4 For a more in-depth consideration of the Targums and for an exegesis of John’s prologue see Michael R. Burgos ed., Our God is Triune: Essays in Biblical Theology (Torrington, CT: Church Militant Pub., 2018), 106-42.