Saturday, April 17, 2021

An Exposition of Psalm 2

 by Michael R. Burgos

Before an exposition of Psalm 2, a consideration of how OT messianic prophecy is fulfilled in NT is required. Michael Rydelnik has provided an excellent description of the various interpretive approaches to Messianic prophecy with the modern era.[1] A few of these approaches are incompatible with evangelical conviction (i.e., historical fulfillment and reflecture fulfillment) and require one to discard divine inspiration altogether and even the concept of prophecy. Of the remaining approaches, two find
the greatest traction among evangelicals, namely, dual fulfillment and direct fulfillment. Of these two, the approach of Erwin W. Hengstenberg is, in the opinion of the author, the most successful.

Refreshingly, Hengstenberg viewed critical approaches to Scripture as hazardous to the church and instead sought to view OT messianic prophecy through the lens of the NT.[2] Presupposed in his approach is an affirmation of progressive revelation wherein the clarity and specificity of OT predictions increases from Genesis to Malachi. On this view, the NT is the superior revelation in terms of its ability to authoritatively interpret OT prophecies. Hence, in the Psalter “There is no direct mention of the person of the Messiah…the words, when considered in their full import, point, indirectly, to Him.”[3]

John Sailhamer has articulated a similar approach. While he too affirmed that the OT ought to be read through the lens of the NT, he has argued that the final form of the OT is already intentionally messianic and is fulfilled and confirmed in Jesus of Nazareth.[4] Just as the prophets feature commentary upon Pentateuchal events, the NT is a commentary upon the messianic prophecies of the OT. Further, Sailhamer has argued that the OT also functions in this way as it sheds light upon the NT and thus whereas the OT is read through the NT, the NT is read through the OT.[5]

With both Hengstenberg and Sailhamer, there is no intermediary fulfillment with OT messianic prophecy. Jesus is the intended direct fulfillment of OT messianic hope. An implication of this approach is that the difficulties in placing, for example, Davidic kings as the first fulfillment in the Psalms, evaporate. This approach also seems to be the one taken in the NT (e.g., Acts 4:25-26) as well as the patristics.[6] Messianic prophecies are said to be fulfilled in Christ without mention of intermediate fulfillment (e.g., Matt. 1:23; Heb. 1:5). 

Like the first Psalm, Psalm 2 does not feature a title or an identification of its author.[7] Instead, Psalm 2 begins by posing a two-part question to its readers both original and modern: “Why do the nations rage…?”[8] “Nations” (goyim) is a classic synonym for the Gentile world and the term generally refers to those outside of the covenantal blessings enjoyed by Israel within the Psalter (e.g., 9:5-20; 44:11; 79:6). Moving from the general to the specific, the noun is defined in v. 2 to refer to the officials and rulers of the unbelieving world. The verbs in v. 1, “rage” and “plot,” are in parallel essentially connoting the same thing, namely, muttering discontentment, conspiracy, and defiance of Yahweh and his Christ.

Goldingay noted that “One Jewish tradition treated Pss. 1 and 2 as one Psalm, and this reflects a number of points of connection between the two…Whereas people of insight talk about Yhwh’s teaching (1:2), nations and peoples also talk of something—emptiness (2:1).”[9] This tradition may be reflected in the rendering offered in the Septuagint: “Why were the nations insolent and the people meditated on empty things?” While the blessed man of Psalm 1 ceaselessly meditates upon Yahweh’s instructions, the nations meditate on that which is “fruitless.”[10]

The question posed by the psalmist in v. 1 is “Why” and it is indicative of amazement. The plots of the nations and their rulership are incoherent since none “is possible of realization.”[11] Their plots are vane and their rebellion ineffective as the object of their disloyalty is the Lord who determines the outcome of both the righteous and wicked (Ps. 1:5-6).  Yet, “the kings of the earth” “take their stand”[12] and the “rulers,” instead of consulting the oracles of Yahweh, take counsel with themselves (cf. Ps. 1:1). The content of their rebellion is explicit in v. 3: “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.” The cohortative “let us” is frequently used to signal significant acts of rebellion in the OT (Gen. 11:3-4; 19:32, v. 4; Judg. 16:2; Ps. 83:12) and here it is the ordinance of Yahweh that is heralded by his people that are described as strictures to be broken. Whereas the blessed man of Psalm 1 derives his sustenance from the ordinance of Yahweh, the wicked seek to throw off the bonds of his instruction and sovereign rule.

To the consternation of the kings of the earth, “He who sits in the heavens laughs” (v. 4).[13] Here Yahweh is described as the one who is far exalted among the futile plans of men. Far from a legitimate threat, the rebellion of the nations is a humorous trifle to God.  While the nations devote their time to futility, “The Lord holds them in derision.”   While initially met with laughter, Yahweh reacts with mockery and anger: “Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury” (v. 5). Yahweh is so far exalted among the kings of the earth that “The very utterance of his words instills terror.”[14]  The content of Yahweh’s terrorizing speech is the announcement of the installation of his king: “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my Holy hill” (v. 6). His king will be the arbiter of justice and allegiance to him will be indiscernible from allegiance to Yahweh himself (vv. 11-12).

V. 7 marks a change from the third person to the first person wherein Yahweh’s Son says “I will tell of the decree: The LORD said to me, ‘You are my Son; today I have begotten you.’” Interpreters who take a dual-fulfillment approach tend to argue that this language refers to God’s adoption of the Davidic king and thus the verb yalad refers not to the king’s birth but to his coronation, marking the start of a changed relationship between the king and Yahweh.[15] However, the manner in which this verse is quoted and applied in the NT makes it clear that it is intended as a metaphor for exaltation. One need not invoke dual-fulfillment to get there.[16] At Acts 13:33, (“this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus, as also it is written in the second Psalm, ‘You are my Son, today I have begotten you.’”) Psalm 2:7 is used to describe Jesus’ resurrection. Paul gave a similar sentiment at Romans 1:4: “[Jesus was] declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead” (cf. Matt. 3:17; 17:5). The prologue of Hebrews (v. 5) invokes Psalm 2:7 as part of a catena of passages marshaled to demonstrate the supremacy and preeminence of the Son. Hebrews 5:5 utilizes Psalm 2:7 as evidence that the Son did not engage in self-exaltation but that the Father exalted him. Subsequently, the NT interprets Psalm 2:7 as metaphorical language intended to identify the exaltation of the referent and not as a literal begetting. The Son is said to have been adopted in a metaphorical sense to emphasize his unique ‘chosenness’ as Yahweh’s regent.

This observation has considerable Christological import as it relates to subordinationist interpreters who find in Psalm 2:7 evidence of an exclusively human Jesus. For example, Anthony Buzzard and Charles Hunting claim that Psalm 2:7 is a reference to Jesus’ conception (Luke 1:35)[17] but fail to recognize that the text is never used to refer to Christ’s actual birth and is instead always used as a proof-text of Christ’s exaltation, even as it relates to his resurrection. Never do they explain how the identification of Christ’s conception would bolster an argument for his supremacy and uniqueness as in Hebrews 1:5 and 5:5.

The same nations who have chosen to rebel will become a heritage for Yahweh’s king: “Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession” (v. 8). So favored is the king that he “does not ask for anything from God; God merely promises that the king may ask and God will grant it.”[18] This is followed by Yahweh’s prophetic declaration of the Son’s agency in subduing the nations: “You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel” (v. 9). The fragility of the rebels is here contrasted with the unyielding strength of Yahweh’s Messiah (cf. Rev. 2:24; 19:15). He will subdue the nations in conquest as the Israelite kings before him, especially David, only all of the nations shall be his possession. Not only with the Son possess the earth, but he will also possess it in perpetuity.

The warning in vv. 10-12, particularly the adverb attah, marks a return to the psalmist’s narration and the concluding imperative. Since God has established his plan, wisdom requires a change of course: “Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth” (v. 10). The coronation of the Messiah affords God’s enemies an opportunity to change: “Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled” (vv. 11-12). Like the threat from a king who has incomparable military supremacy, the nations are warned to pay tribute or perish.[19]

The phrase “kiss the Son” connotes both approval of his rulership (cf. 1 Sam. 10:1) and allegiance (cf. 1 Kgs. 19:18). It also signifies love and a level of intimacy that goes well beyond formal obeisance. Either one embraces the Son and signals their love for him by means of a kiss or one will experience his wrath and die (cf. Ps. 1:6). When it comes to God’s royal Son, there is no neutrality (cf. Matt. 12:30). Moreover, one must make their choice immediate as “his wrath is quickly kindled.”

Psalm 2 concludes with the claim, “Blessed are all who take refuge in him” (v. 12). Like the blessed man of Psalm 1, the blessed man of Psalm 2 is the one who finds safety in the statutes of God. Those who, instead of attempting a futile rebellion, find sanctuary in the Son are those who live according to Yahweh’s commandments. The blessed of Psalms 1 and 2 are one and the same.

[1] Rydelnik, “Interpretive Approaches to Messianic Prophecy” in Rydelnik, Michael, Blum, Edwin eds., The Moody Handbook of Messianic (Chicago, IL: Moody, 2019), 73-89.

[2] E. W. Hengstenberg, Christology of the Old Testament and a Commentary on Messianic Predictions, 2nd ed., trans. Theodore Meyer (Edinburgh, UK: T & T Clark, 1856), 32.

[3] Ibid., 243.

[4] John Sailhamer, 2001. “The Messiah and the Hebrew Bible,” JETS, 44.1, 14.

[5] Ibid., 22.

[6] For examples of patristic affirmation of the direct fulfillment of Ps. 2 see Justin Martyr, Dial. 88 (ANF 1:244); Irenaeus, Haer. 4.21 (ANF 1:493); Clement of Alexandria, Protr. 1.7 (ANF 2:224); Tertullian, Apol. 1.12 (ANF 3:168); Origen, Cels. 4.8 (ANF 4:168); Cyril, Cat. 6 (NPNF 2.7:66).

[7] The authoritative apostolic interpretation (Acts 4:25-26) is that David is the human author of Psalm 2.

[8] All biblical citations unless otherwise noted are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016).

[9] John Goldingay, Psalms, Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms, Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006), 94-5. See also Cole’s extensive and successful argument in favor of viewing Pss. 1-2 as a two part introduction to the Psalter. Robert L. Cole, “Psalms 1-2” in Michael Rydelnik, Edwin Blum eds., The Moody Handbook of Messianic Prophecy (Chicago, IL: Moody Pub., 2018), 477-89. Tantalizingly, there is a variant at Acts 13:33 which calls Ps. 2 “the first Psalm” (tō prōtō psalmō) in two MSS (D; 1175). While not a viable reading, it probably reflects a relatively common second temple viewpoint.

[10]Κενός” in Franco Montanari, ed., The Brill Dictionary of Ancient Greek (Leiden, NL; Boston: Brill, 2015).

[11] Charles A. Briggs, Emilie Grace Briggs, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Book of Psalms, International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh, UK: T & T Clark, 2000), 14

[12] HALOT, 427.

[13] The contrast is between the “kings of the earth” (v. 2) and the Lord who is seated in heaven (v. 4). Thus, a better rendering would bring out the sense of the participle yasab as in the New International Version: “The One enthroned in the heavens laughs.”

[14] Peter C. Craigie, Marvin E. Tate, Psalms 1-50, Word Biblical Commentary, 2nd Ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004), 66.

[15] Bratcher and Reyburn similarly conclude, “Today is the day the king was enthroned.” Robert G. Bratcher and William David Reyburn, A Translator’s Handbook on the Book of Psalms, UBS Handbook Series (New York: United Bible Societies, 1991), 29. Older commentators tend to argue that “today I have begotten you” refers to eternal generation as with Spurgeon: “Here is a noble proof of the glorious Divinity of our Immanuel.” The difficulty with this view is that it ignores the manner in which Ps. 2:7 is utilized in the NT. C. H. Spurgeon, 02/1865. “Expositions of the Psalms: Psalm II,” The Sword and the Trowel, 55.

[16] Cf. Stephen J. Wellum, God the Son Incarnate: The Doctrine of Christ (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016), 99-100.

[17] Anthony F. Buzzard, Charles F. Hunting, The Doctrine of the Trinity: Christianity’s Self-Inflicted Wound (Lanham, MD: International Scholar’s Pub., 1998), 277.

[18] Nancy deClaissé-Walford et al., The Book of Psalms, The New International Commentary on the Old Tesament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2014), 69.

[19] Craigie and Tate note that the verb “to serve” (ibdu) in v. 11 “has political overtones and implies that the foreign nations should submit as vassals to Israel’s God.” Psalms 1-50, 68.

Monday, March 29, 2021

Jesus Resurrected Himself: A Holy Week Refutation of Subordinationist Claims

 by Michael R. Burgos

Because of its Christological and anthropological implications, subordinationists typically deny that the Son of God resurrected himself. Instead, they appeal to NT passages that assert that the Father was alone in bringing about the resurrection (e.g., Acts 2:24). John 2:18-22 has been a classic locus for the orthodox contention that Jesus resurrected himself. That is, not in isolation from the Father and the Holy Spirit. Rather, like creation itself, the resurrection of Christ was a Triune work.

In John 2:19 Jesus said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” John noted that Jesus was metaphorically referring to the “temple of his body" (v. 21). The verb translated “raise” is ἐγερῶ, the future active first person of ἐγείρω; a term which is defined as “to wake.”[1] Jesus uses this term metaphorically as a reference for his resurrection in conjunction with λύω, a circumlocution for death. Three days after his interlocutors would kill him, Jesus would raise the temple of his body. Here, Jesus explicitly claims responsibility for his future resurrection.

Despite his clarity, subordinationists insist that Jesus was not claiming responsibility for his resurrection. A case in point is the comments made by Carlos Xavier:  

In John 2.19 Jesus did not say, “I will raise myself up.” The word translated “raise” [egeiro] simply means to get up or to wake up. So when we normally speak of someone waking up from sleep, we have no problem. But because the context here has to do with the resurrection, many in the Jesus-is-God movement have tried to use it as some sort of “proof text.” This view is propagated by the Orthodox teaching of the immortal soul that clearly contradicts the biblical view of the state of the dead as total inactivity in the grave.[2]

    Xavier recognizes the implications, at least in part, of Jesus’ claim. If Jesus raised himself, anthropological monism is necessarily untrue. Given that the historic Christian faith has affirmed the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ as one of its central tenets, Xavier’s quaint characterization (i.e., “the Jesus-is-God movement”) is akin to calling the United States the “freedom movement.” Unfortunately, Xavier has employed a common subordinationist tactic: obscuring Jesus’ statement by relegating it to the opaque veil of a figurative speech:

The fact is that the immediate language in John 2 is figurative since Jesus was comparing his body with the temple and spoke of it in the third person. The point is Jesus [sic] resurrection from the dead as a sign to his unbelieving fellow Israelites, not how it would happen.”[3]

This is a betrayal of an explicit statement and a false dilemma. Jesus’ statement indicates both that his resurrection would occur and that he would bring it to pass. Xavier added:

Note that John did not go on to say “So when Jesus raised himself from the dead” but “when he was raised from the dead,” i.e., by God. This is typical resurrection language for Jesus throughout the rest of the NT.[4]

            Xavier has pitted Jesus’ statement (i.e., “I will raise it”) against v. 22 (“he was raised from the dead”), arguing that the aorist passive ἠγέρθη requires another actor, namely God, to have accomplished the resurrection. However, because ἠγέρθη only takes a prepositional object (i.e., “from the dead”) it is intransitive, especially given its complement in v. 19.[5] The grammatical passivity is owed not to a “divine passive” and the like, but is active in meaning (cf. John 10:17).[6]

            While it is common for subordinationist writers such as Carlos Xavier to obscure the plain statements of Scripture, their arguments, upon closer scrutiny, are bald eisegesis. Perhaps this is why the Jesus-is-not-God movement, in all of its iterations, remains a small fringe minority in comparison with the historic Christian church.

[1] BDAG, 271.

[2] Carlos Xavier, n.d. “Did Jesus Raise Himself From the Dead?,” The Human Messiah Jesus,

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] A. T. Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research (Nashville, TN: B & H, 1934), 817.

[6] J. Ramsey Michaels, The Gospel of John, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2010), 168. Cf. George R. Beasley-Murray, John, Word Biblical Commentary (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1987), 38.

Friday, January 15, 2021

Ecclesia Militans: A New Christian Studies Journal

 by Michael R. Burgos

Ecclesia Militans is a new peer-reviewed Christian studies journal hosted by Forge Theological Seminary. I am currently serving as the general editor and am looking forward to our first edition in June 2021. 

As far as theological journals goEcclesia Militans is a unique contribution since anyone who holds evangelical convictions is able to submit an article or book review. Additionally, we're accepting submissions on biblical and theological studies, counseling, ministerial studies, and Christian philosophy. We are also accepting formal disputations between two or three parties aimed at a formal thesis. Let me invite you to consider a submission! You may find the submission guidelines here.

"Sleight of Mind:" The Myth of the Christian Trinity, A Review

 by Michael R. Burgos 

Sleight of Mind: The Myth of the Christian Trinity, Vol. 1 is an anti-Trinity polemic written by Steven Blake. Whereas I have read and responded to what are likely the best non-trinitarian polemics (e.g., Buzzard; Stafford), "Sleight of Mind" is a popular-level volume that conveys a significant number of common arguments against orthodoxy. For that reason, a critical review may be helpful for those interested in typical popular subordinationist argumentation.

            The foreword includes Blake’s claim that he feels as though he has been called by God to “correct one of the most egregious distortions of biblical fact” (i.e., the doctrine of the Trinity).[1] Blake claims no relevant formal training, whether in biblical studies, languages, or theology. Only, he cites thirty years of “intensive study.”[2] Regularly, however, Blake makes substantial claims regarding Bible translation, Greek and Hebrew definitions (while never properly citing any source) and syntax. For example, he spent several pages unpacking why “Godhead is a pagan concept.”[3] He waxed long as to why “theoin” does not actually mean “Godhead.” Likely due to his unfamiliarity with biblical Greek, Blake confuses the accusative form of θεότης with its lexical form. He similarly demonstrates his ignorance regarding the archaism “Godhead” since the suffix -head has largely been supplanted by the suffix -hood in modern English. Hence, expertise is not among the fruit of his thirty years of “intensive study.”

It is difficult to imagine a text with more unsubstantiated invective than what is presented in "Sleight of Mind." Blake is an adept ‘proof-texter,’ predicating much of his conclusions on Scripture quotation with erroneous and shallow commentary. Quaint arguments such as “the word Trinity” is not found in the Bible and the Trinity is “irrational” make up the bulk of this volume.[4] The surface level argumentation is often so incoherent that is presents as sacrilegious satire. By way of example, Blake criticizes Christians for the ease at which they have been “beguiled” by such an obvious false teaching and then cites several arguments to demonstrate his point: “The Bible says that ‘no man has seen God at any time’ (Joh 1:18), and yet it states that Jesus was seen by ‘multitudes’ (Mt 8:1).”[5] Not only has Blake ignored the multitudinous occasions in the OT wherein God is explicitly seen (e.g., Gen. 32:30; Exod. 24:10; Isa. 6:5), he has neglected John 1:18 wherein John claimed that no one has seen the Father but the “one and only God” has revealed him.[6] Thus John’s resolution of the apparent contradiction between the many accounts wherein God has explicitly been seen and the prohibitions of seeing God (e.g., Exod. 33:20) is that when people have seen Yahweh, they saw the Son (cf. John 12:41; Isa. 6:1-5).

Within the same pericope, Blake made this claim:

The Bible makes clear that the Father alone is God. It portrays Jesus as representing God’s mind, personality and character. He is said to be “the exact likeness of God”- 2Co 4:4, NIV, “the exact representation of His (God’s) being”- Heb 1:3, NLT and “the visible image of the invisible God” - Col 1:15, NLT. The common denominator is that in thought, word, and action, Jesus looked like God - not that he was God.[7]

            Blake has made the astounding claim that when the writer of Hebrews says that the Son possesses the exactness of God’s being, this means that Jesus acted like God. Not only is the claim completely unsubstantiated, it defies the natural reading of Hebrews 1:2. The relevant noun (ὑπόστασις) is defined as “the essential or basic structure/nature of an entity, substantial nature…”[8] and thus the author of Hebrews has made the claim that the Son of God possesses ontological equality with God not merely in terms of his human actions, words, and thoughts, but in his divine essence.

            Blake presents the usual litany of quotations from theologically liberal sources which claim that the Trinity is a post-biblical construct.[9] He neither interacts with these quotes or substantiates the claims within them. What these many quotations amount to is a fallacious appeal to authorities that does little to add credibility to his case.

            Blake presents a variety of peculiar biblical claims that are obviously erroneous. This claims are apparently designed to discredit trinitarianism but they rely upon fictitious premises. For example, he wrote, “1 John 5:7 and Matthew 28:19 are the only verses in the Bible in which the titles ‘Father’, ‘Son’ (or ‘Word’) and ‘Holy Spirit’ appear together in the same sentence.”[10] Moving past the arbitrary presupposition (i.e., these titles must necessarily occur frequently in a single sentence for the Trinity to have legitimacy), Blake’s claim is obviously wrong (cf. 2 Cor. 13:14). Whereas much critique could be levelled at his surface-level method, errors such as this run deep in “Sleight of Mind.”

            As for his Christological argumentation, Blake’s tack is to identify things attributed to Christ which he believes preclude trinitarian Christology. For instance, he points out that Acts 10:38 states that Jesus was anointed.[11] He then scoffs: “This being the case, if each of the members of the Trinity were God, Ac 10:38 would be telling us that 'God anointed God with God'. But would such an idea make even the slightest bit of sense?”[12] Similar argumentation appears with regard to the accounts wherein Jesus is said to have a God (i.e., the Father). These sorts of arguments presuppose a non-incarnational Christology from the outset and thus engage in fallacious question begging. If Jesus is the incarnate Son, he has taken upon himself the limitations of human existence and has endured a great humiliation. On incarnational Christology, descriptions of subordination (e.g., Christ’s anointing; prayers to God; etc.) are due to the fact that he exists as a human being and thus endured a functional subordination in order to redeem his people. Much the same ought to be said with regard to the exaltation accounts.[13]

            The fallacy of petitio principii (i.e., question begging) occurs when one presents an argument where the conclusion is assumed in a premises.”[14] This fallacy is indelibly weaved into most of “Sleight of Hand.” Blake assumes unitarianism when he approaches the biblical text and then presents proof-texts which, having assumed his conclusion, demonstrate his conclusion. There are so many instances of this that providing one or two exemplars seems to do injustice to a fair review. However, for the sake of brevity I will provide two:

Scripture tells us that Jesus was a “man” (1Ti 2:5) and “without sin” (Heb 4:15). Being neither God nor a member of sinning mankind, he was qualified to mediate between them - to pay the ransom for sin and redeem mankind from its penalty. God cannot, by definition, be mediator in a conflict between Himself and sinning mankind. Hence, as the mediator in that conflict, Jesus cannot be God.[15]

The same is true for the phrase: “the Son of God”. I believe that this title intends to mean what it appears to mean: that Jesus is God's offspring, not God Himself. I don't think we require a theologian to give us a convoluted explanation of why it “really” means that Jesus is God - instead of what it appears to mean.[16]

In both of these quotations, Blake assumes unitarianism and thus reads that conclusion into the relevant texts or phrases. This tactic is incoherent and is about as far from actual biblical exegesis than is imaginable.

Blake affirms a rudimentary Arian Christology that posits Christ as the personal agent through which God created.[17] He never provides a consideration of the relevant Christological texts which would, on their natural reading, provide some question regarding his position (e.g., Heb. 1:10-12). His Christology is also in keeping with some modern expressions of Arianism (e.g., the Watchtower Bible & Tract Society). He defines the Holy Spirit as an impersonal force and yet never deals with the litany of biblical texts which contradict his claim. Evidently, Blake believes on can have intimate fellowship with an impersonal force (2 Cor. 13:14) and that God’s impersonal force is set on a par with personal subjects (Matt. 28:19). He also, believes by implication that an impersonal force intercedes to God on behalf of the elect (Rom. 8:27-28). When Jesus said he would send “another helper” (John 14:16), on Blake's view, he apparently did not really mean a Helper akin to Jesus Christ despite the fact that this Helper teaches God’s people (John 15:26; cf. Acts 5:32; Rom. 8:16). In short, there is overwhelming evidence for the personhood of the Holy Spirit and Blake never interacts with any of it.[18]

Blake demonstrates consistent unfamiliarity with orthodox trinitarianism. At times, he confuses trinitarianism with modalism and at other times he engages in mischaracterization. An example of this occurs in his discussion of Hebrews 1:2 where Blake notes that Jesus is at the right hand of God and then concludes, “Thus we are given evidence that Jesus did not - as Trinitarianism alleges - resume his identity as God, but took a position near God.”[19] This claim is a bald mischaracterization as orthodoxy has always affirmed that Jesus is still fully human and is seated at God’s right hand.

In chapter six, Blake claims to address “Trinitarian arguments.” Here, I thought, this must be where he actually interacts with the other side and provides substantiation of his position. Hardly. Blake only continued to provide proof-text citations and unsupported claims. Chapter seven fairs much the same. There, Blake engages a number of topics (e.g., “Jesus is created by God”). He spent several pages seeking to demonstrate that Psalm 2:7 and its NT quotations mean that Jesus was created by God.[20] Whereas he admits that the Psalm’s original application doesn’t refer to the Davidic king’s creation,[21] he insists that the application of this text in the NT does. The manner in which he has sought to demonstrate this is a few lexical entries from unscholarly sources (e.g., a few Bible websites) which attest that יְלִדְתִּֽי means “begotten.” Blake wrongly assumes the lexical definition of “begotten” is in dispute and he neglects to recognize that Psalm 2 is a coronation hymn and is applied in the NT to the final Davidic King in terms of his coronation and not his birth (e.g., Acts 13:33; Heb. 1:5; 5:5). Moreover, Blake ignores the fact that orthodoxy affirms that Jesus became a human being and was, therefore, conventionally begotten.

In what is perhaps the most surface-level treatment of the term “firstborn” as it appears in Colossians 1:15, Blake appeals to a number of English dictionaries as well as a number of unscholarly sources (e.g., Strong’s Concordance) to demonstrate that “firstborn” means the one born first. Of course, in order to make these claims Blake isolated Colossians 1:15 from v. 16—a specious attempt at disregarding Paul’s claim that Jesus is the Creator of all things who is “before all things” (v. 17). Blake is either ignorant or ignores the fact πρωτότοκος can have a figurative meaning that refers “to having special status associated with a firstborn.”[22] Thus when Yahweh said “Israel is my firstborn son” (Exod. 4:22), the Septuagint translates the Hebrew בְכֹרִ֖ with πρωτότοκος. Figuratively, Israel receives all of the preeminence and favor from God as if it was his firstborn son. This figurative use occurs again in the Septuagint’s rendering of Jeremiah 31:9, where Jehovah calls Ephraim (Joseph’s biologically firstborn was Manasseh) his “firstborn.” Jehovah said of king David, “And I will make him the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth” (Psalm 89:27). Thus Jesus, the Son of David and the King of kings is identified as “the firstborn of all creation” so as to identify his utter preeminence.[23] Much the same can be said regarding Blake’s appeal to Revelation 3:14.[24]

In closing, Blake’s contribution articulates a variety of folk-level subordinationist arguments but rarely demonstrates a rudimentary grasp of theological concepts and relevant methodological considerations. This work is completely devoid of actual biblical exegesis. His argumentation is often incoherent and his vilification divulges misplaced arrogance. Since this is Blake’s for installment, I will seek to review the second when it is released, Lord willing.

[1] Steven Blake, “Sleight of Mind”: The Myth of the Christian Trinity, Vol. 1 (n.p., 2018), Kindle Ed., 8.

[2] Ibid., 12.

[3] Ibid., 27-9.

[4] Ibid., 64 and 68 resp.

[5] Ibid., 72.

[6] There is a significant variant at John 1:18. Due to its robust external evidence, the critical editions have θεὸς, as the reading is found in two 2nd century papyri, 𝔓66 and 𝔓75, as well as several important uncials (א ,B, C, and L). The second reading, υἱός, occurs in codex A, a ninth century correction of C, and in codices K, Γ, Δ, Θ, and Ψ. A, which aside from having a Byzantine reading of the gospels, comes at least 200 years after the papyri. Regarding patristic attestation, both μονογενὴς θεὸς and μονογενὴς υἱός find broad support. However, since μονογενὴς υἱός occurs elsewhere within the Johannine corpus (John 3:16, v. 18; 1 John 4:9), one would expect patristic writers to affirm both readings if θεὸς is authentic (as in Origen, Clement of Theodotus, Cyril, Basil).  Given the difficulty of μονογενὴς θεὸς and the harmonizing tendency of the Byzantine text, especially in the gospels, and given that John already applied θεὸς to the same subject in the prologue (v. 14), there remains no substantive textual critical reason to object to the earliest attested reading.

[7] Blake, “Sleight of Mind,” 72.

[8] BDAG, 1040.

[9] E.g., Blake, “Sleight of Mind,” 74-6.

[10] Ibid., 85.

[11] Ibid., 87.

[12] Ibid.

[13] For a in-depth consideration of the humiliation and exaltation of Christ in light of subordinationist claims, see Michael R. Burgos ed., Our God is Triune: Essays in Biblical Theology (Torrington, CT: Church Militant Pub., 2018), 164-75.

[14] Douglas N. Walton, Begging the Question: Circular Reasoning as a Tactic of Argumentation (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1991), 11.

[15] Blake, “Sleight of Hand,” 96.

[16] Ibid., 99.

[17] Ibid., 101-2.

[18] For a thorough analysis in light of JW claims, see Michael R. Burgos, Counterfeit Religion: A Biblical Analysis of Cults, Sects, & False Religious Movements (Torrington, CT: Church Militant Pub., 2019), 63-9.

[19] Ibid., 110.

[20] Ibid., 244-54.

[21] Ibid., 245.

[22] BDAG, 894.

[23] Melick observed that of the eight times πρωτότοκος occurs in the NT, “It is clearly used literally of primogeniture only once [i.e., Luke 2:7]. The rest of the occurrences are figurative, and they are far removed from any idea of birth.” Richard R. Melick Jr., The New American Commentary: Philippians, Colossians, Philemon (Nashville, TN: Broadman, 1991), 216.

[24] See Burgos, Counterfeit Religion, 58-60.