Saturday, March 16, 2019

The Restitution of Jesus Christ - signs of a 21st Century Reformation?


A review of The Restitution of Jesus Christ by Kermit Zarley*
_ _ _ _ _

Anyone who thinks that the Bible claims that God is a Trinity, or that the Bible claims that Jesus Christ is God, should read this book. The Restitution of Jesus Christ is a comprehensive study of biblical Christology. What does the Bible say about who or what Christ (Messiah) is? For some 1700 years Christian churches have answered that question by saying that Jesus is God, or a God-Man. Former Trinitarian Zarley challenges that answer. He maintains that the biblical view is not “God is Christ”, but “God in Christ”. That is, the One God of the Bible, Yahweh, worked in and through His human Messiah, Jesus, to reveal Himself to mankind (John 1:18, Heb. 1:1), and to reconcile the world to Himself (2 Cor. 5:19).

In the first part of the book Zarley reviews the historical development of deity-of-Christ and trinitarian theology. The standard church narrative runs something like this: “Beginning in New Testament times and then for hundreds of years Christians believed that that Jesus is God and that God is a Trinity. Only in the 3-4th centuries did people begin suggesting that Jesus isn’t God, and the church rightly condemned such heretical views”.  With careful research Zarley shows this narrative to be false.

The main part of the book is a step by step, well-researched study of biblical Christology. First is “Messianism in the Old Testament” where Zarley examines traditional Christianity’s claims of finding evidence for the Trinity or deity of Messiah in the Old Testament: the plural “Elohim”, appearances of the angel of the Lord acclaimed as pre-incarnate appearances of Jesus, and passages like Genesis 1:26, Isaiah 7:14, 9:6 are among those considered.

Then Christology in the New Testament, beginning with the synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke. How do they present Jesus? What is the real answer to Jesus’ question: “Who do you say that I am?“ (Matt. 16:15, Mark 8:29, Luke 9:20). “Problem passages” which traditional Christianity has claimed show the deity of Christ or the Trinity, like Matthew 28:19, are investigated.

A major part of The Restitution is dedicated to a study of the Christology of the Gospel of John, since this New Testament book is considered by traditional Christianity to most clearly show the deity of Jesus. Therefore, Zarley considers his own analysis of John the most significant part of his book. John 1:1-18 John’s prologue, “making himself equal with God” (5:19), “before Abraham was, I am” (8:58), “I and the Father are one” (10:30), “my Lord and my God” (20:28 ) and other passages including a number from John’s epistles are examined and shown to be understood better as “God in Christ” and not “God is Christ”. Consistent with the Synoptic Gospels, John presents Jesus as God the Father’s chief agent or representative, through whom God the Father is working.

The Restitution continues with a thorough analysis of Paul’s Christology, then of the Book of Hebrews, of Peter and his epistles, and finally of the Apocalypse (Book of Revelation).

This reviewer agrees to a great degree with Zarley’s presentation of biblical Christology. My only real criticism concerns the book’s physical format. The edition I have has a spiral binding with a calendar triangular flip format. I found the format cumbersome and sometimes confusing. After a few pages of reading I decided it would be easier for me to read the book without the triangular backing. I understand there are plans to make the book available in an e-format. That would be a positive, but this book also needs to be made available in a traditional book format.

On the one hand the book is a scholarly work, well-documented with hundreds of footnotes. On the other hand, it is very readable and accessible to the lay reader. It may be a bit of a daunting read from cover to cover (546 pages not including bibliography) but I found the reading only tedious in a couple places. The book will serve well as a reference for future study. Even if they don’t agree with Zarley’s claims, Bible college and seminary students, teachers, pastors and lay persons should read this book so they can better understand what they do believe.

Along with a growing number of other books, podcasts, internet and social media channels, the publication of The Restitution of Jesus Christ is a needed appraisal of the Church’s long-standing ignorance and suppression of knowledge of Yahweh the God of Israel and His Messiah, Jesus. Zarley’s book plays a part in what some have called a 21st Century Reformation.

*Kermit Zarley is a retired professional golfer and Christian author.  In 1965 he co-founded the PGA Tour Bible Study group which continues to this day. Limited editions of The Restitution of Jesus Christ are available for $30.00 on his website. The book was originally published in 2008 under the pseudonym Servetus the Evangelical. See here for additional information about the book.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Micah 5:2, Matthew 2:5-6: The eternal deity of Messiah?


"But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, being little among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days."

A passage often remembered around Christmas time, Micah 5:2 is quoted in Matthew 2:5-6 to describe how Israel’s ruler would be born in Bethlehem. Some Christian expositors and laypersons see the “eternal pre-existence” of the Messiah and therefore Messiah’s deity in the words of Micah 5:2 (in Hebrew, Micah 5:1): “whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.” However, a word study and the context of the passages shows that neither Micah nor Matthew were declaring the “eternal pre-existence” of Messiah. Rather, the passages refer to the promise of God given to David centuries before.

What are the Hebrew Words?
There are two phrases in Micah 5:2 that may, or may not, refer to eternality:
  1.  miqedem מקדם translated “from before, from old”
  2. mimei olam מימי עולם translated “from ancient days, from eternity”
A word study shows that these phrases in Micah 5:2 (Hebrew 5:1) are best not understood as "eternity" but rather refer to past events in Israel’s history. Beginning with another passage from Micah himself, following are some examples where the same words do not mean eternity:
  • Micah 7:14 Shepherd your people with your staff, the flock of your inheritance, who dwell alone in a forest in the midst of a garden land; let them graze in Bashan and Gilead as in the days of old (ימי עולם the same phrase used in Micah 5:2).
Israel didn’t graze flocks in Gilead and Bashan in eternity past. Rather, this passage refers to a time in Israel’s history, as in Moses’ days, when God’s people first conquered and grazed flocks in Bashan and Gilead (cf. Micah 7:15) or perhaps Davidic times, when the kingdom of David extended to Gilead and Bashan. The point is: the idiom refers to former events in Israel’s past.
  • Psalm 77:6 (in Hebrew, 77:5) and Psalm 77:12 (Hebrew, 77:11) I consider the days of old (ימים מקדם), the years long ago  (שנות עולמים)…I will remember the deeds of Yahweh; yes, I will remember your wonders of old (miqedem מקדם)…. You, with your arm redeemed your people, the children of Jacob and Joseph…You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron (cf. Psalm 77:15, 20).
  • Isaiah 63:9 In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them; in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old (ימי עולם).
  • Isaiah 63:11 Then he remembered the days of old          (ימי עולם), of Moses and his people. Where is he who brought them up out of the sea with the shepherds of his flock
  • Amos 9:11 In that day I will raise up the booth of David that is fallen and repair its breaches, and raise up its ruins and rebuild it as in the days of old (ימי עולם)
  • Malachi 3:4 Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the LORD as in the days of old         (ימי עולם) and as in former years (שנים קדמוניות).
  • Nehemiah 12:46 For long ago in the days of David and Asaph (בימי דויד ואסף מקדם) there were directors of the singers, and there were songs of praise and thanksgiving to God.
It is clear from these occurrences in the Bible of the same words that Micah uses (miqedem מקדם and yemei olam ימי עולם) that these words in Micah do not mean “eternity past” but refer to events and acts of God in Israel’s days long agoAs an idiom, olam עולם combined with “days of ימי” means “days of long ago, days of a previous historical era, or "years of (שנות / שנים) an ancient historical era”. "Days" and "years" restrict the meaning to historical (human) time. The time of the Exodus from Egypt is especially thought of as “days/years of long ago” when Yahweh led his people like a shepherd by the hand of Moses and Aaron. David's days are also specifically recalled (Amos 9:11).

When or What are Micah’s “days long ago”?
Micah has in mind not a nebulous eternity past, but God's ancient promise to David (2 Sam. 7, 1 Chron. 17, Psalm 2) who was from Bethlehem (Micah 5:2, in Hebrew 5:1, 1 Sam. 16:1, 13). The promise to David was made some 250 years before Micah lived, “before, in days long ago”. Yahweh, who transcends time, made a promise to David that one of David’s descendants would rule over Israel. In Micah’s days things looked grim because the greatest superpower the world had yet seen, Assyria, was making its way toward Judah. Micah knew that according to Yahweh’s promise made long ago, Yahweh would raise up a king from the Davidic line. Even if centuries passed Yahweh would make good on His promise. Micah’s “from before, from days long ago” may also relate to God’s promises of blessing to Israel through Abraham made over 1000 years before Micah lived (Gen. 12:2-3, Psa. 105:8-11). But Micah’s focus is on the divinely ordained monarchy of David who was of the tribe of Judah and from the town of Bethlehem (1 Sam. 16:1, 13). Israel’s hope was in Yahweh through the Yahweh-promised ruler-shepherd descended from David. 

The word translated as “origins” or “goings forth” (motsa’ot, מוצאות) occurs only here in the Bible in the feminine form (and only in plural), with one additional possible textual variant in 2 Ki. 10:27. The masculine form (motsa מוצאhas various meanings including “a place or act of going forth, a word, an exit, an issue, a source, a spring of water, east” (e.g., Deu. 8:3, Hos. 6:3, Isa. 58:11, Ezek. 43:11). The meanings are all related to the root word yatsa יצא, “to go or come out.” From the same root is “descendant” צאצא (e.g. Job 5:25, Isa. 44:3) and later Hebrew “ancestry” ממוצא. In association with miqedem, mimei olam “from before, from days of long ago” which relate to Israel's historical past (see above), the feminine plural form in Micah 5:1 (5:2 English) most likely relates to physical ancestry, especially David’s and/or Abraham’s.

Context, context, context
In addition to misunderstanding the meaning of "before, from days long ago", the “eternality” interpretation of Micah 5:2 ignores the context of Micah’s prophecy. The context of the passage is: “This (or this one) will be our peace when the Assyrian comes into our land, and treads in our palaces…” (Micah 5:5-6). Micah’s words were spoken when the mighty nation of Assyria threatened to conquer both the northern Kingdom of Israel and southern Kingdom of Judah. Micah's prophecy had a certain fulfillment in the days of a descendant of David, Hezekiah (Isa. 37:15-38). The Lord was keeping His promise to David by setting David’s descendant Hezekiah on the throne. Micah knew (as did his contemporary, Isaiah) that God would stop mighty Assyria in its tracks (2 Chron. 32:20-22, Isa. 37:35). The origins or ancestry מוצאותיו of the faithful Hezekiah, who became “ruler in Israel” when the Assyrians were in the land, was from long ago, in David and the promise of Yahweh to David.

Also, two verses after the famous Bethlehem promise, Micah 5:4 declares that the promised shepherd-ruler will shepherd his flock “in the strength of Yahweh, in the majesty of the name of Yahweh his God.” Like Moses and David, the coming shepherd-ruler is not God, but has a God, and is empowered by God/Yahweh.

Hezekiah is only a sample of the great salvation Yahweh has and will yet work through that greater descendant of David, Jesus the Messiah. Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem relates to the “long ago” promise of the “days of old” - the promise Yahweh made to David.

Matthew’s quote
It should be noted that Matthew didn’t quote this passage from Micah as a “fulfillment” passage. Matthew simply recorded the words of the Jewish scribes who believed that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem because of the Davidic promise. Neither the Jewish scribes nor Matthew make any reference to the “eternality” of the Messiah. In fact, the passage quoted in Matthew does not even include the words analyzed above that some Christians claim show the Messiah’s eternality. Matthew simply recorded the Jewish scribes’ answer to Herod’s question about where Messiah would be born: "In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: "' And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel'" (Matthew 2:5-6).

There is no declaration from either the Jewish scribes or Matthew of the “eternal pre-existence” of the Messiah. As mentioned, the words that some interpret in Micah as showing “eternality” don’t even appear in Matthew. Instead Matthew, like Luke 2:4, associates the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem with the promise of God that Messiah would be a descendant of David. Like David, the greater Son of David will be empowered by God to rule and shepherd God’s flock, Israel.

Not a New Testament Exercise
Finally, it should be emphasized that neither Jesus nor any other author of the New Testament went back into the Old Testament (Tanach) to find proofs or hints that Jesus is God. Such efforts are totally foreign to the New Testament. Finding proofs of Jesus’ deity or “eternal pre-existence” in the Old Testament is not a New Testament exercise. It is not a biblical exercise. Finding hints or proofs of Jesus’ deity in a passage like Micah 5:2 is an activity of men beginning in the centuries after the New Testament was written. Jesus and the apostles never appealed to the Old Testament to show Messiah’s eternal deity. Rather, Jesus and the apostles appealed to the Old Testament to show the suffering, death, burial, resurrection and exaltation  - of the man descended from David, Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah -  to the right hand of God Almighty (Luke 24:26-27, 44-46; Acts 2:22-36, 3:18, 10:30, 17:2, 31, etc.).

Summary
In summary, the “eternal pre-existence” and “deity of Christ” claims from Micah 5 are based on a wrong interpretation of Hebrew words. The words (miqedem מקדם and mimei olam מימי עולם) in Micah 5:2 (5:1 Hebrew) do not mean “eternal pre-existence” but refer to events in Israel’s past, specifically to the promise God made to David long ago.

The “eternality” interpretation also ignores the context of the passage which speaks of a descendant of David who was to rule by the strength of his God when the Assyrians came into the land.

The “eternality” interpretation also misses the meaning of the passage. Micah is trusting completely on God’s promise of peace and salvation through a king who would descend from David. There was a sample of that promised victorious peace in David’s descendant Hezekiah (see Isaiah 37:15-38), a sample which gives us evidence and confidence that God fulfills His promises. The ultimate fulfillment of God’s promise to David is in Jesus. In an even greater fashion than Hezekiah, Jesus the descendant of David will shepherd and rule God’s people in the strength of Yahweh his God, and in the majesty of the name of Yahweh his God.

The Gospel of Matthew mentions nothing about the pre-existence of Jesus in quoting Micah’s passage. Neither Jesus nor any New Testament author ever appealed to the Old Testament to reveal the eternal pre-existence or deity of Messiah. Jesus and the New Testament authors did appeal to the Old Testament to show the suffering, death and subsequent glory of Messiah.

Additional notes on the Hebrew phrases מקדם and מימי עולם

The phrase miqedem מקדם “from before” in Scripture often relates to space, meaning “in front of, east” (e.g., Gen. 2:8, Josh. 7:2) because ancient orientation was to the east. In some instances, as in our Micah passage, the phrase relates to time, meaning “before” (e.g., Psa. 77:12, Isa. 45:21). To the Hebrew mind, past time was before or in front while the future is behind or after (אחרית הימים, אחרי, אחר).

The phrase and mimei olam מימי עולם is literally “from days of age”. Without the preposition (from מ) the idiom ימי עולם yemei olam is two words 1) the plural noun “days” and, 2) the singular noun “age/eternity.” The different meanings of the word עולם olam “age” is perhaps the main reason why some expositors have found eternality in the Micah passage. By itself olam עולם can mean a “period of long duration”, “in perpetuity”, “forever”, or “ancient”. As an idiom combined with “days of” or “years of”, as shown in the passages quoted above, the phrase refers to human historical time, and means “days of long ago, days of a previous historical era, years of an ancient historical era”.

The Greek LXX Old Testament translates עולם olam with αἰών aeon, from which we get the English word eon/aeon. In later Jewish history and Hebrew, the word עולם olam came to express not only time, but space/place. Olam עולם came to mean “world” in addition to time “age/eon”. The idea of the Olam HaBa, the “World/Age to Come, עולם הבא” is prominent in the New Testament, Mishnah, Talmud and Gomorrah. For Jews, including New Testament authors, the promise of life after death is not a nebulous “heaven” but bodily resurrection into a concrete “World/Age to Come” (Matt. 12:32, 19:28; Luke 18:30, 20:34-35; Eph. 1:21, 2:7; Hebrews 2:5, 6:5).

English Translations
Disagreement as to how to understand the last phrase of Micah 5:2 is reflected in the different English translations. Some English translations of Micah 5:2 imply eternality, while others do not. Compare the King James Version (KJV) with the English Standard Version (ESV):

KJV But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.

ESV But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.

These two translations show the typical differences in English translations. The KJV “from everlasting” may imply eternality. The ESV “from ancient days” does not. In this case the ESV is the better reading.


Above: Bethlehem in the Hill Country of Judah, from the northwest. David is from this town and would have grazed flocks as a shepherd to the east. The Church of the Nativity, traditional location of the birth of Jesus, is in the cluster of buildings in the center-right. 



Micah was from Maresha, a town in the foothills (Shephelah) of Judah, some 20 miles southwest of Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Micah saw trouble coming to Judah from mighty Assyria, but took confidence in the promise of God that a ruler for Israel would descend from David of Bethlehem.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Is early Jewish Christian Devotion to Jesus evidence that Jesus is a God? A review of the ideas presented by Dr. Larry Hurtado in his book, "How on Earth Did Jesus Become a God?"


Hurtado’s Thesis: Early Jewish Devotion to Jesus is evidence that Jesus had divine status
Dr. Larry Hurtado claims that the great degree of devotion displayed by early Jewish followers of Jesus is evidence that soon after Jesus' life on earth, Jesus’ followers came to understand that Jesus had some kind of divine status. Hurtado stops short of claiming that Jesus' followers believed outright that Jesus is “God”. The title of the book is “How on earth did Jesus Become a God”. But Hurtado sees the intense, worshipful devotion of Jesus’ early followers, even willingness to die, as evidence that they believed that Jesus had a divine status. Hurtado’s thesis is in step with recent scholarly efforts to discover evidence of 2nd Temple Period Jewish binitarian “two-power” theology as a backdrop from which Christian trinitarianism emerged.

Jesus didn’t think he was God
Hurtado’s views on the deity of Jesus are not in line with conservative Evangelical Protestant Christianity, so it is somewhat surprising to see Evangelical Christians touting Hurtado’s work as evidence for the deity of Christ and the Trinity. Hurtado has said he doesn’t think that Jesus claimed or thought himself to be God (See this video starting at 1 hour, 3 minute mark) Again, the title of this book is “How…did Jesus become a God?.” Evangelicals want to see in Hurtado’s scholarly work evidence that Jesus was considered early on by his disciples to be God. However, Hurtado’s claim is more nuanced, presenting Jesus as having “divine status” or being the object, along with Yahweh God, of “binitarian worship”. Hurtado claims that it was somehow the actions or declarations of God the Father (see below) that caused the blurring or confusion between Jesus and God. But for early Jewish Christ-followers, there was no confusion. The confusion only came much later with the Gentile led church fathers, and God the Father was certainly not the author of this confusion.

A Biblical Approach
A more biblical understanding of “devotion to Jesus” is that Jesus’ early followers were devoted not because Jesus is LORD (Yahweh) God or some other god/God along with Yahweh, but because Jesus is the human Lord Messiah who died for them, indeed was raised for them, exalted to the right hand of Almighty God in heaven, and granted authority over all as Yahweh God’s appointed King. For Jews, including early Jewish disciples of Jesus Christ, there are not two Gods. LORD (Yahweh) God is never confused with Lord Messiah.

By the 1st century, Jews had been longing for the Messiah to come for hundreds of years. When Messiah came, his followers realized that not only is the Messiah the King to whom all authority in heaven and earth is given, but that this same Messiah, their King, died for them, “freed us from our sins by his own blood” (Rev. 1:5). God didn’t die, but God’s chosen Messiah did. And then Messiah was raised from the dead by God (Acts 2:24, 10:40, etc.), and is now exalted by God to God’s right hand (Acts 2:33, Eph,1:20, Heb. 8:1, etc.).  It should not be surprising that Jesus’ followers would show unprecedented devotion to their once dead, now raised by God from the dead Messiah Lord, seated at God’s right hand.

If Jesus is Worshipped, he must be God?
In some ways Hurtado seems to make the same old mistaken claim that “since Jesus is worshipped, Jesus must be God.” But Jesus was not worshipped by his early Jewish followers as God. New Testament Jewish Christology is not “God is Messiah”, but God in Messiah (Acts 2:22, John 10:38, 2 Cor. 5:19, etc.). In the days and decades following Jesus’ resurrection, Jesus was worshipped as the risen, glorified Messiah Priest King to whom all authority in heaven and earth is given. There was no blurring or confusion, as Hurtado postulates, for the early followers of Jesus concerning the differences between the LORD God and God’s designated chief representative, the Lord Messiah Jesus. The record of events associated with the disciples of Jesus in the decades after Jesus’ resurrection, the Book of Acts, shows no such confusion (e.g., Acts 2:22-34). The confusion developed later in the speculations of Gentile Greco-Latin church fathers.

Biblical Paradigm of Messiah Worshipped
The paradigm for intense homage and devotion to the Lord King Messiah comes directly from the Old Testament.

“Then David said to all the assembly, ‘Bless the LORD (Yahweh) your God.’ And all the assembly blessed the LORD (Yahweh), the God of their fathers, and bowed their heads and worshiped the LORD (Yahweh) and the king” (1 Chron. 29:20).

Similarly, Abigail called David “Lord” 13 times in one chapter of the Bible (1 Sam. 25). She worshipped David with her face to the ground.

Of Solomon it is written: ‘Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to the royal son...May all kings worship before him (before God’s designated human king), all nations serve him’” (Psalm 72:1, 11).

All the more so is homage and honor due to the promised greater Son of David, who will not only rule as King with all authority in heaven and earth given to him, but who “freed us from our sins by his own blood” (Rev. 1:5). Unlike David or Solomon, our King Jesus died for us. But God raised him from the dead. We shouldn’t be surprised at the devotion the Firstborn-from-the dead-King (Col 1:18, Rev. 1:5) deserves and receives.

How Did Jesus’ Followers Come to know that Jesus was a “God”?  Hurtado: Religious Experience
Hurtado maintains that the way in which early believers came to understand that Jesus is a God (or has divine status) is through “religious experience”. By this Hurtado means dreams and visions. Hurtado writes:

“Within the early Christian circles of the first few years (perhaps even the first few weeks), individuals had powerful revelatory experiences…Through such revelatory experiences, Christological convictions and corresponding cultic practices were born that amounted to a unique mutation in what was acceptable Jewish monotheistic devotional practice of the Greco-Roman period” (p. 203, all of chapter 8).

Hurtado’s suggestion that it was religious or revelatory experience that brought about the “mutation” in monotheistic worship is an admission that there is no evidence in the New Testament for his theory that early Jewish followers of Jesus were worshiping Jesus as God, or as a God. Instead of explicit evidence in the New Testament, Hurtado must suggest unrecorded religious experience as the mechanism that brought about an apostolic binitarian form of worship. It must be stressed: None of this “religious experience” is recorded in the New Testament, or anywhere else for that matter. To repeat, Hurtado suggests that it was because of not-recorded-in-Scripture-religious-experience that early Jewish followers of Jesus began to worship Jesus as a God. Protestant Evangelical Christians should, to say the least, be very uncomfortable with Hurtado’s theory.

Early Christian Binitarian “two-power” theology, a bad omen for Trinitarianism?
While Hurtado (and others) may have set out to prove, albeit unsuccessfully, that there was “binitarian monotheistic” cultic worship of Jesus-as-God in 1st century, he shows that Trinitarian doctrine is a later development. Hurtado’s ideas are being touted by Evangelical trinitarians to show that Jesus is God. But Hurtado’s (and other’s) claims for an early binitarian Jewish Christian belief present real problems for Trinitarianism. If early Christian worship is only binitary, then Trinitarian worship is a later historical development. Showing Christian faith was at first binitary, proves that a trinitarian understanding of God is a later development and was totally foreign to Jesus and the early apostles. Hurtado makes no effort to show that Trinitarianism is found in the New Testament. Likewise, Hurtado makes no effort to show that Trinitarianism resulted from 1st century revelatory experience, as he suggests for binitarian belief. Trinitarianism is a development of a later century.

It is ironic that Evangelicals are promoting theories like Hurtado’s since in at least two ways Hurtado’s theories contradict traditional trinitarianism. Hurtado maintains:
  1. Jesus became a God, or at least was recognized to be a God, albeit of unequal or subordinate status to Yahweh God, sometime after Jesus lived on earth. 
  2. Christian theology developed historically from unitarian, to binitarian, to trinitarian.

How, When and Where did binitary worship begin?
Hurtado is correct that Christian binitarian worship developed before trinitarianism. But he should be challenged by unbiased historians concerning the how, when and where Christian binitarianism developed.  It is clear from early church fathers’ writings that binitarian, albeit unequal Father and Logos-Son understandings of the “godhead”, developed in the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD, particularly in places like Egypt, Asia Minor, and Rome. The Father and Logos-Son theologies of the church fathers developed not from revelatory experiences, but from pagan influenced interpretations of Scripture. This is also the time that Jewish sources, rightly so, condemned this new “mutated” understanding of who the God of Israel is (see e.g., Justin Martyr Dialog with Trypho the Jew, dating from ca. AD 155).

Agency, or Not?
Further, Hurtado disagrees with the interpretations of other scholars who propose forms of 2nd Temple Period Jewish binitarian worship as a backdrop for the emergence of Christianity. Hurtado (rightly!) shows that what has been interpreted as binitary Jewish “monotheism” has in fact failed to realize the concept of agency, i.e., of the One God granting His attributes and authority (“attributes and functions”) to others. Jewish monotheism always distinguished between the One God and His agent(s). Hurtado takes this position vis-a-vis other binitarian claims since in his view the worship of Jesus is a unique “mutation”.

A Better, Biblical Model
Finally, the “binitarian”, “two powers” interpretations of Hurtado (Boyarin, Heiser?) is a misunderstanding of the biblical truth, that indeed there are two powers in heaven. 1) Yahweh God Almighty, and 2) the resurrected human, glorified Lord Messiah Jesus. In a vision Daniel saw the Son of Man come before the Ancient of Days. In Psalm 2 the human Messiah is told to “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool”. Jesus the human King Messiah is also a priest “who is seated at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven” (Psalm 110 and Heb. 8:1). The once dead, resurrected, glorified Lord Jesus the Messiah is in heaven at God’s right hand. He is God Almighty’s chief agent, the “image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15) “whom heaven must receive until the time for establishing all that God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old” (Act 3:21).

“What is man that you are mindful of him…? You have crowned him with glory and honor…You have given him dominion over the works of your hands, you have put all things under his feet…” (Psa. 8:4-6, Heb. 2:5-7).

Monday, February 11, 2019

Podcasts: Misunderstood texts about Jesus

I participated in two more podcasts with Sean Finnegan.

In the third of four podcast discussions we examined these misunderstood texts and issues of Scripture:
  • Is the trinity speaking in Genesis 1:26, "Let us make man in our image"? 
  • Does Isaiah 9:6 show the deity of the Messiah ? "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
  • Jesus must be God because Jesus is worshiped?
  • Does Romans 9:5 call Jesus God?

In the fourth and last podcast of the series, we take a look at Trinitarian claims concerning:
  • Philippians 2.5-6
  • Colossians 2.9
  • Revelation 1.17
  • And the question, "If Jesus is not God, then how can his sacrifice pay for man's sins?"





Wednesday, January 23, 2019

"Jesus had to be God to atone for our sins." Really? Got a Scripture for that?


Many people have said to me the last months that Jesus had to be God to atone for our sins. My challenge to those who believe that is to show me one Scripture that says that. If such a claim is true, it should be explained in the Scripture from front to back, from one side to the other. If there is no Scripture that says that, then we should rethink our theology before making such a claim. Perhaps that claim is a creation of the human mind (satanically inspired?). The claim in effect is telling God the conditions under which we will accept Him and His Messiah. It is telling God, “I won’t accept you unless You die”. But we shouldn’t tell our Maker what He must do. Israel tried that numerous times. It never worked (e.g., Isa. 45:9-10). We don’t make the rules for forgiveness of sin, atonement, or for any of our relationship with God. God tells us what is necessary.

God said to man “You will die”. Satan chimes in and says “Man, you won’t die.” Man thinks and says, “I (my real self, my spirit) won’t die, but God, you must die”.

God has told us that the death of the human Servant Messiah descended from David, Jesus, is sufficient for atonement for sin. But we want to tell God, “No, I won’t accept the death and resurrection of your human Messiah. That’s not enough. God, You must die.”

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Does the Gospel of John declare that God is a Trinity?

Do verses in the Gospel of John declare that God is a Trinity, three "God-persons" in one? Does the Gospel of John declare that one of those three "God-persons" has two natures, a God nature and a human nature? If not, do verses in the Gospel of John at least declare the "deity" of Jesus?  On these two podcasts (below) Sean Finnegan and I discuss how neither the Trinity nor the deity of Jesus are declared in verses like John 1:1 ("In the beginning was the word..."), John 5:18 ("made himself equal with God"), John 8:58 ("before Abraham was, I am"), John 17:5 (glory that I had with you"), John 20:28 (Thomas' statement: "My Lord and my God").

Podcast 1: John 1:1, 1:14, 1:18, 5:18, 8:58

Podcast 2: John 10:30-33, John 20:28, 1 John 5:20

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Son of God or God the Son?

The biblical phrase “Son of God” does not describe the essence of a person. To call someone the “Son of God” does not mean that someone is God or is a deity. Rather “Son of God” in the Bible relates to the relationship or status that a human being has with God. Orthodox Christianity of the last 1700 years or so, including Catholicism and Protestantism, has tragically misunderstood the title Son of God in the manner of essence, making Jesus “God”.

Trinitarianism claims it was “God the Son” in Jesus. The Bible says that it was God the Father (the only God) who was in Jesus (John 10:38). Trinitarianism says that when you see Jesus, you see “God the Son”. The Bible, including Jesus himself, say that when you see Jesus you “see the Father” (John 14:9-10). There is no such thing as “God the Son”.