Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Memorial as a Communion Sacrifice

One Scriptural passage that has really helped me to
appreciate tonight's upcoming Memorial of Christ's
death on Nisan 14 is 1 Cor 10:18:

"Look at that which is Israel in a fleshly way: Are
not those who eat the sacrifices sharers with the

When posing this rhetorical query, Paul alludes to the
OT practice of communion sacrifices. One can find a
lovely description of such offerings in Leviticus
7:1-38. I want to briefly recount what that Biblical
chapter says and apply it to Paul's words found in 1
Corinthians 10:18ff.

The communion sacrifices were peace offerings designed
to restore a broken relationship that might obtain
between God and His ancient worshipers. It was a holy
presentation to Almighty God (YHWH), and when offering
a communion sacrifice, the Israelites were fittingly
obligated to give their best to Jehovah (YHWH).

Leviticus 7:28-30 mandates that one presenting a
communion sacrifice to Jehovah should offer the 'fat
upon the breast' to Him as a wave offering.
(Leviticus 7:30 briefly explains what a wave offering
entailed.) In addition to offering the fat and the
blood to YHWH or Jehovah(Leviticus 7:33), the one presenting
peace offerings to God was also commanded to give 'the
right leg' of his sacrifice as 'a sacred portion' to
the officiating priests. Furthermore the High Priest
and his sons were to have a share in this communion
offering. What a privilege all those who offered
communion presentations enjoyed! Paul aptly stated
that those who sacrificed upon the altar in Israel became
(by means of their respective gifts to God) sharers in the altar.
But how does this Levitical practice apply to
Christians today?

As Paul intimates, the Lord's Evening Meal (1
Corinthians 11:20) is the antitype of the OT peace
offerings. Just as ancient worshipers of God brought
their sacrifices to Jehovah in order to repair a
breach that might have obtained between themselves and God,
so anointed Christians (2 Corinthians 1:21-22; 1 John 2:20, 27)
annually observe the Memorial of Jesus' death
in order to memorialize how God repaired the
figurative breach between God and sinful humanity and
thus fully reconciled humans to Himself.

Anointed Christians share in the antitypical communion
meal by figuratively partaking of Christ's blood (the cup of wine)
and his sacrificed body (the bread). The emblems at the Memorial
are symbols of the reality effectuated by God
through Christ. Yet those who partake of the cup and wine
today nonetheless share with God's altar as they partake
of a meal (in effect) with Jehovah, His High Priest
(Jesus) and other fellow anointed ones (i.e. underpriests).
It is still an inestimable privilege to have a figurative
meal with God. Anointed Christians therefore esteem
the undeserved kindness that has been shown to them
through the Son of God's ransom sacrifice. However,
they are not the only ones who benefit from being
present at the yearly communion meal.

The great crowd of other sheep who possess a hope of
living forever, while not partaking of the emblems and
thus sharing in the altar, still have their
appreciation for Christ's sacrifice deepened as they
listen to the discourse given about Jesus' death and
watch the symbols of his death being passed around the
Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses. I thus hope that everyone
attending the Memorial this year reflects on what Christ's death
means in terms of a communion sacrifice. May you all continue to grow
in love and appreciation for Jehovah and His Son.

Brotherly love,

Friday, March 21, 2008

Herold Weiss on John 5:17ff

Herold Weiss writes:

"Since the discourse that follows [John 5:18] denies the 'Jewish' understanding of the equality of the Father and the Son, is the 'Jewish' charge that Jesus had broken the sabbath to be taken seriously? I suggest that in John's view the 'Jews' are wrong both in their understanding of the equality of the Father and the Son and of Jesus as a sabbath breaker."

See "The Sabbath in the Fourth Gospel," Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 110, No. 2. (Summer, 1991): 311-321.


More on God and Time

The following is taken from a discussion I had with someone on another forum. I have edited some parts of my response in order to improve the sense and clarity of my response. My interlocutor wrote:

The main point I was trying to raise (and I admit my
explnation did
not make this as clear as it could have) was that an
action initiated
in heaven does not correspond to any particular time
on earth.

This is, at best, speculation, is it not? We have no
immediate experience with the realms above (i.e.
heaven). Therefore, how could we apodictically know
whether an action initiated in heaven failed to
correspond to any specified time here in the realms
below? Nicholas Wolterstorff, in an essay entitled
"God is Everlasting," makes an argument based on his
preferred form of divine cognizance (i.e. divine way
of knowing) that is loosely formulated thus:

(1) No one can know about some temporal event (E) that
it is occurring except when it is occurring.

(2) Before E begins to occur, one cannot know that E
is occurring, for it is not.

(3) After E ceases to occur, one cannot know that it
is occurring, for it is not.

(4) Every case of knowing that E is occurring
therefore seems to be infected by the temporality of

(5) Therefore, the act of knowing about E that it was
occurring and that it is occurring and the act of
knowing about E that it will be occurring are all
infected by the temporality of E.

(6) God (according to Scripture) performs all of these
acts of knowing since He knows what has happened, what
is happening and what will happen. Hence, some of
God's acts (His acts of knowing) are themselves
temporal events. Consequently, God is not timeless.

Now what I have presented is a very compact form of
Wolterstorff's argument. But I think it suffices to
show that what he is arguing is that if God knows about
some temporal event (E) and its occurring, then His
time-strand must (in some respects) correspond to
ours. Moreover, one of the strongest arguments for God's
temporality or sempiternality (in this regard) is the
divine response to prayer, which I may touch on later.

is often much confusion because we imagine the
material universe was
created in a preexisting vacuum of space within a
given timeframe in
a preexisting passage of time. This is completely
untrue. Space and
time are part of the material world and until its
creation space and
time did not exist.

With all due respect, sir, the foregoing
propositions are mere assertions and not arguments.
People generally assume that time and space are only
associated with the material universe. But how do we
really know this idea conforms to reality? Einstein's theory
won't tell us because it does not deal with conditions as they exist
in the spiritual heavenlies.
Subscribing to a positivistic theoretical framework
or Weltanschauung might
convince one that time is not a spiritual phenomenon at all.
But asseverations based on positivistic theories hardly seem convincing
when spiritual realities are the topic of discussion.
I'm still inclined to espouse William Lane Craig's
argument that God must be temporal, if an A-theory of
time (as opposed to a B-theory) is correct.

Many of the supposed contradictions of the
belief in God proposed by nonbelievers (involving
omniscience and
omnipotence) are based upon this confusion and have
led to the "less
than God" version of God proposed in open theism.
However, when we
understand the material categories are not justifiably
applied to the
heavenly realm (doing so implicitly makes God an
object in the material world), the contradictions
vanish. This also means any act initiated in heaven
is not subject to earthly limitations.

(1) It has yet to be demonstrated that time is a
"material category" only. How does one go about
demonstrating this point logically or scientifically ?

(2) I am a sempiternalist and yet I can assure you
that I do not believe God is "an object in the
material world." God completely transcends the created
cosmos or is antecedently related to it.
Nevertheless, it is possible that time is an
everlasting aspect of God's nature. If so, by creating
the universe in time, the Maker of all things lovingly
permitted rational creaturely essences to share in His
everlasting divine nature.

In one of his Gedanken,
Einstein mentally explores
the question of relative simultaneity. He uses the
example of a train and lightning striking in the view of
observers on the train. Now, according to Einstein's
theory, if the train is traveling West, then
lightning seems to strike first in the West and then in the
East. On the other hand, if the train is headed
East, the lightning strikes first in the East and then in
the West for the observers. If the train is in a
position of rest, the bolts of lightning seems to
strike simultaneously, in the East and the West.
Therefore, Einstein's theory did not really abolish
the notion of simultaneity altogether. It only says
that a "rigid reference body" or co-ordinate system
must be shared in order for simultaneity to occur.
The train is just such a co-ordinate system. Simultaneity
for Einstein is thus relative and not absolute.

Exactly my point. If there is no absolute
simultinaity on earth, events on earth cannot be
temporally mapped to events in heaven.

That is a big "if." I tend to prefer Einstein's
interpretation, but I don't know if I buy the no
absolute simultaneity argument ex toto.
At any rate, I think it is wrong-headed to use Einsteinian relativity
to solve the problem of divine timelessness or

In "Divine Timelessness and Necessary Existence" (an
article you can find online), William Lane Craig
criticizes one of Brian Leftow's arguments for God's
atemporality based on relativity theory. Here is part
of Craig's rejoinder:

"This argument is, however, unsound. In the first
place, one could dispute the argument on purely
physical grounds alone in that it fails to take
sufficient cognizance of the difference between
coordinate time and parameter time. It is true that
insofar as time plays the role of a coordinate, it is
connected with a system of spatial coordinates, so
that anything to which a temporal coordinate can be
assigned is such that spatial coordinates are
assignable to it as well. But insofar as time
functions as a parameter, it is independent of space,
and something which possesses temporal location and
extension need not be held to exist in space as well
as time. In Newtonian mechanics time plays the role of
a parameter, not a coordinate, and, interestingly, the
same is true of Einstein's formulation of the Special
Theory of Relativity (STR)--the now familiar
space-time formulation derives later from Minkowski.
STR can be validly formulated in either way. Moreover,
since STR is a local theory only, we must, in order to
achieve a global perspective, consider time as it
functions in cosmological models based on the General
Theory of Relativity (GTR), on which matter Leftow is

When I spoke of "time as we know it", I was not
referring to a
subjective time in the mind of the user but time in
the material
world as a whole. The "as we know it" was used to
underline the fact
that time is material in nature and not separate from

I did not interpret your "as we know it" statement to
mean you had subjective time in mind. But I was
underlining the fact that we can only (confidently)
speak about our experience with time and it thus seems
somewhat ill-advised to conclude that because our
experience with tempus or xronos is material that all
such experiences must be associated with material
conditions. This is akin to saying that since all
bodies that we know of are fleshly and extended in
space (res extensa)
that a non-fleshly body cannot exist in possible world W1.
Tertullian certainly thought
otherwise and with good reason, I think, in light of
what Paul wrote in 1 Cor 15:42-44.

The verse in Psalm 90 you cited is not intended to
tell us anything
about metaphysics. The phrase speaks of God existing
everlasting to everlasting.

Literally, the phrase says that God is from "time
indefinite to time indefinite" or from boundless time
to boundless time. Gesenius, if I remember correctly,
prefers the definition "hidden time" for olam:

"The commonest word for boundless time is olam;
according to the most widespread and likeliest
explanation the word is derived from alam meaning 'hide, conceal'" (Thorleif Boman, Hebrew Thought Compared with Greek, page 151).

I agree that the thrust of the writer's words is that
God has always existed and will always exist. But I
believe we miss his general thesis if we weaken the
translation and eviscerate the temporal element in the

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Trinity Doctrine and Personhood: An Outline

I. Trinity Doctrine and Ethics

A. God is supposedly three persons in one substance (i.e. Father, Son and Holy Spirit).

B. The term "person" is used analogically (i.e. God is both like and unlike human persons) when one applies it to God. God does not have a body or God has intuitive rather than discursive knowledge.

II. What "Person" Means when Applied to God

A. The modern conception of person implies a distinct center of consciousness (e.g. Rene Descartes' cogito ergo sum).

B. This usage becomes problematic when one speaks of the divine persons in terms of distinct centers of consciousness. The terminology then implies tritheism (the belief in three gods). Yet, to speak of one center of consciousness obtaining in the triune Godhead implies modalism (= God reveals Godself in three successive modes), not Trinitarianism.

C. In any event, Trinitarians argue that one needs to avoid defining "person" (in this case) as a distinct center of consciousness or rationality. Some other definition must be more suitable.

III. Definitions of "Person" for God

A. Boethius (circa 475-525 CE): "an individual substance of a rational nature" (rationalis naturae individua substantia).

B. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) contends that the term "person" when applied to God does refer to "an individual substance of a rational nature" (rationalis naturae individua substantia) as long as one carefully nuances or qualifies what is meant by "individual" (i.e. incommunicable) "rational" (non-discursive, but intellectual) and "substance" ('self-grounded existing'). Aquinas views God as ipsum esse or self-subsistent being.

C. Richard of St. Victor (died 1173) defines "person" (in relation to God) as "an incommunicable existence of the divine nature." Persons have a certain property that distinguishes them from other persons (Fortman, The Triune God, 191-192).

D. Some believe that the Trinity doctrine possibly helps us to understand what personhood entails. Maybe a "person" is an individual substance of a rational nature, one who either actually reasons or who has the potential to deploy reason (i.e. the faculty of inference or intelligence). The term "persons" may also have reference to entities that intelligently relate to one another as Father, Son and Holy Spirit putatively relate to one another in the Godhead.

E. But one difficulty with the Trinity doctrine concerns the problem of identity. For instance, consider the following set of propositions:

(1) The Father is God.
(2) The Son is God.
(3) The Holy Spirit is God.
(4) The Father is not the Son.

Number (4) appears to be inconsistent with propositions 1-3. Let us also consider this example using the planet Venus:

(a) Venus is the morning star.
(b) Venus is the evening star.
(c) The morning star is not the evening star.

To solve this apparent difficulty, certain Trinitarians appeal to the concept of relative (rather than absolute) identity. The definition of absolute identity = "X = Y → Y = X"; relative identity = "X and Y are the same F but not the same G," where F and G are both predicates. Hence, the Father or the Son are not absolutely identical to "God," but only relatively identical to the divine substance. One question remains, however. Does relative identity actually resolve the putative tensions obtaining between the Trinity doctrine and absolute identity?

F. Another seeming difficulty with using the Trinity doctrine to determine what it means to be a person might also be the fact that God's purported triunity seems to transcend our phenomenal experiences (a Kantian argument). Whether God is triune or not appears to be noumenal concern, not a phenomenal one. God's triune nature just might be thinkable but not knowable like Kant's Dinge-an-sich.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Smile, Everything is Getting Better. Not!

This story can be found in its entirety at

By JOHN WILEN, AP Business Writer 2 hours, 11 minutes ago

NEW YORK - Oil prices fell sharply Monday, pulling back at least temporarily from record levels as investors feared that the financial crisis that forced the sale of Bear Stearns Cos. is a sign of deep economic troubles.

Crude's plunge came even as diesel prices rose to a new record above $4 a gallon, and gas prices remained high. Diesel, used to transport the vast majority of the nation's goods, rose 1.3 cents to a national average of $4.002 a gallon Monday, according to AAA and the Oil Price Information Service. The national average price of a gallon of gas, meanwhile, dipped slightly to $3.283 a gallon, but remains 73 cents higher than a year ago.

Oil's steep decline — falling $4.17 to $106.04 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange — came hours after futures rose to a new trading high of $111.80 on the Federal Reserve's surprise Sunday move to lower a key interest rate by a quarter point. In the past several months, Fed rate cuts have fueled rallies in oil prices.

Crude futures offer a hedge against a falling dollar, and oil futures bought and sold in dollars are more attractive to foreign investors when the dollar is weak. Interest rate cuts, and even the prospect of future cuts, tend to weaken the dollar further.

But the mass selling Monday — despite the Fed's Sunday rate cut, the prospect of another cut at the Fed's regular Tuesday meeting, and the fact that the dollar dropped to new lows against the euro on Monday — could be a sign that the oil market's momentum has turned negative, analysts say.

"People are saying, well, things are a lot worse than we thought," said Phil Flynn, an analyst at Alaron Trading Corp. in Chicago.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Geza Vermes-Part II

This post is so long that I'm starting another thread. The following remarks constitute my final word on this subject for now. I will then reply to the questions about time. But my time is limited. Therefore, I'll let Jason have the last word on the Vermes' subject. I've made a clear distinction below in terms of my remarks and Jason's.

Hello Jason:

Regarding John 5:18, I am failing to see how your responses answer the question as to how Jesus' first century Jewish opponents managed to construe (whether rightly or wrongly is besides the point) His statement in John 5:17 as a claim to equality with God if Geza Vermes is correct that first century Jews had no concept of any such thing as natural divine sonship? If Vermes is correct would it not follow then that it would have been contrary to their categories of thought for them to have taken Jesus' statement as affirming something more than a claim to be at the very most either the Messiah or to having pre-existed as a created angel?

I do not agree that a possible misconstrual of Jesus' words is tangential. But (to answer your question) Vermes does not say that the first century Jews had no concept of "natural divine sonship." He writes that a Jew would not have applied the noun phrase "son of God" to the offspring of deities, defied kings or to apotheosized rulers; moreover, he argues that Jews understood the phrase "son of God" to be metaphorical-a term that Vermes does not define but the context of his statement indicates that the speaker meaning of the term "metaphor" does not simply refer to rhetorical tropes or to conceptual domains (as that term is understood in cognitive semantics).

However, if Jesus' response in the verses which follow John 5:18 was intended for the purpose of clarifying that He was not breaking the Sabbath and that He was not calling God His own Father in such a way that would entail His being in some sense equal with God, then it would seem to me that He did a very poor job of expressing Himself here. For, given the conclusion His opponents drew from what He said in John 5:17, why would they be less inclined to take the words: "the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing" as an affimation that the Son has no will or operation of His own distinct and independent from that of that Father, and is therefore essentially inseparable from the Father? (Certainly, the angels can do things of their own accord: if they were not able to do so, how could it be that some of them have sinned?)

I don't think you want to say that Christ was actually "making himself" equal to God. Christ legitimately would have been considered a blasphemer by making himself equal to God: "In rabbinic teaching a rebellious son is said to make himself equal [with] his Father (Lightfoot). Breaking the Law concerning the Sabbath was serious, but claiming God as his own Father was blasphemy" (Cleon L. Rogers, Jr. and Cleon L. Rogers III, The New Linguistic and Exegetical Key to the Greek New Testament, p. 193). If Jesus was/is equal to God, I don't think that the writer of the Fourth Gospel desires to portray him as making himself equal to the Father. Additionally, it is important not to read post-4th century meanings into 1st century texts. Jesus was not necessarily stating that he had no will or operation of his own in the sense that you ascribe to him.

In The Christology of the Fourth Gospel, Paul N. Anderson (pp. 3, 267) observes that Jesus is asserting that he "can do nothing on his own authority" or is "totally dependent" on his Father. For Anderson, John 5:19 is a Johannine "subordinationist" passage; in other words, Christ is evidently stating that he does not have the ability (OU DUNATAI) or authority to act on his own initiative. He is not suggesting that he could never act on his own. Such an understanding of the text is much too strong and misrepresents the intentional (i.e. pragmatic) meaning of Jesus' words. Moreover, when Jesus says that he does that which he beholds the Father doing, hA (in the Greek text) is delimited by the context. In particular, the things that Jesus' Father does have to do with sustaining the creation: hA does not refer to all things in an absolute sense. A. T. Robertson also offers these remarks:

"Can do nothing by himself (OU DUNATAI POIEIN AF' hEAUTOU OUDEN). True in a sense of every man, but in a much deeper sense of Christ because of the intimate relation between him and the Father. See this same point in Joh_5:30; Joh_7:28; Joh_8:28; Joh_14:10. Jesus had already made it in Joh_5:17. Now he repeats and defends it" (Word Pictures).

"...whatever [the Father] does, that the Son does likewise." Interpretation: Just as the Father "works" on the Sabbath, not being bound to keep it, so also the Son works on the Sabbath, not being bound to keep it either. There is nothing that the Father can do that the Son also cannot do: Claim to equality of power with God."

The Son is Lord of the Sabbath (Matthew 12:1-8). Hence, he could probably labor on the Sabbath--doing God's work--without being considered a violator of this sacred day (Genesis 2:2-3). However, Jesus did not limit working on the Sabbath to the Father or himself. He demonstrated that works of mercy could be performed on the Sabbath by devout Jews or by men accomplishing God's will like the Levitical priests of old or men such as his ancestor David. Christ had been given the authority to work on the Sabbath by his Father (John 5:20-22). Without being given that authority, the Son would objectively have been a blasphemer.

Why would they not conclude from the words in John 5:21 that Jesus is asserting an equality of authority with God, making the giving of life just as dependent upon His will as it is dependent upon the Father's will? From verse 22, they could easily misconstrue Jesus' words as a claim that the Father has relinquished His own authority in giving it to the Son, leading to the charge that Jesus was claiming to be in at least one respect actually greater than God. Why would they not charge him with claiming to be worthy of equal honor with God, in view of the statement in verse 23: "that all may honor the Son, EVEN AS they honor the Father"? Finally, verse 26: The very unoriginated life of Father is communicated by the Father to the Son, and thus the Son has the same unoriginated life equally with the Father.

John does not tell us how the Jews reacted to the rest of Jesus' words in chapter five of the Fourth Gospel. It is a little difficult to make an argument from silence. But none of what Jesus says in John 5 has to be interpreted as you suggest. While God (YHWH) is the one who grants life to men of all sorts (1 Samuel 2:6; Psalm 36:9), it is nonetheless his prerogative to allow others to perform resurrections or bring others back to life (e.g. God used Elijah and Elisha to bestow life on others) by means of the Holy Spirit. Luke relates that Christ was able to perform miracles or heal others because he was anointed with Holy Spirit and power (Luke 10:38). Christ resurrected others in his capacity as Messiah (Isaiah 11:1-5). As for John 5:23, compare John 6:57; 17:20-22. With all due respect, it seems that you are reading Nicene Christology into John 5:26. The context of 5:26 does not indicate that God has communicated his "unoriginated life" to his Son. What is at issue is bringing humans back to life by means of a resurrection; what is not at issue is God communicating his unoriginated life to the Son. See the chapter on aseity in my work Christology and the Trinity.

It would seem to me that the most natural reading of John 5:19-26 is that Jesus is affirming that as the Son of God He is not only equal but also identical with the Father in every respect EXCEPT that of being unoriginated. (I do not accept the implied interpretation of John 14:28 in the Athanasian Creed as being adequate to account for Jesus' statement about the Father being greater than the Son. Following Alexander, Athanasius, Hilary, Chrysostom, and the Cappadocians, I hold that the Father is eternally greater than the Son in that He alone is Unoriginated and in that He is the Cause of the Son's existence.)

The text cannot bear the weight that you're assigning to it: John did not wear 4th century doctrinal lenses. Why not try appealing to the grammar or historical circumstances of the text? Jesus does not claim (ontological) equality with God nor does he imply that he is identical with the Father in every respect (ontologically) with the exception of being unoriginated (John 5:28-30; 17:3).

In view of Heb. 1:5, how can you maintain that Jesus is the Son of God in the same sense as the angels are? Does not 'only-begotten' imply 'without brothers or sisters' so that, even if Jesus' sonship were metaphorical, it would still have to be a category of metaphorical sonship unique to Him?

I've addressed Hebrews 1:5 in my book Christology and the Trinity. As for the term "only-begotten" (MONOGENHS), there is much debate concerning its semantics. Does it mean "unique, one-of-a-king" or "only" or the only child born to X or Y? Without getting into that debate now, for which I recommend BDAG Greek-English Lexicon as a good start. Suffice it to say that "without brothers or sisters" is not a definition per se of MONOGENHS. For how the term is used in the LXX, see Genesis 22:2, 12, Judges 11:34 and see Ps. Solomon 18:4.

In all of Luke 3:23-38 the term 'son' occurs but once, it being understood only by implication after its initial occurence. Since this is the case, how can its definition change in verse 38? Does this not necessitate understanding Luke 3:23-38 (as opposed to Matt. 1 which due to the word beget can only be taken as a biological genealogy) as giving a 'legal' genealogy, so that one and the same definition of the term 'son' can be consistently applied all throughout the passage, including its final statement? Doesn't the genealogy in Gen. 5 appear to purposely avoid speaking of Adam as being 'begotten' by God?

Are you insisting that Luke means to imply that God is the literal father of Adam in Luke 3:38? Is that what you really want to say here? My point was merely that the term "son" can be employed metaphorically. I also appealed to the book of Job, where the angels seem to be called "sons of God" as well (Job 38:1-7, etc.). I believe that there is a different contextual setting in Genesis 5:1ff. Notice how the term "Adam" is used in the first two verses of that chapter. The first pentateuchal work also concentrates on who begat whom; it does not employ the understood term "son" throughout the text.

Given the inherent nature of poetry, it is not surprising that the term 'born' would be used in place of the more accurate 'made' or 'created' in Ps. 90:2 in reference to the origin of the mountains? (But is not the expression itself 'before the mountains' a metaphor for 'from olam', so that the literal origin of literal mountains is not directly in view here?) Are there any non-poetic passages in Scripture in which 'made' or 'created' can justifiably be substituted for 'born' or 'begotten'?

Why should we construe "before the mountains" as a metaphor? What contextual indicators suggest that we have a metaphor in this psalm? I don't see why the writer would not have literal mountains in mind since we read: "Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world . . . (KJV). For uses of "born" for "created," see Genesis 2:4 (consult the Hebrew text); Deuteronomy 32:6, 18; Psalm 7:14 (RSV); Proverbs 27:1; Isaiah 33:11; Zephaniah 2:2 (YLT). See Gesenius' Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon and BDB Lexicon.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Reply to Jason on Time and God

Jason posted some thoughts at the evangelicals and jws yahoogroup. I wish to interact with some of his remarks.

At one time I also conceived of God's eternal
existence in terms of 'unbounded temporality'.
Whereas I now speak of God (and His Son) as being
'ageless', back then I spoke of God (and His Son) as
having an 'infinite age.' The transition from
thinking in terms of 'unbounded temporality' to
'timelessness' occured for me through the realization
that God's 'age' is a constant; it always remains the
same; it does not increase with the passing of time;
and so, also, it is indivisible. Whatever the correct
answer is to the question: 'How old is God?' the exact
same answer will still be true ten minutes, ten years,
or ten thousand years from now. (Infinity + 1 =
Infinity; Infinity + 2 = Infinity; ect.)

Job 36:26 states: "How great is God—beyond our understanding!
The number of his years is past finding out (NIV)."

Most theologians would probably contend that the language used in Job is metaphorical. God literally does not have years that can be counted, even AD INFINITUM. One might reason that the author of Job is employing poetic turns of phrase. While there is probably the use of metaphor or poetic imagery in Job, I believe that it might make sense to speak of God's "years" in terms of his infinite or boundless existence. Talk of infinity quickly becomes problematic. Aristotle makes a distinction between a potential and actual infinite. He argues that the former may exist, but the latter most assuredly does not for the very reason that Jason states (among other reasons). Since it is possible to successively add numbers AD INFINITUM, Aristotle suggests that potential infinites exist. However, actual [quantitative] infinites do not exist. I would thus content that God's "age" cannot constitute an actual quantitative infinite. At best, the "years" of God represent a potential infinite that can be counted potentially AD INFINITUM.

By reflecting further on this, I came to the
conclusion that God exists both 'independently' of
time (for his 'age' is unaffected by the passing of
time) and 'within' every individual moment of time
'simultaneously' and 'ever-presently' (for, whereas
infinity is indivisible, and the 'present' - i.e., the
unmeasurable, elusive 'instant' of time that 'now' is
- is also indivisible, the past and the future are, by
contrast, divisible, so that what is temporally
indivisible cannot have a past or a future distinct
from its 'present' existence). In other words, I
believe that God is both 'timeless' and 'temporally
omnipresent'. I also hold that it not despite God's
timelessness that He is temporally omnipresent, but
rather that it is precisely because of His
timelessness that He is able to be simultaneously
ever-present in every individual moment of time. I
believe that the one implies the other, and that,
therefore, the question as to how a timeless God can
act in time has no force as an argument against the
position that God is timeless and ageless. I do
believe, however, that the question: 'How can a
time-bound God know the future free actions of His
creatures?" does present a major difficulty for the
'unbounded temporality' conception of God's eternity.
For, I believe that the Scriptures teach both the
omniscience of God (which I understand is denied by
Open Theists and Jehovah's Witnesses) and the free
will of rational creatures.

PACE Jason's position, I submit that the foregoing account that he has presented is a confused delineation of God's temporality or His atemporality. It seems to me that one cannot have it both ways. Either God is atemporal or God is temporal (i.e. sempiternal). It is confusing to posit both that God is timeless and within time. Nelson Pike and Stephen T. Davis argue that a timeless God has neither temporal location (it does not make sense to posit a "before" or "after" of a timeless being) nor temporal extension (a timeless being does not have any duration). Yet, it seems that anything existing within time does have duration of some kind such that it makes sense to say that a temporal entity has lived for 80 years or existed during the entire tenure of the Bush administration. See Davis, Logic and the Nature of God, pp. 10-24.

I'm not going to enter into a discussion of God's foreknowledge and free will now. I believe that this question has already been addressed on the evangelicals and jws board.

Regarding Ps. 90:2, I think that the 'unbounded
temporality' interpretation would be more convincing
if the verse had said: "from olam you have (always)
been God and to olam you will (continue to) be God."
As the text stands however, with its present tense
verb 'are' I believe supports the 'timelessness'
interpretation by way of affirming God's 'temporal
omnipresence'. Don't you think it would be an odd
manner of expression if I were to state: 'from 1977 to
2008, I am Jason'?

First, I believe that the lexical semantics of the text (i.e. the meaning of words used in a text) are on the side of those who believe in an limitlessly temporal or sempiternal God. OLAM can mean hidden or concealed time, that is, concealed from the standpoint of the present. In the case of God, it most certainly does not refer to God's timelessness. Second, you are placing the verb of the text in the wrong place. Psalm 90:2 actually says "from OLAM to OLAM, you ARE God." The writer is not attempting to tell us that God IS from OLAM to OLAM per se. The verb should be construed with the words "you" and "god." Do you see the difference regarding where one places the verb in the text?

To conclude, I offer some observations from Dr. Allan Padgett:

"the OT knows nothing of a timeless God in the Boethian sense” (God, Eternity and the Nature of Time, p. 29).

Padgett even makes the stronger claim that "the Bible knows nothing of an absolute timeless divine eternity" (p. 35). He settles for what he calls "relative divine timelessness" which he admits the Bible does not explicitly teach. Yet, Padgett believes that his view is compatible with biblical statements about God's "eternity" (OLAM) or everlasting nature.

Padgett also writes:

"The everlasting (or at best relatively timeless) nature of God's eternity has been clearly implied in Ps. 90:2,Isa. 40:28, 41:4, 43:10, and 44:6; while Isa. 48:3 allows any view. Eccl. 3:11, too, will not support an absolute timelessness. Thus Schmidt's thesis that the OT supports a Boethian understanding of non-durational timeless eternity cannot be maintained. We can conclude with the vast majority of scholars that Yahweh is understood by OT writers to be everlasting, or at best 'timeless' in a relative sense" (God, Eternity, and the Nature of Time, p. 29).

Best regards,


The following is a reproduction of something that I posted to a yahoogroup forum.

Dear list-members,

A couple of years ago--I do not remember the exact
year--Rob Bowman and I engaged in a dialogue
concerning CREATIO EX NIHILO. Since then I have given
the subject a lot of thought and engaged in extensive
research on this topic. The present author has
subsequently concluded that the expression CREATIO EX
NIHILO is permissible as long as we qualify what we
mean by such language. This point is forcefully
brought out by Richard Creel, who argues that
something can never come from an absolute void (i.e.
nothing) as Athanasius argued. Such a process is ruled
out by the basic principle of logical necessity [EX

On the other hand, if one interprets CREATIO EX NIHILO
as creating from nothing except God's "omnipotent
resources" then I find no personal objection to the
terminology. (See Creel's _Divine impassibility: an
essay in philosophical theology_, Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1986. The one downside to this work
is Creel's unnecessary postulation of a "plenum" of
uncreated possibilities to explain how God creates TA
PANTA without doing so EX NIHILO or EX DEO.)

Now Rob argued that Jehovah's Witnesses may
(unwittingly) teach that the cosmos is a product of
God's very being since JWs say that God created the
universe by means of His own dynamic energy (i.e. His
omnipotent resources). Rob finds the idea of God using
His personal emanative energies to create the cosmos,
seemingly unorthodox and problematic. The Witnesses
obviously [seem to] disagree.

While I do not plan on resolving this issue now, I
wonder what Rob thinks of the words from Tertullian's
treatise Against Hermogenes (section 45.1ff). Does he
think that Tertullian is also some type of pantheist
or panentheist since he writes:

"Do not be willing so to cover God with flattery, as
to contend that He produced by His mere appearance and
simple approach so many vast substances, instead of
rather forming them by His own energies. For this is
proved by Jeremiah when he says, 'God hath made the
earth by His power, He hath established the world by
His wisdom, and hath stretched out the heaven by His
understanding.' These are the energies by the stress
of which He made this universe. His glory is greater
if He laboured. At length on the seventh day He rested
from His works. Both one and the other were after His
manner. If, on the contrary, He made this world simply
by appearing and approaching it, did He, on the
completion of His work, cease to appear and approach
it any more. Nay rather, God began to appear more
conspicuously and to be everywhere accessible from the
time when the world was made."

Tertullian adds that God also made the world by
"applying the almighty efforts of His mind, His
wisdom, His power, His understanding, His word, His
Spirit, His might. Now these things were not necessary
to Him, if He had been perfect by simply appearing and

Yet Tertullian can still affirm the truthfulness of
CREATIO EX NIHILO in the sense that God did not employ
any primordial matter to bring forth all things:

"Now what clearer truth do these words indicate, than
that all things were made out of nothing? They are
incapable of being found out or investigated, except
by God alone."


Sunday, March 09, 2008

Geza Vermes on the Expression "Son of God"

I found this quote from Geza Vermes to be informative:

"To a Greek speaker in Alexandria, Antioch or Athens
at the turn of the eras, the concept hUIOS QEOU, son
of God, would have brought to mind either one of the
many offspring of the Olympian deities, or possibly a
deified Egyptian-Ptolemaic king, or the divine emperor
of Rome, descendant of the apotheosized Julius Caesar.
But to a Jew, the corresponding Hebrew or Aramaic
phrase would have applied to none of these. For him,
son of God could refer, in an ascending order, to any
of the children of Israel; or to a good Jew; or to a
charismatic holy Jew; or to the king of Israel; or in
particular to the royal Messiah; and finally, in a
different sense, to an angelic or heavenly being. In
other words, 'son of God' was always understood
metaphorically in Jewish circles. In Jewish sources,
its use never implies participation by the person
so-named in the divine nature. It may in consequence
safely be assumed that if the medium in which
Christian theology developed had been Hebrew and not
Greek, it would not have produced an incarnation
doctrine as this is traditionally understood" (Jesus
in His Jewish Context
, page 66).

Thomas Aquinas and Divine Paternity

In the Summa Theologica I.33.2, reply to objection 3, Thomas Aquinas writes:

"In human nature the word is not a subsistence, and hence is not properly called begotten or son. But the divine Word is something subsistent in the divine nature; and hence He is properly and not metaphorically called Son, and His principle is called Father."

Aquinas contends that the Logos is a Son "properly" not metaphorically. The implication is that the Word of God literally is God's Son. Thomas clarifies this point by noting that the Father is the Son's "principle" or "origin" (i.e. loosely speaking, the Father is the "cause" of the Son or the one who communicates the divine nature to the Son. Hence, there is no doubt that Thomas thinks of God as a "proper" or literal Father of the Son. I will concede that Aquinas is not imputing the biological status of paternity to God. But what does it mean to say that God the Father communicates the divine nature to God the Son? How does God communicate the divine nature to the Son timelessly or continuously such that God never began to communicate the divine nature nor will God ever cease to communicate the divine nature? Moreover, is this how the earliest Christians understood God's paternity? The argument in my dissertation is that most early Christian writers thought of "Father" as a metaphor; in fact, it was a very familiar metaphor used in Judaism and in writings penned by Greeks and Romans. LSJ and BDAG Greek-English lexica document these uses. It appears to me that Thomas' treatment of the term "Father" raises more questions that it solves. The utilization of divine atemporality just deepens the mystery of eternal generation.

Metaphor and God the Father

It is my position that the term "Father" when used of God in relation to His only-begotten Son (John 3:16; 14:28) or when employed with respect to those whom God has imbued with His Spirit (Galatians 4:6-7) is a metaphor or as-if structure. While it is not always feasible to contrast the metaphorical with the literal, I would contend that God is not the literal Father of His only-begotten Son nor is God the literal Father of those whom He has regenerated through the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5-6). Some have wondered why I would deny that God is literally the Father of the Son since the Trinity brochure published by Jehovah's Witnesses clearly appears to state that God is literally the Father of the Logos.

It is not my intent to take exception to what the Trinity brochure expresses. Much depends on what is meant by the term "literal." By "literal," (in this context), I mean "a usage of speech whereby the properties that are predicated of a subject actually are exemplified by the subject." For instance, if I attribute the property "burgundy" to my 2001 Ford Focus (the subject in this case), then I am using the predicate "burgundy" in a literal manner. Conversely, if I say that my 2001 Ford Focus is "cool," I'm probably not employing the predicate "cool" in the same way that I utilize the predicate "burgundy." One word is being used literally whereas the other term is metaphorical; that is, my car does not actually exemplify or instantiate the property of being cool. It does not exemplify the property of coolness in a matter-of-fact way. Similarly, when I utter the words, "God is the Father of the Son," my contention is that the proposition is not attributing properties to the subject "God" that God (as the subject of the proposition) literally exemplifies since the definition of a literal "father" in English is "A man who begets or raises or nurtures a child; a male parent of an animal; A male ancestor" (American Heritage Dictionary).

But God is not a male (Numbers 23:19; Hosea 11:9) nor does God literally beget, raise or nurture children. As Paul Ricoeur has pointed out, there is a dialectical tension that exists between the "is" and the "is not" when we talk about God the Father: there is a sense in which God both is and is not Father. In English, to speak of a literal father pretty much equates to speaking of a biological male who either nurtures or engenders children. But these descriptions do not appertain to Almighty God.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

John 17:3 and ALHQINOS

Here are some brief thoughts on the ALHQINOS/ALHQHS:

Louw-Nida Greek-English Lexicon points out that ALHQHS and ALHQINOS may possibly denote that which pertains to actual existence, "real, really, true, truly" (see John 6:55).

This source comments on John 17:3 (semantic domain 70.3), noting that this passage could be rendered "that they may know you, the only one who is really God." We are then told that the rendering "the only one who is really God" could be understood in some languages as "the only God who exists" or "who is God and there are no other gods."

In semantic domain 72.1 of Louw-Nida, we also read that ALHQHS may signify: "pertaining to being in accordance with historical fact" or "true, truth" (cf. John 4:18). Compare John's use of ALHQINHOS (ALHQINH) in John 19:35.

LSJ observes that ALHQHS (the Doric form of the word is ALAQHS) can mean "unconcealed, true, real" with its opposite being "false" or "apparent." On the other hand, in classical Greek, ALHQINOS can mean "agreeable to truth." When used of persons, it may denote "truthful, trusty"; when employed with respect to things, its denotation may be "true, genuine."

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Galatians 5:22

Concerning Galatians 5:22 and ἀγάπη:

(1) The postpositive δὲ likely functions as a "switch-reference" or transitional device in this verse; notice the presence of the article ὁ which when accompanying δὲ in such contexts normally signals transition. Therefore, the NWT (1984 and 2013) renders the passage: "On the other hand . . ."

"The Spirit, on the other hand, brings a harvest of love, joy, peace; patience towards others, kindness, benevolence" (Weymouth NT)

(2) ὁ καρπὸς is nominative singular masculine. Ergo, strictly speaking, Paul is not listing the "fruits" of the spirit, but the "fruit" or fruitage of God's spirit of holiness. Commentators (including Martin Luther) have pointed out that all other "fruits of the spirit" are simply manifestations of the first fruit mentioned, that is, ἀγάπη. This point seems to be borne out when one compares Galatians 5:22-23 with 1 Corinthians 13:1-8.

(3) The fruit or fruitage listed in Galatians 5:22-23 can only be produced via the activity of God's holy spirit: note the contrast that Paul makes with his use of τὰ ἔργα in 5:19-21. So Jehovah God works in his people that we may both will and act to his praise and glory (Philippians 2:13).

(4) God is ἀγάπη with respect to His essence; He is love (1 John 4:8). Some theologians have thus called ἀγάπη, God's "primal ethical attribute" (I. Dorner). That is, some who study God's essence/nature perceive the need to distinguish between God's "ethical" and His "ontological" attributes. While God cannot not love, there is a sense in which He shows divine love freely (Hosea 14). YHWH does not merely love on "automatic pilot" as it were. The Bible and the pre-Nicenes affirm God's free will, not just the freedom of humans, which includes the divine ability to love because Jehovah God voluntarily demonstrates affection for His creatures.

(5) Love is the hallmark of true Christianity (John 13:34-35). No one has greater love than that someone should lay down his or her life for friends (especially other worshipers of God). See John 15:13; 1 John 3:16-18.