Thursday, December 25, 2008

Does the Triune God Transcend Reason?

A goodly number of Trinitarians have contended that the Trinity doctrine cannot be conclusively demonstrated by rational thought because it is above reason or transrational. Now assuming that God is triune and God as such transcends reason, then it would seem to follow logically that the triune God (if he exists) would also transcend reason (i.e. the law of transitivity). Therefore, one question that seemingly needs to be addressed is whether God in se is transrational or "metarational."

To briefly address some of these issues, I will admit from the outset that there has long been a tension concerning the proper relationship between faith and reason. Certain thinkers have contended that God or his dealings with humanity are not amenable to reason. There is also the famous axiom in theology that God may be apprehended, but he cannot be comprehended. And even a rigorous theologian like Duns Scotus ultimately argues that when reason leads us to a place where faith does not, we should let faith take precedence over reason.

However, it cannot be the case that God utterly transcends reason. This suggestion is nonsensical and patently false in the light of church history and Scripture. For example, Tertullian writes:

Reason, in fact, is a thing [property] of God, inasmuch as there is nothing which God the Maker of all has not provided, disposed, ordained by reason-nothing which He has not willed should be handled and understood by reason (De Paen 1).


The Latin text reads:
Ceterum a ratione eius tantum absunt quantum ab ipso rationis auctore. Quippe res dei ratio quia deus omnium conditor nihil non ratione providit disposuit ordinavit nihilque non ratione tractari intellegique voluit.


And Origen of Alexandria (in opposition to Celsus) maintains that humans are able to comprehend or describe God in the sense that familiarity with divine attributes may conceivably guide one who heeds God's truth toward a partial knowledge and understanding of the deity:
But if you take the phrase to mean that it is possible to represent by words something of God's attributes, in order to lead the hearer by the hand, as it were, and so enable him to comprehend something of God, so far as attainable by human nature, then there is no absurdity in saying that 'He can be described by name.'


See Contra Celsum 6.65ff.

Origen affirms that there is a sense in which rational creatures are able to describe or comprehend God. Such comprehension is not exhaustive but relative (i.e. to a degree). Therefore, the often heard maxim "God may be apprehended, but not comprehended" probably needs to be qualified. Origen indicates that rational creatures are able to describe or comprehend God—to an extent.

Finally, from the ecclesiastical history perspective, it seems that Richard of St. Victor (a Medieval theologian) makes a critical distinction between a doctrine being "above reason" and a doctrine being "beyond reason." He seems to apply both distinctions to the Trinity doctrine, even implying that the doctrine of God's triunity seems contrary to reason. However, Richard of St. Victor qualifies his remarks by writing that "almost all the things that we are commanded to believe about the Trinity of persons" are above or seem contrary to reason. The qualifier "almost" is not without importance since Richard himself posits a natural proof for God's triunity on the basis of love, a rational demonstration which resembles Augustine's attempt to show the reasonableness of the Trinity doctrine. But Richard's rational proof continued to be tethered to the Church. That is, it probably cannot be sustained rationally apart from that Trinitarian legacy which has been handed down by various and sundry ecclesiastics. See http://books.google.com/books?id=9d-IA72wfyYC&pg=PA262&dq=trinity+beyond+reason#PPA262,M1

The point of the preceding data has been to show that it is untenable to hold that God in se completely transcends reason. And I believe that this point is not only sustained by examining church history, but Scripture also indicates that God does not utterly transcend reason. See 1 John 5:20. For comments on the potential meaning of dianoia in 1 John 5:20, see http://books.google.com/books?id=2Zd4nTorV9QC&pg=PA560&dq=1+john+5:20+and+dianoia&lr=#PPA560,M1

In closing this blog entry, I leave my readers with a thought from John Locke:
Nothing that is contrary to, and inconsistent with, the clear and self-evident dictates of reason, has a right to be urged or assented to as a matter of faith.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Addressing Jason's Trinitarian Arguments -Part I

Before I wrap up my series on the Trinity doctrine in the light of reason, I want to address a few objections posed by some Trinitarian objectors. An Orthodox apologist named "Jason" submits the following reply:

Jason:
Before making any further pronoucements [sic] on the alleged 'unreasonableness' of the doctrine of the Trinity, you might want to reflect on the following answer to the question which Edgar raised on his blog. The reason why human beings cannot be one and many at the same time involves the following observations.


Edgar: the first mistake that Jason makes is to deal with a question that is not identical to the one that I posed. My question concerns how it is factually possible for three persons (however one defines the term "person") to exist as one being rather than three beings. But Jason chooses to frame my question in terms of the One and Many problem. In this way, he basically sidesteps my initial query.

Jason continues to quote Metropolitan Ioannis Zizioulas:

(a) In human existence, nature precedes the person. When John or George or Basil are born, the one human nature precedes them; they, therefore represent and embody only part of the human nature. Through human procreation humanity is divided, and no human person can be said to be the bearer of the totality of human nature. This is why the death of one person does not automatically bring about the death of the rest — or conversely, the life of one such person the life of the rest.


Edgar:
The term "nature" is ambiguous. One should clearly define what he or she means by the term. (For instance, see Christopher Stead's work Divine Substance.)Granted, there is a sense in which "nature" (understood as the complex of properties that inform X) is existentially prior to X (= an entity that instantiates a determinate complex of properties). But "nature" can be analyzed in more ways than Metropolitan Ioannis Zizioulas or Jason suggest. For instance, Aristotle makes a distinction between primary and secondary substance (SUBSTANTIA) and John Duns Scotus is known for analyzing "nature" in terms of an entity's "thisness" or HAECCEITAS (i.e. Peter not only instantiates a nature that is like John's, but Peter also instantiates a haecceity or thisness). Hence, the analysis presented above is inadequate or at best incomplete. Besides, Jason's source does not refute what I have hitherto stated. He does not satisfactorily explain how three persons do not = three beings in the divine sphere. Even the Cappadocians recognized the difficulties with speaking of three persons as one being. See Gregory of Nyssa's attempt to handle this logical difficulty: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf205.viii.v.html

Compare his words with Gregory of Nazianzius in Migne PG 35:1220-1221 here: http://books.google.com/books?vid=0tmDvO1QXd96vX6yL5KO5a5&id=QPBUZQVRy9IC&pg=PP13&lpg=PP13&dq=migne+%22in+hoc+tomo+XXXV#PRA1-PT562,M1

Jason:
(b) Because of this, each human person can be conceived as an individual, i.e. as an entity independent ontologically from other human beings. The unity between human beings is not ontologically identical with their diversity or multiplicity. The one and the many do not coincide. It is this existential difficulty that leads to the logical difficulty of saying 'one' and 'many' with the same breath.


Edgar:
My argument is not regarding the One and the Many. It concerns the difficulty that both Gregory of Nazianzius and Gregory of Nyssa discerned in their treatises, namely, how is it factually possible for three persons to = one being? Gregory of Nyssa tried to address the logical difficulty by insisting that human language incorrectly refers to Peter, James, and John as "three men" since human nature is not divisible nor capable of increase or decrease. He writes:

But since the correction of the habit is impracticable (for how could you persuade any one not to speak of those who are exhibited in the same nature as “many men”?—indeed, in every case habit is a thing hard to change), we are not so far wrong in not going contrary to the prevailing habit in the case of the lower nature, since no harm results from the mistaken use of the name


Compare Jaroslav Pelikan's The Christian Tradition 1:218-224.

Jason:
Now, if we contrast this with God's existence, we see immediately that this existential and hence logical difficulty is not applicable to God. Since God by definition has not had a beginning, and space and time do not enter His existence, the three persons of the Trinity do not share a pre-existing or logically prior to them divine nature, but coincide with it. Multiplicity in God does not involve a division of His nature, as happens with man." - Metropolitan Ioannis Zizioulas, The Doctrine of the Holy Trinity: The Significance of the Cappadocian Contribution.


Edgar:
I have already noted the irrelevance of this answer, so I will not repeat what I have pointed out above. I will conclude by noting that question begging in abundance is occurring here. Firstly, I like the way that "individual" is redefined in an ad hoc manner. After all, Boethius had no problem using the expression "individual substance of a rational nature" to describe a divine person. Thomas Aquinas was amenable to Boethius' definition of PERSONA although he saw the need to nuance each term belonging to the Boethian definition.

Secondly, while I agree with Zizioulas that God has no beginning, God's relationship to time is more debatable. Additionally, whether there is a triune God or a nature with which these supposed three persons coincide is the question. This kind of circular reasoning should be avoided at all costs. Thirdly, multiplicity in God has yet to be proved (quod erat demonstrandum). Why is Jason employing a priori reasoning to supposedly refute my views?

I will address Jason's other "arguments" in another submission.

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Trinity Doctrine in the Light of Reason: Part 2

In this post, I want to define the expression "divine simplicity" before attempting to refute it. According to the doctrine of divine simplicity, "God is radically unlike creatures in that he is devoid of any complexity or composition, whether physical or metaphysical. Besides lacking spatial and temporal parts, God is free of matter/form composition, potency/act composition, and existence/essence composition. There is also no real distinction between God as subject of his attributes and his attributes. God is thus in a sense requiring clarification identical to each of his attributes, which implies that each attribute is identical to every other one. God is omniscient, then, not in virtue of instantiating or exemplifying omniscience — which would imply a real distinction between God and the property of omniscience — but by being omniscience. And the same holds for each of the divine omni-attributes: God is what he has. As identical to each of his attributes, God is identical to his nature. And since his nature or essence is identical to his existence, God is identical to his existence" (See http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/divine-simplicity/)

David Burrell tries to illuminate this seemingly obscure or abstruse doctrine. He explains that (generally) no entity is identical with its nature (e.g. a square is not identical with squareness nor is a rectangle identical with rectangularity nor is a human being identical with the abstract property of being human). God is supposedly the only exception to this "rule" according to Burrell. See Burrell's text _Aquinas: God and Action_, pp. 5-7.

Thomas Aquinas himself insists that God is non-compositional or wholly simple in his Summa Theologica. In the prima pars of the Summa, Aquinas emphasizes this point in multiple ways:

ST I.3.1: "I answer that, It is absolutely true that God is not a body; and this can be shown in three ways."

ST I.3.2: "I answer that, It is impossible that matter should exist in God."

ST I.3.3: "I answer that, God is the same as His essence or nature."

ST I.3.4: "I answer that, God is not only His own essence, as shown in the preceding article, but also His own existence. This may be shown in several ways."

ST I.3.5: "I answer that, A thing can be in a genus in two ways; either absolutely and properly, as a species contained under a genus; or as being reducible to it, as principles and privations. For example, a point and unity are reduced to the genus of quantity, as its principles; while blindness and all other privations are reduced to the genus of habit. But in neither way is God in a genus. That He cannot be a species of any genus may be shown in three ways."

ST I.3.6: "I answer that, From all we have said, it is clear there can be no accident in God. First, because a subject is compared to its accidents as potentiality to actuality; for a subject is in some sense made actual by its accidents. But there can be no potentiality in God, as was shown."

ST I.3.7: "I answer that, The absolute simplicity of God may be shown in many ways. First, from the previous articles of this question. For there is neither composition of quantitative parts in God, since He is not a body; nor composition of matter and form; nor does His nature differ from His 'suppositum'; nor His essence from His existence; neither is there in Him composition of genus and difference, nor of subject and accident. Therefore, it is clear that God is nowise composite, but is altogether simple."

Another way of making the same point as the aforementioned authors is to say that God is non-mereological. That is to say that the doctrine of divine simplicity contends that God is timeless and non-spatial or utterly non-compositional: He has no parts whatsoever. And if God's essence is identical with God's existence, then the three persons of the Trinity presumably are not three beings, but one being. But yet the Persons are supposedly one being although they putatively are not identical one to the other (i.e. the Father is not the Son nor is the Son the Holy Spirit or the Father, etc). But how is it possible for three Persons to constitute one Being? In the next post, I will answer the question above and offer reasons why a Christian probably should eschew the simplicitas dei doctrine.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

My Amazon Review Of Nancey Murphy's Book

I used Murphy's Bodies and Souls, or Spirited Bodies for two classes this past semester. I then had my classes to compose reviews that outlined their basic impressions of this book. Certain remarks were common in their reviews. I will list some of those comments in this review of Murphy's book. First, let me say that I was surprised at how many students recommended this book for future courses. Nancey Murphy explicitly advocates and offers arguments for a thoroughgoing form of non-reductive physicalism. She does not denigrate opposing positions, but her view of the body and soul is not the popular or traditional religious view of the body or soul. Murphy ultimately contends that we are spirited bodies (i.e. we do not have souls, but we are purely physical). Now I thought that my students (attending a Lutheran university) would immediately say that this book should not be used in future courses at Lenoir-Rhyne University. Boy, was I mistaken!

Along with their enthusiastic recommendations for using Murphy's book, whether they hated or loved it or felt lukewarm about it, some oft-heard criticisms regarding the text were as follows:

Murphy's work is too detailed for those who are just beginning to undertake a study of philosophy or theology. Moreover, it is too redundant, inconsistent, and unclear at points. The least favorite part of the book (for the professor and students) was the information-engineering diagrams that Murphy included on pages 86, 89, and 101. These diagrams were supposed to shed light on non-reductive physicalism. Unfortunately, they left most students scratching their heads and wonder what was the point of the diagrams. Even I had to read those pages three times to understand what each thing stood for in the diagrams. However, I understand why Murphy included those diagrams. But in my opinion, they were only helpful to a point.

In addition to the numerous criticisms of Murphy's book, there were statements that reflected praise for her work. Some students wrote that her text contained a clear statement of her physicalist thesis, they thought the book was well-written, and they expressed praise for her efforts to substantiate her general thesis by the employment of manifold scholarly sources. Most students offered a hearty recommendation for the book, although most took issue with her thesis or felt that she relied too much on science or reason as opposed to relying on Scripture. Finally, while most students did not find Murphy's arguments compelling enough to make them change their minds, certain students did begin to entertain non-reductive physicalism, and others at least began to question the traditional body and soul view. My overall goal was achieved. I wanted to critique dualism, trichotomism and physicalism for a semester with my students help. I believe that we all walked away with a deeper knowledge of the issues. Furthermore, they now are more familiar with an alternative worldview vis-a-vis human nature.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

The Trinity Doctrine in the Light of Reason

Okay, let us get down to brass tacks regarding the Trinity doctrine. Both Trinitarians and non-Trinitarians appeal to the Tanakh or Christian-Greek Scriptures (the New Testament) to substantiate their respective beliefs. But one hardly witnesses any gain from such discussions. For instance, it seems that something as simple as examining the Johannine Prologue (Gospel of John 1:1-18) ultimately proves unproductive in debates about the deity of Christ. Does John 1:1c say that the Logos "was God" or "a god" (NWT) or some derivation thereof? And the debate goes on.

Since I do not believe that most Trinitarians in cyberspace, at any rate, will ever cease being Trinitarians based on the preponderance of evidence from Scripture, I would like to put a somewhat basic question to Trinitarians.

In the case of humans, 3 persons = 3 beings or entities. But in the case of the three divine persons, we are led to believe that 3 persons = 1 God (i.e. one divine being or entity). How does this whole process work? How is it possible for 3 persons to equal 1 being?

One explanation that I have found for this question is that God is simple (i.e. God has no parts or composition, that is, God is non-mereological) whereas human persons are complex (i.e. mereological or they have parts). Due to the fact that God is simple, it is said that the only acceptable distinctions in God are the three persons. Yet this defense obviously evokes the question, how do we know that God is simple?

Thomas Aquinas certainly provides a rejoinder to this question in the Summa Theologica. But are his rejoinders satisfactory? Are there valid or sound arguments against divine simplicity? Can we find compelling arguments that seem to refute divine simplicity? I will address these questions in a separate post.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Romans 8:16: Bearing Witness

The Spirit Bears Witness with Our Spirit (Comments on SUMMARTUREW)

Research gathered by Dr. Edgar Foster

Here are some thoughts on Romans 8:16 from various sources.

The Vocabulary of the Greek New Testament (Moulton-Milligan) states:

"SUNMARTUREW, 'bear witness with' (Rom 2:15 al.): cf. BGU I. 86.41ff (A.D. 155), where the signature of each attesting witness is accompanied by the words SUNMARTURW KAI SUNSFRAKIW."

Rogers and Rogers (The New Linguistic and Exegetical Key to the Greek New Testament, page 330) says: "SUMMARTUREI pres. ind. act. SUMMARTUREW (#5210) to bear witness w. someone, to confirm, to testify in support of someone. Used in the papyri where the signature of each attesting witness is accompanied by the words, 'I bear witness w. and I seal w.'" (MM).

"Beareth witness with our spirit [summarturei tōi pneumati hēmōn]. See on Ro 2:15 for this verb with associative instrumental case. See 1Jo 5:10f. for this double witness" (Robertson's Word Pictures).

We also have these words from John Chrysostom:

"Ver. 16. 'The Spirit Itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.'

For it is not from the language merely, he says, that I make my assertion, but from the cause out of which the language has its birth; since it is from the Spirit suggesting it that we so speak. And this in another passage he has put into plainer words, thus: 'God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, Abba Father.'(Gal. iv. 6.) And what is that, 'Spirit beareth witness with spirit?' The Comforter, he means, with that Gift, which is given unto us. For it is not of the Gift alone that it is the voice, but of the Comforter also who gave the Gift, He Himself having taught us through the Gift so to speak. But when the 'Spirit beareth witness' what farther place for doubtfulness? For if it were a man, or angel, or archangel, or any other such power that promised this, then there might be reason in some doubting. But when it is the Highest Essence that bestoweth this Gift, and 'beareth witness' by the very words He bade us use in prayer, who would doubt any more of our dignity? For not even when the Emperor elects any one, and proclaims in all men's hearing the honor done him, does anybody venture to gainsay."


See the patristic commentary on Romans at http://books.google.com/books?id=yVs2SQkeZEoC&pg=PA211&dq=commentary+on+romans+8:16&sig=cqytt-06pOgp92zUNtmpuhyuYKk

The NET Bible renders Romans 8:16: The Spirit himself bears witness to our spirit that we are God’s children.

The footnote to that texts reads:

Or possibly “with.” ExSyn 160-61, however, notes the following: “At issue, grammatically, is whether the Spirit testifies alongside of our spirit (dat. of association), or whether he testifies to our spirit (indirect object) that we are God’s children. If the former, the one receiving this testimony is unstated (is it God? or believers?). If the latter, the believer receives the testimony and hence is assured of salvation via the inner witness of the Spirit. The first view has the advantage of a σύν- (sun-) prefixed verb, which might be expected to take an accompanying dat. of association (and is supported by NEB, JB, etc.). But there are three reasons why πνεύματι (pneumati) should not be taken as association: (1) Grammatically, a dat. with a σύν- prefixed verb does not necessarily indicate association. This, of course, does not preclude such here, but this fact at least opens up the alternatives in this text. (2) Lexically, though συμμαρτυρέω (summarturew) originally bore an associative idea, it developed in the direction of merely intensifying μαρτυρέω (marturew). This is surely the case in the only other NT text with a dat. (Rom 9:1). (3) Contextually, a dat. of association does not seem to support Paul’s argument: ‘What standing has our spirit in this matter? Of itself it surely has no right at all to testify to our being sons of God’ [C. E. B. Cranfield, Romans [ICC], 1:403]. In sum, Rom 8:16 seems to be secure as a text in which the believer’s assurance of salvation is based on the inner witness of the Spirit. The implications of this for one’s soteriology are profound: The objective data, as helpful as they are, cannot by themselves provide assurance of salvation; the believer also needs (and receives) an existential, ongoing encounter with God’s Spirit in order to gain that familial comfort.


Regards,
Edgar

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

The Ontological Argument by Anselm

The Ontological Argument
The argument was formulated by Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109 CE)

(1) God is that than which a greater cannot be conceived.
(2) Now that which exists in the understanding (in intellectu) and in reality (in re) is greater than that which exists in the understanding alone (in solo intellectu).
(3) If that than which a greater cannot be conceived exists in the understanding (in intellectu) and not in reality (in re), then that than which a greater cannot be conceived is one than which a greater can be conceived (reductio ad absurdum).* But surely that cannot be.
(4) Therefore, that than which a greater cannot be conceived without a doubt exists both in the understanding (in intellectu) and in reality (in re).

*The logical move "reductio ad absurdum" (reduction to absurdity) involves proving an utterance (U) by showing that its denial (not-U) leads to or entails a contradiction or absurd conclusion (Alvin Plantinga).

The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy says the following about reductio ad absurdum:

“In its most general construal, reductio ad absurdum - reductio for short – is a process of refutation on grounds that absurd - and patently untenable consequences would ensue from accepting the item at issue. This takes three principal forms according as that untenable consequence is:

1. a self-contradiction (ad absurdum)
2. a falsehood (ad falsum or even ad impossibile)
3. an implausibility or anomaly (ad ridiculum or ad incommodum)”

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Trinitarian Redactors and Novatian of Rome

One of the most important works on the Trinity
doctrine is Novatian's De Trinitate. This work has
been admired in the western church and became somewhat
of a manual or handbook in ancient times. In English, we
usually call Novatian's treatise On the Trinity. However, one wonders whether Novatian himself appended
the word "Trinity" to the title of this document?
Alternatively, is it possible that early copies of the
text were edited or redacted and the word "Trinity"
was added to Novatian's work?

Russell J. DeSimone (in his translation of De
Trinitate
) points out that we do not know the
original title of what is now known as De Trinitate. He suggests that the "correct title" of the work
appears to have been De regula veritatis or De regula fidei (DeSimone 23). The latter title is probably more likely in view of what Novatian writes in De Trinitate 21 regarding the general thesis of his
work. In any event, Novatian the Presbyter never
utilizes the term "Trinity." DeSimone thus notes that
an amanuensis living after 381 probably altered the
title in view of what transpired in 325 and 381 CE at
the first two ecumenical councils (DeSimone 23).

Joseph M. Hallman (The Descent of God, page 70) similarly observes that De regula fidei may have been the original title of De Trinitate. Again, the possible work of a redactor is acknowledged.

One may also find evidence for Trinitarian redaction in the Latin versions of Origen's Peri Archon. See Basil Studer's Trinity and Incarnation, page 84.

Regards,
Edgar

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Thoughts on the Tetragrammaton

Taken from the book edited by Alvin F. Kimel, Jr. (editor) This Is My Name Forever: The Trinity & Gender Language for God (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2001). See page 26:

"The notion that God has a proper name and can be differentiated from other deities with proper names is absolutely clear in the Old Testament. Other gods (ELOHIM) lay claims on humanity, but Israel is to have no god (ELOHIM) before or beside YHWH (Ex 20:3). Moreover, the character of the name is itself a matter of reverence, since the name really coheres with the God it names (20:7). One cannot therefore malign the name or substitute for the name another name, and somehow leave untouched the deity with whom the name is attached . . . Not taking the name of YHWH in vain implies, at a minimum, understanding that YHWH is not an 'accident' [non-essential property] detachable from a deeper 'substance,' that is, 'God himself.'"

Contrast the early church fathers, who believed God did not have a proper name or did not need to be distinguished from other entities since he is SUI GENERIS.

Here is another quote taken from a work titled Guide for the Perplexed which is written by the medieval thinker Maimonides. In 1.61 of that work, he writes:

"It is well known that all the names of God occurring in Scripture are derived from His actions, except one, namely, the Tetragrammaton, which consists of the letters yod, hé, vau [or vav, waw] and hé. This name is applied exclusively to God, and is on that account called Shem ha-meforash, 'The nomen proprium.' It is the distinct and exclusive designation of the Divine Being; whilst His other names are common nouns, and are derived from actions, to which some of our own are similar, as we have already explained."

Best regards,
Edgar

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Exodus 3:14 and The Ontological View

The Ontological View and Exodus 3:14

Exodus 3:14 is one of the most thought-provoking and highly debated
scriptures in all of Christian history. A question that immediately
comes up in connection with Exodus 3:14 is--what does Moses mean when he
records the authoritative words of God: 'tell them that I AM THAT I AM
has sent you'. Does this verse embody information that connotes
God's atemporality? Is God delineating His necessary existence (His ESSE A
SE) in this passage? Does this passage deal with ontological aspects of
God, or is there some other point that the writer wants us to glean from the
Hebrew phrase EHYEH ASHER EHYEH?

The second century (as I have contended elsewhere) was a time when Hellenistic religio-philosophical ideas permeated the church (ecclesia). One idea that trickled into the early Christian community was the notion of Divine Impassibility (APAQEIA). The notion of
impassibility seems to have distorted (conceptually) the biblical view of God's immutability. The ancient philosophical doctrine of divine impassibility chiefly stated that:

God was free of the changes and sufferings that characterize human life
and feeling, although derivatively it could also mean impassivity--that
God was indifferent to the changes and sufferings of man. It is
significant that Christian theologians customarily set down the doctrine
of the impassibility of God as an axiom, without bothering to provide
very much biblical support or theological proof . . . Even Tertullian,
for all his hostility to metaphysics, argued this way against Praxeas.
For Athanasius it was "an admitted truth about God that he stands in
need of nothing, but is self-sufficient and filled with
himself...Didymus the Blind took it for granted that the Holy Spirit, as
God, had to be "impassible, indivisible, and immutable." According to
Theodore of Mopsuetia, "it is well known...that the gulf between [the
Eternal One and a temporal being] is unbridgeable"; and again, "it is
known that variety belongs to creatures and simplicity to the divine
nature....The doctrine of the absoluteness and impassibility of God came
to form one of the presuppositions of the trinitarian and christological
issues; and the doctrine of the atonement in Anselm of Canterbury was
based on the axiom "that the divine nature is impassible, and that it
can in no sense be brought down from its loftiness or toil in what it
wills to do. (Pelikan, Jaroslav, The Christian Tradition I:52-4).


The idea of divine impassibility might seem as if it accurately elucidates
God's immutability. Such a conclusion apparently would be mistaken, however. For while the philosophical idea of divine impassibility seemed to articulate the nature of God, it appears to have distorted our understanding of it. The God of the Bible is not presented as an impassible deity. God is neither comparable to the First Mover of Aristotle nor can he be equated with The Good (the inexhaustible Ground of all Being) in Plato's Republic. To the contrary:

"Implicit in the biblical view of God as the Creator [is] the
affirmation of his sovereign independence: God [is] not dependent on his
creatures as they are on him . . . in their assertion of the freedom of
God, the prophets emphasized at the same time his involvement with the
covenant people in love and wrath. Therefore the Old Testament doctrine
of the sovereign freedom of God [cannot] be synonymous with the
philosophical doctrine of divine impassibility (APAQEIA)" (Pelikan, Christian Traditon, 52).

Impassibility denotes that God is free from the quality of becoming or
not subject to the vicissitudes concomitant with life in the finite
sphere of existence. In contrast, the Hebrew prophets affirm the active presence and power of God in their lives. They affirm a God who is living and
dynamic: EHYEH ASHER EHYEH. Exodus 3:14 contributes to this dynamic
view of YHWH. With the aforementioned information in mind, we will now
review this passage.

In the church of antiquity, Exodus 3:14 was believed
to be the supreme proof of God's impassibility. The hermeneutic views on this
text were divergent, yet there were numerous attempts to interpret
Exodus 3:14 in an ontological manner. Clement of Alexandria wrote that the verse meant that "God is one, and beyond the one and above the monad itself."
Hilary exclaims that Exodus 3:14 is "an indication concerning God so
exact that it expresses in the terms best adapted to human understanding
an unattainable insight into the mystery of the divine nature" (Pelikan, Christian Tradition,
54). Thomas Aquinas interpreted Exodus 3:14 in accordance with the Vulgate rendering "Qui est" (He Who Is). But is this view accurate? Should Exodus 3:14 be
understood in an ontological sense?

While I believe that all of the aforementioned ideas have some merit, it seems that that are only shadows pointing to the reality of God. Exodus 3:14 evidently is not an ontological statement of God's deity. It does not tell us so much about God's nature (His ONTWS), as it informs us about His purposes and functions with regard to the divine purposes. I would contend that the phenomenological view of Exodus 3:14 comes much closer to telling us what
the verse means. The phenomenological construal of the passage espouses the idea that God is the One who will "be" in the sense of carrying out His purposes (i.e. "he is the one causing to be"). In this exegetical paradigm, what God is to "be" is left unstated. He will become whatsoever he has to "become" in order to accomplish his purposes or manifest his presence. In Bibliotheca Sacra, Charles Gianotti offers some pertinent criticism regarding the ontological view of Exodus 3:14. He himself espouses either the phenomenological or the covenantal view. Concerning Exodus 3:14 and the ontological view, Gianotti writes:

This view seems to rest on the Septuagint translation of Exodus 3:14
(EGW EIMI hO WN). On the face of it, the use of eijmi seems to support
his view. This view is untenable for a number of reasons. Though the
Septuagint is a serviceable translation of the Pentateuch, the
Septuagint is not inspired; it is a human translation by Jewish
scholars. The primary understanding of Exodus 3:14 should come, rather,
from a contextual understanding of the passage as well as from an
analysis of the meaning and usage of the Hebrew term hy*h* and its
imperfect form hy#h=a# . . . Significantly, most interpreters translate
hy#h=a# in Exodus 3:12 as future (i.e.. "I will be [hy#h=a#] with you").
Yet, two verses later, why should not the same translation suffice?


Gianotti sums up matters by writing:

One may safely conclude that Exodus 3:14 does not support an
"ontological" or "existence" view; the name YHWH therefore is not rooted
in that view, by virtue of its close relation to Exodus 3:14.


In view of the Scriptural framework wherein Exodus 3:14 was originally
written, I espouse the phenomenological view of this verse. The passage
does not appear to support the ontological view favored by the early church writers.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Owen Thomas on the Incarnation

Note what systematic theologian Owen Thomas writes regarding the Incarnation or hypostatic union. The following is taken from his _Introduction to Theology_ (page 150):

"H.W. Montefiore has indicated an even more
fundamental problem in the Chalcedonian definition.
The formula asserts of Christ, 'the same perfect in
Godhead and the same perfect in manhood, truly God and
truly man . . .' The implication is that apart from
Christ we know what perfect godhead [sic] and perfect
humanity are, and that on the basis of the New
Testament testimony we are affirming that Jesus
possessed both. But in fact the Christian faith is
that it is precisely in Christ and nowhere else that
we see what perfect godhead and perfect humanity are.
Now Middle Platonist philosophy involved a doctrine of
God as impassible, completely transcendent and
immutable. Thus on these terms it is extremely
difficult to understand how God and humanity could be
united in one person. But the fundamental thing we
know from Christ is that God can be perfectly united
with humanity. This is where we begin in speaking
about God and humanity. The problem is not how a union
of God and humanity in one person is possible, but
given the union manifest in Christ what perfect
godhead and humanity are."

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Jehovah's Witnesses and Globalization by Chryssides

Here is a link for an article written by George D. Chryssides. I believe that he attempts to be objective or fair when writing about the religious movement known as Jehovah's Witnesses. One criticism that I have of his work, however, is that he is sloppy or careless with historical details. But maybe he is not a historian. Anyway, his article isn't that difficult to read. One more criticism might be that what is mentioned in the abstract is not fully developed by the author in his actual writing.

http://www.cesnur.org/2007/bord_chryssides.htm

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Rise in STDs Among Older Folks

Sex and older generations: it's not a topic that gets discussed much, not even in the doctor's office. But some physicians say that needs to change, because older patients are leading active sex lives - and their rates of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) may be on the rise.

Whatever the cause - Viagra, midlife divorce, online dating or simple ignorance - studies suggest that STDs are no longer just an affliction of the young. A study published online last week by the journal Sexually Transmitted Infections adds to that growing body of evidence. Researchers at England's West Midlands Health Protection Agency found that in less than a decade, STD rates had more than doubled among people ages 45 and older. And Dr. Babatunde Olowokure, an author of the study, thinks that figure may be low. "These observations are based on a small proportion of people who actually attend clinics," he says. While that proportion of the population has increased overall over the past decade, Olowokure points out that middle-aged and older people tend to delay visiting a doctor for treatment of an STD, or they avoid it altogether, in large part due to the stigma associated with sexually transmitted infections.

In their study, Olowokure and his team counted 4,445 infections (excluding HIV) reported to 19 clinics in the region. From 1996 to 2003, total cases of chlamydia, genital herpes, gonorrhea, syphilis and genital warts among people over 45 increased 127%, from 344 cases in 1996 to 780 in 2003. Rates of STDs increased in patients under age 45 as well, by 97%, during the same time period. In the U.S. the most recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention figures - which include prevalence of syphilis, chlamydia and gonorrhea - reflect relatively stable rates of infection in people ages 55 and older, but that data relies on self-reporting, and in many parts of the country it is out of step with what physicians are seeing. "Our rates of syphilis and chlamydia are up across all ages," says Dr. Sharon Lee, a Kansas City, Mo., family physician and medical director of HIV Wisdom for Older Women. According to a 2000 study of Washington State residents, one of the only comprehensive analyses of STD infection among the middle-aged and older, cases of gonorrhea increased 18.2% between 1997 and 1998 among people ages 45 and older; in younger people, that increase was 17.3%.

See http://news.yahoo.com/s/time/20080708/hl_time/moremidlifeandolderstds

Friday, July 11, 2008

A Supposed Silver Lining to High Gas Prices?

WASHINGTON - Today's high gas prices could reduce auto deaths by nearly a third as driving decreases, with the effect particularly dramatic among price-sensitive teenage drivers, the authors of a new study said.

Professors Michael Morrisey of the University of Alabama-Birmingham and David Grabowski of Harvard Medical School found that for every 10 percent increase in gas prices there was a 2.3 percent decline in auto deaths. For drivers ages 15 to 17, the decline was 6 percent, and for ages 18 to 21, it was 3.2 percent.

The study looked at fatalities from 1985 to 2006, when gas prices reached about $2.50 a gallon. With gas now averaging over $4 a gallon, Morrisey said he expects to see a drop of about 1,000 deaths a month.

With annual auto deaths typically ranging from about 38,000 to 40,000 a year, a drop of 12,000 deaths would cut the total by nearly a third, Morrisey said.

"I think there is some silver lining here in higher gas taxes in that we will see a public health gain," Grabowski said. But he cautioned that their estimate of a decline of 1,000 deaths a month could be offset somewhat by the shift under way to smaller, lighter, more fuel-efficient cars and the increase in motorcycle and scooter driving.

See the whole story at http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20080711/ap_on_he_me/auto_deaths_gas_prices

Friday, July 04, 2008

My Amazon Review of Hal Flemings Book

Hal Flemings has presented a persuasive case for the reasonableness of God's existence. Flemings' approach is innovative, refreshing and hardly ever encountered in other books belonging to this genre. He initiates his discussion of theistic and atheistic arguments by seeking to clarify what the term "God" means. I believe you will find the answers that he supplies in the first chapter of his work to be quite informative. Flemings then proceeds to review what deists, theists, pantheists and agnostics have argued with respect to God's existence. These arguments are handled in an objective and balanced way: the author is not interested in simply pontificating. This part of his work also makes the book a pleasure to read. Flemings' book contains 10 chapters including a discussion of holy books that different religions use and there is a chapter dealing with the problem of evil. I especially enjoyed the chapter about the various arguments that have been posited to prove God's existence. Flemings handles the ontological, teleological, anthropological and scientific arguments for God with the utmost care and skill. I encourage you to purchase this book, if you have ever wondered whether there is logical, scientific or theological evidence that points to the existence of a loving and benevolent or all wise Creator. The information contained in this work can also be employed to help non-theists seriously reflect on the question as well as the reality of God.

Edgar Foster

graduate of the University of Glasgow (Ph.D.)

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Revelation 15:8 and Christology

In Revelation 15:8, John reports that when the glory and power of God was fully manifest in his temple, OUDEIS EDUNATO EISELQEIN EIS TON NAON AXRI TELESQWSIN hAI hEPTA PLHGAI TWN hEPTA AGGELWN.

What did John mean by the words OUDEIS EDUNATO EISELQEIN? Who are included in the pronoun functioning as a substantive OUDEIS?

Uriah Smith (a Seventh Day Adventist commentator) writes:

"While the seven angels are performing
their fearful mission, the temple is filled
with the glory of God, and no man, OUDEIS, no one,
no being, referring to Christ and his heavenly
assistants, can enter therein. This shows that the
work of mercy is closed, and there is no ministration
in the sanctuary during the infliction of the plagues ;
hence they are manifestations of the wrath of God,
without any mixture of mercy" (Thoughts, Critical and Practical, on the Book of Revelation, page 308, published 1881).

Notice that Smith includes Christ and his "heavenly assistants" as referents of the term OUDEIS. It does not seem that Smith draws any ontological inferences from the language of Revelation 15:8. However, it seems to me that John is pointing out that not only were beings not in the holy NAOS in heaven--they COULD NOT enter because of the manifested glory and power of God the Father. What do you readers of this blog think?

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Josef Stern on Identifying Metaphors

The following is taken from the first chapter of my dissertation on metaphor and divine paternity:

How does one undertake the task of identifying a metaphor? What
linguistic markers signal that an utterance or
proposition is metaphorical? Donald Davidson
maintains:

There are no instructions for devising
metaphors; there is no manual for determining what a
metaphor 'means' or 'says'; there is no test for
metaphor that does not call for taste.


But Josef Stern appears to posit compelling
evidence that may successfully militate against Davidson's thesis.
He initially presents a semantic account of metaphors,
comparing them to demonstrative or deictic signifiers
(i.e. indexicals) that linguistically point to
noetically intended objects. Nevertheless, Stern
recognizes that there is a linguistic pragmatic
element involved in the detection of metaphors. Two
such pragmatic features of human discourse are the
Sitz-im-Leben (life situation) and the koinonoetic context (shared social situation) of communicative agents. Therefore, knowledge of how language works in its real life social or contextual setting is essential for metaphor recognition; it forms an essential part of the
diagnostic criterion for metaphoricity.

Stern rigorously develops this point in his seminal study on metaphor and context. Deciphering indexicals requires that a discourse agent possess both semantic competence and the knowledge of a particular discourse situation since demonstratives are apparently context-dependent. Juxtaposing deictic terms and metaphors, Stern maintains that in order to construe metaphors adequately, a speaker belonging to a given discourse community must also have semantic competence and intimate knowledge of the situational context in which communicative agents utter or write specific metaphors. Metaphors (like demonstratives) are also context-dependent: "Metaphors do not function in isolation. They exist in both a rhetorical context and a cultural context."

Recognizing a metaphorical locution thus requires being acquainted with a specified Sitz-im-Leben. When one is conversant with a certain social, cognitive, political, rhetorical, literary, intellectual or religious context, inter alia, he or she evidently is capable of discerning metaphors as such.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Predestination and Free Will

There is certainly a tension in the early church fathers between human free will (which they universally affirm) and foreordination. Moreover, the pre-Nicenes allude to the topic of foreordination, but they do not really elucidate their beliefs concerning it: predestination does not become a major issue until Augustine's time period (see Berkhof, Louis. Systematic Theology. London: Banner of Truth, 1971, page 109).

In his authoritative work, The Christian Tradition (1:280), historian Jaroslav Pelikan points out that Augustine's spiritual predecessors [i.e. the pre-Nicenes and post-Nicenes] "leaned noticeably to one side of the dilemma, namely, the side of free will and responsibility rather than the side of inevitability and original sin."

Augustine argued that the reason those who preceded him did not adequately deal with the issue of human free will and divine foreordination was because their historical circumstances did not necessitate that they deal with the issue in a satisfactory manner (On the Predestination of the Saints 14.27; On the Gift of Perseverance 2.4). In other words, heresy had not yet made it necessary to deal with this problematic question (according to Augustine of Hippo).

One important caveat to mention at this point, however, is that Augustine did not reject free will in toto. According to what he writes in De Civitate Dei 5.9, God "knows all things before they come to pass," yet we will or act freely, of our own choosing. Nevertheless, the ancient bishop claims, free will is included in "a certain order of causes" that has been determined or decreed by God. Such a view can be aptly described as "soft determinism" since it does not affirm a libertarian version of human voluntas. William Hasker discusses these points in God, Time, and Knowledge (pp. 5-6).

Steven Ozment on Calvin and Servetus

The following quote is taken from Steven Ozment's The Age
of Reform:1250-1550
(page 371):

In the controversy that followed the execution [of
Servetus], Castellio memorably summarized what to many
contemporaries became the simple truth of the episode.
'To kill a man,' he wrote, 'is not to defend a
doctrine, but simply to kill a man.' Although that
assessment has also proved to be history's view of the
matter, another century of religious warfare would be
required before this principle became firmly
established in law.

Lactantius on the Freedom of Religion in Worship

Lactantius writes:

"These things may indeed be said with justice. But who will hear, when men of furious and unbridled spirit think that their authority is diminished if there is any freedom in the affairs of men? But it is religion alone in which freedom has placed its dwelling. For it is a matter which is voluntary above all others, nor can necessity be imposed upon any, so as to worship that which he does not wish to worship" (Epitome of the Divine Institutes LIV).

Thursday, June 05, 2008

A Dialogue on Gender, Metaphor and God the Father

I am posting another dialogue that transpired privately between me and an interlocutor who shall remain nameless. I have replaced his actual name with a pseudonym:

[Edgar]
If cultures or societies decide what gender is, then
the phenomenon is somewhat arbitrary. But I would not
categorize what I believe about gender as arbitrary.
According to my paradigm, God created man as a
masculine being, woman as a feminine creature; he also
created masculine and feminine pairs of animals.
Nevertheless, sociologists and anthropologists tend to
define the term "gender" (used in a non-grammatical
sense) as a sociogenic or anthropological phenomenon. My
earlier comments reflected this common practice of the
social sciences.

[Jim]
Further, I deny that there can be no gender without
a bilogical entity of some kind. The sky is
masculine. The sea is feminine. Day is masculine.
Night is feminine.

[Edgar]
Are they? How do you know (in the sense of justified true belief) that the sky is masculine or the sea is
feminine?

[Jim]
You may be inclined to follow the pervasive nominalism
of our society in declaring this eisegetical. But on
what basis? What's to prevent this from being
exegetical--reading it out of nature? The linguistic
consensus surely seems near unanimous across history
and historical cultures.

[Edgar]
If the sky's gender, for example, can be read out of
nature, exactly how does one go about reading it thus?
And, as I see it, the onus probandi
is not on me to say what prevents your approach from being
eisegetical. Do you not have the responsibility to
provide justificatory utterances that logically
validate your position? ;-0 Finally, IMHO, linguistic
consensus is just that.

[Jim]
I don't follow your point about James 1:17.
Further, I don't deny that God in Himself contains
both masulinity and femininity, since He lacks
nothing. But I would insist that (1) in relation to
us He is properly masculine, and (2) that this
masculinity is not an arbitrary or merely human,
cultural development, but revealed as properly
His nature.

[Edgar]
My point about James 1:17 is that it seems nigh or
even downright impossible to construe the text as
saying God literally fathered the celestial lights.
Maybe you view the matter differently.

I agree that God is masculine (not sure about the term
"properly") in relation to us. And I've never denied
that the conceptual association of "God" with "Father"
in Scripture is catalogical (i.e. emanates from
above). So I'm not contending that the divine appellation
"Father" is arbitrary or merely human. What I am
arguing is that God evidently inspired humans to speak in such
human cultural terms so that "He" might be mentally
grasped, to an extent, in order that we might come to
understand (somewhat) the divine functions and
beneficences. But the word "Father" does not tell us whether God
is ontologically masculine or feminine. I tend to think God is
above gender, however, for reasons hitherto delineated.
Please explain to me how such a view is "arbitrary."

[Jim]
I refer you to my previous discussion in the
foregoing paragraphs. You may think that we human
beings read non-biotically based gender INTO nature,
but on what basis do you assume that? On what basis
do you assume it couldn't be read OUT of nature.

[Edgar]
Keep in mind that we're talking about how humans press
their respective natural languages into service. I thus
make my previously mentioned claims on the basis of my
ongoing studies in human language. For example, abstract
and impersonal attributes are spoken of in feminine
terms at times (e.g. SOPHIA or hOKHMAH). A man, that
is, the Son of David is referred to in feminine terms
(e.g. QOHELETH). Both a male child and a male lamb are
described with neuter nouns (e.g. PAIDION and ARNION).
These examples could be multiplied, but I think the
point I'm trying to make is somewhat established.
Grammatical gender is largely a social construct:
it doesn't necessarily tell us
anything about a particular animate or inanimate
referent's natural gender, although it might.

Even in times of antiquity, Arnobius of Sicca wrote:

"Yet, if you consider the true state of the case, no
language is naturally perfect, and in like manner none
is faulty. For what natural reason is there, or what
law written in the constitution of the world, that
paries
should be called ['used with'] hic, and sella
['used with'] haec?--since neither have they sex
distinguished by male and female, nor can the most
learned man tell me what hic and haec are, or why one
of them denotes the male sex while the other is
applied to the female. These conventionalities are
man's, and certainly are not indispensable to all
persons for the use of forming their language; for
paries might perhaps have been called haec, and sella
hic, without any fault being found, if it had been
agreed upon at first that they should be so called,
and if this practice had been maintained by following
generations in their daily conversation" (Adversus
Gentes
1.59).

None of the foregoing means that I deny God's role
in gifting us with language.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Updated Version of Origen and the Eternal Generation

B. Origen and the Eternal Generation of the Son

There is some debate to what extent Origen affirms God’s paternity. Does he teach the eternal generation doctrine? In what sense is God “Father” in Origenian thought? While the ancient writer is not altogether clear in this respect, there probably is a sense in which Hall’s analysis of Origen aptly encapsulates his thought: “God was however always Father; he could not change from one condition (not-Father) to another (Father). So the Son exists in God’s timeless eternity.” Origen himself possibly affirms the eternal generation of the Son in view of his sentential locution “There was not when he was not.” Nonetheless, his theological account suggests that the Son is not intrinsically God (autotheos), but God by derivation only (Commentary on the Gospel of John 2.2). The Son is not “self-sufficiently” God ; only the Father is Godself (autotheos) in Origen’s theological paradigm. The Son is God in a strictly predicative manner or to a lesser degree than the Father is. But in what sense is the Father greater than the Son in Origen’s system?

Hall indicates that Origen possibly balances his alleged subordinationism by means of the eternal generation doctrine, which would mean that the inferiority which he evidently ascribes to the Son is not ontological in nature. On the other hand, William J. Hill observes: “Still, eternal generation does not of itself give divine status because Origen views all spiritual beings, both what he calls theoi and human souls, as eternal.” Similarly, Brown laments Origen’s problematic approach to Christology and the Trinity since “he also taught the preexistence of individual human souls and spoke of those who are in Christ as eternally begotten.” Nevertheless, it has been argued that this speculation about eternal souls does not diminish Origen’s trinitarian contribution to the church. Nevertheless, Brown acknowledges that while Origen’s eternal generation doctrine seemingly defeated the notion that the Son is temporally posterior to the Father, it “did not entirely throw off the assumptions of earlier Christian thinkers that the Son is subordinate to the Father” or not fully divine. Studer equally concludes that Origen “does not succeed in ruling out subordinationism.” He points to Origen’s belief that there are hierarchical grades in deity with the Son possibly being one of the Seraphim in Isaiah’s vision of YHWH’s glory (Peri Archon 1.3.4). Yet, certain scholars attempt to resolve the intricacies of Origen’s scheme by positing the Son’s subordination to the Father in an economic sense. What makes matters more problematic, however, is that the extant writings of Origen suggest that he himself may have inconsistently formulated his doctrine of the Father and the Son. It is possible that Origen views the Son as ontologically subordinate to the Father (Contra Celsum 8.15) whereas other passages appear to teach that he does not think the Son is lesser in relation to his Father. The treatises of Origen accordingly tend to be aporetic.

Another factor lending itself to the aporetic tendencies of Origen's theology is his use of the term “creature” (kti,sma) for the Son. This usage has generated many discussions in Origen studies, discussions that have not led to wholly satisfactory conclusions. The first systematic theologian evidently derives kti,sma from Proverbs 8:22-25 (LXX). Neoplatonism may also influence what seems to be an idiosyncratic utilization of “creature” (kti,sma). Crouzel in fact believes that “creation” (kti,sij) for Origen applies to “everything that comes from God.” Along with Prestige and Wiles, he notes the fluid synonymity that existed between the words “generate” (genna,w) and “create” (gi,nomai) prior to Nicea. If this line of reasoning corresponds with the speech strategy of Origen, there would appear to be no genuine conflict between his supposed affirmation of the eternal generation doctrine and his manifest employment of “creature.” Yet although the Father putatively generates the Son timelessly in the thought of Origen, he clearly adheres to the notion that there are grades of being in the divine. Bulgakov thinks that Origen does not master cosmological subordinationism “with reference to the mutual relations of the hypostases, with reference to their equal dignity and divinity.” Even if he did posit a timeless or eternal generation for the Son, Origen also argues that other “created” rational spirits are eternal. In the final analysis, if “Father” is a metaphor for Christianity’s first systematic theologian, it is a rather curious trope that appears in his writings.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Plato on Homosexuality (Laws 1.636c)

Plato argues (in his work Laws) that two men having coitus with one another or the practice of lesbianism violates natural law. The views expressed in this Platonic work antedate the Christian New Testament or writings of the church fathers.

"And whether one makes the observation in earnest or in jest, one certainly should not fail to observe that when male unites with female for procreation the pleasure experienced is held to be due to nature, but contrary to nature when male mates with male or female with female, and that those first guilty of such enormities were impelled by their slavery to pleasure. And we all accuse the Cretans of concocting the story about Ganymede."

Friday, April 25, 2008

Dialogue on God's Infinity

The following dialogue took place between a member of my formerly active Greektheology yahoogroup and me. I have edited some parts of the dialogue to render it more coherent. Our debate centered around a passage that I quoted from Louis Berkhof's systematic theology. I have replaced my interlocutor's name with a pseudonym.

[Edgar]
I thought you had a copy of Berkhof. I was therefore
surprised when you described God's infinity as being
"quantitative," when Berkhof clearly shows that it
is not. Rather, God's unlimitedness is qualitative in
nature. Aquinas, Scotus and Berkhof all agree that
God's boundlessness is not quantitative.

[Earl]
Did you read the following sections on eternity and
immensity? It is clear their that with respect to God's being,
Berkhof sees God's infinity as quantitative,
and with respect to his attributes, from the section you partially
cited, as qualitative. I am simply saying that the
two (God's attributes and being) cannot be separated
except for the purposes of discussion.

[Edgar]
Yes, I've read what Berkhof has to say about God's
eternity, immensity and putative omnipresence. I can
therefore point out that he clearly does not view
God's infinity as "quantitative," nor does he even
conscript the term in his section on God's immensity
or eternity, as far as I can tell. As I demonstrated
earlier, if God's infinitude were quantitative in
nature, it could be counted or measured. But it cannot be
quantified; ergo, it is not quantitative. Berkhof most
definitely does not support you here. I don't know how
you're using or construing the adnominal "quantitative," but it
manifestly is not applicable to God's
infinity (whether He is incorporeal or not).

[Earl]
I don't agree because you are drawing an invalid
inference from what Berkhof actually writes.

[Edgar]
Can you demonstrate how I am drawing an "invalid
inference" from what Berkhof writes in Systematic
Theology
? Where does he state that the infinity of
God is quantifiable? How much clearer could Berkhof be when
he writes that God's infinity "should not be
understood in a quantitative, but in a qualitative
sense; it qualifies all the communicable attributes of
God"?

[Edgar continued]
There appears to be no doubt that you and Berkhof
concur in the respect you have outlined. You are
apparently referring to the SIMPLICITAS DEI here,
when you speak of God's attributes being coextensive
with His being, a belief that I have not seen good
reason to affirm for biblical, logical and theological
reasons. Don't get me wrong. I do not believe that
God's attributes are parts or accidental modes of
the divine being. However, it appears to me that there
is both a conceptual and probably even a formal
distinction (at the very least)--that is to say, a
Scotistic-like DISTINCTIO FORMALIS--between, for
instance, divine omnipotence and divine
omniscience.

[Earl]
And that distinction would be?

[Edgar]
It is easy to see how these two divine incommunicable
attributes are conceptually distinct. Analytically
(i.e. by definition), omnipotence cannot be the same
attribute as omniscience without a severe
contradiction obtaining. I don't think you dispute
this point. The more controversial proposal might be
the notion that there is a "formal distinction"
(DISTINCTIO FORMALIS) that obtains between divine
omnipotence and divine omniscience. By this, I mean
that these two essential properties of God *may* be
two different aspects of one divine perfection. I'm
not sure about this idea though. In any event, if
there is a formal distinction between omniscience and
omnipotence, it would mean that the distinction is not
merely conceptual but much the same as the DISTINCTIO
between head/tails or space/time or matter/energy. If
we are careful with our speech and concepts, we do not
wholly conflate the foregoing things, one with
another, because they are not reducible, one to
another.

[Earl]
As long as you realize that these distinctions are
theoretical. We may speak of God's essence and existence,
but the former essentially (!) implies the latter.

[Edgar]
How does the former entail the latter? I define the
essence of an entity as its "quiddity" (QUIDDITAS),
nature or whatness. Existence, on the other hand,
refers to the lived actuality of an essence (Thomas
Aquinas uses the expression ACTUS ESSENDI). Scotus
makes a helpful distinction between the essence,
existence and HAECCEITAS of a RES. In other words, it
is possible to posit an essence for an entity (RES)
that does not actually exist. For example,
unicornality in no way implies that unicorns exist.
Essence does not imply existence. This is even the
case when God is the "essence" that we have in mind.

Regards,
Edgar

Saturday, April 05, 2008

YHWH (Jehovah) and Theological Metaphors

Gerald O'Collins and Daniel Kendall argue that theological metaphors "refer to and describe reality." Concurring with Soskice, they reason that metasememes speak about one thing in terms that appear suggestive of another thing. For example, God does not instantiate the literal mind-independent properties of a crag, but the ancient Hebrew prophets articulate speech regarding YHWH in ways that appear suggestive of a rock. Likewise, YHWH is called "a sun and shield" in Psalm 84:11(12). Yet, he apparently does not exemplify the matter-of-fact predicates that structurally constitute the Sun or a shield. In these instances, the Bible writers presumably are employing tropes to speak about one entity (God) in terms suggestive of other entities (rock, Sun or shield). Metaphor seemingly permits the writers of Scripture to describe the supreme reality adequately, though indirectly. Far from being linguistically insufficient or vulnerable, theological metaphors seem to accomplish what "proper terminology" (De oratore 3.152-155) cannot achieve; they convey truths that non-tropic expressions attributing matter-of-fact properties to a particular subject are incapable of communicating.

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
altar?"

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,
Edgar

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.

Regards,
Edgar

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:

[Interlocutor]
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.

[Edgar]
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
E.

(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.

[Interlocutor]
There
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.

[Edgar]
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.

[Interlocutor]
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.

[Edgar]
(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.

[Edgar]
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.

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

[Edgar]
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
temporality.

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
silent."

[Interlocutor]
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
material
reality.

[Edgar]
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.

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

[Edgar]
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
text.

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 http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20080317/ap_on_bi_ge/oil_prices

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:

[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?

[Edgar]
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).

[Jason]
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?)

[Edgar]
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).

[Jason]
"...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."

[Edgar]
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.

[Jason]
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.

[Edgar]
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.

[Jason]
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.)

[Edgar]
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).

[Jason]
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?

[Edgar]
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.

[Jason]
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?

[Edgar]
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.

[Jason]
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'?

[Edgar]
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.