Unity & the Christian Fundamentals (II), The Meaning of “One God”
The Shema (Deut. 6:4), “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one,” appears in the last of the books of Moses, composed at the very end of the forty-year wilderness wandering. Yet the basis for the Shema appears in the first of the Ten Commandments.
Exod. 20:2-5a NKJV 2 “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. 3 “You shall have no other gods before Me. 4 “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; 5 you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God …
The Israelites had just been delivered from bondage and slavery by the mighty hand of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. His miraculous deliverance included His very public overthrow of the gods of Egypt by means of the ten plagues. “’For I will pass through the land of Egypt on that night, and will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment: I am the LORD” (Exod. 12:12 NKJV).
It is important to note that in the above passages and many others the Bible recognizes that there are many supernatural beings, “gods,” who were feared and worshipped by the nations. Yet Israel was told that these “gods” were “demons” (Lev. 17:7; Psalm 106:37). Even the Song of Moses recognized the foreign gods as demons. “They provoked Him to jealousy with foreign gods; With abominations they provoked Him to anger. They sacrificed to demons, not to God, To gods they did not know, To new gods, new arrivals That your fathers did not fear. Of the Rock who begot you, you are unmindful, And have forgotten the God who fathered you. “And when the LORD saw it, He spurned them, Because of the provocation of His sons and His daughters” (Deut. 32:16-19 NKJV).
Paul took up the same theme, noting that there are many “gods” and that they are demons. “Therefore concerning the eating of things offered to idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is no other God but one. For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as there are many gods and many lords), yet for us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we live” (1 Cor. 8:4-6 NKJV). “What am I saying then? That an idol is anything, or what is offered to idols is anything? Rather, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice they sacrifice to demons and not to God, and I do not want you to have fellowship with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the Lord’s table and of the table of demons. Or do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than He?” (1 Cor. 10:19-22). Paul acknowledged that there are many “gods.” However, for us there is one God, the Father.
These passages and many others make it clear that the word “God/god” in the Bible has a meaning that must accommodate both the God of Abraham as well as the pagan gods. The use of the “one God” statements by most of Christianity, whether by Trinitarians, Unitarians, Arians, or Modalists, lacks a very specific definition that can account for all of its usage throughout the Bible. If “one God” refers to a single God-kind (ontological nature) as Trinitarians are forced to claim in order to accommodate three co-equal persons, then the use of the same term for the pagan gods/demons should also imply that they share the same ontological nature as the God of Abraham, that is if “one God” refers to divine ontological nature shared by multiple persons.
Unitarians correctly use the term “God” as a personal noun, not an impersonal one, when they claim that the one-God statements prove that multiple persons cannot rightly be called “one God.” While this is true, it does not explain how the Bible can use the same term for God and pagan gods. The fact that the term “God” is a personal noun, describing a Person, is not adequate by itself to account for the variety of usage in the Bible.
There is one error that is overlooked by nearly all of the “isms” which, when corrected, solves all of the problems of reconciling the “one God” statements with biblical usage of the term “God.” The word “God” in the Bible (whether the Hebrew “Elohim” or the Greek “Theos”), says absolutely nothing about ontological nature. “God” does not describe a kind of being. Not once in the Bible does the masculine term “God” ever refer to the divine nature itself or imply that any entity that is called “God/god” has a specific divine nature. Instead, the neuter term “theion” (θεῖον – Acts 17:29) refers to the divine nature (what God is). The masculine terms “Elohim” (Heb.) and “Theos” (Gk.) are always personal and refer to WHO someone is, His identity as a Person.
While the term “God” is indeed always a personal noun (describing who), there is more to it than this. It is also always a relational term. Just as the terms king, subject, master, slave, father, mother, son, daughter, wife, husband, only have meaning in relation to others, so also does the term “God.” There is no king without subjects and a dominion. There is no master without servants or a household to supervise. There is no father or mother without offspring, no husband without a wife. So it is with the term “God.” When used of the creator, it means the ultimate Sovereign within the dominion of the whole creation, or as Revelation frequently puts it, κύριος ὁ θεὸς ὁ παντοκράτωρ (lit. Lord, God, Sovereign over all – Rev. 4:8). This last term, παντοκράτωρ (pantocrator) is a compound of the word for “all/everything” + “sovereign.” While “God” means “sovereign,” παντοκράτωρ makes His sovereignty all-encompassing.
Of course, one can argue that the “gods” of the nations are not really “gods” at all, only that they pretend to be. Yet since the pagans yielded and subjected themselves to, worshiped, and sacrificed to appease these demon-gods, those “gods” did indeed exercise dominion over those who were deceived by them and feared them even though their claim to be controlling certain aspects of nature was a ruse. Those deceived by demon-gods gave them sovereignty over themselves by fearing them, and seeking to appease them. The Egyptians with whom the Israelites were familiar believed that their “gods” really did have sovereignty over some aspect of nature. Thus there was Ra, the sun god, and Hapi the god of the Nile, etc. For the Egyptians, each of their pantheon of gods allegedly controlled some aspect of nature. Thus there was no “one god” (παντοκράτωρ, Sovereign over all) who was the creator of everything and thus He alone had dominion over absolutely everything.
The God of Israel humiliated the demon-gods of Egypt, beginning with turning Aaron’s staff into a serpent. When Pharaoh’s magicians did the same by the power of their demon-gods, Aaron’s staff-turned-serpent ate up all of the staffs-turned-serpents of Pharaoh’s magicians (Exod. 7:10-12). This shows that the demon-gods of Egypt did have some limited power, but their power was nothing compared to the God of Israel.
The ten plagues immediately followed this demonstration, each proving that Israel’s God could mess with the alleged dominions of all of Egypt’s gods who were utterly helpless against Him.
Note Moses’ father-in-law’s observation, that the God of Israel was much more powerful than the gods of Egypt by His demonstrating His mighty works.
10 And Jethro said, “Blessed be the LORD, who has delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians and out of the hand of Pharaoh, and who has delivered the people from under the hand of the Egyptians. 11 “Now I know that the LORD is greater than all the gods; for in the very thing in which they behaved proudly, He was above them.” (Exod. 18:10-11 NKJ)
The point of God’s public overthrow and humiliation of the demon-gods of Egypt using the ten plagues was to demonstrate to Israel that they had nothing to fear from any of the Egyptian gods. The God of Abraham was the real and sole Creator of heaven and earth. The demon-gods of Egypt had no power to stand against Him. Thus the God of Abraham could and would take care of every aspect of life for Israel if they remained faithful to Him and gave no quarter to the pagan demon-gods.
For this reason God wrote in stone, “You shall have no other gods before Me,” and, “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” This statement has nothing to do with ontological nature, or even number of persons in an alleged “godhead.” It means that the God of Abraham created everything. He possesses and exercises complete control over everything, including the demon-gods of Egypt. He is “one” in the sense that His dominion is not divided and chaotic as was the case if the Egyptian gods each had independent control over one aspect of nature. The gods of the nations are imposers, claiming power over nature which they do not possess, and thus gaining sovereignty and power over the people by deception.
This is why the “one God” statements repeatedly refer to the God of Abraham as creator of heaven and earth, because obviously the one who created everything owns it all, and thus has both power and sovereignty over everything and everyone. “For all the gods of the peoples are idols, But the LORD made the heavens” (1 Chron. 16:26 NKJV, see also: Isa. 40:26; Isa. 41:20; Isa. 42:5; Isa. 45:8; Isa. 45:12,18).
The “one God” statements in the Bible always point to the one Person with sole sovereignty over everything, a single, unified, all-powerful one with dominion over both nature and mankind. The “one God” statements never refer to ontological nature. Isaiah 41-46 over and over speaks of God as “one” (encompassing all power and authority over everything) simply because he is the Creator of all. He performs wonders which the pagan gods cannot do, including foretelling the distant future and then making it happen. Through Isaiah, God mocks the pagan gods for their inability to control nature or foretell the future accurately. Again, God is ONE because His sovereignty and dominion is universal, not because the pagan gods do not exist, or even that He is one of a kind in ontological nature and essence.
Our Bereans Bible Institute principles of interpretation number IV states: “Interpretation must be from within the historical setting and context, and must not be used beyond the intended purpose in that context.”
The “one God” statements of Scripture were never intended to be used to define how many persons might compose a sole monarchy, whether the sole Monarch has others of like kind, whether He had a subordinate Son of like kind who acted as His personal agent and mediator to humanity. “One God” means a single Monarch, a one Person ultimate authority that is universal. “One God” does not mean one of a kind, since it does not address ontological nature at all. While the biblical concept of “one God” necessarily rules out multiple co-eternal and co-equal Persons (peers) because that is not one-person rule. One “God” is a personal term, not an ontological term. It requires one Person not multiple Persons holding sovereignty over everything, not three Persons. Therefore, “one God” does not rule out multiple divine Persons of like kind if the Father alone is the Sovereign ruler, and the other(s) is/are subordinate to Him, carrying out His agenda and faithfully, acting through His delegated authority alone. “One God” rules out co-equal / co-eternal Trinitarianism, but not Subordinate Trinitarianism or Apostolic Monotheism (the position of 4Winds Fellowships). It does not rule out the preexistence of the Son of God as God’s personal Agent.
Go to: Part III: Progressive Revelation of the Mystery through Paul
16 thoughts on “Unity & the Christian Fundamentals (II), The Meaning of “One God””
I suppose the purpose here is to begin by stating the working definitions for various terms to try and limit the ‘talking past each other.’ A couple of thoughts. Concerning θεῖον or “what God is”: does this refer to the “kind” of being (ontologically)? It would seem odd for Peter to apply this word to Christians (2PE1.4) if this word represents the ontological nature of God, but is also something of which we can partake. Peter’s usage seems to indicate a promise (from the past) that we might possess now through faith: “all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who hath called us to glory and virtue (2PE1.3).” This seems a sharing of character more than a possible ontology?
I am not sure either of the words “θεός” or “θεῖον” explain the ontological nature of God. Perhaps the statement “God is spirit (Jhn4.24)” is the only ontological statement of the supreme God?
Perhaps the noun “θειότης” (Rom1.20) speaks of something that only God possesses, but this would seem to be pointing to that which has been made known through His works; I am not sure that even this word speaks of His ontology. “θεότητος” is said of Christ (a man) to have dwelled all its fullness, and perhaps this is something that we could aspire to (as men), but even this would not seem to speak to ontology as Jesus is a man.
I do not know if the Scriptures are in the business of explaining the ontology of God, just as it does not try and explain what God has been doing for an eternity before He created our world. It seems that the point is that the creature (us) should aspire (with the Helper) to the character of our Creator: Righteousness and Eternal Life.
Concerning the “one God” statements, I agree that there is an indication of absolute rule within an all-inclusive dominion (παντοκράτωρ), but I am not sure that the “one God” statements are never intended to define how many persons might be in an alleged Trinity. I am not sure I understand this statement as the next sentence seems to properly sum up the true meaning of the “one God” statements: “a single monarchy ruled by one Person alone, the Creator and source of all that exists”.
Thanks for your thoughts, Tim. I look forward to seeing where this blog goes!!!
The statement that “God is Spirit/Breath/Wind” (pneuma) does indeed address ontological nature, not by defining exactly what it is, but by saying what it is not. “Pneuma” is a metaphor, since God is not literally “wind” or “breath.” The point of the metaphor is to borrow qualities of breath/wind and apply them to God. These qualities are invisibility, projection of unknown power, and the inability of our human senses and understanding to fully comprehend how it works. John 3:8 describes all of these characteristics of “wind” and applies them to God’s “Spirit.” So Jesus’ statement in Jn. 4 that “God is Spirit” is indeed ontological in nature, but metaphorical. It tells us what God is NOT. He is not seen, and not fully understood, and has power beyond anything that occurs in nature. That is, God is NOT like what humans can conceive. He only really tells us what God is NOT ontologically because human language can only accommodate what the humans can know by experience. So rather than telling us what God is ontologically (which there are no human words for), Scripture only tells us what He is NOT so that we would not make common mistakes about His nature, such as the pagans did with their idols. (This is also why He forbid making any kind of representation or image of Him).
Now regarding the neuter substantive θεῖον in Acts 17:29, that it is an ontological statement can be discerned from the context. Paul compared the real θεῖον of God with the ontological, concrete nature of idols, made of gold, silver, and stone. Note that θεῖον is not a noun but a neuter adjective used as a substantive (it does not modify another noun, so it acts like a noun). That means Paul’s choice to use the neuter inflection was intentional, referring to “what” (neuter, concrete) not “who” (which would have to be masculine).
Concerning 2 Pet. 1:4, note that Peter did not use the neuter adjective θεῖον (which he could have if he wished to imply concrete things). He instead used the feminine inflection θείας. Here again, the adjective acts as a substantive because it does not modify another noun. When this occurs the writer or speaker can choose to use any gender, his choice of the feminine here expresses his intent. While the adjective θεῖον (n) and θείας (f) used as substantives are very close in sense, both referring to the divine nature, they refer to two different sets of qualities distinguished by the different genders. In Greek, the feminine gender is the category normally used for abstract nouns while the neuter is used for concrete impersonal nouns, and the masculine typically for concrete personal nouns. For example, faith, love, hope, etc., and virtually all such abstract nouns, are feminine in Greek. So, while θεῖον (n) in Acts 17:29 refers to concrete qualities of the divine nature because of the choice of the neuter gender as well as the context, the adjective θείας (f) in 2 Pet. 1:4 refers to abstract qualities of the divine nature because of the choice of the feminine gender.
So we become “partakers” of the θεῖον (divine nature), not because God’s ontological (concrete) nature blends into our (concrete) human nature, but because we become “partakers” of the Spirit/Breath of God which dwells in us and with us, and helps conform our fallen abstract human qualities to God’s abstract qualities. This is also the “anointing” (1 John 2:20,27).
When Logos “became flesh” (Jn. 1:14) and “emptied Himself” of His ontological equality with God (Phil. 2:5-6), He became 100% human and nothing more. However, at His baptism the Breath of God in its “fulness” (John 1:16) came upon Him. Paul referred to this as “all the fulness of the Godhead” dwelling in His body (Col. 1:19; Col. 2:9). This was the fullest extent of human communion with the Father possible, and thus God’s using Him as His Agent to perform miracles, “which God did through Him” (Acts 2:22). The statement in Colossians does not describe Jesus’ ontological nature as Trinitarians suppose, but only God dwelling in Him. Paul also prayed that the Ephesians would be “filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:19). He clearly did not mean that they should become like God’s concrete, ontological nature.
So Peter’s point in 2 Pet. 1:4 was that we “partake” of the abstract qualities of God’s nature because He, in His concrete nature of “Spirit/Breath,” dwells both in and among us.
One more thing. In Rom. 1:20, θειότης is a noun (feminine) and would thus have a similar sense as the related adjective in 2 Pet. 1:4.
This will be my final reply on this post, as I do not wish to indulge my own flesh in seeming to be, or actually being argumentative.
I do not doubt that an ἀπολογία can be made (as you have ably done), concerning the potentially contrasting meanings of this adjective’s morphological differences (θείας vs. θεῖον). The only reason that I have decided to weigh in is in agreement with the stated purpose of this blog: unity. And, as you stated to Jon, unity must start with clearly defined, and agreed-upon terminology.
If the received morphology can be trusted, a relationship tree of these words would look like such:
θείας/ θεῖον (2304) θεότης (2320)
All of these words being morphologically related to the parent Θεός. My thinking is that if Θεός does not attempt to relay the “essence” of God, as god can be used in various relationships, then it would seem odd that its derivatives would portray “essence” as its meaning, as you have seemingly concluded for the neuter adjective θεῖον.
It seems that θειότης (2305, a grandchild of Θεός (2316)) provides us the best context in attempting to define its meaning. Found only in Rom 1.20, which speaks of His “invisible attributes” and “external power” which seems to be in the context of this word’s definition: those external attributes realized through the creation of παντοκράτωρ. If θειότης (2305) is morphologically derived from the adjective θείας/ θεῖον (2304) as a concretion (a noun), then it would seem that the parent adjective would carry a very similar meaning.
2 Peter 1.4, IMO, takes the feminine gender because it was used in 2 Peter 1.3 to modify ‘δύναμις’, a feminine noun. This concept (divine power) established in verse 3 is carried into verse 4, only without the noun. So, I do not think there is a need to assume the feminine carrying the meaning of “abstract qualities”, as it seems that what is still begin spoken of here is God’s power. It is here, that I believe my initial post was in error. I was leaning wrongly on the noun κοινωνός, thinking that we would be in some way “possessors” of this θείας, but I believe the meaning to be more that we will be “participants” in the wonderful effects/works of the θείας δυνάμεως (v.3) through the breath of God.
Concerning the neuter usage of this adjective found only in Acts 17.29, I would think that we would first try and apply the understood meaning of the derived noun found in Rom 1.20 (being associate with His invisible attributes seen in nature), and the feminine adjective usage found in 2 Peter 1.3-4, which speaks of His power, to help define the neuter meaning of this adjective. Without debate, you are correct that adjectives can act as Substantives, but when it does, the adjective either implies some noun or takes on the excluded noun’s lexical nuance. The question then: of what noun is this Substantive Adjective standing in place?
I would think that the passage of Acts 17.22-29 should be more intently considered in trying to determine what this Substantive is representing. I would think that this passage is speaking again of the power of God seen in His ‘works’: “God, who made the world and everything in it (v24)”; “He needs nothing since He gives all life, breath, and all things”; “He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell”; He “has determined their preappointed times and boundaries”; “in Him, we live and move and have our being”.
I, then, understand the statement “Therefore since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think the ‘Divine Nature’ is like” “something shaped by man’s art or devising”. We are His art and His devising, and some lifeless object shaped of gold or silver or stone in no way represents the handiwork of God.
Concerning θεότης (2320), from the morphology tree above, it is also derived from Θεός (2316), but is a sibling to θείας/ θεῖον (2304), meaning it is still related to God in some manner, but that manner is not exactly the same as its sibling. It would seem that this noun implies, not some external manifestation of God’s power, but some internal nature. As stated before, since the Son of God is fully human, I believe it an error to argue (as some of the orthodoxy have) that this speaks to some “essence”. I think the keyword here that speaks to some internal condition is the word πλήρωμα. I believe (as you have some righty stated) that here we see the man Jesus, wholly filled (without measure) with the breath of God. Jesus in no way grieved or quenched the breath of God, and therefore possessed the character of God fully: “if you have seen Me, you have seen the Father”.
I suppose I have ultimately fallen into the thought that the Scriptures really do not try and teach us of the “essence” (in the homoousias way) of God, as much as it has tried to show us His nature through nature, and His character through Christ, and to understand His essence, as that which He is made up of, is only left to “God is breath”. Yes, a metaphor, but I do not believe we are fully capable of understanding God’s essence, as our minds immediately go to some “substance”, and then to some “material”, as the 4th-century errors did yield. He cannot be of any material, as He is the creator of all material. I do accept that this is more philosophical than Scriptural, but only because I believe the Scriptures do not attempt to explain this. We err when we pontificate on that which the Bible does not. And we compound that error when we divide over such things. I think the AV Translators said it best: “It is better to make doubt of those things which are secret, then to strive about those things that are uncertaine.” To this I say ‘amen’.
My understanding that has been presented is not an attempt to “punt” on things that divide, nor is it an attempt to ‘dumb-down’ doctrine. I simply think we (men) try and make too much out of too little, and we miss God’s purpose for our lives. If He would have wanted us to understand His essence (of that which He is made), He would have spoken more to this point.
If you, at any time, feel that my contributions to this conversation are being counter-productive to the intent of this blog, please tell me, as I wholly support efforts of reconciliation and unity envisioned by our Master.
The “tree” did not retain its shape in saving. Θεός (2316) is that parent of both θείας/ θεῖον (2304) and θεότης (2320), while θειότης (2305) is a child to θείας/ θεῖον (2304).
I was invited by Tim to read and post on this blog.
I’m looking forward to interacting with it.
I would like Tim to show his sources for his understanding of unitarianism though.
I can’t tell from this short blog if you mean that that is the only thing unitarians believe, or of that’s all you wish to interact with at this time.
I know for a fact that this is an incomplete view of the Unitarian view of these words, so the purpose of this seems to be straw man building. That’s not a good way to start a blog on Christian unity.
Here is Dale tuggy on this topic. I can find others of you need me to.
I was not attempting to define Unitarianism, or even argue against Unitarianism specifically. I was only addressing the meaning of the word “God” in the Bible, since a fixed definition of this very basic term is absolutely necessary if those of differing viewpoints are to engage one another over the Scriptures as true Bereans (the only way that unity can really happen).
Trinitarians are simply wrong to suppose that either “Elohim” or “Theos” can refer to divine nature (an impersonal essence shared by multiple persons). The term “God” is a personal noun and always refers to a specific person, and the plural “gods” always refers to specific persons (in most cases to demon-gods, and in one case to human rulers – Psalm 82:1,6 / John 10:34-35).
Now if you disagree with my statement that Elohim and/or Theos are always personal terms and always refer to actual persons (that is you think that Elohim or Theos are terms ambiguous enough to sometimes refer to impersonal things such as ontological nature without referring to specific persons), then I would ask you to please demonstrate it from the Scriptures. This is the crux of the problem between all of these “isms,” the “fly in the ointment” that is causing the divisions by allowing the mishandling of specific Scriptures by all sides.
I watched the video that you posted by Dale Tuggy. I agree with much of it, but disagree with certain critical points. As a Unitarian, he was obviously arguing against Trinitarianism. His real objective was to counter certain arguments by Trinitarians that Jesus is sometimes called “God” by making the term “God” as ambiguous as necessary (and thus wholly dependent on context & presuppositions) in order to accommodate the few passages which refer to Christ as “God.” But this avoids the elephant in the room – that none of the “…isms” has a concise definition of this term but make it out to be whatever they need it to be in any particular context in order to maintain their view. His example of the same word having completely different meanings, a river “bank” and a “bank” where money is deposited, is a straw man. He did this in order to open the door to having completely different and conflicting definitions of the word “God” to accommodate his handling of Scripture. He claimed to be disambiguating the term God, when in reality he was doing exactly the opposite.
My goal in the above post is not to make this critical term as ambiguous as necessary in order to accommodate my theology, but rather to disambiguate the term “God” and reduce it down to its core and essential meaning, something that can account for every single time it is used in the Bible, whether of the pagan “gods,” the one true “God” who is the Father, or even explain why it is occasionally used of the Son (as in Psalm 45:6-7 & Heb. 1:8-9).
Trinitarians, Unitarians, Modalists, and Arians all make the same mistake that Mr. Tuggy is making in that video, defining the word “God” subjectively and sloppily by their own presuppositions rather than objectively – one core meaning that applies everywhere. Consequently everyone talks past each other and nothing definitive can be accomplished in reconciling Christians around the most basic of biblical creeds: that God is one, and that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.
As long as this adversarial activity continues, Christians will never resolve differences. My goal is not to try to prove myself right and everyone else wrong. It is to attempt to discover and point out where the mistakes are being made in exegesis of Scripture in order to do my small part in helping undo some of the damage that sectarianism has and is causing to Christianity.
One more thing, Jon. In that video, Mr. Tuggy indeed did exactly what Trinitarians do – try to make the personal, masculine noun “God” into something impersonal when he tried to explain away John 1:1, “and the Word was God.” His explanation that “God” in this statement means God’s “Plan” (something impersonal) is really no different than Trinitarians’ interpretation that “God” in this clause means the impersonal “divine nature” (divinity) which is allegedly shared by three Persons. If the term “God” is WITHOUT EXCEPTION a personal term in the Bible (what I am affirming), then both the Trinitarian and Unitarian interpretations of this statement in John 1:1 are wrong.
The last time I interacted with this forum, I made the mistake of chasing rabbits, basically running in every direction based on every response I was hit with. I will not do that this time.
One topic at a time, no more.
The topic at hand is whether you think Unitarians only believe this one thing,or if you only wish to discuss this one thing, namely the Elohim and Theos are only names for the Father.
I have already shown that your statement in the blog is not an accurate representation on Unitarianism. Even if Dr. Tuggy’s views are incorrect, the point I’m making is still valid. Unitarians do not believe what you said exclusively. Dr. Tuggy certainly doesn’t hold the only valid Unitarian view, but he is a good representation. He is the founder and current chairman of the Unitarian Christian Alliance.
I really do appreciate your desire to reconcile disparate groups of Christians. That is something I long for the Holy Breath of God to accomplish in these last days. We can only do that if we examine each others beliefs thoroughly and accurately. I really don’t think the differences are that great between 4 Winds Fellowship and much of Unitarianism, or that they can’t be acknowledged, accepted, lovingly argued over, but ultimately not divide us as we all look for the truth.
I really am attempting to engage, not only Unitarians, but also Trinitarians. I am not sure what in particular you think I misrepresented about Unitarians in my article above. I acknowledged that they correctly use “Theos” as a personal noun when opposing Trinitarians (who use it incorrectly referring to God’s substance or nature shared between 3 persons). “One God” refers to one Person, not one substance. I really do not understand what I said specifically that you think is a straw man or misrepresents Unitarianism. I certainly was not trying to misrepresent. I was definitely not claiming that Unitarians only think that the word “God” always points to the Father. Obviously, it is used many times in Scripture of demon-gods and even occasionally of the Son in Scripture. So I do not understand why you think I am claiming this.
In my last response to you, I pointed out that Mr. Tuggy also interpreted the word “God” (Theos) as something impersonal in his explanation of John 1:1, that “God” in the clause “the Word was God” does not refer to a Person, but to something impersonal, God’s divine plan. I had not intended to address this in the present blog post (it will be addressed in an upcoming post). However, since you brought up the video, it should be obvious that Mr. Tuggy was using a double standard (just as Trinitarians do) as also does Anthony Buzzard in his exegesis of John 1:1. This double standard, switching definitions of “God” whenever necessary to maintain one’s theology, is subjective and seriously undermines the force of the Unitarian argument against Trinitarians based on the “one God” statements. This kind of double standard will never persuade a Trinitarian who understands the issues. One needs to be consistent with one’s exegesis and use of terminology to make an effective case.
Finally, I want you to know that while some time ago I might have seemed hostile towards Unitarianism, I am not now. I really am seeking dialogue on a level playing field, not debate. I am seeking diplomacy, not war.
Forgive me if I have been unclear.
“Unitarians correctly use the term “God” as a personal noun, not an impersonal one, when they claim that the one-God statements prove that multiple persons cannot rightly be called “one God.” While this is true, it does not explain how the Bible can use the same term for God and pagan gods. The fact that the term “God” is a personal noun, describing a Person, is not adequate by itself to account for the variety of usage in the Bible.”
To my reading of it, you are claiming that this is the complete understanding of Unitarian usage of “God.”
You then go on to say
“There is one error that is overlooked by nearly all of the “isms” which, when corrected, solves all of the problems of reconciling the “one God” statements with biblical usage of the term “God.” The word “God” in the Bible (whether the Hebrew “Elohim” or the Greek “Theos”), says absolutely nothing about ontological nature.”
I assume that Unitarianism is one of those “isms.”
This my concern, this is an overly simplified explanation of other belief systems. This is what straw man arguments are all about.
I have attempted to show with a single example that there are many Unitarians who would agree with you and that it isn’t necessary to make this a them vs. us moment.
I am happy to hear that your hostility towards Unitarianism was only misperception.
I might caution you though that “Unitarianism” covers a huge area, from Universalist, JW’s, Oneness, Mormon, to Biblical Unitarians and Apostolic Monotheist’s.
To describe all of them with one word is going to cause confusion.
As to Dr. Tuggy’s thought’s on John 1, he did a long series of talks in 2020 on the subject. episode 287-298. He goes thru many Unitarian takes on John 1. I think he is open to discussion on the topic.
I’m not sure I have settled on a position as to it’s meaning. I do know that whatever is the correct interpretation, it will have to agree with the other gospels and the rest of the 4th Gospel.
I’m not looking for a fight, I want to celebrate the similarities and lovingly work thru the differences.
I was and am not attempting to categorize or define Unitarians or Unitarianism. I know that there are differences of opinions among Unitarians. In fact, some Unitarians and even Trinitarians would define me as a Unitarian because I insist that there is “one God,” the Father, who alone is immortal, and who alone gives existence and life to all living things, including His only-begotten Son. There cannot be three co-equal and co-eternal Persons who are equally “God.”
My main point is really very, very simple: it is the definition of the masculine term “God” in the Bible and consequently the intended meaning of the biblical statements about “one God” in their contexts. It is my assertion that the word “God” in the Bible (whether the Hebrew “Elohim” or Greek “Theos”) is a personal noun that ALWAYS refers to some PERSON. It NEVER refers to an inanimate or abstract thing, essence, or nature, or anything other than a Person. It always points to WHO, never to WHAT. I object to the misuse of the term “God” in exegesis as people defend whatever “ism” they hold dear. I object to Trinitarians claiming that the word “God” sometimes means the divine impersonal essence in order to accommodate three Persons in the “one God” statements. I equally object to Unitarians claiming that the word “God” (in the clause “the Word was God” – John 1:1) means an impersonal and abstract “Plan” in the mind of God. The video you posted actually illustrated Mr. Tuggy doing that very thing.
There may be a variety of interpretations of “Logos” in John’s prologue by Unitarians, but I am not aware of any that interpret “God” in the clause “and the Word was God” as referring to a Person (which requires that the “Word” was actually a real Person “in the beginning”), because that alone overthrows the denial of the preexistence of the Son. My point was that Mr. Tuggy’s interpretation is precisely what I am claiming is a massive mishandling of the term “God” in order to maintain his view, a mistake that rises to the same magnitude of error as his Trinitarian opponents.
Let’s please not make this about anything other than the biblical meaning of the term “God,” and how this applies to the “one God” statements of Scripture. The meaning of the noun “God” is the most fundamental and basic starting point which has to be settled before anything else can be accomplished in order for people to stop talking past each other using sloppy definitions of critical terminology. I am not interested in debating peripheral issues until the elephant in the room is at least acknowledged. I am still holding out hope that there are some actual “Bereans” in the Unitarian and Trinitarian opposing fortresses.
I think you are attempting to place too much weight on etymology and lexical associations and not enough on grammar and syntax. The etymology & parent-tree associations of these terms only illustrates how certain scholars believe the language developed over time and new words were formed, not a fixed graph of lexical meanings which can only be ascertained by observing usage in various contexts.
What is far more important than etymology and derivational morphology is the grammatical issues, in this case gender, especially regarding cases where the speaker/writer is free to choose the gender independently rather than it being fixed as with nouns. Yes, in 2 Pet. 1:3 θείας (divine) is an adjective that modifies the noun δυνάμεως (power). I think you may be misunderstanding what occurs when an adjective is used as a substantive. The adjective itself (with whatever meaning it indicates all by itself) stands alone and becomes the noun (substantive) complete in itself with whatever sense it alone carries. That sense includes both the lexical meaning of the adjective plus whatever is implied by the chosen gender, whether masculine, neuter, or feminine. It does not modify anything else, thus nothing else needs to be supplied (or in this case borrowed from the previous verse). See: Wallace, GGBB, pg. 294, par. 3. You also might want to take a look at this verse in the LGV, esp. the footnotes, which show a significant difference from most translations. In any case, God’s “power” in vs. 3 is abstract, not concrete, which is why it is feminine and the modifying adjective is feminine in v. 3. The feminine adjective in vs. 4 does NOT necessarily imply “power” from verse 3, as this would actually not make sense in the text. The feminine gender only implies something abstract in this case, not concrete which would tend to be neuter, and not personal which would tend to be masculine.
Let’s get back to Acts 17:29 where the real disagreement lies. The context makes it clear that Paul was referring to God’s concrete nature by his choice of the neuter inflection. If it was abstract divine qualities (like love, power, faithfulness, etc), he would have chosen the feminine inflection. The adjective used as a substantive, with a chosen neuter inflection, implies concrete things as opposed to abstract things (feminine) or personal things (masculine). So ontological nature is most surely Paul’s meaning IMHO.
But again, just as I stated regarding the clause “God is Spirit” in John 4, rather than tell us what God’s ontological nature actually is (we have no idea of the ontological nature of “spirit”), Paul also says what it is NOT – like gold, silver, etc. – concrete things we are familiar with. I do not think he was saying that God’s abstract qualities (like love, goodness, etc.) are not like “gold, silver,” etc. as that would be comparing apples (abstract qualities) to oranges (concrete qualities). I think we are agreed that the Bible does not actually address what God’s ontological nature is, only what it is not.
So all of the argumentation over unbiblical words and concepts which the Nicene Council struggled with was smoke and mirrors and led to the errors of both Trinitarianism and Arianism. This is the danger of using non-biblical theological terminology.
However, I will say that biblical procreative terminology related to the Father/Son familial dynamic, especially statements like “today I have begotten you” (Ps. 2:7) the “only-begotten Son” (Jn. 1:18) and “only-begotten of the Father” (Jn. 1:14) imply sameness of KIND (ontological equality), which is a biblical term and concept (γένος – race, kind, and points to ontological sameness). Likewise, statements such as “equal with God” in Phil. 2:6 refer to equality in kind and not to equality in rank.
In any case, all this is deviating from my real point, which is not whether God’s ontological nature is ever addressed in Scripture, but rather the meaning of one word, “God.” The masculine personal nouns, Elohim (Heb.) and Θεός (Theos – Gk), do NOT say anything at all about substance or nature, but are ALWAYS personal, referring to a specific Person. That is true whether it is used of the Father, or the Son, or of demon-gods, or even (sarcastically, I believe) of human rulers as in Psalm 82:1,6.
This is the first point of contention between the “isms” that must be resolved before any kind of headway can occur towards reconciliation and a standard understanding of God and His Son. If different sides could agree on this point, then real progress could be made. So my challenge to any of the “isms” is this: If the word “God” in the Bible does NOT always refer to some person(s) but sometimes refers to impersonal divine qualities or impersonal things that are not part of God’s person, then please provide the passages where this occurs. I am willing to be proven wrong.
Correction to the above. I misspoke when I stated that in 2 Pet. 1:4 the adjective is a substantive and thus its gender was chosen. It is not acting independently as a substantive, but is modifying the noun “nature,” which is feminine, so its gender must conform to the noun it modifies. However, the point still stands that this refers to divine qualities which are abstract, and thus feminine. This is born out in the following verses, where a list of these (feminine gender) abstract qualities are named, those which are part of God’s abstract nature and which we are commanded to add to our faith.
I see your point after a bit of study. So the neuter adjective θεῖον can be thought of as “whatever the Divine is”, He is not like the idols devised by man’s craft. I apologize for rabbit-trailing the conversation. My intent was to emphasize how little the Scriptures speak to the “essence” of the one-God, but I now see that Acts 17.29 does indeed imply this.
Yes, that is a good way of putting it. Whatever the concrete divine essence is, it is not like gold, silver, etc. Nothing in Scripture reveals what God’s concrete essence actually is (probably because we humans have nothing to compare it to), only what it is NOT.
The debate between the 4th cent. Trinitarians vs. Arians was about what the divine essence WAS. This was driven by the Greek philosophical understanding of “divine nature,” that whatever is eternal cannot be subject to change in essence. Since “the Word became flesh,” that is, “being in the form of God,” He “emptied Himself” to become in the likeness of man, the implication is a complete transformation of concrete essence, from divine to human. This was utterly impossible in the Greek philosophical way of thinking, and opponents of Christianity pointed this out, especially Celsus in his 2nd cent. anti-Christian book, “The True Logos.” So to meet the philosophical demands of the Greek intellectuals, Christians adopted the Platonic concept of “incarnation,” that the divine “Son” (Logos/Word) merely cloaked Himself in human flesh which required no ontological change of His divine essence (merely hiding it). The biblical concept that the Son of God (Logos) literally “became flesh” – a complete transformation of concrete essence, was gradually abandoned. The Platonic-Incarnation theory then became the philosophical foundation for the Roman Catholic doctrine of “hypostatic union” which was eventually codified in later Roman Catholic Trinitarian creeds, and anything opposing it was anathema.
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