June 28, 2009

The Atonement, Its Meaning & Significance

I've spent several hours this month with the late Leon Morris. It has been time well spent. You will typically find high recommendations for his scholarly work The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross. For all of the glowing and deserved recommendations, it is written targeting an education level that most of the church never reaches. Like climbing Everest, you need to bring along theological oxygen bottles to survive the rarefied atmosphere. Recognizing the limiting nature of that work for evangelicals in general, Morris set out to bring the hay down out of the loft so we all might ruminate and benefit from his work. He succeeded.

The Atonement, Its Meaning & Significance is a book about the cross for the rest of us. Morris throws biblical light on the death of Messiah using the lamps of covenant, sacrifice, the Day of Atonement, Passover, redemption, reconciliation, propitiation, and justification. Each lamp has a different hue, emphasizing its own aspect of the atonement. Morris is unapologetic about using a broad palette. Only by using a wide range of biblical language can he paint a rich portrait to help us understand and appreciate the length, breadth, and depth of God's solution to mankind's evil and rebellion.

One chapter stands out for me, not for devotional value, but for the devotion Morris shows in pursuing important concepts. I'm thinking specifically of his chapter on propitiation. C.H. Dodd's efforts to empty the New Testament of God's personal wrath has had a deep impact on the church today. Morris brings the scholarly material to bear in a simplified manner and contributes several helpful insights. In doing so, he contemplates the differing semantics of propitiation v. expiation. Morris makes a strong case that our understanding of the atonement is meaningfully diminished if we omit God's righteous indignation. This one chapter is enough to display the profound insights that Morris developed over years of interaction with Dodd's work.

Morris combines a clear writing style with delightful little glimpses of his own personality. I could almost see him shake his head or chuckle a little under his breath. A couple of times his wry sense of humor rises to mock our foolishness. The book is about 200 pages long. It's helpful. I recommend it for your consideration. Following are some morsels served up to whet your appetite.

"The cross is central to Christianity."

"The witness (to a covenant) was not an independent figure who could speak up and testify to the fact and terms of the covenant. The witness was rather something that served to remind the participants of what they had done."

"Every Christian enters the covenant by faith, and here the references to the covenant with Abraham as of continuing force are important. Abraham is the classic example of faith for the New Testament writers and to be involved in the covenant with Abraham means to live by faith as that patriarch did. Not all the descendants of Abraham were caught up in his covenant with God, and Paul specifically makes the point that in the sense that matters Abraham's children are those who believe, whether they are his physical descendants or not, whether they are circumcised or not. And, of course, a consideration of the place of faith in the covenant calls us to consider the reality of our faith. Without faith, there is no membership in the covenant."

"Ancients like me remember that during the years of the Second World War we were frequently called upon to make sacrifices to assist our country. That meant forgoing comfort and pay rises and it involved making do with inferior substitutes instead of insisting on the superior article; on occasion it meant going without something altogether."

"The worshipper laid his hand on the head of the (sacrificial) animal. The Hebrew verb means something like leaning on the animal. It was a firm contact, not a casual touch. The meaning of this is disputed. Some hold that it meant that the worshipper was identifying himself with the offering. If this is the way of it, the action said, 'This is my sacrifice. This is the animal I am offering.' It certainly did this at least. But others think that the action was a symbolic transferral of the sins of the worshipper to the animal, so that when it died it was taking the punishment due to the worshipper for his sins. It was being treated as the sins it bore deserved. They hold that this is the obvious symbolism and that it is supported by the fact that in later times at least there are passages which tell us that, as the worshipper laid his hands on the animal, he confessed his sins. It is not easy to see what the laying on of hands means if there is no symbolic transfer to the animal which was to die of the sins being confessed."

"Nobody who came thoughtfully to God by the way of sacrifice could be in any doubt but that sin was a serious matter. It could not be put aside by a light-hearted wave of the hand but required the shedding of blood."

"The term (redemption) as used in the all-pervasive Greek culture of antiquity had its origin in the practices of warfare. When people went to war in ancient times they lacked the refinements of our modern civilization. They had no atom bombs, no poison gas, no germ warfare. But in their own humble way they did what they could to make life uncomfortable for one another. One of the happy little customs was that, when battle was over, the victors sometimes rode around the battlefield rounding up as many of the vanquished as they could. Then they took them off as slaves. It meant a tidy profit and an increase in the spoils of war, though I guess the new slaves did not like it much."

"The two concepts (propitiation and expiation) are really very different. Propitiation means the turning away of anger; expiation is rather the making amends for a wrong. Propitiation is a personal word; one propitiates a person. Expiation is an impersonal word; one expiates a sin or a crime."

"An important idea in the New Testament is that righteousness may be imputed. There are grounds for imputation in an Old Testament passage, that in which we read, 'Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness'. This presents a problem to some modern people, because we so firmly believe that righteousness is an ethical quality. It is 'being good'. In that sense, it is nonsense to talk about righteousness being imputed. Everyone who aspires to this kind of righteousness must merit it for himself, by right living. It cannot be 'credited' or 'reckoned' or 'imputed' to him other than in some fictitious and fanciful sense. But when we see righteousness as basically legal, as 'right-standing', it is another matter. A standing or status can be conferred. The narrative says that God conferred this status on Abraham because of his faith. Paul uses this as his classic example of justification by faith. Abraham received his 'right-standing' not on account of any meritorious action but simply because he trusted God."

June 25, 2009

A Walk Through Philippians - #1

Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.
(Philippians 1:1-5, ESV)

Both Paul and Timothy were present at the founding of the Philippian church, sowing gospel seed in the previously unplowed region. The church at Philippi holds a special place in Paul's affections, as he also does in theirs, demonstrated by their repeated gifts of help for Paul and his ministry. Quite simply, he loves them with the love of Christ. They love Paul sacrificially. You can see this clearly when you read the letter as a whole. Paul does not express his deep affection for them in flowery speech. No, he calls God as witness of his love for them. This is no small testimony of his commitment to them. They had observed Paul in very troubled times and had endured their own persecution for the sake of the gospel. Shared persecution has welded the apostle's heart to the church.

There is one specific point we will meditate on in this opening post. The Philippian church is a partner with Paul in his missionary work. From the very beginning of their walk in Christ, birthed through Paul's preaching ministry, they have freely given their time, energy, and means to further the ministry of the gospel through Paul. They have forged a mutual partnership in Christ, even though their individual circumstances are quite different. Paul is a missionary apostle, traveling and preaching widely. The Philippians minister in their locale but also support Paul in both theological and practical ways.

This account raises questions for our times, for our churches, and for us as individuals. How does my church relate to the missionaries we support? Stop and look at the bigger picture. This is a relationship, a partnership, a friendship. Relationships need effort. They go deeper than the dollar figure on your missions budget. Are we freely giving our means to further the ministry of the gospel in missions? If we are, great. But that's not the whole picture. Are we giving our time and energy also? Are we partners in the gospel like Paul and the Philippians? Does my church intentionally support our missionaries in theological and practical ways?

Please consider your own personal part in your church's relationship with its missionaries. I do not ask this as a means to lay a guilt trip on you. It is a fact that everyone is not called to do everything all the time (but sometimes it feels or looks like it). No, I'm simply asking you to consider if and how you might spend your time, energy, and means as a member of your church to partner with your missionaries. They are real people with hopes and fears, triumphs and failures, and a million other things that make up a life. I know they would appreciate your partnership and, as Paul, would thank God in all their remembrance of you with joy.

June 20, 2009

What is the Jehovah's Witness Concept of Salvation?

Concerning the majority of Jehovah's Witnesses you encounter today, there are several "salvations" they look for.

1. Being saved from Armageddon, brought through living into the post-apocalyptic world.

2. If they die before Armageddon, being resurrected into the post-apocalyptic world (and thus saved from the non-existence of death - of note is the fact that this creature has no personal continuity with the one who died, this is a newly created human with the memories/personality of the formerly existing human).

Both of these salvations are only temporary. They are not eternal. I mention this because evangelicals tend to think of "being saved" as something that happens once and lasts forever. Although the JW might say the two above are salvations, they are speaking of a temporary salvation that gives them an opportunity to gain permanent salvation.

3. Successfully passing the final test at the end of the Millenium, and thus being judged by Jehovah as worthy of life. This is the only "salvation" that truly sticks in Watchtower theology. Jehovah God brings a final test upon the world of witnesses who are in the same state as Adam and Eve (sinless and brought up to human perfection). This final test lets them personally demonstrate their personal righteousness or unrighteousness, resulting either in everlasting life on earth or annihilation into non-existence. Passing this final judgment has nothing to do with faith in Jesus or salvation by God's grace. It is a crass works-based salvation that rests squarely on the personal performance of each individual in the final test.

What are they saved from? In each salvation mentioned above the JW is saved from non-existence, either temporarily or permanently.

Sadly but not surprisingly, even the salvation granted after the final test is not truly permanent. It continues to be contingent on the performance of each individual.

This is all in contrast to the Bible's message, which tells us that we are saved by God's grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone all to God's glory alone.

The Christian's Eternal Priest, the Watchtower's Temporary Priest

'for in witness it is said: “You are a priest forever according to the manner of Mel·chiz´e·dek.”' (Heb 7:17, NWT, emphasis added)

Jehovah has spoken by an oath. What saith the Watchtower?

14 The very possession of human nature requires that those who will be heavenly “joint heirs with Christ” stay in the antitypical refuge city until they faithfully finish their earthly course in death. When they die, they will sacrifice human nature forever. (Romans 8:17; Revelation 2:10) Jesus’ sacrifice applies only to those having human nature. Hence, the High Priest dies toward those of spiritual Israel when they are resurrected as spirit creatures who will reside eternally in heaven as “sharers in divine nature.”—2 Peter 1:4.

15 When will the High Priest “die” with regard to the modern-day ‘alien residents’ and ‘settlers,’ allowing them to leave the antitypical city of refuge? These members of the great crowd cannot come out of this refuge city immediately after the great tribulation. Why not? Because they will still be in their imperfect, sinful flesh and will need to remain under the High Priest’s protection. By availing themselves of his atoning services during his thousand-year kingship and priesthood, they will attain to human perfection. Jesus will then present them to God for a final, eternally decisive test of their integrity by the loosing of Satan and his demons for a little while. Because they pass this test with divine approval, Jehovah will declare them righteous. Thus they will reach the very fullness of human perfection.—1 Corinthians 15:28; Revelation 20:7-10.

16 So, then, survivors of the great tribulation will have to maintain a good conscience by staying in the antitypical refuge city until the end of Christ’s Thousand Year Reign. As perfected humans, they will have no further need for the High Priest’s atoning services and will come out from under his protection. Jesus will then die to them as High Priest, for he will no longer need to act in their behalf with the cleansing blood of his sacrifice. At that time they will leave the antitypical city of refuge. (The Watchtower, November 15, 1995, Stay in the 'City of Refuge' and Live!, emphasis added)

Filth spills from the mouth of the "faithful(?) slave". Did God stutter? Has he lied? Will he change his mind? NEVER! Jesus is the priest for his people forever. Come to the Savior today. He calls you to himself for forgiveness, reconciliation, and peace with God.

Jehovah has sworn by an unalterable oath. The organization says "not so".

Believe Jehovah, not the Watchtower! Come to Jesus for forgiveness, not to an organization that stinks of death. His word is true. His priesthood is true. The life he gives is true life.

June 17, 2009

Luther makes me smile

I finished reading Luther's response to Erasmus last weekend. I had to smile and laugh a few times as the reformer painted vivid pictures in words. You might say Luther wrote with a scalpel or a hammer rather than a pen.

"I thought it outrageous to convey material of so low a quality in the trappings of such rare eloquence; it is like using gold or silver dishes to carry garden rubbish or dung."

"Perhaps nobody will believe me when I say that Erasmus says these things. Let doubters read the Diatribe at this point; they will be surprised! Not that I am particularly surprised. A man who does not treat this question seriously and has no interest in the issue, whose mind is not on it and who finds it a boring and a chilling and distasteful business, cannot help uttering absurdities and follies and contradictions all along the line; he argues his case like a man drunk or asleep, blurting out between snores 'Yes!' 'No!' as different voices sound upon his ears!"

"Do you think the Diatribe was quite sober, or in its right mind, when it wrote this? For I will not put it down to wickedness and villainy - unless perhaps its intention is to bore me to death by its characteristic habit of always dealing with something other than its stated theme! But if the Diatribe has enjoyed itself by trifling on such a vital matter, then let me too enjoy myself by publicly exposing its willful stupidities."

June 14, 2009

Concerning the Greatness of God

I originally posted the following challenge on a Christian/Jehovah’s Witness discussion board. Sam and I exchanged a brief series of replies to one another, documented here.

Dave wrote:

You believe Jehovah is God. You believe Michael/Jesus/Michael is one of his creations. This should make for marked contrast between Jehovah and MJM.

Is there any way you conceive of Jehovah as infinitely greater than Michael/Jesus/Michael? Not just a little bit greater. Not a lot greater. Infinitely greater.

Sam replied:

I would say yes there are ways the Father is infinitely greater than the Son. The Father is the source of all things as they are "out" (1Co 8:6) of him. That includes power and knowledge (John 5:20). Since no other person is the source of power and knowledge the Father is infinitely greater.


Let me restate what I hear you saying at this specific point in our discussion. I’m hearing you say here that the Father is infinitely greater than the Son (and all the rest of creation) since he is the source of all things including power and knowledge, based on I Cor 8:6 supplemented by John 5:20.

The way you state it, it appears that you believe the ‘sourcing’ of these attributes is the ground of the Father’s infinite greatness, not necessarily that the Father’s power and knowledge specifically are infinite. In other words, it does not matter if the Father has a bottomless well of power and knowledge or if they are limited supplies. Rather, I see you arguing that since everything else possesses these attributes in a derivative sense as a result of the Father giving it to them, this is the hinge on which his infinite greatness turns.

However, later on in your post you do reference the Father’s infinite power. Thus, it does appear you intend that the Father is infinitely glorious based on an infinite supply of power which he inherently possesses and dispenses and not only that he is the source of power/knowledge. I cannot tell if you feel the Father is infinitely greater solely in the areas of power and knowledge. You do mention them repeatedly so I’m assuming, at the very least, that these are at the top of your list of the Father’s infinite greatness over creation.

To be clear, the God of the Watchtower is willfully ignorant. Therefore his knowledge is not infinite, and he cannot be termed omniscient in any real sense.

I Corinthians 8:6 is a great text contained in the context of a discussion about eating food offered to idols. In response to concerns about the appropriateness of eating food sacrificed to idols in various social and religious settings, Paul contrasts the false gods of idol worship with the one true God, comprehended in the titles “God” and “Lord”, which he distributes to the Father and the Son. Paul is intentionally broad in his use of both “God” and “Lord”, encompassing terms used among the nations to refer to their various false idol deities. Some religions would refer to their false deity as a god. Others would title theirs a lord. He is taking pains here to use broad language to encompass the various religious worlds of false gods, and display the uniqueness and reality of the one God/Lord of Christians over against the many gods and many lords who are indeed false.

1 Cor 8:6 there is actually to us one God the Father, out of whom all things are, and we for him; and there is one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things are, and we through him. NWT

1Co 8:6 yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist. ESV

1Co 8:6 yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we live, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we live. NET

1 Cor 8:6 yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things, and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him. NASB

Paul brings both the Father and the Son into view in this passage, and in no small way. He utilizes well-worn religious vocabulary in referring to both persons. Over against the many so-called gods and lords of the religious world, we have here the uniqueness of the one true God of Christians brought into magnification to aid our deficient view. It is writ large due to our slowness of mind and heart to believe. The true overcomes the false, displayed in the glory of creation and personal purpose. It is not simply creation in general that exists for the Father through the Son. No, not merely an impersonal creation. We do. We exist for the Father through the Son.

We see in the passage that “all things” are from the Father and “all things” are through the Son. I can detect nothing in the immediate context of this verse or passage to indicate that “all things” is intended by Paul to bear one meaning when applied to the Father and a different meaning when applied to the Son. What are these “all things”? “All things” indicates the entire creation. The entire creation from the Father. The entire creation through the Son. The Father and Son stand outside all things. They stand outside all creation. I know of no other like this. God alone is uncreated. Father and Son stand here, uncreated creator of all things.

In considering God as the Creator of all things, generally my understanding can be pictured as follows:

As creation is fleshed out within I Cor. 8:6, it could be represented as follows:

This interpretation of I Cor 8:6 bears the strength of consistency in taking the Father’s “all things” and the Son’s “all things” to have the same meaning. All things means all of creation, accomplished in the work of the Father and the Son in bringing all things into existence.

Due to the Watchtower’s doctrine of creation, they cannot take “all things” here in I Cor 8:6 as synonymous in reference to both the Father and the Son. They simply must take the Father’s “all things” in this passage to mean something other than the Son’s “all things”, else their doctrine of creation would be left in shambles. In Watchtower theology the Father’s “all things” cannot bear the same meaning as the Son’s “all things”, even though both “all things” are used within the same verse with no markers indicating a variance in their scope. To understand the Father’s “all things” and the Son’s “all things” as meaning “the entire creation” would introduce irreconcilable contradiction into the Watchtower doctrine of creation, rendering it incoherent. Again, nothing in the context of I Cor 8:6 indicates that the repetition of “all things” is intended to bear two different meanings. The Watchtower is shackled by preconceived doctrines that will not let the text speak as written.

From what I understand, the Watchtower view could be pictured as follows:

In Watchtower systematics, the Son must be subsumed under “all things” in creation, as it is believed he is a created being. The Watchtower cannot see the text in I Cor 8:6, having hidden it behind the theological construct they have fashioned. The chasm here exposed between the Father and Son from all creation is echoed consistently in several other passages as well. The Father and Son stand exalted above all of creation. The creature spoken of by the Watchtower is a poor shadow of the reality displayed gloriously throughout the Bible, with I Cor 8:6 being one of the special focal points.

Dave wrote:

You reference I Cor 8:6 as a foundational text for understanding the Father is infinitely greater than all of creation, including Michael/Jesus/Michael. What an interesting choice for a verse to base this on. You pick one that does not mention God alone. Instead, you choose a verse that mentions both the Father and the Son. Interesting. For my own benefit, here is the text of the verse in several translations.

Sam replied:

I find it strength to use a verse that describes the role of each and don’t agree with the approach some take to take two or more different verses by two or more different bible writers and assume that the writer is speaking about the same context in all verses. When both Father and Son are involved in the same context both the similarities and differences are evident.

I agree with you that great insight can be gained through examining passages like I Cor 8:6. The application of “all things” in relation to both the Father and the Son is visible here, in a manner which the Watchtower cannot acknowledge or embrace.

Dave wrote:

First, the fact that both the Father and the Son are mentioned here is significant. Given your commitment to the exaltation of Jehovah infinitely above everyone and everything else, it seems to me that this would not be the strongest foundation you could use to build your case.

Sam replied:

If one appeals to one verse that says something about the Father and a different verse that says something about the Son it is easier to equivocate because many rarely make the effort needed to prove the two verses are the same context.

Again, you are on track concerning passages of full mention and the clarity they can bring to our understanding.

Dave wrote:

Here we see both the Father and the Son intimately involved in creation, even cooperating to accomplish the grand plan. Does cooperation between the Father and the Son together in this grand plan give a clear indication of the Father's infinite greatness over the Son? Not from where I stand. I am amazed at the glory displayed here, of both the Father and the Son.

Sam replied:

Cooperation is not mentioned in this verse. You ask a question about cooperation and don’t therefore really add anything to this discussion. Also, what “seems to you” is not an argument. So regardless of where you “stand”, you have not advanced your position that the Father is not infinite in some way when compared to the Son. If God does something by means of a man such as Moses and Moses cooperates does this mean that God is not infinitely more capable than Jehovah?

Cooperation is not mentioned in the verse? Not by the specific word, no. We are not scholars or professional debaters. This is a discussion between non-scholars about matters of faith. Don’t you ever meditate on a verse and have it lift you to praise? This reminds me of several discussions I’ve had over the years with JWs. As a rule, JWs don’t open up at all about their own personal faith or passions, especially in a public venue like this. They have to watch every single word and make sure that no one gets to see the real person. It’s all “preposition this” and “anarthrous that”. I sometimes wonder if the Watchtower is a vampire that sucks all of the blood out of your lives... and replaces it with crabby appleton.

I’m searching for an illustration of what I’m hearing you say. It sounds as if you are saying the Father wielded the creature as an impersonal conduit of creative energy (would that be holy spirit?), almost like a fireman uses a firehose to direct water. What a poor, shriveled image of the Father and Son compared to the rich biblical imagery of I Cor 8:6.


Note the term avpV evmautou/ as used by Moses and Jesus:

Both Jesus and Moses use the same words to deny that they are the source of what they did.

This supports my earlier analysis that the Father is infinite when it comes to performing works like creation. He is the source. When it comes to what Jesus did in the second half of 1Co 8:6 the things described by DIA, these things would also be not done by Jesus of his own will or on his own. That is the domain of the Father. In fact Jesus said in John 10:14 that he does not speak his own words and that the works people saw performed were not his doing, they were done by his Father.

Sam, I Cor 8:6 speaks loud and clear on several points of creation. As the source and agent of creation, the Father and the Son are placed outside the realm of creation. I want to be true to the biblical message, as true as I can be in this fallen world with my finite human mind. Infinity is in view here, but not the infinite chasm between the Father and the Son that you attempt to draw. The Father and Son stand infinitely above creation. I fully acknowledge DIA as used of the Son here, but it is not the only significant word concerning the work of the Son. What was DIA the Son? All things! What was EK the Father? All things! The Trinitarian understanding gives full allowance to the roles described with EK and DIA while also acknowledging the overarching and creation-encompassing all things from the Father through the Son. Both the Watchtower and your comments deny the full message, not acknowledging the supreme exaltation of the Father and Son presented in I Cor 8:6. It remains my great hope and prayer that you and many more Jehovah’s Witnesses will abandon the Watchtower caricature of Jesus and embrace the Son for all that he truly is.

SAM said:

If Jesus did not claim these things for himself do you really thing he would be pleased for you to contradict him?

Listen to Jesus.

You put words in my mouth. They taste bad. You can keep them for yourself.

Dave wrote:

When I consider the vastness of creation, the awe-inspiring energy of innumerable galaxies, the magnitude of the cosmos and the microcosm of subatomic particles... amazed is too small a word. I tell you honestly, accounts like this cause a fountain of praise to stream from my heart. How amazing our Creator is. And right here, smack dab in I Cor 8:6, we find both the Father and the Son. Worship and thankfulness are rightly offered to the Father and the Son for their infinite glory displayed through creation. If all of creation is an infinitesimally smaller display of God's infinite glory (and I believe it is), then the Father and the Son are awesome beyond description. Although words fail me, I will not be struck dumb in offering what praise and glory I can muster.

Sam replied:

Even if the Son were to have performed his part in the making of all things of his own will and of his own initiate and power, something that he denies, this would not make him infinite as you describe above. No amount of creation can be infinite compared to God. Creation, no matter how magnificent is finite. In what is described in 1Co 8:6 does not approach any limit to God’s creativity. This is because of the way that word EK is used in 1Co 8:6. The Father is the source of these things and since he is infinite in his power and brings things into existence as the initiator of them, there is no end to what the Father can create. However the Son is his instrument, his intermediate agent. His role is magnificent but it does not have the characteristics required of an infinite being.

Sam, I have no problem acknowledging the various roles presented in I Cor 8:6 (and in other passages) of the Father and the Son in creation. I am not alone in this. If you would take the time to read Trinitarian commentators on this text I think you would be quite surprised. To see the Father as the ultimate source and the Son as the agent of creation does not destroy the Trinity. In fact, it is commonly spoken of in this manner when looking into the deep details of creation.

Can you in turn acknowledge a consistent application of “all things”, relating it to both the Father and the Son as is done here in I Cor 8:6?

The infinity that I mentioned above is not some kind of magical multiplication of finite creation. I tried making that clear in both the above paragraph of mine that you quoted and one that follows. If I have failed in making that clear, the failure is mine. The infinite glory of the Father and the Son is displayed through the finite creation (Rom 1:20). The thought of this inspires me to magnify them as infinitely glorious over all creation.

Dave wrote:

The concepts of origin and agency are not foreign to Trinitarian thought. Many commentators and linguists echo those precise words in describing the roles of the Father and the Son in this passage. I am guessing that you see the roles of origin and agency as insuperable obstacles to a biblical doctrine of the Trinity, but they are not. You're not telling us something we don't already know. Let me echo what I said before. The fact that both the Father and the Son are inseperably linked in this verse over all of creation speaks volumes. We embrace the truths of origin and agency taught here, and I believe, we give the recognition due to both the Father and the Son that is indicated in this amazing text. This text does not indicate an infinite divide between the Father and all of creation. Instead, it places the Father and the Son infinitely above all of creation.

Sam replied:

The Son did not claim to do anything on his own. Therefore the scope of his role cannot be described as omnipotent. Since he is not the source of these things and since creation is not infinite, he cannot be described as infinite. However since the Father is the infinite source of all things he can be considered infinite. The Father can never run of creative works and the Son claims that he does nothing on his own. There is quite a contrast there. However I do agree that the Son’s role was magnificent and that this places him in second position to all others in the universe.

Sam, again – Trinitarians acknowledge and embrace the various roles of the Father and the Son in creation as displayed in I Cor 8:6. You say the Son’s role in creation was magnificent. Not even close. The Son’s role is infinitely beyond magnificent. Let’s be clear – the ‘second position’ that you so generously give the Son is infinitely less than the Father’s first position. How do you compare the finite to the infinite? Second place in a two horse race doesn’t come close to the contrast you claim. You approach the text with a theological construct (namely that the son is a creature) that will not allow you to acknowledge the full truth displayed plainly in the text.

Dave wrote:

Sam said, "The Father is the source of all things as they are 'out' (1Co 8:6) of him. That includes power and knowledge (John 5:20). Since no other person is the source of power and knowledge the Father is infinitely greater."

I am left wondering how this cannot also apply to the Son, as he is mentioned in I Cor 8:6 also. Would your construct not also apply equally to him as well? The Son is the agent of all things as they are "through" (1Co 8:6) him. That includes power and knowledge (John 5:20). Since no other person is the agent of power and knowledge the Son is infinitely greater than all of creation.

Sam replied:

Since what is described in 1Co 8:6 came out of the Father and did not exhaust the capability of the Father it cannot be considered infinite. The Son is greater than all of creation but not infinitely so, because he is not the source of the created order, and claims to have done nothing on his own.

Sam, you say the son is greater than all of creation, however, you believe he is a creature, a part of creation. You wrote earlier about avoiding equivocation. I trust you are sincere in your desire to do so. To speak carefully here, you MUST say that he “is greater than all the rest of creation”. Certainly you are aware that saying ‘the son is greater than all creation’ sounds exactly like what a Trinitarian believes. It is also clearly not what you believe.

Do we need to rehash the historical discussion between JWs and Trinitarians of the difference between “all things” and “all [other] things”? They don’t mean the same thing, pardon the pun. You do not mean the creature son you believe in is greater than “all of creation”.

SAM said:

Think of the example of the jars of oil and flour that Jehovah provided the widow that never ran out. He had an infinite capacity to make that oil to sustain her life.

While the flour and oil were not infinite, the miracle proves that Jehovah is infinite because he could supply it forever if he wished. The jars could have been used forever as the means by which Jehovah delivered infinite amounts of flour and oil to the women but they themselves are not infinite.

What a nice illustration. The one through whom and for whom you exist is as significant as a jar used as a tool by the Father. In your zeal to magnify the Father, you make it sound like the Father is performing this miracle of creation all by himself, independently of the Son. Ah, but that’s not what you believe, is it?

Dave wrote:

I asked originally if JWs could establish an infinitely marked contrast between Jehovah and Michael/Jesus/Michael. The text you have chosen has not shown this contrast. In fact, it has placed the Son on level with the Father, infinitely greater than all of creation.

Sam replied:

You claim victory prematurely as if I was not going to respond. How very confident of you! However it does not appear that you understand the word infinite. No matter how extensive creation is, it is not infinite. The way I prove that the Father is infinite is because he is the source of all things and because of faith that he will always continue to be the source of all things and that he has not exhausted the well of his creative works.

I do not see your “proof” acknowledging the full inspired text so I cannot embrace what you hold. No thank you on the whole happy, contradictory doctrine. All things are from the Father. All things are through the Son.

Dave wrote:

The infinite exaltation of the Father and the Son in this verse is further established when you look at the surrounding context. In I Corinthians 8, Paul is dealing with a Corinthian theological construct concerning food offered to idols. While there are many so-called gods in heaven or on earth (synonymously called 'gods' or 'lords' in various pagan religions) they are non-existent, false gods/lords. Paul identifies the true God/Lord comprehensively against these false deities. 'God' and 'Lord' here in I Cor 8:6 are used by Paul to cover all the bases of the false pagan deities. Whether the pagan refers to their deity as a lord or as a god, we have but one God, the Father, and one Lord, Jesus Christ. Concerning your desire to see the 'all things' here as merely communicable attributes and not all of creation, I think you're coming up short and not giving the text its full due. I Cor 8:6 refers to all of creation, entirely. It's not merely speaking of invisible things like knowledge, power, wisdom. It encompasses "life, the universe, and everything".

Sam replied:

I don’t recall limiting the scope TA PANTA in my analysis of this verse. What is limited in TA PANTA is that it is what was created and that the creation is not in itself infinite. It cannot be infinite because at any moment God could as the source of all things ADD to it. That would make it bigger and greater than it is and therefore it is not infinite. However the Son could not ADD to it because he is not the source of all things.

I explained and pictured much earlier in this post how you limit the scope of TA PANTA when you exclude the Father from TA PANTA but include the Son in TA PANTA with no reason to switch meanings in I Cor 8:6. I am not intending in the above to argue that giving I Cor 8:6 its full due is to multiply the finite to infinite proportions. I am saying that, if the Father and the Son stand outside all things, they are the one God, who is infinite in infinitely many ways.

Or are you saying that TA PANTA does mean all of creation, placing both the Father and the Son outside of creation? If TA PANTA is what was created, and what was created was created through the Son, the Son was not created. Is that where you stand?

Dave wrote:

Before we ever get to discussing the completeness indicated by 'ta panta' (all things), you can see it immediately in the verse by its reference to 'we for him' and 'we through him'. It is vast in scope, encompassing every created thing. Which raises a problem for you.

Sam replied:

Vastness is not infinity. That remains a problem for you, not me.

Again, if ‘ta panta’ means ‘all things’, then the Son stands outside of creation, making him God and thus infinite. ‘All things’. Not ‘all other things’.

Dave wrote:

If the Father is the origin of everything and the Son is the agent of everything, how did the Son come to be? He couldn't be the agent of his own creation, now could he?

Sam replied:

The agency of the Father in 1Co 8:6 is that of ultimate agent. The agency of the Son is that of intermediate agent. There is also another kind of agency that is not in the scope of this verse. This agency is normally described with a Greek syntax that employs the preposition EN (in) and describes an impersonal agency. I don’t limit the scope of this verse with regards TA PANTA with regards to anything covered by things that were out of the Father as the source (EK) and through the Son as his personal intermediate agent which in this verse is DIA.

In the same manner while God is a thing in the sense of an entity he can be excluded from it in context because the subject in verses describing PANTA can be excluded from PANTA as in 1Co 15:27.

It is interesting that in 1Co 8:6 you focus on the Son when you ask the question about how one would exclude the Son from TA PANTA. On what linguistic basis or syntax in this verse do you limit your question to the Son and not include the Father in TA PANTA? Or what in the immediate context excludes the Father from TA PANTA? If you base your limitation of the Father from this verse because of theology, then I could also base answer merely on theology. But I do not.

Here is how I do it. PANTA in the scope of what is being described here of necessity excludes the subjects. Here PANTA is that which has come about from the EK activity of the Father and the DIA (personal) activity of the Son. If I were to point to an example of EN being used with respect to the Son I would point to John 1:3-4 where “What has come into existence in him was life.” There the Son is not independent of the process (XWRIS) but is also not the personal agent. Creative life first came into being EN (in) the Son, not DIA (through) the Son. That being said, DIA does not always mean personal agency and EN does not always mean impersonal agency.

Sam, at I Cor 8:6 it is ‘all things’ in reference to both the Father and the Son, as even the NWT states. Not simply some things, or even most things, or supremely all things except one. All things come from who? All things come through who? Therefore, who is not member of all things? (Hint, there are two persons identified in I Cor 8:6.)

How about backing up your reference to John 1:3-4 to include verse 3? Your own NWT presents ‘all things’ here also, in reference to the Son. I’m detecting a theme.

Are you implying that, as a native english speaker, when I read the NWT and it says ‘all things’, it doesn’t mean that? Is it a clear translation intended to be understood or does it need a secret decoder ring to find the hidden meaning behind all those words? I see all these references to ‘all things’ and cannot escape the clear teaching.

According to the religion taught by the organization, the true message of the Bible cannot be discerned without the aid of the organization. The only theology you have is not your own. The only theology you have is what they allow you to have. You believe you have grammatical, linguistic reasons for your beliefs? Those reasons are simply a gas and a vapor when viewed through the epistemology of the religion you embrace. “Here’s how I do it” is a meaningless claim by JWs in any discussion concerning Watchtower teaching. The Watchtower claims that it alone understands the Bible. They say that you cannot understand the message of the Bible apart from their help. So you see, there is no room for “here’s how I do it”, on this or any other doctrine. Unless, of course, you are like the neo-Watchtower apologists that started surfacing a few years ago.

Did you accept the Watchtower’s message because you already understood it independently of their aid and found that their message matched your understanding? If so, you’re well on your way out of that religion because to claim this is to fly in the face of their authority claims. If not, then there is no way for you to “do this”. It’s up to the Watchtower to do it for you, and for you to accept what they say.

SAM said:

But I digress. Whether or not the Son is included in TA PANTA is a side issue and does not address my analysis which describes the Father as the infinite source of all things, TA PANTA which is great but not infinite and the Son who is great but not infinite.

If all things have been created through the Son, he stands outside the created order.

Dave wrote:

Acknowledging the vast scope of 'all things' will drive you to an irreconcilable difficulty, namely 'How can the Son create all things if he himself is a creation?' This is not a problem for the believer who embraces the Father and the Son in all their creative glory. God is uncreated. Everything else is created by God.

Instead of establishing that the unitarian Watchtower deity is infinitely greater than all of creation, you have pointed out how the Bible clearly exalts both the Father and the Son infinitely over all of creation.

Sam replied:

If the Son is infinite because a large but non-infinite TA PANTA was made through him then the jar which contained the oil is infinite because it was used to distribute and unending amount of oil to the widow from an unending source, or at least it had the capability of serving up oil forever should that have been necessary.

It was not irreconcilable and in fact is a red herring. Even if I had no answer for this it would not relieve you from the difficulty of proving that the Son is infinite because he was the intermediate agent in a non-infinite TA PANTA.

Even if I had no answer for that it would not disprove that the Father is infinite because he is the unending source of all things.

However I did have a Scriptural answer for it. You may disagree with me but I will not allow it to derail this discussion as it does not impact the initial question you asked and to which I replied.

If you do continue to discuss this as a side point, please don’t forget to explain on what basis you exclude the Father from TA PANTA. Adding other verses where the Son is the intermediate agent in making things such as Colossians 1:16 and John 1:3-4 will not resolve this for you as my question of how to exclude the Father from TA PANTA will still need to be answered in those verses as well.

Sam, you are right. I do disagree with you. I have no herring, salmon, or blowfish for sale. The text was your choice. And what have we found? The Father and the Son are displayed over all things here at I Cor 8:6. I see no marked contrast here between the Father and Son, only the various roles they play in the creation of all things. The various roles are not a marked contrast between the infinite Father and finite Son. Instead, we see the Son here as the intermediate agent of all creation – a fact the Watchtower cannot embrace or acknowledge in all its fullness. The Father and Son are lifted infinitely above the realm of creation. It remains my hope and prayer that you will come to believe in the true Son of God displayed in Scripture. You exist through and for Him.

June 9, 2009

Jesus, The Light of the World

Here is the sermon I preached at my home church on May 17, 2009. This is the account of Jesus healing the man born blind. We may safely cling to Jesus, even when the whole world turns against us. He is the light of the world.