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The Unavoidable Triunity of God

May 3, 2009

Recently on another blog, the assertion was made that the doctrine of the Trinity is merely the result of man-made creeds.  Since this seems to be a common statement from LDS, I have posted the central thoughts I gave in response.

I heartily agree that we should not base our beliefs on creeds or other things written by men.  Ancient creeds are not used in churches of which I have been a part. However, I do believe in many of the general ideas expressed by them—particularly a Trinitarian view of God.  Is this because I feel some allegiance to the words or ideas of the past?  Definitely not—I utterly reject (on the basis of Scripture) various other teachings of that and other eras.  Rather, the reason I believe God is Triune is that I find a few basic facts overwhelmingly supported by Scripture.

Three unavoidable facts:

1. There is only one God.

(For example, see Deut. 4:35 and 6:4; Isaiah 43:10, 44:6, 44:8, and 45:5-6; Mark 12:29-32; John 17:3; and I Timothy 2:5.)

2. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are all referred to and presented as God.

(For example, see John 1:1 with 1:14, John 8:58 with Exodus 3:14, John 20:28, II Corinthians 3:17, Titus 2:13 and II Peter 1:1 [Greek grammar in both verses requires “God” and “Savior” to both refer to Jesus Christ], Hebrews 1:8-9 with Psalm 45:6-7, and Revelation 1:8, 1:11, 1:17-18, and 22:12-16 with Isaiah 41:4, 44:6, and 48:12.)

3. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are all referred to and presented as separate Persons.

(For example, see Matthew 24:36, John 14:28, and John 14:16-17.)

There are myriad other biblical passages that could be cited for each.  The ones linked above are just a representative few.

I imagine people during the early centuries of the church would have had to wrestle with these same three facts.  I see no alternative explanation that takes into account all three.  When various groups throughout history have rejected the Trinity, they have had to deny one of them.  Modalists, for example, have denied #3, whereas Unitarians and Arians have denied #2.  As best I can tell, LDS reject the Trinity based on a denial of #1.  This is a difficult position to hold; fact #1 is overwhelmingly supported by both Old and New Testaments.  Monotheism is not only specifically demanded by numerous passages in both Testaments; it is a foundational presupposition of all the biblical books.  There are certainly other gods frequently mentioned in the Bible (e.g., Baal), but both the Old and New Testaments specify that those beings were actually demons/devils (e.g., Deut. 32:17, Psalm 96:5, and I Cor. 10:20).

It seems to me that the main biblical passages used to support a belief in multiple gods are Psalm 82:1-7 and John 10:33-36, the latter quoting the former.  However, a “plural gods” interpretation of these passages is, I believe, very unsupportable.  Since these seem to be the main verses used by LDS to support their views on this subject, let me examine them here.  Do these passages present a multiplicity of gods?

Psalm 82:6 refers to unjust human judges.

Verses 1-3 of Psalm 82 show clearly that God is speaking to unjust human judges. For example, compare the crimes of the “gods” of Psalm 82–

How long will ye judge unjustly, and accept the persons of the wicked? Selah. Defend the poor and fatherless: do justice to the afflicted and needy (Psalm 82:2-3, emphasis added).

with the actions of human magistrates in Lev. 19:15, Prov. 18:5, and Isaiah 1:23–

Thy princes are rebellious, and companions of thieves: every one loveth gifts, and followeth after rewards: they judge not the fatherless, neither doth the cause of the widow come unto them (Isaiah 1:23, emphasis added).

Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment: thou shalt not respect the person of the poor, nor honour the person of the mighty: but in righteousness shalt thou judge thy neighbour (Lev. 19:15, emphasis added).

It is not good to accept the person of the wicked, to overthrow the righteous in judgment (Prov. 18:5, emphasis added).

The “gods” of Psalm 82 exactly fit these descriptions of human judges/magistrates. These themes appear frequently throughout the Old Testament and are always attributed to humans.

Further, this is not the only instance in which the word elohim (“gods”) refers to judges.  Elohim is used very certainly for human judges in Exodus 21:6 and 22:8-9 and probably also in Exodus 22:28.

Note also that the “gods” of Psalm 82 “die like men [adam]” (82:7).  Death happens to mortals.  I have seen it argued that because the death of the “gods” is said to be “like men,” they must not actually be men themselves.  However, Hosea uses “like men” to describe the actions of those who are men themselves:

But they [the men of Judah and Israel] like men [adam] have transgressed the covenant… (Hosea 6:7, emphasis added).

John 10:35-36 requires us to understand the “gods” of Psalm 82 as humans.

When Jesus uses Psalm 82 in combating the rabbis’ charges of blasphemy, His whole argument rests on the assumption that the “gods” were actually humans at the very time they were being called “gods.”  The Jews had been complaining (10:33) that “thou, being a man, makest thyself God (emphasis added).”  If the “gods” were not actually men at the very time they were being “called” gods, then Jesus’ argument does not make sense in relation to the charge against Him.

Secondly, Jesus’ argument depends upon a huge qualitative gap between Jesus and the “gods.”  The argument bears a very similar construction to other arguments made by both Jesus and Paul: “If [this lowly fact], then how much more [this greater fact].”

Compare Jesus’ teaching on faith in God for provision in Matthew 6:30:

“Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field [lowly fact], which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you [much greater fact], O ye of little faith?”

Note the huge qualitative gap between “grass” and “you” (his followers).  When Jesus describes Himself as the one “whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world,” He is setting Himself apart as the how much more example by contrasting Himself with the subjects of Psalm 82:

If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came [lowly fact]…Say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God [much greater fact]? (John 10:35-36, emphasis added)

There is a huge qualitative distinction between Jesus and the ones “unto whom the word of God [merely] came.”

Finally, Jesus did not say that these humans actually were gods or that God made them gods.  Rather, He said they were called gods.  Indeed, the Greek word translated “called” is usually translated “said” and never means “made.”  Similarly, nothing in this verse indicates that God made Jesus a god, either.  The word “sanctified” (the Father “hath sanctified” Jesus) only indicates that Jesus was set apart or devoted for a sacred purpose (see lexicon) like the priests in the Old Testament.

It should be noted that Jesus was not denying His own Deity.  Rather, He was halting a charge of blasphemy.  Numerous other passages in the same book (John) specifically ascribe Deity to Jesus.  Of perhaps more importance to LDS, numerous passages in John specifically identify Him with the very God of the Old Testament (versus just “a god”).  (See John 1:19 and 1:23 with Isaiah 40:3-11, John 1:29 with Isaiah 40:9, John 2:11 with Isaiah 40:5, John 8:58-59 with Exodus 3:14, John 10:11 with Isaiah 40:10-11, John 12:41 with Isaiah 6:1-4, etc.).

I believe the Triunity of God is an unavoidable conclusion—not because a creed tells me so, but because the Scripture gives overwhelming testimony to three basic facts.  Perhaps not all of my LDS readers reject #1.  If not, what is your position?  If you do reject #1 (which technically results in polytheism), how do reconcile this with, and support it from, the Bible?

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63 Comments leave one →
  1. psychochemiker permalink
    May 3, 2009 10:13 pm

    First point, If it was my blog you referring to, I only said 10% of the creed was man-made non-inspiration.

    Second, Mormon disagree with the Evangelical interpretation of the verses you quoted under point 1. Indeed, I think it is incorrect to say Mormons deny point 1. It is certainly true, that we don’t make the three points jive together like you all, but there is a way that we accept all three points. Even if our synthesis is incorrect, it is most honest to describe it properly.

    Third, not all other gods mentioned in the bible were “false gods” or “idols.” This viewpoint ignores much of the new scholarship that has occured within the last 100 years, and while that may be typical for most Evangelical scholarship, I hope we’re all above ignoring data just because it doesn’t fit our theology.

    Fourth, if was so darned unavoidable, why didn’t any of the biblical authors come to the same conclusion and codify it? Could it be possibly because the authors were trying to spread Jesus’ good news instead of satisfying the philosophical yearnings of a hellenized society? Saying the surviving doctrine is the unavoidable conclusion is like saying the holocaust, or the salem witch trials were unavoidable because they happened. Now if you modify your statement that in a church NOT led by revelation (e.i., the post 300 AD church) and lacking scriptural authority, being cultivated in a greek metaphysical world, it was unavoidable for that church to accept greek philosphy, maybe I could agree with the statement. But the doctrine of the trinity alla Nicea is not unavoidable.

    LDS scriptures, not just the Bible affirm point #1. Polytheism has never been a good descriptor of Mormonism, because it carries the connotation of separate gods who vie for power, or have a divided power. The historical record, indicates that Joseph was fighting modalism (although he never directly said that). The historical record shows Joseph directly contradicting modalism in description, and I think he may have employed some hyperbolic wording, but it is clear he was not trying to preach a polytheism where there are three persons, divided in power, divided in purpose, divided in will, which is what polytheism means. I don’t think you’re going to be surprised by this, but Mormons view the Godhead, as three separate persons, perfectly united in powers, glory, will, purpose. I’m not alone in this view, check out CleanCut’s blog (which I won’t link to, so my comment doesn’t get blocked-google it). I don’t feel I need to reconcile the lack of non-biblical requirements in my faith. I do feel the need to believe those versus that you pointed out. Does that help at all?

  2. NChristine permalink
    May 4, 2009 2:52 am

    PC,

    Yes—it is helpful to see your perspective. And—yes, I was referring to your post. 🙂 I gather that although you don’t feel the word “polytheism” fits LDS teachings due to negative connotations as well as differences between your definition of polytheism and your beliefs, the fact is that you redefined fact #1 in order to accept it. For example, you said—

    not all other gods mentioned in the bible were “false gods” or “idols.”

    This echoes arguments on Psalm 82 made by FAIR, and the position they took had me extremely stunned for awhile. I think this topic shows how completely antithetical Mormonism and Christianity really are. I know you are a believer in finding common ground, 🙂 so please bear with me a moment and let me explain why I say this.

    As I noted above, Deuteronomy 32:17 shows an Old Testament perspective that is consistent with the new: gods other than the one true God are demons.

    “They sacrificed unto devils, not to God; to gods whom they knew not, to new gods that came newly up, whom your fathers feared not.”

    This is extremely similar to the apostle Paul’s description of Gentile worship:

    “What say I then? that the idol is any thing, or that which is offered in sacrifice to idols is any thing? But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God: and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils. Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord’s table, and of the table of devils” (I Cor. 10:20-21).

    According to Paul, Gentile “gods” are devils. Compare this with the FAIR position as articulated in by Ben McGuire in “Reconsidering Psalm 82:6.” McGuire states that God ordained these other nations to worship heavenly bodies and idols but for “Israel to worship God alone.” The article implies that it was actually okay with God—He wanted it that way—but later monotheistic views changed this idea. Do you see how antithetical this is to the Christian position? The scriptures present demons as spirits of the kingdom of Satan and as absolutely opposed to the Spirit of God (Matthew 12:24-28)! Yet as best I can understand the FAIR position (and yours is less clear although leads me to the same conclusion), God was okay with people worshiping demons!

    When Christians bring up the verse “Satan himself is transformed [or transforms himself] into an angel of light” (II Cor. 11:14), they are convinced that LDS are deceived by demons under the guise of angels of light. Do you see what we are concerned about? (I am not ignoring the “divine beings”/sons of God issue and will address that in an additional later comment. I just wanted to get your response on this issue first as I think its importance is paramount.)

  3. May 4, 2009 3:02 am

    I have mentioned this on other Blogs but James Talmage interprets John 10:34 ff. and Psalm 82 much in the same manner that Protestants do. Consult Jesus the Christ at this link http://books.google.com/books?id=XY8aKhQpDwYC&printsec=frontcover#PPA489,M1 Chapter 28 page 489 and note 8 on page 501.

    Have you actually read Dr. Heiser papers? He readily affirms that Christ’s claims in John 10:30 were that Christ and God are ontologically different that humanity. How this bolsters your case is beyond me. While I do not agree with Dr. Hosier, I have read some of his papers, Mormons using his work to bolster their case is sloppy.

    Far from denying divine councils the bible does shows us some clear things. First, there is only one Sovereign Creator and God, divine councils are used to show God’s power and authority. Second, unlike Ugaritic texts there is no creation myth for God (i.e. how God came into existence). In this the Bible is not ambiguous, simply He always existed and always will. Third, Unlike Ugaritic texts there is not a 3 tiered pantheon of gods only the 1 God and those doing His bidding. Fourth, no matter the language used for those in attendance at a divine council there is no power sharing and no counseling of God going on. God makes his decries those in attendance comply. Sixth, and most important in the Bible God is always portrayed as unique and incomparable to those in attendance. He alone is God.

  4. May 4, 2009 3:41 am

    Structurally, you are combining two concepts here. You’re talking about the oneness of God and a plurality of gods. Mormons believe that each of the three divine members of the Godhead can rightfully be considered “one God” too. Our own scriptures teach this.

    Separately, our belief that we can become divine (theosis/deification) and become like God should not be taken to mean that we mortals will become independent, eternal “Gods” worthy of worship someday, but rather gods by the grace of God–the One we will worship for all eternity.

    There’s a big difference. Frankly, it doesn’t matter to me what word (ie: gods) one uses to refer to exalted beings, as long as it’s not taken to mean that we mortals will become independent, eternal “Gods” worthy of worship someday, but rather gods by the grace of God–the One we will worship for all eternity.

    I know C.S. Lewis didn’t have a problem uses the term this way:
    “It may be possible for each of us to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbour. The load, or weight, or burden, of my neighbour’s glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken. It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you may talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and corruption such as you now meet if at all only in a nightmare.”
    http://www.jberryman.com/quotebookLewis.html

  5. May 4, 2009 3:45 am

    As for some thoughts on the Trinity, the Godhead, and the oneness of God, I’d like to share the link to my most recent post on this very issue. I invite feedback on “That They May Be One As We Are One”, either here or there:
    http://latterdayspence.blogspot.com/2009/05/that-they-may-be-one-as-we-are-one.html

  6. May 4, 2009 10:23 pm

    Just because you say you are a monotheist, it does not make it so. How would a Jew or a Muslim describe the trinity?

  7. May 4, 2009 11:20 pm

    John C., when I was in Turkey, my Muslim friends added a fourth god that they claimed we believed in (I’m smiling):

    Santa Claus.

    But wow, o wow, look how Turkey has changed since the days of Paul and then the days of all seven ecumenical councils in the land . . .

  8. Bill Pratt permalink
    May 5, 2009 1:21 am

    Clean Cut,
    With all due respect, that quote from C. S. Lewis is grossly taken out of context. Lewis was an orthodox Christian and never believed that humans could become ontological gods. To imply that he would sympathize with Mormon ideas of God’s nature is just flat-out misleading. He means something completely different by the words “gods” and “goddesses” than you do (he is using the terms in a highly metaphorical and figurative way to highlight that humans will be transformed when they go to heaven, a traditional Christian understanding). I ask you to retract your quote. You have always been an honest debater in the past, so I will just chalk this up to a misunderstanding.

    God bless,
    Bill Pratt

  9. May 5, 2009 2:58 am

    Bill, while Lewis was not a Mormon (obviously) he understood and accepted a notion of theosis (not necessarily the LDS notion but a notion nonetheless) more strongly than is usually discussed today.

  10. NChristine permalink
    May 5, 2009 4:21 am

    Hi CC,

    Thanks for the comments—and I did read your blog post. As for C. S. Lewis, I personally am not comfortable with all of his writings simply because he had what I consider an unhealthy fascination with Nordic religions from his childhood. I don’t mean to offend any fans. 🙂 I personally feel he went too far in using pagan imagery to make Christian points (though I am sure Bill is right in Lewis’s intentions)—and this quote is only one example. So…I don’t put much stock in C. S. Lewis and am much more persuaded by Scripture.

    As for your comments, I have a couple of concerns and a question. While you seem to deny believing in a plurality of gods, you also equivocated on the statement I labeled “fact #1” (there is only one God). You said that each of the three members of the Godhead can “rightfully be considered ‘one God’ too.” How does this qualified statement square with the uncompromising, repeated, unequivocal language of the Isaiah passages you quoted, as well as other passages throughout Isaiah and the rest of the OT and NT? “One” and “no” are exceedingly plain and unqualified in verses such as “Is there a God beside me? yea, there is no God; I know not any” (Is. 44:8) or “The LORD our God is one LORD” (Deut. 6:4).

    Further, I feel this conception of God does not agree with the many, many New Testament passages that identify Jesus as the very God of the Old Testament. I linked to just a few examples at the end of the second-to-last paragraph in the post (not the “ascribe Deity” link but the following links).

    I really appreciated the fact that you were referring to Scripture as support at the end of your blog post, though I feel that judging Jesus’ example of His oneness with God by His conclusion regarding the oneness of His followers does not constitute a statement on the nature of God–He was not talking about that right then! Other passages, however–such as the many “one God” passages–are overt, direct statements on God’s nature. I would love it if you would dig into the scripture links I mentioned above (and others as well). The Scripture commands us to “receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:21), and our beliefs must involve meek reception of the very plain statements of the Word of God.

    Thanks for your courteousness.

  11. May 5, 2009 5:16 am

    Thanks NChristine. I’m not sure how you got the impression that I deny believing in a plurality of gods. I actually do believe in a plurality of “gods” (always with a lowercase “g”), but the semantics don’t really matter to me. These “other divine beings” are subordinate to the one true God, or Godhead. These are not worshiped beings, independent of God, and thus there is no competing gods vying for power, ie: polytheism. In fact, as Stephen Robinson explains, “in the Greek philosophical sense—and in the ‘orthodox’ theological sense—such contingent beings would not even rightly be called ‘gods’, since they never become ‘the ground of all being’ and are forever subordinate to their Father” (“How Wide the Divide? P. 86).

    I’m also unsure how you think I equivocated on “fact #1” (that there is only one God). On my post I was trying to compare some of our similarities as well as differences. I believe in three divine persons in the Godhead–the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Our first article of faith states: “We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.” The fact that we conceive of them as separate individuals does not at all take away from their unity.

    Let me also borrow from the words of Robert Millet, since I’d feel comfortable saying the exact same thing: “We believe that each of the members of the Godhead posses all of the attributes and qualities of godliness in perfection. We believe that the love and unity that exist among the three persons in the Godhead constitute a divine community that is occasionally referred to simply as “God” (see 2 Nephi 31:21; Alma 11:44; Mormon 7:7). In other words, we have no problem speaking of a Mormon monotheism in the sense that we believe in one God, one Godhead, one Trinity, one collection of divine persons who oversee and bless and save the human family.” (“Claiming Christ”, p. 81)

    Technically, however, neither your belief in the Trinity and my belief in the Godhead as three divine persons can be considered strict monotheism. And frankly, I don’t really even care to wade into terminology. It never seems to be all that particularly useful. For some it may be important, and some have described this view as a Social Trinitarianism. But I, frankly, don’t care for technicalities.

    As for squaring this view “with the uncompromising, repeated, unequivocal language of the Isaiah passages” I quoted on my blog, as well as other verses from the Hebrew Bible—I could essentially ask you the same question. Rather, Jews could ask you the very same question, for they certainly don’t view the Trinity as monotheism.

    As for “the many, many New Testament passages that identify Jesus as the very God of the Old Testament”, I agree with every single one of them as well. Mormons hold that Jesus Christ is Jehovah of the Old Testament and the Messiah of the New. Furthermore, I find clear biblical “evidence” that Jesus taught additional understanding about His Father, as well as the Holy Spirit, in the New Testament. For me, he clarified the teachings of the three divine persons of the Godhead in the New Testament. But clearly, Jews would not buy any of that as well, since they only use the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament.

    As for John 17, I think it’s pretty explicit just exactly how the Father and the Son are “one”, but I don’t see any evidence or reason why the oneness of God must be interpreted as ontologically or numerically. As I stated on my post, I think John 17 makes a very strong case that God’s oneness can be understood exactly how you have described our oneness to God, albeit on a level far more than I can begin to articulate.

    I suppose my point is that Christians SHOULD be making a departure from other religions precisely because we believe Jesus is God. Little wonder why other religions would believe in an ontological oneness of God–for them God is only one (not three!).

    I’m just saying I don’t see evidence in the Bible that the threeness and oneness of God must be interpreted as an ontological or numerical oneness. You might think that separating Father, Son, and Holy Spirit ontologically goes too far, but I just don’t see it that way.

    I said it before and I’ll say it again. I believe that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, while each their own being, are infinitely more ONE than they are separate. Perhaps some Mormons tend to over-emphasize their threeness more than their oneness (which I don’t think is necessarily right to do), but perhaps this is simply born out of a desire to emphasize our unique understanding of the Godhead. On the other hand, it may also be true that Traditional Christians might be overly focusing here on “oneness” and forgetting to emphasize the distinct threeness of God, hence the prevalence of Modalism.

    I know Christians can read John 17 to say that the Father and Son are to be one, and that is true in the Trinity, they are one being. John 17 also says the church members are to be one. And Christians can understand that as we are to be one body of Christ. But the argument isn’t just that The Father and Son are one in their sphere, and that church members are to be one in their sphere. The argument is that just as the Father and Son are one, we are to be one in exactly the same manner or precisely the same manner. Therefore, John 17:11 and 22 are important. Also verse 21: “that they also may be one in us.” Just as church members are one, but not ontologically one, so the Father and Son are one, but not numerically.

    I’m not deducing this from philosophical argument. It’s flatly stated in the New Testament. As I wrote on my most post:
    “Christ prayed in John 17:11 for His disciples “so that they may be one as we are one” (New International Version). The King James version says “that they may be one, as we are.” The New Living Translation puts it like this: “united just as we are”. Obviously, this is not inferring that we are all supposed to become one substance or being–but one in terms of relationship, unity, and love. This is more in line with how I view the unity of the Godhead. Jesus wants us to be one with Him and Father, just as He and His Father are one.”

  12. May 5, 2009 1:37 pm

    “One” and “no” are exceedingly plain and unqualified in verses such as “Is there a God beside me? yea, there is no God; I know not any” (Is. 44:8) or “The LORD our God is one LORD” (Deut. 6:4).

    I feel like I already addressed that above, but I’m wondering if this why you would argue that a plurality of “gods” is unbiblical? Because, again, I make distinction/delineation between “God”—the “one God” we truly worship (that is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit)—of which there truly is “no other”, and the “gods” of which the Bible itself sets a precedent in using, even in conjunction with the use of divine power (Ex. 7:1; Ps 82:1-6, Jn 10:34-36). So yes, it says there are no other Gods (uppercase). However, it also speaks of other gods (lowercase), Q.E.D. I’m not contradicting the Bible by simply using the word “gods”, and I don’t think the Bible is contradicting itself (or C.S. Lewis for that matter).

    If this is about semantics, then it doesn’t really matter if you and I interpret this differently, or agree on what is or is not meant by those verses. Because the stubborn fact is that the Bible says “one” and “no” AND it mentions other “gods”. So again, I could turn the question back to you and ask how you reconcile it this. But if you try to make a delineation/distinction about what it does or does not mean, or how this can be the case, then I feel that I too should be allowed to make a distinction (or delineation).

  13. Tom permalink
    May 5, 2009 5:55 pm

    I don’t really have anything to add. I agree with CC on his points about John 17. To me it is the lens through which we must view all references to “one God” and to the oneness/threeness of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

  14. NChristine permalink
    May 6, 2009 5:25 am

    Hi CC,

    Thanks for clearing up my confusion regarding your belief in a plurality of gods. I find that your comments demarcate a very troubling and stark difference—not at all just semantics, as you termed it. Please let me explain why. As I noted to PC above, the Bible does indeed mention other gods, but these are referred to in two ways: (1) as idols (signifying the vanity of the manmade representations of pagan gods) and (2) as demons/devils (which are the ultimate spiritual reality behind Gentile gods). I will quote the apostle Paul again:

    “What say I then? that the idol is any thing, or that which is offered in sacrifice to idols is any thing? But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God: and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils. Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord’s table, and of the table of devils” (I Cor. 10:20-21).

    The Bible just does not speak of any gods (besides the LORD) except for false gods (demons). Exodus 7:1 in no way asserts that Moses actually was a god. He was only “a god to Pharoah” (i.e., God’s representative) while Aaron was “as a prophet” (i.e., the spokesman). Please consider the ramifications of the LDS view of Psalm 82. From what I have seen, that passage is held to almost alone out of the entirety of Scripture as supporting a multiplicity of gods—along with an interpretation of it that has profound difficulties. If, however, this interpretation is correct, then those believing this interpretation must still accept as “gods” those who are obviously very unrighteous. Even if the “elohim” of Psalm 82 were supernatural beings (which does not make sense with their activities, with the Exodus uses of “elohim,” or with Jesus’ use of the passage, among other factors), these “elohim” would still be in the category of evil supernatural. They would be those false “gods” or demons—just as Paul discussed.

    I am troubled by continuing equivocation on the many monotheistic passages—equivocation that is foreign to Scripture regarding this topic. When one simply sits down and reads the Bible at length, the monotheism stands out as absolutely steeped in every page. You referred to the strict monotheism of the Jews—indeed! This is ultimately their book. Where did they get this monotheism? It is from the saturation of this concept in every OT book! The writers of the NT had the same worldview, and they, too, present God as unequivocally one (e.g., Mark 12:29, John 17:3, and I Tim. 2:5). On the other hand, you used very equivocating terms. You quoted Millet as stating that “the three persons in the Godhead constitute a divine community that is occasionally referred to simply as ‘God.’” Occasionally? This is a most bizarre statement. You also used terms like “in the sense that” and “terminology.” Please allow me to be blunt for the sake of truth: it seems you have done something similar with John 17 that LDS in general have done with Psalm 82. You have taken one Scripture, have interpreted it not based upon what Jesus is saying in relation to God’s nature but on what Jesus is praying for, and have apparently interpreted all other very clear passages in the light of this assumption! I beseech you, CC—this is not an honest or sound way to approach the Bible. This is not “receiving with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:21).

    As for John 17, we should look at a similar instance of this statement in John 10. In contrast to the John 17 passage, Jesus was here directly addressing the nature of His and His Father’s relationship—not just using it as a basis for praying for Christian unity. He stated, “I and my Father are one” (verse 30). What did He mean by “one”? The Jews knew—they picked up stones to stone Him. His comment that He and His Father are one translated to them as this: “thou, being a man, makest thyself God.” They did not think His claim to oneness with God made Him “a god” but “God”—singular—period. So far from disputing this, Jesus refuted the charge of blasphemy and then urged them to “believe, that the Father is in me, and I in him” (10:38). Jesus confirmed that the Jews’ allegations were right: He was claiming to be God—not “a god” but God. The actions of the Jews—those strict monotheists to which you so well alluded—along with Jesus’ response to them, tell us exactly what Jesus meant by “one.” He meant what John meant in the opening statement of his gospel:

    And the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. The Word was “God”—singular and specific. And yet He was “with God”—distinct. These are plain, direct statements that do not permit equivocation.

    Finally, you mentioned that you felt the verses identifying Jesus with the God of the OT did not contradict the LDS conception because LDS believe Jehovah is Jesus. Many of the passages with which John identifies Jesus (throughout his gospel) are taken from Isaiah 40. Please see the links above for a few examples. In Isaiah 40, there is no change of person indicated—one person (God) is spoken of. In the same chapter, he is called Jehovah, El, Adonai, Elohim, Kadosh (the Holy One), and “Creator of the ends of the earth.” What evidence do you have that this entire passage was referring to Jesus as separate from God the Father?

    I apologize for the length of this comment. I know sometimes when others are longwinded, my eyes glaze, and perhaps I have induced that in you. 🙂 I hope not—I very much desire that you would take an honest look at the entirety of the Scriptures—not just one or two verses. I will be praying for you.

  15. faithoffathers permalink
    May 6, 2009 1:17 pm

    NChristine,

    I hope you don’t mind me commenting on your post above.

    Many non-LDS scholars contend that the original religion of Israel recognized a plurality of Gods. This changed in time, especially during the exile.

    The passage in Psalms 82 is a major point of contention among scholars on both sides. I am familiar with those arguments. While the monotheist argument has at least some ground to stand on in the Psalm passage, the prayer of Christ in John 17 is anything but subtle or confusing. Christ is very clearly pleading for the same “oneness” to be among His apostles as is found between Him and the Father. Again, He could not be more clear.

    Regarding John 10- how do you know what the Jews thought when they picked up stones to stone Jesus? He was claiming to be divine. Any such claim would have resulted in such a response. Their response does not help clarify the issue. Besides, are you making the Jews who rejected and condemned Jesus out to be theologically correct? They couldn’t recognize the very God of Israel who stood before their eyes- I hardly think they (Jews at the time of Christ) are going to help sort out this issue.

    keep the faith

    fof

  16. faithoffathers permalink
    May 6, 2009 1:53 pm

    p.s. I don’t think Christ needs John to clarify His words. If I had to error, it would be on the side of using Christ’s words to clarify Johns.

    fof

  17. May 6, 2009 1:55 pm

    Three notes on Heiser’s paper, which focuses on Deuteronomy 32:8-9 and the possibility, which he rejects, that they may indicate early Israelite polytheism in their original form (found here):

    1. While I agree that sons of God is the correct reading and that they refer to divine beings, it is unnecessary to assume that there is a hierarchy indicated with Yahweh being placed at the head. There is no textual reason to read it that way, although there may be theological reasons. The text itself indicates that Yahweh is one of many sons of God, the one designated God of Israel.

    2. The notion that Israel was created ex nihilo strikes me as a little strange, but he may be using some notion of that term with which I am unfamiliar.

    3. He is wrong to say that God created the world and all that is in it unassisted. There is clear divine council language used in the creation of Adam (Let us go down, etc.). It is a little strange that he accepts it elsewhere as being a reference to the divine council but rejects it (seemingly) in this instance. However, it may be that he sees it there too, but still sees no need to involve them in actual creation since they haven’t been textually present up to that point. I cannot say; it is just a striking omission.

  18. Tom permalink
    May 6, 2009 2:23 pm

    Re: John 17

    If Christ and the Father are ontologically one, how are we disciples to be one as Christ and the Father are one (a plea repeated THREE times)? I am not aware of any Christian doctrine that suggests Christ’s disciples will one day be ontologically one.

    11 And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those who thou hast given me, THAT THEY MAY BE ONE, AS WE ARE.

    21 That THEY ALL MAY BE ONE; AS THOU, FATHER, ART IN ME, AND I IN THEE, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.
    22 And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they MAY BE ONE, EVEN AS WE ARE ONE:
    23 I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.

    If we are talking about ontological oneness of Father and Son then I cannot come to any other rational conclusion from Jesus’s prayer than “All saved Christians will eventually be absorbed into ontological oneness with God.”

    John 10 does nothing to resolve this conundrum.

    NChristine –

    I fear you are missing CC’s point. The Jews would use your OT scriptures to disprove even the Trinity as you understand it.

  19. Tom permalink
    May 6, 2009 2:32 pm

    “Occasionally” is not equivocation. Occasionally you refer to Jesus. Occasionally to the Father. Occasionally you refer to the Holy Spirit. Occasionally you just say God, which encompasses all 3. LDS do the same thing. We just hold that they are not ontologically one.

    If you hold true to your attack on CC and Millet’s logic, then no Christian can ever “equivocate” by using different names for God. We can only ever say “God” for anything else would be equivocation on the oneness of God.

    It never ceases to amaze me how one word can derail the entire discussion. Focus on what people actually mean, not what you think one word means. “Offender for a word” comes to mind…

  20. NChristine permalink
    May 6, 2009 4:45 pm

    Hi FoF, CC, and Tom,

    Jesus left us no options for interpreting His words “The Father and I are one.” This is why:

    1. Jesus claimed to be God.

    2. Jesus said there is one God. He stated,

    The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord (Mark 12:29).

    Lest we misinterpret what “one Lord” means, he puts it this way:

    And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent (John 17:3).

    This leaves us no option when Jesus says “The Father and I are one.” “Are one” has to mean are one. His statements on both sides of this issue leave us no other option for interpreting His words….otherwise Jesus is hopelessly contradicting Himself.

    John,

    just curious–upon what do you base your statement “The text itself indicates that Yahweh is one of many sons of God”? I have some thoughts on the “sons of God” issue but am on my way out the door at the moment. 🙂 I plan to come back to this.

  21. Tom permalink
    May 6, 2009 5:12 pm

    NCHristine –

    Yes, Jesus is part of the “only true God.” I’m not disputing that.

    But I’m not willing to discard what Jesus says 3 times in the rest of the chapter – we disciples are to be one just as God is one. So by your logic we are all destined for ontological oneness, which means we all get to be God. Sweet.

  22. faithoffathers permalink
    May 6, 2009 6:17 pm

    NChristine,

    My wife and I are one. Is there no other way to interpret that statement other than she and I are one being ontologically?

    fof

  23. May 6, 2009 7:33 pm

    I would argue that the most straightforward way to read the passage is to say that Elyon (the God of the patriarchs) alloted the care of the various nations to his sons (the sons of Elohim) and that Israel was allotted to Yahweh. Understanding Yahweh as a son of El gives the best reading of the passage within its historical context.

  24. NChristine permalink
    May 6, 2009 8:56 pm

    Tom,

    Thanks for the clarifications. What scriptural evidence do you have that Jesus is a “part of the only true God”? I can think of none. This view outright contradicts “thee the only true God”–especially since Jesus then adds Himself as a separate person: “and Jesus Christ”. He is nowhere described as a “part” of God. There is plenty of evidence that God exists in three Persons–including, as you mentioned, Stephen’s vision as he was being martyred. (I think you meant Stephen, right?) There is no evidence, however, that God exists in parts. Jesus’ claim of the only true God leaves us without loopholes.

    FoF,

    I agree that in John 17, Jesus is not talking about ontological oneness–at least not in terms of Christians. Also, I agree regarding the oneness of man and wife. Nevertheless, the unequivocal and otherwise opposing statements Jesus and the New Testament writers make–that there exists “one God” (“the only true God”), and that “the Word was God”–require us to understand the oneness of the Father and Christ as going beyond that of a man and his wife.

    John,

    Are you referring to Deuteronomy 32:8? How does this show that Yahweh was a son of Elohim? Also, what evidence do you have that El Elyon is different from Yahweh or Elohim?

  25. Tom permalink
    May 6, 2009 10:18 pm

    NChristine,

    So now Jesus is not God? You are thoroughly confusing me. All I was doing is acknowledging that Jesus is God, and now you’ve found yet another way to cry foul when a Mormon posts here.

  26. Tom permalink
    May 6, 2009 10:29 pm

    OK, so serious question here –

    I really don’t get how you reconcile #1 and #3. If, as per point 1, there is one God (ontologically one being), what further understanding does saying they are three persons impart? If they are still ontologically one being, why ever make a distinction?

    As I said elsewhere, for us, “one God” = “the Godhead” and for ev’s “one God” = “Father, Son, and Holy Ghost which are one ontological substance”

    And we definitely believe they are 3 separate Persons.

    As for John 17, ignoring “even as we are one” is just throwing out some of the data God has given us. I’m sorry, but I ACTUALLY believe what the Bible says – what Jesus (who is God) said. We aren’t going to be ontologically one, so I reject that God and Jesus Christ are ontologically one. You have to take into account ALL the data.

    In some places the Bible says “one God.” In John 17 we are told to be one as they are one. You have to interpret these statements in light of each other. You can’t just say that “even as we are one” was somehow an exception. I don’t buy it.

  27. May 7, 2009 12:55 pm

    NChristine, I’d like to make one general observation (since I’m currently swamped with Final Exams). You seem to me to be very narrow-minded in how you approach the “oneness” of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Moreover, you do not seem to address the “threeness” of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in any convincing fashion.

  28. NChristine permalink
    May 7, 2009 5:04 pm

    Hi Tom,

    I guess we were having an overlapping conversation on two different blogs and I didn’t realize it. 🙂 Yes, I agree with you that John 17 is not about the oneness of God in an ontological sense. In this passage and many others, the perfect fellowship among the Persons of the Godhead is shown. Consider other passages that also present the three Persons acting distinctly and yet in perfect unity. Indeed, in John’s writings especially these references are prevalent, to the point of being like a formula:

    Matthew 28:19-20 – Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.

    II Corinthians 13:14 – The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all.

    John 1:33-34 [John the Baptist speaking] – And I knew him not: but he [the Father] that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost. And I saw, and bare record that this is the Son of God.

    John 14:16 – And I [Jesus] will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever….

    John 14:26 – But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I [Jesus] have said unto you.

    John 16:13-15 – Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. He shall glorify me [Jesus]: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you. All things that the Father hath are mine: therefore said I, that he shall take of mine, and shall shew it unto you.

    John 20:21-22 – Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost….

    I John 4:2 – Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God….

    I John 4:13-14 – Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world.

    The above passages, as you say, point to the three distinct Persons of the Godhead. However, then there are the many passages that, as I said, point to fact #2: All three Persons are referred to as God—in a singular sense (not “parts of God” or “gods”). Consider these passages:

    John 1:1 – In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God.

    II Cor. 3:17 – Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.

    Heb. 1:8 – But unto the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of thy kingdom.

    To add to fact #2 is the mystifying but undeniable reality that Jesus clearly identified Himself as Jehovah in John 8:58 (“Before Abraham was, I AM” see Exodus 3:14). However, numerous other times, He referred to His Father as Jehovah,—frequently quoting OT passages about Jehovah as referring to His Father. A notable example is Matthew 22:41-46, in which Jesus responds to the Pharisees’ question “What think ye of Christ? whose son is he?” by quoting Psalm 110:

    The LORD [Jehovah, Psalm 110:1] said unto my Lord [Christ], Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool? If David then call him Lord, how is he his son?”

    Jesus clearly identified Jehovah with His Father, and “my Lord” (David’s Lord) as Himself (Christ).

    Or consider John 5:45:

    “It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God [Jehovah, Isa. 54:13]. Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me.

    Here again, Jesus is clearly identifying His Father as Jehovah.

    Any interested reader may verify Jesus’ OT quotations as referring to “Jehovah” as His Father by using such tools as blueletterbible.com to look up the Hebrew/Greek in such quotations as Matt. 4:4/Deut. 8:3, Matt. 4:7/Deut. 6:16, and Mark 12:29/Deut. 6:4. (There are doubtless many more; this is just a cursory list from scanning the gospels.)

    LDS, as I understand it, try to make a distinction of Gods within the Old Testament by making Jesus “Jehovah” and the Father (usually) “El Elyon” or “Elohim.” Please correct me if I am not stating this right. The Bible, however, equates El Elyon, Elohim, and other names of God with Jehovah. They are the same God. Psalm 83:18 cries, “thou, whose name alone is JEHOVAH, art the most high [El Elyon] over all the earth.” Look at the parallelism of II Samuel 22:14: “The LORD [Jehovah] thundered from heaven, and the most High [El Elyon] uttered his voice.” Psalm 91:9, 92:1, 97:9, and others could also be cited. Psalm 91:1 equates El Elyon with Shaddai. Psalm 46:4, 78:35, and others identify El Elyon as Elohim. Psalm 73:11 and 107:11 identify El Elyon with El. Lamentations 3:37-38 identifies El Elyon with Adonai. These are different names for the very same God!

    Finally, there is fact #1—the Bible is replete with direct statements, implications, and foundational presuppositions that there is only one God.

    James 2:19 tells us it is “well” to believe there is only one God (though even the devils believe that, and tremble—i.e., that belief is not enough).

    In Isaiah, the Lord states repeatedly,

    “Is there a God beside me? yea, there is no God; I know not any” (44:8).
    “I am the LORD, and there is none else, there is no God beside me” (45:5).
    “I am the LORD, and there is none else” (Isaiah 45:6).

    Not only is there no God beside Him, He states there is no other God at all–He does not even know of one!

    Paul says there is “one God” in I Corinthians 8:6, Eph. 4:6, and I Timothy 2:5.

    Jesus quotes the Shema as saying “the Lord our God is one Lord” (Mark 12:29).

    Jesus spoke of His Father as the “only true God” (John 17:3). Note that John also said Jesus “was God.” This is the same John to whom Jesus promised that the Spirit would “lead you into all truth” and “bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.” We can trust what John says about Jesus! If Jesus is God, and if the Father is the “only true God,” and if we cannot allow that Jesus is a false God (that would simply violate the entire NT), then we must assume that Jesus and the Father (and the Holy Spirit) are one God.

    I feel that the great weight of the argument lies on the side of one God in three Persons. Trinitarians may sound somewhat like physicists. Is light quanta (sort of energy bundles) or waves? Yes. Both seemingly contradictory facts have been demonstrated. Can I explain it? Definitely not. But God has repeatedly given all three facts in His Word, and I cannot account for the evidence any other way.

  29. May 7, 2009 5:37 pm

    NChristine,
    It better parallels the ancient Near Eastern myths (in Ugarit and elsewhere) that Heiser draws on to make his case. Arguably, you see a progression in the Bible from Elyon to Elohim to Yahweh as the focus of Israelite worship. Under those circumstances, it is relatively common in the ancient Near East to see minor deities usurp the attention paid to more prominent deities over time. As a result, I read the passage as Elyon assigning countries to his sons and Israel being assigned to Yahweh, or rather, I see it as a reference to such an activity. In dividing up the peoples and establishing their boundaries according to the number of the sons of God, the passage is reliant upon an understanding of one god being supreme and divvying up his powers to lesser gods (like a father dividing up his estate or something). That 32:8 is followed by 32:9 which explicitly states that Yahweh’s portion is Israel indicates that the passage may reflect a reality in which Yahweh was perceived as one of many tribal gods, all under the authority of some other supreme God.

  30. May 8, 2009 12:10 am

    Oh man, I realize that I am way late to this conversation (and I haven’t read all of the comments), nevertheless I thought I would draw attention to several posts that I have written concerning monotheism, the divine council in the Hebrew Bible, as well as one particular post concerning the proper interpretation of the Shema (Deut. 6.4).

    The other most relevant posts can be found here, here, here, here , and here.

    Best wishes,

    TYD

  31. May 8, 2009 7:57 am

    Jehovah
    The covenant or proper name of the God of Israel. It denotes the “Unchangeable One,” “the eternal I AM” (Ex. 6: 3; Ps. 83: 18; Isa. 12: 2; Isa. 26: 4). The original pronunciation of this name has possibly been lost, as the Jews, in reading, never mentioned it, but substituted one of the other names of God, usually Adonai. Probably it was pronounced Jahveh, or Yahveh. In the KJV, the Jewish custom has been followed, and the name is generally denoted by LORD or GOD, printed in small capitals

    When one speaks of God, it is generally the Father who is referred to; that is, Elohim.

    Deu 6:4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God [is] one LORD.

    Deu 6:4 Hear, O Isreal: The Jehovah our Elohim [is] one Jehovah.

    Taken from the Bible Dictionary at LDS web-site

  32. Tom permalink
    May 8, 2009 2:15 pm

    NChristine –

    As always it boils down to interpretation. Mine is that John 17 is a clarification or a definition of the “oneness” of God. Thus I conclude that we’re not talking about ontological oneness, no matter how many verses talk about “one God.” I simply do not follow your logic.

    Maybe you can try to explain how you reconcile the apparent contradiction between #1 and #3. How is one God three separate Persons? And how is that different from modalism? What did Stephen see when he looked up before being stoned – two personages that were ontologically one being? I just don’t follow.

  33. gloria permalink
    May 9, 2009 4:10 am

    Wonderful post, Jessica. Scripture is pretty clear on this one.

    God bless,
    gloria

  34. May 9, 2009 11:37 am

    Of course scripture is clear on this one, gloria. That’s why there has been so much historical debate on this subject. That’s also why all the Jews are Christian, I might add.

  35. May 9, 2009 12:55 pm

    It’s also why most biblical scholars don’t think the formal doctrine of the Trinity is taught in the Bible.

    TYD

  36. May 9, 2009 9:57 pm

    “It’s also why most biblical scholars don’t think the formal doctrine of the Trinity is taught in the Bible.”

    YD, sorry this is an unfounded assertion. In addition, it proves “zilch” and is an illogical argument to use against Christianity. First, there are many Biblical Scholars who are atheist/agnostic and believe The Bible is a bunch of fairytales… so should we all become agnostic and/or atheist and give up the belief The Bible is divinely inspired? Second, how many Biblical Scholars are Mormon? Should we use that as a measuring stick for determining how well Mormonism lines up with The Bible?

    I am sure you get my point… it is problematic to look at what “scholars” believe as the basis for one’s faith. Too many of them have a priori philosophical commitments which cloud their judgement. Nevertheless, based upon what I have seen I do not agree with you that MOST Biblical scholars believe the trinity is not taught in The Bible. I am curious, do you have any unbiased data to back up your assertion… such as a poll done of every Biblical Scholar in the world? That would really be the only way to judge what MOST believe? In addition, did this poll define specifically what is meant by “Trinity”? We would have to define that in order to make sure the poll is accurate.

    Darrell

  37. The Yellow Dart permalink
    May 9, 2009 11:38 pm

    Darrell,

    Unfounded assertion? I am sure you are well acquainted with academic biblical scholarship, so I will leave it up to the informed reader to discern what’s what. However, I will note for those less informed than you that pretty much any basic scholarly introduction or reference work on the subject makes virtually the same claim.

    Also, I never used my statement as an argument against Christianity (I happen to believe I am Christian anyway); and I never used it to argue that we should base our faith claims on what a current scholarly consensus might say concerning any particular issue. Rather, I used it to indicate that the issue of whether the creedal doctrine of the Trinity is found in the Bible isn’t as clear as some less well-read readers might think.

    Finally, if the post author wants to clarify terms regarding the discussion of the Trinity (as some commentors have tried to do, I believe), then maybe that would, in fact, be more productive than the long list of proof-texts originally provided. Moreover, I’d be happy to engage the interpretation of specific biblical passages, such as Deut. 6.4 one of the first proof-texts cited in the post, for instance (and as it turns out, I have an entire post dedicated to that end, see my first comment; additionally the comments in said post also delve into the issue of defining the Trinity, so feel free to engage the discussion there). I also have several very relevant posts which I linked to above concerning the divine council in the Hebrew Bible that completely undermine the interpretation that the elohim in Ps. 82.1 and 6 as mere human judges (again, feel free to comment there if you’d like). For the interested reader, much information and many arguments have already been provided to contrast with the claims of the post-author.

    Best wishes,

    TYD

  38. May 9, 2009 11:44 pm

    Wonderful post, Jessica. Scripture is pretty clear on this one.

    Thank you, Gloria, and while I agree this is a wonderful post, it was actually written by my sister who goes by the handle NChristine. 🙂

  39. May 10, 2009 12:38 am

    “However, I will note for those less informed than you that pretty much any basic scholarly introduction or reference work on the subject makes virtually the same claim.”

    I want to make sure that I am understanding your claim correctly… are you making the assertion that virtually “every basic scholarly introduction or reference work on the subject” of the trinity claims the doctrine is Biblically unfounded and not supported by scripture?

    “I also have several very relevant posts which I linked to above concerning the divine council in the Hebrew Bible that completely undermine the interpretation that the elohim in Ps. 82.1 and 6 as mere human judges .”

    You may not remember but we discussed this issue at length on my blog. There are scholars who disagree with the way you, FARMS and other Mormon scholars/apologists interpret The Bible on this matter. While there are those who agree with your interpretation (at least PARTIALLY) many completely disagree with the manner in which Mormon scholars have interpreted the text to give credence to the Mormon notion of theosis, men being Gods in embryo and their being true Gods prior to and/or besides Yahweh. Again, how many of these scholars have converted to Mormonism based upon their interpretation of The Bible on this matter?

    Darrell

  40. The Yellow Dart permalink
    May 10, 2009 12:57 am

    Darrell,

    There is nothing uniquely LDS Christian about what I have said in my posts concerning the divine council in the Hebrew Bible in general, or Ps. 82.2,6 in particular–it’s all pretty standard mainstream biblical scholarship (who exactly are your “many” scholars that believe that Ps. 82.1,6 refer to human judges?). I simply don’t think you have any clue what I think about a number of issues even after our lengthy exchange. I’d appreciate it if you’d actually assess my arguments and conclusions after reading them first.

    TYD

  41. May 10, 2009 4:10 am

    Darrell,
    Yellow Dart wasn’t making an argument about theosis (at least not by itself). He was making an argument about the divine council, which is a different matter. You are arguing against points that he isn’t making.

    And, as a graduate student in a Hebrew Bible program at a major university, I can assure that Yellow Dart is correct in asserting that the vast majority of Biblical scholars agree that the Old Testament does not explicitly teach the Trinity (or even implicitly, according to a smaller subset). Several believe in the Trinity and many will teach that it can be found there, but only in explicitly theological settings, where the rules of proof are different. Scholars don’t teach that the Trinity is there outside of some seminaries which have an explicit theological agenda.

  42. May 10, 2009 11:20 am

    “Several believe in the Trinity and many will teach that it can be found there…”

    Thank you… that is what I was looking for. I could be wrong but It appeared YD was making the assertion most that Biblical scholars believe the the Trinity is not Biblically supported. While the word “trinity” may not be found within the text of The Bible, the doctrine can be. There are many beliefs in both our camps which are described by words not found within The Biblical text… Plan of Salvation and Free Agency come to mind.

    Looing to the “teachings of most major universites” as an accurate measure of “vaste scholarly opinion” is anything but unbiased. Most major universities have become heavily polluted with secular naturalistic worldviews and have an agenda of their own. As an example, the head of religous studies at UNC Chapel Hill an outspoken agnostic/atheist. I would venture to say what comes out of that department is anything but unbiased.

    Darrell

    Darrell

  43. The Yellow Dart permalink
    May 10, 2009 12:30 pm

    Darrell,

    Everyone has biases.

    Also, I want to say again that I think you need to read my comments more carefully before engaging me. I think John C. and I have said basically the same thing.

    TYD

  44. May 10, 2009 1:35 pm

    Darrell,
    So long as you agree that it is just as much there as is the Plan of Salvation or Free/Moral Agency, that is fine with me.

  45. May 10, 2009 6:39 pm

    YD,

    When I jumped in to engage you, you had only posted two comments on this post. The one I was responding to was…

    “It’s also why most biblical scholars don’t think the formal doctrine of the Trinity is taught in the Bible.”

    How was my engagement of you on this subject inappropriate given your above comment? I specifically asked you to clarify yourself when I said…

    “I want to make sure that I am understanding your claim correctly… are you making the assertion that virtually “every basic scholarly introduction or reference work on the subject” of the trinity claims the doctrine is Biblically unfounded and not supported by scripture?”

    I believe I read your responses very carefully.

    Darrell

  46. The Yellow Dart permalink
    May 10, 2009 6:59 pm

    Well, I am glad we are clear now then.

    TYD

  47. May 10, 2009 8:29 pm

    Darrell: John C and Yellow Dart are both having the same problem with you that I had and that convinces me that any conversation with you is pointless — you don’t read. John C. is absolutely correct, Yellow Dart’s statements had nothing to do with the doctrine of theosis.

    You’re appear to me to be only interested in what you have to say. You try to control the conversation without even understanding what it is about. It is for that reason that I won’t waste my valuable time attempting to communicate with you. There is a complete lack of good faith on your part.

    Why don’t you read what Yellow Dart actually said about the way the Shema is used by EV to support a view of God that it simply won’t support. Why don’t you actually read what he wrote about Ps. 82 instead of just mindlessly reciting the EV’s interpretation of proot-texts out of context?

  48. May 10, 2009 10:19 pm

    Blake,

    You have no idea what you are talking about. I was referencing back to a conversation that YD and I had on my blog.

    Darrell

  49. May 10, 2009 10:49 pm

    Now I am confused Darrell. What exactly are you referring to about our previous conversation?

    I think it is very clear that the original post did no more than proof-text to establish its three “unavoidable facts,” offering no serious analysis. It is simply impossible to seriously engage a post which quotes so many biblical references, but which offers no analysis that pays careful attention to nuance in the issues. I have several posts on the divine council (which I linked to above), and I am happy to engage that specific topic and the relevant passages there. Moreover, I have an entire post dedicated to the Shema (Deut. 6.4) that I linked to above. Simply, the so-called “unavoidable” facts of the original post are anything but indisputable. Moreover, the entire claim that the elohim of Ps. 82.1,6 are mere human judges is fallacious on numerous socio-historical, literary, and gramamtical grounds. Again, my posts offer a much-needed correction of the many simplistic errors in the original post, but I have not repeated them here for time and space concerns. Anyone who would seriously like to know what mainstream academic biblical scholarship says about such passages can follow the links easily enough. But I would still ask again, who are the scholars that you claim view the “elohim” of Ps. 82 as human judges? I’d like to look at their credentials, academic affiliations, and their CVs.

    Best wishes,

    TYD

  50. May 10, 2009 10:56 pm

    And I agree with Blake: you often make many unwarranted leaps of logic and frequently bring up unmentioned (and often quite irrelevant) issues when engaging others you disagree with. The fact that I never said anything about theosis (mentioned several times already) is an obvious example.

    TYD

  51. May 10, 2009 11:08 pm

    YD,

    When you and I conversed a few months ago we got into a lengthy discussion about the divine council. One of the items I touched on was how I disagree with the way some Mormon theologians interpret the divine council. I have seen some who use it as support for the idea that pre-mortal man was a participant in this council as the “sons of god” and thus we are currently Gods in embryo -theosis being the natural result. In addition, you may remember I referenced an article by Michael Heiser who disagrees with the way Mormon scholars interpret Psalms 82.

    I apologize as I could have made myself clearer in my earlier comment. I now realize our conversation was a few months ago and you may not recall it.

    Thanks!!

    Darrell

  52. psychochemiker permalink
    May 11, 2009 3:01 am

    Yellow Dart,
    This is a tactic quite often used: “confuse by irrational discourse, but do it with resolve. Maybe they’ll just expect you’re right if they understand what you say.” Sorry, this isn’t quantum Mechanics, the logic is simple and it is easy to see when someone’s blowing smoke out the backside…

  53. NChristine permalink
    May 11, 2009 4:28 pm

    Hi Yellow Dart,

    Thank you for your comments. I did indeed read your post on the divine council; it is helpful to get your perspective. As best I understand your position, you interpret all references to gods/sons of God/sons of the Most High/heavenly host, etc., to always refer to the same group of individuals, believe these individuals to be lesser gods in a pantheon of gods, and believe these gods to be the same as God (i.e., same species) but only lesser in rank/power/glory. Please correct me if I am not right in this reading. I would like to respond to a few of your assertions. You wrote this:

    The relevant issue in these texts is not one of “ontology” or species, of course, but one of power, might, and glory.

    While the Bible is full of references to other heavenly beings, there is not a single passage from which it can be shown that these are actual gods (ontologically) and not created angelic and demonic beings. For example, consider the cluster of passages that LDS often use to prove a “pantheon of gods”: Deuteronomy 32:8 with Genesis 10:32 and Psalm 82. It should be noted that not everyone accepts these interpretations for a number of reasons. However, even if your interpretations of these passages are correct, then the “divine council” in these passages (as you interpret them) refers to gods of the Gentiles (e.g., Genesis 10:32, Deuteronomy 32:8). Who are the gods of the Gentiles?

    In Deuteronomy 32, shortly after the disputed sons of Israel/sons of God verse, we are given a statement that is completely at odds with a supposedly polytheistic, Ugaritic-like worldview:

    They sacrificed unto devils, not to God; to gods whom they knew not, to new gods that came newly up, whom your fathers feared not (Deut. 32:17).

    Not only does this passage strongly imply that Israelite polytheism came after monotheism and was evil, it also identifies the “gods” of the nations: the gods of the Gentiles are devils. The apostle Paul quotes this passage in I Corinthians 10:20, translating “devils” as “demons”:

    …the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God: and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils.

    If one concludes that this particular cluster of passages refers to a divine council, then these “gods” are demons according to the apostle Paul (following Deuteronomy). There is no way scripturally around this. You were arguing for a “pantheon of gods” when the scripture says clearly that the gods of the Gentiles are “demons.”

    Secondly, you also cited passages, such as in Genesis 1, in which the plural is used of God, and you seemed to conclude that this shows a plurality of gods (that is, beings who are gods ontologically). You quoted from Professor Levenson:

    But there do seem to be other divine beings in Genesis 1, to whom God proposes the creation of humanity, male and female together: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (v. 26). When were these other divine beings created? They too seem to have been primordial.

    Were members of the “heavenly host” or divine council really “primordial” since eternity past? Paul states unequivocally that Christ created all things in heaven:

    For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him [Christ], and for him (Col. 1:16).

    The inclusion of thrones, dominions, principalities, and powers and all things in heaven includes in one sweep all members of any divine council—those now fallen and those not. Indeed, the term “principalities and powers” is used multiple times by Paul (e.g., Eph. 6:12, Col. 2:15) to refer to demonic powers (such as the gods of the Gentiles). They are created beings—not members of the same “species” as God! Indeed, consider that even Lucifer was “created” as a cherub (Ezek. 28:15), and the Ezekiel passage strongly implies that he was created at a specific point in time (“from the day that thou wast created”). They are not the same “species” as God.

    Thirdly, Christ’s creation of “all things” leads to the issue of the “us” in Genesis 1. It is important to note that if God was indeed speaking to someone else (“Let us make man in our image”), then the other Person(s) are to be involved in the action of creation. Interestingly, this leaves us with the same conundrum with which we are faced in the NT: unity and yet plurality. On the one hand, we are told that God alone is the Creator of all things. Indeed, throughout the Bible, God is distinguished from other “gods” because he is the only Creator (e.g., Neh. 9:6, Ps. 96:5, Is. 40:25-26). This rules out any members of a divine council (i.e., other “gods”) as the “us” of Genesis 1. Consider Isaiah’s words:

    To whom then will ye liken me, or shall I be equal? saith the Holy One. Lift up your eyes on high, and behold who hath created these things, that bringeth out their host by number: he calleth them all by names by the greatness of his might, for that he is strong in power; not one faileth (Is. 40:25-26).

    However, clearly someone else was involved in the creative act—unless it was just the “royal we” in Genesis 1. The NT makes it very clear that Someone else was involved. In addition to Paul’s assertion that Christ created all things (Col. 1:16, above), John adds this:

    All things were made by him [Jesus]; and without him was not any thing made that was made (John 1:3).

    Here Jesus is said to be involved in this supposedly singular act of God—this act that distinguishes God from the other “gods.” What are we to make of this conundrum? Consider the similar conundrum in stated in three successive sentences of John:

    “The Word was with God. The Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God” (John 1:1-2).

    This goes back to the issues discussed in the original post—the facts that lead me to a belief in a Triune God. One God created all things, and yet Jesus and the Father created all things. The Word was with God, and yet the Word was God.

    Even if disputed textual and interpretive preferences regarding the divine council are accepted, there is still no evidence of polytheism in the Bible. The New Testament (along with hints in the Old) consistently presents a picture of one God…in Three Persons.

    References

    Erickson, M. J. (1992). Introducing Christian doctrine. Grand Rapids: Baker.

    Heiser, M. (2001). Deuteronomy 32:8 and the sons of God. Bibliotheca Sacra, 158 (January-March), 52-74.

  54. May 11, 2009 5:11 pm

    NChristine,
    Paul was many things (several of them good) but a first temple Israelite isn’t one of them. Unless you are willing to argue that the same religion flows unchanged through the Old Testament and the New Testament (which, if that’s the case, why a New Testament?), what you have in Paul is a 1st Century Jewish/Christian interpretation of an originally henotheistic text (I agree that polytheism isn’t the right term). Of course Paul is going to read Deuteronomy as monotheistic: He is a monotheist and has a stake in the game. In drawing on Paul, what you are saying is that someone I agree with agrees with my reading. Good for you.

    Both you and Paul are ripping Deuteronomy 32 from it’s original context (which Paul does all the time because he was a trained Pharisee and that is how he rolls). It’s fine to repurpose scripture to suit your needs (really, I think it is), but you should be able to admit that this is what you are doing. Paul’s interpretation doesn’t equate to original context or original meaning.

    Looking at the Hebrew of Deuteronomy 32:17, he is talking about Israel worshipping other gods or lesser divine creatures. The exact meaning of the term translated devils escapes me (I’ll look it up as soon as I can). It is inappropriate for Israel to do this because Israel is the Lord’s. There is a bit of scoffing in the text regarding foreign gods (Deuteronomy was most likely written at the same time that Elijah and the Priests of Baal was written), but that doesn’t mean they weren’t considered divine. In fact, it probably means the opposite; why tell people that the gods of other nations are not gods at all if they already believe it? More importantly, nothing that you wrote has any bearing on Deuteronomy 32:8-9 which does appear to put Elyon and Yahweh in an assymetrical relationship. If you want to lower Yahweh to the level of angels and demons, feel free, but that doesn’t seem to be the purpose of the text. It seems to me that the text is at cross-purposes, which doesn’t particularly surprise me. It wants to emphasize Yahweh’s legitimacy by placing him in a pantheon of Gods but it also wants to emphasize his authority by downplaying the pantheon.

    Regarding the “let us” passages, if you can find other instances of the “royal we” in the text or other instances of divine multiple-personality disorder (outside of Genesis 1-11), please let me know. In the meantime, I’m happy to still consider them instances of divine council (as does Heiser, as an example).

    Finally, if you are looking for evidence of Israelite polytheism, you might want to look outside the Bible. From the thousands of fertility idols found or from references to Yahweh and his Asherah, there is plenty of evidence for Israelite syncretism with neighboring religion. It has left some with the impression that the Old Testament as we have it was never in widespread use in 1st temple Israel, but rather a collection of texts used by various priestly families for their local shrines.

    If you are really interested in this topic, you should read Mark Smith’s book, “The Origins of Biblical Monotheism” or even his book “The Early History of God.” Both put forth well-reasoned, articulate arguments describing the standard scholarly approach to 1st temple Israelite belief. It will give you a good background in the area, the type necessary to adequately critique Heiser or Paul regarding the possible original meanings of the text.

  55. May 11, 2009 11:12 pm

    NChristine,

    Thanks for the cordial conversation!

    First, I think John C. is right that you are committing the error of historical collapse on a number of issues. Often you are projecting later biblical views back onto different, earlier texts, assuming that all the texts are in agreement (an assumption I, along with most biblical scholars, do not agree with); additionally, you are often simply projecting your own personal views back on to these earlier biblical texts where those views are clearly not deducable from the textual evidence. For instance, there is no developed demonology in the Hebrew Bible as found in later Judeo-Christian tradition. As I have discussed at length elsewhere, it is clear to most Hebrew Bible scholars, the Israelites did not even have the concept of a personal Satan, an Evil demigod, if you will (2 Cor. 4.4), who stands in total opposition to God. Such a notion doesn’t appear to have developed until well into the Second Temple period. Thus it is simply anachronistic to project your views and terminology pertaining to ontology and demonology onto ancient Israelite texts.

    Another issue is that the Hebrew Bible repeatedly refers to the members of the divine council and the gods of other nations as gods–not angels. This is clear linguistically and grammatically–the references to the bene elohim, etc., as I described in a separate post, are related in origin to the Ugaritic terms and traditions surrounding the divine pantheon. Moreover, there is no myth of origin for the members of the divine council in the Hebrew Bible. They, like Yahweh, and like the chaotic sea in the creation myth of Genesis 1, the P account , are primordial; they are without designated origin as far as the Hebrew Bible is concerned. This is underscored by the fact that, as the vast majority of scholarly treatments agree, the notion of creatio ex nihilo is entirely foreign to the Hebrew Bible. I have wrote on this issue at length using Genesis 1-3 as a case study (it’s an eight-post series, I believe, though I have linked to the summary and conclusion for convenience). Additionally, as John C. mentioned, and as I have written about at length already, there is no “royal we” attested in the Hebrew Bible, and such plural usuage in Genesis 1.26-27 and Genesis 3.22 (cf. Job 38.4-7!), etc., based on contextual evidences, are clearly references to God’s heavenly divine council . Furthermore, I think it is additionally important that they are specifically likened to him in godly attributes of knowledge and immortality. Further, I think that such passages as Gen. 1.26-27; 3.22; Job 38.4-7, etc. acknowledge that the gods of the council were actually present at and seemingly participated in the creation of the cosmos in some way(s) (their creation, like the primodial sea, is nowhere mentioned in the creative scheme of the P account). Finally, I think it is fairly clear that such (thematically) linked passages as Ps. 82 and Deut. 32.8-9 show that the members of the pantheon were also sometimes seen simultaneously as the gods of other nations.

    (I would recommend, in case you haven’t, that you also read the other posts that I linked to in my first comment, as well as the other ones I just linked to here.)

    Best wishes,

    TYD

  56. May 12, 2009 2:43 am

    John C.

    I am visiting my parents for the week, so I don’t have access to my regular resources. But I do have BDB which says that the Hebrew $edim of Deut. 32.17 is borrowed from the Akkadian $e:du:(m), and is some sort of protective spirit. You’ll have to dig further I guess!

    Best,

    TYD

  57. NChristine permalink
    May 13, 2009 4:10 pm

    Hi John and TYD,

    Thanks for the interaction! 🙂 I have been delayed in responding to your comments—partly because I have been busy, but partly because I have been a little confused by some confusion I have regarding your paradigm. It seems that you accept certain assumptions (e.g., that Israelite religion derived from the polytheism of its neighbors) that would seem logically to lead to a naturalistic conclusion (that religion is illusory, the product of cultural evolution). Instead, you reach supernaturalistic conclusions (that there really is such a thing as a pantheon of gods). Also, you seem contradictory in your treatment of Scripture. Your rejection of Paul’s statements regarding demons was not just a statement on proper hermeneutical principles. You were also saying that Paul’s statements/views/writings do not necessarily correspond with reality. On the other hand, you seem to believe that the alleged worldview of certain isolated OT passages—interpreted through the lens of Ugaritic beliefs–does correspond to reality. How do you know which things correspond to reality and which do not? 🙂 Further, just because earlier Israelite understanding of the supernatural was not as detailed or defined as Paul’s (I see no proof that the views were contradictory), how does the LDS view of “continuous revelation” fit with your rejection of the more detailed understanding given by one who was validated as an apostle?

    Indeed, the quickness with which you discount the authority of the NT is very disturbing. You (John) seemed to readily admit that Paul does not share your view re: the nature of God–that he labeled your “pantheon of gods” as “demons.” This is the Paul who was called “our beloved brother” by Peter (II Peter 3:15), whose writings Peter lumped with “scripture” (II Peter 3:16), and to whose message the other apostles (including James, Peter, and John) “added nothing” (Galatians 2:6-9 and Acts 15). If you dismiss Paul, you might as well dismiss the rest of the NT as well. This seems to put you in a strange position—defending a religion that (at least in name) is “Christian” and yet rejecting the authority of the Christian scriptures.

    Also, in summarily dismissing Paul, you did not address the strong implication by the writer of the Deuteronomy 32 poem, in the very passage quoted by Paul, that monotheism came first for Israelites, and not vice versa (32:17)!

    They sacrificed unto devils, not to God; to gods whom they knew not, to new gods that came newly up, whom your fathers feared not (Deut. 32:17).

    Further, what concrete proof can you offer that we should interpret Israelite statements through the grid of Ugaritic beliefs? Similarities between Israelite and Ugaritic literature only prove that the two peoples were neighbors and contemporaries. Upon what basis can one prove that the Israelites believed the same things about the similar words/names/themes as the Ugaritic writers—especially when the Israelite writers make direct statements to the contrary? This is based on circular reasoning. It seems to go something like this:

    — Passages such as these (e.g., Deut. 32) must be interpreted through the grid of Ugaritic beliefs.
    — How do we know such passages should be interpreted in this light?
    — Because Israelite monotheism derived from Ugaritic-style polytheism.
    — How do we know Israelite religion derived from polytheism?
    — Because of passages such as these (e.g., Deut. 32)…when interpreted through the grid of Ugarit.

    This is not sound reasoning. It brings a huge bias into one’s interpretive schema and does not allow the writers to speak for themselves through their own contexts and direct statements. How do Israelite polemics against the worldview of its neighbors constitute a latent or original belief in that worldview? Do our comments here, in opposition of each others’ viewpoints of God, constitute proof that we each have a latent belief in the others’ worldview? Under what version of reality does this make sense?

    Even in the very passages scholars cite as glimpses of an earlier polytheism, there are direct statements decrying the worldviews of Israel’s neighbors! Indeed, Mark Smith (not going as far as you did, John) admits that “The author of this poem [Deut. 32]…probably understood Most High (Elyon) and Yahweh to be one and the same god, the god of Israel. For the poem goes on to refer to the other gods as ‘no-gods’ (v. 17, NRSV ‘not God’) and to describe Yahweh as the only god (v. 39). It is clear that for this author there really are no other gods” (Smith, 2004). Upon recognizing this, Smith then engages in more circular reasoning based on a priori assumptions: “In rejecting the old worldview, it is evident that the two poems [Deuteronomy 32 and Psalm 82] belong to a later time, perhaps the eighth or seventh century, and possibly later” (ibid, 2004). The argument seems to be this: Even these much-discussed passages are clearly monotheistic (like the rest of the Bible!). Therefore, since we know that Israel was originally polytheistic, these passages must post-date the known (but not proven!) original polytheism.

    You know as well as I the direct links between Yahweh and Elyon in such passages as Genesis 14 (Abram’s identification of Melchizedek’s Elyon with his own Yahweh), II Samuel 22:14, Psalm 91:9, Psalm 92:1, and Psalm 97:9. Consider Psalm 83:18:

    Thou, whose name alone is JEHOVAH, art the most high [El Elyon] over all the earth.

    What proof do you have from the context of Deuteronomy 32 and not based on circular reasoning re: Ugarit that the author really understood Yahweh/Jehovah and Elyon to be different gods?

    I feel, moreover, that you had no answer to the direct statements of scripture I mentioned. Concerning the “us” of Genesis 1:26-27, you (John) simply stated you saw it as a divine council while you (TYD) stated that the divine council was present at creation per Job 38:4-7. However, I am sure you are aware that Job 38 states “I [Jehovah] laid the foundations of the earth.” The “sons of God” were present but are never shown to be involved in the act of creation. Further, as you well know, much of the OT identifies God as superior to other gods because He alone is the Creator of all. This summarily rules out the possibility that a “divine council” was the “us” of Genesis 1. The other Person(s) have to qualify as the Creator. When I cite John and Paul as clearly stating Christ created all things, this is not an “anachronism.” Rather, this is revealing something that is new information but fits with the information already given in Genesis 1 and other passages.

    There are many other direct statements of scripture you have not dealt with. Will you jettison John as you did Paul, since he states that the Word was God and was with God? Will you jettison Jesus because He unequivocally called His Father the only true God (John 17:3) but then strongly implied that He Himself is God (John 8:58, 20:28-29, etc.)?

    Finally, let me clarify something with regard to archaeological evidence of Israelite polytheism. Should we never have had such evidence, a belief in biblical reliability would have convinced me of its existence anyhow. A huge portion of the OT describes (and decries) such beliefs and practices occurring in Israel from the time of Jacob (Gen. 35:2) through the wilderness wanderings (Amos 5:25-26) through the period of the judges (Judges 18:18) through the monarchies (too many to list!) and finally to the captivity(ies) which the prophets said was a result of Israel’s/Judah’s disobedience and idolatry (Amos 5:25-27, Jer. 22:7-9). No one is arguing that polytheism was not widespread—only that it is not true and never was.

    Thanks for the interaction!

    Reference

    Smith, M. S. (2004). Memoirs of God. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress.

  58. May 13, 2009 10:28 pm

    NChristine,
    You are reading too much force into my statements. I did not say that I believe that there is a pantheon, I said that some first temple Israelites believed that there was pantheon and that Deuteronomy 32:8-9 indicates this. There is a difference.

    Regarding Paul’s beliefs corresponding with reality, I don’t really know what you mean. I said Paul was a 1st century Jewish Christian, some 600 years removed from 1st temple Israel (there really wasn’t anything that you could call Judaism at that point). What does that have to do with reality? Also, whose or what reality are we talking about?

    Nor am I saying necessarily that Paul is wrong (how would I know? I’m 2600 years removed from 1st temple Israel). What I am saying is that Paul had reasons for adopting the reading he adopted and that he had lots of cultural baggage in that reading. I have my own cultural baggage (called, generally, the historical-critical method) and I apply it to problems in the Bible, too. I don’t doubt that Paul believed in demons, but that doesn’t mean that I think the best solution for dealing with the mentally ill is an exorcism.

    You are also misreading me regarding the authority issue, but if it makes you feel any better I also think that much of Joseph Smith’s reading of Genesis 1:1 is bad Hebrew (although he is right that creation ex nihilo isn’t there). I don’t mind using my mind to think about what the prophets, apostles, scientists, and scholars have said over the years and fashioning my own conclusions. Setting that aside, we really are representing scholarly consensus with this.

    You’re going to have to explain what you are seeing in 32:17 regarding the priority of monotheism. I don’t see it there in the verse you quote, so I don’t know what you mean by pointing to it.

    We’ve discussed the original version of the passage, so I don’t see much of a need to discuss that. Regarding the use of Ugarit as a cultural marker, the Bible quotes passages of Ugaritic poetry (replacing Baal with Yahweh) and the Job mentions Daneel, who is the subject of an Ugaritic epic. There are numerous parallels in phrase and syntax throughout the Bible. I am not saying that 1st temple Israelite belief is Ugaritic belief (after all, Ugarit was destroyed some 200-300 years before we have a 1st temple). However, the temple that Solomon constructs looks startlelingly (sp?) like other known Syrian temples that we have found. There are parallels.

    I’ve never denied that Deuteronomy 32 overall is monotheistic. I’ve been talking about that particular passage (8-9), which I believe indicates some repurposed henotheism. Because of this, archaeological evidence, and other clear passages indicating the divine council, I think that the parallels to Canaanite belief shouldn’t be ignored. But we are obviously going to disagree on that.

    Regarding the connection between El Elyon and Yahweh, I agree that they are conflated over time, but there is some evidence in Genesis that indicates that this may not have always been the case. Again, I would direct you to Smith or also to Alt and Noth as people to turn to to read about source criticism (and its strengths and flaws).

    “Further, as you well know, much of the OT identifies God as superior to other gods because He alone is the Creator of all. This summarily rules out the possibility that a “divine council” was the “us” of Genesis 1.”

    Why? I don’t follow you here. You’ll need to be more explicit regarding what you mean because it isn’t self-evident.

    I’m not rejecting John and Paul and Peter (although, there is some evidence that Second Peter may not have been written by Peter (also, First Peter)). I’m saying that they don’t have to mean what you say that they mean (for instance, Mormons are, generally speaking, just fine with saying that Christ is the Creator). You clearly feel very passionately about this issue; perhaps we should take a break.

    For me, I don’t need the Bible to be inerrant to believe that it teaches about God. I read it carefully, looking for the truths in it, and I try to apply those to my life.

    I don’t really have much at stake in the OT discussion, so it doesn’t matter much to me whether or not a modern Trinitarian notion is there or not. This means that I don’t find one. As your proof-texting above demonstrates, there isn’t a clear doctrine of the Trinity in the Old Testament (certainly not one that the Jews have found), so extensive use of the New Testament is necessary in order to demonstrate it. That’s fine, but it is eisegesis, not exegesis.

    Nor, frankly, am I above it. Part of the reason why I am insistent that Christ was bodily ressurrected on the third day is because I have modern notions of what that means that I throw into the New Testament.

    I’m not asking you to change what you believe; I’m asking you to admit what you are doing.

  59. NChristine permalink
    May 22, 2009 11:52 pm

    Hi John C,

    Welcome back! I wanted to respond to a couple of key points in your last comment re: Deuteronomy 32, and I will attempt to be succinct. 🙂

    1. Paul is not tweaking the worldview of the Deuteronomy 32 author by translating shedim as demons. Consider the major characteristics of these Gentile gods as described in Deuteronomy 32:

    — They are real beings (vv. 17 and 38).

    — They are not God/gods (v. 17 — KJV “not to God,” NRSV “not God,” NIV “which are not God,” ESV “that were no gods,” Mark S. Smith “no-gods”).

    — They are evil (vv. 16, 32).

    — They produce destruction, even for those whose gods they are (vv. 17 — shedim = “spoilers, wasters,” 32-33 – “their wine is the poison of dragons, and the cruel venom of asps”).

    How does Paul inject foreign ideas into this poem by following the Septuagint’s translation demons? These descriptions closely match NT descriptions of demons (II Cor. 4:4, Eph. 2:2 and 6:12, Col. 1:13 and 2:15).

    2. Making Elyon and Jehovah two different Gods (vv. 8-9) is completely illogical and violates the context of the poem. You said in your last comment that those verses show a repurposed henotheism. In a previous comment, you stated, I would argue that the most straightforward way to read the passage is to say that Elyon (the God of the patriarchs) alloted the care of the various nations to his sons (the sons of Elohim) and that Israel was allotted to Yahweh. Understanding Yahweh as a son of El gives the best reading of the passage within its historical context.

    Here is the problem with that view: Jehovah is identified in the poem as El/Elohim. The epithet “the Rock” ties together the various names/titles Jehovah, El, and Elohim as one God. Note the parallelisms:

    Because I will publish the name of the LORD [Jehovah]:
    Ascribe ye greatness unto our God [Elohim] (32:3).

    He is the Rock, his work is perfect: for all his ways are judgment:
    A God [El] of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he (32:4).

    Of the Rock that begat thee thou art unmindful,
    And hast forgotten God [El] that formed thee (32:18).

    Except their Rock had sold them,
    and the LORD [Jehovah/Yahweh] had shut them up (32:30)?

    If Jehovah is “a son of El,” then He is a son of…Himself! This interpretation assigns a bizarre and unprecedented worldview to the author of this poem.

    Is there something from the context itself that indicates to you that Elyon and Jehovah are being understood as different Gods? You have more than once charged me with “prooftexting,” 🙂 but my understanding of “prooftexting” is the use of a verse divorced from its context to prove a doctrine. Can you provide contextual evidence of your view from the statements of the poem itself?

    Thanks for the discussion. I appreciate it.

  60. May 24, 2009 1:02 pm

    NChristine,
    Please stop thanking me for the discussion. I’m glad that I’m not torturing you, but the constant reminders are tiresome.

    Regarding Paul, we are talking about two different things now. I am talking about the beliefs underlying Deuteronomy 32:8-9; you are talking about Paul’s beliefs regarding what the author of Deuteronomy 32:17 said. We don’t actually disagree regarding what Paul intended; we disagree regarding its relevance. I don’t think it is relevant, you do. We’ll just have to move on because I don’t see either of us budging on that.

    Regarding your second criticism, I think my first rebuttal still applies. I’m not talking about the poem itself, I’m talking about the worldview that informs those two verses. But setting that aside, Biblical scholarship would generally see poetry like this as an attempt to conflate previously separate Gods into one. Alt and Noth, for example, believed that Elyon was the God of the Patriarchs, Yahweh was the God of wandering nomads, and El/Elohim was the God of the settled Canaanites in the land (or some such; I’m slaughtering the theory’s specifics but that is the idea). In the Bible, you see an attempt, according to this theory, to conflate aspects of these gods together into Yahweh during periods of theological consolidation (like during the Josianic reform or during Ezra’s putting of the Bible to paper). This is one of the reasons that God gets a womb and breasts even though he male (he got those attributes by assimilating Asherah (according to Mark Smith)). So, the argument is, that while you might see all those names as pertaining to God in any particular passage, they may not have all originally pertained to the same God.

    Now, that stated, you have the further problem that many people read all those passages as pertaining to the same God and yet they still don’t see the trinity there. Orthodox Jews, for example, read the Old Testament as literally as possible and as more binding on their lives than you do I’m sure. They see those names as all referring to one god with one aspect. Jews actually are monotheists in a way that Christians (of all stripes) are not. The only reason to point any of this out is to note that there is nothing unavoidable about finding the trinity in the Old Testament. Plenty of people avoid it just fine without self-deception or anything. You can find it there, but only if you read it having already decided that it is in there. I don’t find anything wrong with that; I just like people to admit what they are doing.

  61. NChristine permalink
    May 25, 2009 6:18 pm

    John C,

    I think there may have been a misunderstanding. Regarding the OT and the Trinity, I was not arguing for a clear description of the Trinity from the Old Testament alone. Indeed, for the last several comments I have not been discussing the Trinity at all. Perhaps I was unclear. In the original post, I had stated that I thought the doctrine was arrived at inductively by a careful examination of (1) Old Testament and New Testament passages presenting the idea of one God, (2) New Testament passages presenting the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit each as God, and (3) New Testament passages presenting all three as separate Persons. In the last few comments, I have been arguing for point #1 (monotheism). Because the topic of polytheism and Deuteronomy 32 had arisen, and because Deuteronomy 32:8-9 was seemingly being used as a “prooftext” for plurality of gods, I was attempting to examine that passage with respect to monotheism — not to prove the Trinity. Likewise, please note that the discussion below is regarding monotheism — not the entire doctrine of the Trinity.

    Regarding Deuteronomy 32:17 and demons, it seems you wish to not discuss further Paul’s interpretation. I get this. I will just mention that it seems notable that you provided absolutely no contextual evidence from Deuteronomy 32 to substantiate the viewpoint that Deuteronomy and Paul have contradictory ideas about supernatural evil. Rather, this appears to be based on assumptions regarding “Second Temple Jews” contrasted with assumptions regarding early Israelite belief. For a significant claim regarding an apostle of Christ, it seems unwarranted to dismiss the matter, still avowing this belief about Paul but without a trace of textual evidence from Deuteronomy 32.

    Regarding the Elyon/Jehovah issue, from what I can tell, it appears your viewpoint on verses 8-9 has changed quite a bit. Previously, you stated that the best way to understand the passage was by viewing Jehovah as separate from Elyon and as one of the sons of El (in line with the FAIR viewpoint). Now you appear to be agreeing (?) that the author views Jehovah and Elyon as synonymous. It seems you are now saying that verses 8-9 may refer to an earlier worldview that did believe they were separate (in line with the viewpoint of many secular scholars). Please clarify if I misunderstand your position/positions. While the former viewpoint does not agree with the actual text, the latter viewpoint is based on the assumption that religion is the product of evolution – that monotheism emerged from henotheism which emerged from polytheism. If religion is purely the product of evolution, then it is contrived. If it is contrived, then it has no basis in reality, and God Himself is likely contrived.

    I have been attempting to discuss major points of theology by inductively examining evidence from individual passages to reach an inductive conclusion. This is the method of biblical interpretation that I use. However, the discussion seems to keep going back to square one – whether or not religion is the product of evolution. Ultimately, that goes back to square zero – whether or not God is a legitimate reality. I think I do not understand your worldview. Could you clarify whether you actually believe that religion is the product of evolution, or just refer to these theories to support the LDS doctrine of plural gods — or hold some other position? If you do hold to the evolution of religion, how do you “work it out” with your religious views – or have you not yet worked it out? As a corollary, could you also clarify your position on the documentary hypothesis? I have assumed you subscribe to it, but earlier comments regarding your frequent agreement with the likes of Kitchen make me uncertain. I am unsure how to respond since I am not sure where you are coming from.

    Per your preferences, I will not thank you for this discussion. 🙂

  62. NickyMac permalink
    April 21, 2010 9:54 am

    I know this is an old post but I’ve read all of the above comments (including the post of course) and have been very impressed! It has stretched my thinking so much. This is a topic that I’ve been researching myself. Ever since I encountered Mormon missionaries at my door (who are now my friends) I’ve really wanted to be able to have answers for my own faith. You aren’t really equipped with them in the pentecostal church, sadly.
    I’d like to give my opinion on the subject but I’m not going to be referring directly to anyone’s comments since there are too many. I’m not a theologian so I’m not sure if I can engage in an intellectual discussion but feel free to reply anyway 🙂

    I believe that ontological oneness is absolutely necessary for biblical consistency.
    Without it, God has lied to us throughout the old testament. Particularly when he says, “I am The Lord, there was none before me, and none after me, my glory I will not give to another” (It’s in Isaiah…around chapters 40-46…particularly 42:8, 43:10 and through to 46:9)

    We often make the western Arian literary mistake of saying “God=Father” and then try and say that “Jesus=God” which gets very confusing very quickly, and makes room for this kind of thinking. It’s not just LDS who make this mistake, Christians make this mistake every now and again.

    It is better to say, God = Trinity. Jesus is the always Son within the always Trinity; The Father, often called ‘God’ (because we don’t have any term more suitable) is the always Father within the always Trinity; and the Holy Spirit is the always Holy Spirit within the Trinity.

    The ontological oneness relates to their equal-co-eternality, and co-expression of the perfections discussed by Aquinas.

    The father was NEVER the father, without the son. The father was ALWAYS the father, and never “became” the father, lest God be changing, but instead always was. The son was ALWAYS the son of the always father. The spirit is the always spirit of the always son and father.

    The perfect being MUST be perfectly aware of itself, as self-awareness is something in which we participate in, although imperfectly…a perfect being, with all abilities, expressed perfectly, willing and reflecting upon oneself perfectly will produce a perfect “thought” of itself. This is what the greeks called the “logos of God” which is what John calls Jesus in John 1

    The spirit is the very act and power of the father’s perfect reflection upon perfection, which produces the very mirror image of perfection, in the form of the co-eternal logos of God, which is the Son. However, without the very production and reflection of this logos by the spirit of God, this co-eternality is impossible.

    Therefore, the Father wills, the Son IS the very will, and the Spirit is what makes both possible. The complete package is “God”

    As the father reflects upon the image of the son, the reflection is like multiplying infinity by itself, and then taking that number and multiplying it by itself forever.

    It’s like when you place two mirrors in front of each other and it seems to reflect forever.

    You can’t become a god, because the very idea of “god-ness” or the category of god, at the core relates back to necessary ontology. It is pure being, in totality, rather than a potentiality transitioning towards totality.

    Calling the Father God, and then calling Jesus God, but not GOD is really quite meaningless. We might as well call him another type of angel or being. What ends up happening is that, like what I’ve gathered the LDS believe, there is a denial that Jesus’ Father is in fact the ONE God. He instead becomes the “one god” of “our universe”, but who also had a Father god himself, and had to go through his own salvation process in order to become divine.

    Personally I would be scared attributing this idea to God…

    So, I would say that I believe in the Trinity i.e. Three beings (the father, son and Holy Spirit) who are one in substance, purpose, will etc.

    I realise I haven’t really referred back to the bible much, but that’s simply because I would just be repeating the same verses that have already been sourced.
    Feel like I should reference my friend because I got a lot of these views from a conversation with him, but for privacy I don’t want to mention his name.

    A really great book, if anyone’s looking for a new one, is ‘Making Sense of The Trinity’ by Millard Erickson.

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