Refutation of the Master’s University Bible Faculty Document on the Trinity and Divinity of Messiah (Part 4)

The Trinity and Divinity of Messiah-92b9c7Here is the TMU document. Please open and follow along. We pick up on page 8.

2. The NT thoroughly describes Jesus as divine and preexistent

A. PAUL”S VIEW OF JESUS

Jesus is Active Prior to the Incarnation

  • Phil. 2:5-8 –  The authors use the ESV here, which gives a terrible rendering of the second part of verse 5 : “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.” No other version reads this way except the RSV. Most versions have something like, “which was also in Christ Jesus.” The problem is that in the Greek there is no verb : ho kai en Christo Iesou = literally “which also in Christ Jesus.” The verb must be supplied in English for the sentence to make sense. Because it seems like Paul is calling believers to have a certain frame of mind and then describes a frame of mind which Jesus had a some point, it is best to supply the word ‘was.’ So it is a call for believers to have the same frame of mind that Christ Jesus had at some point in the past. Why is this important? The reason it is important may also be the reason why the authors chose to present the passage from the ESV. Paul is exhorting believers to have the same frame of mind that Messiah Jesus had. Even from a Trinitarian perspective, Messiah Jesus can only be referring to the man {1 Tim. 2:5} from Nazareth, who was born of Mary, who “grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” {Lk. 2:52} What orthodox commentators and Trinitarian apologists want us to believe is that what Paul describes in vv. 6-8 is the frame of mind of God the Son, the Logos, as he was existing in heaven from all eternity. But what Paul describes is not the frame of mind of the pre-existing Logos, but of the man, Messiah Jesus. In other words, the traditional way of understanding this passage, that the eternal Logos up in heaven makes a decision to humble himself to become a man  and die for us, is false. The passage is describing the mind of the man Jesus, who in willing obedience to the Father gave himself for us. Therefore whatever Paul says in vv. 6-8 is being said of a man, specifically Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah. Paul is not saying that Jesus was in heaven existing as God, and that while in that state he decided that being God was not something he needed to hold on to, so he emptied himself and became a man. What Paul is saying is that the man Jesus, though he was born to be king {Matt.2:2; Mk. 15:2; Jhn. 18:37}, having been foreordained to that position, being the one from David’s line chosen to rule over God’s kingdom {1 Chron. 28:5-7}, did not consider this position of power as God’s representative and vice-regent (i.e. this positional equality with God), a thing to be selfishly seized for his own advantage. Instead of demanding his rights as the heir to the throne of his father David, he emptied himself, having been born like all other men, subject to the ruling power of the day. He lived an ordinary life among men, not as the king he was born to be. He knew that the path to his predestined glory was the path of suffering and death. At least twice in his life he could have bypassed the suffering and death and obtained a measure of the glory to which he was predestined {see Lk. 4:5-8 and Jn. 6:15}, but instead he humbled himself  and was obedient to the Father’s will, knowing that in God’s time and in God’s way (death and resurrection) he would be exalted beyond measure.

Now in what way was the man, Messiah Jesus, in the ‘form of God?’ This portion of Philippians, 2:6-11, is unanimously considered by scholars to be a hymn, and is therefore poetic in nature. Jesus being in the form of God is just a poetic way of saying that as the one chosen from David’s line he rules for God, on God’s behalf. This may be based on Psalm 45:6, where the reigning Davidic king is addressed as ‘God.’ You see, Yahweh is the true king of Israel, but he has chosen to rule through a human agent. This position was given only to the descendants of David by covenant {see Ps. 89:19-37; 2 Chron. 13:4-8}. So this effectively puts the king in the place of God, he even sits on Yahweh’s throne {1 Chron. 29:23}. This was the glorious position to which Jesus was preordained {Lk. 1:31-33}, but he did not seek to grasp it for himself apart from the will of the Father. Instead he lived a rather modest, unkingly life, waiting for the Father to glorify him in His time. This is the true meaning of the Philippians hymn. For more on Phil. 2:5-11 see my May 2018 post The Lordship of Jesus the Messiah (Part 2).

  • 2 Cor. 8:9 –  This passage is in effect a parallel to the Philippians hymn. Once again, this has been traditionally read that Jesus, as God, was rich in heaven, but then became poor by becoming a man on earth. But this is reading way to much into the passage. Once again, Paul is talking about the man Jesus, the Messiah, not God the son, or the Logos. So how was the man Jesus rich? And in what way was he made poor for us? From the moment of his birth he was the heir to David’s throne {Lk. 1:32-33; Matt. 2:2}. From his birth he was rich, in the same way that Abraham was  the father of many nations before he even had a child {Gen. 17:5}, i.e. in the foreordained purpose of God. The Greek says plousios on= being rich; this coincides with ‘being in the form of God’ in the Philippians passage. From his birth, he was predestined to glory, honor, and riches, as the rightful heir to Yahweh’s throne. The phrase ‘he became poor’ coincides with  ‘he emptied himself’ in the Philippians hymn. He made a conscious choice to submit to the poverty of life into which God had him born, not trying to seize for himself his kingly rights and honors, even to the point of allowing men to put him to death. This he did for our sakes, that we might one day reign with him in glory. I repeat, nothing in this passage requires the interpretation that a pre-existent divine being descended  from heaven and became man; that is pure eisegesis. The man Jesus was indeed rich, in that he was, in reality, as the chosen one, the heir of all things {Heb. 1:2}. Yet he never entered into the actual possession and experience of all that belonged to him, in his short time upon this earth. This parallels Abraham’s journey, who, along with Isaac and Jacob, were heirs of God’s promise {Heb. 11:9}. Yet he and they “were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised, they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance.” {Heb. 11:13} So it still remains for Jesus the Messiah to rule over the kingdoms of this world.

Jesus has descended from heaven

  • 1 Cor. 15:47 – Here is another case of reading one’s a priori theological beliefs into Scripture. It is imagined by Trinitarians that Paul is saying that the first man Adam came from the earth, but the second man Jesus came from heaven. But do Trinitarians really believe that the man Jesus came from heaven? No, they believe the eternal Son or the Logos came down from heaven and assumed humanity from Mary. But Paul is talking about the Man from heaven. Paul is not referring to an incarnation but to the risen and glorified man, Jesus the Messiah, who became a life-giving spirit” by his resurrection from the dead. This man is from heaven. Now ‘from heaven’ does not need to be taken literally, although that would still be acceptable, since the man Jesus is now in heaven and will come again from heaven to give those who believe in him immortality. But ‘from heaven’ can be understood as in Matt. 21:24-25:

Jesus replied , ” … John’s baptism — where did it come from? Was it from heaven, or from men.”

Now nobody believes that John’s baptism was up in heaven and then came down to earth. From heaven here clearly means that it was according to God’s will and foreordained purpose. In the same way, Jesus’ being from heaven denotes that the immortality and incorruptibility he possesses as a result of resurrection, is according to the foreordained purpose of God. The comparison in vv. 47-49, is not between how Adam came into the world and how Jesus came into the world. The comparison is between the fallen Adam, who was corruptible and mortal, and the risen Messiah, who is incorruptible and immortal. Those who are of the earth, i.e. in Adam, are like Adam, mortal and corruptible; while those who are of heaven, i.e. redeemed in Messiah, shall be like the man from heaven, immortal and incorruptible. This is clearly the import of Paul’s words, as the context shows {see vv. 50 -57}.

Note also v.48, which speaks of those who will be made immortal as hoi epouranioi , meaning literally ‘the heavenly ones.’ The author of the paper summarily dismisses the significance of this, saying: “Contrast is not simply that Jesus is “heavenly” just as we are “heavenly.” So say you. It is not a comparison so much, but an association with Jesus. As he is ‘the heavenly one,’ in the same way we shall be ‘heavenly ones.’ This rules out that Paul is talking about some supposed deity in Jesus.

Jesus is Creator

  • 1 Cor. 8:6  –  For a thorough explanation of this verse see my May 2018 post The Lordship of Jesus the Messiah (Part 2).
  • Col. 1:16  –  At first glance, on a superficial reading, this verse does seem to say that Jesus was involved in the creation of all things. Of course, those who already view Jesus as God will be especially susceptible to seeing this verse as confirmation of that view.  But does the text actually say this? The context, of course, must guide us in the proper understanding of Paul’s statements regarding Messiah here. The authors of the TMU paper want us to note v. 15, where Messiah is called “the image of the invisible God,” as if this statement is also asserting Messiah’s deity. It should be obvious to any unbiased reader that an image of something is to be distinctly differentiated from the thing of which it is an image. An image of a thing cannot logically be the thing itself. A picture of my wife is not my wife. A sculpture of Abraham Lincoln is not the man himself. The fact that Paul calls Jesus the ‘image of God‘ should immediately rule out, in any unbiased mind, that the son of God is here being declared to be God. Only a mind already biased by an a priori commitment to orthodox dogma, could read this in such a way as to make it say that an image is itself the thing it images. Further proof that ‘image of God’ does not and cannot denote deity is the fact that Adam (and so all humanity) was created in God’s image {Gen.1:27}. This being  in the image of God was directly related to the concept of rulership {see Gen. 1: 26 & 28}. Man was to represent God in his rule over the rest of creation, but man is clearly a part of the creation. Paul reiterates this concept in 1 Cor. 11:7 :

A man should not cover his head, because he is the image and glory of God.

Here the man (in distinction from woman), specifically, is the image of God in the marriage relationship, in that he is the head {v.3} and bears the rule in the relationship.

Now surely, Paul does not have in mind a totally different concept of the ‘image of God’ in reference to Messiah. Jesus, the son of God, as the ideal man, bears the first place of rule and dominion in God’s creation. The next clause in v. 15, “the firstborn of all creation” is certainly meant by Paul as an elaboration of what it means that Messiah is “the image of the invisible God.” The word ‘firstborn’ here does not denote the first one in time, as JW’s suppose, making Jesus the first created being. The Greek word prototokos can also denote the status of the firstborn, i.e. priority and supremacy over the others in the family. When Paul says that Jesus is the firstborn of all creation he means that of all created beings Jesus has the highest place, the supremacy. If Paul had wished to express the idea that Messiah was supreme over creation because he is deity, then he would not have used the concept of the firstborn, which surely connotes being in the same category as that of which he is the firstborn. This clearly puts Jesus on the creature side of the Creator/ creature divide. The rest of the context (vv.16-19) is a further elaboration on Messiah’s supremacy within the created order. In fact, the whole passage is not about a supposed pre-existent son of God creating the universe, but rather of the glorious status of the risen and exalted man, Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah.

So whatever Paul means in v.16 has to fit into his previous assessment of the person of Messiah. Again, an unprejudiced reading of v.15 yields a picture of Jesus as an exalted man, not as God. So can Paul really be saying in the next breath that Jesus is the Creator of the universe? Such an understanding strains credulity. V.16 must be telling us something about Messiah’s rule and dominion within the created order, for that is the import of this whole passage. Beginning in v.13 Paul tells how we have been brought into the kingdom of the son, by God, the Father. The rest of the passage, at least through v. 18, is about the authority that has been given to the son to rule on his Father’s behalf. So let’s take a close look at v.16 with this understanding in mind.

First, let’s establish what is being created in this passage. Is Paul speaking about the original creation of the universe? No! But doesn’t he say all things were created in him?  Surely ‘all things’ refers to the entire creation, right? Not necessarily. Actually when Paul says ‘all things’ he does not always mean all things that exist. Sometimes he means the all things pertaining to what he is talking about, in a certain context, e.g. Rom. 8:32; 1 Cor. 2:15; 3:21; Eph. 1:10; 1:22; Phil. 3:8. A relevant passage that may throw light upon Paul’s use of ‘the all things’ (Gr. ta panta) is 2 Cor. 5:17-18:

Therefore, if anyone is in Messiah, a new creation. The old things have passed away, behold, new things have come to be (or have been established). And the all things (ta panta) are from God …

Here ta panta, the all things, is clearly in reference to the new creation in Messiah and not to the originally created material universe. This helps us to understand Col.1:16, which I believe is referring to the new creation in Messiah. Furthermore, Paul does not seem to be speaking of the original creation of the material universe, because he mentions nothing that can be seen in the original creation story in Genesis. Paul uses a literary device here known as inclusio. This involves a word or phrase that occurs at the beginning of a section, being repeated at the end of the section. Here the phrase ‘the all things were created’ occurs at the beginning and end of the sentence. What is sandwiched between the two statements is descriptive of the bracketing phrase.

For in him were created the all things in the heavens and the earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones, or governments, or rulers, or authorities. The all things have been created through him and for him.

The bracketed material tells us what Paul is speaking of, and limits ‘the all things in the heavens and the earth’ to the power structures which exist in both of these realms. This makes sense, since Paul is developing the idea of the “kingdom of His son” spoken of in v.13. In this kingdom, which shall be made manifest in the age to come, Jesus, the son of God, is the supreme ruler under God. He holds the highest position of authority and the place of greatest honor and supremacy. All else will be subservient to him. This is a restoration and expansion of the dominion and rule given to the first Adam.

In this present age, in which we live, there are existing power structures, both in the heavenlies {see Eph. 6:12}, the invisible realm, and upon the earth, the visible realm. At the present time all of these ruling powers, whether in the visible or invisible realm, are in opposition to God, as well as to one another. But in the age to come Messiah will subdue these hostile rulers and reclaim the power structures in both realms, bringing them all under his authority {see Eph. 1:10, 20-23; Col. 1:19-20; Is. 24:21-22}. In this way, through Messiah’s reign, God will reconcile all these power structures to himself. The new power structures, which are a part of the new creation in Messiah, will be occupied by the saints of the Most High, with Messiah Jesus as the Head {see Dan. 7:13-14,18,27; Col. 2:10}. This is the meaning of vv. 17-18:

He is before all things, and in him the all things have been made to stand together. And he is the head of the body, the assembly (of the saints of the Most High). This one is the beginning (of the new creation), the firstborn from among the dead, in order that he should come to have the first place in all things.

The word ‘before’ (Gr. pro), though it has the meaning of before in time, i.e. prior to, can also have the meaning of priority in rank. This is the evident meaning here, because if Paul intended to say that Messiah existed before all things he would have used the imperfect tense verb ‘was‘, rather than the present tense ‘is.’ Messiah is given priority over all the authority structures in the heavens and the earth, and in him they will all one day stand together as one harmonious whole, subjected to and bringing glory to God. He is the head of the ecclesia, the congregation of the holy ones, who shall rule with Messiah, in both realms. He is the beginning of the new creation, being the first to be raised immortal from the dead. This connects the new creation with the resurrection/transformation of the body, which fits one to rule in the age to come. The text explicitly says that he is the firstborn from the dead in order that he should come to have the preeminent place in all things. It is inconceivable that one who is eternal God would have to become a man, die, and be raised to life, in order to have the first place in all things.

Now I want to examine why it is that Paul speaks of this new creation, which in actual experience is still future, as something already done (were created). In the ancient Hebrew worldview it was not uncommon to speak of things predestined to be as if they already were. This way of speaking of things which were certain to be as being already accomplished, was learned from the Hebrew Scriptures, from God’s very own declarations of future realities as presently existing. No doubt Paul’s thinking and language were shaped by this phenomenon to the point where he could say of God:

” … the one … calling the things not existing as if existing.”  Rom. 4:17

Paul gives the premier example in Abraham, who was told by God, while still childless, “I have made you a father of many nations.” Because Abraham was predestined to be such, God could speak to him and of him in this way. This must have had a profound impact on Paul’s thinking for we see him speak this way a number of times in his letters. For example in Romans 8:29-30 Paul speaks of the predestined glory to which believers are called, in the past tense, i.e. glorified. No believer actually enters into the experience of this glory until Messiah comes in glory (1 John 3:2), but in the mind and plan of God it is accomplished already. Similarly, in Eph. 2:6 Paul says that God has raised us believers up with Messiah and has seated us with him in the heavenly realms. This speaks of the fact that we will be made immortal and rule with Messiah in the age to come, yet Paul speaks as if it is already a fact. Why? Because it is our destiny, predetermined by God – it has been written in the plan. Again, in 2 Tim. 1:9 Paul says that God’s “grace was given to us in Messiah Jesus before the ages of time.” Now nobody actually, literally and personally was given God’s grace before the ages of time, for no one of us existed then. Paul means that it was then determined for those in Messiah to be given this grace, i.e. it was written in the plan from before the ages of time. One more example is in 2 Cor. 5:17 where Paul says that if one is in Messiah he is a new creation. Now I know that this is one of those special verses for evangelical Christians, but the truth of the matter is that we do not actually, literally, and experientially become new creations until the Lord Jesus “will transform the body of our low condition, conformed to the body of his glory” {Phil. 3:21}. If Jesus’ being the beginning (v.18) refers to the new creation, as even the NIV Study Bible comment on this passage says, then Paul connects the new creation to the resurrection of the body. Yet Paul can speak as if it is a present reality because it is already written in the plan and is simply awaiting manifestation in the real world.

So in this same way, when Paul speaks of the all things, i.e. the authority structures in the heavens and in the earth, as having been created in Messiah, he means that it has already been written in the plan; Messiah has already been exalted and seated above all of these ordered systems of authority and is awaiting the time when he will actually and literally rule over them. We know that he is not now reigning over them because they are still in opposition to God.

V. 19 is inaccurately translated in most versions, as something like “all of his fullness” or “all the fullness of God.” But the Greek reads like this,For he (God) deemed it good, in him (Messiah) all the fullness to settle.The fullness of which Paul speaks here must be the sum of all authority and rule in both the heavens and the earth, which God has determined to have it’s residence permanently in Messiah. This entails the ecclesia, Messiah’s body, the saints of the Most High, filling all of the positions of rule in the authority structures of the two realms.

This interpretation of vv. 13-19 is confirmed by v.20 which reads:

” … and through him (Messiah) to reconcile the all things to himself … whether the things on the earth or the things in the heavens.”

Is God reconciling to himself mountains and trees and fishes and birds? No, he is reconciling mankind, who has been at enmity with him, and the authority structures of the created order, which have also been at enmity with him.

Jesus is sent by God — this means pre-existence

  • Rom. 8:3  – The author of this paper, as well as most Trinitarians, think that in this verse they have a proof text for the pre-existence of Messiah. But I want you to see how this conclusion is based on circular reasoning. There are two things in this verse that they think is proof that Jesus pre-existed: first, that the son was sent and second, that he was in the likeness of sinful flesh.

We are in the section of this paper under the heading Paul’s View of Jesus and the author has presented the two references, in Paul’s letters, to the son being sent. Now the author, along with all Trinitarians, take this to mean that the son was in heaven and God sent him from there to earth, to be incarnated in the womb of Mary. Does Paul really believe that? He only mentions the son being sent, twice, in all his letters, and in neither mention does he say that the son was sent from heaven to earth. So why would anyone assume that this is what Paul means? We know that Paul thinks Jesus is a man {see Acts 13:23; 17:31; Rom. 5:15; 1 Cor. 15:45-47; 1 Tim. 2:5}, so why should we assume that when Paul refers to Jesus being sent, that he means he pre-existed in heaven, and was sent from there to earth? Again, Paul never says that. The only reason anyone would take Paul in that way is because they already believe that Jesus is God, and being God he pre-existed in heaven; so when Paul says he was sent, he must mean he was sent from heaven. This is why I say that this is a circular argument; it is based on the presupposition that Jesus is God. Without that presupposition there is no reason to think Paul means that Jesus was pre-existing in heaven and was sent from there to earth. So these two passages in Paul are not a proof of Jesus’ pre-existence, unless you already believe he pre-existed as God. So what could Paul have meant when he said that Jesus was sent by God? In Jewish parlance this simply means that Jesus was given a commission by God to carry out a certain task. While the word sent can certainly mean that one is sent from one place to another place, the literal meaning, it does not necessarily mean that. This is the language of agency — where one is commissioned by another to perform some task. The one commissioned could be spoken of as being sent even if he does not travel from one place to another. Take the prophet Isaiah for example, he was commissioned by God in ch. 6 of the book that bears his name:

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”  And I said, “Here am I, send me.” And he said , “Go and tell this people … ” vv.8-9

But Isaiah lived in Jerusalem and preached to the people in Jerusalem, so he wasn’t literally sent anywhere, but he was commissioned to be a prophet to the people of Jerusalem. Sometimes the idea of being sent denotes not so much a change of location, but of occupation. We are not told what Isaiah’s occupation was before God commissioned him to prophesy, but whatever it was he most certainly gave it up to become a prophet {see also Amos 7:14-15}.

John the Baptizer was sent from God {John 1:6}, but he didn’t really go anywhere. He lived with his parents in Judea, presumably until their deaths, and then, according to Luke 1:80, he lived in the desert until he appeared publicly as a prophet. When he did begin his ministry it was in the desert of Judea, according to Matt. 3:1. So he wasn’t sent from one location to another, but he was commissioned to preach and baptize.

It seems to me that the whole flavor of Paul’s statement in 8:3 is pertaining to the son’s sacrificial death. The words “for sin” are understood by many scholars as a Hebraism meaning  “as a sin offering.” So the sending of the son is in connection with his death on the cross and not to a supposed incarnation. Jesus, the son of God, was commissioned by the Father to offer himself as a sacrifice for sin.

Now in the paper it is stated that the phrase “in the likeness of sinful flesh” is Paul’s way of saying that “Jesus the Son took on a condition he had not previously possessed.” But the opposite is actually true. Clearly, “in the likeness of sinful flesh” is denoting the condition in which the son was when sent. Paul does not say, “God sending his own son to be made in (or to take on) the likeness of sinful flesh.” So the assertion of the author just does not prove true. So what does Paul mean by “in the likeness of sinful flesh?” The word ‘flesh’ is probably being used as a metonymy for man. Paul uses the word this way sometimes, e.g. Rom. 3:20; 1 Cor. 1:29; Gal. 2:16. The NIV takes it this way, translating, “in the likeness of sinful man.” The word ‘likeness’ could refer to Jesus being a representation of sinful man, yet without being sinful himself. This may be a parallel passage to 2 Cor. 5:21:

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us.

Here, again, scholars see the phrase “to be sin” as a Hebraism meaning “to be a sin offering. So the point of “in the likeness of sinful flesh (man)” is not to convey the idea that Jesus took on a condition which he previously did not possess, but to say that though sinless, he was a representation of sinful man and a sin offering when he died on the cross. And this was the task to which he was commissioned by God.

  • Gal. 4:4  –  You may read my comments on this passage in the January 2018 post Son of God (Part 4); what I said there I will not repeat here, so please read that first. What I said above concerning the son being sent applies here as well. The author of the paper sees a parallel meaning in the son being sent in v. 4, with the Spirit being sent in v. 6. The conclusion is that if  the Spirit was sent and he pre-existed then this means that the son also pre-existed before being sent. Well, all I can say to that is, that there are a whole lot of presuppositions that had to be read into the text to arrive at that conclusion. Notice that the author presupposes one aspect of the Trinity, namely the personal divinity of the Spirit, and then uses that presupposition as a basis for interpreting the passage in such a way that supposedly proves another aspect of the Trinity, namely the personal  divinity and pre-existence of the son. This is not exegesis but eisegesis.

In answer to this, I will first point out that it is not even clear that “spirit of his son” is referring to the Holy Spirit. I would ask Trinitarians a question – from your perspective, exactly who is the Holy Spirit? Is he a divine personage distinct from the Father and the Son, or is he the Spirit of the Son {see Rom. 8:9}, or is he the Spirit of the Father {see Matt. 10:20 compared to Lk.12:12; Rom. 8:11}. This seems like a difficult thing to grasp and I have never heard an explanation that clears it up.

Every time the word ‘spirit‘ appears in Scripture it is not necessarily referring to the Holy Spirit. We should not be fooled by the capital S, for that was not in the original but was added at the discretion of the translators. Scripture, and especially the apostle Paul, sometimes uses spirit to denote a dominating frame of mind which motivates or compels one to act or live a certain way. Here are some examples: Num. 5:14,30; 14:24; Lk.1:17; Rom. 8:15; 11:8; 1 Cor. 4:21; 2 Cor. 4:13; Eph. 4:23; Phil. 1:27; 2 Tim. 1:7; 1 Pet. 3:4. I believe that this is what Paul means in Gal.4:6 – God has given believers in Messiah the spirit of his son, i.e. the same dominating frame of mind as was in his son Jesus of Nazareth. And what is that frame of mind? The realization of sonship. The Lord Jesus, throughout his life, was motivated and compelled to live and act by the overarching realization of his personal sonship in relation to God. The constant reference to God as his Father shows this to be evident. Even from an early age we find him keenly cognizant of his sonship {Lk. 2:49}. The average Jew of Paul’s day did not have this awareness of personal sonship, but only of corporate sonship, i.e. Israel was God’s son. But the Jewish believer in Jesus the Messiah, as well as the Gentile believer, was given this awareness of personal sonship, what Paul here calls “the spirit of his son.”

The validity of this interpretation is found first in the fact that Paul says that God sent forth this spirit “into our hearts.” In Hebrew thought the heart is a way of putting in concrete terms an abstract concept. It denotes that which is interior as opposed to that which is exterior. It envelops the abstract concepts of the will, mind, intentions, motivations, affections, commitments, loyalties, etc. This can be seen in many passages, such as Prov.4:23; 13:12; Ps. 17:3; 24:4; 26:2; Rom. 2:29; 5:5; 10:9-10; 1 Pet. 3:15. The idea of God putting in our hearts a certain disposition or frame of mind works much better than God putting in our hearts a personal, divine entity. Second, it is this spirit which is said to be crying out “Abba, Father.” But surely Paul’s meaning is that we, as believers, are crying out under the dominating influence of this new frame of mind of personal sonship. This is extremely pertinent to the Jew, who, under the law, lacked this awareness. This becomes even clearer in the parallel passage in Rom. 8:15-17, where Paul pits the “spirit of bondage … to fear,” against the “spirit of adoption (sonship).”  In this context, ‘spirit’, as a frame of mind, fits better than ‘spirit’ as a personal being. Paul is speaking primarily of the Jew, who, under the law, was under the dominating frame of mind of fear, but who now, through faith in Jesus, has been given a new frame of mind that motivates him to live and act as Jesus did, i.e. the spirit of sonship {Rom. 7:6}. He then says of this spirit of sonship, ” … by which (Gr. neuter pronoun, not ‘by whom’) we cry out “Abba, Father.’ ” So it is better to understand Gal. 4:6 as saying that we, under the dominating influence of the spirit of sonship are crying out ‘Abba, Father,’ rather than that the Holy Spirit of God is crying out ‘Abba Father.’

This interpretation of the passage makes moot the first point made in the paper, since the ‘spirit’ which God has sent forth into our hearts is not a personal, divine, pre-existent entity, but simply a new dominating frame of mind. The second point is nullified also, on the same basis. Especially relevant to this is Luke 1:17 where we are told that John, the son of Zechariah, would perform his ministry “in the spirit … of Elijah.” Surely no Trinitarian would imagine that Elijah was more than human, yet the same spirit under which he ministered was also the dominating frame of mind under which John ministered.

One further note on Gal. 4:4. Trinitarians read the verse as if Paul said, “God sent his Son to be born of a woman … ” If that is what Paul meant to say he would have used the aorist infinitive form of the verb, rather than the aorist participle, which is better translated, “God sent his son, having been born of a woman …” Again, as we have seen throughout this paper, theological presuppositions (the belief in the doctrines of the Trinity and deity of Messiah) are the basis for interpreting the passages presented as ‘proof texts’ for the deity of Messiah. This circular argumentation in itself takes the ‘proof’ out of these texts.

Jesus Was Active in Israel’s History

  • 1 Cor. 10:4  –  Here we are supposed to believe that Jesus was with Israel in the desert when they came out of Egypt. The text says, ” … for they drank from the  spiritual rock, and that rock was Messiah.” What could Paul possibly mean by this? Well, the author of the paper admits it is “difficult to say.” But that does not stop him/her from assuring us that “the Israelites had Jesus the Messiah accompanying them in the desert.” This statement is astounding. Do Trinitarians really believe that Jesus the Messiah, the descendant of David, the one born of Mary, the man Jesus from Nazareth, was actually with the Israelites in the desert. I would have thought they might say that the pre-incarnate, eternal Son or God the Son, was with the Israelites, but that Jesus the Messiah was with them seems to be going to far.

Paul seems to be referring to the two incidents in Israel’s desert wanderings, where God supplied water to the community from a rock, once at the beginning and again toward the end of their wandering. Does Paul mean for us to believe that it was the same rock on both occasions, that the rock was actually following them around as they wandered? And does Paul further mean for us to believe that the rock was actually and literally, the Messiah? Although it may be “difficult to say” exactly what Paul means, I think we can rule out this ridiculous notion as unworthy of the apostle Paul. I think the simplest solution is to understand Paul as saying that the rock was meant to be a type of Messiah for us. As the Israelites received life-giving sustenance from the rock, so we receive life-giving sustenance from Messiah. This interpretation is bolstered by v.2 where Paul seems to see the Israelite’s passing through the Red Sea as a type of baptism, which believers in Messiah participate in. Further confirmation of this interpretation is found in v. 11:

These things happened to them as types (Gr. typikos), and were written for our admonition, on whom the ends of the ages has come.

The common objection to this interpretation is that if Paul had meant this he would have said, “the rock is Messiah” rather than “the rock was Messiah.” But I really do not think that is enough to overturn this interpretation, and to leave us with the alternative, which is just not feasible.

  • 1 Cor. 10:9  –  Here it appears as if the Israelites are said to have tested Messiah in the wilderness, and therefore Messiah must have been at work among them. I am quite surprised that under a section titled Jesus Was Active in Israel’s History the only ‘proof texts’ offered  are these two in 1 Cor., seeing how they are rather weak in proving what they are purported to prove. What the paper fails to make mention of is the fact that v.9 has variant readings in the Greek manuscripts, some reading Christ, some Lord, and one reading God. Some English versions follow the manuscripts that read Lord, e.g. the NIV, ASV, ISV and the NASB. Other’s follow the manuscripts which read Christ, e.g. the ESV, KJV, CSB, and the NET. If the original reading was ‘Lord,’ then this would simply be referring to God, as even Meyer agrees. Paul often uses ‘Lord‘ of Yahweh when quoting or referring to OT texts. If the original reading was ‘Christ,’ then the meaning is simply this – that we, professing Christians, should not put Messiah to the test in the same manner as the Israelites put God to the test. To read more than this into this text is to again assume what one is trying to prove. Why would anyone think that Paul is saying that a man who was born and lived in the first century C.E., was alive and active 1500 yrs. earlier, unless you are already convinced that man pre-existed.

Paul calls Jesus God

  • Rom.9:5  –  I have given an explanation of this verse in Part 3 of this series, so please read that if you haven’t already. I do want to address the author’s comments, which he presents after giving an alternate translation (kudos for that) which makes God, rather than Messiah, the object of the doxology. The author says, “Seems out of place to have ‘God blessed forever’ suddenly.” But does it really seem out of place for a Jew, after enumerating the special privileges and blessings bestowed upon Israel by God, culminating with the fact that Messiah has come through them, to suddenly burst forth in praise to God? Rather, this is just what one would expect from a devout Jew. The author then admits that “Paul doesn’t usually refer to Christ as God” (again kudos for that), but then states with absolute assurance that Paul “includes Jesus in the divine identity.” This refers to Richard Bauckham’s theory of the Christ being included in the identity of Yahweh. But this is just a man’s theory of how to explain the way in which Christ is presented in the NT, and he is approaching the subject with an a priori belief in the Trinity. This is hardly proof to such a degree that we can just talk about Paul including Jesus in the divine identity as a matter- of- fact. The verses given in the paper are easily explained as Yahweh working in and through His chief agent, Messiah, and/or Messiah acting on behalf of Yahweh as His chief agent.

Summary

None of the summary points have been proven by the supposed ‘proof texts’ offered. In every case, the interpretation of these texts is just assumed to coincide with orthodox dogma. The belief in the dogma has preceded the exegesis of the texts and is simply read into them. I have offered plausible, reasonable, and scriptural objections, as well as alternative interpretations, to the accepted orthodox interpretations. If you wish to push back on how I have interpreted these passages, please feel free to leave comments or contact me by email. I will be more than happy to interact with you. Shalom to all who love our Lord Jesus Messiah.

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Author: Troy Salinger

I am 55 yrs. old. I live with my wife of 32 yrs. in Picayune MS. I have been a believer in the Lord Jesus since August of 1981. I have no formal theological education, but have been an ardent student of Scripture for 36 yrs. I am a biblical Unitarian i.e. I believe the Father is the only true God (John 17:3) and Jesus is His human Son, the Messiah.

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