dianoigo blog
Showing posts with label Shema. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Shema. Show all posts

Sunday 26 April 2015

The Meaning of the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4)

What follows is a slightly expanded version of an assignment submitted as part of my theological studies.

Consisting of only six words in Hebrew (שְׁמַע יִשְׂרֵָאֵל יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ יְהוָה אֶחָֽד   ), this text is known as the Shema due to the transliteration of the first word (properly šemaʻ). Despite its brevity and syntactical simplicity, consensus as to its meaning has eluded modern biblical scholars. Our purpose here is to survey the various options, highlight their strengths and weaknesses, and draw a conclusion as to the most likely sense.

Block (2004) lists five possible renderings of the Shema.
(1) Hear, O Israel:[1] Yahweh our God, Yahweh is one
(2) Hear, O Israel: Yahweh our God is one Yahweh
(3) Hear, O Israel: Yahweh is our God; Yahweh is one
(4) Hear, O Israel: Yahweh is our God; Yahweh is One/Unique
(5) Hear, O Israel: Yahweh is our God; Yahweh alone (p. 196)

Bord & Hamidović (2002), McConville (2003) and Fuhrmann (2010) give the same list except that they do not distinguish (4) from (3). Bord & Hamidović offer a sixth rendering (which they view favourably) under which Yahweh is the direct object of שְׁמַע:
(6) Hear, O Israel, Yahweh our God: Yahweh is unique! (p. 28).

Proponents of the first translation include MacDonald (2001), McConville (2002) and Kraut (2011), though the latter adds a nuance to be discussed below. In support of this view, as well as (2) and (6), אֱלֹהִים elsewhere occurs only in apposition to יְהוָה in Deuteronomy (312 times!) and never as a predicate. The main difficulty for (1) is that “the second YHWH appears to be superfluous” (MacDonald, 2001, p. 86).

The main weakness with rendering (2) is that it appears tautologous to say that Yahweh is one Yahweh. Ancient Israelite inscriptions have been found associating Yahweh with particular locales, e.g. ‘Yahweh of Teman’ (Block, 2004; Tigay, 1996) which raise the possibility that the Shema is opposing poly-Yahwism, that is, belief in multiple Yahwehs. However, as Kraut (2011) observes, “if this proposal were to represent the actual intent of Deut 6:4, it would be the only instance in the Bible in which this danger is addressed” (p. 587). 

Views (3) and (4) (which are grammatically equivalent) are defended by Janzen (1987) and Gordon (1970) respectively, although both of these writers are more interested in the meaning of אֶחָֽד. On this reading, “it is unclear why it would be necessary to make the declaration ‘YHWH is our God’” (Macdonald, 2001, pp. 85-86). Moreover, these renderings, along with (5), require interpreting יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ as a subject-predicate combination. As noted earlier, such usage occurs nowhere else in Deuteronomy and, according to Kraut (2011), “no earlier than the Book of Chronicles” (p. 586).

The main strength of view (5) is its close correspondence to the broader context of Deuteronomy, in which exclusive devotion to Yahweh is a primary concern (Block, 2004; Christensen, 2001; Tigay, 1996; cf. Deut. 6:14-15). However, this rendering faces several philological difficulties. Firstly, there is the subject-predicate issue referred to above. Secondly, Hebrew normally expresses ‘alone’ with לְבָד, not אֶחָֽד (Tigay, 1996). Block (2004) addresses this by pointing out that, as an adverb, לְבָד is inappropriate in a nominal statement. However, Bruno (2009) identifies two nominal statements in the Old Testament in which לְבָד does occur (2 Kgs. 19:15; Isa. 37:16). Thirdly, ancient exegesis runs counter to this interpretation. The LXX rendering, which is also adopted in Mark 12:29, explicitly includes a verb (ἐστιν) in the second clause. It is thus consistent with the first four renderings but not (5). The Nash Papyri (second century B.C.E.) adds הוּא after אֶחָֽד, which similarly makes the verbal connotation of the second clause unmistakable (Biddle, 2003; Block, 2004). Furthermore, some Samaritan inscriptions from the Christian era add לְבָד after אֶחָֽד, suggesting that these writers did not take אֶחָֽד adverbally (MacDonald, 2001).

View (6) is very improbable in view of the fact that “Nowhere else in the bible is anyone enjoined to listen… to YHWH with ‘YHWH’ appearing as the direct object of the verb” (Kraut, 2011, p. 590). Deuteronomy prefers to refer to hearing the voice (4:30; 5:24-26; etc.), the words (4:10; 18:19; etc.), or the commandments (11:27) of Yahweh. Moreover, in all the other occurrences of שְׁמַע יִשְׂרֵָאֵל in Deuteronomy, it is followed by the content of the proclamation without any direct object (5:1; 9:1; 20:3; 27:9). Finally, the LXX translators clearly did not interpret the Shema according to (6) since the first κύριος is nominative and not accusative.

To summarize, the best rendering on philological grounds is (1). The main difficulty of this rendering is the apparent superfluity of the second Tetragrammaton; however, Kraut (2011) has offered a plausible solution on this point. He proposes that “the verse represents an assertion garbed in poetic syntax – namely, in the AB//AC pattern commonly referred to as ‘staircase parallelism’” (p. 591). When staircase parallelism is present, the sense can be reduced to prose as ABC. Hence, while a literal translation would follow (1), the meaning is simply, “Yahweh our God is one” (p. 592). He offers Exod. 15:6 and Hos. 12:5 as other instances of staircase parallelism with ‘Yahweh’ as the repeating item. He notes that while classic cases of staircase parallelism occur in “unquestionably poetic contexts” (p. 594), there are other examples in biblical prose (e.g. Judg. 19:23).

Our conclusion, then, is that rendering (1) is the best literal translation of the Hebrew, but the sense is simply, “Yahweh our God is one.”

We now turn to the question of the meaning of אֶחָֽד. Again, a number of possibilities exist. Perhaps surprisingly, in light of the almost creedal use of this text in later Judaism (Biddle, 2003; Foster, 2003), most scholars do not regard the Shema as a direct statement of monotheism. MacDonald (2001) concludes that it expresses Yahweh’s uniqueness for Israel, which is actually close to the sense of rendering (5). Bord & Hamidović (2002) take uniqueness (more broadly) as the meaning, appealing to the echo of the Shema in Zech. 14:9. Janzen (1987) argues that it refers to the “integrity or moral unity” of Yahweh’s character (p. 291). Gordon (1970) takes the surprising view that אֶחָֽד functions as a personal name here, but offers little supporting evidence.

Numerous scholars think the oneness of the Shema is multivalent (Biddle, 2003; Craigie, 1976; Fuhrmann, 2010; McConville, 2002; Willoughby, 1977). Craigie interprets אֶחָֽד in terms of uniqueness and unity. McConville sees the Shema as expressing both the indivisibility and integrity of Yahweh. Willoughby regards it primarily as an oath of allegiance to Yahweh alone but also an implicit declaration of monotheism. Biddle and Fuhrmann both allow for intentional ambiguity by which Yahweh’s unity, uniqueness and exclusive claim to Israel’s worship are in view. Since these are all major concerns in Deuteronomy, it is best to allow for a multiplicity of meanings. Block (2004) states, “The question addressed here by Moses is not, ‘How many is Yahweh?’ or ‘What is Yahweh like?’ but ‘Whom will the Israelites worship?’” (p. 208). In fact, the beauty of the Shema is that in just four words it answers all three of these questions.

In closing, a brief comment is in order on the implications of this text for the Trinitarian debate. Scholars rightly observe that it would be anachronistic to import the theological concerns of a later age back into this passage (Block, 2004; Janzen, 1987). From a grammatical-historical point of view, the Shema does not address philosophical issues around Yahweh’s essential nature (Brown, 2000). The Shema neither affirms nor denies the notion that Yahweh is a compound unity (as in the sense of אֶחָֽד in Gen. 2:24). The Shema itself is consistent with Trinitarian and Unitarian views of God, both of which uphold Yahweh’s uniqueness in relation to all other reality, exclusive claim to worship, and unity of character. Only in certain Christological allusions to the Shema in the New Testament (Mark 2:7f and especially 1 Cor. 8:6) does the internal complexity of Yahweh’s unity become apparent (Bauckham, 2008; Kim, 2008).


Bauckham, R. (2008). Paul’s Christology of Divine Identity. In Jesus and the God
of Israel: God Crucified and Other Studies on the New Testament’s
Christology of Divine Identity (pp. 182-232). Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
Biddle, M.E. (2003). Deuteronomy. Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary. Macon:
Smyth & Helwys.
Block, D.I. (2004). How many is God? An investigation into the meaning of
Deuteronomy 6:4-5. Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, 47(2),
Bord, L.-J. & Hamidović, D. (2002). Écoute Israël (Deut. VI 4). Vetus
Testamentum, 52(1), 13-29.
Brown, M.L. (2000). Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus (Vol. 2). Grand
Rapids: Baker Books.
Bruno, C.R. (2009). A Note Pertaining to the Translation of Deut 6:4. Vetus
Testamentum, 59(2), 320-322.
Christensen, D.L. (2001). Deuteronomy 1-21:9 (Vol. 6A). Grand Rapids:
Christensen, D.L. (2002). Deuteronomy 21:10-34:12 (Vol. 6B). Mexico City:
Thomas Nelson.
Craigie, P.C. (1976). The Book of Deuteronomy. The New International
Commentary on the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
Foster, P. (2003). Why did Matthew get the Shema wrong? A study of Matthew
23:37. Journal of Biblical Literature, 122(2), 309-333.
Fuhrmann, J.M. (2010). Deuteronomy 6-8 and the History of Interpretation: An
Exposition on the First Two Commandments. Journal of the Evangelical
Theological Society, 53(1), 37-62.
Gordon, C.H. (1970). His Name is ‘One’. Journal of Near Eastern Studies, 29(3),
Janzen, J.G. (1987). On the most important word in the Shema (Deuteronomy VI
4-5). Vetus Testamentum, 37(3), 280-300.
Kim, H.T. (2008). The Shema and Early Christianity. Tyndale Bulletin, 59(2),
Kraut, J. (2011). Deciphering the Shema: Staircase Parallelism and the Syntax of
Deuteronomy 6:4. Vetus Testamentum, 61(4), 582-602.
Longman III, T. (2007). The Messiah: Explorations in the Law and the Writings.
In S.E. Porter (Ed.), The Messiah in the Old and New Testaments (pp. 13-
34). Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
MacDonald, N. (2001). One God or one Lord? Deuteronomy and the meaning of
'monotheism' (Ph.D dissertation). Durham University.
McConville, J.G. (2002). Deuteronomy. Apollos Old Testament Commentary.
Downers Grove: IVP Academic.
Sherwood, S.K. (2002). Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. Berit Olam: Studies
in Hebrew Narrative & Poetry. Collegeville: The Liturgical Press.
Tigay, J.H. (1996). Deuteronomy. The JPS Torah Commentary. Philadelphia: The
Jewish Publication Society.
Willoughby, B.E. (1977). A Heartfelt Love: An Exegesis of Deuteronomy 6:4-19.
Restoration Quarterly, 20, 73-87.

[1] Block’s commas have been changed to colons here to highlight the distinctiveness of translation (6).

Thursday 18 December 2014

The Phanerosis doctrine of Dr. John Thomas: a short critique

One of the last writings of Dr. John Thomas, founder of the Christadelphians, was a booklet called Phanerosis. Published in 1869, two years before his death, it represented a mature expression of his theology, and in the typical style of the day, a lengthy subtitle declared it to be
An Exposition of the Doctrine of the Old and New testaments, concerning the Manifestation of the Invisible Eternal God in Human Nature, being alike subversive of Jewish Rabbinical Tradition, and the Theology of Romish and Protestant Sectarianism.
Now, the title of the work is a Greek word which occurs in the New Testament. The noun φανέρωσις (phanerōsis) occurs twice and the verb φανερόω (phaneroō) occurs 49 times.1

Why did Dr. Thomas choose to title his work with a Greek word rather than an English word (a tactic also used in his other works such as Elpis Israel and Anastasis)? As he noted in the preface,
This is a Greek word in an English dress, and may be found in the lexicons in this form, φανέρωσις; and occurring in the phrase ή φανερωσις της αληθειας, 'the manifestation of the truth.'2
This does not reveal the rationale for the title. However, it should probably be understood as a claim that this word, as used in Scripture, constitutes a technical term for the theological concept of God-manifestation as he understood it. As will be seen below, Dr. Thomas coined the adjective 'phanerosial' to describe his doctrine.

What does the Christadelphian doctrine of God manifestation entail? It is best to explain it in Dr. Thomas' own words using excerpts from Phanerosis:
We affirm, then, that the Mosaic and prophetic revelation concerning Deity is that there is One Power, multitudinously manifested; and that these manifestations constitute ‘GOD.’... Our proposition then, is, that Moses and the Prophets teach, that there were One Primary Creating Power and a multitude of Secondary Powers, as intimately connected with and dependent on the First, as ten or a hundred are upon number one; and that this multiplication of the One Power in the relation of Father, Sons, and Holy Spirit, was in existence before the Mosaic Creation. 3
As we have seen, Moses and the prophets teach ONE self-existent, supreme fountain of Power, AIL, who is Spirit, and self-named I SHALL BE, of Yahweh: that this ONE YAHWEH-SPIRIT POWER is ‘God’ in the highest sense and constitutes the ‘Godhead,’ or FATHER IN HEAVEN; that He is the Springhead of many streams, or rivers of spirit, which assume ORGANIC FORMS, according to the will of the Yahweh-Spirit Power, and that when formed after the model, archetype, or pattern, presented in HIS OWN HYPOSTASIS, or Substance, they become SPIRIT-ELOHIM, or sons of God; and are Spirit, because ‘born of the Spirit’ – Emanations of the formative Spirit being ex autou out of him. The Spirit-Elohim was also ‘God;’ nevertheless they are created. They are formed and made out of and by that which is uncreated. They are Spirit-Forms, the substance of which (spirit) is eternal; while the forms are from a beginning. Each one is a God in the sense of partaking of THE DIVINE NATURE, and being therefore a Son of God.4
Paul and Moses agree in this, as we have shown before, saying, ‘There be that are called Gods, whether in heaven or in earth, as there be Gods many and Lords many.’ There is consequently no room for dispute on this point. Paul affirms the plurality of Gods, and Moses shows that they existed before the creation of man.5
There are not three Gods in the Godhead, nor are there but three in manifestation; nevertheless, the Father is God, and Jesus is God; and we may add, so are all the brethren of Jesus gods; and ‘a multitude which no man can number.’ The Godhead is the homogeneous fountain of the Deity; these other gods are the many streams from which this fountain flow. The springhead of Deity is one, not many; the streams as numerous as the orbs of the universe, in which a manifestation of Deity may have hitherto occurred.6
Strictly speaking, based on the way he uses the word 'Gods', Dr. Thomas' doctrine is open to the charge of polytheism, which is defined as "belief in many gods". Although this is mitigated by the affirmation that there is only one supreme, self-existent fountain of Power, this too is consistent with polytheism in which "The numerous gods may be dominated by a supreme god."7

Moreover, based on the way he uses the word 'God', Dr. Thomas' doctrine is open to the charge of something akin to pantheism, inasmuch as 'God' seems to be understood in less than personal terms, analogous to a kind of energy or matter.

It is beyond the scope of this short blog post to examine in detail Dr. Thomas' biblical arguments for his position. However it will be worthwhile to look briefly at two lines of argument; one from the Old Testament, and one from the New.

The shema‘ (Deuteronomy 6:4) has long been considered the bedrock of Jewish monotheism. However, according to Dr. Thomas, the main idea conveyed by this passage is not simple monotheism but multitudinous God-manifestation. He states that "in plain English", the proclamation translates as, "Hear, O Israel! I WILL BE our MIGHTIES is One I will be!"8 This English strikes the reader as anything but plain. Beyond the stylistic concerns, however, this translation is at odds with nearly all interpretations of this passage in history, both Jewish and Christian, as is Dr. Thomas' claim that "The Shema proclaims a plurality of Elohim".9

In line with this interpretation, Dr. Thomas notes that there are 2470 [sic] occurrences of the plural 'elohim in the Old Testament. He refers to the work of the grammarian Gesenius who explained the great majority of these plural instances metaphorically to express the majesty or excellency of God. Disagreeing that this pecularity of grammar is to be explained stylistically, Dr. Thomas asserts that "The peculiarity is, to coin a word, phanerosial and doctrinal".10

This assertion was out of line with expert scholarship then, as it is now. Ringgren writes:
The form 'elohim occurs 2570 times in all, with both the plural ('gods') and the singular ('a god,' 'God') meaning. As a rule, verbs and adjectives used with 'elohim are either singular or plural in conformity with the meaning; there are only rare exceptions. Why the plural form for 'God' is used has not yet been explained satisfactorily. Perhaps the plural also or even originally designated not a plurality, but an intensification; then 'elohim would mean the 'great,' 'highest,' and finally 'only' God, i.e., God in general.11
That the plural use of 'elohim is intended to convey the doctrine of God-manifestation, in the shema‘ and in many other passages, can be definitely ruled out. In the first place, if the meaning of 'elohim is truly plural in order to convey the notion of God-manifestation, then how is one to explain the use of the plural 'elohim for singular false gods? In 2 Kings 1:2, Baal-Zebub is the god ('elohim) of Ekron. In 1 Kings 11:33 Ashtoreth is the goddess ('elohim) of the Sidonians, Chemosh is the god ('elohim) of the Moabites, and Molek is the god ('elohim) of the Ammonites (1 Kings 11:33). In 1 Samuel 28:13, the witch of Endor uses the word 'elohim to describe the singular figure she sees coming up out of the earth. It is inconceivable that in any of these cases the plural form conveys the doctrine of God-manifestation; thus the plural of 'elohim must be explained in another way, along the lines of Ringgren above.

Furthermore, if 'elohim truly carries a plural and doctrinally significant sense when used of Yahweh in Old Testament passages, why is 'elohim invariably translated into Greek with the singular θεός (theos) rather than the plural θεοί (theoi) when these passages are quoted in the New Testament? This includes the quotation of the shema‘ by Jesus in Mark 12:29. Jesus evidently knew nothing of a multitudinous interpretation of this proclamation. (Remarkably, Dr. Thomas discusses this text in Phanerosis, but seems to have missed the significance of the singular θεός. He states that "not content with one Eternal Spirit named Yahweh, the rejector of Jesus contends for only one eloahh").12

With the principal Old Testament argument for his doctrine of God-manifestation seen to be flawed, let us turn to the New Testament. It is evident that one verse (1 Timothy 3:16) does much of the heavy lifting in the New Testament argument for Dr. Thomas' doctrine of God-manifestation. This verse is the only place in Scripture which explicitly says something approaching the subtitle of Phanerosis, namely, "the Manifestation of the Invisible Eternal God in Human Nature", inasmuch as it appears to use the verb phaneroō with God as its subject and 'flesh' as its object.
Dr. Thomas stresses the importance of this text as follows:
This mystery, which, as we see, was the burden of the apostolic preaching, was a great enigma – an enigma, dramatically, as well as doctrinally, explained. ‘Without controversy,’ says Paul, ‘great is the mystery of godliness – DEITY MANIFESTED IN FLESH, justified by spirit, made visible to messengers, preached among nations, believed on in the world, received again to glory.’ (1 Tim. iii. 16). It would be premature to go into the consideration of these six points of godliness. It is sufficient just now to bear in mind that they exist, and constitute integral parts of God-Manifestation as far as at present developed.13
A major problem with using this as a proof text for Dr. Thomas' doctrine of God-manifestation is that, in the opinion of most New Testament textual scholars, the correct reading of 1 Timothy 3:16b is not, "God (or Deity) was manifested in the flesh" (KJV), but "He was manifested in the flesh" or "He who was manifested in the flesh". The earliest and best manuscripts support the reading ὅς or ὅ rather than θεός. As Metzger explains,
no uncial (in the first hand) earlier than the eighth or ninth century supports theos; all ancient versions presuppose hos or ho; and no patristic writer prior to the last third of the fourth century testifies to the reading theos. The reading theos arose either (a) accidentally, through the misreading of ΟΣ as ΘΣ, or (b) deliberately, either to supply a substantive for the following six verbs, or, with less probability, to provide greater dogmatic precision.14
Nearly all modern translations follow the reading "He" or "He who" (NIV, NASB, NRSV, NET, ESV, etc.) Since the rest of the verse clearly refers to the life of Jesus Christ, it is best to take 'Jesus Christ' as the referent of the pronoun.

What this means, in short, is that 1 Timothy 3:16, the primary proof text for Dr. Thomas' doctrine of Phanerosis, actually says nothing about God being manifested in the flesh; it instead states that Christ was manifested in flesh. This is a statement of considerable Christological significance. As Lau explains,
the subject of the construction is clearly not God or any of his qualities or attributes, but Jesus Christ, who was revealed/appeared ἐν σαρκί, in a human body. Seen in the language of revelation this dative construction contains a profound christological implication... while ἐφανερώθη ἐν σαρκί is not a categorical assertion of Christ's pre-existence and his incarnational ministry and does not explicitly tell us of the mystery's hiddenness and subsequent revelation, the language and thought of line 1 echo that used elsewhere in the NT to depict how the Son of God had entered history, incarnated at a particular moment in time (cf. 'came into the world' - 1 Tim. 1.15; cf. 2.5-6); ἐφανερώθη ἐν σαρκί indeed can be understood in terms of the revelation and the execution of God's salvation-plan in the historical (incarnate) appearing of Christ on earth.15
Interestingly, if we look at the other uses of the verb phaneroō in the New Testament, we find that Christ (or an attribute of Christ) is the referent in the majority of cases: Mark 16:12, 1416; John 1:31; 2:11; 7:4; 21:1; 21:14; 2 Corinthians 4:10-11; Colossians 3:4; Hebrews 9:26; 1 Peter 1:20; 5:4; 1 John 2:28; 3:2, 5, 8. For instance, 1 John 3:8 tells us that "the Son of God appeared" (or was manifested).

Besides these, in one passage Jesus is said to manifest God's Name (John 17:6). In two other passages, God's attributes (but not God Himself) are said to be manifested through believers (2 Corinthians 2:14; 1 John 4:9). The noun phanerōsis is used both of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:7) and the truth (2 Corinthians 4:2). While the idea of God revealing Himself to the world, particularly through Christ, is of course present throughout the New Testament, the idea of Deity as "One Power, multitudinously manifested" is nowhere stated.

Phanerosis was a poor choice of title, since the various forms of this word are never used in Scripture to describe the doctrinal concept proposed in this booklet. We might excuse Dr. Thomas on the grounds that he did not have access to the text-critical resources which make it clear that the A.V. rendering of 1 Timothy 3:16 is incorrect. However, no such excuse exists in our day.

In conclusion, there is no reason to think that the word Phanerosis is a technical term for a particular biblical doctrine. However, the primary theological significance attached to this word in the New Testament is that God's Son, Jesus Christ, appeared in the flesh in human history to take away sins, manifested His divine glory through works of power and through the resurrection, and will appear again to bring life to those who believe in Him. As the one and only Son He made the invisible God visible. The true significance of Phanerosis is primarily Christological, unlike Dr. Thomas' doctrine of God manifestation which reduces Jesus Christ to one of a multitude of creature-gods.

1 There is also an adjective φανερός (phaneros, 18 times) and an adverb φανερῶς (phanerōs, 3 times).
2 Thomas, J. (1869). Phanerosis: An Exposition of the Doctrine of the Old and New Testaments, Concerning the Manifestation of the Invisible Eternal God in Human Nature, Being Alike Subversive of Jewish Rabbinical Tradition and the Theology of Romish and Protestant Sectarianism. Birmingham: William H. Davis, p. ii.
3 Thomas, Phanerosis, p. 20.
4 Thomas, Phanerosis, p. 23.
5 Thomas, Phanerosis, p. 24.
6 Thomas, Phanerosis, p. 39.
7 Merriam-Webster Concise Encyclopedia. (n.d.) Polytheism. Retrieved from http://www.merriam-webster.com/concise/polytheism
8 Thomas, Phanerosis, p. 29.
9 Thomas,

Phanerosis, p. 31.
10 Thomas, Phanerosis, p. 17 (italics his).
11 Ringgren, H. (1974). 'elohim. In G.J. Botterweck & H. Ringgren (Eds.), Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, Vol. 1. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, pp. 272-273.
12 Thomas, Phanerosis, p. 32.
13 Thomas, Phanerosis, p. 13.
14 Metzger, B.M. (2002). A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (2nd Ed.). Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, p. 574.
15 Lau, A.Y. (1996). Manifest in Flesh: The Epiphany Christology of the Pastoral Epistles. Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck, pp. 98-99.
16 Note, however, that as part of the long ending of Mark's Gospel, the authenticity of these verses is suspect.

Thursday 18 April 2013

1 Cor. 8:6: A Swing Verse

When it comes to hotly disputed doctrines such as the Trinity, the two sides typically each have certain Bible texts that they claim in support of their position.

For example, in a debate on the Trinity one might expect the Trinitarians to use texts such as Matt. 28:19, John 1:1 and Heb. 1:10-12 in their argument, while the unitarians might use texts such as Mark 12:29, John 14:28 and 1 Tim. 2:5. Each side would go on the offensive with their own texts, and attempt to defend their position against the challenge posed by the other side's texts. (Of course, one would hope that the arguments were more substantial and systematic than simply quoting 'proof texts').

We could draw an analogy with the so-called "swing states" in U.S. presidential elections. Democratic candidates don't bother campaigning in Texas, and Republican hopefuls steer clear of New York, because they know they can't win those states, despite their importance to the electoral vote tally. Instead, they focus on states that could go either way, such as Ohio. Similarly, Trinitarians know that they can't make their case from Mark 12:29, and unitarians know they can't make theirs from John 1:1, so they try to provide a plausible counter-proposal to their opponents' claims and then re-focus the debate on their own biblical "territory."

I would suggest that 1 Cor. 8:6 is one of the Ohio's of the Bible -- a veritable "swing verse" -- because both Trinitarians and unitarians use it to argue positively for their position. On the unitarian side, for instance, the 1877 Christadelphian Statement of Faith cited this verse as a reason for rejecting the doctrine of the Trinity. Moreover, one of the most comprehensive books written in defense of biblical unitarianism is entitled One God and One Lord, presumably taken from this verse. On the other hand, Trinitarians have also used this text to make positive arguments for their position; indeed, this text has become one of the most important in claiming that Paul's theology was a prototype for Trinitarian theology.
The text reads thus: "Therefore concerning the eating of things sacrificed to idols, we know that there is no such thing as an idol in the world, and that there is no God but one. For even if there are so-called gods whether in heaven or on earth, as indeed there are many gods and many lords, yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him." (1 Cor. 8:4-6 NASB)
Unitarians point out that v. 6 says, "For us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things" while mentioning Christ separately. Jesus is explicitly excluded from the "one God" and therefore cannot be a person in the Godhead. Jesus is given a subordinate, intermediary role, while the Father is the source of all things. New Testament scholars such as James D.G. Dunn see Ps. 110:1 (a pivotal Christological text for the early church) as the main background to the use of the word "Lord" here. Thus the title emphasizes how the Father has exalted the human Jesus to a heavenly position.

Trinitarians, on the other hand, claim that the text includes the Father and Christ together on the heavenly side of the Creator-creature divide that was all-important in Jewish monotheism. Scholars such as Tom Wright and Richard Bauckham see Deut. 6:4, the Shema, as main background to the language Paul uses here. Indeed, they argue that Paul has rearranged the words of the Shema, "the Lord our God is one Lord," to include Jesus within the identity of the one God.

So which interpretation of this pivotal text is more convincing? For me it is undoubtedly the latter. Firstly, if 1 Cor. 8:6 excludes Jesus from being God, it also excludes the Father from being Lord. But Paul is not using these titles for the Father and Son to the exclusion of one another, but to the exclusion of all other claimants to these titles. What should strike us in 1 Cor. 8:6 is not that Jesus is excluded from being God, but that Paul included Jesus in his argument that "there is no God but one." Surely a mere creature has no place in such discourse!

Secondly, 1 Cor. 8:5 appears to be an allusion to Deut. 10:17: "the LORD your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords." This is the only place in the Old Testament where "gods" and "lords" occur in the same sentence (Ciampa and Rosner in Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, p. 718). Thus it is reasonable that Paul expected his readers to interpret v. 6 with reference to Deuteronomy as well.

Thirdly, as I have argued elsewhere, the use of the Greek preposition dia followed by a genitive requires that we see Christ as participating in creation: "through whom are all things and through whom we exist." The very same language is used of God in Rom. 11:36 (by Paul) and Heb. 2:10. Paul is writing on the nature and existence of gods; there is no indication in the immediate context that he is limiting the scope of his statements to the new creation. Thus, the "all things" should be taken as absolute, or qualified only with "in heaven or on earth" (v. 5).

It is not wrong to say that the man Jesus was exalted to the status of Lord by God  (Acts 2:36). However, for early Christians, this exaltation was an impetus for questions about Christ's identity rather than the answer to those questions. 1 Cor. 8:6 shows that for Paul, Jesus' Lordship ties into the very definition of Christian monotheism.