Bowman and “The Great Trinity Debate” Continues

Posted by David Barron May - 1 - 2010 - Saturday ADD COMMENTS

Robert Bowman has posted his third portion of “The Great Trinity Debate.” The same issues I noted regarding his ignoring or ignorance of agency and the use of language generally in early Jewish literature fully besets this latest section. Due to the length of his post I will not make a point-by-point response, but instead provide some general comments on the basis of each argument. His post is available at for review.

Romans 10:8-13
Bowman must overlook how Lord in v. 12 cannot be understood as the divine name, either disconnecting it from the final instance wherein Lord is used as such, or indicating that the final instance should not be understood as the divine name (cf. 1Co. 1:2). Quite similarly, the Melchizedek scroll (11Q13) cites Psalm 7:7-8 wherein the divine name originally stood, with el used in its place, applied to Melchizedek. Regardless of the force in Paul’s words, the parallel with the Melchizedek scroll demonstrates how exalted agents could be assigned even divine name texts without equating them ontologically with Jehovah, or including them within the divine identity.

I will not get into whether or not Jesus should be prayed to, but Bowman presupposes limitations on Jesus’ exalted resurrection body which are baseless. Were Jesus prayed to, there is no reason to believe that through the Holy Spirit and his exalted nature he would be unable to manage as much. Bowman suggests prayer to Jesus would result in him being “functionally a second God,” though the result would at most find him to be functionally the same God, as Jehovah’s exalted agent, representing him, or simply one exalted so to be capable of and due to receive prayer.

1 Corinthians 8:4-6
Apparently missed by Bowman is the antithesis between the “many” and the “one.” While there are many lords, there is to us but “one Lord, Jesus Christ.” Paul does not present Lord in place of the divine name, but the use is titular so to be antithetical to the “many lords.” Paul may well have had the Shema in mind, but due to the allusion to Wisdom language (Pro. 3:19) with reference to the one God created by, there is every reason to see this as a modification of the Shema to include the one God exalted to being Lord (Acts 2:36).

Bowman craftily attempts connecting Jesus with God by identifying them both as “the instrumental cause” of creation, yet the contexts of the two cited passages (Rom. 11:36 and 1Co. 8:6) are vastly different. The cause (God) in Romans 11:36 works through his own agency, while in 1 Corinthians 8:6 the cause (the Father) works through another (the Son). These are not mutually exclusive, for working through your own agency does not preclude also working through the agency of another. That the Son was not the cause but the intermediate agent can be no more clearly attested to than in Hebrews 1:1-2 wherein ‘the God who spoke by the prophets’—Jehovah in the Old Testament—created through Jesus Christ.

Philippians 2:3-11
Bowman presupposes Paul is addressing Christ ontologically, when the text indicates just the opposite. The humility displayed by the Philippians was to be displayed in their behavior, and Christ displayed his quite similarly. Does “the form of God” refer to God’s nature as the NIV? Certainly not, for there is nothing that is “the form of a servant,” where servant is purely a functional expression. A servant can be a man, but also an angel (Rev. 22:9). Here “form” (morphe) must refer what it most literally does, outward appearance.

As God’s agent, Jesus appeared as God in Jehovah’s stead. He was as Jehovah himself in his perfect representation of him. This is traditional Jewish agency. Similarly, though God’s Son, he appeared “in the form of a servant,” no longer as God himself but “in the likeness of man,” he was outwardly a servant, functionally, what he was not (Gal. 4:7).  

The implications of Bowman’s comments on “the name above every name” are addressed in my post at, so there is no need to reproduce the serious issues besetting his interpretation.

Hebrews 1:1-10
Bowman begins by arguing how Jesus must be called “god” in some way other than the angels, for the things said of Jesus were not said of the angels. The argument completely lacks merit, for when writing that the things are not said of angels the writer is addressing the specific quotations, including the wherein Christ is addressed as God (Heb. 1:8), not the manner in which a specific appellation is presented within one of the statements.

Bowman next argues: “Not one of the proof texts in the catena in Hebrews 1 applied in reality to the Davidic king.” This, again, completely lacks merit, for Bowman has plainly overlooked 2 Samuel 7:14, a text within the catena. Bowman denies certain passages had fulfillment in the kings, but goes on to argue that these were types of the Messiah. Yet, if the texts did not have some type of fulfillment in those kings there would have been no typification. I am not suggesting that none were purely Messianic (e.g. Psalm 110), but this is not the case across the board.

Bowman argues from Psalm 45 that none of the Davidic kings prior to Christ “ruled forever,” yet this ignores that it was the throne that was forever, so that the Davidic throne would endure for all time, not the individual king. This is ultimately fulfilled in Christ through eternity, but the text itself refers not to the king’s existence, only the throne’s. A consideration of this psalm reveals a straightforward application to an original human king.

With reference to texts that originally referred to God, Bowman misses this as an articulation of Jesus as God’s agent, as evident, for example, in the Melchizedek scroll. Further, in reference to Psalm 102, a variant in the LXX (which the author of Hebrews quotes) presents what is actually God’s response to another, not addressed to him.

Bowman makes a number of other comments worthy of addressing, but for which time will not allow. Significantly, Bowman entirely disregards Hebrews 1:1-2a, and instead focuses on what follows. This is not entirely surprising, however, as to consider this text would result in overturning his entire position, for such demands that it was the Father alone who was the God in the Old Testament as the one who spoke by the prophets, not the Son.

Divine Name and “your God” Texts for Exalted Agents

Posted by David Barron January - 15 - 2010 - Friday 1 COMMENT

The New Testament authors’ application of Old Testament passage about God or others to Christ is not uncommon.  I discussed this with moderate detail in God and Christ.  When the second edition is complete (this is still some time away) I intend to explore this in greater detail (as with most every topic discussed, along with a host of others not).   One early Jewish text highlighted in the book on a couple of occasions is 11Q13, The Coming of Melchizedek.

As I did not spend any significant time developing the concept of agency or focus on too many extra-biblical passages where others are granted the appellation “g/God” outside of the Bible, a couple of significant portions of 11Q13 deserve mention.  This is especially important for those who have not had the opportunity to read this document and consider the implications of early Jewish interpretation on the outlook the New Testament authors carried in writing about Jesus.  Consider the following, written about the heavenly Melchizedek, whom many scholars identify with Michael the archangel.

“as is written about him in the songs of David, who said: Elohim will stand up in the assem[bly of God,] in the midst of the gods he judges.” 11Q13 2:9-10

This portion of text, highlighted in God and Christ, is significant for demonstrating the acceptable nature of applying passages to certain key individuals when the text had originally referenced God.  Further demonstrated is the allowance of calling certain others God when they were exalted and appointed by the Almighty to be so termed.  Finally, we find God’s ability and willingness to assign certain divine prerogatives to his agents without contradicting the notion of their uniqueness to him.

“And about him he said: Above it return to the heights, God will judge the peoples.” 11Q13 2:10-11

There is no doubt that “God” in the above is Melchizedek.  Not only is he the God judging from Psalm 82:1, but this is something said “about him.”  Most significantly, “God” is here in place of the divine name Jehovah from Psalm 7:7-8.  Either the name is attributed to Melchizdek as God’s exalted agent in judgment, or the substituted “God” carries the term’s traditional meaning and is understood in that way apart from the original reference.  Either interpretation is significant to the Christology presented in the New Testament, for it demonstrates such application without equating Jehovah in the original text with the new referent.

Just as important is the following:

“in truth […] […] it has been turned away from Belial and it […] […] in the judgments of God, as is written about him: Saying to Zion, ‘your God rules’.  [Zi]on is [the congregation of all the sons of justice, those] who establish the covenant, those who avoid walking [on the pa]th of the people.  Your God is [… Melchizedek, who will fr]ee [them] from the hand of Belial.  And as for what he said: You shall blow the hor[n in every] land.”  11Q13 2:21-25

As Thomas could identify Jesus as ‘his God’ (John 20:28), Melchizedek was ‘their God.’  He stood appointed by God over them, he was his agent and so bore the identification.

This one document provides significant insight into the early Jewish mind when contemplating exalted agents and the application of Jehovah’s name, titles and prerogatives to them.  To simply appeal to Old Testament divine name texts in the New Testament with reference to Jesus is not persuasive.  Neither is the display Jesus carrying out God’s unique prerogatives.   As Jesus’ exalted name, position and authority are given to him by God, closely corresponding to early exalted divine agents and not Trinitarian theology.

The Existential Crisis of Barrenness in the Hebrew Bible

Posted by Vlad October - 29 - 2009 - Thursday ADD COMMENTS

Being the curmudgeon I am, I’ve previously tried to argue that Jephthah may not have literally burned his daughter to death, but that the sacrifice was deferred and in a sense became the loss of progeny.¹ There’s no particular theological consequence to this, rather I simply find it to cohere well with the account as a whole. Here I’d like to bring to bear an example adduced by Jon Levenson as he articulates his thesis of familial immortality. Writing that losing, or not having, children is a form of the death of one’s self, he writes:

The book of Job is an instructive case in point. Job’s miseries begin not with lack of children, like Abraham’s, but with the loss of his children, which provokes suicidal thoughts and an existential and theological crisis that has continued to reverberate through the millennia (Job 1:13-19; Job 3). Here, bereavement of progeny is the functional equivalent of death, and here, too, the patriarch’s restoration inevitably entails his recovery of his seven sons and his three daughters (Job 42:13; cf. 1:2). […] The tragedy of the mortality of individuals cannot but attract the attention of the modern reader. The interest of the ancient narrator lies, rather, in the restoration of Job through the return of his family.²

Levenson then pivots on the point that “childlessness is the equivalent of death.” Though I acknowledge that this also goes well with the standard understanding, it seems to me an excellent explanation for the reaction of Jephthah, his daughter, and the “daughters of Israel.” It seems likely that they annually recounted not the death of a single maiden, which was of no great consequence, but the giving up of the name of the house of Jephthah in obedience to a vow.

[1] Jephthah’s Holocaust
[2] Jon Levenson, Resurrection and the Restoration of Israel: The Ultimate Victory of the God of Life (Yale University, 2006), 115.

Jephthah’s Holocaust

Posted by Vlad October - 29 - 2009 - Thursday 1 COMMENT

[The following, previously published elsewhere, is given as background for the following post.]

“People will have it that he did not offer her, but there it stands plainly in the text.”—Martin Luther

It was the consensus among the church fathers as well as Jewish commentators that Jephthah did indeed kill his daughter in sacrifice; and the great majority of modern biblical scholars would agree, so Luther is not alone in his grim reading of of Judges 11. The view that Jephthah only sacrificed her in the sense that he committed her to a life of celibacy and service to God is relatively new. [1]

It must be admitted that the text itself is ambiguous at several places. It is unclear from the Hebrew whether what Jephthah envisioned sacrificing was the first thing or the first person out of his house—the pronoun can refer to a person, animal, or something inanimate. It is possible that Jephthah imagined an animal coming out of his house given that the ground floor of an Israelite home was used for cooking, working, and stabling animals, though this would include animals unfit for sacrifice. [2] If, in fact, he did envision an animal coming out, his agony over his hasty vow is explained. If he had a member of his household in mind it is far less likely, though still possible, that he meant a literal burnt offering. But the narrator does not tell us, and it is tempting to think, from a literary perspective, that it’s on purpose.

The phrase “he carried out his vow that he had made toward her” in verse 39 is also vague. It would have settled the matter if the account had stated outright whether she died or began her service at the sanctuary, but this is the critical lacuna. Then we are told as a matter of fact that she was a virgin, but the grammar around the verb (“did not know a man”) does not specify if she was a virgin at the time the vow was fulfilled—which would lean towards that being her death—or if she was ever-after a virgin.

And what exactly did the daughters of Israel do every year according to 11.40? Did they lament (ESV, JPS, LXX), commemorate (NIV, HCSB), or celebrate (ASV) Jephthah’s daughter? The Hebrew word occurs only twice, here and at Judges 5.11, where it clearly means to “recount” or “tell of”. If we follow this gloss or the Septuagint, there is little reason to think that it must involve a living person and quite a bit of reason to think that it must not, though it would still allow for it (lamenting or mourning her fate of virginity, say).

It is debatable if the overall timbre of this portion of the narrative points in any particular direction, namely, whether the reactions of Jephthah and his daughter are commensurate with death or dedication. Clearly they fit if she were to be put to death, but it is also possible that these are the responses of a man who is going to lose his daughter to the service of God and lose his opportunity to have an heir—the account emphasizes strongly, redundantly so, that he had no other child—and a young woman who is to remain barren. This was for both of them a social stigma, an indication of God’s disfavor, a financial loss, and a personal tragedy.

The narrator then ends the account without commentary. There is no moral judgment passed on the action Jephthah took, whether it was an action of faith or immorality. It seems likely, though, that if the story were being told as a warning example of one who followed sacrilegious practices the narrator would make that explicit, given that Jephthah is otherwise portrayed as a victorious judge who had the spirit of YHVH. It seems strange to have a story of a moral failing in between Jephthah’s victories against Ammon and Ephraim, which indicate Yahweh’s approval and blessing. [3] Beyond that, he’s marked as faithful at both 1 Samuel 12.11 (possibly the same author as Judges) and Hebrews 11.2. And it is absurd to think that the narrator reported the sacrifice of his daughter approvingly, as the second of three meritorious acts, when the meta-narrative rails against false gods, the worship of which involved child sacrifice. Chemosh is named specifically. [4]

I think the evidence is inconclusive, despite the consensus around the macabre interpretation. Though I don’t think the character of God is impugned, at least when compared to all the other scandalous things that happen in this book, I don’t know what to make of Jephthah personally or what the narrator intended us to make of him. On balance, perhaps giving more weight to the internal cohesion of the narrative than is warranted, I’m inclined to vindicate him. But that may just be my need to clean up this distasteful story. Most literal versions, to their credit, don’t impose a definitive answer in the translation.


[1] The thinking is that Jephthah vowed to give someone metaphorically as a burnt offering. Leviticus 27.1-8 specifies a policy for this kind of a gift or dedication to God.

[2] Perhaps “living in the land of Tob” could indicate a foreign and/or less urban setting, making it more likely that his animals would have been kept in a pin separate from the house, but this is assuming that he wasn’t living in a city in that land, or that local architecture was different, and is in any case highly speculative.

[3] It could be argued that Jephthah behaved commendably rather than reprehensibly since he kept a very difficult vow. However, the sacrifice of a child would eclipse the keeping of the vow, both intuitively and under the Law, by any reasonable interpretation.

[4] See 2 Kings 3.26,27. The attribution of Chemosh as the deity of the Ammonites in Judges is seen by some as erroneous, but Chemosh and Molech may be one and the same, the local names given by a related yet distinct peoples.