Robert Bowman in “The Great Trinity Debate”

Posted by David Barron April - 26 - 2010 - Monday

Reviewing the opening of “The Great Trinity Debate” I opted not to take the time to comment. The material is certainly worthy of consideration, but the amount of time I have available for reviewing this debate has proven more limited than anticipated, so I must select the material most valuable in reviewing.

This post will consider some of Robert Bowman’s comments in the 2nd portion of the debate as they pertain to the interpretation of specific passages (found at http://www.reclaimingthemind.org/blog/2010/04/the-great-trinity-debate-part-2-rob-bowman-on-jesus-christ/). Thus, I will not be reviewing his comments outside of what he argues for these texts to mean or where he references a specific view view with which I would not agree. Without considering my comments most will likely observe how much of Bowman’s presentation is based not upon exegesis and historical or contextual arguments, but his own opinion. This is perhaps most apparent in the first passage he considered:

Matthew 28:16-20:

Jesus’ eleven apostles met Jesus after his resurrection on a mountain. “And when they saw him they worshipped him, but some doubted” (Matt. 28:17). Nothing in the context suggests that what some doubted was that Jesus had risen or that it was Jesus whom they saw. Rather, it seems that some doubted the propriety of worshipping Jesus. Their doubt makes no sense if this act was comparable to bowing before a human dignitary, as many anti-Trinitarians assert. Surely, Jesus’ disciples would have had no doubts about showing Jesus such courtesy and respect. No, apparently some doubted that Jesus was the proper object of religious worship, the act of humbling oneself toward a supernatural figure. Their doubt presupposes the biblical and conventional Jewish belief that the Lord God was the only proper recipient of such acts of religious devotion.

Bowman expresses his opinion that “some doubted” refers to doubts about worshipping him, but he utterly fails to present even the most basi evidence in support of this view. This is readily apparent in his appeal to weasel words, stating that “apparently” their doubt was in the acceptability to worship Jesus. While Bowman is correct in that the immediate context within Matthew does not present doubt on the part of the disciples respecting Jesus’ resurrection and identification, such is readily apparent within the other Gospels, removing doubt as to the meaning (Mark 16:11; Luke 24:10-11; John 20:25-29).

In the context of Matthew, the scene recalls the Temptation narrative that immediately precedes Jesus’ ministry (4:1-11). In the third, climactic temptation, the devil takes Jesus to a high mountain, shows him all the kingdoms of the world, and offers them to Jesus if he will worship him (4:8-9). Jesus rebuffs the temptation, quoting Deuteronomy 6:13, “You shall worship the Lord your God and serve only him” (4:10). Now, after Jesus? resurrection, he meets his disciples on a mountain and receives their act of worshipping him. The contrasting parallel is made complete by Jesus’ assurance to those who doubted that worshipping him was indeed appropriate: “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth” (28:18). This is the authority that the devil claimed he could give to Jesus if Jesus would worship him. Now Jesus has that authority, not from the devil, but from God the Father. No higher validation of Jesus’ authority was possible. The evident parallels between Matthew 4:8-10 and 28:16-18 confirm that “worshipped” in 28:17 denotes the act of religious devotion that Jesus himself had stated should go to God alone.

Once again we find Bowman’s opinion, but his argument falls flat. His submission is that the authority given in Matthew 28:18 ‘is the authority that the devil claimed he could give to Jesus if Jesus would worship him,’ yet this is far from the case. The authority promised by the devil was entirely earthly, limited to the kingdoms of the earth (Mat. 4:8-9), while the authority given by God was found throughout all of heaven and earth. This was vastly superior to anything offered or that could be offered by the devil.

Further, whereas Satan, as the giver of authority, asked to be worshipped, here Jesus, as the receiver of authority is given it. Any parallelism would find the Father as the object of worship. With this said, we can consider the matter of worshipping Jesus and the lack of significance to the Trinitarian case. Considering the following from my debate with Mike Felker on why Jesus is given what he is given:

?The Bible defines more than once that what Jesus is given is based upon the Father’s will. So in John 5:22-23 when Jesus relates how he will be honored as the Father is, he does so with a Greek purpose clause. Jehovah has given Jesus judgment “so that” meaning, ‘for the purpose of,’ being honored just as him. Similarly in Philippians 2:5-11 Jesus is exalted because of his obedience and faithfulness as God’s son and this is done “so that” or ‘for the purpose of’ having every knee bow to him.?

Those who deny that Christ is God raise the objection that Jesus said his authority was “given” to him, and ask how anyone could give God authority (or why God would need to give God authority). They argue that this is a derived and therefore inferior authority to that of God. This objection ignores the orthodox explanation that the Lord Jesus, by choosing to come into the world “not to be served, but to serve” (Matt. 20:28), had placed himself in a position in which he depended on the Father to exalt him.

For the above to be true Jesus would have necessarily stopped being God. All authority is God’s by nature, so for Jesus not to have it would mean he lacked the authority. Similarly, he could not be omniscient, for if he had all power he would not be dependent upon anyone to grant him authority. The Bible plainly reveals that Jesus lacked authority so to be given it. As God possess such by nature this is a powerful attestation to the fact that Jesus is not ontologically God.

Jesus then commands his disciples to go make more disciples from people of all nations, “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (28:19). Jesus, the Son, identifies himself alongside the Father and the Holy Spirit as the Deity to whom each new disciple is to commit himself in the covenant rite of baptism. The Father clearly is God, and as we shall see in week 5, the Holy Spirit in this text must also be God; it follows that the Son in this text is also God. If we exclude the idea that these are three Gods, as we should, the conclusion that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one God follows. In any case, Jesus is here explicitly making himself, as the Son, one of the persons toward whom disciples perform a religious act of devotion and covenant commitment. There is no precedent in biblical religion for performing such religious acts in devotion to a mere man, no matter how great a man.

The text demands little of what Bowman here argues. Provided above is assertion of what the text must mean, but not a demonstration. Much as the Israelites were baptized “into Moses” (and certainly into God, for they could not follow Moses without following God), we can well be baptized “into the name” of the Son? as our mediator, while also being baptized into “the Father” as our God and source of all things and “the Holy Spirit” as the deliverer of direction and teaching, which we are to accept.

After instructing his disciples to teach new disciples to observe everything he commanded them, Jesus concludes: “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (28:20). Here Jesus promises to be with all of his disciples, wherever they are in the world, as they make disciples of all nations, in every generation until the end of the age. Such a promise implies that Jesus has the capacity to be present in any and all parts of the world simultaneously. The statement recalls God’s promise to Jacob, “Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go” (Gen. 28:15). In short, Jesus’ promise presupposes that he possesses the divine attribute of omnipresence. Nor is this an isolated statement in the Gospel. Prior to his death, Jesus told his followers, “Where two or three have gathered together in my name, there I am in their midst” (18:20). Only someone who is omnipresent could deliver on a promise to be present in the midst of every gathering of believers anywhere in the world. Jewish rabbis taught that where two Jews sat together to hear the Torah, the Shekinah–the manifest glorious presence of God–would be with them. Jesus claims that his divine presence will be with any two disciples who meet together to honor him (see Putting Jesus in His Place, 117-18).

Bowman presupposes Jesus’ physical presence with his disciples. This is certainly possible and should not be presupposed as ruled out, but it is by no means demanded. Similar language is used elsewhere, such as by the apostle Paul (1Co. 5:4). I would not suggest Jesus’ meaning here parallels Paul’s, but there are other equally valuable interpretations. This is one I would suggest we can answer only upon understanding the biblical teaching on Jesus, though even this would not make the matter conclusive.

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