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A Response to an Article Critiquing the Dividing Line Broadcast of Saturday, June 24, 2000 – Vintage

I was recently directed to an article written by a Jehovah’s Witness concerning the Greek grammar of some passages in John’s Gospel. The author of the article was attempting to refute Dr. James White who had referenced these passages in a recent broadcast of The Dividing Line with regard to the Watchtower teaching that Jesus is Michael the Archangel. Dr. White was attempting to demonstrate that these passages preclude the notion that Jesus is something other than God. In his article, the Jehovah’s Witness (hereafter referred to as JW), provided quotes from Greek sources as well as a transcription of the portion of the Dividing Line program in question.

As I reviewed JW’s article it became apparent to me that he was not correctly handling the grammar to which he was appealing, and he, therefore, did not truly grasp the force of Dr. White’s argumentation. Indeed, he accuses Dr. White of eisegesis, or reading into the text his own Trinitarian theology, yet I think JW is guilty of the same in his comments.

For the sake of those who are interested, and for any Jehovah’s Witnesses (or other non-Trinitarians) that may be reading, I would like to submit my response to JW.

John 14:28

John 14:28 is cited by Dr. White on the broadcast as one of the favorite passages used to relegate Jesus to the position of a mere creature. John 14:28 reads:

“You heard that I said to you, ‘I go away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved Me, you would have rejoiced because I go to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.” (NASB)

Jehovah’s Witnesses take passages such as John 14:28 and see in them evidence of Christ being less than God, and God being a unity, not a Trinity. Indeed, Jehovah’s Witnesses speculate that Christ was indeed no more or less than Michael the Archangel. They argue that, naturally, Michael the Archangel would say that the Father is greater than he is, and such would be true.

On the program, Dr. White explained how at the Incarnation, God the Son divested Himself of certain divine prerogatives and, veiled in flesh, He voluntarily positioned himself in submission to God the Father. The Father and the Son were still partaking of the same divine essence; Jesus was still God, but He had taken on human flesh and, as is eloquently testified to in Philippians 2:8, He humbled Himself and became obedient even unto death.

Our friend, JW, says that Dr. White turns this passage on the Jehovah’s Witness by first looking to the context of John 14. Unfortunately, JW does not seem to deal with the issue of the context of John 14, which is a shame since an understanding of the context of John 14 is necessary if we are to understand why Dr. White found it necessary to appeal to John 17:5 for clarification.

Sola Scriptura, Tota Scriptura

Those who are familiar with Dr. White and Alpha & Omega Ministries know that he is a Reformed Theologian. That is to say, White believes, preaches and teaches the Doctrines of Grace (otherwise known as Five-Point Calvinism) and the Five “Solas”. One of those “Solas” is Sola Scriptura, or scripture alone. This means that White believes that Scripture is the sole infallible basis and authority for our knowledge of God, His will for us, and our salvation. Coupled with this idea is the Latin phrase Tota Scriptura, which means “all of Scripture.” That is to say, our understanding of God, His will for us, and our salvation is not derived from random proof-texts, but from the entirety of Scripture. He believes that Scripture stands as a whole, and our understanding of one part must be consistent with everything else that Scripture says on that subject, or consistent with the character of God as revealed elsewhere in Scripture. Scripture does not contradict itself.

With this in mind, we can see why Dr. White would first try to put Jesus’ words in John 14:28 in their context, firstly as they stand in chapter 14, and secondly as they correspond to related passages elsewhere in Scripture.

In John 14, Jesus is teaching His disciples about His departure from this world. He promises them the Holy Spirit and warns them of the reaction of the world to them. Jesus’ point here is to give His disciples comfort knowing that the events about to unfold will undoubtedly cause them a lot of pain. In the course of comforting them, Jesus says that He is returning to His Father. What does it mean that Jesus is returning to the Father? Does John tell us anything elsewhere with regard to Jesus’ prior existence with the Father? I get the impression that JW does not understand the relevance of these questions, but they are crucial to our understanding of Jesus’ relationship to God.

John 17:5

At this point Dr. White cites John 17:5 to demonstrate the significance of Jesus’ going to the Father. There is something significant about being in the presence of God for Jesus. John 17:5, part of Jesus’ High Priestly prayer, says:

“Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.” (NASB)

Here JW accuses White of mishandling the Greek and performing eisegesis (i.e., reading into the text one’s theological presuppositions) as opposed to exegesis (i.e., drawing one’s interpretation of the passage from the passage itself). White, as cited by JW, renders this verse: “Glorify me Father with the glory which I shared with you which I had in your presence before the world began.” JW then cites the NASB and the NRSV to demonstrate that White supplies the word “share” in his translation, something which these other translations do not do. Further, JW shares with us an excerpt from an IRC conversation with Dr. White. Dr. White draws JW’s attention to the Greek phrase para; seautw/€€. JW renders this “alongside yourself. para = preposition of alongside…” Dr. White asserts that the prepositional phrase here is indicating what is to be glorified, i.e., me… para; seautw/€€ “BOTH the Father and the Son are glorified here, with the glory they shared before creation. Jesus does not seek glorification *apart from* the Father, but *along with* the Father. JW insists that the word share is “not in the Greek.” To further bolster his claim, in the article JW cites Dr. Daniel Wallace in his Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics where, on page 175, he says that where the dative case follows a preposition (as in para; seautw/€), the function of the dative should not be determined by case usage alone. That is to say, one should not translate the dative apart from the shade of meaning provided to it by the preposition accompanying it. On its own, the dative case is usually the case of indirect object (to, for), instrument (by) or location (where). However, when used in conjunction with a preposition, its meaning can change to reflect the nuance of the preposition. In this case, when used with parav, it can supply the idea of being “alongside”, such that it is commonly translated “in the presence of.” Wallace advises that one should refer to BAGD (Bauer-Arndt-Gingrich-Danker’s Greek Lexicon) for information on the use of the dative with a specific preposition.

JW makes a second reference to Wallace where, on page 378 of his Greek Grammar he states that, with regard to parav, “in general, the dative uses suggest proximity or nearness… c. Association: with (someone/something).”

He finally appeals to BAGD, as Wallace suggested, which, on “page 615,” states that it means “nearness in space at or by… beside, near…” and it references John 17:5.

Let me first address JW’s handling of the information from Wallace. As a sensitive grammarian, Dr. Wallace understands that the Greek language is not defined by grammar, but grammar comes from study of the language. It is important to note, therefore, that he says that parav generally proximity or nearness. Indeed, it is important to our discussion that he sees “Association: with” as a legitimate translation, since White is asserting that the preposition here is defining what will be glorified in John 17:5: “Me with You.” And the glory they will be glorified with is the glory that Jesus had parav the Father, in association with the Father. (By the way, Dr. Wallace does not make reference to John 17:5 at all in any of this discussion.)

But what about BAGD? BAGD references John 17:5 and cites it as referring to a spatial relationship. On page 610 (not 615) of BAGD, there is a reference to Matthew 6:1 which it says should be translated “with (of spatial proximity) the Father.” Indeed, the context of Matthew 6:1 would require the understanding of spatial proximity. The two John references, however (8:38a and 17:5), could be spatial, or they could be understood in terms of “association.” BAGD does not appear to say that these passages must be translated with the understanding of “association.” Since both spatial proximity and “association” are legitimate translations of parav with the dative, we must allow context to be our guide and admit that “association” is at least a legitimate translation.

A “Shared” Glory?

As we noted, JW objected to Dr. White using the word “share” in his translation of John 17:5. White would be the first to admit that this word is not actually in the Greek text, but it is necessarily implied. Dr. White added the word to be sure that it was understood that the passage is speaking of the Son and the Father partaking of the same glory, since this severely undermines the notion that Jesus is a mere angel. Of course, the conversation, taken jointly from a radio discussion and a chatroom discussion, does not provide a formal translation of John 17:5 in the first place.

Jesus wants the Father to be glorified “with” Him, and the glory with which they are to be glorified is a glory that Jesus had “with” the Father before creation. Clearly the idea is that this is a glory Jesus is able to share with the Father and the Father with Jesus, the Son. While the word “share” may not be in the text, it is ignoring the obvious not to see that a shared glory is the intent. And, since JW acknowledges that “association with” is a legitimate use of parav with the dative (as per Wallace), then White’s interpretation is a valid one. In light of this, White’s subsequent comments stand: “… the angels we see in Isaiah 6, they cover their faces in the presence of the glory of God… If Jesus is Michael the Archangel he could never say the words in John 17:5 without committing blasphemy.”

John 17:5 and the Greek Imperative

JW also calls Dr. White to task on his comments with regard to the use of the imperative in John 17:5: “Could Michael the Archangel say to Jehovah God using the imperative voice, the voice of command in the Greek language, “Glorify Me!” Would any angel ever stand in the presence of God and say GLORIFY ME! Well yeah, one, Lucifer, hehehehe. Yeah he was cast down for it, remember?”

JW objects to this portrayal of Christ as demanding or ordering His heavenly Father. Again, he appeals to Wallace, page 487: “Request (a.k.a. Entreaty, Polite Command) The imperative is often used to express a request. This is normally seen when the speaker is addressing a superior. Imperatives (almost always in the aorist tense) directed toward God in prayers fit this category.” JW correctly points out that in John 17:5 the aorist dovxason is used and “James, therefore, shows that he has a defective knowledge of the uses of the Greek imperative.”

I would like to draw attention to Wallace’s statement that the Imperative of Request “is normally seen when the speaker is addressing a superior.” Could it be that JW is assuming that Jesus is addressing to the Father as a creature, not as God the Son? I would like to know what it is in the text of John 17:5 that would justify such an assertion. The use of the aorist in the context of addressing a superior would qualify this as an Imperative of Request. But, as Wallace clearly states on page 485, an imperative in the aorist tense can also be used as a simple command with the force of commanding “the action as a whole, without focusing on duration, repetition, etc.” So it appears that the key to knowing whether Jesus was begging the Father or commanding the Father is not the use of the aorist tense, but one’s understanding of Jesus’ relationship to the Father. Either Jesus was a being less than the Father and therefore pleading with the Father to glorify Him, or He had the authority to speak to the Father in such terms because He shared the same essence with the Father. I think to assume the former is to ignore the copious passages in John’s Gospel alone that exalt Jesus to a position of equality with God, even though He has voluntarily assumed a role of submission to His Father.

In light of this, I think JW has failed to truly interact with Dr. White’s comments because he has failed to understand the importance of the texts we are dealing with. It appears that JW is more concerned with fine points of grammar than with exegesis. Indeed, he is willing to accept the use of parav as “with” (i.e., Association), but does not deal with what Jesus means when He says “with the glory I had with you before the world was.” John 1:14 speaks of this glory of which Peter, James and John were given a glimpse on the Mount of Transfiguration. Further, Wallace does not cite John 17:5 as fitting in the category of the use of the imperative as a polite command. JW ignores the fact that here we have (in Witness theology) a created being praying to Jehovah for glory which he (the created being) claims to have had “with” the Father before the world came into existence!

I would also like to add that the whole concept of angels as presented to us in Hebrews chapters 1 and 2 mitigate against the notion that Jesus is Michael the Archangel. Indeed, I encourage the reader to examine Hebrews 1, where it is clearly demonstrated that Jesus is not one of the angels: “And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they.” (vv. 3-4 NASB) Notice how the Son is the radiance of the Father’s glory. Is this not consistent with the testimony of John 17:5? “For to which of the angels did He ever say, ‘YOU ARE MY SON, TODAY I HAVE BEGOTTEN YOU’? And again, ‘I WILL BE A FATHER TO HIM AND HE SHALL BE A SON TO ME’?” (v. 5 NASB) Notice the clear distinction between the Son and the angels.

If we are to be honest in our theology, we need to deal with the whole of Scripture, not just our pet passages. Scripture has been given to us by God and we must not abuse this gift to serve our own theological ends. We must examine carefully what the Scripture says as a whole on a subject before drawing our conclusions. It seems that we have a clear case here with JW of someone who has focused on a couple of passages without giving consideration to their application within the broader range of Scripture. His pre-conceived notions of the nature of Christ lead him to make assumptions that language does not necessitate and context refutes. Let the whole of Scripture speak, for anything else is mere presumption.

Checking the Cultural Barometer

Some of you might be aware of the show “Sister Wives” that runs on the cable station TLC. If you don’t, it is a reality show centered around a polygamous household. I believe they either belong to an off-shoot of the LDS Church, or they are not affiliated with any particular LDS Church but follow the beliefs of the original founders. In any case, the man is a practicing polygamist, has children by each of his four “wives,” and has chosen to use reality TV as a vehicle to show that polygamous relationships can “work,” and the children raised within that environment can be just as healthy and happy as children raised in a “traditional” home. Sound familiar? Well, it seems the man is now going to court to try to have polygamy tolerated. He’s not seeking to have polygamy legalized–he just wants the government to leave them alone to live their lives according to their beliefs.

According to the article on CNN (linked below):

One case that could figure as important in the case is the Lawrence v. Texas case in 2003, when the majority of the Supreme Court struck down laws banning consensual sex between same-sex couples. That case involved two consenting adults who didn’t seek recognition of their relationship, were not involved in any crimes and whose behavior was private, Turley [his attorney] said.

If you have heard Dr. White address homosexuality, and in particular if you listened to his dialog with Dr. Michael Brown on the subject of “gay marriage” and the homosexual agenda, you will know that he and others have drawn parallels between the arguments used by “gay rights” activists to legitimize their behavior, and the arguments used by others (polygamists, pedophiles, etc.) to justify their behavior, for a while. Now we have a legal challenge to polygamy law that is in part based upon the freedom allowed to same-sex couples. If this challenge succeeds, hold on to your seats. You know where this will go.

May the Lord have mercy on us.

Here’s the CNN article: Reality TV Sister Wives to Challenge Utah Anti-Polygamy Law.

CNN’s Take On Mormonism

   CNN posted a “religion” spot called “Explain It to Me: Mormonism” in which their religion editor explains Mormonism. Undoubtedly the fact that Mitt Romney is running for president again has ignited some interest in this “quintessential American religion.” However, anyone who has done any research into Mormonism, or truly understands the doctrinal differences between Mormonism and biblical Christianity, will recognize CNN’s attempt here as an effort to portray the LDS church according to the image they currently wish to have, not according to Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. Indeed, if you take this video at face value, the Mormons are just another Christian denomination, albeit with a few quirky things that make them different. What you won’t find in this video are such things as: Adam-God doctrine, polytheism, progression to godhood, and Joseph Smith’s repudiation of all Christian denominations. To name a few.
   I have given the link to the clip below. Those of you who understand Mormonism will either get frustrated, or will laugh watching it. Those who are not that familiar with Mormon doctrine, I encourage you to dig a little deeper. There are plenty of resources on this site alone that can give you a fuller understanding of what Mormon religion is really about.

Explain It to Me: Mormonism (from CNN.com)

Van Til and the Trinity: Man’s Quest for Truth

   In the previous article we looked at how God can be truly personal, exhibiting all the attributes of true personality–including love–yet without being dependent on His creation. In this, the last part of the series, we shall briefly explore how Van Til saw in man’s quest for ultimate truth an example of the necessity of the triune God of Christianity to make sense of the universe.
   Philosophy has long grappled with the problem of “the one and the many.” This problem, simply stated, is concerned with how we attain knowledge of things, whether by abstraction or by analysis. Abstraction takes a broad view of the thing in question, seeing that thing in the context of other things like it (e.g., a cat in terms of other felines, mammals, animals, and so on). Analysis breaks the thing down into its constituent parts and examines them to try to understand how they function together to make the thing. Both are forms of understanding, but do they give us true knowledge of the thing? Just because I know the context of the thing, or I understand how the thing is constructed, does that mean I truly know it? All we gain from either abstraction or analysis are sensory impressions that give us an experience of the thing, but these sensory impressions are themselves abstractions–either abstract unity or abstract particularity–and, Van Til argued, ultimately meaningless. Both abstract unity and abstract particularity demonstrate the futility of man’s quest for a standard of truth outside of God. They are not personal; they do not compell belief; they are merely sensory impressions that give a subjective experience.
   Van Til believed that the Trinity holds the key to the problem of “the one and the many.” As Trinity, God is both one being consisting of three co-equal Persons, and hence in His being is found the resolution of all unity and diversity in the universe. The triune God is able to comprehend the entire universe in terms of particulars, relate those particulars together, and also see them in terms of the universal–the big picture. In the Trinity, all abstract particulars are related to the one universal, and the one universal is expressed in terms of particulars. As Van Til put it, in God, “unity… is no more fundamental than diversity, and diversity… is no more fundamental than unity.” Since the Trinity consists of three co-equal and yet distinct Persons, the Trinity is ontologically (i.e., in terms of being) one and many. Because the universe was created by a Trinitarian God, therefore, it stands to reason that the universe is replete with examples of unity and diversity, one and many, all finding their origin and purpose in that one true God. It is the triune Christian God who organizes all aspects of reality in the universe; they are not just abstractions, but they all are correlative to God who institutes laws by which they all function together in an orderly universe. Furthermore, God is at liberty to take any of these particulars and re-order them within the context of the laws He has established. This is what we know as a “miracle”–not a peculiar but statistically possible event in a random universe, but the purposeful placing of a particular fact within a different context by a God who has created and established all things, both the universal and the particular, according to His sovereign plan.
   Along the same lines of man striving for ultimate truth, Van Til recognized that unbelievers frequently utilized rationalism and irrationalism, or vacillated between the two extremes. For Van Til, this is common to all non-Christian forms of thought since they either deny any form of ultimacy in the universe and ascribe it all to mystery or chance (irrationalism), or they assume for themselves the mantle of authoritative interpreter and seek to understand the universe in terms of their own reason and experience (rationalism). Irrationalism looks to “brute” facts, abstract principles not interpreted by either man or God. Rationalism looks to the abstract particular, the constituent items that make up the thing as noted earlier. Van Til saw in the Garden of Eden an example of the interplay between irrationality and rationality. Man exercised irrationality by questioning the fact that God had spoken authoritatively, and by doubting the effects of eating the fruit. When man then reasoned with himself what God might do, and took God’s rightful authority for himself, he exercised rationality.
   It is true to say, however, that the non-Christian can equally level charges of irrationalism and rationalism at the Christian. He may regard the Christian view of a self-contained, all-knowing God who controls all things by His sovereign will as rationalism, and the idea that man is not at liberty to pass judgment on God’s thoughts and must be subject to Him as pure irrationalism. In any case, it is clear that the Christian and non-Christian viewpoints are diametrically opposed. Non-Christian irrationality, where the universe is arbitrary, is in contrast to Christian rationality, where the universe is created, sustained, and ordered by a sovereign God. Non-Christian rationality, where all things are knowable to man, who does not need God to be able to correctly interpret facts and discern laws, is opposed to Christian irrationality, where God’s thoughts overrule man’s, man is subject to God in all things, and man depends upon God to truly know anything.
   The apologetic value in recognizing this difference is that it allows the Christian to demonstrate the superiority of the Christian worldview by, for the sake of argument, assuming the non-Christian worldview and showing, as noted earlier, that within the non-Christian worldview, you cannot make sense of any fact–nothing truly has meaning. It is only within the Christian worldview that all facts, whether particulars or universals, come together and have meaning because they are all reflections and creations of a personal triune God who sovereignly controls all things for His glory and the good of His people.
   This has been a very brief presentation of deep and important ideas. I encourage you to take a look at the original paper upon which this series has been based for references to source material where you can read further on the topic. You can find the paper on my website, under the “Papers” section.

Van Til and the Trinity: Correlativism, Aseity, and the Trinity

   The Bible teaches that God is love (e.g., 1 John 4:8). Love is something that needs to be directed toward an object, so in what way does God love? One might say that God loves His creation, and in this way He is able to express love. However, God loves His creation in the same way that a man might love his dog in the sense that it is the love of a greater being to a lesser; and just as the dog cannot reciprocate with a love equal to that which his master is able to bestow, mere mortals cannot hope to return to God the same degree of love the immortal and infinite God is able to give. This actually creates a bit of a problem, because human beings are able to give and receive love mutually, whether it’s between a married couple, or between siblings, or between friends. People are quite capable of loving one another in an equal and mutually beneficial way. Can it be that humans possess an important dimension of love that God does not? Indeed, if God is unique, peerless thoughout the entire universe, then how can He express love toward an equal? And if we are made in the image of God, where did this capacity to love our peers come from if it is not an attribute of God?
   The problem goes deeper. One of God’s “incommunicable attributes”–that is, an attribute of God that He does not pass on to humans–is his “aseity.” God’s aseity is simply His absolute independence from His creation. In order for God to exist, He doesn’t require anything from anyone outside of Himself. He doesn’t need food, oxygen, heat, cold, even our love and worship. God is totally self-sufficient. He created all things, but did not need to create anything. By contrast, God’s creation is totally dependent first on the Creator to give and sustain life, and then on its constituent parts. Fish need water, people need food and oxygen, the earth needs the sun and the moon–I could go on. But I think you get the point. There is nothing in the universe that is self-sustaining, whether you talk about the ecosystem, or you talk about economic systems, or you talk about the mutual love expressed between people–everything depends upon something else. This concept is called “correlativity.” If, as we just stated, God is unique in terms of His aseity, then the concept of correlativity is alien to Him. But, if we are made in God’s image, how can something so fundamental to our existence not be something we derive from our Creator? Where did it come from?
   One solution to this problem is to deny God’s aseity and insist that He does in fact need His creation. I have heard people express the view that God created us out of His need to express love, to provide an outlet for His love. The problem with denying God’s aseity is that you create a situation where God becomes dependent upon His creation. He is then no longer able to rule sovereignly because His every decision will be contingent upon that relationship, opening Him up to manipulation. Indeed, His very existence would depend upon his creation: if heaven and earth passed away, so would God!
   Van Til argued that the biblical answer to this problem lies in the Trinity. As we saw in the previous installment, God is a personal being consisting of three Persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. As such, God is able to express fully all that it means to be a person, that is to be “personal,” and all the attributes of personality that we as humans possess derive from our being created in the image of a personal God–even down to the way we are able to express mutual love, and be dependent upon one another. How is this possible for a God who is self-sufficient? Christian theism holds that each Person of the Trinity is co-equal. While there is an economical hierarchy within the Trinity (in other words, the Son obeys the Father, and the Spirit is sent by the Father and the Son–see Jesus’ discussion in John 14), each Person in the Trinity is equal: they are each the same God. This means that within the personal being of God, mutual love and dependency can be expressed between the Persons of the Trinity. It is this aspect of God’s character that is passed on to His creation. Because there is correlativity between the Persons of the Trinity, there is correlativity within creation, while at the same time the aseity of God remains intact: he is still independent of His creation and totally self-sufficient.
   God has all the attributes of personality, including, by virtue of Trinitarian correlativity, love, and hence is personal. Moreover, since God does not have to look outside His own being to express those attributes, or find fulfillment of those attributes, He can be regarded as absolutely personal. And because God is personal, so it follows that His creation reflects aspects of personality, the apex being man who, of all creation, most fully displays God’s personal attributes.

In the Trinity there is completely personal relationship without residue. And for that reason it may be said that all man’s actions are personal too. Man’s surroundings are shot through with personality because all things are related to the infinitely personal God (Van Til, A Survey of Christian Epistemology (Philadelphia, Pa: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1969), pp. 78-79.)

   The existence of logic, reason, and meaning in the universe hangs on the universe being created by an absolutely personal God. Impersonal forces can’t make decisions, plan, purpose, and give meaning to things; but a personal God can. If God was dependent in any way on His creation, His sovereignty would be violated because He would be subject to something outside of Himself, becoming an extension of His own creation. Because of this, only the Christian triune God can truly be the creator and sovereign Lord of His creation, who is absolutely personal, who bears perfectly all aspects of personality, but remains separate from His creation. Therefore, if man is to truly understand the world in which he lives, he must do so through this revelation of the triune God. We will explore this some more next time, where we will start to see the force of this discussion in terms of the argument for the existence of the Christian God. Stay tuned!

Note: To read the paper from which this series is taken, go to the “Papers” section of my website: www.colindsmith.com.