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A Test for Your Listening Skills — Part III

   The next question is based upon the Carmen Christi of Philippians 2:5-11. You might find my article on this text from the CRI Journal useful, found here. The issue can be summarized in this section from my article:

   But how was this action of making Himself “nothing” accomplished? It is just here that we must listen to this hymn from the balcony of heaven itself. We must hear the words from a divine and heavenly perspective. The Son makes Himself “nothing” by taking the form of a servant and being made in the likeness of man.[vii] From the human realm, “being made nothing” by taking does not seem right. But when we see the glory and majesty and power of the One who is here condescending to enter into creaturely existence when He Himself is the Creator, we can begin to appreciate how this act of being made nothing is properly described as taking the form of a servant and being made in the likeness of man. Daniel B. Wallace, an eminent Greek scholar, sees both terms “taking” and “being made” as the means by which the “being made nothing” is accomplished.[viii]

   The biggest difficulty with seeing labwn (taking) as means is that emptying is normally an act of subtraction, not addition. But the imagery should not be made to walk on all fours. As an early hymn, it would be expected to have a certain poetic license….The Philippians were told not to puff themselves up with “empty glory,” because Christ was an example of one who emptied his glory. If this connection is intentional, then the Carmen Christi has the following force:

   Do not elevate yourselves on empty glory, but follow the example of Christ, who, though already elevated (on God’s level), emptied his glory by veiling it in humanity.[ix]

   So the means of the kenosis is the addition of a human nature, the veiling of the divine in the creaturely. This is important to understand, for many interpret Paul to mean that Christ abandons the “form of God” rather than seeing this as an addition of the human nature to the eternal divine nature that was Christ’s. It is this addition that “veils” the form of God. While there are certainly many who see this passage teaching that Christ did indeed lay aside the “form of God,” the words of Paul do not present such a concept.

[vii] Both participles, “taking” and “being made,” are describing the means of the “making Himself nothing,” that is, of the “kenosis.”
[viii] That is, the syntactical function of these two participles is circumstantial modal.
[ix] Wallace, 630.

   Now, the point of my question was to expose, through the exegesis of the text, the presuppositional nature of unitarianism in Stafford’s position. It is vital, in examining the argumentation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Oneness Pentecostals, and Muslims, to recognize the presuppositional nature of their commitment to unitarianism. They rarely defend it, they simply assume it. Here Stafford admits that it is a starting place in his theology that if one is God, one cannot be man. He begins by precluding the possibility of the Incarnation, seen in Philippians 2:5-11 or John 1:14. If you begin with your conclusion, you will always be arguing in circles, and this becomes the operative factor in his interpretational methodology. Though Stafford is far more polished in his presentation than your regular Witness, or Oneness Pentecostal, or Muslim, take the time to examine their materials: you will find the exact same foundational assumption. Paul could not actually be saying Jesus became a servant, because that just isn’t possible. For the Witness, this means Jesus is a pre-existent spirit creature; for the Oneness Pentecostal, it means He must be the Father (hence denying the eternal existence of the Son as a Person); for the Muslim, it means Paul made up Christianity and corrupted the original, pure, Islamic Jesus.
   So how did you do in your original viewing of the clip? Did you catch Stafford’s errors on the John 12 text? How about the second section? Did you immediately see the presuppositional nature of his response, and recognize that in many ways, this decided the debate, for Stafford never offered a defense for the presupposition that determines his entire exegetical approach? These are the kinds of skills necessary to exercise proper discernment in the apologetic realm today.

Greg Stafford Attempts to Reply

   Regular readers of this blog know that for a couple of months now I have been posting clips from various debates. Why? Because I learned how, that’s why! I’ve done more than sixty such debates, and many of them have been video taped. The large majority of my readers have enjoyed watching clips of debates on a wide variety of topics, including Islam, Roman Catholicism, Mormonism, Inclusivism, Open Theism, etc. Monday I posted a section from the debate with Greg Stafford on the deity of Christ. Since Stafford obviously monitors this blog, he is well aware of the fact that I have been using YouTube and GodTube to post clips. So why he would now write on his blog, “Now we find White trying to use sections of our 2003 debate for some to-be-determined purpose, sections which I think show clearly that he not only did not understand the issues he asked about properly but where, again, he basically ignored my answers.” I am more than happy to allow those not trapped in a cult (and those who are) to view the debate and check the assertions of both sides. Unlike Mr. Stafford, I have no need to blow my horn and proclaim victory, etc. I will leave him to join many of my other former opponents in that game. But what on earth does “some to-be-determined” purpose mean? I felt this would be a good clip to use to illustrate the kind of listening skills needed to follow the argument in debate, nothing more. I could have used any number of debates, but this one likewise allows for an explanation of the glorious truth that the New Testament writers did not hesitate to apply to Jesus passages that were originally about Yahweh Himself.
   Now, I had a few folks write to me Monday and say, “Oh brother, I wonder how many pages of text Stafford will crank out in response to this?” We have not been disappointed. But I hardly expected anything else. Mr. Stafford has a lot of time on his hands. That’s fine. If anyone thinks volume of writing = truth, well, I can be of little assistance there. I honestly believe the more closely folks look at Stafford’s writings, the more they will see the constant element of special pleading and circular argumentation. He cannot see his pre-commitment to unitarianism, so plainly documented in the clip itself, and unless God is gracious to him, he never will. So his writings remain a good example of the circularity that comes from commitment to a false religion.
   I will not waste much time on Stafford’s thinly veiled “White is afraid of me” stuff:

As many who have followed this Chat know, I have made myself available to Dr. White and to his ministry for debate at practically any time. I have not heard from him, or from his ministry, in some time, and my associate, Richard Rawe, was recently told by Rich Pierce of that I am “low on the priority list,” and that it may be “two years” before Dr. White can make time to debate me. When asked by Mr. Rawe to set a date two years from now, Mr. Pierce declined.

   I will never cease to find it amusing whenever anyone accuses me of being afraid to debate someone, especially when it is someone I’ve already debated! Stafford is now sounding like Sungenis, for example. Stafford’s behavior a few months ago left a very bad taste in my mouth, to be sure. Further, when the idea was first raised, Stafford believed it a ruse to draw him away from a debate with Morey that, to my knowledge anyway, has not taken place. But more to the point, Greg Stafford does not determine the Lord’s direction for my areas of study. I have nothing to prove to someone such as Mr. Stafford, and I do not make decisions on what is worthwhile as far as the investment necessary to produce an edifying, useful debate on the basis of school-yard taunts. Right now I am focused upon the October debate with Shabir Ally in Seattle, not upon the subject of the Watchtower’s denial to God of exhaustive knowledge of future events. Another denier of God’s omniscience and eternal decree has contacted me as well, and if in the Lord’s providence I should choose to address this issue, the two debates might well be arranged. Mr. Stafford may be able to schedule things a month in the future. I am not, and I find this kind of behavior on his part less than useful.
   Stafford has posted the following:

Not only has White finally realized that the LXX of Isaiah, which John was quoting in John 12, references the glorification of Christ, the very same glory that Isaiah “saw” in Chapter 53 (Hebrew), but it is also the same glory that Isaiah “spoke about” clearly in that same Chapter, to which John refers in John 12:41. White had no answer for where Isaiah “spoke about him” in Isaiah 6 in our 2003 debate, and he has no answer now:

   There is no end to Stafford’s ability to engage in obfuscation regarding the text of inspired writ in defense of his personal take on Watchtower theology. Those who have attempted to deal with him for years know this well. But his replies only dig him deeper into the hole his error has created for him.
   First, note how Stafford’s interpretation is completely disconnected from John’s purposes in his Gospel. What connects the citation of Isaiah 53:1 with Isaiah 6:10 is not a discussion of glory, but a discussion of judgment. That is the theme that connects the two citations. Notice the text:

John 12:37-43 37 But though He had performed so many signs before them, yet they were not believing in Him. 38 This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet which he spoke: “LORD, WHO HAS BELIEVED OUR REPORT? AND TO WHOM HAS THE ARM OF THE LORD BEEN REVEALED?” 39 For this reason they could not believe, for Isaiah said again, 40 “HE HAS BLINDED THEIR EYES AND HE HARDENED THEIR HEART, SO THAT THEY WOULD NOT SEE WITH THEIR EYES AND PERCEIVE WITH THEIR HEART, AND BE CONVERTED AND I HEAL THEM.” 41 These things Isaiah said because he saw His glory, and he spoke of Him. 42 Nevertheless many even of the rulers believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they were not confessing Him, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue; 43 for they loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God.

Follow the idea:
   37: they were not believing
   38: who has believed?
   39: they could not believe
   40: God’s judicial blinding and hardening
   41: Isaiah said these things because he saw Jesus’ glory and spoke of Him
   42: Some believed, but, did not confess because
   43: they loved the approval of men rather than God.
   So the primary connection, provided by John himself, is the issue of unbelief and judgment. So when we come to verse 41, and John says Isaiah saw Jesus’ glory, and spoke of Him, is he referring to both texts, or only one text? Stafford has to direct our attention away from the citation of Isaiah 6:10 for obvious reasons. But the fact is that Isaiah said both things, and both have a common theme (which is why John cited them). So when John says Isaiah said these things because he saw Jesus’ glory, and spoke of Him, what is the natural understanding the original readers of John’s Gospel would gather?
   Let’s remember that the Greek speaking audience of this Gospel would have possessed and read the Greek Septuagint, the LXX. I have asserted that John is plainly making reference to Isaiah 6:1 when he says Isaiah “said these things” because Isaiah saw His glory and spoke of Him. Stafford cannot allow this because, of course, he’s one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and he cannot allow anything that would violate the central, definitional doctrine of the Watchtower. Let’s compare. Here is Stafford’s proposed reading:

Isaiah Source

John’s Reading

kai. doxasqh,setai sfo,dra

ei=den th.n do,xan auvtou/

Now compare mine:

Isaiah Source John’s Reading
ei=don to.n ku,rion plh,rhj o` oi=koj th/j do,xhj auvtou/

ei=den th.n do,xan auvtou/

Continue Reading →

A Test for Your Listening Skills — Part II

   Now, a little behind the scenes information. I have often said that the best “the other side” has to offer is the best way to make sure your own arguments are strongest. Arguing on the basis of the Least Common Denominator, going for the “popular” viewpoint, may sell more books, but it is not the way to honor the truth. In any case, I have credited Stafford’s published discussion of the texts that identify Jesus as Yahweh as a catalyst for a much stronger presentation in my own book. And so I was a bit surprised at Stafford’s response to the initial question, because it indicated to me that if he had in fact read my book, he had not read the endnotes. Or, he had no response to that material, because he was unable to interact meaningfully with the point. Here is what I said in The Forgotten Trinity. Note especially the material found in the endnotes:
Who Did Isaiah See?
   Toward the end of Jesus public ministry as recorded by John we find an incident where a group of Greeks seek out the Lord Jesus. The significance of the passage often goes right past us because we are looking more at the encounter than a little comment John tacks onto the end of his citation from Isaiah:

But though He had performed so many signs before them, yet they were not believing in Him. This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet which he spoke: LORD, WHO HAS BELIEVED OUR REPORT? AND TO WHOM HAS THE ARM OF THE LORD BEEN REVEALED? For this reason they could not believe, for Isaiah said again, HE HAS BLINDED THEIR EYES AND HE HARDENED THEIR HEART, SO THAT THEY WOULD NOT SEE WITH THEIR EYES AND PERCEIVE WITH THEIR HEART, AND BE CONVERTED AND I HEAL THEM. These things Isaiah said because he saw His glory, and he spoke of Him. (John 12:37-41)

   The struggle with the meaning of the words from Isaiah often causes us fly right past verse 41. Yet, what does John mean when he says that Isaiah said these things because he saw His glory and spoke of Him? Who is the Him to which Isaiah refers?
   We have to go back a little to see that John cites two passages from the book of Isaiah. In verse 38 he quotes from Isaiah 53:1, the great Suffering Servant passage that so plainly describes the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ. John says the unbelief of the Jews, despite their seeing signs, was a fulfillment of the word of Isaiah in Isaiah 53. He then goes beyond this to assert their inability to believe, and quotes from Isaiah 6 and the Temple Vision Isaiah received when he was commissioned as a prophet:

In the year of King Uzziah’s death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called out to another and said, Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts, The whole earth is full of His glory. And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke. (Isaiah 6:1-4)

   In this awesome vision, Isaiah sees Yahweh (the LORD) sitting upon His throne, surrounded by angelic worshipers. The glory of Yahweh fills his sight. Isaiah recognizes his sin, and is cleansed by the Lord, then commissioned to go and bring a message to the people. But the message is not one of salvation, but of judgment.

He said, Go, and tell this people: Keep on listening, but do not perceive; Keep on looking, but do not understand. Render the hearts of this people insensitive, Their ears dull, And their eyes dim, Otherwise they might see with their eyes, Hear with their ears, Understand with their hearts, And return and be healed. Then I said, Lord, how long? And He answered, Until cities are devastated and without inhabitant, Houses are without people And the land is utterly desolate (Isaiah 6:9-11)

   John cites the heart of the message of judgment given to Isaiah, and sees the hard heartedness of the Jews who had seen the miracles of the Lord Jesus, and heard His words of grace, as the fulfillment of these words.
   Then John says, These things Isaiah said because he saw His glory, and he spoke of Him. John has quoted from two passages in Isaiah, Isaiah 53:1 and Isaiah 6:10. Yet, the immediate context refers to the words from Isaiah 6, and there are other reasons why we should see the primarily reference as the Isaiah 6 passage. John speaks of Isaiah seeing glory. In Isaiah 6:1 the very same term is used of seeing the LORD, and the very term glory appears in verse 3.[7] Even if we connect both passages together, the fact remains that the only way to define what glory Isaiah saw was to refer to the glory of Isaiah 6:3.[8] And that glory was the glory of Yahweh. There is none other whose glory we can connect with Isaiah’s words.[9]
   Therefore, if we ask Isaiah, “Whose glory did you see in your vision of the temple?” he would reply, “Yahweh.” But, if we ask the same question of John, “Whose glory did Isaiah see?” he answers with the same answer—only in its fullness, “Jesus.” Who, then, was Jesus to John? None other than the eternal God in human flesh, Yahweh.
[7] The connection is actually closer than first glance might indicate, for the Greek Septuagint (the LXX) contains both the verb form John uses in verse 1, ei=don, and departing from the Hebrew text, it contains at the end of the verse the reading
th/j do,xhj auvtou/
meaning the house was full of His glory. This is the same phraseology used in John 12:41, th.n do,xan auvtou/, (the accusative for the genitive) meaning he saw His glory. The use of the same phraseology makes the connection to the John 6 passage unbreakable.
[8] Or, more likely, the term glory used in the LXX in verse 1.
[9] Stafford insists that we look only at Isaiah 53 for the referent to John 12:41, but does not deal with the verbal parallels to the Greek LXX. In fact, one will search in vain in Isaiah 53 for ei=den / ei=don being used with glory; and one will not find the phrase th.n do,xan auvtou/ or anything similar to it. The term glory only appears once in Isaiah 53, and that in a completely separate context.
   Now, Stafford claims that the verbal form of “glorify” appears in the LXX at Isaiah 53:13, and he repeats this assertion in his book (Jehovah’s Witnesses Defended, 177). However, there is no Isaiah 53:13 in the LXX. He is referring to Isaiah 52:13, “Behold, My servant will prosper, He will be high and lifted up and greatly exalted.” The LXX has the verb, doxasqh,setai, here. But as anyone can see, it is a tremendously far reach to try to connect this to the citation in John—downright desperate, in fact, especially in light of the obvious and direct parallel to Isaiah 6:1.
   In answer to his question, “Where did Isaiah speak about him?” the answer is far too obvious to even mention: Isaiah spoke of him in the Temple, surrounded by the angels, for his point is that Jesus is Yahweh! Stafford’s entire response collapses in light of the LXX reading, and the identification of Jesus as Yahweh stands firm.
   Tomorrow we will examine the second portion of the discussion.

A Test for Your Listening Skills

   Here’s a test. Watch this exchange from the debate on the deity of Christ from December of 2003 in Tampa. Tomorrow I will begin posting a discussion of the exchange. But, watch this first. Also, make note of the two main questions addressed in this exchange, and the answers provided by Stafford. Assign a relative “strength” to Stafford’s response. Obviously, without having watched what came before, you are at a bit of a disadvantage, but it is still worth the exercise.

While On Your Way to Church

   Sometimes I take a little trip through a residential area to avoid a bad corner on my way to the office. This morning as I went through this area I glanced at the thermometer and saw it was reading 111 degrees at only 10am. The thought crossed my mind, “I wonder if Jehovah’s Witnesses are out in this furnace?” I turned a corner and what did I see? An entire group of JW’s. And there, rolling up to someone’s door, three JW’s led by…a man in a wheelchair. Remember, it’s 111. I know, the “official” temperature was probably only 107 or so, but, that’s in the shade, and that man in the chair was not in the shade. I looked down the road and saw the inevitable van heading their way. They were at the end of their “service ministry.” I wondered when they had started.
   In case you are thinking I am going to try to do the “look at what those trapped in false religion will do for a lie while so many blessed with so much truth in Christ waste their lives satisfying their own personal desires” thing–while that is all quite true, that’s not where I’m going. Instead, my thoughts turned to a phrase I have used a number of times on this blog, “Theology matters.” I look at those folks going door to door spreading a message of…what? They do not believe they are “in” Christ. They have no heavenly hope, they are not in the New Covenant, they do not stand justified in the righteousness of Christ, they have no sure promise of final salvation. They truly have nothing more than a second-class salvation system.
   What about you? Most of my readers have been blessed to be part of a sound, biblical fellowship of believers. You may be going today, or just now returning from, a church where the gospel–in purity, in truth–was proclaimed this day. So let me ask you, because I know all too well how it is: how much did you rejoice in that gospel this day? Did you consider the glory of being redeemed, forgiven, freely, so that you are the blessed man or woman of Romans 4:7-8? Or were you distracted by…so many of those things that get in our way of rejoicing in what is truly important? Got cut off on the way to church? Got a late start because [fill in the blank] just can’t get out the door on time no matter how early he/she gets up? Upset because Mr. X or Mrs. Y said something snippy to you on the way into Bible Study? Thinking so much about duties next week you could not even hear the sermon after the first 90 seconds? No, I wasn’t following you around. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt.
   The ease with which we are distracted from worship says a lot about how much we really love the gospel. If we treasure it so that it defines us and has captured our hearts, will we not rejoice in its proclamation, revel in contemplating its truths? How often we lose so much blessing because we are so earthly minded!
   So as you go to church today, rejoice that you are not enslaved to a system that would have you proving your worthiness to Jehovah in a wheel chair in the Arizona sun. And pray God’s Spirit will aid you in worshipping God in spirit and in truth this day.