Let’s say you were in an extended debate/conversation with a believing member of the LDS faith (then again, why would a non-believing member bother debating with you anyway, but I digress). You are debating the LDS belief that God the Father is a physical–being, separate and distinct ontologically from the Son (i.e., they are two separate beings, not just two separate persons, and hence two separate gods). He is referring to the passages in John where the Father and the Son are clearly distinguished fromone another, and in particular to the passage where Jesus is referring to the Fathers witness to him, John 8:16-17:
“But even if I do judge, My judgment is true; for I am not alone [in it], but I and the Father who sent Me. Even in your law it has been written that the testimony of two men is true.
He argues that Jesus would not use the term man of God in this context if God were not, in fact, an exalted man, and at the very least this shows that our aversion to referring to God as a man is unbiblical.
Now, lets say you responded as follows: “Jesus can’t possibly be saying that God the Father is a man in verse 17, because that would mean God is like us, only exalted!” What would your LDS friend say? “Exactly, that’s my point!” Which would probably mean your argument is not a very good one. In fact, it would indicate you are not a very good debater, either, if you think your opponent is going to be compelled by an argument that in essence repeats his own conclusions.
Why raise this rather obvious point? Because it seems to have escaped certain high-powered scholars–high powered, at least, in their view of themselves. I refer to this now oft-repeated argument:
The Judaizers were legalists, who thought that the Law, which was in place long before Christ died on the cross, was sufficient for justification (Gal. 3:21). They did not need Christ to deliver them from the curse of the Law, to provide a righteousness they could not secure for themselves (Gal. 3:10-14). Why? Because they thought it WAS possible to adequately obey the Law. They did not believe that the Law brought only a curse from which they needed to be delivered by a Law-endingatonement for sin and a new covenant. That was the whole problem. The Judaizers did not see the Law as an ineffective solution to sin. That is why Paul accuses them of rejecting the need for Jesus’ atoning death (Gal. 2:21). The problem with receiving circumcision was not that it added one little, itsy bitsy, teeny weeny work of merit to faith in Jesus. The problem with circumcision is that its continuation implied the continued use of the Law for righteousness (Gal. 5:3 cf. Rom. 10:4). The gospel of Christ is the negation of every effort to secure or maintain ones righteous status before God on the basis of personal obedience to the Law.
This is an excellent example of why the academy so often wanders off into the forest and often needs to be called back to reality by the church. Is it true that the Judaizers, in particular, those in Galatia (the references noted above), denied the necessity of the atonement? That surely is not how Christian scholars have read Paul’s words in the past, but that doesn’t stop young scholars from charting new paths. So, is there really a sound basis for viewing Galatians in this fashion?
Well, lets consider Pauls own words, referenced above, in Galatians 2:20-21:
I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the [life] which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness [comes] through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.
Now, if this point on Paul’s part is going to accomplish anything, it would have to contain a conclusion that demonstrates the error of the Judaizers, just like in our example above. I mean, if Paul’s conclusion is nothing more than what his opponents are already saying, where is the force of the argument? So obviously, the Judaizers were not saying Christ died needlessly, for if they were, Pauls argument is worthless. Instead, as sober scholars have known all along, Pauls argument is based upon the recognition that Paul’s opponents were not in fact denying the importance, centrality, or even salvific nature, of Christ’s atonement. They, like all who have followed in their footsteps since then, recognized the necessity of that sacrifice; but, they likewise sought to control the access to that work through human means. They claimed to be preaching the gospel, did they not? Gal. 1:6-9 shows they were, of course. So are we to believe that Paul would call a cross-less message another gospel in any sense at all? Why did Paul say to those who would be circumcised “Christ will be of no benefit to you” (5:2) if his opponents were not making room for Christ in addition to their legalism? And why say, “And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole law” (5:3) if once again this is doing nothing more than simply repeating the very position of his opponents, who would then say, “Hey, we think Paul is starting to get the point!” If your opponents are saying you can be made righteous by keeping the entire law, it is a pretty lame argument to simply repeat their own position as if this refutes them. And yet, some really bright young scholars are so intent upon charting their own course and proving their own brilliance that they end up making this kind of obvious error in their reading of the text. That alone would be sad enough: but when that is then picked up by others resulting in confusion and in fact in a denial of the centrality of justification and the encouragement of gospel-denying ecumenism, we see why there is no academy–in Scripture, and Christ’s wisdom in the organization of the church, and the words of Scripture, is seen: