Tag Archives: Trinitarianism

Review: Journal for Trinitarian Studies and Apologetics (2)


The first article I’ll be engaging in my extended reviews is “Jesus’ Claims to be God: Answering the Objections,” by Edward L. Dalcour, senior lecturer of the North-West University Faculty of Theology. This post will broadly present the author’s main thesis before treating individual sections. Along the way, some issues of definitions and methods will be discussed as the material warrants.[1] This will make this review much larger than the others, but many of the articles appeal to the same presuppositions and definitions, so it should help to set the stage for some of the discussion to come.

Dalcour’s article is aimed at supporting the traditional Trinitarian notion of Jesus as one of the three persons constituting the one being that is God. Ostensibly, the article seeks to answer objections to this ideology, but in reality the few objections presented are weak hermeneutic claims broadly attributed to “all unitarian groups” (93). There is one section directly addressing the New World Translation’s rendering of “I have been” for John 8:58’s ἐγὼ εἰμί, but the bulk of the article is dedicated to positive exegetical support for the assertions that (1) the New Testament declares Jesus to be “God the Son,” (2) it does so in “the most unequivocal and explicit way” (114, all emphases will be in original), more so “than if he had literally said: I am God” (94), and (3) salvation is predicated upon acknowledgement of Jesus’ identity as God.

Methodological Considerations

The second proposition listed above is the starting point for Dalcour’s discussion. The premise for the idea that “I am God” would not have been explicit enough is the claim that the word “god” had a variety of meanings in the Bible “according to the context in which it appears” (94–95). In addition to “the true God,” the Greek θεός can also refer to “false gods,” and the Hebrew אלהים can refer to judges (Exod 21:6 and 22:8–9), angels, and “false gods.” None of these entities were gods “by nature,” and the entities actually thought to exist were only called “gods” because they operated as God’s representatives. Thus, Jesus’ claim to be God would have been understood rather as a claim to be a representative of God.

There are multiple methodological problems with this claim, and I use this opportunity to make some general comments about method and definitions that will bear on subsequent article reviews. First, Dalcour’s English phrase “I am God” is not as ambiguous as he would have you believe. “God,” with a capital G, is a title designating a very specific divine entity within the contemporary Judeo-Christian worldview. On the other hand, “god,” with a lowercase g, simply designates a member of the generic noun class “deity.” It normally follows an indefinite article in the kinds of ambiguous singular predicate nominatives Dalcour is describing. “I am God” and “I am a god” are quite different claims. The latter actually reflects the ambiguity Dalcour suggests, but he is markedly reticent to use such terminology. Even in his statement that angels, judges, and false gods are not “by nature, God,” he refuses to refer to the generic category (“not, by nature, gods”). His comment, as a result, does not mean angels, judges, and false gods are not deities, but rather that they are not YHWH himself. (He also fails to provide any evidence for such a qualification, or for the presumption that the Jews of Second Temple Palestine were so concerned with ontology.)

The reason for Dalcour’s equivocation is the fundamentalist position that YHWH, the God of Israel, exhausts the category of deity. The being of YHWH and the category “deity” are coterminous. There is no deity beyond the being of YHWH. It is thus impossible to be “a god” in the fundamentalist worldview. “Ontological monotheism” precludes it because YHWH leaves no space in the category. This is why the phrase “the deity of Christ” doesn’t mean “Christ’s divinity,” but “Christ’s identity as God.” Ironically, it is also why the frequent reference to other entities as “gods” throughout the Bible must be interpreted as mere honorific titles lent to representatives. Dalcour actually interprets the word to mean the one and only thing his theology allows it to mean, despite his claim that it can mean different things. Observe his comments on Exod 7:1:

‘See, I make you as God [Elohim] to Pharaoh.’ Of course, Moses was not actually made true deity, but only as God’s direct representative, he was made ‘as God’ to Pharaoh.

In other words, and in contradiction to his comment that “the term God in Scripture has an assortment of meanings according to the context in which it appears,” the word does only mean “God” (i.e., YHWH). The difference, for Dalcour, is that the title is simply borrowed by those who are operating as his “direct representative.” This is not a different “meaning,” it’s just a metonymic use with the exact same meaning. There is also a problem with Dalcour’s rendering of Exod 7:1. The Hebrew does not say “as God,” the Hebrew says נתתיך אלהים לפרעה, “I have made you a god to Pharaoh.” There is no hint whatsoever of the comparative particle “as.” Again, Dalcour cannot allow for a different meaning, despite explicitly stating that it has different meanings. Divine power has been given to Moses in Exodus 7, allowing him to function in the role of a deity in his dealings with the Egyptian king. “Deity” is not ontological here, but functional. This is how the term should be understood in Hebrew.[2]

This brings us to his examples about angels and judges. Simply put, the Hebrew אלהים never referred to human judges. I have discussed this previously here, but I have provided a more detailed discussion in this document. For this review, I make some summarizing comments and then move on. The Hebrew word for “judges” in Exodus 21–22 is פללים, as is made clear by Exod 21:22. Additionally, there is no reason for the individuals mentioned in each section to go before judges; appearance before judges is presupposed, as v. 22 also makes clear. The verse calls for whatever penalty the judges levy, meaning the verse presupposes the case has been heard by judges. These law codes were to be applied and enforced by the judges, so there is no need to prescribe appearance before them. The plural verbal forms in Exod 22:8–9 are likely to be understood as reflecting a singular sense, as in 1 Sam 28:13–14. The best reading is thus “to/before God.”

Next, while all angels were certainly deities in early Israelite religion, not all deities were angels. Angels were the servile lowest class of deity. Above them were the “sons of God,” who were the operative deities who had relative autonomy and were often petulant and lascivious. The story of their escapades with human women in Gen 6:2–4 is an example. Angels were not conceived of as disobedient within the Israelite worldview until the exilic and post-exilic periods, and that reading was itself rejected around the turn of the era in favor of a human reading (this is why the angelic reading of Gen 6:2–4 was vehemently rejected by many early Jewish authors and rabbis).[3] The presence of the “sons of God” in heaven and at the creation of the world (Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7), their contrast with humans (Gen 6:2–4; Ps 82:6–7), and their direct inheritance of rule over the nations from El Elyon (Deut 32:8–9) makes it absolutely undeniable that they were conceived of as deities. Dalcour’s conflation of the two classes of deities reads later theological constructions into the Hebrew Bible. There is nothing to suggest the two were equated prior to the Greco-Roman period.

The next problem with Dalcour’s claim is actually the ambiguity he asserts for the term “god” in the Greek. “I am God” is quite unambiguous in English, but Greek lacks the definite article, meaning “I am God” is grammatically indistinguishable from “I am a god.” In the Greek, Dalcour’s concern for vagueness is justified, although his arguments in other portions of the article flatly ignore the very concern he expresses. In fact, many of them actually rest upon the very rejection of that vagueness. For instance, of Jesus’ claim to be one with God in John 10:30 he states, “the response of the Jews in verse 10:33 is an irrefutable confirmation of Jesus’ claim of being equal with God—God Himself: ‘For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy; and because You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God” (107). The term is supposed to be ambiguous, though. Dalcour equivocates once more. The verse could just as accurately be rendered “make yourself out to be a god.” Given Dalcour’s explanation of the inadequacy of the term θεός to specifically designate God himself, we would expect him to suggest this reading. He does not, though. In fact, he asserts that ambiguous predication to be an “irrefutable confirmation” that Jesus is God himself. Evidently is it explicit enough when Dalcour needs it to be. He also insists John 1:1 and 20:28 declare Jesus to be God himself (116), but again, we’re dealing with that ambiguous and indeterminate noun that just doesn’t serve to do what Dalcour wants it to do. He is arguing out of both sides of his mouth.

In reality, John 10:33 is best rendered as “a god,” since Jesus’ rebuttal is a scripture that designates other humans “gods” in the generic sense (according to the then contemporary reading of Ps 82:6).[4] That response would be a ridiculous strawman if the accusation were that he claimed to be God himself, rather than a member of the generic class of deity. That makes little sense. The Jews’ accusation is best understood to reflect a claim to be divine in the generic sense. To paraphrase Jesus’ argument, “why are you getting upset that I, as the son of God, am a deity, when your own scriptures, which you consider authoritative, call other humans deities?” No identification with the being of YHWH is at all intimated.

The third problem with Dalcour’s claim is his inconsistent notion of “context.” Above he refers to the individual literary contexts of each occurrence of the word “god,” but in his discussion of “sons of God” he claims that in a “Semitic (Jewish) context, to be the ‘son of’ something meant that one possesses or shares the nature of that something” (103). This again asserts a fundamental concern for ontology in early Judaism, but it also asserts an incredibly broad context, specifically the context of all Jewish language and literature. This is a bizarre claim, since it basically invalidates the influence of all possible literary contexts. He declares the phrase to mean the exact same thing no matter the immediate context, since the wider “Jewish” context establishes a single, consistent, and figurative (!) meaning.

This is nonsense, however, since “son of” can certainly refer to a variety of things within a “Jewish context,” including literal male genetic descendance. Figuratively, it refers most often to a shared functionality, rather than a shared essence, as in “sons of the prophets” (1 Kgs 20:35; 2 Kgs 2:3, 5, 7, 15; 4:1, 38; 5:22; 6:1), or “sons of Belial” (Judg 19:22; 1 Sam 2:12; 2 Sam 23:6; 1 Kgs 21:10). Dalcour is asserting a specific metaphorical sense for the phrase in all its usage within Jewish literature, although he then goes on to directly reject that sense. Immediately after stating the “son of” means one shares in the essence of the nomen rectum, he states that humans who are called “sons of God” (John 1:12) are so “by adoption.” Suddenly, “son of” does not mean a shared essence. Evidently the broad Christian ideological context obliterated the universal Jewish context. He elaborates even further, though:

Even though the phrase “son(s) of God” was applied to angels and men, when applied to Jesus, it was in a context of essence or nature. Whereas Christians are sons of God by adoption, Jesus is the Son of God by nature—which was a clear claim of deity.

Suddenly it is not the “Jewish” context that indicates a shared essence, but only the contexts in which Jesus alone is called “son of God.” He flatly contradicts himself in claiming the phrase specifically refers to shared essence in a “Jewish context” and then immediately claiming that only in those references to Jesus alone does the immediate context impose the sense of shared essence.[5]

The last broad methodological shortcoming I discuss is perhaps the most pervasive within the articles of this journal, and that is the claim that the scriptures must be read univocally:

We must take Scripture as a unit: All Scripture is theopneustos—“breathed out by God.” Hence, John 8:58 and the other absolute “I am” clams [sic] are all a part of 1:1 and 20:28, which are a part of 5:17 and 10:30. And these are a part of 1 John 5:20, which is a part of Romans 9:5; Philippians 2:6-11; and Colossians 2:9, which are all a part of Isaiah 9:6 and the prologue of Hebrews. In other words the entirety of Scripture must be considered when examining the “I am” claims of Christ.

There are several problems with this application of 2 Tim 3:16. First, the author of 2 Timothy never delineates what texts he believes to be scripture. That the modern Evangelical delineation of “Scripture” is intended is simply assumed by Dalcour. This, of course, means he is not engaging critics, but talking to people who already agree with him. It also conflicts with the scriptures themselves, as, for instance, the author of Jude obviously considered 1 Enoch to be inspired scripture.[6] Jude 1:14 states that Enoch prophesied (προφήτευσεν) of God’s coming in judgment with ten thousands saints, directly quoting 1 En 1:9.[7] Dalcour would never accept it as such, though, despite Jude’s clear belief in its inspired and authoritative status.[8] Even if one rejects the conclusion that Jude thought the text was scripture, the author unquestionably feels 1 En 1:9 preserves an authentic prophecy uttered by Enoch. Is the author of Jude mistaken here in taking 1 Enoch as the actual inspired prophesies of Enoch?

For the author of 2 Tim 3:16, “scripture” referred to the authoritative Jewish texts. There is no indication the author conceived of any texts that would subsequently be included in the then-non-existent New Testament as scripture. Certainly a couple later NT texts can be read to understand some Pauline texts as scripture, but that has no bearing on the position of the author of 2 Timothy, unless, of course, one commits to a circular argument by insisting that later texts must be interpreted univocally with 2 Tim 3:16 because 2 Tim 3:16 says so.

Next, the precise meaning of the word θεόπνευστος is unknown. We don’t know exactly what it meant to first century Christians to be “God-breathed”? Does that refer to the transmission of the scripture to the author, or all the way to the executed composition? Does  it entirely preclude any human filtering or influence? The fundamentalist answer will obviously be quick and decisive, but will also be based on nothing more than theological presupposition. “It means X to me today, so it meant the same to them back then.” There is no lexical or rhetorical context for the word in the first century CE, so there is simply no way to know how to answer the questions above. Even when the word does begin to show up in later literature, there is not enough specificity in its usage to say whether or not univocality is actually demanded by 2 Tim 3:16’s characterization of scripture. What ends up requiring univocality for modern Evangelicals is the imposition of Enlightenment-era philosophizing.

Next, univocality is flatly precluded by a number of texts from the Bible. For instance, Acts 15:16–17 ostensibly quote “the words of the prophets” in Amos 9:11–12 to defend the taking of the gospel to the gentiles, but in reality they quote a Greek testimonia that conflates the words of different prophets in v. 16 and then adapts the Septuagint’s misreading of Amos 9:12 in v. 17 (see my discussion here).[9] The resulting text has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the actual words of Amos 9, which refer only to the military reconquest of lands belonging to YHWH at Israel’s political height. We know the rendering must come from the autograph, since the Hebrew has no bearing at all on the question of taking the gospel to the gentiles. Only the Septuagint’s misreading bears on the context of James’ quotation. The author of Acts has James insist the prophets of the Old Testament say something they simply do not say.

Then there are the examples of outright disagreement between authors. For instance, Rom 3:28 says that “a person is justified by faith, and not by the works of the law.” Rom 4:1–4 argues that Abraham was not justified by works, asserting in v. 2 that if Abraham were justified by works, he would have something about which to boast. James 2, on the other hand, directly refutes Paul. In Jas 2:21 he responds to Paul’s assertion about Abraham, insisting he was indeed justified by works. In v. 24 he responds to Paul’s underlying claim about justification by works, stating, “You see, then, that a person is justified by works, and not by faith alone.” James flatly disagrees with the author of Romans and repeatedly emphasizes his position. Faith and works do not share a dichotomous relationship, but a vertical and dependent one. Faith is derivative of works, and thus salvation is very much dependent upon works. Many creative ways have been concocted to harmonize the two accounts, such as insisting Paul meant only the rituals of the law of Moses, or that James refers to a different kind of justification, namely public justification before people. Such eisegetic question-begging derives entirely and exclusively from the subjugation of the scriptures to modern tradition.

For these reasons and others, I can neither accept Dalcour’s insistence that we read the texts univocally nor the conclusions he rests upon that insistence. Univocality has absolutely nothing to support it; it does nothing but damage to the original message of the texts, and it serves only to obscure those aspects of the Bible that problematize contemporary conservative dogmas.

Dalcour’s Case

I now move on to the Dalcour’s arguments. He lists four claims found in the New Testament that he asserts “explicitly demonstrate that Jesus did indeed claim to be God, in the same sense as God the Father” (96):

(1) the seven ἐγὼ εἰμί declarations
(2) “The ‘Son of God’—in essence (i.e., God the Son)”
(3) John 10:30: “I and the Father are one”
(4) Jesus as “Alpha and the Omega,” “The First and the Last,” and “The Beginning and the End”

(1), (2), and (4) argue, essentially, that Jesus carried designations reserved in the Hebrew Bible exclusively for YHWH. (3) argues that Jesus’ claim to be “one” with God, and the Jews’ interpretation of his nature as God’s son indicating he is “equal” with God, is “irrefutable confirmation” of Jesus’ identity as God. Many of the details of these arguments, however, betray an inadequate understanding of the texts’ literary and cultural contexts. In the interest of space, I address only his discussion of the ἐγὼ εἰμί declarations and then draw some implications for argument (4). John 10:30 and “Son of God” have been discussed already.

Essentially, for Dalcour, Jesus’ seven “I am” claims (John 5:24, 28, 58; 13:19; 18:5, 6, 8) are non-predicated statements that allude directly to Deut 32:39 Heb. אני הוא; LXX ἐγὼ εἰμί), which was understood throughout Judaism to be a claim to self-existence which was attributed exclusively to YHWH. As a result, Jesus is claiming to be the “I am,” which is “a clear and absolute claim to deity” (97).

Dalcour’s presentation of the meaning of the ἐγὼ εἰμί fails to address the vast majority of the exegetical issues associated with the phrase. He addresses none of the nuances of the use of the non-predicated construction throughout the Septuagint or the New Testament (e.g., John 6:20; 9:9), or the relationship of that construction to the predicated construction. He does not address the fact that the predicate is implied in several occurrences of the non-predicated construction, often indicated by a clear antecedent (John 4:26; 8:24; 18:5). Additionally, he shows no familiarity with several important English publications on the Hebrew and/or the Greek phrase in question.[10] Rather, he describes the interpretation of the construction as black and white, which is a gross misrepresentation.

There are several ways to understand the construction that Dalcour insists could have only been understood one way. In John 8:24, for instance, it is to be understood as “I am he.” Not only is this indicated by the presence of the antecedent (the one “not of this world,” i.e., the heavenly Messiah), but also by the response, “Who are you?” rather than “you are what?” or “No, you’re not!” The Jews miss the messianic inference,[11] not only undermining the connection with YHWH himself, but also proving incorrect the notion that such a connection was “clearly understood” by the Jews. It was not. Jesus had to assert his preexistent relationship with God vis-à-vis Abraham for them to blow their collective stack.

Jesus stresses a unique relationship with God in vv. 26 and 28, but also stresses his subordination to God and the inertness of his own will. That’s hardly the context for claiming to be the very God of the Old Testament. J. F. McGrath points out, quoting C. K. Barrett,[12] that it is nonsense to read John presenting Jesus as saying, “I am Yahweh, the God of the Old Testament, and as such I do exactly what I am told.” That is exactly what Jesus claims in vv. 26 and 28, though. While the “I am” claim of John 8:58 appears to be absolute, and asserts a special relationship with God, there is simply no reason to understand that relationship to be one of identity or ontology.

The real ideological context of Jesus’ unique relationship with God and his name is the notion of divine agency. In the ancient Near East and in early Judaism one’s authority was connected with their name, and that authority was communicable along with the name. In the Hebrew Bible, God’s name is “in” the angel of YHWH, which grants him God’s authority to pardon or not to pardon sins (Exod 23:21). The temple in Jerusalem is also intended as the dwellingplace for God’s name, at least in the Deuteronomistic literature (2 Sam 7:13; 1 Kgs 5:5; 8:16, 18, 29; 9:3). In the first century Jewish Apocalypse of Abraham, the principle angel Yahoel (YHW[H]+El) bears God’s two names, and in chapter 10 it is explained that he exercises God’s power through that very name, which he describes as “dwelling in me” (vv. 3, 8). Phil 2:9 explains that God “highly exalted” Jesus, and “gave him the name which is above all names.” Complete subordination to the will of the divine patron makes sense of Jesus’ claim in John 8 to do what he is told. Jesus’ possession of God’s name is not unique within early Judaism, or even within early Christianity. According to Rev 3:12, he that overcomes will have God’s name and Jesus’ new name written upon him.

Jesus’ relationship with God in John is not one of identity, but agency. Ontology was not nearly as big a concern for Jews as functionality and authority. Concerns with ontology arose with the widespread assimilation of Greco-Roman worldviews in the second century CE and after.[13] As was explained above, the figurative use of “son of” in the Bible has nothing to do with “essence,” but rather with functionality. Dalcour repeatedly retrojects much later philosophical models and concerns into the texts of the New Testament. The fact that titles applied to YHWH in the Old Testament are appropriated by Jesus in the New Testament is not an assertion of ontological identity, but of divine agency. This extends also to the book of Revelation’s use of “Alpha and Omega” and other titles in reference to Jesus. The titles were appropriated for unique rhetorical circumstances, which meant they had specific reference to Jesus’ function as Messiah, but also reflected his connection with God.


Dalcour’s arguments only function within a fundamentalist Evangelical worldview, which means they’re not aimed at critics or the actual objections, but at others who already agree. Without already presupposing basically all the scriptural dogmas of modern Trinitarianism, a sustainable argument for the “deity” of Christ in the New or Old Testaments (in the sense of Jesus’ ontological identification as God) simply cannot be made. The evidence for the trinity’s slow development over time is quite clear, and the primary steps in the direction of that orthodoxy were taken during the apologetic era of the second century, when Christian ideologies were intellectualized and philosophized in an effort to facilitate their promulgation among the authorities and intelligencia of wider Greco-Roman culture.

This intellectualization caused orthodoxy’s eclipsing of orthopraxy, which is fundamentally responsible for Dalcour’s attempt to read the soteriological necessity of the trinity into John 8:24. As has been shown, however, John 8:24 does not refer to Jesus’ identity as God, but to his role as Son of God—the one “from above.” In other words, John insists on the belief that Jesus is the Son of God. This is consistent with the testimony of all the New Testament authors who address the question. The most repeated and ideologically significant claims about Jesus made throughout the New Testament are the assertions that he is the Messiah and the Son of God. Jesus himself links salvation almost exclusively with proper conduct and actions (he even identifies belief as a work), while other authors also give priority to the understanding of Jesus as (1) Christ and (2) Son of God. The authors of John themselves explain that this is the entire purpose of the existence of the gospel (John 20:31): “these things are written that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.” For other examples of the priority of that identification, see Matt 16:15–16; 26:63; Luke 4:41; John 6:69; 11:27; Acts 8:37; 9:20; Rom 1:4; Eph 4:13; 1 Jo 4:15; 5:5, 10, 13.

[1] Some of my analysis will treat presuppositions that are commonly shared among Christian groups. It may seem unfair to challenge such suppositions in light of the journal’s own desription as “for the church and by the church,” but two observations, I believe, warrant such challenging. First, the journal ostensibly adopts an academic approach and interacts with several scholars whose work does not presuppose the relevant dogmas. As an explicitly apologetic endeavor, it cannot expect freedom from critical analysis. Second, there is really little reason for apologetics at all if a layperson or scholar demands that certain dogmas be ceded without argument. How can one demand dogmas like inerrancy be given a pass while directly engaging objections to dogmas like Christ’s identification as God?

[2] This is why David can be called אלהים in Ps 45:6–7. It is why Hezekiah can be called “Mighty God” in Isa 9:6. Kings were thought to be intermediaries between the divine world and the human world, thus they were not infrequently called “gods.” See the essays in Nicole Brisch, ed., Religion and Power: Divine Kingship in the Ancient World and Beyond (Chicago, Ill.: Oriental Institute, 2008).

[3] See P. Alexander, “The Targumim and Early Exegesis of the ‘Sons of God’ in Genesis 6,” JJS 23 (1972): 60–71.

[4] See J. S. Ackerman, “The Rabbinic Interpretation of Psalm 82 and the Gospel of John,” HTR 59.2 (1966): 186–91; J. H. Neyrey, “‘I Said: Your Are Gods’: Psalm 82:6 and John 10,” JBL 108.4 (1989): 647–663. Heiser rejects this understanding of Christ’s reading on the grounds, primarily, that John would be reading things into the text that were not there (here), but  eisegesis was quite common in New Testament interpretation of the Hebrew Bible. Cf. my SBL paper on the contemporary LDS reading of Psalm 82, here.

[5] Of course, there is nothing in any context that demands such a reading. In every instance where Jesus is called “son of God,” the context indicates the possession of divine authority and functionality, not nature or essence. It is always about what power Jesus has, not what ontology he has. The literary context of the phrase “son of God” will be discussed in more detail below.

[6] Here the fundamentalist approach runs into more problems. Even if a modern reader decides that they believe the apologetic notion that the quotation formula used does not indicate canonicity, the author of Jude unquestionably believes that 1 En 1:9 actually contains a prophecy uttered by Enoch himself.

[7] Cf. R. Bauckham, “A Note on a Problem in the Greek Version of I Enoch i.9,” JTS 32 (1981) 136–38 and the numerous discussions in L. M. MacDonald’s publications on canon: The Formation of the Christian Biblical Canon. Second Revised Edition (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1995); “Identifying Scipture and Canon in the Early Church: The Criteria Question,” in The Canon Debate (edited by L. M. MacDonald and J. A. Sanders; Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 2002), 416–39; The Biblical Canon: Its Origin, Transmission, and Authority (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2007); Forgotten Scriptures: The Selection and Rejection of Early Religious Writings (Lousiville, Kent.: Westminster John Knox, 2009). External evidence supports the authoritative position the book enjoyed in earliest Judaism and Christianity. For instance, there were more copies of 1 Enoch discovered among the Dead Sea Scrolls than all other books of the Bible save Deuteronomy and the Psalms.

[8] It is Evangelical tradition and exegesis that is inerrant and inspired for Dalcour, not the scriptures in and of themselves. The Bible is subordinate to that tradition. This is nothing new, of course. All authoritative texts, whether religious or political, mediate the constant negotiation and renegotiation of a community’s past with its present, with the present taking priority. Those aspects of the texts and traditions no longer relevant to the community’s identity are reinterpreted, ignored, or sometimes even excised from the corpus. As an example, the New Testament has been read as supporting slavery for almost two millennia. Once that reading was no longer culturally prudent, it has either been culturally compartmentalized or flat out rejected. For more on communal memory, especially as it relates to the New Testament, see A. Kirk and T. Thatcher, eds., Memory, Tradition, and Text: Uses of the Past in Early Christianity (Atlanta, Ga.: Society of Biblical Literature, 2005).

[9] For more, see here, here, here, and, more recently, W. E. Glenny, “The Septuagint and Apostolic Hermeneutics: Amos 9 and Acts 15,” BBR 22.1 (2012): 1–26.

[10] For instance, R.E. Brown, ‘Appendix IV: EGŌ EIMI—I AM’, in The Gospel According to John (i-xii) (Anchor Bible Commentary, 29; Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1966), 533–38 P. B. Harner, The ‘I Am’ of the Fourth Gospel: A Study in Johannine Usage and Thought (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1970); D. M. Ball, ‘I Am’ in John’s Gospel: Literary Function, Background, and Theological Implications (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1996); C. H. Williams, I Am He: The Interpretation of ’Anî Hû’ in Jewish and Early Christian Literature (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2000); A. Y. Collins and J. Collins, King and Messiah as Son of God: Divine, Human, and Angelic Messianic Figures in Biblical and Related Literature (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2008), 178–81; P. N. Anderson, “The Origin and Development of the Johannine Egō Eimi Sayings in Cognitive-Critical Perspective,” JSHJ 9 (2011): 139–206.

[11] Note that in John 10:24 the Jews ask him to be explicit and tell them whether or not he is the messiah, the χριστός. He responds that he’s already told them, and they didn’t believe him. They never ask him if he’s God, they only ever ask if he’s the messiah.

[12] McGrath, The Only True God: Early Christian Monotheism in Its Jewish Context (Urbana, Ill.: University of Illinois Press, 2009), 61–62.

[13] For discussions of divine agency, see McGrath, The Only True God, 107–08: “The term ‘agent’ used here, like the term ‘angel,’ which is applied often to Jesus/the Logos in early Christian (and Jewish) writings, has to do with function and does not have ontological issues and considerations in view.” This concept was also found in the wider ancient Near East. Cf. B. Pongratz-Leisten, “Divine Agency and Astralization of the Gods in Ancient Mesopotamia,” in Reconsidering the Concept of Revolutionary Monotheism (edited by B. Pongratz-Leisten; Winona Lake, Indiana: Eisenbrauns, 2011), 140–52.


Review: Journal for Trinitarian Studies and Apologetics (1)


I recently ordered and received the first issue of The Journal for Trinitarian Studies and Apologetics, the new journal published by the conservative Evangelical organization, Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry, or CARM. This issue retails on Amazon for $6.50. I plan to review each article individually on my blog, but in this post I share some general introductory thoughts regarding layout, editing, tone, audience, etc.

I think such a post is merited for two reasons. First, this post provides a bit of rhetorical context for the individual article reviews. These aren’t traditional academic articles written for an academic audience; rather they are devotional articles with an academic tinge that are aimed primarily at a conservative Evangelical lay audience. A couple of the articles are even written by lay authors. I get the impression from the tone and from the lexicon employed by the authors that they are speaking directly to members of their own faith community. The authors’ hermeneutical presuppositions, when they are stated, are largely presumed to be shared by the readers, and there is no defense or support offered for those principles that flatly contradict traditional academic approaches. For example, in Dalcour’s article we find the following axiom asserted in the author’s interpretation of the gospel of John:

We must take Scripture as a unit: All Scripture is theopneustos
“breathed out by God.” Hence, John 8:58 and the other absolute “I am” clams [sic] are all a part of 1:1 and 20:28, which are a part of 5:17 and 10:30. And these are a part of 1 John 5:20, which is a part of Romans 9:5; Philippians 2:6-11; and Colossians 2:9, which are all a part of Isaiah 9:6 and the prologue of Hebrews.

In other words, fundamentalist dogmas must govern the investigation, because the author says so.

The journal is ostensibly apologetic in scope, but there is little, if any, apologetic aimed beyond the boundaries of the Evangelical faith community. Rather, the journal seeks to convince its own constituency that Evangelicalism is biblically and intellectually defensible, and that other traditions lack that support. Most commonly falling between the crosshairs are Jehovah’s Witnesses, Unitarians, Muslims, and Mormons, but even they are addressed as the uninformed “other.” Broadly speaking, the journal is faith promotion and boundary maintenance, drawing an ideological line in the sand around the authors’ and editors’ conceptualization of Evangelicalism. The editor’s own contribution (the last article in the volume) illustrates this in his marginalizing of those Evangelicals who espouse an anthropological monism (but more on that later).

Second, the problems with the layout and editing are so numerous and egregious as to require their own discussion. This journal lacks professionalism at every stage of the editorial process. When I got the journal, I first opened to the copyright page and the first things I noticed were two ISBNs (International Standard Book Numbers), which are used for individual books. Someone didn’t think to register an ISSN (International Standard Serial Number), which is designated for serial publications like magazines and journals. This means they have to register an entirely new ISBN with each issue they publish (the journal states it is biannual).

I turned the page and the next thing I saw were ligatures connecting the “t” to the “r” in the word “introduction” in the title of the editor’s introduction. The kerning is inconsistent throughout the article titles, and in several places it is quite noticeable. As an example, here is a scan of a single title page.

cover i

Notice, in addition to the bad kerning, that the indentations for each paragraph are inconsistent. Did the editor not want the last line of the first paragraph to end before the first word of the next paragraph? They picked an unfortunate method for overcoming that problem. Neither are the author’s name and the subtitle centered on the page. Rather, they seem centered on the indented first lines of the paragraphs that follow.

Next, there are issues with the fonts. The editor’s introduction is in a smaller sized font than the rest of the articles, to begin. All the articles use transliteration where they reference Greek and Hebrew, but the article by Edward L. Dalcour appears to have been intended to have some Greek script. It clearly didn’t come through, though. Footnote 14 on page 97 quotes another author, stating, “cf. Isaiah 43:10 where the very words occur iJna pishteushte –oJti egw eimi.” That’s right, the font and/or keyboard wasn’t changed to Greek, leaving a jumble of Latin characters easily decipherable to English speakers familiar with the Greek keyboard configurations. This happens twice more in the body of the article, with the intended Greek phrase in a conspicuously larger sans-serif font.

The footnotes also use a sans-serif font that does not fit well with the body of the text (except for one article, which uses a seriffed font throughout). Similarly, the journal title along the left page headers is in a sans-serif font, but the issue information along the right page headers is not.

The footnotes themselves are inconsistently edited, as well. Only about half of the footnotes have periods at the end. In some articles there is a loose pattern of omitting the period after simple source references, but this is also inconsistently applied, and in one article there are virtually no periods at all in the footnotes. Here is an example of the sloppy editing that dominates:

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I rarely spend any time at all critiquing things like this in a book or article review, but the quality here was so unexpectedly bad that I felt it needed to be addressed. If CARM is looking to create some kind of respected or authoritative forum for Evangelical voices, the first thing they need to do is find an editor who knows what they’re doing.

My next entry will engage the fourth article in the volume, Edward L. Dalcour’s “Jesus’ Claims to be God: Answering the Objections.” I am going out of order because the discussion related to Dalcour’s article will provide some context for the discussion of other articles, particularly those of Bowman, Felker, and Neasbitt.

On Monotheism as a Restrictive Interpretive Framework

In reading literature on early Jewish and Christian monotheism (and especially the latter), I frequently run across attempts to reconcile ideas about other divinities with statements of God’s oneness by imposing a strict monotheistic rubric on the texts that then necessitates some kind of tricky ontological rationalization. The most explicit example I can think of is from Hurtado’s essay on first-century Jewish monotheism (published here and here; I will cite the latter). In it he argues for an inductive approach to evaluating monotheism (113):

The first methodological point to emphasize is the importance of proceeding inductively in forming and using analytical categories such as “monotheism.” On both sides of the issue (to varying degrees among individual studies) there has been a tendency to proceed deductively from a priori presumptions of what “monotheism” must mean, instead of building up a view inductively from the evidence of the thought and practice of ancient Jews (and earliest Christians). It is mistaken to assume that we can evaluate ancient Jewish texts and beliefs in terms of whether or how closely they meet our own preconceived idea of “pure” monotheism.

He goes on to state that we have to let self-identification determine who was monotheistic (114):

If we are to avoid a priori definitions and the imposition of our own theological judgments, we have no choice but to accept as monotheism the religion of those who profess to be monotheists, however much their religion varies and may seem “complicated” with other beings in addition to the one God.

The words “monotheism” and “monotheist,” however, did not exist during the Greco-Roman period. They first appear in philosophical treatises of the seventeenth century CE. We will never find an ancient Jewish or Christian text in which an author explicitly professes to be a “monotheist.” In order to identify “monotheism” in antiquity we have no choice but to retroject into the texts, to some degree, our own definitions of what a monotheist is. Hurtado does exactly this, but observe a qualification (114):

our policy should be to take people as monotheistic if that is what they profess to be, in spite of what we might be inclined to regard at first as anomalies in their beliefs and religious practices.

Basically, any ostensible claim to monotheism (based on “one God” language, presumably) will overrule any potential preclusion of it (such as might problematize a modern claim to monotheism). As an example, Hurtado highlights 1 Cor 8:4–6, which he asserts uses “monotheistic language” while at the same time “accommodating devotion to Christ in terms and actions characteristically deemed by them as otherwise reserved for God.”

I suggest that Hurtado is here allowing the ostensible presence of monotheism in 1 Cor 8:4–6, which he identifies based on vernacular today considered monotheistic, to govern his interpretation of the explicit acknowledgment of a divine being other than God. In other words, of the two apparently conflicting concepts, he is using monotheism as the constant or the reference point, and deciding how devotion to Christ should be understood in relation to it. But the statement “there is no other God but one” may not have meant to the author of Corinthians what it means to believers today. Ulrich Mauser made this very point twenty years ago:

It is my thesis that the Biblical insistence on the oneness of God is so different from the monotheistic consciousness of our time that the almost universal procedure of reading the Bible through the spectacles of a modern monotheist must result in a serious misreading of its message” (“One God Alone: A Pillar of Biblical Theology,” Princeton Seminary Bulletin 12.3 [1991]: 257, emphasis in original).

I suggest that Hurtado’s approach shackles the text and only lets it use “one God” language to mean what it means to us today. What would be the outcome if we were to turn the tables and seek a way to understand the language of 1 Cor 8:4–6 not in light of modern monotheism, but in light of devotion to a being other than God? Instead of asking how Christ can be worshipped and how there can be many that are “called gods” in light of the fact that the text is monotheistic, let us ask how the author can say there is only one God in light of the fact that Christ is worshipped and there are many that are “called gods.” This allows us to define their view of God’s oneness according to the text, rather than presuppose it and then try to fit their view of God’s plurality into that presupposition. After all, it’s monotheism we’re looking to define, isn’t it?

Responding to James White (Part 3)

White’s third post in his series can be found here. I start off by noting the following comment (I’ve already responded to his comments about the First Vision):

the consistent rejection of Mormonism as a Christian religion by the entire spectrum of Christian churches has been based, first and foremost, upon the doctrine of God.

Unless White can document the rejection of Mormonism as Christian by “the entire spectrum of Christian churches” I would ask him to avoid hyperbole. But as has been pointed out in the comments section of this post, White’s hyperbole is demonstrably false. A 2007 Pew Research Center Survey (found here) found that 40% of white Evangelicals, 62% of white mainline Protestants, 43% of black Protestants, and 52% of Catholics identify Mormons as Christians. Historically, I have seen a few different kinds of responses to these data. They usually come down either to the notion that these people must not be real Christians; that it’s the church’s official judgment that counts, and that’s determined by whether or not they consider Mormon baptisms legitimate (or something along those lines); or the data will simply be ignored. Perhaps White will have a different approach. For the issues with his prioritization of the “doctrine of God” in analyzing Mormonism, see my comments in Part 2.

White continues:

Fundamental to all of these discussions was the overwhelming testimony of the divinely inspired Scriptures, that is, Yahweh is the eternal creator of all things, and there is no God other than Him. Monotheism is not a negotiable for the Christian faith, and it never has been.

This is simply false. As I already pointed out, Paul asserts there are many gods and many lords. Identifying them as demons not only reads into the text something that isn’t there, but it also doesn’t change the fact that demons are divine beings, or gods. Christians accept the Hebrew Bible as God’s Word, and the Hebrew Bible affirms the existence of numerous divine beings from beginning to end, even calling many of them gods. The modern concept of monotheism is not that there exists only one divine being. It’s that there only exists one divine being monotheists consider worthy of worship. In the first century that wasn’t even true, though. Revelation 3:9, 21 show that humans were expected to be worshipped in the end times. 4Q246 shows the same expectation within the Qumran community. 1 Enoch and other pseudepigraphical texts expressed the same, as did a number of rabbinic texts. It wasn’t until the assimilation of the Greek notion that God, understood as a universal superlative, could not number more than one, that these ideas were manipulated to fit into the new rubric. Many of the ideas didn’t go down without a fight. This is why Christianity fought for centuries to make it sound logical to have three distinct deities considered one deity.

White goes on:

It is only when the divine inspiration and consistency of the Bible is denied (as Mormonism does), and the consistency of belief of the Christian people on the fact that there is only one true God is made to be only as relevant as the views of a religious sect from the Intermountain West that arose 1800 years after the founding of the Christian faith, that the question can be made difficult or complex.

This is absolutely true, but James would have to provide an argument for why my denial of a univocal Bible (I don’t deny it is in some sense inspired, I just don’t commit to any particular idea about exactly what that means) is unfounded before this comment could become relevant to this discussion. As it stands it is a simple statement of dogmatism and only serves to reinforce my original conclusion, namely that White’s rejection of Mormonism as Christian is not based on an objective or logical analysis, but on nothing more than sectarianism and dogmatism.

White continues on for some time apparently defending the fact that his argument was begging the question. He ends with a series of questions that I’d like to answer:

But let us note something here that is very important: if Mormonism can be included as a Christian faith, then…what is the Christian faith?

A variegated collection of religious groups claiming to be trying to follow Christ.

We know Mormonism actually does not claim to be merely a Christian faith, it claims to be the Christian faith, the one true Church, the sole repository of God’s true authority in the priesthood, etc. So keep this in mind as you listen to Mr. McClellan’s rhetoric.

In other words, try to be offended as you read my comments. It makes disagreeing with them so much easier. We do claim to be the only church with the proper authority. We don’t claim to be the only Christians, though. We don’t equate “Christian” with “saved,” too. Christian is not a soteriological judgment in our book. Salvation is a process that we believe finds culmination only after this lifetime, and we don’t believe anyone who tries their best to live up to the worldview to which they hold will simply be flippantly denied salvation.

But even more important, if Mormonism is Christian, I have to ask…what isn’t?

All groups that do not self-identify as Christian and claim to be trying to follow Christ.

I mean, as we will see, Mr. McClellan will appeal to the “self-identification” of Mormons as Christians as evidence.

I said it was the most important criterion, but I also said it wasn’t the only one. The word began as a descriptor for people who follow Christ. That must also be taken into consideration. The person’s sincerity, as we will see, is also important.

OK, then Jehovah’s Witnesses are Christians, too, right?

Do they self-identify as Christians, and do they claim to follow Christ? If so I see no reason to deny them the designation.

And, if a Muslim wants to be called a Christian, they do believe in Jesus, right?

This is a rather silly question. Can anyone point to any Muslims who honestly self-identify as Christians?

And how about Robert Price, the atheist scholar, who is a member of an Episcopalian Church? Can we have an atheist Christian, too?

Does he actually claim to be a Christian and does he claim to follow Christ?

 Why not?

I didn’t say he couldn’t.

Is there any objective element to Christianity that can differentiate it from what is “not” Christianity?

Yes. I already explained what those elements were. These questions aren’t addressing my claims, they’re just trying to find silly loopholes in the logic. Anyone can do that, even for James’ definition of a Christian. Observe: If a Muslim said they accepted the Nicene Creed and believed the Bible was the only word of God, would they be a Christian? Will White respond that they would no longer be a Muslim, or will he respond that he’s still a Muslim and so he can’t believe those things? Either way, the integrity of his premise falls apart.

Let’s ask the question this way: am I a Mormon? If I “self-identify” as one, am I one?

Does White self-identify as a Mormon? Obviously not. The hypothetical situations are really pointless since their rhetorical strength rests exclusively on the conflict created by the juxtaposition with a current reality that precludes the hypothetical one.

I believe Joseph Smith was a false prophet, the Book of Mormon a 19th century fraud, the temple ceremonies bad copies of Masonic rituals, etc. But as long as I “self-identify” as a Mormon, who is to say I am not?

The people who know that White being completely dishonest in his self-identification are those who would say he is not a Mormon. Mormonism is a different animal altogether, though, since it holds to a much more limited and unique set of ideologies. Additionally, this line of argumentation is becoming increasingly silly.

If Mormonism has the right to define its borders and boundaries, why can’t Christianity?

First, “Mormonism” can technically mean more than just the mainstream LDS church, and those that self-identify as Mormon contribute to that general boundary. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can define its borders and boundaries because it has, since the beginning of its existence, maintained a very clear and very formal process to gain and maintain membership. It also has a central authority structure that is recognized by the entire membership. That structure is reaffirmed by the membership twice a year. The apodosis here doesn’t follow. Christianity does get to define its borders and boundaries, but White alone does not speak for all of Christianity, and not only do Mormons self-identify as Christians, but there are plenty of Christians in other denominations and churches that have no trouble identifying Mormons as Christians.

White concludes his final (?) response with the following:

The reality is, Christians for over a century and a half have been putting Mormonism “outside the circle,” and until just recently, Mormonism seemed to be fine and dandy with that, and returned the favor. Can Mormonism retain its identity while seeking to mainstream? I am unconvinced that it can.

No, Mormonism has not been fine being considered non-Christian. They have been fine not being considered mainstream Christian, or Protestant, or any one of a number of other sub-designations, but it’s equivocation on White’s part to insist that not identifying with specific other Christians means not identifying as Christian. White has shown throughout these responses of his that he hardly speaks for all of Christianity, much less for Mormonism, and that he doesn’t give the facts a fair shake when he’s got a rhetorical point to make; his predictions about Mormonism’s internal integrity thus don’t really amount to much more than dogmatism and petty sectarianism.

UPDATE: I have added a reference to a 2007 Pew Research Center survey after a commenter reminded me of it. I have also made a couple minor edits.

Responding to James White (Part 2)

White’s second post (found here) begins with concern for my use of his first name. He states,

it is possible that in modern Mormon homes, using someone’s first name, even if they are older than you are, and unknown to you, has become the standard.

White here is very clearly taking advantage of every opportunity possible to rhetorically jab at Mormonism in general through me. He is trying to insist that my use of his first name derives from a contemporary Mormon trend away from respect for one’s elders, and thus that Mormons in general are growing increasingly disrespectful. Nothing could be further from the truth. I used his first name because I treat my blog rather informally. I approach things academically, but I’ve always used first names, and most other bibliobloggers do the same. I’m happy to use White’s last name if he prefers that—I meant no disrespect—but the notion that my use of his first name stems from a trend in Latter-day Saint households away from respect is quite petty. It seems, however, to be consistent with White’s general habit in these responses of broad generalization and mischaracterization for rhetorical purposes. He continues with the following:

After linking to my video and that of Elder Holland, he notes, “In doing so he tries to paint a picture of a shifting and manipulative Mormonism working to hide its disparity from Christianity in the interest of seducing converts.” You will not find this kind of language in my original video, of course. What I noted was Mormonism’s seeking to “mainline,” and the resultant shifts in emphasis and presentation. There is no doubt about that, of course. Evidently, this is simply how Mr. McClellan “hears” criticisms of the modern LDS presentation of itself.

I felt and still feel White’s rhetoric is clear enough in the video, and my comment obviously places the main points of his characterization at the rhetorical level. The same is clear of his comments about Catholicism not being Christian, which I quoted in my earlier post. He was careful not to clearly state it, and to use no-fault language (it’s “others” who might conclude that “Christian” may not be the most judicious characterization of Catholicism). He continues that no-fault language here by not actually disagreeing with my reading. He simply states that he did not explicitly say it in his video. Be that as it may, it seems obvious to me that there was a thick shellacking of it between the lines. I may be wrong, though. If James wishes to clearly state that he does not believe Mormonism’s putative mainlining is in the interest of appearing more Christian for the sake of more converts, I will happily retract my statement and issue an apology.

White’s next paragraph attempts to imply that if I am anything like my “apologist” predecessors I am woefully ignorant of my own church’s history and thus need to be reminded of the fact that early Latter-day Saints often leveled harsh criticisms against mainstream Christianity. He links to a collection he has put together of just such rhetoric (here). White is here appealing to emotion again. His collection of sayings is not relevant to the discussion, and that kind of rhetoric was quite tame in that time period, especially compared to the secular and religious polemic aimed at Latter-day Saints. The fact that early Latter-day Saints ridiculed other Christian denominations, or mainstream Christianity in general, while obviously unacceptable today, hardly indicates they didn’t wish to be identified as Christians.

White next addresses my actual comments. In response to my assertion that his definition of Christianity is begging the question and that Mormonism should be allowed to contribute to the definition of Christianity he had this to say:

In fact, he even argues that Mormonism should be given a voice in defining Christianity. Think about this for a moment: that which has existed for nearly two millennia should be defined on the basis of that which came into existence April 6, 1830. No, logically, that which comes into existence April 6, 1830 is to be judged on the basis of what had existed long before it came along. But that is disastrous for the modern Mormon who is attempting to make room in the Christian faith for a belief that is fundamentally “other.”

This, however, is an even more egregious example of begging the question. White must reject the LDS claim to be primeval Christianity restored in the latter days in order to define it as coming into existence in 1830. Additionally, White is still presupposing the grouping together of numerous other manifestations of Christianity of vast degrees of disparity from one another, and of varying ages, under the “Christian” umbrella, with Mormonism intentionally left out. White’s Reformed Baptist tradition does not date back two thousand years. He will insist on ideological continuity with the broad Christian tradition that dates back that far, but that insistence brings us back to the core ideologies that define Christianity. White cannot escape begging the question if he insists on this line of argumentation. In the next paragraph White makes his question begging absolutely explicit:

I emphasized the nature of God (not just monotheism, but the fact that the God of the Bible is eternal, unchanging, self-existent, the Creator of all things, etc.) and the atonement because these are two glaring and obvious areas of contradiction between Christianity and Mormonism

In other words, his definition of Christianity was based on the need to distinguish it from Mormonism. He is begging the question. He immediately moves on to an appeal to popularity and neglects to address the role of sectarianism and the very fallacies to which he appeals in accounting for the popularity of his claim:

I am not alone in identifying these issues. As far as I know, every Christian denomination that existed in 1830 would have agreed with me on the topic, and surely I am representing the majority view over the 180 years of LDS history.

White moves on to claim that the “single defining issue” I highlighted as begging the question is not just “a single defining issue,” but is “the foundation, the definition.” Of course, this again neglects the fact I pointed out in my initial post that if the defining issue of Christianity does not meaningfully separate it from Islam of Judaism, it is hardly defining. Even a brief glance at the New Testament, early Christian literature, and even Jewish and Greco-Roman literature, shows that the foundation and defining issue of Christianity is that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah and the Son of God. Since White is interested in detecting methodological change in broad religious movements, perhaps it would be apropos of me to ask him if Christians have ceased emphasizing Jesus as Messiah and Son of God in favor of what White seems to insist is the only defining issue: the One God, uncreated, eternal, etc. A friend recently commented concerning White’s three responses here that he not once mentions any particular king of belief in Jesus as a criterion for being Christian, nor does he even seem to prioritize belief in Christ. White even states,

the consistent rejection of Mormonism as a Christian religion by the entire spectrum of Christian churches has been based, first and foremost, upon the doctrine of God.

For White, Christianity is not about Christ, but about a correct idea of God’s nature. Certainly a part of this is God’s relationship to Christ, but White never emphasizes this. Look at his list of possible emphases:

I could have pointed to many other areas of contradiction, and, of course, have, in published works on the subject, such as the gospel, the priesthood concept, temple ceremonies, etc. But I was focusing upon the fundamentals.

Christ is not a part of defining Christianity, apparently. This must mean that Mormonism’s idea of Christ is just fine. With all the polemic aimed at Mormonism for putatively neglecting Christ in favor of Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon, I find this quite surprising. Those accusations (which could not be more ridiculous) strain credulity in light of White’s approach here.

White finishes out his post with a discussion of Joseph Smith’s King Follett Discourse. His idea of an infinite regress of gods is highlighted by White as the issue that “once and for all” separated Mormonism from Christianity:

Smith may have thought he was taking away a veil, but in reality, he was removing his followers from the Christian faith, once and for all.

Again, it is God, apart from Christ, that defines Christianity for White. White’s insistence that this issue alone was what removed Mormonism from the Christian faith would seem to indicate that had he not taught an infinite regress of gods, Mormonism would be considered Christian. This does not seem to me to square with White’s earlier claim to numerous “areas of contradiction,” and I must conclude he is just letting his rhetoric get the best of him. Regarding the King Follett Discourse itself, I would point out first that it’s not official doctrine, it’s not binding on any member of the church, and many members don’t even know about it. Would White agree that those that don’t know about, or reject, the infinite regress of gods are Christians? I don’t think he would. On the other hand, many scholars, myself included, argue that Yahweh was originally conceived of as a son of the Syro-Palestinian high god. At that point there was really no concern for ideas of philosophical eternity or for the immanence or transcendence of any particular deity. If the earliest strata of Israelite biblical tradition are held to be the word of God then Mormonism’s position hardly conflicts with it, and I would see no reason to point to that position as invalidating Mormonism’s participation in the broader Christian tradition. If White wishes to assert that the word of God now opposes the earlier word of God then he must reconsider his earlier criticisms of Mormonism’s evolution. If he rejects the notion that early Israelites believed that Yahweh was the son of the Syro-Palestinian high god then he will have to provide an argument.

White concludes:

Modernistic theories about ancient henotheism in textual variants of the Hebrew Old Testament (based upon the rejection of the consistency of divine revelation across the canon), as popular as they are, cannot change a simple reality: the Christian faith is based upon the confession of one God, not many gods. Smith rejected this, and unless McClellan and his fellows are willing to reject Smith, they simply cannot lay claim to the title “Christian.”

This is problematic, though, because if those “modernistic theories” (and I have stated they include first century Christians as well) are accurate, then the Christian faith is simply not based upon the confession of one God. White must respond directly to those claims if he wishes his assertion to stand. Once again, his argument is built upon dogmatism and sectarianism, not on sound methodologies and sound logic.