“You’re assuming unitarianism!”
This is a common claim by trinitarians, but most commonly made by apologist James White. I kind of wish I had all the clips where he’s said this because it could be a small montage by now. Maybe I just might do it…
So is it true? Lets break down the claim. Well, what is “unitarianism” in this context since we’re talking about biblical unitarianism? “Unitarianism” breaks down to “single person” in this context in reference to God. A “single person” God. It’s only used to have a contradistinction between itself and trinitarianism(three person), the triune God. Simply put it’s the belief that God is the Father alone, a single identity when it comes to the Bible.
So we’re assuming it? Well, I suppose that’s an admitted assumption in this context. I hope it is anyways. I mean, when I say “I, me, my, myself”[singular personal pronouns] no one assumes I am more than one person, do they? Is the assumption while reading this article that I am more than one person? Am I possibly bi-personal or tri-personal?
This is just basic grammar on an everyday level. In fact, any other belief would likely be the illogical assumption wouldn’t it? If I wanted to refer to more than one person it would be simple to say “We, us” over and over in my article but I don’t speak that way. So if the Bible really supports God being “tri-personal” wouldn’t it be full of “We, us” statements from Genesis to Revelation? I would accept that if it did, but it’s not. I have no problem admitting there’s the 3-4 debatable texts where a “we, us” occurs but there’s way better answers to those texts consistent with the larger picture of “I, me, myself” texts littered throughout the entire Bible.
James White and other trinitarians would rather I overthrow the basic everyday grammar used by us all in conversation and reading than assume single personal pronouns refer to single persons. Some will go so far as to say this basic grammar cannot be applied to God, but I have no biblical nor logical reason to believe it cannot be done. In fact, I find that his and other’s belief that “assuming unitarianism” is incorrect as quite audacious. But nothing should surprise me when you assume trinitarianism.
I’ve had this thought on my mind recently and decided to finally put it into words. I try my best to work with what is in common when talking with other professing believers whether they be trinitarians or the occasional oneness(modalist). I have a video on this subject already in some form regarding looking at the larger picture of the term “o theos”(God) in the New Testament–but I want to highlight the main difference in understanding that flows from a true larger picture of this word “God.”
The main difference between these three positions is consistency ultimately. Consistency in definitions and simple grammar. I would presume most all Scripture believers would agree that we should use clear verses to interpret difficult verses. Otherwise it would seem rather ludicrous to take the more difficult, obscure statements/phrases in the Scripture and overthrow the clearer verses wherein there’s not much to debate about. It’s even worse when that larger set of verses are so clear and abundant yet overthrown or skewed by the more difficult ones. Sadly while many profess this, many do not actually follow it and that’s what I wish to show in the difference between these 3 views on God.
The main agreement between all of us is that there are around 1356 some odd times[KJV search] that the term “o theos”(God) appears in the New Testament alone. That does depends on which manuscripts are used and such, but it’s a round figure. That’s still a lot of instances to use the word “God” just for the small set of writings which make up the New Testament. The facts between us all no matter which position you hold is that over 1317+ of these usages of “God” in the New Testament are that they refer to the Father alone. I want to repeat that and make it clear—over 1317 are agreeably defined as the Father alone no matter which camp you’re in. You’re welcome to go through your own Bible’s New Testament one by one and write them all down if you’d like to test this out in more detail. I did it a long time ago–but I don’t recall it all as well. Go through and each time you come to the word “God” write down to WHOM this word “God” is referring to. You should come up with a pretty large clear picture which agrees with this claim. In my video I only came up with about 9 openly debated verses wherein the term “God” appears to refer to Jesus. If there’s more you wish to try to come up with, that’s fine—but they will be few and far between. These are the facts that we have to deal with no matter which camp.
Trinitarians, being the largest professing group of Christians believe in a triune “God.” So if they take the above facts and work their views—they must by definition begin to redefine the word “God.” There is no instance in existence that I’ve ever seen which can exegetically be shown to define “God” as all three persons at once, triune, or any other such meaning in general agreement with those two terms. Such when they come to the term “God” where they seem to apply to Jesus, they accept those at face value(and the few claims regarding the holy spirit) and will necessarily overthrow the larger facts[1317+ usages] that appear in the New Testament in how “God” is defined as the Father alone. That is not my opinion, that is their position. “God” as an ousia/essence is also not an exegetical definition that appears in the New Testament–but this is also redefined and added into the mix. They admit this in all their books, but will not admit redefinition. This position overthrows the larger foundation of clear verses where “God” refers to the Father alone. If you think you have exegetical definitions of these two meanings of “God,” then please by all means show them.
Oneness modalists on the other hand are rather simple. They accept the fact that “o theos” refers to the Father alone over 1317+ times without debate and then apply the times it appears to refer to Jesus as him being the Father. They recognize no true distinction between the Father and Jesus, and ultimately make them the one God. They don’t overthrow the larger foundation, but they overthrow other simple grammar rules and verses which clearly draw a personal distinction between the Father and the son.
Biblical unitarians take this larger picture and work with it to create a more consistent picture with the entirety of the New Testament. No matter which position you take within biblical unitarianism(because there are minor differences)—we recognize that “God” refers to the Father alone overwhelmingly and then start with that foundation. So when it comes to places where “God” seemingly refers to Jesus in the 9 or so verses we take the position that “o theos” means either “god” as in ruler/king, or look for manners in which it actually refers to the Father literally or within Jesus. We try to keep within basic hermeneutic of using clearer verses to interpret difficult verses and not redefine the terms beyond what the Scripture does.
These are simply the basic facts of agreement of how “God” is defined in the New Testament and the admitted position differences. I’m a proponent of gathering as much evidence available to give the best possible option to interpret the texts consistently. Part of the reason I personally left trinitarianism was because of this overwhelming factual position detailed above. I admit I began to start with presupposition that “God” referred to the Father so clearly that I had to start seeing if there were other consistent manners to deal with the difficult verses that kept within that framework. Ultimately I believe answers were found for all difficult verses to be interpreted clearly within that framework whether you agree with me or not. I’m just telling you my experience. What is your experience? Do you admit the facts? are the facts incorrect? or do you think your position should be represented differently? Let me know.
The reason I put that title is because many professing Christians that know the New Testament fairly well will quote this verse to prove that God inspired the entire Bible as we know it today. Is that true? Well it is very likely–but is it true from this verse which Paul stated?
One of the big issues I had in challenging my own presuppositions over the past 3 years was that of historical context. I was doing better at thinking historically the more I studied, but I still had not applied it to many other areas of Scripture. I’m not saying I’ve “arrived” either, please don’t misunderstand me. But lets look a bit closer at this verse and put it into historical context, okay?
2 Tim 3:16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, ESV
So, when Paul wrote this in his letter to Timothy—was he referring to what you often hold in hand today as a Bible that was a compiled OT and NT? Hopefully you would answer no, because it’s quite impossible for Paul to be writing this letter and this letter to obviously be IN the “Scripture” of the New Testament at that time. It’s also obvious through more study that we know the Bible we have today was not compiled until much later… and that it has gone through editing in the past centuries such as the removal of the Apocrypha. The point of this message is not to make an argument of when the entire Bible we have today was compiled though.
The point is, what is “all Scripture” which is inspired by God for teaching, rebuke, correction and training to live righteous? Well, I think the only possibility at that time would have been the Tanakh. That is the Torah, Prophets and Writings. Taken from wikipedia for a short explanation.
Tanakh is an acronym of the first Hebrew letter of each of the Masoretic Text’s three traditional subdivisions: Torah (“Teaching”, also known as the Five Books of Moses), Nevi’im (“Prophets”) and Ketuvim (“Writings”)—hence TaNaKh.
The Tanakh is all that existed at that time when Paul wrote that. Yes possibly some Gospels were being written and spread through the believers–but they weren’t en masse yet, and certainly weren’t compiled into a NT yet. Later on in the ante-nicene church writers begin to speak of the 4 main Gospels we have today as one unit and some of Paul’s letters.
Paul said the Old Testament is inspired by God for all those things in 2 Tim 3:16, which includes training in righteousness. Where would Paul get training for righteousness from anywhere other than mainly the Torah? If sin is against the Torah, and all sin is unrighteousness… then righteousness is known from the Torah, right?
So…is all Scripture as you know it today as a compiled New Testament and Old Testament inspired by God? Maybe, but 2 Tim 3:16 doesn’t prove it if you think about it in a historical context.