Review of Mobile Ed: OT291, The Jewish Trinity
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Course reviewed: OT291, The Jewish Trinity: How the Old Testament Reveals the Christian Godhead (2014-2016).
The title of this course communicates that “the Old Testament Reveals the Christian Godhead.” The “Christian godhead” is no less than the Trinity. Because this implicit claim (course name) is untrue, it will be refuted. It is unscholarly to make such a claim (it does sell courses) when multiple respected Christian theologians and academic publications have acknowledged that the doctrine of the Trinity is not articulated in the Bible (and less the Old Testament).
However, the Bible does support the doctrine of the Trinity when eisegesis (reading theology into the Bible not stated or intended by its authors) is incorporated into biblical interpretation. When assumptions are read into the Scripture as established facts (such as the Trinity is a true doctrine) the Bible affirms the Trinity, even within the Old Testament.
For example, the scholarly, New Bible Dictionary, third addition, under the word “trinity” makes an honest admission after providing a definition: “Nowhere does the Bible explicitly teach this combination of assertions. It may, nevertheless, be claimed that the doctrine of the Trinity is a profoundly appropriate interpretation of the biblical witness to God in the light of the ministry, death and resurrection-exaltation of Jesus—the ‘Christ event” (1996, 1209).
Similarly, the HarperCollins Bible Dictionary states, “The formal doctrine of the Trinity as it was defined by the great church councils of the fourth and fifth centuries is not to be found in the NT” (Paul Achtemeier, editor, 1996).
Many Christians are unaware that the doctrine of the Trinity was inexistent until the fourth century. It began after Emperor and Dictator Constantine (likely unsaved at this point) ordered bishops to the First Council of Nicaea (325) that He presided over. By the First Council of Constantinople (381), most elements of the doctrine known today as the Trinity were in place. The creeds produced by the early councils of the Roman Catholic Church were a rejection of the Bible as the sole standard for faith and practice.
This review is written from the perspective of a former Trinitarian. I spent most of 2017 studying the doctrine of the Trinity which resulted in becoming a Biblical Unitarian (not to be confused with Universal Unitarians).
This review won’t cover all disagreements. This course is four hours in length, and it would take a book to respond to every objection. While limited praise is provided, I do agree with many premises and conclusions. Dr. Michael Heiser is a brilliant scholar, gifted teacher, and popular Christian author.
The important point is made that a common Old Testament word for God is “Elohim.” I agree. Here is my explanation (you may want to consult a lexicon) for this word: It has a broad range of meaning and can refer to the one true God (Psalm 114:7, etc.), false gods (2 Kings 17:31, etc.), foreign gods (Daniel 11:39), good angels (Psalm 8:5), good Judges (Exodus 18:19; 1 Samuel 2:25; Psalm 82:1), Moses speaks as a god (Exodus 4:16), David or Solomon as god (Psalm 45:6-7), a ghost (1 Samuel 28:13), etc.
Dr. Heiser is commended for making such an important point necessary to undertake this study. The New Testament word “theos” (god) is also flexible with a broad range of meaning. God and His Son are called this title. But so are other gods (John 10:34). Satan is called a “god” (2 Corinthians 4:4), to include false prophets (2 Thessalonians 2:4), etc.
Because ambiguity exists in the biblical word “god,” when this title is applied to Jesus, its meaning should be decided by the context, consistent with the cultural meaning of the word, and how understood by its audience.
While this segment reviews monotheism briefly (and is a suggested reading etc.), a fundamental understanding of this topic is foundational if one wishes to determine if the Old Testament reveals a Trinitarian godhead. Logos Bible Software does have a Mobile Ed course dedicated to this important subject (The Shema). Here is a dictionary definition:
“The foundational statement of Jewish belief: “Hear, O Israel, Yahweh our God, Yahweh is one” (Deut. 6:4). The name derives from the first Hebrew word in the verse, the command to “hear.” The declaration that “Yahweh is one” rules out local manifestations of Yahweh, but also connotes Yahweh’s exclusiveness” (Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible, 2000, 1206)
For emphasis, it’s important to highlight the core component of the Shema: “the Lord is our God, the Lord is one.” Therefore, “God” is not two, or three Gods. While there are many gods in existence, the Shema explicitly and exclusively identifies the one true God as Yahweh (the Father).
Because the Shema unambiguously communicates that the one God is only Yahweh, it is incompatible with Trinitarian theology. The Trinity teaches that the one God is not Yahweh, but a triune being of Father (Yahweh), Son, and Holy Spirit. The one God of the Shema is irreconcilable with the Roman Catholic church’s doctrine that three Gods’ form a godhead.
The doctrine of the trinity, however, correctly requires that each person retain their individual identity: Jesus is not the Father, the Son is a separate and distinct person than the Father, etc.
Abundant Old Testament passages, by explicit declaration, establish unequivocally that the Father (Yahweh) is the only God. So, the exclusive, rigid language of the Shema as confirmed by numerous passages (in both Testaments), taken in their totality, make impenetrable any suggestion that Yahweh is not the One and only God (in the absolute sense).
This segment is called, “The First Problem with Understanding Monotheism.” But before we get our feet wet, we should know the definition of monotheism. According to Merriam-Webster (2017), it means, “the doctrine or belief that there is but one God <historically related forms of monotheism as Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.”
Historic monotheism is not a denial of the existence of other gods. Dr. Heiser makes this important point throughout the course. There is a plurality of good and evil gods. Monotheism is like a scope that points to the Father as the one God (Yahweh). Because of His awesomeness, He is in a league all by Himself (as it were), without any competition.
With an understanding of monotheism, Dr. Heiser illustrates how different translations have experienced difficulty translating the Hebrew word “elohim” (1 Samuel 28:13; Deuteronomy 32:17; Psalm 82:1). How this ambiguity in the word “elohim” creates a problem for monotheism is not stated (Or I missed it).
Heiser continues and in bold letters provides this sentence: “The Old Testament Concept of Divine Plurality is Foundational to the New Testament Trinity.” Apparently, Dr. Heiser is communicating that the broad meaning of the word “Elohim” (to include other deities both good and evil) is a necessary understanding for Trinitarians. While I agree, I was unable to determine how this creates a problem understanding Jewish monotheism. This is because Jewish monotheism doesn’t deny the existence of other inferior gods. It just unmistakable declares that the one and only God (far above all others) is Yahweh (the Father).
Secondly, Dr. Heiser is apparently attempting to conditions minds to think of the one God in terms of divine plurality because this is required for Trinitarians. But Dr. Heiser needs to substantiate this premise from the Bible, if true. The standard of truth is the Bible property understood and not something one must believe because of being a Trinitarian. This is because all the passages that identify God as one Being or Person are Unitarian (The Father is the one God). Not one passage includes Jesus or the Holy Spirit within the definition of one God (Deuteronomy 4:35, 39; 6:4; 32:39; 2 Samuel 7:22; 2 Samuel 22:32;1 Kings 8:60; 19:15; 1 Chronicles 17:20; Nehemiah 9:6; Psalm 18:31; Isaiah 37:20; 43:10; 44:8; 45; 45:14; 45:18; 45:21; 46:9; Zachariah 14:9, etc. Mark 12:28-34; Luke 18:19; John 5:44-46, 17:3; Romans 3:30, 16:27; 1 Corinthians 8:4-6; Galatians 3:19-20; Ephesians 4:4-6; 1 Timothy 1:17, 2:5; James 2:19; Jude 25).
Dr. Heiser writes, “Divine plurality, just the idea, is an important baby step toward helping your Jewish friend understand that, look, when we, as Christians, embrace the idea of a Trinity or Jesus as God, we can still think of ourselves as monotheists in the sense that there is only one incomparable Yahweh.”
Dr. Heiser confuses a plurality of divine beings (both good and evil) with the Shema. The Shema is “locked tight.” Yahweh is the only God. Trinitarians wrongly claim they are monotheists when they include Jesus and the Holy Spirit within the Shema (which the Bible excludes).
Dr Heiser writes: “There are multiple elohim, and, as we will see in the course of this course, there is an idea of a Godhead in the ot as well.”
Dr. Heiser wants his students to assume certain unestablished facts up front. While there are multiple good and evil elohims, the Old Testament doesn’t teach the existence of a multiple Persons (or Beings), godhead. Dr. Heiser is not shy about front loading his students with presuppositions required to make his case.
Segment seven is “Understanding Elohim and the Implications for the Godhead.” While there is a lot of truth communicated in this module, there are a few sentences that are in error. But first the title. Dr. Heiser provides no proof in this segment that the Hebrew “Elohim” implies a godhead.
He writes, “So, therefore, in principle—second idea—the Shema and monotheism are not biblical reasons to reject belief in Jesus. As we will see—I’ll get more specific here—monotheism is not a reason to reject a Godhead.”
Dr. Heiser seems to imply that not incorporating Jesus into the Shema (to form a Godhead) is “to reject belief in Jesus.” But a person can be a Christian (such as myself) and believe and worship Jesus as the Son of God and not the one God, Yahweh (His Father). A person can be a Christian and affirm the Shema as Jesus understood it (verses to follow) while excluding Himself as the one God.
Dr. Heiser wrongly claims that “monotheism is not a reason to reject a Godhead.” But we cannot have both monotheism and a godhead (consisting of more than one person or beings). The most important component of the Shema is “the Lord is one” (and the context is the Father). Dr. Heiser is a Trinitarian teaching Trinitarianism. So he has to have it both ways. He affirms (or would) on one hand that monotheism only includes one God (not two or three) who is the Father (Yahweh), but on the other hand his Trinitarian theology requires incorporating Jesus into the definition of one God within the Shema. But once Jesus is inserted into the Shema, it is void and no longer monotheism. As stated (repeatedly for emphasis) it contradicts the core component of the Shema —”our God is one.”
He continues and says, “Lastly, since Jesus is not a separate god, this discussion, again, is only an icebreaker for our Jewish friends.”” The affirmation that Jesus is not a separate god is untrue and deceitful to unsaved Jews. Trinitarians regularly affirm that Jesus is a person who is fully God and is not the Father. For insertion into the Shema, while affirming belief in only one God, Dr. Heiser shrinks Jesus down to not being “a separate God.” So Jesus is God but not God. Please don’t try this double standard with your Jewish friends.
The Trinitarian framework result in statements that are contradictory (true on one hand, but taken back on the other). But the Bible contains no contradictions. God is holy and it’s damaging to His holy character to teach contradictory statements about Him and His Son that cannot be true concurrently.
One way to determine objectively if Jesus is included in the Shema is to carefully consider His words. Did Jesus claim to be the one God and include Himself in the Shema, thereby voiding Jewish monotheism?
“And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him [to include Jesus]. And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God” (Mark 12:28-34).
Jesus here affirmed the Shema (Old Testament teaching that there is only one God who is the Father) that excludes Himself and congratulates the scribe for “answering wisely.” Every passage in the New Testament about God being one (consistent with the Shema) excludes Jesus Christ: Mark 12:28-34; Luke 18:19; John 5:44-46, 17:3; Romans 3:30, 16:27; 1 Corinthians 8:4-6; Galatians 3:19-20; Ephesians 4:4-6; 1 Timothy 1:17, 2:5; James 2:19; Jude 25.
One of the learning objectives in this segment is to “demonstrate how the Shema presumes divine plurality.” The word “demonstrates” denotes some kind of evidence will be presented.
He covers Deuteronomy 4:19-20; 32:8-9, 17, and then quotes the core component of the Shema, “The Lord is our God, the Lord is one” and then without any exegetical proof states that the Shema allows plurality (a godhead). To comply with the doctrine of Trinity, Dr. Heiser re-tools the core teaching of the Shema —that there is one God (not two or more) and then adds Jesus Christ.
He states, “Now, the point of all this is that the Shema itself…. assumes and presumes divine plurality in its language. It is not a violation of the Shema or, as we saw earlier, a violation of monotheism to worship Jesus as God along with the God of Israel. These deities were real. They were over the nations, and they were put there by Yahweh.”
Without any proof, Dr. Heiser teaches that the Shema is elastic (it can include other Gods) and “…worship Jesus as God along with the God of Israel… does not void it.” Dr. Heiser allows the doctrine of the Trinity to be the engine that drives his biblical interpretation. Sadly, he is one of many Trinitarian scholars (who no doubt love God) that are driven by the extra biblical doctrine of the Trinity originated from the Roman Catholic Church.
Dr. Heiser continues to champion the erroneous teaching that because other deities exist that are real (both good and evil), then there is plurality of deities within the one God of the Shema. But this conclusion is not supported by the premise.
The premise that the Shema “presumes divine plurality in its language” is another unsupported premise. Most translations interpret the Hebrew word “e-had” as one (“The LORD our God, the LORD is one’’). An examination of the Septuagint (Old Testament Translation in Greek used by Jesus) confirms that the word means “one.” When Jesus quoted the Shema (Mark 12:28-34), He used the Greek word “heis” meaning one.
No wonder most Jews reject Christianity. When the Bible is opened with the front-loaded presupposition that the Trinity is true, this requires dumping exegetical principles when necessary.
While Christians worship the Father and the Son, both are separate persons. Only the Father is included in the Shema. Please consider the words of Jesus:
“44 How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God? Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me.” (John 5:44-46). The only God is the Father. Jesus said, “14 Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me” (John14:1). Jesus never claimed to be God (in the absolute sense, equal to the Father), but the Son of God.
Why is Jesus worshipped since He is not the one God of the Shema? The one God of the Shema has exalted and glorified His Son as LORD, because of what He did:
“8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore [in light of what He did in verse 8] God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
“God has highly exalted him.” For additional verses that state why Jesus was exalted, see Hebrews 1:9, 2:9, etc.
He goes on to say, “But Jesus is not a separate god. As we are going to see in the rest of this course, Jesus is identified with Yahweh. So think about that: If Jesus is identified with Yahweh because of some things we are going to see in the ot, then worshiping Jesus is not worshiping a different god; it’s not worshiping another god; it’s worshiping Yahweh, the same way, even though we have two persons.”
This quote is riddled with contradictions. Trinitarians affirm that Jesus is God while being a separate person from God (the Father). But apparently, Dr. Heiser does not believe this (“But Jesus is not a separate god”). He ends this quote with an admission that the Father and Jesus are “two persons.” So how Jesus is a separate person who is God, but “not a separate god” is incomprehensible. Dr. Heiser doesn’t provide any biblical accreditation for this bazar identity of Jesus.
The statement that “Jesus is identified with Yahweh” is ambiguous. Here is a secret that many Trinitarians don’t know. Since Trinitarian scholars cannot (or shouldn’t) say that Jesus is the Father (heresy called Modalism or Oneness) they sometimes try to circumvent this heresy by not stating explicitly that Jesus is the Father while hoping their audience understand implicitly (“Jesus is identified with Yahweh”) that Jesus is the Father. This is again because the doctrine of the Trinity correctly forbids collapsing Jesus into the Father. Because if Jesus is the Father, then Jesus came from Himself (not the Father) and prayed to Himself (not the Father) and God wears different masks (Father, or Son, or Holy Spirit).
Consequently, his statement that “worshiping Jesus is not worshiping a different god …. it’s worshiping Yahweh…” is in error. He admits on one hand that they are separate persons, but on the other hand, collapses Jesus into Yahweh. While it brings honor to Yahweh when we worship His Son whom He exalted, they remain separate persons.
Jesus never included Himself in the Shema. Jesus called the Father the one true God: “3 And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3). This verse has ministered to many former Trinitarians who are now Biblical Unitarians. Jesus states that the Father is the only true God. While there are many gods, Jesus understood that His Father alone was above all others, including Himself. While Jesus is not the true God, He is a divine person who is the only way to the true God (John 14:6).
Dr. Heiser states, “…and any being that is attached to—identified with—Yahweh is okay to worship, and this is why a Jew could become a Christian in the ancient world and worship Jesus. Because Jesus was, in the mind of the nt writer, identified with Yahweh.“
The Bible states why Jesus Christ should be worshipped. Dr. Heiser believes that this should happen because Jesus is identified with Yahweh. But collapsing Jesus Christ into the Shema is wrong. Jesus was steadfast that He was not the Father. When Jesus was called a “good teacher,” not wanting to take any credit away from His Father who was greater (John 10:29, 14:28), Jesus responds: ”18 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone” (Mark 10:18). Once again, the one God according to Jesus, was/is His Father. Jesus set Himself apart from His Father.
Dr. Heiser is partly correct to say, “and this is why a Jew could become a Christian in the ancient world and worship Jesus.” But the reason why early Jews worshipped Jesus was not because He taught a Trinity (doctrine inexistent until 4th century). We have already examined some passages on how Jesus identified Himself in relation to His Father. Another important passage for a critical, exegetical examination is found in Acts 2.
In Acts 2, Peter preached a sermon to monotheistic Jews gathered from all over the world. If the monotheistic Jews needed to believe a Trinity (or that Jesus is equal to the Father) to be saved, Peter had a prime opportunity because these were Jews and this new doctrine could spread throughout the world. Instead, Peter affirmed monotheism! While the following is a brief survey, please break out your Bible to examine it for yourself:
In verse 22, Jesus is called “a man” and “mighty works and wonders and signs” are credited to His Father. In verse 24, God is given credit for His resurrection. This is because Jesus was 100% dead when He died (respectfully). There are 27 verses in the NT that credit God for raising Jesus up. Dead human beings cannot raise themselves up on their own. In verse 32, God is given credit once more for raising Jesus from the dead. In verse 36, Peter declares that “God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”
Dr. Heiser makes many good points. An objection is that he quotes 1 Corinthians 8:4-6 and doesn’t acknowledge something extremely important. Here is the verse:
“6 yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.”
This New Testament passage from Paul confirms that the Old Testament Shema only includes the Father. While Jesus is mentioned, He is a separate person, apart from, and in addition to the one God. Secondly, everything originates and we exist directly “from” God (direct source). From Jesus, everything originates and we exist “through whom” (indirect source). This distinction is consistent with Jesus being a deity that worshiped the Father (John 4:22) and has God as His Father (John 20:17; Romans 15:6; Hebrews 1:9; Ephesians 1:17; Revelation 1:6, 12, etc.).
Dr. Heiser makes the bold claim that up to the second century, most Jews lived believing that there was not one supreme God in heaven (monotheism) but two (a godhead): “Specifically, this was known in Judaism as the “Two Powers in Heaven” idea. And this is not, sort of, a good one and a bad one, sort of like a theological dualism. This was the belief that there were two holy beings at the same level in Judaism—Two Powers in heaven. This was part of Jewish theology up until roughly the second century ad, and there are lots of reasons for that, and there’s a lot of interesting background for that, some of which we will be getting into…. But at one point, Judaism had this part of their theology that was just evident. Everyone knew it. Everyone accepted it.”
Please “zoom out” and reflect on the immensity of Dr. Heiser’s claim. The allegation he makes (two-person godhead) is contrary to many Old Testament passages that plainly assert that there is only one ultimate, almighty God (monotheism). Here are just a few: Deuteronomy 4:35,39, 6:4, 32:39; 2 Samuel 7:22; 1 Kings 8:60; 2 KINGS 5:15, 19:15; 1 Chronicles 17:20; Nehemiah 9:6; Psalm 18:31, 86:10; Isaiah 37:16,20, 43:10,11, 44:6,8; 45:21, 46:9; Hosea 13:4; Joel 2:27; Zechariah 14:9. So in spite of all the biblical evidence, he wants us to believe that the Jews believed in a plural godhead.
After a major exegetical deficit, he appeals to a recent book:
“Now, the best resource for this is something written by a guy named Alan Segal, who was Jewish, called Two Powers in Heaven, and I’m going to sort of track along the lines that Segal proposed in his book, as far as where in the world Jewish theology got this. Now, Segal was a Jewish scholar, and so he believed that this was heretical because of his Judaism…”
Most Christians have probably never heard of this teaching (I didn’t) that Heiser’s uses for leverage in his quest to make space for Jesus Christ as ontologically equal with God, inconsistent with Jewish monotheism (one God). He states, “The Lord our God is one”—how is it that a Jew of that mentality, of that level of commitment, could then turn around and worship Jesus as God, along with the God of Israel? Part of the reason was this Two Powers part of their theology, and that’s what we want to explore next.”
However, there are some problems with Heiser’s description of the Rabbinic period. To Heiser’s credit he admits that this teaching (“Two Powers in Heaven”) was heresy all along. His rendition of this period that supposedly allowed Jews to believe and worship Jesus as almighty God was based on a doctrinal heresy. Another concern is Heiser’s claim that plurality within the godhead was widely believed during the time of Christ. He says: “Everyone knew it.” I was unable to find any evidence that most people held this belief during the time of Christ in the Bible or in ancient secular sources.
Update: A critical review is available online for the book, Two Powers in Heaven. It seriously questions some of the premises used in this book to make conclusions. Here is the conclusion of the review: “We have seen that Segal’s work on ‘two powers,’ although widely accepted and obviously a very important contribution to this field, is not without shortcomings, and at points the evidence is open to interpretations other than those argued for by Segal. We have also observed that there is no passage in the Mishnah or Tosefta which explicitly mentions ‘two powers’ or which requires reference to that heresy in order to be understood. Alleged connections between ‘two powers’ and early tannaim are also suspect in view of the late date of the documents which first associate them with the ‘two powers’ heresy. A plausible setting can be given to the ‘heresy’ and to the controversies it caused in the late second and subsequent centuries, when the issue of the relationship between God and creation became an issue of debate for philosophers, Christians and Gnostics. Therefore, there is good reason to conclude that the conceptualities later condemned as ‘two powers heresy’ (i.e. those involving God and a second figure who functions as God’s supreme divine agent) would not have been controversial in the first century. In short, our study suggests that it is anachronistic [Dictionary.com: “”] to interpret Jewish and Christian documents from this period as reflecting ‘two powers’ heresy” (James F. McGrath, Two Powers’ and Early Jewish and Christian Monotheism, 2004).
This module covers three passages. The first passage (Genesis 19:2) refers to Yahweh twice, but this verse leaves no opening for a Trinitarian godhead, or declares that there is a second Yahweh. The second passage (Amos 4:11) has Yahweh as the speaker refereeing back to himself in the third person. There is nothing unusual here that would circumvent the Shema or indicate the existence of a second Yahweh. The final passage is Genesis 22:11-12. In Genesis 22:1, God speaks to Abraham with instructions. So Abraham obeys God. In verses 11-12, an angel addresses Abraham. There is no support here for the doctrine of the Trinity or that there are multiple Yahweh’s that would contradict multiple Old Testament passages that explicitly declare that Yahweh is one Person or Being.
In the segment summary, he states, “…we’ve noticed that there are certain passages in the ot that sounded to the ear like the God of Israel was two.” But this conclusion was not achieved.
He continues, “Rabbis took note of this and referred to the idea as Two Powers being in Heaven.” While some isolated Rabbis may have reached this conclusion, there is nothing in the passages presented in this segment to reasonably conclude that any Jew believed this without exaggerating the text.
Note: most passages provided in this segment are not covered.
The first passage is Exodus 3:1-4. Here Abraham notices a burning bush that is not consumed and receives a message from Yahweh. This passage is interesting because at the beginning an angel of Yahweh speaks to Moses (v. 2). But in verse four, God calls out to Moses from the bush. Dr. Heiser indicates that there are two figures and that it’s not always clear who is speaking.
While it’s possible that Yahweh and His angel were present in the burning bush incident, it’s seems more likely that it was only Yahweh’s angel. This is because angels at times spoke for Yahweh in person. This practice in ancient Judaism is called law of agency (good subject for research).
The next passage is Exodus 23:20-22. God speaks to Moses. In verse 21, while speaking to Moses, God tells him, “do not rebel against him [the angel], for he will not pardon your transgression, for my name is in him” (v. 21).
Dr. Heiser points out that it’s “unusual” because God decides who is pardoned. But Dr. Heiser must forget that God at times delegates this authority to others. So there is nothing unusual about this passage.
The Father gave Jesus the authority to forgive sins (Matthew 9:1-8). Jesus delegates authority to His disciples to forgive sins (John 20:23). So while Dr. Heiser is correct that the forgiveness of sins “is really the province of God,” God can delegate authority to others.
A reason why God (the Father) can delegate forgiveness of sins is because “I am the Lord, and there is no other, besides me there is no God…” (Isaiah 45:5a). This passage includes hyperbole. This type of speech includes a purposeful exaggeration (“besides me there is no God”) to make a point. Because God is so awesome, and all other gods are out of His league, God highlights His greatness. Trinitarians regularly retract from Yahweh’s awesomeness by claiming that Jesus is ontologically equal. But there is no clear biblical exegetical accreditation for this teaching.
In Genesis 48:14-16, Jacob blesses his two sons. In doing so, he invokes God’s name twice (v. 15). Verse 16 says, “the angel who has redeemed me from all evil, bless the boys.” Here Dr. Heiser concludes, “Right there we have God and the angel set on equal status.” But such a conclusion is not an established fact. There are no angels (created being) that matches the awesomeness and magnitude of almighty Yahweh’s greatness. God has an army of angels that guard believers. God used one or more angels to protect Jacob.
Heiser continues and says, ‘”May the God who did this, the God who did that, the angel who did X-Y-Z …” And here’s the kicker: “ ‘May he bless these lads.’ ” It’s not “may they”; it’s “may he.” The verb in Hebrew there is actually singular. It’s grammatically singular. If the writer had wanted to distinguish, to separate God from this angel, this is an easy place to do it, but he doesn’t do it. They use a singular verb, “May he bless these boys.” It’s pretty dramatic for this to be in the ot.”
A reason the verb is singular is because the author likely wanted to distinguish the angel from the Father. Apparently, Dr. Heiser missed this possibility, or my interpretation is in error.
In the conclusion, Dr. Heiser claims that the Old Testament “contains clear suggestions of a Godhead, Yahweh as two figures—again, this two but yet one sort of feeling in certain passages.” But there is no evidence of this without overstating the text. The Old Testament affirms many, many times that there is only one God who is the Father: Deuteronomy 4:35, 39; 6:4; 32:39; 2 Samuel 7:22; 2 Samuel 22:32;1 Kings 8:60; 19:15; 1 Chronicles 17:20; Nehemiah 9:6; Psalm 18:31; Isaiah 37:20; 43:10; 44:8; 45; 45:14; 45:18; 45:21; 46:9; Zachariah 14:9 (there are more). This thread continuous throughout the New Testament (Mark 10:18; 12:29; Romans 3:30; 1 Corinthians 8:4-6; Galatians 3:20, etc.)
Yahweh can and did communicate at times through intermediaries. But when this occurred, it wasn’t a second Yahweh, but someone acting and speaking on behalf of Yahweh. Yahweh is one GOD —period.
Dr. Heiser writes, “The Name is another way of referring to Yahweh—again, as Jews still do to this day. The Name is within the Angel of Yahweh, and what that means is that this angel—that particular angel, the Angel of the Lord, the Angel of Yahweh—is therefore Yahweh in human form. Now this is not the incarnation, like we think of with Jesus, in the ot, but it is Yahweh appearing as a man, and, not only that, but in some instances those appearances seem to be Yahweh, and other times they are this other Yahweh—again, this two but yet one. Two but yet one; one but yet two, and think about this: one of them looks like a man.”
Just because some passages don’t clearly differentiate between Yahweh and His agent (one acting on Yahweh’s behalf) is not a reason to exaggerate a text into two possible Yahweh’s’.
Dr. Heiser is correct that when angels spoke for Yahweh as Yahweh, these were not incarnations.
I respectfully disagree with Dr. Heiser’s final conclusion: “Again, you can see how this is the backdrop for the Christological language of the nt, the Godhead thinking of the early Christians and the nt writers as well.” While some Jews may have been (or were) confused by different appearances of Yahweh, there is no exegetical evidence in the Old Testament that there were two Yahweh’s.
This segment covers an angel of Yahweh who spoke for Yahweh.
The passage is Judges 6. In verse 11, the “angel of the LORD [Yahweh]” appears to Gideon and communicates a message from the LORD. But in verse 14, the angels speak as Yahweh Himself: “And the Lord turned to him and said, “Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian; do not I send you?” This passage illustrates well the practice of Jewish agency. Yahweh’s angel spoke as Yahweh Himself. But the angel was acting as an agent by representing Yahweh in human form.
Also, when Gideon speaks to Yahweh’s angel, he knows this angel is not Yahweh Himself. This is because Gideon addresses the angel as “Adani.” So when reading this account, Old Testament rabbis would have seen the distinction in Hebrew between Yahweh and Adani. They would have known that the angel was not Yahweh himself but speaking as His agent.
For verse 17, Dr. Heiser seems confused, “—we don’t know who Gideon is talking to; is it Yahweh or is it the angel? It’s ambiguous there…” But the scene is clear. In fact, in verse 22, Gideon states, “…For now I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face.” Gideon knows this was not Yahweh Himself. But because he had a personal encounter with an angel of Yahweh, he is frightened. But he is told not to fear (v. 23).
In the conclusion Dr. Heiser writes, “Now, by way of summary to this point, we have learned that the Hebrew Bible contains clear suggestions of a Godhead, Yahweh as two figures—again, this two but yet one sort of feeling in certain passages.” His concluding remarks states, “Again, you can see how this is the backdrop for the Christological language of the nt, the Godhead thinking of the early Christians and the nt writers as well.”
It’s unbelievable how Dr. Heiser jumps to conclusions from apparent mere speculation.
This segment is about “Yahweh and ‘The Word.’” Three passages are used: Genesis 15:1, 1 Samuel 3, and Jeremiah 1:4–9.
He writes, “The next one is the Word. Now, we are probably familiar with this as Christians because of John chapter 1, ‘The Word was made flesh,’ and so on and so forth. But that’s actually an ot idea that Yahweh is the Word.”
Dr. Heiser believes that “Yahweh is the Word.” It’s unfortunate that Dr. Heiser is teaching a course on the Trinity and misses a critical Trinitarian element. Yahweh and the pre-incarnate Word (Jesus) are separate Beings (Persons) who cannot be collapsed into each other based on the doctrine of the Trinity.
In this segment Dr. Heiser continues his quest without success to identify an Old Testament Jewish godhead for insertion of Jesus and the Spirit to form a Trinity.
He provides passages in the Old Testament where Yahweh is described as ridding on the clouds. He tries to make his case from Daniel 9. Here Yahweh is identified as the “Ancient of Days” (vs. 7-10). Verses 13-14, describe a separate prophetic account that includes “the Son of Man” (Jesus Christ). In this account, Jesus Christ appears before Yahweh’s throne (“Ancient of Days“). Jesus is “given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion…” (v. 14).
Dr. Heiser claims that because some ancient scribes (before the time of Christ) didn’t know the identity of the “Son of Man,” some apparently believed (it was later declared heresy) that this second figure was part of a godhead. Dr. Heiser unconvincingly argues (in my option) from this passage that at one time Judaism used this passage for belief in a godhead. There are problems surrounding Dr. Heiser’s belief.
Dr. Heiser refers again to the book written by Alan Segal (Two Powers in Heaven). He identifies an ancient belief titled Two Powers of Heaven. But Dr. Heiser didn’t provide any quotes from before the time of Christ that substantiate his claim.
The account from Daniel 9 depicts the Son of Man as a lower rank, divine being. This is because Yahweh gives Jesus what He doesn’t possess, dominion, glory, and a kingdom. Something cannot be given to someone who already has it. The giver of this authority is depicted as greater than the receiver. There is no description of a co-equal godhead in this prophecy.
Dr. Heiser cites a quote from Alan Segal’s book. This quote doesn’t indicate that this passage was viewed as a Jewish godhead: “Daniel 7 describes a heavenly enthronement scene involving two divine manifestations, the Son of Man and the Ancient of Days. It may easily be describing two separate divine figures.” While both are “divine figures,” this doesn’t establish necessary Trinitarian elements.
In this segment, Dr. Heiser examines non-biblical writings of the Second Temple period that contain exalted human beings.
When commenting on the writings of the Second Temple period, Dr. Heiser claims that “And in that body of literature, they were struggling to deal with the Second Yahweh idea, some of these Godhead passages, these odd angel passages, the Word, the Rider on the Clouds, all these things. They were trying to come to grips with what their Bible was saying, and they sort of parsed out their views in a couple different categories, as to who the Second Power was, who it might be.”
Dr. Heiser wants his students to read this view into the texts he covers. But front-loading texts with presuppositions is not objective scholarship. If these texts that he covers were written with the background that Dr. Heiser teaches, then evidence should be submitted. Sadly, this course contains significant speculations.
For example, he covers Adam and Jacob as second powers based on some quoted non-canonized texts. But there is no indication in the quotes that the authors believed in a plurality of Gods within Jewish monotheism (one God), or that these beings were co-equal to Yahweh.
Two passages of Enoch are covered. In 1 Enoch 71, there is a vision where Enoch becomes the “Son of Man” of Daniel 7. We covered this passage and the “Son of Man” is a subordinate being and there is nothing in the scene to equate Jesus with the Father or of two co-equal Yahweh figures. Dr. Heiser writes, “Enoch, in this text, becomes the son of man figure, the Second Yahweh figure, of Dan 7.” But this is a non-canonized, fictional writing. Enoch never became the “Son of Man.”
In 2 Enoch 22:4–10, Enoch appears before the Lord and is transfigured. Then he becomes, “…one of his Glorious Ones.” Dr. Heiser summarizes this account, “He becomes, again, at that level, the second power level.” But again, this is mere speculation and this none-canonized writing was not true.
In the account of Moses, to Heiser’s credit, after stating that the writer thought Moses was the second power, Dr. Heiser admits that he is speculating.
In this segment Dr. Heiser covers angels. For the angel Michael, Dr. Heiser writes, “Again, it was a little fuzzy in the mind of some, but Michael became a primary candidate for the Second Power in heaven.” But Dr. Heiser doesn’t provide quotes from the Second Temple period that claimed or suggested that Michael was a “second power in heaven” to form a godhead, etc.
He also covers a quote about an angel called Ya’el (Yahoel). But there is nothing in this account that teaches that the author or the Jews in this time period widely believed that Jewish monotheism consisted of multiple beings who made up the one God. He concludes this segment:
“So again you have disagreement between Jewish writers, Jewish thinkers at the time, but the major point here is to show that this isn’t sort of a convenient idea, this two-powers idea that Christians can sort of make up and use to say, “Hey, belief in Jesus as part of a Godhead is Jewish. It’s Old Testament, it’s consistent.” It is consistent, it is Jewish, not because it’s convenient for nt theology, but because Jews saw it and were thinking. And the evidence for that is right here in Jewish texts that were composed before the nt, that have nothing to do with the nt, that are never cited in or by the nt. This is part of Jewish thinking.”
Tragically, this segment contains significant speculation and is outside the scope of credible scholarship.
Dr. Heiser covers a few writings from a Jewish philosopher named Philo. He was born before Christ and lived to around 50 AD. He was well educated and heavily influenced by pagan philosophies. According to Wikipedia.org (accessed October 2017), in addition to Judaism, Philo was influenced by Platonism, Stoicism, and Hellenism.
Early in the segment Dr. Heiser introduces Philo and comments, “And in Philo’s writings, he as well as these other Jews that we’ve been talking about in terms of their religious thinking are again trying to articulate this idea of this second being beside God who was, but who wasn’t deity, was but wasn’t Yahweh, that sort of thing.”
Outside the realm of speculation, Dr. Heiser fails to provide explicit or implicit evidence from Philo’s writings that they mirror the thinking of most Jews living during the time of Christ, or that Jewish monotheism as understood during this timeframe allowed a plurality of Gods that formed one God.
This segment concludes Dr. Heiser’s examination of the Old Testament. The objective of the course as identified by the title (“How the OT Reveals the Christian Godhead”) was not met.
Continuing his speculation, Dr. Heiser transferred the alleged Old Testament belief that there were two Yahweh’s to New Testament authors.
But Dr. Heiser exaggerates that New Testament authors wrote inspired Scripture based on this understanding: “The nt writers, of course, were well aware of these ideas, and on occasion they used them very specifically to refer to Jesus.”
His speculation continues, “They’re [NT authors] going to see that Jesus is being identified with Yahweh, as Yahweh’s equal, not based on a new idea or a wish, but based on ot ideas.”
To summarize, without any evidence, Dr Heiser claims that NT authors believed in a second Yahweh, introduced this thinking into the NT text and thereby made Jesus equal to Yahweh. There is no exegetical evidence within speculation.
Dr. Heiser takes his students to John 1:1 and promotes Modalism: “So we have the Word here who was God, Yahweh was God, Yahweh is the Word.” Modalism is the Heresy that God operates in different modes and Jesus and God are the same person.
The Modalism hat is often worn by Trinitarians scholars who resort to double talk to shake off the Modalism label. He continues and takes back what he just stated, “So we have the Word now, not only is He God [Modalism] but He’s also distinct from God.” Hey, wait a minute. Jesus is God and now you are saying He is not God? Dr. Heiser apparently is aware that two distinct beings cannot be the same being. Similarly, two material objects that differ are not the same.
Because I have written in some detail on John 1:1 on my website, this passage won’t be further unpacked.
Dr. Heiser also discuss John 1:18. But this passage will be covered in a later segment.
A verse in Jude says, “5 Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe” (Jude 5). Please observe that Jesus is credited here with saving the Jews who departed Egypt.
A verse in Deuteronomy says, “20 But the LORD [Yahweh] has taken you and brought you out of the iron furnace, out of Egypt, to be a people of his own inheritance, as you are this day” (Deuteronomy 4:20). Please observed that Yahweh is credited here with saving the Jews who departed Egypt.
In Exodus 23, Yahweh’s angel guards and leads God’s people.
Please note that Yahweh, His angel (doing Yahweh’s will) and Jesus were involved in the deliverance of the Jews from slavery. There is nothing unusual here. But Dr. Heiser concludes, “And the point is, yeah it’s all of them because all of those titles, all of those figures are Yahweh. They are this Second Yahweh figure as well; they’re all interchangeable is the point.”
No —all these figures are not Yahweh. While Jesus and angels were involved in the Old Testament, they are not to be confused with Yahweh, who is the only God. In fact, we just quoted a verse from Deuteronomy 4:20. Here is another verse in the same chapter: “To you it was shown, that you might know that the Lord is God; there is no other besides him” (Deuteronomy 4:35). Dr. Heiser, please know that Yahweh wants us to know that there is only one God who is far above all others. Not only did Jesus conclude that Yahweh was greater (Mark 10:18; John 10:29; 14:28), Paul also believed it (1 Corinthians 11:3, 15:27-28; Ephesians 4:6).
One of the learning objectives in this segment is, “Identify three nt verses that place Jesus within the context of the Godhead theology of the ot.” Before we examine what verse Dr. Heiser proposes, please think about this learning objective. Dr. Heiser believes that the one God is not Yahweh as the Bible teaches. He correctly believes the one God is not Jesus or the Holy Spirit. He believes a Triune Being is the one God —composed of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. So for a New Testament passage to describe this godhead, it would include all three members, forming the one God. This is a high charge when this belief is not found once in the entire Bible without dressing up the text with Trinitarian assumptions. But unbelievably, Dr. Heiser thinks his learning objective teaches this! He has not introduced one verse in his entire course that exegetically establishes that God is one person while simultaneously being a multi-person godhead.
The passage he submits is the High Priestly Prayer in John 17:6, 12, 26. Dr. Heiser starts off correct by acknowledging that Jesus was not the Father, but represented the Father before the people (divine agency): “So when He prays, “I have manifested your name to people whom you gave me out of the world,” He is basically saying, “I’ve shown them you. I am to them what God is like. This is what God is like, this is who He is: it’s me. I am what God is like.”
But regrettably, Dr. Heiser appears to take this back by making Jesus the same person as the Father: “He is God embodied. He is God in human form. He is God to them because He is; He is the name embodied, just like the angel was. He is God in visible human form.”
Jesus was never the Father. Jesus represented the Father to the people, but never claimed to be the Father. He claimed to be the Son of God, but not God Himself.
This segment contains three learning benchmarks. Here is the first: “Name one important nt chapter that connects Jesus to the Godhead theology of the ot.”
For this objective, Dr. Heiser chose Matthew 26:61-65. Before expositing this passage, Dr. Heiser did some preliminary mind conditioning. He reviewed Daniel 7:13-14. He writes, “I made a comment that this was a critical passage for the whole two-powers thinking because it was so obvious to anyone who knew their ot what was going on here.”
While we already covered this passage, it should be reviewed since Dr. Heiser claims that it promoted a “two powers thinking,” to those “who knew their ot.” So, let’s clear some smoke and allow the passage to speak: “13 “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. 14 And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed” (Daniel 7:13-14).
The one, all mighty Being in this passage is not Jesus Christ. It’s the “Ancient of Days [Yahweh].” It appears that Yahweh summons Jesus (“Ancient of Days”) to appear before His throne (“He came” & “was presented before Him”). Jesus is given what He does not posses “dominion”, “glory”, a “kingdom”, etc. People who knew their Old Testament well would not attribute this second person to Yahweh. Jesus is a distinct and subordinate being who is greatly promoted. So there is nothing in this passage that suggests that there are two Yahweh’s or a co-equal godhead.
The passage provided is Matthew 26:57-65. Here Jesus appears before Caiaphas and the Council. In verse 63, the high priest asks Jesus if He is the Son of God. In the next verse, Jesus agrees with this title: “Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven” (v. 64).
Dr. Heiser claims that Jesus is quoting Daniel 7:13. But these passages are very different. Most theologians would disagree. Dr. Heiser writes “Jesus looks him right in the eye and He quotes Dan 7:13, I’m the second power. I am the bearer of this deity title, a title that belongs only to Yahweh. Is that clear enough for you, Caiaphas?” Once again, when the context of this passage in Daniel is analyzed, Jesus is not a second Yahweh. Dr. Heiser continues to make the text say more than it does. This practice is eisegesis 101.
Dr. Heiser wears the Modalism hat once again and claims that Jesus is Yahweh:
“They identified Jesus with the Second Yahweh figure of the ot and when they did that, they were expressing their own theology that Jesus was indeed Yahweh, the God of Israel incarnate, in human form. Jesus was therefore not just an angel, and He was not a different elohim other than Yahweh. So, worshiping Him did not violate the Shema. These are very important points.”
This kind of scholarship is prevalent in our day. God is a ventriloquist who sometimes appears as Jesus, other times as the Father.
This segment is about the Greek word “monogenēs” (only begotten). Because this word is used to distinguish Jesus from the Father (the Father never has this title) and it makes Jesus the “only begotten (monogenēs) God” (John 1:18), it is problematic for the Trinity. This is because the historical meaning associated with “only begotten” is usually someone who came into existence chronologically first. Maybe this is why this course dedicates three segments to this word.
While the next segment is regarding the dictionary and lexicon definition of the word, it’s worth responding to some statements made regarding the meaning of this word.
He writes, “Monogenēs used to be considered as coming from two Greek terms—monos, which means “only,” and the verb gennaō, which means “to beget.” So monogenēs, “only begotten,” hence the translation.”
Dr. Heiser continues, “That was the view up until the late 19th, early 20th centuries. But later discoveries really have convinced scholars that monogenēs that comes from monos, again which means “only,” and the noun genē, which is “kind” or “type,” and so the term actually means “unique” “one of a kind” literally. And this meaning actually comes forth in the nt in several places.”
Dr. Heiser didn’t provide what evidence was discovered that changed the longstanding understanding of this word. Because the historical meaning for “only begotten” (based on NT use), when applied to Jesus signifies that there was a time when Jesus didn’t exist, some scholars have looked for a loophole.
Dr. Heiser’s belief that γενής is a noun meaning “one of kind” is a newer understanding more favorable to Trinitarianism. In contrast, the longstanding historical understanding of this word within the context of sonship usually means the only firstborn child (Luke 7:12, 8:42, 9:38; Hebrews 11:17; John 1:14, 3:16, 3:18).
Words in Koine Greek have a range of meaning defined by context (similar to English). Because words in Koine Greek changed meaning over time, a word’s meaning must correspond with the same general time period based on the context.
The word “only begotten” (monogenēs) is found nine times in the New Testament. Eight out of nine uses  describe an only child (a human being that came into existence). In Luke 7:12, it describes “the only son of his mother,” in Luke 8:42, it describes “an only daughter,” and in Luke 9:38, “for he is my only child.” In Hebrews 11:17 it describes Abraham’s only begotten child of promise: “By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son.”
 The only use in the New Testament where the immediate context (same verse) doesn’t describe sonship for the word “begotten” is found in John 1:18 (verse 14 involves sonship). In John 1:18, Jesus is called the “only [begotten] God.” In contrast to his Father, Jesus is a God who is begotten (came into existence).
This is also supported by verse 15 where Jesus “ranks” (ESV) before John the Baptist. The word “ranks” here is a bad translation. According to BDAG, this word can mean, “be born,” “be produced;” “be made,” “be created,” “be manufactured,” “be performed;” “arise,” “come about,” “develop;” “happen,” “turn out,” “take place;” “become;” “something” (197). As further evidence that Jesus was begotten (came into existence), the verb here is in the perfect tense. This means that Jesus came into existence at a point in time in the past, and this existence continued to be true up to the present time. So, “there was a time when Jesus was not” (John 5:26, Colossians 1:16-17; Revelation 3:14; Proverbs 8:23-26).
The remaining uses of “only begotten” (monogenēs) are attributed to Jesus. Early in the book of John, the Apostle John further introduces Jesus to His audience (1:14, 18). In verses 14, “Jesus is the only [begotten] Son from the Father.”
In verse 18, Jesus is “the only [begotten] God.” The modern Trinitarian modified definition for monogenēs (“only unique”) doesn’t fit the context of this verse, which further casts doubt on this definition. This is because Jesus would be the only unique God, in contrast to the Father.
In John 3:16, monogenēs means, “only begotten Son,” in John 3:18 it means “only [begotten] Son of God,” and in 1 John 4:9 it means “only [begotten] Son into the world.”
Some Trinitarians use Hebrews 11:17 as a loop hole to teach that the word “begotten” cannot mean only (first) begotten child. Dr. Heiser writes, “I think the best example is probably Heb 11:17, where Isaac is called the monogenēs of Abraham. But now if you think about it, Isaac was not the firstborn son of Abraham—that was Ishmael.”
Have you ever heard a sermon on Abraham offering up his only son to God where the preacher played down the significance of this offering because “Isaac was not the firstborn son of Abraham”? Of course not. The fact is, Isaac was Abraham’s firstborn son from Sarah. While Abraham did have a son from Hagar (already departed), God had promised him a Son from Sarah whose descendants would be like the stars that could not be numbered (Genesis 15:5). This “son of promise” was considered his only begotten son. In Genesis 22:12, the angel of Yahweh said to Abraham, “you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.”
This segment covers the definition of monogenēs using some resources within Logos. Mark Barnes is an excellent narrator. Towards the beginning, he states “to gather information about a word, so you can access the evidence for yourself.” Unfortunately, Mr. Barnes doesn’t present this information in neutral to encourage those taking the course to decide for themselves.
In this segment, I question BDAG’s (my favorite Greek lexicon) definition of monogenēs. Because this is a book review, my objections will be short.
BDAG stands for A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. It was first published in 1957. Its editor was Frederick William (1920-2012).
BDAG provides two meanings for monogenēs. The first meaning is assigned to human beings, but it excludes Jesus who was fully human! The second category of meaning for (monogenēs) is for Jesus Christ, but no one else in the New Testament. The category assigned to Jesus from extra-biblical sources includes a bird, other humans, and many references that I don’t own. This decision by BDAG should question if Trinitarian pre-suppositions came into play.
The humanity of Jesus is an important topic of the Gospels. Two of the Gospels include genealogies for Jesus. Because the humanity of Jesus is agreed upon by all Christians, there is no point in exacerbation.
Since Jesus was fully human like you and I, why did BDAG create a special category for Jesus unless there are underlying motivations? Since all the people assigned to the first category where only sons, was not Jesus also the only Son in John 1:14, 3:16, 18 and 1 John 4:9?
Many Christians are unaware that all major Bible translations, Greek dictionaries and Lexicons are composed by Trinitarians. Biblical Unitarian scholars would not be allowed to take part in a translation committee because they would be accused of theological bias. But since Trinitarian scholars don’t have biases (right!), this is acceptable.
A learning objective in this segment is, “Recognize that John placed Jesus’ use of Psa 82:6 in relation to two clear statements of Jesus’ deity.”
Before critiquing Dr. Heiser’s arguments to support this learning objective, we should address the word “deity.” This word is somewhat foggy in that it’s definition is not stated in the learning objective. This is because the word “deity” is applicable to all deities (both good and evil) in a general sense within the spiritual realm. All divine beings can be said to be deity, but all divine beings are not the same in deity. Because Dr. Heiser didn’t define this term, it will be assumed that he means the Trinitarian definition -that Jesus Christ is co-equal to the Father in essence. That is, while they both are divine and distinct, they share in the same essence that somehow makes them ontologically equal.
Because Jesus states, “I and the Father are one” (v. 30), Dr. Heiser states, “They believe that He is claiming some sort of equality with God.” But wait a minute, the claim, “some sort of equality with God” is ambiguous statement. Because Jesus didn’t claim here to be the same essence as the Father or, to be equal, Dr. Heiser is reading into the text.
Because my website has a dedicated page for John 10:30, coverage here will be light.
In biblical interpretation context is probably the most important consideration. Why did Jesus make this statement? The response here will be brief. Within the contextual backdrop, Jesus has a role in protecting the sheep: “no one will snatch them out of my hand” (v. 28). The Father also has a role: “no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand” (v. 29). Because both Jesus and the Father are united in the preservation of the saints (unity), Jesus states in the next verse, “I and the Father are one” (v. 30).
The statement of Jesus, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30), only has meaning in its historical context. It’s an error to import Trinitarianism (eisegesis) into this beautiful passage that illustrates how God and His Son are united in protecting the sheep who actively hear and follow Jesus Christ (10:27). As believers in Christ we have confidence in our salvation because both Jesus and His Father are jointly involved, united, and committed to our security!
Dr. Heiser writes, “The Jews answered him, ‘It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.” So they understand John 10:30 as, again, some sort of theological statement on the part of Jesus, that He is somehow equal with the Father, and that offended them.”
Dr. Heiser again is vague and foggy with “some sort of theological statement on the part of Jesus, that He is somehow equal with the Father.” Jesus didn’t state He was equal to the Father. Dr. Heiser leans on the mockers for support of his speculation. Yet “Jesus mockers” and “haters” were consistently wrong by falsely accusing Jesus of lies. Jesus did not state anything blasphemous!
In verse 34, Jesus appeals to Psalm 82. I appreciate that Dr. Heiser has the courage to correctly interpret that Jesus appeals in His defense to the Old Testament teaching (that the audience would have understood) of the plurality of gods. Most Trinitarian scholars run from the overwhelming evidence here, but I commend Dr. Heiser for taking a stand.
In this segment Dr. Heiser concludes his teaching on Jesus appealing to the existence of divine beings (Psalm 82:6, John 10:34).
In his conclusion, he states, “And so His last sort of argument in the logic chain is, “I’m more than just divine. Yeah, we have those. We have other divine beings, but I’m even above them.” While Jesus is above other divine beings, He is in subordination to His Father. He continues, “I’m not only above humanity, I’m above other divine sons of God. I am the Father in flesh right here before you. I and the Father are one. The Father is in me, and I’m in the father.”
Jesus was not and is not the Father (“I am the Father in flesh right here before you”). These sorts of statements are a violation of the Trinity doctrine he is trying to uphold and are consistent with the Oneness doctrine or Modalism. While Jesus represented the Father in person, He remains a separate, distinct person.
This segment is titled, Seeds of a Christian Trinity in Isaiah 63 and Psalm 78. Dr. Heiser makes a case while majoring on assumptions. It’s impossible to make a case for the Trinity from Old Testament using any kind of credible hermeneutics because this fourth century Roman Catholic Church doctrine was non-existent.
It is titled, Seeds of a Christian Trinity in Ezekiel 8. This segment continues the previous stream of assumptive theological presuppositions.
This segment is titled, New Testament Use of Old Testament Godhead Language.
Here are two of the three learning objectives:
“• List three ways nt writers repurpose Second Yahweh imagery found in the ot to describe a Trinitarian-type God.”
“• Explain how nt writers understood the deity of Jesus as an ot Second Yahweh figure.”
Here are the verses used in this segment:
“7 And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them” (Acts 16:7).
“9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him” (Romans 8:9).
“11 inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories” (1 Peter 1:11).
“6 And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” (Galatians 4:6).
These verses don’t affirm Dr. Heiser’s teaching without incorporating spin. Here is an example: “The nt writers do not just come up with the idea of a Godhead, of two or three persons. They’re getting this idea—this three-in-oneness idea—from the ot because they can see it there.”
Excuse the repetition. When the Bible is interpreted outside an exegetical framework, the text can say about anything one wants as Dr. Heiser illustrates well.
Dr. Heiser proceeds to address Jehovah’s Witnesses. He writes, “…because it’s just frankly incorrect to say that the ‘Word’ there in John 1:1 is properly understood as ‘a God,’ when the Word in the ot, as we’ve seen, was actually Yahweh Himself—not just any elohim, but Yahweh Himself. We’ve seen how the nt writers are repurposing, they’re drawing from this ot passages about the ‘Word’ being very explicitly Jehovah Himself, Yahweh.”
If the Word in John 1:1 was Yahweh as he teaches, then Yahweh was with Yahweh and was Yahweh. Co-mingling two persons or more as one makes God’s Word incoherent and contradictory.
He continues with passages that teach that Yahweh was the “Word.” But Genesis 15:1-6, 1 Samuel 3:1, and Jeremiah 1:1-9 don’t assign the title “Word” to Yahweh. In these passages, Dr. Heiser confuses Yahweh’s word with Yahweh Himself.
This segment is, The Old Testament Godhead and Mormonism. It places much emphasis on a prohibition that Dr. Heiser claims exists that no other god can be worshipped apart from Yahweh.
He writes, “Mormonism would have no problem of denying that, but when you look at Psa 82 and some of these other passages—especially how they’re used and repurposed in the nt—and the whole idea, the whole emphasis on, ‘You can worship only Yahweh,’ that means that number two and number three person in the Godhead must also be Yahweh. Because if they’re not Yahweh, then you are worshiping some deity other than Yahweh, and that would be a violation of the Shema.”
Dr. Heiser seems to be stating that it violates the Shema if any other deity is worshipped. If this were true, Jesus Christ who is a separate person apart from Yahweh cannot be worshipped.
But it’s not a violation of the Shema to worship Jesus Christ because the Shema sets Yahweh apart as the one God who is greater than all other gods to include Jesus Christ.
Because Yahweh is Supreme, He had a right to exalt Jesus Christ as Lord, just as He did. Because Yahweh has appointed Jesus as our Lord, it brings glory to the Father when we worship God’s Son: “and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:11).
Jesus brings glory to Yahweh and doesn’t take glory from Him. While on earth, Jesus spoke and did everything exactly as His Father asked. While in the flesh, Jesus had a God (John 20:17, Romans 15:6, 2 Corinthians 1:3, 11:31, 1 Peter 1:3, Revelation 1:6, etc.).
Thank you for reading this review. If the doctrine of the Trinity were true, it would be unnecessary for Dr. Heiser to build his teaching on the sands of speculation. Jesus prayed to the Father and never a separate Triune God who nowhere exists in the Bible.
May God bless you as you follow His Son to the Father’s House. Your feedback is welcomed 🙂
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