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Another Neo-Arian

A Review of Brian Holt's Jesus: God or the Son of God?

"Phantaz Sunlyk"


In November, 2002, Christian layman 'Phantaz Sunlyk" reviewed Brian Holt's, Jesus: God of the Son of God (Tellway, 2002) for J.P. Holding's website (  I found this review to be thorough and well-researched.  As it touches on a number of topics pertinent to anyone discussing the Deity of Christ, I believe it will prove valuable, even to those unfamiliar with Holt's work.  Reprinted here by permission of the author.


Brian Holt, a Jehovah's Witness layman, has this year published a work entitled Jesus: God or the Son of God. Holt and I have been 'friendly enemies' for the past few years, and upon publication of his book, Holt was kind enough to send me a copy. He requested that I review his work for Tekton-specifically, the chapter on Acts and Romans-and this request, and then some, will be granted in the present essay.


With no offense intended, I begin my criticism with a few comments on Holt's understanding of the Trinity, along with his general hermeneutic. Holt isn't a scholar, and he isn't at all ashamed of this fact. If one is looking for a good theological or historio-critical work on Christology, one won't find it in Holt's 366 page book. For example, his bibliography consists of sixty-plus Watchtower publications, and of the twenty-one other works listed, the only one really worthy of the subject at hand is Harris's Jesus as God-indeed something of an ugly duckling in a bibliography which cites the likes of McDowell's The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict, Halley's Bible Handbook, and Webster's New World Dictionary. Indeed, the back cover of Holt's book states, in what appears to be a comment that is intended as a boast of sorts, 'The book takes a unique approach in that it examines scriptural evidence rather than that based on history or philosophy'. But the mere fact that Holt isn't embarrassed by such a bibliography proves something-it proves that Holt has what he would no doubt take to be a virtue, and something which J. P. Holding has shown to be exegetical suicide.

Holt believes that the Bible is sufficient by itself for a correct understanding of the Bible, as though the whole of Scripture had been custom-written, for all practical purposes, for himself (or, 'us') with basically no need of outside resources to inform his notions (an attitude Tekton has decried in several essays; see summation here). In other words, Holt is of the KJV-onlyist mentality. Holt believed (until I corrected him) that both J. P. Holding and Richard Bauckham were Catholic because they cite works such as The Wisdom of Solomon and Sirach in order to place their Christologies in an historical context ('why would anyone use something other than what they believe to be God-inspired Scripture to advance their argument?'), and so on. This isn't an attempt on my part to 'make fun' of Brian or dress him up as a 'theological dummy', or any other such manner of character bashing. I don't think Holt would take my above comments in any other way than a compliment-such is the confidence he seems to have in Scripture and the ability of the common man to grasp its meaning.

Working alongside this exegetical presupposition, and partially caused by it, is in my opinion an excessively unflexibile logic confined within the parameters of his own presuppositions-somewhat reminiscent of Eunomius, the ultra-Arian against whom the Cappadocians waged war. With, literally, nothing by way of 'laying the groundwork' by analyzing second Temple Jewish theology or conceptual categories, Holt blazes through the NT with a rather curious modus operandi. We'll take his treatment of 2 Cor. 1:19 and 2 Cor. 4:4 as instances in illustration.

2 Corinthians 1:19

"For the Son of God, Christ Jesus, who was preached among you through us."

Paul preached Jesus was God's Son, not God. In all of the letters he wrote we do not see him telling people Jesus is the Almighty God. He repeatedly preached that he was the Son of God, a separate and subordinate person from God. How are these people then getting the idea that Jesus is God?

This Scripture Makes Me Think: _Jesus is God _Jesus is not God 2 Corinthians 4:4

"Among whom the god of this system of things has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, that the illumination of the glorious good news about the Christ, who is the image of God, might not shine through."

Jesus is the image of God, not God himself. We are an image of God too but not as powerful an image as Christ. (Genesis 1:26) Neither we nor Christ are God. Otherwise we would be God instead of just being an image of Him.

This Scripture Makes Me Think: _Jesus is God _Jesus is not God (Holt, 240)

We might call this style of kjv-onlyism 'read it/rope it' exegesis. Occasionally, Holt will toss in a further question, such as 'explanations are: _Scriptural _Nonscriptural,' or, resorting to an arid reductionism in order to explain away passages such as Jn. 20:28 ('My Lord and my God!'), Holt will point out a passage such as Jn. 10:34 ('Jesus answered, "Is it not written in your law, 'I said, you are gods'?"')-the inference being 'since god is obviously not necessarily God, you have no right to automatically claim that Jesus is God, though he is "God".' This latter display of Scriptural interpretation which cannot but reduce the plain meaning of a text 'down to size', by hook or by crook, can be called 'read it/bleed it' exegesis (both manners of exegesis prove extremely troublesome for Holt in his attempt to show that Jesus is Michael, as will be demonstrated below). A few things immediately come to mind here. First, Holt has shown that 'going by the Bible alone', when translated into English, means 'going by the parenthetical understandings that pop into my mind when I read the Bible', which is painfully illustrated in the commentary he lays between Scripture and the 'yes/no' questions that follow (and as the answering of the questions is intended to be influenced by the commentary, it is well worth pointing out that such commentary would have been significantly different had Holt done some groundwork). Thus, in point of fact, it is actually 'read it (= 'the words of Scripture')/rope it' (='the meaning extracted therefrom after it has passed through the filter of my unanalyzed theological and philosophical a priori's, without the distinct benefit of social-historical knowledge requisite to condition them). It is not a coincidence that the JW's, who claim they go by 'Scripture only, and not the doctrines of fallible men', actually never go by Scripture only. Their 'Bible studies' consist of studying a series of man-made books about a book in the Bible-or, in other words, JW-biased commentaries on Scripture. Hence, for them, 'going by the Bible' actually means 'going by the (manmade Watchtower's understanding of the) Bible'-it being assumed that there is a one-one correspondence between this statement with or without that which is included in the parentheses. This isn't a criticism that immediately disqualifies Holt's work, yet it is a fact which I think Holt would do well to give due consideration before making any further publications.

The second thing that comes to mind is that Holt has a very weak grasp on what the relationship between the Father and Son is within the Trinity, and as with nearly all neo-Arians attempting to make short work of the Trinity, utilizes a misunderstanding of the Athanasian Creed as a strawman to fight against (Holt, 127). The entire backbone of his book ('if Jesus is "sent", he is therefore less than the Father', etc.) is neatly disposed of with Wisdom Christology-a theological template he never once engages, no doubt due to the fact that he hasn't the caliber of resources that deal with it. The reason why I make such a point of this is because I, several times prior to the publication of his book, gave him a list of resources that would amend this absolutely huge error on his part. He didn't listen, I think due to the fact that he didn't think he needed to; and I don't think he thought he needed to because of his kjv-onlyist hermeneutic. (In fairness to Holt, he recently told me that the reason why he isn't 'up on' the Wisdom tradition is due to the fact that most of the Trinitarians he has engaged in argument didn't rely on the Wisdom argument-hence as far as he knew, he had no reason to explore it. Nevertheless, the fact remains that Wisdom Christology serves as the basis for Nicene Christology, and I therefore will still base my commentary on Holt's work upon this theological template.)

But it would be unfair for me to nit-pick his book too death. Holt is sincere, and his work offers an excellent view into the neo-Arian mindset. Holt makes evident why he, and those like him, believe what they believe. He explores an extraordinarily large number of classic Trinitarian proof texts (indeed, a critic has very little ground for accusing him of 'hiding the evidence', or any such thing), and within the context of his own presuppositions, Holt offers a consistent Biblical defense of Arianism. For this reason I recommend his book to those who are interested in understanding the anti-Trinitarian mindset.

Now, let's see how Holt's argument works once we dispose of those presuppositions.


Before moving into Holt's chapter on Acts and Romans, I'll first place Acts and Romans in context by laying some historical-theological groundwork. First, I'll briefly illustrate what Jewish monotheism was prior to the birth of the Church. Second, I'll give a brief analysis of the theological freight of the concept of one 'sitting at the right hand' of God. Finally, I'll examine what N. T. Wright calls 'christological monotheism' and Larry Hurtado calls 'the mutation of monotheism' within the first Christian community, along with some instances in illustration from the New Testament. This will provide a framework grounded in history (rather than my bringing my own presuppositions to the text and imposing it as a framework) within which the book of Acts and the epistle to the Romans can be properly understood.

First, then, a few words about what constituted second Temple Jewish monotheism. It is quite unfortunate that Holt didn't consult the works of someone like Larry Hurtado or Alan Segal before he carried his presupposition that 'one God = one person' through his entire book, and this for the simple reason that modern studies of Jewish monotheism show that it is extremely unlikely that the Jews of Jesus' day understood monotheism in this sense (i.e., a single center of consciousness and will-Descartes' Cartesian ego-over against every other such center of consciousness and will). Paranthetically, it is also worth noting that modern studies of 'personhood' strongly suggest that communion-interpersonal relationality-is an essential ontological presupposition for personhood. In other words, if a person is a person, then a person must be personal; but if a person is personal, then that person needs to be in communion with another person (cf. also the 'object-relations' theory in modern psychology). Personhood is simultaneous with, and consequent upon, the act of communion. This sounds esoteric, but extended reflection upon the issue seems to vindicate the claim. Those interested in pursuing this line of thought should consult Martin Buber's I and Thou, and for a specifically Christian and Trinitarian study, John Zizioulas' Being as Communion or Catherine Mowry LaCugna's God For Us (243-317).

But if we are to drop the Enlightenment's philosophical understanding of 'person' as 'autonomous ego', in what way can we define early Jewish monotheism? Many today advocate the position that it would be more accurate to define monotheism as 'monolatry', the worship of only one divine being, but I think that such a definition can be made more definite and concrete by taking a few steps backward. As Richard Bauckham argues in God Crucified, 'this, in my view, is a confusion, because the exclusive worship of the God of Israel is precisely a recognition of and response to his unique identity.' (14) And how was this identity articulated? Bauckham argues that 'the answer given again and again, in a wide variety of Second Temple Jewish literature, is that the only true God, YHWH, the God of Israel, is the sole Creator of all things (Isa. 40:26, 28; 44:24; 45:12, 18; 48:13; 51:16; Neh. 9:6; Hos. 13:4lxx; 2 Macc. 1:24; Sir. 43:33; Bel 5; Jub. 12:3-5; Sib. Or. 3:20-35; 8:375-376; Frag. 1:5-6; Frag. 3; Frag. 5; 2 Enoch 47:3-4; 66:4; Apoc. Abr. 7:10; Pseudo-Sophocles; Jos. Asen. 12:1-2; T. Job 2:4) and sole Ruler of all things (Dan. 4:34-35; Bel 5; Add. Est. 13:9-11; 16:18, 21; 3 Macc. 2:2-3; 6:2; Wis. 12:13; Sir. 18:1-3; Sib. Or. 3:10, 19; Frag. 1:7, 15, 17, 35; 1 Enoch 9:5; 84:3; 2 Enoch 33:7; 2 Bar. 54:13; Josephus, Ant. 1:155-156).' (10-11) Bauckham argues that previous studies of Second Temple monotheism are hampered by the fact that they ignore Jewish thought categories, seeking to identify what God is rather than who God is. And it should be noted that Bauckham doesn't wish, at all, to deny that worship was reserved only for the one God. In calling worship a 'response to his unique identity', worship is still recognized as an evidence that the one worshipped is indeed God.

With that in mind, I next focus on Larry Hurtado's One God, One Lord. Hurtado's work is something like a classic in the study of 'early Christian devotion and ancient Jewish Monotheism'. In it, he argues that the conceptual category of Divine Agency provided the template for the first Christians in their articulation of the person of Jesus Christ. After examining the agency of Divine Attributes (Word, Wisdom, etc.), Exalted Patriarchs (Moses, Enoch, etc.) and Principal Angels (Yahoel, Michael, Metatron, etc.), Hurtado concludes that the way in which the first Christians went beyond the theological tradition that preceded them was in their worship of Jesus. No divine attribute had ever been an object of worship, as they were thought of as hypostases (an existential expression of essence) of the one God. No patriarch, no matter how exalted, was ever an object of worship, nor were any of the chief angels. Yet, as Hurtado shows (93-124), the earliest Christian documents we have give evidence that Christ was an object of 'cultic devotion', or, in other words, 'Jesus is given the unprecedented sort of devotion that is otherwise reserved for God in Jewish groups.' (xiii)

So how was 'monotheism' defined by the Jews' of Jesus day? Actually, I think that such a question is itself an anachronism. I don't think that early Jewish monotheism was rigorously defined-such definitions were the work of later generations and consequent upon philosophical reflection. As N. T Wright has it-

Within the most fiercely monotheistic of Jewish circles throughout our period-from the Maccabean revolt to Bar-Kochba-there is no suggestion that 'monotheism' or praying the Shema, had anything to do with the numerical analysis of the inner being of Israel's god himself. It had everything to do with the two-pronged fight against paganism and dualism. Indeed, we find strong evidence during this period of Jewish groups and individuals who, speculating on the meaning of some difficult passages in scripture (Daniel 7, for example, or Genesis 1), suggested that the divine being might encompass a plurality. Philo could speculate about the Logos as, effectively, a second divine being; the Similitudes of Enoch might portray the Son of Man/Messiah as an eternal divine being; but none of these show any awareness that they are transgressing normal Jewish monotheism. Nor are they. The oneness of Israel's god, the creator, was never an analysis of god's inner existence, but always a polemical doctrine over against paganism and dualism. It was only with the rise of Christianity and arguably under the influence both of polemical constraint and Hellenizing philosophy, that Jews in the second and subsequent centuries reinterpreted 'monotheism' as 'the numerical oneness of the divine being'. (Christian Origins and the Question of God, Vol. 1, pg. 259)

Neo-Arians such as Holt will no doubt wave off the testimony of N. T. Wright, this due not to the fact that they have any good evidence that he is wrong, but rather because of the kjv-onlyist mentality which cannot but impose its presuppositions, with or without warrant; still less let go or question those presuppositions. But back to the question of defining Jewish monotheism, I don't believe that the fact that it was 'undefined' is good grounds for imagining that it lacked conceptual reference within the minds of its adherents, quite the contrary. By that I mean that the understanding of the one God of Israel was based upon YHWH's revelation of himself in history and Scripture, while at the same time it hadn't yet been brought to a point such that it could articulate its God in personalistic categories with philosophical precision. Bauckham is correct to point out that only this One is the one who created all that is and rules all that is, and Hurtado is correct to point out that the One God was the only object of worship, yet a moment's reflection will show that, granting the above conclusions of Hurtado and Bauckham, subsequent revelation in the course of salvation history can develop the understanding of the one God, bringing it to a more definite point, so to speak.

Moving along, I suggest that there were (and still are) three ways that the Jews of Jesus' day identified who the one God is, one fact caused by the recognition of that identity that serves as a further means of identifying the one God, and one fact about that one God that we can understand as the basis which (or, for any neo-Arians reading this, 'that could possibly have') served as the point of departure for further developing the understanding of this one God, while remaining faithful to Jewish monotheism. The three ways in which Jews identified who God is were: the divine name of YHWH, who is the only creator of all that is, and who is the only ruler of all that is. The fact related to this identity which serves as a further means of identifying the one God is that he was the sole object of worship. The fact about this one God that serves as a possible point of departure for legitimate theological development is the fact that this one God is always revealed as personal. If function (God relating himself personally to Israel in the course of salvation history) presupposes ontology-i.e., if what God does necessarily tells us something about what God is-then it is definitely on the cards that the God who relates himself personally to creation is in himself personal, and therefore more than one person.

Because I'll be reviewing Holt's chapter on Acts and Romans, there is one theological concept that I need to analyze briefly, and that is the concept of 'sitting at the right hand of God'. Holt, slow to 'apophaticize' his anthropomorphic tendencies, constantly grasps from such a predication of Christ that this is indeed a way in which Christ is distinguished from the one God (after all, two objects beside one another cannot occupy the same space at the same time, therefore they must be distinct, etc.). But the concept itself, as employed by the first Christians especially, actually goes in the opposite direction. To 'sit at the right hand of God' for them meant 'to sit beside God on God's throne' (cf. Rev. 22:1, 'the throne of God and of the lamb'). Once we add to this fact that 'the throne' was a symbol for the ruling of creation by God, the tables are immediately turned on the neo-Arian, for this places Jesus within the 'divine identity', as was shown above. Martin Hengel has given an extraordinarily thorough analysis of this theological concept in his Studies in Early Christology, pgs. 119-225, and he concludes that it is 'the very first step to the "one in being with the Father" of Nicaea, for he, with whom God shares his throne, must also be "equal with God" (Phil. 2:6)'. (225)

A few comments are in order before moving on to the next issue. First, it should be noted that Wisdom was portrayed as sharing God's throne in the OT (Wis. Sol. 9:4, 10, cf. Prov. 8:30; Wis. Sol. 8:3; Sir. 24:3). Given the distinctly personal manner in which Wisdom is portrayed in some of these passages ('daily I was his delight, rejoicing before him always', 'for the Lord of all loves her', etc.), they instantly show themselves as passages capable of serving as a starting point for the further definition of monotheism, if such a development were to occur. This isn't to suggest that whoever wrote these works thought of Wisdom as a distinct person alongside God, or even needed to-the point is solely that the way in which Wisdom was described in these texts could possibly serve as a means whereby this claim could be advanced if further revelation in the course of salvation history welcomed it. This observation becomes increasingly noteworthy once we recall that the personhood of God seems the most immediately plausible point of departure for the development of Jewish monotheism. Second, Holt and company will no doubt ask, 'Why, if this is identifying Jesus as God, do the Scriptures constantly distinguish between Christ and the God at whose right hand he is seated?' This is a fair question, and it deserves an answer. The answer is to be found, I think, in the fact that the Wisdom template which the NT authors applied to the Son as Son made it unnecessary to say anything like 'Christ, who is God beside God', or 'God the Son, seated at the right hand of God the Father', or 'the one God, who is Father and Son seated beside one another'. Describing Jesus as the 'Son of God' in light of the Wisdom template covered much more ground, in a much more precise way, than the above manners of expression would have (see above links). Indeed, the question itself is anachronistic, insofar as it desires a fourth century mode of expression, which was sharpened by controversy and the result of intense philosophical clarification, to take the place of a first century mode of expression which would have said the exact same thing to a first century audience. Once the proper understanding of the relationship between the Father and Son is grasped, the question becomes irrelevant.

Next a brief examination of the 'christological monotheism' of the NT is in order, offering evidence from which we can reconstruct a theological context within which Acts and Romans can be situated. Christological monotheism can be defined as 'the inclusion of Christ within the divine identity'. The four defining notes of the divine identity need to be recalled here-YHWH, the sole creator of all things, the sole ruler of all things, and the sole object of worship. We'll briefly examine each of these four points, followed by a comment on the notion of a personal God.

The New Testament identifies Christ as YHWH several times. An exhaustive listing of such passages would be quite lengthy (along with being a road well traveled by others in their apologetic efforts contra modern Arians), so here a few examples will have to suffice. Romans 10:13 quotes Joel 2:32 ('everyone who calls on the name of YHWH shall be saved'), applying this passage to Christ (cf. Rom. 10:9, 12). Hebrews 1:10-12 quotes Psalm 102:25-27 ('In the beginning, Lord, you founded the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands'), applying this to Christ (cf. Ps. 102:1, 12, 15, 16, 18, 19, 21, 22, 24). John 17:11 is another example ('Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me'), alongside Phillipians 2:9 ('God also highly exalted him and gave him the name above every name') and Hebrews 1:4 ('having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs'). Yet it is the book of Acts that gives us what is probably the strongest evidence in this regard. The practice of 'calling upon the name of the Lord (YHWH)' was quite common in the Old Testament (Gen. 12:8; 13:4; 21:23; 26:25; Ps. 80:18; 99:6; 105:1; Isa. 12:4; Joel 2:32; Zeph. 3:9; Zech. 13:9), yet Acts gives us several instances of calling upon the Lord, wherein Jesus is the one signified. Peter heals 'in the name of Jesus Christ' (3:6; 4:10), Stephen's final prayer is 'Lord Jesus, receive my spirit' and 'do not hold this sin against them' (7:60), the good news is 'the kingdom of God and the name Jesus Christ' (8:12), believers are baptized 'in the name of the Lord Jesus' (2:38; 8:16), Ananias testifies that it is a defining mark of early Christians to 'invoke your (Jesus') name' (9:14), Paul must 'suffer for the sake of my (Jesus') name' (9:15), the unbeliever's sins are washed away by 'calling on his (Jesus') name' (Acts 22:16)-in short, the message of Acts is that 'There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved' (4:12). According to the book of Acts, it was in and by calling on Jesus that YHWH was called. As Hurtado has it-'In short, in these references to the use of the name of the risen Lord, we have another glimpse of the nature of the distinctive devotional pattern of Christianity, a pattern that originated so early in the movement that it must be seen as a mutation in Jewish monotheism.' Such an argument is certainly worth consideration.

And on the side, it is worth mentioning that this probably explains why there is absolutely no evidence in early Christianity that the name 'YHWH' was of especial importance for them-the historical person and life of Jesus is the full revelation of God (Jn. 1:18), hence the divine name ha been surpassed, becoming superfluous as a designator of the one God, now known as 'the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ'. If I'm wrong here, I have a few questions for Holt. Granted that God protected his Word, the Bible, from being corrupted in any significant way by man over the course of history, why is it that the name 'Jehovah' could be dropped so easily? Was it that the name isn't one of the important things? Or rather, is it that the name is important, and God (for some obscure reason) allowed this particular piece of precious information to be discarded? But if it is important, and he allowed it to be dropped, does that not modify in some sense our trust of God's Word? I believe that Hurtado's argument, in light of Jn. 1:18, etc., goes a long way in explaining this phenomenon, while at the same time demonstrating faithfulness to the Jewish tradition (as a legitimate development of it) that preceded the birth of the Church.

That YHWH, the one and only God, was the sole creator of all things, is absolutely affirmed by the OT. A listing of such passages was given above, so only one such passage needs to be cited here: 'I am YHWH who alone stretched out the heavens, who by myself spread out the earth' (Isa. 44:24). The texts in the New Testament that show Christ to be involved in creation are well known, and I'll take Jn. 1:3 as representative of all such passages: 'All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being'. The Holt camp thinks it highly relevant that creation ('merely'!) comes 'through' Christ, but pointing this out hardly helps them here for the simple reason that it means that if Christ is not included in the identity of YHWH, and Christ was involved in the creation of all that is, then Isa. 44:24 is false, necessarily. In that case YHWH didn't create alone or by himself anymore than Jack Bruce made the song 'White Room' alone and 'by himself'. Isaiah 44:24 leaves absolutely no room whatsoever for the inclusion of a being ontologically distinct from God in the act of creation. (Its also worth pointing out that any Trinitarian model which lacks a 'from whom, through whom' distinction in the operations of the persons is distinctly at odds with the Wisdom tradition, alongside probably being logically incoherent. There cannot be three distinct principles of origin unless we, per impossible, assume another ground of origin as a precondition for them. On the other hand, it is logically possible for three persons to exist necessarily if one such person is the Origin of the other two, and all three persons in virtue of their properties presuppose the existence of the other two. See Swinburne's The Christian God, pgs. 125-191, for a rigorous defense of the logical coherence of the Trinity). And before moving on, it is worth calling to mind that, once again, the Wisdom tradition in the OT provides precedent for such a move in the NT. Wisdom was 'a pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty' and 'a reflection of eternal light' (Wis. Sol. 7:25-26), and as such is included in the identity of the one God, and therefore can be called 'the fashioner of all things' (7:22) as well as 'an associate in his (God's) works' (8:4) without violating creational monotheism. (I have since brought Isa. 44:24 to Holt's attention, and he hasn't yet provided anything like a satisfactory answer.)

Speaking further of Wisdom, pseudo-Solomon writes that 'she renews all things' (7:27) and 'she orders all things well' (8:1), which brings us to our third defining mark of Jewish monotheism-that only God is the sole ruler of all things. My brief analysis of Jesus' 'sitting at the right hand' of God already went some distance in illustration of this fact, and I'll here offer a few more passages. First, one can sight Mt. 28:18: 'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.' This passage is quite straightforward, yet the Holt camp would quickly point out that this was given to Christ by one who has more authority than Christ. This is a fair objection, and deserves an answer, for there are several examples in Scripture of 'vice regents', etc., who rule in place of one who has greater authority still. There are two facts that need to be pointed out here. First of all, Jesus is included on God's throne, 'far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but in the age to come.' (Eph. 1:21) This is an inclusion of Jesus in the divine rule, and not a distinguishing of Jesus' rule from the divine rule. Granting, per impossible, that such a placement of Jesus would be possible for a Jewish monotheist who defines his monotheism in light of the Cartesian ego, Holt's objection would have force only if this placement were shown to be a contingent placement, i.e., if Jesus' sharing of the divine throne isn't intrinsic to his person. But this objection also falls flat due to the fact that, as pointed out above, God's Wisdom is his throne partner. While it would be new for Wisdom, subsisting as human, to participate in the divine rule, the role itself is intrinsic to the person of Wisdom. It will be granted, however, that such an explanation can only become comfortable for those in the Holt camp once an extended analysis of Chalcedonian Christology (i.e., how, exactly, we Trinitarians understand Christ's two natures as being united in a single person) is presumed, and this is unfortunately beyond the scope of this essay.

Our final mark of Jewish monotheism is the worship of God alone. The hymns in the NT give solid evidence that Christ was indeed included in the worship of the one God. The primary christological hymns are Phil. 2:6f., Col. 1:15f., and Heb. 1:1f. The first of these hymns, Phil. 2:6f., concludes by stating that 'so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father'. The passage is all the more forceful when it is viewed in light of the passage from the OT that serves as its basis: 'For I am God, and there is no other. By myself I have sworn, from my mouth has gone forth in righteousness a word that shall not return: "To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear." Only in YHWH, it shall be said of me…' (Isa. 45:22-24). It's also worth mentioning that Holt fails to tie in the Isaian passage with his analysis of the Pauline hymn. Indeed, Holt's comments that 'we see two different persons, not just the Father and Jesus but God and Jesus mentioned in this verse,' and that 'we also see that Jesus was given this name … no one had to give Jehovah supreme status but Jesus did have to be given his position by God,' (95-96) fall quite flat in light of the Isaian passage, alongside the comments made in the paragraph above regarding the Incarnation. That an exalted human is given what only God can have doesn't make it any easier to explain why that was given to him-if, that is, you aren't willing to allow that human to be God. If the traditional explanation of the two natures of Christ is taken into account, this is precisely what we would expect. It is very hard to understand how Jesus could, if he were actually human, find himself as human, and as one who had emptied himself of the divine prerogatives on the divine throne unless he was placed there. In sum, I think that N. T. Wright's comments on this passage are worth our attention.

Here, as in 1 Corinthians 8:6, Paul is quoting a monotheistic text from the Old Testament. Not just any miscellaneous monotheistic text, either. This comes from Isaiah 40-55, where we find the clearest and most sustained scriptural exposition of the exaltation of the one true God over all false claimants, and at the same time the stoutest declaration of the sovereignty of the one God, ruling out all possibility of ontological dualism. Isaiah 45:23 declares, in the name of YHWH, Israel's one God: 'To me, and me alone, every knee shall bow, every tongue swear.' The whole point of the context is that the one true God does not, cannot and will not share his glory with anyone else. It is his alone. Paul, however, declares that this one God has shared his glory with-Jesus. (What Saint Paul Really Said, 68)

Holt may wish, at this juncture, to turn to Jn. 17:22 in another read it/bleed it attempt, but this will be of no avail, for there is an ancient soteriological doctrine (which was actually one of Athanasius' strongest arguments for the divinity of Christ) which accounts for our sharing in the glory that is God's only-theosis. According to this, we are not glorified with God's glory as distinct from God, but by virtue of our participation in the Son of God (cf. Jn. 1:12-13; 4:14; 6:56; 15:5; 17:21-24; Eph. 1:3, 5, 9-10, 22-23; 2:7, 10, 15-16, 22; 3:6, 18-19; 4:10, etc-this doctrine is quite distinct from the Mormon doctrine, and is to be found throughout the NT, as well as in the Church Fathers), to whom this glory belongs essentially and as a matter of course (cf. Jn. 17:5; Heb. 1:3). This soteriological motif belongs within the context of Chalcedonian Christology, and as such, a full exposition is beyond our scope here. Nevertheless, I think Holt would do well to familiarize himself with it, as he several times seizes on theosis-related passages in a read it/bleed it attempt to prove that since even we can partake of this glory, it therefore (obviously) follows that Jesus isn't God (Holt, 22, 94, 96-98, 316, 318) .

But returning to the worship of Christ, another text needs to be mentioned. There are several texts in the OT which belong to a specific literary genre-apocalyptic-and as such are loaded with theological significance. I refer here to the scene of the eschatological throne of God in heaven (cf. 1 Kings 22:19-23; Isa. 6:1-4; Ez. 1; Dan. 7:9-10). The purpose of such imagery is to express 'the true reality which must in the end also prevail on earth … heaven is the sphere of ultimate reality: what is true in heaven must become true on earth.' Or, more specifically, the throne scene 'represents the theocentric nature of all reality, which exists ultimately to glorify God.' (Bauckham, The Theology of the Book of Revelation, 31-33) This point was alluded to in cursory fashion above, but it deserves some further elaboration as my final comment on the four marks of Jewish monotheism, and the position of Christ in relation to it.

Isa. 44:6 gives a peculiar title for YHWH which, in various forms, has definite significance in the book of Revelation-'I am the first and I am the last' (cf. Isa. 48:12). This title designates 'God as eternal in relation to the world. He precedes and originates all things, as their Creator, and he will bring all things to their eschatological fulfillment.' (Bauckham, 55) In Revelation, this title occurs in four different passages (within the prologue and epilogue)-1:8; 1:17; 21:6; 22:13. It is agreed, by all parties, that the first and third of these belong to God (= the Father), and that the second belongs to Christ. The point of disagreement revolves around the fourth such occurrence. Those in the Holt camp would ascribe it to God, but Bauckham gives an extremely insightful argument for ascribing it to Christ. The structure of these names form a definite chiastic pattern, which can be described thusly (Bauckham 57)-

A; 1:8; end of prologue; God; Alpha and Omega; connexion with parousia (1:7)

B; 1:17; beginning of vision; Christ; first and last; connexion with new life (1:18)

B'; 21:6; end of vision; God; Alpha and Omega, beginning and end; connexion with new life (21:5-6)

A'; 22:13; beginning of epilogue; Christ; Alpha and Omega, first and last, beginning and end; connexion with parousia (22:12).

Bauckham also notes that, within the chiastic pattern 'if the three phrases are treated as equivalent, then Revelation contains seven occurrences of them in self-declarations by God and Christ … The number is not likely to be accidental, since … two of the other three most important designations for God in Revelation occur seven times. Numerical patterns have theological significance in Revelation. Seven is the number of completeness … the sevenfold occurrence of a significant divine title indicates the fullness of the divine being to which that title points.' (26-27)

These factors definitely carry weight-if we exclude Christ's designation in Rev. 1:17 as indicative of divinity (which would be quite odd, as it is the closest parallel to the Isaian usage), then we throw the careful structure of Revelation off balance (leaving only 6 usages of variations on 'the first and the last' in the book), along with wrecking the chiastic pattern relating the prologue to the epilogue. Yet if we allow 1:17 to be a divine designator, then that same chiastic pattern strongly suggests that we allow 22:13 to apply to Christ as well.

Confirmation of the application of 22:13 to Christ, along with taking 1:17 as portraying Christ as divine, comes from Rev. 5:11-14, wherein Christ is on the eschatological throne and worshipped by all of creation. Combined with the application of the title 'the first and the last'in its various forms to Christ, this passage is, in my opinion, the strongest indication that the first Christians included Jesus in the identity of God (also, it needs to be kept in mind that the express theological intent of an eschatological work such as Revelation is to show the absolute goal of all existence-the worship of God by his creation-yet in this book Christ is never once shown as worshipping God), and therefore will be quoted in full.

Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels surrounding the throne and the living creatures and the elders; they numbered myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, singing with full voice, 'Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!' Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, all that is in them, singing, 'To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!' And the four living creatures said, 'Amen!' And the elders fell down and worshiped.'

In bringing this section to a close, I wish to summarize what the evidence suggests. We have seen that there were four marks of Jewish monotheism: the divine name, the creator, the ruler, and the sole object of worship. We have seen that in the NT, Christ was assigned each of these distinctive marks. Every objection to the significance of these ascriptions fails. They fail, first of all, due to the fact that the four marks are interrelated; in the New Testament with Christ, and theologically one with another. Any complaint (such as 'but why did Christ have to be placed on the throne by God if he is divine?') can be discarded by noting first of all that Jesus, as God's Wisdom, has such properties as a matter of course, and second, by pointing out that if the Son becomes human, we would expect him to be given these things as human-once again as a matter of course. The theological freight of the manners in which the NT portrays Christ is far too strong to be dismissed, seemingly outright, by such 'how come?' questions. Unless it can be demonstrated that Christ in his pre-incarnational existence didn't already have these things (and all the NT hymns move in the opposite direction, as they show Christ descending and then ascending to where he was before), or that the Incarnation of the Son of God is impossible, the evidence leans strongly in favor of the Trinitarian understanding of the NT evidence. Hence all objections to this conclusion must be relegated to Chalcedonian Christology, where the neo-Arian can try his hand at proving that this formulation of Christ is incoherent, before he can begin to criticize Nicene Trinitarian Christology.

Before moving on to Holt's commentary on Acts and Romans, a brief word should be said about the final mark of Jewish monotheism-God's personhood-and how it relates to the above. As for myself, I feel that the fact that God is personal is in itself good grounds for believing him to be multi-personal. If Trinitarians are often accused of believing in an overly mysterious God, the Trinitarian can take consolation in the fact that his God isn't half so mysterious as the 'lonely-only' god of Unitarianism, isolated and alone for a literally infinite amount of time. Indeed, the tables seem to be turned on the Unitarian here: the Unitarian complains of mysteriousness, but this complaint always (from what I've seen) results from a misunderstanding-a misunderstanding that Wisdom Christology almost single-handedly corrects. The confusion I speak of here can be summarized thus-'how can one be three?' Yet we don't say that 'one is three'. The sense in which God is one is completely distinct from the sense in which God is three. We confess that God is one, first of all, ascribing this title to the Father as Father, who is the source of the other two persons and the origin of all of the activity of the one God. We confess that God is one, secondly, in that we proclaim that the Father, Son, and Spirit share the same nature, along with each of the persons presupposing necessarily the existence of the other two. We confess that God is one, thirdly, in that every action of the one God is accomplished by the three persons in unison, with each person performing the aspect of the activity which corresponds to his particular manner of procession (originates in the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit, etc.)-the particular perfection of his person. We don't confess that God is one person who is identical with three persons who are not identical with eachother.

Hence the 'mathematical objection' to the Trinity can be dropped at once. The mystery of the Trinity isn't to be found at the level of logic-the Trinity is not logically incoherent. The Trinity is a mystery in the strict sense, but it is not a mystery in that sense. In what way is the Trinity a mystery? The mysteriousness of the Trinity can be located in the exact same place as that mystery with which we are most familiar. The mystery of the Trinity is to be found in the (existentiell) concept of personhood, and simultaneously, communion. For this reason, the Trinitarian doctrine of God is a priori more likely to be true, for the hardest thing to understand about it is something we are familiar with in our own lives. The point at which it baffles the mind is identical with a baffling that we face (if we give it but a moments attention), while affirming, every day. But it is quite otherwise with the Unitarian god, for at the point with which we are most familiar-the very ground and presupposition of our thinking about God or anything at all-personhood-is the point at which thought of the Unitarian god stops without being able to start. The Unitarian god cannot find his way out of his own eternity, yet he cannot be thought of as personal until he is thought of as leaving that eternity to interact with creation (for those who think of God as existing in time everlastingly backward, this point becomes even more ominous). The Unitarian God is personal viz-a-viz creation, but we have no idea-indeed, we can't even begin to begin to imagine-how he is personal in himself and without creation. Interestingly (and ironically), Edgar Foster, in a personal correspondence with me some time ago, suggested that we think of Aristotle's Nous-God as a world unto himself 'thinking and loving Godself'-in order to alleviate this difficulty (as though the fact that Aristotle taught this doctrine automatically disqualifies the possibility of its incoherence). Yet as Henry Bugbee insightfully points out, it is precisely at this point that Aristotle's logic is silenced, and that 'philisophical reflection would eventuate in an ultimate occasion for incorrigible wonder' (The Inward Morning, 38). It is indeed an incorrigible wonder in light of personhood-the mind that seeks a mono-personal God must in effect shut down at this point. Any Unitarian who feels up to the task can try to make some sense of this, but in so doing he will soon find himself in a 'dark cloud of unknowing' and mystery that surpasses anything he is so fond of accusing the Trinitarian of. For even though we Trinitarians worship an absolute mystery, we can say in truth to the Unitarian that 'you worship what you do not know; we worship what we know' (Jn. 4:22), and that on that account the Trinitarian holds to a far less paradoxical account of the one God than does the Unitarian.


Holt begins his section on Acts by stating that Acts is an account of how 'the Christian congregation grew from a small group to many thousands of persons', and then asking whether or not these new Christians 'who accepted the faith' were 'told that God was a Trinity'? (Holt, 219) Now, it must be stated at the beginning that the basic argument that runs through Holt's book is so repetitive that if one answers even one of Holt's objections, one has, in effect, answered almost all of them. The cumulative force of his various arguments are somewhat like an anti-type of the Hydra. If you cut off the head of the Hydra, two more spring up in its place. Holt's arguments, on the other hand, are such that if you cut off the head of one of them, pretty much all of them fall off in turn. As shown above, Holt thinks it rather telling against the Trinitarian that Jesus is constantly distinguished from God in Scripture. What Holt doesn't realize is that Trinitarians aren't monarchial modalistic tritheists, i.e., we don't teach that the Trinity consists of three persons who are identical with the person who is God while being distinct from one another. This error on Holt's part is another unfortunate-extremely unfortunate-aspect of his book, for a reader of Holt's work would expect that the author would have a mastery and understanding of the subject he writes about. A JW would think it rather clumsy on my part if I were to point out dozens of passages that say 'there is only one God', followed by pointing out that the NWT calls Jesus 'a god' that is, according to JW theology, a god other than God the Father, thence concluding that 'JW's are therefore polytheists in the strict sense', rigorously applying this false inference to Scripture and WT publications in order to make my case. In such a case, coming up with 450 proofs on my part would be allthesame as coming up with only 1, and this for the simple reason that the JW in answering one of my proofs has answered them all, because my misunderstanding of JW theology forced me to see contradictions where there were none. This is what Holt has done to the doctrine of the Trinity. Instead of asking whether or not Jesus is 'identical with the person who is God', he ought to have asked whether or not the Son is eternal and of the same nature (='having the same monadic properties') as 'God and the Father'. In other words, he ought to have examined the way in which the Son is related to God. Had he done this, not only would the bulk of his 366 page work have escaped the charge of irrelevancy, but also, he wouldn't have constantly shown a rather embarrassing lack of comprehension of his subject matter, which is constantly revealed throughout his work as he complains of 'the Trinity that defies all logic'. In any event, Holt has asked me to review his chapter on Acts and Romans. My review of this chapter of his work will, in light of the above prolegomena, show the unfortunate and quite surprising degree of Holt's ineffectiveness in arguing against the deity of the Son.

Acts 1:7 'He said to them: "It does not belong to you to get knowledge of the times or seasons which the Father has placed in his own jurisdiction."'

Even Jesus is limited in the knowledge that he has. Only his Father has absolute knowledge. Did this make the disciples think Jesus was God? We also notice it was not a group vote between the Father, Son, and holy spirit on who had jurisdiction over what. The Father (apparently the One in charge) placed the seasons in His own jurisdiction. Who would the disciples think is God after hearing this?

This scripture makes me think: _Jesus is God _Jesus is not God (Holt, 219-220)

After reading this, I can only shake my head in bewilderment as the word 'ouch' comes into my mind for Holt's sake. First of all, where do we get any indication that Jesus, at this point in time, is limited in knowledge? Is Jesus one of the disciples? If not, then how does their not having knowledge of the parousia entail Jesus' not having knowledge of it? It seems that Holt has not only allowed his presuppositions to mistake what Scripture actually says, but also to read what it doesn't say. His pointing out that 'it wasn't a group vote' is a rather clumsy false dichotomy, as Trinitarians expect everything to originate in the Father anyway. This passage from Holt's work is an example of read it/rope it exegesis. The question has been falsely put, and on that account doesn't deserve an answer.

Acts 2:36 'Therefore let all the house of Israel know for a certainty that God made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you impaled.'

Why did Jesus have any authority or power or lordship? Because he was God? No. It is only because God made him the Lord and the Christ. Peter concludes his speech with the effect that about 3,000 persons were baptized that day. The whole speech, as can be seen from above, leads people to think Jesus is not God. Did these people understand Peter's speech in the viewpoint of the Trinity? Highly unlikely, to nearly impossible. Especially when no explanation is given and nothing is said to make them think Jesus is God. Yet they are allowed to get baptized. Could they get baptized without knowing the truth about who God is? This hardly seems possible when we consider Jesus' words in Matthew 28:19, 20. Did the Trinity get explained to them at some later date? Or did they draw the conclusion Jesus was sent by God, resurrected by God and made Lord and Christ by God?

This scripture makes me think:

_Jesus is God _Jesus is not God

After 366 pages of the above, one can see why Holt's work tends to become somewhat repetitive. He may as well have simply quoted Mt. 3:17, stated 'Ya see! Ya see! Jesus is God's Son, and therefore not God!', followed by something like 'See also Mt. 3:18-Rev. 22:21; ibid.'. First of all, Holt unwittingly tends towards adoptionism in his understanding of the exaltation of Christ. He expects us to think that Christ wasn't Lord before the Incarnation? There is absolutely no Scriptural justification whatsoever for this 'reading between the lines' ad infinitum on Holt's part. This is so especially in light of the sapiental background of NT Christology (Jn. 1:1f; Col. 1:15f; Phil. 2:5f), wherein the Son is clearly shown as already having the heavenly glory before he became man (Jn. 17:5). Luke's point isn't that Christ was not Lord prior to his being man-Luke doesn't focus on Christ's preexistence at all; his point is that Jesus the Nazarean, the man who preached before you and was crucified in absolute humility in the sight of all, is now 'Lord of all' (Acts 10:36).

Holt's happy comment that 'the whole speech leads people to think Jesus is not God' is actually quite off the mark. Keep in mind that we're only at the second chapter in Acts J What Holt fails to do (no doubt because he failed to see the significance) was to tie in the fact that two verses prior, Peter quoted Ps. 110 in reference to Jesus ('the Lord said to my Lord, "sit at my right hand"'), which we have dealt with above. Ps. 110 is quoted, or alluded to, more than any other OT passage in the NT (Mt. 22:44, 26:64; Mk. 12:36; 14:62; 16:19; Lk. 20:42f, 22:69; Acts 2:33, 2:34f, 5:31, 7:55f; Rom. 8:34; 1 Cor. 15:25; Eph. 1:20; Col. 3:1; Heb. 1:3, 1:13, 8:1, 10:12f, 12:2; 1 Pet. 3:22. cf. John's way of stating this theme: Jn. 1:18; Rev. 3:21, 5:6, 5:13, 7:10, 12:5, 22:1), nearly thirty times. This text was obviously of key importance for the first Christians, and the text itself has far reaching Christological implications. Hengel notes that 'the resurrected Christ sat to the right beside God himself on the 'throne of glory' … which is located above the Merkaba, the throne-chariot with the four animals. He thus is given the most immediate form of communion with God which was comprehensible to a Jew based upon the texts of the Old Testament (149). In other words, if one was speaking to a Second Temple Jewish audience, and one wished to assert a Christology which (necessarily) entails Nicene Trinitarian theology, then one would speak exactly as Peter spoke.

And interestingly enough, we happen to have a few instances of the application of this text from the time period in question. Mt. 22:44 (and pars.) has Jesus putting this text before the Pharisees, to which 'no one was able to give an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any questions.' The implication here is that Jesus was advancing a way of understanding Ps. 110 that put the Pharisees on edge, and the proof of this will be given below. The two texts that Second Temple Jews had the most difficulty dealing with were Ps. 110 and Dan. 7, and those who understood them in the sense advocated by Jesus were termed by later rabbis as 'two-powers heretics' (see Segal, Two Powers in Heaven). Regarding Ps. 110, Bauckham notes that the 'discontinuity between early Christology at this decisive point and the beliefs and expectations of Second Temple Jewish literature can be illustrated from the fact that, whereas Psalm 110:1 is the most quoted Old Testament text in the New Testament, in the whole of the literature of Second Temple Judaism there is only one probable allusion to the verse, in the Testament of Job (33:3), where its use bears little resemblance to its significance for early Christians. Nowhere in early Judaism is it applied to one of the exalted heavenly figures-angels or patriarchs-who occupy important places in heaven now or in the future. Nowhere is it applied to the Messiah, who is never, of course, supposed in early Jewish expectation to rule the cosmos from heaven, but only to be a ruler on earth. … its absence from the literature shows that it had no importance for them, whereas for early Christians it was of key importance. The difference simply reflects the fact that early Christians used the text to say something about Jesus which Second Temple Jewish literature is not interested in saying about anyone: that he participates in the unique divine sovereignty over all things.' (Bauckham, God Crucified, 30-31)

Indeed. There are four other instances in the NT wherein this Psalm is used before a non-Christian Second Temple Jewish audience. The one that Holt failed to see as being of much import (Acts 2:33f.) notes that those who heard it were 'cut to the heart' (2:37). Acts 5:31 shows Peter and Co. quoting it again, this time 'before the council' (5:27), and after hearing it 'they were enraged and wanted to kill them … had them flogged' and 'ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus.' (5:33-40) In the spirit of the preceding passage, Acts 7:55f has Stephen claim, before the council, that he sees 'the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God', the result of which was that 'they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him'.

The final instance is quite interesting. Jesus is on trial before the high priest's circus court. The high priest said, 'I put you under oath before the living God: you are the Messiah, the Son of God?' (Mt. 27:63) Of course, the high priest and his gang were quite hellbent on finding anyevidence they could have in order to bring a charge against Jesus. But it would be a mistake to fail to recognize the import of Jesus' response. The question 'are you the messiah?' was quite capable of being given an inoffensive style of answer. There was no set understanding of what the Messiah would be in Second Temple Judaism. Still, the manner in which the question was phrased ('the messiah … the son of the living God) leaves the implication that Jesus' accusers were trying to extrapolate from him a plausible charge which corresponded to the more questionable and controversial points in his ministry, such as his 'theologically uncomfortable' exegesis of the highly volatile Ps. 110:1 alluded to above (Mt. 22:44). For a full exploration of this theme, I recommend the reader to N. T. Wright's Jesus and the Victory of God; for right now a brief summary will have to do. The point that stands out regarding Jesus' response is that he phrased it in precisely the manner which would have been most theologically objectionable. Now, above I argued that Second Temple Judaism's doctrine of monotheism was undefined, hence at first glance Holt would here reply that if I was right, then 'we certainly wouldn't expect the Jews to have been so shocked by Jesus' claims to sitting on the throne', and so forth. This objection is rather too ambitious, in that it fails to take into account the fact that I'm not here arguing that it was the that that was sitting on the throne that was objectionable, but the who. Ps. 110 and Dan. 7 were hard enough for the rabbis to deal with (and interestingly, the LXX went so far as to 'alleviate' the ambiguity by translating Dan. 7:13 as 'he came as the Ancient of Days' rather than 'he came to the Ancient of Days'). Like much of Scripture, it was a passage which could only be 'made sense of' in light of further historical developments and theological insights. Jesus was, in this regard, the impetus par excellence.

'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 (Ps. 110:1) and coming on the clouds of heaven (Dan. 7:13).' (Mt. 26:64) N. T. Wright comments that since 'we have no evidence of anyone before or after Jesus saying such a thing of himself, it is not surprising that we have no evidence of anyone framing a blasphemy law to prevent them doing so. But, granted the charge of false prophecy already hanging over him, and the "two powers" implication that the reference to Daniel 7 suggests, it seems … open that the phrase is being given a new meaning: "the one who will sit at the right hand of the god of Israel."' (551)

'Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, "He has blasphemed! Why do we still need witnesses? You have now heard his blasphemy."' (Mt. 26:65) It is extremely telling that Holt has no comment on the charge of blasphemy in his book, but rather, we are told (181) 'Jesus confirms their idea he is the Son of God, not God. Unless the religious leaders had an understanding of the Trinity, they could not have used the term "Son of God" to mean Jesus was God since in the preceding verse Jesus said he would be sitting at God's right hand. Apparently they thought "Son of God" meant something other than God" (followed, of course, by the gratuitous 'this scripture makes me think …'). What Holt deserves here is nothing other than a (!).

Yet I'll pretend, for the sake of argument, that Holt has since improved his notions. Holt will no doubt respond, 'sure, the Jews tried to apply a blasphemous sense to Christ's words, but his words by themselves weren't meant to be taken that way; what he said was perfectly in harmony with the scripture in Dan. 7:13.' But in saying such, Holt would reveal both a misunderstanding of what I'm arguing for, and a severe exaggeration of his grasp of the historio-theological implications of Dan. 7:13, especially when conjoined to Ps. 110:1. Jesus interpreted these, in light of one another, in the sense which filled the texts with the meaning that Jews were least prepared for, and this becomes all the more acute when it is understood that Jesus' reference to himself 'coming on the clouds' was undoubtedly understood as a prophetic judgement of God upon his accusers, to be fulfilled in front of their own eyes. The latter is almost certainly the point which would have hit his accusers 'right in the guts'. To them, he was a false prophet leading Israel astray, and I doubt that his 'counter-cultural' method of ministry, which came to a zenith in his cleansing of the Temple, did much to alleviate the 'dubious celebrity' he had gained for himself in their eyes. So for his accusers, Jesus response meant that 'this deceptive and heretical man, who is a false prophet, has just given us grounds to charge him with blasphemy, joy!' We have no reason to suppose that Jesus meant to correct the third of these notions, which would undoubtedly be Holt's line if he has managed to follow the argument I'm laying out. On the other hand, it seems as though Jesus had no real desire to improve their misconceptions regarding the first and second notions-he knew that they hadn't sincerity enough to hear him out. He let the claim stand as it was, and the chips fall where they may. It wasn't the claim to divinity that convicted him, it was his polemical way of stating it towards a crowd that didn't like him.

The particularly Christian way of understanding Ps. 110 was the instrumental cause of Christ's death, the direct cause of Stephen's death, and it struck every audience of whom we have evidence as a dagger in the heart. Yet Holt's theological insight into the use of this text in Acts 2 is that 'Jesus was not the "God of our forefathers" but he was raised up by this One. Peter then states that God gave Jesus his position as Savior. Is this not the conclusion the listeners would have drawn from hearing this?' (224) No, it is not the conclusion the listeners would have drawn. The boast on the back cover of Holt's book about examining 'scriptural evidence rather than that based on history or philosophy' is here coming to blossom in full splendor. The read it/rope it mentality is indeed going on all eight cylinders as the sparks fly and Holt automatically equates his messianic 'position as Savior' with the Second Temple Jewish understanding of being 'seated at the right hand of God' ('of course they would have understood this as I do; it is obvious, is it not?', etc.).

The full implications of this text-that is, to see how far it went in speaking about the one of whom it was predicated-can be gleaned from the way in which the author of Hebrews uses it. In the first chapter of Hebrews, the author illustrates the nature and person of the Son, and in doing so he quotes 7 OT passages (and makes an allusion to Wis. Sol. 7:26 and Ps. 110 in the hymn fragment that precedes the catena of OT texts-this will need to be kept in mind as we explore John's use of Ps. 110). In this chapter alone, the author 1)identifies the Son of God as the one through whom all things were created (1:2, 10-12); 2)identifies the Son of God with God's eternal Wisdom (1:2, 3)-the key defense in the Nicene apologetic!; 3)assigns the name of YHWH to the Son of God (1:4); and, 4)states that the Son of God, as man, has been elevated infinitely beyond the angels who now worship him (1:4, 6). It is interesting that this chapter begins and ends with an allusion to Ps. 110 (1:3, 13), and at this point we should ask Holt a question. Does Holt imagine that Peter's speech in Acts 2 would have immediately convinced the audience that Peter was claiming points 1 through 4 above? After Peter quoted Ps. 110, does Holt imagine, for example, that the Jews would have thought 'therefore this Jesus was the one through whom Jehovah, who created alone, created all things'? _Yes _No J

But the fact that points 1 through 4 were claimed for Christ by the authors of the NT renders Holt's entire book void. Christ never claimed that he was the one through whom all things were created, nor can one claim that Jesus advanced points 2 through 4 in as explicit a manner as the author to Hebrews did. Hence, if the author of Hebrews had the synoptic gospels before him (according to Holt, Hebrews was written before John), the author would not be able to make the claims he does if he accepted Holt's hermeneutical key. Nor would John have been able to. If I'm wrong here, I ask for Holt to explain to me how the following NT citations of the OT as clear and straightforward as Holt seems to think the whole of Scripture is: Rom. 10:6-9, Deut. 30:12-14; Gal. 3:16f, Gen. 12:7f; or Gal. 4:22-31, 1 Cor. 10:1-4, 2 Cor. 3:7-8. Its not as though there's anything within the OT originals that exactly begs to be understood in the sense which Paul understood them. The Christian way of reading Scripture, as shown by the Apostles, is absolutely at odds with the way Holt treats Scripture. One gets the sense that for Paul or John, Scripture was something like a living garden, full of unexplored wonders and hidden treasures. For Holt, it would seem that Scripture is like a lawbook or catechism. One can easily imagine John in prayer, recalling Christ's words and linking them to the figure of Wisdom, and just as he goes to 'pen' his Spirit guided insights, Holt shows up from an Ebionite pep-rally with his adoptionist proof texts in a 'yes/no' question format in order to prove that Christ had no pre-existence ('Luke 1:32 says that "he will be called the Son of the Most High". This scripture makes me think: _He already was the Son of the Most High _He isn't yet the Son of the Most High, but he will become that').

The point is simply that it doesn't matter how quickly this or that person perceived the full implications of Christ's sitting at the right hand of God. In point of fact, we have absolutely no reason whatsoever to think that the apostles were quick to pick up on the theological implications of anything (Jn. 14:9); still less that if Jesus were the eternal Son of God that he would have felt the need, or had reason, to blast the news around Israel complete with trumpets and drumrolls (Mk. 3:11-12), as Holt seems to expect. The NT texts that quote Ps. 110 always show the unbelieving audience as hostile to its application, and they posit no limit as far as possible implications go-this especially when historio-theological context is taken into account. Yet from the number of times that Christians employ it, one has warrant to infer that this passage, almost by itself (Christ's sage-style preaching, alongside alluding to himself as God's Wisdom was no doubt a second factor, among other things), served as a catalyst for developing an essentially Nicene Christology. Perhaps the safest claim would be that the image itself of Christ beside God on the heavenly throne would have struck the imagination with such force that the initial reaction would not have been to immediately engage in deductive theological inferences. Such an image doesn't give birth to thought (='analytic statements') so much as it does devotion and awe. But after the image has settled within the mind it has shaken, and, coordinating itself with other articles of faith before the mind, the mind can then reflect analytically upon the impact of the image upon the faith in its entirety, interpreting the old doctrines in light of the new revelation and the new revelation in light of the old doctrines. If Christ is on the eschatological throne of glory with God, the implications reach all the way into eternity, both backwards and forwards, for the Jewish mind of the Second Temple period.

I've spent quite a deal of time on this passage for the simple reason that, in having done so, I no longer need to deal with any of Holt's other analyses of passages from Acts, nor Romans. Its not that I'm avoiding answering Holt, rather, Holt has failed to ask the question. Towards the end of his book, Holt tells us that the results of his study (see above for examples J) have shown that of '400-plus scriptures … 53 supposedly say Jesus is God while the remaining 386 show otherwise.' (311) Leaving aside the specific applications of Holt's somewhat cyborg-like modus operandi, one wonders how his tabulation tactic would work in the OT regarding whether or not God has a physical body, for example? In short, Holt's book is a remarkable testimony to the wrong way to read Scripture.

Holt ought rather to have asked questions like 'what does this passage say about Jesus' relationship to God'? The answers would have been all over the place, but the picture that emerged in the end would have been a good deal less distorted. With the above passage (Acts 2), in the final analysis the answer is, as Heb. 1 has shown, that Jesus is the radiance of God and intrinsic to God-Nicene Christology. Holt will no doubt respond that I haven't faced his monomaniacal fixation on the passages which distinguish Jesus from 'God', but this objection is ultimately founded upon a misconception on Holt's part. First of all, Holt needs to demonstrate that his understanding of monotheism was the common property of Second Temple Judaism. If Holt has begged the question in this regard-which he has-then the response he deserves is significantly modified. Next, Holt needs to show that he grasps Nicene Christology (link above)-what it entails, what it requires, and what disproves it (next section). As Holt has no decent understanding of Nicene Christology, his deserving of an answer reduces in proportion. Finally, Holt needs to gain a firm understanding of Chalcedonian Christology (the two natures of Christ) and what it implies. After having done this, we can have a serious dialogue with Holt. As it stands, Holt's work hasn't yet reached a level worthy of serious refutation.

My intention isn't to belittle Holt, but rather, to wake him up. Though answer enough has already been given for Holt's chapter on Acts and Romans, I'll indulge Holt somewhat by analyzing his second prooftext from Romans which, presumably, indicates that Jesus isn't the Son of God in the Nicene sense. On page 228 we read-

Romans 1:7 May you have undeserved kindness and peace from God our Father and (the) Lord Jesus Christ. Paul makes a distinction between God and Jesus. Note that the difference is not just between the Father and Son but it is between God and Jesus. Why did he not just say "peace from God the Father and God the Son"? If the answer is because Paul's words would not have confused them because they already understood the Trinity, when were they taught it and why are we not taught it in the same way?

This scripture makes me think: _Jesus is God _Jesus is not God

Holt with his Bible is nearly as dangerous as a starving dog with its bone. The exegetical rigor which Holt employs throughout his analysis of Romans is perhaps illuminated further by his take on Rom. 1:4, after which we are greeted with-

Paul said Jesus was God's Son.

This scripture makes me think: _Jesus is God _Jesus is not God

Both questions are, of course, intended in a rhetorical sense by Holt. It is obvious that he finds his case (see above J) quite compelling since he felt it worthwhile to go through the entire NT in like manner. For that reason, we need to once again go over the basics. Holt asks an interesting question at the end of his analysis of Rom. 1:7. If, he asks, the early Christians 'already understood the Trinity, when were they taught it and why are we not taught it in the same way?' For those in Holt's camp, this is the entire crux of the situation, and I'll attempt a point of departure for an answer.

First of all, Holt (and Co.) needs to arrive at something like a working understanding of what Trinitarians understand by calling both Father and Son "God". As I've mentioned above, from Holt's book we are left with no reason to imagine anything other than that Holt thinks that, in saying such, we intend to imply that both the Father and the Son are identical with the person who is God, while not being identical with one another. But this is so far from the truth that its nearly laughable-it would be laughable indeed had Holt not analyzed the entire NT under such a notion-which moves the appropriate response from laughter to irritation. Its as though the doctrine of the Trinity were a giant brick house and Holt has attempted to destroy it by taking a camelback flamethrower to it-the result is a lot of smoke and inconvenience, but in the end the house is as though untouched.

In a previous essay, I outlined six summary theses of Nicene Christology-

  1. The Father and the Son are both God,
  2. The Father and Son are both God due to the fact that they share the same nature,
  3. The Son's possession of this nature comes from the person of the Father
  4. The essential property of God the Father as Father determines a functionally subordinate structure amongst the persons of the Trinity, and this structure does not in any sense entail the ontological inferiority of either the Son or the Spirit.
  5. For the person of the Son, this subordinate structure, and ontological equality with God, are both entailed by the Wisdom/Logos template wherein the ontological and economic activity of the Son are defined.
  6. Due to the fact that it is the Father as Father in whom the entire Godhead is implicitly contained and within whom the other two divine persons are subsumed, it is absolutely proper and within the bounds of Nicene orthodoxy to refer to the Father as 'God' within a context wherein the Son and Spirit are present yet as distinct from 'God' as such, or in a context wherein 'God' is predicated of the Father only, while the Son and Spirit are not mentioned explicitly.

And it seems as though Holt has grasped point 1-with both the grip and understanding of a bulldog-and run with it for all he's worth. It is points 2 through 6 which he has missed, and an exploration of these will answer Holt's question regarding when the first Christians were 'taught' the Trinity. We have already seen the drastic import, entirely missed by Holt, of the theme of 'sitting at the right hand of God'. There is one book in the entire NT which, rather fortunately in this case, gives a thematic exegesis of this text, and that is, once again, Hebrews. What is especially remarkable in Hebrews is the manner in which Scripture is interpreted by the first Christians. Heb. 1:5-14 can be summarized as an attempt to define the nature and person of the Son, specifically over-against that of angels, by utilizing OT texts in light of the first Christians understanding of Christ. Recall that in vs. 3 the author begins with a highly charged allusion to Wis. Sol. 7:26. This can best be understood as a description of the nature of the Son's sonship. From there, the author refers implicitly to the kenotic Incarnation of the Son-his becoming man that he might 'make purifications for sins'. After this, we see the Son as man taken back to the place where he already was as God's Son, prior to becoming man . This is the first allusion to Ps. 110 in Hebrews. Holt would no doubt point out that 1:4 claims that the Son has 'become' superior to the angels, and that he has 'inherited' the divine name, but the inference that Holt draws from these facts is far off the mark. 1:4 doesn't mean that the Son as Son was without either of these prior to the ascension anymore than 1:5 means that the Son wasn't 'Son' prior to the resurrection-1:3 precludes this understanding. The point that the author is making can be understood in light of orthodox Christology (the Son already was on the throne of God prior to the Incarnation, but after he became man, it was the Son as man that 'inherited' that which the Son by nature already had-see the analysis of Col. 1:15f below), but the very meaning which Holt extrapolates from this passage to argue against the Trinity do an equal amount of damage to his archangel Christology, and his complaint, if valid, would lead us quicker to become adoptionists than anything else. He has sawn off the branch he is sitting on.

Returning to Heb. 1, after the allusion to the Son's sharing of the throne of glory and the divine name, the author quotes Ps. 2:7 and 2 Sam. 7:14. A strong case can be made that both of these passages were understood to be messianic passages, yet the author understands this messianic sonship in a hitherto unexpected fashion (cf. 1:2-3). Its as though the author has 'removed the veil' (2 Cor. 3:14) from the OT, and used Christ himself as the hermeneutical key for understanding the whole of the OT.

Next (1:6), the author quotes Deut. 32:43, 'Let all God's angels worship him', applying this to the Son. Originally the passage was applied to YHWH, and within its original context, it has absolutely nothing whatever to do with the Messiah. The point is that the author of Hebrews is sifting the OT in order to find texts that will highlight the theological point he is making. This nearly reminds one of Origen, and it is difficult to imagine that Holt would have accepted this manner of exegesis had he been a Jew in NT times. It seems much more likely that Holt would have complained that the author was 'taking Scripture out of context'. At any rate, in light of the author's unmistakable desire to distinguish the Son from the angels, we have little reason to suspect that the author intended the 'worship' to be given to the Son in a watered down sense. The above mentioned theological point is this-the Son is infinitely above the angels and is intrinsic to God.

In 1:8, the author quotes Ps. 45:6-7, 'Your throne, O God, is forever and ever'. Holt's response to this is that, 1)the footnotes (!) in some Bibles say that it is possible to translate this passage as 'God is thy throne', 2)in its original context, the term 'God' would have been predicated of King Solomon (the implication being something like, 'What, is he God too?'), 3)Heb. 1:9 tells us that God (='the Son') himself has a God (='the Father'), therefore if we allow 'God' to be applied to the Son in this case, we ought understand it in the sense in which it is applied to Solomon-a mighty one indeed, but not 'the God'. (Holt, 106-109, cf. 268)

As to Holt's first point (read it/bleed it sourcework), it isn't even worth considering. As Ray Brown says, 'This is rejected by the vast majority of scholars for various reasons. Were a nominative rendering intended, one would expect a different word order placing "God" before "throne". In the preceding verse of the psalm in the Septuagint we read: "Your weapons, O Mighty One, are sharpened"; the law of parallelism would indicate that the next verse should read: "Your throne, O God, is for ever and ever." Moreover, the parallelism from the very next line in the psalm cited by Hebrews in v. 8 ("and the scepter of uprightness is …") suggests that in the line under consideration the subject is not "God" but "throne" ("Your throne is")'. (An Introduction to New Testament Christology, 186) Since Holt atleast allows for the normal rendering of Heb. 1:8, and believes that the normal rendering would merely result in applying 'God' to Christ in the sense mentioned in point 2 above, we'll leave the first point behind and move on to the second. What has gone wrong here? Holt has missed the point that the author isn't interested in applying the psalm to Christ in its original sense-the author is interested in applying whatever passages are appropriate for the demonstration of the theological point that the Son is intrinsic to God. Hence Solomon, and his throne, in Ps. 45 would be understood as a type of Christ and God's throne; something that points forward to an ultimate fulfillment. And likewise, this adjusts the impact of Holt's point 3 above, and the Son's having one who is called 'your God' needn't bother us anymore than the fact that 'his' God, according to the original context of the Psalm when linked to Heb. 1:8, would indicate that that God (='the Father') is praising the one whom he calls 'O God'. Psalm 45 was originally a psalm praising the king (='the Son' in Hebrews), and the one who addressed (='the Father' in Hebrews) that king (='the Son' in Hebrews) was less in rank than the king. Of course, I'm not trying to advance this as anything like the correct way to understand Heb. 1:8-9; I'm simply showing how quickly Holt's style of exegesis either goes to seed or nowhere at all. Though I belong to a Church which puts Tradition on par with Scripture, I don't really have a problem with Sola Scriptura so long as it doesn't result in the above style of exegesis. If one insists on going by 'Scripture alone', very well-I myself believe in the material sufficiency of Scripture. I simply ask that they don't place their own parenthetical notions on par with Scripture itself ('surely we can see this, is it not obvious?'), and take the time to do the research in order to do the job right.

The way in which the passage in question should be understood has already been laid out in 1:3. The sense in which the Son is 'God' is this-he has the 'exact' nature of 'God's very being', and the way he is related to God as God's Son is akin to the manner in which the sun's shine is related to the sun: eternal ex-pression and procession, being intrinsic to and caused by the source. Heb. 1:10-12 is a passage applied to the Son that quotes Ps. 102:25-27, wherein YHWH is praised as the absolute creator of all that is. Holt's line is quite interesting here. He argues that even though this verse applies an OT YHWH passage to Christ, 'by this same rule though, David, Zechariah, Isaiah, Asaph, and others are Jesus because these men originally said something about themselves and their own life that was then prophetic of Jesus … In fact, Hebrews 1:5b is a direct quote of 2 Samuel 7:14 which was originally applied to king Solomon! Who argues Solomon and Jesus are the same person?' (Holt, 109-110) But as was shown above, this ignores the 'Alexandrian' typological exegesis of the author, and this way of reading Scripture (read it/bleed it) can just as easily be used to show that the Father is less in rank than the Son, and praising him. What Holt has failed to do is note the way in which the author of Hebrews is using the OT, and what he is using it for. The entire first chapter of Hebrews is written solely to 'praise the redeemer as highly as possible'. (Witherington, Jesus the Sage, 278)

Witherington also notes that Hebrews 1 can be broken into three parts, each of which correspond to the opening paragraph. 1:1-2a is commented on in v. 5, calling on Ps. 2:7 and 2 Sam. 7:14 as commentary on Christ's role as creator and his divinity. 1:2b-3a is commented on in vss. 6-12, citing Deut. 32:43; Ps. 104:4; Ps. 45:6-7 and Ps. 102:25-27 in order to illustrate the attributes mentioned in vss. 2b-3a. 1:3b-4 speaks of Christ's placement on God's throne, and is elucidated by the use of Ps. 110. (276) Had Holt taken the time to try to understand what the author was trying to say according to the exegetical methods of his time period, his understanding of Heb. 1 wouldn't be subject to the misunderstandings that his modus operandi so readily invites. By returning to the context (which doesn't simply mean 'read this scripture in light of other scriptures and make the best sense of the whole of it as I can'), we see a coherent and brilliantly styled organization of OT passages which illustrate the point laid out in the opening lines-Christ is the reflection of God's glory and the exact imprint of his being. The author to Hebrews didn't simply quote passages from the OT, he arranged a catena of passages in light of a christocentric theological motif. If we keep an eye on this, we follow what the author meant to say. If we hop to and fro in order to shrink this passage down to a Unitarian fit, which is what Holt has done, the entire point is lost. It is indeed worth noting that Holt never connects the various portions of Heb. 1. I don't doubt Holt's sincerity-I know him to be honest. But the above analysis of Heb. 1, alongside the analysis of the NT's use of Ps. 110, shows just how much homework Holt needs to do, and indeed, ought to have done before he wrote a book. His exegetical tactics can only have appeal for those who are both Arians and also of the kjv-onlyist interpretive bent.

Now, returning to Holt's question: 'when were the Christians taught the Trinity?' What Holt doesn't understand is that Heb. 1 by itself gives as an explicit a Christological Trinitarian formulation as we could hope for. Returning to the six points of Nicene Christology I laid out above, we've arrived, already, at points 2 through 5 in toto. Point 6, which follows as a corollary of 2 through 5, explains why Paul didn't open his letters with a benediction from 'God the Father and God the Son'. That God is the Father of the Son, and that the NT authors interpreted this sonship in light of the figure of Wisdom is quite enough. That the Son is constantly distinguished from 'God' (='the Father') isn't a good argument against the Trinity. Why? Because the way in which God is related to the Son requires the Trinitarian understanding of the Father and Son. The fight of the Nicenes wasn't over whether or not Jesus is 'God', the fight was over the way in which Jesus is related to God. Is the Son intrinsic to the identity of God, or is he a contingent creation created ex nihilo?

A final elaboration of the import of the theme of 'sitting on the throne of God', and how it ties into all of the above points regarding the Trinity, can be illustrated by the sense in which John takes it. The gospel of John is written, according to some modern commentators, almost thoroughly chiastic in structure (see, for example, Bruno Barnhart's The Good Wine: Reading John from the Center). The basic plausibility of this will be hinted at in the next section. For the present, I turn my focus to Jn. 1:1, 18. Jn. 1:18 is a statement of the 'sitting at the right hand of God' in Johannine fashion. 'It is God the only Son, who is in the Father's heart'. Holt is no doubt too excited over the implications, and possible ways of translating this verse so that it doesn't call Jesus 'God the only Son'. But my focus lies elsewhere-in the portion of the verse I have italicized. Whether or not the whole of John is written in chiastic form, it is nearly unanimously agreed that the hymn that opens the gospel (Jn. 1:1-18) is undoubtedly so. And in this case, Jn. 1:18 would be paired with Jn. 1:1-'In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.'

Again, at this point, Holt will need to be called back to focus, as his first impulse would be to go off on a tangent and haul in the .0001823 percent of Bible translations that allow the Son to be called a god other than the god. As all Trinitarians are well enough aware, the predication of the Son as 'theos' points to his divine nature-its not to be understood as a proper noun (i.e., we don't mean to understand that the Son is identical with the person who is God, but identical in nature). Most scholars take Jn. 20 to be the original ending of John (which doesn't at all imply that Jn. 21 is necessarily anything less than God-inspired Scripture). Whether or not they are correct, its certainly true that the chiastic structure of John ends at Jn. 20.

Keeping in mind the above two passages, we can lay out a basic framework of John's Christology thus-

A- Jn. 1:1; Son; Jesus is identical in nature with God as his eternal Word/Wisdom

B- Jn. 1:18; God; the Son is the Father's Beloved throne partner

What is interesting here is the way that these two passages implications correspond to the two Christological claims that end John (or atleast its portion in chiastic narrative). Jn. 20:28 reads, 'Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!"' Jn. 20:31 tells us that 'Jesus is … the Son of God'. Holt thinks that 20:31 is decent grounds for not giving 20:28 its full Christological impact ('after all, Thomas certainly knew that if Jesus is the Son of God, he therefore can't be God', etc.) But this is indeed as good a place as any to demonstrate the way in which we Trinitarians understand the relationship between the Father and Son, and based on the Johannine usage, to demonstrate its meaning throughout Scripture as a whole. The second set of Christological confessions could be laid out as-

B'- Jn. 20:28; God; the worship of the one who sits on the throne of glory, and is therefore God

A'- Jn. 20:31; Son; the Son's sonship is to be understood inlight of the Wisdom paradigm

It cannot be doubted that John saw Jesus as God's throne partner. His final vision of the eschaton begins with 'the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb' (Rev. 22:1). The vision of Rev. 5:11-14, which has all creation worshiping God and the Lamb together on the throne gives an indication of what sitting on the throne implies. As noted above, nowhere in Revelation is Jesus shown as being included with creation in such scenes, which is of inestimable theological import considering Revelation's genre. He is on the throne; he therefore is God. Holt asks where and when the early Christians were taught the doctrine of the Trinity. As was shown above, Psalm 110:1, which the first Christians understood as placing Jesus on the throne of God, is the most alluded to OT text in the entire NT. This passage not only tells us not only that Jesus is now placed alongside God in relation to creation. It also, as the relationship between Jn. 1:1 and 18 shows, implies an eternal relationship between God and his Beloved who 'dwells in his heart'. Hence in reviewing Holt's chapter on Acts and Romans, the answer to the question 'when were they told that Jesus was God!?!' is answered rather sooner than he expected. The theological point of departure that could only imply a Trinitarian Christology was first announced, by the Apostles, with Peter's proclamation in Acts 2:33-35. It tells us the way in which the Son is the Son-every time Scripture uses the word, every time it refers to Jesus. Trinitarian Christology, then, was taught by Peter in the first Apostolic announcement of the Kingdom of God, with Christ on the throne.

On page 316 of his book, Holt states that the Trinitarian needs to ask himself, 'Am I allowing the Bible to shape my viewpoint of Jesus or am I allowing a preconceived doctrine to shape it?' Unfortunately, it seems that it never occurred to Holt to ask himself whether or not he was allowing his preconceived viewpoints to shape the Bible. That said, I turn to an issue that has more bearing on the question of whether or not Jesus is God-the origin of the Son of God.


As mentioned above, there is no indication of any sort in the OT that anyone other than YHWH God was responsible for the act of creation. I have argued that this fact, conjoined to the evidence in the NT that Jesus was believed to have been involved in the act of creation (Jn. 1:3; 1 Cor. 8:6; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:2-3, 10-12; Rev. 3:14), assigns to Jesus one of the four defining marks of Jewish monotheism, thereby placing him within the divine identity. Holt, however, maintains that the inclusion of Jesus in the act of creation does not constitute the inclusion of Jesus within the identity of God. Going by the OT and the conceptual categories of Second Temple Judaism, Holt's view ('we have no problem recognizing God and Jesus, Father and Son, were working side by side making the things in the universe', Holt, 59) is definitely and absolutely excluded, and I challenge him to justify himself in adhering to it based on those terms (Holt does try to link Jesus with Wisdom in Prov. 8:22 as he who was 'created in the beginning', more below). Yet, regardless of the explicitness of the OT in this regard, Holt claims that there is within the NT evidence that Jesus is a creature. There are two such texts in the NT. I'm going to adopt a somewhat unique position with regard to these passages based on Wisdom Christology, theosis soteriology, and the sophiology of Origen, and, 'taking the gauntlet as it is thrown', show that even if we grant the words in question a temporal reference, the Trinitarian view is still to be preferred.

While it is maintained throughout the OT that God only was responsible for the act of creation, it was quite often asserted that he accomplished creation through the agency of either his Word or his Wisdom. Note the emphasis on the word 'his', for those in the Holt camp need reminding that this Wisdom is something that belongs intrinsically to God. The following passages will demonstrate the participation of Wisdom/Word in the act of creation.

  • Ps. 33:6 By the word of YHWH the heavens were made
  • Ps. 104:24 O YHWH, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all
  • Pr. 3:14 YHWH by wisdom founded the earth
  • Pr. 8:29-30 when he marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside him, like a master worker
  • Jer. 10:12 It is he who made the earth by his power, who established the world by his wisdom (cf. Jer. 51:15)
  • Wis. Sol. 7:22 for Wisdom, the fashioner of all things, taught me
  • Wis. Sol. 8:4-6 For She is an initiate in the knowledge of God, and an associate in his works. If riches are a desirable possession in life, what is richer than Wisdom, the active cause of all things? And if understanding is effective, who more than she is fashioner of what exists?
  • Wis. Sol. 9:1-2 O God of my ancestors and Lord of mercy, who have made all things by your word and by your wisdom have formed humankind
  • Sir. 42:15 By the word of the Lord his works are made (cf. Sir. 24:3)

The passages from Psalms and Jeremiah clearly include God's Word and Wisdom within the identity of God rather than distinct from him. The passages from the Wisdom of Solomon go a step further-not in that they make Wisdom into an ontologically distinct entity, but in that they may be speaking of Wisdom as a person. Wisdom is clearly eternal according to pseudo-Solomon, yet at the same time clearly originated in God as opposed to being an autonomous hypostasis alongside God (6:22; 7:25-26; 8:3). This is precisely the claim of Nicene Trinitarian Christology regarding the Son. With Proverbs and Sirach the issue is more controversial. According to most translations, Wisdom is referred to in both as having been 'created'.

Though I'll argue below that Holt is right-taking the word in precisely this sense-it should be noted that this translation is at best highly misleading, and almost certainly (in the sense which neo-Arians understand it) false. First of all, it is so plainly absurd to imagine God as at any time without wisdom that the thought of its being created should be rejected outright (was the 'wisdom' described in Jer. 10:12 distinct from the 'wisdom' in Prov. 8:22, and can this distinction hold up within the scope of the entire context within which Proverbs speaks of 'wisdom'?). And second, the word translated as 'created' in Prov. 8:22 is 'qanah', which probably has a philological connotation with the concept of 'origin', but is used quite frequently as meaning 'aquired', 'got', 'possessed', etc. It is indeed worth noting that of the twelve other times in Proverbs in which a form of the verb 'qanah' is used, it is impossible that it should be translated as 'created' in any of them (Prov. 1:5; 4:5-7; 15:32; 16:16; 17:16; 18:15; 19:8). Keeping in mind that the author of Proverbs almost certainly didn't have a full blown understanding of Wisdom as a personal female figure that was God's co-worker rather than a hypostatization of God's properties/essence (though, on the other hand, the passage as it stands doesn't exclude the possibility of being coordinated to such a personalistic understanding), it seems most likely that this is also the sense intended in Prov. 8:22 by the author. God didn't 'create' Wisdom ex-nihilo, subsequently completing creation through her while prior to that time having been without her. Rather, Wisdom's origin is eternal as opposed to creation. Likewise with Sirach. Though in Sirach we have no explicit reference to the agency of Wisdom in the act of creation, Wisdom is here also referred to as having been 'created' (1:4; 24:8). Yet in this case it is also unlikely that the term 'create' is to be understood as showing Wisdom to be a creature. Sirach 1:1 claims that Wisdom is 'from the Lord' and with him 'forever', and the Hebrew parallelism in vs. 4 makes it quite clear that the term 'created', when predicated of Wisdom, is to be understood as something that is done 'from eternity'. Vs. 42:21 confirms this when it states that 'He has set in order the splendors of his Wisdom; he is from all eternity one and the same. Nothing can be added or taken away, and he needs no one to be his counselor'. Clearly Ben Sirach understands Wisdom as pseudo-Solomon did-as something that exists eternally as proceeding from God. What then of the word 'created'? There was no term in either Hebrew, nor Greek, which was capable by itself of denoting a referent which was both eternal and as being originated (cf. Hanson, The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God, 202-206; Witherington, Jesus the Sage, 42-45). The concept of an eternal generation is clearly coherent-it is no more burdensome on the intelligence to imagine Wisdom proceeding from God at every moment which God exists than it is to imagine the sun generating shine at every moment which it exists.

So given that God necessarily has wisdom eternally, that wisdom is naturally thought of as being generated within God, that the verb in question in Proverbs is quite capable of an alternative connotation, that Sirach conjoins both Wisdom's 'createdness' and eternality, that if the idea of an eternal generation were to be expressed in ancient Hebrew or Greek the word 'created' would necessarily need to be employed, and that the Wisdom of Solomon explicitly refers to Wisdom as being eternally generated, I conclude that it is highly improbable to impossible that the authors of the texts in question meant to indicate that they understood Wisdom as a contingent creation created ex-nihilo, using the term 'created' as a temporal predication. Such an understanding is possible only if one imagines the authors to have, per impossible, thought of Wisdom as a female goddess rather than a divine hypostatization, or if one rejects the straightforward implications of the text so that one can read back into the text the idea of a created Son of God, manipulating the verb 'qanah' accordingly while ignoring the fact that it is God's wisdom that is being spoken of. If we stay with the concept of generation within the Wisdom corpus as it was most likely understood by the authors, the result is the Nicene concept of 'eternally begotten of the Father'.

Yet there is another sense which can be given to these texts which serves somewhat as a via media, and actually has good theological and Scriptural grounds for being accepted while at the same time being able to accommodate the temporal connotation of 'created'. As this sense was held by the Apologists along with having been given masterful expression by Origen, I think that it deserves an ear for possibly being incorporated into the orthodox understanding of the above passages, along with the 'firstborn' of Col. 1:15 and the 'beginning' of Rev. 3:14.

In my study of the Christologies of Clement of Rome and Ignatius of Antioch (above link), I opted against simply offering proof texts for Christ's divinity, choosing rather to show the manner in which Christology, Trinitarian theology, Soteriology, and Ecclesiology 'held together' in the minds of the post-Apostolic Christians. The conclusions drawn from that analysis which are of relevance here are these-that the Christology of the early Church was certainly Wisdom Christology, and that the Soteriology of the early Church was understood as participation in Christ. The import of these themes for the understanding of Col. 1:15 and Rev. 3:14 will offer what I think is a basically coherent interpretation which focuses on Soteriology. Colossians 1:15-20 reads as follows-

  • Ca-He is the image of the invisible God,
  • Cb-the firstborn of all creation,
  • Cc-because in him were created all things
  • Cd-in the heavens and upon the earth,
  • Ce-the seen and the unseen,
  • Cf-whether thrones or dominions,
  • Cg-or sovereignties or powers.
  • Ch-Everything was created through him and for him,
  • Ci-and he is before everything and everything coheres in him.
  • Cj-And he is the head of the body, the Church.
  • Ck-He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead in order that he may take precedence in all things,
  • Cl-because in him the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,
  • Cm-and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things,
  • Cn-whether on earth or in heaven,
  • Co-by making peace through the blood of the cross.

The passage speaks of Christ being 'the first', 'source', 'head', or 'origin' in relation to creation (Cb), the 'new creation', of which the resurrection is paradigmatic (Ck), and the 'goal' of the new creation, the Church (Cj). He is not only the 'first' in relation to creation, but also its instrumental cause (Ch) and the one in whom creation took place (Ch, Cc). Likewise, he is not only the 'first' in relation to the new creation, but also its instrumental cause and the one in whom this new creation takes place (Cm, Co). The Son is the beginning and instrumental cause in relation to everything in the course of salvation history, which is exactly what we should expect if the Son is the Wisdom of God, whose nature it is to eternally originate in God as ex-pressing God. So, in short, we have a chiastic pattern of sorts that outlines the entire meaning of existence viewed historically. This pattern can be set out as follows-

  • A- Father (creates) >
  • B- > Son (in and through the Son) >
  • C- > the fall and subsequent history <
  • B'- Son (reunites in himself and redeems all creation through himself) >
  • A'- > Father (the Son presenting creation anew as in himself to the Father, whereby this creation now participates in the Son's filial relationship to the Father).

What I'm referring to here is the doctrine of theosis alluded to above, and those who have read my writings on the intra-divine relations within the Trinity will see where I'm going. The point I'm making is that the course of salvation history-the operations ad extra of the Trinity-has as its template the operations ad intra of the Trinity, and that it is the goal of salvation history to participate in the operations ad intra of the Trinity. Since theosis is the goal of salvation history, some necessary implications follow regarding the person of the Son, in relation to the Father and to creation. Hans urs von Balthasar has some interesting comments here. He asks 'is it thus really the case that, simultaneously with his eternal emergence (of the Son) out of the Father, this questionable, at once both magnificent and tragic world is also included in God's sight? It cannot be otherwise, for God has no ideas that "subsequently" occur to him.' Von Balthasar doesn't wish to advance something like an Origenistic eschatology, affirming that creation is therefore eternal or 'intrinsic to God', as he insists 'we must distinguish, radically and unbridgeably, between the inner-divine emergence (of the Son), which belongs to God's essence, and the world that was created' (cf. Eph. 1:4, 9-10). So what is the relation between the Father, the Son, and creation? Von Balthasar writes that the '"Other" is, in the first instance, the Son, and therefore other beings can be created only in the Son' and that creation must 'come into being in accordance with the archetype of the "Other", of the Son'. (Credo, 2:2) Readers oughtn't be put off by Von Balthasar's referring to the Son as 'the Other', for in saying this he merely wishes to get across the point that the Father is the source of the Trinity and, simultaneously, the Trinity is a communion of Love.

But what is the import of all of this for the understanding of the term 'firstborn'? It is simply this-that since, according to Nicene Trinitarian Christology, creation takes place in and through the Son, the Son must therefore in a sense be begotten outside of God so that the creation of that which is distinct from God may so occur. And note how easily this fits in with the Wisdom paradigm, as Von Balthasar pointed out above. According to Wisdom Christology, since the Father is the source of the entire Trinity and the Son proceeds from the Father, therefore any act of God will originate in the Father and be ex-pressed in and through the Son-it couldn't be any other way. Note also that the Colossians hymn above speaks of the Son being the 'image' of God (Ca) before it speaks of his being 'firstborn' (Cb). This significantly tilts the scales in favor of understanding Paul to be telling us that the Son existed within the Father prior to his becoming 'firstborn'. Why? Because Paul is alluding to Wis. Sol. 7:26 ('she is a reflection of eternal light, a spotless mirror of the working of God, and an image of his goodness', cf. 7:25b).

According to most commentators, of course, 'firstborn' is to be understood as referring to Christ's primacy in relation to creation (with a similar line being taken regarding 'the beginning' in Rev. 3:14) over against the possibility of a temporal reference. William Barclay states that taking 'firstborn' in a temporal sense would 'include Jesus Christ in creation rather than identify him as the Creator', and that this would be a neglecting of 'the rest of Paul's thinking'. (Jesus As They Saw Him, 399) After examining several possible meanings, he concludes that there 'is only on real solution to the problem. The word prototokos has quite commonly another meaning which has nothing to do with time at all. It means first in place, first in honour. (400)

Likewise, Witherington states that 'the firstborn terminology is found in each stanza but in neither case should the reference to birth be taken literally. In the first stanza the Christ is said to be the author of all creation, so the term prototokos probably doesn't refer to his being created but to his existence prior to all creation and his precedence and supremacy over it, just as he also precedes all others in the resurrection of the dead. Verse 16 in fact stresses that Christ created even the supernatural powers and principalities, which began as good creatures, as did the human race.' (The Many Faces of the Christ, 82)

Likewise, Gerald O'Collins claims that 'the whole context of Col. 1:15-20 suggests a more than Adamic and human exegesis of "the first-born of all creation". Christ is "the first-born" in the sense of being prior to and supreme over all creation, just as by virtue of his resurrection from the dead he is supreme vis-ΰ-vis the Church (Col. 1:18). The emphatic and repeated "kai autos" (and he) of Col. 1:17, 18 underlies the absolute "pre-eminence" of Christ in the orders of creation and salvation history, both cosmologically and soteriologically.' (Christology, 35)

Aloys Grillmeier also firmly concludes that 'prototokos should not be read as a temporal definition. It says in biblical language that a factual "pre-" corresponds to the temporal "pre-" of the firstborn (Ps. 89:28; Ex. 4:22; Heb. 12:23). It simply indicates a "dignity". Christ the firstborn is to be displayed in his lordship over the angelic powers and here a "temporal" existence before the angels is not the point in question.' (Christ In Christian Tradition, Vol. 1, 25) And in passing, it is also worth mentioning that Augustine in his The Trinity (1:24) gives this sense to 'firstborn' in a context wherein he explains what things can be said of Christ 'in the form of a servant', and what things can be said of him 'in the form of God'. This is especially noteworthy for two reasons. First, that he seems to take this sense for granted, as he gives no defense for taking the word in this sense as opposed to the temporal sense. Second, Arianism was still 'in the air', hence is lack of giving a defense for taking the word in this sense is all the more remarkable.

The interpretation that I advance here isn't at odds with understanding the passage as referring to Christ's primacy. Lines Cc through Cn make it quite clear that this sense is certainly to be included in any exegesis of this passage. But may we not suppose that this primacy is caused by his procession from the Father, and that his being the one in and through whom all things were created is in turn based on that procession, as Von Balthasar points out? In other words, the temporal sense which I'm advancing doesn't go against the traditional view; rather, the traditional view fits within my view-the two go together somewhat like concentric circles. The idea is atleast prima facie plausible, hence I'll procede to lay out an argument that further explores the implications of taking 'firstborn' as a temporal referent, and show why I think this sense is to be favored, or at the very least not excluded outright. In all honesty, I think that the only reason why most Trinitarians and commentators don't advance my view is simply because they fail to make the connection between the procession ad intra of the Son as determining the operations ad extra of the Son, and furthermore by not coordinating this correspondence with the soteriological motif that is at the heart of the passage. But this is a rather large oversight, and it forces Trinitarians into an unnecessary difficulty insofar as it invites what seems to be an 'explaining away' of a word that, left to itself, is quite harmonious with orthodoxy provided that the sophiological and soteriological context in which it is employed is kept in mind.

Origen is a Church Father given far too little credit, and I believe that this needs to be corrected, especially as regards his Christology. People who haven't read his works, or, what is often even worse, have merely read a passage of him here and there, commonly dismiss him as 'a heretic'. Church historians commonly credit him with being 'the greatest Christian intellect prior to Augustine' and 'the most creative Trinitarian theologian prior to the Nicene era', and rightly so. Yet they always counter-balance such statements by saying something to the effect that a large portion of the notions generated by his great intellect were, in fact, heretical, and that his creative Trinitarian theology was something like the foundation for Arianism. In my judgement, both of the latter of these opinions are extremely exaggerated, if not clearly false. Origen died a martyr in full communion with the Church, lived a life of impeccable integrity, was one of the most brilliant Scriptural exegetes of all time, gave expression to theological insights that helped lay the foundation for monasticism, and left behind a legacy which includes such greats as Gregory Thaumaturgus (whose Trinitarian baptismal creed many believe to have been the object of Arius' Thalia's attack!) and the Cappadocian Fathers. That Origen had a few ideas that were incorrect (mainly in the areas of eschatology and cosmology) is undoubtedly true, but Origen didn't have the spirit of a heretic-his raging love for Christ (see his commentary on the Song of Songs) and adherence to the Church (De Princ. Pref.:2) militate absolutely against the possibility of it. To blame him for the heresies that came from the abuse of his works would be as absurd as to blame Paul for Marcionism. Alongside Cardinal Newman, 'I love … the name of Origen: I will not listen to the notion that so great a soul was lost' (Apologia Pro Vita Sua, 231). Though a several hundred page paper defending Origen would fill my soul with a perhaps incomparable joy, for now the exegesis of Colossians 1:15f will serve to demonstrate his orthodoxy regarding his Trinitarian Christology.

In his massive apologetic Against Celsus (5:37), Origen in passing states that-'For the Son of God, "the First-born of all creation," although He seemed recently to have become incarnate, is not by any means on that account recent. For the holy Scriptures know Him to be the most ancient of all the works of creation'. At first glance, this seems to side with the neo-Arian interpretation of Col. 1:15, but keeping in mind the interpretation that I offered above, Origen proves quite illuminating, as the following will show. First, it is taken for granted that the Son, as Wisdom, is necessarily eternal-

If he is the 'image of the invisible God' (Col. 1:15), I would like to venture the further affirmation that, as the likeness of the Father, there never was a time when he was not. For when did God, who according to John is called 'light' (1 Jn. 1:5) not have the 'radiance of his glory' (Heb. 1:3; cf. Wis. Sol. 7:25f.), so that someone could dare to set the beginning of a Son who previously did not exist? When could the Word whom 'the Father knows' (Mt. 11:27; Jn. 10:15), and who is the expression of the ineffable, unnamable and unutterable essence of the Father, not have existed? For they who dare to say that there was a time when the Son was not, should consider that they will also have to say that there was a time when there was no Wisdom, a time when there was no Life. But it is not right nor, because of our weakness, without danger to take it upon ourselves to separate God from his only-begotten Son, the Word, who is with him eternally, the Wisdom 'in whom he takes delight' (Prov. 8:30). For in this way God is not even considered to be eternally happy. (Com. Heb. 1:8)

Just as with my take on the Colossians hymn, Origen connects Christ's being 'the image of the invisible God' with the Wisdom corpus, seeing the eternity of the Son laid out at the very beginning of the passage. But does this fact necessarily exclude giving a temporal connotation to the title 'firstborn'? Not at all, since-

There was, therefore, in this very existence of Wisdom, already every possibility and form of the future creation, of those things which have their own existence (such as logical truths and necessary concepts-Plato's 'forms') as well as of those things derived existence … That is why Wisdom refers to itself in Solomon as 'created at the beginning of the ways' of God (Prov. 8:22), for it contains in itself the beginnings or forms or models of every creature. Now in the way in which we have understood Wisdom to be 'the beginning of the ways' of God, and how it is said to be created (in that it pre-forms and contains in itself the models and forms of every creature), in that same way must Wisdom be understood to be the Word of God because it opens up to everything else, that is, to every creature, the meaning of the mysteries and secrets which are, of course, contained within the divine wisdom. … The Son, therefore, is also the truth and life of all things which are. And rightly so. For how could created things have life except from Life? Or how could existing things exist in truth if they did not come down from the Truth? Or how could there be reason-endowed beings unless Word and reason preceded them? (De Princ. 1:2:2-4; cf. Co. Jn. 19:5)

Elsewhere he notes the theological necessity of creation being in the Son -

'In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth' (Gen. 1:1). What is the beginning of all things if not our Lord and 'Savior of all' (1 Tim. 4:10) Jesus Christ, 'the first-born of all creation' (Col. 1:15)? In this beginning therefore, that is, in his Word, 'God created the heavens and the earth,' as John the evangelist also said in the beginning of his gospel … he is not talking here about some temporal beginning but 'in the beginning,' as he says, that is, in the Savior, 'the heavens and the earth' were made and everything that was made. (Co. Gen. 1:1; cf. Co. Jo. 1:30 where he also gives 'firstborn' the connotation of primacy, rather than one of temporality.)

And he draws out the soteriological implications of all things being done in Christ, stating that-

It is clear that the source of that life which is pure and unmixed with anything else resides in him who is 'the first-born of all creation'. Drawing from this source, those who have a share in Christ truly live that life. But those who try to live apart from him, just as they do not have the true light, neither do they have the true life. (Co. Jn. 1:28)

A broader statement of this theme, which explores the thoroughly Trinitarian structure of salvation can be found in the prologue to his absolutely beautiful Commentary on the Song of Songs, where he states-

But the soul is moved by a divine love and ardor when, on seeing the beauty and glory of the Word of God, it falls in love with his splendor and is thereby struck with a kind of arrow and suffers a wound of love. For this Word is the 'image' and glory 'of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation, in whom all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible' (Col. 1:15f). … This then is the love spoken of in this Song of Songs in which the blessed soul becomes inflamed with love towards the Word of god and sings in the Spirit that wedding song of love in which the church is united to her heavenly spouse, Christ, desiring to become one with him … And one should know that there is as much that should be said about this love as there is about god, who of course is himself love. … 'Let us love one another, for love is of God'; and a few words later: 'God is love' (1 Jn. 4:7-8). This is affirming that God himself is love and, further, that whoever is 'of God' is love. But who would be 'from God' if not he who says: 'I have come from God and have come into this world' (Jn. 16:27-28). But if God the Father is love and the Son is love, and this 'love' and 'love' are one and in no way different, it follows that the Father and the Son are one and in no way different. … And because 'God is love', and the Son, who is 'of God', is 'love', he looks for something like this in us so that through this love which is in Christ Jesus, we might become related to God, who is love, through the name of love as if through a family relationship-as can be inferred from the words of one already bound to God … God thus is love. For just as 'no one knows the Father except the Son and any one to whom the Son chooses to reveal him' (Mt. 11:27), so too 'no one knows' love 'except the Son.' And so too, 'no one knows the Son', since he 'is love' itself, 'except the Father'. But also, in view of the fact that he is called love, it is the Holy Spirit alone who 'proceeds from the Father' (Jn. 15:26) and thus knows what is in God just as 'the spirit of a man knows that man's thoughts' (1 Cor. 2:11). Therefore, this 'Counselor, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father', goes about looking for worthy and capable souls to whom to reveal the greatness of this 'love' which 'is of God'.

Hence it cannot be claimed that my exegesis of Col. 1:15f and, specifically, assigning the word 'firstborn' a temporal connotation, is a de novo move on my part, nor an ad hoc attempt to erect a 'moving target' so as to make it harder for neo-Arians to combat Trinitarians. It is not. It is neither. This can be further demonstrated by citing the manner in which the second century Apologists understood the 'double procession' of Christ (eternally in God, temporally for creation). For this purpose, Athenagoras of Athens will suffice as a representative example-

And if, in your exceedingly great wisdom, it occurs to you to inquire what is meant by 'the Son', I will tell you briefly: He is the first-begotten of the Father, not as having been produced,-for from the beginning God had the Word in himself, God being eternal mind and eternally rational,-but as coming forth to be the model and energizing force of all material things, which were like a nature without attributes and an inert earth, in which the heavier parts were mixed up with the lighter. (Supplication for the Christians, 10)

As a final example, I cite the 'father of orthodoxy' himself, Athanasius of Alexandria-

For no longer, as in the former times, God has willed to be known by an image and shadow of wisdom, that namely which is in the creatures, but He has made the true Wisdom Itself to take flesh, and to become man, and to undergo the death of the cross; that by the faith in Him, henceforth all that believe may obtain salvation. However, it is the same Wisdom of God, which through Its own Image in the creatures (whence also It is said to be created), first manifested Itself, and through Itself Its own Father; and afterwards, being Itself the Word, has `become flesh,' as John says, and after abolishing death and saving our race, still more revealed Himself and through Him His own Father, saying, `Grant unto them that they may know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent.'

Hence the whole earth is filled with the knowledge of Him; for the knowledge of Father through Son and of Son from Father is one and the same, and the Father delights in Him, and in the same joy the Son rejoices in the Father, saying, `I was by Him, daily His delight, rejoicing always before Him.' And this again proves that the Son is not foreign, but proper to the Father's Essence. For behold, not because of us has He come to be, as the irreligious men say, nor is He out of nothing (for not from without did God procure for Himself a cause of rejoicing), but the words denote what is His own and like. When then was it, when the Father rejoiced not? but if He ever rejoiced, He was ever, in whom He rejoiced. And in whom does the Father rejoice, except as seeing Himself in His own Image, which is His Word? And though in sons of men also He had delight, on finishing the world, as it is written in these same Proverbs, yet this too has a consistent sense. For even thus He had delight, not because joy was added to Him, but again on seeing the works made after His own Image; so that even this rejoicing of God is on account of His Image. And how too has the Son delight, except as seeing Himself in the Father? for this is the same as saying, `He that hath seen Me, hath seen the Father,' and `I am in the Father and the Father in Me.' Vain then is your vaunt as is on all sides shewn, O Christ's enemies, and vainly did ye parade and circulate everywhere your text, `The Lord created me a beginning of His ways,' perverting its sense, and publishing, not Solomon's meaning, but your own comment. For behold your sense is proved to be but a fantasy; but the passage in the Proverbs, as well as all that is above said, proves that the Son is not a creature in nature and essence, but the proper Offspring of the Father, true Wisdom and Word, by whom `all things were made,' and `without Him was made not one thing.' (Ag. Ar. 2:81-82)

So, though I may be something of a 'lone ranger' amongst modern commentators regarding the term 'firstborn' in the Colossians hymn, I think that I have laid out the main lines for a decent argument for the preferring of the temporal sense of 'firstborn'. To take 'firstborn' as meaning merely 'preeminent' is quite unnecessary, and it overlooks the connection between sophiology and soteriology that is evident in the hymn. As this exegesis is, at the very least, fully inline with orthodox Trinitarian Christology (along with the soteriology of the Eastern Church, which is far too neglected), the conclusions that Holt draws from his argument for taking 'firstborn' in the temporal sense-even if he is correct-fall quite flat. In the end, Holt's case against the eternality of the Son based on these passages is as misguided as trying to 'drown' a fish. Therefore Holt's reliance on Prov. 8:22 and Rev. 3:14 are equally ineffectual, and actually, the tables are now turned on Holt. Given the connection between Col. 1:15 and Wis. Sol. 7:26; the fact that the combination of an eternal generation and a temporal procession for the act of creation is coherent; the fact that this combination is not only in itself coherent, but that it also coheres perfectly with Nicene Christology; the fact that this combination coheres with the traditional view of soteriology-given all of this, Holt has quite a task ahead of himself to show that the Son is not eternal, alongside losing the only argument he has for showing the Son to be a creature.

In concluding this section, I'll lay out the full force of combining the eternal procession of Col. 1:15 with the temporal procession in Col. 1:16, using a soteriology based on theosis-a soteriology which requires the eternality of the Son-as the hermeneutical key to understanding the entire hymn, based on its chiastic pattern.

  • A- Eternal Pre-existence Of The Son With The Father; Creation 'Seen' In The Son
  • Col. 1:15 He is the image of the invisible God
  • Wis. Sol. 7:25 For she is … a pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty
  • Wis. Sol. 7:26 For she is a reflection of eternal light
  • Wis. Sol. 8:3 She glorifies her noble birth by living with God, and the Lord of all loves her
  • Prov. 8:30 I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always
  • Jn. 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God
  • 1 Cor. 1:24 Christ, the Power of God and the Wisdom of God
  • Eph. 1:4 He chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world
  • Eph. 1:5-6 He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ
  • Heb. 1:3 He is the reflection of God's glory and the exact imprint of God's very being
  • B- Creation; Son Begotten Outward That Creation May Take Place In Him
  • Col. 1:15-17 The firstborn of all creation, for in him all things in heaven and on the earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers-all things were created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together
  • Ps. 45:1-2 My heart overflows with a goodly theme, I speak … grace is poured out
  • Prov. 8:22 YHWH created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago
  • Sir. 1:4 Wisdom was created before all other things
  • Sir. 24:3 I came forth from the mouth of the Most High, and covered the earth like a mist
  • Wis. 7:22 Wisdom, the fashioner of all things
  • Wis. 8:1 She reaches mightily from one end of the earth to the other, and she orders all things well
  • Wis. 8:4 She is an initiate in the knowledge of God, and an associate in all his works
  • Jn. 1:3 All things came into being through him … in him
  • Heb. 1:2-3 Through whom he created the worlds … he sustains all things
  • B'- New Creation; Salvation Through And In The Son
  • Col. 1:18 He is the head of the body, the Church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything
  • Ps. 133:2 Precious oil on the head, running down upon the beard … running down over the collar of his robes
  • Prov. 8:35 Whoever finds me finds life
  • Wis. Sol. 8:30 Because of her I will have immortality
  • Wis. Sol. 9:10 Send her forth from the holy heavens, from the throne of your glory send her that she might labor at my side
  • Wis. Sol. 10:1 She delivered him from his transgression
  • Wis. Sol. 19:6 The whole creation in its nature was fashioned anew
  • Mt. 3:16 When Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him
  • Jn. 6:56 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them
  • Jn. 15:4-5 Abide in me as I abide in you … I am the vine, you are the branches
  • Eph. 1:3 The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing
  • Eph. 1:6 His glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved
  • A'- Participation Of Creation In The Filial Relationship Of The Son; Son Seen In Creation
  • Col. 1:19-20 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross
  • Prov. 9:5 Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed
  • Wis. Sol. 7:27 She passes into holy souls and makes them friends of God
  • Wis. Sol. 7:28 God loves nothing so much as the person who lives with Wisdom
  • Sir. 6:31 You will wear her like a glorious robe, and put her on like a splendid crown
  • Mt. 3:17 And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased
  • Rom. 6:3-4 All of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death … so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.
  • Jn. 1:12-13 All who received him … he gave power to become children of God, who were born … of God
  • Jn. 14:20 I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you
  • Jn. 17:25-26 Heavenly Father … the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them
  • Rom. 8:9-10 The Spirit of God dwells in you … Christ is in you
  • Rom. 8:15-16 You did … receive … a Spirit of adoption through which we cry out "Abba!" … The Spirit itself gives witness with our spirit that we are children of God
  • Gal. 4:6 God has sent forth into our hearts the Spirit of his Son which cries out "Abba!" ("Father!")

Hence all begins with the Triune God. The taking of 'firstborn' in the temporal sense is dependent upon soteriology, and therefore on the eternal relationship between the Father and the Son in the Spirit. From all eternity, the Son proceeds forth from the Father, has the Spirit communicated to him, and returns himself to the Father in the Spirit. The procession of the Son and Spirit is the precondition of the Father's being Father and being Love. As such, it constitutes his personhood and very being, thereby explaining why the foundation of existence itself is personal and relational, with its ultimate fulfillment in communion.

The procession of the Son is also the precondition for the act of creation, as the Son is the point of origin for distinction itself, which makes communion possible. Due to the superabundant character of God's love-the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit-God wills to 'call into being the things that are not' and draw them up into the communion which exists within the Trinity. As the Son is the ex-pression of the Father, creation of that which 'is not' God is obtained both through the Son, and in the Son as proceeding, in some sense, outside of God that creation may take place 'in' him.

The supreme revelation of God's character is revealed when the Son, who can do 'only what he sees the Father doing', 'loves us to the end' and becomes man. In taking on flesh, the Son unites God to man, that we may return to communion with God. By faith in Christ, man participates in Christ via the Incarnation, and is thus transposed into the filial relationship of the Son. As Ruusbroec states-

That life which we have in God is one in God without intermediary, for it lives in the Father with the unbegotten Son and is begotten with the Son from the Father, flowing forth from them both with the Holy Spirit. We thus live eternally in God and he in us, for our created being lives in our eternal image, which we have in the Son of God. … For this reason the eternal birth is always being renewed, and the flowing forth of the Holy Spirit into the emptiness of our soul is always occurring without interruption, for God has known, loved, called, and chosen us from all eternity.(A Mirror of Eternal Blessedness, 3:C).

So once again, its back to the drawing board for Holt and Co.


After spending over 300 pages telling who Scripture says Jesus isn't, Holt spends the final twenty pages telling us finally who Jesus is. According to Holt, Jesus is to be identified as Michael the Archangel. In doing so, Holt is forced to engage a less stringent hermeneutic which will be shown below to be counter-effective towards the purpose he intends if used consistently. That said, however, I think that Holt's exegetical technique for arguing that Jesus is Michael is actually much more likely to arrive at the truth than his adopted modus operandi throughout most of his book. With a few adjustments informed by a historio-theological point of departure, Holt would seem quite capable of a sound interpretation of Scripture. Holt has 11 proofs for the identification of Jesus as Michael (Holt, 355), and we'll briefly deal with each of them. Since I've already went over Heb. 1 in some detail, which is without doubt the strongest Scriptural evidence that Jesus isn't an angel, I'll focus on other points in developing my argument.

1- Term 'archangel' applied to him. Michael, Jude 9; Jesus, 1 Thes. 4:16.

First, it needs to be pointed out that the Jews of the Second Temple period, as far as we know, didn't believe that there was only one archangel. Dan. 10:13 calls Michael 'one of the chief princes'. Holt may wish to point out that Dan. 10 doesn't mention the word 'archangel', but this isn't a surprise, as the word 'archangel' isn't to be found in the OT at all. Since 'arch' means 'chief', we have good reason for supposing that calling Michael a 'chief' angel is all the same as calling him an 'archangel'. Tob. 12:15 may shed some light on this-'I am Raphael, one of the seven angels who stand ready and enter before the glory of the Lord.' That Michael had a high status amongst God's angels according to Jewish Tradition (especially with the Essenes) cannot be denied. Yet this is to be expected since he was the angel who cares for God's people.

Further evidence comes from Col. 1:16, where we are told that Christ created 'all things in heaven and on earth … whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers.' The term for 'ruler' in Greek is 'arch', and the term for 'archangel' is 'archangelos' (cf. Rom. 8:38; Eph. 3:10, which refer to 'rulers' in the plural as well). The reason why Col. 1:16 is of such relevance is because, as Jerome Murphy-O'Connor says, 'By inserting 1:16b-e, 20c Paul restricts the meaning of 'all things' to angelic and human beings. The prominence given to the angelic powers by listing their names is striking, and must be understood in light of the reference to 'the worship of angels' (Col. 2:18). … Paul cleverly turned the tables on the teachers at Colossae, by using the creation dimension of their hymn to underline that, as the one responsible for the coming into being of the spirit powers, Christ was infinitely superior to them (Col. 2:10).' (Paul: A Critical Life, 244)

Second, 1 Thes. 4:16 doesn't call Christ an archangel, it states that when Christ 'descends from heaven', he will be accompanied by 'a cry of command, with the archangel's call and with the sound of God's trumpet.' (cf. Mt. 24:31; Mk. 13:27) If the presence of an 'archangel's call' makes Jesus an archangel, does the presence of 'God's trumpet' make him God? Fortunately, Holt doesn't press the point too hard. What Holt fails to take into account, however, is the fact that Col. 1:16 expressly and intentionally disambiguates any possibility of identifying Christ with an angel of any kind.

2- Said to have authority over the angels. Michael, Rev. 12:7; Jesus, 2 Thes. 1:7 Of course, Satan is described as having authority over angels in the very same passage as Michael (Rev. 12:7), hence nothing of import comes from this observation. Given that if Jesus were God, we would expect him to have authority over angels, and that Scripture, if anything, implies that there are several 'chief' angels, the point goes nowhere.

3- Prophesied to be the one to defeat Satan. Michael, Rev. 12:7; Jesus, Gen. 3:15 The problem with this line is that Rev. 12:7 doesn't give any indication of Michael definitively defeating Satan. Christian martyrs, only three verses later, are also described as having 'conquered' Satan. What's more, this victory of the martyrs is described as having come about 'by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony'. (Rev. 12:10-11) Hence it may be inferred that Christ's death and resurrection defeated Satan in an ultimate sense, but that until 'the end of the age' battles will still be waged against Satan. The victory against Satan in every such case is ultimately derived from participation in the power of Christ's ultimate victory. Significantly, the Woman's Child (='Jesus') is on the throne (Rev. 12:5; cf. Rev. 17:14) as 'a Lamb (Rev. 7:17) slain (Rev. 5:6)' when these battles take place.

4- Seen leading heavenly army. Michael, Rev. 12:7; Jesus, Rev. 19:9-21 Actually, Rev. 19:14 says that Christ leads 'the heavenly armies'; Rev. 12:7 makes the less striking claim that Michael 'and his angels' fought against the dragon. In light of the fact that the 3 previous parallels have proven fruitless-especially the first-this one is far too weak to build anything on.

5- Said to stand up as king of God's kingdom. Michael, Dan. 12:1; Jesus, Dan. 7:14 Let's compare the two verses.

Dan. 12: 1- 'At that time Michael, the great prince, the protector of your people, shall arise. There shall be a time of anguish, such as has never occurred since nations first came into existence. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone who is found written in the book.'

Dan. 7:13-14- As I watched in the night visions, I saw one like a human being coming with the clouds of heaven. And he came to the Ancient One and was presented before him. To him was given dominion and glory and kingship, that all the peoples, nations, and languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and his kingship is one that shall not be destroyed.

While Holt is correct in pointing out that both passages point to a form of rule, and both may well point to the same time period, it is equally clear that the scope of the two rules is quite distinct. As the one seated with God on God's throne, the Son of Man has and inexhaustible rule, in every sense of the word. Michael, however, seems to have his rule confined to the protection of God's people, which will come further to light in the next point. The text gives us no indication that we should venture beyond this as far as Michael goes, and this is confirmed by the fact that no NT author identified the Son of Man with Michael. It is an extreme exaggeration to identify Michael as the 'king of God's kingdom'.

6- Unprecedented time of distress when he becomes king. Michael, Dan. 12:1; Jesus, Matt. 24:21

This one gets rejected along the same lines as the above. Mt. 24:27 and 30 identify Christ as 'the Son of Man' of Dan. 7:13f, to whom was given inexhaustible dominion, which as of yet we are given no reason to identify as Michael's 'rising', and good reason to think them distinct. Furthermore, the 'time of distress' in question occurred (link me!) prior to 70 a.d, simultaneous with Christ's 'coming on the clouds'. As this was a time of intense persecution for Christians, we would expect Michael to arise as 'the protector' of God's people. Actually, the combination of point 5 with point 6 is quite harmful to Holt's case.

7- Some would escape if in book of life. Michael, Dan. 12:1; Jesus, Mt. 24:22, Rev. 3:15

This falls with the above two points. If Holt is to make the parallels work, he needs one certain Scriptural identification upon which he can build. As it stands, he's merely multiplying 7 x 0.

8- Resurrection would occur when he takes action as king. Michael, Dan. 12:2; Jesus, Jn. 5:28-29.

Parenthetically, Holt calls the former a 'spiritual' resurrection, and the latter a 'general' resurrection. Leaving aside the false conflation of the 'rising' of Michael with universal dominion of Christ, its worth pointing out that Dan. 12:2 nowhere states that Michael will call people from their graves, whereas this is what is specifically claimed for Jesus (Jn. 5:25, 28f). There is no parallel at all here. 8 x 0.

9- Judgement would occur for actions following resurrection. Michael, Dan. 12:2; Jesus, Jn. 5:28, 29.

Holt again distinguishes between the spiritual and general resurrections. Again, Jesus is described as 'the judge' (Jn. 5:27), but nowhere in the supposed Daniel parallel do we see anything even close to claiming that Michael will be a judge in any respect at all. 9 x 0.

10- Knowledge and insight would come to those who lead others to righteousness. Michael, Dan. 12:3; Jesus, Mt. 13:43, 24:14, 28:19-20

While Mt. 13:43 is certainly alluding to Dan. 12:3, there is nothing anywhere near an identification of Jesus with Michael, for reasons given above. 10 x 0.

11- Michael called 'Great Prince'; Jesus called 'Prince of Peace'. Michael, Dan. 12:1; Jesus, Isa. 9:6

Given the rather strange acrobatics Holt is willing to perform in order to prove that a parallel as clear and definite as Heb. 1:10-12 (cf. Ps. 102:25-27, Isa. 44:24) doesn't identify Jesus in the NT with YHWH in the OT, alongside the weakness of the parallel Holt is advancing, the charge of flat out hypocrisy is quite welcome. As Dan. 10:14 makes clear, the term 'prince' when predicated of Michael points to the angelic sphere. Isa. 9:6, in its original context, points to an earthly rule. Understood in a particularly Christian sense, it would point to the Son of Man's rule from God's throne (cf. Isa. 9:7, Dan. 7:14), which as we have seen is not identical with Michael's rising to protect those who believe in the Son of Man as the Son of Man ascended to the right hand of God and receiving universal and everlasting dominion.

At this point I request of Holt that he honestly ask himself how strong the evidence is for believing Jesus to be Michael? If you, Brian, were God, would you or would you not have gotten the point across more clearly? Yes_ No_ Can you blame anyone for not finding the parallels convincing? Why don't we have even one claim in the NT that Jesus is Michael? Jesus is called 'God' only twice in the NT, therefore he can't be God; Jesus never is called Michael once in the NT, therefore he must be Michael-is that it?

For Holt, a more ominous problem rears its head at this point. Given the exceptionally weak force of these parallels, which he obviously finds atleast convincing enough, what of all the possible parallels between Jesus and YHWH?

  • 1- I Am YHWH, Exodus 3:14; Jesus, Jn. 8:58
  • 2- God YHWH, Isa. 45:23-24; Jesus, Jn. 1:1
  • 3- First and Last YHWH, Isa. 48:12; Jesus, Rev. 1:17
  • 4- Savior YHWH, Isa. 43:11; Jesus, Tit. 2:13
  • 5- Creator YHWH, Isa. 44:24; Jesus, Jn. 1:3
  • 6- Shepherd YHWH, Ps. 23:1; Jesus, Jn. 10:11
  • 7- Lord YHWH, Isa. 45:23; Jesus, Phil. 2:10-11
  • 8- King YHWH, Ps. 95:3; Jesus, Rev. 17:14
  • 9- Judge YHWH, Gen. 18:25; Jesus, 2 Tim. 4:1
  • 10- Light YHWH, Isa. 42:6; Jesus, Jn. 1:9
  • 11- Rock YHWH, Ps. 89:26; Jesus, Rom. 9:33
  • 12- Redeemer YHWH, Isa. 63:9; Jesus, Eph. 1:7
  • 13- Our Righteousness YHWH, Isa. 45:24; Jesus, Rom. 3:21-22
  • 14- Husband YHWH, Isa. 54:5; Jesus, Rev. 21:2, 9
  • 15- Giver of Life YHWH, Ps. 36:9; Jn. 5:21
  • 16- Forgiver of Sins YHWH, Neh. 9:17; Jesus, Col. 2:13
  • 17- Lord our Healer YHWH, Ex. 15:26; Jesus, Acts 9:34
  • 18- Receiver of Worship YHWH, Mt. 4:10; Jesus, Rev. 5:11-14
  • 19- The Gospel of God, Gal. 3:8; Jesus, Gal. 1:7
  • 20- Day of Judgement YHWH, Isa. 13:6; Jesus, 1 Cor. 1:8
  • 21- Grace God, Gal. 1:15; Jesus, Gal. 1:6
  • 22- Christians are the Servant of God, Rom. 1:9; Jesus, Rom. 1:1

Though I wouldn't try and build an argument for the Trinity on most of the above, they're all certainly as strong as Holt's attempt to prove that Jesus is Michael; and the list could be greatly expanded. Now Holt would rightly argue that 'having the same title doesn't mean being the same individual' (Holt, 31-38; aside from the misunderstanding the word 'individual' is certain to raise viz-a-viz the Trinity, the thrust of his point still gets across). Holt is right (except for some titles), but having the 'same title' is surely stronger evidence than the 'parallels' he points to between Jesus and Michael. And based on his treatment of the word 'prince', one can only suspect that if there had been a title that Jesus and Michael actually did share, he'd latch on to it rather quickly.

But the biggest difference between trying to link Jesus to YHWH, and trying to link Jesus with Michael, is that in the former case, we have a definite place to start; in the latter we do not. What I'm speaking of here is the criteria for divinity outlined in the second section above. We know, for example, that only YHWH was involved in the act of creation; he had no one working alongside him (Isa. 44:24). This is a firm starting point if one desires to make identifications, and Holt can claim no such foundation for his angel Christology.

Holt's complaint at this point would be, of course, that Scripture constantly distinguishes between God and Jesus. But this argument, as was hopefully shown above, doesn't have anything like the force that Holt thinks it does, and I hope he'll reconsider the force it has as an argument against the Trinity. Holt will also point out that Jesus is subordinate to God. There are two reasons why this objection fails. In the first category belong the passages in Scripture which speak of Christ as man. But, of course, unless it is shown that an Incarnation is impossible, or that if an Incarnation were to happen, we wouldn't of course expect this, this argument can't be taken for granted. More thought and sifting of the evidence needs to be done. In the second category belong passages in Scripture such as 1 Cor. 8:6. 'From' God, 'through' the son. Yet at this point, we arrive at the figure of Wisdom. In one of the links above, I go to some length arguing that this style of subordination, functional subordination, has no force at all as an argument against the Trinity. In fact, the opposite is true. Next, Holt may state that Jesus is God's Son, not God. And to this I'd ask, 'what do you mean by Son, and in what sense is the Son a Son and the Father a Father?' It was indeed an ironic occurrence when Holt's book showed up at my house, for that same week I was working on a paper that argued that the Trinity is based on the fact that God is the Father of the Son. Again, I urge Holt to explore the possible senses in which the Son as Son might be related to the Father. If the Son is to be thought of as the radiance shining forth from the very being of God, then Holt's thought needs to be modified accordingly. There are other issues which could be explored, and have definite relevance for this topic, but I think the above issues are good places for Holt to begin if he plans on re-addressing the person of the Son of God. The contents of his work may well be modified drastically if he were to undertake such a task, but I think it would be well worth it, if not in fact necessary.

There are two other a priori style arguments that JW's seem to be quite fond of. First, they claim that 'even Trinitarians can't explain the Trinity'. The force of this point needs to be weighed carefully before it is relied on. JW's may pride themselves in their 'easy-knowing' and uncomplicated understanding of their god, yet the only time Trinitarians actually have any real trouble is when they try and give a philosophical and logically exact account of their God. And I can guarantee that there are few JW's who could give the same for their God. If you are a JW, this can be proven quite simply. Does God know everything? If so, how is this possible, given that God is not everywhere? If God is not everywhere, where is he? Is he somewhere floating about in space? If not, is the place where he is spatially related to the physical universe? How would that not be the same as being within the universe itself? Or, if you aren't willing to grant even that, what are you left with? Where is he, and how can you think clearly about him at all? The game can be played both ways. Also, JW's often complain of hearing 'a different definition of the Trinity by everyone who claims to be a Trinitarian'. This is similar to the above, and so too is the response it welcomes. The duty of a Christian is worship of God and communion with him, and not the ability to give an abstract definition of him. That a person cannot put something into words is not proof at all that the concept itself is muddled within that persons mind. Not all of us have time or opportunity to spend our days researching these issues, and none of us need to in order to be Trinitarians.

But the real argument that Holt and Co. return to again and again is, I think, this: 'we've seen how you Trinitarians act, and we're not impressed. We go door to door, we preach the good news, while you Trinitarians sit at home and do practically nothing. We've seen the scandals that arise in your churches, and all the hypocrisy. Jesus said that we'd know them by their deeds. We have seen your deeds, and such fruit cannot come from the tree of life.' I say that this is the 'main' JW argument from my experience with them. This line of response is correct in a sense, but ultimately incorrect. That there are people who think this way about us, the supposed lovers of the God who is Love and Communion, tells us that we need to, each of us individually, take a look in the mirror. If we could reflect the the Triune God in our love and our communion, I think that most of the merely intellectual objections would fade away. An analogy of the Trinity-the Church as a communion of love united in the Body of Christ bearing the Fruits of the Spirit-would probably make the divine Archetype easier to understand. On the other hand, I don't think that the force of such an argument by Holt and Co. should be exaggerated. Its more an argument from emotion than anything else, and it falls apart when rigorously analyzed. I leave by simply noting that for we who are Trinitarians, Holt's book presents a challenge, though not a challenge to the doctrine of the Trinity. The challenge is for us to clean the mirror of our souls, that the image which shines on us might be reflected clearly enough for all to see.


Brian Holt is a friend of mine, and I hope that he's found this criticism of his work both helpful, and hopefully, mildly entertaining J He's undertaken a major work, and my conclusion is that it is highly unlikely, due to his exegetical technique (and certainly not a lack of applying it), that he's managed to understand a single passage of Scripture correctly. His main fault is that he completely neglects the theological and historical conceptual categories in which the NT was written. As was shown above, this significantly alters the sense in which the NT itself is understood. In short, Holt has some homework to do. Yet even though I think his arguments ultimately fail, I recommend his work as an extremely well-argued presentation of the modern Arian's objections to the doctrine of the Trinity. But I wish to end this review on a more personal note, as he is my friend.

It is a common aphorism that 'a picture says a thousand words'. I firmly believe this to be true, and in this spirit I wish to offer not an argument for Nicene Christology, but something more along the lines of a picture-my aim being to supply the mind with passages whereby, upon meditation, a series of intellectual images will spring forth and condition one another, that the apprehension of the Father and the Son, as we Trinitarians maintain it to be, might be made present to those who have never been blessed with the joy of such a beautiful sight.

This is not an argument, this is not a catena of proof-texts. It is more like song-perhaps a Scriptural Philokalia in the making.

"Finally, beloved, whatever is true whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." (Phil. 4:8)

"Such an experience seems to me to belong to the soul which loves what is beautiful. Hope always draws the soul from the beauty which is seen to what is beyond always kindles the desire for the hidden through what is constantly perceived. Therefore, the ardent lover of beauty, although receiving what is always visible as an image of what he desires, yet longs to be filled with the very stamp of the archetype. And the bold request which goes up the mountains of desire asks this: to enjoy the beauty not in mirrors and reflections, but face to face." (St. Gregory of Nyssa, the Life of Moses, 2:232)

"From the day whereon I renounced the things of the world to consecrate my soul to luminous and heavenly contemplation, when the supreme intelligence carried me hence to set me down far from all that pertains to the flesh, to hide me in the secret places of the heavenly tabernacle; from that day my eyes have been blinded by the light of the Trinity, whose brightness surpasses all that the mind can conceive; for from a throne high exalted the Trinity pours upon all, the ineffable radiance common to the Three. This is the source of all that is here below, separated by time from the things on high. … From that day forth I was dead to the world and the world was dead to me." (St. Gregory of Nazianzus, Poemata de Seipso, 1)

"Through Christ, with Him, and in Him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours, almighty God and Father." (Roman Catholic Liturgy of the Eucharist)

"My beloved speaks and says to me: 'Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away; for now the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land. The fig tree puts forth its figs, and the vines are in blossom; they give forth fragrance. Arise, my love my fair one, and come away.'" (Song of Songs, 2:10-13)

"Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her … so as to present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind-yes, so that she may be holy and without blemish." (Eph. 5:25-27)

"But at midnight there was a shout 'Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.'" (Mt. 25:6)

"I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine; he pastures his flock among the lilies." (Song of Songs 6:3)

"… grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father's heart, who has made him known." (Jn. 1:17-18)

"Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of YHWH filled the tabernacle. Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled upon it, and the glory of YHWH filled the tabernacle." (Ex. 40:34-35)

"I loved (Wisdom) and sought her from my youth; I desired to take her for my bride, and became enamored of her beauty." (Wis. Sol. 8:2)

"Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready; to her it has been granted to be clothed with fine linen, bright and pure" … (Rev. 19:6-8)

"Jesus answered them, 'The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified … Father, glorify your name.' Then a voice came from heaven, 'I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.' … 'And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.' He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die." (Jn. 12:23-33) "Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you … Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory I that I had in your presence before the world existed." (Jn. 17:1-5)

"In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne high and exalted; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said: 'Holy, Holy, Holy, is YHWH of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.' The pivots on the threshold shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke." (Isa. 6:1-4)

"Six days later Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain … And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. … While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said 'This is my Son, the Beloved …' (Mt. 17:1-5)

"As I watched, thrones were set in place, and an Ancient One took his throne, his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames, and its wheels were burning fire. A stream of fire issued and flowed out from his presence. A thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood attending him." (Dan. 7:9-10)

"… a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered (Rev. 5:6) … for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes." (Rev. 7:17)

"And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, 'This is my Son, the Beloved…'." (Mt. 3:16-17)

"… when he marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside him, like a master worker; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always …" (Prov. 8:29-30)

"YHWH, YHWH a God … abounding in steadfast love …" (Ex. 34:6)

"(Wisdom) glorifies her noble birth by living with God, and the Lord of all loves her." (Wis. Sol. 8:3)

"Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. … And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples feet …" (Jn. 13:1-5)

"Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. … the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me." (Jn. 14:9-11)

"… and seated above the likeness of a throne was something that seemed like a human form. Upward from what appeared like the loins I saw something like a gleaming amber, something that looked like fire enclosed all around; and downward from what looked like the loins I saw something that looked like fire, and there was splendor all around. Like the bow in a cloud on a rainy day, such was the appearance of the splendor all around. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of YHWH. When I saw it, I fell on my face …" (Ez. 1:27-28)

"I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with those who are crushed and lowly in spirit…" (Isa. 57:15)

"They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on his head." (Mt. 27:28-29)

"Go, love a woman who has a lover and is an adulteress, just as YHWH loves the people of Israel (Hos. 3:1) … And I will take you for my wife forever; I will take you for my wife in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love, and in mercy. I will take you for my wife in faithfulness; and you shall know YHWH. (Hos. 2:19-20)

"When they came to the place that is called 'the Skull', they crucified Jesus … Then Jesus said, 'Father, forgive them …'" (Lk. 23:33-34)

"YHWH is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit." (Ps. 34:18)

"Jesus wept." (Jn. 11:35)

"Come to me all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." (Mt. 11:28-30)

"For God is Love." (1 Jn. 4:8)

"No one who denies the Son has the Father; everyone who confesses the Son has the Father also." (1 Jn. 2:23)

"Clap your hands, all you peoples; shout to God with loud songs of joy. For YHWH, the Most High, is awesome, a great king over all the earth." (Ps. 47:1-2)

"Listen! Your sentinels lift up their voices, together they sing for joy; for in plain sight they see the return of YHWH to Zion." (Isa. 52:8)

"Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey." (Zech. 9:9)

"… after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it." (Lk. 19:35)

"On that day living waters shall flow out from Jerusalem .. And YHWH will become king over all the earth; on that day YHWH will be one and his name one." (Zech. 14:8-9)

"Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb …" (Rev. 22:1)

Glory to God in the highest, and peace to his people on earth; Lord God, heavenly king, Almighty God and Father; We worship you, we give you thanks, we praise you for your glory. Lord Jesus Christ, the only Son of the Father; Lord God, Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us; You are seated at the right hand of God, receive our prayer; For you alone are the Holy one, you alone are the Lord, you alone are the Most High, Jesus Christ. With the Holy Spirit, in the glory of God the Father. (Roman Catholic Liturgy)

"… the glory of God in the face of Christ" (2 Cor. 4:6)-may everything within me praise you.


I sent Brian the portions of the above essay that dealt with the origin of the Son of God and historio-theological prolegomena, asking for his comments. He responded with the below, and asked that I include it in this essay. I think it gives a good feel for his sincerity and openness. Holt's review of Bauckham can be found at Amazon under the name '1234info'. In fairness to Holt, he hadn't read Bauckham's work until after he'd completed his own.

First, I appreciate your allowing me to view part of the write up. I think you cover your points well and make clear the viewpoints of many Trinitarians. I admit I had to break out the dictionary in order to understand half the sentences but I've never been one for big words! Trinitarians who want a deeper understanding of their doctrine (unlike those who repeat John 1:1 like a broken record) will benefit and be educated by your article. You certainly did your homework in compiling quotes from many authors, which serve to strengthen your position. As you know, I have read Bauckham and am familiar with his arguments and I think they are flawed in a number of areas. I have not read the others though perhaps I will some day.

I believe the books you referenced, this essay and also Mr. Holding's work on "Wisdom", along with "Jesus-God or the Son of God?", will provide all people a balanced understanding of the arguments from both sides. Obviously there can be and are more questions and arguments both sides can raise regarding this issue but one should be able to form a good opinion from these sources. And of course, we both agree the Bible is the greatest source of information on this subject. Some will follow Trinitarian logic, some non-Trinitarian logic, but all benefit when they more fully understand opposing positions. Maybe in a revision of "Jesus-God or the Son of God?" I will be able to address your arguments presented here. I would have to do some more reading first!


Brian Holt