A few months back, I uploaded a video in which I examined inconsistencies in Unitarian argumentation. I thought it would be good now to go ahead and do something similar for the blog. If you’ve seen that presentation, some this will be review, but there may be some different insights here. Now, I see this topic as one that will provide new examples many times, so consider this a loose “Part 1” of a series of unknown length and frequency. To keep this article from becoming a book, I will just look at four examples.
When I talk about inconsistent Unitarian argumentation, I’m talking about contradictions I’ve found between different arguments Unitarians make. My goal isn’t to show how Unitarianism isn’t biblical, since I’ve done that elsewhere. Nor is it to show that Unitarian theology is necessarily inconsistent in itself, but just to show how some of the most popular arguments Unitarians make are inconsistent with some of the other most popular arguments Unitarians make. So, while it is possible to come across a Unitarian who doesn’t fall into any of these traps, the vast majority do.
Jesus Died, but God can’t Die vs. The Word is God’s Purpose
The vast majority of Unitarians love both of these arguments. They like to point out that God is called “immortal”, and the main purpose of the coming of Christ was to die, so how could Jesus be God? I’ve addressed this kind of argument from the humanity of Jesus elsewhere, but let’s consider now another Unitarian argument.
Unitarians, for the most part, do not believe that the Word in John 1:1 is referring, in that verse, to a person. They argue it is the perfect plan of God or the communication of God, and that this impersonal concept then became personal when “the Word became flesh”. This is how they try to avoid the connection between the fact that the Word is called “God” in verse 1, but then “became flesh” in verse 14.
The inconsistency here is that, if Jesus can’t be God because God can’t die, but Jesus died, then is it possible that God’s communication, or plan, or purpose, could die? If the Word is God’s plan, and God’s plan became flesh, then God’s plan can die, right? But that is absurd on more than one level. Literally, plans are abstract things, and abstract things cannot die. Also, even if we were to allow that they can in some metaphorical sense, can we say that about the ultimate plan of God?
If Unitarian reasoning is that the Word can’t be God and become flesh and die, because God can’t die, but they haven’t bothered to apply the same argument to their own candidate for what the Word was to see if their own argument defeats their interpretation of this passage.
1 John 5:7 isn’t in the Bible vs. John 1:18 says “Son” vs. Adonai/Adoni Distinction proves Unitarianism
It seems almost obligatory to many Unitarians when creating any long-form material about the Trinity in general, that they include some discussion of 1 John 5:7. It reads: “there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit, and these three are one.” If you have any modern translation, you will see that this verse doesn’t appear in the text itself, and is in the footnotes as a likely late addition, not in the earliest manuscripts. Many Unitarians just can’t seem to resist bringing up this verse as if it proves that Trinitarians are just trying to change the text to support the Trinity. The fact is, the Trinitarians who are on translation committees of every modern translation have taken this verse out of the text of their translations, putting it in the footnotes as a late addition. I’m not aware of any apologist or theologian of any note who is appealing to this verse to support the Trinity.
So, there’s a pro-Trinitarian verse that everyone on all sides knows is not original to the Bible. So no Trinitarian uses it. Are Unitarians guilty of using any arguments that fall into the same category as this argument that they accuse Trinitarians of using? Yes, they are.
John 1:18, in virtually all modern translations contains the word “God”, reading: “No one has seen God at any time. The unique God, who is at the Father’s side, has made Him known”. In an attempt to minimize the number of passages that affirm Jesus’ deity, most Unitarians will make arguments to cast doubt on “God” being in this passage the second time, and how it should read “Son”. So, they want to be good textual critics when it goes against the more Trinitarian reading, but then all of that goes out the window when the text-critical data goes in favor of the Trinitarian view. This grasping shows that they are not consistent when it comes to the textual data.
Another, related inconsistency is in the use, by many Unitarians, of the distinction between “adonai” and “adoni” in Hebrew. The argument goes that, throughout the Old Testament, whenever this word is used of God, it is “Adonai”, and whenever it is used of a lesser being, whether angelic or human, it is “adoni”. This argument is then brought to Psalm 110:1, which says, “Yahweh said to my lord (adoni), sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool.” The use of “adoni” in this verse is taken as proof that Jesus is not God.
The problem with this argument is that, when you look at the actual text, “Adonai” and “adoni” are spelled exactly the same in Hebrew, and the only difference is the vowel pointing, which are marks underneath the letters to help with pronunciation. These vowel pointing marks were not part of the original Hebrew text. They were added, hundreds of years after Christ, by the Masoretic scribes. This is all well-known and documented. What it means is that the distinction between “Adonai” and “adoni” simply did not exist in the original text. See the inconsistency now? If it’s wrong to argue for the Trinity from something that wasn’t in the original, it’s just as wrong to argue for Unitarianism from something that wasn’t in the original. This argument is actually just refuted, but is also inconsistent with the itching desire it appears so many Unitarians have to discuss 1 John 5:7.
The Trinity isn’t in the Bible vs. The Bible is Unitarian
Unitarians make two related arguments against the Trinity here. First, many make the argument that the Trinity is unbiblical because the word “Trinity” isn’t found in Scripture. Second, they also argue we should reject the Trinity because the doctrine is not explained in Scripture. More serious people don’t use the first argument, as they understand that we can give a biblical doctrine a name that isn’t in the Bible, and that doesn’t make that doctrine unbiblical. The second argument is more serious, as it calls into question whether the Bible teaches the Trinity on the grounds that we don’t find a passage explaining, in one place, that God is three-in-one, or that Jesus has two natures. Now, I’ve dealt with this argument elsewhere, so suffice it to say here that it fails because it falsely requires that if we find a group of teachings in the bible, they can only all be true if we have another teaching that combines them for us.
The reason it is inconsistent is that Unitarianism would thus be considered false if this argument was applied to it. First, Unitarianism is another term not found in Scripture. Also, a Unitarian cannot clearly define his position without saying a number of things that are not explained anywhere in Scripture. If asked, most Unitarians will describe their theology by saying something like, “We believe there is just one God, and Jesus, the Messiah, is God’s human son, who obeyed and worshiped his God. The Holy Spirit is the power and presence of God”.
This is all well and good, but it does not define Unitarianism. Everything in this description is also consistent with the Trinity. The only way the Unitarian can clearly define his beliefs is to add clarifications to these statements, such as “Jesus, being human, is not God,” or, “The Holy Spirit, being the presence of God and the Spirit of God, is not another Person from the Father,” or, “Only the Father is God, not Jesus”. You get the idea. It is not my purpose to challenge this on its own right now. The problem is that the Unitarian cannot clearly define his position without making statements or offering explanations for his belief that are not in Scripture. That alone doesn’t disprove his theology, because if he can prove that these explanations are logically necessary implications of what Scripture says, then that would be a good argument. The problem I’m pointing out here is that the Unitarian won’t allow the Trinitarian to do the same thing. If the Trinitarian is required to have every description or explanation of his theology drawn directly from a Scripture quote, then so is the Unitarian, and the Unitarian cannot live up to that standard. In fact, it could be argued the Trinitarian who doesn’t try to explain his view beyond the collection of Scriptural teachings that define the Trinity is actually able to meet this requirement, silly as it is. The Unitarian, on the other hand, has no hope of meeting his own standard.
The Shema Proves Unitarianism vs. The Shema Was the Creed of the First Jewish Christians
If you are familiar at all with Anthony Buzzard and those influenced by his presentations, you have certainly run across this argument. Now, unlike the others, this is not one Unitarian argument that is inconsistent with another Unitarian argument. Rather, this inconsistency lies within the scope of just one larger argument that is usually presented all at once. The larger argument basically goes like this: The Shema, which says, “Hear, oh Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one”, is the premier creed of the Jews. Jesus affirmed the Shema in Mark 12 as the greatest commandment. Since it is obviously a Unitarian statement, we should treat it just as important as Jesus and should therefore be Unitarians.
To see the inconsistency of this argument, it is necessary to focus on one of its premises. That is that the Shema was the creed of the first Jewish Christians. I actually think this is correct. At least, the Shema was very important to them and it was one of the foundational creeds of their faith. The problem Unitarians have here is that they do not consistently apply this idea to other places where the Shema is referenced in the New Testament. Certainly, it is being referenced in Mark 12. But there are other places where it is alluded to as well, but these do not line up with Unitarianism, so they are not consistently discussed.
Now, when the New Testament quotes the Old, it is important to note that it doesn’t always just quote one passage word-for-word. Sometimes, the words from different passages are combined, as in Matthew 26:64, when Jesus says, “you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power and coming on the clouds of heaven”. Here, Jesus quotes both Psalm 110:1 and Daniel 7:13 in one sentence. So, while Mark 12 cites the Shema directly, there are other passages that apply the language of the Shema to a specific context. There are only five unique Hebrew words in the Shema, which come through in English as: “hear”, “Israel”, “Yahweh/Lord”, “our God” (this is one word), and “one/unique”. “Yahweh” is repeated once. Due to the importance of the Shema to Israel, and the fact that this was repeated more than once every day, it cannot be overemphasized that when someone put these words together, it would be noticed. Let’s look at three examples.
John 10 is well known among Unitarians because it contains the statement, “I and the Father are one”. While much has been written about what Jesus means by this statement, my point here is to show that this is an allusion to the Shema that is missed by Unitarians. Jesus sets up this statement by saying, “my sheep hear my voice”, beginning the discourse the same way the Shema begins. This reference to sheep is also a common metaphor for Israel as well, so those first two words of the Shema are covered. In place of “Lord” and “God”, Jesus refers to Himself and the Father, not just in the famous statement of verse 30, but also earlier, when speaking of the fact that no one can snatch the sheep from His hand or His Father’s Hand. These refer back to Deuteronomy 32:39, the same book the Shema is found in, in which God says there is none who can deliver out of his hand. Interestingly, the word “hand” in the Greek version of Deuteronomy 32:39 actually says “hands”, and it seems Jesus is playing off of this as well. Finally, Jesus finishes with “I and the Father are one”.
With so many connections to the one verse so heavily impressed on everyone’s mind, it is not surprising that the Jews accuse Jesus of blasphemy.
Another famous passage, this is where Thomas, after the resurrection, identifies Jesus as “my Lord and my God.” Jesus calls this statement “belief” and so cements the fact that Thomas is talking about Jesus and that this is a true statement about Jesus. The connections to the Shema come from using both “Lord” and “God” about Jesus, as the Shema does about God. But also, Thomas says “my” with these names, connecting back to the way the Shema says “Lord OUR God”. Here is a Jew how has said, over and over, “The Lord our God, the Lord is one”, and when he sees Jesus resurrected, has no problem calling Jesus “my Lord and my God”. It is silly to think he just forgot about the Shema in this moment. Much more likely that the Shema was actually what he was applying to Jesus.
1 Corinthians 8:6
For our final example, we look at one of the strongest references to the Shema in the New Testament, a text that both Trinitarians and Unitarians like to quote. The text in full reads:
yet to us there is one God, the Father,
from whom are all things, and we are for him,
and there is one Lord, Jesus Christ,
through whom are all things, and we are through him.
Unitarians like this text because it says “one God, the Father”, and “one Lord, Jesus Christ”. Looking at just those phrases, it seems to the Unitarian that this text clearly distinguishes Jesus from being God, and so they quote it as a prooftext.
The problems begin as soon as we get past their interpretation of those phrases. What we really see going on is that Paul is utilizing the language of the Shema, specifically the “one”, “God”, “Lord”, and “our” parts of the Shema, to create a fuller expression of the Shema that takes into account the coming of Jesus. Where the Lord our God was one in the Shema, now it says that to us there is one God and one Lord.
And the repetition of the words of the Shema itself are not the only way we know Paul is doing this. First, the context of this chapter is the exclusive worship of God as opposed to the idolatry of the pagans. And what is Deuteronomy 6, where the Shema is found, concerned with? It is the same. It is teaching worship and obedience to God alone, to the exclusion of the gods of Israel’s neighbors. Second, Paul makes reference to the primary way in which God differs from the other gods, creation. Yahweh created all things, including any other gods there may be. So, when discussing the exclusive worship of God, Paul makes reference to creation, ascribing it to both the Father and Jesus.
Unitarians who want us to see the Shema as Unitarian like to quote Deuteronomy 6 and Mark 12, but don’t actually believe, as they say, that the Shema influenced everything the Jews did. It would be strange, wouldn’t it, if such an important passage to the Jews were to only be referenced once in the entire New Testament? They’re right that it had great influence, but they just don’t apply that interpretive grid consistently. And they can’t, because if these other passages are referencing the Shema, then Jesus is Yahweh, and that doesn’t fit their theology.