In my continuing series evaluating inconsistencies in Unitarian argumentation, I will be looking at a new argument. Once again, this is not, primarily, an argument against Unitarianism, but rather an evaluation of how Unitarians do not use consistent argumentation or interpretation when defending their position. In this article, I will be looking at some more examples of this kind of thing.
Taking Texts at Face Value vs Dealing with Trinitarian Texts
This inconsistency shows up when you allow a Unitarian to define his theology generally. When doing so, the common words and phrases used are to say they believe in “One God”, and Jesus is the “Son of God”, and that “The Father is Jesus’ God”. This will typically be contrasted with Trinitarian beliefs that God is “three-in-one”, or the Jesus is “Fully God and Fully man”, or other common Trinitarian language, such as “essence”, “person”, “co-equal”, etc. Sometimes, but not always, they will further clarify that they are saying Jesus is not God, or that the Spirit is not a separate person from the Father.
What you may notice is that the language used to describe Unitarianism is all biblical and the language used to describe Trinitarianism is all extra-biblical. There are minor inconsistencies in this manner of presentation, but I dealt with that in a previous article. What I’m pointing out here is the additional argument, often made, that Unitarians are just taking the Scriptures at face-value, and it’s Trinitarians adding unbiblical ideas to the text. They do this by pointing at passages that just call Jesus “Son of God”, or that the Father is the God of Jesus and saying that Trinitarians are not taking these passages at face-value, but adding ideas that aren’t there.
They are inconsistent in this “face-value” interpretive method, though, when they come across one of the many texts that does point to a Trinitarian truth they reject. Start talking with them about John 1, Philippians 2, Hebrews 1, Colossians 1, certain phrases in John 5, Revelation 5, and so on, and you will stop hearing this talk about the face-value of the text very quickly. At this point, we will all need to become experts in Greek, in scholarship, in Jewish cultural history, and so on. It will no longer be about the plain meaning, but about how it doesn’t really mean what the Trinitarian thinks it means, by any means necessary.
Now, on a certain level, this is something everyone who takes the Scriptures seriously has to do. Scripture is self-consistent, but it does have different authors, writing about different subjects, and sometimes, without background knowledge of certain issues, texts can appear to conflict. As such, whatever you believe, you are going to come across texts that challenge it. Your job at that point is to try to understand what the difficult text actually means, so that it either becomes clear that it does not conflict with your belief, or so that you can see that it does, and adjust your belief. The issue here isn’t so much that it’s inconsistent for there to be texts that you have to dig into further to create a coherent theology. The issue is with claiming your view “just goes with the plain meaning”, when it obviously doesn’t always do that.
For the Unitarian, Scripture falls into two categories. That which doesn’t challenge their views and that which does. The method of interpreting the passages in these categories is wildly different, and that is not consistent.
Worship of God vs Worship of Jesus
If you are talking to a Unitarian about the worship of Jesus, you may not encounter this one overtly. The reason is that it is possible to characterize the worship of God as different than the worship of Jesus in a way that is at least logically coherent. The distinction is not drawn from Scripture, but again, that’s a different article.
This one pops up when a Unitarian isn’t actively trying to put things together coherently, but is talking about different issues at different times. For an example, you can look at two items, by John Schoenheit, discussing these things. In an article discussing the Shema in Deuteronomy 6:4, he clearly states that we are only supposed to worship God:
It is because Yahweh “alone” is God that we can worship him with “all” our heart, “all” our soul, and “all” our might. If we had more than one God, our worship would have to be divided between all the gods we served, and each god would get only “part” of our heart, soul, and strength. In fact, that is what happens with Trinitarians today: they divide their worship of God into the worship of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. But that division of worship is what is expressly forbidden by Deuteronomy 6:4 and Mark 12:29.
So Trinitarians are guilty, according to Schoenheit, of “dividing their worship” between the Father and Son, but then in an entry on what Jesus meant in Matthew 4:10, where Jesus says “worship God and serve Him only”, he makes an argument that worship is just a wide term that refers to respect and can apply to people as well as God.
These scriptures are more than enough proof that “worship” was a part of the culture, and a way of showing respect or reverence. Because of the theological stance that only God should be worshipped, translators have avoided the English word “worship,” in spite of the fact that it is clearly in the original text. We assert that not translating what is clearly in the text has created a false impression in the Christian community. It is very clear in the biblical text that men “worshipped” men.
While he says several times that “there is a sense” in which some sort of special worship goes to God alone, there is no attempt to explain what this difference is or where it is explained in Scripture, so it is difficult to see how Schoenheit is not guilty of this “division of worship” that he accuses Trinitarians of. Incidentally, this is also an example of a straw man fallacy, since he inaccurately defines the Trinity. Trinitarians believe in only one God and worship only God. Trinitarians do not “divide” worship between God and someone who isn’t God. That is what Schoenheit is advocating.
So we have, on the one hand, that we should only worship God, but on the other hand, worship is a flexible term that can apply to any kind of respect, and isn’t limited to God. This is, without further explanation, a contradiction. I can understand why Schoenheit may be reluctant to offer an explanation, since he commonly looks to cite something to support his views directly. There are Scriptures that happen to use the same Greek word to refer to bowing to kings and such, and so he is ok talking about that, but good luck finding a place where he articulates what it means to say, as Jesus did, that we are to only worship God, but it’s ok to worship Jesus. The problem is that there aren’t any Scriptures that explain this, so Schoenheit avoids it. This leads him to contradicting himself as noted above.
When combined with the other inconsistency that happens when a Unitarian actually offers an explanation of worship, this one presents the Unitarian with an irresolvable dilemma. On the one hand, they can choose to remain vague about how it is that worship can be both restrictive to God and flexible, so as to avoid unbiblical explanation, but then fall into a contradiction with regard to these two concepts of worship, since, without some explanation, we are left with the Unitarian affirming that we should only worship God, but we can worship Jesus, too, which is a contradiction. On the other hand, they can choose to explain the relationship of passages that restrict worship to God and passages that speak of worship of Jesus, but will have to do so by making explanations and using language not found in Scripture, which nullifies their complaint that the Trinity is not explained in Scripture. So the Unitarian has to actually contradict Himself or give up one of the most popular arguments against the Trinity. That is not a pleasant dilemma to face.