Rob Kashow recently posted a nice rant against ignorance concerning the Trinity. Interestingly enough, I was going to post something today or tomorrow along similar lines, only I was going to deal with a specific essay written by Robert Oerter, the physicist who sparked all the recent debate about credentials. As Matthew (here, here, and here as well) and James so aptly noted, we should judge a person’s work by its content and not by the person’s credentials. So I started to read Oerter’s essay “Promoted to God” which addresses the Christian doctrine of the Trinity and not very far into it I spotted a number of things that were simply wrong.
For example, Oerter asserts that because Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Paul don’t record Jesus’ statements in John 10:30 & 12:45 that “We can only conclude that Jesus made no such claim.” No, we can only conclude that the Synoptic writers and Paul didn’t record those two statements. We cannot conclude that the Synoptic writers didn’t record such a claim though. Darrell Bock notes concerning Mark 14:62 that “The self-made claim to sit at the right hand and ride the clouds would be read as a blasphemous utterance, a false claim that equates Jesus in a unique way with God…”1 And this wasn’t the first time in Mark’s Gospel that Jesus was accused of blasphemy for saying or doing something that the Jews understood as being a unique prerogative of God (see Mark 2:5-7).
Oerter makes a common claim when he says: “Later generations of Christians read the New Testament books through the lens of their theology and interpreted them in trinitarian terms.” Okay, well and good, but how did the earlier Christians read the Bible and arrive at a Trinitarian understanding of it? It’s all too easy to say that we read the Trinity into the Bible nowadays, but what of yesteryear before this claim was possible? This is one of those commonly parroted statements that don’t seem to receive much thought.
Of Matthew 28:19 he says: “At first glance this verse seems to be a clear statement of trinitarian belief – the Father, Son and Spirit placed on equal footing. In fact it is no such thing. The passage in question doesn’t declare the three to be equal, and it doesn’t declare Jesus to be divine – the relationships between the three are not explained in any way.” Well, not really, their relationship is explained in some way in that at the very least they share one name.
Concerning the Johannine Comma he says: “The word “trinity” actually does not appear anywhere in the New Testament. There is only one verse (1 John 5:7) that apparently declares “the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit… are one.” That phrase is absent from every one of the ancient Greek manuscripts of 1 John, however.” That all depends on exactly what is meant by ‘ancient.’ As Bruce Metzger notes, “The passage is absent from every known Greek manuscript except eight, and these contain the passage in what appears to be a translation from a late recension of the Latin Vulgate.”2 So it does appear in some Greek manuscripts even though there is little doubt that it is a later addition.
Concerning the title “Lord” Oerter says: “Similarly, for a first century Jew, “lord” would connote divinity when applied to God, but when applied to a human it would not.” Not really. Lord would connote lordship no matter who it was applied to. “God” connotes divinity if applied to the true and living God. This post is already long, and the examples can be multiplied exponentially (to include a few typos as well, e.g., misspelling Rudolf as Rudoph for Bultmann’s first name!). These few examples came in the very early stages of my reading and I have marked half a dozen more, not getting even halfway through the essay! I think perhaps some of the problem here can be attributed to the sources Oerter used in producing this essay. They seem to be very one-sided (e.g., Dunn, Casey, Rubenstein, Ehrman). Had perhaps he consulted a broader array of scholarship he’d be in a better position to say something on the matter, but as it stands, I think in this case he should stick with physics.
1 Darrell L. Bock, Blasphemy and Exaltation in Judaism: The Charge Against Jesus in Mark 14:53-65 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2000), 203.
2 Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 2nd ed. (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1994), 647.