Missing the Point: Some Thoughts on Dave Burke’s Latest Comments

I know I should be in bed right now but Dave Burke’s most recent replies to the Great Trinity Debate popped up in my Google Reader.  In his first comment he says:

The way to break our interpretive deadlock is simple; teach me the Trinity the way the apostles taught those they baptised. Use the arguments they recorded in Scripture, the concepts they described, the OT verses they quoted.

But Rob has already dealt with this issue in his initial post in the debate.  He said:

Using Concepts or Formulations Not Explicit in the Bible

A somewhat more subtle, if still a priori, objection to the doctrine of the Trinity is that the concept or formulation of the doctrine is not biblical. The argument runs as follows: The non-Trinitarian points out that Trinitarian scholars routinely acknowledge that the Bible does not teach the formal, systematic doctrine of the Trinity; that the concept of the Trinity is nowhere explicit in Scripture; that the biblical writers did not themselves think of God as triune or conceptualize God as triune; and so forth. The non-Trinitarian, aghast that such scholars would continue to adhere to a doctrine they admit they cannot find in the Bible, and commending them for their “candor,” concludes that tradition, creed, or ecclesiastical authority has evidently trumped Scripture for Trinitarians.


Systematic theology is an intellectual activity or discipline that seeks to answer specific questions that arise from the reading of Scripture. The Bible may not answer these questions explicitly, but it may provide information or statements from which the theologian infers an answer. Did God create the world ex nihilo (out of nothing), ex Deo (from God’s own being), or ex materia (from preexisting matter)? The Bible does not answer this question explicitly, but the question, once asked, is unavoidable. The theologian does his best to answer it in a way most faithful to the teaching that the Bible does present. What is the relationship between the second coming of Christ and the thousand-year period mentioned in Revelation 20? One may adhere to amillennialism, premillennialism, or postmillennialism, but none of these is set forth explicitly in the Bible. Some of these questions are more important than others, but the point is that such questions are extremely common in theology and no serious student of Christian doctrine can or should avoid them altogether.


In short, sola scriptura means that all doctrine must derive from the teachings of Scripture, not that we are restricted to using words found in the Bible or to using concepts that one or more biblical writers explicitly formulated.

Dave then opens his second comment by saying the following:

Your argument relies obviously on the English translation, failing to engage with the Greek. You make much of the statement “And when they saw him they worshipped him, but some doubted”, claiming that their doubt was about “the propriety of worshipping Jesus”, when the context is linked to Jesus’ resurrection and their seeing him alive. Searching a dozen commentaries over the past few days, I have failed to find anyone supporting your interpretation; Trinitarian scholars unanimously refer the “doubt” to Jesus’ resurrection. A parallel account is John 20:25, where “doubting Thomas” finally believes. Your reading has no credible grounding.

Strangely, you insist that “worship” presented to Jesus in this verse is necessarily religious, offering no evidence to support this, but merely cross-referencing Matthew 4:1-11, where Jesus tells the tempter that only God may be worshipped. This passage contains nothing to support your idea that Jesus is being worshipped as God in Matthew 28:16-20.

Now let it be known that I’m not exactly convinced of Rob’s reading of Matthew 28 just yet, although I have purposed to give it some further thought and study, but all Dave has done here is shown that in the 12 or so books he’s looked at no one has said what Rob has said.  What Dave has not done is shown how or why Rob is wrong and not to be agreed with.  Also, the description of Rob “cross-referenc[ing]” is a bit off (i.e., it makes it seem as if all Rob did was cite the passage without explanation).  Rob took time to present compelling parallels between the narrative in Matthew 4:1-11 and Matthew 28:16-20.   Whether or not one agrees with Rob’s conclusion concerning the worship in Matthew 28:17 they should at least be able to acknowledge that the parallels drawn are not superficial or without merit.

Dave then launches into an excursus on the many meanings of proskyneo (using Liddell & Scott for some odd reason rather than, say, BDAG) before demonstrating a misunderstanding of creedal Trinitarianism when he says in a parenthetical remark: “contra creedal Trinitarianism, which prohibits ontological and economic incarnational subordination…” Economic incarnational subordination is part and parcel of orthodox Christology.  Sure, there’s debate over whether such a subordination reaches back into eternity, but there’s no controversy over it existing in the incarnation.  All Dave has to do is look to patristic comments on John 14:28 and he’ll find an almost uniform understanding that the Father was said to be greater than the Son because the Son assumed humanity.  There is also a reading that suggests the passage has to do with the causal relationship (i.e., the Father begets while the Son is begotten) but this understanding is not as pervasive.

Many more things could be pointed out (like why Dave sees such a “natural connection” between John 1 & Proverbs 8 — to take a page out of his book — if John wanted to speak of Wisdom, why didn’t he? — or that the Memra was distinguished from God as his “agent” — umm, no, it was a circumlocution for the  divine name, plain and simple, and if anything, John’s drawing from targumic Memra traditions only strengthens the case for Jesus’ deity, but that’s for another day) but it’s late and this post is long.  Dave left a number of other comments that all scream for rebuttal, but I’ll leave it to Rob to rebut them.  The one thing I’ve noticed is that my observation from a few days ago was right, and no matter what rob says, Dave will simply respond by saying that Rob has said nothing at all.  I’ve also noticed in this later round of comments that Dave appeals to authorities an awful lot, more so than I’ve seen him do before, while Rob has been pretty consistent in doing his own work.  I suppose that’s really the major difference between the two.


11 thoughts on “Missing the Point: Some Thoughts on Dave Burke’s Latest Comments

  1. Diglot: Definitely. Dale Tuggy’s replies on his blog haven’t been much better. I’ve been wondering if he’s been reading the same debate that I have.

  2. It seemed to me that Dave’s whole treatment of the John 1 passage just didn’t ring true.

    I don’t know how the “Word” can actually be called God. It is a part of what God is and does if it is truly speaking of God’s Word here and not referring to Jesus. But how can it be said to be God Himself? Is something you our I say actually ourselves? It is a representation of who we are, but it is certainly not us.

    And it seems to that the pronoun in verse three must refer back to the previous two verses. To read it otherwise seems like a real stretch to me. And this can not be the case if Jesus and the Word are not the same. And if it does refer back to the first two verses, it becomes obvious that the person, Jesus, spoken of in verse 3 is indeed God Himself.

    And then the idea that the verse that speaks of Jesus being the Creator may be a wrong way of looking at that verse. And instead it may mean that Jesus brought division. Obviously, that is a possible meaning of that word, but it certainly seems like an incredible stretch to me to think it may be the meaning here. It seems to me that only one with an a priori belief that Jesus is not God could come up with such a translation for this verse.

    And I also don’t honestly see how God’s Word could literally become flesh and God Himself couldn’t. He says that this word means that something changes into something else altogether and is no longer what it originally was. If God’s Word literally becomes flesh, how is it in this understanding still God’s Word? Now it is just literally flesh and God’s Word has ceased to be. So I can’t buy that argument either.

    I must say Dave’s was the most unusual and strangest exegesis of this passage that I have ever read.

  3. Cherylu: Burke’s treatment was standard fare for Unitarians. It wasn’t much different than what one finds on the “Biblical Unitarian” or “Truth or Tradition” websites. It’s not convincing no matter where you read it though.

  4. Nick,

    I posted this earlier today on ScottL’s blog in a very slightly modified form. A bunch of quotes from the early church father’s don’t necessarily prove anything, but if nothing else, it shows these doctrines have been around for a very long time. And it seems to me that these guys that were so close time-wise to Jesus life here on earth may have had a pretty good idea of what is what on this subject.

    “Here are some fascinating quotes from some very early Christians. They are found in the book, “A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs”, David Bercot, Editor.

    They show a very early belief in the concept of the Trinity, the belief that Jesus was indeed the Creator of all things, that they understood the Word to be Jesus Himself and that He was indeed God, and that the Son existed before the creation of all things:

    “For with Him were always present the Word and Wisdom, the Son and the Spirit, by whom and in whom, freely and spontanesouly, He made all things. He speaks to Him, saying, “Let Us make man after Our image and likeness.” Irenaeus (c. 130-200)

    “It is after the image and likeness of the uncreated God: the Father planning everything well and giving his commands, the Son carrying these into execution and performing the work of creating, and the Spirit nourishing and increasing.” Iraneus

    “The immediate Creator, and, as it were, the very Maker of the world was the Word, the Son of God. By commanding His own Son, the Word, to create the world, the Father of the Word is the primary creator.” Origen (c.185-255) (The words “immediate” and “primary” were italicized.)

    “Jesus Christ, His Son, is His eternal Word. The Son did not proceed forth from silence. He in all things pleased Him who sent Him.” Ignatius (c. 35-107)

    “There is one Physician who is possessed both of flesh and spirit. He is both made and not made. He is God existing in flesh, true life in death. He is both of Mary and of God.” Ignatius

    “The Word Himself, who took shape and became man, was called Jesus Christ.” Justin Martyr (c. 100-165)

    “Ignorance does not apply to the God who, before the foundation of the world, was the counselor of the Father. For He was the Wisdom in Which the Sovereign God delighted. For the Son is the Power of God, as being the Father’s most ancient Word before the production of things, and His Wisdom.” Clement of Alexandria (c.150-215)

    “That the Son was always the Word is signified by saying, “In the beginning was the Word.” Clement of Alexandria

    “But someone will say to me, ‘You introduce a strange thing to me when you call the Son the Word. For John indeed, speaks of the Word, but it is by a figure of speech.’ No, it not by a figure of speech!” Hippolytus (c.170-236)

  5. Cherylu: Thanks. Belief in the deity of Christ and the Trinity is pervasive in early Christian literature. If you’re interested, I’ve amassed some quotations of my own here (pp. 38-44), which all predate the Nicene Creed.

  6. One problem I see with Rob’s explanation that addresses Dave’s first comment, above, is that regardless of one’s position on the millennium or the mode of creation, those holding the differing views are still regarded as Christians. But do trinitarians regard non-trinitarians as Christians? I believe the majority would answer no. That shows the relative importance they give to the doctrine of the trinity. I believe if the importance was that great, it would certainly have been expressed explicitly in Scripture.

  7. Once4all, if you’re going to give millennialism the same level of significance as the doctrine of God, you’re going to get push-back on your priorities. Most Christians would say that false beliefs about the millennium are not obvious pathways to idolatry, whereas the worship of a false deity (e.g. a supposedly non-divine Christ) is. The Father is Lord, the Son is Lord, the Spirit is Lord; there is One Lord.

    *Moderator edit: The following was appended to Nathan’s name in what I suspect was some kind of mistake so I’m reproducing it here:

    The doctrine of the Trinity strikes at the very core of Christian belief and based on the evidence was implicit

  8. Once4all: It depends on the Trinitarian. I personally do not regard non-Trinitarians as Christians. I think the issue is over what one considers an explicit expression.

  9. Nathan, it was Rob who put the doctrine of the trinity on equal ground with the millennium and creation. But, yes, I agree with you that worship of a non-divine Christ as God is idolatry. Faults in doctrine need to be recognized and adjusted accordingly, regardless of the implications of the error.

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