Picking up from the second part of this final entry that is responding to the last entry in the series by the unnamed author (UA) at the blog One God Worship titled, “John 1:1The Jewish Mind vs Greek Philosophy”, we are now in the “conclusion” where UA makes a number of assertions.
Just to recap from the previous section wherein we dealt with the alleged but undemonstrated connection between Platonic philosophy and Trinitarian theology beginning with Philo, even though Philo is a rough contemporary of the New Testament authors and is merely echoing concepts that they themselves would have been familiar with and would have more than likely embraced as Jews. He attempts to draw a line between Plato and later Christian apologists, like Justin Martyr, who saw no necessary conflict between certain concepts in Platonic philosophy and his own faith in Christ, and failing to recognize that there was no established or universal theological vocabulary that believers prior to councils from the 4th century on to draw from. And this brings us to something that is often misunderstood in church: the terminology used and the attitudes possessed by the writers of the New Testament regarding the term “philosophy”.
For the Love of Wisdom
UA begins his closing by pointing an accusing finger at Justin Martyr’s philosophical affections and asks a question,
“…[S]hould we, as Christians, reject the “wisdom” proposed by these great philosophical minds? Is it possible that their teachings clarified or enhanced Biblical truths in some way?
As always, when reading the ancient writers we should endeavor to understand their backgrounds and their intentions and take extra care not to deal with them unfairly or anachronistically. We should make an effort to understand their place in history as well as their vocabulary not in a manner that we wish to understand it, but as they used it and expected it to be understood. This is especially important to remember when someone, like UA, says this,
“Some may be comfortable in endorsing a hybridized Christology, however, such syncretism is a far cry from the teachings of the early Church.
Let’s keep in mind that “the teachings of the early church” are what is represented in the text of the New Testament, and that Justin wrote in light of and directly opposed any conscription of pagan philosophy within Christianity, rather insisting on the superiority of Christianity to pagan philosophy. Moreover, it fails to demonstrate that there was any syncretism. In fact, whenever syncretism does arise (eg Marcionism or Gnosticism), it is quickly identified and called out as false. Which brings us to two passages of Scripture that UA quotes to somehow demonstrate that apologists like Justin were somehow in error: Colossians 2:8 and Matthew 15:9.
A Poor Choice of Words
Whenever someone appeals to a Pauline letter in order to prove a point, we should keep in mind the Petrine observation about Paul’s writings,
“There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.
Colossians 2:8 is a passage that often gets cited by rabid fundamentalists in opposition to the study of philosophy that often miss the fact that the understanding they’re using to define the terms contained therein are, first and foremost, philosophical in nature and they don’t understand what it is that Paul is referring to in the text.
The passage reads,
“See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.
Here, we need to recognize that Paul takes what appears to be two concepts but are really one and identifies it as descriptive of false teachers: an empty philosophy. This “empty philosophy” comes by means of “human tradition” and while it can refer to the various schools of Greek philosophy, but it can also apply to Judaism. Moreover, it needs to be recognized that Paul is contrasting what is arrived at by mere human reasoning over against divine revelation. This means that Paul’s objection isn’t with philosophy in general but any philosophy that is fundamentally Christ-denying, anchored in purely human beliefs, which brings us to Matthew 15:9, which reads,
“…in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.
Interestingly, in the context of the passage in Matthew, this is a quotation of Isaiah 29:13 from the Septuagint where Yahweh himself is speaking of the inhabitants of Jerusalem, whereas in the context of Matthew 15, Jesus is addressing the scribes and Pharisees and their appeal to ritual hand washing. Jesus turns the question to address how the Pharisees had a teaching that functionally invalidated a clear commandment of Scripture to care for one’s own parents.
Both of these passages then refer to teachings that deny either the truth of the Gospel (Paul in Colossians) or distort a clear teaching so it can be ignored (per Matthew).So, far from proving UA’s point, these texts are being used eisegetically by him, being forced into a context to which they do not apply.
Further, UA’s assertion of relationship leans heavily into a cum hoc fallacy by the correlation of philosophy with theology. Such a fallacious leap in logic is based in his citation from Reginald Fuller’s article on Jesus from The Oxford Guide to People and Places in the Bible as UA conflates “Hellenistic Christianity” with Platonism. UA’s historical blindness is the product of failing to see that Christ conquered the world by the obedience to his command, as well as the universalizing message of the Gospel that erased the boundaries that had once separated the world to bring them under the rule of Christ, as well as a stunning ignorance of the historical theology of the Jews that lived on in Christianity. This false equivalence between the ethic boundaries (“Hellenistic” as opposed to “Jewish”) and the assumption of a philosophical position ignores that the use of the term in its use to designate a historical and cultural boundary marker.
UA portrays the fathers and apologists leading up to Niceae as being influenced by Platonic philosophy rather than recognizing that they, under the influence of God’s Spirit and the teaching of the apostles in Scripture, were operating to bring Christ’s sheep back into the fold by being unafraid to engage with the Greek-speaking world and to demonstrate that the philosophers, such as Plato, had a plain knowledge of the True God and were, indeed, anapologētous before him. The second and third century found a society of people who were injecting a hopeful Oriental religion into a larger Hellenistic culture that was incredibly pessimistic; a society known as Christians who had to scientifically define what they believed in response to questions composed in response to it. These believers were truly fulfilling the apostolic admonition to, “honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you”.
Throughout this series, it has been noted that UA has asserted that the Trinitarian interpretation of John 1:1 has been contaminated by outside influences and that this has bled into how the verse is translated into English. However, as has been demonstrated throughout, UA has been refuted by the facts of language, namely how the koine Greek used by the biblical authors signaled a proper name (Part 1B) how pronouns in a gendered language are to be rendered (Part 1C) and that, in not being informed of the facts himself, leads his audience astray (Part 1D). In getting into the matter of how the Greek is translated and how the that is presented in various English translations, UA cherry-picked a particular translation (NASB) and made it the standard for his argument, which was demonstrated to not be the case either historically or currently but that the it possessed features unique to that one translation (Part 2A). Subsequently, UA demonstrates an inconsistency in method that violated established grammar rules in an attempt to maintain his argument (Part 2B).
In attempting to solidify his claims he attempted to bring Scriptural evidence that was shown to be entirely eisegetical in practice (Part 3A). UA tries to lay blame on Trinitarian theology at the foot of the Jewish philosopher Philo and his Platonic tendencies but fails to notice that when Philo sees areas of disconnection he will adopt or adapt terms or concepts from other philosophical schools of thought that better reflect what he wishes to communicate (Part 3B).
As in earlier posts, UA demonstrates that he is entirely dependent on secondary sources to interpret the facts for him. He is not a specialist, and neither am I, and though he appears to be capable of adequate and compelling communication though he appears to either be unable or unwilling to critically examine his sources, even to whether or not they are accurately representing their original context.
In the final examination of the arguments used by UA, they are tantamount to mudslinging. No positive arguments are produced that demonstrate the coherence of the unitarian position in engaging the text. The assertion is simply, “we’re right, they’re wrong”, but never gives evidence to prove that.
Unitarian arguments are superficial, often anachronistic, and depend on no one looking too closely to test them for coherence.
- Charles Bigg. The Christian Platonists of Alexandria. Oxford Press. 1913. p.31
- Thomas B. Falls. The Father’s of the Church, Volume 6. Catholic University Press. 1948. p.17-8
- Justin Martyr. “First Apology (Chapter 22)”. The Father’s of the Church, Volume 6. Thomas B. Falls, trans. Catholic University Press. 1948. p.57-8
- 2 Peter 3:16, ESV
- English Standard Version
- Douglas J. Moo. The Letters to the Colossians and to Philemon. William B. Eerdman’s Publishing. 2008. p.185
- Charles H. Talbot. Ephesians and Colossians. Baker Academic Publishing. 2007. p. 210-1
- Matthew A. Wilcoxen. “Philosophy”. The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Lexham Publishing. 2016
- English Standard Version
- David L. Turner. Matthew. Baker Academic Publishing. 2008. p. 379-80
- UA states the quote is drawn from p.362
- Matthew 28:18-20
- Galatians 3:24-29
- See Michael S. Heiser, “Understanding Israelite Monotheism” and “Jesus’ Quotation of Psalm 82:6 in John 10:34: A Different View of John‘s Theological Strategy”
- “without an excuse or plausible defense” per Romans 1:18-20
- Christopher Dawson. The Formation of Christendom. Ignatius Press. 2008. p. 186-211 (ePub)
- 1 Peter 3:15, ESV