Biddle: many “Gods” but one God

Here’s an interesting but tightly wound passage from John Biddle (1615-62) in a book from 1648:

Again, though he [Jesus] be a God, subordinate to the most high God, as having received his godhead, and whatsover he hath, from the Father; yet may not anyone thence rightly infer, that by this account there will be another God, or two Gods?  For though we may, with allowance of the scripture, say, that there are many Gods, yet neither will the scripture, nor the thing itself permit us to say, that there is another God, or two Gods, because when a word in its own nature common to many, has been appropriated, and ascribed to one by way of excellency (as that of God has been the Father), albeit this does not hinder us from saying, that there are many of that name, yet does it from saying, that there is another, or two, since that would be all one as if we should say, that there is another, or two most excellent (which is absurd),  for when two are segregated in this manner out of many, they claim excellency to themselves alike. Thus though some faithful man be a Son of God, subordinate to the chief Son of God Christ Jesus, yet may we not thereupon say, that there is another Son of God, or two Sons of God, (since that would be to make another, or two Sons of God by way of excellency, whereas there can be but one such a Son) howbeit otherwise the scripture warrants us to say, that there are many Sons of God. (A Confession of Faith Touching the Holy Trinity, According to Scripture, pp. 17-8,  in Firmin1691, language modernized and bold added)

He goes on to quote 1 Corinthians 8:4-6 and Hebrews 2:10.

What is Biddle’s argument here, and is it cogent? Discuss.

About Dale

Dale Tuggy is a Professor of Philosophy at SUNY Fredonia, where he teaches courses in analytic theology, philosophy of religion, religious studies, and the history of philosophy.

37 Responses to Biddle: many “Gods” but one God

  1. Marg says:

    An assignment! One I can understand! Wow!

    Part one: What is Biddle’s argument here?

    His argument is that although there are many that can be called Gods, there is only one that can be called GOD in the absolute sense of “alone at the top”. Jesus is a God; but everything he has comes from the one God, the Father, so Jesus cannot be considered as God-alone-at-the-top-number-two. The idea of having two “most excellent” Gods is absurd, Biddle thinks.
    Similarly, although there may be many “sons of God,” yet there can only be one chief Son of God, described in such terms of excellence as is Jesus Christ. Only one can be THE Son of God.

    Part two: Is his argument cogent?
    [I had to look up the word “cogent,” so I will just answer, “Yes.”]

    Part three: Discuss.

    John Biddle doesn’t use the words that Samuel Clarke uses to describe the uniqueness of the one God; but I’m quite sure he would agree that this one God is alone the true God, eternally self-existent, the source of all and the God of all, without exception. Nobody else comes anywhere close, so far as that description is concerned.

    His view of Christ is not so clear. Does he believe that the one who is uniquely the Son of God was eternally the unique Son of God?
    Or does he believe that the Son of God was created before anything else was created?
    Or does he believe that the Son of God did not exist until Jesus was born?
    That isn’t clear.

    But he quotes 1 Corinthians 8:4-6, and that gives me an opening, bless him.

    “There are many gods and many lords (agents of the gods); but for us there is:
    one God, the Father, from whom [come] all things, and we for him, and
    one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom [come] all things, and we [go back to the Father] through him.”

    Everything – seen and unseen – comes from the one God. And everything that comes from the one God comes through the agency of the one Lord. So idols are nothing and their agents are nothing. Nothing comes FROM them. Nothing comes THROUGH them. They are nothing at all.

    I don’t know whether that’s what Biddle sees in 1 Corinthians 8, but I would love to hear what he DOES see in it.

  2. Dale says:

    Marg, well done. I think this captures the spirit of his argument, which is too compressed here.

    I’m not exactly sure where his lingo of “ascribed to one by way of excellency” comes from – I believe though that it was a distinction made by the Socinians, whom Biddle had studied in Latin. I think the passage is more obscure because of a lack of modern quotation marks – but yes, his point is about the word “God.” Even though this be applicable to many beings (as the Bible has it), it doesn’t follow that there are many gods – many beings which are literally divine. The word is applied “by way of excellency” to God (i.e. the Father) – I think his meaning in that it applies to God in the highest or most basic sense. Add to this what he doesn’t say here, that in this highest sense, the term applies to only one being. He claims that it is absurd (i.e. contradictory) to say that there are “two most excellent.” That may be so, if that means, “two uniquely greatest” beings. But I don’t see that he highlights any absurdity in there being two beings to which a term applies in the highest sense. Be this as it may, his central point seems to be one, as you have it, about language:

    There are at least two beings called “F”
    Therefore, there are at least two Fs.

    This doesn’t follow – this is a fallacy.

    We’d need to add a premise, like this:

    There are at least two beings called “F”
    If a being is called “F” then it is an F.
    Therefore, there are at least two Fs.

    This is valid. But in the case of the term “God” premise 2 will be false, so the argument won’t be sound (or cogent).

  3. Marg says:

    Thank you. I’m learning a bit about philosophy (I think) – a fraction of which I may be able to remember.

    What does Biddle say about 1 Corinthians 8:6? That really interests me. If there is a link where I can read it for myself, that would be great.

    By the way, I am deeply indebted to you for republishing Clarke’s book. The list of passages, so well organized, is a treasure.

    I was looking this morning at chapter 4 of Part I. The title of the chapter is, “The Passages, wherein the Three Persons of the ever-blessed Trinity are All mentioned together.”

    His conclusion is simple: “From all these Passages, it appears beyond Contradiction, that the words [God] and [the Father,] not [God] and [the Three Persons] are always used in Scripture as Synonymous Terms.”

    And in between are some wonderful passages that set out his understanding of the Trinity. I want to refer to three of them, plus a fourth that is not listed.

    Matthew 28:18,19 – All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore … baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.

    In the name of the Father, who originally gave that power;
    In the name of the Son, to whom that power is given;
    And in the name of the Holy Ghost, by whom (by whose more immediate power and influence) our Lord exercises that power.

    Then there is Romans 15:30, in which Paul exhorts the brethren to work with him in prayer to God for him – for the sake of the Lord Jesus Christ, and [for the sake of](?) the love of the Spirit.

    That fits well with Romans 8, where both the Spirit and Christ are seen as interceding with God on behalf of the saints.

    It also goes very well with 2 Corinthians 13:14 – “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all.”

    One thing Clarke does NOT do is quote a verse where FOUR “Persons” are mentioned together in this way. Just three. ONE of whom is God.

  4. Matt says:


    I’ve noticed your fondness for 1Cor 8:4-6 previously – and indeed it’s a favourite of mine too insofar that it seems to me to say some things about the relationship between “God”, “the Father”, and [the] “Lord Jesus Christ” very clearly. These things seem difficult to reconcile with Trinitarianism.

    However, its time I took your bait! I’m less than convinced that one of the things this passage makes clear is that Christ was God’s agent at the creation of the universe. In order to make the passage say that we must read “all things” as “the universe”, and also establish that the act of creation is in view. I’m not sure we can confidently do both of these. Over to you?

    You know I like your “agential” way of thinking and it seems to me that Gen indicates God used agents then as he did later – to the present day. Do you agree with this proposition?



  5. Marg says:

    In order to make the passage say that we must read “all things” as “the universe”.

    Not quite. I think it INCLUDES the universe, as well as all other things. My reason is the context.

    Paul’s argument is simple. There are lots of gods and lots of lords; but for us, there is only one God, the Father, from whom all things come. None of it came from any of the “gods”.
    Also (for us) there is only one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things come. None of it came through any of the “lords,” which I take to be the priests or agents of the gods.

    IF the “all things” does NOT include the universe , then Paul’s argument is empty. If the sun, stars, earth, men – everything that the Corinthians can see around them – didn’t come from the one God, and didn’t come through God’s chief agent, then where did it come from? Maybe it came from the many gods that they were familiar with. Why not?

    That’s why I think that the “all things” has to include “ALL things” – past, present and future. Otherwise, Paul could not so definitely tell the Corinthians that the idols are nothing; that the many gods and many lords are worthless. Nothing comes from them and nothing comes through them.

    Does that make sense?

  6. john says:

    So far this debate has assumed that the scriptures are God’s literal word.

    But they clearly are NOT – and I would submit that they are what the writers THOUGHT.
    This being the case, one should not get too concerned about the meaning of every word!

    I will be attacked for this but consider a few examples

    (i) There are TWO descriptions regarding the fate of Judas Iscariot -one in Acts 1v18 and the other in Matthew 27v5 etc. The only thing these two accounts have in common is the name of the field and the fact that the money used was the ‘betrayal’ money.

    (ii)The first eleven verses of John Chapter 8 are missing from ALL Greek manuscripts (as the NAB footnote attests) This footnote is worth reading.
    If you consult the Peshitta Atamaic Interlinear you will note that teaditional verses 1-11 are missing and there is a note to the effect that these verses are not in any original Aramaic text.

    (iii) Many of the scriptures regarded as ‘canon’ are by unknown persons- and some are clearly not written by the persons after whom they are named. Hebrews springs to mind- and 2 Peter (which probably dates back to the second century)

    And of course there are many more examples… one should be careful not to base ones arguments on ‘shaky foundations’.. .

    There is a ‘golden thread’ of truth flowing through the scriptures- and we need to seek it ,and follow it.


  7. Marg says:

    John – If there is a golden thread of truth, it should be found in passages that are NOT contested.

    Passages like John 17:3. (I suspect you don’t question that one.)

    Passages like 1 Corinthians 8:6. And Hebrews 1:10-12. And others that I want to introduce, if I get the chance.

    Back to 1 Corinthians 8:6. I know what it says; but what do you think it SHOULD say?

  8. john says:

    Something like “in Christ we are a new creation”
    Christ is the ‘second Adam’ – not the creator of the heavens and the earth – and I’m sure that the ‘Lamb’ which stood under the towering figure of the creator (Revelation 5&6) would be perplexed to be called God Almighty, the creator of the Cosmos. HE was quite specific about who he was and praised Peter for identifying him!
    Marg I owe you an apology for my intolerance the other day- I scorned the theory of perpetual salvation.
    A friend invited me to attend his church, and as I sat, I saw a number of people who I know to be genocidal killers enter the church. To make matters worse these people are planning a murderous rampage as a run up to our next elections. When I queried their attendance I was told that they are ‘under grace’. – once saved always saved.!! No question of repentance.!!
    We’ll see!


  9. john says:

    Sorry, I missed a coiuple of verses you mentioned.

    In John 17v 3 there is a conjunction between God and Christ so we are dealing with two distinct persons. This ties in with the monotheistic tradition carried forward from the Old Testament .

    As I mentioned Hebrews is always difficult for me as I am biased – I tend to regard it as a ‘cut and paste’ summary of various OT scriptures with a messianic dimension added.

    Whatever the case we have a rule which we can apply when dealing with the word “Lord’ and that is
    (i) In the OT it always refers to the Lord God Almighty
    (ii)In the writings of Peter and Paul (a) It refers to Christ except
    (b) except in the quotes from other scriptures (usually shown in
    italicised ‘boxes’)
    (c)except where it is clearly a direct reference to The Creator- and
    this is abundantly clear from the context.
    Of course we don’t even know who the author of Hebrews is . A reference to Timothy 13,23 may suggest that it has some connection to Paul and his associates. Whether it is in fact a ‘letter’ has long been disputed.
    I hope I’m not being arrogant, but after examination, I find not a single verse which proves or even implies a Trinity.

  10. Christian Thinker says:

    Dear Marg and Dale,


    Here are few words from a Christian who is very sympathetic to Clarke’s view of One True God and His two unique divine agents Logos and Holy Spirit. (by expression “divine” I mean a person who had not been created during 6 days of creation but existed before the creation and is kind of a derived or “split” from one God similar to how child is begotten in contrast to how a house or a car is built from preexistent material). I think I have almost embraced Clarke’s view but I am still doing some double checking and revisiting some passages. So please know that you are not alone defending his views here. I encourage you to persist, there is a tremendous potential in his view and how I wish that more Christians would embrace it.

    A little side note on terminology. The term Trinity is freely used by Samuel Clarke as it is simply a generic expression describing three persons in some unique relationships. Some Trinitarians also hold to some concept of tri-unity but not all once we allow place for Clarke’s view and also for now a few 2-nd and 3-rd century believers. I used to be a “triunitarian” but I am now simply Trinitarian in a sense like we can see for example in Mat 28:19 or 2 Cor 13:14. I can confess I believe in Trinity in the sense Clarke describes it (one absolute God + two special divine agents) and yet I am progressively abandoning the belief in triune God (whether social or Latin or other kinds of triunitariamism).

    My conclusion after repeated periods of intense studies is that the best model for understanding the biblical Trinity (in contrast to triunity) is stored for us in Deuteronomy 33:27. There we are reading about one God (absolute transcendent source of everything) who has yet got two arms “attached” to him that predate creation and through which he is acting out his sovereign purposes to glorify himself in salvation and judgment. First arm is Logos/Son (before His incarnation known primarily as Angel of the Lord or the Word that was repeatedly sent to Earth for a sort term missions like we see for example in 1 Sam 3:1 – 11 where the Word from verse 1 is actually temporarily embodied and standing next to Samuel in verse 10 – it is my conviction that this OT background of Word is behind John’s term “Logos”) and second arm is Holy Spirit (which if my studies are correct, was temporarily embodied only once at the occasion of Jesus’s baptism but otherwise he is invisible as the unique Spirit in contrast to Logos which is called Image/form of God and was destined to frequently become visible/embodied and ultimately to permanently assume a human body). This correlates fantastically with passages like Isaiah 63:9 – 10 where we are reading about “angel of God’s presence” and “Holy Spirit” where again both represent Him and act on His behalf to actualize Father’s sovereign purposes. We meet all three of them again and again throughout NT as even a cursory reading of passages like Ephesians 1:1 – 14 will reveal.

    Here is the actual quotation of that relevant passage from Deuteronomy.

    Deuteronomy 33:27 The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms: and he shall thrust out the enemy from before thee; and shall say, Destroy them.


    Dale, thank you for reprinting Clarke’s classic work. It is a treasure full of pearls. Thank you also for your keen analytical work showing weakness of both triune view of God and modalism. Still, I am disappointed that you ended at a position of humanitarian Unitarian. I think it is a case of pendulum swung to other extreme in overreaction to triunitarianism. Let me say it this way, if trinunitarianism is ultra-biblical (=goes beyond Scriptures) that humanitarian Unitarianism is infra-biblical (=it builds its view of Jesus on part of evidence and does not face the full biblical testimony).

    Why I consider humanitarian Unitarianism sub-biblical? Let me give you at least one example per each relevant thematic section.

    First – it is sub-biblical in it is denial of actual personal preexistence of Logos/Son/Image/OnlyBeggoten/Wisdom. Without actual personal preexistence, what shall we do with Angel of the Lord? Is he a mode of one God, the JHVH/Father? I do not see how modalism can even start to explain verses like those mentioned below. Moreover, it is you, Dale, who definitely cured me of modalism and I am so grateful for you excellent analytical work dismantling modalism.

    Exodus 23:20-21 20 ¶ Behold, I send an Angel before thee, to keep thee in the way, and to bring thee into the place which I have prepared. 21 Beware of him, and obey his voice, provoke him not; for he will not pardon your transgressions: for my name is in him.

    Isaiah 63:9 In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them: in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; and he bare them, and carried them all the days of old.

    Here Angel of The Lord and also in many other OT passages is an actual personal heavenly being and not just a thought or idea or a plan for a perfect man coming in future.

    Second – it is sub-biblical in holding to what I would term as “Jesus – simply a man” (“simply a man: here emphasizes his ontology, being an ontological man and nothing more, I am not saying hereby that humanitarian Unitarians would say that he as just a man like any other. Still they claim he is ontologically only a bare man and nothing else at all).

    First a disclaimer – I am still torn back and forth between a two natures view of Christ and monophysitism. Much more home work needs to be done on my side. Still I see a “simple man” view as indefensible. Here is why.

    John 2:24-25 But Jesus did not commit himself unto them, because he knew all men, And needed not that any should testify of man: for he knew what was in man.
    John 6:61 When Jesus knew in himself that his disciples murmured at it, he said unto them, Doth this offend you?

    Bare men simply do not know in and of themselves what other people are thinking. Man as he was created whether before fall or after fall simply does not know all other men. Nor can those verses be explained by invoking mediation of Spirit for those passages explicitly emphasize that this was his ability by himself as incarnate Logos. By this I am not saying that Jesus was never acting through agency of the Spirit, it is not a simple either-or for me. What I claim is that most definitely he has got some abilities that are completely beyond the reach of bare man – there is something heavenly about him to say the least.

    Third – it is sub-biblical in embracing modalistic view of Holy Spirit

    Dale, so far all of humanitarian Unitarians I have encountered are modalists when it comes to Holy Spirit. Does it also apply to you? I am asking as I have yet to discover some straight statement from you on this topic. I think that such a view falters with passages like Romans 8:26 – 27.

    Romans 8:26-27 26 Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. 27 And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God.

    Here Spirit intercedes for believers in a very specific way; details of his activity when taken together definitely point to full personhood and dismantle modalism.

    A. He is interceding in a way parallel to how Jesus intercedes for us in verse 34.
    B. His intercession supplies what is lacking in our prayers. Can someone less than person ever be of any help to us to supply our lacks when praying?
    C. His groanings cannot be uttered (two options to understand this would be that groanings are so loud we could never utter them or that our minds would not have capacity to follow and repeat after him should we ever be allowed to hear). Yes, the created realm under the curse groans in verse 22 but it is a far cry from Spirit’s groanings that are described in a such a way that full personhood is most natural and I would say only meaningful explanation of who he is.
    D. Moreover he is doing this according to in compliance with someone else than himself, namely God the Father as verse 27 shows. Thus Spirit DOES NOT equal God.

    If words have any meaning, then I believe this passage alone results in collapse of modalistic view of Holy Spirit.

    Please allow for one more passage from Revelation.

    Revelation 1:4 John to the seven churches which are in Asia: Grace be unto you, and peace, from him which is, and which was, and which is to come; and from the seven Spirits which are before his throne.

    In your recent series of posts “Worship and Revelation 4-5“, you have presented a cogent case on why the Jesus is not God the Father (they are not numerically identical). Provided your analysis is correct, than it equally demolishes modalistic views of Spirit for nowhere in Revelation is he equated with God the Father (or with Son who shares in Father’s rule sitting on His throne). Father is sitting on throne but Spirit is located in front of throne (I believe this points to his position as willing servant, second Agent who is always at disposal of Father and/or Son to perform their will).

    I understand this is a somewhat long comment but it is a culmination of many thoughts and of a longtime desire to contribute with my bit into discussions here.

    Rejoicing that the Son of God paid for my sins,
    Christian Thinker

  11. Marg says:

    John, you suggest that what Paul should have said:

    Something like “in Christ we are a new creation”

    … instead of “One Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom come all things.”

    Now please explain WHY Paul would say something so completely different from what he SHOULD have said. Especially when what he DID say fits his argument perfectly.

    Remember that 1 Corinthians 8:6 is not a disputed text, and what it says is easy too understand. Not only that, AS IT IS WRITTEN there are two parallel clauses which make perfect sense, and which make the basis for his argument that the gods and lords of this world are worthless. Nothing comes FROM them, nothing comes THROUGH them.

    And John – comment #9 contains only what we have already agreed on several times. None of it has any bearing on the veracity of 1 Corinthians 8:6.

  12. Marg says:

    (i) There are TWO descriptions regarding the fate of Judas Iscariot -one in Acts 1v18 and the other in Matthew 27v5 etc. The only thing these two accounts have in common is the name of the field and the fact that the money used was the ‘betrayal’ money.

    I would like to suggest that these two passages are not contradictory. In fact, they go together very well.

    – Judas hanged himself on the day Christ was crucified.
    – Acts 1:18 occurs at least 6 weeks later.
    – Judas was hanging in a semitropical land during the early part of summer. How long would it take for the flesh to rot? And what part would birds and insects have to play in the deterioration of the body?
    – Sooner or later, the body would fall, and it would not be surprising if it fell apart.

    Actually, studying ALL of the relevant passages is fascinating.
    A more detailed account is (I hope) forthcoming.

    By the way, if I thought the New testament were as unreliable as Comment # 6 suggests, I woud never quote it at all.

  13. john says:

    The human mind is capable of infinite rationalisation!
    I’m impressed!
    There are plenty more examples of the same scenes being described differently by different gospels.
    My evangelical friends tell me that this ‘proves’ that the scriptures were not fabricated to tell the same story.
    Ok – but the scriptures are not necessarily to be taken literally.
    The Hebrews are mature enough to understand that the truth resides at a ‘higher’ level – and use ‘midrash’ to understand inconsistencies in the OT.
    The Catholics do not have a problem with inconsistency since they recommend that you read their ‘official’ versions
    We Protestants have a difficult job – and all we can do is try to keep things simple . .as Earasmus suggests. Certainty is an illusion!


  14. john says:

    Christian Thinker
    Time did not permit me to get a full grasp of your thesis – but for some reason I stopped reading at your reference to Romans 8 verses 26 and 27.

    You mentioned that these verses ‘definitely point to personhood’ of the Holy Spirit.

    We are entering the deep waters of the literality of scriptures and the issue of multiple Greek texts.

    The NAB Bible translates verse 27 as follows
    ” And the one who searches human hearts knows what is the intention of the spirit, because IT intercedes for the holy ones according to God’s will’

    I took a look at the Greek English Interlinear Bible on the Internet at “Scriptures4 all” and found
    “tou pneumatos hoti kata’ – and ‘hoti’ is translated as “that’.

    Yes there are Greek texts which justify your assertion but others do not.

    But what does a ‘common sense’ investigation of the HS in the scriptures tell us?

    (i) Many, many verses tell us that IT is a gift from God
    (ii) The word ‘spirit’ is derived from the Greek word ‘pneuma’ which means ‘wind’ or ‘breath’
    (iii) Most analogies refer to the behaviour of gases or liquids
    We are said to be
    -filled with it
    -overflowing with it
    -anointed with it
    – it dwells within us.
    (iv)It was common for early writers to personnify important things such as The Law, Justice, Truth etc.
    without suggesting that these were persons.(selves)

    People continue to insist on seeing what they want to see – and perform gymnastics to justify it.

    Everyone is ‘chasing their tails’ and will do so till Kingdom come – because there are NO Trinitarian proof texts – never were- and never will be. And there will never be a model which ‘rationalises’ the Holy Trinity – because it does not exist!
    Every Blessing


  15. Marg says:

    Christian Thinker, I like your attitude. You are a learner, and a careful one. You are willing to look at evidence.
    So was Samuel Clarke, and he presented his evidence well.

    The word “spirit” is used in a lot of different ways, to be sure. But there are places where only a self, other than God or his Son, will fit.

    Matthew 28:19, for instance. It’s difficult to imagine Jesus asking his disciples to baptise people in the name of two living selves and an inanimate thing.

    The same is true of 2 Corinthians 13:14.

    And I agree with what you say about the Spirit’s role in Romans 8. John’s generalizations about the New Testament (which he considers to be unreliable anyway) don’t really explain anything about Romans 8.

  16. john says:

    Thanks for that!
    So how do you reconcile the use of the Greek word ‘pneuma’ with your thinking.?
    To be sure Romans 8 is all about the power of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers -but as a person?
    The Holy Spirit is power from on high, the power by which God acts in his creation – and we (believers) are filled with it.
    You say you find it hard to imagine how Christ could ask his disciples to baptise in the name of two living selves and an inanimate thing. THe HS is NOT an inaminate thing – it is more alive than living beings since it is God in action.
    I assume your comments regarding the question of Judas in an earlier post were frivolous.
    If not, try placing the two accounts side by side and comparing them. Ask a few basic questions – who bought the land? etc. Examine the cross references and ask yourself if they make sense!
    Literalism is a desperate search for a certainty which does not exist.

  17. Christian Thinker says:

    Hello Marg and John,

    (In this post HU stands for humanitarian Unitarian.)


    Thank you for your encouraging comments. The study of Scriptures brings me constant joy and I simply want to know the truth as God revealed it. I also concur with your comments about further passages which strongly point to real personhood of the Holy Spirit. I would also love to add John 14 – 16 to our discussion as there also the personhood of Holy Spirit shines.

    There he is the one who will come as a substitute for Jesus. Christ goes away to heaven but another Comforter is SENT FROM THE FATHER in place of Christ to accompany believers until Jesus returns. The scheme makes perfect sense if one person substitutes for another but collapse once the Sprit is presupposed to be mode of God or something along the lines of “God in action”.

    For example, let’s quote the text that talks about Spirit being send in a manner like Son was sent.

    John 14:26 But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.

    Will “God in action” be sent into this world to substitute for Jesus? (@John, how about some exegesis of John 14 – 16 and not presuppositions.)


    Comment 13:

    In your comment number 13 you claim that “Certainty is an illusion!”. Well, how strange and inconsistent that you are so certain about your own claims. I recommend that you first become skeptical about your own views and not question the inspired word of God which was given to us as a pure truth like the Lord Jesus said in John 17:17.

    Comment 16:

    Why should Greek “pneuma” be of any trouble for claim that Holy Spirit is an ontological person/self? Angels are called “pneuma” in Hebrews 1:14 and yet I understand that even you would agree that angelic beings are a real ontological selves.

    As far as the fact that Holy Spirit is sometimes described as a power in Scriptures, this can easily be reconciled with his personhood. Every person has got some attributes with “power” being among them.

    He is active and full of life and power and whenever He acts, one of the ways by which He is known is by the powerful effects of His activity. Thus, as a shorthand expression, he is called “power of God”.

    Moreover, in biblical language there is nothing strange when actual ontological persons are sometimes called a power or God’s power because of the effects/outputs (whether perceived or real) of their activity. Here is an example.

    Acts 8:10 To whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, This man is the great power of God.

    People in Samaria believed God is working through the personal agency of Simon the magi. This fits wonderfully with a concept that God is working through the personal agency of Holy Spirit (His second divine Agent), thus in this sense the Holy Spirit in power from high.

    Further, is not Christ described as God’s power and wisdom in texts like this?

    1 Corinthians 1:24 But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.

    Yet HU have no problem to confess real ontological personhood of Christ once he is conceived despite texts like this. Then why all the fuss about texts where Holy Spirit is described in a similar manner?

    John, your posts are an example of what makes interaction with HU often so frustrating. You first work with partial evidence and then extrapolate into conclusions that are in conflict with other passages (like those mentioned by Marg or me). Then no matter how much counter evidence is presented by non-HU, the fixed interpretative grid always wins. One can quickly see the same effect with question of Jesus’s preexistence. I have recently encountered a statement on the web to the effect that HU position on non-preexistence of Jesus is actually beyond challenge. Even if Nicene Creed was part of apostolic letters (I am writing only for the sake of argument), it would be brushed away with claim – yes, he preexisted but only in the mind of God. Thus most unnatural and convoluted readings of plenty of passages always win because dogma is already there before the texts get any chance to speak. It is simply a mirror opposite of what triniunitarians usually do with texts showing Christ’s subordination to the Father or derivative status of His being – they just always repeat the mantra “but we know from other texts…” like you do when it comes to the issue of Holy Spirit. The evidence from Romans 8 is strong enough to challenge your assumptions but you simply persist to stick to limited selection of other texts. What about first collecting and counting all the evidence and only then presenting some conclusions and definitions.

    John, I have one simple question for you and I think Dale will like it as it is him who taught me to ask this question.

    Is Holy Spirit numerically identical to God the Father or not?

    I think this may be the interesting (and I would also say crucial) question where to focus our further debate. At least, this would be my suggestion for so far I have only encountered evasion when it comes to interaction with HU on this point.

    I now have a couple of busy days before me so I must take a break but I will follow all the posts.

    I wish nice weekend to everyone who is following this thread.

    Christian Thinker

  18. Marg says:

    Dale – I have just been rereading your introduction to Clarke’s book, and I want to copy your clear, easy to understand summary of Clarke’s “trinitarian theory”:

    What sort of trinitarian theory is espoused herein?

    Without the jargon, Clarke holds that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three divine persons, that is, intelligent agents. They enjoy all of the same perfections except for self-existence, which only the Father has. Thus, the Son and Holy Spirit in some sense exist because of the Father. As he holds there’s no reason to think that the Father ever created them, Clarke holds that the three have always so existed.

    The best label for Clarke’s sort of trinitarian theory is “subordinationist” …

    To my imperfect mind, that sounds perfect.

  19. Marg says:

    Christian Thinker: Until recently I could not have quoted John 17:5 as evidence of Christ’s preexistence, precisely because of the claim, “yes, he preexisted but only in the mind of God.”
    That claim, I am now aware, is based on what you have already identified as “partial evidence”.

    It is true that some Greek prepositions can have more than one meaning. But those prepositions are not at all vague. The precise meaning is indicated by the context – specifically, the CASE with which it is used.

    In John 17:5, Jesus says to his Father, “And now glorify me, Father, with thyself, with the glory that I had with thee before the world was.”

    with thyself = para seauto
    with thee = para soi
    “Thyself” and “thee” both refer to the Father.

    Jesus is asking to be glorified with (para) the Father …
    … the same glory that he had with (para) the Father before the world was.

    The factor that governs the precise meaning of para is the CASE that it is used with. Both seauto and soi are in the DATIVE case, meaning that in both clauses, the glory was something he had BESIDE or NEAR the Father – not just in the Father’s mind. The clauses are parallel in meaning.

    And what was the glory that he always had with his Father?

    The glory of absolute, glad obedience – his delight in doing the will of his God (Psalm 40:8).

    That same glory has now been earned in the hostile environment of an unbelieving world. It is about to be tested even further in Gethsemane. But his love for his Father is such that he can ask to be restored to that glory, WITH (beside/near to/in the presence of) his Father.

    The two clauses are parallel in meaning. If the first clause refers to the actual presence of God, then so does the second. The Son is returning to God, from whom he came (John 13:3).

  20. john says:

    Christian Thinker.
    It will take me some time to respond to you in detail but in the meantime I would like to ask you a question.
    If the Bible is the literal, inspired word of God, which version are you referring to?
    NIV? KJV,? NAB?

    Best Wishes

  21. john says:


    I accept your comments regarding ‘context’ and ‘case’
    However I am fairly certain that the portion of John 17v5 on which you focus is
    Case : Ablative (NOT dative)
    Tense : Imperfect

    So Christ is saying that EITHER – He had glory with God as someone who literally existed from before
    the world was
    OR -that God had forseen Christs self-sacrifice and his consequent
    glorification — from the very beginning.

    Either outcome would be grammatically correct.

    Your comment on Psalm 40v 8 is intriguing.
    Obviously the events described refer to King Davids era – although the unknown author of Hebrews quotes the somewhat different Greek version and interprets it as Christs self-oblation.

    The footnotes to Hebrews Chapter 10 in the NAB bible read in part
    Hebrews 10v 5-7
    “…a passage from Psalm 40 vv 7-9 is placed in the mouth of the Son at his incarnation”
    Hebrews 10 v8
    “Sacrifices and offerings, holocausts and sin offerings, these 4 terms taken from the preceeding passage of Psalm 40 with the first two changed to plural forms)

    We agree with John (13v3) that Christ came from God – and that he retrurned to God – the only difference we have is in the question of his pre-existence as a person/self.

  22. john says:

    Christian Thinker

    You asked the question
    “Is the Holy Spirit numerically identical to God’ the Father”?

    Trinitarians describe God as three persons sharing one substance -one of whom is the H.S.
    so by this definition the HS is NOT numerically identical to ‘God the Father’ (a Trinitarian term)

    Unitarians define God as the Father so again, the HS is not numerically equal to God since it is “God in action in his creation
    (Samuel Clark has done some good work on this aspect of the Trinity – as various posts attest)

    The Holy spirit is known by various names -the Spirit of Truth, the Comforter, the helper.

    The Holy Spirit is the result of God pouring out some of his Spirit. (Acts 2 verses 17 and 33)

    It pervades his creation

    It reveals Christ -God’s Son. (John 15v26). It raised Christ from the dead( Romans 8v11)

    Christ has revealed it to believers whom – it comforts
    -it guides
    -it teaches
    -it gives us life
    -it dwells within us(Romans 8v11)

    Have you never wondered why so many verses link ‘Father and Son – yet the three elements of the so-called Trinity are never mentioned together except in a couple of verses where they do not imply a Trinity.

    Have you managed to find a single verse which indicates that the HS has a relationship with God?

    Are you not perplexed that the thousands of converts going out into the world knew nothing of the personhood of the Holy Spirit.
    The book of Acts describes Pentecost. Is this the arrival of the spirit that of a ‘person’

    Acts also describes people having hands laid on them and the Holy Spirit being received by the other party.

    Acts also shows people being filled with the spirit.

    C.T. -you are quite ‘free’ with your comments regarding HUs – but you are like most people of any persuation – you see what you want to see! Any stage illusionist will confirm that this is a feature of our humanity

    You imply that I am arrogant – forgive me, but I do not have all the answers.
    I have stated that ‘certainty’ is elusive – and even more important it seems to be directly correlated with arrogance – and a departure from the very Christian virtues we espouse..

    You insinuate that I am ignoring verses which state quite clearly that God’s word is the truth.

    I too am fanatical about truth – but I do not accept the Bible as Gods literal word.
    I accept that it contains God’s word – but it also contains numerous contradictions due to its human authorship.


  23. Marg says:

    However I am fairly certain that the portion of John 17v5 on which you focus is
    Case : Ablative (NOT dative)

    What is the SOURCE of this information? It does not agree with the analytical lexicon that I have, but I’m willing to take a look.

    In any case, what seems clear is that the two clauses are parallel in structure and in meaning. If one refers to the actual presence of God, then so does the other. Putting a possible different meaning on the second is (it seems to me) wishful thinking.

    It doesn’t make much difference, of course, if nothing in the Bible can be taken as certain. But if that’s so, I can’t imagine why we bother to quote it at all.

  24. john says:

    Intransitive verbs often take the dative case. We do not have one here.
    The ablative case is associated with words like “by’ or ‘with’
    The parallels which you quote do not necessarily denote parallel interpretations – and could lead to absurdities if extrapolated.
    You seem to deride my ‘anti-literalism’ and imply what ‘literalists’ do the whole time – i.e. “if you don’t trust X what can you trust”?
    And herein lies the great difficulty. One has to use ones brain – and be sure that one is not ‘throwing the baby out with the bathwater’!
    I was raised as a literalist – but noted the inconsistencies in the scriptures. One day someone said to me (words to the effect that) ” ..therefore you are either being disingenuous or naively stupid”
    I was stung by this remark -but it did highlight the fact that I could not hang on to literalism.

    Literalism is very important to evangelicals since it has everything to do with ‘authority’ – and I accept that the loss of authority of the church has something to do with the state of Western sccieties.

    However, truth is more important than authority!

  25. Marg says:

    John – What I asked you for is your SOURCE for saying that the words seauto and soi are in the ablative case. According to my analytical Greek lexicon, they are in the dative case. No other option is given.

    And herein lies the great difficulty. One has to use ones brain – and be sure that one is not ‘throwing the baby out with the bathwater’!

    The real problem is – whose “brain” gets to decide which is the baby and which is just bathwater?

    My objection to this attitude is that it leaves every “brain” free to reject whatever it doesn’t like and defend with absolutely certainty whatever it DOES like. That may satisfy you, but it does not satisfy me.

    One thing we agree on: there are NO passages in the Bible which suggest that God is tri-une.

    My experience is that the Bible is remarkably consistent – if we let it mean what it says. That gives me great confidence in Samuel Clarke’s trinitarian theory, as summarized above.

  26. john says:

    I agree with you to the extent that I have found a surprising amount of consistency within the Bible .
    It could be because of the original selection methodology -i.e. deciding what was canon … but it often surprises me.
    You may have noticed that I asked Victor , in a parallel post “if the Bible is God’s literal word – which version”?
    That is not an ‘idle’ question. If two documents differ by even one word, they are not the same – as any lawyer will attest.
    You may have seen the great ‘Textus Receptus’ debate which raged some years ago. (see Wikipedia) The TR is now considered to be seriously flawed and unreliable – yet it was the basis for the KJV !!!!
    I hesitate to quote Greek texts which are derived from TR since knowledgable people will immediately ‘pounce’ on me.
    The prefaces to editions like RSV include comments like ” the text contains so many serious errors that we have been forced to address them” (or words to that effect.)

    The acknowledgement of this led people like Erasmus to conclude that certainty was an illusion. When he translated the middle ages bIble direct from the Greek, he found literally thousands of differences with the Latin Volgate which had been the ‘official’ Bible for almost 1200 years. People were burnt for challenging it!!!

    Marg, I have always lived in turbulent and sometimes terrifying times (even today) but I have not had anything in my life which has caused me so much ‘agony’ as the questions of literalism and the Doctrine of the Trinity.

    I find people who I regard as ‘thinking people’ ‘hiding’ within churches -too afraid to air their views- because
    people who think they are guarding God’s word – will tear them apart if they ‘come out of the closet”
    And herein lies the problem- the closer people think they are to ‘certainty’ the further they are from Christian virtues !!

    On the question of linguistics, the words “to’ and ‘for’ are dative, the words ‘by’ and ‘with’ are ablative.
    In John 17v5 the word ‘para’ is the key to interpretation.

    It doesnt change the fact that ‘para’ can be with someone in mind or in spirit.

    Consider the scripture about being ‘slain from the foundations of the earth’ – is this a pre-existent crucifiction.?

    As Always

  27. john says:

    I consultated a Greek cleric today on the subject of ‘case’.
    He says that ‘para’ is always ablative – and because of this ‘seauto’ is (by extension) ablative.
    Best wishes

  28. Marg says:

    On the question of linguistics, the words “to’ and ‘for’ are dative, the words ‘by’ and ‘with’ are ablative…
    I consultated a Greek cleric today on the subject of ‘case’.
    He says that ‘para’ is always ablative – and because of this ‘seauto’ is (by extension) ablative.

    ALL of the above shows an ignorance of grammar – both English AND Greek – that needs to be addressed, for the sake of others who might be deluded by it.

    1. The words to, for, by, with are all PREPOSITIONS.

    2. “Case” has NOTHING to do with prepositions. “Case” has to do with nouns or pronouns, words that CAN be used as OBJECTS of prepositions (among other things).

    3. The preposition para indicates close proximity, with modifications corresponding to the case with which it is joined. It can be used with the GENITIVE case, the ACCCUSATIVE case, or the DATIVE case.
    There is NO mention of the ablative case. And my SOURCE is the Greek-English Lexicon by Bauer, Arndt and Gingrich – not a so-called “Greek cleric”.

    4. When the object of para is in the dative case, it indicates that something is in the immediate vicinity of the object, or beside the object.

    5. Both seauto and soi are in the DATIVE case. (Wigram’s Analytical Greek Lexicon).
    Therefore, para means “beside,” or “near to”. In BOTH phrases, the word implies the actual presence of God.

    John – you really need to learn English grammar before manufacturing Greek grammar that makes no sense.

  29. john says:

    I take your points.
    (i) I accept that the object of ‘para’ is in the dative case
    Which means that ‘para’ denotes ‘location’

    If you consult Thaylers Greek Lexicon -you will find that it states

    ” With the dative ,’para’ indicates something done either in the immediate vicinty of someone
    metaphorically in his mind”
    Quotes – Winers Grammar 48d, p394f (369)
    — Buttmann 339 (291f)

    You may have wondered at the use of the word ‘had’ – Greek “eichon’ in John 17v5
    It is past tense, imperfect, indicative
    It can mean something like ” I used to have’ or ‘I was having’

    Note that it does NOT say “I have’ – i.e.present tense.

    Does this suggest some sort of ‘double-glorification’ ?

    Could it mean that Christ was asking that something which was in God’s mind as a plan, should now be implemented.?

    Or is it something else?

    Best Wishes

  30. Marg says:

    (i) I accept that the object of ‘para’ is in the dative case
    Which means that ‘para’ denotes ‘location’

    If you consult Thaylers Greek Lexicon -you will find that it states

    ” With the dative ,’para’ indicates something done either in the immediate vicinty of someone
    metaphorically in his mind”
    Quotes – Winers Grammar 48d, p394f (369)
    — Buttmann 339 (291f)

    Way to go, John.

    I have Thayer’s Lexicon, so I have now studied the different sub-headings that are listed under the above summary.

    More importantly, I have looked up all the references given as examples in each case. They are quite revealing. Take a look.

    More later. And thank you. I am learning. That’s what I want.

  31. john says:

    Hi Marg
    I must apologise for not replying more promptly to your post.
    You will have read my comments/explanation to yourself and Victor Porton on a post sent a few minutes ago.
    I must say that my answer from Athens relating to my specific question regarding John 17v5 was not satisfactory since it merely admitted that this verse posed linguistic problems and that my contact should “steer me away from Unitarianism by all means”!!
    . There followed a note to me regarding ‘mystery” and the insights of St. Augustine in this regard.
    This confirms my suspicion that the doctrine is not scriptural.!!!
    In frustration I searched the internet for anything that might help me – I didn’t find your Lexicon but I did find a site stiled “para +dative” which suggested that this combination exists in only two NT scriptures. It did not specify the second (to John 17v5)
    It did reveal that this verse was ‘controversial’.
    I spoke to a ‘modern-day’ Geeek and asked him to translate a thinly disguised equivalent situation to that described in John 17v5 and was told that this was ‘difficult”

    Certainly it is difficult to provide examples or parallels to that verse in real life – but surely it should not be impossible!?

    I would be interested to see the verses you have un-earthed from the Lexicon!!!

  32. john says:

    I found an interesting web-site stiled ”” and you will find therein a discussion called
    “para+dative” (careful regarding spaces around the +)
    If you scroll down you will see a sub-heading called ” = in the sight of”.
    It cites a number of ‘non-physical’ examples
    For example Matthew 6 v1
    “you have no reward with your Father in heaven”
    para to patri “to’ being dative masculine singular
    This favour is not literal- it is in God’s mind

    Or see Luke 1v30
    “you have found favour with God”
    para to theo “to” again being dative masculine singular
    Again this favour is in Gods mind

    The paper cites more such examples.

    What do you think.?

  33. Marg says:

    That is exactly what I am finding, John. “Favor” and “reward” are obviously not the kind of things that are located in space beside someone. They belong in the list of ” = in the sight of”.

    On the other hand, when the passage speaks of a person being beside another person (para+dative), it refers to spatial proximity.

    I have already looked up and copied (on scrap paper) a list of ALL the examples given in my two lexicons. I hope to type them all soon, so that the clarity given to each passage by the CONTEXT will be easily discerned.

    And thank you for what has turned into a worthwhile study. It seems like a lot of work on one word, but it is worth it, I think. We shouldn’t have to spend so long understanding it the next time we meet it.

  34. Marg says:

    The lexicons agree that para with the dative denotes nearness – either literally or in the mind. Bauer/Arndt/Gingrich begins with those two main divisions: literal and figurative. Then, within each division, similar examples are grouped together. That is a great help.

    A. Used literally:
    John 19:25 – there stood by (para) the cross of Jesus …
    Luke 9:47 – he [Jesus] had him [the child] stand by (para) his side

    Acts 9:43 & 10:6 – Peter is lodged with (para) Simon, the tanner
    Acts 21:16 – Mnason … with (para) whom we should lodge.

    John 1:39(40) – they saw where he stayed and abode with (para) him that day.
    John 4:40 – The Samaritans asked him to stay with (para) them
    [Similarly, Acts 18:3, 18:20)
    Luke 11:37 – A Pharisee asked Jesus if he would come and dine with (para) him.
    Luke 19:7 – [Jesus] has gone in to stay with (para) a sinful man.

    John 14:25 – the Holy Spirit abides with (para) you and will be in you… that one will teach you all things and remind you of all I told you.

    John 8:38 – … what I have seen with (para) my Father, that I speak
    John 17:5 – … glory I had with (para) you before the world was.

    Colossians 4:16 – … whenever this epistle is read before (para) you

    Matthew 22:25 – … seven brothers were with (para) us
    Matthew 28:15 – … this was spread among (para) the Jews
    Revelation 2:13 – … Antipas was killed alongside (para) you

    You will notice that John 8:38 and 17:5 fit the pattern and are included in the list.

    The passages where para is used figuratively are different, as your two examples (Comment # 32) have already indicated. But I want to copy the 20 examples given in the BAG Lexicon anyway, because seeing them all together is impressive.

    But that will have to wait.

    Now I want to read Dale’s last post – with which I expect to agree completely.

  35. Marg says:

    Examples of para+dative …

    B. Used figuratively:
    Romans 2:13 – … not the hearers of the law are just with (para) God but the doers.
    1 Corinthians 3:19 – The wisdom of this world is foolishness with (para) God.
    Galatians 3:11 – … by the law is no one justified before (para) God.
    2 Thessalonians 1:6 – … it a just thing with (para) God to repay …
    James 1:27 – Pure and undefiled religion before (para) God is …
    2 Peter 3:8 – … one day with (para) the Lord is as a thousand years.

    Acts 26:8 – Why is it judged unbelievable with (para) you if God raises the dead?

    Luke 1:30 – … you have found favor with (para) God
    Luke 2:52 – Jesus grew in wisdom and stature and favor with (para) God and men.

    Matthew 19:26 – … with (para) God all things are possible.
    Mark 10:27 – … all things are possible with (para) God.
    Luke 1:37 – … nothing is impossible with (para) God.
    Luke 18:27 – … things impossible with (para) men are possible with (para) God.

    Romans 2:11 & Ephesians 6:9 – There is no respect of persons with (para) God.
    Romans 9:14 – Is there unrighteousness with (para) God?
    James 1:17 – … the Father … with (para) whom there is no variation

    Conclusion: When para is used figuratively, the context leaves no doubt. But when a person is said to be with another person (para+dative), it refers to a literal nearness.

    Therefore, when Jesus spoke of the glory he had with (para) the Father before the world was, he was talking about the actual presence of God (John 17:5).

    By the way, I enjoyed Sir Anthony’s message, and Dale’s addition to it.

  36. john says:

    Hi Marg
    Sorry about the inordinate delay in reverting to you!
    Someone severed our fibre-optic ‘lifeline’ in Mozambique and the whole interior was blacked out until today.!
    You made many good points and I will have to think carefully about them.
    One thing that came to mind was “What does God look like”? “Is it possible to be alongside him”?
    If yes, in what sense? I know there have been debates on the subjects of anthro-morphism but most people don’t believe HE has arms, legs, wings etc.
    Of course God is unknowable and we just don’t know.
    Isaac Newton made an effort-describing God looking over his creation, immersong himself in it, revelling in it.. awesome.!!
    I was interested in two points the contributor to ‘’ made
    (i) The concept of “throneroom language”
    (ii) The use of “meta + genitive”

    As you said, there is some good stuff being debated elsewhere – so I’ll revert in the not too distant future.

    Every Blessing

  37. Marg says:

    Good point, John. I don’t know the answer. But I am satisfied to believe that Jesus knew, even though I don’t.

    Just as a side issue – someone sent me a link to a marvellous “TED talk” by Alexander Tsiaris recorded in 2010. It includes a segment of a project called From Conception to Birth. If you haven’t already seen it, you should. It is awesome.

    And if something so common should be so unimaginable, we shouldn’t be surprised if there are things about the Creator that we don’t understand.

    (If that link doesn’t work, I’ll give you the url.)

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