McLatchie argues that Acts is “trinitarian”
Is Peter’s message in Acts 2 “trinitarian”?
Is Peter’s message in Acts 2 “trinitarian”?
Unfortunately, it is not well-argued.
Tuggy’s argument fails for a number of reasons. For one thing, Peter’s sermon in Acts 2 also makes no mention of Christ’s death being an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Extending Tuggy’s logic further, therefore, would require also abandoning that doctrine as definitional to the gospel.
I assume he means here something like a substitutional theory of atonement. That’s right, I don’t think anyone has to believe that in order to be saved. A person doesn’t have to believe any developed theory about the mechanics of forgiveness, i.e. a theological atonement theory, in order to be saved. That is as it should be. All Peter tells them in Acts 2, is if they repent and get baptized, they’ll be forgiven.
The second problem is that, while Peter’s sermon (being addressed to a Jewish audience) does not use the philosophical categories that would be developed later to convey the idea of the Trinity, Peter’s sermon is thoroughly Trinitarian.
Here Mr. McLatchie introduces a red herring, a distraction. The use of “philosophical categories” (i.e. terms) is irrelevant. I would count it here if in any way, the tripersonal God were mentioned as such, or the “deity of Christ” or the two natures of Jesus were taught. The terms needn’t have time-traveled back from Constantinople (381) or Chalcedon (451). Any sort of explicit statement or clear implication would do.
Unfortunately, Mr. McLatchie also introduces a weasel word here, on which the rest of his piece depends: “trinitarian.”
He asserts that Peter’s first sermon here is thoroughly “trinitarian.” In the first sense, this is patently false. In the second sense, it is obviously true. This is how weasel-words work. The hope is that you’ll agree to the obvious truth, and then not notice when we switch to the (at best) controversial claim. In my new book, I have a whole chapter on these two uses of “Trinity” and “trinitarian” and the confusion these cause. I suggest there that we call the first (the triune God of catholic orthodoxy) the Trinity and the second (those three, however understood) the triad. Historically, the second use of “Trinity” preceded the first by about two hundred years!
Next, McLatchie serves up an example of the fulfillment fallacy. The argument is:
Note the vast gap between 1 and 2 and the conclusion 3. The argument is invalid; 3 doesn’t follow from 1 and 2. 1 and 2 could be true while 3 is false in this way: Yahweh pours out his spirit through (the risen and exalted) Jesus. 1 and 2 are merely compatible with the identity of God and Jesus (claim 3). But 1 and 2 do nothing to support 3.
Worse, 3 is incompatible with every Christian’s belief that there are differences between God and Jesus. It’s not even a conclusion which a trinitarian should want! Do you see why?
Amazingly, Mr. McLatchie celebrates having (he thinks) proved the numerical identity of Yahweh and Jesus, and then immediately mentions that they qualitatively differ!
Thus, the one who has poured out the Spirit, according to Peter, is Jesus Himself! Peter thus has identified Jesus as none other than Yahweh. Jesus, moreover, is clearly distinct from the Father, since Peter says that He has “received from the Father.”
Right Jesus received the spirit from the Father. (Acts 2:33) The Father didn’t receive his spirit from anyone. It follows that they are numerically two. Mr. McLatchie needs to learn this self-evident truth, the indiscernibility of identicals, and then theologize (and interpret scripture) accordingly.
He follows with another fulfillment fallacy; these are all the rage these days in the evangelical apologetics crowd, despite how obviously wrong-headed they are.
Thus, while Peter has quoted Joel as saying that all who call upon the name of Yahweh will be saved, he goes on to instruct the people to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.
But of course, in this new covenant, you return to God, you get reconciled to God through Jesus. This doesn’t imply that God just is Jesus, and vice-versa. Rather, the whole scheme presupposes that God and Jesus are two, since the man Jesus is a mediator (1 Timothy 2:5) between us and God, functioning like a high priest (Hebrews).
Let’s step back and look and what our apologist is doing. No one in Acts 2 draws the conclusion that Jesus is God – not Peter, not anyone in his audience, not the narrator – no one. But Mr. McLatchie is arguing that surely, this is what Luke is asserting. He is urging a hidden message, an esoteric message, which can be ferreted out by clever arguments, but which is never said or clearly implied in the book.
Sorry, man, you’re just reading your evangelical tradition into the text. Your method of reasoning, the fulfillment fallacy, is demonstrably fallacious, and as I’ve shown elsewhere, if consistently applied would lead to silly New Testament interpretations.
Mr. McLatchie then expends quite a few words trying to derive “the deity of the Holy Spirit” from Acts as a whole. But that’s not to the point. The personality and “deity” of God’s spirit is no part of the content of Peter’s message in Acts 2, which is what my post was about. As I continue my series, I’ll see what else Luke seems to put forth as essential to being saved, and whether these traditional claims about the Holy Spirit figure in.
Finally, though, we should note that you don’t show that an author is trinitarian merely by showing that he believes these three to be divine: Father, Son, Spirit. Plenty of unitarians have believed that, famously John Biddle and Samuel Clarke, to pass over many ancient examples. They just identify Yahweh, the one true God, with the Father alone, the Son and Spirit being divine in lesser senses. To be a trinitarian, you must have those three being equally divine, and you must identify the one God with the Trinity, so that those three are some sense “in” God.