I’ve been meaning to get back to Ben for a while, to continue our dialogue on biblical monotheism and related matters. (Previous post.)
In his reply, Ben says,
I gather that Bauckham affirms (in different words) that monotheism involves,
(1) A strict partitioning of reality into divine and not-divine portions; and
(2) The unity of the divine portion of reality, i.e. the divine reality acts as one agent or one unified agency.
Dale says that I am thereby affirming the existence of three GODs, where a god is a somewhat divine person and a GOD is a supreme god, or a maximally divine person. This criticism doesn’t really bother me for two reasons. First, Dale seems to reject (1) with his terminology (which I have paraphrased). He seems to regard divinity as a gradient scale. Things can be more or less divine.
Can something be more or less divine? To be divine is just to be a god, just as to be human is to be a human. I claim that there are two distinct concepts of divinity, one less specific, one more.
The less specific one, which I claim is found in all cultures, and which is expressed by many different terms in different languages, is what I call the concept of a god – a self which is much-greater-than-normal-humans, and which can act despite nature’s normal ways (i.e. supernaturally). Might this come in degrees? I don’t see why not. Consider the idea that one angel is greater in knowledge and power than another angel; the first could be said to be “more divine than” the second.
The other concept I label the concept of a GOD. A GOD is by definition also a god. GODhood includes being ultimate – not existing because of anything else, and being the ultimate source of all other things. Because of this, I think that GODhood doesn’t come in degrees. However, for all I know, some properties entailed by GODhood – by being-a-GOD – may be shareable. For example, could not the all-powerful God (who is a GOD, and the only GOD) make someone morally perfect, or all-knowing, or omnipresent? For all I know, yes. But this wouldn’t make that person to some degree a GOD. He’d just wouldn’t be a GOD at all, despite have some feature(s) in common with the one GOD. Being ultimate is necessary to being a GOD.
In sum, if you ask does divinity come in degrees, I will ask you which concept you have in mind. If godhood, then, yes. If GODhood, then no. I think both answers are trivially true, just matters of definition.
To summarize, I’m not bothered by Dale’s concern that I affirm three GODs because all I’m doing is affirming three divine persons who together act as one and exhaust the divine category. If Bauckham’s monotheism is the correct one, then I think I’m moving in the right direction.
On the face of it, the Bible teaches multiple gods, simply by teaching the existence of angels and demons, and the divine council of many OT texts. We can note the OT usage of elohim here, translatable (depending on context) as either God or gods. Of course, later OT books emphasize monotheism, the uniqueness of the god YHWH. He alone created, is provident, is morally perfect – and this is assumed to not be an accident, or something that could fail to be. In my view, though those texts don’t have the conceptual and terminological resources to express it fully, they’re implying that YHWH is a GOD. And a GOD is by definition unique. Note that one way later OT and then NT texts emphasize the uniqueness of YHWH is by (mostly) reserving God-terminology to him. Any gods are brushed off, verbally, as so-called-gods, or less-than-true gods, because, truly, they pale in comparison to YHWH, who is a GOD (which also makes him a god – but not like the rest).
Your “divine portion of reality,” Ben – the portion which consists one at least one god, or at least one GOD? If the latter, then this is clearly occupied by YHWH in the OT, and the Father in the NT (who are, of course, held to be one and the same – this is a key point that perhaps we should discuss further). Monotheism says just one being occupies that portion of reality. If you mean the “divine portion of reality” to be the set of gods, this would include YHWH, but also the risen, exalted, immortal Jesus, and angels. It’s not clear to me that this division would be “strict” as you say. This concept of godhood is somewhat vague, and so will have borderline cases – where things are neither clearly included or excluded by it. Consider the biblical Samson, for example.
The question of who or what is really God could easily be answered either the Father or the Trinity.
Ben, since you’re clear on identity, you know that the Father and the Trinty can’t be identical – by hypothesis the latter is tripersonal and the former is not. Let me ask you then what you make of this:
After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. (John 17:1-3, NRSV)
Here, Jesus says to the Father that the latter is “the only true God.” That excludes everyone else, right, including Jesus? It’s the claim that the Father is a true-God, and that for anything whatever, it’s a true-God only if it just is the Father. By the context (Jesus assumes the truth of Isaiah and Deuteronomy) and also by his word “true” we know that he’s affirming the Father to be not merely a god but also a GOD. The point is that in the NT the one God is the Father – but this rules out the one God being the Trinity. (Here’s a related 2012 post.)
Finally, you seem to assume that it is important to affirm the deity of Christ. I have observed that this is a core concern of present-day evangelicalism. It is, of course, one with deep catholic roots. This is normally understood, I think, to be his essential GOD-hood, his having a divine nature in addition to his human nature. I will end then by asking: what if Jesus is not divine in that sense? What bad consequences would logically follow from that, were it to be true?