Has Traditional Christian Theology Been Wrong on Many Major Points?

The discussion on Genesis 4 has now wandered all over the place, and so I am starting a new topic, based on the latest claims about Christian theology made in that discussion by Jonathan Burke. I find some of his statements about Christian theology to be unusual, to say the least, and I’m curious what the other Christians here think about them.

I am reproducing only part of the last exchange. The original post is long, and there is important stuff about whether science should have veto power over theology in there, and people can read that discussion if they wish, but here I’m concerned mainly about the theological claims made by Jonathan Burke.

Here is what was last said:

JB> The same can be said for other doctrines, such as infant sprinkling, the immortal soul, the belief that Jesus was God, and penal substitutionary atonement. It is well recognized today in mainstream scholarship that the vast majority of historical Christians, including “the vast majority of first-rank Christian theologians”, were totally wrong on these issues. They didn’t know what they were talking about.

Eddie> I see, so the Christians who have believed that Jesus was God were “totally wrong” and “didn’t know what they were talking about.”

I’d like to hear from Joshua, Daniel Ang, Glipsnort, Chris Falter, Jon Garvey, Daniel Deen, and the many other Christians who post here. Do they agree with your conclusions about Jesus? Do they agree with your conclusions about any of the other matters you list?

@AllenWitmerMiller
@swamidass
@Jordan
@dga471
@Philosurfer
@jongarvey
@Chris_Falter
@glipsnort

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No it isn’t. Next topic, please.

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When Jon Garvey wrote, “No it isn’t. Next topic please.”, that basically sums up my reaction as well.

Of course, I have no problem with acknowledging that “historical Christians” down through the centuries did have a range of viewpoints on secondary issues like infant sprinkling. But the deity of Jesus Christ is a primary issue and has been a point of consensus among “historical Christians” for 2000 years. It matters.

Over the course of my career I got to know a lot of “first-rank Christian theologians” and I am very familiar with their “mainstream scholarship”. So I tend to yawn a bit when someone makes bombastic claims contrary to my personal experience in the academy.

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At the core of this is @eddie’s intention of highlighting that @Jonathan_Burke is a christadelphian, which many would consider outside orthodox Christianity. This is a roundabout way of making the point. I’m sure @Jonathan_Burke agrees with all of this.

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Agreed, Jon. But for the benefit of others, I note that the “Eddie” icon above the words you are responding to is an artifact of the response system, and that the claim you are denying came from Jonathan Burke.

Yes. I so wish that the Discourse software programmers would fix that bug which they apparently insist is some kind of feature!

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I’m less concerned with the particular denomination that Jonathan belongs to, and more concerned when he says:

As Jon Garvey and Allen Witmer Miller have just testified, this statement is untrue.

No doubt Jonathan’s Christadelphian allegiance goes a long way toward explaining why he made such a statement, but the main thing I’m concerned with is establishing that the statement is not representative of mainstream scholarship.

Also, there are number of readers here, I suspect, who are borderline Christians, considering whether or not to become Christian, trying to learn more about Christianity, etc., and it is downright misleading for someone, claiming to speak for Christianity, to tell them that the divinity of Jesus is “recognized by” “the vast majority of first-rank Christian theologians” as “totally wrong” and that past Christians such as Calvin, Augustine, etc. “did not know what they were talking about” on this and the other issues.

I would never take away from Jonathan or anyone else the right to follow the Christadelphian or any other religious tradition that persuades them, but I don’t think such people should be free to sow theological confusion on a website unless others are equally free to try to remove such confusion.

Immortal soul

The majority of standard scholarly sources today describe the state of the dead in terms identical or very close to the mortalist view.[1] In particular, it is typically held by modern scholarly commentary that the traditional doctrine of the ‘immortal soul’ has no place in the Hebrew Bible,[2] and little to no suggestion of any support in the New Testament.

  • Harper’s Bible Dictionary (1985) [3]
  • Eerdmans Bible Dictionary (1987) [4]
  • New Bible Dictionary (3rd ed. 1996) [5]
  • Baker Encyclopedia of Psychology & Counseling (2nd ed. 1999) [6]
  • Encyclopedia of Judaism (2000) [7]
  • New Dictionary of Theology (2000) [8]
  • Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible (2000) [9]
  • Tyndale Bible Dictionary (2001) [10]
  • International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (rev. ed. 2002) [11]
  • Encyclopedia of Christianity (2003) [12]
  • Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (2005) [13]
  • Zondervan Encyclopedia of the Bible (rev. ed. 2009) [14]

More in the well referenced section of the relevant Wikipedia page here. Note the scholarly citations saying things like “There is no concept of an immortal soul in the Old Testament, nor does the New Testament ever call the human soul immortal” and “Hebblethwaite observes the doctrine of immortality of the soul is “not popular amongst Christian theologians or among Christian philosophers today””.


[1] Mortalism is the belief that human beings are not naturally immortal, and that at death they are unconscious rather than continuing to exist consciously as an ‘immortal soul’.

[2] ‘Twentieth century biblical scholarship largely agrees that the ancient Jews had little explicit notion of a personal afterlife until very late in the Old Testament period . Immortality of the soul was a typically Greek philosophical notion quite foreign to the thought of ancient Semitic peoples . Only the latest stratum of the Old Testament asserts even the resurrection of the body, a view more congenial to Semites.’, Donelley, ‘Calvinism and Scholasticism in Vermigli’s doctrine of man and grace’, p. 99 (1976); note that this was written over 30 years ago, and the academic consensus has only strengthened on the issue.

[3] ‘For a Hebrew, ‘soul’ indicated the unity of a human person; Hebrews were living bodies, they did not have bodies . This Hebrew field of meaning is breached in the Wisdom of Solomon by explicit introduction of Greek ideas of soul . A dualism of soul and body is present: ‘a perishable body weighs down the soul’ (9:15). This perishable body is opposed by an immortal soul (3:1-3). Such dualism might imply that soul is superior to body. In the nt, ‘soul’ retains its basic Hebrew field of meaning . Soul refers to one’s life : Herod sought Jesus’ soul (Matt. 2:20); one might save a soul or take it (Mark 3:4). Death occurs when God ‘requires your soul’ (Luke 12:20). ‘Soul’ may refer to the whole person, the self: ‘three thousand souls’ were converted in Acts 2:41 (see Acts 3:23). Although the Greek idea of an immortal soul different in kind from the mortal body is not evident , ‘soul’ denotes the existence of a person after death (see Luke 9:25; 12:4; 21:19); yet Greek influence may be found in 1 Peter’s remark about ‘the salvation of souls’ (1:9). A moderate dualism exists in the contrast of spirit with body and even soul, where ‘soul’ means life that is not yet caught up in grace. See also Flesh and Spirit; Human Being.’, Neyrey, ‘Soul’, in Achtemeier, Harper, & Row (eds.), ‘Harper’s Bible Dictionary’, pp. 982-983 (1st ed. 1985).

[4] ‘Indeed, the salvation of the “immortal soul” has sometimes been a commonplace in preaching, but it is fundamentally unbiblical . Biblical anthropology is not dualistic but monistic: human being consists in the integrated wholeness of body and soul, and the Bible never contemplates the disembodied existence of the soul in bliss .’, Myers (ed.), ‘The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary’, p. 518 (1987).

[5] ‘A particular instance of the Heb. avoidance of dualism is the biblical doctrine of man. Greek thought, and in consequence many Hellenizing Jewish and Christian sages, regarded the body as a prison-house of the soul: sōma sēma ‘the body is a tomb’. The aim of the sage was to achieve deliverance from all that is bodily and thus liberate the soul. But to the Bible man is not a soul in a body but a body/soul unity ; so true is this that even in the resurrection, although flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, we shall still have bodies (1 Cor. 15:35ff.).’, Cressey, ‘Dualism’, in Cressey, Wood, & Marshall (eds.), ‘New Bible Dictionary’, p. 284 (3rd. ed. 1996).

[6] ‘Modern scholarship has underscored the fact that Hebrew and Greek concepts of soul were not synonymous. While the Hebrew thought world distinguished soul from body (as material basis of life), there was no question of two separate, independent entities. A person did not have a body but was an animated body, a unit of life manifesting itself in fleshly form—a psychophysical organism (Buttrick, 1962). Although Greek concepts of the soul varied widely according to the particular era and philosophical school, Greek thought often presented a view of the soul as a separate entity from body. Until recent decades Christian theology of the soul has been more reflective of Greek (compartmentalized) than Hebrew (unitive) ideas.’, Moon, ‘Soul’, in Benner & Hill (eds.), ‘Baker encyclopedia of psychology & counseling, p. 1148 (2nd ed. 1999).

[7] ‘Even as we are conscious of the broad and very common biblical usage of the term “soul,” we must be clear that Scripture does not present even a rudimentarily developed theology of the soul . The creation narrative is clear that all life originates with God. Yet the Hebrew Scripture offers no specific understanding of the origin of individual souls, of when and how they become attached to specific bodies, or of their potential existence, apart from the body, after death. The reason for this is that, as we noted at the beginning, the Hebrew Bible does not present a theory of the soul developed much beyond the simple concept of a force associated with respiration, hence, a life-force .’, Avery-Peck, ‘Soul’, in Neusner, et al. (eds.), ‘The Encyclopedia of Judaism’, p. 1343 (2000).

[8] ‘‎Gn. 2:7 refers to God forming Adam ‘from the dust of the ground’ and breathing ‘into his nostrils the breath of life’, so that man becomes a ‘living being’. The word ‘being’ translates the Hebrew word nep̄eš which, though often translated by the Eng. word ‘soul’, ought not to be interpreted in the sense suggested by Hellenistic thought (see Platonism; Soul, Origin of) . It should rather be understood in its own context within the OT as indicative of men and women as living beings or persons in relationship to God and other people. The lxx translates this Heb. word nep̄eš with the Gk. word psychē, which explains the habit of interpreting this OT concept in the light of Gk. use of psychē. Y et it is surely more appropriate to understand the use of psychē (in both the lxx and the NT) in the light of the OT’s use of nep̄eš. According to Gn. 2, any conception of the soul as a separate (and separable) part or division of our being would seem to be invalid . Similarly, the popular debate concerning whether human nature is a bipartite or tripartite being has the appearance of a rather ill-founded and unhelpful irrelevancy . The human person is a ‘soul’ by virtue of being a ‘body’ made alive by the ‘breath’ (or ‘Spirit’) of God . ’, Ferguson & Packer (eds.),’New Dictionary of Theology’, pp. 28-29 (electronic ed. 2000).

[9] ‘Far from referring simply to one aspect of a person, “soul” refers to the whole person. Thus, a corpse is referred to as a “dead soul,” even though the word is usually translated “dead body” (Lev. 21:11; Num. 6:6). “Soul” can also refer to a person’s very life itself 1 Kgs. 19:4; Ezek. 32:10).‎“Soul” often refers by extension to the whole person.’, Carrigan, ‘Soul’, Freedman, Myers, & Beck (eds.) ‘Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible’, p. 1245 (2000).

[10] ‘There is no suggestion in the OT of the transmigration of the soul as an immaterial, immortal entity . Man is a unity of body and soul—terms that describe not so much two separate entities in a person as much as one person from different standpoints. Hence, in the description of man’s creation in Genesis 2:7, the phrase “a living soul” (kjv) is better translated as “a living being.”’, Elwell & Comfort (eds.), ‘Tyndale Bible dictionary, p. 1216 (2001).

[11] ‘It has been noted already that the soul, like the body, derives from God. This implies that man is composed of soul and body, and the Bible makes it plain that this is so. The soul and the body belong together, so that without either the one or the other there is no true man. Disembodied existence in Sheol is unreal . Paul does not seek a life outside the body, but wants to be clothed with a new and spiritual body (1 Cor. 15; 2 Cor. 5).’, Bromiley, ‘Psychology’, in Bromiley, ‘The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia’, volume 3, p. 1045 (rev. ed. 2002); ‘Nor is any place left for dualism. Soul and body are not separate entities which are able to work in concert by virtue of a preestablished harmony (Leibniz).’ , ibid., p. 1045.

[12] ‘All Christians believe in immortality, understood as a final resurrection to everlasting life. The majority have held that immortality also includes continuing existence of the soul or person between death and resurrection. Almost every detail of this general confession and its biblical basis, however, has been disputed. The debate has been fueled by the development of beliefs about the afterlife within the Bible itself and the variety of language in which they are expressed. The Hebrew Bible does not present the human soul ( nepeš ) or spirit ( rûa h ) as an immortal substance, and for the most part it envisions the dead as ghosts in Sheol, the dark, sleepy underworld. Nevertheless it expresses hope beyond death (see Pss. 23 and 49:15) and eventually asserts physical resurrection (see Isa. 26:19; Dan. 12:2).’, Cooper, ‘Immortality’, in Fahlbusch & Bromiley (eds.), ‘The Encyclopedia of Christianity’, volume 2, p. (2003).

[13] ‘soul. The idea of a distinction between the soul, the immaterial principle of life and intelligence, and the body is of great antiquity, though only gradually expressed with any precision . Hebrew thought made little of this distinction, and there is practically no specific teaching on the subject in the Bible beyond an underlying assumption of some form of afterlife (see immortality)., Cross & Livingstone, (eds.), ‘The Oxford dictionary of the Christian Church’, p. 1531 (3rd rev. ed. 2005).

[14] ‘The English translation of nepeš by the term “soul” has too often been misunderstood as teaching a bipartite (soul and body—dichotomy) or tripartite (body, soul, and spirit—trichotomy) anthropology. Equally misleading is the interpretation that too radically separates soul from body as in the Greek view of human nature. See body; spirit. N. Porteous (in IDB, 4:428) states it well when he says, “The Hebrew could not conceive of a disembodied nepeš , though he could use nepeš with or without the adjective ‘dead,’ for corpse (e.g., Lev. 19:28; Num. 6:6).” Or as R. B. Laurin has suggested, “To the Hebrew, man was not a ‘body’ and a ‘soul,’ but rather a ‘body-soul,’ a unit of vital power” (BDT, 492). In this connection, the most significant text is Gen. 2:7, “the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life [nišmat hayyîm], and the man became a living being [ nepeš h ayyâ ]” (the KJV rendering “living soul” is misleading).’, Lake, ‘Soul’, in Silva & Tenney (eds.), ‘The Zondervan Encyclopedia of the Bible’, volume 5, p. 586 (rev. ed. 2009); ‘What is essential to understanding the Hebrew mind is the recognition that the human being is a unit: body-soul! The soul is not, therefore, unaffected by the experience of death. OT eschatology does indeed contain seminal elements of hope implying the more positive teaching of the NT, as can be seen in the OT phrase, “rested with his fathers” (1 Ki. 2:10 et al.), in David’s confident attitude toward the death of his child (2 Sam. 12:12–23), and in Job’s hope for a resurrection (Job 19:20–29). It is this essential soul-body oneness that provides the uniqueness of the biblical concept of the resurrection of the body as distinguished from the Greek idea of the immortality of the soul.’, ibid., p. 587.

Jesus as God

Within mainstream professional Biblical scholarship, it is acknowledged that ‘the earliest Christians did not consider Jesus God’,[1] ‘Jesus is never called God in the Synoptic Gospels’,[2] Jesus ‘did not understand himself as a divine figure’,[3] and ‘nowhere in the letters did Paul call Jesus “God”’.[4]

The implications for the doctrine of the Trinity are obvious; it clearly formed no part of the original gospel or the teaching of the apostles.[5] Consequently, a number of Biblical passages are no longer appealed to as supporting the doctrine of the Trinity, or the idea that Jesus is God. The footnotes in the New English Translation provide several examples; the note on ‘Let us make man’ in Genesis 1:26 says ‘Many Christian theologians interpret it as an early hint of plurality within the Godhead, but this view imposes later Trinitarian concepts on the ancient text’,[6] the note on the ‘Holy, holy, holy’ in Isaiah 6:3 says the Trinitarian reading ‘has no linguistic or contextual basis’,[7] and the note on ‘Everlasting Father’ in Isaiah 9:6 says ‘This title must not be taken in an anachronistic Trinitarian sense’.[8]

The same applies to a number of traditional New Testament passages, such as John 6:62; 8:58; 17:5,[9] and Philippians 2:6-11.[10] The number of New Testament texts claimed by Trinitarian scholars to be speaking of Jesus as God, has declined dramatically to a mere half dozen.[11]

Scholars disagree on exactly when Jesus became known as God, but the earliest proposed date still post-dates the apostles. The two main positions are represented by Maurice Casey, and Larry Hurtado. Casey argues for a date near the end of the first century,[12] whereas Hurtado argues Jesus was already being elevated to equality with God as some kind of divine figure, though not as God Himself.[13]

Hurtado’s position has been controversial among evangelical Christians, since he acknowledges the earliest Christians were not Trinitarians.


[1] ‘That the earliest Christians did not consider Jesus God is not a controversial point among scholars. Apart from fundamentalists and very conservative evangelicals, scholars are unified in thinking that the view that Jesus was God was a later development within Christian circles.’, Ehrman, ‘Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth’, p. 231 (2012).

[2] ‘Jesus is never called God in the Synoptic Gospels, and a passage like Mark 10:18 would seem to exclude a preserved memory that Jesus used the title of himself. Even the Fourth Gospel never portrays Jesus as saying specifically that he is God. The sermons that Acts attributes to the beginning of the Christian mission do not speak of Jesus as God. Thus, there is no reason to think that Jesus was called God in the earliest layers of NT tradition. This negative conclusion is substantiated by the fact that Paul does not use the title in any epistle written before AD 58.’, Brown, ‘Introduction to the New Testament Christology’, p. 190 (1994).

[3] ‘Dunn finds that Jesus held to Jewish monotheism and that although he saw himself as a prophet empowered with God’s Spirit (see Holy Spirit) and as having a close relationship with God, he did not understand himself as a divine figure.’, Evans, ‘Christianity and Judaism: Partings of the Ways’, in Martin & Davids (eds.), ‘Dictionary of the Later New Testament and Its Developments’ (electronic ed. 2000).

[4] ‘In the LXX it frequently translated “Yahweh,” but nowhere in the letters did Paul call Jesus “God.” 1 Cor. 11:3 makes clear the line of origin that subordinates Jesus to God.’, Roetzel, ‘Paul’, in Freedman (ed.), Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible, p. 1020 (2000); ‘Even as Lord, Jesus acknowledges his Father as his God. Here it becomes plain that kyrios is not so much a way of identifying Jesus with God, but if anything more a way of distinguishing Jesus from God .’, Dunn, ‘The Theology of Paul the Apostle’, p. 254 (1997).

[5] ‘Paul never identifies Jesus with the One God but rather he clearly distinguishes Jesus from God . Paul could never honestly say of Jesus that we was “God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God” as the creed asserts. For Paul, Jesus is never the One God. The One God is the Father of Jesus. Jesus is the Lord, the Son of God. For Paul, Jesus was not “eternally begotten.” Jesus did not personally exist prior to his birth. Paul never spoke of the pre-existence of Jesus. He might have used the biblical image of the pre-existence of Wisdom which is a kind of “extended metaphor” of God’s connection with His creation and which found its greatest fulfillment in the creation of Jesus. But that is the closest Paul comes to speaking of Jesus as pre-existent .’, Fletcher, ‘Monotheism and the Veneration and Pre-existence of Jesus in Paul’s Theology’, Journal from the Radical Reformation (14.1.44), 2007 (note that Fletcher is a non-trinitarian); ‘It is striking that none of our first three Gospels —Matthew, Mark, and Luke— declares that Jesus is God or indicates that Jesus ever called himself God . Jesus’s teaching in the earliest Gospel traditions is not about his personal divinity but about the coming kingdom of God and the need to prepare for it. This should give readers pause. If the earliest followers of Jesus thought Jesus was God, why don’t the earliest Gospels say so? It seems like it would have been a rather important aspect of Christ’s identity to point out. It is true that the Gospels consistently portray Jesus as the Son of God. But that is not the same thing as saying that he was God .’, Ehrman, ‘Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth’, p. 231 (2012).

[6] ‘The plural form of the verb has been the subject of much discussion through the years, and not surprisingly several suggestions have been put forward. Many Christian theologians interpret it as an early hint of plurality within the Godhead, but this view imposes later trinitarian concepts on the ancient text . Some have suggested the plural verb indicates majesty, but the plural of majesty is not used with verbs. C. Westermann (Genesis, 1:145) argues for a plural of “deliberation” here, but his proposed examples of this use (2 Sam 24:14; Isa 6:8) do not actually support his theory. In 2 Sam 24:14 David uses the plural as representative of all Israel, and in Isa 6:8 the LORD speaks on behalf of his heavenly court. In its ancient Israelite context the plural is most naturally understood as referring to God and his heavenly court (see 1 Kgs 22:19–22; Job 1:6–12; 2:1–6; Isa 6:1–8). ( The most well-known members of this court are God’s messengers, or angels . In Gen 3:5 the serpent may refer to this group as “gods/divine beings.” See the note on the word “evil” in 3:5.) If this is the case, God invites the heavenly court to participate in the creation of humankind (perhaps in the role of offering praise, see Job 38:7), b ut he himself is the one who does the actual creative work (v. 27). Of course, this view does assume that the members of the heavenly court possess the divine “image” in some way. Since the image is closely associated with rulership, perhaps they share the divine image in that they, together with God and under his royal authority, are the executive authority over the world.’, NET Bible (1st ed., 2006)

[7] ‘Some have seen a reference to the Trinity in the seraphs’ threefold declaration, “holy, holy, holy.” This proposal has no linguistic or contextual basis and should be dismissed as allegorical . Hebrew sometimes uses repetition for emphasis. (See IBHS 233–34 §12.5a; and GKC 431–32 §133.k.) By repeating the word “holy,” the seraphs emphasize the degree of the Lord’s holiness. For another example of threefold repetition for emphasis, see Ezek 21:27 (Heb. v. 32). (Perhaps Jer 22:29 provides another example.)’, NET Bible (1st ed., 2006)

[8] ‘This title must not be taken in an anachronistic Trinitarian sense . (To do so would be theologically problematic, for the “Son” is the messianic king and is distinct in his person from God the “Father.”) Rather, in its original context the title pictures the king as the protector of his people. For a similar use of “father” see Isa 22:21 and Job 29:16. This figurative, idiomatic use of “father” is not limited to the Bible. In a Phoenician inscription (ca. 850–800 B.C.) the ruler Kilamuwa declares: “To some I was a father, to others I was a mother.” In another inscription (ca. 800 B.C.) the ruler Azitawadda boasts that the god Baal made him “a father and a mother” to his people. (See ANET 499–500.) The use of “everlasting” might suggest the deity of the king (as the one who has total control over eternity), but Isaiah and his audience may have understood the term as royal hyperbole emphasizing the king’s long reign or enduring dynasty (for examples of such hyperbolic language used of the Davidic king, see 1 Kgs 1:31; Pss 21:4–6; 61:6–7; 72:5, 17). The New Testament indicates that the hyperbolic language (as in the case of the title “Mighty God”) is literally realized in the ultimate fulfillment of the prophecy, for Jesus will rule eternally.’, NET Bible (1st ed., 2006)

[9] ‘The glory of completed redemption cannot literally be possessed until redemption is complete. If now the pre-existence of Jesus, according to the seventeenth chapter of John, is clearly ideal, this fact confirms the interpretation which has been given of the other passages which are less clear. We conclude, then, that these three passages in John [6:62; 8:58; 17:5] in which Jesus alludes to his pre-existence, do not involve the claim that his pre-existence was personal and real . They are to be classed with the other phenomena of the Messianic consciousness of Jesus, none of which have to do with metaphysical relationships with the Father.’, Gilbert, ‘The Revelation of Jesus: A Study of the Primary Sources of Christianity’, p. 222 (2009).

[10] ‘A large number of scholars think that the passage does not imagine Christ existing as a divine being with God in heaven , coming to earth to die, and then being exalted even higher afterward. They think instead that the passage is talking about Christ as the “second Adam,” one who was like the first man, Adam, as described in the book of Genesis, but who acted in just the opposite way, leading to just the opposite result.’, Ehrman, ‘Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth’, p. 231 (2012).

[11] ‘The list of passages which seem explicitly to identify Christ with God varies from scholar to scholar, but the number is almost never more than a half dozen or so . As is well known, almost all of the texts are disputed as to their affirmation—due to textual or grammatical glitches—John 1:1 and 20:28 being the only two which are usually conceded without discussion.’, Wallace, ‘Granville Sharp’s Canon and Its Kin: Semantics and Significance’, p. 27 (2009); ‘Although the later church fathers spoke of Jesus as God, the New Testament is very restrained in this regard (see clearly Titus 2:13; Heb. 1:8-9; other possible instances not as clear: Rom. 9:5; 2 Thess. 1:12; 2 Pet. 1:1; 1 John 5:20).’, Boring & Craddock, ‘The People’s New Testament Commentary’, p. 359 (2004); ‘The Gospel attributed to St John is the only New Testament document in which the deity and incarnation Jesus are unequivocally proclaimed.’, Casey, ‘From Jewish Prophet to Gentile God: The Origins and Development of New Testament Christology’, p. 23 (1991).

[12] ‘M. Casey stands in basic agreement with Dunn that Jewish monotheism was not breached before Paul . He argues that Jesus’ exaltation to divine status occurred after AD 70 when Jews in the Johannine community were expelled from the synagogue.’, Lee, ‘From Messiah to Preexistent Son: Jesus’ Self-Consciousness & Early Christian Exegesis of Messianic Psalms’, Wissenschaftlick Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 2, Number 192, p. 10 (2005); ‘According to a Casey-style reading, even the highly elevated language of Phil. 2.6-11 may push the figure of Jesus very close to being fully equal with God but still not quite there :’, Crossley, ‘Reading the New Testament: Contemporary Approaches’, p. 78 (2010).

[13] ‘Maurice Casey argues that shortly after Jesus’ death, certain Christians saw Jesus as a highly elevated figure, in the same way as other figures (such as angels) were highly elevated in early Judaism. It was not until around the end of the first century CE when the people responsible for John’s Gospel were in a bitter dispute with Jews over the figure of Jesus (among other things) that something like the close identification of Jesus with the God of Israel was made . In contrast, Larry Hurtado argues that devotion to Jesus, in a sense previously reserved for the God of Israel alone, was present in the earliest years after Jesus’ death and was part of intense religious experiences.’, Crossley, ‘Reading the New Testament: Contemporary Approaches’, p. 784 (2010).

I’m well aware of the sort of literature you cite on the mortality of the soul. I dealt with it extensively in my graduate study. The ideas are not particularly new; Biblical scholars have been talking about them for a long time. But note that you said that Christian theologians were “totally wrong” and that your argument for why they are “totally wrong” is that the doctrine of an immortal soul is not explicitly taught in the Bible. But that line of argument presumes that no Christian doctrine is legitimate unless it is explicitly taught in the Bible – which only a certain sort of Protestant will grant. Many Protestants, and certainly Catholics and Orthodox, accept doctrines that are not explicitly taught in the Bible, but are in their minds consonant with the Bible’s teaching, and at least hinted at or obliquely touched upon in the Bible.

In any case, your remark was not limited to the immortality of the soul, but said that for all the items on your list, “the vast majority of first-rank Christian theologians” were wrong. It will be interesting to see your list of “standard scholarly sources” which state that the doctrine of Jesus’s divinity was “totally wrong” on the grounds that it is “not Biblical”. It will especially interesting to learn if the people behind the Eerdmans, Zondervan, and Tyndale reference books agree with you there.

Understand my position: I am not demanding that you personally accept any of the doctrines on your list, not even the divinity of Jesus. What I want to know is how you can say or imply that modern mainstream scholarship has established that belief in the divinity of Jesus is “totally wrong,” that the Greek and Latin followers and everyone who built on them (the Scholastics, the Reformers, etc.) were just plain in error. There is a difference between saying, “The way I read the Gospels, Jesus is not divine,” and saying, “Scholarship has established that the view that Jesus was divine is totally wrong.” It’s the latter claim you need to justify before the Christians and scholars here.

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I wonder if Eddie will change the goalposts once he is presented with facts?

Yes, yes he will. Isn’t it interesting how every time someone makes a statement, and you say the statement is wrong, then they present evidence that the statement is right, you say “I was well aware of that, and I have studied all that literature extensively”, and then change the subject?

No I didn’t say that my argument for why they were wrong is that the doctrine of an immortal soul is not explicitly taught in the Bible.

I didn’t say that scholarly sources state that the doctrine of Jesus’ divinity is totally wrong on the grounds that it is “not Biblical”. I said “It is well recognized today in mainstream scholarship that the vast majority of historical Christians, including “the vast majority of first-rank Christian theologians”, were totally wrong on these issues”.

I have now provided evidence of why, within mainstream professional Biblical scholarship, it is acknowledged that ‘the earliest Christians did not consider Jesus God’,[1] ‘Jesus is never called God in the Synoptic Gospels’,[2] Jesus ‘did not understand himself as a divine figure’,[3] and ‘nowhere in the letters did Paul call Jesus “God”’.[4]

There you go moving the goal posts again. I did not say that modern mainstream scholarship has established that belief in the divinity of Jesus is totally wrong. Please read what I wrote.


[1] ‘ That the earliest Christians did not consider Jesus God is not a controversial point among scholars . Apart from fundamentalists and very conservative evangelicals , scholars are unified in thinking that the view that Jesus was God was a later development within Christian circles.’, Ehrman, ‘Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth’, p. 231 (2012).

[2] ‘Jesus is never called God in the Synoptic Gospels, and a passage like Mark 10:18 would seem to exclude a preserved memory that Jesus used the title of himself. Even the Fourth Gospel never portrays Jesus as saying specifically that he is God. The sermons that Acts attributes to the beginning of the Christian mission do not speak of Jesus as God. Thus, there is no reason to think that Jesus was called God in the earliest layers of NT tradition. This negative conclusion is substantiated by the fact that Paul does not use the title in any epistle written before AD 58.’, Brown, ‘Introduction to the New Testament Christology’, p. 190 (1994).

[3] ‘Dunn finds that Jesus held to Jewish monotheism and that although he saw himself as a prophet empowered with God’s Spirit (see Holy Spirit) and as having a close relationship with God, he did not understand himself as a divine figure.’, Evans, ‘Christianity and Judaism: Partings of the Ways’, in Martin & Davids (eds.), ‘Dictionary of the Later New Testament and Its Developments’ (electronic ed. 2000).

[4] ‘In the LXX it frequently translated “Yahweh,” but nowhere in the letters did Paul call Jesus “God.” 1 Cor. 11:3 makes clear the line of origin that subordinates Jesus to God.’, Roetzel, ‘Paul’, in Freedman (ed.), Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible, p. 1020 (2000); ‘Even as Lord, Jesus acknowledges his Father as his God. Here it becomes plain that kyrios is not so much a way of identifying Jesus with God, but if anything more a way of distinguishing Jesus from God .’, Dunn, ‘The Theology of Paul the Apostle’, p. 254 (1997).

Wow. I don’t have time today to write my own Systematic Theology: Volume I to cover all of these topics. I’ll just say that it is interesting that the Synoptic Gospels are often mentioned while ignoring the Gospel of John, probably because John’s Gospel is even more obviously emphatic about the deity of Jesus, especially with the repeated emphasis of EGO EIMI, seemingly at first a redundant wording in Greek but a phrase that readers recognized from the Septuagint in the “I am that I am” at the burning bush. Yes, many of the scholars Jonathan Burke mentions—if I recall correctly from my studies of long ago—all insist that John’s Gospel came very late and from a time when the divinity of Jesus had allegedly finally caught on among Christians. And no, I do not consider Bart Ehrman and Jimmy Dunn to be the last word on these topics.

It is easy to see why the Jews in John 8:58 picked up stones in order to stone Jesus for blasphemy. He claimed to be God. Jesus knew it. They knew it.

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I don’t think you read everything I wrote. I mentioned the gospel of John explicitly, several times. I cited scholarship which argues that John 6:62, 8:58, and 17:5 are not evidence that Jesus pre-existed, and in contrast I cited scholarship which argues that John 1:1 and 20:28 are clear declarations that Jesus is God.

That’s ok, I cited plenty of other scholars. All you have to do is acknowledge that they exist. I believe I’ve proved my point.

Well put. The flaw in Burke’s argument, of course, is that even if it is true that Jesus is not identified with God in the Synoptics, if there is any part of the New Testament in which that identification is made, then, for any Christian who claims to believe that all of the Bible is divinely inspired (not the just the parts written by the earliest Christians), that part of the New Testament is doctrinally binding, and therefore must be taken to supplement the incomplete teaching of the Synoptics.

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Once again you are moving the goalposts. It was not my argument that Jesus is not God because he is not identified with God in the Synoptics. As usual, you have failed to address what I wrote.

You didn’t explicitly say it, but your whole argument is built on establishing that the doctrine is not found in the Old Testament at all and is only dubiously found in the New Testament. As if that, by itself, would prove that Christian theologians who hold it are “wrong.” It could only do so if by “totally wrong” you mean “not clearly found in the Old or New Testament.” That’s the logic of your argument, whether you explicitly state it or not.

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Furthermore, Mark 4:11 is worth expanding upon at this point:

He told them, "The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables (NIV)

Perhaps some would expect Jesus to begin his preaching ministry with: “Listen up, people! I am YHWH God, your creator. Bow down now and worship me!” Instead, Jesus explained the Kingdom and his own identity in a gradual revelation and with parables. Even the twelve disciples struggled with this approach and Jesus explained that only by an individual call and personal revelation would they come to fully grasp the identity of Jesus and what the Kingdom truly meant. With Thomas we see the dramatic culmination in John 20:28:

Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” (NASB)

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No, I haven’t. What you wrote was that theologians who identified Jesus with God were “totally wrong.” So if any part of the New Testament identifies Jesus with God, then they weren’t totally wrong, and you are wrong to say that they were totally wrong.

I’m still waiting for the repetition of the list of reference books from Grand Rapids, etc., that you used on the “mortalism” issue. Do all those reference books say that the whole mainstream Christian tradition was “totally wrong” to identify Jesus with God? I suspect that they don’t, or you would repeat the list.

I’ve never doubted that such scholars exist. But I could just as easily cite lots of scholars who strongly disagree, and many of them certainly merit a description of “first-class scholars.”

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Somewhat of an aside, but important for accuracy… if one grabs a quote from the initial post, it will be attributed correctly. If they grab it from a quote within a quote, it will not. Sometimes, as in this thread, the original quote may not be available. When this occurs, and one sees that one is attributed incorrectly, you can merely add something like this to the front so that all are clear as to who said what:

From: @AllenWitmerMiller

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