Sunday, January 28, 2007

To Him who Sits on the Throne and Unto the Lamb: Part 2

In Revelation 4 and 5, Christ's worthiness to receive divine worship is evident from the honor he receives individually, and from the honor he receives simultaneously with the Father.

He is honored, just as the Father had been, by the cherubim and heavenly elders (5:8; 4:9).

These fall down before him, just as they had fallen down before the Father (5:8; 4:10).

He is sung to with harps and incense (prayers), something not said to have been done to the Father (5:8-9).

He is praised in unison, just as the Father had been, by the cherubim and heavenly elders, but these are now joined by millions of additional angels (5:11; 4:9-10).

He is declared worthy, just as the Father had been, to receive glory, honor and power, but in addition, he is also said to be worthy of riches and wisdom and might and blessing (5:11; 4:11).

He is praised, along with the Father, by "every created thing which is in the heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and on the sea, and all things that are in them" (5:13).

He is declared, along with the Father, to be worthy of the blessing, and the honor, and the glory and the dominion for ever and ever (5:13).

He is worshipped (proskuneo), along with the Father, (5:14).

I'll put the ball in your court, TJ. I am interested to know how you can read these passages and still conclude that Christ is not worthy of the same worship as the Father. How, in light of these verses, can any meaningful distinction be maintained between the honor of which the Father is worthy, and the honor of which the Son is worthy, especially when, in these latter verses, the worshippers are praising them both with the exact same words, and the exact same acts, at the exact same time?

And based on these passages, how can it be maintained that there is any limit on how much glory and honor we are to give Christ? What more could one possibly do to him or say of him than that which is done to and said of him here in the very throne room of the Father?

Sunday, January 21, 2007

To Him Who Sits on the Throne, and Unto the Lamb

I’m sorry to say that I was not able to put together a full post this week. I thought, however, that I would at least set the stage for my first major argument.

f I’m going to prove that Christ is worthy of “divine worship”, I first need, of course, to establish the meaning of that term. Only then can I show that it accurately denotes the honor received by the Son. Now, I don’t want to pretend that my non-trinitarian readers are too dull to see that I’m trying to set them up, so I want to be explicit about how I plan to proceed. For my first argument, I intend to focus on chapters 4 and 5 of Revelation: using chapter 4 to establish a working definition of “divine worship” as it applies to God the Father, and then showing from chapter 5 how all of the elements of this definition are fulfilled, and even exceeded, in that activity which is directed toward the Son. So that’s the basic argument: the acts received by the Father in Revelation 4 constitute absolute worship, these same acts, and more, are properly received by Christ in Revelation 5; therefore, Christ rightly receives absolute and divine worship.

So heads up, TJ.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Worthy of Worship? Statement of the Question

I want to make clear from the outset that I am not trying in these posts to prove the divinity of Christ. In perhaps an overly simplistic sense, there is really no need to do so. The Greek word describing a divine being is theos. And as it says in John 1, “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with the theos, and theos was the word.” Jesus Christ is clearly called theos in scripture; therefore, the fact of his divinity is beyond question.

The trouble, of course, arises in our attempts to define that divinity. Some of this difficulty results from the various senses in which the word theos is used in the New Testament. By far, the most frequent use of the word is as a personal name for God the Father. But it is used in a few other senses as well. It is used of angelic beings, for example where Satan is called the theos of this world (2 Cor. 4:4). In John, the judges of Israel are called theoi because they had received the word of Jehovah (10:35). And, of course, theos is the word used to refer to false gods invented by the imagination of men. So in what sense is the word used of Christ? What does it mean that Jesus is theos?

Trinitarians and Jehovah’s Witnesses are in agreement that Christ is much more than a false god or a merely human judge and that he is worthy of more glory than any other angelic being. Each would agree, furthermore, that when scripture calls Christ theos it is not saying that he is identical with God the Father. Despite what I’ve heard some Witnesses say, Trinitarians emphatically deny that Christ and the Father are the same person.

So what are the differences, then, between the two conceptions of Christ’s divinity? There are several, and over these differences much ink and much blood have been shed over the centuries. In these posts, however, I want to focus on a single distinction, one that in my estimation ranks among the most important: when Trinitarians profess that Christ is theos, they mean that he is worthy to be worshipped as God. Witnesses deny this. So the question upon which I want to focus is this: is Christ theos in the sense that he is worthy to receive divine worship?

Herein, however, arises another complication. Our English word, “worship” is not the translation of a single Greek word. There are several words so translated in our New Testaments. Of these, the word most frequently underlying such a translation is the word proskuneo. If this were as far as we looked into the matter, we would appear to have another open and shut case, for in the scriptures, Christ is frequently, in fact over and over again, said to receive this act. As I pointed out in my first post on this issue, he receives proskuneo from men on earth and in heaven; he receives it from angels in heaven by the express command of the Father.

But here is where a final complication presents itself: a credible case can be made (and has been made by TJ) that although proskuneo is often, perhaps even usually, used in the scriptures as a reference to what we would call worship, it is not always used in this way. It is true that when used in a certain sense, proskuneo describes and act that is to be rendered to God alone. For example, when tempted by Satan to proskuneo him, Jesus refused, saying that it was God who was worthy thereof (Matt. 4:10). And in Revelation, John is warned not to proskuneo the angelic messenger; he is told instead to proskuneo God (22:5). This is also the word frequently used to describe the worship wrongly given to false gods.

As TJ has pointed out, however, there are some instances, especially in the Greek translation of the Old Testament, where proskuneo is used of an act which seems appropriately performed toward mere creatures. Abraham is said to proskuneo the elders of the Hittites (Gen 23:7) and David does so to Saul (I Sam. 24:8). Even in the New Testament, there is one use of the word that seems to carry this lesser sense. In Revelation 3:10, Jesus tells the saints that he would cause their persecutors to proskuneo at their feet, implying perhaps, that such an act would have been appropriate even though performed before mere men.

So then, there is a proskuneo that is only to be given to God. There appears also to be a proskuneo that is appropriately given to mere creatures. The question, then, is what is the line that distinguishes the two? What is the difference between proskuneo in the limited sense and proskuneo in the absolute sense? And once that distinction has been established, upon what side of that line do we find Christ? That is, when Christ receives proskuneo from men and the highest angels at the command of the Father, is he merely being honored as the most important angelic being, or is he being worshipped as God?

And now I can make a more complete statement of the precise issue I wish to address. Jesus Christ is clearly theos and clearly worthy of proskuneo. The question is whether he is theos in the sense that he is worthy of this highest kind of proskuneo. That is, is Jesus worthy to be worshipped as God? This the Witnesses deny, and I am compelled to affirm.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Back to TJ

A while back (it feels like an awfully long time ago) I offered some arguments in support of the claim that Christ is worthy of divine worship. I approached the issue using only occurrences of the word proskuneo in the New Testament, presenting the claim as if it were, on this basis alone, an open and shut case. Along came TJ, however, and pointed out some weaker points in my argument. In fact, to paraphrase the comments of one friend, TJ appeared to be applying a boot to my nether region.

I confess with some embarrassment that TJ has presented some legitimate counter arguments which I should have anticipated and addressed from the very beginning (something about which I’m always warning my students). It’s no fun to look bad in an argument; it’s much worse to give someone an occasion to maintain a diminished view of the glory of Christ. Dealing with an issue as significant as this, I should have exercised more care. I sincerely apologize and will do my best to remedy the situation.

TJ maintains that the authors of the NT use the word proskuneo in such a way as to suggest that it can be appropriately performed toward beings that are not divine and that, therefore, Christ’s continual acceptance of that act is insufficient proof of his deity. While I am not prepared to abandon the proskuneo argument completely, I am willing to concede, for the sake of discussion, that it is not, perhaps, as conclusive as I had first claimed.

There are, however, a number of other passages the context of which clearly portrays Christ as receiving, with the full approval of the Father, what can be no other than divine worship. I am just as convinced, therefore, that Christ is worthy to be worshipped in the same manner, by the same means, and to the same extent as God the Father. I’d like to break my blogging fast with an attempt to present, if I can, a more carefully reasoned defense of this claim.