Friday, July 22, 2011

The Heavens are the Work of Your Hands

The Jehovah’s Witnesses who have been visiting me, who are usually pretty good at coming up with at least some quasi-plausible answer to most Trinitarian passages I bring up, have simply fallen to pieces with the latest couple.

In the hope that some reasonably skilled Witness apologist out there will follow the keyword trail (Jehovah, Witnesses, Watchtower, trinity, cult)—I really hope I can reengage TJ— and can offer some response, I pose the following question:

How, from a non-Trinitarian perspective, is it possible to reconcile this passage:
Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, who formed you from the womb: “I am the LORD, who made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth by myself…” Isaiah 44:24 (emphasis mine)

With this one:

For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. Colossians 1:16 (emphasis mine)?

Or this passage:
Thus says the LORD, the Holy One of Israel, “…it was my hands that stretched out the heavens, and I commanded all their host. Isaiah 45:11-13 (emphasis mine)

With this one:

But of the Son he says… “You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands;” Hebrews 1:10 (emphasis mine)?


TJ said...

Hello Brad! You've awoken me from my long slumber. ;) I hope all is well with you and yours.

I'd be happy to address your question; I should have some time in the next few days.


TJ said...

Hi again Brad. I think a consideration of the context in Isaiah 44 will clear up the matter.

In this chapter, as well as surrounding chapters, Jehovah God is comparing himself to the rival foreign gods of the nations which do not really exist. This is the key point: those who act as his representatives are not being considered here.

That this point must be correct is clearly seen in reconciling the following verses.

"Thus saith the LORD the King of Israel . . . Is there a God beside me? yea, there is no God; I know not any." (Isaiah 44:6,8 KJV)

"And the LORD said unto Moses, See, I have made thee a god to Pharaoh." (Exodus 7:1 KJV)

"I [God] have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High." (Psalm 82:6 KJV)

So again, the verses in Isaiah are focused on the gods of the nations, not servants of God. This is also the case elsewhere. Speaking of Jacob, Moses wrote:

"The LORD alone led him; no foreign god was with him." (Deuteronomy 32:12 NIV)

Yet when we read Moses' actual account of Jacob's life, was there anyone else involved in leading him? Here's just one example:

"The angel of God said to [Jacob] . . . 'leave this land at once and go back to your native land.'" (Genesis 31:11,13 NIV)

Should we conclude from this that the angel is actually Jehovah God? Of course not. Rather, the purpose in stating that Jehovah "alone" led Jacob was to emphasize that no foreign god had helped him, not to rule out representatives of Jehovah.

A corresponding example we might hear of in the news today might be when a President decides to take military action. It could be said that he decided to 'go it alone' or 'by himself'. Does that mean that he is literally doing the groundwork himself?

We naturally understand from that statement that the group being considered is his peers, i.e. other heads-of-state. These are the ones that aren't going along with him. It goes without saying that the President has an entire military of people carrying out his orders.

Thus when it comes to the creation of all things, Jehovah alone, and no other foreign god, created it all, using his first creation as his master craftsman.

I'd very much like to hear your thoughts on this.

Brad said...


Thanks for your response. I'm sorry that mine is a bit tardy.

I can agree that the proof of Jehovah's divinity over against all other pretended gods is the point of what's being said there is Isaiah. But I'm not sure that that's the limit of what can be implied from the statement that Jehovah created alone and by himself. Let me give this some more thought.

I don't think that your counter example of the angel of God in Genesis 31 is very helpful to your position. Verse 13 features the "[true] God of Bethel" himself making the statement you quoted. (NWT). Having an angel deliver the words of direction doesn't strike me as allowing someone else to lead Jacob, and it certainly doesn't rise to the level of having the angel create the world for him and uphold it by the word of his power.

But conceding for the sake of argument that Jehovah, like the President, can properly be said to do something by himself, which we know him to have done through some non-divine (or non-presidential) agent, I think that more problematic for your position are those passages that speak of Jehovah creating directly, that is, by his own hands, such as the third and passage I presented, when we know that the one by whom all things were directly created is the Son.

Thoughts on the last two passages?

TJ said...

First, I'll address your criticism of the Genesis 31 counterexample. Yes, the angel was delivering the words of Jehovah and I believe that goes to my point. By doing that, the angel had an intermediary role in leading Jacob, since God did not deal with Jacob directly himself. Thus Jehovah did not, strictly speaking, lead Jacob "alone"; he used angels and this is implicit in Deuteronomy 32:12. Jehovah was always the source of the leading, however.

We can look also to a statement like that in Isaiah 43:11, "I, even I, am Jehovah; and besides me there is no saviour." (ASV) Yet we see that in practice, Jehovah saved his people by means of those he raised up for that purpose: "And when the children of Israel cried unto Jehovah, Jehovah raised up a saviour to the children of Israel, who saved them, even Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb's younger brother." (Judges 3:9 ASV) Jehovah says he's the only savior in one place, yet in another he raises up a savior. Who is the source and who is the intermediary?

The passages speaking of Jehovah doing something by 'his hands', etc, is not unique. For example, we have Solomon's testimony, where he said at the inauguration of the Temple, "Blessed be Jehovah the God of Israel, who spoke with his mouth unto David my father, and hath with his hand fulfilled it, saying, Since the day that I brought forth my people Israel out of Egypt, I chose no city out of all the tribes of Israel to build a house in, that my name might be there; but I have chosen David to be over my people Israel." (1 Kings 8:15-16 Darby)

Solomon says this promise was made directly to David by Jehovah's own mouth. But was this actually the case? "And it came to pass that night that the word of Jehovah came to Nathan, saying, Go and say to my servant, to David, Thus saith Jehovah: Wilt thou build me a house for me to dwell in? For I have not dwelt in a house since the day that I brought up the children of Israel out of Egypt, even to this day, but I went about in a tent and in a tabernacle . . . I took thee from the pasture-grounds, from following the sheep, to be prince over my people, over Israel." (2 Samuel 7:4-6,8 Darby)

Nathan's mouth uttered these words to David, yet it was by Jehovah moving him to do so, which makes it acceptable to say that it was Jehovah's mouth that said these things to David. God was the source of these words, not Nathan. To understand the Bible correctly and consistently, one has to understand that a representative and the person he's representing are often viewed as the exact same. Otherwise, we start seeing contradictions in corresponding accounts of the same event, such as the one involving the centurion meeting Jesus, recorded by Matthew from one viewpoint and by Luke from another, at Matthew 8:5-13 and Luke 7:1-10.

Brad said...

Using the example you've cited, do you think it would be appropriate for someone to write a psalm saying something like, "You, oh Nathan, spoke a promise to David and that promise is the word of your mouth."?

TJ said...

I think what was said of Jehovah would have certainly have been acceptable for Nathan: God "spoke with his mouth unto David" and Nathan "spoke with his mouth unto David". But it would obviously go too far to attribute Nathan as the source of the promise.

Consider this example which is very common: "Jonathan attacked the Philistine outpost at Geba, and the Philistines heard about it. Then Saul had the trumpet blown throughout the land and said . . . 'Saul has attacked the Philistine outpost.'" (1 Samuel 13:3-4 NIV)

Attributing an act done by an agent to either the agent or his superior is natural and common. No one would ever try to claim that the above verse proves Jonathan and Saul were literally the same individual, yet the Philistines could have certainly claimed that Saul had blood on his own hands just as they could say that for Jonathan, who was working for him.

TJ said...

I just want to add another verse that I feel clearly matches your title example. 'Solomon's Houses are the Work of Your Hands' could be said of many. It is well known that Solomon conscripted many thousands of people for labor, e.g. "King Solomon kept bringing up those conscripted for forced labor out of all Israel; and those conscripted for forced labor amounted to thirty thousand men." (1 Kings 5:13 NWT)

Under Solomon's direction, these men built by hand the Temple, Solomon's palace, the House of the Forest of Lebanon, etc. Yet in the book of Ecclesiastes, it is interesting how Solomon reflects on all this work he ordered: "I made great works. I built houses and planted vineyards for myself . . . Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind." (Ecclesiastes 2:4,11 ESV)

Brad said...

Hello T.J.

Sorry for the inexcusable delay.

First, something in your next to last comment I want to clear up. It would surprise me if someone as studied as you seem to be would be under the misconception that Trinitarians hold the Father and the Son to be "literally the same individual." You do understand that we recognize a distinction of the persons, right?

Second, I understand that you would agree that Nathan could be rightly said to have spoken the words on Jehovah's behalf, but what I'm more specifically after is whether you think it would be appropriate to write a psalm of praise to Nathan giving him glory and honor for speaking such words, such as the Psalm I've cited does for the Son with respect to creation.