Monday, August 1, 2011

Dr. James White and the Assumptions of Trinitarianism Revisited

Some thirteen (13) years ago I published the First Edition of Jehovah’s Witnesses Defended: An Answer to Scholars and Critics (Elihu Books, 1998). Shortly thereafter, Dr. James White published a book review titled, “A Summary Critique: Jehovah’s Witnesses Defended” (Christian Research Journal, volume 21, number 2 [available online here]), in which he claims in large letters crossing the entire page 49 of his article, “Throughout his work, Stafford assumes Unitarianism is true in order to disprove Trinitarianism.”

In 1999 I responded to Dr. White’s “Summary Critique” of my First Edition of Jehovah’s Witnesses Defended. In 2000 I published the Second Edition of Jehovah’s Witnesses Defended, in which I addressed numerous sections of Dr. White’s 1998 book, The Forgotten Trinity: Recovering the Heart of Christian Belief (Bethany). In my Second Edition, Chapter 2, there is a subheading, “Who is assuming what, and why,” in which I further addressed some of the assumptions of Trinitarian concepts by Dr. White when it comes to the interpretation of biblical texts (this section is now “More on who is assuming what, and why,” on pages 148-151 of my Third Edition [2009]).

Then in 2002 I published Three Dissertations on the Teachings of Jehovah’s Witnesses (Elihu Books). On pages 155-163 of the Third Dissertation I further discussed some of the erroneous assumptions and wrongful concept-substitutions commonly made in association with grammatical analyses of New Testament and other texts by Trinitarians, including by Dr. White and by Professor Daniel B. Wallace, on whom Dr. White often relies. Finally, in 2003 I agreed to publicly debate both Robert M. Bowman, Jr. and later in that same year Dr. White. See Is Jesus God? Examining the Biblical Evidence, a debate between Greg Stafford and Robert M. Bowman, Jr. (La Mirada, CA), and Jesus Christ: God or a god? A debate between Greg Stafford and Dr. James White (Tampa, Florida), both available through the Elihu Books Books and Media page.

Several years later, in late 2006 through early 2007, I returned from a period of searching and learning more about what to believe after having left off from working with the Watchtower Society’s organization and from their forms of ministry. After several years’ separation from such activity, I began reconsidering how I could best begin to form beliefs based on the best available reasons or evidence, and then learn about and possibly begin to practice the resulting beliefs. At some point here, I began to write more about what I had come to believe in association with and apart from the Watchtower Society.

The result was a newer version of the Elihu Books site which allowed me to post articles and ‘chat’ in a back-and-forth, message-posting manner through what is now known as the Elihu Books Chat with Us! or Elihu Books Online Chat page. [AUTHOR'S NOTE for January 13, 2012: The Elihu Books Chat with Us! page is now a more complete discussion board, which you can review here.] For much of this early site work, I owe thanks to Aurel Enea, and then also later on in similar ways to David Barron. During this same time or, more specifically, on March 28 and on April 1, 2007, I received two inquires about the status of audio links on the Elihu Books web site for my 2003 debate with Dr. White. The links were at one time active for the debate’s audio feed but during this time in early 2007 they were not active due to ongoing changes to the Elihu Books site. However, during this time the entire 2003 Tampa, Florida debate was still available (as it still is today) on DVD and through other media available from either Elihu Books or Alpha and Omega Ministries (Dr. White’s organization []).

Therefore, on April 10, 2007, I replied on the Elihu Chat to the two pending inquires about the audio links. I explained that the Elihu site was undergoing revision and that if the two people who had inquired about the audio debate links did not have the DVD, then they could get it and that if they could not afford it I would send copies to them. At or around this same time Dr. White began posting a series of entries on his’s Blog concerning certain parts of our 2003 debate, the very debate whose audio links were being discussed at that time on the Elihu Chat.

In addition to questions about 2006 email communications presented in my “Response to Dr. James White, Part One” (listed below), White’s 2007 Blog series focused on two issues raised by White during his cross-examination of me during our 2003 debate, namely: 1) the “glory” ‘seen’ by Isaiah according to John 12:41, and 2) whether it is impossible for God to become a man in the light of the Greek participles labon (“took on”) and genomenos (“came to be”/“came into being”) used in Philippians 2:7.

In the earlier, 2006/2007 Elihu Books Blog and Chat I provided 2 of 4 intended responses to Dr. White’s 2007 Blogs, that is, those of his Blogs which relate to me or to my expressed views. These have been made into PDFs with relevant material and new introductions explaining their origin and some history given the changes subsequently made to the Elihu Books site, including changes to the Elihu Blog and Chat. I have made these PDFs of Parts One and Two available since Dr. White’s 2007 Blogs are still online and because others have since cited or relied on my original Part Two in discussions of Isaiah and John 12:41:

These two parts were essentially completed as given above and in relation to other earlier Elihu Books Blog and Chat materials between January-May and April-June, 2007, in response to Dr. White’s Blog for January-April, 2007. [December 21, 2011, AUTHOR'S NOTE: For further and more recent discussion of the meaning of John 12:41, see my Elihu Online Papers 4, The “Glory” ‘Seen’ by Isaiah According to John 12:41 (November 20, 2011)]. Also intended as Parts Three and Four were discussions related to the content of my 2003 debate involving White’s questioning me over Philippians 2:7 and related concepts (= my intended Part Three), and then some further discussion of related or similar difficulties which had come up during this time involving offers from both Dr. Robert Morey and Dr. White to debate me formally, in public (= my intended Part Four).

My Addendum from my Response to Dr. James White, Part One: Introducing the Issues and the related material in the main text of that article make plain some of the problems I encountered after being approached by a member of Dr. White’s staff. As for the similar but different problems involved with Dr. Morey, this involved Morey’s initial challenge, my taking up that challenge, followed by Morey’s abandonment of any kind of meaningful response. The audio of this show is linked on the Elihu Books Topical Index under “A – Audio: Debate: September 27, 2006, The Narrow Mind (Morey/Stafford).” My responses to the challenge Morey made to me during this show can be read here, listed just as they are in the Elihu Books Topical Index under “R – Robert Morey: Foreknowledge and ‘Freewill: Stafford Response”:

Robert Morey: Foreknowledge and "Freewill": Stafford Response_1 ;

Robert Morey: Foreknowledge and "Freewill": Stafford Response_2 ;

Robert Morey: Foreknowledge and "Freewill": Stafford Response_3 ;

Robert Morey: Foreknowledge and "Freewill": Stafford Response_4 ;

Robert Morey: Foreknowledge and "Freewill": Stafford Response_5 .

Morey’s responses to my responses to his September 27, 2006, challenge to me are still pending, or they simply will never arrive. If they do, if Dr. Morey ever intends to make good on his own challenge and offer to debate me over the above listed responses to his issues, then he ‘has a lot of reading and writing to do,’ as is clear from the above and from our September 27, 2006, discussion. In fact, those are words similar to what Morey said to me, and which I have fulfilled for some time.

The above information and items regarding Morey, together with my Addendum to my Part One and the related main-text material regarding Dr. White, explain the substance of my intended Part Four as it relates to these 2006/2007 email, Blog, and Chat discussions regarding my possibly debating both Dr. White and Dr. Morey (for White, for the second time) sometime in the future.

Moving back from my “intended Part Four” involving some of the pre-debate behavior of both Dr. White and Dr. Morey from 2006/2007, and coming now to my “intended Part Three,” Part Three was to involve my presentation and subsequent review of the “complete transcription of what I gave in response to White during our 2003 debate,” that is, in response to White’s assertions from his Blog April 12, 2007, “A Test for Your Listening Skills – Part III,” where White writes (with my underlining added):

It is vital, in examining the argumentation of Jehovah's Witnesses, Oneness Pentecostals, and Muslims, to recognize the presuppositional nature of their commitment to unitarianism. They rarely defend it, they simply assume it. Here Stafford admits that it is a starting place in his theology that if one is God, one cannot be man. He begins by precluding the possibility of the Incarnation, seen in Philippians 2:5-11 or John 1:14. If you begin with your conclusion, you will always be arguing in circles, and this becomes the operative factor in his interpretational methodology. Though Stafford is far more polished in his presentation than your regular Witness, or Oneness Pentecostal, or Muslim, take the time to examine their materials: you will find the exact same foundational assumption. Paul could not actually be saying Jesus became a servant, because that just isn’t possible.

Here is where we again get further into “who is assuming what, and why,” and in this case Dr. White is claiming I admit, “as a starting place” in my theology, “that if one is God, one cannot be man.” White further writes, “[Stafford] begins by precluding the possibility of the Incarnation, seen in Philippians 2:5-11 or John 1:14.” But, in fact, what I clearly did do both during our 2003 debate and in my writings to that point concerning White and the assumptions of Trinitarianism is not assume “Incarnation” (Trinitarian) theology. Rather, I looked (and I still do look) to the meaning(s) arguable from the best available evidence, evidence which includes New Testament texts such as John 1:14 and Philippians 2:5-11.

What White refuses to accept is that my beliefs are not assumed “as a starting place in [my] theology” (or in my “interpretational methodology”) apart from good reasons which establish those beliefs. White simply ignores the reasons at times in ways that make it seem like there are none. This is exactly what he did in his “Summary Critique” of my First Edition (1998), and he has continued to do these same things since in these ways, as shown here from our 2003 debate and then also again in our subsequent 2007 Blog and Chat articles and related discussions.

Indeed, consider the section of our 2003 debate which represents the transcribed part which I intended to include in my earlier Part Three response to White’s April 12, 2007, “A Test for Your Listening Skills – Part III.” The following is from hour one, minute thirty-four, and second fifty-six (1:34:56) to hour one, minute thirty-seven, second fifteen (1:37:15) of my 2003 debate with Dr. White, during White’s cross-examination of me (with my underlining added):

White:                In ... uh ... In your book Three Dissertations on the Teachings
            of Jehovah’s Witnesses, page 216, you write:


Also, to truly take on the weaknesses and limitations of humanity, Christ would had to have given up that which would have prevented him from really owning such human limitations, namely, his divine nature, intrinsic to which are attributes that cannot coexist with the intrinsic attributes of human nature. And therein lies the great fallacy of the Trinitarian incarnation. 

White:                Is that a correct citation?

Stafford:            Yes.

White:                Two questions based on that. First, is it truly your position
            that Yahweh is incapable of the act of Incarnation in the
            Trinitarian sense, specifically, this act resulting in one person             with two natures? And secondly, would not the historic,
            Trinitarian exegesis of the text which sees the participles
            “labon” and “genomenos” as circumstantial modals answer the very             objection you have raised regarding the voluntary self-                       humiliation and limitation of the Incarnate Son who is eternally             co-equal with the Father?

Stafford:            I am not certain whether or not it is possible for Jehovah to
            “take on” or become a part of the Incarnation in the classic                  Trinitarian sense. That would be my answer to the first question.             My answer to the second question ... um ... I’m not sure what the             point is that you are making with respect to the Greek ... um ...             words you used.

White:                Have you ever examined the fact that the participles “labon” and
            “genomenos” explain how it is that the ‘emptying’ took place?

Stafford:            Oh, I see what you are saying ... uh ... I don’t ... I don’t
            think that’s a problem. The fact that Christ “emptied himself” by
            ‘taking the form of a man’ makes the same point: If you are a man
            you are not God. Therefore, you are devoid of that which makes
            you God, thus a man.

White:                But isn’t that just going back to what I just asked, and that is that seemingly it is your assumption that God is incapable of doing this. What if God could? Wouldn’t your response be circular?

Stafford:     No, because God is not man. Therefore, if he becomes man he is ... you can’t have ... It would, based on my knowledge of the Scriptures and understanding of theology and metaphysics, if one becomes a man that one is no longer God. If one becomes God that one is no longer a man. They are two different categories of being.

White:            So from your perspective then it is a given that God cannot be Incarnate. Hence he cannot both be God and man. That is a fundamental presupposition of your understanding?

Stafford:            Based on my limited knowledge of metaphysics and theology, yes.

(After my answer, Dr. White moved on to a different question and one not directly related to this part of the subject.)

From the above transcription we can see Dr. White ignores my reasons and instead persists in trying to get me to accept that my beliefs are “circular,” simply because I do not accept his view as possible because of what I believe and because of the stated reasons for why I believe what I believe. In fact, even in my 2003 response I conceded, “I am not certain whether or not it is possible.” Ultimately, therefore, I simply have different beliefs than Dr. White, but this is because of what I consider and have presented in arguments as good or better reasons than what Dr. White presented to me in 2003, and what he has presented to me and to others since then. If my beliefs are true (as I believe them to be), then outside of a concession of possibility for the limited sake of theoretical discussion, White’s belief in Trinitarian, Incarnation theology (namely, that God did become a man “in the classic Trinitarian sense”) is impossible.

I say this not as my starting place but as the point to which I have come in my studies. As you can see from what I underlined in the above transcription, twice in my responses to Dr. White I expressly pointed to the reasons why I believe what I do about Philippians 2:7, and whether God can become a man and still remain fully God, or whether a man can become God and still remain fully man. My stated reasons were: 1) “my knowledge of the Scriptures and understanding of theology and metaphysics,” and 2) “my limited knowledge of metaphysics and theology.”

Whether White’s beliefs are possible under some theoretical condition is really a separate question since granting that something you do not believe is possible to be possible does nothing to truly answer the question, and so it certainly provides no basis for belief, either. For example, I do not believe in the real possibility of the unintelligent evolution of life apart from an already-existing, intentionally intelligent Creator, whose life is clear to me from all that we can and that we have observed in our present and fossilized life here in this earth. However, I might use the Francis Crick analogy as a means of demonstrating this impossibility, for even this analogy gives a chance not only to what Crick already otherwise assumed is true for the sake of his analogy, namely, the existence of both “a hurricane” and trash on a junkyard,” in association with which Crick then reportedly acknowledged concerning the unintentional evolution of the DNA helix:
You would be more likely to assemble a fully functioning and flying jumbo jet by passing a hurricane through a junk yard than you would be to assemble the DNA molecule by chance. In any kind of primeval soup in 5 or 600 million years, it’s just not possible [as quoted in the article, Computing the Cost of Minimalism (last accessed August 4, 2011)].
Whether these odds are fair or accurate for anyone to use in any credible argument for the formation, the origin, or for the eternality of life is open to further consideration. But my point here in relation to life and then also in relation to what Dr. White asked me about God and man, is that I might grant the possibility that something could theoretically be true all the while believing differently, or oppositely, and for what I am willing to present and to argue for intelligently as the best available reasons.

If you ask White, it is not for good reasons but because I already believe something apart from any good reasons at all that I believe what I do and, then what I do, is simply use my assumed beliefs as facts to help me understand everything else. Yet, not only have I and can I show that I do not do this, even in the very places in my writings and in my debates where White says I do these things, I will further argue, and I have for some time argued, that this is what Trinitarians often do. Hence, there is real irony in how Dr. White and others have attempted to try and “turn the tables on me,” in this way.

The same is true when it comes to other theoretical possibilities, including Trinitarian Incarnation theology, which though possible through some kind of theorizing is really not possible as a biblical doctrine in view of what we can show is taught throughout the New Testament and in other related biblical texts. What we read in early Christian, New Testament texts such as Philippians 2:5-9 speaks directly against what White wants me to admit is “possible”!

Therefore, anything but cloaking or “veiling” the Jesus of the Trinity rather than allowing Jesus of the New Testament to “empty himself” of the “form of a god/God’s form” and to be the one who “took on the form of a servant/a man” is rejected by Trinitarians, if it means anything like what I believe or what we read from others like G. Braumann:

It is said of this divine mode of existence that Christ existed in it in the past (hyparchōn, being, v. 6). It refers to his pre-existence prior to the incarnation. en morphē theou characterizes, therefore, his existence before his earthly life, but not his existence in that earthly life. For he emptied himself (heauton ekenōsen, v. 7) taking the “form of a servant” (morphēn doulou). This form replaces the “form of God.” It is not to be thought of like clothing put over the previous form or as an addition to the pre-existing form. Christ’s mode of being was essentially changed. [G. Braumann, “morphē,” in The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, vol. 1, Colin Brown, ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1975), page 706.

This I had cited in my discussion of this text in both my First (page 75) and Second (page 197-198) Editions of Jehovah’s Witnesses Defended. Yet, instead of asking me more about what he already knows in large part, namely, my theological and metaphysical reasons for believing God cannot become a man and how these reasons may relate more specifically to Philippians 2:7, in 2003 White questioned me about my alleged “assumption that God is incapable of” becoming a man! Indeed, White further asked me, “What if God could? Wouldn’t your [= Stafford’s] response be circular?”

As I answered, “No.” How could my response to White have been “circular” in this case if my reasons are not my assumption “as a starting place” that White’s Trinitarian views are impossible but, rather, that White’s Trinitarian view is impossible “based on my knowledge of the Scriptures and understanding of theology and metaphysics”?

Bringing the above section of my 2003 debate with Dr. White forward to White’s April 12, 2007, Blog, “A Test for Your Listening Skills – Part III,” Dr. White references, quotes from, and relies in large part on what he wrote in his online paper,
Beyond the Veil of Eternity: The Importance of Philippians 2:5-11 in Theology and Apologetics, Christian Research Journal 223 (available online here).

Note in particular White’s introductory and conclusive comments, which also caption a quotation from page 630 of Daniel B. Wallace’s Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996):

Daniel B. Wallace, an eminent Greek scholar, sees both terms “taking” and “being made” as the means by which the “being made nothing” is accomplished.[viii]

The biggest difficulty with seeing labwn (taking) as means is that emptying is normally an act of subtraction, not addition. But the imagery should not be made to walk on all fours. As an early hymn, it would be expected to have a certain poetic license….The Philippians were told not to puff themselves up with “empty glory,” because Christ was an example of one who emptied his glory. If this connection is intentional, then the Carmen Christi has the following force:
 Do not elevate yourselves on empty glory, but follow the example of Christ, who, though already elevated (on God’s level), emptied his glory by veiling it in humanity.[ix]

So the means of the kenosis is the addition of a human nature, the veiling of the divine in the creaturely. This is important to understand, for many interpret Paul to mean that Christ abandons the “form of God” rather than seeing this as an addition of the human nature to the eternal divine nature that was Christ’s. It is this addition that “veils” the form of God.  While there are certainly many who see this passage teaching that Christ did indeed lay aside the “form of God,” the words of Paul do not present such a concept. 

[viii] That is, the syntactical function of these two participles is circumstantial modal.
[ix] Wallace, 630.

Here we have a clear example of reading assumptions apart from the best available reasons back into an ancient text, not only from the point of subsequent commentary and interpretation by White, but also in interpretation and in translation on some expressive level by Professor Wallace.

White and Wallace, being Trinitarians, cannot have Jesus ever ceasing to be “God” in terms of his essential nature. This means that while Jesus can “take on” something else he can only do so if it does not take away from what he is already or, in the case of Philippians 2:7, Jesus cannot “empty himself” of the “form of God” or of what it means to be “God” essentially in order to “become a man,” and yet to “become a man” that is what he would have to do if that “man” is “the last Adam” (1 Corinthians 15:45). Indeed, in addition to 1 Corinthians 15:45-57 what is said in 1 Corinthians 15:20-28 is also in large part contained in what we read in Philippians 2:5-11.

I do not read a theology which can be dated and shown to have come about hundreds of years later back into the New Testament writings of the first century CE. Rather, I read the New Testament and related literature and other credibly verifiable events or likely events from various peoples and from many sources which have to date proven reliable when it comes to what has occurred or existed during, before, and after the first century CE. These include also, and in large part, the Old Testament and other, similar writings and inscriptions from various times and peoples which have survived and been tested over time. In evidence of this, and in direct contrast to what I can show is often done in Trinitarianism, I will here point to my prior and most current writings, particularly Chapter 2 from my Third Edition (2009) of Jehovah’s Witnesses Defended, where it concerns this very question of different assumptions about the meaning of ancient, biblical and other literature
s use of terms for “G-god.” 

My writings on other subjects, such as my EOP 1, Advanced Earth Conditions Corrections to Miller’s 1953 Hypothesis and Its Likely Indications, (July 4, 2010), on the subject of intentionally intelligent, eternal life also show this is true in other areas of my argumentation and subsequent belief, and in this field of study I have also at times argued openly but based on good reasons against those who are otherwise accepted as experts. Indeed, there are times when I can and, I believe, when I have shown that some experts have done or are presently doing in certain scientific fields of study the very same or similar thing(s) many Trinitarians have done or continue to do in theology today: Assuming beliefs and/or the basis(es) for them in many cases where the assumed (= non-good-reason-based) beliefs are critical to the overall understanding they express, conclude, and/or strongly maintain. Whether and certainly before the same is said about me, more must be considered and presented than what Dr. White has put forth, to date, for it only really clearly shows to this point that he is ignoring the reasons that I have repeatedly put forth, to date, often in ways which further reveal his own Trinitarian assumptions.

To deny this, that is, to deny they are assuming their beliefs and/or the reasons for them (often or all the while claiming that I do these very things), many Trinitarians like White and Wallace equivocate on or come up with a new or different (certainly later) meaning or understanding for the expression, “empty himself” in Philippians 2:7. This they do, by first adding
glory” to the act of ‘emptying’ and then by interpreting “taking on the form of a servant” (and “becoming a man”) as the means by which the glory of the heavenly Jesus is ‘veiled,’ but not ‘emptied,’ or at least not in the ‘normal means of an act of subtraction rather than by addition,’ to use Wallace’s language.

Yet, when it comes to the regular use and meaning of the Greek verb keno’ō, from which we get kenosis as it is used in Philippians 2:7, this has not been hidden from Martin, Bowman, White, or from Wallace; they simply do not accept the following view which I do accept in large part and for good reasons (with my underlining and bracketed words added):

[Keno’o] “To make empty, a. “to deprive of content or possession” ... In the NT sense a. is used only in Phil. 2:6f. of Christ ... Here sense b. “he negated himself, deprived himself of his worth, denied himself” ... is ruled out by the resultant weak tautology of [etapeinosen heauton, “he lowered himself”]. We are rather to supply [tou einai isa theō, “this equality” or “this likeness to a god/God”] as an omitted object, and we thus have the equivalent of [en morphē theou huparchōn, “though he was existing in the form of a god/God” (or ‘a divine form’)]. There is no suggestion of a temptation of the Pre-existent to aspire beyond His existing state. What is meant is that the heavenly Christ did not selfishly exploit His divine form and mode of being ..., but by his own decision emptied Himself of it or laid it by, taking the form of a servant by becoming a man. The subject of [ekenōsen, “he emptied”] is not the incarnate but the pre-existent Lord. There is a strong sense of the unity of His person. The essence [“of His person”] remains, the mode of being changes – a genuine sacrifice. Docetism [= the belief that Jesus only seemed to have a human body] is excluded. The best commentary is to be found in [2 Corinthians 8:9]: [eptōcheusen plousios ōn], “he became a beggar even though (of himself, and up to this point) he was rich.” [Albrecht Oepke, “Keno’ō,” in TDNT 3, G. Kittel, ed., G.W. Bromiley, trans. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965), page 661.]

Because of what Oepke writes here overall, I have added “of His person” in brackets after Oepke’s use of “essence” in light of what “remains” after Jesus’ preexistent “mode of being changes,” since those are the words used in immediate relation to “The essence,” as well as in light of the expressed acceptance that the ‘change’ came only to Jesus’ “mode of being.”

Because of this change in
mode of being, Wallace considers this the “biggest difficulty” involved with “taking on” when understood in this way in Philippians 2:7, for it would then involve not addition only (that is, the ‘taking on’ of a second, human nature/form) but, rather subtraction of the form/nature in which Jesus already existed, namely, that of “a god/God.” To quote Braumann (from earlier in this Blog), who is in obvious agreement with Oepke and with me in terms of how to present in words the meaning of the text (but with my underlining added), “This form [the ‘form of a servant’ Jesus ‘took on’] replaces the ‘form of God.’”

Yet, what Braumann and Oepke write about and what I also believe for the same and for other reasons can be shown to be correct according to the best available reasons, I believe I can show, as opposed to other positions like Trinitarian Incarnation theology which makes use of all sorts of assumed concepts and meanings by wrongly associating them with the biblical writings and even with other, related texts.

In making clear this last point, consider respected Trinitarian Professor Ralph P. Martin. Originally published in 1963, Martin wrote a book about Philippians 2:5-11 under the title, Carmen Christi, which was later published as A Hymn of Christ: Philippians 2:5-11 in Recent Interpretation and in the Setting of Early Christian Worship (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1997).

On page 1 of his Introduction, Martin quotes Lightfoot’s translation of Pliny the Younger’s Letters 10.96. Pliny was a Roman official who lived from 61 to about 112 CE, and an apparent adviser to then-Emperor Trajan. For more on Pliny the Younger see, “Ancient Rome – Pliny the Younger,” on Classical Literature (link:, as of August 1, 2011)]. Of his Letters, those writing for the Classical Literature site and concerning this period and Pliny’s person and his Letters have noted:

The “Epistulae” [“Letters”] are a unique testimony of Roman administrative history and everyday life in the 1st Century CE, incorporating a wealth of detail on Pliny's life at his country villas, as well as his progression though the sequential order of public offices followed by aspiring politicians in ancient Rome. Especially noteworthy are two letters in which he describes the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 CE and the death of his uncle and mentor, Pliny the Elder (“Epistulae VI.16” and “Epistulae VI.20”), and one in which he asks the Emperor Trajan for instructions regarding official policy concerning Christians (“Epistulae X.96”), considered the earliest external account of Christian worship [from “Ancient Rome – Pliny the Younger,” on the site Classical Literature (link:, as of August 1, 2011)].

According to the portion of Pliny’s letter quoted by Martin from Lightfoot and found on page 1 of Martin’s Introduction, Pliny wrote the following to Trajan about how to deal with those claiming to be Christians:

They asserted that this was the sum and substance of their fault or their error; namely, that they were in the habit of meeting before dawn on a stated day and singing alternately to Christ as to a god, and that they bound themselves by an oath, not to the commission of any wicked dead, but that they would abstain from theft and robbery and adultery, that they would not break their word, and that they would not withhold a deposit when reclaimed. This done, it was their practice, so they said, to separate, and then to meet together again for a meal, which however was of the ordinary kind and quite harmless.

Compare also the translation of Pliny’s Letters 10.96 in its larger context as presented on the VRoma Project site, which uses the 1915 Loeb Classical Library edition (and also, “a god”). For more on the letter’s significance, see here.

However, though Martin quotes Lightfoot accurately where Lightfoot uses “a god” in representing how Pliny viewed the Christians’ view of Jesus of Nazareth (A Hymn of Christ, Introduction, page 1), several pages later (Introduction, page 7, note 5) Martin changes Pliny’s reference from “to Christ as to a god” to “a composition directed to Christ as God”! The only meaning or understanding Martin could here intend for Pliny, by changing Pliny’s view of how he understood the Christians’ view of the Christ from as “a god” to “as God,” is according to his view of “God,” namely, “the Trinity.” Here though, instead of assuming it for his interpretation of New Testament or other biblical texts, Martin does it also for others, and here for Pliny the Younger.

This is precisely what Bowman, White, and Wallace have done, though in Martin’s case he does it with a non-Christian, making the assumptions inherent in all Trinitarian theology clearer by association with his “interpretational methodology” (to use White’s description), since in the case of the New Testament Trinitarians claim it as part of the ground of contention over what to believe. But Pliny was not a Trinitarian! This is clear from any extended reading of his Letters 10.96.

In spite of this, by 1982 Martin had not only made a complete substitution between Pliny’s “a god” and his Trinitarian understanding of “God,” but his assumption of Trinitarianism is what allowed him to transfer his belief about “God” to Pliny’s Roman, non-Christian, intended “a god” meaning!

Note the following from Martin’s essay, “Some Reflections on New Testament Hymns” in Christ the Lord: Studies in Christology presented to Donald Guthrie (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1982), page 49 (with underlining added):

Hymnology and Christology thus merged in the worship of one Lord, soon to be hailed after the close of the New Testament canon as worthy of hymns ‘as to God’ (Pliny’s report of the Bithynian Christians at Sunday worship, AD 112).

The above change to “Pliny’s report” is simply incredible, particularly when you realize further that Martin’s reference in his note to the above paragraph takes the reader to Martin’s note 21 on his page 44, which note merely refers his readers back to the introductory pages of his Carmen Christi/A Hymn of Christ book, which we just considered!

Now that is a “circular” argument Dr. White would be proud of if he had seen it. But though White and Wallace and Bowman (and Martin) do with Paul and with other biblical writers exactly what Martin does also with Pliny’s use of “a god,” Martin’s example involving Pliny is more powerful to use in showing what is happening elsewhere when it comes to actual biblical texts. Indeed, no one can dispute that Pliny the Younger would have used the sense of “a god” according to Roman tradition. This is particularly evident since part of the very reason Pliny is writing about the Christians is to confirm they do not invoke “the Gods,” their Roman Gods, and the Christians did not ‘offer adoration, with wine and frankincense’ to the “image” of Trajan, which Pliny says he “had ordered to be brought for that purpose, together with those of the Gods”! 

See Pliny’s entire Letter 10.96 to Trajan. So Pliny could not ever be made to rightly say through commentary or by translation of his “report” that the Christians of his day sang to Christ “as God” or as to God. But in denying even this to the obvious meaning intended by a non-Christian writer, that is, according to Pliny’s words to Trajan about Pliny’s view of Jesus among Christians, Martin shows what is happening also with biblical texts in the hands of Trinitarians in large part.

Assuming rather than arguing for that which is used in the argument is where this kind of assuming breaks the argument down, often because there are no good reasons to hold it up in the first place; such assuming does not lift up and it does not enlighten, no matter how enlightened one may be. Whether enlightened or not, as noted earlier, Professor Wallace offers us the following understanding (Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, page 630) of Philippians 2:7 which is picked up and used by White in his April 12, 2007, Blog, “A Test for Your Listening Skills – Part III,” and in his online paper, “Beyond the Veil of Eternity,” (available online here), and as quoted and discussed earlier in this Blog:

Do not elevate yourselves on empty glory, but follow the example of Christ, who, though already elevated (on God’s level), emptied his glory by veiling it in humanity.

In harmony with the above understanding, and in perfect harmony with Martin, Bowman, and White when it comes to assuming Trinitarianism for Pliny or for Paul, Wallace (Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, page 635, note 56) writes, “If one denies that Christ was truly God, one must also deny that he was truly a servant (note [morphēn doulou verse 7]).”

But this is true only if one assumes (as does Wallace) that “truly God” should not rather be “truly a god” for, indeed, only then do we have the kind of parallel argument which can stand the comparative test Wallace puts on it, namely, “If one denies that Christ was [truly a god], one must also deny that he was truly a servant (note [morphēn doulou verse 7]).” Trinitarians must first ask why they do not use the commonly understood and regularly used meaning for such terms rather than take “as a starting place” in their “interpretational methodology” Trinitarian Incarnation theology in their use of

Wallace has here fallen into a similar kind of assumptive trap that Bowman fell into much earlier concerning the uses of “God” and “a man” in 1 Timothy 2:5. Note what I wrote in this regard in both my 1998 and 2000, First and Second Editions of Jehovah’s Witnesses Defended, pages 79-80 and 202, respectively, but here quoting only from my Second Edition, page 202:

       Jesus as mediator between "God and men." Commenting on Jehovah’s Witnesses’ use of 1 Timothy 2:5 against the Trinity doctrine, Bowman [Why You Should Believe in the Trinity: An Answer to Jehovah's Witnesses (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1989), page 73] states: "1 Timothy 2:5 says that Jesus is the ‘one mediator between God and men’ (NWT), and from this statement the JW booklet concludes that Jesus cannot be God, because ‘by definition a mediator is someone separate from those who need mediation’ (p. 16). But by this reasoning Jesus cannot be a man, either; yet this very text says that he is ‘a man’!" A more complete quotation of 1 Timothy 2:5 will prove illuminating: "For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus" (NIV, emphasis added).

       The point of the "JW booklet" [Should You Believe in the Trinity? (Brooklyn: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, 1989)] is that Jesus cannot be the one for whom he mediates. Who is that? It is not simply "God," but the one God. Bowman substitutes the specific reference to the Father as the "one God" with the less descriptive title, "God." He states that by our alleged reasoning "Jesus cannot be a man either." However, if we take notice of the second and third words emphasized in the above quote from 1 Timothy 2:5 ("men" and "man"), we can see that the proper conclusion is Jesus cannot be the "men" (those for whom he mediates), but he was "a man"; nor can he be the "one God," but he can be and is "a god."

Though they each assume Trinitarianism “as a starting place” in their interpretation and even in their translations of the biblical text and some other early writings which speak about Christian beliefs (Pliny, by Martin), they would all likely (and Dr. White would for sure) have you believe that I am assuming what to believe and what not to believe “as a starting place,” without any evidence.

Yet, what I actually do and what I can and will show I do, is use what I believe after thorough review are the best available reasons. I then use and continue with these as my “starting place” for understanding the New Testament and other biblical writings. Who is really doing what, and why, is for each one of us to decide, hopefully according to good reasons, and not because of what we assume is true in spite of the best available evidence.

For more on the meaning of Philippians 2:5-9 and other related texts, see my Jehovah’s Witnesses Defended, Third Edition (2009), page 214 (available online here) and my Three Dissertations on the Teachings of Jehovah’s Witnesses (Murrieta, CA: Elihu Books, 2002), note 5, pages 213-216, as well as my answer to the question, “What is your understanding of Philippians 2:5-9, and why does the NWT read so differently from versions like the NASB?” in “Upon the Lampstand, December 15, 2007 (revised May 4, 2010), pages 1-8, all of which are available through