Some Thoughts on this Debate between Tovia Singer and William Lane Craig

youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uThVHk6b7hU

In high school I bought a case of cassettes of Rabbi Tovia Singer, who leads Outreach Judaism, a Jewish “counter-missionary” organization. On the cassettes, Singer gives lectures arguing that Jesus cannot be the Messiah, criticizing the New Testament, and responding to Christian interpretations of Old Testament “messianic” texts such as Psalm 110, Isaiah 9, Isaiah 53, Daniel 9, etc. I learned a lot from listening to the lectures and thinking about how to respond. Singer is a very articulate advocate of the Orthodox Jewish viewpoint.

Sometimes when I am listening to a pastor or theologian being interviewed, I like to pause the interview after each question and think through how I’d answer each question. Its a humbling exercise which reminds me of how challenging doing effective Q and A is. But it also helps me grow in my ability to think on my feet. This debate between Singer and William Lane Craig is fascinating. I like it more than the similar Larry King debate because there is less interrupting in this one, although its great to watch David Brickner and Al Mohler in that one. As I listened to this one, I thought of how I would respond to the Rabbi’s points. I thought William Lane Craig did fine on his own, but after thinking about this all day yesterday, here is the response I would give to one of Singer’s major points, made several times throughout this interview.

Singer says:

“Why don’t we have any clear text anywhere in the Hebrew Bible that gives us the Nicene Creed, the very clear statement of a Triune doctrine? Its found nowhere in the Hebrew Bible. Our salvation depends on worshiping God in truth.” [from 2:45-3:00] And later: [Craig’s position] means that for 2,000 years, the Jews (you concede) knew nothing about a Trinity, God warned the Jews throughout all these centuries, “worship me in truth,” you admit that they would have no knowledge of what that truth is … how was Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David saved, without the Trinity?” [from 4:00-4:40]

My response:

First of all, the Nicene Creed was formulated in response to the witness of Christ and the New Testament. To expect that degree of clarity in Trinitarian understanding in the Hebrew Bible flattens the progressive, incremental nature of biblical revelation, which all Jews and Christians must acknowledge. That is like expecting Abraham to have a full knowledge of the Torah (law). God does not dump the knowledge of Himself wholesale onto humanity at one point in history, but reveals his nature and work incrementally throughout the course of history. One might as well ask, “how was Abraham saved, when he didn’t have the Torah?” Or: “how was Moses saved, when he didn’t know about the Davidic covenant?” Or: “how was David saved, when he didn’t know what the post-exilic prophets knew?” As Craig points out, people are saved as they respond to what is revealed to them at that time in history.

Furthermore, the Trinity is not a contradiction of prior revelation about God’s nature, as Singer portrays it, but a clarification and expansion and elucidation of what came before. The Trinitarian can happily affirm the unity of God, as taught in passages such as Deuteronomy 6:4. The word echad (one) does not entail strict unity – it is used, for example, to describe how a man and woman become “one flesh” in marriage (Genesis 2:23). The tri-personal nature of the Christian God does not contradict his unity any more than a married couple cannot be “one flesh” while remaining two distinct people.

Moreover, within the Old Testament (and here I differ in my approach from Craig), the seeds of Trinitarianism are already evident. Its not clear enough that you could derive the Trinity from the Hebrew Bible, but its clear enough that once you have the Trinity, the Hebrew Bible makes much more sense. For example, in Psalm 110 David appeals to “(his) lord” (adonai) who receives communication and authority from “the Lord” (YHWH). In Isaiah 9:6, the Davidic King is said to be El Gibbur (“Mighty God”). In Zechariah 12:10, the Lord says, “you will look upon me (the Lord), the one you have pierced.” In Micah 7:9 the prophet says he will bear the Lord’s indignation until “He (the Lord) pleads my case for me.” (To whom would the Lord plead, in Jewish monotheism?) In Psalm 45:6-7 God is said to have an eternal throne, and then is said to be annointed by … God. (How does God annoint God?) And on we could go – all of this is leaving aside the plural pronouns in Genesis 1 and 11, the enigmatic figure of “the angel of the Lord” throughout the Old Testament (who is frequently worshiped), Abram’s 3 visitors in Genesis 18 (addressed as “Lord”), and other passages which make the Old Testament very difficult to understand apart from the revelation of God’s triune nature.

11 Comments

  1. How would you answer the traditional Jewish response that echad means simply one unit.

    The examples Christians use to show that it does not entail strict unity (i.e. Genesis 2:23) is explained away by the fact that it is only a number,,,the number one…that there may be ONE flesh, ONE combination, but it is just as if there may be ONE pair of apples as opposed to ONE single apple. The issue is not the amount of the subject within the qualified amount, but that there is only ONE qualified amount… which reveals that there is only one subject in mind, whether in a grouping or single…that is the simple point of the syntax usage of the word. Otherwise one is reading into it more than actually exists.

    Yachid is not a number (as is echad), but either an adverb or adjective. It means “only”.

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  2. Hi YS, off the top of my head, I’m not sure how Christian monotheism is incompatible with what you’re saying about echad referring to ONE grouping or pair … but feel free to take another crack at it if you can explain what you are saying more clearly.

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  3. james jordan

    The obvious question I would bring on the Trinity is why do Christians even care so much about it? I was raised in a church that early in my life didn’t use the term “Trinity” because they had this hang-up of “Calling Bible things by Bible names.” But the concept was there — they just used the word “Godhead” for it. But our “Trinity” was a subordinationist Trinity. Jesus was subordinate to the Father — “My Father is greater than I.” And so, as a result, in a way, the Trinity wasn’t so important: If the Father is greater, Jesus might as well not be God. Later in life, of course, I was exposed to the Greek Orthodox concept that Christ was thrice-begotten, and to the Calvinist concept of Eternal Sonship. I began to buy into some of these concepts and become somewhat of a Zealot for the Trinity, claiming along with all the Evangelicals that Christians who don’t believe in the Trinity are going to hell. But eventually I figured out how moronic this is. The Trinity is not important. If you believe in a subordinationist view, even one that doesn’t allow Jesus to be God, so what? Paul says that Jesus was highly exalted after death — if he was God, how could he go any higher? The Trinity is so clearly false — and even if it were true, what the hell does it gain us? Its more confusing and offensive than useful or helpful in any way.

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  4. james jordan

    Another major problem with the Trinity is the number 3 is arbitrary. If you go to the Old Testament ignoring that it explicitly says “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is ONE” then you can certainly end up with more persons that 3 in your pantheon of persons. There are passages about the seven spirits of God. There’s the mention in Exodus of God passing over on Passover, and another that the Destroyer is the one to pass over. So in addition to the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, do we add in the Destroyer, and 7 more spirits into the Godhead? And so on. The thing is, of course, these are not persons but manifestations; but using Christian logic they’ll all become persons. So if you don’t take “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is ONE” literally as referring to the number of persons, you can end up arbitrarily putting a LOT of persons in God.

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  5. Anonymous

    Interesting

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  6. Anonymous

    Have you considered sending your response to Rabbi Singer to request his response to your points?

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  7. All three persons of the Trinity appear in Isaiah 48:16-17.

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    1. richard johnson

      Surely the scripture is referring to Isaiah when it says ” The Lord God and His Spirit hath sent me”. I cant see any reference to Jesus there can you point me in the right direction please

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  8. Anonymous

    I’m assuming you don’t know Hebrew. Psalm 110

    Based on a Greek translation and in English by merely capitalizing the letter “L” in the second use of the word “Lord” they intentionally make it appear as if God (LORD) is speaking to someone who is also Divine and also referred to as (Lord).

    This form of proof-text logic is a classic example of shooting an arrow and then drawing a circle around it to get it in a bull’s-eye.

    They do this by mistranslating the original Hebrew.

    In this passage the first word (LORD) in Hebrew is the four-letter (yud-hai-vav-hai) sacred name of G-d. However the second (Lord) is a completely different word spelled (aleph-dalet-nun-yud). Although this letter combination of letters can spell a name of God, there is no example in Tanach where this particular form (prefixed by the Hebrew letter “lamed- ל” which mean “to,”) is used to mean “to my God.”

    This “Lord” (in blue) which is not entirely capitalized above is the Hebrew word “adoni,”(pronounced adonee), with a “chirik” vowel under the letter yud. It means “to my master” or “to my lord” with a lower case “L” like the “lord of the manor.”

    In modern Hebrew, it is used like the English word “sir” or “master.” The phrase “slicha adonee” means “excuse me sir.” Based on this mistranslation many Christian English New Testaments intentionally capitalize the letter “L” to promote their opinion that this word is Divine. In English the word “Lord” and “lord” may be pronounced the same but one is Divine and the other is not.

    In Hebrew it is not uncommon to have a word that can either Divine or human depending on the context. An excellent example is the Hebrew “Elohim” that can mean either a human judge or God. For example:
    “In the beginning God (Elohim) created” Genesis 1:1
    “Then his master shall bring him to the judges (elohim) Exodus 21:6
    The first example refers to God the second to human judges. This word is also used to refer to idols.
    It is important to note that there are Christian translations like the Oxford Study Edition that recognize the mistake in Psalm 110 and correctly translated it as “The Lord said to my lord” with a lower case “L.”
    In Biblical Hebrew the Tanach uses the word ‘adoni’ more than 130 times. In every instance it means a “master” or “lord,” and refers to a human being. In addition to Psalm 110:1 the word “To my master” (L’adoni) appear 20 times and always refers to a human being. Here are some examples.

    “Hear us my lord (Abraham)” Genesis 23 v.6
    “Sarah bore a son to my master (Abraham)” Genesis 24:36
    “You shall say to my lord, to Esav” Genesis 32:5
    “What can we say to my lord (Joseph)” Gen. 44:16
    “I love my master (a slave owner)” Exodus 21:5
    “Let not the anger of my lord (Moshe) burn” Ex. 32:22
    “to do this thing to my lord” (David)” 1 Samuel 24:7

    Now that it is clear that the Hebrew says “The Lord said to my master (lord)” it is important to understand who is speaking to whom.

    Although the Psalms were composed by King David they were often written in the third person about himself. For example:

    “He who releases David, His servant” Psalm 144:10

    This point is also substantiated by the fact that in Hebrew this Psalm starts “L’David Mizmor” which means “A psalm of David.” L’David literally means “to David” or concerning him, it does not simply mean “composed by David.” This is similar to “L’Shlomo” meaning “for Solomon” in Psalm 72:1. This indicates that David was writing Psalm 110 about himself.

    Although King David was not allowed to build the Temple he did everything he could to prepare the way for it to be built, and among the things he did was compile the book of Psalms to be sung by the Levites in the Temple, as it says;

    “Then on that day David first delivered the psalm into the hands of Asaf and his brethren” 1 Chronicles 16:7
    “For the chief musician a psalm for David” Psalm 20:1
    “And David spoke to the chiefs of the Levites to appoint their brethren the singers with instruments of music’ l Chronicles 15:16

    Psalm 110 was composed in the third person to be sung by the Levites, and thus reflects their point of view, for they would call their king “my master – adoni.” In other words, the Levites are saying that “God spoke to our master (King David). Sit at My right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.”

    It was composed at the beginning of David’s reign. When the Philistines heard that Israel had anointed David as king, they came to fight with him, David talks about his reassurance from G-d that He would fight with the Jews against their enemies. As it says:
    “He arose and struck the Philistines until his hand was weary and did cleave to his sword and the Lord wrought a great victory that day.”(2 Samuel 23 v.l0)
    Sitting at God’s right hand as stated in the beginning of Psalm 110, symbolized God’s victorious protection, as written:
    “Thy right hand has supported me” Psalm 18:36
    “Thy right hand Oh Lord, is glorious in power” Exodus 13:6
    “The right hand of the Lord is exalted; the right hand of the Lord does valiant.” Psalm 118:16
    The privilege of sitting at the right hand is also a mark of distinction.

    “And (Solomon) placed a chair for the king’s mother and she sat to his right” 1 Kings 2:19

    When God invites David to “sit at My right hand,” it is to show the protection given by God and the privileged position enjoyed by David in his relationship with God. It is not to be taken as literally indicating sitting at God’s right hand. The terminology “right hand” is here used as an expression of God’s protection and favoritism toward David.

    Now we will understand that this Psalm is speaking about King David we are left with several questions.

    • What does it mean that he will be “a priest (Kohen) forever after the manner of Melchizedek?”
    • Who was Melchizedek?
    • What kind of priest was he?
    • How could David be referred to as a “Kohen”(who originate from the tribe of Levy) when he was from the tribe of Judah?
    • How was David like Melchizedek?

    A priest after the manner of Melchizedek does not refer to Jesus taking over the Levitical priesthood forever.2
    This statement also refers to King David.
    Melchizedek was non-Jewish a King who lived during the times of Abraham as it says:
    “And Melchizedek King of Salem brought forth bread and wine and he was a priest (Kohen) of G-d the most high” Genesis 14:18
    Even thought he was not Jewish and could not be from the tribe of Levy, he is called a priest (Kohen) because of his position of service. Similarly, Jethro (Moses’ father-in-law) was called a “priest (Kohen) of Midian.” Exodus 18:1
    Melchizedek was called the “King of Salem” This mean that he was a king of Jerusalem. In Hebrew the word Jerusalem (Yerushaliem) is made up of the words ‘yereh’ and ‘salem’.
    “Abraham called this place ‘Hashem Yereh’ (God sees) Genesis 22:l4
    The word Salem refers to Jerusalem, as it says:
    “In Salem is his tabernacle (Temple)” Psalm 76:3
    Additionally, the name Melchizedek comes from two Hebrew words, ‘melech’ which means king, and ‘zedek’ which means righteousness. This means a king over a place known for its righteousness.
    Jerusalem is referred to as the city that reflects God’s righteousness as it is stated:
    “Jerusalem will dwell in security and this is what she (Jerusalem) will be called ‘God is our righteousness.’” Jeremiah 33:16
    Melchizedek, a generic title conferred of kings who rule over Jerusalem. In the same way, all kings of Egypt were called Pharaoh, Kings of Philistine were referred as Abimelech and Kings of Persia were given the title Achasverous.
    So too, kings with the name ‘zedek’ as part of their title were human kings of Jerusalem as in:
    “Adonizedek, king of Jerusalem” Joshua 10:l
    Notice that the first part of this king’s name is the word “adoni” which we have pointed out mean “lord” or “master.”
    Additionally, David ruled with righteousness as it says:
    “David reigned over all of Israel. David administered justice and righteousness to all his people” 2 Samuel 8:15
    Just as Melchizedek was king of Jerusalem so was David.
    David was also promised that he would be a “priest forever after the manner of Melchizedek.” How could he be called a (Kohen) priest?
    As noted above, the term priest is not exclusively used to refer to priest “Kohanin” who originated from the tribe of Levy.
    In the Tanach the title Cohen is also used to refer to individuals dedicated to minister a specific service. They didn’t have to be literally a Kohen-priest but were dedicated to a specific service just like a priest.
    We see specifically that David’s sons were referred to as “priests -Kohaim” as in:
    “the sons of David were ministers (Kohanim) of state” 2 Samuel 8:18
    Therefore, the term priest as in “priest of G-d, the most high” in Psalm 110:14 can also refer to a leader.
    That David would be a “priest forever after the manner of Melchizedek.” means that the privilege of being ruler of Jerusalem would always remain to David and his descendants forever.
    “To David and his offspring, forever” Psalm 18:51
    The entire psalm speaks in the third person of King David and his relationship with G-d. He was literally a Melchizedek “king of righteousness” King of Jerusalem.
    —————————–
    1 That the Messiah would be destined to replace the Levitical priesthood is a non-biblical concept and unnecessary when the concepts of the sacrificial system, prayer and repentance are understood correctly
    2 The bible gives no indication that Melchizedek’s position as a “Priest” involved any service that involved the forgiveness of sin.

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  9. “First of all, the Nicene Creed was formulated in response to the witness of Christ and the New Testament.”

    So you hold to the witness of Christ, I assume as found in the Gospels, since Paul knows little to nothing of the life and events of Jesus’ ministry or even presence on earth. Question: should we expect that the divine would then need the “witnesses” to borrow from the Greek epics, including the Bacchae, which is frankly dark and vulgar in some parts, to craft the biography of the godman? Since I too have a seminary education (M.Div with honors), I know that in all likelihood your seminary experience was similar to mine when addressing form literary and historical criticism. Oh we talked about these movements but never once examined their true arguments and dismissed them in minutes as a far of a former era. That inoculation sufficed for me, until I came across, among others, the work of Dennis R MacDonald, to whom you would do well to familiarize yourself with.

    Dennis MacDonald’s first book “The Gospels and Homer” was a short primer on Mark, the first “gospel,” (which I’m taking for granted is a position you hold) from Homer’s Odyssey. The book received some criticism from the token internet apologists (I’m talking to you, JP Holding), who set up straw man arguments and claiming coicidence. That may have worked, until MacDonald struck back hard with the full load of the thesis in his subsequent more scholarly works, amplifying his work on Mark but extending it to Luke-Acts’ borrowing from Vergil and GJohn’s borrowing from the Bacchae.

    MacDonald is not a side hobbyist or amateur. He is a Harvard PhD and a longtime member of the Society of Biblical Literature who is a Christian, albeit liberal in his theology, and who used a very rigorous and well thought out 7 step criteria for mimesis criticism of the Gospels.

    See:
    https://amzn.to/2PNJwe6
    The Gospels and Homer: Imitations of Greek Epic in Mark and Luke-Acts

    https://amzn.to/2EgEQIv
    Luke and Vergil: Imitations of Classical Greek Literature

    https://amzn.to/35hYFLo
    The Dionysian Gospel: The Fourth Gospel and Euripides

    They aren’t cheap, but I know what you spend on commentaries, whether in print or on Logos. Any scholar of the Bible is no fair scholar without his work sitting side by side their Wiersbe collection.

    If the entire gospel story of Mark (which lends itself to Matthew and Luke for sure and likely John, though John borrows itself much from the Bacchae), were a borrowed narrative, what is left? Frankly, the only accounts of any jesus left are hearsay stories about christians OR gnostic gospels that contain just flat out insanity that you would hastily reject. However, if the DSS taught us anything, with Christianity it is quite possible that this was the original orthodoxy: an offshoot of a group like the Essenes (who Luke-Acts writes out of history as he’s plagiarizing Josephus story by story). The point is, when you lose a literal Jesus of the gospels, you’re left with Jesus the hallucination of Paul, a largely esoteric high priest figure that in no way resembles Hebrew thought but in every way looks Greek (and Greek dying-rising God-like for that matter). No one has definitive proof of anything at this point, but for millennia the church has given it’s answer and the more we research the more said answer erodes. Time to follow the evidence to where it ACTUALLY leads.

    “To expect that degree of clarity in Trinitarian understanding in the Hebrew Bible flattens the progressive, incremental nature of biblical revelation, which all Jews and Christians must acknowledge.”

    You have made an egregious assumption here. When the Torah was given it was 613 mitzvot given at once, with commentary from Moses in Deuteronomy 30, that exhorts the people this law is in their heart and on their lips that they may do it. Have you ever compared these words with Paul’s (mis)quotation of them in Romans 10? Romans 10:8 seems to conveniently omit the words of Moses and, in typical Paul fashion, adds some favorable to Paul and his confrontational mission to be supreme (a la Galatians 3 and his tirade against his opposition, the “so-called pillars”). There is no progressive revelation here. God said he’s a man that cannot lie and does not change. Even dating back to Adam and Noah they had knowledge enough of God to know how to obey and be in right relationship with him.

    “God does not dump the knowledge of Himself wholesale onto humanity at one point in history, but reveals his nature and work incrementally throughout the course of history.”

    Umm, wrong. That’s exactly what happened in the giving of the Torah.

    “As Craig points out, people are saved as they respond to what is revealed to them at that time in history.”

    And Craig has to build this argument only because there is a Tanakh. If he did his best Andy Stanley impression, and cut the hitch to the Old Testament, there would no longer be a need for his argument. The problem is, when you tape an unrelated, unschooled addendum on to an original it will always be impossible to harmonize.

    “Furthermore, the Trinity is not a contradiction of prior revelation about God’s nature, as Singer portrays it, but a clarification and expansion and elucidation of what came before. The Trinitarian can happily affirm the unity of God, as taught in passages such as Deuteronomy 6:4. The word echad (one) does not entail strict unity – it is used, for example, to describe how a man and woman become “one flesh” in marriage (Genesis 2:23). The tri-personal nature of the Christian God does not contradict his unity any more than a married couple cannot be “one flesh” while remaining two distinct people.”

    The problem is, God had every opportunity to introduce humanity to this significant other, which at best you can offer as a conjectural explanation, including to his most revered servants and prophets. As your Scripture says in Colossians, he was the firstborn of all creation and all of creation was created by him, through him and for him. Several thousand years of Biblical history with periods of righteous at a standards untouchable to you today seems like a long time to have the preeminent one unknown to the very thing that was created by him, through him and for him, the last 2000 years not excluded (minus when he shows up in toast sold on eBay).

    “Moreover, within the Old Testament (and here I differ in my approach from Craig), the seeds of Trinitarianism are already evident. Its not clear enough that you could derive the Trinity from the Hebrew Bible, but its clear enough that once you have the Trinity, the Hebrew Bible makes much more sense. For example, in Psalm 110 David appeals to “(his) lord” (adonai) who receives communication and authority from “the Lord” (YHWH). In Isaiah 9:6, the Davidic King is said to be El Gibbur (“Mighty God”). In Zechariah 12:10, the Lord says, “you will look upon me (the Lord), the one you have pierced.” In Micah 7:9 the prophet says he will bear the Lord’s indignation until “He (the Lord) pleads my case for me.” (To whom would the Lord plead, in Jewish monotheism?) In Psalm 45:6-7 God is said to have an eternal throne, and then is said to be annointed by … God. (How does God annoint God?)”

    A previous commenter said, “I’m assuming you don’t know Hebrew.” If you did you wouldn’t have been so foolish as to write any of the above. Problem is in your Reformed education you no doubt had about 4 semesters of Greek and Hebrew was optional, or at best was taught by someone who had only one more semester of Hebrew than you did, rather than a Jew who was weaned on it. I’ll leave it at that. Asinine examples but expected from someone uneducated in Hebrew.

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    1. Hello Noah, thanks for commenting. I studied Greek and Hebrew equally in seminary, as is the custom of most evangelical seminaries. Question: do you believe that there was progression in the revelation that came in the Hebrew Bible after the Torah?

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