1 Corinthians 8:6
Here I am going to respond to selections of Kel’s article. The selections I have chosen are the ones I regard as embodying Kel’s main arguments; I have left out what I regard as repetitious or off the point. If I have missed or misunderstood Kel’s arguments, anyone who reads this – including Kel – is welcome to bring that to my attention.
. . .
“4 Therefore concerning the eating of things sacrificed to idols, we know that there is no such thing as an idol in the world, and that there is no God but one. 5 For even if there are so-called gods whether in heaven or on earth, as indeed there are many gods and many lords, 6 yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him. 7 However not all men have this knowledge; but some, being accustomed to the idol until now, eat food as if it were sacrificed to an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled. 8 But food will not commend us to God; we are neither the worse if we do not eat, nor the better if we do eat.” – 1 Corinthians 8:4-8, NASB
“In this verse [vs 6], Paul indicates that the ‘one God’ is one person, ‘the Father.’ In contrast to Trinitarian doctrine which states that the one God is three persons, this teaching by Paul clearly and necessarily says that the one God is one person and that one person is the Father of Jesus.”
Then he says,
“The standard Trinitarian response here is to insist that if anyone concludes that Jesus cannot be God since the Father is identified as the one God then one must also consistently conclude that the Father is not Lord since Jesus is identified as the one Lord. The expectation here is that no one will conclude the Father is not “Lord” and so the claim that Jesus is not the one God is voided by this response.”
To back up this claim he cites Robert Bowman, Why You Should Believe in the Trinity, p. 73. At this point I must ask, what other evidence does Kel have that Bowman’s argument is “the standard” Trinitarian response (even going so far as to call it “the” Trinitarian response)? Has he done some kind of a survey of Trinitarian responses and found this one to be the most common? Kel refutes Bowman by asserting that Bowman’s argument assumes that there is only one Lord, and that since this is not so, Bowman’s argument fails. I am not going to examine Kel’s arguments on that particular point because in my response I am not using Bowman’s approach.
I agree that the designation “one God” as used here refers to the person who is the Father, and the “one Lord” refers to the person who is Jesus Christ. However, that does not mean that only the Father is the one God, and only Jesus is the one Lord. Nor does this mean that the designations “God” and “Lord” are not equivalent; it just means that one designation is more often used for the Father and the other is more often used for the Son. Kel’s argument concerning verse 6 is persuasive if you accept his assertion (see below) that the one God is a different being than the one Lord. If however the terms ‘one God’ and ‘one Lord’ are references to the same being, then this passage says the opposite of what Kel thinks it says.
To hijack one of Kel’s arguments, an ancient Israelite could have said, “We have but one king, David; and one lord, the son of Jesse” without meaning two different kings. When Paul says in 1 Cor 8:6 that for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live, only a pre-judgment that God = 1 and only one Person could make anyone think that 1 Corinthians 8:6 is saying that only the Father is God.
“If Paul was not identifying the one God as one person, the Father, and if Paul was not identifying the one Lord as one person, Jesus, then what was his point?” and “What is Paul’s point when he said, “for us there is one God: the Father,” if it was not to identify quite clearly just who our one God is and that the one God is this one person whom we call ‘the Father’? The Trinitarian intent is to rob Paul’s message of any meaning at all.”
The answer to Kel’s question is that Paul’s point could have been that God the Father and the Lord Jesus are both the Lord God. All throughout the Old Testament God is called the Lord God — Adonai Elohim, but with all capitals (LORD or GOD) when the Divine Name appears. By giving the Father the designation of God and Jesus the designation of Lord, Paul might have been saying that they are both the Almighty. I also think Kel greatly errs when he accuses Trinitarians of having the intent of robbing the passage of any meaning, simply because he does not agree with the meaning they see in it.
Evidence that “one God” and “one Lord” are equivalent is found in the fact that “all things” are from the Father, AND “all things” are by and through Jesus. If Jesus is merely a created being and not God, there would be at least one thing that is not by and through him, namely himself. This is the flaw in the Jehovah’s Witnesses claim that Jesus is the first created thing and then all other things were made through him — the Scripture says all things, not all other things (John 1:3, Colossians 1:16). According to Kel, Jesus was not even the first created thing but only the first of the new creation, so if Kel was right, not only is Jesus himself not by and through himself, but neither are any of the things created before Jesus was, such as the heavens and the earth. Kel’s teaching on this seems contradicted by the passage we are looking at, which says that all things are by and through Jesus.
“In the doctrine of the Trinity, the one God is three persons. The one God is the one Triune Being. But Paul is defining the one God as one person, the Father. The Father is not the Triune Being and the Triune Being is not the Father. Hence, Paul is clearly defining the one God differently than Trinitarians.”
This is a false statement as Paul did not define the one God as only one person, the Father; Kel is inserting the concept of “only” one person into the text. Also, the doctrine of the Trinity is not only that “the one God is three Persons” but also that each of the three Persons is “the one God.”
If the definition of God as only one person existed anywhere in Scripture the Trinity doctrine never would have begun in the first place. Even most opponents of the Trinity doctrine at least concede that there is enough ambiguity in Scripture to allow the Trinity doctrine to get started. Kel goes farther than that; to him Trinitarians are all either stupid or deceivers. If anyone should doubt this, just do a little reading on his website.
“The standard Trinitarian response here is to insist that if anyone concludes that Jesus cannot be God since the Father is identified as the one God then one must also consistently conclude that the Father is not Lord since Jesus is identified as the one Lord. The expectation here is that no one will conclude the Father is not “Lord” and so the claim that Jesus is not the one God is voided by this response . . . . This sounds good on the surface doesn’t it? But we shall see this is simply a trick to confuse unsuspecting people . . . .
But Paul was not talking about whether the Father is God or whether Jesus is Lord. He isn’t telling us what is true about the Father (whether he is God) and he isn’t telling us what is true about Jesus (whether he is Lord). Paul is telling us what is true about the one God (he is the Father) and what is true about the one Lord (he is Jesus).”
I fail to see the point. Trinitarians agree that the one God is the Father and the one Lord is Jesus. This is only a problem for Trinitarian doctrine if the “one God” and the “one Lord” are assumed to be two different things. Does Kel prove that they are different? Lets keep reading his argument.
“Trinitarians want to have the word “Lord” to necessarily be a title of the one “God” just as the word “God” is a reference to the one God. However, if you just stop and think about it, this doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. Paul would be saying there is one God, the Father…. and one God, Jesus Christ. That necessarily amounts to two Gods. One plus One is Two.”
That would only be true if the word “and” in verse 6 is seen as adding two different things (one Deity which is the Father and another Deity which is the Lord Jesus) rather than repeating the same idea of “one Deity” twice with different reference points — God the Father and the Lord Jesus. An illustration of this point would be the difference between these two phrases: “One nation, the United States; and one nation, Canada” which is obviously refers to two nations, and “One nation, under God; and one nation, indivisibile” which obviously refers to only one nation, the United States. To make it more analogous to the wording of 1 Corinthians 8:6, we could say “one nation, under God; and one country, indivisible” and this would still obviously refer to one and the same entity, the United States.
“How does the Trinitarian define the word “God” in this verse? Indeed, how does he define the words “one God.” This cannot be defined as the Triune God because that would be saying the Triune being is the Father which makes no sense in Trinitarian doctrine. Hence, the Trinitarian’s only option is to try and claim it means “the one divine ousia,” the divine nature. And indeed he must since there is no other option. Paul is referring to the “one God” and the oneness of God in Trinitarian doctrine is the divine ousia.
And this is where the Trinitarian is caught in an unsolvable predicament. He needs to have the words “God” and “Lord” be references to the divine nature. So here Paul would be defining the one divine nature as the one person of the Father and the one divine nature (Lord) as the person of the Son. But this doesn’t work in their doctrine. Doing such a thing would confuse person and being which they claim they do not do. They would be ascribing identity to the divine nature and turning the what into a who.* So this claim is also proven false. Not only so, it is clear that the word “God” and “Lord” are references to identities not natures since Paul is contrasting our one God, the Father, with the many gods of the pagans, and our one Lord, Jesus, with many lords of the pagans.”
Another possibility Kel doesn’t mention is that in saying “one God, the Father” Paul could be giving one definition of the one divine nature, and in saying “one Lord, Jesus Christ” Paul could be adding another definition for the one divine nature rather than defining another divine nature. A precising definition is a more specific definition of something already generally defined, which in this case is God. Adding several precising definitions can deepen our understanding of whatever we are studying.
Many descriptions of God are necessary because a complete definition of God would be so long that no one could begin to comprehend it. Any definition that fits within our attention spans must be relatively short, therefore any definition of God that we can understand must be partial. Because of this, there must be many definitions of God for us to study. Our understanding of God grows each time we comprehend another description, or definition, of Him.
The repetition of an idea in different words is a very often used literary technique in the Old Testament, which is the foundation on which most of Paul’s thought is built. The only thing Kel can honestly say here is that he doesn’t agree that “one God” and “one Lord” are equivalent here, but he has not given any logical reason why they can’t be.
Verse 6 states, “for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him.”
“Ancient Israelites could also say, ‘for us there is one God, Yahweh, and one Lord/Kyrios, King David.’”
“If someone insisted that David is not the one God because Yahweh is the one God, do they also need to consistently argue that Yahweh is not the one Lord because David is their one Lord? Obviously not. The fact that Israel had one God and one Lord shows us that the one Lord is not necessarily the same identity as the one God.” (boldface mine)
The words Kel puts into the mouth of an ancient Israelite are not exactly parallel to 1 Corinthians 8:6; if they were, his sentence would have to read “for us there is one God, Yahweh, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, King David, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him.” In that case we would have a major problem because King David is not one “by whom are all things, and we exist through him.” No ancient Israelite would have said anything like that.
I do however agree that an Israelite could have said “for us there is one God, Yahweh, and one Lord, King David,” providing those other words are left out. Now lets look at Malachi 2:10, which says, “Do we not all have one Father? Has not one God created us?” Kel agrees that the Father of Malachi 2:10 is God, not Abraham (see his section Four Fathers of the Trinity). With this in mind, could ancient Israelites say, “for us there is one Father, and one God?” Absolutely. But surely it is obvious that sentence would not signify two Gods, one called “Father” and the other called “God.”
So, although Kel is right in saying that the fact that Israel had one God and one Lord doesn’t necessarily mean that the one Lord same identity as the one God, he would not be justified if he concluded those same words can’t mean that the one God is the same identity as the one Lord. Indeed, by using the words “The fact that Israel had one God and one Lord shows us that the one Lord is not necessarily the same identity as the one God” Kel is conceding that those words could refer to one and the same identity as the one God, which strikes me as strange because his whole argument seems to be that they cannot mean one and the same God.
Even if we do not count the fact that 1 Corinthians 8:6 also says that all things are by the Lord Jesus, and that we exist through him, what is left of verse 6 is a sentence that could signify either that God the Father and the Lord Jesus have one and the same Divine Nature or that they do not, and this ambiguity basically destroys Kel’s argument, which requires that 1 Corinthians 8:6 states categorically that the Father and Jesus MUST NOT be the same Being.
If you were to ask why this ambiguity is present in this verse I would answer by saying that the verse taken as a whole, including the fact that all things are said to be “by” the Lord Jesus, tends to point more toward a Trinitarian identification of Jesus with the Father than it does the other way. But either way Kel’s argument crashes and burns here.
After this Kel argues that just because all things are “from” God the Father and all things are “by” or “through” the Lord Jesus, that doesn’t mean Jesus is the Creator along with his Father.
“Trinitarians also mistakenly suppose Paul is here talking about God creating all things through Jesus. However, this is not what Paul is talking about. Paul is talking about created things but he isn’t talking about the Genesis ACT of creation. He is talking about food sacrificed to idols. What he has in mind here is that all things are ours in the risen Christ whom God has made Lord. Since all things are ours in Christ our Lord, we can know that food sacrificed to idols is nothing. ”
When I went back and read 1 Corinthians 8 slowly, and then looked again at the claim above, I found it hard to respond to Kel’s logic because I couldn’t see any. The statement that all things come from God does not explicitly mention the Genesis ACT of creation but it certainly refers back to the Genesis FACT of creation. The worship of God found in verse 6 is not talking about food sacrificed to idols, but about knowledge that Christians have about God that affects the issue of food sacrificed to idols. Verse 6 introduces principles by which the issue of food sacrificed to idols is to be judged. First, since all things come from God, so does food; and since we know that there is only one God and only one Lord, we know that the non-existent gods and lords to whom food is sacrificed cannot make the food better or worse. So we are no better or worse off if we eat such food as long as we don’t make a weaker brother to stumble doing so.
The words “from whom are all things and we exist for Him” is a fact about God, not food; likewise “by whom are all things, and we exist through Him” is a fact about Jesus, not about food. There is no qualifier in this passage that limits the subject either to food or to the new creation, and Kel’s entire teaching collapses in ruins if he does not try to find a way to re-explain these words, since in his doctrine the Son did not even exist in the old creation. But here he doesn’t do a very good job at all.
Kel also repeats his argument that “The Lord Jesus has a Lord but the Father does not. The Lord Jesus has a Lord but the Lord God does not.” The problem with Kel’s reasoning here is that he assumes there can be no authority structure within God; for if there could be, the Lord Jesus can still be God even if he is “under” the Father in rank. Kel’s argument here also assumes that Hebrews 1:8 does not mean that the Father called the Son “God,” but this is in fact what the text says.
While we are on this subject, let us take note of the following quotation from Kel:
“Carefully regard the following passages of Scripture:
the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (Rom 15:6).
the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Cor 1:3).
the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Cor 11:31).
the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (Eph 1:3).
the God of our Lord Jesus Christ (Eph 1:17).
the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (Col 1:3).
the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Pet 1:3).
The one Lord, Jesus Christ, has a God. If the word “Lord” was a reference to “God” then all these passages would referring to the God of our God Jesus Christ. Absurd.”
I don’t find the idea that the Father is God to our God Jesus Christ absurd; it is just grammatically less smooth than saying that the Father is God to our Lord Jesus Christ. Again, Kel’s whole point here is based on the premise that Hebrews 1:8 does not have God the Father calling the Son “God,” but that is what it does say (see my article on Hebrews 1).
The next argument is that since in Acts 2:36 Peter says “God has made Him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified,” that “The word ‘Lord’ obviously isn’t a reference to Jesus as God since God obviously didn’t make Jesus ‘God.’”
It is true that God didn’t make Jesus God (since Jesus was already God to begin with), but the Divine Lordship of Jesus is not what Peter was speaking of in Acts 2:36 and no Trinitarian would say that it is. All Trinitarians agree that in his capacity as a human being, Jesus had a beginning and grew in wisdom and knowledge and eventually earned his Davidic Lordship by what he did. Even the “name which is above every name” – which can only be the name of God – was given to the man Jesus as a result of his obedience even to death on the cross (Phil 2:8-9). None of this, however, refutes the claim that Jesus also had another nature – a Divine nature – before he became a man, and that what he earned as a man he already had as God. That Jesus had this Divine nature is demonstrated in other passages of Scripture which we will look at when we come to them.
* All of what I have seen of Kel’s terminology about “turning the what into a who” only creates more confusion for me and I suspect for many others. This is because a “who” can be one person or multiple persons, and a “what” can also be a “who.” I would prefer sticking to older terminology like person and essence; hard as it is, it is still more familiar to more people. I also don’t like the word “identity” as used by Kel, because he seems to use it to mean identity as a person; but that is not the only thing “identity” can mean and Kel’s work would be clearer if he would just say “person” when that is what he means.