8.23.2011

David Lamb: The Trinity at Nicea?

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I was recently made aware of the website and writings of David Lamb and in particular his critique of Oneness Pentecostalism (OP hereafter). He has written several lessons online where he attempts to deal with OP theology but primarily quotes from authors such as Robert Morey. In this blog post I will discuss some of what I have read of his online writings. I immediately recognized that Lamb is also a KJV Only advocate. The very first statement of belief on his website Basic Beliefs page indicates that he believes in, "1. The verbal inspiration of the King James Bible." Lamb offers nothing different here than men such as Peter Ruckman who also feels that the KJV translators of 1611 were divinely inspired. I have contacted Lamb via the contact page on his website and expressed an interest in debating him publicly concerning the Trinity. In the mean time, I will just point out a few of the errors he makes. For previous blog posts on the subject of KJV Only click here.

 In the first paragraph of his first lesson on the "History of the Oneness Pentecostal Movement" Lamb quickly abandons use of logic. He attempts to cite sources properly but falls short here also. On Facebook Lamb claims to have studied at Master's Divinity School and if so he is the one that is disingenuous. I have nothing person against Lamb and respect him as a person but disagree with his conclusions. In one lesson he refers to my writings without proper citation. In his first lesson he gives us sophmoric phrases which include words like "unbelievable", "horrid", "underhanded", and of course one liners like, "hook, line, and sinker!' He even says OP's like David Bernard use underhanded tactics. It seems as though this Lamb is smarting.

In the same paragraph he suggests that the OP use of patristics is inconsistent because when they need "only the Bible" they will abandon the patristics when they disagree with their conclusions. He especially finds this to be the case here in "Baptismal Regeneration" and in baptism in the name of Jesus. He never demonstrates how this is done. In fact, he is resorting to ad hominem from the start while in the same paragraph accusing OP's of "discrediting the historian or Church Father's". OP's do not teach or affirm baptismal regeneration.

He frequently cites David Bernard but I get the impression he has read very little of his writings. If Lamb was truly familiar with Bernard's writings he would know that he has explicitly stated that "the Bible does not teach baptismal regeneration."(1) It would take Lamb very little effort to find this statement as the very first paragaraph on the UPCI.org website regarding salvation:
Salvation is by grace through faith and not by human works (Ephesians 2:8-9). The doctrine of grace means that salvation is a free gift from God, which humans cannot merit or earn; in other words, salvation is God’s work in us. The atoning death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ have made this gift available.(2) 
Lamb abandons use of logic in his claims against our use of patristic writings. I have noted this particular problem in other posts. James White has criticized my use of Biblical scholar James D.G. Dunn in the past. I certainly see why Trinitarians do such things given Dunn's criticisms of popular Trinitarian beliefs. Lamb simply fails to recognize that a person can agree with someone without also agreeing with everything that someone believes This is a non-sequitur. There is nothing inconsistent or logically invalid in Bernard or myself citing and reading patristics or modern scholarship. If Lamb feels there is I would like for you to demonstrate this for us. At this point he has only complained. Consider the following premises and conclusion.

A) David Lamb likes the Bible.
B) David Lamb is a human.
C) Therefore, all humans like the Bible.

This is certainly a novel idea but an incorrect one. I am comfortable with saying premises A and B are true. I think Lamb would too. However, admittedly the conclusion (C) is false. Although many may like the Bible it does not logically follow that all humans like the Bible. In fact, history is rather clear of some men's hatred of Scripture (e.g. Voltaire) I am sure there is one or two people on our planet that do not hold the Scriptures in near the esteem that Lamb or myself would. Obviously OP's can agree and choose to disagree just as do Trinitarians. No one person accepts all the writings of Church History as authoritative or even correct on every issue. If Lamb believes this to be the case then he cannot be a Trinitarian. Denominations such as the Baptist, Methodist, Episcopalian, Catholic, Church of Christ, Presbyterian, United Church of Christ all affirm the Trinity. Howard Dean and Barak Obama are both considered members of the United Church of Christ. I would be curious if Lamb finds much doctrinal agreement with these politicians?

Essentially Lamb has a gross misunderstanding of Church History since it is quickly apparent that there is not a monolithic consensus on even issues he would deem foundational such as the Trinity or the Holy Spirit in such writings. Lamb skips over many passages cited by Bernard to suggest that he omits a verse in John 8 because it destroys his position. Lamb is once again making a non-sequitur since it does not follow that Bernard did so to for any deceitful reason. Speaking of OP's Lamb suggests his readers "not be intimated by their much speaking!". It seems in the prior paragraph Bernard did not say enough but in the next he is seems to be saying too "much". Lamb needs to make up his mind.

He also suggests that "Many Oneness believers assert that the doctrine of the Trinity was invented in 325 A.D. at the Council of Nicea, but this is simply not true." Lamb goes further and suggests "From the Apostles up until the late 2nd century, the triune nature of God was universally assumed by nearly all Christendom...they did not invent anything." Lamb puts much weight on his fanciful idea that the Trinity is clearly articulated in the early Church Fathers. There are big problems with Lamb's scholarship. While some OP's may have suggested such a thing this does not mean all of them do nor are they right in doing so. In fact, Lamb has his own historical errors to contend with here before he should direct an OP on this matter. The original Council of Nicea of A.D. 325 was not about the Trinity and Lamb completely assumes that it was. The original creed completely excludes the Holy Spirit and was later condemned in A.D. 357 at the Synod of Sirmium. It would not be until A.D. 381 before the Holy Spirit would even be included in the historic creeds. Lamb later goes on to suggest the creed of 381 was simply reaffirming the Trinity. Perhaps the most revealing quote from Lamb is below where he assumes the council of Nicea deemed Oneness doctrine a heresy.
The Oneness doctrine has always been considered heresy, and will always be heresy. Not because the council at Nicaea said so, but because the Bible plainly teaches that God is a Trinity of persons, not parts, modes, or manifestations!
Lamb is simply quoting authors and referencing creeds that he seems to understand very little. Creeds are helpful but are in no way equivalent to Scripture. If they are then the original Creed is not normative for Trinitarians today. The Original Nicene Creed reads:
"We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of all things visible and invisible, and in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only-begotten of the Father, that is, of the substance [ousia] of the Father, God of God, Light of Light, true God of true God, begotten not made, of one substance [homoousion] with the Father, through whom all things came to be, those things that are in heaven and those things that are on earth, who for us men and for our salvation came down and was made flesh, and was made man, suffered, rose the third day, ascending into the heavens, and will come to judge the living and the dead." 
As a result of the influence of mainly Western bishops, the creed stated that Jesus and the Father were “of one essence” [ousia, existence or being (from the word “to be”)]” and “the same substance” [homoousion] as the Father. Although the word ousia does not appear in the Bible with the same meaning as applied by the council, they used it as a synonym for the Biblical word hupostasis which we see translated as "person" in Hebrews 1:3 (“who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person”). That is, the original Nicene Creed said that the underlying reality of Jesus, His very being (deity), is not distinguishable from the Father. In his “being” Jesus is the Father. Thomas Finger clearly points this out:
For example, ousia (“substance”, Lat. substantia), the term central to the creeds’ claim that Son and Father are homoousios (“of the same substance”), carried at least two quite different meanings. In Aristotelian tradition ousia meant a subsisting individual. In Platonism it meant a characteristic shared by many individuals. The Council of Nicea (325 C.E.) intended the second meaning. This meant that Son and Father were distinct. Yet many others understood ousia in the Aristotelian sense. They thought the council was proclaiming that Son and Father were one individual (or modalism, which most of them rejected). Between the Councils of Nicea and Constantinople (381 C.E.) much energy was expended in deciding what ousia should mean, partly by searching for other terms to express the distinctness of Father and Son (such as hypostasis and prosōpon [person]).(3) 
OP's are not Aristotlean philosophers and do not agree with his philosophy anymore than they might would with Plato in certain areas. Such writings are only good as far as they go no matter which side of the issue one finds themselves. OP's believe that Jesus is the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:19) but that does not mean they fail to recognize certain distinctions as well (1 Tim. 2:5, 3:16). God the Father is God existing as God. Jesus is the same undivided God existing as a man and mediator. A true and permanent Incarnation of God's divine person. This is why every characteristic of the Father is also a characteristic of Jesus as the Son of man. There are no distinctions between the Father and Jesus except those produced by His humanity. When we honor the Son we are honoring the Father.

Lamb then goes on to suggest that modalistic monarchianism was started by Simon of Magus found to be a sorcerer in Acts 8:9-20. This is complete speculation. Outside the Scriptures the identity of Simon Magus is highly debated. Trinitarianism as seen prior was not what the early church believed. Modalism is perhaps the oldest view of the Godhead. Trinitarians will suggest the church evolved away from this view into what is now called the Trinity. Finger suggests that modalism emerged first and took "historical revelation seriously" but "experienced difficulties in accounting for the Biblical distinctions...From early on theology usually rejected modalism."(4) Conversely John Chapman notes, "There was much that was unsatisfactory in the theology of the Trinity and in the Christology of the orthodox writers of the Ante-Nicene period."(5) OP's adequately recognized and explain these Biblical distinctions however they do not allow Platonic philosophy to override rather they appeal to the Scriptures themselves. They also acknowledge progressive revelation but also believe that it will not be contradictory to already revealed truths in God's Word.

According to T.E. Page "There are many legends" about Simon Magus "but nothing is really known..." Page goes on to say that "Justin Martyr relates that he subsequently went to Rome, performed miracles and had a statue erected to him with the inscription Simoni Deo Sancto; but in this he was undoubtedly mistaken, as a stone found in the Tiber A.D. 1574 bears the inscription SEMONI SANCO DEO FIDIO SACRUM, Sancus being a Sabine name for Hercules, and Semo=Semihomo (ἡμίθεος) ‘a hero’."(6) A.T. Robertson also noted this in his Word Pictures in the New Testament. He also suggests that Simon was a common name and also one used by a "number of messianic pretenders..."(7) In the New American Commentary J.B. Polhill records, "It is quite possible that the Simon of Acts had virtually no connection with Justin’s Simonians but was “co-opted” by the later Gnostic group to give a New Testament rootage for their movement."(8) Bruce Metzger also noted that one manuscript calls this man "Atomos". Metzger suggests, "Although most of the manuscripts of Josephus call the magician Simon, one eleventh-century manuscript, supported by the Epitome of the Antiquities, give him the name Atomos (Ἄτομος)."(9)

Lamb is correct to distinguish Sabellius because his form of modalism may not be the same form as that of older modalism. He mistakenly thinks Oneness organizations like the UPC are Sabellians. Although they may have some nominal agreement with Sabellius he may have mistakenly held to sequential modalism. We do not know if Noetus or other modalists may have held an identical view. Modalists primarily believed in one God without distinction of persons. While not rejecting all of the teachings of some of these early writers sequential modalism is and should rejected by OP's.

Click here to visit Lamb's website.

NOTES:

1) Bernard, David K. (1997) The New Birth. (131) Hazelwood, MO: Word Aflame Press.

2) http://upci.org/about-us/beliefs

3) Finger, Thomas N. A contemporary Anabaptist theology : Biblical, historical, constructive. 2004 (409). Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press.

4) ibid. pg. 421-422 "Early Christians, who referred to Jesus and the Holy Spirit in terms appropriate to God, were accused of being tritheists. In response theologians insisted on divine unity and explained it by means of three main models. Modalism emerged first. It perceived the three biblical agents as ways, or modes, in which the one God appeared to and worked among humans (usually as Father in the Old Testament, Son in Jesus’ career and Spirit since his resurrection). But while modalism took historical revelation seriously, it experienced difficulties in accounting for biblical distinctions between and interactions among the agents. From early on theology usually rejected modalism."

5) Chapman, John. "Monarchians." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 10. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. 23 Aug. 2011

6) Page, T. E. (1886). The Acts of the Apostles (131). London: Macmillan.

7) Robertson, A. (1997). Word Pictures in the New Testament (Ac 8:9). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems.

8) Polhill, J. B. (2001). Vol. 26: Acts (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (216). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

9) Metzger, B. M., & United Bible Societies. (1994). A textual commentary on the Greek New Testament, second edition a companion volume to the United Bible Societies' Greek New Testament (4th rev. ed.) (355). London; New York: United Bible Societies.

2 comments:

David Lamb said...

Quite flattering that you would have to waste so much of your time trying to refute my writings. Good. Very encouraging. Thank you. P.S. I read about 8 of David Bernard's books. P.S.S. Those teachings have led as high as a hundred Oneness adherents to the truth of the Trinity.

JN Anderson said...

David, glad you could finally responded. Are you able to debate? Your comments are completely circular. You have spent lots of time it seems on your website to critique Oneness teachings so I am equally flattered. The writings of Bernard have been instrumental in the conversion of thousands but I am not sure why you are trying to keep score there. I only dealt with some of your more obvious blunders in my post. If we are able to conduct a debate I would be more than happy to show you why I believe the Trinity is error.

Adversus Trinitas

"...unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins." (John 8:24 ESV)