I watched a Mormon debate, Dr. James White, today and I found it worthy of discussing. The Mormon’s name was Kwaku and I have spoken with him on an occasion. Kwaku reminds me of Bob Vukich. They are smarter than their worldviews but they have to go back and find anything they can to salvage their position. Let’s just go to some of the issues that came up.
1. Historical context:
Kwaku argues that the Jews didn’t deny that other gods didn’t exist. He notes the widely accepted idea in scholarship that the Jews believe in polytheism just like the Mormons do. That is a bit deceptive on his part. The Jews didn’t believe that God mated to make more Divine beings. That is contained in plenty ANE cosmologies. Why is the entire Mormon cosmology absent from the Jews writings? Furthermore, the idea that scholars have is that these gods are territorial spirits. They are around mountains or nations. They aren’t gods of entire planets or universes as some Mormons argue. I would also ask if Kwaku is so comfortable with all this scholarship. Does he accept the ANE cosmology scholars present the Jews as believing? Is Kwaku a flat-earther? Does Kwaku plan on visiting the Father at his home on top of the dome of the flat-earth? The selective use of scholarship is also heavily anachronistic continuing on. Plenty of scholars recognize that the Jews thought other gods existed and yet thought the God of Israel is unique.
The Hebrew term doesn’t refer to a specific set of abilities only God has. The Bible distinguishes God from all other gods in other ways, not by using the word elohim. For instance, the Bible commands the gods to worship the God of the Bible (Ps. 29:1). He is their creator and king (Ps. 95:3; 148:1–5). Psalm 89:6–7 (GNT) says, “No one in heaven is like you, LORD; none of the heavenly beings is your equal [1 Kings 8:23; Ps. 97:9]. You are feared in the council of the holy ones.” The Bible writers are pretty blunt about the God of Israel having no equal—he is the “God of gods” (Deut. 10:17; Ps. 136:2).
Since elohim is so often translated God, we look at the Hebrew word the same way we look at capitalized G-o-d. When we see the word God, we instinctively think of a divine being with a unique set of attributes—omnipresence, omnipotence, sovereignty, and so on. But this is not how a biblical writer thought about the term. Biblical authors did not assign a specific set of attributes to the word elohim. That is evident when we observe how they used the word. …
Consequently, there is no warrant for concluding that plural elohim produces a pantheon of interchangeable deities. There is no basis for concluding that the biblical writers would have viewed Yahweh as no better than another elohim. A biblical writer would not have presumed that Yahweh could be defeated on any given day by another elohim, or that another elohim (why not any of them?) had the same set of attributes. That is polytheistic thinking. It is not the biblical picture. We can be confident of this conclusion by once again observing what the biblical writers say about Yahweh—and never say about another elohim. The biblical writers speak of Yahweh in ways that telegraph their belief in his uniqueness and incomparability: “Who is like you among the gods [elim], Yahweh?” (Exod 15:11) “ ‘What god [el] is there in the heaven or on the earth who can do according to your works and according to your mighty deeds?’ ” (Deut 3:24) “O Yahweh, God of Israel, there is no god [elohim] like you in the heavens above or on the earth beneath” (1 Kgs 8:23). For you, O Yahweh, are most high over all the earth. You are highly exalted above all gods [elohim] (Psalm 97:9). Biblical writers also assign unique qualities to Yahweh. Yahweh is all-powerful (Jer 32:17, 27; Pss 72:18; 115:3), the sovereign king over the other elohim (Psa 95:3; Dan 4:35; 1 Kgs 22:19), the creator of the other members of his host-council (Psa 148:1–5; Neh 9:6; cf. Job 38:7; Deut 4:19–20; 17:3; 29:25–26; 32:17; Jas 1:17)5 and the lone elohim who deserves worship from the other elohim (Psa 29:1). In fact, Nehemiah 9:6 explicitly declares that Yahweh is unique—there is only one Yahweh (“You alone are Yahweh”).
It is a commonplace of modern biblical scholarship that Israelite religion prior to the Babylonian exile was basically polytheistic.1 Many scholars argue that ancient Israelites worshipped a plethora of gods and goddesses, including Yhwh as well as Baal, El (if or when he was differentiated from Yhwh),2 Ashtoret, and perhaps Asherah. Preexilic texts from the Hebrew Bible, according to these scholars, are not genuinely monotheistic; the first monotheistic text in the Hebrew Bible is the block of material beginning in Isaiah 40, which was composed during the Babylonian exile.3 Some scholars recognize the existence of a small minority of monotheists or protomonotheists late in the preexilic period, but stress that the vast majority of ancient Israelites were polytheists before the exile.4 Another group of scholars, however, argue that the exclusive worship of Yhwh as the only true deity was widespread in ancient Israel well before the exile, perhaps even well before the rise of the monarchy.5
It is also possible to define monotheism more broadly: as the belief that there exists one supreme being in the universe, whose will is sovereign over all other beings. These other beings may include some who live in heaven and who are in the normal course of events immortal; but they are unalterably subservient to the one supreme being, except insofar as that being voluntarily relinquishes a measure of control by granting other beings free will. It is thus appropriate to term the supreme being the one God and the other heavenly beings gods or angels.9 In this definition, it is not the number of divine beings that matters to monotheism but the relations among them. A theology in which no one deity has ultimate power over all aspects of the world is polytheistic (even if that theology knows of only one deity); so too a theology in which people pray to multiple deities because of a belief that multiple deities have their own power to effect change. A theology in which people pray only to one God in whom all power ultimately resides is monotheistic; so is a theology in which people pray to various heavenly beings to intercede on their behalf with the one God in whom all power ultimately resides. ibid. Page 146-147.
But the contrast between all these passages and a similar selection from Canaanite, Mesopotamian, or Greek literature is telling.97 Even a large sample of the biblical literature fails to turn up any examples of genuine struggle on Yhwh’s part against those who rise up against Him. To be sure, several texts do famously describe a conflict between Yhwh on the one hand and the Sea and his helpers on the other: the most famous examples include Isaiah 27.1, 51:9–11; Habakkuk 2.8–9; Psalm 74:13–15, 89:6–14; and Job 26:5–13. As many scholars note, these passages use terms that also appear in the Ugaritic myth in which Baal defeats Yam or Sea.98 The biblical texts differ from their Ugaritic parallels, however, in crucial respects. They describe a doomed revolt against a deity who was already in charge, a revolt Yhwh puts down without any difficulty. These passages lack any real drama, for they convey no sense that Yhwh was required to engage in real exertion to suppress the insurrection. Baal and Marduk, Zeus and Kronos toil to attain an exalted status; Yhwh had that status to begin with and retains it with ease.99 Further, several of these biblical texts downgrade the status of Sea from deity to object. The word yam can be a personal name, as it is in Ugaritic, where it refers to the god Yam (Sea), but it can also be a noun, simply meaning “the sea.” By prefacing the definite article to this word, Psalm 89.10 and Job 26.12 make clear that yam refers to an object, not to a person, because the definite article does not attach to personal names in Hebrew. The texts describing Yhwh’s conflict with the S/sea in Isaiah, Habakkuk, Psalms, and Job remind us of the older myth in order to make clear us precisely what story is not being told: to wit, a genuine theomachy.100 In any of these biblical passages, it is difficult to imagine Yhwh, confronted by any other being, smiting his thigh and biting his lip, like Anshar in Enuma Elish when he hears of Tiamat’s war plans.101 Yhwh never feels threatened by a workers’ revolt to the point of bursting out in tears, like Enlil in Atrah˘ asis. 102 Nor can one imagine Yhwh being intimidated into agreeing to another being’s demand by threat of violence against Yhwh,103 in contrast to El in the Baal texts.104 In sum, in spite of the similar language that describes Yhwh’s council and various pagan pantheons,105 their resemblance hardly shows that their respective theologies are identical. In almost no biblical texts is there any sense that Yhwh’s authority, like Tiamat’s or Enlil’s, El’s or Baal’s, is contingent. ibid. Page 167-168.
Day seeks to answer the argument of Tigay that the dominant Yahwistic elements in the personal names from ancient Israel demonstrate monotheism throughout the monarchy. While Day is correct that the presence of Yahwistic names does not prove widespread monotheism (pp. 226–28), he is incorrect to minimize the significance of this data. It is a significant counterbalance to other evidence. Neither Israel nor Judah were monolithic in either monotheism or polytheism.
There are many laws in the Pentateuch that are relevant to religious practice. Some of the cultic laws have been examined in the above section, chapter 4, especially under the Late Bronze Age (c. 1550–c. 1200 BC) archives at Emar. However, some of the most important distinctives of Israelite religion occur in the Decalogue (Exod. 20; Deut. 5). The laws regarding the worship of no other god, the prohibition of images, and the observance of the Sabbath play a key role in distinguishing Israel from its neighbors.73 The question of the dating of the Decalogue is a vexed one. Some scholars find it to be a postexilic (after 539 BC) production that sought to summarize the law.74 This may be possible but there is no empirical evidence on which to demonstrate either an earlier or later dating of the work. Internal evidence, such as the relationship of the second half of the Decalogue (in its Masoretic Text form) to the structure of Deuteronomy 12–26 and its location in Deuteronomy before those laws and in Exodus before the Book of the Covenant may imply that the more detailed laws are expansive and derivative, but this also cannot be demonstrated beyond all doubt.75 Nevertheless, the contents of the Decalogue formed an essential part of Israelite belief at the time of their composition, and this implies a long-standing constituent of central beliefs of their religion. Exodus 20:3 (Deut. 5:7) prohibits the worship of any god other than Yahweh, or the placement of “any other god before me.” This seems to be categorical and exclusive of competing deities among the nations that Israel was to drive out, as well as among those with whom they may live peacefully. This implies an allegiance to the nation of Israel and to its covenant, as opposed to an alliance with any other nation and its god(s). Yahweh is not just first but alone worthy of devotion. The unique reality of Yahweh lies behind the Shema‘: Hear O Israel Yahweh our God Yahweh alone (or “is one”). This statement in Deuteronomy 6:4 may itself have become a slogan, used by Israelites who supported exclusive devotion to Yahweh.76 The larger question for the religion of Israel is when this law emerged in the nation. The law itself does not require a philosophical monotheism, but rather demands that only Yahweh be recognized as deity by his followers. The idea of the worship of a single deity has a significant precedent in the Amarna revolution in Egypt of the mid-fourteenth century BC. The royal family appears to have recognized only one deity, the divine Aten. At least one Egyptian text suggests that one of the kings of the Hyksos, the West Semitic rulers of Egypt before 1550 BC, worshiped Seth (= Baal) alone.77 Thus the idea of the worship of a single deity need not have been original to Egypt, but may have been borrowed from earlier West Semitic peoples. In any case, the sun disk Aten, who was worshiped as god alone by Pharaoh Akhenaten in the fourteenth century BC, had parallels with the later revelation of Yahweh. He is pictured and described with a face, heart, mouth, and limbs. He is referred to as father and Akhenaten is his son. This pharaoh banned the Egyptian word for (multiple) gods.78 Indeed, there is no evidence in early Israel that the elimination of other spiritual beings was carried so far. Rather in early poetry, such as Exodus 15:11, the incomparability of Yahweh is affirmed.
So, Kwaku continues to misrepresent scholarship’s ‘consensus’ and isn’t being accurate with what they are saying. He is selectively choosing certain statements they make and ignoring others. It is obvious that none of these scholars are Mormon and further they are spouting Mormon theology. Kwaku’s theology is closer to the pagan ANE religions that the Israelites rejected. He ignores the unanimous agreement that the New Testament is monotheistic. Furthermore, it is this very thing that provides an argument for the Trinity. Christ is given the functions, prerogative, roles, titles, and attributes of the God of Israel. That is where scholars like Richard Bauckham find the strongest case for the Trinity. Jesus is given the unique only afforded to the God of Israel.
The other issue they discussed briefly was Isaiah 44:6:
6 Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel
and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts:
“I am the first and I am the last;
besides me there is no god.
7 Who is like me? Let him proclaim it.
Let him declare and set it before me,
since I appointed an ancient people.
Let them declare what is to come, and what will happen.
8 Fear not, nor be afraid;
have I not told you from of old and declared it?
And you are my witnesses!
Is there a God besides me?
There is no Rock; I know not any.”
The Mormon is at a disadvantage from the very start. Even if verse 6 isn’t about monotheism it runs into verse 7. In Mormon theology, the Father is a glorified man and one of an infinite set of other gods. So, there are an infinite set of beings like this god. So, the question becomes incoherent because Mormonism leaves no room for the uniqueness of God. The gods of Mormonism are just in an infinite line of other gods just like the last. Furthermore, good commentators and scholars recognize monotheism in these texts:
Here we see the devastating exclusivity of biblical monotheism. Apart from the Lord there is no God and no Rock (nothing reliable to rest on, nothing active in salvation, see below). A1King and Redeemer, the only God (6) BThe incomparable God, master of history (7) A2Comforter, revealer, rock, the only God (8) 6 On King and Redeemer see 43: 14– 15. Almighty/‘ of hosts’ (see 1: 24) occurs here for the first time in chapters 38– 55 and begins the contrast between the Lord and idols. He is, within himself, every possible power (and uses it as King/ father and Redeemer/ next-of-kin for the blessing of his people; verse 8). The idols derive from human power and exert no power in return. The last is not here ‘with the last’ as in 41: 4 (where the thought is of purposive direction of history). Here the whole statement, I am the first and I am the last, concerns the nature of God. As first he does not derive his life from elsewhere (contrast the idols; verses 10– 17) but is self-existing and self-sufficient; as last he remains at the end, supreme, totally fulfilled. ’elōhîm is the common noun for God, but in the light of a different word in the matching phrase in verse 8 we should probably give it a distinctive flavour as a plural of amplitude: ‘God in the fullness or totality of divine attributes’. 7 A challenge (Who then is like me?) is followed by the conditions that would have to be met in order to claim comparability. Proclaim it/‘ call’ (with no object stated) is the verb √ qārā’, used (as in 40: 26) of detailed control of the physical universe and (in 41: 4) of detailed historical events. Here, therefore, it means ‘to be in executive charge’. To declare/‘ tell it’ is to give an account of the event thus summoned into being. Lay it out before [‘ for’] me (√̔ āraḵ, ‘to order’) is used of getting all the details of the tabernacle right (Ex 40: 4) and of putting a battle plan into effect (1 Sa. 17: 8– 9). It means ‘to get everything in its right place and order’, hence here, to set the event within a coherent plan of history. What has happened since I established my ancient people is largely interpretative. A literal translation would be, ‘since my appointing an ancient people’ or (cf., for the Hebrew construction, Ps. 4: 7 < 8 >) ‘to compare with my appointing . . .’. Westermann, though he wishes to emend the words, 17 explains them accurately by saying that a god proves his real and effective deity in as much as, over a long period, he has plainly guided a people’s history. 18 This final element in the Lord’s challenge to the idol-gods is a demand for specific examples – had they, in fact, established and then cared for their people? The Old Testament stresses the exodus event as demonstrating the uniqueness both of the Lord and of Israel. (2 Sa. 7: 23 uses the same verb, √ śîm, in ‘to appoint for himself a name’.) Unlike the idols (18– 20) he did not leave his people in their distress. The challenge, however, about the past, to show initiative (proclaim), understanding (‘ tell’) and historical sense (‘ set in order’), becomes a challenge about the future and the ability to predict. Foretell/‘ tell’ is translated declare in the second line of the verse, where it required an example of past executive action; here it is used of executive control of the future. The verb is strengthened by a dative pronoun ‘for themselves’, i.e. ‘in their own interest’, ‘in support of their case.’
Motyer, J. Alec. The Prophecy of Isaiah: An Introduction & Commentary (Kindle Locations 9879-9909). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.
The message that this royal Redeemer wants to impart is that there is no one who can even be compared to him. It is not merely that he is the greatest of the gods, but that in comparison to him, there is no other god. Whatever the gods may be, they are not in the same category as the Lord. This is the force of the terms the first and the last, especially with the I in the emphatic postion. Israel’s God encompasses all of existence from start to finish, and no other being can compete with him. Alexander suggests that the force of mibbalʿādî, apart from me, is that without him the gods cannot even exist. That this language (first and last) is applied to Christ not once but four times in Revelation (1:17; 2:8; 21:6; 22:13) is some indication of the force of the early church’s conviction that Jesus Christ was Yahweh incarnate.
2. Creatio Ex Nihilo:
Kwaku is against the idea that matter was brought into existence. He believes in an infinite regress of past moments. This forces him to argue that the Bible doesn’t teach creation from nothing. Luckily Genesis 1:1 is in deep controversy. Kwaku simply handwaves this off to Jewish scholars that think it should be rendered as “When God began”. Kwaku can be dismissed as being serious about the point because equal scholars and hebraist disagree. Such as Dr. John Currid from Reformed Theological Seminary. Jews aren’t known for their conservatism either. How many of them just allegorize the Old Testament? I think most read Genesis that way in order to maintain the idea that the OT focuses on functional ontology and not material ontology. I disagree with that point of view but have provided resources on it elsewhere:
3. Trinitarian Metaphysics:
Kwaku wishes to show his knowledge of mathematics and metaphysics at this point. He states that we are saying 3=1 and that proves the Trinity is incoherent in virtue of that. This may be how deep Trinitarian studies occur over at BYU but elsewhere people give serious thoughts about the issue of the Trinity:
On the one hand, it may operate with an overly abstract model of the one-over-many by reducing numbered objects (1x; 3y) or numerical relations (1x=3y) to sheer numbers (1=3). But the Trinitarian “equation” doesn’t operate at that level of generality. “One God in three persons” is not reducible to “the number one equals the number three.” Rather, the relation is more like saying that A and B are the same with respect to C.
On the other hand, it may operate with an overly-concrete model of the one-over-many relation by reducing numbered objects to concrete particulars. We use numbers to count discrete units. One unit of x doesn’t equal three units of x. And this is true enough when dealing with spatially discrete objects, like a loaf of bread. But the members of the Trinity have no physical boundaries. They cannot be divided and subdivided into parts less than the whole.
In addition, it is a mistake to press adjectives like “same” and “different” into relations of strict identity and absolute alterity. We use these words more loosely. Am I the same man I was ten years ago? In some respects, yes; in others—no. But it is possible for two objects to sustain a point-by-point correspondence without reducing one to the other. For example, a symmetry sustains an internal one-over-many relation. Of particular interest are enantiomorphic symmetries, such as we find in tessellation, strict counterpoint and crystallography. This type of symmetry sets up a relation that is both equipollent and irreducible. Although A sustains a closed, one-one correspondence to B, A is not reducible to B. One-to-one is not the same thing as one-of-one.
4. Other issues:
Kwaku asked, “Where does one person end and the other begin?”
I think this is a silly question. God in classical theism is timeless, spaceless, abstract spirit. This ties into the issue of the language of “filling” up the creation. It is picturesque language to portray the point that God has dominion over all things in the creation. So, it is an expression of his omniscience and omnipotence
Kwaku asked, “What is a spirit?”
A spirit is a disembodied mind. Mormons are materialist so it is hard for them to think outside of that paradigm.
Kwaku asked, “Why didn’t the son know of his return?”
That’s been answered before:
Kwaku mentioned theological adoption, being made in God’s image and likeness, and that is supposedly fitting in with his Mormon scheme. That leaves us in a pickle. Are we biological descendants of God or not? How are Christians biological sons of God and yet adopted? Kwaku would suppose we are his offspring(Acts 17:28). You don’t adopt your biological sons. The adoptive and sonship language was never meant to be taken literally. So, the metaphors were never meant to convey Mormon doctrine.
I find it ironic that a Mormon is calling Reformed Theism incoherent. The hypocrisy is strong with this one: