Thus far we have seen a systematic Biblical case for the Trinity and against Mr. Burch’s attempts to resurrect the corpse of Arianism. However, Mr. Burch provides a list of questions that he posits are a challenge to the deity of Jesus Christ as co-personal with God the Father. He emphasizes this list by repeating it later in the section. In this part we will begin to examine these questions and demonstrate that they pose no challenge to the doctrine of the Trinity, primarily because they demonstrate that Mr. Burch does not quite understand exactly what he is denying.
Who died on the cross? Did God die? How can God die?
This, of course, is three questions, not one. However, they are justifiably related. Obviously the answer to the first two questions requires an explanation to satisfy the third. These questions are easily the same questions any atheist, orthodox Jew, Muslim, Jehovah’s Witness, Christadelphian, or other religious or non-trinitarian sect of “Christianity” would ask. Such questions demonstrate either a lack of understanding of what trinitarian theologians have explained since the times of the early church or an attempt to appeal to the element of weakness of Christians who do not understand the faith they profess. As always, an answer to questions about the teachings of Scripture requires us to consult the Scriptures.
Our God and Saviour Jesus Christ
Not purloining, but shewing all good fidelity; that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things.
Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ;
Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.
But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared,
Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost;
Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour;
— Titus 2:10,13-14; 3:5-6
The Apostle Paul in prison to the pastor Titus clearly expresses that God is “our Saviour” but also that Jesus Christ is “our Saviour.” He also made the connection between the two when he utilized the Granville Sharp construction “our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ.” When reading the flow of this epistle one may have a difficult time deciphering when “God” begins and “Jesus” ends, and vice versa! Remember also that Yahweh says of Himself that He is the only “Saviour” and connects this with being the only “God” against all the false gods (Isa 43:11; 45:21).
Thus, it is proved that if Jesus Christ died on the cross of Calvary, He being also properly God Himself in the person of the Son died on the cross. Yes, Mr. Burch, GOD died on the cross! Jesus Christ the God-Man freely gave His life on the cross of Calvary to save me from my sins! Neither I nor any trinitarian worth his salt has any hesitation whatsoever in making that bold assertion unashamedly.
For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.
For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.
Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?
For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.
— 1 Corinthians 1:18-21
If Jesus Christ is properly God by sharing the divine being with the Father, the question How can God die? deserves a solemn answer. The Muslim asks the same question because the Muslim view of God is that He is so transcendent above His creation that He cannot interface with His creation in such a manner to accomplish His will if He so chose to do so. Apparently, Mr. Burch conceives of God with the same mindset. But one may ask many questions that are not limited to this paradigm:
- If an infinite God created a finite creation, how does He interact with it without being finite Himself?
- If an infinite God can create flesh, is He incapable of taking on flesh Himself without losing the infinite properties of the divine being?
- And, of course, if God is tri-personal as the doctrine of the Trinity teaches, why would the incarnation of the person of the Son pose any threat to the existence of the divine being?
Of course, Mr. Burch and I would agree that the Scriptures express the record that God quite often interacted with His own finite creation. He spoke to people. As we saw in an earlier part, the Word of God says both that people saw Yahweh (such as Isaiah in the temple vision) and that NO ONE can see Yahweh and live! The trinitarian understanding that people saw Yahweh in the person of the Son but that the Father cannot be seen harmonizes these passages without a problem. I am not sure that the same can be said of the neo-Arian position that Mr. Burch holds.
Can God bleed?
Mr. Burch’s “difficult question” asking if God can die begs the question of God’s abilities as Creator. The Scriptures clearly say that “our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ” “gave Himself for us” by shedding His blood in death on the cross. If Jesus is God revealed in the person of the Son, then the question of if God can die is answered with an emphatic affirmative, because not only can God “die” He, in fact, did so in this prophesied act of incarnation and redemption!
Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.
— Acts 20:28
I imagine that Mr. Burch, if he has not already, would research this verse and point out the textual issues surrounding this verse in Greek manuscripts. The fact is that, even if one were to accept the tenets of textual criticism, the corresponding manuscript evidence leans strongly in favor of the common rendering found above. Although some manuscripts read “the church of the Lord,” some read “the church of the Lord and God,” some read “the church of the Lord God,” and some read “the church of the God and Lord,” the most likely original reading according to the critical understanding is “the church of God”.
The issue, then comes down to the interpretation of the phrase “which he hath purchased with his own blood,” for some have understood that the same phrase could grammatically mean “which he hath purchased with the blood of his own” meaning that God (the Father) purchased the church with the blood of His own Son. Of course, “the blood of his own” naturally would expect that “the church of God” variant be the original reading. If any of the other four variants happened to be the original, it would make no sense for Jesus Christ to purchase the church with “the blood of his own.” I would suggest, then, that even the principles of textual criticism would validate the rendering and meaning expressed in the KJV to be what Paul said that “God” indeed purchased the church “with His own blood,” as the vast majority of English translations demonstrate. If God can bleed in the person of the Son incarnate, it follows that He can also die in this state.
Not dead but asleep
Mr. Burch’s question also begs the question of what die means. Does to die mean to cease to exist? I understand that Mr. Burch agrees with the concept of soul sleep rather than any sort of consciousness of those in the intermediate state between death and the resurrection, and that he also believes in a form of universalism. However, even he acknowledges that those who are dead still exist, albeit without consciousness.
In a straight between death and resurrection
But, do the dead lose their consciousness in the “sleep” of death as Mr. Burch claims? In answering a challenging question from Sadducees who denied any future resurrection, Jesus not only argued for the promise of a resurrection to a glorified, immortal body, but He also did so on the basis of the continuing conscious existence of saints who died many years prior:
Now that the dead are raised, even Moses shewed at the bush, when he calleth the Lord the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.
For he is not a God of the dead, but of the living: for all live unto him.
— Luke 20:37-38
Jesus used the present tense “I AM the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” to argue that these patriarchs were conscious unto God that He IS their God. Therefore, God “is not a God of the dead, but of the living: for all live (present tense) unto him”!
Moses and Elijah at the transfiguration: a second death?
The fact that saints who died remain conscious prior to their resurrected bodies is proved further in the account of the transfiguration of Christ (Mat 17:1-9; Mar 9:1-10; Luk 9:28-36). All the accounts of the transfiguration event declare that the actual Moses and Elijah appeared there. Clearly, this was not just a vision of them, but the people themselves! Did God bless these saints with a brief few minutes of conscious existence again before snuffing them back away? I would suggest that the obvious parallel to the transfiguration is the baptism of Jesus in which the voice from heaven says as well that “This is my beloved Son.” In both accounts there is a glimpse of the heavenly reality, but in the transfiguration, rather than seeing the Holy Spirit descend like a dove, the disciples see a glorified Jesus and Moses and Elijah. Just as much as the Holy Spirit was presently active and conscious without the veil being lifted for this occasion, so also Moses and Elijah are conscious and serving “the God of the Living” when our eyes are yet unable to see them!
Never send a witch to do God’s job
Another brief example is that of the account of Saul, the witch of Endor, and Samuel (1Sa 28:8-20). Saul sought out a witch to try to access divine counsel indirectly because God rejected him. Many good people believe that the one seen as Samuel in this passage is a demon impostor because witchcraft has no real power to conjure up the dead–not to mention one of God’s saints; yet some of the details in this passage could allow us to accept that Samuel really did make an appearance here.
The witch realizes that the man requesting her services was Saul not when he requested that Samuel appear, but rather when she actually saw Samuel. She likely recognized unusual power was happening at this time and thought that Saul was there with God on his side to plot against her. Even as a witch allegedly providing seance services, she was astonished at the sight of “gods [elohim] ascending out of the earth” (v13) and “an old man…covered with a mantle” (v14).
You might be wondering why God would allow a witch to do His work. Well, the same God sent an “evil spirit” before to the same Saul to “trouble” him (1Sa 16:14-16). Joseph said that when his brothers sold him into slavery they intended to do evil, but in the same act God intended it for good (Gen 50:20). Why is it not reasonable that God could do His bidding to bring righteous judgment upon Saul by means of the evil act Saul and the witch intended to do?
Samuel appears to speak righteous justice here, prophesying of Saul’s death in battle the next day and saying that this judgment was because Saul did not obey God. Nothing said seems to contradict the character of Samuel. Saul wanted guidance from God for his advantage, yet because he was unrepentant, God would not give it to him. Because Saul sought a way for guidance from the departed Samuel away from God’s required means through humility and repentance, God granted Saul’s request for Samuel out of spite, and by not means to Saul’s advantage. If this was indeed Samuel, and the passage gives no compelling reason to believe anything other, he was in a conscious state of rest before and after this appearance.
Under the sun or under the Son
Because others have addressed more fully the issue of soul sleep and the intermediate state, and the purpose of this part is to deal with the deity of the One Who died, we will wrap up with some remaining proof texts. Mr. Burch quotes verses from Ecclesiastes without mentioning the notable perspective from which the Preacher relays the frustration and failed materialism in his sermon. The phrase “under the sun” occurs 29 times within the 12 chapters of Ecclesiastes and forms the lens through which we view the conclusions. When Solomon says that “the dead know not anything” (Ecc 9:5), this is from the perspective of one living “under the son” in this life. Ecclesiastes is not meant to be a doctrinal exposé into the full state of the person after death. For example, if “a man hath no preeminence above a beast” (Ecc 3:19) were the exhaustive truth, we would all have to become Sadducees and deny the resurrection and any kind of existence after death for all time, for “there is one event to the righteous, and to the wicked” (Ecc 9:2). Indeed, it is more fitting to get doctrine of the afterlife from passages that address that topic more specifically, rather than from the sorrows of failed materialist expeditions in Ecclesiastes.
Death amidst a threefold cord
Given the case that death does not mean a cessation of existence and that those who are dead experience consciousness in the intermediate state, no problem exists for the concept that the God-Man can die on a cross and not cease to exist or lose any aspect of the divine being. Another reason that the death of the God-Man poses no problem for the deity of Christ is that the doctrine of the Trinity itself explains that the three Persons of the divine being are co-equal and co-eternal. Just as the incarnation was not a loss to the divinity of the Son in that He took upon Himself a human nature, so the crucifixion was neither such a loss for very much the same reason in that human nature experienced death. Not only is the Son God, but so are the Father and the Holy Spirit; however, the Trinity did not become a Binity for three days. Although the God-Man experienced death, He was conscious in His short intermediate state awaiting the glorified body He would receive as “the firstfruits of them that slept” (1Co 15:20).
Standing for the scandal
Yes, Jesus Christ died on the cross. Jesus Christ is also God Almighty in the Person of the Son. Therefore, God did die! With the proper understanding of this concept, I–and all trinitarians with me–stand unapologetically in the scandal of the cross!
- Les Burch, It Isn’t The Way We Think It Is: Seven Common Beliefs That Aren’t in the Bible (Mustang, Okla.: Tate Publishing, 2013), 77-78.
- Ibid., 109.
- Ibid., 77, 109.
- Bruce Terry, “A Student’s Guide to New Testament Textual Variants (Acts 20:21-28:29),” last modified September 18, 1998, http://web.ovu.edu/terry/tc/lay13act.htm.; Robert Bowman, Jr., “Is the NWT’s “the Blood of his Own” the Most Likely Translation?,” http://forananswer.org/Acts/Bowman_Acts20_28.htm.; Oxford University, “Review of Reviews,” The Panoplist and Missionary Magazine United, vol. 3 (June 1, 1811) 507-510.
- Burch, “After Death: Is Heaven Instant?,” It Isn’t The Way We Think It Is, 51-71.
- Ibid., 62.