Trinity on Trial An in-depth examination of Trinitarian doctrine



You have made a number of assertions relating to Targums that require some investigation. These are: a) Targums are authoritative In claiming they were authoratative for Jesus, John and Paul, I think you are claiming clairvoyance here - you have NO evidence to support this. We have Jesus' plain declaration that the Jews made void the word of God with their traditions. And the quotations direct from the Old Testament (which I gave above) do not include the targumic additions. So the evidence is to the contrary. It is just not good enough to say that they were used in the synagogue services - it does not follow that Jesus, John and Paul believed them to be authoratative. You are also being selective. For example, Targum Pseudo-Jonathan translates Gen 1:26 as: And the Lord said to the angels who ministered before Him, who had been created in the second day of the creation of the world, Let us make man in Our image, in Our likeness; I know that you are emphatic that man is NOT created in the image of the angels. Do you think that Jesus, Paul and John believed that? I rather think not. I have already pointed out that the Targums teach that a destroying angel killed the firstborn of Egypt - which you categorically deny. The Targum Pseudo-Jonathan for Gen 2:7 reads: And the Lord God created man in two formations; and took dust from the place of the house of the sanctuary, and from the four winds of the world, and mixed from all the waters of the world, and created him red, black, and white; and breathed into his nostrils the inspiration of life, and there was in the body of Adam the inspiration of a speaking spirit, unto the illumination of the eyes and the hearing of the ears. Whereas scripture says: then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. Which do you believe to be authoratative? Not only do the Targums INTRODUCE words to scripture, they also modify those that God inspired. For example, scripture says (Ex 16:3) and (the children of Israel) said to them (Moses and Aaron), "Would that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, However, Targums have: And the sons of Israel said to them, Would that we had died by the Word of the Lord in the land of Mizraim, The Targums REPLACE "hand of the Lord", with the "Word of the Lord". Who authorised this change? Is it valid to AMEND the word of God to accommodate sensitivities about anthropomorphisms? The point is that God inspired the writer to say "Hand of the Lord", NOT "Word of the Lord", whether we like it or not. You then try to prove that the New Testament writers are basing their doctrine on the unauthorised amendments to God's word. So what you really mean is: The Targums are authoritative where (you think) they support YOUR a-priori, but not authoratative when they don't. Not exactly objective scholarship, I would suggest. However, you have agreed that the Targums INTRODUCE words into scripture - and as far as I am concerned (and I think most Bible-believing Christians) that settles it. No doubt you know where to find in Deuteronomy and Revelation what God thinks of those who ADD to scripture. b)The memra of the Targums is a hypostasis (person) You said: "Thus in many places where the Hebrew scripture identifies the “person” of the omnipresent and therefore non-local God (“ellohim” or “YHWH”), the Aramaic Targums paraphrase the text to include and even describe an actual living person, the “memra” or the “word” of God as the active, localized manifestation of God himself with whom the Bible’s characters could actually interact in person." You are trying to make a point based on data which is not agreed by scholars. Martin McNamara has written several scholarly works on Targums (eg The New Testament and the Palestinian Targums to the Pentateuch). In his "Targum and Testament" (Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1972) he says: "That the memra of the Lord is merely a reverent circumlocution for "the lord", another way of expressing the same thing and in no way a hypostasis, is now generally held by students of Judaism. As H. A. Wolfson says: "No scholar nowadays will entertain the view that it is either a real being or an intermediary". An examination of its usage in the targums appears to substantiate this view. The word is confined to the targums, occurring nowhere else in Jewish literature.......Present day scholars tend to reject the targumic memra as a background to, or contributing factor towards John's doctrine of the Logos" (pp 101-102). Prof Moore (Professor of Religion at Harvard University) stated: But nowhere in the Targums is memra a "being" of any kind or in any sense, much less a personal being. The appearance of personality which in some places attaches to the word is due solely to the fact that the memra of the Lord and similar phrases are reverent circumlocutions for "God", introduced precisely where in the original God is personally active in the affairs of men; and personal character of the activity adheres to the periphrasis. Please note that NONE of the above writers are Christadelphians, but scholars with many years experience of studying targums and New Testament. The article by Boyarin which you quoted accepts that the general view is NOT what he is expounding, and is a minority view. At best it can be stated that Boyarin's hypothesis is disputed by the majority of scholars. While you are trying to give the impression that his work is definitive it is by no means the case. It is interesting to note that now two scholars have stated that the Memra occurs nowhere else in Jewish Literature. You stated that Prof Moore was wrong - you said: In addition he is plainly wrong on some points not the least of which is the claim that the memra "never gets outside teh Targums. That is nonsense. It appears in rabbinic Judaism for centuries AFTER the Targums were written. I dont claim to be any expert on rabbinic Judaism, but I find it strange that two scholars, expert in Judaism and rabbinic teachings should disagree with you (unless there is some misunderstanding over meaning). I know experts can be wrong. However, as you claim they are plainly wrong, please provide the evidence to refute these scholars. You said: You have shown that the term "word" DOES indeed mean a verbal utterance in SOME places and then extrapolated that this is the ONLY meaning allowed. But there is no reason to restrict that term to that one meaning especially since we have contemporaneous literature containing abundant examples showing explicitly that the very people to whom the New Testament was written understood that term to mean MORE than simply a verbal utterance. How people understood scripture is irrelevant. What scripture teaches IS relevant. I think you are admitting that the Word (Heb: dabar) does mean verbal utterance in the Old Testament. And that there is no hint of it being a "person" in the Old Testament. If it were the case, Word" would be used regularly in that sense. (If I am wrong, you will no doubt bring scriptural examples to the table). So you have to cling on to the possibility that some Jews believed that the word WAS a person (though NOT the dabar of the Old Testament) based on "contemporaneous literature", rather than scripture itself. If the idea of a personal "word" was authoratative Jewish tradition, you would be able to demonstrate it from scripture itself. c) The memra of the Targums is the basis for the Word in the Gospel of John This is by no means agreed by scholars either: C.K Barrett says: "Memra is a blind alley in the study of the biblical background of John's Logos doctrine" (C. K. Barrett, The Gospel According to St. John: An Introduction with Commentary and Notes on the Greek Text 128) Billerbeck says: The inference that follows from the foregoing statement with regards to the Logos of John can be in no doubt: the expression "Memra of Adonai" was an empty, purely formal substitution for the Tetragrammaton and is consequenty unsuitable to serve as a starting point for the Logos of John" (Commentary on the New Testament from Talmud and Midrash, I:314f). You view does not have the support you are implying for it. Your evidence is purely based on conjecture due to similarity of expression. But there is already a teaching about the word (dabar) in the scriptures which you are setting aside in favour of ADDITIONS to scripture. d) The Trinity is based on non-inspired sources: You said: In essence they (ie the Targums) provide the vernacular conceptualization – the real, inferred “meaning” of scripture as UNDERSTOOD by Aramaic-speaking Jews like Jesus and John and Paul. THIS is the conceptualization upon which the elements of the Trinity (including the divine nature of Christ) was based. This speaks for itself - you are the first trinitarian I have debated with, who has admitted the non-Biblical basis of the trinity doctrine. But I knew that! You also do not give the basis for Boyarin's article. He is skeptical about revelation, and is therefore attempting to prove that the Christian teaching about God developed from Jewish synagogue tradition, not as a result of revelation. In addressing a critic of his view (Martin McNamara) he says: An additional obstacle in the way of seeing connections between Logos and Memra has been in the way that the problem has been posed, namely, as put by Martin McNamara, as an issue regarding whether or not the "targumic expression" is "a true preparation for the rich Johannine doctrine of the Logos." In that case, "the doctrine as well as the term used by John would have been prepared in the synagogue theology." As an alternative to the view that John's doctrine "had been prepared in the synagogue," a view that had been rejected by all scholars according to McNamara, "many scholars have come to see the preparation for the doctrine of John in the Wisdom literature of the Old Testament, and for the term he uses in the creative word (in Hebrew: dabar) of God." He continues: Those of us who are more skeptical about revelation......................Clearly, the apologetic desire to find absolute uniqueness in this important moment in Christian doctrine and the consequent compliance with a different sort of Jewish apologetic of its own has misdirected the inquiry To sum up: All your premises are at best debatable, but in most cases disputed by scholars with years of experience researching in this field (except for your final point on which I am happy to agree!). It is not irrefutable as you claim, but purely an unproved hypothesis. You are pinning your hopes on an article that is refuted by other experts in the field, and which even the article itself agrees is a minority viewpoint. You are also associating yourself with those who do not accept the possibility of revelation - interesting bed-fellows. But for the Bible-believer, the inspired Hebrew Old Testament is the basis and context of the New Testament. If you are unable to demonstrate your case from scripture, we have no basis for discussion. Your continued reference to the Targums as authority for the trinity doctrine only strengthens the case that it is not a doctrine derived from scripture. Best regards, Elpis. (CARM)