On page 10, Irons briefs his interlocutors and readers with reasoning as to how Jesus’ deity is found in expressions of “revealing the Father” and exalted terminology such as “image of the invisible God,” which in his opinion is why
“the church fathers took up this theme and made it one of their key arguments for the deity of Christ.”
I heartily concur that it is indeed Jesus, the son, who most fully and adequately reveals the Father, but Jesus was not the first to be (in) “the image of God.” Adam (humanity) was created in the image of the invisible God and this in no way necessitated an argument for Adam’s deity. An attempt to prove a divine nature or ontological oneness with the Father based on him being the “true revealer” was (in my opinion) rather weak.
On page 12, Irons – interpreting John 17 – spoke of the conscious state of Jesus reflecting on his past glory with the Father.
“There is only one center of consciousness, one ‘I’ of the Son, as he speaks of his relationship with the Father as man and as he looks back upon his preincarnate life with the Father ‘before the foundation of the world.’ It strains credulity to interpret these straightforward vignettes of the pretemporal, interpersonal relationship between the Father and the Son as mere hyperbole of a personified divine attribute.”
First, his reference to “before the foundation of the world” is a line found in Revelation (as well as other places), and is telling because this phrase speaks to notional or ideal preexistence and foreknowledge not literal eternal existence with the Father (cf. Acts 2:23; 1 Pet. 1:19-20; Rev 13:8; 17:8).
My question is, if I am to believe that as the human, yet incarnate son, who - in kenotic form - set aside his divinity (which orthodoxically included omnipotence, omniscience and omnipresence), how then was he unable to access divine knowledge of the Father’s plans vis à vis the timing of the future, but able to access divine son knowledge about the eternal glory he shared with the father before assuming mortal flesh? In other words, if the son laid it all aside (kenosis), that knowledge should have been off limits, rendering him incapable to reminisce of the eternal state alongside his Father prior to his birth/incarnation. This seems to me an irreconcilable double-standard which does not square with either the Biblical account or Chalcedon.
The “two tests of ontological deity” proposed by Irons to prove Jesus’ identity were:
(1) He used “all things were created through him” (based on John’s prologue, statements in Paul’s letters and Hebrews) and argued that “all things” need refer to the corporeal universe. Utilizing the creator/creature distinction, he surmised that Jesus cannot possibly be on the creature side of the juxtaposition, but mentioned nothing of "in heaven and on earth," “rulers and thrones,” as speaking to authority, rather than material creation. 13-14.
(2) Aseity. I was a bit confused in his presentation of this, as he used passages that - in context - suggest that the authors were speaking of Jesus in his humanity rather than divinity, otherwise I am left to read the texts in a nebulous of weaving curiosity as to which of Jesus’ two natures were being referenced.
For instance, he wrote,
“The New Testament predicates aseity, and therefore ontological deity, of Jesus. The Father has granted the Son to have ‘life in himself’ (John 5:26) and therefore he possesses the uniquely divine attribute of aseity” 15.
This is somewhat of a non sequitur, for on the same page Irons defined a se as:
“a Latin phrase which means that one has one’s being ‘from oneself’ and not from another. Only God has aseity.”
Therefore, if Jesus – whether as divine or human son - had to be “granted” aseity, it is by definition not aseity! There was a time when the son was not a se. The Father alone is a se, so it does not follow that because the Father granted the son “life in himself,” this is somehow synonymous to aseity.
“Jesus is unchanging.”
What did he mean by this, the divine or human? When “Jesus” is referenced, is this his humanity (which was born) or the preexistent logos? Jesus - the man - grew, learned (obedience) and upon his resurrection and subsequent glorification was changed. In my opinion, Irons did not prove Jesus’ ontological deity, and further arguments contingent upon this unproven premise were nullified because they were begging the question.
In his comments on the Johannine Prologue, Irons made the claim that the
"logos existed as a divine being distinct from God the Father."
While many read it this way, it is a bit presumptuous to build a Christological stronghold around its “personhood.” It rather says the logos was “with” God. It is the logos (word) in the prologue that finds expression and fulfillment (becoming flesh, manifested) in Jesus of Nazareth, who was born to Mary, not “the logos born and assuming flesh as a pre-existent entity.” The logos was always with God, in this way of speaking, but does not mean Jesus of Nazareth was. You can read my brief sketch of John’s logos here. 11
He argued against two-stage Christology in favor of a “three-stage career” of the son which includes:
“(1) the preincarnate state of the Son, with God the Father before and at creation, (2) the first phase of his incarnate state, that is, his earthly ministry, and (3) the second phase of his incarnate state, that is, his exaltation at God’s right hand.”
In his perspective, a two-stage Christology (eliminating preexistence) would mean a human received divine honors, and the deification of a “mere man” would be implausible or
“conceptually and theologically impossible within the context of an early Christian movement composed of Jewish believers raised in and committed to the strict monotheism inherited from Judaism. Therefore, the exaltation of Christ must be interpreted along different lines.”
He had previously clarified that his use of “divine” was not like that observed by the culture (citing the example of Romulus’ apotheosis). Irons believes that an exalted human is an infringement on strict Jewish monotheism, but yet the identity of a being and subsequent claim of two-natures in a hypostatic union that belongs within a tri-personal entity who has always been the God of Israel is not? This argument is another where its coherence eludes me. If it is not Jesus’ humanity being exalted, what then is the point? Why would a divine son who already possessed the “fullness of the Godhead,” ontological oneness, or as the NIV puts it, “in very nature God” need exaltation (Phil. 2:6)? Irons seemed to have forgotten the orthodox position of the two natures for a moment, which posits that Jesus, an incarnate, fully human being, set aside all deity. If Chalcedon is to be accepted as foundational to the hermeneutic, divine honors would be bestowed on a human in Phil. 2 anyway, because Jesus never ceased to be fully human. At this point, one would not be referencing the preexistent logos, but the man, the historical Jesus. The honors and exaltation are bestowed not pre-incarnation, but after, as the result of his obedience. Both Dixon and Smith had good responses to this segment. 16
"no mere creature could be given that divine authority as Lord of all creation” 17.
I align with the statements of Smith in response:
“His statement is problematic for a number of reasons. First…a sinless, miraculously begotten Son of God who will one day rule as the king of the kingdom could never be called a ‘mere creature.’ This again sets up the straw man. Secondly, I am surprised that Irons finds no parallel to human figures being given universal domination. Was not Adam told, ‘rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the cattle and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth’ (Gen. 1:26-27)?” 42
On page 21, the argument Irons provided as to Jesus' role in God’s redemptive action in no way necessitates his identity as fully and ontologically divine. He spoke of mediation and brandished the term "incarnate son." His statements regarding the “objective accomplishment” and “subjective response to redemption” requiring ontological divinity were completely unfounded.
I also found his bandwagon fallacy a bit surprising:
“Millions of ordinary Christians throughout history have confessed that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, exalted at God’s right hand as sovereign Lord over all creation, and have put their faith and trust in him as their divine Savior and have worshipped him as such.”
Regardless of what millions have done or believed does not provide a basis for arguing ontological identity with Yahweh, divine sonship or anything for that matter. The same logic could be applied to four-thousand years of Israelite belief in the one true God, who Jesus confessed as his God, with no belief in a Trinity. What about those millions of ordinary Hebrews through whom God chose to reveal himself to the world? Were they all completely mistaken about their God for all those years? In all fairness, he did not rest his argument on his above statement, but placed it following his exposition as to why Jesus must be a divine savior. 21-22
After the first round of responses and challenges by Dixon and Smith to his core argument that the son is eternal and thus a second ontologically divine person (eternally generated alongside the Father and Spirit), Irons still did not provide any biblical basis for this claim, but rather reframed and continued to beg the question he envisioned as adequately having been established. 49