One Great Tri-Personal Book - Part VIII

Throughout his segment of the book, Dixon made some great observations and thoughtful analysis. I was not however, persuaded by his overall thesis, that Jesus is a divine being (although not “divine” as defined by Irons), who literally existed before his birth as the preincarnate logos. At the commencement of his short and thorough Arian oeuvre, Dixon presented the fundamental premise of his presentation:

“divine as he [Jesus] may have been (John 1:1) he is not eternal in the sense of having had no beginning, nor is he Almighty God – mighty and exalted as Jesus the Christ may be, any more so than God’s other children will eventually be (John 1:12; John 3:1-2)” p. 65.

Dixon was somewhat vague in his explanation of Jesus’ origin:

“I believe the one who became Jesus came to have existence with God as a sentient individual at some unrevealed time before becoming a human individual, born as miraculously as was Adam the original human son of God (Luke 3:38) or his helper who corresponded to him (Gen 1:26-27; 2:18-25).”

Dixon does accept the miraculous events that brought about the birth of Jesus, however he does not see this as being this "sentient individual's" origin. While he did not specify, this naturally communicates that Jesus was the human aspect of a preincarnate divine “self” known as the logos. This logos (sometimes mistakenly identified as Jesus) was the instrument of God in the creation of cosmos in Dixon’s way of reckoning.

With no disrespect toward Mr. Dixon, his intention to produce evidence for Jesus as a preexisting divine figure, who instead of being “out of” Mary (Smith rightly and crucially points out p. 98) as the gospels describe, is rather imagined as having traveled “through” her. This, in my opinion is not convincing. On page 45, Smith - replying to Irons - addressed this very thing,

“Irenaeus seems to be exaggerating when he writes, ‘This Christ passed through Mary just as water flows through a tube,’ something radically different from Matthew’s and Luke’s insistence that Jesus was brought into being inside his mother Mary.”

The Bible’s clear language of “begetting” and what that entails has been sacrificed for another definition.

Dixon then proceeded through a series of investigations into Jewish writings and motifs. I found his citations to be a compelling and reasonable synopsis of the messianic milieu, although not a convincing proof for Arianism. His developed investigation was true to his stated objectives:

“1. The one and only ‘God’ ought to be understood as Jews of Second Temple monotheism understood him to be. 2. The exclusiveness of Father-God Yahweh/Jehovah is not comprised by exalted, worshiped, and Yahweh-functioning human or angelic figures who are also presented in the Second Temple-period writings as gods. 3. Jesus’ position and treatment is a result of his exaltation, which parallels secondary figures in Judaism. 4. Jesus’ life is derived from the Father” p. 66.

I have no objections to his claims, but these do not presuppose a preexistent divine figure. Dixon covered many key issues often misunderstood by well-meaning Christians:

“The Bible affirms that there is only one true God (Deut 6:4; John 17:3; 1 Tim 2:5), and while it would be easy for a believer to say that because there is only one God all other gods are false, this would be an oversimplification from the standpoint of the biblical data.” 

Dixon then quotes Carl Mosser,

“Moderns are often unaware that theos had a much broader semantic range than is allowed for G/god in contemporary Western European languages” p. 67.

Quoting from James McGrath, he also rightly concludes that agents who represent an authority are an important piece of evidence to not be ignored:

“Agency was an important part of everyday life in the ancient world. Individuals such as prophets and angels mentioned in the Jewish Scriptures were thought of as ‘agents’ of God. And the key idea regarding agency in the ancient world appears to be summarized in the phrase from rabbinic literature so often quoted in these contexts: ‘The one sent is like the one who sent him.’ The result is that the agent can not only carry out divine functions but also be depicted in divine language, sit on God’s throne or alongside God, and even bear the divine name” p. 67, from McGrath, Only True God, 14.

Dixon made another great comment,

“The ability of a Jewish author to speak of one who is an exalted divine agent as 'your God' demonstrates just how far agency was understood to go – even to the point of permitting the transfer of God’s titles to God’s specially appointed agents.” 

Here, Dixon again departs from the definition of “divine” as used by Irons. Dixon is not promoting an ontological identity with Yahweh as Irons did, but rather a subordinate position to him, stating that God

“is ontologically superior to and apart from him” p. 33.

Dixon spent a fair amount of time investigating the Melchizedek character, and other than strengthening his development of agency and actions said to be performed by Melchizedek, I am not entirely sure what his intention was or how it aided in determining whether or not Jesus was a preexistent divine being alongside God.

It also seemed to me in numerous places as though the concept of notional or ideal preexistence presented succinctly by Smith was not even taken into consideration by Irons or Dixon, but rather brushed aside as implausible. Dixon especially, who quoted from a wide variety of Jewish literature from the Second Temple period would surely have known that what Smith presented was a common element of thought. Instead, a literal preexistence and conscious existing with the Father in some form or another was preferred by Irons and Dixon amid the difficulties this reading poses on multiple hermeneutical levels. For example, on page 113 Dixon - responding to Smith – wrote,

“Enoch, Jacob and others preexisted their human existence according to Second Temple Jewish literature. This is problematic for a point of view that says no one could have imagined such.”

Perhaps I am missing the weight of the argument, but what reason is there to conclude that Second Temple use of preexistence concerning exalted figures and patriarchs are not within terms of ideal preexistence and hyperbolic narratives? Am I to conclude from these pieces of literature that Jews envisioned the Torah to be errant when it told of the births of Jacob from his mother, that Jacob only came into flesh at that time? To conclude that literal preexistence was normative based on these texts is a seemingly tenuous thread on which to hang one's argument.

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