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Agency and Representation


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#1 Evangelion

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Posted 10 January 2003 - 08:23 PM

Trinitarians have an alarming tendency to forget (or even ignore, when it suits them) the fact that the earliest Christians were Jews, and occasionally employed language which can only be fully understood within the context of a Jewish conceptual framework. The Biblical principle of name-bearing (also known as "agency", or "representation") is a case in point.

What is the principle of name-bearing, and why is it so important?

Trinitarian scholar James F. McGrath explains what it is...
In order to understand this, we need to understand that Jesus - and also the heavenly Word - were understood in terms of what we may call ‘agency’: these figures, like the Old Testament prophets, angels and many others, were ‘agents’ of God. Now when we use this term we don’t mean that they sold houses for God or booked gigs for God to perform at local clubs on Saturday nights.

When we speak of ‘agency’ we are speaking of what in Greek would have been called ‘apostleship’ - the situation in which someone is sent to represent someone else. In the days before mobile phones, fax machines, the internet and telecommunications, this was an essential part of life. If a king wanted to make peace with another nation, he did not go in person - or at least not in the first instance - but sent his ambassador. When a wealthy person wanted to arrange a property purchase or sale in another region, he sent a representative. When God wanted to address his people, he sent a prophet or an angel. Agency was an important part of everyday life in the ancient world.

Now there were certain basic rules or assumptions connected with agency in the ancient world. The most basic of all was that, in the words of later Jewish rabbis: “The one sent is like the one who sent him” (cf. Mek.Ex. 12:3,6; m. Ber. 5:5). Or, in words which are probably better known to those of us familiar with the New Testament, “He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives not me but the one who sent me” (Matt. 10:40). These are words which the Gospels record Jesus as saying to his apostles, and ‘apostle’ is simply the Greek word for ‘one who is sent’, an ‘agent.’

When someone sent an agent, the agent was given the full authority of the sender to speak and act on his behalf. If the agent made an agreement, it was completely binding, as if the person who sent him had made it in person. Conversely, if someone rejected an agent he rejected the one who sent him. The agent was thus functionally equal or equivalent to the one who sent him, precisely because he was subordinate and obedient to, and submitted to the will of, him who sent him.

A Lecture by Dr James F. McGrath, presented at the North of England Institute for Christian Education Sixth Form Study Day, University of Durham, 27 March 1998.
...while two Christadelphian authors explain why it is so important:
We will show that when they were engaged on His work God sometimes permitted other beings to speak as if they were God Himself, indeed even to use His personal Name. This principle we term 'God Manifestation'. Clearly if this is understood it will have far-reaching implications when we consider those passages that speak of Christ as God.
Southgate, Peter & Broughton, James (1995), The Trinity - True or False?.

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#2 Evangelion

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Posted 08 March 2003 - 05:59 AM

Observation #1:
Broughton and Southgate refer to Deuteronomy 29:1-10 (where Moses speaks as the representative of God) as an example of God permitting "other beings to speak as if they were God Himself, indeed even to use His personal Name."

Let us now examine that passage:
These are the words of the covenant, which the LORD commanded Moses to make with the children of Israel in the land of Moab, beside the covenant which he made with them in Horeb.
And Moses called unto all Israel, and said unto them, Ye have seen all that the LORD did before your eyes in the land of Egypt unto Pharaoh, and unto all his servants, and unto all his land;
The great temptations which thine eyes have seen, the signs, and those great miracles:
Yet the LORD hath not given you a heart to perceive, and eyes to see, and ears to hear, unto this day.
And I have led you forty years in the wilderness: your clothes are not waxen old upon you, and thy shoe is not waxen old upon thy foot.
Ye have not eaten bread, neither have ye drunk wine or strong drink: that ye might know that I am the LORD your God.
And when ye came unto this place, Sihon the king of Heshbon, and Og the king of Bashan, came out against us unto battle, and we smote them:
And we took their land, and gave it for an inheritance unto the Reubenites, and to the Gadites, and to the half tribe of Manasseh.
Keep therefore the words of this covenant, and do them, that ye may prosper in all that ye do.
Ye stand this day all of you before the LORD your God; your captains of your tribes, your elders, and your officers, with all the men of Israel,

Here, Moses makes reference to Yahweh in the third person. But he also speaks - without qualification - as if he is Yahweh himself.

Thus:
Yet the LORD [clearly referring to God in the "third person"] hath not given you a heart to perceive, and eyes to see, and ears to hear, unto this day.
And I have led you forty years in the wilderness: your clothes are not waxen old upon you, and thy shoe is not waxen old upon thy foot.
Ye have not eaten bread, neither have ye drunk wine or strong drink: that ye might know that I am the LORD your God
[clearly employing the "first person" narrative; as if MOSES is God.]
So we see that:
  • The later verses make no distinction between the work of Moses and the work of God.
  • Moses literally speaks on God's behalf in verse 6, without even adding the usual qualifier "Thus saith Yahweh..." He appears to claim for himself, the authority of God - and of course, as an agent of God, he is perfectly entitled to do so.

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#3 Evangelion

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Posted 08 March 2003 - 06:00 AM

Observation #2:
The "far-reaching implications" to which Broughton and Southgate refer, are seen most clearly in those passages where Jesus is accused by his adversaries of exercising the unique prerogatives of God.

Thus:
  • Mark 2:5-7.
    When Jesus saw their faith, he said unto the sick of the palsy, Son, thy sins be forgiven thee.
    But there were certain of the scribes sitting there, and reasoning in their hearts,
    Why doth this man thus speak blasphemies? who can forgive sins but God only?
  • John 5:16-18.
    And therefore did the Jews persecute Jesus, and sought to slay him, because he had done these things on the sabbath day.
    But Jesus answered them, My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.
    Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the sabbath, but said also that God was his Father, making himself equal with God.
  • John 10:30-33.
    I and my Father are one.
    Then the Jews took up stones again to stone him.
    Jesus answered them, Many good works have I showed you from my Father; for which of those works do ye stone me?
    The Jews answered him, saying, For a good work we stone thee not; but for blasphemy; and because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God.
Discerning readers will recognise these quotes as standard Trinitarian proof texts. But do they really say what the Trinitarian argument requires them to say?

McGrath insists that they do not!

Thus:
This helps us to understand what is at issue in John 5. The issue is not whether there is really only one God - John affirms explicitly that he believes that there is only one true God. Rather the debate centers around Jesus’ relationship to the one God.

Jesus claims to do what God does. If he is God’s appointed agent, then there is no reason to regard this as illegitimate: it would not be the first time that God appointed one of his agents to act or speak on his behalf, to proclaim his message and do his works. However, ‘the Jews’ as they are presented in the Gospel of John do not recognize Jesus as one who has been appointed by God. They thus accuse him of “making himself equal to God.”

That is to say, the problem is not ‘equality with God’ in and of itself, but whether Jesus acts in this way as God’s agent. The issue is whether Jesus has been sent by God and is obedient to God, or whether he is a rebellious, glory-seeking upstart who claims divine prerogatives for himself.

‘The Jews’ accuse Jesus of making himself equal to God - that is to say, they accuse him of putting himself on the level of God, by claiming to do what God does when he has not in fact been appointed by God.
They thus feel that Jesus has committed blasphemy: by making these claims, he is felt to have insulted God.


[...]

How is Jesus portrayed as responding to this charge? He adamantly denies it. Listen to the words which are used:

“The Son can do nothing of himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing...By myself I can do nothing...I seek not to please myself but him who sent me” (John 5:19,30).

Jesus is emphatically said to be God’s obedient Son and agent. In the ancient near east, the eldest son was usually the principle agent of his father. A son was also expected to learn his father’s trade, watching him carefully and learning to imitate his Father. John has this in mind when he uses this type of language to justify the actions and claims of Jesus: Jesus does what God does, and as one who shares in a Father-Son relationship with God, that is precisely what should be expected. Only if Jesus were a disobedient son would he not do what he sees his Father doing. There is thus no problem of monotheism in John 5.

The issue is about whether Jesus is putting himself on a par with God, seeking his own glory in a way that detracts from the glory and honor due to God alone. John emphasizes that Jesus is in fact God’s appointed agent, and because this is the case there is nothing illegitimate about his behavior: he does what God does not as one who is rebelling against the divine authority by setting himself up as a rival to the unique honor and glory of God, but as God’s obedient Son and agent whom he sent into the world.

A Lecture by Dr James F. McGrath, presented at the North of England Institute for Christian Education Sixth Form Study Day, University of Durham, 27 March 1998.

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#4 Evangelion

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Posted 08 March 2003 - 06:10 AM

You will see that McGrath's argument is established upon two essential principles:
  • Name-bearing. (Agency and representation.)
  • The subordination of the Son. (Jesus as the suffering servant, ever-obedient to the Father.)
Both of these may be clearly identified in the body of the text itself:
When someone sent an agent, the agent was given the full authority of the sender to speak and act on his behalf.

[...]

That is to say, the problem is not ‘equality with God’ in and of itself, but whether Jesus acts in this way as God’s agent. The issue is whether Jesus has been sent by God and is obedient to God, or whether he is a rebellious, glory-seeking upstart who claims divine prerogatives for himself. ‘The Jews’ accuse Jesus of making himself equal to God - that is to say, they accuse him of putting himself on the level of God, by claiming to do what God does when he has not in fact been appointed by God.


[...]

How is Jesus portrayed as responding to this charge? He adamantly denies it. Listen to the words which are used:

“The Son can do nothing of himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing...By myself I can do nothing...I seek not to please myself but him who sent me” (John 5:19,30).


[...]

The issue is about whether Jesus is putting himself on a par with God, seeking his own glory in a way that detracts from the glory and honor due to God alone. John emphasizes that Jesus is in fact God’s appointed agent, and because this is the case there is nothing illegitimate about his behavior: he does what God does not as one who is rebelling against the divine authority by setting himself up as a rival to the unique honor and glory of God, but as God’s obedient Son and agent whom he sent into the world.


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#5 Evangelion

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Posted 08 March 2003 - 06:14 AM

Dr James D. G. Dunn (Lightfoot Professor of Divinity at the University of Durham) obviously concurs with McGrath's analysis. In the following excerpt, he identifies the Hellenic abuse of Scripture which led to the confession of Christ as God, rather than the Son of God. Of particular interest to us is the Gentile mishandling of traditional Jewish honorifics, such as adon.

Thus:
Should we then say that Jesus was confessed as God from earliest days in Hellenistic Christianity? That would be to claim too much.

(1) The emergence of a confession of Jesus in terms of divinity was largely facilitated by the extensive use of Ps. 110:1 from very early on (most clearly in Mark 12:36; Acts 2:34ff.; I Cor. 15:25; Heb. 1:13): "the Lord says to my lord: 'Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool.'" Its importance lies in the double use of 'lord.' The one is clearly Yahweh, but who is the other? Clearly not Yahweh, but an exalted being whom the psalmist calls 'lord.'

(2) Paul calls Jesus 'lord,' but he seems to have marked reservations about calling Jesus 'God.' Rom. 9:5 is the only real candidate within Paul's letters (but even there the text is unclear). Similarly he refrains from praying to Jesus. He prays to God through Christ. At the same time Paul affirms Jesus is 'Lord' he also affirms 'God is One,' 'There is only one God' (Deut. 6:4). Hence also Rom. 3:30, Gal. 3:20, I Tim. 2:5 (cp. James 2:19).

The point for us to note is that Paul can hail Jesus as Lord not in order to identify him with God, but rather, if anything, to distinguish him from the One God (cp. particularly I Cor. 15:24-28).

Dunn, James D. G. (1977), Unity and Diversity in the New Testament.
See here for a brief analysis of Romans 9:5 and here. for a discussion of the titles "LORD, Lord & lord."
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#6 Evangelion

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Posted 08 March 2003 - 06:17 AM

Curiously enough, Trinitarians will agree that Jesus is not equal to the Father in one sense (for they are forced to accept the "Functional Subordinationism" of Christian "orthodoxy"), whilst simultaneoulsy contradicting themselves with an argument from these "Jesus making himself equal with God" passages!

When pressed for an explanation, they respond with either:
  • An admission of inconsistency (but an overall "I don't really care what you think!" attitude.)
  • A desperate attempt to claim that the "equality" here referred to, is that of nature, not function (thereby arguing that Jesus is functionally subordinate, but ontologically equal to the Father.)
Neither response is adequate, and both of them present more problems than they actually solve. The latter is actually more problematic than the former, for it leaves Trinitarians with the unenviable task of defending ontological equality from a series of passages which consistently employs the language of functional subordination!

Such blatant attempts to pervert the clear meaning of Scripture can only be pitied...
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#7 Evangelion

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Posted 08 March 2003 - 06:17 AM

Meanwhile, McGrath's argument is fully supported by the Word of God itself. Name-bearing is a Biblical principle, and we see it reinforced again and again, throughout both Testaments.

Observe the consistency of Scripture:
  • Exodus 5:23.
    For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in thy name, he hath done evil to this people; neither hast thou delivered thy people at all.
  • Deuteronomy 18:19.
    And it shall come to pass, that whosoever will not hearken unto my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him.
  • Deuteronomy 18:20.
    But the prophet, which shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or that shall speak in the name of other gods, even that prophet shall die.
  • I Samuel 25:5.
    And David sent out ten young men, and David said unto the young men, Get you up to Carmel, and go to Nabal, and greet him in my name:
  • II Chronicles 14:11.
    And Asa cried unto the LORD his God, and said, LORD, it is nothing with thee to help, whether with many, or with them that have no power: help us, O LORD our God; for we rest on thee, and in thy name we go against this multitude. O LORD, thou art our God; let not man prevail against thee.
  • Psalm 89:24.
    But my faithfulness and my mercy shall be with him: and in my name shall his horn be exalted.
  • Jeremiah 14:14.
    Then the LORD said unto me, The prophets prophesy lies in my name: I sent them not, neither have I commanded them, neither spoke unto them: they prophesy unto you a false vision and divination, and a thing of naught, and the deceit of their heart.
  • Jeremiah 14:15.
    Therefore thus saith the LORD concerning the prophets that prophesy in my name, and I sent them not, yet they say, Sword and famine shall not be in this land; By sword and famine shall those prophets be consumed.
  • Jeremiah 23:25.
    I have heard what the prophets said, that prophesy lies in my name, saying, I have dreamed, I have dreamed.
  • Jeremiah 27:15.
    For I have not sent them, saith the LORD, yet they prophesy a lie in my name; that I might drive you out, and that ye might perish, ye, and the prophets that prophesy unto you.
  • Jeremiah 29:9.
    For they prophesy falsely unto you in my name: I have not sent them, saith the LORD.
  • Jeremiah 29:21.
    Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, of Ahab the son of Kolaiah, and of Zedekiah the son of Maaseiah, which prophesy a lie unto you in my name; Behold, I will deliver them into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon; and he shall slay them before your eyes;
  • Jeremiah 29:25.
    Thus speaketh the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, saying, Because thou hast sent letters in thy name unto all the people that are at Jerusalem, and to Zephaniah the son of Maaseiah the priest, and to all the priests, saying,
  • Daniel 9:6.
    Neither have we hearkened unto thy servants the prophets, which spoke in thy name to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, and to all the people of the land.
  • Mark 3:38.
    And John answered him, saying, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name, and he followeth not us: and we forbade him, because he followeth not us.
  • Matthew 7:22.
    Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?
  • John 17:12.
    While I was with them in the world, I kept them in thy name: those that thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition; that the Scripture might be fulfilled.
  • Revelation 2:13.
    I know thy works, and where thou dwellest, even where Satan's seat is: and thou holdest fast my name, and hast not denied my faith, even in those days wherein Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth.
  • Revelation 3:1.
    And unto the angel of the church in Sardis write; These things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars; I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead.
Interesting that Antipas was “slain among you where Satan dwelleth.” Anyone care to explain where this was?

Somewhere hot, I presume... ;)
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#8 Evangelion

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Posted 08 March 2003 - 06:42 AM

Let us conclude with two examples of agency in action.

First, an example from the Old Testament:
Judges 6:12-14.
And the angel of the LORD appeared unto him, and said unto him, The LORD is with thee, thou mighty man of valor.
And Gideon said unto him, Oh my Lord, if the LORD be with us, why then is all this befallen us? and where be all his miracles which our fathers told us of, saying, Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt? but now the LORD hath forsaken us, and delivered us into the hands of the Midianites.
And the LORD looked upon him, and said, Go in this thy might, and thou shalt save Israel from the hand of the Midianites: have not I sent thee?
The passage in question leaves us in no doubt as to the identity of Gideon's visitor; it was the representative angel of Yahweh. (The New English Translation consitently refers to this angel as "God's angelic messenger.") It was clearly not Yahweh Himself.

Notice that Gideon addresses the angel in verse 13 as "My lord" (adon), while in verse 14 we are told that "the LORD [Yahweh] looked upon him", thereby equating the angel with Yahweh Himself. The apparent contradiction is reconciled by the principles of agency and representation. As Yahweh's representative, the angel is free to speak on His behalf - and so the narrator credits him with the Divine Name.

But Gideon himself is fully aware that he is not literally speaking to God, for he confirms this for us in verse 22:
And when Gideon perceived that he was an angel of the LORD, Gideon said, Alas, O Lord GOD! for because I have seen an angel of the LORD face to face.
That same dread awe which Yahweh inspired in His people, is here ascribed to the angel of His presence. The two are referred to both individually and collectively - but Yahweh Himself is still recognised as the original source of the message.
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#9 Evangelion

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Posted 08 March 2003 - 06:45 AM

Finally, an example from the New Testament:
John 4:1-3.
When therefore the Lord knew how the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John,
(Though Jesus himself baptized not, but his disciples,)

He left Judea, and departed again into Galilee.
The very first verse of this chapter turns upon the issue of agency and representation. It enables us to explain how certain acts which are attributed to God, can also be attributed to Christ - without proving that he (Christ) is God.

This is more easily seen when we break the passage into separate verses:
John 4:1.
When therefore the Lord knew how the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John,
Here we are told that Jesus baptised more disciples than John. But is that really what John is trying to tell us?

Let's look again:
John 4:2.
(Though Jesus baptised not, but his disciples)
Here we have the explanation of the original verse. Jesus himself was not the one who was literally baptising; it was his disciples who performed this work. But the ritual was performed in Jesus' name and under his auspices - and for this reason, it is legitimately ascribed to him.

Adam Clarke's Commentary has:
Joh 4:2 - Jesus himself baptized not -
See Joh_3:22.

Crossing to Clarke's notes on John 3:22, we find:
And baptized -
It is not clear that Christ did baptize any with water, but his disciples did - Joh_4:2; and what they did, by his authority and command, is attributed to himself. It is a common custom, in all countries and in all languages, to attribute the operations of those who are under the government and direction of another to him by whom they are directed and governed.

Some however suppose that Christ at first did baptize; but, when he got disciples, he left this work to them: and thus these two places are to be understood: -

1. this place, of Christ’s baptizing before he called the twelve disciples; and
2. Joh_4:2, of the baptism administered by the disciples, after they had been called to the work by Christ.


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#10 Evangelion

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Posted 17 March 2003 - 05:59 PM

Writing in his own Commentary, James Burton Coffman confirms the point.

Of John 4:2 he says:
See under John 3:22-26. An important deduction from the fact of Jesus' many baptisms, none of which were administered by himself personally, yet being referred to as his baptisms and his accomplishment, is this: All who are baptized in obedience to God's specific command, and by the hand of the Lord's disciples in harmony with his will, are truly baptized by Jesus! In the light of this undeniable fact, what becomes of the human allegation that would make of Christian baptism "a work of human righteousness"? It is no such thing, but an act of the Lord himself.

Of John 3:22 he says:
Nothing may be made of the fact that Jesus did not baptize, but his disciples baptized. See under John 4:2. What one does through his agents he is lawfully said to do; therefore Jesus baptized. Why did he refrain from doing so personally? It might have given rise to jealousies and strife, later on, through some claiming greater privilege in having been baptized personally by the Lord. Perhaps, as noted above, it was to avoid any mistaken notion that Jesus was one of John's subordinates.

Furthermore, although Jesus had submitted to God's baptism as preached by John, and for a time administered by himself through his disciples, he was nevertheless above John's baptism in the sense that baptism in his own blessed name was designed to succeed it. For more on the baptism of Christ, see my Commentary on Matthew, Matt. 3:13.

And so the Biblical principles of agency and representation are reaffirmed yet again.
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