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.
- 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?.