I found this video to be extraordinarily interesting for several reasons. First, it’s interesting to see James White gushing over Rabbi Singer’s embrace of Tanakh and his anguish over Christians who don’t embrace the Bible as firmly. However, his complete misunderstanding of Rabbi Singer’s joke about Mormons caused me to wonder if he fully understands Rabbi Singer’s attack on the doctrine of the trinity here. It’s possible that he does understand it and he’s being intentionally obtuse. I don’t want to assume bad intentions here, so I’ll take the time to explain it.
First, the Mormon joke.
Why did God create Mormons? To show Christians how Jews feel.Rabbi Tovia Singer
Despite James White’s understanding, this isn’t really a joke about polytheism. Tanakh was written and basically canonized before the time of Jesus. Hence, in Luke 24:44 Jesus himself references the Law of Moses (Torah), the Book of the Prophets (Nevi’im), and the Psalms (Ketuvim). The three books form the acronym “Tanakh”, which is the Old Testament in the Christian Bible. It is recognized as Scripture by Jesus himself.
With that in mind, consider the Mormon faith. Joseph Smith comes along in the 1800’s and claims to have found new writings which are also the Word of God. These are in the form of tablets which he translates with angelic assistance. These writings then necessarily further reveal the teachings of the Bible, according to Mormons, because they too are the Word of God. Thus, the Bible doesn’t mean what you think it meant. It means what the Book of Mormon shows us it means.
This is where the joke comes in. Christians believe that the New Testament reveals the hidden meanings in Tanakh. Hence, in Psalm 2:7 David says “Hashem said to me, you are my son; today I have begotten you”. Pretty clear, right? God is speaking to David, saying He has adopted him as a son. But not so fast. In Acts 13:33, the New Testament tells us that this is not about David. Paul directly applies this verse to Jesus at his resurrection. But why should we accept this change to the original meaning of the text? Because, Christians will say, the New Testament is God’s word and therefore cannot contradict itself. Thus, what the passage seemed to clearly mean when it was written can’t be what it actually meant.
This is what Christians do to the Jewish faith. You may agree with them, or you may not. That’s irrelevant. I’m not saying they are right or wrong, rather I’m simply establishing that they do this. Moreover, this is what the Mormons do to Christians. This is evidenced by the following quote from Russell M. Nelson, President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
Hence, what Rabbi Singer is saying here is quite simple. You know that frustration you feel when Mormon’s come along and reinterpret your sacred writings? That’s the frustration that Jews feel with Christians every day.
On to the Trinity.
God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?Numbers 23:19, emphasis added.
In Numbers 23:19, God clearly says He is not a man. James White says this is not a problem, because Christians don’t believe that the core nature of God is human. Rather, they believe that God became a human, while still being fully divine. This is defined in the doctrine of the Hypostatic Union. Find that one in the Bible for me if you will, but I digress. I fully understand what James White is saying here. Since they don’t believe that the nature of God is human, rather that God transitioned from the divine realm to the human realm, he doesn’t see this as a contradiction. Nor do I. That isn’t the problem with the Christian interpretation here.
The problem that I see with the doctrine of the trinity is as follows. John 1:1 tells us that “the Word was God”. We all agree that “the Word” is the second person of the trinity, or more specifically a pre-incarnate Jesus. John 1:14 tells us that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us”. Do you see the problem?
Ironically, if you were to search for Bible verses about how God never changes, Numbers 23:19 will show up in just about every list. This is why Jews and Muslims use it against Christians when discussing the trinity. However, Malachi 3:6 makes it even clearer. “For I, Hashem, do not change.” However, the word translated “became” in John 1:14 is ginomai, which is defined as follows in Strong’s Concordance.
to come into being, to happen, to become, transitioning from one point (realm, condition) to another.Strong’s
Therefore, the objection to the trinity based on Numbers 23:19 is as follows.
- God is not human.
- God does not change.
- Therefore, it follows that God cannot transition from the divine realm to the human realm.
Does this mean that God isn’t powerful enough to transition from one realm to another? No. It means that God has limited his state of being to a divine form. This is an expression of what God will do, not an expression of a limitation that God is incapable of overcoming. Hence, God isn’t saying that He is incapable of transitioning realms. Rather, he is assuring us that he will not transition to a different realm.
To be fair here, this does not prove that Jesus was not God. Docetism was a Christian view of Jesus that predates Trinitarianism. Basically, they believed that Jesus was only God and not human. Hence, this view doesn’t require a transition or change on the part of God. He can appear to us as a human if he so desires without changing transitioning realms. However, Numbers 23:19 clearly tells us that God is not human. Malachi 3:6 tells us that God does not change. Therefore, it follows that God cannot transition from the divine realm to the human realm. And this is precisely how Numbers 23:19 contradicts the Christian doctrine of the trinity as it exists today.