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Bobby Killmon – How Do You Interpret Acts 7:55?

In consideration of your view of Oneness, how do you interpret the scripture regarding Stephen’s stoning, Acts 7:55: “But Stephen full of the Holy Spirit looked up into heaven and saw God’s glory, and Jesus standing next to God.”?

First, let me point out the New International Version (NIV) is not a literal “word for word” translation but a dynamic equivalence or “thought for thought” translation. The NIV here doesn’t translate the very words but instead gives an interpretation. Look at the phrasing from a literal word translation. “But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God” (KJV). NT Scripture picks up a Hebrew idiom that is God’s choice of words for revelation. It’s critical to have an understanding of the phrase “right hand.” Let’s look at what that phrase means from the Bible.

First, what did Stephen see? Did he see God? No, he saw the glory of God. Also, secondly, remember no man has seen God at any time (John 1:18). That’s why even W. A. Criswell said about this verse, “The only God you will ever see in heaven is Jesus.” That’s Billy Graham’s pastor, who was a Southern Baptist pastor. Thirdly, if this is about the trinity, why do we not see three persons? Because of these things, even Trinitarians like apologist James McDonald admits, “Jesus is the only God we will ever see.”

The problem is one of hermeneutics (how to read the Bible correctly) and epistemology (correctly getting to right knowledge of God). There are two basic approaches here: either you impose a view on the Bible’s passage foreign to it, or you look to the OT to understand “right hand” language in this passage. If you look into God’s revelation, the OT, it is straightforward that the phrase “right hand” is a Hebrew idiom that is a metaphor, not literal, but used to describe a place of prominence and power (see Ps. 16:8, 77:10, 98:1, 109:31, Isa. 48:13, even Lk. 11:20). Today, a growing number of Trinitarian scholars, because of OT studies, are acknowledging this is the case.

So what is “the glory of God” and “standing at the right hand” if it’s not a literal picture in heaven? In John 17:5, Jesus is praying (as true man). Remember, God is by definition biblically all-powerful and needs no help. Heb. 5:7 shows Jesus offered prayers only in the days of His flesh. As man then, Christ’s purpose was to purchase redemption. That was the glory, the plan of God fulfilled through the man He became. Whether Oneness or Trinitarian, both can admit this, and some Trinitarians do.

Further, that glory, or being sent on a mission as man, is how we are “sent” or “commissioned/called from God” too. In John 17:18, Jesus was praying, “as you have sent me, I send them.” So, in John 17:21-22, Jesus, by choosing as a man to be one in purpose, as humanity He submitted to deity (not my will), and through that, “glory” was achieved. Now we as humans (just like Him) can serve too, and as Jesus said, have “been given” the same “glory.” We are not persons in the trinity. That’s not the glory Stephen saw.

The glory is about God as the man Jesus being in the place of authority no human has ever been before. The mediator between humanity and God. That glory cannot be about persons, because we have been given the same glory. That’s why even many Trinitarians acknowledge the “right hand” must be about metaphor.

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