January 21, 2017

The Bonner-Asher Debates

By Jesse G. Jenkins

On the evenings of August 2, 3, 5, and 6, 1999 David D. Bonner and Jeffery S. Asher debated in Crockett School house in Amarillo, Texas and repeated the same on the evenings of August 23, 24, 26, and 27. Audiences were larger in Lufkin with about 250 -275 the first night and in the 100s the other nights. In Amarillo attendance ran under 200 the first night and estimated in the 80 to 90 range the other nights. The audiences behaved well as was expected,

Bonner was in the affirmative the first two nights and in the negative the last two nights in each place. Bonner’s affirmative was “RESOLVED: The Scriptures teach that Jesus, while on earth in the flesh had and used both human and divine attributes.” Bonner stated his job was easy for all he had to do was prove two attributes of humanity and two of Deity. He gave Scripture for ten points of humanity such as Jesus hungered, tired, slept, suffered, died, etc. He proved Jesus used attributes of Deity in several ways. He showed that he accepted worship as God (Matt. 4:10). He showed that a leper, a man born blind, wise men, a ruler and apostles worshiped Jesus as God. He showed Jesus forgave sins and that only God can forgive sins (Mark 2:5, 7). He gave several examples of Jesus forgiving sins. He asked the question, did Jesus accept worship and forgive sins as man or God?

From Matthew 4:1-3 he showed that Jesus was tempted to turn stones into bread, and argued if Jesus had no power to do so, there would have been no temptation. There was temptation, so Jesus had the power to turn stones into bread. Bonner emphasized that if the power were the power of the Holy Spirit, then the Holy Spirit would have had to sin for Jesus to use his power; there- fore the power was usable power that Jesus had, i.e., his own power.

Bonner showed that John 20:30-31 states the signs Jesus worked proved he was Deity. Asher argued that the signs in this passage referred to the resurrection. The fact that “signs” and “these” are plural did not seem to make any impression on him. Bonner showed that if Jesus’ signs, to which John here referred, were done by the power of the Holy Spirit, then his signs no more proved he was the Son of God than did the apostles’ signs prove they were Sons of God.

Bonner asked who empowered the seventy in Luke 10:19? There Jesus said: “I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy. . .” (emphasis mine, JGJ). To this, Asher never replied.

For six nights Bonner tried to get Asher to tell why it denies the humanity of Jesus if he used his own power of Deity, when Asher teaches it does not deny his Deity to use only his humanity. Asher’s answer was “because Jesus came as a man.” If you can figure out how that answers the question, you are smarter than me.

Bonner surely sustained his proposition with adequate proofs.

The last two nights in each place Asher affirmed: “RE- SOLVED: The Scriptures teach that Jesus, while here on earth in the flesh, had both human and divine attributes but never used any of his divine attributes.” In an effort to prove this he argued that all Jesus did beyond what any human could do was by the power of the Holy Spirit. His major and virtually only argument to try to prove this was his pattern argument. He said that when you prove that baptism is a burial by Romans 6:4, then burial is understood wherever baptism in the name of Jesus is mentioned. This is the pattern. In this he is correct. But then he said that his showing that Jesus worked a miracle by the power of the Holy Spirit as in Matthew 12:28, established a pattern and that wherever Jesus did a miracle it was to be understood that he did it by the power of the Holy Spirit. But Bonner showed that Asher did not have a pattern because sometimes it is said Jesus did a miracle by the power of the Holy Spirit and sometimes by the power of the Father (John 14:10), and sometimes by his own power (Luke 10:19, John 2:7-11; 10:18). If baptism was spoken of as a burial in one passage, as a sprinkling in another and as a pouring in yet another, there would be no pattern for burial. Anyone should see that. Bonner argued that the Godhead worked in unanimity. He had a chart showing this to be so in creation, the resurrection, dwelling in the saint, work, word, etc.

Bonner asked Asher how he would prove that Jesus had divine attributes if he never used them? Asher’s reply was that both agreed that Jesus had divine attributes and thus there was no need to for him to prove it.

Asher said that Jesus learned that he was the Son of God, thus Deity, by his mother and father telling him. He said that Jesus had to learn and grow in God’s favor like any other child. He said that in Luke 2:46-47 Jesus was not teaching the doctors of the law anything, rather that he was asking them questions so he could learn. He said the reason the doctors of the law marveled was that Jesus’ perception was greater than normal.

In answer to Bonner’s argument that Jesus used an attribute of Deity in accepting worship, Asher said that accepting worship did not prove an attribute of Deity because the Caesars accepted worship and the pope accepts worship. Bonner pointed out that Jesus accepted worship with the approval of the Father, but not so with the Caesars and the pope. Asher also said that Jesus accepted worship because he thought he was God. As pointed out above Asher said Jesus concluded he was God by the testimony of his parents.

In answer to Bonner’s argument that Jesus used an attribute of Deity in forgiving sins (Mark 2:5, 10), Asher went to John chapters 4 and 5 and argued that because it says that Jesus did things by the power of the Father, it is understood that he forgave sins by the power of the Father, not his own power. Bonner pointed out that when we read Mark 2:1-10 it should mean the same to us as it did to them and that they certainly had no way of concluding Jesus was not doing this by his own power. To this Asher made no reply.

Bonner pointed out several times that this theory that Jesus never used his own power came about because several years ago some started accusing others of believing that man has to sin. Bonner said that he had never known a brother that believes man has to sin. He challenged Asher to name just one who so believes. No one was named by Asher. In their effort to prove that man can live an entire life without sinning and thus, never need the blood of Jesus they used Jesus as the example of one who did it. When it was pointed out to them that Jesus was not only man, but also God, they had to make him just man to hold onto their position that man can live an entire life time without sinning. First some of them said Jesus divested himself of his divinity, and attributes.

Then they said he remained Deity in person, but not in power and character. How one could be Deity in person without the character of Deity, they never could explain. For this reason or for some other reason, they then gave this position up also. (In fairness to Jeff Asher, I want to state that he says he never believed these first two positions but has always believed Jesus was Deity on earth, that he retained his attributes, but limited himself and never used them. But it is a fact that some of his fellows did teach these first two positions for several years.) They then came to the position that Jesus in the flesh was Deity and that he did have his powers of Deity, but limited himself and never used them. This is what these debates were about.

Bonner said that he believed that in theory man could live without sin, because when man sins, he chooses to sin, but practically man is not able to earn his salvation by sinless living and that if anyone ever said he did, he would make God a liar (1 John 1:10). See also Acts 15:10. Bonner had a chart that asked two questions: (1) What is the probability that man will not sin? Bonner’s answer to this was zero. (2) What was the probability that Jesus would not sin? Bonner’s answer to this was one hundred percent. Asher never answered these two questions.

Bonner used an argument he got from one who wrote in the Faith and Facts paper, that to say anyone had some- thing but could not demonstrate it was like clouds and wind without rain (Prov. 25:14). This writer in Faith and Facts said to say one could work miracles but could not demonstrate is like wind and clouds without rain. Bonner told Asher that to say Jesus had attributes of Deity yet never used them was like Proverbs 25:14 also.

Asher thinks that if one has an advantage over you in any way, he cannot be your example. Bonner used Philippians 2:1-8 to show the humility of Jesus. Jesus left heaven, came to earth to live as a poor person, and to die a cruel death. Bonner affirmed this is the greatest example of humility the world has ever seen, and affirmed no one could possibly duplicate this example in humility. It does look like Jesus had an “edge” in humility, does it not? Asher was challenged to tell if Jesus did have an “edge” in humility. So far as I can recall he gave no reply.

Asher took the position that Jesus is still a man in heaven. He said very little about this in the debate, but in the Friday morning open forum at Amarillo, this was discussed at great length. But the ones who took this position never did tell us how the raised spiritual, immortal body is still human.

Asher and those who agree with him teach that Jesus while on earth was at eternal risk. Asher did not say much about this in the debate, though David tried to get him to do so. What I am about to say was not in the debate, but as it is on the subject, I want those who read the review to consider this also. Was Jesus and thus our salvation at risk because he may have sinned. They think so; I deny it. But the important thing is the Bible denies it. Isaiah 42:1-4 says: “Behold my servant, whom I uphold; mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth; I have put my spirit upon him: he shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles. He shall not cry, nor lift up, nor cause his voice to be heard in the street. A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking shall he not quench: he shall bring forth judgment unto truth. He shall not fail (emphasis mine, JGJ) nor be discouraged till he have set judgment in the earth: and the isles shall wait for his law.” Matthew 12:18-20 applies this to Jesus. The Holy Spirit said he would not fail, but Asher says he could have. I think I will take the Holy Spirit over Asher and others who agree with him on this.

All who believe that Jesus accepted worship, forgave sins, gave the seventy power and turned water into wine should have left the debate knowing that Bonner sustained his proposition and that Asher failed to sustain his. All Bonner had to do to sustain his position was to show that Jesus used his Deity in one thing. And he did more than that.

It appears to me that just about every argument they make, if carried to its consistent conclusion would deny that Jesus was Deity while on earth. They disavow this conclusion and I will not assign it to them. But I will assign inconsistency to them. And Asher did say in Amarillo that as to function, Jesus was just a man. Well if in function he was just a man, it would be interesting for them to tell in what sense he was Deity!

For Bonner, Jesse G. Jenkins moderated, C.A. Scroggins flipped charts, David M. Bonner kept time in Amarillo, but Robert Bond kept time in Lufkin and Keith Shackleford.

“ran charts” as used by Asher. For Asher, Ed Dye was to have been the moderator, but because of sickness, A.W. Goff moderated, Tim Coffee flipped charts, and Wayne.