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William Barclay

A prolific author of 70 books, including commentaries on each New Testament books, is a well known and often quoted scholar.

However some have written articles about him and challenge his Christianity based on the facts that he did not accept the miracles of Jesus, did not believe in the preexistence of Jesus, was a universalist and as can be seen in the quote below did not hold to classic views on the trinity.

Nowhere does the New Testament identify Jesus as God. Jesus did not say, "He who has seen me has seen God." He said, "He who has seen me has seen the Father." There are attributes of God I do not see in Jesus. I do not see God's omnipotence in Jesus, for there are things which Jesus did not know. I do not see God's omnipotence in Jesus for there are things which Jesus could not do (William Barclay, A Spiritual Biography, 1977 Edition, p. 56).

Is William Barclay an esteemed scholar recognized by main stream Christianity, or are his views considered heretical in many ways?

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    This will be a matter of opinion. – Nigel J Jul 21 '20 at 12:49
  • Thanks for your opinion @NigelJ – Kris Jul 21 '20 at 13:25
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    It's not just that, 'mainstream' doesn't have a clear definition either. – curiousdannii Jul 21 '20 at 22:16
  • christianity.stackexchange.com/q/4200/23657. Related to mainstream – Kris Jul 21 '20 at 22:23
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    The accepted answer on the 'mainstream' question stated There is no definitive list of "mainstream" denominations in the UK - indeed the term is largely subjective. – Nigel J Jul 22 '20 at 0:55
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Professor William Barclay has been somewhat misrepresented by some who object to the fact that he held to some ‘liberal’ ideas (theologically speaking). This Greek scholar and Classics expert certainly was at odds with many Christians on quite a few points, but not with regard to Jesus being God incarnate, the Second Person of the Trinity. Whatever critics say about this man (who is not around to defend himself), he cannot be charged with lending any support to anti-trinitarian religionists who deny that “the Word was God”. I am not interested in defending the theology of Barclay, nor am I versed in his writings, but I do object to those who try to use partial quotes from his writings regarding the deity of Christ, to either claim he wasn’t “a real Christian” at all, or that he actually agrees with anti-trinitarians who deny that “the Word was God”. He never did support that school of thought. It is scholastically dishonest to cite him in such a way that he appears to claim that Jesus was not God incarnate.

The article quoted from in the OPs answer to his own question is interesting in that the writer (Dudley Ross) criticises Barclay for being “a liberal”; for being less than enamoured of evangelicals in the 20th century who were viewed as being conservatives, whereas he viewed himself as a liberal evangelical; for admitting to having ‘borrowed ideas’ and not original ones of his own. Ross quotes Barclay as making the allegation, "The phrase `born of woman' has nothing to do with the Virgin Birth." I know of some trinitarians who would agree, because that phrase is never said of Jesus in the Bible – it is said of John the Baptist.

Ross does more partial quoting to accuse Barclay of this theological error: “Barclay really did not believe that Jesus was God.” The partial quote Ross uses does not favour us with the context or if Barclay then went on to add how Jesus was, indeed, God, despite those truthful points from scripture he had detailed. Like Barclay, trinitarians know that they cannot quote a verse that says “Jesus is God”, as if Jesus was the entire summation of God when the Bible is clear that the Father is not the Son, and the Son is not the Father, yet both are equally God in their divine Being. So, when Barclay highlights how Jesus was sent by the Father, and prayed to Father God, and was devoted to doing the will of his Father, that would be something trinitarians agree with.

When it comes to ‘proof’ that Barclay did not believe Jesus was God, the best Ross can come up with is to refer to another person, a liberal -

“Thayer was a Unitarian, and the errors of this sect occasionally come through in the expalatory [sic?] notes. The reader should be alert for both subtle and blatant denials of such doctrines as the Trinity (Thayer regarded Christ as a mere man and the Holy Spirit as an impersonal force emanating from God)…”

But Barclay has never stated that Christ is “a mere man” nor that the Holy Spirit is “an impersonal force emanating from God.” If Barclay had said any such things, you may be sure that direct quotes would have been given. Instead, we have an attempt to tar Barclay with the same Unitarian brush that smears Thayer.

Now let Barclay speak up in protest at those who deny that Jesus is God, and who claim that the Holy Spirit is simply the power of God. Before he died, he took a group to task for trying to partially quote him to imply that he supported them. He wrote,

“The deliberate distortion of truth by this sect is seen in their New Testament translations. John 1:1 is translated: ‘…the Word was a god’, a translation which is grammatically impossible… It is abundantly clear that a sect which can translate the New Testament like that is intellectually dishonest.”

And that is the issue here – intellectual dishonesty. It is not about the extent of Barclay’s theological liberalism on matters other than the deity of Christ. I do not care how liberal Barclay might have been because I am not a follower of Barclay nor was I taught by him. I am only concerned with the issue of whether anti-trinitarians can cite him honestly as one of their own, or whether Barclay held to a higher, divine view of the person of Christ than they have. Many anti-trinitarians quote from Unitarians in support of their views, but the question is – can they honestly quote Barclay as a supporter of their anti-trinitarian views? I think not.

I have no intention of going on to defend Barclay by quoting copiously from his statements about the deity of Christ. It should suffice that he objected to one anti-trinitarian group trying to claim his views in support of their own on that matter. Nor will it do to claim that the question as to whether he is “a respected theologian in mainstream Christianity” links in with the claim that for many on this site “anyone who denies the trinity is not a Christian since a Christian must accept the Creeds”. Many on this site would point out that acceptance of the trinity equates with accepting what the Bible says on the matter. The biblical doctrines of God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit can only ever come from the Bible. The Bible came first, creeds came later. The first century Christians wrote of how they viewed Christ, and all who call themselves Christians must adhere to what their scriptural writings declare, for therein is the revelation of God, by the Holy Spirit, as to just who this Jesus really is.

Some people in mainstream Christianity (whatever that is) will view Barclay as being a respected theologian; others will disagree. At the end of the day, people are entitled to disrespect Barclay for holding to views on many points that they disagree with, but they should not go on to approve of what he says on the person of Christ, thinking he’s anti-trinitarian when he was no such thing. Those who quote Barclay out of context on that doctrine run the risk of being scholastically dishonest.

  • I guess you didn’t read his words I quoted from his autobiography. – Kris Jul 22 '20 at 11:04
  • You quoted words from Jackson, Wayne. "The Enigmatic William Barclay." ChristianCourier.com. Access date: July 22, 2020. christiancourier.com/articles/681-enigmatic-william-barclay-the That is not Barclay's autobiography. It is an article about Barclay. Please quote his own words, from his own writings, denying trinitarianism. I will wait for you to do that. – Anne Jul 22 '20 at 11:57
  • No Anne I did not. I quote in my answer to this question Barclays own words. I simply provided the Christian courier links’s additional evidence that Barclay was not trinitarian. – Kris Jul 22 '20 at 11:59
  • The link you provided, as being Barclay’s autobiography, is to Wayne Jackson’s article about Barclay. Have you provided the wrong link? – Anne Jul 22 '20 at 12:03
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This magazine discusses William Barclay

From the perspective of many who frequent this site anyone who denies the trinity is not a Christian since a Christian must accept the Creeds.

The following from the link above would knock him out of the “respected”and “Christian” categories based in the perspective of many here.

Barclay looked at the healing miracles as simple legends and not facts. He had no more faith in the miracles of healing Jesus performed than he did those of the pagans of Christ's time. He described an event that took place in Alexandria when a blind man came to Vespasian and "besought him to cure him by touching his eyes with his spittle, and a man who had a diseased hand, who besought him to heal it by touching it with the sole of his foot."(8) Barclay then related how the blind man saw again and said, "Both facts are attested to this day." He affirmed, "There is every reason to believe that these cures happened, and that they were not uncommon in the ancient world." Later, however, he attributes it all, including the miracles of Christ and the apostles, to the current thought of those ancient days. He did not believe in miracles as divine intervention in the natural realm of the world. This man who regarded the miracles of Jesus as understood only in the characteristic Hebrew exagerations, is quoted far too often today by faithful brethren.

Barclay really did not believe that Jesus was God. Here is an area that is enigmatic in studying Barclay, for one time he wrote of his faith in Christ, but then made such statements as these. "It is not that Jesus is God. Time and time again the Fourth Gospel speaks of God sending Jesus into the world. Time and time again we see Jesus praying to God. Time and time again we see Jesus unhesitatingly and unquestioningly and unconditionally accepting the will of God for himself. Nowhere does the New Testament identify Jesus and God. (My emphasis, DRS) He said: `He who has seen me has seen God.' There are attributes of God I do not see in Jesus. I do not see God's omniscience in Jesus, for there are things which Jesus did not know (sic)."(9)

There is also this from Barclay’s autobiography

“So then for me the supreme truth of Christianity is that in Jesus I see God. When I see Jesus feeding the hungry, comforting the sorrowing, befriending men and women with whom no one else would have anything to do, I can say: ‘This is God.’ It is not that Jesus is God. Time and time again the Fourth Gospel speaks of God sending Jesus into the world. Time and time again we see Jesus praying to God. Time and time again we see Jesus unhesitatingly and unquestioningly and unconditionally accepting the will of God for himself. Nowhere does the New Testament identify Jesus and God. Jesus did not say: ‘He who has seen me has seen God.’ He said: ‘He who has seen me has seen the Father.’ These are attributes of God I do not see in Jesus. I do not see God’s omniscience in Jesus, for there are things which Jesus did not know. I do not see God’s omnipotence in Jesus for there are things which Jesus could not do. I do not see God’s omnipresence in Jesus, for in his days on earth Jesus could only be in one place at any given time, and once and for all revealed and demonstrated, the attitude of God to men, the attitude of God to me. In Jesus there is the full revelation of the mind and heart of God. And what a difference it means to know that God is like that!”

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    Personal experience: I used to own a few of his NT commentaries decades ago and benefited from them esp. for literary quotations for application, but then he fell off my radar. Now I rarely see respected evangelical commentaries mentioned him, possibly due to his unorthodox beliefs, but I think more due to the relative lack of scholarship rigor compared to these top ones. +1 for exposing him. – GratefulDisciple Jul 21 '20 at 15:11
  • As you can see in this very generous list of commentaries that Barclay's commentaries don't even make it to the list. This article explains how his background helped him become a good writer as well as describes how he grew "left" toward his unorthodox teachings. – GratefulDisciple Jul 21 '20 at 16:32
  • This is another good and short article that I believe represents the view of many mainstream Christians about him and his writings. Yet another reason NOT to make him the straw-man of mainstream theology. And yes, based on those secondary-source articles (I haven't read his 1977 autobiography), it does look some of his views are "heretical". – GratefulDisciple Jul 21 '20 at 23:16
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Now this is an interesting question? "Is William Barclay an esteemed scholar recognized by main stream Christianity, or are his views considered heretical in many ways?

Personally, I would not consider him an esteemed scholar. I base this on the fact that after reading about him I find him to be a "double-minded" man as noted by the Apostle James at James 1:8.

The Bible says, "A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways." A double-minded is "having in the mind opposite or opposing views at different times." To be double-minded is to be inconsistent, vacillating, to be and act one way today and be and act some other way tomorrow.

So, as you know you quoted Professor Barclay in support of the fact that the speaker at Revelation 22:12-13 cannot be specifically identified with the implication that Jesus Christ is not God.

I researched Professor Barclay and provided proof/evidence that he believed Jesus Christ is God. Since you consider yourself a Christian do you recognize or deem Professor Barclay a Christian and are his views considered heretical in any way?

Some new information has come to light which confirms my belief that Professor Barclay is a double-minded man. It is also stated by the Jw's that Barclay did not believe in the preexistence of Jesus Christ and that Jesus Christ was a created being.

The following is from Barclay's commentary on John chapter 1 here. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dsb/john-1.html What Barclay said.

"The word was already there at the very beginning things. John's thought us going back to the first verse of the Bible. "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" (Genesis 1:1). What John is saying is this--the word is NOT ONE OF THE CREATED THINGS; the word WAS THERE BEFORE CREATION; the word is not part of the world which came into being in time; the word is part of eternity and was there with God before time and the world began. John was thinking of what is known as the preexistence of Christ."

Barclay goes on to say in the next paragraph these words, "If God's word is part of the eternal scheme of things, it means that God was always like Jesus." Now, I'm not going to dispute that Barclay did not believe Jesus was God, but when you read what he writes he sure "implies" it without actually saying it. Denying the deity of Jesus Christ means one is lost. John 8:24, "I said therefore to you, that you shall die in your sins; for unless you believe I am, you shall die in your sins."

I think it is important to fact check everything with Acts 17:11 in view, and that includes me.

The following is what Professor Barclay said about Revelation 22:12-13. THE CLAIMS OF CHRIST (Revelation 22:12-13) https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dsb/revelation-22.html

"22:12,13 Behold, I am coming soon, and I have my reward with me, to render to each man, as his work is. I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.

The Risen Christ once again announces his speedy coming; and he makes two great claims.

(i) He has his reward with him and will render to every man according to his work. H. B. Swete says: "Christ speaks as the Great Steward, who in the eventide of the world will call the labourers to receive their day's wages."

(ii) He is Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end. This is a repetition of titles used in Revelation 1:17; Revelation 2:8; Revelation 21:6. There is more than one idea here.

(a) There is the idea of completeness. The Greeks used from alpha (Greek #1) to omega (Greek #5598) and the Hebrews from aleph to tau to indicate completeness. For instance, Abraham kept the whole Law from aleph to tau. Here is the symbol that Jesus Christ has everything within himself and needs nothing from any other source.

(b) There is the idea of eternity. He includes in himself all time, for he is the first and the last."

Finally, I did make the following statement? "I'm not going to dispute that Barclay did not believe Jesus was God, but when you read what he writes he sure "implies" it without actually saying it."

Since Professor Barclay does indeed deny the deity of Jesus Christ I apologize for not doing "due diligence" in my research. There is one last thing I would like to comment on. The word "Trinity" has been brought up by some on this issue. I am not here to prove the Trinity, I am here to address the question, "Who is Jesus Christ."

Personally, (and I've said this for many years now), I don't believe Trinitarianism is a REQUIREMENT for salvation. It is the RESULT of salvation, for you cannot know Jesus and somehow miss the fact that He is God. You cannot have experienced the presence of the Holy Spirit of God and somehow miss that He is God. Romans 8:9-11

  • When did he believe Jesus is God? Was it before or after he wrote that identifying the speaker in rev 22:13 was difficult? Before or after he said the words I quote in my answer regarding Jesus not being God? – Kris Jul 21 '20 at 22:05
  • @Kris The Jw's say the speaker at Revelation 22:13 is Jehovah God. You quoted Barclay saying "it is difficult to identify the speaker." I researched this and Barclay said, "ii) He is Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end. This is a repetition of titles used in Revelation 1:17; Revelation 2:8; Revelation 21:6. There is more than one idea here. He's referring to Jesus Christ. If you say Jehovah God is the speaker, it can be said that Jesus is God as the speaker. There is only one being of God that qualify's. So, is Barclay a Christian and are his views heretical? – Mr. Bond Jul 21 '20 at 23:23
  • It depends on how one defines heretical – Kris Jul 21 '20 at 23:35
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    @Kris Here's what I'm talking about Barclay being "double minded." The following site supports the NWT. defendingthenwt.blogspot.com/2009/09/nwt.html God down about 7 or 8 paragraphs and read what it says about Barclay. He claimed he was a Trinitarian and that Jesus was God. Twenty years later he changed his mind. Just saying! – Mr. Bond Jul 23 '20 at 0:35
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    @Mr. Bond Interesting to read Barclay's views (in 1953) that it would be "grammatically impossible" to translate John 1:1 as "the Word as a god". Yet he later conceded that "You could translate, so far as the Greek goes: 'the Word was a God';" Bruce M. Metzger's views (also in 1953) and the quotes of Dr. F. F. Bruce and Dr. Harry Sturz (1971) are noteworthy. Excellent research, especially considering that Elijah Daniels is defending the New World Translation with regard to John 1:1. – Lesley Jul 23 '20 at 7:29

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