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Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Trinity & Paradox

It has been rightly argued by some that we can distill these claims from the Athanasian creed:

1. The Father is God.
2. The Son is God.
3. The Spirit is God.
4. The Father is not the Son.
5. The Father is not the Spirit.
6. The Son is not the Spirit.
and,
7. There is only one God.

An apparent contradiction in view is:
A. f = g (premise)
B. s = g (premise)
C. f ≠ s (premise)
D. f = s (from 1, 2, by transitivity of identity)
Contradiction or Paradox? 
It seems to me that these conundrums can be dealt with in many ways by adding additional biblically informed propositions to the incomplete ones. Simply replace some of the abbreviated premises with premises that contain more biblical truth and paradox disappears, yet without being able to uncover the mysteries of the Trinity. (i.e. The solution is rational but ought not to be considered rationalistic.)

Equivocal terms lead to unreliable conclusions:

It should be noted up front that there is a semantic difference between is and =, for x is y does not imply y is x; yet x = y is equivalent to y = x. (Please don't read on without digesting that.) The leap from what x is (found in 1-7) to what x equals (the complaint in the "apparent contradiction" i.e., A-D) is fallacious, which I trust will become apparent.

Points 1-7 (which utilize "is") imply that three distinct persons all share in the one divine nature and occupy what can be called "the same divine space".  So far, so good. Points A-D that follow (which utilize "=" instead of "is") leads to confusion (and supposed paradox). Points 1-7 and A-D must be nuanced, for 1-7 does not imply the conclusion of A-D, which is not only an apparent contradictory but rather a real contradictory.

First, with respect to the confusing four points (A-D), the only way Jesus equals God is if Jesus and God are numerically identical - exactly the same without remainder. Yet God can mean Trinity, which Jesus is not. God can also mean the person of the Holy Spirit, which Jesus is not. Finally, God can mean the person of the Father, which Jesus is not. Accordingly, to say that "Jesus equals God" and the "Father equals God" is equivocal at best and if taken literally leads to modalism because identity is transitive, which would mean that Jesus and the Father are the same person.

With respect to points 1-7, indeed, we should rightly say that Jesus is God because Jesus shares the divine essence: he is very God of very God, but that is not what is implied in points A-D when things such as "Jesus = God" are stated. In other words, if what is meant by "Jesus is God" is that that Jesus equals God, then of course that would be incorrect. But that is not what is typically meant by "Jesus is God", which makes reference to his divine nature, one in being with the Father.

Jesus is a specific person. Accordingly, if Jesus equals God, then God must equal Jesus and, therefore, must be a specific person (the same as Jesus), which would preclude any other person from sharing in the divine nature such as the Father, which in turn would undermine the doctrine of the Trinity. So yes, Jesus is God because Jesus is divine, but Jesus and God are not synonymous terms - for if they were synonymous terms, then "Jesus is God" could be equated to "God is Jesus". (In simple terms of analogy, Jim is human does not imply Jim = human.)

Jesus does not equal God, for the Father and the Holy Spirit are also God yet are different persons than Jesus. There is more than one God-person in the Godhead, all of whom mutually indwell the other two. There is only one triune-God, that in three persons and oneness of being lives in perfect harmony.

More on the equally ultimate, unity and diversity:

The Father is God just as the Son is God, but an essential property of the Father’s *person* (not to be confused with the ontological essence), which merely is to say it can only be predicated to the person of the Father, is his relationship to the Son and the Holy Spirit. Being distinct persons, there are differences between the members of the Holy Trinity. The Father is not God apart from his intra-Trinitarian relationships. That to say, the Father is not God apart from being a member of the Trinity. These Trinitarian relationships are essential properties of personhood, not essence (lest Father is Son). If we cannot distinguish properties in this way, we cannot distinguish persons. Accordingly,  f does not equal s because neither f nor s have the same intra-Trinitarian relationship with the other two divine persons in the Godhead. So, as we fill in what it means for f and s to be g, we do so not in a vacuum but with other biblical propositions in view, informing us of g as it pertains f and s. Indeed, it is true that f is g and s is g, and if that was the end of the story we might be in trouble. Without further elaboration, f is  g plus s is g is consistent with  modalism, so we needn’t be surprised that such constructs, though true, must be interpreted through a biblical lens in order to avoid heresy.

Although I don’t deny the prima facie intuitive notions surrounding 1-7 that can lead to a conundrum, it can be maintained on the consistency of God and his desire to communicate to his people that those intuitive notions that appear logically problematic can disappear when we presuppose additional revelation, which is not to say that mysteries can be solved. Logic cannot solve true mysteries, but biblically informed logical pursuit can demonstrate that certain doctrines are not actually seemingly-contradictory.  It’s when we think intuitively, which is to say apart from Scripture, we can get in trouble. As I've noted elsewhere, that's an insight of Van Til's apologetic but not one that I think he carried into this thinking on paradox. (For instance, when we use only experience unaided by revelation we can think one essence necessarily implies one person; when we presuppose Scripture we can know that proposition is false.)

Finally, the original formulation if it is interpreted as allowing for f=s, (which is prior to the intra-Trinitarian elaboration that forbids such an interpretation), ends up implying that the sending of the Son was arbitrary, which means the Son could have sent the Father. The arbitrariness is not demanded by the original construct (1-7), rather it comes as a result of an interpretation of the original construct that does not consider other biblical truths, such as each divine person in his intra-Trinitarian relationship with the other two divine persons. In other words, without, for instance, an elaboration of how the Son relates to the Father, 1-7 might be wrongly inferred as implying an apparent contradiction, leaving it open that the Son could have sent the Father. In the final analyses, the original construct of 1-7 is true and it is fine as far as it goes; I believe it is most suitable for a creed, but it is not a full blown theology of the Trinity, which a creed ought not to be.

Finally, regarding the arbitrariness noted above (an idea I gleaned from Robert Letham's writings), there is good reason to believe that there is an actual appropriateness that the Son was sent in the incarnation and not the Holy Spirit, but the first construct is void of such implication.We may learn of the ontological relationship through the economic activity, as Dr. Letham rightly pointed out in his review of Dr. Robert Reymond’s Systematic Theology. So for example (and as Dr. Letham has written here) the submission to Father by the Son reveals something of who the Son is prior to his incarnation, which is consistent with the turning over of the kingdom to the Father by the Son in the eschatological consummation.


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15 comments:

Joshua Butcher said...

It seems that so many of these apparent paradoxes disappear when either a) an underlying false premise is abandoned for a true one, or b) an additional premise clarifies the interpretation of a premise that appears contradictory.

In reading your post I was reminded of the early Greeks' problems with irrational numbers. Their assumptions couldn't make sense of them until they abandoned the idea that commensurable ratios were the only ones that made sense.

Anonymous said...

Hi Ron, I just read your back and forth on Greenbaggins, and found it very useful. God bless you brother and keep pressing on.

Reformed Apologist said...

Thank you, A. I'm glad it was useful to you.

Paul said...

Hi Ron, there's a whole lot to comment on, but let me just ask this. Are you saying that "sending the son" is "essential to the father"? Second, what precisely is meant by this "ontological relationship" between f & s & h? It seems to me that spelling all of this out consistently is just part of the problem of the trinity, yet amazingly you seem to simply insert it into the matter to solve the problem! Third, can you tell me what numerical identity means? Fourth,

Joshua Butcher said...

Paul,

"Are you saying that 'sending the son' is 'essential to the father'?"

The Father/Son/Spirit distinctions aren't solely economic; NOT that "sending the son" is an aspect of God's nature (since "sending" would be a volition). The Son is eternally submissive to the Father, though not eternally sent into the world.

"Second, what precisely is meant by this "ontological relationship" between f & s & h?"

Ontological, as opposed to the economic relationships. I don't think Ron is collapsing the difficulties of distinguishing the two, but recognizing that one cannot isolate consideration of what is "God, the Father" from what is "God, the Son" and "God, the Holy Spirit" as Scripture has revealed them each to be as the persons of the one true God. You don't think the "Father," "Son," and "Spirit" distinctions to be ONLY economic do you?

You said over at your blog that problems arise in the interpretation of the terms and their relations in the argument--but isn't this the case in all arguments where the terms are not defined in detail? The whole point that Ron is making is that when Scriptural premises are used to interpret the terms and relations of the argument, the appearance of contradiction is removed--thus showing that the only cause for the appearance of contradiction was in the mind of the interpreter, and not in the formulation itself.

The fact that many find an appearance of contradiction is itself not evidence of a paradox, but it can in this case be evidence that most do not approach the Trinity on the basis of Scriptural premises--which, in any construction or debate would be the first place friend or foe should go to find the definitions of the terms, since the Trinity is a Biblical doctrine. When one approaches the debate from grounds other than those upon which it is framed, how can one avoid misinterpretation leading to the appearance of contradiction? Perhaps I am wrong, but in watching you go back and forth with Ron, it seems that you wish to use extra-biblical premises (numerical identity, "is" of predication) apart from the context of Biblical premises (God is one in nature, three in person).

What do you think?

Paul said...

Hi Joshua,

First, I'll point out the scope of my post. Ron had seemed to claim that the idea that there are any theological paradoxes was just a naive, backwoods view. He claimed that people simply *asserted* that there were paradoxes and never tried to *show* that there were. I met that challenge and also claimed that my intent wasn't to deny that people hadn't tried to meet these challenges and argue the merits of the case. I take it that my post was successful in demonstrating the legitimacy of the view that some people find some doctrines paradoxical. Moreover, Ron's attempts at showing no paradox exists has only, for me at least, solidified the idea that successful resolutions of the paradox do not, at least currently, exist. However, that is consistent with some people believing that they have resolved the paradox in an orthodox manner. Indeed (!), virtually all those who have offered resolutions believe they are consistent with orthodoxy — even Craig & Moreland who argue that the three-headed dog Cerebus is an appropriate analogy of the orthodox doctrine of the trinity.

Anyway, all I see from Ron is, boiled down to essentials, a resolution that looks like this: The Bible denies polytheism, the Bible affirms monotheism, the Bible affirms there exist three divine persons, and by the way here's a couple formal distinctions, ergo, no paradox. Those familiar with the literature and who appreciate the problem may be excuse for finding this underwhelming.

Now, let's look at your comment:

CONTINUED

Paul said...

Continued from above

Your first paragraph was hard to understand just what you were claiming, but I detected at least one problem that seems to afflict some in this debate. Ron had mentioned *essential* or *necessary* properties, you then claim that the "eternal submissiveness" of the son is an example of what he was getting at. But of course it's fallacious to move from "φ is a property eternally had by Ω" to "φ is a property necessarily had by Ω."

Your response to my "second" is unfortunately unhelpful since I asked for a distillation of the nature of this "relationship." In any case, the point here in no way dissolves the paradox I laid out. It seems that Ron denied the creeds (and I'd say some biblical texts) and essentially claimed that it is not the case that the person who is the Father is God, it is "Father + Son + Holy Spirit" together who are God, like the three angles and sides of a triangle together are the triangle but individually are not. But maybe you can say that one angle is the triangle since they have a "ontological relationship" with the other angles and the sides (especially if we suppose this triangle exists eternally). The problem is that it sure looks like the creeds are saying that the father who is numerically distinct from the son is numerically identical to God, and so is the son. They claim the father and son are the same God. But on Ron's view, it is strictly false to claim that the person of the father is God. Well, asserting social trinitarianism doesn't really solve the problem for me.

Your third paragraph doesn't help me because Ron has not in any sense shown that there is no problem of the trinity. Nothing he has said has relieved the tension. Now, maybe he can do so, but he hasn't here. There's quite a lot he needs to do still. So the prima facie apparent paradox still stands.

Your last paragraph: Yes, I grant that the fact S believes that α and β are paradoxical entail that α and β *are* paradoxical. Likewise, the fact that S believes that α and β have been rendered logically consistent doesn't mean that he really has shown this. Of course, I believe that I approach the matter from the Bible, and I believe the Biblical claims warrant taking the matter to be a paradox, especially in light of the non-existence of any orthodox, rational interpretation—despite what people sincerely *believe* they've shown :-)

Anyway, your claim about my use of extra-biblical premises is odd, for you couldn't reason or even understand the Bible without using some of them. I'm sure you believe that the person who died on the cross and achieved salvation for his people is Jesus Christ, and I'm sure you believe that "the virgin Mary's" firstborn son is Jesus Christ. The is here is the ''is of identity, and logic tells us that "the person who died for the sins of his people" is identical to "the Virgin Mary's firstborn son." Am I guilty of employing extrabiblical reasoning? When the Bible says something like "the father is God" or "Jesus is God," I'm asking if they're asserting 'identity' or 'predication' or 'constitution' or what. Lastly, I am perplexed as to why you don't chide Ron for using terms like "ontological relationship" and "essential properties" and the like, for they are "extra biblical premises" he's bringing to bear on the discussion.

Reformed Apologist said...

Paul,

Let me briefly address some of the things you wrote to Josh.

“I take it that my post was successful in demonstrating the legitimacy of the view that some people find some doctrines paradoxical.”

Since paradox is in the mind of the beholder, all one needs to do in order to defend subjective-paradox is simply make the claim that he finds a doctrine paradoxical.

“Moreover, Ron's attempts at showing no paradox exists has only, for me at least, solidified the idea that successful resolutions of the paradox do not, at least currently, exist.”

Not helpful but understood. You are not persuaded, which of course does not refute the proposed refutation of the apparent contradiction.

“all I see from Ron is… The Bible denies polytheism, the Bible affirms monotheism, the Bible affirms there exist three divine persons, and by the way here's a couple formal distinctions, ergo, no paradox. Those familiar with the literature and who appreciate the problem may be excuse for finding this underwhelming.”

I’m sure I offered substantially more than that. If the Bible affirms monotheism, then any construct that can imply non-monotheism should be refined by additional biblical propositions in order to show that non-monotheism is not an apparent implication of biblical propositions. I refined the equivocal name “God” because it can be used to refer any of three persons or all three persons. The transitive argument that was offered in arriving at the alleged paradox was valid, yet it led to a false conclusion, which means the premises were suspect. Indeed they were, for by elaborating upon the premises the false conclusion is no longer derived by the transitive proof.

Your appeal to “the literature” is, to use your terms, “underwhelming”. For some reason you seem to do that sort of thing a lot. :-)

“But of course it's fallacious to move from"φ is a property eternally had by Ω" to "φ is a property necessarily had by Ω."”

Are you suggesting that non-volitional properties that are not subject to space and sequence are not necessary?

“It seems that Ron denied the creeds (and I'd say some biblical texts) and essentially claimed that it is not the case that the person who is the Father is God, it is "Father + Son + Holy Spirit" together who are God”

That’s simply a falsehood. Neither the creeds nor the Scriptures imply that Jesus possesses the same identity as the Father, yet your logical rendering of the creeds and Scripture demands that conclusion, and so you claim paradox because for some reason you are wise enough to deny the heretical conclusion that your paradox demands. I never denied that the Father is God. What I deny are premises that are so much a wax nose that they can make the Father out to be the Son in an analytic construct. The reason your conclusion is false is because your premises are equivocal. To argue as you have that the Son equals God and Father equals God - so that individual personhood is collapsed into the one divine essence is to argue to a faulty conclusion that blurs the distinct persons of the Godhead.

cont.

Reformed Apologist said...

“The problem is that it sure looks like the creeds are saying that the father who is numerically distinct from the son is numerically identical to God, and so is the son.”

Again, your conclusion leads you to “Son = Father”, which should prompt us to look for an equivocation in one of the premises or a faulty form of argumentation. If by “God” you mean essence, then the problem can be made to disappear because essence is a necessary property of each divine person but essence does not define all there is about each person, lest each person is the same, the very thing you wish to deny in your orthodoxy; yet the implication of your construct, by your own terms, denies this orthodoxy – so you claim paradox. Either some of your premises are inadequate or the form of your reasoning is fallacious. Your form is not fallacious, hence your premises are inadequate – indeed they are equivocal, which I’ve zeroed in on. You wish to equate God to a single person three distinct times, then you conclude that the three persons are identical to each other, and then claim paradox due to the falsity of the conclusion.

“Well, asserting social trinitarianism doesn't really solve the problem for me.”

The conundrum can be resolved apart from social trinitarianism. Certainly you allow each person to have a self-knowledge of the fact that they are not the other persons. Accordingly, rather than relationships we can import self-knowledge as the qualifier to distinguish one person in the Godhead from the other.

“Your third paragraph doesn't help me because Ron has not in any sense shown that there is no problem of the trinity. Nothing he has said has relieved the tension. Now, maybe he can do so, but he hasn't here. There's quite a lot he needs to do still. So the prima facie apparent paradox still stands.”

I've made the paradox disappear using a valid form and true premises.

I’m fine with people making summary statements, but it seems to me that all these posts were just that, one long dogmatic conclusion.

john_wesley1 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Reformed Apologist said...

John,

I'm not quite sure why you deleted your post but I got an email copy of it and didn't find anything objectionable.

Anonymous said...

Possibly the best post ever seen on this site.

Anonymous said...

"...the only way Jesus equals God is if Jesus and God are numerically identical - exactly the same without remainder. Yet God can mean Trinity, which Jesus is not. God can also mean the person of the Holy Spirit, which Jesus is not. Finally, God can mean the person of the Father, which Jesus is not. Accordingly, to say that "Jesus equals God" and the "Father equals God" is equivocal at best and if taken literally leads to modalism because identity is transitive, which would mean that Jesus and the Father are the same person."

That's it!

Anonymous said...

That is why we need IS and not "equals"!

Reformed Apologist said...

A useful point that was articulated in a lecture given by Scott Oliphint is that the law of non-contradiction presupposes the law of identity. Yet as I've argued, we shouldn't be asserting that Jesus = God, but rather Jesus is God. In which case, the law of non-contradiction is being misapplied by reducing the "is" construct to Jesus = God.