Are you ready for a break from the universalist-infernalist debate? I know I am. So how about a discussion on the Trinity? Everyone please click on the link and hop over to philosopher Dale Tuggy’s article “Jesus, God, and an inconsistent triad.” As you probably already know, Dr Tuggy is a unitarian who also has a high regard for Jesus of Nazareth. In this article he hopes to persuade us that the classical trinitarian doctrine is logically absurd. He presents us with these three statements:
D: Jesus and God have differed.
N: Jesus and God are numerically one.
I: If any X and Y have ever differed, then they are not numerically one.
One cannot affirm all three statements, insists Tuggy, without contradiction.
First things first. I do not know how to to affirm or disaffirm the first two statements without begging somebody’s question. That is to say, in my judgment whether one agrees or disagrees with them depends on whether one whether one has first embraced either the unitarian or the trinitarian doctrine of God (or something in between).
Consider statement #1: “Jesus and God have differed.” The first thing I notice is the past tense. It assumes that God is a being in time; but I do not accept the premise that God is a being in time. He is the creator of time. None of our temporal categories apply to him. Therefore the statement is meaningless.
But I suppose Dale can come back and say: “Forget the past tense for the moment. If God is not a being in time, then that in itself is a clear way in which God and Jesus differ: according to your view, God is an immutable, impassible eternal being; but Jesus is a temporal being. He grows older in time. He moves around in time. He gets hungry in time. He dies in time. Your God doesn’t do any of that stuff.”
Point taken. But we classical trinitarians are also Chalcedonians, and we believe that Jesus Christ is one hypostasis subsisting in two natures. The Chalcedonian Definition authorizes us to attribute to Jesus both divine and human predicates. As a result, we can and do affirm that Jesus can simultaneously walk around Nazareth and eternally create the world from out of nothing.
“But Jesus talks to God!”
Yes he does. Isn’t it wonderful!
“You have to admit, however, that this dialogue with God distinguishes Jesus from God.”
Absolutely. This dialogue distinguishes Jesus the eternal Son from his eternal Father. That’s why the Church teaches that the Father and Jesus are distinct hypostases. As we say in the Nicene Creed, Jesus Christ is “eternally begotten of the Father.” Or as St Athanasius writes: “The Son is everything the Father is, except ‘Father.'”
Now I realize that you find the trinitarian-incarnational construal implausible, Dale; but why should I prescind from the dogmatic faith of the Church when interpreting your first two statements? Or to phrase it differently, why should I adopt your hermeneutical rules for reading the Bible?
On to statement #2: “Jesus and God are numerically one.” If this means that Jesus and God are one hypostasis, then the statement is clearly false—but who believes otherwise? The developed trinitarian faith is clear: Jesus (the Son) and God (the Father) are two distinct hypostases. It also goes on to assert that Jesus and God are numerically one in one precise sense: they both equally possess the divine nature. So I can also affirm statement statement #2.
Statement #3: “If any X and Y have ever differed, then they are not numerically one.” Sure, I’ll grant you this. Sounds commonsensical enough.
So there you have it, Dale. A trinitarian Christian can easily affirm each of the above statements. The triad is not inconsistent.
“But that’s not what the inerrant Word of God says!”
It all depends on how you read it. Think of the dogmatic decisions of Nicaea and Chalcedon as grammatical rules for the proper reading of the Bible. Just because the rules are not explicitly stated in the Bible does not mean that they do not normatively govern the proper reading of the Bible. I learned to speak English years before I was ever introduced to a grammar book.
“But your rules are implausible.”
I’m afraid you’re in the minority, Dale. For the past 1600 years Christians have found that reading the Bible through the lens of the trinitarian model yields superior and more convincing readings than reading it through a unitarian or Arian model. You might consider this a purely subjective judgment, but discursive reason alone cannot decide which model or set of grammatical rules is true and which is not. An act of paradigmatic imagination is needed (see Imagining God by Garrett Green).
But I ain’t no philosopher. I’m sure the above needs to cleaned up a good bit. But I think my key point holds. Unless one presupposes that the doctrine of the Trinity is false, the above three statements can certainly be affirmed as true.