Saturday, March 22, 2014

Three Persons or Three Gods?

The Trinity doctrine claims that God is three persons, but not three gods (tritheism). God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are supposed to constitute three divine persons, who do not compromise biblical monotheism. For instance, the Athanasian Creed states:

"And yet there are not three almighty beings, but one who is almighty. Thus the Father is God; the Son is God; the Holy Spirit is God: And yet there are not three gods, but one God"

In the same creed, we're also told: "And in this Trinity, no one is before or after, greater or less than the other; but all three persons are in themselves, coeternal and coequal; and so we must worship the Trinity in unity and the one God in three persons. Whoever wants to be saved should think thus about the Trinity."

So there are Three Persons rather than three deities, we are assured. Yet the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy notes:

"By the latter part [of the Athanasian Creed], it follows by the indiscernibility of identicals that no person of the Trinity is identical with any other. And by the earlier part, it seems to follow that there are thus at least three eternal (etc.) things. But it asserts there's only one eternal thing. Hence, the creed seems contradictory, and has been attacked as such (Biddle 1691, i; Nye 1691a, 11; Priestley 1871, 321). Showing where the above argument for inconsistency goes wrong is a major motivation of recent Trinity theories (see sections 1 and 2 of the main entry). In contrast, mysterians hold that it somehow goes wrong, though no one can say quite where.(See section 3 of the main entry.) Finally, some simply reject the creed."

Trinitarians are likely to say that the Trinity doctrine teaches that there are Three divine Persons (three eternal things), but one God (one eternal thing); so it's not contradictory (they might aver) because this claim does not violate the law of non-contradiction. What's under consideration here is that God is claimed to be three in one sense, but one in another sense. Hence, there's supposedly no inconsistency in the claim.

On the other hand, Joseph Priestley and Dr. Magee have viewed the triune God in a different light:

"It must be universally true, that three things to
which the same definition applies can never make only
one thing to which the same definition applies . . .
If, therefore, the three persons agree in this same
circumstance, that they are each of them perfect God,
though they may differ in other respects, and have
peculiar relations to each other and to us, they must
still be three Gods; and to say that they are only one
God is as much a contradiction, as to say that three
men, though they differ from one another as much as
three men do, are not three men, but only one man"
(Joseph Priestley).

"If ideas are attached to the words employed,
Trinitarianism is, in reality, either Tritheism or
Sabellianism" (The Right Reverend Dr. Magee, Bishop of

Defenders of the Trinity have sometimes tried to refute Priestley's criticism by appealing to three men (distinct from one another and three things in that sense) who have one thing in common: human nature. But just as Peter, James, and John are three men, it would seem that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit would be three gods--even if each Person is divine. But as we've mentioned on this blog before, the Trinitarian response to Priestley's criticism is usually the divine simplicity doctrine.

Without going down that road now, one point I want to make with this post is that Trinitarians and Non-Trinitarians sometimes talk past one another. A Trinitarian could possibly be uncharitable and refer to Non-Trinitarians as "deceptive" or intellectually dishonest." The truth of the matter, however, is that both groups approach the Trinity doctrine from two different perspectives. I would suggest that one try to understand someone's position before critiquing it; moreover, even where there's disagreement, name-calling does not have to occur.

Witnesses of Jehovah and other Non-Trinitarians do believe that the Trinity trangresses biblical monotheism. We are not necessarily saying that Trinitarians agree with us; in fact, we know they do not.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Adolf Harnack on Early Bible Reading

I will now sum up Adolf Harnack's arguments which are found in his work Bible Reading in the Early Church (New York: GP Putnam's Sons, 1912).

Harnack contends, as does yours truly, that private Bible reading (not private interpretation) was a common practice among ancient Jews. Therefore when the LOGOS became flesh and dwelt among us for a short time, dutifully selecting the Twelve along with other men and women who would constitute his spirit-begotten EKKLHSIA, "the private use of the Holy Scriptures simply continued" (Harnack 32) as suggested by Acts 17:10-11 and Eusebius' account of the layman who petitioned Bishop Melito of Sardis to make him a copy of the Law and Prophets (Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. IV.26.12.) so that he could get to know the soteriological matters pertaining to the Christian faith.

Another insightful passage is likewise found in Ignatius of Antioch's letter to the Philadelphians VIII.1-2. There we read:

"I trust in the grace of Jesus Christ, who shall loose
from you every chain; and I exhort you to do nothing
of contention, but according to the discipline of
Christ. Since I have heard certain men say, 'Unless I
find it in the ancients [the OT], I believe it not in
the Gospel.' And when I said unto them that 'It is
written,' they replied, 'That it is set forth
aforetime.' But my archives are Jesus Christ; his
cross and his death, his resurrection, and the faith
which is through him, are inviolable archives, through
which I desire to be justified by means of your

Here Ignatius evidently alludes to certain laymen who were well-versed with Holy Writ, especially the OT. While they seemed to be contending with Bishop Ignatius and he thus had to remind them of the significance the Christ Event holds for believers in Jesus, this Ignatian passage almost certainly indicates that private Bible reading was common among the laity in the second century CE. Adding to this testimony in a powerful manner, Polycarp writes to the Philippians (XII.1):

"For I am persuaded that ye are well trained in the sacred writings, and nothing is hidden from you."

Notice how Tatian also describes his conversion to Christianity. He claims that it was wrought by reading and studying the "barbaric" antiquitous writings of Judaism and Christianity:

"Wherefore, having seen these things, and moreover
also having been admitted to the mysteries, and having
everywhere examined the religious rites performed by
the effeminate and the pathic, and having found among
the Romans their Latiarian Jupiter delighting in human
gore and the blood of slaughtered men, and Artemis not
far from the great city sanctioning acts of the same
kind, and one demon here and another there instigating
to the perpetration of evil, retiring by myself, I
sought how I might be able to discover the truth. And,
while I was giving my most earnest attention to the
matter, I happened to meet with certain barbaric
writings, too old to be compared with the opinions of
the Greeks, and too divine to be compared with their
errors; and I was led to put faith in these by the
unpretending east of the language, the inartificial
character of the writers, the foreknowledge displayed
of future events, the excellent quality of the
precepts, and the declaration of the government of the
universe as centred in one Being. And, my soul being
taught of God, I discern that the former class of
writings lead to condemnation, but that these put an
end to the slavery that is in the world, and rescue us
from a multiplicity of rulers and ten thousand
tyrants, while they give us, not indeed what we had
not before received, but what we had received but were
prevented by error from retaining" (Oratio ad Graecos

Lastly I will cite Justin's charitable exhortation
found in his 1 Apology XLIV:

"But by the agency of the devils, death has been
decreed against those who read the books of Hystaspes,
or of the Sibyl, or of the prophets, that through fear
they may prevent men who read them from receiving the
knowledge of the good, and may retain them in slavery
to themselves; which, however, they could not always
effect. For not only do we fearlessly read them, but,
as you see, bring them for your inspection, knowing
that their contents will be pleasing to all. And if we
persuade even a few, our gain will be very great; for,
as good husbandmen, we shall receive the reward from
the Master."

Questions Addressed to Dualists

I once addressed these words to a friend and colleague who advocates hylomorphic (hylemorphic) dualism:

How do we know that physical organs are only capable of apprehending particulars? What incontrovertible proof do we have that intellects (of the Thomistic caliber) even obtain [exist]? I admit that an intellect qua a power of the soul is logically possible [there's no logical contradiction in the idea itself]. However, I am not convinced that such a faculty is factually possible. So I guess my first line of attack would be to question the existence of the intellect, in the relevant sense we're discussing. Secondly, I would argue that what has been called "intellect" is really nothing more than a higher-order process of the brain: intellection is a biological phenomenon. The brain consequently makes it possible for us to have the facility for grasping what appear to be [abstract] universals.

I have slightly edited some of this message to promote understanding of its contents.



Tuesday, March 18, 2014

What Accounts for Mentality?

I've been studying neuroscience and mind theory for almost a decade. It's no secret that I don't believe the soul is immortal; however, when I read Antonio Damasio's work on Descartes, Francis Crick's "Astronishing Hypothesis" and Joseph LeDoux ("Synaptic Self"), I was convinced that mentality has to result from brain activity. In other words, while science cannot provide the knock out punch for the Witness understanding of the soul, the neuroscientific evidence overwhelmingly seems to be on our side. But scientific knowledge is provisional and limited. Therefore, it only takes us so far.

While I've been excited about the harmony between science and how Witnesses understand biblical anthropology, one Witness friend with whom I shared these findings said I should exercise caution: he feels that only Jehovah knows how mentality actually comes about. I respect this friend greatly, but I could not help but wonder what else accounts for mental states, if we're purely physical and don't have souls. In any event, two possibilities seem viable for me at this time:

1) Mental states could supervene on brain states

2) Mental states are identical with brain states

By supervenience, I simply mean a form of "dependence" such that M (mental states) depends on B (brain states), which is another way of saying that differences in B constitute differences in M (and vice versa). Another term for supervenience is property dualism (e.g., contrasting the physical properties of a painting over against its microphysical properties).

As support for the idea that minds could turn out to be continuous with matter, Anthony Appiah writes:

"We have learned about the properties of matter by seeing what can be made of it: we know that it is the kind of thing that magnets can be made out of, because we have found magnetic substances; we know that it is the kind of thing bacteria can be made out of, because we have found bacteria. Why is it especially hard to accept that it is the kind of thing minds can be made out of? Indeed, since the one thing of which each of us surely has the most extensive direct experience is our own mind, shouldn’t we be puzzled, if we are puzzled by anything, by the nature of matter? How can it be, one might want to ask, that a world made of the sorts of things and governed by the sorts of laws that physicists now believe in should give rise to the astonishing range of experiences that each of us has every day?" (Thinking It Through, page 52).

But Kevin Vanhoozer does not want to reduce mental properties to physical properties. He believes we should maintain some type of distinction between the two. Either way, I believe that physical factors completely explain mental states. Jehovah God created us as completely physical beings.

Saturday, March 08, 2014

ENTITAS and Barbarousness (Thought for Today)

One definition for the adjective "barbarous" is "characterized by the occurrence of barbarisms" (M-W).

Barbarisms have been defined as:

"the practice or display of barbarian acts, attitudes, or ideas"

"an idea, act, or expression that in form or use offends against contemporary standards of good taste or acceptability"

While I can readily understand what it means for a sentence or paragraph to be "barbarous," I often have trouble comprehending what it means for a word to be less than well-formed or barbarous. John Stuart Mill asserts that the Latin word ENTITAS (from ENS) is barbarous like its English counterpart "entity."

ENTITAS is a neologism based on the present participle of ESSE (the Latin form of the verb "to be"). I'm not sure what makes ENTITAS or "entity" barbarous, but maybe a classicist or linguist can help with this question.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Luke 17:21

Rogers and Rogers point out that ἐντὸς with the genitive can denote "within, in the midst of, among." A similar observation is made in BDAG Greek-English Lexicon; I looked at the entry for ἐντὸς in BDAG and it might pay to read the entire thing. This lexical source indicates that Luke's ἐντὸς ὑμῶν probably is patterned after Isaiah's ἐν σοὶ in 45:14 (LXX). BDAG also provides texts that correspond syntactically with Luke 17:21: the lexicon seems to argue that the verse in question should not be given a psychological interpretation. See pp. 340-341 and the relevant literature listed in BDAG.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Theologian Karl Rahner Explains the Trinity Doctrine

Within the conceptual system of scholastic theology, no real question remains once the Trinitarian doctrine itself has been presupposed(i.e. once the linguistic usage of the New Testament has been taken to conform to that of theology): the word and concept ‘God’ signifies (significat) the Person to whom the divine nature is proper; and so ‘God’ can stand for (supponitur)each of the three Persons who possess this nature, or again ‘God’ can stand for all three Persons together. When, for example,the Logos is called ‘Son of God’, ‘God’ in this predication stands for the Father, in so far as he is one of the divine Persons, for ‘God' can stand for each of the three Persons, while the Father alone has a Son. Or again, in the statement, ‘God creates the world’, according to the conceptual system of Latin theology ‘God’ stands for the divine Person, this time indeed for the three Persons together, in so far as they are one God by reason of the unity of nature and thus one Source of the world by reason of the unity of their operation ad extra. For the theology of the Schools, then, ‘God’ is one with respect to the general concept of personality, if we may so put it, and consequently can stand for each of the three Persons individually and for all three together. Once more we do not of course wish to deny that such a view of the concept and the word ‘God’ is possible, legitimate and in the long run unavoidable. But the question nevertheless remains whether this is also the usage of the New Testament.

See Theological Investigations, page 101