Monday, May 11, 2015

Trinitarians and Acts 1:6-7 (A Dialogue)

The name of my interlocutor has been changed to keep him anonymous.

Malcolm: Jesus in Acts 1 does not say that he is nescient but rather that it is not for the disciples to know.

Edgar: Strictly speaking, you may be correct. Christ may not say that he does not know the times and seasons, but that the Father has simply placed them in His own jurisdiction. Certainly, however, based on the context and wording of Acts 1:6-7, it could be argued that Christ was admitting ignorance [nescience] concerning God's times and seasons, especially since he did profess nescience with respect to the day and the hour mentioned in Mt 24:36.

Looking at some of the early Fathers, I find their interpretation of Acts 1:7 informative:

"Also in the Acts of the Apostles: 'No one can know the times or the seasons which the Father has placed in His own power'" (Cyprian of Carthage, Epistle XII-Three Books of Testimonies Against the Jews).

"It was necessary, therefore, that the Lord, coming to the lost sheep, and making recapitulation of so comprehensive a dispensation, and seeking after His own handiwork, should save that very man who had been created after His image and likeness, that is, Adam, filling up the times of His condemnation, which had been incurred through disobedience,-[times] 'which the Father had placed in His own power.' [This was necessary] too, inasmuch as the whole economy of
salvation regarding man came to pass according to the good pleasure of the Father, in order that God might not be conquered, nor His wisdom lessened, [in the estimation of His creatures]" (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.23.1)

Malcolm: The Father gives the Son a revelation for the Church. This fact need not imply that the content was previously unknown to the Son, only that it's outline was determined by the Father. If the president of a company gave a report to the vice-president to distribute to the employees, this fact would not necessarily imply that the vice-president was previously unaware of the contents of the report. Every fact in the report could have been common knowledge to the two company heads, but the president determined the outline that the facts shared by these company heads should take as those facts went to the employees.

Edgar: This illustration simply does not work. Furthermore, it is at odds with 1 Cor 2:11. If I disclose or reveal P to B, then I more than likely knew P before B did or else it was not a "revelation." For instance, if I tell my wife that I'm going for a walk in the park today, that is information she did not know prior to my disclosing it to her. or what about this example? If I tell a waiter to inform the chef that I don't want onions in my dinner salad, I am disclosing something about myself to B that I want conveyed to C. Surely, the waiter did not know my culinary preferences until I disclosed them to him. I would contend that something similar has to occur when two company heads convey important information to employees, or one executive discloses something to another executive. At some point in time, one head knew something that the other head did not know or else we could not describe one head "revealing" something to another.

Malcolm: I don't know how things at such a detailed level work in the Trinity. It seems here that the issue could be one of authority rather than knowledge. The Son submits Himself to the Father.

Edgar: If the Son submits himself to the Father, then he evidently has his own consciousness, mind and will. But if he has his own consciousness and will, then there are at least two "I thinks" in the Trinity. If the holy spirit is also an "I think" then we have tritheism or a Mt. Olympus scenario. I refer you to a quote by Trinitarian scholar Gerald O'Collins from an earlier post, which I don't believed you ever addressed:

"The philosophical input from Descartes, Kant, and John Locke (1632-1704) led to the emergence of a (but not THE) typically modern notion of person as the subject of self-awareness and freedom--in brief, person as a conscious and autonomous self ('I think and am free, therefore I am a person'). This notion, when applied to the doctrine of the Trinity, readily produces what looks suspiciously like tritheism: three autonomous subjects living and working together in a quasi-social unity" (The Tripersonal God, pp. 155-156).


JimSpace said...

Hi Edgar, so when Jesus said in John 14:28 that "the Father is greater than I am," he was saying that as a person. I understand that Trinitarians say the divine person of Jesus was speaking on behalf of his human nature, as in: "the Father is greater than my human flesh." (CARM claims this.) But isn't that clearly something that his audience already knew?

When Jesus (who was born not incarnated, thus only a human) said that he is going to the Father and that the Father is greater than he is, he must be talking about his person.

Edgar Foster said...

Hi Jim,

There are a number of Trinitarians, who try to apply Jn 14:28 to the human nature of Jesus. That's a common move in theology. But the history of interpretation for 14:28 is quite fascinating. I believe Westcott (in his commentary on John) gives a fairly comprehensive discussion on this subject. I would highly recommend that work, if you want to see what has been written about 14:28.

But I agree that Christ was evidently speaking as a whole person. Why would he have told his discples that he was (only) less than the Father qua his humanity. It does not make sense within the context of utterance.


Sean Killackey said...

This is similar to the idea of Economic Subordination. Modern Trinitarians believe it and part of it is that all three "person" (they acknowledge that person is not quite the right word) have different wills and roles in relation to each other. I have seen it argued that 1) if they didn't have different roles or wills they would not be separate persons (a key aspect of the Trinity) and 2) function does not indicate nature (that is to say they have different roles but are equal in nature). However early "Church Fathers" (e.g, the Cappadociean (I am misspelling it)) held that there was no Economic Subordination, but rather they all had the same will and did things as one. To them thier equal roles and will made them conclude 'neccesarily that they are one substance.'

So this illustrates 1) the way the Trinity has changed since it's inception post-first century and 2) if you apply the logic of one to the other you'd disprove the Trinity and 3) it tends, therefore, to refute the basis of thier reliance on "Church Fathers" since they were wrong (The earlier ones while said to believe in the Trinity wrote using for Modalistic Language - also breaking "Sharp's Rule" (which they state proves nothing about disproving the certainty of that rule since it refers to persons rather than begins, yet why? Is there different grammar for nouns (other than names or ordinals) that is different if those nouns are referring to "persons" rather than beings? Even the article I read about this acknowledged that early "fathers" didn't know the different between person and being, so then they would naturally follow the grammar for beings which still raised doubts against the certainty of Sharp's Rule, further if it was a grammatical rule why do not "Church Fathers" use it to disprove various opponents? - But I digress).

Edgar Foster said...


Kevin Giles has written a book or two wherein he critiques subordinationist Trinitarianism. He argues that the role idea for the three persons ia a fairly new understanding of the Trinity, and he is heavily critical of this position.

From my study of the early fathers (prior to Nicaea), we can see how the Trinity doctrine underwent a metamorphosis over time. The whole doctrine rests on a very shaky logical foundation.