Jesus and God: identical, or distinct? Two trinitarians disagree.
Jesus and God: identical, or distinct? Two trinitarians disagree.
Over at “Answering Muslims” (!) apologist Jonathan McLatchie accuses me of misrepresenting trinitarian theology.
McLatchie and his fellow pugilist Steve Hays keep wanting to change the subject to a topic they more prefer. I have been arguing in an ongoing series of blog posts, that Luke’s representations of gospel sermons seem to show that Luke does not think that belief in a tripersonal God or belief in the two natures of Jesus are not things people must believe in order to be saved. In the two speeches I’ve covered so far (here, and here) these things simply aren’t mentioned, either directly or by implication, and yet people are getting saved by the thousands, Luke reports. This is my topic: what a person must confess to or accept or believe in order to be saved. It’s another question, interesting to be sure, what all the teachings are which a Christian ought to believe, once she’s had full access to the New Testament.
Part of the reason that they want to switch the topic is, evidently, they’re eager to pronounce my damnation. Hence, McLatchie:
One must also make a distinction between a lack of belief as a result of ignorance or immaturity in the faith, and a considered denial of those doctrines. I do not believe it is necessary to believe in the Trinity to be saved. One might hold all sorts of heretical understandings out of ignorance and yet still be saved. A wilful rejection of the Trinity, however, is something else entirely.
I agree with first bolded bit, and seemingly Luke does too. About this last bit, one could say a lot of things about this, but all I’ll say here is, this is part of catholic tradition (e.g. the damnatory clauses of the “Athanasian” creed), but it has no basis whatever in the New Testament. If you disagree, try to find it, please, and report back after your thorough search.
Now I had pointed out that McLatchie claimed to show that Acts (as a whole) is “thoroughly trinitarian.” I pointed out that this is trivially true, if by “trinitarian” all you mean is “having to do with God, his Son, and his spirit.” Any unitarian Christian theology will be “trinitarian” in that sense, as will be Acts, in my view. But if he means the more proper sense, of having to do with a tripersonal God, then he hasn’t shown that.
He now replies, in essence, “Oh yes I have!”
Go ahead and look at it again. He labors to show that Luke implies the divinity of Jesus and the Holy Spirit. But this is consistent with a subordinationist unitarian view like that of Origen or Clarke, who think that the one God just is (is identical to) the Father, whereas the Logos and the Spirit are divine in lesser ways, dependent on God (i.e. by eternal generation and procession). They’ve got three divine persons, but no triune God – God is the greatest of the divine persons, is one way to put it. What McLatchie needs is any hint from Luke that these are “Persons” within the one God. But he never gets there. He just argues that Luke implies their divinity, then declares victory. Perhaps he just can’t imagine any other explanation than his own Trinity theory?
McLatchie says, “Tuggy just doesn’t get it.” That’s right. I don’t see that he’s shown Luke’s theology to be trinitarian.
At one point he says that Luke implies that the Holy Spirit is “identified as God Himself” – although, I think that may be a slip on his part, as I’ll explain below.
About McLatchie’s fulfillment fallacy, I analyzed him as arguing thusly:
Of course, 1 and 2 fail to imply 3. The argument is invalid. He changes this analysis to,
Which is, he agrees, also invalid. His idea is that A would be Yahweh, C would be Jesus, and B would be “all flesh” getting God’s spirit. Right, 3 doesn’t follow from 1 & 2. One effect can have two different causes. But he complains that neither of these show his reasoning. So, he takes another crack at it:
Rather, the argument is that, according to Peter in Acts 2, God promised through the Prophet Joel that God, YHWH, would pour out His Spirit on all flesh. Moreover, according to Peter in Acts 2, this promise from the book of Joel has been fulfilled since Jesus has poured out the Spirit as prophesied. Thus, I would argue that Peter is identifying Jesus as YHWH.
Well, this is just my original analysis! Here’s putting it differently. Let Px mean “x pours out God’s spirit on all flesh,” and use g for God and j for Jesus. (Since we’re both assuming that the prophecy and the report by Luke are true, we can leave those bits out.) We have then this argument:
which is clearly invalid. One could make it valid by adding a premise, but I’ll sit back and see if he wants to do that. It’s his argument. Because of what he goes on to say below, perhaps (despite what he’s just said), he doesn’t mean 3 to be the conclusion.
But in any case, what he has done nothing to rule out, is that God could be pouring his spirit out through the man Jesus, thus fulfilling the prophecy about his (Yahweh’s) own action. The prophecy didn’t say that God would not be acting through anyone.
Next, we get this:
Tuggy goes on to commit a massive blunder, which shows that Tuggy lacks the expertise in Trinitarian beliefs to be speaking publicly about the issue.
This punk move is not befitting a Christian apologist. Feel free to Google my C.V., if you want to see whether I have any expertise in this area.
At any rate, what’s my “massive blunder”? It was thinking that Mr. McLatchie had really identified Jesus with God. (See, e.g. his language above!) I pointed out that the claim that Jesus and God are numerically identical
…is incompatible with every Christian’s belief that there are differences between God and Jesus. It’s not even a conclusion which a trinitarian should want! …Amazingly, Mr. McLatchie celebrates having (he thinks) proved the numerical identity of Yahweh and Jesus, and then immediately mentions that they qualitatively differ!
Hence, his complaint:
Tuggy has thus fundamentally misrepresented Trinitarian beliefs. What Trinitarian believes that Jesus is the Father? Indeed, every Trinitarian believes the Father and Son are distinctive personalities. The Father is not the Son, and nor is the Son the Father. Nonetheless, the three distinct persons of the Father, Son and Spirit fully participate in and share the fullness of the divine essence.
“Personalities”? This suggests that he’s a one-self trinitarian. So does his statement about the Spirit being “God himself” i.e. a way the one divine self is. Or is it “persons”? Unclear whether he’s on the three-self or the one-self side, within the trinitarian camp. Anyway, notice his assumption that trinitarians have some one theology. That ain’t so! Yes some do clearly imply the identity of Father and Son. They do it like this,
This is a valid argument; 1 & 2 imply 3. (This is uncontroversially provable, but we’ll save that for another time.) Many seem to commit to 1 & 2. Well, whether they own up to it or not, they’re committed to 3, even if they explicitly deny 3! This is what confusion looks like.
Now why would I think that Mr. McLatchie was committed to 3? Because he makes arguments similar to these. And: “Peter is identifying Jesus as YHWH.” Perhaps he meant to say that Peter is asserting the divinity of Jesus?
Tuggy makes the mistake of assuming that Trinitarians believe that God is Jesus. Such a statement, however, is in error. It is correct and proper to say that Jesus is God, but it is not correct for us to assert that God is Jesus. While the Son possesses all of the divine attributes, prerogatives and qualities that make God God, He does not exhaust all that God is — there is also the Father and the Spirit.
Because of the part I bolded, this relation between Jesus and God can’t be identity; he ought not say that. Identity is by definition symmetrical – if x = y, the always also, y = x. So he’s saying that each of the Three is divine, not that any just is God. I get it. It flatly contradicts clear and consistent NT teaching on the Father, but I’ll let that pass for now. A trinitarian, to be self-consistent, must only identify the Trinity, and nothing else, with the one God.
In much of my published work, dating back to 2003, I’ve discussed the falsity of his assumption that trinitarians have some one theological position. But even in the exchanges this week between me, him, and the lovable Mr. Hays, we see trinitarian diversity. Here again are the first three steps to my challenge to “Jesus is God” apologists.
Mr. McLatchie seems to be accepting 1 and 2. And thus, he accepts 3, as a trinitarian should. If so, then he is not part of that confused camp of what I call “Jesus is God apologists,” who constantly deny 3, and who generally try to avoid discussing 1 & 2. But his friend Steve Hays is in that camp! Hays, seeing that 1-3 are a valid argument, and agreeing (as he should) with 1, has been denying 2. Not a good move, to be sure. Why does he want to avoid being forced to accept 3? Because he seems to think that a Christian must hold God and Jesus to be one and the same! In sum, McLatchie, if I understand him, concedes that this 1-3 is sound, while Hays hotly denies it. Not a good move if you’re trying to stick with the truth. A Christian really can’t deny either 1 or 2, and so should learn to live with 3. Mr. McLatchie, at least in his better moments, has. But Hays has not. Yet they both count as trinitarians.
I don’t make too much of this sort of disagreement. It’s not like there is no true Trinity doctrine just because some trinitarians disagree on what it is supposed to be. However, perhaps both these gents should dial back their confidence just a notch. Perhaps they ought to have a friendly argument with one another about 1-3. Sound, or unsound?
Revisit his fulfillment fallacy now. Despite his identity-talk, Mr. McLatchie must really mean to argue something like this:
1. In Joel 2 Yahweh (truly) promises to pour our his spirit on all flesh.
2. In Acts 2 Peter (truly) says that Jesus poured out God’s spirit on all flesh.
3. Therefore, Jesus is a divine Person within Yahweh (1,2)
Sorry, still invalid! 1 and 2 can be true while 3 is false, in the case that Jesus is a man (only), and after he’s been exalted, God, though this man, pours out his spirit. If he’d like to have another crack at an argument, we’ll toss this one aside and evaluate the new one, but so far, Mr. McLatchie is not making a plausible argument.