Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Defending Trinitarianism

A molten lava flow. Molten lava generates more heat than light.

“I’m sure that there are views that I hold that are probably false. But I’m trying my best to get my theology straight, trying to do the best job...”
—Dr. William Lane Craig, in a debate with atheist Christopher Hitchens on April 4, 2009.

Dr. William Lane Craig is a Research Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology in La Mirada, California. As such, he has ably defended theism and has expounded on theodicy, the goodness of God, and is also an adamant apologist for Trinitarianism. He also hosts a question-and-answer forum on his website, where he fields questions from people sent to him from the Internet. One question was submitted that challenged Trinitarianism, and it is this question that will be the subject of this blog entry. In this question by a Michael from the UK, nine questions are respectfully presented, and Dr. Craig provided responses for each question. This blog posting will present the text from Michael, Dr. Craig’s response, and then my response prefaced by “JS.”

Question 247. January 9, 2012
Subject: Muslim Objections to Jesus' Deity

JS: It thus appears that a Muslim’s question challenging Trinitarianism has been selected.

Michael introduction: Hello Dr. Craig. You are an inspiration to us all in defending Christianity in such a humble manner. You may just like to answer one question but if so you wish and time allows it would be nice to hear your thoughts on all the questions I have asked. My question(s) to you are:

Dr. Craig introduction: Your questions are obviously disingenuous, Michael, and I wouldn’t normally have chosen them except that these are the same sort of simple-minded objections which Muslims have been taught to repeat as refutations of Christian theism. Therefore, for the sake of our numerous Muslim readers, and unitarians everywhere, I’ll say a brief word about each question.

JS: So, Michael begins by respectfully praising Dr. Craig as being an inspiration on being a humble defender. This humility is seen in the opening quote from him from the debate with an atheist. But, Dr. Craig then attacks the questioner as being disingenuous—insincere—and simple-minded, and then labels the question for Muslims, what Michael is not! (On the other hand, I can sympathize with Dr. Craig in this one respect, that the following questions do appear to be naïve, that is, not anticipating the typical Trinitarian response.) However, Dr. Craig also revealed a preconceived bias or bigotry in claiming that Trinitarianism is Christian but Unitarianism is not. Actually, the first definition of “Christian” is ‘relating to or professing belief in Jesus as Christ.’ Now, since both Unitarianism and Trinitarianism accept Jesus Christ, they are Christian—as is Mormonism as it does the same. Thus, he would have been more academic and honest to qualify “Christian theism” as “Trinitarian theism” to avoid giving the impression of being bigoted. (Note, calling a religion “Christian” does not mean I accept it as accurately reflecting Christianity.)

Michael: 1/ You believe that Jesus was God, so what does the Bible tell us as to the reason why God himself died on the cross?

Dr. Craig: 1. Crucial to an understanding of the Christian doctrine of Christ is that the incarnate Christ had two natures, one human and one divine. When Christ died he did so, not in his divine nature but in his human nature, i.e., his soul was separated from his human body. He gave his human life as a sacrifice for sin to redeem us from sins.

JS: First, “Christian doctrine of Christ” should be “Trinitarian doctrine of Christ,” as the former is based on the preconceived bias that Trinitarianism is true Christianity. Second, Christ was not incarnated, but was born from a woman. (Matthew 1:18; Luke 1:26-42; John 1:14; Galatians 4:4) This is not a minor difference of semantics, but is loaded with soteriological significance that Trinitarians consistently miss. Third, Jesus having a divine nature and an immortal soul is redundant, therefore absurd. We can all agree that Jesus had a brain, mind and body. Per Trinitarianism, his divine nature would be his ontological identity of being a member of the immortal Godhead. Why then would he need an immortal soul? Jesus cannot, therefore, be a three-in-one person. Fourth, to say that his human nature died but his divine nature did not unwittingly denies Jesus’ sacrifice, for he did not really sacrifice his life. Additionally, this also unwittingly nullifies the ransom affects of Jesus’ death, for Adam was only human nature. The ontology of the Trinitarian Jesus therefore fails to match with Adam’s ontology. For the ransom to be valid, the ontologies of both Adam and Jesus had to be on par with one another. Trinitarianism monkeys with this correspondence by adding an immortal divine nature to Jesus’ ontology.

Michael: 2/ When Jesus was baptized and ascended from the waters God said "You are my beloved son in whom i am well pleased" Was God pleased with himself?

Dr. Craig: 2. Equally crucial to an understanding of Christian doctrine is that God is three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Thus, at the baptism of Jesus, as at many other junctures, what you have is the Father’s speaking to the Son. Confusion can arise because often in the New Testament the Father is spoken of simply as “God” rather than as “God the Father.”

JS: Exactly! Often in the New Testament the Father is spoken of simply as “God” rather than as “God the Father.” Thus, we can see that Dr. Craig unwittingly refuted Trinitarianism. As Jesus said in John 17:1-5, the Father is the “only true God,” and He is the only one to receive full worshipful devotion. Worshipping Jesus or the Holy Spirit the same way is idolatry, and turns them into false Gods. Additionally, John 13:3 equates the Father with God as a single person, as does 2 John 1:3 which says “peace from God the Father and from Jesus Christ the Son of the Father.” Thus we see that “Father” is also synonymous with God. Jesus is Son of the Father, the Son of God.

Michael: 3/ Jesus ascended to heaven and sits at the right hand of God. Does God sit next to himself?

Dr. Craig: 3. The Son sits next to the Father. This metaphor is a way of expressing the exaltation of Christ, the right hand being a position of authority and honor.

JS: Ironically, the exaltation of Christ poses an ignored and devastating problem for Trinitarianism. As expressed in Philippians 2:9 NLT, “God elevated him to the place of highest honor [God highly exalted Him (NASB)] and gave him the name above all other names.” The Holman Christian Standard Bible Study Bible in its note here says Christ was “super-exalted.” God gave Jesus a position he did not have before. Think about what this means: God took Jesus and gave him a position that is superior to the one he had before. If Jesus had a divine nature, then he already had that superior position. This alone refutes Trinitarianism.

Michael: 4/ Jesus said the "Father is greater than I". Can God be greater than himself?

Dr. Craig: 4. Again the Son is speaking of the Father, probably with respect to his state of humiliation during his incarnate life. But however you interpret the Father’s being greater than the Son, two persons are being spoken of, so there is no contradiction.

JS: Jesus was speaking as a person, and as a person he is lesser than the Father, than God. If Jesus meant his human nature, then Jesus was being deceptive, for he would actually have been on par with the Father. Thus, in order to be honest, the Trinitarian Jesus would have had to say: “the Father is greater than my human nature.” The fact that he didn’t, and that he was being honest as Peter assured us (1 Peter 2:22), leading his audience to naturally take him literally, refutes the dual nature doctrine. So, yes, there certainly is a contradiction, in fact one of an astronomical magnitude. (Additionally, while not claiming that Dr. Craig necessarily did this, but Trinitarians need to be careful not to claim that Jesus’ human nature is speaking here, for that would inadvertently assign personhood to nature, giving Jesus two persons to his person, both capable of speaking independently. This is Nestorian heresy condemned at the First Council of Ephesus in 431 and the Council of Chalcedon in 451.) Thus, to summarize, if Jesus was speaking in behalf of his human nature, then he was deceiving his audience by leading them astray regarding his divine nature; thus Peter was wrong about Jesus’ honesty. But if Jesus was divested of his pre-human divine nature (Philippians 2:7), and born as a man from Mary (Galatians 4:4), then he was literally speaking the truth, and Peter was correct in his glowing appraisal of Jesus’ honesty. Lastly, it is worth noting that even after Jesus’ resurrection by God the Father (Galatians 1:1), Jesus refers to him as “my God” four times. (Revelation 3:12) It appears then that the Father is still greater than the exalted Jesus—which proves that the Father was greater than Jesus on earth.[1]

Michael: 5/ At certain times Jesus prays to his father and also prays to his Father in private. Does God pray to himself and pray to himself in secret and why?

Dr. Craig: 5. The Son prays to the Father. He is not talking to himself; two distinct persons are involved. During his state of humiliation, in which Jesus was subjected to the human condition, he needed to rely moment by moment of [sic: on] his heavenly Father and on the Holy Spirit to discharge his mission. He thereby becomes our model and example.

JS: Exactly! When Jesus was subjected to the human condition, he needed to rely moment by moment on his heavenly Father and on the holy spirit to discharge his mission. He thereby becomes our model and example. But the Trinitarian Jesus had his immortal divine nature to rely on! Thus, again we can see how Dr. Craig has unwittingly refuted Trinitarianism. The Trinitarian Jesus would have behaved differently than the Biblical Jesus, and therefore is not a model for us to relate to.

Michael: 6/ We always read Jesus is the 'Son of God'. We never ever read 'God the Son'. Why is this?

Dr. Craig: 6. “Son of God” is typical for Judaism. It is not, in fact, the most important of the divine titles ascribed to Christ. What you do have in the New Testament is amazing expressions like “the only begotten God” (John 1.18) for Jesus and other cases of his being called “God.” (See Murray Harris, Jesus as God [Baker: 1992]).

JS: “Only begotten” means he was produced, and this expression was used in verse 14 and at 3:16, as “only-begotten Son.” As Jesus told us, only the Father is the true God for exclusive devotion. (John 17:1-5) But ontologically, all spirit beings under God are gods too. For instance, Psalm 8:5 calls the angels (“heavenly beings” NET Bible) elohim and the LXX replaces elohim with “angels,” and Hebrews 2:7 confirms that these are angels by quoting the LXX, showing that the LXX translators understood it correctly. Angels are also described as gods in the rest of the Bible, before and after Psalm 8:5, from Genesis to Revelation. But Biblical monotheism is monolatrism, the worship of only one Almighty Creator God, the Father.

Michael: 7/ Why do you think that the Bible mentions that Jesus is our true high priest and mediator between God and man?

Dr. Craig: 7. In his human nature Christ is both the sacrifice for our sin and the high priest who offers that sacrifice to God the Father.

JS: See my response for questions 4 and 5 to see how the dual nature has been refuted. Additionally, I must point out that Jesus’ human nature is not a person, therefore it cannot fulfill the role of a person: that of a mediatorial high priest. Jesus as a divine person of the impersonal Trinitarian Godhead cannot use his human nature alone to fill the role of a person. Since Dr. Craig with this response has attributed personhood to Jesus’ human nature, he has unwittingly refuted his Trinitarian position, as well as unwittingly adopting a position condemned as heretical in the First Council of Ephesus in 431 and the Council of Chalcedon in 451, as he inadvertantly acknowledged in his Answer 75 on Monotheletism when he said: “If Christ’s human nature had its own proper will so that Christ had literally two wills, as the Council affirmed, then there would be two persons, one human and one divine. But that is the heresy known as Nestorianism, which divides Christ’s person into Dr. Craig has unwittingly divided Christ’s person in two, condemning himself as a heretic.

Michael: 8/ Why do you think that God sent an angel to strengthen Jesus before he was to die on the cross?

Dr. Craig: 8. As explained, in his human nature Jesus was just like you and me and so needed strengthening to carry out his dreadful task.

JS: See my response for question 5, as Jesus had his immortal divine nature to draw strength from, and certainly did not need an angel for support. Also, notice how Dr. Craig has again heretically attributed personhood to Jesus’ human nature when he declared that “in his human nature Jesus was just like you and me.”

Michael: 9/ Jesus is the seed of David. If Jesus was God do you think God is the seed of David and by what logic?

Dr. Craig: 9. Jesus’ human nature is David’s seed, that is to say, Jesus’ human lineage traced back to David, as a DNA analysis could have revealed.

JS: I like Dr. Craig’s answer here! I personally would have answered Michael’s questions much the same way as Dr. Craig, while simultaneously refuting myself with my rebuttals(!), which shows that I can think like a seasoned Trinitarian. Aside from that, one problem with this answer is that it presents the truth that Jesus was born from a fertilized ovum, which contradicts the incarnation since incarnate beings are not born! Defenders of the incarnation draw attention to the expression at John 1:14: “resided [Greek skayno-o, literally, “tented”] among us,” and claim this shows Jesus was, not a true human, but an incarnation. However, the apostle Peter used a similar expression about himself, and Peter was obviously not an incarnation. (2 Peter 1:13, 14) The Gospel message is that Jesus was a transcendent, mighty spirit being (John 17:5) who was sent by the Father to earth to be born from a woman (Galatians 4:4), divesting himself (Philippians 2:7) of what he was prior—thus crossing an “ontological bottleneck” to become a human born from a human. Jesus was then “revealed in the flesh.”—1 Timothy 3:16, NET Bible.

Michael concludes: So you have probably realised by now that I certainly don't believe a Trinitarian view, because I don't believe for a moment that it is taught in the Bible. It would be nice to hear your thoughts to these answers and possibly engage in future discussion on this most important part of the gospel message in the Bible, that being Jesus is the 'Son of God' and not 'God the Son'.

Best Regards


Dr. Craig concludes: Now as a unitarian, you may not like the doctrines of the Trinity and the two natures of Christ, but given those doctrines your questions are easily answered. Therefore, it is incumbent upon you to explain what is the problem with those doctrines. I have sought to defend the philosophical coherence of both these doctrines in Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview and to explain the exegetical basis for these doctrines in my Defenders lectures on Doctrine of God: The Trinity and Doctrine of Christ: The Person of Christ. As a seeker of God, Michael, you owe it to yourself to plumb more deeply into these deep subjects and not rest content with simplistic objections.

JS: First, it’s not about disliking the dual nature doctrine, it’s about finding it incompatible with the Bible and with reason. Second, Dr. Craig did not present convincing answers to the questions, and even ended up unwittingly refuting his position more than once! How is that convincing? I agree that it’s incumbent upon the Unitarians or non-Trinitarians to explain the problems with Trintiarianism, and that is what has been done here. Lastly, Trinitarians owe it to themselves to plumb more deeply into these deep subjects and not rest content with simplistic responses that at times unwittingly refute Trinitarianism.

Lastly, Trinitarian apologetics gets very convoluted when discussing how Jesus retained his human nature. They insist that Jesus retained his human body that he sacrificed, but then seem to ignore the Chalcedonian Definition of 451 that Jesus is “truly man [anthropon alethos], of a reasonable soul and [human] body.” What’s the point of saying Jesus is “truly man” now if he’s not really a man, complete with hair, a circulatory system and moist corneas? Dr. Craig explained here at Question 99, final paragraph, curiously leaving out the Chalcedonian Definition in his answer:

“Therefore, perhaps we might say that his human nature does not now manifest itself corporeally. Compare a tuning fork which is plucked and begins to hum. If the vibrating fork is placed in a vacuum jar, though it continues to vibrate, it does not manifest itself by a humming noise because there is no medium to carry its vibrations. Similarly, Christ's human nature, no longer immersed in spacetime, does not manifest itself as a body. But someday Christ will return and re-enter our four-dimensional space-time continuum, and then his body will become manifest ... Christ, then, has a human nature which is manifested as his physical resurrection body when he exists in a spatio-temporal universe.”

The problem here is that human nature cannot change its manifestation depending on where it is. If you remove human nature from its earthly environment, it can no longer survive. It will thus manifest itself as dead. His analogy would thus be more accurate if he placed the vibrating tuning fork in a molten lava flow. Both the vibrations and the fork would be nonexistent. One cannot choose an analogy that simply preserves one’s preconceived position, one has to use an analogy that accurately reflects what the analogy represents. Placing human nature outside of earth’s atmosphere is not analogous to a vacuum alone. It is more analogous to a molten lava flow!

Dilbert cartoon altered by JS
[1] The NET Bible footnote on John 14:28 for the expression “the Father is greater than I am” states: “it seems evident that by the fact Jesus compares himself to the Father, his divine nature is taken for granted.” But a plain reading of this verse in its context exposes this claim as eisegetical, for Jesus said that he is going to the Father. Jesus was speaking honestly and plainly to his audience. Indeed, as stated above, even after Jesus returned to him, he addressed him as “my God” four times (Revelation 3:12), reinforcing the conclusion of eisegesis in that footnote, as the Father is always superior to the Son, Jesus.

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