Trinitarianism makes a lot of self-contradictory claims: on the one hand, trinitarians typically affirm that the one God is immortal, immutable, invisible, un-temptable, all-knowing, etc; but at the same time, they propose that this one God, in his second person, died, changed, was seen, was tempted, and didn’t know certain things. This is an obvious logical contradiction- for the same subject to be said to be un-killable yet be killed, un-temptable yet be tempted, etc, is just obviously a contradiction and a falsehood; and so, this simple line of reasoning about the attributes of God in contrast to the attributes we see Christ had is frequently used to show that the doctrine of the trinity is false. Jesus Christ cannot be the one God if his attributes differ so widely from those of the one God; the difference makes it obvious that the one God is one, and Jesus Christ his human Son is another.

But trinitarian apologists have been working hard to try to answer this, ever since the doctrine of the trinity was invented. It’s an obvious problem for them; and solution has typically been to try to find some way that God can be both immortal, and have died, be immutable, yet have changed, etc. The solution is typically sought through incarnation theories- something about the second nature the second person of the one God assumed allows these things, it’s conjectured. Other theories abound as well though, such as proposing that due to divine timelessness, God can be eternally be two opposite things, like mortal and immortal, because technically He wouldn’t be these things at the same time, thus arguably escaping the charge of being a contradiction.

But here is a serious problem with all these explanations: this trinitarian reasoning used to try to save the doctrine of the trinity from logic is a terribly slippery slope; any trinitarian argument that says that although God is immortal He can die, will generally also lead to the same logic for all God’s attributes; allowing that He can be both evil and good, all knowing and ignorant, unchanging and changing. After all, if God being incapable of dying doesn’t actually mean he cannot die, then on what basis can we say that God being incapable of sinning means that He will never actually sin? If God’s immortality is the kind of immortality where one can still die, and God’s immutability is the kind of immutability where one can still change (which, of course, is in truth no real immortality or immutability at all), then how do we know that God’s goodness is not the kind of goodness where one can still commit evil? How do we know that God’s holiness is not the sort of holiness which allows one to be defiled? How do we know that God’s perfection isn’t the sort of perfection that allows flaws and errors?

Once you reach immutability with this reasoning, it all implodes though. If God can change, that is, in His very nature and character, then revealed religion is worthless, as we have no idea if God will even be good tomorrow. If one responds that He is trustworthy, we may respond that if He can change then He might well not be trustworthy tomorrow. If He can change then He might be unfaithful to His promises. Thus scripture assures us, in the context of those promises, that God does not change, so that we may rest assured in them (Mal 3:6). But if God may be the opposite of anything He is, then we cannot make any certain assertion about God, and what is true of Him now could be false the next minute. In short, these trinitarian arguments would prove too much: they would be an argument for deism rather than the trinity.

And so then, the trinitarian defense of their contradictions is a slippery slope: if God can be temptable although untemptable, mortal while immortal, change while unchangable, etc, then these statements about Him mean nothing, and it would reasonably be just as possible that while being good He might be evil. This trinitarian logic taken to it’s logical ends, if true (which it isn’t) would destroy Christianity and all revealed religion. Our ability to positively assert truth about God would be lost entirely, for anything we say He is, He might in fact turn out to be the opposite; we will have lost out ability to speak meaningfully about God at all.

Of course, sometimes trinitarians seem to affirm this point already- they like to point to the supposed insufficiency of human language to speak accurately about God, whenever they find human language making things to concrete for them to sip their contradictions through unnoticed- which is fairly often. But this point is as slippery of a slope as the one noted above; if our human words are truly incapable of accurately relaying truth about God, then God’s endeavor to reveal Himself to us through human words, in the scriptures, and in the oral teachings of the prophets, Christ, and the apostles, has failed. I reiterate again: if human words cannot accurately communicate truth about God, then God has failed, because this is precisely what God has set about doing. If we believe that God is too wise and too powerful to fail, and trust that He knows what He is doing a great deal better than we do, then we will rather need to accept that revelation- which always comes to us in human language- as an accurate and truthful way of communicating truth about God. As God is ultimately the Maker of man and of human language, we ought not be surprised that He has allowed and designed things such that it is capable of communicating truth about Him.

The alternative to this is deism; if we believe in God, the Supreme Being, but deny His ability to accurately reveal Himself in the main way that He has set about doing so, viz, through human language, then we will be forced to be totally agnostic about God. Our reading that He is good will not mean much, when by now, for all we know, He has already taken on another nature that is evil, and so is now both good and evil. Or, for all we know, He took on an imperfect nature alongside His perfect one, and is now as flawed as we are. These trinitarian defenses, then which all depend on proving that God can actually in some way be the opposite of the way He is, don’t actually help the doctrine of the trinity at all, because the logical end of this reasoning is to deny the validity of special revelation about God altogether. This is something trinitarians need to take to heart; this is a clear reductio ad absurdum for most or all trinitarian attempts to justify how an immortal person can die, and an un-tempable God can be tempted by evil, etc. Yet without these sorts of arguments, trinitarians are left with logical contradictions that are as serious as they are numerous, all of which work to show us that the doctrine of a triune God is false. If we are really committed to the reality of meaningful and accurate divine revelation from God through words, as we have in the scriptures, then we will need to find a better explanation for the biblical data we have been given than what the doctrine of the trinity can provide us with.

11 comments

  1. Thanks again. Very good point(s): God can die, but God’ can’t die. The yes and no god. “…this trinitarian reasoning used to try to save the doctrine of the trinity from logic is a terribly slippery slope.”

    The claim that human language or logic is not sufficient to explain the Trinity is in fact an admission that:
    1. The doctrine is not found in the Scriptures, not explained in the Scriptures.
    2. Is condescending toward God and the Scriptures since God through his prophets didn’t explain it.

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  2. The fundamental issue with your article is that it denies the very possibility of an incarnation. You are not just objecting to Trinitarian explanations of the biblical data, but reasoning a priori that an incarnation is impossible. Suppose for the sake of argument that the incarnation did occur. Your objection would still remain that “if God can be … mortal while immortal … then these statements about Him mean nothing.” You have already begun with the conclusion that there cannot ever be an incarnation, and that affects how you read the Bible and address Trinitarian exegesis. So this dispute is not really about divine revelation at all. It’s ultimately a philosophical objection. If you recognize that, perhaps we can have a productive conversation, but until then it’s a deadlock.

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    1. I don’t deny the possibility of all forms of incarnation, eg, an Arian or Homoian form where a pre-existent Son that doesn’t share all the same attributes as God is able to change, become incarnate, and be seen and die as a man. But I do most certainly deny the possibility that something that’s immutable changes and that immortal things die; which denies the possibility that the one God, Who is those things, became incarnate in the fashion trinitarians suggest.

      There’s certainly nothing wrong with that reasoning; we have here a very good reason to reject the possibility that the one God could become incarnate on the basis of what He has revealed about Himself. Note, that’s a lot different than just bringing in the idea that an incarnation is impossible from outside the Bible and forcing it onto the text- my reasons for saying it’s impossible that the one God would do these things come straight from the Bible itself, where the one God says He doesn’t change, can’t be seen, is immortal, etc. Anyone coming to the Bible and not trying to force trinitarian presuppositions onto it can clearly see the Bible revealing these truths about God, and on that basis know that it’s impossible for God to change, die, etc, and can therefore see clearly from a mile away that any incarnation theory that involves God doing those things that He said He cannot or will not do is a lot of bunk. It’s the trinitarian who, coming to scripture looking to justify their trinitarianism, doesn’t believe the Bible when it says God can’t die and God can’t change, etc, because they are assuming that He did so; therefore, they reason, surely God can’t really mean what He is obviously saying when He reveals He doesn’t change or die. So they end up with a dying immortal, and immutable mutant, and a god we cannot say anything about with certainty.

      So, there’s not much of a deadlock here I can see; there’s the trinitarian attempt to save itself from logic that, taken to it’s logical ends, actually blows right past a triune god into deism, or else finding another way to account for the biblical data. I think Biblical Unitarianism does this the best by far, but as I hinted at above, I think Arian and Homoian views are likewise able to avoid the difficulties I outline here because they are neither claiming that Jesus is the one God nor that He shares all the ontological/essential attributes of the one God. By having a mutable Son, they allow for the possibility, at least, of an incarnation.

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      1. If you accept the possibility of the incarnation as Homoians conceive it but not as Nicenes on the basis that the latter is illogical (i.e., the same person cannot be both mutable and immutable or mortal and immortal), then I don’t see how you can avoid the charge that you are ruling out the Nicene faith a priori before you even open the Bible. The axioms “God is immortal” and “God is immutable” are not uniquely biblical; even Plato and Muhammad believed that. Whether the Bible teaches the incarnation is not your main issue, but how we can affirm one thing about God while affirming another that is seemingly contradictory. This is why I say your objection is philosophically motivated and not primarily exegetical. But this does not mean your objection is unimportant or that it does not deserve an answer.

        I will attempt to answer two of your major arguments. The first is that Christ died, but God cannot die, which entails that Christ is not fully divine (feel free to correct me if I have summarized this incorrectly). The second is that “any trinitarian argument that says that although God is immortal He can die, will generally also lead to the same logic for all God’s attributes; allowing that He can be both evil and good, all knowing and ignorant, unchanging and changing.”

        1) I do not believe the one God became incarnate, nor did the Nicene fathers. It was Jesus Christ, the Son of the one God who is coeternal and consubstantial with the Father, that became incarnate. The reason this is important is because although it does not answer your question of how the same person can be both mutable and immutable, it may answer the question of why God could not die while His Son could. It is not because the Father is fully divine whereas the Son is pseudo-divine, as the Homoians thought. Rather, it is because the Father cannot become human whereas the Son can. The Father is unoriginate (i.e., He is unbegotten and derives His being from no one), and as such cannot become a human being, because human beings are originate and depend on something else for their existence. However, because the Son of God is originate (i.e., He is begotten and derives His being from God the Father), He is capable of becoming a human being; He transitions from one originate state of existence to another, and not from unoriginate to originate. Thus, the reason God cannot die but the Son of God can die is ultimately because they have different modes of existence, not different essences.

        2) Most of the biblical passages stating that God does not change, cannot be tempted, does not lie, etc. are spoken of the Father in their original contexts. The reason these statements are also applicable to the Son and Spirit in Nicene triadology is because they are derived from the Father’s being. It is precisely because God cannot change and cannot lie that the Son of God and the Spirit of God cannot change and cannot lie. The essence and will of the Father is transferred whole and entire to the Son through generation and to the Spirit through procession, which means the Son and Spirit will nothing apart from the Father. Whatever the Father wills, the Son and Spirit will. Whatever the Father does, the Son and Spirit do. The upshot of this is that the Son cannot will or act on His own initiative, as He says multiple times throughout the Gospel of John (e.g., John 5:19, 5:30; 8:28; 12:49-50; 14:10).

        Why is this important? Because you objected that if God is immortal but can still die, then there is nothing to prevent God from being good but still capable of evil, from being holy but still capable of defilement, and so on. But the reason we can predicate opposites of the same divine person is because that person exists in two natures, which is not true of the Father, who is only divine and not human. God the Father cannot lie, cannot sin, cannot become defiled, cannot commit sin, etc., and the Son cannot do anything apart from the Father. The only way the Son could commit evil or become defiled is if He acted on His own initiative, which He cannot do; He can only do the Father wills that He should do, and the Father is not susceptible to the infirmities of human nature. Thus the Father cannot will that the Son should do something evil, and the Son cannot will anything the Father does not will, which makes it impossible for Christ to ever become defiled or evil on account of the incarnation. Consequently, your concern that the same divine subject could potentially be both evil and good because some opposites are predicated of Him (e.g., He is mutable and immutable or mortal and immortal) is a nonissue.

        I will briefly summarize the preceding points. First, the reason God cannot die and Christ can is not because one is fully divine and the other pseudo-divine, but because God cannot become human and Christ can, since Christ is originate and as such can transfer to another originate state of being. Second, it does not follow that because Christ is both mutable and immutable or mortal and immortal, He could also be both good and evil or pure and defiled. The reason this does not follow is because the Son can only will what the Father wills, and the Father is immune to such things as pure unembodied spirit.

        The explanations I gave above are tentative, but I am fairly confident the second one is correct. The first is mostly speculation and not necessarily representative of the Orthodox Church, but it is not contrary to the Church’s teachings either to my knowledge, and it at least addresses the argument you gave. If I can provide a scenario in which the reason God cannot die but Christ did without recourse to saying one is greater in nature than the other, it sufficiently answers your objection.

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      2. Well, as we discussed in another forum, it’s not your monarchian view of the trinity (which is really broadly speaking, unitarian) that this critique is aimed at, but the trinitarian belief in one triune God that is three persons. In that view, it’s the one God that became incarnate and died, not another person besides the one God. So, there’s a good bit of talking past each other going on here due to those differences. While I disagree with the monarchian trinitarian/semi-arian view you hold, I do so believing it faces a different set of problems than trinitarianism does.

        In Christ,

        Andrew

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      3. I’m quite shocked you let it go at that. Fulmer’s post is full of fallacies, yet you simply let it drop. Why?

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      4. I’ve dialogued with Micah extensively, in other settings. He is basically aware of my position and generally to how I would respond. As an Eastern Orthodox, he doesn’t have the freedom to objectively test doctrines on the basis of their scriptural merit- he is chained to the somewhat arbitrary and self-contradicting dogma of Eastern Orthodoxy, as is committed firmly to it. When a person basically admits that they aren’t willing to learn, be taught, be convinced they are mistaken, reconsider their position, etc, arguing with them ad infinum is obviously just pointless. There is no point in trying to persuade someone who has consciously chosen to be unpersuadable.

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      5. Thanks for the background info. I feel the same way. It’s a waste of time to discuss an issue with a person who isn’t listening to what you’re saying. You might as well speak to a wall.

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      6. That’s fine, though I don’t think it makes sense to describe monarchical Trinitarianism as unitarian. St. Athanasius defended monarchical Trinitarianism, and most people wouldn’t think of Arianism’s fiercest opponent as a unitarian.

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    2. Although, I should add a cautionary note that I don’t know if St. Athanasius would agree with everything I have written here. As I noted earlier, this is all tentative and subject to correction.

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      1. I think we need to work from clear, rational definitions and let the cards fall where they may as far as historical figures are concerned. Athanasius acknowledged that his christology is the same as that of the Homoiousian semi-arians, and I don’t know who would deny that they are unitarian. Tertullian and other ante-nicenes also referred to their beliefs as trinitarian, in reference to there being a triad of Father, Son, and Spirit, yet their beliefs often differ widely from later trinitarian orthodoxy and even from the semi-arian monarchian view; by the logic you employed about Athanasius, they will need to be trinitarians as well. And the Homoians (who you simply call Arians), in the ‘Blasphemia’ of Sirmium, no less, referred to their doctrines as trinitarian as well. This again illustrates that ‘trinitarian’ was used in a far different sense in that era than it has been for the last millenia and half, during which trinitarians have repeatedly self-defined their views as involving one triune God in three persons, and rejected those older views as outside the realm of trinitarianism. Defining unitarianism as the belief that the one God is one person gives us a clear and rational definition, that serves us well in contradistinction to this self-made definition of trinitarianism that it is the doctrine of one triune God in three persons. Inasmuch as ‘unitarian’ and ‘monarchy of the Father’ end up being synonyms, I don’t see what’s weird about applying the former label to all the same theologians to whom we would apply the latter.

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