Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Divine simplicity and uncompromising monotheism

I think sometimes people think of the doctrine of divine simplicity as an odd artifact of a particular metaphysical view—say, Aquinas'. But that's the wrong way to think about it. Rather, as Maimonedes observed, divine simplicity is an expression of uncompromising monotheism.

For if God had parts, these parts would be in important ways divine. The first and most obvious reason, which I've discussed in at least one earlier post, is that at least some of God's parts would be uncreated. But only God is uncreated. Granted, the Platonist restricts this to claim that only God is an uncreated concrete entity. I think this restriction does compromise on monotheism, but even this restriction won't help here, since presumably God's parts, if he has any, are as concrete as God.

Second, a central theme in monotheism is that God not only is greater than everything else—some polytheists may think this to be true of their chief god—but that God exceeds everything else by, as one might say, "infinitely many orders of magnitude." But can a being that is composed of parts exceed the collection of his parts by infinitely many orders of magnitude? The whole can be greater than the parts taken together. But can it be so much greater than the parts, so much that God is God but the parts taken together do not threaten monotheism? If one responds that the sum of God's parts is just as God (as on classical mereology), and so God doesn't have to exceed the sum, then I have a different argument. Consider any one part x1 of God, and consider the collection X* of God's other parts. Then if God is the sum of his parts, he cannot exceed both x1 and X* by infinitely many orders of magnitude, since the sum of two things does not exceed both of them by infinitely many orders of magnitude (compare the arithmetical fact that a+b is no greater than twice the greater of a and b). And so at least one of x1 or X* threatens uncompromising monotheism.

Third, a being that is made of parts has some powers because of the parts. So if God were made of parts, he would have some powers because of something other than himself. But that certainly threatens monotheism.

Fourth, if God were not simple, then sometimes when we worship God, we would be worshiping him on account of some component of God. For instance, we would be worshiping God on account of his mercy, or on account of his justice, or on account of his beauty.

Now, we learned in Plato's Lysis that if we love a for the sake of b, then in an important sense what we really love is b. I propose a weaker analogue to this principle:

  1. If we worship x on account of y, then we are thereby worshiping y
(I am not saying that we don't really worship x). Thus:
  1. If God is not simple, our worship of God on account of his mercy (say) is worship of a component of God that is not God.
But to worship something other than God is idolatrous on uncompromising monotheism. Thus:
  1. Worship of anything other than God is wrong if uncompromising monotheism is true.
  1. It is not wrong to worship God on account of his mercy.
Putting (1)-(4) together, we conclude that God is simple.

I think the last argument is the religiously deepest reason why uncompromising monotheism requires divine simplicity. Divine simplicity ensures that our worship of God has only God as the object of worship.


Unknown said...

Most of this argument is framed in terms of why it is objectionable to think of God as having parts. But those who object to divine simplicity nowadays are not inclined to object to the denial that God has parts, are they? They object to the denial that in God there is metaphysical complexity of any sort, including that of substance and property of the substance. (I see how the final argument attacks even that sort of complexity, and I am really struck by it.) But is there a real live defender of the view that God has parts?

David Gawthorne said...

I wrote this before I read Mark Murphy's post above:

I accept divine mereological simplicity, but I do not see that this entails divine simplicity. Only the latter involves the claim that God does not instantiate more than one property. Are there no viable theories of instantiation that see it as a relation between blobby things and universals? Attributing a property to a thing would not then involve attributing a proper part to it. Does this not take care of your first three reasons for accepting divine simplicity?

As for your fourth reason, it seems more natural to me to say (1*)?

(1*) If we worship x on account of x instantiating y then we are thereby worshiping x.

Alexander R Pruss said...


I've heard the view that God has three parts: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I suspect it's not that uncommon, though I don't know if any serious philosophers or theologians hold it.

Depending on exactly how one understands constituent ontology, someone who accepts predicative complexity in God and has a constituent ontology might end up believing that God has parts. Note that the first argument applies against other kinds of constituents besides parts.


Is there such a thing as x's instantiating of y, or are there just x and y?

One worry about your Platonic story is akin to my third consideration. On beefier Platonisms, x is powerful because x instantiates power. So power is explanatorily prior to x's being powerful, and so God would have power because of something other than God.

David Gawthorne said...

Even if there is only x and y, the fact that x instantiates y must be distinguished from other facts concerning other relations between x and y, in some way. Whatever way that is, couldn't that fact constitute our reason for worshiping x?

Instead of beefy Platonism, I could prefer something like Lewis' reduction of universals to primitively fundamental sets of individuals (or abstract representations of such sets). I might even add impossible individuals to those sets.

Anonymous said...

The fourth argument interests me, as it seems to get at a strong doctrine of simplicity. You say (4) it is not wrong to worship God “on account of his mercy”. I suppose another way to put it is that it is morally permissible to worship God in virtue of at least some of his great-making attributes. Now many contemporary philosophers of religion who deny a strong doctrine of divine simplicity say that these great-making attributes are properties that are non-identical to God. But given (4), one must say that an accounting of a certain divine property provides a sufficient explanation for why God is due the sort of worship that is due to Him. It seems troubling to me that ontological feature less than God could be an explanation (or provide an adequate account) for why God is worthy of that sort of worship we say he is worthy of (infinite, or to the highest degree). But something less than God would provide an insufficient account of God’s worthiness for worship as compared to the whole of God’s nature. That is, it would be adequate only to provide an account for why a certain amount of worship is due to God, but not an account that would be equal to one provided by God Himself. It is not morally permissible to give God less worship than is due, but the account of some divine property would motivate insufficient worship, it would seem. Hence, if any one of God’s attributes accounts for or adequately attests to the worthiness of God, those attributes cannot be non-identical to God.

Michael Gonzalez said...

Pruss: Do you, then, deny that God is composed of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? I certainly do, but I didn't think you did. I mean, if you take the proper subsets of the mereological sum of God as being, say, x1 = the Son and X* = the Father and Holy Spirit (the remaining parts), wouldn't you have the very problem you described?

Your argument about having powers by virtue of the parts also comes into play. For example, it is possible for the Son to yield to the Father. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit also have separate beliefs and desires from each other (e.g. the Son does not believe he is the Father, and the Father does not desire to be the Son).

As a variant on your fourth argument, remember that Jesus taught us to pray to "Our Father, who art in heaven". Never were we taught to pray to the Holy Spirit or to the Son. So, when we pray, we explicitly pray to only one part of "God", if the term God simultaneously refers to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

It seems to me that your "uncompromising monotheism" needs to be unitarian (God is one person, but created a Son, and then all other things through the Son). I see an uncompromising, unitarian monotheism all throughout the Scriptures, and it makes more philosophical sense of Divine Simplicity (to say nothing of the fact that all the arguments from natural theology point to a single person, including your own Leibnizean argument).

Alexander R Pruss said...

The Father is the same God as the Son is. So the Father can't be a proper part of God, and the Son can't be a proper part of God, nor can the Holy Spirit for the same reason.

The Father, Son and Holy Spirit have one divine mind. I don't just mean they agree on everything--they have numerically one mind. A standard heuristic in Christian theology is that what there is two of in Christ there is one of in the Trinity, and what there are three of in the Trinity, there is one of in Christ. In Christ there are two minds--human and divine--and conversely in the Trinity there is one divine mind.

But you raise a very interesting question when you suggest that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit differ in beliefs. I have some controversial views about self-locating beliefs that challenge this, but I am not sure I want to defend them right now.

The traditional thing to say is that qua God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are the same--each is the same one God. But qua persons, they are distinct--each is a distinct person. These persons aren't proper parts of God, because is all of the divine substance.

= MJA said...

Divine simplicity: God is One. =

Michael Gonzalez said...

I've never understood this use of the word "substance", given what it normally means in philosophy. To be a person just IS to be a single substance with a set of beliefs and desires, etc. Two or three distinct people being one substance seems to me like a logical contradiction.

More directly, though, Jesus very clearly spoke of having a different will from the Father ("let not my will, but yours take place") of lacking knowledge that the Father had ("concerning that day and hour...") and even calls the Father the "only true God" at John 17:3. And, even after Jesus has returned to heaven, he still calls someone "my God" (Revelation 3:12) and the apostles still speak of a hierarchy among them (e.g. 1 Corinthians 11:3).

For these and lots of other reasons, I have always had a real problem with the Trinity doctrine. But to keep it on the philosophical issue: How can persons who have separate beliefs, desires, knowledge, and rank still be considered a single substance? How can they not constitute "parts" of a collection? Even the fact that I'm obliged to say "they" seems to indicate plurality of parts....

Alexander R Pruss said...

The standard view is that in the Trinity there is numerically one mind and numerically one will. Christ, however, has two wills in one person: a human will and a divine will. The text that suggests a distinction between his will and the Father's is then read as distinguishing between his human will and the Father's divine will, the latter being identical with the Son's divine will.

Some statements about and by Christ need to be read as about Christ qua human.

The Tradition will take it that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit have the same beliefs. After all, for every proposition p, by omniscience the Father believes p iff p is true, the Son believes p iff p is true, and the Holy Spirit believes p iff p is true.

That still leaves your earlier question of indexical beliefs like "I am the Father." Here I have some very controversial views about indexicals that would help, but as I said I am not quite ready to defend them.

Heath White said...


As I understand it, your exposition of the standard view has the following consequence:

Christ is a person (cf. “one person with two natures”). This person has two wills.
The Son is a person (cf. “three persons in one substance”). This person has only one will.
By Leibniz’s law, the person that is Christ is not identical to the person that is the Son.

What do we say about the relationship between these two persons? Is one embedded in the other somehow?

Alexander R Pruss said...


There is surely only one person between the Son and Christ. That's the point of the "one person" doctrine of the Incarnation.

This one person has one divine will and one human will. Had there been no incarnation, this one person would have had only one divine will.

Michael Gonzalez said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michael Gonzalez said...

Pruss: Your distinction of Christ qua human vs. qua God also leaves a problem in why no one else knew the day and the hour, except the Father, given that the third member of the Trinity (the Holy Spirit) doesn't have the excuse of having a human nature. Also, it does seem to me very problematic that Jesus doesn't say at Revelation 3:12 that the one who conquers will be come a pillar in the temple of "my Father"; he says it will be in the temple of "my God". Jesus refers to "God" as distinct from himself even after returning to heaven, and not having the "qua human" reason to speak that way.

I would love to know your thoughts on the indexicals, but I'll wait to see if you publish something on it or post about it here on the blog sometime :-) But, even given that the indexical belief "I am not the Father" can be held by the other two members without any problem, what about the belief that the apostle Paul has that the "head of the Christ is God" just as the "head of the man is the Christ"? That surely divides them, doesn't it?

I don't mean to inundate you with questions; I'm actually holding back rather strongly. To any one verse any Trinitarian has ever given me that seems to support some aspect of the Trinity, I have always been able to give 15 - 20 verses which seem to directly contradict the doctrine (there is no verse that supports the whole doctrine, unless you count the spurious addition at 1 John 5:7, 8). And, even if you have some way of rationalizing all of those verses (1:20 is a pretty bad ratio)... why bother?? All for the sake of a doctrine that is never once spelled out in Scripture? I just don't get it.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Quantifiers are typically restricted in ordinary speech and are often restricted in Scripture. "No one knows p" even in ordinary language tends to be restricted. It generally isn't meant to include God, and sometimes there are ordinary human beings who are excluded as well. For instance: "Nobody knows what the Germans are planning." Obviously, we're excluding the Germans from our quantification!

Now things are complicated in the Scriptural case because an exception is explicitly stated, i.e., "except the Father". But when using restricted quantifiers one might state what is the most salient exception without giving all the others. For instance: "Nobody knows what the Jones is going to say in his upcoming book. Except Jones." But there are probably other exceptions, like Jones' publisher. :-) And at the very least there is God. Ordinary language does not require that any exceptions be listed when one uses restricted quantifiers, and when exceptions are listed, the list does not need to be complete.

The Holy Spirit's knowledge is identical with the Father's, anyway, so there is no need for a separate mention.

Suppose I say: "Nobody owns an all-black split-tube version of a Coulter Odyssey I telescope, except for me." This is a perfectly fine sentence of ordinary English and true as far as I know. But the quantifiers are restricted. For my wife owns the very same telescope, since whatever I own, she owns, due to the community property within marriage. But her ownership doesn't need to be specifically mentioned, because of course she owns everything I own and vice versa (as far as I understand the law).

I think that in the New Testament, sometimes "God" is used to refer specifically to one person of the Trinity, the Father. (Nothing wrong with that usage, just as there is nothing wrong with using "the Philosopher" to refer specifically to Aristotle.)

The best reasons for believing in the Trinity are not some particular texts of Scriptures. There two best reasons. The first is that the Church believes this in a way that is essential for her life and worship. The second is that the general attitude that the New Testament and the community that produced it take to Christ and the Holy Spirit is an attitude that would be idolatrous if Christ and the Holy Spirit are not God.

Michael Gonzalez said...

I appreciate your response. The "not even the Son" part of that scriptural passage still causes a problem, since the Son is as much part of the Trinity as the Holy Spirit is. It is thus rather odd that the Holy Spirit is taken for granted when Jesus says "only the Father", given that he has just finished excluding one of the members of the Trinity (namely: himself).

It seems to me that, even if a belief has been essential to "the Church", if it is not the best fit for what is in the Scriptures, then it should be abandoned. Otherwise, we run the risk of doing what Jesus condemned at Matthew 15:6: Making the word of God invalid by our tradition that we hand down. As for treating Jesus and the Holy Spirit in ways that would seem idolatrous, there is a pretty clear explanation for that. Taking together all the verses that deal with God's spirit, one could easily conclude that it is not a person at all, but rather is God's active force, with which He accomplishes His will (this would explain, among other things, why it has no personal name). As such, talking about its activity just IS talking about God's activity through it, despite its not being another divine person. And Jesus is the perfect reflection of His Father, and has been given a position that is higher than any other, except that of God Himself. So it seems clear that the attitude toward Jesus would be very special and without parallel. But that doesn't make him equal to God. He himself says that the Father is greater than he is (John 14:28), and we can believe that while still holding him as the greatest of all God's creations and as our King, Lord, and Savior. Indeed, a great care is taken with regard to this, not only in Jesus' words (e.g. "what I teach is not my own, but belongs to Him that sent me"...) but also in the way the apostles spoke of Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:27, 28 is one of my favorites, but there are lots of similar passages).

Anyway, I don't expect to actually change anyone's mind about this. It just seemed to me that the philosophical puzzles involved in having 3 persons that are 1 substance were icing on the cake if one has already accepted from Scripture that Jesus is a very special creation of God, rather than God Himself.

Alexander R Pruss said...

The "not even the Son" refers to Christ in his human nature.

"It seems to me that, even if a belief has been essential to 'the Church', if it is not the best fit for what is in the Scriptures, then it should be abandoned."

This strikes me as cutting the branch one is sitting on. Why do we think this particular collection of books is God's word? Because we trust the Holy Spirit at work in God's Church which accepts these particular books as God's word.

Heath White said...

"It seems to me that, even if a belief has been essential to 'the Church', if it is not the best fit for what is in the Scriptures, then it should be abandoned."

This strikes me as cutting the branch one is sitting on. Why do we think this particular collection of books is God's word? Because we trust the Holy Spirit at work in God's Church which accepts these particular books as God's word.

Off topic question: does this claim for tradition apply to pre-Christian Jewish tradition too? That is, suppose somebody at the time of Christ said that some traditional Jewish doctrine was not supported in their (OT) Scriptures. Is the reply available: well, the only reason to trust these books is that our Jewish tradition tells us to, so we should trust the rest of what tradition hands down too.

I do not know my ancient Jewish theology well enough to provide a lot of examples, but one might be the attitude of the Sadducees to the resurrection of the dead. (They don’t believe it because it’s not in the Pentateuch.)

In any case, should a Christian feel bound by the developments of Jewish tradition (insofar as they have not subsequently been altered by Christian tradition)?

Michael Gonzalez said...

Why do we think this particular collection of books is God's word? Because we trust the Holy Spirit at work in God's Church which accepts these particular books as God's word.

I trust that holy spirit is at work in true Christianity, but I also trust Jesus and the apostle Paul in their many warnings that weeds would be sown among the wheat and overtake them until the time of the end. So false Christianity ought to be much more prevalent than true Christianity by now. Indeed, apostate teachings and sects had already started developing during the first century, but the apostles used to keep it in check. Paul referred to them as "a restraint" (2 Thess 2:6-8), but obviously they are all gone now. It's likely that this is what Jesus meant by "while men were sleeping" when he talked about the weeds and the wheat (Matt 13:25).

In any case, I take the Scriptures to be inspired because I see lots of evidence: fulfilled prophecy, harmony, accuracy, and the historical evidence for Christ's resurrection, which makes his statements (many of which promote the OT), and those of his apostles, authoritative (including many more such quotes and references, as well as explicit statements like 2 Tim 3:16, 17).

And here is the main point: it is specifically because I take the Scriptures to be inspired that I have such a problem with the Trinity. It's never spelled out even once in those Scriptures, and there are scores of verses which seem to contradict it. Even if you can manage to jump through all of those hoops to preserve the possibility of the doctrine, you really shouldn't have to do that if the doctrine is really Scriptural. Does the "Church" (which denomination exactly, btw?) really have the right to impose doctrines which the Scriptures did not sanction, and which they seem to contradict in so many places? To say nothing of the philosophical problems.... I mean, you have no doubt listened to many more discussions of this topic than I have, but even the few I've listened to (from the who's who of philosophy and theology) have been totally confusing and often self-contradictory. For example, Richard Swinburne (who is an Orthodox Catholic) says the arguments of natural theology point to only one person: the Father. The Son is produced by the Father necessarily, because the Father sees that it would be good to do this and has no reasons not to. Now, that doesn't sound anything like the claim that the Son is equally God or that he is uncreated!

I just don't see the point in trying so hard to preserve a doctrine that has so many Scriptural and logical problems, when you could just say that the Son is the first created being (Col. 1:15; Rev 3:14), and that he is subservient to his Father, who is the only God (John 17:3; 1 Corinthians 11:3; Hebrews 3:1, 2; Hebrews 5:7-9; etc etc).

Sorry that got a little long-winded :-(

Mark Rogers said...

Hey Michael!
You say:

Does the "Church" (which denomination exactly, btw?) really have the right to impose doctrines which the Scriptures did not sanction, and which they seem to contradict in so many places?

The Church that is being spoken of here is the living congregation of the living God, Jesus Christ. The Church believes this, that Jesus is God, in a way that is essential for her life and worship, which is, by being inspired by and responding to, the Holy Spirit.

Alexander R Pruss said...


1. While you can use the kinds of non-Church-based criteria to determine that some of the books of the Bible are indeed Scripture, there is no way you will be able to do this for each one of the books you've got in your Bible. The historical reason why you've got these particular books and not others is because the Church picked them out from among a larger class of edifying books.

2. As for Christ's divinity, again I think it goes back to uncompromising monotheism. The extremely high but non-divine role you pick out for Christ leads to a compromising monotheism.

3. Of course, I deny that the doctrines the Church develops contradict Scripture. They contradict some readings of particular texts of Scripture, of course, but likewise the denials of these doctrines contradict some readings of particular texts of Scripture.

Alexander R Pruss said...


I do not think we had the same guarantees of the Holy Spirit's guidance for the Jewish tradition as we do for the Christian Church. And so the Christian canon of Scripture departs from the Jewish one. The most obvious departure is the whole of the New Testament. But of course both Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox think that the current Jewish canon leaves out some books of the Old Testament as well, such as Sirach and the Book of Wisdom, and we are suspicious of the criteria used by the Council of Jamnia to determine the Tanakhic canon (indeed, the criteria too automatically exclude the NT).

Michael Gonzalez said...


1) I think a set of criteria can be given that will uphold the 66 books in my Bible, while not upholding any others. But, in any case, I don't deny that Holy Spirit has had a role in ensuring that these books get preference among the denominations of Christianity (albeit, not entirely uniform preference, as you have pointed out).

2) This is the key point. I genuinely don't think that the way I lay out Christ's role in God's purpose compromises monotheism. Indeed, the reason I brought all this up on this blog post is because I think calling Jesus "God" is a compromise of strict monotheism (this is also what Jews think of the Trinity, which is why they tend to consider Christians polytheists and heretics). Jesus came preaching about the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. That God was a single person, and Jesus never spoke of Him as anything else. Surely we can at least agree about that much. So, for me to accept Jesus and all of his teachings just IS to accept a very Jewish conception of monotheism (which does not permit of many persons in one God). And it upholds strict monotheism, while permitting God to use some of His creatures in very special capacities.

3) Fair enough. But my question isn't really "why do you believe something that the Bible directly denies?" My question is "why do you believe in something the Bible never explicitly states, and for which there are a mountain of Scriptures that seem to be problematic and require vigorous hoop-jumping?" As I mentioned, I can give 15 to 20 verses that cause trouble for Trinitarians for every 1 verse any Trinitarian has ever given to cause trouble for my view. A 15:1 ratio is pretty bad, isn't it? The number of hoops that need jumping ought to mean something, even if the Trinitarian successfully jumps through all of them. If this is such a central doctrine to Christianity, why on Earth was it never spelled out in the Scriptures? Instead of that, there are all these problematic statements. It isn't that way for the ransom, the Kingdom, the resurrection, or any other central doctrine I can think of....

Just a sort of side-point, the Catcholic Encyclopedia calls the Trinity the central doctrine of Christianity (which I find rather odd, since the Bible never mentions this teaching directly), but then it goes on to call it a "divine mystery". So, I looked over to the section on "mystery", and it said "a truth over which there is something like a veil". I'm not sure what that means. 2 Cor. 4:3, 4 doesn't speak well of "veiled" truths, but I'm sure the encyclopedia didn't have that kind of "veil" in mind. But, I guess I just don't know what a "mystery" is in this context, or why God would make the central doctrine a mystery....

Michael Gonzalez said...


As I mentioned to Pruss, many doctrines are taught in various denominations, but that doesn't make them true or the product of holy spirit. Remember that the weeds were sown in among the wheat and overshadowed it until the time of the end. If the vast majority of churches claiming to be "Christian" all affirm a particular doctrine, it could still be part of the apostasy of the "weeds". One needs to compare scripture with scripture and see what the Bible as a whole is teaching.

Michael Gonzalez said...

BTW, Pruss, I appreciate your patience with me. You must feel a bit like Gregory of Nyssa at this point! LOL. He was around in the 4th century and said something I've always found funny:

"Clothes dealers, money changers, and grocers are all theologians. If you inquire about the value of your money, some philosopher explains wherein the Son differs from the Father. If you ask the price of bread, your answer is the Father is greater than the Son. If you should want to know whether the bath is ready, you get the pronouncement that the Son was created out of nothing."

Alexander R Pruss said...


I don't actually think it is a part of first century Judaism that God is or is not one person, because the very concept of "person" that we are dealing with is one that developed through Christian reflection on the doctrine of the Trinity. It is a part of first century Judaism that there is only one God. It might be a part of it that God has one mind and one will. But the concept of a person is a later development, and a specifically Christian one.

The Catholic idea that some doctrines are "mysteries" is one that we haven't been very good at making clear to people.

The most basic idea here is that a doctrine is a mystery if and only if (a) the doctrine is revealed and (b) the only way to know the doctrine is by means of revelation.

I think we often add to this basic idea the thought that if a doctrine is a mystery, then we cannot really get much of a grasp of how it is that the doctrine is true, but only that it is true.

The Trinity is presumably a mystery in both senses, though something could be a mystery in only one sense and not the other.

Mark Rogers said...

It is good to compare scripture with scripture to see what the Bible as a whole is teaching. That can only however take a person but a little way. It is not just the words on the page that reveal the truth. We can not know the truth on the basis of our own reasoning and power. It is found and given in the reasoning and power of His own Holy Spirit who leads us into all truth.

Shlomo-Zalman said...

we need trinity like a third nipple. Gd is One. Period. trinity transgresses the first, second, and third command of the 'ten big ones'.

Unknown said...

"2. As for Christ's divinity, again I think it goes back to uncompromising monotheism. The extremely high but non-divine role you pick out for Christ leads to a compromising monotheism."

According to Watchtower theology, Jesus is both (1) Michael the archangel and (2) as in the doctrine of other Christian groups, the son of David. I take it that you accept that the existence of angels and the Davidic dynasty are compatible with uncompromising monotheism. If so, isn't the Watchtower view at least as uncompromising as the Trinitarian view, and if so, are not Christological theories that demote Jesus even further (e.g., the Christadelphian/adoptionist view) should be even more compatible with uncompromising monotheism.

So I suppose that while from a Christian perspective (which I don't follow) you have to accept your answer #1 (and by extension #3 to the extent that #1 implies heavy deference to traditional beliefs of the church) to Michael Gonzalez, I don't think that #2 holds up.

- K.L. Perkins

Alexander R Pruss said...

The problem for any Arian theology is that Christ is central to the Christian's life in a way that only God should be. I've seen it put this way: the Old Testament is theocentric and the New Testament is Christocentric. But this is a really big problem, unless Christ is God.

So if Christ is just an angel, then an angel is central to the Christian's life.

There are also very serious worries about the work of atonement if Christ isn't God.

Alexander R Pruss said...


Only actions or inactions transgress commandments. A doctrine is neither an action nor an inaction and hence cannot transgress a commandment. So your criticism needs greater precision.

Michael Gonzalez said...

Pruss: The NT describes specifically why Christ is so central, and it always is to the glory of God. Every knee bends to Christ... to the glory of God the Father (Php. 2:9-11). Christ is the way and the truth and the life... because no one comes to the Father except through Christ (John 14:6). I think the NT is still very theocentric, and is just emphasizing the special role Christ has in God's arrangement.

I honestly only think atonement works if Jesus isn't God, for a number of reasons. For example, Christ (as High Priest) is supposed to present the value of his shed blood to God for approval, in order for the atonement to take place (Heb 9:11-14. Indeed, the fact that Christ is symbolized by the High Priest and the sacrifices, but never by the role that God played in those cases, shows that Christ's role is not at all that of God, but that of other characters in the situation. Also, if Christ were both God and man, then he would not have been an equal to Adam (who was only a man), and so it would not have been a corresponding ransom (1 Cor. 15:45; 1 Tim 2:5, 6).

Michael Gonzalez said...

Perkins: I'm not promoting some "Watchtower theology". I've cited scriptures with every one of my points. I'm promoting a "Bible theology".

That being said, I can see why someone would think Jesus is Michael the archangel. 1 Thess. 4:16 does say that Jesus calls out with an archangel's voice.

Anonymous said...

Gonzalez: "The NT describes specifically why Christ is so central, and it always is to the glory of God. Every knee bends to Christ... to the glory of God the Father (Php. 2:9-11)."

If it is "..always to the glory of God" in the NT, then other passages strongly indicate that Christ is God.

1. "Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was" (John 17:5)

2. "And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high..." (Hebrews 1:3).

3. "...for if they had understood it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory..." (1 Corinthians 2:8).

4. "...grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen" (2 Peter 3:18).

Now, I suppose that you could say that the glory given to Christ is such that it ultimately is given to God (with Christ as an intermediary though "Lord of glory"). However, it is not clear to me how you can give glory to person A by giving glory to person B such that by giving glory to B, all glory is ultimately given to A, unless A and B are the same person.

Further, as Isaiah says,
"I am the LORD, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another, Nor My praise to graven images" (Isaiah 42:8).

This seems to indicate that the Lord God had no future plans to give glory to another, even if that glory somehow circled back to him through another.

Just some thoughts.

Michael Gonzalez said...


1) Jesus was alongside the Father (who he calls the ONLY true God in verse 3 of that same chapter in John, btw). I don't deny that Jesus had a prehuman existence alongside the Father.

2) I also don't deny that he is the perfect reflection of God. It says as much at Colossians 1:15... right after calling him the "firstborn of all creation". So, I think Jesus is a created being, but is a perfect reflection of the One who created him.

3) Again, I agree that Jesus is Lord and that God has given him a great deal of glory. John 1:14 says that Jesus has a glory such as belongs to an only-begotten son from a father.

4) See #3.

As far as glory goes: No one deserves the level of glory that God Himself has, but that doesn't mean that His servants are never glorified in connection with Him and the fulfillment of His purposes. Moses, for example, reflected the glory of God after communing with Him on Mt. Sinai (Exodus 19). Likewise, Acts 3:13-15 says that God glorified His servant, Jesus, and raised him from the dead. And 2 Corinthians 3:18 specifically mentions how some of God's servants will be glorified as well.

Isaiah 42:8 specifically mentions graven images, and is clearly saying that God does not share His glory with any other gods of the nations. However, I'm glad you brought up this chapter, because if you read the preceding verses (1-7), you see a prophecy about God's relationship to Jesus, His servant. That this is a prophecy about Jesus is confirmed at Matthew 12:15-21. And the relationship is not as equals, nor as parts of a Godhead. Jesus is God's servant. God puts His spirit in Jesus so that Jesus may accomplish God's will. And then Jesus is glorified for being obedient to God (compare Heb 5:7-9, as well as Philippians 2:8).

Cheers :-)

Alexander R Pruss said...

A perfect image of an infinite being is infinite.

But only God is infinite.

Michael Gonzalez said...

I'm not aware of any reason to believe either of those statements, but, more importantly, I have no idea what you mean by "infinite". Is there some quantitative property of God you have in mind?

Alexander R Pruss said...

Not really: I think the idea of God as infinite is deeply ingrained in monotheism, but I also don't know that anyone has quite accounted for what it means. It's worth thinking about, though.

Michael Gonzalez said...

I agree that it's interesting, and the idea of "reflecting" God's glory isn't fully fleshed out in Scripture. It just seems to refer to Christ manifesting the qualities of God so closely that observing Jesus is like observing his Father. I don't think that requires them to be equals any more than the ability of a perfect mirror to reflect sunlight requires the mirror itself to be a star.

Here's a question: What would change for an individual Christian, if she discovered that God is a single person, and that Jesus is His most perfect and cherished creation, which He uses in a unique and amazing way, and whom He commands us to follow and obey? She would still call Jesus her Savior and Lord, she would still be a Christian (follower of Christ), she would still worship just as Jesus taught us to do.... Indeed, she might get a little closer to that, since, for example, she would have no temptation to pray to anyone but the Father (remember, that Jesus said to pray to "our Father who art in heaven"). Similarly, she would have a model of obedience to God (Jesus was obedient to God to the point of death, and learned obedience from what he suffered, according to Heb. 5:7-9). And she would worship the God that Jesus himself claimed to view as God (John 17:3; John 20:17; Revelation 3:12).

Sure, she'd no longer fit in with many established churches, but even that looks a lot like the example of a certain Jew who didn't fit in with the Jewish religious leaders of his day ;-)

Alexander R Pruss said...

One thing that would change is that she would no longer believe that God loved her so much that he became human and died for her sins.

Michael Gonzalez said...

Ah, but as a father yourself, surely you realize it takes even MORE love to give your dearest child. Any parent would gladly die over and over rather than do what God did (John 3:16 does not say He came and died, but that He sent His only-begotten son... compare Genesis 22:1-12, where Abraham was not asked to sacrifice himself, but to sacrifice his precious Isaac).

Alexander R Pruss said...

God should be loved more than anyone who is not God. Thus, if Christ is not God, God loves Christ less than God loves himself.

Michael Gonzalez said...

I didn't say anyone was loved more, I said that it is easier to suffer and die yourself than to watch your child suffer and die. The prophetic parallel with Abraham was the sacrifice of one's child; not of oneself. And John 3:16 may be the most oft-cited scripture in the world, so I think our theoretical Christian should feel very good about her Christianity in affirming that God sent His son; not Himself.

Alexander R Pruss said...

It would not be a very literal kind of parenthood, though, if the son is of his very nature infinitely inferior to the father. It would be more like God's fatherhood with respect to us.

Michael Gonzalez said...

Any kind of parenthood is closer to making John 3:16 true than if God sent Himself. And it's not just John 3:16 that says it. Calling Jesus God's "only-begotten Son" is a pretty common thing in the NT. Our theoretical Christian seems much more in-line with the NT than anyone who says God sent Himself to the Earth (all philosophical disputes about which act is more loving notwithstanding).

That being said, the testimony of Scripture is that Jesus is the only being God created directly, without intermediary. Everything else was created through this first creation (Colossians 1:15, 16 spells this out most clearly). So God has a unique relationship with this Son. He loves His only-begotten son very much, and it ought to be a sign of His amazing love for us, that He was willing to let His precious son suffer and die in our behalf. I genuinely don't see how coming here Himself would have shown His love any better.

But, more importantly, it doesn't fit Scripture. Jesus, after dying, was raised up and exalted by God (Acts 2:32, 33), was brought up before God's throne (see Daniel 7:13), and there he acted as a High Priest by presenting the value of his sacrifice to God for approval (Hebrews 9:11, 12). What I'm getting at is that, even if God offering Himself would have been more loving than offering His unique and precious Son (and I am not at all convinced, yet, that that is true), it just isn't what Scripture indicates happened. Shouldn't our theoretical Christian content herself that she is believing in the sacrifice actually mentioned in the Bible, rather than in one that she thinks would have been more loving?

Alexander R Pruss said...

The doctrine of the Trinity allows one to have the best of both. It is God himself who is sacrifice. But the Father sacrifices the Son, who is the same God as the Father is but not the same person as the Father is.

"Shouldn't our theoretical Christian content herself that she is believing in the sacrifice actually mentioned in the Bible, rather than in one that she thinks would have been more loving?"

Much depends here on what one's reasons for believe the Bible to be God's word are. My reason for believing the Bible to be God's word is that I don't think God would let us overestimate his goodness and love. This leads me to first to believe that Christ is the Son of the Father and yet the same God (roughly because otherwise the Christian belief in this supreme sacrifice would be an overestimate of God), and then to conclude from this that the Scriptures recognized by the community that Christ founded are indeed God's word.

Mark Rogers said...

Hey Michael!

Suppose two equally equally good hearted and intelligent people study the Bible equally hard and come to two different views on the nature of God. Should these two not conclude that by reason alone one can not come to knowledge of God?

Alexander R Pruss said...


It seems that the most one can conclude is the uncontroversial claim that one cannot come by reason to knowing everything about the nature of God.

Anonymous said...

"Hey Michael!

Suppose two equally equally good hearted and intelligent people study the Bible equally hard and come to two different views on the nature of God. Should these two not conclude that by reason alone one can not come to knowledge of God?"
One might also come to the conclusion that God did not intend to guide His Church via the doctrine of Sola Scriptura, but Scripture in conjunction with holy tradition, and the Magisterium, guided by the Holy Spirit.

Michael Gonzalez said...

Pruss: The Bible never says that it is God Himself who is sacrificed. And I don't see any reason to think that would be greater than God sacrificing His most precious Son. But, even if it would have been, it would not correspond to the death of Adam, and therefore would not serve properly as a ransom. The Bible calls Jesus "the last Adam" (1 Cor. 15:45) and says that his death corresponds to Adam's (1 Tim. 2:5, 6 + Romans 5:14, 19). That would not be true if it were God dying, since Adam was not equal to God. Adam was a perfect man only. And so the corresponding ransom is another perfect man only. God manifests His love by giving what was needed to balance the scales of justice and give us back what Adam lost (the prospect of eternal life). So, even if I believed that it would have been a greater expression of love for God to die, rather than for Him to have to watch His precious son suffer and die (which I am still not at all convinced of), I would still say that such a sacrifice would only have imbalanced the scales in the other direction. It would not have been a corresponding ransom as the Scriptures describe.

vexingquestions and Mark: 2 Timothy 3:16, 17 says that the Scriptures are able to make the man of God "fully competent" and "completely equipped for every good work". Of course, I think that God's spirit is required to help His people have a proper understanding of Scripture. But that is quite different from adding on traditions of men (which the Scriptures warn against over and over). It seems to me that Jesus preached about the God of Abraham, who is only ever described as a single person. Jesus claimed that this God was greater than him (John 14:28) and called Him "my God" (John 20:17 and Reveltion 3:12). He said the Father is the ONLY true God (John 17:3). So, no, I don't think we should take any human tradition seriously which claims otherwise. In my humble opinion, a lot of false doctrine showed up after the death of the apostles (when the weeds were growing along with the wheat), and the Scriptures are the key to rooting those out and recovering the basic beliefs that God intended for us to hold.

I hope I don't come across to forcefully or abrasively on this topic. I am genuinely interested in your views, and I hope that what I've said is at least of some interest to you.

Alexander R Pruss said...

If one takes the symmetry between Adam and Jesus this strongly, then Jesus can't be any supernatural being, like an archangel, but has to be just an ordinary, but morally perfect, human being. And *that* just doesn't fit with Scripture.

The symmetry is between Adam's human nature and Christ's human nature. But Christ also has a divine nature.

Anyway, it is hard to see how the death of a single righteous mere human being would atone for the trillions of sins committed in the history of the world. Christ's death is sufficient not just for redeeming us from original sin but from all our actual sins.

Michael Gonzalez said...

Jesus, while on Earth, had to be nothing more than a perfect human, or else the "corresponding ransom" can't happen. Before being sent to Earth, he was in a glorified position in heaven, and he asked to return to that position after having accomplished the ransom (see John 17:4, 5). But, while on Earth, the Scriptures specifically say that he emptied himself of that glory and became lower than angels: a human (Php 2:7-9; Heb 2:9). He was then raised from the dead and exalted to a glorified position in heaven again (Acts 2:31-33).

As far as redeeming us from all sin, the doctrine of atonement is spelled out in Romans 5:12, 19 as well as 1 Corinthians 15:21, 22. Adam's sin was enough to "sell" us all into sin and the concomitant death (I say "sold" from Romans 7:14). So the death of his equal (who died without sinning) is enough to buy back what Adam lost. The death of imperfect, sinful humans couldn't do it (Psalm 49:7, 8), nor the sacrifices of animals (Hebrews 10:4). But Christ's perfect sacrifice, which he offered to his Father after having returned to heaven, is sufficient (Hebrews 9:11, 12, 24).

Skylar said...

Sorry to comment on a post from some time ago, and I doubt I'll ever see a response, but an application of this strikes me. That is, the argument might be able to be modified as an argument against modalism (like Sabellianism or Oneness Pentecostalism).

That's because these modalist views seem committed to this: God is worshipped on account of one of his modes--or "ways he is"--and not for who he is in himself. We only "get at" God via a mode of his.

Also, I wonder if these modalistic views are incompatible with simplicity outright. It may not be simplicity that does the work here, but it's corollary of absolute immutabilty. Can there be timeless modes on these unorthodox modalist views that avoid God's modes entailing change in him? No idea.

What do you think of these thoughts?