Tuesday, November 12, 2019

The Incarnation and timelessness

Consider the standard argument against the Incarnation:

  1. Everything that is God is F (omnipotent, omniscient, impassible, etc.).

  2. Everything that is human is non-F.

  3. Christ is God and human.

  4. So, Christ is F and non-F.

  5. Contradiction!

But it is only a contradiction to be F and non-F at the same time: we’ve known this since Aristotle.
Thus the kenotic theologian gets out of the argument by holding that Christ was F prior to the Incarnation and wasn’t F after the Incarnation. (A difficult question for the kenoticist: is he now F?) But that’s contrary to the teaching of the Councils.

However, the “at the same time” observation does not need to lead to kenoticism. In fact, the Christian who is a classical theist should deny that Christ is F and non-F at the same time. For it is strictly false to say that Christ is F at t for any divine attribute F and any time time t, since God has the divine attributes timelessly rather than at a time.

This is not kenoticism. Rather, the view is that Christ is F timelessly eternally and non-F at t (for any t after the beginning of the Incarnation). Kenoticism on this view is metaphysically absurd, because God cannot cease to be F: one can only cease to be something that one used to be, and there is no “used to be” where there is no temporality.

But we sometimes say things like:

  • While he was suffering on the cross, Christ was upholding the existence of the universe.

I think there are two ways of make sense of such statements. First, maybe, things that happen timelessly count honorifically as holding at all times. (Compare David Lewis’s idea that abstract objects count as existing in all his worlds.) Second, the statement can be understood as follows:

  • While he was suffering on the cross, the following proposition was true: Christ is upholding the existence of the universe.

So, orthodox Christians do not actually need to talk of natures to get out of (1)-(5). Of course, if we want to allow—as I think we should—for the logical possibility of multiple simultaneous incarnations, then the temporal qualification way out won’t help. (Nor will the kenotic solution help in that case, either.)

Note, by the way, that once we realize that there can be timelessly eternal existence, we need to modify Aristotle’s temporal qualification to the law of non-contradiction:

  • it is impossible to be F and non-F in the same respect at the same time or both eternally.


Brian Cutter said...

"Of course, if we want to allow—as I think we should—for the logical possibility of multiple simultaneous incarnations, then the temporal qualification way out won’t help."

We can allow for multiple simultaneous incarnations if we say that the relevant properties are instantiated only relative to spacetime regions rather than times. There may be independent motivations for this view (e.g., difficulty saying what a "time" is in a relativistic setting, or wanting to allow for distributional properties).

Michael Gonzalez said...

Of course, Scripture actually teaches that the Son divested himself of his glorious properties, and became human (Philippians 2:5-8). He prayed to God that he could be restored to the glory he "had" (past-tense) in the position he used to have at God's right hand (John 17:5). This idea that he retained all his divine properties while taking on human nature is not Biblical. I don't know what the Councils say, or how they justified those statements.

For that matter, do the Councils really hold that God is timeless? If so, there are a great many Christian philosophers who are in defiance of those councils. I was under the impression it was an open matter for discussion (especially given that the Bible never says He is timeless... indeed, if the Scriptures did say that, then the question of presentism would be closed immediately, since you cannot logically have presentism be true and yet there exist any timeless entities).

Christopher Michael said...

When we say that the Divine essence has all its attributes timelessly, this does not entail that it is false to say that God is F at t for all t. Indeed, on the contrary, it entails that it is true that God is F at t for all t, because when we say that God is F at t, we are characterizing when God is t, not how God is t, and entities that possess a property timelessly possess those properties at all times (though not in those times).

Otherwise, it would be impossible to say that God is F in the first place, because even saying this means that God is F, i.e. has F now.

Scott said...


See Malachi 3:6 “I the Lord do not change”. Since time is the measure of change with respect to succession, it follows that God is not in time. I believe Vatican 1 dogmatically defines this. Also, basically everyone believed this until contemporary Protestant theology, so much the worse for Modernism. God “emptying” Himself is a metaphor for assuming human flesh. It is an “emptying” in the sense of being a gratuitous act. It is not as if God stopped upholding the universe (otherwise the universe would not exist). The Kenoticist has to deny the Principle of Sufficient Reason in order to uphold their theory, not a good route.

As for presentism, God can be eternal while presentism is true because God is eternal, not omnitemporal. God is not the totality of all events (which would be pantheism). God has no real relation to time at all (only a relation of reason). Time (and all objects within time) however has a real relation to God. That is how Aquinas can hold to presentism and God’s eternity. See the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Medieval Theories of Relations for details.

Michael Gonzalez said...


1) There are dozens and dozens of examples in Scripture where God is indeed said to change, and where He Himself says that He has changed or would change. Some examples of direct statements by Him would be Jeremiah 18:5-10 (compare also Ezekiel chapters 18 and 33); Jer. 26:3; Joel 2:13. Examples of Him actually changing His mind would be the Ninevites in Jonah's day (Jonah 3:10); King Manasseh (2 Chronicles 33:11-13); King Hezekiah (2 Kings 20:1-6). There are many more examples. God appeals to us with words like those at Isaiah 1:18, where He is clearly teaching us to set matters straight with Him and He will respond by forgiving and blessing.

So, if Malachi 3:6 is the only verse that makes someone (even a Council) think that God is changeless or timeless, they should really consider the rest of Scripture (especially since Malachi was written hundreds of years after the examples I'm pointing out, and would thus have been seen by all the readers/hearers of it through the lens of the previous passages and accounts; not the other way around).

2) I see no reason to think that "basically everyone believed" that God was outside of time and changeless, especially considering what they would routinely say about their relationship with Him. As Swinburne has often pointed out, the Bible could not more clearly and constantly describe God as being in time (being angry with someone, then they repent, then He forgives and blesses... sequences in His life and His feelings/thoughts toward a person or group).

3) Leftow and Craig have both done extensive work to show that God cannot be timeless while in relation with a created world that is temporal. If the world is temporal, then there are tensed facts, but a timeless God would not know them as such, and would thus not be Omniscient. Moreover, He would possess extrinsic properties that change with time (for example, whether I'm in a state of obedience or disobedience, repentance or resistance, changes how He must deal with me... but then, that changes with time over the course of my life, and so a fact about Him would change with time; albeit, an extrinsic fact). Again, I'll just refer you to Brian Leftow's work or that of William Lane Craig; but I think it's pretty solidly established that either God is in time or nothing is.

Nazim Djedaa said...

Dr Pruss, could you give us your opinion on predestination and reprobation ? I have a hard time believing the Banezian theory which basically states that people go to Hell because God arbitrarily choose to not give them actual grace.

Walter Van den Acker said...


"For it is strictly false to say that Christ is F at t for any divine attribute F and any time time t, since God has the divine attributes timelessly rather than at a time."

I am not sure I follow. If Christ is supposed to exist /have existed at t, then it follows that Christ is/was F at t. Otherwise, it makes no sense to say that Christ was a man at t either. A property that is timelessly eternal cannot be false "at t". It is eternally true, so it is also true at t. The only way out of this seems to be that Christ did not exist at t but only has timeless eternal existence, but that would contradict the incarnation.

Alexander R Pruss said...


That's still not adequate to all the options. Plainly, it is possible to have interpenetrable matter (indeed, we do: photons), and if multiple incarnations are possible, multiple incarnations in interpenetrable matter are possible. And so there could surely be multiple incarnations in one spacetime location.


The Councils explicitly say that God is impassible and immutable. But that he is outside time seems to be a separate doctrine. As far as I can tell, the Church Fathers unanimously accepted immutability, and interpreted the passages that suggest change in God as forms of condescension to our methods of speech.


That's a plausible argument, but I want to deny that when we say "x is F" we are expressing a proposition that is true iff x is F now (with the latter understood strictly). Rather, I want to say that "x is F" expresses a proposition that is true iff x is F now or timelessly (or, perhaps better, unqualifiedly). Thus, it is not the case that 2+2=4 is now, but it is the case that 2+2=4.

Perhaps the doctrine of omnipresence, which I think should be taken to imply that God is present at every place *and every time*, helps your case, though. But I think I can deny this inference:
1. x is present at z
2. x is essentially F
3. therefore, x is F at z.
Instead, one should infer:
3'. therefore, at z there is present x which is F.

The inference to 3 is valid for ordinary locational presence, but not for other forms of presence. For instance, consider an angel who is present in my living room in the way Aquinas says angels are present, viz., by operation. Suppose the angel, while acting in my living room, is also glorifying God by thinking about a theorem. Then it is still not correct to say that the angel is thinking about the theorem _here_. But it is correct that here there is present an angel who is (placelessly) thinking about the math problem.


"A property that is timelessly eternal cannot be false 'at t'."

The number 7 doesn't have the property of being prime-in-2019 because it doesn't exist-in-2019. This is obviously true on perdurance and exdurance: if the number 7 existed in 2019, there would be a 2019 slice of the number. And that's ridiculous. On endurance, this is a bit less clear, but is hard see how a timeless object could endure over time. And perdurance, exdurance and endurance are our three main theories of how an object is present at a time.

Alexander R Pruss said...


I have a rather weak view of predestination that I am not very happy with. I accept simple foreknowledge, but deny Calvinism, Thomism and Molinism.

Michael Gonzalez said...

Pruss: I think the Councils are mistaken about immutability and impassibility; but, in any case, a thing could have those properties without being timeless.

In any case, even if God is immutable and impassible, Christ obviously isn't. Moreover, even if we don't regard the Son as having left heaven and come to the Earth (which is what he says he did throughout John chapter 3), he still surely underwent a change when he took on human nature. It was simply false about the Son that he has a human nature until around 2 BCE. From then until 33 CE it was true that he did have a human nature (and many of you will likely think that he continues to have one to this day). So, in what sense can the Son be outside of time??

Alexander R Pruss said...


More thoughts. Consider a different universe, with a different time sequence from ours. Suppose in that universe a creature Alice exists and at all points of time in that universe's time sequence Alice is thinking about the Riemann zeta function. The following is incorrect to say:

(*) Alice is thinking about the Riemann zeta function in the year 2019 (of our temporal sequence).

For Alice's thinking doesn't have any relevant relationship to our year 2019. But now suppose Bob is a timeless creature and is thinking about the Riemann zeta function. Then, absent some further special assumptions, Bob's relation to our year 2019 is the same as Alice's: namely, none. So just as (*) is false, so is:

(**) Bob is thinking about the Riemann zeta function in the year 2019.

Now, there may be some relevant things true of God that aren't of a creature, namely that God is omnipresent. But I don't in the end think those are enough for us to have to say:

(***) God is thinking about the Riemann zeta function in the year 2020.

Scott said...


When I say “basically everyone”, I am referring to the entire Scholastic Tradition, the Church Fathers, and even the Fathers of the Protestant Revolution who affirmed many Classical Theist concepts. You just named a bunch of currently living philosophers and theologians.

Do you think that 1800 years worth of Scripture scholars, theologians, and philosophers were unaware of the passages you mention? Who is the earliest generally considered orthodox theologian in your view who interprets the Bible as affirming that Hod changes?

Nazim Djedaa said...


I'm Roman Catholic so I de facto reject Calvinism, I also agree with your rejection of Molinism and the Thomist understanding of predestination.

I'm currently looking at Congruism, at Fr. William Most view on predestination and at Fr. Lonergan ((a 20th Century Jesuit Thomist who affirms that Thomist view isn't really Thomist and that it should rather be called Banezian) view on predestination, what do you think of these 3 views of predestination ?

Also do you have any views on Grace?

Alexander R Pruss said...

I don't know enough about congruism. I worry that it may require Molinism to work.

Michael Gonzalez said...

Scott: The only authority I recognize or appealed to is Scripture. I cited the work of some modern philosophers in case you want to look into it; they are not authorities. The Bible is written in such a way as to strongly convey the idea that God is in time (the examples I gave are a small fraction of what I could have done). Of course 1800 years of scholars are not unaware of these numerous passages, but they did often see them through a lens of human philosphy (such as the idea that it is somehow greater to be changeless). This sort of "lens" affected a great many of the ideas of Christendom, so appealing to their authority won't mean much to me. Do you have a Scriptural or logical reason why God must be timeless and changeless, despite choosing to reveal Himself in Scripture and in Christ as being very much dynamic, alive, and active?

Walter Van den Acker said...


"The number 7 doesn't have the property of being prime-in-2019 because it doesn't exist-in-2019."

But the point is that Christ does exist in 20 AD and if Christ is F, then Christ is F in 20 AD.

So, while it may be incorrect to say that Alice is thinking about the Riemann zeta function in the year 2019 (of our temporal sequence) because Alice's thinking has no relevant relationship to our year 2019, but surely Christ does have a relevant relationship to our year 20 AD.

Scott said...


See Deuteronomy 33:27, “The eternal God is your refuge...”.

I am sure we can both come up with many passages that seem to support one position over the other. But that is the problem with Sola Scriptura. It fails to acknowledge the intrinsic indeterminacy of matter (see Dr. Edward Feser’s explanation of Saul Kripke’s quaddition argument for details). The same words can be given multiple interpretation. Without a “lens” as you say, i.e. a tradition of interpretation and a living magisterium, you can never know for sure if your interpretation is correct. That is why there are hundreds of Protestant denominations that differ in beliefs on significant matters (for example Calvinism vs. Molinism).

As for logic, as I said, to deny God’s eternity essentially is to deny the Principle of Sufficient Reason and thus any philosophical argument for the existence of God. If God is not eternal, then He can change. If God can change, His existence is not necessary. If God’s existence is not necessary, then He does not serve as a grounding for the existence of contingent reality (He is just another contingent reality that needs to be explained). At the end of the day, to deny God’s eternity is to implicitly be an atheist.

As for the Incarnation, there are many models that do not admit change in God. See the Scholastics, especially Thomas Aquinas’ Third Part of the Summa Theologiae for details.

Philip Rand said...

Nazim Djedaa

Congurism is incorrect for it violates an other thing that is impossible for God to do.

Don't waste your time on it...

Philip Rand said...


As for the Incarnation, there are many models that do not admit change in God. See the Scholastics, especially Thomas Aquinas’ Third Part of the Summa Theologiae for details.

Details? The Third Part of Summa Theologieae is unfinished...

Nazim Djedaa said...

Philip Rand,

Which view of predestination do you hold?

Are you familiar with Fr. Lonergan view ?

Michael Gonzalez said...

Scott: I never said God isn't eternal. Of course He is. Many Scriptures say as much. I said He isn't changeless. The lens of human philosophy is precisely what Paul warned against. And the Councils do not have the authority to override Scripture. So, one needs to deal with the sorts of passages I cited.

There is no reason why a necessary being can't change in non-essential properties (it is essential to God that He is eternal and Almighty, but it is not essential to Him that He ever come to know me and listen to my prayer this morning in particular since I am not necessary).

Philip Rand said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Alexander R Pruss said...

"But the point is that Christ does exist in 20 AD and if Christ is F, then Christ is F in 20 AD.

So, while it may be incorrect to say that Alice is thinking about the Riemann zeta function in the year 2019 (of our temporal sequence) because Alice's thinking has no relevant relationship to our year 2019, but surely Christ does have a relevant relationship to our year 20 AD."

But even though Christ does have a relevant relationship to 20AD, Christ's-being-F does not. Imagine that Alice somehow inhabits two different temporal sequences. In the other universe, she always thinks about the RZF. In our universe, she never does. Then she exists in 2019 (of our time sequence) and is thinking about the RZF (in the other time sequence), but she isn't thinking about the RZF in 2019 (of our time sequence).

Michael Gonzalez said...

I have no idea what "different temporal sequences" are, but wouldn't the Alices in your scenario be different substances? I assume the doctrine of the Incarnation does not posit that Christ-who-is-F is a different substance from Christ, does it?

To me this whole conceptual knot just points toward the idea that Christ is not F. After all, there are other things already pointing in that direction (he himself confesses a lack of omniscience, aseity, authority, omnipotence, and being the ultimate "Good"... and he worships someone else). Could it be that it is logically impossible for God to become incarnate, and so He instead sent someone else? That does seem to me to be what Scripture teaches. But, if we're holding the Incarnation part as assumed to be true, then yes, I do see some serious issues.

Alexander R Pruss said...

No, it's the same Alice in two universes. That's no weirder (at least for a B-theorist like me) than it's being the same me in 2010 as in 2019.

Walter Van den Acker said...


I tend to agree with Michael on this. If Christ's-being-F does not have a relevant relationship to 20 AD, that seems to imply that Christ has no relevant relationship to Christ's- being-F. But obviously "Christ" denotes the relevant relationship between both. "Being F" is an essential property of "Christ".

Michael Gonzalez said...

Pruss: I'll probably never understand how you B-theorists think. Lol.

Walter Van den Acker said...


"No, it's the same Alice in two universes. That's no weirder (at least for a B-theorist like me) than it's being the same me in 2010 as in 2019."

The "same" you in 2010 and 2019 are the same because they clearly are causally related. The 2019 "you" is influenced by the 2010 version. On B-theory, the "same" persons are also causally related.

Your two Alices, however, are not causally related. It's hard to see how they are in any way related, let alone in what way they can be the same.

Alexander R Pruss said...

The 2019 me = the 2010 me. There aren't two "me"s that are causally related. For then there would be two "me"s, but there is only one, namely me.

In any case, we could add to the story an atemporal causal relation between the two universes and their denizens.

Scott said...


Do you reject the Malachi passage as Scripture then? “I the Lord do not change...”?

Where do you get your Scripture from? How do you know which books count as Scripture? As a Catholic, I can simply appeal to the authority of the Magisterium and Church Councils, which by the way, never claim to override Scripture. By contrast, the Bible does not have an inspired table of contents. Even if it did, it would be wholly circular to appeal to the Bible in order to determine which books belong in the Bible.

As for logic, ifGod is eternal, then He is outside of time (unless you have a different, non-standard definition of “eternal”). Since time is just change with respect to succession, to be eternal just is to not be subject to change. I do not need to explain every Scripture passage you cite to make the point I am making (to explain it all would take a book). The point is, the existence of God is a more fundamental belief than belief in the Incarnation. Even if you reject the Incarnation (which I do not, nor do I claim the Classical Theist needs to), you still must affirm the eternity and immutability of God. Otherwise your God is no different from a Zeus or Thor or Chronus. Powerful, but still in need of an explanation (and thus certainly not all-powerful). And a contingent God taking on human flesh would be no more interesting than Zeus taking on the form of a bull.

Scott said...

Furthermore, to even assume that God could have non-essential properties would be to beg the question against a Classical atheist who affirms the doctrine of Divine Simplicity. Again, to reject Divine Simplicity is to reject the principle of sufficient reason (PSR). For if God has parts, then He needs an explanation outside Himself to unify those parts. What is it that unites the parts (whether physical or metaphysical parts) together? The only answer is that it is either a brute fact or that there really are no parts in God (but only in our way of speaking about God). Don’t tell me that the fact that the Bible says God has eyes, arms, and hands disproves this (they are obviously metaphorical).

Scott said...

The first 30 questions or so deal explicitly with the theology and metaphysics of the Incarnation. Why does it matter if all of the details about the sacraments and soteriology are not completely worked out? Even those are worked out in the supplemental part.

Michael Gonzalez said...


1) Of course I don't reject Malachi 3:6. What I said was that there are dozens and dozens of inspired passages from the previous centuries leading up to Malachi, in which God describes Himself as changing and in which He demonstrates this in His dealings with various people. So, no Jew hearing/reading Malachi's statement would take it as meaning that God is immutable in the sense you believe. They'd have to abandon the picture painted by centuries of Scripture over one verse. Instead, they would see that verse in its context, where God is referring to His unchanging standards and character, which they can count on if they will repent and change their ways.

I mean, really, how often does God need to contrast Himself with unresponsive idols, and make the distinguishing point the fact that He is a "living" and responsive God?

2) "Eternal" just means "existing without beginning or end". It does not even imply, let alone entail changelessness.

3) To paraphrase you, it would take a book to describe the indications of divine inspiration in each Bible book. Suffice it to say that I do not accept those 66 books because of any Council. Jesus himself and the apostles cited the same Bible authors that I'm referring to in my response to you, so I can stand on their authority.

4) Non-essential properties are not "parts". The PSR would require an explanation for why God stands in the relation (for example) of being a Creator vs. the equally possible state of affairs in which He chose not to create anything. So what? The sufficient reason will be found in His perfectly free will.

Walter Van den Acker said...


"The 2019 me = the 2010 me. There aren't two "me"s that are causally related. For then there would be two "me"s, but there is only one, namely me."

Yes, sameness or identity can be seen as a very strong causal relationship.

"In any case, we could add to the story an atemporal causal relation between the two universes and their denizens."

Well, let's do it. Let's add to the story the atemporal causal relationship of identity and let's see if it makes any sense to say that "Alice's thinking doesn't have any relevant relationship to our year 2019." Because that would also mean that Alex 2010's thinking has no relevant relation to Alex 2019's thinking.

Scott said...


1. I can say the same about all of the passages that imply change. A Jewish person would interpret those passages in context as metaphorical. That is the whole problem with Sola Scriptura. Even if every book of the Old Testament is quoted by Jesus and the apostles (I do not believe that is the case), a quotation does not mean that believe the book to be inspired. I believe the apostles also quote non-inspired texts. Unless the apostles are asserting that a given text is inspired, you cannot use a mere quotation as proof of inspiration. However, even if you could prove that every book in the Old Testament was inspired by apostolic reference, you could not prove the inspiration of any of the books of the New Testament without being wholly circular. Any reasons you give will just be your own reasons over the reasons of the Councils (treating yourself as the supreme authority).

2. Eternal traditionally means “outside of time”. This is the interpretation given by various Jewish, Christian, and Muslim philosophers throughout the centuries such as Philo of Alexandria, St. Augustine, St. Anselm, Maimonides, Avicenna, St. Thomas Aquinas, John Duns Scotus, Martin Luther, John Calvin, the Council of Trent, etc. Is this your personal interpretation of the word “eternal”? What philosopher or scholar are you borrowing from who says explicitly that you can have an eternal and yet changing God?

3. Finally, once again any parts, even metaphysical parts, requires an explanation for their unity in a subject. If God has non-essential parts, then He has accidents. But it is the nature of an accident to inhere in a substance. But why do some accidents inhere rather than others? Either it is a brute fact (this violating PSR), or it is a necessary fact. But if the accident were necessary then it would not be non-essential. It would in fact be essential, and thus God could not change (by losing or acquiring) with respect to that accident. The same can be said of any other kind of change or composition (essence/existence, form/matter, etc.) in God. See Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae Part 1 Questions 3, 9, and 10 for details. You can access the Summa for free (no signing in either) on New Advent dot org.

Michael Gonzalez said...

1) One difference is that I have dozens and dozens of passages to your one, and so the one should be seen through the lens of the dozens. Another difference that I mentioned was that the dozens came chronologically earlier, and would have been embedded in the thinking of the Jews who then heard Malachi's statement. And the final difference was the context, which is clearly just about His standards and His character. As to inspiration: 2 Tim. 3:16, 17 says that the established Hebrew Canon was inspired of God and beneficial. Jeremiah and Ezekiel were undisputed parts of that. Quotes from Jesus or apostles strengthen the case, as do fulfilled prophecies (God Himself says that the test of whether a prophet is really from Him is whether the prophecy comes true). In any case, given that Jesus, Paul, Peter, and John all warned of a quick and pervasive apostasy that would break out after the death of the apostles, I view the Councils with caution. That doesn't mean they didn't get the Canon of Scripture right, but it does mean I can't just take their word on every matter, as I would do with the written words of the apostles.

2) I'm just giving the definition of the word. "Eternal" just means having no beginning or end. For example, many philosophers and scientists have believed the world to be eternal, but none took that to mean that it must therefore be changeless or outside of time. This is an extra feature that your cited philosophers added in God's case in particular, for philosophical reasons. But there is no indication that any Bible writer meant that (indeed, there are strong indications to the contrary).

3) The non-essential properties I'm referring to would be the results of His free choice and the later free choices of His creations. Do you not believe that God has freedom of the will? Or that we do? Do you regard our choices and His as brute facts or as necessary? I would say they are clearly neither; they are contingent.

Scott said...

I just think that it is interesting that you claim that Jews would interpret those passages as entailing change in God, when that is manifestly false. The most eminent Jewish and Christian theologians throughout the years (with the exception of the past 100 years) have interpreted those passages as metaphorical.

There are dozens of passages referring to God’s various body parts (eyes, ears, arm, etc.). Do you believe God has body parts as well?

As for God’s free will, I do not want to get in the weeds on modal collapse arguments. But basically it is a non sequitur to move from Divine Simplicity to the necessity of Creation.

There was a great series of blog posts by Edward Feser from August 20, 2019 to August 24, 2019 (edwardfeser.blogspot.com).

You are free to interpret the Bible however you like, but you have tradition and the magisterium (the people responsible for propagating the faith and Scripture) squarely against you.

Michael Gonzalez said...


Not to just go back-and-forth, or to be argumentative; but there are a couple of key issues here:

1) The Scriptures were not written to the theologian, but to the common man. Jesus and Paul both say that the truth was hidden from wise and intellectual ones and revealed to little children or babes. So, it doesn't matter what Jewish theologians thought after the fact, as they pondered the statements through the lens of their philosophy (they had some crazy ideas about the Messiah too). It matters what the audience of Malachi at the time would have thought. Nobody listening to Malachi's statement would have taken it to mean that, contrary to centuries of inspired statements that say we DO have an effect on God's feelings and His course of action (that He is even able to reverse course after pronouncing that He will punish/bless, in response to the actions of humans), somehow He is utterly changeless and we have no effect on Him.

2) God's own choice for how to distinguish Himself from false gods was to explicitly point out His responsiveness to us. Sure, most folks would have realized that He didn't literally have eyes or hair; but the idea that He didn't really feel and express mercy on the Ninevites or Manasseh or others like that is simply counter-Scriptural. Indeed, it would have been much more permissible for someone to believe He has literal body parts than for someone to think He is like a stone idol that does not respond to our choices. The former is just an ignorant mistake; the latter makes Him utterly different in character from how He portrays Himself.

3) Tradition and magisterium came after the apostles had died; and they had made it clear that apostasy was going to spread quickly at that time and pervade until the time of the end. Jesus had said likewise in his illustration of the wheat and the weeds. These later men have taught some God-dishonoring doctrines along the way (some of which they later rejected, like Limbo), have engaged in God-dishonoring behavior (like the Crusades, preventing the translation of Bibles, etc), and have fostered friendship with the World's governments (which James said makes one an "adultress" and an "enemy of God"). Jesus said a tree is known by the fruitage it bears. So no, the "magisterium" you keep pointing to doesn't sway me. If the Bible teaches that God is affected by our actions and responds to them; who are we to say otherwise? If a single verse, cherry-picked out of context (the context is about His standards and character) supports some view we already hold for philosophical reasons, that does not mean we then turn that lens on dozens and dozens of Scriptures to the contrary.