Friday, February 26, 2010

Friday Files: Kennard - Petrine Redemption: its Meaning and Extent

Douglas Kennard’s article Petrine Redemption: its Meaning and Extent gives an overview of Peter’s concept of redemption and then dives into 2 Peter 2:1’s statement ‘denying the Lord that bought them’.

For Peter, Christ’s death is substitutionary in nature and is like a sacrificial lamb. Kennard argues that for Peter, redemption is not a payment to someone (either God or the devil). Rather it’s simply accomplished. Redemption is a onetime action not a continuing enablement. Redemption is out of a corrupt, sinful life and requires the redeemed to live differently. Redemption for Peter is not equivalent to salvation for Paul. One can be redeemed but not ultimately saved.

Regarding 2 Peter 2:1, Kennard defends the view of the apostatizing of unsaved knowers of the truth. Kennard understands Christ to be the ‘Lord’ (despotes) and the redemption (agorazo) to be soteriological. That 'Lord' refers to Christ can be seen in that Christ is the redeemer (1Peter 1:18-19) and since despotes is translated adonay in the LXX, which Peter understood to be Christ (Acts 2:34-36) and finally since in the parallel account in Jude 4, despotes refers to Christ.

Peter reveals three groups of redeemed individuals: 1) believers growing in salvation (2 Peter 1:4-6), 2) those who began to change but stopped (2 Peter 1:9-11) and 3) false teachers who barely escape lusts and then are enticed back (2 Peter 2:18-22). These false teaches are the ones redeemed in 2 Peter 2:1 and they changed their lives for a while but fell back into their sinful ways. These false teachers were recipients of redemption, but not other soteriological works needed for salvation. So while redemption extends beyond the elect it is a limited redemption that is actually applied to all who have their lives transformed.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Friday Files – Opinions of the Remonstrants

Shortly after the death of James Arminius in 1609, his followers summarized his views into the five points of the remonstrants. At Dort, the Calvinists requested a clarification of the remonstrants views. Lead by Episcopius, they drafted the Opinions of the Remonstrants, which expand on the five points. They are organized under the original five points (conditional election, unlimited atonement, total depravity, resistible grace and perseverance) and should be seen as sub-points under the five points of the remonstrants.

On election, they have three subpoints objecting to supra-lapsarianism, one objecting to infra-lapsarianism and three more subpoints defining conditional election. Additionally, they added two points rejecting the damnation of children of believers, if the children die in infancy.

On the atonement they affirm that Christ died for all men, such that salvation is possible for all men and God desires all men to believe and be saved, but He only saves believers. In the last subpoint the remonstrants rejected the idea that someone might be required to believe Christ died for him even though Christ did not die for him.

On depravity and resistible grace, they affirm total depravity, to the extent that man cannot believe without God drawing and enabling them and without grace they cannot do anything good or pleasing to God. On grace, they affirm that it is resistible and while God gives some men more grace than others, He gives all men sufficient grace to be saved. They affirm that the God’s call is serious and He desires the conversion of those He calls. They reject the idea that God calls some people for the purpose of making their punishment more sever and they reject the idea that God has two contradictory wills regarding His call of the reprobate. They strongly rejected the idea that sins are necessary with respect to God’s decree.

On perseverance, they hold that God provides all true believers sufficient grace to preserver. Regarding apostasy they said people temporarily loose their salvation and that they can fall away and ultimately perish, but they do not say that any true believers actually do fall away and ultimately perish.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Friday Files: Davis - The Perseverance of the Saints: A History of the Doctrine

John Davis’ article "The Perseverance of the Saints: A History of the Doctrine" outlines the thought around perseverance and assurance through certain key theologians and churches through the history of the Christianity.
Davis starts with Augustine who held that not everyone who is regenerated and justified receives the gift of final perseverance and a person cannot know if they will preserver until the end. Aquinas held a similar view to Augustine. Luther held a similar view as well, but he added that while a person cannot know if they will preserver until the end, they may know that the are currently saved.

Calvin’s view was quite different than Augustine, Aquinas and Luther. The elect alone are regenerated and justified and they will preserver until the end. Not only can a person know they are currently saved, but they can also know they will preserver until the end. Further, perseverance is not only grounded in God’s eternal election, but also the nature of regeneration. The Roman Catholic church taught that true believers can fall away and a person cannot know if they will persevere until the end.

The Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England taught the elect will preserver, but they were somewhat ambiguous on whether a person can know that they are elect. The Lambeth articles however, taught that all true believers will preserver and people can know that they will preserver until the end.

Arminius held election is conditional rather than unconditional and questioned if true believers fall away or not, but did not take a firm stance on the issue. This indecision was reflected in the five points of the remonstrants as well. In response, the cannons of Dort said that all true believers will preserver and people can know that they will preserver until the end. The Westminster assembly followed Dort in this.

John Wesley followed Arminius in holding election is conditional rather than unconditional, but added that that true believers can and do fall away.

The New Hampshire Baptist Convention held that all true believers will preserver until the end, but FreeWill Baptist held that true believers can fall away. The 1925 Statement of Baptist Faith and Message says all true believers will not fall away.

Dispensationalists Chafer and Scofield taught that some warning passages, such as Mathew 24:13 and Hebrews 6:4-6 pertained to the old covenant, not the new covenant. G. C. Berkouwer wrote the most comprehensive monograph in recent years from a Calvinistic perspective, while Shank, Marshall and Moody wrote works from the perspective that salvation can be lost.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Molinists and Occhamists on the Loose

This post is a response to Mark Linville's argument against the way Occhamists and Molinists reconcile God's foreknowledge with human freedom in his article "Occhamists and Molinists in Search of a Way out".

Linville’s Agument

Using Hasker’s arguments based on the combination of the necessity of the past and God’s essential omniscience, Linville concludes Occhamists cannot hold counterfactual power over the past (i.e. if I do X, the past would have been different). Rather Occhamists must hold to actual power over the past (i.e. I have the ability to move from the possible world I am in to a different one with a different past). Linville concludes this is the only valid way for Occhamists to reconcile God's foreknowledge with libertarian freewill. 

However,  'actual power over the past' lets compatiblists off the hook on the consequence argument, since the consequence argument1 is based on the inalterability of the past.

But Molinists are committed to an independence thesis2, so they cannot assert actual power over the past.

So while Occhamists can escape Hasker’s arguments by asserting actual power over the past, and in doing so let compatiblists off the hook, Molinists cannot because of their commitment to the independence thesis.

Let's look at the various parts of the argument.

Hasker’s argument for the incompatiblity of divine foreknowledge and freedom based on the combination of the necessity of the past and God’s essential omniscience

William Hasker has offered a forceful version of this argument for the incompatibility of divine foreknowledge and libertarian freedom. Suppose that Clarence will have an omelet tomorrow morning, that God is essentially omniscient, and that omniscience entails foreknowledge. Suppose, further, that the past is unalterable in such a way that it is never within anyone's power to bring about any past states of affairs. Then the following seems to be true:

(1) It is not within Clarence's power to bring it about that God has never believed that Clarence would have a cheese omelet tomorrow.
(2) It is not possible that Clarence will refrain from having a cheese omelet and yet that God has always believed that Clarence would have a cheese omelet tomorrow.

(1) is thought to result from the premise of the unalterability of the past. (2) follows from God's essential omniscience. But then (1) and (2) seem to entail

(3) It is not within Clarence's power to refrain from having a cheese omelet tomorrow.

(Mark D. Linville. Ockhamists and Molinists in Search of a Way Out. Religious Studies, Vol. 31, No. 4 (Dec., 1995), p 501)

1 and 2 are true. The past is indeed unalterable. Further, God is essentially omniscient so the combination of God’s true belief that Clarence will eat an omelet and Clarence refraining from eating the omelet is logically impossible. However, all that follows from 1 and 2 is that Clarence will not refrain from eating the omelet; not that he cannot. The argument fails to distinguish between the causal ability to eat the omelet and the logical implications of actually doing so. Is Clarence able to eat the omelet is a different question than if he eats it, what are the logical implications?  So Haskers argument subtly and invalidly slides from causal possibility and use of ability to logical possibility and the ability itself.

The Difference Between Counterfactual Power over the Past and Actual Power over the Past

(CPP) God has always believed that S does A at t, but it is within S's power to do something such that, where he to do it, God would always have had a different belief about what S does at t.

(CPPi) The actual world, W, includes God's always having believed that S does A at t. But there is a world W* such that W* includes S's refraining from doing A at t and God's always having believed that S refrains from doing A at t, and it is within S's power to bring it about that W* is the actual world.

(CPPi) is bolder than (CPP) in that it claims that, not only is there a world in which the agent does and God believes otherwise, but that at the time the relevant choice is made, it is within the agent's power to bring it about that that world is the actual world. This is a sense of counterfactual power with a causal element. (CPPi) commits one to the view that, for every autonomous agent, whenever that agent freely chooses from among possible alternatives it is partly up to that individual which world is the actual world. (P 509)

CPP is a resonable statement of conterfactual power over the past and CPPi is a good formulation of actual power over the past.  I disagree that a ‘causal element’ need be imputed to the Occhamist and that they must accept CPPi. S is able to refrain from doing A and were S to do so, W* would be the actual world. So the connection between S and W* isn’t causal, it’s a counterfactual dependence. S’s actions can be the basis of truth of non-A and the truth of non-A is logically related to W*.

Actual Power over the Past Lets Compatiblists off the hook on the Consequence Argument
Shall we say, then, that agents may have causal power over their actions, but only counterfactual power over the causal antecedents of those actions? If the Plantingean is permitted such a distinction, I fail to see the relevant difference between the cases that would justify our denying such a move to the compatibilist with regard to determinism. (p 506)

Linville makes two mistakes. First, the causal antecedents in the case of Occhamism (God’s past belief) does not determine or necessitate our actions. But in the case of determinism, the causal antecedents do determine our actions. So in the case of Occhamism, the ability is actual and the hypothetical use of that ability corresponds to a hypothetical past; but in determinism the ability itself is only hypothetical and not real.

Second, in Occhamism, we have counterfactual power over logical antecedents, not causal antecedents. I am able to choose chocolate or vanilla. Let’s say ‘I will choose chocolate’ is true. I am able to choose vanilla and have the counterfactual power to bring it about that “I choose vanilla” is true (i.e. if I choose vanilla, then my action is the basis of truth of the proposition ‘I choose vanilla”, but I don’t cause a truth only a basis of truth).

This counterfactual power entails the counterfactual power to bring it about that God’s past belief that ‘God believed I will eat chocolate’ is false. It however, does not entail that I have the ability to retroactively cause God not to have believed “Dan will eat chocolate” (the power is counterfactual not factual), nor does it entail that God believed ‘Dan will eat chocolate’ and ‘Dan will eat chocolate’ is false. Rather, in entails that I have the causal ability to choose vanilla such that if I were to do so, God would have believed “Dan will eat vanilla”.


Linville's arguments are thought provoking, but small subtle mistakes lead in the steps lead to large mistakes in the conclusion; that Molinism is reducable to a form of compatiblism.  Molinism reconciles God's providential governence of the world and libertarian freedom and it stands up against Linville's argument.   
1 The Consequence argument has many specific and nuanced forms, but the basic picture is: if determinism is true the laws of nature and the past determine everything, including my acts.  But I cannot control the past or laws of nature, so I cannot control their consequences, including my acts. 

2 The truth of conterfactuals is logically prior to anything anyone actually does.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Arminius on Middle Knowledge

The purpose of the post is to so demonstrate that Arminius taught that God had middle knowledge. Recently several authors, who are otherwise adherents to Arminian theology, have made claims that Arminius did not in fact teach middle knowledge.1 I hope to demonstrate that Arminius taught that God had middle knowledge, and it was fundamental to his view on predestination and providence. Since the purpose of this paper is the clarification of Arminius’ views and not a defense of the doctrine itself, I will use far more quotes from Arminius than from scripture.

What is Middle Knowledge?

Middle knowledge is important in being able to explain the co-existence of God’s decrees and providence, and man’s freewill. Simply put, middle knowledge is the view that God knows that if X happen, Y would happen.

Middle knowledge gets the name middle, because it is logically in-between two other types of knowledge. If comes after natural knowledge and before free knowledge. Natural knowledge is the knowledge of all things that are possible, or things that can happen. Free knowledge is knowledge of the future, or things that will happen. Middle knowledge is knowledge of what would happen, given a circumstance. Simply put, natural knowledge is what can happen, middle knowledge is what would happen, and free knowledge is what will happen.

Middle knowledge includes freewill acts. So God knows that if I am in situation X, I would freely choose Y. This is invaluable in explaining God’s providence and predestination. If God reveals the gospel in this manner, this man would freely respond. If God provides the circumstance in which the soldier knew Christ was already dead, the soldier wouldn’t break Christ’s legs.

Middle knowledge also helps explain how God knows and can reveal the future. In the logical order, God first knows what can happen, then what would happen, then He chooses which possibility to exercise, then He knows what will happen. So to know the future, God does not have to see events that have not already occurred in time, which can be tricky to explain. Rather, He has to know what He chose.

Why do some “Arminians” say Arminius didn’t teach middle knowledge?

Some people think middle knowledge is too close to Calvinism, and in effect has the same problems. Isn’t God unconditionally electing by choosing what circumstances to provide?

Here’s an example that illustrates the potential problem. Suppose God chooses to save Johnny and Susie, but not Ronnie. He then plans the appropriate calling and circumstances to guarantee Johnny and Susie’s salvation.

In a crude way I will describe this as calling level 1 through 3. God knows Susie would respond to calling level 1, so God chooses to provide Susie with calling level 1. God knows Johnny would not respond to calling level 1, but that he would respond to calling level 3. So God chooses to provide Johnny with calling level 3. God also knows that Ronnie would respond to calling level 3, but that he would not respond to calling level 2. God chooses to provide calling level 2 to Ronnie and Ronnie does not respond and is lost.

In this way God is actually unconditionally electing and He is also making a distinction in the persuasive influences of the Holy Spirit. Based on this objection, some say that Arminius just couldn’t have taught middle knowledge. But he did. I will address this objection from the writings of Arminius, but first, we must establish if he taught middle knowledge or not.

Did Arminius Teach God has Middle Knowledge?

We will begin with Arminius’ statements about middle knowledge in His explanation of God’s attribute of knowledge. Then we will show the pervasive effects of middle knowledge in the rest of Arminius’ theology, to include Arminius’ explanation of predestination, providence and prayer.

God’s Attributes

In discussing God’s attributes, Arminius covers God’s essence and life. He identified knowledge and will as the two main attributes of the life of God. In God’s knowledge, Arminius clearly delineates three types of knowledge in God, including middle knowledge.

XLIII. The schoolmen say besides, that one kind of God's knowledge is natural and necessary, another free, and a third kind middle. (1.) Natural or necessary knowledge is that by which God understands himself and all things possible. (2.) Free knowledge is that by which he knows, all other beings. (3.) Middle knowledge is that by which he knows that "if This thing happens, That will take place." The first precedes every free act of the Divine will; the second follows the free act of God's will; and the last precedes indeed the free act of the Divine will, but hypothetically from this act it sees that some particular thing will occur. (link)

This seems a very clear endorsement and should settle the whole matter. But some say that because he is quoting the schoolmen2, perhaps he is not adopting the view himself.

However, in Arminius’ Private Disputation, we find the same thought, without the quotation from the schoolmen.

9. Secondly. One [quality of the] knowledge of God is that of simple intelligence, by which he understands, himself, all possible things, and the nature and essence of all entities; another is that of vision, by which he beholds his own existence and that of all other entities or beings.

10. The knowledge by which God knows his own essence and existence, all things possible, and the nature and essence of all entities, is simply necessary, as pertaining to the perfection of his own knowledge. But that by which he knows the existence of other entities, is hypothetically necessary, that is, if they now have, have already had, or shall afterwards have, any existence. For when any object, whatsoever, is laid down, it must, of necessity, fall within the knowledge of God. The former of these precedes every free act of the divine will; the latter follows every free act. The schoolmen; therefore, denominate the first "natural," and the second "free knowledge."

11. The knowledge by which God knows any thing if it be or exist, is intermediate between the two [kinds] described in theses 9 & 10; In fact it precedes the free act of the will with regard to intelligence. But it knows something future according to vision, only through its hypothesis.

12. Free knowledge, or that of vision, which is also called "prescience," is not the cause of things; but the knowledge which is practical and of simple intelligence, and which is denominated "natural," or "necessary," is the cause of all things by the mode of prescribing and directing to which is added the action of the will and of the capability. The middle or intermediate [kind of] knowledge ought to intervene in things which depend on the liberty of created choice or pleasure. (link)

Here, perhaps someone might say that point 11 is worded in a confusing way and therefore isn’t an adoption of middle knowledge as classically defined. Part of the confusion in point 11 may be due to a translation issue. The phrase “if it be or exist” does seem to point back to the thing God knows rather then some circumstance in which the thing God knows would happen. The phrase in Latin is “si hoc sit”, which could be translated “supposing this exists” which would put things back in a more normal, if this, then that construction. The context would seem to support this translation, given Arminius called this knowledge a hypothesis.

If there is any lack of clarity in the above two quotation, it seems to be removed by this third, which accurately describes middle knowledge.

He knows all things possible, which may be referred to three general classes. (i.) Let the first be of those things to which the capability of God can immediately extend itself, or which may exist by his mere and sole act. (ii.) Let the second consist of those things which, by God’s preservation, motion, aid, concurrence and permission, may have an existence from the creatures, whether these creatures will themselves exist or not, and whether they might be placed in this or in that order, or in infinite orders of things; let it even consist of those things which might have an existence from the creatures, if this or that hypothesis were admitted. (1 Sam. xxiii. 11, 12; Matt. xi. 21.) (link)

At this point someone might say, yes Arminius ascribed middle knowledge to God, but he didn’t carry this teaching out into the rest of his theological system. I will attempt to show the importance of middle knowledge to Arminius’ thoughts on predestination, providence and prayer.


Arminius’ viewed predestination in four logical decrees. The first decree of predestination is that Christ is the Head and foundation of Salvation. The second decree is that faith in Christ is the condition of salvation. The third decree is the provision of the means necessary for fallen mankind to believe. The fourth decree is that God decided to save those whom He knew, given the circumstance of the grace presented in the third decree, would believe.

From these follows a FOURTH DECREE, concerning the salvation of these particular persons, and the damnation of those. This rests or depends on the prescience and foresight of God, by which he foreknew from all eternity what men would, through such administration, believe by the aid of preventing or preceding grace, and would persevere by the aid of subsequent or following grace, and who would not believe and persevere. (link)

Notice Arminius doesn’t say will, but would. Their belief wasn’t future, but hypothetically future. A common misrepresentation of the Arminian view of predestination is that God’s predestination is a sort of rubber stamp of what He has already seen as future. Predestination is a bit of a logical loop or logically speaking “too late” to change the future. This was not Arminius’ view. Rather, God know what would happen under certain circumstances and predestined that it will happen.

Arminius held this position consistently from his Certain Articles to be Diligently Examined and Weighted quoted above, to his Declaration of Sentiments:

“To these succeeds the fourth decree, by which God decreed to save and damn certain particular persons. This decree has its foundation in the foreknowledge of God, by which he knew from all eternity those individuals who would, through his preventing grace, believe, and, through his subsequent grace would persevere, according to the before described administration of those means which are suitable and proper for conversion and faith; and, by which foreknowledge, he likewise knew those who would not believe and persevere”. (link)

as well as in his Apology or Defense of 31 Articles.

"Those persons will be saved, or they have been predestinated and elected, who, God foreknew, would believe by the assistance of his preventing grace, (I add and of his accompanying grace,) and would persevere by the aid of his subsequent grace." (link)

Arminius’ views on middle knowledge impacted his views on predestination and they carried into his views of God’s providence.


Arminius used middle knowledge to explain how God controls outcomes of free choices without necessitating the choice. In Arminius’ treatise on God’s Permission, Arminius explains that God decides to present arguments, knowing that the argument will result in prevention.

God acts, preventively, on the will by suasion, when He persuades the will by any argument, that it may not will to perform an act, to which it tends by its own inclination, and to effect which the creature has, or seems to himself to have, sufficient strength. By this, the will is acted upon preventively, not of necessity, indeed, but of certainty. But since God, in the infinity of His own wisdom, foresees that the mind of the rational creature will be persuaded by the presentation of that argument, and that, from this persuasion, a prevention of the act will result, He is under no necessity of using any other kind of prevention. (link)

The converse of God’s using middle knowledge for prevention is His not preventing or His permission. Middle knowledge is a fundament part of Arminius’ definition of God’s permission. Defining permission is critical to Calvinist/Arminian debates regarding the entrances of sin into the world, and we see that middle knowledge is at the forefront of his definition.

VIII. (2.) On the capability also an impediment is placed. The effect of this is, that the rational creature cannot perform the act, for the performance of which he has an inclination, and powers that, without this impediment, would be sufficient. …

But permission is the suspension, not of one impediment or two, which may be presented to the capability or the will, but of all impediments at once, which, God knows, if they were all employed, would effectually hinder sin. Such necessarily would be the result, because sin might be hindered by a single impediment of that kind. (1.) Sin therefore is permitted to the capability of the creature, when God employs none of those hindrances of which we have already made mention in the 8th Thesis: for this reason, this permission consists of the following acts of God who permits, the continuation of life and essence to the creature, the conservation of his capability, a cautiousness against its being opposed by a greater capability, or at least by one that is equal, and the exhibition of an object on which sin is committed. (link)

Causal determination aside, it’s tough to imagine a greater degree of control. God knows that if I provide this argument, this will certainly be the result. So, the result is in His power, without necessitating the event. Arminius carried this logic through to the crucifixion. God knew that if He sent Christ into the world, two things would result, Christ would be killed and some would be converted. The circumstance of sending Christ into the world was the means of accomplishing salvation.

XII. The result was two-fold: The First was one that agreed with the nature of the doctrine itself -- the conversion of a few men to him, but without such a knowledge of him as the doctrine required; for their thoughts were engaged with the notion of restoring the external kingdom. The Second, which arose from the depraved wickedness of his auditors, was the rejection of the doctrine, and of him who taught it, his crucifixion and murder. Wherefore, he complains concerning himself, in Isa. xlix, 4 "I have laboured in vain, I have spent my strength for nought."

XIII. As God foreknew that this would happen, it is certain that he willed this prophetical office to serve, for the consecration of Christ, through sufferings, to undertake and administer the sacerdotal and regal office. And thus the prophetical office of Christ, so far as it was administered by him through his apostles and others of his servants, was the means by which his church was brought to the faith, and was saved. (link)

Neither sin, nor salvation, escape middle knowledge and are therefore under God’s providential control.


Arminius used middle knowledge to address a difficult question concerning pray. What does prayer do? Arminians often challenge Calvinists on this point, asking: “if God has already decided what is going to happen, why pray about it?” Calvinist retort: “if God doesn’t control the future, why ask Him to change it?” Calvin adopted the view that prayer is only about our relationship with God and doesn’t change predetermined outcomes.

Arminius, using middle knowledge, took a different approach at an explanation. God doesn’t decide to bless, until He knows that we would pray for the blessing.

1. QUERIES. -- Does prayer, or the invocation of God, hold relation only to the performance of worship to his honour? Or, does it likewise bear the relation of means necessary for obtaining that which is asked -- means, indeed, which God foresaw would be employed before he absolutely determined to bestow the blessing on the petitioner (link)

The widespread impacts of middle knowledge on Arminius’ theology are obvious. Despite any perceived problems we should not deny that this was his view.

How did Arminius address the objections that middle knowledge leads to determinism and unconditional election?

On the question of whether this view leads to determinism, Arminius drew a distinction between types of determinism.

For it signifies (1.) either "the determination of God by which he resolves that something shall be done; and when such a determination is fixed, (by an action, motion and impulse of God, of whatever kind it may be,) the second cause, both with regard to its power and the use of that power, remains free either to act or not to act, so that, if it be the pleasure of this second cause, it can suspend [or defer] its own action." Or it signifies (2.) "such a determination, as, when once it is fixed, the second cause (at least in regard to the use of its power,) remains no longer free so as to be able to suspend its own action, when God's action, motion and impulse have been fixed; but by this determination, it [the second cause] is necessarily bent or inclined to the one course or the other, all indifference to either part being completely removed before this determined act be produced by a free and unconstrained creature."

If the word "DETERMINED," in the article here proposed, be interpreted according to this first method, far be it from me to deny such a sort of Divine determination. For I am aware that it is said, in the fourth chapter of the. Acts of the Apostles, "Both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together against Jesus, to do whatsoever God's hand and counsel determined before (or previously appointed) to be done." But I also know, that Herod, Pontius Pilate, and the Jews, freely performed those very actions; and (notwithstanding this "fore-determination of God," and though by his power every Divine action, motion and impulse which was necessary for the execution of this "fore-determination," were all fixed,) yet it was possible for this act (the crucifixion of Christ,) which had been "previously appointed" by God, not to be produced by those persons, and they might have remained free and indifferent to the performance of this action, up to the moment of time in which they perpetrated the deed.

But if the word "DETERMINED" be received according to the second acceptation, I confess, that I abominate and detest that axiom (as one that is FALSE, ABSURD, and preparing the way for MANY BLASPHEMIES,) which, declares that "God by his eternal decree has determined to the one part or to the other future contingent things." (link)

Arminius held that the type of determinism this leads to is not causal necessity, but certainty in the mind of God.

“But if he resolve to use a force that is not irresistible, but that can be resisted by the creature, then that thing is said to be done, not necessarily but contingently, although its actual occurrence was certainly foreknown by God, according to the infinity of his understanding, by which he knows all results whatever, that will arise from certain causes which are laid down, and whether those causes produce a thing necessarily or contingently. From whence the school- men say that "all things are done by a necessity of infallibility," which phrase is used in a determinate sense, although the words in which its enunciation is expressed are ill-chosen. For infallibility is not an affection of a being, which exists from causes; but it is an affection of a Mind that sees or that foresees what will be the effect of certain causes”. (link)

Because God sees what men would freely do under certain circumstances, He isn’t causally necessitating it. They are still free. Nor does what is known to be free through middle knowledge become necessary after God chooses it. Rather, the choice establishes the freedom.

Though the understanding of God be certain and infallible, yet it does not impose any necessity on things, nay, it rather establishes in them a contingency. For since it is an understanding not only of the thing itself, but likewise of its mode, it must know the thing and its mode such as they both are; and therefore if the mode of the thing be contingent, it will know it to be contingent; which cannot be done, if this mode of the thing be changed into a necessary one, even solely by reason of the Divine understanding. (Acts xxvii, 22-25, 31; xxiii, 11, in connection with verses 17, 18, &c., with xxv, 10, 12; and with xxvi, 32; Rom. xi, 33; Psalm cxlvii, 5.) (link)

This freedom from necessity carries right through to salvation. Those that are saved could have resisted and those that are lost could have believed. This is the foundation of their responsibility. God’s predestination is congruous with their freedom.

3. Are those who are thus the elect necessarily saved on account of the efficacy of grace, which has been destined to them only that they may not be able to do otherwise than assent to it, as it is irresistible,

4. Are those who are thus the reprobate necessarily damned, because either no grace at all, or not sufficient, has been destined to them, that they may assent to it and believe,

5. Or rather, according to St. Augustine, Are those who are thus the elect assuredly saved, because God decreed to employ grace on them as he knew was suitable and congruous that they might be persuaded and saved; though if regard be had to the internal efficacy of grace, they may not be advanced or benefited by it,

6. Are those who have thus been reprobated certainly damned, because God does not apply to them grace as he knows to be suitable and congruous, though in the mean time they are supplied with sufficient grace, that they may be able to yield their assent and be saved (link)

Arminius’ response to the charge that middle knowledge leads to unconditional election is that A) none are elected to salvation without the condition of faith, or to reprobation without the condition of sin and resistance and B) God is providing sufficient grace to those who are lost, that they could be saved. These two differences make his view different then the Calvinist view.

He did however hold to God’s sovereign right to not provide every means possible to save, so long as God was providing sufficient grace for salvation.

God is not bound to employ all the modes which are possible to him for the salvation of all men. He has performed his part, when he has employed either one or more of these possible means for saving. (link)

God’s love and man’s responsibility are seen through God providing the means that make their salvation possible.

Whomsoever God calls, he calls them seriously, with a will desirous of their repentance and salvation. Neither is there any volition of God about or concerning those whom he calls as being uniformly considered, that is, either affirmatively or negatively contrary to this will. (link)

This view of God’s sovereignty in predestination and providence, within Arminius’ theology provide striking insight into the views of the Calvinists that opposed him. Control was not enough for these Calvinists. God has to causally necessitate man’s actions. Some of what passes as Calvinism these days is actually Arminianism and sadly, much of what passes as Arminianism is semi-Pelagian.

1Roger Olson, Arminian Theology Myths and Realities. P 196.
2Schoolmen is a reference to Catholic philosophers who reconcile faith and reason. Molina, the first to fully articulate middle knowledge was one of them.

Monday, February 8, 2010

My View on Eternal Generation

Steve Hays responded to my posts on the Trinity. (link) My response is long, so I will break it into four parts, Steve’s view and my view on Consubstantiality and Steve’s view and my view on Eternal Generation.

ii) As Gerald Bray points out (The Doctrine of God, 168-69), Nicene subordination goes back to the Plotinian model of divine emanation:


Nicene subordination adapts that paradigm the Trinity:


If Dan regards Plotinian Neoplatonism as the touchstone of Christian orthodoxy, that’s his business. I’d rather keep my theology squared with something called the Bible.

Well some folks disagree with that assessment and point to Monotheism in Jewish thought instead.1  And for good reason: the Platonic concept of emanations was altered by the Church Fathers from the idea of a God to creation emintation to the idea of an emination internal to God.2

It’s true that pre-Athanasian fathers from time to time say things I don’t like, although they look to me like overreactions to various heresies like Unitarianism or Gnosticism. In fact, when Tertullian opposed both at the same time, we get some of the clearest statements about the Trinity from the pre-Athanasian fathers.3 Perhaps Tertullian was inconsistent with this view at times, but he used Neo-Platonism language in a different sense than his Neo-Platonian opponent Valentinus.4

There’s a difference between expressing Christian doctrine in terms of a given philosophy and imposing a philosophy on Christian doctrine. By the time we get to Augustine, we have the opposite going on. Augustine goes to great lengths to read Christian doctrine back into pagan Platonic philosophers. With regard to the Trinity, the Church Fathers made a sharp and vital distinction between their views and Neo-Platonic philosophers with regard to the equality of the Father and Son.5

You’re not discussing logical orders. If you say the Father is the source of the Son’s deity, then that’s a causal relationship.

Logical relationships are often discussed in causal and temporal language, simply because we have no other way of expressing them.

One of your problems seems to be your assumption that if you can simply eliminate temporality from a relation, you thereby eliminate causality.

If we strip causality of time, change, motion and action, what’s left sure looks like a logical relationship. What’s left are things like if X, then Y (which is a logical relationship.)

If we want to call what’s left ‘causality’, OK, but it’s a different type of causality than the one we experience and if we call it ‘causal’ is should be qualified.

The Church Fathers did say the relationship was causal, but they also said that due to God’s eternity and removal of all imperfects we suffer under, our language is inadequate to fully explain generation.6

But even if the absence of temporality were inconsistent with causality, that doesn’t mean you’re not working with causal categories. Rather, it just means that you’re inconsistent. You have a half-baked model.

If you take the language as causal in the way we experience causality, I can understand why you might think that.

If you’re going to say, both that Jesus is divine, and also that he received his divinity from the Father, then you make God (=Jesus) a creature. … Moreover, to just repeat your mantra about how the divine essence is numerically one does nothing to salvage the implications of your position regarding the creaturehood of the Son (and Spirit) in relation to the Father.

To be God and to be a creature are mutually exclusive conditions. So it does not and cannot follow that if Christ receives His divinity from the Father, He is a creature.

It seems as if you are asking me to prove a negative; that generation does not imply creaturehood. Meanwhile, you reject my explanation of generation and time. I think rather the burden is on you to demonstrate that, given my view of generation and time, generation implies creaturehood.

You haven’t shown, either exegetically or philosophically, that generation and procession are necessary…

Actions are in time and the first action initiates time. The relations of the persons in the Trinity are part of who they are, not what they do, hence the relations are atemporal, eternal, and necessary. If generation was a choice, it would be an action and therefore inceptive of time.

Both God’s nature and His actions must be understood in a logical order, rather than a temporal order. God’s decree is His first act and its effect is creation and the inception of time. His decree is one and simple in and of itself, but understood by us in a logical order based on its effects in time.

To say that Father’s nature necessitates generation and procession makes him the effect of a generic nature which subsists over and above the property instance of the Father. So you now have a quaternity rather than a Trinity:


According to you, the Father takes his marching orders from a prior nature.

It’s easier to see the distinction between the persons Father, Son and Holy Spirit than to see the distinction between each person and the divine nature. The difference is real, but we don’t and can’t fully explain it; about all we can do is ascribe a logical order to it. Each person doesn’t have a separate nature; they all share one simple divine nature that defines the relationships between the persons. Thus the nature is broader than the persons and the logical foundation for the persons. But the divine nature is not a person, but rather each person has the whole divine nature. Hence there are not four persons, but three.

Me: “I didn't parce the Trinity into three different parts; the Son and Spirit possess the whole essence.”

Thee quoting me: You said: “In natural generation, while the whole nature isn't transferred, a part is. And that part is numerically one with the generator. So the metaphor of passing nature or essence does preserve the unity of the Trinity.”

Thee: If you now say the Son and Spirit possess the whole essence, then you have to go back and change your supporting argument.

In my statement (in the fuller context) I was specifically distinguishing between natural generation and eternal generation to isolate the point of comparison, which is the passing of nature from one to another. I believe the point stands.

If you say the Son and Spirit receive their divinity from the Father, then that’s a modalistic paradigm of the Trinity. You reduce the Son and Spirit to modes of the Father’s subsistence.

They are modes of subsistence of the Divine Nature, not the Father.

Me: “Also we have passages saying the Father is the Son’s God: John 20:17; Revelation 3:12; Ephesians 1:3; Colossians 1:3.”

Thee: i) Now you’re reasoning like a Jehovah’s Witness.

I am reasoning like the Church Fathers who based eternal generation on these texts. Just because Arians, then and now, abuse these texts does not mean we can pay these passages no mind.7

I have asked you three times to comment on the passages, but to date you haven’t done so. I noticed Bauckham didn’t either on his commentary on John. But again, I see no reason why we should not use the fact that the Father is Christ’s God to shape our understanding of ‘generation’.

The question at issue is what the sonship of Christ signifies in NT usage. That varies. But where it functions as a divine title, it has about three basic connotations: intrinsic divinity, heavenly preexistence, and commonality (i.e. like father/like son).

While I agree with those three connotations, I certainly would not limit sonship to them. In fact, those three connotations seem isolated to what sonship tells us about Christ simpliciter, rather than the Father/Son relationship.

Father/Son relationships have many aspects, but one of them is authority. If the Father/Son relationship doesn’t imply authority, why not just call them heavenly brothers? Even if you confine the authority of the Father over the Son to economic matters, you still have an authority relationship of Father over Son. The Fathers declaration that “this is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased” is one of the many texts on the Sonship of Christ that implies the Father’s authority over Him.


1"If we wish to find a source for Trinitarian subordinationism, we do not need to invoke Hellenic influence: nearer to home is the inheritance from Jewish monotheism, as applied in such sayings of our Lord in the Gospels as "Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone" (Mk 10:18), or, "My father is Greater than I" (Jn 14:28), or in the Angel Christology of Judaeo-Christianity." ("Hellenization" and Logos Doctrine in Justin Martyr. R. M. Price. Vigiliae Christianae, Vol. 42, No. 1 (Mar., 1988), pp. 18-23. Published by: BRILL.)

2"At first, this seems similar to the neo-Platonic descriptions of "emanations" that flow forth from God, forming a great chain of Being in which all beings participate to a greater or lesser degree (depending on their distance from God). But that picture is decisively altered in the Christian tradition, in that the divine emanations do not fow forth and animate the created order; rather they are described as wholly internal to God." (Cunningham. These Three Are One. 1998. p.59)

3"As if in this way also one were not All, in that All are of One, by unity (that is) of substance; while the mystery of the dispensation is still guarded, which distributes the Unity into a Trinity, placing in their order the three Persons— the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost: three, however, not in condition, but in degree; not in substance, but in form; not in power, but in aspect; yet of one substance, and of one condition, and of one power, inasmuch as He is one God" (Turtullian. Against Praxeas. Chapter 2)

4"Was the Word of God put forth or not? Here take your stand with me, and flinch not. If He was put forth, then acknowledge that the true doctrine has a prolation; and never mind heresy, when in any point it mimics the truth. The question now is, in what sense each side uses a given thing and the word which expresses it. Valentinus divides and separates his prolations from their Author, and places them at so great a distance from Him, that the Æon does not know the Father: he longs, indeed, to know Him, but cannot; nay, he is almost swallowed up and dissolved into the rest of matter. With us, however, the Son alone knows the Father, Matthew 11:27 and has Himself unfolded the Father's bosom." (Turtullian. Against Praxeas. Chapter 8)

5We are familiar with the remarkably close parallelism with Plotinus in some points of his contemporary Origen's doctrine of the Word and with the determination with which St. Augustine reads orthodox Trinitarian doctrine into the Neo-Platonic philosophers. We know too how clearly St. Athanasius and St. Gregory of Nyssa see that one of the most fundamental differences between pagan Greek and Christian thought lies in the orthodox Christian rejection of the principle underlying Plotinus's third axiom, that there can be degrees of divinity, that it is possible to be more or less God. As the result of this rejection Nicene and post-Nicene Trinitarian thought proceeds on precisely the opposite assumption to that of Plotinus, namely that in the Divine and eternal spiritual generation the Product is equal, not inferior to the Producer. (The Plotinian Doctrine of ΝΟΥΣ in Patristic Theology. A. H. Armstrong. Vigiliae Christianae, Vol. 8, No. 4 (Oct., 1954), pp. 234-238. Published by: BRILL)

6When did these come into being? They are above all “When.” But, if I am to speak with something more of boldness,—when the Father did. And when did the Father come into being. There never was a time when He was not. And the same thing is true of the Son and the Holy Ghost. Ask me again, and again I will answer you, When was the Son begotten? When the Father was not begotten. And when did the Holy Ghost proceed? When the Son was, not proceeding but, begotten—beyond the sphere of time, and above the grasp of reason; although we cannot set forth that which is above time, if we avoid as we desire any expression which conveys the idea of time. For such expressions as “when” and “before” and “after” and “from the beginning” are not timeless, however much we may force them; unless indeed we were to take the Æon, that interval which is coextensive with the eternal things, and is not divided or measured by any motion, or by the revolution of the sun, as time is measured.

How then are They not alike unoriginate, if They are coeternal? Because They are from Him, though not after Him. For that which is unoriginate is eternal, but that which is eternal is not necessarily unoriginate, so long as it may be referred to the Father as its origin. Therefore in respect of Cause They are not unoriginate; but it is evident that the Cause is not necessarily prior to its effects, for the sun is not prior to its light. And yet They are in some sense unoriginate, in respect of time, even though you would scare simple minds with your quibbles, for the Sources of Time are not subject to time. - Gregory Nazianzen

Also see Ambrose. Exposition on the Christian Faith, Book 1. Chapters 10-13

7Such statements [are meant] as the following: “For the Father is greater than I;” John xiv. 28 and, “The head of the woman is the man, the Head of the man is Christ, and the Head of Christ is God;”1 Cor. xi. 3 and, “Then shall He Himself be subject unto Him that put all things under Him;”1 Cor. xv. 28 and, “I go to my Father and your Father, my God and your God,”John xx. 17 together with some others of like tenor. Now all these have had a place given them, [certainly] not with the object of signifying an inequality of nature and substance; for to take them so would be to falsify a different class of statements, such as, “I and my Father are one” (unum);John x. 30 and, “He that hath seen me hath seen my Father also;”John xiv. 9 and, “The Word was God,”John i. 1 for He was not made, inasmuch as “all things were made by Him;”John i. 3 and, “He thought it not robbery to be equal with God:”Phil. ii. 9. [See R.V.] together with all the other passages of a similar order. But these statements have had a place given them, partly with a view to that administration of His assumption of human nature (administrationem suscepti hominis), in accordance with which it is said that “He emptied Himself:” not that that Wisdom was changed, since it is absolutely unchangeable; but that it was His will to make Himself known in such humble fashion to men. Partly then, I repeat, it is with a view to this administration that those things have been thus written which the heretics make the ground of their false allegations; and partly it was with a view to the consideration that the Son owes to the Father that which He is, Or it may be = that the Son owes it to the Father that He is.—thereby also certainly owing this in particular to the Father, to wit, that He is equal to the same Father, or that He is His Peer (eidem Patri æqualis aut par est), whereas the Father owes whatsoever He is to no one. (Augustine)

Nor again, in confessing three realities and three Persons, of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost according to the Scriptures, do we therefore make Gods three; since we acknowledge the Self-complete and Ingenerate and Unbegun and Invisible God to be one only Cf. §28, end., the God and Father (Joh. xx. 17) of the Only-begotten, who alone hath being from Himself, and alone vouchsafes this to all others bountifully.  (Athanasius)

But the Father having begotten the Son, remained the Father and is not changed. He begat Wisdom, yet lost not wisdom Himself; and begat Power, yet became not weak: He begat God, but lost not His own Godhead: and neither did He lose anything Himself by diminution or change; nor has He who was begotten any thing wanting. Perfect is He who begat, Perfect that which was begotten: God was He who begat, God He who was begotten; God of all Himself, yet entitling the Father His own God. For He is not ashamed to say, I ascend unto My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God  John xx. 17..

But lest thou shouldest think that He is in a like sense Father of the Son and of the creatures, Christ drew a distinction in what follows. For He said not, “I ascend to our Father,” lest the creatures should be made fellows of the Only-begotten; but He said, My Father and your Father; in one way Mine, by nature; in another yours, by adoption. And again, to my God and your God, in one way Mine, as His true and Only-begotten Son, and in another way yours, as His workmanship (Gregory Nazianzen)

The Father, having begotten the Son remiainded the Father and is not changed. He begat Wisdom yet did not lose wisdom himself. He begat power yet did not become weak. He begat God but did not lose his own Godhead. Neither did he lous anything himself by diminution or change. He who was begotten does not lack anything either. Perfect is he who begat, perfect is that which was begotten: God was he wou begat, God is he whou was begotten; God of all himself, yet giving the Father the title as his own God. For he is not ashamed to say, "I acend to my Father and your Father, and to my God and your God." Cyril of Jeruselam Catechetical Lectures 11.18-19 (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. Volume IVb. p. 354)

Steve on Eternal Generation

Steve Hays responded to my posts on the Trinity. (link) My response is long, so I will break it into four parts, Steve’s view and my view on Consubstantiality and Steve’s view and my view on Eternal Generation.

a) The Bible doesn’t teach the eternal generation of the Son. Not that I can see.

b) There is also the exegetical question as to whether the Bible even applies that specific metaphor to Christ. Most NT scholars and lexicographers challenge the traditional rendering of monogenes.

The passages with ‘gennao’ (Acts 13:33, Heb 1:5, 5:5) are not really in question, even if those with monogenes are. Do you really question if begotten (or Fathered) applies to Christ? That goes against some rather plain scriptural statements.

BTW, the 381AD version of the Nicene Creed says “begotten of the Father before all worlds”. Same with the Athanasian Creed: “begotten before the worlds”. Likewise the 39 articles of the church of England: “begotten from everlasting of the Father”. Same with the WCF “the Son is eternally begotten of the Father”. Same with the London Baptist Confession “the Son is eternally begotten of the Father”. Yet you say the Son was not eternally begotten and question if He was begotten at all. Do you see why I question if your views are in line with the church at large?

In fact, when the author of Hebrews (7:3,16) tells us that Jesus is the Melchizdekian priest, he explicitly and emphatically denies that Jesus is begotten. He uses three alpha primitive compounds to accentuate the fact that Jesus is ingenerate and inoriginate.

No, that’s not what the text says. Here’s the text:

Hebrews 7:1This Melchizedek was king of Salem and priest of God Most High. He met Abraham returning from the defeat of the kings and blessed him, 2and Abraham gave him a tenth of everything. First, his name means "king of righteousness"; then also, "king of Salem" means "king of peace." 3Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, like the Son of God he remains a priest forever.

The three statements (Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life ) are about Melchizedek, not Christ. The three statements demonstrate that Melchizedek’s priesthood is eternal (at least we are not told of its beginning or end).

Nor is the ‘without father or mother’ language the point of analogy between Melchizedek and Christ, since Christ is called the Son of God. Rather, the point of analogy is eternal priesthood. The passage says Melchizedek ‘remains a priest forever’, and then says ‘Jesus continues forever’, and He ‘has a permanent priesthood’ and ‘He always lives to make intercession’. Even the underlying Psalm declares Him “a Priest Forever according to the order of Melchizedek”.

So ‘eternal priesthood’, not being un-begotten, is the point of analogy.

Also, chapter 5 says:
4 And no man takes this honor to himself, but he who is called by God, just as Aaron was. 5 So also Christ did not glorify Himself to become High Priest, but it was He who said to Him:
You are My Son,
Today I have begotten You.”
6 As He also says in another place:
You are a priest forever
According to the order of Melchizedek”;
7 who, in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear, 8 though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. 9 And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him, 10 called by God as High Priest “according to the order of Melchizedek,”
That Christ is begotten and God’s Son is clearly reconcilable with His being a Priest in the Order of Melchizedek.

e) And even when he applies gennao language (in distinction to genes language) to Jesus in 1:5, one needs to understand that period usage drew a distinction between generation and self-generation–where self-generation was a figurative synonym for eternality.

Bauckham somehow manages to conclude that Christ is unbegotten from the scriptures' statement that Christ is begotten, based on Sibyl’s claim God is unbegotten. (p.52) Helenistic Jews probably did think of the Father as unbegotten, but that just sharpens the distinction between begotten and unbegotten rather than transformimg begotten into unbegotten.

The passage is “I have begotten you”. ‘I’ is the Father and ‘you’ is the Son. So the Father begets the Son. So the passage does not say the Son is self-begotten or un-begotten; it rules out those ideas.

f) I have also argued for the eternal Sonship of Christ. That’s a related metaphor, but a different metaphor. It’s much better attested in Scripture than generation. It’s a complex metaphor, with a variety of connotations. Depending on the context, the Sonship of Christ sometimes connotes an economic status, but at other times an intrinsic status.

Given Christ’s Sonship and being under the Father’s authority were before the foundation of the world, what’s the basis for a distinction between an economic and intrinsic status?

I already dealt with that in my post on Köstenberger. You’re behind the curve.

Here’s what you said about John 6:57 on Kostenberger:

To refer 5:26 to the immanent Trinity is pantheistic. For the “life” in question is a communicable attribute (v21; 6:57). If the life which Jesus imparts to others is the same kind of life that the Father imparts to Jesus, then we have a pantheistic chain-of-being.

iv) I think 5:26 is making a different point. You can only give what you have. Because God is the living God, he can give life to others (6:57). That’s how he can be the Creator. And it also makes him the recreator of the dead–with a view to the resurrection of Jesus as well as the resurrection of the just.

In context, the type of life which God imparts to Jesus, and Jesus imparts to others, is resurrection life (5:21). (link)

I agree with your view of John 5, but not its cross-application to John 6.

Here’s the text: As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me, he also will live because of Me.

So the Son proceeds from the Father (the living Father sent me) and is alive because of the Father (I live because of the Father) and those united with Christ (he who eats Me), will live because of Christ (will live because of me.) Rather than the Son having life to dispense because of the Father, He is alive because of the Father. The point of analogy is not the type of life; no one ever created, recreated or resurrected the Father, rather He has the power to create, recreate and resurrect. Rather, the point of emphasis is on “because of”. The Father is the source of the Son’s life and the Son is the source of our life.

Hence we use the Son’s being alive because of the Father to understand the metaphor of the Father’s generation of the Son.

“Further, we have passages where the Father gives authority to the Son: Philippians 2:9-11 9; Matthew 28:18; John 17:2; John 5:22-26 22; Ephesians 1:22-23 22; Hebrews 1:2; Mark 9:37; John 7:16’ Acts 3:13.”

That has reference to his economic status. The Messianic heir of God’s kingdom. That hardly underwrites eternal generation. To copy/paste quotes from Scripture is a poor substitute for exegesis.

The Father’s authority over the Son from before the foundation of the world (not just since the incarnation) helps us understand the metaphor of His begetting the Son. His authority is based on who He is, not some agreement the pre-Father makes with the pre-Son as to who gets to be Father and who will play the role of Son.

I also deny your assumption that if creation initiates time, then God acquires a temporal property by making the world.

Fair enough. We disagree on this point, but I haven’t criticized the B-theory of time because it hasn’t become all that relevant yet.

My View on Consubstantiality

Steve Hays responded to my posts on the Trinity. (link) My response is long, so I will break it into four parts, Steve’s view and my view on Consubstantiality and Steve’s view and my view on Eternal Generation.

How does Dan happen to know how the “church at large” understands the Nicene creed?

"The creeds are nothing more than a well-ordered arrangement of the facts of Scripture which concern the doctrine of the Trinity. They assert the distinct personality of the Father, Son, and Spirit; their mutual relation as expressed by those terms; their absolute unity as to substance or essence, and their consequent perfect equality; and the subordination of the Son to the Father, and of the Spirit to the Father and the Son, as to the mode of subsistence and operation. These are Scriptural facts, to which the creeds in question add nothing; and it is in this sense they have been accepted by the Church universal." (Hodge. Vol 1. 6.6)

From a historical standpoint, your arguments effectively make Athanasius and the Cappadocian Fathers into Arians.

No, it wouldn’t cover the Son’s atemporal being, for you said that “generation provides the mode of continuation of existence.”

Since “continuation” is a temporal concept, involving duration, if his generation is eternal, then his continuous existence is coeval with his generation–in which case he never had an atemporal mode of being. Instead, his mode of being was always temporal. And in that event, eternal generation is a temporal process–with an infinite past.

Continuation has a borrowed atemporal sense.

iii) I’d add that the Eastern Orthodox regard Catholics and Protestants as heretics because Western Christians traditionally subscribe to double procession.

They also accuse different Protestant traditions of espousing different Christological heresies (e.g. “Nestorianism).

And they’re unimpressed by the way in which Protestants abstract the Nicene Creed and Chalcedonian Creed from the complete text of the councils in question (e.g. canons and decrees). For them, orthodoxy involves subscription to the authority of ecumenical councils in toto, and not a highly selective appropriation of just those portions we happen to agree with.

As such, they don’t regard Arminians like Dan as members of the “church at large.” So his appeal to conciliar “orthodoxy” is a double-bladed sword. If the ecumenical councils are his benchmark, then he’s a heretic.

I could be mistaken, but I believe the EOC is agnostic towards the status of Christians outside the EOC. JNORM is welcome to correct me on this if I am mistaken. But to be clear hear, I am not calling Steve a heretic.

If, however, Father and Son share identical properties across the board (i.e. without remainder), then they wouldn’t be Father and Son. They wouldn’t be one or the other. So you need to qualify your statement to avoid unitarianism.

This is a difficulty shared by all Trinitarians. That the persons of the Trinity differ in their relationships with each other is the easy part. The Father begets, the Son is begotten, the Father has authority over the Son... Some people, like Ware and Grudem go the easy road and stop with the distinction there. But the hard part is that there are three different “I’s” to be related to each others. The Father, Son and Spirit say “I” and address each other as “you” and each acts and is acted upon, so we consider them separate persons, yet they have one essence, not three distinct essences.

This is an epistemic paradox, but not a logical one, because we do not say the Father, Son and Spirit are three persons, but one, nor do we say the Father, Son and Spirit have three distinct essences, but one. So either the person have properties without added and additional ‘existence’ to the divine essence or the do not have separate properties and yet remain three distinct persons.

Steve’s View on Consubstantiality

Steve Hays responded to my posts on the Trinity. (link) My response is long, so I will break it into four parts, Steve’s view and my view on Consubstantiality and Steve’s view and my view on Eternal Generation.

I didn’t affirm or deny that all members of the Trinity are numerically one in essence.

Stafford asserted that Hebrews 1:3 relates to God and Christ’s essence rather than their persons.1 You responded, not by contradicting him on this point, but by describing the consubstantial identity of the Father with the Son in terms of a numerical distinction:

As to Heb 1:3, we need to keep a couple of things in mind:
i) To speak of the Son as a “copy” of God is figurative image. A metaphor is an analogy. Every analogy has an element of disanalogy. So the question at issue is to single out the intended point of commonality.

Stafford, with wooden literality, acts as if the process of replication is the point of commonality. But x can be a copy of y in another sense: resemblance. A copy, while numerically distinct, may be essentially identical with the original. And that’s the point of comparison in Heb 1:3. Not the process, but the product.

And keep in mind, once again, that this is figurative. The Son is not the actual end-product of a process. The intention, rather, is to establish the consubstantial identity of the Son with the Father. (link)

It sure seems like you were denying the numerical oneness of the divine essence, but perhaps you were responsive to Stafford in some rather subtle way here, which is why I asked for clarification.

The monotheistic passages don’t distinguish numeric unity from generic unity. For the monotheistic passages concern themselves, not with the unity of God, but the unicity of God.

They do have to do with unity (i.e. oneness or being one); else they wouldn’t be ‘monotheism passages’. Since unicity implies unity, Paul uses the monotheistic passages to both rule out polytheism and urge for the unity of the body of Christ. (1 Cor. 8:4, Eph 4:3-16).

With respect to God, there can be no distinction between numeric and generic unity; since two divine essences would either actually be one (as we learned from Leibniz) or one of the divine essences would be lacking in some perfection, which is both impossible and demotes the “same-essance” as affirmed by the Church to the “similar-essance” affirmed by the semi-Arians. 

If Dan simply means that God’s essential nature is indivisible, in the sense that God has no spatial or temporal subdivisions, then I agree with him that the divine essence is simple.

If two essences are the same with respect to substance, space and time, what could divide them? Two glasses of water of the same formula could be divided with respect to space or time. But given God’s immensity, the same could not be true with respect to God.

1For example, Hebrews 1:3, cited by Wiseman, states clearly that the Son is a “copy” (Greek: karacter) of God’s “being” or “essence” (Greek: hypostasis). These terms find their definition by usage in the Bible and in literature of the biblical periods. Thus, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed., edited and revised by Frederick W. Danker (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2000), hereafter, “BDAG3,” pages 1078 and 1040, gives the following definitions for these terms:

[(page 1078) karacter, definition 2.:] someth. produced as a representation, reproduction, representation, … Christ is … an exact representation of (God’s) real being Hb 1:3 …

[(page 1040) hypostasis, definition 1.:] the essential or basic structure/nature of an entity, substantial nature, essence, actual being, reality … of the Son of God … a(n) exact representation of (God’s) real being (i.e. as one who is in charge of the universe) Hb 1:3.

The parenthetical comment in the definition of hypostasis, namely, that the Son is “one who is in charge of the universe,” really has nothing directly to do with the meaning of these terms, for being “in charge” is a question of authority or power that relates more to what is said in the latter part of Hebrews 1:3, “and he sustains all things by the word of his power.” But the terms in question here, karacter and hypostasis, reveal that the Son is the “reproduction” of God’s “substantial nature, essence,” or “actual being.” “God” is the subject starting with verse 1, and so the personal pronoun autou [“of him”] refers back to the subject of verse 1, again, “God.”

Trinitarians are forced to define this reference to “God” as “the Father” (whom they consider a “person” of the “one God,” the Trinity), and they are right in seeing in this reference the Father, but the Father is never in Scripture or in literature contemporary with the Bible, defined as a “person of the ‘one God.’” He is always, by himself, the “one God” (1 Corinthians 8:6). Therefore, staying with the biblical definition and articulation of terms and not assuming Trinitarianism, we must conclude that the Son is a “copy” or a “reproduction” of the “one God, the Father,” not a copy of ‘the Father, a “person” of the “one God,” the Trinity.’ The Son is also the “reflection” (Greek: apaugasma; BDAG3, page 99: “radiance, effulgence, … reflection”) of this “one God,” not the reflection of this ‘one “person” of the “one God.”’ To understand things in the latter sense would be to assume Trinitarianism, for there is no usage of the terms in question in the Bible text or in literature during the biblical periods that would give us a basis for such an interpretation.

Jehovah’s Witnesses do not have to assume their view of God, for it is stated clearly in the texts that the Son is a “reproduction” of God’s “being” and that the “one God” is “the Father” (1 Corinthians 8:6; Hebrews 1:13). Jesus is also ‘our God’ (John 20:28), which is understandable within the biblical articulation of Jesus’ relationship to God. Jesus is the “exact reproduction” of the “being” of the “one God, the Father,” and he expresses only that one God’s will. He does not eternally express his own being or his own individual will, which would make him a ‘second God’ (John 5:30; 6:38; 7:16-18; 12:49-50; 14:9-10). He is an individual, “a life-giving spirit” (1 Corinthians 15:45), a “reproduction” and “reflection” of God’s being, and is thus “a god” in this sense and therefore capable of being “with God” (John 1:1), not simply ‘with the Father.’ This understanding is also consistent with the use of terms such as “God” in written literature from the biblical periods, and it is consistent with the conceptual model of divine representation found early on in the Bible for other spirit “sons of God” (Exodus 3:2; Deuteronomy 5:4; Judges 13:21-22; Acts 7:30, 38, 53; Hebrews 2:2). The same cannot be said for the use of critical terms informing Trinitarianism. (link)