Monday, February 8, 2010

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.

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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)

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