Thursday, October 18, 2012

Trinitarianism and Monotheism: Framing the Discussion

In the little time I have spent reviewing and discussing this subject, there seems to be a tendency for each party to talk past the other when referencing who or what "God" is. Obviously, different views of Trinitarianism and monotheism define "God" in different ways. Instead of focusing on areas of agreement first, however, each side focuses on what relevant heresy with which to label the other due to his or her different definition of "God." I think establishing common ground first is a viable alternative, at least if there is any - a denial of sola scriptura, for instance, would logically take precedence to this sort of discussion.

In any case, the sort of common ground to which I refer is the specific methodology by which it can be verified whose definition of "God" takes primacy. A word may, of course, have more than one meaning, but is there a proper or common usage? If such an argument is to be made, it should be kept in mind that Scripture rather than modern (or ancient) trends is the source material which one ought to appeal to as his justification; supposing the majority of professing Trinitarian monotheists may have one conception of "God," that would not imply theirs is the meaning the authors of Scripture most often associated with the word. Separating preconceptions from our examination of the pertinent Scriptural data is necessary. 

But in the context of this debate, it should be easy to do this. Given that the discussions which this post is primarily written to facilitate have to do with disagreements about whether "God" refers to a divine person or to one [set of] attribute[s], first impressions would suggest that it shouldn't be very hard to look at a given passage and make the right conclusion. I fully admit I could be wrong, as a text can be clear, agreed to as the source for the resolution of a dispute, and nevertheless not yield agreement. Still, it's a simple enough idea. 

Further, any self-professing Trinitarian monotheist should wish to avoid the charge of tritheism, where "tritheism" is understood as mutually exclusive with "monotheism." Both sides agree that there is one God, differing on who or what God is. So it seems to me that the most efficient course is for all sides to agree that the main meaning of "God" is whatever is most often (if not always) associated with monotheistic passages. For all the emphasis Scripture places on monotheism, I believe that is a natural assumption. Really, the only reason I can think of that one would oppose this is knowledge that the outcome would be unfavorable to his view. For the undecided, however, it may be useful. Collect all passages relevant to monotheism, determine with help from the context the meaning of "God" in each, and you have your answer as to the "proper" definition.


徐马可 said...

Hi Ryan,

I found this section of Dr. Clarke's letter to Mr. RM regarding monotheism:

Isa. 44:6 Besides me, there is no God. Ver. 8 Is there any God, besides Me? yea, there is no God, I know not any. (the Word Me, is personal)

Isa. 45:5 I am the Lord, and there is None else, there is no God besides me. Ver. 18 I am the Lord, and there is none else. Ver. 22 I am God, and there is none else; (not nullum aliud, no other being only, but, Nullus alius, No other Person; no other whatsoever; no other, absolutely; either of the same, or of any other essence)

Isa. 40:25 To whome then will you liken Me, or shall I be qual? saith the Holy One. (the Words are all personal)

Isa. 46:5 To whom will you liken Me, and make Me equal, and compare Me, that we may be like? Ver. 9 I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like Me. (the Words again are all personal)

Deut. 32:39 I, even I, am He; and there is no God (He does not say, except it be in the same essence; but absolutely, there is no God) with Me.

Isa. 43:10 Before Me there was no God formed, neither shall there be any after Me. (the Words are still always personal).

2 Kings 19:19 Thou art the Ord God, even Thou only. (Tu solus; not thou and other persons in thye essence; but, Thou only.)

Nehm. 9:6 Thou, even Thou art Lord alone. (Personal)

Psalm 83:18 Thou, whose Name alone is Jehovah. (Personal again)

Psalm 86:10 Thou art Great, Thou (personally) art God alone.

Isa. 61:4 I am the Lord, the First and with the Last; I am He; (not, illud, that being only; but,ille, that person)

Isa. 64:6 I am the First, (not, Primum, the first Being only; but, Primus, the First Person) and I am the last; and besides me, (not only, besides my substance or essence; but besides me, personally,) there is no God.

Joel 2:27 I am the Lord thy God; (not, thy infinite and perfect essence or substance; but, thy Supreme Lord and Governor, the Object of they worship) and None else. (This and the like texts, demonstratively prove the Word God to be a personal and relative Title)

Many more similar verses are listed.

.... Now, I observe, in every one of these texts, God expressly declares, not, that there is no other BEING only; but also that, absolutely and without exception, there is no OTHER, no other Person, no other whatsoever, either in the same or in any other Substance, to whom His attributes and Worship belong; Just as St. Pauls says, I Cor. 8:6, To us there is but one God, even the Father. Consequently, if the attributes and Worship of the Father (which worship is always personal) do indeed (as you suppose) belong also to the Son of God; it follows inevitably and demonstratively, that the Son of God can in no sense be a distint person from the Father, either in the same or in any other essece; but that he must be merely another Name for the Father himself. He must be, not only of the same substance; but he must be he himself, he must be htat very individual person, of whom it is said in all your texts that Him only, (not, his substance only, but his personal only, HIM only) shall thou serve. ...

I find this section very helpful to me.



Ryan said...


I cannot agree with your inference that there is no other person or subject of the same essence as the Father. That would contradict eternal generation. Rather, I believe those verses are stating the Father is the only person of the Trinity of whom "God" can be predicated qua personhood. I don't deny the definition proper of "God" is personal.

Furthermore, you stated:

"...if the attributes and Worship of the Father (which worship is always personal) do indeed (as you suppose) belong also to the Son of God; it follows inevitably and demonstratively, that the Son of God can in no sense be a distint person from the Father..."

You have made several errors here. Firstly, I never said the worship of the Father belongs to the Son. I haven't studied so far yet. Secondly, that I assert the attributes of the Father may be predicated of the Son and Spirit does not imply I assert the properties of the Father may be asserted of the Son and Spirit. I have nowhere suggested that. The individuating properties are indeed what distinguishes one person from the other. You are falling into Sabellianism otherwise.

徐马可 said...

Hi Ryan,

This is a section I took out of Dr. Clarke's letter, he is addressing Mr. R.M. I may not have made the context clear enough.

So none of those are toward any of your views or statements.

I think the point he is making is that, only one Person to which God can be properly predicated, even to the exclusion of persons in/with the same essence.



Ryan said...

Ah, I believe I see what you meant now. I have seen that book recommended by several people now, so I'll check it out. Thanks.

Drake Shelton said...


Excellent quotation! I'm blogging it.