Answering Unitarian Arguments #1: The Argument from Logic

This entry is part 1 of 7 in the series Answering Unitarian Arguments

Today, I am going to start a series on Unitarian Arguments against the Trinity. Now, I could definitely make this a very long series if I were to examine every individual argument they employ, but, as we will see, many of the arguments they use really have the same answer, and can be categorized based on the type of argument and the corresponding type of answer. So, at this moment, the plan is to do this in seven parts. I believe that virtually everything a Unitarian says regarding the Trinity or Jesus can be found within these seven categories. Of course, there may be some exceptions, but if you read what they are writing, those exceptions are few and far between.

In this first part, one thing I feel the need to do is to define what I mean by Unitarian. The groups that hold this theology are not as large as other groups that deny the Trinity, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses or Muslims. So, most Christians probably haven’t encountered this theology before. I know about it because it used to be my theology. So, first of all, these groups are not to be confused with Unitarian Universalists, a liberal denomination that basically doesn’t think that the Bible is God’s word, but that all religions are good and ways to God. The Unitarians I’m talking about believe the Bible to be God’s word to us and are generally theologically conservative. They just disagree about what Scripture teaches.

So, in a nutshell, Unitarians believe that God is a Unitarian being, not a Trinitarian being. In other words, there is only one Person who is God. In Scripture, that Person is called Yahweh, or God the Father, or other names or titles, but there are not three Persons in God, as Trinitarians believe. Jesus is considered to be the human Son of God. He is the prophesied Messiah, who died for our sins and rose again and sits at the right hand of God. He did not exist prior to His conception in Mary, except in the plan and foreknowledge of God. Most other titles given to Jesus are affirmed by Unitarians, except for those that would actually imply His Deity. As for the Holy Spirit, answers vary, but primarily, it is seen as the power and presence of God, not a distinct Person. If the Holy Spirit is spoken of as a Person in Scripture, the reference is seen as either a figurative statement, or else is said to be referring to either the Father or Jesus in a different way. The Holy Spirit is not believed to be a Person Himself.

A Note on the Trinity Not Being in the Bible

Before I get into the first real argument against the Trinity, a brief word about the argument that the Trinity is not in the Bible. See my previous post on the Biblical Definition of the Trinity to see how Scripture testifies to the Trinity. It is sometimes said that the Trinity cannot be true because the word “Trinity” isn’t in the Bible, and because the full, multifaceted doctrine of the Trinity is not all taught in one place in the Bible. This argument fails for many reasons, not least of which is that it is self-defeating for the Unitarian to use. “Unitarian” is not in Scripture either, nor is there one passage that teaches that God is a being of only one Person, and Jesus is not God, but the solely human Messiah, and that the Holy Spirit is not a Person, but an impersonal force. Not only are none of these things explicitly taught in Scripture, but also, and consequently, they are not all taught in one place. Fundamentally, this argument is an argument from silence and a fallacious one at that. Now, let’s move on to some more serious arguments made by Unitarians.

Argument #1: The Argument from Logic

This popular argument basically states that there is some sort of logical inconsistency inherent in the Trinity. It varies from more sophisticated arguments that actually take the form of logical syllogisms attempting to show the contradictions explicitly, down to the more mocking type of statement, saying that Trinitarians “say one is three and three is one.” And here I am specifically talking about arguments against the Trinity itself, not arguments about how Jesus cannot be both God and man. Those arguments will be handled separately.

First, it is important to draw a distinction here. I call this the argument from logic because it has logical considerations as its basis. This is different from an argument “being logical”. All arguments should be logical arguments, meaning that they adhere to laws of logic. When logical fallacies are present or an argument is invalid, then we have an illogical argument. I’m not suggesting here that that there is anything wrong with logic.

What I am saying is that this argument has logic as its basis. In other words, the person using this argument is committed to the belief that Unitarianism is logical and Trinitarianism is illogical, at the outset. Now, I know perfectly well that Unitarians who employ this argument believe themselves to be coming to the logical conclusion that the Trinity is illogical, and not assuming it, but as we examine some examples, we will see that it is actually logically impossible to show a contradiction in the Trinity without assuming something that the Trinitarian doesn’t believe to get there. The key to recognizing the argument from logic is that it does not depend on Scripture in its effort to show the Trinity to be false. It seeks only to show that something is logically contradictory about the Trinity itself.

To show what I mean, let’s look at some real examples of this kind of argument.

John Schoenheit makes the argument at his website. Here is an excerpt from an article titled, “Practical consequences of believing the Trinity”.

Logic is a necessary tool for proper understanding of the Word. However, the Trinity and other “mysteries” defy logic, so in Christian theology, logic is not used as aggressively as it should be to help us understand the Bible.

Notice that the statement that the Trinity defies logic is not being presented as a conclusion, but as a premise. Now, we are given, in this article, two examples that are appealed to in order to show that the Trinity is illogical. I won’t put the full text here, but you can check the link above to see if I’m representing these arguments well. The first example says that it is illogical that, while the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are co-equal, co-eternal Persons, and the three make up “God” (scare quotes in the original), yet God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple (Rev. 21:22), but the Holy Spirit isn’t mentioned as being the temple. The argument is that “logically”, the Holy Spirit should be included in this text, but He isn’t.

The next example is similar. He states that there are thrones for “God” and “the Lamb”, as in, a separate one for each, but none for the Holy Spirit. This wouldn’t “logically” be the case if the Holy Spirit were a co-equal Person with the Father and the Son. I will note that, while he is careful not to misquote the passage by saying,  “thrones”, plural, Schoenheit makes it clear that he sees in the passage two separate thrones. Interestingly, throughout Revelation, “throne” is never plural, only singular, and when we are introduced to the Lamb for the first time, He appears “in the midst of the Throne and the four living creatures…etc.” The Lamb occupies the same throne as the “one who sits on the throne” (Rev. 5:6). Later in the same chapter, the entirety of the created order worships both the one who sits on the throne and the Lamb with the same worship (5:13). This demonstrates two things: That the Lamb is not created, and that the Lamb is equal in Deity with the one on the throne, as they receive the same worship.

Now, what both of these examples have in common is that they demonstrate what Schoenheit means when he talks about logic. For him, logic is just his own opinion about how it should be. His own human reasoning tells him what John should have seen in his highly symbolic vision of heaven. He should have seen a separate throne for the Holy Spirit. Also, if he saw this separate throne, he should have written about it. This is supposition, not logic. For a belief to be illogical, it must result in a contradiction, meaning a real contradiction, not just a contradiction between what a Unitarian thinks about how the Trinity should be revealed and how it actually is. This is a lot like the kinds of arguments one encounters when debating atheists, who make up “criteria” for what would convince them God exists, which are conveniently not how the world is. Far from proving God doesn’t exist, it just shows that God doesn’t think the same way about how the world should be as the atheist.

Likewise, examples like this about what the Scriptures “should say” if the Trinity is true, do not show that the Trinity is false, only that the Scriptures were not written according to Unitarian presuppositions. What does Schoenheit think of a passage, for example, that included the Father and the Spirit, but left out the Son (1 Thess. 4:8)? He concludes, logically he says, that the absence of the Holy Spirit in the passages he cites means that the Holy Spirit is not a Person. If that’s the case, then, logically, the absence of the Son in any passage mentioning other members of the Trinity would mean He’s not a person, too, right? Schoenheit may try to offer reasons why his examples excluding the Holy Spirit are relevant but others excluding other members of the Trinity are not, but the question one should ask in response is whether those reasons are found in Scripture, or alternatively, how they apply to the “logic” of his argument.

Ultimately, we don’t need to know exactly why any given passage does or does not include a member of the Trinity. Schoenheit seems to be under the impression that, if the Trinity is true, then any passage that includes some of the members must include all of the members. He has no Scripture to support this presupposition. Again, Schoenheit has only displayed his prejudices as to how he thinks the Bible should read if the Trinity is true. He has made no argument for this, nor has he shown any actual contradiction either within Trinitarian theology or between the Trinity and Scripture.

Schoenheit knows the difference between a mystery and a contradiction, as he brings it up later, but at no point in the article does he actually demonstrate a contradiction within Trinitarian theology. All he can do is express how he thinks Scripture should read if the Trinity is true and then lament that it doesn’t. This proves nothing at all.

Let’s look at one more example of this type of argument, this time from a philosophy professor who likes to formulate logical arguments. We have addressed an argument by Dale Tuggy before, and we won’t go over that one again, though it is a perfect example of what we’re talking about here. Today, I want to focus on another argument he makes against the Trinity. A couple years back, he wrote an article talking about an inconsistent triad concerning God and Jesus. This is not the same triad he discussed about the death of Jesus that he posted earlier this year. He posits that there is no logical way to accept the following three statements, which he takes to be believed by many who believe the Trinity to be true.

D: Jesus and God have differed.

N: Jesus and God are numerically one.

I: If any X and Y have ever differed, then they are not numerically one.

To understand these statements, first let’s talk about statement I. It is designated with an “I” because it is an expression of the logical law of the indiscernibility of identicals. Basically it’s saying that one thing has its own set of properties, and just those properties and no others.  In other words, it’s impossible for one thing to both have and not have a given property. A glass of milk cannot both have and not have fat in it. A table cannot both have and not have exactly four legs. So, if we are considering any X and any Y, then for them to be numerically one, or numerically identical, they must have all the same properties, or as Dr. Tuggy puts it, they must not differ.

Tuggy does often employ the idea of numerical identity in his arguments against the Trinity, but as we will see when examining this one, it is not clear why. Looking at the above statements, I think the reader may be able to discern where Tuggy has failed in this logical argument against the Trinity. Do Trinitarian Christians accept D? Have God and Jesus differed? Well, there is certainly a way of understanding the statement that Trinitarians readily accept. If we take God to be the Father, then it is easy to accept that the Father and Jesus have differed. One sent the other. One became a man and died on a cross, but one did none of those things. But if we carry that meaning of “God” in D through the other statements, we see that the second statement would say: Jesus and the Father are numerically one. This, on any Trinitarian theology I’m aware of, is false. Jesus is not numerically identical with the Father. So, if “God” is just referring to the Father, then Trinitarians agree with Tuggy that the triad of statements is contradictory, but are happy to reject N as false.

Now, Tuggy understands this, and so tries to argue that Trinitarians are going around saying “Jesus is God” as if this must be a statement of numerical identity. What he ends up proving, though, is that, when Trinitarians say, “Jesus is God”, the only way they can be consistent is if they are using the “is” of predication, not the “is” of identity. And this is exactly what they are doing. They are saying that Jesus possesses full Deity, that attribute which makes God to be God. To possess Deity is to possess all the attributes of God. Now, since there is only one God, Trinitarians also hold that Jesus is the same God as the Father, but not numerically identical with the Father. So to say “Jesus is God” is a shorthand way of saying that Jesus possesses all divine attributes, or Deity, and that Jesus is a member of the Trinity, that He shares the one being of God. At no point do Trinitarians say that Jesus is numerically identical with anyone but Himself. Dr. Tuggy can say what he will, but I’m aware of no Trinitarian scholar, theologian, apologist, debater, or author who believes statement N above in the way Tuggy is talking about. He cites none, but I can cite many who make statements contrary to the only position he appears to be arguing against.

Ultimately, Tuggy’s argument here is a straw man. It attacks a version of Trinitarianism that none of his opponents actually believes. So, while Schoenheit’s argument doesn’t actually deal with logic, Tuggy’s does deal in logic, but doesn’t actually deal with the Trinity. Either way, the argument from logic fails, and for the simple reason that the Trinity is not actually illogical.

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