A challenging article re: Trinitarian thought.


“they were convinced that the data of revelation required this.”

I’m not at all certain about that, but I am certain that analytic philosophers, striving for conceptual clarity, can be a very helpful part of the discussion. You do not find them helpful, and that’s fine. I do, I respect their work, and they are trying to solve a problem. So were the Fathers, and they used every analytic tool they could and might have welcomed even more.
It’s not like the problem has been ‘solved’, after all, whether you consider it analytic or not…

There is certainly a very open question as to whether revelation requires this.


Great comment, akimel. I thoroughly agree with you.



The trinity says God is one in essence and three in persons. The problem people have in trying to understand it is that they are using the rational mind of either/or thinking. Paradoxes are not either/or. This is where you have to go beyond the dualistic mind into the both/and. Reality is full of paradoxes. People are a mixture of both good and bad, living and dying. We are a mixed blessing. Paradox is hidden and obvious, everywhere and always - unless you have repressed one side of your very being. There’s no need to try to understand the trinity with the rational mind. It’s a mysterious paradox.


Have I stirred up a controversy here by a simple appreciation of the hard work of analytic philosophy?

Steve if you totally agree with Akimel’s post, I am surprised - not at the ECF recognizing a paradox, even I, a non-expert, recognize that.
But at the unnecessary and unfounded dismissal of other philosophers - that does not ring true.
You both are incorrect in that dismissal and you need to study further.

As to the ECF - I have an appreciation for them - but I do understand and appreciate the work of those trying to elucidate the paradox more completely.
I am not or ever will be a second century Christian - the fights of today must be waged by well-intentioned and God-gifted philosophers as well, learning from all those giants whose shoulders they stand on.

We are all working for God’s glory.


Hi Dave, I don’t think I was dismissing other philosophers generally, but I do so in relation to understanding the trinity, and I think akimel summarized the problem succinctly when he said:

I have personally found much of modern theology to be closer to philosophy than they are to biblical theologians. It is only my opinion, but I think that the modern theologian struggles with faith in the biblical account, and they seek assistance from secular philosophy to accommodate their own lack of spiritual clarity. It is often easier to get a consensus among secular philosophers than it is to understand biblical revelation. From my observation, as the church had fallen into greater secular compromise, they have done so with equal and opposite loss of spiritual comprehension. This was seen particularly from the 4th century onwards, where many church doctrines became entwined with secular reasoning. Even today, you can become a minister or church leader in exactly the same manner in which one becomes a science teacher, or an electrician. The boundaries of the sacred and secular have become blurred, and there are none more confused than the modern philosopher/theologian. I think they have lost the teaching of the early church almost completely. Only a small resemblance remains. Just my opinion. :slight_smile:



I value your opinion, Steve. Thanks for clarifying.


Philosophy as it is understood today simply means “thinking about…” or “reasoning about…” For example “philosophy of mathematics”=“reasoning about mathematic”. “Philosophy of religion”=“Reasoning about religion”. Isn’t that what we are all doing in this forum? It is such reasoning that GIVES us spiritual clarity.

I have always found it almost unbelievable that so many people can hold to a self-contradictory concept and justify it in their own minds by relegating it to the realm of the “mysterious” or “paradoxical”.

The basic meaning of paradox is “a self-contractory statement”. When one fully understands the situation the paradoxical statement must be denied. That which is truly self-contradictory can never be explained. For example “This book cover is both black and not black” is self-contractory and therefore false. However, “I am both hungry and not hungry” may appear self-contradictory but may really mean, “I want to eat some things but not others.”

  1. A simple example of a paradox is the Sentence paradox: “This sentence is false.” For if the sentence is true, then it is false. If it is false, then it is true. If “logical statement” refers to a sentence which is either true or false, the sentence is not a logical statement at all. For it is neither true nor false. When one understands that, the sentence loses its “mystery” as a supposed statement.

  2. Let’s consider the Barber’s Paradox. In a particular town a barber shaves all men and only those men who do not shave themselves. Does the barber shave himself? If the answer is “yes” then he must not shave himself. For he shaves ONLY those men who do not shave themselves. So the answer must be “no”. But in that case, he must shave himself. For he shaves ALL men who do not shave themselves. So what do we do with this paradox? Do we have to say we “cannot understand it with the rational mind”? Do we classify this paradox a deep mystery along with the mystery of the Trinity? No. We need to realize that such a barber cannot exist.

  3. It was once thought that any set at all could be represented mathematically. For example, the set of positive intergers is represented as {1,2,3,…}. Even the set of pink elephants now in this room can be represented as { }. In other words the empty set. But then Bertrand Russell came up with a description of a set which could not be represented: “The set of all sets and only those sets which are not members of themselves.” Let’s assign S as the name of that set.Then we ask “Is S a member of itself?” If the answer is “yes”, then S is NOT a member of itself. For S is the set of only those sets which are NOT members of themselves. If the answer is “no” then S is a member of itself. For S is the set of all sets which are NOT members of themselves. How could such a set be represented mathematically? The answer is that such a set cannot exist, and for that reason cannot be represented mathematically.

So we found:

  1. In the Sentence Paradox, no such logical statement exists.
  2. In the Barber Paradox, no such barber exists.
  3. In Russel’s Paradox, no such set exists.

And in my opinion:
4. In the Trinitarian paradox, no such entity exists.

Now of course, one can be in such a psychological condition that he wants to affirm these paradoxes.

  1. In the Sentence Paradox, the sentence actually IS a logical statement. It is true and yet it is false. A great mystery!
  2. In the Barber Paradox, there CAN be such a barber. Somehow it is true that he both shaves himself and does not shave himself. A great mystery!
  3. In Russel’s Paradox, there IS such a set. It is a member of itself and yet it isn’t a member of itself. A great mystery!
  4. In the Trinitarian paradox, there IS such an entity as the Trinity. He is one, and yet He is three. A great mystery!


Dave, I am not dismissing the work of analytic philosophers; but I have read enough of their work on both the Trinity and Incarnation to be convinced that much of this work is simply unhelpful to Christian theology, which is probably why it is mainly ignored outside philosophical circles. All one has to do is to read Swinburne’s book The Christian God. I read it when it was first published, and all I could do is throw up my hands in frustration. The curious thing is that Swinburne’s theological work is completely out of touch with the theology of his own Church (i.e., the Eastern Orthodox Church).

Conceptual clarity is fine, but the fourth century Church Fathers were not driven by the need for conceptual clarity. Aetius and Eunomius and their followers certainly were, and the Cappadocians responded to their “logic-chopping” by emphatically reasserting the incomprehensibility of God. For two good examples, read St Gregory Nazianzus’s Theological Orations and St Basil’s Contra Eunomium. They did not view the trinitarian doctrine as solving a conundrum but as stating the Mystery. They reacted so strongly against Eunomius because they saw him as rationalistically truncating the revelation of Christ as given in Scripture and embodied in the trinitarian life of the Church. The Eunomians were the analytic philosophers of their day. They strove for conceptual clarity, and on the basis of that clarity and precision they thought they had achieved, they rejected the trinitarian formulations and affirmed a unitarian deity with two creaturely subordinates, Son and Spirit.

I am beginning to suspect that the principal reason that the Christian analytic philosophers are so unhelpful here is somehow connected to their commitment to the category of “person” as the best way to think about God (see “How Anthropomorphic is Your G-O-D?”). As a result, God’s truly radical difference from creation gets lost somewhere. The trinitarian God becomes “three selves,” and so we are all left wondering how it is possible for three selves to be one God and not three gods. Similarly, the Incarnation becomes an impossible problem because we cannot figure out how to unite the divine psychological apparatus with the human psychological apparatus. But these are pseudo-problems created by the failure to understand God’s radical difference from the world. It is precisely the radical difference between uncreated nature and created nature that allows him to assume human nature without in any way compromising human nature. Etc.

The only way forward is to return to the beginning and think over again what it means for God to be the Creator who has made the world from out of nothing.


Excellent post Paidion.
If the concept ‘The Trinity’ is a paradox, then making it a dogma or a creedal/catechismal necessity seems mis-placed, to me.


Akimel - thank you for your clarification of the problems and the difficulties in this. You made some excellent points.

In general, I support this non-technical view of supposed ‘paradoxes’ in revelation:

“We answer again, that, if God be infinitely wise, he cannot sport with the understandings of his creatures. A wise teacher discovers his wisdom in adapting himself to the capacities of his pupils, not in perplexing them with what is unintelligible, not in distressing them with apparent contradictions, not in filling them with a skeptical distrust of their own powers. An infinitely wise teacher, who knows the precise extent of our minds, and the best method of enlightening them, will surpass all other instructors in bringing down truth to our apprehension, and in showing its loveliness and harmony.
It is not the mark of wisdom, to use an unintelligible phraseology, to communicate what is above our capacities, to confuse and unsettle the intellect by appearances of contradiction. We honor our Heavenly Teacher too much to ascribe to him such a revelation. A revelation is a gift of light. It cannot thicken our darkness, and multiply our perplexities.”

That quote is from Wm. Ellery Channing who was of course a Unitarian, but not necessarily therefore wrong. :smiley:
If God cannot make something clear to us, perhaps it is not something that we are going to accomplish on our own?


I don’t know how much time I’m going to have, Dave, so without reading everyone else’s comments, I’ll jump straight to ONE. :wink:

Maybe I’m not thinking this through deeply enough, but it seems to me that Jesus having a divine and a human nature isn’t really a problem. This is the way I see it. Jesus came to be an example for us for the way we can live when depending on Father for everything (as He did/does). Perhaps He’s been doing this always, since He goes forth from the Father always. He has that divine nature of the Father, but perhaps Father gave all of us that, in the Spirit of life He gives to each of us. I don’t know. He’s God and He came and inhabited the body (complete with human nature) that Father prepared for Him. It’s not like He was neurotic, suffering from multiple personality disorder. He lived as a man, having emptied Himself of His godhood, though still having that divine nature (as is now available to us). He lived by the power of the Holy Spirit in obedience to the Father. His advantage was to have an unfallen human nature (which of course we do not have), but to even the score, He stood in for the whole family of mankind as our representative and died on our behalf, destroying that old man once and for all. He was raised and we are raised in Him to newness of life. We have defiled our humanity and must climb out of the hole – a thing He did not do – but He is here, our shepherd, to pull us out so long as we’re willing to allow it and cling to His hand best we can. Jesus was MASTER of His body (mind, will, emotions) as we are to BECOME master of our own bodies though we do this in concert with Him and trusting Him to complete that work in us.

Think of His first miracle. He turned the water into wine. The water is still there, but now it’s infused with life and nourishment (the blood of grapes, you know) and makes glad the heart of man. AND it’s really, really GOOD wine! :laughing: Somewhere around 150 gallons of it! Jesus gives life and life in abundance. So now He lives in us via the Holy Spirit and our natures are also mingled divine and human. He is special though, because He has always been with and of the Father. For us, this is an imparted nature whereas for Him it is intrinsic. Will we be like Him? Yes. What does that mean? I honestly dare not go any farther – it’s more than I know.

Love, Cindy


How do you know that, Cindy? Didn’t he inherit the same fallen, human nature from His mother Mary that we all inherit from our parents?
It is my opinion that though He had inherited the fallen, human nature, He was always able to overcome temptation, and therefore was never involved in wrongdoing.

… for we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.(Heb. 4:15)

If He hadn’t had a fallen, human nature, He wouldn’t have been tempted at all, would He have been?


Cindy, I just don’t think your comments - which I appreciate - answer the questions posed by ONE. I’m not saying you are wrong, just that the questions 1-4 pose certain unavoidable paradoxes that necessarily are entailments to trinitarian thought.
I think Paidion is on the right track on this one, and that goes along with my general view of scripture, a part of which I posted to Akimel above.


I’m not sure of your purpose with these quotes, though I know you were somehow trying to answer Dave’s question, “What is the Godhead?”

Does the word “Godhead” from the middle ages have a special connotation for you?
Modern translators render the word as “divinity”, “divine nature”, etc. I, myself, favour “deity”. That the deity is very unlike man-made gods is clear (Acts 17:9). That God possesses eternal power and deity as in Romans 1:20, there is no doubt. That the fullness of deity dwells within the resurrected Christ bodily as in Col.2:9, there is no doubt. So I’m puzzled what these verses mean to you, and would much appreciate your expounding them in light of what you had in mind when quoting them.


Hi Paidion,

I thought I made the distinction clear so as not to confuse “reasoning about…” anything, as opposed to the adoption of “secular philosophy to accommodate their own lack of spiritual clarity.”

I was not trying to give any special interpretation, only to show why I would use the term. The term has been part of christian culture for many hundreds of years. I think the term is apt to describe a dynamic of relationship within the “Deity”; just as we would talk about the “Hypostatic Union” (speaking of secular philosophy) to describe the dynamic of Christ’s God-man relationship in Christological discussions. I do not have any problem with this term to describe relationship within the Deity… “Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness.”



Another great post, akimel. I found it interesting that Basil was said to have died after reading the (second?) letter of Eunomius. I don’t think it was a case of “the letter kills”, but it does show how passionate the subject can be.

I agree that a re-analysis of our christian roots is imperative. So much of our beliefs, whether we are Orthodox or Protestant, are built upon the foundations of 4th century Catholicism. We need to re-align ourselves according to earlier fathers, and get away from Athanasius, Jerome, Cyril, Augustine, the Cappadocian fathers, Hilary, etc. The 4th century was the church’s darkest hour up until that time. No longer was the enemy seen to be the Devil, or Jews, Romans, Gnostics… now the enemy was within - and we fought the enemy with axe, sword and torch. Within one year of the Council of Nicaea, Constantine had his wife and son killed, and yet he was still seen as a Christian equal to bishops. Over 10,000 followers of Origen were rounded up and butchered. The great Cyril did not stop there… the famous Hypatia was ripped apart, literally, by a church gone mad. Then followed the gangsters synod, where bishops were killed by bishops. Something terrible had happened to the church, and no good fruit would come of it. We need to completely scrap the 4th century church, and return to the church prior to the darkness setting in. This was the view of Isaac Newton, which he, to me, was a true visionary and reformer. I believe we will return to our roots through the instigation of persecution and seizure of the church in the near future. These will be the beginnings of sorrow and woe! but a faithful church will recognize this as a signal for Christ’s return.



I think you have assumed too much here, Paidion. Jesus does not need to have a “fallen, human nature” in order to be tempted (tested). “And the tempter [3985] came to Him, "If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” (Matthew 4:3) He was tempted simply because of the notion that He was “the Son of God”. He was given temptations similar to us all; but because He was “the Son of God” (i.e., perfect - as was Adam); He succeeded every test and temptation… yet allowing Him to “sympathize with our weaknesses”. Jesus knows the temptations placed before us because the devil had also tempted Him to rebel against the Father. It does not require that Jesus had a fallen sinful body. I am surprised that you have suggested that…


His body did age, he did have to eat and drink…apparently it was like ours, or what was the point…I don’t know if we call that a ‘sinful’ body or not - are our bodies sinful? I think not.


It depends what you mean, Dave… Using biblical terminology, it is taught that sin resides within our bodies. So yes, our bodies are sinful…

Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin,
and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned
Romans 5:12

For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.
For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out
Romans 7:18


Don’t see any mention of the body there, Steve.