In Defense of the Trinity


Someone asked me how Jesus could be God when Jesus said that He doesn’t even know when He is returning. He said that such a thing was a contradiction – how can God not know the future and yet know the future? This was my response (much thanks to Michael Rudy, Quincy Jones, and Rollyvic Tira for helping me hash this out):

Let me see if this is what you’re saying:

(1) The Trinity is one being (God) and three Persons (Father, Son, and Spirit).

(2) The Father knows the future while the Son does not in at least one instance of Scripture

(3) The Spirit also seems to not know the future, even though the Father does

The above can be called {Group A}. I don’t see how there is a necessary or even implicit contradiction within this syllogism. The problem is that (2) comes with an inherent assumption:

(2′) Knowledge, including knowledge of the future, is known through being

If this is true, then the Trinity would be a contradiction. However, (2′) doesn’t seem to be true. Consider the following, we’ll label it {Group B}:

(4) Granite has being, but has no person

(5) A human has being and has one person

(6) Not all things with being have to have personhood
(6′) There is no conceivable limit to the number of persons in being x

When I say “person” I am using Boethius’ summarization of what “person” is in his Consolation of Philosophy

Person – an individual substance of a rational nature

So I am relying on the ancient understanding of “personhood.” We don’t consider animals to be “persons” (unless we’re PETA, Hindus, or ill-informed) because they lack intelligence. Though they have personality and show emotions, they are not “persons” because they don’t have intellect. 

So now we can apply (6) (with it’s implicit (6′)) to {Group A}. Once we do this, it then reads:

(1) The Trinity is one being (God) and three Persons (Father, Son, and Spirit).

(2) The Father knows the future while the Son does not in at least one instance of Scripture

(3) The Spirit also seems to not know the future, even though the Father does

(6) Not all things with being have to have personhood
(6′) There is no conceivable limit to the number of persons in being x

So what we need to explore is if our knowledge comes from our being or from our personhood. Being simply describes the essence of x – that is, what x is. The essence of a rock is hardness, lifelessness, or, more philosophically, rockness. However, we we saw before, a rock has no person, thus the other aspect of a rock is that it lacks person-ness. 

A human is a much better example. Though all of us have some ontological similarities in our being, we are all different in our essence. There are certain attributes about us that, if taken away, we would no longer be who we are (ironically, all of these aspects are immaterial). P1 has essence x while P2 has essence y. Though similar, the two are still different. 

What P1 and P2 share in common, however, is that both have personhood, though the personhood is tied up with both x and y respectively. What consists of personhood is what makes P1/P2 a distinct individual. Personhood is best described by the Latin words individua and substantia. In both is the concept of rationality, knowledge, planning, etc. While our essence simply gives a unique description of who we are, our personhood – though tied up to our essence – is what describes how we function. 

We can take all the above and word it this way:
(7) The essence of P1 is separate from the person of P1, but both are unified by being a part of P1’s being

From this, we can move on to:

(8) The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are part of the unique essence of God, making God one in being and essence

(9) The Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Spirit, and the Spirit is not the Father, because all three are different persons of the same being

(10) Since knowledge is found in the person and not in the being, it is possible for each person of the same being to have different levels of knowledge, especially concerning the future

What this does is explain how the Trinity is not a contradiction in terms of its ontology and even epistemic outlook on the future. Just for a recap (keep in mind that each proposition has an explanation behind it):

(1) The Trinity is one being (God) and three Persons (Father, Son, and Spirit).

(2) The Father knows the future while the Son does not in at least one instance of Scripture

(3) The Spirit also seems to not know the future, even though the Father does

(6) Not all things with being have to have personhood
(6′) There is no conceivable limit to the number of persons in being x

(7) The essence of P1 is separate from the substance of P1, but both are unified by being a part of P1’s being

(8) The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are part of the unique essence of God, making God one in being and essence

(9) The Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Spirit, and the Spirit is not the Father, because all three are different persons of the same being

(10) Since knowledge is found in the person and not in the being, it is possible for each person of the same being to have different levels of knowledge, especially concerning the future

What this shows us is that, when applied logically, the Trinity fits the definition of a paradox – something that prima facie seems contradictory, but is not. This mean we can look at the Trinity, especially in regards to how each person relates to time and space, and realize that there is no contradiction facing is. We don’t know how the Trinity functions, we have no experiential knowledge of the essence of the Trinity (we only know what it is to be one being and one person, commonly called human), but we can know that the Trinity is not a contradiction.

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