In my first post I introduced some background information on my paper “Oneness Pentecostalism, the Two-Minds View, and the Problem of Jesus’s Prayers” and explained my thesis statement. In this post I’m going to discuss Thomas Morris’ solution to what I call “the Problem of Tempting God,” which lays essential groundwork for later sections of the paper.
Morris is an analytic philosopher who formerly taught at the University of Notre Dame and, from what I’ve heard, was a legendary instructor there. In what Morris once described to me as a “true work of love” in personal correspondence, he applied his first-rate intellect to the Incarnation in The Logic of God Incarnate.
But why did Morris write the book? And what was he trying to show? At bottom, the concern of the book is to give a logically possible account of the Incarnation that allows the doctrine to remain free from logical contradiction. The worry is that if a truly divine Person becomes Incarnate, there are certain things that are true of that Person (like being omniscient, omnipotent, etc.). And yet, Christians also affirm that, as God Incarnate, there are certain truths about Christ that are the logical negations of things that are supposed to be true about him by virtue of being a truly divine Person. God is omniscient; Christ is limited in knowledge. God is omnipotent; Christ was limited in power. And so on. How should Christians seek to avoid this sort of worry?
The are three crucial moves that Morris makes in his book, and each function together to provide his overall account. The first is Morris’ distinction between a universal property and an essential property. Some feature of things is called a “universal property” when it’s true of all things of a certain kind. For example, as far as I’m aware, it’s true of any particular human being that has ever lived on Earth that he (or she) has been born in Earth’s atmosphere. Since no human on Earth has been born in space, it’s true that all humans have been born within Earth’s atmosphere. Where we can go wrong, however, is to conclude that if something is universally true of a class of things, that the same thing must be essential to those things. To say that something is “essential” to something simply means that, to be the sort of thing that it is, that thing must have a particular property (or set of properties). At least on one view of human natures, which is the one Morris utilizes.
Now ask yourself, “Is it really crucial for me to be the sort of thing I am (a human) that I have been born within Earth’s atmosphere?” The answer is “obviously not.” If a human being were to be born outside of Earth’s atmosphere (say, during the colonization of Mars), that doesn’t mean that individual isn’t a human being. Applied to the Incarnation, this distinction allows us to deny that Jesus came into existence at some time. As a divine Person, it’s impossible for him to be a contingent being. But once we recognize that “being contingent” is a universal rather than essential property of things, there’s no problem here. This also resolves issues with Christ’s being limited in knowledge, power, and presence as a human.
The second crucial move that Morris makes is to distinguish between what he calls being “merely human” and being “fully human.” As he explains, to be fully human means that one has all of those essential properties required for being human, but that one does not have “limitation properties” as well. Here’s one example of a limitation property: possibly ceasing to exist. Any being that is a mere human (like you and I) will exemplify that property. But this does not preclude Christ from also exemplifying human nature, seeing how he is fully human. Christ co-exemplifies a “higher” ontological nature than human nature, which means he can remain fully human without exemplifying this limitation property.
Finally, Morris suggests that, subsequent to the Incarnation, Christ has two minds and ranges of consciousness: one divine, and one human. Here’s how Morris describes Christ’s two ranges of consciousness:
We can view the two ranges of consciousness (and, analogously, the two noetic structures encompassing them) as follows: The divine mind of God the Son contained, but was not contained by, his earthly mind, or range of consciousness. That is to say, there was what can be called an asymmetric accessing relation between the two minds. . . . The divine mind had full and direct access to the earthly, human experience resulting from the Incarnation, but the earthly consciousness did not have such full and direct access to the content of the overarching omniscience proper to the Logos, but only such access, on occasion, as the divine mind allowed it to have.
As Morris goes on to say, this “two-minds” approach allows us to say that the “apparent intellectual and spiritual growth of Jesus in his humanity [is] a real development.”
Solving the Problem of Tempting God
There’s another way that Morris’ “two-minds view” gives us a way to make sense of Jesus’ earthly life. In Chapter 6, Morris considers whether or not Christ could truly experience prayer. Like some of the other truths about Christ I’ve already mentioned, it doesn’t seem like Christ can both be unable to sin (the term for this is impeccable) and yet be truly tempted to sin. For Christ to truly be our representative before the Father, there seems to be a real need to affirm that Christ experienced temptation. And yet, it seems that this is precisely what we cannot affirm if Jesus is truly divine and therefore impeccable.
Morris asks us to consider the following argument:
- Jesus = God the Son.
- No individual is God unless he is necessarily good.
- God the Son is God.
- Therefore, God the Son is necessarily good.
- Therefore, Jesus is necessarily good.
- Therefore, it is impossible that Jesus sin.
The conclusion at premise (4) follows from premises (2) and (3), where each of these premises uses an “is” of predication. Premise (5) follows from premises (1), (4), and the indiscernibility of identicals. And premise (6) follows from premise (5), given that being “necessarily good” precludes one from sinning.
The Problem of Tempting God (hereafter, PTG) is the claim that premise (6) is inconsistent with the fact that Jesus was tempted. Consider the following argument:
- If Jesus is tempted, then it is possible that he sin.
- Jesus is tempted.
- Therefore, it is possible that Jesus sin.
Morris concedes that premise (7) seems to be a “conceptual truth.” And premise (8) is obvious from any reading of the four canonical Gospels. The conclusion in (9), which is the opposite of the conclusion in (6), follows from (7) and (8). If one accepts both (6) and (9), one has accepted a contradiction and must abandon at least one of the following premises: (1), (2), (3), (7), or (8).
Morris’ solution to the PTG is to distinguish “possible” in the consequent of (7). In order for Jesus to truly experience temptation, Morris says, it doesn’t need to be the case that Jesus could actually carry out a sinful action. To use the technical jargon, the experience of temptation doesn’t require that it be broadly metaphysically possible for a subject to sin. Rather, it only needs to be the case that it’s epistemically possible to a subject that he sin in order for there to be a real experience of temptation. In other words, as long as it seems to Jesus (in his human mind) that he can sin, then he can have a truly human experience of temptation.
Here’s how Morris puts all of this to work:
Jesus could be tempted to sin just in case [i.e., if and only if] it was epistemically possible for him that he sin. If at the times of his reported temptations, the full accessible belief-set of his earthly mind did not rule out the possibility of his sinning, he could be genuinely tempted, in that range of consciousness, to sin. But this could be so only if that belief-set did not contain the information that he is necessarily good. In order that he suffer real temptation, then, it is not necessary that sinning be a broadly logical or metaphysical possibility for Jesus; it is only necessary that it be an epistemic possibility for him.
He goes on to add:
Recall the two-minds view developed [earlier]. On this view, there existed in the case of God Incarnate two distinct ranges of consciousness, the omniscient divine mind proper to God the Son, and the distinct, nonomniscient earthly mind which developed by and large as any merely human mind would. On the two-minds view, it can be held that within the beliefs naturally accessible to his earthly consciousness, it was epistemically possible for Christ that he sin. From his earthly point of view, his sinning was not logically ruled out.
The two-minds view, coupled with the metaphysical/epistemic possibility distinction, allows Morris to deny premise (7). The PTG is therefore resolved.
In the paper I provide technical definitions for what Morris means by a “full-accessible belief-set” and by epistemic possibility. I will assume those definitions in later posts without repeating them here. Both definitions are crucial for what I go on to argue later in the paper.
There’s one clarification I need to make: The fact that I have explained Morris’ use of the “assymetrical accessing relation” between Christ’s divine and human minds doesn’t mean that I’m assuming the same relation later in the paper. It’s precisely this relation that has caused some to argue that Morris’ view is either impossible, or at least implausible. I’ve never been quite convinced by these criticisms, but it could be that Christ’s two minds are related in some other way, or related in no way other than being joined to the Person of Christ in the hypostatic union.
So, in the arguments that I provide in the rest of the paper, I’m only assuming two things about Christ’s minds:
- He has two of them.
- Morris’ concepts of a full-accessible belief-set and of epistemic possibility are workable ones.
These assumptions, I think, are all that I need to make my case. How Christ’s minds relate to each other, unless one can show me otherwise, is irrelevant for my purposes.
In the next section of my paper, and therefore in my next post, I provide a number of things that I call “Oneness Pentecostal desiderata.” Without this section, there really isn’t enough orienting data for what I go on to argue later.
1. See Thomas V. Morris, The Logic of God Incarnate (Ithica: Cornell University Press, 1986), 63. This is the example he gives to illustrate the universal/essential distinction.
2. I take it this is why Morris says, “It is also normally characteristic of human beings to come into existence and to have the metaphysical status of contingency” (The Logic of God Incarnate, 64).
3. Morris, The Logic of God Incarnate, 73.
4. Ibid., 65-66.
5. Ibid., 103.
7. Morris’s actual premise here reads “Jesus is God the Son.” But I’ve changed the premise to “Jesus = God the Son” to remove the ambiguity between the different uses of “is” in this argument. That Morris intends this premise to use an “is” of identity is clear from the fact that he justifies premise (5) by appeal to (1), (4), and the indiscernibility of identicals. Also, in earlier chapters, Morris says that the claim “Jesus is God the Son” is an “identity claim” (Logic of God Incarnate, 21, 62, 108).
8. The indiscernibility of identicals claims that if any “two” things are numerically identical, they cannot differ. It can be symbolized in the following way: (x)(y)[x = y → (Fx↔Fy)].
9. Morris, The Logic of God Incarnate, 147.
10. Ibid., 148.
11. Ibid., 149.