In an earlier post I gave what I claimed was an inconsistent triad (or set of three claims) about the Father and Jesus. After a few months of thought, I would now like to amend that original triad.
A New Inconsistent Tetrad
The original triad of claims consisted in the following three claims:
- There is only one truly divine Person.
- Jesus is truly divine.
- Jesus and the Father are two persons.
The logical structure of these three claims is the following:
- ∀x∀y[(Tx & Ty) → (x = y)]. i.e., for any x and any y, if x is a truly divine Person and y is a truly divine Person, then x just is (is numerically identical to) y.
- Pj & Pf & ~(j = f). i.e., Jesus is a person, and the Father is a Person, and it is not the case that Jesus just is the Father.
For those up on their logic, it’s easy to see how these claims are inconsistent, provided that the additional claim that the Father is truly divine (what we would symbolize as Tf) is added to any of the three claims. Really, the inconsistent triad is an inconsistent tetrad (or set of four claims) with a suppressed claim (i.e., Tf).
I now find the following inconsistent tetrad more helpful, for reasons I will explain:
|1. God alone is truly divine.||∀x[Tx → (x = g)]. i.e., for any x, if x is truly divine, then x just is God.|
|2. The Father is truly divine.||Tf|
|3. Jesus is truly divine.||Tj|
|4. It is not the case that Jesus just is the Father.||~(j = f)|
The reason that this is an inconsistent tetrad is because, if you accept any of these three claims, you have to deny the fourth. If you’re holding onto a stick with four pine cones attached (like the one pictured above), you’ll have to choose which one to remove. (“She loves me. She loves me not.”)
Another technical way to put it is that if you accept any three claims conjointly, then those three claims, when conjoined, entail the negation of the fourth claim. So, if one accepts (1), (2), and (3), those three claims taken together entail that Jesus just is the Father, which is the negation of (4). It’s simple to show that this is the case with this tetrad, but I’ll spare readers from seeing more logical notation than necessary!
There are at least two reasons that I find this inconsistent tetrad more helpful than the original triad I proposed. The first reason is because it doesn’t suppress the claim that makes the triad inconsistent. Claim (2) is now out in the open. The second is because it avoids the terminology of “persons” altogether.
Now, I think there’s a perfectly sensible way to understand the term “person” (and “Person”) without assuming the understanding of later notions like hypostases, supposits, and all the rest. In brief, that understanding of “person” is a common sense one: A “person” is that which can properly receive personal pronouns like “he,” “she,” “you,” and “I.” A person is a someone, not a something, and a who, not a what. There’s nothing about this understanding that assumes a post-Nicean understanding of the term. Of course, it’s consistent with that sort of understanding, but doesn’t require it. Still, if I don’t have to use the term “persons” to make claims inconsistent with one another, it just makes things simpler.
So what is claim (4) saying, if not that Jesus and the Father are two persons in the sense I just stipulated? Really, it’s just saying that, whatever “Jesus” and “Father” refer to, they do not refer to one and the same someone. Ultimately, they don’t have the same referent. If the referent is what we might call a “person,” Jesus and the Father aren’t one and the same that, whatever that turns out to be. Note again that “just is” in this claim is shorthand for “is numerically identical to.”
Anything that is truly divine is a person in the sense stipulated above. A truly divine something is actually a truly divine someone. So, even though the inconsistent tetrad doesn’t use the term “person” in it, we can still go on to talk about Jesus and the Father as numerically distinct persons understood in the way I have stipulated.