Given this distinction between Christ qua man and Christ qua God, how can we know what elements of the relationship between Christ and the Father revealed to us in the gospels are revelations of their intrinsic intra-trinitarian relationships and which are not and pertain to Christ qua man?
That’s a good question.
i) Keep in mind that the distinction between the immanent Trinity and the economic Trinity is an issue that all orthodox Trinitarians must deal with. We may draw the line at different places, but we all draw the line somewhere.
ii) Keep in mind that this distinction isn’t unique to the Trinity. It’s a special case of a larger distinction between what God is like in himself, and God’s self-revelation in and to the world. God often reveals himself in Scripture through metaphors, analogies, anthropomorphisms, angelomorphisms, &c. That’s not identical to what God is like in himself. So that’s comparable, on a broader scale, to the distinction between the immanent Trinity and the economic Trinity.
iii) Keep in mind that this isn’t distinctive to theology or theological knowledge. Most of what we know about the world is analogical. Human language is analogical. It doesn’t suddenly become analogical when we apply it to God. It’s already analogical when we apply it to the world.
Likewise, the Bible uses many theological metaphors, but metaphors aren’t confined to God. The Bible also uses metaphors for human beings. For the human condition.
So it’s not as if the analogical nature of God-talk presents a special problem for theological knowledge. Rather, this is a ubiquitous feature of human language and human knowledge.
iv) Apropos (iii), the Song of Songs uses a wealth of metaphors to depict male and female lovers, as well as lovemaking. Likewise, Eccl 12 uses the extended metaphor of a house to describe the aging process.
v) All metaphors are analogies, but not all analogies are metaphors. Metaphors are figures of speech. Mere rhetorical or literary artifacts. Moreover, metaphors typically compare different kinds of things. Indeed, what makes for an arresting metaphor is the juxtaposition of two disparate things.
Back to analogies: let’s take the following illustration:
And I turned to see the voice that spake with me. And being turned, I saw seven golden candlesticks (Rev 1:12, KJV).Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands (Rev 1:12, ESV).
The King James translators updated the original by replacing the archaic lighting device known as “lampstands” with the hitech lighting device known as “candlesticks.”
Of course, that’s anachronistic. If modern translators continued that trend, they’d render the verse:
Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden light bulbs (or fluorescent tubes).
But the historical incongruity would be too jarring for modern readers. Because modern readers have grown up on historical films which try to reproduce period conditions, modern translators have reverted to the archaic original.
Now, lamps, candles, and light bulbs are analogous objects. They have both similarities and differences.
Lamps were made of metal or ceramic. Olive oil was used for fuel. Candles were made from tallow or bee’s wax. In that respect they’re disanalogous.
However, they both emit firelight, and they are both forms of artificial lighting. So that’s what they have in common.
In one respect, candles and light bulbs have very little in common. If you didn’t know what they were for, you’d think they were completely disparate objects. Candles and light bulbs have different shapes, and they are made of different materials.
Yet they have one thing in common: they were designed to perform the same function. To provide artificial illumination.
At that level of comparison, they are identical or univocal.
v) Let’s consider some metaphors:
Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him,on those who hope in his steadfast love (Ps 33:18).The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteousand his ears toward their cry (Ps 34:15).
Here the Bible is using the eye as a theological metaphor for divine omniscience. That’s combined with the idea of God’s providential care for his people. Providence based on knowledge.
Say therefore to the people of Israel, ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment (Exod 6:6).Or has any god ever attempted to go and take a nation for himself from the midst of another nation, by trials, by signs, by wonders, and by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and by great deeds of terror, all of which the Lord your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes? (Deut 4:34).And the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great deeds of terror, with signs and wonders (Deut 26:8).
Here the Bible is using the image of an “outstretched arm” as a theological metaphor for God’s omnipotence, exercised in deliverance and judgment.
God doesn’t literally stretch forth his arm. However, the metaphor does contain a literal truth. We use our hands and arms to bring about a change in the world. At that level of abstraction, it’s a literally true statement about divine action in the Exodus.
vi) Apropos (iii), some of what we know is based on direct observation or personal experience, but most of what we know about the world is based on analogy. We extrapolate from our sampled experience to reality at large.
If you tell me that you own a dog, I extrapolate from my knowledge of dogs, based on dogs I’ve seen in pictures or real life. Likewise, when you use the word “dog,” that triggers my concept of dogs, based on the association of the word with a sampling of dogs.
vii) This raises the problem of induction. Am I justified in generalizing from my sample cases? How do I know that my sample cases are representative?
Here a Biblical doctrine of divine creation and providence can help to ground analogy. If God has created natural kinds, which he conserves over time, then we’re justified in extrapolating from sample cases to other cases.
viii) Likewise, I’m not suggesting that all knowledge is empirical. For instance, I don’t think we acquire a concept of numerical relations by observing groups of similar objects. If I didn’t already have the concept of two, I wouldn’t recognize a grouping of two ducks as two ducks. I don’t think it’s possible to bootstrap numerical concepts from induction. Rather, I think that conceptual apparatus must be innate.
ix) I’ve been using transparent metaphors like eyes and arms. It’s possible to analyze these metaphors. Indeed, I’ve done so.
However, the average Bible reader doesn’t need to analyze the metaphor to understand it. We enjoy an intuitive, instantaneous sense of what the figurative use of eyes and arms signifies. That’s something we grasp at a subliminal level without having to having to run through a conscious process of abstraction to filter out the extraneous, incidental connotations of theological metaphors.
A Bible reader doesn’t have to have a theory of analogy or analogical predication to grasp the significance many Biblical metaphors and analogies.
x) The Bible uses a number of theological metaphors for the person or work of the Holy Spirit, viz. wind, breath, oil, dove, fire, first fruit.
Indeed, the name of the Spirit is, itself, a figurative name which trades on the metaphorical connotations of wind, breath, &c.
This is one of the problems with defining the ontology of the Holy Spirit by reference to “spiration.” That’s arbitrarily selective. For Scripture uses a variety of metaphors to describe the Holy Spirit.
Take the description of the Holy Spirit as a dove. The Holy Spirit isn’t literally a dove, although he can manifest himself in avian images. What does that signify?
a) Well, we can start with our general knowledge of doves. Our mundane knowledge of doves, which we derive from our empirical knowledge of the world. What are the physical and behavioral characteristics of doves?
b) We can also study dovish symbolism in Scripture.
These are ways of honing in on the intended scope of the metaphor. Ways of isolating the point of analogy.
Same thing with the Trinity. There’s no shortcut for how to distinguish the immanent Trinity from the economic Trinity. Rather, we have to roll up our sleeves and perform a detailed study of how various Bible writers use theological analogies and metaphors. How do they function? What facets of the analogy or metaphor do they single out–thereby discarding other connotations by process of elimination?
xi) I’ve given examples of theological analogies and metaphors where it’s possible, through abstraction, to isolate an identical or univocal element which two things share in common. But is that a requirement of analogical knowledge and analogical predication?
Take family resemblance. Children resembles their parents, or vice versa. A child may resemble one parent more than another. Likewise, sibling resemblance, both between brothers and sisters.
Is our ability to recognize family resemblance based on mentally breaking down the faces into identical features and differential features? Surely not.
Isn’t family resemblance something we take in at a glance? We instantly recognize the kinship. We don’t go through a process of abstraction to separate the identical features from the differential features.
Rather, we see each face as a whole. Indeed, that’s what makes it a face. The unified composition of all the different features.
Pattern recognition, by which we discern similarities and dissimilarities, seems to be based, not on isolating points of identity, but registering commonalities within a statistical spread.
Same thing if a teenager describes a girl to his friend. “She has long curly red hair, green eyes, and creamy skin.”
That’s a fairly vague description. Still, when his friend sees the girl, he can tell that she matches the description. He can recognize her from the description. The comparison is inexact, but so what? As long as the comparison is sufficiently accurate to successfully refer to the girl in question, it doesn’t need to be more exacting.
xii) Apropos (xi), we need to resist the temptation to concoct a religious epistemology based on how we’d like the world to be. We need to accept reality on its own terms. Accept the world as it comes to us from God’s hand. Our theory of analogy or analogical predication should takes its cue the nature of the world God has made for us and put us in, rather than dictating to the world what it must be like, or concocting an aprioristic theory which we use as a cookie-cutter to impose its outline on the world.
The sensible world is a fractal world with ragged boundaries in space and time. Where patterns bleed into another patterns. A world of shared surfaces. A world where comparisons come down to degrees of similarity and dissimilarity rather than sharp-edged identity and alterity.
That’s why Plato retreated into an abstract world of perfect circles and mathematically straight lines. Sharp borders and discrete surfaces. But Platonism isn’t the word of God or the world of God.