Monday, December 21, 2015

What does Jesus know?

Apostate Dale Tuggy recently interviewed Lee Irons, who defended traditional Christology:

Lee is a Bible scholar, Dale is a philosopher. For the most part, Lee can argue circles around Dale when it comes to exegetical theology. 

There were a couple of points at which Dale tripped him up. There's the tension between Lee's commitment to the eternal generation of the Son and his commitment to the aseity of the Son. Lee tried to finesse that as well as he could, given his prior commitment to both propositions, but the tension remains.

Finally, near the end of the program, Dale said [slight paraphrase]:

On the two natures reply, it's not clear to us [unitarians] how it really answers the objection. Take the case of knowing everything v. not knowing everything. So the traditional answer is that he knows everything as God but he doesn't know everything as man.
Yet it's not natures that know, but the man, the person that knows or not. So if you know something through your divine nature, it looks like it follows that you know it, the one with the nature, if you're somewhat ignorant insofar as you're human…it's the man, the person which is the subject of the ignorance. But if you accept that then you just have he knows everything and he doesn't know everything. That's an apparent contradiction. 

It's hard to make sense of Dale's argument. Admittedly, he's speaking off the cuff. However, this is hardly the first time he's raised this objection, so he ought to have his formulation down pat. 

i) Is he really that simple-minded, or is he attempting to confuse Christians? The orthodox argument is that Jesus is omniscience in one respect, but not omniscient in another respect. That's not contradictory. That's not even an apparent contradiction. It would only be contradictory to say Jesus is omniscient and not omniscient in the same respect. So the two-natures response is hardly reducible to "he knows everything and he doesn't know everything." That ignores key qualifications. Is Dale really that uncomprehending? Is he playing dumb, or is he truly that dim? 

ii) The closest Dale comes to an explanation is to distinguish nature and person. But the "two-natures" phrase is shorthand. It doesn't mean Jesus has two impersonal natures. 

To begin with, the divine nature is a personalized nature. The Son of God is a person. A rational agent. 

Likewise, Jesus had/has a brain and a rational soul. Therefore, his human nature is personalized. 

These aren't abstract natures, but individualized natures. Although nature and person are distinct, they are not dichotomous. And even though there's a sense in which person and nature are separable for humans, they are inseparable for God. 

iii) Perhaps, hovering in the background of the objection, is the traditional formula that Jesus is one person with two natures. If so, then you don't have a one-to-one correspondence between person and nature. So maybe Dale is hinting at a contradiction from that angle. It's hard to say, because his objection is so sloppy.  

Maybe his implicit objection is that Jesus can't be one person if he has two minds (human and divine). If person and nature pair off, then two natures entail two persons. If that's his objection, I'd say the following:

a) There's the question of what "person" means in Latin patrology, Greek patrology, and modern theology. 

b) The meaning of the Incarnation can't be captured by single words like "nature" and "person". That's shorthand. That's not a substitute for a more detailed model. What "nature" and "person" mean in that context must be unpacked with definitions and explanations. You can't produce a contradiction by simply opposing one word ("nature") to another word ("person").

c) High-church Christians are committed to the theological settlement of the ecumenical councils, so they must try to operate within that framework. For better or worse, they are saddled with the limitations of their received tradition. 

But if push came to shove, many evangelicals don't think every strand in that position is equally central in the web of belief. In terms of their priorities, I think many evangelicals begin with the full humanity and full divinity of Christ. Those are nonnegotiable. If something has to give, it's not the two natures but the one person. Not what's related, but how it's related. 

d) Jesus won't be "one person" in the same sense that a merely human individual is "one person". We might say Jesus is a "complex person".

In the nature of the case, this is a unique situation, without parallel among merely human individuals. 

e) However, that's not special pleading. For instance, what do dogs dream about? I don't know. I'm not a dog. A canine mind is different from a human mind, and since I can't experience both, I have no direct basis of comparison. Just as I don't know what it's like to be God Incarnate, I don't know what it's like to be a dog. Human psychology is the only frame of reference. 


  1. I've heard Tuggy use this line of reasoning in other podcasts. But what did you mean he's an "apostate"?

    1. He's an apostate because he abandoned the Christian faith when he became a unitarian.

  2. Steve,

    It seems like you don't accept the eternal generation of the Son. I've not studied the issue much, but the idea of eternal generation makes the most sense to me of passages like John 5:26. As Shedd says, "The difference in the manner in which self-existence is possessed by the Father and Son makes no difference with the fact. The Son has self-existence by communication of that essence of which self-existence is an attribute. The Father has self-existence without communication of it, because he has the essence without communication of it." (Dogmatic theology. (A. W. Gomes, Ed.) 3rd ed., pp. 250–251).

    How do you understand verses like John 5:26?

    Any recommended resources?

    1. To refer 5:26 to the immanent Trinity is pantheistic. For the “life” in question is a communicable attribute (v21; 6:57). If the life which Jesus imparts to others is the same kind of life that the Father imparts to Jesus, then we have a pantheistic chain-of-being.

      I think 5:26 is making a different point. You can only give what you have. Because God is the living God, he can give life to others (6:57). That’s how he can be the Creator. And it also makes him the recreator of the dead–with a view to the resurrection of Jesus as well as the resurrection of the just.

      In context, the type of life which God imparts to Jesus, and Jesus imparts to others, is resurrection life (5:21).

    2. Thanks. I think you're right about John 5:26, but there do seem to be other reasons for believing in eternal generation. It fits nicely with the consistent language of Jesus that he is given this or that by the Father, that he does whatever he sees the Father doing etc, and Richard Swinburne's chain of reasoning in his book Was Jesus God? (it gives us some explanation of why there might be a Trinity to begin with, rather than Unitarianism or a Quadrinity). Aside from the aseity concern is there more objection to this? I vaguely recall Thomas McCall and another philosopher (Keith Yandle?) debating Wayne Grudem and Bruce Ware about eternal subordination.

    3. Jonathan, that debate you're talking about is probably THIS ONE. I watched it awhile back and I think Grudem and Ware clearly won the debate.

    4. BTW, while Grudem affirms the eternal functional subordination of the Son the Father even in eternity past, Grudem nevertheless seems to reject the doctrine of eternal generation. See appendix 6 of his Introduction to Systematic Theology where he addresses "monogenes." So, he seems to affirm eternal sonship, but rejects (or shys away from) the doctrine of eternal generation. Those who accept the latter doctrine (EG) also affirm the former (ES). But not all those who affirm the former (ES) also affirm the latter (EG). So, I think Wayne Grudem and Steve might hold to similar position of affirming Eternal Sonship but denying Eternal Generation.

    5. Thanks, Annoyed. That's the debate I was referring to. As I recall, McCall and Yandell argued that eternal subordination only makes sense in light of some deeper metaphysical distinction (so collapsing it into eternal generation?). I'll have to watch it again to refresh my memory.

    6. Jonathan,

      Fatherhood and sonship are rich metaphors, so the question is their intended scope when they function as theological metaphors. In theory, they could be developed in many directions, but only a few of their potential figurative implications are in play in theological usage.

      As a Christological metaphor, I think the key principle is how sonship signifies representation. Because no one else is more similar, or as similar, to a father as his son, a son is uniquely qualified to reveal his father, act on his father's behalf, act in his father's stead, with his father's authority.

      I think the point of sonship is not to signify subordination but representation. He is sent, not because he is subordinate, but because he's a uniquely fitting representative of the sender. Not just in what he says, which any prophet can say, but in what he does and especially in what he is.

      There are other aspects to the metaphor, such as the royal heir motif.

    7. Some complementarians are bending the Trinity out of shape by grounding male headship in the nature of the Godhead rather than creation.

    8. Yes, I affirm the eternal sonship of Christ but deny the eternal generation of Christ.

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  4. Great post. I agree with Steve and other theologians in appealing to a two minds view of Christ to solve Dale's conundrum of how only persons can know, and not natures. Doing so doesn't necessarily commit one to a Nestorian position of two persons. Though, I think Steve is also right in saying, "If something has to give, it's not the two natures but the one person."

    I don't know if Dale is a dualist or a monist/physicalist (or materialist) with respect to anthropology, but it seems to me that even in ordinary human beings there can be something analogous to being able to know and not know something in different senses simultaneously. On dualism, it seems to me it is possible for someone to know something in their spirit they they don't currently know consciously at present. The following examples could work whether dualism or physicalism were assumed. It's possible for an amnesiac to not know his name in one sense and yet know his name in another sense. That knowledge is locked in his spirit and/or brain. We've all had dreams where we can't recall something we know we normally know (e.g. what room we're sleeping in). We've all experienced not being able to remember the name of an acquaintance and then all of a sudden remembering it a few minutes/hours later.

    Philosophers distinguish between occurrent and non-occurrent knowledge and/or beliefs. Unitarians might argue that omniscience entails universal comprehensive occurrent knowledge and that since Jesus didn't possess that, Jesus can't be God. But that kind of argument seems to just dismiss the special circumstances postulated in the Trinitarian conception of the incarnation (as Steve and other theologians point out). To use an analogy, Jesus' human mind and brain may have been like a container (say a cup) dropped into the ocean of Christ's divine mind. The cup can only finitely contain a certain amount of "water," yet the cup potentially had access to any part of the ocean. [Though, this analogy of course breaks down because there are some truths which no human mind can grasp and which only divine minds can.]

    1. William Lane Craig has pointed out that there is also such a thing as subconscious beliefs and knowledge. For example, a person can be hypnotized to not see an object (say a piano), yet when asked to walk from point A to point B, the person walks around the object he doesn't see.

      The Bible doesn't tell us in what sense or senses Jesus is not omniscient. The Bible wasn't written in terms of later philosophic concerns, concepts and terminology (e.g. epistemological and metaphysical). The Bible doesn't actually tell us Jesus was not omniscient, only that there were some things Jesus didn't know (e.g. Mark 13:32). That's not exactly the same thing. The divine person of the Son may have merely withheld from the human mind the date of his return to earth. In which case, the human mind could have potentially known that date apart from it being revealed by the Father. Given a Trinitarian understanding of the incarnation, the divine mind of Christ could reveal something to his human mind.

  5. "But if push came to shove, many evangelicals don't think every strand in that position is equally central in the web of belief. In terms of their priorities, I think many evangelicals begin with the full humanity and full divinity of Christ. Those are nonnegotiable. If something has to give, it's not the two natures but the one person."

    A contentious statement to be sure! Being in some sense an evangelical since 1978, I don't think it's true either, based on the people I've interacted with. Much more common is the view that he's just hiding his perfect knowledge.

    Yeah, I knew that I was raising more than we could discuss at the end of the interview. What raised the subject was Dr. Irons's somewhat strident reply to Dr. Smith re: Jesus dying, and not knowing the day or hour. "Two natures!" is the reply. But just what is this answer?

    I can parse through all the various theories that might be expressed by this traditional two-natures language, but I won't attempt it in a combox.

    Briefly, focus on the ignorance point. *Someone* doesn't know the day or hour. Who? Obviously Jesus. But wait, doesn't he, as divine, know all? If the natures are the sorts of things that can't know anything at all, well it can't be one of those which knows many things, but not the day or hour. Like many ancients, Steve wants to say that "natures" here are not properties, but the kinds of things that can have properties, and moreover, the kind which can know. One knows all, the other not quite so much.

    Yes, this look like Nestorianism. But forget about that label and the ancient disputes. It is just a terrible reading of the NT to say that in the Son of Mary there are two selves, one who does divine sorts of things, and another who does merely human things. Jesus is in all the NT writings one character - all the relevant terms, messiah, Son of God, Son of Man, Jesus, the Nazarene, etc. refer to him, to one and the same human man. This apparent one person is never unveiled as actually being two within a single body.

    Annoyed takes a different tack - one subject of knowledge, sensibly enough, which in one sense knows the day and hour, but in another sense doesn't. Problem is, this seems to make Jesus a liar, as he said without qualification that he didn't know it, and knew full well that without such a qualification, people would understand him to mean that he didn't know it (in any way). And no one in the NT or in early Christianity spells out these two sense of "knows that".

    The two-minds theories are quite clever, and are adopted my many recent Christian philosophers. I think in the end though, they mis-fit the ancient catholic tradition, and don't actually solve the problems they're supposed to.

    Perhaps in a future episode we'll go into much more depth with the agonies of two-natures theories. I hope to interview some time in 2016 my friend Tim Pawl, a brilliant young Catholic philosopher, who has just written a big tome, I gather defending all the traditional catholic claims. Also, I'm teaching a college class in the Spring that goes through all the disputes up past Chalcedon, and then more recently.

  6. Then there's the cumulative evidence for Jesus' omniscience being taught by Scripture

    We (along with the Jews) know that the Messiah would know and reveal a lot of things:

    John 4:25 The woman said to him, "I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things."

    John 4:29 "Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?"

    Jesus had (or was acknowledged to have) preternatural knowledge that was consistent with omniscient, but doesn't necessarily entail omniscience

    Mark 2:8 And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, "Why do you question these things in your hearts?

    Mark 13:23 But be on guard; I have told you all things beforehand.

    Matt. 9:4 But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, "Why do you think evil in your hearts?

    John 1:46 Nathanael said to him, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" Philip said to him, "Come and see."47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, "Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!"

    John 2:24 But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people25 and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.

    Joh 5:42 But I know that you do not have the love of God within you.

    John 6:64 But there are some of you who do not believe." (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.)

    John 18:4 Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to him, came forward and said to them, "Whom do you seek?"

    Jesus displayed knowledge (or acknowledged to have knowledge) that was consistent with omniscience and which may have been meant by the Scriptural authors to be interpreted as teaching divine omniscience upon later reading and reflection.

    John 16:30 Now we know that you know all things and do not need anyone to question you; this is why we believe that you came from God."

    John 19:28 After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), "I thirst."

    John 21:17 He said to him the third time, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, "Do you love me?" and he said to him, "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my sheep.

    Matt. 11:27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

    Luke 10:22 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him."

    Both Matt. 11:27 and Luke 10:22 should, upon theological reflection, suggest Christ's omniscience since no creature can exhaustively know the Father, yet Jesus is said to so do. Hence, Christ is divine and omniscient.


    1. There are scriptural passages that indirectly and (seemingly) directly teach Christ's divinity and omniscience

      Acts 1:24 And they prayed and said, "You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen

      In Acts 1:24 a good case can be made that Jesus is the one being prayed to [cf. Putting Jesus in His Place by Bowman and Komoszewski]. If so, then Jesus is said to know the hearts of all humans (as Rev. 2:23 states). Moreover, in Acts 1:24 Jesus is being prayed to as God similar to how Paul prayed to Christ in 2 Cor. 12:8.

      Col. 2:3 states that in Christ "are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge." That would be consistent with the omniscience of the eternal Word and Son of God.

      Jesus is repeatedly said to be the Wisdom of God in the New Testament. Presumably the same Wisdom of God personified in the Old Testament.

      1 Cor. 1:24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

      Luke 11:49 Therefore also the Wisdom of God said, 'I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and persecute,'

      When one combines Luke 11:49 with Matt. 23:34 (and their surrounding contexts), it's clear that Jesus is claiming to be the Wisdom that was personified in the Old Testament. For more see my blogpost HERE.

      Heb. 4:12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.13 And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

      In Heb. 4:12-13 the phrase "word of God" is traditionally interpreted to refer to the Holy Scriptures (which is the most likely meaning). However, there are a minority of commentators who interpret the verses to refer to the the Son of God the Eternal Word of God. If that's the correct interpretation, then Jesus is said to not only 1. discern the thoughts and intentions of the heart, BUT ALSO 2. to exhaustively know all things such that no creature (or all creation) is exposed to (what amounts to) divine omniscient scrutiny.

      Rev. 2:23 and I will strike her children dead. And all the churches will know that I am he who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you according to your works.

      Jer. 17:10 "I the LORD search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds."

      1 King 8:39 then hear in heaven your dwelling place and forgive and act and render to each whose heart you know, according to all his ways (for you, you only, know the hearts of all the children of mankind), [cf. 1 Sam. 16:7; 1 Chron. 28:9]

      In Rev. 2:23 Jesus alludes to Jer. 17:10 and essentially states He is that same being described in Jer. 17:10 who searches hearts and rewards according to deeds. Something which 1 Kings 8:39 states only Yahweh/Jehovah can do. The original context of Jer. 17:10 is referring to Yahweh/Jehovah. Therefore, the most natural interpretation of Rev. 2:23 is that Jesus is claiming to be Jehovah and to possess the attribute of omniscience that Jehovah alone possesses.

      It also follows that all the other external arguments and evidences for Jesus' full deity as Jehovah, if sound, would also imply Jesus' omniscience.