I. Al-Ghazali’s Erroneous Understanding of the Incarnation.
Al-Ghazali’s understanding of the incarnation is derived from the Egyptian Jacobites who believed that the incarnate Christ comprises a mixture of divine nature and human nature:
God created the humanity of Jesus, on him be peace, then he appeared in it, and united with it. They mean by the union that a connection occurred between him and it like the connective relationship between the soul and the body. Then with this connective relationship, a third reality occurred, different from each of the two realities, composed of divinity and humanity, and having the attributes of all that is required from each of them, with respect to him being God and man. [Al-Radd, pp. 127, 129]
The Jacobites represented the more extreme wing of monophysitism [from monos (single) and physis (nature)] followed Eutyches who taught that either the two natures of Christ must have been fused into a tertium quid [(a third thing that is indefinite and undefined but is related to two definite or known things] or that the humanity must have been swallowed up by the divinity. [J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrine 5ed. (A & C Black, 1977), p. 333] God created the humanity of Jesus and then united with it in such a way that the third reality which results from this connection shares all the attributes of divinity and humanity. Continue reading “Answering al-Ghazali Refutation of Jesus’ Divinity Part 4. The Coherence of the Incarnation”
Jesus prays to the Father in John 17:5, “And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.” This verse testifies that Jesus shared the glory of God in his preexistence. However, al-Ghazali explains away the explicit teaching of the verse by imposing an unprecedented meaning to the word “glory”. He asserts that “the factual meaning is not intended, because in the fullness of the glory that was given to him is prophethood and messengership, and what entails from them in rank, the ascent to heaven, and his power to perform unprecedented miracles.” [Al-Radd, p.111]
Based on his Islamic presuppositions, Al-Ghazali rhetorically asserts that intelligent people would agree that there is an absolute ontological dichotomy between the Father and Christ, “Is it possible that divinity be bestowed when the impossibility of this is a matter upon which intelligent people have unanimously agreed?” However, he does not explain why the divinity of Christ is an “impossibility.” Neither does he offer any evidence to support his claim that it is “a matter upon which intelligent people have unanimously agreed?” His argument is merely an exercise in rationalizing away the plain meaning of the text and aligning them with the premise that the divinity of Christ is an impossibility.
Jesus claims to be divine when he declares publicly to the Jews, “I and the Father are one.” (John 10:30) However, al-Ghazali insists that the statement should be understood metaphorically rather than as literally. For him, Jesus’ prophetic mission was to show people the true God and to worship him alone. A literal interpretation of John 10:30 must be rejected as this would entail Jesus calling people to worship him instead of the true God. Jesus’ oneness with God describes his obedience which enables him to receives power from God to discharge his mission. Continue reading “Answering Al-Ghazali Refutation of Jesus’ Divinity. Part 2. Arbitrary Metaphorical Interpretation.”
A. False Premises Distort the Reading of the Gospels
Unlike Muslim polemists who reject out of hand the divinity of Christ without examining the biblical evidence, Al-Ghazali mounts a critique of the divinity of Christ based on his reading of the gospels. However, the ineptitude displayed by al-Ghazali in his handling of the biblical texts seriously undermines his critique.
We look at school children with kind indulgence even when they repeat their mistakes in their class assignments. However, we are dumbfounded when a great thinker like al-Ghazali, whose mastery of philosophy is indisputable, commits glaring mistakes in his analysis of the gospels which are written in lingua franca (koine Greek) to be read daily by ordinary people. Somehow he ends up devising contorted metaphorical readings when the simple meaning is in plain sight.
[This summary of Al-Ghazali’s, A Fitting Refutation of the Divinity of Jesus (Al-Radd al-Jamil) marks the beginning of a series of responses to Muslim polemics against Christianity written by classical Muslim philosophers like Al-Ghazali, Ibn Tamiyya, and Abu Isa al-Warraq]
Historically, the Islamic view of the Bible has been one of ambivalence. On the hand the Quran affirms that the Torah is a word of God and that the Zabur (Psalms) was given to David. While the Quran is silent about the four gospels, it assumes that there is one Injil that was given through Jesus, “He will teach him the Scripture and wisdom, the Torah and the Gospel.” (Surah 3:48). On the other hand, the Quran accuses Christians and Jews of being guilty of having distorted and altered Scriptures (tahrif).
Arianism [the ancestral fountainhead of modern day Jehovah Witnesses] posed a dangerous threat to the Church in the 4th century when it challenged the orthodox doctrine of the deity of Christ. In his refutation of Arianism, Athanasius the orthodox theologian displayed rare insight by identifying the doctrine of salvation as the heart of the dispute and cogently demonstrating that soteriology is a touchstone to determine the acceptability of any theology for the Church.
Arianism initially gained popularity because it offered an attractive path to salvation, that is, by imitation of Christ who perfected his own virtues through self-discipline and then enables his followers to do likewise. Christ as the first of the perfected creatures and his perfection is the promise of the heights that believers may aspire to achieve. Christ is the pioneer and perfector of our faith since he perfected his virtues while possessing the same human weaknesses as we have. Naturally, Arianism emphasized the human characteristics of Christ at the expense of his divine qualities, to which Athanasius retorted, “For looking at the human characteristics of the Savior, they have considered him to be a creature.” Continue reading “Redemption as a Touchstone for Right Theology in the Nicene Controversy”
TWENTY-NINTH QUESTION: THE ETERNAL GENERATION OF THE SON Was the Son of God begotten of the Father from eternity? We affirm
I. The preceding question established the consubstantiality (homoousian) and essential identity of the Son with the Father. This question will demonstrate his personal distinction from him, his ineffable and eternal generation against the blasphemies of anti-Trinitarians.
Statement of the question.
II. The question is not whether Christ can be said to be begotten of God by the miraculous conception of the Holy Spirit; or whether he can be called the Son of God by a gracious communication of existence, power and divine glory (for this the adversaries readily grant and acknowledge no other cause of his filiation). But the question is whether he was begotten of God from eternity, and whether he may be called Son on account of the secret and ineffable generation from the Father. The Socinians blasphemously deny this; we affirm it. Continue reading “The Eternal Generation of the Son: Francis Turretin on the Trinity”
[Recapitulation: On the Trinity]
a. There is in the Divine Being but one indivisible essence (ousia, essentia). God is one in His essential being or constitutional nature. Some of the early Church Fathers used the term “substantia” as synonymous with “essentia,” but later writers avoided this use of it in view of the fact that in the Latin Church “substantia” was used as a rendering of “hupostasis” as well as of “ousia,” and was therefore ambiguous. At present the two terms “substance” and “essence” are often used interchangeably. There is no objection to this, provided we bear in mind that they have slightly different connotations. Shedd distinguishes them as follows: “Essence is from esse, to be, and denotes energetic being (Augustine On the Trinity 5.2). Substance is from substare, and denotes the latent possibility of being.… The term essence describes God as a sum-total of infinite perfections; the term substance describes Him as the underlying ground of infinite activities. The first is, comparatively, an active word; the last, a passive. The first is, comparatively, a spiritual, the last a material term. We speak of material substance rather than of material essence.” /1/ Continue reading “The Eternal General Generation of the Son: Louis Berkhof on the Trinity”
The Coherence of the Trinity
We refer to the Athanasian Creed which gives us a useful starting point for our discussion: “We worship one God in Trinity and the Trinity in unity, without either confusing the persons or dividing the substance; for the person of the Father is one, the Son is another, and the Spirit is another; but the Godhead of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is one, their glory equal, their majesty equally eternally. Thus, the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God; yet there are not three gods but one God…And in this Trinity there is no before or after, no greater or lesser, but all three persons are equally eternal with each other and fully equal.”
We may break down the above statement into the following propositions:
(1) The Father is God.
(2) The Son is God.
(3) The Holy Spirit is God.
(4) The Father is not the Son and the Son is not the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit is not the Father.
(5) There is one and only one God. /1/
The doctrine of trinity teaches that the one true God of the Old Testament has in the New Testament further revealed himself in three ways of being (Persons) in his work of redemption: as the Father who is the source of all things, as the divine Word who came in flesh to reveal the Father … Continue reading “Doctrine of the Trinity: A Primer”
The doctrine of trinity teaches that the one true God of the Old Testament has in the New Testament further revealed himself in three ways of being (Persons) in his work of redemption: as the Father who is the source of all things, as the divine Word who came in flesh to reveal the Father and redeem the fallen race, and as the Holy Spirit who gives new life to the church and unites all things in heaven and earth under God’s rule.
The premises of the doctrine of the Trinity are: (1) The unity of God taught in both the Old Testament and the New Testament and, (2) The full deity of the Son and the Holy Spirit revealed in God’s final revelation, the New Testament.
A proper biblical view of the Trinity balances the concepts of unity and distinctiveness. Two errors should be avoided: (1) Tritheism which emphasizes distinctiveness of the Godhead to the point that the Trinity is seen as three separate Gods, or a Christian polytheism, (2) Unitarianism which disregards distinctiveness within the Godhead as it gives special focus to God the Father so that Christ and the Holy Spirit are relegated to less than divine categories. Both errors compromise the effectiveness and contribution of the activity of God in redemptive history. Continue reading “Doctrine of the Trinity: A Primer”