Sunday, April 25, 2004

Reply to a Muslim on the Two Natures of Christ & the Incarnation

Full paper, on my website: Reply to a Muslim Apologist Concerning the Two Natures of Christ and Trinitarianism
(vs. Shabir Ally) (93K)

This is my first "official" dialogue or exchange with a Muslim on my website (one of the last major "frontiers" of my apologetic endeavors). The discussion is not so much about Islam, however, as it is about philosophical reasoning regarding the plausibility and possibility of trinitarianism and Chalcedonian Christology (Jesus has Two Natures: He is 100% God and 100% man: one Person Who has a Divine Nature and a Human Nature).

It is also a strong protest against the practice of heterodox, ultra-liberal "Christians" being utilized to bolster a case against orthodox, historic Christianity. In this respect, the Muslim apologetic or polemic against Christianity is quite similar to theologically liberal polemics against orthodox theology, and also to Jehovah's Witness methodology. What follows is a short excerpt; it serves as a good concise "capsule summary" of my overall argument. Your feedback would be greatly appreciated.

Now let us closely examine this assertion that the Incarnation and the Two Natures of Jesus (and by inevitable implication, the Holy Trinity also) are logically impossible, meaningless propositions. Upon close scrutiny, all these arguments utterly collapse, and it will be plain to see that they do, and why they do.

First of all, the most obvious difficulty has to do with God's omnipotence, which Muslims and Christians both accept. Now, the claim is that God could not become a man, because it is "logically impossible" (God and man being different and thus, unable to be merged in a single being). This involves a logical absurdity, seen in the following straightforward chain of reasoning:

1. God is omnipotent, meaning that He possesses all power and can do everything which is logically possible to do.

2. God created man out of nothing, as Creator (which is a function of His omnipotence and His nature as the Essential, Pure, Self-Existent, Self-Sufficient, Self-Subsisting, Infinite, Eternal Being).

3. Furthermore, we are told that man was created in God's image (Genesis 1:27).

[Muslims have traditionally believed that the Old Testament and especially the first five books, or Torah, is an inspired revelation. See: What Does the Qur'an Say About the Jewish and Christian Scriptures?, by Samuel Green]

4. And God, on several occasions, took on human form, according to the Old Testament (what are known as "Theophanies"):

GENESIS 18:1 And the Lord appeared unto him in the plains of Mamre: and he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day. (KJV; cf. 18:13,17,22)

GENESIS 32:24,30 And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day . . . (30) And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved. (cf. 35:9-15)

EXODUS 24:10 And they saw the God of Israel: and {there was} under his feet as it were a paved work of a sapphire stone, . . .

ISAIAH 6:1 In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple.

EZEKIEL 43:6-7 And I heard {him} speaking unto me out of the house; and the man stood by me. (7) And he said unto me, Son of man, the place of my throne, and the place of the soles of my feet, where I will dwell in the midst of the children of Israel for ever, and my holy name, shall the house of Israel no more defile, . . .

5. God also appeared in the form of the "Angel of the Lord." An angel is a creation, not an eternal being, so if God appeared as an angel, He assumed a form and a nature (as in the Theophanies above) that is not intrinsically God; much like the Incarnation itself:

JUDGES 2:1 And an angel of the Lord came up from Gilgal to Bochim, and said, I . . . have brought you unto the land which I sware unto your fathers; and I said, I will never break my covenant with you.

JUDGES 6:12,14 And the angel of the Lord appeared unto him, and said unto him, The Lord {is} with thee, thou mighty man of valour . . . (14) And the Lord looked upon him, and said, Go in this thy might, and thou shalt save Israel from the hand of the Midianites: have not I sent thee? (cf. 6:16,20-23)

ZECHARIAH 12:8 In that day shall the Lord defend the
inhabitants of Jerusalem; and he that is feeble among them at that day shall be as David; and the house of David {shall be} as God, as the angel of the Lord before them.

(cf. Genesis 31:11-13; Exodus 3:2-6,14-16; Joshua 5:14-15)

6. What do these Theophanies suggest? The Bible described God as able to be "seen" in the above passages, and others (such as Genesis 17:1, 33:11, Numbers 12:7-8, Deuteronomy 34:10, Judges 13:22, and Isaiah 6:5). For those who deny the incarnation of Christ, Theophanies do show that the notion of God becoming a man is not altogether incomprehensible or impossible, but rather, downright plausible.

Theophanies might be considered precursors (along with verses such as Isaiah 9:6 and Micah 5:2) of the incarnation of the Messiah Jesus, the Son of God. Now how is it possible for the invisible God, Who is a Spirit, to be seen, and to have a body? Yet this is what we are told in the Old Testament. This is scarcely any different from the incarnation, yet Mr. Ally tells us that the latter is "logically impossible"!

7. How is it, then, that Mr. Ally believes that the incarnation cannot possibly happen, based on purely logical considerations? We start with an omnipotent God. He makes man in His image; He appears as a man; He appears as the angel of the Lord (and angels are not eternal, and they are creatures; so this -- like the Theophanies -- is a supposed "contradiction" since it opposes God's Nature). He can and does do all that, yet supposedly He can't become a man. This is what is logically absurd, not the incarnation, as seen in the following logical chain:

A. God has all power.

B. God appeared as a man, supposedly "contrary" to His nature as invisible, eternal, and a non-creature (which man is).

C. God appeared as an angel, supposedly "contrary" to His nature as invisible, eternal and a non-creature (which an angel is).

D. God created man in His own image.

E. But God cannot become a man. This is logically impossible.

Oh??!! How is it logically impossible for a Being with all power, Who appears as a man and an angel, and Who creates man in His own image, to become a man? By what ironclad, indisputable logic do we completely distinguish the concepts of appearing like a man or an angel in all outward aspects, and becoming an actual man? Certainly the two notions are quite close, and if one is actual, we cannot plausibly rule out the other concept as "impossible." We might be able to reasonably infer (apart from revelation and faith considerations) that it didn't happen in fact, but we can't reasonably infer that it is "logically impossible."

And that is because of the well-known maxim and prior widely-accepted axiom that "the stream can't rise above its source." If God can make a man, He can easily become one, without yielding up His divinity, which cannot by definition ever be given up. To say that He could not do so would be to say that a mere creature possesses attributes (existence in human form) that the Almighty God does not and cannot possess, and that is absurd.

Contingent and derivative creatures can never be greater than their own cause: the First Cause and Prime Mover and Creator of all: the Almighty God. If God switched from being God to being a mere man, that would be absurd, because of the immutability (unchangeability) of God. But if He takes on human nature in addition to His Divine Nature, which He always has, and cannot ever lose, it is no contradiction at all; it is simply part and parcel of
His omnipotence. The legitimate reasoning chain, therefore, works as follows:

A. God has all power.

B. God created man.

C. Man has the attribute of existence in human form.

D. Therefore, existence in human form is logically possible, because it exists and is manifestly apparent.

E. An omnipotent God can do all that is logically possible.

F. Existence in human form is logically possible (D).

G. Therefore, God can so exist as well (while simultaneously and necessarily remaining God), since He created the human form, and made the human form in His own image, and even assumed it in the Theophanies (and in angelic forms).

H. Otherwise, He is not omnipotent, for man would be able to do something (exist as a man) that the very Creator of man, Whose image man reflects, cannot do.

I. Omnipotence is central to the definition of God. Therefore, H must be false (granting the theistic nature of God), and G must be true.

J. Ergo, the Incarnation is not only not logically impossible; is quite plausible from reason alone, and an actuality, based on reason and revelation and historical argument.

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