Sunday, November 17, 2013

Aquinas and the doctrine of the Trinity: difficulties, inconsistencies and problems (contradictions ?)

Back on 10/22/13, a gent who posts under the name dguller, provided an argument in the combox of  the Aquinas and the doctrine of the Trinity: introduction and resources thread which exposes what sure seems to me to be a logical contradiction in the Trinitarian thought of Aquinas. In my own readings of Aquinas, I too have detected, what appears to be, difficulties/inconsistencies/problems, but dguller's presentation is much more sophisticated than my own musings. In an attempt to bring students and/or scholars of Aquinas' thought 'to-the-table', I am reposting dguller's comment/s anew in this thread, without any alteration.

Here's an argument that purports to demonstrate the inconsistency of Thomism and the Trinity.

Let’s begin with some preliminaries.

Say that you have A and B, and that A and B are really distinct from one another. A and B would necessarily have some things in common, and some things not in common. You can call what A and B have in common, their “principle of commonality” (or P(C)), and you can call what A and B do not have in common, their “principle of distinction” (or P(D)).

Two points follow from this.

First, P(C) cannot be really identical to P(D). If P(C) were really identical to P(D), then it would follow that what A and B have in common is really identical to what A and B do not have in common, which is a logical contradiction. It would logically be the equivalent of saying that X = not-X, which is impossible. So, P(C) cannot be really identical to P(D).

Second, P(C) cannot account for the real distinction between A and B. Only P(D) can account for the real distinction between A and B. If there was only P(C) between A and B, then A and B would not be really distinct at all, but rather would be really identical. In other words, if A and B have everything in common, then A is identical to B. There must be something about A that differs from B in order for A and B, or vice versa, to be really distinct. That “something” is P(D). To reject this would mean that it is possible for A to be really distinct from B and yet A does not differ from B in any way, which is absurd.

Putting this all together, we have the following principle:

(P) A is really distinct from B if and only if (a) there is P(C) and P(D) between A and B, and (b) P(D) between A and B cannot be really identical to P(C) between A and B (i.e. P(C) = not-P(D)).

It should be noted that Aquinas himself endorses this principle. He writes: “In whatever multitude of things is to be found something common to all, it is necessary to seek out the principle of distinction” (ST 1.40.2), and he mentions this principle within the context of a discussion of the Trinity, meaning that it must be applicable to the Trinity itself.

So, let’s apply (P) to the Trinity, which is what Aquinas has already given us license to do.

We agree that the divine persons are really distinct from one another. It would follow, based upon (P), that (a) there must be a P(C) and a P(D) between the divine persons, and (b) P(C) cannot be really identical to P(D). Now, what would P(C) and P(D) be in this context?

Aquinas helpfully supplies us with an answer. He states that because “the persons agree in essence, it only remains to be said that the persons are distinguished from each other by the relations” (ST 1.40.2), specifically “by relation of origin” (ST 1.29.4). That means that the divine essence is P(C) and the divine relations are P(D). This is consistent with what Aquinas says elsewhere when he writes that “the relations themselves are not distinguished from each other so far as they are identified with the essence” (ST 1.39.1). In other words, the real distinction between the divine persons cannot be accounted for by the divine essence, because you cannot distinguish between the divine persons on the basis of what they have in common (i.e. the divine essence), but only upon what they do not have in common (i.e. the divine relations). Hence, on the basis of (P) it would necessarily follow that the divine relations (= P(D)) are not really identical to the divine essence (= P(C)).

But then we reach three severe problems.

First, Aquinas has written that “a divine person signifies a relation as subsisting” (ST 1.29.4), and thus the divine persons are the divine subsistent relations. So, this account is fundamentally circular and tautological. Saying that the real distinction between the divine persons is due to the real distinction between the divine persons does not really explain anything at all.

Second, Aquinas has written that “relation really existing in God is really the same as His essence and only differs in its mode of intelligibility” and “in God relation and essence do not differ from each other, but are one and the same” (ST 1.28.2). So, we have a logical contradiction, because the divine essence cannot be really identical to the divine relations, according to (P), and the divine essence is really identical to the divine relations, according to the doctrine of the Trinity.

(Furthermore, to say that the distinction between the divine essence and the divine relations is “only … in its mode of intelligibility” (ST 1.28.2) and “differ in our way of thinking” (ST 1.39.1) just means that there is no difference in reality between the divine essence and the divine relations. The distinction between them is exclusively and only in our minds, and does not correspond to reality at all. It is like the distinction between goodness and being, which also “differ only in idea” and “differ in thought” (ST 1.5.1). And that means that a key element in the doctrine of the Trinity is nothing but a mental construct that does not correspond to anything in reality, which makes the Trinity a subjective truth of the human mind, and not an objective truth about reality. And that, in itself, undermines the truth of the Trinity.)

Third, Aquinas has written: “Everything which is not the divine essence is a creature” and “if it is not the divine essence, it is a creature” (ST 1.28.2). And this makes perfect sense, because, according to divine simplicity, the divine essence is Being Itself (ST 1.3.4), and only Being Itself does not depend upon anything else for its existence. Anything that is not Being Itself must depend upon something else for its existence, and anything that must depend upon something else for its existence is necessarily a creature. Thus, anything that is not Being Itself (i.e. the divine essence) is a creature. It would follow, therefore, that since the divine relations are not the divine essence, and everything that is not the divine essence is a creature, that the divine relations are creatures. Not only does this negate the Trinity, but it also has a number of absurd consequences, such as that the divine relations could not exist as cause until their effects first existed, that the divine relations must be composite entities, that the divine relations would exist in a relation of dependence upon creation, and so on.

In conclusion, if one endorses (P), and I do not see how one can coherently reject (P), and also endorses a number of other Trinitarian and Thomist principles, then one is led to a number of logical contradictions. Specifically, the following premises, when taken in conjunction, lead to inconsistency:

(1) A is really distinct from B if and only if (a) there is P(C) and P(D) between A and B, and (b) P(D) between A and B cannot be really identical to P(C) between A and B (i.e. P(C) = not-P(D))
(2) Everything that is not the divine essence is a creature
(3) The divine relations are really distinct from one another
(4) The divine relations share the divine essence in common
(5) The divine relations are really identical to the divine essence

One must reject, at least, one premise in order to avoid logical inconsistency. The question is which one.

Looking forward to some charitable and spirited discussion...

Grace and peace,


Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Aquinas and the doctrine of the Trinity: John 1:1

In the previous thread, a selection from Aquinas' Commentary on the Gospel of John was provided, wherein he argues for the divinity of the Son of God with an appeal to the doctrine of deification. In that same selection, Aquinas states: The word "God" is also used in three senses. [Personally, I think that the word "God" is used in more than just "three senses"—more on this in an upcoming thread.]

In this thread, I am going to provide another selection from Aquinas' Commentary on the Gospel of John, wherein he delves into John 1:1, expounding on how the word "God" is to be understood. This verse has played a huge role in the understanding and development of the doctrine of the Trinity. From the pen of Aquinas we read:

44 At the outset, we should note that the name “God” signifies the divinity concretely and as inherent in a subject, while the name “deity” signifies the divinity in the abstract and absolutely. Thus the name “deity” cannot naturally and by its mode of signifying stand for a [divine] person, but only for the [divine] nature. But the name “God” can, by its natural mode of signifying, stand for any one of the [divine] persons, just as the name “man” stands for any individual (suppositum) possessing humanity. Therefore, whenever the truth of a statement or its predicate requires that the name “God” stand for the person, then it stands for the person, as when we say, “God begets God.” Thus, when it says here that the Word was with God, it is necessary that God stand for the person of the Father, because the preposition with signifies the distinction of the Word, which is said to be with God. And although this preposition signifies a distinction in person, it does not signify a distinction in nature, since the nature of the Father and of the Son is the same. Consequently, the Evangelist wished to signify the person of the Father when he said God.

45 Here we should note that the preposition with signifies a certain union of the thing signified by its grammatical antecedent to the thing signified by its grammatical object, just as the preposition “in” does. However, there is a difference, because the preposition “in” signifies a certain intrinsic union, whereas the preposition with implies in a certain way an extrinsic union. And we state both in divine matters, namely, that the Son is in the Father and with the Father. Here the intrinsic union pertains to consubstantiality, but the extrinsic union (if we may use such an expression, since “extrinsic” is improperly employed in divine matters) refers only to a personal distinction, because the Son is distinguished from the Father by origin alone. And so these two words designate both a consubstantiality in nature and distinction in person: consubstantiality inasmuch as a certain union is implied; but distinction, inasmuch as a certain otherness is signified as was said above.

The preposition “in,” as was said, principally signifies consubstantiality, as implying an intrinsic union and, by way of consequence, a distinction of persons, inasmuch as every preposition is transitive. The preposition “with” principally signifies a personal distinction, but also a consubstantiality inasmuch as it signifies a certain extrinsic, so to speak, union. For these reasons the Evangelist specifically used here the preposition “with” in order to express the distinction of the person of the Son from the Father, saying, and the Word was with God, that is, the Son was with the Father as one person with another.

46 We should note further that this preposition with has four meanings, and these eliminate four objections. First, the preposition with signifies the subsistence of its antecedent, because things that do not subsist of themselves are not properly said to be “with” another; thus we do not say that a color is with a body, and the same applies to other things that do not subsist of themselves. But things that do subsist of themselves are properly said to be “with” another; thus we say that a man is with a man, and a stone with a stone.

Secondly, it signifies authority in its grammatical object. For we do not, properly speaking, say that a king is with a soldier, but that the soldier is with the king. Thirdly, it asserts a distinction. For it is not proper to say that a person is with himself but rather that one man is with another. Fourthly, it signifies a certain union and fellowship. For when some person is said to be with another, it suggests to us that there is some social union between them.

Considering these four conditions implied in the meaning of this preposition with, the Evangelist quite appropriately joins to the first clause, In the beginning was the Word, this second clause, and the Word was with God. For if we omit one of the three explanations of, In the beginning was the Word (namely, the one in which principium was understood as the Son), certain heretics make a twofold objection against each of the other explanations (namely, the one in which principium means the same as “before all things,” and the one in which it is understood as the Father). Thus there are four objections, and we can answer these by the four conditions indicated by this preposition with.

47 The first of these objections is this. You say that the Word was in the beginning, i.e., before all things. But before all things there was nothing. So if before all things there was nothing, where then was the Word? This objection arises due to the imaginings of those who think that whatever exists is somewhere and in some place. But this is rejected by John when he says, with God, which indicates the union mentioned in the last four conditions. So, according to Basil, the meaning is this: Where was the Word? The answer is: with God; not in some place, since he is unsurroundable, but he is with the Father, who is not enclosed by any place.

48 The second objection against the same explanation is this. You say that the Word was in the beginning, i.e., before all things. But whatever exists before all things appears to proceed from no one, since that from which something proceeds seems to be prior to that which proceeds from it. Therefore, the Word does not proceed from another. This objection is rejected when he says, the Word was with God, taking “with” according to its second condition, as implying authority in what is causing. So the meaning, according to Hilary, is this: From whom is the Word if he exists before all things? The Evangelist answers: the Word was with God, i.e., although the Word has no beginning of duration, still he does not lack a principium or author, for he was with God as his author.

49 The third objection, directed to the explanation in which principium is understood as the Father, is this. You say that In the beginning was the Word, i.e., the Son was in the Father. But that which is in something does not seem to be subsistent, as a hypostasis; just as the whiteness in a body does not subsist. This objection is solved by the statement, the Word was with God, taking “with” in its first condition, as implying the subsistence of its grammatical antecedent. So according to Chrysostom, the meaning is this: In the beginning was the Word, not as an accident, but he was with God, as subsisting, and a divine hypostasis.

50 The fourth objection, against the same explanation, is this. You say that the Word was in the beginning, i.e., in the Father. But whatever is in something is not distinct from it. So the Son is not distinct from the Father. This objection is answered by the statement, and the Word was with God, taking “with” in its third condition, as indicating distinction. Thus the meaning, according to Alcuin and Bede, is this: The Word was with God, and he was with the Father by a consubstantiality of nature, while still being “with” him through a distinction in person.

51 And so, and the Word was with God, indicates: the union of the Word with the Father in nature, according to Basil; their distinction in person, according to Alcuin and Bede; the subsistence of the Word in the divine nature, according to Chrysostom; and the authorship of the Father in relation to the Word, according to Hilary.

A bit later, we read:

56 The other question comes from his saying, with God. For since “with” indicates a distinction, it could be thought that the Word was with God, i.e., the Father, as distinct from him in nature. So to exclude this he adds at once the consubstantiality of the Word with the Father, saying, and the Word was God. As if to say: the Word is not separated from the Father by a diversity of nature, because the Word itself is God.

57 Note also the special way of signifying, since he says, the Word was God, using “God” absolutely to show that he is not God in the same way in which the name of the deity is given to a creature in Sacred Scripture. For a creature sometimes shares this name with some added qualification, as when it says, “I have appointed you the God of Pharaoh” (Ex 7:1), in order to indicate that he was not God absolutely or by nature, because he was appointed the god of someone in a qualified sense. Again, it says in the Psalm (81:6): “I said, ‘You are gods.’” —as if to say: in my opinion, but not in reality. Thus the Word is called God absolutely because he is God by his own essence, and not by participation, as men and angels are.

58 We should note that Origen disgracefully misunderstood this clause, led astray by the Greek manner of speaking. It is the custom among the Greeks to put the article before every name in order to indicate a distinction. In the Greek version of John’s Gospel the name “Word” in the statement, In the beginning was the Word, and also the name “God” in the statement, and the Word was with God, are prefixed by the article, so as to read “the Word” and “the God,” in order to indicate the eminence and distinction of the Word from other words, and the principality of the Father in the divinity. But in the statement, the Word was God, the article is not prefixed to the noun “God,” which stands for the person of the Son. Because of this Origen blasphemed that the Word, although he was Word by essence, was not God by essence, but is called God by participation; while the Father alone is God by essence. And so he held that the Son is inferior to the Father.

59 Chrysostom proves that this is not true, because if the article used with the name “God” implied the superiority of the Father in respect to the Son, it would never be used with the name “God” when it is used as a predicate of another, but only when it is predicated of the Father. Further, whenever said of the Father, it would be accompanied by the article. However, we find the opposite to be the case in two statements of the Apostle, who calls Christ “God,” using the article. For in Titus (2:13) he says, “the coming of the glory of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ,” where “God” stands for the Son, and in the Greek the article is used. Therefore, Christ is the great God. Again he says (Rom 9:5): “Christ, who is God over all things, blessed forever,” and again the article is used with “God” in the Greek. Further, in 1 John (5:20) it says: “That we may be in his true Son, Jesus Christ; he is the true God and eternal life.” Thus, Christ is not God by participation, but truly God. And so the theory of Origen is clearly false. (Commentary on the Gospel of John.)

Grace and peace,


Thursday, October 17, 2013

Aquinas and the doctrine of the Trinity: deification

One of the most powerful arguments employed by a number of the early Church Fathers for the divinity of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was the doctrine of deification—i.e. if Jesus Christ was not God, he could not truly 'save' mankind through deification.

Perhaps the most famous example of this doctrine was from the pen of Athanasius:

For He was made man that we might be made God. (Athanasius - De Incarnation, 54; NPNF, second series, 4.65). [For more than 100 examples from the CFs, see THIS THREAD.]

Aquinas was a serious student of the Church Fathers, and retained the doctrine of deification in his thought. Note the following:

1459 The word "God" is also used in three senses. Sometimes it signifies the divine nature itself, and then it is used only in the singular: "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord" (Deut 6:4). At other times it is taken in a denominative sense: in this way idols are called gods: "All the gods of the peoples are idols" (Ps 96:5). And sometimes someone is called a god because of a certain participation in divinity, or in some sublime power divinely infused. In this way, even judges are called gods in Scripture: "If the thief is not known, the owner of the house shall be brought to the gods," that is, to the judges [Ex 22:8]; "You shall not speak ill of the gods," that is, of the rulers [Ex 22:28]. This is the way the word "god" is taken here, when he says, I said, you are gods, i.e., you share in some divine power superior to the human.

1460 Then when he says, If he called them gods to whom the word of God came, he shows the meaning of the authority he cited. This was like saying: He called them gods because they participated in something divine insofar as they participated in God's word, which was spoken to them. For due to God's word a person obtains some participation in the divine power and purity: "You are already made clean by the word which I have spoken to you" (15:3); and in Exodus (c 34) we read that the face of Moses shone when he heard the words of the Lord.

From what has been said above, one might argue in this way: It is clear that a person by participating in the word of God becomes god by participation. But a thing does not become this or that by participation unless it participates in what is this or that by its essence: for example, a thing does not become fire by participation unless it participates in what is fire by its essence. Therefore, one does not become god by participation unless he participates in what is God by essence. Therefore, the Word of God, that is the Son, by participation in whom we become gods, is God by essence. But our Lord, rather than argue so profoundly against the Jews, preferred to argue in a more human way. He says, and scripture cannot be broken, in order to show the irrefutable truth of Scripture: "O Lord, your word endures forever" [Ps 118:89]. (Commentary on the Gospel of John.)

Like so many of the Church Fathers before him, Aquinas argues that, "The Word of God, that is the Son", must be God, for if He is not God, then redeemed mankind could not become "Gods" (i.e. Sons of God).

More later, the Lord willing...

Grace and peace,


Thursday, October 10, 2013

Aquinas and the doctrine of the Trinity: introduction and resources

Back on April 7, 2013, I called into question Drake Shelton's attempt to identify Thomas Aquinas' doctrine of the Trinity as Sabellian (link to the thread).

Because of my respect for Drake, since that post, I have been reading a great deal of Aquinas' writings on the doctrine of the Trinity (as time has allowed), to determine if I might have possibly been wrong in my assessment. My studies are still continuing, but I would like to share some of my reflections on the material I have read up to this point. Before I delve into this topic in upcoming threads (the Lord willing), I would like to provide interested readers with links to some important Aquinas online sources concerning his doctrine of the Trinity.

Commentary on the Gospel of John (Scattered throughout this commentary are numerous reflections on the doctrine of the Trinity and a number of its opponents.)

Sincerely hope that interested readers will take the time to look into the above resources before I begin my own musings (hopefully early next week, the Lord willing).

Grace and peace,


Friday, October 4, 2013

An upturn in blogging, the Lord willing

This past summer was certainly one of the busiest, and trying, for me that I can remember. The death of my wife's mom, hospitalization of my father, and a large flow of family and friends visiting allowed little time for blogging. But, summer is now over, and I have been rejuvenated by a cruise to Alaska with my wife at the end of September. So, the Lord willing—for better or worse—I plan to be blogging more in the upcoming weeks.

[The following is a picture of yours truly in the art gallery of the ship I was on.]

Grace and peace,


Tuesday, September 3, 2013

"The Lord God" and "the Almighty" in the NT: two more titles reserved for God the Father alone

In past threads here at AF (see especially the early threads under the Monarchy of God the Father label), I have presented solid, irrefutable evidence(s) that certain theological titles used in the New Testament have been reserved for God the Father alone—e.g. "one God", "the only true God", "the only God", "the only wise God" and "the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob"—I would now like to add two more: "the Almighty" and "the Lord God".

The phrase/title "the Almighty" (Greek: παντοκράτωρ) is used only 10 times in the NT, and all but one, are found in the Book of Revelation: 2 Cor. 6:18; Rev. 1:8; 4:8; 11:17; 15:3; 16:7, 14; 19:6, 15; 21:22.

As for the phrase/title "the Lord God" (Greek: κύριος θεὸς), it is found only 12 times in the NT: Mark 12:29; Luke 1:32; 1:68; Acts 2:39; 3:22; Rev. 1:8; 4:8; 18:8; 19:6; 21:22; 22:5, 6.

I find it interesting that the two phrases/titles are found together in 4 of the above verses: Rev. 1:8; 4:8; 19:6; 21:22. Of note in particular, is Rev. 21:22, where we read:

And I saw no temple therein: for the Lord God the Almighty, and the Lamb, are the temple thereof. (ASV) (Greek: Καὶ ναὸν οὐκ εἶδον ἐν αὐτῇ, γὰρ κύριος θεὸς παντοκράτωρ ναὸς αὐτῆς ἐστιν, καὶ τὸ ἀρνίον.)

In the above verse, we have a distinction being made between two separate persons: "the Lord God the Almighty" and "the Lamb"; the former being God the Father, and the latter Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Now, some commentators have attempted to designate Jesus Christ as the person who is speaking in Rev. 1:8, but this is a huge 'stretch'. Please note the following:

To the "amen" of Christ and the community is added the direct voice of κύριος θεὁς (kyrios ho theos, the Lord God). Only here and in 21:5-6 does God speak directly... (Dr. Grant R. Osborne, Baker Exegetical Commentary of the New Testament - Revelation, p. 71.)

In footnote #31 on the same page, Dr. Osborne adds:

While some (Walvoord 1966: 40; perhaps Carid 1966: 19) have argued that this is Christ rather than the Father (due to the centrality of Christ in the context), the use of OT designations for God ("LORD of Hosts" was a favorite OT title) and the repetition of the title for God in v. [sic; v. should read ch.] 4 make it more likely this refers to God the Father.

Only here [Rev. 1:8] and in 21:5 does God [the Father] himself speak. (Dr. Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, p. 73.)

A careful distinction should be drawn between the Father as κύριος θεὁς (= Yahweh Elohim*)—a designation never used of Christ in the NT—and Christ as κύριός μου καὶ θεός μου. While distinct from Yahweh, Christ shares his status and his nature. (Dr. Murray J. Harris, Jesus as God, footnote 86, p. 123.)

Grace and peace,


*I have transliterated the Hebrew found in the original.

Monday, July 1, 2013

God is Light: A profound convergence of Biblical and Qur'anic thought

I have been 'sitting on' this post for a few months now, being a bit reticent to publish it; but recent events have now compelled me to do so. I suspect that it will be a bit controversial for a number of my readers, but I sincerely hope that those who take the time to read it, will do so with as much objectivity as they can muster. Here goes...

In the Bible we read: "God is light, and in him is no darkness at all." (1 John 1:5b - ASV)

And from the Qur'an: "God is the light of the heavens and the earth." (Surah 24:35a - Maulana Wahiduddin Khan)

This attribution of the term "light"—in both the Bible and the Qur'an—to the One, Supreme, True God, is a reference to His very being/essence. Note the following scholarly references which support this important motif (I have selected only a few from a list of dozens):

"God is light." John formulates short statements that describe God's nature. In other places he says, "God is spirit" (John 4:24) and "God is love" (1 John 4:16). Here, in verse 5, he reveals God's essence in a short statement of three words: "God is light." (Simon J. Kistemaker, James and I-III John, 1986, p. 242.)

The very being of God is absolute light. (R.C.H. Lenski, The Interpretation of I and II Epistles of Peter, the three Epistles of John and the Epistle of Jude, 1966, p. 384.)

God is light, i.e., God's nature is light = absolute holiness and truth (comp. iv. 8; Gospel of John iv. 24). (J.E. Huther, Meyer's Critical and Exegetical Handbook to the General Epistles of James, Peter, John and Jude, 1980 reprint, pp. 480, 481.)

In the inanimate world, light is the most common and the most theologically important image of God. John virtually defines God when he says, "God is light; in him there is no darkness at all" (1 John 1:5). (John M. Frame, The Doctrine of God, 2002, p. 376.)

The physical light is but a reflection of the true Light in the world of Reality, and that true Light is Allah. (Abdullah Ysuf Ali, The Meaning of the Holy Qur'an, 1993, p. 876.)

Al-Nur—Lightis the visible one by whom everything is made visible, for what is visible in itself and makes other things visible is called light'. In the measure that existence is opposed to non-existence, what is visible cannot but be linked to existence, for no darkness is darker than non-existence. What is free from the darkness of non-existence, and even from the possibility of non-existence, who draws everything from the darkness of non-existence to the manifestation of existence, is worthy of being named light. Existence is a light streaming to all things from the light of His essence, for He is the light of the heavens and the earth. And as there is not an atom of the light of the sun which does not by itself lead one to the existence of the sun which illuminates it, so there is not a single atom from the existents of the heavens and the earth and what lies between them which does not lead one by the very possibility of its existence to the necessary existence who brings them into being. (Al-Ghazali, The Ninety-Nine Beautiful Names of God, trans. David B. Burrell and Naih Daher, 1992, 1997, p. 145.)

"God is the light of the Heavens and of the Earth . . ." (XXIV, 35). For, to those who have understood the true meaning, light is being, and darkness is non-being. The Light, which is God, therefore is the constitutive being of the Heavens and of the Earth. (Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Hamid Dabashi, Seyyed Vali Reza Nasr, Shi'ism - Doctrines, Thought, and Spirituality, 1988, p, 197.)

Having established that "the light" is a reference to the very being of God, I would now like to explore the issue of etiology—i.e. causation, origination—more specifically, the first causation by/from God.

In Christian thought, it is God's Logos/Son/Wisdom/Word which was the 'first causation' from God. Before time, God begets (i.e. causes) His Logos/Son/Wisdom/Word, from His being/essence/Light (Proverbs 8:22-30; John 5:26; Rev. 3:14). God's Logos/Son/Wisdom/Word is 'Light from Light'.

In Islamic thought, we have a virtual parallel concept concerning the 'first causation' from God. Note the following Hadith:

The hadith that is related by Jābir in the Musannaf of al-Hāfiz Abū Bakr ‘Abd al-Razzāq b. Hammām al-San’ānī and considered sound by recent scholarship indicates that the very first of God’s creation was the light of the Prophet. According to the hadith, Jābir b, ‘Abd Allāh asked the Prophet, ‘What is the first thing that God created?’ To this, the Prophet replied, ‘O Jābir! The first thing God, the Sublime and Exalted, created was the light of your Prophet from His light, and that light remained in the midst of His power for as long as He wished, and there was not at that time a Tablet or a Pen or a Paradise or a Fire or an angel or a heaven or an earth. (Hamza Yusaf, The Creed of Imam al-Tahāwī, 2007, p. 117.)

Before time (or anything else), God brings forth (i.e. causes/creates) "the light of the Prophet...from His light". This concept is known as the 'Muhammadan Light' (an-Nur al-Muhammadiyyah), also called the 'Muhammadan Reality' (al-haqiqah al-Muhammadiyyah). Note the following from Cyril Glassé:

Much emphasis is placed on this idea by the Shī'ites, who find this light eminently manifest in their Imāms, but the term is also encountered, mainly in the context of mysticism, among the Sunnīs, as a doctrine not unlike that of the logos. (The Concise Encyclopedia of Islam, 1989, p. 304 - bold emphasis mine.)

This "Muhammadan Light", or Light of Muhammad, is mentioned in Qur'an:

People of the Book! Our Messenger has come to make clear to you much of what you have hidden of the Scriptures and to forgive you much. A light has now come to you from God and a clear Book, whereby God guides to the ways of peace all who seek His good pleasure, bringing them from darkness to the light, by His will, and guiding them to a straight path. (Surah 5:15 - Maulana Wahiduddin Khan)

For more information on the "Muhammadan Light", or Light of Muhammad, see the following online articles:

Now, I suspect that many will notice that on the Christian side of the issue of God's 'first causation', an emphasis is placed on begetting, while on the Muslim side, it is creating. At first glance, it would appear that we have two different concepts being presented; however, one must keep in mind that in the Bible and early Church, the Hebrew and Greek terms used for beget and create were often interchangeable. As such, one needs look beyond the verbal action (causation)—both sides acknowledge this first cause—to the ontological aspects of this action/cause. The ontology of God's first cause is this: the One, Supreme, Uncaused God from His Essence/Light begets/creates another being, and this, before the creation of anything else, including time.

Another difference is that for Christians, it is Jesus Christ's pre-existent being/nature that is presented, while for Muslims, it is Muhammad's. But, once again, the divide may not be as wide as most would perceive it—especially from a Muslim perspective. In the Qur'an we read:

The Messenger believes in what has been sent down to him from his Lord, and [so do] believers. They all believe in God and His angels, His scriptures, and His messengers. They say, We do not differentiate between any of His messengers. We hear and obey. Grant us Your forgiveness, Lord, to You we shall all return! (Surah 2.284 - Maulana Wahiduddin Khan)

It sure seems to me that if one is going to be faithful to the above concept, one needs to affirm that Muhammad's pre-existent 'light' is Jesus' pre-existent 'light'.

There is much more to share on this topic, but I want to limit the size of this opening post. With that said, I shall be looking forward to the contributions of others...

Grace and peace,


P.S. I am heading out of town tomorrow for a 4 day vacation. Don't know if I will be able to access my blog, so do not be surprised if I am unable to respond to any comments before Saturday.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Muslim preacher sentenced to 11 years in jail for blasphemy for burning a Bible (June 16, 2013)

(Reuters) - A Cairo court sentenced an Egyptian Muslim preacher to 11 years in jail for blasphemy on Sunday for burning a Bible during a protest last year outside the U.S. embassy.
See the following link for the full article:
Grace and peace,

Monday, June 10, 2013

Martin Luther on the life and practices of the "Turks" (i.e. Muslims of the Ottoman Empire) and the God worshipped by them

Before I resume my review of James R. White's, What Every Christian Needs To Know About the Qur'an, I wanted to share an article that I found online last week; an article that includes two translations from Luther's corpus that I had never read; an article that I think many will find to be quite interesting. The article is from the Lutheran journal, Word & World (Volume XVI.2, Spring 1996, pp. 250-266). A pdf copy can be accessed (and downloaded) via the following link:

In addition to the translations of the Preface to the Libellus de ritu et moribus Turcorum (1530), and Preface to Bibliander’s Edition of the Qur’an (1543), a valuable introduction is provided. From the introduction we read:

Throughout this period, guided by his perspective of the two realms, civil and spiritual, and the duties appropriate to each, Luther repeatedly argued for the obligation of obedience to all secular authority as instituted by God for the preservation of order, going so far as to say, even if it be the authority of Turkish captors. Accordingly, Luther was often charged with being responsible for a perceived reluctance on the part of Lutherans to fight against the Turkish invaders and thus for hindering good morale on the part of the defenders of Europe. At the same time Luther’s writings consistently show him to have been more concerned with Christians at home than with the Turk, with matters of theodicy and with a call for contrition and inward preparation on the part of a Christian population in great need of repentance before the present catastrophe, which he saw to be the punishment of God. (Page 252)

The authors then briefly comment on a few of Luther's polemical treatments against the "Turks", and follow that section with:

Whatever must be granted in Luther’s language in this document [On War Against the Turk] to the context, to the extremities of the political situation, and the rhetoric of war, still in the almost contemporary work included below in Part II we see a much more balanced discussion. (Page 254) 


...we see that the religion of the Turks or Muhammad is far more splendid in ceremonies—and, I might almost say, in customs—than ours, even including that of the religious or all the clerics. The modesty and simplicity of their food, clothing, dwellings, and everything else, as well as the fasts, prayers, and common gatherings of the people that this book reveals are nowhere seen among us—or rather it is impossible for our people to be persuaded to them. Furthermore, which of our monks, be it a Carthusian (they who wish to appear the best) or a Benedictine, is not put to shame by the miraculous and wondrous abstinence and discipline among their religious? Our religious are mere shadows when compared to them, and our people clearly profane when compared to theirs. Not even true Christians, not Christ himself, not the apostles or prophets ever exhibited so great a display. This is the reason why many persons so easily depart from faith in Christ for Muhammadanism and adhere to it so tenaciously. I sincerely believe that no papist, monk, cleric, or their equal in faith would be able to remain in their faith if they should spend three days among the Turks. (Page 259)

Moving on to the God worshipped by the "Turks", we read the following from Luther's Large Catechism:

These articles of the Creed, therefore, divide and distinguish us Christians from all other people upon earth. All who are outside the Christian church, whether heathen, Turks, Jews, or false Christians and hypocrites, even though they believe in and worship only the one, true God, nevertheless do not know what his attitude is toward them. They cannot be confident of his love and blessing. Therefore they remain in eternal wrath and damnation, for they have do not the Lord Christ, and, besides, are not illuminated and blessed by any gifts of the Holy Spirit. (The Book of Concord, "The Large Catechism", 1959, p. 419 - bold emphasis mine.)

As with so much of Luther's thought/writings, I come away with a strong sense of tension between some of his more basic reflections on the "Turks", and his polemical outbursts.

With that said, I hope that some of my readers will find the above resources as interesting as I have.

Grace and peace,


Monday, June 3, 2013

Surah 4.157 - some further reflections and a resource list

My interest in Surah 4.157 was in a very real sense renewed after reading James R. White's, What Every Christian Needs To Know About the Qur'an. I have posted two installments of my review of the book (first; second), and the second installment was on chapter 6, a chapter which focused on Surah 4.156, 157 ("forty Arabic words"). In that installment I stated, "Chapter 6 (pages 129-143) is the most disappointing of the book", and then offered 4 reasons for that conviction. I would now like to add yet one more: Mr. White's interpretation of Surah 4.157 makes constructive dialogue between Christians and Muslims virtually impossible. I say this, because if a Christian adopts Mr. White's interpretation (and most do so), then only one conclusion can be reached: Surah 4.157 is utterly false; and if a Muslim adopts the same interpretation (and most do so), then only one conclusion can be reached: the Bible on the issue of the crucifixion and death of Jesus is utterly false. When conclusions of this nature are embraced, any possibility of constructive dialogue vanishes. And further, any chance of objective reflection from either side of the issue also vanishes; which in turn means that when competent scholars present solid evidence such interpretations are severely flawed, they are almost universally ignored. Fortunately, there are some Christians and Muslims who are objective enough to recognize such flaws, and I am in debt to these folk for my understanding of Surah 4.157—i.e. the Qur'an does not deny the physical crucifixion and death of Jesus—which happens to be the most internally consistent interpretation. I shall now turn to the Qur'an itself, and let it speak to us on this issue:

It is He who has sent down the Book to you. Some of its verses are clear [muh'kamātun] and precise in meaning they are the basis of the Book while others are allegorical [mutashābihātun]. Those with deviation in their hearts pursue the allegorical, so as to create dissension by seeking to explain it: but no one knows its meaning except God. Those who are firmly grounded in knowledge say, We believe in it: it is all from our Lord. But only the wise take heed. (Surah 3.7 - Maulana Wahiduddin Khan)

Some clear [muh'kamātun] ayat:

Do not say that those who are killed in Gods cause are dead; they are alive, but you are not aware of it. (Surah 2.154 - Maulana Wahiduddin Khan)

God said, O Jesus, I shall cause you to die and will raise you up to Me and shall clear you [of the calumnies] of the disbelievers, and shall place those who follow you above those who deny the truth, until the Day of Judgement; then to Me shall all return and I will judge between you regarding your disputes. (Surah 3.55 - Maulana Wahiduddin Khan)

Do not think of those who have been killed in Gods cause as dead. They are alive, and well provided for by their Lord; (Surah 3.169 - Maulana Wahiduddin Khan)

I told them only what You commanded me [Jesus] to, Worship God, my Lord and your Lord. I was a witness to what they did as long as I remained among them, and when You did cause me [Jesus] to die, You were the watcher over them. You are the witness of all things, (Surah 5.117 - Maulana Wahiduddin Khan)

Blessed was I on the day I was born, and blessed I shall be on the day I die and on the day I am raised to life again. (Surah 19:33 - Maulana Wahiduddin Khan)

A not so clear ayah (Dr. Joseph Cumming in his essay, "Did Jesus Die on the Cross?"[link] lists no less than 10 differing interpretations of this ayah in the major tasfīr literaturei.e. commentary on the Qur'an):

For their saying: “It is we who killed the Messiah Jesus son of Mary, the messenger of God.” Nay, they did not kill him by crucifying him. They thought they did, and those who affirm that are uncertain; they have no knowledge about it except by speculation. In certainty they did not kill him because God raised him from death up to Him. (Surah 4.157 - Dr. Suleiman Mourad)

If one begins with the clear ayat in mind (the Qur'an refers to those who do so as being, "firmly grounded in knowledge"), only one internally consistent interpretation of ayah 4.157 emerges: Jesus' physical body was crucified and killed on the cross, but His soul/spirit remained alive, and He was raised to the presence of God.

What follows, is a partial list of books, essays and websites/blogs that support the internally consistent interpretation of Surah 4.157:

Islamic Studies scholars -

"Does the Qur'an Deny or Assert Jesus' Crucifixion and Death?" (Paper presented in 2008 at the "The Qur'an in Its Historical Context" conference, University of Notre Dame; subsequently published 2011 in, The Qur'an in Its Historical Context 2, pp. 347-355)  - by Dr. Suleiman A. Mourad

"The Muslim Jesus: Dead or Alive?" (Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 72, 2009, pp. 237-58.)- by Dr. Gabriel Said Reynolds [link to online pdf copy]

“Towards an Islamic Christology II”, The Muslim World, Vol. LXX, April 1980, #2, (p. 106) - by Dr. Mahmoud M. Ayoub

“The Crucifixion in the Koran,” (Muslim World 13, 1923, pp. 242–58) - by E.E. Elder

Jesus In the Qur'an (Oxford University Press ed. 1977; Oneworld Publications ed. 1995,  pp. 105-121) - by Dr. Geoffrey Parrinder

The Crucifixion and the Qur'an (2009) - by Dr. Todd Lawson

NOTE: One Islamic Studies scholar, Dr. Neal Robinson, was recently cited by a Muslim apologist who posts under the name Ibn Anwar (thanks to Ken Temple for bringing this to my attention). In the combox of a thread at Paul Williams' blog, Ibn Anwar quoted the following from Dr. Robinson:

“The attempt of some Christian apologists to circumvent the Qur’anic denial of the crucifixion is disingenuous in the extreme.” (Robinson, N. (1991) Christ in Islam and Christianity: The Representation of Jesus in the Qur’an and the Classical Muslim Commentaries. London: Macmillan Press Ltd. p. 115). [Link to Ibn Anwar's post]

The above quote from Dr. Robinson, if read by itself, seems to be denying any legitimacy to the interpretation of Surah 4.157 that I have adopted. However, one must not read the quote in isolation. Earlier in the same book, Dr. Robinson cited an early Muslim source which affirmed that it was Jesus himself who was crucified on the cross, and then laid in the tomb:

Jesus’ humanity (nāsut) was crucified and his hands were nailed to the cross. He was left there all day, given vinegar to drink, and pierced with a lance. He was taken down from the cross, wrapped in a shroud and laid in the tomb. Three days later he appeared to the disciples and was recognized by them. When the news spread that he had not been killed, the Jews opened up the tomb but did not find his mortal remains (nāsut). (Christ In Islam and Christianity, pp. 56, 57.)

Even more important is the following from Dr. Robinson's contribution on "Jesus" in Brill's, The Encyclopaedia of the Qur'ān (2005, vol. 3, pp. 7-21):

[T]he Qur'anic teaching about Jesus' death is certainly not clear-cut. Three things, however, may be said with certainty. First, the Qur'an attaches no salvific importance to this death. Second, it does not mention his resurrection on the third day and has no need of it as proof of God's power to raise the dead. Third, although the Jews thought they had killed Jesus, from God's viewpoint they did not kill or crucify him. Beyond this is the realm of speculation. The classical commentators generally begin with the questionable premise that Q 4.157-9 contains an unambiguous denial of Jesus' death by crucifixion. They found confirmation of this in the existence of traditional reports about a look-alike substitute and hadiths about Jesus' future descent. Then they interpreted the other Qur'anic references to Jesus' death in the light of their understanding of this one passage. If, however, the other passages are examined without presupposition and Q 4.157-159 is then interpreted in the light of them, it can be read as a denial of the ultimate reality of Jesus' death rather than a categorical denial that he died. (Cited in Dr. Todd Lawson's, The Crucifixion and the Qur'an, pp. 23, 24.)

Websites and blogs -

"DID JESUS DIE ON THE CROSS?" (Evidence for God's Unchanging Word - link)

"What does the Qur'an say about Jesus death?" (Antioch Believer - link)

"Never say die: The death of Jesus in the Qur'an" (Religion at the margins - link)

"Did Jesus Die?" (From the book, Jesus The Light And Fragrance of God, by M. N. Anderson - link)

"Two questions from a truth-seeking Muslim on the death of Jesus on the cross" (A Christian Thinktank - link)

Grace and peace,


P.S. For all my threads on Surah 4.157 see THIS LINK