The Trinity and Islamic & Jewish Questions (Part 3)

Another criticism is that, Taymiyyah alleges, Christians confess that the Son is “equal in essence” with the Father. But equality is not identity; it is a relation between. Therefore, the Son’s essence must not be the Father’s essence. Therefore, there are two essences, “supposedly divine”. But since only one can be God (Deut 6), the Son cannot be God. Therefore, he cannot be equal in substance with the Father.

This objection is based on a misreading of our creed. We do not confess that the Father and Son are “equal in essence” as Taymiyyah thinks we do. That is, we confess that they are one in essence. They are not two divine things, as two men are two human things.

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Yet another objection Taymiyyah makes is as follows. It is a twofold objection. First, Christians call the Holy Spirit “Life” and they call the Son “Wisdom” or “Knowledge”. But Life is a divine attribute. And wisdom is a divine attribute. And divine attributes apply to whatever is divine. Thus, insofar as Christians distinguish the Holy Spirit from the Son, they allege that there is a divine one that is Life but is not Wisdom, and another that is Wisdom but not Life. As this is absurd, so is the doctrine of the Trinity.

This objection betrays a total misunderstanding of Christian theology. Christians observe that the Bible speaks in two ways of divine attributes. Sometimes, the term “Wisdom” stands for a divine attribute simply as such. And in this way, whoever is divine is Wise. Sometimes, the term “Wisdom” stands for a particular person, in distinction from another. That is, sometimes the term Wisdom, which is naturally a divine attribute, is employed to signify just the Son, not the Father. We call this “appropriation”. Note that in cases such as this, the Bible is not teaching, nor are Christians confessing, that Wisdom is not also Living and Almighty. Rather, the Bible is teaching, and Christians are confessing, that the attribute Wisdom is most especially befitting the Son of God, because he is eternally generated from the Father, in his image. Similarly, when I express my thoughts to myself in a soliloquy, they are an “image” of my mind. They embody my knowledge. They are my wisdom, as it were. Christians confess that the Son knows all and the Father knows all; they each know all. Yet, the Son especially bears the marks of “Wisdom”. Hence, the term is used by appropriation. Taymiyyah knows nothing of this standard Christian exegetical principle.