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Addressing a Common Unitarian Retort

While I no longer write for Biblical Trinitarian, I am still the manager for its Facebook page. This means I still notified of people's comments. Overall, there haven't been many antagonistic posts or retorts from unitarians. However, from time to time they do come, and it can sometimes be a hassle to deal with, seeing as unitarians are a recalcitrant sort. The good thing about this, though, is that their retorts are pretty much the same as they've always been.

For instance, I recently received a notification from the Facebook page that a  unitarian had expressed his desire to debate the proposition "The one true God is one person." I told this person that I don't debate, but that he could contact Mike Burgos. Mike is a good debater and is usually willing to engage with unitarians in formal debate.

Rather than seeking out Burgos, however, this person sought to wedge his way into a comment debate by asking questions. Before I get into the substance of his retort, I want to make what I think is an important point about interactions with heretics. The fight against God and his people is constant, unrelenting, and fueled by pragmatism. What I mean by saying it is fueled by pragmatism is simple: Heretics and other enemies of the faith will select arguments against the truth, and in favor of their false beliefs, on the basis of whether they "work" in the moment. If an argument works to silence the less learned, or to garner support from false believers who are just one "plausible" argument (see Col 2:4) away from apostatizing, then the heretic will gladly utilize it. Whether or not the argument is sound, or only valid (i.e. structurally correct), is irrelevant.

The enemies of God will utilize those bad arguments, and then move on when they've been shown to be in error. The goal is not to get to the truth, but to attack the Truth and his people. 

This is why I didn't take the question from the unitarian to be anything more than an attempt to begin a debate in the comment section. He had an axe to grind, and he was there to grind it.

So what was the axe?

The Axiom of Unipersonality Rears Its Wretched Head Again

The challenge made was one I have heard for over a decade now. It goes like this -

The personal pronouns God uses of himself in the Scripture (e.g. I, myself, mine, et al) imply that he is a singular person. If you maintain that God is three persons, then you are implicitly arguing that God is three persons and one person at the same time and in the same sense.

So what is the axiom of unipersonality? In a word, it is the assumption that all singular personal beings are unipersonal. It is never explicitly argued for, but is always working in the background. of unitarian arguments against the Trinity. 

In my discussion with the unitarian, the axiom of unipersonality was being employed with a specific reference in mind. That reference was Isaiah 44:24.

Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer,
who formed you from the womb:

"I am the Lord, who made all things,
who alone stretched out the heavens,
who spread out the earth by myself..."

Given that the Lord uses the singular personal pronoun twice in this passage, the unitarian's question was:

In Isaiah 44:24, which person of the Godhead is speaking?

He thought that by asking me such a question I would be tripped up and have to answer that it was one of the three persons alone, in which case there would be either ontological or relative priority amongst the persons of the Trinity, or the whole Godhead would be speaking as one person, in which the aforementioned contradiction would ensue.

But is this the case? Are these the necessary logical entailments of affirming the tripersonality of God? Absolutely not. There are many answers one can give to this challenge. Here I will include only two.

1. The Fallacy of Composition: 

Let us first deal with the bad reasoning of the unitarian. As I've already noted, the axiom of unipersonality is working in the background. The assumption that ontological singularity implies personality commits the fallacy of composition in that it assumes that if the being of God is characterized by singularity then so must the personhood of God, which is 'part' (to speak clumsily, given that God is not made up of parts but is ontologically simple, see God Without Parts by James E. Dolezal) of God's being, must be characterized by singularity.

In fact, as I've argued in my book Jesus Was a Trinitarian, even human personhood (which the unitarians will often cite as that which should properly inform our concept of personhood) is virtually personally plural. Scripture very plainly reveals that men can, and ought to commune with their own hearts/minds, as well as give themselves counsel, rebuke themselves, and so on (cf. Pss 42:5, 11; 43:5; 103:1-2, 22; 104:1, 35, etc). This implies a distinction between self and other, and, therefore, a virtual plurality of persons constituting the one human being's personhood.

2. The Single Will of God:

Secondly, given that the Divine will is singular it follows that each person of the Godhead can say of himself, in particular, "I" or "myself," etc, and not do so to the exclusion of the other persons. There are places in Scripture that explicitly identify the Father or the Son or the Spirit as speaking as a distinct person. For instance -

a. The Father Speaks 

 Matt 3:17

 ...behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

Heb 1:5 (et al) -

For to which of the angels did God ever say,

“You are my Son,
today I have begotten you”?

b. The Son Speaks

Isa 61:1 (cf. Luke 4:16-21) - 

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me

Ps 22:1 (et al. cf. Matt 27:26, et al.) -

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?

c. The Spirit Speaks 

 Acts 10:19 -

And while Peter was pondering the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are looking for you..."

Acts 13:2 -

While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”

Rev 22:17a -

The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.”

The distinct personal utterances are not made to the exclusion of any divine person. The Father speaks distinctly in relation to the Son and his work of redemption. The Son speaks distinctly in relation to the Father as he (the Son) accomplishes the work of redemption on the cross. The Spirit speaks distinctly in relation to the Father and Son, as he (the Spirit) empowers the church to preach, teach, evangelize, and grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ to the glory of God the Father.

As Christians have always understood, in the economy of salvation we see clearly the three divine persons accomplishing the one divine will. God is one being who eternally exists in three coequal persons. God's use of the singular personal pronoun brings our attention to his singularity of being and will, not personhood.

Concluding Remarks

The unitarian position is not rational, although it is rationalistic. It builds arguments on a foundation of assumptions nowhere found in or outside of Scripture (e.g. the axiom of unipersonality). God reveals himself to be one being eternally existent in three distinct coequal divine persons.

Scripture clearly reveals that human personhood is virtually plural, being expressed by an actual person and a virtual self with which one can commune, dialogue, and so forth.

More importantly, however, in Scripture the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit make distinct personal utterances, but do not so to the exclusion of one another. Rather, their distinct personal utterances only serve to emphasize the one divine will being effectuated by each person of the Godhead in relation to one another.

Man, as the imago dei, reflects in his personhood not the god of the unitarians, but the one true God. Yahweh, the Trinity.

Soli Deo Gloria