Equivocation and the word “God”Posted: February 6, 2017
While I admit to having my mind a lot on the debate lately, the nature of this post is NOT to start an unending debate back and forth with my opponent. The nature of this post is to explain further why I believe the trinitarian explanation of “God” cannot escape equivocation and/or a contradiction to the Scriptures. I believe my opponent did equivocate many times in our debate, but I’m not going to detail that here. I’m going to deal with the common explanation given by many apologists today on the trinity.
Many trinitarians claim they are not tri-theists and will openly deny any argument which puts them in this camp. They will claim it’s a straw-man, yet in reality it is not if their definitions are unpacked and expanded upon.
Can I demonstrate for you in writing? A common trinitarian explanation usually goes something like this when questioned(usually by an ill-informed Muslim or skeptic):
Non-trinitarian: So you believe Jesus is the son of God?
1) Trinitarian: Yes, Jesus is the son of God.
Non-trinitarian: Then Jesus is not God?
2) Trinitarian: No, Jesus is God.
Non-trinitarian: So Jesus is his own Father?
3) Trinitarian: No of course not, that’s not what we believe. Jesus is deity and thus God, but he is not the Father.
Non-trinitarian: So you believe there are two Gods?
4) Trinitarian: No, we believe in one God in three persons–namely the Father, the Son and Spirit.
This is a very simplified version of a normal conversation that would occur in a questioning of a trinitarian position. Many of us have seen, heard, or even explained something like this ourselves in the past. It’s a patent denial of tri-theism(or in this case, bi-theism since we’re only talking about the Father and Son) and explanation of their view on what they deem monotheism. The common trinitarian position of this day is that there is 3 WHOs(Father, Son, Spirit) in 1 WHAT(God). You can see this explanation on James White’s own web page to see I’m not making this up: http://vintage.aomin.org/trinitydef.html
To the ill-informed person this might sound plausible, yet to us who have been trained to really hear and read what trinitarians have said and written we see major faults in this explanation. Do you notice first, the number of different definitions of “God” that appear in this short explanation by the trinitarian?
In the first response by the trinitarian the definition for “God” is clearly an identity(who), the Father. Jesus is clearly the son of an identity, God the Father. Yet in the second response by the trinitarian affirming “Jesus is God,” the definition of “God” has now switched to a meaning of “deity” or “having the divine nature.” The word “God” in the second response has now switched to a “what.” That’s the only possible defintion because of course the trinitarian is not going to affirm Jesus is God by identity, namely the Father. The third response by the trinitarian somewhat affirms the definition of a “what” from the second response by now saying “Jesus is deity”(what he is), but the conclusion “…and thus God” has now switched definitions back to a meaning of “God by identity(who he is).” The fourth response of the trinitarian with the full explanation of the trinity has now redefined the term “God” back to a “what” affirming the 3 persons(WHOs) within this one “God”(WHAT).
If you don’t think this explanation is committing the fallacy of equivocation, I urge you to read a definition of it:
The fallacy of equivocation occurs when a key term or phrase in an argument is used in an ambiguous way, with one meaning in one portion of the argument and then another meaning in another portion of the argument. –
Do you see how many different definitions for “God” came up ambiguously in this one explanation? There’s 3 different definitions in this one explanation. Each of these “God” definitions are NOT each other. That is their doctrine. If you are hearing this and not writing it down, it can almost sound plausible. Now I don’t have a problem with differing definitions of the term “God.” Even I have different definitions in my own explanations, but that is different than using the term “God” ambiguously in an explanation to pass off what sounds like a good argument if not forced to define the terms. The problem is the constant back and forth switching and what the trinitarian is claiming follows from each definition and explanation.
Yet we have another huge problem to point out with the explanation. In the third response by the trinitarian–the trinitarian is equating the meaning of the “what”(deity) to a “who”(God). Not only does this not necessarily follow, it creates a second “God” identity since the first “God”(identity, the Father) is NOT the second “God”(identity, the Son). Trinitarians will usually then cry out “No, you don’t understand… there’s only one God! We are not tri-theists, that’s a straw-man.”
But the problem is, we do understand and refuse to allow the equivocation and/or contradiction of simple grammar going on in the explanation. Some trinitarians(not all) will then resort to equating their arguments to God Himself by falling back into “mystery” when confronted with the issue. Others, I hope will see the error and look to challenge their doctrine. Which will you do?