Bible and principle of non-contradiction
By Hendrik van der Breggen
The Carillon, October 2, 2014
Bible and principle of non-contradiction
Does the Bible teach that the principle of non-contradiction applies to God? I believe so.
The principle of non-contradiction says that nothing can both be and not-be at the same time and in the same sense. For example, I cannot be both taller than my wife and not taller than my wife at the same time and in the same sense (I’m 6′ 3″ and Carla is 5′). A square cannot be both a square (a figure with four equal straight sides) and a circle (a figure with no straight sides) at the same time and in the same sense.
But does the principle of non-contradiction apply to the physical world only, not the spiritual?
I think that answer is no, for (at least) three reasons.
First, the God of the Bible reveals God in such a way that presupposes the legitimacy of the principle of non-contradiction with respect to God.
God reveals Himself as I AM, not I AM NOT. That is, God reveals Himself as Being, as opposed to not being.
Significantly, via Jesus, God reveals Himself as the Truth, as opposed to the false; the Way, as opposed to not the way; the Life, as opposed to not life. God is also revealed as never changing, as opposed to changing—trustworthy, not untrustworthy.
Moreover, Jesus—God—is revealed as the Logos, as opposed to the non-Logos. (Logos means word or rational principle.) And Jesus is revealed as the Christ, not the anti-Christ.
Second, the truth of the principle of non-contradiction is intuitively obvious.
Think again about my first examples. It’s obvious to rational intuition that I can’t be taller AND shorter than my wife at the same time and in the same sense, and that a square can’t ALSO be a circle at the same time and in the same sense. Surely this insight applies to concepts having to do with God.
If God exists, then it’s not the case that God doesn’t exist. If God is the creator, then it’s not the case that God isn’t the creator. If God is wholly good, then it’s not the case that God is evil.
Of course God’s ways are higher than our ways (and more mysterious), but, surely, if God is good, then God’s ways do not contradict the good.
Third, the objection that the crucial Christian doctrine—the Incarnation—is contradictory (and thus we should embrace the logically absurd) is a failure.
Yes, Jesus is the Incarnation: Jesus is God (God the Son) and fully human. Yes, this might seem to violate the principle of non-contradiction IF we take “fully human” to mean can’t be God. But doing so would be a mistake.
Consider this. Humans are fleshly creatures made in the image of God. Whereas our nature, i.e., our God-likeness (our moral, rational, relational, and creative nature) is limited, God’s nature (God’s moral, rational, relational, and creative nature) has no limiting properties—God is all-powerful.
Logically, though, an all-powerful being could choose temporarily not to exercise all His powers and in so doing don human flesh. Significantly, this allows for the possibility that Jesus can be fully God (God the Son) and, because He is God, also be a limited fleshly creature made in the image of God—fully human.
Mystery doesn’t require logical absurdity.
As the parent who limits him/herself to interact with a child at the child’s level doesn’t cease to be a parent, so it goes with God.
Thus, the principle of non-contradiction applies to God because (1) God says so, (2) it’s intuitively obvious, and (3) the objection that the Incarnation violates it fails.
The important question now is: Why think the man Jesus is also the God described in the Bible? Enter: the evidence for Jesus’ claims to deity plus the evidence for His bodily resurrection—a sign that vindicates His claims.
(Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, teaches philosophy at Providence University College. The views in this column do not always reflect the views of Providence.)
Further reading on the principle of non-contradiction:
- “God and the Principle of Non-Contradiction”(Apologia, September 8, 2011).
- “The Principle of Non-Contradiction” (Apologia, May 7, 2009).
- “God and the Stone Too Heavy to Lift” (Apologia, October 30, 2008).
- “God Incarnate illogical” (Apologia, October 15, 2015)
Further reading on the concept of Incarnation:
- Paul Copan, “The Incarnation” in Loving Wisdom: Christian Philosophy of Religion.
- Ronald H. Nash, “Christianity and the Test of Reason,” in Worldviews in Conflict:Choosing Christianity in a World of Ideas.
- James A. Parker, “The Incarnation: Could God Become Man Without Ceasing to Be God?” in The Apologetics Study Bible. Reprinted in If God Made the Universe, Who Made God? (Beginner level)
- Thomas D. Senor, “The Incarnation and the Trinity,” in Reason for the Hope Within (ed. Michael J. Murray). (Advanced level)
Further reading on the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection:
- William Lane Craig, On Guard. (Beginner level)
- William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith. (Intermediate/ advanced level)
- Gary Habermas, The Historical Jesus.
- Gary Habermas & Antony Flew, Did Jesus Rise from the Dead? (ed., Terry L. Miethe).
- Michael Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus. (Advanced level)
- Lee Strobel, The Case for Easter. (Beginner level)
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