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As most of you already know, I am writing a book on the Resurrection of Jesus, looking critically at the historical and theological claims involved.

I wrote this aside section to highlight that without a coherent or working understanding of the Holy Trinity, the belief in a (Trinitarian) resurrection is somewhat even more problematic. Here is a short section:

The Holy Trinity

It is important to mention the Trinity because the idea underwrites the whole concept of the orthodox understanding of the Resurrection. That Jesus was God in human form and part of the Holy Trinity is foundational to him resurrecting as a human incarnation of a divine being.

In other words, if you can’t make sense of the Holy Trinity to the point that the whole idea becomes incoherent, then you can’t make sense of the atonement that we will next discuss. The Holy Trinity suffers from being a theory that supposedly has three separate, distinguishable entities with their own different properties (The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit) that are somehow the same but threat of heresy meaning tht they cannot be “parts” of a single entity, of wholly different “gods” (polytheism).

The Holy Trinity, as far as I am concerned, doesn’t make sense; it is incoherent. I have written a fair amount on this elsewhere and I cannot devote too much space to it here but you really have to start questioning things when the prevailing modern Christian approach to the theology of the Trinity is called mysterianism. This is the idea that we don’t understand how the Trinity works (it’s a mystery) but you’ve just got to have faith that it works. I believe that 2+2=7; I don’t know how it works and I can’t show you to convince you, I just have faith that it does. God moves in mysterious ways, end of discussion.

Professor of Philosophy Dale Tuggy sees there as being five ways to understand such mysterianism:[1]

[1]…a truth formerly unknown, and perhaps undiscoverable by unaided human reason, but which has now been revealed by God and is known to some… [2] something we don’t completely understand… [3] some fact we can’t explain, or can’t fully or adequately explain… [4] an unintelligible doctrine, the meaning of which can’t be grasped….[5] a truth which one should believe even though it seems, even after careful reflection, to be impossible and/or contradictory and thus false.

The subject of mysterianism is itself almost a book-length affair. Suffice to say:[2]

Mysterianism is a meta-theory of the Trinity, that is, a theory about trinitarian theories, to the effect that an acceptable Trinity theory must, given our present epistemic limitations, to some degree lack understandable content. “Understandable content” here means propositions expressed by language which the hearer “grasps” or understands the meaning of, and which seem to her to be consistent.

At its extreme, a mysterian may hold that no first-order theory of the Trinity is possible, so we must be content with delineating a consistent “grammar of discourse” about the Trinity, i.e., policies about what should and shouldn’t be said about it. In this extreme form, mysterianism may be a sort of sophisticated position by itself—to the effect that one repeats the creedal formulas and refuses on principle to explain how, if at all, one interprets them. More common is a moderate form, where mysterianism supplements a Trinity theory which has some understandable content, but which is vague or otherwise problematic

The reason I belabour the point of highlighting mysterianism here is that, in the evident absence of a prevailing theory that coherently works and that is accepted by mainstream Christian thinkers, some form of mysterianism must hold for Christians to be able to hold Christian beliefs. And this Trinitarian belief, as I have said, underwrites understandings of Jesus that are necessary to make sense of the narrative of Jesus resurrecting. That is, unless you just want to believe that Jesus is some special man, some non-divine Messiah favoured by God but not God. But, as mentioned in the last chapter, this would invalidate such a believer as being called a “Christian”.

The important point to understand is this: if the concept of the Holy Trinity is incoherent or broken, then it doesn’t really matter what you think of a Trinitarian resurrection event. Again, one idea supervenes on another. The Christian needs to satisfy themselves rationally with the concept of the Holy Trinity before they can properly work through the rational analysis and subsequent belief in the Resurrection.

One could make the argument, considering we will soon be talking far more about probability, given this extra level of epistemic hoops the Christian has to jump through, that the chance of Resurrection together with the Trinity being true is even less probable than having to consider the Resurrection alone.

The final point to make on this topic, since I cannot afford to spend more time theorising about how the Holy Trinity works, is that it was only after the whole Easter story, only after Jesus’ death, that his followers understood who Jesus supposedly was. This was a theology that looks now rather like a post hoc rationalisation given Jesus’ death. He was supposed to be the Messiah, often expected to be a militaristic leader who would command the chosen people and not someone who ended up being crucified at the first sign of opposition.

Cognitive dissonance kicks in and the disciples and early church followers had to rationalise such a potential let-down. The Messiah morphs into a sacrificial lamb and the Old Testament is ransacked for potential quotes that might support this view. Hence the mental contortions one has to make to derive coherent prophecies from the Old Testament, often from non-prophetic sources. But more on this later.

[1] Tuggy (2003), 175–6

[2] Tuggy (2016).


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Jonathan MS Pearce

A TIPPLING PHILOSOPHER Jonathan MS Pearce is a philosopher, author, columnist, and public speaker with an interest in writing about almost anything, from skepticism to science, politics, and morality,...