Divine Naming Vs. Human Naming

Image result for adam namingLanguage & Ontology

In a recent post on ontology, I explained that the subject is not without its place in the study of Scripture and theology. Today, I want to demonstrate one of the ways in which this is true — the naming of things in Genesis 1-3. In these foundational chapters of Scripture, we encounter God and Adam naming various objects. God names all that he creates, and Adam names animals of the ground (cf. Gen 2:18-20), his wife/”the woman” (cf. Gen 2:22-23), and renames his wife “Eve” after the Fall (cf. Gen 3:20).

Many commentators have properly picked up on the fact that Adam’s naming of objects reflects his being the image of God, the God who speaks and names, categorizes and orders, arranges and controls by his Word. However, not many have taken into consideration the ontological implications of the differences between God’s act of naming and man’s act of naming. For while God and Adam both name objects, they do so in very different ways reflecting their knowledge of the object in question. And this, in turn, reflects on the very nature of objects themselves, i.e. the manner in which they are what they are.

The difference between God and Adam’s speaking, moreover, is not merely narratival. Rather, God’s speaking and Adam’s speaking are set in a rather clear contrast, one that is based on the distinction between the Creator and his creature. Man is the image and glory of God, but he is a creature nonetheless, one who is finite in his epistemological and, therefore, linguistic capacities.

God Names, then Makes; Adam Encounters, then Names

We see from the outset of Scripture that God’s knowledge of what he will create precedes his creating those things. This is implied by God’s use of the word “light” in Genesis 1:3, which is followed by God’s satisfaction in this newly created light —

And God saw that the light was good.
(Gen 1:4)

What God speaks into being is known already to him, and he does not name things on the basis of his having acquired knowledge of it. And this stands in stark contrast to man’s naming of things in Genesis 2:18-20.

Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name.  The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him.

Whereas God names things, then brings them into existence; Adam encounters creation, then names creation after what he has learned of it. The story of Adam naming the animals in Gen 2:18-20 is just one example. We find another example of this process of encountering, learning, and naming in the very next verses (vv. 21-23).

So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said,

“This at last is bone of my bones
   and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called Woman,
   because she was taken out of Man.”

The Lord brings the animals to Adam; Adam names them. The Lord brings the woman to Adam; Adam names her. Adam names the animals and the woman according to what he has learned about them, as is evident from his statement that the woman will be called “Woman because she was taken out of Man.” A process of encountering, learning, and naming that is repeated again in Gen 3:15 & 20.

“I will put enmity between you and the woman,
   and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
   and you shall bruise his heel.”
(Gen 3:15)

[…]

The man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living.
(Gen 3:20)

Adam hears the Word of God, prophesying that Eve would bear a Son who would bring salvation from God’s judgment, and he names his wife in accordance with that truth. Adam believed, then he spoke. He encountered a part of creation (his wife), learned something about her (i.e. she would give birth to the One who would crush the serpent’s head), and named her accordingly (i.e. named her to be the mother of all living).

What Things Are Depends On God’s Word, Not Ours

A simple and very practical truth we can derive from this contrast between God’s naming and Adam’s naming is this — The nature of a thing is dependent not on what we observe, but on what God has declared to be the case. A very clear instance of this fact is also found in the opening chapters of Genesis. We read in Genesis 2:16-17 —

The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

Here we are shown that God gave Adam special revelation concerning the nature of eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Eating of the tree, in short, is identified as bad, as deserving of punishment. Note that God does not say this on the basis of the fruit itself, nor on the basis of the effect that would result from eating of the fruit. Instead, the eating the fruit is identified as bad because God has decreed it to be so. God’s knowledge of the tree depends on his being God, not on the tree having certain properties that you or I can observe, taste, touch, or infer general conclusions from. The very commandment itself demonstrates that knowledge of the action could not be based upon experience, or upon man’s apprehension of the action and its properties, for the very act of doing this was itself sin.

Yet what does the Scripture say Eve did? Genesis 3:6 —

…when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.

The serpent contradicted God’s declaration concerning the nature of the action of eating the forbidden fruit, and the woman went along with his denial of God’s Word. And this is important to note, because the “badness” of the fruit was not inherent to the fruit itself, i.e. to any observable property, but to God’s decree. Thus, while it is true that to Eve the fruit was good for food, a delight to the eyes, and to be desired to make one wise, that doesn’t change the fact that it was not good, and eating it constituted a sin against God.

God’s Word defined the fruit and the action of eating the fruit. The fruit was not good for consumption because God had said so. The action of eating the fruit was a sin because had declared it to be so. And no matter what Eve observed, no matter what she believed made the fruit good, and no matter what she believed made eating the fruit good — God’s Word was fixed.

Eve could not learn something about the fruit that would change its very nature.
Nor could she learn anything about eating the fruit that would justify her breaking God’s command.

Things are what God says they are, not necessarily what we observe about them.

The Absence of Common Sense & The Resurrection of the Dead

What is the point of all this, then? Well, in a word, the point is to emphasize that our belief that the essential properties of a thing/action/process are those properties with which we are most familiar, or which seem to always be present with the thing/action/process in question is usually wrong. And if God has revealed what this thing/action/process is, then we certainly have absolutely no right to speak of our common sense understanding of this thing/action/process. We can only turn to the Scriptures for the truth about it.

As a result of this, we cannot appeal to our understanding, say, of the body as being a physical entity constituted in such and such a manner as being definitive of the body itself. We know from Scripture that the body is constituted of parts (cf. 1st Cor 12). We also know, however, that the body that is missing a member, or many members, nevertheless, remains a body, albeit a malfunctioning and marred one (also cf. 1st Cor 12). How, then, are we to speak of the body? What is the body? If the body is both the unity of physical parts, as well as the disunified collection of body parts, then what is the body? How does the body remain existent, moreover, if it is broken down into its constituent elements after sitting in the grave for decades, or even millennia?

God tells us that he will raise the dead, the bodies of the dead, in fact. But our perception of the body renders the doctrine of the resurrection incomprehensible to us. For if the body ceases to be a unity of limbs and appendages, etc, and it decomposes into chemical elements, our understanding of it is that it has ceased to be. Yet God says that it, and not something else, will be raised. God says that the bodies of the dead will come out of their tombs. So how is this the case?

In a word, as I’ve noted, a thing is not what we observe it to be; a thing is what God says it is. And what a thing is may always produce and/or be attended by certain properties that we observe and mistake for essential, when in reality they are accidental. The limbless man is not devoid of a body, even though his body may look nothing like mine. God knows what the essential properties of a body are, even if my mind cannot comprehend the body’s essential properties consisting in something other than what I can view with my eyes and touch with my fingers, or hear with my ears.

Scripture often contradicts our common sense notions. Let us not build doctrines or defenses of doctrines on such flimsy bases.

Soli Deo Gloria
-h.

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The IA Paradox

Limiting Omnipotence?

A famous pseudo-problem raised by some atheists is the so-called “omnipotence paradox.” It goes something like this —

Can God create a stone so heavy that he can’t lift it?
If he can create the stone, then he is not omnipotent, since he cannot lift it.
If he can’t create the stone, then he is not omnipotent, since he can’t create it.

The paradox is demanding that God demonstrate his omnipotence by demonstrating that he lacks omnipotence. So we see that it isn’t the case that God’s inability to create the stone of all stones places a limitation on his power. Rather, it’s the case that the very idea that omnipotence can be demonstrated by an act of non-omnipotence is self-contradictory. The atheist, in essence, is declaring that God can only be believed to be all-powerful if he shows that he is not all-powerful.

This is logically impossible.

God does not do what is irrational, nor can he. Therefore, God cannot prove his omnipotence by proving his non-omnipotence.

Expanding the Paradox: The Incommunicable Attribute Paradox (or the IA Paradox)

Most Christians are quick to pick upon the fundamentally irrational nature of the omnipotence paradox. However, when it comes to similar claims made by other professing Christians, we sometimes are not as discerning. This is a problem, seeing as heretics will often reinterpret the attributes of God in order to justify their false beliefs.

For instance, false teacher Rob Bell many years ago wrote a book called “Love Wins.” In a video related to the book, I don’t remember if it was a commercial or a promotional video or one of his Nooma videos, Bell condescendingly sneered at a Christian who dared to claim that Gandhi died and went to hell. Bell’s reasoning? Since we are not God, we cannot know what is in a person’s heart. Therefore, we don’t know if Gandhi was hellbound or not. And this, in a very strictly technical sense, is correct. At the moment of his death, Gandhi could have very well repented of his sins and believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, and gained eternal life through the Gospel.

But did it happen? Was there anything like this reported about him? Did he die clinging to his false religious beliefs? Did he die believing that all religions find their origin in his syncretistic, non-trinitarian, probably pantheistic deity?

If he did, then he is now, as is the rich man from Luke 16:23, “in torment.”

The truth of the matter is that ultimately God alone has access to the minds of men, such that he can hear their silent repentance and faith in his Son’s sacrificial death for their sins, and his resurrection from the dead. We cannot see into men’s hearts. We can only judge on the basis of what we have access to, men’s words and actions. And Gandhi gives us no evidence, at all, that he ever repented of his false beliefs and came to know the One and Only Triune God.

So Rob Bell exploited the truth of God’s Omniscience, as well as that of our limited knowledge, in order to cast doubt on our ability to say that those who die outside of saving faith in Christ are eternally condemned. From this little foothold, Bell satanically spun a web of more and more doubts about Christian orthodoxy regarding salvation and condemnation, eventually teaching that there may be a chance for sinners in hell to repent and be saved. And today Bell’s theology is nothing more than what his early discerners thought it to be — New Age, Quasi-Pantheistic, Universalist, Inclusivist, Anti-Christian gobbledygook.

While Bell’s exploitation of the truth of God’s omniscience and our lack of omniscience is not exactly the same thing as a the atheist’s use of the omnipotence paradox, it shares a similar strategy. You see, the omnipotence paradox says that if God can do anything, then x should not be a problem for him. If it is a problem for him, then apparently he cannot do anything.
And this can be retooled by heretics like Rob Bell as follows —

If God is all loving, then surely he can’t send anyone to hell forever. If he does, he’s not all-loving.

If God is truly free, then surely he can place his Sovereignty to the side so that men can have true freedom of the will. If he can’t, doesn’t that mean he isn’t truly free?

If God is all powerful, then surely he can annihilate sinners in hell. If he can’t annihilate them, then he is not omnipotent.

If God is transcendent, then surely he cannot be fully grasped by the human intellect. If he could be grasped by the human intellect, then surely he is nothing but a finite creature.

And so on.

The atheist who proposes the omnipotence paradox hopes to raise an insoluble dilemma that will force the Christian to abandon faith in God.

The heretic who proposes the incommunicable attribute paradox, however, seeks to overthrow orthodoxy by at one and the same time affirming a foundational truth about God in order to negate other, if not all of the remaining, attributes of God, and thereby dismantle and replace the Christian faith with lies.

Addressing the IA Paradox When It Shows Up

It is easy to get caught up in the task of responding to the IA paradox as though it really were logically coherent. But we should avoid that. Instead, we should expose the foundational/presuppositional problems with the assertion being made. What is the problem? In every instance of the IA paradox, its proponent is demanding that God do what is logically impossible. Take the time to analyze the proposed problem, and demonstrate its incoherence.

For instance, consider the claim that if God is all-loving then he cannot send anyone to hell. This clearly contradicts the doctrine of God’s love itself, seeing as God loves what is good, and he is the highest good. To demand that God show love by not-loving the highest good is to demand that he show love by not loving at all. This is self-contradictory.

Similarly self-contradictory is the claim that in order for God to be omnipotent he must possess the ability to annihilate sinners in hell. In one sense, the claim is true. Man cannot annihilate himself or anyone else. And, of course, God possesses the power to annihilate the wicked. But since God has declared that sinners will die the second death, to experience torment forever day and night, and he cannot lie, it is impossible for him to annihilate the wicked. Hell is the demonstration of God’s justice against sinners. Consequently, the annihilationist who argues that God’s omnipotence is demonstrated in his annihilation of sinners is literally demanding that God show his justice (i.e. in the punishment of sinners) by being unjust (i.e. breaking his Word). This pits God’s omnipotence against his Righteousness. Not only this, but it also proposes an idea of justice that is self-contradictory.

The IA paradox is just as logically incoherent as the omnipotent paradox, and, therefore, should be exposed as such. God’s incommunicable attributes are not self-contradictory, and any argument that seeks to set them against one another is fallacious.

Soli Deo Gloria
-h.