Biblical Paradox: Does Revelation Challenge Logic? -- By: David Basinger
JETS 30:2 (June 1987) p. 205
Biblical Paradox: Does Revelation Challenge Logic?
Most will agree with Vernon Grounds’ statement that when finite humans attempt to understand God they seemingly encounter “the impenetrable, the inscrutable, the incomprehensible.”1 How can one God be composed of three distinct personages? How could God become human? How can God retain sovereign control over earthly affairs if humans are truly free? How could God have created something out of nothing? How can it be that only by dying we can live?
But what is the actual status of such puzzles? Are solutions to all actually within the scope of human understanding? Or will some remain forever insoluble at the human level?
In any consideration of such questions it is first essential to specify and define the terms to be used. For, unfortunately, relevant terms like “paradox,” “contradiction,” “mystery,” “antinomy,” “the impenetrable” and “the incomprehensible” are used loosely and interchangeably by many. I shall use the phrase “verbal puzzle” to refer to those seemingly incomprehensible or impenetrable concepts that can be resolved by clarifying the meaning of the terms involved. The concept of dying before we can live is a good example. To the uninitiated or young it might appear that we have here a real contradiction. But once what is really meant is clarified that we must die in the sense of giving up an unhealthy preoccupation with self before we can live in the sense of experiencing the peace and contentment available to us—the seeming incompatibility disappears.
I shall use the term “mystery” to refer to those concepts that are not (and may never be) open totally to human explanation. For example, we as humans may never be able to explain how God could have become a human or how God could have created something out of nothing or how God could have raised someone from the dead. But none of these concepts is self-contradictory. The means by which such events were brought about may never be open to us as humans. Perhaps such means would not even be comprehensible from a human perspective. But all of the states of affairs in question are logically possible, given the normal definitions of the terms involved.
Finally I shall use the term “paradox” to refer to those concepts or sets of concepts that do appear to be self-contradictory. For example, given the manner in which some people define human freedom and divine control it appears that these two concepts cannot consistently be applied to the same state of affairs.
*David Basinger is professor of philosophy at Roberts Wesleyan College in Rochester, New York.
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