Friday, July 18, 2008

The Incarnation

Yesterday I received in the mail and subsequently read Gordon Clark's last published work, left slightly unfinished (two ending paragraphs are supplied by his student John Robbins).

Clark gives partial vindication to Nestorius (though not his followers), while coming down rather firmly on the framers of the Chalcedonian Creed, as well as nearly every single theologian (there are fewer than you might think) to have subsequently discoursed on the relation between Christ's divinity and His humanity. Perhaps only Charles Hodge escapes with a modicum of approval in this area, but only because he attempt to define his terms where everyone else has merely accepted the language without articulating its meaning.

The basic argument of Clark is as follows: granted that Christ possesses both full deity and full humanity. Why then is he not both the Divine person or Logos and the human person called Jesus? If Christ's human nature (a term conflated with substance, which Clark shows to be an undefined and therefore meaningless word) possess an intellect, will, and all the other qualities of humanity, why not also is it a person (a term that Clark does wish to define)?

Amid Clark's frequent expressions of dissatisfaction with those who have come before and have lacked his genius (note that he doesn't claim to be a genius), there is much of great interest and import in his little book of seventy-eight pages.

1. He drops the term substance, preferring to define essence (ousia) as the definition of a thing, as he did in his treatise on the Trinity.

2. He defines person as the complex of propositions which an individual thinks concerning him/herself, which is also seen in his treatise on the Trinity.

3. He spends a few pages refuting the use of the term "infinite," because it is not a Biblical term and it does not accurately define God. He proves that dropping the term in no way denies God's omniscience or his omnipotence.

4. He gives another delightful quote on the doctrine of divine simplicity: "It is an honorable view that all the attributes are identical in God, and sometimes visibly so in history; for when God demolished the walls of Jericho, the single action was both an instance of grace and an instance of wrath. In greater generality, knowledge is power, omnipresence is omniscience, mercy and truth are met together, and righteousness and peace have kissed each other."

5. He admits the difficulty resulting from the two-person view with regard to distinguishing what actions or statements of Christ can be properly accomplished by his divine person or by his human person. Certain actions are easily distinguished: when Jesus says, "I thirst" it must be his human person, for the Logos is impassible and incorporeal and has no thirst. Also, certain statements could only be said truly by the divine Logos, "I and the Father are One." But many other statements and actions (such as miracles) are indistinguishable.

6. One of the more interesting discussions, in my opinion, is the relation of the body to the soul. He does not develop the topic in detail, but he does refer to Augustine, affirming his view that the body is the instrument of the soul, which is the higher being, and therefore the body does not act upon the soul, but the soul upon the body. Thus, the theory of sensation, or indeed any theory of knowledge that lends itself to sensation, is false: the body does not provide information to the soul, but the soul uses information to operate the body. This view is perhaps the most controversial in our day and age, since we tend to give great importance to emotion, the physical world, and are skeptical of immaterial reality.

7. Another interesting and brief discussion concerns the nature of Truth. What is truth? Hegel and Kant made concepts the definition of truth. But how can "cat," "God," or "philbert" provide knowledge as bare terms? Propositions, which are the meanings of declarative sentences, are the definition of truth. "Cat" is neither true nor false, but "The cat is calico" can be evaluated as to truth. "God" is a term that has perhaps been defined in more ways than any other important concept, yet its truth as a concept depends upon the propositions attached to it. An important foundational point, often overlooked by even the brightest of persons, is the proper use of the verb "to be." Considered as a substantive verb, or a verbal noun, "being," the term conveys no meaning, for anything that may be stated or thought can be said to exist or have being: my dream "exists" as a dream; the grubblysnort "exists" as a thought in my mind. Rather, the only meaningful use of "to be" verbs are as a copula, designed for the use of predication, that is, the distinguishing of the various aspects that define a thing: "God is Truth," "The sun is hot."

I am continually amazed at the breadth of Clark's understanding. Moreso than any other person I have read, he demonstrates the ability to comprehend the various disciplines of knowledge into a coherent whole. He demonstrates this in his application of mathematics and physics to the problems of the term "infinite" and the necessity of immaterial existence. But the real marvel is his ability to commit himself to a knowledge grounded in Scripture and to grasp the implications Scripture has upon the whole of knowledge. Many times in this short work he demonstrates the incompatibility of certain conclusions based upon their contradiction of a Scriptural proposition. Whatever else one may disagree with or appreciate in Clark's conclusions, everyone--really, everyone--should seek to imitate his commitment to a Biblically grounded knowledge: not only in word, but in practice; evaluating every conclusion by the light of God's revealed Truth.


Benjamin P. Glaser said...

Thanks for this Joshua.

speigel said...

Saw your post on the Confessional PB forum. But it was shut down - quick.

If I may ask, do you think Clark, assuming his definitions are correct, posited a two-person incarnation?

Joshua Butcher said...


I do think that Clark's definition of person leads to a view of Christ that implies dual-personhood, but I don't think that he is therefore a Nestorian.

Clark's view doesn't entail a sharp separation of the divine and human, but rather a distinction analogous to the distinctions within the Trinity.

When Clark discusses the Trinity, the three persons share a unity of attributes, but certain predications are distinctive of the individual persons. For example, God the Father cannot say of Himself, "I have been incarnated," whereas God the Son can say that of Himself.

So, when Clark talks about the humanity of Christ crying out "I thirst," he means simply that the divine person, God the Son, cannot predicate "I thirst" of Himself, according to how personhood is defined by Clark.

The terms are problematic because hypostasis, which translates "substance" in Greek, is transliterated into persona in Latin, which can mean "mask, character." So whereas the common meaning in Greek might imply something intrinsic, the Latin seems to imply something added. So when the Church Fathers are asking us to affirm that Christ is one hypostasis (subsistence), one prosopon (person), and two phuses (natures)--what are they wanting us to affirm, exactly?

I don't think Clark should be considered a heretic for trying to fill a gap in our understanding of Christ as fully God and fully man. After all, if we are "fully men," then what is it for us to be "persons" as well as "natures"?

speigel said...

Could you explain what you mean by Clark's view not entailing a "sharp distinction of the divine and human"? Are you implying that there is some unity between the dual-personhood? Or you do mean some unity between the divine and human (natures?)? Can you elaborate on that unity?

I believe Gerety was also using the analogy of the Trinity to explain Clark's view of the Incarnation. I understand that certain predicates are distinctive of the individual persons of the Godhead and in Clark's view of the Incarnation. For example, God the Son cannot predicate of Himself being thirsty but only another one who is a human person can.

You also use the example that God the Father cannot say "I have been incarnated" but God the Son say that. But what exactly do you mean when you say that God the Son has been incarnated given that God the Son and a separate human person, Jesus, are not the same person and cannot share all predicates?

speigel said...

Joshua, I never got a response to my question. Is there another place where I can get the answer?

Joshua Butcher said...


Sorry I haven't replied. I probably began a reply, dropped it, and then never returned. Whatever the case, I'm sorry for the long wait.

What I mean by saying that Clark's view does not entail a sharp separation of the divine and human is that Christ is truly God-Man, a true union and not simply two individuals acting coordinately. I don't think Clark is clear enough on where exactly that unity begins or ends, but I suspect he would argue along the lines of the predicates of propositions, as he has done with the Trinity. Clark was brilliant, I am not. I cannot give you specifics because Clark didn't give them, and I'm not prepared to speculate on them at this point.

Your second paragraph is an acknowledgment that you are familiar with Clark's (or at least Gerety's remarks about Clark) view of the Trinity. I haven't read Gerety, so I'm not much help here.

Finally, I never said, "God the Son and a separate human person, Jesus, are not the same person and cannot share all predicates?" as you assert in the last paragraph. Perhaps you think it is implied, which in that case, I'd like to see your deduction. Even if you want to argue that Clark admits to a two-person theory of the incarnation, it does not follow that these two persons are "separate" in some specific way. God the Son is still "taking up human flesh" in uniting to the human nature. If the human nature is also a human person, it does not follow that God the Son is not incarnated simply because He is a distinct person.

At any rate, you would need to articulate what sort of "separation" you have in view, to which Clark might then answer. As for me, I'm content to accept the orthodox view, with some questions about how exactly we ought to define "person," and "nature."

speigel said...


Thanks for getting back to me.

What was Clark's argument for the union within the Trinity? Wasn't it the definition of divinity? If so, then is this (a definition, substance, or nature) the same union for his view of the incarnation? That is to say, under Clark's view the union between the Logos and Jesus was the definition of (fill in blank). If the union is a definition, why not? How is it then analogous to his view of the union within the Trinity?

The distinction within the Godhead is based on the propositions each person thinks. One thinks he is the Father, the other the Son, and the other the Holy Spirit. If this is used as an analogy to a two-person Christology, are we to say that one, the Logos, thinks he is divine, etc., and the other, Jesus, thinks he is a man, etc.? If so, then predication of one person cannot always be predicated of another since this is the individuating principle. Because they cannot share all predicates, then they are different persons under Clark's definition of person (a complex of propositions).

You are right that Clark did not specify what this unity between the two person was. But this lack of an answer was simply the result of his absence of consistency with Scripturalism. How does he show that there are two persons? How does he show that there is even such a unity?

You seem to affirm Clark's definition of person as a complex of propositions. Under this definition, the individuating principle is that no complex is the same as another since there will be different propositions between complexes. As such, Clark argued that Jesus can say "I thirst" all the while the Logos cannot. The proposition "I thirst" is within one complex, but not another. Hence one cannot predicate thirst to the Logos but one can predicate thirst to Jesus. Therefore there are two complexes, or persons. You said that the Logos cannot of himself say that he thirst. Then who says it? Such a statement is rather vague. If you are not implying that another person is required to say it (since the Logos cannot say it of himself), then what are you saying and how are you avoiding affirming a two-person Christology?

I'm still not following how under Clark's view that even if there are two persons within the incarnation, that the Logos can still be said to have taken up human flesh. There seems to be an assumption of a unity here. But what is that unity? What are the logical steps to get to such a statement?

Lastly, I do not predicate a separation between two persons as I do not hold to a two-person Christology. Under Robbins interpretation of Clark, there is a separation. Please see his concluding paragraphs to Clark's book on the incarnation.

Someone who has studied under Robbins for ten years has told me that when he asked Robbins for an explanation of Clark's view of the incarnation Robbins told him that there is one individual yet two persons. The student didn't understand how this was any better than the traditional view of one person two natures.

I have also talked to some pastors and theologians who have read Clark's book and written for the Trinity Foundation. None have found Clark to be as brilliant in his book on the incarnation. Some state that it was one of Clark's worst and probably expected it to be so since he was so late in age. Some argue that Robbins misrepresented Clark's view.

I have also talked to one of Clark's daughters. She says that Clark's book was confusing and somewhat inconsistent to what he taught her at home. She states that under Clark's definition of person, nothing would preclude Christ being one person in two natures as predicates related to the human nature would be a part of Christ's set of propositions.

Please let me know your thoughts. I find Gerety to be the last person able to represent Clark's view.

Joshua Butcher said...


I'm not quite sure why you are asking me these things, when it appears that your opinion on the matter is quite well formed. I am flattered that you would think I have something unique to add to what you've heard already, but I'll give it a go nonetheless.

I am not aware of where Clark specifically argues for what constitutes a "unity." I don't have my books available right now to check, either. However, given his definition of "person" and how he discusses the Trinity, I think I can formulate a construction to which he might agree.

First, I am a bit confused by one of your questions in the opening paragraph as it seems to contain a typo. I do think that Clark would use his definition of the Trinity to argue for the unity amongst the persons. While some propositions are specific to one person, other propositions are shared by all three persons, while being shared by no other person or being. For example, God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are omniscient. No other being is omniscient. To draw the analogy to the Incarnation, we have the Divine Christ who is distinctly omniscient, and the Human Christ who is not, yet both share the proposition: "I am the Christ, sent by God to deliver my people from bondage to sin."

Or, take it the other direction. the Christ Man can say, "I thirst," whereas Divine Christ can never thirst. Yet both can say "All that the Father has given me to do, I have done."

If Clark's construction of the Trinity is correct, then it can be applied consistently to the God-man in this fashion, as far as I can tell.

Whatever Robbins, or his student, of Clark's daughter may say about Clark, I don't think we ought to judge his thought on that basis. Proximity in relationship does not imply aptitude of judgment in every case. I think it best to deal with what Clark has written, and let what others have said be considered secondarily.

All this may seem to imply that Clark's view is a two-person construction. But given Clark's definition of the Trinity and its applicability to the God-Man, we don't have the Nestorian view (or the followers of Nestorius' view, more accurately) of two completely distinct, entirely separate, or entirely divided objects. There is both unity and separation, which is no different from the orthodox view. Perhaps Robbins' view is a better expression, but I'll have to think so more on that.

Personally, I really think Clark was trying to clean up what he saw as ambiguous, not to attempt to RE-define orthodoxy. I'm not dogmatically committed to Clark's definition of person as "a complex of propositions," but neither do I have a better alternative to offer in its place. Therefore I respect the consistency of his philosophical efforts, and until I find something destructive resulting from his view, I won't repudiate it, while holding to it more loosely than doctrines more clearly understood.

I think I've removed the problem you saw with differing complexes, because the complexes even within the Trinity are overlapping in many propositions that are not shared by anyone else. The God-Man clearly has the same type of distinction and unity that no other object can claim. The Logos can really say, "I have taken up a union with flesh," that the Father and Spirit cannot say (at least in the same way). But really all of these problems demonstrate how difficult it is to separate ontological and ethical aspects sometimes.

speigel said...


My opening did contain a typo. Thanks for catching it. I meant to ask, "If the union isn't the definition, why not?"

According to Clark, the Trinity is one in that the shared propositions is the definition of divinity and only those three persons share such a definition. Yet they are three since each person can be predicated of differently between each person.

I am now asking, using the Trinity as an analogy, what is the union in the incarnation? It cannot be the definition of divinity. Is it a definition of Sonship, of nature, of purpose, etc.? And how would you know which propositions apply to "both" persons instead of one and not to the other? I would argue that even the statement "I am the Christ, sent by God to deliver my people from bondage to sin" is vague as to who is applies to. Could it not be possible to argue that only the human Christ could say such words? How would you argue otherwise?

In addition, which predications apply to one person of the incarnation but not to the other? And how would you know that such predications would apply to one and not to the other? Why couldn't it apply to one, single person under the one-person-two-nature view?

In regards to Clark's definition of person, does Proverbs 23:7 define person as Clark defines it? I would like to see the deductions. What about the problem of the enduring self. If a person is the complex of propositions, then when such a person believes an extra proposition, then this is a new complex since this collection (N+1) is a different collection from the previous (N). Therefore a new numerically different person exists. How do you argue around this? Clark has stated that there can be a collection without a collector. Is this true?

I would take Clark's daughter's testimony as to what Clark actually taught at home to be a better determination as to what Clark actually thought.

I understand that you may not have Clark's answers to this questions. But I find it underwhelming that those who appreciate Clark's view of the incarnation argue that the traditional view is vague and possible contradictory all the while when they are questioned about Clark's view, it's very vague and possible contradictory to biblical evidence.

Joshua Butcher said...

The union isn't identical to the definition, but it does contain one aspect of the union - the sharing of propositions only predicable of the individuals in question.

If you are defined as a "complex of propositions" then it is also true that those propositions that you do not share with me are one way in which we are separated, whereas those propositions you do share with me are ways in which we are united. For example, we might both apply, "I am a Christian" to ourselves, which unites us in a general identification.

One should not expect Clark or anyone else to have exhausted all the propositions of union, though one could expect Clark to have given a few examples. He does often fall short on elaboration where you would most expect him to do so. But silence neither implies confusion or ambiguity or contradiction in the author's mind, though it may result in such for the reader.

I'm not sure how you could argue that "I am the Christ, sent by God to deliver my people from the world," is only restricted to the human Christ under Clark's view. God the Son was sent to redeem a people for himself. Divinity indwelt flesh for the purpose of redemption, which is both a sending and a rescuing from bondage. Only the Son of God could ensure sinlessness, and only a human could be held accountable for sin.

As to your questions concerning predication, I don't think they apply any more to Clark than they do to any other view that wants to define and describe the incarnation. One is always going to have difficulty determining whether to attribute one thing to both the human and divine natures or to separate the thing for one nature or the other. Why do you consider these questions unique to Clark's view?

I don't think Clark would argue that Proverbs 23:7 defines what a person is, but does give an aspect of moral identity and culpability. I am not aware of where Clark says anything about a collection and collector. However, the problem of the enduring self isn't a problem if one does not take Proverbs 23:7 as the definition. I do not, nor do I think Clark would, define any person entirely upon what he thought himself to be, for this would deny to God the determination of that person. What any man is in his person is ultimately fixed by the mind of God, and is therefore not subject to the problem of change--the entire set of propositions one shall ever believe about himself is fixed, so while an individual may fluctuate in his own self-estimation, his identity before God remains constant.

I don't see how someone's second-hand testimony of Clark (even his daughter's) is more reliable than the first-hand testimony of Clark. Perhaps, and what is likely, Clark did not think that his view of the Trinity stood in opposition to what he taught at home? In this case, either Clark was wrong and his daughter right, or his daughter is mistaken about the implications of Clark's view. Who do you suppose is the better logician of the two? So perhaps Clark is wrong, but the weight of presumption should lie with his own words and abilities.

I don't know who has argued that the traditional view of the Trinity is contradictory. Clark never argued that, nor do I believe it. Vague it may be in some parts, and I've already admitted that Clark's view does not reveal all that it could, or even ought. That's the reality of theology as human beings.

But the incompleteness of a view does not imply that one has rejected that view in one's attempt to complete it. I still don't think you've shown how Clark's view is contrary to Biblical evidence. You've dealt more with what I've said than anything Clark has said. You've dealt more with what others have said is Clark's view than with what Clark has written. . .

Joshua Butcher said...

. . .and the fact that you've dealt less with Clark's own words tells me that a) you are content to simply interact with secondary sources, or b) your are already satisfied with your interpretation of Clark and are simply looking for a debate, or c) you need to go back and read Clark on Clark and not others on Clark, or d) some combination of the above.

If you want to continue, I'm only going to interact further if you are going to handle Clark's own words from his own writings or debates.

speigel said...


Sorry for my late response. I've been a little preoccupied.

I think you're misreading my request. I'm not asking for an exhaustive account as to what propositions are in the unity. I'm asking what type of propositions are in the unity, if there is such a unity. Your "sharing of propositions only predicable of the individuals in question" is very vague.

Is the unity that I share with you the same type of unity between Logos and the man Jesus Christ?

The problem of predication between two natures is a different problem between predication between two persons. How you don't see this, I am not sure.

Clark has defined a person as what one believes. I believe this is expressly stated in the Trinity. Does Clark anywhere state that a person is fixed by the mind of God? I would agree with you that it is. But where does Clark say this?

Some have understood Clark as arguing for the traditional understanding of one-person-two-natures yet using different definitions and terminology. Others have understood Clark as arguing for two-persons contrary to the traditional understanding. I can see how either interpretation fits since I'm generous to Clark, though I lean more heavily on the view that Clark argued for a two-person Christology against the traditional understanding.

So if Clark's daughter expressly asked Clark while he wrote the book if Clark accepted the traditional one-person-two-nature view of the incarnation (but only using different terminology and definitions) as he wrote the book, then I find that to be helpful, not detrimental to understanding Clark and his book. Why you think it is detrimental, I have no idea.

Nor do I think that an incomplete explanation is a wrong explanation. I have never said that. I'm asking what the explanation is.

I read Clark's Incarnation (and Trinity) several times each year. I am not satisfied with my interpretation, hence my questions to you and others. But though I am not satisfied, it seems that it would be rational to lean on the view that Clark argued for a two-person theory contrary to the traditional understanding. I'm looking for a coherent view of Clark's theory.

Your assertion that I have not dealt with Clark lacks substance. I have talked about Clark's definition of person and his problem with the communication of attributes. Have I talked about others' interpretations of Clark? Yes. But I have not imputed them on Clark's view. I did indicate that those interpretations to be possible logical deductions from Clark's view. If you want to refuse to make any logical deductions from Clark's view (whatever that view is), then please let me know.

Joshua Butcher said...

I don't think my description is vague, although it is general. Given Clark's definition of person as a complex of propositions, it would seem that the unity any object shares is based upon the sharing of common propositions. The uniqueness of an individual is that it has propositions predicated of it as a subject that no other individual can have predicated of itself. So, in one sense you and I do share the same general unity that the God-Man has in Himself, but in another sense we do not share the same specific unity.

I don't think I said that predication of two natures is identical to predication of two persons, but it is hardly different insofar as both are predication. Is there some other way in particular of attaching attributes to objects that you think is relevant?

Instead of going back and forth on what you think Clark has said in the Trinity or the Incarnation, I'm going to ask that you provide some direct quotations to support your interpretation. I have the books out of storage now, so I can follow along with what you think is being said. Just provide the quotes.

My point in questioning Clark's daughter was not that her comments were destructive of Clark, but rather that her comments are logically irrelevant to what Clark himself wrote. Eye witnesses are valuable, not infallible. I want us to deal with Clark, not his expositors.

My quibble is not that you are only using secondary interpretations of Clark, but that even when you discuss Clark, you provide no quotations upon which you are basing your conclusions. That is fine insofar as we want to discuss general points of view, but if you are wanting to really evaluate Clark and find coherence, then it is only fitting to deal with the text, and not memories or loose paraphrases. Logical deductions from Clark's view presupposes that we've discovered what is Clark's view. It was my understanding that you do not believe this has been adequately established. So let's have first things first.

speigel said...


Thanks for making your request plain. However, I did not initially provide citations because I assumed you were familiar with what Clark has said. I guess I was wrong about that assumption.

Everything I've said about Clark, his definition of person and his problem with the communication of attributes, is plain from his writings. There is no loose paraphrase. I thought you being a reader of Clark's would know his plain teaching without the need of citations.

I do wonder where you found Clark stating that a person is fixed by God (though I would venture that it could be deduced from Clark's thoughts). I do have a suspicion as to where such a citation is, though there Clark quotes Leibniz, perhaps approvingly.

I shall cite what I can. This forces me to open books and flip through chapters which takes time. Clark defines the term "person" in his Trinity. In the book he states that a person is not defined as a complex of truths since humans believe in falsehoods. Therefore, Clark argues that a person is a complex of propositions (which includes true and false propositions. But for God all propositions are true.). Clark talks about his problem of the communication of attributes (though he does use the phrase "communication of attributes") in the middle or the second half of his Incarnation.

This isn't the first time a reader of Clark's has requested me to provide citations to prove Clark said what he said. These requests are odd in that readers of Clark should know better than me what Clark says.

I did not state that human testimony is infallible. Valuable like you said, yes. As I said, it seems that two interpretations can be had from Clark's book. If the testimony states that Clark always believed in a one-person-two-nature while writing the book then this allows us to better interpret the book in that framework.

But why would you think that a book is an infallible source of a person's view? Perhaps Clark didn't write the book. Or perhaps the editor changed several paragraphs. Or... whatever, right?

Joshua Butcher said...


First, a statement that cuts both ways: being well-read is not the same as reading well. I've read broadly in Clark, you've read at least two of his books repeatedly. But if understanding is what you really want, then dealing directly with the text is your best option, however tedious you find this to be. I don't consider my time less precious than yours, so I wouldn't make the request if I thought it would be worthless. If you think differently, are you not free to abandon the effort? The request has nothing to do with familiarity, and everything to do with fidelity, accuracy, precision, and whatever other synonym for getting things right you want to use.

Second, I do not know of a direct quote where Clark grounds human identity or personhood in the mind of God, but I'll see what I can dig up with some time to look around. It does seem a natural inference of Clark's view of God and creation, and I've never considered it contrary to anything Clark has written.

Third, I didn't say, nor did I imply that Clark's book is infallible as to his own views. It is hardly controversial to argue that Clark's own writing is the best source for discovering his view. Your impressive secondary source information notwithstanding, it is still better to compare Clark's own writings--or at least do so in conjunction with the secondary sources.

Finally, it ought to be kept in mind that Clark's efforts in the Incarnation may be as much about displaying the difficulties and insolubility of the positions than to argue for his view in particular. It may be for you to decide that Clark's view is simply what you have thought said it to be: confusing and unclear. But it is still important to remember that confusing and unclear are still not the same as self-contradictory.

Let me also invite you to continue this conversation in an alternative format. I'd be happy to provide you with my email address and phone number should you wish to continue in a format more conducive to the length of exchange we're reaching.

speigel said...


I have no problem with fidelity to the material. I haven't misrepresented Clark nor have I avoided dealing with what Clark has written. You probably assume that I have either misrepresented Clark or have misrepresented him since you do not remember well what Clark has said. It's good to know that you have read many of Clark's books. Owning all his books, I have read all but five.

I reread several of them, if I haven't read them the year before, each year. As I said before, I reread his Trinity and Incarnation each year.

I never intended to use Clark's daughter's testimony apart from Clark's books. I only stated that it could provide a framework in interpreting Clark's book.

Please refer to Clark's Trinity on page 106, particularly his footnote on the same page where he states that a collection can be had without a collector. This is, of course, because bees are the same as propositions. Or aren't they?

Also note in his Incarnation page 54: "...[W]e shall define person as a composite of truths. A bit more exactly, since all men make mistakes and believe some falsehoods, the definition must be a composite of propositions. As a man thinketh in his (figurative) heart, so is he. A man is what he thinks." Please show me the steps to deduce from Clark's statement that a person is fixed by God.

As to Clark's principle of individuation, I accept it as a principle of individuation. I, however, have a problem with using this principle of individuation as the same ontological definition of person. His principle seems to be one related to epistemology while others think it is also a principle of metaphysics.

Joshua Butcher said...


You are incorrect that I'm assuming that you are misrepresenting Clark. You are correct in concluding that I do not remember well what Clark has said. Since my recollection is incomplete, how could I know whether or not your view is accurate? Therefore, I require the text. Thanks for indulging.

I will check the quotes you provided before I respond to them. I will say up front that I do not think the quote from the Incarnation itself provides the implication that personhood is fixed by God. However, that alone does not mean that Clark denies this, or that the statement itself denies it.

I should have a chance this evening to look through my books.

speigel said...


As I mentioned before, I assumed you knew what Clark's views were since you seem very well read of Clark's works.

The quote from Clark indicates that a person is fixed by the person's own thoughts and not necessarily by God's thoughts. This is evidenced by Clark when he states that the definition must accommodate falsehoods since men think false propositions.

If a person is fixed by God, then "person" should be defined as a collection of truths since all God thinks of a person is true. Perhaps I made logical blunder somewhere. I would like to see what you think about it.

To remind us as to why we are talking about the definition of person, I find that Clark's definition has a problem of the enduring self: Because an addition of a proposition to a complex would mean that the complex is no longer the same complex in that it would be a numerical different complex. It would be wrong to say that the addition of a proposition changes the complex, since to say that there is a change is to say that something remains the same. (I hope I was somewhat clear.)

Joshua Butcher said...


It seems I've finally understood your central concern, or at least we've settled on one.

I will check the quotes for their context, but let's assume that how you are reading them is the right way to read them.

If Clark is saying that one's personhood is defined entirely by what one thinks of himself, then Clark encounters several dilemmas:

1. Every time a person doubted his assurance, that person would therefore not have assurance, for to think of oneself as not being saved is to not be saved, if all a person is, is what he thinks.

2. God cannot define my identity, for there is no causation prior to my own thinking.

3. The problem of the enduring self, as you mentioned.

And there may be others.

I do not think Clark was so hasty as to overlook these problems, therefore I do not think he is saying that ALL a person's identity is simply determined by what the person thinks himself to be. Rather, what Clark is probably getting at is self-understanding. God's self-understanding is determinate, whereas man's self-understanding changes over time. Insofar as one's "person" involves one's self-understanding, to that extent one's "person" is determined by his own thoughts concerning himself.

We use this in our common expression: "I'm not the same person I was in high-school, because I've learned a lot since then" or "I'm not the same person I was then, because I've become a Christian." These are not ontological declarations, but they are defining of an individual's character.

You are not making a logical blunder by saying that if one's person is grounded in the knowledge of God, then the knowledge of person is a collection of truths, and not simply propositions, because only truths can be known, and God knows only truths. But there is also belief, which is strictly what the passage in Proverbs is talking about, for our self-understanding is not knowledge in the sense that Clark uses the term knowledge.

So to summarize, I think the problems you have with Clark are legitimate upon the reading of Clark you've got, but I don't think your reading of Clark is taking the terms in the same way that Clark would. As I said, I'll check the quotes, but you might go back and consider the terms in other philosophical categories besides ontology (most of what I've said, for example, pertains to ethical categories, but some epistemological).``

speigel said...


Please let me know what you find out about Clark's definition and if it is referring to self-understanding. Clark consistently uses Proverbs 23:7 as a prooftext for his definition. What does Proverbs 23:7 mean within the context of Proverbs 23?

Please check the quote and determine if I am understanding his terminology. Thanks.

Another concern of mine is the methodology Clark uses in his book on the incarnation. I argue that Clark was inconsistent with his own method of Scripturalism in that his view is not based on Scripture. But this concern will probably wait until we deal with the issue of the term person.

speigel said...


Haven't heard from you in a while. Were you able to check up on the Clark quotes? I also don't see my last comment on.

Joshua Butcher said...


First, I apologize for the extended delay in posting your replies and my own reply. A change of job and state necessitated a long break from getting to the question, and I thought it best to wait until I could do it more justice. Below is what I’ve gathered. I have not used direct quotations, as this would require more length than is good. The real problem is that one or two isolated quotes aren’t usually representative of a complete argument or position. Therefore I’ve summarized what I think is Clark’s view from three of his works that deal with the topic, and I encourage you to revisit these books in light of my observations, to test their usefulness. If they prove unhelpful to you, I will attempt to answer what questions or reservations remain, though I think what I’ve outlined here should resolve the major issues we identified toward the end of our exchange.

In his book, The Bible Doctrine of Man, Clark defines man as the image of God (as opposed to simply being made in the image of God) and then goes further to argue that rationality or reason is the primary identification of the image. If God is truth, then man can only commune with God if he is able to know truth, and reason is the faculty by which we know the truth. A supporting text for this claim is John 1:9, “It was the true light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world.” The enlightenment of every man cannot be the light of salvation, therefore the next candidate is the light of reason, understanding, or knowledge—epistemological light.

By acknowledging that the light of knowledge comes from God, any knowledge of oneself is dependent upon Christ’s illumination of the mind to grasp such truth. While it may still be possible to argue that one’s personhood is derived from something else while yet being dependent upon God’s illumination, this acknowledgement supports the view that Clark does not define human personhood apart from God’s determination of individuals. If knowledge requires the illumination of God, then it cannot be true that one’s knowledge of oneself is entirely self-derived or self-determined.

A second proposition that seems to deny that Clark’s view is that personhood self-derived from the thoughts one thinks of oneself is his acceptance of traducianism, which says that the souls of individuals are made from the souls of their parents. Again, that the soul is made from other souls does not automatically mean that one’s personhood is derived from the souls of others. However, insofar as one’s personhood is identified with one’s soul, and one’s soul is derived from one’s parents, to that extent man’s personhood is not entirely determined by one’s own thoughts.

A third and more decisive point from The Bible Doctrine of Man comes in the conclusion, where Clark cites, approvingly, Malebranche and Leibnitz in their attempts to formulate an explanation for how the body and soul are related. Malebranche was an occassionalist, meaning that he believed God’s power is exerted in every occasion to ensure the coincidence of the soul’s willing with the body’s actions. My soul desires food, and so God determines my brain to send out waves to my hands, which grasp an apple to bite into. Perhaps it is not so crude as this example, but you get the idea. Leibnitz takes it back a step and argues that God, rather than exerting power in each moment of coincidence, rather established from eternity a pre-established harmony, such that body and soul unite in action and desire. Both of these views entail that man’s personality cannot be entirely determined by his own thoughts, see as God’s predetermination or occasioning of man’s body and soul mean that the efficacy of man’s own thoughts are dependent upon God’s immediate or foreordained determination of their coincidence with his body’s action. . . .

Joshua Butcher said...

So coming to the quotation from The Incarnation, where Clark defines person as a “complex of propositions,” I don’t think we can say that he means the entirety of man’s person is self-determined (excepting God, who is self-determined). This is so because Clark has previously recognized that man’s soul, and the correspondence of his soul’s thoughts with his body’s actions, are dependent upon the illumination of Christ, the transmission of something of his parents’ soul to make up his own soul, and the imposition or pre-determined harmony of God upon the soul’s correspondence to the body make man’s thoughts (which identify his person) quite dependent upon more than just those thoughts in themselves.

As for the allusion from The Trinity, I think the context surrounding the discussion on 106 sufficiently removes the problem of man’s personhood being self-derived, the problem of the enduring self, and God’s determination of human identity. The fact that Clark underscores that men think falsehood, and he must therefore define person as “a collection of propositions” is critical. Men think truth and falsehood. Truth is eternal and is that by which God has determined what all things are, accordingly. At time 1 I think myself to be a despiser of God, and therefore at time 1 I am a despiser of God. Yet let us suppose that the eternal truth concerning my identity is that I am elected in Christ. My enduring identity is therefore that I am a “Christian” though at time 1 I have not yet apprehended this truth about myself. God, however, has determined it so, and will accomplish it so at time X, when He is pleased to reveal to me what I am (but not yet all that I shall be). It is ultimately the Truth that determines my personhood, but until I know every truth concerning myself, I am a person not yet complete—I change my mind, and my person is altered as a result. Is not this also the goal of sanctification—to have our minds continually more one, or unified, with the mind of Christ—and in the last day to see Christ “face to face,” which I take to mean that we shall know Christ fully as God intends, and we shall be transformed—glorified—by this apprehension of the truth.

Because truth is transformative—a proposition I think Clark would acknowledge readily—my person is not yet fully revealed, for I have not yet apprehended the eternal truth concerning myself. The same is true of the reprobate, who does not yet know the complete truth concerning his rebellious relationship to God. Here is more support for why defining “person” as “a complex of propositions,” while it may be incomplete, is nevertheless extremely helpful. The more I think the truth, the more I become the truth of who I am—whether elect or reprobate. What is clear regarding assurance is that God has revealed to the regenerate the truth that they are elect, which means that their assurance is sound, true, and need not be doubted, though there may be times when it is doubted by the individual (though not to the point of utter despair).

speigel said...

Fortunately, I check this post daily to see if there is a response. I understand the delay and appreciate you getting back to me.

First, Clark defines person as a collection of propositions - a collection of propositions that a person thinks of himself since men think falsehoods. So though man may not be completely self-determined since he knows some truth he apparently determines a good amount of himself. Even so, I still don't see how or where Clark answers the problem of the enduring self. One collection is not another. Today I know 10 propositions. Tomorrow I know 11. I am not the same person tomorrow. I am a numerically different unit. To say that I am the same person who changed, is to say that something remains the same.

Second, even if we accept Clark's definition of person, why does he assume there are two persons in the incarnation? From his works, it seems that several propositions cannot be had by the same person. From this assumption he concludes that there must be two persons - one person who has one proposition, another person with the other proposition. One example is the proposition "I thirst." But where does he prove such an assumption?

If you have already answered some of my questions I apologize for reading your answer too fast.

Joshua Butcher said...

Knowing a true proposition does not entail that one has determined oneself in that knowledge. In assenting to a truth I have not determined that truth, but rather I have been determined by it. Thus, as I gather more knowledge of myself, I am more myself than I was before. Again, working with the premise that God is exhaustively determining all things, my realization of the true propositions concerning myself is a meeting of my mind with His.

The problem of the enduring self is removed when we realize that our own self-understanding is not what is ultimately (but rather, secondarily) determining "who I am." God determines who I am, and my thoughts confirm (or deny, until a point in time where it is finally revealed) His thoughts. That I think differently of myself tomorrow than I do today, or better yet, that I think of myself differently now than I did ten years ago, is rather obvious, don't you think? It is only an autonomous view of man that would consider our lack of self-knowledge a problem of identity. Our identity is grounded in the truth that God knows, and our inability to grasp it does not threaten the reality of who we are.

It isn't necessarily that two people have a different number of propositions, but rather a different relation to those propositions. Both the Father and the Son understand the proposition "I shall be incarnated as a man," but only the Son can predicate this proposition of Himself truly. God the Father does not know this proposition, because it is not a true proposition for the Father (and one cannot know something false). Rather, God the Father knows that this proposition is true for the Son.

Concerning the God-man, Jesus Christ, I think Clark is applying this same distinction for the Trinity with the two natures, human and divine. The human nature of Jesus cannot say, "I am omnipresent," but the divine nature can. The divine nature cannot say, "I thirst," but the human nature can. As the Creeds and Confessions define person, it is not entirely clear how a nature that thinks, wills, and otherwise has all things any other individual person has, cannot also be called a person.

I don't think Clark is dogmatic about his conclusion, so much as he is wanting to push the issue that "person" is not sufficiently clear when considered by logical rigor. What he wants is to know how "person" is singular in relation to identity while nature is dual, when the definition or descriptions of "nature" imply the same or similar things as does the definition or descriptions of "person."

How is the "person" of the God-man distinct from the "natures" of the God-man when we try and relate things like the intellect and will to the one and the other?

speigel said...


Can you send me an email so that we can change the format of the discussion? Thanks.

Joshua Butcher said...


If you post your email, I can send you mine without publishing yours on the website.