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Infinity and Jesus’ Humanity
Summary: Is the concept of an infinite God compatible with the finiteness of Jesus Christ’s body? It seems to be contradictory, because infinite means by definition to be not finite. A contradiction would follow if infinite and finite were used in the same sense. However, there is not a real contradiction, because infinite and finite are used in different senses. The finiteness of Jesus’ body refers to its spatial dimensions. Since God is not a material object, His divine infinitude could not refer to spatial dimensions. Thus, the finiteness of Jesus’ body is not used in the same sense as the infinitude of Deity. To resolve this question, the different types of infinities are discussed: potential infinity, actual infinity, transfinite infinites, and absolute infinity. The article show that an absolute infinite is compatible with the spatial finiteness of Jesus Christ’s body.
A Muslim said,
“Just as the ocean cannot be contained in a tea cup, the infinite God cannot be contained in the finite body of Jesus.”
Law of non-Contradiction
Now, it seems like a reasonable argument to posit that the finite cannot contain the infinite. The term infinite means to be non-finite. Thus, by definition the infinite cannot be the finite. Hence, it follows logically that the infinite God cannot be the finite Jesus. This assumes the validity of the basic law of thought, namely, the law of non-contradiction. And, all rational thought is based upon the validity of the law of non-contradiction. Hence, the Muslim seems to have rationally proven the incoherence of the finite body of Jesus possessing the infinite God.
Univocal and equivocal
In deed, this follows if the use of the words finite and infinite were used in a univocal sense. A univocal sense means an identical sense. For example, if finite and infinite both refer to spatial dimensions, then the sense would be univocal in the Muslim’s claim. By contrast, an equivocal sense means a difference sense. For example, a bank can be a building where people deposit money, and a bank can be the sides of a river. Although the word bank, in river bank and money bank, are the same, they are used equivocally. A person can deposit money in a bank, but it does not follow that the bank of the Nile River is a financial institution.
Accurate Statement of Argument
Let’s make the Muslim’s argument more precise. The Muslim used finite with respect to spatial dimensions when he claimed “the ocean cannot be contained in a tea cup.” In other words, Jesus is finite and limited with respect to spatial dimensions. Clearly, this is true. For the Muslim’s argument to be valid, the word infinite would have to be used univocally with respect to spatial dimensions. Rephrasing the Muslim’s in univocal terms, it is more accurately stated as,
Premise one: God is infinitely extended in spatial dimensions,
Premise two: Jesus is not infinitely extended in spatial dimensions,
Conclusion: Therefore, Jesus could not contain God.
Stating the Muslim’s argument precisely allows it to be accurately analyzed. If the first premise were granted, then the Muslim’s conclusion would logically follow, because Christians would grant the Muslim the second premise. From a Christian perspective, the fault of the argument would have to be first premise. Is God infinitely extended spatially? Christians don’t think so. First of all, only material and physical beings are extended in space. Christians do not believe that God is a material or physical being. Thus, when a Christian states that God is infinite, he does not mean that God is an infinitely extended physical being.
Reductio ad absurdum
If we assume the Muslim’s argument that God is an infinitely extended spatial being, then it would follow there could be only one being in reality. Because, if a being were infinitely extended into all spatial dimensions, then there would be no dimensional space remaining for other beings to occupy. Hence, there could be only one infinitely spatial being in the universe, namely God. Since the universe includes all space, the universe would be identical to God. So, if we were to accept the Muslim’s initial premise regarding the spatial infinitude of God, it would follow that everything is God and God is everything, resulting in Pantheism. The logical conclusion of the Muslim’s initial premise is pantheism, and everything, including the Muslim himself, would be deity.
However, it is acknowledged that Muslims don’t believe that God is infinitely extended in space. Thus, it is surprising that Muslims would use a Pantheistic idea to critique the doctrine of the divinity of Jesus Christ. The problem with the Muslim’s argument is that the term, infinite, has several meanings. When a Christian uses the term, infinite, with respect to God, he doesn’t use it in the sense of infinite spatial or temporal extension.
Since the term, infinite, can have different meanings, it would be helpful at this point to distinguish the different types of infinites.
Potential Infinity.1 This is the infinite that is most often used in mathematics. It is symbolized by a ∞. For example, a continuum is potentially, infinitely divisible. Another example is the ∞ in a numerical series 1,2,3,4,5,6,….to ∞.. This infinite is never actually attained, but for mathematical purposes a potential infinite is useful in many mathematical computations.
Actual Infinity. An actual infinite refers to an actual infinite sets of real objects of quantitative time or matter. For example, if there were an actual infinite set of marbles, books, or atomic particles, it would be called an actual infinite. The term, actual infinite, is confusing, because the word, actual, makes it seem as if it were actually possible for there to be an actual infinite. Yet, it has been shown many times that an actual infinite is not possible in reality. In other words, it is metaphysically impossible for there to be physical collection of an actual infinite number of marbles or books. Aristotle wrote,
Hence this infinite is potential never actual.2
By reality, we mean a set of extra-mental physical objects. In other words, it is not possible for there to be an actual infinite set of physical objects or temporal durations in the universe. Hence, an actual infinite never exists ontologically in reality. As a side note, the famous Kalaam cosmological argument for God’s existence depends upon the non-existence of an actual infinite set of temporal units.3 This theistic proof was first developed by Muslim scholars. Yet today, most of them are unaware of it.
Transfinite Numbers 4(symbolized by the Hebrew Aleph, א). This refers to Cantor’s transfinite number sets of actual infinites. Since transfinite number sets are mathematically abstract constructs of actual infinite sets, they can be mathematically described and computed. However, these actual infinite number sets have no correlation to quantified matter. Cantor’s transfinite number sets are only mental constructs and are not actually found within the space-time realm. In a parallel manner, an author may write about a centaur and describe its features, even though no centaur exists outside of the human mind.
Absolute Infinity. An absolute infinite refers to qualitative attributes, such as goodness, holiness, love, justice, knowledge, and power. Generally, a qualitative infinite is termed an absolute infinite. The infinite attributes of God are absolute infinities. Clearly, it is not appropriate to use a potential or an actual infinite with respect to Deity, because these types of infinites refer to physical or temporal entities, such as sets or as divisible continuums. Yet, it is entirely appropriate to ascribe absolute infinity to God because of God’s infinite perfections in justice, holiness, goodness, truth, love, mercy, knowledge, power, etc. The term, eternal, with respect to Deity does not mean that God exists in infinite time. If God were to exist in time, He would be measured by time. Eternal means to be not temporal or to not exist in time. God created time. By contrast, temporal means to exist in time. Humans are temporal beings whose existence can be measure by time.
Absolute infinity: God and Jesus.
Absolute infinite power was displayed during the event of the creation of the universe. The divine power used in the creation of the universe was not the power described in physic textbooks with their quantitative units of watts, joules/sec, and horsepower. In other words, there was not an infinite storehouse of power or energy that God took and used to create the universe. Before creation, there was only Deity.
Power, energy, and mass are all creatures. The convertibility between matter and energy is seen in Einstein’s famous equation, E = MC2 , where E = energy, M = mass, and C = speed of light (c = 2.99792458 108 m/s ). Thus, it is obvious that God did not use energy to create the material universe, since matter and energy are equivalent terms. The law of conservation of energy states that energy can neither be created nor destroyed. It is converted according to Einstein’s equation. Claiming that God used energy to create the universe denies the creation event, because changing energy to matter, or vice versa, is a conversion process, and not a creation event.
The divine power to create comes solely from God Himself. The divine Word is a spiritual, knowledgeable, and volitional reality. God’s word is infinitely powerful, but it does not consist of quantitative physical or temporal dimensions. God said, ‘Be’ and the worlds were called into existence by the power of the word.
And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. Genesis 1:3 (NIV)
The word of God spoke the universe into being from nothingness. Such a divine creative act requires absolute infinite power, because a creative act brings into existence a being from non-being. Whereas, a conversion process begins with a being (energy or matter) and ends with a being (matter or energy). In a creation event there is an infinite metaphysical or ontological distances between being and non-being. And, it takes absolute infinite power to transverse this metaphysical distance. Scripture states that Deity’s omnipotent power has its source in the divine Word of God.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. John 1:1-3 (NIV)
He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. John 1:10 (NIV)
In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. Hebrews 1:1-2 (NIV)
Since an absolute infinite lacks quantitative dimensions, there is no logical contradiction in claiming that an absolute infinite can be expressed at a single focal point. For example, love is a non-dimensional attribute that cannot be measured in grams, meters, or seconds. Love is measured by the quality of the act. The greatest act of infinite love occurred when God gave His Son to die for your sins and mine.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16 (NIV)
In conclusion, the Muslim’s argument is fallacious because God is not a space-time body. Therefore, God is neither a potential nor an actual infinite. God is an absolute infinite that lacks physical dimensions. Hence, it is logically possible that an absolute infinite can be within a finite dimensional space, including the body of Jesus Christ.
1 Korner, Stephan, The Philosophy of Mathematics: An Introductory Essay, Dover Publications, Inc., New York, NY, 1960, Reprinted 1986. p 21.
2 Aristotle, The Complete Works of Aristotle, Vol. 1, Edit by J. Barnes, Bollingen Series LXXI-2, Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 1984, Physics, Book III, 207b12, p. 353.
See also Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Aristotle’s Physics, Translated by R.J. Blackwell, R.J. Spath & W.E. Thirlkel, Routle & Kegan Paul, London, England, 1963, pages 176-185.
3 Craig, William L., The Kalam Cosmological Argument, Barnes & Noble, New York, NY, 1979, pp. 208.
4 Cantor, Georg, Contributions to the Founding of the Theory of Transfinite Numbers, Trans: P.E.B. Jourdain, Dover Publications, Inc., New York, NY, 1915, Reprinted 1955. pp. 211.
Last edited 04-12-2001