As noted in Section I, there appear to be four main criticisms that can be raised against the MBG argument. First, it presupposes that we know what it is like to be God. Second, it presupposes a naive world-view, one that allows for special divine acts in history. Third (the same point as the third option just discussed), it misinterprets what Jesus meant by the statements about himself that we find in the Gospels. Fourth, it presupposes a precritical view of the Gospels (and especially John), one that views them (and it) as straightforward history. Let us consider these objections in turn. (When we get to the fourth objection, we will also be replying to the fourth option noted at the end of Section III—that the high christological statements attributed to Jesus in the Gospels are inauthentic.)
As to the first criticism, it is not easy to understand precisely what MacKinnon had in mind. What he said was that the MBG argument presupposes that we know what it is like to be God. Of course it is true that we do not know what it is like to be God. But it is hard to grasp exactly why the MBG arguer must presuppose that we have that knowledge. Let's make a distinction between knowing what it is like to be God and knowing what God is like. It is surely true that it would border on blasphemy for those who use the MBG argument—or anybody else, for that matter—to presuppose that they know what it is like to be God. In the fullest sense, we don't even know what it is like to be another human being, or what it is like to be a bat.15
But is it possible for human beings to know what God is like? The answer to this, at least from a Christian perspective, is surely yes. One of the defining ideas of the Christian faith (as well as other versions of theism) is that God has been revealed, God has chosen to show us and tell us what God is like. God is self-revealed. We learn in the Scriptures, for example, that God is the creator, that God is all-powerful, that God is all-knowing, that God is to be worshipped and obeyed, that God is loving, that God works for the salvation of humankind, that God forgives our sins, etc.
It is surely true that the MBG argument presupposes that we know something of what God is like. If a person is morally despicable, that person is not God. If a person makes insane claims, that person is not God. But, as noted, Christians
■5 See Thomas Nagel's article, 'What is it Like to Be a Bat?', in Douglas Hofstadter and Daniel Dennett (eds.), The Mind's I (Toronto: Bantam Books, 1981). 391-403.
hold that we do know what God is like (to the extent that it has been revealed to us by God),16 and there seems to be nothing blasphemous or otherwise theologically untoward here. For the MBG argument to work, our knowledge of God need not be comprehensive; we need to know only a little about God. So the partialness of our knowledge of God need not constitute a problem for the MBG argument. But does the MBG argument presuppose that we know what it is like to be God? Certainly not. Or at least, it is not easy to see how. I conclude that MacKinnon's criticism does not damage the MBG argument.
As to the second criticism. Hick argues that the MBG argument presupposes a pre-critical world view, one in which special divine acts in human history are allowable. But there is something slightly off-target about this criticism: Hick's objection appears to be directed more against the idea of incarnation as such than against the MBG argument in favour of the incarnation. Hick is right that the very idea of incarnation—of God becoming a human being—presupposes divine interventions in human history. This is why Deists must deny not only all miracles, epiphanies, visions from God, and prophetic messages from God, but all incarnations as well.
And it is true that if the very idea of incarnation is discredited, then the MBG argument can hardly constitute a successful argument in favour of incarnation. Still, since Hick's criticism is not directed against the MBG argument per se, and especially since many contemporary Christian philosophers have defended the adequacy of theism versus Deism (i.e. of the possibility of special divine acts),17 I will discuss this matter no further here. (An atheist could similarly argue that belief in incarnation is irrational because belief in God is outmoded, but again that would not count as an objection to the MBG argument itself.)
As to the third objection, the violent reactions of Jesus' enemies in the texts cited (and in many other texts where Jesus speaks about himself, some from the Synoptics) seem to preclude any such minimalist interpretation as, 'Jesus just meant that he felt extraordinarily close to God'. As well as the reactions mentioned in the above citations, note the argument of the chief priests at John's trial account: 'We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has claimed to be the Son of God' (John 19: 7). It would hardly have constituted an oflEnce worthy of arrest and execution had Jesus simply been declaring his own unity of purpose or will with the Father, or claiming to have a special place in God's plan. Odd, maybe; egotistical, maybe; but hardly blasphemous. Notice further that Jesus did not step in to correct the impression his enemies apparently gained from hearing his words.
16 To avoid any hint of circularity (since Christians claim that the fullest revelation of God's nature is Christ), we could even limit our knowledge of God to what can be known about God apart from Christ. We could limit ourselves to what has been revealed about God in the natural order, or in the OT Law, or in the words of the prophets.
17 Including myself in ch. 1 of my Risen Indeed: Making Sense of the Resurrection (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1993).
As noted earlier, the fourth criticism—that the MBG argument presupposes a precritical view of the Gospels and especially John as straightforward history—is the really important one. This criticism amounts to a denial of premise (1) of the MBG argument. Is premise (1) true?
It is a commonplace of much contemporary New Testament scholarship that words such as those cited above from the Fourth Gospel do not constitute the ipsissima verba of Jesus. These statements, it is said, and the many other statements in the New Testament that imply or seem to imply the divinity of Jesus, tell us more about the faith of the early church at the time the Gospels were being written or were receiving final form than they do about the actual teachings of Jesus. Later Christians wrongly attributed these words to Jesus as part of their theological programme. Thus—so a critic of the MBG argument will argue—the MBG argument for the incarnation cannot even get going. Its first premise is false; Jesus never claimed—explicitly or implicitly—to be divine.
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