Dale Tuggy has recently been discussing at some length what he takes to be an inconsistent triad of claims:
1. Jesus died.
2. Jesus was fully divine.
3. No fully divine being has ever died.
He thinks that 1 is beyond dispute for Bible-believing Christians, and that 3 also finds strong support from the biblical affirmations of God’s immortality (Rom. 1:23; 1 Tim. 1:17; 1 Tim. 6:16). He therefore concludes that 2 should be rejected for the sake of logical consistency. That would, of course, require one to reject one of the essential tenets of the doctrine of the Trinity.
I’ve listened to several of Dale’s podcasts on the issue, but not all of them, so I may well be overlooking something here. Still, it seems to me that there’s a fairly straightforward way for a Trinitarian to affirm all three claims without inconsistency. I agree with Tuggy that there’s solid biblical support for 1 and 3, but as I see it there’s an equivocation on the term ‘died’. (I know that Dale has denied any such equivocation, but hear me out.)
In his original presentation Tuggy discusses the meaning of ‘died’ and settles on the following definition:
X has died = all or most of X’s normal life-processes have ceased
There’s nothing obviously objectionable about such a definition, as far as I can see, but note that death is defined here (sensibly enough) in terms of life. Thus the kind of death that applies to X will depend on the kind of life that (normally) applies to X, which in turn depends on what X is (i.e., the nature of X). In other words, the way in which X dies will be defined by the way in which X (normally) lives — the “normal life-processes” of X, to use Tuggy’s terms. We may thus distinguish between divine death, human death, angelic death, viral death, and so on.
[Side note: Some readers may worry here that the notion of divine death is incoherent. Well, yes and no. It’s not incoherent in the sense of meaningless, for then the biblical statements about divine immortality would be equally meaningless. It’s only incoherent in the sense that divine death is a metaphysical impossibility, which I assume is just what divine immortality means. We might say that divine death is to divine immortality as divine ignorance is to divine omniscience.]
Now back to Tuggy’s triad. Clearly in claim 1 the kind of death in view is human death. There should be no dispute about that. But in claim 3 the kind of death in view is divine death. Why? Because the biblical texts Tuggy cites in support of 3 make reference to divine immortality, which is to be understood in terms of divine life. When the biblical writers affirm that God is immortal, the point is that God cannot cease to live, which is to say, God cannot lose whatever kind of life it is that God enjoys.
What this means is that Tuggy’s triad should be understood as follows:
1. Jesus human-died.
2. Jesus is fully divine.
3. No fully divine being has ever divine-died.
Understood that way, there’s no inconsistency between the three claims. There would be an inconsistency only if 3 were replaced by 3′:
3′. No fully divine being has ever human-died.
But as I’ve observed, the biblical texts that speak of God’s immortality support only 3 and not 3′. If Tuggy wants to say that his original triad employs 3′ rather than 3, the Trinitarian is free to reject the third claim at no cost.
There is a countermove Tuggy could make at this point. He could argue that divine-death includes human-death, such that 1 would entail the following:
1′. Jesus divine-died.
In other words, Tuggy could take the position that divine death and human death are both instances of death, but related like this:
In that case, human death would also entail divine death. But why think they’re related in that way? Why couldn’t they be logically disjoint kinds of death? In other words, related like this:
As best I can tell, Tuggy has given us no reason to think they aren’t distinct in that way, in which case he’s given us no reason to think that his triad of claims are genuinely inconsistent. Indeed, if divine life and human life are distinct kinds of life (both falling under the general concept of life, but very different in their metaphysical natures) the same ought to go for divine death and human death.
An analogy may help to reinforce the point. Consider the concept of flight. We say that birds fly south for the winter, and we also say that people fly across the Atlantic. Of course, the kind of flying is quite different in those two cases: birds don’t fly in the same way that humans fly. We can thus distinguish between wing-flight (how birds normally fly) and plane-flight (how people normally fly).
Now consider this triad of claims:
4. Harold flew.
5. Harold is an emu.
6. Emus are flightless.
Do we have an inconsistent set of claims? Well, it depends on what kind of flight is in view in claims 4 and 6. In the case of 6, wing-flight is clearly in view. But if it turns out that 4 is referring to Harold’s trip on a Boeing 737, there’s no inconsistency, because 4 is speaking of plane-flight rather than wing-flight. (Note that we could intensify 6 to say that emus are essentially flightless — just as God is essentially immortal — and the point would still stand.)
In conclusion: depending on how the third claim of Tuggy’s triad is understood, either (a) the third claim is true and the triad is consistent or (b) the triad is inconsistent and the third claim is false.