18 scriptural reasons to reject the philosophical error of Divine Simplicity

A black hole in revelation and reason
Black hole


'To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.'
(Isaiah 8.20)

An introduction to the doctrine of Simplicity

The essence of God's eternal Unity is composite not homogeneous.

שְׁמַע, יִשְׂרָאֵל:  יהוה אֱלֹהֵינוּ, יהוה אֶחָד

 וְאָהַבְתָּ, אֵת יהוה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, בְּכָל-לְבָבְךָ וּבְכָל-נַפְשְׁךָ, וּבְכָל-מְאֹדֶךָ

'Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD:

'And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.' (Deut.6,4,5)

The term Echad (אֶחָד) for one, is a cognate of the verb to unite or join, Echad (אחד) or a closely related verb  (יחד), for example found here:

מִשְׁפְּטֵי-יהוה אֱמֶת; צָדְקוּ יַחְדָּו

'The judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether.' (Ps. 19.9b)

Expressing the perfection of the composition of the Divine Law.

Or here,

הוֹרֵנִי יהוה, דַּרְכֶּךָ-- אֲהַלֵּךְ בַּאֲמִתֶּךָ; יַחֵד לְבָבִי, לְיִרְאָה שְׁמֶךָ

'Teach me thy way, O LORD; I will walk in thy truth: unite my heart to fear thy name.' (Ps 86.11) Similar examples are found in Isa.14.20 and  Gen. 49.6.

It also expresses the composite oneness of day and night as one unit, not at all a simple sameness:

וַיְהִי-עֶרֶב וַיְהִי-בֹקֶר, יוֹם אֶחָד

'And the evening and the morning were the first day.' (Gen.1.5b)

'And join them for thee one to another into one stick, that they may become one in thy hand' (Ezek.37.17)

וְקָרַב אֹתָם אֶחָד אֶל-אֶחָד, לְךָ לְעֵץ אֶחָד; וְהָיוּ לַאֲחָדִים, בְּיָדֶךָ

The word 'one' appears four times, the first three in the singular, the fourth time in the plural, all indicate one entity. 
The use of both of the plural and the singular for the united single stick is indicative of the compounding or uniting sense of the word's root.

Echad (אֶחָד) is used in the plural to express the highly complex, composite unity of human language before Babel

וַיְהִי כָל-הָאָרֶץ, שָׂפָה אֶחָת, וּדְבָרִים, אֲחָדִים.

'And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech.' [one speech= one(pl) words]]

It would be quite inappropriate to describe the essence of a singular, simple, uncompounded Being. Yochid (יָּחִיד solitary, unique Ps.22.20, Jer.6.26) would be more apt.

The Name of God indicates essential relationality not merely eternal existence

וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים אֶל-מֹשֶׁה, אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה; וַיֹּאמֶר, כֹּה תֹאמַר לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, אֶהְיֶה, שְׁלָחַנִי אֲלֵיכֶם.

וַיֹּאמֶר עוֹד אֱלֹהִים אֶל-מֹשֶׁה, כֹּה-תֹאמַר אֶל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, יהוה אֱלֹהֵי אֲבֹתֵיכֶם אֱלֹהֵי אַבְרָהָם אֱלֹהֵי יִצְחָק וֵאלֹהֵי יַעֲקֹב, שְׁלָחַנִי אֲלֵיכֶם; זֶה-שְּׁמִי לְעֹלָם, וְזֶה זִכְרִי לְדֹר דֹּר.

'And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.
And God said moreover unto Moses, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, The LORD God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath sent me unto you: this is my name for ever, and this is my memorial unto all generations.' (Ex. 3.15-16)

The passage reveals to Moses not merely the letters and sound of the Divine Name, for they were known even to Eve (Gen.4.1), but its glorious meaning, which had not been known before (Ex. 6.3).

The eternal relationality indicated here is not with the patriarchs, but that which founds their relation with God, namely the fellowship within the Godhead. Please see the Sacred NameA brief message exploring the meaning of the Name and its wonders.

His express declarations display essential distinctions within His Name

'I will worship toward thy holy temple, and praise thy name for thy lovingkindness and for thy truth:

for thou hast magnified thy word above all Thy Name.'


Can one aspect of a purely simple essence be magnified by God Himself above all the others?

Zechariah mysteriously indicates that near the end, both God and His Name will be generally misconceived as divided or disunited

וְהָיָה יהוה לְמֶלֶךְ, עַל-כָּל-הָאָרֶץ; בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא, יִהְיֶה יהוה אֶחָד--וּשְׁמוֹ אֶחָד.

'And the LORD shall be king over all the earth: in that day shall there be one LORD, and His name one.' (Zec 14:9)

In the day of His coming, the Day of the Lord's coming with all His holy ones (v.5), both He and His name will be vindicated and shown as truly One, in perfect Unity.

Two propositions are established: firstly that God is One and secondly that His Name is One, if Aquinas is right that God's essence is wholly equivalent to His existence, this is wholly redundant tautology. 
However the emphatic statement and repetition of phrase undermines his notion.
Again the cardinal derived from the verb to unite is employed. Yochid (יָּחִיד solitary, unique Ps.22.20, 25.16, Gen.22.2, 12, 16) would have been better if absolute, simple solitude had been intended. 
The prevailing weight of this general misconception of divided Deity in the last days would be easily dispelled, if the Divine nature were truly singularly simple and absolutely homogenous as opposed to a compound, complex Unity, in which distinctions can easily be misconstrued or reified as separating.

God distinguishes His very self from His uncreated spiritual light, His Wisdom and His Word.

This appears inconsistent with absolute homogeneity, certainly as Plotinus expresses it - and if simplicity is not founded in philosophical speculation, from whence is it specifically derived in Divine revelation, without reliance on considerable speculation?

'For with thee is the fountain of life: in thy light shall we see light.' (Ps.36.9)

'The LORD possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old.
I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was.
When there were no depths, I was brought forth; when there were no fountains abounding with water.
Before the mountains were settled, before the hills was I brought forth' (Pr.8.22-25)

'He sent his word, and healed them, and delivered them from their destructions.' (Ps.107.20)

'By the word of the LORD were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth.' (Ps.33.6)

'In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
The same was in the beginning with God.
All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.' (Jn 1.1-3)

The LORD distinguishes Himself from His Spirit

בְּרוּחוֹ, שָׁמַיִם שִׁפְרָה

'By his spirit he hath garnished the heavens; his hand hath formed the crooked serpent.' (Job 26:13)

 וְעַתָּה, אֲדֹנָי יְהוִה שְׁלָחַנִי וְרוּחוֹ.

'Come ye near unto me, hear ye this; I have not spoken in secret from the beginning; from the time that it was, there am I: and now the Lord GOD, and his Spirit, hath sent me.' (Isa 48.16)

The distinction is declared to be real and instrumental, not an apparition of mere human perception or conception.

The image of God depends upon a composite union for its expression - our relationality is an analogy of His perfect being

 זֶה סֵפֶר, תּוֹלְדֹת אָדָם:  בְּיוֹם, בְּרֹא אֱלֹהִים אָדָם, בִּדְמוּת אֱלֹהִים, עָשָׂה אֹתוֹ.
זָכָר וּנְקֵבָה, בְּרָאָם; וַיְבָרֶךְ אֹתָם, וַיִּקְרָא אֶת-שְׁמָם אָדָם, בְּיוֹם, הִבָּרְאָם. וַיְחִי אָדָם, שְׁלֹשִׁים וּמְאַת שָׁנָה, וַיּוֹלֶד בִּדְמוּתוֹ, כְּצַלְמוֹ; וַיִּקְרָא אֶת-שְׁמוֹ, שֵׁת.

'This is the book of the generations of Adam. In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made he him;
 Male and female created he them; and blessed them, and called their name Adam, in the day when they were created.
And Adam lived an hundred and thirty years, and begat a son in his own likeness, after his image; and called his name Seth.' (Gen.5.1-3)

In the same context, we see the word Echad employed to express a composite uniting, not isolated singularity

 עַל-כֵּן, יַעֲזָב-אִישׁ, אֶת-אָבִיו, וְאֶת-אִמּוֹ; וְדָבַק בְּאִשְׁתּוֹ, וְהָיוּ לְבָשָׂר אֶחָד.

'Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.'

A message to help unfold this subject.

The declarations of the Messiah and His Apostle speak of the eternal Divine Council, wholly inconsistent with barren and worldly notions of Divine Simplex

'And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.'

'And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one'
(John 17.5, 22)

An analogy is drawn between the Divine Godhead and the complex unity of the church, wholly obnoxious to Divine Simplicity.

'In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began.' (Titus .1.2)

The coinherence the Messiah describes between Father and Son is not based upon a simple common essence but on intensely close personal communion, in perfect and indissoluble union.

'That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us:

that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.'

(John 17.21)

Five times the Great High Priest draws analogy between the perfect Unity of the Godhead and the complex, future unity of the Church

'And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are.'

(John 17.11)

The eternal union of the Godhead mysteriously likened to the union engendered by suffering, by a mutual complex participation.

'And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one:
 I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made prefect in one...'

(John 17.22,23a)

The eternal, future complexity of Divine being

'And when all things shall be subdued unto him,

then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all.' (1 Cor.15.28)

Both the Bringer and the One to Whom all glory and honour is brought, both the perfect Subject and the One to Whom all is subject. Not a simple entity but Persons in perfect, complex, relational Unity.

Baptismal formula

'Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:' (Matt.28.19)

This is commonly and properly used as a proof of the unity of Divine essence, the three persons of the Godhead are represented in the one name.
Yet even at the inauguration of a disciple into the church, the Divine Essence is presented to him here in that one Name as both diverse and relational, namely in complex Unity and not absolutely homogenous.

Declaration of the Sacred Name and the Divine Essence

At the time of apostacy, Moses plea to see God's glory is answered with the words, ' I will proclaim the name of the LORD before thee;' (Ex.33.19) The phrase corresponds to the perfect and intimate knowledge God shows of His servant, doubly emphasised in the preceding verses, Moses 'I know thee by name' (v.12,17). A view of God's essential character was vouchsafed to Moses for the trials ahead.
A direct echo of this disclosure is found in the Saviour's words about His beloved, in the High Priestly prayer, John 17.
'And I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it:' (v.26)

It reminds us of His early burden in the prayer, that the Holy Father should ' keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me', for
'While I was with them in the world, I kept them in thy name:' (v.12).

Yet in this last verse of the prayer, there is a striking adjunct, 'That the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them.'
It again demonstrates that the knowledge of the Divine Essence is an entrance into fellowship, it is a relational and communal knowledge, i.e. complex and not at all an insight into a simple entity or abstraction. The Divine Name as the Divine Essence is One, yet diverse and relational in Unity.

The nature of the knowing and not knowing of God's essence

'God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.' 1 Jn.4.16b.
'He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.' 1 Jn.4.8.

God's very own being can only be known and experienced in the complex reality of our relation with Him and with each other. How is this consistent with this essence being absolutely simple?

This nature of knowing of the Divine essence is not confined to creatures.

'All things are delivered to me of my Father: and no man knoweth who the Son is,
but the Father; and who the Father is, but the Son, and he to whom the Son will reveal him.' Luke 10.22
The unity of the Father and the Son is not a simple identity, it expresses a profound and essential relational distinction.

The being of the Father and of the Son involves a mutual and complex relation, fundamentally distinguished but not divided by the begetting.

The same mutual intimacy, in complex relational unity, applies to the Holy Spirit.

But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.
For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God...' 1 Cor.2.10-12a

'Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought:
but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.
And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit,
because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God.' Rom.8.26-7

The Holy Spirit in procession from the Father and by the Son, continues in holy, complex communion with Father and Son.
It is noteworthy in these two passages that believers participate in this communion, in the second acting almost as if interlocutors between the parties.

No doubt it will be objected that these objections conflate Divine Personality with Divine Essence.
It is salient to note that Plotinus the archetypal advocate of Simplicity had a conception of the Divine mind, wholly foreign to scripture and much closer to pantheistic faiths.
'The Intellectual-Principle we are discussing is not of such a kind: It possesses all: It is all: It is
present to all by Its self-presence: It has all by other means than having, for what It possesses is
still Itself, nor does any particular of all within It stand apart; for every such particular is the whole
and in all respects all, while yet not confused in the mass but still distinct, apart to the extent that
any participant in the Intellectual-Principle participates not in the entire as one thing but in
whatsoever lies within its own reach
.' Enneads 1.8.2 On the nature and source of evil.

Unwitting theological disciples of the thinker, should take heed lest they find themselves descending into his paths.

An indirect argument from the angels

It is claimed by adherents of Simplicity like Aquinas and Augustine that the human spirit is 'simpler' than the physical nature, and that higher spirits, the angels, are simpler still than us, being closer the Divine.
Yet a short glimpse at extraordinary aerobatic display in Ezekiel 1, echoed in subsequent chapters and in Revelation displays a level of coordinated complexity far beyond the most complex human technology, a coordination and interaction orchestrated by the Holy Spirit. Far from being simpler beings, capable of answering to more basic, reducible principles, like a quark or boson, angels are highly refined and sophisticated beings capable of relation and interaction among themselves and with God to a level that as a routine exceedingly surpass our wildest imagination or most exalted experiences.
How much more this is true of the Divine relations.

Theological consequents of adherence to absolute Simplicity

It may justly be feared that a rigorous pursuit of Simplicity results in modalism. Is the true and simple essence of the Father identical with the true and simple essence of the Son - then how can it not be proper to utter the heresy that the Father is the Son and the Son is the Father?

Whilst the creation display Divine glory and Divine character in its diversity and unity, it is likely that creaturely analogues lead to Plotinus formulation of the Simplex, by observing the unity and simplicity of the hierarchy causal laws. This certainly operates as driving principle for the admiration of simplicity in theoretical physics today, (see The Quark and the Jaguar, for example). Abusing a creaturely analogue like this runs the considerable danger of imbibing elements of his pantheism, by denying the reality of the agency of the Word and the activity of the Spirit and this is evidently the case with Islam's rigorous pursuit of Simplicity.

The insistence on simplicity may lead to a neglect of the eternal generation of the Son,
tending to downgrade the unique and eternal begetting into a mere apparition or figure.
The Apostle warns of the danger of such a denial, the doctrine being foundational to our salvation from sin 'Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son. Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father: he that acknowledgeth the Son hath the Father also.' 1 Jn.2.22-23.

No doubt inconsistent advocates of Simplicity will find a hundred different ways to mold a precious axiom to new data, much as psychoanalysts and evolutionary biologists do, but its philosophical originators, Plato, Plotinus and their heirs would scoff at the very notion of personal or relational Deity as a primitive anthropomorphism.

Simplicity represents a subtle form of idolatry of the Divine essence as abstracted from His Divine Personhood, as Triune. It is understandable for Muslim and Jewish defenders of the blasphemy of the Solitariness of God to invoke Greek notions of simplicity to bolster the denial of the Son, but very curious to see it so enthusiastically advocated by followers of the Messiah.

Comments welcome to c p soper at gmail dot com (no spaces)

Some background in philosophical and early church writings

'The greatest triumphs which they set up in their own conceits are, when
by any ways they possess themselves of any usual maxim that passes
current amongst men, being applied to finite, limited, created things, or any
acknowledged notion in philosophy, and apply it to the infinite, uncreated,
essence of God; than which course of proceeding nothing, indeed, can be
more absurd, foolish, and contrary to sound reason.. '

A somewhat ironic, but most salient comment, applied to the heresy of Socinianism
by the great John Owen (Vind Ev p.66).
(Ironic in this instance, because he unwisely defended scholastic views of simplicity against their assault.
It was the extreme anthropomorphic views of Faustus Socinus,
including the blasphemous denial of God's omniscience, omnipresence and omnipotence,
that resulted from an all encompassing rejection of all forms of scholasticism.
In this respect, they were quite unlike the Arian opponents of the Cappadocians, the Eunomians,
who strongly advocated simplicity, as well they might, it being readily consistent with their heretical view of the Godhead).

Obsolete arguments from Aristotle's Physics which would fall foul of Classical post Newtonian physics, let alone Quantum Mechanics, and represent a wholly inadequate doctrinal framework the study of the Divine Being. An excellent example of precisely what Owen criticises and echoes Scripture's warning in Col.2.6-9.

Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments [stoiceia – fundamental axioms] of the world, and not after Christ. For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.'

From James Dolezal's, 'god without parts: divine simplicity and the metaphysics of god's absoluteness' (emphases in the original).

Thomas echoes Aristotle's arguments in Physics book VI when he insists that anything continuous is infinitely divisible. The Stagirite insists that "no continuous thing is divisible into things without parts."1 He reasons to this conclusion by arguing that indivisibles (which are necessarily partless) cannot be contiguous with other indivisibles (which are necessarily partless) cannot be contiguous with other indivisibles so as to be one with them or together with them.  Contiguous parts form wholes by virtue of contact with other parts. But contiguous contact necessitates an extremity and indivisibles have no extremities (i.e., parts outside of parts) since nothing in it lies nearer or further from its exact center. For example, a line cannot be composed of so many points because points are by definition indivisible and without extension. Nothing without extension can be in real continuous contact with any other extensionless thing. Accordingly, really extended entities cannot be composed of extensionless parts such as indivisibles. Aristotle explains why indivisibles cannot be continuous: "[S]ince indivisibles have no parts, they must be in contact with one another as whole with whole. And if they are in contact with one another as whole with whole, they will not be continuous; for that which is continuous has distinct parts, and these are parts into which it is divisible are different in this way, i.e., spatially separate."2 Thus he arrives at the following conclusion: "[I]t is plain that everything at the continuous is divisible into divisibles that are always divisible; for if they were divisible into indivisibles [i.e., not infinitely divisible], we should have [per impossible] an indivisible in contact with an indivisible, since the extremities of things that are continuous with one another are one and in contact."3 Aristotle applies this same reasoning to all varieties of continuous things including magnitude, time, and motion and concludes that each is infinitely divisible.

Understanding this bit of Aristotelian physics explains why Thomas cannot allow that God is a body. If we were he would be in potency to an infinite number of divisions and subdivisions and thus not purely actual. Consequently, he could not be regarded as the First Being who needs no further actuating principle back of him (as argued in the fourth way of ST 1.2.3).

1 Aristotle, Physics 231b10-11.
2 Ibid., 231b3-6.
3 Ibid., 231b15-18.


Theology   Ministry of God's Word
Evolution    Rome     EU
Writings for Rabbinics
Islam / The Satanic verses
The land of Israel
Christian anti-Semitism
Evangelical Apostasy