As I mentioned earlier, Joe Carter has begun a project called "Jesus the Logician," and he is soliciting blog entries on the subject. I thought I would submit my first entry on the subject of Jesus and the law of non-contradiction.
The only problem is that Joe is asking that we tie our posts to a particular text of Scripture and this one won't be - this is more along the lines of prolegomena on the subject. But, I'll send Joe a trackback on it and see if he wants to post it - if so great, if not I'll come up with something else.
One of the ongoing debates in these matters is on whether or not God obeys the law of non-contradiction. Those of us who follow Van Til are famous for saying that God transcends the law of non-contradiction. But we are in error if, by that, we mean that God is free to ignore the law of non-contradiction. I think the main point that Van Til's followers want to get at is that it is improper to say that God is submissive to the law of non-contradiction, because God is submissive to nothing. Rather, a better way of stating it is to say that the law of non-contradiction is grounded in the non-contradictory character of God. Thus, the law of non-contradiction is not some principle or ideal out there which God submits to, rather it is something that flows from the character of God.
A corollary to this is that, though the law of non-contradiction is true because it is an expression of God's non-contradictory character, as finite human beings we are unable to fully discern what is contradictory and what is not. God cannot violate His own character, therefore He cannot contradict Himself, but we don't always see that. There are things that appear contradictory to us because of our fallenness and that our minds will never grasp. But we can err when we bend the Word of God to fit our understanding of the law of non-contradiction. There are times when we have to let the mystery stand and accept the fact that we can't explain it.
Richard Pratt has an article called "Common Misunderstandings of Van Til's Apologetic" that deals with this matter better than I have, and I'll close with his thoughts on the matter. I offer this not so much to defend Van Til as to give insight into how to properly apply the law of non-contradiction
Van Til never denied the importance of logic. He affirmed that logic has its basis in the consistency and verity of God, and that logical thinking is an aspect of our nature as images of God. Our rational capacity is one of the ways in which we are like God. God wants us to think his thoughts after Him, and this includes the proper use of logic. Nevertheless, Van Til qualified these affirmations with the observation that logic — as well as we know and use it — is subject to creaturely limitations and sinful abuses.
Van Til utterly rejected the idea that God could contradict himself. Neither God nor his revelation can be contradictory. Otherwise, God would be a liar and that is not possible (Num. 23:19). Nevertheless, Van Til was quick to stress that many things about God remain beyond the grasp of human reason. The Bible contains mysteries that our minds cannot fathom (Deut. 29:29; Rom. 11:33-36).
For example, we cannot fully understand the intricacies of doctrines like the Trinity, the Incarnation, divine sovereignty and human responsibility, to name just a few. We can explore and understand these doctrines to some extent, but not enough to eliminate the appearance of significant logical difficulties. These Biblical teachings may have the appearance of contradiction, but only the appearance. We may not be able to explain adequately everything about these mysteries, but we rest in the knowledge that they are resolved in the mind of the God who knows all and is perfectly rational.
In this way, Van Til called for Christians to place practical limitations on the use of our sinful and finite understanding of the law of non-contradiction. We know that in principle no truth contradicts, but in practice we cannot always demonstrate how this is so. For this reason, we should not use the law of non-contradiction as the ultimate arbiter of truth. We are unable to penetrate exhaustively into the many mysteries that the Bible teaches. Therefore, Christians should observe the law of non-contradiction, but always to clarify — never to discount — the teachings of Scripture. When the Scriptures seem to contradict themselves or experience, we work hard to improve our understanding through logical reflection, but many times we reach the limits of our rational abilities. At these points, we put our trust in God as the One in whom there is no falsehood or contradiction.
The practical implications of these outlooks are essential to the Christian life because they raise questions about the authority and reliability of the Bible. The Bible contains no contradictions within itself, nor does it contradict the facts of general revelation. But because our use of logic is finite and corrupted by sin, the teachings of Scripture often challenge our rational capacities. “It is not rational to believe such things,” unbelievers contend. As Christians, we have to admit both the appearance of logical difficulties and our inability to solve all of these problems. Yet, we affirm in no uncertain terms, that the problem is in the sinful use of human reason, not in Scripture.
For this reason, we must give practical priority to the Bible over our rational abilities, including our best attempts to follow the law of non-contradiction. It is dangerous to tell people that they should be rational without also warning them to be humble before the pure and infinite rationality of God revealed in Scripture. We must not place a corrupted finite standard above or on par with the absolute standard of God’s Word. When our thoughts conflict with the Bible, we should bow in humility before God, believing him despite the appearance of logical difficulties.