Revelation or Logic?

In a 1987 JETS article entitled “Biblical Paradox: Does Revelation Challenge Logic?” David Basinger levels his cannons on theologians such as JI Packer who believe theological systems must make room for “apparent contradictions.” As Packer puts it, the Bible clearly contains seemingly contradictory statements that “we cannot expect to [reconcile] in this world.” However, we must “refuse to regard the apparent inconsistency as real.” We must rather “put down the semblance of contradiction to the deficiency of [our] own understanding.”

Basinger’s article works from the assumption that an apparent contradiction means that the statements “are in fact contradictory at the human level, [but] from God’s perspective such is not the case.”

As such, Basinger makes a good point regarding a fundamental problem with Packer’s proposal. If the Bible does contain contradictory statements (from our perspective) that are the equivalent of a square being a circle, we are left with a problem pertaining to meaning. This is because all language and thought presupposes the law of non-contradiction. As Basinger puts it,

‘Square’ is only a useful term because to say something is a square distiguishes it from other objects that are not squares. But if something can be a square and also not a square at the same time, then our ability to conceive of, and thus identify and discuss, squares is destroyed. In short, ’square’ no longer remains from the human level a meaningful term. And the same is true of the term ‘circle’ in this context.

To this Packer might say that from God’s perspective the statements aren’t contradictory. This would tell us that God can think in other than human categories. But, the fact remains that to us, the concepts are absolutely meaningless.

Basinger points out that “theologians of paradox” have a misplaced emphasis on human finitude. “We can readily admit our human finitude without granting that Biblical truth is paradoxical.”