Historians & the Word-Concept Fallacy


History-And-Fallacies-Trueman.jpgThere is another version of this fallacy, however, which denies that somebody can have a particular concept if they lack a particular word or phrase. A good example can be found in relation to the fourth century discussions of Trinitarian doctrine. Popular author Dan Brown, in his inexplicably popular The Da Vinci Code, makes it sound as if the deity of Christ was an invention of the church in the fourth century and that the vote at Nicea was a close call. In fact, we know that the vote was overwhelmingly in favor of Christ’s divinity (one might debate as to how representative the gathering was, or to what extent the emperor’s menacing presence may have influenced the delegates, but one cannot debate the margin of victory). Thus, Brown is guilty of basic factual error; but he is also guilty of confusing the existence and acceptance of a specific creedal statement with the existence and acceptance of a concept. For instance, much work has been done by scholars such as Richard Bauckham on the evidence for the fact that the New Testament writers themselves believed that God was one, that Jesus was God, and that there was a distinction between Father and Son. That this concept was not formulated using the technical Greek vocabulary which was developed and refined during the fourth century in order to give it clear expression is undeniable; but that does not allow one to conclude that the basic concepts which the Nicene Creed was to articulate were not present prior to the coming of the creedal terminology.

[Carl R.Trueman, Histories and Fallacies: Problems Faced in the Writing of History, (Wheaton, IL, USA: Crossway, 2010), 156.]