Christianity 201

March 3, 2017

Devotional for 3/3: The Trinity

Someone pointed out the coincidence (if that applies) that a major motion picture about the Trinity is releasing on 3/3. That got me thinking that perhaps we could look back at this topic as it has been discussed here.

In November of 2014 we began with a quote from Tozer:

Our sincerest effort to grasp the incomprehensible mystery of the Trinity must remain forever futile, and only by deepest reverence can it be saved from actual presumption.
~A.W. Tozer, The Idea of the Holy, chapter 4

and then continued to look at “who does what.”

In the Holy Scriptures the work of creation is attributed to the Father

Gen. 1:1 In the beginning, God created everything: the heavens above and the earth below

to the Son

Col 1:16 It was by Him that everything was created: the heavens, the earth, all things within and upon them, all things seen and unseen, thrones and dominions, spiritual powers and authorities. Every detail was crafted through His design, by His own hands, and for His purposes.

and to the Holy Spirit

Job 26:13     By His breath, the heavens are made beautifully clear;
        by His hand that ancient serpent—even as it attempted escape—is pierced through.

Psalm 104:30 When You send out Your breath, life is created,
    and the face of the earth is made beautiful and is renewed.

The article continues as a scripture medley worth checking out… continue reading here.

In July, 2013 we looked at the idea of “One What and Three Whos” with this item by C. Michael Patton:

I believe in one God (ousia), who exists eternally in three persons (hypostasis) — God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit — all of whom are fully God, all of whom are equal.

Spirit of GodSince there is only one God, one member of the Trinity, in his essence, cannot have more power, authority, or dignity than another. They all share in the exact same nature (ousia, ontos, “stuff”). I did not understand this until later in my Christian life. For many years I existed as a functional polytheist (a tritheist, to be technically precise). I believed the three members of the Trinity shared in a similar nature, not the exact same nature. In other words, just like you and I share in the nature of being homo sapiens, so the members of the Trinity are all from the “God species” . . . or something like that. But this is a bad analogy since, though you and I may be the same species, we are different in essence. You are you and I am me. I have my body and you have yours. But in the Trinity, all three persons share in the exact same essence. One in nature; three in person. One what; three whos…

For more on the idea of a hierarchy within the Trinity… continue reading here.

In February of 2011, we offered “The Trinity Collection,” to go-to verses in which all three members of the Godhead are referenced:

Matthew 3: 16, 17 NIV

16As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. 17And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

Matthew 28: 19 NLT

19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

John 15: 26 ESV

[Jesus speaking] 26“But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.

Acts 2: 33 NIrV

33 Jesus has been given a place of honor at the right hand of God. He has received the Holy Spirit from the Father. This is what God had promised. It is Jesus who has poured out what you now see and hear.

II Cor. 13: 14 The Message

14The amazing grace of the Master, Jesus Christ, the extravagant love of God, the intimate friendship of the Holy Spirit, be with all of you.

Ephesians 2: 17 – 18 TNIV

17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

I Thess. 1: 2-5a CEV

2We thank God for you and always mention you in our prayers. Each time we pray, 3we tell God our Father about your faith and loving work and about your firm hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. 4My dear friends, God loves you, and we know he has chosen you to be his people. 5When we told you the good news, it was with the power and assurance that come from the Holy Spirit, and not simply with words…

I Peter 1: 1 – 2 NIV (UK)

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To God’s elect, strangers in the world … 2 who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance.

Also included in this list is the longer passage at I Cor. 12: 4-13.

That’s pretty much the entire piece… read at source here.

Also in February, 2011, we had a discussion at Thinking Out Loud and noted that

…four of the seven statements in the National Association of Evangelicals Statement of Faith which specifically refer to God, Jesus and Holy Spirit, of which the first is primary for this discussion:

  • We believe that there is one God, eternally existent in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
  • We believe in the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ, in His virgin birth, in His sinless life, in His miracles, in His vicarious and atoning death through His shed blood, in His bodily resurrection, in His ascension to the right hand of the Father, and in His personal return in power and glory.
  • We believe that for the salvation of lost and sinful people, regeneration by the Holy Spirit is absolutely essential.
  • We believe in the present ministry of the Holy Spirit by whose indwelling the Christian is enabled to live a godly life.

(For Canadian readers, the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada Statement of Faith is identical.)

For that article… continue reading here.

Finally, in January of this year, here at C201 we quoted Fred Sanders on Trinitarian Praise:

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the
Holy Ghost! As it was in the beginning, is now,

and ever shall be, world without end.

The glory of God is from everlasting to everlasting, but while the praise of the Trinity will have no end, it had a beginning. There was never a time when God was not glorious as Father, as Son, and as Holy Spirit. But there was a time when that singular glory (singular because, to gloss the Athanasian Creed, there are not three glorious, but one) had not yet disclosed itself so as to invite creatures to its praise. To join in the ancient Christian prayer called the Gloria Patri, directing praise to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is to come into alignment here in the world “as it is now” with triune glory “as it was in the beginning.” All theology ought to be doxology, but Trinitarian theology in particular is essentially a matter of praising God. This doxological response is the praise of a glory (ἔπαινον δόξης, Eph 1:6, 12, 14) that always was, and whose epiphany in time entails its antecedent depth in eternity. Those whom God has blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ are summoned to join that praise: “Blessed be God the Father, who has blessed us in the Beloved and sealed us with the Holy Spirit of promise” (Eph 1:3–14, condensed).

For more of that article… continue reading here.

June 23, 2013

The Other Side of “Trinity”

holy_spirit_-_pentacost_jwisIn February of 2011, I wrote an article at Thinking Out Loud asking, ‘If the doctrine of the Trinity is one of 7-10 core doctrines that turns up in the statement of faith of almost every denomination, can non-Trinitarians be consider ‘Christian’ in the regular sense of the word?’  Last week someone dredged up at the post and wrote several long and heated posts suggesting that yes, indeed they can. I had just about forgotten that when I came across a similar piece that sets out the argument of non-Trinitarians in a more calm and rational manner. I’ve heard this stated before and certainly some of it, I am sympathetic to. But I decided it’s good to be challenged — this is after all Christianity 201, not 101 — so I’m featuring it here today. It’s actually part one of a two part (so far) series; the author is Kermit Zarley and the link to this part — to read at source or leave comments — is The Holy Spirit Is Not a Person; God’s Identity that Only Worsens. Inclusion here does not imply endorsement.

Most Christians believe in the Trinity since that’s what their church teaches. It says God is one essence consisting of three co-equal and co-eternal Persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. So, the Holy Spirit is deemed a full-fledged Person.

The church didn’t always believe this. During the 2nd and 3rd centuries, there was no consensus among church fathers, called “apologists,” about the constitution of the Holy Spirit. Most of them didn’t think it was important. In fact, there was a widespread fluidity of ideas among Christians about it. Some thought the Holy Spirit was an impersonal power; others ascribed full personality to the Holy Spirit. Eminent church historian Philip Schaff observes, “the doctrine of the Holy Spirit was far less developed, and until the middle of the fourth century was never a subject of special controversy.”

Both the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed only state, “I/We believe … in the Holy Spirit.” Due to this brevity, it is absurd for later Trinitarians to assert that a person must believe the Holy Spirit is a full-fledged Person in order to be a Christian.

The Arian-Nicene Controversy of the 4th century was conducted mostly in Greek. All three parties in conflict agreed that the Spirit is a separate hypostasis (subsistence) from the Father and Son. Arius deemed the Spirit’s essence to be unlike that of the Father or the Son. Eusebius, church historian who led the middle party, said the Spirit is inferior in essence to that of the Father and Son, “a third power” in “third rank” to them.

Jannes Reiling contrasts biblical teaching about God’s Spirit with the above view by rightly alleging, “Within the Bible neither ruah nor pneuma are used as a divine name. They are not worshipped as divine beings…. The OT does not represent the spirit as a divine being connected with, yet distinct from, God. It is always functioning as an intermediary between God and mankind…. In the NT the spirit is not envisaged as a divine being (hypostasis), but as an instrument of divine action or revelation.”

James D. G. Dunn says of the Old Testament (OT), “‘Spirit of God’ is simply a way of speaking of God accomplishing his purpose in his world and through men.” He adds, “‘Spirit of God’ in Judaism denoted the power of God.” He says of the writings of Paul and John in the New Testament (NT), “The idea of God’s Spirit as a power and presence (i.e., God’s) … that thought is well established…. But of the Spirit as an entity in any sense independent of God, of Spirit as a divine hypostasis, there is nothing.”

Non-Trinitarian, Dutch theologian Ellen Flesseman-van Leer explains that the Holy Spirit is “not an independent entity alongside God, but the evidence of God’s active presence in the world.”

The Apostle Paul mentions both God the Father and Jesus Christ in the salutations of all ten of his NT letters (assuming he wrote them all), yet he does not mention the Holy Spirit. This absence suggests that Paul did not regard the Holy Spirit as a person.

One reason Trinitarians think the Holy Spirit is a full-fledged Person is that English Bibles usually capitalize “Holy Spirit” and “Spirit” when associated with God. Yet the Hebrew and Greek languages did not have upper and lower case when the earliest biblical manuscripts were written. Such capitalization is merely interpretation of the translators of these versions since they were Trinitarians. In contrast, Jews don’t capitalize “holy spirit” or “spirit” because they don’t think it refers to a person.

Most Christians also think the Holy Spirit is a Person since nearly all Bible versions ascribe personal pronouns to the Spirit. The best biblical example is the frequent “he” in Jesus’ teaching about the Holy Spirit in John 14-16. But pronoun gender in Greek is irrelevant. Whether pronouns applied to the Holy Spirit should be translated “he” or “it” is strictly a theological decision. It is the same there for the pronoun ekeinos.

Binitarian, UK theologian C.F.D. Moule says concerning the Bible applying personal pronouns to the Holy Spirit, “the appeal to Scripture,… proves nothing as to the eternal ‘being’ of the Spirit. It only shows that ‘Spirit’ is a word for a personal God’s personal activity.” Moule concludes, “the fact that Spirit is the mode by which a personal God is present does not seem, in itself, to necessitate the recognition of Spirit as essentially personal;… it seems gratuitous to insist on using a personal pronoun” for the Holy Spirit.

Another reason most Christians think the Holy Spirit is a Person is that the Bible can personify the Holy Spirit as it does God’s Word or Wisdom. When it says the Holy Spirit did some activity, such as speaking, it should not be taken as depicting personality. Jesus once said, “the wisdom of God said, ‘I will send to them prophets and apostles’” (Luke 11.49); yet he did not intend to attribute personality to wisdom. The best OT example of the personification of wisdom is in Proverbs 8—9.6.

Catholic theologian Karl Rahner and biblical exegete Murray Harris rightly admit that the NT never identifies the Holy Spirit as God. Thus, some Trinitarians have wrongly contended that it does in Acts 5.4.

The Bible teaches that man is a tripartite being consisting of body, soul, and spirit. Since God made man in his own image (Genesis 1.26-27), man’s spirit must correspond to God’s Spirit. Moule states, “there is a certain kinship between God and man—between Spirit and spirit.” Yes, and it should be understood from creation that the Spirit of God is to God what the spirit of man is to man. Since man’s spirit is not a person as we moderns understand personhood, God’s Spirit must not be a person either. Rather, the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of the Father (Matthew 10.20; Mark 13.11).

(In my book, The Restitution of Jesus Christ, I devote 14 pages to an appendix, “The Nature of the Holy Spirit,” citing 25 scholars and their writings as well as the writings of 5 church fathers.)

…Still in? Here’s the link to part two: If the Holy Spirit Is a Person of His Own, then Why Isn’t He Sitting on Heaven’s Big Throne?