Power Over the Demons (Mark 3:7-19)

jesus boatThis article originally appeared at SharperIron.org. Reprinted by permission.

In this passage, we read that the Pharisees are seeking to kill Jesus, but the demons confess Him as the Son of God. This is a great irony of the Gospels. The leaders who ought to recognize him hate Him. The fallen angels who should hate Him bow before Him. Meanwhile, the people who should gladly receive Him ignore His message.

Power Over the Demons

Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the sea, and a great multitude from Galilee followed; also from Judea and Jerusalem and Idumea and from beyond the Jordan and from about Tyre and Sidon a great multitude, hearing all that he did, came to him (Mk 3:7-8).

After the latest confrontation, Jesus withdraws from Capernaum “to the sea.” We’re not sure where Jesus went, because Capernaum is on the Sea of Galilee. He probably went to a more secluded location along the coast, away from the city.[1] It is clear Jesus doesn’t intend to wage a full-out theological assault against the Pharisees. To borrow a military analogy, His confrontation with the Pharisees in the synagogue (3:1-6) is better seen as a strategic raid than a declaration of all-out war. More direct confrontation will only result in a premature arrest, torture and execution. The Father has a divine timetable (cf. Ecc 3:1-8), and Jesus follows it – thus He beats a tactical retreat.[2]

What a contrast between the Pharisees’ homicidal intent, and the response from the crowds. They come to Him from everywhere; Jews from Jerusalem and Judea, and Gentiles from the south, east and north.[3] They come separately, meet together and form one mass of pilgrims.[4] John the Baptist didn’t draw this many people (Mk 1:5), and only preached to Israelites (cf. Lk 3:1-17).[5] Jesus, on the other hand, indiscriminately preaches to the Gentiles and the Jews. He does not have the racist, exclusivist mindset that is so foreign to the Old Covenant Scriptures, but was so common in His day.[6] He truly was a light for the Gentiles (cf. Isa 49:6). Jesus is Jewish, but many Israelites forgot that their Jewish Messiah came to be a Messiah for all people (cf. Lk 2:29-32, Acts 13:46-48).

And he told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, lest they should crush him; for he had healed many, so that all who had diseases pressed upon him to touch him (Mk 3:9-10).

For Jesus, crowds are no indication of success. Then, as now, people often followed Jesus for selfish and unholy reasons. These crowds followed Jesus because they wanted divine healing.

Jesus, always a practical fellow, orders a boat prepared so He can flee, if necessary.[7] He’s in danger of being crushed and trampled. In a modern context, Jesus would be preaching on a street-corner in front of the open, sliding door of a minivan, the engine running, a disciple at the wheel!

Mark describes a nearly out of control mob. The scene is at once frightening and exhilarating. Jesus fears being crushed because His healing miracles have incited a frenzy. The mass of people, Jew and Gentile alike, press forward relentlessly, fighting and clamoring to get near. This is very different from the silly stereotype of gentle Jesus, meek mild, teaching the adoring masses from a landscaped hillside while He cradles a lamb in His lap.

These people don’t care what He preaches, what He says, or who He is. They’re pressing forward to touch Him, so they might be healed. He’s a rabbit’s foot, a talisman – somebody who can give them what they want.[8] Yet, it is remarkable that Jesus did not angrily send them away. He evidently healed many of them.[9]

Little has changed. Many people do not seek Christ because they want forgiveness and justification. They seek Jesus because of what He can do for Him. He’s a Cosmic Butler, who lives to serve us.

I recently listened to a sermon from a pseudo-megachurch near my home. It was blasphemy of the worst kind. The message was, “come to Jesus so He can make your life easier, give you a better job, more money and make you happy.” In this church, Jesus’ actual message, His doctrinal content and ethical commands to repent, believe and deny yourself and follow Him, are meaningless. Christ is just a prop for charlatans to hang blasphemy on.

These crowds in Mark’s Gospel are the same. His message is irrelevant to them; they just want healing.[10] The implications of that healing are lost on them (cf. Lk 7:18-23, Mk 3:22-27).

And whenever the unclean spirits beheld him, they fell down before him and cried out, “You are the Son of God.” And he strictly ordered them not to make him known (Mk 3:11-12).

The Pharisees are plotting to kill Him. The crowds don’t care what He says. Yet, the demons give Him the glory! Many people in this crowd are demon-possessed. Whenever they see Him, they fall down and literally scream and shriek their confession.

Can you imagine the scene? This is an ongoing event. The crowds press forward, anxious to touch Jesus and be healed. In the midst of this mob, demon-possessed men, women, boys and girls alternatively scream and howl, loudly, that Jesus is the Son of God.[11] They do this whenever they catch sight of Him. In the crush of the crowd, they don’t have an unobstructed view. As they catch periodic, fleeting glimpses of the Christ, they scream their confession, despite themselves. They fall down before Him, wherever they are, and confess His identity in the most public way possible.

Demons are fallen angels. Jesus is their creator. He is their ultimate adversary, and His power over the forces of darkness is absolute. Those who have Christ as their King and God as their Lord should respect Satan as a formidable adversary indeed (cf. Jude 9), but they need not wonder how this conflict will end. Satan will lose.

Why does Jesus forbid the fallen angels to make Him known? The text doesn’t say, and a whole lot of ink (and even more kilobytes) have been spilled trying to figure it out. It is clear the true nature of Jesus as Messiah can only be appreciated in light of the Cross, the Resurrection, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the inauguration of the New Covenant. This is as good an explanation as any for why Jesus commanded the demons to be silent.[12]

Because He is God and they are not, the unclean spirits obey. What else can they do? This decisive confrontation with the forces of darkness is a prelude to perhaps the key passage about the purpose of His miracles (Mk 3:22-27).

Delegating Authority

And he went up on the mountain, and called to him those whom he desired; and they came to him. And he appointed twelve, to be with him, and to be sent out to preach and have authority to cast out demons: Simon whom he surnamed Peter; James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James, whom he surnamed Boanerges, that is, sons of thunder; Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him (Mk 3:13-19a).

After Jesus demonstrates such complete mastery over the fallen angels, He delegates this authority to His chosen disciples. They did not choose Him; He choose them.[13] This is the church in embryo form; a group of called out believers in Christ, who are sent forth by Christ, bringing His Good News indiscriminately to the wide world beyond.

Jesus appoints twelve:

  • To be with him. You cannot be a follower of Christ unless you have fellowship with Him. You cannot have fellowship with Christ unless you believe what the apostles heard, and saw with their eyes, and looked upon and touched with their hands – the truth about Jesus Christ, the word of life (1 John 1:1-4). You learn about this from the books they and others wrote, which tell you all about it (i.e. the New Testament). This implies a community of believers who learn from Christ.
  • To preach. This is the point of their community, of their training. They will be sent out to preach and proclaim the message He gives them. The kingdom of God is here! Repent, believe, and join this kingdom![14]
  • To have authority to cast out demons. The One who has such complete mastery over Satan and His minions also has the authority to delegate this power to His children. This is clearly a divine power and authority.[15] And, this power is only meant to accredit the preaching – to prove the kingdom of God has broken into this dark and evil world and vanquished that darkness.

Conclusion

Jesus is God. He has clear and obvious power over the unclean spirits (cf. Mk 1:27). He delegates and dispenses this power to His apostles, and will eventually send them forth as His representatives. The demons see and recognize Jesus’ authority. They scream, fall to the ground and confess His identity at the very sight of him. They obey His commands. They are putty in His hands.

In contrast, we see the Pharisees in Capernaum plotting their little plots. We see the crowd as a near mob of half-crazed pilgrims who seek only physical healing. His own disciples are spiritually dull; their training has only begun. Ironically, only the demons truly give Him the glory. Yet, as they do so, they testify to His divinity, and His co-equal and His co-eternal status with the Father.[16] He confirms their testimony in the most appropriate way possible – by silencing them.

We believe that there is one, and only one, living and true God, an infinite, intelligent Spirit, whose name is JEHOVAH, the Maker and Supreme Ruler of Heaven and earth; inexpressibly glorious in holiness, and worthy of all possible honor, confidence, and love; that in the unity of the Godhead there are three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; equal in every divine perfection, and executing distinct and harmonious offices in the great work of redemption.[17]

Notes

[1]  See James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark, in PNTC (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002), 103. Ezra Gould also suggests Jesus sought solitude on another portion of the seashore (The Gospel According to St. Mark, in ICC [Edinburgh, UK: T&T Clark, 1896], 55).

[2] William Hendriksen observed, “We must bear in mind also that the time for the decisive head-on confrontation with the religious authorities had not as yet arrived. According to the Father’s time-clock Calvary is still some distance away. For the present therefore the seashore is better suited to the Master’s purpose than the synagogue,” (The Gospel of Mark, in NTC [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1975], 118).

James Brooks, however, suggests “probably it refers to nothing more than Jesus’ desire to extend his ministry beyond the towns and their synagogues,” (Mark, in NAC, vol. 23 [Nashville: B&H, 1991], 69–70).

[3] “Mark seems to have been suggesting that all peoples should seek Jesus and that they may be assured of acceptance. Readers and hearers of his Gospel naturally think about the later Gentile mission,” (Brooks, Mark, 70).

[4] A.B. Bruce, The Synoptic Gospels, in Expositor’s Greek Testament (London, UK: Hodder & Stoughton, 1910), 357.

[5] For an argument that the “soldiers” John addressed were Jewish, see Darrell L. Bock, Luke 1:1-9:50, in BECNT (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1994), 312-313. One need only read the Baptist’s preaching to realize this is an exclusively Jewish message, and the context of Malachi’s prophecy (3:1) makes this quite clear.

[6] Peter’s comment to Cornelius (Acts 10:27-29) reflect this blasphemous view of Gentiles. Even as a fully-illuminated and Spirit-filled Christian, Peter still struggled for a time to get rid of this baggage. So did the Jerusalem church (Acts 11).

[7] Mark Strauss suggests, “The boat may have been for escape in case the crowd crushed forward, but more likely is meant for crowd control, a kind of platform or podium to keep from being jostled,” (Mark, in ZECNT [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014], 154). I find this explanation unlikely. Jesus ordered the boat to be prepared in order that (ἵνα + subjunctive) they would not press Him (μὴ θλίβωσιν αὐτόν). The reason is to avoid the crush of the crowd.

Matthew Henry suggests this was simply a practical measure, so “that, when he had despatched the necessary business he had to do in one place, he might easily remove to another, where his presence was requisite, without pressing through the crowds of people that followed him for curiosity,” (Commentary on the Whole Bible [Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994], 1782).

[8] See especially Edwards’ discussion of crowds in Mark’s Gospel (Mark, 74-75). Each person will have to come to his own understanding of the crowds. I believe the Gospel of Mark (indeed, all the Gospels) are clear that crowds followed the Christ for unholy and selfish reasons.

[9] Matthew Henry remarked, “What abundance of good he did in his retirement. He did not withdraw to be idle, nor did he send back those who rudely crowded after him when he withdrew, but took it kindly, and gave them what they came for; for he never said to any that sought him diligently, Seek ye me in vain,” (Commentary, 1782).

[10] Again, Strauss has a positive interpretation of the crowd. “It is excitement and enthusiasm for Jesus’ healing power that is motivating the crowds,” (Mark, 154). R. Alan Cole also has a positive interpretation of the crowd (Mark, in TNTC, vol. 2 [Downer’s Grove, IL: IVP, 1989], 135-165). Similarly, Gould writes, “[T]he verb is a strong word . . . and is intended to bring before us vividly the turbulent eagerness and excitement of the crowd,” (St. Mark, 55).

Brooks suggests, “apparently the crowd sought Jesus because of his healings, not to submit themselves to the reign of God,” (Mark, 70). This reflects the wide gulf of opinions about the crowds.

[11] Some commentators suggest the demons are attempting to exercise dominion and authority over Jesus by crying out His name. See, for example, William L. Lane, The Gospel According to Mark, in NICNT (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1974), 130. Strauss (Mark, 155) and Walter Wessell (Luke, in EBC, vol. 8 [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984], 641) also follow this line of interpretation.

[12] Strauss suggests the demons were not the kind of beings Jesus wanted testifying who He was. “[T]he demons are inappropriate heralds of his person and mission (cf. 1: 25). Jesus will reveal his identity in his own time and through his own words and deeds,” (Mark, 155).

This doesn’t go far enough. Jesus tells both demons and healed men to not tell anybody about Him (cf. 1:44, 5:43). The real reason must be deeper than this. One good explanation is that the true nature of the Messiah cannot be fully appreciated until after His death, burial, resurrection and ascension. He comes the first time as the suffering servant; the second time as the conquering king.

[13] “Christ calls whom he will; for he is a free Agent, and his grace is his own,” (Henry, Commentary, 1782).

[14] “The proclamation which they were to make was the coming of the kingdom of God,” (Gould, St. Mark, 57).

[15] “This showed that the power which Christ had to work these miracles was an original power; that he had it not as a Servant, but as a Son in his own house, in that he could confer it upon others, and invest them with it,” (Henry, Commentary, 1783).

[16] This is one of the implications of the title. “As the Son of God, Jesus shares the Father’s glory, power, and authority,” (Strauss, Mark, 155).

[17] 1833 New Hampshire Confession of Faith, Article 2.

We Believe in . . .

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Homilies of Gregory Nazianzus (from a 9th century Byzantine manuscript)

Here, at long last, is my pitiful translation of the Nicene-Constantinople Creed (381 A.D.). The first four so-called “ecumenical councils” between 325 and 451 A.D. were where early Christians hammered out a vocabulary and framework for explaining what the Bible says about the triune God. These councils did not invent or create doctrine; they articulated what the Bible already says. I will use this translation, and the classic translation from Phillip Schaff’s work, for a future discussion of Father, Son and Spirit. For now, here is the text:

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“We believe in one God; Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of everything visible and invisible.

Also, we believe in one Lord; Jesus, Messiah, the unique Son of God, who was brought forth from the Father before all time began (that is, from the substance of the Father), light from light, genuine God from genuine God. He was brought forth, [but] not created; [the] same substance as the Father, by whom everything was made in the heavens and on the earth. He came down out of the heavens for the benefit of us men, even for our salvation, and was made flesh by [the] Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary. Indeed, He took on human form, was crucified for our sake during the time of Pontius Pilate, and was tortured. He was buried, yet rose the third day according to the Scriptures. He ascended into the heavens, is sitting down at the right hand of the Father, and He shall come again with glory to judge the living and [the] dead; whose kingdom shall never end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit; Lord and Giver of life, who proceeds from the Father, is worshipped and glorified together with Father and Son, and who spoke through the prophets.

We believe in one holy, universal and apostolic congregation. We confess one immersion concerning forgiveness of sins. We are waiting for [the] resurrection of the dead and the coming eternal life. 

But, those who say, “there was a time when He did not exist,” and “He did not exist before He was brought forth,” or that “He was made out of nothing” or “out of another nature or substance;” those who claim, “the Son of God is alterable” or “changeable;” the universal and apostolic congregation curses them.”

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Some Christians are taught by well-meaning but ignorant teachers and preachers to ignore creeds and confessions. You ignore the first four ecumenical creeds (Nicea, Constantinople, Ephesus and Chalcedon) at your own peril. Actually, you don’t ignore them at all – your theological vocabulary is riddled with their terminology; you just don’t know it! As Carl Trueman has observed,

The Lord has graciously provided us with a great cloud of witnesses throughout history who can help us to understand the Bible and to apply it to our present day. To ignore such might not be so much a sign of biblical humility as of overbearing hubris and confidence in our own abilities and the uniqueness of our own age (The Creedal Imperative [Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012; Kindle ed.], KL 1738-1740).

More on this creed another day! The detailed translation is available here. You can compare it with the normal English translation if you wish.

Is Jesus Christ God? (Pt. 1)

To answer this question, we’ll have to start by discussing what the Trinity is. Here is a brief definition:

Within the one Being that is God, there exists three eternally co-equal and co-eternal persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

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The Trinity!

We do not worship three Gods; we worship one God. Each Person of the Godhead is fully God, not ⅓ God. It is so important that we understand who the God we worship is. The Trinity is one of the more misunderstood doctrines of the Christian faith; all Christians would affirm it but not too many people would really understand what it means.

Notice how carefully worded the definition above is; every single word matters. There is a reason why I stress that (1) there is one Being, (2) existing in three Persons and that these Persons are each (3) co-equal and (4) co-eternal. This will become clear in the next blog article, where I briefly explain some of the heresies through the ages, particularly the various forms of monarchism and Arianism in the 2nd-3rd centuries. These are not just dusty, old “issues” fought over by a bunch of dead men – they go to the very heart of what it means to be a Christian.

Here is a short, orthodox definition of the Trinity:

One Being or Essence (Deut 6:4; Jas 2:19)

He is not three Gods – He is One God.  We must be very careful to emphasize that we do not worship three separate Gods. The distinction between the one “being” or “essence” and the three “Persons” of this one Being are only our pitiful attempts to express the inexpressible. The term “essence” is not an explicitly Biblical term, but a secular phrase which attempts to capture the concept. It is not a sacred term, but as John Frame noted, it is doubtful a better term will be found.[1]
This is not merely a partnership, whereby each member of the Godhead can sign official paperwork in the name of the firm; there is one Being consisting of three distinct Persons – each one is fully divine.

The fundamental sticking point with men who hold heretical views is this; they rightly conclude the Old Testament teaches monotheism (Deut 6:4), but then therefore assume that the New Testament cannot teach that Christ is also God. Christological heresies begin with this basic presupposition. The distinction between (1) the one Being comprised of (2) three co-equal and co-eternal, separate Persons will be made clear in our look at the Gospel of John, below. The Trinity isn’t a doctrine that can be merely explained; it must be illustrated directly from Scripture to capture the full effect.

Three Persons

Each person has a very specific role in the unity of the Godhead, and is conscious of His specific role. For example, the Father sent Christ (Jn 5:22-24). Christ, as an independent Person of the Godhead, seeks only to do the will of His Father (Jn 6:35-40). The Holy Spirit comes from the Father and the Son (Jn 14:15-17; 15:26-27). Each Person of the Godhead is addressed as separate, specific Persons with distinct roles, which will be seen shortly.

Just as with the term “Being,” the word “Persons” is an attempt to express Scriptural truth. It defeats the notion of modalism, where Father, Son and Spirit are merely different manifestations or modes of the one God. The word “Person” immediately brings to mind a separate, individual identity. I am different than you; we are different people. Likewise, Father, Son and Spirit are completely different Persons who comprise the one Being that is God. They must not be conflated or mistaken for one another; they are different People.

There is no inferiority of status; the Father is not #1, the Son #2 and the Spirit #3. Each Person is co-equal and co-eternal; they are each equal in dignity and have each existed eternally – there was never a time when the three Persons of the Godhead did not exist. 

Why Should You Care?

So, why should we care about this doctrine? Can’t we get along just fine without really grasping what the Trinity is all about? Consider this very brief statement by a Unitarian theologian; Unitarians deny the deity of Christ in a manner similiar to Arians. Theirs is a heretical, dangerous position:

Here are several reasons why an understanding of our God is so vital for our faith:

Because He is the God We Serve! 

The God the Father always works through God the Son, and the Son does His work in human hearts only through the God the Holy Spirit.[2] Revelation cannot happen without the triune Godhead. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost (2 Peter 1:21). We can see that men are saved only by Christ and recorded divine revelation from God through the working of the Holy Spirit.

It is How We’re Saved!

God the Father planned redemption in eternity past (Eph 1:3-5), God the Son is the means of that salvation (Eph 1:9-10) and the God the Holy Spirit effectually calls sinners to repentance. The Christian Savior simply must be Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

It Makes Us Christians!

The triune Godhead is the distinguishing characteristic of Christianity.[3] No false religion can compare to it; it is novel and absolutely unique. It is what makes a Christian a Christian! “To whom then will ye liken God? or what likeness will ye compare unto him?” (Isa 40:18).

It’s How We Worship!

Christian worship is inherently Trinitarian, whether one even realizes or acknowledges it. Paul opens his epistle to the Ephesians by acknowledging the triune Godhead; “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ,” (Eph 1:3). Even in prayer, man “comes to God the Father, pleading the name of Christ, and is taught how to pray aright by the Holy Spirit.”[4]

Growth in Christ

God chose all who believe in Him from before the foundation of the world (Eph 1:4) to be saved by the work of Christ (Eph 1:7-10) and be sanctified by the Spirit (2 Cor 3:18). “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord,” (2 Corinthians 3:18).

Unity

There is an unfathomable unity of purpose among the persons of the Godhead. Father, Son and Holy Spirit are never in conflict and each works with the other towards one unified, common purpose.

Walking Through the Gospel of John

For sake of time, we’ll take a brief walk (or perhaps sprint!) through key passages in the Gospel of John. I could spend much more time here, and John’s Gospel deserves more time. Do that extra study on your own and think deeply about the testimony of Scripture on this matter. Hopefully, the brief discussion here will make matters plain to you!

Prologue of John (1:1-18):

  • Christ and God are co-equal and co-eternal (v.1)
  • Christ and God are co-eternal (v.2)
  • Christ was the active Person of the Godhead in Creation (v.3)
  • Christ is our means of salvation, and this makes sense because He is God! Consider both the unity of purpose and the separate, distinct roles of each Person of the Godhead in effectually bringing about salvation of sinful men:
    • God the Father planned salvation in eternity past and predestinated those who believe for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will (Eph 1:4-5)
    • God the Son died in our place for our sins, as a substitutionary sacrifice. The Father laid on Him the iniquity of us all (Isa 53:6).
    • God the Spirit effectually applies the benefits of Christ’s death to us when we believe (Eze 36:25-27).
  • Christ, who is co-equal and co-eternal, was “made flesh and dwelt among us.” He wasn’t a created creature or a different “mode” of God.
  • Christ makes the Father known to us; he is the perfect revelation of the Father, the radiance of His glory and teh exact imprint of His nature (Heb 1:3). This is why Christ can tell the Jews, “If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also: and from henceforth ye know him, and have seen him,” (Jn 14:7).  

Christ’s Claims to Be God (Jn 5:1-18):

  • The Pharisees demanded to know why Christ was doing works on the Sabbath; as if a man carrying his bed was really a violation of the Sabbath according to the Old Testament!
  • “And therefore did the Jews persecute Jesus, and sought to slay him, because he had done these things on the sabbath day. But Jesus answered them, My Father worketh hitherto, and I work,” (John 5:16-17).
    • Christ’s message is very simple. God works on the Sabbath. Christ says God is His Father, therefore He too can work on the Sabbath!
  • The Jews, by their reaction to this saying, understood Christ was claiming to be co-equal with the Father:
    • Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the sabbath, but said also that God was his Father, making himself equal with God (John 5:18).

 Christ is Separate from God:

  • John 5:19 Then answered Jesus and said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise.
  • John 5:30 I can of mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just; because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me.

 Christ is God’s Revelation to Men (Jn 6:22-29):

  • The Jews seek Christ after He feeds the 5,000 (v.22-25).
  • They sought Him for the wrong reasons (v.26)
  • They must not work for perishable bread, but for the Bread of Life – Christ (v.27)
    • Only He can give this bread to them
    • God has set His seal on the Son
  • The only “work” they must do to receive the Bread of Life is believe on Christ (v.28-29). He is the very revelation of God to men.

All Three Persons of Godhead Active in Salvation (Jn 6:35-51):

  • “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day,” (John 6:44). Consider this very important verse (I beg everybody to read the entire context, and consider the implications for election, effectual calling and preservation) and follow the train of thought here:
    • A man must receive Christ for salvation
    • No man can come to Christ on his own
    • The Father sent Christ
    • A man is drawn to Christ by the Holy Spirit (Eze 36:26-27; Jn 3:5; Tit 3:5)
    • The Holy Spirit does the will of the Father when He draws a sinner to Himself!

The Jews Accuse Christ of Blasphemy – Proving He Presented Himself as God:

  • Christ is separate from the Father, yet co-eternal with the Father
    • Jn 8:31-59
      • John 8:57-59 Then said the Jews unto him, Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham? Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am. Then took they up stones to cast at him: but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by.
      • Why did the Jews seek to kill Jesus? It was clearly because they understood Him to be claiming to be God. Whatever odd interpretation men might come up with today; Christ’s original audience understood Him perfectly well.
    • Jn 10:22-42
      • John 10:25-31 Jesus answered them, I told you, and ye believed not: the works that I do in my Father’s name, they bear witness of me. But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand. I and my Father are one. Then the Jews took up stones again to stone him.
      • Once again, consider why the Jews sought to slay Jesus – He claimed to be God!
  • Christ executed because of alleged blasphemy
    • Jn 19:1-16
      • Jn 19:4-7 Pilate therefore went forth again, and saith unto them, Behold, I bring him forth to you, that ye may know that I find no fault in him. Then came Jesus forth, wearing the crown of thorns, and the purple robe. And Pilate saith unto them, Behold the man! When the chief priests therefore and officers saw him, they cried out, saying, Crucify him, crucify him. Pilate saith unto them, Take ye him, and crucify him: for I find no fault in him. The Jews answered him, We have a law, and by our law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God.
      • The very reason why Christ was executed was because He claimed to be God; this was the basis of the Jews’ complaint to Pilate.

 Christ Accepts Worship – Which a Creature Cannot Do!

  • John 20:26-28 And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you. Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing. And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God.

We’ll examine some 2nd and 3rd century heresies in the next post.


[1] John Frame, The Doctrine of God (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2002), 697.

[2] Augustus H. Strong, Systematic Theology (Old Tappan, NJ: Revell, 1979), 350.

[3] Ware, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, 15-16.

[4] Strong, Systematic, 349.

How Well Do You Know the Trinity?

How well do you know the doctrine of the Trinity? Could you explain, from the Scriptures, that Jesus was God? Could you explain how the Christian understanding of Christ as God doesn’t make us tri-thiests, or people who believe in three Gods?

Watch the video below, a short five minute clip from a Unitarian who believes Jesus was a created being, and not a person of the Godhead. This video is heresy! Could you answer his argument? After the video, see a short explanation on the historical development of the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity!

 

 

What you just watched was heresy. Now, I’ll give a short account of how the orthodox Trinitarian doctrine developed:

How the Doctrine of the Trinity Developed

When you consider “how the teaching of the Trinity developed,” it is important to understand that we are not talking about how men made up this doctrine. We’re talking about the struggle to precisely put into words the body of faith received from Christ and His disciples. This oral tradition, or body of faith, had acted as a conduit for correct doctrine and had eventually been set down in writing at the prompting of the Holy Spirit (1 Pet 1:21). So, we’re not discussing how men made this doctrine up, but how they struggled to precisely synthesize and define a doctrine clearly taught in the Scriptures.

There are five basic phases in the historical development of the Triune God, each often overlapping with one another; the economic concept, dynamic monarchism, modalism, Arianism and orthodoxy.[1] The very early church in general did not concern itself with deep theological reflection; therefore these various heretical doctrines generally emerged in conflict with orthodoxy in the mid to late 2nd century and early 3rd century. The church was chiefly concerned with basic survival amidst intense periods of persecution. “The process of organizing itself and propagating the faith and even the struggle for survival in a hostile world precluded much serious doctrinal reflection.”[2]

Economic Concept

This economic development dealt with the roles of the specific persons of the Godhead rather than the ontological development and its implications. Early church fathers who developed the economic concept include Hippolytus, Tertullian and Justin Martyr. Their conclusion was that God consists of one identical substance which is extended into three distinct manifestations.[3]

Justin Martyr, writing in the mid 2nd century likened this to one fire kindled from another; “which is not lessened when it has kindled [another], but remains the same; and that which has been kindled by it likewise appears to exist by itself, not diminishing that from which it was kindled.”[4]

Tertullian, writing sometime between 197-217 A.D., characterized this as a unity of substance and remarked,

Even when the ray is shot from the sun, it is still part of the parent mass; the sun will still be in the ray, because it is a ray of the sun—there is no division of substance, but merely an extension.[5]

Tertullian went on, “the material matrix remains entire and unimpaired, though you derive from it any number of shoots possessed of its qualities.”[6]

Tertullian actually formulated the concept of later orthodoxy, “one essence in three persons” in his attack on modalism. In his polemic on Praxeas, written no earlier than 208 A.D., he wrote again of a unity of substance which was distributed into a Trinity;

placing in their order the three Persons—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost: three, however, not in condition, but in degree; not in substance, but in form; not in power, but in aspect; yet of one substance, and of one condition, and of one power, inasmuch as He is one God, from whom these degrees and forms and [l3] aspects are reckoned, under the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.[7]

This economic concept of the Trinity is orthodox but incomplete. Erickson lamented about a “certain vagueness” in the economic concept of the Trinity. “Any effort to come up with a more exact understanding of just what it means will prove disappointing.” [8]

Dynamic Monarchism

This concept was an attempt by the early church to actually define the relationship between Christ and God. The main proponent of monarchism was Theodotus, who brought the doctrine to Rome about 190 A.D. He sought to preserve the supremacy of God the Father at the expense of God the Son.[9] Jesus was not really God; God was simply working through Him.

Theodotus “did not deny Christ’s birth from a virgin . . . but he did deny his divinity, teaching that he was a mere man upon whom the Holy Spirit descended at the time of his baptism, in consequence of which he became the Christ, received power to fulfill his special mission and by his righteousness was raised above all other men. The descent of the Holy Spirit, however, although raising him to a very exalted position, did not make him divine.”[10]

The concept was that Christ was elevated to an exalted position, a sort of “moral oneness” with God.[11]

A key proof-text for this concept was 1 Cor 5:19,[12] where Paul wrote “in Christ God was reconcilingthe world to himself.” Christ was not divine; God was simply using Christ as the means to achieve His ends. This view was condemned by the Christian community. Dionysius, the Bishop of Rome from approximately 259-263 A.D., held monarchist views. Eusebius recorded that Dionysius held, “contrary to the teaching of the Church, low and degraded views of Christ, namely, that in his nature he was a common man.” The catholic church (in the original sense of the term) moved energetically to combat this heresy, summoning Dionysius to a council to explain himself. Eusebius contemptuously referred to him as “a despoiler of the flock of Christ.”[13] Monarchism was never a widespread movement and was a relatively isolated phenomenon.[14]

Modalism

Erickson wrote that modalism was “a genuinely unique, original and creative conception . . . a brilliant breakthrough.”[15] It advocated the view that God was really just one person with three different names, roles or activities. Father, Son and the Holy Spirit are identical, successive revelations of the same person.[16] Like a skilled thespian, God simply plays different roles at different times.

Tertullian, writing his treatise against Praxeas sometime after 208 A.D., observed dryly, “Praxeas did a twofold service for the devil at Rome: he drove away prophecy, and he brought in heresy.”[17] Tertullian boldly claimed that Satan himself was working through Praxeas in his modalistic interpretation of the Trinity. “Out of this doctrine of the unity he may fabricate a heresy. He says that the Father Himself came down into the Virgin, was Himself born of her, Himself suffered, indeed was Himself Jesus Christ.”[18] He went on to state,

So it is either the Father or the Son, and the day is not the same as the night; nor is the Father the same as the Son, in such a way that Both of them should be One, and One or the Other should be Both.[19]

Employing a legal tactic of positing and answering modalistic objections, Tertullian continued,

Well, but “with God nothing is impossible.” True enough; who can be ignorant of it? Who also can be unaware that “the things which are impossible with men are possible with God?” The foolish things also of the world hath God chosen to confound the things which are wise.” We have read it all. Therefore, they argue, it was not difficult for God to make Himself both a Father and a Son, contrary to the condition of things among men. For a barren woman to have a child against nature was no difficulty with God; nor was it for a virgin to conceive. Of course nothing is “too hard for the Lord.

But if we choose to apply this principle so extravagantly and harshly in our capricious imaginations, we may then make out God to have done anything we please, on the ground that it was not impossible for Him to do it. We must not, however, because He is able to do all things suppose that He has actually done what He has not done.[20]

The modalistic conception of the Trinity was indeed novel. It solved any number of problems; both the unity of the Godhead and the full deity of all three persons are perfectly preserved by it. Ultimately, however, Scripture condemned this heresy to the flames. Too many texts spoke far too explicitly of the Trinity as distinct persons for the church to accept; such as Christ’s baptism, Christ speaking of the coming of the Spirit and His prayers that were specifically addressed to the Father.[21]

Arianism

The Arians, like the modern day Jehovah’s Witnesses, went a different route. Christ, they asserted, was not equal with God or even God at all – He was a creature brought into being by God. They felt that elevating Christ to the level of God the Father was, in effect, abandoning monotheism. They went further than the monarchists by emphatically declaring Christ was no more than a mere creature. However, from the beginning the church had worshipped Christ as God! The stage was set for a divisive battle. Athanasius considered Arianism to be a “harbinger of the Antichrist” and the daughter of Satan.[22] Summarizing their teaching, he wrote,

God was not always a Father; but once God was alone, and not yet a Father, but afterwards He became a Father. The Son was not always; for, whereas all things were made out of nothing, and all existing creatures and works were made, so the Word of God Himself was made out of nothing, and once He was not, and He was not before His origination, but He as others had an origin of creation.[23]

The church was quite rightly concerned with condoning the worship of a mere man. Athanasius wrote against the Arian heresy with great enthusiasm, judging it to be a theology which had been “vomited forth” and was at odds with Scripture and “alien to the divine oracle.”[24] Arians took Proverbs 8:22-23 as one of their primary proof-texts; “The Lord possessed me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of old. Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth.” The Arians examined texts such as this and others[25] and concluded it may be appropriate to call Christ a god, but he was certainly not the same as God the Father.[26] Arias himself explained,

God himself is inexpressible to all beings. He alone has none equal to him or like him, none of like glory. We call him unbegotten on account of the one who by nature is begotten; we sing his praises as without beginning because of the one who has a beginning. We worship him as eternal because of him who was born in the order of time. The one without beginning established the Son as the beginning of all creatures.[27]

Therefore, according to Arians, Christ Himself could not even fathom God’s essence. He was a mere creature; an exalted creature, to be sure – but a creature nonetheless. Church historian Justo Gonzalez summarized by observing, “if asked to draw a line between God and creation, Arians would draw that line so as to include the Word in creation.”[28]

Orthodoxy

The Arian heresy prompted the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D., the first ever ecumenical council of the early church. Prior to Nicea, church disputes had been settled over time with long debate culminating with an eventual consensus. After the conversion of Constantine, for the first time the authority of the state was invoked to settle a theological issue. Advocates of particular viewpoints could, for the very first time, forsake lengthy explanations of their positions in favor of simply convincing imperial authority. “Eventually, theological debate was eclipsed by political intrigue.”[29]

Arianism began as a local conflict in Alexandria, Egypt. The Bishop of Alexandria, Alexander, was in vehement disagreement with Arias, who was one of the most famous presbyters of the city. Alexander eventually condemned Arias and removed him from all official positions in Alexandrian church. Arias, refusing to meekly fade from the scene, appealed to the common people of Alexandria and other Bishops from throughout the East for support. Arias was quite successful; people marched in the streets chanting Arian dogma and various Bishops wrote letters in support. The Eastern church was in turmoil.

Constantine, who had recently established Christianity as the state religion, resolved that he must act. He decided to call a council of Bishops from the entire empire to settle this matter, among others. Arias, not being a Bishop himself, was forbidden to attend. He counted on Eusebius of Nocomedia to present his views. Eusebius (not to be confused with the historian) resolved to simply explain the matter, certain that all opposition would fade away in light of the remorseless logic of Arianism. Eusebius’ oration did not go well.

The assertion that the Word or Son was no more than a creature, no matter how high a creature, provoked angry reactions from many of the bishops: ‘You lie!’ ‘Blasphemy!’ ‘Heresy!’ Eusebius was shouted down, and we are told his speech was snatched from his hand, torn to shreds, and trampled underfoot.[30]

The result of this controversy, the Nicene Creed, is emphatically anti-Arian and takes great pains to emphasize the deity of Christ;[31]

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.

Who, for us men for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.

And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.

And I believe one holy catholic and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead.

In the Nicene Creed the early church provided a clear and unambiguous affirmation of the full deity of all three persons of the Godhead, while at the same time maintaining their distinct roles in the economic Trinity.

The doctrine received further refinement at the Council of Constantinople in 381 A.D. where the common phrase “three in one” was coined;[32] the very essence of the orthodox concept of the triunity of God. He is not triple, but three in one.


[1] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1998), 358-360. Erickson omits a discussion of Arianism.

[2] Ibid, 353.

[3] Ibid, 358.

[4] Justin Myrtyr, Dialogue with Trypho 61, ANF 1:607

[5] Tertullian, Apology 21, ANF 3:34. Emphasis mine.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Tertullian, Against Praxeas 2, ANF 3:59. Emphasis mine.

[8] Erickson, Theology, 358.

[9] Millard J. Erickson, Making Sense of the Trinity: Three Crucial Questions (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2000), 48.

[10] Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 5.28, NPNF2 1:597

[11] Erickson, Making Sense, 48.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 7.28.2, NPNF2 1:807.

[14] Erickson, Theology, 359.

[15] Ibid, 360.

[16] Ibid, 360.

[17] Tertullian, Against Praxeas 2, ANF 3:598.

[18] Ibid. Emphasis mine.

[19] Tertullian, Against Praxeas 10, ANF 3:604

[20] Ibid.

[21] Baptism (Mt 3:13-17; Mk 1:9-11; Lk 3:21-22; Jn 1:29-34), Christ speaks explicitly to the Father (Jn 17) and of the Spirit (Jn 16:5-11).

[22] Athanasius, Discourse Against the Arians 1.1.1., NPNF2, 4:306.

[23] Athanasius, Discourse Against the Arians 1.2.5, NPNF2, 4:309.

[24] Athanasius, Discourse Against the Arians 1.3.10., NPNF2, 4:312.

[25] Jn 14:28; Mk 10:18 and Lk 18:19; Mk 13:32; Lk 2:52

[26] Erickson, Making Sense, 51.

[27] Graham Keith, “Our Knowledge of God: Insights from the Fourth-Century Trinitarian Controversies,” Reformation and Revival 12:1 (Winter 2003), 86.

[28] Justo Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity, 2 vols., combined ed. (Peabody, MS: Prince Press, 2007), 1:161.

[29] Ibid, 159.

[30] Ibid, 164.

[31] Rick Brannan, ed., Historic Creeds and Confessions (Grand Rapids, MI: CCEL, n.d.).

[32] Erickson, Theology, 361.

What is the Trinity?

Introduction

This paper presents a Biblical doctrine of the Triune Godhead. First, the importance of the doctrine itself is examined along with practical ramifications for the Christian life. Next, the historical development of the Godhead is presented and various heretical movements are analyzed. Contemporary issues in the doctrine are also examined. A personal theology of the Triune Godhead follows which presents primarily conclusions, not arguments, to avoid repetition. Arguments supporting the personal theology are provided in a biblical theology of the doctrine itself from Scripture. This biblical theology is thematic, and traces three themes through Scripture; (1) God is one, (2) God is three and (3) these Three are one. Due to space limitations, this is not an exhaustive biblical theology.

This paper argues for the following definition of the Triune Godhead and will demonstrate this doctrine is fully orthodox, supported by the church fathers and most importantly by Scripture;

Within the one Being that is God, there exists three eternally co-equal and co-eternal persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

CHAPTER 1

IMPORTANCE OF THE DOCTRINE

God revealed Himself in Triune form – thus we must assume it is vital to our faith.[1] There are several reasons why the doctrine of the Trinity is absolutely central to all other Christian doctrines.

Revelation

The God the Father always works through God the Son, and the Son does His work in human hearts only through the God the Holy Spirit.[2] Their roles are absolutely complementary in every respect; revelation cannot happen without the triune Godhead. “For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit,” (2 Pet 1:21). Men are saved only by Christ and recorded divine revelation from God through the working of the Holy Spirit.

Redemption

God the Father planned redemption in eternity past (Eph 1:3-5), God the Son is the means of that salvation (Eph 1:9-10) and the God the Holy Spirit effectually calls sinners to repentance. The Christian Savior must be Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Identity

The triune Godhead is the distinguishing characteristic of Christianity.[3] No false religion can compare to it; it is novel and absolutely unique. It is what makes a Christian a Christian. “To whom then will ye liken God? or what likeness will ye compare unto him?” (Isa 40:18, KJV).

Worship

Christian worship is inherently Trinitarian, whether one even realizes or acknowledges it. Paul opens his epistle to the Ephesians by acknowledging the triune Godhead; “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,” (Eph 1:3). Even in prayer, man “comes to God the Father, pleading the name of Christ, and is taught how to pray aright by the Holy Spirit.”[4]

Sanctification

God chose sinners before the foundation of the world (Eph 1:4) to be saved by the work of Christ (Eph 1:7-10) and be sanctified by the Spirit (2 Cor 3:18). It is the Holy Spirit which works in the hearts of men, both to effectually call and to sanctify those whom God, by His grace, saves.

Unity

The preceding have served to demonstrate the unfathomable unity of purpose among the persons of the Godhead. Father, Son and Holy Spirit are never in conflict and each works with the other towards one unified, common purpose.

CHAPTER 2

HISTORICAL DEVELOPMENT

There are five basic phases in the historical development of the Triune God, each often overlapping with one another; the economic concept, dynamic monarchism, modalism, Arianism and orthodoxy.[5] The very early church in general did not concern itself with deep theological reflection; therefore these various heretical doctrines generally emerged in conflict with orthodoxy in the mid to late 2nd century and early 3rd century. The church was chiefly concerned with basic survival amidst intense periods of persecution. “The process of organizing itself and propagating the faith and even the struggle for survival in a hostile world precluded much serious doctrinal reflection.”[6]

Economic Concept

This economic development dealt with the roles of the specific persons of the Godhead rather than the ontological development and its implications. Early church fathers who developed the economic concept include Hippolytus, Tertullian and Justin Martyr. Their conclusion was that God consists of one identical substance which is extended into three distinct manifestations.[7]

Justin Martyr, writing in the mid 2nd century likened this to one fire kindled from another; “which is not lessened when it has kindled [another], but remains the same; and that which has been kindled by it likewise appears to exist by itself, not diminishing that from which it was kindled.”[8]

Tertullian, writing sometime between 197-217 A.D., characterized this as a unity of substance and remarked, “Even when the ray is shot from the sun, it is still part of the parent mass; the sun will still be in the ray, because it is a ray of the sun—there is no division of substance, but merely an extension.”[9] Tertullian went on, “the material matrix remains entire and unimpaired, though you derive from it any number of shoots possessed of its qualities.”[10]

Tertullian actually formulated the concept of later orthodoxy, “one essence in three persons” in his attack on modalism. In his polemic on Praxeas, written no earlier than 208 A.D., he wrote again of a unity of substance which was distributed into a Trinity;

placing in their order the three Persons—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost: three, however, not in condition, but in degree; not in substance, but in form; not in power, but in aspect; yet of one substance, and of one condition, and of one power, inasmuch as He is one God, from whom these degrees and forms and aspects are reckoned, under the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.[11]

This economic concept of the Trinity is orthodox but incomplete. Erickson lamented about a “certain vagueness” in the economic concept of the Trinity. “Any effort to come up with a more exact understanding of just what it means will prove disappointing.” [12]

Dynamic Monarchism

This concept was an attempt by the early church to actually define the relationship between Christ and God. The main proponent of monarchism was Theodotus, who brought the doctrine to Rome about 190 A.D. He sought to preserve the supremacy of God the Father at the expense of God the Son.[13] Jesus was not really God; God was simply working through Him.

Theodotus “did not deny Christ’s birth from a virgin . . . but he did deny his divinity, teaching that he was a mere man upon whom the Holy Spirit descended at the time of his baptism, in consequence of which he became the Christ, received power to fulfill his special mission and by his righteousness was raised above all other men. The descent of the Holy Spirit, however, although raising him to a very exalted position, did not make him divine.”[14] The concept was that Christ was elevated to an exalted position, a sort of “moral oneness” with God.[15]

A key proof-text for this concept was 1 Cor 5:19,[16] where Paul wrote “in Christ God was reconcilingthe world to himself.” Christ was not divine; God was simply using Christ as the means to achieve His ends. This view was condemned by the Christian community. Dionysius, the Bishop of Rome from approximately 259-263 A.D., held monarchist views. Eusebius recorded that Dionysius held, “contrary to the teaching of the Church, low and degraded views of Christ, namely, that in his nature he was a common man.” The catholic church (in the original sense of the term) moved energetically to combat this heresy, summoning Dionysius to a council to explain himself. Eusebius contemptuously referred to him as “a despoiler of the flock of Christ.”[17] Monarchism was never a widespread movement and was a relatively isolated phenomenon.[18]

Modalism

Erickson wrote that modalism was “a genuinely unique, original and creative conception . . . a brilliant breakthrough.”[19] It advocated the view that God was really just one person with three different names, roles or activities. Father, Son and the Holy Spirit are identical, successive revelations of the same person.[20] Like a skilled thespian, God simply plays different roles at different times.

Tertullian, writing his treatise against Praxeas sometime after 208 A.D., observed dryly,

“Praxeas did a twofold service for the devil at Rome: he drove away prophecy, and he brought in heresy.”[21]

Tertullian boldly claimed that Satan himself was working through Praxeas in his modalistic interpretation of the Trinity.

“Out of this doctrine of the unity he may fabricate a heresy. He says that the Father Himself came down into the Virgin, was Himself born of her, Himself suffered, indeed was Himself Jesus Christ.”[22]

He went on to state,

So it is either the Father or the Son, and the day is not the same as the night; nor is the Father the same as the Son, in such a way that Both of them should be One, and One or the Other should be Both.[23]

Employing a legal tactic of positing and answering modalistic objections, Tertullian continued,

Well, but “with God nothing is impossible.” True enough; who can be ignorant of it? Who also can be unaware that “the things which are impossible with men are possible with God?” The foolish things also of the world hath God chosen to confound the things which are wise.” We have read it all. Therefore, they argue, it was not difficult for God to make Himself both a Father and a Son, contrary to the condition of things among men. For a barren woman to have a child against nature was no difficulty with God; nor was it for a virgin to conceive. Of course nothing is “too hard for the Lord.”

But if we choose to apply this principle so extravagantly and harshly in our capricious imaginations, we may then make out God to have done anything we please, on the ground that it was not impossible for Him to do it. We must not, however, because He is able to do all things suppose that He has actually done what He has not done.[24]

The modalistic conception of the Trinity was indeed novel. It solved any number of problems; both the unity of the Godhead and the full deity of all three persons are perfectly preserved by it. Ultimately, however, Scripture condemned this heresy to the flames. Too many texts spoke far too explicitly of the Trinity as distinct persons for the church to accept; such as Christ’s baptism, Christ speaking of the coming of the Spirit and His prayers that were specifically addressed to the Father.[25]

Arianism

The Arians, like the modern day Jehovah’s Witnesses, went a different route. Christ, they asserted, was not equal with God or even God at all – He was a creature brought into being by God. They felt that elevating Christ to the level of God the Father was, in effect, abandoning monotheism. They went further than the monarchists by emphatically declaring Christ was no more than a mere creature. However, from the beginning the church had worshipped Christ as God! The stage was set for a divisive battle. Athanasius considered Arianism to be a “harbinger of the Antichrist” and the daughter of Satan.[26] Summarizing their teaching, he wrote,

God was not always a Father; but once God was alone, and not yet a Father, but afterwards He became a Father. The Son was not always; for, whereas all things were made out of nothing, and all existing creatures and works were made, so the Word of God Himself was made out of nothing, and once He was not, and He was not before His origination, but He as others had an origin of creation.[27]

The church was quite rightly concerned with condoning the worship of a mere man. Athanasius wrote against the Arian heresy with great enthusiasm, judging it to be a theology which had been “vomited forth” and was at odds with Scripture and “alien to the divine oracle.”[28] Arians took Proverbs 8:22-23 as one of their primary proof-texts;

“The Lord possessed me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of old. Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth.”

The Arians examined texts such as this and others[29] and concluded it may be appropriate to call Christ a god, but he was certainly not the same as God the Father.[30] Arias himself explained,

God himself is inexpressible to all beings. He alone has none equal to him or like him, none of like glory. We call him unbegotten on account of the one who by nature is begotten; we sing his praises as without beginning because of the one who has a beginning. We worship him as eternal because of him who was born in the order of time. The one without beginning established the Son as the beginning of all creatures.[31]

Therefore, according to Arians, Christ Himself could not even fathom God’s essence. He was a mere creature; an exalted creature, to be sure – but a creature nonetheless. Church historian Justo Gonzalez summarized by observing, “if asked to draw a line between God and creation, Arians would draw that line so as to include the Word in creation.”[32]

Orthodoxy

The Arian heresy prompted the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D., the first ever ecumenical council of the early church. Prior to Nicea, church disputes had been settled over time with long debate culminating with an eventual consensus. After the conversion of Constantine, for the first time the authority of the state was invoked to settle a theological issue. Advocates of particular viewpoints could, for the very first time, forsake lengthy explanations of their positions in favor of simply convincing imperial authority. “Eventually, theological debate was eclipsed by political intrigue.”[33]

Arianism began as a local conflict in Alexandria, Egypt. The Bishop of Alexandria, Alexander, was in vehement disagreement with Arias, who was one of the most famous presbyters of the city. Alexander eventually condemned Arias and removed him from all official positions in Alexandrian church. Arias, refusing to meekly fade from the scene, appealed to the common people of Alexandria and other Bishops from throughout the East for support. Arias was quite successful; people marched in the streets chanting Arian dogma and various Bishops wrote letters in support. The Eastern church was in turmoil.

Constantine, who had recently established Christianity as the state religion, resolved that he must act. He decided to call a council of Bishops from the entire empire to settle this matter, among others. Arias, not being a Bishop himself, was forbidden to attend. He counted on Eusebius of Nocomedia to present his views. Eusebius (not to be confused with the historian) resolved to simply explain the matter, certain that all opposition would fade away in light of the remorseless logic of Arianism. Eusebius’ oration did not go well.

The assertion that the Word or Son was no more than a creature, no matter how high a creature, provoked angry reactions from many of the bishops: ‘You lie!’ ‘Blasphemy!’ ‘Heresy!’ Eusebius was shouted down, and we are told his speech was snatched from his hand, torn to shreds, and trampled underfoot.[34]

The result of this controversy, the Nicene Creed, is emphatically anti-Arian and takes great pains to emphasize the deity of Christ;[35]

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.

Who, for us men for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.

And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.

And I believe one holy catholic and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead.

In the Nicene Creed the early church provided a clear and unambiguous affirmation of the full deity of all three persons of the Godhead, while at the same time maintaining their distinct roles in the economic Trinity.

The doctrine received further refinement at the Council of Constantinople in 381 A.D. where the common phrase “three in one” was coined;[36] the very essence of the orthodox concept of the triunity of God. He is not triple, but three in one.

CHAPTER 3

CURRENT ISSUES

There is nothing novel in modern developments of the Trinity; “there is nothing new under the sun,” (Ecc 1:9). Contemporary debate on the Triunity of God reflects either ontological unity or economic diversity; characterized by the schools of Barth and Moltmann.[37] The difficulty stems from the inherent mystery of the Godhead itself and the delicate balance with maintaining both unity and diversity within one divine essence.

Favoring Unity

Barth has been dogged with a reputation for modalism by emphasizing the subjectivity of God in self-revelation to such an extent that he undermines the distinctiveness of the persons of the Godhead. He referred to modes of being rather than persons, even going so far as to refer to the Trinity as a “threefold way of being.”[38] Barth explained, “the threefold yet single lordship of God as Father, Son and Spirit, is the root of the doctrine of the Trinity.”[39] This “threefold” concept of God has led some to charge Barth with creating a whole new form of modalism outright.[40]

It is difficult to disagree with this assessment; Barth denies both a plurality of Gods and a plurality of individuals within the Godhead:

“The name of the Father, Son and Spirit means that God is the one God in threefold repetition . . . The truth that we are emphasizing is that of the numerical unity of essence of the ‘persons.’”[41]

Van Til concluded that, to Barth, “the orthodox doctrine of three persons in the ontological trinity would . . . lead to tri-theism.”[42]

Barth casts a large shadow over mainline Protestantism and his views have a wide influence. Barth’s error is in trying to harmonize the Godhead in favor of unity; in so doing he de-emphasizes the distinct persons within the Godhead. The old phrase coined by Tertullian so long ago, “one essence in three persons,” is Scripturally sound though apparently contradictory. It is a doctrine ultimately mysterious to fallen men in a world influenced by Satan (Eph 2:2). Barth is incorrect to harmonize beyond the evidence of God’s special revelation; “the secret things belong to the LORD our God,” (Deut 29:29a). Gregory of Nazianzus, writing in the middle of the 4th century, declared God was “one in diversity, diverse in Unity, wherein is a marvel.”[43]

Favoring Diversity

On the other side of the pendulum, largely in reaction to the perceived modalism of Barth and Rahner, there is a tendency to emphasize the three persons over one essence. This school is largely characterized by the work of Jurgen Moltmann, who advocated a sort of tri-theism which had no place for unity of the Godhead. There is no unity; there is only a community of God, Son and Spirit;

The unity of the divine tri-unity lies in the union of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, not in their numerical unity. It lies in their fellowship, not in the identity of a single subject . . . The fellowship of the disciples with one another has to resemble a union of the Son with the Father. But not only does it have to resemble that Trinitarian union; in addition it has to be a union within this union.[44]

To Moltmann, then, this “unity of persons” which comprises his Trinity replaces the traditional concept of essential unity. He boldly characterized his own challenge to orthodoxy as “trinitarian pantheism” or social trinitarianism. Moltmann saw his conception of a divine community of persons in the Trinity as a model for democratic socialism. [45] He was apparently greatly inspired by a portion from Jesus’ high priestly prayer; “that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us,” (Jn 17:21). Moltmann read social implications into the text that are not there. His zest for an ideal social society led him to surrender the entire first half of the Trinitarian formula.

It Hath Been Already of Old Time, Which Was Before Us (Ecc 1:10b)

Neither Barth’s nor Moltmann’s positions are Scripturally tenable. It is striking how often history repeats itself. Once again, the good Gregory of Nazianzus has something important to add to the discussion – from 380 A.D;

But when I say God, I mean Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. For Godhead is neither diffused beyond these, so as to bring in a mob of gods; nor yet is it bounded by a smaller compass than these, so as to condemn us for a poverty-stricken conception of Deity; either Judaizing to save the Monarchia, or falling into heathenism by the multitude of our gods.  For the evil on either side is the same, though found in contrary directions.[46]

CHAPTER 4

PERSONAL THEOLOGY

Within the one Being that is God, there exists three eternally co-equal and co-eternal persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

 One Essence

There is one Divine Being in one indivisible essence (Deut 6:4; Jas 2:19).[47] The term “essence” is not a Biblical term, but a secular phrase which attempts to capture the concept. It is not a sacred term, but as John Frame noted, it is doubtful a better term will be found.[48] The term serves only to label the concepts we learn from Scripture. The overarching point is that God is one. He is a single, indivisible Being. We do not worship many Gods, but one single God.

The term triune is more accurate than trinity to capture this truth. Trinitarian means “three-fold” or having three parts. Triunity, however, means “three-in-one.” God is triune and not triple.

Three Persons

In this one Divine Being there are distinct three persons, Father, Son, Holy Spirit. These three persons within the Godhead are independent; “the three persons are so real and distinct from each other that each possesses a hypostatical or Trinitarian consciousness different from that of the others.”[49] Each person is co-eternal, being involved in the very creation of the heavens and the earth (Heb 1:2; Col 1:16; Gen 1:1-2). There is no blurring of consciousness; each person is only conscious of being the person they are in the essence of the Godhead.[50] Jesus, for example, is an independent person in the Godhead seeking only to do the will of the Father (John 6:38).

The phrase “person,” much like “essence” above, inevitably falls short. Everything which exists has being (e.g. a rock), but not everything which exists is personal. A person, like Abraham Lincoln, is a personal being. However, being limited, poor Abe Lincoln cannot distribute his being among two, three or four persons. He is limited to himself. God is unlimited and infinite, and therefore in a way man cannot understand, His being is shared co-equally by three distinct persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The Divine Essence is Undivided

The whole undivided essence of God belongs equally to each of the three persons. The divine essence is not divided among the three persons, but complete in each one of the persons. The whole essence of God is in each Trinitarian person; they are co-equal.[51] The three persons of the triune Godhead are one and the same God. There is also no subordination between the Godhead with respect to essence; each person is equal in being, power and glory. Scripture provides no standard numerical order when it mentions the Godhead.

Distinct Roles

God is first, the Son is second and the Spirit is third. The Father is the source, the Son the channel and the Spirit the active agent in the Godhead.[52] The Father sent the Son (1 John 4:10) and the Spirit (John 14:26). The Father is greater than the Son (John 14:28) and the Son also sent the Spirit (John 14:26). Berkhof remarked there is no difference in personal dignity between the three persons of the Godhead, and thus “the only subordination of which we can speak is subordination in respect to order and relationship.”[53]

CHAPTER 5

SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY OF THE DOCTRINE

God is One

Israel worshipped one God only. God Himself made this quite clear in the commandments He gave to Moses; “You shall have no other Gods before me,” (Ex 20:3). God went on to forbid idolatry of all kinds (Ex 20:4), affirming His right for exclusive worship – He is a jealous God.

He demonstrated His unique reality to His people in what He had done, in events such as the global flood (Gen 5:5-8) and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 19:23-25). The exodus was a very prominent theme in Deuteronomy, as Moses repeatedly reminded Israel of God’s grace and power in rescuing them from their plight (Deut 6:20-25, 10:21-22, 11:2-7). Israel’s obligation to obey God is predicated on their grateful acknowledgement of His grace and power (Lev 19:36). No other “god” could claim such power. Israel was repeatedly reminded of God’s grace throughout Deuteronomy; the fact that they worshipped one God who never changed is the very basis of their hope. This is why the Lord reminded His people, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one,” (Deut 6:4).

Solomon recognized this timeless truth. At the dedication of the temple, after praising God for His unmerited grace and mercy to His people, Solomon prayed Israel would walk with the Lord so “that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God; there is no other,” (2 Kgs 8:60).

The Apostle James exhorted Christians to remember that mere belief in the one true God is not enough; “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!” (Jas 2:19). Paul dismissed other “gods” and declared “yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist,” (1 Cor 8:6a). Even more explicit is the declaration from Gen 1:1; “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Bruce Ware remarked, “whatever else Genesis 1 is about, the main thing it teaches is that there is one God.”[54]

 God is Three

Christ is Deity

Early Christians did not consider themselves followers of a new religion. They had been Jews and still were; they simply believed their Messiah had come. How, then, did these Jews move from “oneness” to triunity? The fact they did so is quite clear; many scholars regard Phil 2:5-11 as an early Christian hymn which Paul incorporated into his epistle.[55] Here, Paul taught Christ was “in very nature God” (Phil 2:6, NIV).

The writer to the Hebrews was emphatic in his claims about Christ’s deity. Jesus was the means God the Father used to create all things (Heb 1:2). This sheds new light on the creation account (Gen 1:1); Christ was the active agent carrying out the Father’s plan.

It sheds still more light on who, precisely, spoke to Hagar in the wilderness on the way to Shur (Gen 16:7) and Abraham at the oaks of Mamre (Gen 18:1), for no man can see God the Father and live (Ex 33:20). It was nothing less than pre-incarnate Christ who spoke to Abraham and Hagar.[56]

He is the heir of all things, the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature (Heb 1:2-3). “The Son is such a revelation of the Father that when we see Jesus, we see what God’s real being is.”[57] He upholds the universe by His own power and makes purification for sins, sits at the right hand of the Father and is superior to the angels (Heb 1:3-5). Christ is clearly of equal essence with God the Father, and the early Christians affirmed this fact. Prescient Jews would not have been expecting a earthly Savior; Isaiah spoke of the coming Messiah as “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace,” (Isa 9:6b). Isaiah’s words are particularly important in light of the God’s own commandments against idolatry (Ex 20:3-4).

Christ’s ministry characterized was characterized by His deity. He taught He was the coming Messiah of whom Isaiah spoke (Lk 4:21). He taught the Kingdom of God was both at hand and fulfilled in Himself (Mk 1:14-15). Christ spoke of God’s angels as being His angels (Mt. 13:41). He claimed to forgive sins (Mk 2:8-10), which the scribes rightly objected was a power ascribed only to God (Mk 2:7). Christ taught He would sit on His glorious throne and judge the world in the last days (Mt 25:31).

His own claim to deity is the reason Christ was arrested. The high priest charges Jesus to state the matter plainly under oath before God (Mt 26:63b).[58] Jesus went on to claim his accusers would see Him ruling and reigning as the Messiah. He intentionally invoked Ps 110:1 and Dan 7:13, the two greatest Kingdom prophesies of the OT. McClain wrote, “The high priest, better schooled than some theologians, understood His regal claim, rent his clothing judicially, and called upon his fellow judges to pronounce Him ‘guilty of death’ ” (Mt 26:66).[59] His own disciples even recognized Him as God (Jn 20:28) and Christ did not correct their assumptions. Christ is clearly God and the early Christians saw Him as such.

The Holy Spirit is Deity

The Holy Spirit is often referred to interchangeably with God. Peter declared that Ananias and Sapphira had lied to the Holy Spirit by keeping back proceeds from land they sold and lying about it (Acts 5:3). Peter went on and declared that by doing so they had lied directly to God (Acts 5:4). The Holy Spirit is God, a co-equal member of the Trinity.

The Holy Spirit performs the same functions as God. He convicts the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment (Jn 16:8). He is the very agent of regeneration (Jn 3:5-8) which brings elect sinners into the Kingdom of God. Nobody indwelt with the Holy Spirit can curse Jesus and nobody can claim “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 12:3). He bestows natural talents and abilities upon God’s people (1 Cor 12:4-11); “all these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills,” (1 Cor 12:11). Christians themselves are a temple of God because the Spirit of God dwells in them (1 Cor 3:16-17).

Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is equated with blasphemy of God; “whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin,” (Mk 3:28-29). Blasphemy in the OT was specifically against God – to speak contemptuously of the deity. This unpardonable sin (Mk 3:22, 28-29) was nothing less than “the deliberate and perverse repudiation of God’s saving work,” which explains Christ’s strong reaction to this grave sin.[60]

He is likewise an agent of creation, in conjunction with God the Son and therefore cannot be a creature (Gen 1:2); “the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” The Spirit is eternal (Heb 9:14) and is the helper for believers after Jesus’ ascension (Jn 14:16-17; 16:6-7). It is the Spirit who sanctifies believers (1 Pet 1:2).

Three Are One

All three members of the Godhead, while they are each distinct persons, are also one divine essence who work together towards a common goal. As a basic generalization, Frame observed that the Father plans, the Son executes and the Spirit applies.[61] They are united in their mission because they are one divine essence. There is a mutual glorification among the Godhead which testifies of the deity of each person.

The Father glorifies the Son (Jn 8:54; 12:23; 17:1), and the Son likewise glorifies the Father (Jn 7:18; 17:4). The Spirit also glorifies the Son (Jn 16:14) who glorifies the Father.[62] This is not merely a partnership, whereby each member of the Godhead can sign official paperwork in the name of the firm; there is one essence existing in three distinct modes. Nobody comes to God the Son unless God the Father first draws Him (Jn 6:44). Christ repeats this point later in the Gospel of John (10:29) and concludes by emphatically stating the oneness of His connection with God the Father; “I and the Father are one,” (Jn 10:30).

Jesus claimed that anyone who had seen Him had seen the Father (Jn 14:9-11). This explains how Genesis can accurately relate “God” created the heavens and the earth, while Paul later clarified that Christ was the very agent of that creation (Heb 1:2; Col 1:16). The baptismal formulas throughout Scripture speak of all three members of the Godhead (Mt 28:19; 2 Cor 13:14; 1 Pet 1:2). The “name” of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Mt 28:19) is singular, although three persons are included. There is also no hint of inferiority or subordination in either formula, precisely because they are each fully deity and united in one purpose. God is also referred to in plural form in several instances (Gen 1:26; 11:7; Isa 6:8). Referring to the Genesis account, (“Let us make man in our image”), Matthews writes, “the plural indicates an intra-divine conversation, a plurality in the Godhead, between God and His Spirit.’[63]

Perhaps the clearest exposition of the unity or oneness of the Godhead is in Eph 4:4-6;

There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

Eph 4:4. Paul is exhorting the church at Ephesus to remain united in Christ (Eph 4:3). In doing so, he calls their attention to the divine unity of the Godhead. Just as they must be one body of united believers (Eph 2:16), there is one Holy Spirit who indwells them all (Eph 2:22), who called them to the one hope.

Eph 4:5. There is one Lord, Jesus Christ, who is the Head of the church (Eph 1:22-23). There is one faith which the church proclaims – Christ Jesus. There is also one baptism whereby believers signify their spiritual unity with Him (Gal 3:27).

Eph 4:6. There is one God and one Father of all believers who comprise the one church. He is sovereign over all, lives through them all and in them all.

The Athanasian Creed captures the concept, “We worship one God in trinity, and trinity in unity, neither confounding the persons, nor separating the substance.”[64]

SUMMARY

A proper understanding of the Trinity is essential for the Christian faith; for worship, revelation, redemption, sanctification. The Triune Godhead is at the very heart of Christian identity – it defines what it means to be a Christian. The orthodox doctrine of “one being in three persons” developed over time as the church fathers struggled to maintain Scriptural teachings in the midst of various heresies. Modern theological issues revolving around the Triune Godhead, for the most part, recycle old heresies and revisit old fields of battle from wars which have already been fought.

The doctrine advanced by this paper, that within the one Being that is God, there exists three eternally co-equal and co-eternal persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, has been established. It is supported by church history and has been demonstrated by a thematic biblical theology of Scripture. A right view of the Triune God will revolutionize the Christian life and allow His children to give Him all the more glory for His grace towards fallen sinners.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Athanasius, Discourse Against the Arians. The Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers, series 2, vol. 4. Christian Classics Etheral Library, PDF edition, n.d. 4:433-447.

Brannan, Rick, ed. Historic Creeds and Confessions. Grand Rapids: Christian Classics Etheral Library, n.d.

Berkhof, Louis. Systematic Theology, combined ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996

Carson, D.A. “Matthew,” vol. 8. The Expositors Bible Commentary. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981.

Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology, 2nd ed. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998.

Erickson, Millard J. Making Sense of the Trinity: Three Crucial Questions. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2000.

Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History. The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, series 2, vol. 1. Christian Classics Etheral Library, PDF edition, n.d. 1:vii-404.

Frame, John M. The Doctrine of God. Phillipsburg: P&R, 2002.

Gonzalez, Justo. The Story of Christianity, combined ed. Peabody: Prince Press, 2007.

Gregory of Nazianzus, Orations. The Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers, series 2, vol. 7. Christian Classics Etheral Library, PDF edition, n.d. 7:185-434.

Horton, Michael. The Christian Faith. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011.

Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho. The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 1. Grand Rapids: Christian Classics Ethereal Library, PDF edition, n.d. 191-270.

Keith, Graham. “Our Knowledge of God: Insights from the Fourth-Century Trinitarian Controversies.” Reformation and Revival 12:1 (Winter 2003): 81-103.

Kent, Homer A. Jr. “Philippians,” vol. 11. The Expositors Bible Commentary. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981.

Klooster, Fred H. “Barth and the Future of Evangelical Theology.” Westminster Theological Journal 47:2 (Fall 1985): 301-317.

Matthews, Kenneth A. “Genesis 11:27-50:26,” vol. 1b. The New American Commentary. Nashville: B&H, 2005.

McClain, Alva J. The Greatness of the Kingdom. Winona Lake: BMH, 1959.

McCune, Rolland. A Systematic Theology of Biblical Christianity, vol. 1. Detroit: DBTS, 2009.

Morris, Leon. “Hebrews,” vol. 12. The Expositors Bible Commentary. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981.

Ross, Allen P. “Genesis,” vol. 1. The Bible Knowledge Commentary. Wheaton: Victor, 1985.

Rooker, M.F. “Blasphemy.” Dictionary of the Old Testament Pentateuch, ed. T. Desmond Alexander & David W. Baker. Downer’s Grove: IVP, 2003.

Strong, Augustus H. Systematic Theology. Old Tappan: Revell, 1979.

Tertullian, Apology. The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 3. Grand Rapids: Christian Classics Ethereal Library, PDF edition, n.d. 17-60.

Tertullian, Against Praxeas. The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 3. Grand Rapids: Christian Classics Ethereal Library, PDF edition, n.d. 597-632.

Theissen, Henry. Lectures in Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1949.

Toussaint, Stanley. Behold the King. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1980.

Van Til, Cornelius. “Has Karl Barth Become Orthodox?” Westminster Theological Journal 16:2 (May 1954): 135-181.

Ware, Bruce A. Father, Son and Holy Spirit: Relationships, Roles and Relevance. Wheaton: Crossway, 2005.


[1] Bruce A. Ware, Father, Son and Holy Spirit: Relationships, Roles and Relevance (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2005), 13.

[2] Augustus H. Strong, Systematic Theology (Old Tappan, NJ: Revell, 1979), 350.

[3] Ware, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, 15-16.

[4] Strong, Systematic, 349.

[5] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1998), 358-360. Erickson omits a discussion of Arianism.

[6] Ibid, 353.

[7] Ibid, 358.

[8] Justin Myrtyr, Dialogue with Trypho 61, ANF 1:607

[9] Tertullian, Apology 21, ANF 3:34. Emphasis mine.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Tertullian, Against Praxeas 2, ANF 3:59. Emphasis mine.

[12] Erickson, Theology, 358.

[13] Millard J. Erickson, Making Sense of the Trinity: Three Crucial Questions (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2000), 48.

[14] Eusebius Ecclesiastical History 5.28, NPNF2 1:597

[15] Erickson, Making Sense, 48.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Eusebius Ecclesiastical History 7.28.2, NPNF2 1:807.

[18] Erickson, Theology, 359.

[19] Ibid, 360.

[20] Ibid, 360.

[21] Tertullian, Against Praxeas 2, ANF 3:598.

[22] Ibid. Emphasis mine.

[23] Tertullian, Against Praxeas 10, ANF 3:604

[24] Ibid.

[25] Baptism (Mt 3:13-17; Mk 1:9-11; Lk 3:21-22; Jn 1:29-34), Christ speaks explicitly to the Father (Jn 17) and of the Spirit (Jn 16:5-11).

[26] Athanasius, Discourse Against the Arians 1.1.1., NPNF2, 4:306.

[27] Athanasius, Discourse Against the Arians 1.2.5, NPNF2, 4:309.

[28] Athanasius, Discourse Against the Arians 1.3.10., NPNF2, 4:312.

[29] Jn 14:28; Mk 10:18 and Lk 18:19; Mk 13:32; Lk 2:52

[30] Erickson, Making Sense, 51.

[31] Graham Keith, “Our Knowledge of God: Insights from the Fourth-Century Trinitarian Controversies,” Reformation and Revival 12:1 (Winter 2003), 86.

[32] Justo Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity, combined ed. (Peabody, MS: Prince Press, 2007), 161.

[33] Ibid, 159.

[34] Ibid, 164.

[35] Rick Brannan, ed., Historic Creeds and Confessions (Grand Rapids, MI: CCEL, n.d.).

[36] Erickson, Theology, 361.

[37] Michael Horton, The Christian Faith (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 294.

[38] Ibid, 295.

[39] Quoted from Barth, Church Dogmatics, vol. 1, pt.1, 334 in Horton, Christian Faith, 295.

[40] Fred H. Klooster, “Barth and the Future of Evangelical Theology,” Westminster Theological Journal 47:2 (Fall 1985), 308.

[41] Horton, Christian Faith, 295.

[42] Cornelius Van Til, “Has Karl Barth Become Orthodox?,” Westminster Theological Journal 16:2 (May 1954), 162.

[43] Gregory of Nazianzus, Orations 28:1, NPNF2, 7:288.

[44] Horton, Christian Faith, 299.

[45] Ibid, 296.

[46] Gregory of Nazianzus, Orations 38:8, NPNF2, 7:347.

[47] Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, combined ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1996), 89.

[48] John Frame, The Doctrine of God (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2002), 697.

[49] Rolland McCune, A Systematic Theology of Biblical Christianity, vol.1 (Detroit, MIL: DBTS, 2009), 287.

[50] Ibid.

[51] McCune, Systematic, 275.

[52] McCune, Systematic, 289.

[53] Berkhof, Systematic, 88.

[54] Ware, Father, 25.

[55] Homer A. Kent, Jr. “Philippians,” vol. 11, The Expositors Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1981), 122.

[56] Allen P. Ross, “Genesis,” vol. 1, The Bible Knowledge Commentary (Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1985), 56. See also Kenneth A. Matthews, “Genesis 11:27-50:26,” vol. 1b, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B&H, 2005), 189.

[57] Leon Morris, “Hebrews,” vol. 12, The Expositors Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1981), 14.

[58] The adjuration implies being “under oath by the living God.” See D.A. Carson, “Matthew,” vol. 8, The Expositors Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984), 554. See also Stanley Toussaint, Behold the King (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 1980), 307.

[59] Alva J. McClain, The Greatness of the Kingdom (Winona Lake, IN: BMH, 1959), 380.

[60] M. F. Rooker, “Blasphemy,” Dictionary of the Old Testament Pentateuch, ed. T. Desmond Alexander & David W. Baker (Downer’s Grove, IL: IVP, 2003), 80-83.

[61] Frame, Doctrine, 694.

[62] Frame, Doctrine, 695.

[63] Matthews, Genesis 1-11:26, 163.

[64] Henry Theissen, Lectures in Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1949), 135.

What is the Trinity?

I will be posting an essay on the Trinity in the next few days. In the meantime, I want to pass along a simply wonderful debate on the subject that may help some of you. It is the best thing I’ve ever seen on this subject, and if you grab your Bible and follow along, you’ll learn quite a lot.

Too many Christians don’t have any real idea what the Trinity really is, and probably couldn’t explain it if put on the spot. If this describes you, then I pray this discussion will help you.