The Epistemological Necessity of Tri-unity

 

I have been thinking a lot about the Trinity recently, one of the fruits of this labour is a new paper I just posted on Academia.edu. In this paper, I argue that self-knowledge requires three points of reference–the self who is knowing (subject), something to see onself in (an external object), and a standard of reference (norm). Applying this to theology/apologetics, I argue that only the Triune God of Scripture could be God, for only the God of Scripture is capable of knowing Himself–of having any knowledge independent of creation.

You can download or read it here

The Superiority of Christ means the Superiority of His Gospel – A Sermon on Hebrews 1

Homiletical Idea: The Superiority of Christ means the Superiority of His Gospel

Introduction (For whole series)

Good morning church! Today I have the awesome privilege of both bringing you this morning’s sermon and introducing the series of sermons that pastor Tom and I will be preaching over the summer. Throughout the summer we are going to be preaching through the book of Hebrews. As me and Tom were praying about what book we would be preaching through and we decided that God was directing us towards Hebrews, I was actually a little bit scared. I have never really done any studying on the book of Hebrews and have had some interesting discussions over the different passages in Hebrews that are quite difficult to understand, but as I began to study the book for this morning’s sermon and the Holy Spirit began to show me different things in the book of Hebrews I got excited about both this sermon and this whole series! Hopefully as me and Tom preach through this intriguing book you will get a glimpse of why I have enjoyed studying it and come to understand some of the profound truths that the author has to share. Because I am launching our series on Hebrews this morning, I get to lay the groundwork for the following sermons by introducing you to the nature of the book of Hebrews itself.

With most books of the Bible we can say who authored it, who it was going to, and roughly when it was written; Hebrews is one of the few books where we cannot do this. Theories abound as to who wrote the book, some have suggested it was the apostle Paul, or Luke, some have suggested Barnabas, and starting with Martin Luther some have thought may have been Apollos. From the evidence we have in the book of Hebrews itself and historical data it is impossible to draw a sure conclusion on who wrote the book and to whom exactly he was writing. But, from what we find in the book of Hebrews, we are able to understand a little bit about the author, whoever he was, and his audience. Because of the in-depth discussion of the Old Testament and the use of the Greek translation of it, as well as the vocabulary found in the book, we can deduce that the Author himself was a Jewish Christian man from outside of Palestine who was well educated. He was most likely writing to Jewish Christians located in the city of Rome. The Jewish background of the audience is clear from the discussion of the Old Testament’s relation to the New upon which the book revolves.

The reason the author of Hebrews is writing to these Jewish Christians is because they appear to be going back to the life they once knew. Instead of following the Christian truths as taught by Jesus and His apostles these believers were drifting back into their old lifestyle of Judaism. The author of Hebrews writes to them warning that if they continue down the path they are on they will no longer be Christians. To encourage them in following Christ he writes of the Superiority of Christ over the way of life that the Jews were practicing. The letter has sometimes been mistaken as teaching that the Old Testament is bad, that the New Testament has rendered it useless; but what the author of Hebrews is trying to do throughout his letter is show how the New Testament  fulfills a lot of what the Old Testament pointed towards. This is primarily seen in the book of Hebrews in the contrast between two covenants between God and man.

Foundational to Jewish thought, found throughout the Old Testament, is the idea of God making covenants with His people. In the Old Testament we find covenants made with creation, Adam, Noah, the Israelites, and David. Our titles for the New Testament and the Old Testament actually come from this idea of covenant. The word we translate Testament is derived from the Latin word used to translate the Greek and Hebrew words for covenant. The title “New Testament” would mean “New Covenant.” Throughout the book of Hebrews the author has in his sights the covenant that God made with Israel at Mount Sinai, what is most often called the old covenant; it is this covenant with its priests and sacrifices and rituals that the author Hebrews contrasts with Jesus Christ. Throughout the Old Testament, especially in the books of Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Isaiah, we find the authors looking forward to a new covenant that God will make with His people; this will be an eternal covenant of peace made not just with Israel but with all believing people from every nation of the earth. In the New Testament we read that with Jesus Christ came the institution of this New Covenant, it is this covenant between God and all people made through the blood of Jesus Christ shed on the Cross that the author of Hebrews will continually contrast with the Old covenant made at Sinai. With this little bit of background as to the purpose of this letter to the Hebrews we can dive in and take a look at the book itself; if the Author is trying to get the attention of the Hebrews back to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, how exactly does He do it?

Introduction to the specific text: Illustration

Do any of you remember in the nineties how the culture, both inside and outside the church, seemed to have a real fascination with angels? During the nineties there were some popular movies and T.V. shows that portrayed angels interacting with men and women in the modern world; there were shows like Touched by an Angel, movies like Michael, City of Angels, and Christian Fiction novels like Frank Perreti’s Piercing the Darkness and this Present Darkness. In shows like touched by an Angel they were portrayed as helping men and women in this life and an idea of personal guardian angels was present in these different movies. More recently there has been a slew of movies dealing with fallen or evil angels and sometimes the correlation between angels and UFOs. Angels portrayed in these movies, shows, and books tend to be much like humans. Growing up I remember having the typical “cupid” idea of an angel: the Cherubim where babies with diapers and harps who lived on clouds. For the Jews during the time of Jesus angels were not babies with harps or invisible humans, but powerful beings created by God to be His messengers. These messengers were pictured as helping the people of Israel, they were seen as guardians of the nation itself, they were instruments God used to bring aid in people’s lives, and they were instruments He used to bring His divine judgment.[i]

In the 1 chapter of Hebrews the author is going to take aim at this Jewish idea of angels.

If you have a Bible with you turn with me to Hebrews 1, we will be looking at all of chapter 1 and the first 4 verses of chapter 2. That is Hebrews 1-2:4, you can find it before James but after Philemon. In these verses the author of Hebrews writes:

1Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets 2but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. 3He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs. 5For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”? Or again, “I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son”? 6And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him.” 7Of the angels he says, “He makes his angels winds, and his ministers a flame of fire.” 8But of the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom. 9You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.” 10And, “You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning and the heavens are the work of your hand; 11they will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment, 12like a robe you will roll them up, like a garment they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will have no end.” 13And to which of the angels has he ever said, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”? 14Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation? 2 Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. 2For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, 3how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who hear, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.”

(There is so much in this passage that we could look at this morning but we are going to focus on following the author’s reasoning in this chapter and see how the message that he was giving to the Hebrews applies to us today)

Body

Christ is superior

The first four verses of chapter 1 provide an introduction to the entire book of Hebrews and, in the process of giving a tremendous exhortation on who Jesus is, gives an overview of much of what will be talked about throughout the book. Verse four functions as a transition between this introduction and the author’s argument in the rest of the chapter. From the end of verse three to verse four we read: “he[, that is Jesus,] sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.” This is the idea author of Hebrews is trying to convey through chapters 1 and 2 of Hebrews: Christ is superior to the angels. In verse three we read that Jesus sat down at the right hand of His Father, this is something we see in the Gospels as well. At the end of the Gospels we read that Jesus, after His resurrection, tells His disciples that He has been given all authority over the heavens and the earth (Matt. 28:18) and He ascends to the right hand of throne of God (Mark 16:19, Luke 24:51, Luke 22:69), to be at God’s right hand means that Jesus would share in God’s rule and was in position of favour with God. Throughout the rest of chapter one the author of Hebrews will argue from the Old Testament that Jesus is superior to the Angels in the name He has inherited, which is that of the Son of God, in His nature as eternity, and in His authority.

His first argument is that Christ’s name is superior to that of the angels. He argues this by applying three Old Testament Scriptures to Jesus that say He is the Son of God and worthy of worship. Now this may not seem like that powerful of an argument. If a little boy came up to you and said he was the son of Stephen Harper, you wouldn’t assume that he had the authority of Harper and was superior to you; that would be ridiculous! When the author of Hebrews argues that Jesus’s name as the “son of God” is superior to that of the angels, there is more going on. This is a title that no angel could claim; Jesus had a unique relationship to God. As the Son of God from all eternity, when Jesus takes up His place at the right hand of God He is taking up His position as the unique Son of God  and all the authority implied in that role. As God’s unique Son Jesus is equal to God, in v. 6 this is seen in the Old Testament quotation where the angels are told to worship Jesus. Only God is worthy of worship so equality with God is implied in the command to worship, something which angels can never receive. The title “Son of God” makes Jesus superior to the angels because it indicates His unique relationship to God the Father, His equality with Him, and the authority which He takes up when He sits down at the right hand of the Father.

The author of Hebrews then goes on to argue for Christ’s superiority over the angels from the contrast between their fleeting and created nature and Christ’s eternal nature. The description that the author of Hebrews gives of angels in v. 7 has the sense of the angels’ transitory nature; they were created by God and they serve His will. This quotation sets the angels within the created order. The contrast here in the Greek New Testament is made out to be quite strong; it’s like the English expression “on the one hand… but on the other hand.” The author of Hebrews contrasts this with Jesus’ nature as eternal and above the created order![ii] Jesus is superior to the angels because He created them and is himself uncreated!

The last argument that the author of Hebrews makes for the superiority of the son is from His power or authority. He asks the Hebrews rhetorically: “to which of the angels has he ever said, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”?” (v. 13) Jesus was given the position of authority over creation, He was given all authority in the heavens and the earth; of the angels the author of Hebrews writes “are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?” Jesus is superior to the angles because He has all authority while they, while powerful, are ministering spirits serving believers.

(Through these three arguments the author of Hebrews establishes the superiority of the Son; it’s really no contest. The angels have a lot going for them, they are powerful and stand before God in His throne room; but Jesus is God, He created the angels, they had a beginning but He is eternal, He has all authority in the universe and they have the comparatively miniscule role of ministering spirits. The author of Hebrews sets up His argument well and would have proved conclusively to His readers that Jesus is superior to the angels! But the question remaining in their minds, and I’m sure in yours, would be “why is it important that Christ is superior to angels? Why does the author of Hebrews spend the time to establish this contrast?” The answer to this question is given to us in Hebrews 2:1-4)

 

His word is superior

When I introduced this series on Hebrews this morning I said that the author of this letter is writing to Jewish Christians to turn them back towards the Gospel after they seemed to be drifting back into Judaism. This purpose becomes clear for the first time here in Hebrews 2 verses 1-4, the author writes; “therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. 2For since the message declared by angels prove to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, 3how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, 4while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.” The author of Hebrews sees the terrible danger that these Christians face, so he gives them a powerful warning of the danger they are in. Because Christ is superior to angels they need to pay much closer attention to the Gospel they received, lest they drift, or fall, away from it! In verse 1 the author uses a nautical analogy to outline the situation of the readers. The word we translate “pay much closer attention” was sometimes used of the action of holding a ship on course towards the harbor. The word we translate “drift away” also has a basis in a boat being carried away on the water. The imagery drawn by the author here is that of a ship which, if it does not hold its course, will drift away and be lost at sea. The author says that the Hebrews need to pay much closer attention to the message of the Gospel which they received, if they did not hold onto it they would drift away and be lost![iii]

The connection between the Superiority of Christ and the situation of the Hebrews comes from a role they understood the angels to have had in the Old Testament. Earlier I spoke of the idea of the Old Covenant and the New Covenant being prominent in the book of Hebrews, this is where the role of angels comes in. The Jews of the early Church believed that at Mount Sinai when Moses received the Ten Commandments, God’s instructions for the people of Israel, and when God entered into a covenant with the people of Israel angels played an important role in delivering God’s law to Moses. In establishing the superiority of Christ over the angels the author of Hebrews is saying that the Gospel which Jesus brought is better than the Law which the angels brought. His argument is kind of like this:

Imagine that you are at work and your supervisor gives you a list of things to do. This list of things is valid, and because of his superiority in relation to you, you would follow his instructions. But if, after you have received this list, the manager, this supervisor’s boss, comes up to you and gives you a bunch of things to do; this group of things would superseded the list of instructions given by the supervisor. This is because the manger is both superior in relation to you, so he can tell you what to do, and superior to your supervisor, so his instructions will be more important than the supervisors.

It is this contrast in authority that author of Hebrews is going for in establishing the superiority of Christ over the angels. The message of the Old Covenant that they brought, though a good thing, is superseded by the message of the New Covenant brought by Jesus.

In verses 2 and 3 the author informs the readers of how much danger they are in. “For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, 3how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard”. The author writes that the message delivered at Mount Sinai by the angels had proven reliable, it was good and solid; it provided a legal standard by which every transgression or disobedience received its just punishment. The revelation at Sinai, delivered by the angels, was important, it had proved reliable, the logical conclusion which the author of Hebrews draws out is that the message delivered by someone superior to angels would be that much more reliable and greater of a standard! This Gospel was declared by Jesus and His apostles, while also being testified to by God and the Holy Spirit through signs, wonders, and miracles accompanied by the spiritual gifts.

The warning that the author draws out of this, the warning he brings to help correct the path of the Hebrews, is that if the message given at Sinai proved reliable and a grounds for judgment, how much more so would the greater salvation revealed by the superior Jesus Christ?

(In case you are experiencing fear that this sermon will descend into message of warning, don’t worry, there is a different application in this passage. The idea that the author of Hebrews conveys through chapter 1 and then the warning in chapter 2 is that)

 

The superiority of Christ means the superiority of His gospel

The superiority of Christ means the superiority of His gospel!

(The fact of who Christ is means that He is superior to angels, and if He is superior to the powerful angels, how much more is He superior to every created thing? Since the Gospel found in the New Testament is given by Him, it is superior in authority to everything else that would guide us in life and offer a way to be saved.)

 

How does this apply to our lives

In Bible College when we were learning how to be better preachers one of the things that we were shown to do to apply a passage in Scripture was find a parallel situation in lives of people in a specific church to what the biblical audience was going through.

As far as I know, thankfully, I don’t think we are in a parallel situation: not many of us are drifting away from the faith to go back to our old lives. But there are other ways to apply a passage in Scripture; we can apply the principle found in the passage to the different circumstances we find in our lives. The principle found in Hebrews 1-2:4 is that the superiority of Christ, the fact that He is the Eternal son of God who has all authority in the heavens and on the earth, means the superiority of His Gospel.

What the Hebrews were going back to wasn’t a bad thing, in fact it was a good thing! We are to use the Old Testament today, it is still God’s word to us and applies to our lives! The problem is that the Hebrews were following it the way they did in Judaism, they were following it as a way to be saved! With the coming of the New Testament came the fulfillment of the Old Testament and the rituals it held! No longer would the rituals save the Jews, it was, and is, only by faith in Christ, who all the rituals in the Old Testament pointed to, that one could be saved. The Jewish Christians being written to were turning back to a good thing, but they were putting it in place where it shouldn’t have been!

For those in our society who are not Christians, they trust in created things for salvation: they trust in the knowledge attained through science, pantheons of gods, unknowable forces, and self for salvation. The natural sciences, the real objects elevated to the level of god, and ourselves are inferior to angels, powerful created being who serve the maker of all these things, and, even more so, they are inferior to Jesus; He instituted the laws of science, created everything in the universe, made us, and created the angels. Because of His superiority it would make sense for someone to trust in the message He brought for salvation then in any created thing.

What about for those of us who already believe, how can the principle that the superiority of Christ means the superiority of His Gospel apply to our lives? I am sure that they are many ways in which this applies, but I think two are especially important in our daily lives. Because the Gospel was brought by Jesus and He is the eternal Son of God possessing all authority over this universe we can trust that the message it has is reliable! We can know, in the face of competing religions, that the way of salvation given in the Gospel is reliable, we can know this because it was delivered by the most reliable being of all; the Son of God Himself came and delivered it! The Superiority of Christ means the Superiority of His Gospel, it is reliable! The superiority of the Gospel over every created thing also has a profound effect on how we live our lives! If the word delivered by Jesus and written by the Apostles, both the Gospels themselves and the rest of the New Testament, is superior to everything in creation then that means that in everything it discusses we should listen to it over the competing voices of this world. As a guide for life we should follow the message brought by Jesus Christ over everything else in this world. Our cultures idea of success in life and the goals we should aim for is in drastic contrast to that of Scripture; if we are forced, as we often are, to choose between the idea of our culture and that of Scripture the superiority of Christ means that the obvious choice is scripture. Instead of doing everything in our means to gain power we are told to serve, instead of taking joy in the peace of massive amounts of money and an easy life we are told to take joy in the trials of life, in the pain and suffering, enjoying the peace God gives us through these times. Instead of fending for ourselves, we are to look out for others first and depend on God. While the things our culture puts before us often seem appealing, why would we trust something from the creation when we could follow and trust that which was brought by the creator?

(If the Christ is the highest authority in the universe, greater than all created things, shouldn’t His revealed Word be the highest authority for life, practice, ethics, and guidance in our lives? Shouldn’t His Word be higher than the news, horoscopes, astrology, Hollywood, Oprah, and the stock market?)

Conclusion

In Hebrews 1:1-4 and 2:1-4 we read; “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. 3He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4Having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs…. 2 1Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. 2For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution,3how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, 4while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.” Almost 2000 years ago God came in the flesh to the earth and delivered a greater salvation, His Gospel; He delivered a message that is superior to everything found in the created order!

The Superiority of Christ means the superiority of His Gospel!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Exegetical Outline (Hebrews 1-2:4)

Exegetical Idea: Christ in taking his place at the right hand of His Father has become as much superior to the Angels as the name He has inherited is greater than theirs.

Exegetical Outline:

  1.                     I.            Introduction: God has spoken through His Son (1:1-4)
    1.                                      a.      God spoke long ago by the prophets (1:1)
    2.                                     b.      But now He has spoken through His Son (1:2-4)
  2.                  II.      Argument of the superiority of the Son over the Angels (1:4-2:18)
    1.                                      a.      The Son’s superiority to the angels (1:4-2:4)
    2.                                     b.      Argument showing the superiority of the Son (1:5-14)
    3.                                      c.      Application/purpose of contrast: If Christ is greater than the angels, so is the word that He brought over the word that they delivered. (2:1-4)
      1.                                                                         1.            The message declared by angels has proved reliable and a grounds for judgment (2:2)
      2.                                                                         2.            How much more the message  brought by the superior LORD testified to by God through miracles, signs, and wonders and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. (2:3-4)
      1. His Son who is the creator and exact image etc. of God (1:2-3)
      1. Who is as much superior to the angels as the name He has inherited is more excellent than theirs (1:4)
      1. Statement of Idea: The son is superior as the name He has inherited is greater than that of the angels (1:4)
      1. Argument 1: Christ as God’s Son, an equal worthy of worship (1:5-6)
      2. Argument 2: Contrasting the transitory and created nature of the angels to the eminent unchanging and uncreated nature of the son (1:7-12)
      3. Argument 3: Christ in the supreme position of power at the right hand of God contrasted with the angles as ministering Spirits (1:13-14)
      1. Summary: the angels are only ministering Spirit’s sent out to serve (1:14)
      1. Pay closer attention to what has ben heard, lest you drift away (2:1)
      1. For: the first message proved to be reliable and a ground for judgment, how much more the second (2:2-4)

 

Passage Outline (Hebrews 1-4:13)

  1.    Introduction to the book (1:1-4 )
  2. The Superiority of Jesus to the Angels (1:4-2:18)
  3. Christ is superior to the angels  in his name, in His nature, and in His authority (1:5-14)
  4. Therefore pay attention to His superior word (the reason for the evidence of Christ’s superiority over the angels)  (2:1-4)
  5. God subjected the world to come to Christ and not to the angels (2:5-18)
    1.                                       i.            Not to angels but to Christ (2:5)
    2.                                     ii.            Proved by Ps. 8:4-6 (v.6-9)
    3. Ps. 8:4-6 (6-8)
    4. Extent and state of subjection, explanation of Ps. 8:6 (v.8)
    5. Glorified and ruling state of Christ, explanation of Ps. 8:5 (v.9-15)
      1. State of Christ (v. 9a)
      2. Means by which the state was achieved (suffering of death) and reason for it (grace) (V.9b)
      3. Further explication of Christ’s suffering and reason for it (v.10-18)
      4.                                                                                             i.            That Christ may be made perfect through suffering for the purpose of sanctifying those who He calls brothers (v. 10-13)
      5.                                                                                           ii.            Christ partook of flesh so as to be like the “children” and that through death he might destroy the power of the devil and deliver the children (v. 14-15)
      6. Christ become like man, not like angels, explanation of Ps. 8:4-5a (v.  16-18)
        1. He became like man, lower than the angels, because it is the children of Abraham He helps (v. 16)
        2. Because it is men He helps He had to become like men in every respect that he might become a merciful and faith high priest (v.17)
        3. Because He suffered and was tempted He is able to help those who suffer and are tempted (v.18)
        4. The Superiority of Christ to Moses (3:1-6)
  6. Christ superior as the faithful Son over His house (v.1-6)
    1.                                       i.            Consider Jesus and His model of faithfulness (cf. O’brien 128-129) (v.1)
    2.                                     ii.            Moses was faithful as a servant but Christ was faithful as a Son (V.2-6a)
    3.                                   iii.            We are Christ’s house over whom He is faithful if we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in hope (v. 6)
  7. Warning about Perseverance and encouragement as to the rest of God, an exposition of Ps. 95:7-11 (the reason for the argument for Christ’s superiority over Moses)(3:7-4:13)
    1.                                       i.            Take care lest there be an evil unbelieving heart in you leading to you falling away from the living God, corresponding to v. 7 of the Ps. 95 (v.12-15)
    2. But exhort on another daily that you may not be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin (v. 13) (but relating to the “leading you to fall way from the living God
    3. For we have come to share in Christ if we hold our original confidence to the end (endurance is a sign of a true present salvation) (v.14)
    4. As it is said, do not harden your hearts in rebellion, Ps. 95:8[?]
      1.                                     ii.            Unbelief is the cause of the failure of the Israelites led by Moses to enter God’s rest, exposition of  (v.16-19)
      2. Who was it that rebelled? The Israelites (v.16)
      3. And who was God angry at for 40 years? Those who sinned (v.17)
      4. Whom did he say would not enter His rest? Those who were disobedient (v. 18)
      5. Therefore the Israelites [v.16] did not enter God’s rest [v.18] because they unbelief [v.17-18] (v.19)
        1.                                   iii.            Therefore (because the Israelites failed to enter God’s rest because of sin) while this promise of rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it (because of unbelief) (4:1-11)
        2. Like them good news came to us, but this did not benefit them because of their unbelief [implication: the same for you if you do not believe] (V.1-2)
        3. For we who believe enter the rest, a rest for which it remains for some to enter (v.3-9)
          1. We who believe enter the rest (v.3)
          2. What is this rest? The Sabbath rest of God inaugurated on the seventh day of creation (v.3-4)
          3.                                                                                             i.            Ps. 45:11 [focus probably on “my rest” describing the rest] (v. 3)
          4.                                                                                           ii.            The rest is God’s Sabbath from the seventh day (v. 4)
            1. When is it to be enter? Eschatologically (they shall not (as in they have yet to and never will) enter my rest) (v. 5-9)
            2.                                                                                             i.            It remains to be entered, but disobedience led to the failure of those who received the previous good news to enter, exposition of Ps. 95:11 (v. 5-6)
            3.                                                                                           ii.            This rest still remains to be entered and it is the rest of God’s cessation of work (v. 7-9)
              1. Even though they were in the promise land there still was a day in the future (v. 7)
              2. If Joshua had brought them rest there would be no need to speak of a future day (v. 8)
              3. This sabbath rest therefore remains (is eschatological) and entering into this rest means the cessation of work as God did from His (v. 9-10)
              4. Therefore: strive to enter this eschatological rest so that you may not fall by the same disobedience that prevailed with Israel, disobedience will not go unnoticed (v.11-13)
                1. The warning; strive to enter this rest (v. 11)
                2. The word of God is living and active so disobedience will not go unnoticed; not creature is hidden from the sight of Him to whom we must give account (v.12-13)

 


[i] D. R. W. Wood and I. Howard Marshall, New Bible Dictionary, 3rd ed. (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 36; Charles Draper, Chad Brand, and Archie England, eds., Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2003), 66–67.

[ii] Peter Thomas O’Brien, The Letter to the Hebrews, Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, Mich.; Nottingham, England: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co. ; Apollos, 2010), 71–72.

[iii] Pillar 81-82Ibid., 81–82.

“First [-the be…

“First [-the believer with a faith and a passion for truth-] must take his stand upon the sure ground [substantia = ὑποστάσει] of God, as holy Jeremiah says , that since he is to hear about that nature [substantia] he may expand his thoughts till they are worthy of the theme, not fixing some arbitrary standard for himself, but judging as of infinity. And again, though he be aware that he is partaker of the Divine nature, as the holy apostle Peter says in his second Epistle , yet he must not measure the Divine nature by the limitations of his own, but gauge God’s assertions concerning Himself by the scale of His own glorious self-revelation. For he is the best student who does not read his thoughts into the book, but lets it reveal its own; who draws from it its sense, and does not import his own into it, nor force upon its words a meaning which he had determined was the right one before he opened its pages. Since then we are to discourse of the things of God, let us assume that God has full knowledge of Himself, and bow with humble reverence to His words. For He Whom we can only know through His own utterances is the fitting witness concerning Himself.”

Hilary of Poitiers – On the Trinity (book 1)

A Review of Leading The Team-Based Church by George Cladis

Have you ever read a book and found a really blatant error on the first few pages, then found yourself turned off from the rest of the book and getting nothing out of it? This unfortunately happens to me a lot, it’s a tendency I have to fight a lot. This was largely my experience with reading the book Leading the Team-Based Church by George Cladis. Unfortunately in this book the error wasn’t a menial point that I was nit-picking, it wasn’t a statement that had nothing to do with the fulfillment of the thesis of the book; it was the entire spine of the book.

In this book Cladis writes about team-based church ministry from his experience as a Presbyterian minister. Throughout the book he explains what team-based ministry looks like and attempts to show the accuracy of his thesis, that “Team-based ministry is the most effective model for leading and organizing Christian ministry for the twenty-first century” (xi). On page one he writes; “The concepts and techniques for building effective church teams must first have a biblical and theological model that gives spiritual direction to team formation. Chapter One provides such a model and gives the theological grounding for everything that follows. It is the linchpin for the whole book” (1). It is this linchpin, the first chapter—his “theological” model—that undermines the entire book.

In the first chapter he outlines his biblical case for the model of team-based leadership; it is based on the word Perichoresis. This is a Greek word used by the early church father John of Damascus to describe the relationship between the different Persons of the Trinity. Cladis explains that this word literally means “circle-dance” and describes a dynamic relationship between the Trinity that “implies intimacy, equality, unity yet distinction, and love” (4). This model of relationship is the foundation for Cladis’ model; a model based of a loving, leveled (in the sense of authority), covenanting, and equal team. This model right here, the Perichoresis model for team leadership, is where the problems arise. Cladis writes in the introduction to part one that a model for effective leadership must have a biblical and theological framework to give direction to team formation (1). This was a very promising start for me as I read the book, but from the first chapter I was turned off from the content of the book because of, what I believe, to be a failure to meet this criterion. Cladis does not cite any Scripture to support the ideas he presents in the first chapter. He presents the idea of Perichoresis used by John of Damascus as an accurate description of the Trinity without looking to Scripture to confirm this. He cites only two Scriptures in this chapter (at least in his explanation of Perichoresis).

He claims that 1 Cor. 12-14 supports the perichoretic idea of a flattened structure for church (i.e. no hierarchy) (pg. 5). This Scripture is not talking about hierarchies at all; what 1 Cor. 12-14 is saying is that we are all equal in worth and value to the Church. As believers each of us has been gifted in such a way to be unique and invaluable ministers in the Church; we are not to envy each other’s gifts because we each have been gifted in a unique way solely on the basis of the Spirit’s sovereign will (1 Cor. 12:11, 14-20). We are each invaluable for ministry, but this does not mean that there is no hierarchy of leadership or authority (not value) in the Church. The second Scripture is from Matthew 28, all Cladis is using this verse for is to make a point that the Trinity is central to Christian worship, creeds, and benedictions; therefore it must make a great theological model for leadership in the Church (4-5). For all the weight that Cladis puts on the word “Perichoresis,” building his model on the supposed etymological meaning of this word, it is interesting to note that it does not actually occur once in the Greek of the Bible.

It’s not just that Perichoresis is not found in Scripture, for we use the word “Trinity” to describe our sovereign and glorious LORD and it is not found in Scripture either. The problem would enter the picture if we started to make arguments and points from the inherent meaning of the word “Trinity” and not from the Scriptures and theological truth that we are describing by using the word “Trinity. It’s not just that Cladis builds his model off of a theological model nowhere found in Scripture, but that his model also seems to misrepresent the historical meaning of perichoresis and draws meaning out of it that seems to be, frankly, inconsistent with the Scriptural description of the Trinity. One of the first warning bells that went off in my head is when Cladis writes “Perichoresis means literally “circle dance”” and then goes on to explain how he this “literal” meaning comes from the constituent parts of this word; the Greek words χορευω (choreuō, to dance)[1] and περι (peri, which is a preposition which could mean many things in many contexts, but often “around”).[2] What he is doing here is defining the word according to its etymology, which is dangerous and often considered and exegetical fallacy (the Root Fallacy).[3] The problem is that often words acquire a meaning radically different from their constituent parts. Let’s look at an example in English; if we were to look at the word “butterfly” etymologically we would conclude that a butter-fly was a fly made out of butter, a fly that ate butter, or something equally ridiculous that has nothing to do with the actual nature of the creature it describes. To make matters worse, if we were to take an etymological route (which can sometimes be valid if it sheds light on the primary method for determining meaning, which is the use of a word in context) Περιχώρησις (perichōrēsis) is probably not derived from χoρεύω and περι but περι and χωρέω (chōreō, which means “contain, have room”).[4] Even if it was derived from χορεύω the historical usage of his word departs radically from the meaning that Cladis (echoing Guthrie) is attributing to it. John of Damascus’ use of this word is in reference to the interpenetration of the different members of the Trinity as described in John 14:11 (“I am in the Father and the Father is in me”). It was used to describe a relationship testified to in Scripture that was not truly understand, and still isn’t today. [5] I mentioned that Cladis’ model is also inconsistent with what the few things that Scripture actually has to say on the interpersonal relationship within the Trinity, let’s look at that now.

Cladis sees in this perichōrētic relationship an implication of complete leveling in any seemingly hierarchical structure of roles within Trinity. It is true that within the Trinity each Person is completely equal in value and deity, but Scriptures teaches a difference in roles. Throughout the NT it is always the Father who “initiates and commissions” while the Son carries out the “commission” and the Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son. These relationships stretch beyond a simple economic relationship between creation and the Trinity to the eternal relationship of the members of the Trinity. Within Scripture there seems to be a pretty clear teaching that there is functional (not ontological [which leads to Arianism or a similar heresy]) subordination within the Trinity (John 14:28; Phil 2:6-11; 1 Cor 11:3; 15:28). The Son submits to the will of the Father and the Spirit proceeds from both of them; we neglect this truth then many of Jesus’ words about His relationship with God the Father would lead to the conclusion of an ontological difference. Some have suggested that Christ took on a subordinate role only in the incarnation, but this doesn’t do full justice to the texts involved (that being said, in the incarnation His functional role did change, Philippians 2:8 says that He emptied Himself and took on the very nature [role] of a servant; but his does not imply that there was not subordination before the incarnation).[6] There are also clear Scriptures that talk of functional distinction between believers (even though we are all equal in value, Gal. 3:23-29). Some of these include the leadership roles of the elders, deacons, and apostles (e.g. 1 Timothy 2-3) as well as the instructions for wives to submit to husbands, children to parents, and slaves to masters (Ephesians 5:21-30).

There are simply no biblical, theological, or historical grounds for Cladis model and this eviscerates the spine of his book, the part that he himself calls the “linchpin” (1). This trend of building models for relationships and ecclesiological structures out of what is perceived to be the interworking of the Trinitarian relationship has been common in the last 20 or so years. These “Social Trinitarian” models are unfortunate because they divert studies from what Scripture actually has to say about both these relationships and the Trinity to flimsy models built from extreme stretches of supposed implications in Scripture.[7] This made it really hard for me to accept a model based off of this understanding of the Trinity.

Despite all of this, I did learn a little bit from reading this book that will help me in my future. First, reading this book helped me see how my ideas of church ministry were based on bringing myself glory and fame and not building a healthy church that glorifies God. This was a sobering realization and has given me a lot to pray and think about recently. I also found a quote on page 98, about the realization that Eph. 4 teaches the equipping of others for their ministry and not looking at them as team members for my work of ministry, to be very applicable to my thought process and any future ministry I may be involved with. I struggled a lot with this book, but God used it to show me a major weakness in my thinking and hopefully with His help I can work through it and come back to a Christ-, and not self-, centered understanding of ministry.

This book gets a rating of 1/5

Cladis loses one star for the fact that his entire supposedly “theological” and “biblical” model (1-2) is lacking any good exegetical or even historical evidence.

Actually, he loses the next two stars for the same reason; he fails to meet his thesis and support is model.

Lastly, he loses a star because even beyond this failure to provide a sufficient foundation for his model the book was very dry and lacked any profound or even enlightening tips on church structure, leadership, or teams that are not found in other books where they are presented and defended in a much more satisfactory way.

 

 


Bibliography:

Balswick, Jack O. The Family: a Christian Perspective on the Contemporary Home. 3rd ed. Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Academic, 2007.

Carson, D. A. Exegetical fallacies. Carlisle, U.K.; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Paternoster ; Baker Books, 1996.

Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology : an Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Leicester; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press ; Zondervan, 1994.

Kilby, Karen. “Perichoresis and Projection: Problems with Social Doctrines of the Trinity.” New Blackfriars (October 2000). http://theologyphilosophycentre.co.uk/papers/Kilby_TrinNBnew.pdf.

Lampe, G. W. H., ed. A Patristic Greek Lexicon. Amen House, London: Oxford University Press, 1961. http://www.scribd.com/doc/52903581/G-W-H-LAMPE-A-Patristic-Greek-Lexicon.

Lewis, Gordon Russell, and Bruce A Demarest. Integrative theology : historical, biblical, systematic, apologetic, practical : three volumes in one. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1996.

Liddell, H.G., R. Scott, and J.M. Whiton. A Lexicon Abridged from Liddell & Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon. Harper & brothers, 1890. http://books.google.ca/books?id=yvQYAAAAYAAJ (accessed April 28, 2013).

Swanson, James. Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Greek (New Testament). Electronic ed. Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997.

Thayer, Joseph Henry, Carl Ludwig Wilibald Grimm, and Christian Gottlob Wilke. Thayer’s Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: Coded with Strong’s Concordance numbers. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 2003.


[1]H.G. Liddell, R. Scott, and J.M. Whiton, A Lexicon Abridged from Liddell & Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon (Harper & brothers, 1890), 786, http://books.google.ca/books?id=yvQYAAAAYAAJ (accessed April 28, 2013).

[2] Joseph Henry Thayer, Carl Ludwig Wilibald Grimm, and Christian Gottlob Wilke, Thayer’s Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: Coded with Strong’s Concordance numbers (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 2003), 501–502.

[3] D. A Carson, Exegetical fallacies (Carlisle, U.K.; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Paternoster ; Baker Books, 1996), 28–33.

[4] James Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Greek (New Testament), electronic ed. (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997), χωρέω.

[5] T.F. Torrance, Christian Doctrine of God, One Being Three Persons (Bloomsbury, 2001), 169–170, http://books.google.ca/books?id=TFUYu5c7a8QC.;; G. W. H. Lampe, ed., A Patristic Greek Lexicon (Amen House, London: Oxford University Press, 1961), περιχώρησις, http://www.scribd.com/doc/52903581/G-W-H-LAMPE-A-Patristic-Greek-Lexicon.; Karen Kilby, “Perichoresis and Projection: Problems with Social Doctrines of the Trinity,” New Blackfriars (October 2000): 9–10, http://theologyphilosophycentre.co.uk/papers/Kilby_TrinNBnew.pdf.

[6] Gordon Russell Lewis and Bruce A Demarest, Integrative theology : historical, biblical, systematic, apologetic, practical : three volumes in one (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1996), 275–277. (cf. Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology : an Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press ; Zondervan, 1994), 249.)

[7] Kilby, “Perichoresis and Projection: Problems with Social Doctrines of the Trinity.” For another example of this tendency see the unfortunately unhelpful (in many key areas) textbook by the Balswicks; Jack O. Balswick, The Family: a Christian Perspective on the Contemporary Home, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Academic, 2007).

The Eternal Godhead: A Biblical Examination of the Doctrine of the Trinity

        The Trinity is a doctrine at the core of Orthodox Christianity; it sets it apart from every other religion in the world. The Trinity is the belief in a triune Godhead; “One ousia [substance] in three hypostases [persons]”.[1] God is an infinitely complex being who is three persons while at the same time remaining the one and only God. The Trinity is one of the most misunderstood doctrines in Christianity; it remains one of the most common points of heresy, and is the line in the sand that frequently divides the Orthodoxy from the cults. Many a religion claims that the Trinity is illogical, and instead default to a form of tritheism (Mormonism, Jehovah Witness, etc.).  The question that needs to be answered is this: Is the doctrine of the Trinity biblical, if so, what does it mean to our lives? Does the belief in a modalistic God—one God manifesting Himself in three different ways at different times[2]—or a tritheistic God really make that much of a difference? In Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology he lays out three biblical principles that form the Orthodox view of the trinity: God is three persons, each person is fully God, and God is one.[3] We will use these three principles as a guide as we examine the Biblical teaching on the Doctrine of the Trinity.

 

        God is three persons; this statement is seemingly contradictory for a religion that proclaims itself strongly monotheistic. Some would even go to suggest that this brings up some form of polytheism. Is the statement “God is Three Persons” Biblical? Does the Bible, a book that is strongly monotheistic from cover to cover, really teach that God is three unique persons?  Throughout the Old and New testaments we find verses that seemingly point towards a triune God. From the very beginning of the Old Testament some scholars suggest that we can see hints of God’s triune nature. In Genesis 1:26 we read “Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…” (emphasis added) (ESV). In the process of God’s creation God speaks and uses the plural verb “let us” and the plural pronouns “our”; who is He talking to? Some scholars have suggested that He is using the plural of majesty, a figure of speech used by some royalty. For example, a king might say, “We are pleased to grant your request.” However, there is no evidence to support this idea, as we do not see plurality used this way in the Old Testament scriptures. Another suggestion that has been made is that God is speaking to the angels, but since we have no Biblical indication that men were created in the image of angels and angels do not appear to have participated in creation; this suggestion does not appear to hold any water. It seems that this could very well be an early indication of the plurality of God, though no specific number is put to this plurality.[4] In Genesis 3:22, Genesis 11:7, and in Isaiah 6:8 we also see plurality in the use of pronouns and verbs for God. Another Old Testament example of three separate persons is found in Isaiah 48:16. In this verse we read not just of plurality but also possibly of all three members of the Trinity. Isaiah 48:16 reads; “”Draw near to me, hear this: from the beginning I have not spoken in secret, from the time it came to be I have been there.” And now the Lord GOD has sent me, and His Spirit” (ESV). In this verse we see the Father and Spirit being mentioned separately and if the speaker is Jesus Christ, as some scholars suggest a New Testament perspective shows, then we have mention of the entire Trinity found in this verse.[5] This would make sense because previous verses in the same chapter attribute things that only God could claim to the speaker, who then mentions being sent by the Lord God. This means that He himself is not person referred to as the Lord God. In the New Testament, from which the concept of the Trinity was originally drawn, a passage that seems to show the separateness of the Trinity is John 14:26: “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (ESV). Here we see the Holy Spirit being sent by the Father in the name of the Son, all three are distinguished from each other.[6] While accepting the separate personalities of the Father and the Son some people reject the idea that the Spirit is a person; instead some suggest that He is an impersonal force. There are several lines of reasoning to show that He is in fact a person, one of those is the use of male pronouns for Him in the Bible;

Since the Greek word pneuma (“spirit”) is neuter, and since pronouns are to agree with their antecedents in person, number, and gender, we would expect the neuter pronoun to be used to represent the Holy Spirit. Yet in John 16:13-14 Jesus’ description of the Holy Spirit’s ministry uses a masculine pronoun where we could expect a neuter pronoun. The only possible antecedent in the immediate context is “Spirit of Truth” (v. 13). Either John in reporting Jesus’ discourse made a grammatical error at this point (this is unlikely since we do not find any similar error elsewhere in the Gospel), or he deliberately chose to use the masculine to convey to us the fact that Jesus is referring to a person, not a thing.[7]

Another line of evidence is the fact that the Holy Spirit is attributed with feelings, relationships and roles of a person. The Holy Spirit is grieved by our sins (Eph. 4:30), He teaches (John 14:26), He intercedes and prays (Rom. 8:26-27), and He speaks (Acts 8:29; 13:2). Though these are only a few incidences that show His personality, they are enough to prove that the Holy Spirit a person, being the third member of the Trinity.[8] These are just a fraction of the Scriptural evidence for the existence of God as three persons; but what does Scripture say about each of these persons in regard to them each being fully God?

 

       “First, God the Father is clearly God. This is evident from the first verse of the Bible, where God created the heaven and the earth. It is evident through the Old and New Testaments, where God the Father is clearly viewed as sovereign Lord over all and where Jesus prays to his Father in heaven”.[9] The full deity of the other two members of the Trinity has been doubted throughout history. One heresy, known as Arianism, claimed neither Jesus Christ nor the Spirit were fully God. Those that doubt the personality of the Holy Spirit consequently doubt His deity.[10] Contrary to these teachings the Bible is replete with evidence supporting the deity of both Jesus and the Holy Spirit. The evidence for Jesus deity comes both from what His disciples wrote about Him and, contrary to what many believe, from His own words. In Hebrews 1:8 the author writes; “But about the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever, and righteousness will be the scepter of your kingdom” (ESV). Here Jesus is called God, in Titus 2:13 Paul writes; “while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (ESV). These are only two of many verses were Jesus’ disciples attribute to Him Deity, when does He call Himself God? In the New Testament we have no record of Him saying the words “I am God,” but what we do have is many statements that imply equality with God or that imply Godhood. In John 8:58 Jesus declares “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I Am” (ESV). This is a declaration of pre-existence, something no mortal man could claim. As well as declaring His pre-existence it is also believed by some that the statement “I Am” was an intentional parallel to Exodus 3:13-15 where in response to Abraham asking for His name God tells him “I AM WHO I AM” (Exodus 3:14 ESV). In Matthew 9:1-6 Jesus heals a paralytic, but He doesn’t just tell him that he is healed; Jesus tells him that he is forgiven of his sins. Only God is capable of forgiving sins and in both these cases the Pharisees and teachers of the law recognized that these were claims of equality with God, in the former case they attempted to stone Him (John 8:59, Matthew 9:3). With only these four verses we can already see Jesus’ deity; the rest of the New Testament only makes it clear. What about the Holy Spirit, can His deity be shown? There are a few passages in the New Testament that mention the Holy Spirit, the Father, and the Son in one breathe, seemingly rendering them equal. In Matthew 28:19 the Apostles are told “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (ESV). Here the Spirit is seen as equal to both the Father and the Son. In Acts 5:3-4 a man named Ananias comes to give to the church money from land he had just sold, but he lied by saying that he was giving it all when he was really keeping some. Peter first tells him that he has lied to the Holy Spirit (v. 3) and then in verse 4 he says that Ananias had lied to God.[11] This verse suggests that lying to the Holy Spirit is the same as lying to God. This gives reason to think that the Holy Spirit is God. If the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ, and God the Father are all persons who are fully God, does that suggest that they are three separate God’s?

 

If only looking at the first two principles this would seem apparent, but throughout the scriptures it is made clear that this is not so; there is only one God, and He does not tolerate the worship of any others. God’s oneness is the mystery of the Trinity, God is three persons, each fully God, yet He is at the same time one. If scripture was not clear on God’s oneness we would be left with the conclusion that what we call God is actually three different Gods. Though some heresies go to this point, scripture is not silent, nor is it unclear on the oneness of God. In Deuteronomy 6:4 we find a powerful statement of God’s oneness; it is what the Jews call the Shema, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one” (ESV). This statement puts it quite clearly, and this oneness is on display throughout the entirety of Scripture. In Isaiah 45:5-6 we read “I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; I equip you, though you do not know me, that people may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me; I am the LORD, and there is no other” (ESV). In Isaiah 44:6-8 we find even more evidence for God’s oneness:

Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts “I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god. Who is like me? Let him proclaim it. Let him declare and set it before me since I appointed an ancient people Let them declare what is to come, and what will happen 8Fear not, nor be afraid; have I not told you from of old and declared it? And you are my witnesses! Is there a God besides me? There is no Rock; I know not any.” (ESV)

The resounding testimony of the Old Testament is God’s oneness, does the New Testament agree? The New Testament carries the same message throughout. In Matthew 28 we read that the disciples are to baptize in the name of the Father, Spirit, and Son; they are not to baptize in a plurality of names, but in a single name of the Father, Spirit, and Son (Eaton). This indicates the oneness of God that exists even in His threeness. Romans 3:30, 1 Corinthians 8:4, Galatians 3:20, and Jude 25 are a few more of the many verses that bear this witness: God is one.

 

            The testimony of the entirety of Scripture declares this: God is one, God is three persons, and each person is fully God. These are the fundamental truths that led to the Orthodox view of the Trinity: One substance in three persons.[12]  It is sometimes suggested that one God in three persons is a breach of logic, but this would only be true if God was both one God and not one God at the same time in the same sense.[13] How does this doctrine affect our lives, how does the Tri-unity of God make a difference? For one, the Tri-unity of God explains how a loving and relational God can be completely independent of creation.[14] Any other view of God presents a god who has nothing before creation to love and be in relation with, so these attributes would have been no-existent until creation. This means that God would be dependent on creation for some of His attributes. In the Trinity this problem does not arise; God has been in an eternal loving relationship with Himself, each person in the Trinity has a relationship with each other. The Atonement also rests on the fact that Jesus was fully God atoning for sin made against God: “If Jesus is merely a created being, and not fully God, then it is hard to see how he, a creature, could bear the full wrath of God against all our sins. Could any creature, no matter how great, really save us? Second, justification by faith alone is threatened if we deny the full deity of the Son”.[15] The Doctrine of the Trinity is an amazing mystery, something we will never be able to fully grasp. However, thought we may never understand how God is both one and three we can understand that the Trinity is truth and to this truth we can respond by giving God all the glory and worshiping Him with every breath we have.

 

Eaton, Fred. “Lecture.” Systematic Theology. Pacific Life Bible College, Surrey. 1 December 2011.

Erickson, Millard J, and L. Arnold Hustad. Introducing Christian doctrine. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2001.

Grudem, Wayne. Systematic theology : an introduction to biblical doctrine. Leicester; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press ; Zondervan, 1994.

Nash, Ronald H. Worldviews in conflict : choosing Christianity in a world of ideas. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Pub., 1992.



[1] Millard J Erickson and L. Arnold Hustad, Introducing Christian doctrine (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2001), 112.

[2] Wayne Grudem, Systematic theology : an introduction to biblical doctrine (Leicester; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press ; Zondervan, 1994), 239.

[3] Ibid., 231.

[4] Ibid., 227.

[5] Ibid., 229.

[6] Ibid., 232.

[7] Erickson and Hustad, Introducing Christian doctrine, 273.

[8] Grudem, Systematic theology, 232–233.

[9] Ibid., 233.

[10] Ibid., 243.

[11] Erickson and Hustad, Introducing Christian doctrine, 272.

[12] Ibid., 112.

[13] Ronald H Nash, Worldviews in conflict : choosing Christianity in a world of ideas (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Pub., 1992), 80.

[14] Grudem, Systematic theology, 247.

[15] Ibid.

The Triune God: A Comparison between Christianity and Mormonism on the Doctrine of the Trinity

The Trinity; though a powerful title at the heart of Christian doctrine, it is yet an enigma to most Christians today. The Trinity is the doctrine that attempts to explain the mystery that is God’s triune nature. Because of its mystery it has been a stumbling block for a lot of Christians, and it presents itself as a major line in the sand separating Christianity from the cults that have branched off from it. One of these cults, Mormonism, presents itself as holding a true trinitarian doctrine, but is this doctrine compatible with the Orthodox Christian view? And if not, is it better? The doctrine of the Trinity comes out of three principles that Orthodox Christians believe the Bible teaches; God is three persons, each person is fully God, and God is one.[1] These three principals will form the structure of our comparison between the Mormon and Orthodox view of the Trinity.

God is three persons; this is a powerful statement. It is drawn from the fact that in the Bible three separate persons are called God.[2] The average Mormon would agree with this statement. In Mormonism their god is a created being, once a man who walked on a planet like earth.[3] During the course of his life he achieved exaltation and became a god of his own planet, Earth.[4] With his goddess wife he begot many spirit babies, the first being Jesus Christ, that become the inhabitants of this earth (Slick par. 11, 16). The idea of three separate persons fits easily within the Mormon teachings, which in fact teach of an infinite regression of father gods, each begetting more children who then themselves can become gods of their own planets.[5] The holy ghost is another spirit baby of the father who was exalted to godhood; the father, holy ghost, and Jesus make up what is called by Joseph Smith, the father of Mormonism, “the grand council” (JD 6:5).[6]

The Orthodox view of three persons is similar to that of Mormonism only in the statement that they are separate. From the teachings of the Bible we can see that each member of the Trinity, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, and God the Father, are each separate individuals. For the Father it is easy to establish the aspect of His personhood. There are many examples of this throughout the Old Testament and New Testament scriptures, such as His personality and the fact that He holds relationships with human beings. Jesus Christ’ personhood is exemplified in the fact that the entire New Testament is devoted to His life and ministry on earth. On the other hand, the last person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, some say is only a force. There is conflict over His being a person; but scripture, while not explicit, has many evidences of His personhood. In numerous verses (John 14:26; 15:26; 16:13-14) the masculine pronoun He is applied to the Holy Spirit “which one would not expect from the rules of Greek grammar, for the word “Spirit” (Gk. pneuma) is neuter, not masculine, and would ordinarily be referred to with the neuter pronoun ekeino”.[7] The Holy Spirit is also ascribed with personal traits and activities; He is grieved by our sins, He teaches, and He comforts or gives counsel.[8] This is just the tip of the iceberg for His personality, but is evidence enough to stand on Him being a person. Each member of the Trinity is a person, but some suggest that instead of being three separate persons; the Trinity is one person manifested in three different personalities (modalism). Scripture does not support this view; we can find examples of all three members of the Trinity being present while being separate. One example of this separateness can be seen at Jesus’ baptism; Jesus is being baptized, the Spirit descends like a dove, and the Father speaks from heaven (Matthew 3:16-17). The next piece of the doctrine of the Trinity that needs to be looked at is the nature of each of these persons.

Each member of the Trinity is fully God. Mormonism would agree with this, but the Mormon conception of their god is not the same as it is in Christianity. In Christianity the concept of being God brings with it the Idea of eternality, omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence. The God of Christianity is eternal, meaning that He was never born, but has always existed (Isa. 44:6; Rev. 1:8, 21:6, 22:13; Ps 90:1-2; Jude 25).[9] He is omniscient; he knows all things including the future. He is omnipresent, God is Spirit and is infinite in space; our idea of space does not limit Him.[10] He is omnipotent; He is infinite in power and can do whatever He wills.[11] These attributes apply to every member of the Trinity; they are each fully God. It is evident from the first verse of the OT that God is fully God, but many people have doubted that the Scriptures teach the Godhood of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. Entire books could be written on the evidence of each of Their deity, but we will focus on only a few examples.

Many people claim that Jesus did not proclaim Himself to be God, while He did not explicitly say, “I am God” He said many things that proclaimed equality with God. In John 8:58 Jesus declares, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I Am” (ESV). This is a declaration of pre-existence, something no mortal man could claim. As well as a declaring His pre-existence it is also believed by some that the statement “I Am” was an intentional parallel to Exodus 3:13-15 where, in response to Abraham asking for His name, God tells him “I AM WHO I AM” (Exodus 3:14 ESV). The Pharisees took this to be a declaration of equality with God and picked up rocks to stone Jesus for blasphemy. In Matthew 9:1-6 Jesus heals a paralytic, but He doesn’t just tell him that he is healed; He tells him that he is forgiven of his sins. Only God has the power to forgive sins and again the Pharisees see this as Jesus committing blasphemy, proclaiming Himself capable of things that only God could do.

The last member of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, is also implied to be equal with God in many places. One key text that displays this is Acts 5:3-4. In these verses a man named Ananias comes to Peter and tells him that he has sold his land and is going to give all the proceeds to the church, but in fact Ananias had actually held some back. Peter, through illumination by the Spirit, knows of Ananias’ deception and first asks him why he lied to the Holy Spirit, later telling him that he has lied to God. Because of this lie Ananias is struck down by God. In these verses lying to the Holy Spirit is seen as lying to God; this is a claim that they are equal. This is just one example of many that proclaim the deity of the Spirit. In Mormonism, they agree that Jesus, the father, and the holy ghost are all god; but when they refer to them as god they do not mean eternal spirits, but instead material beings.[12] Not one of their gods is eternal, each has been born, and each has a physical body (Smith JD 6:3).[13] The last idea behind the Doctrine of the Trinity is the belief that God is one.

The idea that there is one God is where the chasm between Orthodox Christianity and Mormonism is the widest. Mormonism is in fact contradictory on this point. Early Mormon doctrine seems to point to a god who is singular; the only god. The Book of Mormon is the clearest source of seemingly monotheistic doctrine. In the Mormon text of Alma 11:44 we read; “and be arranged before the bar of Christ the Son, and God the Father, and the Holy Spirit, which is one Eternal God.”[14] In Mosiah 15:5 we read; “And thus the flesh becoming subject to the Spirit, or the Son to the Father, being one God.” Each of these verses seems to indicate one singular Trinitarian, in the Orthodox sense, god. But in later texts from the church they proclaim a plethora of gods. The idea of an infinite regression of father gods, and each Mormon becoming a god refute any chance of true monotheism. Mormons claim that because they only worship the father god they are still monotheistic.

In reading through the Christian Bible, one is left with the resounding impression that there is a single God. Orthodox Christianity takes this view, proclaiming a single all powerful, un-created God. There are innumerable scriptures that support this view, but a key Scripture that displays this is what is known as the Great Shema located in Deuteronomy 6; “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one” (ESV verse 4). This is a powerful creed that has made its way onto the doorways of many Orthodox Jews’ homes, and sometimes onto their person. One more verse that proclaims God’s oneness is Isaiah 45:5-6; “I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; I equip you, though you do not know me, that people may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me; I am the LORD, and there is no other.” In light of these verses it is impossible to say anything other than God is one. Many have stated that there exists a contradiction in this verse.

The Mormon’s have countered this supposed contradiction by proclaiming the existence of three separate gods, a united tritheism; three gods united in purpose and will, but not in substance. The truth is that there is no contradiction; God is one, yet He is three persons who are each fully God. That is the Doctrine of the Trinity, and that is what sets Christianity apart from every cult, and from every other religion in the world. The Trinity is one God “one ousia [substance] in three hypostases [persons]”.[15]

Mormonism finds itself on shaky ground when it comes to its doctrine of God, and the doctrine of the Trinity. While proclaiming to believe in the Trinity, they actually hold to a belief in a united tritheism, three gods united in purpose. Their belief in infinite amounts of gods falls under the microscopic of logic; an infinite regression is not logically plausible.

“‘One cannot form an actually infinite collection of things by successively adding one member after another. Since one can always add one more before arriving at infinity, it is impossible to reach actual infinity. Sometimes this is called the impossibility of “counting to infinity” or “traversing the infinite.’… If there is infinite regress, then there must be an infinitely distant beginning, from which no actual point in time can be reached. Thus infinite regress of time implies that there can be no present time (Tremblay par. 3-4)

Since we are at the present, it’s tangible, an infinite regress is impossible: there has to be a beginning, and that beginning has to be uncaused. Mormonism gives no answer for this uncaused cause. The Orthodox Trinity provides the answer to this problem; God is eternal, outside of time, and therefore had no beginning so He can cause creation to happen without Himself being caused. The Bible, a book that Mormonism declares to be canonical, itself refutes the idea of three separate gods, and the idea that they are not eternal. On every page the Bible proclaims the infinity of the Triune Godhead. The Trinity will remain a mystery in the fact that we can never truly grasp how one God can be three persons. Though we cannot grasp it, it is not a logical fallacy (to be illogical God would have to be both one and not one at the same time, but this is not what the Trinity proclaims).[16] The Orthodox view on the Trinity is the only logical and Biblical view; realizing this all we can do is fall on our knees and worship our infinite God who transcends our human understanding.

Erickson, Millard J, and L. Arnold Hustad. Introducing Christian doctrine. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2001.

Grudem, Wayne. Systematic theology : an introduction to biblical doctrine. Leicester; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press ; Zondervan, 1994.

Nash, Ronald H. Worldviews in conflict : choosing Christianity in a world of ideas. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Pub., 1992.

Rhodes, Ron. The challenge of the cults and new religions : the essential guide to their history, their doctrine, and our response. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2001.

Slick, Matt. Teachings of Mormonism. 26 Nov 2011. <http://carm.org/teachings-of-mormonism>.

Smith, Joseph. The Book of Mormon. Salt Lake City, Utah, U.S.A.: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1920.

Smith, Joseph. Journal Of Discourses. Vol. 6. 26 Nov 2011. <http://www.journalofdiscourses.org/>.

Talmage, James Edward. Articles of Faith. Salt Lake City, UT: Desert News Press, 1961.

Tremblay, Francois. The Non-Cognitive Nature Of Infinity. 2004. 1 Dec 2011.      <http://www.strongatheism.net/library/atheology/noncognitive_nature_of_infinity/&gt;


[1] Wayne Grudem, Systematic theology : an introduction to biblical doctrine (Leicester; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press ; Zondervan, 1994), 231.
[2] Ibid., 232.
[3] Ron Rhodes, The challenge of the cults and new religions : the essential guide to their history, their doctrine, and our response (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2001), 61.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid., 62.
[6] James Edward Talmage, Articles of Faith (Salt Lake City, UT: Desert News Press, 1961), 39.
[7] Grudem, Systematic theology, 232.
[8] Ibid., 232–233.
[9] Millard J Erickson and L. Arnold Hustad, Introducing Christian doctrine (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2001), 95.
[10] Ibid., 94.
[11] Ibid., 96.
[12] Talmage, Articles of Faith, 43.
[13] Ibid., 38.
[14] Joseph Smith, The Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City, Utah, U.S.A.: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1920).
[15] Erickson and Hustad, Introducing Christian doctrine, 112.
[16] Ronald H Nash, Worldviews in conflict : choosing Christianity in a world of ideas (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Pub., 1992), 80.