We have seen the Doctrinal Foundations for the Biblical Doctrine of the Trinity. We believe that God is One, we also believe that God is Three Persons. One God and Three distinct persons.
We already looked at the triadic passages that clearly shows us that there are three persons in the Godhead:
- Eph 2:18 …For through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father.
- John 15:26 when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, namely, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, He will testify about Me.
- Mt. 28:19 Go, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit…
- 2 Cor 13:14 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
Let us now take a look at the distinction appropriate to each person as stated in the Scriptures.
The Father Unbegotten
Eph 3:14-15 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named.
According to William Ames (1576–1633), The name “Father” is even more appropriate than the word “God,” for the latter is a general name signifying transcendent dignity, but the name “Father,” like that of YHWH in the Old Testament, is a proper name, an attribute describing a personal property of God.
This name of “Father,” accordingly, is not a metaphor derived from the earth and attributed to God. Exactly the opposite is true: fatherhood on earth is but a distant and vague reflection of the fatherhood of God (Eph. 3:14–15). God is Father in the true and complete sense of the term.
He is solely, purely, and totally Father. He is Father alone; he is Father by nature and Father eternally, without beginning or end. For that reason also generation has to be eternal, for if the Son were not eternal, the Father could not be eternal either. The eternity of the Father carries with it the eternity of the Son
The relative property of the Father is to beget. [Ames 1.5.12]
- Psal. 2. 7. Thou art my Son, this day I begot thee.
- John 3. 16. the only begotten Son.
- Heb. 1. 6. The Son is His begotten.
Hence, He is the first in Order.
The Son: Generation or Filiation
The relative property of the Son is to be begotten, that is, so to proceed from the Father, that he is partaker of the same Essence, and doth perfectly resemble his nature: and hence, he is the second in order, Heb. 1. 3. The brightness of his glory, and the Character of his Person. [Ames 1.5.13]
“God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father,” – Nicene Creed
In Scripture, He bears several names that denote his relation to the Father, such as word, wisdom, logos, son, the firstborn, only-begotten and only son, the image of God, image (εἱκων), substance (ὑποστασις), stamp (χαρακτηρ) [cf. Heb. 1:3].
The eternal begotteness/generation of the Son secures the Son’s very same, exact nature with and distinction in person from the Father.
- John 1:14 And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.
- John 3:16 God sent His only begotten Son
The Son’s “begottenness” is figurative to describe his nature, and not his beginning
- Not physical but spiritual
- Not temporal but eternal
- Not creational but relational
The Arians, in opposing the idea of divine generation, objected that all generation necessarily brings along with it separation (τομη) and division (διαιρεσις), passion (παθος) and emanation (ἀπορροια). And that would be correct if it were physical, sensual, and creaturely. But it is spiritual, divine, and therefore simple, without division (ἀρρευστως) or separation (ἀδιαιρετως). It occurs without flux and division. [Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics]
Athanasius writes: “Inasmuch as God is simple, the Father of the Son is indivisible and without passion, for although in the case of humans we speak of outflow and inflow, we cannot predicate these things of anything that is incorporeal.”
Augustine also once penned this statement, “in reference to Himself, Christ is called God; in reference to the Father, He is called the Son.” The Father communicated His Divinity to the Son as clearly stated in John 5:26. This is obvious from the oft omitted Greek text of Nicene creed, from the essence of the Father [ek te¯s ousias tou patros].
The Son is AutoTheos (God of Himself). According to Phillip Schaff, “The most remarkable change in the first article is the omission of the words πουτέστιν ἐκ τῆς οὐσίας τοῦ Πατρός, θεὸν ἐκ θεοῦ on which great stress was laid by the Athanasian party against the Arians, who maintained that the Son was not of the essence, but of the will of the Father.” So the Son was “out of” and “through” the essence of the Father, and was generated “by” and “from” the Person of the Father.
Here is a clear statement from the Irish Articles (1615),
The essence of the Father doth not beget the essence of the Son; but the person of the Father begetteth the person of the Son by communicating his whole essence to the person begotten from eternity.
Let’s listen to Herman Bavinck,
Accordingly, he was not brought forth by the will of the Father out of nothing and in time. Rather, he is generated out of the being of the Father in eternity. Hence, instead of viewing “generation” as an actual work, a performance (ἐνεργεια), of the Father, we should ascribe to the Father “a generative nature” (φυσις γεννητικη).
JOHN 1:1-4 – THE LOGOS
In the beginning was the Word (Preexistence) …and the word was with God (Distinction and Equality) …and the word was God (Deity).
Logos, (Greek: “word,” “reason,” or “plan”) plural logoi, in ancient Greek philosophy and early Christian theology, the divine reason implicit in the cosmos, ordering it and giving it form and meaning.
We can identify that the subject is “the Word” since it has the definite article “the”. The word “God” is the predicate nominative which means that the predicate “God” has the same meaning or value as the subject of the sentence. So, the Son as to His nature is God. Simply put, He is divine in the complete and full sense of the term.
It is neither “the Word was the God”, which would mean that the Word and God the Father are one person (Sabellianism) nor “the Word was a god“, which would mean that Jesus is a lesser divine being (Arianism).
The lack of an article is against Sabellianism; the word order is against Arianism (Martin Luther)
Philippians 2:6 HYMN TO CHRIST AS GOD “CARMEN CHRISTI”
Who, although He existed in the form of God… form or “morphe” in Greek refers to God’s essential character. It is an outward manifestation of an inward reality. The original word behind “existed” denotes the continuance of a previous state of existence. John MacArthur writes, “It stresses the essences of a person’s nature, that which is absolutely unalterable, inalienable, and unchangeable” (The Deity of Christ). The Son did not merely seem to be God in appearance; rather, He was God in essence or nature.
Did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped. The phrase “equality with God” is a restatement of the phrase “form of God”. The word “equality” in Greek is in the plural form that seems to refer to Jesus’ deity in every aspect. Again, John MacArthur in the same book says, “The term refers to exact equivalence. In becoming man, Jesus did not in any way forfeit or diminish His absolute equality with God.”
In the Son, all the fullness (quantity) of deity (quality) dwelled. For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form (Colossians 2:9)
“The eternal begetting of the Son secures the Son’s very same, exact nature with the Father.”John Piper
The Arians, by contrast, contended that the Son had been brought forth by the will of the Father out of nothing. This, however, is not generation but creation, John of Damascus points out. Creation is “the bringing into being, from the outside and not from the substance of the Creator, of something created and made entirely dissimilar [in substance],” while “begetting” means “producing of the substance of the begetter, an offspring similar in substance to the begetter.”121 The Son is not a creature but he is “God over all, forever praised!” (Rom. 9:5 NIV).
The most striking analogy of divine generation is thought and speech, and Scripture itself suggests this when it calls the Son “Logos” [Speech, Word, Reason]. Just as the human mind objectivizes itself in speech, so God expresses his entire being in the Logos [Christ]. But here, too, we must note the difference. Humans need many words to express their ideas. These words are sounds and therefore material, sense-related. They have no existence by themselves. But when God speaks, he totally expresses himself in the one person of the Logos, whom he also “granted to have life in himself” (John 5:26 niv).
The Holy Spirit: Eternal and Double Procession
The property of the Holy Ghost, is to be breathed, or sent forth; and proceed both from the Father, and the Son. [Ames 1.5.14]
- John 15. 26. Whom I will send to you from the Father, that spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father,
- Romans 8. 9. The Spirit of God.
- Gal. 4. 6. The Spirit of the Son.
- Psa 33:6 By the word of the LORD were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth.
The difference between (these two) to be begotten, which agrees to the Son, and to proceed, which is proper to the Holy Ghost, cannot be explained by us in proper words, but that the Son proceeds from the Father alone, and the Holy Ghost from the Father and the Son, making one relative together, Or making together one relation. [Ames 1.5.15]
Spirit: His Deity
We know from the Scriptures that the Divine Attributes are not only affirmed of the Father and the Son (Isa 9. 6, and as seen above) but also of the Spirit. One theologian says elsewhere that once we have shown that the Spirit is a person, it then proves that He is God.
- Acts 5. 3, 4. that thou should lie to the Holy Spirit, thou hast lied unto God,
- Acts 28. 25. with Isa 6. 9. Jehovah said, the Holy Ghost spoke.
- 1. Cor. 3. 16. 6. 19. 2. Cor. 6. 16. the Temple of God, the Temple of the Spirit.
We have seen the clear distinction of the persons in the Godhead but let us never forget that as one God, the essence is undivided (always go back to the doctrine of Divine Simplicity mentioned on the previous blog). According to Mark Jones, “For Reformed theologians, the two ways of conceiving God, either essentially or personally, were not to be divorced from each another. The doctrine of God essentially considered prevented the dangerous heresy of tritheism (three gods), showing that it cannot be consistent with the simplicity of God. (Beeke, 88)“ The best defense during the time of the Puritans on this doctrine was written by Francis Cheynell (1608–1665), as quoted in A Puritan Theology, writes,
We do believe that God is one, most singly and singularly one, and an only one: The unity of the Godhead is…a most singular unity…. All three Persons have one and the same single and infinite Godhead, and therefore must needs mutually subsist in one another, because they are all three one and the same infinite God…united in their one nature, not confounded in their distinct subsistences; nay though their subsistence is in one another, yet their subsistences are distinct, but the nature most singularly the same.Francis Cheynell, The Divine Triunity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (London, 1650), 42.
According to the Puritans, this doctrine is ineffable for us. It means that it is too great or extreme to be expressed or described in words. In the words of Thomas Manton (1620–1677), as quoted in the “A Puritan Theology”, “best that we can use in so deep a matter, and serve to prevent the errors and mistakes of those who would either multiply the essence, or abolish the persons.” [Beeke, 89]
The Son is produced as it were by an act of understanding or speaking from the understanding, or fruitful memory of the Father: the Holy Spirit is produced by an act of loving or breathing from the fruitful will of the Father and the Son. Hence the Son is called the word, Wisdom, Image, which are not affirmed of the Holy Ghost. [Ames 1.5.16]
“….we profess to believe in one God, under the name of God is understood a single, simple essence, in which we comprehend three persons, or hypostases. Therefore, whenever the name of God is mentioned without particularization, there are designated no less the Son and the Spirit than the Father; but where the Son is joined to the Father, then the relation of the two enters in; and so we distinguish among the persons. But because the peculiar qualities in the persons carry an order within them, e.g., in the Father is the beginning and the source, so often as mention is made of the Father and the Son together, or the Spirit, the name of God is peculiarly applied to the Father. In this way, unity of essence is retained, and a reasoned order is kept, which yet takes nothing away from the deity of the Son and the Spirit. ”John Calvin, Institutes I.13, 20
While we confess the inadequacy of our language to describe the mysterious doctrine of the Trinity, we nevertheless profess our belief in the One True God who eternally exists in three Persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We praise God because He is not like us, and we thank God because He revealed Himself to us through His Words that we may have true knowledge of Him.
- Let us maintain the Trinitarian language in our prayers
- Let us uphold this doctrine in spite its incomprehensibility
- Let us worship the True God in Unity
- Let us take comfort that the True God is not like us.
- Let us defend a biblical Trinitarian God.
The God who is the Father, the Son, and the Spirit has reached out through the Son and by the Spirit to embrace us as sons and daughters to the end that we may call God our Father in the Spirit of the Son.Swain, S. R.
To God be the glory!
- White, J. R. (1998). The forgotten Trinity. Bethany House Publishers.
- H Bavinck, Bolt, J., & Vriend, J. (2004). Reformed dogmatics / 2, God and Creation / Herman Bavinck ; John Bolt, general ed. ; John Vriend, transl. [from the Dutch]. Baker Academic, Cop.
- Beeke, J. R., & Jones, M. (2012). A Puritan theology : doctrine for life. Reformation Heritage Books.
- Ames, W. (1958). Selections from the Marrow of Sacred Divinity, drawne out of the Holy Scriptures and the interpreters thereof, and brought into method.
- Letham, R. (2019). The Holy Trinity : in scripture, history, theology, and worship. P&R Publishing. https://www.christianbook.com/holy-trinity-scripture-history-theology-worship/robert-letham/9781629953779/pd/953779
- Franciscus Turrettinus, Turretin, F., George Musgrave Giger, & Dennison, J. T. (1992). Institutes of elenctic theology. P&R Publications [= Presbyterian And Reformed Publishing Company.
- Sproul, R. C. (2019). What Is The Trinity?
- Swain, S. R., Cole, G. A., & Martin, O. R. (2020). The Trinity : an introduction. Crossway.
2 thoughts on “The Triune God II: Trinitarian Distinctions”
You rolling out a lot of good posts!
LikeLiked by 1 person
Much needed here.