Trinity Debate Assessment, Part 1
At Henry Center Media there is a transcript of a debate on the Trinity. The point under debate is whether or not the Persons of the Trinity have a hierarchal relationship; the formal question is “Do relations of authority and submission exist eternally among the Persons of the Godhead?” Please read over the transcript or click on the link there to listen to the audio. You might also want to open the transcript in another window when reading my assessment.
This will be very detailed, so it will have to be done in a series of posts. And given how much I wrote about only the first affirmative point, there could be quite a few, but time will tell.
Under “2. Opening Statements”, point I-A
The scriptures cited are all in the NT. There’s nothing wrong with that, but surely if one wants to look for scriptural support concerning the pre-incarnate Christ, one would begin with the OT. Now lets look at the NT references they gave.
Eph. 1:3-5 is probably the best of their choices, but they have jumped to some unwarranted conclusions. What the Father chose before the creation of the world is not necessarily from eternity past. And what he chose is specified as that we who would believe were to be holy and blameless, and to inherit rights as adopted children. The big presumption they make is that because this adoption was to be through Jesus, that the Father must have forced this decision on Jesus from eternity past. Yet nothing of the sort is stated here. That the Father would “delight” or have “pleasure” in this tells us that there could be no coercion; only evil delights in using force to make those weaker than themselves obey. Since even the “affirmatives” in this debate believe in the full equality of all three Persons in their “essence”, then they also must believe that the Son is not weaker or less than the Father. And if we are truly talking about a Trinity and not three gods as anti-trinitarians sometimes claim, then they must all have one will among them. In other words, it is impossible for submission or hierarchy to exist within a single will.
Rom. 8:29 is a rather weak prooftext, but a common one among fatalists. The verse begins by stating that God “foreknew”. In fatalistic thinking, God cannot foreknow without causing; his omniscience is only possible by forcing all that happens. (As I’ve said many times, how much omniscience does it take to predict the outcome of a game that you rigged?) So in the fatalistic mind, if God foreknows then he causes. Therefore they see no distinction between what God foreknew and what he predestined.
The verse clearly states that the object of “foreknew” is “those who love him”, not those he predestined. And what God predestined is that such people would be conformed to the image of Jesus, not that certain elect people would be saved. I think the only reason they included this verse as supporting their case is because they wish to establish this fatalistic view of God, because other arguments will follow from that. They usually argue that the entire Godhead is the only entity in existence that has a free will, but here they wish to further dissect the Trinity by making only the Father possess a free will. That effectively puts the Son and the Spirit in the category of underlings, just as they believe all created beings are. This is the point where they are dangerously close to the cults’ view of God.
2 Tim. 1:9 has the same problems as Rom. 8:29, being more an argument directly for fatalism than hierarchy in the Trinity. Again, we must remember that “before time” does not mean “in all eternity past”.
Eph. 1:9-11 is basically a repeat of Eph. 1:3-5, but they are getting sloppy now. Who is the “he” in these verses? God (theos in Greek); it does not specify the Father here (pater in Greek). While the Father is specified in verse 3, it is not in verse 7. And in verse 19 we see again that God (theos) was “pleased” to have all his “fullness” dwell in the Son. What does that do to their hierarchy?
Eph. 3:9-11 is yet another instance where theos is mentioned, and cited as the creator of all things. Col. 1:15ff shows clearly that the Son is the agent of all creation. And if this isn’t getting confusing enough, we can add Isaiah 9:6 which calls the Son the “everlasting Father” and “mighty God”.
To summarize point I-A of the affirmative, they seem to be more intent upon establishing fatalistic views of God than proving hierarchy in the Trinity. And passages they cite can only be spun as supporting hierarchy by ignoring other scriptures to the contrary. The dividing lines between the Persons of the Trinity regarding their alleged “roles” are not clearly drawn in scripture; in fact, as we’ve seen, they seem almost interchangeable. The error the modalist makes is to use this fact as proof of God being a single One instead of a compound One as is evident in the Hebrew (echad is used both for God and for the nation of Israel; one nation of many people is a compound one, and one God of Three Persons is a compound one).
Under “2. Opening Statements”, point I-B
For the claim that the titles Father and Son indicate authority and submission, they cite several passages. But even before we read those, we immediately must ask, “What does the name Holy Spirit signify?” Is our own spirit subservient to our brain or body? No, there is nothing inherently hierarchal about the Spirit as a name or title. Neither is there anything permanently subservient in human parent-child relationships. That is, grown children are still children in relationship to their parents, but that relationship no longer entails authority and submission. We continue to respect them, but we are not compelled to obey them.
The first reference, John 1:14, only states the names; it gives no indication of permanent or eternal hierarchy. Likewise with John 17:24, and I noticed they carefully avoided verse 21 which states that the Father is in the Son and the Son in the Father. And all of this is in the context of the incarnation. If they’re trying to prove pre-incarnate hierarchy, they’re missing the boat completely. Heb 9:14 is actually counter-productive to their cause, because it tells us that the blood of Christ was shed “through the eternal Spirit”, which would indicate superiority of the Spirit. And again, the one being offered to is not pater but theos. Very weak.
Under “2. Opening Statements”, point I-C
Here they try to claim hierarchy in the act of creation, but we’ve already cited passages that show the Son to be the creator. How John 1:1 helps their cause, I don’t know; it says the Word was God from the beginning. Heb. 1:1-2 tells us once again that the Son is the creator, and the verses following further define the Son as “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being”; how does this in any way indicate subservience to the Father? And the context there is still post-incarnate. I’m beginning to wonder if they even know what that means.
Under “2. Opening Statements”, point I-D
Still thinking they’re talking about eternity past, they cite more verses from the time of the incarnation. John 3:16-17 says God, not the Father, but it is only implied by use of the term Son, and still does not denote hierarchy in eternity past. Gal. 4:4 speaks of the Son being sent, but again this does not indicate hierarchy. They presume that it does but scripture never says so. In fact, it’s my understanding that in the culture of the time, the sent one was considered the same as the sender; that is, the sent one was to be treated exactly the same as the sender. It is a statement of equality, not authority and submission. 1 John 4:9-10 is more about the Son being sent; it does not introduce anything new.
Under “2. Opening Statements”, point I-E
This statement doesn’t even belong in a section supposedly about eternity past; the statement is about Christ’s earthly ministry (John 6:38; 8:28-29; 15:9-10). That ministry was lived out as an example for us all to follow.
Under “2. Opening Statements”, point I-F
Now they move to eternity future, and by the verses they use I’d say they ignore what is known as the “hypostatic union”, the dual nature of the incarnate Christ. Jesus was not human in eternity past, but he will never stop being human in eternity future. Yet neither did he stop being divine; he is still fully God. In citing passages such as Heb. 7:23-25 they continue to ignore or fail to grasp the fact that Jesus acts as God-Man, as the bridge between the two, and that some of his activities are or were in regards to only his humanity. Jesus is a High Priest forever because he only needed to make one sacrifice; he is not still sacrificing like human priests had to. He holds the office of High Priest because of his humanity, yet he is no less God than he ever was.
The mention of Jesus sitting at the Father’s right hand is put forth as a proof of inferiority of rank, yet once again, it was never considered anything but a sign of equality. He sits on the Father’s throne (Rev. 3:21); he had to sit on one side or the other, didn’t he? If you sit beside someone who’s already sitting, you are not taking an inferior position. This whole premise is nothing but a baseless assertion.
Under “2. Opening Statements”, point I-G
The only verse given to support the claim that authority and submission exist between the Father and the Son after the final judgment is 1 Cor. 15:26-28, which speaks of everything but God being put under the feet of Christ. But once again they do not distinguish between that which pertains to Jesus’ humanity and that which pertains to his divinity. That’s supposed to be what the debate is about: Jesus’ divine nature. It’s supposed to focus on whether he was in a hierarchal relationship with the Father before he ever became human, yet they continue to try and blur the line. They evidently hope to claim that whatever Jesus will do in eternity future must also tell us how things were in eternity past, and that is clearly not true. There was a point in time at which Jesus took on humanity (John 1:14 for example), a point in time when something changed.
Under “2. Opening Statements”, point I-H
Now they summarize their points and begin by repeating the baseless assertion that the words “Father” and “Son” must denote hierarchy. This is circular reasoning because that is the point under debate; they cannot simply presume it to be true. They ignore other scriptures (Isaiah 9:6, Luke 1:35– the Spirit is also “fathering” the Son) that don’t fit their view that the “roles” of father and son are clear as crystal. Then they set up the straw man that anyone who disagrees with them has “hostility toward authority”. But of course we who disagree with them have no such problem, but only a problem with their trying to put human understanding onto the incomprehensible Trinity, their ignorance of the hypostatic union and what that implies, and with putting their philosophy of hierarchy in all things over scripture. Their final exaltation of authority seems to border on worship of it above all.