Opinions on faith and life

Trinity Debate Assessment, Part 2

2008-10-28

Under “2. Opening Statements”, point II

This point is very simple: an appeal to the so-called church fathers. But history is not scripture, and if they want to win a debate on the eternal relationships among the Persons of the Trinity, they need to stick with what God has actually said and not someone’s personal views, however eloquent they may be. And though I won’t go into detail on this now, I’ve read some of those creeds and do not share the view that they all believed in eternal subordination of the Son to the Father. In some cases I think even the creeds have been misunderstood because people tend to read them through the lens of modern language and expressions, a very common error in Biblical interpretation as well.

We should always remember that mere proximity to the writers of the NT in time or location means absolutely nothing about authority, although it can be useful as historical record. Paul was constantly battling heresy even as he wrote, and others warned often of destructive teachings coming “from among yourselves”. The point being, that if falsehood was a big problem even while the original apostles lived, then how does living in or close to that time make someone a true and faithful teacher of scripture? In this regard it is very much the same error as presuming hierarchy in chronological order or in titles.

Under “2. Opening Statements”, point III

Based upon the nearly worthless foundation of church history as somehow authoritative, they look for scriptural support to back it up and what implications may stem from this. They begin with an assertion that “Everything in Scripture on this subject indicates the submission of the Son to the Father—in eternity past, in the incarnation, and in eternity future.” Easy to claim, but do the three points beneath it back it up?

Point 1 really says nothing about it, and certainly nothing disputable. We all believe that God had to reveal himself to mankind in order for us to know about him. Yet we also know from scripture (e.g. Rom. 1) that even without scripture, people have been given enough evidence of God’s existence to be “without excuse.” This does not mean they can discern the full gospel in this way, but only the existence of God.

Point 2 acknowledges the unity of divine nature or essence shared by all members of the Trinity. Again, there is no dispute here. Two out of three points and so far we have nothing to back up the assertion.

Point 3 shows that points 1 and 2 were solely for the purpose of setting us up to accept it, but the claim here is so blatantly in violation of the other two points that they couldn’t help. The claim is simply a repeat of the assertion that the terms “father” and “son” must denote a hierarchal relationship. So in spite of points 1 and 2, they want us to believe it’s possible for one equal to be subservient to another equal, for all eternity, on the basis of intrinsic qualities of each. In other words, equality of essence is supposed to be compatible with inequality of “role” for all eternity. But that is impossible; a role is something which is not an intrinsic quality but a voluntary and temporary arrangement. One cannot “play a role” when such a role is an integral part of their being. And again, where is the Spirit in this? What “role” does the Spirit play when he is not designated with a relationship type of title? Is he the butler or something?

After more assertions that the hierarchy view is the only possible view the Bible supports, they make another pivotal error: that without hierarchy it is impossible to distinguish the three Persons. How so? If there are identical triplets we don’t presume any chain of command, yet we know that they are three very unique persons. They do not lose their individual identities on the basis of being triplets. Individuality does not require hierarchy to exist. There would still be three Persons of the Trinity even if they were called The Height, The Width, and the Depth. Is the height indistinguishable from the width? Are the depth and width identical? Does height rule over width which rules over depth? All those questions seem ridiculous when we are talking about a three-dimensional object, yet it is a good illustration of how Three can be One yet with each one easily distinguishable from the others, all without hierarchy.

Likewise, the Persons of the Trinity can be distinguished by virtue of their being, regardless of any other factor. And like a three-dimensional object, God would not exist without all three Persons. But to boldly claim that there is no way to make distinctions without hierarchy shows an appalling lack of reason. And of course there are no compelling scriptures to say otherwise, as the later rebuttal indicates.

Under “2. Opening Statements”, point IV

This is their summary of the preceding points, and it contains four points.

Point 1 affirms their belief that all Persons of the Trinity share an equal identity and divine essence, and that this has been true for all eternity.

Point 2 continues to affirm that this equality is shared between the Father and the Son, making them of the same “nature”. Finally they mention the Spirit; good to know they haven’t forgotten about that Third Person.

Point 3 asserts that the relationships among the Persons are indistinguishable from “roles”; that is, that a person (or Person) has a role as an intrinsic quality of their being. There is not one shred of scripture to support this claim, and plenty to refute it. In addition, they claim that these roles are non-reciprocal; that is, there is no overlap at all. No scriptural support. They further assert that these roles constitute an eternal hierarchy, with the Father having authority over all but being under none, the Son being under only the Father, and the Spirit being under them both (yet somehow lower beneath the Father than the Son is). There is no scriptural support for this at all.

Then they plainly state what is a logical impossibility: that eternal hierarchy is possible among Persons of equal essence. In order for any two people to be equal, there cannot be a permanent and involuntary hierarchal relationship between them. Someone may be a police officer and be under a chain of command, but this relationship does not rule in their off-duty hours. It is a relationship confined to the workplace, and the underling has the option of quitting at any time. But if the underling were told that because he is from Venus while his superior is from Mars then he must be in subjection to the superior for life, that relationship is most definitely not one of equality of being.

They can claim that these hierarchal relationships are compatible with equality of being, but claims and proofs are two different things. Any “role” that sticks with you for life, was not of your choosing, and cannot ever be changed, is a quality of being; there is no way around that. Therefore, if hierarchy exists among the Persons of the Trinity, they cannot be equal in being. It’s that simple.

Point 4 seems to be there for the purpose of trying to “reverse the charges”. It claims the logical fallacy is on the part of those who disagree with them. They use the term “functional subordination” here to try and drive a wedge between essential quality of being and eternal roles based on being, but no such division can be made while still calling it logical or scriptural.

Thus concludes the argument for the affirmative. Part Three will be on the Negative. (or back to Part One)

3 Comments

Martin Willemoes Hansen

Great refutation :-) I have learned a lot from reading it, thanks. May God keep on blessing you.

Paula Fether

Thanks Martin! God bless you too.

Words of a Fether » Deaf And Blind: An Analysis of Flesh-based Theology

[...] MS reiterates points from a previous post about Gen. 1, admitting that both male and female are made in the direct image of God. But the “separate but equal” ploy is inserted from the literal beginning, and here the charge is that without hierarchy there would be no difference between the two at all; that is, we blur the line between the sexes if we don’t embrace hierarchy between them. I pointed out the ridiculousness of such a view in my analysis of the Trinity debate. [...]