- Love and Liberty
Father And Son
My mind has been burdened by the words of men when it comes to the relationship between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Some emphasize God’s oneness, or monotheism, while trying to explain the individuality of the Father, Son, and Spirit, while others emphasize the individual Personhood of the Father, Son, and Spirit while trying to explain how they are one. Those in the former group are reluctant to acknowledge three divine selves, for this would appear to be tri-theism, while the latter group, with variations, strains to maintain a monotheistic perspective while acknowledging the deity of three. Rather than striving to maintain certain theological labels, as many do, we should strive to collect the biblical data and stand where it leads us, regardless of what others may call us. As we know, there are many views of the “Trinity”, resulting in many “isms.” It’s not an easy subject to study. There are many passages of the Bible to harmonize, and just when you think you are headed in the right direction, another passage in the Bible pulls you in another direction.
Did God intend this topic to be difficult to comprehend? Or have the ideas and definitions of men made it more difficult than it is supposed to be? Perhaps it is simpler than we think and we need to stop allowing fallible theologians and pastors to determine truth for us.
In seeking understanding and clarity on any issue I start with the assumption that the Authorized Version (AV) of the Bible is the Word of God. Other versions contain enough truth that a person can be converted by reading them, of course, but when someone says the AV is incorrect, or mistranslated, I dismiss what he has to say even if he arrives at the same conclusion that I do on a topic. Whatever arguments he uses to arrive at his conclusion will not be my arguments.
In this particular matter, I am aware of the common explanation that Godhood is ascribed to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Some deny the deity of Christ (which bars them from Christianity) and the Spirit, while some acknowledge their deity while ascribing to them a lower status than God the Father.
Considering the nature and status of Christ and the Spirit is a vast topic, but for now I will focus on the relationship between the Father and the Son.
Various answers have been offered to questions such as:
1. What does it mean that Christ is “the beginning of the creation of God?” (Revelation 3:14)
2. Why did Christ say the Father is greater than he is? (John 14:28)
3. Why did Christ say that the Father is the only true God? (John 17:3)
4. What does it mean that Christ is the Son of God? (John 3:16)
5. Why did Christ say the Father is his God? (John 20:17)
6. Why did Christ say that as the Father has life in himself, “so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself?” (John 5:26)
7. Why does the Bible say that God is the head of Christ? (1 Corinthians 11:3)
One might come to certain conclusions about Christ based on the verses referenced above.
And then the rope is pulled in the other direction:
1. Why does the Bible say Christ “thought it not robbery to be equal with God?” (Philippians 2:5)
2. Why does the Bible say Christ was with God in the beginning, and also that he was God? (John 1:1)
3. Why did Christ’s listeners think he was making himself equal with God? (John 5:18)
4. Why did God call the Son “God?” (Hebrews 1:8, see 1-7)
Both sets of verses are representative and many more could be included, but my purpose is to show that many people read the Bible and form conclusions (or they just take whatever doctrines are fed to them by others) based on certain texts, and when you look at their views you can understand why they think like they do. They may be wrong, but it doesn’t mean they are stupid. They are looking at what they think is biblical evidence and trying to understand the Word as a whole. I’m not saying that being sincere is all that counts, but I do think some people are trying to understand, and I would be leery of anyone who is utterly dismissive of someone else because he considers himself to have perfect theology.
I believe it is important for us to understand that no portion of the Bible can be properly interpreted in isolation. We need the entire Bible to be able to understand any part of the Bible.
Doctrines concerning the relationship and nature of God and Christ have been at the forefront of historical councils and debates. As I have said before, traditional doctrines are not infallible. Where might the Bible lead us if we realize how much we have been influenced by Platonic doctrines, or imperfect creeds of Church councils, and we set those concepts aside and open our hearts to what the scriptures show us about God, Christ, and the Spirit?
Many people consider the edicts of historic Church councils to be authoritative, but why? How is this different from Roman Catholicism, where papal decrees determine truth and practice for its members? I believe in salvation through the Church, that is, we must be united to the Body of Christ to be saved, but I reject the idea that this union consists of submission to a particular institution. Though I believe the Bible teaches that pastors and elders are to oversee the churches, their authority starts and ends with their adherence to the Word of God. They have none in and of themselves. Their word is not authoritative. Their presence is not authoritative. They are to call people to yield to the writings of the prophets and apostles, who were inspired by God to declare truth to the world. The last group of men whose words were authoritative were the apostles, and they are all dead, awaiting the return of Christ. Fortunately, we have their inspired teachings in the Bible. I do not consider the creeds and decisions of Church councils, or the pronouncements of Church “fathers”, to be authoritative. If anyone took the time to find out, they were often in disagreement anyway. I can look at their writings to see what I can glean from their labors, but I am in no sense obligated to accept their interpretations. The formation of “orthodoxy” in the past has at times been as much influenced by political aspirations as anything else, and those who have disagreed have been silenced through ostracization or even death. That is not Christianity.
As for the "Trinity", as I said at the beginning, battles ensue as people attempt to explain how three beings who possess the attributes of deity can be one God, or conversely, how one God can be comprised of three beings who possess the attributes of deity. As others have, I find the concept of a Tri-person Person (I chose this awkward description intentionally) to be problematic. I only want to hold to the truth of scripture and if the claims I make leads someone to tag me with a theological label of their choosing, then so be it.
I do not affirm that God in the First Testament is a three person Being. I believe that when we read about God in the First Testament, we are reading about God the Father. He is the one true God in First Testament revelation (and in New Testament revelation according to Christ). I believe the scriptures teach that the Son co-existed with God before the creation of the world, unlike modalists who believe they are the same person, and unlike those who believe Christ did not exist before his conception in the womb of Mary.
Are the Father and the Son equally divine? Here is where people can get crossways with one another quickly. We should go to the Word and not allow anyone to tell us what we have to believe just because they say so. Christ stated: “My Father is greater than I.” What could he have meant by that? Those who consider the Father and the Son to be co-equal say that the Lord meant God is greater in a functionary sense, but not greater in his being. A valid point seems to exist in this explanation, though I am not sure if it is the final word. The Bible says: “But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God” (1 Corinthians 11:3). God is the head of Christ as the husband is the head of the wife. Though a husband and wife are the same class of being, the wife is the weaker vessel, and she is to submit to the headship of her husband. We can see the “greater in a functionary sense” application in this parallel. Christ himself stated that it was his obligation to do the will of the Father; the Father is never said to be obligated to obey the Son. This is not an argument that detracts from the deity of Christ, for being under God’s authority does not negate the fact that Christ too is a possessor of Godhood and thus is the same class of being as the Father (I also affirm that Christ, as God incarnate, became fully human while retaining his deity, thus becoming the mediator between God and man). As a husband and a wife are one, but not the same person, so Christ speaks of his oneness with the Father. The husband’s authority over the family is shared with the wife who has an intimate oneness with him. The same is true of the Father and the Son. Their oneness in authority and purpose is evident in the scriptures.
Though the title “God” is especially and mostly (by far) used to refer to the Father, the Son is the same class of being according to the scriptures. He was present with God before the creation of the world, and in fact, “by him were all things created.” All things were created by him, yet the Bible says, “in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” This is proof that Christ IS the Person of God, so some claim. We must explain this properly, so we do not create confusion. I do not affirm that Christ is the same Person as God, but I do affirm that Christ possesses Godhood as God does. In this sense, Christ is rightly referred to with the title “God” (John 1:1, Hebrews 1:8). All throughout the creation account, God refers to himself in the singular. Though he says, let us make man in our image, I agree with those who see this as either God speaking to his heavenly court comprised of angelic beings, or it is simply a usage of the majestic plural to refer to God’s greatness. Previously I thought it may be the latter, but the more I have considered it, I currently think it is more likely God was speaking to his heavenly court and that the angelic beings participated in some way. God is on record asking his heavenly court for input (1 Kings 22:19-22), so perhaps this was the extent of their involvement.
I do not affirm that the usage of the word “God” in Genesis is speaking of Christ, though I believe Christ is the co-creator of the world. I also do not affirm that it is a reference to a Triune Being that includes Christ, for trinitarian doctrines were unknown to the ancient Hebrew writers (see here). I am concerned with what I see in the scriptures, not pleasing men. I think when God speaks in the first person in the First Testament he is speaking of himself alone, and I believe this carries over into the New Testament.
Traditional explanations of the Trinity are not authoritative to me; I want to be aligned with the Word. May the Lord give me greater understanding as I seek to understand truth.