Monday, June 28, 2010

Begotten before all worlds? Is Driscoll right to reject the eternal generation of the Son?

Concerning the doctrine of the Trinity, Augustine wrote that "In no other subject is error more dangerous, or inquiry more laborious, or the discovery of truth more profitable" (De Trinitate 1.3.5). That is a weighty sentence and worth remembering. In medicine precision matters and we care about it a great deal. In theology it matters even more.

Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears new book Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe, has a truly grandstand opening. In unpacking the importance of the doctrine of the Trinity they reason that:
Our longings for love, unity in diversity, communication, community, humility, peace, and selflessness are in fact - by design - longings for the Trinitarian God of the Bible and a world that is a reflection of the Trinity. (p. 12)
What follows, or, more perhaps more appropriately given the subject, what proceeds from this, in the rest of the chapter is a straightforward, robust, well applied articulation, anchored in Scripture, of the truth that:
The Trinity is one God who eternally exists as three distinct persons -- Father, Son, and Spirit -- who are each fully and equally God in eternal relation with each other (p. 13).
Now it would be fair to say that most of us find it easier to defend from Scripture the truth that there is only one living and true God, that there are three distinct persons in the Godhead, and that each of these persons is fully God ("which means that they share all the divine attributes, such as eternality, omniscience, omnipotence and omnipresence" as Driscoll and Breshears helpfully put it) than we do to explain it. Moreover, we find it easier to demonstrate that the doctrine of the Trinity is found in Scripture than we find it to explain the relationships between the persons that distinguish them as distinct persons.

We know that Father is different from the Son because he is the Father. We know that the Son is different from the Spirit because he is the Son. But this difference is not found in their attributes as God. The Father, as God, is not more eternal than the Son is. The Son, as God, is no less self-existent than the Father is. The Spirit is no creature but is as omnipotent and omnipresent as the Father and the Son. Each person may be described as very God.  These truths are articulated by Driscoll and Breshears, and the corresponding heresies of Modalism (one God playing three successive roles), Arianism (one God, with Christ and Spirit lacking deity) and Tritheism, suitably smacked down.

How then are we to distinguish the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit from each other? Well, historically, this has been done by speaking in terms of their personal properties. The Westminster Larger Catechism sets this out as follows:
Q. 10. What are the personal properties of the three persons in the Godhead?
A. It is proper to the Father to beget the Son, and to the Son to be begotten of the Father, and to the Holy Ghost to proceed from the Father and the Son from all eternity.
These are the historic categories that Christians have reached for to state clearly, but not exhaustively, and with a self-confessed inability to adequately explain just how it is so, that the Father is “unbegotten,” that the Son is “begotten” and that the Spirit (who is neither “unbegotten” nor “begotten”) “proceeds,” from the Father and the Son from all eternity. The Son is therefore eternally begotten, and the procession of the Spirit is an eternal procession. These are eternal acts beyond our capacity to understand. You cannot find a point in time before they occurred. The Son was not begotten at a point in eternity past so that he became the Son.

Although Driscoll and Breshears deal with the personal properties of the Son and Spirit in the book my comments here will be restricted to the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son. This is an important theological conviction for us to hold to, as I hope to show in due course. This is what Driscoll and Breshears say about it (I've broken up the paragraphs for ease of reading):
As the doctrine of the Trinity developed, theologians struggled to explain the eternal relationships of the Trinity. What differentiates Father from Son and Spirit? Using philosophical methodology, they worked backward from God's economic working in the world to define his eternal relationships.
The Bible says the Father sent the Spirit to conceive Jesus in the womb of Mary. Jesus is therefore referred to as the "only begotten [monogenes] Son." Theologians extended this begetting in history back into the eternal Trinity and posited that the Son is eternally begotten of or generated by the Father.
The whole attempt to define eternal relations in the immanent or ontological Trinity seems misguided. (p. 27)
The doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son of God can be found in the Nicene Creed, the Athanasian Creed, the Chalcedonian Definition, and the Reformed Confessions.  To jettison a doctrine that has a remarkable theological pedigree on the grounds that it has insufficient Scriptural support and is misguided is a significant claim, and one that needs to be carefully looked at and weighed.

Let me raise some preliminary questions about these statements.

  •  Is the Sonship of the second person of the Trinity eternal, or is it temporal? 
  • When Scripture speaks of the Son being begotten is it only talking about his human sonship and nature derived from Mary? Is this when he was begotten by the Father? 
  • Has he always been the Son, or did the second person of the Trinity become the Son of God only when he became incarnate as Driscoll and Breshears seem to imply in the statements above? 

I'm not entirely sure what to make of the statement that The Bible says the Father sent the Spirit to conceive Jesus in the womb of Mary. Jesus is therefore referred to as the "only begotten [monogenes] Son.” It strikes me as a sentence that doesn't precisely convey what the authors believe about the eternality of the Sonship of Christ.  Are they really suggesting that there is one generation of the Son, and that this consists in his being begotten by Mary?  Do all the references in Scripture to the Son being begotten by the Father refer to this?

We ought to speak of God creating the humanness of the Son from the substance of Mary, but we should avoid any implication that Christ's Sonship was begotten from the substance of Mary. Jesus is not referred to as the only begotten Son because of Mary, but because, unlike us, he is the natural Son of God.

Things are cleared up a little later on in the chapter when our authors helpfully say that “God the Father and God the Son were proverbially face-to-face in eternity past” (p. 34) and of the “unity and love that exist eternally between the Father and the Son” (p. 30). From these last two statements it seems clear that they do hold to the eternal Sonship of the second person of the Trinity in addition to his eternal pre-existence and deity.

Evidently then, the identity of the Son as the Son did not begin in a outhouse in Bethlehem. This is important. The principal casualty in the tinkering with the eternal Sonship of Christ, for tinkering there has been throughout church history, is the eternal paternity of God.  If the Son is not eternal, then the Father has not been the eternal Father, and before we know it the mutual love of the persons of the Trinity has been evacuated of its eternal depth and richness.  We are left with persons, but can no longer speak of how they relate to each other in eternity, and we cannot say with any confidence therefore that this relationship is one of eternal love.  This error is one that, even with their rejection of eternal generation, Driscoll and Breshears clearly avoid.

Driscoll and Breshears affirm that the Son is in eternal relationship with the Father, and the Spirit, but, that we know nothing, and can say nothing, concerning the nature of the eternal relationship between the Father and the Son. They are not willing to affirm that he is the Father's only begotten Son, “begotten, before all worlds.” Although the first person of the Trinity has revealed himself as the Father, and the second person of the Trinity is revealed to us as the eternal Son of the Father, and although the first person is said to have begotten the second person in Scripture (there is explicit Scriptural warrant for this in Hebrews 1:5 and elsewhere, there are nine references given in footnote 66 on p. 27), we are warned that any attempt to define this eternal relationship is misguided.

There are yet more questions to ask. What “philosophical methodology” did these theologians use as they worked backward from what the Trinity has done in time to work out what the Trinity is like in eternity? We are not told. What are we to make of the words of Jesus in John 5:26, “For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself,” as passage that Driscoll and Breshears do not refer to or discuss.

In the next post I will take up the three reasons why Driscoll and Breshears think that the attempt to "define eternal relations in the immanent or ontological Trinity seems misguided."


Nathan said...

Great point regarding John 5:26. None of us, as created beings, have life "in/of ourselves." Our existence and sustenance are (naturally) entirely contingent: the same is not true of the Son. More and more I see the essentiality of the Nicene Creed.

A. F. Walton said...

Thanks for the article. As Nathan said, good use of John 5:26, I had been wondering how being given to have life was to be understood and that sounds reasonable. (In John 1:3-4, some Fathers read "Without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life." However, a change of punctuation seems preferable (in agreement with a number of other Fathers and heretics) so that it reads "Without him was not anything made. Made to be in him was life". This is preferred since it agrees with John's emphasis not on creation, but on the son [thus it is the same idea as 5:26]. Thus if 5:26 is on eternal generation, then this verse supports it too. [See UBS4 Greek Text Apparatus for the supporting Fathers and heretics.)

Augustin's explanation of eternal generation is worth noting: he is eternally begotten because when God said "Today, have I begotten thee", God refers to his eternal 'today' which is ever before him (Confessions XI.13.16).

Perhaps it is also worth noting that John Walvoord has a nice discussion on these different views of when Christ is 'begotten' and given the title 'Son of God' (Jesus Christ Our Lord, 38-42).

Paul C said...

A couple comments regarding the personhood of the Holy Spirit.

Can you explain why the Holy Spirit never once appears in any of the epistle greetings. Paul standardly greets each church with something like: "Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ."

Why not the Holy Spirit?

Also, at the end of time when the kingdom is finally established on the earth, we see this statement by John:

"I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple." Rev 21.

Why is the Holy Spirit omitted in these instances?

Martin Downes said...

Hi Paul

What prompts you to ask those questions?

I'm not a biblicist so I don't expect the Bible to state the doctrine of the Trinity in exactly the same as it is stated in the creeds. The fact that the Spirit is not mentioned in these verses is of absolutely no significance at all to the acceptance of his deity and distinct personality.

Paul C said...

Hi Martin,

Well, to me they look like gaping omissions if the Holy Spirit was regarded as a person of the Godhead by the early church.

Why would Paul omit them?

Why is God (a spirit) and the Son mentioned in Rev 21, but not the Holy Spirit?

I am not debating the existence of the Holy Spirit or the power, but more so the personhood.

Can you give a sense of how you would provide a proper answer to such a question of omission?

Martin Downes said...

Hi Paul,

The doctrine of the Trinity involves the following points established from Scripture:

1. There is only one God
2. There are three distinct persons in the Godhead, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit
3. Each person is fully God

As long as these three points can be shown to be taught in Scripture, directly and by good and necessary consequence, then we have the historic orthodox doctrine of the Trinity.

What must be guarded against is the presence of unwarranted assumptions about how we think the doctrine should appear in Scripture.

We should particularly bear in mind that God reveals himself as a Trinity as he saves his people. The doctrine of the Trinity is shaped by plan of salvation and the different roles of the persons in the economic Trinity.

The omissions that you mention don't bother me in the slightest because we couldn't class them as omissions without bringing a certain set of assumptions to the text about what it should say and how it should say it. It is not as if we are lacking in texts that mention two persons of the Trinity.

Paul C said...

Martin, thanks for your thoughts. You say:

"It is not as if we are lacking in texts that mention two persons of the Trinity."

I agree that there is definitely the Father and the Son in the Godhead. The Holy Spirit, as John tells us, "proceeds from the Father."

I believe in the power, presence and need of God's Spirit. It is absolutely essential.

Lastly, I would add that Paul's (and every other writer's intro) gives an indication as to what they believed. There's no reason for them to omit the Holy Spirit in their greeting unless they understood the Holy Spirit to be the Spirit of God: one and the same.

Martin Downes said...


Do you understand the Spirit to be synonymous with God's power and presence?

Paul C said...

Martin, I would suggest that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and Son. It is the Spirit of God that unifies the Father and Son and abides in believers.

cath said...


An extremely interesting post - looking forward to the next installments!

Do you have any recommendations of books to read on the eternal Sonship of Christ? A couple of years ago I acquired a book with that title by a Zeller and Showers, which I think was meant to be the first "layman's" treatment since Philpot, and was very readable as far as I recall. (Although were they dispensationalist? Can't remember exactly, but apart from that it was very good I thought.)

On the divinity of the Holy Spirit, there is of course a beautiful work by George Smeaton, although it's obviously off topic here.

Martin Downes said...

Hello Cath,

I'm not sure if it is in print but you can get hold of a pdf. copy of the Princetonian Samuel Miller's "Letters on the Eternal Sonship of Christ."

Three cheers for Smeaton who is brilliant on the Holy Spirit.

peteincyberspace said...

Thanks for this post Martin.

In my experience, the eternal generation of the Son is most commonly denied by egalitarians, which makes Driscoll's rejection of it all the more odd.

ryan said...

"Lastly, I would add that Paul's (and every other writer's intro) gives an indication as to what they believed. There's no reason for them to omit the Holy Spirit in their greeting unless they understood the Holy Spirit to be the Spirit of God: one and the same."

Paul, what you seem to be missing is that the authors of the New Testament were not simply writing their opinions, but were inspired by the same Holy Spirit that you seem to think they are forgetting.

There are plenty of examples in Paul's epistles where he gives praise to the Trinity, so just because he doesn't include the Spirit does not mean he has forgotten it.

Also, you must remember what the role of the Spirit is: to glorify Jesus. Somehow with the rise of Pentecostalism and other charismatic movements, evangelicals seem to think we always have to include the Spirit in our conversations (not saying you're doing that, just making a point). I love talking about the Spirit, but His job is to point us to Christ.

Paul C said...

Ryan, I am not saying or implying that Paul is "forgetting" the Holy Spirit. What I am arguing (and what becomes clear as you go through each and every epistle intro) is that the Holy Spirit was not regarded as a person, an entity in the Godhead.

For example, look at 1 Cor 11:3.

I am not denying there is a Holy Spirit at all. It is absolutely necessary and leads us in so many ways. What I am arguing is that the Holy Spirit is what proceeds from the Father (the Spirit of God).

Daniel said...

Great post. This is an important issue, because what hinges on it is whether God has really revealed himself as he is. It matters that the Person who has revealed himself as God the Son actually stands in a Sonship relationship to the Father from eternity. Otherwise, the God of revelation could be different from God as he is in himself - and then how confident could we really be that we knew anything about him?

Daniel said...

Paul, at the risk of giving the impression that everyone in this comments thread is jumping on you, don't you think the way the Spirit is bracketed with the Father and the Son within the one name of God in Matthew 28:19 is pretty significant?

Bernard said...

Martin - Thanks for this post. I look forward to your follow up posts.

Paul - I recently read an article by Warfield on the Trinity which I found very helpful (available on the web at About 2/3rds of the way in (at the paragraph commencing, 'When we turn from the discourses of Jesus to the writings of His followers ...), he deals with the witness to the Trinity in the letters and in so doing puts the lack of mention of the Holy Spirit in the introductions to the letters into context. Trust you find this of help.



Y Cymro said...

Hi Martin - hope all is well.

Hi Paul C - Paul you make some important errors in your understanding of the Holy Spirit, errors which seems to put you "on the brink" so to speak.

First you ask why is the Holy Spirit not mentioned in Rev 21? Well, you make the mistake of assuming that the chapter markings are actually helpful. Remember they are uninspired. The New Heaven and New Earth vision continues into 22 to at least v5, some say to the end of the book. Given that, look at the description of the throne of God and of the Lamb in vs 1 of 22. The river of clear crystal is a picture of the Holy Spirit. Refer back to Ezekiel's prophetic temple visions especially Ez 47 with the image of water flowing from the Temple (remember who the temple really is). Couple this with Christ's interpretation of the Holy Spirit's role in John 7:37, where the Spirit is once again likened to a "stream of living water" we begin to see something of the Spirit's ministry as depicted in the imagery of rivers and waters. Now stop again in Rev 22:1-5 and it is hard not to see the Spirit, as he does, proceeding from the Father and the Son.

Furthermore you question the personhood of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit may be missing from the greetings, but certainly not from the benedictions of Paul - again as you said they demonstrated what they believed in what they wrote - "The Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God and the fellowship (communion) of the Holy Spirit" (2 Cor 13). You can't have fellowship with a force, you have it with a person. Moreover, the Spirit is spoken of as being "lied to", "tested" (Acts 5) and "grieved" (Eph 4:30). Such happens to one with "personhood".

Furthermore as one person has already alluded, in the economy of redemption it is not the Spirit's role to give grace to the believer. That is the role of Father and Son, the Spirit's economic role is the application of the benefits of redemption. So the fact that the Spirit is left out of such grace-filled greetings is not surprising - for it is the Spirit that applies such grace and is not the source of it ( I speak economically of course)



Paul C said...

Y Cymro says: "First you ask why is the Holy Spirit not mentioned in Rev 21? Well, you make the mistake of assuming that the chapter markings are actually helpful. Remember they are uninspired."

The verse I was referring to is here:

"I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple."

Herein do we see the eternal Godhead represented and unified. They are entities, beings. The Spirit proceeds from them.

I have no idea what you're speaking about regarding the chapter markings... I wasn't distinguishing chapters here.

I would not dispute your assertion regarding Rev 22:1-5. I believe in the Holy Spirit, but hardly do these verses connote a personage.

I would also argue that someone can indeed frustrate or grieve the Spirit of God.

I would ask what you make of this comment from the New Catholic Encyclopedia (considering the RCC established the doctrine of the Trinity; of course, in the next council in Ephesus, 431 AD, they sanctioned Mary Veneration as well):

"From what has been seen thus far, the impression could arise that the Trinitarian dogma is in the last analysis a late 4th-century invention. The formulation ’one God in three persons’ was not solidly established, certainly not fully assimilated into Christian life and its profession of faith, prior to the end of the fourth century. But it is precisely this formulation that has first claim to the title the Trinitarian dogma. Among the Apostolic Fathers, there had been nothing even remotely approaching such a mentality or perspective."

Martin Downes said...

I've just in after spending the day in Bangor, so thank you for all the comments.

Matthew thank you for your very helpful obeservations on the Trinity, and to Bernard for the recommendation of the Warfield article.

2 Cor. 13:14, as Matthew pointed out is crucial, as well as the other biblical passages that describe the activities of the Spirit in terms applicable only to a person, and those that distinguish the Spirit from the Father and the Son (such triadic patterns can be found in Isa. 42:1; 48:16; 61:1; 63:9-11; Matt. 3:16-17; plus the numerous triadic patterns in Paul's letters.

John 15:26 and 16:13-15 are pretty decisive in distinguishing the three persons and ascribing personal activities to the Spirit:

15:26 "But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me."

16:13-15 "When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you."

Finally I would add two things. To suggest that the doctrine of the Trinity was established by the RCC is frankly, a ludicrous suggestion. There was a doctrine of the Trinity before the council of Nicea, the reason why the Nicene creed stated it in terms of the "homoousios" the consubstantiality of the Father and Son was precisely because the meaning of Scripture was being disputed between the orthodox and the heretics. The doctrine existed before this, but the truth of it was better safeguarded by the Nicene formula.

Paul C said...

Hardly ludicrous. It evolved (from the time of Tertullian) until it was crystallized in the 4th century. Not sure where you see the stretch here.

Furthermore, you outline some OT (Isaiah) scriptures and one from Matthew, none of which I would debate (I agree with them), that mention the presence of the Spirit. No one is denying this whatsoever.

But in each case, you will notice it is not a standalone entity, but "my Spirit" or "his Spirit" or "The Spirit of God".

The Spirit is the presence of God.

Martin Downes said...


You said that the "RCC established the doctrine of the Trinity" which is a demonstrably false statement. That is why I said it was ludicrous.

I'm not sure that I see your point when you say that ' each case, you will notice it is not a standalone entity, but "my Spirit" or "his Spirit" or "The Spirit of God".'

What do you mean by "standalone entity"? I can't see how this phrase comports with the doctrine of the Trinity as classically understood by those who have advocated it. Do you mean that because the Spirit is referred to as "my Spirit" etc. then he cannot be a distinct person who is fully God and equal in power and glory with the Father and the Son? If that is what you mean then I just don't agree.

Daniel said...

If you don't mind me chipping in again, Paul, you seem to be saying some things that we would all agree with, e.g. that the Spirit is God's presence, that the Spirit is the Spirit of the Father and the Son... None of that is a problem. However, you seem to be ignoring those parts of Scripture which place the Spirit alongside the Father and Son in a way which implies the doctrine of the Trinity as it developed in the church. I mentioned earlier Matt 28:19; there is also, of course, 2 Corinthians 13:14, which places the Spirit alongside Jesus and God (the Father) and asks for all three to be at work in the Corinthian church. I'm not sure how you could avoid the conclusion that the Spirit is just as much God as the Father and Son.

Perhaps the word 'person' is causing difficulty? If, when you hear 'person', you think 'totally separate individual' - as we might do when using the word of a human being - then it will not fit Scripture of the church doctrine. But it has a particular usage here which does not carry that implication.

Marcus said...

Good post MD. I must look at the book if I get time. Not having read it I wonder from your comments if there is a lack of clarity in the book between God the Son (ie the second person of the Trinity) and the Son of God (ie the King of Israel)? And when the first becomes the second?

Y Cymro said...


It would be good to know something of the background from which Paul C is coming. Just google "Gospel Assembly Church" and you'll find enough links to understand his trouble with the Holy Spirit.


Nathan said...

(Continuing the off-topic diversion...) Pneumatomachianism? Paul, I can kind of understand where you're coming from, but the same guys that approved the doctrine of the Trinity approved the New Testament canon you're using: shouldn't you be calling out that sort of circularity as well? (Being a bit polemic there, I admit.)

The classic work, I believe, is by Basil of Caesarea, On the Holy Spirit. Obviously this is not a new issue.

Macedonianism is closely related to Semi-Arianism, which is where your citation of 1 Cor. 11:3 is likely to lead you (or perhaps Subordinationism). Remember first, there is "one Lord, one Faith..." So when 2 Cor. 3:18 calls the Spirit Lord, how can a Lord be impersonal? Or if "one Lord" is true and proper to say of both the Father and the Son, logically it seems the Spirit must also be included.

Or how about 1 Cor. 12? "No one can say 'Jesus is Lord' except by the Spirit." An impersonal energy is moving personal beings to make personal statements about a divine person?

Try Galatians 4:6. Does an impersonal spirit speak "Abba, Father?" How can impersonal force use language? Or Rom. 8:26 — do impersonal forces intercede to a person for persons? Revelation 2 & 3 — impersonal energy speaks to personal (person-filled) churches? Back to Matthew 28: do we grant names for impersonal energies?

Or learn from Acts 17:31 and Romans 6:4 that the Father raised the Son from the dead. Then from John 2:19, 5:21, and 10:18 learn that the Son raised himself from the dead. Finally, see in Romans 8:11 that the Spirit raised the Son from the dead.

The person/nature distinction always seems to need repeating. If the Spirit is not person, it must simply be another way of naming the divine nature (essence) or be something other than divine. But the divine essence cannot come from the Father and the Son, or else where did the Father and Son come from in the first place?

Nathan said...


You might be interested to know that John MacArthur denied eternal generation for quite some length of time before retracting his denial. Other deniers include Thomas Ridgely, Albert Barnes, Walter R. Martin, J. Oliver Buswell, and Robert Reymond.

Martin Downes said...


Thank you for those helpful comments.


I was aware that MacArthur has previously denied the eternal Sonship of Christ (whilst affirming his eternal deity and distinct personhood) but not that Robert Reymond had done the same.

Paul C said...

Daniel - I appreciate your comments.

I find it interesting that the personage of the Father and the Son is explicit in hundreds and hundreds of verses, but to draw the same correlation to the Spirit, we have to be somewhat "creative". I suggest that this is why King James translators had to originally butcher 1 John 5:7 (to somehow lend credence to it).

We've already mentioned the introduction of Paul's epistles in the name of the Father and Son, mysteriously omitting the Spirit. In this thread, would anyone suggest this has been reasonably addressed?

Or look at John's epistle: "And truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son, Jesus Christ" (I John 1:3)

With integrity, can anyone truly say that this doesn't strike you as a tad odd? I'm not asking for you to concede anything but that at least it's mysterious to some degree.

What did they understand that many don't today?

A good example is the Book of Revelation. To make the Holy Spirit a person here is virtually impossible and requires a lot of gymnastics. Of course, based on Rev 21, the Father and the Son are exclusively "the light of the temple". Interesting.

Nathan - thanks for your insights. I see no issue whatsoever that God used the Spirit to raise Christ from the dead. The Spirit is that quickening agent, the life and presence of God. It is that same life force that quickens our dead souls to declare Jesus as Lord.

At the risk of going even further off course here, I would suggest that much of the argument is being made from a traditional sense, not a biblical one. Sort of like to debate over Hell (ie: did the early church believe in Hell? Clearly not, but it is standard theology today).

Martin Downes said...


I see that you have been posting the same questions and texts on Tim Challies blog.

You also seem to have repeated yourself in your last comment and not interacted with the responses thus far offered to you. Why is that? No one has offered 1 John 5:7 as a relevant text so why have you brought it up? Why mention that and not the other verses that have been mentioned on here?

If in Revelation those who have ears to hear should listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches I wonder what gymnastics one has to go through to make this speaker, who speaks what he hears from the Son (John 16) a non-person.

You remarks about ommissions (although 2 Cor. 13 and Matt. 28 seem not to matter to you) reminded me of the words of George Smeaton about those who denied the Holy Spirit, "the language they desiderate may not be found in the express form which they desire."

Martin Downes said...

Paul can I condense everything down to one questions for you?

How can the Spirit hear, speak, be lied to, be grieved, be sent by the Father and the Son, be someone that we can have fellowship with, and not be a distinct fully divine person?

I'd be happy to supply all the texts for that but they have all been referred to by previous commentators.

Paul C said...


Yes, I found your blog through a link in the comments from Challies.

I guess there is some difficulty in making an argument in a comments section of a blog because not every scripture/argument can be adequately addressed all the time.

Likewise you have yet to give a reasoned response as to why there are omissions in the introductions of the epistles.

I introduced 1 John 5:7 only because it has been argued that this text was initially mangled in hopes of giving some credence to the doctrine of the Trinity. It demonstrates the lengths some were willing to go to prove it. Of course, the deity of God the Father and the Lord Jesus is not in question at all.

Regarding Revelation, if the Spirit is the vehicle/means that God uses to communicate to us, then hearing "what the Spirit says unto the churches" is not difficult to grasp. What I was referring to is every picture we get of heaven or the eventual kingdom on earth clearly includes the Father and Son as, but the same can't be said of the Spirit. Why? (see Rev 21 for example).

Regarding 2 Cor 13, there is nothing here to really suggest a person. By communion he is referring to a "sharing in" the Holy Spirit. That bonding agent that keeps us connected to the Lord. It is through the Spirit we are kept connected with God and the Lord Jesus.

Regarding Matthew 28, "in the name of" simply refers to authority.

If an officer says, "Stop! In the name of the law!" does this connote personage of the law? Of course not. The apostles were vested with the authority of the Holy Spirit, this seal, this power, to baptize men (bring them to conviction of sin and then repentance).

Again, a blog comments area is a poor forum to outline and address each and every argument...

Y Cymro said...

Paul C

On the contrary, the argument about the omission of the Spirit in the greetings has been dealt with. I wrote earlier ...
"in the economy of redemption it is not the Spirit's role to give grace to the believer. That is the role of Father and Son, the Spirit's economic role is the application of the benefits of redemption. So the fact that the Spirit is left out of such grace-filled greetings is not surprising - for it is the Spirit that applies such grace and is not the source of it ( I speak economically of course)" ...

It is you, rather than us, who have failed to answer the difficult question.

Additionally, I am led to believe that Robert Reymond has changed his position on eternal generation from the first edition of his systematic which was published in 1988.


Paul C said...

Y Cymro, yes I read your comment but found it insufficient and a bit of a stretch.

What do I mean? Well, the greetings open with "grace and peace". You only deal with the concept of grace and then make your case. What do you do with the word "peace" if you're going to make such a case? Why do you focus on grace?

Seeing as the Holy Spirit is also the "Comforter" you would think that "peace" would be relevant and therefore warrant a mention, no? Comfort and peace are essentially the same thing after all.

Besides that though, it is more reasonable that Paul was simply greeting the churches in the name of the Godhead - the Father and Son.

This is what I mean: it is very, very difficult to come up with a reasoned, logical response to the question within the framework of the traditional Trinity.

Martin Downes said...


If you would be so kind could you answer this question:

How can the Spirit hear, speak, be lied to, be grieved, be sent by the Father and the Son, be someone that we can have fellowship with, and not be a distinct fully divine person?

There is a difference between the incidental and occasional way in which the doctrine of the Trinity saturates the NT letters in the economic activities of the three persons and the way in which the creedal wording of the Trinity in the Niceno-Constantinopolitan creed was formulated in response to specific errors.

I simply think that you are assuming that only a certain kind of wording would be appropriate and acceptable, but you have been offered the Pauline benediction of 2 Cor. 13:14 and you dismiss it.

So, on reflection, I don't think that it would make much difference if each Pauline letter began with a reference to Father, Son and Spirit. Based on your responses above I think you would find a way of explaining that away.

If you could tell us what exact form of words would satisfy you I'd be grateful.

Paul C said...

Martin - with respect...

I have asked my question numerous times throughout this interaction and you haven't put forward your notion (as far as I can see) regarding the introductions. You have asked questions and made other comments, but have I missed something?

If you could comment reasonably and logically on this I would be grateful.

I never dismissed your question re 2 Cor 13:14. I answered it as best I could.

Martin Downes said...


We have answered you on this. You are holding the doctrine hostage by insisting that the introductions to the Pauline letters be worded in such a way as to satisfy you. I cannot fathom why you are doing this. There is no logical reason why the distinct personhood of the Spirit, and his co-equality with the Father and the Son should necessitate a particular form of wording at the head of each letter.

Jesus speaks of him using the personal pronoun "he" (John 15:26; 16:13-14), he speaks of himself in the fist person in Acts 13:2 (the Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them). He searches (1 Cor. 2:10-11), judges (Acts 15:28 For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements), hears (John 16:13), speaks (Acts 13:2; Rev. 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22; 14:13 "Blessed indeed," says the Spirit, "that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!"; 22:17 "The Spirit and the Bride say, "Come."), teaches (John 14:26), intercedes (Rom. 8:27) and witnesses (John 15:26).

If he is not a person I am at a total loss as to why Jesus, the Holy Spirit (see Acts 13:2), and the apostles so freely speak of him in personal terms and of his work that only a person can perform.

As to 2 Cor. 13:14 and 1 John 1:3 the fact is that Paul and John both speak of fellowship with divine persons. The only reason why you can reduce "koinonia" to "sharing" with regard to the Spirit is by an a priori assumption that he is an it.

Paul C said...

Martin - for now we can agree to disagree. I will do some more research into the points made.

Martin Downes said...

OK Paul. Get back to me when you can.

Every blessing


Y Cymro said...

Paul C

Stop splitting hairs. And if you want a Biblical answer (though I have no doubt you will twist this also) Peace also comes from Father and Son.

Peace is a product of reconciliation, which comes by the sacrifice of Christ. It is the Father who has sent the Son into the world (John 20:21 - notice the context there also - PEACE!) and by the Son's work we have peace with God (Rom 5:1). Furthermore Christ is explicitly the one who is called the Prince of Peace (Is 9:6)and is said to have "preached peace" to us (Eph 2:17).

You will not be persuaded, I'm sure. Your failure is to misunderstand both person and work of the Holy Spirit - economically the Spirit's work is to bear witness to Father and Son, not to draw attention to himself (Jn 15:26). It is entirely natural that in terms of his work, the Spirit is not "front and centre", his role is to apply what has been accomplished by Father and Son.


Nicholas T. Batzig said...


Thanks for this and the subsequent posts on this subject. I find it interesting that Driscoll is willing to write off the whole "personal properties of the members of the Godhead" discussion as being "misguided." I agree with him that reading from the economic Trinity to the ontological Trinity is not what we should always be doing, but that is a misrepresentation of what the early church fathers and our Reformed forebearers were doing. They were reading the claims and teachings of Jesus in their respective ontological categories. It is also interesting to note that Driscoll makes the same mistake he criticizes with regard to his doctrine of "covenant." He reads economic categories back into ontological. He suggests that God is a God of covenant with His people because He is in covenant with Himself. That is completely unbiblical and not supported by the majority of Reformed theologians in history.

Nathan said...

Paul C,

The problem with saying that God uses the Spirit is that it's not what the scripture actually says.

Your appeal to scripture over tradition is simply going to fall on deaf ears, and here is why. All appeals to scripture are appeals to interpretations of scripture. All interpretive activity entails tradition (either novel or in continuity). Therefore, all appeals to scripture are appeals to some sort of tradition of how to understand scripture.

Until you have grasped the person/nature distinction, you're going to continue to be confused. But even without that, I ask that you please read Basil's On the Holy Spirit, which I linked to previously. I don't recommend it to you as an easy answer (I don't believe in easy answers) but rather that you would see that the ideas you have are not new and that they have been well-considered before.

I testify to every man who is confessing Christ and denying God, that Christ will profit him nothing; to every man that calls upon God but rejects the Son, that his faith is vain; to every man that sets aside the Spirit, that his faith in the Father and the Son will be useless, for he cannot even hold it without the presence of the Spirit. For he who does not believe the Spirit does not believe in the Son, and he who has not believed in the Son does not believe in the Father. For none “can say that Jesus is the Lord but by the Holy Spirit,” and “No man hath seen God at any time, but the only begotten God which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.”

Paul C said...


I wasn't going to respond until I read your italicized quote. Do you see how it contradicts scripture?

"No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also." - 1 John 2:23

Notice the total possession of the Godhead captured in 1 verse. That's all you or I need... and it is the Spirit that makes the connection between me, the Lord Jesus and God my Father.

Nathan said...

Paul C,

Please explain in detail how this contradicts scripture. One scripture says, "no one can say 'Jesus is Lord' except by the Holy Spirit," another says, "everyone who confesses the Son has the Father also." You cannot confess the Son without the Spirit. I cannot see a contradiction in this. On your view, how can Arianism, Anomoeanism, or Semi-Arianism be wrong, since all claim to confess the Son? Indeed, how can Trinitarians, who also confess the Son, be wrong? All contradict each other, but all (claim to) confess the Son: can you adjudicate such confusion?

More directly, you're leaving out what was just said in 2:20 (i.e. context): "you have an anointing from the Holy One." That anointing is the Spirit. (Acts 10:38, Eph. 1:13, 2 Cor. 1:21-22). Remember also that 2:27 calls the anointing a teacher. So the very passage you cite as proof of only the Father and the Son contradicts you, because it assumes (and has already mentioned) the Spirit.

I wouldn't be surprised if you were unaware of this, but, at least in ancient times, baptism was immediately followed by anointing with oil (also called in the NT a "seal"), and it was considered to symbolize the Spirit. This is exactly what you see in Acts 19:6, for instance. There are numerous scriptural passages that allude to this, but if you don't know your history it is easy to see how you could miss them.

I could go on, but I think I've said enough for now. I only have so much free time for discussions. I do hope that you read Basil carefully, because I think he addresses most of your concerns pretty directly.

Paul C said...


What makes it false is your insinuation. I believe the Spirit, and it is by the Spirit that I confess Jesus as Lord and Saviour. It is by this that I claim adoption into the family of God. By this faith alone. And guess what? It was revealed by the Spirit.

I pray for more of God's Spirit and desire to be led of His Spirit.

I believe in anointing and the other things you mention. I think that's where your confusion is coming in as it pertains to understanding what I've been saying.

I should add, in closing, that the only reason I have been so adamant about getting a verbal acknowledgment about the epistle inroductions (and I reason I think it's been tap-danced around so much, though Y Cymro gave a valiant effort) is because it opens up the discussion. However, even the oddity of the omission of the Holy Spirit in these intros was not acknowledged (perhaps in sincerity; perhaps because of the implications of giving ground on this point).

I will read your link on Basil.

Martin Downes said...


Are you saying that because the Holy Spirit is omitted from the introductory greetings in Paul's letters then we are to conclude that Paul did not think of him as a divine person, equal with the Father and the Son in power and glory? Not only are we to conclude this but no other conclusion is acceptable?

Bernard said...

Hi Paul C,

I'm not sure you've been able to read the Warfield article I mentioned earlier, but just in case you've not, parts of the relevant section is as follows:-

''When we turn from the discourses of Jesus to the writings of His followers with a view to observing how the assumption of the doctrine of the Trinity underlies their whole fabric also, we naturally go first of all to the letters of Paul. ... Certainly they leave nothing to be desired in the richness of their testimony to the Trinitarian conception of God which underlies them. Throughout the whole series, ... the redemption, which it is their one business to proclaim and commend, and all the blessings which enter into it or accompany it are referred consistently to a threefold Divine causation. Everywhere, throughout their pages, God the Father, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit appear as the joint objects of all religious adoration, and the conjunct source of all Divine operations. In the freedom of the allusions which are made to them, now and again one alone of the three is thrown up into prominent view; but more often two of them are conjoined in thanksgiving or prayer; and not infrequently all three are brought together as the apostle strives to give some adequate expression to his sense of indebtedness to the Divine source of all good for blessings received, or to his longing on behalf of himself or of his readers for further communion with the God of grace. It is regular for him to begin his Epistles with a prayer for "grace and peace" for his readers, "from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ," as the joint source of these Divine blessings by way of eminence ... It is obviously no departure from this habit in the essence of the matter, but only in relative fullness of expression, when in the opening words of the Epistle to the Colossians the clause "and the Lord Jesus Christ" is omitted, and we read merely: "Grace to you and peace from God our Father." So also it would have been no departure from it in the essence of the matter, but only in relative fullness of expression, if in any instance the name of the Holy Spirit had chanced to be adjoined to the other two, as in the single instance of II Cor. xiii. 14 it is adjoined to them in the closing prayer for grace with which Paul ends his letters, and which ordinarily takes the simple form of, "the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you" ... Between these opening and closing passages the allusions to God the Father, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit are constant and most intricately interlaced. Paul's monotheism is intense: the first premise of all his thought on Divine things is the unity of God ... Yet to him God the Father is no more God than the Lord Jesus Christ is God, or the Holy Spirit is God. The Spirit of God is to him related to God as the spirit of man is to man (I Cor. ii. 11), and therefore if the Spirit of God dwells in us, that is God dwelling in us (Rom. viii. 10 ff.), and we are by that fact constituted temples of God (I Cor. iii. 16).''

Obviously, this part of the paragraph needs to be read with what proceeds and goes after, as he deals very thourily with the various aspects of the Trinity.

The reason I've come back to you on this is that Warfield deals with the issue you have raised, not on a stand alone basis, but in the larger context of Pauls letters, as well as the complete witness of Scripture. By so doing, I would suggest that he shows that the interpretation that you put upon the introductions is not valid when looked at in the wider context. I'm not saying that you are looking at this issue in isolation, but I'm sure you would agree that if we do so we will not necessarily arrive at the truth.

I wish you well as you continue to consider these matters.



A. F. Walton said...

Simply because I like quoting Augustin, "were we ordered to make a temple of wood and stone to the Spirit, inasmuch as such worship is due to God alone, it would be a clear proof of the Spirit's divinity; how much clearer a proof in that we are not to make a temple to him, but to be ourselves that temple" (Letter 66, to Maximinum).