Understanding Theology - Lesson 3

The Trinity

Dr. Ware discusses the biblical basis for monotheism and trinitarianism. He also gives a brief overview of the history of the doctrine and the heresies that arose concerning the Trinity.

Bruce Ware
Understanding Theology
Lesson 3
Watching Now
The Trinity

I. Scriptural Monotheism

A. Old Testament Perspectives on God’s Oneness

B. New Testament Perspectives on God’s Oneness

II. Scriptural Trinitarianism

A. Scriptural Affirmations of the Triune God

1. Passages that suggest more than God’s oneness

2. Passages that support the deity of Jesus and the Holy Spirit

3. Triadic passages

B. A Brief History of the Doctrine of the Trinity

1. The Christological Background

2. Monarchian Heresies

a. Subordinationism (Dynamistic Monarchianism)

b. Modalism (Modalistic Monarchianism)

3. The Church’s Rejection of Monarchianism

a. The Church’s Rejection of Modalism

b. Athanasius’ Opposition to Arianism

c. The Council of Nicea (A.D. 325)

d. The Council of Constantinople (A.D. 451)

4. Augustine on the Trinity

C. The Immanent and Economic Trinities

1. The Immanent Trinity

a. The Issue

b. The Begetting of the Son & Procession of the Spirit

c. Social Relationships in the Trinity

The Economic Trinity

  • Studying systematic theology in this 10-hour course will provide you with a comprehensive understanding of the doctrines of the Christian faith, from God and Christ to sin, salvation, the church, and the last things. By exploring these doctrines, you will strengthen your faith, gain hope and courage, and deepen your knowledge of God's character, work, and purposes. This course is liberating and will provide you with the truth that sets you free to live in the light of God's promises.
  • This is the first of ten lectures on Systematic Theology, a survey of the whole corpus of theology, and each lecture will be one hour long and each covering a separate doctrine or series of doctrines together. In this lesson Dr. Ware introduces the what and why of theology and discusses the foundational doctrines of Revelation and Scripture.

  • In this lesson, Dr. Ware discusses the Doctrine of God proper: why we need to know God, his incommunicable attributes, and those attributes that in some sense are communicable to humans.

  • Dr. Ware discusses the biblical basis for monotheism and trinitarianism. He also gives a brief overview of the history of the doctrine and the heresies that arose concerning the Trinity.

  • This lesson is an overview of the doctrines of humanity and sin, including a discussion of the origin of humanity, what it means to be created in the image of God, the nature and effects of sin, and original sin.

  • In this lesson, Dr. Ware discusses the doctrine of the Person of Christ, which includes his pre-incarnate existence, his incarnation, his deity and his humanity. He also discusses the important Christological passage of Philippians 2:6-8 and what does it mean that Christ “emptied” himself. Dr. Ware concludes this lesson with a discussion of the Council of Chalcedon.

  • Dr. Ware discusses the past (Atoning Savior), present (Mediator and Lord) and future (Coming Judge and Reigning King) work of Christ.

  • In this lesson, Dr. Ware discusses the person of the Holy Spirit, both his personhood and his deity. He also covers the work of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament, in the life of Jesus, and in the church.

  • This lesson is an overview of the doctrine and process of salvation, beginning with election and then discussing calling, regeneration, conversion, justification, adoption, sanctification, perseverance, and, finally, the glorification of the believer.

  • Dr. Ware talks about the church universal and the local church. He discusses the offices of the local church, including the roles of elders and deacons. Dr. Ware also looks at how the church can be organized and what ordinances should be celebrated by a local body of believers.

  • In this final lesson, Dr. Ware gives a rationale for studying eschatology or last things. He discusses what happens to people just after they die and before the return of Christ. He also gives an overview of the various beliefs about the timing and events of the last days. He completes the lesson with a discussion of final judgment, heaven, and hell.

We all have a theology, a set of beliefs, but many are not able to articulate it or really understand it. This class will walk you through a basic evangelical understanding of God and his Word.

Recommended Books

Understanding Theology - Student Guide

Understanding Theology - Student Guide

We all have a theology, a set of beliefs, but many are not able to articulate them or really understand them. This class will walk you through a basic evangelical...

Understanding Theology - Student Guide

Dr. Bruce Ware
Understanding Theology
The Trinity
Lesson Transcript

Lecture three is "The Doctrine of God Part Two on The Doctrine of The Trinity." It's very interesting that when God revealed Himself in the Bible that it's very clear that His pedagogy, that is His manner of teaching us, was to teach, first of all, that there is one God. The oneness of God was prominent in the Old Testament, and only later was the Threeness of God made clearly known. So we start to where God started with the oneness of God, and I have this titled "Scriptural Monotheism." So we are as Christians monotheists. We believe there's one and only one God. In the Bible it's clear from beginning to end, including the New Testament. I mean, it's not that we switch out of monotheism in the New Testament. Oh, no. It remains monotheistic. We are from beginning to end monotheistic people as Christians.

Think for example Genesis 1:1 right from the beginning announces one God who creates the heavens and the earth. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. And indeed He is the one who fashioned everything that is brought into being through the word of His power and so on. Even though there are Trinitarian hints in Genesis 1 for example in verse 26, "Let us make man in our image" which I think as we look back with Trinitarian glasses on as it were, we can see the Trinity that is involved in that. But nonetheless the Trinity is not clear in The Old Testament, the Jewish people did not ever think of God as being three. They only thought of one God. And this was because the dominant teaching of the Old Testament was there is one and only one God. 

I think God wanted to get that across clearly and forcefully, why? Well, because all of the ancient near Eastern religions that surrounded Israel were polytheistic. They believed in a multitude of gods who largely were regional despots. They were in charge of some area of the world. So when you travel, you would travel and you would come under the jurisdiction of a different god, not according to the religion of Israel, the Old Testament faith. In fact there was one and only one God.

There are some passages in the Bible where you realize this really does make a difference in how you interpret it. So for example the episode of Elijah and the prophets of Baal, you may remember took place at Mount Carmel. Now the significance of that is this that Mount Carmel was an area that the worshipers of Baal thought was Baal's territory. And so when the prophets of Baal called out for Baal to come down and consume the altar, nothing happened, and then Elijah calls upon Yahweh, the God of Israel to consume the altar and Yahweh does that. I mean, it's astonishing because that happened in the area where supposedly Baal was in charge. 

If that very same episode, that confrontation had happened in Jerusalem, the prophets of Baal would have said so what? We believe Yahweh is God in Jerusalem. The Bible is so clear one God who is overall, and one of the implications of that is that He has rightful jurisdiction over and has rights of judgment over all the peoples of the world. So this accounts for in The Old Testament when you come across prophets who will denounce not only the sins of Israel and the sins of Judah, but the sins of the Philistines and the sins of Edom and the sins of Amon, and the sins of the Egyptians and the sins of Moab, so on. 

And they've got down to list of all these other nations, and they might say, "Well, wait a minute. That's not fair for your God to judge us because we don't believe in Him as our God." And the answer is but He is your God whether you acknowledge it or not. That is He is God over everyone. Why is that? Because He created everything. He is the one creator God overall things, and hence He has rightful jurisdiction overall. To create is to own, to own is to have rightful rulership over. God created everything, He owns everything, and He has rightful rulership over everything. So indeed, there's one and only one God.

Let me just show you a few other verses that helps support this. I mean, it's really all through The Old Testament, but I'll just highlight a few. Deuteronomy 4:35, "To you it was shown that you might know that the Lord, Yahweh" that's the God of Israel. "He is God. There is no other besides Him." And again in verse 39, "Know therefore today, take it to your heart that the LORD, He is God in heaven above and on the earth below there is no other." So Deuteronomy 4:35 and 39 both declare that God alone is God. The Shema, this famous statement in The Old Testament that has been central in Judaism in Deuteronomy 6:4 is monotheistic. Here O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one. That is there's one God. You could translate that the Lord alone. So the Lord alone is God and He is our God.

I have thought of this many, many times as Christian. Of course this is stated with the Jews, but of course we hold the same thing. We believe in the one true God. How amazing it is that we claim as our God the one who truly is God. Think how many there are on the face of the earth today who claim as their God one who is not God. How horribly disappointing that is to realize we thought this was God but he isn't God, but our God is the true God as the Shema declares.

In 1 Kings 8:60, Solomon declares that God alone is God. This is part of his prayer. And he says, "So that all the peoples of the earth may know that Yahweh is God. There's no one else." And then One of my favorite passages is in Isaiah 46:9 where there's a special way that it's stated here that's just really glorious. Let me read verse 8 also, "Remember this and be assured, recall it to mind, you transgressors. Remember the former things long past, for I am God and there is no other, I am God and there is no one like me."

So notice those two statements, they are not identical although they certainly do support each other. I am God and there is no other. God is exclusively God. I am God and there is no one like me. God is incomparable God. So indeed there is no one who can compare with God. And there is no other God than God. He is exclusive deity. He is incomparable Deity. He alone is God. So The Old Testament from beginning to end affirms a monotheism. And it affirms the exclusivity of God as God. The God of Israel. The God who created the heavens and the earth is the God who then came to Noah, who came to Abraham, who came to Moses, who chose David to be king of Israel. This God, the God of Israel is the true and living God.

Now when you come to the New Testament, it doesn't change. Monotheism remains the case. So let me show you just a few verses here. Romans 3:30 where Paul talks about how the one true and living God is the God who provides salvation for both Jews and Greeks. Now let me read verse 29 as well. "Or is God the God of the Jews only? Is he not the God of the Gentiles also? Yes, of the Gentiles also. Since indeed God who will justify the circumcised that is Jews by faith and the uncircumcised that is Gentiles through faith is one." So there's only one God who is savior, and He is savior both of Gentiles and Jews who put their faith in Christ. James 2:19. You might remember where James comments there that the devils believes that God is one and they do well. They shatter at that. So indeed they do well at that, why? Because it's true. They indeed believe that God is one.

Now some of the passages in the New Testament are really important on this and I'll explain why in just a bit, but let me give you a couple of these right now. One is John 17:3 where Jesus announces, "This is eternal life that they may know you the only true God." So indeed Jesus Himself declares there's one and only one God, one God who is the true God. "This is eternal life that they may know you the only true God." Another passage that similarly indicates the oneness of God that He is over all things and that there's one God creator of all things is 1 Corinthians 8:6. 1 Corinthians 8:6 announces, "But there is for us only one God, the Father from whom are all things and we exist for Him. So for us there is, but one God." Paul says. So indeed monotheism that we heard in the Old Testament is also affirmed in the New Testament. 

I think this is just an astonishing absence as it were from the historical record in early Church history is that you don't find a movement among early Christians to move from monotheism to tritheism claiming that now we see the Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God, so we must have three gods. The Trinitarian problems in the early Church did not go in that direction to move from monotheism to tritheism. They moved in a different direction in which the early Christians maintained monotheism. And I think it's because God labored to make it clear to His people from the very beginning that there's one and only one God. And the Christian church continued to affirm that.

Let's move on now to scriptural Trinitarianism where we see that while there is one God, that one God is understood differently in light of the coming of Christ than we had thought to be the case. It really wasn't until Christ came that the whole notion of the Trinity was as it were forced upon us. I mean the early church had to work on this, had to think through this because Jesus came on the one hand, sent by the Father accomplishing the will of the Father, but on the other hand He would say things like, "I and the Father are one." John 10:30. 

He would say things like, "Before Abraham was I Am." John 8:58 referring to the fact that He was the God who spoke in the wilderness at the Burning Bush. So indeed Jesus represented to us then one who was both from God and one who was God. And so the early church realized we have to work on how it can be that there is one God but the Father is God and the Son is God, and then of course eventually they also had to incorporate how the Spirit likewise is God. But the main focus for the first couple centuries of the early church was really the Father, Son relationship. How there can be one God and the Father is God and the Son is God.

Now it is very clear that the early church affirmed that the Father is God, the Son is God, and Spirit is God because they saw Biblical texts that demanded it. So for the Father as God really most of the usages of the word God in the New Testament, the vast majority of them refer to God the Father. There really was no question that the Father is God. There never was an early church council that met to try to decide the question of the Deity of the Father. That was an established fact as it were according to the early Christians. Who sent Jesus into the world? The Father. Who did Jesus obey? The Father. What work did Jesus accomplish? The work of the Father so indeed. And to whom should we pray according to Jesus? Pray this way, "Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be Your name, your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is heaven." So indeed the Father was understood as God.

But they also came to see in time that the Son likewise is God. Yes He is sent from the Father, yes He does the will of the Father, but He Himself is God in his very nature. So some of those things were actually statements from Jesus Himself. So statements like, "Before Abraham was I AM." John 8:58. I mean a statement like that Jesus is indicating that the I AM of Exodus 3:14 actually applies to Him as the one who spoke to Moses and delivered the people of Israel out of Egypt. The Great I AM is Christ Himself. When He's discussing with the Pharisees and He says, "I and the Father are one." In John 10:30. They took up stones to stone Him for blasphemy because they took this not as one in work or one in purpose, but rather one in nature with the Father. 

What's interesting in the background here is that there's no evidence that the early Jews that is Jews during the time of the early church used the name Father of God. They thought that was much too intimate to be used of Him. And so for Jesus to come along and say pray this way our Father who is in heaven, it was shocking for Jesus to call Him my Father, the Father has sent me and so on, indicated intimacy of relationship with the Father and a oneness with Him that they could not comprehend.

And then of course the Spirit was also understood as God although there is a less support for the deity of the Spirit than there's for the deity of the Son, but still it is ample, ample support for the deity of the Spirit. So for example in Acts 5 when Ananias reports to Peter what land has been sold and how much proceeds were, he lied to Peter. And Peter says that you lied not to men but to God when you lied to the Holy Spirit. So lying to the Spirit is lying to God according to Peter. So indeed the Spirit is God as one who can't be lied to. He is a person and He is a divine person according to what Peter says there. You think of 1 Corinthians 2 where the Spirit knows the mind of God. Well, the only one who can know the mind of God is God Himself, right? Only God knows the mind of God so the Spirit knows the mind of God, He is God Himself.

And of course there are a number of other reasons for the early church affirming the deity of the Spirit. So what they realized was we must affirm the deity of the Father, the deity of the Son, the deity of the Spirit, but how to put this together. Another complicating factor in this is that even some of the statements in the New Testament that refers to the oneness of God that there is only one God are statements that are complicated to understand. So for example John 17:3, I mentioned part of the verse to you earlier. Here is the whole verse. "This is eternal life that they may know you're the only true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent." 

Now it's really amazing that the and is put there, right? Because think of what we talked about earlier that the importance of knowing God. This is why we were made. This is the greatest good that there is, is to know God. And that's what Jesus is affirming here. This is eternal life. This is life at its best is what that really refers to is to know you the only true God, but then to say and Jesus Christ whom you have sent adds something to that statement. Number one it indicates that there is a distinction between the Father and the Son. So to know the Father and to know the Son. He is not saying and Jesus Christ as another name for the same person. No, this is a separate person. So this is eternal life to know you the only true God and another person, the Lord Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 

So there's distinction between the two, but more importantly for our topic here there's an identity between the two. This is eternal that they may know you the only true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent, what? To know Christ is to have eternal life? Yes. Well, who alone can give eternal life, but God. So Jesus Christ is put at the same level with God the Father in that verse indicating He likewise is fully God. Another place you see this is in another passage, I read part of it to you is 1 Corinthians 8:6 where we read there, "For us there's been one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him." But then the verse continues, "And one Lord Jesus Christ by whom are all things and we exist through Him." 

So indeed this passage is teaching that creation comes about from the Father through the Son. I mean this is really what John is pointing to in John 1:1-3, "In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God, the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God." So here is this Word who is most with God and is God, so He is distinct from the Father, but He is of the same nature as the Father. And what does He do? This Word, He brings into existence the universe. All things came in being by Him, and apart from Him nothing came to being that's coming to being. So similarly to John where the Father creates through His Word, that's what happened in Genesis 1, right? God spoke, then God said, then God said, then God said, then God said. So God through His Word brings about creation.

Likewise here in 1 Corinthians 8:6, "From the Father but through the Son comes creation." Well, again you ask the question who can create? Who can bring into existence out of nothing what didn't exist before? And the answer is only God can do that. So indeed God's work in bringing about creation happens through the Son and hence the Son is likewise fully God. So in these indications from the New Testament that the Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God then led church to realize we got to work on this to understand better how God can be one and three because it's seems clear that we need to affirm that. 

And actually one other set verses in the New Testament confirm for them that they really had to see the three together as the one God. That is verses that are sometimes referred to as triadic passages. Passages where the Trinitarian persons are all mentioned in the context of one God. The two most important ones are 2 Corinthians 13:14 and Matthew 28:19. Let me think about each of these with you. First of all, 2 Corinthians 13:14, this is the benediction from Paul, the last verse of the Book of 2 Corinthians. He says, "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, the fellowship of the Spirit be with you." Now because this is a benediction, it's basically a way of saying may God be with you. But how does Paul think of God? The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, the fellowship of the Spirit be with you. So Father, Son and Spirit be with. Who is the one God? Father, Son and Spirit. So indeed Paul is thinking in terms of the Trinity, the equality of Father, Son, and Spirit who alone can bring blessing to people, and that's the triune God who is the one God. 

Here's the other passage is Matthew 28:19, it's a very familiar passage to most Christians, the great commission of Jesus where He announces to His disciples to go to all the world and make disciples of Jesus, baptizing them in the name, singular, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Spirit. So notice that the way that this is phrased, you cannot take that to mean in the name singular of the Father who is also the Son, who is also the Spirit, right? As if it was three names for the same person. No, these are three persons who have the one name of God, right? So one name one nature. One name one God. So what's the name of this one God who has one nature? Well, His name is Father, Son, and Spirit. So baptizing them in the name singular, one name, one nature, one God. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Spirit. So the three distinct persons then Father, Son and Spirit comprise the one deity, the one Godhead.

So indeed Jesus when He came really made things more interesting in terms of trying to understand who God is, this one God that we had learned about from the Old Testament is indeed the one God who is three. The one God who is Father, Son and Spirit. So notice that in the movement of monotheism from Old to New Testament, we don't move from monotheism to polytheism. Nor do we stay in a strict monotheism that was Unitarianism. That's what Islam is, that's what Judaism is, is a Unitarian view one God one person. But here we have one God who is plural, one God who is Father, Son, and Spirit. So we move from simple Unitarian monotheism to complex Trinitarian monotheism. So it's either Unitarian nor is it tritheistic. So it doesn't believe in one God and one person nor doesn't believe in three Gods. It rather is one God who is three persons, Father, Son and Spirit.

So now what I would like to do with you is think through how the early church arrived at its Trinitarian affirmations that have withstood the test of time through all these centuries, but it was a challenge to get there in the early church for reasons that I've talked about. How difficult it is to inherit the faith of Judaism with its monotheism, but try to work on now how Father, Son and Spirit all are the one God. So let me move on then to a brief history of the doctrine of the Trinity.

Christological background is something I've already mentioned to you, and that is that really it was the coming of Christ that forced the change of thinking upon the early church because of who Jesus was as sent from the Father, dong the will of the Father, obeying the commandments of the Father, but the one who was also one with the Father. And announced His own deity and the New Testament spoke of him as God. I mean for example John 1:1, "In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God." That's fine, but then the next statement, "The Word was God." So indeed because Jesus is God, there is a requirement then to understand our monotheism differently in a complex way that can accommodate and account for multiple as opposed to just one.

Now in the process, there was notable heresies referred to as the Monarchian heresies that had to be dealt with in the early church. These are called Monarchian heresies because in both cases, the two of them that I'm going to mention to you that were the two most prominent ones. In both of them they held that the Father is the Monarch, the God overall. That there is one God and the Father is God. So these were people who had accepted the tradition that came out of Judaism from the Old Testament that there's one and only one God, and they had accepted what was prominent in the New Testament, and that is that the Father is God. 

Again think of Jesus and His answer how should we pray, and He says pray this way, "Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven." I mean clearly this is a prayer to God and He names Him as the Father. These Monarchian heresies were by people who affirmed there is one God and the Father is God. And they didn't want anything to jeopardize the monarchy of the Father as it were. Does that make sense? Hope so.

Now given that, given the fact they want to uphold the exclusive deity of the Father and His unchallenged reign overall, His monarchy overall, here are two ways in which that Monarchianism was then manifest. The first one was through what is sometimes called Dynamistic Monarchianism. Think of the word dynamite in English dynamistic meaning a power that is at work, right? Or Surbodinationism is another name given to this view or Arianism, named after the founder of it, at least one of the main leaders. The main leader really was Arius in the 4th century of the church.

So Arius and this movement that he was very instrumental in developing and growing. It was very prominent by the 4th century in the early church. Arius held a view that the one God who is the Father, the first thing that He created was the Son. The one whom we know of as the Son was created by the Father. So he actually held to the notion that was developed by Origen a century earlier that the Son is begotten of the Father. But he understood that term begotten to mean that He was as it were birthed by the Father. That the Son came into being at some particular time. A famous phrase that was used by people describing the Arian view was this, they were people who held of the son that there was a time when He was not. There was a time when He was not.

Now you would never say that of the Father. Arius would not say that of the Father. The Father, there never was a time when He was not. He's eternal. He's self-existent and so on. But of the Son, there was a time when He was not. He was brought into being by the Father. So Arius held that the Father created the Son, He was a created being, but He was created with great power, hence the name Dynamistic Monarchianism. 

So here's the monarch, the Father who creates a Son and invests in Him enormous power, power by which the Son created the world. But it was all a power derived from what the Father gave Him. It wasn't His own as it were per se. It was derived from the Father, the Father enabled Him to do this, but He was the agent of the Father to bring about creation and do many, many other things. So He had great power, He seemed to us to look like He was God Himself, but He was not. According to Arius, He was in fact a created being, He was lesser than God, the Father hence the name Surbodinationism.

So Arius held a view that the nature of the Son was a created nature, bUt the nature of the Father was an uncreated nature. So indeed the nature of the Father was superior to the nature of the Son hence the nature of the Son was surbodinate. Surbodinationism then was the view that Christ was inferior in His very nature to the Father. So Arius really did try to persuade the early church to go this direction because he was convinced that if they went route of the Father and the Son both equally God, you would have to give up monotheism. You could not avoid tritheism eventually when the Spirit came into the picture as. And so in order to maintain monotheism which he was convinced had to be the case based upon Old Testament teaching, the only way to do that was to ascribe the exclusive deity to the Father, not to the Son or the Spirit. And to the Son He was a created being.

The other, the second way that Monarchian tendencies were manifest is a very different approach in a movement that was sometimes referred to as Modalistic Monarchiniasm as opposed to Dynamistic, Modalistic Monarchianism or more simply Modalism or after the name of the founder. At least one of the founders was Sabellius. And what Sabellius held was very much like Arius the Father is the one God. He needs to be upheld as the monarch overall, we can't jeopardize the exclusive deity of the Father. 

So how do you account for the Son and the Spirit? Well, here's how Sabellius proposed we do that. We understand the Son as the Father who comes appearing to be the Son, in the mode of Son or hence Modalistic Monarchianism. So indeed the Son is not a real being in His own right, He is not truly the Son of the Father. He is really the Father coming in the form of or the mode of the Son. And then the Son ascends and goes back to heaven, and the Father comes again in the form of the Spirit or the mode. So the one God who is the Father can appear in different modes. The mode of the Son and the mode of the Spirit, but those are really the Father, not a distinctive Son who is His own person or distinctive Spirit who is His own person, but rather in all of that just the Father who manifests Himself looking as if He's the Son or the Spirit.

One of the heresies associated with Sabellianism or Modalism is a heresy called Patripassionism. Patri Father, passion suffering, right? So you put that together the Patripassionism is the view that when Christ suffered on the cross, it was actually the Father who suffered not the Son. And you can see that's what the Sabellian view requires because there's no distinctive Son per se who comes and dies and suffers for our sin but rather it is the Father coming in the mode of a Son who suffers and dies for our sin. So that heresy was rejected by the early when it rejected Modalism, Patripassionism was also ruled out.

So with those two views there the early church had to respond to these understandings of the unique deity of the Father and support the deity of the Son and the Spirit as well. So the rejection of Modalism, let me talk about that first. The rejection of Modalism actually happened more organically. There wasn't a council called that was directly focused on Sabellianism although it was always in the background at the Nicene Council that we'll talk in a moment here. Was in the background, but it wasn't in the foreground. It wasn't prominent. And that's because frankly most Christian people reading their own Bibles knowing the accounts of Christ in the gospels realized this doesn't work. The Modalist view doesn't work.

I mean if I gave you time to think of some examples, I'm sure you could come up with some. I mean so for example, when Jesus prays to the Father, who is He praying to? What is this when He goes away from the crowds and prays, spends all night in prayer to the Father? Is this just talking to Himself? What is this? What do you do about the baptism of Jesus where Jesus is in the water, the voice from heaven, from the Father speaks and the Holy Spirit comes and descends in the form of a dove, how do you make sense of that in a Modalistic model? It doesn't work to explain what's going on there. 

Same thing with the transfiguration, right? It doesn't work. How do you understand the Spirit on Jesus? That really doesn't work because then you two modes of the Father happening at the same time where the Spirit is indwelling Jesus, and working through Jesus and empowering Jesus, it just doesn't work. So you realize for many reasons, and we've just touched on a few of them, it just won't work to think in the Modalistic category. And so for the most part, Modalism died out because it just was not adequate in accounting for so much of what we see in the gospels. But then the Arian view, that was a different story. That took a lot of hard work and effort to defeat it. 

When Constantine became the emperor of the Roman Empire in the early 320s maybe even 319, right in there, one of the first things that he was concerned about was disunity in the Roman Empire. And one of his main concerns was theological disunity. Because you had on the one hand Arius and his group of churches and his following which was really very prominent, they were growing. It was a growing movement of Arian churches, but then you had others. And Alexandria primarily. Alexander and Athanasius who cam after him and was very, very prominent. They were opposing the Arian view, and were arguing instead for an idea that the Father and the Son are equal in nature. They posses the same nature, but the Son is the Son because He's begotten of the Father, but that begetting is eternal. He is not made by the Father, He's rather begotten by the Father. And that's an eternal reality. Not something that begins at a moment in time.

So there was this division. And that resulted then, small letter c,... Under the church's rejection of Monarchiniasm that resulted in the formation of the Council of Nicaea that met in AD 325. One of the most important councils of the church. Really the first broad ecumenical council that involved Bishops and teachers from both Eastern and Western portions of the church. Eastern being the Greek portion, Western being the Latin portion bringing those together at the Council of Nicaea. At Nicaea, there really were three main groups of people there that had a strong voice in the deliberations that took place. The first one of course were the Arians. They were there. Arius was there and his followers were there, and that was well represented. They were opposed to the idea of affirming that the Son is fully God, and they tried to make their case there. 

Then of course there were the followers of Alexander and Athanasius who were arguing for what became the Orthodox position that the Father begets the Son and as such He is of the same nature as the Father. But there was also another group that was there, and they were really descendants of the deceased Origen. Origen held the view that the Son is begotten of the Father, but He has a nature that is slightly less than the nature of the Father. So even though the begetting, Origen's notion of the begetting of the Son was an eternal thing. It resulted in the Son being slightly less than the Father.

So there were a group of people at Nicaea who you might think of as followers of Origen who had long passed away but they held that the Son had a nature that was similar to the Father. And they proposed this word for a consideration at Nicaea that the Son is homoiousios, H-O-M-O-I-O-U-S-I-O-S. Homoiousios. Homoi meaning similar, ousios is the Greek word for nature. And they thought this was a compromise position, it would be something that would make the Arians happy, because He is not the nature as the Father, and it would be enough to satisfy the Orthodox, Athanasius and Alexander types, they could go for this. 

But the Orthodox representatives they were not satisfied by this because they said the Bible is clear, Jesus makes it clear that He is God. And you can't say that He is God and say that He has a nature similar to the Father. So they cited passages like we've looked at where there's no one like God, right? He is exactly the one God for example in Philippians 2, “although He existed in the form of God,” referring to the Son. Well, form the word there is the term morphe in Greek, this is in Philippians 2:6. The word form refers then to the very nature, the inner substance of something. It's the way something looks. That's the way form is sometimes used in English for us. But it refers to the very nature of something. So Paul is saying that Jesus before He became incarnate was in very nature God.

Similarly in Hebrews 1, after Hebrews begins, "God spoke to the prophets in many portions in many ways. In these last days He has spoken to us in His Son whom He appointed heir of all things through whom He made the world. He is the radiance of His glory." Now listen, “the exact representation of His nature.” Well, what can be exactly like God except God, right? Exact representation of his nature. So the Orthodox held no, homoiousios will not work. It's no the case that the Son nearly has a nature similar to His Father. Rather the Son is of the same nature as the Father. And so they proposed the word homoousios. H-O-M-O-O-U-S-I-O-S. Homoousios, not similar nature homoiousios but homo same ousios nature.

And what grounded that for the Orthodox was the fact that He was begotten of the Father. I mean as we read so often in John's gospel. John 3:16, "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son." And who does this refer to? John 1:14, "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us so we behold His glory. Glory as the only begotten of the Father." Verse 18, "No one has seen God at anytime the only begotten God has made Him known.” So indeed this understanding from John's gospel in particular that the Son is begotten of the Father indicates that the Son has the very nature of the Father. He has the same attributes as the Father. He is in nature fully God. 

But this begetting is not like the begetting that happens that we see so often in the Old Testament. So and so begets so and so. And we read these genealogies in the Old Testament because those begettings took place in time. This is the begetting that takes place eternally because the Son has the very same nature. He is in the form of God. He is in very nature. He has the exact representation of God. So here is a begetting that takes place eternally hence Father is eternal Father, but how can He be eternal Father unless He eternally begets a Son, right? If that had to happen in time, then there was a time when He wasn't the Father. But if He's the eternal Father, He has to eternally beget a Son. If a Son is eternal Son, then He has to be eternally begotten of the Father.

So they really understood in the Nicene Creed that the begotten not made which that phrase is a rejection of Arianism, right? Because Arius said that He was made. He was created by God. But begotten not made is the way of accounting for then the fact that He is homoousios. They saw homoousios in eternal begetting as coupled together. Explaining how He has the same nature as the Father because He is eternally begotten of the Father. While He is eternal God just as the Father is eternal God, He is God the Son. So the eternal begetting of the Son indicates both that He is God the Son, right? Eternally God, but He is also God the Son. He is not God the Father. He is the Son of the Father eternally so.

That Creedal statement that was completed in 325 which affirmed the full deity of the Son that He is of the same nature as the Father. That He is eternally begotten of the Father. And of course it says more than that it talks also about His taking on human nature and coming to accomplish the work of salvation for us, but the heart of it was the understanding of His relation to the Father as the one who is fully God, but Son of the Father as God.

Interestingly though at Nicaea, the only thing that was said of the Spirit because the Nicene Creed has three parts to it. We believe in God, the Father. We believe in God, the Son, and has all the statement about begotten not made. He is of the same nature as the Father. But then you come to the third article on the Holy Spirit, here is what Nicaea says 325, "We believe in the Holy Spirit." That was it. No more. I mean it's obvious that they really were not able yet to deal with the issue of the Spirit because they had so much on their hands as it were to deal with in the question of the deity of the Son. So they simply affirmed that the Spirit likewise with the Father and the Son is God but it wasn't spelled out.

So what happened after Nicaea? Nicaea was 325. Arius himself died in 336 AD. So he was out of the scene now. But his followers took up the charge against the deity of the Holy Spirit. They wanted to deny of the Spirit that He was God. They thought we lost Nicaea, we lost our battle on the Son, but we want to win this one on the Spirit. So they fought hard against the growing realization in the early church that we had to also affirm the deity of the Spirit.

So another council was then called in light of these advocates, these Arian advocates who were denying the deity of the Spirit. And this council met at Constantinople in 381. Here at the council that kind of heroes that were here at this council were three men who are sometimes referred to as the Cappadocian Fathers, two Gregory's and a Basil, right? So Gregory of Nazianzus, Gregory of Nyssa and Basil of Caesarea were the three heroes that were there at Constantinople. Gregory of Nyssa and Basil of Caesarea or called by his own parishoners Basil the Great because of what a great Christian man he was and a wonderful Bishop to his people. Gregory of Nyssa and Basil were brothers. Gregory of Nazianzus was a friend. The three of them comprised of people who led this council at Constantinople. 

And what Gregory of Nazianzus wanted was to affirm of the Spirit that He likewise was homoousios. It seemed to him to make the more sense if we've affirmed of the Son that He is of the same nature as the Father, and we believe that the Holy Spirit likewise is fully God, then we are to affirm of the Spirit that He too is homoousios. But Gregory of Nyssa and Basil, the brothers did not agree with him on that. Not that they didn't agree in principle that Spirit is in fact the same nature as the Father. They agreed with that, but they didn't agree in using that word homoousios because it is not a Biblical term. It doesn't come out of the Bible. It expresses Biblical truth, but it's not a term you find in the Bible. 

And they were afraid that is Basil of Caesarea and Gregory of Nyssa, the brothers were afraid that they might lose the debate at the council if they insisted on using this extra Biblical term. And so they decided the strategy would be to use only Biblical terminology in their affirmation of the Spirit. And that's what they ended up doing. By the way Gregory of Nazianzus was so upset at them not affirming or not advocating for using homoousios that he up and left the council. Kind of left in a huff, but nonetheless the council continued and Gregory of Nyssa and Basil continued the argument.

So they proposed in the five Biblical clauses that they argued are all stated of the Spirit in the Bible and they argue for His deity. The third article of the Nicene Creed then was expanded at Constantinople to include these five phrases, five statements. "We believe in the Holy Spirit." That was Nicaea 325 that's all it said, right? So now it is expanded to read this, "We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life who proceeds from the Father, who with the Father and Son is worshiped and glorified, who spoke by the prophets." 

So those five articles then are meant to affirm the deity of the Spirit. Let me just walk through them with you real quickly. "We believe In the Holy Spirit, the Lord." To my knowledge the main text for that is 2 Corinthians 3:17 and 18, but in verse 18 we read that “we all with unveiled face beholding as in the mirror of the glory of the Lord Jesus, we are transformed into that same image and this is from Lord the Spirit”. So it's very interesting because Lord is usually reserved. That is that name kurios in Greek. That name is usually reserved to the Son in the New Testament, but here is a place where it is used of the Son. We behold the glory of the Lord Jesus, transformed into His image. This is from the Lord, the Spirit. So it puts the Spirit at the same level as of the Son, and it affirms Him to be Lord, which is a term of deity. So that was the first one.

Second one, "We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of life." Well, goodness. Who gives life to us as those who are dead in our trespasses and sins, who regenerates us for this is the work of the Spirit. You can see that in Titus 3:3-6. So the Holy Spirit regenerates us. He is the Giver of life. John 3, "You must be born of water and the Spirit." So indeed Giver of life is clearly taught in the Bible and only God can do that. So He must be God to accomplish that work.

Third, so the Holy Spirit, "We believe in Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of life who proceeds from the Father." This was from one verse. It's John 15:26. Gregory of Nazianzus is actually the one who located this and argued for the use of this. John 15:26 says, this is Jesus speaking and He says, "When the Helper comes whom I will send to you from the Father that is the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify about me." So it's interesting that you have in this verse the statement from Jesus two future statements. "When The Holy Spirit comes whom I will send to you." And then the last statement, "He will testify about me. So the first and third statements are future, but the middle one is present tense. That is the Spirit of truth who proceeds, present tense, from the Father.

So the Gregory of Nazianzus argued that that middle statement who proceeds from the Father indicates an eternal present reality. That the Holy Spirit just as the Son is eternally begotten of the Father so the Spirit eternally proceeds from the Father. And he based that on John 16:26. So the early church affirmed that, the council at Constantinople affirmed that that just as the Son is begotten eternally so the Holy Spirit proceeds eternally, and hence He's equally God as well because He proceeds from the Father.

He’s the Lord, the Giver of life who proceeds from the Father, who with the Father and Son is worshiped and gloried. It's the fourth phrase. And that one, the verse primarily they had in mind is Matthew 29:18. We looked at this just a few moments ago, to be baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Spirit. This is an act of worship. And notice the Spirit is included with the Father and the Son in that act of worship, hence He must also be God. 

And then finally, who spoke by the prophets. Well, that's all through the Bible, isn't it? Where the Spirit came upon prophets and so indeed we know that that is something that only God can do to move as we saw in 2 Peter 1:21, "Then moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God." Something only God can do to bring about His Word through human agency. So all of those argue for the deity of the Spirit though they did not use the word homoousios. That word though was used in literature written by early church theologians after this point that that is the word homoousios. So they didn't deny it. It's just that at Constantinople they didn't want to affirm homoousios directly. So in any case bottom line, at Constantinople then the Spirit is understood as fully God, along with the Son who is fully God and the Father who is fully God and yet one God.

The culmination of Trinitarian doctrine came with Augustine in the early 5th century. He wrote his massive and incredibly dense and brilliant treatment on the Trinity from 401 to 419 called the Trinitate or Trinity. A treat that's on the Trinity. And in that really argued for the fact that because there is one God, the Father, Son and Spirit possess equally the one nature so all of the attributes of God are fully possessed by the Father, fully possessed by the Son, fully possessed by the Spirit. 

There is no division with in the Trinity as it relates to nature. Where the division comes is persons. So the Father as a person begets the Son, so the Son is the distinct person as begotten from the Father. The Spirit is a distinct person because He proceeds. And so at the personal level, there is distinction but the nature of each of the persons is the identically same nature, namely the one nature of God. So all of the divine attributes possess fully eternally undividedly by Father, Son and Spirit.

Augustine also in his treaties on Trinity tried to develop some analogies to this most of them scholars have thought may or may not work very well on this. I mean there are lots of analogies had been proposed through church history. And that there are problems with almost all of them that you look at. You think of water, H2O is that an analogy of the Trinity where it can be solid or liquid or vapor. 

Well, it's really a very good analogy of Modalism, right? Because those same H2O molecules can at one time be solid, at another time be liquid, at another time be vapor, but what you can't have is them all together even at triple point. Scientists have told me this that at triple point where you have all three, they are different H2O molecules some of which are solid, some of which are liquid, some of which are vapor. What you don't have is the same H2O molecules that are simultaneously all three of those. So that doesn't necessarily work. 

You think of Peter, James and John. Three men, does that work as in the analogy of the Trinity? Because they're all human, right? But the problem is they didn't have distinct human natures. So there's something were to happen to Peter, the other two continue on. That could not be the case with the Trinity. No that it would ever happen, but if something happened to the Father, it happens to the Son because He has the very same nature as the Father.

Years ago, I asked the Lord to help me this one. I was teaching this to my children. Yes, I did. When they were little girls, I took through. Took 10 years to do it, but took them through a systemic theology at their bedside. Just little bits each night, and it was just so much fun. Such a joy. And of course I was always looking for ways to explain things, and I prayed. And I said, "Lord if there's an illustration of the Trinity that works, please help me know it." Well, so if this is from the Lord, He gets all the credit. If this is something I conconcted, I take the blame. But I do think it works. 

The analogy is this. If you imagine taking a dry erase marker say a blue one and you draw on the board a large blue circle. So you have on the board one circle, and it's encompassed by one line, a blue line. Now you take a green marker and overlap the blue exactly. So you have on the board a blue line and a green line, but they both encompass the identically same circle so there's one circle encompassed by two lines. The green line is not the blue line, the blue line is not the green line, but the green circle is the blue circle. The blue circle is the green circle.

Take one more marker red, overlap exactly the green and the blue. So you have in the board three lines, but one circle. And so the circle representing by analogy the nature of God which is fully possessed by the Father, fully possessed by the Son, fully possessed by the Spirit. And yet each Father, Son, and Spirit are each distinct personal expressions of that one undivided divine nature. So I think that illustration helps to some degree.

Then finally, just a couple of words as we close this on immanent and economic Trinity. See these are words that have been used in more contemporary discussions of the Trinity. Just to highlight the distinction between God in Himself. That is the eternal persons, Father, Son and Spirit apart from creation God “in se” or God in Himself apart from creation is the immanent Trinity who did not have to create and as the one God is the Father, Son and Spirit are equally God, fully God, co-eternal, co-equal, and yet the Father is eternally the eternal Father of the Son. The Son is the eternal Son of the Father. The Spirit eternally proceeds from The Father, and the Son as in the Western tradition we affirm the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. And this is an eternal reality.

So in the immanent Trinity, the eternal reality of Father, Son and Spirit is there, and is then manifest in creation. So the economic Trinity is the notion of the one God who is three manifesting who he is in His self-revelation to us. So what we have in the self-revelation of God is a revelation of who God is in Himself. He is the Father, the Son, and Spirit, and He manifests Himself then as Father, Son and Spirit in ways that help us understand who He is in His own reality, the glorious reality that He is as God.

When you talk about the discussions that they had at the councils about these issues, the people at the councils were leaders of the church, people that had thought about this a lot. Were they more reflecting what the agreement was of the churches as a whole rather than declaring something that they thought and imposing it on the churches as a whole?

Well, yes and no. In so far as the things that they came to in their understanding was an advance over what was there before. So they really were declaring things at least with a clarity and a precision that didn't exist going into this thing. So there really was a net gain that came from all of the hard won discussions that took place, dealing with opponents, dealing with different views and all of the rest, finally arriving at positions that the vast majority affirmed. 

I mean it's really amazing how large the consensus was in these councils given the fact that there were disagreements going into it. Like at Nicaea, I think there were only a handful 300 and some delegates there, and only a handful of negative votes on the Nicene Creed. So it's just like had to be in the work of the Spirit to do that. It wasn't a Baptist church, I'll tell you that. So in any case, it's just a mark of God's kind providence to bring unity, but just to the point in your question, yes, advances were made. And it's not that they were imposed on the church. It's just that these were kind of the delegated people to help the church come to greater clarity on these things. Yeah.

Same thing with Christology. The councils continued to meet. They were largely devoted to Christological issues, and that culminated at Chalcedon. We'll talk about that when we get to Christology. That brought great clarity on things that were very important and have been upheld ever since.

Well, and throughout the gospels, when you look at what Jesus claimed, but then also if there's any ambiguity, there were times when His opponents would clarify that. Like in John 10:32, "Jesus answered them I have shown you many good works from the Father for which of these are you going to stone me? The Jews answered Him, 'It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy because you being a man make yourself God.'"

Right, right. So they got the point. Yeah. That's so true. That's a very good observation from that text. They understood what He was claiming in that and found it outrageous. And it would be outrageous if it weren't true. But if it's true, boy, what an amazing truth it is. Yeah.



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