Rather than reading the Bible through the eyes of modern secularism, this provocative six-part course teaches you to read the Bible through its own eyes—as a record of God’s dealing with the human race. When you read it at this level, you will discover reasons to worship God in areas of life you probably never before associated with “religion.”
© Charles A. Clough 1999
Charles A. Clough
Biblical Framework Series 1995–2003
Part 5: Confrontation with the King
Appendix A: The Doctrine of the Trinity
Lesson 118 –Trinity – Five Distinct Propositions
25 Mar 1999
Fellowship Chapel, Jarrettsville, MD
We’re going to go through the doctrine of the Trinity and look at these five propositions because the Trinity is ultimately incomprehensible, but that very incomprehensibility is important to notice. I think maybe the best way of dealing with these five propositions is to go to Isaiah because Isaiah was the passage we went through when we started with creation, and we got into the attributes of God. We dealt with this issue of God being incomprehensible, and we defined that word to distinguish it from another word, unknowable. We are not saying God is unknowable. Be careful. What we are saying is that He is knowable but He incomprehensible, meaning we can only know Him partially. We can only know Him as a finite creature; as finite creatures we’re limited, we’re finite. Therefore we can know God, the Bible clearly says that, but the Bible also says we do not comprehend Him.
This sounds like hair-splitting but let me try to show you why this is so important, because these two words, knowing Him and yet not comprehending Him, set up the presupposition for our whole faith structure. It’s right here where logic is revamped in Scripture. You might have thought, as many of us do growing up, that logic is neutral, that things like mathematics are neutral. Mathematics is not philosophically neutral. If you think about it, we have something in math that we call the irrational numbers. There’s a very good reason why these numbers are called irrational. We had rational numbers, we have integers, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, then we have rational numbers that are divisions, fractions of integers. We call those rational numbers. Then we have weird things that are irrational numbers, continuing decimals that never end, and the irrational numbers were called irrational because the Greeks realized that you can’t comprehend them. That’s why they’re called irrational. It’s put on the blackboard, let’s learn the lesson for the day and go on to the next lesson. Nobody ever stops and says whoa, what is happening here, because we’re trying to learn too much, too fast, and zip on over the key issues. We’ve all learned this in arithmetic and algebra, it went right by us; we never even stopped to think about what we were doing.
The Greeks opposed the existence of irrational numbers. There are mathematicians today that deny their existence, that say they do not exist. This may sound funny but the point is that no computer can comprehend an irrational number. No matter how powerful your computer, no matter how many digits it has, no computer has ever computed with an irrational number. Never! The computer always computes with rational numbers, never irrational. All the wonders in our society today that we see are numbers that are only part of the number system that’s there. So we have in the very nature of arithmetic something that we need to pause and think about, because people come into this thing, they like to say oh, I don’t believe in God because it’s irrational, etc. Yet we all somehow believe in these irrational numbers that no computer can comprehend, never has and never can, it can prove the theorem, that no computer ever can comprehend an irrational.
When we come to the Trinity and we talk about the fact that God can be known but He cannot be comprehended, let’s sit back and think about our own number system. We really don’t comprehend irrational numbers, they just limit, and nobody knows whether they exist or they don’t, they’re just a concept, that’s all they are. Another example of this is often if you’ve worked with algebra and you’ve worked with a triangle, a right triangle, and you get two sides of the triangle and try to solve the third side, because it’s a quadratic equation with two roots, one of which is a negative root, a negative number. But if you’re solving a problem that involves speed and velocity, what’s a negative velocity? I don’t mean negative in the coordinates, I mean a negative speed, what does that mean? It doesn’t mean anything. What it’s essentially telling us is that our mathematics, the whole mathematical system that we use every day does not totally correspond with the real world around us. Math does not totally correspond to physical reality. That’s why in scientific theories in modeling you only use pieces of math, you do not use the full system; you can’t do that. You can use fragments of math to describe certain things in the real world and that’s all you can use, because the real world defies you to explain in a mathematical system.
Theology is much the same way. We can use our logic in limited ways, so we use logical fragments to describe theology and [can’t understand word] when we come to God. We want to look at Isaiah because these passages in chapter 40ff are a very important part of the Old Testament. Isaiah was a prophet, he wrote prior to what big event that ended Israel’s existence in the Old Testament? We had the rise of the kingdom, the decline of the kingdom, and then we had the exile. At the exile both the northern and southern kingdoms failed. The prophets were writing to prepare the population for what was going to happen in the exile. They knew they were going to be living in a pagan environment, so Isaiah 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, is a central Old Testament Scripture that was given to Isaiah to give to the believers of his day in order to give them tools to live in a pagan culture.
In Isaiah 40 there are a number of questions. This is sort of like the book of Job, and God once again is the interrogator and man is the one who’s called on the carpet to answer. In Isaiah 40:12, note these questions. Try to look at them as we do today, in our modern kind of thinking. “Who has measured the waters in the hollow of His hand, and marked off the heavens by the span, and calculated the dust of the earth by the measure, and weighed the mountains in a balance, and the hills in a pair of scales?” That’s an obvious challenge to knowledge of the physical world. The challenge in verse 12 is to have a comprehensive empirical database, and God says show Me your database, go ahead. It’s a challenge for man in his measurements. All those clauses there are talking about measurements. The point is that you never can measure something perfectly. You can measure it with a degree of precision, but then there’s the philosophical problem of after… a saying we often use in testing is that you know what time it is until you have two watches, now which one is the right one.
It’s not just saying that somebody can’t estimate the weight of the mountain. That’s not the point of the question here. The point of the question is to have a comprehensive and complete knowledge of all measured entities. That’s what the challenge is for. In verse 13, the challenge goes deeper. This you will recognize, it’s quoted in the New Testament, in Corinthians. It’s interesting, the Corinthians were what culture? Greeks. Corinth is near what city in the ancient world, the center of the intellectual world on the northern side of the Mediterranean Sea? Athens.
So Corinth was infected with philosophic issues and Paul made the case that revelation …, our presupposition as Christians, the base of our faith is revelation not reason.
In verse 13 Isaiah presents material that Paul later uses to disarm the rationality of the unbeliever. He says, “Who has directed the Spirit of the LORD, or as His counselor has informed Him?” What he’s saying in verse 13 is, on the surface, it’s obviously saying on the surface, he’s saying the Lord has never learned anything. God’s knowledge is not that which is a result of learning. That’s an interesting statement. Let’s push it a little further, see if we can draw out some implications of this. If God has never acquired His knowledge through learning, what does that tell you about His knowledge vis a vis our knowledge? All of our knowledge is from learning. None of His knowledge is from learning. So a qualitative distinction is being made between God’s knowledge and man’s knowledge.
This is another manifestation of the Creator/creature distinction. Here’s the Creator/creature distinction showing up in the area of knowledge. It’s a failure to understand and appreciate the Creator/creature distinction in knowledge that is the root of all of the assaults on the Christian faith, and it’s also the key to a viable powerful apologetic for the Christian faith over against unbelief. What unbelief tries to do is say that there is only level or kind of knowledge… one kind of knowledge. What unbelief tries to argue, the pagan line tries to argue that there’s only a difference between quantities. In other words, the high IQ person knows more than, say, the low IQ, although that’s questionable at times. It’s always an argument that the gods, up on Mount Olympus, they know more than we do, but their knowledge is just our knowledge expanded. It’s sort of like Mormonism, that as God is man one day shall be, there’s just a shade of difference here. There’s a quantitative difference, no qualitative Creature/creature distinction.
What verse 13 is telling us is that that’s wrong, that’s a false view of knowledge itself. There is not one level of knowledge and we’re all separated quantitatively. What this verse is saying is there are two kinds of knowledge. There is the omniscience of God that we cannot share and then there’s our knowledge. Our knowledge is learned knowledge; omniscience is not learned knowledge. The nearest thing that’s probably analogous in our brains to God’s omniscience is intuition. It comes, it’s just there. God thinks, but He doesn’t learn anything, He’s not dependent on revelation, He’s not acquiring new information. God is self-contained, or we used the word aseity, God’s aseity. What do we mean by that noun? Aseity means that God is totally self-contained, totally and absolutely independent. He does not need the creation around, He does not need the universe, He doesn’t have to lean on the universe to gain anything, He does not need to learn anything, God is a self-contained God. Why do we say that? Why is that an important statement to make in our time? Because liberal theology, nine out of ten pastors out there are taught this way in liberal seminaries, i.e. that God develops with history. They believe that, they believe in what’s called process theology, that God is expanding His awareness as history marches on, because He’s part of the universe, pantheonism again, so God is expanding His knowledge.
The Bible asserts that God is self-contained, meaning He doesn’t grow, meaning therefore God does not … it’s exactly the opposite; God does not grow with history. The creation grows in a glorification of Him, but God doesn’t. God is self-contained; His aseity means He is totally and absolutely independent. It’s important we understand that, because what is sin, at its heart. It’s us trying to gain aseity, and that’s the perversion, that is the satanic nature of sin. It’s not necessarily murder, adultery, stealing—the things that we think of. They are sin, but behind that is a spirit that really and literally wants to be like God. What is it that we’d like to be like God? We like to be totally completely self-contained and independent; and that’s sin, and it’s sin because we want to be what God is and God alone can be that way.
Having said that, let’s go on. Isaiah 40:14, “With whom did He consult and who gave Him understanding? And who taught Him in the path of justice and taught Him knowledge?” Notice the two nouns in verse 14 in the predicate of that clause, “justice” and “knowledge.” That is saying that God is self-contained ethically and God is self-contained epistemologically or in His knowledge. He does not require, and has no outside standard. Verses 13-14, what I’m pushing for here is an awareness that there’s not a yardstick over and above God that’s somehow there, the raw bare naked concept of justice, that’s the backdrop, and then we see God against the backdrop and we say oh, God is justice, God is righteous, because we have this concept, this abstract concept (in back) of what righteousness and justice looks like, and we’re classifying God as sitting in that classification. This passage, verses 13-14 denies that. God, it says, no one taught Him, there’s no external source of justice and knowledge.
Justice and knowledge are not concepts external to God by which He is measured or evaluated. There’s nothing in back of God, by way of justice, knowledge, love; go through the attributes. God is sovereign, there’s no fate that controls God, so there’s nothing in back of God’s sovereign. God is love, there’s no concept of love and then God fits into that concept. There’s no concept of truth, this is quite interesting, truth doesn’t exist as an abstract and then God happens to be truth. You can go through all the other attributes, but verse 14 says basically “who taught Him in the path of justice and taught Him knowledge?” No one, the answer is clear. That means He is the source of those two nouns, justice and knowledge. We could say omniscience and holiness in our attribute list. He is the source of truth. He is the source of love. He is the source of every one of these things that we use to classify things with. What we’re borrowing when we talk about universals and absolute in which we’re categorizing, what we’re borrowing the moment we open our mouth or our brains work, hopefully both work together, is referring to God’s attributes. We think of love, we think of justice, we think of these and we have a concept of them but we have that concept only because God is first there, He’s in back of the concept. We have the concept because of Him. Our concept of truth is a result of His character, it’s not an abstraction.
If you catch on to what I’m saying, this is exactly opposite to the way the world works. Let’s take someone who says well, it really doesn’t matter whether God exists or not, I can do my math. Really? If God doesn’t exist your math doesn’t make any sense, it’s just a mental activity of the cranium. There’s not really anything there. It’s not like we can be neutral about God’s existence, because if God isn’t there we have no attributes, we have no sources for these absolutes. These absolutes that the Greeks kept looking for, they turned over every stone philosophically that they could turn over to find the absolutes, because at least they had the sense, more than we do in our generation, that if you can’t find the absolute you don’t have any knowledge, because all is in a state of flux. You’ve got to have anchors, period. You’ve got to calibrate your knowledge by some standard. Where are you going to get the standard?
So Aristotle was looking all over the place, Plato was looking all over the place, and they thought they’d discovered it. They thought they had an idea of the absolutes, and then as man matured philosophically they realized no, those categories are coming out of here, they’re not out there, they’re coming out of here. Well if they’re coming out of here, my head is just as good as yours. What happens? We break down, everything goes into relativism. That’s what we’re seeing today. But the Christians, who have believed in the Bible, never had the problem of Aristotle and Plato, and therefore don’t have the problem of relativism because we didn’t have to look under the rocks to find the concept. We knew all along, Isaiah, we knew that God is the source of this and because of our belief in God we have the source of attributes. This is a powerful effect.
Let’s go on further in Isaiah 40, this is all prelude to the doctrine of the Trinity. Verse 18, this is a question that God is asking to defy each one of us to classify Him. Where is your concept, He says, by what you’re going to measure Me? Go ahead. “To whom then will you liken God? Or [to] what likeness will you compare with Him?” That’s what we do, right? When we say oh, I don’t believe the Christian God is righteous, I mean, He does those nasty things in the Old Testament. Oh, in other words there’s a standard of righteousness over here and then we’re taking God and plugging Him into that standard. Where did you get this from? What He’s saying is there isn’t anything out there; I am the source of this whole thing. There’s nothing else, and there’s nothing that you can use to compare Me, there’s nothing that you can use to measure Me, absolutely nothing.
Then there’s a mockery in verses 19-20. He’s making fun of the idol makers of his time, they were making physical idols but we could somehow say the same thing to our intellectual idol makers of our day, it’s sarcasm directed to the philosophers of our time. “As for the idol, a craftsman casts it,” we would say the philosopher tries to think through this system, “a goldsmith plates it with gold, and a silversmith fashions chains of silver.” Many men write books and they conceive of these ideas.  “He who is too impoverished for such an offering selects a tree that does not rot; he seeks out for himself a skillful craftsman to prepare an idol that will not totter.” Do you know how they kept idols from tipping over? They chained them down. God says look at this, your idols need chains so they won’t tip over, and you’re trying to compare Me to that! You’re sick! That’s what God basically is challenging the world.
In verse 21 He’s arguing that we intuitively knew better all along because He made us in His image. He made all men, everywhere in His image so He’s saying in verse 21 all men are responsible, not to think that way, even if they haven’t heard the gospel, they’re still responsible for not thinking that way because of natural revelation in creation, God-consciousness. [v. 21, “Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been declared to you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?”] To wind up so screwed up as a pagan is in his thinking he has had to self-delude himself. Paganism and unbelief is self-deception, because verse 21 says at the heart of it all, all men deep down do know after all. Therefore if they profess they do not know, they’re not even true to themselves.
Verse 25, “‘To whom then will you liken Me that I should be his equal?’ says the Holy One.” In other words, do you have a concept that I am equal, in other words that comprehends Me. If you can perfectly comprehend Me, tell Me, what is it by which you can comprehend Me? The point is, it goes on and on like this, it just goes on and on, all through Isaiah 41, 42, 43, all the Isaiah 40s, a great, great section of Isaiah.
Let’s come back to the notes on the Trinity. That’s the background so when we get on these five depictions, and all these are is just a summation of Scripture; these five propositions summarize God’s own revelation of His nature. And if it is God who is telling us that He is thus and such and thus and such, who are we to argue on the basis of our concept of number, remember the Jehovah’s Witnesses, God can’t be one and God can’t be three, that’s a logical contradiction. Who’s the source of logic? Who’s the source of number? We’ll discover that in a moment.
Principle 1, God is absolutely One. The point is that God is not made up of a menu, and as I put in the text, as I did when we studied creation, you’ll see I parenthesized capital Q [(Q)uality )]. “Any such categories comprehended by man are (q)ualities,” and I put a parenthesis, little q. If you draw lines in those two, the little q to the big Q, that’s my attempt, symbolically, so show what we’re talking about on a creature level versus a Creator level. So the first sentence: “God is not made up of a menu of (Q)ualities such as righteousness, justice, omniscience and love.” The idea there is these aren’t concepts. God is all of each of these, so when we use the word (Q) for Creator (Q)uality, we mean that He is righteousness, He is love, He is justice. He is each one of these things, He is all of them. He’s not made up like a pie chart, that’s what I’m trying to get at.
“Any such categories comprehended by man are (q)ualities” little q “that themselves derive from the Creator.” Then I give some illustrations, “Our sense of geometry and space derive from” what prior divine attributes. God is everywhere, that’s the geometrical aspect of God’s being that shows up to us as geometry. Where do we have a sense of space and location in space? We’re located inside space at some point. This feature of our existence comes about because God is omnipresent.” He is immense, He is omnipresent, so He has created us and He’s created the world having this finite characteristic we call geometry, but it’s a finite version of His omnipresence. You can say the same thing for our sense of time. “Our sense of time derives from His eternality.” We are finite creatures, we can’t plug into time absolutely, if we did we’d be in trouble, we’d see all the points in time simultaneously. God does, because He’s eternal.
What I’m trying to show in those sentences is the tools of reasoning that we use, like space, time, righteousness, love, think of all the abstract nouns, all the abstract nouns that we use as tools when we talk about ourselves, we talk about other people, etc. What I’m trying to get across is that all of those tool words are derivatives of God’s attributes. So when we’re using the very tools and we’re trying to turn around and say God is a logical God, God is a righteous God, what we’re doing is we’ve already borrowed from His character to accuse Him of not conforming to His character. We’re using the concept of righteousness, where did we get it from? God’s character. Now we’re saying He doesn’t fit His own character? Do you see?
“His attributes, therefore, are not impersonal Ideals thought by man; they are (Q)ualities of His personal character. God is each one of these characteristics entirely.” So that’s the first thing that we have to decide about the Trinity, that God is absolutely one, He’s not partitioned. However we visualize the Trinity we’ve got to say that God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit aren’t each one-third of God. Wrong!
Let’s go to the second proposition, “God is Absolutely Three.” He’s not one, He’s not four, He’s not eight, He’s three. And He didn’t become three when He created the universe; He was three before He created the universe. In the quote I have on the bottom of page 10 you’ll I’m quoting Dr. Poythress, a fascinating individual, he did a lot of pioneer work as a mathematician in this area, he was the one who wrote a very famous essay about 15 years ago that just blew the socks off a lot of people, it’s entitled Is Mathematics Neutral, and he denied the fact that math is neutral, and said that 2 + 2 = 4 is a statement that does not mean the same thing to a Christian as it does to a non-Christian; the Christian and the non-Christian cannot agree that 2 + 2 = 4, there are aspects and subtleties to that statement that are not shared between a believer and an unbeliever.
He says here: “God has an aggregative nature,” that is He has distinctions, “in the sense that the various Persons of the Godhead, and His attributes are distinguished from one another. This is the eternal foundation for the science of set theory….” When you define mathematics you get into the set theory, and you distinguish clusters, and you say is this a member of the set, boom, boom, boom. So you’re saying it’s not a member of this, it’s a member of that; that’s aggregative quality. And what Poythress is arguing is that that very aggregate quality that underlies set theory comes off of the Trinity. Who is there first? The Creator or the creature? What does set theory deal with? The creature. Who’s first? The Creator. Then the tools that we’re using to deal with the creature come from the Creator. So He’s the source of the framework for set theory.
“This is the eternal foundation for the science of set theory…. ‘Believe in God, believe also in Me’” notice the word “also.” So the Father and the Son are distinguished, one is one, one is the other. “‘[The Father] will give you another Counselor….” That word “another” distinguishes the Holy Spirit from the Son and from the Father. So they’re distinguished somehow. “The personal names, Father, Son, and Spirit already imply that there are distinct ‘aggregates’ within the Godhead.” So that’s the second proposition, God is three.
The third one, this has a tremendous importance later on when we deal with the issue of feminism, and totalitarianism and every other thing. “God’s Threeness Refers to Modes of Being, Not Just Roles.” It’s easy to see God’s roles, God the Father planned the plan of salvation, God the Son carried out the plan of salvation, God the Holy Spirit reveals the plan of salvation and applies it to us. The Holy Spirit regenerates us; the Holy Spirit illuminates our heart. What does He illuminate? The work of the Son. What’s the work of the Son? That’s the work that the Father ordained the Son to do. So it’s clear the Father, Son and Holy Spirit have roles, but the doctrine of the Trinity goes deeper than that.
The Father, Son and Holy Spirit have roles because they have prior being that characterizes them for those roles. It wasn’t that gee, the Holy Spirit could have done the plan of salvation and the Son could have revealed it. That’s not true. Because of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, they have a structure and a being constituted such that when they go to act the plan of salvation, it’s the Father that does the planning, the Son that does the doing, and the Holy Spirit that does the applying. So the roles derive from their being. That has to be in there, otherwise what you have… remember when we were dealing with the doctrine of Christ, then you have the Father, Son and Holy Spirit just masks, and you have this unknown God and He shows up one time as the Father, He shows up the next time as the Son, He shows up the next time as the Holy Spirit. Then you’ve got the problem in the Garden of Gethsemane, who was Jesus talking to? Himself? So there are distinct attributes of God and it’s being, not just the roles.
Item 4, “The Subordination Within the Trinity Does Not Refer to Essence,” another sticky one, this is really sticky, we’ll spend some more time later on after we get into the life of Christ on this one, because this harps back to have us understand more clearly terms and names that the Bible prefers to call the Trinity. Follow my thinking here.
“Although the Son ‘is begotten’ form the Father, and the Spirit ‘proceeds’ from both the Father and the Son, this subordination within the Trinity doesn’t diminish the essence of either the Son or the Spirit.” Here’s what I mean. Because the Holy Spirit is carrying out the work of the Son according to the plan of the Father, doesn’t mean the Holy Spirit in His sovereignty is less sovereign than the Father and the Son. They all are sovereign. The Holy Spirit’s sovereignty isn’t weaker, the Son’s stronger, and the Father’s sovereignty is stronger. That’s not what we’re saying. We’re saying they’re all equal. They all are omnipotent, it doesn’t mean the Father is more strong than the Son, so He says okay Son, you do this, I’m on a totem pole, I’m higher and because I’m higher and you’re weaker you have to do what I tell you to do. That’s not the doctrine of the Trinity. The doctrine of the Trinity says subordination does not refer to essence. Subordination is another aspect of their character, but it’s not because one is less than God, there are not three degrees of God.
What then do these terms mean? Let’s take the two terms: the Son is begotten, the Holy Spirit proceedeth. Those words came out of Scripture, so let’s turn to Genesis 22. As we always say, the first time something happens in the Scripture always pay very careful attention to it, because God sets up history pedagogically, so that there’s lesson 1, lesson 2, lesson 3, lesson 4, etc.
What you’re seeing today, by the way, with NATO going into Yugoslavia, it just struck me as I thought about this, here’s what’s happening in our present day history. We are seeing nation states being disciplined by a supranational body. It hasn’t come into total fruition yet, NATO is still kind of a cluster of nations, but what you’re seeing here is a very interesting thing. The “world” (quote unquote) has decided there’s evil inside a national entity, and therefore they consider themselves legally justified in dealing with an ethical problem inside a sovereign territory that hasn’t invaded anyone … hasn’t invaded anyone. If you think about it, in the future when Jesus Christ rules the Millennial Kingdom, what does it say He has? A rod of iron—and He rules the nations. So when Jesus Christ comes to this world for a thousand years of reign and He sees something happening, what that means is He’s going to get very nasty. The rod of iron, that’s not grace, that’s law, and He will enforce it.
So I think what you see here is a development, and I’m not justifying the thing one way or the other, I’m just saying that if you look at history pedagogically… 300 years ago people wouldn’t understand that, but slowly, almost imperceptively, right in front of our life times, the last 50 years, we’re seeing more and more the emphasis on globalism, more and more the emphasis on a world entity that somehow can judge individual nation states. It’s developing an awareness…, nobody knows why it’s happening. Of course we know why it’s happening, I believe it’s a prelude to the return of Jesus Christ, because He’s got to pedagogically deal with the human race so that corporately we appreciate globalism and global authority.
The problem is, in a sinful world global authority is illegitimate. That’s Nimrod, the first United Nations Building was the tower of Babel and we know what God did to that. Fractured it, destroyed it because sinful man can’t be trusted with a global supranational authority. You can’t trust man with that, man is fallen. But when the Son of Man comes, who is not fallen, now He can rule the nations with a rod of iron, and He will. But He’s qualified to do that, there’s no ethical problem with that. It’s not like what we’ve got today, a Commander in Chief ordering soldiers into battle to do what he was chickened out and too cowardly to do while he was a college student. But in the case of the Lord Jesus Christ, you’re going to have a person who nobody can say but… well you weren’t, oh yes I was; well you didn’t submit, oh yes I did; no arguments. That’s what makes Him so powerful; He’s perfectly qualified for the job. There will be no arguments about the qualifications of the Lord Jesus Christ’s leadership for a world government. What we are seeing is that the Lord Jesus Christ, in His Second Advent, history is pedagogically leading the consciousness so we can understand it when it happens.
Back in Genesis 22, again it was pedagogical. Nowhere in history from Adam forward thru Noah, until we got to this case in Abraham’s day, was this term ever used. You know the story of Genesis 22, the horrifying story of being told to go out and kill your son, slit his throat and put him on an altar. Just think of it; and God’s telling you to do this. So God is redefining murder for you in this case, He’s saying I say it’s all right to murder your son…, interesting. Kierkegaard and other philosophers said aha, this is the horns of a dilemma and Abraham had to chose, whether Abraham chose to obey or disobey had no ethical meaning whatever, he could have done either one, just flip the dice, because on the one hand God is telling him to do something, on the other hand it’s clearly wrong. So what does he go by? In Scripture we know who’s to go by.
This awful thing God tells this man to do, and then if you’ll notice, He says in Genesis 22:2, “And He said, ‘Take now your son, your only begotten son,” that’s where the term first begins in Scripture. In verse 12, “And he said, ‘Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only begotten son,” that’s the first time it occurs in Scripture.
Let’s reflect for a moment. If Jesus Christ is called the “only begotten Son of the Father,” and we go back to this text and take this text in context, what do we know about the term “only begotten son?” What does this story tell us? What’s the meaning of that? Is the meaning what the Jehovah’s Witnesses and skeptics like to say, well, “only begotten Son” means God begat the Son. What’s the irony if you know Genesis 22? Who begat Isaac? It was by a miracle. Yes, Abraham was involved, but the point was, the issue here isn’t the only begotten son, the issue is because he was miraculous begotten, he wasn’t naturally born. The emphasis in the term “only begotten” isn’t on the begotten? What is the emphasis? He had another son that wasn’t begotten. Who’s that? Ishmael. Why does God use this term of Isaac and not of Ishmael? Yes, he was involved in begetting Ishmael to, but why does he say the “only begotten son” here?
The term is used in a peculiar way and if you catch it, it saves you from this stupidity thing later on by saying “begotten” means made. Remember the Nicene Creed, what did it say? What were the fathers saying, “begotten not made.” They understood that the term “begotten” didn’t refer to generations physically, because Ishmael was generated physically. But the term “only begotten” doesn’t refer to just generation or it could have been used of Ishmael. Why is this term coined only of Isaac? What was Isaac in the plan of God? He was the seed; he was the elect so chosen seed. Finally Abraham realized it; he was the seed of the promise. He was the one that God had said you’re going to have a son, so on and so forth, and the line of redemption is going to come through you Abraham.
This boy exists in history, Ishmael is out of the way, Isaac has the floor, Isaac is the center of the drama, and history starts marching on. Now we come, all of a sudden, bam, to Genesis 22 and of all the horrible things a father would be asked to do is kill his son. What do you feel about this term? Usually we don’t talk about feelings here, but the revelation has power in the drama of the story. What do you feel when you read verse 2, “Take your son, your only begotten son,” in other words, take him, not Ishmael, not anybody else, take your only begotten son. It’s that son that is endeared to his dad because his dad has a relationship with the Lord and it’s Isaac that is connected to that relationship with the Lord. [blank spot] It refers to a closeness, an affection, and a linking to His sovereign plan, God’s sovereign plan. So “begotten” if you take the flavor of the first occurrence in history, Genesis 22, you clearly see it’s not referring in emphasis to physical generations, it’s referring to something else. It’s referring to the place Isaac has in the plan of God, his endearment to his father.
So when that term is then picked up out of the pages of Genesis 22 and brought over here and applied to Jesus Christ, it’s applied with the knowledge of the Genesis 22 story. That’s why knowing the Old Testament is so important to know the New Testament. The New Testament authors under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit coined the term, “the only begotten of the Father.” They coined it out of the Genesis 22 story, and they did so in order to reveal mysteriously, we don’t know how this happens, but the Holy Spirit seems to want to tell us that Jesus Christ means that much to the Father, and you think that it was a horrible thing for Abraham to be told to slice his son’s throat, that anguish of a father in that situation, then that’s a revelation of what God the Father experienced when He looked down and saw the cross.
All of a sudden, now we’re getting into does God just sit up there totally unfeeling, totally disconnected from history, never gets His feet wet, no emotional link with man. Oh yeah, why is Jesus Christ called His only begotten Son for? See that revelation. That revelation anchored through Genesis 22 reveals something, not about Jesus Christ being created; it reveals something about Jesus’ relationship to the Father and what the Father thinks of the Son. That’s what it’s talking about.
The same thing happens if you look at the term “proceeds.” The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. Where does that occur? That occurs in the New Testament doesn’t it? When does Jesus say, “If I go away, I will prepare a place for you,” that passage, the upper room discourse, and then He says, “and I will send another Comforter to you,” He will proceed from Me. Why was the Holy Spirit given? When He “proceeds” from heaven, after the Son leaves what does He do? He replaces the Son in history. He starts regenerating, He starts illuminating hearts, He convicts the world of sin, righteousness and judgment. So what does “proceed” mean? Does it mean He’s weak, does it mean He’s the errand boy for the Trinity? No, it means that He is doing the work of God close in; He’s the guy that builds all this stuff. A drama is a great illustration of the roles. All the technicians have to put all this up, that’s akin to the Holy Spirit. The actors would be akin to the Son, because they are the ones that out here, and we see them. In a good play you kind of notice the scenery, but you’re not fixated on it because you’re fixated on the actors and actresses. Then behind the actors and actresses, what are they doing? They’re following a script. Who wrote the script? The playwright. So there’s kind of a practical illustration of these roles and how they interplay. So “proceedeth” means He’s sent to do a job. He’s the guy that does the work here.
Now the fifth and last part of the doctrine of the Trinity. “With Respect to the Salvation of Man the Triunity is Perceived with Both Threeness and Oneness. The workings of the Trinity in the plan of salvation as revealed to man (i.e., revelation of the ‘economic Trinity’) show both threeness and oneness.” Obviously, if God is three and one, then His plan is three and one.
There’s a quote from Leon Morris. Leon Morris has written one of the finest commentaries on the Gospel of John. [Notes say: “The Father is never seen according to John 1:18. Dr. Leon Morris comments on this text; ‘There are some passages like Exodus 24:9-11 which explicitly affirm that some men have seen God. What then does John mean? Surely that in His essential being God has never yet been seen of men. Men had their visions of God, but these were all partial. The Theophanies of the Old Testament did not and could not reveal God’s essential being. But Christ has now made such a revelation. As Calvin puts it, when he says that none has seen God, it is not to be understood of the outward seeing of the physical eye.”]
The last line of the quote is cut off. It should read: “He means generally that since God dwells in inaccessible light, He cannot be known except in Christ His living image.” What Dr. Morris is pointing to there is that we seem to have a conflict. Turn to John 1:18. They say the Apostle John was the youngest of the apostles and he was the most intimate to Jesus in the Gospel narratives. Scholars have noted something interesting about John. In John 3, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son,” have you ever noticed it starts out with Jesus talking to Nicodemus. Here’s an exercise for you to try someday, read that chapter in John 3 and tell me (or tell yourself) where does Jesus stop talking, because the chapter winds up with John, the author, talking. Scholars have tried to figure out how that transition happens. It’s one of those examples, many of them, in the Gospel of John, where John’s vocabulary and mode of expression seems to be how Jesus probably talked. What we hear of Jesus through Matthew, Mark, and Luke is how they reported Him to be speaking. But how Jesus shows up in the Gospel of John almost appears to be that John is an impressionable young man and how Christ taught, His accent, His way of expression, somehow set John up for the rest of His life.
John, being so close, has the greatest insight about the Trinity of anyone in the New Testament. He was so close to the Lord Jesus Christ that when the Holy Spirit cleared his mind to write Scripture, what a gold mine He dug out of John’s experiences. In John 1:18 John makes this statement. “No man has seen God at any time; the only begotten God, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.” By the way, there’s another little controversial text. The translation I have is a very legitimate translation, “No man has seen God at any time,” comma, not “the only begotten of God,” but it can read “the only begotten God.” Now if that’s proper, then there’s another one of the verses that claim the full deity of Christ. “… the only begotten God, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has” exegeted or revealed Him; explained Him.
People read the first clause in verse 18 and say aha, a conflict in the Bible, because I can go over to Exodus 24 and Moses asked to see God and God walked by Moses and Moses saw God, and John 1:18 says “no man has seen God at any time” so that’s why you Christians are always talking about your Bible and the Bible is not rationally consistent, it has contradictory passages in it. As the old saying goes, let’s slow down and see carefully what John is saying here. “No man has seen God at any time.” Okay, that’s the problem clause. So what do you do if you have a problem clause in Scripture? Where do you go for help? The first place—context! So let’s just read a little bit further to see if possible John might have explained himself. “No man has seen God at any time; the only begotten God, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him,” or exegeted Him, or revealed Him. Connect that clause with the first one. What John is saying in verse 18 at the end, he’s trying to say that the Lord Jesus Christ fully, completely reveals God. That’s his thrust, and He’s trying to work this passage to prove that point. Then you have to interpret the clause in verse 18 to fit that. So how would you understand the first clause of 18, “no man has seen God at any time?” It means “see” in what sense? See as Moses did, in the sense of a Theophany? No, no, John means more than that, see deep into the very character and nature of God, like Jesus has explained to him. That’s what he’s talking about. See so far into God that you can see His triune nature. Moses didn’t see that clearly.
That’s what Dr. Morris is saying in this big long quote. What Dr. Morris is trying to say is that John is simply arguing that Jesus Christ is the complete revelation of God and more complete than any other revelation in all of the Scriptures.
Let’s go to page 12, we’ll finish this section on the Trinity. “The Son is the center of all revelation whether as the Angel of Yahweh in the Old Testament or as Jesus Christ in the New Testament. The Holy Spirit, like the Father, is never seen directly.” He shows up in emblematic form, the dove, fire, but you don’t see the Holy Spirit, don’t ever see Him. You see the Son.
Poythress explains it this way: the threeness alternates with a oneness. “The incomprehensibility of God’s aggregative nature is expressed by facts such as the mutual indwelling of the members of the Trinity, and the inter-penetration of attributes … (John 14:10-11).” Turn to John 14:10. What he’s saying here is that after we distinguish the Father from the Son and the Son from the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit from the Father, then you have verses like this. “Do you believe that I am in the Father, and Father is in Me?” That’s what he means by inter-penetration, so wherever the Father is, the Son is, you can’t isolate them either, if you have the Son you have the Father. If you have the Father you have the Son. If you have the Holy Spirit you have the Father. If you have the Son you have the Holy Spirit, they’re all inter-penetrating; you can’t separate them out. You can distinguish them, but still, after we said we distinguish them, we haven’t finished our understanding; we still don’t know what we’re talking about, because they’re inter-penetrating.
“The Trinity doctrine cannot be stated as a comprehensively clear concept because of man’s finiteness and its limitation on attaining the godlike universal categories Aristotle and other pagan thinkers required fro their autonomous logic but never found. Biblical logic, on the other hand, by recognizing its creature limitations knows that it has a firm foundation in God’s triune nature.” We’ll go into that when we talk about the applications of the doctrine of the Trinity.
This section that runs from page 12 through the top of page 14 is an illustration of the Trinity devised by the President of Gordon-Conwell seminary back in the 1930s and 40s. It’s one of the most intriguing illustrations of the Trinity I’ve ever seen. Dr. Wood points to the triune nature of the cosmos. I think it’s a fantastic illustration, and I think it truly shows something that God’s triune nature marks itself in indelible ink in our nature, or very character and our being, the whole structure of the universe is triune. So look at that, then what we’re going to do is take the practical implications of the Trinity doctrine, because I want you to see after all is said and done, the doctrine of the Trinity makes a powerful difference. If you get sloppy and weak in the area of the Trinity, there are certain implications that follow.
… attributes, all those tool ideas, like threeness, oneness, logical consistency, that you realize that those themselves are but reflections on the creature claim of His attributes, of His divine nature. That has revolutionary implications. It has revolutionary implications about how you look at logic, how you look at experience, how you think, because we’ve heard… one of the hallmarks of Reformation thinking was the phrase that they loved to use, the Puritans loved to use this one, “thinking God’s thoughts after Him.” What they meant was that’s the preoccupation of man, to think God’s thoughts after Him, and it always irks me when I hear some secular historian mouth off about well, man didn’t really begin to think until the age of the enlightenment, or something. Come on, give me a break. What did the church do, thinking about the Trinity? Talk about straining the brain, they went through four centuries of brain-straining just trying to state it. So they were thinking long before the enlightenment people came about. Don’t buy into that, that’s an easy thing to suck up and say, oh yeah, hold on. They were amateurs, the enlightenment was an amateur game compared to the kind of depth of thought that the church fathers worked on.
Just imagine what the disciples… without any doctrinal training how did they ever write the New Testament? Really, not a university class among them, and these poor everyday people just somehow coined Scripture, wrote this thing that no PhD has been able to fathom since. How’d that happen? It kind of sets us on our behinds to think well, okay, I can’t quite be so arrogant as to start putting God in some box of men’s creation, because what I’m doing intellectually is exactly what in the Old Testament, in the ancient history time that people were doing physically with their idols. Go back to Isaiah 40, “who are you going to liken Me to, that I should be his equal?” That’s what you’re doing when you fit God inside of a concept. You have to let the concepts flow out of God. That’s so opposite to what we learn.
What we’re saying in essence is that God precedes truth logically. You can’t have truth unless you have God with an immutability built into His character, because if God doesn’t have immutability built into His character all is flux, and you have no such thing as truth. So truth depends for its existence upon the existence of God. That’s why I personally am a very convinced presuppositionalist in my apologetic, because I can’t see how you can construct an argument that sits out there using man’s categories, and then from that platform try to prove Christianity. I think rather that Christianity alone provides the tools that I would have to use in any proof. So if God isn’t there then I don’t have any tools for proving anything, leave alone proving that He exists. And that, I think, reflects the Scripture, because the Scriptures don’t offer any proof He exists, the implication being there is none, for the simple reason that proof itself is derivative of God.
Beware of something else. People will often argue as Michael Martin has done at Princeton, his claim is that he’s tried to answer this thing that I’m just telling you, and here’s his answer; he’s an atheist, he’s probably one of the leading atheists in America. Michael Martin argues that if logic is dependent on God, then logic is contingent, that is it can be changed, it can be flexible and arbitrary. And if that’s the case, then there can be no truth, there can be no knowledge.
So he’s arguing that the nonexistence of God is a precondition for knowledge, not the existence of God. Think about what he has said; think of his first statement. He said that if logic is dependent on God it’s contingent, meaning it could fluctuate, if God wanted squares to be circles He could change squares to circles, so logic is totally a function of His arbitrary will. But wait a minute, here’s where he runs while he reads. If you look carefully in Scripture, what does it say God cannot do? He cannot change and He cannot lie. There are things He cannot do. Does that violate His omnipotence? It does only if you have a concept of omnipotence at odds with Scripture. This is why you can’t just load these words up with some arbitrary meaning and then oh, I’ve got a contradiction. Wait a minute. Hold it here. What kind of meaning did you pour into the word before you started saying you had a conflict.
What Michael Martin has done is he’s recognized that if logic is dependent on God, we’ve got an answer here, but you see, his atheism betrays him because as an atheist, as a non-Christian, he’s fearful of God; without being saved you should be fearful of God. If you comprehend who He is and you’re not saved, you ought to be very fearful. And I think every person is intuitively fearful. So he’s fearful that if everything depends on God, then it doesn’t depend on me, and if it doesn’t depend on me or man, we don’t have the final say in all this and that’s a threat, that’s very deeply and profoundly threatening if I’m trying to build me and my walls, and I want to have self-sufficiency. You couldn’t offer me a more threatening more proposition than to argue that the very tool I’m using, logic, is out of my control.
So Michael Martin is desperately trying to … he’s threatened by God having control of the logic, but then he falsely infers that if God has control of all the logic, He can do with it anything He wants to do, and He could tear it up. That’s not true. Why? Because God has an essence that includes immutability, part of God’s nature that Michael Martin doesn’t understand that the Bible is revealing to us is that God has substantive character, and it’s His substantive trustworthy character that keeps Him from being arbitrary. God is not arbitrary. Now it’s true if He were omnipotent and had no moral and ethical character He could do what He wanted. You know a 900-pound gorilla does what he wants to. And God could do what He wants to, but He does what He wants to compatible with His essence and He cannot lie, and He cannot change.
The point is that if you want to understand unbelief, go to the Michael Martins of this world, you can learn it so wonderfully from a really good atheist, not some half-baked Christian evangelical who’s trying to show how intelligent they are with how many people they can quote. Go to the atheist themselves and sooner or later you will, if you trust the Lord and search the Scriptures, they’ll trip all over themselves and spill the beans right in front of you. And Michael Martin has done that. He has betrayed his heart, and the heart of Michael Martin’s atheism is: I don’t want logic to be out of my self-determination sphere, that is a threat to me and I see that if I allow the God of Christianity to have the final say, then He can do with anything as He pleases, including me. Yea Mike, that’s right. Wake up.
Question asked: Clough replies: He hasn’t got a biblical image of God, so he’s arguing G-o-d, he’s got the vocabulary, he’s speaking English so he’s got the vocabulary. The problem is he’s poured meaning into the Word that isn’t biblical; his logic machine is sitting there cranking out conclusions. The problem is the logic machine is loaded with words that had sucked up non-Christian meanings. That’s the problem. Now he comes back to us and says well you can’t logically reconcile God as one and three. Well, we can’t, we cannot totally understand that, but we have the data that shows He has a threeness, and He has a oneness. I don’t know how it all fits together, but I know enough about Scripture to know I don’t how holiness, sovereignty and human responsibility fit together either. But I know that the Bible confesses all of that to me, and I know that’s the nature of God. So I salute and say Yes Sir, and go on.