The Trinity and John 16

The Sunday gospel lectionary reading for Trinity Sunday in this Year C is John 16.12–15. It is another very short reading (four verses) from the ‘farewell discourse’ of Jesus, and I think is actually quite a difficult reading to preach from. Like much of this part of the Fourth Gospel, it is reflective, repeats things that have been explored before (in chapter 14), and when a few verses are removed from their context in the wider passage, this makes it even hard to preach about.

But many will not preach on this anyway! For some reason, this is the one Sunday of the year when those preaching feel they should depart from the Scripture readings, and (sometimes for the only time in the year) try and preach on a theological idea. I can understand the temptation; Stephen Holmes, in his Quest for the Trinity notes the influence of Karl Barth, who commented:

The doctrine of the Trinity is what basically distinguishes the Christian doctrine of God as Christian…in contrast to  all other possible doctrines of God (cited in Holmes p 4).

I think this is true, and you only realise how surprising this is if you ask someone who has not thought about it: what is the central distinguishing feature of Christian faith? I remember being asked this when I started ordination training, and still feel my sense of surprise, first, that I hadn’t ever really considered the question and, second, that this was the answer.

But focussing on preaching on the Trinity is a bad idea for several reasons. First, why depart from preaching on Scripture on this day of all days? Secondly, why choose to preach on the Christian doctrine which, although distinctive, has been the biggest and most challenging that theologians have wrestled with down the centuries? Thirdly, why preach on something that so many get so badly wrong, with illustrations of clover leaves or ice, water and steam that alternately lapse into tritheism and modalism or (even worse and more common) make the false analogy between the ‘persons’ of the Trinity and human persons in social Trinitarianism? These problems might be a good reason to do some teaching—but whether this can be done on one Sunday of the year, in a service of worship, is another matter.

Yet there is a bigger reason not to preach ‘on the Trinity’ on this one Sunday. If the Trinity is indeed not so much taught in Scripture (though Revelation gets pretty close to this) but the doctrine underlying all of Scripture, without which Scripture does not make sense, then if we have been preaching faithfully on Scripture all through the year, then we have in fact been preaching on the Trinity! What we might do is to make the Trinitarian assumptions of our text clear as we preach on them—but that is something we should be doing all the year.

I was encouraged to read this comment on social media in response to my previous post on Pentecost:

I REALLY appreciate this post and the emphasis on maintaining a trinitarian lens through which to understand and explain Pentecost and the role of the Spirit. Thanks.

Perhaps this Sunday is a moment to reflect on our preaching through the year, and ensure we have a Trinitarian orientation to it, just as we should have an anti-antiSemitic orientation to our preaching and reading of Scripture. as well.

So I offer here some briefs notes on the reading from John 16.12–15, followed by some important contributions on the subject of the Trinity from previous articles here which might help shape your preaching on this occasion.

In some ways, this is not the most obvious reading to have on Trinity Sunday; but in other ways, it emphasises the close interrelation between Father, Son and Spirit.

Jo-Ann Brant (Paideia commentary) notes that the material in this section appears to repeat much of what Jesus has said in John 14, so it is worth reading these two sections together—although in chapter 16 some ideas are further developed.

The context of this passage is the promise of Jesus to send the Paraclete (John 16.7), which has several important implications. It means that the Ascension is closely related to Pentecost, since it is the ascended Jesus, now enthroned, who sends the Spirit. There is something here akin to the normal human process of learning, growing up, and taking responsibility; the disciples’ dependance on Jesus changes register, and it is a dependance which leads to maturity. And it is striking that, at times, Jesus says that he is the one who sends the Spirit (as here), but at others he asks the Father who sends the Spirit (as in John 14.16, 26), and in John 15.26, Jesus sends the Spirit from the Father. The Spirit is sent by both Father and Son, so that in Rev 22.1 the river of the water of life, symbolising the life-giving Spirit, flows from the (single) throne of both God and the lamb.

The term ‘Paraclete’ is only used four times in the Fourth Gospel, in John 14.16, 26, 15.26 and 16.7. Its basic meaning (reflected in its etymology) is meaning ‘one who has been called alongside’ another. It has a passive sense, in that the one who comes alongside has been requested by another, and this is reflected in the ‘self-effacing’ description of the Spirit here. The Spirit does not do things of his own accord, but in response to the request and calling of Jesus and the Father. The Spirit does not point towards the Spirit’s own work, but points us what belongs to Jesus, which in turn is of the Father (John 16.15).

Some ETs translate the term as Helper (which sounds rather weak) or Advocate (which sounds rather forensic) though this does fit with the one mention of Jesus as our Paraclete in 1 John 2.1, where he pleads our cause with the Father. In fact, the Spirit is ‘another Paraclete’ (ἄλλος παράκλητος), that is, another of the same kind. The role of the Spirit here appears to be to make real for the disciples the presence, power and speech of the risen Jesus. Interestingly, some Rabbis taught that the Messiah would be called Menachem (the Hebrew for ‘comforter’) because the gematria value of Menachem is the same as the value of ‘branch’ nezer in Isaiah 11.1.

The cognate verb parakaleo is common in the NT (though absent from the Fourth Gospel), and is variously translated to urge, to encourage, to comfort, depending on the context—these things are all the work of the Spirit. And as we are comforted in all our sufferings, so we learn how to comfort others (2 Cor 1.4).

The opening sentence of our passage raises some important questions. If Jesus ‘still has many things to say’, does that mean that the gospel records are incomplete or inadequate? The writer of the gospel does not appear to think so; we have enough to know who Jesus is, understand his purposes, and so believe (John 20.31). David Ford, in his theological commentary on this gospel, notes that the term ‘to bear’ is very often associated with suffering—so Jesus ‘bears’ his cross (Luke 14.27), and we are to ‘bear with one another’ in the things that weigh us down (Gal 6.2).

This then means that when the Spirit speaks of ‘what is to come’ (John 16.13), this is not about the end of the world, but about the coming suffering and exaltation of Jesus. at the time, the disciples will not understand, but as they look back, with the understanding that the Spirit gives, then it will make sense. We have seen this theme from the very beginning of this gospel: ‘After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said’ (John 2.22; compare John 12.16).

The Spirit is the ‘Spirit of truth’; all through this gospel the question has been explored, who is the true witness to the things of God, as Jesus is put on trial by his accusers, culminating in the actual trial before Pilate. We have just learned that the Spirit is the one who tells us the truth about what is right, what is wrong, and how to tell the difference (verses 8–11), and we will hear Jesus’ prayer that all his followers will be ‘one’ when they are ‘sanctified in the truth; your word is truth’ (John 17.17).

It is not possible to suggest that Scripture says one thing, but the Spirit is now saying something different, because what the Father says, what Jesus teaches, and what the Spirit speaks to us are one and the same. The articulation of this here is a reiteration of what we heard in chapter 14: ‘But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you’ (John 14.26). The idea that ‘he will speak whatever he hears’ is expressed rather well in the message to the seven assemblies in Revelation 2–3; the opening of each message proclaims that ‘these are the words of…’ the risen Jesus—yet at the conclusion of each we are urged to ‘hear what the Spirit is saying.’ The words of Jesus are what the Spirit is saying.

The mention of ‘glory’ is characteristic of this section of the gospel; the first half focussing on signs, whilst the second half has the prominent theme of glory. The Spirit is associated with Jesus being ‘glorified’ as early as John 7.39; the glory of Jesus is bound up with the glory of the Father (John 8.54). God’s glory is made manifest when we pray in Jesus’ name (John 14.13) and when we bear fruit by keeping his commandments and abiding in him (John 15.8). But Jesus’ glory is most notably associated with his death, as he remains obedient to the Father and offers himself up for us (John 12.23, 28, 13.31, 17.1, 4). And this carries over into the death of those who would be martyred for their faith (John 21.19).

If you are tempted to talk more about the Trinity than the passage, then here are some pointers from previous articles.

Mike Higton, Professor of Theology and Ministry at Durham, preached on Trinity Sunday a couple of years ago. To demonstrate that this was not complicated, he preached (almost) the whole sermon in words of one syllable. He concludes:

So there is God, the one to whom we pray, the one to whom we look, to whom we call out, the one who made the world and who loves all that has been made. And then there is God by our side, God once more the one with whom we pray; God in the life of this man who shares our life, this man who lives the life of God by our side, and who pours out his life in love for us. And then there is God in our hearts, God in our guts, God one more time, the stream in which we dip our toes, the stream in which we long to swim, the stream which filled the Son and can fill us too, and bear us in love back to our source.

The life of the one God meets us in all these three ways, and all that we meet in these three ways, has its roots deep, deep down in God’s life—all the way down in God’s life—in ways that our minds are not fit to grasp in ways that break our words to bits. One life, one love, one will, works through these three to meet us when we pray, to catch hold of us, to bear us up—and to take us home.

And that’s why our words for God need to stretch; one-bit words, it turns out, will not do on their own. We call the source, the one to whom we pray, God the Father. And we call the one by our side, the one with whom we pray, God once more, Jesus. And we call the one in our hearts, the one in whom we pray, God one more time, the Spirit. And that is why we call this God—the God we meet when we pray, the God we know when we pray—that is why we call this God ‘three in one’; that is why we call our God Trinity.

Turning to the text of the New Testament, I previously shared my theological comments on Revelation 4 and 5, which offer perhaps the clearest narrative articulation of the Trinity in the Bible:

The language of worship here does a remarkable thing in identifying the lamb as equal with the one on the throne in deserving of worship and adulation—in a text which implicitly refutes the claims of the human figures to be deserving of such obeisance. Because of this, it is reasonable to claim that it offers us the highest possible Christological understanding in the whole New Testament: what we can say of God in worship, we can say of Jesus. The two figures of the one seated on the throne and the lamb are thus characterised as God the creator and God the redeemer. These figures are never quite merged, and remain distinct within the narrative of Revelation and, unlike the association of the Word with the work of creation in John’s gospel, their roles also remain distinct. But in the final hymn of praise, the worship is given to the two as if they were one.

The placing of these scenes of heavenly worship following on from the royal proclamations to the assemblies in the seven cities has a powerful rhetorical impact. The followers of Jesus might be facing particular challenges and opportunities, located within their own cultural and physical contexts—yet the context for all their struggles is this cosmic vision of the praise of God and of the lamb. Where they might feel as though they are ‘swimming against the tide’ in terms of dissenting from the cultural norms of their society—in their participation in the trade guilds with their associated deities, in their moral stance, and in their reluctance to participate in the imperial cult—the juxtaposition of chapters 4 and 5 offers a startling reconfiguration of their world. All of creation is caught up, not in obeisance to the emperor, but in the worship of the God and Father of Jesus, and of the lamb, and any who are not taken up with this are, in fact, in the minority. It is an extraordinary cultural and spiritual counter-claim to the majority perception of reality. And in its emotive extravagance, this vision of worship is not offered as a rational fact, but as a compelling call for all readers to join in themselves.

And finally, Kevin Giles warns us away from any comparison between the ‘community’ of the Trinity and the community of human persons, the heresy that is ‘social Trinitarianism‘.

The way in which the three divine persons relate to one another in eternity is neither a model for nor prescriptive of human relationships in the temporal world. God’s life in heaven does not set a social agenda for human life on earth. Divine relations in eternity cannot be replicated on earth by created human beings, and fallen beings at that. What the Bible asks disciples of Christ to do, both men and women, is to exhibit the love of God to oth- ers and to give ourselves in self-denying sacrificial service and self-subordination, as the Lord of glory did in becoming one with us in our humanity and dying on the cross. In other words, the incarnate Christ provides the perfect example of Godly living, not the eternal life of God.

Specifically, appealing to the doctrine of the Trinity, a three-fold perfect divine communion, to support either the equality of men and women or their hierarchical ordering, is mistaken and to be opposed.

Happy Trinity Sunday!

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36 thoughts on “The Trinity and John 16”

  1. Psephizo

    Most grateful for warning us not to lapse into heresy:

    ‘lapse into tritheism and modalism or (even worse and more common) make the false analogy between the ‘persons’ of the Trinity and human persons in social Trinitarianism?’

    Thank you for the links to previous articles.

    • One further thought. A quote from your previous article (through the link).

      The evangelical view may need revision.

      ‘Conservative evangelicals have also read hierarchy in the relationship between Father and Son, and since ‘the head of every woman is man, and the head of Christ is God’ (1 Cor 11.3) then the hierarchical ordering within’.

      It does not mention Father in 1 Cor. 11:3 – but God.

      Very well then. We cannot base a social agenda on the Trinity that leads to Social Trinitarianism.

      Given that God has not erased sex differences and roles (except in ‘being saved’) and given that Christ has two natures (Son of God and Son of Man).

      Then 1 Cor 11:3 might be read something like this:

      But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ (the Son of God and the Son of Man), the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God (the Son of God being superior to the Son of Man)?

      • ‘Given that God has not erased sex differences and roles (except in ‘being saved’).’

        Simply means that salvation is open to men and women (and Cretans, Arabs, Iranians etc.).

  2. 1 What a rich portion of scripture.
    2 If not now, when?
    2.1While it is agreed that the One Person of God in tri-unity can not be covered in one Sunday session, it is suggested that it is necessary to join the scriptural dots, for those in the congregation, who may readily say the creed, yet without understanding, or even in erroneous understanding.
    2.2 To preach/teach on Trinity Sunday surely would include preach/teach on an aspect of the Trinity.
    2.3 Would the preaching, at some stage, emphasise the uniqueness of Christianity’s Triune God in contrast and opposition to all others? Always bearing in mind that it is not an essay.
    2.4 Would it not also emphasise the Good News of God that is only available in and through the Trinity, nowhere else? Indeed, why is it such sublime Good News in proclamation and application?

    • Geoff

      I’ve just looked up the Athanasian Creed (I hope correct version):

      ‘Perfect God; and perfect Man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting. Equal to the Father, as touching his Godhead; and inferior to the Father as touching his Manhood. Who although he is God and Man; yet he is not two, but one Christ.’

      Thanks for giving me a further point to explore.

  3. DS,
    If you are not familiar with it, a great layman’s starter book, for me a layman, is by Anglican theologian, Dr Mike Reeves – “The Good God, (Enjoying Father, Son and Spirit)”. It has collected many endorsements. And it certainly covers my comment 2.4 (Another book of his, which I found to be a joy, is “Our life in Christ”.)
    From a theologian of old, John Owen, his Communion with God, is edifying, considering, as it does, communion with the Trinity.
    Fred Sanders is a Christian theologian, today, who is recognised for his writing and teaching on the Trinity. There is much online. Much to chew over. In the last few years there was a big theological squabble over the understanding of the Trinity, whether there is subordinism within the Tritinity and how that has been worked out and up into complementarianism and egalitarian debates.
    Fred Sanders here sets the stage and sums up, although the intensity seems to have peaked a few years later:

    I should say, Reeves stays clear of any such discussions. I’m deducing that he see no subordinism within the Trinity. He sees Good News.

    • Geoff

      What’s happened to the liberals?

      Don’t they know they cannot permit the above ‘novel’ reading to stand? It’s attacking their women’s equality and ordination nonsense.

      We need them to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the ‘novel’ reading.

  4. Geoff

    Nice one!

    We must get rid of all this clutter ‘subordinism within the Tritinity and how that has been worked out and up into complementarianism and egalitarian debates.’

  5. Well, you liberal boys haven’t responded. The sun has set. The day has expired. Old Man moon still smiling.

    Cowards, who deserve the white feather:

    “But to the cowardly and unbelieving and having become abominable and murderers and the sexually immoral and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their portion is in the lake burning with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”

    What happened to your convictions?

    What happened to your passionate intensity?


  6. Are Father Son relationships eternal? If so then what does Faher/Son convey? I think there is an eternal subordination within the trinity. The Father sent the Son….

    I am far from being a liberal.

    • “But only subordination,” is that a biblical expression? Does the Bible anywhere allude to the Godhead subjecting? Only in Genesis perhaps? I still like to imagine The Godhead ‘works’ like Abraham , Isaac and The Chief Steward did, planning and executing the incorporation of Rebecca into the family by marriage. Okay. God may not be three persons as distinct as Abraham, Isaac and the Chief Steward. However, the story is alluded to in Revelation 1: “He made it known by sending His Angel…”
      If you want to know what God is like in trinity of purpose read the story. Then allow the Spirit of Jesus to come alongside and explain how this story about Rebecca points to Jesus.
      I’m just dipping into this ; there are many other allusions to the trinity in Abraham’s story.

    • But, John, is this not fanning into flames a matter which seems to have died down, heated as it was between evangelicals, such as Goligher on one side and Ovey (and Piper?) on the other, and when the Trinity was being erroneously extrapolated to into arguments over and and in support of male and female relationships within and without church.
      The Trinity is the person of God; who God is. It is not and never was about humanity.

      • Hi Geoff

        I doubt if my voice will fan many flames 🙂 I find myself on the side of Ware, Ovey, Grudem and Piper… not bed company. I think maybe Donald McLeod takes a similar trinitarian position. An eternal functional subordination/submission of the Son to the Father. Certainly this subordination/submission has been tru since his incarnation and will be eternally true … he delivers up the kingdom to the father… When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.

        However, both Son and Word carry connotations of dependency and obedience. If there is an eternal trinity and that trinity is expressed by the economic trinity then Father/Son dynamics surely apply.

        I don’t think trinitarian relationships necessarily carry over into human relationships thus a hierarchy in the trinity need not carry over into human hierarchies. Yet, I often hear that we are social beings because God is a social being; Barth I think believed this was the meaning of image. If we see a correspondence here (about which Scripture says nothing explicit) is it not possible to see the hierarchy of the trinity expressed in the creational hierarchy of male and female. Of course, if like Giles one is committed to egalitarianism one is likely to be predisposed to deny both hierarchies and correspondence,

        The text,… the head of the woman is the man and the head of the man is Christ and the head of Christ is God is not a comfortable text in our modern world. I wonder if egalitarianism is really the fix for distorted patriarchy (itself a judgement of the fall). Time might prove it is a greater monster than patriarchy.

        • Geoff


          ‘The head of Christ is God’. The reference here is to Christ in exaltation not humiliation. To be sure it is a reference to the Christ, the mediatorial Son but it is the the mediatorial Son in exaltation sharing the glory of the Father,

          • Hello John,
            Long before this blew up, I had Ware’s book on the Trinity,and there was something in it, that I couldn’t put my finger on, that just didn’t sit well, gel and that was Jesus not being equal with God. While the last part of his book was more like a a joyful exultant song of praise and worship.

    • John
      What about the distinction between ‘modes of subsistemce’ and ‘modes of operation’? see Warfield’s ‘Biblical Doctrine of the Trinity’ page 165.
      Phil Almond

      • Philip

        There is a distinction between the essential/ontological trinity (mode of subsistence?) and the economic/functional trinity (mode of operation). I am not sure how absolute this distinction is. We only have access to the economic trinity (God as trinity in creation, providence and redemption). This is the only God we know. Is he different from the eternal God – the immanent trinity? Are we given any reason to think so? If we know only the economic trinity does this mean we do not really know God ontologically?

        More importantly, if the Father/Son relationship is not only economic but essential (the Father sent the Son) what are we to understand about this Father/Son relationship? The verb ‘sent’ suggests authority lies with the Father. Authority/submission pervades John’s description of the Father/Son relationship.

        We have great difficulty in reconciling hierarchy with equality. I don’t think the Bible does. Both lie at the heart of who God is.

        Even the Son’s eternal glory was given by the Father. “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, so that they can see my glory that you gave me because you loved me before the creation of the world. Jn 17:24

        • John
          In my view the Father sending the Son is a statement of modes of operation, and John 17:24 does not necessarily mean subordination in the light of other passages speaking of equality.

          Phil Almond

    • John Thomson

      Mr Thomson

      You seem to have set me a puzzle – which I have pondered over for hours:

      ‘The Father sent the Son….’.

      I am new to theology. May I ask for your advice?

      Prior to Jesus Christ appearing, would the parties to the Trinity have referred to the ‘Son of God’ as God the Son?

      My initial thought is that this debate only emerges once a ‘new’ ‘composite’ figure appears: Son of Man + Son of God = The Messiah.

      • Mr Thomson

        Before you answer ‘The Father sent the Son….’ reads:

        ‘And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son saviour of the world.’

        1 John 4:14

        It seems to me that they, here, are applying their senses to a figure that they have seen (and testify of) in our space-time.

        • John Thomson


          These are not trick questions.

          At school, we were told, that Aristotle said that if you want to know the truth: ask the right questions.

  7. When in the Anglican tradition the Sunday is designated “Trinity” Sunday and the colours change back from red to white before going green for ordinary time then I think the congregation might expect something to be said!
    As always, thank you Ian for the chewy material not least for those of us who will be preaching.
    The Old Testament reading is Proverbs 8 and the wonderful focus on delighted and delightful Wisdom. Wisdom potentially gate-crashes the Trinitarian party, and either has to be excluded forcefully or welcomed even though we may have only set out three chairs!
    For me she reminds me that our attempts to over-define are dangerous, whether more so or less so than a lack of rigour in our thinking is a moot point.
    As we sense the holiness, wonder, glory, love, immanence (incarnation), transcendence (shekinah), grace of Almighty God we should be drawn to worship and praise as Revelation reminds us.
    To love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength is also to acknowledge when we are on the edge of wonder and mystery and awe and to wait there.

    • Peter,
      Thanks for mentioning Proverbs 8.
      I’d see it as complementing the John passage.
      In v 4 true wisdom cries out to all people, even the simple, gullible and clueless, so no one may reamain a fool.

      And, importantly wisdom is literally seekin us, so that it is for us to respond.

      And wisdom is revealed as Jesus himself, “the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:24).
      While Greek philosophers believed that there was a cosmic principle, the logos, behind the universe, discoverable only by the educated and cultured, the Gospel of John reveals a principal, Jesus, as the Logos, a cosmic Person, behind the universe, who can be known and loved.
      “In the end the main way to become wise is to have a personal relationship with him to set our heart on him. And anyone can do that regardless of status or education.”
      From “The Way if Wisdom” Timothy Keller with Kathy Keller.

      I’d add that Jesus is the only one who loved and loves the Father as required, in fulfillment. In our place. In union with him.

  8. I’ll comment on the Barth quote `The doctrine of the Trinity is what basically distinguishes the Christian doctrine of God as Christian…in contrast to all other possible doctrines of God’

    I don’t see this as the distinguishing doctrine. The distinguishing doctrine is the once-for-all event, where He took on sinful flesh, was crucified and rose again – a historical event. No other religion has this. In no other religion can you look to such a once-for-all unique historical event; it is at the cross where we see the burden of our sin roll away; it is by the cross that we know that we have passed from death to life, that we go to heaven when we pass from this life to the next.

    I’m not at all sure that Barth actually understood what faith is. In his Dogmatics in Outline, he says `Faith is ….’, `Faith is ….’, with several definitions, but all of these definitions are actually corollaries of what faith actually is. Faith is that, by the cross, the crucifixion and resurrection, I see that my sin has been dealt with and I know with certainty that I am headed for heaven when I pass from this life to the next. That is faith.

    I found much of what I read of Barth very useful (I only read his Dogmatics in Outline and his commentary on Romans), but I always had the impression that he didn’t have the same understanding that I have about what faith is; some of what he writes about Romans 9 indicates that he does not have this certainty that he is saved – and he doesn’t seem to think that Christians are given this assurance.

    So it’s not surprising that he might be looking for something in the Trinity, rather than the unique once-for-all event, to find the distinguishing feature of Christianity.

      • Ian – yes, you’re probably right about this – putting the `once for all’ event in its proper context probably does imply the doctrine of the Trinity; taking the once-for-all event and its implications for our salvation as the starting point, some careful thought probably does lead us inexorably to the Trinity.

        I am a Trinitarian myself.

        At the same time, I see some contributors here who aren’t Trinitarian (e.g. Steven Robinson) and while I can’t speak for him, I do get the impression that he would consider the once for all event `crucified under Pontius Pilate’ and rose again – as the distinguishing feature of Christianity – by which we know that our sins have been dealt with and forgiven – so that we will see life – as the unique distinguishing feature.

        I don’t think there are any other religions which have anything like this. Other religions may have something similar, but only in terms of mythology and only in terms of events that get repeated.

        I do think that SR is wrong to reject Trinitarianism, but I also get the impression that, nevertheless, he’s a sound Christian – so I’m unwilling to put the Trinitarian understanding at the centre of things (even though I agree with it).

        • Jock

          I think the Christian faith is exclusively trinitarian. John’s gospel makes a trinitarian belief foundational to salvation. To know the Father one has to accept the Son and not the Son as we would have him but as John reveals him- the eternal Son who never knew a beginning. Who was God and was with God in the beginning.

          SR and JW’s don’t accept this. SR believes Jesus had a beginning. On this blog we meet people who doctrinally or morally deny basics of the Christian faith. By any historical standards they are heretics. By biblical standards they are heretics. I find I must remind myself of this sometimes for much they say I may agree with. But we are not at liberty to accept them as brothers or sisters for they deny the gospel – a gospel which involves a trinitarian God.

          • John – I agree with you that the Christian faith is exclusively Trinitarian.

            But understanding the necessity of Trinitarianism requires a very large IQ. I’m not at all sure that trinitarianism was properly understood pre-Athanasius. And salvation is not a function of having a good brain that is able to understand the intellectual arguments.

            Understanding that Christ suffered for my sin – and that in His resurrection I see that my sin is forgiven is not intellectually challenging, but it is morally challenging.

            Note that the Ethiopian Eunuch of Acts 8:26-40 asks “About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?”

            He is not asking `what does this mean’? He isn’t bamboozled intellectually here. He is asking `who is this man?’ It is the moral problem that is troubling him. And Philip explains to him the good news about Jesus.

            It isn’t clear to me that Philip was here imparting a precise understanding of the Trinity.

            It also isn’t clear to me that a clear understanding of the Trinity, which can be expressed in layman’s language was available before Athanasius – approximately 300 AD.

            So – in short – I basically agree with everything you say about the Trinity, but I’m not prepared to cast people into outer darkness if they have intellectual difficulties with the understanding that Athanasius developed.

  9. Jock,
    Could it be suggested that salvation is only ever, uniquely, Trinitarian.
    The cry, God is love, is founded on, only ever seen in Trinity. It is foundational, unique to Christianity. It is abhorrent, at its lowest understanding, to Islam: God begets not; neither is he begotten.

  10. The Bible never says ‘Wives, be subject to your husbands as the Son is subject to the Father’. But it does say ‘But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives to the husbands in everything’ and ‘The husbands, love ye the wives, as also Christ loved the church and himself gave up on behalf of it….’

    Phil Almond

  11. A musing ..
    All language is incomplete when it comes to speaking of God, even the waves and swirls of John’s Gospel where themes and truths are visited and revisited with added colour / depth.
    Is it helpful to focus too much on “The Trinity” which is a noun, conceptual, not found within Scripture, and which potentially over-emphasises three-ness?
    “Triune” is more technical, even pretentious, but as a adjective it helps describe, in a way that a noun does not. “God the Holy Trinity” seems a more helpful phrase as long as not over-used.
    “Person” is a word pushed to its limits and beyond, and I often hear clergy and others referring to the Spirit of God as “it” – the transcendent God, the incarnate person of Jesus, and the wind, the power of God at work in the world seems to be the operating model! For others the Spirit is the immanent presence of God, as personal for us as was Jesus for the disciples. All models and metaphors creak!
    There is also the trickier question of whether, how often, we might change “Father, Son and Holy Spirit” to Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer or similar which some find preferable; and if Wisdom is part of the Godhead (is that a helpful word?), then how do we respect, understand and translate for today, the gendered language of God and accept its limitations, and are we aware of what we are doing, whether we resist such changes or encourage them?
    What is the primary metaphor at work with Father – Son and how does it translate for today / how do we explain it when father and son may no longer carry the same deeper meaning?
    If language is limited, and if we interpret and translate in order to share, then in what way is the Hebrew or Greek language limited or particular to its time? How does Incarnation then blend with the living Spirit blowing free across time and space? Again some are more keen to make Jesus definitive as it were, others, to discern the Spirit’s continuing presence and guidance. Some answers will contain perichoresis, though others are allergic to such a term!

    • OK Peter,
      I’m unsure whether you are setting that up as contradictions.
      I’d suggest that there are no contradictions in God, in the Person of God as revealed in the whole canon of scripture, only multi- faceted Person. It is to know God as eternal, personal of “infinite beauty, fascination and interest.” (Reeves)
      Reeves again: “You don’t see a cloudy ignorance of the Father, Son and Spirit in AD 50 which is all cleared up by 500 AD. And while later church theologians would use philosophical terms and words not seen in the Bible (like “Trinity”), they were not trying to add to God’s revelation of himself, as if Scripture was insufficient; they were trying to express the truth of who God is as revealed in Scripture. Particularly, they were trying to articulate Scripture’s message in the face of those who were distorting it in one way or another – and for each new distortion a new language of response was needed.”

      As you are aware:
      1 Not everyone instinctively warms to God as Father, not everyone sees God as ruling providentially and delights in it as an outworking of a kind and loving Father. Reeves presses the point in the life and work of philosopher Foucault, for whom the word Farher came to be associated with dark images. (More akin to the devil).
      Reeves again: “But God the Father is not called Father because he copies earthly fathers. He is not some pumped-up version of your dad. To transfer the failings (or, I’d add, successes) to him is quite simply a mis-step.
      Instead, things are the other way round: it is that all human fathers are supposed to reflect him – only where some do that well, others do a better job of reflecting the devil.”
      “… He is called a Father because he is a Father. And a father is a *person who gives life, who begets children*.
      “… Now that insight is like a stick of dynamite in all our thoughts about God. For if, before all things God was eternally Father, then this God is an inherently outgoing, life-giving God.
      ” He did not give life for the first time when he decided to create: *from eternity he has been life -giving.*” (Reeves)

      This is a far cry from the heresey of mother god, that found its way into the Methodist Worship Book 1999 ed. Holy Communion During Ordinary Seasons (Second Service). Its use by a Superintendent Minister caused ructions in a church a I was part of at thae time. The Church Council opposed it and it was never used again, certainly up to the time I left that church.

      Just how do you preach the lectionary passage, Peter?
      Perichoresis. I think a full flavour of it may be found in this: Colossians 2:9
      While I’m not a theologian, and although the word is not used I’d see it woven through John Owens, Communion with God.
      And to use legal terminology the word seems to be akin to “joint and several” that is an indivisible whole or oneness but distinguishable.

  12. Peter

    Some helpful observations and questions. The internet has made the spread of ideas very quick. We are swamped with every conceivable belief and as a result it is hard to hold on to more traditional confessional expressions of faith. We swim in Don Cup it’s ‘sea of faith’ though not perhaps as he intended it.

    There are extra-biblical words the church has learned to express aspects of the faith. They may not always be the best but they are the best we have. Most were first coined not so much to express truth as to guard against error.

    Another feature of our arrogant age is to make itself an orphan by refusing to acknowledge the wisdom of the past. We think like Pascal we can invent from first principles. It is a mistake. A reforming church must understand what it is reforming from and why.

  13. I also incorporate the Trinity into my regular preaching, as well as Jewish/Christian relations. But I try to add a third: apologetics.

    Lovely to refer to Colin Kruse, who taught me at Ridley College, Melbourne. He invariably drove us hard, back to the text!

  14. I also incorporate the Trinity into my regular preaching, as well as Jewish/Christian relations. But I try to add a third: apologetics.

    Lovely to refer to Colin Kruse, who taught me at Ridley College, Melbourne. He invariably drove us hard, back to the text!


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