Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Trinitarian Order: First, Second, Third?

“The common order in which Christians usually express the names of the members of the Trinity is Father, Son, and Spirit, and this is supported by the order in the baptismal formula in Matthew 28. However, Warfield points out that THIS ORDER IS BY NO MEANS INVARIABLE IN THE NEW TESTAMENT...” (Millard Erickson, “Who’s Tampering With the Trinity? An Assessment of the Subordination Debate.” Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2009, page 56).

In today’s post, I am covering the idea of “taxis,” or order within the Trinity. I have finished covering the Gradational-Authority View (which states that the Son and Spirit are subordinate to the Father in function). Now, I will begin the study of the “Equivalent-Authority View,” beginning with B.B. Warfield. In his above statement, he recognizes the baptismal formula in Matthew 28, which states the following:

“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the FATHER and of the SON and of the HOLY SPIRIT” (Matthew 28:19, NKJV).

Nevertheless, B.B. Warfield makes the case that, if the Father were really superior (and the Son and Spirit subordinate), then we would see this order consistently repeated throughout the New Testament. However, this is not what we see:

“In the benediction in 2 Corinthians 13:14, the order is ‘Lord, God, and Holy Spirit.’ In 1 Peter 1:2, the order is ‘Father, Spirit, and Jesus Christ.’ In Jude 20-21, it is ‘Holy Spirit, God, and Lord Jesus Christ.’ Sometimes, as in 1 Corinthians 12:3-6, the order is ACTUALLY REVERSED COMPLETELY, which may be a rhetorical device. Again, Warfield’s statement is cautious: ‘If in their conviction THE VERY ESSENCE of the doctrine of the Trinity was embodied in this order, should we not anticipate that there should appear in their numerous allusions to the Trinity some suggestion of this conviction?’” (56-57)

I think that the interchangeable order of the Trinitarian members shows us their equality—that one is no more God than the others, that no one member is “less God” than the others. But I think this equality also demolishes the idea of the Son and the Spirit as “subordinate.” After all, Paul tells us that after meeting Christ on the Damascus Road, he went to Arabia (Galatians 1:17) where he was taught by the Lord concerning the law and the Scriptures. It seems that, if he was taught by the Lord in all matters (which he states he was), then, if there was an important “one order” to the members of the Trinity, that the Lord would have revealed that also to Paul? The fact that we see Paul using the members interchangeably without being labeled a heretic testifies to the fact that using them interchangeably does not “humiliate” God Himself.

Warfield does acknowledge that Christ is sent by the Father, and that He takes on a role of submission to His Father. However, his reason for why this occurs differs greatly from that of the gradationists:

“It may be natural to assume...that the reason why it is the Father that sends the Son and the Son that sends the Spirit is that the Son is subordinate to the Father and the Spirit to the Son. But we are bound to bear in mind that these references to subordination in modes of operation (functions) MAY JUST AS WELL BE DUE TO A CONVENTION, AN AGREEMENT, BETWEEN THE PERSONS OF THE TRINITY—a ‘Covenant’ as it is technically called—by virtue of which a distinct function in the work of redemption is VOLUNTARILY ASSUMED by each” (57).

I know what you, my readers, are thinking at this point: here goes an “invented” scheme as a way to deal with the submission of the Son to the Spirit (and the Spirit to the Father and Son). However, there is biblical warrant for Warfield’s assertion:

“LET US make man in Our image, according to Our likeness...” (Genesis 1:26, NKJV)

“Come, LET US go down and there confuse their language...” (Gen. 11:7)

These are two instances in Genesis, but I think it shows us the collaboration of all the Trinitarian members in regards to creation of man (Genesis 1) and the confusing of the language of mankind (Genesis 11). It shows that all of the members had one mind and were in unanimous agreement regarding divine action. This is what we know biblically. While we do not know if there was a Trinitarian agreement regarding Christ’s role as Savior and His Crucifixion, we do know that the Trinity members agreed on everything. If this is so, then we can make the connection between the creation of man (and the world) to the roles of the Father, Son, and Spirit before the foundations of the world.

We’ve seen in this post that, while the baptismal formula of Matthew 28 shows order, we see that the order was interchangeable throughout the New Testament. In addition, we’ve also seen that the distinguished roles are very likely to be the result of a pre-creation covenant amongst the Trinitarian members. While we can’t be one-hundred percent sure of a covenant, details within Scripture itself give us hope. The gradationists, on the other hand, don’t have a shred of evidence to prove that the Spirit and the Son were subordinate before the foundations of the world...and this hole in their argument is what tears the gradationist view apart.

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