God is Not “Triune”, But Father

It has become commonplace for Christians today to identify the God of Christianity as the “triune God”. This is perhaps even more frequent amid Christian attempts to distinguish the true God spoken of by scripture from those imagined by false religions. The description of Christianity’s God, however, as “triune” is actually one opposed to the teaching of scripture itself.

At first read, that might sound an awful lot like a denial of the doctrine of the Trinity; certainly anti-trinitarian heresies would quickly agree with a denial of God’s supposed “tri-unity”. But it is not; rather, the underlying meaning of the phrase “triune God” and the belief it implies is not trinitarian at all, but itself, when carried to the extent of its logical implications, is a denial of the doctrine of the Trinity as it is taught by scripture and was articulated by the fathers of the first three centuries of the church.

The phrase “triune God”, we may first note, is entirely unscriptural. This point is not brought up to argue that for that reason alone the phrase is problematic; but people’s excessive bias in favor of the term should be curbed by the fact that God Himself gave us a perfect revelation of the truth of Christianity in the scriptures without ever using the word. The phrase is expendable; and if it does indeed carry meaning contrary to scripture, as I endeavor to prove, then it must be roundly rejected.

Not only is the phrase absent from scripture, but the first many centuries of Christianity were also able to articulate Christian theology, including the doctrine of the Trinity, without that phrase, or an equivalent. Even through the time of the Protestant reformation, the word’s usage has been moderately scarce. “Triune God” seems to have become something of a buzzword for twenty-first century Christians, however.

Secondly then let us examine the way the phrase is ordinarily employed by those who use it: as a name for the Trinity as a whole conceived of as a single person. This can be easily observed by simply paying attention to the way the phrase is used:

“Because of this, only the Christian triune God can truly be the creator and sovereign Lord of His creation, who is absolutely personal, who bears perfectly all aspects of personality, but remains separate from His creation. Therefore, if man is to truly understand the world in which he lives, he must do so through this revelation of the triune God.” (Colin Smith, Van Til and the Trinity: Correlativism, Aseity, and the Trinity)

“God exists in himself as a triune self-consciously active being. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are each a personality and together constitute the exhaustively personal God… Each is as much God as are the other two.” (Cornelius Van Til)

It is commonplace to hear people speak of the “triune God, Who has saved us by His grace”; the “triune God” Who is eternally Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the “triune God Who reveals Himself in scripture”.

In all these examples, “triune God” can be clearly seen as being used to speak, effectively, of a person who is three persons. It is noteworthy that normal convention is to use singular personal pronouns, such as “He” and “Him” for the “triune God”.

But who is this person? He is described as creating, saving, receiving worship etc. He is given the highest honors. And yet, we see, this person is not the Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit individually, but all three of Them together, spoken of as a single person. The three persons of the Trinity, however, are not a single person- such language and the idea it implies, therefore, is clearly semi-modalistic. If someone objects that the triune God is not treated as a person but as a “being”, then they are convicted of simply equivocating over the word person- whichever synonym is employed, the “triune God” is clearly treated as a person, whether it be honored with the title of “person” or not.

But thirdly let us examine what is meant by the phrase “triune God”; it is usually described as indicating that the God of the Bible is “tri-personal”. What this effectively means, is that the one God is three persons. The problem with such a statement?  Firstly, in scripture the “one God” is always equated with the person of the Father alone, although the Son and Spirit are divine with the same divine nature as the Father. The one God is not three persons, then, but one person, the Father, eternally in union with the distinct persons of His Son and Holy Spirit. Secondly, The way this gets used is to say that the Bible teaches us that there is this one person who is the one and only God, and he is triune, or tri-personal, meaning he is three persons. This, however, could not more clearly be semi-modalistic.

Nowhere does scripture teach such a doctrine; by making the Trinity itself into a person, such false teaching introduces a fourth divine person into the Trinity, so as to make it no longer a Trinity at all. Thus such language is thus anti-trinitarian. Most who employ this terminology probably do so without realizing this serious implication; an acknowledgement of their ignorance in erring this way, however, does not make the error itself any less serious.

In the interest of seeing if there is any usage of the phrase in question that is legitimate, orthodox, and sensible, let us examine all the ways the phrase “triune God” could potentially be used or applied in relation to trinitarian theology:

For the divine nature/essence: if it were intended to say that the essence considered in itself is tri-personal, then why describe the subject using singular personal pronouns, and in every other way treat the “triune God” as a person? Why not simply say, as historic trinitarianism has, that the divine nature subsists in three persons, without making it itself into a fourth person?

For the Father: the Father is indeed a person, thus justifying the personal language and pronouns, but is not ‘tri-personal’. Besides being utterly nonsensical to suggest that the Father is three persons, it is totally unscriptural.

For the Son: the Son is indeed also a person, thus justifying the personal language and pronouns, but is not ‘tri-personal’. Besides it being utterly nonsensical to suggest that the Son is three persons, it is totally unscriptural.

For the Holy Spirit: the Holy Spirit is indeed a single person, thus justifying the personal language and pronouns, but is not ‘tri-personal’. Besides it being utterly nonsensical to suggest that the Holy Spirit is three persons, it is totally unscriptural.

For the Trinity as a whole/all three persons together as a group: Calling the Trinity as a whole “triune” or “tri-personal” makes some sense, seeing as the Trinity is a group of three persons. However, if this what is meant by the phrase “triune God”, then why use singular personal pronouns for it, and otherwise treat it as single a person? Doing so either entirely denies that the Trinity is three persons, or, worse, as is usually actually the case, presents it as being a person who consists of three persons. Such a doctrine is as nonsensical as it is blasphemous.

It remains to be seen then that the modern popular usage of the phrase “triune God” can be found to have any justifiable usage which does not imply some serious heresy. This author can find none. Rather, the way the phrase is normally used is symptomatic or a widespread and serious problem with the church’s understanding of trinitarian theology- it has become normal for Christians to equate trinitarianism with the idea of God being a single person who is three persons. This is not trinitarianism, but semi-modalism; this problem is serious, and needs to be addressed. The way people speak about God says much about how they think about Him- therefore the fact that there is a widespread acceptance of a convention of speech which only implies semi-modalism is a deeply concerning indicator of the state of the church’s grasp on what scripture reveals about the doctrine of the Trinity.

When we refer to the God of Christianity, then, the God revealed by scripture, we ought rather to acknowledge Him as ‘Father’, rather than ‘triune’. The acknowledgement of God as Father is indeed unique to Christianity; only Christians acknowledge that the one God is to be worshipped with and through His one only-begotten Son, who took on a human nature in addition to His divine nature to become man for our salvation. The understanding of God as being the one Who is Father of His one only-begotten Son, and the one from Whom His one Holy Spirit eternally proceeds, with Whom we are sealed in Christ, is truly unique to the Christian faith.

Our faith in God as Father says much more about our trinitarianism than the false contrivance of calling God “triune”. God’s identity as Father, and all the riches of truth implied in that, including His being the fountain of divinity to the persons of the Son and Holy Spirit, is truly unique to Christianity; while others may acknowledge God as “Father” in a merely figurative sense, Christians acknowledge God as truly and ontologically Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, His only-begotten Son. Thus when we then desire to distinguish our God from the false ideas of God among the various false religions, we need not resort to a term never found in scripture, which carries a heretic implication, but rather simply acknowledge the one true God as the Lord Jesus Christ taught us to, and as scripture constantly refers to Him: as Father.


See also:

Modalism has evolved

Semi-modalism and the Introduction of a Four-Person Trinity

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty

Does the Name ‘LORD’ Being Applied to Multiple Persons of the Trinity Mean They Are All Really One Person?

Semi-modalism is a false doctrine which teaches that God is a person who is three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This belief is as unbiblical as it is absurd; for a general treatment of it see Modalism has evolved and Semi-modalism and the Introduction of a Four-Person Trinity.

A very common line of thinking for semi-modalists and those deceived by them makes an attempt to present a biblical case for the doctrine, which runs as follows: The LORD is the God of the Bible, the one and only God; The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, are all each called by the name “LORD”; therefore, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are together all really the one person named ‘LORD’, Who is simultaneously the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

This simple syllogism seems at first glance to present a genuinely biblical case for semi-modalism; but the argument breaks down when we examine it in detail. A major assumption of the argument is that there is ultimately only one person called by the name ‘LORD’; this assumption is easily shown false. The scriptures use the name ‘LORD’ for multiple distinct persons without ever indicating that this is meant to indicate that They are collectively a single person; in fact to draw such a conclusion is to import one’s own idea into scripture without any warrant from the text.

Rather than teaching that the Father and Son are called by the same name ‘LORD’ because They are somehow together a single person, scripture explains this sharing of God’s name with His Son in the following terms:

“I am no longer in the world; and yet they themselves are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep them in Your name, the name which You have given Me, that they may be one even as We are.” (John 17:11 NAS)

“While I was with them, I was keeping them in Your name which You have given Me; and I guarded them and not one of them perished but the son of perdition, so that the Scripture would be fulfilled.” (John 17:12 NAS)

“For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name,” (Philippians 2:9 NAS)

“[the Son] having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they.” (Hebrews 1:4 NAS)

These passages of scripture clearly teach that the Father, Who scripture alone calls the “one God”, gave the Son His own name. This is not the name “Father”, but the name which is described as being “above every name”. Those even a little familiar with the supreme glory ascribed to the Covenant name of God, “LORD”, in the Old Testament scriptures should be able to instantly know which name this refers to. The name “LORD” is this name the Son was given by the Father, to which every knee shall bow.

It is fitting that the Son should share in the glory of the Father’s name, when we consider His identity as His eternal Son, Who eternally reflects His glory in His own distinct person, eternally being of the very same divine nature as the Father, because He is from the Father. Just as the Son is God of the same divinity as the Father, yet not without cause, but owes His divinity to His origin from the Father by eternal generation, and received it from the Father (John 5:26), so also accompanying this the Son has even received the very name of God, “LORD”, from His Father, to be called by it as His own name.

For this reason, we not only see the New Testament apply Old Testament verses that refer to a person named “LORD” in reference to the Son, but even throughout the Old Testament we can clearly see the pre-incarnate Son called by this name; repeatedly the Angel of the LORD is called “LORD” Himself, even while He is clearly distinguished from the LORD in heaven, whose Messenger (or Angel; the Hebrew word is the same for both) He is. Thus as the church fathers pointed out, we read in Genesis 19:24 that “Then the LORD rained on Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven,” (NAS); we clearly see the distinct persons of both the Father and the Son being called by the same name “LORD”.

The syllogism employed by the semi-modalists is shown false then, on the grounds of its faulty assumption that the name “LORD” belongs to one person only. For although it belongs properly to the Father, the one God, as His own name, scripture reveals to us that He has bestowed this same glorious name on His own only-begotten Son as well.




Can The Unity of Action Between the Persons of the Trinity Justify Using Singular Personal Pronouns for the Trinity?

Semi-modalists such as Cornelius Van Til, who present the Trinity itself as a person who is three persons, naturally use singular personal pronouns for the Trinity, such as “He” and “Him”. This is consistent with their belief that the Trinity is a person; “God the Trinity”, “the triune God”.

Biblical trinitarianism stands at odds with such language, however, since it teaches us to believe in only three divine persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Besides these three persons, scripture reveals no other divine person we ought to believe in. Although all three persons share the same divine nature, the titles “one God”, and “only God” are reserved by scripture for the person of the Father alone (see I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Reclaiming the Language of the Nicene Creed, and Why Are We Monotheists?)

This all runs contrary to semi-modalism’s absurd teaching that the one God is a person who is the entire Trinity of three person, and to the convention of using singular personal pronouns for the Trinity as a whole. Doing so clearly implies that the Trinity is a single person (see God’s ‘Preferred Pronouns’ and Do Pronouns Matter?).

Yet some have attempted to justify this convention of language on the grounds that since the actions performed by the persons of the Trinity are single, the persons performing the actions should be referred to with singular personal pronouns. For example, the action of God creating the world was done through His Son and Spirit in such a way not that there were three separate acts of creation, but one, from the Father, through the Son and Holy Spirit. On the basis of each action being singular instead of triple, then, it is argued that we must use singular grammar to reflect this truth; hence justifying the use of singular personal pronouns for for multiple persons of the Trinity together.

This crafty argument falls apart when we make the simple distinction between actions and actors. The actions themselves may in each individual case be singular; but when all three persons of the Trinity are involved in the performing of a given action, as we have spoken of above, there is then a plural number of actors. So while we may (and should) reflect the singularity of such actions by referring to them with grammar that reflects their singularity (such as using singular impersonal pronouns for the actions themselves, such as “They performed it“), it is equally important that we reflect the plurality of actors involved in each single action by using plural personal pronouns for the persons performing the action (“They performed it”).

If we instead were to use singular personal pronouns, we would not be grammatically treating the action as singular, but the actors as singular; which in respect to the persons of the Trinity usually ends in treating all three of Them together as a single person. Such semi-modalistic language carries ultimately heretical implications, which we must avoid if wish to accurately portray the realities the scriptures reveal to us in the way that we speak.

Arianism Refuted

Arianism was a major problem for the church of the fourth century. Arius’s heretical teaching led many astray, and caused much controversy and division in the church. The effects of Arius’s teaching are enormous, having drastically altered church history down to our own time; both in respect to Arianism itself, and even more so perhaps in the reaction of the church against it.

The central tenants of Arianism are its teaching that the Son of God is a creature, and not eternal with the Father. Arius taught that the Son of God was of a created and changeable nature, and that ‘there was when he was not’. These ideas were condemned as heresy by the Council of Nicea in 325 AD, which wrote:

“But as for those who say, “There was when He was not”, and, “Before being born He was not”, and that “He came into existence out of nothing”, or who assert that the Son of God is of a different hypostasis or essence, or created, or is subject to alteration or change – these the Catholic and apostolic Church anathematizes.”

The Council of Nicea was right in rejecting these teachings as error- and by affirming the biblical doctrine of eternal generation in the Nicene Creed, the Council refuted Arius’s error. This is possible because eternal generation and Arianism are mutually exclusive; in order for one to fully embrace what eternal generation teaches, they must reject all the distinctives of Arianism.

The doctrine of the Son’s eternal generation was articulated by the Council of Nicea in these words:

“…begotten from the Father, only-begotten,
that is, from the essence of the Father,
God from God,
light from light,
true God from true God,
begotten not made,
of the same essence as the Father…”

This doctrine that the Son was begotten of the Father “before the ages” as the Nicene Creed of 381 says, is in many ways central to the doctrine of the Trinity. Its implications fully refute Arianism. Let us briefly examine each tenet of Arianism in light of eternal generation:

“There was a time when the Son was not”: This cannot be true in light of eternal generation, since it teaches that the Son was begotten of the Father *before the ages*, that is, before the very existence of time (which was created through the Son (Hebrews 1:2)). This means that the Son “was” before the ages; it is impossible then that there “was a time when he was not”.

“Before being born He was not”: This idea sounds logical, until we recall that the Son was begotten of the Father before and outside of time (hence its not just called “generation”, but “eternal generation”). The idea of an event which occurred outside of time is beyond our human comprehension; we are creatures created in time, and have no experiential concept of what “prior to time” is like (a phrase which in itself demonstrates our inability to even speak of before the creation of time without using chronological language like “prior” and “before”). But without time, there is no change, and no time “before” the Son’s generation we can conceive of in which He could have not existed; the whole Arian proposition assumes the generation (or in Arian thought, creation) of the Son to have taken place in time. When that false assumption is removed, the Arian proposition fails. The atemporal nature of generation of the Son from the Father assures us that there was never a time when the Son was not, nor a time when the Father was without the Son.

“He came into existence out of nothing”: To be brought into existence by God out of nothing is to be created; but to be begotten inherently implies that the origin of the Son is not from anything external to the Father, but from the Father Himself. The Son, then, cannot be “from nothing” if He is from the Father Himself. Rather than being created out of nothing, the Son was caused by the Father by being begotten of Him.

In the case of all begetting, the thing begotten and the one it is begotten from are necessarily of the same nature. We see this throughout creation; every creature begets after its own kind. Never does something beget something of another kind. In the very idea of generation we see that there is implicitly the teachings that the Son is from the Father in such a way that He is a distinct person from Him, and of the same nature as Him, as having both His person and nature from the person of His Father. The mode of the Father’s generation of the Son, however, is something left a mystery to us, not revealed by scripture. What we can know is that generation is different than creation, and that it involves the subject being from the one who begat it.

“subject to alteration or change”: The doctrine of eternal generation presents the inescapable logical conclusion that the Son is of the same divine nature as the Father. As was said above, that is because it is proper to the very nature and idea of generation that the one begotten is necessarily of the same nature as the begetter. Therefore, the Son cannot have been begotten of the only true God before the ages and be of any other nature than that of His Father. The divinity of the Son, then, is identical to that of the Father. It will therefore follow that just as the Father is unchangeable in the perfection of His divine nature, so the Son is unchangeable as well, as He has that same divine nature.

We see then, that all the special tenets of Arianism are destroyed by the the scriptural doctrine of the Son’s eternal generation from the Father.


See also:

Eternal Generation Proved from the Scriptures

Begotten Vs Created

Did Origen Invent The Doctrine of Eternal Generation?


Begotten Vs Created

The Nicene Creed specifies that the Son of God is “begotten from the Father, only-begotten, that is, from the essence of the Father, God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made”. The distinction between “begetting” and “creating”, then, can be seen to have been a matter of great importance to the fathers of the Nicene Council.

But for some contemporary Christians, any talk of the Son being caused at all sounds unorthodox; usually because in the thinking of such persons, a subject which is caused is by definition a creature, and thus, not divine. Since the Son is divine with the same divine nature as the Father, such a statement is repugnant to the truth, they reason.

This line of reasoning is shown to be flawed when we observe that a subject being caused does not make it a creature. It is because of such arguments being made by the Arians, in order to argue that the Son was a creature, that the orthodox fathers recognized a need to articulate clearly between two different sorts of causality: creating, and begetting.

Begetting, after all, just as much implies causality as creating does; yet scripture frequently speaks of the divine Son of God as “only-begotten” (see: Eternal Generation Proved from the Scriptures). In doing so scripture reveals that the Son is indeed caused- while at the same time holding this truth in congruence with the fact that the Son is of the same divine nature as the Father. How can that be?

The answer lies in the distinction between these two different types of causality: begetting, and creating. Begetting involves the causing of one individual from another, in such a way that the caused individual and the original are distinct persons of the same nature; the begotten individual has its person and essence from the begetter, and thus, has the same essence. With God, to create, on the other hand, is not simply as man does -a reforming and reshaping of what already exists- but causing subjects to exist from, or out of, nothing.

This distinction can be seen in human affairs as well. A man makes a house, or a car, or a statue. But he begets a son. The things he makes are never of the same nature as he; but that which he begets will always be of the same nature as he. So in the case of the Son of God, the fact that He is begotten of the Father means He is necessarily of the same divine nature as the Father; such is implied in sonship by generation itself.

That the Son of God, then, is caused by the Father, ought not make anyone think that it is possible that He be less than truly God in nature. And thus we see highlighted the important historical distinction between begetting and creating.

The Son as the ‘Angel of the Lord’

Socinians, Unitarians, and certain other heretical sects argue that the Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, is only a man, and that He neither personally substantially existed prior to the birth of the man Jesus Christ, and that He does not have a divine nature at all, but only a human one. Such a view is one of the earliest heresies the church faced; so early in fact, under the name of the Ebionites, that the Gospel of John may have been been partly intended by the apostle to combat it; hence the great emphasis on the pre-existence, eternality, and divinity of the Son in the Gospel of John.

Such a view of Christ is obviously unbiblical, and this can be sufficiently noted from the pages of the New Testament alone. But the Old Testament as well is full of testimonies to these truths- more so even than the New, perhaps. One of the most common ways we see the Son of God in the Old Testament, prior to His incarnation, is in His role as the Angel (or Messenger, as the Hebrew and Greek words for “Angel” literally mean) of the Lord.

The Angel of the Lord is mentioned many times throughout the Old Testament, and is distinguished from created angels (as “the” Angel, rather than “an” angel). In this role we see the Son of God, even before the incarnation, ministering to His Father’s will, and frequently bringing the words of God to the saints of the Old Testament (just as He did in the incarnation, in the New Testament). Acting as a Messenger and mouthpiece, so to speak, for His Father, He spoke sometime in His own person, and sometimes in the person of the Father, to the saints of old.

We see this throughout the Old Testament, as the Angel of the Lord interacted with Abraham, Jacob, Moses, and many others. Second century church father Justin Martyr, in his Dialogue With Trypho, does an excellent job of detailing several of these interactions and demonstrating that the Angel of the Lord is indeed the divine Son of God. Since he does a fine job of this, I see no value in attempting to do the same thing from scratch; so here are the relevant sections from Justin Martyr’s Dialogue With Trypho:

““Moses, then, the blessed and faithful servant of God, declares that He who appeared to Abraham under the oak in Mamre is God, sent with the two angels in His company to judge Sodom by Another who remains ever in the supercelestial places, invisible to all men, holding personal intercourse with none, whom we believe to be Maker and Father of all things; for he speaks thus: ‘God appeared to him under the oak in Mamre, as he sat at his tent-door at noontide. And lifting up his eyes, he saw, and behold, three men stood before him; and when he saw them, he ran to meet them from the door of his tent; and he bowed himself toward the ground, and said;’ ”2125 (and so on;)2126 “ ‘Abraham gat up early in the morning to the place where he stood before the Lord: and he looked toward Sodom and Gomorrah, and toward the adjacent country, and beheld, and, lo, a flame went up from the earth, like the smoke of a furnace.’ ” And when I had made an end of quoting these words, I asked them if they had understood them.

And they said they had understood them, but that the passages adduced brought forward no proof that there is any other God or Lord, or that the Holy Spirit says so, besides the Maker of all things.

Then I replied, “I shall attempt to persuade you, since you have understood the Scriptures, [of the truth] of what I say, that there is, and that there is said to be, another God and Lord subject to2127 the Maker of all things; who is also called an Angel, because He announces to men whatsoever the Maker of all things—above whom there is no other God—wishes to announce to them.” And quoting once more the previous passage, I asked Trypho, “Do you think that God appeared to Abraham under the oak in Mamre, as the Scripture asserts?”

He said, “Assuredly.”

“Was He one of those three,” I said, “whom Abraham saw, and whom the Holy Spirit of prophecy describes as men?”

He said, “No; but God appeared to him, before the vision of the three. Then those three whom the Scripture calls men, were angels; two of them sent to destroy Sodom, and one to announce the joyful tidings to Sarah, that she would bear a son; for which cause he was sent, and having accomplished his errand, went away.”2128

“How then,” said I, “does the one of the three, who was in the tent, and who said, ‘I shall return to thee hereafter, and Sarah shall have a son,’2129 appear to have returned when Sarah had begotten a son, and to be there declared, by the prophetic word, God? But that you may clearly discern what I say, listen to the words expressly employed by Moses; they are these: ‘And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian bond-woman, whom she bore to Abraham, sporting with Isaac her son, and said to Abraham, Cast out this bond-woman and her son; for the son of this bond-woman shall not share the inheritance of my son Isaac. And the matter seemed very grievous in Abraham’s sight, because of his son. But God said to Abraham, Let it not be grievous in thy sight because of the son, and because of the bond-woman. In all that Sarah hath said unto thee, hearken to her voice; for in Isaac shall thy seed be called.’2130 Have you perceived, then, that He who said under the oak that He would return, since He knew it would be necessary to advise Abraham to do what Sarah wished him, came back as it is written; and is God, as the words declare, when they so speak: ‘God said to Abraham, Let it not be grievous in thy sight because of the son, and because of the bond-woman?’ ” I inquired. And Trypho said, “Certainly; but you have not proved from this that there is another God besides Him who appeared to Abraham, and who also appeared to the other patriarchs and prophets. You have proved, however, that we were wrong in believing that the three who were in the tent with Abraham were all angels.”

I replied again, “If I could not have proved to you from the Scriptures that one of those three is God, and is called Angel,2131 because, as I already said, He brings messages to those to whom God the Maker of all things wishes [messages to be brought], then in regard to Him who appeared to Abraham on earth in human form in like manner as the two angels who came with Him, and who was God even before the creation of the world, it were reasonable for you to entertain the same belief as is entertained by the whole of your nation.”

“Assuredly,” he said, “for up to this moment this has been our belief.”

Then I replied, “Reverting to the Scriptures, I shall endeavour to persuade you, that He who is said to have appeared to Abraham, and to Jacob, and to Moses, and who is called God, is distinct from Him who made all things,—numerically, I mean, not [distinct] in will. For I affirm that He has never at any time done2132 anything 224which He who made the world—above whom there is no other God—has not wished Him both to do and to engage Himself with.”

And Trypho said, “Prove now that this is the case, that we also may agree with you. For we do not understand you to affirm that He has done or said anything contrary to the will of the Maker of all things.”

Then I said, “The Scripture just quoted by me will make this plain to you. It is thus: ‘The sun was risen on the earth, and Lot entered into Segor (Zoar); and the Lord rained on Sodom sulphur and fire from the Lord out of heaven, and overthrew these cities and all the neighbourhood.’ ”2133

Then the fourth of those who had remained with Trypho said, “It2134 must therefore necessarily be said that one of the two angels who went to Sodom, and is named by Moses in the Scripture Lord, is different from Him who also is God, and appeared to Abraham.”2135

“It is not on this ground solely,” I said, “that it must be admitted absolutely that some other one is called Lord by the Holy Spirit besides Him who is considered Maker of all things; not solely [for what is said] by Moses, but also [for what is said] by David. For there is written by him: ‘The Lord says to my Lord, Sit on My right hand, until I make Thine enemies Thy footstool,’2136 as I have already quoted. And again, in other words: ‘Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever. A sceptre of equity is the sceptre of Thy kingdom: Thou hast loved righteousness and hated iniquity: therefore God, even Thy God, hath anointed Thee with the oil of gladness above Thy fellows.’2137 If, therefore, you assert that the Holy Spirit calls some other one God and Lord, besides the Father of all things and His Christ, answer me; for I undertake to prove to you from Scriptures themselves, that He whom the Scripture calls Lord is not one of the two angels that went to Sodom, but He who was with them, and is called God, that appeared to Abraham.”

And Trypho said, “Prove this; for, as you see, the day advances, and we are not prepared for such perilous replies; since never yet have we heard any man investigating, or searching into, or proving these matters; nor would we have tolerated your conversation, had you not referred everything to the Scriptures:2138 for you are very zealous in adducing proofs from them; and you are of opinion that there is no God above the Maker of all things.”

Then I replied, “You are aware, then, that the Scripture says, ‘And the Lord said to Abraham, Why did Sarah laugh, saying, Shall I truly conceive? for I am old. Is anything impossible with God? At the time appointed shall I return to thee according to the time of life, and Sarah shall have a son.’2139 And after a little interval: ‘And the men rose up from thence, and looked towards Sodom and Gomorrah; and Abraham went with them, to bring them on the way. And the Lord said, I will not conceal from Abraham, my servant, what I do.’2140 And again, after a little, it thus says: ‘The Lord said, The cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great,2141 and their sins are very grievous. I will go down now, and see whether they have done altogether according to their cry which has come unto me; and if not, that I may know. And the men turned away thence, and went to Sodom. But Abraham was standing before the Lord; and Abraham drew near, and said, Wilt Thou destroy the righteous with the wicked?’ ”2142 (and so on,2143 for I do not think fit to write over again the same words, having written them all before, but shall of necessity give those by which I established the proof to Trypho and his companions. Then I proceeded to what follows, in which these words are recorded:) “ ‘And the Lord went His way as soon as He had left communing with Abraham; and [Abraham] went to his place. And there came two angels to Sodom at even. And Lot sat in the gate of Sodom;’2144 and what follows until, ‘But the men put forth their hands, and pulled Lot into the house to them, and shut to the door of the house;’2145 and what follows till, ‘And the angels laid hold on his hand, and on the hand of his wife, and on the hands of his daughters, the Lord being merciful to him. And it came to pass, when they had brought them forth abroad, that they said, Save, save thy life. Look not behind thee, nor stay in all the neighbourhood; escape to the mountain, lest thou be taken along with [them]. And Lot said to them, I beseech [Thee], O Lord, since Thy servant hath found grace in Thy sight, and Thou hast magnified Thy righteousness, which Thou showest towards me in saving my life; but I cannot escape to the mountain, lest evil overtake me, and I die. Behold, this city is near to flee unto, and it is small: there I shall be safe, since it is small; and any soul shall live. And He said to him, Behold, I have accepted thee2146 also in this matter, 225so as not to destroy the city for which thou hast spoken. Make haste to save thyself there; for I shall not do anything till thou be come thither. Therefore he called the name of the city Segor (Zoar). The sun was risen upon the earth; and Lot entered into Segor (Zoar). And the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulphur and fire from the Lord out of heaven; and He overthrew these cities, and all the neighbourhood.’ ”2147 And after another pause I added: “And now have you not perceived, my friends, that one of the three, who is both God and Lord, and ministers to Him who is in the heavens, is Lord of the two angels? For when [the angels] proceeded to Sodom, He remained behind, and communed with Abraham in the words recorded by Moses; and when He departed after the conversation, Abraham went back to his place. And when he came [to Sodom], the two angels no longer conversed with Lot, but Himself, as the Scripture makes evident; and He is the Lord who received commission from the Lord who [remains] in the heavens, i.e., the Maker of all things, to inflict upon Sodom and Gomorrah the [judgments] which the Scripture describes in these terms: ‘The Lord rained down upon Sodom and Gomorrah sulphur and fire from the Lord out of heaven.’ ”

Then Trypho said when I was silent, “That Scripture compels us to admit this, is manifest; but there is a matter about which we are deservedly at a loss —namely, about what was said to the effect that [the Lord] ate what was prepared and placed before him by Abraham; and you would admit this.”

I answered, “It is written that they ate; and if we believe2148 that it is said the three ate, and not the two alone—who were really angels, and are nourished in the heavens, as is evident to us, even though they are not nourished by food similar to that which mortals use—(for, concerning the sustenance of manna which supported your fathers in the desert, Scripture speaks thus, that they ate angels’ food): [if we believe that three ate], then I would say that the Scripture which affirms they ate bears the same meaning as when we would say about fire that it has devoured all things; yet it is not certainly understood that they ate, masticating with teeth and jaws. So that not even here should we be at a loss about anything, if we are acquainted even slightly with figurative modes of expression, and able to rise above them.”

And Trypho said, “It is possible that [the question] about the mode of eating may be thus explained: [the mode, that is to say,] in which it is written, they took and ate what had been prepared by Abraham: so that you may now proceed to explain to us how this God who appeared to Abraham, and is minister to God the Maker of all things, being born of the Virgin, became man, of like passions with all, as you said previously.”

Then I replied, “Permit me first, Trypho, to collect some other proofs on this head, so that you, by the large number of them, may be persuaded of [the truth of] it, and thereafter I shall explain what you ask.”

And he said, “Do as seems good to you; for I shall be thoroughly pleased.”

Then I continued, “I purpose to quote to you Scriptures, not that I am anxious to make merely an artful display of words; for I possess no such faculty, but God’s grace alone has been granted to me to the understanding of His Scriptures, of which grace I exhort all to become partakers freely and bounteously, in order that they may not, through want of it,2149 incur condemnation in the judgment which God the Maker of all things shall hold through my Lord Jesus Christ.”

And Trypho said, “What you do is worthy of the worship of God; but you appear to me to feign ignorance when you say that you do not possess a store of artful words.”

I again replied, “Be it so, since you think so; yet I am persuaded that I speak the truth.2150 But give me your attention, that I may now rather adduce the remaining proofs.”

“Proceed,” said he.

And I continued: “It is again written by Moses, my brethren, that He who is called God and appeared to the patriarchs is called both Angel and Lord, in order that from this you may understand Him to be minister to the Father of all things, as you have already admitted, and may remain firm, persuaded by additional arguments. The word of God, therefore, [recorded] by Moses, when referring to Jacob the grandson of Abraham, speaks thus: ‘And it came to pass, when the sheep conceived, that I saw them with my eyes in the dream: And, behold, the he-goats and the rams which leaped upon the sheep and she-goats were spotted 226with white, and speckled and sprinkled with a dun colour. And the Angel of God said to me in the dream, Jacob, Jacob. And I said, What is it, Lord? And He said, Lift up thine eyes, and see that the he-goats and rams leaping on the sheep and she-goats are spotted with white, speckled, and sprinkled with a dun colour. For I have seen what Laban doeth unto thee. I am the God who appeared to thee in Bethel,2151 where thou anointedst a pillar and vowedst a vow unto Me. Now therefore arise, and get thee out of this land, and depart to the land of thy birth, and I shall be with thee.’2152 And again, in other words, speaking of the same Jacob, it thus says: ‘And having risen up that night, he took the two wives, and the two women-servants, and his eleven children, and passed over the ford Jabbok; and he took them and went over the brook, and sent over all his belongings. But Jacob was left behind alone, and an Angel2153 wrestled with him until morning. And He saw that He is not prevailing against him, and He touched the broad part of his thigh; and the broad part of Jacob’s thigh grew stiff while he wrestled with Him. And He said, Let Me go, for the day breaketh. But he said, I will not let Thee go, except Thou bless me. And He said to him, What is thy name? And he said, Jacob. And He said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel shall be thy name; for thou hast prevailed with God, and with men shalt be powerful. And Jacob asked Him, and said, Tell me Thy name. But he said, Why dost thou ask after My name? And He blessed him there. And Jacob called the name of that place Peniel,2154 for I saw God face to face, and my soul rejoiced.’2155 And again, in other terms, referring to the same Jacob, it says the following: ‘And Jacob came to Luz, in the land of Canaan, which is Bethel, he and all the people that were with him. And there he built an altar, and called the name of that place Bethel; for there God appeared to him when he fled from the face of his brother Esau. And Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse, died, and was buried beneath Bethel under an oak: and Jacob called the name of it The Oak of Sorrow. And God appeared again to Jacob in Luz, when he came out from Mesopotamia in Syria, and He blessed him. And God said to him, Thy name shall be no more called Jacob, but Israel shall be thy name.’2156 He is called God, and He is and shall be God.” And when all had agreed on these grounds, I continued: “Moreover, I consider it necessary to repeat to you the words which narrate how He who is both Angel and God and Lord, and who appeared as a man to Abraham, and who wrestled in human form with Jacob, was seen by him when he fled from his brother Esau. They are as follows: ‘And Jacob went out from the well of the oath,2157 and went toward Charran.2158 And he lighted on a spot, and slept there, for the sun was set; and he gathered of the stones of the place, and put them under his head. And he slept in that place; and he dreamed, and, behold, a ladder was set up on the earth, whose top reached to heaven; and the angels of God ascended and descended upon it. And the Lord stood2159 above it, and He said, I am the Lord, the God of Abraham thy father, and of Isaac; be not afraid: the land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed; and thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and shall be extended to the west, and south, and north, and east: and in thee, and in thy seed, shall all families of the earth be blessed. And, behold, I am with thee, keeping thee in every way wherein thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land; for I will not leave thee, until I have done all that I have spoken to thee of. And Jacob awaked out of his sleep, and said, Surely the Lord is in this place, and I knew it not. And he was afraid, and said, How dreadful is this place! this is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven. And Jacob rose up in the morning, and took the stone which he had placed under his head, and he set it up for a pillar, and poured oil upon the top of it; and Jacob called the name of the place The House of God, and the name of the city formerly was Ulammaus.’ ”2160

When I had spoken these words, I continued: “Permit me, further, to show you from the book of Exodus how this same One, who is both Angel, and God, and Lord, and man, and who appeared in human form to Abraham and Isaac,2161 appeared in a flame of fire from the bush, and conversed with Moses.” And after they said they would listen cheerfully, patiently, and eagerly, I went on: “These words are in the book which bears the title of Exodus: ‘And after many days the king of Egypt died, and the children of Israel groaned by reason of the works;’2162and so on until, ‘Go and gather the elders of Israel, and thou shalt say unto them, The Lord God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath appeared to me, saying, I am surely beholding you, and the things which have befallen you in Egypt.’ ”2163 In addition to these words, I went on: “Have you perceived, sirs, that this very God whom Moses speaks of as an Angel that talked to him in the flame of fire, declares to 227Moses that He is the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob?”

Then Trypho said, “We do not perceive this from the passage quoted by you, but [only this], that it was an angel who appeared in the flame of fire, but God who conversed with Moses; so that there were really two persons in company with each other, an angel and God, that appeared in that vision.”

I again replied, “Even if this were so, my friends, that an angel and God were together in the vision seen by Moses, yet, as has already been proved to you by the passages previously quoted, it will not be the Creator of all things that is the God that said to Moses that He was the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, but it will be He who has been proved to you to have appeared to Abraham, ministering to the will of the Maker of all things, and likewise carrying into execution His counsel in the judgment of Sodom; so that, even though it be as you say, that there were two—an angel and God—he who has but the smallest intelligence will not venture to assert that the Maker and Father of all things, having left all supercelestial matters, was visible on a little portion of the earth.”

And Trypho said, “Since it has been previously proved that He who is called God and Lord, and appeared to Abraham, received from the Lord, who is in the heavens, that which He inflicted on the land of Sodom, even although an angel had accompanied the God who appeared to Moses, we shall perceive that the God who communed with Moses from the bush was not the Maker of all things, but He who has been shown to have manifested Himself to Abraham and to Isaac and to Jacob; who also is called and is perceived to be the Angel of God the Maker of all things, because He publishes to men the commands of the Father and Maker of all things.”

And I replied, “Now assuredly, Trypho, I shall show that, in the vision of Moses, this same One alone who is called an Angel, and who is God, appeared to and communed with Moses. For the Scripture says thus: ‘The Angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire from the bush; and he sees that the bush burns with fire, but the bush was not consumed. And Moses said, I will turn aside and see this great sight, for the bush is not burnt. And when the Lord saw that he is turning aside to behold, the Lord called to him out of the bush.’2164 In the same manner, therefore, in which the Scripture calls Him who appeared to Jacob in the dream an Angel, then [says] that the same Angel who appeared in the dream spoke to him,2165 saying, ‘I am the God that appeared to thee when thou didst flee from the face of Esau thy brother;’ and [again] says that, in the judgment which befell Sodom in the days of Abraham, the Lord had inflicted the punishment2166 of the Lord who [dwells] in the heavens;—even so here, the Scripture, in announcing that the Angel of the Lord appeared to Moses, and in afterwards declaring him to be Lord and God, speaks of the same One, whom it declares by the many testimonies already quoted to be minister to God, who is above the world, above whom there is no other [God].

“I shall give you another testimony, my friends,” said I, “from the Scriptures, that God begat before all creatures a Beginning,2167 [who was] a certain rational power [proceeding] from Himself, who is called by the Holy Spirit, now the Glory of the Lord, now the Son, again Wisdom, again an Angel, then God, and then Lord and Logos; and on another occasion He calls Himself Captain, when He appeared in human form to Joshua the son of Nave (Nun). For He can be called by all those names, since He ministers to the Father’s will, and since He was begotten of the Father by an act of will;2168 just as we see2169 happening among ourselves: for when we give out some word, we beget the word; yet not by abscission, so as to lessen the word2170 [which remains] in us, when we give it out: and just as we see also happening in the case of a fire, which is not lessened when it has kindled [another], but remains the same; and that which has been kindled by it likewise appears to exist by itself, not diminishing that from which it was kindled. The Word of Wisdom, who is Himself this God begotten of the Father of all things, and Word, and Wisdom, and Power, and the Glory of the Begetter, will bear evidence to me, when He speaks by Solomon the following: ‘If I shall declare to you what happens daily, I shall call to mind events from everlasting, and review them. The Lord made me the 228beginning of His ways for His works. From everlasting He established me in the beginning, before He had made the earth, and before He had made the deeps, before the springs of the waters had issued forth, before the mountains had been established. Before all the hills He begets me. God made the country, and the desert, and the highest inhabited places under the sky. When He made ready the heavens, I was along with Him, and when He set up His throne on the winds: when He made the high clouds strong, and the springs of the deep safe, when He made the foundations of the earth, I was with Him arranging. I was that in which He rejoiced; daily and at all times I delighted in His countenance, because He delighted in the finishing of the habitable world, and delighted in the sons of men. Now, therefore, O son, hear me. Blessed is the man who shall listen to me, and the mortal who shall keep my ways, watching2171 daily at my doors, observing the posts of my ingoings. For my outgoings are the outgoings of life, and [my] will has been prepared by the Lord. But they who sin against me, trespass against their own souls; and they who hate me love death.’2172“(Chapter 56-61, from https://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01)

The Pre-existence of the Son

God’s Son is eternal, as He is. By this, we don’t mean that the Son has no cause or origin, like the Father, but that, as the Nicene Creed articulates it, “there was never a time when the Son was not”, and “there was never a time when the Father was without the Son”. That’s because the Son was begotten of the Father before and outside of time. Thus, there can be no difference in time between the persons on account of the Son’s eternal generation by the Father.

In John 1, and Proverbs 8, we see that the Son already existed at the time of creation. Scripture tells us all things were created through Him -even time itself, as Hebrews 2:1 tells us. The Son’s eternal existence is an important point of trinitarian doctrine, and something scripture emphasizes in several places.

Here a several such passages:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.” (John 1:1-3 NKJV)

“in these last days did speak to us in a Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He did make the ages;” (Hebrews 1:2 YLT)

“And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.” (John 17:5 NKJV)

““Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.” (John 17:24 NKJV)

“The Lord acquired me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old. I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was. When there were no depths, I was brought forth; when there were no fountains abounding with water. Before the mountains were settled, before the hills was I begotten:” (Proverbs 8:22-25)

From these passages of scripture, we can clearly understand that God’s Son not only pre-existed prior to the incarnation, but that He was even with the Father before the creation of the world.

Certainly even a cursory examination of the church fathers makes clear their belief in the Son’s pre-existence before the incarnation as well. For example:

“And His Son, who alone is properly called Son, the Word who also was with Him and was begotten before the works, when at first He created and arranged all things by Him, is called Christ, in reference to His being anointed and God’s ordering all things through Him” (Justin Martyr, Second Apology, Chapter 6)

“But this Offspring, which was truly brought forth from the Father, was with the Father before all the creatures, and the Father communed with Him; even as the Scripture by Solomon has made clear, that He whom Solomon calls Wisdom, was begotten as a Beginning before all His creatures and as Offspring by God…” (Justin Martyr, Dialogue With Trypho, Chapter 62)