Why Can’t Protestants Affirm the Athanasian Creed?

The pseudo-athanasian creed, usually simply referred to by its supporters by the misleading name of ‘the Athanasian Creed’, was neither authored by Athanasius, nor does it represent his understanding of the Trinity. Athanasius strongly affirmed, for example, that the one God is the first person of the Trinity in particular, the Father:

“But if this is not to be seen, but while the creatures are many, the Word is one, any one will collect from this, that the Son differs from all, and is not on a level with the creatures, but proper to the Father. Hence there are not many Words, but one only Word of the one Father, and one Image of the one God.” (Against the Arians, Discourse II.)

“For, as the illustration shows, we do not introduce three Origins or three Fathers, as the followers of Marcion and Manichæus; since we have not suggested the image of three suns, but sun and radiance. And one is the light from the sun in the radiance; and so we know of but one origin; and the All-framing Word we profess to have no other manner of godhead, than that of the Only God, because He is born from Him.” (Against the Arians, Discourse III.)

We see that unlike the creed, Athanasius’s theology was marked by a confession that the one God is the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ; and Christ stands in relation to the one God, as His Word and Son. Rather than being truly Athanasian, then, in reality the pseudo-Athanasian Creed is representative of early medieval scholastic articulations of the Trinity, especially following the theology of Augustine.

Despite the creed’s anonymous authorship and its theological clash with the real teaching of Athanasius, it has gained very wide acceptance in the west, in traditions which in some way stem from that latin medieval scholastic tradition, out of which it was formed. Not only do the Roman Catholics affirm it, but also Lutherans, many Anglicans, Presbyterians, and other Protestant groups. It is regarded by many Protestants (falsely so) to be an ecumenical creed; yet this is of course impossible, when we consider the contents of it in relation to the Eastern churches. Many Eastern Orthodox, for example, not only affirm the monarchical trinitarianism Athanasius taught in opposition to Augustinian semi-modalism, but they also universally reject the filoque- the doctrine that the Holy Spirit not only eternally proceeds from the Father, but also from the Son (‘filoque’ means, ‘and the Son’).

Yet, despite the creed being paraded around under so many false pretenses (false authorship, false claim to conceptually Athanasian theology, false claim to being ecumenical) it stills finds acceptance among many tradition-loving Protestants. I want to briefly observe here that this is in fact, grossly inconsistent with the founding principles and ideas of Protestantism; and this is not a difficult point to demonstrate. To do so, we need not dive into the theology presented in the creed itself, but only note that which frames the confession. It begins by saying:

“Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith; Which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.”

After 25 lengthly lines of words about the Trinity, we read:

“He therefore that will be saved must thus think of the Trinity.”

After going on talking about the incarnation for many more lines, the creed closes by reiterating:

“This is the catholic faith, which except a man believe faithfully he cannot be saved.”

Perhaps the only thing in the entire creed that can truly be said to be clear or intelligible to the average person, are these threats against the eternal salvation of anyone who dares not lend their assent to all the things this creed says. Yet, as we noted above, this creed goes into detail explaining not only what is more widely accepted regarding the Trinity by those following Nicea, but a specifically western, latin, and augustinian version of these doctrines. It includes this line, for example, that no professing Christian from, or in agreement with the Eastern Orthodox churches, would ever assent to:

“The Holy Spirit is of the Father and of the Son; neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding.”

Here we can spot the filoque -the Holy Spirit is said not only to proceed from the Father, but also the Son. This doctrine is repugnant to all Eastern Orthodox, and anyone in the West who happens to side with them on this point. Yet, here it is included in this creed, among things which, according to the repeated expression of the same creed, must be believed in order to be saved, and without which, no one can be saved. In other words, everything in the creed is effectively part of the gospel; for that which must be believed to be saved, and receive Christian baptism, and to be received into Christian fellowship, is the gospel. All then which is included in this creed is gospel, apart from which there is no salvation; for “Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith; Which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.”

Yet, such a confession is completely opposed to the founding principles of Protestantism; among which, is that no one may add to or alter the gospel preached by the apostles. For it was on account of this very sin that the various Protestant groups have felt free to depart from the Roman Catholic church, and often to declare it no church at all. They rightly appeal to these verses:

“I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; 7 which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel more than what we have preached to you, he is to be anathema! 9 As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel more than what you received, he is to be anathema!” (Galatians 1:6-9 NASB)

‘Anathema’ simply means accursed, and has since the time of the above epistle’s authorship frequently been declared by churches upon those they consider heretics. In this case, there can be no question the legitimacy of the anathemas; these are not the decisions of any human council, but of an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ. But they no not anathematize a trinitarian error: they anathematize anyone who preaches a gospel more than what the apostles preached. This is extremely serious; anyone adding to the gospel, by doing so, jeopardizes their own standing, according to scripture.

For this reason, Protestants rightly protested various ways in which the Roman church had added to and/or altered the apostolic gospel. Yet, here we see a great hypocrisy among many Protestants: while condemning others for altering the gospel, they do so themselves, by adding so many lines of incoherent ramblings about the Trinity to the gospel. And, if one of them should argue that every line of those Augustinian speculations is not only biblical, but part of the gospel, he shall have an enormously difficult time trying to prove that even a small portion of it was preached by the apostles as part of the gospel. For all through the book of Acts, we see men were saved by believing a gospel that included almost none of what the pseudo-athanasian creed says. If this is so, then the doctrines of the creed are not part of the apostolic gospel- and to add them to that gospel, is to be accursed by Paul himself, who spoke in the authority of the Lord Jesus, under the inspiration of the Spirit.

But one will argue that all of Augustine’s dogmas are found in scripture, and perhaps that they are even part of the gospel; so be it, we need not address this question, to prove that the creed adds to the gospel. The Protestants who accept the creed need only answer this question: is it possible for one to be saved without believing the filoque? Or put another way, is the filoque itself part of the gospel, and so, something which a person must believe to be a Christian?

If they answer ‘no’, they do well, in not adding to the gospel, and avoiding the anathemas of Galatians chapter one. But if this is so, then why do they affirm a creed which adds to the gospel? By teaching people to believe that creed, they will by their own admission be encouraging people to learn from it a gospel more than that preached by the apostles. If, on the other hand, they should answer in the affirmative, and say that the filoque is part of the gospel, and required for salvation, they will be far more consistent in affirming the creed; only they will have this problem, that they are anathema. For by adding to the gospel, as they say Rome does, they are just as accursed as they say Rome is, for the same sin.

It is plain then that no Protestant can consistently affirm the pseudo-Athanasian creed, unless they are prepared to deny the possibility of salvation of everyone who sides against the filoque; namely, all Eastern Christians, and all western Christians who agree with them. If they do, they certainly add to the gospel, by teaching that which the apostles did not teach is required for salvation. If they do not however wish to proclaim all Christians who do not believe the filoque to be damned, then let them forsake the pseudo-athanasian creed as something wicked, as something which adds to the apostolic gospel and is anathema for it. For if one can be saved while rejecting the filoque, what good will come from reciting a creed which damns to hell those who you admit may well be your brothers in Christ, over such a minor disagreement? For the creed is as unbending as it is incoherent: there is no leeway given to accept the greater part of it, yet reject some, but it declares “This is the catholic faith, which except a man believe faithfully he cannot be saved.”

It is the duty of all true Christians to reject additions to the gospel, and to preserve whole and intact the gospel, as preached and delivered by the apostles. We have no right to add any doctrine or work to it, which they themselves did not enjoin as part of it. Yet that is precisely what this creed does. Given the pattern of the Roman church, it is unsurprising that they rush into this great sin; but those who keep themselves separate from the Roman church on that very account, would do well to pay heed that they do not, like the Roman church, add to the gospel by way of this wretched creed. Those that do, are inconsistent Protestants; they ought either to reject the creed for its additions to the gospel, or else side with Rome, and accept all of their additions to the gospel beyond that found in this creed, if additions to the gospel are acceptable.

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Questions For Protestants About the Trinity And the Papacy

1. Did not the Protestant Reformers, and the churches that followed them, believe and even formally confess as their doctrine, that the Pope of Rome is the antichrist?

2. If the Pope is the antichrist, or an antichrist, is it reasonable to suppose that he preserved pure and intact, the most important and foundational doctrines of the Christian faith?

3. Does not Protestantism teach that the Papacy corrupted some of the most important and fundamental doctrines of the faith, including the gospel itself?

4. Did not the Papacy, during the middle ages, not only purport to preserve the teaching on the Trinity they had received from earlier generations, but even claim to improve it and expand upon it?

5. If the Pope, being antichrist according to the Reformers, is the corrupter of the church’s polity, worship, soteriology, and morals, is it reasonable to suppose that he not only faithfully preserved the doctrine of the Trinity pure and intact, but even improved it?

6. Is it not the belief of the Reformers and early Protestants that the Papacy sought to undermine the gospel and prevent men from giving worship to the true God and His Christ?

7. If one sought to undermine the gospel and prevent men from giving worship to the true God and His Christ, would not corrupting the doctrine of the Trinity, as being intimately connected to the very identity of God and Christ, and to the gospel itself, be one of the best places to start?

8. Is it reasonable to suppose that the doctrines respecting the identity of God, and His Son, and the Holy Spirit, viz, the doctrines pertaining to the Trinity, would be the same and identical when based on of scripture alone as they are when they are based of tradition, human philosophy, and scripture together?

9. Is it not strange that the Roman Catholic notion of the Trinity, and the mainline Protestant notion of the Trinity, are precisely the same, when they are supposed to each be founded on two entirely different foundations, the one upon scripture alone, and the other upon a human magisterium, with its human traditions and philosophical notions?

10. How did the Protestant and Roman notions of the Trinity turn out to be the same, when each builds upon a starkly different foundation?

11. If the Protestant and Roman notions of the Trinity are identical, does it not make it appear as though they are both drawn from the very same source and foundation? Does it not stand to reason that their identicality must come from either both being founded on scripture, or both being founded on human tradition?

12. Is it reasonable for anyone to believe that the Roman notion of the Trinity is drawn from scripture alone, a claim which the Roman church itself would deny?

13. Is not the best explanation of the identicality of the Roman and Protestant views of the Trinity, that mainline Protestantism has drawn its notion of the Trinity from the same source the Roman Church has, namely, human tradition and philosophy foreign to the scriptures?

14. Is drawing such a notion of the Trinity from the same sources the Roman church draws hers, in any way consistent with the principles of Protestantism, namely, sola scriptura?

15. In short, can taking one’s knowledge of God from antichrist be anything but the utmost foolishness? And is it not more consistent to, if the Pope of Rome is the antichrist, throughly reject any part of his doctrines respecting God and the trinity not found in scripture, as not only being uncertain, but as very likely being gross corruptions of the Christian faith?

16. Has not mainline Protestantism largely showed itself to be committed to sola scriptura in name and not in practice, by upholding the Roman version of the Trinity, without either testing it or revising it along scriptural lines?

17. Is it consistent for Protestants to unquestioningly accept the papal version of the Trinity as a holy mystery, taken on faith, while they have freely tested by scripture and logic other supposed mysteries of the Roman church, such as transubstantiation, and rejected them as unscriptural?

18. Is it not far more consistent, to either accept all the mysteries of the Roman church on blind faith, or none of them? And if some of them should be tested by scripture, and only accepted inasmuch as they agree with it, why not the rest?

19. Is it not clear from the writings of the Nicene fathers, such as Athanasius and the Cappadocians, that all that was intended to be signified by the term ‘homoousias’ is that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as three distinct individual beings or persons (hypostases), share a common nature or species among themselves, as three men share a common human nature? And did they not use precisely that illustration, of three men sharing a common nature, to explain what they meant?

20. Did not Athanasius, Basil, and other Nicene fathers from that time expressly denounce the interpretation of homoousias which says that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are numerically and individually one substance, as Sabellian heresy? For an individual substance or being, if it is rational, is nothing but a person, and so, to say that all three persons are one individual substance, is to agree with Sabellius that They are in fact one person.

21. Is it not this latter notion of the Trinity, that the three persons are individually and numerically co-essential, which prevailed in the Roman church, to the exclusion of that taught by Athanasius, Basil and those with them? For were not the opinions of Athanasius and the other Nicene fathers represented by Abbot Joachim, whose views were condemned as heresy by the fourth lateran council?

22. Did not then the Pope (for he lead the fourth lateran council and authored its decisions) condemn and reject the orthodoxy of the Nicene church, and embrace in its place what they considered the rank heresy of Sabellius, by proclaiming in council that the Father, Son, and Spirit are numerically and individually co-essential in one supreme hypostasis, rather than generically co-essential as three distinct hypostases?

23. Has not mainline Protestantism, then, in agreeing with the Pope rather than the Nicene fathers, embraced the same serious errors on the Trinity the Roman church has, according to the teaching of Athanasius, Basil, and those with them?

24. Is it in any way consistent or sensible for the Reformed churches to have embraced the theology of the fourth lateran council respecting the Trinity, and yet, reject its decisions on papal authority and transubstantiation? If the latter are deemed gross corruptions of the faith, why should the former not likewise have been examined as a possible corruption?

25. Was it not, all along, only the Homoians in the fourth through eight centuries, who according to their own testimony tried diligently to believe about the Trinity only what could be known from the scriptures, without respect for extra-biblical speculation? And did not their Nicene contemporaries freely appeal to extra-biblical traditions to justify their doctrines?

26. Which then of the ancient views on the Trinity, is most consistent with the Protestant doctrine of sola scriptura, that of the Homoians, or the Nicenes?

27. Why then, if the Protestant Reformers were truly serious about sola scriptura, was no serious consideration given to the Homoian doctrine of the Trinity? And is it reasonable or consistent to prejudice the papal view of the Trinity, which makes no profession to be truly grounded in scripture, over that of the Homoians, who professed scripture to be the only source of their doctrine?

 

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Can Jesus Be Called ‘God Most High’?

Some have argued that the title ‘God Most High’ belongs to the Son as well as the Father; a simple examination of the subject will show us that is not the case:

The title ‘Most High’ denotes supremacy; being above all others. When applied to the title ‘God’, it denotes the Supreme God, the God Who is above all else. We must consider that such a title is not a sharable or communicable title, but is exclusive; it cannot be possessed by more than one person, as it is only possible for one person to be above all others, absolutely. If two persons were to be considered equal, neither would individually be ‘Most High’, as neither would be above the other; so only one person can be ‘Most High’. Only the person Who is supreme above all else absolutely can be fittingly called ‘God Most High’.

It should be obvious that this person, this God, is the Father, and no other. He alone is the Supreme Being (see Five Simple Proofs That the Father Alone Is the Supreme Being). The Son is not equal to Him, but declared that “the Father is greater than I” (Jn 14:28). The Son everywhere declares that He is another besides His Father, that He lives because of His Father, and that He is always subject to His Father and does nothing on His own initiative. And so it is clear that the Father, not the Son, is the Most High God, as He alone is supreme over all absolutely.

We may also note that the scriptures, as we should expect, reserve this title for the Father alone, and use it as a title for Him in contradistinction to the Son:

“He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David” (Luke 1:32 NASB)

“Seeing Jesus, he cried out and fell before Him, and said in a loud voice, “What business do we have with each other, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg You, do not torment me.” (Luke 8:28 NASB)

Finally its worth noting that if the title were applied to the Son, due to its exclusive nature, one would not be declaring the Son equal to the Father, but greater than the Father. For, to again reiterate, the title ‘Most High’ is an exclusive and incommunicable title, which denotes the one Who is above all others absolutely. When we apply the title ‘Most High’ to someone, we declare that they are above everyone else. If, therefore, one were to say that the Son were ‘God Most High’, this would be to say that the Son is greater than even the Father, and that He is supreme over Him. Thus Origen rightly said:

“Grant that there may be some individuals among the multitudes of believers who are not in entire agreement with us, and who incautiously assert that the Saviour is the Most High God; however, we do not hold with them, but rather believe Him when He says, “The Father who sent Me is greater than I.”  We would not therefore make Him whom we call Father inferior — as Celsus accuses us of doing — to the Son of God.” (Contra Celsum, 8.14)

We can see there that Origen employs the same logic as above; that since the title ‘Most High’ denotes absolute supremacy above all, calling the Son ‘God Most High’ would be to falsely assert that He is supreme over and greater than the Father; when in truth, the Father is Supreme over all, and greater than the Son. Thus the scriptures and all reason compel us to ascribe the title of ‘God Most High’ to one only, the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, “the only true God” (Jn 17:3).

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One Individual Essence?

In the following, Dr. Samuel Clarke confutes the Reverend Dr. Wells, who writes that the true scripture doctrine of the Trinity is that the three persons; the Father, the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, are one individual essence, i.e. one numeric being.

However, in your interpretation of this text, you declare explicitly what your notion of the Trinity is. And still more distinctly, p. 21; “The Scripture-Doctrine of the Trinity,” you say, “is truly this, that in the Godhead there are three persons of the same divine INDIVIDUAL essence.” Now this, I say, is an express contradiction in the very terms. For INDIVIDUAL essence, in all propriety of speech, and if the word has any signifigation at all, is (when spoken of an intelligent being) the very same as PERSONAL essence; that is to say, that by which a person is that individual person which he is is, and no other. Besides, it is a phrase not only not used in Scripture, nor in the three first centuries, nor in the fourth, (unless it be the true rendering of the word μονοουσιος [monoousios] or ταυτοουσιος [tautoousios], which was then universally condemned as heretical;) but seems to be the invention of the schools, in latter ages. Hear the very learned Dr. Cudworth upon this point. “It is evident,” saith he, p. 604, “that these reputed Orthodox Fathers, [viz. St. Cyril, St. Gregory Nyssen, and others,] who were not a few, were far from thinking the three hypostases of the Trinity to have the same SINGULAR existent essence: – that Trinity of persons numerically the same, or having all one and the same SINGULAR existent essence, is a doctrine which seemeth not to have been owned by any public authority in the Christian Church, save that of the Lateran Council only: that no such thing was ever entertained by the Nicene Fathers, &c.” Again: “The truth of this,” saith he, “will appear, first, because these Orthodox Anti-Arian Fathers did all of them zealously condemn Sabellianism; the doctrine whereof is no other than this, that there was but one hypostasis, or singular INDIVIDUAL ESSENCE, of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost: In the next place, because the word ὁμουσιος [homoousios], was never used by Greek writers otherwise, than to signify the agreement of things NUMERICALLY DIFFERENT from one another, &c. – Lastly, that the ancient orthodox fathers, who used the word homoousios against Arius, intended not therein to assert the Son to have one and the same singular or INDIVIDUAL essence with the Father, appeareth plainly from their dsclaiming and disowning those two words, ταυτοουσιον and μονοουσιον.” Again: “It is plain,” saith he, “that the ancient orthodox fathers asserted no such thing, as one and the same SINGULAR or numerical essence of the several persons of the Trinity.” And this he proves by numerous most express quotations. Where now is your vain confidence in the concurrent testimonies of the fathers; when not only in the three first centuries your notion, in the manner you express it, was never heard of, but even in the fourth and following centuries it was universally condemned? But still I am willing to allow all this to besides the main question; for Scripture only is our rule.

Source: A Letter to the Reverend Dr. Wells, &c.

Note: Updated archaic spelling, italics, etc.

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Distinct Actions of the Persons of the Trinity

“If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth;” 1 Peter 1:17 NASB

“For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the Son,” John 5:22 NASB

Here we read from Peter, firstly, that the Father judges men impartially; then we read from John, that the Father judges no one, but has given all judgement to the Son. Is there disagreement between Peter and John? Does scripture contradict itself? Not at all; but rather, the difficulty is resolved when we read “Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, 31 because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.” Acts 17:30-31 NASB; and, “And He [the Son] commanded us to preach to the people, and to testify that it is He who was ordained by God to be Judge of the living and the dead.” Acts 10:42 NASB

What we have then, is this: scripture says that God, the Father, judges all men; and yet, in another place, it says He judges no one at all. Unless we will say that these statements contradict one another, we must acknowledge each to be speaking in a different sense; one speaks of God judging all men indirectly through Christ, through Whom are all things 1 Cor 8:6. The Father is the ultimate Cause of all judgement, and all judgment is according to His will and command, although it is executed through the Son. And so the Son said “I can do nothing on My own initiative. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is just, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.” John 5:30 NASB. The Father then may truly and rightly be said to “impartially judge according to each one’s work”, because He so judges mediately, through the Son, Who judges not on His own initiative, but according to the will and command of the Father.

On the other hand, the Son has all judgement given to Him by the Father, and the Father judges no one, in this second sense, in reference to immediate action, since the Father immediately judges no one, but all immediate judgment is given to the Son. For the Son clearly says that He does not judge according to His own initiative but according to the will of the Father; and so the Father judges through the Son, and so, Himself truly judges all- not immediately and directly, but mediately, through the Son, the one Mediator between God and man. Meanwhile the Son alone judges immediately and directly. Since all things from God through Son, so God judges through Son, the Son judging according to the will and command of the Father. The Son alone, however, judges immediately, and in that immediate sense, God judges no one.

We can apply this same sort of logic reasonably to all things that God does through His Son. So there is shown a significant difference between the actions of God and of His Son towards creation; the Father acts towards creation mediately, the Son both immediately, and through the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit only acts immediately towards the universe, never through another person of the Trinity. So the actions of the persons are not entirely identical, but each acts towards creation differently and distinctly. This shows that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct individual beings, or persons.

In all this we still see that the persons are united in their actions; the one God, the Father, works through His only-begotten Son, and the Son through the Holy Spirit. This is the pattern of all God’s great works toward the universe: all things are from Him, through His Son. “Yet for us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we live.” 1 Corinthians 8:6 NKJV. God created the universe through His Son; God upholds the existence of the universe through His Son; God rules over all things through His Son; God reconciles all things to Himself through His Son; and as we read above, God judges the world through His Son. In the immediate and most high sense, as being the Supreme Cause and Instigator of all these things, the Father is the one Creator, the one Sustainer, the Only Ruler, the Only Savior, and the one Judge of the universe; performing all these actions through the mediation of His Son.

And in the same manner as that judgement was spoken of, we might reasonably speak of any of these acts of God; God, the Father, alone in truth performing all these actions, not immediately and directly, but through the mediation of His only-begotten Son, Who acts upon the universe directly and immediately, according to the will and command of the Father. And so the Son, and not the Father, is the immediate Creator, Sustainer, Savior, and Judge of the universe; in this immediate sense the Father creates no one, sustains no one, saves no one, and judges no one, in the whole of the universe that is through His Son. And so, we see the distinct roles of each person; and we see that although God acts through His Son, and His Son acts on His behalf, and according to His will and command, the roles, and so, the actions, of each person, within these greater works are distinguished from one another.

We cannot speak of the Father as the immediate worker of any of those works; nor can we speak of the Son as the ultimate cause of any of those works. The Father alone is the one from Whom are all things; and the Son alone the one through Whom are all things. Therefore the actions of the persons are shown to be distinct and different; the one working mediately and indirectly, the other working immediately and directly on the universe. As mentioned earlier, this distinction in action proves that God and His Son are distinct persons; the Father, the one God, and His only begotten Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, are two distinct rational individual beings, not one and the same. Otherwise, if They were the same, one could not be said to do something through the other; and one could not be said to be the one from which an action was, the other the one through Whom an action was performed, unless They are two really distinct persons.

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“I will not share my glory with another” Isa 42:8

“I am the LORD, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another, Nor My praise to graven images.” Isaiah 42:8 NASB

This verse is sometimes cited by those who wish to deny the real distinct existence of the Son. If He is another individual being, or person, besides the Father, they say, then how can He be called “God”, be credited with the work of creation, and in short, be glorified and worshipped with such honor as would otherwise properly belong to God alone. How is He called by the name LORD, when God does not share this glory with another? Haven’t you read that God does not share His glory with anyone else, they ask? Therefore, they conclude, since the Son is so glorified, He cannot be another, but must be the same individual being as the Father; and so they falsely declare that the Son is Himself the only true God, the Supreme Being, Whose Son He actually is.

The context of the passage actually shows, however, that the person quoting it to such an end is either being deceitful, or is simply ignorant of its context. For if we read it with what comes before, the true meaning of the text becomes clear:

“Thus says God the LORD, Who created the heavens and stretched them out, Who spread out the earth and its offspring, Who gives breath to the people on it And spirit to those who walk in it, 6 “I am the LORD, I have called You in righteousness, I will also hold You by the hand and watch over You, And I will appoint You as a covenant to the people, As a light to the nations, 7 To open blind eyes, To bring out prisoners from the dungeon And those who dwell in darkness from the prison. 8 “I am the LORD, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another, Nor My praise to graven images.” (Isa 42:5-8 NASB)

In context, then, it should be clear to anyone familiar with the New Testament that the Son is in fact in view here: it is the Son Who God has given as a covenant to the people and a light to the nations; the Son Who opens the blind eyes of men’s hearts, and frees men from bondage to sin and death. It is this one, the Christ of God, Who God glorifies mightily, even with that name that is above all names (Phil 2); and besides this one, He will not give His glory to another. That is, He will not share His glory with any other but His Son, through Whom He redeems men from every tribe and tongue and nation.

Justin Martyr, in his Dialogue With Trypho, a Jew, dealt with this text as well:

“And Trypho said, “Being shaken by so many Scriptures, I know not what to say about the Scripture which Isaiah writes, in which God says that He gives not His glory to another, speaking thus ‘I am the Lord God; this is my name; my glory will I not give to another, nor my virtues.'”

And I answered, “If you spoke these words, Trypho, and then kept silence in simplicity and with no ill intent, neither repeating what goes before nor adding what comes after, you must be forgiven; but if[you have done so] because you imagined that you could throw doubt on the passage, in order that I might say the Scriptures contradicted each other, you have erred. But I shall not venture to suppose or to say such a thing; and if a Scripture which appears to be of such a kind be brought forward, and if there be a pretext[for saying] that it is contrary[to some other], since I am entirely convinced that no Scripture contradicts another, I shall admit rather that I do not understand what is recorded, and shall strive to persuade those who imagine that the Scriptures are contradictory, to be rather of the same opinion as myself. With what intent, then, you have brought forward the difficulty, God knows. But I shall remind you of what the passage says, in order that you may recognise even from this very[place] that God gives glory to His Christ alone. And I shall take up some short passages, sirs, those which are in connection with what has been said by Trypho, and those which are also joined on in consecutive order. For I will not repeat those of another section, but those which are joined together in one. Do you also give me your attention.[The words] are these:’Thus saith the Lord, the God that created the heavens, and made them fast, that established the earth, and that which is in it; and gave breath to the people upon it, and spirit to them who walk therein: I the Lord God have called Thee in righteousness, and will hold Thine hand, and will strengthen Thee; and I have given Thee for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles, to open the eyes of the blind, to bring out them that are bound from the chains, and those who sit in darkness from the prison-house. I am the Lord God; this is my name: my glory will I not give to another, nor my virtues to graven images. Behold, the former things are come to pass; new things which I announce, and before they are announced they are made manifest to you. Sing unto the Lord a new song: His sovereignty from the end of the earth.[Sing], ye who descend into the sea, and continually sail[on it]; ye islands, and inhabitants thereof. Rejoice, O wilderness, and the villages thereof, and the houses; and the inhabitants of Cedar shall rejoice, and the inhabitants of the rock shall cry aloud from the top of the mountains: they shall give glory to God; they shall publish His virtues among the islands. The Lord God of hosts shall go forth, He shall destroy war utterly, He shall stir up zeal, and He shall cry aloud to the enemies with strength.’ ” And when I repeated this, I said to them, “Have you perceived, my friends, that God says He will give Him whom He has established as a light of the Gentiles, glory, and to no other; and not, as Trypho said, that God was retaining the glory to Himself?”

Then Trypho answered, “We have perceived this also; pass on therefore to the remainder of the discourse.”” (Ch 65)

So far then is this passage from in any way denying the Son, then, that it rather proclaims Him as the one Whom God glorifies with a glory far above all else, as His beloved Son, the Christ He has anointed to rule the nations. And were the Son not another besides the Father, and distinct from Him, God could give Him no glory; for were the Son the Supreme Being, the only true God Himself, He would have all glory already, and could not receive more than He has. But God glorifies His only-begotten Son, His Christ, with the name above all names, the most holy name of God.

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John 10:30 Commentary

I and my Father are one – John 10:30

He intended to meet the jeers of the wicked; for they might allege that the power of God did not at all belong to him, so that he could promise to his disciples that it would assuredly protect them. He therefore testifies that his affairs are so closely united to those of the Father, that the Father’s assistance will never be withheld from himself and his sheep. The ancients made a wrong use of this passage to prove that Christ is (ὁμοούσιος) of the same essence with the Father. For Christ does not argue about the unity of substance, but about the agreement which he has with the Father, so that whatever is done by Christ will be confirmed by the power of his Father.

Source: Calvin’s Commentary on the Bible


The great question here is, whether these words are to be understood of the unity of the Father and Son, as to their same monadical essence, or (as many of the Ante-Nicene Fathers did interpret them) of an unity in will, design, affection and concord? That they could not be intended to declare an unity of their individual essence, seems highly probable, both from the context; from the like expressions in the Scripture; and from the very nature of the thing. First, from the context; for there our Savior saith, “The works that I do in my Father’s name”–that is, by his authority and power imparted to me–”bear witness of me” (ver. 25); which words are evidently repugnant to a numerical unity of essence in them both; since where the essence is one, the actions must be one, and done by the same authority and power. To which add, that the words, “I and my Father,” are words plainly importing two persons; for the word Father is personal, and the word I is a pronoun personal; so that if these two are one and the same God by virtue of this text, they must be one in person as well as essence. Moreover (ver. 29), “My Father which gave them me” (saith Christ) “is greater than all;” which again destroys the numerical unity of essence betwixt both; since no one essence can give any thing to itself, and much less a divine and all-perfect essence. Nor can one essence be greater than itself; whereas our Lord expressly saith, “My Father is greater than I” (John xiv. 28). Secondly: This will be farther evident from the parallel expressions used by our Lord in the same Gospel, where he prays that his disciples “may be one, as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee; that they might be made perfect in one:” and yet, doubtless, he could not pray that his disciples might be one in essence with the Father and Son, but only that they might be one by having the Spirit of the Father and Son dwelling in them. In which sense, Athenagoras says the Father and Son are one, viz. ἐνότητι τοũ πνεύματος, by unity of the Spirit. Thus Origin interprets this verse. For, having cited these words, “I and my Father are one,”– If any one, saith he, is disturbed at these expressions, as if we favoured the opinion of the Noetians, who deny the Father and the Son to be δύο ὑποστάσεις, two singular existences, let him consider this text (Acts iv. 34), “All that believed were of one heart and one soul,” and then he will understand this, “I and my Father are one thing:” we serve, therefore, ὡς ἀποδεδώκαμεν, as we formerly explained it, one God the Father, and the Son; we worship the Father of the truth, and also the Son, who is the truth, being indeed two things in subsistence, but in agreement and consent and sameness of will, they are one. Here, indeed, he only saith we worship the Father of the truth, and the Son, who is the truth and wisdom; but in his comment on John (p. 70), he adds, that the Father is πλείων, μείζων ἀλήθεια, a fuller and greater truth, and, being the Father of wisdom, is greater and more excellent, as he is Wisdom, than the Son. Then he proceeds (p. 387) to shew, that among the multitude of believers, some, differing from the rest, rashly affirmed, as the Noetians did, that our Saviour was the God over all; which, saith he, we Christians, or we of the church, do not believe, as giving credit to the same Saviour, who said, “My Father is greater than I.” And, lastly, he saith (p. 38), We Christians manifestly teach, that the Son is not stronger than the Father, who is the Creator of the world, ἀλλ’ ὑποδεέστερος, but inferior in power to him; which words afford the clearest demonstration, that the church of that age did not believe that our Saviour was ὁ ἐπὶ πᾶσι Θεὸς, the supreme God, or one of the same numerical essence with the Father; and therefore could not interpret those words of such an unity, but only of an unity of concord, mind and will. Hence, in his comment upon St. John (p. 227), he saith, that this unity of will is the cause of why Christ said, “I and my Father are one;” and in his next page adds, that the will which is in Christ is the image of the first will, and the divinity which is in Christ is the image of the true divinity. Novatian is, if possible, still more express in this interpretation: for, in answer to the objection of the Sabellians from this place, he saith, that unum, being here put in the neuter gender, denotes not an unity of person, but a concord of society between them; they being deservedly styled one, by reason of their concord and love, and because whatsoever the Son is, he is from the Father. The apostle, saith he, knew this unity of concord with the distinction of persons, by writing to the Corinthians thus: “I have planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase.” For who understands not that Paul is one person and Apollos another? and that they had divers offices, one to plant and another to water? And yet the apostle Paul saith of these two, ἔν εἰσι, “they are one,” though, as to the distinction of persons, they are two; with other things of like nature. And here it is to be observed, that Pamelius’s note upon these words is this: Nempe in hoc loco, non satis accurate scribere Novatianum, quod nullam essentiœ Patris, et Filii communicationem adferat, sed exemplum ab apostolo unitati essentiœ veluti contrarium; in quo certe hallucinatum fuisse auctorem non vereor dicere, quum postea ecclesia in diversis conciliis, diversum definiverit. That is, Novatian did not write accurately in this place, as making no mention of the communion of the essence betwixt the Father and the Son, but introducing an example from the apostle, as it were, contrary to it; in which thing I doubt not to pronounce him erroneous, seeing the church afterwards in divers councils defined the contrary. And yet it is certain that many of the Ante-Nicene fathers in effect said the same thing: for Justin pronounces the Son to be ἕτερος ἀπὸ τοῦ Πατρὸς ἀριθμῷ οὐ γνώμῃ, another from the Father in number, but not in consent. And his reason follows thus, because he never would do any thing but what ὁ τὸν κόσμον ποιήσας, ὑπὲρ ὃν ἄλλος οὐκ ἔστι θεὸς, βεβόληται καὶ πρᾶξαι καὶ ὁμιλῆσαι, the Maker of the world would have him do and speak. Where, first, this God the Father is plainly styled another in number from him that made the world; and, secondly, the Son is represented as one not doing his own will, but being in all things subservient to, and delivering the words of that God, from whom he is thus distinguished. Lactantius saith, that the Father and Son are one, quia unanimes incolunt mundum, because they unanimously dwell in the world. Eusebius pronounces the Father and Son to be one, οὐ καθ’ ὑπότασιν ἀλλὰ κατὰ τὴν κοινωνίαν τῆς δόξης, not as to the essence, but as to communion of glory. And lastly, the council of Antioch pronounceth the Father, Son and Holy Ghost to be τρία μὲν ὑποστάσει τῆ δὲ συμϕωνίᾳ ἓν, that is, three in subsistence, but one only in consent or concord. Terullian declares, in answer to this objection of the Sabellians, that these words, “I and the Father,” duorum esse significationem, signify two; and then adds, that unum neutrali verbo non pertinet ad singularitatem, sed ad unitatem, ad similitudinem, ad conjunctionem, ad delectionem Patris qui Filium diligit; et ad obsequium Filii qui voluntatis Patris obsequitur: which last words shew that it is impossible that this text should be interpreted of the numerical essence or unity of the Father and Son; seeing one and the same essence cannot be obsequious or obedient to itself. And yet there is nothing more common among the Ante-Nicene fathers, than to say with Novatian, who having affirmed that the Son, obedierit Patri, et obediat, always did and always doth obey the Father, thence make this inference–Quid tam evidens esse ptest hunc non Patrem esse, sed Filium, quam quod obediens Patri Deo proponitur? What more evidently shews that Christ is not the Father, but the Son, than this, that Christ is obedient to the Father? (Cap. xxiii.) And again (Cap. xxx.), Filius nihil ex arbitrio suo gerit, nec ex concilio suo fecit, nec a se venit; sed imperiis paternus omnibus, et preceptis obedit, ut quamvis probet illum nativitas Filium, tamen morigera obedientia asserat ipsum paternæ voluntatis, ex quo est, ministrum. Ita dum se Patri in omnibus obtemperantem reddit, quamvis fit et Deus, unum tamen Deum Patrem de obedientia sua ostendit, ex quo et traxit, originem; that is, in short, the Son of God,  by his dutiful obedience to all his Father’s commands, and to his will (he doing nothing by his own will and counsel), by this demonstrated, that though he was God, yet the Father, from whom he came forth, and whom he obeyed, was the one God, even that one God, of whom he saith, Nos scimus et legimus et credimus et tenemus, unum esse Deum, qui fecit eælum pariter ac terram, quoniam nec alterum novimus, aut noscere (cum multus sit) aliquando poterimus; that is, we Christians know, believe and hold, that there is one only God, the Creator of heaven and earth; nor know we, nor can we know any other, because there is no other. And again, God the Father is unus Deus, cujus neque magnitudini, neque majestati, neque virtuti quicquam non dixerim præfferri, sed nec cimparari potest; that is, that one god, to whose greatness, majesty and power, nothing can be compared (Cap. xxx.). And indeed all the Greek fathers, from Justin to Eusebius inclusive, do frequently inform us that the Son did ὑπηρετεῖν τῷ θελήματι τοῦ Πατρὸς, obey the will of the Father, that he did ὑπουργεῖν, διακονεῖν, ὑπηρετεῖν, minister, and was subservient to him. And all that writ in Latin, from Tertullian to Lactantius inclusively, that he did Patris voluntati administrare, administer to the will of the Father; that he did obedire in omnibus Patri, obey the Father in all things; that the Son voluntati Patris fidelitur paret nec unquam faciat aut fecerit, nisi quod Pater aut voluit aut jussit, faithfully obeyed the will of his Father, and never doth or would do any thing but what the Father willed or ordered him to do (Lb. iv. C. xxix.). It being therefore certain, that one and the same essence can have but one and the same will, and that one singular and numerical essence cannot administer to the will, obey, and be subservient to the will and commands of another; hence it is demonstratively evident that he who does so, cannot have the same numerical essence and will with the Father.

Source: The Last Thoughts of Dr. Whitby

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