Does the Submission of the Son to the Father Contradict the Notion that He has “one will” with the Father?

The authoritative headship of the Father over the Son was an important point of doctrine frequently emphasized by the fathers of the ante-nicene and Nicene eras. It was viewed by them as a clear teaching of scripture, and an important aspect of the doctrine of the Trinity. For example:

“I shall give you another testimony, my friends, from the Scriptures, that God begot before all creatures a Beginning, [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…” (Dialogue With Trypho, Chapter 61)

“XVII. If any man says that the Lord and the Lord, the Father and the Son, are two Gods because of the aforesaid words: let him be anathema. For we do not make the Son the equal or peer of the Father, but understand the Son to be subject. For He did not come down to Sodom without the Father’s will, nor rain from Himself but from the Lord, to wit, by the Father’s authority; nor does He sit at the Father’s right hand by His own authority, but because He hears the Father saying, Sit on My right hand.

51. The foregoing and the following statements utterly remove any ground for suspecting that this definition asserts a diversity of different deities in the Lord and the Lord. No comparison is made because it was seen to be impious to say that there are two Gods: not that they refrain from making the Son equal and peer of the Father in order to deny that He is God. For, since he is anathema who denies that Christ is God, it is not on that score that it is profane to speak of two equal Gods. God is One on account of the true character of His natural essence and because from the Unborn God the Father, who is the one God, the Only-begotten God the Son is born, and draws His divine Being only from God; and since the essence of Him who is begotten is exactly similar to the essence of Him who begot Him, there must be one name for the exactly similar nature. That the Son is not on a level with the Father and is not equal to Him is chiefly shown in the fact that He was subjected to Him to render obedience, in that the Lord rained from the Lord and that the Father did not, as Photinus and Sabellius say, rain from Himself, as the Lord from the Lord; in that He then sat down at the right hand of God when it was told Him to seat Himself; in that He is sent, in that He receives, in that He submits in all things to the will of Him who sent Him. But the subordination of filial love is not a diminution of essence, nor does pious duty cause a degeneration of nature, since in spite of the fact that both the Unborn Father is God and the Only-begotten Son of God is God, God is nevertheless One, and the subjection and dignity of the Son are both taught in that by being called Son He is made subject to that name which because it implies that God is His Father is yet a name which denotes His nature. Having a name which belongs to Him whose Son He is, He is subject to the Father both in service and name; yet in such a way that the subordination of His name bears witness to the true character of His natural and exactly similar essence.” (De Synodis, Quoting and commenting on the decision of the Council of Sirmium against Photinius)

“Believing then in the all-perfect triad, the most holy, that is, in the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost, and calling the Father God, and the Son God, yet we confess in them, not two Gods, but one dignity of Godhead, and one exact harmony of dominion, the Father alone being head over the whole universe wholly, and over the Son Himself, and the Son subordinated to the Father; but, excepting Him, ruling over all things after Him which through Himself have come to be, and granting the grace of the Holy Ghost unsparingly to the saints at the Father’s will. For that such is the account of the Divine Monarchy towards Christ, the sacred oracles have delivered to us.” (The Macrostich)

That the Son is subordinate to the Father as His Head is important as an aspect of Christian monotheism (see Why There is Only One God: Headship). There is only one God because there is only one supreme uncaused Cause of all, and one Supreme Authority over all -the Father. If the Son were equal to the Father in authority, and not under His headship, there would be two Supreme Authorities over all, and on that grounds, two Gods. The scriptural truth that “God is the head of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:3) is important then to how scripture teaches us that there is only one God.

Yet this teaching has come under fire in recent years. The argument leveled against this patristic and scriptural doctrine is that the Son cannot “submit” to the Father because this implies that They do not have the same will. In order for the Son to submit to the Father, it is argued, He must have a will contrary to His Father. Such a teaching, it is argued, goes against the historic doctrine that the persons of the Trinity share a common will.

For many this line of argument seems convincing, a good enough reason to jettison a view held by the early church. Yet upon close examination, this argument is shown to be seriously flawed.

Firstly, the argument hinges upon an assumption that in order for there to be submission of the Son to the Father, the persons must have conflicting wills. This assumption is unwarranted; the Son submits to the Father willingly, and as being in agreement with His Father, and thus having “one will” with Him. We can even borrow from human analogy; if a man tells his son to do something, and his son loves his father and delights to do whatever his father says, his son will happily and willingly submit to his father. This sort of willing submission is precisely how the church fathers described the submission of the Son to the Father. For example Hilary of Poitiers, as quoted above, refers to it as “the subordination of filial love”.

Secondly it is noteworthy that the fathers of the early church also acknowledged that the persons of the Trinity share one will, and yet in their view, this was in no way contradictory to the Son’s subordination to the Father as His Head.

“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 done anything which He who made the world—above whom there is no other God—has not wished Him both to do and to engage Himself with.” (Justin Martyr, Dialogue With Trypho)

Here we see the way the Justin understood the Son’s subordination to the Father, and the Father and Son sharing “one will” fitting together; far from being contradictory, in Justin’s view we see the truth that the Son does not have a distinct will from the Father manifested in the Son’s perfect submission to the Father. It is His submission to the Father in which we see the Son’s perfect agreement with Him, as the Son willingly “ministers to the will of the Father” in “the subordination of filial love”.

If we are going to insist that the fathers are wrong on this point, especially in light of so much clear scriptural support for their position, we ought to have some good reason to do so. The fact is, we do not. The Son’s submission to the Father is a willing submission, grounded in the Son’s relationship to the Father as Son, stemming from His eternal generation.

Here a further distinction is worth noting, already mentioned in passing above, which yields further clarity. The persons of the Trinity possess one will in that They are each in perfect agreement with each other; each person, however, distinctly possesses the power of will. Thus the Father wills to send the Son and the Son wills to be sent; the Father wills to create through the Son, and the Son wills to be the Father’s instrument in the creation of the world. The perfect agreement and harmony between the persons renders the will “one”, similarly to how we see many distinct persons in the early church being described as “Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common.” (Acts 4:32 NKJV).

This is contrasted with the view of those who conceive of the Trinity as a whole, or the essence shared by the persons, as a single person. Those who hold this view almost always mean something quite different than the fathers such as Justin and Hilary did when they speak of the persons of the Trinity sharing “one will”; what they refer to is that there is only one power of willing belonging properly to the sole person who is Father, Son, and Spirit, and thus the real persons of the Trinity possess the same will and mind because They are all ultimately a single person with a single power of will and mind. This bizarre ‘hive-mind’ view of the Trinity falls apart as soon as it is acknowledged that there is no such thing as a single subsistent individual who is the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but that rather the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are three distinct individual realities or persons.

Essence, nature, or genus do not possess the power of will, mind, or consciousness. These properties belong to persons. For the persons of the Trinity to be described of as “one will”, then, is appropriate as a way to describe the perfect agreement between Them, but erroneous if this is meant to ascribe the power of will to the common essence the persons share, and so to treat that essence as a person.

Finally, some will object that the Son’s submission to the Father was merely an aspect of the economy of the incarnation, and therefore, speaking of this as a permanent and eternal character of the Son’s relationship to His Father is a mistake. Such an objection ignores the many places in the Old Testament in which we see the Son as the Angel of the Lord, ministering to the Father’s will in bringing messages from the Father to men (“angel” means ‘messenger’). It was the Father Who sent, and the Son Who obeyed; the Son is the Messenger of the Father, never the other way around. Likewise it ignores that the Father created all things through the Son, not the Son through the Father. The fact is, throughout all history and from the beginning we see the Son’s loving subordination to the Father, as to His authoritative Head.

Additionally we may note that it is natural and common to all cultures to associate authority with fatherhood and submission to that authority to sonship. We know that all fatherhood in creation is a reflection of the eternal relationship between God and His Son; we see that authority structure even in the Law of Moses, where sons are commanded to honor, submit to, and obey their fathers. Because of this, it is most natural and reasonable to assume that the Son, simply by virtue of being Son, would be subordinate to His Father as His Head. In light of all this, if someone wishes to ague that the Son is not eternally subordinate to His Father, they ought to have some very good reason for saying so, seeing as this goes against all natural reason, and the pattern of authority and submission that we see between God and His Son throughout the whole of history. And the truth of the matter is, no such reason exists. Nowhere do we find scriptural warrant to limit this relationship to the incarnation, or the economy of redemption. Instead, everywhere we are given reason to understand that this relationship is eternal.

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)

 

Did Origen Invent The Doctrine of Eternal Generation?

I have heard various people mention Origen as being the one who “invented” eternal generation. Often those saying this are opponents of the doctrine, and the design is to discredit the doctrine on the merits of its founder. But I have even seen those seemingly defending eternal generation seeming to give credence to the notion that Origen was the first to articulate the doctrine.

One example of this point being brought up as a negative is Walter R. Martin in The Kingdom of the Cults, in the chapter on the “Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Watch Tower”, where he says:

“Arius derived many of his ideas from his teacher, Lucian of Antioch, who in turn borrowed them from Origen, who himself introduced the term “eternal generation” or the concept that God from all eternity generates a second person like Himself, ergo the “eternal Son.” Arius of course rejected this as illogical and unreasonable, which it is, and taking the other horn of dilemma squarely between his teeth reduced the eternal Word of God to the rank of a creation! It is a significant fact, however, that in the earliest writings of the church fathers doting from the first century to the year 230 the term “eternal generation” was never used, but it has been this dogma later adopted by Roman Catholic theology, which has fed the Arian heresy through the centuries and today continues to feed the Christology of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.” (pp. 101, 102—1977; pp. 115, 116—1985 rev. ed.; p. 168—1997 rev., updated, expanded anniversary ed., Hank Hanegraaff, general editor; pp. 137, 138—2003 rev., updated, expanded ed., Ravi Zacharias, general editor. (my source for this quote: Articuli Fidei))

This simply is not true, and it is somewhat amazing that it is necessary to point out. Are people on both sides of the debate so illiterate respecting the theology of the early church that they are unaware of earlier articulations of the doctrine of eternal generation? Or is the general understanding of the doctrine so shallow that it is only recognized when called by its name, and invisible when mentioned without the label “eternal generation”?

Of first importance is the question of whether eternal generation is demonstrable from the holy scriptures, for the answer to that question only will let us know if the doctrine is true and worthy of being believed. For my treatment of that subject, see Eternal Generation Proved from the Scriptures. For our purposes in this post, I will seek to demonstrate from the writings of those fathers who taught prior to Origen that he can by no means be fairly deemed to have “invented” the doctrine.

Since the label “eternal generation” is not used commonly, it is important to be able to recognize the doctrine in substance in the following quotes. The doctrine in a nutshell is that prior to creation, and therefore, prior to time itself, the Son was begotten from the Father in such a manner that He has both His person and essence from the Father. The important implications of this doctrine are that the Son is genuinely a distinct person from the Father, caused by Him, of the same divine nature as Him, and co-eternal with Him, inasmuch as there can be no difference between the Father and Son in time or chronology caused by an event which occurred outside of time. The Nicene Creed sums up the doctrine nicely as follows, when it declares that the Son 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”. That in mind, lets examine several instances of this doctrine being taught prior to Origen.

Ignatius of Antioch.

Ignatius of Antioch is a noteworthy church father of the generation following the apostles. The man probably interacted personally with Paul, and perhaps with other apostles as well. There are seven letters of his that are considered by scholars to perhaps be authentic, but issues with interpolations abound. There are also additional letters ascribed to him widely agreed to be spurious. Scholars disagree over the validity and purity of the potentially-authentic seven letters. With that in mind, it is difficult to cite anything found in his letters as genuine proof of a given doctrine having been taught by him. However, treating the seven letters as potentially being authentic, let us examine a few quotes in Ignatius’s letters which clearly speak of eternal generation:

“But our Physician is the only true God, the unbegotten and unapproachable, the Lord of all, the Father and Begetter of the only-begotten Son. We have also as a Physician the Lord our God, Jesus the Christ, the only-begotten Son and Word, before time began,57 but who afterwards became also man, of Mary the virgin. For “the Word was made flesh.””(Chapter VII, Epistle to the Ephesians, Longer Version)

“For the Son of God, who was begotten before time began,131 and established all things according to the will of the Father, He was conceived in the womb of Mary, according to the appointment of God, of the seed of David, and by the Holy Ghost.” (Chapter XVIII, Epistle to the Ephesians, Longer Version)

“…your presbyters in the place of the assembly of the apostles, along with your deacons, who are most dear to me, and are entrusted with the ministry of Jesus Christ. He, being begotten by the Father before the beginning of time,192 was God the Word, the only-begotten Son, and remains the same for ever; for “of His kingdom there shall be no end,”193 says Daniel the prophet.” (Chapter VI, Epistle to the Magnesians, Longer Version)

“On this account also they were persecuted, being inspired by grace to fully convince the unbelieving that there is one God, the Almighty, who has manifested Himself by Jesus Christ His Son, who is His Word, not spoken, but essential. For He is not the voice of an articulate utterance, but a substance begotten by divine power, who has in all things pleased Him that sent Him.”(Chapter VIII, Epistle to the Magnesians, Longer Version)

“These things [I address to you], my beloved, not that I know any of you to be in such a state;228 but, as less than any of you, I desire to guard you beforehand, that ye fall not upon the hooks of vain doctrine, but that you may rather attain to a full assurance in Christ, who was begotten by the Father before all ages, but was afterwards born of the Virgin Mary…” (Chapter XI,Epistle to the Magnesians, Longer Version)

“How could such a one be a mere man, receiving the beginning of His existence from Mary, and not rather God the Word, and the only-begottenSon? For “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God,722 and the Word was God.”723 And in another place, “The Lord created Me, the beginning of His ways, for His ways, for His works. Before the world did He found Me, and before all the hills did He beget Me.”724” (Chapter VI, Epistle to the Tarsians)

Justin Martyr.

Justin Martyr’s writings are ripe with explicit references to the Son’s eternal generation from the Father. What’s more, Justin, acting in the role of an apologist for Christianity at large, can fairly be said to represent not only his own personal beliefs but the beliefs of the church at large in his time, in the following statements:

“And that you will not succeed is declared by the Word, than whom, after God who begat Him, we know there is no ruler more kingly and just.” (Chapter XII, First Apology)

“And that this may now become evident to you—(firstly50) that whatever we assert in conformity with what has been taught us by Christ, and by the prophets who preceded Him, are alone true, and are older than all the writers who have existed; that we claim to be acknowledged, not because we say the same things as these writers said, but because we say true things: and (secondly) that Jesus Christ is the only proper Son who has been begotten by God, being His Word and first-begotten, and power; and, becoming man according to 171 His will…” (Chapter XXIII, First Apology)

“For they who affirm that the Son is the Father, are proved neither to have become acquainted with the Father, nor to know that the Father of the universe has a Son; who also, being the first-begotten Word of God, is even God. And of old He appeared in the shape of fire and in the likeness of an angel to Moses and to the other prophets; but now in the times of your reign,140 having, as we before said, become Man by a virgin, according to the counsel of the Father, for the salvation of those who believe on Him, He endured both to be set at nought and to suffer, that by dying and rising againHe might conquer death.” (Chapter LXIII, First Apology)

““I shall give you another testimony, my friends,” said I, “from the Scriptures, that God begat before all creatures a Beginning,403 [who was] a certain rational power [proceeding] from Himself, who is called by the HolySpirit, 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;404 just as we see405 happening among ourselves: for when we give out some word, we beget the word; yet not by abscission, so as to lessen the word406 [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 ofWisdom, who is Himself this God begotten of the Father of all things, andWord, 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, and228 review them. The Lord made me the beginning 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 tome, and the mortal who shall keep my ways, watching407 daily at my doors, observing the posts of my in goings. 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.’” (Chapter LXI, Dialogue With Trypho)

“But this Offspring, which was truly brought forth from the Father, was with the Father before all the creatures, and the Father communed withHim; even as the Scripture by Solomon has made clear, that He whomSolomon calls Wisdom, was begotten as a Beginning before all His creatures and as Offspring by God, who has also declared this same thing in the revelation made by Joshua the son of Nave (Nun).” (Chapter LXII, DialogueWith Trypho)

“For I have already proved that He was the only-begotten of the Father of all things, being begotten in a peculiar manner Word and Power byHim, and having afterwards become man through the Virgin, as we have learned from the memoirs.” (Chapter CV, Dialogue With Trypho)

“And that this power which the prophetic word calls God, as has been also amply demonstrated, and Angel, is not numbered [as different] in name only like the light of the sun, but is indeed something numerically distinct, I have discussed briefly in what has gone before; when I asserted that this power was begotten from the Father, by His power and will, but not by abscission, as if the essence of the Father were divided; as all other things partitioned and divided are not the same after as before they were divided: and, for the sake of example, I took the case of fires kindled from a fire, which we see to be distinct from it, and yet that from which many can be kindled is by no means made less, but remains the same. “And now I shall again recite the words which I have spoken in proof of this point. When Scripture says,‘The Lord rained fire from the Lord out of heaven,’ the prophetic word indicates that there were two in number: One upon the earth, who, it says, descended to behold the cry of Sodom; Another in heaven, who also is Lord of the Lord on earth, as He is Father and God; the cause of His power and ofHis being Lord and God. Again, when the Scripture records that God said in the beginning, ‘Behold, Adam has become like one of Us,’692 this phrase, ‘like one of Us,’ is also indicative of number; and the words do not admit of a figurative meaning, as the sophists endeavour to affix on them, who are able neither to tell nor to understand the truth. And it is written in the book of Wisdom: ‘If I should tell you daily events, I would be mindful to enumerate them from the beginning. The Lord created me the beginning of His ways forHis works. From everlasting He established me in the beginning, before He formed the earth, and before He made the depths, and before the springs of waters came forth, before the mountains were settled; He begets me before all the hills.’ ” 693 When I repeated these words, I added: “You perceive, my hearers, if you bestow attention, that the Scripture has declared that this Offspring was begotten by the Father before all things created; and that which is begotten is numerically distinct from that which begets, any one will admit.”” (Chapters CXXVIII and CXXIX, Dialogue With Trypho)

Irenaeus of Lyons.

Second-century church father Irenaeus of Lyons is another witness to the fact that the doctrine of the Son’s eternal generation was a doctrine already taught and believed by the church prior to Origen:

“If any one, therefore, says to us, “How then was the Son produced by the Father?” we reply to him, that no man understands that production, or generation, or calling, or revelation, or by whatever name one may describe His generation, which is in fact altogether indescribable. Neither Valentinus, nor Marcion, nor Saturninus, nor Basilides, nor angels, nor archangels, nor principalities, nor powers [possess this knowledge], but the Father only who begat, and the Son who was begotten. Since therefore His generation is unspeakable, those who strive to set forth generations and productions cannot be in their right mind, inasmuch as they undertake to describe things which are indescribable.” (Chapter XXVIII, Against Heresies, Book II)

“So then the Father is Lord and the Son is Lord, and the Father is God and the Son is God; for that which is begotten of God is God.” (The Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching)

We see then, that there is no reasonable way to argue that the doctrine has its origin in Origen. The testimony of two of the most influential church fathers of the second century, Justin Marytr and Irenaeus, serves sufficiently to put this odd historical inaccuracy to rest. And if any of the quotes provided from Ignatius be regarded as genuine, one will be hard pressed to argue there is a single generation prior to Origen that we do not see the church’s belief in the doctrine of eternal generation stated in some historical document or another.

That the Word “God” Never Refers to Multiple Persons of the Trinity Together in Scripture

As we examined some in The Priority of the New Testament in Trinitarian Doctrine, semi-modalists have their own special hermeneutic by which they insist that the scriptures must be interpreted. This hermeneutic is nothing other than insisting that every time the word “God” is used without qualification, this refers to the entire Trinity. They then employ this to say that the vast majority of places in scripture in which God speaks, it is in fact the Trinity in view.

This hermeneutic has no basis in either scripture or rationality, but rather serves the end of semi-modalists by inserting their absurd concept of a person who is three persons into everywhere in scripture that does not explicitly state that this is not what is meant.

This is quite contrary to the plain sense of the scriptures. In most places scripture speaks of “God” there is something in the context which indicates that a single person is in view, such as a singular personal pronoun. This then excludes the Trinity from being in view in such places, as the Trinity is not a single person, but a group of three persons. When scripture tells us there is a single person in view by using singular personal pronouns, we must acknowledge that only one person, and thus not the entire Trinity, is in view.

The word “God” (except perhaps when speaking of idols) is in scripture only ever used for a single person in any given instance; there are myriad places in scripture where this is obvious from the context and grammar. It is only natural to read any ambiguous places the same way, since scripture is consistent with itself, and reason teaches us to interpret those passages which are less clear by those that are more clear. And if we take our hermeneutics from scripture, we will quickly see that not only is the word “God” used for a single person, but that usually the person in view is the Father, although sometimes it is used of the Son as well.

We can again arrive at this understanding from scripture itself. Throughout the New Testament, when the term “God” is used absolutely and without qualification, it is in reference to the person of the Father. This is ubiquitous throughout the New Testament. Only a few times the word is used for the Son. If then we read the the Old Testament with the aid of the New, so that we are interpreting those older scriptures in which were hidden many things in type and shadow and mystery with the aid of those scriptures which provide us with a fuller and clearer revelation, then we will likewise understand that normally in the Old Testament, as in the New, the term “God” is usually used to denote the person of the Father.

Several of Samuel Clarke’s theses from The Scripture Doctrine of the Trinity are related to this:

VIII. The Father (or First Person) is absolutely speaking, the God of the Universe; the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the God of Israel; of Moses, of the Prophets and Apostles; and the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

IX. The scripture, when it mentions the One God, or the Only God, always means the Supreme Person of the Father.

X. Whenever the Word, God, is mentioned in Scripture, with any High Epithet, Title, or Attribute annex’d to it; it generally (if not always) means the Person of the Father.

XI. The Scripture, when it mentions GOD, absolutely and by way of Eminence, always means the Person of the Father.

XXIV. The Word, God, in the New Testament, sometimes signifies the Person of the Son.

XXXIII. The Word, God, in Scripture, never signifies a complex Notion of more persons than One; but always means One person only, viz. either the person of the Father singly, or the person of the Son singly.

Clarke’s assessment of the manner in which scripture speaks is attested to by several early church fathers as well:

Justin Martyr

“Accordingly, it is shown that Solomon is not the Lord of hosts; but when our Christ rose from the dead and ascended to heaven, the rulers in heaven, under appointment of God, are commanded to open the gates of heaven, that He who is King of glory may enter in, and having ascended, may sit on the right hand of the Father until He make the enemies His footstool, as has been made manifest by another Psalm. For when the rulers of heaven saw Him of uncomely and dishonoured appearance, and inglorious, not recognising Him, they inquired, ‘Who is this King of glory?’ And the Holy Spirit, either from the person of His Father, or from His own person, answers them, ‘The Lord of hosts, He is this King of glory.’ For every one will confess that not one of those who presided over the gates of the temple at Jerusalem would venture to say concerning Solomon, though he was so glorious a king, or concerning the ark of testimony, ‘Who is this King of glory?'” (Dialogue With Trypho, Chapter 36)

“But when you hear the utterances of the prophets spoken as it were personally, you must not suppose that they are spoken by the inspired themselves, but by the Divine Word who moves them. For sometimes He declares things that are to come to pass, in the manner of one who foretells the future; sometimes He speaks as from the person of God the Lord and Father of all; sometimes as from the person of Christ; sometimes as from the person of the people answering the Lord or His Father, just as you can see even in your own writers, one man being the writer of the whole, but introducing the persons who converse. And this the Jews who possessed the books of the prophets did not understand, and therefore did not recognise Christ even when He came, but even hate us who say that He has come, and who prove that, as was predicted, He was crucified by them.” (First Apology, Chapter 36)

“And that this too may be clear to you, there were spoken from the person of the Father through Isaiah the Prophet, the following words: The ox knows his owner, and the ass his master’s crib; but Israel does not know, and My people has not understood. Woe, sinful nation, a people full of sins, a wicked seed, children that are transgressors, you have forsaken the Lord. And again elsewhere, when the same prophet speaks in like manner from the person of the Father, What is the house that you will build for Me? Says the Lord. The heaven is My throne, and the earth is My footstool. Isaiah 66:1 And again, in another place, Your new moons and your sabbaths My soul hates; and the great day of the fast and of ceasing from labour I cannot away with; nor, if you come to be seen of Me, will I hear you: your hands are full of blood; and if you bring fine flour, incense, it is abomination unto Me: the fat of lambs and the blood of bulls I do not desire. For who has required this at your hands? But loose every bond of wickedness, tear asunder the tight knots of violent contracts, cover the houseless and naked, deal your bread to the hungry. Isaiah 1:14, Isaiah 58:6 What kind of things are taught through the prophets from [the person of] God, you can now perceive.
And when the Spirit of prophecy speaks from the person of Christ, the utterances are of this sort: I have spread out My hands to a disobedient and gainsaying people, to those who walk in a way that is not good. Isaiah 65:2 And again: I gave My back to the scourges, and My cheeks to the buffetings; I turned not away My face from the shame of spittings; and the Lord was My helper: therefore was I not confounded: but I set My face as a firm rock; and I knew that I should not be ashamed, for He is near that justifies Me. Isaiah 50:6 And again, when He says, They cast lots upon My vesture, and pierced My hands and My feet. And I lay down and slept, and rose again, because the Lord sustained Me. And again, when He says, They spoke with their lips, they wagged the head, saying, Let Him deliver Himself. And that all these things happened to Christ at the hands of the Jews, you can ascertain. For when He was crucified, they did shoot out the lip, and wagged their heads, saying, Let Him who raised the dead save Himself. Matthew 27:39
And when the Spirit of prophecy speaks as predicting things that are to come to pass, He speaks in this way: For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. And He shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people; and they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. Isaiah 2:3 And that it did so come to pass, we can convince you. For from Jerusalem there went out into the world, men, twelve in number, and these illiterate, of no ability in speaking: but by the power of God they proclaimed to every race of men that they were sent by Christ to teach to all the word of God; and we who formerly used to murder one another do not only now refrain from making war upon our enemies, but also, that we may not lie nor deceive our examiners, willingly die confessing Christ. For that saying, The tongue has sworn but the mind is unsworn, might be imitated by us in this matter. But if the soldiers enrolled by you, and who have taken the military oath, prefer their allegiance to their own life, and parents, and country, and all kindred, though you can offer them nothing incorruptible, it were verily ridiculous if we, who earnestly long for incorruption, should not endure all things, in order to obtain what we desire from Him who is able to grant it.” (First Apology, Chapter 37-39)

Irenaeus of Lyons

“it is necessary to say that it is not David who speaks, nor any one of the prophets, in his own person: for it is not a man who speaks the prophecies; but the Spirit of God, assimilating and likening Himself to the persons represented, speaks in the prophets, and utters the words sometimes from Christ and sometimes from the Father.” (Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching)

Origen

“But if he were dealing honestly in his accusations, he ought to have given the exact terms of the prophecies, whether those in which the speaker is introduced as claiming to be God Almighty, or those in which the Son of God speaks, or finally those under the name of the Holy Spirit.” (Against Celsus, Book 7, Ch 10)

All these ancient theologians attest to the fact that throughout the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit speaks sometimes in the person of men, as recording what they said, and at other times in His own person, and at other times He speaks in the person of the Son, or of the Father, as communicating Their words. They never consider it possible nor make any mention of the possibility that “a complex notion of more persons than one” is speaking as a single person.

Justin Martyr’s Trinitarianism

“Reason directs those who are truly pious and philosophical to honour and love only what is true, declining to follow traditional opinions, if these be worthless. For not only does sound reason direct us to refuse the guidance of those who did or taught anything wrong, but it is incumbent on the lover of truth, by all means, and if death be threatened, even before his own life, to choose to do and say what is right.” (First Apology, Chapter 2)

Second century church father Justin Martyr was a faithful theologian of the early church, known for his apologetical work. Among his surviving works we have two apologies written to the Roman government, in which Christianity is explained and defended, and his Dialogue With Trypho, an apologetical work directed against rabbinical judaism in which Justin proves the validity of Christian doctrine and practice from the Old Testament scriptures, and interacts with the arguments and objections of Judaism.

Justin Martyr was very influential on later church fathers, including Irenaeus of Lyons. His writings, especially due to their genre and early date, serve an as extremely valuable window into the Christianity of the second century church. Unlike polemical or exegetical works, Justin’s apologetical works are aimed at those who do not know what Christianity is; this leads him to give a detailed and ‘from the ground up’ explanation of what Christians are, do, and believe. To have a detailed explanation of early Christianity like this is extremely useful for understanding that era of church history. Additionally, because of the nature of Dialogue With Trypho as an apologetic against Judaism, we are given a detailed and thorough window into how second century Christians read the Old Testament and its predictions of Christ. Certainly, without Justin’s writings our historical understanding of early Christianity would be greatly diminished.

Given what has been said above, it stands to reason that Justin’s works would also give us a good historical picture of what Christians believed about the Trinity in this period. It is noteworthy here that Justin does not speak of his private opinion of what Christians ought to believe, but sets out in his works to explain what Christians at large believe. In rare instances, he notes where there is disagreement among Christians on a given point of doctrine, and which view he believes is correct. For example:

“I admitted to you formerly, that I and many others are of this opinion, and [believe] that such will take place, as you assuredly are aware; but, on the other hand, I signified to you that many who belong to the pure and pious faith, and are true Christians, think otherwise.” (Dialogue With Trypho, Chapter 80)

We ought not then view Justin’s explanations of Christian theology as something peculiar to his own person, but as representative of wider Christian teaching as a whole. Let us then examine his teaching on the Trinity. For our purposes, we will focus on his apologies, and Dialogue With Trypho, as these are the principle works that pertain to the subject.

Firstly, I would like to highlight that Justin frequently speaks of God as “the unbegotten God”. It is clearly an important point in Justin’s understanding of Christian theology that God is uncaused. This title is, of course, only used for the person of the Father. We also see that as Justin understood Christian theology, the “one God” of the Christians was the person of the Father in particular (as scripture also says: “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 Cor. 8:6 NKJV):

“And thus do we also, since our persuasion by the Word, stand aloof from them (i.e., the demons), and follow the only unbegotten God through His Son — we who formerly delighted in fornication, but now embrace chastity alone; we who formerly used magical arts, dedicate ourselves to the good and unbegotten God” (First Apology, Chapter 14)

“have now, through Jesus Christ, learned to despise these, though we be threatened with death for it, and have dedicated ourselves to the unbegotten and impassible God” (First Apology, Chapter 25)

“But the Gentiles, who had never heard anything about Christ, until the apostles set out from Jerusalem and preached concerning Him, and gave them the prophecies, were filled with joy and faith, and cast away their idols, and dedicated themselves to the Unbegotten God through Christ.” (First Apology, Chapter 49)

“For with what reason should we believe of a crucified man that He is the first-born of the unbegotten God, and Himself will pass judgment on the whole human race, unless we had found testimonies concerning Him published before He came and was born as man…” (First Apology, Chapter 53)

“…take your stand on one Unbegotten, and say that this is the Cause of all.” (Dialogue With trypho, Chapter 5)

“But to the Father of all, who is unbegotten there is no name given. For by whatever name He be called, He has as His elder the person who gives Him the name. But these words Father, and God, and Creator, and Lord, and Master, are not names, but appellations derived from His good deeds and functions. 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…” (Second Apology, Chapter 6)

“and we have the unbegotten and ineffable God as witness both of our thoughts and deeds.” (Second Apology, Chapter 12)

“For next to God, we worship and love the Word who is from the unbegotten and ineffable God, since also He became man for our sakes, that becoming a partaker of our sufferings, He might also bring us healing.” (Second Apology, Chapter 13)

“And again, when He says, ‘I shall behold the heavens, the works of Your fingers,’ unless I understand His method of using words, I shall not understand intelligently, but just as your teachers suppose, fancying that the Father of all, the unbegotten God, has hands and feet, and fingers, and a soul, like a composite being; and they for this reason teach that it was the Father Himself who appeared to Abraham and to Jacob.” (Dialogue With Trypho, Chapter 114)

“For if you had understood what has been written by the prophets, you would not have denied that He was God, Son of the only, unbegotten, unutterable God.” (Dialogue With Trypho, Chapter 126)

“These and other such sayings are recorded by the lawgiver and by the prophets; and I suppose that I have stated sufficiently, that wherever God says, ‘God went up from Abraham,’ Genesis 18:22 or, ‘The Lord spoke to Moses,’ Exodus 6:29 and ‘The Lord came down to behold the tower which the sons of men had built,’ Genesis 11:5 or when ‘God shut Noah into the ark,’ Genesis 7:16 you must not imagine that the unbegotten God Himself came down or went up from any place. For the ineffable Father and Lord of all neither has come to any place, nor walks, nor sleeps, nor rises up, but remains in His own place, wherever that is, quick to behold and quick to hear, having neither eyes nor ears, but being of indescribable might; and He sees all things, and knows all things, and none of us escapes His observation; and He is not moved or confined to a spot in the whole world, for He existed before the world was made.” (Dialogue With Trypho, Chapter 127)

So then we see that Justin regards the Father as the only God, who is unbegotten, and altogether uncaused. We see Justin clearly believes in one unbegotten, Who is the uncaused Cause of all, and that this is the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ.

When we examine Justin’s statements about the Son, we see that He regards the Son as begotten of the Father before creation, and as such, as being caused by the Father:

“And that you will not succeed is declared by the Word, than whom, after God who begot Him, we know there is no ruler more kingly and just.” (First Apology, Chapter 12)

“…and (secondly) that Jesus Christ is the only proper Son who has been begotten by God, being His Word and first-begotten, and power; and, becoming man according to His will, He taught us these things for the conversion and restoration of the human race…” (First Apology, Chapter 23)

“For they who are called devils attempt nothing else than to seduce men from God who made them, and from Christ His first-begotten;” (First Apology, Chapter 29)

“The Jews, accordingly, being throughout of opinion that it was the Father of the universe who spoke to Moses, though He who spoke to him was indeed the Son of God, who is called both Angel and Apostle, are justly charged, both by the Spirit of prophecy and by Christ Himself, with knowing neither the Father nor the Son. For they who affirm that the Son is the Father, are proved neither to have become acquainted with the Father, nor to know that the Father of the universe has a Son; who also, being the first-begotten Word of God, is even God.” (First Apology, Chapter 63)

“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” (Second Apology, Chapter 6)

“When Scripture says, ‘The Lord rained fire from the Lord out of heaven,’ the prophetic word indicates that there were two in number: One upon the earth, who, it says, descended to behold the cry of Sodom; Another in heaven, who also is Lord of the Lord on earth, as He is Father and God; the cause of His power and of His being Lord and God.” (Dialogue With Trypho, Chapter 29)

“I shall give you another testimony, my friends, from the Scriptures, that God begot before all creatures a Beginning, [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; just as we see happening among ourselves: for when we give out some word, we beget the word; yet not by abscission, so as to lessen the word [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 beginning 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, watching 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.” (Dialogue With Trypho, Chapter 61)

“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…” (Dialogue With Trypho, Chapter 62)

“Accordingly He revealed to us all that we have perceived by His grace out of the Scriptures, so that we know Him to be the first-begotten of God, and to be before all creatures; likewise to be the Son of the patriarchs, since He assumed flesh by the Virgin of their family, and submitted to become a man without comeliness, dishonoured, and subject to suffering.” (Dialogue With Trypho, Chapter 100)

“For [Christ] called one of His disciples— previously known by the name of Simon — Peter; since he recognised Him to be Christ the Son of God, by the revelation of His Father: and since we find it recorded in the memoirs of His apostles that He is the Son of God, and since we call Him the Son, we have understood that He proceeded before all creatures from the Father by His power and will…” (Dialogue With Trypho, Chapter 100)

For I have already proved that He was the only-begotten of the Father of all things, being begotten in a peculiar manner Word and Power by Him, and having afterwards become man through the Virgin, as we have learned from the memoirs.” (Dialogue With trypho, Chapter 105)

“And that this power which the prophetic word calls God, as has been also amply demonstrated, and Angel, is not numbered [as different] in name only like the light of the sun but is indeed something numerically distinct, I have discussed briefly in what has gone before; when I asserted that this power was begotten from the Father, by His power and will, but not by abscission, as if the essence of the Father were divided; as all other things partitioned and divided are not the same after as before they were divided: and, for the sake of example, I took the case of fires kindled from a fire, which we see to be distinct from it, and yet that from which many can be kindled is by no means made less, but remains the same.” (Dialogue With Trypho, Chapter 128)

“You perceive, my hearers, if you bestow attention, that the Scripture has declared that this Offspring was begotten by the Father before all things created; and that which is begotten is numerically distinct from that which begets, any one will admit.” (Dialogue With Trypho, Chapter 129)

Stemming from this, Justin teaches that the Son is equal with the Father in respect to His nature, being God, of the same divine nature as the Father, because He is begotten of Him:

“For they who affirm that the Son is the Father, are proved neither to have become acquainted with the Father, nor to know that the Father of the universe has a Son; who also, being the first-begotten Word of God, is even God.” (First Apology, Chapter 63)

“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 Gomorrha the [judgments] which the Scripture describes in these terms: ‘The Lord rained down upon Sodom and Gomorrha sulphur and fire from the Lord out of heaven.'” (Dialogue With Trypho, Chapter 56)

“[Speaking of the Son] He is called God, and He is and shall be God.” (Dialogue With Trypho, Chapter 58)

“I shall give you another testimony, my friends, from the Scriptures, that God begot before all creatures a Beginning, [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; just as we see happening among ourselves: for when we give out some word, we beget the word; yet not by abscission, so as to lessen the word [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…” (Dialogue With Trypho, Chapter 61)

The above quote is very noteworthy as a very early testimony to the Son’s true divinity, and particularly, that He has the same divine nature as the Father. For the analogies Justin gives, however much they break down, as all analogies do, clearly indicate the exact identicality of nature between the Son and the Father. For just as fire kindled from another fire is of the same nature as the first torch from which it is kindled, and a word spoken which communicates a thought is identical in nature with the inward thought, so these analogies testify with great clarity to the fact that the Son has the same divine nature as the Father.

“And that Christ would act so when He became man was foretold by the mystery of Jacob’s wrestling with Him who appeared to him, in that He ministered to the will of the Father, yet nevertheless is God, in that He is the first-begotten of all creatures.” (Dialogue With Trypho, Chapter 125)

“And that this power which the prophetic word calls God, as has been also amply demonstrated, and Angel, is not numbered [as different] in name only like the light of the sun but is indeed something numerically distinct, I have discussed briefly in what has gone before; when I asserted that this power was begotten from the Father, by His power and will, but not by abscission, as if the essence of the Father were divided; as all other things partitioned and divided are not the same after as before they were divided: and, for the sake of example, I took the case of fires kindled from a fire, which we see to be distinct from it, and yet that from which many can be kindled is by no means made less, but remains the same.” (Dialogue With Trypho, Chapter 128)

“And now I shall again recite the words which I have spoken in proof of this point. When Scripture says, ‘The Lord rained fire from the Lord out of heaven,’ the prophetic word indicates that there were two in number: One upon the earth, who, it says, descended to behold the cry of Sodom; Another in heaven, who also is Lord of the Lord on earth, as He is Father and God; the cause of His power and of His being Lord and God.” (Dialogue With Trypho, Chapter 129)

We see clearly shown, then, from Justin’s own words, that he, and Christians in general who he represents in these works, held that the Son is truly God, of the same divine nature as the Father, as scripture also teaches.

He also teaches that the Son is under the headship and authority of the Father, and minsters to the will of the Father:

“When Scripture says, ‘The Lord rained fire from the Lord out of heaven,’ the prophetic word indicates that there were two in number: One upon the earth, who, it says, descended to behold the cry of Sodom; Another in heaven, who also is Lord of the Lord on earth, as He is Father and God; the cause of His power and of His being Lord and God.” (Dialogue With Trypho, Chapter 29)

“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 to 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.” (Dialogue With Trypho, Chapter 56)

“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 done anything which He who made the world— above whom there is no other God — has not wished Him both to do and to engage Himself with.” (Dialogue With Trypho, Chapter 56)

“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 Gomorrha the [judgments] which the Scripture describes in these terms: ‘The Lord rained down upon Sodom and Gomorrha sulphur and fire from the Lord out of heaven.’” (Dialogue With Trypho, Chapter 56)

“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…” (Dialogue With Trypho, Chapter 60)

“I shall give you another testimony, my friends, from the Scriptures, that God begot before all creatures a Beginning, [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; just as we see happening among ourselves…” (Dialogue With Trypho, Chapter 61)

“For I have proved that it was Jesus who appeared to and conversed with Moses, and Abraham, and all the other patriarchs without exception, ministering to the will of the Father; who also, I say, came to be born man by the Virgin Mary, and lives forever.” (Dialogue With Trypho, Chapter 113)

“And that Christ would act so when He became man was foretold by the mystery of Jacob’s wrestling with Him who appeared to him, in that He ministered to the will of the Father, yet nevertheless is God, in that He is the first-begotten of all creatures.” (Dialogue With Trypho, Chapter 125)

“From which I have demonstrated that He who is described as God appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, and the other patriarchs, was appointed under the authority of the Father and Lord, and ministers to His will.” (Dialogue With Trypho, Chapter 126)

“Therefore neither Abraham, nor Isaac, nor Jacob, nor any other man, saw the Father and ineffable Lord of all, and also of Christ, but [saw] Him who was according to His will His Son, being God, and the Angel because He ministered to His will...” (Dialogue With Trypho, Chapter 127)

Justin Martyr then is shown from his own words to have taught that Christians believe that there is one God, Who is the supreme uncaused Cause of all, and the Supreme Authority over all, even over His only-begotten Son, Who, as the only-begotten Son of the one God, is of the same divine nature as He. These early Christian beliefs can be shown to be thoroughly in line with what scripture says, and can be proven true from the same; see: Why There is Only One God: One Supreme Cause, Why There is Only One God: Headship, and Why There is Only One God: One Divine Nature.

Finally, we note a few passages where Justin speaks of the whole Trinity together:

“Our teacher of these things is Jesus Christ, who also was born for this purpose, and was crucified under Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judæa, in the times of Tiberius Cæsar; and that we reasonably worship Him, having learned that He is the Son of the true God Himself, and holding Him in the second place, and the prophetic Spirit in the third, we will prove. For they proclaim our madness to consist in this, that we give to a crucified man a place second to the unchangeable and eternal God, the Creator of all; for they do not discern the mystery that is herein, to which, as we make it plain to you, we pray you to give heed.” (First Apology, Chapter 13)

“Which things Plato reading, and not accurately understanding, and not apprehending that it was the figure of the cross, but taking it to be a placing crosswise, he said that the power next to the first God was placed crosswise in the universe. And as to his speaking of a third, he did this because he read, as we said above, that which was spoken by Moses, that the Spirit of God moved over the waters. For he gives the second place to the Logos which is with God, who he said was placed crosswise in the universe; and the third place to the Spirit who was said to be borne upon the water, saying, And the third around the third.” (First Apology, Chapter 60)

“There is then brought to the president of the brethren bread and a cup of wine mixed with water; and he taking them, gives praise and glory to the Father of the universe, through the name of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, and offers thanks at considerable length for our being counted worthy to receive these things at His hands.” (First Apology, Chapter 65)

“…we bless the Maker of all through His Son Jesus Christ, and through the Holy Ghost.” (First Apology, Chapter 67)

The order of persons in these passages is noteworthy, and reflects what is commonly seen throughout the New Testament.

All in all, Justin’s trinitarianism is shown to be above reproach; he clearly distinguishes between the persons, and he clearly affirms the divinity of the Son. Like many older authors, the Holy Spirit is simply not treated in the same detail, but we see Justin describe how the early church honored Him together with the Father and the Son.

He is clear in affirming monotheism, that is, that there is only one God, and is very clear in describing how this is believed to be so: because the Father is the one supreme uncaused Cause of all, and the one Supreme Authority over all, therefore there is one God, the Father. Although Justin affirms the divinity of the Son and gives analogies which describe the Son as having the same divine nature as the Father, Justin and the early Christians clearly do not ground their belief in one God in the fact that there is one common divine nature shared by the persons of the Trinity. Rather, there is one God because, as we have noted above, the Father is the one supreme uncaused Cause of all, even of His Son and Holy Spirit by eternal generation and procession, respectively, and is the one Supreme Authority and Head over all, even over His only-begotten Son and Holy Spirit.

“No other God besides Me”- the Trinity, or the Father?

Isaiah 43:11 and Isaiah 45:5-6 are very similar passages:

“I, even I, am the Lord, And besides Me there is no savior.” Isa 43:11 NKJV

“I am the Lord, and there is no other; There is no God besides Me. I will gird you, though you have not known Me, That they may know from the rising of the sun to its setting That there is none besides Me. I am the Lord, and there is no other;” Isa 45:5-6 NKJV

In these passages, obviously, God speaks in an exclusive way, proclaiming Himself the only true God. In light of the New Testament’s teaching that there is a Trinity of divine persons of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, some might wonder who the person speaking in these verses is. The most natural reading is that it is the Father, if for no other reason than that it is the ordinary pattern of scripture that when “God” is spoken of absolutely without qualification, it is referring to the one who scripture calls the “one God”, the person of the Father. We could give many examples of this throughout the New Testament, such as John 3:16, 18, and 2 Corinthians 13:14:

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. 18 “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” John 3:16-18 NKJV

“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.” 2 Cor 13:14 NKJV

But sometimes the Son is also called “God”, so if a person is still unsure who is being spoken of, they may still wonder which person of the Trinity is in view. It is only natural, from the scriptures and reason, to think that one person is spoken of here, and utterly unnatural and foreign to scripture to think that a plurality of persons would speak as though they were one. So which person is it?

Greater clarity can be provided by employing one of the most natural, fundamental, and basic rules of scriptural interpretation: that we interpret scripture by scripture, understanding the unclear with the help of the clear. It is clear, in the fullness of revelation in the new Testament, that the “one God” 1 Cor 8:6 and “only true God” John 17:3 is the person of the Father in particular. Since this is explicitly taught, we can interpret scripture by scripture; if the scriptures throughout the New Testament reserve those titles for the person of the Father alone, we may safely understand that in the old testament, the same titles refer to the same person. This is the natural way to read these passages.

Yet, some insist that it must refer to the entire Trinity, a reading of the text that is entirely unnatural. The grammar of the text gives no indication of a plurality of persons, but rather, a single person is clearly indicated by the use of singular personal pronouns. But for dogmatic reasons, some wish to insert the entire Trinity, as if a single person, into the text of scripture here. This is all that those who want to teach that the Trinity is a single person can do; since no where in scripture is their absurd error ever taught, they must mutilate the scriptures to their own ends, and pretend they speak of a person unspoken of in scripture, their “God the Trinity”, that person who they suppose is all three persons of the Trinity.

And yet, as we have shown, the scriptural reading of these verses is to refer them to the person of the Father. This view, being the natural reading, is also, as should be expected, the way that we see the early church fathers of the ante-nicene and nicene eras apply these texts of scripture, as can be seen from the extensive quotations below:

Hilary of Poitiers

“XXIII. If any man, after the example of the Jews, understand as said for the destruction of the Eternal Only-begotten God, the words, I am the first God, and I am the last God, and beside Me there is no God Isaiah 44:6, which were spoken for the destruction of idols and them that are no gods: let him be anathema.

57. Though we condemn a plurality of gods and declare that God is only one, we cannot deny that the Son of God is God. Nay, the true character of His nature causes the name that is denied to a plurality to be the privilege of His essence. The words, Beside Me there is no God, cannot rob the Son of His divinity: because beside Him who is of God there is no other God. And these words of God the Father cannot annul the divinity of Him who was born of Himself with an essence in no way different from His own nature. The Jews interpret this passage as proving the bare unity of God, because they are ignorant of the Only-begotten God. But we, while we deny that there are two Gods, abhor the idea of a diversity of natural essence in the Father and the Son. The words, Beside Me there is no God, take away an impious belief in false gods. In confessing that God is One, and also saying that the Son is God, our use of the same name affirms that there is no difference of substance between the two Persons.” (Hilary of Poitiers, De Synodis)

Novatian of Rome

“And now, indeed, concerning the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, let it be sufficient to have briefly said thus much, and to have laid down these points concisely, without carrying them out in a lengthened argument. For they could be presented more diffusely and continued in a more expanded disputation, since the whole of the Old and New Testaments might be adduced in testimony that thus the true faith stands. But because heretics, ever struggling against the truth, are accustomed to prolong the controversy of pure tradition and Catholic faith, being offended against Christ; because He is, moreover, asserted to be God by the Scriptures also, and this is believed to be so by us; we must rightly — that every heretical calumny may be removed from our faith— contend, concerning the fact that Christ is God also, in such a way as that it may not militate against the truth of Scripture; nor yet against our faith, how there is declared to be one God by the Scriptures, and how it is held and believed by us. For as well they who say that Jesus Christ Himself is God the Father, as moreover they who would have Him to be only man, have gathered thence the sources and reasons of their error and perversity; because when they perceived that it was written that God is one, they thought that they could not otherwise hold such an opinion than by supposing that it must be believed either that Christ was man only, or really God the Father. And they were accustomed in such a way to connect their sophistries as to endeavour to justify their own error. And thus they who say that Jesus Christ is the Father argue as follows:— If God is one, and Christ is God, Christ is the Father, since God is one. If Christ be not the Father, because Christ is God the Son, there appear to be two Gods introduced, contrary to the Scriptures. And they who contend that Christ is man only, conclude on the other hand thus:— If the Father is one, and the Son another, but the Father is God and Christ is God, then there is not one God, but two Gods are at once introduced, the Father and the Son; and if God is one, by consequence Christ must be a man, so that rightly the Father may be one God. Thus indeed the Lord is, as it were, crucified between two thieves, even as He was formerly placed; and thus from either side He receives the sacrilegious reproaches of such heretics as these. But neither the Holy Scriptures nor we suggest to them the reasons of their perdition and blindness, if they either will not, or cannot, see what is evidently written in the midst of the divine documents. For we both know, and read, and believe, and maintain that God is one, who made the heaven as well as the earth, since we neither know any other, nor shall we at any time know such, seeing that there is none. I, says He, am God, and there is none beside me, righteous and a Saviour. And in another place: I am the first and the last, and beside me there is no God who is as I. And, Who has meted out heaven with a Span, and the earth with a handful? Who has suspended the mountains in a balance, and the woods on scales? And Hezekiah: That all may know that You are God alone. Moreover, the Lord Himself: Why do you ask me concerning that which is good? God alone is good. Moreover, the Apostle Paul says: Who only has immortality, and dwells in the light that no man can approach unto, whom no man has seen, nor can see. And in another place: But a mediator is not a mediator of one, but God is one. But even as we hold, and read, and believe this, thus we ought to pass over no portion of the heavenly Scriptures, since indeed also we ought by no means to reject those marks of Christ’s divinity which are laid down in the Scriptures, that we may not, by corrupting the authority of the Scriptures, be held to have corrupted the integrity of our holy faith. And let us therefore believe this, since it is most faithful that Jesus Christ the Son of God is our Lord and God; because in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and God was the Word. The same was in the beginning with God. And, The Word was made flesh, and dwelt in us. And, My Lord and my God. And, Whose are the fathers, and of whom according to the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for evermore.” (Novatian of Rome, On the Trinity, Chapter 30)

We see here Novatian refers the verse in question to the person of the Father, continuing afterwards to speak of the Son distinctly.

“Him, then, we acknowledge and know to be God, the Creator of all things — Lord on account of His power, Parent on account of His discipline — Him, I say, who spoke, and all things were made; He commanded, and all things went forth: of whom it is written, You have made all things in wisdom;  of whom Moses said, God in heaven above, and in the earth beneath; Deuteronomy 4:39 who, according to Isaiah, has meted out the heaven with a span, the earth with the hollow of His hand;  who looks on the earth, and makes it tremble; who bounds the circle of the earth, and those that dwell in it like locusts; who has weighed the mountains in a balance, and the groves in scales, that is, by the sure test of divine arrangement; easily fall into ruins if it were not balanced with equal weights, He has poised this burden of the earthly mass with equity. Who says by the prophet, I am God, and there is none beside me Isaiah 45:22 Who says by the same prophet Because I will not give my majesty to another, Isaiah 13:8 that He may exclude all heathens and heretics with their figments; proving that that is not God who is made by the hand of the workman, nor that which is feigned by the intellect of a heretic. For he is not God for whose existence the workman must be asked. And He has added hereto by the prophet, The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool: what house will you build me, and where is the place of my rest?  that He may show that He whom the world does not contain is much less contained in a temple; and He says these things not for boastfulness of Himself, but for our knowledge. For He does not desire from us the glory of His magnitude; but He wishes to confer upon us, even as a father, a religious wisdom. And He, wishing moreover to attract to gentleness our minds, brutish, and swelling, and stubborn with cloddish ferocity, says, And upon whom shall my Spirit rest, save upon him that is lowly, and quiet, and that trembles at my words?  Isaiah 66:2 — so that in some degree one may recognise how great God is, in learning to fear Him by the Spirit given to him: Who, similarly wishing still more to come into our knowledge, and, by way of stirring up our minds to His worship, said, I am the Lord, who made the light and created the darkness;  that we might deem not that some Nature, — what I know not — was the artificer of those vicissitudes whereby nights and days are controlled, but might rather, as is more true, recognise God as their Creator. And since by the gaze of our eyes we cannot see Him, we rightly learn of Him from the greatness, and the power, and the majesty of His works. For the invisible things of Him, says the Apostle Paul, from the creation of the world, are clearly seen, being understood by those things which are made, even His eternal power and godhead; so that the human mind, learning hidden things from those that are manifest, from the greatness of the works which it should behold, might with the eyes of the mind consider the greatness of the Architect. Of whom the same apostle, Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honour and glory. 1 Timothy 1:17 For He has gone beyond the contemplation of the eyes who has surpassed the greatness of thought. For, it is said, of Him, and through Him, and in Him are all things. Romans 11:33 For all things are by His command, because they are of Him; and are ordered by His word as being through Him; and all things return to His judgment; as in Him expecting liberty when corruption shall be done away, they appear to be recalled to Him.

Chapter 4

Moreover, He is Good, Always the Same, Immutable, One and Only, Infinite; And His Own Name Can Never Be Declared, and He is Incorruptible and Immortal.

Him alone the Lord rightly declares good, of whose goodness the whole world is witness; which world He would not have ordained if He had not been good. For if everything was very good, Genesis 1:31consequently, and reasonably, both those things which were ordained have proved that He that ordained them is good, and those things which are the work of a good Ordainer cannot be other than good; wherefore every evil is a departure from God. ” (Novatian of Rome, On the Trinity, Chapters 3-4)

Here we see again Novatian applies the verse to the Father, the only true God, speaking of the same person who that verse speaks of as the one Whom the Lord said was alone good- the Father.

Ignatius of Antioch

“There is then one God and Father, and not two or three; One who is; and there is no other besides Him, the only true [God]. For “the Lord thy God,” saith [the Scripture], “is one Lord.” And again, “Hath not one God created us? Have we not all one Father? And there is also one Son, God the Word. For “the only-begotten Son,” saith [the Scripture], “who is in the bosom of the Father.” And again, “One Lord Jesus Christ.” And in another place, “What is His name, or what His Son’s name, that we may know?” And there is also one Paraclete. For “there is also,” saith [the Scripture], “one Spirit,” since “we have been called in one hope of our calling.” And again, “We have drunk of one Spirit,”” (Letter to the Philippians)

Here we see Ignatius apply the verse in question to the Father, going on afterwards to speak of the Son and Spirit.

Justin Martyr

“For God cannot be called by any proper name, for names are given to mark out and distinguish their subject-matters, because these are many and diverse; but neither did any one exist before God who could give Him a name, nor did He Himself think it right to name Himself, seeing that He is one and unique, as He Himself also by His own prophets testifies, when He says, “I God am the first,” and after this, “And beside me there is no other God.”” (On the Monarchy of God, Chapter 21)

It is manifest that he speaks of the Father in particular here, who he frequently styles “the unbegotten God”, as he describes the one to whom he refers the passage as having none before who might give Him a name- yet this is not true of all three persons, but of the Father in particular, as He is unbegotten and of none; yet the Son, being from the Father by eternal generation, was given by His Father “that name which is above all names”.

Irenaeus of Lyons

“1. God, therefore, is one and the same, who rolls up the heaven as a book, and renews
the face of the earth; who made the things of time for man, so that coming to maturity in
them, he may produce the fruit of immortality; and who, through His kindness, also bestows [upon him] eternal things, “that in the ages to come He may show the exceeding riches of His grace;”1195 who was announced by the law and the prophets, whom Christ confessed as His Father. Now He is the Creator, and He it is who is God over all, as Esaias says, “I am witness, saith the Lord God, and my servant whom I have chosen, that ye may know, and believe, and understand that I am. Before me there was no other God, neither shall be after me. I am God, and besides me there is no Saviour. I have proclaimed, and I have saved.”1196 And again: “I myself am the first God, and I am above things to come.”1197 For neither in an ambiguous, nor arrogant, nor boastful manner, does He say these things; but since it was impossible, without God, to come to a knowledge of God, He teaches men, through His Word, to know God. To those, therefore, who are ignorant of these matters, and on this account imagine that they have discovered another Father, justly does one say, “Ye do err, not knowing the Scriptures, nor the power of God.”” (Irenaeus Chapter 5)

Here again we see Irenaeus take the natural meaning of the text, applying it to the Father, who teaches men about Himself through His Word, the Son.

Athanasius

“And he who worships and honours the Son, in the Son worships and honours the Father; for one is the Godhead; and therefore one the honour and one the worship which is paid to the Father in and through the Son. And he who thus worships, worships one God; for there is one God and none other than He. Accordingly when the Father is called the only God, and we read that there is one God, and ‘I am,’ and ‘beside Me there is no God,’ and ‘I the first and I the last,’ this has a fit meaning. For God is One and Only and First; but this is not said to the denial of the Son, perish the thought; for He is in that One, and First and Only, as being of that One and Only and First the Only Word and Wisdom and Radiance. And He too is the First, as the Fulness of the Godhead of the First and Only, being whole and full God. This then is not said on His account, but to deny that there is other such as the Father and His Word.”

“And this account of the meaning of such passages is satisfactory; for since those who are devoted to gods falsely so called, revolt from the True God, therefore God, being good and careful for mankind, recalling the wanderers, says, ‘I am Only God,’ and ‘I Am,’ and ‘Besides Me there is no God,’ and the like; that He may condemn things which are not, and may convert all men to Himself. And as, supposing in the daytime when the sun was shining, a man were rudely to paint a piece of wood, which had not even the appearance of light, and call that image the cause of light, and if the sun with regard to it were to say, ‘I alone am the light of the day, and there is no other light of the day but I,’ he would say this, with regard, not to his own radiance, but to the error arising from the wooden image and the dissimilitude of that vain representation; so it is with ‘I am,’ and ‘I am Only God,’ and ‘There is none other besides Me,’ viz. that He may make men renounce falsely called gods, and that they may recognise Him the true God instead. Indeed when God said this, He said it through His own Word, unless forsooth the modern2853 Jews add this too, that He has not said this through His Word; but so hath He spoken, though they rave, these followers of the devil. For the Word of the Lord came to the Prophet, and this was what was heard; nor is there a thing which God says or does, but He says and does it in the Word. Not then with reference to Him is this said, O Christ’s enemies, but to things foreign to Him and not from2855 Him. For according to the aforesaid illustration, if the sun had spoken those words, he would have been setting right the error and have so spoken, not as having his radiance without him, but in the radiance shewing his own light. Therefore not for the denial of the Son, nor with reference to Him, are such passages, but to the overthrow of falsehood.”

In both these passages it is clear Athanasius refers these words to the Father, saying in the latter that He spoke them through His Son.

Eusebius Pamphili

“And if he should say, “See, see that I am, and there is no God beside me,” again it was the Father claiming this through the Son as through an image and mediator. For if, then, Isaiah the prophet says, “Sons I have reared and brought up,” and again, “Israel does not know me, and my people do not understand me,” and again, “I have commanded the stars, and by my hand I made firm the heavens,” and everything else of this sort, we will not say that Isaiah said these things, but that God was speaking through him and in him [the prophet]? Will it, then, not be fitting also with regard to the only-begotten Son of God [to say] that the Father needed to confirm these things through him for those who stood in need of these sorts of commandments? These men were idolaters, as the same scripture teaches, saying, “And the Lord said, ‘Where are [their] gods, in whom they trusted, of whose sacrifices you eat the fat and of whose libations you drink the wine? Let them arise and help you, and let them become your protectors.” For to these remarks was added the statement “See, see that I am, and there is no God beside me.”

Chapter 22

Well now, if pronouncing countless times through the prophet he proclaimed, “Beside me there is no God,” and, “A righteous God and a savior, there is none beside me,” and, “You shall know no other god besides me, and besides me there is no savior,” and all the other remarks akin to these that are referenced in the other prophets, God was also on that basis “in Christ reconciling the world to himself,” and it was the Father himself who was saying these things to human beings through the only-begotten Son as through an interpreter.

And indeed, the Son himself handed down in the gospels, teaching [the people] to acknowledge only one God, when he said, “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” Therefore, he himself was the true God, who alone is one and besides whom there is no other, who enjoined these things upon the Jewish nation when they had fallen into idolatry, not only through the prophets, but [also] through His own Son.”” (On Ecclesiastical Theology, Book 2, Chapters 21-22)

We may notice that there is no indication given whatsoever in any of these quotes that the fathers understood these passages to refer to a person other than the Father, and the Father alone; not to the exclusion of the Son and Spirit from the divine nature, as they explain, but rather to the exclusion of idols and false gods. Rather, they regarded these as words of the Father spoken in reference to His own person, through His Son, Who is His Word.

They do not refer these words to the Trinity conceived of as a person; but rather, these passages refute the blasphemy of “God the Trinity” altogether, since they rule out the possibility that there is any other person higher than or equal to God the Father; which certainly “God the Trinity” must be, since God the Father is but the third part of Him, according to the ravings of the semi-modalists.

 

 

Quote from Eusebius taken from: Eusebius Pamphilius, On Ecclesiastical Theology, trans. Kelly McCarthy Sproerl and Markus Vinzent (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2017).