The Father’s Eternal Authority Over the Son

I hope to demonstrate that God’s dominion over His Son is eternal- that the Son, begotten of the Father prior to creation, has always been under the dominion and authority of His Father, the one God. As scripture says “God is the head of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:3), and the Son frequently refers to the Father as His God (John 20:17, Rev. 3:12).

We may note in support of this that God created the world through His Son, and not the other way around. Within that creation account in Genesis 1 we see the Son’s subordination to the Father as His head and God, with a pattern being established throughout the chapter, saying “God [the Father] said, Let there be…”, and “And God [the Son] made…”. This is again referred to in Psalm 148:5 “He [God] commanded, and they were created”; God did not command things which did not yet exist, but commanded His Son, Who was with Him, “through Whom all things were made” (John 1:1-3). From the beginning, then, the Son of God has always been under the authority of His Father, willingly subject to Him Who begat Him.

Yet some want to overthrow this doctrine, and claim that the Son was equal in authority to the Father prior to the incarnation. They attempt to limit the Son’s subordination to the Father to the incarnation. In doing so they unwittingly attempt overthrow monotheism. That is because according to scripture, for us there is one God, the Father, Who is over all (Eph 4:6), alone “Lord God Almighty” (Rev 4:8)- the word translated “Almighty” being the Greek word “Pantokrator”, literally meaning, ‘ruler over all’. This is in agreement with the Nicene Creed, and many other ancient creeds, which define the one God as “the Father Almighty [Pantokrator]”.

Godhood, after all, according to the scriptures is dominion. As Sir Isaac Newton observes:

“This Being [God] governs all things, not as the soul of the world, but as Lord over all: And on account of his dominion he is wont to be called Lord God Pantokrator [Greek word usually translated “Almighty”], or Universal Ruler. For God is a relative word, and has a respect to servants; and Deity is the dominion of God, not over his own body, as those imagine who fancy God to be the soul of the world, but over servants. The supreme God is a Being eternal, infinite, absolutely perfect; but a being, however perfect, without dominion, cannot be said to be Lord God; for we say, my God, your God, the God of Israel, the God of Gods, and Lord of Lords; but we do not say, my Eternal, your Eternal, the Eternal of Israel, the Eternal of Gods; we do not say, my Infinite, or my Perfect: These are titles which have no respect to servants. The word God usually signifies a Lord; but every lord is not a God. It is the dominion of a spiritual being which constitutes a God; a true, supreme, or imaginary dominion makes a true, supreme, or imaginary God.” (Newton, General Scholium)

Newton’s observations well account for how scripture uses the term “God”. To be “God” therefore is to have dominion, and Godhood is dominion. Thus scripture can justly call the judges of Israel and holy angels “gods” without this in any way blaspheming the one supreme God, the Father. That the Father is the one God then does not tell us something about His nature, but rather tells us that He is the one Who alone has supreme dominion over all, absolutely. Thus on the one hand, as Paul and other scriptures said, there are many gods, and yet in another sense, the highest sense, there is only one God, the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, Who alone has dominion over all things absolutely. This dominion (or Godhood) extends not only over all creation, but also over His own only-begotten Son, as we saw above. Thus Christ could say to His disciples, looking forward to His ascension “I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.”

That the Son, although He is another individual person from the Father, the one God, is also called “God” should be no surprise at all. For the Lord said “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” (Matt 28:18). Having thus received Godhood over all creation from His Father, “in Him the fulness of deity dwells in bodily form” (Col 2:9). Nor was this deity something the Son merely received upon His exaltation to the right hand of the Father, but from the beginning, as the only-begotten Son of God begotten prior to creation and all time, the “the Word was God”. And thus the Son is called “Mighty God” (Isa 9:6), and thus the Psalmist says to the Son “Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: the sceptre of thy kingdom is a right sceptre. 7 Thou lovest righteousness, and hatest wickedness: therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows.” (Ps 45:6-7 KJV).

The Son is then God and true God, but this does not make Him the Lord God Almighty, the one God, the only true God- for these titles belong to His Father alone, as His Father alone has Godhood over all things absolutely, including over the Son Himself; while the Son has Godhood over all creation which was made through Him, given to Him by the Father, which He exercises according to the Father’s will, on His behalf (John 5:30).

For the Father then to be the one God then is equivalent to saying that he has dominion over all things. Yet, if the Son were equal to the Father, He would not have dominion over all, as the Son would not be under His dominion.

Not only that, but if there were two equal authorities, there would be no Supreme Ruler over all- there would thus be no sense in which there were one God at all. Hence an attack on the Father’s eternal authority over the Son is an attack on monotheism itself. While appearing to honor the Son, making the Son out to be equal with the Father actually serves to overthrow the Christian faith, to the dishonor of both the Father and the Son.

If then, the Son had ever been equal with the Father, there would, at that time have not been one God, as there would be no divine monarchy of the universe, no one Supreme Ruler over all. Not only that, but the Father, besides lacking His identity as the one God, would also not be truly “Lord God Almighty”, since He would not be ‘Almighty’ (Ruler over all). This is of course, as absurd as it is blasphemous, to suggest that the Father became the one God at some point in time, or that there was a time when He was not “Lord God Almighty”. God is unchanging (Mal 3:6)- that means that whatever He is, He always is, always has been, and always will be. He is then eternally the one God, eternally and unchangingly the one “Lord God Almighty”.

That means that necessarily the Son has always been subject to the Father in all things, as the scriptures teach throughout. The Father did not become the one God, and the Almighty, at the time of the Son’s incarnation- He is eternally and unchangingly the one God, the only Lord God Almighty, and His Son has always been under His Godhood and headship, since before the foundation of the world when the Father begat the Son from Himself.

Is the Holy Spirit a Person?

The personhood of the Holy Spirit is something many Christians assume. Because we are well used to the idea of the Trinity being a group of three persons, many people come to the texts of scripture with an a priori assumption that the Holy Spirit is person, and that wherever the Spirit of God is mentioned, that is understood to refer to a distinct person from the Father and the Son.

Others, on the other hand, have questioned this doctrine. Rather than approaching scripture with an assumption about the Spirit’s personhood, some have come to the scriptures viewing it as an open question, and have chosen to articulate what they understand of the scriptural data differently. Rather than seeing the Holy Spirit as a distinct person they suggest that the Holy Spirit is better understood as God’s active presence or power. They note that God is spirit, and therefore the mere etymology of “Holy Spirit” can fairly be taken as applicable to the one God, the Father. Also, the fact that the Spirit is never given distinct worship along with the Father and the Son, and that often in New Testament epistles simply a couplet of persons is mentioned (For example “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Cor 1:3 NKJV) are both pointed to supporting the idea that the Spirit is not a distinct person at all.

It must be admitted that the absence of distinct worship for the Holy Spirit and some of the other things these people point to do not seem to be what we would expect if the scriptures taught a co-equal Trinity of three persons, of which the Spirit is one.

There is, however, good scriptural reason to believe that the Holy Spirit is a person- such strong evidence, in fact, that while the point is never explicitly stated, it can be considered a necessary conclusion from what we are told in scripture. I would ask those who question the personhood of the Spirit to weigh these scriptural arguments objectively and ask themselves if there is really any room left for doubting that the Holy Spirit is a third distinct person in light of the following propositions:

Firstly, the Holy Spirit being sent by the Son indicates that the Son has authority over the Holy Spirit. This means that the Holy Spirit cannot be the Father, for if the Holy Spirit were the Father, or some aspect of His action, or some part of Him, then the Son could not have any authority over the Spirit, since “God is the head of Christ” (1 Cor 11:3). But if the Spirit were the Father, that statement would be untrue. Since the Father is the head of Christ, and is His God (Rev 3:12), Christ is under the authority and Godhood of the Father, not the other way around. If even part or some aspect of God were under the authority of the Son, statements such as that ‘God is the head of Christ’ would be untrue because in fact only part of God would be the head of Christ, while part would be under His headship, which is obviously absurd.

For the Spirit then to be under the authority of Christ would require that the Spirit is a distinct individual from the Father; and for the Spirit to be sent by the Son, is to show the Spirit to be under the authority of the Son, just as the Son being sent by the Father shows His own subordination to the Father. That the Spirit is sent by the Son (and thus under the headship of the Son) is seen clearly in two passages of scripture:

“But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me.” (John 15:26 NKJV)

“Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you.” (John 16:7) NKJV)

Thus the Spirit must be understood as a distinct person from the Father, since He is under the authority of the Son, while the Father is not, but is rather the God of His Son.

Secondly, along similar lines, the Spirit is also sent by the Father. “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.” (John 14:26 NKJV). This language shows that the Spirit is not merely the presence or activity of the Father, or a part of Him, since one does not “send” themself. That the Spirit is sent by God, and by His Son, shows that the Spirit is a distinct individual from the Father and the Son, Who is under the authority of both.

Thirdly, the Holy Spirit is said to intercede for believers:

“Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. 27 Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God” (Romans 8:26-27 NKJV)

Here we must consider what ‘interceding’ is. In the Greek, the term actually indicates praying for another. To intercede for someone is to make requests for them to another. Being an intercessor involves taking on an intermediary role between two parties, which requires being distinct from those two parties- one by definition cannot intercede for themself. The Spirit’s intercessions are between us and God, as the Spirit assists us in praying to God. This then shows that the Spirit is not merely an aspect or part of God, or God’s active presence, but is a really distinct individual from the one God, the Father.

All in all, these arguments require us to understand the Spirit as being a person. A person by definition is a rational individual. That the Spirit is under the authority of both God and His Son demonstrates that the Spirit is a distinct individual, as does His intercession on our behalf. That the Spirit is rational is clear from His knowing, speaking, and interceding throughout scripture. It is then an important and scripturally inescapable conclusion that the Holy Spirit is a person, distinct from both the persons of God and His Son.

The Meaning of the Term ‘God’

That the Father is the one God is important to know, for scripture reveals it; but it is important to know not only that these words are true, but what those words mean according to the scriptures. How, after all, can the Father be the “one God” (1 Cor. 8:6), while the Son is also called God (Jn 1:1)?

To answer this question it is important to understand what the term “God” even means in itself. It is a term used very frequently throughout the scriptures, not only for the Supreme God, the Father, the “Lord God Pantokrator” (Rev 4:8), but also for beings as low as men and angels. As Jesus noted in John 10:35 “He [God] called them gods, to whom the word of God came”, speaking of a psalm where the men of Israel were called “gods”. In Psalm 82:1 “God stands in the congregation of the mighty; He judges among the gods”, calling created angels gods. Paul is well aware of this when he writes “For even if there are many called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as there are many gods and many lords), 6 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.”

Scripture then presents the word “God” as something which may be ascribed to many persons. What’s more, scripture treats the word “God” as a relative word, denoting relation rather than some absolute quality. Thus all throughout scripture we have statements where phrases like “my God”, “your God”, and “our God” are used. Sir Isaac Newton comments well on this point:

“This Being [God] governs all things, not as the soul of the world, but as Lord over all: And on account of his dominion he is wont to be called Lord God Pantokrator [Greek word usually translated “Almighty”], or Universal Ruler. For God is a relative word, and has a respect to servants; and Deity is the dominion of God, not over his own body, as those imagine who fancy God to be the soul of the world, but over servants. The supreme God is a Being eternal, infinite, absolutely perfect; but a being, however perfect, without dominion, cannot be said to be Lord God; for we say, my God, your God, the God of Israel, the God of Gods, and Lord of Lords; but we do not say, my Eternal, your Eternal, the Eternal of Israel, the Eternal of Gods; we do not say, my Infinite, or my Perfect: These are titles which have no respect to servants. The word God usually signifies a Lord; but every lord is not a God. It is the dominion of a spiritual being which constitutes a God; a true, supreme, or imaginary dominion makes a true, supreme, or imaginary God.” (Newton, General Scholium)

Newton’s observations well account for how scripture uses the term “God”. To be “God” therefore is to have dominion, and Godhood is dominion. Thus scripture can justly call the judges of Israel and holy angels “gods” without this in any way blaspheming the one supreme God, the Father. That the Father is the one God then does not tell us something about His nature, but rather tells us that He is the one Who alone has supreme dominion over all, absolutely. Thus on the one hand, as Paul and other scriptures said, there are many gods, and yet in another sense, the highest sense, there is only one God, the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, Who alone has dominion over all things absolutely. This dominion (or Godhood) extends not only over all creation, but also over His own only-begotten Son, as we saw above. Thus Christ could say to His disciples, looking forward to His ascension “I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.”

That the Son, although He is another individual person from the Father, the one God, is also called “God” should be no surprise at all. For the Lord said “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” (Matt 28:18). Having thus received Godhood over all creation from His Father, “in Him the fulness of deity dwells in bodily form” (Col 2:9). Nor was this deity something the Son merely received upon His exaltation to the right hand of the Father, but from the beginning, as the only-begotten Son of God begotten prior to creation and all time, the “the Word was God”. And thus the Son is called “Mighty God” (Isa 9:6), and thus the Psalmist says to the Son “Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: the sceptre of thy kingdom is a right sceptre. 7 Thou lovest righteousness, and hatest wickedness: therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows.” (Ps 45:6-7 KJV).

The Son is then God and true God, but this does not make Him the Lord God Almighty, the one God, the only true God- for these titles belong to His Father alone, as His Father alone has Godhood over all things absolutely, including over the Son Himself; while the Son has Godhood over all creation which was made through Him, given to Him by the Father, which He exercises according to the Father’s will, on His behalf (John 5:30).

Godhood then is dominion, not a nature, and to be “God” is to have this dominion. For Christians then there is one God, the Father, the one Supreme Ruler over all, and His Son is also God, because the Father has given Him a share in that dominion over all creation, while the Son Himself is still subject to the Father as His God.

Scripture then uses the term “God” as a term for an individual possessing dominion, without respect to the metaphysical nature or essence of that person. And in the case of the Father, Who is alone the Supreme God over all, “God” is frequently used as a name denoting His office. Just as King Richard, a monarch, may simply be referred to by His subjects as “the King”, and may simply be addressed as “King” as a name, yet “King” is used that way because of Richard’s office, not because “King” has become his proper name. Similarly in the case of the one God, the Father, Who is the Monarch of the universe, He is frequently called simply “God” as a name, and referred to by scripture without further qualification as “the God”, not because “God” is the proper name of the Father, but because it denotes His role as the one Who possesses supreme dominion (Godhood) over all.

Thus in scripture when the term “God” is used as a name for an individual without qualification, it nearly always refers to the Father, “the Lord God Pantokrator”, the Supreme God. We see this usage throughout the scriptures, for instance in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” In that verse it is clear that the person denoted by “God” is the Father, although there is no term in addition to God denoting that. That is because the default usage of the term “God” as a name, biblically, is in reference to the one God, the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ.

And thus also God can reveal His proper name and speak of His name being the unutterable tetragrammaton, for “God” is not His proper name, but a title denoting His Supreme Godhood over all (Jer 32:18).

This understanding is an important basis for any discussion of theology or the Trinity. Without knowing what we mean by the term “God” and what it means for there to be “one God”, and without knowing what “Godhood” is, we cannot hope to accurately evaluate theological statements concerning the Trinity.

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.

Samuel Clarke on Why Classical Trinitarianism is Not Tritheism

(From Clarke’s answer is recorded in the the fourth edition of Samuel Clarke’s Scripture Doctrine of the Trinity and Related Writings.)

Objection. “Three Divine Beings––must needs be conceived as Three Gods, notwithstanding any Subordination of the Second and Third Being to the First; or else we must free the Pagan World from the Absurdity of Polytheism, and the Guilt of Idolatry; these being generally, if not always, founded upon a Subordination of many Deities to the One Supreme.”

Answer. The Difference between Christianity and Paganism, is This. The Pagans acknowledged many FALSE (fictitious) Gods, and many FALSE (fictitious) Lords: On the contrary, Christians acknowledge the One TRUE God, and only One TRUE Lord or Mediator. There are (saith St. Paul) that are called, (that is, there were feigned by the Heathens,) Gods many, and Lords many; But to Us [Christians,] there is but One God, [viz.] the Father, Of whom are all things; and One Lord, [viz.] Jesus Christ, By whom are all things. Now to say, that besides the One True God, there cannot be also One True Lord or Mediator; is an Argument, not against my Scheme in particular; but ’tis the Argument which Deists use, (with what Reason, I have elsewhere shown,) against Christianity in general. Or to say, that there is also indeed One True Lord or Mediator, but that That One True Lord is the same Individual with the One True God; What is This, but to affirm in other Words, that the One Lord Jesus Christ, BY whom are all things, is the One God, the Father, OF whom are all things? Which is overturning the Apostle’s whole Argument, and introducing an absolute Confusion of Persons. Our One God, says the Apostle, is the Father: If then the One Lord, Jesus Christ, be That One God, whom the Apostle defines to be the Father, of whom are all Things; is not this expressly affirming that the Son is the Father? Than which, nothing can be more hard to understand, or to reconcile with the whole Doctrine of Scripture.

But why must Three Divine Beings, of Necessity be conceived as Three Gods? One God, the Almighty Father; and One Lord, the Only-begotten Son of That Almighty Father; and One Holy Spirit of God, the Spirit of That Almighty Father; are in our Creed represented to us as Three distinct Agents: And yet they are no more Three Gods, than they are Three Almighty Fathers, which is (according to the Creed) the Definition of God. One God, to whom Mediation is made; and One Mediator, making intercession for us to That One God, (which is St. Paul’s manner of speaking;) are no more Two Gods; than an Advocate with the Father, and the Father with whom that Advocate is, (which is St. John’s manner of expressing the same thing,) are Two Fathers. One Spirit, One Lord, One God and Father of all, who is above all; are by the Apostle represented to us, as Three distinct Agents: And yet they can no more truly be said to be Three Gods, than Each of them singly, (or than All of them together,) can be truly said to be The God and Father of All, who is Above All; Which is the Apostles Definition of the One Supreme God. Three perfectly co-ordinate, and equally Supreme Persons or Agents, (whatever Distinctness, or whatever Unity of Nature be supposed between them,) must of Necessity be conceived to be Three Gods, that is, Three Supreme Independent Governors of the Universe; because the proper Notion of God in Scripture, and in natural Reason also, as to all moral and religious Regards, is his being absolutely (greek word), Supreme Ruler over All, and (greek word), (Eph. iv. 6.) the Father or Author of all things: But, This Character being preserved entire, no other Power whatsoever ascribed or communicated to other Agents or Persons, can justly cause us to conceive more Gods than One. How and in what Sense the Son, though he be not That One God and Father of All, who is above All, may yet truly and properly be stiled God; has been largely explained in the foregoing Papers.

But now on the other side, if the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be conceived to be All but One Individual Being; it follows of Necessity that the Son and Holy Spirit have no Being at all; Which is an insuperable Difficulty in This learned Author’s (the author of the work wherein the objection was made against Clarke) Scheme. For if each of these Characters belong to One and the same Individual Being; and the Father Alone be (as is acknowledged) That Whole Being; it follows evidently that the Son and Holy Spirit, either are Themselves The Father, (which he is not willing to allow;) or else have no real Being, no Existence at all, but can only be Modes, Powers, Characters, or different Denominations of That One Supreme, that One Simple and Uncompounded Being, which is the Father of All. The plain Consequence of which is, that our Mediator and Redeemer is only a Mere Man, in whom God the Father manifested himself after an extraordinary manner and that the Holy Spirit is nothing but a mere Virtue or Operation of the Father. Which Notion, how much soever it may be defended, as an Hypothesis, by bare Reason, (as may be seen in the Socinian Writers;) yet I can by no means see how it is to be reconciled with what is taught in Scripture. Besides: Since this Learned Writer always supposes his own Scheme, to be the same and That which from the Time of the Forth Century has been stiled Orthodox; it deserves to be remarked on the contrary, that by his plainly making the Son to be, not (greek word), but (greek word) with the Father, that is, One and the same Individual Being; his Affection in reality appears to be the same with that, which from before the Days of Photinus to the Times of the Schoolmen, has by the Council of Nice, and all following Councils been condemned as Heterodox.

 

 

Homoian Creeds

In the midst of the raging Arian controversy, much was made of the Greek word ‘ousia’; the pro-Nicene Homoousian bishops, such as Athanasius arguing that the Son must be confessed as ‘homoousias’ (of the same essence) with the Father, and the conservative majority of bishops favoring instead the term ‘homoiousias’ (like in essence) to describe the relationship of the Son to the Father.

Both terms can be understood identically to mean that the Son’s essence is identical to and equal with that of the Father; the point of such emphasis was to declare the true divinity of the Son over and against Arians, who argued that the Son was merely a creature. Both the Homoousian and Homoiousian bishops held the opposite term in suspicion; those who favored ‘homoiousias’ rejecting ‘homoousias’ as a modalistic term which implied that the Son was the same person as the Father, as Sabellius had used it, while the Homoousians rejected ‘homoiousias’ as too vague of a term that would ultimately allow moderate Arians to agree with the church’s confession. Thus the church of the fourth century was strongly divided over these modes of expression.

Into the mix came a more moderate proposition which quickly gained widespread acceptance; that the highly controversial philosophical terminology of ‘ousia’ ought to be abandoned altogether, in favor of using scriptural expressions to describe the relationship of the Son to the Father. Instead of using philosophical terms that were not understood the same way by all parties, and were difficult for the average Christian to understand, these bishops urged that instead the Son ought to simply be described as being “like” the Father, as scripture says. These bishops readily confessed that the Son was of the same divine nature as the Father, thus granting what the Homoousians ostensibly wanted to signify by the term, as well as what the orthodox Homoiousians intended to signify by the term.

These bishops were labeled “Homoians” by their opponents; from the Greek word “homoi”, meaning “like”. They argued that the best course was to describe the Trinity in the same terminology as scripture did, and that it was prudent to eschew the language of “ousia” altogether, instead describing the Son’s co-divinity with the Father in other language, as the scriptures and the pre-Nicene church fathers had successfully done.

The Homoian description of the Son as “like” the Father is shown completely accurate upon examination; the person of the Son is not entirely identical to the person of the Father, as the Son is distinguished by His personal properties from the Father; namely, the Son is begotten of the Father, whereas the Father is entirely unbegotten and uncaused. The Son, however, is the “image of the invisible God” and “like” the Father because as the only-begotten Son of God He eternally has the same divine nature as the Father. By confessing that the Son is “like the Father is all things” with the exception of the Father’s personal properties, they confessed that the Son had the same divine nature as the Father, since likeness in “all things” must necessarily include divinity.

After the eventual political success of the Homoousian party, the Homoians and the councils in which they expressed their beliefs were slandered as being Arian, down to our own time. This label is completely inaccurate; the Creeds composed by the “Homoians” expressly reject Arianism, as is proven from their own statements below. They simply express classical orthodox trinitarianism without using the word ‘homoousias’, as scripture also does.

The first Creed to examine is the Macrostich (or long-lined) Creed composed by the Council of Antioch in 345. The authors of the Creed took great pains to ensure that they excluded Arianism entirely, as can be seen from their own words, in which, just as the Nicene Creed did, they reject the tenets of Arianism that the Son was a creature and that He was not eternal with the Father. Likewise, they express their belief in the co-divinity of the Son with the Father:

“We believe in one God the Father Almighty, the Creator and Maker of all things, from whom all fatherhood in heaven and on earth is named.

And in His Only-begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ, who before all ages was begotten from the Father, God from God, Light from Light, by whom all things were made, in heaven and one the earth, visible and invisible, being Word and Wisdom and Power and Life and True Light, who in the last days was made man for us, and was born of the Holy Virgin, crucified and died and was buried, and rose again from the dead on the third day, and was taken up into heaven, and sat down on the right hand of the Father, and is coming at the consummation of the age to judge the living and the dead, and to render to everyone according to his works; whose kingdom endured unceasingly unto all the ages; for He sits on the right hand of the Father, not only in this age, but also in that which is to come.

And we believe in the Holy Ghost, that is, the Paraclete, which, having promised to the apostles, He sent forth after the ascension into heaven, to teach them and to remind of all things; through whom also shall be sanctified the souls of those who sincerely believe in Him.

But those who say that the Son was from nothing, or from other subsistence and not from God; and that there was a time or age when He was not, the catholic and holy church regards as aliens. Likewise those who say that there are three Gods, or that Christ is not God, or that before the ages He was neither Christ nor Son of God, or that Father and Son or Holy Ghost are the same, or that the Son is ingenerate, or that the Father begat the Son not by choice or will: the holy and catholic church anathematizes.

1. For neither is it safe to say that the Son is from nothing, (since this is no where spoken of Him in divinely inspired Scripture,) nor again of any other subsistence before existing beside the Father, but from God alone do we define Him genuinely to be generated. For the divine Word teaches that the Ingenerate and Unbegone, the Father of Christ, is One.

2. Nor may we, adopting the hazardous position, ‘There was once when He was not,’ from unscriptural sources, imagine any interval of time before Him, but only the God who has generated Him apart from time; for through Him both times and ages came to be. Yet we must not consider the Son to be co-unbegun and co-ingenerate with the Father; for no one can be properly called Father or Son of one who is co-unbegun and co-ingenerate with Him. But we acknowledge that the Father who alone is unbegun and ingenerate, has generated inconceivably and incomprehensibly to all; and that the Son has been generated before ages, and in no wise to be ingenerate Himself like the Father, but to have the Father who generated Him as His beginning; for ‘the head of Christ is God’ (1 Corinthians 11:3).

3. Nor again, in confessing three realities and three persons, of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost according to the Scriptures, do we therefore make Gods three; since we acknowledge the self-complete and ingenerate and unbegun and invisible God to be one only, the God and Father (John 20:17) of the Only-begotten, who alone has being from Himself, and alone vouchsafes this to all others bountifully.

4. Nor again, in saying that the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is one only God, the only ingenerate, do we therefore deny that Christ also is God before ages; as the disciples of Paul of Samosata, who say that after the incarnation He was by advance made God, from being made by nature a mere man. For we acknowledge, that though He be subordinate to His Father and God, yet, being before ages begotten of God, He is God perfect according to nature and true, and not first man and then God, but first God and then becoming man for us, and never having been deprived of being.

5. We abhor besides, and anathematize those who make a pretence of saying that He is but the mere word of God and unexisting, having His being in another – now as if pronounced, as some speak, now as mental – holding that He was not Christ or Son of God or mediator or image of God before ages; but that He first became Christ and Son of God, when He took our flesh from the virgin, not quite four hundred years ago. For they will have it that then Christ began His kingdom, and that it will have an end after the consummation of all and the judgment. Such are the disciples of Marcellus and Scotinus of Galatian Ancyra, who, equally with Jews, rejected Christ’s existence before ages, and His Godhead, and unending kingdom, upon pretence of supporting the divine monarchy. We, on the contrary, regard Him not as simply God’s pronounced word or self, and Son of God and Christ, being and abiding with His Father before ages, and that not in foreknowledge only, and ministering to Him for the whole framing whether of things visible or invisible. For it is He to whom the Father said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness’ (Genesis 1:26), who also was seen in His own person by the patriarchs, gave the law, was spoken by the prophets, and at last became man and manifested His own Father to all men, and reigns to never-ending ages. For Christ has taken no recent dignity, but we have believed Him to be perfect from the first and like in all things to the Father.

6. And those who say that the Father and Son and Holy Ghost are the same, and irreligiously take the three names of one and the same reality and person, we justly proscribe from the Church, because they suppose the illimitable and impassible Father to be also limitable and passable through His becoming man. For such are they whom Romans call Patripassians, and we Sabellians. For we acknowledge that the unchangeable Godhead and that Christ who was sent fulfilled the economy of the Incarnation.

7. And at the same time those who irreverently say that the Son has been generated not by choice or will, thus encompassing God with a necessity which excludes choice and purpose, so that He begat the Son unwillingly, we account as most irreligious and alien to the Church; in that they have dared to define such things concerning God, beside the common notions concerning Him, so, beside the intention of divinely inspired Scripture. For we, knowing that God is absolute and sovereign over Himself, have a religious judgment that He generated the Son voluntarily and freely. Yet, as we have a reverent belief in the Son’s words concerning Himself (Proverbs 8:22), ‘The Lord created me a beginning of His ways for His works,’ we do not understand Him to have been originated like the creatures or works which through Him came to be. For it is irreligious and alien to the ecclesiastical faith, to compare the Creator with handiworks created by Him, and to think that He has the same manner of origination with the rest. For divine Scripture teaches us assuredly and truly that the Only-begotten Son was generated sole and solely. Yet, in saying that the Son is in Himself, and both lives and exists like the Father, we do not on that account separate Him from the Father, imagining place and interval between their union in the way of bodies. For we believe that they are united with each other without mediation or distance, and that they exist inseparably. All the Father encompassing the Son, and all the Son hanging and adhering to the Father, and alone resting on the Father’s breast continually. 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.

Thus much, in addition to the faith before published in epitome, we have been compelled to draw forth at length, not in any officious display, but to clear away all unjust suspicion concerning our opinions among those who are ignorant of our affairs; and that all in the West may know, both the audacity of the slanders of the heterodox, and as to the Orientals, their ecclesiastical mind in the Lord, to which the divinely inspired Scriptures bear witness without violence, where men are not perverse.”

Notice that Christ is described as “God of God” and as sharing “one dignity of Godhead” with the Father. That there is any difference between the Father and Son in time is explicitly denied, as is the notion that the Son is a creature. Arianism, Modalism, and tritheism are all rejected explicitly by this so-called “Arian” council. It should be obvious therefore to anyone with a knowledge of actual Arianism that this council cannot possibly be considered Arian. Rather, in the Macrostich we find one of the best statements of classical trinitarianism produced in the fourth century.

The Macrostich, however, was by no means the only Council of the fourth century to express its belief in classical trinitarianism in a “Homoian” manner; the Council of Thrace in 359 authored the following statement:

“We believe in one only true God, Father Almighty, of whom are all things. And in the only-begotten Son of God, who before all ages and before every beginning was begotten of God, through whom all things were made, both visible and invisible; alone begotten, only-begotten of the Father alone, God of God; like the Father that begat Him, according to the Scriptures, whose generation no one knows except only the Father that begat Him. This only-begotten Son of God, sent by His Father, we know to have come down from heaven, as it is written, for the destruction of sin and death; begotten of the Holy Ghost and the virgin Mary, as it is written, according to the flesh. Who companied with His disciples, and when the dispensation was fulfilled, according to the Father’s will, was crucified, died and was buried, and descended to the world below, at whom Hell himself trembled. On the third day He rose from the dead and companied with His disciples forty days. He was taken up into Heaven, and sits on the right hand of His Father, and is coming at the last day of the Resurrection, in His Father’s glory, to render to everyone according to his works. And we believe in the Holy Ghost, which the only-begotten Son of God, Jesus Christ, both God and Lord, promised to send to man, the Comforter, as it is written, the Spirit of Truth. This Spirit He Himself sent after He had ascended into Heaven and sat at the right hand of the Father, from there to come to judge both the living and the dead.

But the word ‘substance,’ which was too simply inserted by the Fathers, and, not being understood by the people, was a cause of scandal through its not being found in the Scriptures, it has seemed good to us to remove, and that for the future no mention whatever be permitted of the ‘substance’ of the Father and the Son. Nor must one ‘essence’ be named in relation to the person of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. And we call the Son like the Father, as the Holy Scriptures call Him and teach; but all the heresies, both those already condemned, and any, if such there be, which have risen against the document thus put forth, let them be anathema.”

We see here the anathemas of earlier councils upheld, and thus, Arianism is excluded.

The Council of Selucia in the same year wrote:

“We decline not to bring forward the authentic faith published at the Dedication at Antioch; though certainly our fathers at the time met together for a particular subject under investigation. But since ‘coessential’ and ‘like-in-essence,’ have troubled many persons in times past and up to this day, and since moreover some are said recently to have devised the Son’s ‘unlikeness’ to the Father, on their account we reject ‘coessential’ and ‘like-in-essence,’ as alien to the Scriptures, but ‘unlike’ we anathematize, and account all who profess it as aliens from the Church. And we distinctly confess the ‘likeness’ of the Son to the Father, according to the Apostle, who says of the Son, ‘Who is the image of the invisible God’ (Colossians 1:15)

And we confess and believe in one God, the Father Almighty, the Maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible.

And we believe also in our Lord Jesus Christ, His Son, generated from Him impassibly before all the ages, God the Word, God from God, Only-begotten, Light, Life, Truth, Wisdom, Power, through whom all things were made, in the heavens and on the earth, whether visible or invisible. He, as we believe, at the end of the world, for the abolishment of sin, took flesh of the holy virgin, and was made man, and suffered for our sins, and rose again, and was taken up into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father, and is coming again in glory to judge the living and the dead.

We believe also in the Holy Ghost, which our Savior and Lord named Paraclete, having promised to send Him to the disciples after His own departure, as He did send; through whom He sanctifies those in the Church who believe, and are baptized in the name of Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

But those who preach anything beside this faith the catholic Church regards as aliens. And that to this faith that is equivalent which was published lately at Sirmium, under sanction of his religiousness the Emperor, is plain to all who read it.”

That Creed of the Council of Sirmium in 359 reads as follows:

“The catholic faith was published in the presence of our master, the most religious and gloriously victorious Emperor, Constantius, Augustus, the eternal and august, in the consulate of the most illustrious Flavii, Eusebius and Hypatius, in Sirmium on the eleventh of the Calends of June

We believe in One only and true God, the Father Almighty, creator and framer of all things.

And in one only-begotten Son of God, who, before all ages, and before all origin, and before all conceivable time, and before all comprehensible essence, was begotten impassibly from God; through whom the ages were disposed and all things were made; and Him begotten as the only-begotten, only from the only Father, God from God. Like to the Father who begat Him, according to the Scriptures; whose origin no one knows save the Father alone who begat Him. We know that He, the only-begotten Son of God, at the Father’s bidding came from the heavens for the abolishment of sin, and was born of the virgin Mary, and conversed with the disciples, and fulfilled the Economy according to the Father’s will, and was crucified, and died and descended into the parts beneath the earth, and regulated the things there, whom the gate-keepers of hell saw (Job 38:17) and shuddered; and He rose from the dead the third day, and conversed with the disciples, and fulfilled all the Economy, and when the forty days were full, ascended into the heavens, and sits on the right hand of the Father, and is coming in the last day of the resurrection in the glory of the Father, to render to everyone according to his works.

And in the Holy Ghost, whom the only-begotten of God Himself, Jesus Christ, had promised to send to the race of men, the Paraclete, as it is written, ‘I go to my Father, and I will ask the Father, and He shall send unto you another Paraclete, even the Spirit of truth He shall take of mine and shall teach and bring to your remembrance all things’ (John 14:16, 17, 26, 16:14)

But whereas the term ‘essence,’ has been adopted by the Fathers in simplicity, and gives offence as being misconceived by the people, and is not contained in the Scriptures, it has seemed good to remove it, that it be never in any case used of God again, because the divine Scriptures nowhere use it of Father and Son. But we say that the Son is like the Father in all things, as also the Holy Scriptures say and teach.”

The authors of this Creed too are slandered as Arians by their opponents; yet they explicitly reject Arianism, and no Arian could agree with the words quoted above. The eternality of the Son, and His divinity, are clearly stated; and if it is Arianism only to not use the word “homoousias” then the Apostles must also have been Arians, seeing as they expressed their belief in the Trinity without the word. But in truth, as can be seen from these statements of faith, the word ‘homoousias’ is not necessary for an accurate expression of what scripture teaches, and classical trinitarianism does not suffer without it. Semi-modalists, however, cannot do without it, for without the word to twist their entire false scheme of doctrine is taken away, and they are left only with three persons of the Trinity, the ousia no longer being given them to make into a fourth person.

In the year 360 we have a Creed from the Council of Constantinople:

“We believe in one God, Father Almighty, from whom are all things.

And in the only-begotten Son of God, begotten from God before all ages and before every beginning, by whom all things were made, visible and invisible, and begotten as only-begotten, only from the Father only, God from God, like to the Father that begat Him according to the Scriptures; whose origin no one knows, except the Father alone who begat Him. He as we acknowledge the only-begotten Son of God, the Father having sent Him, came here from the heavens, as it is written, for the undoing of sin and death, and was born of the Holy Ghost, of Mary the virgin according to the flesh, as it is written, and conversed with the disciples, and having fulfilled the whole Economy according to the Father’s will, was crucified and died and was buried and ascended to the parts below the earth, at whom hades itself shuddered; who also rose from the dead on the third day, and abode with the disciples, and forty days being fulfilled, was taken up into the heavens, and sits on the right hand of the Father to come in the last day of the resurrection in the Father’s glory, that He may render to every man according to his works.

And in the Holy Ghost, whom the only-begotten Son of God Himself, Christ, our Lord and God, promised to send to the race of man, as Paraclete, as it is written, ‘the Spirit of truth’ (John 16:13), which He sent to the them when He had ascended into the heavens.

But the name of ‘essence,’ which was set down by the Fathers in simplicity, and, being unknown by the people, caused offense, because the Scriptures do not contain it, it has seemed good to abolish, and for the future to make no mention of it at all; since the divine scriptures have made no mention of the essence of Father and Son. For neither ought ‘subsistence’ to be named concerning Father, Son and Holy Ghost. But we say that the Son is like the Father, as the divine Scriptures say and teach; and all the heresies, both those which have been already condemned, and whatever are of modern date, being contrary to this published statement, be they anathema.”

If then, all the previously condemned heresies are equally condemned by this council, what will those say who wish to portray every council other than those of Nicea and Constantinople in 381 as Arian? How can Arianism, which is condemned in so many of these councils, be excluded from such a statement which says that all previously condemned heresies are likewise condemned by this council? The subterfuge then that this statement is Arian will not hold; rather we must ask, what motivates one to try to label it so? What do they fear in such councils which condemn Arianism, that they must be pretended to be Arian, so as to stigmatize them and hide their teaching from the eyes of the church?

It is a clever tactic of the semi-modalists to turn away the eyes of the church from such statements of classical trinitarianism, lest the church recognize that the absurd philosophizing of the scholastics is neither biblical nor necessary, and that the doctrine of the Trinity can be stated biblically without them. Such statements are neither paradoxical, nor excessively complicated and impossible for the average Christian to understand, but describe the faith we know from scripture in the language of scripture.

But while these statements, the products of several assembles of very many bishops from all over the world, are hidden away from the church under the label of “Arian” (although they all condemn the Arian heresy), these semi-modalists insist rather that we should accept the so-called “Athanasian Creed”, a statement as ambiguous in its meaning as it is in its authorship, both of which are unknown. Yet this private composition, written in the middle ages and paraded around under the name of a man who never read it, is insisted on as a doctrinal standard of trinitarianism, while these many statements which have the actual authority of many bishops and churches behind them, whose authors are known, are rejected without cause.

The church will be benefitted greatly by learning from these simple confessions, and from recognizing that the true faith can just as easily exist without needing to talk of the “essence” and “substance” of the persons of the Trinity. So long as the orthodox meaning of such expressions as “homoousias” is accepted, and it is understood and believed that God’s Son and Holy Spirit share the same divine nature as He, what difference does it make what combination of words is used to express these truths? For it is not the words themselves which matter, but the thing indicated by them.

Source for Creeds: http://www.fourthcentury.com/conciliar-creeds-of-the-fourth-century/

 

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)