The Son as the ‘Angel of the Lord’

Socinians argue that the Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, is only a man, and that He did not personally substantially existed prior to the birth of the man Jesus Christ. 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 and divinity of the Son in the Gospel of John.

Such a view of Christ is 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)

Examining Apostolic Trinitarianism in Clement of Rome’s Prayer

Clement of Rome’s epistle to the Corinthian church on behalf of the church at Rome is one of the finest pieces of early Christian literature coming down to us outside the canon of the scriptures. Its historical value is immense, as it independently attests to several important Christian doctrines taught in the New Testament. But equally importantly, the whole work rings with the simplicity, godliness, and faithfulness of the early church. Clement’s words, unlike so many works we have from the first few centuries, are not polemical, but edifying; not strictly intellectual, but fundamentally spiritual; not argumentation, but exhortation as a brother. Were that this book were required reading for every student of theology, and every Christian wishing for something edifying to read in addition to the holy scriptures.

Towards the end of this wonderful letter we have a prayer of Clement recorded. This prayer (as all prayers do) provides us with great insight into how Clement thought of God. What did a man who learned from the apostles Peter and Paul think about God? To whom did he direct his prayer? The Father? The Trinity? What can this prayer tell us about the theology of the apostolic church, and in particular, of this student of the apostles?

The prayer (from chapters 54-56 of 1 Clement):

“If, however, any shall disobey the words spoken by Him through us, let them know that they will involve themselves in transgression and serious danger; but we shall be innocent of this sin, and, instant in prayer and supplication, shall desire that the Creator of all preserve unbroken the computed number of His elect in the whole world through His beloved Son Jesus Christ, through whom He called us from darkness to light, from ignorance to knowledge of the glory of His name, [prayer begins] our hope resting on Thy name which is first cause of every creature,—having opened the eyes of our heart to the knowledge of Thee, who alone “dost rest highest among the highest, holy among the holy,”4315 who “layest low the insolence of the haughty,”4316 who “destroyest the calculations of the heathen,”4317 who “settest the low on high and bringest low the exalted;”4318 who “makest rich and makest poor,”4319 who “killest and makest to live,”4320 only Benefactor of spirits and God of all flesh,4321 who beholdest the depths, the eye-witness of human works, the help of those in danger, the Saviour of those in despair, the Creator and Guardian of every spirit, who multipliest nations upon earth, and from all madest choice of those who love Thee through Jesus Christ, Thy beloved Son, through whom Thou didst instruct, sanctify, honour us. We would have Thee, Lord, to prove our help and succour. Those of us in affliction save, on the lowly take pity; the fallen raise; upon those in need arise; the sick4322 heal; the wandering ones of Thy people turn; fill the hungry; redeem those of us in bonds; raise up those that are weak; comfort the faint-hearted; let all the nations know that Thou art God alone, and Jesus Christ Thy Son, and we are Thy people and the sheep of Thy pasture. Thou didst make to appear the enduring fabric of the world by the works of Thy hand; Thou, Lord, didst create the earth on which we dwell,—Thou, who art faithful in all generations, just in judgments, wonderful in strength and majesty, with wisdom creating and with understanding fixing the things which were made, who art good among them that are being saved4323 and faithful among them whose trust is in Thee; O merciful and Compassionate One, forgive us our iniquities and offences and transgressions and trespasses. Reckon not every sin of Thy servants and handmaids, but Thou wilt purify us with the purification of Thy truth; and direct our steps that we may walk in holiness of heart and do what is good and well-pleasing in Thy sight and in the sight of our rulers. Yea, Lord, make Thy face to shine upon us for good in peace, that we may be shielded by Thy mighty hand and delivered from every sin by Thine uplifted arm, and deliver us from those who hate us wrongfully. Give concord and peace to us and all who dwell upon the earth, even as Thou gavest to our fathers, when they called upon Thee in faith and truth, submissive as we are to Thine almighty and all-excellent Name. To our rulers and governors on the earth—to them Thou, Lord, gavest the power of the kingdom by Thy glorious and ineffable might, to the end that we may know the glory and honour given to them by Thee and be subject to them, in nought resisting Thy will; to them, Lord, give health, peace, concord, stability, that they may exercise the authority given to them without offence. For Thou, O heavenly Lord and King eternal, givest to the sons of men glory and honour and power over the things that are on the earth; do Thou, Lord, direct their counsel according to that which is good and well-pleasing in Thy sight, that, devoutly in peace and meekness exercising the power given them by Thee, they may find Thee propitious. O Thou, who only hast power to do these things and more abundant good with us, we praise Thee through the High Priest and Guardian of our souls Jesus Christ, through whom be glory and majesty to Thee both now and from generation to generation and for evermore. Amen.”

There is so much that we could say about this prayer. It is full of references to the scriptures, such that at times it more resembles a string of quotes than a spontaneous prayer. This shows just how saturated in the scriptures’ teachings the early Christians were, and how much of an impression especially scripture’s descriptions of God made upon their minds. Here we see the prayer of a man whose love for God is so great that he appears to have practically memorized the many descriptions God provides of Himself throughout the Bible.

Clement’s prayer opens with a praise-filled description of Who God is. God’s identity as Creator, and as the one Who is sovereign over all things, is noted, as well as His attributes of holiness, omniscience, and goodness. We then see the first explicit indication that this prayer is directed to the person of the Father: “who multipliest nations upon earth, and from all madest choice of those who love Thee through Jesus Christ, Thy beloved Son, through whom Thou didst instruct, sanctify, honour us“. We thus see that this prayer is directed to the Father; a significant thing to note in itself, certainly, as this is the normal biblical and patristic pattern of prayer; but it is also noteworthy because we can now understand that in Clement’s thinking, all these passages of scripture he quotes and references about God’s glory, attributes, and actions are taken by Him to be speaking of the Father in particular.

A little later we read “let all the nations know that Thou art God alone, and Jesus Christ Thy Son, and we are Thy people and the sheep of Thy pasture.” This again makes it clear that Clement’s prayer is directed to the Father. What is also noteworthy here is that Clement uses exclusive language for the Father, not simply saying “Thou art God”, but “Thou art God alone”. This reflects the way the scriptures speak, calling the Father in particular the “one God”, and “the only true God” -while at the same time, and often in the same sentence, making mention separately of the person of the Son. This line is very similar to the prayer of Christ to the Father recorded in John 17:3, “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” (NAS).

At last we see one more reference to the Son at the end of the prayer: “O Thou, who only hast power to do these things and more abundant good with us, we praise Thee through the High Priest and Guardian of our souls Jesus Christ, through whom be glory and majesty to Thee both now and from generation to generation and for evermore”. In this last quote we see that in Clement’s understanding, prayer is offered to the Father, through the Son. This is certainly in keeping with the pattern laid out in scripture, and with Christ’s role as High Priest.

Finally I would like to point out one last line of Clement’s prayer that has some bearing perhaps on what we can see of Clement’s trinitarianism: “dost rest highest among the highest, holy among the holy”. This description Clement gives of God, Who we have seen in particular is the Father in Clement’s prayer, speaks of Him as being Most High; “highest among the highest” “holy among the holy”. This being said in reference to the person of the Father in particular, it could be taken to even be speaking of God’s supremacy even over His Son and Spirit.

As we have noted in other articles, the reason that the Father alone is spoken of as the “one God” and “only true God” because the Father alone is the supreme uncaused Cause of all, and the Supreme Authority over all. He is not only the “first cause of every creature” as Clement notes at the beginning of his prayer, but is even the cause of His Son as having begotten Him before the ages, and of His Holy Spirit. Likewise the Father not only has Supreme Authority over all creation, but even over His own Son and Holy Spirit (see: Why There is Only One God: Headship). Everything we see in Clement’s prayer is consistent with this; it is directed to the Father, through the Son; the Father’s absolute supremacy is spoken of; and exclusive language is used in reference to the Father in particular (“Thou art God alone”).

Examining Scripture: Deuteronomy 6:4 “the Shema”- the Father, or the Trinity?

Deuteronomy 6:4 is a famous verse: “Hear, O Israel, The Lord our God is one Lord.” (LXX Bible). It is used not only by Christians, but also Jews and various other sects to prove that the scriptures teach monotheism, the belief that there is only one God.

This is of course true; but it is also noteworthy that this passage of scripture tells us that God is one and does not include an explanation of what is meant by this in relation to the Trinity. Revelation was progressive, and at this point in history, not as much detail had been revealed about the Trinity in the scriptures. That said, this verse is not primarily intended to teach us about the doctrine of the Trinity; it is a blanket statement of monotheism.

As previously discussed in The Priority of the New Testament in Trinitarian Doctrine, we must read less clear passages of scripture with the aid of those which are more clear. When a given passage of scripture reveals that there is only one God, and does not speak in further detail to how this fits with the doctrine of the Trinity, our first response should be to seek clarification on this topic from other passages of scripture that speak to this point. It is unwise to simply jump to trying to invent our own custom interpretation of the passage without examining it in light of other related passages of scripture.

When we look at New Testament passages related to Deut. 6:4, we find several. Firstly let us note that it is quoted in Mark 12:28-34:

“Then one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, perceiving that He had answered them well, asked Him, “Which is the first commandment of all?”

29 Jesus answered him, “The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. 31 And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

32 So the scribe said to Him, “Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth, for there is one God, and there is no other but He. 33 And to love Him with all the heart, with all the understanding, with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is more than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

34 Now when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”

But after that no one dared question Him.” (NKJV)

This whole exchange is admittedly vague enough to say that it does not speak with certainty as to who the person Deuteronomy 6:4 refers to is, but it is noteworthy at the very least that the Lord gives no indication whatsoever that he views that verse as referring to Himself. This is significant, because if the Trinity in totality were being referenced there, as semi-modalists suggest, then it would refer to Christ, along with the Father and the Spirit. The lack of any indication this is the case leaves no support for interpreting Deuteronomy 6:4 as referring to the whole Trinity in this passage.

Let us then examine other passages which could be considered parallel in the New Testament, inasmuch as they also speak of the fact that there is only one God:

“There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:4-5 NAS)

“This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” (John 17:3 NAS)

“yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him.” (1 Corinthians 8:6 NAS)

Unlike Deuteronomy 6:4, these passages not only state clearly that there is only one God, but also explicit identify Who is referred to by that title: the person of the Father in particular. Theses passages, unlike Deuteronomy 6:4 go beyond merely affirming monotheism to include detail on how these statements fit with the doctrine of the Trinity, by identifying the one God as the first person of the Trinity.

If then we are willing to read the less-clear passage, Deuteronomy 6:4, with the assistance of these more-clear passages, we will be forced to admit that the most reasonable interpretation of Who Deuteronomy 6:4 is referring to is the person of the Father alone. This is to read the less-clear passage in light of the more-clear, and to read both Testaments in tandem with each other, assuming that when scripture speaks of there being one God in the Old Testament it means the same thing, and refers to the same person, as the the New does when it speaks of the “one God”.

That Deuteronomy 6:4 is most reasonably taken, then, as speaking of the person of the Father, I have now shown. And on the basis of sound reasoning from the scriptures, this conclusion ought to be accepted. Yet I am aware that many throughout church history have insisted that this verse refers to the entire Trinity, or even to the person of the Son in some stranger interpretations. Because of this, I think it useful to include a few quotes here from the church fathers, showing that several of them also regarded this as an acceptable interpretation:

 

Ignatius of Antioch:

“For Moses, the faithful servant of God, when he said, “The Lord thy God is one Lord,” and thus proclaimed that there was only one God, did yet forthwith confess also our Lord when he said, “The Lord rained upon Sodom and Gomorrah fire and brimstone from the Lord.”” (Epistle to the Antiochenes, Chapter 2)

“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…” (Letter to the Philippians, Chapter 2)

Irenaeus of Lyons:

“…or shall it be (what is really the case) the Maker of heaven and earth, whom also the prophets proclaimed,—whom Christ, too, confesses as His Father,— whom also the law announces, saying: “Hear, O Israel; The Lord thy God is one God?”” (Against Heresies, Book 4, Chapter 2)

Apostolic Constitutions:

“For He did not take away the law of nature, but confirmed it. For He that said
in the law, “The Lord thy God is one Lord;”1168 the same says in the Gospel, “That they might know Thee, the only true God.”” (Apostolic Constitutions, Book 6, Section 4, Chapter 23)

Athanasius:

“Has then the divine teaching, which abolished the godlessness of the heathen or the
idols, passed over in silence, and left the race of mankind to go entirely unprovided with
the knowledge of God? Not so: rather it anticipates their understanding when it says:
“Hear, O Israel, the Lord thy God is one God;” and again, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy
God with all thy heart and with all thy strength;” and again, “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve, and shalt cleave to Him.” 2. But that the providence and ordering power of the Word also, over all and toward all, is attested by all inspired Scripture, this passage suffices to confirm our argument, where men who speak of God say: “Thou hast laid the foundation of the earth and it abideth. The day continueth according to Thine ordinance.” And again: “Sing to our God upon the harp, that covereth the heaven with clouds, that prepareth rain for the earth, that bringeth forth grass upon the mountains, and green herb for the service of man, and giveth food to the cattle.” 3. But by whom does He give it, save by Him through Whom all things were made? For the providence over all things belongs naturally to Him by Whom they were made; and who is this save the Word of God, concerning Whom in another psalm182 he says: “By the Word of the Lord were the heavens made, and all the host of them by the Breath of His mouth.”” (Contra the Heathen, Part 3)

And of the Father it is written, ‘The Lord thy God is One Lord,’ and, ‘The God of gods, the Lord, hath spoken, and hath called the earth;’ and of the Son, ‘The Lord God hath shined upon us,’ and, ‘The God of gods shall be seen in Sion.’ And again of God, Isaiah says, ‘Who is a God like unto Thee, taking away iniquities and passing over unrighteousness?’” (De Synodis, Part 3)

Historic Anglican Testimonies to the Father in Particular Being the “One God”

Scripture teaches that there is only one God. We are also expressly told that this one God is the person of the Father in particular in several places in scripture:

“There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.” Ephesians 4:4-5 NAS

“This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” John 17:3 NAS

“yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him.” 1 Corinthians 8:6 NAS

The testimony of the ancient church fathers agrees with this: see I believe in one God, the Father Almighty.

As we have discussed previously, the Father alone is called the “one God” and “only God” by scripture on account of the fact that He alone is the supreme uncaused Cause of all, even of the Son by eternal generation and the Holy Spirit by eternal procession, and because the Father alone is the Supreme Authority over all, not only over all creation, but also even exercising headship over His own only-begotten Son and Holy Spirit.

While ancient testimony to these truths is abundant, historical testimony in favor of these points of doctrine is not limited to the ancient church. In this article I want to highlight more men from the Anglican tradition who can also be cited as testifying to these truths:

Richard Hooker (1554-1600)

“The Father Alone is originally That Deity, which Christ originally is not; For Christ is God, by being of God.” (Ecclesiast. Pol. Book 5)

Dr. Henry More (1614-1687)

“By the Term God, if you understand That which is First of all, in such a sense as All else is from Him, and He from None; the Son and Spirit cannot be said to be God in This signification; because the Father is not from Them, but They from the Father.” (Mystery of Godliness, Book 9, Chapter 2)

Dr. Payn

“Has we gone no further than Scripture, the only Rule of our Faith, in this matter; and held, with That, that To Us there is One God, the Father, 1 Cor. 8,6; One God and Father of All, who is Above all, Eph. 4, 6; And had we known Him The Only True God, (as Christ calls him, Joh. 17, 3, not exclusively, but eminently and by way of Excellency and Prerogative, by which the Name and Title of GOD is peculiarly predicated of God the Father in Scripture; –which is the great Reason given by the Fathers, of the Divine Unity;–) Had we considered this plain scriptural Account and Observation, that One God is spoken and predicated of the Father, and meant of Hi, when it is said both in the old Testament and in the New, The Lord thy God is One God, and there is none other but he, or besides him; we had not given occasion for That Objection of our Adversaries, against our Faith, of its implying a Contradiction, or of its setting up ore Gods than One. The One God, whom we pray to in the Lord’s prayer, and in other Christian Offices and Addresses; whom we profess to believe in, in our Creed; and whom the scripture calls so; is God the Father Almighty. And He hath an Only-begotten Son…” (Sermon on Trinity-Sunday, June 7th, 1696; page 18)

“The One God is spoken of God the Father in scripture, as I have shown you; and a great Many, and particularly Bishop Pearson upon the Creed observes; that “the Name of God taken absolutely, is often in Scripture spoken of the Father, and is in many places to be taken particularly of the Father; and from hence (says he) he is stiled One God, the True God, the Only True God: And This (he says further) is a most necessary Truth to be acknowledged, for the avoiding multiplication and Plurality of Gods;” He laying the Unity mainly here as I have done. So that though the Son is God; and the Holy Ghost is God; which they are not often called in Scripture; (which rather reserves and gives the Name of GOD absolutely and peculiarly to the Father; as, GOD loved the World, GOD sent his Son, and the like;) yet Neither of them are meant by That One God, which the Scripture speaks of, when is speaks peculiarly of the Father. —The Word God,—- generally (if not always) in Scripture, taken absolutely and spoken so of one God, is meant of God the Father. Which may give us such an Account of the Trinity and of the Unity, as may take off all the charge of a Contradiction. Since they are not One and Three; nor is each of them God, and All of them God or One God; in the same respect, sense and meaning of the Words; but in different. —- The Father is the Only Self-existent unoriginated Being, the Cause and Root of the other Two, as the Antients often call him; and so is…  …God in the highest Sense: And the Scriptures, Creeds, and Christian Offices, call him so absolutely and by way of Eminence and Prerogative. The Son is produced of the Father, and so is not Autotheos, or God in That Sense as the Father who is from None; but is God, of God…” (Ibid.)

“He is not indeed God the Father, or God from None, Autotheos: (In That Sense, we believe in One God, the Father Almighty; and to Us there is but One God, the Father, as the Apostle speaks, 1 Cor. 8,6; And Christ is the Son of this God the Father, who had his Being and Nature from him:) But he is God of God…” (Sermon on September 21, 1696; page 87)

“The Father is the Only Self-existent, unoriginated Being; ——- and so, in the words of a Right Reverend and Excellent Person, God in the highest Sense. —– The Word Deus, as it signifies a Self-existent, unoriginated Being, —— is predicated Only of God the Father; and not, secundum eandem rationem [upon the same Account,] of the other two divine Persons, Neither of which are Self-existent and unoriginated, nor God in the highest sense of Autotheos; ——- But He [viz. the Father] —– is called eminently and absolutely, and by way of Excellence and Prerogative, The One God, and, in the Words forequoted, God in the highest Sense.” (Letter from Dr. P. to the Bishop of R. in Vindication of his sermon on Trinity-Sunday, pages 15,16,17)

“This is the Explication of the Antients, which they hold; with this more plain scriptural Account of the Trinity, that needs no explication: One God the Father, with an only-begotten Son…” (Post-script, page 26)

 

 

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 also God, although not the same person as the one God, 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)

“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, having His divinity (that is biblically, His dominion over the whole universe, excepting the Father) from 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 a distinct person from the one God, Who is also God (for more explanation of what it means that the Son is God, see here). 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 and Why There is Only One God: Headship.

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 throughly in line with the teaching if scripture; he clearly distinguishes between the persons as really distinct rational individual beings (not just modes or manifestations of one person), 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. For Justin, like the bulk of the ante-nicene church fathers, monotheism was a divine monarchy, with the Father at its head, as the Supreme God, the one God over all absolutely. Although Justin affirms the divinity of the Son, he 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.

The Priority of the New Testament in Trinitarian Doctrine

Semi-modalists, wishing to make it seem as though the scriptures support their idea that the three persons of the Trinity are a single person, often rely heavily on the Old Testament for their arguments. In doing so, they twist the Old Testament scriptures contrary to their true meaning. This is a deceptive tactic that takes advantage of the fact that God’s revelation in scripture is progressive. The Old Testament did not deliver a full disclosure of all doctrinal truth to God’s people. Thus the New Testament is clear in speaking of the fact that some things were hidden in a mystery until the coming of Christ, when the mysteries were revealed, and a fuller knowledge was given:

“Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you, 11 searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. 12 To them it was revealed that, not to themselves, but to us[b] they were ministering the things which now have been reported to you through those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things which angels desire to look into.” (1 Peter 1:10-12 NKJV)

“Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret since the world began” (Romans 16:25 NKJV)

“However, we speak wisdom among those who are mature, yet not the wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. 7 But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory, 8 which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9 But as it is written: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, Nor have entered into the heart of man The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” 10 But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 2:6-10a NKKV)

“8 To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9 and to make all see what is the fellowship[a] of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ;[b] 10 to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places, 11 according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through faith in Him.” (Ephesian 3:8-12 NKJV)

“of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God which was given to me for you, to fulfill the word of God, 26 the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints. 27 To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which[d] is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Colossians 1:25-27 NKJV)

Even during the Lord’s earthy ministry, He left some things hidden as a mystery to most, only revealing the fullness of His teaching to the apostles privately:

“And He said to them, “To you it has been given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God; but to those who are outside, all things come in parables,” (Mark 4:11 NKJV)

Such was the nature of the law of bondage given through Moses, that through earthly and carnal types and shadows, the people might be lead away from idolatry and drawn up to spiritual and heavenly truths, delivered to them in a mystery. And likewise, because of the hardness of the peoples’ hearts, even the Lord Himself did not make known the fullness of divine revelation to them, but preached to them in parables.

The Old Testament scriptures then, although “written for our sakes”, and profitable for us, do not deliver the fullness of divine revelation in the fullness and clarity that we see in the New Testament, when type and shadow have given way to worship in spirit and truth, and a knowledge of divine mysteries hidden in ages past. For this reason then, Christians have historically interpreted the Old Testament in light of the New, since in the New we have a more clear and full revelation by which to understand the mysteries of the Old. Reason would have us interpret that which is less clear by that which is more clear; and on that basis, we must interpret the types of the Old Testament by the fulfillment and revelation of the New.

When we come to the doctrine of the Trinity then, it should not surprise us that we do not see it revealed in the same detail and clarity in the Old Testament as in the New. And yet, semi-modalists often treat the Old Testament with priority over the New in respect to trinitarian doctrine, because this allows them to twist the less-clear teachings of the Old Testament to their own ends.

For example, typically semi-modalists will establish the scripture’s teaching that there is only one God, not from the New Testament, but from the Old. They will quote passages that speak clearly about the fact that there is only one God, and no other, and yet do not usually clearly speak of how that fits within the doctrine of the Trinity. They then ignore the New Testament passages that are equally clear in teaching that there is one God, and also give detail on how this fits with the doctrine of the Trinity at the same time by explicitly identifying the one God as the person of the Father alone.

Instead of using the clarity offered by the New Testament as a starting point and an aid to interpreting the Old, semi-modalists want to treat them in a disjointed fashion and refuse to read the Old in light of the New on this subject. But if we start with the New Testament, we are able to easily understand not only that there is one God, but that this is the person of the Father. Once we understand this, we can easily understand that the person referred to as the “one God” in the Old Testament is the same person as in the New- the person of the Father.

We also see in the New Testament that usually the term “God” is used for the person of the Father, only being used for other persons in a few instances. Careful reflection on this point teaches us that the normal expectation we should have for what the word “God” refers to in scripture is the person of the Father, although we must examine context to see if it may be speaking of a different person. Yet this convention is ignored and contradicted by the semi-modalists, and when “God” is used in the Old Testament, instead of basing their understanding of what is referred to by it off of the New, and understanding that in most cases it refers to the person of the Father, they make up their own rules instead which have no warrant from scripture whatsoever.

They have invented their own hermeneutic, not drawn from scripture in the slightest, but contrary to it, that whenever the word “God” is used in scripture absolutely and without qualification, this must be understood to refer to the entire Trinity. This is an absurd proposition, but one that is necessary for their false teaching. By mutilating the meaning of the scriptures this way, they insert their false doctrine into the whole Bible.

If human authority can arbitrarily establish rules by which we must interpret scripture contrary to its natural meaning, then surely the semi-modalists cannot be argued against on this point. But if anyone will admit that we must interpret the Bible only by rules of interpretation founded upon sound reason and the way scripture itself teaches us to interpret it, then it will quickly be recognized that the semi-modalist hermeneutic must be rejected as a human contrivance designed to further the dogma of semi-modalism.

If the term “God” used absolutely and without qualification nearly always refers to the person of the Father in the New Testament, which is clear throughout, then what possible sense would it make to read the Old Testament differently? It makes no sense, as one God is the author of both Testaments, speaking through His one Word, authoring the scriptures by the inspiration of one Holy Spirit. The Old and New Testament are consistent with each other, not teaching one God in the Old, and a different God, the Father, in the New, but both Testaments teaching and affirming that there is only one God, the Father Almighty, Who created all things through His only-begotten Son.

Anglican Bishop John Pearson on the Father Alone Being the “One God”

The early church fathers are clear in their testimony that the one God of the Christian faith is the person of the Father in particular, as can be seen here: I believe in one God, the Father Almighty. This is not to the denial of the divinity of the Son and Holy Spirit, but rather an acknowledgement of the Father alone being the supreme uncaused Cause of all, including the Son by eternal generation and Holy Spirit by eternal procession, as well as an acknowledgement of the Father being the Supreme Authority and Head over all, even over His only-begotten Son and Holy Spirit.

After the Nicene era, there is considerably less focus on this important biblical truth. After the Protestant Reformation, however, there seems to have been something of a recovery of this doctrine within Anglicanism. In this post, we see excerpts from Bishop John Pearson’s Exposition of the Creed, wherein he makes several references to the Father in particular being the one God.

Bishop John Pearson (1612-1686):

“That one God is Father of All; and to us there is but One God, the Father of All; and to us there is but one God, the Father.” (Pearson, On the Creed, Page 26)

“And thus to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things; To which the Words following in the Creed may seem to have relation, The Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth.” (Pearson, On the Creed, Page 26)

“From hence He [the Father] is stiled One God, (1 Cor 8,6; Eph 4,6) the True God, (1 Th. 1,9) the Only True God, (Joh. 17,3;) the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, (2 Cor. 1,3; Eph 1,3;)” (Pearson, On the Creed, Page 40)

“After the confession of a Deity, and assertion of the divine unity, the next consideration is concerning God’s paternity; for that one God is Father of all [Eph 4:6], and to us there is one God, the Father [1 Cor 8:6].” (Pearson, On the Creed, Page 45)

“I shall briefly declare the Creation of the World to have been performed by that One God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Pearson, On the Creed, Page 63)

“But as we have already proved that One God, the Father, to be the Maker of the world,” (Pearson, On the Creed, Page 64)