Monday, January 25, 2010

The Quaternity

According to Dan Chapa:

“I was recently asked to back up my comments that Steve Hays disagrees with the Nicene Creed as understood and taught by the Church Fathers and the church at large.”

How does Dan happen to know how the “church at large” understands the Nicene creed? Does he have scientific polling data on how the average layman understands this or that article of the Nicene creed? Does he have a demographic breakdown according to different denominations?

Or is he referring to elite opinion? If so, who? Theologians? Bible scholars?

This is the sort of sweeping, fact-free generality is something I usually get from Catholic and Orthodox epologists who assure me that all Christians at all times and places believed thus-and-so until those schismatic Protestant Reformers unfurled their newfangled doctrines.

Kinda reminds me of “nonpartisan” voter registration drives in which names from the local cemetery reappear on the registry of registered Democrats. I guess I’m less confident than Dan to speak on behalf of tombstones.

“Regarding consubstantiality, it seems Steve disagrees that the Father, Son and Spirit have a numerically one and simple divine essence.”

It’s tedious when one’s opponent can’t follow the argument.

i) I didn’t affirm or deny that all members of the Trinity are numerically one in essence. Rather, I made the point that Dan’s arguments fail to establish numerical unity rather than generic unity. Indeed, some of his arguments backfire. So I was answering Dan on his own grounds.

Why he’s unable to grasp the nature of a tu quoque argument is beyond me.

ii) ”Simplicity” is a loaded word in theology.

a) If Dan simply means that God’s essential nature is indivisible, in the sense that God has no spatial or temporal subdivisions, then I agree with him that the divine essence is simple.

b) However, Dan seems to regard God as a temporal entity (see below). In that event, Dan doesn’t think that God’s nature is ontologically simple.

c) I’d also add that any definition of divine simplicity must make full allowance for three distinct persons of the Trinity. For that matter, it must also avoid treating each divine attribute as synonymous with every other divine attribute.

“Regarding 'eternal generation', Steve seems to think it relates only to the roles each member of the Trinity plays and not to their mode of subsistence.”

This is also confused, as I already explained in some detail.

a) The Bible doesn’t teach the eternal generation of the Son. Not that I can see.

b) There is also the exegetical question as to whether the Bible even applies that specific metaphor to Christ. Most NT scholars and lexicographers challenge the traditional rendering of monogenes.

c) Even if the Bible did apply that metaphor to the Son, we’re dealing with metaphorical rather than metaphysical language.

d) In fact, when the author of Hebrews (7:3,16) tells us that Jesus is the Melchizdekian priest, he explicitly and emphatically denies that Jesus is begotten. He uses three alpha primitive compounds to accentuate the fact that Jesus is ingenerate and inoriginate.

e) And even when he applies gennao language (in distinction to genes language) to Jesus in 1:5, one needs to understand that period usage drew a distinction between generation and self-generation–where self-generation was a figurative synonym for eternality.

For the linguistic analysis of (d-e), see Bauckham’s essay on “The Divinity of Jesus Christ in the Epistle to the Hebrews, in The Epistle to the Hebrews and Christian Theology.

f) I have also argued for the eternal Sonship of Christ. That’s a related metaphor, but a different metaphor. It’s much better attested in Scripture than generation. It’s a complex metaphor, with a variety of connotations. Depending on the context, the Sonship of Christ sometimes connotes an economic status, but at other times an intrinsic status.

“Admittedly, I see disagreements with the Nicene Creed as somewhat of a red flag, so it's possible I am jumping to conclusions.”

I regard disagreements with the Bible as a red flag.

“Further, I was basing this moreso on what Steve was opposing vs. what he was affirming. So below are a list of quotes from Steve on the subject and if he would like to take this opportunity to clarify his views on consubstantiality and eternal generation and square them with the orthodox position, that would be great.”

i) Since there was no unclarity in my stated views, there’s nothing for me to clarify.

ii) As Gerald Bray points out (The Doctrine of God, 168-69), Nicene subordination goes back to the Plotinian model of divine emanation:


Nicene subordination adapts that paradigm the Trinity:


If Dan regards Plotinian Neoplatonism as the touchstone of Christian orthodoxy, that’s his business. I’d rather keep my theology squared with something called the Bible.

You see, I have the funny notion that what we think God is like ought to match up with what God has told us he is like. But that’s just me.

iii) I’d add that the Eastern Orthodox regard Catholics and Protestants as heretics because Western Christians traditionally subscribe to double procession.

They also accuse different Protestant traditions of espousing different Christological heresies (e.g. “Nestorianism).

And they’re unimpressed by the way in which Protestants abstract the Nicene Creed and Chalcedonian Creed from the complete text of the councils in question (e.g. canons and decrees). For them, orthodoxy involves subscription to the authority of ecumenical councils in toto, and not a highly selective appropriation of just those portions we happen to agree with.

As such, they don’t regard Arminians like Dan as members of the “church at large.” So his appeal to conciliar “orthodoxy” is a double-bladed sword. If the ecumenical councils are his benchmark, then he’s a heretic.

“Exegetical, from the passages which teach God is one. Deuteronomy 6:4-6; John 17:3; 1 Corinthians 8:4-6; Mark 12:32-34; James 2:19; Galatians 3:20; Deuteronomy 32:39; 2 Kings 19:15; Nehemiah 9:6; Isaiah 37:20; Zechariah 14:9; John 5:44; Romans 3:30; 1 Timothy 1:17; 1 Timothy 2:5; Jude 1:25. It is in this sense that we understand John 10:30.”

The monotheistic passages don’t distinguish numeric unity from generic unity. For the monotheistic passages concern themselves, not with the unity of God, but the unicity of God.

“Historically, the church explained the scriptures this way and used philosophy to reconcile this idea with other scriptural truths. I am not sure it that’s what you had in mind by historical theology/philosophical theology.”

The question is whether you’re using philosophical categories which are synonymous with Biblical categories, or whether your philosophical categories are supplanting Biblical Triadology with an alien conceptual scheme.

“Yes, and continuation of existence throughout eternity involves all points in time. If we look at time as originating at creation then the Father's generation of the Son covers the Son's a-temporal being as well.”

i) No, it wouldn’t cover the Son’s atemporal being, for you said that “generation provides the mode of continuation of existence.”

Since “continuation” is a temporal concept, involving duration, if his generation is eternal, then his continuous existence is coeval with his generation–in which case he never had an atemporal mode of being. Instead, his mode of being was always temporal. And in that event, eternal generation is a temporal process–with an infinite past.

ii) I also deny your assumption that if creation initiates time, then God acquires a temporal property by making the world.

“It's true the metaphor 'receives' and 'generates' breaks down at points. Since our experiences are in time, in some significant way this generation is unlike what we experience. Your argument assumes that the analogy must be like the reality in all points.”

No, my objection is that your argument from analogy is disanalogous at just the points where you need it to be analogous

“What does not ‘break down’ is ‘One God, three persons’. But your view of three distinct divine essences seems to contradict this view.”

I haven’t argued for “three distinct divine essences.” What I’ve said, rather, is that possession of the divine essence is inderivative. The Trinity isn’t like a piece of pluming in which the Father is a water pump who pipes his divinity to the empty receptacles of the Son and Spirit.

“Why? Take for example the logical order of the decrees. The decrees don't cause each other as if God had internal parts temporally interacting with each other, yet each decree explain and is the foundation of the next. A syllogism does not cause the truth of the conclusion, nor does the math equation 1/3 cause .3333… to increase infinitely.”

You’re not discussing logical orders. If you say the Father is the source of the Son’s deity, then that’s a causal relationship.

“Again, why?”

Why do you even ask? Apparently you have no grasp of causality. One of your problems seems to be your assumption that if you can simply eliminate temporality from a relation, you thereby eliminate causality.

i) But even if the absence of temporality were inconsistent with causality, that doesn’t mean you’re not working with causal categories. Rather, it just means that you’re inconsistent. You have a half-baked model.

ii) Moreover, you have failed to eliminate residual temporality from your model, as I’ve demonstrated (see above).

iii) To say the Father transmits his divine essence to the Son involves a causal transaction–whereby the divine essence of the Son is the effect of that unilinear transaction. Trying to deny temporality does not eliminate the causal relation. It merely renders your model incoherent.

“Because God is not a creature. The Divine essence is numerically one.”

i) That’s a frivolous answer. If you’re going to say, both that Jesus is divine, and also that he received his divinity from the Father, then you make God (=Jesus) a creature.

On your construction, the Father is not a creature. But the Son is the Father’s creature.

ii) Moreover, to just repeat your mantra about how the divine essence is numerically one does nothing to salvage the implications of your position regarding the creaturehood of the Son (and Spirit) in relation to the Father.

“Clearly some things we do are natural and others are by choice. Sadly, not even all generation is by choice.”

You haven’t shown, either exegetically or philosophically, that generation and procession are necessary.

“It could be via His nature.”

To say that Father’s nature necessitates generation and procession makes him the effect of a generic nature which subsists over and above the property instance of the Father. So you now have a quaternity rather than a Trinity:


According to you, the Father takes his marching orders from a prior nature.

“I don't take a strong stance on this question, but I am inclined to speculate it's natural rather than volitional based on philosophical theology.”

You’re entitled to do that, but you’re not entitled to elevate philosophical theology to the status of orthodoxy.

“I didn't parce the Trinity into three different parts; the Son and Spirit possess the whole essence.”

You said: “In natural generation, while the whole nature isn't transferred, a part is. And that part is numerically one with the generator. So the metaphor of passing nature or essence does preserve the unity of the Trinity.”

If you now say the Son and Spirit possess the whole essence, then you have to go back and change your supporting argument.

“Right, neither represent the Trinity well.”

If you say the Son and Spirit receive their divinity from the Father, then that’s a modalistic paradigm of the Trinity. You reduce the Son and Spirit to modes of the Father’s subsistence.

“The pyramid analogy has problems as well, the least of which is it’s susceptible to pyramid power jokes.”

That’s a frivolous reply. I didn’t use a pyramid analogy. I used the analogy of enantiomorphic symmetries. Don mock what you don’t understand.

If you can’t bring yourself to be serious, then you’re wasting my time. Remember, I didn’t initiate this discussion–you did.

“True, but God's being one does.”

Which doesn’t follow from your supporting argument.

“Hum… when I say eternal generation preserves the unity of the Trinity, I am not say the metaphor grants us full understanding. Rather, I am saying the reality the metaphor represents unites the three persons.”

i) You’re starting with a metaphor, then artificially paring it down to squeeze into your preconceived notion of what the Trinity ought to be like.

ii) And that also begs the question of why we should take your metaphor as our reference point in the first place.

“Fine. Besides the passages on the generation of the Son, we have other texts that help us understand the generation analogy. For example: John 6:57 As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me. So the Son's life is because of the Father.”

I already dealt with that in my post on Köstenberger. You’re behind the curve.

“Also we have passages saying the Father is the Son’s God: John 20:17; Revelation 3:12; Ephesians 1:3; Colossians 1:3.”

i) Now you’re reasoning like a Jehovah’s Witness.

ii) The question at issue is what the sonship of Christ signifies in NT usage. That varies. But where it functions as a divine title, it has about three basic connotations: intrinsic divinity, heavenly preexistence, and commonality (i.e. like father/like son).

This has all been carefully investigated in the exegetical literature by scholars like Richard Bauckham (“The Divinity of Jesus Christ in the Epistle to the Hebrews”), Gordon Fee (Pauline Christology), Simon Gathercole (The Preexistent Son), and Larry Hurtado (Lord Jesus Christ)–to name a few.

You’re making no attempt to determine what the metaphor of divine Sonship means in NT usage. Rather, you’re superimposing Nicene subordination on a NT Christological title. That isn’t exegesis, Dan. Rather, that’s the type of anachronistic prooftexting that I always get from Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox.

“Further, we have passages where the Father gives authority to the Son: Philippians 2:9-11 9; Matthew 28:18; John 17:2; John 5:22-26 22; Ephesians 1:22-23 22; Hebrews 1:2; Mark 9:37; John 7:16’ Acts 3:13.”

That has reference to his economic status. The Messianic heir of God’s kingdom. That hardly underwrites eternal generation.

To copy/paste quotes from Scripture is a poor substitute for exegesis. That’s what Dave Armstrong does all the time.

“How about the brightness of His glory?”

If that’s an allusion to Heb 1:3, then you need to exegete your prooftext. How does that function in the author’s argument? What is that picturesque metaphor meant to illustrate?

“My concern here isn't the divine persons but the divine essence. If the Son's divinity is somehow unlike the Father's in your view, that's a denial of consubstantially to go along with your denial of eternal generation.”

I never stated or implied their essential dissimilarity.

“But you previously asserted you accepted consubstantiality. So by your principles either Leibniz's rule or your view of consubstantiality has to go.”

You can’t follow your own argument. The question at issue was not the application of Leibniz’ law to my model, but yours.

“However Leibniz's rule is perfectly consistent with one divine essence, nor do I see a problem with three persons sharing one essence.”

You’re the one who originally cast the issue in these terms: “The idea that the Father and Son share an essence that is numerically one and simple (i.e. not just two things with identical properties)…”

If, however, Father and Son share identical properties across the board (i.e. without remainder), then they wouldn’t be Father and Son. They wouldn’t be one or the other. So you need to qualify your statement to avoid unitarianism.

“Three first principles is tri-theism.”

I already rebutted that accusation. You’re simply repeating a stale accusation as if nothing was said in response. That’s intellectually lazy.

Jnorm888 said...

“He's following a handfull of Reformed protestants that lean toward tri-theism.”

i) I haven’t cited any Reformed Protestants who lean towards tritheism. Rather, I’ve cited some Reformed Protestants who oppose Nicene subordination.

ii) I didn’t cite Reformed Protestants because those are the only Christians who oppose various strands of Nicene subordination.

Rather, I brought up Reformed representatives because I was challenged on that point.

However, it’s easy to illustrate my position from mainstream exegetical literature. Indeed, I’ve done some of that in this very post.

iii) Of course, Jnorm is in no position to know how representative a given position may or may not be since, like Richard Dawkins on Christianity, he made the prejudicial decision that it wasn’t worth his while to even inform himself on the issue at hand.

“I would rather that they be grounded first in traditional Nicene Triniterianism before looking at books that might teach tri-theism.”

Isn’t that an absolutely precious vicious circle?

“.I will say no......especially if it's by an author that doesn't like Nicene Triniterianism [sic]. I would rather that they be grounded first in traditional Nicene Triniterianism [sic]…”

Yes, defending Nicene Trinitarianism is so all-important to Jnorm that he hasn’t even learned to spell the word right.

“And there are other Reformed that do embrace both Nicea(with the fillique [sic]).”

Yes, opposing the filioque is so all-important to Jnorm that he hasn’t even learned to spell the word right.


  1. Baukham's entire essay appears to be available at Google Books, here:,&source=bl&ots=769fvvP4hN&sig=bZnPbAkDvndvbRQabdQLUw_a7Xg&hl=en&ei=owpfS63QFZXh8Qb8sYWFDA&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CAcQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=Richard%20Bauckham%20(%E2%80%9CThe%20Divinity%20of%20Jesus%20Christ%20in%20the%20Epistle%20to%20the%20Hebrews%E2%80%9D)%2C&f=false

  2. You use the term "economic" with reference to the Trinity or Christ's divinity on occasion...what does the term mean in that context?

  3. Thanks, John.


    The economic Trinity denotes the roles and relations which the Trinitarian God assumes in relation to the world (economia)–in contrast to the immanent Trinity, which denotes what the Trinitarian God is like in himself, apart from his relation to the world he made.