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Thursday, December 14, 2006

Hebrews 1: Majestic Implications on the Relationship Between the Father and the Son

Tonight my family's New Testament reading took us to Hebrews 1. My boys were struck with the clear language about the distinct nature and roles of the Father and the Son, and wondered how it could be squared with modern versions of the Trinity concept. I didn't have a good answer for them - maybe some of you do. Here's the passage:
1 God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets,

2 Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds;

3 Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high;

4 Being made so much better than the angels, as he hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.

5 For unto which of the angels said he at any time, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee? And again, I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a Son?

6 And again, when he bringeth in the firstbegotten into the world, he saith, And let all the angels of God worship him.
I find the passage majestic, and unusually clear in indicating that Christ is subordinate to the Father, looks like Him (His "express image"), is seated at His right hand, and has inherited glory from the Father, who begot Him. I find it succinct and beautiful.

21 comments:

Aaron Shafovaloff said...

From what I know, historic Trinitarianism hasn't had a problem with the functional subordination of the Son to the Father. We just happen to believe that subordination doesn't imply inferiority.

A good book on the topic, which speaks of the eternal authority/submission relationship within the Trinity:

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: Relationships, Roles, and Relevance, by Bruce A. Ware

Anonymous said...

Aaron,
How can the Son be subordinate to the Father without this dividing the Trinity?

daniel said...

My (limited) understanding of the Trinity is that it fully accounts for three distinct beings, although there are some variations (maybe in the Eastern church?) where the personalities overlap.

LDS say that the Godhead is one in "spirit", Trinitarians say that the Godhead is one in "god"-liness. What's the big difference?

I no longer hear my fellow church members railing against the "ecumenical movement" like they did in the 70s. When can we leave well enough alone with the Trinity?

Joey said...

Responding to Teancum: I don't know all the theological reasons, but the subordination of some persons of the Trinity to others is often referred to as the economical Trinity (the Trinity as manifested to us in history) as opposed to the immanent Trinity (God as he really is in himself). This subordination does not divide the Trinity, but rather illustrates the unity in the Trinity in carrying out the purposes of God.

One passage that illustrates the distinction between the immanent and economical Trinities well is Phillipians 2:5-8:

"Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross."

Christ was co-equal and co-eternal with God up until the point when he chose to become incarnate and be born to earth. At that point he humbled himself and subordinated himself to God the Father in function. This is part of what makes Christ's sacrifice particularly awe-inspiring to me. He gave up his throne for a cross. He gave up his status of equality with the Father. But the passage continues:

"Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."

This to me says that Jesus' functional equality with the Father has been or soon will be restored.

The Hebrews passage mentioned in this post even illustrates that the economical subordination of the Son to the Father is something that happened in time and space and is not the eternal nature of the Trinity, for Hebrews quotes the Father saying "This day I have begotten you." The Son is not eternally begotten, but rather, at a certain place in time -- "this day" -- he became begotten of the Father functionally so he could carry out the plan God had conceived from before the foundation of the world.

Bishop Rick said...

Something doesn't make sense here.

How can God (a resurrected being) be a co-equal with Jesus (a spirit child of said God)?

T. Rox said...

The Trinity debate is very much alive. And the fact that Mormons don't adhere to the language of the modern creeds is often used as evidence to say that Mormons reject historic Christianity. But reading Heb. 1, John 17, or many other passages of the New Testament make it clear that the modern formulations of the Trinity are not what Christ and the Apostles were teaching - so the argument that Mormons have departed from the original faith is a weak one, at least in this area.

Joey said...

In response to Bishop Rick: My apologies if I wasn't clear. I was not trying to clarify Mormon doctrine in my comment. I am an evangelical Christian and a Trinitarian and I was attempting (feebly, I admit) to explain historic Trinitarianism. As such, I was working from the view that God is not a resurrected being, but an eternal spirit being, and that Jesus is the second person of the Trinity, co-equal and co-eternal with the Father and therefore not an eternally begotten spirit child of the Father. I believe this is a more teneble position taking into consideration the whole Bible.

In response to t. rox: I mean no offense whatsoever with this comment. You should study the "modern formulations" of the Trinity more before jumping to such conclusions. Regrettably, evangelicals sometimes jump to conclusions about Mormon belief and Mormons love calling them on the carpet for it. If you're going to rise above the kind of behavior you condemn, you should seek to understand further before criticizing.

Passages like John 17 and Hebrews 1 definitely do factor into Trinitarianism. They are the primary reason we talk about a distinction between the immanent and economic Trinities. Mormons also wonder how Trinitarianism manages to ignore passages like Jesus' baptism, but passages like these are precisely why Trinitarians affirm the three distinct persons of the Trinity. We do not ignore whole passages of the Bible in formulating our theology.

It's my experience that Latter-day Saints often prop up the straw man of Modalism and then attack that as if it were Trinitarianism. You would do well to study those two concepts and understand the difference.

A good (short and sweet) book I can recommend on the subject is Millard Erickson's Making Sense of the Trinity: Three Crucial Questions.

Cheers!

Bishop Rick said...

OK, let me see if I've got this straight:

God, Jesus, Holy Ghost are all part of the Godhead, being one in spirit and purpose.

The Godhead is an eternal unit.

Jesus and the Holy Ghost are not spirit children of the Father, but are co-equals with him and are of the same eternal existense.

Even though the 3 are distinct members, it takes all 3 to make up the Godhead (or God).

Does this sum up the evangelical doctrine of the Trinity?

Anonymous said...

Listen to the Catholic Mass, the Lutheran liturgy, and then explain the truth to your sons. The trinity is referred to as the "Mystery of the Holy Trinity". Others are allowed to have mysteries in their church. We certainly have many mysteries---such as the "process of resurrection".

Therefore we cannot explain our mysteries. Therefore let others have their mysteries. Explain that to your sons. The danger in teaching people about how we are right, and others are wrong is that our people get a superiority complex.

The Catholics and some Lutherans are believers in the emblems of the Sacrament becoming the body and blood of Christ. Again it is a mystery. That is why those Churches are "closed communicants".

Anonymous said...

Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto.
Sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper,
et in sæcula sæculorum,
Amen.
Glory be to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be
World without end.
Amen.

Anonymous said...

There is definitely a difference between the Modalism view and the Trinitarianism view of the Trinity. Neither completely makes sense to me, but I understand how the Bible works with Trinitarianism over Modalism. But even there it doesn't make complete sense to me. The LDS view of the Godhead makes more sense to me. I am not knocking the other views, just stating they don't make as much sense to me. Everytime I try and understand it, I see it as God having multiple personalities.

Comment to Aaron...personally I never thought that the subordination view of the LDS Church implied an inferiority in Christ.

Bishop Rick said...

I'm just trying to fully understand what the doctrine of the Trinity is. I think I have it, but would like confirmation.

I think there would have to be subordination on some level as Jesus answers to God, and does his will...nevertheless, thy will be done, not mine...

Anonymous said...

Bishop Rick--

Each denomination has their own explain or understanding of the Trinity. Often times in Protestant or Evangelical Churches the understanding can change per the current pastor/minister.

You can look up about any denominations official response to the Trinity online. Below is something I found on the Assemblies of God website. It reads a bit like a legal document, but makes sense. Personally I don't think the LDS Godhead and the Trinity are that much different when I read this stuff, it is when it gets explained to me that I usually get lost. The Modalism view is completely in left field (per my opinion).

The terms "Trinity" and "persons" as related to the Godhead, while not found in the Scriptures, are words in harmony with Scripture, whereby we may convey to others our immediate understanding of the doctrine of Christ respecting the Being of God, as distinguished from "gods many and lords many." We therefore may speak with propriety of the Lord our God who is One Lord, as a trinity or as one Being of three persons, and still be absolutely scriptural.

Christ taught a distinction of Persons in the Godhead which He expressed in specific terms of relationship, as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but that this distinction and relationship, as to its mode is inscrutable and incomprehensible, because unexplained.

Accordingly, therefore, there is that in the Father which constitutes him the Father and not the Son; there is that in the Son which constitutes Him the Son and not the Father; and there is that in the Holy Spirit which constitutes Him the Holy Spirit and not either the Father or the Son. Wherefore the Father is the Begetter, the Son is the Begotten, and the Holy Spirit is the one proceeding from the Father and the Son. Therefore, because these three persons in the Godhead are in a state of unity, there is but one Lord God Almighty and His name one.

The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are never identical as to Person; nor confused as to relation; nor divided in respect to the Godhead; nor opposed as to cooperation. The Son is in the Father and the Father is in the Son as to relationship. The Son is with the Father and the Father is with the Son, as to fellowship. The Father is not from the Son, but the Son is from the Father, as to authority. The Holy Spirit is from the Father and the Son proceeding, as to nature, relationship, cooperation and authority. Hence, neither Person in the Godhead either exists or works separately or independently of the others.

Thanks---Single Mom of Two

Anonymous said...

Great post, Mom!

Anonymous said...

Maybe I am missing something but that posted explanation on the Trinity sounds like the LDS view of the Godhead.

Walker said...

I don't think i see anything but superficial relationships to the LDS way of expressing the Godhead. I suppose if you really tortured some phrases you could tease out the "one in purpose" doctrine, but it would require serious teasing.

Compare to the First Presidency's statement: "The Father and the Son" (I think that's the title)

Anonymous said...

The Trinity outline I copied earlier is taken directly off of the Assemblies of God website. However, other denominations have a different thought on it. I have the Presbyterian viewpoint at home in the Book of Order and can copy that sometime as well if you would like. Something I have also found is that just because someone is in one denomination doesn't mean they agree with that denominations doctrine.

Generally speaking when I talk to members of the Assemblies of God Church, they agree with me on the thoughts of the Trinity/Godhead, until I mention that I am LDS and then they completely balk at the idea we could have the same concepts or rather similar ones (of course at one point I did the same thing with our ideas being similar to theirs). At that point it usually gets a bit confusing and sometimes they almost change tactics to Modalism rather than be similar to the Mormons (unless they are my friends). But we still have the difference of Heavenly Father having a body....so they don't need to worry about becoming too much like the Mormons. :D
--Single Mom of Two

Joey said...

Bishop Rick: Sorry it's taken me so long to reply back to you. I had an eventful weekend. I can tell you're getting closer to understanding the Trinity. Your outline is good, but not quite complete.

I would again point you to the book I recommended. You can probably read it in one sitting and it will help you understand this better than I can explain it, but I'll try and help you clarify your understanding briefly.

There are three basic concepts that make up the doctrine of the Trinity. (1) The oneness of God -- we believe God is one in substance and essence and not just in purpose; (2) the threeness of God -- there are three distinct persons who are called God; and (3) the three-in-oneness of God -- the three persons are in one another (the Father is in the Son, the Son is in the Father, etc.). Over- or under-emphasizing any of these three concepts leads to many different alternate views that have been rightfully declared heresies throughout history: Modalism, Arianism, Tritheism, Henotheism, Swedenborgianism, Docetism, and Adoptionism to name a few.

I don't claim to know Mormon doctrine as well as some, so someone please correct me if I'm wrong here, but it's my view that Mormons don't see the Godhead as one in substance or essence, which leads to a sort of Arianism or Tritheism. This is an honest mistake that I think is made because we want to be able to categorize God and make him fit our own logic. It seems contradictory that God could be one (in substance) and yet three at the same time, so you de-emphasize the oneness, turning it into a oneness in purpose.

Instead of watering down either side of the contradiction, we need to learn to accept it. The best way I can suggest for looking at this is to compare it to the way science looks at light. Light can be shown to behave like a particle in some experiments and like a wave in other experiments. How can light be both a wave and a particle? No one is really sure, but all the evidence points to the fact, so we must accept it even though it is a contradiction. To me, the scriptural evidence points to God being one and three at the same time, so I acknowledge it as a mystery and move forward.

In response to one of the anonies who said, "personally I never thought that the subordination view of the LDS Church implied an inferiority in Christ." Inferiority is the very definition of subordination according to every dictionary (1, 2, 3, 4) and thesaurus (1, 2) I consulted.

The Trinitarian view of economic subordination also implies inferiority, but since we're only talking about subordination in function for a finite period of time, and not the very essence or substance of the nature of the Trinity, this inferiority can be understood not as diminishing who Christ is. Christ submitted himself to the Father willingly in order to carry out his role as Savior. This does not make him subordinate or inferior to God in very nature, but simply in the function he was performing for that period of time.

Mormonism, if I understand it correctly, says that the Son proceeded from the Father at some point in time, and has therefore not existed eternally, or at least has not existed eternally in his current state of Godhood, and is therefore subordinate (and by definition, inferior) to the Father in very nature, not just in function. Again, I would appreciate correction if I'm misunderstanding things.

Anonymous said...

Joey said: "Mormonism, if I understand it correctly, says that the Son proceeded from the Father at some point in time, and has therefore not existed eternally, or at least has not existed eternally in his current state of Godhood, and is therefore subordinate (and by definition, inferior) to the Father in very nature, not just in function. Again, I would appreciate correction if I'm misunderstanding things."

Maybe, maybe not. We believe that, in the beginning, Christ was the creator, and that in the beginning was the Word (Christ). I, at least, would be hard-pressed to argue from Scripture that the Son wasn't eternally a member of the Godhead.

But, and this is a big but, I think some of the differences here between Mormon theology (or at least speculative Mormon theology) and traditional Christian theology involve what happened "before the beginning," if you will. LDS thinking seems to allow for such a time, but traditional Christianity does not. The answer to the question "Where did God from?" may be different for LDS than it is for traditional Christians. What the implications are for that in terms of trinitarian definition, I'm not sure.

Joey earlier said: "It's my experience that Latter-day Saints often prop up the straw man of Modalism and then attack that as if it were Trinitarianism. You would do well to study those two concepts and understand the difference."

I agree with you that many LDS make that mistake.

The following isn't intended to make an excuse for LDS misunderstandings, but my experience has been that many, many Protestants (the ones in the pews on Sundays, not the pastors) do believe in a modalistic God, despite what their creeds may say. On frequent occasions I have heard them use the analogy of God being like water (ice, liquid and vapor). That's a modalistic image, not a traditional trinitarian one.

I don't really think that the non-modalistic view of the Trinity is really all that much different from the LDS view, except that in our view the Father has a body and in the non-LDS view he doesn't. In both cases, we're talking about three distinct persons who act individually toward a fully common purpose.

Joey said...

Anony said: "But, and this is a big but, I think some of the differences here between Mormon theology (or at least speculative Mormon theology) and traditional Christian theology involve what happened "before the beginning," if you will. LDS thinking seems to allow for such a time, but traditional Christianity does not."

I'm willing to allow for a time before the beginning spoken of in Genesis, for that may simply be the beginning of the earth's history, and not necessarily the beginning of all time (if there is such a beginning). However, I can't in good conscience agree that God's nature may have been different at any time before the beginning. That would require redefining the words "eternal" and "everlasting", for God says all over the place that he's been God eternally and from everlasting to everlasting.

"...my experience has been that many, many Protestants do believe in a modalistic God, despite what their creeds may say. On frequent occasions I have heard them use the analogy of God being like water (ice, liquid and vapor). That's a modalistic image, not a traditional trinitarian one."

You're absolutely right. There's also the pair of pants analogy, the neapolitan ice cream analogy, and the shamrock analogy. They're all horribly insufficient, but they're commonly used by evangelicals. I should've been more careful to note that Mormons are making a perfectly honest mistake when they get Trinitarianism and Modalism confused. In my earlier comment I almost phrased it as if Mormons are doing it intentionally and maliciously, but I don't believe they are. It's simply something not many Mormons take the time to study at much length.

Anonymous, you seem to know a good deal about the Trinity, and for that I applaud your study and effort. I'm enjoying our discussion.

"...in our view the Father has a body and in the non-LDS view he doesn't. In both cases, we're talking about three distinct persons who act individually toward a fully common purpose."

Yes, the Father having a body is one difference, but another difference is that Trinitarianism posits (quite justifiably as I see it) that the three are not only one in common purpose, but that they are one God in substance and essence.

Anonymous said...

Joey said, "Yes, the Father having a body is one difference, but another difference is that Trinitarianism posits (quite justifiably as I see it) that the three are not only one in common purpose, but that they are one God in substance and essence."

Yeah, I'll admit a downplayed that a bit. But there's a reason:

Exactly what are substance and essence? I'm not disputing that traditional Christians believe that. I'm just trying to get a clarification of that in light of this question: If Jesus has a body (which I assume must be the case if he ascended to heaven, and if he's coming back in bodily form), how does that fit in with being of the same substance and essence as the Father?

As I understand things, one reason we LDS don't say they're of the same substance and essence is because both the Father and the Son have bodies. But I think the same argument would apply even if only one of them does. In the same way that we LDS may be distorting the common meaning of "eternal" if we talk about what happened "before the beginning" (my words, no official doctrine here), I think that it distorts the meaning of a "single substance" if you say that one of the members of the Godhead has a body and the others don't share that body. The alternative would be to talk about Jesus as only having the appearance of having a body to make himself known to us, but that gets pretty close to the heresy of docetism.