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Bible Readings and Reflection
Check out Archdeacon Andy's blog for daily reflections on Kings
Sunday 7th June: Trinity Sunday
Is the Trinity in the Old Testament?
The doctrine of the Trinity is a purely revealed doctrine, indiscoverable by natural reason. This reflection will consider how much of that doctrine is discoverable through the Old Testament. It will examine the crucial starting place of Bible understanding, before looking at specific Trinitarian textual ‘proofs’ in the Old Testament, then finally look at Trinitarian revelation more broadly in Old Testament themes.
Sanders argues for a non-linear understanding which he labels “rereading,” i.e. seeing the text with the awareness of the whole story, in the light of the person and work of Jesus. Stephen Dempster agrees with the validity of this method. He states that it is the death, resurrection and enthronement of Christ that gives a “second narrative by which to assess the earlier enigmatic story.” Jesus on the Emmaus road tells him disciples that the Old Testament has to be understood Christocentrically (Luke 24:27). For example, the Rock mentioned in 2 Samuel 23:1-3 is described as being Christ in 1 Corinthians 10:4. Sanders thus rightly states that “the New Testament has conclusive interpretive priority over the Old.”
Old Testament ‘Proofs’
Having decided upon a New Testament understanding it brings with it the very real danger of finding the Trinity in texts of the Old Testament where it is not present. Sanders is rightly wary to be very cautious. He states that “there is no weaker strategy” for a doctrine of the Trinity “than the attempt to conjure the doctrine from the scattered allusions, obscure phenomena, and puzzling textual features of the Old Testament read in its own light.”
It is a mistake, however, to presume that Old Testament monotheism eliminates the possibility of a Trinity. Monotheism was not strictly a numerical concept, but an emphasis that this God was unique, incomparable, and the only God to be worshipped. Deuteronomy 6:4 is asserting the exclusive claims of Yahweh, based on His unique actions. The Hebrew word for oneness is actually the same as that used in Genesis 2:24 for the oneness of a marriage, so therefore it does not discount more than one person being part of that oneness.
The doctrine of the Trinity does not evolve because God is eternal, infinite and unchangeable, so it would be expected to be found in the Old Testament.
A plural word for God, Elohim, is used throughout the Old Testament. In the first chapter of Genesis, Elohim is a plural, but the verb to create is singular. Also, later in the same chapter ‘our’ and ‘his’ seem to be used interchangeably for the creation of man in God’s image (Hughes, 1944:261). Threefold liturgical formula such as Numbers 6:24-26 and Isaiah 6:3 are another indication of the Trinity in the Old Testament. Texts such as 1 Samuel 7:11 and Hosea 1:7 may suggest plurality within the Godhead. However, just because one person speaks of the other in certain Old Testament texts, it does not necessarily mean more than one person is present.
An angel or messenger of the Lord mentioned in the Old Testament does imply a sender. It has been suggested that the angel or messenger of the Lord merely represents God and is not divine. However, Calvin argues that the angel of the Lord (Judges 13:16-23) must have been really God, not just a messenger representing God, or he would not have allowed a sacrifice to be specifically offered to himself (1957:118). There are also the ‘Sonship’ texts such as 2 Samuel 7:14, Psalm 2:7 and Psalm 89:28. They do offer the possibility of Christological interpretation,but are not directly Trinitarian.
All of this evidence falls well short of having enough substance to form anything near a doctrine of the Trinity from the Old Testament
Old Testament Themes
According to Christopher Seitz finding the Trinity in the Old Testament is not a matter of just hunting for threesomes in the text. Arnold Huijgen gives four general aspects of Old Testament revelation that point towards the Trinity: the anthropomorphic language used of God, the implication of the second commandment, the revelation of God’s name suggesting personhood and relationship, and finally eschatological tension. Also, the Holy Spirit is specifically referenced in three ways in the Old Testament: deliverance from Egypt, as an agent of creation and empowering people to God’s service. However, the Holy Spirit is never revealed personally, so Huijgen can legitimately argue that here the Spirit could just be a “functional extension” of God himself.
Sanders cites Geerhardus Vos to rightly argue three reasons why the Old Testament does not give decisive proof for the Trinity: the preparatory nature of the Old Testament, the polytheistic context, and the crucial importance of reading the Old Testament in the light of the New Testament (2016:213-214). The doctrine of the Trinity is latent in the Old Testament, but that revelation is “perfected, extended and enlarged” by the New Testament. Warfield's illustration is that the Old Testament is a fully furnished, dimly lit room, awaiting the light of the New Testament to bring things within to full view. The fundamental proof of the Trinity is its revelation in the facts of the incarnation and Pentecost. Yet even this revelation is not exhaustive. The Apostle Paul writes that God is only seen “through a mirror dimly” now, but in the future will be fully known (1 Corinthians 13:12).
Berkhof, L., 1958. Systematic Theology. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth.
Calvin, J., 1957. Institutes of the Christian Religion, translated by Henry Beveridge, 2 vols., London: Clarke & Co.
Chester, T., 2010. Delighting in the Trinity, Kingston: The Good Book Company.
Dempster, S.G., 2017. ‘In Search of the Trinity in the Old Testament: Uncovering A
Second Narrative,’ Criswell Theological Review 15 no.1, pp.61-78.
Emery, G., 2011. The Holy Trinity: An Introduction to the Catholic Doctrine of the
Fesko, J.V., 2016. The Trinity and the Covenant of Redemption, Fearn: Mentor.
Frame, J., 2002. The
Doctrine of God: A Theology of Lordship. Phillipsburg: P&R.
Fuller, R.H.,1997. ‘The Vestigia Trinitatis in the Old Testament’, in C.A. Evans, J.A.
Sanders, Š. Ṭalmōn, eds., The Quest for Context and Meaning: Studies in
Biblical Intertextuality in Honor of James A. Sanders, Leiden: Brill, pp.499-
Hodge, A.A., 1972. Outlines of Theology, Edinburgh: Banner of Truth.
Holmes, S.R., 2012. The Holy Trinity: Understanding God’s Life, Milton Keynes:
House, P.R., 2017. ‘Inerrancy, the Trinity and the Old Testament: Some Observations,’
Presybyterion 43 no.1, pp.4-15.
Hughes, P.E., 1944. ‘Vestigia Trinitatis,’ The Evangelical Quarterly, 16 no.4,
Huijgen, A., 2017. ‘Traces of the Trinity in the Old Testament: From Individual Texts to the Nature of Revelation,’ International Journal of Systematic Theology,
19 no.3, pp.251-70.
Malone, A.S., 2009. ‘God the Illeist: Third-Person Self-References and Trinitarian
Hints in the
Old Testament,’ JETS, 52 no.3, pp.499-518.
Reymond, R., 1998. A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith. Nashville:
Sanders, F., 2012. ‘The Trinity’, in K.M. Kapic and B.L. McCormack,
eds., Mapping Modern
Theology: A Thematic and Historical Introduction, Grand Rapids: Baker, pp.21-46.
Sanders, F., 2016. The
Triune God. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
Seitz, C., 2011. ‘The Trinity in the Old Testament,’ in G. Emery and M. Levering, eds., The Oxford Handbook of the Trinity, Oxford: OUP, pp.28-40.
Swain, S.R., 2016. ‘Divine Trinity’, in M. Allen and S.R. Swain, eds., Christian
Dogmatics: Reformed Theology for the Church Catholic, Grand Rapids: Baker, pp.78-106.
Swain, S.R., 2011. Trinity, Revelation, and Reading: A Theological Introduction to the Bible and its Interpretation, London: T&T Clark.
Warfield, B.B., 2003. The
Works of Benjamin B. Warfield II: Biblical Doctrines, Grand Rapids:
Sunday 31st May: Baptism, Filling and Sealing
Starting-points shape how we understand the Holy Spirit. The great danger is beginning with experience. Richard Gaffin rightly says that “experience is not a source of Christian knowledge and doctrine.” This reflection will seek to understand 'Spirit baptism,' ‘filling’ and ‘sealing’ by examining the Bible.
There are seven New Testament references to baptism in the Spirit: Matthew 3:11, Mark 1:8, Luke 3:16, John 1:33, Acts 1:5, Acts 11:16 and 1 Corinthians 12:13. There are no commands for Christians to be baptised with the Spirit.The four Gospel references indicate that Jesus will baptize people with the Spirit in a single, future, significant event. At Jesus’s baptism, the Spirit was given to him by the Father. At Pentecost, Jesus receives the Spirit from the Father and gives it to the Church. Under the original creation Adam was pervaded by the Spirit until the Fall, but in the new creation the Spirit comes from OUTSIDE, demonstrating the necessity of a fuller indwelling. Pentecost is a redemptive-historical event that must therefore be interpreted primarily through Christ. The focus of Acts 2 is Christ. The pivot of the passage is verses 32-33 which describe the resurrection and ascension of Jesus. The Spirit is received as a reward from the Father by Jesus for his accomplished work, and given by him to the Church. It is a once for all Trinitarian event and not a model for believers. The coming of the Spirit is evidence of the enthronement of Christ. Therefore, Pentecost must be viewed as an aspect of the work of Christ, and not a Spirit event separate from it and in addition to it.
There are further ‘mini-Pentecosts’ in the book of Acts. They are supplementary outpourings that are extraordinary, but of a weaker and different form. They correspond with the progressive fulfilment of Acts 1:8 -the geography of Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth. The ‘you’ in this verse refers directly to the foundational, apostolic, missionary task of taking the Gospel from Jerusalem to Rome (=ends of the earth).
A key final verse to look at is 1 Corinthians 12:13. It has a verb tense in Greek signifying a past event involving all Christians. Jesus Christ is the new creation, and so new birth is a participation in the death and resurrection of Christ through union with Christ by the means of baptism of the Spirit. ‘All’ were baptized in the Spirit into the one body, the Church. This means the Spirit’s work is not a ‘bonus’ added to the basic salvation secured by Christ. James Dunn rightly concludes that “the gift of the Spirit may not be separated in any way from conversion”
In the Old Testament certain individuals like Joseph and Daniel were ‘filled’ with the Spirit to fulfil a particular task or ministry. The same occurs in the New Testament with individuals such as Stephen and Barnabas. Two different words are used in Greek to denote this filling with the Spirit, but they are virtually interchangeable.
Another dimension to ‘filling’ is apparent from Ephesians 5:18. It is a command signifying the need to have an ongoing filling. Peter O’Brien links the filling of the Spirit to the indwelling of Christ in Ephesians 3:17-19. He therefore argues that to be filled with the Spirit means to be spiritually mature which consists of walking in holiness according to Paul’s urgings later in the letter. Michael Horton similarly views the filling of the Spirit as “being led by him rather than our sinful passions.” Verses 19-21 are “dependent syntactically” on verse 18 so highlighting that the characteristic of ‘filling’ is ordinary daily living as a Christian.
There are four New Testament references to ‘sealing’ with the Spirit: John 6:27, 2 Corinthians 1:22, Ephesians 1:13, and 4:30. ‘Sealing’ is linked by Paul to the first century technical term for a partial payment in advance, άρραβών. It is therefore tied to the eschatological promise of salvation. The Holy Spirit is the Trinity’s down payment, guaranteeing the disbursement of funds from the treasury of Christ’s infinite merit. There is another sense in that it protects the person sealed from spiritual harm. It is, therefore, impossible for one who has been claimed by God to simultaneously be possessed or indwelt by an evil spirit.
Horton also highlights the legal aspect of sealing, i.e. convicting Christians of their righteousness because of their justification in Christ. For John Owen “the spirit himself is expressed as this seal, and not any of his operation.” Using John 6:27, he argues the sealing of Christ by the Father was the communication of the Spirit to him, authorizing and empowering his mission. He concludes that the sealing of Christians is the communication of the Spirit to them, enabling them to fulfil their holy calling. In Ephesians 1:13-14 ‘the Holy Spirit’ is an instrumental dative, indicating that the Holy Spirit “is both the seal and the means of sealing.”
Pentecost is by nature a unique historical and theological event. This baptism of the Spirit is the crowning achievement of Christ’s work, the establishment of the Church as the body of Christ where the Spirit dwells. According to 1 Corinthians 12:13, the baptism of the Spirit now is the gift of the Spirit received at conversion. Abraham Kuyper therefore insists a Christian who prays for a baptism of the Spirit is actually denying Pentecost. Being ‘filled’ with the Spirit could mean either a special empowering by the Spirit to fulfil a task or the mark of mature Christian living, which is the expansion and intensification” of the Spirit’s indwelling. ‘Sealing’ has eschatological, protection, and legal aspects.
Allen, A.L., 2019. ‘Baptism as Transformation and Promise: The Seal of the Spirit in 2 Corinthians, Ephesians, and
Lutheran liturgy,’ Word and World 39 no.2,
Beeke, J.R., 2004. ‘Anthony Burgess on Assurance,’ in Puritan
Reformed Spirituality, Grand Rapids:
Evangelical Press, pp.170-95.
Cole, G.A., 2007. He Who Gives Life: The Doctrine of the
Holy Spirit, Wheaton: Crossway.
Dunn, James D.G., 1970. Baptism
in the Holy Spirit, London: SCM.
Ferguson, Sinclair B., 1996. The Holy Spirit,
Ferguson, Sinclair B., 2017. Some Pastors and Teachers: Reflecting a Biblical Vision of What Every Minister Should Be,
Edinburgh: Banner of Truth.
Fredericks, Gary, 1988. ‘Rethinking the Role of the Holy
Spirit in the Lives of Old Testament
Believers, Trinity Journal 9 no.1,
Richard B. Jr., 1979. Perspectives on Pentecost: New Testament Teaching
on the Gifts
of the Holy Spirit, Phillipsburg:
P & R.
Richard B. Jr., 1980. ‘The Holy Spirit,’ WTJ 43 no.1, pp.58-78.
Horton, Michael, 2017. Rediscovering
the Holy Spirit, Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
Kostenberger, Andreas J., 1997. ‘What Does It Mean to be
Filled with the Spirit? A Biblical Investigation,’
JETS 40 no.2, pp. 229-40.
Kuyper, Abraham, 1946. The
Work of the Holy Spirit, trans. Henri De Vries, Grand Rapids:
Eerdmans. Online: https://ccel.org/ccel/kuyper/holy_spirit. Cited 18 March
Levison, John R., 2011. ‘Filled with the Spirit: A
Conversation with Pentecostal and Charismatic Scholars,’ JPT 20 no.2, pp. 213-231.
Lloyd-Jones, D.M., 2002. Great
Doctrines Volume 2: God The Holy Spirit, London: Hodder
Murray, Iain H., 1998. Pentecost-
Today? The Biblical Basis for Understanding Revival. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth.
O’Brien, P.T., 1999. The
Letter to the Ephesians (The Pillar New Testament Commentary), Leicester: Apollos.
Owen, John, 2004. The
Holy Spirit: His Gifts and Power, Fearn: Christian Focus.
Sproul, R.C., 1990. The
Mystery of the Holy Spirit, Wheaton: Tyndale House.
Woodcock, Eldon, 1998. ‘The Seal of the Holy Spirit,’ Bibliotheca Sacra 155 no.168, pp.139-63.
Woodcock, Eldon, 2000. ‘The Filling of the Holy Spirit,’ Bibliotheca Sacra 15 no.625, pp.68-87.
Covid 19 & God - Reflection
Here are some parts of the Bible to think about yourself...
Genesis 50:20 “As for you, you meant evil against
me; but God meant it for good, to
bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”
2 Chronicles 10:15 “So the king did not listen to the people, for this turn of events was from God, to fulfil the word that the LORD had spoken to Jeroboam son of Nebat through Elijah the Shilonite.”
2 Chronicles 22:7 “Through Ahaziah's visit to
Joram, God brought about Ahaziah's
downfall. When Ahaziah arrived, he went out with Joram to meet Jehu son of
Nimshi, whom the LORD had anointed to
destroy the house of Ahab.”
Psalm 115:3 “Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him.”
Psalm 139:16 “your eyes have seen my unformed substance;
And in your book they were all written, the
days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of
Isaiah 14:24-27 “The LORD Almighty has sworn, "Surely,
as I have planned, so it will be,
and as I have purposed, so it will
stand. I will crush the Assyrian in my
land; on my mountains, I will trample him down. His yoke will be taken from my
people, and his burden removed from their shoulders."
Isaiah 40:22-23 “He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in. He brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing.”
Isaiah 41:25 "I have stirred up one from the north, and he comes--one from the rising sun who calls on my name. He treads on rulers as if they were mortar, as if he were a potter treading the clay.”
Isaiah 45:7 “I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I,
the LORD, do all these things.” God is ultimately in control of disaster.
Ezekiel 38:21 “I
will summon a sword against Gog on all my mountains, declares the Sovereign
LORD. Every man's sword will be against his brother.”
Hosea 5:6 “When they go with their flocks and herds to
seek the LORD, they will not find him;
he has withdrawn himself from them.”
Amos 3:6 “When a trumpet sounds in a city, do not the
people tremble? When disaster comes to a city, has not the LORD caused it?” God plans disaster.
Job 1:11-12 “But stretch out your hand and strike
everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face." The LORD
said to Satan, "Very well, then, everything he has is in your hands,
but on the man himself do not lay a finger." Then Satan went out from the
presence of the LORD.”
Job 1:21 "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and
naked I shall depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised." Job
attributes the loss of his possessions and the deaths of his family to God.
Proverbs 16:33 “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD.” The
roll of the dice is decided by God.
Proverbs 19:21 “Many are the plans in a man's heart
(=will), but it is the LORD's purpose
that prevails.” God’s will over-rules human will.
Proverbs 21:1 “The
king's heart (= will) is in the hand of the LORD; he directs it like a
watercourse wherever he please.” God
directs the human will.
Matthew 10:29 “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet
not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. 30 And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.” (Jesus thinks that God
controls every hair on the human head. The argument goes from the
lesser-to-greater. If God controls even human hair, does He not control all
John 3:8 “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes
from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit."
Acts 4:27-28 “Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.”
Romans 8:28 “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (All things implicitly includes sin and suffering)
Ascension Day Reflection
Bible readings: Acts 1:1-11 and Luke 24:44-53
Father, may these written words be faithful to the written word and lead us to the living word, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
We live in a world in which up is better than down. Singers want to be at the top of the charts, athletes want to be on top of their game, students want to be at the top of the class and so on. Everyone would rather have an up day than a down day. When the stock market rises, we celebrate but despair when it crashes down. No one wants to be at the bottom of someone’s list. We work to climb the ladder not descend the career ladder. We hear and read about mountain climbers but not so much is said about valley descenders.
Leah loves showing me things and she was delighted in showing me how high she could jump and at least for a moment defy gravity.
The reality is that we want to live ascended lives. We want to break free from the things that hold us down and rise above it all. Something within us knows that we are more than earthbound creatures. The problem is that we have distorted what ascension and ascended life mean. We forget that Christ’s ascension seats humanity next to God, and settle for attempted self-ascension.
That distortion effects our way of understanding God. In this view God is in heaven and up there somewhere while we are stuck down here. We spend our time like Leah jumping up and down thinking if we just jump a little higher or a little harder or maybe fast we can touch heaven. This gets lived out in so many ways. I our lives it can be comparing ourselves with others, judging others and competing against others. We compare not just our lives with other people but their lifestyle, we believe that for us to ascend we have to discredit others or at least judge others.
It might be that in our lives we fill it with things such as busyness hoping to climb to new heights or finding ways to self-elevate ourselves by down grading others through our actions, speech or thought.
The sad thing is that this self-ascension fragments not just our lives, but our communities and our world. It separates from the creator and destroys valuable relationships and intimacy with others. It becomes the gravity that deny us the ascended life we are all seeking.
Jesus’ own ascension reshapes our understanding as His ascension is the correct and antidote to our fragmentation and mis-understanding. Jesus’ ascension is about his presence. It is not about his leaving but about “the fullness of him who fills all in all.”. It is not about a location but about a relationship. Presence, fullness and relationship lie behind the question of those angels when they ask, “Why do you stand looking up to heaven?” It is as if they are saying to us today, “Don’t misunderstand and disfigure this moment. Don’t deny yourselves the gift that is being given you.”
The ascension of Jesus completes the resurrection. The resurrection is victory over death and the ascension lifts humanity up to heaven and seats us with our Father in heaven at the right hand. We now partake of God’s glory and divinity.
The ascension is more about letting go than it is reaching and grasping – so the question that comes to mind is “what pulls us down?” What do we need to let go of? Is it fear? Anger? Resentment? To be in control? Jealously? Pride? Many of us will be caught in the chains of heavy burdens or things that weight us down, so I pause and wonder what denies you Jesus’ ascension?
The gravity that keeps us down is not creation or the circumstances of our lives but within us. We need to begin to look at our own lives and identify the places of gravity. To look at the very things that hold us down and point us the way to Jesus. Our participation in Jesus’ ascension begins not by looking up but looking within.
To finish I will use our collect for Ascension to pray, so let us pray together…
Almighty God, that as we believe your
only-begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ to have ascended into heaven, so we may
also in heart and mind there ascend, and with him continually dwell; who lives
and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.