The Ineffability of God

Why is it, if God is ineffable, do we spend so much time attempting to describe Him in the exact wording?

Continue reading “The Ineffability of God”

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The Holy Spirit and Gender

Suzanne is presenting an excellent series on the use of gender when applied the holy Spirit of God (here and here). She makes the point:

It appears that in the 19th century there was a trend to change the pronoun usage for the spirit, away from the neuter, which had agreement with the grammatical gender of the Greek, and assign a masculine personal pronoun to the spirit. The difficulty is that two doctrines are affected by this decision. First, the holy spirit is treated as a distinct person, and second, the spirit is designated as a masculine person.

And the point is well received. (Suzanne is to be commended for her lack of concerning on influencing people on their viewpoint of the Trinity; I, unfortunately, see most things in doctrinal terms, even if I don’t always say so.) We must remember that the doctrine of the deity and Person(ality) of the holy Spirit was only starting to develop nearing the end of the Fourth Century.

Theophilus wrote concerning the Spirit in a non-gendered, non-personal, manner,

…if I say He is Spirit, I speak of His breath…For as the pomegranate, with the rind containing it, has within it many cells and compartments which are separated by tissues, and has also many seeds dwelling in it, so the whole creation is contained by the spirit of God, and the containing spirit is along with the creation contained by the hand of God (Theophilus of Antioch. To Autolycus, Book 1, Chapters III,V. Translated by Marcus Dods, A.M. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 2. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight).

Ignatius, as well, saw the Spirit as an impersonal force,

appointed by the mind of Jesus Christ, whom he, in accordance with his own will securely established by his Holy Spirit…the Spirit is not deceived as it is from God (Ignatius. Letter to the Philadelphians. 0:1,7:1, pp.177,181).

Athenagoras wrote c. 170:

The Holy Spirit…which operates in the prophets, we assert to be an effluence of God, flowing from Him, and returning back again like a beam of the sun…Who, then, would not be astonished to hear men who speak of God the Father, and of God the Son, and of the Holy Spirit and who declare both their power in union and their distinction in order, called atheists? (Athenagoras. A Plea for the Christians, Chapter X. Translated by B.P. Pratten. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 2. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight).

It is my opinion, that Gregory of Nazianzus (and the other Cappadocians as well) was the major contributing factor in the development of the doctrine of the Trinity’s Third Person. (see also here). Even as late as 380, Gregory Nazianzus said,

“Of the wise among us, some consider the Holy Ghost an influence, others a creature, others God himself, (τῶν καθ ̓ ἡμᾶς σοφῶν οἱ μὲν ἐνέργειαν τοῦτο ὑπέλαβον, οἱ δὲ κτίσμα, οἱ δὲ Θεόν) and again others know not which way to decide, from reverence, as they say, for the Holy Scripture, which declares nothing exact in the case. For this reason they waver between worshipping and not worshipping the Holy Ghost, and strike a middle course, which is in fact, however, a bad one.”

Scholars generally recognize that the Spirit was not a part of the controversies of the 4th century (and reading the early creeds, you will note a remarkable absence of thoughts on the holy Spirit.)

245 The apostolic faith concerning the Spirit was announced by the second ecumenical council at Constantinople (381) (Catechism of the Catholic Church. Imprimatur Potest +Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. Doubleday, NY 1995, p. 72).

The language of the New Testament permits the Holy Spirit to be understood as an impersonal force or influence more readily than it does the Son…The attempt to develop an understanding of the Holy Spirit consistent with the trinitarian passages…came to fruition at Constantinople in 381. There were a number of reasons why the personhood of the Holy Spirit took longer to acknowledge than the Son: (1) the term pneuma, breath, is neuter in general and impersonal in ordinary meaning; (2) the distinctive work of the Holy Spirit, influencing the believer, does not necessarily seem as personal as that of the Father…in addition, those who saw the Holy Spirit as a Person, were often heretical, for example, the Montanists; (3) many of the early theologians attributed to the Logos or Word, the revelatory activity later theologians saw as the special, personal work of the Holy Spirit (Brown HOJ. Heresies: Heresy and Orthodoxy in the History of the Church. Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody (MA), 1988, p. 140).

One Orthodox scholar wrote:

“Since the Council of Constantinople (381), which condemned the Pneumatomachians (“fighters against the Spirit”), no one in the Orthodox East has ever denied that the Spirit is not only a “gift” but also the giver–i.e., that he is the third Person of the holy Trinity” (Serbian Orthodox Diocese of Raska and Prizren. Basic Doctrines: Holy Spirit)

In regards to translation for this subject, I have previously stated this:

The Greek, unlike some bible translations, does not assign a gender to the Spirit in Hebrews 10.15 (and the words ‘again he says’ are added to the text), nor a pronoun. The Greek in Hebrews 10.15 is literally ‘the Spirit, the Holy (to pneuma to hagion)’ – both pronouns of God. It was not uncommon in Second Temple Judaism and early Apostolic writings to attribute the witness of the Scriptures to the Spirit. The writer of Hebrews had done this in 3.7; 9.8. In 3.7, the writer is attributing the Psalm of David (95) to the the Spirit, which is not uncommon.

Irenaeus, in his work, On Apostolic Preaching (the originals do not survive), writes,

Since then the Word establishes, that is to say, gives body and grants the reality of being, and the Spirit gives order and form to the diversity of the powers; rightly and fittingly is the Word called the Son, and the Spirit the Wisdom of God…

I cannot separate the issues of doctrine, which is for me the view and interaction with God, from translation, and vice versa. Suzanne is providing me a very interesting interaction between translation and doctrine – although I fully recognize this may not be her intent. I look forward to her continued posting on this subject.

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Studies in the Economy – The Two Hands of God

I have been working on this for some time, so please, let it rip.

God is one, of this, there cannot be any doubt in Christianity. Many would assume that this dismisses the idea of emanations of divinity (Arianists; Jehovah’s Witnesses) or would assume that there many lesser deities which are named Son and Spirit (Gnostics; Mormons) yet the Scriptures are clear that God is a monad.

If we hold to a doctrine, proclaiming that doctrine as one held by the Apostles then it would be well reasoned that in the generation following the Apostles, that same doctrine can be easily seen. A ‘traditional’ ‘oneness’ belief would have us utter the phrase ‘Father in Creation, Son in Redemption and Holy Ghost in Regeneration’, yet according to the Scriptures, it was not the Father who was active in Creation, but the Logos who was incarnated as the Son. I have stated before that I am uncomfortable with the ‘oneness’ label as I am with the ‘modalist’ label, and have opted for a third, economic. In the following article, I attempt to examine a little of Irenaeus and Theophilus of Antioch in their attempts at understanding the Apostle’s doctrine of the ‘oneness’ of God.

We first acknowledge what our beloved Bishop of Antioch, Ignatius, wrote to the Ephesians,

For our God, Jesus Christ, was, according to the economy of God…

The idea is simple and in line with the Apostles, in that Jesus Christ was God, and yet according to the economy of God, became man. The logos that preceded the Incarnation eternally existed with God and was God, even as the word of a man is the man. Throughout the Old Testament and the Deuterocanon, the power of God’s spoken word is emphasized (Ps. 33:6, 107:20; Is. 55:11; Jer. 23:29; 2 Esd. 6:38; Wisdom 9:1-2). “Judaism understood God’s Word to have almost autonomous powers and substance once spoken; to be, in fact, ‘a concrete reality, a veritable cause.'” (Richard N. Longenecker, The Christology of Early Jewish Christianity , 145.) But a word did not need to be uttered or written to be alive. A word was defined as “an articulate unit of thought, capable of intelligible utterance.” (C. H. Dodd, Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel, 263.

Not only do we have the understanding of the Word of God, but we also see that Judaism developed a foundational idea for the Wisdom of God as well:

“The LORD possessed me at the beginning of His way,
Before His works of old. I have been established from everlasting,
From the beginning, before there was ever an earth. When there were no depths I was brought forth,
When there were no fountains abounding with water. Before the mountains were settled,
Before the hills, I was brought forth; While as yet He had not made the earth or the fields,
Or the primal dust of the world. When He prepared the heavens, I was there,
When He drew a circle on the face of the deep, When He established the clouds above,
When He strengthened the fountains of the deep, When He assigned to the sea its limit,
So that the waters would not transgress His command,
When He marked out the foundations of the earth, Then I was beside Him as a master craftsman;
And I was daily His delight
Rejoicing always before Him,

(Proverbs 8:22-30 NKJV)

These personifications “must be understood within the context of the ancient Jewish concern for the uniqueness of God, the most controlling religious idea of ancient Judaism.” ( Larry W. Hurtado, One God, One Lord: Early Christian Devotion and Ancient Jewish Monotheism) The idea is not to create a separate deity, or a tripartite monad – instead, the Jewish writers, sages, and theologians understood the personification of the Word and Wisdom of God as emanations from Him, rightly being what God is – ‘and was God.’ “What pre-Christian Judaism said of Wisdom and Philo also of the Logos, Paul and the others say of Jesus. The role that Proverbs, ben Sira, etc. ascribe to Wisdom, these earliest Christians ascribe to Jesus.” James D. G. Dunn, Christology in the Making , 167.

It is not uncommon for biblical writers to group the Wisdom and Word of God into one,

“O God of my fathers and Lord of mercy, who hast made all things by thy word, and by thy wisdom hast formed man, to have dominion over the creatures thou hast made, (Wisdom 9:1-2 RSVA)

This conception of Wisdom parallels a  general Jewish explanation of how a transcendent God could participate in a temporal creation. The Aramaic Targums resolved this problem by equating God with His Word: thus in the Targums, Exodus 19:17, rather than saying the people went out to meet God, says that the people went out to meet the word of God, or Memra. N.T. Wright observes in Who Was Jesus? that Jewish monotheism “was never, in the Jewish literature of the crucial period, an analysis of the inner being of God, a kind of numerical statement about, so to speak, what God was like on the inside.” Rather, it was “always a polemical statement directed outwards against the pagan nations.” Rabbis of Jesus’ time had no difficulty in personifying separate aspects of God’s personality – His Wisdom, His Law (Torah), His Presence (Shekinah), and His Word (Memra), for example. This division had the philosophical purpose of “get(ting) around the problem of how to speak appropriately of the one true God who is both beyond the created world and active within it.”

Richard Bauckham, God Crucified: Monotheism and Christology in the New Testament , 21, states, “2 Enoch 33:4, in an echo of Deutero-Isaiah (Isa. 40:13), says that God had no advisor in his work of creation, but that his Wisdom was his advisor. The meaning is clearly that God had no one to advise him. His Wisdom, who is not someone else but intrinsic to his own identity, advised him.” Mr. Bauckham, and those mentioned above, cite references indicating  ‘intrinsic’ attributes of God – His Word and Wisdom. Irenaeus and Theophilus, who like Ignatius two generations before him, a Bishop of Antioch would agree.

Irenaeus writes (Irenaeus, Against Heresies IV, 20.1),

For God did not stand in need of these , in order to the accomplishing of what He had Himself determined with Himself beforehand should be done, as if He did not possess His own hands.


For with Him were always present the Word and Wisdom, the Son and the Spirit, by whom and in whom, freely and spontaneously, He made all things, to whom also He speaks, saying, “Let Us make man after Our image and likeness;

Further, the bishop of Lyons said,

And this is He of whom the Scripture says, “And God formed man, taking clay of the earth, and breathed into his face the breath of life.” It was not angels, therefore, who made us, nor who formed us, neither had angels power to make an image of God, nor any one else, except the Word of the Lord, nor any Power remotely distant from the Father of all things.

Irenaeus did not see a stand alone unit of God, nor anything else but an emanation of God – His Word – that accomplished the Creation of Man. For Irenaeus, the Word of God was equal with God in that the word was God.Again, Irenaeus cites a predecessor,

“Through the extension of the hands of a divine person (διὰ τῆς θείας ἐκτάσεως τῶν χειρῶν— literally, “through the divine extension of hands.” The old Latin merely reads, “per extensionem manuum.”), gathering together the two peoples to one God.” For these were two hands, because there were two peoples scattered to the ends of the earth; but there was one head in the middle, as there is but one God, who is above all, and through all, and in us all.

Irenaeus writes,

(God)  has come within reach of human knowledge (knowledge, however, not with regard to His greatness, or with regard to His essence—for that has no man measured or handled—but after this sort: that we should know that He who made, and formed, and breathed in them the breath of life, and nourishes us by means of the creation, establishing all things by His Word, and binding them together by His Wisdom — this is He who is the only true God),  – 3.24.2

Here is a clear picture of Irenaeus’ concept of God – that there is one Person with two hands which accomplishes the heavenly things, and that person is God alone. He was not alone in this description of God. Theophilus the sixth Bishop of Antioch, preceded Irenaeus by a half a generation, but promoted the same idea  – that the Wisdom and Word of God was His hands, as opposed to the developed notion that they were Persons themselves.

Theophilus was a convert to Christianity (as opposed to being born into a Christian family). Like Justin Martyr, he had converted from Greek philosophy by reading and studying the Jewish scriptures. He never forgot this as at times he referred to the synagogue as the place of the church’s development. He deplored the pagan culture that surrounded them, urging his readers to forsake it and turn to Christianity. He, like Irenaeus after him, sought to explain the ability of a transcendent God to operate in a temporal world. He focused on the two hands of God, and is often thought of the predecessor that Irenaeus mentioned. Theophilus used the Greek word for wisdom 27 times in his writing, To Autolycus, while quoting Proverbs 8.22.27 five times.

Theophilus, in chapter seven on his only extent work, writes,

This is my God, the Lord of all, who alone stretched out the heaven, and established the breadth of the earth under it;

As he begins his rhetoric, continues by describing the our sin sickness,

But, if you will, you may be healed. Entrust yourself to the Physician, and He will couch the eyes of your soul and of your heart. Who is the Physician? God, who heals and makes alive through His word and wisdom. God by His own word and wisdom made all things; for “by His word were the heavens made, and all the host of them by the breath of His mouth.” Most excellent is His wisdom. By His wisdom God founded the earth;

This is not the place for this discussion, but Wisdom is often used in the Fathers, as theology developed, to symbolize the pneuma (Spirit).

In chapter 18, Theophilus, in regards to the creation of man,

But as to what relates to the creation of man, his own creation cannot be explained by man, though it is a succinct account of it which holy Scripture gives. For when God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness,” He first intimates the dignity of man. For God having made all things by His Word, and having reckoned them all mere bye-works, reckons the creation of man to be the only work worthy of His own hands. Moreover, God is found, as if needing help, to say, “Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness.” But to no one else than to His own Word and wisdom did He say, “Let Us make.” And when He had made and blessed him, that he might increase and replenish the earth, He put all things under his dominion, and at his service; and He appointed from the first that he should find nutriment from the fruits of the earth, and from seeds, and herbs, and acorns, having at the same time appointed that the animals be of habits similar to man’s, that they also might eat of an the seeds of the earth.

I would disagree with Theophilius in assigning the audience of God to His Word and Wisdom, however, the creation story brings us to an interesting point,

Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. (Genesis 1:26-27 NKJV)

The Greek word for wisdom is ‘sophia’, and in the original, it is feminine (as is the counterpart in the Hebrew). While this matter is one left for a deeper discussion, we may perceive in the creation account in Genesis the idea that God created a male and female which is united into one flesh, as we have two hands of God with one God. Although this is not to say that the Spirit is uniquely feminine, but Wisdom is referred to in the feminine while the Word is always masculine. (Except for the instance when Christ declares Himself Wisdom (Luke 7.35))

The idea that a transcendent God operates in this world through His hand(s) is not uncommon to the Scriptures. The phrase occurs six times in the Hebrew Old Testament (1st Samuel 5:11; 2nd Chronicles 30:12; Job 19:21; Job 27:11; Ecclesiastes 2:24; Ecclesiastes 9:1;). Each time it refers to the power of God in dealing with humanity, which is exactly what the Incarnation was. In the New Testament, the phrase occurs nine times, with adjective ‘right’ attached. ( Mark 16:19; Acts 2:33; Acts 7:55-56; Romans 8:34; Colossians 3:1; Hebrews 10:12; 1st Peter 3:22; 1st Peter 5:6). In the New Testament, it refers to the power of Christ on the Throne of God.

But now, O LORD, You are our Father; We are the clay, and You our potter; And all we are the work of Your hand. (Isaiah 64:8 NKJV)

But now, O Lord, you are our father, and we are the clay; we are all the work of your hands (NETS  – English Translation of the LXX)

In Isaiah 64.8, the Hebrew is limiting to God to one hand, whereas the Greek Septuagint understands the Hebrew to mean the two hands.  Further in Psalms 98.1, we read of further anthropomorphizing of the transcendent Lord,

Oh, sing to the LORD a new song! For He has done marvelous things; His right hand and His holy arm have gained Him the victory.

Beyond the simple attribution of human features to God, we find two distinct emanations from the Diety, but not separate nor distinct, yet operating out from God. Both Irenaeus and Theophilus used the Jewish personification of Wisdom and the Word and anthromorphised them into the hands of God, giving to them the works of creation – old and New – while allowing for the sole praise to belong to God as Originator.

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Church Fathers on the Sacred Scriptures

But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:14-17 NKJV)

Collected from here:


“It is manifest that those things are not to be inquired into, which Scripture has passed over into silence. For the Holy Spirit has dispensed and administered to us all things which conduce to our profit” Anagog Contemp in Hexem lib 8 init


“…for the tokens of truth are more exact as drawn from Scripture, than from other sources…” De Decretis 31

“The holy and inspired Scriptures are sufficient of themselves for the preaching of the Truth” Contra Gentiles 1,1

“These books are the fountains of salvation, so that he who thirsts may be satisfied with the oracles contained in them: in these alone the school of piety preaches the Gospel; let no man add to or take away from them.” Festal Letters 39

“For they were spoken and written by God” De Incarnatione 56

“…the Scriptures…will learn from them more completely and clearly the exact detail of what we said” ibid 56

“Scripture is of all things most sufficient for us” Ad Epis Aeg 4

“Divine Scripture is sufficient above all things” De Synodis 6


“The Scriptures are enough for instruction” Vita S. Antoni 16


“What more shall I teach you than what we read in the Apostle? For Holy Scripture fixes the rule for our doctrine, lest we dare to be wiser than we ought” De Bono Viduitatis 2

“Let us therefore give in…to the authority of the Holy Scriptures” De Peccatorum 33

“Let us search for the Church in the Sacred Scriptures” Epis 105

“e will find there in much greater abundance things that are to be found nowhere else, but can be learnt only in the wonderful sublimity and wonderful simplicity of the Scriptures” De Doctr Christ 2,42,63

“It believes also the Holy Scriptures, old and new, which we call canonical, and which are the source of the faith by which the just lives…” De Civ Dei 19,18


“The hearers taught in the Scriptures ought to test what is said by teachers and accept that which agrees with the Scriptures but reject what is foreign” Moralia 72,1

“Therefore let God-inspired Scripture decide between us; and on whichever side be found doctrines in harmony with the word of God, in favor of that side will be cast the vote of truth” Epis Ad Eustathius


“How can we prove and certify as true something which Sacred Scripture does not attest?” Glaphyra on Genesis PG 69,53c


“In regard to the divine and holy mysteries of the faith, not the least part may be handed on without the Holy Scriptures. Do not be led astray by winning words and clever arguments. Even to me, who tell you these things, do not give ready belief, unless you receive from the Holy Scriptures the proof of the things which I announce. The salvation in which we believe is not proved from clever reasoning, but from the Holy Scriptures.” Catechetical Lectures 4,17

“…that you also, by ranging over the Sacred Scriptures, may lay hold of salvation for yourself, and, sated with the Scriptures, you may say: ‘How sweet to my palate are your promises, sweeter than honey to my mouth!’ ” ibid 9,13

“Now do not fix your attention on any skill of language on my part, for perhaps you may be deceived; unless you get the testimony of the prophets on each point, do not believe what is said. Unless you learn from the Holy Scriptures regarding the Virgin, the place, the time, the manner , ‘do not receive the witness of man’ .” ibid 12,5

“‘He was buried, and He rose again the third day, according to the Scriptures’ . An Apostle has sent us back to the testimony of the Scriptures; from the same source we will do well to discover the hope of our salvation.” ibid 14,2

“Let us assert of the Holy Spirit, therefore, only what is written; let us not busy ourselves about what is not written. The Holy Spirit has authored the Scriptures; He has spoken of Himself all that He wished, or all that we could grasp; let us confine ourselves to what He has said, for it is reckless to do otherwise.” ibid 16,2


“Therefore I beg you all that you give up what appeals to this one or that one and that you address all these questions concerning these things to the Scriptures.” Homily 13 on 2 Corinthians

“If anything is said without Scripture, the thinking of the hearers limps. But where the testimony proceeds from the divinely given Scripture, it confirms both the speech of the preacher and the soul of the hearer.” Commenting on Psalm 95

“But when Scripture wants to teach us something like that, it interprets itself and does not permit the hearer to err. I therefore beg and entreat that we close our ears to all these things and follow the canon of the Holy Scripture exactly.” Homily 13 on Genesis

“As a trusty door, Scripture shuts out heretics, securing us from error…” Joann 58

“Everything in the divine Scriptures is clear and straightforward; they inform us about all that is necessary” Epis 2 ad Thess 3,4


“eing most properly assured that the Scriptures are indeed perfect, since they were spoken by the Word of God and by His Spirit” Against Heresies 2,28,2

“The Apostles at that time first preached the Gospel but later by the will of God, they delivered it to us in the Scriptures, that it might be the foundation and pillar of our faith” ibid 3,1,1

“Since, therefore, the tradition from the Apostles does thus exist in the Church, and is permanent among us, let us revert to the Scriptural proof furnished by those Apostles who did also write the Gospel, in which they recorded the doctrine regarding God, pointing out that our Lord Jesus Christ is the truth, and that no lie is in Him” ibid 3,5,1


“Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ” In Isaiah Prologue


“If it is nowhere written, then let it fear the woe which impends on all who add to or take away from the written word” Ad Hermogenes 22

“It is right that His conduct be investigated according to the rule of Scripture” Ad Marcion 3,17


“It would be acting according to demonic inspiration to follow the thinking of the human mind and to think there could be anything divine apart from the authority of the Scriptures” Pascal Letter of 401

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