Towards a Biblically-Based Theological Label

*Note: Let me say first, that I am even in a process of learning and seek always to correct myself, in speech and in manner. If I cease to grow, then let me perish. In writing my Unus Deus, someone pointed out that early on I made mention that both ‘oneness’ and ‘modalism’ were not biblical terms and chided me a bit for continuing to use them. Thus, my mind begin to work on developing a term for use, if by no one but myself, to describe this particular theology of the Godhead. Upon reading Dr. Kelly’s closer examination of ‘modalism’, I have to say that my original distast for that word, and that fact that it implies that God exists in ‘modes’, grew to the point that I have to spit it out. Besides that, the hypocrisy of oneness believers accusing the Trinitiarians of having non-biblical language in their theology is clearly seen when we use ‘oneness’ or ‘modalism’.

‘Oneness’ believers, or Modalists, tend to attack Trinitarians for the non-biblical language, such as ‘Trinity’, that they employ in discussing their doctrine, yet, these same believers readily use ‘oneness’, or Modalists, both terms never found in the bible.

In Dr. Kelly’s book, Early Christian Doctrines, he makes the assumption that Ignatius was the first ‘economic Trinitarian’ who ‘regard God as an undifferentiated monad in His essential being, the Son and the Spirit being merely forms of modes of the Father’s self-revelation, only distinguishable from Him in the process of revelation.’ The term ‘economic Trinitarian’ is a backwards applied word; however, several of the Apologists used the word ‘economy’. Ignatius used the word in his letter to the Ephesians (18.2)

γρ θες μν ησος Χριστς κυοφορθη π Μαρας κατ’ οκονομαν θεο

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

Irenaeus could, along with Ignatius, claim that ‘by the very essence and nature of His being there is but one God’ and yet ‘according to the economy of our redemption there are both Father and Son.’

The word ‘οἰκονομία’ is used in 10 or 11 times (depending on the textual tradition) in the Greek New Testament. It is the word from which we derived our English word ‘economy’ (transliterated οἰκονομία is oikonomia). Within the word are the concepts of administration, dispensation, and household management. The Latin translation used the word ‘dispensatione‘, from which the KJV translators get the word ‘dispensation’. In examining the possibly of using this word as theological label, let us examine Paul’s words.

(Eph 1:10 NKJV) That in the οἰκονομία of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth–in Him.

(Eph 3:2 NKJV) If indeed you have heard of the οἰκονομία of the grace of God which was given to me for you,

(Col 1:25 NKJV) Of which I became a minister according to the οἰκονομία of God which was given to me for you, to fulfill the word of God,

It is in Colossians that Paul refers to the economy of God, or ‘divine economy’ as Gill says. If we can understand the Son in the entire plan of God, we can see that ‘economy’ entails for Paul a deeper meaning that a mere administration. In Ephesians 1.10, Paul speaks not of the dispensation, or act of distribution by a steward, but more along the lines of an Economy to complete God’s plan of salvation. If we understand that God’s plan of salvation was to gather together His creation back to Him, and that the only way that they could be done is through the Son – Logos – and that the Spirit of God empowers the new creation (as it did with the old) with grace, then both the Son and the Spirit as manifestations of God are the essential part of the goal of consummation. It is the economy of grace through Jesus Christ.

A second word, which has biblical support, no Traditional support, and can easily be summed up in the previous word, is emanation. It is found in two places in the Bible, Hebrews 1.3 and Wisdom 7.26.

For she is the brightness of the everlasting light, the unspotted mirror of the power of God, and the image of his goodness. (Wis 7:26 KJV)

παγασμα γρ στιν φωτς ιδου κα σοπτρον κηλδωτον τς το θεο νεργεας κα εκν τς γαθτητος ατο. (Wis 7:26 LXX)

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; (Heb 1:3 KJV)

ος ων απαυγασμα της δοξης και χαρακτηρ της υποστασεως αυτου φερων τε τα παντα τω ρηματι της δυναμεως αυτου δι εαυτου καθαρισμον ποιησαμενος των αμαρτιων ημων εκαθισεν εν δεξια της μεγαλωσυνης εν υψηλοις (Heb 1:3 GNT-TR)

The simple idea that is both the Word and the Spirit are emanations from God, flowing from and back to Him. This is understood in Isaiah 55.11, which reads

So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth;

It shall not return to Me void,

But it shall accomplish what I please,

And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.

(Isa 55:11 NKJV)

In this word, as a theological label, is contained the idea that the Son and the Spirit are both emanations from God, that during the work of Redemption and Regeneration, flow from Him, but once those works are compete, they flow back to him.

I have not decided yet for myself, but I am leaning to ‘economic’ or ‘economist’. What do you think?

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Reviewing Early Christian Doctrines – 3rd Century Trinitarianism (pt1)

*Please start here, read this, and then help with the discussion. This issue is a cornerstone issue and deserves a great deal of time.

As the Church moved into the Third Century, it was immediately besieged by heresies of various strips. Having dealt with the Gnosticism and other heresies (although even now, these ancient error filled doctrines erupt), which focused on the unity of God, the philosophers in the ranks begin to explore doctrine while pushing the Body of Christ into news areas and new thoughts. In the closing years of the previous century, we had seen the notion of an economic Deity settle into a language that focused on the οικονομία (economy) which is a biblical word; however, the thoughts of the philosophers moved beyond biblical words, concepts, and thoughts.

Dr. Kelly (pg 109) says that the success of the explanation of the Economy caused a ‘powerful reaction’ in circles that shied away from the Logos doctrine, citing that it ‘imperiled the divine unity.’ This led to two courses of thought that are often confused in the minds of Trinitarians. In discussing this, it is wise to understand that the modern ‘Church world’ sees both of these in the same light, as heretical factions; however, oneness believers see the latter as the true and authentic faith of the Church. In light of a Trinitarian’s – ancient and modern – what is known as monarchism close to ‘oneness’ doctrine but yet fails in several points, some which will be discussed at a later point.

Tertullian, the dread of every ‘oneness’ believer, was a theologian from the north African city of Carthage who along with the Roman Hippolytus begin to issue statements which would later mature at Nicaea. Dr. Kelly makes the point that these two figures of the past has no standing as official spokesmen for the Church. In ‘defending’ the Christian faith, both became schismatics – Tertullian with his Montanism, and Hippolytus with his schism against the Roman Bishop. The theology of these two no less great thinkers begin to involve, even more so than Clement and Origen, a brand of philosophy that seemed to ground itself in Christianity, but bore marks of outside influences. Tertullian wrote ‘before all things God was alone, being His own universe, location, everything. He was alone, however, in the sense that there was nothing external to Himself. But even then He was not really along, for He had with Him that Reason which He possessed within Himself, that is to say, His own Reason.’ (pg 111, citing Avd. Prax 5). Further, Tertullian constitutes the word as ‘a second in addition to Himself’ (secundum a se). This language is more philosophical than biblical, more Alexandrine than Antioch.

According to Hippolytus, alongside ‘the Father, there was another, a second Person, while the Spirit completed the Triad. (pg112 citing C. Noetus 7.11,14). According to Dr. Kelly, this fails squarely against the economic Deity as held by the Apologists, especially Irenaeus. As Dr. Kelly said (pg107-8), ‘Its second-century traits stand out clearly, particularly is representation of the Triad by the imagery, not of three coequal person…but rather of a single personage, the Father Who is the Godhead Itself, with His mind, or rationality, and His wisdom.’ In the matter of half a century, Christian had gone from recognizing one Person to recognizing three persons. His language, like Justin, has a ‘subordinationist ring’.

Hippolytus was ‘reluctant to designate the Word as the Son’ until the Incarnation while Tertullian ‘followed the Apologists in dating His ‘perfect generation, ‘’ meaning that the Word was generated before Creation. Before that, Tertullian has to admit that God ‘could not strictly be said to have a Son’. It is noteworthy that Dr. Kelly states that during the time of Tertullian and Hippolytus, the ‘Father’ began to take on more of a parental definition in relation to the ‘Son’. Later in the Third Century, Novatian refuses to tie the ‘generation of the Son to creation’ (pg 125) because it was illogical for God to be a Father and not have had a Son. This begins to show that the idea of God changed considerably – from first principle to parent; with that change, God changed from the economic Deity of the Apologists to a for now a firm bi-personal deity of the early Third Century.

Tertullian, our favorite dread, is a large focus on early Third Century thought and is often credited with the first use of the word Trinity (trinitas). He believes that the three – Father, Son, Spirit – are numerically distinct, ‘capable of being counted’. He states, ‘We believe in one only God, yet subject to this dispensation, which is our word for the economy, that the one only God has also a Son, His Word, Who has issued out of Himself…which Son then sent, according to His promise, the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, out of the Father’. Clearly ignoring Paul’s written command of refraining from going beyond what is written, Tertullian adds a pre-Nicene creed to the belief of the Apostles and the Apologists of the One God.

Although Tertullian believes that Stoicism had no place in Christianity, Dr. Kelly (pg 114) points out that his background of ideas was in fact Stoic, as he ‘regarded the divine spirit as a highly rarefied species of matter’. It is because of this that Tertullian can say ‘the Father is the whole substance, while the Son is a derivation from and the portion of the whole’ while not believing that the ‘potion’ (portio) is not a literal severance. According to Dr. Kelly, Tertullian ‘dismisses the idea that the Person can be three in ‘status, substance of power; as regards these the Godhead is indivisibly one, and the threeness applies only to the ‘grade’, or ‘aspect’, or ‘manifestation’ in which the Persons or presented.

Citing an advance on Irenaeus, Dr. Kelly says that both Hippolytus and Tertullian leaped over the Apologists in:

  • Their attempts to make explicit the oneness of the divine power or substance of which the Three were expressions or forms
  • Their recognition of ‘Them’ as Person.

Yet, in their expression of the Godhead switching from ‘it’ or ‘him’ to ‘them’, Dr. Kelly says that for these two thinkers, the Godhead is indivisible and ‘are one identical being.’ It is during this time that the Latin ‘persona,’ or ‘mask,’ becomes a word for theological use.

Dynamic Monarchianism is not worthy spending much time on it, since ‘oneness’ believers and Trinitarians both see it as a heresy, but is worth nothing that Dr. Kelly sees the classification of this heresy as Monarchianism as an interpretation of ‘adoptionism and Modalism as misguided attempts to salvage the Bible dogma that God is one.’ Although this heresy persisted for sometime and erupted on the modern scene in some small way as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, it serves very little in a discussion of the Trinity and Oneness doctrine.

What is usually called ‘oneness,’ Modalism,’ or ‘Modalistic Monarchianism, is held by a large number of people who profess Christianity. It is what is usually thought of when people say ‘Pentecostal.’ Seeing a supposed revival in the early part of the 20th century, ‘oneness’ doctrine is pointed at by many Trinitarians as an ancient heresy on the level of adoptionism and Gnosticism; ‘Oneness’ believers see themselves as the continuation of the ‘New Testament Church’, of the ‘Apostles’ Doctrine’, or simple in the line of Peter and Paul.

Dr. Kelly (pg119) says that Modalism was formulated in response to the increasing amount of importance that the Logos Doctrine began to have. Further, he states that it was to counter the efforts of ‘theologians to represent the Godhead as having revealed Itself in the economy as tri-personal’. It must be noted, that a oneness believer would have no problem in subscribing to the Economy as described by Dr. Kelly in pointing to the Apologists, but oneness does have a problem in the Deity as being represented as ‘tri-personal’. Dr. Kelly readily reminds us again that the term ‘Father’ did not carry the same wait for the Apologists, and hence the Apostles, as it did for Tertullian and Hippolytus, and it was this added weight that Modalists fought against.

Modalists argue(d) that the Word that emanated from the Father was verbally distinct, verses numerically, being a projection of the Father. Of the promoters of this language, we know very little. Nothing of their actual work survives; only their words and the interpretations of those words survive in the mouth of their opponents. Of Noetus, Sabellius, and Praxeas, we have a history spoiled by the victors of vigorous theological debates. We have Patripassianism, or the belief that the Father suffered, only the mouth of Tertullian and other Trinitarians. In it, Dr. Kelly says that a corollary exists that the Father suffered and ‘underwent Christ’s other human experiences.’ If this is truly Patripassianism, then this too is foreign to a biblical understanding of God.

Noetus is said to have pointed to the Scriptures for his support and to his accusers he would retort ‘What wrong have I done, glorifying one only God, Christ, Who was born, suffered and died?’ He was condemned, his detractors tell us, with the Elders using the Rule of Faith. His disciple, however, escaped and finding himself in Rome he found a pupil in Cleomenes during the bishopric of Zephyrinus. (198-217). It is this Bishop of Rome that Hippolytus would find himself set against which would force schism in Rome. Cleomenes, according to Hippolytus, ‘believed in one identical Godhead Which could be designated indifferently Father or Son; the terms did not stand for real distinctions, but were mere names applicable at different times.’ This seems to align itself with the modern Modalistic creed (Father in Creation, Son in Redemption, Holy Spirit in Regeneration); however it is not biblical and has no real support in history or Tradition.

Dr. Kelly commits an error by accepting Hippolytus’ unconditional comparison of Heraclitus and Modalism, forgetting that it was Justin that used Heraclitus for the basis of his own Logos Doctrine. Only in the works of Hippolytus do we read of Heraclitus and Modalism, so that the comparison is made by an opponent and not by the Modalists.

Praxeas is still a mystery, Dr. Kelly points out, in that he is a ‘shadowy figure’ whose given name may well be a nickname or a pseudonym for Callistus. His doctrine was that the Father and the Son are one identical person, with the Word having no independent subsistence. It was the Father who became His own Son and in the person of the Son, was born, suffered and died. He being invisible became visible; impassible became passible. This doctrine would be acceptable to the modern oneness believer, yet, Praxeas did not stop there. He proceeding, in an almost Dynamic fashion, Praxeas held that the ‘man Jesus was, strictly speaking, the Son, while the Christ, i.e. the divine element was properly the Father’. For Praxeas, which was an improvement on Noetus, the Son suffered while the Father co-suffered. Dr. Kelly rightly points out that this was close to the adoptionism of the heretics that followed Theodotus, but he fails to note that at no time did Praxeas call Jesus an inspired man. (pg 121)

On Sabellius, Modalism took a deeper stand on Scripture. The ‘author’ of the doctrine was attacked by Hippolytus, and many others throughout history, but enjoyed the confidence of Callistus, Zephyrinus’ successor but would later be excommunicated by him. This ‘sophisticated Modalism’ as Dr. Kelly calls it (pg 121) attempted to meet objections. Again, Sabellius is only seen through the lenses of history, and those lenses were created by his detractors. Even Dr. Kelly says ‘Unfortunately we cannot be sure all the details of the position…can be attributed to Sabellius himself.’ Most of the evidence about Sabellius comes from over a century after his lifetime when his theology ‘and that of the much more familiar Marcellus of Ancyra were hopelessly confused.

This Modalist view the Godhead as a monad, using the Sun with the warmth and light that it generates as an analogy. ‘The Father was…the form of essence, and the Son and the Spirit His modes of self-expression.’ He believe that the divine monad experienced ‘dilation’ so that the ‘Father by process of development projecting Himself first as Son and then as Spirit. For Sabellius, the Godhead was ‘’law-giver’ as the Father’ while in redemption ‘It was projected like a ray of sun, and then was withdrawn’; then It ‘operated as Spirit to inspire and bestow grace.’ Here we see a fuller expression of the modern oneness creed.

Both Zephyrinus and Callistus ‘sympathized with the widespread popular reaction against the theories of Hippolytus and Tertullian, which they regarded as leading to ditheism. In standing against the encroachment of the tri-personal view of the Godhead, Zephyrinus said ‘I know of only God, Christ Jesus, and none other Who was born and suffered’. In this statement is summed the correct the Modalistic attitude towards the Godhead. It is these ‘simple and uncultured’ Christians (from the words of Tertullian) that view the new talk (Dr. Kelly’s words) of ‘Persons’ of the Godhead with ‘unconcealed suspicion’. The Bishop, although resenting the ditheism sounding of the new ‘Persons’, still sought to make the distinction between the Father and the Son clear, by adding to the above statement ‘it was not the Father Who died, but the Son’.

Callistus was similar in his doctrine to his predecessor. According to Dr. Kelly, the bishop placed great emphasis on the divine unity. For him, God constituted one object of presentation – the one Personage of the Apologists. He did, however, admit the distinction of the Father and the Word, which became the Son in the historical Incarnation. He maintained that they ‘are one and same reality.’ ‘The Word was not ‘another alongside the Father’. He maintained the doctrine of co-suffering, as it was the divine spirit that the Father was that was identical with the Word. Dr. Kelly calls Zephyrinus and Callistis ‘conservatives holding fast to a Monarchian tradition which antedated the movement of thought inaugurated by the Apologists.’ The only group that antedated the Apologists were the Apostles themselves.


I have applied these things to myself and Apollos because of you, brothers and sisters, so that through us you may learn “not to go beyond what is written,” so that none of you will be puffed up in favor of the one against the other. (1Co 4:6 NET)

“What indeed has Athens to do with Jerusalem? What concord is there between the Academy and the Church? what between heretics and Christians? Our instruction comes from “the porch of Solomon,” who had himself taught that “the Lord should be sought in simplicity of heart.” Away with all attempts to produce a mottled Christianity of Stoic, Platonic, and dialectic composition! We want no curious disputation after possessing Christ Jesus, no inquisition after enjoying the gospel! With our faith, we desire no further belief. For this is our palmary faith, that there is nothing which we ought to believe besides.”

Exodus 3.6 with 20.3; Isaiah 44.6 with 45.14 and “This is our God, and there shall none other be accounted of in comparison of him He hath found out all the way of knowledge, and hath given it unto Jacob his servant, and to Israel his beloved. Afterward did he shew himself upon earth, and conversed with men. “ (Bar 3:35-37 KJV) As well as John 10.30, 14.8-10 and Romans 9.5. Even Dr. Kelly says that these Scriptures ‘seemed to point to the identity of Father and Son.

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Reviewing Early Christian Doctrines – The Divine ‘Triad’ (pt2)

*Note: This is the second part, and much delayed review/response. I have tried to narrow in on some main points that I hope can lead to further discussion. I am intrigued by the early ‘economic Trinity’ as expressed by Irenaeus and others and hope to study more on it. Until then, perhaps we can discuss this issues here.

In studying Ignatius, we are led to believe that this disciple of Peter at Antioch was the surest example of Apostolic preaching in the early Church, after all, he calls Christ God and dates the divine Sonship form the incarnation (Kelly, pg 92). In the Epistle to the Magnesians 8.2, Ignatius declares that there is ‘one God, Who has revealed Himself through His Son Jesus Christ, Who is His Word emerging from silence.’ Further, Christ is the ‘unlying mouth by which the Father spoke truly.’ Dr. Kelly rightly first surmises that Ignatius is an ‘economic Trinitarian’, meaning that he ‘regard God as an undifferentiated monad in His essential being, the Son and the Spirit being merely forms of modes of the Father’s self-revelation, only distinguishable from Him in the process of revelation.’ (pg93). If the common Modalist or oneness believer will step away from the word ‘Trinitarian’, it is easy to see that Dr. Kelly has defined the common definition of the oneness doctrine. It is God who has revealed Himself in His Son Jesus Christ, the distinction being at the moment of Incarnation and thus ending at the Ascension.

Unfortunately, neither Dr. Kelly nor Trinitarians stop the analysis there; he goes on to say that the definition that is so easily applied to Ignatius’ view of the Deity is wrong and ‘misleading’, yet it is there definition of the Trinity that is retro-applied in order to see Ignatius in the Trinitarian light. However, in doing so and in trying to state the proof of such a belief, he gives us further examples that Ignatius believed in an economic Deity. In the same epistle as above, Ignatius states that the Word ‘existed with the Father before the ages’ while expressing an emanatist theology as found in Wisdom (7.25-26) and Hebrews (1.3) when he says that Christ ‘came forth from the unique Father, was with Him and has returned to Him’ (6.1; 7.2). This is not difficult for a Modalist with an economic view of the Deity. Dr. Kelly finishes his thoughts on Ignatius by acknowledging ‘the only hint he (Ignatius) gives of the nature of this distinction within the unity of the divine spirit is that Christ is the Father’s ‘thought’ (pg93).

Not wishing to spend too much time on the relative unknown Hermas, Dr. Kelly notes that the Shepherd confuses the Spirit with the Son of God, possibly leading to a dyadic view of the Godhead. It is also noted that Hermas seems to view Christ in adoptionist terms as he points to the flesh of Jesus as a ‘partner with the Holy Spirit.’ On the other hand, Hermas follows the so far Tradition view that the distinction begins at the Incarnation. (pg94)

Dr. Kelly notes (pg95) that the evidence that is collected from the Apostolic Fathers is ‘meager, and tantalizingly inconclusive’ although he notes that the pre-existence of Christ was ‘generally taken for granted, as was His role in creation as well as redemption.’ These themes coalesce with Pauline and Johannine thought as well as the Wisdom Tradition in Late Judaism, however ‘of a doctrine of the Trinity in the strict sense there is of course no sign, although the Church’s triadic formula left its mark everywhere’. Can there be a triadic formula without the Trinity as developed through Nicaea and Chalcedon? Only in a proper theology, such as Modalism, or as Dr. Kelly said, ‘economic Trinitarianism’.

Dr. Kelly (pg95) says that the Apologists were the first to try to fit the Gospel into an intellectual framework, proposing a solution which essentially was ‘a pre-existent Christ’ was ‘the Father’s thought or mind and that as manifested in creation and revelation, He was its extrapolation or expression.’ This, of course, was essentially the doctrine of the Logos, however it must be reminded that of the 330 times that the Greek logos is used in the New Testament, only four times does it carry theological implications, and only by John. While many continued to seek the meaning of logos in the Stoics or in Philo, they failed to use the Scriptures that the Church already had which was Wisdom. Even Dr. Kelly admits that the early Church choose Philo and his use of logos than John’s, which does give way to a distinction, more so than either John or Wisdom’s author intended. In using Greek philosophy, they gained the idea of a technical distinction from Stoicism, which gave Christianity the philosophy of the immanent word and the word uttered.

This teaching, according to Dr. Kelly, first clearly appears Justin who used Greek philosophy to underlie any thought that he had. He even went so far as to declare that long dead pagans, such as Hereclitus (c600B.C.), were in fact Christians because they had developed the philosophy of the logos. It was this Logos, that had ‘united men to God’ in order that they would have ‘knowledge of Him’ that Justin said became flesh in the person of Jesus Christ. According to Dr. Kelly, the logos/Christ was not merely distinct in name only, but also ‘numerically’ (quoting Justin). This development was supported by three points, namely:

· The alleged appearances of God in the Old Testament which suggests that ‘below the Creator of all things there is Another Who is, and is called, God and Lord’, since it is inconceivable that the ‘Master and Father of all things should have abandoned all supercelestial affairs and made Himself visible in a minute corner of the world’.

  • Frequent Old Testament passages which represent God as conversing with another, ‘Who is presumable a rational being like Himself’
  • The Wisdom Texts, such as Proverbs 8.22, since ‘everyone must agree that the offspring is other than its begetter.

Justin would say of the logos that ‘having been put forth as an offspring from the Father, was with Him before all creatures, and the Father had converse with Him’ but that he was ‘adorable, He is God’ while also saying ‘we adore, next to God, the Logos derived from the increate and ineffable God, seeing that for our sakes He became man.’ A quick glance as Dr. Kelly’s quotes from Justin seems to display that Justin say the Logos as a separate being. Further, Justin, in his 1st Apology (13.3) seemed to speak of the Logos as a ‘second God’ and worshipped ‘in a secondary rank’. (pg101). Justin also made an attempt to ‘extract testimony to His (the ‘prophetic Spirit’) as a third divine being from Plato’s writings’ (pf100).

Tatian, as we know, was a disciple of Justin and employed the same language as Justin in dealing with the Logos. Like Justin, Tatian, saw the Logos as being ‘born’ but not being severed from the essence that is God. This is clearly a Trinitarian concept from the West. However, Tatian had a sharper context of the Logos than Justin, especially when it came to the generation of the Logos. According to Tatian, ‘before creation God was alone, the Logos being immanent in Him as His potentiality for creating all tings, but at the moment of creation He leaped froth from the Father as His ‘primordial work’. Here again, we see a great divergence from biblical concepts, words, and ideas.

  1. Dr. Kelly (pg100) makes two points in the Apologists’ ‘which, because of their far-reaching importance, must be heavily underlined:
  2. For all of these Apologists, the ‘description ‘God the Father’ connoted, not the first Person of the Holy Trinity, but the one Godhead considered as author of whatever exists’
  3. All, ‘Athenagoras included, dated the generation of the Logos, and so His eligibility for the title ‘Son’, not from his origination within the being of the Godhead, but from His emission’ or emanation ‘for the purposes of creation, revelation, and redemption.’

Dr. Kelly wants a firm grasp on these two concepts or he fears that a distorted view of their theology is likely to happen. Two ‘stock criticisms’, as Dr. Kelly says, are that ‘they failed to distinguish the Logos from the Father until He was required for the work of creation, and that, as a corollary, they were guilty of subordinating the Son to the Father. Remember, Nicaea established that the Son and the Spirit were co-eternal with the Father, and all three ungenerate, yet, the early Apologists lined upon with each other, and with the view of ‘oneness’ doctrine, that the Logos was generated for a certain purpose, and like the economic view of the Deity, once those purposes were completed, the distinction ceased.

In discussing the Apologists and the Trinity, Dr. Kelly fails to take into context the word ‘trinity’ in Theophilus’ writings, who was the first person to use this word. To quote Theophilus,

But the moon wanes monthly, and in a manner dies, being a type of man; then it is born again, and is crescent, for a pattern of the future resurrection. In like manner also the 101 three days which were before the luminaries, are types of the Trinity, of God, and His Word, and His wisdom.

If we were but to stop reading at this point, we would understand that Theophilus did indeed see a Trinity of persons, or at least was driving that way, however, Theophilus continued his words with,

And the fourth is the type of man, who needs light, that so there may be God, the Word, wisdom, man.

The Greek is ‘Τριάδος’. The Trinitarian claim about Theophilus is based on a misunderstood and mistranslated passage in his writings. It is mistranslated because trinity is not a Greek word. Thus, the proper translation would be: ‘In like manner also the three days which were before the luminaries, are types of the three of God, and His Word, and His wisdom.’ Adding to the three of God, is a fourth, that of man. It would be somewhat in error to say that Humanity is a Fourth Person in the Godhead.

In discussing the third Person of the Trinity, we find little evidence in the Apologists for the inclusion of the Spirit, for Dr. Kelly says, ‘Yet, as compared with their thought about the Logos, the Apologists appear to have been extremely vague as to the exact status and role of the Spirit.’ 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, 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”

Dr. Kelly, showing that the ‘thought was highly confused’ says that Justin ‘attributes the inspiration of the prophets to the Logos’ while Theophilus ‘suggests that it was the Logos Who, being divine spirit, illuminated their minds.’ Justin fails to even assign a place for the Spirit in the incarnation. He assigned the ‘power of the Most High’, as recorded in Luke 1.35, not as the Spirit, but as the Logos, ‘Whom he envisaged as entering the womb of the Blessed Virgin and acting as agent of His won incarnation.’ Somehow, it seems that Justin missed the first part of the verse, which in its entirety reads:

And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. (Luk 1:35 NKJV)

Dr. Kelly notes that much of Justin’s language points to a ‘subpersonal’ Spirit, but approaches the personal when he speaks of the ‘prophetic Spirit’. Returning to a thought made before, Justin further regulates the Spirit to a third rank, after Christ.

Irenaeus seems to undertake the economic Deity and expound upon it. He could claim that ‘by the very essence and nature of His being there is but one God’ and yet ‘according to the economy of our redemption there are both Father and Son.’ Dr. Kelly makes mention that Irenaeus had a ‘firmer grasp and more explicit statement of this notion of ‘the economy’’. Applying Dr. Kelly’s definition of the ‘economy’, it is believable that Modalism as presently understood existed as a doctrine – more so than the Trinity – from the time of the Apostles to Irenaeus, as we have seen. (It is interesting to note Dr. Kelly’s comments that for Irenaeus, ‘Son’ and ‘Word’ are merely synonyms, as this author believes.)

In exploring the Spirit and Irenaeus, Dr. Kelly says, ‘although Irenaeus nowhere expressly designates Him God’ the Spirit clearly ‘ranked as divine in his yes’. In this picture, Kelly (pg107) states that ‘we have …the most complete, and also most explicitly Trinitarian, to be met with before Tertullian.’ Yet, he goes on to issue was is an economic view of the Deity, and a rather modalistic view as well, that what Irenaeus lacks is a picture of co-equality, ‘but rather of a single personage, the Father Who is Godhead Itself, with His mind, or rationality, and His wisdom.’ This, Kelly states, is because of their ‘fundamental tenet of monotheism’ going on to say that this type of thought ‘has been given the label ‘economic Trinitarianism’, but caution is well heeded. This term, like the term Trinity, is only backwards applied, yet in the concept of ‘economic Trinitarianism’ we find striking similarity to oneness doctrine, minus the unbiblical words of ‘economy’ and ‘Trinity’.


Or, emanation

History of the Christian Church, Volume III: Nicene and Post-Nicene Christianity. A.D. 311-600.

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