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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30 Replies to “Towards a Biblically-Based Theological Label”

  1. Joel,

    Just busy mate, this subject is very profound! I love the honest approach too. Again I will try to comment some later. Thanks.


  2. Joel,
    I would myself place the ontological Triune God within the center of a more immanent and living relationship between the Father and the Son. Thus following the East, the Father is the regal (cause/origin) of the Godhead, from whom the Son is begotten eternally (St. John 1:1; 1:14; 17:3-5). Here we can see the so-called ontological and economic Trinity of God together! And following the Johannine model and revelation (St. John 15:26) the Holy Spirit proceeds ontologically from the Father alone. Later after the vicarious Atonement of Christ, and His glorification He also sends the Holy Spirit (thru the Son) in a kind of economy of salvation-history (St. John 7:39). This is my own model. No one can answer all of this in exactness and complete precession. As always God is in Himself, a divine mystery of the one God in His Triunity!

    As I have stated before, there is too much modern idea and language used toward the whole idea of “economic Trinity.” As both Barth and Rahner believe they are intertwined and interrelated. But the ontological Trinity should be seen first. Not two however, but one Triunity.

    Note, for simpicity I have not used “hypostatic” or “hypostasis” here. But they are helpful I believe.

    Fr. Robert

  3. Joel,

    I know you will come to your own statement, but perhaps something like: One God in threefold life and operation? I know just a hidden moniker for Trinity! lol It does leave out the theologically loaded words somewhat? But my point is that we really cannot deny God as One and yet Triune! Thus the divine mystery.


  4. Baruch or Bar is a collection of several distinct pieces, grouped together because all are too short to stand alone and all are set against the background of the fall of Jerusalem in 587 and the exile. The Septuagint mss. generally arrange Jer, Bar, Lam, and fially the Letter of Jeremiah (not Jer.) as a distinct work.

    “The Book of Baruch, sometimes referred to as 1 Baruch to distinguish it from a number of other pesudepigrapha ascribed to Jeremiah’s secretary, is a combination of three distinct literary forms: a prayer of confession and plea for help, a spiential poem, and a prophetic poem written as Zion’s lament and corresponding encouragment addressed to Zion. United into a single work, these different parts reenact the process of sin, punishment, repentance, and renewed obedience, and restoration articulated in Deuteronomy 28-30, exemplified throughou the Deuteronomistic History (Joshua through 2 Kings), and embraced by the prophets such as Jeremiah. Dependent on the OT texts in nearly every verse, Baruch presents a summary statement of the entire Hebrew scriptural tradition, focusing its readers on those apects of the tradition that the authors and final redactor considered most salient and helpful for the survival of Jewish identity and culture in a situation of gentile domination.” – David A. deSilva

    Fr. Robert

  5. Joel,

    We can see in Baruch 3:9 thru 4:4, a sort of self contained sapiential poem. It is like to Prov. 8, Job 28, and the Wisdom of Ben Sira 24. It’s focus is that real Wisdom is to be sought and found only in Israel. As de Silva notes, “in effect, it repoduces Deut. 30:11-20 in a wisdom discourse mode.” Thus the only happy life is found in obedience to the commandments of God. And in seeking the Law of God. This is the only path in both personal and national blessing and recovery.

    Also Baruch sees a “personified” Jerusalem..(4:5-5:9) “For I sent you out with sorrow and weeping, but God will give you back to me with joy and gladness forever.”(4:23) As always God is both the sovererign judge and the One who gives sorrow, but also: “Take off the garment of your sorrow and affliction, O Jerusalem….Put on the robe of the righteousness from God.” (5:1-2)

    Amen to follow “Torah” as to life and the path to Wisdom is always the means for Jerusalem and the blessing of Zion herself! For the Christian and the community of Christ, this is found always and only in Christ, who fulfills the Law of God in Himself! Like Irenaeus and all the Father’s, this is interpreted as “Israel” for/in the Christian Church, the spiritual seed of Abraham.

    Thus everything for the Church of God is “spirit and truth” In Christ!

    Fr. Robert

    PS Sorry short and sweet, got to run..till later.

  6. I like the word Economists,period. When say that we are “economists” from that point on we can say/explain what we believe.Instead of having to say/ explain what we are not and what we do not believe. It is the same as saying we believe in the “Unus Deus”…

  7. Joel, is this still your position? I noted that we had this discussion about a year ago. Our minds and heart need time to be still (calm) before God, and even ourselves. I am always making refinements to my doctrine. But now, I don’t think too many major changes? I have been at this for nearly 40 years…always by grace and God’s glory! The longer I live, and the more I am “refined” by God’s fire and pressure, “the clay & the potter”!
    Fr. Robert

  8. Joel,
    Nice, you are my 3rd Century Christian friend, unique!  Remember, my Trinity of God follows and indeed must allow for the profound Unity of God also!  My word would be simple: triunity.  If you can and care to? You might want to read (if you can find it somehow?) A Theological Introduction To The Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England, by E.J. Bicknell, D.D. . My copy has the additional references by Rev. H.J. Carpenter, M.A. (First Ed, 1919….my copy is a New Impression (with a few more additional references, 1946). Check out the portions on The Doctrine of the Trinity, and.. The Incarnation And Atonement). Again, if ya desire to?
    Always yours,
    Fr. Robert

  9. Joel,
    I have found in my years of study in theology, that the Anglican Thrity-Nine Articles to be the best biblical and theological combination. Nothing is infallible in a pilgrim church, but these also keep me an Anglican. Also, W H Griffith Thomas’s book: The Principles Of Theology, An Introduction To The Thirty-Nine Articles, to be another good understanding of the biblical and evangelical approach therein. Thomas was himself an Anglican and English. But had some contact in the early part of the 20th century with some American conservatives, etc. He was not dispensational, but historic Pre-Mill also. I was historic Pre-Mill for many years myself. Now more of a covenant Idealist as to the Book of Revelation. But again, here (eschatology) is where I am most open at the present.

    I am not regressing I hope (from our just trying to express my background and discipline. It is interesting to note that the Anglican Thirty-Nine Articles begins with the doctrine of the Trinity! First ontological, then cosmological, etc. But finally it is both the revelation of these with the reality of the Scripture Text itself!  See, EW Bullinger’s book: Number in Scripture.

    The Economy of God, must always maintain the true ontology of God, God cannot be different from His essence or reality in being! This is simple to my mind, and not pressed logic alone. Never just scholasticisim!
    Fr. R.

  10. Joel Mate, we have both learned from each other…members each of the Body of Christ!  Thanks for your seeking honest heart & mind!  This is the job of the pastor-teacher…1 Tim. 4:13-16! Let “us” to be at it!
    Fr. R.

  11. Hmmm….please correct me if I'm wrong. Wouldn't focusing on the ontological aspect of Trinitarianism to the exclusion of the economical relationship between the persons tend more toward a Modalism-Sabellianism?

    And wouldn't the emphasis on economy to the exclusion of ontological unity tend toward Tri-theism?

    I have to be honest. It's been many a year since I delved into some of this. So much of it extends into metaphysical speculation. I'm still unsure where to the draw line. I on the one hand see definite gospel implications in how one defines Christology….we've got to be real careful there. But on the other hand in terms of Trinitarian substance, essence, spiration, perichoresis……..I just don't know. It seems to go way beyond the scope of Scripture. I guess the mystic in me prefers to rest in the Incomprehensibility of God and when the Scriptures teach 3-ness…go with it….and when they teach Unity….go with it. Hope that's not a cop out.

    I don't know if you're familiar with Cornelius Van Til? But he viewed the Trinity as the solution to the problem of the universals and then developed a doctrine of the Ontological trinity out of which he formed the basis for what practically speaking is a rejection of the Common Grace realm. It gets complicated, but in the end it's this philosophical construct that leads his followers to posit that man can only think God's thoughts after him…..or be autonomous. Thus, this is the basis for all the Christian Worldview teaching out there, where they assert there is a distinctively 'christian' view of economics, politics, culture etc…..

    While 2Kers like me reject the whole model and argue for a realm of Common Grace, a matrix for the gospel to work, where fallen man using Natural Revelation forms an imperfect, incoherent Natural Law that is totally sufficient guided by the hand of Providence which as He chooses more or less restrains a culture. Thus, I reject the Theonomy/Autonomy dilemma which they force on everyone, because it's rooted in speculative metaphysics derived by Aristotelian categories….no thanks.

    Anyway, Van Til's Ontological Trinity since he cast it in terms of the Universals problem…some accused him of treating the Unity as a Platonic Universal Form and the plurality/particulars as parts of, rather than true stand alone forms? Does that make sense? The plurality or in Trinitarian terms the Persons end up not being God….but particulars or parts of God (the Universal)

    Thus he has been accused of Sabellianism. I'd be curious for your comments if you have any. I would imagine that might be going beyond the level of Trinitarian development you're comfortable with?

    I appreciate your candor and spirit, I have to tell you. You know what's out there on the web, and there's a very irenic spirit at work here.

    John A.

  12. John, one of the issues with the Trinity is the idea of pre-existence. If we divorce Christianity completely from Judaism, then we have to understand that the Apostles worked within the same framework as other Jewish authors. If the Jews, at least those who provided the intellectual foundation for the NT thought world, believed in ideal pre-existence, then how can we argue for an ontological existence for the Son, which was developed later, or the Spirit, which was developed even later?

    For me, I want to stay in Scripture, which means that I apply hypostasis only to God (Hebrews 1.3) and refuse to go past that, although I recognize that 3-ness as well. What you descibe as a 'cop-out' I think is intellectually honest. I like Apophatic theology in many ways, because, what language could you or I, or the greatest theologians use to describe God that would be adequate?

    I have not heard of Van Til, but I can understand what you say about him. Tertullian, I believe, might have said the same thing.

    In the end, I can deal with Trinitarians because I recognize the limitations of human language. I mean, if we take the bible, then even those authors fully didn't 'get' God the first time.

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