Names, Attributes, and Concepts of God and the Trinity

Today, we continue to look at different terms and concepts that are foundational to building a Trinitarian doctrine. This post will focus on some of the easiest and least controversial subjects for the early church fathers (this is a shot at humor)! As we continue to build this foundation for terms and concepts, we will begin to see how other religions deny certain ideas for various reasons.

Difficult Terms for Christ: Firstborn, Beginning of Creation: not an obvious doctrine, appears to complicate and contradict matters of using Scripture as the primary and foundational source for the doctrine of the Trinity. Other times the Spirit appears to be little more than the power of God in action. With these kinds of challenges, uncertain readers hesitate to embrace a doctrine of the Trinity that seems to conflict with the biblical texts before them. He declares “the Father is greater than I” (John 14:28); only the Father knows the time of Jesus’s own return (Matt. 24:36). IF the Trinity is the central doctrine of the Christian faith, why is Scripture not more clear. Logos Christology: The conception of Christ that sees the Son as the pre-existent divine Word (Jn 1:1-3) or expression of God, especially based on the Prologue of the Gospel of John. With both Gk and Heb entailing rich conceptions of logos, 2nd and 3rd century Apologists speculated that the Son was originally only latent in the Father, implying the personal inferiority (subordination) of the Son. Nicea insisted on coeternal equality of the Son’s nature and person as God. Generation: Owing to Origen, the Nicean and Christian tradition affirms the eternal generation of the Son from the Father, as expression of Ps 2:7 (“today I have begotten thee”) and its citations in the NT and, again, the Gk. monogenes (trad. “only begotten”; lit. “one and only”). Some question the exegetical bases of eternal generation; others see it as broadly expressing the ontological relations of the Son and the Father. This will be discussed in further detail in upcoming posts, so hang in there with me as we look at a controversial subject for the early church.

Divine Presence: Aspects of God’s Presence, Transcendence, Immanence: Transcendence: distinct, above, and separate from all dimensions of finite existence. Beyond all creation; superiority of God over and apart from his created world; God is uniquely “other” from all created existence; immanence: pervading presence of God; all present; God’s omnipresence in and with his creation. Be in the presence of God: 1. God is present only to Himself, 2. God is present in heaven, 3. God is present in sustaining creation, 4. God is present in theophanies, 5. God is present in the temple on Mount Zion, 6. God is present in the Incarnation, 7. God is present in the regenerate believer, 8. God is present in the church, 9. God is present in the filling of the Holy Spirit, 10. God is present in the future.

Economic TrinityExpressed as early as Hippolytus and Tertullian, it is a view of the Trinity focused on the functional acts (economies) of the Godhead in the creation and salvation of the world; this perspective is distinguished from that of the immanent Trinity (the Godhead in itself, transcendent, and outside all created reality); contemporary Trinitarianism debates the relation of the two. See Immanent Trinity. describes the Godhead’s engagement in creation and the history of salvation

ElohimElohim, ’elohim, OT, “God, gods”; lit. “the powerful ones” or possibly “mosthigh ones,” lit. “powerful ones or God, gods or most high ones,” found 2,602 times in theOT, it describes God as Creator-Sustainer of the universe, usually translated as “God” inthe NT, yet used of pagan deities (Ps 97:7, Exod 20:3) and even humans (Exod 21:6). Typically Elohim stands in direct relation to Yahweh and Adonai (Deut 10:17, such phrases as “the LORD God,” “the LORD is God” and “the LORD your God [’elohim + suffix] is God [’elohe] of gods [’elohim] and Lord [’adhone] of lords [’adhohim]”). usually considered a “plural of majesty” is a way of expressing the grandeur and infinite greatness of God. Reveals God as Sovereign over heaven and earth, Creator-Sustainer, Judge.

Eternality (two understandings)Is God everlasting, without beginning or end but in some sense “in time” as is finite creation? Or is God atemporal and above and outside of time? Repeatedly, too, Scripture affirms that God created all existence outside himself.

  1. Everlastingness. Having been created in the divine image, man is given immortality. He has a beginning, but does not have an end; it seems this can be said of angels as well. Mankind and all finite creation exist in some form of time and space—and always will (cf. Rev 21:2; etc.). Whereas the dimensions may change, God has committed himself to creation forever. When man receives “eternal life,” it connotes something both present and future: we receive “everlasting life” together with a heightened quality of life infused with the presence of God. This stands against the neo-platonic idea that when we die we become timeless. The Triune God enters dynamically into time and into the finite dimensions of creation. One might say that God flows through history with us. This is unmistakable in the whole of Scripture.
  1. Outside of time. Nevertheless, time (like space, energy matter) is a dimension of God’s creation. Pinnock and others who argue that God is restricted within time do not appreciate the interrelatedness of creation’s physical dimensions. God is, of course, everlasting. But it seems God also exists outside the dimension of time. While entering into time and relating personally with us, God also stands above all history instantly, seeing all time as present (cf. Ps 90:4; 2Pe 3:8). Carl F. H. Henry (God, Revelation and Authority, 6 vols., Nashville: Word, 1982, 5:235-267) defends God’s timeless eternality as the historic position of classical Christian faith. God, time being a dimension of His own creation, is not to subject to time, but stands beyond time, and so God has no past or future. This is sometimes called the static view of God. God exists infinitely before what we know as time. Time is not only cylical but also linear, with a beginning but no end. God is everlasting (in time) yet seems also to stand outside time. As Trinity, God has a time unto himself

Feminist Theism: three categories. God is not male and may be female: 1. Rejectionist (Non-Christian) Feminism: Hostile to Christianity. rejects Scripture and historic Christianity as promoting an oppressive patriarchal structure. 2. Reformist (Liberation) Feminism: While resenting traditional chauvinism in Christendom, these find human liberation a central theme. God must be reconceived in images relevant to contemporary culture. Adopting a “hermeneutic of suspicion” they argue that God must be reconceived in images relative to women in modern culture. 3. Loyalist (Evangelical) Feminism: Affirming authority of Scripture (refuses to deny what appears to be the objective teaching of Scripture and finds in it little if any oppressive sexism.), these theologians scatter between egalitarian and complimentarian positions. Differences relate to use of inclusive language about God and gender equality. And issues of equality of functions and roles in conjugal, familial, ecclesial, and societal relationships.

Holiness (Divine): God is declared holy more than 600 times, far more than He’s declared “love”. we cannot look at the other attributes through the lens of simply one. There is, again, that simplicity of God. Trisagion = “holy, holy, holy”. Something that is set apart, consecrated for sacred use. Signifies separation from sin and evil. God is often termed “the Holy One” for his moral perfection, a title ascribed to Christ as well; and the Spirit is the Holy Spirit. Said to be beautiful. the crowning attraction of His nature.

Illustrations of Trinity, Usefulness: like water because H2O can assume forms of ice, water, and vapor: One essence in three forms. Others suggest the egg, threefold with  yoke, white, and shell. Some appropriate fruit to demonstrate God’s unity and plurality:  a tangerine, a grapefruit, or even a banana (the flesh divides into three parts). The sun: the sun itself, the rays of light, and the radiant heat. quarks. three dimensional cube (width, height, depth),55 others a pyramid, as illustrative of the Trinity. A person who wears 3 different hats (father, employee, husband). Good illustrations elucidate aspects of who God is, while not intending to say everything. figures and examples, if sensibly balanced, serve to hedge in a general conception of the triune God—even if all illustrations are inadequate. Recognize the inadequacy of visual aids, illustration, symbols, and images. Yet it is through these means that we can know anything at all about the infinite God. illustrations of the Trinity may be beneficial, but these never adequately capture the transcendent mystery of the tripersonal God.

Immanent TrinityThe view that centers on the Trinity in and of itself, i.e., as present (immanent) only to itself—a view occasionally expressed in Scripture (Jn 1:1-2,18); thus it focuses on the internal relations between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Traditionally, the Immanent Trinity is assumed as the ontological basis for the Economic Trinity, a posture being questioned by some today. See Economic Trinity. denotes God apart from creation. the Godhead in and of itself, transcendent, and outside all created reality

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