Chapter 13 – The Unity of the Divine Essence in Three Persons Taught, In Scripture, From the Foundation of the World
First Section: The Orthodox doctrine concerning the Holy Trinity
The essence of God
God’s infiniteness should deter us from measuring Him by our senses.
God’s spiritualness forbids us to indulge in speculation about Him.
So how are we to understand anything about God if He is so far above us?
“Who is so devoid of intellect as not to understand that God lisps with us as nurses are wont to do with little children? Such modes of expression, therefore, do not so much express what kind of a being God is, as accommodate the knowledge of him to our feebleness. In doing so, he must, of course, stoop far below his proper height.”
The meaning of “person”
The Trinity is a unique way in which God presents Himself and distinguishes Him from all other gods. God is one single essence (substance) in three persons (hypostases).
There is nothing wrong in using non-Scriptural terms if the point is to explain Scriptural teaching.
What’s the use/good of using such technical language or seeking to be precise/exact with such language?
Arius acknowledged that Christ was God and the Son of God, but he also maintained that Christ was created and had a beginning like other creatures. His deception was revealed by distinguishing between homoousios (“same substance”) and homoiousios (“similar substance”).
“That little word distinguished between Christians of pure faith and the blasphemous Arians.”
“Technical language about the Trinity remains necessary so long as error obscures the truth about God and heresy is able to gain a foothold.” –J. Mark Beach
Calvin’s definition for Trinity: “there is a Trinity of Persons in one Divine essence”
The Deity of Christ
The ancient prophets spoke by the Spirit of Christ (1 Peter 1:10-11)
Hebrews 1:2 – “but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.”
Proverbs 8:22 – “The Lord possessed me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of old.” (Compare 1 Corinthians 1:30 – Jesus became to us wisdom from God)
John 1:1 – “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
John 17:5 – “And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.”
Psalm 45:6 – “Your throne, O God [Elohim], is forever and ever. The scepter of your kingdom is a scepter of uprightness;” Quoted in Hebrews 1:8 and applied to Jesus.
Isaiah 9:6 – “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God [El], Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace”
“The angel of the Lord” in various places in the Old Testament
“When he said of himself, “My Father worketh hitherto, and I work,” the Jews, though most dull in regard to his other sayings, perceived that he was laying claim to divine power. And, therefore, as John relates, (John 5:17,) they sought the more to kill him, because he not only broke the Sabbath, but also said that God was his Father, making himself equal with God.”
The Deity of the Holy Spirit
1 Cor. 3:16 – “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?”
Acts 5:3-4 – “But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? 4 While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.”
Matt. 12:31 – “Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.”
Concerning the Trinity
Matt. 28:19 – “Go and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”
There is one God.
There are 3 persons within the one Godhead: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
The 3 persons are distinct, yet are not divided or separated.
The Father is not the Son; The Son is not the Spirit; the Spirit is not the Father.
The Father is God; The Son is God; The Spirit is God.
Economic Trinity: The Father sends. The Son Incarnates. The Spirit Regenerates.
Second Section: Refutation of Trinitarian Heresies
Jesus is Not Fully God
Ebionitism (Islam): Jesus is only a human being and a special prophet.
Arianism (Jehovah’s Witness): The Son is a created being, not eternal, who becomes God.
Adoptionism: At Jesus’s birth (or baptism), God adopted the human Jesus to be His son and gave him special power (the Christ-spirit)
Jesus is Not Fully Human
Docetism: Jesus was only divine and His humanity is an illusion.
Modalism (Servetus, T.D. Jakes, Oneness Pentacostalism): God is one and expresses Himself in different modes. Sometimes He is Father, at other times He is Son or Spirit. There is no permanent distinction.
Apollinarianism: Jesus is fully God but only partially human. He had human flesh but not a human mind or will.
Errors on the Relationship of Christ’s divinity and humanity
Monophysitism: Jesus’ human nature is absorbed by His divine nature. He only has 1 nature.
Nestorianism: Jesus is 2 persons (divine Christ & human Jesus) living together in Jesus Christ.
Jesus is fully God and fully man, with a fully divine nature and a fully human nature, in one person, “without confusion, change, division, or separation.”
“The whole substance of the doctrine has, I trust, been faithfully expounded, if my readers will set bounds to their curiosity, and not long more eagerly than they ought for perplexing disputation. Let us then willingly leave to God the knowledge of himself.”
Chapter 10 – Scripture sets the True God Alone Over Against All the Gods of the Heathen
Calvin lays out several Scriptural passages that speak to the attributes of God
“Let the reader observe that the Scripture, in order to direct us to the true God, distinctly excludes and rejects all the gods of the heathen, because religion was universally adulterated in almost every age.”
Chapter 11 – It is Unlawful to Attribute a Visible Form to God & Whoever Sets Up Idols Revolts Against the True God
First, Calvin refutes those who ascribe a visible form to God.
Second, Calvin discusses the origins of idols and the adoration of them by Papists.
Finally, Calvin discusses the use and abuse of images.
Chapter 12 – How God is to Be Distinguished from Idols that Perfect Honor May Be Given to Him Alone
Nothing belonging to God’s divinity should be transferred to anything else.
God alone is to be worshiped and rightly worshiped. Here, Calvin appeals to God’s attribute of jealousy. God is a jealous God and will not allow His people to give worship to another which is due to Him alone.
The so-called “worship” of Catholic saints detracts from God’s glory as outright idolatry.
“The distinction of what is called dulia and latria was invented for the very purpose of permitting divine honors to be paid to angels and dead men with apparent impunity. For it is plain that the worship which Papists pay to saints differs in no respect from the worship of God: for this worship is paid without distinction; only when they are pressed they have recourse to the evasion, that what belongs to God is kept unimpaired, because they leave him latria.”
Galatians 4:8: “Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved [dulia] to those that by nature are not gods.”
“Thus, if we wish to have one God, we should remember that we must not pluck away even a particle of His glory and that He must retain what is His own.”
Regulative Principle of Worship: “He has been pleased to prescribe in his Law what is lawful and right, and thus astrict men to a certain rule, lest any should allow themselves to devise a worship of their own.”