Sunday, May 26, 2024

Post #46 The Doctrine of God - How The Doctrine of the Trinity Is Seen In Paul's New Testament Letters


    We've recently looked at how the doctrine of the Trinity is prepared for in the Old Testament here Growing Christian Resources: Post #43 The Doctrine of God: The Old Testament and Jesus' teaching on the Divine Person of the Holy Spirit, expounded upon in Jesus' teaching in the Four Gospels here Growing Christian Resources: Post #44 The Doctrine of God - Summarizing Jesus' teaching on the Holy Spirit's ministries and relationship to the Father and the Son, and witnessed in the preaching of the Book of Acts here Growing Christian Resources: Post #45 The Doctrine of God - How the Trinity Anchored Practices And Preaching In The Book of Acts

    One persistent pattern emerges about the doctrine of God as we progress into the New Testament, namely in how the Trinity is embedded in the thinking of the Biblical authors' explanations of the Christian life. B.B. Warfield's Treatise on the Trinity points out this observation,

"The phenomena of Paul's Epistles are repeated in the other writings of the New Testament. In these other writings also it is everywhere assumed that the redemptive activities of God rest on a threefold source in God the Father, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit; and these three Persons repeatedly come forward together in the expressions of Christian hope or the aspirations of Christian devotion." 

    To attempt to disentangle the practices of prayer, baptism, the Lord's Table, evangelism, and church life from the doctrine of the Trinity is to attempt the impossible. Why? Once the early Christians began confessing the deity of Jesus Christ alongside their confession of monotheism from the Old Testament, the doctrine of the Trinity necessarily followed. 

    I've argued already that what the early church was acknowledging was not so much new as it was a more clearer realization of what they faintly understood from the Old Testament. The One God of the Hebrew Bible was identified a plurality of Divine personalities. In Deuteronomy 32 and Proverbs 30:4 the God of Israel is Yahweh, the Father of Israel. The Divine Father has a Son, being also Yahweh in nature yet distinct, described as begotten of Him (Psalm 2:7). This second Divine figure, no doubt the pre-incarnate Son of God, is called "The Angel" (Isaiah 63), "The Word" (Psalm 33:6,9), the "Son of Man" (Daniel 7:13) and even Yahweh (see Genesis 19:24-25). This underlying theology proper or doctrine of God would follow through the Second Temple or Intertestamental literature, where the Jews developed a "two-powers" theology, recognizing the One God of Israel as having two Personages. 

    It is upon the advent of the Son's incarnation that He brings to full light the foundational underpinnings for the robust Trinitarian theology we see developed in the preaching of Acts and now the New Testament letters. The Spirit of God found in the opening verses of Genesis 1:2 is a third Divine Person, given a gradual revelation of being also a Divine Person (1 Samuel 15:29) and performing the same activities as the Father and the Son (Psalm 104; Isaiah 63). Jesus would equate the Spirit of God with Himself and the Father, promising to have Him sent in His name to His church (John 14:17,26; 15:26; Acts 2). 

What the New Testament letters do with the Trinity

    We find the New Testament Epistles or letters continuing on the Trinitarian trajectory set forth by the Old Testament, expounded upon by Jesus and preached by the Apostles in Acts. We will begin with Paul in today's post, since he is responsible for two-thirds of the 27 books of our New Testament. Paul exemplifies this throughout his letters where he writes for example in 1 Corinthians 8:6 

"yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him."

    As we have stressed in the last several posts of this series, Jesus and the Apostles did not introduce a new doctrinal understanding of God as a Triunity. Rather, they were making explicit was already implied in the Old Testament revelation, that God is One in being and plural in personhood. What I want to do in the remainder of this post is set before the reader how the Apostle Paul expressed the Trinity in His letters. 

The Trinity in Paul's introductions to his letters.

    Whenever we read the books of Romans through Philemon (and if we take Hebrews to be written by Paul), we find truths of the doctrine of the Trinity embedded in the introductions. Take Romans 1:7 as an example, 

"Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ."

    The Father is identified with the Divine Title "God", just as we've witnessed already in previous posts - fair enough. But then you'll notice how Jesus Christ is identified with the Divine title of "Lord", translated from "kurios" in the Greek, which reflects the Hebrew name "LORD" or "Yahweh" in the Old Testament. Both titles are ascribed to the God of Israel. The Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, the Septuagint, came to utilize this Greek term "kurios" for "Yahweh". 

    We find two different titles to distinguish these two Divine Persons, who are by nature the same, holy, eternal God who bestows grace and peace. Virtually every other letter Paul wrote begins with some reference to the Father and the Son bestowing grace, mercy, or peace as One God. 

    So too we see inclusion of the Holy Spirit in Paul's opening remarks in 1 Thessalonians 1:5 

"for our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake."

    These citations should give the reader a sampling of the pattern we find throughout the New Testament letters again and again. B.B. Warfield notes,

"In numerous passages scattered through Paul's Epistles, from the earliest of them (1Th 1:2-5; 2Th 2:13-14) to the latest (Tit 3:4-6; 2Ti 1:3,13-14), all three Persons, God the Father, the Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, are brought together, in the most incidental manner, as co-sources of all the saving blessings which come to believers in Christ."

The Trinity is seen in what Paul has to say about prayer and worship in His letters

     Paul is fond of including an awareness of the Trinity in his teaching on prayer and worship. When we look into his letter to the Church at Ephesus, we find such Trinitarian thinking in regards to how Christians are to pray and worship. Ephesians 2:18 "for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father." 

    The reader can notice the pattern for prayer - through Him (the Son), in or by One Spirit (or by One Spirit), to the Father. Prayer's trajectory is Father-oriented, since the Father is the one who chose the believer to be His adopted child from eternity (Ephesians 1:4-5). 

    But then notice, those prayers pass through the Son, Jesus Christ, our Supreme mediator, to whom the Father gave each believer as a love-gift to pay the purchase-price of salvation in His blood (Ephesians 1:7; 1 Timothy 2:5). 

    Yet we see too that we cannot pray without the Holy Spirit helping us in our infirmity as weak, frail, helpless people (Romans 8:26). The Holy Spirit closes the circuit that was begun by the Father, through the Son. The whole of prayer is Trinitarian, through-and-through.

    We find too in the Ephesian letter that the public worship of the church is also Trinitarian. Notice Ephesians 4:4-6,

"There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all." 

     The whole life of the church is caught up in living for and worship toward the Trinity. Each Person of the Trinity tends to point to the others. The Spirit, by the Scriptures, points us to the Son. The Son, in turn, always makes it His point to direct our attention to the Father. The Father, sending forth the Son and Spirit into history and time, urges the Christian to draw strength from the Spirit as they focus their eyes upon Jesus Christ. What Paul is teaching us in his letters is that the doctrine of the Trinity is woven into the very fabric of Christian living itself.

Examples of the Trinity seen in aspects of Christian practice and living in Paul's writings.

    I only have space to give but a sampling of where we see the Trinity in other teachings of the Apostle Paul. Whenever he speaks of how God equips the Christian to serve others with spiritual gifts, the reader finds the spiritual gifts distributes along Trinitarian lines in 1 Corinthians 12:4-6,

"Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5 And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. 6 There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons."

    As for certain practices, Paul expounds on the meaning of believer's baptism, he utilizes the doctrine of the Trinity, as witnessed in two passages. We find that water baptism symbolizes the union we have with Jesus from saving faith - united in His death and resurrection to the glory of the Father, as explained in Romans 6:4-5,

"Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection."

    The meaning of water baptism is a sign, a symbol, pointing back to the reality of Spirit baptism granted in saving faith. The sign (water baptism) and the thing signified by the sign (Spirit baptism which united the sinner to Christ upon profession of faith) are together the One Baptism we read of in the opening verses of Ephesians 4. Water baptism, subsequent as it is to saving faith, nonetheless points back to what the Holy Spirit did in uniting us to Jesus at the moment of one's profession of faith. As Paul writes of in 1 Corinthians 12:13,

"For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit."

Conclusion: The doctrine of the Trinity seen in how Paul ends his one of his letters to the Church at Corinth

    There is so much more I could write in this post of where we find the Trinity spoken of by Paul in his epistles. Space and time forbid what merits far more comment. We've seen how Paul is thinking of the Trinity in the openings of his letters, pray, worship, Christian living, and certain Christian practices like baptism. It is appropriate to close out today's post by considering the prime example of the Trinity in the close of Paul's letter of 2 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians 13:14,

"The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all."

No comments:

Post a Comment