Friday, July 5, 2024

Post #49 The Doctrine of God - The Persons of the Trinity in the General Epistles (James, 1 & 2 Peter)


    In our last post we explored how we see the Trinity in the letter to the Hebrews. When it comes to our New Testaments, there are noted four main divisions. 

1. The Gospels

2. Acts

3. The Epistles or letters

4. The Book of Revelation or Apocalypse.

    When we look at that third designation, "epistles", we subdivide it further:

A. Paul's letters (Romans - Philemon)

B. General Epistles (Hebrews - Jude)

    In more ancient listings of the New Testament literature, Hebrews was classified as a Pauline letter. The majority of the early church identified Hebrews as authored by Paul (although it was not a complete consensus). In more recent church history, Hebrews was classed among the general epistles. This latter classification is called "general" or sometimes "catholic epistles" ("Catholic" isn't referencing the Roman Catholic church, but instead is from the Greek word "katholikos", meaning "general"). Such a designation is due to the letters written to a more generalized collection of churches or on more generalized topics (hence the name "General Epistles"). 

    In any case, we will take time in this post to explore the books of James to 2 Peter to see what they have to teach about the Godhead and the Persons of the Trinity. In the next post we will continue our exploration of the Trinity in the general epistles of John (1,2,3 John) and the Epistle of Jude.

1. The Book of James overtly mentions the Father and the Son

    We notice right away the two foundations of the doctrine of the Trinity in James' letter. First, the Oneness of God in being (James 2:19,23; 4:4,7,8), and secondly the distinction of Persons within the Godhead or Divine essence (The Father, James 1:17-18; 3:9 and the person of the Son 1:1;4:10; 5:4,7,8,9,15). 

    Why do I say mention is made of the Son? Although the term "Son" is not overtly expressed, it nevertheless is a pattern in the New Testament to find the Son mentioned with the Divine title "LORD" (Hebrew "Yahweh", Greek "Kurios") or ascribed the offices and functions of God (Judge, compare Matthew 25 and 28:18, with the other titles distinguishing the Divine Person from God the Father). Wherever the Father is mentioned by the title "God", it is not too far to find the Person of the Son mentioned directly or indirectly by a Divine title to distinguish the two Persons. 

    James 1:1 distinguishes the Father and the Son in this manner: "a servant of God and the Lord Jesus Christ". James is the earliest of the New Testament letters (and arguably the first New Testament book written, with Matthew, Galatians, and the Thessalonian letters written a few years thereafter in the late 40's to early 50's A.D.). 

    The early church distinguished the Father with the title "God" and Jesus with the title "LORD" (see 1 Corinthians 8:6, for example), with a second pattern of expressing the Son as having the same nature as the Father when a more forceful argument was made to prove the deity of the Son, hence being called "God" (as in John 1:1 "the Word was God"; John 1:18, "the only Begotten God"). 

2. The Epistles of 1 & 2 Peter further reveal the Persons of the Godhead 

    When we consider 1 & 2 Peter, we are dealing with letters written twenty-five years after James. If we take a date of 45-50 A.D. for James, it is reasonable to assign a date for Peter's letters no later than 70 A.D. and no earlier than 60 A.D. Most scholars date 1 Peter to 63-64 A.D. As for 2 Peter, though some question its authorship due to literary differences between 1 & 2 Peter, if we understand that 1 Peter was dictated by Peter to an amanuensis named Silvanus (an "amanuensis" is an ancient term for a recording secretary, describing Silvanus' role, see 1 Peter 5:12), with 2 Peter written directly by Peter himself, such arguments denying Petrine authorship can be ignored. We can date 2 Peter to 64-66 A.D. 

    As for how we see the Trinity in 1 Peter, we see mention made of all three Persons in 1 Peter 1:2 

"According to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood: May grace and peace be yours in the fullest measure."

    As all three Persons of the Godhead operate inseparably in the activity of sustaining Christian salvation, the doctrine of appropriations stipulates that each Person is assigned a particular role. The Father planned salvation. The Son purchased it by His blood as the incarnate Son of God. The Holy Spirit applies salvation by His setting apart, internalized call to whichever sinner He is dealing, with subsequent faith and repentance issuing forth from the sinner to newfound faith in Jesus Christ.

    1 Peter is rich in its treatment of the Trinity. We find in 1 Peter 1:5 that the Father is credited with preserving the Christian's faith as He or she perseveres in faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:6-8). The Holy Spirit (designated "the Spirit of Christ") works through the prophetic Scriptures to reveal and bring salvation to the human soul (1 Peter 1:9-12). 

    Peter's Trinitarian emphasis moves on into the remainder of 1 Peter 1. The Father (1:13-17), the Son (1:18-21), and Holy Spirit (1:22-25) are featured again in his ongoing exposition of Biblical salvation. Peter then expounds further on the Father's involvement in subsequent chapters of 1 Peter (2:1-4, 9-10, 15; 3:12; 4:17-19; 5:6-11). Also too, He mentions the Son in those same chapters (2:4-8, 21-25; 3:18-22; 4:1-2,11; 5:4,14). We then see mention made of the Holy Spirit's work in the raising of Christ from the dead (1 Peter 3:18). Overwhelmingly the Trinity is the centerpiece of Peter's arguments in 1 Peter.

    As for 2 Peter, 2 Peter 1:1-4 features all three Persons of the Trinity (The Father and Son, 1:1-2; indirect mention of the Holy Spirit in 1:3-4). The Divine revelation by God of Himself is presented by Peter along Trinitarian lines in 2 Peter 1:16-21. It is then in 2 Peter 3:2 we see affirmation of the deity of the Son. 2 Peter 3:9 asserts the work of the Father, with 2 Peter 3:10 pointing us to the Son. 

    It is interesting how the term "Day of the Lord" in 2 Peter 3:10, no doubt pointing to the second coming of Jesus (compare Matthew 24:15-28; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-2), has a parallel term "Day of God", gesturing towards the Person of the Father. This dual mentioning of the Father and the Son is Peter's way of reinforcing the New Testament's teaching of the distinction yet equality of the Father and the Son in the Godhead. Further analysis of the remainder of the New Testament confirms this point. 

    For instance, the Apostle John in Revelation 16:14 is the only other Biblical author to feature this particular title "Day of God". In the context of Revelation 16:14, we find the Son returning in the future to fight and defeat the confederations of Anti-Christ and the nations at the battle of Armageddon. Luke tells us that the Son will return when "He comes in His glory, and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels" (Luke 9:26). The union of Divine nature and glory between the Father and the Son serves to cement the reality of the doctrine of the Trinity (One God, revealed in distinct Persons).   

Closing thoughts:

    Today we explored how we see the doctrine of the Trinity discussed in James and in Peter two epistles. In our next post, we will continue our exploration by noting how we see the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit in 1,2,3 John and Jude. 

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