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You Are All One, Chap. 16, Appendix: The Trinity

Is the trinitarian nature of God an eternal unity or an eternal hierarchy?

While all branches of Christianity that are considered "mainstream" or orthodox have agreed that there is one God in three Persons, there were debates early in Christian history concerning this aspect of the nature of God. But until the last few decades there was little interest in continuing the debates. Now the topic has returned, and it is very much a symptom of the controllers' drive for hierarchy in all things, even extending to God Himself.

Let us examine the scriptures to see what they say about the Trinity, beginning with the Old Testament:

Listen to me, Jacob, Israel, whom I have called: I am he; I am the first and I am the last. My own hand laid the foundations of the earth, and my right hand spread out the heavens; when I summon them, they all stand up together. Come together, all of you, and listen: Which of the idols has foretold these things? The LORD's chosen ally will carry out his purpose against Babylon; his arm will be against the Babylonians. I, even I, have spoken; yes, I have called him. I will bring him, and he will succeed in his mission. Come near me and listen to this: From the first announcement I have not spoken in secret; at the time it happens, I am there. And now the Sovereign LORD has sent me, endowed with his Spirit. (Isaiah 48:12-16)

In addition we have the well-known text of Ps. 2:7, quoted also in Acts 13:33, Heb. 1:4-6, and Heb. 5:5: "You are my son; today I have become your father". The NT of course makes the Trinity clear, especially in passages such as Mt. 3:16-17 where all three are mentioned in one sentence at the same time, thereby precluding Modalism. And in rebuttal to the charge of tritheism we have passages like John 1:18, 10:30-33, 17-21-23, Phil. 2:6, Col. 1:15-20, and Heb. 1:3.

The eternal and unchanging nature of God is of a compound One, not a "group". While the details of how this One functions are beyond our grasp, it is a fact nonetheless. But what can we learn from scripture to tell us about how the three Persons relate to each other?

The first act of God was to create all that exists, per Gen. 1 and 2. The word there for God in the Hebrew is Elohim, a plural noun. We also see both singular and plural pronouns used there for God. Yet we also know that the Spirit was involved in creation (Gen. 1:2), and that Jesus was the Creator, per Col. 1:15-20. In Deut. 32:6 we read that the Father was the Creator. So we conclude from scripture that the Father, Son, and Spirit are the Creator; that is, the "role" of Creator is shared by all of the Persons.

Now let's look at the incarnation of Jesus. Who exactly "fathered" him? In Luke 1:35 the angel tells Mary that "the Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you", and Mt. 1:18 says Mary "was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit". So there are two Persons cited as conceiving the body of Jesus, one obviously the Spirit, and since Jesus is the one being conceived, that leaves the other as the Father.

What about the resurrection of Jesus? Acts 2:24 and many others say God (Gk. theos, not pater) raised Jesus; Gal. 1:1 specifies that it was the God the Father (Gk. theos pater); John 2:19-21 has Jesus saying he'd raise himself.

So are the Persons of the Trinity confined to strict and mutually-exclusive "roles"? We've already seen overlap in creation, conception, and resurrection. Now let's look at interactions among them, along with other attributes that help define their scope of activities.

  • The Father sends the Son— 1 John 4:14
  • The Father sends the Spirit— Luke 11:13, John 14:26
  • The Father glorifies the Son— John 8:54
  • The Father is one in whose name people are to be baptized— Mt. 28:19
  • The Son sends the Spirit— John 15:26, 16:7
  • The Son sends the Father— Mt. 26:53, Luke 23:34, John 17:1
  • The Son is called "the everlasting Father"— Isaiah 9:6
  • The Son is one in whose name people are to be baptized— Mt. 28:19
  • The Spirit sends the Son— Mt. 4:1
  • The Spirit anoints the Son— Acts 10:38
  • The Spirit goes as he wills— John 3:8
  • The Spirit inspired all scripture— Acts 1:16, 1 Peter 1:12, 2 Peter 1:21
  • The Spirit indwells believers— Acts 2:4,
  • The Spirit teaches— Luke 12:12
  • The Spirit gives gifts— Heb. 2:4
  • The Spirit indwelt John the Baptist and Jesus— Luke 1:15, 4:1
  • The Spirit must not be blasphemed— Luke 12:10, Mt. 12:32
  • The Spirit gives orders to people— Acts 13:2-4, 16:6 20:28
  • The Spirit seals believers— Eph. 1:13
  • The Spirit is one in whose name people are to be baptized— Mt. 28:19

Each of the Persons sends Another, but note this important fact: to send is not a statement of authority.

"The sending of the Son is best explained in terms of the Jewish shaliach principle: the one sent has the same authority of the one who sends. If this is the case, sending does not indicate subordination but equal authority." (Kevin Giles, The Trinity and Subordination, God's Word to Women)

In addition, we should note the following unifying facts between the Father and the Son:

  • Jesus cannot be separated from the Father (John 8:54, 10:30)
  • Jesus recognized as the OT God in the NT (John 1:1, Phil. 2:5-11)
  • To accept Jesus is to accept the Father (1 John 2:23)

Clearly, as we've seen in all of the above, the God of the Bible is a Trinity of three distinct Persons of one substance and divinity. They have general functions or "roles" with some overlap, but there is no necessary or exclusive authority among them.

Was the relationship between two Persons of the Trinity always "Father" and "Son" from eternity past? That is the central question to which we have come. But first let us clarify that denying hierarchy between them is not at all to say that Jesus did not always exist as God. The Trinity is an eternal being, and nothing can ever change that. Nobody in this debate is denying the eternal existence of Jesus.

But just as clearly there was not always a father/son relationship, as we've seen in references such as Ps. 2:7 and others. To become a father or son means previously this relationship did not exist; one cannot become what one already is. But of course, unlike created beings, the Persons of the Trinity always existed, yet without this particular kind of relationship.

Does a father/son relationship require hierarchy? Yes— for a time. A human child is not permanently under the authority of their parents. The parents only have authority as long as the child is dependent upon them, and as long as the parents have responsibility for the child. Although the relationship of parent/child will always exist from the moment the child is born until either the parents or the child dies, the hierarchy will end when the child grows up or otherwise reaches a state of responsibility and independence. So parent/child is not an indication of permanent hierarchy.

We have shown that Jesus was not always the Son to the Father, but that this added quality came at a point of time in history (see also Gal. 4:4). They had always related to each other as divine equals, but now Jesus would take on human form and become the Son as well. In Philippians 2:5-11 we see that Jesus (1) was equal with the Father, (2) voluntarily laid aside his position and became human, and (3) returned to his original place beside (not beneath) the Father. The hierarchy did not exist in eternity past, nor did it continue into eternity future. Jesus voluntarily took on humility and service, then returned to his former glory.

The popular term "eternal sonship" is thus an oxymoron which tries to deny that any father must necessarily precede his son in time; it is impossible for a father not to predate his own son. And if the Son was eternally subordinated to the Father, involuntarily and permanently, then this is a necessary and intrinsic quality of being, not a "role", and it thereby makes the Son inferior in being to the Father. And it follows, then, that since all Persons of the Trinity are eternal, then no one of them could possibly have preceded another in time, making a Father/Son relationship in eternity past impossible. To say otherwise is to make Jesus a created being; substituting "emanating" or "proceeding" does not change the fact. One Person could not possibly have caused another Person to exist, or we're not describing one God but three.

Likewise for the concept of hierarchy. It is logically impossible for two persons to be called "equal in being or essence" while making one permanently in authority over the other. There can of course be temporary or limited hierarchies between equals, such as employer/employee, parent/child, or magistrate/citizen. But unlike the employee who quits, the child who grows up, or the citizen who moves to another country, one who by virtue of being or essence is made permanently and involuntarily subservient to another is not equal but beneath. So for the Son to be in a permanent inferior position to the Father is to make the Son unequal to the Father in essence— which is blasphemy, because it makes Jesus into a lesser god of inferior substance.

We presume too much when we read terms like sending, sitting beside, head, etc. Hierarchy is not necessary in order to differentiate between persons, so we must not read hierarchy into these terms but instead consider the context and implications of them. Jesus came into human history at a point in time, and he alone is unique among the Persons of the Trinity in having the dual nature of Divine Human. Yet the hierarchy that began with his birth ended after he accomplished the purpose of this incarnation. The relationship surely remains, but not the hierarchy.

What's the point of insisting we believe Jesus was eternally subservient to the Father? Why is this such an important doctrine to many today? How does it affect us as Christians? What pivotal and necessary component of the gospel does this teaching fulfill? The fact is, there is nothing in this concept of eternal subordination within the Trinity that affects the gospel or Christian behavior in any way. Not even when arguing apologetically with unbelievers is this an issue, because subordination is not a necessary component of the trinitarian view of God. In fact, it dismembers the One True God into three gods of unequal rank. One must choose between permanent hierarchy and absolute intrinsic unity; the two concepts are mutually exclusive.

There is only one reason this doctrine is so heavily pushed today: many proud men wish to use it as their justification for making themselves bosses over women while still claiming they don't say women are inferior. There is no other motivation or rationale, with the possible exception of the clergy/laity class distinction. It is the quest for power and control, for prestige and preeminence, that drives this effort to depict God as a boss with an underling who in turn has an assistant. They cannot conceive of either God or people getting along without one in charge of others, and they crave the seat of power.

This is not to say, however, that all who hold to the clergy/laity class distinction are deliberately being prideful, or that those who put males before females to one degree or another are aware of the implications of their beliefs. But such hierarchies are in fact unscriptural, and the ultimate blame for such teachings lies at the feet of influential teachers and leaders who wish to protect their places. Those who teach the "eternal subordination of the Son" empower the proud and provide the machinery that keeps the oppressed beneath them. Theirs is surely the greater sin.