The Father = The Trinity

trinity-and-subordinationism.jpgThis is the assertion of Kevin Giles in The Trinity and Subordinationism (IVP, 2002):

Here it is to be recalled that in the Bible and in the early church, the title “Father” is used in two cognate ways: in reference to the Godhead and to the person of the Father. Torrance argues that the Cappadocians’ error was to completely conflate these two meanings of the title “Father.” In the former sense, the Father (i.e., the Godhead) may be thought of as the source or font of all being. In the second sense, the Father (i.e., the Father of the Son) is he who is coequal and coeternal with the person of the Son and the person of the Holy Spirit (43).

In support for his claim that the Bible and the early church use Father to refer to the entire Trinity, he points to Torrance, The Christian Doctrine of God, 137, 181; Trinitarian Faith, 241; and LaCugna, God for Us, 71.

I haven’t run down the Torrance citations yet, but here’s the selection from LaCugna:

Nicaea’s homoousios stands at the root of the transition from the economic-subordinationist model to the model of the intradivine coequal hypostases. This move, rooted in a certain incongruity between theologia and oikonomia, changed the traditional understanding of God’s Fatherhood and thereby a created an obvious inconsistency in the doctrine of the monarchy of the Father.

First, with respect to divine paternity, there is an observable passage from an economic sense of God’s fatherhood as Creator of all that is, to a concern with God’s fatherhood from the standpoint of the theologia. In Cappadocian theology, Father requires a more emphatic intratrinitarian meaning as eternal begetter of the eternal Son. This secondary meaning amplified the biblical and creedal use of Father as a synonym for God, and the related notion of Father as source of godhead. In the trinitarian context, God’s Fatherhood now has two meanings: (a) the Father is the one who comes from nothing, from nowhere, from no one, principle without principle, Unbegotten and Ungenerate; (b) the Father is the one who eternally is begetting the Son; Father is the name of a relation to the Son (Begetter). Even if the Arian and Eunomian positions could not have been refuted in any other way, the effect of Gregory of Nazianzus’ argument nonetheless is that God’s relationship to everything as its Origin is superseded by the location of the divine relatedness in the intradivine domain, Father to Son. In the end, this seems to compromise the economic-trinitarian vision of salvation history and the concern for the deification of each follower of Christ that had motivated the Cappadocians to so vigorously contest the positions of Arius and Eunomius.

Second, the clear distinction between hypostasis and ousia, coupled with the dual meaning of divine fatherhood, forced an adjustment in the monarchy of the Father in light of the doctrine of relations. According to the doctrine of the monarchy, the essence of God belongs to the Father who communicates divinity to Son and Spirit. But the primacy of the Father is incompatible with the idea that Father, Son, and Spirit share a common ousia. Instead of basing the unity of God strictly in the person of the Father, the unity is now based on the ousia held in common. The persons are understood to exist perichorectically, mutually permeating one another.

What I’d like to see is some clear proof from the Bible and from the early church that Father ever means the entire Trinity. Assertions are easy to make, but meaningless without proof. I can’t think of any passage of Scripture where Father means anything other than the first of the three persons of the Trinity. I realize that God by itself can mean (1) the Father or perhaps (2) the Triune God, but never have I heard this assertion made with reference to Father. Can anyone point me in the direction of evidence for this claim?

Update: I now have Torrence’s The Christian Doctrine of God (as part of the Trinitarian Theology Collection from Logos) and have looked up the pages that Giles cites. From what I can tell, Giles is missing the mark in interpreting Torrence. In reading Torrence, I don’t get the impression that he sees Father as a synonym for Trinity or the entire Godhead, though he does speak of two different senses in which Father is used in the Bible and the early church. Perhaps I’ll dig into this more later.

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4 Responses to The Father = The Trinity

  1. Mike Aubrey October 3, 2007 at 6:34 pm #

    That’s an unusual proposition. I don’t have access to any of those books right now to check.

    Definitely, keep me updated on this. I’m curious to hear what his evidence for this is.

  2. Phil Gons October 6, 2007 at 11:05 am #

    I’ll keep you posted on what I find out.

    I hope to write a review of Giles’s book, which is one of the most frustrating things I’ve ever read!

  3. Oun Kwon January 15, 2008 at 9:02 pm #

    Thanks for the article. The total picture of the inner relationship of the divine Triad may be beyond human comprehension, but, like the doctrine of Trinity itself, we humans always want to fathom ever deeper, not for human pride and sophistry, but for God’s glory and loving God ever more.

    A few questions I have:

    1. The name YHWH – does it apply only to God the Father or the triune Godhead?
    2. In Jn 1:1 hO QEOS refers to God Father. Then, can I say this refers to YHWH?

    An interesting article by a pastor, nuclear physicist, here is one of his many articles about explaining Trinity . I would call this perspectival approach (far superior AND biblical at the same time, compared to other approaches, such as modalistic, etc.)

    Thank you for your enlightenment.

  4. Phil Gons January 19, 2008 at 2:24 am #

    Thanks for the note, Oun.

    1. I have to give more thought to the meaning of יהוה in the OT. I’ve heard it claimed often that יהוה always refers to Christ, but I find this very unconvincing. There are instances where יהוה is distinct from the מַלְאַךְ יְהֹוָה (IMO preincarnate appearances of Christ) and where יהוה refers to the Spirit. I’d be most inclined to see יהוה as normally referring to the Triune God, with occasions where one of the three seems to be in the specific referent.

    2. I’m not sure I follow you here.

    I spent a little while reading portions of the article to which you linked, and I find it unpersuasive. It seems to me to be nothing more than a repackaging of old ideas dismissed by the church. I find it hard to distinguish the difference between the perspectival view of Pastor Johnson and modalism. It is an attempt to solve what we cannot, and it swerves dangerously toward a rejection of true threeness in the Godhead.