The Trinity

The doctrine of the Trinity (or Tri-unity) is one of those doctrines that is formulated, and believed, but not fully understood by any except God. How God can be eternally Three, and yet eternally One, and both the three-ness and the one-ness being equally explanatory of who God is and equally important, is quite beyond us to understand.

The word “Trinity” does not refer to a character in the movie Matrix, but rather to the fact that God is Three and God is One, though not in the same sense. We usually say that God is One in His essence, and Three in person. We do not hold to three Gods, but one God. And yet this One God is known to us as revealing Himself in three Persons. This is possible by the mutual indwelling of each person in the other two persons, such indwelling having the fancy name of “perichoresis.”

We do not believe that the Three Persons are just another name for different faces of God. That is, we do not hold that God picks up and takes off different masks. This is the error of modalism. The Persons are inseparable, yet distinct. And yet, each of the three Persons is fully God. We do not hold that one Person is higher or more important than the other two persons. Each of the three persons (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) are equally God. Calvin says it best when he cannot think of the One without immediately being faced with the Three; and cannot contemplate the Three without immediately being carried back to the One. See Calvin’s Institutes 1.13.

In terms of ontological being, we say that the Father is the eternal Begettor, the Son is the eternally Begotten, and the Holy Spirit is the eternally Processing One. The word “eternal” in each of these descriptions is vital, since none of the Three Persons have a beginning in time or eternity.

There are no analogies to the Trinity anywhere in nature that really work.

Why should we know about this doctrine? Read Ephesians 1, wherein our salvation is accomplished by the One God in Three Persons. The Father plans our salvation; the Son accomplished our salvation; and the Holy Spirit applies our salvation to us. It is of eminent importance that we contemplate and meditate on this doctrine, since our salvation depends on it. This is not merely some abstract theological discussion, but rather an absolute essential of the Christian faith. Look at the structure of the Apostles’ Creed: Trinitarian. The Nicene Creed is the same.

Some of you might have heard of the “filioque controversy.” “Filioque” means “and from the Son.” This refers to whether the Holy Spirit proceeds only from the Father (like the Eastern Orthodox Church believes), or from the Father and from the Son, as the Western church believes. The clause in question was added to the Nicene Creed by the Council of Toledo in 589 A.D., having been adopted by many churches prior to that date (Letham, pg. 202).

The best book on the subject that I know of is Robert Letham’s book entitled simply The Holy Trinity. Get it. There is so much more that could be said on it. I have only given the most bare-bones outline of what this discussion involves.


This is the commentary post. Lots of good stuff here.

First-rate: Aune, Beale (this is the single best: if you can only get one, this is it), Charles, Durham, Johnson, Hendriksen’s More Than Conquerors, Mounce, Hughes, Osborne, Ramsay, Swete, Smalley, Thomas, Keener, Ladd, Poythress

Second-rate: Beasley-Murray, Caird, Gregg, Morris, Krodel, Boring, Roloff, Rowland

Third-rate: Ford

Other works: get Bauckham’s work on the theology of Revelation, and also get Hemer’s book on the seven churches.

Forthcoming: Boxall (BNTC), Carson (PNTC), Koester (AB), Patterson (NAC), Fiorenza (Herm)

Conservative: Beale, Durham, Johnson, Hendriksen, Mounce, Hughes, Osborne, Ramsay, Swete, Thomas, Keener, Ladd, Poythress, Gregg, Morris

Moderate: Aune, Charles, Smalley, Beasley-Murray, Caird, Krodel, Boring, Roloff, Rowland

Liberal: Ford

Of the forthcoming commentaries, Carson and Patterson will be conservative; Boxall and Koester will be moderate, and Fiorenza will be liberal.

Birthright or Stew?

Genesis 25:29-34
I hope that most of us reading this trust God for our salvation. I hope that most of us know that Jesus Christ is the only way to God, the only way to forgiveness. However, do we trust God for the everyday decisions that we have to make? We might trust God to save us from our sin, but then we will often make a major life decision without even consulting God’s Word for what it might have to say to us. We might then actually trade long-term benefits for short-term gain. We might be trading grace for something that we can control. We want the immediate gratification of our senses, and we might be willing to trade our eternal future to get it. That is the question that confronts us this morning.

Last time we saw that the differences between Jacob and Esau were only external. On the inside, you wouldn’t have been able to say that one of them deserved God’s grace more than the other. God alone could make that decision. And before either of them were born, before either of them had done good or evil, God chose Jacob. It is entirely because of God’s grace that one was chosen and not the other.

But now we see that God’s choice does influence the way in which we live our lives. Jacob is concerned about the promise. He lives to supplant his brother, who currently has the birthright and the blessing coming to him. Esau lives for the moment, trading eternal realities for temporary good.

The previous two verses set up this part of the chapter nicely: Esau was a skillful hunter, and was always out and about, while Jacob was a homebody, liking the peace and quiet of the tents. Notice it says that Esau was a skillful hunter. That is important in our passage, because he came home empty-handed. I’m sure that sometime or other, those among us who are hunters, even if we are good hunters, will occasionally come home empty-handed. And you burn a lot of calories when you go out hunting, so that when you come home, you are usually ravenous. That’s what happened to Esau one day.

Probably Jacob saw his chance and just “happened” to be at the right place at the right time with a bowl of stew. He saw his opportunity of driving a very hard bargain.

Now Esau comes in from the hunt, and sees the stew, and, being famished, says, “Give me some of that red stuff.” This language is rather crude. Literally, he says something like this, “Let me cram my maw with that red stuff red stuff.” He repeats “red,” and so Moses tells us that this is the reason why Esau is called “Edom.” The name “Edom” means “red.” Esau wants that stew, and he wants it now! The only thing that he can think about is the temporal benefit of filling his stomach. He can’t put it off for another minute. He can’t wait the few extra minutes that it would take for him to go his parents and get some food from them. He sees this stew, and he has to have that.

Notice that Jacob completely changes the subject of conversation in verse 31. Esau is talking about eating, and Jacob says, “Sell me your birthright.” Say what? What does the birthright have to do with stew? Everything, in Jacob’s mind. This is the whole point. Notice that Jacob demands rather than requests the birthright. Esau at least asks politely (he says “please”). But Jacob demands that Esau sell him the birthright.

Now the birthright was a very important thing in those days. It meant a double portion of the inheritance. So, in Jacob and Esau’s case, there were two brothers. The inheritance would thus be divided up three ways, and the firstborn would get two-thirds of the estate, and the younger brother would get one-third. However, that is not all that the birthright means. Most commentators have noted that there is a spiritual aspect to this birthright as well. Not only will the one with the birthright get two-thirds of the physical estate, but also he will get blessing of God given in verse 23 of this chapter. That is what Jacob wants. That is what he is after. That is why he goes to all this trouble to ensnare his brother. Jacob’s actions could not be called brotherly here. However, Scripture puts more blame on Esau than on Jacob. It says at the end of this chapter that Esau despised his birthright, whereas it does not pass any judgment on Jacob. We are going to find out that Jacob has the same problem that Abraham had: he didn’t trust God enough in the day-to-day decisions. Therefore, Jacob felt that he had to help God along. What he should have done is to be in prayer about the matter before God. That iswhat Isaac and Rebekah did, and that is what he should have done. But we should not judge Jacob too harshly, since Scripture implies that his heart was in the right place. He wanted the promise of God, whereas the only thing Esau was good for was this red stuff. Esau was a man destined for red stew, and not anything more, in contrast with Jacob, who had been elected by God to continue the promise.

Martin Luther says that the birthright wasn’t Esau’s to sell, since God had already promised to Jacob the inheritance. By the same token, it wasn’t Jacob’s to buy, since it was already his, and he could not buy it by works, but it came through grace.

Notice how Esau despises his birthright: he says, “I am about to die; what good is the birthright to me?” That is probably an exaggeration. If he was really and truly on the point of death, he wouldn’t have said quite so much to Jacob. We must be aware of the probability that Jacob and Esau had talked about the birthright before. This is merely the end of the conversation, when it is all wrapped up. Probably Esau had mentioned that he didn’t really need or want the birthright.

So Jacob buys the birthright from Esau. But Jacob is a wise man. He knows that words uttered at the spur of the moment might be denied later on. So he requires Esau to swear to him that the birthright is his. Esau does so.
Notice that at the end of this chapter, we are told almost in passing that Esau got his food. Obviously the birthright was far more important than a bowl of stew. But not in Esau’s mind. He despised his birthright.
Now, there are many people out there today who say that the only things that are important to ehm are those things that they can see. Many people actually deny that God exists because they cannot see Him. This portion of God’s Word tells us just how foolish that kind of thinking is. Indeed, after Thomas had demonstrated just such an attitude, Jesus says that those people are blessed who do not see Jesus in person, and yet believe.

Indeed, Jesus is the premier example of someone who strove for the spiritual blessings that would come upon His people. When Satan tempted Him in the wilderness, Jesus did not display the attitude of Esau. If He had done that, He would have turned the stones into bread. Jesus probably was on the verge of actual starvation, having gone without food for 40 days. But Jesus said that life does not depend only on food, but also on God’s Word. The exact phrase is, “by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

Do we believe that? All too often we don’t trust God in making that decision about money, or about people, or about land, or about any number of things. Instead we think that God couldn’t possibly have given us any answers from His Word. How wrong is that kind of thinking! God gives us direction through the principles given to us in the Holy Scriptures. We should never make any decision without consulting God in prayer and in His Word to look for direction. If we did seek God’s guidance, then wouldn’t make decisions that are sinful, such as making shady business deals, or cheating on our spouses, or cheating on our income tax forms, or any manner of other poor decisions. We are not to make these decisions apart from God’s leading and guiding us in His Word and through prayer. This is not a direct revelation from God. But He does lead us by His Word. We cannot say that God is leading us to engage in sexual activity outside of marriage. We cannot appeal to what everyone else is doing. That is not an option for the Christian. The Christian is only to do what God has instructed him to do in His Word.