In previous posts I have discussed the priesthood of all believers and how this doctrine interacts with the doctrine of the trinity. In my last post on this I examined the connection from Trinity => church. In this post we’ll go in the other direction: church => trinity (a much more perilous route!!). My question is:
Can ‘different giftings united in one priesthood’ be thought of as an analogy for the trinity?
If it can, then it would be ok to see different Persons of the Godhead differently gifted. This different gifting would imply no difference in divinity (just as differences in charismatic gifting implies no difference in priestliness). Instead we could affirm the differences we see in the economy as real and not apparent and yet in no way infer any ontological subordination.
To set this up, let me quote from Athanasius’ Deposition of Arius
And if the Son is the “Word” and “Wisdom” of God, how was there “a time when He was not?” It is the same as if they should say that God was once without Word and without Wisdom.
Here we have, of course, a thought-experiment. But it is interesting to note exactly what thoughts are being had by Athanasius. The argument is basically this:
1. The Son is the Wisdom of the Father.
2. It is inconceivable to have the Father without wisdom.
3. The Father must have always had the Son.
Now it doesn’t take much thought to imagine the Arian come-back to this. Surely you could just say that the Father has always had wisdom in Himself, i.e. considered apart from the Son. This was a move which Athanasius was unwilling to make. The logic of Athanasius’ position (without which his argument fails) is that the Father must have the Son to have wisdom – He does not have it in Himself.
All this accords with verses like 1 Cor 2:10-11, where the wisdom of God is seen as an irreducibly inter-Personal knowledge. The Father is wise in the wisdom of the Son, known in the Spirit. Athanasius reveals in this argument that he did not conceive of the Persons as having divine attributes (like wisdom) complete in themselves. The attributes are not, on this conception, identical CV’s repeated for each Person. Rather, each Person shares in the common divine life because they so belong to one another and inter-penetrate one another that Each has a complete share in the giftings of the Others. Yet those gifting (attributes) are properly unique to the Persons in their distinctive existences as Begettor, Begotten and Proceeding. The Son is the Wisdom of the Father. The Father is not wise in Himself but only in the Son and by the Spirit.
As we discussed the priesthood of all believers we were led to just these kinds of conclusions. I am priestly not by myself but only in and with you and your gifts. And because of you and your gifts – you and they belong to me (Rom 12:5). Is it not the same with God? The Son so belongs to the Father that He who is Wisdom eternally makes wise the Father in the Spirit, etc, etc.
Isn’t it very suggestive that 1 Corinthians 11 tells us that Father and Son are Head and Body (v3) just before we read a whole chapter on the church also being like a body?? And isn’t it interesting that the following chapter (13) discusses how the many are one – love!?
Can we not say by analogy with 1 Cor 12:15: “If the Father should say ‘Because I am not Wisdom, I do not belong to the Godhead,’ He would not for that reason cease to be part of the Godhead… ” You see where I’m going with this. Just as the priesthood of all believers is the corporate priestliness of differently gifted believers so the equal divinity of the Three is the corporate divinity of differently gifted Persons. Yet these Persons so belong to each other that they are never without the gifts of the Other.
Now some think that Athanasius’ famous affirmation opposes such a position:
‘The Son is everything the Father is except Father…’
But I’m saying, if Athanasius is being true to his Deposition of Arius he must mean this in terms of ontological equality. That is the sense in which we must uphold these words. But it’s very clear, viewed from another perspective, that the Son is many things the Father is not – Begotten, Mediator, Prophet, Priest, Prince, Sent One, etc, etc. So whatever the above affirmation means it does not mean that the Son’s CV is the same as the Father’s. Instead, just as my gifts are different to yours, so the particular attributes of the Persons are different. And just as your gifts belong to me in the unity of the church so the Person’s attributes belong to one another in the unity of the Godhead.
We’ll see why this is important shortly.