The Catholic Doctrine of the Trinity

The doctrine of the Trinity is foundational to the faith and worship of the Church. There is one God who eternally subsists as three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Each person is unique and distinct within the godhead and at the same time fully God. The trinity of persons is not to be understood as differing modes of being. The Son is fully God at the same points in and before time as the Father and Spirit. In upholding plurality we must not abandon essential unity. Within Orthodox developments, this has been the ecumenical consensus with differing emphasis in formulation. Over time the church has continued to develop the distinctions that it uses when discussing this doctrine. These distinctions are economic, ontological, and social reflections on the Trinity. The economic Trinity is the revealed activity of God in Scripture. In creation and redemption we see God revealed as he is for us. We do not know God apart from the economic revelation of himself to humanity. The ontological Trinity is the revelation of God as he is in himself. This is the hiddenness of God. The economic revelation of God limits our understanding of God as he is in himself. There is more to say about God, but we do not know what that is apart from God’s revelation of himself in relation to humanity. The social Trinity is the revelation of the communion of God. The ontological and social Trinity are hinted at in God’s activity and self-revelation in Scripture. These categories helpfully promote further reflection on the historic consensus. Now as always, the Church must guard the historic understanding of this doctrine from innovation as it continues to confess that God is one in essence and three in persons.

God is one, and he alone is to be worshipped. Monotheism and the worship of that one God alone are affirmed in both the Old and New Testaments. This was Israel’s creed and Jesus’ response to Satan in his wilderness temptation (Mt. 4:10). The unity of God in the New Testament is undisputed. It is the plurality of the one God that has sparked controversy. Once you see Jesus as the center of the Old Testament text (Lk. 24) you also see that the Old Testament possesses hints of plurality (i.e., the Angel of the Lord in Genesis 18, 22, 32 and Exodus 3, and the Angel of God’s Presence in Isa 63). Despite Israel’s strict monotheism, the personal name of God, YHWH, is identified with the Angel of the Lord (Zechariah 3:1-4). A similar move occurs in Rev. 1:8 where Jesus is referred to in language reminiscent of Isa. 44:6. The LORD of hosts is the first and the last, and besides him there is no God. There is one God, the Father and Creator, and one Lord Jesus Christ through whom we exist (1Co 8:6). In the Jewish context, Jesus’ divinity is strongly asserted in that there is no other name in heaven or on earth by which men may be saved. The Father and the Son receive the same titles and worship. Jesus is the only Son from the Father (John 1:14), he was with the Father from the beginning and is identified with the same being as the Father (John 1:1-3); Jesus is viewed as pre-existent, identical to God, and distinct from the Father. This divine status also extends to the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:4). The Spirit is involved in Creation (Gen. 1:2; Job 26:13; 33:4), providence (Ps 104:30), regeneration (Jn 3:5-6; Tit. 3:5) and the resurrection of the dead (Ro 8:11). The Spirit is spoken of as sent by the Father and the Son, just as the Son is also sent by the Father. This participation in the economy of salvation is a participation of all the persons of the Trinity in all aspects of the planned work of the Father. While the Old Testament contains hints of plurality, the New Testament is explicit in its numerous triadic expressions. The triadic formulas are present in baptism, and the liturgical blessings and benedictions. Surprisingly, the early Jewish believers worshipped each person equally as God. It is significant that before the historic definition of the Trinity these triadic expressions pervaded the Church’s faith, worship, sacraments, and prayer.

The triadic nature of the economic Trinity attained an early consensus in the Church. Early controversy centered on the philosophical meaning of the terms employed and on how the economic distinctions relate to the eternal reality of God-in-himself. One popular solution argued that God is one person (i.e., the Father), and that the one God manifested himself at different times as the Son and the Spirit. This position is known as modalism and was founded by Sabellius, a third century Roman presbyter. Modalism maintained the unity of God at the expense of the plurality. This position was ruled out according to the biblical understanding outlined above. Furthermore, modalism created an ethical dilemma for the Church. A similar error that gained popularity in the early Church argued for the unity of God (i.e., the Father) and the ontological subordination of the Son and the Spirit to the one God (i.e., lesser gods). This position was held by Origen, Eusebius, and the Arians. Their objection to the orthodox position came from an Aristotelian understanding of essence (ousia). For Aristotle, essence refers to both the individual who bears the essence, as well as the essence itself. Simply put, essence referred to both the nature and the person. This understanding contributed to confusion in early discussions. According to this definition of essence, if God is one essence, then he cannot be three. God cannot be three in the same way that he is one. This confusion was unfortunate, because no one actually affirmed “one in essence, three in essence.” In light of our previous discussion, ontological subordination is ruled out as an option because of the titles and worship given to the Son, as well as the identification of the Word with God. It is not that the Father and the Son have a similar divine essence (i.e., the position of the semi-Arians); Scripture demands that the persons of the Trinity be understood as the same in essence, and equal in power and glory.

It was not until the fourth century that the Church possessed the categories to make the necessary distinction between essence and person (hypostasis) in a manner that did not contribute to misunderstanding. Tertullian had already coined the formula “one in essence and three in persons” by the second century, but it was not until the contribution of the Cappadocians that the formula was advanced in a manner that the East and West could agree on. This new language rescued the “person” distinction from being a subcategory of essence and allowed for further ontological distinction in the debate. The Father has a unique personhood from the Son and the Spirit, and he shares in the common essence and attributes. This is in contradistinction to the idea that the Father is a persona that the one God acts out on the stage of history. It is also not enough to say that there is fatherhood, sonship, and love within the one God. The “person” distinction is an ontological distinction and not a relational distinction only. Nevertheless, this relational understanding is important because it emphasizes that the Father is not the Father apart from the Son and that the Father, Son, and Spirit must necessarily have existed in perfect relational community in eternity. This is another way of saying that there never was a time when the Son did not exist. When we consider the one essence apart from the three persons we inadvertently fall into Arianism, and when we meditate on the three persons apart from the one essence we fall into polytheism. This revolutionary distinction in the debate eventually led to the Church reaching an ecumenical consensus. The retrieval of this controversy is essential to Trinitarian reflection, as well as the defense of the Orthodox position against those sects that hold similar positions to the ones outlined above.

With differing emphases, the East and West rejected Tritheism, Subordinationism, and modalism. God’s essence is undivided and that undivided essence is shared in common with three persons. The Trinitarian sharing of essence is not in parts, but in the whole. Whatever attribute applies to God, applies to the Father, Son, and Spirit equally. If this was all that was said, then there would be a hint of modalism in our statement. We must also state that the Son is begotten, and not the Father or the Spirit; that the Father is father, and not the Son or the Spirit; and that the Son and the Spirit are sent, and that the Father is the one who sends. The three persons are each God in themselves (autotheos), while the three eternal hypostasis have their origin from the Father; only the Father is unbegotten, only the Son is eternally begotten, and only the Spirit is eternally sent. The distinction of undivided essence and eternally originated personhood safeguards from both the ontological subordination of Origen and the modalism of Sabellius. The examples of differentiation in the persons multiply if we further consider the history of redemption in light of the relationship between the economic and ontological Trinity (i.e., the Father could not become incarnate, the Spirit is not the head of the body, etc). This is why it must be stated that the repetition of the one essence in the persons does not obscure the uniqueness of the persons. The persons are more than repetitions of the same essence. God is personal and not a person. To conceive of God as a person, and triunity as an attribute of that one person, is to slip into a deceptive version of modalism. The Subordinationist objection to plurality in the divine essence falls flat precisely because plurality refers to persons and not essence. If we understand tri-unity as an attribute of God, then we bring plurality back into essence. This subtle modalistic error weakens the orthodox defense against modern expressions of Subordinationism. With the East, we must continue to affirm that plurality belongs to the hypostasis and not the ousia.

The Cappadocian achievement had further ramifications on the Trinitarian spirituality and worship of the Church. When we encounter the Son through the Spirit we encounter a person of the Trinity and not the divine essence. The Trinitarian community that the believer participates in is a social and mysterious participation among persons, and not ascension up the ladder of being and into the divine essence. There is no essence hiding above the hypostasis; the entirety of the essence is found in the unique and distinct persons. There is no communion with God apart from the three-in-one. This makes spirituality possible. It is in union with the Incarnate Son that humanity may participate in the fellowship of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Only in the God-man may man fellowship with God. The eternal, intra-Trinitarian relation of persons may be seen in how the persons of the ontological Trinity relate in their economic mission. The Son is uniquely the son of the Father in his redemptive mission (John 4:34). The Father, Son, and Spirit share a mission in common, but they all participate in that mission in a manner distinct to their persons. This upholds the distinction between essential attributes and personal attributes outlined above. The social unity of the persons is found in their mutual indwelling. There is both an essential unity and a unity of the community of persons (John 17:21). If you look for the unity of God in mutual indwelling only, then you advocate the worship of three gods and compromise the true oneness of that holy family. Similarly, when man participates in this Trinitarian fellowship, he participates personally and not essentially. It is to the person of the Incarnate Son that the Spirit unites believers and not to the one essence.

The Trinity is more than a doctrine and is the whole of the Christian faith. Worship of the Trinity is the end of all theological reflection. The understanding of the Trinity that this essay has sought to outline has attempted to listen to both the eastern and western Trinitarian formulations and debates, alongside Scripture as the norming norm. This reflection has resulted in an understanding of the social Trinity distinct from the trinitarian panentheism (i.e., unity in relations through mutual indwelling only) that is growing in popularity. Any error here will have devastating consequences throughout the entire range of systematic theology. In the end, though, all reflections are analogical and directed toward the Economic Trinity. Apart from God’s revelation of himself there is no knowledge of God’s intra-Trinitarian relations. Furthermore, the economic Trinity cannot say all that is to be said about the ontological Trinity. The Trinity is an incomprehensible mystery revealed in Scripture and must be approached with reverence and awe; the result of this study must be the renewal of biblical faith, worship, and practice.

A Review of “From Eden to the New Jerusalem: An Introduction to Biblical Theology”


Alexander, T. Desmond. From Eden to the New Jerusalem: An Introduction to Biblical Theology. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2008. 208 pp. $19.99.

T. Desmond Alexander is a senior lecturer in biblical studies and has written on both the scholarly and popular levels.  For this reason, From Eden to the New Jerusalem is a wealth of biblical and pastoral insight.  Biblical theology is essential for the health of the Church.  It offers the macro level perspective necessary to go to any place of Scripture with profit.  This discipline also provides the Christian with the tools to understand his own place in redemptive history.  Unfortunately, much of the work being done is inaccessible to the lay reader. The work under review attempts to fill up the need for a bridge between the beginning and advanced studies on biblical theology available.

This introductory title serves as an intermediate primer to Biblical Theology.  In this book Alexander has also made more advanced study accessible and palatable to a wider audience.  His thesis is simple: Genesis 1-3 and Revelation 20-22 provide the structure that frames the entire meta-story of the Bible.  The Revelation 20-22 consummation of redemptive-history is found in a process that began in Genesis 1-3.  This thesis is not revolutionary and has been demonstrated with varying methods and success (i.e., Vos, Kline, Clowney, and Beale).  Alexander’s presentation is superior in many respects because of its clarity and methodological simplicity.

The main body of the work consists of seven chapters that take the reader from Genesis to Revelation in order to strengthen and fill out the author’s thesis.  Alexander covers the central themes of the presence of God, the sovereignty of God, evil, redemption, holiness, and life in the Kingdom.  All of these themes strengthen his overall idea of the Bible’s meta-story and demonstrate how that story unfolds.

The second chapter (“From sacred garden to holy city: experiencing the presence of God”) demonstrates the garden-temple presence of the Lord motif throughout Scripture, along with its restoration and eschatological consummation.  There are similarities between the Garden of Eden and the tabernacle/temple that are too plain to miss.  First, Eden and later sanctuaries were entered from the east and guarded by cherubim.  Second, the Eden sanctuary and the tabernacle possessed arboreal decorations.   Third, the Hebrew verbs “to serve, till” and “to keep, observe, guard” are used in God’s command to the man to take care of the garden, the combination of these verbs are only found elsewhere in the Pentateuch  to describe the sanctuary keeping duties of the Levites.  Fourth, gold and onyx are present in Genesis 1:11-12 and were also main materials in the construction of later sanctuaries.  Fifth, the Lord walked with his people in Eden and in the tabernacle.  Sixth, Eden and the Jerusalem temple are on elevated locations and have rivers flowing out of them; God’s presence is frequently associated with mountains.  This ever growing body of evidence suggests that the Garden of Eden should be understood as the pattern for latter sanctuaries.  It follows from this also that Adam had a holy a priestly status in his service within that temple-garden.  A further missiological implication is that Adam’s priestly task would have resulted in a world encompassing, holy garden-city.  This is the blueprint that is brought to completion in Rev. 21-22.  But Adam does not maintain the sanctity of God’s garden-temple and instead obeys the serpent.  The priest who was meant to extend the temple of God’s presence throughout creation had jeopardized that project.  The remainder of the chapter, and the main body of Scripture, describes the restoration of this project through its various Old Testament patterns to its New Testament reality and its final consummation.

The third chapter (“Thrown from the throne: re-establishing the sovereignty of God”) views the previously covered ground through the lens of God’s sovereignty.  The creation of man in the Image of God is the establishment of God’s viceroys in the creational Kingdom.  This fits with both the text itself (Gen. 1:26-28) and the function of images in the ancient Near East.    In the ANE the phrase “image of God” is given to the king.  The King was the image of his god and was placed there by his god to represent his dominion.  Similarly, Adam was placed in creation as a representative ruler whose function was to image God.  This explains the significance of the dominion mandate.  Man was to fill the earth with God’s regal image.  Thus far it has been observed that Adam was both a priest and a king in the garden-temple.  Adam’s failure is in both priestly guarding and kingly dominion.  The serpent dethroned Adam in his attempt to remove God’s authority over creation.  This pattern is observed in the Israelite theocracy.  God redeems Israel from the serpent’s Kingdom and sets her up as a Kingdom of priests in a holy realm.  The culmination of this project is the royal grant of eternal dominion and dynasty (i.e., regality restored to the Image), and the construction of a garden-like temple in God’s holy mountain city.  Like the first Adam, Israel challenges God’s sovereignty and is cast into Exile.  After the failure of the theocracy, the restoration of God’s sovereignty and reinstatement of human vice- regency centers on Jesus.   In Christ, the restoration of God’s Kingdom and the reinstatement of human vice-regency are realized.  This restoration extends to those who are identified with Christ; the church is a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9).  The appearance of the New Jerusalem consolidates God’s absolute authority over all things.  It will be the end of all opposition.  At the consummation the Kingdom of God will be established over all the earth in its full glory.

The fourth chapter (“Dealing with the devil: destroying the source of evil”) deals with the being who stands in opposition to God’s purposes.  In Rev. 20:2, John identifies the figures of the dragon, the devil, and Satan, with the ancient Serpent that seduced, defiled, and dethroned God’s first priest-king Adam.  The serpent is named as the ruler of this world (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11; 1 John 5:18-19).  Jesus has come to overthrow him.  The serpent would not need overthrowing if he were not in fact in possession of the kingdoms of the earth.  Like Adam and Israel, Jesus is tempted by the serpent.  Unlike Adam, Israel and Jesus were tested in the wilderness.  The first Adam had been exiled; those who followed Adam were tested in the wilderness exile.  Following the fall of the first Adam, there is a tale of two’s throughout Scripture (i.e., two family lines, two cities, two mountains, two kingdoms, etc.).  Jesus is the seed of the woman that will crush the serpent’s head.  He overcomes the temptations and passes the tests that the previous Adam figures had failed to fulfill.  The cross was not the defeat of the second Adam; instead it was the bruising of his heel as he crushed the ancient Serpent.  Jesus has bound the strong man, but his final defeat is not until the consummation.  Until that time, Christians must be vigilant to acknowledge God’s sovereignty, resist Satan’s evil influence, wage spiritual warfare, make use of God’s appointed armament, and persevere unto the end through adversity.

The next two chapters treat the themes of redemption (The slaughter of the Lamb: accomplishing the redemption of creation), and holiness (Feasting from the tree of life: reinvigorating the lives of people from every nation).  The previous chapters provided the blueprint and the problems that needed to be resolved.  The resolution of this problem is found in Christ, our Passover lamb.  The New Covenant reality of the Old Covenant Exodus is found in Christ’s life, death, and resurrection.  In Christ, we move from the Kingdom of the ancient Serpent to the Kingdom of God.  This is accomplished through atonement, purification, and definitive atonement.  The problem was sin and rebellion, the solution is forgiveness and perfection through Jesus’ blood and righteousness.  In Christ, we have been purified.  We have regained our holy status that Adam lost.  This is not the holiness of progressive sanctification.  Alexander argues that definitive sanctification is at the forefront of the New Testament statements on sanctification.  This is a radical breaking of the power of evil over the life of the believer and a movement into the position of holiness.  The resultant position is coincidental with Justification.  What follows from this new forensic and positional status is a life of progressive holiness and wholeness.  The personal transformation that began in God’s people in this age will be completed at the consummation; when we are allowed to eat from the tree of life in physical, resurrected, and glorified bodies.  It is at this time that the ecological and social transformation spoken of in Old and New Covenant promises will be fulfilled.

The final chapter of the main body treats the theme of living in God’s Kingdom (Strong foundations and solid walls: living securely among the people of God).  This present evil age will one day come to an end.  Therefore, we should live lives of holiness and godliness as we wait on the coming day of the Lord and the New Creation (2 Peter 3:10-13).  The book of Revelation shows us a tale of two cities, Babylon and the New Jerusalem.  Babylon is already here and we have to choose to whom we will be citizens.    Babylon is faithless, deceptive, and controls the multitudes.  She is known for drunkenness and sexual immorality.  The city of Babylon is a warning of the dangers of affluence.  It is in the New Jerusalem that righteousness dwells.

Alexander’s claims are well supported in Scripture.  He also makes effective use of secondary sources and footnotes to further inform the reader of his position with respect to other writers.  The biblical theological picture that is drawn for the reader is not difficult to comprehend.  A particular strength of this work is the lucidity of the exegesis.  The author stuck to the strongest arguments for his case and did not stray far afield in his exposition.  This work is a good intermediate introduction and preparation for more detailed works.  There are many more themes that will need to be discussed in filling out the super structure that Alexander presented (i.e., more rigorous interaction with the Covenants, typology, redemption, living in God’s two Kingdoms, interaction deferring methodologies and conclusions, etc).

There was a minor point of contention in chapter seven with the author’s treatment of Citizenship and Babylon.  Alexander creates a false dilemma when he states that we must choose between being either citizens of this world’s godless Babylon or a citizen of God’s future New Jerusalem.  We cannot help but be citizens of this present evil age and its secular Kingdom.  This is the shape of inaugurated eschatology.  We are not like Israel in the Holy realm; we are like Israel in its Babylonian exile.  While living in Babylon Israel was to seek the good of the city (Jeremiah 29:7); in her welfare we will find our welfare.  Unlike Israel in its exile, we are also citizens of the Kingdom of God.  The resolution to this tension is found in the futurity of the Kingdom that we already experience.  The dual citizenship of the Christian is revoked at the consummation.  Until then, the Christian will struggle with the internal and external tensions of his dual status as sinner and saint.  There is a war of two kingdoms raging in the heart of every believer.

Alexander’s introduction to Biblical Theology is successful in what it sets out to accomplish.  It will be a benefit to students, pastors, and laymen, who desire to come to terms with the big picture of the Bible.  This big picture enables us to find our own place as God’s priest-King images, remade after the image of Christ, and fit together to be the eschatological garden-temple of God.  A further advantage of this big picture is that it sets our minds on how we should live in light of that picture, as priest-Kings who are called to be living sacrifices.

Adopted through Christ


Union with Christ is spoken of everywhere in the New Testament. This life-giving union functions at a structural level in Scripture. This becomes clearer when you look at how many times “in him” and “in Christ” appears. The context that you find these phrases is especially striking. Union with Christ enriches our understanding of every topic of theology. There is also no Christian piety and practice apart from union with Christ!  This is especially the case with the doctrine of Adoption, a doctrine which is badly needed in order to confront the ills facing the western churches.

God’s people are an adopted people and are not children of God by virtue of their birth. This is not what you hear in popular theology.  It is more common to hear that God is the Father of all of Creation.  Adoption is a key metaphor for salvation in the Old and New Testament. Adoption characterizes God’s people in the Old and New Covenant.  Apart from adoption, we face God as guilty sinners before a holy judge.  By virtue of union with the Son of God in his life, death, and resurrection, we may cry out to God as Father.

Ephesians 1:3-14 centers on God’s purposes in adoption. The blessings that Christians receive are the blessings of adoption. Before the foundation of the world God planned to adopt. This plan is referred to as election.  The goal of election is the holiness and blamelessness of God’s people, while the execution of election is “in him.” In Christ we were predestined for adoption. In him we have redemption by his blood, the forgiveness of our sins. In him we are lavished with grace. It is in Christ that we experience the knowledge of God. Furthermore, in him we receive an inheritance and the guarantee of that inheritance in the promised Holy Spirit.  Paul can barely mention anything regarding our many spiritual blessings apart from the language of union!

We were once “sons of disobedience” and “children of wrath” but now God’s love has made us alive “together with Christ.” This adoption is described as “by grace you have been saved.” We were “made alive together with Christ” when God “raised us up with him.” In Christ, God has even “seated us with him in the heavenly places.” We love to speak of salvation by grace, but salvation is only by grace because it is “in him.” Salvation is gracious because in union to the Son of God we have received the Sonship of adoption. (Eph. 2:1-10)

In Romans 8:23 the consummation of our adoption is spoken of as the redemption of our bodies. This realization connects the doctrine of adoption to the bodily resurrection. We have now been raised with Christ (Eph. 2:1-10). This is why Paul can speak of our being adopted in the present. But we have not yet experienced the physical resurrection. This may explain why we see such a stark contrast between “the Spirit” and “the flesh” in Paul. In the Spirit, we have the blessings of Sonship, but in the flesh, the outer man is wasting away.  In union with Christ by the Spirit we have the blessings of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. It is the “redemption of our bodies” that is the revelation to creation of the God’s adopted children.

The doctrine of Adoption also explains James’ particular concern for the orphans and widows: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” (James 1:27) The expression of our adoption is the care of widows and orphans. This is a family trait of the household of God in which we have been adopted as members!

The biblical doctrine of adoption takes us to “before the foundation of the world” and God’s eternal decree. It speaks to our justification, the legal foundation of our becoming children of God. It also speaks to our sanctification and glorification as we become members of the household of God and learn to act as sons and daughters.  Adoption also characterizes our resurrection and experience of the New Creation.  In Christ we have received every Spiritual blessing, and there is no experience of God the Father outside of Christ.  The response to this doctrine is what James calls “true religion.”

Covenantal Revelation and the Goal of all Things


God has revealed himself in creation.  This has a two-fold meaning. First, it refers to God’s divine speech in the act of creation, and secondly, it refers to God’s subsequent revelation in and through that creation.  Revelation may also be considered under two headings, General and Special.  We understand these two modes of Revelation as having their source in God’s prelapsarian Revelation in and to Creation.  Before the Fall, the two approaches to the knowledge of God were intimately related.  Subsequently, it has become necessary to consider General and Special Revelation separately.

The consideration of the doctrine of Revelation must begin with a survey of the opening chapters of Scripture; God’s original purposes in creation and the creation of man in the image of God.  The knowledge of God was never to be pursued apart from God’s personal and Special Revelation.  When the first couple attempted to reason apart from God’s Special Revelation they violated a divine command.  After the Fall, humankind relates to God under the broken Covenant of Works.  The creational Revelation contained in the original order and within man as the image of God has not been annihilated.  It is the fallen condition and its effects on knowledge that have barred man’s way to the knowledge of God.  To relate to God apart from his special and particular work of redemption is to relate to him in the sphere of General Revelation and solely as Judge. The data within that revelation could only and ever hold a condemning purpose.  After the Fall, Special Revelation takes on the additional and necessary character of redemptive history.  This observation highlights the temporary nature of General Revelation, as we know it, and the subservient role of that revelation within redemptive history.

God has revealed himself to all people in Time and Space.  This revelation is found in all spheres of the created realm and it is also made visible in God’s providential care.  God’s General Revelation may also be observed in Natural Law and the innate sense of deity.  All men are aware of this sense and all men suppress it in various ways.  General Revelation is a true witness to God’s existence, moral will, and invisible attributes.  The failure of mankind to recognize the content of General Revelation lies with mankind and not with Revelation.  As such, General Revelation reveals the weakness of human flesh and serves to condemn humanity.  Sin has effectively blinded unbelievers to the witness of General Revelation.  This blindness does not mean that General Revelation will be unable to accomplish its positive purposes in setting the stage of world history for God’s finale.

Humanity possesses a universal sense of divinity, albeit limited and suppressed on account of sin.  In Romans 1 Paul teaches that man has suppressed the truth available to him and that he has been given over to his sinful desires.  Instead of worshipping God, he has worshipped idols.  The revelation of God’s power and invisible attributes is available to him and he has chosen instead to worship the creature and created things.  The revelation of the wrath of God is related to the possession of the knowledge available in General Revelation.  This knowledge is universally available.  The continuing presence of ungodliness in the world demonstrates the principles at work in this text.  Paul also links the revelation of wrath upon the unrighteous with the decay of mankind into wickedness.  Wickedness is the reason for wrath, as well as the demonstration of wrath, and the presence of wickedness serves General Revelation in its condemnatory function.  An implication of this is that the continuing presence of unrighteousness demonstrates the continuing presence of God’s wrath as revealed in General Revelation.

Natural Law is the presence of God’s moral will in man.  When certain social injustices occur they are recognized as such.  It is Natural Law that explains the previously unexplainable presence of unbelievers that seemingly obey God’s Law.  This obedience is not perfect.  Rather, Natural Law belongs to the category of General Revelation and is a part of what makes it possible for the story of redemption to unfold.  In Romans 2 the principle of Natural Law is used to show how condemnation falls on both Jew and Gentile.  Israel had the Law of God but did not obey that Law.  The Gentile does not have God’s Law but does some of those things that the Law requires.  Their conscience convicts them of wrongdoing and praises them for their correct behavior.  When the Gentile obeys God’s Law he shows that the Law is written on his heart and in his conscience.  This moral will is the same moral will that is contained in the Law of God to Israel.  Gentiles should respond with obedience to the moral will in their heart.  Jew and Gentile show their condemnation in that they both disobey God’s Law.  This truth also demonstrates that there is a degree of overlapping content between General and Special revelation.  The moral will of God revealed to both Jew and Gentile is one and the same.  Jew and Gentile have suppressed the truth of God in unrighteousness and as a result have been given over to their sinful desires.  An Old Testament example of this principle is easily seen in Israel’s Apostasy and Exile.  Israel had given itself over to idols and suppressed revealed truth in unrighteousness.  The consequence of suppression was their being given up by God to the things that they worshipped.  They had become like the nations and were given to the nations.  In this sense Israel is a microcosm for what all of mankind is experiencing in General Revelation.

From Genesis 3:24 to this day God has provided for his creation.  This provision includes all of those things which contribute to the common good.  In Matthew 5:45, Jesus exhorts his audience to love their enemies.  The love command is founded on God’s providential care for creation.  Consequently, we exhibit a family trait when we love those who do not love us.   Providential care belongs to God’s activity in the Common Grace Realm.  This idea is clearer in Acts 14:14-18, where Paul commands the Lystrans to refrain from worshipping Barnabas and himself.  Paul’s directive is founded on providential care as a witness to God.  In Luke 13:1-5 Jesus demonstrates a darker side to God’s purposes in providence.  A natural disaster had taken the lives of eighteen Jews.  This was not because of any particular sin that these eighteen had committed.  The truth of the matter was that such judgment belongs to all mankind.  According to Jesus, natural disaster teaches the universal need for repentance in order to escape God’s final wrath.  This teaching is to be distinguished from the idea that particular disasters happen to particular communities because of particular sins.  The reverse is the case, all disasters happen to all communities because all sin.  This foreshadowing of the Judgment in the Common Grace Realm belongs to General Revelation and serves the preparatory and condemnatory nature of that revelation.

After the Fall, Special Revelation is revelation within a redemptive and covenantal context to particular persons and at particular times.  This Revelation occurs within Space and Time as it is experienced by creatures.  It is comprised of the redemptive historical events themselves as well as the inscripturation of those events over time.  This mode of Special Revelation contains Law and Gospel, as well as the demonstration of many typical persons, places, fixtures, and redemptive accomplishments, all foresignifying redemption in Christ.  In time this Revelation also encompassed the writings of the Apostles and their associates. Special Revelation is not what enables a person to enter into relationship with God, as this would confuse Special Revelation with the Ordo Salutis.  Category confusion of this sort may also have the consequence of viewing Special Revelation as true revelation insofar as it actually reveals God to the individual.  Special Revelation is true revelation regardless of the effect that it has on the hearer.  This revelation may result in either the hardening or softening of hearts, but these effects are the result of the work of the Spirit of God.

The Special Revelation of God in Christ is the goal of all previous revelation.  In Hebrews 1 the writer proclaims Christ as God’s preeminent revelation.  God had previously spoken by the prophets but now he has spoken by his Son.  Jesus is the heir of all things, the beginning and goal of creation.  He is the realization and escalation of what it means to be made in the Image of God, which is to say that he perfectly reflects the glory of God, not only in his doing but also in his being.  It follows that once the Already of that revelation has become the Not Yet, General Revelation as we know it will pass away.  General Revelation has provided the stage where Redemptive-History could unfold and in this respect has shown itself to be subservient to Special Revelation.  In Romans 8: 18-25 Paul gives us a glimpse of where things are going.  Creation is groaning under the weight of sinful humanity.  This creational condition will cease once the sons of God have been revealed in their adoption and the redemption of their bodies.  The parallel between the anguish of Creation and the anguish of the believer suggests that the Creation is undergoing the birth pains of the New Creation.   The resolution of this tension is found in Revelation 21 where we see the dwelling place of God coming down to be with the dwelling place of man.  While living in this evil age, the only access to the data of General Revelation in Creation was by way of Special Revelation.  This problem is resolved in the New Creation, where the glory of God and the lamb will be the light which illuminates what man is to believe about God and what God requires of man.

Revelation has a goal and that goal is realized in Christ.  The Special Revelation of God in Christ also proved to be the solution to the problem that we found in General Revelation.  The Fall of humanity had torn apart creational and Special Revelation.  A day is coming where the two will come together and we will see all things by the light of glory of the knowledge of God in Christ.  In 2 Corinthians 4: 1-6 Paul says that we have that light already.


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