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 Christos Sp. Voulgaris

The Biblical and Patristic Doctrine of the Trinity

From: The Greek Orthodox Theological Review, vol. 37 (Νov.) 3-4, Holy Cross Orthodox Press, Brookline, Mass., 1992.

4. God the Father

      It is true that God’s quality as ‘Father’ is also found in the religious literature outside the Bible.  Nevertheless, the fundamental aspect is that this quality is based upon mythical conceptions and a primary act of birth, noting man’s natural descent from God.  Thus, the Ugaritic god ‘El’ is called Father of mankind, and the Babylonian moon-god ‘Sin’ is called father and generator of gods and men.  This last idea is also found in Homer [vi] and Plato, who calls him “maker and father of everything (Tim 28C, 41A etc.).”  In Egypt, Pharaoh was considered as God’s son in a special sense of natural descent.  However, in Plato and the Stoics, God’s fatherhood takes on a philosophical connotation, according to which the divine is the beginning and the depth of all beings, and the substance of everything that exists (the divine, the world, and man) is the divine Logos who sets the order and governs the universe as a cosmic logos.  Man comes to communion with this Logos by his own logos, who is the seed of the universe.  Thus, every man is considered to be God’s son because of the communion of his logos with the logos of the universe, because of his natural relationship with the divine.

Things are different in the Bible, however, where God’s Fatherhood is of a personal character.  In other words, in contrast to naturalistic religions where God’s fatherhood is ascribed to him by man, who made up the various gods in his own imagination and placed them in his social and family structures, the Bible stresses the fact that Fatherhood is an innate quality of God, because He reveals himself in the Bible, particularly as a Father of his own Son by birth and secondarily as the Father of men by adoption.  Therefore, the naturalistic element is replaced in the Bible by the divine revelation, which is the model of human entities and relations.  That is, men’s fatherhood and sonship are expressions and types of the divine Fatherhood and sonship.  With respect to man, God’s Fatherhood is connected with man’s fidelity to Him and not with His quality as Creator of the universe and himself.  This is why nowhere in the Bible is God said to be the Father of all men, but only of those who are related to Him by faith, acknowledging Him as their own God.  Thus, Israel alone is said to be God’s son in the Old Testament; God alone is said to be Israel’s Father (Exodus 4:22, Deuteronomy 1:31, 8:5, 32:5-18, Psalm 26:9-10, Isaiah 43:6-7, Jeremiah 31:9, Job 13:4, Malachi 1:6, etc.).  This mutual relationship between God and Israel is based upon God’s election of Israel as his ‘firstborn’ son (Exodus 4:22) and a whole series of God’s acts in history, which Israel acknowledges by faith.  However, this mutual relationship is not the fundamental principle in God’s dealings with Israel, since God’s non-incarnate revelation still underlines the distance between them.  The gap was bridged in the New Testament, where we have the actual presence of Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son and Logos of God, who revealed God’s innate quality as His own Father.

Indeed, according to the New Testament, it was Word of God, “the only Son of God who is in the bosom of the Father (John 1:18),”… “the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15, 2 Corinthians 4:4)” Who “reflects the glory and bears the very stamp of His person (Hebrews 1:3),” who “became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14)” and makes known the Father (Cf. Matthew 3:17 par. 17:5 par. 16:16, 27:43, Luke 1:32-35, John 1:34, 10:36, 11:4, 17:1, 19:7, etc.).  The authority of the revelation of the Son rests on His inner relationship and unity with the Father to the extent that only the Son, Jesus Christ can say, “I and the Father are one (John 10:30)” and that “the Father is in me and I am in the Father (John 10:38, 14:10-11).”  Thus, if one knows the Son, he knows the Father, too; only by the Son does one come to the Father (John 14:6-9, 8:19, etc.).  These expressions indicate a unity between the Son and the Father, which has nothing to do with the Gnostic conception where one person was absorbed by the other.  Rather, the unity between the Father and the Son is a unity of substance that retains the identity of the persons.

According to the New Testament, God is the Father of Jesus Christ, His eternal Son in a literary sense.  Jesus underlined this by using the Aramaic expression ‘Abba’ (Mark 14:36) and similar ones by which He stressed the fact that He is the Son of God, who is His Father in an exclusive way (Matthew 7:21, 11:27, 26:63-64, Mark 12:6, Luke 10:21f, 22:42, 23:34-46, John 3:16-18, etc.).  It is interesting to note that He never used the expression ‘our Father’ for both Himself and men together.  Instead, He used the expression ‘my Father’ for Himself and the expression ‘your Father’ for the believers, who were also conscious that God is exclusively the Father of Jesus Christ.  Saying as though He was sent by the Father to whom He addressed himself and prayed, whom He obeyed in His earthly life, and to whom He returned at His exultation, exclude any notion of Monarchianism or Arianism, and underline that He has always been distinguished as a Person from the Father from the very beginning.  It was these verses upon which the Church Fathers built their theological reflection in their fight to oppose the intention to identify the Son with the Father as Persons or to distinguish them substantially and thus reduce the Son to the state of a creature.  The result of this theological controversy was the invention of the term homoousios by St. Athanasius, which was also adopted by the Synod of Nicaea (325 A.D.), which underlined the identity of substance between the Father and the Son and their distinction as persons.

On the other hand, man’s adoption as son by God appears in the New Testament as the very purpose of the divine plan of salvation fulfilled in the coming of Son to the world (Galatians 4:4-7, Romans 8:14-22, Ephesians 1:3-5).  As a creature man cannot be related to God on account of nature, as in naturalistic religions.  The highest status he can obtain is his adoption as son by God on account of his faith in Him.  In the above passages this idea is presented as the result of the cooperation between all three Persons of the Holy Trinity, according to which the word of Jesus Christ in the world is activated within each individual by the Holy Spirit, to the extent that each individual is able to call God his own Father, exactly as Jesus Christ does; even to address him by the expression which Jesus used in order to indicate their close unity, ‘Abba’ (Romans 8:15, Cf. Mark 14:36).  Thus, only those “who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God” and therefore heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ (Rom 8:14-17).  This makes it plain why Jesus Christ, as reported in the Gospel of John, rejected the contention of the Jews saying, “We have one Father, even God” and replied to them, “You are of your father the devil (John 8:4ff);” this was because the Jews rejected Him as God’s Son.  Faith in the Son of Jesus Christ is the sine qua non condition for the divine adoption.  As St. Athanasius rightly pointed out,[vii] “The Jews… rejecting the Son, do not possess the Father either” because “adoption cannot be secured without the real Son.”[viii]  By adoption man becomes what Jesus Christ is by birth, so that they are both of the same origin.  Thus, Jesus calls the believers His own brethren (Hebrews 2:10, 11:17).  Let it be mentioned, however, that man is adopted only by the Father and not by any of the other Persons.[ix]

Two points need to be stressed in His respect:

1)      Man’s divine adoption is of an ontological character (cf. Romans 6:3-7, Galatians 3:26-28);

2)       God’s act and man’s condition adoption refers to the person and not to the substance.  Conversely, it is common to naturalistic religions and annihilates the value of Christ’s work and man’s efforts to achieve it.  If adoption applied to the substance, then fatherhood should extend to all three Persons of the Trinity, not to the Father alone, which is contrary to biblical revelation.


[vi] Iliad, A. 544.

[vii] Saint Athanasius, Against the Arians, 2.42.

[viii] Ibid, 1.39.

[ix] Cf. Rom 8.14-15 Gal 4.6, Saint Basil, Against Sabellians, 7. Clement of Alexandria, Paed 1,5.