Monday, December 28, 2009

The 'Driven into the desert' fallacy

Someone, who was, I think, eager to prove, that the persons of the Trinity are equal in all respects, gave me the example of Jesus been driven into the desert by the Holy Spirit.  (Mark 1:12 "The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.")  The fact that the Spirit orders Jesus into the desert isn't the trump card for proving that the Trinity do not have different roles. 

The Trinity is obviously a complex and controversial topic, so anything we say needs to be said carefully.  Because the "Trinity" is a extra-biblical concept to describe biblical data, whatever we say about it needs to the cumulative result God's entire special revelation.  It's tempting to see this verse and think, "look the roles and persons of the Trinity are interchangeable!"  Just as it might be tempting to think that when Jesus talks about his God (e.g. Matthew 27:46), it means Arius, the heretic who thought Jesus was a created being, is true.  Cumulatively we understand Scripture to describe God as both one and unique, and three distinct persons in perfect community.  (This is undoubtedly to our sinful finite minds a paradox but not ultimately an apologetic problem.)

The gospel accounts show God incarnate fully as a human.  As a man it's appropriate that Jesus' God is the Lord of Israel.  Furthermore it's the Holy Spirit, not a demonic spirit that rests upon him.  Mark 1:12, while showing part of the story of Jesus, where he gets driven out into the wilderness, illustrates the paradox of the Trinity at work.  Jesus the man, is sent by God the Holy Spirit into the desert while still being God incarnate. The alternative explanation is a form of modalism, where the roles of the spirit and the son are interchangeable and it doesn't matter who is sent and who does the sending.

16 comments:

arthurandtamie said...

It sounds like you're implying that the Spirit can direct Jesus in Mark 1:12 because Jesus is a human. But there is no post-incarnate Christ, and we can hardly go divvying up Christ's nature into humanly bits and godly bits. Why can't the Spirit still direct the risen, glorified Jesus? Just asking the question. :)
A

Radagast said...

My NIV says that Jesus was led by the Spirit. Which is probably a reasonable translation of ἀνάγω.

Luke said...

Hi Arthur,

Using only the data of special revelation it seems on occasion the Spirit may direct the son, but primarily it seems the Son's role involves sending the spirit (John 16:7). (The fact of the first occasion does not mean the role of spirit and son are interchangeable.) So yes, the Spirit's direction of the Son seems occasioned by the incarnation.

Hi Tony,

My Greek is rusty but I thought εχβαλλει from Mark 1:12 was "throw out."

Radagast said...

Luke, you're right of course. I was looking at Matthew 4:1. Mark 1:12 seems to be using a stronger word.

Andrew Bowles said...

If you say 'immanent vs economic Trinity' several times in an impressive voice, then this problem goes away. Or the person you're speaking to goes away. Either way you've won.

Luke said...

Hi Andrew,

Your right, these debates (needlessly) get polarized into economic versus immanent constructions. However the different roles and persons are distinct at both "levels" (for want for a better word).

arthurandtamie said...

Hi Luke
I see what you're saying -- but what is it about the occasion that occasions this 'role reversal'? Again, just asking the question -- I haven't thought about it and am getting you to do my dirty work! ;)
A

Luke said...

I don't think this occasion could be described as a role reversal. Jesus as a man has the Holy Spirit rest upon him but as God sends the Holy Spirit upon Christians.

Andrew Bowles said...

'Jesus as a man has the Holy Spirit rest upon him but as God sends the Holy Spirit upon Christians.'

If the Holy Spirit is the Trinitarian 'bond of love' in some sense, then he also 'rests' on the Son eternally. This is why the Incarnation of the Son happened by Mary being overshadowed by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit brings the Son before the Son sends the Spirit. You're right that the roles are not interchangeable, because they are based on differences in the immanent Trinity. But there is no 'subordination' implied as though one is always following the orders of the other. To think of the Trinitarian relations as a system of one or more persons issuing 'commands' that the others obey (albeit willingly) is very crude anyway.

Luke said...

Just as we wouldn't want to reduce the gospel to Mark 1:12, we wouldn't want to reduce our description of the Trinity to the giving and receiving of commands. However Scripture shows that an aspect of Sonship is submission to the Father. (e.g. John 14:28) I don't know if this could be described as "subordination" because that word has a wide semantic range, but we'd have to affirm the giving and receiving of commands forms a part of Trinitarian roles and relations without diminishing the divinity of Father Son and Spirit.

jereth said...

I find it interesting that people make so much of the "economic" vs. the "immanent" Trinity. I don't see this distinction made in the Bible. As far as the Bible is concerned, the God we see in revelation and salvation is God as he really is, not some kind of God-wearing-a-mask.

Philip said "show us the Father". Jesus replied "if you have seen me you have seen the Father". In other words, when we look at Jesus, incarnate in time and space, we see the eternal Son and when we see the eternal Son we see the eternal Father. Where does Scripture ever suggest otherwise?

Mutual submission in the Trinity is a bizzare, novel idea with no biblical or historical support. It comes from the silly modern ideology of "fairness" which says that it isn't fair unless everyone and everything is the same.

Andrew Bowles said...

Jereth, the concept of the immanent Trinity is not designed to make the points that you're arguing against. It's not to suggest that God is different in eternity to what has been revealed in Christ. It is just to say that the eternal life of the Trinity is revealed to us through their works, not 'in itself'. No one has ever seen the Person of the Father (John 1:18), or the Person of the Spirit for that matter. It is helpful to think about the immanent Trinity when dealing with heresies such as Arianism. The orthodox affirmations on that issue are all about the nature of the immanent Trinity - eg. what does Heb 1:3 mean, who was Christ prior to the incarnation?.

Andrew Bowles said...

'we'd have to affirm the giving and receiving of commands forms a part of Trinitarian roles and relations without diminishing the divinity of Father Son and Spirit.'

I want to gnaw at this one last time. 'Divinity' is not an abstract category of being, it is the unique nature of the Godhead. All of the Persons of the Trinity share this nature, which derives from the Father. The point being that when the Father 'sends' the Son he is not issuing a command to a separate being who then obeys, he is sending 'himself' (i.e. someone who shares his nature perfectly) in his revealed hypostasis, the Son. So the Son has the will and desire of the Father perfectly already, through their shared nature. There is no need to issue a command. So the semantic range of 'subordination' is not wide enough to include this action. The Son doesn't subordinate himself or his will to the Father, he just does the will of the Father because they have the same nature, and therefore it is his will. At the same time, of course, he freely accepts this will, because he is a fully separate Person and responds completely in love to the Father by accepting his nature completely. I think if we start getting away from this towards the idea of 'commands' and 'roles' we are heading towards Arianism.

Luke said...

Gnaw away, you keep me on my toes! (Comment moderation is only on because the post is over a week old.)

Equally we'd also want to steer away from Modalism where the Trinitarian persons are interchangeable and indistinguishable.

We'd both agree, I think, that anything we say about the Trinity is a process of statement and qualification. So I think your statement needs qualification to match the biblical data. So while I affirm what your saying I'd also want to affirm differences between the persons, which are important in the order of salvation. (Heb 9:14) More then that though I'd also want to qualify what you've said by observing the overall "layout" of the Trinity where the Father sends the Son (John 3:16), the Son is sent (John 16:5) and the Son sends the Spirit. (John 16:7) [Although I'd need to qualify that by adding the paradoxical singularity of God's person.] If we left your statement as is, how would we distinguish between the persons at all?

Subordination like other words can be used both pejoratively and/or descriptively. I not sure how else to describe the "sending" except as commands. Although I'm not convinced the giving and receiving of commands necessitates one being less in 'honour', 'deinity' or 'being' then another.

Luke said...

That should read "divinity"!

Andrew Bowles said...

I agree, we want to avoid both modalism and arianism. So we need to modify the way we discuss the economic Trinity to avoid both. The problem with 'command' is that it assumes a hiatus of will between the Father and the Son. We command someone to do something when they stand separate to us and need to 'bend' their will to ours (even if they are willing to) But the Father and the Son share the same will. The Father sends the Son by willing it. The Son comes because he wills what the Father does. That is the what the sending involves, as far as I can see.

The elephant behind this issue and the initial post is to do with the relationship between this and complementarianism/egalitarianism in male-female relationships. Does the woman 'submit' by bending her will to the will of her husband (obeying his 'commands', albeit willing), or does a marriage partnership involve a growth in love and closeness so that the couple come to share a will, to become 'consubstantial' as far as that is possible for finite beings? Different visions, probably neither adequate, and probably why we find it difficult to avoid either Trinitarian heresy because this is lurking at the back of our minds.