Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Was Paul a Trinitarian?

Eddie Fearon and Daniel Kirk have been reflecting on the Theological Interpretation of Scripture Colloquium that I also attended this weekend past, although neither of them found my paper worthy of mention ;-) but like the Murphy's i'm not bitter.  Kirk shares the following exchange,
In a side conversation with one of the presenters (whose paper I very much appreciated and whose overall position on theological interpretation I find quite congenial), I made a brief case for why Christian hermeneutics should be Christological rather than Trinitarian.
He sees these working together. And I get that. But in trying to situate my point I asked, “Was Paul a Trinitarian?” He said, “Yes.” End of conversation.
That’s a small picture of where a biblical scholar can’t say what a theologian presumes, and why scholarship’s Bible will continue to be an enigma to the church. Beyond whether scholars are approaching their exegetical task as Christians, theologians (and church people) often want the Bible to say what it does not say, to support what it does not speak to.
I do wonder if the church’s theology will need to learn to hear what it takes for throat clearing as the song of the Spirit before the chasm will bridged between theology and the Bible
Which raises a number of very interesting points.

It is certainly true that Paul never made anything approaching the trinitarian declarations of the historic creeds, but as the paper I shared attempted to show, Paul was certainly capable of theologising within a theological framework that gave significance to the work of God, Jesus and the Spirit.  many biblical scholars have been happy to call this something like a "latent trinitarianism" but you do need to be careful that that doesn't get confused with talking about ousias and stuff.  The kind of counterfactual arguing that this might lead to would go something like "would Paul have signed the Chalcedon Creed if he had been presented with the same circumstances as that creed was addressing?"  Which of course could only degenerate into a useless giving of opinions.  My useless opinion is that he probably would have but only after they added a substantial "therefore" section detailing the believer's ethical response to the theological mysteries contained in the Creed.

Asking Paul whether or not he is a Trinitarian is a waste of time, but, as Kirk eloquently puts it, if we listen to what "the song of the Spirit" through Paul is actually saying we may learn many things that will enrich our own Trinitarian (or otherwise) theology no end.


  1. In times like these I always go back to a Fee quotation. He says, "One way to do that was to assert, on a regular basis, that if the New Testament reflected Trinitarianism, it did so in an incipient, nonreflective way, so that, whatever else, “it was not the Trinitarianism of a later day such as Chalcedon.” but that seems so self-evident that one wonders why it needed to be repeated so often." (God's Empowering Presence, 827). See here for more context.

  2. Much like your Pauline "therefore" addendum to the Chalcedon Creed, the point of his and the Gospelteers treatment of God's, Christ's and the Spirit's relationship is that it is not at all central to the Kingdom of God. Love God and your neighbor and you are most of the way there. The rest is commentary, as they say.

    If neither Paul nor the evangelists (or Jesus?!) thought it was important enough to spell out, then perhaps we shouldn't have burned people over it. On the other hand it is a little know fact that in the oldest and best manuscript evidence we have for the Pericope Adulterae Jesus actually says, "Go and believe that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one in substance but three in person."

  3. Hi Scott, thanks for stopping by. I wouldn't burn anyone over anything, being a good anabaptist that I am. However I think you miss the point that in different historical circumstances people have asked different questions and needed to respond to different issues. Jesus and Paul didn't spell out their answers to those questions because in their time those questions weren't being asked.

  4. I think it's more likely he was a Rhino's fan.

  5. Hi Glenn, welcome to the blog, I've enjoyed yours before. I hope you didn't spend too long working out the odds of that one. ;-)