Comments on Names of Divine Persons
The article which I propose commenting on is by Mr. James Taylor senior and is found in the book titled “Ministry by J. Taylor New Series Vol. 50”. It is located on page 426. The article at the time of writing is also on the My Brethren web site. When the article was written is not stated, but it appears in the volume containing ministry in 1940/1941 so probably it was written around that time, or at any rate published then. Almost all Mr. Taylor’s ministry was oral, and was printed from notes taken at Bible readings at which he took the lead, or at addresses he gave. Apart from his letters he did not write much in the way of articles apparently.
I would say that I have a good deal of respect for Mr. Taylor and his ministry which in my judgement contains much that is spiritually profitable. This article contains much that I can agree with, though I have no doubt that there is what is defective in it as I hope to show.
One is uneasy about the use of the words “Divine Persons” in the title. Scripture does not use them. I would prefer to say “God and Christ”. As to the Holy Spirit I am not aware that He is given a name save Comforter (John 14:16).
The article begins by saying that we must distinguish between God in absoluteness and in relativeness. Scripture does not use these terms so we must ascertain what the writer means by such expressions. One has thought of relative statements as those where God is said to be that to me or to us. There are plenty of such statements in Scripture such as “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28) and “To us [there is] one God, the Father” (1 Corinthians 8:6). Such statements do not always mean that the person is actually God. For instance, we have: “See, I have made thee God to Pharaoh” (Exodus 7:1). Moses was not actually God. However, Christ’s words to his Father: “That they should know thee, the only true God” (John 17:3) are not relative, but absolute statements.
However, Mr. Taylor apparently means something rather different. He has in mind that God, by which He means the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit each exist as God in absoluteness (beyond our comprehension) as well as taking places relative to each other and to creatures which mankind can apprehend. The names by which we know them do not necessarily apply to them in the Godhead. The question is what does Scripture say? Isaiah 57:15 reads: “ For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, and whose name is Holy: I dwell in the high and holy [place] and with him that is of a contrite and humble spirit”. This Scripture shows on the one hand that God is so great that He is quite beyond our comprehension but, at the same time, He can come close to us. Consider as to the former 1 Timothy 1:17 & 6:15/16, and as to the latter Genesis 3:8. However, God is spoken of in these passages in the singular. There is nothing about three persons. We don’t want to import Trinitarian ideas into these passages. If God could not put Himself in contact with his creatures it would mean he was in some way limited, which I am sure would not be a right thought.
As Mr. Taylor says, God is invisible and has never been seen at any time (John 1:18 and Colossians 1:15). Without repeating in detail what one has said in other writings, there is a sense in which we shall see God (Matthew 5:8), as it was said of Moses: “He persevered, as seeing him who is invisible” (Hebrews 11:27). Job saw God (Job 42:5) and we see God in Christ. He is God’s image (2 Corinthians 4:4).The point one would make is that God is invisible, but our contact with Him is Christ. He is the mediator (1 Timothy 2:5). If we claim that the mediator also has the invisibility of Godhead, then he is not really the mediator (the one between the invisible one and mankind). The mediator must be distinct from God as well as distinct from fallen man.
It is clear that Mr. Taylor is seeking to emphasise that we must not bring God in our minds down to our level, that is, by speaking of Him as if he were a human being. Elsewhere, He speaks of reducing the Deity to the level of man’s mind (Letters Vol.1 page 265). However, if we think of the Deity as being a triumvirate of three identical persons we cannot, in some degree at least, avoid doing so. Scripture never speaks of God as a triumvirate or of the relations of persons in the Godhead. If Scripture speaks of the Son and the Spirit it is always as persons distinct from God, such as in 2 Corinthians 13:14. Matthew 28:19 speaks of the name of the Father as distinct from that of the Son and the Holy Spirit. The Father is God (John 17:3), Christ is his Son and the Holy Spirit is his Spirit. There is no idea in Scripture of the Father simply being a person in the Godhead, that is, as being one of three persons making up the Godhead. Put slightly differently, God is the Father, not one of three persons making up the Father. Of course, God points to supremacy and the Father to source. The one who is God and Father is both the source (of all), supreme (over all), immanent (through all) and in us all (Ephesians 4:6).
The problem that Mr. Taylor is seeking to deal with is how can Scripture be reconciled with orthodox theology, that is, how can it be reconciled with the view that God is a triumvirate of three identical persons each one being 100% God? The fact is, Scripture does not teach that God is such a triumvirate, so that no reconciliation is needed. Scripture presents the realities as to God, Christ and the Holy Spirit and not so-called arrangements. God, Christ and the Holy Spirit are not play acting. This may sound harsh and may upset those who want to hold on to Roman Catholic orthodoxy, because they do not want to be considered heretics by orthodox Christendom. The problem really only arises when we come to the New Testament for in the Old Testament we don’t get Christ spoken of except in a prophetic or typical way. The Holy Spirit is not spoken of in a personal way, so that often the Spirit is spoken of as it rather than Him.
Mr. Taylor rightly refuses the idea that we can carry back before the foundation of the world the names by which the persons (Father, Son and Spirit) are known now. Christ was not God’s Son then, had the name Jesus then or was anointed then. The first depends on his birth, the second on his naming when born and the third on his anointing at his baptism. However, the idea that the persons are essentially co-equal is a mistake. There is nothing about them being co-equal in Scripture. We have the thought of joint-heirs (Romans 8:17), but this is something that refers to Christians and is, incidentally, found in a JND hymn (No 247 in Hymns… for the Little Flock, 1932 edition) (AV and JND have joint-heirs; the NIV has co-heirs and the RSV has fellow heirs. The meaning is essentially the same). The truth is rather that each Person, (if one may use the expression) has their own unique name, that is, distinction: they are not identical, save in nature. If they were different in nature they could well be at loggerheads which is unthinkable. The point is to give up orthodoxy without adopting such doctrines as Arianism, Sabellianism, Socinianism or similar schemes.
Although not mentioned by Mr. Taylor it is worth noting that Christ as representing God to us should be honoured as his Father is honoured (John 5:23), but this not mean that the Son may not Himself honour his Father as Christ did (John 8:49). Put another way, two persons may be equal to us, but may not be so between themselves. We should give Christ honour as we do his Father.
Mr. Taylor speaks of “the economy of grace” (page 428), but there is no Scripture where this expression is used. It is another way of speaking of the supposed arrangements made between ‘divine Persons’ for the working out of their purposes. However, divine purposes are those of God, the Father (Ephesians 1:3-14); nothing about three Persons being involved. The idea of three Persons in the Godhead is something that orthodox Christendom regards as sacrosanct, that is, inviolable (page 429). Put another way it is something that one must not question if one is to be regarded as a Christian.
The truth is that there is one God, the Father and that He has a Son who is the Lord Jesus, but there is no assured basis for saying that the Lord Jesus was God’s Son before He was born into this world. Certainly He had an existence before then as we learn from such passages as John 1:1 and John 17:5 & 24. However that existence was in the form of God. He was not a person outside of God the Father so that because as to place, that is, where He was before the incarnation, we can always think of God as One and not as a triumvirate. The thought that God is one, that is, one unit, conveys the thought of what is infinite (without measure), whereas the thought of three Persons, that is, three units, conveys to our minds the thought of what is finite (measured). Mr. Taylor is, no doubt, seeking to impress on our minds the inscrutableness of God Himself, but introducing the idea of three co-equal persons effectively nullifies his object.
On page 433 Mr. Taylor refers to 1 Corinthians 15:45 where Paul speaks of Christ as being “a quickening (making alive) spirit”. This leads one’s mind to John’s Gospel 20:22 where Christ is said to breathe into his disciples saying: “Receive [the] Holy Spirit”. This then takes us back in mind to Genesis 2:7 where God breathed into Adam so that he became a living soul. Christ is far greater than the first man Adam who was made to live, whereas Christ is one who makes others to live (consider John 5:26). However, exactly what Mr. Taylor means when he goes on to say that Christ is a spirit is not clear, for there is no suggestion in Scripture that He is a spirit as well as being a man. It is the second man that is a quickening spirit.
The expression eternal Spirit in Hebrews 9:14 may be in contrast to the flesh in verse 13 and not refer to God’s Spirit. I would not dogmatise.
There has always been a question in one’s mind as to Christ speaking of God being a spirit (John 4:23/24) and God having a Spirit, but what Mr. Taylor says does not really clarify the distinction between God and his Spirit. The point in John is that God is not a material being and that therefore we should worship Him in spirit and truth. However, when we speak of the Spirit of God the thought is one of power (Luke 24:49).
Mr. Taylor goes on to speak of various titles/names that Christ has, in particular, his name the Word. One fully agrees with what he says as to this on page 434. However, when we come to page 435 Mr. Taylor makes the usual statement that when John says the Word was with God it shows that the Word was distinct in Person. One would say Amen to this, but what Mr. Taylor does not say is who He was distinct from, whereas reading the passage simply we must concede that Christ being with God He must have been distinct from God. This is something that orthodox believers do not usually want to admit.
As to the Word, one notes that Mr. Taylor does not think that the Word (Logos) was derived from Greek philosophical thought, but rather from Old Testament Scripture. I am inclined to agree. I have read somewhere in days gone by that actually the Greek philosophers got the term Word from the Hebrew prophets. This is possible because the idea of the Logos appeared in Greek philosophical thought circa 535-475BC subsequent to the dates when the Hebrew prophets before the carrying away of Judah brought God’s word to his people.
On page 436 Mr. Taylor makes the statement that God’s word is in a sense God himself. In this He is really saying the same as Mr. Raven who said: “The word of God is really God Himself, the connection is so close. The word of God as often used in the Scriptures is not simply an utterance. ‘Logos’ is moral, and brings you into the presence of God, as He has expressed Himself” (New Series Vol. 9 (page 417). One has often thought that 1 Samuel 3:21 supports the foregoing.
On pages 438/439 Mr. Taylor interestingly draws attention to what the angel said to Mary in Luke 1:35, that is: “Wherefore (for which reason) the holy thing also which shall be born shall be called Son of God”. The reason is the fact that the babe was conceived by the Holy Spirit as it says earlier in the verse. This is in accord with the thought that Christ was not God’s Son until He was born into this world. What Mr. Taylor says there contrasts with what He says lower down the page as to Christ being equal in deity, for which he gives no Scriptural proof.
On pages 441/442 we have it said that one of the divine Persons, according to eternal purpose, has become man. Where does Scripture say this? Further, whose purpose was it? Scripture never tells us of three divine Persons existing together before the world’s foundation and deciding (purposing) what they will do. The Father is the one that purposes as we find in Ephesians 1:3-14.
On page 444 Mr. Taylor refers to Titus 2:13 where Paul speaks of: “the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ”. Being the Son of God, Christ is his image (Genesis 5:3) and therefore can be said to be our God as well as our Saviour. Note that it is a man, Jesus Christ, that is our God. It is never said that Jesus Christ is also God.
From the end of page 445 to page 448 Mr. Taylor considers the matter of the use of Proverbs 8 to justify using the word Wisdom as a name of Christ. Broadly, as he points out, Wisdom in Proverbs 8 and in the New Testament (Matthew 11:19 and Luke 7:35) is personified as a woman, whereas Christ is a man. There are other reasons for being cautious, to say the least, in the use we make of Proverbs 8 when speaking of Christ, though there are overtones of it in a passage such as Colossians 1. Compare Proverbs 8:15/16 and Colossians 1:16. Much more that Mr. Taylor says is, to my mind, helpful as to Proverbs 8 and Wisdom generally.
Mr. Taylor rightly says in a number of places that because Christ is designated as being a Son whether of God or of man we are not justified in thinking that those designations applied to Him before He was born into this world simply because that Person is said to have come down from heaven and/or done certain things before he came down. However, there are titles designating Him when here on earth which did not actually apply to Him then. Properly speaking He was not made Lord and Christ until He was glorified (Acts 2:36). He was not exercising Lordship as a babe or in Mary’s womb though Elizabeth designates Mary as the mother of her Lord (Luke 1:43). Again, although Christ was anointed with the Holy Spirit at his baptism, He was not effectively given that office (Messiah - the anointed) until He was glorified. David was anointed king in the midst of his brethren, but it was many years later that he actually became king (1 Samuel 16:1-13 and 2 Samuel 2:4).
Where does all this leave us? It appears that Mr. Taylor holds that God consists of three identical persons each one of which is 100% God, that is, they each one partake not only of God’s nature, but also of all his attributes. Nature is what He is morally: holy, righteous, gracious, etc. and as to attributes He is almighty (Genesis 17:1), having infinite understanding (Psalm 147:5) and fills the heavens and the earth (Jeremiah 23:24). Further, He is invisible (1 Timothy 1:17) and from eternity to eternity (Psalm 41:13). Certainly Christ has all the moral qualities delineated of God in Scripture, but He did not have the foregoing attributes when He was here on earth. It would not be true to say He did. However, God has effectively given Him these attributes since His ascension to glory, as one has shown elsewhere. Christ was not invisible when here on earth. There is no idea in Scripture that as a man on earth he was visible, but at the same time He was invisible as God. If He had, the very existence of the Father would be superfluous, because Christ would have everything that pertains to God. The truth is that God, Christ and the Holy Spirit are all essential to the revelation of God and each have their own name and glory. It is not just that they have taken up roles as if they were one thing actually but in revelation they are acting parts. What Christ was when on earth is what He was actually. He was not something else as well. We cannot just pick out statements in Scripture saying that He is God and then read into that the thought that He is in every way identical with his Father. Thoughts such as this throw the teaching of Scripture as to Christ into confusion and deprive many statements as to Christ of all reality, such as: “[My] Father is greater than I” (John 14:28). The truth is that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are complementary to one another, that is essential to one another. If they were not there would be no reason for their existence.
Unlike many others Mr. Taylor sees that applying things like omnipotence, omniscience and omnipresence to Christ as a man on earth is unrealistic. However, although he, I believe, rightly rejects the creeds (the Nicene and the Athanasian so-called) because they speak of Christ’s birth before the incarnation, He still retains effectively their assertion that God is a trinity of three co-equal persons. The aforementioned article which we have considered is really an attempt to reconcile the facts as to God, Christ and the Holy Spirit presented in Scripture with the idea of the three co-equal persons which is not found in Scripture, but is read into it rather than read out of it. Mr. Taylor had effectively to do this, because otherwise he would be thought a heretic. Orthodox Christendom is mired in Romish theology as to God and the whole matter therefore needs to be reconsidered in the light of Scripture.
However, what has the teaching of Rome led to? In orthodox churches not only God and Christ are addressed in prayers and hymns, but also the Holy Spirit. In Scripture the Holy Spirit, as such, is not addressed, but as He is God’s Spirit, it is not Him that is addressed, but God Himself, the one whose Spirit He is. Orthodox Christendom also addresses God as triune. Again there is no instruction in Scripture to so address Him, or example either.
As to Brethren so-called it was never the practice before the 1940’s to address the Holy Spirit in prayer or hymn, neither was God addressed as Triune. It appears that Mr. Taylor’s thinking in the article considered led on to the practice of not only addressing the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit in prayer and hymn but also God as Triune in a worshipful way. The practice was really based on the view that all three persons are equally God.
In Scripture God is presented to us as Almighty, Jehovah and now Father. Christ is presented to us as his Son and the Holy Spirit as his Spirit. Until Christ was incarnate He was not revealed in Scripture. His existence was hidden. We now know that He was existing in the form of God, that of the one who is his Father. The Spirit is spoken of in the Old Testament, but not in a personal way. What this amounts to is that we should think of God as a Person (not as three Persons), but if we think of Christ and the Holy Spirit we should think of them as distinct from God (2 Corinthians 13:14), though at the same time knowing that they came out from God and are essential to him without being simply parts of God.
Appendix I - The Son of God
I have before me a brief note as to the above which has no connection with the article on which I have just been commenting, but concerning which a few remarks may be helpful.
The first paragraph accepts that Christ as being a descendent of Adam had a link with God, as we all have. We are his offspring (Acts 17:28). However, it is worth noting that although the AV has ‘son of God’ in Luke 3:38 the word ‘son’ is not actually in the original Greek (JND) and was no doubt introduced to complete the sense in English, because the persons in the list were clearly all sons of their predecessors.
Paragraph two points out that ‘son of’ does not always mean literally ‘son of’ as in ‘son of righteousness’ (Malachi 4:2) and ‘son of perdition’ (John 17:12). This, of course, is true. However, as to the first quote, the actual translation is ‘Sun of righteousness’ and points to the one who is the Sun in a spiritual (moral) sense rather than a physical sun. As to the second quote the note in the JND translation is helpful:‘Perished’ and ‘perdition’ are verb and noun from one Greek root: they show what Judas belonged to.
However, Christ is not just Son of God in a metaphorical sense, but actually so, as we learn from the nativity accounts in Matthew and Luke. Further, Christ said that God was his own Father (John 5:18) and Paul says that Christ was God’s own Son (Romans 8:3). It would make no sense to say that Judas was perdition’s own son or that perdition was Judas’s own father!
In APPENDIX A in the book on the Eternal Sonship of Christ which I have previously commented on, the writer goes into the idiomatic use of the word son in detail, but does not give any solid reason for thinking that this kind of use applies to Christ or, for that matter, to ourselves. Certainly we should have the character of a son of God as Christ says (Matthew 5:43-48), but this is not the only way that our sonship is spoken of in Scripture, for Paul speaks of the dignity that attaches to sonship (Galatians 4:7). Christ Himself certainly expressed the character of God, his Father (John 14:9), but He also showed that He was really his Son as indicated above. As Son Christ inherits a name more excellent than angels (Hebrews 1:4).
Appendix II - The Spirit of God
The difficulty that many of us find when speaking of the Spirit of God is that the expression has a number of meanings. In the Old Testament it may sometimes simply mean the breath or wind of God (Job 37:10). In other cases it may well mean the mind of God (Isaiah 40:13 - LXX). Compare Romans 11:34 and 1 Corinthians 2:16 in the New Testament. In other cases it may mean simply God Himself. Consider Psalm 139:7 where the parallel to ‘thy Spirit’ is ‘thy presence‘ and compare John 4:24. It is also clear in at least one passage in the New Testament that having God’s Spirit means having God’s mind (1 Corinthians 7:40). Paul had received the Spirit, no doubt, as he had performed miracles, but on a specific matter he cautiously stated that he thought he had God’s Spirit, that is, his mind, as the context shows. Apart from these examples we know that God makes his angels spirits (Psalm 104:4 and Hebrews 1:14). The lying spirit in 1 Kings 22:22/23 would appear to be an example of this. It is inconceivable that the Holy Spirit would be a lying spirit.
It may be of interest to hear what Jews have to say about the spirit. After all we have the spirit spoken of in the Old Testament as well as the New. It seems that they have no definite view. Consider the following:
“The Holy Spirit is a level of spiritual awareness any person can attain through his righteous actions.“
Then there are various different answers as to what the spirit is as follows:
-a spiritual awareness
The comment concerning the above includes the remark that the answer which is not being given from any Jewish source is: “the third person of the Holy Trinity”, “a spiritual guide” or anything else that would describe the “holy spirit” as an autonomous entity capable of its own actions. All the above answers are largely overlapping (an attribute of God or an “effect” of God are not really different answers, but rather one and the same, and a “spiritual awareness” can be that “effect“)
One would comment that the above definitions all derive from the Old Testament (the Jewish Bible); whereas the New Testament often gives a somewhat more ’personal’, character to the Spirit of God. In the Old Testament the Spirit is rather like a baby in the womb, that is, it is not yet separated from its parent, whereas in the New Testament it is separate, so that Scripture speaks of the Holy Spirit as sent from heaven (1 Peter 1:12). The analogy may not be perfect, but in any case we do not have the Holy Spirit treated in such a personal way in the Old Testament as we do in the New (e.g. Matthew 28:19).
However, whatever we may say as to the Holy Spirit, it is clear in the New Testament that God is the Father and the Father is God. God and the Father are not distinguished from one another, that is, the expressions are interchangeable just as Almighty and Jehovah are interchangeable names of God, though they are used as appropriate, for example, Jehovah is Israel’s God (e.g. Exodus 5:1 and 6:2/3) whereas Father is the name used in the New Testament (e.g. Galatians 1:1).