The Westminster Confession Of Faith. Section II.3
After treating of the attributes of the one only true God, the fathers went on in this third section to address what is most unique to the Christian doctrine of God, namely the Trinity. It is true that the word ‘trinity’ is not found in the scriptures, nevertheless the doctrine certainly is. In the history of treating this fundamental and essential doctrine concerning the godhead, the distinction has been made between the ontological understanding of the Trinity, namely that in regard to their oneness, they are “of one substance, power, and eternity.” This simply reiterates the general heads of what is found in the first two sections. One is forced to mine the words of any language, in this case English, to come up with what may best express the understanding of what and who God is. This is an important point, the scriptures would have us understand what it reveals of both what and who God is.
In this respect the Westminster Standards cannot be unjustly charged with being to academic or clinical, because it is important to make this distinction. A lot of discussion necessarily occurred in the history of this doctrine to arrive at this clear unambiguous understanding. When the Scriptures refer to that which pertains to the “substance, power and eternity” of the godhead, we are to understand this as pertaining to the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit equally. That there are these three who are referred to as equally the only one and true God, the scriptures make abundantly clear (Mt. 3:16-17; 28:19; II Cor. 13:14; I Jn. 5:7). We can also be thankful that the church fathers chose the word ‘person’, coming from the Latin ‘persona’. No word is perfect, for there is the connotation in the word of an actor who wears a mask, but here the meaning is deeper and more contemporary.
When taken in the context of the doctrine of the trinity, the word ‘person’ has the more specific meaning of a genuine personhood as we would understand the word today. Incidentally, it is worth noting, that it is in fact this Christian conception of personhood which has such theological significance to the biblical understanding of that which is part of the image of God of humanity. We have personhood, because we are created in the image and likeness of God. The Christian ought to have a biblical conception of human personality. The fact that there is a trinity of persons in the godhead, is also the creational basis for our constitution as creatures who, as image bearers of God, live in community with others, which is foundational to a biblical conception of society and sociology. The idea of personhood also ties into the idea of the roles we play. We all have differing roles but this does not detract from our equality of substance as humans.
This is what is conveyed here, namely that as regards to substance, the godhead shares a ontological equality, or their being as God. “The word ‘Godhead’ signifies the divine nature. This is a scriptural term (Rom. 1:20; Col. 2:9).”1 However, as to the distinction as separate persons, including the roles that they each play, there is three, or what has come to be referred to as the economical understanding of the Trinity. It is necessary to understand their distinct roles and functions, because this is what we find in the testimony of the scriptures. To this end the fathers also highlighted the interaction of the three persons with each other, namely, first of all, that “the Father is of none, neither begotten nor proceeding.” Again, these are points having to do with how the three persons are related to each other as regards the economical understanding.
The Father is the ultimate source of their unified purposes, whereas the Son, who “is eternally begotten of the Father” (Ps. 2:7; Jn. 1:14, 18), executes their will. Thus, the son proceeds from the Father to bring into reality said purposes. Finally, the Spirit eternally proceeds “from the Father and the Son,” to the same end (Jn. 15:26; Gal. 4:6). It is absurd to seek to argue for a kind of generic theism, because the Christian biblical doctrine of God is radically different from all others. “There are many passages in the Old Testament which prove a ‘plurality’ of persons in the Godhead; such as those passages in which one divine person is introduced as speaking of or to another. To these we can only refer (Gen. 1:26; 3:22; 11:7; Ps. 45:6; Ps. 110:1; Is. 6:8; 61:1).”2
There are a number of evidences that show the equality of substance of the (Son) with the Father, and of the [Spirit]. They share the same ‘names’ (Nu. 21:6-7; Is. 4:6; 6:1; 40:3; Jn. 1:1, 23; 12:41; Rom. 4:5; Titus 2:13; I Jn. 5:20), [Is. 6:8-9; Acts 5:3; 28:25; I Cor. 3:16], ‘attributes’ (Mic. 5:2; Ps. 102:25-27; Mt. 28:20; Jn. 2:24; 21:17; Phil. 3:21; Heb. 1:10-12; 13:8; Rev. 1:8), [Gen. 1:1-2; Ps. 139:7; I Cor. 2:10-11; 12:11], ‘works’ (Mk. 2:5; Jn. 1:3; 5:17, 27-29; Rom. 14:10; Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:3; 9:12), [Gen. 1:2; Job 33:4; Ps. 104:30; I Cor. 6:11; Titus 3:5, ‘divine worship’ (Jn. 5:23; Acts 7:59; 2 Cor. 12:8; 2 Thess. 2:16; Heb. 1:6), [2 Cor. 13:14; Rev. 1:4,5], ‘equality’ between the Father and the Son (Is. 42:1; Zech. 13:7; Jn. 5:18; 10:30, 38; 14:28; Phil. 2:6).3
“While (1) the Old Testament believer was to know that the true God was one, (2) that yet the Angel of God (and sent by God) was God, (3) there was also a clearly recognized presence of God the Holy Spirit (Ps. 51:11; cf. I Sam. 16:13,14 etc.) distinct from either “God” or “the Angel” Thus while the Old Testament believer did not yet see so full a manifestation of the three Persons as we have seen (in Christ becoming incarnate, and the Holy Spirit’s being poured out at Pentecost), yet undeniably the God who is being revealed in Old Testament history (little by little) is this God and no other.”4 There is no such generic theism. From the perspective of special revelation, the scriptures, there is the one only living triune, and everything else is man-made and conceived.
1. Shaw, (74)
2. Ibid., (75-76)
3. Ibid., (78-9)
4. Williamson, (27)