An Unexpected Biblical Case for Classical (Western) Trinitarianism

The movie Inception is a trip. It makes your brain hurt. A dream in a dream in a dream. It makes you wonder which timeline is reality. And that is exactly the point. And the fact that this movie made 2.9 million dollars at the box office in the United States1 proves that people appreciated the brain-stretching nature of the movie.

As such, there exists proof that humanity is not inherently against deep thinking.

This is important for our discussion today. It will stretch our minds. After all, we are contemplating God, and if we could fully understand Him, He would no longer be That “than-which-nothing-greater-can-be-thought.”2 Therefore, we aren’t blind people feeling an elephant, but we are exploring the Incomprehensible with the little light God has graciously granted us. He’s given us enough to know a lot, but not enough to master Him. (The degree I’m working on is a joke, because i’ll never be a Master of Divinity; anyone who claims to be is a heretic.)

Therefore, with the help of the Lord our God and as far as lies in our power, we shall endeavor to give an explanation of that very thing which they demand, namely, that the Trinity is the one, only, and true God, and that one rightly says, believes, and understands that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are of one and the same substance or essence, so that they may not feel mocked as it were by our excuses, but may learn from actual experience that the supreme good exists, which can only be discerned by minds that are wholly purified, and that they themselves are unable to see or to comprehend it for this reason, because the weak eye of the human mind cannot be fixed on a light so dazzling, unless it has been nourished and become stronger by the justice of faith.3

I do not claim to be capable of achieving anything nearly as wonderful or complex or thorough as Augustine, but i do want to offer a Scriptural argument for the classical understanding of the Trinity as “three persons, of one substance, power, and eternity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. The Father is of none, neither begotten nor proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; the Holy Ghost eternally proceeding from the Father and the Son.”4

Some would argue that the Trinity (along with their “eternal relations of origin”) are an invention of the church fathers, not the Apostles. However, i want to posit that there is some Scriptural support for this understanding of our Triune God. But in order to see it, we must go to a most unexpected text.

John writes the following in the book of Revelation:

“The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to come up from the abyss and go to destruction”

Revelation 17:8

Before diving into it, look at what John records God declaring in Revelation 1:8.

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “the One who is, who was, and who is coming, the Almighty.”

This is not the time to parse out all of the specifics, which could potentially take an entire book to do, but rather to draw some basic observations.

First, the beast is described in language similar to that which God uses to describe Himself. Second, red letter Bibles are deceitful because Revelation 1:8 should be in red letters. This is clear when we compare the last six words of 1:8 with Revelation 22:20. “I am coming quickly.” God comes again as Jesus. Therefore, the beast is being presented as an equal to Jesus. Equal might not be the right word. “Substitute” might be better. As Augustine explains, “[A]ntichrist in our tongue means, contrary to Christ.”5

The beast is the Antichrist. This is best understood as contrary to Christ, or even false Christ, or even better: in the place of Christ.

According to classical trinitarianism, Christ (“the eternal Son of God”) “is eternally begotten from the Father’s essence.”6 And granted, any analogy will fall short, including especially any satanic attempt at duplicating the Trinity, but it’s important to note that the Son receives his Divinity from the essence of the Father. “From all eternity, the Father communicates the one, simple, undivided divine essence to the Son. . . . If the Son is not begotten from the Father, the divine essence cannot subsist (exist) in the Son.”7

So where does John show the beast coming from?

In Revelation 12:18-13:1, we read, “He stood on the sand of the sea. And I saw a beast coming up out of the sea.” He refers to the dragon of Revelation 12, described clearly as “the ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the one who deceives the whole world” (12:9). So the beast arises from the place where the dragon stood. To make it even more clear that the beast originates from the Dragon, Revelation 13:2 explains, “The dragon gave him his power, his throne, and great authority.”

John seems to imply that the beast was raised from the dead as well, a clear parody of God the Son. “One of his heads appeared to be fatally wounded, but his fatal wound was healed. The whole earth was amazed and followed the beast. They worshiped the dragon because he gave authority to the beast. And they worshiped the beast, saying, ‘Who is like the beast? Who is able to wage war against him?'” (Revelation 13:3-4). The dragon is worshipped because of the beast, and the beast is worshipped because of the dragon. This has comparisons to John 13:31. “Now the Son of Man is glorified, and God is glorified in Him.”

Jesus is not only the eternal Son of God, but He is also the eternal Word of God (cf. John 1:1). As such, it is again interesting what John writes regarding this beast: “A mouth was given to him to speak boasts and blasphemies. . . . He began to speak blasphemies against God: to blaspheme His name and His dwelling—those who dwell in heaven” (Revelation 13:5-6). Much like Jesus declares the Words of God–acting as the very Voice of God (cf. Psalm 29)–so the beast declares the words of the dragon.

But what about the Holy Spirit? How does He play into this discussion?

First, it is worth noting that when it comes to the Holy Spirit’s eternal relation of origin, “[T]he gift of the Spirit in history reflects and reveals (but by no means constitutes) the procession of the Spirit in eternity.”8 Additionally, “The word ‘Spirit’ in Scripture can also be translated as ‘breath.’ Applied theologically, the Spirit is the one breathed out by the Father and the Son in eternity, which explains why the Spirit is the one sent from the Father and the Son in history. The Spirit’s mission then reflects the Spirit’s eternal relation of origin.”9

We see him depicted parodically in Revelation 13:11-17.

Again, it must be reiterated that this is merely to show an analogy. The devil was created. The beasts are creatures. The relations of origins here are nothing like our Triune God’s inter-trinitarian eternal relations of origin. The first beast is not begotten by the dragon (sorry, Good Omens),10 and the second beast is not breathed out by the dragon and the first beast. To take this blog post too far is to enter the dangerous (heretical?) waters of Eternal Functional Subordination (EFS). Let the analogy stand as an analogy, merely to show the concept of classical trinitarianism–not the beautiful mystery of the Trinity itself–being described in the New Testament Scriptures.

However, with that said, let’s look at the third member of this satanic, pseudo-trinity.

John explains, “I saw another beast coming up out of the earth” (13:11). When compared to 12:13 (“the dragon saw that he had been thrown to the earth“), it becames clear where this beast finds its origin. The dragon. However, it’s not that simple, because the first beast had amazed “the whole earth,” so they both exist on the earth. Additionally, “he sounded like a dragon. He exercises all the authority of the first beast on his behalf and compels the earth and those who live on it to worship the first beast” (13:11-12).

The second beast sounds like a dragon. Therefore, procession from the dragon. But he receives authority from the first beast. Therefore, procession from the first beast. This is important!

A huge debate between the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic church, which split Christianity in half and has never been reconciled, relates (at least partially) to where the Holy Spirit procedes from. From the Father alone (Eastern), or from the Father and the Son (Catholic)? As Anselm writes, “[T]he Greeks, although they deny that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son, none the less do not deny that the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of the Son.”11 This statement is substantiated by the Scripture itself, when Peter refers to “the Spirit of Christ” (cf. 1 Peter 1:11). Therefore, scripturally, the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son as well as the Father, and the analogy of the pseudo-trinity in Revelation 12-13 shows the same thing.

Jesus describes the Holy Spirit as follows: “When the Counselor comes, the One I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father—He will testify about Me” (John 15:26). Additionally, “When He comes, He will convict the world about sin, righteousness, and judgment: About sin, because they do not believe in Me” (16:8-9), meaning that worship will result when the Spirit comes. This is additionally proven by John 16:14, “He will glorify Me, because He will take from what is Mine and declare it to you.”

Compare this to Revelation 13:12-15. The second beast “compels the earth and those who live on it to worship the first beast, whose fatal wound was healed. He also performs great signs, even causing fire to come down from heaven to earth in front of people. He deceives those who live on the earth because of the signs that he is permitted to perform on behalf of the beast, telling those who live on the earth to make an image of the beast who had the sword wound and yet lived. He was permitted to give a spirit to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast could both speak and cause whoever would not worship the image of the beast to be killed.”

In other words, the second beast glorifies the first beast. Everything the second beast does is to increase the worship of the first beast. The fire that comes down could be a parody of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2:3. This is why the second beast is later referred to as the “false prophet” (19:20). How did the Old Testament prophets speak? “Men spoke from God as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21).

Lest this whole discussion seem to be assumed original and thus wrong, allow G. K. Beale to comment on Revelation 13:18–“The one who has understanding must calculate the number of the beast, because it is the number of a man. His number is 666.”

The beast epitomizes imperfection, while appearing to achieve divine perfection. Three sixes are a parody of the divine trinity of three sevens. That is, though the beast attempts to mimic God, Christ, and the prophetic Spirit of truth (cf. 19:10), he falls short of succeeding. He cannot complete his attempts to image God and exalt himself above God. Sometimes “seven” is appropriately applied to the devil or the beast to emphasize their thoroughgoing evil nature, severe persecution, and universal reign of oppression (e.g., 12:3; 13:1; 17:3, 9–11). Sixes are used instead of sevens in 13:18 because of the repeated emphasis in vv 3–14 on the beast as a counterfeit Christ or prophet. Though the Satanic beasts appear to imitate successfully the truth in their attempts to deceive, they remain thoroughly evil on the inside and fall far short of the divine character that they are mimicking.12

This blog post has sought to argue that the Bible itself describes classical Trinitarian theology by describing the satanic, pseudo-trinity of Revelation 12-13. How can a pseudo-trinity exist in Scripture if the “real” Trinity was an invention that would not exist for another 200+ years?

The short answer: It can’t. By John describing the satanic, pseudo-trinity in Revelation 12-13, he is tipping his hand to the fact that Trinitarian theology was being taught as early as the Book of Revelation was written (potentially as early as 70 AD13).

We worship the Trinity who is Awesome, not the one that is pseudo!

This copycat trinity will fall to the true Trinity, as Revelation 20:10 makes crystal clear. “The Devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and false prophet are, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.” Second Thessalonians 2:8 makes the defeat of the Antichrist even more vivid. “The Lord Jesus will destroy him with the breath of his mouth and will bring him to nothing with the brightness of His coming.”

Anselm comments poignantly. “[T]he Holy Spirit slays the impious when he converts the heart of the impious from impiety to piety. And if we understand in the impious one the Antichrist, ‘whom the Lord Jesus will slay with the breath of his mouth’ [2 Thes. 2:8], I do not think that anyone would attribute that power as much to the breath of the human voice as to the Spirit of God.”14

It’s not just the pseudo-trinity that will end up in the lake of fire. John continues in Revelation 20:12, 15, “I also saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life, and the dead were judged according to their works by what was written in the books. . . . And anyone not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.”

So you are left with two options, according to Anselm. You either allow the Holy Spirit to slay you now by faith in the Gospel, turning you “from impiety to piety,” or you let the Triune God–who deserves your praise for eternity for every involuntary breath you’ve already taken ungratefully throughout your life–torment you in hell for eternity for your ungratefulness. Sin against an eternal God deserves an eternal punishment.

And here’s the message that can slay you and heal you right now: Jesus Christ added humanity to His divinity 2,000 years ago, and died on the cross for our ungratefulness. He lived a life of perfect gratitude for those of us who never could, and died in our place, taking the torments of hell in His body for three hours on the cross. However, because He had done nothing deserving death, He rose again on the third day–vanquishing sin and death for all those who will place their faith in Him.

Don’t be deceived by a counterfeit. Know the truth! Trust Christ and He will help you see!

In this with you.

Soli Deo Gloria
Solus Christus
Sola Fide
Fides quaerens intellectum

Thanks for reading.

References

  1. https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/inception.
  2. Anselm of Canturbury, “Proslogion” in The Major Works (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 87.
  3. Augustine of Hippo, The Trinity, trans. Stephen McKenna, The Fathers of the Church (Washington DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1963), 7. Emphasis added.
  4. Philip Schaff, “The Westminster Confession of Faith, II.3,” in The Creeds of Christendom, with a History and Critical Notes: The Evangelical Protestant Creeds, with Translations, vol. 3 (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1882), 607–608.
  5. Augustine of Hippo, “Homily III,” in St. Augustin: Homilies on the First Epistle of John, ed. Philip Schaff, NPNF 1.7 (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1888), 476–477.
  6. Matthew Barrett, Simply Trinity (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books), 161. Emphasis in original.
  7. Ibid., 161.
  8. Ibid., 270.
  9. Ibid., 272.
  10. One must wonder, though, if the dragon standing on the “sand of the sea” is supposed to evoke an Onan-like image of the origin of the first beast “out of the sea” (cf. Genesis 38:9). If so, this would be even further highlighting the pseudo-nature of this satanic trinity. Additionally, to “beget” the beast in-time is already several steps beneath our eternal, Triune God.
  11. Anselm of Canturbury, “On the Procession of the Holy Spirit” in The Major Works (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 391.
  12. G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1999), 722. Emphasis added.
  13. I lean more towards the late date (AD 95) personally, but if there is any possibility it was written earlier, then there was a working understanding of the Trinity even that much closer to the birth of the church at Pentecost. See discussion in G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, 4-27.
  14. Anselm of Canturbury, “On the Procession of the Holy Spirit” in The Major Works (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 409. Words could be multiplied on this point, tying Ephesians 6:17 to Revelation 19:13, 15 and highlighting inseparable operations, but i believe the point has been made, and i’d like to use Anselm’s quote to help convict–hopefully convert–the sinner than to wax theological more than i already have.

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