Who’s Tampering with the Trinity? (Part 13) The Biblical Support for Eternal Generation: The Normal Order of the Mention of the Persons of the Trinity
In my last blog post I had occasion to mention the great Trinitarian benediction of 2 Corinthians 13:14: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.” No less a Reformed stalwart than B. B. Warfield notes that in this text the order of the persons is Son, Father, Spirit and argues from this fact that the order in which the persons are mentioned is not uniform and not suggestive of an ad intra order in the Trinity. Millard Erickson mentions the little known fact that Warfield approaches Egalitarian views of the Trinity in his book, Who’s Tampering with the Trinity?
Though Warfield is a great theologian, he is simply wrong at this point. I will hazard a guess at why in coming posts. Against Warfield and others who argue that this variation in the order of mention in 2 Corinthians 13:14 implies that there is no certain order between the persons of the Trinity, a number of cogent counter-arguments may be brought.
First, there is a normal order in the mention of the persons followed in Scripture. Cf. in Paul who is the prime source of Warfield’s thesis these references: Rom. 1:7, 1 Cor. 1:3, 8:6, Eph. 1:2, 6:23,Phil. 1:2, 2:11, 1 Thess. 1:1, 2 Thess. 1:1, 1 Tim. 1:2, 1:1, 2 Tim. 1:2, Tit. 1:4, Philemon 3, Col. 1:3, Eph. 1:3, 2 Cor. 1:3. Warfield notwithstanding, we cannot think that the order of Matt. 28:18; John 1:1, 14; or John 3:16 might be changed. Occasional texts which vary this order ought not to be used to contradict this normal order if another explanation is available.
Second, there may be many reasons why the order of mention may sometimes vary. If the Father in some cases is mentioned after the Son, it may be that the structure is climactic.
Third, when the theological and exegetical background of 2 Corinthians 13:14 is examined, its unusual order is seen to be consistent with the traditional Trinitarian order. Here are several reasons why. (1) In 2 Corinthians 13:14 the Father is named “the God.” Literally, the Greek may be rendered “the love of the God.” Certainly, this name indicates the primacy of the Father. (2) The mention of “the love” of the Father leads us to a number of texts which affirm that the source of our salvation is the electing love of the Father. Christ is sent by the Father is consequence of this electing love.
Ephesians 1:4-6 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.
Romans 8:37-39 37 But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8:29-30 For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.
(3) Since the fountain of salvation is the electing love of the Father, what we ought to discern in 2 Corinthians 13:14 is not the disruption of any order in the Trinity. Rather we ought to discern an order which actually confirms the traditional order of mention. In 2 Corinthians 13:14 Paul traces the grace of the Son (a reference to His willingness to come and die for us—2 Corinthians 8:9)—up to the fountain of the Father’s love. The Spirit is then sent down to apply to us the subjective and inward benefits that stem ultimately from the Father’s love.