The Tripersonal

When experiencing the risen Jesus as the one who made it possible for them to join him in praying to God as 'Abba', NT Christians knew themselves to enjoy their adopted status as sons and daughters through the Holy Spirit whom they had received (Rom. 8: 14—17; Gal. 4: 4—7). They prayed the 'Our Father', identifying and worshipping God as 'the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ' (e.g. Rom. 15: 6). Thus Christians, while continuing to be monotheistic by maintaining faith in one God (e.g. Gal. 3: 20), the same God for Jews and Gentiles alike (Rom. 3: 29—30), now included in their new form of monotheism Christ the Son of God and the Holy Spirit (Pneuma). Thus Christian faith became 'christological' and 'pneumatological'.

At some point in the first century Christian communities stopped baptizing simply 'in the name of Jesus' (e.g. Acts 2: 38; 10: 48) and began baptizing 'in the name [singular] of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit' (Matt. 28: 19). This tripartite formula did not offer anything like the later, full-blown doctrine of God as three in one and one

80 On Jesus as the Son of God see O'Collins, Christology , 113—35, as (divine) Lord, ibid. 136—43, and as personally and eternally pre-existent, ibid. 237—44. On his pre-existence see also G. O'Collins, Incarnation (London: Continuum, 2002), 13—25.

81 On Jesus' resurrection see S. Davis, D. Kendall, and G. O'Collins (eds.), The Resurrection (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997).

in three. Admittedly it suggested a certain unity ('the name'), distinction, and equality between 'the Father', 'the Son', and 'the Holy Spirit'; yet the formula did not clarify such matters as their interrelatedness. It provided, nevertheless, a foundation and starting-point for confessing and expounding the Trinity.

More than twenty years before Matthew's Gospel was completed (around AD 80), Paul had concluded a letter with a trinitarian benediction: 'the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God [the Father], and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all' (2 Cor. 13: 13). As with the baptismal formula from Matthew, Paul maintained the Holy Spirit in the third place, but changed the order of the first two figures, named them differently ('Lord Jesus Christ' instead of 'the Son', and 'God' instead of 'the Father'), and spoke not of their 'name' but of 'grace', 'love', and 'fellowship', associated respectively with the first, second, and third figure. In an earlier letter Paul spoke in a different order and more succinctly of 'Spirit', 'Lord', and 'God' (an order that reversed the first and third figures in Matthew's baptismal formula), and insisted that spiritual gifts come from the same divine source and should contribute to the common good: 'there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of working, but it is the same God who inspires them all in every one' (1 Cor. 12: 4—6).

Paul's teaching on the Father, Son, and Spirit never became abstract or philosophical. It remained firmly situated within the context of the salvation that the baptized experienced within their common history. Through the indwelling Spirit, they constituted the one body of Christ (e.g. 1 Cor. 6: 19; 12: 12-27) and the one family of God the Father (e.g. 2 Cor. 6: 18). The apostle witnesses to this soteriological or saving view of faith in the 'tripersonal' God, from whom the baptized receive their adoption, their ongoing guidance, and their future inheritance:

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons (and daughters) of God. For you did receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a Spirit of adoption. When we cry 'Abba! Father.!, it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are sons (and daughters) of God, and if sons (and daughters), then heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ. (Rom. 8: 14-17)

A further striking, 'trinitarian' passage from Paul, one that follows the order of Matthew's baptismal formula (by speaking of 'God [the Father]', 'his Son', and 'the Spirit of his Son'), closely associates God's 'sending' the

Son with the sending of the Spirit (Gal. 4: 4—7).82 Nevertheless, while intimately relating 'Son' and 'Spirit', neither Paul nor any other NT writer identify them. Jesus was conceived through the power of the Spirit (Matt. 1: 20; Luke 1: 35)—a statement that cannot be reversed. It was the Word, not the Spirit, that became flesh (John 1: 14). It was the Son, and not the Spirit, who was sent 'in the likeness of sinful flesh' to deal with sin (Rom. 8: 3) and who was not 'spared' but 'given up for us all' (Rom. 8: 32). Through his resurrection Christ, and not the Spirit, became the 'firstborn' of a new eschatological family (Rom. 8: 29) and 'the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep' (1 Cor. 15: 20). It is the indwelling Spirit that helps us pray 'Abba' and witnesses to Christ (Rom. 8: 15—16; 1 Cor. 12: 3), and not an indwelling Christ who makes us pray like that and witnesses to the Spirit. Finally, unlike the Spirit, it is the crucified and resurrected Christ who at the end will subject all things to his Father (1 Cor. 15: 24—8). The NT's story of Christ's mission, conception, death, resurrection, and its aftermath distinguishes him from the Holy Spirit.83

The writing of the NT was not completed before debates about Christ and the Trinity started. Paul's letters set the terms of one enduring challenge. The apostle wrote of Christ as being both Son of God and 'born of a woman' (Gal. 4: 4), or as both Son of God and 'descended from David' (Rom. 1:3). How could believers interpret and relate these parallel affirmations about Christ's divine sonship and his humanity without tampering with the integrity of either element? Heterodox solutions reduced or simply sacrificed either Christ's divinity or his humanity. The Ebionites, a label that covers a number of early Christians of Jewish background, dropped his divinity, while the Docetic (i.e. human only in appearance) tendency questioned the genuine bodily and historical reality of Jesus. Since they dismissed his body as being only apparent, i.e. really 'heavenly', Docetists in effect excluded Christ's true incarnation and death. To eliminate every link between the evil demiurge (or creator of the material universe) and Jesus the Saviour, Marcion attributed to the latter a merely heavenly body. In the early centuries of Christianity, and especially in the fourth, the major challenge came, however, from those who, like the Ebionites, sacrificed Christ's divinity in the name of faith in the one God.

82 See G. D. Fee, 'Paul and the Trinity: The Experience of Christ and the Spirit for Paul's Understanding of God', in Davis, Kendall, and O'Collins (eds.), The Trinity 49—72.

83 On the NT's distinction between Christ and the Holy Spirit, see further O'Collins, Christology , 146—51.

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