Finding the Trinity in Genesis 1

One of the core concepts in Lutheran and Reformed theology is the christocentricity of Scripture. When we say that the Bible is “christocentric,” we are stating that the entirety of Scripture, whether explicitly or through typology, points to Christ and His saving work. Jesus Himself said, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me.” (John 5:39). We see images of Christ all throughout the Old Testament, with many of them occurring in the Pentateuch, or “Books of Moses.”

For example, Abraham’s offering of Isaac as a sacrifice to God (Genesis 22) is overflowing with imagery that points to the atonement of Christ. We also see a foreshadowing of Christ when Moses was instructed by God to set a bronze snake on a pole, so that the Israelites who looked upon it would not die (Numbers 21). These are some of the most apparent parallels to Christ found in the Old Testament. Just as the snake was lifted up on a pole, so was Jesus lifted up on the cross. All who looked to the bronze snake were spared their lives. All who look to Jesus as Savior will not perish, but have eternal life.

On the other hand, some of these undertones of christocentricity are harder to spot, buried deeper in the text, sometimes only apparent in the original Hebrew or the minor details. I think it’s worthwhile to take a look at the first few verses of the Bible, found in the first chapter of Genesis.
As a short introduction, let’s examine the Gospel of John 1:1:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

In his gospel account, John refers to Jesus as the Word and the Light, among other names. John makes it clear that Jesus is the Word of the Father, existing from eternity. Now, take a look at John 1:3:

All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.

John is stating that God the Father Almighty created all things through Jesus, a fact that we confess in the Nicene Creed. But what exactly does that mean? This becomes readily apparent when we examine Genesis 1:3:

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.

God spoke the universe into existence with His Word. Jesus is the Word of God. When God speaks, His words have supreme authority, having the power to create worlds and convert hearts. That same Word of God was manifest in the flesh as Jesus Christ, who delivered the gospel of God to the world. When God created, He did so through Jesus.
We shouldn’t forget the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. Next we look at Genesis 1:2:

The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

The Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit, was present at creation as well. Even in the first chapter of the Bible, written long before the Trinity was even fully revealed to the world, we see the Triune God at work. We, of course, know that there is only one God. When the Hebrew word of Elohim (God) is used during the account of creation, and even throughout the Old Testament, the word used is a plural noun. There is one God speaking, but referring to Himself as us. All three persons of the Trinity were actively involved at the creation of the universe. We shouldn’t spend too much time trying to understand how the Trinity is possible. Even our best analogies and metaphors used to comprehend this doctrine end up bordering on heresy. Rather, we receive the Word of God in humble reverence, joyful that He has revealed this great mystery to us. And the Trinity is even found in the first verses of the Bible!
The Word of God, through which the world was created, is the same Word that now saves us.

“It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” —John 6:63

 

The Language of Theology – An Introduction

Most of us are somewhat familiar with words such as Justification, Atonement, and Reconciliation. But do we know what they specifically mean? Are they just multiple words describing the same thing? 

Christianity has a language of its own, at least in church circles where pastors still use Theological language. However, an increasing number of American churches don’t make use of Theological vocabulary, often saying that they “want to talk in terms that a regular person can understand.” Is this a good idea? Should we abandon “old-fashioned” words like propitiation and monergism? Or do these words still hold value when discussing Christianity?

While using the phrase “Jesus died for your sins” is a good way to introduce someone to Christianity, it doesn’t quite capture the whole scope of the work of Christ. When we try to translate these kinds of words into “modern-day English,” some of the meaning is lost, just the same as it happens when translating any language. These words are valuable, and the importance of learning them follows a “rule of thumb” of Christianity: Scripture should not change to suit us. Rather, we should change to suit Scripture. In short, this means that we should make the effort to learn the definitions for these Theological words, because they’re actually derived from the original words used by the authors of Scripture. When we fail to learn the meaning of these words, it makes it seem as if we don’t have the time to grow in our knowledge of the Truth.

Of course, these words shouldn’t just be thrown at non-Christians or new converts. The true meaning of these words cannot be understood until one understands the concepts and doctrines of Christianity. As Peter says in 2 Peter 3:16, some concepts found in the Bible are hard to understand, and false teachers are able to twist them to suit their needs.

With this in mind, I think it’s well worth it to better understand these Theological words, and distinguish them from words that seem similar. Here we will examine some of them:

Justification – Essentially the central doctrine of Christianity. Derived from a Latin legal term, Justification is God’s act of declaring us righteous because of the work of Christ. Justification is something that happens outside of us. Some divisions of Christianity see justification as an internal transformation, where the Christian them self  becomes righteous. Rather, justification is the act of Christ’s righteousness being credited to us. Justification is something that happens externally.

Imputation – Related closely to justification, God imputes Christ’s righteousness to us, that is, crediting it to us as if it were our own. This happens by grace through faith.

By grace, through faith – Even though this is a common phrase heard in the majority of Christian churches, it can have a slightly different meaning across denominations. As the Lutheran Confessions understand it, God justifies us by His grace, not because of anything we have done. We are given this righteousness through faith in Christ. We cannot be made righteous without faith in Jesus as our Savior.

Atonement – By living a perfect life and dying in our place, Christ atoned for our sins. That is, Christ was punished in our place to satisfy the wrath of God. Jesus atoned for the sins of the entire world.

Concupiscence – This is a formal term that describes our original sin. Concupiscence is the sinful state we are born in – it is the origin and cause of every sinful thought and action of mankind. Though the actions committed against God’s will are also known as “sin,” concupiscence is a state in which humans exist. It is the reason we are opposed to God from our conception.

Sanctification – This term is often confused or mingled with justification. However, they are two distinct doctrines. As Christians who are justified by God’s grace, sanctification is described as the Christian’s ability to lead a “holy” life, a life that seeks to uphold God’s will. We are only able to do this through the power of the Holy Spirit, who sanctifies us through the Word and Sacraments. The Christian himself does play a role in leading a godly life, but is only able to do so because of the “New Man” created within himself through baptism.

These few theological terms barely begin to scratch the surface of Christian vocabulary, but they are central to the doctrines of Christianity. You can understand these terms even more precisely by searching for them in The Lutheran Confessions. There you will find them explained with far more depth than they are here. It is my prayer that every Christian would continue to grow in the understanding of God’s Truth, even if it takes the effort of learning a new vocabulary.

“But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.”

2 Peter 3:18 (ESV)

Reflections – 1 Timothy 3:16

As part of a daily Bible reading plan, I was going through 1 Timothy chapter 3, trying my best to pay attention to the details in the text, and reflecting on the meaning of each verse. Much of this chapter is instruction from Paul to Timothy on the qualifications for the Office of the Ministry. These words are true and comforting, reassuring us that those in the Pastoral Office must be godly men, and “above reproach.” Although there is plenty of reassuring gospel to be found in these verses, I was especially interested in verse 16:

“Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness:

He was manifested in the flesh,
    vindicated by the Spirit,
        seen by angels,
proclaimed among the nations,
    believed on in the world,
        taken up in glory.”

1 Timothy 3:16 (ESV)

The first time reading this through, I took note of the word “godliness.” In most evangelical circles, this term is defined as one’s leading of a “purpose driven life.” (In other words, godliness = good works.) There is some truth to this mentality. “Godly” is indeed a term that can apply to the way a Christian lives, being a loving neighbor to those around him. Many people throughout the Bible are referred to as godly, meaning that they feared God an followed His Law. But we should not let our opinio legis (opinion of the Law) cloud our understanding of what it means to be godly. That is, when we read any verse in the Bible, even if it is a verse of pure Gospel, the sinful nature in our hearts will try to turn the Gospel into a command we need to obey. It is the nature of mankind to desire to earn salvation, not to receive it.

Pay attention to the verse above, and notice how Paul is defining godliness. It is something we confess. Godliness is Christ manifest in the flesh, Christ being filled with the Holy Spirit, Christ being seen by angels and proclaimed to the nations, and Christ being believed in, and having been taken up into heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father. To summarize my point, Paul is saying that “godliness” is not dependent on what we do. It is something that has been done.

I looked up this verse in the Concordia Self Study Bible to help me drive this point home. The commentary on 1 Timothy 3:16 says, “The phrase [mystery of godliness] means the ‘revealed secret of true piety,’ i.e., the secret that produces piety in people. That secret, as the following words indicate, is none other than Jesus Christ. His incarnation, in all its aspects (particularly his saving work), is the source of genuine piety. ” The way this verse is formatted in the original Greek text suggests that it was an early creedal hymn. This was something confessed by the early Christian Church even before Paul penned these words!

To be godly and pious is to confess the work of Christ and how He justifies us by grace, through faith. Christ was our piety for us. I say this not to diminish the importance of “walking in a manner worthy of God.” (1 Thessalonians 2:12) Rather, it is to realize that true piety and godliness was accomplished for us in the person of Christ, that we may add nothing to our own salvation. We lead “godly” lives as a response to this ultimate godliness completed for us by Christ. Martin Luther summarized this well when he stated:

“Yes, dear friend, you must first possess heaven and salvation before you can do good works.  Works never merit heaven; heaven is conferred purely of grace.”

Go about your life, knowing that this true godliness is credited to you by grace, through faith, on account of what Christ has accomplished.