I (Ben) noted last week about Justin Martyr’s very clear affirmation that Jesus eternally existed and became incarnate in time in his Dialogue with Trypho Chapter 48. In the conclusion I noted the issue of distinguishing between economy (what God does) and ontology (how God is). The economy is clear in that statement, but what about ontology. Trypho has the same question!

Chapter 50: “You seem,” said Trypho, “to have debated with many persons on every possible topic, and consequently are ready to answer any of my questions. Tell me then, first of all, how can you prove that there is another God besides the Creator of the world, and then show that He condescended to be born of a virgin.”

Justin continues a previous argument (about the two advents of Christ) before coming back to this question in chapter 55ff. In chapter 56, Justin provides a lengthy set of quotations and descriptions of the Abraham’s interchange with three men and Lot’s later interchange. His argument is basically that God is present in two places at the same time. Summing up at key points, he writes:

Chapter 56:[11] “Then,” I said, “let us return to the Scriptures and I will try to convince you that He who is said to have appeared to Abraham, Jacob, and Moses, and is called God, is distinct from God, the Creator; distinct, that is, in number, but not in mind. For I state that He never did or said anything else than what the Creator — above whom there is no other God — desired that He do or say.”  …

[22] At this point I asked, “Do you not see, my friends, that one of the three, who is both God and Lord, and ministers to Him who is in Heaven, is Lord of the two angels? When they went on to Sodom, He stayed behind and talked with Abraham, as Moses testified. Then He went His way after His conversation, and Abraham returned to his place. [23] And when He came to Sodom, it was no longer the two angels, but He Himself, who talked with Lot, as is evident from the Scriptures. He, indeed, is the Lord who was commissioned by the Lord in Heaven, that is, the Creator of all things, to inflict those dreadful punishments upon Sodom and Gomorrah, which are described in the Scriptures in this fashion: ‘The Lord rained upon Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of Heaven’ [Gen 19.24].”

He goes on to include discussion of the burning bush and gives this description:

Chapter 61 “So, my friends,” I said, “I will now show from the Scriptures that God has begotten of Himself a certain rational Power as a Beginning before all other creatures. The Holy Spirit indicates this Power by various titles, sometimes the Glory of the Lord, at other times Son, or Wisdom, or Angel, or God, or Lord, or Word. He even called Himself Commander-in-chief when He appeared in human guise to Jesus, the son of Nave. Indeed, He can justly lay claim to all these titles from the fact both that He performs the Father’s will and that He was begotten by an act of the Father’s will. [2] But, does not something similar happen also with us humans? When we utter a word, it can be said that we beget the word, but not by cutting it off, in the sense that our power of uttering words would thereby be diminished. We can observe a similar example in nature when one fire kindles another, without losing anything, but remaining the same; yet the enkindled fire seems to exist of itself and to shine without lessening the brilliancy of the first fire. [3]My statements will now be confirmed by none other than the Word of Wisdom, who is this God begotten from the Universal Father, and who is the Word and Wisdom and Power and Glory of Him who begot Him.

This doesn’t sort all the questions about ontology by any means, but it shows that Justin was indeed aware of the issues. Though later argumentation is framed differently, the ideas of God meeting Abraham in Genesis 19 which is so central for Justin is at the heart of Rublev’s Trinity:


As Brevard Childs and Kavin Rowe argued so well: the OT is not an impediment to the Trinity, it is the necessary foundation on which the Trinity is grounded.

(Public Domain)

I (Ben) am teaching a Trinitarianism class for the second time here at HBU, and I’m experiencing one of the great benefits of being a professor–having a great excuse to read great texts more than once rather than always pressing on to something new. I start the semester by going through the patristic debates and then we go back to the biblical material, and then I pick a more focused reading. (Last time it was Moltmann’s Trinity and the Kingdom, and this time we’ll read Macchia’s Justified in the Spirit: Creation, Redemption, and the Triune God.) I begin with patristic theology because most that make assessments about the Trinity and biblical texts are working with the patristic categories, either explicitly or implicitly. As my last post indicated, this raises questions of anachronism that many (if not most) would want to avoid. Of course, I’m the pot calling the kettle black by using an anachronistic model and then decrying others for doing the same. I’ll own it; however, I agree with my epistemological assessment in Christosis, by means of Gadamer, that we know things through tradition rather than in spite of it.

In the previous post, I noted how historical critics can sometimes implicitly make an anachronistic claim that the Trinity is not in the NT because it does not exist in its fully immanent and Nicene form, and therefore they can exclude or underestimate the economic Trinitarian focus of the biblical texts. However, some affirming a more traditional reading at times fall into a different kind of anachronism when reading biblical texts. In particular, as we were reading Brevard Childs’ “The Identity of God” in his Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments, his method betrays a type of anachronism.

Childs is definitely concerned not to read backwards because only the apostles were inspired to do that, so he is guarding against anachronism in that fashion without the inspiration of the Spirit. His anachronism appears to show up in the form of finding too much continuity in the biblical transition from the OT to the NT. I’m a fan of recognizing more continuity between the OT and NT than is often noted, but it’s not that we can simply read the text forwards from OT to NT and arrive at the Christology of the NT writers. Jason (Maston) my colleague and boss was sitting in on my lecture and helped me articulate this (via his work with Francis Watson). The Jewish texts have meanings that can shoot off in a number of directions, and it is only through Christ that we can come back and read them as in direct continuity with them.

Thus, even though Childs is concerned with anachronism of reading dogmatic theology back into biblical theology and with the anachronism of reading OT texts in too limited of a fashion because of the NT (e.g., his comments on Is 53, pg. 382), he also betrays a form of anachronism: to find such continuity between the  OT and NT presumes that he is reading backwards through the Christological lens of the NT. It’s not that the continuity in the story is not there, if you read it through that lens, but the details of the story don’t just naturally line up that way when reading forwards. There has to be a backwards reading implicit in his method even though his whole discussion of p 375-83 makes it seem that he’s wanting to avoid it.