Chapter 2: Critical Realism as Methodology (presented as a term paper for a recent class)


William Placher reflected on a quote from John Webster in this way: “I must be willing to ‘mortify myself’ to repudiate ‘the desire to assemble all realities, including texts, including even the revelation of God, around the steady center of my will.’ If I assume that these stories serve purposes I had… I will not be open to understanding them.”[1] This should be an admonition to all theologians, but especially it will be a point I must come back to throughout my study. Indeed, it was this sentiment which drew me to Critical Realism as an exegetical approach after my initial encounter with it in N.T. Wright’s The New Testament and the People of God.

This is a way of describing the process of ‘knowing’ that acknowledges the reality of the thing known, as something other than the knower(hence ‘realism’), while also fully acknowledging that the only access we have to this reality lies along the spiraling path of appropriate dialogue or conversation between the knower and the thing known (hence ‘critical’). This path leads to critical reflection on the products of our enquiry into ‘reality’, so that our assertions about ‘reality’ acknowledge their own provisionality.[2]
Wright takes this stance over against the two opposing views of the positivist, who accepts a “naïve realism” in which we observe reality and make real statements simply based on empirical observation, and that of the phenomenalist, who leans close to solipsism in acknowledging that the only evidence we can truly examine is that we are encountering sense data without making any statement on the external world, if such a thing exists other than as some grand delusion. Critical Realism accepts the criticism that we only know what we sense, but allows the reality we perceive to truly exist in and of itself. This gives us the ability to say something meaningful about reality, but only while remaining critical of the meaning we find, the reality we observe, and the process whereby we arrive at both an interpreted meaning and the observation of reality.

Wright mentions that after he finished the first draft of the section on Critical Realism in his book, Meyer’s Critical Realism and the New Testament came out, “in which a good deal of what I was trying to say is spelled out, argued for, and given (to my mind) solid foundations.”[3] Of course, such a resounding praise required me to procure and examine for myself Meyer’s excellent work, a wonderful example of applying Critical Realism (for which Meyer heavily relies on the work of Bernard Lonergan) to the hermeneutics of the New Testament. Both Wright and Meyer (and Lonergan, though I have found the former two more helpful) make use of the concept of the personal story bound within one’s horizons to explain how we can truly know anything about the world around us and, perhaps more importantly, how we come by that knowledge. Before I can delve into that, I must first define two important terms: Meaning and Reality.


Meaning and Reality

The two prevailing theories in theoretical physics through most of the 20th century were Quantum Mechanics and Relativity. Quantum Mechanics deals largely with the very, very small: protons, electrons, quarks, neutrinos and the like. Relativity deals in the very, very big: planets, stars, galaxies, indeed the very fabric of space and time. Incidentally, since the universe began as a singularity (probably) and has grown to such an astoundingly large size, the two theories are most useful at the opposite ends of the history of the universe. Quantum Mechanics helps to explain what was happening when the universe was young and infinitesimal; Relativity helps to explain what is happening and will happen in the universe at large.

An interesting conundrum in modern physics arises from the quest for a Grand Unified Theory (GUT) of physics, a theory which could explain everything observable in the physical universe. When observing the universe at a quantum level, relativity falls to pieces; when observing the universe at a relativistic level, quantum mechanics becomes utter nonsense. It should come as no surprise that both theories are nearly incomprehensible when observing the universe at a human level, somewhere in between the quantum and relativistic levels. Some physicists have tried to combine the two theories into a GUT, but I don’t have much hope for that project.

Does the vast and mutual exclusivity nullify the validity of both theories? As the Holy Grail of the quest for a GUT, yes; but as a way to understand the universe (i.e. find meaning in the data of reality), from a critically-realistic perspective, they are both valid critiques of their respective levels of observation. From their perspectives, Quantum Mechanics and Relativity provide a true understanding of the observable universe, but neither can answer the questions raised by the other’s worldview any more than they can explain my attraction to my wife, my ability to read and write, or why it always seems to rain the hardest on days I forgot to bring an umbrella to work. All of these ask different types of questions which require different methods of examination to answer, none of which will work on the others because they all come from a different perspective and tell a different story.

While the two exclusive perspectives cannot conceive of the other directly, they are not entirely non-communicative. Through the critical acceptance of the validity of the other’s conceptualizations with the “intent on the transposition of meaning,” a task which “centers both on first-level ‘meaning,’ which makes sense of things, and on the second-level ‘meaning’ which makes sense of the way [the other] made sense of things,”[4] both perspectives could find (and may currently be finding) otherwise untapped wells of meaning resourceful to their own questions.

Although the previous paragraphs have used two perspectives from theoretical physics (for, the plainest sense of the scientific term “theory” comes down to a perspective on the world), the last two paragraphs could easily have summarized a critically-realist perspective on any two worldviews of almost any range of dissidence. Was the American Revolution a patriotic push for independence or the petulant rebellion of a pubescent against her parents? Why not both? For that matter, when my daughter reaches the age when she feels ready to forge her own way in the world, will a defiant “No!” be a healthy show of growth or a negative behavior I should punish? Again, why can both not be true understandings from different perspectives? And when a 21st century American biblical theologian turns to the recorded stories of a 1st century Palestinian Jew and reads a kerygmatic tale of the Gospel of Jesus eliciting a frenzy of Pneumatic activity  as a lived and livable story of which he has become a part, has the theologian ignored and belittled the “first-level meaning” in the text and brazenly created a fallacious “second-level meaning,” or has he found within the first-level meaning of the text an incarnate story with ample, purposeful, second-level meaning which can help to define the reality in which he finds himself, no matter how much the world may have changed over 2000 years?

In answer to the question of what I mean by ‘meaning’ and ‘reality,’ ‘reality’ is what first-level meaning observes, the ‘picture’ formed by the senses, what Lonergan called ‘the world of immediacy’; ‘meaning,’ especially second-level meaning, is the ‘story’ one tells to define the reality which is observed, what Lonergan called ‘the world mediated by meaning’. To put it another way, ‘reality’ is the world our senses perceive (keeping the critique that our only access to reality is through our senses, of course); ‘meaning’ is the interpretation we form of that reality (or rather of the perception our senses have made of reality).


A Critical-Realist Perspective on Early Trinitarianism

Though Modalism is certainly heretical and must be avoided, one can appreciate at least that modalists do not fall to an obvious fallacy. A cursory examination of the biblical narrative could lend itself to a modalistic reading. Throughout the Tanakh, YHWH interacts with his people in theophanies of a physical nature,[5] in visions wherein the prophet ‘sees’ the invisible God,[6] and in the indwelling, gift-giving spirit.[7] In the New Testament, the confusion increases as the church encounters first the man Jesus, then after his ascension, the Holy Spirit. Each of these theophanies never occured at the same time, or to use classical Trinitarian language, no more than one hypostasis ever appeared to humanity at the same time.[8]

The New Testament authors began life under certain horizons, religious, social, and moral(?). As they encountered Christ and grew in their knowledge of him, they converted to new horizons. The New Testament is full of evidence of this conversion process, and as will be the focus of my exegesis, this is especially true in the conversion from the pure monotheist horizon of Roman-era Palestinian Judaism to the trinitarian horizon of Christianity. This transition did not occur as a synthetic structure, but as an experience of the Triune God revealed through Jesus. My exegesis will focus on drawing out the “spontaneously self-assembling structure of human intentionality”[9] where it can be found in the texts.

The church’s view of God did not simply become trinitarian; it grew out of “the sequence of wonder, inquiry, insight, judgment, decision” experienced by the no-doubt terrifying realization that their former horizon of Judaic monotheism, in which “YHWH is One” was “the limit of what one knows and cares about,” would no longer explain or contain their experience with the divine-man Jesus. They had to have a revolutionary transition to a horizon in which “YHWH is One” could fit with “Jesus is Lord, who took on the form of man, submitted to death on a cross, and was raised” as well as “The Spirit of the Lord dwells within you.”

These first-century Jews must have found this personal encounter with the triune nature of God incomprehensible. The question arises, “Why did the early Church in fact not become tritheistic?” Theology introductions and broad-brush trinitarian histories accept the necessity of monotheism for the first Christians even as they speak of the challenge created for monotheism by the Incarnation and the Indwelling. But the New Testament documents do not struggle with this because the earliest Christians had to work out the divinity of Christ before anyone could wonder about things like levels of divinity, hypostases of God, or eternal begottenness. One could speculate that the first Christians, upon discovering Jesus’ divinity, simply assumed this was another theophanic revelation similar to the burning bush or the Prophets’ visions, the difference being the Emmanuel, that is ‘God with/among us,’ being personified in Christ as opposed to the basic idea that God dwells among the people of God (e.g. the Latrine Law of Deuteronomy 23).

Of course the early church had little to disseminate on their doctrine of the Spirit of God: they were Jews and already knew that God’s Spirit dwelt among God’s people with no detriment to the omnipresence of God (as the Jews understood God’s omnipresence). The immediate question for the first Christians dealt with the Son, Jesus. The realization that the Spirit, whom they had experienced or read of in the experiences of their people, is also fully God in the way that both the Father and Jesus are could only come about after they had grappled with the relation between Father and Jesus. It may be presumed that by that point in the history of theological development, the realization about the Spirit would have been a perfectly natural transition since the Old Testament is full of references to the ruach Elohim coming upon God’s people, though this hypothesis deserves a more thorough scrutinization than this basic study will allow.


What I am Most Certainly Not About

Returns to the ‘simple gospel’ seldom land at their intended destination; they land instead at whatever interpretation of reality is currently most hallowed by familiarity, however it may be related to the gospel. So at least it went with Augustine’s rejection of Cappadocian subtleties, and so it would surely go with any trinitarian primitivism of ours.[10]

Robert Jenson here points out a common misconception in many modern evangelical churches: the belief in and quest for a “New Testament church” in the modern world. Among the various intrinsic problems with this concept, including but not limited to a broad-if-viable definition of the term “New Testament church,” the issue pertinent in Jenson’s work is the attempt at adopting ignorance of previous advancements of Christian thought for the sake of an idolatrous “purity” in doctrine. I do not use the term idolatrous lightly, so I must explain my usage here.

The concept that the primitive church was somehow closer to the true Gospel implies two false conclusions: first, later generations of the church acted completely without the guidance provided to the early church, i.e. the work of God the indwelling Holy Spirit; and second, the early church understood to a greater degree the works of God occurring in their time. In most Christian Creeds, there is a declaration of the belief in “one holy, catholic, and apostolic church,” normally signifying the unity of the faithful in the tradition handed down by the Apostles. This is perfectly fine until the focus shifts away from the handing down of that tradition to either, for the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches, a political requirement that the transpersonal tradition be personified in the correct person, or, for Protestantism and others, a dogmatic requirement that the trans-historical tradition be only recognizable in the corpus of apostolically-authored Scripture. Either replaces the tradition which is bigger than any of us and which will outlive each of us with an idolized, controllable certitude, a foundation we can comprehend and so fool ourselves into trusting.

The second fallacy should prove more useful to the topic of this essay. For any event, there is no privileged perspective; neither proximity nor distance grants perfect vision. The belief in a “modern New Testament church” or a “pure, simple Gospel” assumes the closer one is to the subject, the better equipped one is to make a value judgment; but, the opposite fallacy is present in many scholarly circle, that we have a privileged perspective because we are removed from the situation, we have the historical record on which we can base our judgments, and have matured in our thinking. Both of these ideas have an appeal, but both are missing a vital point of the human experience, that we are all in this together. The best chance to gain an accurate view of any historical event is to either be God (an option unavailable to us) or to combine the evidence left by those who experienced the event first hand with the perspectives good historiography can provide within a logical framework based on the shared human experience. At this point, we must apply the critique of what we can know cannot have been the case and the realism to accept that the world we encounter is predictable and measurable.



As we seem to be approaching the end of the transitional philosophical epoch known as Postmodernism (or at least, so it seems to us as we live it), many scholars find dissatisfaction with either the naïve realism of modernity or the despondent phenomenalism of postmodernity. Critical Realism may be the path forward as an attempt to glean the best of both post-Enlightenment outcomes into a new synthesis. But Critical Realism is more than just a hopeful stab at a way forward; it covers the holes left by its predecessors: from positivism, it recognizes that the senses can be fooled or mistaken, that the only picture we have of the world around us comes to us through the sense data which we then interpret into a worldview; from phenomenalism, it recognizes that the origin of our sense data need not devalue it as an accurate portrayal of the world around us, but in fact the only options we have are solipsism or accepting the picture our sense data brings us. Critical Realism demands that I critically think and rethink about everything I know and assume without leaving me curled into a fetal position in some dark corner of my mind, convinced that everything outside of me is an illusion.







Jenson, Robert. The Triune Identity: God According to the Gospel. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press,        1982.

Lonergan, Bernard J. F. Method in Theology. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1971.

Meyer, Ben F. Critical Realism and the New Testament. Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 1989.

Placher, William. The Triune God: An Essay in Postliberal Theology. Louisville, KY: Westminster John   Knox Press, 2007.

Wright, N. T. Christian Origins and the Question of God, Volume 1: The New Testament and the People of God. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1992.


[1] William Placher, The Triune God: An Essay in Postliberal Theology, (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2007), 94.

[2] N. T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God, (Minneapolis, MN: Augsberg Fortress Press, 1992), 35; Wright adds an important distinction in a footnote “that the adjective ‘critical’ in the phrase ‘critical realism’ has a different function to the same adjective in the phrase ‘critical reason’. In the latter (as e.g. in Kant) it is active: ‘reason that provides a critique’. In the former it is passive: ‘realism subject to critique’.

[3] Wright, 32.

[4] Ben F. Meyer, Critical Realism and the New Testament, (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1989), 208.

[5]          Exodus 3:2-6; 13:17-22.

[6]          Isaiah 6:1-6; Ezekiel 11:1; Amos 9:1 (possibly).

[7]          Exodus 31:3; Numbers 24:1-3; 1 Samuel 10:10; 19:20-24.

[8]           The one exception that proves the rule is, of course, the baptism of Jesus by John.

[9] Meyer, 68.

[10]  Robert Jenson, The Triune Identity, (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2002), 161.

Chapter 3 (in progress)



The following will be a series of exegeses highlighting Paul’s use of the triune name. It will begin with the use of the triune name in salutation and benediction, where Paul seems to assume some sort of common understanding of the divine as triune (what that common understanding is must come later). In both of the salutations presented, the key will not be the explication of Paul’s understanding of this name, but the significance of his use of the name at all. This will of course necessitate examining Paul’s understanding of the names being used, but that will be secondary (at this point) to the fact that he uses the triune name as a proper name as though it were perfectly natural that he should do so, and with no explanation given.1

The study will then move into an examination of Paul’s use of the triune name in key teaching points, where again he presents the triune name as common knowledge, here in evidence of the main points. At this point, more so than previously, there will be a need to examine Paul’s understanding of the triune name, but this will arise naturally in the exegeses of the texts if my hypothesis is correct. It should be noted at this point (though it will certainly arise more naturally later) that the goal is not to find a fully-developed doctrine (or doctrines) of the Trinity in the Pauline corpus, but rather to track the evidence of trinitarianism in the earliest documents from the church.

I have purposefully opted out of attempting a study of every instance where Paul uses two parts of the divine name (usually God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ) solely because this work is an examination of early trinitarianism in the primal church.

The Trinitarian Name Invoked in Salutation

An Exegesis of 1 Thessalonians 1:2-5

This section begins with the exordium of 1 Thessalonians not for that passage’s profundity in the use of the triune name (in fact, the second passage we will examine gives a firmer example of the triune name as proper name), but because this epistle is widely regarded as the oldest writing in the New Testament (as early as AD 50)2 and already presents a picture of the development of trinitarianism (“in the Lord Jesus … in the presence of God the Father … in power and in the Holy Spirit” closely mirrors the realization mentioned in Chapter 1, that Jesus was and is YHWH, that he spoke of and to one he called “Father,” and that he promised to send a Paraclete who would lead and act among the community of believers), especially as a central doctrine of the Christian experience.

Structural Analysis

As with almost all of Paul’s epistles, 1 Thessalonians begins with a prescript introduction, then a standard exordium of thanksgiving or blessing. The majority of scholarship divides the exordium from the narratio at 1:10,3 though others would divide it at 1:44 and early form-critics at 3:13.5 A more natural division seems to fall in the middle of verse 5. Accepting a kaqwskai construction, the new beginning of the narratio becomes “As you know what sort we were among you for you, also you became imitators of us and the Lord…” Malbon comes close to this in her list of assertions of knowing followed by demonstrations of the knowing: “That the Thessalonians ‘know what kind of men’ Paul and his colleagues ‘proved to be’ (1:5) is demonstrated by the fact that the Thessalonians became ‘imitators of [them] and of the Lord’ (1:6) and ‘an example to the believers in Macedonia and Achaia’ (1:7).”6 This construction places 5b, in which the Apostle points to the Thessalonians’ knowledge of his activities and lifestyle, with a response to that knowledge, in which the Thessalonians use that knowledge to imitate Paul and his companions. Fee picks up on this theme as well, noting that “Parataxis … is unusual for Paul; in most cases it can be shown to be intentionally linking sentences that are coordinate in some way,” which he accomplishes in his initial translation by making 5b its own sentence, then in an abbreviated paragraph as a parenthetical.7 This leaves the exordium, the text which will be the focus of this exegesis, as 2-5a:

We give thanks to God always concerning all of you,

making mention (or making remembrance) in our prayers constantly,


your works of faith, and labors of love, and steadfastness of hope

in the Lord Jesus Christ,

in the presence of our God and Father,

knowing, brothers beloved by God, your election,

because our Gospel did not come to you in word alone, but also in power, and the Holy Spirit and full conviction.

Textual Analysis

The exordium is given as a single sentence, but more importantly, as a single idea formed from several thoughts, shown in three participial phrases.

“We give thanks to God always concerning all of you”

Eucaristoumen The main verb of this expression of thanksgiving is (predictably) “We give thanks,” the implied first-person plural subject of course pointing back to the introduction of the letter citing the authors as “Paul and Silas and Timothy.” Any further analysis of the sentence must come to rest ultimately on its effect on this verb. The main clause very simply explains to whom the thanks is given (tw Qew), how often (pantote), and for whom (peri pantwn umwn).

“Making mention in our prayers constantly”

Mneian poioumenoi The next clause begins the short series of adverbial participial clauses with a theme of remembrances, all pointing back to the main verb, explaining why Paul and his associates give thanks.8 The standard translation of this phrase is “making mention,” but I have included a parenthetical note in my translation of another valid, if more awkward, translation, “making remembrances,” because of the etymological similarities between mneian of this participial clause and the participle mnhmoneuontes of the next one.9

Adialeiptwj The proper position of this adverb is unclear based on grammar alone: it could just as easily describe the remembering of the following clause as the making mention of the preceding one, and in fact it would not make much difference to the sentence if it were describing both, though this is grammatically impossible. I chose to place this adverb with the preceding clause as it parallels the exaggerated sense of constancy in the first part of the sentence, “always concerning all of you.”10

“Remembering your works of faith, and labors of love, and steadfastness of hope in the Lord Jesus Christ, in the presence of our God and Father”

Mnhmoneuontej The second participle continues the theme of remembrance toward or about the Thessalonians.

Umwntou kuriou hmwn Ihsou Cristou Fee makes an important note of the inclusio formed of the second-person plural possessive pronoun and the phrase “in our Lord Jesus Christ,” stating that

the ‘your’ goes with each of the three nouns in the Christian triad, so also the final phrase may go with each of the three. If so, then not only is their ‘hope in our Lord, Jesus Christ,’ but also is their ‘work’ a product of their ‘faith in the Lord, Jesus Christ,” and their labor is prompted by their ‘love for Christ.’ While one cannot be certain here, it does fit the pattern of such inclusios that recur in these two letters.11

The three things being remembered under mnhmoneuontej should be included as the Thessalonians’ acts and as “in our Lord Jesus Christ.” This phrase brings in the first part of the triune name of God, the implications of which are examined below.

Tou ergou thj pistewj kai tou kopou thj agaphj kai thj upomonhj thj elpidoj The classic Christian triad of “faith, love, and hope” are presented for the first time in Christian writing, here placing “hope” in the prominent position (as opposed to the more well-known 1 Corinthians 13 construction of “faith, hope, and love”) as Lightfoot says, “in accordance with the pervading tenour of the Thessalonian Epistles, where the Apostle is ever leading the minds of his hearers forward to the great day of retribution.”12 But here, the importance is placed not on the virtues of faith, love, and hope, but on the actions those virtues engender.13 Lightfoot again argues for the “order of these results … in an ascending scale as practical proofs of self-sacrifice,” whereby he points to ergon as simply “work,” kopoj as “a greater exhibition of earnestness,” and upomonh as “suffering undergone without any present countervailing result.”14 Although these three results of the three virtues have a common thread, it would not be improper to also consider them as three separate activities, that is, works of faith as acts of service to the Gospel, labors of love towards ones neighbors, and patient hope that their lives are not given in vain.15

Emprosqen tou Qeou kai patruj hmwn In my initial reading, I considered placing this phrase with the next participle, thus “knowing in the presence of our God and Father …” but this construction immediately became unwieldy. The discussion on this phrase in most commentaries comes down to attaching it either to the participle or to the threefold results of the threefold virtues (or some variation thereof).16 I decided to leave it slightly vague, following the KJV with a comma after “Christ” solely because of the original word order. It seems perfectly clear that Paul and his colleagues are “remembering in the presence of God” everything which is inclusively mentioned, but there is no reason he is not also saying that their faith, love, and hope in Christ (and the actions those prompt) are “in the presence of God our Father.” This phrase brings in the second part of the triune name of God, the implications of which are examined below.

“Knowing, brothers beloved by God, your election, because our Gospel did not come to you in word alone, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit and full conviction”

eidotej adelphoi hgaphmenoi upo Qeou thn ekloghn umwn While this participle does not directly conjure a sense of remembrance, it is followed by Paul’s evidence of the Thessalonians election, which is given as a reminder, thus continuing the theme of remembrance in this thanksgiving. Paul’s usage of adelphoi to describe fellow Christians is well documented as a description of inclusion in the family of God and filial familiarity, but the addition of hgaphmenoi upo Qeou points towards the further content of this clause, that they are among the elect of God,17 giving a succinct description of Paul’s view of election, that it is based on God’s love, not on their own merit, and that for these Gentile believers, it is “a transfer of privilege to them as followers of the Jewish Messiah.”18

oti to euggelion hmwn ouk egenhqh eij umaj en logw monon alla kai en dunamei kai en pneumati agiw kai plhroforia pollh How one translates the initial oti of this phrase could speak to ones views on election. If it should be translated as an epexegetical “that,” then this phrase could just as easily have been left out without harming the sense of the text: “knowing of your election” stands quite nicely on its own. If, however, it should be translated as a casual “because,” then this phrase becomes Paul’s evidence of the Thessalonians’ election, and “because it was probably not the manner of the Thessalonians’ election that cause Paul to give thanks, but the fact of their election,”19 the flow of the thought would insist upon a causal translation.20

It is important to emphasize the contradistinction of this phrase’s “not only … but also” construction, or it may come across as a belittling of the word which brought the Gospel, which is obviously not Paul’s intention; rather, he uses it “for stress rather than contrast … He does not consider speech unimportant … But what is important for him here is how that preaching took place and what its effects were …”21 Clearly, this phrase calls to mind the proof of the Thessalonians’ election, that “our Gospel came not only in word, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit and full conviction.” Fee makes a valid case from the manuscript evidence that the additional en bracketed in Nestle-Aland is likely a later addition, the removal of which shifts this phrase from “a threefold accompanying reality (“with power, with the Holy Spirit, and with deep conviction,” NIV) … to a single reality where the second is a doublet that stands in apposition to “with power” (“with power [even] with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction,” TNIV).22

This phrase brings in the third part of the triune name of God, the implications of which are examined below.

Commentary on This Use of the Trinitarian Name

Paul’s thanksgiving in this exordium is centered on the godly lives of these believers. There is almost evidence for a chiasm here, with election being the central emphasis, and the works of faith, labors of love, and steadfastness of hope forming the first leg and the coming of the Gospel in power, the Holy Spirit and full conviction forming the second leg. While such a construction is unlikely from the grammar of the sentence, it is even more unlikely that Paul would divide the focus in such a way. This godly life for which Paul gives thanks does not focus around either works, or election, or the power of the Gospel, but rather around all three as active components of the Christian life.

For the purposes of this study, the triune experience here encapsulates the entire Christian life. It has been mentioned above that the three results of the three Christian virtues (“works of faith, and labors of love, and steadfastness of hope”) should be considered as flowing from “our Lord, Jesus Christ,” and that Paul mentions all of this (and just as likely, mentions it as happening) “in the presence of God our Father.” In remembering his preaching of the Gospel among them, he mentions that it came “in power, [that is] in the Holy Spirit and full conviction.” This portrait of experiencing the works of faith[fulness] to Christ by the preaching of his Gospel, in the presence of God the Father, with the power of the Holy Spirit, perfectly mirrors the story of Pentecost, when those who experienced Jesus firsthand (and his teaching about, praying to, and living in the presence of the one he called Father) were filled by the Holy Spirit, which is then followed by the spread to the Gentiles in the same fashion Paul expresses here. Every account of the spread of the Gospel, including this look back on the lives of the Thessalonians, follows this same pattern of kerygmatic preaching of the Gospel of Jesus as the Son of God the Father with the power of the Holy Spirit.

The note which rings most intriguing at this juncture is that Paul, a Pharisee, and his associates, Jews, wrote of a common experience of God with the Thessalonians, mostly Gentiles,23 which placed this entire experience of God in the context of Jesus, the one he called “Father,” and the Holy Spirit, and this level of development occurring within twenty years of the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. Luke’s Acts of the Apostles tells the story of how the Gospel came to the Gentiles, but the thread of the trinitarian experience runs throughout the tale. While this does not amount to anything like the trinitarian discourse of later centuries, that should not be expected. Later exploration of the triune divinity would of necessity have to start somewhere, and it is the goal of this study to show that the new horizon of trinitarianism organically arose in salvation history during the earliest moments of the Christian church.

Another key point in understanding Paul’s use of the triune name here arises when looking at the exordium in relation to the occasion and overall theme of the epistle. As Fee points out, throughout the letter Paul reminds the Thessalonians of things they already know, including two instances wherein he claims no need to write, and so “the ‘why’ question simply must be dealt with, especially sine Timothy has returned with what appears to have been an essentially good report about them.”24 While Fee gives a succinct set of answers to this question, I find the rhetorical analysis of Witherington much more fruitful. Witherington cites this as “epideictic rhetoric … the rhetoric of display and demonstration, the rhetoric of praise and blame.” The exoridum, as has been examined, leads smoothly into “the pedagogical tone of the letter and its deep warm emotion … precisely what we would expect in a piece of epideictic oratory meant to help people remember, understand, and learn.” Compared to other letters wherein Paul combats heresy, defends his authority, and corrects error (especially the Corinthian corpus, see below), 1 Thessalonians “is a progress-oriented letter of encouragement, not a problem-solving letter.”25

This letter of praise, which only briefly ceases its praise of the Thessalonians’ godly lives to clarify a few points of doctrine and to exhort them to continue in the praise-worthy lives they have exhibited, begins with a thanksgiving for the Christian experience in the triune God. Paul uses the triune name to expound the example of godliness portrayed by the Thessalonians in their time of trial.

An Exegesis of 2 Corinthians 13:11-14

This second section will focus on the hortatory benediction of 2 Corinthians, primarily focusing on the last sentence, in which Paul uses the entire triune name all together and with full equality among the three. Before delving into this text itself, the connection between this instance of the triune name and the previously examined text should be recognized, that is, the order of the names. In the salutation of 1 Thessalonians 1, Paul uses the triune name as a “chronological” scaffolding of the Christian experience, faith in Christ, in the presence of the Father, in the power of the Spirit; in the benediction of 2 Corinthians, the same order is maintained, the grace of the Lord Jesus [Christ], the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. Though the order is the same, the impact is as different as the theme and purpose of the Thessalonian and Corinthian correspondences.

Contextual Considerations

Though this small selection comes at the end of a vast correspondence, it encapsulates a sense of loving urgency following what could easily have been viewed as an ultimatum by his primary audience but was clearly intended as a passionate plea for repentance.

As a farewell salutation at the end of such harsh rhetoric, 2 Corinthians 13:13 uses the trinitarian name to remind the Corinthians of those key benefits of a godly life, grace, love, and fellowship, which their infractions have marred, but which and through which he hopes to bring them back into the fold, preferably before he is able to visit them again so that visit may be a pleasant one.

The Trinitarian Name Invoked in Teaching

An Exegesis of Galatians 4:1-6

This section will examine the use of the trinitarian name in the pedagogue analogy of Galatians 4, in which Paul uses a common social and legal practice from the Greco-Roman world and the familial connotations of the trinitarian name to explain how Christians become involved in the family of God, the salvation-history of God’s people, and the inheritance of God’s kingdom.

Contextual Considerations

The Epistle to the Galatians may be the single most vitriolic of all of Paul’s writing; indeed, it can only be rivaled by the entirety of the Corinthian corpus, both of the extant epistles and any lost letters inclusively. That series of correspondence at least began with the customary exordium after the prescript introduction, absent in this epistle.26 In fact, the only acknowledgment of anything positive regarding the audience in the introduction to this epistle is in Paul’s use of the first-person plural pronoun in the formal “grace to you and peace from God our father” and the subsequent reminder of Jesus Christ “giving himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from the present, wicked age.” From this passive-aggressive reminder that the grace of God has been poured out in the sacrifice of Christ, Paul switches to the aggressively sarcastic (the Galatians might have hoped) Qaumazw o[ti ou[twj tacewj metatiqesqe, “I marvel in how quickly you have fallen away…” This rough introduction to the crisis in Galatia and to the unidentified “agitators”27 paints a very clear picture of how seriously Paul views this problem. The agitators did not, in Paul’s mind, raise a simple dispute of some mere rules for living; rather, they brought such perversion to the gospel of Christ as to make it a different ‘gospel’ altogether, an action which Paul directly curses: ei tij u`maj euaggelizetai par+ o[ parelabete, anaqema estw.

From this, he leads into a defense not only of himself and his career, but more importantly of the gospel he has preached. Beginning with the revelation of Jesus on the road to Damascus, Paul tells the story of how he spread the gospel to the Gentile world, emphasizing throughout that this commission came from God and not from men.28 This story comes to its head and the segue into the main part of the argument of the letter in 2:11, where Paul describes a story of confrontation with Cephas while in Antioch for feasting with the Gentiles until a messenger from Jerusalem arrived, at which Peter began to shun his Gentile brothers, prompting Paul to condemn him, saying, “If you, being Jewish, live like a Gentile and not as a Jew, how do you force the Gentile to be Jewish?” This story leads directly into Paul’s refutation of the agitators’ message and explication of the power of the gospel which the law never had, that is, “if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law … the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith” (3:21, 24). The promise given to Abraham is now the inheritance of Christ, “and if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (3:29). The passage which this section seeks to examine is a legal analogy explaining this point further, using the triune name in a functional description of the Christian’s experience of becoming part of God’s family. Here, at last, we will find evidence pointing to the pattern by which early trinitarianism formed from Second-Temple Judaism through the story of Jesus.

Structural Analysis

But I am saying,

as long as the heir is a minor,

he does not differ from a slave, though lord of all,

but he is under guardians and stewards

until the day appointed by the father.

Thus also we, when we were minors,

under the elements of the world we were enslaved;

but when the completion of the time came,

God sent forth his son,

being born of a woman,

being born under law,

so that those under law may be redeemed,

so that they may receive the adoption.

Now because you are sons,

God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts crying, “Abba, Father.”

Therefore, no longer are you a slave but a son;

and if a son, also an heir through God.

Textual Analysis

This legal analogy draws out Paul’s previous point in 3:29 that those in Christ are heirs of the promise to Abraham, the Gospel. Paul first presents the metaphor, then applies it to the Gospel, and ends with the conclusion that this metaphor indicates the same aforementioned point.

But I am saying”

Legw de Literally, “but I say,” the context presents a shifting from one way of saying something to another, such as shifting from direct speech to metaphor, as in this case. A more natural interpretation might be “Let me put it this way,” so Bruce,29 or “My point is this,” so Dunn, a seductive phrasing because it brings the discussion of Christ being the “true seed of Abraham” back to the discussion of the Law.30

as long as the heir is a minor,”

ef+ o[san cronon o` klhponomoj nhpioj estin This metaphor shifts around the “times” or “seasons” in an heir’s life, namely, that time when he is a minor, and so under Roman law unable to own property, and his time of majority.

he does not differ from a slave, though lord of all,”

ouden diaferei doulou kurioj pantwn w;n It is noteworthy that while some commentators find too many variables to state conclusively whether Paul is drawing from Hellenistic or Roman law,31 Dunn approaches this metaphor from a purely Roman perspective: “The contrast may seem to modern ears overdrawn, but Paul was no doubt thinking of the patria potestas in Roman law, the absolute power which the head of the family exercised over his household.”32 Paul makes a strong point based off of this comparison between the helplessness of a minor heir and a slave later in the chapter, especially when he brings the language of “heir” and “slave” into the context of the children of Hagar and Sarah.

but he is under guardians and stewards until the day appointed by the father”

alla u`po epitropouj estin kai oikonomouj a;rci thj proqsmiaj tou patroj The legal terms used here clearly stem from and point back to the pedagogue metaphor of 3:24, and Paul may have been using both words to mean something like “stewards and trustees,” though an examination of the words gives a bit more depth to the concept. An epitropouj was appointed by the heir’s father to take over legal guardianship of the minor should the father die until a time appointed by the father (or at a customary age of twenty-four) when the heir would come into his inheritance; an oikonomouj would generally be a slave put in charge of an estate’s daily activities.33 Based on the metaphor’s referent, the Law, and Paul’s temporal limitation, we should be safe in accepting a certain level of exactitude in Paul’s choice of words here: the law is temporary in its authority, “until the day appointed by the father,” and is charged with the way in which the people of God were to live; but again, both of these statements are true of the pedagogue’s role toward his charge, the original metaphor to which these words point.

Thus also we, when we were minors”

ou[twj kai h`meis, o[te h=men nhprioi A question is raised as to whom Paul refers by “we” in this sentence. Is the following a discussion of Paul’s Jewish heritage before the coming of Messiah, or is this a description of all humanity? Grammatically, it certainly seems to be a shift from the second-person of the bulk of the letter to a first-person plural which Paul already used to describe his fellow Jews (cf. 2:15-16; 3:13-14, 23-25),34 but the following phrase involving the “elements of the world” might seem to place an emphasis on all of humankind.35 Although Dunn points out that “Paul had already made the link, child = slave, so that he could move from the thought of ‘childhood’ (most appropriate for his fellow Jews) to the thought of enslavement (most appropriate for Gentiles),”36 I find the former argument the more persuasive, especially since this explains the emphatic double-use of the first-person plural pronoun, maintains a focus on law, and fits with the following phrase describing the circumstances of Jesus’ humanity as “being born under law, so that those under law may be redeemed,” which only makes sense if it refers to the Jews already under law. When in verses 8-10 Paul refers to the Galatians’ falling under the law as returning again to their former enslavement, he does so with a withering contempt for the power of the law, especially coming from a former Pharisee, by comparing the law under which the Jews lived with the paganism under which the Galatians formerly lived and by naming both as stoiceia [tou kosmou], but this comparison only holds up if the subject of verse 3 are Paul’s fellow Jews.37

under the elements of the world we were enslaved;”

u`po ta stoiceia tou kosmou h’meqa dedoulwmenoi As noted above, this phrase has caused a good deal of debate among scholars as to Paul’s meaning and purpose in using this phrase. The trouble stems not from the use of stoiceia, which can mean anything from the hour marks on a sundial to the (more likely here) preliminary lessons for children, but from Paul’s addition of tou kosmou. Longenecker would have this addition take an ethical sense “to mean ‘worldly’ with its synonym being ‘fleshly,’ as opposed to ‘spiritual.’”38 This dualistic approach should be avoided both because it forces a pseudo-Gnosticism on Paul but also because it misses the entire point of Paul’s comparison of law and paganism. Adams presents a much better treatment of the phrase by comparing its with that of 6:14-15.39 Adams connects these two usages of the phrase, showing that

Paul argues as follows, firstly, his readers were previously enslaved to ta stoiceia tou kosmou … Secondly, they had been released from that enslavement … Thirdly, being under ta stoiceia tou kosmou is equivalent to being under the Jewish religion … Fourthly, in placing themselves under the law his readers were in process of returning to their former enslavement to the stoiceia.

This understanding of the phrase fits with the overarching theme of chapters 3 and 4, “the one God who reconciles humanity as one (Jew) and other (Gentiles) into a new oneness as children of God …” as Kahl so succinctly states.40 So we can see that in this first instance, we must “observe that the law ranks as one of the stoiceia41 for the logic of the whole passage to cohere.

but when the completion of the time came,”

o[te de h=lqen to plhrwma tou cronou Little need be said here, but to point to the obvious parallel of what follows to the proqsmiaj tou patroj described in verse 2. The “fullness of time” or “completion of the appointed time” means that “the nodal point of salvation-history, marked by the coming of Christ … constitutes the divinely ordained epoch for the people of God to enter into their inheritance as his mature and responsible sons and daughters.”42 This is where the pedagogue metaphor rounds out; it was not enough to describe the law as a guardian without explaining why that guardianship is now over.

God sent forth his son,”

exapesteilen o` Qeoj ton ui`on autou Here we have the paternally-mandated shift from pedagogue’s rule to the heir’s maturity: the first heir appears so that all others may receive adoption and share in his inheritance, as the following chiasm explains. This also raises the question of the Son’s pre-existence, but that will be discussed below, in verse.

being born of a woman … so that they may receive the adoption”

genomenon ek gunaikoj i[na thn ui`oqesian apolabwmen The A and A’ phrases of this chiasm present two forms of sonship: one by natural birth, the other by legal adoption. Lightfoot noted that this is not an arbitrary construction, but “the inversion arises out of the necessary sequence. The abolition of the law, the rescue from bondage, was a prior condition of the universal sonship of the faithful.”43 Lightfoot’s phrasing “The Son of God was born a man” assumes the generally accepted use of “born of a woman” as a basic Hebraic description of humanity. Schreiner notes that this should not be viewed as an allusion to the virgin birth.44

being born under law, so that those under law may be redeemed”

genomenon u`po nomon i[na touj u`po nomon exagorash| The included clauses highlight the purpose of the sending of the Son in this passage: the abolition of the law’s patronage. This highlights Jesus’ first-born heir status, that he was born under the law and was the first to move beyond the need of the law’s pedagogy.

Now because you are sons,”

{Oti de este ui`oi There are two notes of interest here, one syntactical and one grammatical, which must be handled separately. The first involves the translation of {Oti de rendered either “now because” or “now in that,” depending on how the translator chooses to interpret this phrase. Dunn acknowledges that the former is more natural, but chooses the latter on the basis that “it is most unlikely that Paul wished to suggest that the Spirit was a gift consequent and subsequent upon their being made sons.”45 Bruce makes the concession that the latter is more in keeping with Paul’s teaching, but chooses the former based on the correct argument that the syntax “because you are sons, God sent his Spirit” does not preclude the reverse, “because God sent his Spirit, you are sons,” so there is no reason to stretch the phrase into an unnatural translation.46

The second involves Paul’s use of este here and kardiaj h`mwn in the next phrase, a switch in person which Dunn assumes to be either unconscious on Paul’s part or unavoidable in order to keep the theme of inclusion and commonality between himself and his audience. Bruce notes that the expectation of a second-person pronoun in the second clause has caused wide attestation of a variant reading, but again that the first-person is required to continue the inclusivity. 47

God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts crying, “Abba, Father.”

exapesteilen o` Qeoj to pneuma tou ui`ou autou eij taj kardiaj h`mwn krazon abba o` pathr Here at last we have the full triune name in this passage. The first point which tends to come up is the “redefinition of the Spirit” from the Second-Temple Jewish understanding to the Spirit of Christ, or to use the language of critical-realism, the shift from the horizon wherein the ru’ach ‘elohim spoke and acted by select members of the people of God when necessary, through the world-changing encounter with Jesus and the Spirit, and into the horizon wherein the Spirit of God is the Spirit of Christ, each pointing to the other. As Dunn puts it, “at a stroke [this redefinition] linked the whole sense of transcendent power … to the historical figure of Jesus the Christ. And not only linked it to, but defined it by reference to this Jesus … that is to say, the character of Jesus’ sonship provided the parameters of the experiences which could be attributed to the Spirit.”48

Another point which arises first in verse 4, does the parallel between “God sent his Son” and “God sent the Spirit of his Son” necessitate the pre-existence of the Son with the Spirit? In fact, what does this parallel say about Jesus and the Spirit in Paul’s thought? In Hebraic poetics, the use of a parallel such as this almost always points at an equality between the two clauses. From this, we can extrapolate at least the possibility that Paul set Christ and the Spirit on the same level. Thus, Fee writes,

At issue in the present case, then, is not what the verb could mean but what Paul himself was presupposing and that the Galatians were expected to pick up by its use in these two sentences … It is this double sending, where in the second instance God’s sending for the Spirit of his Son can only refer the preexistent Spirit of God, no understood equally as the Spirit of the Son, that makes certain that in the first instance Paul is also speaking presuppositionally about Christ’s preexistence.49

However, this raises yet another question: does the phrase “Spirit of his Son” necessitate an identification of the ruach ‘elohim of the Old Testament, who spoke through the prophets, and the pneuma hagia, who enacted the charismatic gifts experienced by the church? Though more study into this single phrase may prove fruitful, only a cursory examination will be done here precisely because of the first note which must be made, that this is the only place in the Pauline corpus where the phrase “Spirit of [God’s] Son” occurs. To be sure, similar phrasings appear throughout the corpus,50 but even in this verse’s parallel, Romans 8, there an obvious differentiation between the use of the phrase “Spirit of Christ,” verse 9, and “spirit of sonship,” verse 15, where the former is in parallel with the immediately preceding phrase “Spirit of God” and the latter is in parallel with the immediately preceding phrase “spirit of slavery,” though even these pairings set the “spirit of sonship” and the “Spirit of Christ” as near-synonyms, whereby each is declaring Christ’s lordship over those who have the Spirit. Because this phrase is singular in Paul’s writing, one must choose from a number of options: either in this one instance out of all of Paul’s writing, he makes a reference to the spirit of Christ apart from the Spirit of God, or this phrase is similar in Paul’s thought to the Romans 8 parallel, which takes on the meaning of “the spirit of Christ who is God’s Son” and “the Spirit who witnesses and testifies the sonship of adoption.” Comfort rightly points out that this verse does not emphasis the Spirit of God, but rather the action of “the Spirit of God … crying out.”51 This phrase sits in the context of a metaphor of sonship and adoption; of course Paul used a singular phrase emphasizing the Spirit of the Son of God! The rhetorical power of using the word “son” once more in this passage to further emphasis that God has not only sent his Son, but also sent his Spirit to witness and enact our own sonship, far out-paces the likelihood of a sudden, unprecedented, and un-Pauline expression of the spirit of Christ apart from the Spirit of God.

Commentary on This Use of the Trinitarian Name

Whereas the previous chapter demonstrated the ease with which Paul used the trinitarian name in addressing his audience with the content of the message being a secondary focus, this and following exegeses start with the focus of Paul’s message and show how he used the common framework of early trinitarianism to emphasis his point. In this extended metaphor, Paul uses the familial language of Father and Son to discredit the former agitators’ insistence on direct, physical lineage with Abraham and the Mosaic law for entrance into the Christian church and validation of the Christian’s experience. This entire reactionary epistle insists that the common experience of the Spirit of Christ, God’s Son, is all the validation a Christian needs of his participation in the salvific, Messianic activity of God, and that any attempts to gain further validation, especially by falling back on the old law, is a blasphemous denial of the proof of the Spirit.

In the textual analysis, I drew out the parallel between verses 4 and 6 wherein Paul describes God sending his Son to redeem for himself adopted sons and God sending the Spirit of his Son to validate and enact that adoption. This key parallel places the Christ on equal footing with the preexistent Spirit of God, and brings them both into the sphere of direct divine activity in the world which makes them on level with God, as Wood contends regarding the Spirit, “[the early church] drew no fine-spun distinctions between God acting and the activity of God … quite as certainly the difference drawn in modern theology between the Spirit as God and the Spirit as the influence of God would have been meaningless to the early church.”52 If God acting and the activity of God in the Spirit were not distinguished (or, to use Rahner’s phrasing, the immanent is the economical, and vice versa), and if Paul’s rhetoric places the the Spirit and the Son on an equal level, then a logical conclusion is that Paul’s horizon of theological consideration included an early trinitarianism wherein the Spirit enacts and witness the Father’s adoption of Christians through his Son, and all of this being the activity of the same, singular God who promised Abraham children as numerous as the stars. At last, through the single activity of the triune God (and/or the triune activity of the single God, depending on how far down that particular rabbit-hole one wishes to fall), Abraham’s children could bless the world.

An Exegesis of 1 Corinthians 12:1-6


But concerning the spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant. You know that when you were pagans (ethnh) you were by dumb idols, [as you were lead,] being lead astray. Therefore, I make known to you that nothing in the Spirit of God speaking says, “Anathema Jesus,” and nothing is able to say, “Jesus is Lord,” if not in the Holy Spirit.

Now varieties of gifts there are, but the same Spirit;

and varieties of service there are, but the same Lord;

and varieties of activities, but the same God,

the one working all in everything.

Either verse 2 doesn’t fit, or a greater examination of the connection between “dumb idols” and “speaking in the Spirit of God” needs be done. The leadership of idols who can’t speak contrasts with the leadership of the Spirit in whom we cry “Jesus is Lord.” Feels like a stretch.

The initiation into the work of the Lord by the Spirit of God is requisite on the activities of the Triune God (I’ve tried to examine this in the three parts, but find it quite impossible). The commonality of the three following clauses (varieties of… the same…) should certainly include the idea of a common Spirit giving gifts, the same Lord leading in service, and the same God empowering all, but the Hebraic poetic parallelism of these three makes it quite obvious that the common thread is not only that all Christians experience the same Spirit, Lord, and God, but that these three are one!

What else could it be? Let us examine other possibilities:

  1. Paul is being rhetorical to show commonality among all Christians. If the point of this discourse is the common Spirit active in the common life of Christians, why bring up the other two? Is there evidence of such parallelism in Hellenic rhetoric and, if so, does it point to something that such parallelism in Hebraic poetics would not? I’m sure Witherington will have something interesting to say on the topic.

  2. Paul is presenting a hierarchy. This relies on Hellenic theology, for the Spirit causes initiation into the divine economy (as per verse 2) and God empowers the divine economy (as per verse 6), which could point to a series of mediators. But again, this requires Paul to be incredibly Greek. Also, further reading in the chapter demolishes this train of thought (cf. verse 11 “All these are empowered by the same Spirit …”). See also, my separation of the clauses, so that “the one working all in everything” applies to the entire triune name.

  3. “Jesus is Anathema” and “Jesus is Lord” were a type of political slogan, with Paul’s opponents on the first and Paul on the other. This is an actual condemnation of certain people Paul has in mind, but what does that have to do with the question at hand? Maybe Paul really did have opponents who actually said “Jesus is Anathema,” (consideration: does this connect to the above quandary with verse 2?)

An Exegesis of Romans 8:11-17


Now if the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead lives among you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will enliven also your mortal flesh through his indwelt Spirit among you. So, therefore, brothers, debtors we are not to the flesh of the life according to the flesh, for if according to flesh you lived, you are about to die; but if by the Spirit the practices of the flesh you put to death, you will live. For as many as by the Spirit of God are lead, these sons of God are. Now did not receive a spirit of slavery again into fear but you received a spirit of adoption in which we cry, “Abba! Father!” This same Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, also heirs: heirs both of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer together so that we may be glorified together.

1E.g. Regarding the mention of God the Father in 1 Thessalonians 1:2-3, “The ease with which this is said here indicates that such talk about God has long been in place and has likewise been part of Paul’s instruction of these early Gentile believers.” Gordon D. Fee, The First and Second Letters to the Thessalonians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2009), 22.

2Cf. Raymond F. Collins, The Birth of the New Testament: The Origin and Development of the First Christian Generation (New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1993); Collins, “The First Letter to the Thessalonians,” in The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, eds. Brown, Raymond E., Fitzmyer, Joseph A., et al (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1990); F. F. Bruce, 1 &2 Thessalonians (Waco, TX: Word Press, 1983).

3Bruce, 9-22; Earl J. Richard, First and Second Thessalonians (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1995), 45-77; Charles Wanamaker, The Epistles to the Thessalonians: A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids, MN: Eerdmans Publishing, 1990), 72-90.

4Leon Morris, The First and Second Epistles to the Thessalonians (Grand Rapids, MN: Eerdmans Publishing, 1991), 39-44.

5Paul Schubert, Form and Function ( ), 17-27.

6Elizabeth Struthers Malbon, “’No Need to Have Any One Write’?: A Structural Exegesis of 1 Thessalonians,” in Semeia vol. 26 ed. Daniel Patte (Chico, CA: Scholars Press, 1983), 59.

7Fee, 37.

8Gene L. Green, The Letters to the Thessalonians, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Cambridge: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2002), 91.

9Cf. Richard, 46: “It is possible to render the phrase mneian poieo, according to its root meaning, as ‘remember’ but classical and epistolary usage requires the sense ‘mention’ … The latter is further indicated since the related verb mnemoneuo appears in the following verse.”

10So also Fee, 20-21; Green, 86-87; Wanamaker, 74. Contra Bruce, 10-11; Robert L. Thomas, “1 Thessalonians,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol. 11, eds. Gaebelein, Frank E. et al (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1980), 242.

11 Fee, 22-23.

12J. B. Lightfoot, Notes on the Epistles of St. Paul (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1957), 10-11.

13“The emphasis here is on work for good reason.” Ben Witherington, 1 and 2 Thessalonians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MN: Eerdmans Publishing, 2006) 59; cf. Malherbe, 108-109.


15Cf. especially Fee, 22-26.

16The only commentators I find who do not concede this phrase to the participle are Bruce, 12-13 (though Wanamaker points out that Bruce contradicts himself on this point in his discussion of 3:9), Richard, 47 (who seems to follow Bruce), and Witherington, 59 (who picks up on a possibility which Fee rejects, that it is “a visual reminder that Christ is in the very presence of God…”).

17Especially, Richard, 47.

18Fee, 30.

19Wanamaker, 78.

20Fee, 31-33; Green, 94; Thomas, 244; Wanamaker, 78; contra Lightfoot, ; Malherbe, 110. Bruce notes both possibilities, but does not offer one over the other.

21Malherbe, 112.

22Fee, 33.

23Bruce, xxiii: “The church of Thessalonica was thus established, comprising a majority of former pagans.”

24Fee, 7-8.

25Witherington, 21-22.

26It is also noteworthy that Galatians joins 2 Corinthians and the Thessalonian correspondence as the only critically-acknowledged Pauline epistles with prescript introductions that add no positive description of the audience, especially the word a`gioi (Cf. Rom. 1:7; 1 Cor. 1:2; Eph. 1:1; etc.); in the letters to the Thessalonians, this may be explained by the early date of the letters and thus Paul’s inexperience writing epistles which would eventually become part of the canon of one of the world’s largest religions (a speculative, though if true, excusable failing on his part), but for 2 Corinthians and Galatians, it seems rather pointed as he puts those churches on the defensive rather quickly.

27For discussion of attempts to identify the agitators, cf. especially Frank J. Matera, Galatians, Sacra Pagina Series, vol. 9, Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1992, 2-6.

28 E.g. “the gospel that was preached by me was not man’s gospel … but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ,” 1:11-2; “but when he who had set me apart … was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles … I did not immediately consult with anyone; nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me,” 1:15-17; “I went up because of a revelation and set before them … the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles,” 2:2; “those who seemed influential added nothing to me. On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the Uncircumcised … for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the Circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles,” 2:6-8.

29F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Galatians: A Commentary on the Greek Text, The New International Greek Testament Commentary, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company.

30James D. G. Dunn, The Epistle to the Galatians. London: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc.

31“It is uncertain what legal system Paul had in mind – whether Roman, Greek, Semitic, or some type of Geco-Roman-Seleucid hybrid used in the province of Phrygia …” Richard N. Longenecker, Galatians, vol. 41 of Word Biblical Commentary, Dallas, TX: Word Books, 161; in discussing the earlier metaphor of the Pedagogue, which inspired this analogy, Young writes, “By Paul’s day, this originally Attic custom was still widely employed; not only by the Greeks, but also by the Romans. Indeed a pedagogue may even have been used by well-to-do Jews …” Norman H. Young, “Paidagogos: the Social Setting of a Pauline Metaphor” in Novum Testamentum Vol. 29, Fasc. 2, 150.

32Dunn, 210, emphasis mine.

33Dunn, 211; Longenecker, 162-164, Matera, 148-149; Young, 174-175.

34Longenecker, 164.

35Dunn calls for a purposed ambiguity in order to use this passage in clarifying 4:8-10, but the connection between these two shows similarity by contrast: “we Jews were under the law just like you Gentiles were under the false gods, but now we are all free in Christ,” 213; see also, J. B. Lightfoot, The Epistle of St. Paul to the Galatians, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 166-167.

36Dunn, 212.

37Cf. especially, Reicke, Bo, “The Law and This World according to Paul: Some Thoughts concerning Gal 4:1-11,” JBL 70, 259-276.

38Longenecker, 166.

39Adams, Edward, Constructing the World: A Study in Paul’s Cosmological Language, Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 229; cf. Perkins

40Kahl, Brigitte, Galatians Re-Imagined: Reading with the eyes of the Vanquished, Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 281.

41Bruce, 194.


43Lightfoot, 168.

44Schreiner, Thomas, Galatians, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 270.

45Dunn, 219.

46Bruce, 198.

47Ibid.; Dunn, 220.


49Gordon D. Fee, Pauline Christology: An Exegetical-Theological Study, Peabody, MS: Hendricks Publishing, 214-215.

50Cf. Romans 8:9, “spirit of Christ,” 15, “spirit of sonship”; 2 Corinthians 3:17, “spirit of the Lord”; Philippians 1:19, “spirit of Jesus Christ.”

51Earl Vaughn Comfort, Jr. The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit in the Epistle to the Galatians. A Thesis Presented to the Faculty of the Department of Theology, Dallas Theological Seminary, May 1956, 25.

52 Irving F. Wood, The Spirit of God in Biblical Literature London: Hodder & Stoughton, 194.



The Christian experiences God as the Trinity. Whether he belongs to a tradition which explicitly implicates the Trinity in its liturgy or to one which briefly invokes the triune name occasionally but rarely teaches the doctrine for fear it will confuse the parishioners, the Christian’s actual experience of God invokes the full Trinity. Those who do not teach the names of the Person*being experienced do a disservice to their pupils, for this triune experience of God has been the defining characteristic of Christianity from its inception.

My current work will show, starting with the earliest Christian documents and working through the end of the first-century, that the triune experience of God by the primal Church not only defined the first and subsequent generations of believers, but created them as such and caused them to form and reform their theology around the triune experience. As they encountered the triune God, these first believers shifted their worldview to fit the new evidence about God and, using the identifications given to them, either from their previous understandings (as in the case of “Christ” and “Spirit of Holiness”) or from their direct contact with this God (as in the case of “Father” and “Son of God”), they named God according to his self-revelation, “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” the same name we teach and invoke in our churches today.

Why Biblical Studies?

As I read various treatises on trinitarian studies, among the histories of the Apologists finding in the Trinity a Hellenic mediator, the pre-Nicean controversies, the Cappadocian clarifications and philosophical subtleties, and the Western church’s bungling of the Greek ideas, a question often pops into my head: Why am I approaching the doctrine of the Trinity from a biblical studies standpoint? Most of the work that has been done on the biblical side of trinitarianism is a review of the work previously done by the aforementioned theologians, and that review is usually done either as a segue to or as a part of a discussion on the aforementioned theologians. I find this unsatisfactory. Why should we not turn the extensive growth of biblical interpretation towards this primal theological question?

As it stands, we most often speak of the Trinity either as a product of the controversy which was born of the collision of Hellenic theology with the Hebrew YHWH or in the language of the resolutions to that controversy. If, however, the Bible is the record of the people who struggle with (and against) YHWH, and if the encounters with that God described therein were the bases of our faith’s theological reckonings, and if we claim to be both adherents to orthodox trinitarianism and to a biblically-based and sound theology, then we must be willing to go back to the Bible and find the evidence of those encounters which first led Christians to call upon the Triune name of God. If we can do so while setting aside post-Nicean, post-Cappadocian, and post-Augustinian preconceptions, then we stand a better chance of finding the original starting point of the discussion of the trinitarian question. Unfortunately, we have learned from post-modernism that preconceptions will always be present, making this a moot point.

Which brings us back to the question: why biblical studies for a theological problem? The simple answer is that the Bible is the source of Christian theological discussion, thus anyone who would take up the task of trinitarian studies must first be a student of the Bible, then of ecclesiastic history, and finally of the philosophies which tie the two together and which bring them into our contemporary discussion. It is a long road which the responsible scholar of theology takes, and this study in the biblical development of the doctrine of the Trinity is but an early step on that road.

* I intend to be bullishly vague in my usage of this word. I mean both the person we call “God” in our monotheism and the “persons” of the Trinity as we encounter them.