Readings from Church History on the Trinity

Readings from Church History on the Trinity by Jack Kettler

In this study, we will seek to understand the Trinity through the statements of church fathers, and theologians throughout history. There will be numerous quotations along with recognized creedal and catechisms cited.

“The doctrine of the Trinity wasn’t invented – it was uncovered. The doctrine of the Trinity is not some arbitrary and outdated dictate handed down by some confused council – it is the inevitable result of wrestling with the richness and complexity of the Christian experience of God.” – Alister McGrath

“I cannot think on the one without quickly being encircled by the splendor of the three; nor can I discern the three without being straightway carried back to the one.” – Gregory of Nazianzus

“Trinity is the Christian name for God.” – Karl Barth

Modalism (i.e. Sabellianism, Noetianism, Patripassianism and Monarchianism)

Modalism                                                                                                                                    Teaches that the three persons of the Trinity as different “modes” of the Godhead. Adherents believed that Father, Son and Holy Spirit are not distinct personalities, but different modes of God’s self-revelation. A typical modalist approach is to regard God as the Father in creation, the Son in redemption, and the Spirit in sanctification. In other words, God exists as Father, Son and Spirit in different eras, but never as triune. Stemming from Modalism, Patripassianism believed that the Father suffered as the Son.

Teaches that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit as three independent divine beings; three separate gods who share the ‘same substance’. This is a common mistake because of misunderstanding of the use of the term ‘persons’ in defining the Trinity.Arianism
Teaches that the preexistent Christ was the first and greatest of God’s creatures but denied his fully divine status. The Arian controversy was of major importance in the development of Christology during the fourth century and was addressed definitely in the Nicene Creed.

Teaches that Jesus Christ as a purely divine being who only had the “appearance” of being human. Regarding his suffering, some versions taught that Jesus’ divinity abandoned or left him upon the cross while other claimed that he only appeared to suffer (much like he only appeared to be human).

Teaches that while Jesus was endowed with particular charismatic gifts, which distinguished him from other humans but nonetheless regarded Him as a purely human figure.

Teaches that that the Holy Spirit is a created being.

Teaches that Jesus was born completely human and only later was “adopted” – either at his baptism or at his resurrection – by God in a special (i.e. divine) way.

Teaches that Father, Son and Holy Spirit together are components of the one God. This led them to believe that each of the persons of the Trinity is only part God, only becoming fully God when they come together.

Teaches that the one true God exists as two Persons (the Father and the Son).

A short list of terms debated during the Trinitarian Church Counsels:

Hypostasis: Greek word is interpreted “person,” “substance,” “subsistence”

Ousia: essence/being/substance

Essence: Greek ousia, being; Latin substantia, substance

Perichoresis: members of the Trinity are mutually involved in personal and dynamic ways

Homoousios: Greek word is rendered “of one and the same substance or being”

Filioque: Latin word meaning “and from the Son”

Procession: Greek ekporeuomai, John 15:26; Latin processio, “to emanate from another”

Begotten: the eternal generation of the Son

Early Church leaders Eastern

Athanasius, AD 325 – 370
1. We believe in one Unbegotten God, Father Almighty, maker of all things both visible and invisible that hath His being from Himself. And in one Only-begotten Word, Wisdom, Son, begotten of the Father without beginning and eternally; word not pronounced nor mental, nor an effluence of the Perfect, nor a dividing of the impassible Essence, nor an issue; but absolutely perfect Son, living and powerful (Heb. iv. 12), the true Image of the Father, equal in honour and glory. For this, he says, ‘is the will of the Father, that as they honour the Father, so they may honour the Son also’ (Joh. v. 23): very God of very God, as John says in his general Epistles, ‘And we are in Him that is true, even in His Son Jesus Christ: this is the true God and everlasting life’ (1 John v. 20): Almighty of Almighty. For all things, which the Father rules and sways, the Son rules and sways likewise: wholly from the Whole, being like the Father as the Lord says, ‘he that hath seen Me hath seen the Father’ (Joh. xiv. 9). But He was begotten ineffably and incomprehensibly, for ‘who shall declare his generation?’ (Isa. liii. 8), in other words, no one can. Who, when at the consummation of the ages (Heb. ix. 26), He had descended from the bosom of the Father, took from the undefiled Virgin Mary our humanity (anthropon), Christ Jesus, whom He delivered of His own will to suffer for us, as the Lord saith: ‘No man taketh My life from Me. I have power to lay it down, and have power to take it again’ (Joh. x. 18). In which humanity He was crucified and died for us, and rose from the dead, and was taken up into the heavens, having been created as the beginning of ways for us (Prov. viii. 22), when on earth He shewed us light from out of darkness, salvation from error, life from the dead, an entrance to paradise, from which Adam was cast out, and into which he again entered by means of the thief, as the Lord said, ‘This day shalt thou be with Me in paradise’ (Luke xxiii. 43), into which Paul also once entered. [He shewed us] also a way up to the heavens, whither the humanity of the Lord, in which He will judge the quick and the dead, entered as precursor for us. We believe, likewise, also in the Holy Spirit that searcheth all things, even the deep things of God (1Cor. ii. 10), and we anathematise doctrines contrary to this.
2. For neither do we hold a Son-Father, as do the Sabellians, calling Him of one but not of the same essence, and thus destroying the existence of the Son. Neither do we ascribe the passible body, which He bore for the salvation of the whole world to the Father. Neither can we imagine three Subsistences separated from each other, as results from their bodily nature in the case of men, lest we hold a plurality of gods like the heathen. But just as a river, produced from a well, is not separate, and yet there are in fact two visible objects and two names. For neither is the Father the Son, nor the Son the Father. For the Father is Father of the Son, and the Son, Son of the Father. For like as the well is not a river, nor the river a well, but both are one and the same water which is conveyed in a channel from the well to the river, so the Father’s deity passes into the Son without flow and without division. For the Lord says, ‘I came out from the Father and am come’ (Joh. xvi. 28). But He is ever with the Father, for He is in the bosom of the Father, nor was ever the bosom of the Father void of the deity of the Son. For He says, ‘I was by Him as one setting in order’ (Prov. viii. 30). But we do not regard God the Creator of all, the Son of God, as a creature, or thing made, or as made out of nothing, for He is truly existent from Him who exists, alone existing from Him who alone exists, in as much as the like glory and power was eternally and conjointly begotten of the Father. For ‘He that hath seen’ the Son ‘hath seen the Father (Joh. xiv. 9). All things to wit were made through the Son; but He Himself is not a creature, as Paul says of the Lord: ‘In Him were all things created, and He is before all’ (Col. i. 16). Now He says not, ‘was created’ before all things, but ‘is’ before all things. To be created, namely, is applicable to all things, but ‘is before all’ applies to the Son only.
3. He is then by nature an Offspring, perfect from the Perfect, begotten before all the hills (Prov. viii. 25), that is before every rational and intelligent essence, as Paul also in another place calls Him ‘first-born of all creation’ (Col. I. 15). But by calling Him First-born, He shews that He is not a Creature, but Offspring of the Father. For it would be inconsistent with His deity for Him to be called a creature. For all things were created by the Father through the Son, but the Son alone was eternally begotten from the Father, whence God the Word is ‘first-born of all creation,’ unchangeable from unchangeable. However, the body which He wore for our sakes is a creature: concerning which Jeremiah says, according to the edition of the seventy translators (Jer. xxxi. 22): ‘The Lord created for us for a planting a new salvation, in which salvation men shall go about:’ but according to Aquila the same text runs: ‘The Lord created a new thing in woman.’ Now the salvation created for us for a planting, which is new, not old, and for us, not before us, is Jesus, Who in respect of the Saviour was made man, and whose name is translated in one place Salvation, in another Saviour. But salvation proceeds from the Saviour, just as illumination does from the light. The salvation, then, which was from the Saviour, being created new, did, as Jeremiah says, ‘create for us a new salvation,’ and as Aquila renders: ‘The Lord created a new thing in woman,’ that is in Mary. For nothing new was created in woman, save the Lord’s body, born of the Virgin Mary without intercourse, as also it says in the Proverbs in the person of Jesus: ‘The Lord created me, a beginning of His ways for His works’ (Prov. viii. 22). Now He does not say, ‘created me before His works,’ lest any should take the text of the deity of the Word.
4. Each text then which refers to the creature is written with reference to Jesus in a bodily sense. For the Lord’s Humanity was created as ‘a beginning of ways,’ and He manifested it to us for our salvation. For by it we have our access to the Father. For He is the way (Joh. xiv. 6) which leads us back to the Father. And a way is a corporeal visible thing, such as is the Lord’s humanity. Well, then, the Word of God created all things, not being a creature, but an offspring. For He created none of the created things equal or like unto Himself. But it is the part of a Father to beget, while it is a workman’s part to create. Accordingly, that body is a thing made and created, which the Lord bore for us, which was begotten for us, as Paul says, ‘wisdom from God, and sanctification and righteousness, and redemption;’ while yet the Word was before us and before all Creation, and is, the Wisdom of the Father. But the Holy Spirit, being that which proceeds from the Father, is ever in the hands of the Father Who sends and of the Son Who conveys Him, by Whose means He filled all things. The Father, possessing His existence from Himself, begat the Son, as we said, and did not create Him, as a river from a well and as a branch from a root, and as brightness from a light, things which nature knows to be indivisible; through whom to the Father be glory and power and greatness before all ages, and unto all the ages of the ages. Amen. (1)

Saint Basil the Great AD 330 – 379
“The Godhead is common; the fatherhood particular. We must therefore combine the two and say, ‘I believe in God the Father.’
The like course must be pursued in the confession of the Son; we must combine the particular with the common and say ‘I believe in God the Son,’ so in the case of the Holy Ghost we must make our utterance conform to the appellation and say ‘in God the Holy Ghost.’
Hence it results that there is a satisfactory preservation of the unity by the confession of the one Godhead, while in the distinction of the individual properties regarded in each there is the confession of the peculiar properties of the Persons.” (2)

St. Gregory Nazianzus AD 329 – 390
“…we shall begin… by applying identical expressions to the Three. ‘He was the true light that enlightens every man coming into the world’ (Jn. 1:9) – yes, the Father. ‘He was the true light that enlightens every man coming into the world’ -yes, the Son. ‘He was the true light that enlightens every man coming into the world’ -yes, the Comforter. These are three subjects and three verbs – He was and He was and He was. But a single reality was. There are three predicates – light and light and light. But the light is one, God is one. This is the meaning of David’s prophetic vision: ‘In Your light we shall see light’ (Ps. 36:9). We receive the Son’s light from the Father’s light in the light of the Spirit: that is what we ourselves have seen and what we now proclaim – it is the plain and simple explanation of the Trinity.” (3)

“Aheism with its lack of a governing principle involves disorder. Polytheism, with a plurality of such principles, involves faction and hence the absence of a governing principle, and this involves disorder again. Both lead to an identical result – lack of order, which, in turn, leads to disintegration, disorder being the prelude to disintegration. Monotheism, with its single governing principle, is what we value – not monotheism defined as the sovereignty of a single person (after all, self-discordant unity can become a plurality) but the single rule produced by equality of nature, harmony of will, identity of action, and the convergence towards their source of what springs from unity – none of which is possible in the case of created nature. The result is that though there is numerical distinction, there is no division in the substance. For this reason, a one eternally changes to a two and stops at three – meaning the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” (4)

Early Church Leaders Western

Tertullian AD 160 – 220
“In the course of time, then, the Father forsooth was born, and the Father suffered, God Himself, the Lord Almighty, whom in their preaching they declare to be Jesus Christ. We, however, as we indeed always have done (and more especially since we have been better instructed by the Paraclete, who leads men indeed into all truth), believe that there is one only God, but under the following dispensation, or οἰκονομία, as it is called, that this one only God has also a Son, His Word, who proceeded from Himself, by whom all things were made, and without whom nothing was made. Him we believe to have been sent by the Father into the Virgin, and to have been born of her — being both Man and God, the Son of Man and the Son of God, and to have been called by the name of Jesus Christ; we believe Him to have suffered, died, and been buried, according to the Scriptures, and, after He had been raised again by the Father and taken back to heaven, to be sitting at the right hand of the Father, and that He will come to judge the quick and the dead; who sent also from heaven from the Father, according to His own promise, the Holy Ghost, the Paraclete, the sanctifier of the faith of those who believe in the Father, and in the Son, and in the Holy Ghost. That this rule of faith has come down to us from the beginning of the gospel, even before any of the older heretics, much more before Praxeas, a pretender of yesterday, will be apparent both from the lateness of date which marks all heresies, and also from the absolutely novel character of our new-fangled Praxeas. In this principle also we must henceforth find a presumption of equal force against all heresies whatsoever — that whatever is first is true, whereas that is spurious which is later in date. But keeping this prescriptive rule inviolate, still some opportunity must be given for reviewing (the statements of heretics), with a view to the instruction and protection of various persons; were it only that it may not seem that each perversion of the truth is condemned without examination, and simply prejudged; especially in the case of this heresy, which supposes itself to possess the pure truth, in thinking that one cannot believe in One Only God in any other way than by saying that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are the very selfsame Person. As if in this way also one were not All, in that All are of One, by unity (that is) of substance; while the mystery of the dispensation is still guarded, which distributes the Unity into a Trinity, placing in their order the three Persons— the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost: three, however, not in condition, but in degree; not in substance, but in form; not in power, but in aspect; yet of one substance, and of one condition, and of one power, inasmuch as He is one God, from whom these degrees and forms and aspects are reckoned, under the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. How they are susceptible of number without division, will be shown as our treatise proceeds.” (5)

Augustine of Hippo AD 354 – 430
“The true objects of enjoyment, then, are the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, who are at the same time the Trinity, one Being, supreme above all, and common to all who enjoy Him, if He is an object, and not rather the cause of all objects, or indeed even if He is the cause of all. For it is not easy to find a name that will suitably express so great excellence, unless it is better to speak in this way: The Trinity, one God, of whom are all things, through whom are all things, in whom are all things. Thus the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and each of these by Himself, is God, and at the same time they are all one God; and each of them by Himself is a complete substance, and yet they are all one substance. The Father is not the Son nor the Holy Spirit; the Son is not the Father nor the Holy Spirit; the Holy Spirit is not the Father nor the Son: but the Father is only Father, the Son is only Son, and the Holy Spirit is only Holy Spirit. To all three belong the same eternity, the same unchangeableness, the same majesty, the same power. In the Father is unity, in the Son equality, in the Holy Spirit the harmony of unity and equality; and these three attributes are all one because of the Father, all equal because of the Son, and all harmonious because of the Holy Spirit.” (6)

Western Church Roman Middle Ages

Thomas Aquinas AD 1225 – 1274
Question 31. The unity or plurality in God (abridged):
I answer that, the name “Trinity” in God signifies the determinate number of persons. And so the plurality of persons in God requires that we should use the word trinity; because what is indeterminately signified by plurality, is signified by trinity in a determinate manner.
Reply to objection 1. In its etymological sense, this word “Trinity” seems to signify the one essence of the three persons, according as trinity may mean trine-unity. But in the strict meaning of the term it rather signifies the number of persons of one essence; and on this account we cannot say that the Father is the Trinity, as He is not three persons. Yet it does not mean the relations themselves of the Persons, but rather the number of persons related to each other; and hence it is that the word in itself does not express regard to another.
Reply to objection 2. Two things are implied in a collective term, plurality of the “supposita,” and a unity of some kind of order. For “people” is a multitude of men comprehended under a certain order. In the first sense, this word “trinity” is like other collective words; but in the second sense it differs from them, because in the divine Trinity not only is there unity of order, but also with this there is unity of essence.
Reply to objection 3. “Trinity” is taken in an absolute sense; for it signifies the threefold number of persons. “Triplicity” signifies a proportion of inequality; for it is a species of unequal proportion, according to Boethius (Arithm. i, 23). Therefore, in God there is not triplicity, but Trinity.
Reply to objection 4. In the divine Trinity is to be understood both number and the persons numbered. So when we say, “Trinity in Unity,” we do not place number in the unity of the essence, as if we meant three times one; but we place the Persons numbered in the unity of nature; as the “supposita” of a nature are said to exist in that nature. On the other hand, we say “Unity in Trinity”; meaning that the nature is in its “supposita.”
Reply to objection 5. When we say, “Trinity is trine,” by reason of the number implied, we signify the multiplication of that number by itself; since the word trine imports a distinction in the “supposita” of which it is spoken. Therefore, it cannot be said that the Trinity is trine; otherwise it follows that, if the Trinity be trine, there would be three “supposita” of the Trinity; as when we say, “God is trine,” it follows that there are three “supposita” of the Godhead. Article 2. Whether the Son is other than the Father?
I answer that, Since as Jerome remarks [In substance, Ep. lvii.], a heresy arises from words wrongly used, when we speak of the Trinity we must proceed with care and with befitting modesty; because, as Augustine says (De Trin. i, 3), “nowhere is error more harmful, the quest more toilsome, the finding more fruitful.” Now, in treating of the Trinity, we must beware of two opposite errors, and proceed cautiously between them—namely, the error of Arius, who placed a Trinity of substance with the Trinity of persons; and the error of Sabellius, who placed unity of person with the unity of essence.
Thus, to avoid the error of Arius we must shun the use of the terms diversity and difference in God, lest we take away the unity of essence: we may, however, use the term “distinction” on account of the relative opposition. Hence whenever we find terms of “diversity” or “difference” of Persons used in an authentic work, these terms of “diversity” or “difference” are taken to mean “distinction.” But lest the simplicity and singleness of the divine essence be taken away, the terms “separation” and “division,” which belong to the parts of a whole, are to be avoided: and lest quality be taken away, we avoid the use of the term “disparity”: and lest we remove similitude, we avoid the terms “alien” and “discrepant.” For Ambrose says (De Fide i) that “in the Father and the Son there is no discrepancy, but one Godhead”: and according to Hilary, as quoted above, “in God there is nothing alien, nothing separable.”
To avoid the heresy of Sabellius, we must shun the term “singularity,” lest we take away the communicability of the divine essence. Hence, Hilary says (De Trin. vii): “It is sacrilege to assert that the Father and the Son are separate in Godhead.” We must avoid the adjective “only” [unici] lest we take away the number of persons. Hence, Hilary says in the same book: “We exclude from God the idea of singularity or uniqueness.” Nevertheless, we say “the only Son,” for in God there is no plurality of Sons. Yet, we do not say “the only God,” for the Deity is common to several. We avoid the word “confused,” lest we take away from the Persons the order of their nature. Hence, Ambrose says (De Fide i): “What is one is not confused; and there is no multiplicity where there is no difference.” The word “solitary” is also to be avoided, lest we take away the society of the three persons; for, as Hilary says (De Trin. iv), “We confess neither a solitary nor a diverse God.”
This word “other” [alius], however, in the masculine sense, means only a distinction of “suppositum”; and hence we can properly say that “the Son is other than the Father,” because He is another “suppositum” of the divine nature, as He is another person and another hypostasis.
Article 4. Whether an exclusive diction can be joined to the personal term?
I answer that, When we say, “The Father alone is God,” such a proposition can be taken in several senses. If “alone” means solitude in the Father, it is false in a categorematical sense; but if taken in a syncategorematical sense it can again be understood in several ways. For if it exclude (all others) from the form of the subject, it is true, the sense being “the Father alone is God”—that is, “He who with no other is the Father, is God.” In this way, Augustine expounds when he says (De Trin. vi, 6): “We say the Father alone, not because He is separate from the Son, or from the Holy Ghost, but because they are not the Father together with Him.” This, however, is not the usual way of speaking, unless we understand another implication, as though we said “He who alone is called the Father is God.” But in the strict sense the exclusion affects the predicate. And thus the proposition is false if it excludes another in the masculine sense; but true if it excludes it in the neuter sense; because the Son is another person than the Father, but not another thing; and the same applies to the Holy Ghost. But because this diction “alone,” properly speaking, refers to the subject, it tends to exclude another Person rather than other things. Hence, such a way of speaking is not to be taken too literally, but it should be piously expounded, whenever we find it in an authentic work.
Reply to objection 1. When we say, “Thee the only true God,” we do not understand it as referring to the person of the Father, but to the whole Trinity, as Augustine expounds (De Trin. vi, 9). Or, if understood of the person of the Father, the other persons are not excluded by reason of the unity of essence; in so far as the word “only” excludes another thing, as above explained.
Reply to objection 2. For an essential term applied to the Father does not exclude the Son or the Holy Ghost, by reason of the unity of essence. Hence we must understand that in the text quoted the term “no one” [Nemo = non-homo, i.e. no man] is not the same as “no man,” which the word itself would seem to signify (for the person of the Father could not be excepted), but is taken according to the usual way of speaking in a distributive sense, to mean any rational nature.
Reply to objection 3. The exclusive diction does not exclude what enters into the concept of the term to which it is adjoined, if they do not differ in “suppositum,” as part and universal. But the Son differs in “suppositum” from the Father; and so there is no parity.
Reply to objection 4. We do not say absolutely that the Son alone is Most High, but that He alone is Most High “with the Holy Ghost, in the glory of God the Father.” (7)

Western Church Protestant Reformation Era

John Calvin AD 1509 – 1564 “When the Apostle calls the Son of God “the express image of his person,” (Heb. 1:3), he undoubtedly does assign to the Father some subsistence in which he differs from the Son. For to hold with some interpreters that the term is equivalent to essence (as if Christ represented thesubstance of the Father like the impression of a seal upon wax), were not only harsh but absurd.
For the essence of God being simple and undivided, and contained in himself entire, in full perfection, without partition or diminution, it is improper, nay, ridiculous, to call it his express image. But because the Father, though distinguished by his own peculiar properties, has expressed himself wholly in the Son, he is said with perfect reason to have rendered his person (hypostasis) manifest in him. And this aptly accords with what is immediately added—viz. that he is “the brightness of his glory.” The fair inference from the Apostle’s words is that there is a proper subsistence (hypostasis) of the Father, which shines refulgent in the Son. From this, again it is easy to infer that there is a subsistence (hypostasis) of the Son, which distinguishes him from the Father. The same holds in the case of the Holy Spirit; for we will immediately prove both that he is God, and that he has a separate subsistence from the Father. This, moreover, is not a distinction of essence, which it were impious to multiply. If credit, then, is given to the Apostle’s testimony, it follows that there are three persons (hypostases) in God. The Latins having used the word Persona to express the same thing as the Greek, it betrays excessive fastidiousness and even perverseness to quarrel with the term. The most literal translation would be subsistence. Many have used substance in the same sense. Nor, indeed, was the use of the term Person confined to the Latin Church. For the Greek Church in like manner, perhaps, for the purpose of testifying their consent, have taught that there are three (aspects) in God. All these, however, whether Greeks or Latins, though differing as to the word, are perfectly agreed in substance.” (8)

“He said, ‘Go and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,’ (Mt. 28:19), since this is the same thing as to baptized into the name of the one God, who has been fully manifested in the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. Hence it plainly appears, that the three persons, in whom alone God is known, subsist in the Divine essence.” (9)

John Calvin on Gregory of Nazianzus on the Trinity:
“Again, Scripture sets forth a distinction of the Father from the Word and of the Word from the Spirit. Yet the greatness of the mystery warns us how much reverence and sobriety we ought to use in investigating this. And that passage in Gregory of Nazianzus vastly delights me:
‘I cannot think on the one without quickly being encircled by the splendor of the three; nor can I discern the three without being straightway carried back to the one.’”
“Let us not, then, be led to imagine a trinity of persons that keeps our thoughts distracted and does not at once lead them back to that unity. Indeed, the words “Father,” “Son,” and “Spirit” imply a real distinction – let no one think that these titles, whereby God is variously designated from his works, are empty – but a distinction, not a division, The passages that we have already cited [e.g., Zechariah 13:7] show that the Son has a character distinct from the Father, because the Word would not have been with God unless he were another than the Father, nor would he have had his glory with the Father were he not distinct from the Father. . . .” (10)

John Owen AD 1616 – 1683
“We produce divine revelations or testimonies, wherein faith may safely rest and acquiesce, that God is one; that this one God is Father, Son and Holy Ghost; so that the Father is God, so also is the Son, and the Holy Ghost.” (11)
“There is nothing more fully expressed in the Scripture than this sacred truth, that there is one God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; which are divine, distinct, intelligent, voluntary omnipotent principles of operation and working: which whosoever thinks himself obliged to believe the Scripture must believe.” (12)

Thomas Watson AD 1620 – 1686
A: Three persons, yet but one God.
‘There are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost, and these three are one.’ I John 5:5.
God is but one, yet are there three distinct persons subsisting in one Godhead. This is a sacred mystery, which the light within man could never have discovered. As the two natures in Christ, yet but one person, is a wonder; so three persons, yet but one Godhead. Here is a great deep, the Father God, the Son God, the Holy Ghost God; yet not three Gods, but one God. The three persons in the blessed Trinity are distinguished, but not divided; three substances, but one essence. This is a divine riddle where one makes three, and three make one. Our narrow thoughts can no more comprehend the Trinity in Unity, than a nut-shell will hold all the water in the sea. Let me shadow it out by a similitude. In the body of the sun, there are the substance of the sun, the beams, and the heat; the beams are begotten of the sun, the heat proceeds both from the sun and the beams; but these three, though different, are not divided; they all three make but one sun: so in the blessed Trinity, the Son is begotten of the Father, the Holy Ghost proceeds from both; yet though they are three distinct persons, they are but one God. First, let me speak of the Unity in Trinity, then of the Trinity in Unity.” (13)

Recent Contemporary

Geerhardus Vos AD 1862 – 1949
“There is only one divine being. Scripture expresses itself decisively against all polytheism (Deut. 6:4; Isa 44:6; Jas 2:19).
In this one God are three modes of existence, which we refer to by the word “person” and which are, each one, this only true God. In Scripture these three persons are called, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
These three persons, although together the one true God, are nevertheless distinguished from each other insofar as they assume objective relations toward each other, address each other, love each other, and can interact with each other.
Although these three persons possess one and the same divine substance, Scripture nevertheless teaches us that, concerning their personal existence, the Father is the first, the Son the second, and the Holy Spirit the third, that the Son is of the Father, the Spirit of the Father and the Son. Further, their workings outwardly reflect this order of personal existence, since the Father works through the Son, and the Father and Son work through the Spirit. There is, therefore, subordination as to personal manner of existence and manner of working, but no subordination regarding possession of the one divine substance.
The divine substance is not divided among the three persons as if each possesses one-third. Neither is it a new substance beside the three persons. Finally, neither is it an abstraction of our thinking in a nominalistic sense. But in a manner for which all further analogy is lacking, each of these persons possesses the entire divine substance.” (14)

St. John of Kronstadt AD 1829 – 1909
“As the word of the man reveals what is in his mind and heart (reveals the mind? unseen, dominating, creating), and as the breath proceeds from the man through the word, revealing the mind or the thought, so, somewhat similarly, the Word of God reveals to us the Father ? That great all-creating Mind? And, through the Word, the Holy Spirit, the life-giving Spirit, Who is the power of the Highest, eternally proceeds from the Father and is revealed to men. ‘The power of the Highest shall overshadow you’ (Lk. 1:35). Now the words of the Savior are comprehensible: ‘No man knows the Son but the Father; neither knows any man the Father save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal Him’ (Mt. 11:27). That is, only the Son reveals the Father to men, as our word reveals our thought hidden in the soul. Such is the closeness of the union between the Father and the Son! And, every Person has His particular dominion and His own, so to say, work. And, therefore, the Lord said to His disciples: ‘If I do not go away, the Comforter will not come to you; but if I depart I will send Him to you’ (Jn. 16:7). Glory to You, Son of God, Who has revealed to us the Mystery of the Most Holy Trinity? The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit! Your Word is truth; we live by all and each separate word of yours. They are our sweetness, peace, and life; especially the words concerning the Comforter.” (15)

Louis Berkhof AD 1873 – 1957
“The divine essence is not divided among the three persons, but is wholly with all its perfection in each one of the persons so that they have a numerical unity of essence.” (16)

Karl Barth AD 1886 – 1968
“The doctrine of the Trinity is what basically distinguishes the Christian doctrine of God as Christian…” (17)
“Person” as used in the Church doctrine of the Trinity bears no direct relation to personality. The meaning of the doctrine is not, then, that there are three personalities in God. This would be the worst and most extreme expression of tritheism, against which we must be on guard at this stage. The doctrine of the personality of God is, of course, connected with that of the Trinity to the extent that, in a way yet to be shown, the trinitarian repetitions of the knowledge of the lordship of God radically prevent the divine He, or rather Thou, from becoming in any respect an It. But in it we are speaking not of three divine I’s, but thrice of the one divine I. The concept of equality of essence or substance (ofioovala, consubstantialitas) in the Father, Son and Spirit is thus at every point to be understood also and primarily in the sense of identity of substance. Identity of substance implies the equality of substance of “the persons.” (18)

“God is One, but not in such a way that as such He needs a Second and then a Third in order to be One, nor as though He were alone and had to do without a counterpart, and therefore again—this will be of clecisive significance in the doctrine of creation and man and also in the doctrine of reconciliation—not as though He could not exist without the world and man, as though there were between Him and the world and man a necessary relation of reciprocity. In Himself these limits of what we otherwise regard as unity are already set aside. In Himself His unity is neither singularity nor isolation. Herewith, i.e., with the doctrine of the Trinity, we step on to the soil of Christian monotheism.” (19)

“Trinity is the Christian name for God.” For many people God is a remote and inaccessible being – perhaps understood as the Creator or as a “life force,” yet in no way personal or intimate. The doctrine of the Trinity stresses that this “Creator” or “Father” has come near to us in human form in Jesus and “lives in us” in the Spirit. St. Paul, in Ephesians 2:15, was addressing Christians who had been converted from paganism: “You who were far off now in Christ Jesus have been brought near in the blood of Christ…through him we both have access in the Spirit to the Father.” (20)

Bishop Kallistos Ware
“This God who acts is not only a God of energies, but a personal God. When man participates in the divine energies, he is not overwhelmed by some vague and nameless power, but he is brought face to face with a person. Nor is this all: God is not simply a single person confined within his own being, but a Trinity of three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each of whom ‘dwells’ in the other two, by virtue of a perpetual movement of love. God is not only a unity but a union.” (21)

Thomas F. Torrance AD 1913 – 2007
“The doctrine of the Trinity is the central dogma of Christian theology, the fundamental grammar of our knowledge of God.” (22)

From the Creeds:

The Athanasian Creed
Whoever desires to be saved should above all hold to the catholic faith.
Anyone who does not keep it whole and unbroken will doubtless perish eternally.
Now this is the catholic faith:
That we worship one God in trinity and the trinity in unity,
neither blending their persons
nor dividing their essence.
For the person of the Father is a distinct person,
the person of the Son is another,
and that of the Holy Spirit still another.
But the divinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is one,
their glory equal, their majesty coeternal.
What quality the Father has, the Son has, and the Holy Spirit has.
The Father is uncreated,
the Son is uncreated,
the Holy Spirit is uncreated.
The Father is immeasurable,
the Son is immeasurable,
the Holy Spirit is immeasurable.
The Father is eternal,
the Son is eternal,
the Holy Spirit is eternal.
And yet there are not three eternal beings;
there is but one eternal being.
So too there are not three uncreated or immeasurable beings;
there is but one uncreated and immeasurable being.
Similarly, the Father is almighty,
the Son is almighty,
the Holy Spirit is almighty.
Yet there are not three almighty beings;
there is but one almighty being.
Thus the Father is God,
the Son is God,
the Holy Spirit is God.
Yet there are not three gods;
there is but one God.
Thus the Father is Lord,
the Son is Lord,
the Holy Spirit is Lord.
Yet there are not three lords;
there is but one Lord.
Just as Christian truth compels us
to confess each person individually
as both God and Lord,
so catholic religion forbids us
to say that there are three gods or lords.
The Father was neither made nor created nor begotten from anyone.
The Son was neither made nor created;
he was begotten from the Father alone.
The Holy Spirit was neither made nor created nor begotten;
he proceeds from the Father and the Son.
Accordingly there is one Father, not three fathers;
there is one Son, not three sons;
there is one Holy Spirit, not three holy spirits.
Nothing in this trinity is before or after,
nothing is greater or smaller;
in their entirety the three persons
are coeternal and coequal with each other.
So in everything, as was said earlier,
we must worship their trinity in their unity
and their unity in their trinity.
Anyone then who desires to be saved
should think thus about the trinity.
But it is necessary for eternal salvation
that one also believe in the incarnation
of our Lord Jesus Christ faithfully.
Now this is the true faith:
That we believe and confess
that our Lord Jesus Christ, God’s Son,
is both God and human, equally.
He is God from the essence of the Father,
begotten before time;
and he is human from the essence of his mother,
born in time;
completely God, completely human,
with a rational soul and human flesh;
equal to the Father as regards divinity,
less than the Father as regards humanity.
Although he is God and human,
yet Christ is not two, but one.
He is one, however,
not by his divinity being turned into flesh,
but by God’s taking humanity to himself.
He is one,
certainly not by the blending of his essence,
but by the unity of his person.
For just as one human is both rational soul and flesh,
so to the one Christ is both God and human.
He suffered for our salvation;
he descended to hell;
he arose from the dead;
he ascended to heaven;
he is seated at the Father’s right hand;
from there he will come to judge the living and the dead.
At his coming all people will arise bodily
and give an accounting of their own deeds.
Those who have done good will enter eternal life,
and those who have done evil will enter eternal fire.
This is the catholic faith:
one cannot be saved without believing it firmly and faithfully.

The Nicene Creed
We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father; through him all things were made.
For our salvation he came down from heaven, he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father [and the Son], who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.

The Chalcedonian Creed
Following, then, the holy fathers, we unite in teaching all men to confess the one and only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. This selfsame one is perfect both in deity and in humanness; this selfsame one is also actually God and actually man, with a rational soul and a body. He is of the same reality as God as far as his deity is concerned and of the same reality as we ourselves as far as his humanness is concerned; thus like us in all respects, sin only excepted. Before time began he was begotten of the Father, in respect of his deity, and now in these “last days,” for us and behalf of our salvation, this selfsame one was born of Mary the virgin, who is God-bearer in respect of his humanness.
We also teach that we apprehend this one and only Christ-Son, Lord, only-begotten in two natures; and we do this without confusing the two natures, without transmuting one nature into the other, without dividing them into two separate categories, without contrasting them according to area or function. The distinctiveness of each nature is not nullified by the union. Instead, the “properties” of each nature are conserved and both natures concur in one “person” and in one reality. They are not divided or cut into two persons, but are together the one and only and only-begotten Word of God, the Lord Jesus Christ. Thus have the prophets of old testified; thus the Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us; thus the Symbol of Fathers has handed down to us.

Harmony of the Reformed Confessions and Catechisms on the Trinity:

Westminster Confession of Faith 2.3
3. In the unity of the Godhead there be three persons, of one substance, power, and eternity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost: the Father is of none, neither begotten, nor proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; the Holy Ghost eternally proceeding from the Father and the Son.

Westminster Larger Catechism Q&A 8-11
Q. 8. Are there more Gods than one?
A. There is but one only, the living and true God.
Q. 9. How many persons are there in the Godhead?
A. There be three persons in the Godhead, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one true, eternal God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory; although distinguished by their personal properties.
Q. 10. What are the personal properties of the three persons in the Godhead?
A. It is proper to the Father to beget the Son, and to the Son to be begotten of the Father, and to the Holy Ghost to proceed from the Father and the Son from all eternity.
Q. 11. How doth it appear that the Son and the Holy Ghost are God equal with the Father?
A. The Scriptures manifest that the Son and the Holy Ghost are God equal with the Father, ascribing unto them such names, attributes, works, and worship, as are proper to God only.

Westminster Shorter Catechism Q&A 5-6
Q. 5. Are there more Gods than one?
A. There is but one only, the living and true God.
Q. 6. How many persons are there in the godhead?
A. There are three persons in the Godhead; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory.

Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 24-25
Into three parts: the first is of God the Father and our creation; the second, of God the Son and our redemption; the third, of God the Holy Spirit and our sanctification. [1]
[1] 1 Pt 1:2
Because God has so revealed Himself in His Word, [2] that these three distinct persons are the one, true, eternal God.
[1] Deut. 6:4; Isa 44:6, 45:5; 1 Cor. 8:4-6; [2] Gen 1:2-3; Ps 110:1; Isa 61:1, 63:8-10; Mt 3:16-17, 28:18-19; Lk 4:18; John 14:26, 15:26; 2 Cor. 13:14; Gal 4:6; Tit 3:5-6

Belgic Confession Article 8-9
According to this truth and this Word of God, we believe in one only God, 1 who is one single essence, in which are three persons, really, truly, and eternally distinct according to their incommunicable properties; namely, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. 2 The Father is the cause, origin, and beginning of all things visible and invisible. 3 The Son is the Word, the wisdom, and the image of the Father. 4 The Holy Spirit is the eternal power and might who proceeds from the Father and the Son. 5 Nevertheless, God is not by this distinction divided into three, since the Holy Scriptures teach us that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit each has His personal existence, distinguished by Their properties; but in such a way that these three persons are but one only God.
It is therefore evident that the Father is not the Son, nor the Son the Father, and likewise the Holy Spirit is neither the Father nor the Son. Nevertheless, these persons thus distinguished are not divided, nor intermixed; for the Father has not assumed our flesh and blood, neither has the Holy Spirit, but the Son only. The Father has never been without His Son, 6 or without His Holy Spirit. For these three, in one and the same essence, are equal in eternity. There is neither first nor last; for They are all three one, in truth, in power, in goodness, and in mercy.
1. 1 Cor. 8:4-6. 2. Mat 3:16-17; Mat 28:19. 3. Eph. 3:14-15. 4. Prov. 8:22-31; John 1:14; John 5:17-26; 1Cor 1:24; Col 1:15-20; Heb. 1:3; Rev 19:13. 5. John 15:26. 6. Mic 5:2; John 1:1-2.
All this we know both from the testimonies of Holy Scripture 1 and from the respective works of the three Persons, and especially those we perceive in ourselves. The testimonies of Scripture, which lead us to believe this Holy Trinity, are written in many places of the Old Testament. It is not necessary to mention them all; it is sufficient to select some with discretion.
In the book of Genesis God says: Let Us make man in our image after our likeness …. So God created man in His own image…; male and female He created them (Gen 1:26-27). Also: Behold, the man has become like one of Us (Gen 3:22). From God’s saying, Let Us make man in Our image, it appears that there are more divine persons than one; and when He says, God created, He indicates that there is one God. It is true, He does not say how many persons there are, but what seems to be somewhat obscure in the Old Testament is very plain in the New Testament. For when our Lord was baptized in the river Jordan, the voice of the Father was heard, who said, This is My beloved Son (Mat 3:17); the Son was seen in the water, and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in bodily form as a dove. 2 For the baptism of all believers, Christ prescribed this formula: Baptize all nations into the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit (Mat 28:19). In the gospel according to Luke the angel Gabriel thus addressed Mary, the mother of our Lord: The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God (Luke 1:35). Likewise, the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all (2Cor. 13:14). In all these places, we are fully taught that there are three persons in one only divine essence.
Although this doctrine far surpasses all human understanding, nevertheless, in this life, we believe it on the ground of the Word of God, and we expect to enjoy its perfect knowledge and fruit hereafter in heaven.
Moreover, we must observe the distinct offices and works of these three Persons towards us. The Father is called our Creator by His power; the Son is our Saviour and Redeemer by His blood; the Holy Spirit is our Sanctifier by His dwelling in our hearts. The doctrine of the Holy Trinity has always been maintained and preserved in the true church since the time of the apostles to this very day, over against Jews, Muslims, and against false Christians and heretics such as Marcion, Mani, Praxeas, Sabellius, Paul of Samosata, Arius, and such like, who have been justly condemned by the orthodox fathers. In this doctrine, therefore, we willingly receive the three creeds, of the Apostles, of Nicea, and of Athanasius; likewise that which in accordance with them is agreed upon by the early fathers.
1. John 14:16; John 15:26; Acts 2:32-33; Rom 8:9; Gal 4:6; Titus 3:4-6; 1 Pet 1:2; 1 John 4:13-14; 1 John 5:1-12; Jude 1:20-21; Rev 1:4-5. 2. Mat 3:16.

Trinitarian Prayer Western
“Heavenly Father, I worship you as the creator and sustainer of the universe.
Lord Jesus, I worship you, Savior and Lord of the world.
Holy Spirit, I worship you, sanctifier of the people of God.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.
Heavenly Father, I pray that I may live this day in your presence and please you more and more.
Lord Jesus, I pray that this day I may take up my cross and follow you.
Holy Spirit, I pray that this day you will fill me with yourself and cause your fruit to ripen in my life:
love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
Holy, blessed and glorious Trinity, three persons in one God,
have mercy upon me. Amen.” – John Stott

Trinitarian Prayer Eastern
“The Trisagion Prayers:
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Glory to Thee, our God, glory to Thee.
O Heavenly King, O Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, who art in all places and fillest all things; Treasury of good things and Giver of life, come and dwell in us and cleanse us from every stain, and save our souls, O gracious Lord.
Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us. (3x)
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.
All-holy Trinity, have mercy on us. Lord, cleanse us from our sins. Master, pardon our iniquities. Holy God, visit and heal our infirmities for Thy name’s sake.
Lord, have mercy. (3x)
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.
Our Father, who art in the heavens, hallowed be Thy name: Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.
For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit: now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.”

In closing:

Of particular interest to Protestants:

“Whatever we may conclude about Calvin’s relationship to the tradition he inherited, his focus on the three persons rather than the one essence is more like the Eastern approach than the Western. In much of what he writes, Calvin combines elements of both East and West. His use of the baptismal formula is reminiscent of Basil. He insists that God is not truly known unless he is distinctly conceived as triune, and that the fruit of baptism is that God the Father adopts us in his Son and through the Spirit re-forms us into righteousness. Butin comments on the influence of the baptismal formula on both Calvin and Basil, and also notices the weakness of Warfield on the Eastern church, for, like the vast majority of Protestants until recently, Warfield took little or no notice of Eastern theology. This focus of Calvin on the three does not undermine the unity of God, for his being is one. The three persons imply a distinction, not a division.” (23)

As previously noted on what Calvin said showing an appreciation for the Eastern Churches emphasis on the three: “that passage in Gregory of Nazianzus vastly delights me:”

“I cannot think on the one without quickly being encircled by the splendor of the three; nor can I discern the three without being straightway carried back to the one.” – Gregory of Nazianzus

Some may have questions regarding the next two quotations that confess a lack of human knowledge about our knowledge of God. They should not. Today many people do not understand how microwave ovens, cell phone, computers, televisions, and the internet works, and yet they have confidence in using these things.

“If Christianity were something we were making up, of course we would make it easier. But it is not. We cannot compete in simplicity with people who are inventing religions. How could we? We are dealing with fact. Of course anyone can be simple if he doesn’t have any facts to bother about.” (24)

“A God understood, a God comprehended, is no God.” (25)

“Reformed theology holds that God can be known, but that it is impossible for man to have a knowledge of Him that is exhaustive and perfect in every way. To have such a knowledge of God would be equivalent to comprehending Him, and this is entirely out of the question: ‘finitum non possit capere infinitum.’ …true knowledge of God can be acquired only from the divine self-revelation, and only by the man who accepts this with childlike faith.” (26)

Some of the difficulty in defining and explaining the Trinity has to do with the limitations of human language itself. We are finite, and God is infinite. May the Triune God be ever glorified!

1. Athanasius, “Statement of Faith” Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 4 (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans), p. 83-85.
2. St. Basil, Church Fathers, “Letter to Amphilochius” Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans), Letter 236:6), p. 278.
3. St. Gregory Nazianzus, On God and Christ, Oration 31 sect. 3; (Yonkers, New York, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press), p. 118.
4. St. Gregory Nazianzus, On God and Christ, Oration 29 sect. 2; (Yonkers, New York, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press), p. 70.
5. Tertullian, Church Fathers, “Against Praxeas” Anti-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 3 (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans), Chapter 2, p. 598.
6. Augustine, Church Fathers, “On Christian Doctrine” Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 2 Michigan, Eerdmans), Book I. Chapter 5 p. 524.
7. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiæ, Unabridged, 1Vol, (Stief Books, 2017), p. 59-60.
8. Calvin, John, Institutes of the Christian Religion, (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960), Book I, Chapter 2, p. 122-123.
9. Calvin, John, Institutes of the Christian Religion, (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960), Book I, Chapter 13, p. 140.
10. Calvin, John, Institutes of the Christian Religion, (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960), Book 1 Chapter 17, p. 141-142.
11. John Owen, Communion with God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, Each Person Distinctly, in Love, Fellowship and Consolation, (Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library 1657), p. 380.
12. John Owen, Communion with God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, Each Person Distinctly, in Love, Fellowship and Consolation, (Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library 1657), p. 406.
13. Thomas Watson, A Body of Divinity, (Carlisle, Pennsylvania, Banner of Truth Trust), p. 81-82.
14. Geerhardus Vos, “The Trinity,” chapter 3 of Theology Proper, vol. 1 of Reformed Dogmatics, ed. Richard B. Gaffin, trans. Annemie Godbehere (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2013), 38-39.
15. St. John of Kronstadt, My Life in Christ; (Jordanville, New York, Holy Trinity Monastery), p. 75.
16. Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans Publishing), p. 40.
17. Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, vol. I/1 (T&T Clark, International), p. 301.
18. Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics I.1. The Doctrine of the Word of God, Study edition, (London, T&T Clark), p. 56.
19. Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics I.1. The Doctrine of the Word of God, Study edition, (London, T&T Clark), p. 60.
20. Karl Barth as quoted by Dick Tripp in Understanding the Trinity, (Onehunga, Auckland, Castle Publishing), p. 3.
21. Bishop Kallistos Ware, Faith of the Church: Trinity, St. Basil’s Syriac Orthodox Church, Ohio, http://
22. Thomas F. Torrance, Trinitarian Perspectives (USA, New York, NY, T&T Clark, 1994), p. 1.
23. Robert Letham, The Holy Trinity: In Scripture, History, Theology, (Philipsburg, New Jersey, Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing), p. 254.
24. C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, (New York, New York, MacMillan, 1952), p. 129.
25. Gerhard Tersteegen, quoted in Ministry in the Image of God, by Stephen Seamands (Downers Grove, Illinois, IVP, 2005), p. 99.
26. Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans Publishing Company), 1996), p. 30.

Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks, titled: The Religion That Started in a Hat. Available at:

For more study:

Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith by Michael Reeves

The Holy Trinity: In Scripture, History, Theology, and Worship by Robert Letham

Church Dogmatics I.1. The Doctrine of the Word of God by Karl Barth

John Owen on the Trinity

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What is a Saint?

What is a Saint? By Jack Kettler

In this study, we will seek to understand what the Bible says about saints. Is every believer a saint, or just an extraordinary group of super Christians? Should we pray to human saints?

“Shew me thy ways, O LORD; teach me thy paths.” (Psalm 25:4

As in previous studies, we will look at definitions, scriptures, commentary evidence and confessional support for the glorifying of God in how we live.



The body of Christ, all believers worldwide, both living and dead. *


Question: What are Christian saints according to the Bible?

Answer: The word “saint” comes from the Greek word hagios, which means “consecrated to God, holy, sacred, pious.” It is almost always used in the plural, “saints.” “…Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he did to your saints at Jerusalem” (Acts 9:13). “Now as Peter was traveling through all those regions, he came down also to the saints who lived at Lydda” (Acts 9:32). “And this is just what I did in Jerusalem; not only did I lock up many of the saints in prisons” … (Acts 26:10). There is only one instance of the singular use, and that is “Greet every saint in Christ Jesus…” (Philippians 4:21). In Scripture, there are 67 uses of the plural “saints” compared to only one use of the singular word “saint.” Even in that one instance, a plurality of saints is in view: “…every saint…” (Philippians 4:21). Therefore, scripturally speaking, the “saints” are the body of Christ, Christians, the church. All Christians are considered saints. All Christians are saints—and at the same time are called to be saints. **

From the Scriptures about Saints:

“And to make thee high above all nations which he hath made, in praise, and in name, and in honour; and that thou mayest be an holy people unto the LORD thy God, as he hath spoken.” (Deuteronomy 26:19) (Emphasis mine) God’s people are holy, i.e. “set a part,” saints.

“O love the LORD, all ye his saints: for the LORD preserveth the faithful, and plentifully rewardeth the proud doer.” (Psalm 31:23)

“Then Ananias answered, Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem.” (Acts 9:13)

“To all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 1:7)

“And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God.” (Romans 8:2)

“And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God.” (Romans 8:27)

“Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours.” (1Corinthians 1:2)

“Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, unto the church of God which is at Corinth, with all the saints which are in all Achaia.” (2Corinthians 1:1)

“Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints which are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 1:1)

“May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height.” (Ephesians 3:18)

“For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:12)

From the Pulpit Commentary on Ephesians 4:12:

“Verse 12. – In order to the perfecting of the saints. The ultimate end for which the gifts bestowed (comp. Hebrews 12:1). A work of completion is in hand, which must be fulfilled (see ver. 13): the saints, now compassed about with infirmity, have to be freed from all stain (Ephesians 5:26, 27), and as instruments towards this end, the ministers of the Church are given by Christ; they are not mere promoters of civilization, men of culture planted among the rude, but instruments for advancing men to complete holiness. For the work of the ministry. The preposition is changed from πρὸς to εἰς πρὸς denoting the ultimate end, εἰς the immediate object (comp. Romans 15:2); the office of the Church officers is not lords, but διακονοί, servants, as Christ himself was (Matthew 20:28). For the building up of the body of Christ. Bringing bone to its bone and sinew to its sinew, increasing the number of believers, and promoting the spiritual life of each; carrying on all their work as Christ’s servants and with a definite eye to the promotion of the great work which he undertook when he came to seek and to save the lost.” (1)


Since the saints in Ephesians, 4:12 need perfecting, we can conclude that are ordinary believers growing in the sanctification process and not a super-saint.

Additional Scriptures:

“Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints.” (Ephesians 6:18)

“To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ which are at Colosse: Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Colossians 1:2)

“Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons.” (Philippians 1:1)

“Salute every saint in Christ Jesus. The brethren, which are with me, greet you.” (Philippians 4:21)

“For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have shewed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister.” (Hebrews 6:10)

“But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; because it is written, be ye holy; for I am holy.” (1Peter 1:15–16) (Holy set apart, saints)

“Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.” (Jude 1:3)

Paul addressed his letters to the saints in the churches. The biblical ideas of saints is not the saints in heaven as the Roman Catholics say. In opposition to that, the Bible calls all the believers in Christ “saints.” “Saint” literally means “holy one,” or “set apart.” In Christ you are sanctified, which makes you a “holy one” or “set apart.” An individual becomes a saint by regeneration, i.e. born again in Christ.

A small list of synonyms for saints:

Disciples, angels, a good person, a loved one, a pietist, an evangelist, a devotee, a benefactor

Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words:

[1, G40, hagios]

for the meaning and use of which See HOLY, B, No. 1, is used as a noun in the singular in Philippians 4:21, where pas, every, is used with it. In the plural, as used of believers, it designates all such and is not applied merely to persons of exceptional holiness or to those who, having died, were characterized by exceptional acts of “saintliness.” See especially 2Thessalonians 1:10, where “His saints” are also described as “them that believed,” i.e., the whole number of the redeemed. They are called “holy ones” in Jude 1:14, RV. For the term as applied to the Holy Spirit See HOLY SPIRIT. See also SANCTIFY.


(1) In Rev 15:3 the RV follows those texts which have aionon, “ages,” and assigns the reading ethnon, “nations,” to the margin; the AV translates those which have the inferior reading hagion, “saints,” and puts “nations” and “ages” in the margin.

(2) In Rev 18:20, the best texts have hagioi and apostoloi, each with the article, each being preceded by kai, “and,” RV, “and ye saints, and ye apostles;” the AV, “and ye holy apostles” follows those mss. from which the 2nd kai and the article are absent.

(3) In Rev 22:21, the RV follows those mss. which have hagion, with the article, “(with) the saints;” the AV those which simply have panton, “all,” but adds “you” (RV, marg., “with all”). (2)

Saint from Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology:

The word “saint” is derived from a Greek verb (hagiazo [aJgiavzw]) whose basic meaning is “to set apart,” “sanctify,” or “make holy.” In the history of the Old Testament religion, the idea of holiness or separateness was inherent in the concept of God. God was unapproachable in the tabernacle or temple by the ordinary individual, being accessible only to the priests and only under carefully specified conditions. His presence (the Shekinah) dwelled in the Holy of Holies or the Most Holy Place, the most remote and inaccessible place in the wilderness tabernacle and later in the Jerusalem temple. Only the high priest was allowed to stand in God’s presence in this area, and then only once a year at Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement).

This sacred place was further separated from the ordinary Jewish worshiper by another room called “the Holy Place,” which could be entered only by priests. The intent was to impress upon the people the utter holiness and sacredness of the God they worshiped, as well as the necessity of their being set apart or sanctified as saints in his service. This sense of Jehovah’s separateness from the sins of the people and from the pagan idols of the lands in which they dwelled was the heart of Jewish monotheism. Its eventual disregard led to the destruction of the temple and the exile of Israel.

This idea of the separateness of God and his people is carried forward in the New Testament, which was written by Jews (except possibly Luke-Acts) who interpreted God’s covenant with Israel through the teachings of Christ. Those who were dedicated to the teachings of Christ were frequently called saints by these writers (e.g., Matt 27:52; Acts 9:13; 26:10; Rev 14:12). Six of Paul’s letters to churches are addressed to saints (Romans, 1-2 Corinthians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians).

Saints, in the New Testament, are never deceased individuals who have been canonized by the church and given sainthood. They are living individuals who have dedicated themselves to the worship and service of the one true God as revealed through his Son, Jesus Christ. Even the children of such parents are called “sanctified” (1Cor. 7:14-15). That is, they are considered undefiled by paganism if at least one of their parents is a Christian. All saved are sanctified, but not all sanctified are saved.

On occasion, when discussing the atonement, Paul carefully differentiates between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians, calling the former saints and the latter believers. It was the saints, the holy people of God in the Old Testament, who brought the Messiah and redemption into the world, eventually extending the blessings to the Gentiles.

This usage may be seen in 1Corinthians 1:2, which is addressed to “those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy [saints Jewish Christians], together with all those [Gentiles] everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ Lord and ours.” The same distinction is made in Ephesians 1:1: “to the saints [Jewish Christians] in Ephesus and the faithful [Gentiles] in Christ Jesus.” Colossians is also addressed to “the holy and faithful brothers” in Christ.

Paul addresses the letter to all the Christians in Rome as saints (Rom. 1:7, because Gentiles who, as wild olive branches have been grafted into the stem of Judaism, now share in the full relationship to that plant and are also saints), but the Jewish Christians in Rome, who are to be recipients of a special contribution Paul collected among Gentile churches, are called “the saints” in distinction (Rom. 15:25-33).

It is informative in this regard that Paul refers to this same collection in 2 Corinthians 8:1-4 as a sharing by the Macedonian churches with “the saints,” not with the “other” saints. Paul’s apprehension over whether the Jerusalem saints would accept such a contribution was based on the fact that Jewish Christians were being asked to accept the offering from Gentile Christians. The entire discussion of the issue in Acts 21 when Paul arrived in Jerusalem makes this clear.

Thus, although Gentile Christians are saints, too, because they were given access to the faith of Abraham and the people of the Old Testament, when redemptive history is discussed the Jews are specially designated the “saints” while the Gentiles are considered believers who were later admitted into this “holy” Jewish nucleus. John McRay (3)

Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter XXVI. Of Communion of Saints:

Section I.–All saints that are united to Jesus Christ their head, by his Spirit and by faith, have fellowship with him in his graces, sufferings, death, resurrection, and glory: and, being united to one another in love, they have communion in each other’s gifts and graces, and are obliged to the performance of such duties, public and private, as to conduce to their mutual good, both in the inward and outward man.

Section II.–Saints by profession are bound to maintain an holy fellowship and communion in the worship of God, and in performing such other spiritual services as tend to their mutual edification; as also in relieving each other in outward things, according to their several abilities and necessities. Which communion, as God offereth opportunity, is to be extended unto all those who, in every place, call upon the name of the Lord Jesus.

In closing:

In this study, the question of prayers to saints has not been addressed thus far. We are to pray for our fellow saints but not to them. Why?

The Scriptures give us hope and confidence that God hears our prayers. For example, “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16)

In addition:

“For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” (1Timothy 2:5)

In light of the two above passages, we can say; first, a saintly human intermediator is un-needed since the Bible only recognizes one mediator, the Lord Jesus Christ. Second, we are directed by the Hebrews passage to go directly to God.

Prayer from

Prayer is a noun

1. A devout petition to God or an object of worship.

2. A spiritual communion with God or an object of worship, as in supplication, thanksgiving, adoration, or confession.

3. The act or practice of praying to God or an object of worship.

“And I John saw these things, and heard them. And when I had heard and seen, I fell down to worship before the feet of the angel which shewed me these things. But he said to me, Do not do that. I am a fellow servant of yours and of your brethren the prophets and of those who heed the words of this book. Worship God.” (Revelation 22:8-9)

If the angel refused John and his misguided attempt at worship, how much more should we reject the practice of prayer to human saints?


1. H. D. M. Spence and Joseph S. Exell, The Pulpit Commentary, Ephesians, Vol. 20, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans Publishing Company reprint 1978), p. 149.

2. W. E. Vine, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, (Iowa Falls, Iowa, Riverside Book and Bible House), p. 986-987.

3. Walter A. Elwell, Editor, Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Baker Book House), p. 700-701.

Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks, titled: The Religion That Started in a Hat. Available at:

For more study:


** Got Questions

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What is doctrine? Is it important?

What is doctrine? Is it important? By Jack Kettler

In this study, we will seek to understand what the Bible says about doctrine.

Many have heard people proclaim; “Don’t give me doctrine; I just want to follow Jesus” or “No creed but Christ.” Doctrine as will be seen means, teaching, instruction, and other similar words. First, note that this type of assertion decrying doctrine is itself a doctrine, albeit, a simplistic one. Second, note that this type of assertion is contradictory since the asserter has some doctrinal knowledge of the person of Christ in order to make the assertion.

Do people making assertions like these want to know Christ and follow him? Consider:

“If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.” (John 7:17)

Jesus taught doctrine, and if you are going to be his disciple, you must learn his teachings. Besides, we are to grow in grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, see 2Peter 3:18. Non-doctrinal Christianity is impossible because even non-doctrinal religion is doctrinal. In Christianity, doctrines are unavoidable; the question should be what type of doctrine you should have?

“Shew me thy ways, O LORD; teach me thy paths.” (Psalm 25:4) Do you want to know God’s paths?

As in previous studies, we will look at definitions, scriptures, commentary evidence and confessional support for the glorifying of God in how we live.



A set of accepted beliefs held by a group. In religion, it is the set of true beliefs that define the parameters of that belief system. Hence, there is true doctrine and false doctrine relative to each belief set. In Christianity, for example, a true biblical doctrine is that there is only one God in all existence (Isaiah 43:10; Isa 44:6; Isa 44:8). A false doctrine is that there is more than one God in all existence. *


Question: “What is doctrine?”

Answer: The word translated “doctrine” means “instruction, especially as it applies to lifestyle application.” In other words, doctrine is teaching imparted by an authoritative source. In the Bible, the word always refers to spiritually related fields of study. The Bible says of itself that it is “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2Timothy 3:16). We are to be careful about what we believe and present as truth. First Timothy 4:16 says, “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.” **

Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary on doctrine:

1. (n.) Teaching; instruction.

2. (n.) That which is taught; what is held, put forth as true, and supported by a teacher, a school, or a sect; a principle or position, or the body of principles, in any branch of knowledge; any tenet or dogma; a principle of faith; as, the doctrine of atoms; the doctrine of chances.

Synonyms for doctrine:

Axioms, beliefs, concepts, creeds, dogmas, precepts, statutes, propositions, rules, statements, teachings, tenets, articles of faith, declarations, gospel, instructions, and edicts. These synonyms presuppose predominantly written documents. The written Word is essential since we learn of Christ in His word.

From the Scriptures about doctrine:

“The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple. The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes.” (Psalm 19:7-8)

“If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.” (John 7:17)

“But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.” (John 20:31)

“Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee.” (1Timothy 4:16)

“If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness.” (1Timothy 6:3)

“Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus.” (2Timothy 1:13)

“And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.” (2Timothy 2:2)

“In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth.” (2Timothy 2:25)

“But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; And that from a child thou hast known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” (2Timothy 3:14-15)

“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” (2Timothy 3:16-17)

“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears.” (2Timothy 4:3)

“If thou put the brethren in remembrance of these things, thou shalt be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished up in the words of faith and of good doctrine, whereunto thou hast attained.” (1Timothy 4:6 )

“Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers.” (Titus 1:9)

“For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” (Hebrews 5:13-14)

Featured commentary from Matthew Poole’s Commentary on Hebrews 5:13-14 and the need for growth in doctrinal truth:

“The Spirit proves these Hebrews such infants by describing the state of them, and of their contrary, and tacitly applying it to them under a metaphor or allegory started by him before.

For every one that useth milk; for, saith he, every one of you who take in nothing but the elements and weakest kind of doctrines, and can bear no other, have not digested the first principles of the oracles of God.

Is unskilful in the word of righteousness; are apeirov, not truly knowing, not proving nor experiencing, never exercised or practiced in, the word of righteousness, the gospel doctrine, which is in itself an eternal certain truth, the revelation of the righteousness of God to faith, Romans 1:16,17, and the instrumental conveyer of it to faith; a perfect rule of righteousness, making Christians conform exactly to the mind and will of God, and so reaching the state of strong and perfect ones, Colossians 1:25-29.

For he is a babe; he is but a new-born Christian, a child in Christ’s school, one that cannot be experienced in the perfections of God’s word, because he is weak in knowledge, ignorant and unconstant like an infant, 1 Corinthians 14:20; compare Ephesians 4:14.

But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age; but those great, deep, and high mysteries of the gospel concerning Christ’s natures, their hypostatical union, his offices, his actual fulfilling all his types in the Old Testament both personal and mystical, with the prophecies of his gospel church state, and his mediatory kingdom, &c., these are the strong meat and food of grown Christians, who have reached some maturity in the knowledge of these gospel mysteries, and are of a full age in understanding, 1 Corinthians 2:6 1 Corinthians 14:20 Philippians 3:15; reaching on to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ in knowledge and grace, Ephesians 4:13.

Even those who by reason of use; even those who dia thn ezin, by a gracious habit of wisdom and knowledge infused and perfected by long study, practice, and exercise of themselves in the word of righteousness, by which they are able to apprehend and improve the highest doctrines of the mystery of Christ.

Have their senses: ta aisyhthria are, strictly, organs or instruments of sense, as the eye, the tongue, and the hand, by a metonymy, express seeing, tasting, and feeling; and so is by analogy applied to the inward senses and faculties of the soul, whereby they discern and relish gospel doctrines.

Exercised: gegumnasmena strictly notes such an exercise as wrestlers use for a victory with all their might and strength, being trained up to it by long exercise. The spiritual organs or faculties of Christians are well instructed, practiced, made apt and ready, as the external ones are, for their proper work.

To discern both good and evil: prov diakrisin, for the discerning and differencing things, so as the mind discerns what doctrine is true and what is false by the word of righteousness, and the will chooseth what is good and refuseth what is evil, the affections love good and hate evil. As the senses external can by exercise discern what food is gustful, pleasing, and wholesome for the person, and what is nauseous and unwholesome; so the grown Christian is improved by the exercise of his spiritual senses, that can by his enlightened mind discern higher gospel doctrines, and by his renewed will relish the sublimer mysteries of Christ as they are revealed to him. Such the Christian Hebrews ought to have been, so able proficients in the school of Christ.” (1)

Doctrine from Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words:


[1, G1322, didache]

Akin to No. 1, under DOCTOR, denotes teaching, either

(a) That which is taught, e.g., Matthew 7:28, AV, “doctrine,” RV, “teaching;” Titus 1:9, RV; Revelation 2:14-Revelation 2:15, Revelation 2:24, or

(b) The act of teaching, instruction, e.g., Mark 4:2, AV, “doctrine,” RV, “teaching;” the RV has “the doctrine” in Romans 16:17. See NOTE

(1) below.

[2, G1319, didaskalia]

Denotes, as No. 1 (from which, however, it is to be distinguished),

(a) “that which is taught, doctrine,” Matthew 15:9; Mark 7:7; Ephesians 4:14; Colossians 2:22; 1 Timothy 1:10; 1 Timothy 4:1, 1 Timothy 4:6; 1 Timothy 6:1, 1 Timothy 6:3; 2 Timothy 4:3; Titus 1:9 (“doctrine,” in last part of verse: See also No. 1); Titus 2:1, Titus 2:10;

(b) “teaching, instruction,” Romans 12:7, “teaching;” Romans 15:4, “learning;’ 1 Timothy 4:13, AV, “doctrine,” RV, “teaching;” 1 Timothy 4:16, AV, “the doctrine,” RV, (correctly) “thy teaching; 1 Timothy 5:17, AV, “doctrine,” RV “teaching;” 2 Timothy 3:10, 2 Timothy 3:16 (ditto); Titus 2:7, “thy doctrine.” Cp. No. 1, under DOCTOR. See LEARNING.


(1) Whereas didache is used only twice in the Pastoral Epistles, 2 Timothy 4:2; Titus 1:9, didaskalia occurs fifteen times. Both are used in the Active and Passive senses (i.e., the act of teaching and what is taught), the Passive is predominant in didache, the Active in didaskalia; the former stresses the authority, the latter the act (Cremer). Apart from the Apostle Paul, other writers make use of didache only, save in Matthew 15:9; Mark 7:7 (didaskalia).

(2) In Hebrews 6:1, logos, “a word,” is translated “doctrine,” AV; the RV margin gives the lit. rendering, “the word (of the beginning of Christ),” and, in the text, “the (first) principles (of Christ).” (2)

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia on Doctrine:



Latin doctrina, from doceo, “to teach,” denotes both the act of teaching and that which is taught; now used exclusively in the latter sense.

1. Meaning of Terms:

(1) In the Old Testament for

(a) leqach “what is received,” hence, “the matter taught” (Deuteronomy 32:2; Job 11:4; Proverbs 4:2; Isaiah 29:24, the American Standard Revised Version “instruction”);

(b) she-mu`ah, “what is heard” (Isaiah 28:9, the Revised Version (British and American) “message,” the Revised Version, margin “report”);

(c) mucar, “discipline” (Jet 10:8 margin), “The stock is a doctrine” (the Revised Version British and American) “instruction” of vanities, i. e. “The discipline of unreal gods is wood (is like themselves, destitute of true moral force” (BDB)).

(2) In the New Testament for

(i) didaskalia =

(a) “the act of teaching” (1 Timothy 4:13,16; 5:17; 2 Timothy 3:10,16), all in the Revised Version (British and American) “teaching”;

(b) “what is taught” (Matthew 15:9; 2 Timothy 4:3). In some passages the meaning is ambiguous as between (a) and (b).

(ii) didache, always translated “teaching” in the Revised Version (British and American), except in Romans 16:17, where “doctrine” is retained in the text and “teaching” inserted in the margin =

(a) the act of teaching (Mark 4:2; Acts 2:42, the King James Version “doctrine”);

(b) what is taught (John 7:16,17; Revelation 2:14,15,24, the King James Version “doctrine”). In some places the meaning is ambiguous as between (a) and (b) and in Matthew 7:28; Mark 1:22; Acts 13:12, the manner, rather than the act or matter of teaching is denoted, namely, with authority and power.

2. Christ’s Teaching Informal:

The meaning of these words in the New Testament varied as the church developed the content of its experience into a system of thought, and came to regard such a system as an integral part of saving faith (compare the development of the meaning of the term “faith”):

(1) The doctrines of the Pharisees were a fairly compact and definite body of teaching, a fixed tradition handed down from one generation of teachers to another (Matthew 16:12, the King James Version “doctrine”; compare Matthew 15:9; Mark 7:7).

(2) In contrast with the Pharisaic system, the teaching of Jesus was unconventional and occasional, discursive and unsystematic; it derived its power from His personality, character and works, more than from His words, so that His contemporaries were astonished at it and recognized it as a new teaching (Matthew 7:28; 22:33; Mark 1:22,27; Luke 4:32). So we find it in the Synoptic Gospels, and the more systematic form given to it in the Johannine discourses is undoubtedly the work of the evangelist, who wrote rather to interpret Christ than to record His ipsissima verba (John 20:31).

3. Apostolic Doctrines:

The earliest teaching of the apostles consisted essentially of three propositions:

(a) that Jesus was the Christ (Acts 3:18);

(b) that He was risen from the dead (Acts 1:22; 2:24,32); and

(c) that salvation was by faith in His name (Acts 2:38; 3:16). While proclaiming these truths, it was necessary to coordinate them with Hebrew faith, as based upon Old Testament revelation.

The method of the earliest reconstruction may be gathered from the speeches of Peter and Stephen (Acts 2:14-36; 5:29-32; 7:2-53). A more thorough reconstruction of the coordination of the Christian facts, not only with Hebrew history, but with universal history, and with a view of the world as a whole, was undertaken by Paul. Both types of doctrine are found in his speeches in Acts, the former type in that delivered at Antioch (Acts 13:16-41), and the latter in the speeches delivered at Lystra (Acts 14:15-17) and at Athens (Acts 17:22-31). The ideas given in outline in these speeches are more fully developed into a doctrinal system, with its center removed from the resurrection to the death of Christ, in the epistles, especially in Galatians, Romans, Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians. But as yet it is the theological system of one teacher, and there is no sign of any attempt to impose it by authority on the church as a whole. As a matter of fact the Pauline system never was generally accepted by the church. Compare James and the Apostolic Fathers.

4. Beginnings of Dogma:

In the Pastoral and General Epistles a new state of things appears. The repeated emphasis on “sound” or “healthy doctrine” (1Timothy 1:10; 6:3; 2Timothy 1:13; 4:3; Titus 1:9; 2:1), “good doctrine” (1 Timothy 4:6) implies that a body of teaching had now emerged which was generally accepted, and which should serve as a standard of orthodoxy. The faith has become a body of truth “once for all delivered unto the saints” (Jude 1:3). The content of this “sound doctrine” is nowhere formally given, but it is a probable inference that it corresponded very nearly to the Roman formula that became known as the Apostles’ Creed. See DOGMA. T. Rees (3)

In closing:

After reading the above scriptures, it should be evident that it would be impossible for a church not to have doctrines. How could you have a sermon without doctrine? A non-doctrinal sermon would be 30 minutes of silence.

You cannot and should not avoid the doctrines of Scripture. As you read Scripture, you will be learning doctrine. Good doctrines or bad doctrines that is the choice. How do we avoid bad doctrines? Chiefly, through the continued reading of the Scriptures and staying in the fellowship of believers.

To repeat, Jesus taught doctrine, and if you are going to be his disciple, you must learn his teachings. Non-doctrinal Christianity is impossible because even such a thing would be doctrinal and self-contradictory. In Christianity, doctrines are unavoidable; the question should be what type of doctrines you should have? We are warned in Scripture about false teachers. Consequently, there are wicked doctrines.

“Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.” (Acts 20:28-30) Having correct doctrine is a biblical imperative.

Stay in the Word:

“These were nobler than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.” (Acts 17:11)

Church confessions are helpful. A confession of faith is a formal statement setting out the vital religious doctrine of the church body. A confession is more detailed than the typical evangelical statement of beliefs found in the church bulletin. See below for Bible Study Resources.


1. Matthew Poole’s Commentary on the Holy Bible, vol. 3, (Peabody, Massachusetts, Hendrickson Publishers, 1985) p. 830.

2. W. E. Vine, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, (Iowa Falls, Iowa, Riverside Book and Bible House), pp. 223-224.

3. Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor, International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans, reprinted 1986), pp. 866-867.

Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks, titled: The Religion That Started in a Hat. Available at:

For more study:

* CARM Theological Dictionary

** Got Questions


What is false doctrine?

Why Do We Need Creeds and Confessions?…

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What does the Bible say about Heaven?

What does the Bible say about Heaven? By Jack Kettler

In this study, we will seek to understand what the Bible says about heaven.

As in previous studies, we will look at definitions, scriptures, commentary evidence and confessional support for the glorifying of God in how we live.

“Shew me thy ways, O LORD; teach me thy paths.” (Psalm 25:4)



“Primarily, the essential and immediate dwelling place of God and the eternal home of His people also the place where God most fully makes known his presence to bless.” *


Heaven is the dwelling place of God and for those who go there a place of everlasting bliss.

Scripture implies three heavens, since “the third heaven” is revealed to exist (2Corinthians 12:2). It is logical that a third heaven cannot exist without a first and second. Scripture does not describe specifically the first and second heaven. The first, however, apparently refers to the atmospheric heavens of the fowl (Hosea 2:18) and clouds (Daniel 7:13). The second heaven may be the area of the stars and planets (Genesis 1:14-18). It is the abode of all supernatural angelic beings. The third heaven is the abode of the triune God. Its location is unrevealed. (See Matthew 23:34-37; Luke 10:20; and Revelation 22:2; Rev 22:20-21). **

From the Scriptures about Heaven:

“The LORD looketh from heaven; he beholdeth all the sons of men.” (Psalms 33:13)

“I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him.” (Daniel 7:13)

“After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.” (Matthew 6:9)

“And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” (Matthew 24:30)

“And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight. And while they looked stedfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel; Which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:9-11)

Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers on Acts 1:11:

“(11) Shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.—So our Lord, following the great prophecy of Daniel 7:13, had spoken of Himself as “coming in the clouds of heaven” (see Note on Matthew 26:64), in visible ‘majesty and glory. Here, again, men have asked questions which they cannot answer; not only, when shall the end be, but where shall the Judge thus appear? What place shall be the chosen scene of His Second Advent? So far as we dare to localise what is left undefined, the words of the angels suggest the same scene, as well as the same manner. Those who do not shrink from taking the words of prophecy in their most literal sense, have seen in Zechariah 14:4, an intimation that the Valley of Jehosophat (= Jehovah judges)—the “valley of decision”—shall witness the great Assize, and that the feet of the Judge shall stand upon the Mount of Olives, from which He had ascended into heaven. This was the current mediæval view, and seems, if we are to localise at all, to be more probable than any other.” (1)

Speaking metaphorically of the city called heaven:

“For he [Abraham] looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.” (Hebrews 11:10)

“But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels.” (Hebrews 12:22)

“And I John saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” (Revelation 21:2)

The Celestial City

1. The goal of Christian’s journey in Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress; the heavenly Jerusalem.

2. New Jerusalem.

Heaven from Vine’s Expository Dictionary:

Strong’s Number: g3772 Greek: ouranos

Heaven, Heavenly (-ies):

Probably akin to ornumi, “to lift, to heave,” is used in the NT

(a) Of “the aerial heavens,” e.g., Matthew 6:26; 8:20; Act 10:12; 11:6 (RV, “heaven,” in each place, AV, “air”); James 5:18;

(b) “the sidereal,” e.g., Mat 24:29, 35; Mar 13:25, 31; Hebrews 11:12, RV, “heaven,” AV, “sky;” Revelation 6:14; 20:11; they, (a) and (b), were created by the Son of God, Hebrews 1:10, as also by God the Father, Revelation 10:6;

(c) “The eternal dwelling place of God,” Matthew 5:16; 12:50; Revelation 3:12; 11:13; 16:11; 20:9. From thence the Son of God descended to become incarnate, John 3:13, 31; 6:38, 42. In His ascension Christ “passed through the heavens,” Hebrews 4:14, RV; He “ascended far above all the heavens,” Ephesians 4:10, and was “made higher than the heavens,” Hebrews 7:26; He “sat down on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens,” Hebrews 8:1; He is “on the right hand of God,” having gone into heaven, 1Peter 3:22. Since His ascension it is the scene of His present life and activity, e.g., Romans 8:34; Hebrews 9:24. From the thence the Holy Spirit descended at Pentecost, 1Peter 1:12. It is the abode of the angels, e.g., Matthew 18:10; 22:30; cp. Revelation 3:5. Thither Paul was “caught up,” whether in the body or out of the body, he knew not, 2Corinthians 12:2. It is to be the eternal dwelling place of the saints in resurrection glory, 2 Corinthians 5:1. From thence Christ will descend to the air to receive His saints at the Rapture, 1Th 4:16; Philippians 3:20, 21, and will subsequently come with His saints and with His holy angels at His second advent, Mat 24:30; 2Thessalonians 1:7. In the present life “heavens,” is the region of the spiritual citizenship of believers, Philippians 3:20. The present “heavens” with the earth, are to pass away, 2Peter 3:10, “being on fire,” 2Pe 3:12 (see ver. 7); Revelation 20:11, and new “heavens” and earth are to be created, 2Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:1, with Isaiah 65:17, e.g.

In Luke 15:18, 21, “heaven” is used, by metonymy, for God.

See AIR.


(1) For the phrase in Luke 11:13, see Note on B, No. 2.

(2) In Luke 11:2, the AV, “as in heaven,” translates a phrase found in some mss.

A-1 Adjective Strong’s Number: g3770 Greek: ouranios

Heaven, Heavenly (-ies):

Signifying “of heaven, heavenly,” corresponding to A, No. 1, is used

(a) As an appellation of God the Father, Matthew 6:14, 26, 32, “your heavenly Father;” Matthew 15:13, “My heavenly Father;”

(b) As descriptive of the holy angels, Luke 2:13;

(c) Of the vision seen by Paul, Acts 26:19.

A-2 Adjective Strong’s Number: g2032 Greek: epouranios

Heaven, Heavenly (-ies):

“Heavenly,” what pertains to, or is in, heaven (epi, in the sense of “pertaining to,” not here, “above”), has meanings corresponding to some of the meanings of ouranos, A, No. 1. It is used

(a) Of God the Father, Matthew 18:35;

(b) of the place where Christ “sitteth at the right hand of God” (i.e., in a position of Divine authority), Ephesians 1:20; and of the present position of believers in relationship to Christ, Ephesians 2:6; where they possess “every spiritual blessing,” Ephesians 1:3;

(c) Of Christ as “the Second Man,” and all those who are related to Him spiritually, 1Corinthians 15:48;

(d) Of those whose sphere of activity or existence is above, or in contrast to that of earth, of “principalities and powers,” Ephesians 3:10; of “spiritual hosts of wickedness,” Ephesians 6:12, RV, “in heavenly places,” for AV, “in high places;”

(e) Of the Holy Spirit, Hebrews 6:4;

(f) of “heavenly things,” as the subjects of the teaching of Christ, John 3:12, and as consisting of the spiritual and “heavenly” sanctuary and “true tabernacle” and all that appertains thereto in relation to Christ and His sacrifice as antitypical of the earthly tabernacle and sacrifices under the Law, Hebrews 8:5; 9:23;

(g) Of the “calling” of believers, Hebrews 3:1;

(h) Of heaven as the abode of the saints, “a better country” than that of earth, Hebrews 11:16, and of the spiritual Jerusalem, Hebrews 12:22;

(i) Of the kingdom of Christ in its future manifestation, 2Timothy 4:18;

(j) Of all beings and things, animate and inanimate, that are “above the earth,” Philippians 2:10;

(k) Of the resurrection and glorified bodies of believers, 1 Corinthians. 15:49;

(l) Of the “heavenly orbs,” 1Corinthians 15:40 (“celestial,” twice, and so rendered here only).

Note: In connection with (a), the word “heavenly,” used of God the Father in Luke 11:13, represents the phrase ex ouranou, “from heaven.”

2Strong’s Number: g3321 Greek: mesouranema

Heaven, Heavenly (-ies):

Denotes “mid-heaven,” or the midst of the heavens (mesos, “middle,” and No. 1), Revelation 8:13; 14:6; 19:17.

B-1 Adverb Strong’s Number: g3771 Greek: ouranothen

Heaven, Heavenly (-ies):

Formed from A, No. 1, and denoting “from heaven,” is used of

(a) The aerial heaven, Act 14:17;

(b) Heaven, as the uncreated sphere of God’s abode, 26:13. (2)

Heaven, Heavens, Heavenlies from the Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology:

“Heaven” is the created reality beyond earth. “The heavens and the earth” (Gen 1:1) circumscribe the entire creation, or what we call the universe. God does not need heaven in which to exist. He is self-existent and infinite. Place is an accommodation of God to his finite creatures. God transcends not only earth, but heaven as well.

“Heaven” designates two interrelated and broad concepts the physical reality beyond the earth and the spiritual reality in which God dwells. Frequently, the word “heaven” appears in the plural. The nearly exclusive word for heaven in the Old Testament, samayim [Iy;m’v], is an intensive plural more literally translated “heights” or “high places.” Jehovah is, therefore, “God most High” (Gen 14:18-20; Psalm 18:13). Of the 284 occurrences of its New Testament counterpart, ouranos [oujranov] (lit. “that which is raised up”), about one-third are plural.

The Physical Heavens. The ancient distinguished between two domains of the physical heaven perceivable by the senses. The immediate heaven is the surrounding atmosphere in which the “birds of heaven” fly (1Kings 21:24). The phenomena of weather occur in the atmospheric heaven, including rain (Deut. 11:11; Acts 14:17), snow (Isa 55:10), dew (Dan 4:23), frost (Job 38:29), wind (Psalm 135:7), clouds (Psalm 147:8, thunder (1Sam 2:10), and hail (Job 38:22). Beyond the atmospheric heaven is the celestial heaven, also called the “expanse” or “firmament” (Gen 1:8). It includes the heavenly lights stars having “fixed patterns” (Jer. 33:25; Nahum 3:16), and the sun and moon (Gen 1:14-16). The fixed character of the celestial heaven has evoked figures of speech to describe it. For example, it has windows (2 Kings 7:2), a foundation (2 Sam 22:8), a gate (Gen 28:17), ends (Deut. 3:43, a remote part (Neh. 1:9), and is like a curtain (Isa 40:22).

God employs the atmospheric and celestial heavens in his self-revelation to human beings. First, the heavens witness that a glorious God exists. “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands” (Psalm 19:1; Rom 1:19-20). Moreover, the pattern of seasons, yielding life-sustaining food, witness to God before believers.

Second, heaven contains signs establishing God’s promises. The rainbow signifies that God will never destroy the world by a flood again (Gen 9:12-16. The innumerable stars are an object lesson of the abundant way God will fulfill his covenant with Abraham (Gen 22:17; Exodus 32:13; Deut. 1:10; 1 Chron. 27:23; Neh. 9:23).

Third, God displays miraculous signs in the heavens. Fire comes down from heaven, both to judge (Gen 19:24; 1Kings 18:38-39) and to indicate acceptance of a sacrifice (1Chron. 21:26). God provided the Israelites with “bread from heaven” during their wilderness trek (Exodus 16:4). God stopped the sun’s movement (Jos 10:12-13) and used a star to pinpoint the Messiah’s coming (Luke 2:9). He also spoke audibly from heaven on occasion (Gen 21:17; Genesis 22:11 Genesis 22:15; Acts 11:9). Believers look for the return of Christ in the clouds of heaven (Mark 14:62; Acts 1:11; 1 Thess. 4:16-17).

Fourth, the vastness and inaccessibility of heaven are visual reminders of God’s transcendence, God’s other worldliness, however, is a spiritual, not a spacial, fact. When Solomon prayed at the dedication of the temple, he acknowledged, “the heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you” (1 Kings 8:27).

The Dwelling Place of God. Heaven most commonly refers to the dwelling-place of God. Heaven is where the glory of God is expressed in pristine clarity. The term “glory,” therefore, has popularly been used as a synonym for heaven (Rom 8:18). Actually, God’s glory is above the heavens (Psalm 113:4; 148:13) because it is the sum total of his attributes that are expressed wherever he is present (Exodus 13:21-22; Psalm 108:5; 2Col 3:7-18). In heaven there is a continual acknowledgment of God’s glory (Psalm 29:9). Various figurative expressions identify God’s heavenly abode such as “the highest heaven” (1Kings 8:27), “the heavens” (Amos 9:6), and “his lofty palace in the heavens” (Amos 9:6). Paul speaks of being taken up into “the third heaven” (2Cor. 12:2). Although he does not identify the first two, possible references to the atmospheric and celestial heavens are suggestive.

The Heavenly Perspective. God invites human beings to adopt his heavenly perspective. All blessings, whether natural or supernatural, are from God (James 1:17; see John 3:27), who is Creator and Sustainer of the universe (Rom 11:36). Israel rightly regarded rain as a heavenly gift from God (Deut. 28:12). Likewise, drought was a sign of God’s displeasure (Deut. 28:23-24).

The extent to which earthly blessings evidence heavenly approval needs to be conditioned. Job, for example, suffered many things unrelated to his faith and obedience. In Job’s suffering, however, God was orchestrating his sovereign and just purposes from heaven (Job 41:11). Jesus taught that the span of life on earth is severely limited when considering heavenly blessing. When the godly suffer at the hands of the unrighteous, for example, rejoicing is commanded knowing that a great reward in heaven awaits (Matt 5:12). Nevertheless, “Our Father who is in heaven” gives daily bread (Matt 6:11) and “good gifts to those who ask him” (Matt 7:11).

What of those who do not adopt a heavenly perspective? Ecclesiastes, with its theme the meaninglessness of life lived “under heaven” (i.e., from a purely earthly perspective), asks readers to consider that “God is in heaven and you are on the earth” (5:2). Jesus solemnly warned, “Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 7:21). (The phrase “kingdom of heaven,” found only in Matthew’s Gospel, is a circumlocution for the “kingdom of God” [see 19:23-24, where they are used interchangeably], owing to the Jews’ reticence to utter the holy name of God.) Also, Paul warns that partiality is forbidden even in the case of a master-to-slave relationship, because “both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him” (Eph. 6:9).

Those claiming a heavenly inheritance are required to bring the earthly and the heavenly into alignment. Jesus linked entrance into the kingdom of heaven to repentance (Matt 4:17), humility (5:3; 18:1-4), witness (Matthew 5:10 Matthew 5:16; 10:32; 16:19), obedience (5:19), righteousness (5:20), compassion (Matthew 18:10 Matthew 18:14; 23:13) and stewardship (19:23). Proactively, believers store up treasures (6:20) by being prudent managers of the little and perishable on earth in order to insure the abundant and enduring in heaven (Luke 16:1-13). Either the earthly or heavenly value system will prevail. So, those who pray, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt 6:10) are obliged to live from a heavenly vantage point.

Christ and Heaven. The greatest witness on earth to heavenly glory is Jesus Christ (John 1:14 John 1:18). As the temple was the dwelling-place of God in the midst of Israel, so in a greater way the Incarnate is the dwelling-place of God. The Son uniquely preexisted with the Father in glory (17:5), “come down from heaven” (6:38), was “the bread from heaven” (6:32; see John 6:41 John 6:50 John 6:51 John 6:58) entered into heaven (1Peter 3:22), and ascended far above all the heavens (Eph. 4:10). Christ’s essential oneness with the Father is established in that the Old Testament notion that Jehovah “fills heaven and earth” (Jer. 23:24) is ascribed to Christ (Eph. 1:23; 4:10; Colossians 1:16 Colossians 1:20).

The writer to the Hebrews details the person and work of Christ from a heavenly perspective. Although Creator of heavens and earth (1:10), the Son is now seated at the right hand of God’s throne in heaven (1:4), mediating for believers (4:14-16). Christ is to be worshiped because God exalted him “above the heavens” (7:26; see Php 2:9-11). His redemptive work is completely efficacious because, unlike the priests of the old economy who ministered in a copy of the heavenly temple, Christ alone was qualified to enter the presence of God in heaven (9:23-24). Believers now “have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus” (10:19).

The second coming is the terminus ad quem of Christ’s intercessory work in heaven (Acts 3:21). Believers await anxiously for Christ’s coming “from heaven” (1 Thess. 1:10; 4:16) at which time unbelievers will be judged (2Th. 1:7-8). John, looking forward to “that day,” said it was “heaven standing open” (Rev 19:11). The figure of an opening heaven is employed at the revelation given to Ezekiel (1:1), the phenomena surrounding the Lord’s baptism (Mark 1:10), Stephen’s vision of Christ (Acts 7:56), and John’s vision of the apocalypse (Rev 4:1). But it is on account of Christ (John 1:51) and his work (Rev 11:19; 15:5) that the opening of heaven is complete. It is fitting that all manner of celestial phenomena will accompany the opening of heaven. It was a frightful thing for Israel to have the heavens shut and the blessing of God’s physical provision withheld (Deut. 11:17; 2Chron. 7:13; Luke 4:25). How much more terrible is it to be shut out of the kingdom of heaven where there is living water (Matt 23:13; 25:10)?

The Spirit and Heaven. The giving of the Holy Spirit is directly tied to Jesus’ entrance into heaven (Acts 2:33). The Spirit was sent from heaven (1Peter 1:12). He is the heavenly gift (Acts 2:38), a foretaste of the blessings of heaven (John 7:37-39). He is also a guarantee of believers’ future inheritance (Eph. 1:13-14). The writer of Hebrews indicates a relationship between “the heavenly gift,” the Holy Spirit, and the powers of the age to come (6:3-4). When Peter linked the Spirit’s coming with Joel 2:28-32 (Acts 2:17-21), he was saying that the eschatological hope of heaven was near. The “last days” had begun.

Believers and Heaven. Believers have a present and future heavenly status. Presently believers are citizens of heaven (Php 3:20-21) with a heavenly calling (Heb. 3:1); their names are written in heaven (Luke 10:20). They groan to be clothed with a resurrection body, “a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands” (2Cor. 5:1). It will be a body like Christ’s. The restoration of the image of God in human beings from earthly to heavenly will be complete (1Cor. 15:45-49). The eternal inheritance of future blessings promised by God is secure because it is “kept in heaven” (1Peter 1:4), and because believers are joint-heirs with Christ who has already been glorified (Rom 8:17).

The heavenly future all believers anticipate is the fulfillment of God’s purpose in creating the universe. It will include worship of the type revealed in the Book of Revelation (7:10; 11:16-18; 15:2-4). Worship will involve rehearsing God’s glorious Acts (19:1-2). In addition to ascription of worth, worship will involve service unspecified works done in obedience to God and for God (22:6). Believers are to offer this kind of service to God now (Rom 12:1). In contrast to present suffering, God promises believers that they will reign with Christ in heavenly glory (2 Tim 2:12; see Matt 19:28; Revelation 20:4 Revelation 20:6). In heaven believers will have fellowship with God and with each other in a perfect environment (Heb. 12:22-23).

In the Heavenlies. Paul stresses the believer’s solidarity with Christ. Since a believer is “in Christ” and since Christ is in heaven, the believer is “in the heavenlies” (en tois epouraniois). Accordingly, God has blessed the believer “in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ” (Eph. 1:3). This precise phrase occurs only five times in the New Testament, and only in Ephesians (1:3; 1:20; 2:6; 3:10; 6:12). The believer’s heavenly blessings depend on Christ’s heavenly session (Eph. 1:20) and the spiritual union each believer shares “with Christ” (Eph. 2:6). God does not merely apply the ministry of Christ to believers. He sees believers with Christ wherever he is and he is now in heaven. Believers are commanded to adopt an earthly lifestyle of dying to sin and living to righteousness (Rom 6:4), and to set their minds on the heavenly reality that will soon be revealed in Christ (Col 4:1-4). In other words, believers should live consistently with who, and where, they really are.

Paul indicates, however, that “the heavenlies” are also the realm of spiritual powers. Paul likely is referring to Satan and his demonic host, calling them “rulers,” “authorities,” and “spiritual forces” (Eph. 3:10; 6:12). Although their final defeat is sure (Eph. 1:19-23), believers are called upon to practice an eschatological lifestyle, equipped with heavenly weaponry wielded by those who are “strong in the Lord” (Eph. 6:10). The battles of life are won on earth with heavenly weapons, not earthly ones.

The Consummation. At the final consummation, God will make “new heavens and a new earth” (Isa 65:17; 66:22; Rev 22:1). It is “new” (kainos [kainov]) in kind, not merely in time. One may wonder why a new heaven is necessary. One possibility is that the heavens (the plural is employed in Hag 2:6; Heb. 12:6; see also Heb. 1:10; 2Peter 3:7 2Peter 3:10 2Peter 3:12) have been affected by sin inasmuch as they are the place of the activity of evil angels and forces (Matt 24:29; Eph. 6:12). The “new heavens and earth” follow the judgment of Satan (Rev 20:7-10) and the Great White Throne judgment (20:11-15), both of which take place in heaven and will never be repeated. Also, the “new Jerusalem” that John saw “coming down out of heaven from God” (Revelation 21:2 Revelation 21:10) is a new characteristic of heaven, perfectly suited to extend God’s glory (21:11).

The sharp distinction between heaven and earth will be removed when God makes all things new. The essential feature of the New Jerusalem is the intimate presence of God among his people (21:3; 22:4). Interestingly, there will be no temple, “for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple” (21:22). Its magnificence is only hinted at in figurative terms (21:11-22:5). Everything that is not consistent now with this picture of heaven will be done away with (21:4).

The Angels, Satan, and Heaven. “The host of heaven” can refer to the stars (Neh. 9:6; Isa 24:21; 34:4; Matt 24:29), but more frequently in Scripture it denotes angels (1Kings 22:19; Luke 2:13). God warns against worshiping the celestial host (2Kings 23:5; Jer. 19:13; Acts 7:42) as well as the angelic host (Col 2:18). When referring to the angels the term carries a military connotation (Joshua 5:14-15; Dan 4:35). God at times employs angels from heaven to do his bidding. They will be particularly active at Christ’s return (Matt 24:31; 2Thess. 1:7-8; Rev 8:2-10:11). Who can say to what extent angels are active today on earth? The truth might be found in Jacob’s vision of a ladder extending from earth to heaven on which the angels of God ascended and descended (Gen 28:12). Nevertheless, the dwelling-place of angels is heaven (Mark 12:25; 13:32; Luke 2:15), where they worship God (Matt 8:10). The heavenly host rejoice when human beings repent (Luke 15:10; 15:7).

Satan is a fallen angel who apparently had access to the presence of God in heavenly places (Job 1:6-7). If Revelation 12:7-12 looks back to the ministry of Christ, the “casting out” of Satan and his evil angels from heaven occurred when Christ entered heavenly glory (see Luke 10:17-20). Now Satan’s sphere is more limited. He is “the prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2) in the process of moving downward in successive stages until he is thrown into the lake of fire (Rev 20:10). Bradford A. Mullen (3)

HEAVEN by Archibald Alexander

Heaven is a reality, not seen by eyes of flesh, but made known by revelation, and received by faith.

Heaven is a rest from toil, trouble, temptation, and sin. Such a rest is very desirable, if it were only a sweet sleep; but heaven is more.

It is a state of delightful activity. Every faculty and every affection will find appropriate exercise; and probably latent powers, not needed here, will there be waked into activity—powers suited to the new condition in which the soul exists.

Heaven is full of light; all darkness and doubt are absent. Knowledge will there be clear, and will possess a transforming efficacy; still, knowledge in heaven will be progressive; the pleasure will partly consist in ever learning something unknown before.

Heaven is a region of perfect love; all the heart and mind and strength will be exerted in love. And if the power of loving should, in the progress of the immortal soul, be increased a thousand-fold, all this increased ability will be kept constantly in full stretch by the loveliness and glory of the objects of affection.

Christ is the center of attraction in heaven. From him radiate the rays of divine glory which enliven, attract, and beautify all the innumerable army of worshipers.

Love in heaven is pure, perfect, and reciprocal. He who loves, cannot be satisfied without a return of affection. And the more exalted and excellent the character of the person beloved, the sweeter the sense of his favor. Heavenly joy consists in loving with all the heart, and in being beloved.

As heaven is a society, the members are happy not only in loving their King, but in mutual love. There will exist no envy, nor jealousy, nor apathy. Every soul will be transparent to every other, and all will see that nothing but pure love exists in every heart.

Heaven is a place of peace—sweet peace and uninterrupted harmony; all disturbing elements will be left behind. In the symbolical heavens of the Revelation, we read of wars; but in the heaven where saints and angels dwell and worship, war can have no place. The atmosphere of heaven is exempt from all evil; it is purity itself; all sin and impurity are denied admission into that holy place.

Heaven is a place of song: high affections are expressed in celestial music. O how elevating, how delightful the melodies!

Heaven is an unchanging state. All change is advancement in knowledge, in dignity, in happiness! (4)

From the Westminster Larger Catechism:

Question 86: What is the communion in glory with Christ, which the members of the invisible church enjoy immediately after death?

Answer: The communion in glory with Christ, which the members of the invisible church enjoy immediately after death, is, in that their souls are then made perfect in holiness, and received into the highest heavens, where they behold the face of God in light and glory, waiting for the full redemption of their bodies, which even in death continue united to Christ, and rest in their graves as in their beds, till at the last day they be again united to their souls.

Question 90: What shall be done to the righteous at the day of judgment?

Answer: At the day of judgment, the righteous, being caught up to Christ in the clouds, shall be set on his right hand, and there openly acknowledged and acquitted, shall join with him in the judging of reprobate angels and men, and shall be received into heaven, where they shall be fully and forever freed from all sin and misery; filled with inconceivable joys, made perfectly holy and happy both in body and soul, in the company of innumerable saints and holy angels, but especially in the immediate vision and fruition of God the Father, of our Lord Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, to all eternity. And this is the perfect and full communion, which the members of the invisible church shall enjoy with Christ in glory, at the resurrection and day of judgment.


1. Charles John Ellicott, Bible Commentary for English Readers, Acts, Vol.II, (London, England, Cassell and Company), p. 3.

2. W. E. Vine, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, (Iowa Falls, Iowa, Riverside Book and Bible House), pp. 538-540.

3. Walter A. Elwell, Editor, Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Baker Book House), pp. 332-335.

4. Alexander, Archibald – Heaven no date or source info, 4 paragraphs https://

Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks, titled: The Religion That Started in a Hat. Available at:

For more study:


** CARM Theological Dictionary

*** Got Questions

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What is a Graven Image?

What is a Graven Image? By Jack Kettler

In this study, we will seek to understand what a graven image is and the implications for making pictures of God.

As in previous studies, we will look at definitions, scriptures, commentary evidence and confessional support for the glorifying of God in how we live.

Shew me thy ways, O LORD; teach me thy paths.” (Psalm 25:4)


Question: What is a graven image?

Answer: The phrase “graven image” comes from the King James Version and is first found in Exodus 20:4 in the second of the Ten Commandments. The Hebrew word translated “graven image” means literally “an idol.” A graven image is an image carved out of stone, wood, or metal. It could be a statue of a person or animal, or a relief carving in a wall or pole. It is differentiated from a molten image, which is melted metal poured into a cast. Abstract Asherah poles, carved wooden Ba’als covered in gold leaf, and etchings of gods accompanying Egyptian hieroglyphics are all graven images. *


Graven Image

The context of the “Thou shall not make a graven image” passages is dealing with worship of false things. Exodus 20:4 states that no one is to make an image of what is in heaven, so that you may not worship them or bow down to them (20:5). This is reiterated in Leviticus 26:1. The Deuteronomy passages, contextually, are dealing with the same thing: an admonition against worshipping a false image. God does not want people bowing down before idols and worshiping false gods. **

Synonyms for Graven:

Inscribed, carved, incised, carven, engraved, and etched.

Synonyms for Image:

Likeness, resemblance, depiction, portrayal, representation, statue, statuette, sculpture, bust, effigy, figure, figurine, doll, carving, painting, picture, portrait, drawing, sketch, artist’s impression


“Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me.” (Exodus 20:4-5)

Consider Barnes’ Notes on the Bible on Exodus 20:4:

“Graven image – Any sort of image is here intended.

As the first commandment forbids the worship of any false god, seen or unseen, it is here forbidden to worship an image of any sort, whether the figure of a false deity Joshua 23:7 or one in any way symbolic of Yahweh (see Exodus 32:4). The spiritual acts of worship were symbolized in the furniture and ritual of the tabernacle and the altar, and for this end the forms of living things might be employed as in the case of the Cherubim (see Exodus 25:18 note): but the presence of the invisible God was to be marked by no symbol of Himself, but by His words written on stones, preserved in the ark in the holy of holies and covered by the mercy-seat. The ancient Persians and the earliest legislators of Rome also agreed in repudiating images of the Deity.” (1)

Why an image of Christ is impossible theologically:

1. We should not forget the first commandment forbids the worship of any other than the true God. The second commandment flows from this first prohibition.

2. An image cannot capture Christ’s divine and human natures and because this, a picture of Christ especially violates his deity.

3. Exodus prohibits the use of images as an aid in the worship of God.

4. Pictures of Christ have no semblance to the way He actually looked. Christ’s glory cannot be captured in a picture, so they are necessarily inaccurate and false.

As an aside, the Exodus passage does not forbid the making of artwork in general. Painting pictures of your children or wife is okay.

Questions for an artist or promoter of pictures of Christ:

When someone shows you a picture of Christ, ask, who is that? If the person says Christ, follow up by asking if the picture is the product of the artist’s mind or an actual portrait. An actual portrait is impossible. Is the picture is a product of the artist’s mind, or is this image based upon a personal revelation of some kind? If so, this raises a completely new list of questions about private revelations. Is the revelation true or false? If it is from his own mind, is this idolatry?

A mental image of God or the Lord Jesus Christ cannot help but to distort Him. A mental image that becomes a picture is a false image because deity cannot be captured in a picture. Why? Because God in His essence is incorporeal. A false picture is an idol, hence, idolatry.

John Calvin on images of God:

“There are two parts in the Commandment — the first forbids the erection of a graven image, or any likeness; the second prohibits the transferring of the worship which God claims for Himself alone, to any of these phantoms or delusive shows. Therefore, to devise any image of God, is in itself impious; because by this corruption His Majesty is adulterated, and He is figured to be other than He is. There is no need of refuting the foolish fancy of some, that all sculptures and pictures are here condemned by Moses, for he had no other object than to rescue God’s glory from all the imaginations, which tend to corrupt it. And assuredly it is a most gross indecency to make God like a stock or a stone… I do not deny that these things are to be taken connectedly, since superstitious worship is hardly ever separated from the preceding error; for as soon as any one has permitted himself to devise an image of God, he immediately falls into false worship. And surely whosoever reverently and soberly feels and thinks about God Himself, is far from this absurdity; nor does any desire or presumption to metamorphose God ever creep in, except when coarse and carnal imaginations occupy our minds. Hence, it comes to pass, that those, who frame for themselves gods of corruptible materials, superstitiously adore the work of their own hands. I will then readily allow these two things, which are inseparable, to be joined together; only let us recollect that God is insulted, not only when His worship is transferred to idols, but when we try to represent Him by any outward similitude.” (2)

The Ten Commandments — Thomas Watson:

“Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am o jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of then that hate me; and shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me and keep my commandments.’ Exodus 20: 4-6.

1. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.

In the first commandment worshipping a false god is forbidden; in this, worshipping the true God in a false manner.

Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.’ This forbids not making an image for civil use. Whose is this image and superscription? They say unto him, It is Caesar’s.’ Matt 22: 20, 21. But the commandment forbids setting up an image for religious use or worship.

Nor the likeness of any thing,’ &c. All ideas, portraitures, shapes, images of God, whether by effigies or pictures, are here forbidden. Take heed lest ye corrupt yourselves, and make the similitude of any figure.’ Deut. 4: 15, 16. God is to be adored in the heart, not painted to the eye.

Thou shalt not bow down to them.’ The intent of making images and pictures is to worship them. No sooner was Nebuchadnezzar’s golden image set up, but all the people fell down and worshipped it. Dan 3: 7. God forbids such prostrating ourselves before an idol. The thing prohibited in this commandment is image-worship. To set up an image to represent God, is debasing him. If any one should make images of snakes or spiders, saying he did it to represent his prince, would not the prince take it in disdain? What greater disparagement to the infinite God than to represent him by that which is unite; the living God, by that which is without life; and the Maker of all by a thing which is made?

[1] To make a true image of God is impossible. God is a spiritual essence and, being a Spirit, he is invisible. John 4: 24. Ye saw no manner of similitude on the day that the Lord spake with you out of the midst of the fire.’ Deut. 4: 15. How can any paint the Deity? Can they make an image of that which they never saw? Quod invisibile est, pingi non potest [There is no depicting the invisible]. Ambrose. Ye saw no similitude.’ It is impossible to make a picture of the soul, or to paint the angels, because they are of a spiritual nature; much less can we paint God by an image, who is an infinite, untreated Spirit.

[2] To worship God by an image, is both absurd and unlawful.

(1) It is absurd and irrational; for, the workman is better than the work,’ He who has builded the house has more honour than the house.’ Heb. 3: 3. If the workman be better than the work, and none bow to the workman, how absurd, then, is it to bow to the work of his hands! Is it not an absurd thing to bow down to the king’s picture, when the king himself is present? It is more so to bow down to an image of God, when God himself is everywhere present.

(2) It is unlawful to worship God by an image; for it is against the homily of the church, which runs thus: The images of God, our Saviour, the Virgin Mary, are of all others the most dangerous; therefore the greatest care ought to be had that they stand not in temples and churches.’ So that image-worship is contrary to our own homilies, and affronts the authority of the Church of England. Image-worship is expressly against the letter of Scripture. Ye shall make no graven image, neither shall ye set up any image of stone to bow down unto it.’ Lev 26: 1. Neither shalt thou set up any image; which the Lord thy God hateth.’ Deut. 16: 22. Confounded be all they that serve graven images.’ Psalm 97: 7. Do we think to please God by doing that which is contrary to his mind, and that which he has expressly forbidden?

[3] Image worship is against the practice of the saints of old. Josiah, that renowned king, destroyed the groves and images.2 Kings 23: 6, 24. Constantine abrogated the images set up in temples. The Christians destroyed images at Baste, Zurich, and Bohemia. When the Roman emperors would have thrust images upon them, they chose rather to die than deflower their virgin profession by idolatry; they refused to admit any painter or carver into their society, because they would not have any carved state or image of God. When Seraphion bowed to an idol, the Christians excommunicated him, and delivered him up to Satan.” (3)

Confessions on Images:

Westminster Shorter Catechism

Q. 49. Which is the second commandment?

A. The second commandment is, Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; and showing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.

Q. 50. What is required in the second commandment?

A. The second commandment requireth the receiving, observing, and keeping pure and entire, all such religious worship and ordinances as God hath appointed in his word.

Q. 51. What is forbidden in the second commandment?

A. The second commandment forbiddeth the worshiping of God by images, or any other way not appointed in his word.

The Heidelberg Catechism is relevant to the question of images:

Question 96. What does God require in the second commandment?

Answer. That we in no wise represent God by images, nor worship him in any other way than he has commanded in his word.

Question 97. Are images then not at all to be made?

Answer. God neither can nor may be represented by any means; but as to creatures, though they may be represented, yet God forbids us to make, or have any resemblance of them, either in order to worship them, or to serve God by them.

Question 98. But may not images be tolerated in the churches, as books to the laity?

Answer. No; for we must not pretend to be wiser than God, who will have his people taught not by dumb images, but by the lively preaching of his word”

FISHER’S CATECHISM, Selections from Q&A #51

Q. What is forbidden in the second commandment?

A. The second commandment forbiddeth, the worshipping of God by images, or any other way not appointed in his word.

Q. 1. What are the leading sins forbidden in this commandment?

A. Idolatry and will-worship.

Q. 2. What is the idolatry here condemned?

A. The worshipping of God by images]: Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, etc.

Q. 3. What is an image?

A. It is a statue, picture, or likeness of any creature whatsoever.

Q. 4. Is it lawful to have images or pictures of mere creatures?

A. Yes, providing they be only for ornament; or the design be merely historical, to transmit the memory of persons and their actions to posterity.

Q. 5. Can any image or representation be made of God?

A. No; it is absolutely impossible; he being an infinite, incomprehensible Spirit (Isa. 40:18). “To whom will ye liken God? or, what likeness will ye compare unto him?” If we cannot delineate our own souls, much less the infinite God (Acts 17:29). “We ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device.”

Q. 6. What judgment should we form of those who have devised images of God, or of the persons of the adorable Trinity?

A. We should adjudge their practice to be both unlawful and abominable.

Q. 7. Why unlawful?

A. Because directly contrary to the express letter of the law in this commandment, and many other Scriptures; such as, Jer. 10:14-15; Hos. 13:2; and particularly Deut. 4:15-19, 23. “Take ye therefore good heed unto yourselves, (for ye saw no MANNER OF SIMILITUDE on the day that the Lord spake unto you in Horeb, out of the midst of the fire) lest ye corrupt yourselves, and make you a graven image, the similitude of any figure, the likeness of male or female,” etc.

Q. 8. How is it abominable?

A. As it is a debasing the Creator of heaven and earth to the rank of his own creatures; and a practical denying of all his infinite perfections (Psa. 50:21).

Q. 9. May we not have a picture of Christ, who has a true body?

A. By no means; because, though he has a true body and a reasonable soul (John 1:14), yet his human nature subsists in his divine person, which no picture can represent (Psa. 45:2).

Q. 10. Why ought all pictures of Christ to be abominated by Christians?

A. Because they are downright lies, representing no more than the picture of a mere man: whereas, the true Christ is God-man; “Immanuel, God with us” (1 Tim. 3:16; Matt. 1:23).

Q. 11. Is it lawful to form any inward representation of God, or of Christ, upon our fancy, bearing a resemblance to any creature whatsoever?

A. By no means; because this is the very inlet unto gross outward idolatry: for, when once the heathens “became vain in their imaginations, they presently changed the glory of the incorruptible God, into images made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things” (Rom. 1:21-23).

Q. 23. Is it lawful, as some plead, to have images or pictures in churches, though not for worship, yet for instruction, and raising the affections?

A. No; because God has expressly prohibited not only the worshipping, but the making of any image whatsoever on a religious account; and the setting them up in churches, cannot but have a native tendency to beget a sacred veneration for them, and therefore ought to be abstained from, as having, at least, an appearance of evil (1 Thess. 5:22).

Q. 24. May they not be placed in churches for beauty and ornament?

A. No: the proper ornament of churches is the sound preaching of the gospel, and the pure dispensation of the sacraments, and other ordinances of divine institution.

Q. 25. Were not images of the cherubim placed in the tabernacle and temple, by the command of God himself?

A. Yes: but out of all hazard of any abuse, being placed in the holy of holies, where none of the people ever came; they were instituted by God himself, which images are not; and they belonged to the typical and ceremonial worship, which is now quite abolished.


“The beauty of the person of Christ, as represented in the Scripture, consists in things invisible unto the eyes of flesh. They are such as no hand of man can represent or shadow. It is the eye of faith alone that can see this King in his beauty. What else can contemplate on the untreated glories of his divine nature? Can the hand of man represent the union of his natures in the same person, wherein he is peculiarly amiable? What eye can discern the mutual communications of the properties of his different natures in the same person?” – John Owen

“Those who make pictures of the Savior, who is God as well as man in one inseparable person, either limit the incomprehensible Godhead to the bounds of created flesh, or confound his two natures like Eutyches, or separate them, like Nestorius, or deny his Godhead, like Arius; and those who worship such a picture are guilty of the same heresy and blasphemy.” – Philip Schaff

“The Bible presents no information whatever about the personal appearance of Jesus Christ, but it does teach that we are not to think of him as he may have appeared “in the days of his flesh,” but as he is today in heavenly glory, in his estate of exaltation (2 Cor. 5:46). Inasmuch as the Bible presents no data about the personal appearance of our Saviour, all artists’ pictures of him are wholly imaginary and constitute only the artists’ ideas of his character and appearance. … [Liberals] inevitably think of Jesus as a human person, rather than thinking of him according to the biblical teaching as a divine person with a human nature. The inevitable effect of the popular acceptance of pictures of Jesus is to overemphasize his humanity and to forget or neglect his deity (which of course no picture can portray). In dealing with an evil so widespread and almost universally accepted, we should bear a clear testimony against what we believe to be wrong.” – Geerhardus Vos

“Thou shalt not make any likeness of anything” for use in worship. This categorical statement rules out not simply the use of pictures and statues, which depict God as an animal, but also the use of pictures and statues, which depict him as the highest created thing we know­ as human. It also rules out the use of pictures and statues of Jesus Christ as a man, although Jesus himself was and remains man; for all pictures and statues are necessarily made after the “likeness” of ideal manhood as we conceive it, and therefore come under the ban which the commandment imposes.” – J.I. Packer

“The Second Commandment teaches us how we are to worship. We are to worship God only as He had commanded us to worship him. Anything that man devises, invents, or imagines corrupts the true reverence and worship of God. This commandment is frequently violated when Christians have pictures of Jesus. When it is said that they are legitimate because they are not used in worship, we reply that they are not legitimate because one cannot have a proper thought of feeling with respect to Christ other than that of reverenced and worship”. – G.I. Williamson

“Pictures of Christ are in principle a violation of the second commandment. A picture of Christ, if it serves any useful purpose, must evoke some thought or feeling respecting him and, in view of what he is, this thought or feeling will be worshipful. We cannot avoid making the picture a medium of worship. But since the materials for this medium of worship are not derived from the only revelation we possess respecting Jesus, namely, Scripture, the worship is constrained by a creation of the human mind that has no revelatory warrant. This is will-worship. For the principle of the second commandment is that we are to worship God only in ways prescribed and authorized by him. It is a grievous sin to have worship constrained by a human figment, and that is what a picture of the Saviour involves.” – John Murray

“Closely akin to the use of images is that of pictures of Christ. And these, we are sorry to say, are often found in Protestant as well as Roman Catholic churches. But nowhere in the Bible, in either the Old or New Testament, is there a description of Christ’s physical features. No picture of Him was painted during His earthly ministry. The church had no pictures of Him during the first four centuries. The so-called pictures of Christ, like those of Mary and the saints, are merely the production of the artist’s imagination. . . . No picture can do justice to his personality, for he was not only human, but divine. And no picture can portray his deity. All such pictures are fatally defective. . . . For most people the so-called pictures of Christ are not an aid to worship but rather a hindrance, and for many they present a temptation to that very idolatry against which the Scriptures warn so clearly.” – Loraine Boettner


1. Albert Barnes, THE AGES DIGITAL LIBRARYCOMMENTARY, Barnes’ Notes on the Bible, Exodus, p. 73.

2. John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries, Exodus, Volume II (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Baker Book House Reprinted 1979), pp.108-109.

3. Thomas Watson, The Ten Commandments, (Carlisle, Pennsylvania, Banner of Truth), pp. 59-60.

Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks, titled: The Religion That Started in a Hat. Available at:

For more study:

Got Questions

** CARM Theological Dictionary


The Second Commandment by Thomas Watson I. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.

Images of Christ a Violation of the Second Commandment

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A magic rock, a hat, Joseph Smith and the coming forth of the Book of Mormon Click on the link to watch the video

I will now give you a description of the manner in which the Book of Mormon was translated. Joseph Smith would put the seer stone into a hat, and put his face in the hat, drawing it closely around his face to exclude the light; and in the darkness the spiritual light would shine. A piece of something resembling parchment would appear, and under it was the interpretation in English. Brother Joseph would read off the English to Oliver Cowdery, who was his principal scribe, and when it was written down and repeated to brother Joseph to see if it was correct, then it would disappear, and another character with the interpretation would appear.*

* David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ (Richmond, Missouri: 1887) p. 12.

David Whitmer is listed inside the Book of Mormon as one of the three witnesses to its authenticity.

The Religion that started in a Hat: a Reference Manual for Christians who Witness to Mormons is a clear presentation of Mormon beliefs and a thoroughly biblical apologetic that assists Christians in speaking intelligently with Mormons in defense of Christian orthodoxy. In A Reference Manual for Christians who Witness to Mormons you will learn:

  • Why do some Mormons teach that it is theoretically possible for the Mormon god’s power to disintegrate and their god cease to be god?
  • Learn how Joseph Smith used a magic rock placed in a hat to see illuminated letters which became the Book of Mormon instead of translating the writings from golden plates he claimed came from an angel.
  • Learn the scriptural terms omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence are terms that cannot be reconciled with Mormon theology.
  • Learn a biblical answer and response to the Mormon practice of Baptism-for-the-dead that misinterprets 1 Corinthians 15:29.
  • Learn about an explosive eschatological sexual-logistical math problem for Mormon theology’s celestial corporeal-finite gods that cannot be answered.
  • Are the indigenous Indians of North and South America related to the Hebrew people as claimed by the Book of Mormon? Learn how recent DNA research completely disproves the historicity of the Book of Mormon.
  • Learn why some Mormons teach that Jesus was married, had children, and that Mormon founder Joseph Smith was a direct descendant of Jesus Christ.
  • Most importantly in this work, there are positive presentations or statements regarding the Christian view of Scripture, God’s sovereignty, the Eternal Priesthood of Christ, and the unfolding of covenantal redemptive history. And much more…

Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks, titled: The Religion That Started in a Hat.

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The Presbyterian Philosopher: The Authorized Biography of Gordon H. Clark

The Presbyterian Philosopher: The Authorized Biography of Gordon H. Clark

By Douglas J. Douma
Published by WIPF & Stock
Reviewed by Jack Kettler

Brief Bio:

Douglas J. Douma received a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Michigan, an MBA from Wake Forest University, and a master of divinity from Sangre de Cristo Seminary. He and his wife currently reside in western North Carolina.

What others are saying about this book:

“Gordon H. Clark was one of the most significant Christian thinkers of the 20th century. Through numerous books and effective classroom teaching at more than four institutions of higher education, he influenced several generations of scholars, especially in Presbyterian and Evangelical circles. Biographer Douglas Douma has skillfully woven distinctive elements of Clark’s philosophical and theological thought through this thoroughly researched account of his life, including his activity as a churchman, revealing much about American Presbyterian history. His narrative also interestingly captures much of the humanness of Gordon Clark, the man.” – Dr. William S. Barker, Professor of Church History Emeritus, Westminster Theological Seminary

“Dr. Cornelius Van Til was absolutely correct when he stated that “. . . Clark” was an “. . . outstanding Christian Philosophers of our time.” How can anyone disagree with Dr. Van Til’s assessment of Dr. Gordon H. Clark? In this book on the life of Gordon H. Clark, you have the factual events that drove a wedge between Clark and Van Til. Even today, the heart of the issue is hidden beneath years of misunderstanding. This is the definitive book on Clark’s life, researched and documented by Doug Douma. A must read by laymen, students, pastors, and professors who love Reformed Christian Philosophy and Apologetics.” – Kenneth Gary Talbot, President, Whitefield Theological Seminary and College

A review starting with the chapter layout:

Chapter 1 The Presbyterian Heritage of Gordon Clark
Chapter 2 Gordon Clark’s Intellectual Influences
Chapter 3 Gordon Clark and the Formation of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church
Chapter 4 Gordon Clark at Wheaton College
Chapter 5 The Origins of Presuppositionalism
Chapter 6 Origins of the Ordination Controversy
Chapter 7 The Arguments of the Ordination Controversy
Chapter 8 The Continued Controversy and Its Results
Chapter 9 The Butler University Years (1945–1973)
Chapter 10 Four Theological Contributions of Gordon H. Clark
Chapter 11 “Clark’s Boys”
Chapter 12 Persons, the Trinity, and the Incarnation
Chapter 13 Gordon Clark’s Later Years
Appendix A: Life Timeline of Gordon H. Clark
Appendix B: Notes
Appendix C: Studies of the Doctrine of The Complaint

As the chapter listings, indicate the story of Gordon H. Clark in this book by Douglas Douma is a thorough and ample biography of a great man of God. It has been a privilege to know, one of Dr. Clark’s grandsons and great-granddaughters.

Regrettably, this review will be limited and will focus on what is known as “The Clark-Van Til ordination controversy as covered in Chapters 6-8 and Appendix C.”

In this reviewer’s opinion and from personal experience, an essential part of the book involves the complaint against Clark’s ordination in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC). The epicenter of the debate was about the doctrine of the incomprehensibility of God.

The reader is encouraged to read the whole book to appreciate Dr. Clark’s contribution to Christ’s Church. It has been enormous and will continue to be so.

The Theological Issues involved in the complaint against Clark’s ordination:

“There were four theological topics addressed in The Complaint and The Answer, summarized by the following titles: 1) The incomprehensibility of God, 2) The relationship of the faculty of knowledge to other faculties of the soul, 3) The relationship between divine sovereignty and human responsibility, and 4) the Free Offer of the Gospel. A fifth topic, however, related to each of the others, was Clark’s alleged rationalism.” (110)

“The incomprehensibility of God the theological portion of the complaint centered on the first of the four issues, the incomprehensibility of God. More time and discussions were spent on this point during the controversy than perhaps on all of the other points combined. Both parties agreed that God is incomprehensible—that man can never fully and exhaustively know God. The issue between the two parties, rather, was over how man’s knowledge relates to God’s knowledge.” (110)

The Complaint against Clark argued, “we dare not maintain that his knowledge and our knowledge coincide at any single point.” (112)

The Complaint declared, “Because of his very nature as infinite and absolute the knowledge which God possesses of himself and of all things must remain a mystery which the finite mind of man cannot penetrate” (112).

The Clarkian or more appropriately the biblical response to the above two complaints:

“In critiquing Van Til’s theory of analogy, Clark argued that if God’s knowledge has no point in common with ours, then we know nothing that is true, for God knows all truths. Therefore, Clark believed, Van Til’s theory of analogy resulted in skepticism. In The Answer, his argument for this conclusion is presented: “The Presbytery wishes to suggest that if man does not know at least one truth that God knows, if man’s knowledge and God’s knowledge do not coincide in at least one detail, then man knows nothing at all. God knows all truth, and if man’s mind cannot grasp one truth, then man’s mind grasps no truth. Far from being a test of orthodoxy, this test imposed by The Complaint is nothing else than skepticism and irrationalism.” (114)

Clark falsely labeled a rationalist:

“The Complaint listed theologians who had wrestled with these doctrines and then argued that “there is a problem that has baffled the greatest theologians of history. Not even Holy Scripture offers a solution. But Dr. Clark asserts unblushingly that for his thinking the problem has ceased being a problem. Here is something phenomenal. What accounts for it? The most charitable, and no doubt the correct, explanation is that Dr. Clark has come under the spell of rationalism.” (117)

Clark and observer Herman Hoeksema respond to the charge of rationalism:

“In fact, Clark later called paradox a “charley horse between the ears” and said the fear of “being too logical” was a “fear without a corresponding danger.” At the time of the controversy, Herman Hoeksema of the Protestant Reformed Church wrote on the alleged rationalism of Clark in his denomination’s publication The Standard Bearer. He wrote, “There is here, indeed, something that is more than amazing, that is really unbelievable, that almost might be catalogued as another paradox: the phenomenon that theologians accuse a brother theologian of heresy because he tries to solve problems!” Hoeksema then rhetorically asked, “Is it really rationalism to attempt to bring Scripture in harmony with itself?” (127)

The complainants lose their case against Clark’s ordination:

“That assembly [1946] upheld the ordination of Dr. Gordon H. Clark by a vote of nearly two to one.” (135)

“Referring to The Complaint as it relates to the Westminster Confession, the report concluded, “Our committee is of the opinion that [The Complaint] requires the Presbytery of Philadelphia to exact a more specialized theory of knowledge than our standards demand.” (137)

A great tragedy:

“After the “Clark Case” was officially resolved in Clark’s favor, the faculty of Westminster Theological Seminary turned their attention to those who had supported Clark.” (138)

The faculty of Westminster’s action against Dr. Clark’s supporters was sad and unfortunate.

The result of the heavy-handedness against Dr. Clark’s supporters, the OPC suffers departures:

“The departure of so many ministers and congregations from the already small OPC, and along with them much of the evangelistic zeal, essentially ended any likelihood of the denomination becoming a noticeable numerical presence in the American Christian landscape. This fracturing of the church left the OPC weak.” (154-155)

Evidence that the complainants were in error:

The complainants reversed a key definition in their complaint, which revealed the weakness of the complaint.

“The Complaint was sent out to the church. In a key paragraph it read: Since certain expressions used in the Complaint have been understood as skeptical in character and since the Complaint cannot disavow all responsibility for producing such misunderstandings of its intent, we gladly affirm that, when the objects of knowledge are contemplated, human knowledge does have contact with the objects of divine knowledge within the compass of the divine revelation, and that within that sphere of revelation the objects of knowledge as such are the same for God and man. This admission was a far cry from The Complaint’s original statement that “We dare not maintain that [God’s] knowledge and our knowledge coincide at any single point.” In fact, the admission that “the objects of knowledge as such are the same for God and man” is nothing other than a complete reversal of the original position.” (160-161)

Why did the complainants change key wording in the original complaint?

“It seems the complainants felt the weight of Clark’s criticism that their position results in skepticism, and in the wake of this critique modified their position. This modification was made in two ways: (1) a changed definition of “content” and (2) an acceptance of a “point of contact” which at the start of the controversy had been categorically denied. In order to maintain that their position in fact did not entail skepticism, it is evident that the complainants changed their definition of “content” in the time between The Complaint (1944) and the majority report in 1948. The majority report explained “content” as distinct from “object.” The majority report read, “It is not with the objects of knowledge the Complaint is concerned but with the difference between the character of God’s understanding and man’s understanding even when the same object is contemplated.” (158)

John Frame, who served on the faculty of Westminster Theological Seminary and was a founding faculty member of their California campus analysis of the specific dispute over the incomprehensibility of God by the complainants, is valuable:

“Van Til so obviously misunderstood Clark on these points that John Frame wrote, “I must say that I find this criticism of Clark quite preposterous,” and “Again, I am rather shocked at Van Til’s distortion of Clark’s position.” Frame concludes, “It would have been more helpful if Van Til, like the Report, had straightforwardly conceded Clark’s point that there is such common meaning.” (162)

Note: Although Van Til was not directly involved in the complaint, his supporters brought Van Til’s philosophical beliefs into the complaint.

In Appendix C, Douma clarifies some crucial points in the controversy.

Who was more faithful the theology of the Westminster Confession of Faith?

“The Answer, page 9, says: “Dr. Clark contends that the doctrine of the incomprehensibility of God as set forth in Scripture and in the Confession of Faith includes the following points: 1. The essence of God’s being is incomprehensible to man except as God reveals truths concerning his own nature; 2 The manner of God’s knowing, an eternal intuition, is impossible for man; 3. Man can never know exhaustively and completely God’s knowledge of any truth in all its relationships and implications; because every truth has an infinite number of relationships and implications, these must ever, even in heaven, remain inexhaustible for man. 4. But, Dr. Clark maintains, the doctrine of the incomprehensibility of God does not mean that a proposition, e.g. two times two are four, has one meaning for man and a qualitatively different meaning for God, or that some truth is conceptual and other truth is non-conceptual in nature.” (253)

“The Complaint says, “we dare not maintain that his knowledge and our knowledge coincide at any single point” (italics theirs). Note well that the complainants are not content to say that God’s knowledge differs from man’s in certain ways, such as in its extent and in its mode. They insist that there is no point of contact whatever. Not a single point. With this I heartily disagree. Far from denying that there is a single point of coincidence, I maintain that there is an area of coincidence. That area includes, “David was king of Israel,’ and ‘Jesus was born at Bethlehem,’ and several other items. These are the points where God’s knowledge and man’s knowledge coincide. The propositions mean to the man who knows them, to the man who grasps their meaning, exactly what they mean to God, although God, as was said knows implications of these propositions that man does not know; but the truth itself is the same for man as it is for God. If a man does not grasp God’s truth, he grasps no truth at all, for there is no other truth than God’s truth. God knows all truth. And if a man grasps any truth at all, since it is God’s truth, that truth is a point or even an area of coincidence.

The propositions mean to the man who knows them, to the man who grasps their meaning, exactly what they mean to God, although God, as was said knows implications of these propositions that man does not know; but the truth itself is the same for man as it is for God. If a man does not grasp God’s truth, he grasps no truth at all, for there is no other truth than God’s truth

The Complaint, on the other hand, makes the truth God has qualitatively different from the ‘truth’ man has. There is not a single point in common. Whatever meaning God has, man cannot have. And since the Bible teaches that God has all truth, it must follow on the theory of the Complaint that man has no truth. The theory of the Complaint is therefore skepticism.” (259-260)

In conclusion:

This controversy pitted two theological and philosophical giants against each other – Gordon Clark and Cornelius Van Til. During this whole time of the complaint and beyond, there has never been any evidence that Dr. Clark and Van Til had any personal animosity towards one another personally.

This book is highly recommended, and it should be in every theological student’s library.

Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks, titled: The Religion That Started in a Hat. Available at:

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