Holy Trinity • Proverbs 8:1–4, 22–31 • May 30, 2010
By Dr. Charles Arand
This Sunday provides an opportunity to highlight one of the most significant events within the history of the church. By the fourth century, the church had found itself with a conflict between its monotheistic principle (the oneness of God) and its Christocentric principle (the deity of the Son). Many argued that the oneness of God could not be compromised and so proposals like adoptionism and modalism either subordinated the Son or denied his distinct personhood. The Nicene Creed instead insisted that the Christocentric principle (deity of the Son) could not be compromised. And so the “oneness” of God had to be defined so as to include the Son and later the Spirit.
Proverbs 8 is famous because it lay at the heart of the controversy over the deity of Christ that culminated in the Nicene Creed. Nearly everyone in the early church understood this passage to be about Christ. Arius argued that the Son did not exist at one time. Instead, he came into existence at the beginning of creation. The Father made him as his first creature. This enabled Arius to affirm (against the Sabellians) that the Son truly suffered on the cross since everyone agreed that God cannot suffer. Creatures, however, can suffer. Arius also argued since the Son was the first and most powerful of all God’s creatures the Son could save us. But in the end, he was still a creature.
To Confess the Trinity is to Confess Christ
Many people see everything in either spiritual or material terms. Those things that are spiritual tend to be regarded as superior to those things that are material. But that is not how the Bible views life. The Old Testament sees everything through the two lenses of creator and creature. There is the creator and there are creatures. This divide between the creator and the creature lay at the heart of the debate in the fourth century. Was the Son of God our creator or was he a creature like us? And how does that impact our salvation?
I. What makes Jesus God?
A. People often think that what makes God God is that he is the
opposite of us. In other words, we are finite so God is infinite.
We are limited in power and knowledge and so God must be
unlimited in power and knowledge. You get the idea. But that
is not the primary way in which the Bible describes God. God
is the one who created everything that exists. If one did not
create everything that exists, then that one is not God. It’s that
B. The early church identified this text about Wisdom as speak-
ing about the Son of God. And for good reason. Paul does it
in 1 Corinthians 1:18–31 and Colossians 2:2–C. Verses 22–26,
which speak of Wisdom as existing before the creation of the
world, find expression in John 1:1–2 and Revelation 22:13.
Verses 27–31, which speak of Wisdom’s role in creation find
clear reference to Christ in John 1:3–5; Colossians 1:15–20.
II. What’s at Stake?
A. In Jesus Christ do we come face to face with God and his
salvation or not? If Jesus were anything other than God, for
example, a creature as Arius proposed, then we cannot say in
truth that God himself saves us. He is not limited by creation
or constrained by anything within creation. The Son of God
became a human being in order to die for us “and our
B. The Nicene Creed confessed the deity of the Son by saying
that “being begotten” does not mean create. It denotes a
certain kind of relationship to the Father. By confessing that
he is God in the same way as the Father is God, the church
confessed salvation in Christ. Thus the church confessed the
Trinity in order to confess who Jesus is and why he matters.
Christianity redefined monotheism in a way that included the Son and the Spirit. For this reason, the other two great monotheistic religions of the world (Judaism and Islam) do not regard Christians as monotheists. Christianity could not do otherwise. At stake was the identity and significance of Christ.