For an introduction, explanation and links to the entire work, click here.
We have come a long way through a complicated part of church history to stand where we do. We should note, however, that our main purpose is not a history lesson but to get at the truth of a very important part of theology, to improve our understanding of the most important subject we can, namely that of God himself.
Nevertheless, we see that this subject has been and is discussed in great detail; some reference to these discussions and their conclusions is unavoidable. Some would like for us to take a completely ahistorical approach to this problem and to cut directly to a “Biblical” solution to the problem. The immediate problem of this is that there are many “Biblical” solutions devised by people. Trinitarians, disarmed of the Johannine Comma, nevertheless insist that the doctrine of one God in three Persons is totally Biblical. Arians, such as those in the Watchtower, tell us that this is not the case, and that their solution is also totally “Biblical.” The record shows, however, that both sides have had recourse to two very important sources of authority in order to gain both adherents and respectability.
The first is the teaching authority of a church organisation, with or without the co-operation of the state. In the case of the Trinitarians, their first victory took place at the Council of Nicea in 325. We have seen that the church up that point had been going in such a direction, but without complete understanding of why or how. The Arian controversy forced such a question to be answered. Much later councils confirmed the Nicean formula and went further on questions such as the human and divine nature of Christ and other subjects. The effectiveness of this later activity was dependent upon both the state of the church and the support of the state.
This last “if” was of course the Arians’ opportunity; the Arians had sympathetic prelates and others in the church, they had at certain points in time the support of the state and they called councils to confirm their position. Their objective was to obtain the long-term acceptance of their doctrine; in this they failed, although certain groups of people (such as the barbarian Goths and Lombards) continued in their Arian ideas for a long time afterwards.
The Trinitarian position managed to become the generally accepted position, not only of those churches which are direct descendants of the men who met at Nicea (the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches) but also of most other Christian churches that have come after. With the advent of the Watchtower and its progeny, we have an organisation that is able to both make Arian doctrine “official” through its claimed teaching authority and to propagate it through the efforts of its members.
The second source of authority is, for want of a better word, philosophical. The Arian position rose in the first place became of a philosophical problem; Arius could not reconcile the idea of one God with Jesus being an independent yet subordinate personality, so they rejected his divinity. The Trinitarians responded that Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit were equal (first implicitly, then explicitly) with the Father as one God in three Persons. This solution gave them the most Biblical solution they could find while at the same time meet the philosophical problems that they saw in the subordinationist position that was historical in the church before Nicea.
We realise, however, that philosophy has some limitations that makes it an inadequate transmitter of the Gospel. Do these limitations apply to the subject at hand? In approaching this subject, our plan is to give the “philosophical” concept of God a full hearing, to see how it can be helpful to us, and if possible to achieve a suitable union of the two, while at the same time insuring that what we end up with is Biblical. We want to start at a point where the philosophers have been helpful to us, namely in the distinction of created and uncreated beings.
Created and Uncreated
The origin and course of the universe around us is an important question and has been a point of investigation for a long time. The Bible starts with the creation: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1) The pagans around the Jews and Christians had a plethora of stories about how the creation resulted from a wide variety of sources, usually the result of conflicts amongst the gods. The philosophers had also mused about the origin of the universe, or if it had one at all.
Once the existence (if not the identity) of a one, “universal” God was established, it became apparent that there was an important distinction between an eternal, self-existing being and a creation that always changed from one day to the next. This distinction fits well with the Biblical concept of God who brought the universe into existence through his sovereign power and intelligence, and who was and is far above this creation in his ways and mode of existence. So we have an important point of contact between the philosophers on the one hand and the Jews and Christians on the other. This point was not lost on many; Christians especially who were familiar with both worlds used it to both understand the Bible and to communicate the Gospel to those outside.
Let us begin by setting forth in a way that is both Biblical and philosophical the difference between an uncreated God and the creation and then discuss the implications of this, both in more immediate concerns and for our present subject. We forewarn the reader that we will repeat some of the previous material for clarity.
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1) This simple yet fundamental statement marks the beginning of the differentiation between God and the rest of what we see in the universe. The Creator is inevitably before the creation, and moreover the Creator must have a nature that is different that those things which he has brought into existence.
Let us consider first consider the characteristics of an uncreated being, in this case God himself.
Existence the Fundamental Attribute
When we speak about a person or thing, the first thing that must be true about this person or thing is that it must be; it must exist. If it does not then we cannot speak about them, except as a figment of our imagination or a theoretical postulate. Existence remains the fundamental attribute of any being.
With God (and since he is the only uncreated being, we will refer to no other) his existence is not only his most important attribute, it is his defining one. For we read, “Nevertheless, Moses said to God, ‘Suppose I am now come to the sons of Israel and I do say to them, ‘The God of your forefathers has sent me to you’, and they do say to me, ‘What is his name?’ What shall I say to them?’ At this God said to Moses: ‘I am who I am.’ And he added: ‘This is what you are to say to the sons of Israel, ‘I am has sent me to you.’” (Exodus 3:13,14) Again we read, “’Abraham the father of you exulted in order that he might see the day the mine, and he saw and rejoiced.’ Said therefore the Jews toward him ‘Fifty years not yet you are having and Abraham you have seen?’ Said to them Jesus, ‘Amen amen I am saying to you, Before Abraham to become I am.’” (John 8:56-58 KIT) The Jews understood clearly that Jesus’ use of the phrase “I am” was a statement of his divinity, and they attempted to stone him as they thought his claim to be blasphemy. Although the Jews’ reaction was wrong, they were correct in their understanding of Jesus’ statement.
So therefore we can say that a fitting name or title for God is “He who is” because he is his existence. This leads to some important conclusions.
God is Eternal
Since God’s existence is his all in all, so to speak, it makes sense that such an existence be eternal, otherwise it could not be fundamental. “Before the mountains themselves were born or you proceeded to bring forth as with labor pains the earth and the productive land, from even time indefinite to time indefinite you are God.” (Psalms 90:2) We cannot properly speak of a beginning or an end of God; in fact, “I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says Jehovah God, “who is, and who was, and who is coming, the Almighty.’” (Revelation 1:8), and again “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” (Revelation 22:13)
God is Above Time
Since God existence is both fundamental and eternal, it follows that God is above time, that is to say he does not experience the passage of time. It is really meaningless to say that he is at one point in time or another. So we say that he is at all points at once, because he not only comprehends the finite points he comprehends the infinite ones as well. In describing this we are attempting to tell about something that is above telling; so, we can boldly say that the Scriptures are making an understatement when they say “For a thousand years are in your eyes but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch during the night.” (Psalms 90:4)
God Sees All Things in One Vision
A necessary corollary of the last point is that God sees all things in one vision. When we look around us, we can only see and experience one moment at a time. With God, however, since time essentially means nothing with God, all things are seen with one vision. This is an important point because, although we say that God has foreknowledge of all events or induces predestination, in reality all knowledge in God is in his eternal present.
God’s Attributes are Essential
Since being is God’s all in all, so to speak, we can also say that any attribute or characteristic of God is essential to him. Usually, when we say that something is essential, we say that it is necessary and without it something cannot exist. This is certainly the case with God’s attributes but in reality it goes deeper than this with God, because all of God’s attributes are a part of his very being. For example, when “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’” (John 14:6), he is not only telling the disciples how to get to heaven; he is making a very important theological statement, because not only does he have the way, the truth, and the life, he is all of these things.
God’s Existence is Independent
Since he is uncreated, God’s existence cannot be dependent upon anyone else or anything else. Job was reminded of this: “Gird up your loins, please, like an able-bodied man; and let me question you, and you inform me. Where did you happen to be when I founded the earth? Tell me, if you do know understanding. Who set its measurements, in case you know, or who stretched out upon it a measuring line? Into what have its socket pedestals been sunk down, or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars joyfully cried out together and all the sons of God began shouting in applause?” (Job 38:3-7)
God is Changeless
Since God is independent of time, it makes sense that God does not change, since change requires the passage of time. Moreover change implies either an improvement or a deterioration; since he is perfect, neither one of these can take place. So neither can he change. The Bible tells us that “God is not a man that he should tell lies, nor a son of mankind that he should feel regret. Has he himself said it and will he not do it, and has he spoken and will he not carry it out?” (Numbers 23:19), and “And besides, the Excellency of Israel will not prove false, and He will not feel regrets, for He is not an earthling man so as to feel regrets.” (1 Samuel 15:29), and again, “Jehovah has sworn (and he will feel no regret): “You are a priest to time indefinite, according to the manner of Melchizedek.” (Psalms 110:4), and once more “For I am Jehovah; I have not changed. And you are sons of Jacob; you have not come to your finish.” (Malachi 3:6), and “Every good gift and every perfect present is from above, for it comes down from the Father of the celestial lights, and with him there is not a variation of the turning of the shadow.” (James 1:17)
Now we need to turn to created beings, which include everything in the universe apart from God.
Existence is Dependent
Since created beings did not bring themselves in to existence, their being is dependent upon an outside agent. Therefore, although existence is the most important aspect of a created being (because if one doesn’t exist, it isn’t a being in the first place) it is not the defining attribute as it is with God.
Characteristics are Composite in Nature
Since the existence of created beings is not as it is with God, their attributes are not either. Created beings are composite in nature; they lack the simplicity of uncreated God, and thus their attributes and indeed the structure of their beings, although working together is still made up of “pieces” of various kinds, which can vary in their makeup. These pieces are also subject to variation with time and circumstance as well.
Created Beings are Subject to Time
Created beings live or exist in time. They only know one moment as the present, i.e., the moment that they are in. All other points in time are either past or future, and are in reality out of our control. The Bible is replete with references to the shortness of life, such as “…whereas you do not know what your life will be tomorrow. For you are a mist appearing for a little while and then disappearing.” (James 4:14) This also is a part of being subject to time. To live in the present is to live in a period of time that in reality infinitely small; even if all of the presents are put together, the total span of life is very short. However, even if we consider inanimate objects, their total span of existence is very short if we compare it to the existence of God.
Created Beings Have a Starting Point of Existence
This follows from two truths: a) the previous point, and b) the fact that created beings are created, thus there was a time when they were not. It does not necessarily follow, however, that they have an end point. This depends upon the nature of the created being. If the created being is material, then it has an end point; it cannot go on forever, although its elements can be reconstituted either as matter or energy in another form. If the created being is spiritual, then it certainly can have infinitely long existence after its starting point; we can say that its life is semi-infinite, but the more common term is eternal life. Since this is only semi-infinite but not infinite, as is the case with God, then “eternity” is entirely different business with created beings than it is with God.
Created Beings are subject to Change
Because they exist in time, created beings are subject to change; this change can either be an improvement or a deterioration. This manifests itself differently in spiritual and material beings. With material beings, the idea that they can deteriorate or improve is rather obvious; we see it all the time.
Relationship of God and His Creation
The foregoing discussion is rather abstract in its nature, and may seem far removed from anything in the Bible (the Biblical citations notwithstanding,) but there are some very important implications of the above that we need to understand.
God and His Creation are Unlike in Nature
We see rather clearly that God and his creation are unlike in their nature. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:9), and “But will God truly dwell with mankind on earth? Look! Heaven, yes the heaven of heavens themselves, cannot contain you; how much less, then, this house that I have built? “ (2 Chronicles 6:18), and again “Can you find out the deep things of God? Or can you find out to the very limit of the Almighty? It is higher than heaven. What can you accomplish? It is deeper than Sheol. What can you know?” (Job 11:7-8)
The Creation is Dependent Upon God
We also see that the creation, far from being a self-sustaining, self-contained business, is dependent upon God for its existence. From a human standpoint, the practical implication of this is that human beings are not in a position to place themselves at the pinnacle of everything nor to make demands of God. This was Satan’s mistake: “Son of man, lift up a dirge concerning the king of Tyre and you must say to him: ‘This is what the Lord Jehovah says: ‘You are sealing up a pattern, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. In Eden, the garden of God; you proved to be. Every precious stone was your covering, ruby, topaz and jasper; chrysolite, onyx and jade; sapphire, turquoise and emerald; and of gold was the workmanship of your settings and your sockets in you. You were the anointed cherub that is covering, and I have set you. On the holy mountain of God you proved to be. In the midst of fiery stones you walked about. You were faultless in your ways from the day of your being created until unrighteousness was found in you. Because of the abundance of your sales goods they filled the midst of you with violence, and you began to sin. And I shall put you as profane out of the mountain of God, and I shall destroy you, O cherub that is covering, from the midst of the fiery stones.’“ (Ezekiel 28:12-16)
A Distinction with a Difference
We have set forth a model that is at once based on philosophical considerations and on Biblical teaching. We can see that the Creator and his creation are very much separate matters with separate attributes. The distinction between the Creator and the creation is an essential one; it separates Christianity (and Judaism for that matter) from paganism, as the distinction there is rather blurred. It gives us a very elevated view of God, which is both appropriate and correct. Moses Maimonides states this as follows:
Those who follow the Law of Moses, our Teacher, hold that the whole Universe, i.e., everything except God, has been brought by Him into existence out of non-existence. In the beginning God alone existed, and nothing else; neither angels, nor spheres, nor the things that are contained within the spheres existed. He then produced from nothing all existing things such as they are, by His will and desire…We say that God existed before the creation of the Universe, although the verb existed appears to imply the notion of time; we also believe that he existed an infinite space of time before the Universe was created…This is our first theory, and it is undoubtedly a fundamental principle of the Law of our teacher Moses; it is next in importance to the principle of God’s unity. Do not follow any other theory. Abraham, our father, was the first that taught it, after he had established it by philosophical research. He proclaimed, therefore, “the name of the Lord the God of the Universe.” (Genesis 21:33); and he had previously expressed this theory in the words, “The Possessor of heaven and earth.” (Genesis 24:22)
There are many implications that this concept gives us and these can take up a lifetime to explore. There are also some difficulties that need to be resolved. Why do our prayers matter when God never changes? How does God’s knowledge affect our free will? How does God, who is above time, interact with us who are not? These are serious questions, and we may touch on some of them as we proceed, but they are not central to our present task, which is to explore the nature of the Godhead in general and the nature of the Son and the Spirit in particular.
The central problem we have here is the problem of the “creation” of the Son. Arius made a big deal of the fact that the church taught in his day that the Son was created; this was based on such Biblical passages as Proverbs 8:22 and Colossians 1:15,16. Arius was as aware as anyone of the line of reasoning about created and uncreated beings, so he concluded that, since the Son was created, he cannot be divine, and must be subject to the limitations that created beings normally are. He also concluded that there must have been a time when the Son was not, since creation is by definition ex nihilo (out of nothing.) The Watchtower has followed him in all of these respects. This is a fine piece of philosophy but is it correct?
At this point it is tempting to simply revert to our Biblical exposition earlier and state that the Bible teaches that the Son came from the Father and that he is God. Both of these assertions are correct, but they do not go into the kind of detail that we need at this point to settle the Arians on this question. We must come to some kind of explanation of how this actually works.
Out of Nothing, Out of Eternity
One question that comes to mind when reading the preceding exposition concerning created and uncreated beings is simply this: Why should there be such a distinction? Do created beings inherently have the limitations they do? Why couldn’t God create beings with characteristics such as he himself has?
The answer to this is somewhat complicated, but basically it starts with the observation that only God has existence that is independent of anything or anyone else. Every created being’s existence – whether of the original matter and energy that came into existence at the time of creation or in a form reconstituted by the action of God’s physical laws – is ultimately dependent on someone, namely God, bringing the creation into existence at some point in time. If the created being’s very existence is dependent, then everything else associated with same being is likewise both dependent and not intrinsic in the being, since existence itself came from outside. This is not the case with God, whose existence is independent on everything and everyone else.
Inherent in this line of thinking is the formal definition of creation: the bringing into existence of something out of nothing (ex nihilo.) We speak of people being “creative” and the breadth of human ingenuity at all levels never ceases to amaze but when people “create” something they have to start from something pre-existent and take a step beyond that. When God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1) he started with no pre-existent materials at all; only he himself was pre-existent for the semi-infinite period of time before he brought the creation into existence.
And here we meet the first important point as regarding the Son: the Bible clearly teaches that the Son was “created” from all eternity. This means that the Son (and by extension the Spirit) are co-eternal with the Father. The Son did not thus come into existence from nothing. He was in existence before the creation was made to be through him irrespective of how far back that happy event was; it is in this light that we must understand the phrase, “first born of all creations” (Colossians 1:15) The Son is that not only in priority but in time as well; this includes all purely spiritual beings as well as corporal ones.
Based on what we have said about the creation, this puts the Son’s existence is a decidedly ambiguous position. On the one hand, we know that the Son came into existence through the agency of the Father; such an event is necessary for any kind of “Father-Son” relationship. On the other hand this happier event took place outside of time, in eternity past, so the Son was not brought out of non-existence into existence. This violates the basic definition of creation, since there is no ex nihilo event. What is to be done?
The usual answer to this question is that the Son and Spirit’s existence were not in fact made a reality by a creative act. This is based on creation as ex nihilo; since this is not the case, we need to call it something else. So Trinitarian theologians speak of such things as the “procession” of the Son from the Father and the “procession” of the Spirit from the Father or from the Father and the Son (depending on which end of the Mediterranean you find yourself on.) In doing this they place the existence of the Son and the Spirit outside of creation and in with the Father. The main problem with this is that, if we posit that the Father, Son and Spirit are all “uncreated” in the same way then sooner or later someone will get up and say that what we have in reality are three equal, separate beings and ultimately three gods. This is totally unacceptable.
We need to look at the existence of the Son and the Spirit in a different light from the uncreated Father on the one hand and the semi-infinite creation on the other. We should start with what we know rather than speculating about what we don’t. What we know is the following:
- The Son and the Spirit were brought into existence by the act of the Father (Colossians 1:15). This is half of the definition of “creation.”
- The coming into being of the Son and the Spirit is an event that is outside of time (Proverbs 8:22). There was not a time when they did not exist. This violates the other half of the definition of “creation.”
- Both the Son and the Spirit are God and were intended to be such from the beginning (John 1:1). They thus have their attributes as God has them, including (as we have seen) the attribute of self-sustaining existence (John 5:26) and creative power, even though their existence is a product of the act of the Father.
- Neither the Son nor the Spirit are intended to be separate from the Father, but one with the Father in the fullest sense of the word. (John 17:21) The Son and the Spirit are to be a part of the one God. The Son and the Spirit can participate in this unity fully because they are not subject to the limitations that we have as finite, created (in the full sense of the word) beings. Created beings, on the other hand, are separate from God in their existence, in addition to a lot of other ways as well.
We can see from this that the existence of the Son and the Spirit is certainly different from ours as created beings (in the strict sense of the word) but also not identical to the Father either. We could say for convenience that the Son and the Spirit are “created” but such would create confusion. It is probably more informative and exact to say that the Son and the Spirit are “generated” because, although their existence was the result of the act of the Father, they were generated outside of time and to remain in perfect unity with the Father.
While we are here we might as well make one important affirmation: all of the above necessitate that the Son and the Spirit are “of the same substance” (homoousios) with the Father. The idea of “substance” in God may seem strange to us but in this case it refers to the spiritual “stuff” which constitute God. The Son and the Spirit are constituted of this “stuff” as is the Father. This declaration was the main result of Nicea.
We have theologically come a long way in a very short space. We have seen that the Arian contention that the Son and the Spirit are merely created beings cannot stand. But we have also seen that it is not necessary to assert that the Son and the Spirit are uncreated in the same way as the Father is uncreated. If their generation either took place in time or resulted in beings that were separate from the Father then we would be moving down the slippery slope towards Arianism. But we are not. We will see other important reasons why the Son and the Spirit have the position that they do, but we must now turn to the other major issue that involve our blessed Saviour and the Paraclete.
1 John 5:7,8, which have an insertion in to the original manuscripts that ended up in the KJV and all other translations that used the received text.
The NWT’s rendition of “I am” is modified here. This was explained more fully earlier.
In setting this forth, we should mention the objection that, since there is only one God, and many attributes, that these multiple attributes cannot be said to actually exist in God but are only the results of God’s actions, which in turn proceed from his essence. John of Damascus sets forth the problem: “The Deity is simple and uncompound. But that which is composed of many and different elements is compound. If, then, we should speak of the qualities of being uncreated and without beginning and incorporeal and immortal and everlasting and good and creative and so forth as essential differences in the case of God, that which is composed of so many qualities will not be simple but must be compound. But this is impious in the extreme.” (The Orthodox Faith, 1,9) Moses Maimonides is emphatic about this: “What we have explained in the present chapter is this: that God is one in every respect, containing no plurality or any element superadded to His essence: and that the many attributes of different significations applied in Scripture to God, originate in the multitude of His actions, not in a plurality existing in His essence, and are partly employed with the object of conveying to us some notion of His perfection, in accordance with what we consider perfection, as has been explained by us.” (Guide for the Perplexed, 1,51). The problem with this, as Thomas Aquinas points out (Disputed Questions on Truth, q. 2, a. 1) is that, in order for God to communicate to us those things that are in Him, they must be in Him to start with. Perhaps the best way to leave this difficult problem is to say that, although we see God’s attributes as multiple, they are a) in him essentially, as we have said above and b) they are all the same in God, i.e., love, knowledge, truth are all the same in God although they are plural with us.
 The Scholastic term for this is that the characteristics of created beings are “accidental” as opposed to God whose characteristics are “essential” to Him. The problem with this terminology for modern discourse is that it leads to the idea that created beings are the result of both a random process of development and a random make-up. But created beings cannot have come into existence nor can they sustain existence unless those elements that go into their make-up are so designed that they work together for the perpetuation of the organism or thing. This of course forms the basis for intelligent design, a further discussion of which is beyond the scope of this work.
Guide for the Perplexed, II, 13