New Christian History issue 100: Happy 400th Birthday KJV

Yesterday the mailman was kind enough to deliver my issue of Christian History. As explained in the editor’s note, the publishing rights of the magazine have reverted to the Christian History Institute after Christianity Today gave them up in 2010. This being 2011, the issue is devoted to the initial publishing of the King James Bible in 1611.

While I might offer a more in-depth review later, here are some initial thoughts.

Wow! The magazine is attractive. There are pictures on nearly every page. Print media are struggling with viability in today’s digital world-all should consider what CH has done. The pictures are article-relevant (not just pics for pics sake) and while they are numerous, they are not obtrusive in the text. The page stock is thick and glossy. This is not a magazine put together on the cheap.

The magazine is informative. I knew the Geneva Bible remained more popular than the KJV for some time, but never realized one of the reasons was the typeface each version used. The Geneva had a simpler, easier-to-read font. The Geneva Bible was so popular and well-respected that the Translators of the KJV quoted the Geneva Bible in their preface, not their own translation! I had never heard of the “Bible riots” in the 1840’s. I hope contemporary KJV-only folks don’t get any ideas!

I encourage you to check it out. As the editorial states, the publishing of future issues of Christian History is not a guarantee. Check it out and support this valuable effort. You can go to to get a taste of the new product.

The Trinity in Scripture: Luke 11; The Trinity and Prayer

What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him! (Luke 11:11-13)

Here is a passage that is must have weighed heavily in the thinking of Luke. As detailed in posts in previous months, in the book of Acts Luke repeatedly speaks of the Trinity in terms this passage presents.

Jesus’ instruction in Luke 11:1-13 is in response to the request of his disciples for instruction on prayer. After giving the model prayer in 11:2-4, the bulk of the instruction is devoted to a parable and its interpretation. Jesus wishes to encourage his disciples to persevere confidently in prayer.

The rational basis for confident perseverance is prayer is demonstrated by an analogy using the logic of arguing from the lesser to the greater. If even sinful fathers on earth know how to answer the requests of their children with good gifts; don’t you think the perfect Father in heaven will do so as well?

But as comforting as such a truth is; it is not just a theological abstraction. The truth is firmly grounded in the action of the Triune God. In the theology of Luke, Jesus is that Son who has asked his Father for the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:33; cf. Acts 5:32; 10:38; 15:8). As sound as the logic is, we are not finally dependent upon logic for our confident assurance in the efficacy of prayer. We pray because of the faithfulness the Father has already demonstrated to the Son in answering his request to pour out the Holy Spirit.

Our perseverance in prayer is further encouraged by one other Trinitarian truth: the intercession made for us within the Trinity.

But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (Rom. 8:25-27)

Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died–more than that, who was raised–who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. (Rom 8:34 cf. Hebrews 7:27; 9:24)

How shall we not continue in prayer? The foundation is sure- the Father has answered the prayer of his Son to send the Spirit. The building continues- the Son and Spirit continue to make intercession to the Father for us. The prayer life of the believer is both motivated and sustained by the prayer life of the Trinity. For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

The Indescribable Work of Christ

Neither descriptions nor enumerations can take in the majesty, breadth, power, and significance of the earthly ministry of Christ; there is no measuring-stick for the all-surpassing wealth of God’s love, manifest in His mercy for the fallen and for sinners in miracles, in healings, and finally in His innocent sacrificial death, with prayer for His crucifiers. Christ took upon Himself the sins of the entire world; He received in Himself the guilt of all men. He is the Lamb slaughtered for the world. Are we capable of embracing in our thoughts and expressing in our usual, everyday conceptions and words all the economy of our salvation? We have no words for heavenly mysteries. (Fr. Michael Pomazansky, Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, p. 196.)

I thought this a good continuation of the recent posts dealing with the incomprehensibility and inexpressibleness of God. This is not only true of his person, but of his work. Who can plumb the depths of what Christ has accomplished for us and our salvation?

Worthy is Lamb that was slain…

Bavinck v. Kuyper? Paging Ron Gleason, Richard Gaffin, et al

In conjunction with reading Herman Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics, I am reading Ron Gleason’s biography of Bavinck: Herman Bavinck: Pastor, Churchman, Statesman, and Theologian. I think it has been helpful so far and will continue to be so. During my last reading of Gleason, however, I was surprised at the content of footnote 15 on pgs. 230-231.

In the footnote, Gleason alludes to differences between Bavinck and Abraham Kuyper. He cites Richard Gaffin to mention Abraham Kuyper’s rejection of biblical theology in name and concept. Gleason then writes, “Bavinck, on the other hand not only rejected Kuyper’s Neo-Kantian tendencies but Kuyper’s disdain for biblical theology.” Such a statement is surprising to me because in volume one of RD Bavink writes,

But such a conception of “biblical theology,” besides being practically impossible, is also theoretically incorrect. Scripture is not a legal document, the articles of which only need to be looked up for a person to find out what is in view in a given case. It is composed of many books written by various authors, dating back to different times and divergent in content. It is a living whole, not abstract but organic. It nowhere contains a sketch of the doctrine of faith; this is something that has to be drawn from the entire organism of Scripture.

Now I have no reason to believe that Ron Gleason, Richard Gaffin, or any Bavinck scholar frequents my blog. But if someone with greater knowledge on this matter than I posses stumbles across this post, I would be interested in hearing more. It seems to me that Bavinck shares Kuyper’s disdain for biblical theology. Am I missing something in RD? Or did Bavinck write something to the contrary somewhere else?

Why Butler will win the 2011 NCAA Basketball Tournament

Last year, with the Final Four held in Indianapolis, the connections between Butler, Milan, and the movie Hoosiers were common. Butler’s run in the tournament seemed to be the stuff of legends and fairy tales, and it almost ended that way.

But as anyone with a modest knowledge of Indiana high school basketball knows, Milan’s state title in 1954 was not out of the blue. Little Milan had actually advanced to Final Four of the state tournament in 1953 before losing to South Bend Central. So 1954 was Milan’s return visit to the Final Four.

So what should we take from that? Obviously, since history always repeats itself, Butler will win this years NCAA men’s basketball tournament. Just like Milan they came out of nowhere and made a fairy-tale run in the tournament before ending up just short. Just like Milan they returned the next year to advance to the Final Four. Just like Milan they will win the tournament in their second go-around.

The logic incontrovertible. The history unquestionable.

Butler University Bulldogs: 2011 NCAA Men’s Basketball champions.

Theophilus of Antioch: The Greatness of God

Hear me, O man: the form of God is ineffable and inexpressible, since it cannot be seen with merely human eyes. For he is in glory uncontainable, in greatness incomprehensible, in loftiness inconceivable, in strength incomparable, in wisdom unteachable, in goodness inimitable, in beneficence inexpressible.

This quote comes from work To Autolycus (Ad Autolycum) by the second-century apologist Theophilus. According to the Eusebius he became bishop of Antioch 169. Autolycus, was written sometime after the death of Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius (March 17, 180) since Theophilus refers to it in the work.

Robert M. Grant, the translator of the edition I have quoted from, is cold toward the literary and rhetorical merits of the work. Yet Theophilus begins his work with the warning, “Fluent speech and euphonious diction produce delight and praise—resulting in empty glory, among wretched men who have a depraved mind.” So it appears that the author was not too concerned to impress others “with words of eloquent wisdom.” Even so, luminaries such as Irenaeus, Tertullian, Novatian, Methodius, and Lactantius all thought highly enough of the work to cite it in some of their own.

Grant is accurate in identifying a greater difficulty with Autolycus: “The theology of Theophilus…is the most radically monotheistic to be found among the Greek Christian apologists.” I would not hesitate to replace “radically” with “dangerously.” Statements about the generation of the Logos in II.10 and II.22 seem closer to Arianism than Trinitarian orthodoxy.

So, as with all things written by men, To Autolycus must be read with care.

Bavinck on the Omnipresence of God and if God is always present why is he sometimes far away?

He is not “somewhere,” yet he fills heaven and earth. He is not spread throughout space, like light and air, but is present with his whole being in all places. . . . There is no place or space that contains him; hence, instead of saying that he is in all things, it would be better to say that all things are in him. Yet this is not to be understood to mean that he is the space in which all things are located, for he is not a place. (Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, II.4)

In his discussion about the omnipresence of God, Bavinck offers a good reminder: a caution to help guide out thinking. God’s omnipresence is not just a function of his bigness. God is not everywhere simply because he is bigger than all things.

For a good portion of the day the sun shines on both Portland, Maine and Portland, Oregon. Yet while the sun is shining in both places at the same time, it is never present equally and simultaneously in both places. God’s presence is not like this. God is everywhere, and he is wholly everywhere.

But Bavinck is honest with the evidence and with our own experience. While God is present everywhere, his presence is multi-form and variously manifested. Was God not in the wilderness before he indwelt the tabernacle? Had he been absent from Jerusalem before Solomon’s dedicatory prayer of the temple? Did Ezekiel really see God leave Jerusalem and leave it void of his presence until an itinerant teacher from Galilee entered its courts to cleanse it? So Bavinck is right to go on to say, “…in another sense God is present in his creatures in different ways. There is a difference between his physical and his ethical immanence. To suggest an analogy: people too, may be physically very close to each other, yet miles apart in spirit and outlook.”

So what explains this experience? If God is present everywhere, why are there times he seems close and others when he seems far? The second century Greek apologist Theophilus provides an answer:

All men have eyes, but some have eyes which are hooded by cataracts and do not see the the light of the sun. Just because the blind do not see, however, the light of the sun does not fail to shine; the blind must blame themselves and their eyes. So you also, O man, have cataracts over the eyes of your soul because of your sins and wicked deeds.

Just as a man must keep a mirror polished, so he must keep his soul pure. When there is rust on a mirror, a man’s face cannot be seen in it; so also when there is sin in a man, such a man cannot see God. So show yourself to me. Are you not an adulterer? a fornicator? a thief? a swindler? a robber? a [sodomite]? insolent? a reviler? quick-tempered? envious? a braggart? disdainful? a bully? avaricious? disobedient to parents? one who sells his children? God does not become visible to those who do such things unless they first cleanse themselves from all defilement.

All this brings darkness upon you, just as when a flux of matter comes over the eyes and they cannot see the light of the sun. So also, O man, your ungodliness brings darkness upon you and you cannot see God. (Ad Autolycum, I.2, Trans. Robert M. Grant)

A fitting commentary on Isaiah’s declaration in Isaiah 59:1-2, “Behold, the LORD’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.” God is everywhere, but he does not dwell with sinners. Light has no communion with darkness. Therefore James counsels, “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you” (James 4:8-10).

When you want to do something bad, you withdraw from the public and hide in your house where no enemy may see you; from those parts of the house that are open and visible you remove yourself to go into your own private room. But even here in your private chamber you fear guilt from some other direction, so you withdraw into your heart and there you meditate. But he is even more deeply inward than your heart. Hence, no matter where you flee, he is there. You would flee from yourself, would you? Will you not follow yourself wherever you flee? But since there is One even more deeply inward than yourself, there is no place where you may flee from an angered God except a God who is pacified. There is absolutely no place for you to flee to. Do you want to flee from him? Rather flee to him. (Augustine, Expositions on the Psalms)

“There is no place where you may flee from an angered God except a God who is pacified.” Ponder this simply amazing truth. The only refuge you have from the fierce wrath of God against you and your sin is the fierce justice of God offered to you in Christ and his righteousness. Do not flee God. Do not push him away. He is the only one that can save you from his consuming anger. The mercy that is in Christ is greater than the sin that is in you.

Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?

The Trinity in Scripture: Luke 10. Containing a brief exposition of monergistic salvation and Trinitarian revelation

In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” Luke 10:21-22

These two verses contain two references to the Trinity: one direct, and one via cross reference.

In verse 21 we witness the work of the Holy Spirit in the Son causing him to offer thanksgiving to the Father. In the context of the chapter we are at the place in Jesus’ ministry where he sent out the 72 disciples and they returned rejoicing over all the works they were empowered to do: particularly their ability to cast out demons.

Jesus tenderly corrects them in telling them that they do have cause to rejoice, but that their rejoicing should focus on their place in heaven not their power over hell. In this admonition I believe there is a word to those today who seek after miraculous demonstrations of power; who claim special status or position because of the wonders they do; who state the normal Christian life is the miraculous Christian life. It is the same word that Paul would later state to the similarly deluded Corinthians: “Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way” (1 Corinthians 12:29-31).

This is not to say that we are to simply “rest in the Lord” when it comes to salvation. Indeed, this seems to be the opposite error that infects broader evangelicalism. There are many who feel that once they have “prayed the prayer” there is not much else to do in the Christian life except make an occasional guest appearance at church, give a little something every now and then, but otherwise do nothing to evidence the grace of God. This is due in large part to the shallow gospel that is preached to them and the shallow gospel they believe. The gospel that preaches a salvation that comes with no strings attached. The gospel that proclaims come as you are and leave as you were. The gospel that pleads for a prayer but not repentance and belief. Yes, we are saved by faith alone; but the faith that saves is never alone. True faith produces works.

In this prayer, Jesus teaches us that salvation is due to the work of God the Father. It is God the Father who has written the names of believers in heaven (10:20); he hides salvation from the wise and graciously reveals it to those whom he wills (10:21). The Father is “Lord of heaven and earth.” He is sovereign over all things, and this includes the salvation of sinners.

A common charge against the reformed understanding of salvation is that it leads to pride and arrogance about God’s choice. But any self-professed Calvinist who is proud of his salvation has certainly not understood what Calvin and the other like-minded reformers (to say nothing of Jesus and the apostles) taught regarding salvation. A biblical understanding of God’s election brings nothing but humble rejoicing. When one realizes that there is nothing good in himself; that he can do nothing to merit his salvation; that his salvation is based entirely upon God’s good pleasure; he can do nothing but respond in humble praise. In eternity, not a single man will be praised for making “the right choice” when it comes to salvation. God and the Lamb receive all the praise, honor, and glory. For salvation is of the Lord.

In verse 22, Jesus continues emphasizing God’s sovereignty in salvation. In a marvelous statement that begins to stretch our capability of comprehension Jesus teaches vital truths about relationship and revelation in the Trinity.

After making the well-supported statement that the Father is Lord of heaven and earth, Jesus boldly proclaims that he has the same title of authority. The Son proclaims that “all things” have been handed over to his control. Statements like this flatly contradict those scholars that assert Jesus had no God-consciousness, or that he never claimed equality with God, or deity itself. The enemies of Jesus understood statements like this and their implications well: it is the very reason they delivered him to Pilate to be crucified (John 5:18; 19:7).

Just as Jesus asserted that God’s sovereignty over heaven and earth extended to man’s salvation; he proclaims that he is sovereign over who knows God. The Father and the Son have complete knowledge of one another. Such knowledge is perfect and eternal. Because the Son has dwelt eternally with the Father he is the only one that can give accurate revelation of the Father (John 1:1, 18). Because the Father has dwelt eternally with the Son he is the only one that can give accurate revelation of the Son (John 6:44, 65; 2 Cor. 4:6).

But where does that leave us? Jesus is no longer on earth revealing the Father. The Father no longer raises up prophets and apostles to add to his word. Are we abandoned? In no way.

But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”– these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. (1Co 2:9-11)

1 Corinthians 2:11 completes the teaching on Trinitarian knowledge and revelation. Jesus taught that he alone had knowledge of the Father and He alone could give that knowledge to others. Paul proclaims that the Spirit alone has knowledge of the Father and the Spirit alone communicates that knowledge to others.

We are left with two options: either Jesus or Paul—and therefore Scripture as a whole—are wrong; or, we are led onward to accept the orthodox teaching of the Trinity. What the Father has in his essence, the Son knows and has in his essence. What the Father has in his essence, the Spirit knows and has in his essence. God is one in essence, three in persons. Such knowledge of God—yea, any and all knowledge of God—is only given to and received by those children God himself wills to reveal himself.

If you know anything of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, it is only because God has chosen to bless you with such knowledge. Who will not humble tremble before such an awesome gift?

Nothing can be compared to God. Everything demonstrates Him.

Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand and marked off the heavens with a span, enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure and weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance? Who has measured the Spirit of the LORD, or what man shows him his counsel? Whom did he consult, and who made him understand? Who taught him the path of justice, and taught him knowledge, and showed him the way of understanding? Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket, and are accounted as the dust on the scales; behold, he takes up the coastlands like fine dust. Lebanon would not suffice for fuel, nor are its beasts enough for a burnt offering. All the nations are as nothing before him, they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness. To whom then will you liken God, or what likeness compare with him?

To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him? says the Holy One.

“To whom will you liken me and make me equal, and compare me, that we may be alike? …remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me…

Isaiah 40:12-18, 25; 46:5, 9

Herman Bavinck writes, “For precisely because God is pure being—the absolute, perfect, unique, and simple being—we cannot give a definition of him. There is no genus to which he belongs as a member, and there are no specific marks of distinction whereby we can distinguish him from other beings in this genus.”

God is unique. There is no other. Because of this, there is nothing or no one to whom God can be compared. Yet because of this, God can only be known by comparison. What a marvelous paradox! Because God is unlike all else, the only true sui generis, he can only be known by comparison to things we do know. We know God analogically. We know God through the comparisons reveled to us in his Word and in his world. Because God wants us to know him, he speaks to us in terms we can understand.

Therefore Scripture states that God has:

A face (Ex. 33:20, 23; Isa. 63:9; Ps. 16:11; Matt. 18:10; Rev. 22:4)
Eyes (Ps. 11:4; Heb. 4:13)
Eyelids (Ps. 11:4)
Ears (Ps. 55:3)
A nose (Deut. 33:10)
A mouth (Deut. 8:3)
Lips (Job 11:5)
A tongue (Isa. 30:27)
A neck (Jer. 18:17)
Arms (Ex. 15:16)
Hands (Num. 11:23; Ex. 15:12)
Fingers (Ex. 8:19)
A heart (Gen. 6:6)
Intestines (Isa. 63:15; Jer. 31:20; Luke 1:78)
Feet (Isa. 66:1)

God is a:
Husband (Hos. 2:16)
Father (Deut. 32:6)
Judge, king, lawgiver (Isa. 33:22)
Warrior (Ex. 15:3)
Builder and architect (Heb. 11:10)
Gardener (John 15:1)
Shepherd (Ps. 23:1)
Physician (Ex. 15:26)

But the realm of humanity is not sufficient, for God is also compared to:
A lion (Isa. 31:4)
An eagle (Deut. 32:11)
A lamb (Isa. 53:7)
A hen (Matt. 23:37)
The sun (Ps. 84:11)
The morning star (Rev. 22:16)
A light (Ps. 27:1)
A lamp (Rev. 21:23)
A fire (Heb. 12:29)
A fountain (Ps. 36:9; Jer. 2:13)
Food, bread, drink (John 6:35, 55)
A rock (Deut. 32:4)
A refuge (Ps. 119:114)
A tower (Prov. 18:10)
A stronghold (Ps. 9:9)
A shadow (Ps. 91:1; 121:5)
A shield (Ps. 84:11)
A road (John 14:6)
A temple (Rev. 21:22)

The Lord reveals himself in these ways to us, for us. So we are not afraid to say:
The LORD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation; this is my God (Exo 15:2)
The LORD Is My Banner (Ex. 17:15)
The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer (2Sam. 22:2)
The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup (Ps. 16:5)
The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. (Ps. 18:2)
The LORD is my shepherd (Ps. 23:1)
The LORD is my light and my salvation…The LORD is the stronghold of my life (Ps. 27:1)
The LORD is my strength and my shield (Ps. 28:7)
The LORD is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation. (Ps. 118:14)
The LORD is my portion (Ps. 119:57)
“The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” (Lam. 3:24)
The LORD is my God. (Zec. 13:9)
So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” (Heb 13:6)

All his works declare his praise for all his works demonstrate who he is. Not fully, nor completely, nor essentially. But it is enough to overwhelm the believing heart with wonder. It is enough to draw us onward in passionate pursuit knowing we can never have enough. Our thirst is slaked by increasing our desire for drink. So the yearning heart presses on through the glorious blinding light into the thick darkness where the glory dwells. For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

The Trinity in Scripture: Luke 3 – Luke 4

Chapters 3 and 4 of Luke contain three distinct references to the Trinity that chorus together to provide “big picture” details about the life and ministry of Jesus. One should note that whenever Jesus speaks of the Father and Spirit the Trinity is mentioned since the one speaking is One with those he mentions. But not even that subtlety is needed in the following passages.

In Luke 3:21-22 the Trinity is present at the baptism of Jesus. As this event and some of its implications were discussed in my post on Acts 10, the passage will not receive much individual interpretation. Be reminded, however, that this even happened as Jesus “began his ministry” (3:23).

Luke is not finished describing the beginning of Jesus’ ministry: or, more specifically , the preface to Jesus’ ministry. After Jesus was baptized his ministry still not begin. The Holy Spirit that came upon Jesus at his baptism led him into the wilderness to be tempted for forty days (4:1). Just as the Father and Spirit were actively involved in the anointing of Jesus for ministry at his baptism, they each participated in the demonstration of his fitness for ministry in his temptation.

Jesus was led into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit. He was not led into temptation by the Holy Spirit, but led into the place where he would be tempted. Jesus did this with the fullness of the Holy Spirit: Jesus was in full communion with him.

Jesus endured the wilderness by relying on the word of his Father. The Devil’s temptations were centered on Jesus’ identity as the Son of God (4:3, 9) and authority (4:6). With each temptation Jesus demonstrated his Sonship by relying on the authority of the Word of God. In each temptation, the highest concern of Jesus was to honor his Father: to honor his word (4:4); to honor his absolute deity (4:8) and to honor his holiness (4:12).

What was declared at his baptism was demonstrated at his persecution: Jesus was God’s Son anointed by the Holy Spirit to fulfill God’s will.

After such declaration and demonstration Jesus begins his ministry of teaching in the synagogues throughout the land of Galilee (4:14-15). While Luke does not present the lesson and aftermath in 4:16-30 as Jesus’ first message, it is the first lesson he presents. The hermeneutical idea of “the law of first reference” takes some abuse as the rule itself is easy to be abused. Yet the principle does have validity. Luke recounts this lesson of Jesus first for a reason: it continues the theme begun with Jesus’ baptism and continued with his temptation.

And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:16-19)

The Father and Spirit did not commune with the Son at his baptism and temptation only to leave him for the next three years. In this sermon on the text of Isaiah 61:1-2, Jesus teaches that his entire ministry is fulfilled in communion with the Father and the Spirit. For the next three years Jesus will proclaim and demonstrate good news, liberty, and God’s favor. For the next three years he will do all of these things in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus’ references to the anointing of the Holy Spirit and to the ministry of Elijah form an unmistakable parallel (inclusio) to the account of his baptism by John. With such a construction Luke frames these events as paradigms for the entire life and ministry of Jesus. Jesus lives and serves in communion with and empowered by the Father and the Spirit.

Theologians speak of the perichoresis of the Trinity. This is the teaching that each member of the Trinity mutually dwells in or penetrates through the other members of the Trinity. Each member has complete unity with the others without being “mixed.” Whatever God is, the Father is. Whatever God is, the Son is. Whatever God is, the Spirit is. But the Father is not the Son, nor the Son the Father. The Son is not the Spirit, nor the Spirit the Son. The Spirit is not the Father, nor the Father the Sprit.

While these passages in Luke do not teach perichoresis, indeed no single passage does, they do form something of a support for it. Jesus never acted alone, in his own power, or on his own authority. Yet it was Jesus who acted, not the Father or the Spirit.