“When I Say God…”

“When I say God, what I mean is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”

This statement of Geoffrey Wainwright was a favorite among the Divinity Students at Duke when I was there–it invariably showed up in each of their sermons prepared for Trinity Sunday.

The Christian God has an identity. That identity is Father, Son, and Spirit. This is our starting point. This is who (and what) our God is.

So what happens when we turn to the Bible and read the word “God”?

When Paul said God, he meant the Father only.

Similarly, when we read Mark, for example, God is the sender, the power, the authority giver, the father.

The burden of my various threads of thought over the past couple of weeks (and months and years!) on the blog has been to clear out space to answer this question: “What does it mean to say, ‘Jesus is Lord’ before Christians were proclaiming, ‘Jesus is God’?”

14 thoughts on ““When I Say God…””

  1. This is a very good, and important, question. This gets at the heart of earliest christianity and at how we can understand God, and Jesus, today. I look forward to the discussion.

  2. Kirk, I hope you rescue yourself from this question! I’ll draft in your wake. I just had a positive learning go-around with John Hobbins on Franz Boas’s categorization (anthropology) of manipulative prayer. I don’t see the distinctions between lord and God as easy and neat demarcations. That’s a practice (praxis) bias upon hearing people in clinic echo the Johannine refrain – “So Jesus, perceiving that they were intending to come and take Him by force to make Him king, withdrew again to the mountain by Himself alone” (John 6:15). We rather try to manipulate both categories of – “God has an identity.” Was Jesus withdrawing from human manipulative prayers – as king/lord? Or was Jesus withdrawing from human manipulative prayers – as God? Difficult for me to see operational differences – since human manipulations tend to level the differences between God and lord. I’m thankful for your patience teasing out the systematic stuff.


  3. For such reasons, I prefer to be identified as a Christian instead of as a theist. Although, the ‘Jesus as God’ statement does not have to be a Trinitarian one. There are other non-Trinitarian theologies of the Divine Jesus that deemed heretical, simply because the Trinity won. As always, I enjoy your challenging posts!

  4. I like what you’re saying, and I think we *do* often take Paul’s “God” as something other than Paul meant in an uncareful way.

    But, that quote isn’t Wainwright. It’s Gregory of Nazianzus (http://www.orthodoxa.org/GB/orthodoxy/patrology/gregoiredenazianzenoelGB.htm). And because it’s Nazianzen, it shows an important point for this discussion. Christians read Paul through the lens of the Church, and the Church reads Paul better than Paul understood himself (sometimes).

    As for your actual question, “‘What does it mean to say, “Jesus is Lord” before Christians were proclaiming, “Jesus is God”?’”, I’m not quite sure I get it. Is this only an historical question, or does it have theological import for us today? Could you clarify?

    1. I feel your pain, Nick.

      On this issue, I’m often confused about how, exactly, to read various NT authors. Does “Jesus is Lord” take the place, primarily, of a confession of Caesar as Lord? Or does their use of kyrios primarily function as a replacement for the OT Yahweh? Or both? Or something completely different?

      1. I think a good case can be made for both. Philippians 2:11 is an allusion to Isaiah 45:23. In the OT text, every knee bows to YHWH. In the NT, the name of YHWH is given to Jesus.

          1. So what’s the implication of this observation for your Christology?

            Paul’s use of Joel 2 in Romans 10:13 is also suggestive. “Everyone who calls upon the name of YHWH will be saved.”

            Compare Romans 10:9. “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

            Paul has no problem with applying OT texts which refer to YHWH to Jesus.

            1. I think it means that Jesus was raised from the dead and enthroned as lord over all creation.

              I don’t find the YHWH-kurios connection suggestive in the least. Too subtle. There’s a reason why Paul not only differentiates, consistently, between God the Father and Jesus the Lord but also says Jesus will give the kingdom to God so that God may be all in all. Jesus is the enthroned human lord.

  5. Sorry, one more text and then I’ll give up.

    What about 1 Cor. 8:4-6? Paul writes Jesus into the Shema.

    “There is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.”

    Paul borrows several words (God, Lord, one) from Deut. 6:4.

    The word “kurios” appears in both texts. In the OT, it refers to YHWH. In the NT, it refers to Jesus.

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