what did peter know about the trinity?

I’ve started reading a book about Simon Peter written by Ted Donnelly – Peter: Eyewitness of his Majesty (Banner of Truth 1998), and it’s just reminded me of something which I was going to write a long time ago – about the nature of the faith that believers had in the Old Testament (already mentioned here).

A couple of paragraphs in Chapter 3 of this book are devoted to demonstrating how thoroughly and dogmatically the Jews were monotheistic. Then comes this paragraph:

“Peter shares this faith of his fathers. But he and his friends have come to believe also that Jesus of Nazareth is related to the living God in a unique and intimate way. We cannot be sure how much he understood when he called Jesus ‘the Son of God.’ What did he know of the Trinity? Had he been taught about the eternal Son, creator of the universe?”

What did Peter know about the Trinity? Quite a lot, actually, simply from being familiar with the Old Testament scriptures. He would of course have known about the First Person of the Godhead (this presumably doesn’t need to be elaborated on). But he would also have known about a divine person called the Spirit of the Lord, who inspired the prophets (2 Samuel 23, Ezekiel 3) and enabled them to work miracles (Judges 13-15) and whose presence was necessary for spiritual life (Psalm 51); and thirdly he would have known about another divine person, the Son of God (Psalm 2). By reading the scriptures, any Jew of his era should have known that there is one God, and that he is one (Deuteronomy 6), and yet that there are three persons in the Godhead. This truth was clearly available in the Old Testament for the OT believers to lay hold of (for further examples, take Isaiah 11 where there is the rod of Jesse, the Lord, and the Spirit of the Lord; in Isaiah 59 there is the Redeemer, the Lord, and the Spirit of the Lord; and in Isaiah 61 there is the anointed one, the Spirit of the Lord God, and the Lord).

By calling Jesus “the Christ, the Son of the living God,” Peter was identifying the man he was speaking to with the promised Messiah – and there was nothing vague about the characteristics that would identify the Messiah when he came. From the very start of the Old Testament Scriptures, the Saviour who was promised is not only really human (the seed of the woman) but also more than human (with power to bruise the head of the serpent).

  • the seed of Abraham in whom all the nations of the world would be blessed
  • a kingly priest after the order of Melchizedek
  • the New Testament Joseph going ahead of his brethren and out of his overflowing storehouses sustaining them in life (I’m reading in Genesis just now)
  • a prophet who was like Moses but greater than Moses
  • a priest greater than Aaron
  • a leader and commander to the people, greater than Joshua
  • David’s son and David’s Lord
  • a greater than Solomon, wiser and richer
  • the fulfilment of all the sacrifices of the tabernacle and the temple
  • the suffering servant
  • the victorious conqueror
  • the child who would be born and the Son who would be given, the Mighty God (Isaiah 6)
  • the man who is God’s fellow (Zech 13)

Of course, many of the clearest revelations of the three distinct persons in the Godhead come from the prophecies which were written later in history, ie as the details of the salvation God was providing were enlarged on and added to. If the question had been about someone who’d lived earlier in history than Peter, ie before the Old Testament scriptures were complete, they wouldn’t have had the same amount of knowledge as this. Someone who had lived and died without witnessing the unprecedented splendour of Solomon’s times, for example, wouldn’t have been able to point to all that grandeur and say, The Messiah is greater than all this.

But would they have known the Trinity? Yes, they would still have known the essentials – the bare facts which at the end of the day are both as much and as little as believers know in the New Testament – there is one God, and there are three Persons in the Godhead, and these three are one God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory. And would they have known the Eternal Son? Yes, that believer would still have known that the Messiah was going to be of the seed of Abraham according to the flesh, and was going to be equipped by God with the power to bruise the head of the serpent: and their faith in that promise would have saved them, just as surely as a person today is saved by faith in the same promises now fulfilled.

Now I’m going to put this behind me and see how the rest of the book pans out – hopefully this will be my only quibble with it.

the uses of apricot jam

I used to have one fool-proof recipe for chocolate cake which served me well for, ahh, many years. It came from the Be-Ro cookbook, the edition whose cover picture is three generations of smiling women in a kitchen surrounded by assorted tempting pies, cakes, and flans of various descriptions.

Now I have a quicker and easier recipe (from a book with an only slightly less cheesy front cover) which involves putting all the ingredients into one bowl together, beating it up for a couple of minutes, and baking in two 8-inch tins for 25 minutes at 180 C. Specifically, you make a paste of cocoa and water (1.5 and 3 tablespoons respectively), then you just add 6 oz each of butter, sugar, and self-raising flour, plus three eggs and a teaspoon and a half of baking powder. Easy as that.

Once it’s cooled, you make a fudge icing by melting butter (2 oz) with cocoa (1 oz), adding a couple of tablespoons of milk, and whisking in 8 oz icing sugar. It’s the most successful icing I know, and there’s enough to sandwich the two layers plus the top.

By now you can tell that mentioning the apricot jam was only an excuse to talk about chocolate: but there is actually a link here, because this particular recipe also features a use for apricot jam, which I think I’ve only ever experienced in its function as leftovers of a chocolate cake ingredient. You put several tablespoons of apricot jam through a sieve, perhaps warming it slightly first to make the sieving process easier, then spread it over the top of the cake and down the sides (as well as in the middle if you remember to do it before the icing). And as well as being most delicious, it also keeps the cake moist inside – which is highly convenient, if you’re the type of person who ever has to store their chocolate-related baking products for any length of time.

fascinated, breathless and awestruck

This isn’t so much a carefully crafted critique as a tetchy sort of grumble, so if you’re not in the mood, look away now.

Several weeks ago I took a deep breath and bought the book Women’s Ministry in the Local Church (by Ligon Duncan and Susan Hunt, 2006). Maybe some time I’ll get round to talking through some of the issues which it raised, although that seems like too much of a can of worms to be a particularly attractive prospect at the moment.

In the meantime, what set me off on my grumble was the slighly irritating way that the argument was presented in Chapter Five (on Submission, by Susan Hunt). After writing out the passage 1 Timothy 2:9-15, the comment which immediately follows takes the following form:
“I am fascinated by the fact that […].”
New paragraph. “Another fascinating fact leaves me breathless: […].”
New paragraph. “Finally, I am awestruck that […].”

Regardless of how valid and worthwhile the facts which she presents may be, it leaves the door wide open for the reader to simply say, “So what?”

If Ms Hunt gets fascinated by some doctrine, and if some other doctrine leaves her breathless, how exactly is that meant to help you and me? What you’re left to evaluate is not the validity of the doctrines which she’s outlining, but the likelihood of whether or not she did experience those particular emotional states on being confronted with this or that fact. Even though in this case I don’t think there’s anything suspicious about the technique, that trick of embedding the argument within the shell of a statement about the writer him/herself is actually a great way of distracting the reader’s attention away from the content of the teaching which they’re being presented with, and leaving them with an entirely uninteresting and worthless comment about someone’s subjective experiences.

Much as it might make the whole book and its arguments more friendly and persuasive, it’s definitely not a style to overuse. It runs the risk of being perceived as patronising – as if the reader can’t decide for themselves what reaction to take to, eg, the fact that there are no aberrant ideas in the bible – does it leave you breathless? and what would it say about you if you didn’t go breathless when you thought about it? It also tends to trivialise the matter under discussion – as if the doctrines can somehow gain validity or credibility by the recounting of that writer’s subjective response to them. And of course there’s always the embarrassing possibility that the feverish girlyness is only on display to act as proof that intelligent and well-respected women don’t mind conforming to the doctrine of submission. But surely that is too embarrassing to be true.