Book Plunge: The Birth of the Trinity

What do I think of Matthew Bates’s book published by Oxford press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

How did we get to the Trinity? Of course, the Trinity was never born, per se, but how did the early church come to the idea? Was it in the Old Testament and we just hadn’t seen it all these years? Could it be they read Scripture in a way today that we’re not familiar with?

“Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me.

With burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased.

Then I said ‘Here I am. It is written about me in the scroll — I have come to do your will, my God.”

When the writer of Hebrews has this passage, he says that this is what Christ said. If we go back to where it comes from, Psalm 40, we don’t see Christ saying this at all. It looks like what the Psalmist is saying. How do we get to Christ saying this? Are we just reading into the text?

As good Christians, we don’t want to say that. After all, do we want to accuse the writer of Hebrews of eisegesis? In fact, we can go further and say that our Lord Himself used this kind of reading. Did He not ask the Pharisees whose son the Messiah is only to be told the Son of David. Christ responds with Psalm 110:1 “The Lord said to my Lord.” How can He be David’s son if David calls Him His Lord?

Bates says this is called prospological reading where the text is read from the perspective of a divine conversation going on. Sometimes, the Psalmist or prophet seems to give us a peek behind the curtain, perhaps unknowingly, to conversations that have taken place long in the past. (Well, at least to us. Since all of God’s actions are eternal these are eternally happening.)

The early church engaged in this and in fact, so did the early opponents of Christianity. This doesn’t mean that every reading like this is valid, but Origen and others did lay down some ground rules. Those are quite helpful for many who will think that this is an approach that can just lead to chaos and anything can mean anything.

Bates throughout this book that is incredibly inspiring seeks to enter us into a divine drama taking place and how the early church saw the text. Numerous texts are explored in-depth including countering various ideas, such as a popular adoptionist idea as has recently been argued for by Bart Ehrman. Bates also wants to return us to the idea of not divine identity but divine persons thinking we’re losing something of the idea of how we should speak of God when we don’t speak of persons.

Bates’s argument then is that when Christ came, the readers of the Old Testament indeed looked back in hindsight to see if they could see Christ speaking there, and they saw several passages. These they fit into the divine drama that had been taking place behind the scenes. This can also make us go back and read the Old Testament with new eyes. We’ve all known about this kind of reading before as we see it in the New Testament. We just never knew how seriously it was undertaken and what an impact it had.

If there was something I’d say I would like to see better, I think the title can be misleading. Every now and then there’s something about the Holy Spirit, but really very little. The book emphasizes more on the deity of Christ I think than the whole of the Trinity. Perhaps that can be saved for another work.

This is still an excellent book to read. If you want to see a fresh new reading of the text, try this one out. This is definitely an area that New Testament scholarship needs to further study.

In Christ,
Nick Peters


Book Plunge: The Case For The Psalms

Do Christians today really need the Psalms? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

As readers of this blog know, N.T. Wright’s work is just gold to me. N.T. Wright brings so much life to the biblical text by sharing the historical context making it a deeper and deeper work to be appreciated. In fact, Wright was a major influence in getting me to switch my major to NT.

Yet in his book “The Case for the Psalms: Why They Are Essential”, Wright turns to this important OT book, a book I honestly rarely see scholars engaging with, except for how it relates to the NT. Wright does some of that, but he also brings out the importance of it on its own.

The Psalms we must remember were the hymns of the early church and the first Christians. They were before Christ, the embodiment of the hope of Israel. They longed for what it is we all longed for and what was ultimately fulfilled in Christ.

Of course, this is not to say that new songs should not be written. Indeed, they should be. Yet so many of our songs lack the rich depth that can be found in the Psalms. How many of the songs we sing in church today really usher us into the amazement of knowing God in Christ? I can say that one that certainly does it for me today is “Holy, Holy, Holy.” Whenever I hear that song, I simply have to sit down. I can’t stand and sing that song. I am humbled every time I hear it with the recognition that God is holy and without Him, I am not. With my interest in theology also, I am deeply appreciative that a song says “God in three persons, blessed Trinity.”

Perhaps our songs could learn something from the Psalms with the Psalms being the archetype that we all draw from when it comes to writing new songs today. These songs should embody our hopes that the Psalms themselves embodied. Wright goes into three areas.

First, the Psalms all hoped that God would redeem time. Many a Psalm points back to events when the God of Israel acted in the past in order to bring about a people. The reason of course was so that God could bring about a great future and that future had not yet come. Thus, the Israelites were living with a hope for the future and that hope was in the present unrealized.

Many of us today can still pray “How long O Lord? How long?” Yet the Psalmists were in many ways saying the exact same prayer and their stark honesty is refreshing. At times, the Psalmist chooses to point the finger not at fallen humanity or the devil or forces of evil, but at God Himself. Why is God doing or not doing something? The Psalms would be a way of saying to God the promises He had made and looking with the hopeful future trust if not present trust that He would bring them about.

Second, the Psalms hoped that God would redeem space. The land of Israel was the sacred land to the people. Yet at times they had been removed from the land and when they returned, they were still in exile as a foreign power was in charge.

Not only that, where did God exactly dwell? That was a question. God had made His presence known in the Temple? Where was He when the temple was not there? How they longed for it! This is of course fulfilled in the NT when we have the living temple of Jesus come and then we read in 1 Corinthians that we are the temple of the Holy Spirit.

Finally, they longed for God to redeem matter. It is a gnostic view that this world is evil. Christianity says the world is good, but something has gone wrong with this good world. We can often get at the environmentalist movement for worshiping the creation seemingly, and some do, but we should not lose sight that this creation is the creation of God and it is good and He has a purpose for it.

All these three are still often our hopes and a work like this has taught me I need to go back and reread the Psalms and see the hope of Israel in them. It is not only myself but all of us who do. We need to look at the Psalms and ask why each Psalm was written and what was the purpose and notice the nuances of the beautiful poetry therein.

So once again, I am in debt to N.T. Wright for helping me to look at a portion of Scripture afresh. I am never disappointed by a work of Wright. May he write many more works and may God bless us with more scholars of the heart and caliber of N.T. Wright.

In Christ,
Nick Peters