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The classical reformed position

In this comment on another blog Mo has claimed that classical reformed theologians were not interested in identifying which Person of the trinity is talking in the OT.

When it comes to appearances of the LORD and when it comes to the Angel of the LORD, that couldn't be further from the truth.

I could list many other quotes and many other theologians, but these will do for now:

Calvin in Institutes, I.xiii.10

The orthodox doctors of the Church have correctly and wisely expounded, that the Word of God was the supreme angel, who then began, as it were by anticipation, to perform the office of Mediator. For though he were not clothed with flesh, yet he descended as in an intermediate form, that he might have more familiar access to the faithful. …Hence it follows, that he is the God who was always worshipped by the Jews.

John Owen, Works, vol 18, p221 - discussing Genesis 18: 

Neither is there any ground for the late exposition of this and the like places, namely, that a created angel representing the person of God doth speak and act in his name, and is called Jehovah; an invention to evade the appearances of the Son of God under the old testament, contrary to the sense of all antiquity, nor is any reason or instance produced to make it good. 

Owen discussing Gen 19:24:

…in this place it is Moses that speaketh of the Lord, and he had no occasion to repeat ‘The LORD’ were it not to intimate the distinct persons unto whom that name, denoting the nature and self-existence of God, was proper; one whereof then appeared on the earth, the other manifesting his glorious presence in heaven…  There is therefore in this place an appearance of God in human shape, and that of one distinct person in the Godhead, who now represented himself unto Abraham in the form and shape wherein he would dwell amongst men, when of his seed he would be ‘made flesh’.  This was one signal means whereby Abraham saw his day and rejoiced; which Himself lays upon His pre-existence unto His incarnation, and not upon the promise of His coming, John 8:56, 58  (ibid, p222)

Owen discussing Jacob's wrestling:

From what hath been spoken, it is evident that he who appeared unto Jacob, with whom he earnestly wrestled, by tears and supplications was God; and because he was sent as the angel of God, it must be some distinct person in the Deity condescending unto that office; and appearing in the form of a man, he represented his future assumption of our human nature.  And by all this did God instruct the church in the mystery of the person of the Messiah, and who it was that they were to look for in the blessing of the promised Seed. (ibid, p225)


Jonathan Edwards, A History of Redemption

When we read in sacred history what God did, from time to time, towards His Church and people, and how He revealed Himself to them, we are to understand it especially of the Second Person of the Trinity. When we read of God appearing after the fall, in some visible form, we are ordinarily, if not universally, to understand it of the Second Person of the Trinity... John 1:18. He is therefore called the image of the invisible God - Col 1:15 - intimating that though God the Father be invisible, yet Christ is His image or representation, by which He is seen.

John Owen especially uses the phrase 'distinct Person in the deity' very often when discussing the revelation of Christ as Mediator in the OT.

This insistence is not driven by any social trinitarianism but by solus Christus.  Verses such as John 1:18; Colossians 1:15; Matthew 11:27 and, of course, John 14:6 were at the forefront of their thinking on this. 

Whenever I see a departure from this classical reformed position on the Mediator's activity in the OT I fear a parallel departure from solus Christus in the strong form which the reformers held dear. 

That's why I bang this drum.


0 thoughts on “The classical reformed position

  1. bobby grow


    Not to nit-pick, but are you really going to place Calvin within the "Classically Reformed" camp? I typically think of "Classical Reformed" relative to those who follow "Classical Theism" (Federal theologians, Perkins et al); which Calvin certainly wouldn't fit.

    Okay, sorry for the intrusion . . . carry on everyone ;-).

  2. Mo

    Oh Glen,

    Not what I said. What I said was that classical reformed definitions of the Trinity appear to leave far more mystery in how the persons relate and reveal themselves than some of those like "three persons loving each other" that you might hear quite often in evangelical circles nowadays.

    If you look at a theologian like Hodge, or Warfield or latterly Grudem, they are much more likely to say "the way the Trinity works is simply mysterious". If you think that is true, then working out which person of the Trinity is addressing us when God does so becomes a lot less important.

  3. Glen

    Hi Bobby,
    You raise a good point. I'm not really interested in joining or claiming support from any grouping of 'classical reformed theologians' that has to exclude Calvin himself. If the 'reformed position' ends up at odds with Calvin's own position then 9 times out of 10 I'll stick with Calvin.

  4. Daniel

    I think that if you're Mo, messieurs Hodge, Warfield and Grudem are out of step with the early reformed tradition on this point. Owen, after all, devotes a fairly substantial book - the classic Communion with God - to the question of our distinct relations with the three persons of the Trinity. He doesn't see anything that mysterious in it. Except in the Biblical sense of 'mystery', of course.

  5. Daniel

    That comment makes no sense, because it should say "if you're right, Mo". Clearly you are Mo. That was never in question.

  6. Glen

    Mo - here is what you said.

    Having raised 'classic reformed views' (which sounded very grand until you've told us you only mean Warfield, Hodge and Grudem!) and having put them in opposition to something you've charged with 'social trinitarianism' you said:

    They allow you, therefore, to say "I'm not sure exactly which person is speaking here, or how, but then exacty how those intra-trinitarian relationships play out is pretty mysterious." I guess that is where I am at. It could be Jesus, but it might not be.

    Now the question at hand is - should we identify this Person - the Angel of the LORD - as the Son. And Calvin, Owen and Edwards say 'Absolutely.' (And, for what it's worth, so does Grudem - if you can find out on Hodge and Warfield, let me know).

    So will you agree that Calvin, Owen and Edwards would never say as you do: "It might be Jesus, it might not"?

  7. Little Mo

    Glen, I totally concede your point. You have, however, missed mine.

    All I was saying is that I think that the drive to identify which distinct person of the Trinity is speaking IN OUR CONTEXT, seems to be linked to the mushroom like growth of social trinitarianism IN OUR CONTEXT.

    My mistake, for which I apologise, is that I used the term "classically reformed" to mean something which others do not mean.

    In the essays I have from Warfield, he does't mention a view on TAOTL. However, in his essay on the Trinity, he doesn't mention him/Him, and says that Trinitarian theology in the OT is "latent" and in the nt becomes "patent". His evidence for this is the plural in Genesis 1 etc.

  8. Glen

    Hi Mo, if by 'miss' you mean that I haven't engaged your point about social trinitarianism, you're right. It wasn't exactly on topic and if we found 'classical reformed' difficult to define - how will we fare with 'social trinitarianism'? Whether or not people self-identify, this term seems to be applied to a very broad range of views from "Augustine might have got a couple of things wrong" to "There's no such thing as hierarchical relations among the Persons."

    If you're worried about this 'mushrooming' phenomenon blog about it. But clearly the Owen example (for one) shows you that 'social trinitarianism' is not at all necessary to drive a theologian to want to distinguish Persons in the OT. Solus Christus *is* the driving factor.

    But if you do see a link between these OT views and certain views of the trinity, I'd suggest it's because 'solus Christus' is the driving factor behind *both*.

  9. Rich Owen

    Mo, that is a helpful clarification - and gets right to the heart of the issue.

    Forget our context for now - lets think in terms of their context - the jewish context:

    John 5 from vs 36 ""I have testimony weightier than that of John. For the very work that the Father has given me to finish, and which I am doing, testifies that the Father has sent me. 37And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me. You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, 38nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent. 39You diligently study[c] the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, 40yet you refuse to come to me to have life.....

    45"But do not think I will accuse you before the Father. Your accuser is Moses, on whom your hopes are set. 46If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. 47But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?"

    Is it not really unfair of Jesus to say in John 5 that because they haven't put their faith in Him on the basis of Moses' testimony, that Moses will accuse them on judgement day - if his presence in Moses' writings is latent, unseen and unknowable until the revelation becomes "patent" at the 1st advent?

    There is indeed latency in the OT - that the Father is unseen and unheard, but there is clarity too - that the Son is sent and does his work - and THIS is the testimony of Moses which they should be believing.

  10. Little Mo

    Rich - I think its very fair - they should recognise Moses testimony when they see Jesus. It would have been unfair to make the accusation before he became "patent."

    The whole point, I would have thought, that they have rejected Jesus once he has been made known.

  11. Little Mo

    I have left further thoughts on the other blog. I can't keep up with 2 discussions.

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