The Language of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
Why the Trinity and why Father, Son, Holy Spirit? These are questions and seeming battles I find Christians having. As Christians, we talk about the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the language of the Trinity. However, quickly I see people pushing back on the language of Father. I also heard in these discussions the pushback against this language and its “limiting language and inclusivity.” So first why use the language of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? Second, why continue to choose to use it?
First, I want to start off by saying this is my opinion and my understanding so far. I am continually growing in my relationship with Christ and growing in my faith, so this may change with more wisdom. This is where I am, and I am trying to be open and honest about where I am in my journey to hopefully help others on their own journey.
I think the best place to start this discussion is in the Old Testament. No, we do not find the Trinity in the Hebrew Bible. What we do see is a complex description of God’s character. There is God’s glory, name, wisdom, and word that are all placed literarily as characters in various parts of the Bible but are so closely linked with God that the lines are blurred. Another excellent example of this is the Angel of the Lord. The angel will appear but during the story you are not sure who is speaking or acting, God or the angel. The lines are blurred in the telling of the story. This gives us a great way to talk about God’s complex identity all while affirming One God.
Enter Jesus. Jesus comes on the scene and begins to describe an intimate relationship with God using the term “father.” In the Hebrew Bible, there are places where God is referred to as father, so the language is not foreign or new. However, Jesus’ use of Father is unique. It refers to relationship and intimacy. The use of “father” becomes so unique to Jesus and how he describes God that it becomes a staple of Jesus’ teaching. When Jesus’ followers write to people, they adopt Jesus’ language of father. “To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace.” (1 Thessalonians 1:1) “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ…” (1 Peter 1:3) “and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.” (1 John 1:3) “To those who are the called, beloved in God the Father, and kept for Jesus Christ…” (Jude 1) So it appears that the disciples and followers of Jesus adopted Jesus’ view of Father and Son language not just in talking about Jesus’ relationship with God, but their own.
Jesus also talks and seem so to be working in the power of the Spirit. The Spirit of God is nothing new as it was mentioned since page 1 of the Bible. Again what makes it unique is how Jesus uses it and talks about it. First, at Jesus’ baptism, we see the Spirit not only anoint him but also remain with him as it takes him out to be tested in the desert. (Mark 1:12) Jesus seems to come out of the desert experience empowered by the Spirit and goes around teaching. (Luke 4:14 and 15) I believe that the Gospel of Luke presents Jesus in the following stories preaching and healing people under the assumption and with the authority of the Holy Spirit. Jesus even quotes from Isaiah describing himself as the one doing actions anointed and empowered with the Spirit. Jesus’ prayer in John 17 begins this circular language of blurring the lines between Jesus, the Father, and the followers of Jesus. John uses words associated with the Spirit in the Hebrew Bible. To go even further in John 15, Jesus talks about the Father sending the Spirit to testify to him. (John 15:26)I don’t feel too far out of left field in this connection because the followers of Jesus who wrote about him and his movement equated the Spirit with Jesus. In Acts, it talks of the Holy Spirit blocking the followers from going somewhere and then call it the Spirit of Jesus. (Acts 16:6 and 7) Peter goes on to connect the Holy Spirit that empowered the prophets as the “Spirit of Christ.” (1 Peter1:11) Finally, you have Paul talk about the Spirit, Spirit of God, and the Spirit of Christ interchangeably. (Romans 8:9) This is all to say that the earliest followers of Jesus equated or found identification/intimacy/closeness to Jesus, God, and the Spirit.
So why do we the language of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? The answer is because we see Jesus use it and his followers use that language. Why continue to use it? I believe we should continue to use the language simply because Jesus used it. It is a defining quality and understanding of who Jesus is, his teachings, and who Jesus teaches us we are. Over and over we see this language on the lips of Jesus so much so that the first followers and many after that are using it. By becoming a follower of Jesus, we adopt his language and teachings. Core to that teaching and language is Father. Upon reflection of those first followers and many more later, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit properly gets at the heart of this teaching. So when we gather to learn, to know, and to experience God from and through Jesus, we enter the space, language, and fellowship of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.