Friday, January 22, 2016

How To Interpret Scripture Aright in the Eyes of Kevin Giles (Sean Killackey)

Sean, this post is from a larger informal review of the work by Giles that I undertook years ago. A discussion of The Trinity and Subordinationism: The Doctrine of God and the Contemporary Gender Debate (Downer's Grove: IVP,

Giles notes that Arius marshaled a significant number
of Bible texts to prove that the Son is a creature.
Athanasius, however, thought Arius had egregiously
erred in his interpretation of Holy Writ. He thus
accused Arius of selectively choosing and interpreting
certain Bible texts to support beliefs Arius already
held dear, a phenomenon that psychologists commonly
call "confirmation bias." As Giles writes:

"Arius' methodology simply showed that given enough
time, a clever theologian could find texts and
interpretations to prove almost anything" (p. 3).
Atahansius, on the other hand, thought that the proper
way to "do" theology was to first acquire a "profound
grasp" of the pattern of Scripture. That is, one must
comprehend the overall drift of the Bible or come to
understand its "theological center" (its focus) before
proceeding with earnest biblical exegesis (ibid).

One who grasped the said pattern, avers Athanasius,
would know that the Son is eternally one in both
being and action with the Father. However, the Son
temporally subordinated himself to the Father when he
became a man for salvific reasons, that is, PRO NOBIS.
Nevertheless, vis-a-vis His eternal relations to the
Father and Holy Spirit, Athanasius contended that the
Son is by no means subordinate to the Father: He is
equal in all respects to the Father and the
Holy Spirit. At least, this is what Athanasius gleaned
from Scripture, as he understood it.

While Athanasius contended that those with eyes of
faith could discern the clear focus of Scripture and
what it teaches about the Son, he added that the
teaching of Scripture is "made plain" by what he
called "the teaching of the apostles and tradition of
the fathers" (p. 4). Tradition, in this context,
simply denotes teaching that was handed down from the
apostles through the fathers of the church. Tradition
(Athanasius maintained) proclaims that the Son of God is
eternally equal with regard to the "immanent Trinity"
but it teaches that the Son became subordinate, for a time,
per God's OIKONOMIA. It was this theological premise that
informed Athanasius' reading of Scripture since he
believed that Scripture ought to be read through the
lens of church tradition. Without the aid of
traditio, one could not truly understand, interpret
or do theology aright.


Sean Killackey said...

Was Athanasius under the impression that only one who was fully God and fully man could save us?

Edgar Foster said...

I can answer that question rapidly. Yes, and I will supply documentation later.

Edgar Foster said...

Sean, see this link:

It's page 146ff.

Sean Killackey said...

Is there a passage in that book that describes why only God could save us? Even in talking to certain Trinitarians that specific teaching is not universally affirmed. And, as a side issue, would worshipping or praying to the human nature of Christ be idolatry?

David Waltz said...

Hi Sean (and Edgar),

Athanasius' view of God and Christology was heavily influenced by his soteriology—more specifically, the doctrine of deification. Note the following selections from Athanasius:

Athanasius - De Incarnation 54 For He was made man that we might be made God. (NPNF, second series, 4.65).

Athanasius - Defence of the Nicene Definition 3.14 ...the Word was made flesh in order to offer up this body for all, and that we, partaking of His Spirit, might be deified, a gift which we could not otherwise have gained than by His clothing Himself in our created body, for hence we derive our name of "men of God" and "men in Christ." But as we, by receiving the Spirit, do not lose our own proper substance, so the Lord, when made man for us, and bearing a body, was no less God; for He was not lessened by the envelopment of the body, but rather deified it and rendered it immortal. (NPNF, second series, 4.159).

Athanasius - Contra Arians 1.11.38 ...but rather He Himself has made us sons of the Father, and deified men by becoming Himself man. (NPNF, second series, 4.329).

Athanasius - Contra Arians 1.11.39 Therefore He was not man, and then became God, but He was God, and then became man, and that to deify us...And how can there be deifying apart from the Word and before Him? (NPNF, second series, 4.329).

Athanasius - Contra Arians 1.11.45 For He who is the Son of God, became Himself the Son of Man; and, as Word, He gives from the Father, for all things which the Father does and gives, He does and supplies through Him; and as the Son of Man, He Himself is said after the manner of men to receive what proceeds from Him, because His Body is none other than His, and is a natural recipient of grace, as has been said. For He received it as far as His man’s nature was exalted; which exaltation was its being deified. But such an exaltation the Word Himself always had according to the Father’s Godhead and perfection, which was His. (NPNF, second series, 4.333).

Athanasius - Contra Arians 2.21.70 Whence the truth shews us that the Word is not of things originate, but rather Himself their Framer. For therefore did He assume the body originate and human, that having renewed it as its Framer, he might deify it in Himself, and thus might introduce us all into the kingdom of heaven after His likeness. For man had not been deified if joined to a creature, or unless the Son were very God; nor had man been brought into the Father’s presence, unless He had been His natural and true Word who had put on the body. And as we had not been delivered from sin and the curse, unless it had been by nature human flesh, which the Word put on (for we should have had nothing common with what was foreign), so also the man had not been deified, unless the Word who became flesh had been by nature from the Father and true and proper to Him. For therefore the union was of this kind, that He might unite what is man by nature to Him who is in the nature of the Godhead, and his salvation and deification might be sure. (NPNF, second series, 4.386).

Athanasius - Contra Arians 3.25.23 And the work is perfected, because men, redeemed from sin, no longer remain dead; but being deified, have in each other, by looking at Me, the bond of charity. (NPNF, second series, 4.406).

Athanasius - Contra Arians 3.25.25 ...and as we are sons and gods because of the Word in us, so we shall be in the Son and in the Father, and we shall be accounted to have become one in Son and in Father...(NPNF, second series, 4.407).

See this LINK for more than 100 quotes from various CFs on deification.

Grace and peace,


Edgar Foster said...

David, thank you for providing those quotes. I agree with your explanation (soteriology and Christology's role in Athanasian thought), and would only add that most (almost all) Trinitarians believe that only God could be the Savior. Anselm of Canterbury argues the point extensively in Cur Deus Homo. Other church fathers affirm the same belief.

To my knowledge, Trinitarians say they pray to Christ the God-man, not just to the human. In other words, while someone might be able to conceptually distinguish the human nature from the divine nature of Christ, the Incarnation teaches believers that the two natures were/are united in one hypostasis. So if anyone prays to the man (Jesus), that would be akin to the Nestorian heresy (IMO).