Father, Son and Spirit: The Trinity and John’s Gospel

Andreas J. Köstenberger, Scott R. Swain IVP Academic, Downers Grove, IL June 10, 2008
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In response to a revival of interest in Tinitarian New Testament studies, Köstenberger and Swain trace the Fourth Gospel’s revelation of God as Father, Son, and Spirit to synthesize a biblical theology of the Trinity. The authors apply historical, exegetical, and inductive tools to formulate a systematic analysis of John’s Trinitarian teaching.

The book upholds the statements of the Nicene-Constantinopolitan and Chalcedonian creeds and affirms the teachings of Augustine, Cyril of Alexandria, John of Damascus, and John Calvin. The works of scholars such as Richard Bauckham and Larry Hurtado are discussed, although Bauckham’s critical argument against apostolic authorship is not embraced.

The dynamics of John’s Trinitarian teaching provides the seedbed for the church’s doctrine of the Trinity. Köstenberger and Swain synthesize the apostle’s Trinitarian themes through a progressively developed, three-part analysis. Each section establishes a premise for the subsequent discussion. The first section examines the historical context of the Fourth Gospel. The second section analyzes the characterization of God (qeov") as Father, Son, and Spirit. The book concludes with theological reflections drawn inductively from exegetical analysis of the biblical text.

The first section provides insight into the early church’s commitment to Christ’s deity within the context of Second Temple Jewish monotheism. The book addresses early Christian inclusion of Jesus in the Shema of Deuteronomy 6:4. “Jesus’ followers understood that Jesus’ claim did not imply that he was a second God alongside, and in addition to, God the Father (ditheism), but that his deity was to be accommodated within the framework of Jewish monotheism in such a way that the one and only God affirmed in the Shema could accommodate the notion of Father, Son, and Spirit—three in one—as God” (pp. 38–39). The preexistence of Christ as the agent of creation and His right to receive worship are considered within the context of Jesus’ self-revelation as the Son of God.

Köstenberger and Swain say “the identification of Jesus as the ‘Son’ is at the very heart of John’s Christology” (p. 151). The references to Christ are expressed in terms of His relation to the Father, and the references to God as Father are more frequent than references to Jesus as the Son. The mission of Christ involved His inauguration of the messianic age for the purpose of gathering God’s children into a community that is indwelt by the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The community is identified by its union and devotion to Jesus Christ.

The book presents a sound biblical foundation for understanding the distinctiveness of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit without denying their unity as God. The theological significance of the doctrine of the Trinity is thoroughly explored, with a final chapter offering practical application to the contemporary church.

—Jessica Taylor with Eugene H. Merrill

July 1, 2011
 

Biblotheca Sacra

This review appeared in the Jul-Sep 2011 vol. 168 no. 3 issue of Biblotheca Sacra, DTS’s quarterly academic journal.

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