The trinitarian formula
Pastor Pieter Gey van Pittius has been involved in pastoral work since 1986. He graduated with a BA Theology degree from Andrews University in 1991 and was ordained to the gospel ministry in 1995, In the same year he graduated from Pretoria University with a BA Honors in Biblical Studies, cum laude. He worked in South Korea as a teacher for 9 years where he completed an M.ed in Curriculum and Instruction through the American College of Education, summa cum laude. In Korea he became involved in outreach to the unchurched and reaching other faiths with the gospel. He is now back in pastoral work in South Africa and is is currently doing preparatory work with the purpose of enrolling for a Ph.D. in apologetics at North West University in Potchefstroom.
The article below is one of a series in which Pastor Pieter responds to Dr. Martin Bredenkamp’s arguments about why he no longer accepts the Trinitarian doctrine as taught by the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Our readers are invited to respond to the ideas of these two authors by commenting directly on the respective blog posts or on the Facebook pages where these blogs are also featured.
A need for reverence
I’ve thought seriously on how to approach my response to Dr. Bredenkamp‘s article. It is impossible to answer all his statements in this one post and therefore I’ll do it in several deliveries.
The first point that I would like to emphasize is that one must be careful when talking about God and for very good reason: We are but mere creatures talking about our Creator and this is why we should be reverent and humble when discussing our God. This is why I was greatly disturbed by the opening story in Dr. Martin’s article, the picnic story about God. It is impossible for me to determine whether the description is a faithful account of the original content of what the preacher told his congregation, but the way it is portrayed in Martin’s post, in my opinion, shows a lack of reverence.
The incomparable God
I don’t want to be guilty of the same mistake and that is why I start with this verse from Isaiah 40:25 “To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him? says the Holy One…” This is of course a rhetorical question with only one answer, “No one and nothing else!” This is why we should be careful when starting a phrase like “God is like…” Nothing can be like God for there is only One like Him and that is God himself. In other words, when we use analogies to try and explain Him, they can only serve in a limited way to illustrate certain aspects of His character. When any analogy is pushed too far, it breaks down (James R. White, The Forgotten Trinity, 2012, p. 13).
God’s Word in human language
Even when scripture uses analogies we must remember that “the writers of the Bible had to express their ideas in human language. It was written by human men…. The Bible is not given to us in grand superhuman language.” (Selected Messages 1,19-21). Ellen White is not alone in her conviction. Most serious scholars through the ages hold similar views about talking about God. For instance, Durand, Alfred (1910). “Inspiration of the Bible”. The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York); Luther when he said “The actual writing was a human not a supernatural act” (Farrar, F. W. (1886). History of interpretation (p. 339). London: Macmillan and Co.), and so also, Calvin (Ibid, p.345).
Human language itself breaks down when trying to describe the Divine for one thing, because of the connotations we as humans have for certain words (James R. White, 2012, p.13). One example would be the word “Son”. Martin Bredenkamp says that the use of the word ‘bosom’ “indicates that Christ was a literal son of God.” This is using this word out of its context. When reading John 1:1-18, it becomes abundantly clear that the Word is God from eternity. This exegesis I will leave for a later contribution.
Authenticity of the trinitarian formula
I want to confine myself here to one more issue from Dr. Martin’s article: “The Johannine Comma” (1 John 5:7-8) and “The Great Commission” ( Matthew 28:19). Dr. Martin lumps these two verses together in one category as extra biblical content that have been added to Scripture hundreds of years after the New Testament was written.
These two verses just do not belong to the same category. Scholars do not dispute the fact that the Johannine Comma is a later addition. This can be well attested by studying early manuscripts. As to the truth of what this later addition affirms, it is another matter entirely. On the other hand, it is easy to prove that Matthew 28:19 is original and not inserted by Athanasius in the fourth century as Dr. Martin claims.
The internet is frequently used to spread ideas that cannot be academically justified. One instance of this is the hype about Matthew 28:19’s authenticity that has been produced by Pastor Reckart’s statement that a Hebrew manuscript of Matthew 28:19 has been discovered without the Trinitarian formula .
What Reckart doesn’t explain to his readers is that this manuscript dates from 1380 AD! (William Horbury, Appendix p.729 in A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to Saint Matthew ed.D. Davies, William David Davies, Dale C. Allison).
The Didache and the trinitarian formula
There is a lot of additional proof that can be cited in defence of the authenticity of Matthew 28:19, but here I will only focus on the Didache. This is unquestionable, rock-hard evidence. The Didache is a document dated by various scholars from as early as 50 AD to as late as 150 AD, but the majority dates it earlier in the first century between 60 and 80 AD (Cross, edited by F.L. (2005). The Oxford dictionary of the Christian Church (3rd rev. ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 482. ISBN 978-0192802903.)
The Didache quotes the “trinitarian formula” twice. First in 7:1 “Now concerning baptism, baptize thus: Having first taught all these things (everything Jesus taught us to do), baptize ye into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in living (running) water.” (The Didache, Phillip Schaff translation). The same formula is repeated in 7:3 as well, (I included some explanation in brackets for clarity). There are only two possibilities here, either the writer quotes directly from Matthew 28:19 or uses a common source. In both cases it excludes the possibility of a fourth century interpolation by Athanasius! Matthew 28:19 is authentic and was spoken by our Lord Jesus Christ himself.
In this article I emphasized that we worship a God that defies definition. That means that we should be humble and reverent when talking about Him. Further, when scripture describes God, human language is used and that should be taken into account. Finally, I presented evidence that the trinitarian formula is as old as Christianity itself and Matthew 28:19’s authenticity is vindicated by the Didache beyond a doubt.
In a following article I will address John chapter 1 and the reference to the ‘bosom’ of the Father. I will show how John specifically addresses the divinity of Jesus and how that impacts the rest of the book of John and the New Testament’s testimony about Jesus.