Saturday, April 27, 2013

Trinitarians guilty of Patripassianism?

The so-called heresy of Patripassianism and the Trinitarians

This article is a quick response to the claim (from Andrew Graham) that lays claim that Trinitarians are guilty of the heresy of Patripassianism. Objectively, this response will clearly define both terms of Patripassianism and Trinitarianism and demonstrate how they are mutually exclusive of each other.

Andrew Graham writes:
In Isa 63:16; 64:8 ASV, NWT, YLT and DT Isaiah calls Jehovah the Father, [as does Jesus in Math 6:9] it would therefore, seem reasonable, that the two terms are interchangeable, so that the person called the Father, is also the person called Jehovah, two terms for one and the same person, so that, as the Father, is Jehovah, likewise Jehovah is the Father!
Trinitarians believe that Jesus is Jehovah! The problem with this belief is that it leads to the heresy of Patripassianism. (Graham, 2010)

Isa 63:16 For you are our father [H1],
though Abraham does not know us
                and Israel does not recognize us.
                You, LORD, are our father [H1];
                you have been called our protector from ancient times.
A primitive word; father in a literal and immediate, or figurative and remote application: - chief, (fore-) father ([-less]), X patrimony, principal. Compare names in “Abi-”

Verse Isaiah 63:16 was a discourse about the true father being YHWY, not Abraham. It should also be duly noted that this was before the Trinity was clearly unveiled in the NT through progressive revelation. This verse would not work for the follower of Patripassianism, nor the Trinitarian as the context is describing the term of Father in juxtaposition to Abraham, whom is not Jesus.

Dr. Constable’s notes:
Isaiah next appealed to God, on behalf of the nation, to have pity on Israel. The prophet was speaking for the faithful remnant after the exile who found little evidence that God was among them, in the way He had been during the Exodus and wilderness wanderings.
63:16 He reminded God that He was Israel's true Father. Abraham and Israel (Jacob) may have forgotten their children and may have been incapable of helping them, but the Lord had not forgotten and could help. A second basis for appealing for help was that Yahweh had been Israel's Redeemer in the past as well as its Father (cf. vv. 12, 14). Fathers characteristically feel affection and compassion for their children (v. 15), and redeemers (kinsman-redeemers) normally demonstrate zeal and perform mighty deeds for their relatives (v. 15). (Constable, 2013)

Isa 64:8 And now, O Jehovah, thou art our Father, We are the clay, and Thou our Framer, And the work of Thy hand--all of us. [YLT]

Albert Barnes Notes:
This whole verse is an acknowledgment of the sovereignty of God. It expresses the feeling which all have when under conviction of sin; and when they are sensible that they are exposed to the divine displeasure for their transgressions. Then they feel that if they are to be saved, it must be by the mere sovereignty of God; and then they implore his interposition to ‘mould and guide them at his will.’
So neither verse in Isaiah would work for the view of Patripassianism.

So what is Patripassianism?

Patripassianism was the idea that it was the Father who suffered and underwent Christ’s other human experiences, was a corollary which seems to have embraced willingly enough. If Christ was God, as Christian faith took for granted, then He must be identical with the Father; otherwise He could not be God. (Kelley, 1978, p. 120)
It should also be noted that the termMonarchism” was also interchangeable with the Patripassianism beliefs, in which they both believed there was one God, the Father. The monad philosopher Heracleitus also had mutually contradictory qualities. Vox et  sonus oris was the view that the Father himself entered Mary’s womb.

So what were the verses the Patripassianism believers utilized to support their views?
Typically, the verses utilized for the view of Patripassianism were;  Exodus 3:6 (taken with 20:3), Isaiah 44:6 (uniqueness of God), Isaiah 45:14, and Baruch 3:36-8, which suggested that this unique God had been present in Jesus Christ, and John 10:30, 14:8-10m and Romans 8:5, which seemed to point to the identity of Father and Son. They rejected the Logos doctrine, arguing that the Prologue of the Fourth Gospel was to be taken allegorically. (Kelley, 1978, p. 120)

Baruch 3:36 This is our God, and there shall no other be accounted of in comparison of him.

Andrew Graham writes:
If the person called Jesus is also [and at one and the same time, simultaneously] the person called Jehovah, how is it that the person called the Father is also [and at one and the same time, simultaneously] the person called Jehovah, when the person called Jehovah is also [and at one and the same time, simultaneously] the person called Jesus?

If A is the same as B and B is the same as C, then what is A in relation to C, if also at one and the same time simultaneously B?
The permutations are simple and straight forward and no deception is intended.
Jesus is Jehovah
Jehovah is Jesus
Jehovah is the Father
The Father is Jehovah
Jesus is the Father
Jesus is the Father, who is Jehovah, who is Jesus, who is the Father, who is Jehovah, who is Jesus…!
There is no way out of the charge of Patripassianism for the Trinitarian; either he has to drop the “Jesus is Jehovah” belief, which impacts on his Trinitarian belief, or he retain such belief, which in the final analysis is heretical, is apostate (Graham, 2010)

However we see the distinction between the Word and God in John 1:1-2.

John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word [Logos] was God.
John 1:2 He [the Word] was in the beginning with God. [Emphasis mine]
·         Word was with God
·         Word was God
John clearly makes the distinction of the Word (Logos) which clearly distinguishes the Logos was with God, then goes on to say the Logos was God, describing the Unity. Concisely, John knows that the Father is distinct from the Son. This is why John did not say Jesus was God without clarification, as to not support a modalistic view.
So when Trinitarians use the moniker that Jesus is God, there is the notion that there is a distinction between the Father and Son and Holy Spirit. So the Trinitarian is not guilty of Patripassianism, and the Patripassianism group would reject the Logos doctrine. All Graham has is an excluded middle fallacy.

To answer Graham’s claim concerning Matthew 6:9, Jesus was demonstrating prayer for his followers. Followers of Patripassianism could possibly have utilized this verse, but most likely they did not.
Mat 6:9 So pray this way:
                Our Father [G3962] in heaven, may your name be honored,
Apparently a primary word; a “father” (literally or figuratively, near or more remote): - father, parent.

Graham writes:
As the famous author Arthur Conan Doyle, said,
“Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.” (Graham, 2010)

This was statement was meant as a practical rule of thumb. As an investigator you create a mental list of all potential explanations for a situation. You then systematically eliminate those explanations that you can demonstrate are impossible, either through logic or empirical evidence. Whatever you are left with is the solution – even if it may seem extremely improbable. The logic breaks down in a world where one allows for the existence of magic. How, then, does one define possible vs. impossible? But Sherlock Holmes was working within a specific framework – a materialist, rational, scientific view of the world. In practice this process does not always work because our knowledge is incomplete. (Novella, 2008)


How did Patripassianism and Monarchism differ from Trinitarianism?

The problem with this hypothetical hypothesis from Graham is that it is not representative of the Trinitarian views. There is a clear distinction between the Father and the Son Jesus. I admit at face value, the problem with stating Jesus is God that it also tends to lead to confusion from non-Trinitarians. Whilst Trinitarians believe Jesus is God we also quantify our beliefs (utilizing the fullness of scripture) to fully explain our view. Again, this could problematic saying—that Jesus is God in the most rigorous sense without explicating what is meant by such a statement. Moreover, stating that Jesus is God would have the requisite qualities for the fallacy of complex question, or have potential attributes that could be attributed as the fallacy of an excluded middle. However, Trinitarians are not modalists and would not be classified as Patripassians in claiming Jesus is God.

In summary, Graham’s claims don’t even carry a gram of weight. In fact, I cannot say Graham has a true grasp of either view (Patripassianism or Trinitarianism). So his claims can be readily dismissed or otherwise completely ignored as a strawman argument.


Works Cited

Constable, T. L. (2013). Notes on Isaiah. Retrieved March 31, 2013, from Dr. Constable's Expository (Bible Study) Notes:
Graham, A. (2010, September 28). Heresy of Patripassianism and the Trinitarians. Retrieved April 27, 2013, from
Kelley, J. (1978). Early Christian Doctrines. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.
Novella, S. (2008, September 7). A Sherlock Holmes Logical Fallacy. Retrieved March 31, 2013, from The Rogues Gallery: