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ETS and the trinity: more creeds and more languages

August 17, 2012

When I set myself on the way to understand the source of the doctrinal statement of the ETS, I had no idea where it would lead. To read all posts in this series click on ETS in the top right hand corner.

This is the doctrinal basis of the ETS,

The Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs. God is a Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each an uncreated person, one in essence, equal in power and glory.

The history of this statement, according to my rather rough research, appears to me to be as follows:

The Augsburg Confession, 1530, drafted by Luther, revised by Melanchthon and others,

there is one divine essence which is called and is God, eternal, without body, indivisible [without part], of infinite power, wisdom, goodness, the Creator and Preserver of all things, visible and invisible; and that yet there are three persons of the same essence and power, who also are co-eternal, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

The first of the 39 articles of religion of the Church of England, developed in 1536 and following.

There is only one living and true God, who is eternal and without body, indivisible and invulnerable. He is of infinite power, wisdom and goodness. He is the maker and preserver of all things both visible and invisible. Within the unity of the Godhead there are three persons who are of one substance, power and eternity – the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

From the Westminster Confession, 1646,

There is but one only living and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions, immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, …. In the unity of the Godhead there be three Persons of one substance, power, and eternity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost.

We know from the King James Bible that the word “power” was used to translate both the Greek words exousia and dunamis. But we don’t have any of the above creeds or confessions in Greek. We do have them in Latin and German. The Latin uses potentia, which Luther elsewhere says is best for dunamis. However, when he says this, he is not relating it to the creeds. In fact, Luther himself drafted the articles later encorporated into the Augsburg Confession, and the German words he used are Macht and Gewalt, which he uses regularly to translate exousia and NOT dunamis.

The Augsburg Confession was written in both German and Latin at the same time, – at least, so it is recorded – but we imagine Luther jotting down his notes in German, not Latin. In any case, it was first read out loud in public in German. Therefore, I believe that the German version is more authentic. If we take the German version of the Confession as the original, then the Son is of “the same essence and authority,” that is, einigen Gottlichen wesen, gleich gewaltig, later updated to einen göttlichen Wesen sind, alle drei gleich mächtig

From rather extensive reading in English, Latin and German documents related to this issue, I cannot discern that any writers during the Reformation translated the Greek words exousia and dunamis in a consistent fashion in Bible translation or any other context. The English overwhelmingly uses “power” for both, the German uses Macht and Gewalt as well as numerous other words to translate exousia, and the Latin – although at that time nobody spoke Latin as a first language – had potentia, supposedly for dunamis, and NOT exousia. This seems rather tenuous, I don’t feel I have adequate evidence for it. However, Augustine, who did speak Latin, used potestas, which is clearly a translation of exousia, to state that the Son was not unequal to the Father.

So, in short, the English doctrinal basis of the ETS, using “power” is ambiguous, but the Augsburg Confession, in German, using Macht, and Augustine’s De Trinitate in Latin, using potestas, both clearly state that the Son is same as the Father in “authority.” On the other hand, a Latin translation of the Augsburg Confession uses the word potentia, which some thought was better as a translation of dunamis, so the Son is equal in “power,” but not necessarily in “authority.”

Which of the above has more authority, Augustine and Luther in their first language, or the Latin translation of Luther? How do we determine what the ETS doctrinal basis was originally intended to communicate?

2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 18, 2012 8:47 am

    Yours is such important blogging! As I read what you write, I get how this is something you’re doing for yourself, but it’s helpful for many of the rest of us!

    Thanks for each post, and now for this one, digging up the evidence for Trinity creeds and their language that might be used to establish hierarchies of males over females. Thanks for that first post, where you linked to what Leslie was after. And one of her first posts starts in this very personal way:

    The goal of my research into the ETS and talking to my “inside” sources (which, I must admit, makes me feel a little like Woodward and Bernstein) has not been to get dirt on an organization that I happen to have faith in, but to discover as much as I can about why there are so few women in the ETS—and to do whatever I can to encourage more women to join.

    It seems that change takes work, and that there’s much resistance to it when male power and dominance and voice is questioned and in question.

  2. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    August 18, 2012 10:56 pm

    Thanks. I have really enjoyed this research. Its interesting to try to get at the concerns of each generation of theologians. The results have been somewhat unexpected for me, which makes it more fun.

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