28 Then one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, perceiving that He had answered them well, asked Him, “Which is the first commandment of all?”
29 Jesus answered him, “The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one. 30 And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. 31 And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
32 So the scribe said to Him, “Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth, for there is one God, and there is no other but He. 33 And to love Him with all the heart, with all the understanding, with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is more than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
34 Now when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”
But after that no one dared question Him.
35 Then Jesus answered and said, while He taught in the temple, “How is it that the scribes say that the Christ is the Son of David? 36 For David himself said by the Holy Spirit:
‘ The LORD said to my Lord,
“ Sit at My right hand,
Till I make Your enemies Your footstool.”’
37 Therefore David himself calls Him ‘Lord’; how is He then his Son?”
And the common people heard Him gladly.
A Brief Foreword
Once upon a time, I didn’t feel that the need to defend the doctrine of the Trinity among my brothers and sisters was of first importance. But about two weeks ago, tons of questions began springing into my mind. The problem I now faced wasn’t so much that I couldn’t answer the questions, but that I couldn’t sweep them under “practical” matters anymore. So I decided to pick up a book I came across while I perused the theology section at my local bookstore. The book?
Kevin Giles’ is concerned that modern evangelicals have begun to embrace a modified version of Arianism in their uncritical acceptance of the eternal subordination of the Son and the Holy Spirit to God the Father. He goes over the orthodox creeds (i.e. the Athanasian Creed, the Nicene Creed, etc), and compares the contemporary teachings of men like Wayne Grudem and Bruce Ware, in order to identify for the reader where these men are beginning to depart from traditional orthodoxy. He maintains that their position on the eternal subordination of God the Son to God the Father (as opposed to His temporal/incarnational subordination for the purposes of redemption) is neither biblical nor supported by any of the traditional orthodox creeds.
I’m not finished with the book yet, so I won’t be addressing its content here. Instead, what I want to address is another question that arose while I read Giles’ explanation of his theological method (i.e. proper exegesis + comparison with the orthodox tradition [beginning with The Apologists running down through Karl Barth and Millard Erickson]):
Was the doctrine of the Trinity gradually reached via reflection spurred on by historical necessity? Or are we just slow on the uptake?
In John’s gospel, the Lord Jesus articulates the doctrine of the Trinity (cf. John 14-17, The Upper Room Discourse), but can we find Him doing this, implicitly or explicitly, anywhere else?
How is He his Lord? Mark 12:28-37
Looking at Mark’s gospel, we see that what was at stake in Jesus’ exchange with the scribes was not simply whether or not He would accurately answer their question regarding the first commandment, but the question of His divinity in light of the form of monotheism held by the scribes. Rather than seeing the Lord’s statement regarding their misinformed Messianic theology (vv. 35-37) as being a narratively abrupt aside, its relationship to the first commandment question, I think, can be seen in their response to His answer. They exclaim:
32 “So the scribe said to Him, “Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth, for there is one God, and there is no other but He.”
Jesus’ response establishes that the Word of God teaches monotheism. However, what does that entail precisely? For the scribes, the Messiah was simply the son of David. But as, Jesus points out, if David calls Him “Lord” how then can He be his Son? Yes, there is but one God. However, but how are we to understand this in light of David’s presentation of the Messiah as his descendant and Lord (God)?
In the Jesus’ response, we see that He contrasts the authority of the scribes over and against the authority, not of Himself, but of the Holy Spirit.We read in vv. 35b-36:
…“How is it that the scribes say […]? 36 For David himself said by the Holy Spirit…
The Messianic theology of the scribes is shown to be seriously flawed, for although “the scribes say,” David said “by the Holy Spirit.” Jesus is appealing to the Old Testament to underline His divinity as being clearly taught, although obviously not very well understood by the scribes. The Father is God, the Messiah is also God, yet, Jesus maintains, there is but one God.
But more implicitly, Jesus is appealing to the authority that David has by the Holy Spirit. David isn’t speaking on his own, the Holy Spirit is speaking through him, although he was obviously aware of what he was saying (cf. v. 38). What we see in this response, therefore, isn’t just an aside, but a detailed response to the unitarian monotheism of the scribes.
Jesus gives a compact, dense picture of the Trinity in co-equal operation with respect to the establishment of the Kingdom of God:
1. The coronation of the King Messiah by the Father
2. The Son’s Acceptance of the Kingdom from the Father’s hand
3. The Holy Spirit’s Revelation of the Redemptive Drama through His prophet (king David)
When we read the words “You are not far from the kingdom of God” we typically think that Jesus is giving them a positive appraisal for their extended response to His answer (vv. 32-33), but He then goes on to expose their flawed unitarian doctrine and their hypocrisy.
Because while they are not far from the Kingdom of God, that is Jesus Himself, they cannot see or enter the kingdom of God. There is a parallel structure that occurs here.
A. God is One (vv. 28-30)
B. Love Your Neighbor (v. 31)
[C. Superficial Agreement With Jesus (vv. 32-33)]
D. God is Holy Spirit, Father, and Son (vv. 35-37)
E. The Teachers of the Law Do Not Love Their Neighbors (vv. 38-40)
Ever wonder how the subjects Jesus is dealing with in Mark 12 are connected? Well, reading the question of the first commandment as an indirect way of dealing with the doctrine of the divinity of the Messiah sorta ties things together very neatly. doesn’t it?
What is at stake is Who God is. Is God One? Yes. But He is also Spirit, Father, and Son. In particular, the Messiah is God – He is the kingdom of God. And those who adamantly reject the divine Messiahship of Christ, Jesus’ words imply, do so not on theological grounds but on moral ones (cf. 12:38-40).
The doctrine of the Trinity is a difficult doctrine, no doubt; it is also one that we will always have a hard time wrapping our minds around. However, let’s not forget that it wasn’t the early church fathers who first taught it. Christ Himself expounded on the doctrine as early as Mark’s gospel.