Biblical Exegesis and the Trinitarian Processions

In New Testament books, such as Hebrews, early Christians would claim that Jesus of Nazareth, whom they believed to be Israel’s Messiah and the embodiment of the God of Israel, was begotten by God, and they would often connect this to passages in the Old Testament, such as Psalm 2, which they interpreted ultimately to be about Jesus. Following this line of exegesis, second-century patristic theologians, such as Justin Martyr and Origen, took up this theme of Jesus’s begottenness, or generation, and interpreted it to mean that, from eternity past, the Son is eternally generated, or begotten, of the Father. This interpretation of the pertinent passages in Hebrews and the Psalms was maintained by the patristic fathers in the third century, and it became essential to the pro-Nicene debates with the Arians, homoiousians, homoians, and Eunomians in the 4th century. Similar hermeneutics were used to articulate and defend that the Father [with or through the Son] eternally spirated the Spirit. This teaching today is known as the doctrine of the eternal processions. This doctrine teaches that the Father is the timeless efficient cause of the Son and [with or through the Son] the timeless efficient cause of the Spirit.
In this paper, I investigate the exegesis of the pertinent texts that the patristic fathers used to arrive at this doctrine of the eternal processions. Though the 2nd-4th century fathers believed that they were using the exegetical strategies of the apostles and other New Testament authors themselves, I argue that they—unintentionally—went beyond the biblical authors and formulated a doctrine that has no actual basis in either the New Testament or the Old Testament. The doctrine of the eternal processions only comes about due to the patristics’ tendency to use Platonic, Philonic, and Stoic philosophy to aid them in their exegesis of the Bible. While using extrabiblical philosophy to aid in exegesis isn’t problematic per se, I conclude that this particular use of extrabiblical philosophy in exegesis concerning this particular doctrine resulted in a misinterpretation of the pertinent biblical texts from which this doctrine was drawn. The doctrine of the eternal processions, I conclude, lacks sufficient biblical warrant.

3 thoughts on “Biblical Exegesis and the Trinitarian Processions”

  1. Challenging Eternal Processions
    Am I reading this correctly? It appears that the author intends to challenge (not support) eternal processionism concerning the trinity. His claim appears to be that the early Church Fathers, who supported processionism, were biased by extra-biblical philosophical influences. At the ETS, we support the eternal triune God.

    While the proposal needs clarity, it appears that the author understands the eternal aspect concerning all Persons of the trinity.


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