Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Trinity, Offices of Christ, Theories of Atonement: An Integral Model.

One of my major arguments in my book is that each person of the Trinity corresponds to each office of Christ.  Also, all three major atonement motifs are valid (read Luther's Catechisms!) and correspond to each office of Christ.  Here's my suggestion about how to work it out.  Tell me if you think this makes sense.

Person: The Father                     Office: King                              Atonement motif: Christus Victor

Person: The Son                          Office: Priest                            Atonement motif: Substitution 

Person: The Holy Spirit             Office: Prophet                        Atonement motif: Revealer (commonly called moral example)

I identify the Father with king because he is he fount of divinity and therefore divine sovereignty which the other two persons of the Trinity derive from him (obvious, by this I am not suggesting subordinationalism here!).  The Son is the priest, because just as the High Priest/Adam received all things from the God their vocation was to return them to God through a vocation of sacrifice.  So too the Son from eternity receives all things from the Father in an act of eternal begetting, in order return his being to the Father in the form of the breathing forth of the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is the agent of prophecy- so that one pretty much self-explanatory.

Update: To clarify the last view of atonement, I call it "Revealer" because I don't want to suggest that Christ's role as prophet primarily has to do with the law (as moral example implies). It is correct to say that Christ preached both law and gospel, but Christ's primary function is to reveal and deliver the gospel.


  1. I hadn't heard of the "Revealer" atonement motif before. When you refer to it as a well-defined motif, whose thought do you have in mind?

  2. Typically this is referred to as "moral example"- though some (such as Abelard) though of it as the revelation of divine love. In that case obviously the accent falls on the revelation of God's love moral exhortation, though in the end this undertaken to inculcate morality.

    I don't think this is necessarily wrong, but one point that I want to make in all this is that the prophetic Word that Christ gives is primarily one of Gospel. Remember, the Lamb in Revelation opens the 7 seals, which are the in the first century a will or testament. He only gets this because "worthy are you to open the scroll, for you were dead and are now alive." This is the inheritance that he has received and which he will include us in. When opened, it destroys the wicked, but redeems the elect.

  3. I too haven't heard the term "revelation" attached as a "theory" of atonement. Is that something like the exemplar theory? I guess not, as I think about it.

    Anyway, it's an interesting idea. I guess I'm wondering what the impetus for this programme of identifying the offices of Christ with the theories of the atonement (which seems completely reasonable -- even necessary) and the persons of the Trinity.

    Is it an exegetical "discovery"? Is it the general feeling that the triune nature of God must be part of the substructure underneath the atonement?

  4. Partially it's an exegetical discovery, though there have been others who have made the observation in less complete forms. My point is mainly that since Christ sums up all things in himself, that should not only be true of the history of Israel (prophet, priest, king), but also the nature and works of the Triune God.

  5. HAve you read Robert Sherman's book King, Priest, and Prophet: A Trinitarian Theology of Atonement

  6. Steve- Yes, I have. When I made reference to "others" who have made this observation, I was referring to Sherman's book. David Scaer has also said nice things about the book and largely endorsed the findings as well.

  7. Dr. Kilcrease,

    Thanks for clarifying on "Revealer".

    The only thing about this analysis that makes me wonder is the issue of number here. The offices of prophet, priest, and king originated with Calvin, I believe, and I wonder if there's any other reason (besides the structure of the Trinity which you've explained) why we couldn't discern a fourth or a fifth office of Christ, or likewise a fourth or fifth atonement motif (Origen's fishhook, for example). Unless there is some separate criterion which allows us to say that there are three motifs or three offices beforehand, we may end up begging the question.

    When I was very young, I used to think a similar thing about the Means of Grace. I lined them up: Father - Word, Son - Lord's Supper, Spirit - Baptism. Don't ask me why I did it that way. But then I started thinking about Holy Absolution and then realized that I had used an arbitrary definition which limited the Means of Grace to three. After all, I've got a math background...