Heidelberg Catechism Lesson 8

Q. 24. How are these articles divided?

 
Into three parts; the first is of God the Father, and our creation;[1] the second of God the Son, and our redemption[2] the third of God the Holy Ghost, and our sanctification.[3]

[1] Genesis 1;  [2] 1 Peter 1:18–19;  [3] 1 Peter 1:21–22.


 
Q. 25. Since there is but one only divine essence;[1] why speakest thou of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost?
 
Because God hath so revealed Himself in His Word,[2] that these three distinct persons are the one only true and eternal God.

[1] Deuteronomy 6:4;  [2] Genesis 1:26; Isaiah 61:1; John 14:16–17; 1 John 5:7; John 1:13; Matthew 28:19; 2 Corinthians 13:14

Commentary

The Apostles’ Creed, as we noted was a very early creed. Its earliest form was possibly written by the immediate disciples of the Apostles themselves (though the form which we have today came into use only about A.D. 750). During those early days of New Testament Christianity, many of the biblical-theological constructions that we are familiar with today had not yet entered the confessional language of the Church. One such construction is the doctrine of the Triunity of God, which, though definitely biblical, was not apprehended to the degree we understand it today until about the 4th century. Most of the propositions, which made up the doctrine, were however already understood by many. For example, it was generally understood that there are three divine Persons involved in our creation, salvation and growth in grace. Thus, the Creed (as presented in Lord’s Day 7), has three parts corresponding to the person and work of the three Persons in the Godhead, namely, God the Father, our Maker (Art. I); God the Son, our Redeemer (Art. II–VII) and God the Holy Spirit, our Sanctifier (Art. VIII–XII). This division is naturally not a clean-cut division, seeing that the work of the Persons of the Godhead are not exclusively the work of any one of them. For example, though we speak of Christ our redeemer, God the Father is involved in our redemption in our election, and God the Holy Spirit regenerates us. In fact, if we think about it carefully, we must finally acknowledge that no work of God can be accomplished without the involvement of all three Persons of the Godhead. This is not surprising, seeing that although there are three persons (or subsistence) in the Godhead, there is only one essence (or substance, or being, or existence). This doctrine of the Triunity of God is beautifully expressed in our Shorter Catechism: “There are three persons in the Godhead,—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory” (WSC 6).


The Heidelberg Catechism does not have such a succinct and sublime statement of the Trinity, but it acknowledges that this is a doctrine revealed in the Word of God: which is indeed the case. Particularly, the doctrine of the Trinity is based on seven propositions, which may be derived from the Scriptures, viz.:


1. There is only one living and true God (Deut 6:4; Jer 10:10).

2. The Father is God (Isa 63:16; Ps 90:2).

3. The Son is God (Jn 8:58; Jn 18:6; Rom 9:5; 1 Tim 3:16; Col 2:9; 1 Jn 5:20; Acts 20:28).

4. The Holy Spirit is a Person (Jn 14:16–17).

5. The Holy Spirit is God (Heb 9:14; Ps 139:7–8; 1 Cor 2:10–11; 1 Cor 12:11).

6. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are distinct (Gen 1:26; Mt 3:16–17).

7. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one (Mt 28:19; 1 Jn 5:7; 2 Cor 13:14).


These seven propositions are the basis of the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity. To prove that the Trinity is biblical we need only to prove the verity of each and every one of the propositions. Moreover, in as far as it can be shown that they are biblically provable, it can also be shown to be heretical false doctrines such as Arianism (Christ is of like-substance to the Father), Sabellian modalism (the three persons of the Godhead are but modes of the one and only person in the Godhead), and tritheism (there are really three gods).