The Trinity and Perspectival KnowledgeApril 17, 2018
by Vern Poythress
Perspectives in the Trinity
We know that there are three distinct persons in the Trinity. Do these persons have distinct “perspectives”? It is wise to begin by putting the word perspectives in quotation marks. The quotation marks should remind us that our own thinking, including perspectival thinking, is derivative from and analogous to God’s thinking. Our thinking is not on the same level. So we should not expect that God would have a “perspective” in quite the same way as we would.
In the context of human knowledge, expressions about having “a perspective” typically include the implication that any one perspective is limited. That perspective may provide truth, but not all truth. Clearly, God does not “have a perspective” in this sense; he is not limited in knowledge. Each of the persons of the Trinity is fully God and has unlimited divine knowledge. God understands comprehensively all possible human perspectives. That is precisely because his own understanding is unlimited.
We can still ask ourselves whether there may be some limited analogy between human personal perspectives and the knowledge enjoyed by one person of the Trinity. Because there are three distinct persons in the Trinity, are there three distinct personal perspectives on divine knowledge?
Matthew 11:27 is relevant:
The person of God the Father does not “have a perspective” in the same way that a human being has a personal perspective.
All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.
This verse is discussing personal knowledge. The Father knows facts about the Son. But that is not all. He knows the Son. It is a knowledge of intimate personal acquaintance and fellowship, which infinitely exceeds the knowledge that a human father has of his son. The Father knows the Son comprehensively. Since the Son is fully God, the Father knows God comprehensively. He knows all things. Similarly, the Son in knowing the Father knows all things.
So this verse confirms our earlier claim that any one person of the Trinity does not “have a perspective” that limits his knowledge. On the other hand, the verse also shows the involvement of the person in his knowledge, which is personal knowledge. It is as the Father that the Father knows the Son. This knowledge therefore does have an analogy with the perspectival personal knowledge that we observe among human persons.
We have said that perspectival knowledge is a view of something by someone from somewhere. The “someone,” the viewer, is in this case the Father. The “view of something” is his knowledge of the Son—not, be it noted, merely a generic knowledge of the Godhead that would include within it no focus on a distinct person. The Son is like a distinctive thematic focus.
Finally, the Father’s knowledge is “from somewhere.” Of course, “somewhere” is not a “somewhere” of a spatial location within creation. The Father has his knowledge in the fellowship with the Son and with the Holy Spirit. He has his knowledge in an environment of interpersonal fellowship. This “environment” is not a created environment, but the uncreated personal environment of fellowship and coinherence among the persons of the Trinity. That environment is the archetype for the creation of spatial locations (chap. 20).
In sum, the Father has a personal perspective in the sense of including the three aspects that characterize perspectives: (1) a view of something (2) by someone (3) from somewhere.
We must be vigilant in maintaining the Creator-creature distinction. God is not man. And the person of God the Father does not “have a perspective” in the same way that a human being has a personal perspective. At the same time, according to the principle of Christian immanence (chap. 10), we maintain that the language about the Father’s knowing the Son communicates to us a reality about the Father’s personal knowledge. If we break up the language about the Father’s knowledge that is found in Matthew 11:27, and we lose the analogy between the Father’s knowledge and human knowledge, we evaporate the meaning of Matthew 11:27 and fall into a form of non-Christian transcendence. We would then be acting as though Matthew 11:27 were opaque and told us nothing. And then we would be in darkness.
Because there is only one God, there is only one divine knowledge—the knowledge that God has of all things whatsoever.
We conclude, then, that in an analogical sense a personal perspective belongs to each person of the Trinity. There are three personal perspectives in the Trinity: the perspective of the Father, the perspective of the Son, and the perspective of the Holy Spirit.
One and Many in Divine Knowledge
The three personal perspectives among the three persons of the Trinity represent a plurality in divine knowledge, an expression of the principle of the many (as in chapter 26). At the same time, because there is only one God, there is only one divine knowledge—the knowledge that God has of all things whatsoever. This one divine knowledge is an expression of the principle of the one. As usual, the one and the many are “equally ultimate.” The two coinhere, in analogy with the coinherence of the persons of the Trinity.
Or we may put it another way. As the Father, the Father knows the Son. The Father has a distinct perspective in his knowledge. At the same time, in knowing the Son, he fully knows God and knows all things. So his knowledge in its contents is the same as the knowledge of God. This conclusion also follows simply by observing that the Father is God. Therefore, he has the knowledge of God. Is all this mysterious? Of course. What would we expect? In this matter as in others, we should praise God for his greatness.
This piece is adapted from Vern Poythress, Knowing and the Trinity: How Perspectives in Human Knowledge Imitate the Trinity (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2018), 270–273. Used with permission of the publisher.
Interview with Christian HeritageApril 11, 2018
by William Edgar