Very Poythress’ The Mystery of the Trinity is a fascinating book structurally, but I’m only a hundred pages into it, so I will reserve comment until I am further into it. Regardless of any shortcomings structurally however, Poythress’s even-handedness and clear communication makes it, along with so many of his other books, worthwhile.

In chapter 12, he is dealing with Trinitarian actions, and differentiation in emphases between the Divine Persons, what the tradition calls “appropriations,” although Poythress doesn’t use the word here. In a characteristically concise section, he touches on 1 Cor 8:6, “yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.” He then considered the Trinitarian actions in Genesis 1, with God the Father as speaker, the words uttered reflecting the Son, and the Spirit being present hovering over the face of the waters. All this is very good.

One point he makes which I think is particularly helpful is,

His presence expresses his intimate contact with the world. His hovering hints at the fact that he is the one who applies the word of God in personal presence to the things the are made. (p98)

Here Poythress touches on the fact that the Holy Spirit is, in a particular way, according to the divine appropriations, oriented outward towards creation. I call this the unfolding nature of the Holy Spirit. I also believe that there is an enfolding function of the Holy Spirit as well, and I touch on this at some length in my lectures for New Antioch. But it is useful to note, I think, that the Holy Spirit often is particularly seen in an outward movement which makes him particularly suitable (by way of emphasis) to be the one who applies salvation to the redeemed.

Poythress has two Trinitarian action triads (and again, please note that I am “translating” these triads from Frame & Poythress’s triangle, to my numbering):

  1. Planning (F)
  2. Accomplishment (S)
  3. Application (HS)


  1. The Father: from whom
  2. The Son: though whom
  3. The Holy Spirit: in whom

Now, this last triad is interesting because in the traditionally triadic passage of Romans 11:36, “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen,” the last preposition used, which is connected to the Holy Spirit (especially if you compare with 1 Cor 8:6), is “to,” not “in.” Poythress is deriving the “in” from his interpretation of Gen 1. I would prefer to use the much clearer language of Rom 11:36 for this last prepositional Trinitarian action triad, which would, of course be:

  1. The Father: from whom
  2. The Son: though whom
  3. The Holy Spirit: to whom

Having said that, and without referencing the tradition on this passage, which no doubt would yield insight, to say that all things, in some particular way are “to” the Holy Spirit seems strange. But a couple things must be borne in mind. The triad in Rom 11:36 may be functioning at a triadic and analogic level, rather than an explicitly Trinitarian one. Unlike the parallel in 1 Cor 8:6, the Persons, of course, are not mentioned. So it may be that Paul is saying of the one God, from him, through him, and to him are all things, and that this evokes rather than refers to the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. That may ease things a bit. But we are still left with the question of how the Holy Spirit is properly evoked with the “to.” And I think that it is by the enfolding (rather than unfolding) nature of the Holy Spirit. Through the Holy Spirit, things return to God (or you could say God the Father).

One further complication, and bringing things back around to Poythress and his triad, is that there is an early tradition of translating the last preposition in Rom 11:36 not as “to,” which almost all modern translations do, but as “in.” There is no indication that Poythress is aware of this. he may be or he may not be, but Augustine states of Rom 11:36 that the “in” here refers to the Holy Spirit (On the Trinity). Wycliffe translates the last preposition as “in,” as well. I have not at this point delved more into the translation choice or the tradition of it. At this point I am unpersuaded that “in” is the best translation.


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