What happened to the godhead when Jesus died on the cross? At the point of death, was it no longer a trinity?


(RZIM Connect Member) #1

Hi Jordan,

Ummm, it’s me again! I’ve a second question.

We are currently looking at the Trinity in the Islam module. The point has been made that God is one being but three persons. This may be beyond our full comprehension but is not, in itself, contradictory to the terms of logic.

This is a worn, probably ever-repeating question but I still don’t feel I could answer it well: What happened to the godhead when Jesus died on the cross? At the point of death, was it no longer a trinity? I assume the whole being of the godhead couldn’t have died, simply the one person of the trinity. At that point was it binary? At the crucifixion something strange happened within the internal life of the godhead, something that I assume changed it forever, in the sense that Jesus died as a human and ascended to heaven still in (perfected) human form, yet how could the eternal Trinity survive a death to its being? Subsequently, is it right to still claim eternality? And are these even questions we can answer or is it all too shrouded in mystery?

If there aren’t answers, please feel free to say so. I’m truly not trying to be problematic. It’s just that I’ve been asked similar questions before and my answer was a pretty lame, “I really don’t know”.

(Jordan Thyer) #2

Hi again.

These are important and big questions (and something theologians wrestled with for hundreds of years from the time of Christ until getting some clarity at Chalcedon in 451CE). I’m sorry I won’t be able to do them justice in a short reply but perhaps I can say a few things and then point you in the direction of some good books/materials to read further.

In regards to question “was it no longer a trinity?” I would say God cannot change in regards to his nature (his immutability) and therefore there was not an ontological change within the Godhead during Jesus’ work on the cross.

The NT affirms that Christ was one subject (he related to people as one subject). But this one subject was able to do both human (hunger, thirst) and divine (forgive sins) things. Hence, it seems that a good rule of thumb when defining person and nature is this:

Nature = The capacity to do.

Person = The capacity to relate.

Such a rule of thumb (and that is what it is!) encompasses well the NT data, especially that of the Gospels.
Christ as one person with two natures makes best sense of the biblical data. It explains many of the conundrums. For example, how could Jesus be tempted if God cannot be tempted (James 1:13)? It was because Jesus’ human nature did have the ability to be tempted. How could Jesus walk on water if he was human? This must have been his divine nature at work. So in regards to your asking about Jesus dying on the cross theologians would say yes he died in regards to his human nature but his divine nature was unaffected. The hypostatic union is the term used to describe the unity of Christ’s divinity and humanity in one hypostasis (subsistence). More info on this is in accessible language is availabe at What Is the Hypostatic Union?

As you dig deeper on this topic I would encourage you to read Gerald Bray’s Systematic Theology and Michael Horton’s ‘The Christian Faith’ where they dig into these questions a bit further. There is indeed more clarity to be gained so don’t despair and certainly keep investigating. The pursuit of knowing God will be our delight for all eternity (John 17:3).

In Christ,

(Kay Kalra) #3