Book Reviews

Book Review: The Trinity and the Bible (Scott Swain)

Scott Swain—President and James Woodrow Hassell Professor of Systematic Theology at Reformed Theological Seminary—has written a book on the Trinity, exegesis, and theological interpretation. For some, nothing sounds more dreadful than the word “exegesis.” But Swain writes that exegesis is “the act of loving attention we give to the historical and literary shape of scriptural texts in order to discern the singular identity and activity of the Triune God who presents himself therein” (1). 

The retrieval of Trinitarian biblical exegesis puts the Trinity into proper focus. The Triune God is the one “who presents himself to us in Holy Scripture as the object of our shared knowledge, love, and praise,” and it is through exegesis and theological interpretation that we come to know him as we read his word (1). And this retrieval (made through the works of numerous scholars), along with a better awareness of “the historical, religious, and philosophical contexts” of the Second Temple and New Testament periods, help make this book possible.

There are seven chapters in this short book, though the first chapter functions more like a preface noting how this book came to be, thanks and acknowledgements, and how these chapters have appeared previously as essays or chapters. Chapter two tells us how the Bible, which comes from the Triune God, is the way in which God presents himself to his people (12). Here Swain looks at three patterns of divine naming.

In chapter three, Swain looks at B. B. Warfield’s doctrine of the Trinity. He notes how Warfield’s rejection of “the personal properties of paternity, filiation, and spiration” follows from Calvin’s “commitment to the aseity of the Son” which later led to a complete rejection of eternal generation by later scholars (42). (Bird covers Calvin’s view in his Evangelical Theology.) Because of how Warfield interpreted the Trinity, his interpretation can’t tell us why the second person of the Trinity is referred to as God’s “Son” and not his “Brother.” His interpretation also doesn’t tell us what the personal names of the Trinity (i.e., Father, son, and Holy Spirit) actually reveal “about the nature of God other than bare Triunity” (54).

The next three chapters from theoretical to how this looks like in biblical exegesis. The Trinity did not evolve from the Bible, but it comes from the language and themes directly found in Scripture. Swain examines:

  • Mark 12:35–37
    • And as Jesus taught in the temple, he said, “How can the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David? David himself, in the Holy Spirit, declared,

      “‘The Lord said to my Lord,
      “Sit at my right hand,
          until I put your enemies under your feet.”’

      David himself calls him Lord. So how is he his son?” And the great throng heard him gladly.

  • Galatians 4:4–7
    • But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.
  • Revelation 4–5
    • (You’ll have to look this one up yourself.)

My favorite chapter of these three was chapter four on Mark 12. It’s always been a passage that’s confused me because it seems like such a random teaching to have there. Why did Mark include it, and what did Jesus mean by it? Swain notes that the “Gospel narratives do not ‘sermonize.’ They prefer to show their doctrine rather than to tell it” (63). With Jesus’ teaching in the temple, he poses a rhetorical question (Mk 12:35–36) for the scribes over if they really acknowledge “the lordly status of God’s messianic King, in accordance with the divine revelation given through David in Psalm 110” (67). Looking back at Jesus’ parable of the tenets in the beginning of Mark 12, have the scribes “respected God’s beloved Son (12:6)?” (67). Swain shows how, as we read in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus is not “another god alongside God… but that he is one God with his Father” (79).

In the final chapter, Swain offers a framework for thinking about the relationship between the Trinity, the Bible, and theological interpretation.

Recommended?

I really enjoyed this book, especially because Swain has a proper view of the Trinity. Rather than believing that the doctrine of the Trinity was a late development, theological interpretation understands that the Trinity stands behind the Bible. The Bible comes from the Triune God. Despite its size, I wouldn’t recommend this as an introduction to the Trinity (for that, look to Swain’s new introduction on the Trinity). Otherwise, this is a great little book. Swain draws you into a deeper understanding of the Trinity, even pointing you to the triune God’s word itself.

Lagniappe

    • Author: Scott R. Swain
    • Paperback: 144 pages
    • Publisher: Lexham Press (September 29, 2021)

Buy it on Amazon or from Lexham Press

Disclosure: I received this book free from Lexham Press. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: