Rick Durst of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, was reading 2 Corinthians 13 one day in 2005, which he had read many times before.
This time, the Trinitarian benediction in the last verse caught his eye: “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”
Was there a reason for that particular order?
“I looked up every place in the New Testament where the members of the divine Trinity are referenced and quickly found 30,” said Durst, professor of historical theology and director of the seminary’s new Bay Area Campus. “Then I did it again and found 50 – and ultimately ended up with 75 instances.” The ordering of the members of the Trinity, he said, can be in six variations depending on the context and intention of the passage.
Durst discovered that each of the different orders was normally used in specific contexts. Most of the 18 instances of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit order are found in a missional or “sending” context.
In a “saving” context, he found the Trinity listed as the Son, the Holy Spirit and the Father. And in the context of Christian service or ethical standing, he found the Holy Spirit, Father and Son.
Durst shared his findings with students in an evening class and asked them: “If the New Testament uses these orders to identify the Trinity and calls us to different works, would you be willing to try a prayer experiment? Would you be willing to speak to the Triune God in whatever order makes the most sense to you tonight? If the New Testament authors use each of the six different orders in their invocations, instructions and benedictions, why can’t we do the same?”
The class prayed for five minutes and then shared their experiences. Durst found that something significant had happened with many of the students. For example, one student confessed she had come from an abusive home, but this new way of praying changed her heart.
“I have never called God ‘Father,’“ she said, “because my own father was abusive. I started praying to Jesus, then the Spirit and finally for the first time I prayed to God as Father, and I felt something totally different.”
Durst has written a book on his discoveries, Reordering the Trinity: Six Movements of God in the New Testament, published by Kregel Publications in November.
Jeff Iorg, president of Golden Gate Seminary, said he found the conclusions in the book to be creative, original and inspiring.
“This book takes the word order of the words in scripture seriously,” Iorg said. “It is a fascinating study of different orders of Trinitarian expression and their exegetical significance.”
The ways the early church thought and spoke about the Trinity had a great deal of richness and diversity that has since been lost, Durst said. The six Trinitarian orders in the New Testament, he said, reveal God’s calling to join Him in six different works.
“Most people read scripture from about 2,000 feet up,” Durst said, “but I went up to 30,000 feet to identify all the pieces to the way we view the Trinity. When these pictures move together, we see how dynamically God moves, and how that can affect the way we pray, witness and work.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Kathie Chute is director of communications for Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, with campuses in the Bay Area and Southern California, Phoenix, Denver and the Pacific Northwest.)