Illegitimate Intra-Trinitarian Transfer

May 15, 2011

James Barr coined the term illegitimate totality transfer to signify the unwarranted reading into a particular occurrence of a word every possible meaning of the word. The Semantics of Biblical Language (Oxford: Oxford University, 1961), 218. In my dissertation, I coined the term illegitimate intra-Trinitarian transfer, which I patterned after Barr’s term, but I did not use it with reference to semantics.

The phrase illegitimate intra-Trinitarian transfer refers to the error of attributing a role or activity to one member of the Godhead in a given text when a careful examination shows that the passage is attributing that role or activity to a different member of the Godhead.

Illegitimate intra-Trinitarian transfer (IITT) obscures a right perception of the apostolic focus on testimony to both God and Christ by taking statements about the Father and attributing them to Christ or speaking of them as if they are only about Christ. Such use of these statements, especially on a repeated basis, hinders and obscures the full appreciation of their primary teaching.

Two examples from printed works illustrate IITT clearly. First, Warren Wiersbe’s explanation of Colossians 1:13-14 displays this error when it attributes multiple actions to Christ that the passage does not attribute to Christ but to the Father:

Sinners need a Saviour. These two verses present a vivid picture of the four saving actions of Christ on our behalf. . . . We could not deliver ourselves from the guilt and penalty of sin, but Jesus could and did deliver us. . . . Jesus Christ did not release us from bondage, only to have us wander aimlessly. He moved us into His own kingdom of light and made us victors over Satan’s kingdom of darkness. Earthly rulers transported the defeated people, but Jesus Christ transported the winners. Be Complete: How to Become the Whole Person God Intends You to Be (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1981), 45-46.

This explanation of Colossians 1:13-14 attributes actions to Christ that the passage does not attribute to Him but to the Father: the Father, not Christ, “rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son.”

Second, Paul Enns’ writing similarly displays IITT:

The Son has redeemed the believer (Eph. 1:7), removed the wrath of God from the believer (Rom. 3:25), justified the believer (Rom. 5:1), provided forgiveness (Col. 2:13), and sanctified the believer (1 Cor. 1:2). The Moody Handbook of Theology (Chicago: Moody Press, 1989), 341.

Colossians 2:13 actually teaches that the Father has “quickened [us] together with Him [Christ], having forgiven [us] all trespasses.”

I have heard a number of people over the years commit IITT in their prayers by praying something like this, “Father, thank You for dying for us on the Cross.” The Father did not die on the Cross, and we should not pray this way.

These examples of IITT should alert us to be more careful in what we write and say. We must be diligent to handle the Word of God as accurately as possible (2 Tim. 2:15).

Rajesh

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