The Filioque Controversy

Introduction and Elaboration of New Covenant Principles

For the growing and mature Christian, the Filioque Controversy is of tremendous importance. This theological question is the most important issue in the 2000-year history of the Christian community. Here are areas which the question affects:

First, the understanding about God. This is important because the point of redemption is to reconcile us with our Creator, Redeemer, and Friend. He is the One who is from the beginning (1Jn. 2.13,14). The Ever-Existing One of all eternity. Knowing God’s nature and love toward us is what redemption is all about. Jesus prayed in His last recorded formal intercession of Jn. 17.21-23 that the disciples would be one with the Father and Himself. Just as The Father was with Jesus, so, henceforth, the disciples would have God with them internally forever. This was an aspect of the promised New Covenant that all of God’s people would know Him personally, moment by moment (See Jer. 31.33 cf. 1Jn. 2.20). It is accomplished by the formal sending of The Spirit at Pentecost (Shavuot). This was the covenanting with the House of Israel and the House of Judah fulfilling the time of this typological feast. All original Christians were Jewish and God used the Feasts as “the times of the Lord” (Lev. 23.2,44).

Most bible translations of Lev. 23. 2,44 have “feasts” instead of “times.” However, The Hebrew has “times” and these two verses form an inclusio, a type of bracketing or an envelope. This envelope contains feasts at different “times,” which speak of a greater significance than apparent. The Sabbath and other feasts and observances project an outline of redemptive prophecy and fulfillment. The Sabbath Rest (Heb. 4.9-11), Christ our Passover (1Cor. 5.7), the Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2.1-4), Trumpets (1 Th. 4.16), Yom Kippur (Day of the Lord), Tabernacles (Millenium).

Samaritans and Gentiles would be included after the Spirit teaches the disciples the larger efficacy of Christ’s atonement. The 11 Disciples could not learn everything while Jesus was with them, probably because they lacked the capacity, and Christ’s message was so different from the misconceptions prevalent in their society. The fact of the inclusion of the Gentiles into the Olive Tree (Rom. 11.17) had to wait until they were taught by the Spirit. This was probably part of “the many things” they could not bear referenced in Jn. 16.12-13.

Second, authority in the Christian community. Are there ultimate human authority figures whom the Christian should obey? This is the claim that a church official can authoritatively determine doctrine or speak infallibly. As before, The New Covenant gives the answer to the question, but, in this case, comprehensively. The Spirit guides us; therefore, in an ultimate sense, we need no other teachers (see 1 Jn. 2.27). God teaches and guides us, since, ultimately, He is our Judge. Further, The New Covenant specifically delineated that the human intervening authorities would be eclipsed when this new reality was in place. Jer. 31.34 states that the friends and neighbors would no longer function as teachers and mediators. These “friends and neighbors” were the Aaronic Priests and Levites who were living among all the other 11 tribes of Israel and who taught regulations and performed the various sacrifices for the people at the central sanctuary. Being “neighbors” they could teach the Israelites aspects of God’s Law to the communities where they dwelt. The central sanctuary, where these priests offered sacrifices for sins, would no longer be needed in the High Priesthood of Jesus. Since Jesus fulfilled the Passover (the angel of death has passed over them), fellowship offerings by His followers is through prayer and trust in Him (Heb. 6.19). Both individually and collectively believers are a temple where God dwells through the Spirit.

The Filioque Clause

For the bible student, the historical details of the Filioque Controversy, hardly need to be studied to understand the concept. This is only reception history and not what God has once for all given: the text of the bible. Yes, we may learn from previous Christians; however, both in an individual and group sense, disciples do not always grasp the full extent of every teaching the first few times they hear it. We should know better today than previous generations. The scriptures contain what is profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness. Semper Reformata.

The “filioque” clause means: “and from the Son.” This was what some in the Western Church (Roman Catholic) wanted to add to The Nicean Creed where it speaks of the Spirit proceeding from the Father. They wanted to affirm that the Spirit proceeds both from the Father and the Son. The Western Pope spoke authoritatively that the Spirit proceeded from the Son and set the stage for controversy.  The Eastern Church (Orthodox) resisted this attempt and ultimately split from the Roman Church in 1054 CE.

The Procession of The Spirit

I believe the scriptures teach the Spirit only proceeds from the Father. This is the Eastern Church’s position. I do not subscribe to everything this church teaches, but, I believe, they are correct on this issue.

From a typological perspective, it was the Spirit descending like a dove from heaven and alighting on Jesus at His baptism. If the Spirit proceeds from Jesus the same as from the Father, why did the Spirit come from heaven to inaugurate Christ’s ministry? It seems best to view the Spirit’s origin as proceeding from the Father in heaven.

Of all the biblical statements, Jn. 15.26 is the most definitive in its scope: But when the Counselor arrives, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who goes forth from the Father, He will bear witness about Me. Even though Jesus sends the Spirit in His new ministry in the disciples, its crystal clear that the Spirit proceeds from the Father. The Greek text shows the the Spirit’s procession from the Father even stronger than my English translation. Para (from) is used twice while the verb ekporeuetai (goes forth, proceeds) is definitive of the Spirit’s origin. The act of sending, in itself, is not indicative of origination. An agent may function temporarily without any reference to the agent’s original source.

All other texts such as Jn. 16.13-15 show sending and not origination. The Spirit is eternal but acts in time and completes different missions which none refer to its source. Philosophical arguments claiming procession from the Son do not overcome the clear statements of Jn. 15.26.

Of course, the Father sends the Spirit also, and, in an ultimate sense, God cannot be divided. However, Jesus almost seems at pains, in Jn. 15.26, to indicate the Spirit’s source is from the Father. The whole concept of “Father” almost demands it. Just as Jesus is eternally generated from the Father, so the Spirit eternally proceeds from the Father and neither concept, in scripture, is the other way around. The Father fathers the Son and Spirit eternally.

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