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Re-examining the Johannine Trinity: perichoresis or deification?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  16 October 2006

David Crump
Calvin College, Grand Rapids, MI 49546-4402,


Theological discussions of perichoretic trinitarianism typically turn to John's Gospel for supporting evidence despite the fact that John nowhere describes the Spirit's so-called ‘interpenetration’ (A is in B and B is in A) of either the Father or the Son. In this article, all gospel references pertinent to questions of perichoretic union among Father, Son and Spirit are examined, demonstrating that the Johannine Spirit does not share in such mutual indwelling. Rather, the Spirit is inextricably linked to Johannine ecclesiology, performing the work of regeneration and illumination as Christ's earthly alter ego. John's pneumatology is thoroughly functional and salvation-historical, offering no insight into the Spirit's eternal or essential place within the Godhead. However, John's Gospel does describe a third member of a perichoretic trinity: the disciples. As surprising as it may initially appear, believers are said to mutually indwell the Son, and to indwell the Father through the Son, thereby occupying the very position never posited of the Holy Spirit. Although John does not describe a perichoretic trinity, he does depict a perichoretic soteriology reminiscent of the Orthodox doctrine of deification. Such divine union is at the heart of Johannine salvation. It remains a crowning achievement of Johannine theology that Jesus is portrayed as the one sent from the Father to lead his people into a provocative, new terrain where the language of perichoretic union with the divine is more apropos of the believer than of the Spirit.

Research Article
© Scottish Journal of Theology Ltd 2006

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