On the Doctrine of Appropriations

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…  He was in the world, and the world was made by Him…”

Jn. 1:1,10

“And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.”

1 Tim. 3:16

“…when He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth…  He shall glorify Me: for He shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you.  All things that the Father hath are mine: therefore said I, that He shall take of mine, and shall shew it unto you.”

Jn. 16:13-15



Order of Contents

Articles  6+
.      Latin  1
Quotes  4




Early Church

Augustine – Letter 11, to Nebridus  (389 A.D.)  in NPNF, 1st series, I, pp. 228-30


On Reformed Orthodoxy

Heppe, Heinrich – ch. 17, section 4  of Reformed Dogmatics  ed. Bizer  (1950; Wipf & Stock), pp. 413-4

Heppe quotes Wolleb and the Leiden Synopsis.

Muller, Richard – D. ‘Opera Appropriata: Works Ad extra ‘in a Certain Manner’ Personal’, pp. 267-275  in Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics…  (Baker Academic, 2003), vol. 4, ch. 5.2.  See also the whole of the larger section, ch. 5.2, starting on p. 255.



Durham, James – ‘The Holy Trinity & Object of our Worship’  in A Commentary upon the Book of Revelation, pp. 6-19

Owen, John – p. 209  of Pneumatologia, III.1  in Works (London, 1850; rep. Banner), vol. 3

Turretin, Francis – 13th Topic, Q. 4, ‘Whether Only the Second Person of the Trinity Became Incarnate & Why?’  in Institutes (P&R), vol. 2, pp. 304-306  per section 11, contra the phraseology of Lutherans

van Mastricht, Peter – Ch. 1, section 6, ‘The mode of working specific to the divine persons’  in Theoretical-Practical Theology  (RHB), vol. 3

Excellent, brief discussion.  Mastricht makes 4 distinctions.



Butner, Jr., D. Glenn – ‘Eternal Functional Subordination [of the Son] and the Problem of the Divine Will’  2015  19 pp.  in JETS 58/1 (2015) 131–49  The article is also here.

In this scholarly essay Dr. Butner refutes the modern heresy of the Eternal Subordination of the Son, as held by numerous evangelicals.  Such persons often argue, in part, from each Person of the Trinity willing things in time, exclusively, to each Person of the Trinity having a distinct and unique will in eternity. 

This is Tritheism, and is due to an ignorance, and/or a rejection of the orthodox Christian doctrines of appropriations and perichoresis (for perichoresis, see the section on our page on The Trinity).

“The problem with EFS is not Arianism, but the fact that it entails tritheism.  Advocates of EFS are…  replacing terms like ‘unbegotten’ and ‘begotten’ with the ideas ‘authority’ and ‘submission’…  EFS is more in the line of what might be called polytheistic homoiousianism, whereby the Father and the Son have distinct natures, but each is still eternally divine…

Because Chalcedonian Christology insists that Jesus has two natures but only one hypostasis, dyothelitism [the orthodox doctrine that Christ has a divine will and a distinct human will] as a development of Chalcedonian Christology necessitates the recognition that a will must be a property of nature [and not the Person] in order for there to be two wills in Christ.  To posit such terms as ‘obedience’ and ‘submission’ that imply a distinction of wills between the Father and the Son while affirming dyothelite Christology entails a distinction of natures between the Father and Son (and Spirit) resulting in tritheism…

After this historical account, a word study of the term ‘submission’ will demonstrate that the term clearly implies an activity of the will yielding to another will and should therefore be rejected as an eternal property of a divine hypostasis.” – pp. 132-3



Latin Article

Medieval Church

Bonaventure – ‘On the Unity of Nature in the Multiplicity of Appropriations’  in A Brief Word  (1472), ch. 1, section 6, unpaginated  2 pp.

Bonaventure (1221-1274) was an Italian medieval Franciscan (Romanist), scholastic theologian and philosopher, known as ‘The Seraphic Doctor’.

“This [doctrine] is one of the points of more detailed, even speculative, elaboration of the doctrine of the Trinity that the Reformed orthodox share with the medieval scholastics.” – Muller, PRRD (2003) 4.268





On Reformed Orthodoxy

Andreas Beck

ch. 13, ‘God, Creation, and Providence in Post-Reformation Reformed Theology’, p. 205  in eds. Lehner, Muller, Roeber, The Oxford Handbook of Early Modern Theology, 1600-1800  (Oxford, 2016)

“The Reformed orthodox did not only deal with the internal distinguishing marks of the Trinitarian persons, but also with their outward marks, the ‘oecumenical offices of the three persons,’ as Mastricht labeled them (Mastricht 1699, 238-40; Neele 2009, 245-78).  These outward marks concern works that are appropriated to specific persons, like creation preeminently to the Father, redemption to the incarnate Son, and sanctification to the Holy Spirit (Te Velde et al. 2014, 192-93).

This was not meant to deny that ultimately all Trinitarian persons participate in these works, in accordance with the rule that the externally directed works of the Trinity are undivided (opera trinitatis ad extra indivisa sunt) (Mastricht 1699, 239).  To be sure, this rule applies to immanent acts that are directed ad extra, like the divine decrees or decisions, just as to the external divine works ad extra, like creation and providence.”


John Owen

Commentary on Hebrews, II.88

“The will of God as to the peculiar actings on the Father in this matter [the eternal Trinitarian covenant] is the will of the Father, and the will of God with regard unto the peculiar acts of the Son is the will of the Son; not by a distinction of sundry wills, but by the distinct application of the same will unto its distinct acts in the persons of the Father and the Son.

And in this respect the covenant whereof we treat differs from a pure decree; for from these distinct actions of the will of God in the Father and the Son there does arise a new habitude or relation which is not natural or necessary unto them, but freely taken on them.”


Franics Turretin

Institutes of Elenctic Theology  (P&R), vol. 2, 13th Topic, Question 6, section 4, p. 311

“This union [of the person of the Son with the human nature in the inarnation] can be viewed either in respect of the principle or in respect of the terminus.  In the former sense, it is attributed to the whole Trinity, by the power of which such union is made (to wit, by a transient action of God by which he united in the person of the Logos, the humanity of Christ).

In the latter, it belongs to the Logos alone because it is terminated on him.  Although the person of the Logos may well be said to have been incarnate, yet the Trinity itself may not because the incarnation is not terminated on the divine nature absolutely, but on the person of the Logos relatively.”



Mark Jones

‘Dat Old Debbel Tritheism?’  (2017)

“…in the good ol’ seventeenth century, Reformed theologians held to the principle of attributing ad extra works [all works directed externally outside of God to the creation] to all the persons of the Trinity.

However, divines such as John Owen and Thomas Goodwin, to name just two of many, argued that certain outward works – depending on what they are – are more peculiarly attributed to one of the persons.

This is also referred to as the doctrine of appropriations.  Goodwin echoes this principle elsewhere:

‘In this will that common Axiome of Divines helps us, that what works all three Persons do towards us Ad extra, though they have all a joint hand in them, yet they are attributed more especially to one Person than to another; as Sanctification you know is attributed more especially to the Holy Ghost, Redemption to the Son, Creation to God the Father, though all Three Persons have a hand in it.’

That is to suggest that the persons all share a common prerogative, but often a certain work will be attributed to the Father, for example, in order to display his uniqueness.  Both Goodwin and Owen wrestle with how this relates to the incarnation of the Son of God.  So, for example, while some Divines attribute to the Spirit ‘the special Honour of tying that Marriage knot, or Union, between the Son of God, and that Man Jesus’, Goodwin believes that ‘that Action is more peculiarly to be Attributed to the Son Himself; as Second Person; who took up into one Person with Himself that Humane Nature’ (Heb. 2:16).  Of course, Goodwin agrees that if they argue on the basis that the external works of the Trinity are undivided, there is no conflict.  But, in Goodwin’s mind, it was ‘the Son’s Special Act …  to assume [human nature]’.  This is precisely what I say in the quote from Knowing Christ (p. 27).

Owen argues that it was an outward act (ad extra) of the triune God, ‘As unto original efficiency’.  However,

‘As unto authoritative designation, it was the act of the Father….  As unto the formation of the human nature, it was the peculiar act of the Spirit….  As unto the term of the assumption, or the taking of our nature unto himself, it was the peculiar act of the person of the Son.’

Essentially, Goodwin and Owen are claiming that the undivided works ad extra often manifest one of the persons as their terminus operationis [end of operation].  In the above example, the incarnation terminates on the Son though the act is (singularly) willed by the three persons of the Trinity.

If the Son did not decide to assume a human nature, then who did?  God did, but, alas, dat old debbel [terminus operationis].”




Related Pages

The Trinity