In the deep theological weeds with perichoresis and Ezekiel’s vision

Questions about God, the Bible and the Christian culture

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Question: I have heard of the perichoresis as a theological term to describe the nature of God in terms of the Trinity. It’s about how the Father, Son and Holy Spirit interact with one another in perfect unity and love in the Godhead. I was thinking of the Venn diagram people use to describe how the three persons of the Godhead interact. Then I thought of Ezekiel’s vision in Chapter 1:

“As I looked at the living creatures, I saw a wheel on the ground beside each creature with its four faces. This was the appearance and structure of the wheels: They sparkled like chrysolite, and all four looked alike. Each appeared to be made like a wheel intersecting a wheel. As they would go in any of the four directions the creatures faced; the wheels did not turn about as the creatures went. Their rims were high and awesome, and all four rims were full of eyes all around.” (Ezekiel 1:15-18).

Could this be a picture supporting the perichoresis? I think it’s a lovely picture… but don’t want to interpret it as affirming something that has no warrant. Any thoughts?

Answer: I never thought of Ezekiel’s vision in terms of it being a Venn diagram, but now that you have me thinking about it, “wheels intersecting wheels” — when brought down into two dimensions — is indeed a Venn diagram! Our question is, however, was that what God was going for? Either way, this is a great idea — lovely, even… although I appreciate your caution: this is a nonstandard interpretation.

But as long as we all know that we are playing a game of “suppose” theologically, this gives us the freedom to play around a little bit hermeneutically. We all understand that we are not writing a doctrine by doing this. Now, I am not aware of any commentary that connects Ezekiel’s creature with the Godhead as perichoresis. That being said, I can only access a few of the thousands of commentaries available… so I am not pretending to have mastery of that data.

I have three points in favor of your proposal. First, one of the legitimate translations of perichoresis (which is a theological term not found in the Bible) is “rotation” — and there’s a lot of that going on in Ezekiel’s vision! I get dizzy reading it!

Second, a fire moves between all the creatures (1:13). To me, this seems like a symbol of perichoresis. The problem, of course, is that now you have me looking for it — so this might be confirmation bias. But I don’t think that’s enough to make the observation moot. I see what I see.

Third, Ezekiel goes out of his way to tell us that “the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels” (1:20) ... the moving parts. I believe the word “spirit” points toward the essence of God — his ontology if you will — and that’s where the perichoresis lives.

I have two points against your proposal. First, although most(?) commentators see these creatures as a picture of God, they have stopped short of saying that this demonstrates the flow of love and respect and cooperation in the Godhead... which are characteristic of perichoresis — and I respect traditional scholarship.

Second, although we can use Venn diagrams to describe the Trinity, the perichoresis and (arguably) the creatures’ wheels intersecting wheels, we cannot connect them hermeneutically just because we can describe them with the same tools.

So, there you have it! I agree with your thesis! You might be onto something! Just note that I am one-man — and an uncredentialed man, at that — who is looking at Ezekiel’s vision and scratching his head like most of the world — and who is breathing rarefied air when thinking about the perichoresis.

God bless you.

(Note to reader: Since “perichoresis” is a rarely used term, I am including an article by a sister ministry, Got Questions Ministries, that explains it in their signature internet-optimized way. Please respect their copyright — and explore their site! It’s filled with reliable biblical truth.)

Question: "What is perichoresis?"

Answer: The word perichoresis comes from two Greek words, peri, which means “around,” and chorein, which means “to give way” or “to make room.” It could be translated “rotation” or “a going around.” Perichoresis is not found in the Greek New Testament but is a theological term used in three different contexts. In the first, perichoresis refers to the two natures of Christ in perfect union within the same Person. In the second context, perichoresis refers to the omnipresence of God as He “intersects” with all creation (see Acts 17:28). In the third context, it refers to the mutual intersecting or “interpenetration” of the three Persons of the Godhead and may help clarify the concept of the Trinity. It is a term that expresses intimacy and reciprocity among the Persons of the Godhead. A synonym for perichoresis is circumincession.

Perichoresis is seen in Jesus’ prayer in John 17:1, “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you.” We compare this with John 16:14, in which Jesus says that the Holy Spirit “will glorify me.” So, the Holy Spirit glorifies the Son, the Son glorifies the Father, and the Father glorifies the Son. The loving relationships within the Trinity result in the Persons of the Godhead giving glory to one another.

Perichoresis is the fellowship of three co-equal Persons perfectly embraced in love and harmony and expressing an intimacy that no one can humanly comprehend. The Father sends the Son (John 3:16), and the Spirit proceeds from the Father and was sent by the Son (John 15:26)—another example of perichoresis, with the result that God’s people are blessed.

There is nothing that separates the Persons of the Trinity or interrupts the mysterious interchange of perichoresis. It can be imagined as a Venn diagram showing three circles intersecting in the center with each circle intersecting the others perfectly and multi-dimensionally, as they rotate about a common center of divine love.

(Mainsail Ministries articles often have a preamble where I discuss the thinking that went into them. These are called Monday Musings — and if you haven’t read the one associated with this article — consider doing so at the following link: 20210322 In the deep theological weeds with perichoresis and Ezekiel’s vision).

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