Published by Worldview Publications
Prequel 2001.3 

Since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us . . . fix our eyes on Jesus, . . . who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. — Hebrews 12:1, 2, NIV.

The “Third Voice”1


J. Allan Cheyne and Donato Tarulli, “Dialogue, Difference and Voice in the Zone of Proximal Development,” Theory & Psychology 9, no. 1 (February 1999): 5-28.

Robert Vosloo, “Being Created in the Image of the Triune God: The Trinity and Human Personhood,” Theological Forum 27 (July 1999): 13-33.


In the Genesis account of Creation, the first “six days are symbols of God’s activity. . . . If . . . [God, however,] had stopped on the sixth day, we would be creatures, slaves and private property of God. But he went on and blessed the seventh day and took a rest and invited us into that rest because that represents the covenant relationship with his creation.”3

On that first Sabbath in the “Garden of Eden,” there were three resting together — “Adam,” “Eve,” and God. If Adam and Eve had been in communion alone, they would have simply constituted an “I” and a “Thou.” But God himself rested with them as the “Third Other.” We now need to learn the role of the “Third Voice,” of the “Authoritative or Referential Other.” More particularly, we need to learn the significance of this “Third Other” for human personhood.

The “Third Voice”

The concept of the “third other” or “third voice” has been explored by a number of scholars. They have shown, for example, that any dialogue between two persons actually requires a third person called the “superaddressee.” “The superaddressee stands above the particularity of dialogue as a kind of reference and authority whose ‘ideally true responsive understanding assume[s] various ideological expressions (God, absolute truth . . . and so forth). . . .. . . [T]he notion of the . . . ‘third voice’ of the superaddressee is . . . absolutely essential though implicit. . . . This must be so because the goal of dialogue . . . is not merely the creation of a common apperceptive mass for two isolated interlocutors but something more broadly shared among members of communities.”4

God was the “Third Voice,” the “Authoritative and Covenantal Other,” for Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden on the seventh day. By resting with them, God elevated our first parents from “private property” to covenantal partners. Furthermore, his divine presence elevated mankind (male and female) to human, covenantal personhood, so that mankind was in the “image” of God as Person (Genesis 1:26, 27). Without the authoritative and knowing presence of God as the “Third Other,” mankind would be bereft of human personhood, for the “[p]erson is otherness in [covenantal] communion and [covenantal] communion in otherness.”5 The threefold nature of human personhood — “I,” “Thou,” “Third Voice” — is the reflection or image of the threefold nature of God himself.

Threefold Relationship and Covenant

To better understand this threefold relationship, we need to further examine the covenant. Covenant involves the stipulated interaction, the giving and receiving of gifts, which occurs between covenantal partners. Only God could give the divine attributes required for personhood, such as life for others, freedom for others, responsibility for others, faith, hope and love for others. The creature could not possess these attributes. But through the covenant, God could relationally and covenantally share these attributes with our first parents. As the self-emptying One, God could give these attributes to Adam and Eve only if, in the same self-emptying spirit, they shared these gifts with others and returned these gifts to him. (“ . . . [A]s you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” [Matthew 25:40, RSV]).6

In summary, God created the universe out of nothing. He formed mankind from the dust of the earth. He “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life” so that man might become a living being (Genesis 2:7, RSV). But more than this, through his covenant with Adam and Eve, God graciously determined to relationally share his own uncreated, divine attributes with the creaturehood of mankind. The limitations that God imposed were that mankind should:

  1. acknowledge God’s gracious gifts;
  2. choose to accept these relational gifts;
  3. return these gifts to and through “others” rather than possessing these gifts.

In addition, to ratify the covenant of reciprocal receiving and giving, God placed two trees in the Garden of Eden. By eating of the Tree of Life, Adam and Eve would affirm their covenantal commitment to receive and to return God’s gifts. On the other hand, by eating of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, mankind would reject their covenantal commitment on the deceptive assumption that ultimate reality was possessional rather than relational.


If only Adam and Eve had chosen to worship God rather than attempting to possess him! “It is through worship that we are enabled best to ‘see’ something of the character of the Triune God, as well as our responsibility as creatures. Communion with God through glorifying God enables the transformation of human character according to God’s own character (see 2 Cor 3:18 . . . ). This enables us to become what we are as people being created in the image of the Triune God.”7


  1. See J. Allan Cheyne and Donato Tarulli, “Dialogue, Difference and Voice in the Zone of Proximal Development,” at, in Theory & Psychology 9, no. 1 (February 1999): 5-28. (go back)
  2. See “‘Communion and Otherness,’” Outlook (Prequel 2001.2). (go back)
  3. Scott Hahn, “Salvation History: One Holy Family,” at (go back)
  4. Cheyne and Tarulli, “Dialogue, Difference and Voice.” (go back)
  5. Metropolitan John Zizioulas of Pergamon, “Communion and Otherness,” at (go back)
  6. The Greek term for self-emptying is kenosis. “ . . . God is considered as absolute letting-be, as self-giving, as self-spending. Kenosis is understood as the way God relates to the world; creation is a work of love, of self-giving.” — Lucien Richard, Christ: The Self-Emptying of God (New York: Paulist Press, 1997), p. 94. (go back)
  7. Robert Vosloo, “Being Created in the Image of the Triune God: The Trinity and Human Personhood,” Theological Forum 27 (July 1999): 8. (go back)

Copyright © 2001 Worldview Publications