An Excellent Presentation by Eitan Bar & Moti Vaknin
God: The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit:
What Christians Believe and How to Defend It
Today an amazing number of people who call themselves "Christians" do NOT believe in the deity of the Lord Jesus or in the deity and personhood of the Holy Spirit. On simplistic and unbiblical terms they reject the idea that within the beingness of God there is a triplet. The objections to the Trinity are supposedly on Scriptural, mathematical, logical and semantic grounds: Doesn't the Shema declare that there is only one God? How can one be three? How can Jesus be both God and a man? How can the Holy Spirit be a person? The word "Trinity" is not in the Bible; therefore it is false.
While it is true that controversies and even violence raged in the early centuries of the Church over these issues, it is not true that the Bible does not give us a way to think about these things. When the Scriptures speak of the Creator God, when it is very clear that the Son and the Holy Spirit are integral agents that brought reality into being, then we believe it is wrong to exclude them from the beingness of God when the Scriptures repeatedly ascribe to them eternity and creative prerogatives. To reject the Bible's positive statements about the interrelationship between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit is to disregard revealed truth and trample the evidence under foot in favor of a private interpretation that ends up resulting in an unstated polytheism, or disrespect to that which cannot be fully understood.1
In this concise study we will look at specific verses and passages which declare Jesus to be the Creator and which show his pre-Incarnate existence long before the first century. Likewise, we will examine the person and work and worth of the Holy Spirit and determine whether or not what the Bible says about him proves he is a force or a divine person, intrinsic and essential to understanding the Godhead.
Heretofore our attention has been directed largely to issues regarding history, lost issues regarding Bible prophecy, issues regarding how to focus and hold discussions, and issues about Futurist perceptions, conceptions and hot-button misrepresentations of early Christian beliefs, texts and present day realized eschatologies.
But a subject that has defined Christianity—and rightfully so—is the Divine Being and what that means in light of the Bible. Since God is the source of all creations, implicate reality; and since he the focus of our worship and since he is the first cause, and because all else depends on him we want to explore why Christians believe and teach he is a triune being and list how Yahweh and Jesus share at least nine identical qualities that can be described and defended in discussions or debates.
The Bible Says God is One
There is One God, and of the three major monotheistic world religions—Judaism, Christianity and Islam—Christianity alone insists upon calling itself monotheist while at the same time rejecting the monadic understanding of what God is. Against this, Jews are careful to point out that in the Shema God declares, “Hear O Israel the Lord your God in one Lord" (Deuteronomy 6:4-9). They insist that this declaration supports the concept of a God who exists as an absolute undivided singularity. The essence of this affirmation is laid out in Isaiah 43:10 as well as 44:6. This affirmation is repeated in Mark 12:29 by Jesus and James takes the truth of God's oneness to be so obvious that without faith working through one's actions, the belief (in and of itself) is said to be vain (James 2:19-20)!
The Quran Lashes Out Against Byzantine Christian Collyridianism
Unlike Rabbinic Judaism, which attempts to use the Shema to deny the full expression of who and what God is, Islam is dependent on a completely different set of circumstances and a totally foreign set of sacred manuscripts. In any case, it, like Judaism, avows a strict monotheism but does so against the backdrop of what Muhammad perceived as a seventh century Byzantine Collyridianism2: a Mariolatry, a Christian triad of the Father, the Son and Mary. Many historians vociferously deny that Muhammad understood what he was seeing and hearing, but his perceptions were no mistake; for, even today Orthodox (and even Catholic and Oriental) churches strongly stress the role of Mary in praxis, in intercession and in prayer in exalted and glowing terms that easily blur boundaries and transgress any and everything the Apostles or the first Christians could have ever have imagined or conceived of.3 And it was against these developmental departures that Islam arose and saw a need to rebuke and denounce.
And yet the Bible presents an enigma, a riddle and a paradox that is not destroyed by the rectification of Collyridian abuses nor effected by Islamic theological dogmatism. What the Scriptures said they still say and there are no manuscript variations that exist that would suggest that key Old or New Testament declarations have been tampered with or corrupted. The enigma, riddle and paradox of multiplicity in unity, in fact, is in the Shema itself4 as well as parallel texts that, on one hand, ascribe Creator prerogatives to God, but on the other hand, ascribes those very same prerogatives to Christ. These can be observed in at least nine cases (as we shall see below).
The Bible and Divine Prerogatives
The Bible has a uniform view and teaching about God. From cover to cover the Scriptures assign specific prerogatives to him. Without these specific prerogatives we would not know what God is really like; neither would we know who he was if these same traits were conflated and attributable to anyone who was not God. God does things that no other power can do. But what does God do? Job gives us a glimpse:
“Then Job answered and said,
I know it is so of a truth: but how should man be just with God?
If he will contend with him,
he cannot answer him one of a thousand.
He is wise in heart, and mighty in strength:
who hath hardened himself against him and hath prospered?
Which removeth the mountains, and they know not: which overturneth them in his anger.
Which shaketh the earth out of her place, and the pillars thereof tremble.
Which commanded the sun, and it riseth not; and sealeth up the stars.
WHICH ALONE spreadeth out the heavens, and treadeth upon the waves of the sea.
Which maketh Arcturus, Orion, and Pleiades, and the chambers of the south . . .” (Job 9:1-9).
God and God alone is the wise and and God and God alone is the mighty mover of mountains, he shakes the earth and the pillars tremble, he can command the sun and seal up the stars; he alone spreadeth out the heavens and he walks on the waves of the sea. God made the great star systems and the chambers of the south; no one else is like him.
As in Job, so the rest of the Old Testament is replete with Scriptures which reaffirm God's uniqueness—Isaiah 42:5 and 8; 48:11 and Psalms 8:1 and 3; Psalms 146:6 and Jeremiah 51:15. The New Testament is no different: John 7:17-18 and Revelation 4:11 and 14:7—these passages and these verses spell out God's dignity, his glory and his honor. They affirm that God and God alone has singular prerogatives, unique prerogatives, prerogatives solely applicable to Almighty God and no one else.
But this is precisely the problem we encounter in the Biblical material (if Jesus is not God). For example, John 1:3 and Colossians 1:15-17; Hebrews 1:2-3 and 1:8-13 call the belief that Jesus is a mere man into SERIOUS question; furthermore, John 13:31-32; 14:13; 17:5 and 10 (cf. Ezekiel 18:4) brings Jesus Christ to a level, if not explicitly, implicitly and completely on par with God.
If all things were made by him; and without him was nothing made that was made, if Jesus is the image of the invisible God, if he is the firstborn of every creature, if by him were all things created, that are in heaven, that are in earth, that are visible and that are invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: and if ALL THINGS WERE not only CREATED BY HIM, but also FOR HIM. AND if HE IS BEFORE ALL THINGS, AND BY HIM ALL THINGS CONSIST, and if he is the brightness of God's glory, and the express image of his person, and if he upholds all things by the word of his power, and if the Son is addressed by the Father as “God” with a throne, and if he has the power to lay the foundations of the earth; and the power to fashion the heavens with his hands, and if his years shall not fail, then certainly the Scriptures ARE advocating a far MORE nuanced and far more provocative idea about Jesus than is being faced or addressed by anti-Trinitarians.5 In any case, the situation is compounded and the issue is made much more complex by the idea that the Son is glorified in God and God is glorified in his Son. The very idea that what belongs to God belongs to Jesus and what belongs to Jesus belongs to God highly favors the idea that God and Jesus share not only the same nature, but also the same prerogatives. True, there are disputed texts (e.g., 1 John 5:7), but in undisputed texts Jesus declares he SHARED glory together the Father in the beginning and in the end (John 17:5 cf. Revelation 5:13-14).
Who Was With God and What Comes from God?
Next we observe that in the Gospel of John a set of equivalences emerge: Jesus is said to have been with God, Jesus is said to have existed before Abraham, long before the first century and the narrators or Jesus himself make him equal with God in introductory comments, in certain statements he made in heated debates against hostile Judaeans and on other telling occasions with his Apostles.
Note the following verses and passages:
- John 1:1
- John 1:18
- John 8:42
- John 8:58
- John 10:27-33
- John 14:1
- John 17:8
These seven verses and passages make it crystal clear that Jesus is not an angel, not a mere man and not a mere prophet. In certain cases the trouble and controversy aroused by his statements mean that what he said was taken to be blasphemy of the highest order and made the people so prejudiced against Jesus to believe he was worthy of being immediately stoned to death. But these verses are not the whole picture; there is more!
What is Said of God is also Said of Jesus
Not only did the narrators of the New Testament—the Apostle John, the Apostle Paul the Hebrew writer—attest that Jesus occupies a special relationship with God, but in the overall Bible one will discover that what is said of God is said of Jesus. Note the examples below:
-God is God—Jer. 32:18; Isa. 43:10; Isa. 45:22 (quoted at Phil. 2:10); Isa. 44:24; Gen. 18:1, 14, but Jesus is God—Isa. 9:6; John 1:1; John 20:28; 2 Pet. 1:1; Titus 2:13; Jer. 23:6; Heb. 1:8; 1 John 5:20.
- -God is Lord of Lords and King of Kings—Psalms 136:1-3; Deut. 10:17, but Jesus is Lord of Lord and King of Kings—Rev. 17:14; 19:16; 1 Tim. 6:14-16.
- God is Creator—Job 33:4; Isa. 40:28; Gen. 1:1, but Jesus is Creator—John 1:3; Col. 1:15-17; Heb. 1:8-10.
- God is Light—Micah 7:8; Isa.60:20; Psalms 27:1, but Jesus is Light—John 8:12; John 1:9; Luke 2:32.
- God is Judge—Gen. 18:25; Joel 3:12, but Jesus is Judge—John 5:22, 27; 2 Tim. 4:1; 2 Cor. 5:10; Rom. 14:10.
- God is Savior—Psalms 106:21; Hosea 13:4; Isa. 45:21; Isa. 43:3, 11, but Jesus is Savior—Acts 2:21; Acts 4:12; Rom. 10:9; Jude 25.
- God is the Rock—Ex. 17:6; Isa. 17:10; 2 Sam. 22:32; Deut. 32:4, but Jesus is the Rock—1 Cor. 10:4; Isa. 8:14; 1 Pet. 2:6.
- God is First and Last—Isa. 44:6; Isa. 48:12; 41:4, but Jesus is First and Last—Rev.1:17; Rev. 2:8; Rev. 22:13.
- God is I Am—Exodus 3:13-14; Deut. 32:39; Isa. 43:10, but Jesus is I Am—John 8:24; John 8:58; John 13:19; John 18:5.
The above Scriptures represent both the definition of high Biblical Christology and the dividing line between what the Bible itself says about who and what Jesus is and what the world wants or prefers to believe him to be. But we are Christians and we believe the Bible and the Scriptural testimony God gave of his Son. The sum of what they say leads us to a different conclusion; there is a big difference!
The Holy Spirit, a Third Person
Not only are the Father and the Son paired in the Scriptures as being mutually included in “God”, but also the Holy Spirit is said to be included in that definition—both by implication and direct association. He moved upon the face of the waters when the world was created and he is said to be sent from the Father(Gen. 1:1; John 15:26). So, who this or what is this? Is the Spirit an “it” or a “he”? Can an “it” be sent? Can an “it” reprove? Can an “it” be a guide? Can an “it” hear? Can an “it speak?6 Can an “it” show, glorify or receive? Can an "it" search God's mind?7If in all these things the Holy Spirit is said to be able to think and react and respond, we would not be mistaken to conclude that the Holy Spirit is a sentient being, important enough that, not only is sin and blasphemy against him unforgivable, but also lying to him is the same as lying to God (Matthew 12:31-32; Acts 5:1-4; Ephesians 4:30; Hebrews 10:29).
As far as we know only an intelligence, only what is sentient, only what is conscious and only what is self-aware—be it God, or angels, or demons, or men—can do such things. Besides this, only an INTELLIGENCE can be blasphemed, lied to, grieved or insulted. In fact, the worst sins that the New Testament proscribes as forbidden are those that could be directed against the Holy Spirit. If the Spirit is merely an impersonal energy, or an impersonal force, why are such sins considered the most heinous in all the New Testament? If the Holy Spirit is not God himself, but mere energy, how does speaking a word against mere energy amount, not only to sin, but the worst sin?
What Comes from God? What Was With God?
In the Scriptures the theology of God supports a ideology of God that reveals, not one or two, not four or five, , but a threeness in its totality. The following verses and ł show that this belief and Jesus' convictions about himself caused an uproar in Judaea and a bitter determination to have him killed as soon as at all possible (John 1:1-2; 1:18; 5:22-23; John 8:42 and 58; 10:28-33 and 1 John 1:1-2). But, on the other hand Matthew and Mark, Luke and John's Gospel reveals a fundamental three-fold relationship that consists of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1, 11; Mark 1, Luke 1 and John 16:27-28).
Alternatives to the Trinity?
As we consider the Biblical God as three in one, still some do not want to concede the Trinity, what are the alternatives? The alternatives would be this: Jesus is not God, but Jesus (a non-deity) created the heavens and earth and all things—Arcturus, Orion, and Pleiades, and the chambers of the south—why are these great astronomical systems being held up by him (Colossians 1:17 cf. Hebrews 1:3)? What, for heaven's sake, does God do if the responsibilities of a creator are on the shoulders of a mere creature? How does that fit; how does that make sense?
Furthermore, if God is God and Jesus is merely a finite creature, by what logic should the Son be honored “just as” the Father? Only if Jesus is included in the Godhead do these declarations make any sense. Moreover, without the Son's inclusion in the Divinity, the suggestion of any equality in creation, its sustenance, reception of praise or honor or glory—would be nothing short of or other than the purist and most outrageous form of idolatry and blasphemy!
The quandary encountered when attempts are made to exclude the Son from the beingness of God, adds up to a terrible equation that makes no sense because it makes Jesus say things which the Bible categorically forbids unless what he said about himself was absolutely true. In the same way, any attempts to remove or exclude the Holy Spirit from the parameters of divine honor and considerations backfires by basically saying that impersonal energy—wind, power, brute force—is far more holy and more sacred and far more worthy of respect and awe than the living God!
God is one; the famous Mosaic Shema declares this, but the word it uses to say "one"-echad (instead of yachid) does not mean an absolute singularity. Islam born in opposition to the Father, Jesus and Mary, lashed out against Collyridian errors in Byzantine Christianity, but in the New Testament itself Jesus shares divine prerogatives; he must be God if he shares attributes that belong to God only. Those prerogatives--as God, as Lord of Lords and King of kings, as Creator, as light, as judge, as Savior, as Rock, as First and Last and as I Am mean that either Jesus was with God and came from God or there are literally at least two God, because what is said of God is said of Jesus. Furthermore, we saw that the Holy Spirit is treated as a conscious sentient intelligent being, one who was in the beginning with God and everywhere accorded the highest dignity and honor; if the Holy Spirit were a mere force or a mere thing (no matter how strong) we do not believe this would not be the case.
Because of what we have seen we can now begin to understand why a complete debacle of nonsense, misunderstanding and division begins to develop and unfold the very minute any attempts are made to exclude the Son and the Holy Spirit from their existential and eternal source as uncreated and conscious altar egos of God himself, and hence, word “Trinity” is nothing more or less than a Christian theological term to describe the sum total of what the Bible reveals about One divine being: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, who are three persons.
1 See Jude 10.
2 On the Collyridian heresy, see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Collyridianism
3 An example of Collyridian excess in prayer reads, "To you, O Theotokos, we sinners now flee. In repentance we bow down before you, saying: "O Sovereign Lady, help us: have compassion on us, make haste to help, for we perish in the multitude of our sins. Turn us not empty away, for we have you as our only hope. Glory . . .both now and ever. . . Never, O Theotokos, will we, unworthy, cease to proclaim your powers: for if you did not hasten to our aid, making intercession, who would have delivered us from our manifold adversities? Who would have preserved us free to this day? We will not forsake you, O Lady, for you save your servants from all malicious foes." An Aghiasmo Prayer to the Virgin Mary of the Greek Orthodox Church.
4 Instead of the Holy Spirit using the word "yachid" to describe God in the Shema, he used the word "echad" which means a unified oneness as in, for example Genesis 2:24 and Deuteronomy 6:4. And since the Bible never uses the word "yachid" to describe the God of Israel, the Islamic concept of a monadic deity is completely foreign to the Bible and thus has no bearing on this discussion or what Christians should believe.
5 Anti-Trinitarians come in a variety of guises: Unitarians (Unitarian Universalists, Muslims), Binitarians (believe God is a diad of Father and Son only), Modalists (Apostolic 'Jesus Only'), Arians (e.g, Jehovah's Witnesses), and polytheists (e.g., Mormons and other LDS sects).
6 See Matthew 10:19-20; John 16:13; Acts 2:4; 8:29; 11:12 and 13:2. See also Revelation 2:7; 2:11; 2:17; 2:29; 3:6; 3:13; 3:22 and 22:17.
7 See 1 Corinthians 2:10-11.