14. The Jehovah's Witnesses' booklet Should You Believe in the Trinity? offers two explanations for John 20:28: (1) "To Thomas, Jesus was like "a god,' especially in the miraculous circumstances that prompted his exclamation" (p. 29). But this explanation is unconvincing, because Thomas did not say, "You are like a god," but rather called Jesus "my God." The Greek text has the definite article (it cannot be translated "a god") and is explicit: o Beoq ^ou is not "a god of mine" but "my God."
(2) The second explanation offered is that "Thomas may simply have made an emotional exclamation of astonishment, spoken to Jesus but directed to God" (ibid.). The second part of this sentence, "spoken to Jesus but directed to God," is simply incoherent: it seems to mean, "spoken to Jesus but not spoken to Jesus," which is not only self-contradictory, but also impossible: if Thomas is speaking to Jesus he is also directing his words to Jesus. The first part of this sentence, the claim that Thomas is really not calling Jesus "God," but is merely swearing or uttering some involuntary words of exclamation, is without merit, for the verse makes it clear that Thomas was not speaking into the blue but was speaking directly to Jesus: "Thomas answered and said to Him "My Lord and my God!"' (John 20:28, NASB). And immediately both
Other passages speaking of Jesus as fully divine include Hebrews 1, where the author says that Christ is the "exact representation" (vs. 3, Gk. xapaKT^p, G5917, "exact duplicate") of the nature or being (Gk. unoaraaiq, G5712) of God—meaning that God the Son exactly duplicates the being or nature of God the Father in every way: whatever attributes or power God the Father has, God the Son has them as well. The author goes on to refer to the Son as "God" in verse 8 ("But of the Son he says, "Your throne, O God, is for ever and ever"'), and he attributes the creation of the heavens to Christ when he says of him, "You, Lord, did found the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands" (Heb. 1:10, quoting Ps. 102:25). Titus 2:13 refers to "our great God and Savior Jesus Christ," and 2 Peter 1:1 speaks of "the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ."15 Romans 9:5, speaking of the Jewish people, says, "Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen" (NIV).16
Jesus and John in his writing commend Thomas, certainly not for swearing but for believing in Jesus as his Lord and his God.
15 15. Both Titus 2:13 and 2 Peter 1:1 have marginal readings in the RSV whereby Jesus is referred to as a different person than "God" and therefore is not called God: "the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ" (Titus 2:13 mg.) and "our God and the Savior Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 1:1 mg.). These alternative translations are possible grammatically but are unlikely. Both verses have the same Greek construction, in which one definite article governs two nouns joined by the Greek word for and (Kai, G2779). In all cases where this construction is found the two nouns are viewed as unified in some way, and often they are two separate names for the same person or thing. Especially significant is 2 Peter 1:1, for exactly the same construction is used by Peter three other times in this book to speak of "Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 1:11; 2:20; 3:18). In these three other verses, the Greek wording is exactly the same in every detail except that the word Lord (Kupioq, G3261) is used instead of the word God (Beoq, G2536). If these other three instances are all translated "Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ," as they are in all major translations, then consistency in translation would seem to require the translation of 2 Peter 1:1 as "Our God and Savior Jesus Christ," again referring to Christ as God. In Titus 2:13 Paul is writing about the hope of Christ's second coming, which the New Testament writers consistently speak of in terms that emphasize the manifestation of Jesus Christ in his glory, not in terms that emphasize the glory of the Father.
16 16. The marginal reading in the NIV is similar to the reading in the main text of the RSV, which is, "and of their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ. God who is over all be blessed for ever. Amen" (Rom. 9:5 RSV). But this translation is far less likely on grammatical and contextual grounds and is justified primarily by arguing that Paul would not have referred to Christ as "God." The NIV translation, which refers to Christ as "God over all," is preferable because (1) Paul's normal pattern is to declare a word of blessing concerning the person about whom he has just been speaking, who in this case is Christ; (2) the Greek participle on "being," which makes the phrase say literally, "who, being God over all is blessed forever," would be redundant if Paul were starting a new sentence as the RSV has it; (3) when Paul elsewhere begins a new sentence with a word of blessing to God, the word "blessed" comes first in the Greek sentence (see 2 Cor. 1:3; Eph. 1:3; cf. Peter's pattern in 1 Peter 1:3), but here the expression does not follow that pattern, making the RSV translation unlikely. See Donald Guthrie, New Testament Theology (Leicester: Inter-
In the Old Testament, Isaiah 9:6 predicts, "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given;
and the government will be upon his shoulder, and his name will be called 'Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God.'"
As this prophecy is applied to Christ, it refers to him as "Mighty God." Note the similar application of the titles "Lord" and "God" in the prophecy of the coming of the Messiah in Isaiah 40:3, "In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God," quoted by John the Baptist in preparation for the coming of Christ in Matthew 3:3.
Many other passages will be discussed in chapter 26 below, but these should be sufficient to demonstrate that the New Testament clearly refers to Christ as fully God. As Paul says in Colossians 2:9, "In him the whole fulness of deity dwells bodily."
Next, the Holy Spirit is also fully God. Once we understand God the Father and God the Son to be fully God, then the trinitarian expressions in verses like Matthew 28:19 ("baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit") assume significance for the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, because they show that the Holy Spirit is classified on an equal level with the Father and the Son. This can be seen if we recognize how unthinkable it would have been for Jesus to say something like, "baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the archangel Michael—this would give to a created being a status entirely inappropriate even to an archangel. Believers throughout all ages can only be baptized into the name (and thus into a taking on of the character) of God himself.17 (Note also the other trinitarian passages mentioned above: 1 Cor. 12:4-6; 2 Cor. 13:14; Eph. 4:4-6; 1 Peter 1:2; Jude 20-21.)
In Acts 5:3-4, Peter asks Ananias, "Why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit...? You have not lied to men but to God." According to Peter's words, to lie to the Holy Spirit is to lie to God. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 3:16, "Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you?" God's temple is the place where God himself dwells, which Paul explains by the fact that "God's Spirit" dwells in it, thus apparently equating God's Spirit with God himself.
David asks in Psalm 139:7-8, "Whither shall I go from your Spirit? Or whither shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there!" This passage attributes the divine characteristic of omnipresence to the Holy Spirit, something that is not true of any of God's creatures. It seems that David is equating God's Spirit with God's presence. To go from God's Spirit is to go from his presence, but if there is
Varsity Press, 1981), pp. 339-40. For a definitive treatment of all the New Testament texts that refer to Jesus as "God," see Murray Harris, Jesus as God (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1992).
17 17. 1 Tim. 5:21 should not be seen as a counter example to this claim, for there Paul is simply warning Timothy in the presence of a host of heavenly witnesses, both divine and angelic, who he knows are watching Timothy's conduct. This is similar to the mention of God and Christ and the angels of heaven and the "spirits of just men made perfect" in Heb. 12:22-24, where a great heavenly assembly is mentioned. 1 Tim. 5:21 should therefore be seen as significantly different from the trinitarian passages mentioned above, since those passages speak of uniquely divine activities, such as distributing gifts to every Christian (1 Cor. 12:4-6) or having the name into which all believers are baptized (Matt. 28:19).
nowhere that David can flee from God's Spirit, then he knows that wherever he goes he will have to say, "You are there."
Paul attributes the divine characteristic of omniscience to the Holy Spirit in 1 Corinthians 2:10-11: "For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For what person knows a man's thoughts except the spirit of the man which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God [Gk., literally "the things of God'] except the Spirit of God."
Moreover, the activity of giving new birth to everyone who is born again is the work of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said, "unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, "You must be born anew"' (John 3:5-7). But the work of giving new spiritual life to people when they become Christians is something that only God can do (cf. 1 John 3:9, "born of God"). This passage therefore gives another indication that the Holy Spirit is fully God.
Up to this point we have two conclusions, both abundantly taught throughout Scripture:
1. God is three persons.
If the Bible taught only these two facts, there would be no logical problem at all in fitting them together, for the obvious solution would be that there are three Gods. The Father is fully God, the Son is fully God, and the Holy Spirit is fully God. We would have a system where there are three equally divine beings. Such a system of belief would be called polytheism—or, more specifically, "tritheism," or belief in three Gods. But that is far from what the Bible teaches.
3. There Is One God. Scripture is abundantly clear that there is one and only one God. The three different persons of the Trinity are one not only in purpose and in agreement on what they think, but they are one in essence, one in their essential nature. In other words, God is only one being. There are not three Gods. There is only one God.
One of the most familiar passages of the Old Testament is Deuteronomy 6:4-5 (NIV): "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength."
When Moses sings, "Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, terrible in glorious deeds, doing wonders?" (Ex. 15:11)
the answer obviously is "No one." God is unique, and there is no one like him and there can be no one like him. In fact, Solomon prays "that all the peoples of the earth may know that the Lord is God; there is no other" (1 Kings 8:60).
When God speaks, he repeatedly makes it clear that he is the only true God; the idea that there are three Gods to be worshiped rather than one would be unthinkable in the light of these extremely strong statements. God alone is the one true God and there is no one like him. When he speaks, he alone is speaking—he is not speaking as one God among three who are to be worshiped. He says: "I am the Lord, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; I gird you, though you do not know me, cf cf.—compare that men may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me; I am the Lord, and there is no other." (Isa. 45:5-6)
Similarly, he calls everyone on earth to turn to him: There is no other god besides me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none besides me. "Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other." (Isa. 45:21-22; cf. 44:6-8)
The New Testament also affirms that there is one God. Paul writes, "For there is one God and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus" (1 Tim. 2:5). Paul affirms that "God is one" (Rom. 3:30), and that "there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist" (1 Cor. 8:6).18 Finally, James acknowledges that even demons recognize that there is one God, even though their intellectual assent to that fact is not enough to save them: "You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder" (James 2:19). But clearly James affirms that one "does well" to believe that "God is one." 4. Simplistic Solutions Must All Deny One Strand of Biblical Teaching. We now have three statements, all of which are taught in Scripture:
1. God is three persons.
2. Each person is fully God.
Throughout the history of the church there have been attempts to come up with a simple solution to the doctrine of the Trinity by denying one or another of these statements. If someone denies the first statement then we are simply left with the fact that each of the persons named in Scripture (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) is God, and there is one God. But if we do not have to say that they are distinct persons, then there is an easy solution: these are just different names for one person who acts differently at different times. Sometimes this person calls himself Father, sometimes he calls himself Son, and sometimes he calls himself Spirit.19 We have no difficulty in understanding that, for in our own experience the same person can act at one time as a lawyer (for example), at another time as a father to his own children, and at another time as a son with respect to his parents: The same person is a lawyer, a father, and a son. But such a solution would deny the fact that the three persons are distinct individuals, that God the Father sends God the Son into the world, that the Son prays to the Father, and that the Holy Spirit intercedes before the Father for us.
18 18. 1 Cor. 8:6 does not deny that God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are also "God," but here Paul says that God the Father is identified as this "one God." Elsewhere, as we have seen, he can speak of God the Son and God the Holy Spirit as also "God." Moreover, in this same verse, he goes on to speak of "one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist." He is here using the word Lord in its full Old Testament sense of "Yahweh" as a name for God, and saying that this is the person through whom all things were created, thus affirming the full deity of Christ as well, but with a different name. Thus this verse affirms both the unity of God and the diversity of persons in God.
19 19. The technical name for this view is modalism, a heresy condemned in the ancient church: see discussion below.
Another simple solution might be found by denying the second statement that is, denying that some of the persons named in Scripture are really fully God. If we simply hold that God is three persons, and that there is one God, then we might be tempted to say that some of the "persons" in this one God are not fully God, but are only subordinate or created parts of God. This solution would be taken, for example, by those who deny the full deity of the Son (and of the Holy Spirit).20 But, as we saw above, this solution would have to deny an entire category of biblical teaching.
Finally, as we noted above, a simple solution could come by denying that there is one God. But this would result in a belief in three Gods, something clearly contrary to Scripture.
Though the third error has not been common, as we shall see below, each of the first two errors has appeared at one time or another in the history of the church and they still persist today in some groups.
5. All Analogies Have Shortcomings. If we cannot adopt any of these simple solutions, then how can we put the three truths of Scripture together and maintain the doctrine of the Trinity? Sometimes people have used several analogies drawn from nature or human experience to attempt to explain this doctrine. Although these analogies are helpful at an elementary level of understanding, they all turn out to be inadequate or misleading on further reflection. To say, for example, that God is like a three-leaf clover, which has three parts yet remains one clover, fails because each leaf is only part of the clover, and any one leaf cannot be said to be the whole clover. But in the Trinity, each of the persons is not just a separate part of God, each person is fully God. Moreover, the leaf of a clover is impersonal and does not have distinct and complex personality in the way each person of the Trinity does.
Others have used the analogy of a tree with three parts: the roots, trunk, and branches all constitute one tree. But a similar problem arises, for these are only parts of a tree, and none of the parts can be said to be the whole tree. Moreover, in this analogy the parts have different properties, unlike the persons of the Trinity, all of whom possess all of the attributes of God in equal measure. And the lack of personality in each part is a deficiency as well.
The analogy of the three forms of water (steam, water, and ice) is also inadequate because (a) no quantity of water is ever all three of these at the same time,21 (b) they have different properties or characteristics, (c) the analogy has nothing that corresponds to the fact that there is only one God (there is no such thing as "one water" or "all the water in the universe"), and (d) the element of intelligent personality is lacking.
Other analogies have been drawn from human experience. It might be said that the Trinity is something like a man who is both a farmer, the mayor of his town, and an elder in his church. He functions in different roles at different times, but he is one man. However, this analogy is very deficient because there is only one person doing these three activities at different times, and the analogy cannot deal with the personal interaction among the members of the Trinity. (In fact, this analogy simply teaches the heresy called modalism, discussed below.)
20 20. The technical name for this view is Arianism, another heresy condemned in the ancient church: see discussion below.
21 21. There is a certain atmospheric condition (called the "triple point" by chemists) at which steam, liquid water, and ice can all exist simultaneously, but even then the quantity of water that is steam is not ice or liquid, the quantity that is liquid is not steam or ice, etc.
Another analogy taken from human life is the union of the intellect, the emotions, and the will in one human person. While these are parts of a personality, however, no one factor constitutes the entire person. And the parts are not identical in characteristics but have different abilities.
So what analogy shall we use to teach the Trinity? Although the Bible uses many analogies from nature and life to teach us various aspects of God's character (God is like a rock in his faithfulness, he is like a shepherd in his care, etc.), it is interesting that Scripture nowhere uses any analogies to teach the doctrine of the Trinity. The closest we come to an analogy is found in the titles "Father" and "Son" themselves, titles that clearly speak of distinct persons and of the close relationship that exists between them in a human family. But on the human level, of course, we have two entirely separate human beings, not one being comprised of three distinct persons. It is best to conclude that no analogy adequately teaches about the Trinity, and all are misleading in significant ways.
6. God Eternally and Necessarily Exists as the Trinity. When the universe was created God the Father spoke the powerful creative words that brought it into being, God the Son was the divine agent who carried out these words (John 1:3; 1 Cor. 8:6; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:2), and God the Holy Spirit was active "moving over the face of the waters" (Gen. 1:2). So it is as we would expect: if all three members of the Trinity are equally and fully divine, then they have all three existed for all eternity, and God has eternally existed as a Trinity (cf. also John 17:5, 24). Moreover, God cannot be other than he is, for he is unchanging (see chapter 11 above). Therefore it seems right to conclude that God necessarily exists as a Trinity—he cannot be other than he is. C. Errors Have Come By Denying Any of the Three Statements
Summarizing the Biblical Teaching In the previous section we saw how the Bible requires that we affirm the following three statements:
1. God is three persons.
2. Each person is fully God.
Before we discuss further the differences between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and the way they relate to one another, it is important that we recall some of the doctrinal errors about the Trinity that have been made in the history of the church. In this historical survey we will see some of the mistakes that we ourselves should avoid in any further thinking about this doctrine. In fact, the major trinitarian errors that have arisen have come through a denial of one or another of these three primary
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