Friday, August 3, 2018

Guest Post: The Trinity

Many Christians are at a loss to understand, much less to defend, the "Trinity." Critics argue that that word is not even found in the Bible. To deal with that issue, we must begin with God, as the Bible itself does. There are two general concepts of God: (1) pantheism/naturalism, that the universe itself is God; and (2) supernaturalism, that the Creator is distinct from His creation. Within these are two more opposing views: (1) polytheism, that there are many gods; and (2) monotheism, that there is only one true God.
Monotheism itself is divided into two rival beliefs: (1) that God is a single being; and (2) that God has always existed in three Persons who are separate and distinct yet One. Obviously, Christians are the only ones who hold the latter view—and even some who call themselves Christians reject it. Yet it is the only logically and philosophically coherent view of God possible.
Pantheism has the same fatal flaws as atheism. If everything is God, to be God has lost all meaning and so nothing is God. The problems with polytheism are equally obvious. There is no real God who is in charge, so the many gods fight wars and steal one another's wives. There's no basis for morals, truth or peace in heaven or earth. Polytheism's basic problem is diversity without unity.
The belief that God is a single being is held by both Muslims and Jews, who insist that Allah and Jehovah are single entities. It is also held by pseudo-Christian cults such as the Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons—and by various aberrant Christian groups who also deny the deity of Christ. Some Pentecostals claim that God is a single being and that Father, Son and Holy Spirit are God's three "titles" or "offices." Here we have unity without diversity.
That God must have both unity and diversity is clear. The Allah of Islam and the Jehovah of Jehovah's Witnesses and Jews, for instance, is incomplete in himself, unable to experience love, fellowship and communion before creating beings with whom he could have these experiences. The Bible says that "God is love." But the God of Islam and Judaism could not be love in and of himself—for whom could he love when he was alone before creation?
This belief that God is a single entity (Unitarianism) and not three Persons existing eternally in one God (Trinitarianism) was first formulated in the early church around A.D. 220. by a Libyan theologian named Sabellius. He attempted to retain biblical language concerning Father, Son and Holy Spirit without acknowledging the triune nature of God. Sabellius claimed that God existed as a single Being who manifested Himself in three activities, modes or aspects: as Father in the creation, as Son in redemption, and as Holy Spirit in prophecy and sanctification. This heresy, though condemned by the vast majority of Christians, survives to this day.
The Bible presents a God who did not need to create any beings to experience love, communion and fellowship. This God is complete in Himself, being three Persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, separate and distinct, yet at the same time eternally one God. They loved and communed and fellowshiped with each other and took counsel together before the universe, angels or man were brought into existence. Isaiah "heard the voice of the Lord [in eternity past] saying, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" (Isa:6:8). Moses revealed the same counseling together of the Godhead: "And God said, Let usmake man in our image, after our likeness"; and again, "Let us go down, and there confound their language" (Gen:1:26;11:7). Who is this "us" if God is a single entity? Why does God say, "The man is become as one of us" (Gen:3:22)?
Moreover, if God is a single Being, then why is the plural Hebrew noun elohim (literally "gods") used for God repeatedly? In fact, this plural noun is in the center of Israel's famous confession of the oneness of God! The Shema declares, "Hear, O Israel, The Lord our God is one Lord" (Deut 6:4; Mk 12:29). In the Hebrew it reads, "Jehovah our elohim [gods] is one [echad] Jehovah." The Hebrew word echad allows for a unity of more than one. For example, it is used in Genesis:2:24 where man and woman become one flesh; in Exodus:36:13 when the various parts "became one tabernacle"; in 2 Samuel:2:25 when many soldiers "became one troop"; and elsewhere.
Nor is the word elohim the only way in which God's plurality is presented. For example: Psalm:149:2, "Let Israel rejoice in him that made him" (literally "makers"); Ecclesiastes:12:1, "Remember now thy Creator (lit. "creators"); and Isaiah:54:5, "For thy Maker is thine husband (lit. "makers, husbands"). Unitarianism has no explanation for this consistent presentation of God's plurality all through the Old Testament. Although the word "trinity" does not occur in the Bible, the concept is clearly there, providing the unity and diversity which makes possible the love, fellowship and communion within the Godhead. Truly the trinitarian God is love—and He alone.
Jesus said, "The Father loveth the Son and hath given all things into his hand" (Jn:3:35). God's love is not just toward mankind but first of all among the three Persons of the Godhead. And three Personsthey must be. Father, Son and Holy Spirit can't be mere offices, titles or modes in which God manifests Himself, for such cannot love, consult and fellowship together. Not only the Son is presented as a Person, but so are the Father and the Holy Spirit. The Bible presents each as having His own personality: each wills, acts, loves, cares, can be grieved or become angry. "Offices" or "titles" don't do that! Unitarianism isn't biblical—and it robs the Godhead of the necessary qualities of true Deity.
Godhead? Is that a biblical term? Yes, indeed. It occurs three times in the King James New Testament in Acts:17:29Romans:1:20, and Colossians:2:9. In contrast to theos, which is used consistently throughout the New Testament for "God," three different but related Greek words occur in these verses (theios, theiotes, theotes), which the King James translators (here's another reason for preferring the KJV!) carefully designated by the special word, Godhead. That very term indicates a plurality of being. Paul wrote, "In him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily" (Col:2:9). Did he simply mean that in Christ dwelt all the fullness of Himself? That would be like saying that in me dwells all the fullness of me. Well, of course it does—so why say it, and what does it really mean? Nothing!
Does it simply mean that in Christ dwells all the fullness of Deity as non-KJV translations render it? That, too, would be redundant—or it would detract from the deity of Christ. For if Christ is intrinsically God, then what is the point of saying that "in Him dwells all the fullness of deity"? Of course it does! But if Christ is the Son and there are two other persons in the Godhead, then it does mean something. It means that just as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one God, so when the Son became man He brought that fullness of the Godhead with Him into flesh.
In Romans:1:20 Paul argues that God's "eternal power and Godhead" are seen in the creation He made. God's eternal power—but His Godhead? Yes, as Dr. Wood pointed out years ago in The Secret of the Universe, the triune nature of God is stamped on His creation. The cosmos is divided into three: space, matter and time. Each of these is divided into three. Space, for instance, is composed of length, breadth and width, each separate and distinct in itself, yet the three are one. Length, breadth and width are not three spaces, but three dimensions comprising one space. Run enough lines lengthwise and you take in the whole. But so it is with the width and height. Each is separate and distinct, yet each is all of space—just as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is each God.
Time also is a trinity: past, present and future—two invisible and one visible. Each is separate and distinct, yet each is the whole. Man himself is a triunity of spirit, soul and body, two of which are invisible, one visible. Many more details could be given of the Godhead's triunity reflected in the universe. It can hardly be coincidence.
The Hebrew word elohim (gods) occurs about 2,500 times in the Old Testament, while the singular form occurs only250 times and most of those designate false gods. Genesis:1:1 reads, "In the beginning, elohim created the heaven and the earth"; i.e., literally, "gods created the heaven and the earth." Though a single noun is available, yet the plural form is consistently used for God. And in violation of grammatical rules, with few exceptions, singular verbs and pronouns are used with this plural noun. Why?
At the burning bush it was elohim (gods) who spoke to Moses. Yet elohim did not say, "We are that we are," but "I AM THAT I AM" (Ex 3:14). One cannot escape the fact that, all through the Bible, God is presented as a plurality and yet as One, as having both diversity and unity. This is unique among all the world's religions! To reject the Trinity is to reject the God of the Bible.
The New Testament presents three Persons who are distinct, yet each is recognized as God. At the same time we have repeatedly the clear statement that there is only one true God. Christ prays to the Father. Is He praying to Himself? "The Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world" (1 Jn:4:14). Did He send Himself? Worse yet, did one "office" pray to and send a "title"? Father, Son and Holy Spirit each has distinct functions, yet each works only in conjunction with the others. Christ said, "The words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself [on my own initiative]: but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works" (Jn:14:10); "I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another comforter...even the Spirit of truth" (Jn:14:16-17). Throughout the New Testament, Father, Son and Holy Spirit are each separately honored and act as God, yet only in concert with one another.
The Old Testament also presents three Persons in the Godhead interacting. For example: "Hearken unto me, O Jacob and Israel, my called; I am he; I am the first, I also am the last. Mine hand also hath laid the foundation of the earth, and my right hand hath spanned the heavens....From the time that it was, there am I: and now the Lord God, and his Spirit, hath sent me" (Isa:48:12-16). The One speaking through Isaiah refers to Himself as "the first and the last" and the Creator of all, so He must be God. But He speaks of two others in the same passage who must also be God: "the Lord God, and his Spirit, hath sent me." Jesus presented a similar passage to the Pharisees (Mat:22:41-46) when He asked them who the Messiah was, and they said, "The Son of David." He then quoted, "The Lord said unto my Lord, sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool" (Ps:110:1). Then Jesus asked them, "If David then call him Lord, how is he his son?" The Pharisees were speechless. Unitarianism cannot explain these two "Lords."
It is a mystery how God can exist in three Persons yet be one God; but it is also a mystery how God could have no beginning and create everything out of nothing. We can't understand what a human soul or spirit is. Nor can we explain love or beauty or justice. It is beyond human capacity to comprehend the full nature of God's being. But neither can we understand what it means for us or anything else to exist—nor can we comprehend what space is or what time is or matter is. For every door science opens, there are ten more unopened doors on the other side. The more we learn, the more rapidly the unknown expands before us like receding images in a hall of mirrors. The Jehovah's Witnesses and other Unitarians argue that because the Trinity can't be understood it can't be. But the fact that it is beyond human comprehension is no reason for rejecting what the Bible so consistently presents to us. God is telling us about Himself so we can believe in and know Him. We dare not reject what He says or lower it to the level of our finite minds. TBC
By Dave Hunt