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Biblical Basis for the Doctrine of the Trinity
by Michael J. Ediger
Near the end of my ministry in Kentucky, just prior to moving to Denver, I wrote a series of three articles on the Holy Spirit for the church newsletter. The first of these articles dealt with the personhood of the Spirit and His place in the Trinity. This subject struck a nerve with one gentleman who received the newsletter, who was not a member of our congregation. He took it upon himself to "set me straight" on the subject and sent a copy of a paper he had written on the Holy Spirit. Over the next twelve months we corresponded, primarily debating the doctrine of the Trinity. He denied it; I affirmed it.
It is not my intention to do an in-depth study of the doctrine of the Trinity. To attempt such would be beyond the limits of this paper as well as futile, for finite man is incapable of fully understanding the triune nature of the infinite God (Isa 55:8-9; Job 11:7). My purpose is to present the Biblical evidence that supports the Trinity, thereby answering the question, "Does the Bible teach that there is one God who exists eternally in three Persons?" To accomplish this, I will deal primarily with the following hypotheses:
1) What does the Bible mean when it asserts that God is "one"?
2) Is the Father God?
3) Is Jesus (the Son) God?
4) Is the Holy Spirit a Person? Is He also God?
Several observations will of necessity be included under each of the above hypotheses in order to be as clear as possible in the space allowed for this study. Other issues, such as the relationship of the three members of the Godhead to one another and the eternal progression of the Holy Spirit, must be omitted for the purposes of this paper.
At the end of this study, I will relate the results and my conclusions specifically to the beliefs of the gentleman from Kentucky. His position will be proven false, and the Trinity proven Biblical.
1. What does the Bible mean when it asserts that God is "one"?
"Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one!"1 These words formed part of the Shemathe prayer each Jew recited twice daily. That Jehovah is the one true God is affirmed throughout the Bible. The Chronicler (2Chron 15:3), the Prophets (Isa 37:28; 43:18; Jer 18:16), the Evangelists (Mk 12:29-32; John 17:3) and Paul (1Cor 8:4-6; 1Tim 2:5) are among those who record this fact.
Jehovah Himself claimed to be the only God in Exodus 26:2-6. He would not tolerate the worship of any man-made objects (verses 4-5) because He alone is God, and therefore exclusively worthy of worship.
Yet, as will be shown, the Bible presents two others as Godthe man Jesus and the Holy Spirit. How do we harmonize this with the Shema, that "God is one?" The key is in understanding what is meant by the word "one."
Genesis 2:24 uses the same word. "For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh." Clearly, there are two people in this relationship. Yet Scripture says they "become one." One what? The obvious answer is, one unit (family). As such, they are one or single in purpose; but they remain two persons. It is the relationship between man and woman that provides us with the image for the one-ness of God.2
"Obviously, there is some sense in which two can be one, since man and woman are one flesh. Because God is one, it does not necessarily demand that He cannot also be two or three in another sense or respect."3 The relationship between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is similar to that of the man and woman in Genesis 2. All three are one or single-minded in purpose (e.g., John chapters 14 -16). They are three distinct Persons (as we shall see later), yet one is essence (e.g., John 10:30; 17:21ff).
Many illustrations of this tri-unity have been offered; but all fall short of perfectly picturing God's triune nature. For example, the family unit is one but made up of distinct personsfather, mother, and child. Another oft-used example is the one of water-ice-vapor, the three states of moisture. These help despite being inadequate.
All such man-made attempts to explain God's nature fail because the unity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit:
... is beyond the concepts we use to characterize the unity of people and things.... Some conception of the divine nature is available to us from divine operations, and God's works are believed to be faithful to God's essence. But our conceptions do not exhaust God's being nor enable us fully to comprehend it.4
Because of our finiteness, we do not claim to fully understand the Trinity; neither do we consider ourselves able to fully explain it. "Since the Trinity is without qualification the mystery of the faith, faith alone must provide the approach to the doctrine of the Trinity."5
By looking at the evidence from Scripture we can, by faith, accept it as God's truth. It is to that evidence we now turn.
II. Is the Father God?
Paul says in 1Cor 8:6, "there is but one God, the Father." This is the One to whom Jesus prayed in Gethsemane (John 17) and to whom He ascended (John 20:17).
That the Father is God is seen in Isaiah 63:16 and 64:8 in the Old Testament and in the following passages from the New Testament: 2Cor 1:3, Gal 1:1, Phil 2:11, Col 1:3, and 1Pet 1:2. Other passages such as Matt 6:8ff; 7:21, and 1Cor 11:3 also allude to this fact.
God the Father is shown as a distinct Person from the Son and the Holy Spirit at Jesus' baptism in Matt 3:16-17. "And after being baptized, Jesus went up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and He saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove, and coming upon Him, and behold, a voice out of the heavens, saying, 'This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased."
Similarly, the Father is distinct from the others in the baptismal formula of Matt 28:19, the Apostolic Benediction of 2Cor 13:14, and elsewhere (John 14:16,26; 15:26; Acts 2:32-33; 1Cor 12:4-7; and others).
The Bible clearly teaches the Father is God. This point is not usually debated. The problem some have with the Trinity begins with the Person of Jesus Christ.
III. Is Jesus (the Son) God?
That Jesus of Nazareth was an actual historical figure has been well-established by Josh McDowell in his book, Evidence That Demands a Verdict (volume 1).6 The information McDowell presents is quite sufficient to satisfy even the most skeptical person.
The question under consideration here has to do with Jesus' deity. If it can be established from the Bible that Jesus has the same divine nature as God the Father, then we must believe He also is GodGod the Son.
Gary Zeolla lists ten different ways in which the deity of Jesus Christ can be established.7 For our purposes, we will consider only a few of these.
Jesus is called God in several passages in the Bible. These include John 1:1; 20:28; Hebrews 1:8; Titus 2:13; 2 Peter 1:1; and 1John 5:26. Other passages, such as Romans 9:5; Philippians 2:6f; and Colossians 2:9, ascribe deity to Jesus, thereby showing Him to be God.
One of the verses most often used to prove Jesus is God is John 1:1. Jehovah's Witnesses claim this verse has been mistranslated and in their New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures have rendered the debated phrase, "and the Word was a god" instead of the more accepted, "and the Word was God." The construction of the phrase in Greek is theos en ho logos.
Robert Bowman writes in regards to this construction:
elsewhere in the New Testament, whenever the word theos is used in the same construction, it always clearly refers to the true God (Mark 12:27; Luke 20:38; John 8:54; Phil 2:13; Heb 1:16). Thus, the fact that the Word is called theos in John 1:1 in this construction does not make him any less God than the Father.8
Another oft-used text is John 20:28, Thomas's declaration, "My Lord and my God!" Some (like the JWs) try to explain this away by claiming Thomas was using the expression, "My God!" in the same way it is carelessly used today, as an exclamation of astonishment. But this is hardly the case. As Bowman points out, such use was "virtually unknown in Thomas's culture. First-century Judaism regarded any [such] careless or thoughtless use of the words Lord and God as bordering on blasphemy."9
Also, the text Specifically says, "Thomas answered and said to Him" (i.e. Jesus). So Thomas was speaking to Jesus, not making an exclamation.
Although He did not come right out and say, "I am God," Jesus did claim to be God. The prime example is found in John 8:58, where Jesus said to the Jews, "Truly, truly I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am." Here, Jesus echoes the very words of God to Moses (Exod 3:14; see also Deut 32:39; Isa 43:10). The following verse (v. 59) tells us that the Jews "picked up stones to throw at him." Why? Because they understood Jesus' words as a "claim to the divine name, and hence to the divine nature and eternity ."10
Further, that Jesus is God is shown by the attributes and acts ascribed to both Jehovah and Jesus. Both are eternal (John 1:1; 17:5; Mic 5:2; Heb 1:11), omnipresent (Ps 139:7-16; Jer 23:23-24; Matt 28:2o; Eph 1:23), omniscient (John 1:48; 2:25; 6:64; Col 2:3), and omnipotent (Matt 28:18; Heb 1:3).
Both are confessed as Lord (Isa 45:23; Phil 2:11) and worshipped by angels (Ps 148:2; Heb 1:6) as well as by people (the Psalms; John 4:21-24; Matt 28:17). Both are called Savior (Isa 43:11; 45:22; John 4:42), Judge (Joel 3:12; John 5:27), and Redeemer (Hos 13:14; Rev 5:9; 21:2).
To Jesus are also ascribed the works of God: creation (John 1:3; Col 1:16), preservation (Col 1:17), providence (Heb 1:3), forgiveness of sins (Mk 2:5-11; Luke 5:20-24), and even raising the dead (John 5:21).
Three titles used of Jesus in the New Testament indicate His divinity: God (John 1:1; 20:28); Son of God (John 5:18f; 1John 4:15; Heb 1:3), and Lord (Rom 1:9; Phil 2:9-11; Heb 1:10; Rev 19:16). All three "connote divinity in some NT literature, the latter especially because of the powerful associations derived from its use for adonay in the LXX [Septuagint]."11
This sample of the Scriptural teaching concerning the Person of Jesus Christ should be enough to convince the seeker of truth that Jesus, the Son, is God. There is no other logical conclusion. This is the witness of the Bible.
IV. Is the Holy Spirit a Person? Is He also God?
Perhaps the most controversial point of the doctrine of the Trinity has to do with the Holy Spirit. It is two-fold: 1) Does the Bible teach that the Holy Spirit is a Person? and 2) does the Bible teach the deity of the Spirit (is He God)?
That the Holy Spirit is a Person is easily established from Scripture. Occasionally the writers of the Old Testament "ascribe personal activities and moods to the Spirit (Gen 6:3; 2 Sam 23:2; Neh 9:20; Isa 34:16; 63:10)."12
Throughout the New Testament characteristics of persons are ascribed to the Spirit. The Holy Spirit leads people (Matt 4:1; John 16:13; Rom 8:14), speaks (John 16:13-14; Acts 4:25; 11:12; 1Tim 4:1; Heb 3:7), bears witness or testifies (John 15:26; Acts 20:23; Rom 8:16; 1John 5:7,8), teaches (Luke 12:12; John 14:16; 1Cor 2:13), and has a mind and can reason (Acts 15:28; Rom 8:27; 1Cor 2:11).
The Holy Spirit can be blasphemed (Matt 12:31-32), lied to (Acts 5:3-4), and grieved (Eph 4:36). Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit (Matt 1:18, 26; cf. Luke 1:35). Paul and Barnabas were "sent out" by the Holy Spirit (Acts 13:4; cf. v.2). Paul was forbidden to go to Asia by the Holy Spirit (Acts 16:6,7). All these things can hardly be said of a thing; they are all true of a person. Logic dictates that the Holy Spirit is a Person.
Further proof of the Spirit's personhood can be seen in Jesus promise to send "another Helper" (John 14:16). In 1John 2:1, Jesus is said to be our Helper, or Advocate. The same title is applied to the Spirit in John 14:16 (the Greek word is the same). If one (Jesus) is a Person, we would expect the other (the Holy Spirit) to be a Person, too. Later in John 14:26, Jesus says the Spirit will be sent in Him name. Normally a person sends another person -not a thing - in his name.
It should be clear from this evidence that the Holy Spirit is not a mere impersonal force (contra the JWs and other cults), but a personal being.
That the Holy Spirit possesses deity can also be easily determined from Scripture. He is ascribed the attributes of deity: eternity (Heb 9:14), omniscience (1Cor 2:10,11; John 14:26; 16:12,13), omnipotence (Luke 1:35), and omnipresence (Ps 139:7-10).
The Holy Spirit is said to do the divine works of God: creation (Ps 104:30; Gen 1:2; Job 33:4), regeneration (John 3:5), the inspiration of Scripture (2 Pet 1:21), and the raising of the dead (Rom 8:11). Several other passages consider the words and works of the Spirit to be the same as those of God (Lev 16:1-34; cp. Heb 9:7f; Isa 6:8-10; cp. Acts 28:25-27; and Jer 31:33,34; cp. Heb 10:15-17).
The Holy Spirit is called God (Acts 5:3,4; 2Cor 3:17,18) and the context of Hebrews 3:7 seems to indicate that the Spirit is God. Other passages which speak of the "Spirit of God" or "Spirit of Christ" (and other like terms) also indicate the deity of the Spirit.
The logical conclusion is there is a third Person called God in the Bible: God the Holy Spirit.
V. Three Distinct Persons
Although the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all called God, they are always distinguished from one another. The Father is not the Son; neither is the Son the Father. The Holy Spirit is distinct from both the Father and the Son.
The distinction between Father and Son is seen in such passages as Matthew 11:27; John 5:20, 22; 14:16; and Matthew 27:46. Luke makes this distinction in Luke 23:34,46, Stephen in Acts 7:55, and Peter in 1Peter 1:3.
That the Holy Spirit is a distinct Person from the Father and the Son is seen in Isaiah 48:16; Matthew 3:16,17; John 14:16,26; 15:26; 16:7-15; and Acts 1:4,5.
All three Persons of the Trinity are mentioned together in the triadic formulas of the New Testament (Matt 28:19; Rom 14:17,18; Gal 3:11-14; 4:6; 2Cor 1:21 22; 3:3; 13:14; 1Peter 1:2).
The evidence from the Bible sets forth three divine PersonsFather, Son, and Holy Spiritas one God, not three Gods (John 10:30; 14:16-23; Rom 8:9; 1Cor 2:11). Therefore, the doctrine of the Trinity is without doubt a Scriptural doctrine.
Only trinitarianism affirms the deity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, as taught in the Scriptures. Only it affirms that Jesus is the Son of God, fully human and fully divine. Only trinitarianism affirms the personhood and deity of the Holy Spirit as set forth in the Bible. Therefore, only the doctrine of the Trinitythat God is one substance or essence but three Persons"preserves the oneness and uniqueness of God" evident throughout the Bible.13
The gentleman from Kentucky ("Apollos") agrees that the Father is God. Like others who deny the Trinity, his problems begin with the Person of Jesus Christ.
In his reply to my letter of December 24, 1998, "Apollos" finally answered my question, "Do you believe that Jesus Christ is God?" He stated, "No, Jesus Christ is not God; He is the Son of God." In spite of the proof I offered, this man refused to acknowledge Jesus is God.
"Apollos" believes that the Holy Spirit is the Bible or the Word of God. He stated, "Simply speaking, the Spirit is the Word of God, the truth."14 His two favorite proof texts are Ephesians 6:17 and I John 5:7both obviously taken out of context and severely misinterpreted! Further proof of his belief could be documented from several other of his writings, but this statement is a fair representation of his doctrine of the Holy Spirit.
"Apollos" clearly does not believe that: 1) Jesus Christ is God; 2) the Holy Spirit is a Person; and 3) the Holy Spirit is God. His beliefs concerning the doctrine of the Trinity are clearly seen in his essay, "The Holy Spirit (Ghost)." - And his beliefs parallel those of the Jehovahs Witnesses in several respects.
It doesn't take a seminary-educated Christian familiar with the Bible to see that "Apollos" is in opposition to the plain Biblical truth of the Trinity.
As C.S. Lewis observed:
If Christianity was something we were making up, of course we could make it easier. But it isn't. We can't compete, in simplicity, with people who are inventing religions. How could we? We're dealing with Fact. Of course anyone can be simple if he has no facts to bother about!15
It seems, from my correspondence with him, that "Apollos" does not like to deal with Fact. He would rather invent his own religion. And because of this, I pray for him.
Although this paper was originally written in answer to "Apollos"' theology, it applies equally to any and all cults and/or individuals who deny the Biblical doctrine of the Trinity. In the past several months, I have been in contact with many who deny this essential doctrine of the Christian faith, and I offer this brief study in its defense.
C. S. Lewis' observation quoted above is so very true! The God of the Bible is NOT some man-made icon who is easily understood. Rather, He reveals Himself in the pages of Scripture as a very complex God--yet One with whom we can and indeed must have a close, personal relationship. The prophet Isaiah records God as saying, "For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are My ways your ways" (55:8). We will never fully understand the triune God of the Bible until we stand face-to-face.
If we are true to the Biblical record, and deal with the FACTS, as has been done in this paper, we can come to no other logical conclusion than has been stated above. Any conclusion to the contrary is the result of "inventing religions" by twisting the sacred Scriptures to say something it does not say.
May the honest seeker of truth deal with the FACTS of Scripture as presented in this paper.
Books and eBooks by Gary F. Zeolla, the Director of Darkness to Light
1 Deut 6:4. Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotes taken from: New American Standard Bible. La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1977.
2 Diogenes Allen, Philosophy for Understanding Theology (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1985), pp. 104-105. This is not to say, however, that God is a "family" in the way some cultists would have us believe (e.g., Herbert W. Armstrong and his "disciples").
3 David L. Hocking. The Nature of God in Plain Language (Waco: Word, 1984), p. 68.
4 Allen, p., 101.
5 Walter Kasper, The God of Jesus Christ (New York: Crossroad Pub. Co., 1984), p. 273.
6 Josh McDowell. Evidence That Demands a Verdict (San Bernardino: Here's Life Publishers, 1972), pp. 81-87.
7 See the Scripture Study, The Doctrine of the Trinity found in my Scripture Workbook.
8 Robert M. Bowman, Jr. Why You Should Believe in the Trinity (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1989), p. 93.
9 Ibid., p. 96.
10 E. Calvin Beisner. God in Three Persons (Wheaton: Tyndale, 1984), 33.
11 Geoffrey W. Bromiley, ed. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988), s.v. "Trinity," by Cornelius Plantinga, Jr., p. 915.
12 Ibid., p.915.
13 Bowman, p. 135.
14 "Apollos," "The Holy Spirit (Ghost)," n.d.
15 Cited in Bowman, pp. 138-1 39.
The above article was posted on this Web site June 15, 1999.
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