"Unity without verity is no better than conspiracy." - John Trapp

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Questions on the Godhead - Part 1

UPCI Attack on the Trinity

Why This Study:


In our Sunday morning Bible study we are working our way through John's Gospel, which tells us a lot about the relationship that exists within the Trinity. From John's opening statement he is telling us about that relationship. This week (7/2/06) we have come to John 5:19-29, where Jesus is responding to the Jews who have realized He is claiming equality with the Father.

In preparation for this study, I was reviewing some ancient and modern heresies related to the Trinity. During a Google search, I came across 60 Questions on the Godhead from the United Pentecostal Church International. This is one of the leading "Oneness" groups in the world today. The 60 Questions are a clear attack on the Christian doctrine of the Trinity.

As I have written earlier, the current evangelical attitude toward doctrine in general is sad, but that we are not willing to stand up for such a core doctrine of Christianity says to me we have truly lost our foundation. If you are one that thinks that we should try to get along and not emphasizes differences, "60 Questions" makes it clear that the other side does not agree with you. Historically, neither has the Christian church. One of the strongest early church statements on the Trinity is the Athanasian Creed, which states (in part):

And the catholic faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the persons nor dividing the substance. For there is one person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Spirit.

"Catholic" here means universal and should not be confused with "Roman Catholic," although they would affirm the Athanasian Creed.

Beginning the Study:

So, I will spend a number of posts responding to the "60 Questions" over the next (I expect) several weeks. I may post on other topics periodically (I had some things in mind before I found this) but this will take priority. Let's begin:

Question 1. Is the word trinity in the Bible? No.

Question 2. Does the Bible say that there are three persons in the Godhead? No.

Question 3. Does the Bible speak of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost? Yes.

What is apparent immediately is that this document is designed as an assault on the Christian church's understanding of who God is - the Trinity. Obviously, we would all agree on question 3, that the Bible speaks of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is questions 1 and 2 that are the issue.

It is correct that the word "Trinity" is not found in the Bible. The Greek "trias" is first used between 150 and 200 A.D. Tertullian uses the Latin term "trinitas" around 220 A.D. This is no late invention. A. A. Hodge (Outlines of Theology) notes that such terms "have been made particularly essential because of the sub– perversions of the simple, untechnical Biblical statements by infidels and heretics." Or, in other words, it is one thing to say what the Bible says, but another thing to mean what the Bible means. Therefore, Paul has to warn us that there will come false teachers using Jesus' name, but they will teach about "another Jesus" (2 Corinthians 11:4).

The question is not whether the word is found in the Bible, but "is the doctrine of the Trinity found in the Bible?" What does the Bible say about who the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are? We can argue over terminology, but the real question is the meaning that those terms convey. Speaking literally, no English words are found in the Scriptures. If we want to be truly Biblical in our language, we must use Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic. So, question 1 is a red herring and not really relevant to the discussion.

As for question 2, whether the Bible says there are three persons in the Godhead, we need to look at the Scriptures themselves. The key text in establishing the relationship between the Father and the Son is John 1:1. This critical verse is cited just once in the "60 Questions" and even then the Father is not mentioned in the question.

John 1:1 states: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." (KJV/NASB/ESV) John later (1:14) states that the Word became flesh, so that we know that we are talking about Jesus in 1:1. What John says that is true of Jesus is that He "was with" God and He "was" God. In other words, there is a sense in which the Word is to be distinct from God (the Father) and a sense in which He is to be identified as God. If that doesn't make your brain ache a little, you haven't really thought about it. There are other verses that we will look at in this study, but this verse is sufficient to establish that the Word is eternally distinct from the Father, and yet one with Him.

A Classic Trinitarian Statement:

I will end this post with a classic statement on the Trinity from the Belgic Confession (mid to late 16th Century).

God Is One in Essence, Yet Distinguished in Three Persons
According to this truth and this Word of God, we believe in one only God, who is the one single essence, in which are three persons, really, truly, and eternally distinct according to their incommunicable properties; namely, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The Father is the cause, origin, and beginning of all things visible and invisible; the Son is the word, wisdom, and image of the Father; the Holy Spirit is the eternal power and might, proceeding from the Father and the Son. Nevertheless, God is not by this distinction divided into three, since the Holy Scriptures teach us that the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit have each His personality, distinguished by Their properties; but in such wise that these three persons are but one only God.
Hence, then, it is evident that the Father is not the Son, nor the Son the Father, and likewise the Holy Spirit is neither the Father nor the Son. Nevertheless, these persons thus distinguished are not divided, nor intermixed; for the Father has not assumed the flesh, nor has the Holy Spirit, but the Son only. The Father has never been without His Son, or without His Holy Spirit. For They are all three co-eternal and co-essential. There is neither first nor last; for They are all three one, in truth, in power, in goodness, and in mercy.

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