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

Monday, July 03, 2006

Questions on the Godhead - Part 2

This post continues my response to the United Pentecostal Church's "60 Questions on the Godhead." In that post, I discussed the need to defend the orthodox understanding of the Trinity and dealt with the first three of the 60 questions.

Now let's look at questions 4-7:

Question 4. Do these titles as used in Matthew 28:19 mean that there are three separate and distinct persons in the Godhead? No, they refer to three offices, roles, or relationship to humanity.

Actually, the verse ("Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" - ESV) establishes the basic equality of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but it does not address offices, roles, or relationships, either to humanity or within the Godhead. Just because the verse does not address personhood does not mean it rejects personhood. So while the verse has something to say with the dispute between orthodoxy and Arianism, it does not address the issues in the dispute between orthodoxy and a "Oneness" view of God.

5. Does the Bible use the word three in reference to God? Only one verse in the entire Bible does so-I John 5:7. It speaks of the Father, the Word (instead of Son), and the Holy Ghost, and it concludes by saying, "These three are one."

6. Does the Bible use the word one in reference to God? Yes, many times. For example, see Zechariah 14:9; Malachi 2:10; Matthew 23:9; Mark 12:29, 32; John 8:41; 10:30; Romans 3:30; I Corinthians 8:4; Galatians 3:20; I Timothy 2:5; James 2:19.

The Bible and the orthodox understanding of the Trinity place a great deal of emphasis on the essential unity of God. God is one. This is the great proclamation of the "Shema" of Israel - "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one." (Deuteronomy 6:4 ESV) So we have no issues with the statements about God being one.

In question 5, the reference to 1 John 5:7 is questionable as the earliest manuscripts do not include the reference to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (the link compares the ESV and KJV renderings of the verse). However, if the UPCI wants to keep the verse, I'm all for it as the formulation "the three are one" is a decent summary of Trinitarian belief. This concluding statement does not, as the UPCI wants to imply, support a "Oneness" understanding of God. After all, Oneness claims there is no difference at all, so to say that three testify in Heaven supports a Trinitarian understanding. However, I don't feel that we can base our doctrine on a disputed reading. Fortunately, I don't think we need to base the doctrine of the Trinity on this verse as many other places in Scripture support it.

7. Can the mystery of the Godhead be understood? Yes. Romans 1:20; Colossians 2:9; I Timothy 3:16.

This is a critical question, because as Trinitarians we have to fall back to mystery when we discuss how God can be one in essence yet three in person. We affirm this is what the Scripture teaches, but we cannot explain. We rest on the fact that God is infinite and we are finite. It is akin to asking how Jesus can be both fully God and fully man. I say that the Scriptures teach this, but I cannot fully explain it. The UPCI here is saying that Trinitarians cannot appeal to mystery as the Bible claims that the Godhead can be understood.

Let's deal with the last two Scripture references first, because I think the Romans passage is the more interesting. I see no application to the question about mystery for Colossians 2:9 ("For in him [Jesus] the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily" - ESV). Trinitarian's affirm this, but it says nothing about whether we can fully understand the Godhead. It simply states that Jesus is fully divine. Likewise, 1 Timothy 3:16 ("Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory." - ESV) discusses "the mystery of godliness" ("how one ought to behave in the household of God" - v. 15) but does not deal with the comprehensibility of God.

Romans 1:20 ("For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse." - ESV) does tell us that we can know things about God. Specifically in this verse that we can know about God's power - the more we understand about the universe, the greater we see His power to be - and His divine nature. We do understand many things about God, even beyond what is stated here. We know that He is holy, that He is just, that He is loving, etc. We can even know that God's divine nature is that God exists as three persons but one essence.

So what does the Bible say about what we do not understand? Psalm 145:3 declares that God's greatness is unsearchable. There is much about God that I cannot know or explain. Isaiah (40:18) asks to what likeness we will compare God, with the answer being none, because nothing in creation can compare. So we cannot compare God to man in the saying that one essence requires that there be only one person. 1 Corinthians 13:12 tells us that our knowledge now is but in part. One day, when we have been glorified, we will know much more, but we have a distinctly limited understanding now. And of course, my favorite verse, Deuteronomy 29:29 tells us that there are things we don't know and more, that we don't need to know them. They are God's alone.

So, can we know something about God? Obviously, the answer is yes, because He has revealed Himself to us. Trinitarians obviously believe we know enough about God to believe that He exists as the great Three in One. But does that eliminate mystery? Certainly not. We are finite and fallen. We are incapable of understanding God completely. In the end our understanding fails us and we must join with Paul in doxology:

"Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! 'For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?' 'Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?' For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen." (Romans 11:33-36 ESV)

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