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

Friday, August 04, 2006

Questions on the Godhead - Part 9 - Trinitarianism

This is the concluding post in my look at the UPCI's 60 Questions on the Godhead. I've come to just a few concluding questions, which will allow me to discuss the Trinitarian understanding of the nature of God. But before that, I'm going to begin with a quote from the Commentary on the Baptist Faith and Message 2000, written by the staff of Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville (just down the road apiece). The opening section on God was written by Dr. Danny Akin. Regarding God as Trinity, Dr. Akin writes:

Our God is also utterly unique from the theological conceptions of all other religions, for the Bible reveals him to be a Trinity of three eternal persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and yet still one — a unity.

Indeed the biblical witness is clear: whatever it is that constitutes God as God, the Father is all of this, the Son is all of this and the Holy Spirit is all of this. But, there is still only one God, distinct in person “but without division of nature, essence or being.”

Today I seek to affirm this statement as the Biblical presentation of the nature of God.

UPCI Questions:

Question 46. If God and the Holy Ghost are two separate persons, which was the Father of Christ? Matthew 1:20 says that the Holy Ghost was the Father, while Romans 15:6, II Corinthians 11:31, and Ephesians 1:3 say that God was the Father. There is no contradiction when we realize that God the Father and the Holy Ghost are one and the same Spirit. Matthew 10:20; Ephesians 4:4; I Corinthians 3:16.

Scriptures cited:
  1. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 1:20 ESV)
  2. that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 15:6 ESV)
  3. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, he who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying. (2 Corinthians 11:31 ESV)
  4. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, (Ephesians 1:3 ESV)
  5. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. (Matthew 10:20 ESV)
  6. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— (Ephesians 4:4 ESV)
  7. Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? (1 Corinthians 3:16 ESV)
This question highlights one area where a Oneness view of God is deficient. In Oneness theology, God is on the Father of Jesus only in a physical sense. Jesus is not eternally God's son, but is only the Son of God through the incarnation. But Jesus is not merely the Son of God through the incarnation. Jesus has eternally been with the Father - In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1 ESV) As I mentioned in an earlier post, John 1:1 is little used by those who hold to a Oneness view because of what it states. Jesus is not merely a physical manifestation of God, He is the eternal "Logos" (Word) that was with God, and was God.

Not only this, but He humbled Himself and became a servant - who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. (Philippians 2:6-7 ESV) There are two things I want us to look at in these two verses, though there is so much wonderful truth here. Both relate to the pre-existence of Jesus as God the Son. First, notice that Paul is referencing a past time, Jesus "was in the form of God." But He did not grasp at "equality with God." There is the "with" word again. He, Jesus, had equality with God, but did not cling to that equality. While the "emptying" described in Philippians 2 is difficult to understand, I think the key is our second point. While Jesus had been eternally equal with the Father, He was willing to veil His glory and majesty in human flesh. Jesus was in the form of God, but He became the likeness of men. Paul is echoing John here that "the Word was with God . . . and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us." (John 1:1, 14)

The Holy Spirit, on the other hand, is the active Person of the Trinity in the act of the incarnation. The Spirit comes on Mary to cause her to be with Child, the incarnate Word. But to call the Holy Spirit Jesus' Father would be an error. The pregnancy of Mary has more in common with God's creation of man and woman than in the human procreation act.

UPCI Questions:

Question 55. Does the Bible call the Holy Ghost a second or third person in the Godhead? No. The Holy Ghost is the one Spirit of God, the one God Himself at work in our lives. John 4:24; I Corinthians 3:16-17; 6:19; 12:13.

Scriptures cited:
  1. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth. (John 4:24 ESV)
  2. Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple. (1 Corinthians 3:16-17 ESV)
  3. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, (1 Corinthians 6:19 ESV)
  4. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:13 ESV)
The question is correct that the Bible nowhere uses the term second or third person of the Godhead to describe the Holy Spirit. However, as I have mentioned before, what is important is to mean what the Bible means. So what does the Bible teach us about the Holy Spirit. First, that the Spirit is another helper - And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, (John 14:16 ESV). Let us consider this for a moment. The Father had sent the Son to save us, and once that salvation was complete, God could send another Helper. Notice that the Spirit is not merely the same helper in a different form, but another Helper.

Second, there is indeed a basic equality between the Son and the Spirit. Jesus says in this same discourse that the Spirit will be in us, but also that the Father and He Himself [Jesus] will be with us. John 14 reveals much to us about the relationships that exist between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. So, just as Jesus is with God yet is God, so the Spirit is another, and yet the same.

UPCI Questions:

Question 56. Can Trinitarians show that three divine persons were present when Jesus was baptized by John? Absolutely not. The one, omnipresent God used three simultaneous manifestations. Only one divine person was present--Jesus Christ the Lord.

Question 57. Then what were the other two of whom Trinitarians speak? One was a voice from heaven; the other was the Spirit of God in the form of a dove. Matthew 3:16-17.

Question 58. What did the voice say at Jesus' baptism? "Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." Mark 1:11. As the Son of God, Jesus was the one God incarnate.

Scriptures cited:
  1. And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:16-17 ESV)
  2. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:11 ESV)
The baptism of Jesus is the first instance in time when all three persons of the Trinity are made manifest to creation. It is not, as the UPCI asserts, just that the One God is seen in three manifestations, but each person of the Trinity is manifested. This is not the only time the Three are mentioned together. In Matthew 28:19 we read "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." (Matthew 28:19 ESV) In Ephesians 1:3-14 we are told how each of the Persons works for our salvation. A shorter version of this can be read in 1 Peter 1:1-2.

The voice from heaven, then, is the Father (He refers to Jesus as "my beloved Son") and the dove is the Holy Spirit (And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. - John 1:32 ESV). Were these merely manifestations, or are they Persons?
  1. The Father loves the Son (John 5:20).
  2. The Father is making the Son's enemies a footstool for His feet (Hebrews 1:13).
  3. The Father gave the Son (John 3:16).
  4. The Son was with God, and was God from eternity (John 1:1).
  5. The Father placed our sin on the Son (2 Corinthians 5:21).
  6. The Father sends the Holy Spirit (John 14:26).
  7. The Son sends the Holy Spirit (John 15:26).
  8. The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father (John 15:26).
  9. The Son is the exact representation of the Father (Hebrews 1:3).
  10. The Son is seated at the Father's right hand (Hebrews 1:3; Colossians 3:1)
Read these verses and ask, "Is there any other explanation of these verses that makes sense besides God existing from eternity as One God in Three Persons relating and interacting to each other?" The Trinitarian interpretation is the only way to do justice to the text of Scripture.

Conclusion to the Series:

Throughout the history of the church there have been voices, at times louder and at times softer, raised against the Bible's testimony that God is Three Persons, blessed Trinity. The loudest voices at most times have been those (Arians/Jehovah's Witnesses) voices that deny the deity of Christ. But in our day, the voices that are growing louder are the (Oneness, modalist) voices that deny the distinctions of persons within the Godhead.

Martin Luther stated, "If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at the moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved, and to be steady on all the battle front besides is mere flight and disgrace - if he flinches at that point."

A proper understanding of who God is has become one of the main battlefronts of the modern day. Let us stand with those in history who have been willing to defend a Biblical understanding of God in Three Persons.


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