The Doctrine of the Trinity (part 2)

January 13, 2008     Time: 00:36:39

We have been thinking about the doctrine of the Trinity in class. Before we get to our lesson today, I wanted to share with you something from my devotional reading. In my devotions lately I have been reading the church father Cyprian who was an African church bishop during a time of intense persecution on the part of the Christian church. It is very moving to read these treatises that Cyprian writes as Christians in his time were dragged in front of the Roman magistrates where they were commanded to renounce their belief in Jesus Christ. Those who confessed Jesus Christ were then tortured for that confession. Those who managed to endure the tortures without renouncing Christ were then martyred for their confession after having been tortured.

Cyprian in this passage that I came across is commenting upon the Lord’s Prayer where we are to pray as Jesus taught us, “To our Father in heaven, thy will be done on Earth as it is in heaven.” Cyprian reflects upon what it means to desire and to do the will of God. This is what he says,

We who desire to abide forever should do the will of God who is everlasting. Now that is the will of God, which Christ both did and taught. Humility, in conversation; steadfastness, in faith; modesty, in words; justice, in deeds; mercifulness, in works; discipline, in morals; to be unable to do a wrong, and to be able to bear a wrong when done; to keep peace with the brethren; to love God with all one's heart; to love Him, in that He is a Father; to fear Him in that He is a God; to prefer nothing whatever to Christ because He did not prefer anything to us; to adhere inseparable, to His love; to stand by His cross bravely and faithfully. When there is any contest on behalf of his name and honor, to exhibit in discourse that consistency where with we make confession; in torture, that confidence with which we do battle and in death, that patience whereby we are crowned. This is to desire to be fellow heirs of Christ, this is to do the commandment of God, this is to fulfill the will of the Father.

I thought that was a tremendously moving passage about the kind of lives that we as Christians are to exemplify in doing God’s will. I hope that you find that as meaningful as I did.

We have been thinking about the doctrine of the Trinity. We saw that the Scriptures teach that there is only one God – the God of Israel. He is the true God, and there is no other God but him. But we also began to see that the Scriptures teach that God is tri-personal – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Last week we saw with respect to the person of the Father, that the Father is a distinct person. He is not the same as the Son, nor as the Spirit. Yet we also saw that the Father is God. Then we began to look at the person of the Son, and we saw the same thing with respect to the Son – the Son is a distinct person from Father and from the Spirit – but we saw that the New Testament also affirmed that the Son is God. It did so not by affirming that Jesus Christ is ho theos. Ho theos, the Greek word for God, is typically used to refer to the Father. The Father is ho theos. Rather, we saw that the New Testament writers used every other way they can to express the deity of Christ. One of the principal ways is by calling Christ kurios – the Lord. They would apply to Christ Old Testament prooftexts about Yahweh and say these refer to Jesus Christ. Indeed we saw that the confession that Jesus Christ is Lord is the most important confession of the New Testament church.[1]

But not only that, the New Testament writers found other ways in which to express Christ’s deity. For example, look at Colossians 1:15-19, 2:9. Here speaking of Christ Paul says,

He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation, for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities – all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; He is the beginning, the first-born from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.

Here Paul extols the greatness of God in cosmic terms. He is the visible image of the invisible God. When he says he is the first-born of all creation, he doesn’t not mean he is the first created thing; rather, the first-born is the heir over all creation. That is why Paul goes on in verse 16 to say that through him all things were created in heaven and on Earth, visible and invisible. All things were created through him and for him. He is over everything. In him all things consist and hold together. Then in verse 19, for in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.

Now turn over to Colossians 2:9 where Paul says in incredibly bold terms, “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.” The Greek word that Paul uses for fullness pleroma is a word that was picked up and used in Gnostic philosophy to indicate the full, undiminished essence of deity. In Gnostic thought, the undiminished complete essence of deity was called the pleroma – the fullness of God. The world was thought to emanate out of God by a series of declensions as lower and lower and lower spiritual beings emanated forth from the pleroma until finally it issued in this physical universe filled with souls and embodied persons such as ourselves. Paul is saying that in Christ the entire pleroma dwells in bodily form – just a remarkable affirmation. I think these passages are some of the clearest passages on the deity of Christ in the New Testament. All the fullness of God was pleased to dwell in him in bodily form.

Christ is also given the role of God in various New Testament passages. For example, in Colossians 1 we’ve seen that he is given the role of the creator of the universe which is ascribed to God in Genesis in the Old Testament. Here we are told that Christ is the creator of all things. We find this same cosmic Christ in Hebrews 1:1-3:

In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of his nature, upholding the universe by his word of power.

Here we find the same themes in Colossians repeated. He is the heir over all things. He is the one through whom the world was created.[2] He reflects God’s glory. He bears the very stamp of his nature, like the stamp of a signet ring or of a seal of the emperor upon wax. It bears the seal of the very stamp of the divine nature. He upholds the universe by his word of power. As it says in Colossians: in him all things hold together. So Hebrews 1 has this same vision of the cosmic Christ in which roles traditionally ascribed to deity – to God – are ascribed to Christ.

We find this same phenomenon in John 1:1-3:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.

Here John says the Word was both with God, showing a kind of difference, but then he says, “And the Word was God.” There is no basis here for translating this as Jehovah’s Witnesses do “the Word was a god.” What John is saying here is that the Word is God and the reason that “theos” in this sentence lacks the article “ho” is to show that the word “Word” is the subject of the sentence. By saying “the Word” with the article, it shows that that is the subject of the sentence and “God” in this case is the predicate nominative. “The Word was God” rather than “God was the Word.” So there is no grammatical basis for translating this as Jehovah’s Witnesses do that the Word was a god with a small “g.” This is evident from verse 3 because he says he was in the beginning with God and all things were made through him; without him was not anything made that was made. If Christ were a created thing then verse 3 would not make any sense at all because all things were created through him. There was nothing that was created that was not created through him. So it is impossible to think of the Word as being some sort of a creation of God as Jehovah’s Witnesses believe. Rather verse 3 teaches that he was the creator himself of all things apart from God and therefore the grammatical point that I am making that the sentence is “The Word was God” is correct.

The fact that we find this same cosmic role attributed to Christ in three independent New Testament authors – Colossians 1, Hebrews 1, and John 1 – shows that this was no peculiar or idiosyncratic doctrine of one particular author. Rather this was a widespread conviction throughout the New Testament church. The early church believed that Christ stood in the role of God as the creator and the sustainer of all things, of all reality outside of God himself.

Moreover, at some points the New Testament authors seem to lose all restraint and, as if they cannot hold themselves back any longer, they finally just come right out and call Jesus Christ ho theos, even though ho theos refers normally to the Father. At certain points in the New Testament the writers can no longer contain themselves and they simply say that Jesus Christ is God. For example, Hebrews 1:8-12. We saw in verses 1-3 how the author of Hebrews introduces Christ as the cosmic creator, the upholder of all things, and then in verses 8-12 he says,

But of the Son he says, ‘Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever, the righteous scepter is the scepter of thy kingdom. Thou hast loved righteousness and hated lawlessness; therefore God, thy God, has anointed thee with the oil of gladness beyond thy comrades.’ and, ‘Thou, Lord, didst found the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of thy hands; they will perish, but thou remainest; they will all grow old like a garment, like a mantle thou wilt roll them up, and they will be changed. But thou art the same, and thy years will never end.’

Notice the parallelism between verses 8 and 10.[3] “Of the Son he says, ‘Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever’ and . . . ‘Thou, Lord, didst found the earth in the beginning.’” In these two verses Jesus Christ is referred to as “God” and “Lord” - theos and kurios. Both of these New Testament titles are ascribed in this passage to the Son – to Jesus Christ. God and Lord.

Also turn back to Titus 2:13. In this passage Paul says, “we await our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.” Again, the Greek here literally means that the word “our great God and Savior” modify Jesus Christ. The whole expression is a unity. The glory of our great God and Savior – and who is that? It is Jesus Christ. He is our God and Savior. Here again Jesus is referred to as God.

A third example is Philippians 2:5-7. Paul says,

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.

Here he says that the preincarnate Christ exists in the form of God but he didn’t count equality with God a thing to be held onto, something to clutch at, something to grasp on to and cling to. Rather he emptied himself and took on the form of a servant being born in human likeness. This is a beautiful description of the deity of Christ and how Christ humbles himself to take on human form. In affirming that he has the form of God and equality with God, Jesus Christ is affirmed to be God.

Finally, there are the various affirmations of John in his writings. We find that John on multiple occasions refers to Christ as theos. For example, we’ve already looked at John 1:1, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” I’ve already remarked that the definite article “ho” is not included here is to mark off theos as the predicate nominative and the expression “the Word” as the subject of the sentence. It reads “The Word was God” rather than “God was the Word.” The way you do that in Greek is that the noun that has the article is the subject and the noun that lacks the article is the predicate nominative. So it affirms “The Word was God.”

One of the most dramatic examples of John’s affirmation of Christ’s being God comes in John 1:18. This is just an amazing verse. This is what it says. “No one has ever seen God.” My New Testament says, “the only Son who was in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known.” In fact that is not what the best Greek manuscripts have. If you have a more modern translation it will read, “No one has ever seen God, the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known.” This is an amazing passage where it refers to Christ the Son as the only begotten God. This was so jarring – so bold – that New Testament copyists thought that this surely can’t be right and they changed it to read “the only begotten Son who was in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known.”[4] But in fact the original manuscripts were what they read. The original Greek says “the only begotten God who was in the bosom of the Father, has made him known.” This is one of the startling examples of referring to Jesus Christ as ho theos and modifying ho theos (God) with this adjective “only begotten” to show that he is not the Father but he is God the Son.

The climax to John’s Gospel comes in John 20:28 where Thomas sees the risen Lord. In John 20:28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Here we have again both of these New Testament titles kurios and theos ascribed to Jesus Christ. The Greek here is “ho kyrios mou kai ho theos mou,” literally “the Lord of me and the God of me.” Thomas falls at the feet of Christ and says, “My Lord and my God!” affirming these great New Testament titles are applicable to Jesus Christ as Lord and God.

Cultists like Jehovah’s Witnesses are reduced to explaining this passage away as just some sort of a mindless ejaculation on Thomas’ part like when you see something surprising and say “Oh my God!” That is what Thomas is saying when he sees the risen Jesus, which is of course absurd because that would denude this passage of any theological significance at all when it is the climax to the Gospel of John. This is the Christological climax of the Gospel of John where that Word which was in the beginning is now confessed as Lord and God risen from the dead by his disciples.

Finally, one last passage by the apostle John, in his first letter, 1 John 5:20 where John says, “And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, to know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.” The Greek here literally means “We are in his Son Jesus Christ who is the true God and eternal life.” The antecedent to the word “this” is Christ – Christos. We are in his Son Jesus Christ who is the true God and eternal life.

In these passages the New Testament writers lose all sense of restraint and come right out and call Jesus Christ ho theos. They call him God.

In many, many other passages on Christ’s role in the New Testament, I could show how the New Testament writers attribute deity to Christ by having him function as God. For example, in forgiving sins, in receiving worship, in changing the Mosaic Law and exhibiting authority that only God could have. In all of these various ways the New Testament writers show implicitly that Jesus Christ is God himself. There are also other titles which are ascribed to Christ in the New Testament, like the Son of God and the Son of Man, harking back to Daniel’s prophecy in chapter 7. But we won’t go into those. I think the point is that the New Testament church believed that this Jesus who had lived among them, who had died, was risen from the dead and ascended into heaven, was in some difficult to express way God himself. He was not the Father. That was clear to them. The Father did not die on the cross. He had sent his Son Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ was not the Father. But he was equal with the Father. He was God.[5] In some hard to express way he was distinct from the Father, and yet he was also God.

The New Testament not only says that about the Son and the Father, but it also says that the Holy Spirit is a distinct person and is God. Let’s look at some passages on the Holy Spirit in the New Testament.

First, the Holy Spirit is a distinct person. Luke 11:13. Jesus says, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” Here Jesus is speaking. He talks of the heavenly Father who will give the Holy Spirit. So the three persons are there distinguished from one another.

Also, John 14:26. Jesus says, “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” Here again we see the three persons. Jesus Christ will ask the Father to send the Holy Spirit, the Father will send the Holy Spirit in Christ’s name, and he will bring to their remembrance all of the things that Jesus Christ had said to them. There again you see the different roles of the persons expressed.

Also over in John 15:26 Jesus says, “When the Counselor comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness to me.” There again we see the three persons expressed. Jesus will send the Holy Spirit from the Father and the Holy Spirit will bear witness to Christ. So the Holy Spirit is a distinct person.

Also in Paul’s letters, for example, Romans 8:26-27, Paul says,

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. And he who searches the hearts of men knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

Here the Holy Spirit intercedes for us, and God the Father, who searches the hearts of men, knows what is the mind of the Spirit because the Spirit intercedes for us according to God the Father’s will, showing the distinction between the Father and the Spirit.

Matthew 28:19 is one of those verses in Scripture that list all three of the persons of the Trinity in one verse. Jesus said, “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.”

We find the same three listed in 2 Corinthians 13:14: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God [that is, the Father] and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” There are all three persons of the Trinity mentioned.

Another place would be 1 Peter 1:1-2,

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, chosen and destined by God the Father and sanctified by the Spirit for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood . . .

You see the three persons mentioned there.[6] We are chosen and destined by God the Father and sanctified by the Spirit for obedience to Jesus Christ. The three persons are distinguished in all of these passages.

Again, there is something of a terminological difficulty that this raises. Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would come in his place and in his name. For example, John 14:26 and then in John 16:13-14. We’ve already seen that Jesus says in John 14:26: “The Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” Jesus said the Holy Spirit would come in his place in his name. The Holy Spirit became so closely identified with Jesus Christ that he is often spoken of in the New Testament as the Spirit of Christ, rather than the Spirit of God. Or sometimes he is spoken of simply as Christ. A good example of this would be Romans 8:9-10. Look at Romans 8:9-10 and notice the progression in the terminology here:

But you are not in the flesh, you are in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Any one who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although your bodies are dead because of sin, your spirits are alive because of righteousness.

Do you notice the progression in those verses? Spirit, Spirit of God, Spirit of Christ, Christ. Christ and the Holy Spirit become so closely aligned with each other that the Holy Spirit can be spoken of simply as Christ.

I think this is the case when people talk about receiving Christ as their personal Savior. Technically, we receive the Holy Spirit when we receive Christ. It is the Holy Spirit who comes into a person and produces regeneration and the new birth described in John 3. It is by the Spirit that we are born again to new life. Christ is ascended and seated at the right hand of God the Father, but the Holy Spirit acts in the place of, and in the name of, Christ so that when we receive the Holy Spirit and are regenerated and born again we speak of this as receiving Christ. But technically speaking it is receiving the Holy Spirit whom Christ has sent.

So the Holy Spirit is a distinct person from Christ, but because he acts in the role and the place of Christ, he becomes so closely identified with him that people will sometimes speak of the Holy Spirit simply as Christ.

Moreover, the Holy Spirit is God. Matthew 12:28: Jesus says, “But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” Here Jesus refers to the Spirit as the Spirit of God.

Also, Acts 5:3-4. This is a very interesting passage in which the condemnation of Ananias and Sapphira is described. In Acts 5:3-4 we read,

But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? How is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.”

Notice in verse 3 Peter says to Ananias, “Why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit,” and then in verse 4 he says, “You have not lied to men but to God.” So the Holy Spirit is God.

Romans 8:9. This is a passage we just looked at a moment ago.[7] Paul says, “You are not in the flesh, you are in the Spirit if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you.” So again he refers to the Spirit as the Spirit of God dwelling within us.

Finally, 1 Corinthians 6:11. Speaking of those who were once immoral, he says, “You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” So the Holy Spirit is referred to as God.

Although the entire Bible affirms that there is only one God, [the New Testament] also affirms that there are three persons in the godhead – that the Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God. Yet, these are distinct persons. The Father is not the Son and the Holy Spirit. The Son is not the Father and the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is not the Father and the Son. Yet all three are God. The question is: how do you make sense out of that? How can we make sense out of the affirmation that all three of these persons are distinct, and yet they are all God? That is the subject to which we shall turn in our next lesson.[8]



[1] 5:07

[2] 10:00

[3] 15:16

[4] 20:13

[5] 25:02

[6] 30:15

[7] 35:03

[8] Total Running Time: 36:39 (Copyright © 2008 William Lane Craig)