Doctrine of the Trinity (part 2)July 03, 2011 Time: 00:28:48
Three Distinct Persons in the Godhead
We have been talking about the doctrine of the Trinity. Last time we began to look at Scriptural data pertinent to the doctrine. We saw that Christianity teaches that there is one God. Christianity is a monotheism. There is one and only one God. But we come now to the second point, which is distinctive to Christianity and differentiates it from unitarian forms of monotheism like Judaism and Islam, namely, there are three distinct persons who are God.
Let’s begin first by looking at the person of the Father. What I want to show is that when you look at Scriptures, the Scriptures teach two things about the Father. First, the Father is a distinct person. He is distinct from the Son and the Spirit. Secondly, the Father is God.
First, the Father is a distinct person.
Look at Matthew 11:27. Jesus says, “All things have been delivered to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” Jesus clearly differentiates himself as the Son from the Father and says he is the one who reveals the Father to mankind.
Matthew 26:39. This is Jesus in prayer in Gethsemane: “And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, ‘My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt.’” Here Jesus clearly differentiates himself from the Father in that he prays to the Father and prays, not that his will (Jesus’ will) be done but that the Father’s will be done. Clearly, Jesus is not praying to himself, as Muslims will sometimes say about this verse. That is not the Christian understanding. There are distinct persons involved here – the Father and the Son – and the Son is praying to the Father that his own will would be aligned with the Father’s will
Finally, John 14:16-17. Jesus is speaking and he says,
And I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him; you know him, for he dwells with you, and will be in you.
Here Jesus differentiates himself from both the Father, whom he will pray to, and the Spirit, the Counselor, the Comforter, who will come then as another advocate for the disciples in the absence of Jesus. So in John 14 you have a clear differentiation of these three distinct persons.
The Father is a distinct person from the Son and the Spirit, and it hardly needs to be prooftexted that the Father is God. But let’s look at some verses anyway. The concept of God as Father is an Old Testament concept. It is part of Judaism. The idea of God as a heavenly Father wasn’t new to Jesus of Nazareth. Rather Jesus was right in line with traditional Jewish thinking.
Look at Psalm 89:26: “He shall cry to me, ‘Thou art my Father, my God, and the Rock of my salvation.’” Here God is referred to as Father.
Isaiah 63:16. Isaiah says, “For thou art our Father, though Abraham does not know us, and Israel does not acknowledge us; thou, O LORD, art our Father, our Redeemer from of old is thy name.”1 Here, Israel calls upon God as Israel’s Father.
This concept of God, or metaphor of God, as a heavenly Father is one that lay at the center of Jesus’ own worship and faith. Matthew 6:9, for example. When Jesus taught his disciples to pray, he told them this: “Pray then like this, ‘Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.” Jesus taught the disciples to think of and address God as their heavenly Father.
The Father is a distinct person from the Son and the Holy Spirit, and the Father is clearly God. In fact, the word in Greek for “God,” which is ho theos – the definite article “the” is aspirated in ho theos – , literally means “the God.” Ho theos is the word for God and usually refers to the Father in the New Testament. When the New Testament writers talk about “God,” they are typically talking about the Father. The Father is the one who is “ho theos.”
Paul, in his letters, typically writes a greeting like this, “Grace to youand peace from God (ho theos), the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ.” Look at Galatians 4:4-6 to see an interesting use of this terminology,
But when the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’
It is God who is the one to whom we cry, “Abba, Father!,” and he has sent the Spirit of his Son, Jesus Christ, into our hearts to respond to God the Father in that way. When the New Testament talks about “God” (ho theos), the reference is almost always to God the Father.
Question: About Matthew 11:27, I heard a Oneness Pentecostal say about how “’No one knows the Son except the Father and no one knows the Father except the Son.’ Oh, then what about the Holy Spirit, huh?!”
Answer: That wouldn’t support Oneness Pentecostalism; that wouldn’t show that the Father is the same person as the Son, obviously, because here they are differentiated. I would just say that in this verse, Christ isn’t thinking of the Spirit, it just doesn’t come into play. Theologically, we would say that the Spirit knows the Father as well, though it is the Son who is the one who reveals the Father to man. Obviously, this wouldn’t support the view that the Father and the Son are the same person, which is what Oneness Pentecostals believe.
Question: I have heard that the Our Father at the beginning of the Lord’s Prayer that he is teaching the disciples is very distinctive. I have read Muslims even read about the audacity of calling him Father when they convert out of Islam. Is it still a common usage among Jews do you know of? I know you showed in the Old Testament it was a common usage, but is it in common usage today, or in post-first century?
Answer: I am not sure about contemporary Jewish piety. I think that probably what these folks are talking about is not using the word pater, in the Greek, “Father,” but it is Jesus’ using the word “Abba,” which is this sort of familial diminutive term or term of affection for God. That seems to have been unique to Jesus to think of God as “Abba,” as Father, and to call God his Father in that sense.2 But I do not know about contemporary Judaism, whether or not it would use this kind of terminology or not, frankly. [inaudible...someone off-mike makes a comment...] OK; so he says “Our Father” and “Our King” is still used in Jewish liturgy.
Let’s turn to the second point, which is Jesus Christ. I want to show again that Jesus is a distinct person from the Father and the Spirit and that he also is regarded as God.
First, Jesus is a distinct person. Mark 1:9-11. This is the account of Jesus’ baptism.
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens opened and the Spirit descending upon him like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, ‘Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased.’
Here we see all three persons involved in the baptism. The Son is baptized, the Father speaks from heaven praising the Son, and the Spirit descends upon Christ in the form of the dove. So you have all three of the persons involved here in distinct roles in the baptism of Jesus.
Look at John 17:1-5. This is Jesus’ high priestly prayer,
When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven and said, ‘Father, the hour has come; glorify thy Son that the Son may glorify thee, since thou hast given him power over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom thou hast given him. And this is eternal life, that they know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent. I glorified thee on earth, having accomplished the work which thou gavest me to do; and now, Father, glorify thou me in thy own presence with the glory which I had with thee before the world was made.’
Here Jesus speaks of his preincarnate state with the Father. He prays to the Father that he would be glorified, having glorified the Father here on earth. So there is a differentiation between the Father and the Son. The rest of this chapter, if you read it, goes on to clearly differentiate the Father and the Son in many such passages.
Look at John 7:39, which speaks of Spirit. Verse 38; Jesus says, “He who believes in me, out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water,” and then John comments in verse 39, “Now this he said about the Spirit, which those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” So the Holy Spirit was not yet present with the disciples, but he was promised and would come later, as we’ve seen.
Jesus himself speaks of this in John 16:7: “Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.” There is the Advocate, the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, that Christ would send, and he says that “it is to your advantage that I go away because if I do, then he will come to you”; otherwise he will not, clearly differentiating himself from the Spirit.
So we have Christ as a distinct person from the Father and from the Holy Spirit as well.
Moreover, the New Testament affirms very clearly that Jesus Christ is also God. Here the writers of the New Testament faced a very difficult terminological problem.3 Namely, if ho theos refers to the Father, then how can you say that Jesus Christ is God without implying that he is the Father? If you say that Jesus is ho theos, you are saying that Jesus is the Father, which is false, as we’ve seen. Jesus is not the Father. They differentiated the Father and the Son. So how can you say that Jesus is God without saying that he is the Father?
What you find in the New Testament is that the authors of the New Testament did terminological acrobatics, back flips, to find every way they could to affirm the deity of Christ without saying that Jesus is ho theos, without saying that he is the Father. That is why, frankly, you don’t find very many bald statements in the New Testament, “Jesus Christ is God.” That would be to say that Jesus Christ is the Father, which they did not want to say. So what they tried to do is find every other way that they could express the deity of the Son without blurring the distinction between the Father and the Son.
Let’s look at some examples. Colossians 1:15-19 and 2:9. These are remarkable verses about the person of Christ. Speaking of Christ, Paul writes in Colossians 1:15,
“He is the image of the invisible God,”
(If you want to see what the invisible God is like, look at Jesus Christ – Jesus is the visible image of the invisible God.)
“the first-born of all creation;”
(That is to say, the heir of all creation – the first born is the heir of everything.)
“for in him all things were created,”
(A role that is properly ascribed only to God in Judaism.)
“in heaven and on earth,”
(Not just earthly things, things in heaven, too!)
“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 creator and the sustainer of everything else that exists.)
“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.”
(And now this incredible statement:)
“For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.”
Then turn over to chapter 2:9 for a comment on this same expression, “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.” This is just an incredible statement. He is not saying that Christ was a man who was filled with the full presence of God. No, no – he is saying that in Christ, the whole fullness of deity dwells in bodily form. He is the bodily form of the fullness of deity. The word here for “fullness” was a word that was appropriated in non-Christian philosophy by Gnostics to express the divine fullness. The Gnostics believed that God was too pure to have any sort of relationship with matter. The material world was evil, and therefore God could not be sullied by contact with the material world. So in the Gnostic system, the fullness of God, called the pleroma, was utterly apart from the world, and there came out of God a sort of series of emanations, like descending stair steps that finally, eventually, resulted in the creation of the material, physical world. But they could not have the pleroma directly in contact with the bodily, physical world. Here, Paul says, no, in Christ the fullness of deity dwells bodily. It dwells in bodily form! So this is a remarkable statement of the deity of Christ.
Second indication: the title kyrios, or “Lord”, that is attributed to Christ.4 The title kyrios is the Old Testament name of God translated into Greek. In the Septuagint, which is the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the word kyrios is used for the name of the “LORD.” So the LORD is Yahweh in the Old Testament. What the New Testament writers do is pick up this word kyrios, and they apply that to Jesus of Nazareth instead of ho theos. So they are saying that Jesus is the Lord, and then they apply to Jesus Old Testament proof texts about Yahweh – they take Old Testament proof texts speaking of Yahweh, and they apply these to Jesus.
A beautiful example of this is found in Romans 10:9,13. Paul says, “If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” This is the confession that is required to be a Christian in the New Testament church: Jesus is Lord. Then in verse 13 comes the Old Testament proof text. Quoting now from Joel 2:32: “For ‘everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.’” They take this Old Testament passage about Yahweh from Joel and apply that to Jesus Christ and say if you confess that Jesus is Lord, then, just as the Scriptures promise, everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.
Another interesting example of this is fascinating. 1 Corinthians 12:3; he says, “I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says ‘Jesus be cursed!’ and no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.” Here, again, you see the centrality of this confession in the New Testament church to Jesus being the Lord. This is the important confession that Christians make.
Prayer was even addressed to Jesus as Lord. Look at 1 Corinthians 16:22b. There Paul says in the English translation, “Our Lord, come!” This is, in Greek, the word maranatha – which I am sure all of us have heard of, at least those who lived through the Jesus Revolution back in the 70s. Maranatha. That is what this is in the Greek. This is a Greek transliteration of an Aramaic phrase “marana tha” which means, “Our Lord, come!” What you have here in 1 Corinthians 16 is the primitive church at prayer. It is the language of the primitive church in Jerusalem in Aramaic. And how did they pray? They prayed to Jesus as Lord and prayed “Our Lord, come!”
In using the word kyrios, they applied to Jesus the Old Testament name of God and then cited Old Testament passages about God in reference to Jesus.
This can result in some really strange circumlocutions. Look at 1 Corinthians 8:6, where you see these expressions come together: “for us, there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.” The Father and the Son are described in almost identical terms. They are the ones from whom and through whom and for whom we exist, and they both have the names of deity. One is ho theos, the other is kyrios. So you have the deity of Christ affirmed and yet the differentiation of Christ from the person of the Father preserved.5
Third point: Christ is given the role of God in the New Testament. We have already seen this in Colossians 1 where Christ is described in these cosmic terms as the creator of everything other than himself, things in heaven and things on earth. You have the same sort of description 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, (just as in a ring, a signet ring, in wax – the wax seal bears the very stamp of that ring) upholding the universe by his word of power.
Here Christ is described as the creator and sustainer of the universe who is a reflection, or bares the imprint, of the very nature of ho theos, of God, himself.
Finally, John 1:1-5:
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. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
Then he goes on to describe the incarnation of the Word in Jesus Christ. Here again you have Christ described in terms of being God and the creator of all reality, of everything outside of himself.
So, in Colossians 1, Hebrews 1, John 1, each written by a different author, you have the same picture of the cosmic Christ who plays the role of God as the creator and sustainer of everything outside of himself. This shows that this was not some peculiar theological persuasion of a particular author. Rather, this is the conviction of the New Testament church that is throughout the New Testament. Christ stands in the place of God; he fulfills the role of God. In this way, they affirm the deity of Christ without saying that Christ is ho theos.
Finally, the last point: In addition to all of these other attempts to indirectly affirm the deity of Christ, while preserving his distinction from God the Father, there are several occasions on which the New Testament writers lose all restraint, and they come right out and say that Jesus Christ is ho theos. Those will be the passages we will look at next time.