Doctrine of the Trinity (part 4)

July 17, 2011     Time: 00:34:59

We have been talking about the doctrine of the Trinity, looking at the Scriptural data concerning the distinct personhood and the deity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

We saw that the New Testament teaches that the Father is a distinct person from the Spirit and the Son, and that the Father is God. Indeed, the word God, ho theos in the Greek, typically refers to the Father, when that word is used in the New Testament.

Then we looked at the person of the Son, and we saw that the Son is a distinct person from the Father. He prays to the Father. He is sent by the Father. And we saw, furthermore, that the Son is also referred to as deity. The New Testament writers were reluctant to call Jesus ho theos, “God,” because that referred to the Father. So, instead, they adopted the word for the personal name of God in the Old Testament, “Yahweh” (in the Greek, that is kyrios), and they called him ho kyrios or “the Lord.” So by using the name of God from the Old Testament and Old Testament proof texts to apply to Jesus, they affirmed the deity of Christ, at the same time preserving his distinctness from God the Father.

Last time we saw that, in certain cases, the New Testament authors do go the full nine yards, and they do come right out and call Jesus ho theos explicitly. We looked at a number of those references.

The Holy Spirit

Today we come to the person of the Holy Spirit. Again, we want to show how, in the New Testament, the Holy Spirit is referred to as a distinct person and also that he is God.

First, the Holy Spirit is a distinct person from the Father and the Son. 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 the Holy Spirit is given by the Father.

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.” In this verse, you have all three of the members of the Trinity referred to: the Holy Spirit sent by the Father in the name of the Son, Jesus Christ.

Also look over at the next chapter, chapter 15, verse 26. John 15:26: “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.” Here again you see all three of the persons of the Trinity: the Spirit (or the Counselor) sent by the Father and bearing witness to Jesus Christ, the Son. It is interesting that the distinctness of the person of the Spirit is emphasized in this verse in that John actually violates Greek grammar by using the masculine pronoun to refer to the Spirit, even though in Greek the word “spirit” is neuter – it is to pneuma; it is a neuter noun, and yet when he says in verse 26, “the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father,” “who” is a masculine pronoun instead of a neuter pronoun. So John will not call the Holy Spirit “it” – the Holy Spirit is not an “it;” the Holy Spirit is a person. He is a person who is distinct from the Father and the Son and is divine.1

Romans 8:26-27:

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 again the Holy Spirit is clearly not some sort of an impersonal force. He is a person who intercedes for the saints before God the Father, bringing our prayers to God the Father. And God the Father knows the mind of the Spirit, who is interceding for the saints to the Father according to his will. Here again the Spirit is described as a distinct person.

Matthew 28:19: This is the Great Commission, where all three of the persons of the Trinity are mentioned: “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.” So when baptism is to be performed, it is in the name of all three of the persons of the Godhead – in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

2 Corinthians 13:14 also mentions all three members of the Trinity: “The grace of the Lord [kyrios] Jesus Christ and the love of God [that is to say the Father, ho theos] and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” Here all three persons of the Trinity are mentioned – the Lord Jesus Christ, God the Father, and the Holy Spirit.

Finally, 1 Peter 1:1-2 refers to all three persons of the Trinity,

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 role of each of the persons in the plan of salvation. We are chosen and destined by God the Father and sanctified by the Spirit for obedience to Jesus Christ and cleansing by his blood. So all three of the persons of the Trinity are mentioned here and are distinct persons.

This can be a source of some confusion. Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would come in his place and in his name. The Counselor would come in the stead of Christ and continue Jesus’ ministry. Look at some passages in the Gospel of John. John 14:26 and then in John 16:13-14:

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.”

There the Holy Spirit is sent by the Father in the name of the Son Jesus Christ. Now look over at John 16:13-14:

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.2

There you see the subordination of the Holy Spirit to the person of Christ. He is not going to speak on his own authority; rather he will declare to us the things of Christ, and he will glorify the Son, Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit is sent in the name of Christ to glorify Christ and to teach us the things of Christ. As a result, the Holy Spirit becomes so closely identified with Christ in the New Testament that he is often referred to as the Spirit of Christ or sometimes simply as Christ himself.

Look at Romans 8:9-11 for a very interesting example of this phenomenon,

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. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit which dwells in you.

Do you notice the progression in this paragraph? It goes from speaking of the Spirit of God to the Spirit of Christ to simply Christ. The Holy Spirit standing in the place of Christ in continuing his ministry becomes so closely aligned with Christ that the indwelling Holy Spirit is simply referred to as Christ – “Christ in you.”

When we talk about people’s receiving Christ, technically what we really mean is receiving the Holy Spirit. It is when you receive the Holy Spirit that you are regenerated and born again. When we talk about receiving Christ, we should not overlook that this is primarily the person of the Holy Spirit that is doing the act of regeneration and then indwelling, so that we are empowered and filled with the Holy Spirit. Often we will say, “Christ lives in me” or “We have received Christ,” but technically it is really the person of the Holy Spirit, who is so closely aligned with and continues the ministry of Christ that he is simply referred to as “Christ.”

So the Holy Spirit is a distinct person from the Father and the Son. It goes without saying that the Holy Spirit is God as well. Let’s just look at a couple of passages.

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 the Spirit is referred to as the Spirit of God.

Acts 5:3-4 is a very interesting passage in this regard. This is the story of Ananias and Sapphira.

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.”

In verse 3, Peter says to Ananias, “You have lied to the Holy Spirit,” and then in verse 4 he says, “You have lied to God,” so, again, showing that the Holy Spirit is God himself.

Romans 8:9. We have already read that one: “You are not in the flesh, you are in the Spirit if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you.”

Finally, 1 Corinthians 6:11.3 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 a distinct person from the Father and the Son, sent to continue the ministry of the Son and to glorify him, and he is God himself.


Question: Is the word “Spirit” used consistently throughout that, and what is the word?

Answer: Yes, it is consistently used throughout those passages. It is an interesting word because we have some English derivatives from it. It is neuter, as I say, to pneuma. What word do we get from pneuma? Well, “pneumatic,” – like something that is pumped up with air, a pneumatic pump, for example. It comes from the word “spirit” in Greek. That is the word that is used to refer to the Holy Spirit.

Question: What would you say to somebody that says the data is a bit sparse on the Holy Spirit’s deity? We did go over four scriptures. Does that matter to you? Have you ever heard that?

Answer: No, I think that, really, quite honestly, it is just indisputable that the Holy Spirit is God. The real question, I think, would not be the deity of the Spirit – it would be his distinct personhood – because the Scripture just over and over again speaks of the Spirit of God. One could multiply passages about the Spirit of God. The question would be, is this really a distinct person, or is the Spirit of God a sort of metaphor for the working of God or the power of God or God’s energy or something of that sort? I think that would really be the only question. Are we talking here about a self-conscious mind? Some of the passages that I read indicate that the Spirit is spoken of in those terms. But I cannot see any grounds at all for thinking that the Holy Spirit is not God himself.

Question: If the Spirit really was just an emanation of Christ or God the Father, would Christianity change if there were just two deities?

Answer: OK, let’s be very careful! Christianity doesn’t teach that there are three deities! That is polytheism. Christianity teaches that there is one God, one deity, who is three persons. You are saying, would it change Christianity if there were only two persons in the Godhead, a sort of “binitarianism” rather than trinitarianism. I think it would certainly radically alter the way in which we, as Christians, relate to God because, as we will see when we get into the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit is in one sense the person of the Trinity who is most intimately related to us in the church age. The Son has ascended to the Father – he is not here in space and time anymore. The Holy Spirit is here in his place. It is the Holy Spirit who regenerates us and who brings us into relationship with God. It is the Holy Spirit who indwells us. It is the Holy Spirit who fills us daily. He gifts the church with gifts of the Holy Spirit. He produces the fruit of the Spirit in a sanctified life. It is through the Spirit that we are gradually transformed into the image of Christ, made to be more and more like Christ. It is the witness of the Holy Spirit that gives us assurance of the truth of the Christian faith. So if there weren’t any Holy Spirit, all of those duties would have to be taken over by the Father or the Son in some way. I am not saying that that is impossible, but it would certainly really change in a very practical way the way in which we relate to God. The Holy Spirit, I think, has rightly been called the forgotten member of the Trinity. We just sort of overlook him in favor of the Son and the Father, but honestly, for those of us in the church age – post-Pentecost – the Holy Spirit is in some ways the most intimately related person of the Trinity to us today because he dwells within us and fills us and gifts us and gives us assurance and all the rest. So this is a person of the Trinity that is not to be overlooked or neglected or downplayed.4

Question: I noticed all the Scripture you quoted was from the New Testament. Do you have any Old Testament passages?

Answer: One could certainly quote from the Old Testament about the Spirit of God without difficulty. What you find in the Old Testament is that the Spirit of God would come upon people to perform a special task, and then he would be withdrawn. So the judges, for example – people like Samson and Gideon and others – would be called to a special task by God, and the Spirit of God would come upon them and temporarily empower them to carry out these mighty acts. But he was not the permanent possession of people in the Old Testament times, which may explain why even great saints like David would lapse so horribly into sin so frequently. They didn’t have the Holy Spirit as a permanent possession. That is why I said for those of us in the church age, in the post-Pentecost period, we have the person of the Holy Spirit as our permanent and abiding possession, as he indwells us and produces the fruit of the Spirit in our lives and sanctifies us to become like Christ. But there are certainly references in the Old Testament to the Spirit. As for Christ, this is going to depend on how you interpret some of these Old Testament theophanies, where people had these visions of the Lord, particularly the angel of the Lord, this divine figure that seems to be distinct from the Lord but is nevertheless God. Some, including I think most of the church fathers, interpreted these theophanies to be, in fact, visions of Christ – the preincarnate Christ appearing to people. John, in fact, does say that when Isaiah saw the Lord high and lifted up in the temple – do you remember that? When Isaiah says “Woe is me! I am undone! I am a man of unclean lips! For mine eyes have seen the Lord” – do you remember that vision of Isaiah?5 John says it was Jesus that Isaiah saw – it was the preincarnate Christ that Isaiah had this vision of.6

But, again, that is the New Testament reflecting back on the Old Testament and reading it in light of Christ. I think that our fundamental grounds for believing in the doctrine of the Trinity is the New Testament. It is because of the impact of Jesus on these Jewish men that they came to believe that God was not simply the Father, which is the dominant view in Old Testament Judaism, where God is the Father. They came to believe that Jesus, in some difficult to understand and to articulate way, is also God, though he is not the Father. And then the Holy Spirit, whom they experienced at Pentecost and in the church, also was God and yet was distinct from the Father and the Son. So we must not minimize the impact of what one might call the event of Christ upon the thinking of these Jewish people. It is due to the impact of Jesus that this radical alteration in Jewish theology took place in the Christian church – they began to see God as a plurality of persons. While this may be foreshadowed in the Old Testament, I think it is part of God’s progressive revelation that doesn’t become clear until you get to Christ.

Question: Speaking of the Holy Spirit in Old Testament, I think there are two different names – one is Elohim and the other is when the Holy Spirit would come upon...

Answer: ruah is the Hebrew name for Spirit. Elohim is really just another name for God, or gods.

Followup: And ruah is actually like breath also.

Answer: Yes, that is right. It can mean breath, just as pneuma can mean just breath or air; as when Jesus died, he gave up the “spirit;” or “Someone had no more breath in him,” we might say. It is the same word. And we might sometimes use the word “spirit” like that in English, though I think probably as a result of Christianity we associate the word “spirit” more with the idea of an immaterial being rather than just the air that you breathe. But you are right, in Hebrew and Greek, this word also could be just breath.

Followup: That is the same breath for Adam right?7

Answer: As far as I know, yes. He breathed into Adam the breath of life.

Question: kyrios – is that adonai or Yahweh?

Answer: That is adonai in the Septuagint. When the Septuagint translates that, it translates it as kyrios.

Question: What is the history of the term “Holy Ghost?” We don’t hear that much anymore.

Answer: No, we don’t! I could not say exactly when English translators began to translate pneuma as “ghost” rather than “spirit.” Often, we will use the words “ghost” and “spirit” as synonyms, don’t we? – such as “He saw a spirit” or “He saw a ghost.” But when you connect it with the Holy Spirit, the word “Holy Ghost,” though very quaint and, in a certain way, sort of charming, makes it sound as if this is the ghost of Jesus, that Jesus died on the cross, and now his ghost inhabits the world and indwells Christians and so forth. I think it is probably really good that we have gotten away from the expression “the Holy Ghost.” Although I do like that quaint sort of Elizabethan English, that can be very misleading. I do not know where it first originates in English literature that he is called “Holy Ghost.”

Question: In Isaiah, you have him saying, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”8 That is certainly evidence that a child will be God and man and they call his name Emmanuel. This is certainly indicating you are going to have that plurality.

Answer: I think that as Jesus appropriates these prophecies from Isaiah that refer to this, that you definitely do have affirmations of deity. I think that the Messiah in certain passages like that did seem to have these connotations, that it would be God himself who would be the Messiah.

Followup: I also think about Psalms – “The LORD says to my Lord.”9

Answer: Yes, that is another one that Jesus quotes with reference to the Father.10 These are all, I think, foreshadowings. They are capable of multiple interpretations. I think it is when you see them in retrospect, in light of the Christ event, that their meaning and application to Christ becomes clearest.

Question: There is one verse, Romans 8:26, you went through. The last half of that verse I wanted to get your insight. I have heard a lot of different ideas about that. “The Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” What is your insight or how do you apply that to your life?

Answer: I do not think this is talking about speaking in tongues, if that is what you mean. He says it is too deep for words. What the Spirit is doing is interceding for us in a way that cannot be expressed in any kind of verbal language. So I do not think he is talking about that. The way I apply it is this way. I am troubled sometimes when I pray because the Scripture says that if you ask anything according to his will, then we know that we have the requests made of him. It says that in 1 John 5:15. We want to pray in accordance with God’s will. But the difficulty is, we don’t know what God’s will is, except in a sort of general sense – our sanctification, for example, or that someone would come to Christ. But we do not know that it is God’s will that I should get this particular position or that I should marry this particular person or that I should undertake this particular speaking event. So how can you pray according to God’s will and have confidence that you are going to receive the request when you don’t know what his will is? This verse really helps me because he says the Spirit helps us in our weakness. Why? Because, he says, we do not know how to pray as we ought. That is exactly the problem that I so often face! I do not know what to pray for. But, he says, the Spirit intercedes for us, and he who searches the hearts of men knows what is in the mind of the Spirit because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.11 What a wonderful promise that is! We don’t know how to pray, we don’t know what God’s will is, but the Holy Spirit intercedes for us, and he translates our prayers, as it were, into requests according to the will of God. He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. So I think that is a tremendous encouragement and comfort to pray – that we are not going to be in the situation like the person who gets the magic lamp with the genie in it and you ask the genie for something and he gives you literally what you want, but it turns out to be something totally different than you expected, and it is counterproductive, and so forth. That is not the way prayer works. Rather we pray with our limited insight, and then we trust the Spirit of God to intercede before the Father, asking for us what we need according to his will. So I would say this verse counsels us to pray in confidence, to pray without fear, and to trust the Holy Spirit to intercede for us before God.

Followup: I have always only heard the speaking of tongues reference. I have never heard people who don’t think that is what it is really expound on it. This is the Spirit of God that is already in us, and he is communicating with the Father on our behalf, correct? Where is the interceding taking place? Is it in our own selves or is it a spiritual realm thing?

Answer: The verse doesn’t say. I do not think that you need to think of it as a spatial location because God isn’t in space. Therefore, I do not think we need to conceive of it in any kind of a spatial way. It is simply that the Holy Spirit is so much more intimately related to the Father than we are. It says that the Father knows the mind of the Spirit, so it is kind of like mind reading. I think of it more like telepathy, frankly. It is as if there is a telepathic connection between the Father and the Spirit that I don’t have. The Spirit takes my prayers and communicates them according to his will.

Let me wrap up our lesson by saying in summary: it was clear to the writers of the New Testament that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit were all distinct persons. Yet it was equally clear to them that they were all God. The difficulty that these authors faced was: how do you express this? The situation was complicated by the fact that they didn’t even have the requisite vocabulary to express these ideas. The concept of a person did not even exist at that time. The modern concept of a person, what it means to be a person, actually sprang out of the trinitarian debates among the Church Fathers in the early centuries of the Christian church.

Tertullian, who lived from AD 150 – AD 225, a North African Church Father, coined the term persona to express the idea that there were three persons that were God, and he used the term trinitas for the first time to describe who God is. God is a trinity. A trinity of what? He is a trinity of persons. This came, then, to be expressed as the idea of three persons in one nature. That is an articulation of the doctrine of the Trinity, that there are three persons who are the one God.

What we will do next time is begin to look at these debates that raged in the early church among the Church Fathers as they sought to hammer out the doctrine of the Trinity, to take this raw data of Scripture and formulate it into a clear creedal affirmation of the doctrine of the Trinity.


1 4:57

2 10:00

3 15:02

4 20:03

5 cf. Isaiah 6:1-5

6 cf. John 12:41

7 25:01

8 cf. Isaiah 9:6

9 cf. Psalms 110:1

10 cf. Luke 20:41-44

11 30:01