©1991, 1992, 2000 by Eric Bolden
e-reader version on SCRIBD (15118068)
For over 1600 years, the doctrine of the Trinity has been one of the main puzzles and sources of conflict of the Christian faith. People could just never seem to really understand or explain how "three could be one", but most accepted it "in faith", while various men and sects throughout the centuries arose to tackle the problem, and devised all kinds of proposed solutions and alternatives. There has even been bloodshed over the issue! Were any of these people right? Is the Godhead "balled up", or "boxed up" into a neat "three-in-one" formula?" Does salvation even depend on accepting this formula?" Are all the other ideas just satanic attacks against a faithful, pure "orthodoxy"? Or is it the Trinity itself that is the satanic deception, creeping into the Church from paganism; and one of the other alternatives promoted by a particular sect the truth? Or is there just another way to express it that no one has thought of? And most importantly, just what does the Bible really say, or not say on the entire matter?
These are some of the questions we shall explore. First, we shall look at the various major
alternatives, and then the history of the matter.
TRINITARIANISM: The basic doctrine states that "God the Father", "God the Son"(Jesus
Christ), and "God the Holy Spirit", are three "co-equal", "co-eternal" "persons" making up one
God. It is accepted by the majority of all professing Christian churches beginning with the
Roman Catholic/Eastern Orthodox church, and all of the Protestant bodies that came out of it. It
is based primarily on the interpretations of a few Old Testament scriptures that seem to indicate
a plurality within the one God of Israel (Genesis 1:26, 11:7), and a triadic scheme in several
New Testament scriptures, where the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are mentioned together in
conjunction with each other: (Matthew 28:19, 2 Corinthians 13:14, Titus 3:4-6, Ephesians 4:4-6,
Revelation 1:4,5; etc.), and various scriptures where the Three are referred to as God or are
credited with divine titles, functions or characteristics. But the big problem with this is the use of
the word "persons". Even though there are all these "hints" (as scholars call them), the Bible
never puts them together as such a precise formula of "three Persons", and the concept seems to
hopelessly divide the divine unity. This is what has caused much confusion and dissent over the
centuries, and has led to the various reinterpretations of the scriptures, and either the rejection or
reformulation of the doctrine. These we shall now look at.
TRITHEISM: One solution was to just go on and say that the three persons are three separate
Gods acting in unity. This was taught by some early Gnostic groups, and by the Mormons today.
But it should be obvious that this just does not go along with scriptures which emphasize that
there is only one God (Deuteronomy 6:4, Exodus 20:3, Isaiah 44-46, 1 Cor.8:6, etc.). The main
problem with the Trinity to its critics is that it seemed to imply more than one God, so to say that it is in fact such is to go in the wrong direction. For this reason, the remaining solutions all involve the subtraction of 'persons', one way or the other from the Godhead. We shall now
follow this downward progression, to two persons, and then to one.
BINITARIANISM: The quickest and easiest way to start, is to subtract the Holy Spirit, which is then said to be an impersonal extension of the divine essence,— the "Power of God"(Luke 1:35).
That then only leaves the Father and Son. This position isn't very common. Early adherents may have included the so-called "pneumatomachians" (Spirit-fighters) or "Macedonian heresy" in the fourth century. There is speculation that Shepherd of Hermas and other early Christian works mentioning the Father and son, but not clearly the Spirit, may have been binitarian. The only groups that teach it today, and whom the theology is most known by are the Sabbath-keeping Church of God groups (Denver, Salem, offshoots). They find support in the dyadic scheme of the majority of scriptures, where only the Father and Son are mentioned in personal roles. A big example is the fact that the Holy Spirit is NEVER pictured as
sitting on a throne like the Father and Son are in several scriptures, (Rev. 3:21, 5:13, 7:9,10,
12:5, 22:1,3, Eph.1:20, Col.3:1, Ps.110:1, etc.) and all three are in some representations of the
Trinity. Still, there are several examples of the Holy Spirit speaking and doing other "personal"
things, as Trinitarians point out. They seem to find their position completely in harmony with all
the personal activities of the Spirit, but still, can an "extension" or "projection" of God's essence or power really be "grieved", for example?
Variation: Armstrong's "God Family": An offshoot of the 7th day Church of God movement, the late Herbert W. Armstrong's Worldwide Church of God taught that God (Heb. plural Elohim), is not one being, but a family of beings, consisting now of the Father and Son, and one day, all of the redeemed saints when they are "born into the Kingdom of God" (inherit immortality) at the resurrection, actually becoming God "as Jesus is God"! (This, to them, was the "true Gospel", which was lost and supplanted with the "limited" Trinity concept for centuries). Yahweh of the Old Testament was the "Word", or logos (preexistent Christ, John 1:1-3) only; the Father was an unrevealed higher being who was not even known about by man who was cut off from Him by His sins, until the Word became flesh to reveal Him (John 1:18). It is basically a spin on the Mormon concept. This "Word", or Yahweh then, was a sort of demiurge that was mediator between God and man (an idea that was first taught by the gnostic Marcion in the 2nd century).
Of course, it is obvious that the idea of man becoming God "as Jesus is God" is ridiculous, (even
if being God only refers to 'sonship' [hence, God family], or immortality and reigning with Him),
when only Jesus preexisted "in the beginning" as the Word (the Creator), and was sinless. (We
shall be "like" God (1 John 3:2), but that is different from being God.) And the nice sounding
teaching on the Word/YHWH, shared by the Mormons, runs into a big problem with Isaiah
44-46. Yahweh's numerous statements throughout these scriptures that there is no one else like
Him, just does not seem to allow for the existence of another, let alone, higher 'God being' (the
"Father"). Psalms 110:1, where Yahweh is clearly distinguished from an Adonai, who sits at his
right hand, and from Matt.22:44 and other scriptures, is obviously shown to be Christ, also
disproves that view, showing that the Father also, must be Yahweh. Also, Gen.3 shows that it
was Yahweh man was cut off from, so such a distinction between Him and the Father cannot
exist. In an amazing turnaround in the history of sects, the group's current leaders rethought and
abandoned this view, in favor of orthodoxy, but dozens of splinter groups still hold to
We now enter the realm of Monarchianism— the concept of God as only ONE Person. This takes on various forms we shall examine now.
ARIANISM: Formulated by the priest Arius in the 4th century to try to preserve the oneness of God in an age of polytheism and pagan influence in the Church, its adherents today include the Sabbathkeeping Church of God groups that followed the teachings of the late elders C.O. Dodd and A.N. Dugger, such as the Jerusalem group, and a few US groups. (They probably drifted into this position from the binitarianism of the parent Denver and Salem groups). It teaches that Jesus was not God, but only the SON of God (an inferior distinction), but that he did preexist as the first created being ("firstborn"— Colossians 1:15), and was the Creator (v.16) under God's orders (v. 17—God created "through him").
Variation: "Michael-Arianism": This is the title I have given to Arianism's most well known variant: the teaching of the Jehovah's Witnesses which identifies the preexisting heavenly Jesus as the archangel Michael.1 They are most noted for changing John 1:1 from "...and the Word was God", to "the Word was A god". Jehovah's Witnesses claim this change is allowed in the Greek Grammar, because for example, this is done in Matthew 13:57 ("A prophet is without honor..."). But just from the CONTEXT it simply does not fit. Where there was more than one prophet, there can only be ONE God. Our scriptures never acknowledge any other "god" as divine. Yes, sometimes men with authority were referred to as "elohim", but they were not divine. The [supernatural] "gods" were always false idols or demons worshiped by the heathens, and "though there are those that are called gods...there is TO US, only ONE God, the Father..."(1 Cor.8:6, MKJV). It is not "one God...and a lesser god, by whom are all things". Maybe it is hypothetically possible for God to have given a creature power to create, and then direct him, and thus have "created 'through' him", but still, this entire business about angels creating under God's supervision, or along with Him (as Jews and Muslims also claim in interpreting Gen.1:26), is just not what the Bible teaches. God alone, or "BY HIMSELF" (margin) is the Creator (Isaiah 44:24). And Hebrews 1:5-14 clearly distinguishes angels from Jesus the Creator, who is also called Jehovah (v.10, from quote of Ps.102). The Jehovah's Witnesses never have an answer to these verses, and often have to go back to their leaders, change the subject, or give up on witnessing to you altogether when you point these scriptures out.
Also, the term "firstborn" in Col.1:15 represents Jesus' being the first to receive the new birth (Matt.3:16), and like v.18 and others, His being the first to be resurrected. I only much later realized that when the Jehovah's Witnesses say that the Holy Spirit is a "force" or "power", they really do mean that "it" is a non-living, non-divine force that God "uses", like the wind or gravity. Unlike the other groups, they really do separate the Spirit from the Godhead as a created spiritual form of energy. But this is easily disproved by all the various scriptures the Trinitarians cite showing the Holy Spirit speaking, being grieved, being blasphemed, and what I had realized; just the fact of the Spirit being the Spirit OF God. They also never address these points, but only restate their arguments.
(Arianism apparently still held to the personhood of the Spirit. It also apparently spawned the Macedonian heresy, mentioned above, also known as "semi-Arianism", when bishop Macedonius reportedly rejected the deity of the Holy Spirit).
UNITARIANISM: This term often refers to a denomination that started in the middle ages, challenging the doctrine of the Trinity, and then underwent a complete liberalization in doctrine, and finally merged with the Universalists, and is now basically an agnostic group that does not believe in the infallibility of scripture, but rather sees the truth in all religions. But the term (in lower case) also refers to the theology of a few groups that do confess the infallibility of the scriptures, but reinterprets them to teach that God consists of the Father alone, and that Jesus did not really exist prior to his birth at all. It had its roots in the late second century with Theodotus, a learned leather merchant from Byzantium, and was popularized the next century by Paul of Samosata, who was from the Syrian school of thought, which was insistent on the oneness of God and the real humanity of Jesus. Its most popular modern adherents are the Way International, founded by Victor Paul Wierwille, and the Christadelphians. There is also a first-day adventist offshoot, the Church of God, Oregon, IL (formerly called the "Abrahamic Faith"), and a pair of Messianic Jewish/sacred name groups in Texas (House of Yahweh; —the "Hawkins brothers"). And it is basically the theology of the strict monotheism of Judaism and Islam, as well, except for their rejection of Christ's Sonship.
Basically, the "Word" or "logos" is said to simply mean the "plan" or "revelatory thought" of God, which Jesus represented. Even Muhammad acknowledged that (Qur'an 4:171)! God was the FATHER (1 Cor.8:6) and the man Jesus was His begotten Son (Luke 1:35), but not God Himself, just like a human son is obviously not the father of his own self.
In my spiritual infancy, I had embraced this position pretty quickly because it seemed to better fit the monadic scheme of many scriptures, which seemed to emphasize Jesus' humanity and the Fatherhood of God, than all the "equality" and "preexistence" theories. There were numerous scriptures where Jesus clearly claimed to be less than the Father, and was subordinate to Him, and even was limited, having to learn obedience, not knowing all things, etc.; Acts 2:36 goes as far as saying that he was "MADE...both Lord and Christ"! So how could the "divinitarians" (Trinitarians and binitarians, collectively) insist that he was "equal", and then regard subordinationism, the doctrine that he is not equal, as a "heresy"?
The matter of the exact meaning of Jesus' sonship was another issue. The trinitarians call Jesus the "Eternal Son" (a term not found in the Bible), meaning that He was a "second Person" called "the Son" before His birth— since past eternity. But Luke 1:35 plainly equates Jesus' sonship with His divine conception. Just thinking about it, God causing a woman to be pregnant would obviously make God the father, and the child the SON of God. Only He and His agent of conception, the Holy Spirit, are spirit, instead of physical.
But then there were problems. All five Christian/Messianic groups used similar methods of interpreting not only John 1:1, but also a series of other texts used to teach the deity of Christ. A lot of them began to sound pretty cheap and flimsy. For instance, Wierwille came up with this idea that parenthesis 'should be' placed in Col.1:16 ("For by/in Him [Christ— preceding verse& 1/2] all things were created... All things were created by/through Him and for Him") to separate the pronouns that obviously refer to Christ (as in v.14&15) from the rest (as in 16), which are then said to refer to the Father. I wanted to believe this, but it just didn't seem right. The Hawkins' claimed that the "by", or "in" of this passage could be translated as "for". In the concordance, the words did indeed have "for [the sake of]" listed somewhere amongst their various definitions, but look: another "for" is right there in the verse, giving you "for him and forhim". They, as well as Wierwille, often judge how the Greek of the New Testament should be read based on the grammar of the "original languages" (Aramaic or Hebrew). Yisrael Hawkins of Abilene goes as far as to say that the "Elohist" or "P document" (The sections of Genesis that use the term "Elohim") is false, and that there was an original "Yahwist" text that read "and Yahweh said 'let Me make man in My image...'" (Did Yahshua Messiah Preexist?, p 238). And both his and Wierwille's John 1:1 and up as "The plan was God's/ (Yahweh's)". Now the part about "the plan" is acceptable, but to stick this POSSESSION in there is just as bad as the way the Jehovah's Witnesses place an indefinite article there. Another reinterpretation of the Hawkins' is that Jesus' "I AM" statement in John 8:58 (from Yahweh's statement in Exodus 3:14, from which the name YHWH is derived), really means "I was meant to come", but the Jews would not have tried to stone him for blasphemy for simply saying he was the promised Messiah, which he did frequently. (Also, look at the POWER behind the I AM statement in John 18:3). And like the Jehovah's Witnesses, none of them would give any answers for Hebrews 1:10, or even Thomas' declaration to Jesus as "My Lord and my God", in John 20:28. (R.H. Judd of the Abrahamic Faith says it meant that Christ was "representative" of God's power, but that argument is questionable.)
All of this began weighing on my conscience, and the idea of Jesus being God seemed more realistic. There are so many other scriptural proofs of the deity of Christ which the monarchian teachers never even thought of. Jesus forgave sins, which only God could do (Mark 2:5-10). He did not refuse worship —like the apostles and even angels did (Matt.28:9,17; Luke 24:52; John 20:28; Rev.1:17;2 cf. Acts 10:25,26; 14:11-15; Rev. 19:10; 22:8,9).2 And Armstrong had correctly taught that Jesus' life had to be "...greater than the sum total of all human lives" (Mystery of the Ages, p.211), in order to be able to redeem all. ("In no other way could God have redeemed such a vast humanity"). If he were just a regular man who simply had some extra power from God (to enable him to never sin), like these five groups teach, then the most his death could have redeemed would have been ONE OTHER SOUL! —just like the lambs in the old covenant; "life for life". (and perhaps then, the thief on the cross would have been the only man ever saved, and the rest of us would be left without a sufficient savior!) So even though "An Elohim being did not sin; man sinned, so only a man could pay for man's sins", as Jacob Hawkins of Odessa asserts in The Only Begotten Son of Yahweh, still, only an 'Elohim' could amount to enough to be able to redeem all of man and creation. That is why it is taught that Jesus is equally man AND God. This dual nature ascribed to Christ explains all those passages that make it appear he was less than God. Since He had a human nature, (and was the model for all of His human followers) He had to go through the process of submitting to God, and then being exalted by Him (Phil. 2:8,9). But He also had a divine nature which was fully equal with the Father. This was be further examined later.
So while these monarchians presented one side of scripture dealing with Jesus' humanity, they
completely overlooked another, which sets forth deity for Him. Another error of most unitarian
groups, beginning with Theodotus and Paul of Samosata, is a concept called adoptionism. They
go to the opposite extreme from the Trinitarians in claiming he became Son after his birth, being
spiritually adopted by God as Son either at his anointing with the Holy Spirit (Matt.3:16); or
after 'qualifying' by his victory over Satan's temptations (ch.4); or at his resurrection. Before that,
he was just a regular man. (So two other terms for this theology are dynamic monarchianism,
and psilanthropism.) But the fact that Jesus was divinely conceived and sinless (which
adoptionists don't deny) means that he had to already be more than just a regular man, and
already designated the Son of God before those things.3 Since the Scriptures declare that
believers (Christians) are the adopted sons (Rom. 8:15, Gal.4:5, Eph.1:5), this theology brings
Christ totally down to our level.
SABELLIANISM/MODALISM: This view also had its roots in the late second century; with the theologian Noetus of Smyrna and a mysterious Praxeas, and was refined and popularized in the third century by the presbyter Sabellius. Its modern adherents include the New Jerusalem Church (Swedenborgianism), and many people in some Charismatic circles, known as "Oneness Pentecostals". They are also referred to as "Jesus only", because to them, the divine Person that was Jesus, winds up really being the only Person in the Godhead, and they therefore believe in baptizing in Jesus' name only.
Now this idea, at first seems like a pretty quick, easy way to resolve the Trinity problem. It
teaches that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are only three different ways of looking at one
Person, or three roles or modes of the one Person— Father in creation, Son in redemption, and
Holy Spirit in sanctification. But there are problems with this as well. For one thing, it makes
Jesus' conversations with the Father seem like some sort of illusion or something; He really only
had Himself to pray to, not anybody in Heaven. And what about all the post-resurrection visions
of Christ at the right hand of "the Father"? Another big problem was the resulting
"patripassianism"— the corollary that [the immortal] God the Father died on the cross.
So now, it seems that all the alternative solutions have their problems too. But just what was wrong with the original Trinity doctrine in the first place? Fundamentalist apologists have pointed out how this doctrine is the most 'picked on' in the world of sects. Groups who will accept all the other fundamentals of the faith will always dispute this one. Meanwhile, a large portion of the body of believers are almost embarrassed by it, figuring that it can't be understood, and thus often are willing to ignore or even compromise it. In my own spiritual search, when I finally saw the errors of the other theories, I tried forcing myself to accept the "orthodox" Trinitarian position. I tried so hard to somehow work it into my mindset, but still, something just did not seem right. One person describes to me "God is three Persons 'somehow' mysteriously 'balled up' into one", and says that it can't be understood, but one must accept it or be 'lost'. And I saw this very same contention (different words) in all the apologetic "cult" books, and in preaching. But there is nothing in the Bible about God being "balled up","mysteriously". And this whole business about not being able to understand it, while seeming logical when dealing with an almighty God, in this case sounded like it was just being used as a clever ploy to pass their interpretations of scriptures off as the infallible truth with the premise that one day (when we're resurrected and see Him face to face— 1 Cor.13:12, 1 John 3:2), the exact nature of the Godhead will be revealed, but in the meantime, they get the last word. It's their way or no way at all, even though the scriptures place salvation on faith in the Son, and the indwelling of the Spirit, not on how they fit together with the Father. A clever fundamentalist tactic is "default", where when they point out flaws in opposing views, then their view wins automatically, hands down.
It is true that many people "reject it because they can't understand it". Jews, Muslims, unitarians, and some other skeptics are certainly like that. So I myself then examined deeply my own thoughts. But I found that my problem was not comprehension. Based on what I knew about God's omnipotence, I had no problem thinking that God's very being was above our comprehension. In fact, I saw that the same Church that proclaimed the Trinity doctrine often pictured God too anthropomorphically, with various images and descriptions. I had always rejected these, believing God could exist outside of even time and space themselves, since He Himself had to create them, and is therefore above them. All of these things alone place Him well above our comprehension, "three-in-one" or not. In fact, I could see that something like a Trinity would be rather typical of His nature. So just what was the problem? It couldn't be whether or not it was comprehendible. The problem was whether or not it was really scriptural. That's what really matters. I knew what was written in the Bible about God. And I had also read all of the 'proof-texts' and arguments for the doctrine the apologists use in their 'cult' books. But still, the Trinity, as such a precise, neat formula just did not seem to be such a "clear teaching" of scripture as they claimed it was. Instead, it seemed more like an overgeneralized, or boxed up (or "balled up") concept that was being read into a select set of scriptures which were interpreted as "hinting it". I noticed a lot of hasty conclusions in the apologists' methods of interpreting, and then "putting together" all of the scriptures (especially Old Testament) concerning the subject; the very things they would often criticize the "cults" for. Even though those other conclusions I listed had some obvious flaws, some of them did make some good points that were being neglected by the traditional formula. There were many good objections raised by Armstrong and others that were never really dealt with. The obvious errors were refuted, the proof-texts cited, and the three-in-one formula was "proven" automatically.
I had come to accept that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all God, and somehow still distinct, but still, the Bible just wasn't as neat, cut and clear on the exact arrangement of the Three as the tidy idealistic "three equal Persons in one" statement. THIS is what was making it so hard to comprehend, or "mysterious". If the scriptures just came right out and taught the formula directly, complete with the term for "trinity" [trias: "triad" in the Greek], and "three persons", then it would be less cloudy and controversial. God could have arranged for it to have been stated this way, by one of the writers, or apostles, or by Jesus Himself, if it were so important to God to be presented that way; If He really wanted to reveal Himself that way! Every other "fundamental" doctrine (salvation, grace, birth&death of Christ, etc.) is clearly spelled out in scripture, not merely "hinted". And the fact that a spurious verse— 1 John 5:7 had to be ADDED to the text, seems to indicate an unholy attempt to foist the doctrine on scriptures which by themselves, apparently weren't really sufficient to teach it. The formula did seem, as Unitarians once said, "a grotesque addition to the simplicity of the Gospel". In fact, it was the same convictions which led me out of monarchianism that made me unsatisfied with the traditional Trinity formula. There was just something wrong with the way it was being presented.
In fact, an ex-Catholic Spaniard of the 16th century, Michael Servetus, pointed out the problem the doctrine caused with the evangelization of Jews and Muslims. Even Muhammad, according to him, "was ready to admit that Christ was the greatest of prophets, the...power of God, the breath of God, the very soul of God, the Word born by the inbreathing of God from the Virgin" He noticed how there was no mention in scripture of one substance and three persons, or even the key word homoousios, describing the relationship of the Son and the Father. Basically only "something about the Father, something about the Son, and something about the Holy Ghost. They are never declared to be three-in-one, and should we require of the Moors [Muslims] and Jews adherence to a doctrine not enunciated in the Word of God? If they accept baptism [but not] this tenet of the three in one, shall we send them to the stake?" (Bainton, The Hunted Heretic, Beacon, 1953, p.13-16, from Servetus, Trinitatus Erroribus, 42b-43a).
Muslims say we have made Christ a "partner" with God, but that's not what the doctrine of the
deity of Christ really means. But it is our creedal language that does give that impression!
The late apologist Walter Martin once summed up one of his rebuttals to Armstrongism: "The Christian Church has always understood unity in Trinity, and Trinity in unity, the full understanding of which God has reserved to Himself until...Christ delivers the kingdom to His Father...(1 Cor.15:28)". But just what does this mean? Was it the doctrine in its present form that was first taught by the apostles, and then the church fathers, as many for centuries have assumed?
Upon a careful study of the fathers of the first three centuries, you find that their teachings were quite different from what is taught today. And now, some trinitarian scholars even admit this, and that the doctrine developed over the centuries! And it went through some pretty bizarre stages at that! People today complain about the Jehovah's Witness and Mormon teachings? That's nothing compared to some of Origen's and some others' teachings! Many acknowledge him as being a bit off, but even the other fathers of that period, such as Tertullian, had ideas that would under our strict code of "orthodoxy", be considered subordinationist. But many from the medieval ages up to today still see these fathers as traditional trinitarian teachers, whom they assume preserved the MODERN doctrine which was supposedly handed down to them directly from the apostolic age. But now, many, more honest scholars are admitting that the Trinity was not originally taught in the earliest periods of the Church, or by the Bible, but was simply devised over time as a neat way to try to emphasize and understand what actually was taught in the Bible about the way God reveals Himself to man.
The doctrine of the Trinity is the end result, not the starting point of a long, long process of thinking which can be seen going on in the first four centuries of the Church, as Christian theologians wrestled with God's self revelation in scripture and tried to understand it. The proclamation is that God redeems us in Jesus Christ. (A.E. McGrath, Understanding the Trinity, p.115, Zondervan)
The trinitarian understanding of God is more a conclusion that we draw after careful biblical study than a direct statement of scripture itself. No passage of scripture discusses the oneness or threeness of God. (The NIV Disciples Study Bible, p.173—Matt.3:16,17, Holman Bible Publishers)
The explicit doctrine was thus formulated in the post-biblical period, although the early stages of its development can be seen in the New Testament. Attempts to trace the origins still earlier (to the Old Testament literature) cannot be supported by the historical-critical scholarship, and these attempts must be understood as retrospective interpretations of this earlier corpus of scripture in light of later theological developments. The formal doctrine of the Trinity as it was defined by the great church councils of the fourth and fifth centuries is not to be found in the New Testament. Nevertheless...the presence of the [triadic] formulas in 2 Cor.13:14 and Matt.28:19 indicate that the origin of this mode of thought may be found very early in Christian history. (Harper's Bible Dictionary
Here is the most striking admission:
The Bible does not teach the doctrine of the Trinity. Neither the word "trinity", nor such language as "one-in-three", "three-in-one", one "substance", or "three persons" is biblical language. The language of the doctrine is the language of the ancient church, taken not from the Bible, but from classical Greek philosophy. The church used the language and concepts available to it to interpret what the Bible says about God and His dealings with the world (We shall...ask later whether this language is adequate, or whether we ought to try to find new ways to say it.) While we cannot find the doctrine itself spelled out in scripture, we can find there the roots of the doctrine, some affirmations about God which forced the church to ask questions which led it to formulate the doctrine. (Shirley C. Guthrie, Christian Doctrine: Teachings of the Christian Church, p.92 ff, 96. © Marshall C. Dendy 1968. Used by permission of Westminster/John Knox Press, Knoxville)
Not only was the doctrine of the Trinity developed, but even the idea of Christ being God was not right away completely grasped! Continuing from Guthrie:
The very earliest Christians did not say directly that Jesus is God, or that God is Jesus. First of all, they said only that Jesus does what only God can do. They did not think in the abstract, intellectual language of "being". They thought more concretely...in terms of action. Here is a man who acts like God, who does God's work. (p.94)
There are numerous other such confessions.
Another proof of this is in the first verse of the second epistle of Clement to the Corinthians (late 1st century): "Brethren, we ought to think of Jesus Christ as of God; as of the judge of the living and the dead". Archbishop Wake, who translated it, says this passage proves the writer's "fulness of belief" on the Trinity, but in actuality, it proves the very opposite. Christians still didn't quite consider Jesus as being "God". If they did, then the admonition given them to think of Him as they do of God would be quite redundant! This verse proves just what Guthrie said; that the early church understood the connection between Jesus and God only in terms of "action"— Jesus doing what God does. It was, however, statements like this, plus the widespread publication of the New Testament, (which more clearly set forth Christ's deity), and the more scholarly, deeper investigations of it during that same period of time, which led the church to declare directly (beginning with Ignatius) that Jesus is in fact God, and also, later on as people started to ponder more on the Holy Spirit, it ultimately led to the formulation of the doctrine of the Trinity. The doctrine wasn't finally refined into its present form until the fourth century, by Athanasius, an Alexandrian bishop, and ratified by the Nicene council, and given its finishing touches in the fifth century council of Chalcedon. Its formulation was simply to give the Church a solid doctrinal formula to espouse against the more developed Arianism and all the other heresies that were creeping into the Church. Guthrie says: "The church slowly worked out the doctrine of the Trinity in opposition to false interpretations of what it meant to say 'God was in Christ'." (p.97) (The false interpretations refer to subordination, in both its Arian and adoptionistic forms, and modalism, which the author then goes on to describe).
Armstrong's Just what is the Holy Spirit points this out when he first goes into the whole political factor of the matter, involving Constantine, and then concludes "And perhaps the real reason the Trinity ever prevailed was simply that the majority were not ready to declare that Christ was originally a created being, as maintained by Arius, or merely an ordinary man before being anointed by the Holy Spirit...as maintained by others"[i.e. the adoptionists](p.4) This was an example of the default principle. The Trinity was definitely superior to those other positions, holding Christ in his proper position as distinct from, but of the same essence as the Father, so it was accepted as the perfect formula by the majority, and made official by Constantine, who was trying to end the controversy that was dividing his empire. Hunted Heretic, p.22 adds:
Initially, it was adopted as a formula to express all that the doctrine of the Incarnation implied with regard to the being of God Himself. If God actually and uniquely became flesh in Christ, what does this mean for the nature of God? If there were a distinction between God and Christ, and yet Christ was God, would there not be two Gods? Or if Christ were not really distinct, but only a mode...then God would indeed be one, but Christ could hardly be regarded as genuinely human; and when the Spirit was personalized, the problem of the two became the problem of the three. The solution was to posit both a oneness and a threeness in God. The word chosen in Latin to express the oneness was substance, and the word for the threeness was person. This was the doctrine formulated at Nicaea in AD 325, and more precisely at Chalcedon in 450.
Thereafter was the doctrine assumed.
In order to safeguard biblical meanings, the Council of Nicaea had been driven to employ extra-biblical terms. The Protestant Reformers [who persecuted Servetus along with the Catholics] had been driven to the same expedient.
Calvin Burrel, president of the Church Of God 7th Day (Denver) wrote a study of the doctrine in which he made the same observations of its purpose and problems: "Honest attempts of earnest Christians to maintain deity and personality of Christ and the Spirit"; "Never fully developed in scripture, which seems to ascribe to the Father a final superiority"; "Spirit not consistently pictured as a 'third person' in a sense parallel with the Father and Son", and continues: "The creeds appear to emphasize symmetry and philosophy, while glossing over some of the complex and irregular landscape of scripture on this topic". This was excellently pointed out in Karen Armstrong's A History of God, p.116-8, where she shows the PURPOSE of the nice symmetrical (i.e.—3 coeternal coequals) formula was basically to make it more of a mystery just for the sake of mystery! To the Greek church, it was something by which one experiences God through contemplation. (This is where the symmetry of it was useful). It "only made sense as a mystical or spiritual experience: It had to be lived, not thought, because God went far beyond human concepts. It was not a logical or intellectual formulation but an imaginative paradigm that confounded reason". After all, the Trinity is dogma. We usually think of dogma as those statements, that must be believed INTELLECTUALLY, no matter how ridiculous it seems. But that's actually kerygma! Dogma is truth "that is only grasped intuitively and as a result of religious experience. Logically, it made no sense at all. It reminds us that we must not hope to understand Him". It wasn't meant to be taken literally or to make sense or be explained. But that is precisely what the Western church tried to do (even attempting to represent it through pictures) —only to have the larger society jettison the whole idea in the Age of Reason. Where the East, following the Cappadocian Fathers, started from the threeness, thinking of each hypostasis as the whole (Gregory of Nazianzus, Oration, 40:41), the West, following Augustine, started from the divine unity (the mysterious "substance") and then was left trying to figure out how the Three hypostases fit in. THIS is precisely the root of the problem in the West. Looking through history, we see that the West is where all of the later problems with it arose, with dissenters like Servetus, the Socinians, the Unitarians, and now the "kingdom of the cults". The East never experienced all of this dissent over the doctrine. And the Eastern fathers, while regarding Augustine as a great father, were still mistrustful of his Trinitarian theology. It too, like Arianism, was seen as making God seem too rational and anthropomorphic.
Most people, assuming that the formula approved at Nicaea was the original formula, regard all the others as DELIBERATE "heresies" made up by their formulators to counter the "orthodox" view. But it was a lot more complex than that. All of these formulas sprang out of the same biblical revelation, developed together, and diverged as different points, such as the oneness or threeness of God or the humanity or deity of the Son were emphasized by different people or schools of thought. The challenge was to put all these truths together in some way, and it was hard to do that without overemphasizing certain points and thus neglecting others.
The popular view of history now, is that Athanasius represented the "historic orthodox position" in the Arian controversy, but he actually had drawn heavily on Origen, also from Alexandria, who had taught that not only Christ, but also all human souls preexisted birth, being with God in the beginning, and that Christ was simply the only soul who had not fallen, and had united Himself with the Word.
Even right before the Nicene Council, the Bishop of Rome himself, Dionysius, "was clearly shocked at the Origen-inspired doctrine of the three hypostases", as suggested by Dionysius of Alexandria, "which seemed to him to undermine the divine monarchy", and he implied they were "virtual tritheists, splitting the indivisible oneness of the Deity into 'three powers, three absolutely separate hypostases, three divinities'" (Early Christian Doctrines, p. 134). A History of God p.110 points out that "When the bishops gathered at Nicaea on May 20, 325, to resolve the crisis, few would have shared Athanasius' view of Christ. Most held a position midway between Arius and Athanasius". [i.e, Him being divine, but nevertheless generated at a point in time, and among some, that He was only like substance (homoeousios or homoiousios) with the Father, rather than the same substance (homoousios)]. Even AFTER the resolution of the issue, the controversy continued, with Athanasius even being exiled a few times. It was actually hard for his theology to stick, especially with the controversial unscriptural, materialistic sounding term homoousion.
Michael Servetus had discovered a lot of these facts also, by studying the early church fathers. The big mistake that he made was incorporating into his teachings many of the strange concepts some of the fathers taught, such as overly literal interpretations of Christ "living in us", and other things leading in the way of the deification of human flesh and pantheism. But it further goes to show that the fathers did not teach the nice little "orthodox" formula that developed later. But the Protestant and Catholic authorities thought otherwise. Both claimed that the fathers taught their doctrine, and that Servetus was "distorting" what they said, as Melanchthon claimed. Calvin claimed that Justin "set forth our opinions no less clearly than if he had written at our request", and derided "this genius of a Servetus", when it turned out that Calvin had been reading a spurious codex known as "Pseudo-Justin", which adds "One...in the Triad, and the Triad ...in one" (HH,p.187,8/Cal.Op.VIII 498)
So with all of this, it is clear that the precise formula of the Trinity developed over the centuries.
The ancient fathers' concepts helped develop it, but in the light of the full range of their
teachings, how so many can assume that the fourth century doctrine was "always taught" is
beyond me. I've heard an argument that it was originally taught, and that pagan concepts
infiltrated it, and then the "development" we see is nothing more than the doctrine being
"restored" to its "original purity", but such a theory flies right in the face of all the biblical and historical facts, which are now acknowledged by some respected trinitarian scholars. Basically, such a position would imply an "apostolic ORAL TRADITION". This is the concept Roman Catholics use to "trace" many of their practices, not explicitly found in the Bible, back to the apostles. They taught it "orally", and only over time did it become written down (the "hints" leaked out in some NT scriptures, and then the writings of Early Christian Fathers), before finally being "canonized" in the councils. The standard Trinity would of course be included in this. However, Protestant apologists do not accept the other doctrines by this method.
Apologist James White suggests that saying the doctrine developed over time is only to "confuse men's knowledge and understanding of God's revelation with the revelation itself", which was in the Incarnation and coming of the Holy Spirit; —actually between the Testaments. (The Forgotten Trinity, p.166) But the point being made is, the precise, symmetrical formula is what developed, not the idea of God as Father, Son and Spirit, which was believed early on in the Church, as White himself shows. A perfect symmetrical concept was not revealed by the coming of the Son and Spirit or in the scriptures themselves. And where the Reformers and inquisitors would accuse Servetus of "distorting" the fathers, it seems that all they themselves did was to pull out of the fathers statements that went along with their doctrine, and ignore what didn't— the subordinationism. The neoplatonism. The strange concepts of the Logos, and of human souls and pantheistic concepts which Servetus had only derived from those fathers. Plus, the lack of the precise formulation of the Trinity.
But both the Protestants and Catholics, (who were still fighting each other over the Reformation)
felt strongly enough about this doctrine that was held in common by them, to unite themselves
against Servetus, calling him all kinds of names, chasing him all around Europe, cornering him
in trials, and finally burning him at the stake in Geneva, as he cried out to Jesus just like a
traditional martyr (HH,p.212/Mosheim no.1 449-50). His story is fairly reminiscent of Christ's,
and the church authorities were very much like the corrupt Jewish authorities who condemned
Jesus. They were "...better informed on what he opposed, than on what he was trying to
formulate." (Encyc.Brit. 1st ed. art "SERVETUS")
So now that we know the formula made official at Nicaea wasn't really the original formula, what was? What is a better alternative? Before going into this, it will be helpful to show some models of triunity, that may help us understand how the Father, Son and Holy Spirit fit together.
To help people try to picture "trinity in unity", trinitarian writers began referring to examples of triunity in nature. "The Heavens declare the glory of God..."(Psalms 19:1), and for many things there is a source to which it is 'referenced', or 'identified in/as', a visible manifestation which it is seen in, and a third manifestation, which it is experienced in. So God Himself is identified as the FATHER, (1 Cor.8:6), seen in the SON, (John 14:9, Heb.1:3), and experienced in the HOLY SPIRIT (Romans 5:5, 1 Cor.2:10).
The universe is identified as the physical realm, which is manifest in space, and experienced in time. Space is referenced to a 1st dimension (l=length), seen in two dimensions (l 2=area) and experienced in three dimensions (l 3=volume). Time has its source in the future, is manifest in the present, and was experienced in the past. Now, the most striking analogy is a light source. The burning or glowing object is the source. it is seen in the light it emits, and felt in the heat which is emitted by both the source itself, and also by the generated light. Now this turns out to be practically the exact model of the Godhead. In fact, this analogy is even recognized in scripture, where Jesus is called "the light" (John 1:4-9, 8:12, 12:46, Rev.21:23), and along with the Spirit, proceeds forth from the Father; and the Spirit is sometimes associated with fire (e.g. Luke 3:16, Acts 2:3,4), and is also described in a similar analogy involving wind (John 3:8), and proceeds from both the Father and Son (John 14:16,26; 15:26; 16:7).
Moving on to living beings now, another excellent analogy is what is called the trichotomy, or "triunity of man". Man, made in the image of a plural God (Gen.1:26), is identified in/referenced to his SOUL, seen in his BODY, and in a sense, can be experienced by his SPIRIT. Now the distinction between soul and spirit is pretty fuzzy, and the two are frequently confused, but they are shown to be separate in 1 Thess.5:23 and Heb.4:12. (A good explanation of their difference, which basically is tied up with the emotions associated with them, is given in the appendix.) The soul is shown to be the person's self, basically the invisible person. So your soul is you. The body is also you, representing the person in the physical visible realm. Whereas it can be shown that animals are souls, (Gen.1:20-21, 30; 2:19, 9:4, 10, 12, 15; Lev.11:10, 17:11) they are never shown as having spirits, but it is man's spirit that gives him his understanding (1 Cor.2:11, Job 32:8), setting us apart from the animals, and is the part of us that communicates with God (Rom.8:16). No doubt, God's creating us "in His image" was His adding, breathing into us that third part of us that gave us our intelligence. Body and spirit are in a sense, manifestations of your soul. They are your soul, or person in the sense of being different parts or aspects of it. When something troubles your soul, they trouble you; when your body is hurt, you are hurt; when God 'touches' or 'moves' your spirit, He does those things to you.
Another interesting thing to note is the distinctions of man's constituents. Soul, body, and spirit can communicate with each other! Take, let's say, a temptation to sin. The body ("flesh") says yes, the spirit (conscience convicted by the Holy Spirit) says no, and your mind (soul) is in the middle and has to choose which to obey. If you please the flesh, the spirit will trouble you; if you follow the spirit, the flesh will be displeased. The body receives stimuli from the outside world through the senses, and this is relayed to then back an forth between the soul and spirit through their corresponding emotions, as is discussed in the appendix. Also, they can communicate their own separate messages to the outside. You can say one thing, (whatever comes to your mind), but your body can give a totally different message (e.g. facial expressions, gestures), and once again, it's more fuzzy, but people can often sense what's in a person's heart (spirit), especially by the emotions. Excellent studies of the subject are given in Man On Three Dimensions, by Kenneth Hagin, Rhema Bible Church; and The Spiritual Man, by Watchman Nee, Christian Fellowship Publishers. See also appendix. (Note: A lot of Hagin's teachings are seriously questionable by biblical Christianity, but his treatment of this subject seemed to be good).
So we see how we can have three separate aspects making up one person, that can have their own distinctions without being three separate persons. (This is, however, not to re-suggest Sabellianism, as I shall soon explain).
All of these analogies are cited by apologists to teach three Persons in one God, but notice that none of these analogies feature three "co-equal" parts. There is always a source and its two manifestations, which are 'equal' in its essence, but just not as symmetrical as the way God is pictured. At this point, they will always say "Well, these illustrations aren't exact", and that is true, but still, what they are doing is using these analogies just enough to establish the concept of 'threeness' so they can verify the doctrine, but not taking it any further to get a better picture of exactly how triunity functions.
All of these examples helped me to better understand how "three could be one", but at the same
time, they all the more made the traditional Trinity formula seem more and more out of place.
The neat symmetrical form of it is itself what seemed to get in the way of a better understanding
of it. Especially when you see that these non-symmetrical models of triunity are precisely the
way the "orthodox" church saw God before the Nicene council.
Economic Trinitarianism: the Pre-Nicene Orthodoxy
According to the Encyclopedia Britannica (1st ed., art. "SABELLIANISM"), Servetus "reformulated" Sabellianism "...to the effect that Christ and the Holy Spirit were merely representative forms of the one Godhead, the Father". Now THIS seemed to be heading more in the way of what the Bible really implies. To repeat, God is the FATHER (1 Cor.8:6). And the Son and Spirit are MANIFESTATIONS of Him (John 14:9, Heb.1:3, Acts 5:3,4), which PROCEED FORTH FROM Him (John 8:42, 16:28; 15:26). Servetus drew heavily from the pre-Nicene fathers and it turned out that this was their view as well. (He started out adoptionistic, but later modified his views). Irenaeus taught that the Son and Spirit were the "two hands of God", representing the immediate activity of God in the world; creation, revelation and redemption. Tertullian regarded the Logos as eternal with God, but the Son as a historical emergence when the Logos became flesh in Jesus.(Hunted Heretic, p.45)
Early Christian Doctrines, by J.N.D Kelly, (Harper & Row, 1960), gives us an even better picture of the pre-Nicene fathers' theology, proving what Servetus said. It has been labeled "Economic Trinitarianism": "'God the Father', connoted not the first Person of [a] Holy Trinity, but the one Godhead considered as author of whatever exists." (p.100) The Word and Spirit, even though always existing IN the Father, were not revealed as separate entities from the Father until they were manifested for the purpose of redemption and sanctification —the 'economy' (dispensation). "Unless these points are firmly grasped, and their significance appreciated, a completely distorted view of the Apologists' theology is liable to result" (ibid.). The generation of Sonship was held to be at the Incarnation, and among some, the Creation.
The term 'Person' "...was still reserved for Them as manifested in the order of revelation; only later did it come to be applied to the Word and Spirit as imminent in God's eternal being".
So in the pre-Nicene period, the 'Triad' was represented "...by the imagery, not of three coequal Persons (this was the analogy to be employed by the post-Nicene fathers), but of a single Personage, the Father, who is the Godhead itself, with His mind or rationality, and His wisdom. The motive for this approach, common to all Christian thinkers of this period, was their intense concern for the fundamental tenet of monotheism, but its unavoidable corollary was a certain obscuring of the position of the Son and Spirit as 'Persons' (to use the jargon of later theology) prior to their generation or emission" (ECD, p.107,8, emphasis added). Both Hippolytus and Tertullian "...had the conception of God existing in unique solitariness from all eternity, yet having immanent in and indivisibly one with himself, on the analogy of the mental functions in a man, His reason or Word —Logos endiathetos" (p.111). To Tertullian, the Word or Reason of God, which was like a second in addition to Himself, was like the 'rationality' by which a man cogitates and plans, which is a 'second' in [man's] self (Adv. Prax.5).
A Nicene period form of economism was the "expansionism" of Marcellus, bishop of Ancyra (d.374), who was actually a member of the Nicene party. He taught that the Monad expanded/extended into a dyad (though the Logos was always immanent in the Monad), and then into a triad. The process would be reversed after the final judgement. The Nicene party at first espoused it, proving that economism was the prior orthodoxy, but then gradually disassociated itself from it, favoring the now more fashionable Origenist/Athanasian position.
The fact that this 'economic trinitarianism' lies at a closer period of time to the apostolic age than
the later formulation is significant. It reflects a purer, more biblical simplicity. As has been
pointed out, the Bible never makes a formula for the Godhead. But its outlook is more
'economic' regarding the members of the Godhead. The Son and Holy Spirit are simply laid out
as the ways in which God (the Father) works and reveals Himself in the world. The idea of the
three unchanging eternal equal "Persons" was clearly a later interpretation of various scriptures
Economic Trinitarian Statements
"By the very essence and nature of His being, there is but one God, while at the same time, according to the economy of our redemption, there are both Father and Son". (Dem.47)
"We believe in only one God, yet subject to this...economy, that the one only God has also a Son, His Word Who has issued out of Himself...which Son then sent...the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, out of the Father". (Adv.Prax.2)
"When I speak of 'another', I do not mean two Gods, but as it were, light from light, water from its source, a ray from the sun. For there is only one Power, that which issues from the All. The All is the Father, and the Power issuing from the All is the Word. He is the Father's mind...thus all things are through Him" (C.Noet.7;11;14)
By far, the most confusing problem with the Trinity is the use of the word "Persons". Whenever you think of a "person", you think of a separate, individual BEING; usually a human being, at that! And many representations of the Trinity have indeed been as three men! Not only that, but many Trinitarians do sometimes call them "three beings", or even "the divine council". And they all cite "personal" activities of each of them in various scriptures to support this.
The basis of the Nicene formula is: 1)the scriptures mentioning Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the most clear being the baptismal formula of Matt.28:19 and the doxology of 2 Cor.13:14. There are also other places where the Three are mentioned in the same passage; and Isaiah 48:16 where the divine speaker mentions "the Lord God and His Spirit" sending Him. 2) proofs of "plurality"— the "Us" passages of the Old Testament: Gen.1:26, 11:2, Is.6:8, and the plural name "Elohim". Another argument is that even the "One" (echad) of Deut.6:8 (the basic verse of the "extreme monotheists" or monarchians) is plural! 3) Personal activities of the Spirit, and the Word's being "with" ("distinct from") God, and speaking separately in the passage of Isaiah.
So then, it is assumed that the "distinctness" and "plurality" refers to what we call "persons"; which are also said to be "equal" and "co-eternal", thus creating a perfect three-way symmetry. The unity or divine nature they all share in common, is then called a "substance" or "essence". Thus is borne the standard understanding of the Trinity, which we are supposedly "compelled by scripture to teach". But is all of this really the best way to describe the Godhead?
It is clear from scripture that there are two other proper nouns associated with God (the Father). Most groups out there do believe the Holy Spirit is divine. The Mormons make the Holy Spirit a separate god, but to them, all three are separate gods, so the Spirit is still on an equal level with the other members. Even though the unitarians, and binitarians call the Spirit an impersonal force, they do believe it is "the extension of the living power of God" (Denver group doctrinal statement), or the "projected" Spirit of Christ and the Father as "the POWER that responds and does what Jesus commands" (Armstrong). (The Jehovah's Witnesses are the only major group who believes the Spirit is a created "force", but they are still forced to mention 'it' in ways that distinguish 'it' from other forces.) In the orthodox Jewish concept, He is the person of the Father in a Power that inspires man, and in their literature, you'll even see mention of a Person called the "holy Spirit". To them, this is simply another name for the Person of God, especially in relation to the inspiration of scripture. These groups do see the Spirit as fully part of the one divine essence, after all, God IS spirit; "His Spirit" is what He consists of (Gen.1:2). You could even say, the very "substance" the trinitarians speak of. And the early Christians got their concepts from the Jewish.
As for Christ, even though the Arians and unitarians reject His deity, He still winds up being held by them as a unique being who is more associated with God than any other, and shares many of His powers, attributes, titles, and authority as recorded in scripture. The Arians, including the Jehovah's Witnesses, even go as far as to acknowledge Jesus as Creator! (What these groups should realize, is that if they are willing to confess that Jesus is all of these things, then they might as well just go on and call Him God—as the early church, and also I, had realized).
So we see that unanimously, even among the groups that fight the Trinity concept so hard, no
one can deny that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit— no more and no less —are uniquely
associated with Godhood. (Even the unitarian Wierwille has stated "Biblically, there are three:
1)God...the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, 2)Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the son of man,
and 3)the holy Spirit, God's gift" (JCNG p.123, also quoted in The Spirit of Truth and the Spirit
of Error)) But then does all of this lead us to the symmetrical Athanasian-Nicene formula?
The first thing to deal with in tackling this problem is the meaning of Jesus' Sonship. Luke 1:35 plainly equates Jesus' Sonship with His conception by God through the Holy Spirit. His Sonship refers to His existence after His begettal—when He was born as a man. His dual nature is covered in both titles: "Son of man" refers to His being born of Mary, and Son of God points to God as His Father; the one who caused Mary to be pregnant with Him. But trinitarian scholars have turned both Sonship and begettal into entirely different concepts. They say that "Son" is only a sort of metaphor for "the eternal relationship shared by the first two Persons of the Trinity", and that the "begettal" or "generation" of the Son was "from [past] eternity". But none of this redefinition is in the Bible.1 People even wondered why the Son was "generated" while the Spirit only "proceeded" from the Father. It obviously points to the generation of the Son as referring to His physical conception.
Scholars point out that "Son of God" as it was used later on in the Gospels referred to His actions, majesty, and authority, the term often referring in the ancient oriental world to rulers. People believed in Jesus' miracles and authoritative teaching, not because of His divine conception (which some did not even know about at first), but rather, it was the other way around. But this only further proves that the Title could only possibly refer to His life AFTER His birth, AS THE MAN who did these things, not before His birth as a mystical "second Person" beside a "first Person" called "His Father"
So I believe in the dual, or in fact triple meaning of His Sonship: His divine conception, His
spiritual adoption, and His divine life. Sonship does still refer to His conception by the Spirit.
People want to deny that the Holy Spirit has anything to do with the role of a "seed" (or sperm)
that begets. Some think that is a disgusting analogy. But remember that GOD is the one who
created the human reproductive system, and that we are in His ["OUR"] image! And it is the
Spirit that begets individual people spiritually, making them sons and daughters of God (Romans
8:14-17), AND brothers of Jesus (Matt. 12:50, Heb.2:10,11), showing clearly that Jesus' Sonship
to the Father is basically in the same sense as our sonship (but, of course, with the addition of
Him receiving His physical life (and nature) directly from the Father as well as spiritual.) Some
will charge that the Spirit caused Mary to give birth to Jesus, not the Father, supposedly
disproving Sonship as referring to the birth. (Then people like Muslims charge "that makes the
Holy Spirit Jesus' father!"). But remember, as was just shown, the Father represented the whole
Godhead, and the Spirit was His means of conceiving the child Jesus. (Which disproves the
charge that this was some sort of sexual union).
Equality and Co-eternality
Trinitarians say that the Son is "equal", and this is the major cause of confusion in the matter. "Father" is a title of authority, and "son" is a title of subordination. So picturing the Father, Son, and Spirit as "co-equal, co-eternal Persons" seems to give the impression that the Father, this figure of supreme authority whom the Bible says is the Source and the one from whom the Son and Spirit proceed (and NEVER vice-versa!), is nothing more than, as Muhammad complained, "a third of three" (Qu'ran 5:171). And not only that, a common representation of the Trinity has "Father", "Son", and "Spirit" radiating out of "God" in the center, representing the "one substance" they share. Not only does this make the Father a third, but it has also been said that the central figure could be considered a fourth entity, creating a "Quaternity". The same problem is also true for modalists who claim that the three are only three equal masks worn by, or roles played by "God" who could have a "true identity" which could be considered a fourth role. 2
A better way to express the Godhead is to have "God the Father" at the center, and the Son and Spirit radiating from Him. This better fits the biblical and pre-Nicene model of the Godhead, like Irenaeus' "Two hands of God". This does not take into account the procession of the Spirit from the Son also, but it is in harmony with the fact that God is "identified as" the Father, and that the Son and Spirit are the ways that the Father is revealed or made known, rather than the Father Himself being an equal manifestation of something else. Furthermore, the Son and Spirit are the Son OF God, and Spirit OF God, but there is no FATHER OF God.3 Likewise, "God the Son", and "God the Spirit" are not used by Scripture, but "God, the Father" is. This shows once again, that God is referenced to the Father, and revealed in the Son and Spirit.
So the answer to subordinationism is once again to point out that Jesus' Sonship refers to His humanity. In fact, Walter Martin admitted that the title of "Son" essentially began at birth, and that it was a subordinate role:
The Lord Jesus Christ...is now and for all eternity the Son of God...therefore, in this senseis He the Eternal Son. But to be Biblical in the true sense of the term, we must be willing to admit that He was known prior to His Incarnation as the Eternal Word. Nevertheless since the word 'son' definitely suggests inferiority...it is absolutely essential that Christ as the Eternal Word be pointed up as an antidote to the Arian heresy of the Jehovah's Witnesses. (Kingdom of the Cults p.117, 118, emphasis added).
(John MacArthur also once held this view, but later renounced it, apparently, under criticism from others.)
This is the best idea, because the title "Word" does not suggest any kind of subordination or inferiority to the Father. The Radio Bible Class booklet Does the Bible Contradict itself?, p.14,15 states:
As God, Christ was equal to the Father in His eternal essence and character. However, when He left Heaven on His mission of mercy, He temporarily laid aside His rights and honor in order to become the God-man. To become one of us, He left His glory behind and accepted a role of total dependence on His father. Although He has once again been restored to honor and glory, His role as the God-man is not over. While being equal with God in essence, He has accepted a subordinate role in order to carry out the eternal plan.
So as the Word, Jesus IS equal to and co-eternal with the Father, but the Son is a subordinate
role of the Word. This really helps to clear things up concerning the problem of subordination.
But what was Jesus like as the Word before His birth? And what about the Holy Spirit for all
times? Is it necessary to refer to them as individual "Persons"? This is the other big puzzle. Just
what is a "person" anyway?
The Meaning of "Personhood"
A "person" is said to be an entity with "an intellect, emotions, and a will". Does God then, have three different sets of will, emotions and intellect? Wouldn't the three somehow share a common will, intellect and emotions (apart from the Word's being manifested as a man)? Many claim they really are analogous to three separate men in unity. (It's easy for them to make this claim, since they are composed of Spirit, and therefore easier to picture as still being of "one substance".) But still, isn't this really compromising even a substantial unity? Is it like when the legion of demons possessing a man spoke as one person with one plural name (Luke 8:27-30) as someone has illustrated? Some more informed apologists are now renouncing these analogies, but in defending the traditional view, still speak of the "persons" in basically the same fashion.
The book that gave me the greatest help in understanding the problem concerning the term "persons", and the most honest and down to earth treatment of the subject is Shirley C. Guthrie's Christian Doctrine. On p.99-104, He first presents some false interpretations of the Trinity. The most striking is:
In the beginning, there were three Gods up in Heaven. At first, the Father...came down to deal with his people. Then he sent the Son. After the Son went back up to Heaven, the Holy Spirit came. But the doctrine of the Trinity means that Father, Son and Holy Spirit are not a Heavenly club, with the members coming and going like the gods of pagan mythology, or like substitutes in a football game. Christians believe in one God, not a team of Gods. (p.91)
But a 'team' concept is what the Trinity has given the impression of, the way it's been traditionally presented— there are these three "co-equal, co-eternal Persons"; the second One is called "the Son". It's just by coincidence that this Son is the Person who decided, or was chosen to be born as a man. But that Sonship has absolutely nothing to do with His humanity, nor with any other kind of subordination to the "first Person", who happens to be called "the Father", but is really nothing more than another equal member of the Trio. (These are all just "functions" anyway, they say.)
This is part of what makes the whole thing so confusing. So then Guthrie describes what the church originally was trying to say:
Having rejected the false solutions of modalism and subordinationism, the church then had to work out its own statement about the Trinity. Its alternative was not really a solution to the problem of how God is one and yet three... All it really did was to affirm both his oneness and his genuine presence and work in Christ (and the Spirit). The one God makes himself known to us and works in our world and our individual lives in three different ways. But in each of these ways of his presence and working, we really have to do with the one God himself, not with three gods, nor with a hierarchy of divine beings, nor with Halloween masks which hide who the one behind them really is. The ancient church said this in the language and concepts available to it at the time. Even then it had no adequate way of expressing what it wanted to affirm; its formulation was open to misunderstanding, and it was often misunderstood. The ancient formula is even more difficult to understand in our time. Not only are the language and concepts of the second and third centuries strange to us; they have actually changed meaning over the years. Part of the confusion and misunderstanding of the doctrine of the Trinity in our time is of course due to the inexpressible mystery it points to. But part of it is due also to our reading into the language of the doctrine handed down to us a meaning it was never intended to have. If we turn now to look more closely at the classical doctrine, therefore, we have two things to do: We have to try to understand its content, and we have to translate its language. Let us look briefly at what this doctrine affirms. If we are to understand what the doctrine affirms, then we must try to understand what it means when it expresses the unity of God with the concepts "one essence" or "one substance", and what it means when it expresses the distinctions in God and his work by speaking of "three persons".
1. The Unity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are of one essence or substance. They have the same nature. This language is misleading today, first of all, because it is impersonal, suggesting that God is a neuter something composed out of some kind of basic stuff— as we have learned to think that all things in the world are composed of the fundamental elements. The classical trinitarian language seems to suggest a lifeless reality of one kind or another, rather than a living, acting person. Moreover, in our thinking this language could suggest not a way of expressing the oneness of God, but a way of losing it. The doctrine does not mean that Father, Son and Spirit are three different persons who share a common divine essence in the same way that three different men might be said to share a common humanity [a commonly used illustration!]. That would obviously be a crude tri-theism. One essence or substance originally meant that Father, Son and Holy Spirit are the same in being or identical in being. It meant, as Barth has put it, that in God there are not three divine "I's", but one "I". It is a way of saying what we have already emphasized: When we have to do with the Father or with the Son or with the Spirit, we have to do not with a part of God, or with a different God; we have to do with the one God himself.
2. The distinctions within God and his work.
If the terms essence or substance are confusing to us today as a means of expressing the oneness of God, the term "person" is disastrous as an expression of the distinctions within God. In our time, "person" means a self-conscious, individual, autonomous personality. To speak of God in three persons suggests to us three different personalities—three different gods somehow combined into one. The church has never intended to say this. But in using the language of the ancient world, it has led many people...to assume that Christians are supposed to believe in three gods, no matter how carefully this is concealed with double-talk. It is very important to get this straight. In our sense of the word, there are not three persons or personalities in God. God is only one person. When we speak of God as personal, or as a person, we refer to the one person who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, the fact that we can speak of this one person only in a threefold way does mean that there are distinctions within the richness of God's being and work. The classical doctrine of the Trinity tried to express these distinctions with the Latin persona. This concept referred in the ancient world to a mask worn by an actor in the theater to help him play his role more effectively. Later, it came to refer to the role itself rather than to the mask. When this concept was used in the traditional doctrine of the Trinity, it was it was intended to mean something like "way of being" or "way of existence". "One God in three persons", then, means one God who has at the same time three distinct "ways of existence" as God or "ways of being God". To translate persona in this way is not to fall back into the heresy of modalism, (a) so long as we remember that these three ways of being are not just masks behind which the real God is hidden, but ways in which God himself lives and works; (b) so long as we remember that God lives and works in these three ways, not in temporal succession (as if there were first the Father, then the Son, then the Spirit [an early form of modalism]), but simultaneously.
From CHRISTIAN DOCTRINE: Teachings of the Christian Church, by Shirley Guthrie, p. 99-102. © Marshall C. Dendy 1968. Used by permission of Westminster/ John Knox Press.
(Kelley, Early Christian Doctrines, p.114-5 similarly goes through the early meanings of prosopon (Greek) as well as persona and concludes: "In neither case, it should be noted, was the idea of self-consciousness nowadays associated with 'person' and 'personal' at all prominent.") Author Gregory Boyd of Bethel College, in Oneness Pentecostals and the Trinity (Baker, 1992) even accepts the idea that the "persons" are like the inner constitutions of a single human person or a person's self and self-image (the "psychological model") in response to Oneness charges of tritheism. (p.171-175). St. Augustine and Jonathan Edwards are even quoted to the affirmative.
So this explanation really clears up the whole issue. It does still seem to leave us with a modalistic sounding solution, since it does not clearly enough reaffirm the distinctness of the Father and Son, as in the Son's prayer to the Father, or sitting at His right hand. It is just to show that the term person as originally coined by the church did not have the same meaning as it does to those who apply the modern meaning to the threeness of God and read it into various scriptures, as well as those who reject the concept entirely because of its seeming lack of sense, or appearance of tritheism. The point is, that "person" is not really a good word for the 'threeness' of God, at all, even though one can cite scriptures that seem to support the common understanding of it. The term itself, hypostasis, is only used in the Bible regarding the Father with the Son as His express image (Heb.1:3). The other Greek term, prosopon [presence], is also used for the incarnate Son (2 Cor.2:10). "Person" really refers to human beings; it is almost synonymous, and is used as a neutral form of "man" and "woman". Animals are individual souls with a certain amount of will and emotions, but we do not call them "persons", because they are lower forms of being, intellectually. We don't even really think of angels as "persons", even though they are definitely shown to be 'personal' beings. So the term really does not fit well for either the threeness of God, or even for the oneness (the monarchian position) either, since God is more higher to us, than we are to the animals. But since God was manifested as an actual human being, that entity, Jesus Christ, is definitely a "Person", separate from God in His natural form. Since humans were made in the image of God (who is the Father), then He too is identified with personhood, as Heb.1:3 acknowledges. These are the biblical uses of the term.
Now this may leave the question of how God could be two "Persons", one human, one divine.
This is what remains the mystery. As Does the Bible Contradict Itself, p.15 continues: "No one is
able to understand how God could become a man while still remaining God" (something
modalism seems to deny). It's not a "three-in-one" mystery the Bible emphasizes, but rather "the
mystery of godliness"— God manifest in the flesh (1 Tim.3:16). Now that we have seen the
personhood of the Father and Son, that leaves the non-incarnate Word and the Holy Spirit.
The Word (Logos)
"Word" or "Logos" was a Greek concept John had used to describe the pre-incarnate Son, which meant the plan, reason, or revelatory thought of God. Now these definitions seem to suggest that this Word was not a separate "Person" in itself. For instance, Walter Martin concluded that "Never was there a moment when God had thought apart from Logos or reason". (Kingdom of the Cults p.118). But when you think about it, one person does not think through another person. His thoughts are apart of the one person. And this is the way pre-Nicene Fathers such as Tertullian saw the pre-incarnate Word! (See his statement quoted on p.31)
The Logos basically represented God's physical/visible activity on earth, such as Creation (John 1:3, 2 Pet.3:5, Psalms 33:6), and the visible manifestations (theophanies) men saw. So in this sense, the Yahweh who appeared to man was the Word, but this Word was not a demiurge or 'mediator' between man and another "higher" being man did not know about. He was simply the special visible manifestation of God to men, who could not see God in His natural form. This can even be seen in the various "Angels of Yahweh", who were called or spoke as "Yahweh" or "Elohim". The "one like the Son of God" in Daniel 3:25 could also be such a manifestation of the pre-incarnate Word, anticipating the coming and work of the incarnate Word as the "Son". (It could have still been a regular angel, since angels were also called "sons of God".) 4
Now none of this means that Jesus was "created", or "began His existence" at birth, nor was the
Son "formed by the union of the Word with the human Jesus", as many adoptionists claimed.
The man Jesus, the Son of God, was simply the final form the Logos/Word has taken on. His life
as a separate [human] Person began at birth, but that was not the beginning of His existence. He
had existed as/in the Person of God since "the beginning" (past eternity). When the human
person died, He simply returned to the Father the way He was before. (Luke 23:46, John 16:28)
This is why He could say that He would raise His own body from the dead (John 2:19-22), when
it was said that the Father raised Him. (Acts 3:26, Galatians 1:1, Ephesians 1:17-20). And its the
only answer to the popular unitarian challenge of how God could "die". The idea of the Logos as
a separate person in itself turns out to be the more pagan version of the concept, which came
through certain of the fathers, such as Origen, who interpreted it according to their contemporary
The Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit is the being of God (Father and Son) in us, speaking to us. Just think of the Spirit "speaking" to you. Is this really a different "being" with different "emotions", "will", and "intellect" from the Father or Son? Why is it always the Holy Spirit that speaks to us and never the Father or Son directly? (Wouldn't it be possible for the "team members" to ever switch up for a change?)
Philip Yancey's "A Trinity of Voices" section in Disappointment With God, p.151-2 (Zondervan), is a great illustration of the three different ways God has "spoken" to man. He points out that the Father no longer shouts down from Heaven, nor can the human voice of Jesus any longer be heard on earth. God now speaks to us through the "still small voice" in our hearts. This, along with the verbal inspiration of scripture, is how the Spirit has always worked. The Spirit has never shouted down from heaven (Rev.14:13: "A VOICE" speaks from Heaven, THEN the Spirit, speaking to John adds to it— "Yes..."), nor became a man. (Yet, as I'll later explain, the Holy Spirit is made manifest in the persons of men.)
A great example of the personal connection between the Spirit and the other Members, is in
Revelation ch.2&3 at the end of each of the messages to the seven churches: "...hear what the
Spirit says to the churches". But who is it that has been speaking these messages to the churches?
It's Jesus! He is the Person speaking to believers through the Spirit. And also in John 14:16-24
where Jesus speaks of the Holy Spirit's coming after His departure, and says "I will come to
you"; "...the world will see me no more, but you will see me, you will know that...you [are] in
Me, and I in you...and I will manifest Myself to [you]...and make my home with [you]". Once
again, Jesus is the Person who lives with and in us through the Spirit.
The Mystery of "Plurality": "Us"/"Elohim"
The biggest argument for the traditional view is the "hints of plurality" found in the Old Testament. Like I had said before, these occurrences in scripture were quickly taken and had the Nicene concept of "Persons" read into them. But there are other reasonable explanations for them, that, while they may seem discredited from their use by Arians and unitarians, nevertheless should be looked at, since the traditional view is not expounded by scripture.
One suggestion is what is called the "Plurality of majesty". Misunderstood, because its advocates usually don't explain what it really means (and some critics have traced it to a 13th century English royal concept of the same name), a Jewish scholar explained it as meaning that "He is the one God who embraces all the epithets of all the gods which the mind of man ever conceived. —An all embracing God". So the plurality represents not three, but the more loftier concept of infinity. (One God: God of the Ages, R.H.Judd, p.18,19 Restitution Herald, Oregon, IL). "Here it indicates that God comprehends and unifies all the forces of eternity and infinity". (Pentateuch and Haftorahs J.H. Hertz, Soncino Press, London, 1981, p.2)
"In Canaan there was a tendency to employ the plural forms of deities...to summarize all the various manifestations of this deity. In like fashion the Canaanite plural Elohim ("gods") was adopted by the Hebrews to express all the excellencies and attributes of the one true God" (Unger's Bible Dictionary p.412). `
Also in harmony with this, the Arabic even has a plural, "Allahu", which represents all of His attributes (which had been falsely worshiped as hundreds of separate gods by the Arabs before Muhammad reformed Arabic worship).5
So Jewish scholars, such as Maimonides also point out that the Hebrew meaning "Elohim" has taken on is literally, "the Master of forces". This is a good interpretation— it describes what God is regarding His power (another translation of the name), just as "Yahweh" describes His eternal being. All of these are much better alternatives to the common understanding of the name, which preserves its Canaanite (pagan) meaning as "Gods", which is then ironically taken as a further 'proof' of "plurality in unity" by many. That is really a bad interpretation. It's practically a blatant confession of polytheism! As was mentioned before, even the term "One" in Deut.6:4 is being labeled plural. (as in Gen.2:24). But still, to say that the plurality represents separate "Persons" or even "beings" in unity, citing the idea of men in unity, and then go right on and top it off by saying that their common name means "Gods" IS making more than one God; no matter how much, as Guthrie said, you try to cover it up with "double talk". The only way to make God one then, would be say that "God" is only a "family name" of divine beings, just like the Mormons and Armstrong! Those groups were only being consistent with the standard pluralitarian doctrine.
The first clear interpretations of the "Us" being the Father and a pre-existent personal Son talking to each other are the mid-second century Epistle of Barnabas of Alexandria ("Pseudo-Barnabas") 4:7 & 5:12, and Shepherd of Hermas III:9:110. And even then, these were nothing more than the personal interpretations of these two men, not [yet] a church-wide standard of "orthodoxy" received from the apostolic age. Apologists suggest that since their writings seemed to assume the interpretation was "accepted as commonplace", and there was no outcry against it, then it must have been a church-wide standard. But the church was still just beginning to form specific views on the exact nature of God. It was a logical correlation, in light of John 1:1. And these two writers' full position still were probably 'economist', just like Irenaeus, (who also made this reference to John 1:1) and Theophilus shortly after them. Only Christ's preexistence at Creation is mentioned, not any past eternal personal distinction. This was a common variation of economism, yet a century later, Hippolytus and others still believed the Son was generated at birth.
Even in orthodox trinitarian scholarship, there is not complete consensus on the use of these passages as proofs of the Trinity. Boyd says that the echad and elohim arguments are "weak", (because singular verbs are used) and accepts the "plurality of majesty" for the latter (p.47,8). Ron Rhodes of Reasoning from the Scriptures Ministries, in The Complete Book of Bible Answers (Harvest House, 1997) not only accepts the "plural of majesty" for "Elohim", but also for "Us", and that the personal pronouns are a grammatical necessity of the plural name.(p.79-80)
Yet, still, the "us" passages do give the implication that someone was there with the divine speaker. Since John 1:1 opens with an entity that is said to have been "with" God "in the beginning" (an obvious throwback to the first verse of Genesis), it is a hint the "Us" must have something to do with the Word, and not just the plural of majesty, or even angels, who, as was mentioned earlier, did not participate in creation, and were not even mentioned in the passage. (They are mentioned in Is.6:1-7, v.8 being one of the other "Us" passages, though)
Another explanation of "Us" is foreknowledge. This concept is used by unitarian groups to deny any form of preexistence or deity of Christ, but viewed in a framework of the economic position, it deserves consideration. Christ, in His human, crucified form was pictured as being "with" God in "the beginning" —along with the saints! (Rev.13:8, 17:8, Eph.1:4, 2 Thess.2:13, 2 Tim.1:9). But since Jesus really was God incarnate, and God is eternal, knowing "the end from the beginning", God certainly "knew" Himself, and knew that He would one day take on the form of a man, so in that sense could He be considered "eternally begotten", and "with" God as a separate divine individual in the beginning. With this in mind, passages like Isaiah 48:16, Proverbs 30:4, and perhaps even Gen.1:26 can be understood as Messianic Prophecies. (Man is made in the Father's image, and then made again in Christ's image: Romans 8:29) In fact, the timelessness of God can explain a lot of scriptures such as John 17:5. It is not necessarily trying to teach one divine being beside another, but is another way of saying that the being that was Jesus was the eternal God. Existing in the divine essence, He "shared" (had the same) the glory of the Father and His role as Creator in the Beginning, and could thus, even in His limited time-bound humanity, say that He had been there "with" the Father.
The safest explanation, and the one with the most historical support is that of Tertullian; that the Word was a second in addition to God in the same sense that a man can become a second to himself in his thoughts. Of course, the divine Word was much more than simply the mental processes of God, but also His active creative power. This would fully explain the "Us" passages, and why "Us" is used only in these few verses, while the rest of scriptures use singular pronouns. One could ask which Person is speaking in all of these other scriptures? Especially Isaiah 44-46: "None else like Me". Most would acknowledge "all three", but here, they can all act as one Person, as economism teaches. This shows that God was basically one, and that His Word and Spirit were in His being. So with any personal activities or apparent 'distinctions' of the pre-incarnate Word and Spirit, it can be understood as the work of the one God through these distinct, different means. Many may feel that this is still too modalistic. But modalism had a good idea. It just did not take into consideration the obvious distinction created when the Word became flesh. Man is not God. Man is less than God, and has to pray to and obey God. So God as a man is definitely personally distinct from God in His natural existence, since there is such a big difference between the two. For this reason, the Father and incarnate Son can be regarded as "distinct persons" in the common understanding of the word: as two separate self-conscious entities. Christ had two natures, one of which was divine, and therefore apart of the divine essence, and the other one was human, and therefore distinct. Once again, this is the Biblical "mystery", as taught by 1 Tim.3:16.
The ultimate point for economism may be found in two of the historic creeds themselves. The Athanasian Creed and the Westminster Confession ch.2, art.3 even hint to the truth about the Father when they state that the Father is "of none, neither begotten nor proceeding", and that the Son of course, is begotten and the Holy Spirit proceeding. Here the perfect symmetry people have drawn from these creeds is broken. This too, points to the true economistic meaning of this; having long been forgotten, buried under centuries of misleading philosophy and phraseology.6 Perhaps, the writers of the Athanasian and Nicene creeds may have still thought economistically, and we have misread them. Perhaps some may have understood the "eternal begetting" as Christ's being in the Father before the Incarnation, as the earlier fathers expressed it. Remember, it was Arianism the creed was primarily written against. It held Christ's begettal as being his own creation before the creation of the world. Orthodoxy simply responded by moving this primeval "begettal" to 'past eternity', to avoid the idea of Christ being created. But before this threat was seriously taken on, there had been no reason to move the begettal to the infinite past. The begettal was not taken to mean his beginning, as he had always existed as the Word of the Father. And they rejected Marcellus' idea then, because he used the inadequate term "expansion", which gave the impression that God got "bigger" or something. Yet, Marcellus' presence in the Nicene party shows that economism was still around, even though the new way of expressing it was changing it into the present understanding of the Godhead. And remember, many of the other leaders in the Nicene council held positions "midway between Arius and Athanasius", which undoubtedly points to the economic position of Him being generated as a separate person in time. The Athanasian language was suspect to them, but they still signed the creed because it was closer to their belief than Arianism and the other views.
Though the various explanations can be legitimate, ultimately, this is where we would have to acknowledge what the Trinitarians have been saying all along: that it's a mystery.
Now in Hebrews 1:8-12 (the passage the sects never answer), we see the Father actually praising
the Son as Creator in quotes from Psalms 45:6,7 & 102:25-27. But when you go back and read it
in the Psalms, you see it's really the psalmist praising Yahweh, who as it's been shown, is both
Father and the pre-incarnate Word. And in Hebrews 3:7-11 & 10:15-17, quotes from the Old
Testament are said to be the words of the Holy Spirit. (see also Acts 1:16 & 28:5) It was the
Spirit who moved the prophets to speak (2 Pet.1:21). So we see how Father, Son and Spirit could
be united in one being without being like some heavenly 'team'. Each of the Three contain the
fullness of the Godhead, and thus His Personality. So you can look at each as a separate
individual Person, but that does not mean you have to ADD them together and get what appears to
be three separate gods. That was the mistake of the later church. Apologists acknowledge this,
but their insistence on symmetrical language makes it appear that the "Persons" can be "added"
to each other. One suggestion, as inaccurate as it may be, is that the formula is not 1+1+1=3, but
When Christian churches and ministries list their doctrinal beliefs, on the issue of the nature of God, they almost unanimously choose the form: "One God, existing eternally in three Persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit". Since the fourth century, this has been the "code" of orthodox theology; a symbol, almost, like the fish Christians used to draw in the ground to identify one's self to another as a believer. Even though there are these variations of the doctrine among Christians, ranging from the Persons being as separate as three men, and as close as the inner constituency of one man, this statement seems to embody them all. But the outside world continues to see this three way symmetry as violating true monotheism.
If I were to put together a creedal statement, I would simply say that there is one God, the Father, and in the divine essence is also the eternal Word and Spirit. The Word was revealed in the Person of the Son, [who has gone back up to the right hand of the Father], the Holy Spirit is the presence of God in and amidst His people. This basically is what both the New Testament and the Church Fathers of the first three centuries have declared, without "putting it all together" into the creedal statement of "One substance, three Persons". I believe we should return to this simpler formula and not depend so exclusively on the fourth century expression.
At least some apologists are willing to admit that the internal relationship within the Godhead is
similar to the relationship of a single person's inner constituencies, and this is the definition I am
satisfied with. This may even explain the "Us" passages, and perhaps the plural term "Elohim". I
also would agree with something White alluded to (p.170); that if "you can tell the Father from
the Son and the Son from the Spirit", there are obviously some sort of distinctions
("incommunicable attributes"). I do not share the modalistic view that the Pre-incarnate Word
and the Holy Spirit are absolutely indistinguishable from the Father (and Boyd shows how the
Oneness people inescapably make concessions to distinctions within the Godhead). So with
these understandings, I am pretty much in agreement with the traditional view. I would only add
that after the Incarnation, the distinction of the Word became greater than it was before, and that
this distinction, which can be regarded as "personal" in the common understanding of the word,
is what the Bible refers to as the "Son". This is where the problem will arise with the apologists,
who seem to insist that the distinctions were exactly the same, before and after the Incarnation
(except that the Word was now "visible"), and therefore move the generation of the Son to a past
eternal "begetting" which is just the name of the "relationship". Since the Spirit was also
similarly distinct, you wind up with a perfect symmetry of three co-equal co-eternal "persons",
who only have different "functions". (It seems that the Father or Spirit could have just as well
chosen to come down as a man, while the Son or Spirit remain on the throne in Heaven, and
send the Father or Son into Mary's womb, and also to indwell men and speak to their hearts.) So
I am afraid people will see what I am saying as tantamount to an effective denial of any real
preexistence for Jesus and personhood for the Spirit. Being that I'm within the body of
"orthodox" or "fundamental" believers, I do not want to dissent more than I have to on an issue
seen as so vital to the foundation of Christianity. But even though the theologians keep saying
the concepts are misunderstood, and keep explaining them, still, nobody outside of the orthodox
community is getting it. Even much of the laity within the Body are largely uninformed, as
apologists such as James White point out. As I've said, its the insistent creedal language with its
emphasis on symmetry that is getting in the way and short-circuiting any attempt to clarify it. So
the cultists keep making the same responses, and the general body of believers keep ignoring or
downplaying (or "forgetting") the doctrine, as the apologists are complaining.
Why the apologetic explanations are not working
Many apologists are now acknowledging that the "personal" distinctions have been misunderstood, and are not as separate as being three "beings", "people", or "individuals" or a "committee". All the dissenters are said to be reacting to a "caricature" or "straw man". But then we still force the "eternal relationship" theory, and refer to the "Us" passages, the "with" of John 1:1, and personal activities of the Spirit to support it, maintaining the traditional symmetry ascribed to the doctrine. But this suggests precisely the caricature people are rejecting— a divine committee! For the third time, this is "double- talk"!
Even for those who admit, like the pre-Nicene fathers, that the distinctions are more like the inner constituencies of man, it still sounds like a committee the way it is argued. What seems to have happened, is that after centuries of the creedal formula, the Western church did come to view the three Persons as three men (hence the drawings of three men, the likening of them as like three men, etc.) People did not see this as a compromise of the divine unity, but simply attributed the apparent contradiction of the three-in-one as a "mystery". "God said it; that settles it" was the final answer. Recent centuries of dissenters challenging the very core of Christian belief, many of them operating on misunderstandings of the Gospel, have now motivated an intellectual scholarship that tries to recover the true meanings of doctrines and terms. But the symmetrical traditional view is so thoroughly ingrained in them, that in trying to explain what the Trinity is not, their arguments still lead to the same exact premise as the old assumptions.
For instance, leading apologist Hank Hanegraaf of CRI, even claims that God is "one what, three who's", (the "what" being the "being" or "essence", and the "who's", of course, the "Persons"), and then warns "we dare not mix up the what's and the who's". (Quoted in White, The Forgotten Trinity) But right there, do you see what has happened? The entire Godhead has become a "what" (—the mysterious "substance" known only through the "Persons"; or perhaps it's just a title). Just think about the logical extension of this reasoning: if I'm referring to "God" (the entire Godhead, and not just one Person in particular), I don't tell people who is Creator, but what. We are simply reenforcing the root of the problem, which has fed all the arguments or "caricatures" of all the anti-trinitarian dissenters. So it seems we are willing to sacrifice the very concept of a personal divine unity in order to defend the Trinity from modalists. This is the earlier mentioned historic problem of Western theology: starting from the unity, and trying to force the Three into it, rather than starting from each of the three members and acknowledging that they personally embody the whole unity, as the Eastern Church did. Each is a "who", but you don't ADD them together into an impersonal "unity" and call it "three who's"! That was never even the original intention of the "Orthodox" position and the creeds. With all the emphasis I am seeing on "three who's" now, this isn't even being emphasized. It just leads to the same problem the modalists are being condemned for. God becomes almost a mysterious THING, wearing three masks, only we call the masks "Persons" (and the word originally meant "masks"!). Or looking at it from another angle, what really is the difference between this and Armstrong's "family" concept (other than the personhood of the Spirit)? The divine family is the one "what" consisting of more than one "who". Or, a club or team, as was mentioned before (both also examples of 'what'), even if you try to add that each member contains the wholeness of deity. A similar problem occurs in White's discussion of the difference between being and person (The Forgotten Trinity, p.171) when he says that our limited beings are shared by only one "person", but God's being, since it is unlimited can be shared by three "Persons". This makes God's "being" into a nebulous entity that only contains persons! Just look at what's being said: the analogy is drawn to the "personhood" of people (which constitutes individuality), and the threeness of God is molded into the concept. But then it's said that we don't really mean that God is three individuals like people! All of this is what Guthrie said "seems to suggest a lifeless reality of one kind or another, rather than a living, acting person". In other words, the unity of God is not what's personal about Him. But the divine unity must be personal; we think of "God" as a personal entity, not as an umbrella organization of personal entities. White and the others emphasize this point, but the language they are using here flatly contradicts it. We are continuing the mistake the Western Church has always made— defending our beliefs with extra-biblical rationalistic analogies. These just wind up doing more harm than good; further clouding rather than clarifying the issue. We're dismissing all the old pictures (such as the three men), but then piling new ones on top of them. Years from now, future apologists will have to go back and explain or renounce this batch as well, as poor illustrations.
All of this to conform to the creedal definitions of God, which are said to be based on an
"unavoidable conclusion drawn from the scriptures". But the scriptures which "teach" the
concept are interpreted in light of the creedal terminology! (e.g.: "Persons") or the assumptions
we draw from that terminology ("eternal relationships", etc), when the Bible never spells this
out. And then the terminology itself has to be rationalistically justified. That is what most of the
arguments for the Trinity have been. An example is the basic reasoning that "they perform
'person-like' behavior on their own, so we must refer to them as separate Persons". But since this
is God; just as we cannot hope to fully comprehend everything about His tri-une nature, we also
cannot add such reasoning and try to so meticulously define it as such; for isn't that giving the
impression that we really think we do fully comprehend it? (This is what I meant by saying that
"incomprehensibility" is being used to get the last word). Some more classic examples are the
following philosophical arguments that have been added through the centuries.
Trinitarian Philosophical Arguments
Many reason that an eternal plurality of Persons was absolutely necessary, otherwise God would not have always been "Father", and He would have "waken up" out of a "past eternity of loneliness", and therefore would have had to have consisted of three Persons—one other equal Person as an object of His love, and another equal Person to ensure that His love was shared equally, without jealousy. Another argument stated that the Wisdom and Will of God, which were responsible for creation, must be personalized as a second and third Person, else they would be inoperable.1 These arguments, though sounding logical at first, are completely ridiculous when you really think about it, and at that, derived from Neoplatonistic and Stoic philosophy.
First of all, what people need to realize when they talk about God in "past eternity", is that they are looking at it from their limited perspective which is bound by time. I used to try to think of what it was like to have existed ALWAYS, with no beginning, but then I realized that time itself had to be created. Philip Yancey in Disappointment With God p.194-201, goes into an excellent discourse on the fact that God is not bound by time, and had to "step into" time when revealing Himself to man, who is bound by time. Quoting from The Confessions of St. Augustine p.286-7, he says "When asked 'what was God doing before creation?', Augustine responded that since God invented time along with the created world, such a question is nonsense and merely betrays the time-bound perspective of the questioner. 'Before' time, there is only eternity, and eternity for God is a never ending present."2 Now this may seem like man-made philosophy as well, but it is in line with scriptural teachings about God. So the whole argument about God "being lonely" in past eternity is irrelevant. Even secular science is postulating a timeless, space-less "primeval realm" before the Big Bang and beneath the level of the "strings" that make up all matter. It seems that even the very "fabric" of space and time, may consist of strings, with both flat space, as well as the "gravitons" of gravitational fields simply being differentiated from each other, and from force and matter particles by their vibrational patterns. This means that you cannot even think of the space-time strings "individually" lying to the right or left of each other, because those directions only have meaning on the realm made up by the strings themselves (i.e. the "space" and "time" dimensions!) (See Greene, Brian The Elegant Universe Vintage Books, 1999, p.376-380)
And equally ridiculous is the argument that if He wasn't more than one "Person", He wouldn't have always been "Father". This, of course comes from the idea that "Father" only represented the "eternal relationship" of the "first Person" to the "second Person". But like I showed before, the Bible clearly teaches that the Father-Son relationship refers to Jesus' life as a man. But before that, in the Old Testament, God was the Father of His people (Jer.3:4,19, 31:9; Isaiah 63:16, Psalms 68:15, etc.—(just like He is the Father of His faithful today). That was in the spiritual sense. In the physical sense of creation, He is the "father" of the human race (Luke 3:38) and of angels (Job 1:6, 2:1, 38:7, perh. Gen.6:2,4). Also, He is known as Father of mercies, Father of lights, etc. The title "father" basically represents both authority and creatorship. This also was the view of the early theologians: ("author of whatever exists" Early Christian Doctrines p.100, quoted on p.31; "Author of reality", ibid. p.112). So just by being God, He is automatically "Father".
And the idea that God had to consist of a plurality of "Persons" in order to be able to love Himself is by far the most ridiculous. First of all, the "equal objects of love" theory TOTALLY DESTROYS ITSELF: If "Father" and "Son" are only titles describing the relationship ("begettal") between the first and second "eternal Persons", then that right there suggests that they both have a more intimate relationship with each other than either of them do with the "third Person" who is described only as a "Ghost" or "Spirit" and only "proceeds" from God. What kind of "equal love relationship" does that suggest? If this argument were valid, the Holy Spirit would have a personal, RELATIONAL title.
People should realize that this is GOD we are talking about, not some finite, limited human bound by time and "personhood" like we are. We're thinking about how lonely or loveless we would be in an eternal solitude. But God is so much higher than us, that He can have all the love in Himself, and have an operative Wisdom and Will whether or not they are what we would call "persons". (This is precisely the type of reasoning that suggests a divine committee!) Basically, it does no good to even try and ponder what His eternal existence was like.
If one likens the Persons to the inner constitution of humans, then the philosophy becomes unnecessary. In this "psychological model", this self-love exists in everyone and is not unique to God, (when you love yourself , who is loving, and who is being loved?) so the attempt to use this to show why God had uniquely always been God (perfect eternal love; Father always Father) fizzles away.
And the question about God's eternal perfect love is answered by the fact that He loved US (as
well as Christ) from the beginning. Now this is something that man will never quite comprehend
until we reach eternity ourselves, and Trinitarians who emphasize the incomprehensibility of
God should realize that instead of coming up with the philosophical arguments mentioned
Generation and procession
James White, (p. 172), distinguishes economic Trinitarianism from ontological (in and of itself— in its Being) Trinitarianism, and tells us to "define these terms [begotten and procession] within the context in which they are being used." In other words, don't think of "begotten" in human terms, but divine, and don't think of "proceeding" in temporal terms, but of eternal, since God is eternal and unlimited. Of course, removing these understandings frees us to define this "eternal divine" subsistence as "relationship". White says the problem is that when we see these words "our time bound minds...often jump the track", but the track that has been jumped, is the issue of where these "divine" "eternal" definitions are coming from in the first place! They are not expounded upon in the Bible, but were assumed, beginning with the 4th century Church, based on the "Us" passages of Scripture, and the defending of the deity of Christ from those who said Christ was created (Arianism and dynamic monarchianism), or that He was a temporal succession of the divine Monad (modalistic monarchianism). The ultimate proof is that while White and others clarify the distinctions of the "relationships" referred to as "generations", "filiation"(the Son being Son to the Father) and "procession" (the Spirit's relation to both Father and Son), none ever explains exactly why, or more accurately what defines these distinctions. No one even addresses why, then, you have such distinctions between the means of being in the first place if you are dealing with absolute "equals". These were the questions that bugged theologians for centuries, but everyone just pushed them aside, appealing to the old "mystery" standby (which shortly comes up after White's discussion of that point). How can this be "Bible teaching" when the Bible doesn't address the idea, and we can't even define the idea? Saying that the exact meaning of the relationship terms "God has kept to Himself" doesn't mean anything if He has not clearly dictated that that's what those terms really mean. Saying that the "with" of John 1:1 implies "intimate knowledge" still does not define the terms begotten and sonship. Even if you point out that "Only Begotten Son" means "unique", and not a biological sense, still, there is more of an association of the term "Son" with His Birth (economical) than with any past eternal relationship (ontological), and don't forget Hebrews 1:5, where "begotten" is a literal translation. And what is also ignored is that "proceeds" is also used for the Son from the Father (John 8:42, 16:28). This shatters the whole idea, showing that "procession" is the generic termfor the Son and Spirit's issuance forth from the Godhead, and that there is something uniqueabout the Son's procession: it is labeled also with a biological term, one that matches the title (Son); and the Word in fact did take on a biological nature when appearing in the world as the man Jesus, who is called the Son of God! This IS the context in which it is used in Luke 1:35 and Hebrews 1:5,6 , and even though the ancient world understood "Son of God" in a non-biological sense, this does not contradict a biological meaning, and in fact further compliments it. Yet, a past eternal "relationship" is not hinted anywhere in conjunction with "begotten" and "Son", and was not apart of the ancient understanding of the terms. The Bible is using terms that the average reader can understand. Unless some passage explicitly gives it a new meaning, we are left to assume that the commonly understood meaning applies; not to try and redefine it according to how we think it must apply to God. Around 2000 years ago, a man was born. This man was said to be the eternal Logos incarnate. In examining this, the Logos' eternal existence within the Godhead is not in question. But the human incarnation of the Logos began at a particular point of time in a particular place. God did this by causing a woman to become pregnant. Of course, this was not a normal pregnancy caused by a sexual union. But still, someone caused this woman to be with child, and people call this "begettal". And sure enough, this person is called the "Sonof God". Some people had doubts as to who sired this man. (John 8:41) But He assured us that it was God. (5:17,18) Human sons are begotten, not God. Only in pagan religion were divine beings begotten, and even though some may try to liken a belief in Christ's literal "begettal" with the pagan concepts, remember, we must distinguish His human nature from His divine nature. His human nature is what was begotten. There is no concept in the Bible about the divine nature, or anything else truly divine ever being begotten.3 "Begotten" is in necessity, a time-like term. It is a particular event. The eternal God stepped into time when sending forth His Son. (Heb.1:5/Ps.2:7 even speak in time-like fashion: "Today.."). And His Spirit also always existed in the Godhead, but was sent forth to men (in time) to inspire them and indwell them in the Church age. Since the Spirit did not take the form of a man being born into the world, this is not called begettal, but only procession (which also has been generically used for the Son). The Logos and Spirit existed ontologically in God's being since eternity, but the generation and procession into the world of time cannot be simply redefined into eternity (Once again, they are not even definable regarding God's ontological subsistence outside of time. If these entities, are said to have been with God, and also apart of His essence for eternity, then why would they be also said to proceed from Him in that same point of eternity, unless you appeal to foreknowledge). This is the only conclusion that can be drawn by the Bible alone, without the later philosophy.
This whole ontological concept is based solely on a few passages that hint of plurality in God's nature, and these by themselves are fuzzy, and even prone to differing interpretations (see above). But it's in the creeds that they have all been put together into this grand scheme. We are interpreting all the scriptures and their terms in light of the creedal definitions— which themselves may be misunderstood. And we flatly ignore actual history, where the earlier fathers saw, as Kelley admits, the Trinity as economic ("still reserved for Them as manifested in the order of revelation"), and only later did it become ontological ("imminent in God's eternal being"). Instead, even these earlier fathers are often read in light of the later theology. It is, in practice, the starting point, not [just] the conclusion of scriptural teaching (contrary to McGrath's ideal definition).
In conclusion, the question to ask is who or what is the Holy Spirit or the pre-incarnate Word? God! What is God? A Person! So the Word is a Person and the Holy Spirit is a Person. This is the ancient orthodox method of looking at each hypostasis as the whole, rather than as "members" or "persons" of the whole, which overemphasizes the distinctions along with their unbiblical terms, (and this is precisely what appears to divide the unity!) God is holy, and He's Spirit (His true "substance"). Where Wierwille tried to differentiate between "gift" (thing), and "Giver" (Person), in actuality, the Gift IS the Giver!
The economistic theory is not really meant to be a new "infallible" or perfect doctrine to "replace" the Trinity.
Some would say that I shouldn't write something like this because
These things were settled long ago by the church. The early leaders met in special councils to work them out, and there is no reason to doubt their decisions. To revive these things is unnecessary. To make matters worse, it adds to the confusion already existing in the minds of the untaught. (R.W. DeHaan, How to Recognize a Good Church, p.31 RBC)
But this is just another form of the "default" tactic. It's like an admission that we're not really sure, but our past leaders gave us this formula, so we might as well preach this as the truth. But those earlier leaders were fallible too, so how can we take their word as the final authoritative answer? ESPECIALLY when you look at the corruption in all the other doctrines and practices that were entering the church at that time, as well as the obvious political nature of those councils. This should make their decisions very questionable, and I'm surprised that so many Protestants like this accept them almost wholesale. Indeed, "historic Christianity" often seems to get the final authority, even over Scripture (since it's interpreted in light of historic Christianity), in apologetic writings.
If the economic theory is inadequate, it's because we really can not have any perfect formula for the Godhead; in fact, there really IS NO perfect formula for us finite creatures who only "see in a glass darkly" (1 Cor.13:12) Servetus had even pointed this out in a letter to Oecolampadius (Cal.Op.VIII 862; Hunted Heretic p.62)
No human formula or interpretation will ever be perfect of infallible. No matter how many scriptures one cites or interprets, opponents will always have scriptures and legitimate reasoning and interpretations that seem to go their way. Trinitarians should realize that instead of enforcing their formula and then saying that there is no perfect understanding of it, so they can have the last word.
This project started out as an attempt to remove all the extrabiblical terms, concepts and interpretations and lay out what is in the Bible and see what kind of picture we get. Not only did it come out identical to the earlier views of the orthodox church, as I later found out, but it also turns out to be the concordance point of all the previous conclusions men came up with— unitarianism, binitarianism, trinitarianism, Sabellianism; equality, subordination. It affirms all of their points of truth: The leadership of the Father, the literal generation and sonship of Christ beginning at His birth, yet both the Father and Son possessing genuinely separate and divine Personhood with the Son Preexisting eternally as the "Word"; His deity and humanity; The Holy Spirit being the "Power of God", but not an "impersonal force"; and finally, the monadic, dyadic and triadic schemes of scripture which points to the Godhead's being truly tri-une, and truly one.
We really should try to avoid the extrabiblical terms and concepts if we want to be truly biblical. I'm not even saying that the traditional formula is "false", "pagan", or that the formula itself is "unbiblical", as most of the cults and the Jews and Muslims have done. It was just a generalization of scriptural teaching. But Servetus was right in addressing the problem of these other faiths (and other non-believers as well) and evangelism. If we are going to preach to these people, (and with the threat of eternal condemnation, essentially, if they reject what we say), then we had better make sure what we are giving them is just the plain Word of God. As long as we add in little extrabiblical concepts and paganized philosophical arguments to back them up (that may be good for our understanding, but are confusing or misleading to others) and the force it upon unbelievers, first of all, we become hypocrites for condemning others for "unbiblical" error, plus it lays us open for their counter-criticism of us as having the unbiblical views.
Apologists such as White (p.188) claims it does no good to stick to biblical language "at the cost of the essence of biblical truth" (as the Arians), and that it was the Nicene Council that maintained that essence by using "more specific term[s]" to define it. Anyway, all of the apologists claim, we all use extra-biblical terms, such as "Incarnation", "God-Man", etc. The first point just shows, as I have said that the whole basis of Nicene terminology was wrapped up in the reaction to Arianism; to "force their hands" as White puts it, regarding Christ's relationship to the Godhead. In the second point, other "unbiblical terms" are not clouding the issue, but do clarify it. "Incarnation" simply means taking on of flesh. Absolutely no misunderstanding. That is what the Bible clearly spells out regarding Christ's entry into the world. "God-Man" is self-explanatory. He is God and man. But if words like "substance" and "persons" are so misleading to many, both in and out of the Church, and suggest to so many something that doescontradict "biblical truth", then why not try to find different terms that are not so burned in everyone's mind as suggesting three totally separate individuals who are really one. (White suggests "subsistence" (p.170), but this actually means "being"; totally wrong direction!) The reason why "biblical language" is such an issue in the first place, is that if it was "biblical language", then we'd have to just accept it as is. But since it isn't, and it appears to compromise biblical teaching, then people will tend to reject the whole idea trying to be conveyed, and try to read other meanings into the scriptures that do seem to "hint" the teaching. So it should really be reconsidered. Boyd also suggests (p.173) that other suggested terms such as "mode of being" (Barth) or "manner of subsistence" (Rahner) are too cumbersome and impersonal, so we should continue to use the terms "person", but with caution making sure the church understands that we are not using the word literally, but analogously. But still, many in and out of the church will not get it. It will still devolve back into the tritheistic images. Just look at the fact that in my experience, I had no idea that the "persons" were supposed to be like the inner constitution of a single person. I was shocked when I read about this for the first time in Guthrie's Christian Doctrine and Kelley's Early Christian Doctrines, and still shocked now to read in Boyd's Oneness Pentecostals that:
— this analogy was "most frequently employed throughout church history" (p.175);
— the language was "never taken to mean 'three separate people who are God'", or a "committee" (p.50, 172);
—"three separate consciousnesses, three separate minds, three separate wills and perhaps even three separate spiritual forms or bodies...have little to do with what the church has traditionally believed about the Trinity";
— he doesn't "know of any, ancient or modern, who wanted to maintain that they are separate, or even hypothetically separable", and:
— "none of the three persons can...even be conceived of apart from the other two and that each "person" completely dwells within the other two".(The "perichoresis"—p.171)
—the picture of three "images" of God are "rightly opposed as tritheistic" (172).
— the Elohim argument was "rarely, if ever used by informed trinitarian scholars" (p.66)
There was so much that I read and heard from "orthodox Christian" teachers that suggested precisely what is being denied here, and it was not the "few, uninformed", but the many, scholarly! "Person" is often defined as "mind, will and emotions"; Romans 8:27 is frequently used to suggest the Holy Spirit has His own "mind", and the personal activities of the Spirit, the way they are cited seem to suggest the same thing. "Us" is referred to a "divine council". Even the Son's being "sent" was used to suggest prior individual self-consciousness. Every trinitarian authority who addressed the subject rejected "plural of majesty" as a cultic heresy. Which way is it? Nobody back then ever challenged the common understanding of "person" as separate self-conscious individuals. I was left to take that meaning of "person", and then visualize three of them. How they actually made up one God, "the Lord has kept to Himself" everyone said (an old method of skirting the issues the Church was infamous for). The "cult" books at the time also, did not address these issues, and only pointed to the "mystery", and then condemned all the aberrant groups for rejecting it. There were chapters about "Orthodoxy: the sleeping giant" which criticized the average body of Christians for ignoring or "forgetting" doctrine, but not one back then ever admitted that the historic Church did portray God as three men in Heaven, (and many still describe Him that way) and that this was flat wrong, and has helped to cause confusion about the Trinity. (The closest you would get to that is "those weren't exact"; if it was addressed at all.) Perhaps the problem is, like in social issues, that we focused so much on people's dissensions to the doctrines of "historic Christianity", that we ignore a lot of the mistakes that the historic Church itself has made that have exacerbated the issues. Then, we respond defensively, as if people had no reason to oppose us. (Now, apparently, it's the growing infiltration of Oneness Pentecostal teachers into the evangelical community in recent years that is motivating the modern apologists, on the defensive, to dig out the original or true meaning of "persons".)
We should also realize that we should let go of the perfect symmetry (three eternal equals), which is the other problem. The eternality, equality and personality must lie in the unity or essence if God is really "one" in any sense of the word, and if the Godhead is a being and not a thing. Even the distinctions of "function" or "relationship" within the unity effectively break the symmetry. So why keep emphasizing a hypothetical symmetry, and then forcing it into the language of "person"? This is what hopelessly gives the world the impression of tritheism covered with double-talk.
If all of this can help people realize that they can accept the genuine deity of Christ without sacrificing the oneness of God, then that is what counts for their salvation, not finding a "perfect formula". If it helps "Jesus only people" accept the distinctness of the Son from the Father, then that will work to bring them more into agreement with the rest of the body of Christ*. If all those traditional terms are not in the Bible, then we don't have to use them! Calvin Burrel concluded:
One may clearly affirm and accept the full biblical revelation of Father, Son and Holy Spirit without endorsing the trinitarian creeds. As we bow at the feet of Jesus Christ, God's Son, trusting Him as our Savior and obeying Him as Lord, we thereby glorify God the Father and show that the Holy Spirit is in us as a truth. This unfathomable truth of God of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit must not be restricted to the orthodox language of trinitarianism.
A word to "strict monotheists"
Now people like Jews, Muslims and the other unitarian Monarchians will have to realize certain things too. Their teaching that God cannot become a man; cannot have a Son, are supposed to uphold the supremeness and uniqueness of God, but actually destroy them. Just think; how can God really be so supreme and unique if He cannot do things: things like this that are above man's full comprehension? (Isaiah 53:8,9) If He cannot "accomplish His will through weakness"?(i.e.— becoming a man and dying- See Guthrie Christian Doctrine p.239-40) In the New Testament, this was held up as being one of the marks of God's supreme power. Does man, or even "an angel from Heaven" (Gal.1:8, see Qu'ran 2:97) even have the right to dictate what God can and cannot do (as in Qur.4:171), based on their limited understanding? Extreme monotheists must realize that they have made God into a neat little single Personage who is easy to comprehend, like man or a "big angel" or something. Where Trinitarians have put God into one kind of "box", the monarchians have put Him into another.
If you really look at it, triunity is of a necessity a universal concept. Jews, Muslims and monarchian sects all believe that God is above creation; above space and time themselves. Yet, as He creates and sustains the physical universe and reveals Himself to its creatures; he in a sense "comes down" to their level, since this universe is said to not be able to contain Him (1 Kings 8:27). He can communicate either visibly or spiritually. So we see that an almighty God must have an operable Word and Spirit in a world of creatures; if we were to find intelligent creatures in the furthest reaches of the universe, we would still see the same Father, Logos, Spirit!
Yet, I still do understand the mental block people must have to the concept of the Incarnation and deity of Christ. You really have to admit that it does sound kind of pagan, reminiscent of many of the ancient heathen deities, like the monarchians feel it is. And they don't seem to buy the reasoning that those heathen concepts were counterfeits of the divine plan. We Christians know that if some religious group came up to us saying that their human leader was God and raised Himself from the dead, and that we must believe that or be condemned, we would all, of course, regard them as a "strange" or even dangerous "cult". But we must realize that that is exactly what we're doing! To people who don't know who Jesus is, we're no different from any other religious movement. So we should all understand the problems people may have to our message. We should not try to force it down their throats.
To such people who really do have that kind of struggle with the idea of Christ as God, but are otherwise interested in and feel led by the Gospel, perhaps it would help the most to separate what is divine about Christ from what is just human. It's not his body that we're saying was divine, nor was any of its functions, such as eating, sleeping, bleeding or dying. Neither was his limited knowledge, praying, fasting or susceptibility to temptation. All of this was definitely human. But as the perfect embodiment of the Word (Plan) he IS actually from God (John 10:42), SPIRITUALLY apart of God (like a physical son to his father), and even basically of the same spiritual essence. It may even be possible to look at it from a monadic perspective if you keep this distinction between the humanity of Jesus and the true invisible nature of God in mind.
Those teachers who strongly reject the deity of Christ, but still claim to believe in the New Testament are asked to look at the implications of Christ being the perfect image of God(Hebrews 1:3, John 14:7-11, 10:30 — which monarchians never dispute). And especially considering the complete failure of all other men to be the perfect image of God, or even sinless. (Who really but God could be the perfect image of God?) The biggest thing to consider is the fact that Jesus receives so much glory from God (John 16:14,15, 17:5, 15:26) when God had clearly said "My glory I will not give to another" (Isaiah 42:8). And indeed, He receives so much honor in the scriptures; the entire New Testament and its teachings being all centered on this man, and what He did for us, which so greatly affects our lives and relationship with God now and for eternity (more points the Christian/Messianic monarchians all accept). Plus, all the titles they share. Such a divine person can in no way be a "partner" with God (as Muslims charge). It's to say that such a being is not God that would make him a 'partner' with a unitary Monarch who alone holds those titles and glory.
As God, Jesus would naturally deserve all the honor, worship and praise that is due the Father, and which he is given in the Bible, and did accept. (apostles and angels who were worshiped clearly state "DO NOT DO THAT!" (Rev.19:10, 22:9, Acts 10:26, 14:15). Since they are the same BEING (remember, the Son is the human aspect of the divine Being), to worship the Son would NOT be to have 'another god' or 'partner' beside Allah/Elohim. It is to fully worship and honor God. And just as a son of man is man, so the [only begotten] SON of God is God. As both terms are used in scripture, it is an almost direct scriptural affirmation of the dual nature of Christ as defined in the creeds.
Hopefully, all of these points should help unitarians and "extreme monotheists" at least understand why Christians consider Jesus to be the incarnation of God. And hopefully, traditionalists will better understand other views and tolerate some differences.
*Many, if not most apologists, reject all Oneness Pentecostal groups as "antitrinitarian cults". I think this is a little too harsh,
even though some of them do openly denounce the Trinity as "false", like the cults do. The difference between the doctrines
isn't really great enough to say that they believe in a false God/Christ, as at least one apologist has said. They both affirm the
deity of Christ, which is the central tenet of the Gospel. I feel modalism in itself should not be put in the same category as
Jehovah's Witnesses (Arians) or unitarians. Even though the ancient church did give all three errors the same level of
condemnation, that period of the church wasn't perfect either. They were in a very sticky situation defining and defending
the faith, so naturally they would react like that to any deviation from what they understood as the truth. Modalism is a
misunderstanding of the divine unity. They take the same three-way symmetry as the Trinitarians, but as Boyd and others
point out, they simply trade one word ("Persons"), for another ("manifestations"). Even if you argue that "if redemption
becomes a charade, how can they be redeemed?", still, most do not mean to make redemption a charade, even though we
know that that is really the corollary of there being no distinction between the Father and Son. They just don't see an
inevitable contradiction, just like Trinitarians don't see a contradiction between three who are one. (It is a "paradox"). Here
is simply where they make concession to mystery (even though they may deny the idea of mystery), as Boyd also shows.
Now, many modalistic charismatic groups are overly legalistic, and believe essentially in salvation by works, and baptismal
regeneration, and say that all who disagree with them are lost, so by that criteria can those groups be considered "cults". But
the rejection of Nicene theology is the first and foremost thing they are condemned for, even above those other things!
(There are many people who are not like that who honestly think a modalistic view is the best expression of tri-unity.)
James White criticizes making "degrees" of heresy by claiming this is not as bad as unitarianism or tritheism; heresy is heresy. But then where do we draw the line? The common portrayal of the Trinity as being like three men in unity is accepted and believed by many conservatives, or at least tolerated by those who realize it is not a good way of presenting the Godhead! (Hanegraaf's "one what/three who's", which White commonly cites also supports this idea, at least up front). This view is far more problematic, and closer to cultic belief (the tritheism of Mormonism and ancient Gnostics). Yet since it appears to be more compatible with Nicene phraseology, it passes as acceptable within the framework of "orthodoxy". This is not right. If I must condemn all modalists as unsaved heretics, then I must be consistent and reject all fundamentalists and apologists who use "three men in unity", or "one what", illustrations as heretics even moreso. Some leading apologists are renouncing those expressions as a misunderstanding of the uninformed or ignorant, but they are much more widely held among the doctrinally literate (including fundamentalist leaders) than that. The economic theory (which is the very doctrine Tertullian and others first used to confront modalism) would be the perfect vehicle to try to convince the Oneness groups of their theological problems.
THE TRI-UNE NATURE OF GOD AND ITS MEANING FOR US
GOD'S SELF-REVELATION TO US
This whole concept of the triune nature of God is so much more than just some abstract theology
or irrelevant play on words and numbers. It is the threefold way God loves and relates to us. He
created us, reached down to us and provided a way to redeem us after we turned away from Him,
and gave us a way to be supernaturally sanctified so we could have better fellowship with Him
and each other.
The Son: God WITH us
Philip Yancey's book Disappointment With God (Zondervan, 1988), a book of encouragement for people who suffer which tackles the problem of God's seeming unreal in the world, really helped me to see that the doctrine of the deity of Christ— God's taking on of human flesh, or incarnation in Him, is really central to grasping God's love and compassion for us. It's one thing to think of God allowing a good, innocent man to suffer so much temptation, rejection, pain and death "for" us as a sacrifice. But then when you think of the idea of that man as actually being God Himself in the flesh, then it portrays God as rather than being some aloof, unaffected deity, He really is a Person who really does understand our problems after having gone through them Himself. Remember, Jesus' own statement "Whoever desires to be great among you [shall] be your servant..."(Matt.20:26-28); and "the last will be first" (19:30). Well, that's exactly what the greatest Being in the universe did. He, as Yancey put it, "worked within the rules" He set up at Creation (p.128). Hebrews chapter 5 says that He "learned obedience" by the things He suffered, and was "perfected" (v.8,9). At first, these verses seem to disprove the deity of Christ, but if you look at them in the correct light, they actually prove it. Before the Incarnation, God never had to "obey" anyone. He was the One the entire universe was commanded to obey. He had never experienced the pains and temptations of living as a vulnerable creature in a fallen world. But in Jesus, He took on those experiences (the meaning of "learning"). Isn't that only "fair"? —Just like we all wish our top bosses and politicians (and even church&religious leaders!) would "come down" to experience life on "our level". So the great God, who for so long seemed to deal harshly with man's weaknesses, came and experienced them Himself, along with temptations to disobey. This "perfected" Him as High Priest (next verse) and Mediator. (And if 'learning obedience' and 'being perfected' referred to Him not being obedient and perfect before, then He was a sinner and would not have qualified to be the Savior.) During His life He had shown so much of God's compassion through healing, befriending the outcasts, etc., but at His death, He really showed compassion —and for His fierce enemies, by praying "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:24), showing His understanding of the weakness of human nature. In the Old Testament, God seemed like a perpetually angry, almost tyrannical figure that demanded a whole bunch of rituals to make it possible to approach Him. Now, with Jesus as our mediator and High Priest, we can go "boldly before the throne" (Heb.4:16).
This whole idea of a God who loves us and sympathizes with us, so central to the Gospel
message, seems impossible to fully appreciate apart from an understanding of Jesus as God
The Spirit: God IN us
But now, Jesus has gone back up into Heaven, and is invisible, and once again seems so unreal. Does this mean that God is still uninvolved and far removed from earth after all? Not at all! For now that Jesus has left, the Holy Spirit has come to fill His place as God on earth. (John 14:16, 25, 26, 16:7, 12, 13) And now, God's dwelling place on earth is in His believers! As Phil Yancey points out (DWG,p.139), three temples appear in the Bible: the literal temple of Old Testament Israel, where God literally dwelled; the 'temple' of Jesus' body (John 2:19,21); and the 'temples' of believers' bodies (in whom the Spirit dwells)(1 Cor.3:16,17; 6:19, 2 Cor.6:16, see also Eph.2:19-22). Under fire, Michael Servetus had modified his position to say that the Holy Spirit is personalized in the believers (Hunted Heretic p.64/Servetus, Two Dialogues on the Trinity, C5a-6a). This didn't appease his accusers, but there is a great truth to that statement. Every Christian should know that the whole purpose of the Christian life is for us to be made more like Christ (Romans 8:29, 2 Cor.3:18), who is the image of God (Col.1:15, Heb.1:3). And this is accomplished only by the power of the Holy Spirit (2 Cor.3:18). And when we are led by the Spirit, as Yancey points out, we represent God's Holiness on earth, and do His work on earth. In what He calls "the Transfer", Yancey shows how after Christ's death, the focus is shifted completely to the apostles and the Church as the ones responsible for carrying out the work of God (see also Eph.3:10), beginning with Christ's giving of the Great Commission. In the beginning, God Himself directly spoke to and dealt with man. Then Christ came to do those things as the perfect God-man. Now that job has been turned over to the body of believers, who in the power of the Holy Spirit are to show the world God's love, and spread His word, not only preaching to others, but manifesting them in their lives.
It does not always seem to work out like this, though, as the world has seen Christians committing many sins and hypocrisies. Many, of course, use this to reject God. "Those Christians are all playing games!", they say. "Why aren't they more like Christ?" But these problems are inevitable, because unlike Christ, who was God Himself in the flesh— the perfect man, God is now using IMperfect men to fill Christ's role on earth. His goal is not only to reach the non-believing world, but also to continue to work in OUR lives and make us grow.
And as Matthew 18:19,20 and Hebrews 10:25 show, God does not want us going at it alone. Many who feel they've outgrown Christianity always say "I don't see why I should have to go to church to worship God; God is everywhere isn't He?" But we don't go to church because we think that is the only place we can worship God; fellowship is to be with EACH OTHER. It seems that God's Spirit works better when we are together, not only amplifying His power as we go out into the world, but also to minister to one another as well.
Scripture further shows the intimate connection of the Holy Spirit with the Church when the Spirit is described in Revelation 4:5 as seven lamps before the throne of God, and in ch.1-3, the lampSTANDS represent the Church. In these seven churches are represented all of the spiritual strengths and weaknesses that simultaneously inhabit God's people throughout the ages. So then the seven Spirits, or "sevenfold Spirit" most likely represents the sevenfold work the Spirit does in and through the Church according to different Christians' needs and performances. And in Zech.4:11, where the Seven are pictured as "running to and fro throughout the earth", it undoubtedly adds to the implication that it is God's people who "carry" Him. And at the end of Revelation (22:17), we read "the Spirit and the Bride [Church] say 'come!'". This shows that the Spirit is the One who leads people to Christ, and that it's the Church that is instrumental in carrying out the Spirit's work. The link between the Spirit and the Church is even hinted in the Apostle's Creed's close mention of "...the Holy Ghost, the Holy [universal] Church, the communion of saints". Adds Yancey: "The doctrine of the Holy Spirit is the doctrine of 'the Church': God living in us". (DWG p.147)
The Spirit has been called, in traditionalist jargon, the "forgotten Person of the Trinity"(or the "most neglected"). But actually, the Spirit is really the most important to us. He is our link to Christ, just like Christ is our link to the Father (see Rom.8:9). And my hope is, that this work will help the world to better understand the love of God the Father, which is in His Son, and Comes through His Spirit.
1. God In General
Is God really male?
Even though I have shown that the Father is what God is, does that prove He is male? Or if He isn't, then maybe "the Father" really is a manifestation of a fourth ("natural") hypostases after all. In today's politically correct times, people are wondering why Father, Son, and a Holy Spirit that fertilizes and begets like male sperm? Why not Mother, Daughter and egg?
The most obvious is "Daughter"; since Jesus was born as a MAN, the Son is definitely male. God chose the male term "Father", because it simply denotes Him as a Creator separate from His creation, where "mother" implies a creation that emanates from the creator. Sure enough, in some tribal religions, new age, and pan-theistic concepts, deity seems to be more associated with femininity. So then the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition is seen by the post-modernist mind as pure patriarchy: an attack on femininity as upheld by nature religions. But God, who is above the created order, obviously cannot really be male, which is defined by biological, fleshy organs. As I have said, "Father" is just a title of authority, which in the ancient times had been held by males, and it affirms His separateness from creation. Anyone who insists on either the literal masculinity or femininity of God is worshiping the creature rather than the Creator.
Some groups tried to balance the gender of God by making the Holy Spirit the female Person of the Godhead. These groups include the Moonies, and also the infamous Branch Davidians of Waco. But this too closely resembles the oldest, most pagan form of trinity concept— the original Babylonian triad of father, son and holy Mother: Nimrod, Ninus/Tammuz, and Semiramis, and all of the forms of this concept that spread throughout the gentile world. (See below) There were apparently periods in parts of the Church where Mary became associated with, or maybe even the personification of the Holy Spirit, and was even treated as the third person of the Trinity! This is even evident from Muhammad's criticism of it in Qu'ran 5:116, where Mary is identified as the third "god" worshiped with Jesus beside Allah by Christians. But, as stated earlier, the Holy Spirit is the begetting agent, not the "Mother", nor the female egg (even though some representations of the Trinity pictured the Spirit as a circle, which represented an egg, or "seed". Remember also, the ancients thought the male semen was the "seed", when in fact, it's the female egg that really is.)
The actual female counterparts of Father, Son and Spirit are revealed in scripture to be His people— Israel, the "wife" of God (Ezekiel 16) and spiritual "mother" of both Jesus (Rev.12:1,2,5) and us, as Judaism is our mother faith, and the new Heavenly Jerusalem is called our mother (Gal.4:26). So the Church then is the "daughter", and also the Bride of Christ. Our hearts are the eggs fertilized by the "seed"(Luke 8:11-15).
Paganism and the Trinity
Hislop's, The Two Babylons, (Loiseaux Bros.). Shows various pictures of the triads of gods worshipped by the ancients. These pagan triads are believed to have started with Nimrod (Gen.10) and his wife Semiramis, (the pagan Queen of Heaven) and their son Ninus (Tammuz), who Semiramis claimed was the reincarnation or resurrection of Nimrod. From this sprang the triads of "Mother and Child", (with a hidden Father) in nearly every ancient Gentile religion in the world. (The mother's association with the Holy Spirit is addressed above). Muslims and cultists point this out as the real origin of the Trinity doctrine, and the Trinitarians respond that these triads were only Satan's counterfeits of the Divine Plan which was revealed in Gen.3:15. That Satan counterfeits God in this fashion is even more strikingly shown in Revelation 16:13— Satan has his own trinity! The Dragon, who is Satan himself (ch.12:9), the Beast (Antichrist), and the False Prophet. (Interesting note: the devil is called the "father of lies" (John 8:44), the antichrist is the "son of perdition" (2 Thess.2:3), and from looking at Rev. 19:20(cf. ch.13:11-15), the false prophet will be the counterpart of the Spirit).
All of these uses of triunity among men, in nature (refer to ch.4), and even the devil, show that the concept of triunity is thoroughly ingrained in man and creation. Some trinitarian apologists point all of this to an "original knowledge" of the triune nature of God that was "perverted" into all the pagan triads. But still, this does not mean or prove that this original knowledge was the same as what was formulated at Nicaea just 16 centuries ago.
Division between man's soul and spirit.
A good guideline in differentiating between the "soul" and "spirit" of man I have found in the works of the late Christian psychologist Conrad A. Baars (Feeling and Healing Your Emotions Plainfield, NJ, Logos International, 1979 and others). He divides our 12* basic emotions into "humane" emotions, (love/hate, desire/aversion, joy/sadness), which are ennobled by our or "intellect" ("intuitive", or "contemplative" mind); thus making up our "heart"; and also our "utilitarian" emotions (hope/despair, courage/fear, peace*/anger), which aid our "reason" ("working" or "discursive" mind) thus making up our "mind". ("intuitive" comes from a Latin word meaning "look" or "view", and "intellect" from "to read between", both as opposed to simply "reasoning")
"Upwardly" he says, "the humane emotions are intimately linked with our spirit, and the utilitarian emotions with our reason" [i.e. soul]. Downward, both groups are linked with our body. (p.33). The humane emotions are from our "pleasure appetite" and cause inner movement within the psyche. They are our responses to what we perceive as "good" or "bad". Our intuitive mind also receives its knowledge from such sources as nature, the arts, faith, and directly from God through the Spirit, thus echoing the biblical statement. The utilitarian emotions of our "utility appetite" move us to action to make life better or respond to threats to our happiness or well being. Thus, they are concerned with mundane things; what is useful or harmful. It's the humane emotions that distinguish us from animals (hence, "humane"). While they certainly share the utilitarian emotions (anger, courage, etc) with us, the other set of emotions are not "ennobled" in them, being that they have instinct to guide them. Since we have those emotions, our instincts are undeveloped or "sophisticated" (its character altered).
So this gives us a good idea of how to distinguish our soul from our spirit: just think of the emotions associated with them!
*Baars does not recognize an opposite of "anger", which he calls the "ultimate emotion". But it seems "peace" or "contentment" would fit. Anger is a "sense-evil" emotion sort of like an active, charged version of sadness, and a temporal cousin to hate. So its opposite would be similarly related to love and joy. "Peace", as it is defined in the Bible is a more spiritually charged form of joy, and is connected with love. It is needed when the other utility emotions are not able to remove the cause of pain or unhappiness, or when something gives you pleasure apart from the intuitive mind. The proof is that animals such as our pets would have the sense-evil reaction of anger if teased, but if petted, a sense-good reaction that is not the "humane" love or joy, and certainly not hope or courage. They are then peaceful. Baars and his colleagues considered this state (which they referred to as "meekness") as not an emotion, but as a spiritual state. But this would probably result from the fact of anger appearing to be the "ultimate emotion". It's opposite then, may appear not to be an emotion at all. But its presence in animals proves it must not be "spiritual". The "peace that surpasses understanding" given supernaturally to humans by God would be the spiritual state.
These next discussions may seem like "denials" of any distinctions of the pre-incarnate Word and Spirit, but I'm only trying to remove the extra-Biblical language and concepts that are causing so much misunderstanding, and give other possible explanations for some of the passages that have those concepts read into them.
2. Jesus Christ, the Son of God
Some may feel that an economistic view of the pre-incarnate Word existing within the Person of the Father would conflict with concept of Kenosis, seemingly showing a self-conscious divine Person laying aside His rights to become a suffering savior. It is assumed that this is the pre-existent Christ deciding to "humble Himself" by "coming down" as a man. But there is good evidence in the context to suggest that this is describing the already incarnate Christ humbling Himself to become the sin-offering for mankind. The statement "form of God...made in the likeness of men" make it look like it was talking about the metaphysical transmutation from God to man, but the word translated "form" means 'nature', and "made", "became", or "coming" (depending on the Bible version) is the same word as in "became obedient" (v.8); and even though the word for "likeness" often refers to physical shape, it is used otherwise in Rom.5:14 & 6:5 and the KJV margin in Phil.2:7 even translates it as "habit". As a man, Jesus was still, in nature, God. So He still had all the divine rights, such as forgiveness of sins, healing power, etc. But He also shows He had the right to not be crucified! (Matt.26:53) As God, He really had every right to thwart the entire crucifixion (and put down all the rulers, and establish His Kingdom right then— like people thought He would and wanted Him to). But He laid aside this divine right, though He spoke as if it wouldn't have been robbery to grasp it. Instead, He took on the nature of a servant— doing good for man during His life, and then laying down His life, to fulfill the will of the Father. Thus, He was in the "likeness", "similitude", or "habit" of regular men; He appeared as a normal man— in the normal human fashion. He even went through the entire process of the Jewish life, obeying all the Laws, and He also went through the entire process of the Christian life, beginning with baptism, which, you, as well as John the Baptist, would think would be unnecessary, but was to "fulfill all righteousness" (Matt.3:14, 15). And so He willingly ended His life as many of His followers would after Him.
This interpretation of "emptying Himself" fits the context of the passage, which wasn't the 'humility' of God becoming man, but of men being obedient, as Jesus was; "even to the death"(v.8)
And even the "humility" of God becoming man is not done away with by economism when you consider the "conflict raging within God" as Philip Yancey puts it. On one hand, He wants to destroy evil instantly and finally (His absolute holiness), but on the other hand He realizes (His infinite wisdom) that the best way to bring about His Kingdom is by the slow, painful process of sacrifice and redemption. God could have chosen either way and still be right and just, but instead, once again, He took on the nature of a servant. God was fully present in the suffering Christ, even though there was still the Father in Heaven. So this is no real problem a separate personal pre-existence theory would be necessary to resolve. But the personal preexistence theory does pose a problem of its own. It makes it seem as if only one of three "eternal Persons"— the "middle man" came down and did all the work, while the others remained unaffected (though they did sympathize with and minister to the Son). Apologists deny this, maintaining that each Person is not a part, but the whole, but once again it still gives the impression of a demiurge (à la Mormons & Armstrong), no matter how much you insist on the "one substance".
The idea of one Person MANIFESTING Himself as the second [human] Person does seem to do the best justice to the statement that "in Him dwells all the fulness of the Godhead, bodily" (Col.2:9)— and without falling into the error of
patripassian modalism. (Apologists are now rejecting the term "manifestations" as used by Oneness Pentecostals, as
"unscriptural", but it does have scriptural usage regarding the relation of the incarnate Son to the Godhead (being used in 1
Tim. 3:16), which hypostasis and prosopon for the past eternal relationship does not have!)
3. The Holy Spirit
A couple of times, I have been referred to The Trinity, by E. H. Bickersteth. It is a good book, laying out all the various scriptures mentioning the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, showing that they are all equally God, and yet distinct. On the Holy Spirit, the author cites 9 passages as proving a distinction of the Spirit, and 40 passages showing quasi-personal activities of the Spirit. He then points out that the Spirit in these scriptures is:
...distinct from the baptized Savior and from the approving Father. ...from the mediating Savior and the decreeing Father [as] the bleeding Savior is distinct from the predestinating Father. In the cases cited above, was the cooperating Spirit identical with the Father, or with the Son? Could you assert that we are baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of one who likewise is the Father or the Son? Or that Grace and peace are besought from the eternal Father, and from one who under another name is also the Father, and from Jesus Christ? No one would maintain this for a moment. The Holy Ghost therefore, cannot be identified or confounded with either the eternal Father, or with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord. (P.120, 122)
But my point is not that the Holy Spirit is the same as the Father and Son. Just that the Bible does not speak in the terms of "Persons". What I'm saying is that it is the one God (who is Father, and was manifest as the Son) who operates through the Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is never pictured as sitting on a throne, like the Father and Son (Rev. 3:21, 5:13, 7:9, 10, 12:5, 22:1, 3, Eph. 1:20, Col. 3:1, Ps.110:1, etc.) (In Rev. 4:5 and 5:6, the [sevenfold] Spirit is pictured before the throne, in terms of objects— 7 lamps and horns and eyes of the lamb [Christ]). The only scripture in which a perfect symmetry is used in the Great Commission of Matt.28:13, which speaks of the name of the Father, Son and Spirit. This reflects their common divinity, of course. Other than this, the triadic formulas are always used showing the Three doing different things. When scriptures show them doing the same things, or sharing functions, a dyadic model is always used:
Greetings from: 1 Cor.1:3, 2 Cor.1:3, Eph.1:2, Phil.1:2, Col.1:2, 1 Tim.1:2, 1 Thess.1:2, 2 Thess.1:2, Titus 1:4, Philemon 1:3
Heirs of: Romans 8:17 Kingdom of: Eph. 5:5 Authority: 1 Cor.11:3 Mediator: 1 Tim.2:5
All of these would have been the perfect opportunity to present a Trinity of "persons" in Heaven like the pictures men drew. Apologists explain these dyadic passage as "the Spirit not drawing attention to Himself", based on John 15:26 and 16:13, 14. But Jesus makes similar statements about His relationship to the Father in ch. 14:10, 13 and other nearby scriptures, but He is still shown in those pictures. They will say that just because the Spirit was left out of those examples doesn't mean anything when there's still the other triadic Scriptures, but what it's showing is that the Father and the incarnate Son are the ones who are most distinct in personal ways, and therefore need to be mentioned together.
Some people are even concerned as to how much people "neglect" the Spirit in prayer, when they always pray to the Father and Son, since He is an "equal member of the Trinity". (R. A. Torrey has been quoted in this regard) But this is also not seen in Scripture. Prayer is to God, who is Father (Matt.6:6-9, John 16:23-27). And since the Son and Spirit are apart of the Godhead, they are receiving the prayer just as well. There is no reason on Heaven or earth to have to divide God up like that and pray to three separate "God" entities, and not one verse of scripture suggests or even hints such a practice. This just confirms to the Oneness people and the rest of the sects that the divine unity is hopelessly divided into three separate individuals in the traditional view; which some apologists are now rejecting as a misinformed caricature. Since the Spirit is portrayed as the Power of God, indwelling us, and not as a separate being sitting on a throne in Heaven, there is no need to pray to God the Giver, and His Gift, who is likewise God, and is in us. You just pray to the one God. When praying to the Father, you can also be addressing Jesus (see acts 7:59), because He is right there beside the Father, interceding. Prayer is said to be IN the Spirit, never TO the Spirit. And there is no concept in scripture of people loving the Spirit (distinctly from the Father or Son), like we are told to love the Father and Son, or love between the Spirit and the Father and Son.
Perhaps the best argument for the traditional view is John 16:13 where Jesus says the Spirit speaks "whatever he hears". But this is obviously figurative. Why would the Holy Spirit "hear" from God, when He is God? Remember, it was the Son's taking on of human flesh that gave Him the limitations and subordination of humanity. The Holy Spirit never underwent such a change of form. The Comforter that would take Christ's place on earth as the guide of the Church would be the same God as Jesus and the Father, and would teach the same Gospel and divine will originally decreed by the Father and relayed by the Son, so He is here pictured metaphorically as an obedient messenger. Some people will point to Romans 8:27 ("Now He who searches the hearts, know what is the mind of the Spirit is...") The word "mind" in this passage means "(mental) inclination or purpose". This passage, speaking of the Spirit interceding for us, is another good point for the traditional view, but a separate self-conscious entity is not necessarily what this implies. Since the Spirit is dealing directly with us (as opposed to the Father or Son directly "coming down" again), He can be pictured as an "intercessor" which is His "purpose". But the point here is not that the Holy Spirit is an impersonal "force", but that I think that the Spirit should be put in a category by Himself, —simply the Spirit of God, rather than using fallible human terms. "Person" is an imperfect and often misleading term, and the Holy Spirit is a mystery in Himself, representing God's invisible, intangible presence on earth.
Once again, I hope people understand the points I am trying to make, and don't just jump on this
as "heresy". If you reject these arguments, then what are you suggesting? The Bible teaches that
the pre-incarnate Word and Spirit communicate with the Father just like two separate human
persons? One divine Person literally tells another "Go into the earth..."? That they have their own
separate "minds"? (That's what these Scriptures, or the concept of Kenosis or "Us", or the Word's
being "with" God and "sent" by Him seem to suggest if they are understood the way traditional
"orthodoxy" understood them). But then you have a divine committee; something apologists are
now renouncing, realizing it hopelessly divides any real unity of being. (All of these scriptures
were probably never even intended to be used as such proof texts. They are matter of fact
statements pointing to divine realities that we had no hope of defining perfectly this side of the
resurrection. Interpreting them the way we do is just as much human reasoning as the detractors
who reinterpret them to reject the Trinity and try to make the Godhead understandable.) If you
accept that the ontological nature is like a man's mental processes "where he becomes a second
to himself", that is all I am suggesting for the Word and Spirit, but then in light of the Son
praying to the Father, or sitting at His right hand, it does seem to suggest modalism. (Plus, once
again, the language used in apologetics still seems to suggest total individuality.) And we must
remember, the pre-Nicene fathers made the same exact distinction I am suggesting between the
eternal ontological distinctions (which were like a single person's inner constitution) and the
greater distinction necessitated by the Incarnation.
1) The Adventists, who share a common Millerite heritage with the Jehovah's Witnesses
(Russellites) also teach that the preexistent Jesus was the angel Michael. But since (unlike the
Witnesses) they do accept the traditional Trinity formula, this makes Michael the second Person
of the Godhead! (They point out that his name means "Who is like God"). All of this confusion
about Michael and Christ comes from the fact that both are called "Prince" (Dan.10:13,21, 12:1,
Is.9:6), and other scriptural misunderstandings. Armstrong taught that Melchizedek (Heb.7) was
the preincarnate Jesus, and some others believe Melchizedek was Michael.
2) The Hawkins' point out that Jesus says "fear not", which they see as a rejection of worship,
but it was more like a greeting (and thus an ACCEPTANCE of worship). He never says "stand
up, worship God only!" like the apostles and angels did when worshiped.
3) The original adoptionism of Theodotus and Paul of Samosata stated that the Word was simply
a phase of God's activity that was UNITED to the human Jesus to form the Son. Another type of
adoptionism is discussed in ch.5 note 1.
Church Father Notes (Ch. 3, 4)
The first to speak of "triAD" of God was Theophilius, bishop of Antioch around the end of the
second century. He was influenced by Middle Platonism and interpreted the Bible in relation to
contemporary rhetoric and eclectic philosophy. The Triad— God, His Word and Wisdom, with
man formed a tetrad.
Athanasius, the man who refined the doctrine into its present form, like Pseudo-Barnabas,
Clement and Origen was from Alexandria in Egypt. "The Alexandrian school...applied the
allegorical method of the explanation of scripture. Its thought was influenced by Plato; its strong
point was theological speculation" (Ecumenical Councils of the Catholic Church), Hubert Jedin,
p.29). (This all makes it so ironic how the NIV Dictionary of the Christian Church could declare
that in defeating Arius, Athanasius "saved the Church from pagan intellectualism".
The first to use the Latin term trinitas was Tertullian, but as was shown, his full position was
Chapter 5 Notes
1) In pagan religions, the gods conceived divine children in heaven, and Muhammad's declaration "God begat none, neither was he begotten" (Qu'ran 112) was aimed at them foremost. (e.g. pagan Arabs believed Allah had "daughters"). But unfortunately, the Christian concept of Sonship as taught by the Church appeared to be the same thing, so he assumed it was and condemned it along with the polytheistic concepts.
Further proof that the traditional formula was not as set in stone as scholars make it out to be, is
the fact that there were periods in the historical church when orthodox Trinitarians actually
rejected the idea of Jesus being a Member of the Trinity! They felt this "confused" His two
natures, and even condemned someone over this! So in this desire to keep separate the two
natures of Christ, a teaching developed called Nestorianism where the "Son" and Jesus were
made practically into two separate Persons! This then devolved into a second type of
adoptionism where the "eternal Son" was joined to the human Jesus who then was not the Son of
God by nature, but only by adoption. (See Early Christian Doctrines, ch.7; and Encyc. Brit. 1st
Ed., art. "ADOPTIONISM". Many "Oneness" [modalistic] Pentecostals today also cross into this error when pressed to
explain the obvious disctinction between the human Jesus and the Father He prayed to!)
Since the teaching now crossed the line of denying the natural deity
of Christ it ultimately was condemned, but you can see hints of its influence in such writings as
the 5th century Gospel of the Birth of Mary 8:15— "And she brought forth...our Lord Jesus
Christ, who WITH the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, lives and reigns to everlasting ages." (See
The Lost Books of the Bible, and the Forgotten Books of Eden, World Publishers). Here, Jesus is
strikingly set apart from the "Son" of the Trinity!
2) A perfect illustration of this is one charismatic group's statement "Father, Son and Holy Spirit are not a trinity, but three manifestations of the only Mighty One of Israel". But doesn't this statement kind of give the impression that the "Mighty One" might have a 'natural' or 'original' identity that could be distinct from the other three "manifestations", the Father included?
Trinitarian apologists now use this point against the Oneness Pentecostals, but the traditional
view with its "three persons, one substance" (or "essence") poses the same exact problem.
3) Even in the Athanasian Creed and Westminster Confession, the Father is said to be
ungenerated, unlike the Son and Holy Spirit. See p. 53 for further discussion.
4) It has been pointed out that the expression really is "one like A son of the gods [elohim]",
which was a common pagan expression for [any] supernatural being. After all, it was here in
this passage spoken by gentile officials who did not know the true God, or the Hebrew concept
of the promised Messiah.
5) The Qu'ran, as antitrinitarian as it is, is full of plural first person pronouns for the divine
speaker! These also are said to refer to the divine attributes, also further proving that "plural of
majesty" concepts existed before 13th century Europe.
6) See discussion of begettal/generation, and procession, chapter 6
Chapter 6 Notes:
1) These arguments are raised by such people as Thomas Aquinas (Summa Theol. i.,xxxi, 2 and 3), Shelley, Queen Mab. vii cf. Journal of Theological Studies, iv.376) both referred to in Encyc. Brit.1st ed. art. "TRINITY"); Richard of St. Victor and Henri DeGand (referred to in The Hunted Heretic p.26), and in Radio Bible Class booklet How To Know God, p.6&32, and also Boyd, Oneness Pentecostals and the Trinity, and in the Christian Research Journal.
2) For those troubled by the question of predestination, the 7th chapter of Guthrie's Christian Doctrines and the 13th chapter of Hugh Ross' Beyond The Cosmos give an excellent treatment of the issue. Philip Yancey has rightly stated: "The church's long arguments over predestination and foreknowledge illustrate our awkward attempts to comprehend what to us, only makes sense as it enters time. In another dimension, we will undoubtedly view such matters very differently". (Disappointment With God, p.198)
3) In the King James Only Controversy (Bethany, 1995) White addresses KJV-onlyism's
rejection of the New American Standard Version's rendition of John 1:18 as "the only begotten
God" (rather than "Son"; p. 198-200). He correctly points out that "if KJV Only advocates were
consistent, they should welcome this reading of the modern texts", being that they "often speak
of their strong belief in the deity of Christ" (and the traditional Trinity formula, and accuse the
modern texts of downplaying this doctrine.) But even though the term translated "begotten" in
that case means "unique", I would agree with the KJV advocates that "Only Begotten God" is a
bad translation. The purpose of John's Gospel is to proclaim the truth of God to the world, and
language like that is very misleading. Other new translations have just left it as "God, the one
and only", a much less confusing phrase.
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