....God is One in respect to essence; three in respect to personal distinctions, and three in regard to roles in the creative and redemptive process.
.... The Doctrine of the Trinity is a Christian teaching about the person of God. What sort of a being is God? What does the Bible have to say in describing the person of our Heavenly Father Himself, the Almighty? In the final analysis this understanding must be regarded as a salvation issue since it is able to influence the very basis of our relationship with Him. Allow me to explain this remark further:
.... Every doctrine of the church is simply a ‘paperback’ understanding of a living spiritual reality. It is meant to guide us truly into the reality it describes. We know that God alone, whom the Bible describes, is the Savior of all mankind, so a correct doctrine about Him would guide us toward Him in truth. The connection would be established and we could appeal to Him for salvation.
.... If, on the other hand, it turned out that our doctrine on this subject was wrong, then our misunderstanding would guide us away from Him as He truly is. Led astray in such a manner, we would miss the living spiritual connection we had intended. There could be no salvation in such a false direction, for the relationship would fail to materialize and no other relationship could possibly avail us. We would find, in the end, that we were worshiping a false concept within our own minds and nothing more, rather than a true spiritual being at all.
.... So a doctrine that teaches us about the person of God is really one of the most foundational doctrine there could possible be.
.... Now as we begin this discussion on the Doctrine of the Trinity, which teaches us about the person of God, a good introduction is to tell you that this doctrine has always enjoyed two historical distinctions:
1. The doctrine of the Trinity is the most agreed upon doctrine of all time. Every legitimate church in the entire world accepts the doctrine of the Trinity, completely agrees with it, and teaches it as the one and only doctrine that accurately and comprehensively describes the entire person of God as set forth in the Scriptures.
2. On the other hand, among those few groups who do not accept the Doctrine of the Trinity, this doctrine is the most bitterly contested of them all.
.... If you ever happen to meet somebody from one of those other groups, they’re going to want to talk to you about this doctrine and they’re going to want to pick a fight with you over it. This is because they’ve recognize the same importance that we’ve just voiced: that if you’re not worshiping the God of the Bible, you cannot truly be saved. They just have a different opinion as to what the Bible teaches about Him. So at least everyone agrees that this is one of the most basic doctrines there could possibly be and you must have it right.
.... As this study proceeds we’ll look at both sides of this doctrinal question, exploring the Trinity itself and also what its opponents have to say. We’ll show from the Scriptures that the Doctrine of the Trinity is the true teaching on the person of God, and show its opponents why the Scriptures disagree with their conclusions. And we will be doing this for three different reasons:
.... First, so you will know the God whom you are trying to serve, becoming acquainted with the Scriptures that teach about Him, for the sake of your own beliefs.
.... Second, so you can avoid the mistakes of the Trinity’s opponents and protect your beliefs from their errors.
.... Third and finally that you, in a spirit of gentleness, may be able to speak to those who are in opposition, show them the errors of their teachings, and show them the truth in its place, so that God, perhaps, will grant them repentance that they may know the truth and be saved.
.... So first of all this study is for your instruction, second it’s for your protection, and third it’s for helping you in reaching out to others – many of whom mean well. Some of them don’t. But many of them do, and perhaps you can use this study to help them in knowing the truth about God as the Bible (both Old and New Testaments) describes Him.
.... This blog uses a descending format; to read the next article, continue below.
Ancient Perceptions of God
.... In the ancient world, God was making Himself known to a chosen people, the Jews. Their chief advantage was that He had committed His oracles to them, which we know today as the Scriptures (Romans 3:2). In them, all knowledge was perfect and certain vital truths about God Himself were revealed. But in the world beyond this nation, paganism prevailed. ....
The Gentiles were strangers from the covenants of promise and without God in the world (Ephesians 2:12
). Nevertheless they were spiritually inquisitive, so in this dark vacuum they developed pagan religions of their own. Often, an entire caste system of gods and goddesses would emerge. For example, there might have been a god of fire, of air or of water; there might have been a god of war and a goddess of jealousy. There would be good gods and bad gods; there would be good goddesses and bad goddesses. That’s how their basic logic ran. But one other feature became very common among their beliefs, even in different parts of the world: at the top of their caste systems, many of them envisioned a ruling triumvirate
of three ‘super’ gods. Let’s taking Greek mythology as our most familiar example:
.... Within the caste system of Greek mythology there were hundreds, perhaps thousands, of so-called ‘gods’. But at the top of their caste system, Zeus, Aries and Hermes stood above the rest. In the logic of Greek thinking, they governed together in a triumvirate, ruling over the other gods and goddesses and also over the fate of man.
.... The same, basic concept was common in pagan religions throughout the world. The Egyptians, for instance, worshiped Horace, Isis and Osiris, who likewise formed a triumvirate over the other gods and goddesses, and who ruled over the affairs of man.
.... Or perhaps, in some societies, the Sun, the Moon and the planet Venus, the brightest of the heavenly bodies, would appear as a governing triumvirate. Whether it was the Egyptians, the Greeks, the Babylonians, the Romans, Europeans, Indians, or Southeast Asians – no matter who or where it was, it was fairly common to envision a ruling triumvirate of three ‘super gods’ who were several notches higher than the others, who ruled the other gods and goddesses and who also ruled over the fate of mankind.
Now the Bible recognizes that this sort of Gentile thinking was out there in the world, and God has something to say about it. Colossians 2:8
tells us that it is the tradition of men, according to the basic principle of this world, and not according to Christ. So the Bible recognizes that such thoughts are out there, and tells us they are wrong. It’s not according to Christ; it does not portray Him in truth.
.... As you will see, the opponents of the Doctrine of the Trinity are very familiar with the historical concept we’ve just described. And in misapplying it, they’re going to say something like this:
.... "See? The Doctrine of the Trinity – that the Father, Son and Holy Ghost rule together as one – that concept has it’s roots in paganism. That doctrine is something that some backslidden church from the second century adopted because they didn’t want to offend the superstitions of the ignorant people."
.... Okay – you’ll see – when you run across an opponent of the Trinity, they are bound to bring this up and they’re going to make the point that I just said they’d make about it.
Valid Clues in the Ancient Dilemma
.... But now comes something about the Doctrine of the Trinity that is really beautiful. It is wonderfully good at stealing thunder from its doctrinal opponents! With a little further examination, we’ll see that there were actually three very good Scriptural reasons why the Gentiles would reach the conclusions they did, even though some serious misunderstandings had also been intermingled.
.... First, in John 1:9, the Bible teaches us that Jesus Christ is the true light who enlightens every man who comes into this world. From the day that you were born, God built a knowledge of Jesus Christ deeply within you; and in Colossians 2:9 we find that "in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily."
.... Now the Godhead is what this discussion is all about; the Godhead is the Biblical word for describing the person of God. In Christ dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily, and God has revealed something of Christ within you for the day you were born. Therefore, within every man is some basic, natural understanding of the Godhead. And that’s the first thing I’d like you to consider.
.... Second. Paul tells us, in Romans Chapter 1, about the witness of the creation, and he tells us that the creation can naturally direct us toward God as well. In verse 20 he says: "God’s invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse."
Paul teaches in this chapter that God has revealed something of His own person, His Godhead, through the witness of creation. Now Paul said in verses 18-19
of the same chapter that if you did not
catch something about what God was trying to say about Himself through the creation, which would include a basic understanding of the Godhead, Paul would say that you are without excuse; he would accuse you of suppressing
the truth in unrighteousness.
.... So before we press on to our third element, let’s consider what we’ve got so far. God is revealing Himself, His Godhead, within every person. That testimony has been in each one of us since the day we were born. God is also revealing something of His Godhead through the witness of creation. That testimony is external, but it matches the witness He has already built inside each one of us. Well, ‘in the mouth of two or three witnesses let every word be established’. You’re really going to be without excuse if you don’t see something about the Godhead through the efforts God has made toward you. If you don’t see something of the Godhead through this, Paul says, you’re suppressing the truth in unrighteousness.
.... Now let’s put this together with one more element. Paul teaches in Acts 17:26-27, that God has destined the Gentiles to seek for Him and to grope for Him in the hope that they might find Him – though He is not very far from each one of us.
.... God has worked in an overall way toward all men that they should seek Him; He has revealed Himself within each man; He has revealed Himself through the heavens to each man. This is not nearly as specific as what He was doing in Israel, to whom He had committed His oracles. But still, He was revealing Himself to the Gentile nations in a basic way, including a revelation of the Godhead itself, that they might seek for Him in the hope of finding Him.
.... So let’s picture what is going on in the heart of one of these Gentiles in the ancient world. He’s not an Israelite, Christ has not yet come, but he’s got this knowledge that God has built within him about the Godhead. He’s struggling with it. He has a matching testimony in the heavens and he’s struggling with that too, because God has built a destiny within his heart that he’s supposed to seek God, to know Him. He knows, somehow, that there is one- and yet there is three; there’s one, and yet there is three – and this has got to be difficult for him to understand – people are still having a hard time understanding it today. There’s one, and yet there is three.
.... So what most of those Gentiles would do – seeking for God, groping for Him, with the knowledge that God Himself had built within them for this very purpose – seeing one, and yet seeing three – well, they didn’t do perfectly in their conclusion. That’s where they made a mistake. But the basic elements they were working with along the way were essentially correct:
.... "Yeah, one and three; one and three: I know! There’s three gods, but they rule together in a triumvirate as one!"
.... And that’s the part where they blew it. But remember the underlying elements that went into their conclusion. It was a good hat, but in the end they hung it on the wrong peg, so to speak. The underlying concept of three beings, and yet one, in not too far removed from what the Trinity teaches: that there is only one God, ruling alone, yet He exists in three distinct personages: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
.... If we can steal one last bit of thunder from our doctrinal opponents: this pagan belief in a triumvirate – which is a wrong doctrine, but we’re simply looking at the elements that were involved in their thinking – this belief in a triumvirate could be found in Europe, in Egypt, in Babylon, in Rome, in Greece, in India, in Southeast Asia, it could be found all over the world. People who had no means of communicating with each other to form a human consensus, completely on their own, were all reaching similar conclusions for they all saw the same elements involved: "There’s three, and yet there’s only one; there’s three, and yet there’s only one."
.... Now, how could they possibly have know this unless all that we just said from the Scriptures is true? That God Himself was revealing something of His Godhead to every man in nations throughout the world. They did make a mistake in the way they were putting it all together and they came up with a triumvirate, which is polytheism, which is heresy. But when we look at the basic elements they had to work with, we can see how they struggled with a true understanding and ended up with a faulty conclusion. But in the sense of those underlying elements, it wasn’t too far removed from the truth, the Doctrine of the Trinity.
.... Okay, now I didn’t bring up all of that history to give you a basis for Trinitarian doctrine. God knows I wouldn’t use paganism as a basis for anything in Christianity. But I brought it up for two other reasons. First, because the Trinity’s opponents are going to bring it up, and they’re going to use it to try to shake your faith. So I want you to be able to give a defense for the hope that dwells within you, and explain this to them. And second, I wanted to give you a background for the rest of the discussion, which is about to follow.
Perceptions in the New Testament Times
.... In our previous section we discussed the Godhead as it was understood among the pagans in the Old Testament times. In this section we’ll describe what happened in the New Testament when the door of faith was opened to the Gentiles, and true Biblical teachings about the Person of God came forth to confront the old pagan views for the first time.
Recall Acts Chapter 17
, when Paul entered Athens and saw how the entire city was given over to idolatry. His spirit was stirred within him. In instances like this, Christianity began to confront the old pagan ways for the first time in the New Testament age. As those Christian teachings reached the Gentiles and they began converting to the true faith in Jesus Christ, it still sent a back-wave through the church because of their old misunderstandings. Now this is hard to see when Paul is actually ministering, so let’s pick another example from Scripture: the epistle to the Colossians. And let’s begin with a little background so you can understand why this is more of a unique example:
.... Paul had taught a certain disciple named Epaphras, who came from the city of Colossae. After spending much time with Paul, he had returned to his home, to Colossae, and to two other towns that were in the immediate area: Laodicea and Hierapolis. In fact it was Epaphras who had started the churches in those three cities, rather than Paul himself, making them ‘second generation’ sort of churches if we may coin that phrase – though Paul did know some of the others who lived there, and may have passed through there briefly and stayed with some of them.
.... Now those three churches – Colossae, Laodicea and Hierapolis – were in an isolated corner of civilization. They had communication with each other, but as far as the mainstream of life, communication and commerce, they were fairly isolated from the rest of the world. They were also isolated from the other churches, and they were a second generation sort of church coming out of a purely pagan background. This created a breeding ground for trouble and that’s what ended up happening. Epaphras later had to leave the cities, return to find Paul, and obtain his help in writing the epistle to the Colossians in order to straighten things out.
.... Let’s take a look at what happened in those churches and see what went wrong. Remember that the Colossians, Hierapolans and Laodiceans had come from a pagan background. And what were the sort of terms they thought in? Caste systems of gods: that there’s many gods, there’s many goddesses, and there was a ruling triumvirate of gods at the top of this caste system. Now remember also, that Paul addresses this concept and said that it’s according to men, according to the basic traditions of this world, and not according to Christ – but anyway, that’s the sort of way they were accustomed to thinking; and when Christianity through Epaphras, this is sort of the transition that was made in their way of thinking:
Some of the Colossian Christians began to take all those lesser gods and goddesses, who had been a part of their mythology, and to see them as angels and demons: the good gods and goddesses were angels, the bad gods and goddesses were demons. Under their delusion, those good gods and goddesses – the angels – were considered worthy of worship, so this particular group was worshiping angels. And when Paul writes his epistle, he condemns that among them (Colossian 2:18
.... Now on the other side of their coin, those bad gods and goddesses – they were the demons, and the same group of Colossians were afraid that demons still exercised dominion in certain areas of their lives. If there was lust in their heart, for example, it was ‘a demon of lust’ and things like that. And you may be aware, there are still misguided people who believe in that sort of thing today.
Now Paul answers in Colossians 1:13
, by stilling their fears over these so-called dominions and principalities and powers: for Jesus Christ Himself is the head of all principalities and powers, and He has delivered them from the power of darkness.
.... Okay, so that’s what some of the Colossian Christians began to see as far as their old caste system of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of gods and goddesses. They’d taken all of their paganism and re-clothed it in a quasi-Christian garb, and had basically refurbished their old pagan beliefs along those lines. That was worrisome enough, but this is what really worried Epaphras about his converts in those three little churches:
.... Those pagan religions, as you’ll remember, always saw a ruling triumvirate of three separate gods at the top of the caste system. And when these Colossians heard of Father, Son and Holy Ghost, they clothed that in their basic pagan beliefs too, and began to see Father, Son and Holy Ghost as three separate gods – polytheism – ruling together in a triumvirate, rather than a trinity.
Now this worried Epaphras a lot, and he went to obtain Paul’s help. And do you want to know how Paul answered that? He said that this was a salvation issue. He said, Beware lest someone cheat you of your reward, and he reminded them that the sort of terms they were thinking in were the traditions of man, according to the basic principles of this world, and they were not
according to Christ, because in Christ
dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily (Colossians 2:9
). So in this passage, Paul has answered the concept of triumvirate with the true concept of Trinity, and in it he’s given one of the finest passages in all Scripture pertaining to the deity of Jesus Christ.
.... Essentially, then, the Trinity’s opponents have at least scored a point, for in some parts of the church the ignorant superstitions of the people did play a disruptive role. But the church did have the backbone to respond. More importantly, in writing the epistle to the Colossians, the Lord went on record in correcting that situation, and the concept of the Trinity emerged as the answer.
The Second Century Dilemma
.... Paul’s epistle to the Colossians helped settle the issues that were in Colossae, Hierapolis and Laodicea over the true nature of the Godhead. But as the door of faith opened wider to the Gentiles, and the true beliefs of Christianity continued in confronting the old pagan ways, this sort of problem arose repeatedly until it became a plague on the church. Over the generations that followed, the controversy evolved to an inner-church form, mixing human reasoning with novel Scriptural interpretations to reach similar conclusions. It became of paramount importance for the church to right itself and define the Godhead doctrinally.
.... By the second century, Christians were studying the Scripture diligently over this question. What sort of a being is God? What does the Bible have to say when it is talking about God Himself, His very Person? They referenced the writing of the apostles and the Old Testament prophets, and their early research branched into two directions.
.... The first direction would lead to the Doctrine of the Trinity as we know it today. They began to see three Beings referred to in Scripture as ‘God’ (the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost), and yet the Scriptures also declared emphatically that there is only one God. This presented an enigma: Somehow, those three must be one-and-the-same in regard to essence, though retaining the personal distinctions that were attributed to each of them.
.... It was also during the second century that the term ‘Trinity’ first appeared in describing the Person of God, though the doctrine itself remained under study and would not be officially adopted by the church until the fourth century. So literally centuries of research, generations of carefully debated study, and also courage unbounded in the face of ceaseless imperial persecutions and torture, went into the founding of this doctrine – and this process led to its nearly universal acceptance in church in the end.
.... So if you ever hear one of the Trinity’s opponents telling you that the Doctrine of the Trinity was simply based on superstition, or that it came from the ignorance of the people, or that it was based on some sort of political expediency of the time – O, brother! Tell them to go back and read their history books! Not that we’re trying to be rough with them, but if they’re going to affirm these things to be so then they really ought to know more of what they’re talking about.
.... Anyway, leaving that aside for now, let’s remember that there were two branches of study that were underway in those days. Now let’s take a look at the other branch and their own conclusions about the Godhead; and to do this, let’s recall the situation by which all of this research was necessitated in the first place. It was because the pagans were trying to bring polytheism into Christianity.
.... The old pagan world view would have seen the Father, Son and Holy Ghost as three separate gods, according to the traditions of men, according to the basic principles of this world, and not according to Christ. Christians in both branches of research saw that this sort of thinking was wrong and knew they had to fight against it; and in order to do this, they had to know the truth about the Godhead.
.... Now one branch of research would lead to the Doctrine of the Trinity, which we’ve already discussed. But the other branch was developed by men like Origen of Alexandria, Lucian of Antioch, Paul of Samosata, or Eusebius of Nicomedia, and was later championed by a man named Arius, a Libyan who had relocated to Alexandria. Thus, history recalls him as Arius of Alexandria. Since Arius became the fervent, popular voice of this viewpoint within the church, historians have named this body of doctrine after him rather than his predecessors. This episode is referred to as "the Arian controversy" and his doctrines as "the Arian heresies".
The Arian Heresies Arise
.... Let’s explain why we would use the term ‘heresies’ in describing the work that was later named for Arius. As this group studied the subject of the Godhead, they had begun with something we call a position of denial. In other words, in the beginning, they weren’t really seeking so much for the truth, they were only trying to prove that other people didn’t have the truth. In other words, their premise was to prove the pagans wrong. The pagans had said there were many gods, so their own premise, by default, was to say No, that there is only one God. And as a basis this would have been fine – the Trinity itself had taken the very same basis on this subject. There is only one God! But because this group had reactionary roots and they weren’t considering the whole of Scripture fairly, other truths began to suffer as their research evolved. By the time of Arius himself, the Arians had come full circle.
.... As the Arians studied the person of God, they could see that God the Father truly was God. He was constantly referred to in Scripture as ‘God’. Ah, but then they ran into problems. Besides the Scriptures teaching that the Father is God, the Bible also taught that Jesus Christ is God. This was taught in Scripture pointedly and repeatedly, which confused the Arians because, remember, those other Scriptures taught that there is only one God.
.... Well, the plot gets a little thicker. As they continued their research they saw that the Holy Spirit was also referred to as God. So we have Father, Son and Holy Spirit all referred to in Scripture as being God – and yet there is only one God.
.... Now this was very confusing to the Arians. They ran into a phenomenon known as an antinomy, which is like a paradox. An antinomy occurs when the Scriptures reveal two things as being true, and yet those two things seem to contradict each other. How can Father, Son and Holy Ghost all be God when there is only one God? Or how can Jesus Christ be referred to as ‘God’ when He is also referred to as ‘The Son of God’? How are these things explained?
.... The Arians didn’t know the answer to such things. So in order to explain this enigma they began making a terrible mistake. Instead of accepting those teachings as God’s truth, as God was revealing Himself through those truths, and working to reconcile those Scriptures into a harmonious understand, they began to pick and choose. Soon there were certain Scriptures where they placed their emphasis, and the rest they would find novel ways of explaining away. So in other words, they began picking and choosing the Scriptures that they would disbelieve at the same time. The Arians only had half of the story, and there are a lot of people who have followed in their footsteps to this very day.
.... You see beloved, when Scripture reveals something as being true, we have to accept the truth of it whether we can actually understand it or not. Because our understanding is of no consequence to it’s truthfulness. God is not limited by what a man can or cannot understand.
For instance, no one knows how God created the heavens and the earth out of nothing, simply by speaking the word and it was so. But God wasn’t limited or hindered in any way by the fact that man couldn’t understand this. He simply did
it. God did
understand it – that was His own basis. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so His ways are higher than our ways and His thoughts than our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9
). So when Scripture sets forth something as being true, we must accept that it is true, even if we cannot comprehend in what way it is true – though God may decide to add that to our understanding later. Unless we are prepared to accept God at His word we’re never going to get anywhere in the kingdom of God, for to do otherwise is to second-guess Him, which smacks of hubris. Who are we, to make exceptions over God?
.... Anyway, this is how the matter faired with the Arian branch of research, after they went through their procedure of accepting some of the Scriptures and rejecting others through novel interpretations, according to his own, subjective opinions:
.... Having a strictly monotheistic premise, the Arians accepted the Father as the one true God, which they saw as the ‘strongest case’. But this left them with a problem concerning the divine claims of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.
.... First let’s look at what they did in the case of Jesus. The Arians responded by taking a deposing view of Christ. Jesus was not God, they would say, but the Son of God. Perhaps He was a created being. Now in order to justify this position today, modern Arians hold that the term ‘Son of God’ is used more often in Scripture in referring to Jesus than the term ‘God ‘ had ever been. So this belief is based on preponderance rather than conclusiveness and it does not take all of the Scriptures into consideration.
.... Meanwhile it was not lost to the Trinitarian school of thought that the term ‘God’ had indeed been applied to Christ and should not be discounted from their understanding of Him, nor from their understanding of the person of God.
.... At this point we should also carefully note that the Arians had come full circle. They had started with strict monotheism, trying to disprove the pagans, but now Jesus was being viewed as a sub-god. So a caste-like system of polytheism had reemerged at last.
.... Next the Arians needed a way to explain away the Holy Spirit’s Scriptural claims to Divinity, and in order to do this they went in two directions. At first, the Holy Spirit was also considered a sub-god as well, just as they had believed Jesus to be. With this, the old pagan concept of the ‘triumverate’ had fully returned in a quasi-Christian garb. But in modern times this understanding would evolve again:
.... The modern successors of Arius now claim that the Holy Spirit isn’t a person at all, but only an non-personal force, a created power, or a divine influence – basically a non-entity, an ‘it’. Or perhaps the Holy Spirit might be a synonymous name for God, like ‘Jack’ may be a synonymous name for ‘John’. And to reach this conclusion they, too, are depending on arguments based on ‘preponderance’ and on novel scriptural interpretations.
.... The number of common people who followed Arius began to increase, especially in the area around Alexandria, yet in other seats of learning throughout the ancient world, where Scriptures were available to the people, the Arians doctrines were never held in esteem. But if you’re familiar with groups today such as the Way International or Jehovah’s Witnesses, then you’ve probably recognized that Arius’ basic doctrines have survived. This is the historical root from which their doctrine comes.
Arius and the Jehovah’s Witnesses
.... The modern groups we’ve just named, plus a few others, get their basic doctrinal positions from Arius of Alexandria. But I must alert you to an exception, which pertains to the doctrines of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. In a way they’re Arian, and in a way they’ve digressed a step from Arius. Let me explain what I mean by this:
.... If you ask a Jehovah’s Witness about Jesus, they’ll basically agree with Arius but add a twist of their own. They don’t believe that Jesus was God, they believe He was simply a created being. So what do they believe He was? A Jehovah’s Witness will tell you that he believes Jesus Christ was Michael the archangel, who was promoted to be the Son of God.
Now this runs into a serious problem because the Bible repeatedly shows us that Jesus is worthy of worship, and that we are to worship Him (Matthew 2:2
; 14:33; 28:9
). Even the angels worship Him (Hebrews 1:6
). So if they believe that Jesus is an angel, and the Bible teaches that He is to be worshiped, then they are teaching the worship of angels, one of the original abuses that the Arians were fighting against! And it’s also something that the Epistle to the Colossians spoke against (Colossians 2:18-19
.... And just for the record, Michael the archangel isn’t mentioned in the Scriptures very often. But when he is, there are always other references that can show Jesus already existing at the same time. Jesus is here, and Michael is over there, as two wholly separate being. They’re mentioned contemporarily (from Michael’s view), but never as one and the same.
.... Like Arius, the Jehovah’s Witnesses will take any Scripture that refers to Jesus Christ as God, and answer that Jesus Christ was ‘a’ god, but He was not ‘the’ God. They believe that only God the Father was ‘the’ God. Now the Trinitarian school of thought would really, really have a problem with that conclusion because the Bible teaches pointedly and repeatedly that there is only one God. It just couldn’t be much clearer than all of this.
.... So if the Jehovah’s Witnesses are saying that Jesus is ‘a’ god and God the Father is ‘the’ God, they are still teaching polytheism as we have already discussed. But Hebrews chapter One would settle the entire question of Jesus being ‘a’ god, or Jesus being Michael the archangel. For God the Father Himself speaks of Christ in this manner:
.... "having become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they. For to which of the angels did He ever say: "You are My Son, today I have begotten You"? And again: "I will be to Him a Father, and He shall be to Me a Son"?
.... And what else does the Father say of Him?
.... ‘But to the Son He says: "Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; a scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your Kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness; therefore God, Your God, has anointed You with the oil of gladness more than Your companions."
.... Okay, now let’s leave the Arian heresies off to the side and return to the first branch of research. Let’s go back to what was happening with the people who were working with the Doctrine of the Trinity.
Early Steps Toward the Doctrine of the Trinity
.... Like their doctrinal opponents, the proponents of the Trinity adopted a position that there is only one God. This is taught very pointedly in passages such as Isaiah 44:6 and Isaiah 45:5. Because this was plainly taught in Scripture, it became an irrefutable foundation.
.... From there, the Trinitarian group ran into the same problems as Arius. Of course, God the Father is referred to as ‘God’ throughout both the Old and New Testaments, and the term ‘God the Father’ is used in Scripture to specify Him. There had never been any doubt about that. It was a point easily settled but it led to something else:
Besides the Scriptures that referred to the Father as God, Jesus Christ was also referred to as ‘God’. This can be found in passages such as Luke 8:39
, John 1:1
, John 8:58
, John 20:28
, Romans 9:5
, Titus 2:13
, 2 Peter 1:1
, and Colossians 2:19
, which we quoted earlier. And not only did these writers ascribe divinity to Jesus Christ, but Jesus Himself claimed equality with the Father. This may be found in John 5:17-18
, John 10:30-33
, and also in Philippians 2:5-6
.... So then, the early Trinitarian researchers were faced with the same antinomy as Arius. There is only one God; but God the Father and Jesus Christ the Son are both referred to as ‘God’ – yet there is only one God.
And this matter became more complicated still when the Divine claims of the Holy Spirit were taken into consideration. Now the Holy Spirit is plainly referred to as ‘God’ in Acts 5:3-4
, but also, we’re going to steal some thunder from Arius again:
How many times in Scripture is Jesus referred to as ‘the Son of God’? Well if we remember that Mary was ‘with child of the Holy Spirit’ (Matthew 1:18
), then we must understand every reference of Christ as the Son of God to be a further reference of the Deity of the Holy Spirit, since Jesus was His Son.
.... So Father, Son and Holy Ghost are each referred to as ‘God’ in Scripture, and yet there is only one God. Now this is very puzzling, and the concept of the Trinity began to take shape in answer to this enigma, and this is what they began to see:
.... In essence, there must only be one God; and yet this one God must exist in distinct personalities: that of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Now most specifically, this is what the Doctrine of the Trinity states:
.... God is one in respect to essence. God is three in respect to personal distinctions, And God is three in respect to roles in the creative and redemptive process.
.... Now this doctrine may be stated in various similar forms, but the statement we’ve given is a good working understanding of the Trinitarian framework. And this is the only doctrine that has ever been found that can take everything the Bible has to say about the Person of God and reconcile it into one understanding. It’s still a very mysterious understanding, but it answers everything and it’s the only doctrine that has ever been able to do so.
The Shared Divine Essence of the Godhead
.... Okay, now how would Arius answer the Trinitarian concept? If he answered like a Jehovah Witness answered me once, he would say something like this:
.... "Well, Satan is referred to as ‘the god of this age’ in Scripture, so why don’t you put him in with your trinity?"
.... Well the Bible does say that there are ‘so-called’ gods and ‘so-called’ lords, and that’s the sort of category that Satan might fit into. And although their point was obviously blasphemous (no matter how you look at it), in strictly doctrinal terms their point is well taken. Why do we only include Father, Son and Holy Ghost as being members of the godhead, when there are other beings referred to as ‘gods’ in the Scriptures? Those so-called ‘gods’ so-called ‘goddesses’?
.... The reason we only include Father, Son and Holy Ghost is because they are shown to be one in essence with each other, and also because all of the purely divine attributes are equally ascribed to each personage.
First let’s take a look at the factor of essence. Jesus said very plainly that "I and the Father are one."(John 10:30
) and in saying this, He means that He is one in essence
with the Father, as can clearly be seen by the context (if you’ll look in verse 33
). So the Father and the Son are set forth as being one in essence. Another good place to see this, in the Old Testament, is Isaiah 44:6
, or in a prophecy from Zechariah that says:
.... "And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they have pierced; they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn."
So the Father and Son are shown to be one in essence. Next we see that the Father and the Spirit are one in essence. If you’ll look in Isaiah 48:16
, you’ll see the entire Godhead mentioned in the Old Testament. And in referring to the Father and the Spirit, the passage says:
.... "And now the Lord GOD, and His Spirit have sent Me."
That Hebrew verb ‘have’ is actually a singular verb, literally meaning ‘has’: ‘The Lord God and His Spirit has sent Me.’ And this shows that the Father and the Spirit are one in essence. And finally if you’ll go to 2 Corinthians 3:16-17
the Scriptures say:
.... "Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty."
(2 Corinthans 3:16-17)
.... The Spirit here is referred to as the Lord, and Jesus Christ is the Lord.. The Lord is the Spirit. In Galatians 4:4 the scriptures say God that has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into their hearts crying out "Abba, Father." Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit are distinct in personalities, but they are only one in essence.
The Divine Attributes of Christ
.... Okay, let’s take a look now at the Divine attributes of God. There are certain attributes that are unique to God, that go into the very definition of what makes Him God. Let’s discuss some of them for a moment:
.... First of all, God is omniscient, which means He knows all things – in fact God foreknows all things. He is omnipotent: He is all-powerful, He can do all things; He is omnipresent, meaning that He is everywhere at once; and He is self existent, which means that He has always existed, He was never "created."
.... God is immutable, He is an unchanging being – God is perfect, why change? These are the characteristics and qualities that set God apart from any other being, and the divine qualities that define Him as God. So now our task is to show that these same purely Divine characteristics are equally ascribed to Jesus Christ and to the Holy Spirit.
First of all Jesus is set forth as being immutable, or unchanging, in Hebrews 1:11-12
and also in Hebrews 13:8
: "Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever."
Jesus is also set forth in Scripture as being Holy and sinless. That’s found in John 8:46
and Hebrews 7:26
. In John 8:46
had said to the Pharisees: "Which of you convicts Me of sin?" They couldn’t pin a thing on Him – He was sinless, He was perfect, the essence of Divinity.
Jesus is set forth as being self-existent in passages such as John 2:19
. Now a good passage to reference for this is John 8:58,
where Jesus is saying, "Before Abraham was, I AM." If you’ll look back to Exodus 3:14
, this is exactly what God the Father is saying of Himself: ‘I am’ is His name: "I am that I am," "hayah aher hayah". Now what He means is that He has always existed, He’s self-existent, and He will always continue to exist. He’s an eternal being. And that’s exactly what Jesus was saying of Himself in the passage we mentioned. If you’d like some further verses that teach that Jesus is eternal, look in Isaiah 48:16
, Micah 5:2
, John 1:1-2
, John 17:5
and Hebrews 1:8-12
Furthermore Jesus Christ is set forth as being omnipresent
. He is everywhere at once (Matthew 18:20
). Jesus said "where two or three of you are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst." Well, what happens when two or three are gathered together in His name all over the world at once, which happens every Sunday morning? He’s omnipresent in order to uphold this. He said at His ascension "I am with you always, even unto the end of the world." No matter where there’s a Christian, there’s Christ. In fact, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our very hearts (Galatians 4:6
). Christ in omnipresent.
Also, one last thing I’ll give in support for the divine attributes of Christ. Prayer and worship are offered to Jesus in Acts 7:59-60
; Matthew 14:33
, and 28:17
and many other places. Also, if you’ll remember Revelation Chapter 5
, Jesus is worshiped in the presence of God – in the Father’s very presence in heaven itself, they are worshiping Jesus Christ.
The Personhood of the Holy Spirit
.... Okay, now let’s talk about the Divine claims of the Holy Spirit. But before we can really approach this, in light of what modern day Arians have said, we first have to prove that the Holy Spirit is an actual person; because, if you’ll remember, modern Arians such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses or the Way International say that the Holy Spirit is impersonal, a Divine force, a creative power, a Divine influence, or something like that. So the first thing that we have to do is prove that the Holy Spirit is a person and not simply an impersonal force.
Throughout Scripture, personal pronouns such as ‘He’ and ‘Him’ are always used when referring to the Holy Spirit. A good passage in which to see this is John 16:7-14
Now a reciprocating point, which really adds up to the same thing, is that nowhere in Scripture is the Holy Spirit ever referred to as an ‘it’, as modern day Arians would claim. However, I was looking at a Jehovah Witness publication not too long ago, and they claim there is a passage in John 14
in which the Holy Spirit was referred to as ‘it’. And they say ‘Trinitarian translators have purposely mis-translated that passage to cover this fact!’
.... Here we have another Jehovah Witness trick, and frankly, this one is known as ‘lying’. Because I looked at that passage in the original Greek manuscripts and the personal pronouns really are being used throughout, rather than the impersonal ‘it’.
.... Now understand me – a lot of the people who are involved in the Jehovah’s Witnesses are sincere. But the people whom they receive their doctrines from – the national leaders themselves – they are not sincere. We only have to take a look at their own version of the Bible, The New World Translation, to prove this point. If you don’t believe me, just ask them who did their translation work and what their scholarly credentials were, and you’ll find that they won’t tell you! They’ll claim that their silence is due to ‘modesty’ but the truth is quite otherwise. In reality they are concealing their own questionable translation practices. Still, if you search long enough you’ll find out that the people who ‘translated’ their version of the Bible didn’t even speak the original Greek language! In fact only one of the five, a man named Freddy Fronz, had spent any time in college, and he had only spent a single semester. He dropped out in 1918 when their founder, Charles Taze Russell, announced that Jesus was returning in that year. But anyway, let’s not get too far off track with this tangent . . .
.... Throughout Scripture, personal pronouns are used in referring to the Holy Spirit: the pronouns He, Him or His; and the impersonal pronoun ‘it’ is never used in reference to Him. But actually, we can make an even better point of it than that. Because deeper, personal distinctions are shown pertaining to the Holy Spirit, and they settle the matter quite pointedly.
.... Now when someone has a mind, they have a will, they have emotions, they have understanding, and they speak -- these are traits that only be associated with an actual personality and not with some nebulous, impersonal sort of thing as a ‘power’ would be, an ‘it’. So I hope this establishes that the Holy Spirit is an actual person and we’ll be talking about Him more in the next section.
The Divine Attributes of the Holy Spirit
.... In addition to direct references of the Holy Spirit’s deity, which we discussed earlier, the Divine attributes are equally ascribed to the Holy Spirit. In Hebrews 9:14 for example, He is referred to as an eternal being, when the Scriptures say that Jesus offered Himself up through the ‘eternal Spirit’. Also, the Holy Spirit is described as being omnipresent in Psalm 139:7-12 where David says, "Where may I go that I may hide from Your Spirit?" and he names all of the places he could perhaps have gone. But then he says, "But you’ll be there!" You’re omnipresent! ....
The Scriptures also teach that the Holy Spirit is omnipotent, or all powerful. Ephesians 2
speaks of the exceeding greatness of His power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead, and Romans 1:4
says that this power was the power of the Holy Spirit. The apostles were to wait in Jerusalem until they were endued with power from on high – that same power that raised Jesus from the dead. The Holy Spirit is omnipotent – His power is endless.
And finally the Holy Spirit is omniscient, which means that He knows all things. And the best passage for this is in 1 Corinthians 2:10-11
. "The Holy Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God."
And how can anyone have a deeper understanding than that?
So we see through these quotations that the Divine qualities, first ascribed to the Father and to Jesus Christ, are also ascribed to the Holy Spirit, and that He, too, is referred to as ‘God’ (Acts 5:3-4
). So what does this leave us with in Scripture, when we look at it all together?
.... There is only one God. God the Father is referred to as ‘God’ and He matches all of the Divine attributes; Jesus Christ is referred to as God, and He matches all of these Divine attributes as well; The Holy Spirit is referred to as God, and He, too, matches all of those Divine attributes.
.... Father and Son are shown to be of one essence. Father and Spirit are shown to be of one essence. Son and Spirit are shown to be of one essence, Indeed, they are only one God. But this one God exists in three personalities simultaneously: that of Father, Son and Holy Ghost. This is where the Doctrine of the Trinity comes along, and we’ll go over it one more time:
.... God is One in respect to essence; God is three in respect to personal distinctions; God is three in respect to His roles in the creative and redemptive process.
The Scriptural Premise for the Trinity
.... Now as we’ve mentioned, the Trinity is the only doctrine that has ever been found that can completely agree with everything that the Scriptures reveal pertaining to the Godhead. It is good for seeing an overall sort of concept about God. But you know what we really need, just to make this whole thing irrefutable? Unshakeable? We need to find a Scripture that actually sets forth the concept of the Trinity itself in a doctrinal, creedal statement. If we can find a verse like that, we can use that statement as a premise for this belief and build everything we’ve been talking about on that premise, and nobody could say it was wrong. Nobody could shake it.
So, is there a verse like that in Scripture? That sets forth the understanding itself in a doctrinal, creedal statement? There is. And it’s the last verse our opponents would expect us to quote. But the verse I’m referring to is Deuteronomy 6:4
. It’s called the 'Shama', and it reads like this:
.... "Hear O Israel! The LORD our God is one LORD!"
.... This passage sets forth in a creedal statement something about the Person of God: "The Lord our God is one Lord." If we go back to the Hebrew wording for this (because Hebrew is the original language in this passage,) it sheds some light on what we’ve been talking about. There are two words in particular we must take a look at. The word ‘God’ and the word ‘one’.
.... The Hebrew word for God, used in this passage, is the word ‘eloheeynuw’ which comes from the root word ‘Elohiym’. This, a plural word which literally means ‘Gods’. The Lord our ‘Gods’ is one Lord.
The next word we need to look at is the word ‘one’, for He is ‘One’ Lord. The Hebrew word used here is the word ‘echaad
’, which is used to signify a unified
one, rather than an absolute
one. It’s the same word that appears in Genesis 2:24
when the Lord said of Adam and Eve "they two shall be one flesh". It’s a unified
So Deuteronomy 6:4
transliterates to mean something like this: "Hear, O Israel! The Lord our Gods is one, unified Lord!" Therefore, this Scripture can serve as a premise on which the doctrine of the Trinity may rest, and it completely matches the entirety of the Word of God.
The First Nicaean Council
.... Now let’s return to and finish our history lesson. For the first three hundred years after the ascension of Christ, the church was driven underground. In fact, there were ten imperial persecutions by the beginning of the fourth century. Communication was difficult but they were still trying to research a doctrine about the Godhead throughout that time.
.... In the fourth century, the Emperor Constantine came into power and claimed to be a Christian, which was in some ways debatable, but for the first in hundreds of years it created an opportunity for a church wide council. So in 325 A.D., Constantine called the church leaders together into a city called Nicaea, which is in present day Turkey. They came from all over the world to settle their problems, and especially their disputes about the Godhead.
.... Constantine himself attended the Council and this deserves a bit of historical elaboration. As church leaders gathered from around the world, Constantine, a recent convert to Christianity, was staggered at the sheer carnage of the broken lives around him. They appeared with missing limbs and other marks of torture that they had endured under persecution, such as huge wounds from bore holes where they had been augured with drills – yet they had remained steadfast to the faith, and had not denied the Lord. Constantine was so moved that he kissed their wounds and called them ‘noble confessors’.
.... I mention this because there is another sect today, known as ‘The Way International’, that has a very naive view to the contrary. They have been told that those Christians leaders were the ones in awe of Constantine, and threw out the ‘true’ Arian doctrines through political expediency in order to please their new emperor. As we shall see, this is anything but the truth! And by the way, they were also taught that the ‘Nicaean’ council met in Nice, France, and therefore it was dominated by Christians from the Western part of the empire – whereas the cradle of Christianity, and its better learning, was in the East. As a matter of fact the council included leaders from all over the empire, but if anything, it was vastly dominated by leaders from the east.
.... In this council, Christian leaders openly discussed the Scriptures pertaining to the Godhead. To their disappointment, Constantine had also invited Arius of Alexandria, who no longer held a position in the church but he was permitted to come before them to explain his doctrinal views. Through his arguments, out of over 300 bishops who attended the Council, Arius managed to convince only two of them – both Libyans like himself. Both he and they were excommunicated from the church by the rest of the Nicaean Council and labeled as ‘spoilers of the flock’; and twenty other bishops who had initially supported Arius, on hearing the views more fully explained, turned away from supporting him and ended up voting against him.
So the Nicaean council heard, tested, and rejected the Arian heresies, and took the first step toward recognizing the Doctrine of the Trinity instead. In fact they recognized that the Father and the Son were one, of the same substance and co-eternal, yet two distinct personages; they also took the first steps toward recognizing the Holy Spirit within the Godhead, though further research would follow on this point as the same claims about the Holy Spirit were fairly considered. This final step would be heard and fully accepted at the Council of Constantinople in 381 A.D., and afterward the Arian controversy virtually disappeared. So again, let’s review our doctrinal statement:
.... God is One in respect to essence; three in respect to personal distinctions, and three in regard to roles in the creative and redemptive process.....
This has been sort of a background lesson, of history and doctrine, of what went into the Doctrine of the Trinity. In our next sections we’ll take a look at the Trinitarian concept itself and try to show the concept – three persons, yet only one God – in an understandable sort of way.
The Trinitarian Concept
.... In our previous sections we’ve described the Scriptural basis behind the Doctrine of the Trinity. However, you have may noticed that the doctrine itself is purposely vague in two ways and this is what they are:
.... The Doctrine of the Trinity makes no attempt to define the personal distinctions between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit within the Godhead.
.... Also, it makes no attempt to explain how the Father, Son and Holy Spirit could be distinct personages and yet be one and the same in essence.
.... In other words the Doctrine of the Trinity tells you ‘so’, but not how it is so. There’s not enough revelation in Scripture to set forth a perfect understanding on those points so it is was better not to even try. Think about it and this point will be obvious. It is better to be simple yet basically correct than to press on into deeper things, risk running into errors through human presumption, and embracing those errors as though they were the truth about God Himself. To that extent God would be a ‘man-made’ being, and otherwise than He truly is. So it is better to speak where the Bible speaks and to remain silent where it is silent.
.... Now this vague approach was probably for the best but it did create some problems. Theologians understood why the conclusion had to be reached, but it asked the common people to accept a lot by faith, and basically as an unattainable understanding. So if some couldn’t understand the Trinitarian concept and their faith was not enough, they might reject the conclusion entirely. When this happened, one of two things would result in its place: either polytheism, as we saw in our example with the Colossians, or strict Monotheism, which is the basic intention of the Arians.
.... Therefore, in this lesson, let’s attempt to explain the Trinitarian concept in a comprehensible sort of way. We’re going to keep this study as close to the actual Godhead as possible, and quote Scriptures wherever possible, but please bear in mind that this is simply the discussion of a concept and it is not intend as an actual doctrine. We’re only trying to show the living reality of the Trinity in the sort of way that a person can understand it. So at this point let’s review the Doctrine of the Trinity again:
.... God is One in respect to essence; God is three in respect to personal distinction, and God is three in respect to His roles in the creative and redemptive process.
I was talking to a Mormon recently, and they’re a modern group that believes in polytheism. So this Mormon said to me, "If there’s not many gods, what is Genesis 1:26
referring to when it says "Let ‘us’ make man in ‘our’ image, after ‘our’ likeness? Who is this plurality? Who is God speaking of here? Who does God mean by ‘us’?"
.... Once again, the Trinity steals some thunder. Let’s return to Genesis and re-quote the same verse, and in the process add some identifiers. And try to catch the point I’m making by these identifiers:
.... ‘Then God said, "Let us (plural) make man in our (plural) image (singular); after our (plural) likeness (singular)."
(Based on Genesis 1:26)
.... If you’ll take a close look at Genesis 1:26, you’ll see that God is describing Himself simultaneously as both a plural and a singular being: ‘Let us’ which is plural, make man in our ‘likeness’ which is singular. So God is describing Himself as both plural and singular.
Now if you’ll look a little closer at that verse, you’ll see that the plural identifiers, ‘us’ and ‘our’, are in reference to personal distinctions,
just as the Doctrine of the Trinity would teach; and that the singular identifiers, ‘image’ and ‘likeness’, are in relation to His essence, His being, again as the Doctrine of the Trinity would teach. So actually, Genesis 1:26
is a perfect verse as a proof text for the Doctrine of the Trinity.
.... But the same verse contains an additional clue, and here’s the biggest help that I can give you in understanding the Trinitarian concept itself. In this passage, as God is revealing His own triune nature, He is also saying, ‘Let us make man this way as well.’
.... The Hebrew word for ‘likeness’ literally means ‘manner or similitude’. So when God is saying ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness’, He is essentially saying ‘I will make man into a triune being, just as I am.’
Now let’s think about this clue. Consider it with me carefully. Is it possible that the triune nature of the Godhead was passed along to mankind in God’s creation of man? Because, remember, God created man in the similitude of Himself. If the Doctrine of the Trinity is true, is there a scale model of the Trinity inherent within man? In Romans 1:20
, God talks about revealing His eternal power and Godhead to the world. In the same context, verse 19
, Paul tells us that this is because what may be known of God is manifest in us.
So is there a scale model of the Trinity within man?
The Triune Nature of Man
.... We know that God created man is His own likeness or similitude, so there is a Scriptural reason to believe that a ‘scale model’ of the Trinity exists within each one of us as well. If this is the first time you’ve considered such a possibility, it may be stunning to think about. But if this is true and the same Triune nature is inherent within us, because we were made in God’s image, then maybe we can understand a little more about the Godhead itself by exploring man’s lesser reflection – sort of like performance tests that are run on a scale model. This does not mean that man will be able to create or redeem or show other Divine capabilities, that’s not what we’re talking about. We’re only talking about our basic essence as a living being, our structure so-to-speak. So by using this ‘back door’ approach, let’s see what the Scriptures have to say about man as a triune being and afterward try to correlate this to God Himself as the ‘true pattern’ from which we were formed.
Our first order of business is to see whether man is a triune being, and that is really a pretty easy case to make. In 1 Thessalonians 5:23
Paul describes the three parts of man – something we call the tripartite man – and he tells us that man is constituted of spirit, soul and body.
.... Now in this passage spirit, soul and body are mentioned together, but throughout both the Old and New Testaments anyone can see the spirit, soul and body of a man constantly being mentioned separately. So this should come as no surprise to anyone. But now our task is to see if the spirit, the soul and body of man are distinct as far as personal distinctions, yet the same in regard to their basic essence – that they are nevertheless one, as we would see in the Godhead.
First let’s look at the personal distinctions, and the first thing I’d like to explore is the distinction between spirit and the body, or the flesh. In Galatians 5:17
, Paul says that the flesh lusts against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh, and these two are contrary to one another. So if your spirit is trying to lead you one way, and your flesh is trying to lead you another way, there’s clearly a distinction between the two – in fact, in our own human case, there’s are actual differences
. So we can easily see that our flesh and our spirit have distinct ‘personalities’.
Next let’s go to Romans 7:23
, and in this passage we’ll see a distinction between our body and our soul. Now our body is our flesh, and our soul is our mind and our seat of emotions. And here’s how Paul describes the distinction:
.... "But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members."
.... So here we see another sort of ‘war’ going on. We saw a moment ago that our body was warring against our spirit. But Paul says that it is also warring against his mind – his soul – so in the same way that there is a personality distinction between the body and spirit, there’s a distinction between body and soul – they are actually contrary to each other. And once again, in the case of man who is imperfect, this not only shows distinctions but actual differences.
.... Now the last distinction we need to show is the distinction between the spirit and the soul of man. Are there personal distinctions between them? Consider 1 Corinthians 14:14, where Paul is saying this:
.... "For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful."
(1 Corinthians 14:14)
.... In this passage there is a clear distinction between the spirit and the understanding – the spirit and the soul of man. Our spirit is pursuing one area of understanding – praying – but in our soulish area of understanding, within the mind, we’re just not attaining to it, we don’t yet understand it. So once again, because of a difference, we see a distinction between ‘personality’ of the spirit and the soul. Let’s sum up what we’ve discussed so far:
.... Within each man there are three parts: spirit, soul and the body. We see that the body is distinct from the spirit because it is contrary, the body is distinct from the soul because they’re contrary, and the spirit and the soul are distinct from each other, in areas such as understanding, and maybe it goes even further than that. But in any case, each of these three ‘persons’ is clearly shown to have an influence on our lives. Yet we must also keep bear in mind an essential difference:
.... It is easy to see personal distinctions within man because we are limited, imperfect and sinful. Man constantly contradicts himself for these reasons. However, if we are talking about personal distinctions within the Godhead, well, God is not constrained in such ways. He is not limited, but omnipotent; He is not sinful, but sinless; God is perfect, and He is complete and full within Himself in every possible way, and He knows all things. So within the godhead there may still be personal distinctions but there are not necessarily going to be any differences between those personalities. Each member of the Godhead would be utterly full and complete, absolutely perfect, and therefore absolutely identical to one another as far as personal distinctions go. So even if they are distinct, they are not going to be different from each other.
The Triune Nature of Man – Part 2
.... Let’s return to the discussion of man and his triune nature. We’ve already established that man is three as far as his basic essence, and there are personal distinctions between those three parts of a man: spirit, soul and body. Now let’s see whether those three parts remain one in essence.
The first thing to examine is the unity between the spirit and the body. In James 2:26
we are told that the body without the spirit is dead. In other words, if your mortal body were destroyed, you would die; or if your spirit departed from your body – if you gave up the ghost – you would die. Therefore your spirit and your body must be joined as one in order for you to live at all. If that aspect of your triune being is ever sundered, you are going to die: you simply cannot continue to exist.
Next let’s consider the unity between the body and the soul. Psalm 16:9-10
makes this statement: "My flesh shall rest in hope, for you will not leave my soul in hell."
This passage describes a person who is dead– his flesh and his soul have been sundered, and that’s why he’s dead. But if he’s being resurrected at a later time (because this passage is quoted in Acts 2:27
as a prophecy, and it pertains to resurrection), his body and his soul must come together again for him to live. And of course, this would be a glorified body in that state.
.... In this passage we have seen that the sundering of the body and soul brings a state of death. Now the body can die and the soul and spirit will still live on in another way – I mention this for later, because we’ll see something of this in the Godhead. But for there to be life according to the pattern in which we were created, these three must be joined together. If you’re triune nature is sundered, between your soul and body, or between your spirit and body, you will die.
Now the last part to establish is what would happen if your spirit and your soul could possibly be sundered. This is hard to find in Scripture but there’s a passage in Hebrews 4:12
that talks about the sword of the spirit dividing between the spirit and the soul. The only thing I can tell you about this, is that for the soul and the spirit to possibly be divided is metaphorically likened to bringing a sword upon them. So our spirit and soul are very, very close to each other, probably closer than spirit and body, or the soul and body.
.... What we want to see through these Scriptural quotations is that man is three in regard to personal distinctions, nevertheless he is just one in regard to the essence of his being. If man’s triune nature were ever to be sundered in any respect, he could no longer exist at all, but would die. He must exist as a triune being in order to exist at all.
.... So here is our scale model of man as a basic example of the Trinitarian concept. Keep this in mind because one of these days you’re going to run into a Jehovah’s Witness, and his complaint against the Trinity will be that he thinks it’s ‘incomprehensible’ and that he ‘can’t understand it’. So when he says this, you can take him back to this little model we’ve been discussing. He himself is a man, and he is a triune being. He is spirit soul and body. There are personal distinctions within each of those persons within his own being. Nevertheless, he must exist as one being in essence if he is to exist at all. If the trinity within him is ever sundered he will die. He must be a triune being to even be able to live.
This is very similar to the Trinitarian concept
. At this point our Jehovah Witness friend could no longer deny the possibility of this concept itself unless he actually denied himself, because it is true of himself. And in our next lesson we’re going to try to match some of the things we’ve just discussed to the actual Godhead.
To view the next section, on the Spirit in the Trinitarian Model, scroll down or click HERE