Throughout the Scriptures we find that there is only one Lord God and yet there are three who are equally called both Lord and God. Based upon this revelation, the Church has historically believed that the one and only true God exists as three persons. To the natural mind this is unacceptable since it is so unlike anything we find in God’s creation. I have actually been accused of believing in a three-headed god by Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Some have attempted to illustrate from nature how something can be one and three at the same time. For example, the same water can be liquid, ice or vapor. Man, likewise, is tripartite, made up of body, soul and spirit, and yet he is one man. One egg has a shell, a white and a yoke, yet is one egg, etc. However, while these illustrate how something can be one and at the same time three, they all fall short when it comes to explaining how God can be three and one at the same time. It is folly for the creature to presume to be capable of fully comprehending the Creator. To those who would limit God to their own imagination and finite reason, God says:
“To whom will you liken Me, and make Me equal and compare Me, that we should be alike?” (Isa 46:5)
If we would know anything about our infinitely incomprehensible God, we must base our understanding upon the revelation which He has given us in His Word and through the person of His Son who is the eternal Word of God incarnate. Our finite reason alone will lead us to reject anything beyond our limited realm of natural experience and understanding. Sadly, we are often more disposed to accept the declarations of scientists about things beyond our comprehension, such as quantum physics, black holes and dark energy, than we are to accept God’s self-revelation in the Scriptures.
The Trinity revealed in the Old Testament
Some mistakenly think that the Trinity is an exclusively New Testament revelation. To the contrary, while the distinctions are not as pronounced as they are in the New Testament where God’s plan of redemption unfolds with the Father sending the Son to redeem us and afterwards sending the Holy Spirit to inhabit believers, all three persons are nevertheless referred to throughout the Old Testament. One passage in particular which recounts God’s deliverance of the children of Israel from Egypt, and also foreshadows God’s redemption of His people through Christ, as well as naming all three persons together, is Isaiah 63. Here I will only quote the portions which name each of the three persons of the Godhead:
“I will mention the lovingkindnesses of Yahweh and the praises of Yahweh…8 He became their Savior… 9 and the Angel of His Presence saved them… 10 But they rebelled and grieved His Holy Spirit; so He turned Himself against them as an enemy, and He fought against them… 11 Where is He who brought them up out of the sea with the shepherd of His flock? Where is He who put His Holy Spirit within them…16 Doubtless You are our Father… You, O Yahweh, are our Father; Our Redeemer from Everlasting is Your name.” (Isa 63:7-11,16)
Here, in one passage, we see reference to Yahweh or the Angel of His Presence who became their Savior, who, as we saw in the blog “The Christophanies of the Old Testament” is speaking of the Angel of the Lord or the preincarnate Christ, who is Himself called Yahweh Elohim. Then we see mention of His Holy Spirit whom He put within them, but they grieved His Spirit. Then finally in verse 16, we see reference to God the Father. All three persons of the Godhead are clearly distinguished in this brief passage. Another verse that makes a distinction between the three persons of the Godhead is Isaiah 48:16 which reads:
“Come near to Me, hear this: I have not spoken in secret from the beginning; from the time that it was, I was there. And now the Lord God and His Spirit have sent Me.” (Isa 48:16)
This prophecy looks forward to when the Son would be sent to bring salvation to mankind. It makes a very clear distinction between Christ, the Lord God, and His Spirit. Another passage which contains the trinity is Isaiah 61:1 which says:
“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, because Yahweh has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor.” (Isa 61:1; cf. Lu 4:18)
By comparing this with Luke 4:18, we see that “Me” is prophetically speaking of Christ. Additionally, it says that the Spirit of the Lord God is on Christ because Yahweh anointed Him with the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 10:38). All three persons are distinguished here, just as they are in numerous Old Testament passages. There are several references to God as Father (Ps 89:26; Isa 64:8; Jer 3:4,19, etc.). Therefore, when Jesus referred to God as Father, it wasn’t something unfamiliar to the Jews. Nor were His frequent references to the Holy Spirit as a person distinct from the Father, since it was the same language they were familiar with from the Old Testament (Joel 2:28-29; Isa 42:1; cf. Jn 15:26; 16:13-15, etc.).
Plurality in Unity
What many are unaware of is that the very passage that declares the oneness of God implies plurality in unity. Deuteronomy 6: 4 declares: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one!” While this passage emphasizes that there is only one God, at the same time it implies that the one true God is complex in His unity. It literally reads: “Yahweh our Elohim, Yahweh is one.” While Yahweh is singular, Elohim is the plural form of El. Biblical Hebrew had a plural and a dual, so the plural in Hebrew speaks of three or more.
It is argued by Unitarians that the word “one” (Heb. echad) rules out the possibility that Elohim could be understood as expressing plurality in the Godhead. However, echad often refers to a compound unity in Scripture. In Genesis 2:4 it says concerning the union of marriage between a man and a woman, “they shall become one flesh (echad).” In Exodus 24:3 it says that all the children of Israel “spoke with one voice (echad).” In Genesis 34:22 it speaks of two nations becoming “one people (echad).” Contrary to what Unitarians affirm, echad is commonly used to refer to two or more persons as being one.
There is actually another word in Hebrew, yachid, which was used to refer to “one” in an absolute sense. The Lord used it when He told Abraham to offer up his “only” son Isaac (Gen 22:2). The word yachid is used 12 times in the Old Testament to refer to “one” in the absolute sense. However, in Deuteronomy 6:4 when it declares “Yahweh your Elohim is one,” the inspired text deliberately uses echad instead of yachid.
It is argued that the substantive Elohim is used in the plural to express majesty rather than plurality. That may be the case in some contexts, but that is clearly not the case when speaking of Yahweh Elohim. The plural elohim, when referring to a solitary majesty, never refers to the individual in plural throughout the sentence, as we see when Elohim is used to refer to Yahweh. For example, in Genesis 1:26 it says:
“Then God (Elohim) said, "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness.”
Here the verb “let us make,” as well as “our image” and “our likeness” are all in the plural. Some would argue that God was simply speaking to the angels when He said: “Let us make man in Our image.” However, in the next verse it becomes clear that man was not made in the image of angels, but in the image of God Himself. It says:
“So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” (Gen 1:27)
Here we see that we were created in the very image of God and not the image of some other creature, such as an angel (cf. Gen 9:6). In Genesis 3, after Adam and Eve had eaten the forbidden fruit, we again see Yahweh Elohim speaking as a plurality of persons:
“Then the Lord God said, "Behold, the man has become like one of Us, to know good and evil.” (Gen 3:22)
Not only do we see reference to God as a plurality of persons when His plural title Elohim is used, but we also find the plural being used when God is referred to as Yahweh alone, without the presence of the plural Elohim:
“And the LORD (Yahweh) said, ‘Indeed the people are one and they all have one language, and this is what they begin to do; now nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them. 7 Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another's speech.’ 8 So the LORD (Yahweh) scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they ceased building the city.” (Gen 11:6-8)
Here we see Yahweh is singular, yet there is a plurality within the one Godhead, as can be seen by the plural “let Us go down,” rather than the singular “I will go down.” There is no indication in the context that He is speaking to individuals outside of the Godhead itself. All of these plural grammatical constructions clearly indicate that there is plurality in unity within the Godhead.
The Trinity in the Act of Creation
Genesis begins by saying, “In the beginning God (Elohim) created the heavens and the earth.” As we continue reading, we discover that Elohim encompasses three persons rather than one solitary being. In the very next verse, we see reference to the Spirit of Elohim who was hovering over the waters. The psalmist says of Yahweh, “You send forth Your Spirit, they are created” (Ps 104:30). Job said: “The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life” (Job 33:4). I will later establish that the Holy Spirit is an actual person within the Godhead and not merely God’s active force, but here we can clearly see that the Spirit of God was active in creation.
A mirror image of Genesis 1:1 is John 1:1-3, where we see that the Son of God was not only God, but that He also created all things which exist:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through Him (διά “by, through”), and without Him nothing was made that was made.” (Jn 1:1-3)
We see here that the Word, or the preincarnate Christ, was not only with God in the beginning, but that He was God, and that all things were made by or through Him. We also see in Hebrews 1:2 that God made the eons (τοὺς αἰῶνας “the ages,” i.e. He created time) by or through the Son, which requires that the Son be co-eternal with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Not only were all things made by Him, but in Colossians we also see that all things were created in Him, rather than simply coming into existence out of nothing (ex nihilo) as commonly taught:
“For by Him (ἔν “in Him”) all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through (διά “by, through”) Him and for (εἰς “for, into, unto”) Him. 17 And He is before all things, and in Him (ἔν “in Him”) all things consist (συνιστάω “to hold together”).” (Col 1:16-17)
Therefore, if the Son of God was already existing in the beginning and created all things including the eons themselves, then He exists outside of time. He must of necessity be co-equal and co-eternal with the Father and the Holy Spirit.
Considering that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, and seeing that all three persons of the Godhead are repeatedly said to have created all things, including time itself, it logically follows that God or Elohim is one God who exists in three persons, just as the Church has historically taught.
The Distinct Personhood of the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Some Trinitarians avoid referring to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit as “persons,” preferring to speak of them instead as distinct “beings” or “individuals” within the Godhead, since some tend to equate “persons” with finite human beings. However, there is no problem with the term “person” if we understand it as simply referring to a self-aware conscious being with intellect, emotion and will, as opposed to an inanimate force or thing. We were created in the image and likeness of God, and for that reason, I believe it is the most apt term to show the distinction of persons within the Godhead.
Unitarians acknowledge that the Son is a person but deny His deity. They also deny that the Holy Spirit is a person distinct from the Father, regarding Him to be nothing more than the active force of God. Modalists acknowledge that both the Son and Holy Spirit are divine but deny that they are actual persons within the Godhead. It should be clear from what we have seen in the previous blogs that the Son of God is fully divine, so our focus here will be to establish the personhood of the Holy Spirit and also the distinct eternal personhood of the Son prior to His incarnation.
The Personhood of the Son
Little needs to be said as to the personhood of the Son in distinction from the Father and the Holy Spirit, since no one doubts that the Son is a person, and the distinction of the Father and the Holy Spirit from the Son is so frequently observed in the Scriptures. I would just like to cite a couple of examples in which the Son is distinguished from God the Father prior to His incarnation. The first one is Hebrews 10:5-7 which I cite from a literal translation since it preserved the tense of the present participle “coming.” Concerning Christ it reads:
“For this reason, coming (present tense) into the world, He says, "Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, but You prepared a body for Me. 6 You did not delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices concerning sins.’ 7 Then I said, ‘Lo, I come, in the heading of the Book it was written concerning Me, to do Your will, O God.’” (Heb 10:5-7 LITV)
Here we see the Son saying, when He is about to come into the world, that the Father had prepared a body for Him in order that He might offer Himself up as a sacrifice for the sins of the world. This parallels with the reference to God sending His Son in the likeness of sinful flesh (Rom 8:3). Here we see a distinction of persons within the Godhead prior to the incarnation. We also see a distinction of persons in Philippians where the preincarnate Christ empties Himself, taking on the form of a man:
“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, being (present participle) in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, 7 but made Himself of no reputation (κενόω, “emptied Himself”), taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” (Phil 2:5-8)
Here we see the preincarnate Son of God existing in the form of God and being equal with God, actively “emptying Himself” and taking upon Himself the form of a bondservant and coming to earth in human form. The language of this passage throughout clearly presents Christ as being a person who existed in the form of God and was equal with God prior to His incarnation. The incarnation wasn’t something that was done for Him as a passive embryo in the womb of Mary. The preincarnate Christ emptied Himself, taking upon Himself a human nature.
We also see a distinction of persons in that the Father is said to have “sent” the Son and the Son said that He came to do the will of the Father. There is the will of the Father and the will of the Son. There was the Sender and the Sent. Then, at the close of Christ’s earthly ministry, He prays to the Father saying:
“I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do. 5 And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.” (Jn 17:4-5)
Jesus could not have made it any clearer that He was a distinct person from the Father who eternally existed with the Father in glory before creation.
The Personhood of the Holy Spirit
Many have difficulty perceiving the Holy Spirit as a person since He doesn’t appear in bodily form. However, what makes us a person is not our physical body. We continue as a self-conscious soul with intellect, emotions and will after leaving our physical body behind in the grave. The Holy Spirit, just as the Father and Son, is a person in the sense that He is not impersonal. He, just as the Father and the Son, manifests individual intellect, emotion and will, and yet they share the same essence and attributes.
The Holy Spirit is a person distinct from the Father and the Son. For the sake of space, I will show just one example from the Gospel of John where we see a clear distinction between the three persons of the Trinity.
“These things I have spoken to you while being present with you. 26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom (neuter) the Father will send in My name, He (masculine) will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.” (Jn 14:25-26)
Here we see all three persons: The Son who is speaking says that the Father will send the Holy Spirit. Some Unitarians, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses who deny that the Holy Spirit is a person, point out that the pronoun “whom” is neuter. However, in Greek the grammatical gender is not equivalent to sexual gender. The pronoun “whom” (ὅς) is neuter only because it modifies “Spirit (πνεῦμα),” which is a neuter noun. That the Holy Spirit is a person is made clear when it says, “He (masculine, ἐκεῖνος) will teach you all things.” Jesus Himself is also the “Lamb” (ἀρνίον), which is neuter, yet we know He is a person. So, in this passage we see three distinct persons within the Godhead.
That the Holy Spirit is a person and not the impersonal force of God such as electricity, is also evident seeing that He possesses the attributes that only a person can have: emotions, intellect and will.
Emotions. The Holy Spirit is an emotional being. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, etc., qualities which could not be attributed to an impersonal force. The Holy Spirit loves us (Rom 15:30). The development of robotics has made great strides, but a robot remains impersonal and therefore is incapable of loving us as the Holy Spirit loves us. The Holy Spirit can be grieved (Eph 4:30). You can shut up your car for months in the garage or you may prefer another car over your own, but you can never grieve it or make it sad because it is not a person as the Holy Spirit is. We can enjoy communion with Him (2Cor 13:14). Communion is close friendship or sharing things in common with another person. You can spend hours working with a computer, but you cannot have communion with it because it is not a person, as the Holy Spirit is.
Intellect. Another characteristic of personhood is intellect. Only a person has genuine intelligence. Computers are programmed with information by intelligent people, but the computer only has artificial intelligence because it is not a person. It doesn’t have a mind which consciously reasons, as a person does. In contrast, the Holy Spirit is omniscient and knows all (1Cor 2:10-11). As the all-knowing God, He speaks to us, communicating to us things we couldn’t have known otherwise (Acts 8:29; 10:19; 13:2). Furthermore, the gifts of the Spirit, such as the gift of wisdom, knowledge, prophecy and discerning of spirits, demonstrate His intelligence (1Cor 12:8-10). In John chapters 14 through 16 we see that the Holy Spirit teaches us, He reminds us of the words of Jesus, He convinces us of sin, He leads us into all truth, He tells us what He hears from the Father and glorifies the Son – all of these being things which only a person can do. Also, we can lie to the Holy Spirit. Peter said to Ananias: “why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself?... You have not lied to men but to God” (Acts 5:3-4). Here, in Peter’s statement, we not only see that the Holy Spirit is a person we can lie to, but we also see that He is God.
Volition. The Holy Spirit has a will (1Cor 12:11). He permits and prohibits things according to His will (Acts 16:6-7,10). Only a person can make decisions or determinations based upon one’s own knowledge and emotions. Those who walk in the Spirit are those who submit their own will to the will of the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:16-18).
So, considering the fact that the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit are equally called God and Lord, and seeing that each one of them individually demonstrates all the attributes unique to personhood, and yet they are emphatically said to be one God and not three, the only logical conclusion is that the one and only true God exists in triunity as three persons in one. To me, one of the most concise definitive statements of the biblical doctrine of the Trinity is contained in the Athanasian Creed which says:
“We worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the Essence. For there is one Person of the Father; another of the Son; and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one; the Glory equal, the Majesty coeternal. Such as the Father is; such is the Son; and such is the Holy Ghost. The Father uncreated; the Son uncreated; and the Holy Ghost uncreated. The Father unlimited; the Son unlimited; and the Holy Ghost unlimited. The Father eternal; the Son eternal; and the Holy Ghost eternal. And yet they are not three eternals; but one eternal. As also there are not three uncreated; nor three infinites, but one uncreated; and one infinite. So likewise the Father is Almighty; the Son Almighty; and the Holy Ghost Almighty. And yet they are not three Almighties; but one Almighty. So the Father is God; the Son is God; and the Holy Ghost is God. And yet they are not three Gods; but one God. So likewise the Father is Lord; the Son Lord; and the Holy Ghost Lord. And yet not three Lords; but one Lord. For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity; to acknowledge every Person by himself to be God and Lord; So are we forbidden by the catholic religion; to say, There are three Gods, or three Lords. The Father is made of none; neither created, nor begotten. The Son is of the Father alone; not made, nor created; but begotten. The Holy Ghost is of the Father and of the Son; neither made, nor created, nor begotten; but proceeding. So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; one Holy Ghost, not three Holy Ghosts. And in this Trinity none is before, or after another; none is greater, or less than another. But the whole three Persons are coeternal, and coequal. So that in all things, as aforesaid; the Unity in Trinity, and the Trinity in Unity, is to be worshipped.”