The 3 Oneness of God

In Apologetics on July 19, 2013 at 4:16 pm


The 3 Oneness of God

In the form of a syllogism.

Major premise: Worship belongs exclusively to Jehovah, the only true God;

Minor premise: God commands worship to be given to Jesus Christ;

Conclusion: Therefore Jesus Christ is the true God and Jehovah.[1]

God has most fully revealed Himself in His Son. The Son of God is the Word incarnate, the eternal self-expression of God. No finite mind can ever comprehend what that name signifies about the eternal, Trinitarian relationship of the Son with the Father. We can say, however, that all that God has ever revealed to any creature has been through His eternal Son. “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds” (Hebrews 1:1–2).

This revelation of God in His Son cannot be separated from His revelation in Scripture. God has fully revealed Himself in Christ and Christ is fully revealed in Scripture. He is “the truth” (John 14:6), “the Amen, the faithful and true witness” (Revelation 3:14). Christ is the pinnacle of all divine revelation, the fulness of all that God ever intended to reveal of Himself. Therefore, the Father commands us to “hear him” (Luke 9:35).

What a revelation of God we have in Christ! He gave us the law and the prophets, for He was the mediator under the old dispensation as well as under the new (Galatians 3:19–20).1 Now He has given us the full light of glory: “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Grace and truth! We have every cause to fear truth, for by nature we are all falsehood, and truth is divine light that exposes us to the judgment of God. But in Christ God combines grace with truth. The Psalmist foresaw this: “Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other” (Psalm 85:10). Only in Christ our Redeemer could this take place. In Him alone, and through His merit, can God be just and yet justify the ungodly who believe in Him (Romans 3:26; 4:5).[2]

John 1:18 (John 1:18 ESV) No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.

When this scripture is presented to the modern way of thinking it is often seen in the light of an exactness that was unknown to the ancients, while in modernity we tend towards an exact copy. What is missing is the understanding that Jesus is God’s essential nature. God may be seen in a theophany or anthropomorphism but His inner essence or nature is disclosed only in Jesus.

God the only Son is literally “the unique God” or “the only begotten God” (monogenēs theos; cf. monogenous, “the one and only” in v. 14). John was probably ending his prologue by returning to the truth stated in verse 1 that the Word is God. Verse 18 is another statement affirming Christ’s deity: He is unique, the one and only God. The Son is at the Father’s side, thus revealing the intimacy of the Father and the Son (cf. the Word was “with God,” vv. 1–2). Furthermore, the Son has made … known (exēgēsato, whence the Eng. “exegeted”) the Father. The Son is the “exegete” of the Father, and as a result of His work the nature of the invisible Father (cf. 4:24) is displayed in the Son (cf. 6:46[3]

The newer Testament (John 1:14 ESV) And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. This verse reveals a term that is used monogenēs theos revealing that God has a unique Son! Who was according to verse 18 at his side and when the time was according to God’s decree Jesus exegetes the Father to the world?

The result of God revealing his only Son shows the progressive nature of the God’s plan and purpose. The Old Testament concealed what the New Testament revealed. The chosen tribe of Israel rejected the concept of God having a Son and preferred their traditions over God’s plan of redemption. The claim is made that the Trinity is not seen in the Old Testament and that is partially true, in that it was concealed till the proper time when the incarnation occurred. How would Isaiah 9:6 make any sense to the people of that day till the incarnation occurred revealing the secret that Abraham and the prophets longed to see? The two fold revelation is a child will born and a son will be given. How can God have a Son or for that matter take on human flesh and nature? The traditional view of Israel would not allow for such a thing and even today the denial is still being proclaimed.

(Isa 9:6 ESV) For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

The final thought on this would be (Mat 12:30-32 ESV) Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.

What is blasphemy? Blasphemy is speaking against the Lord, and the worst form of it is blasphemy against the Holy Ghost—which may be defined from the context in Matthew 12 as the deliberate attribution of the works of the Holy Spirit to the devil. The distinction is apparent between Son and Spirit, while united in nature or essence, distinct in person! If I make a distinction between person and spirit I point out the differences. If I separate a nature or being from person that is death. The fact that the Son is in operation with the Spirit simultaneously and not in separate appearances or modes is foundational to the 3 oneness of God. This was the very denial of the Pharisees that Jesus was the incarnate Son of God! Then they accuse Jesus of being in league with Satan by attributing the miracles of the Spirit working through the Son to belong to Beelzebub. The truth of revelation in Jesus is the being of God they share while distinct in persona. Some people think that the doctrine of the Trinity means that Christians believe in three gods. This is the idea of tritheism, which the church has categorically rejected throughout its history. Others see the Trinity as the church’s retreat into contradiction. A man who had a PhD in philosophy, objected to Christianity on the grounds that the doctrine of the Trinity represented a manifest contradiction—the idea that one can also be three—at the heart of the Christian faith. The law of non-contradiction. That law states, “A cannot be A and non-A at the same time and in the same relationship.” When we confess our faith in the Trinity, we affirm that God is one in essence and three in person. Thus, God is one in A and three in B. If we said that He is one in essence and three in essence, that would be a contradiction. If we said He is one in person and three in person that also would be a contradiction. But as mysterious as the Trinity is, perhaps even above and beyond our capacity to understand it in its fullness, the historic formula is not a contradiction.

How, then, can we maintain the Old Testament doctrine of monotheism in light of the clear New Testament affirmation of the triune character of the biblical God? Augustine once wrote, “The New [Testament] is in the Old [Testament] concealed; the Old is in the New revealed.” To understand how the doctrine of the Trinity came to be such an important article of the Christian faith, we need to see that there was a development of the church’s understanding of the nature of God based on the Scriptures. When we look into the Scriptures, we see what we call in theology “progressive revelation.” This is the idea that, as time goes by, God unfolds more and more of His plan of redemption. He gives more and more of His self-disclosure by means of revelation. The fact that there is this progress in revelation does not mean that what God reveals in the Old Testament He then contradicts in the New Testament. Progressive revelation is not a corrective, whereby the latest unveiling from God rectifies a previous mistaken revelation. The new element here is that Paul ascribes deity to Christ. He distinguishes between the Father and the Son, and he notes that all things are “from” the Father and “through” Christ, and that we exist “for” the Father and “through” the Son. Clearly, Paul is equating the Father and the Son in terms of Their divinity. Jesus told the Jewish leaders that Abraham had rejoiced to see His day (v. 56). When the leaders asked how Jesus could possibly have seen Abraham, He replied, “Before Abraham was, I am” (v. 58). He did not say, “Before Abraham was, I was.” Rather, He said, “I am.” In doing so, He made a claim to eternality and deity. What many people miss in our day, the first-century contemporaries of Jesus caught rather quickly. They were filled with fury against Jesus because He, a mere man in their eyes, made Himself equal with God. “In the beginning was the Word [that is, the Logos], and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (1:1). In that first sentence, we see the mystery of the Trinity, because the Logos is said to have been with God from the beginning. There are different terms in the Greek language that can be translated by the English word with, but the word that is used here suggests the closest possible relationship, virtually a face-to-face relationship. Nevertheless, John makes a distinction between the Logos and God. God and the Logos are together, but they are not the same. Then John declares that the Logos not only was with God, He was God. So in one sense, the Word must be distinguished from God, and in another sense, the Word must be identified with God. Here we see eternality, creative power, and self-existence attributed to the Logos, who is Jesus. When considered together with the Bible’s clear teaching as to the oneness of God, the only conclusion is that there is one God in three persons—the doctrine of the Trinity.

Heresy historically has forced the church to be precise, to define its doctrines and differentiate truth from falsehood. The early years of the church produced numerous heresies with regard to the persons of the Godhead, and those errors pushed the church to refine its understanding of the Trinity. So-called ecumenical councils of church history, the two chief of which were the Council of Nicea in the fourth century and the Council of Chalcedon in the fifth century. It is worthwhile to familiarize ourselves with the controversies that provoked those councils, for they were intimately concerned with the nature of the persons of the Godhead. The overriding question had to do with how the biblical concept of monotheism could be reconciled with the biblical affirmations of the deity of Christ particularly, but also of the Holy Spirit.

The first great heresy that the church had to confront with respect to monarchianism was called “modalistic monarchianism” or simply “modalism.” The idea behind modalism was that all three persons of the Trinity are the same person, but that they behave in unique “modes” at different times. Modalists held that God was initially the Creator, then became the Redeemer, then became the Spirit at Pentecost. The divine person who came to earth as the incarnate Jesus was the same person who had created all things. When He returned to heaven, He took up His role as the Father again, but then returned to earth as the Holy Spirit. As you can see, the idea here was that there is only one God, but that He acts in different modes, or different expressions, from time to time.

He is “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God . . . being of one substance with the Father.” With these affirmations, the church said that scriptural terms such as firstborn and begotten have to do with Christ’s place of honor, not with His biological origin. The church declared that Christ is of the same substance, being, and essence as the Father. Thus, the idea was put forth that God, though three in person, is one in essence.

Jesus has two natures, a divine nature and a human nature, and at times He reveals His human side, while at other times He reveals His divine side. We can distinguish the two without separating them. But when the human nature perspires, it is still united to a divine nature that does not perspire. This truth of the separation of Christ’s natures was very important at the cross. The human nature died, but the divine nature did not die. Of course, at death, the divine nature was united to a human corpse. The unity was still there, but the change that had taken place was within the human nature, not the divine nature. There is a perfect unity between the divine and human natures in Christ, it said they are united in such a way as to be “without confusion, without change, without division, without separation.” In other words, the council said that we cannot mix up the two natures of Christ; that was the heresy of the monophysites. Neither can we separate them; that was the error of the Nestorians. No, Jesus’ two natures are perfectly united. We can distinguish them, but we cannot mix or divide them. We cannot conceive of the human and divine natures in Him as being confused or changed, so that we end up with a deified human nature or a humanized divine nature.

  1. The Christology that we find in the book of Hebrews is exceedingly high; in fact, it is one of the chief reasons why the early church was inclined to affirm the deity of Christ. Here we see Christ again described as the Son of God and as the agent of creation, who presents a vastly superior revelation than did the prophets of the Old Testament. The Son of God is “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature.” This is a clear reference to Jesus’ deity, but the author is also distinguishing the Son of God from the Father in terms of the idea of personhood. The Father’s person is expressed in the person of the Son. So even though both the Father and Son are divine, the author of Hebrews here sets forth the idea of a personal distinction in the Godhead. The use of the word person to distinguish the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost from one another can be problematic. The early church used the word person in a somewhat different manner than it is used today. That’s a common problem with language—it is dynamic. Its nuances change from one generation to the next. The church father Tertullian, who had a background not only in theology but in law, introduced the Latin term persona in an attempt to express the Logos Christology of the early years of the church era. In the Latin language, this word was primarily used in relation to two concepts.Each role was a persona and collectively they were personae. So the early church came to see God as one being with three personae: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The Greek philosophers were looking for ultimate reality, that which does not manifest change. They were looking for the essence of things. They called it the ousios, which is the present participle of the Greek verb “to be.” We would translate ousios into English by the word being. we can make a distinction between the three persons of the Trinity, because each member of the Godhead has unique attributes. We say the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, but we don’t say that the Father is the Son, the Son is the Holy Spirit, or the Holy Spirit is the Father. There are distinctions between them, but the distinctions are not essential, not of the essence. They are real, but they do not disturb the essence of deity. The distinctions within the Godhead are, if you will, sub-distinctions within the essence of God. He is one essence, three subsistences. That is about as close as we can get to articulating the historic doctrine of the Trinity. Calling the Trinity a contradiction is a misapplication of the law of non-contradiction. The doctrine of the Trinity teaches that God is one in essence and three in person, so He is one in one sense and three in another sense, and that does not violate the categories of rational thought or the law of non-contradiction. Nevertheless, people continue to charge that the Trinity is irrational. Why do people so consistently make this accusation? A paradox, then, is something that seems contradictory when we first encounter it; however, with further scrutiny, the tension is resolved. The Bible has many paradoxical statements. For instance, Jesus said, “The greatest among you shall be your servant” (Matt. 23:11). At first glance, that sounds contradictory, but on closer examination we see that Jesus is saying that to be great in one sense you have to be a servant in another sense, so there is no violation here of the rules of logic. We use the term mystery to refer to things we do not yet understand. We may believe a mystery is true, but we do not understand why it is true. We have seen real progress in knowledge in the history of science and other disciplines. But even if we increase our knowledge to the maximum point in human experience, we will always remain finite creatures who will not have the ability to comprehend all reality. So, something is a mystery to us if we lack understanding of it; this is quite different from a contradiction. Yet, no one understands a contradiction either. It is this similarity that leads to the idea that the Trinity is a contradiction. We can rush to judgment and say, “If we don’t understand something, it must be irrational, it must be a contradiction.” But that’s not necessarily the case. It is true that contradictions cannot be understood because they are inherently unintelligible, but not everything that seems to be a contradiction is a contradiction. Some apparent contradictions are mysteries. Some people actually say that the difference between God and man is that whereas our minds are limited by the laws of logic, God’s mind transcends the laws of logic, so He can understand something as A and non-A at the same time and in the same relationship. I suppose they believe they are exalting God by saying that He is so wonderful in His intelligence and so transcendent in His wisdom as to be able to understand contradictions. Actually, those who say this kind of thing slander Him, because they are saying that nonsense and chaos reside in the mind of God, which is not the case. When we come to the doctrine of the Trinity, we say, based on the revelation of Scripture, that there is a sense in which God is one and another sense in which He is three. We must be careful to point out that those two senses are not the same. If they were the same, we would be espousing a contradiction unworthy of our faith. But they are different, and so the doctrine of the Trinity is not a contradiction but a mystery, for we cannot fully understand how one God can exist in three persons. But the question we must ask is this: Does the concept that is represented by the word Trinity appear in the Bible? All that the word Trinity does is capture linguistically the scriptural teaching on the unity of God and the tri-personality of God. Seeing these concepts in Scripture, we search for a word that accurately communicates them. We come up with the idea of “tri-unity,” three in oneness, and so we coin this term Trinity. It really is naive to object that the word itself is not found in Scripture if the concept is found in Scripture and is taught by Scripture. Theological terms such as Trinity have arisen in church history principally because of the church’s commitment to theological precision. The basic issue of the Reformation concerned the grounds of our justification. Is our justification grounded in a righteousness that inheres within us or in a righteousness that is imputed to us? That is, is our righteousness from within us or from Christ? The controversy came down to one word: imputation as used the term Trinity to stop the mouths of the heretics, those who teach tritheism (the idea that there are three Gods) and those who deny the tri-personality of God by insisting on some view of unitarianism. We might say that the word Trinity is a “shibboleth.” The book of Judges tells of the conflict between the men of Gilead, led by Jephthah, and the men of Ephraim. To identify their enemies, the soldiers of Gilead required strangers to say “Shibboleth.” The Ephraimites could not pronounce that word, and that inability gave them away (Judg. 12:5–6). That password has become a term for a test word by which someone’s true identity can be ascertained.

Thanks for being patient enough to hear me out, my “shibboleth” I am a born again Christian who worships with other believers at a gathering and I represent at 20 generations in my family of the same faith. I stand on the orthodox doctrines of the faith and I have all eternity to ponder. I am Trinitarian, I hold to the inspiration of scripture and its inerrancy as well as infallibility. The 5 solas guide my thinking and guard my faith. May God reveal his truth and we can be about the business of gathering the elect? (2Co 13:14 ESV) The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

[1] Alan Cairns, Chariots of God: God’s Law in Relation to the Cross and the Christian (Greenville, SC: Ambassador-Emerald International, 2000), 158–159.

1 This text has occasioned more proposed interpretations than almost any other in the New Testament. Its use here as a proof text rests on the following translation of verse 20: “The Mediator [Christ] is not a mediator of one [of these, namely of either the law or the promise, but of both], but God is one [and the same under both].”

[2] Alan Cairns, Chariots of God: God’s Law in Relation to the Cross and the Christian (Greenville, SC: Ambassador-Emerald International, 2000), 181–182.

[3] Edwin A. Blum, John, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 273.


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