(This is the second article in a series responding to Yahweh’s Restoration Ministries and other Sacred Name/Hebrew Roots Movement cults. You can check out the first article here.)
“The doctrine of the Trinity is both central and necessary for the Christian faith to be what it is. Remove the Trinity, and the whole Christian faith disintegrates. “ [i] – Dr. Bruce Ware
Denying the biblical doctrine of the trinity is a fatal flaw. As I wrote in yesterday’s article, to deny the Triune God is to create a false god who has no power to save. Yet this is exactly what cults like Yahweh’s Restoration Ministries do. Specifically these cults attack the deity of Christ making him out to be a created being. They also deny the personhood of the Holy Spirit. Paul Washer says “You mark my words: Whenever a cult attacks Christianity, the first place they’re going to go is they’re going to attack the deity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; is that not true? They are going to attack His deity.” By denying the deity of Christ they have undone the work of the atonement. Because humans have sinned against an eternal God they owe an eternal penalty. Therefore, “it is necessary that a God-Man should pay” for sin, since, “no one can pay except God, and no one ought to pay except man.”[ii] To deny the full deity and humanity of Christ results in a savior who cannot satisfy the full wrath of God on the cross.
In this article, I will begin examining scriptural evidence for the trinity. There is no way that in a short article here I can even begin to scratch the surface on this glorious doctrine. There have been many works written by authors far more capable than I on this topic. I would encourage curious readers to research the issue further knowing that ultimately we will be spending eternity growing in knowledge of God yet we’ll never fully plumb the depths of glorious richness of God. We are but finite creatures attempting to explore the infinite, transcendent but personal Triune God. We will in this article attempt to look at two aspects of the trinity: 1. The absolute commitment to Monotheism in the scripture. 2. The evidence for the Deity of Christ.
Those who teach heresies such as Arianism (The belief that Christ is a created lesser being), Pelagianism (the denial of the inherited sinful nature of humans), and those who fall into other errors such as antinomianism often neglect to do the work of systematic theology. That is they fail to take into account all that scripture says on a particular topic. The work of systematic theology is as Doug Wilson says is to” remember while reading one text what you learned while reading the others. The best kind of systematic thought brings all of the Bible into every text.”[iii] Cults seem to have an aversion to taking all that scripture has to say about a particular topic and synthesizing it into a thought out and reasoned doctrine. Instead they narrowly focus on one particular verse(s) and misuse it as the foundation of their belief. The doctrine of the Trinity takes into account all that the scriptures say about God. Thus it will be important to see what scripture says about both the unified oneness and diversity of God.
Before we dig into much further let’s provide a definition of what is meant by the trinity. Matt Perman gives a succinct definition:
“The doctrine of the Trinity means that there is one God who eternally exists as three distinct Persons — the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Stated differently, God is one in essence and three in person. These definitions express three crucial truths: (1) The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct Persons, (2) each Person is fully God, (3) there is only one God. “[iv]
The doctrine of the trinity does not teach that there is more than one God or that God changes forms to become a different person. There are three eternally distinct persons who are the one true God; one God in three persons. This doctrine is not a contradiction but might best be called a paradox or an antinomy. JI Packer says an “antinomy exists when a pair of principles stand side by side, seemingly irreconcilable, yet both undeniable.” In this case the principle that there is one God and yet there are three persons is an antinomy. Packer again explains that in an antinomy both principles must be accepted. He says “What should one do, then, with an antinomy? Accept it for what it is, and learn to live with it.”[v] Ultimately, we must remember that we are finite and will never be able to get our heads fully around the nature of God, yet we must believe what God has revealed about himself in his word.
With these concepts in mind let’s look at the scriptural evidence for the trinity. First, we will look to the scriptures and find the principle that there is only one God. Deuteronomy 6: 4 famously says “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” This verse is called the Shema Israel taken from the first two words in Hebrew. There a couple of important things to notice about this verse. First of all, we notice that the verse makes it clear that the LORD (Yahweh in the original language) is one. There is a complete commitment to monotheism in the scriptures. Yet secondly, in this verse there is also a clue to the trinity. In the Hebrew language, the word translated as God is Elohim. John J. Parsons explains
“The name Elohim is unique to Hebraic thinking…The masculine plural ending does not mean “gods” when referring to the true God of Israel, since the name is mainly used with singular verb forms and with adjectives and pronouns in the singular (e.g., see Gen. 1:26). However, considering the Hashalush HaKadosh (Trinity), the form indeed allows for the plurality within the Godhead.”[vi]
There have been some who however have argued that the plural ending of Elohim should be taken as a plurality in majesty and thus should not be taken to mean any more than that. Either way, the crux of the argument for the trinity is not limited to an element of Hebrew language. The main reason I am highlighting this word is to show that the idea of a plurality within the Godhead is not foreign to the Hebrew language.
Let’s return to looking at the argument for the belief in one God. Isaiah 43:10 says
““You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord,
“and my servant whom I have chosen,
that you may know and believe me
and understand that I am he.
Before me no god was formed,
nor shall there be any after me.
Notice that in this verse that God declares that there are no other gods formed before or after him. Contrary to Mormonism[vii], the Lord is the only God who has ever existed or will exist. This eliminates polytheism. If one reads through Isaiah or any of the prophets,you see how God rejects any notion of equal or lesser gods. Isaiah 44:6 makes this clear “Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: “I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god.” God is the creator of all things. Notice also that the Lord is called Redeemer. God is savior of his people. Again, Isaiah 45:18 “For thus says the Lord, who created the heavens (he is God!), who formed the earth and made it (he established it; he did not create it empty, he formed it to be inhabited!):“I am the Lord, and there is no other.” God alone made everything. Unlike Gnosticism which had God creating angelic beings who then formed the earth, Isaiah teaches that God formed the earth and made it.
The New Testament continues this theme of one God. 1 Corinthians 8:6a says “yet for us athere is but one God”. Ephesians 4: 4-7 again speaks of one God:” There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” Just as the prophets dismiss the existence of idols and false gods, Paul in 1 Corinthians 8:4 says “Therefore concerning the eating of things sacrificed to idols, we know that there is no such thing as an idol in the world, and that there is no God but one. “
The scriptures are clear that there is only one God. This one God is the creator and sustainer of all things. There are no idols or lesser gods who exist. There are none who were God before Him and none who will be after. God has always exists and will always exist. God is the redeemer and savior of His people. Finally, let’s look at one more thing that God says about himself:
Isaiah 42: 8 I am the Lord; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols.
Isaiah 48:11 “For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another.”
Notice what God says here: He defends his name and says clearly that He will not give His glory to another. He will not allow another to be worshiped or praised. There is only one God and to him belongs all worship, praise, and glory. The 1st commandment is that we shall have no other God’s before him. And the 2nd commandment is that we shall not worship idols or anyone other than God. In Isaiah, God again makes it clear he will not share his worship or name with another.
So to quickly recap: There is one God who created all things and who is savior and redeemer alone. This one God is to be worshiped alone and He does not share his glory with another. There are no other gods before after him. To worship any other than the one true God is to commit blasphemy and to break God’s law. God is a jealous God for his name and glory.
Now we will turn quickly to Jesus. Let’s look first at the Old Testament to see what it says about the Messiah. In light of the discussion above about God not giving his name or worship to another, this should raise our eyebrows and cause us to consider what the scripture is saying about the Messiah. Isaiah prophesied about the coming Messiah and he had this to say in Isaiah 9:6: “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.”
Wait a minute, this son whose shoulders the government will rest upon shall be called … Mighty God. But it doesn’t stop there. We see in Isaiah 7:14 “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” The name Immanuel means “God with us.” Matthew 1:23 tells us that the birth of Jesus is the fulfillment of Isaiah 7:14. We see then that the Messiah was to be called “Mighty God” and “God with us.”
One of the most common titles for Jesus in the New Testament is Lord. 1 Corinthians 8:6 which said that there is one God also says that there is one Lord, Jesus Christ. Philippians 2:9-11 says this about Jesus: “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.”
Jon Bloom explains that this passage speaks very clearly about the deity of Christ.:
To see just how breathtaking this statement really is, we must understand what Paul has in mind here. He is quoting the LORD speaking through the Prophet Isaiah:
Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other. By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return: “To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance.” Only in the LORD, it shall be said of me, are righteousness and strength; to him shall come and be ashamed all who were incensed against him. In the LORD all the offspring of Israel shall be justified and shall glory.
Whenever the name LORD is printed in small caps in this English translation, it means the NAME: YAHWEH. For ancient Jews (and conservative modern ones), YAHWEH was the Name of names; so sacred that they would not speak it nor would they write it in full (they left out the vowels: YHWH). YAHWEH was the Holy One of Israel.
As a Pharisee, Paul knew this text very well. He knew exactly what he was saying: Jesus of Nazareth is YAHWEH. Pause and feel the weight of that statement. Paul once approved of the execution of those who claimed such things. He would one day die for proclaiming it.[viii]
Jesus receives the name of God. He is worshiped as Lord. He is called the redeemer and savior. Furthermore, we learn that Jesus created all things. Colossians 1:16-17 says” For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” The scriptures teach that God alone created all things and yet they also teach that Jesus created all things. Lastly, in Revelation 22:13, Jesus says “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”
To summarize, we have seen that the scriptures teach that there is one God who is uncreated yet who created everything. This one God is redeemer, savior, and Lord. Every knee will bow to Him. This one God does not share his glory and worship with another. We have also seen that Jesus receives worship and glory. Jesus is called Lord, Redeemer, savior, creator, and eternal. The scriptures are clear that there is one God and that Jesus is God.
There is much more that can be said about Christ Jesus. While we have focused on the divinity of Jesus we must not neglect that in the incarnation, God the Son took on human nature. Jesus is fully God and yet fully human. Joel McDurmon writes:
Since Christ is both fully man and fully God, a correct understanding of His Incarnation corrects errors on two fronts: those who would diminish His deity and those who would deny his true humanity. The former run into the error of seeing Christ as only a man: a special man, perhaps, but only a man, nonetheless, and therefore, unable to save man from depravity. The opposite error is the subject of my book: the denial of Christ’s humanity. This scenario reduces Christ to a phantom of human imagination. He may be a “god,” but since this god has no historical manifestation, then he suffers the fate of all the gods of human history: he is relegated to mythology. More importantly, since this alleged god cannot reveal himself in history, then it is left to man—each individual man—to define this god as they like.[ix]
Christians believe that there is one God and three persons. We have uncovered the identity of one of those persons in this article. In the next article, we will take a look at the other two persons of the trinity. We will look at the personhood of the Holy Spirit and of the Father. We will see that each person is equal and fully God and yet there is a hierarchy in role among each of the persons.
[i] Bruce A. Ware, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: Relationships, Roles, and Relevance (Wheaton, Ill: Crossway, 2005).
[ii] Scott Horrell et al., Jesus in Trinitarian Perspective: An Intermediate Christology, ed. Fred Sanders and Klaus Issler (Nashville, Tenn: B&H Academic, 2007).
[iii] “Joy to the World,” Blog & Mablog, accessed December 8, 2015, https://dougwils.com/s8-expository/joy-to-the-world-2.html.
[iv] “What Is the Doctrine of the Trinity?,” Desiring God, accessed December 9, 2015, http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/what-is-the-doctrine-of-the-trinity.
[v] J. I. Packer and Mark Dever, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, Americanized edition (Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Books, 2012).
[vi] “The Hebrew Name for God – Elohim,” accessed December 10, 2015, http://www.hebrew4christians.com/Names_of_G-d/Elohim/elohim.html.
[vii] Mormonism teaches that God used to be a man who obeyed the gods before him and that we can become a god ourselves one day.
[viii] “Jesus Christ Is YAHWEH,” Desiring God, accessed December 11, 2015, http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/jesus-christ-is-yahweh.
[ix] “Baby Jesus and Freedom: Implications of the Incarnation,” The American Vision, accessed December 11, 2015, http://americanvision.org/3858/baby-jesus-and-freedom-implications-of-the-incarnation/.