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Enjoying God Blog

In a previous article I explained the perspective concerning the nature of God as expressed by Oneness Pentecostalism or what is also known as the Jesus Only movement. I won’t bother to repeat myself, but wish instead to explain why historic, orthodox Christianity has always affirmed what we refer to as Trinitarianism.

Let me say from the start that this is an intellectually taxing topic. Augustine (d. 430 a.d.) famously said that if you try to understand the Trinity you will likely lose your mind, but if you deny the Trinity you will lose your soul! Augustine also gave us this definition of the Trinity:

“There are the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and each is God, and at the same time all are one God; and each of them is a full substance, and at the same time all are one substance. The Father is neither the Son nor the Holy Spirit; the Son is neither the Father nor the Holy Spirit; the Holy Spirit is neither the Father nor the Son. But the Father is the Father uniquely; the Son is the Son uniquely; and the Holy Spirit is the Holy Spirit uniquely. All three have the same eternity, the same immutability, the same majesty, and the same power” (On Christian Doctrine, transl. By D. W. Robertson, Jr. [Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1958, p. 10]).

So, why should we embrace a robust Trinitarian view of God? And if we do, does this mean that we are required to affirm such mathematical nonsense as 1 + 1 + 1 = 1? No. The place to begin is by giving full weight to three lines of evidence in the Bible.

First, we are monotheists. That there is but one God is an assertion at the very heart of the Judeo-Christian tradition. “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Deut. 6:4). The apostle Paul is unequivocal in his monotheism: “We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one” (1 Cor. 8:4b; see also 8:5-6). Again, he insists that “there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5). See also Exod. 3:13-15; 15:11; 20:2-3; Isaiah 43:10; 44:6; 45:5-6; 45:14,18,21-22; 46:9; Zech. 14:9; John 17:3; James 2:19; Rom. 3:30. In summary, there is but one and one God only.

Second, we acknowledge that Scripture speaks of the deity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This poses a problem. There is only one God. But the Father is God. So too is the Son; likewise, the Holy Spirit. How can three be God and yet God be one? There is no escaping the fact that the biblical authors assert both truths. Clearly the Godhead is not an undifferentiated solitary oneness, but a oneness that subsists in multiplicity.

• The Deity of the Father
• The Deity of the Son
• The Deity of the Holy Spirit

Third, we must also recognize in Scripture the truth of triunity. Alongside of the biblical testimony that God is one and that three are God is the multitude of texts which in some fashion unite the three who are God, hence our term triunity. Here are a few of those texts.

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19).

Jesus does not say “baptizing them in the names” (plural), as if there were three Gods, but “in the name” (singular). Neither does he say, “in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” as if there were one being passing himself off under a threefold name. Rather, the definite article is repeated before each: the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Thus, while Jesus distinguishes the three, with equal care he unites them under one name.

“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Cor. 13:14).

Here we see that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are united in their ministries to God’s people.

“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, on baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph. 4:4-6).

Again, the Spirit, the Lord Jesus Christ, and God the Father are united in their work of salvation and sanctification of the Christian believer.

On several occasions the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are mentioned together in united activity or purpose relating to the life and ministry of Jesus: at his conception (Luke 1:35), baptism (Matt. 3:16-17; John 1:33-34), miracles (Matt. 12:28), and ascension (Luke 24:49).

On several occasions the three are portrayed as united in the work of revelation and redemption: Acts 2:38-39; Rom. 14:17-18; 15:16,30; 2 Cor. 1:21-22; Gal. 4:6; Eph. 2:18-22; 3:14-19; Col. 1:6-8; 2 Thess. 2:13-14; Titus 3:4-6; Heb. 10:29; 1 Peter 1:2; 1 John 4:2,13-14; Jude 20-21; Rev. 1:4-5.

Therefore, God is one and three are God – Triunity! None of these three lines of evidence can be dismissed nor any one of them elevated above another. We must embrace them all. But how can they be reconciled?

Solution: Unity of Essence, Trinity of Personhood

There are only three possible ways to respond to this evidence.

(1) The first alternative is to stress the unity of the one God to the exclusion of the full and co-equal deity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There are two primary expressions of this view. Unitarianism is typically a theologically liberal perspective that denies the deity of Jesus Christ and the Spirit. Unitarians are also universalists, insisting that everyone will ultimately be saved. A more conservative view is that of the Oneness Pentecostals and the United Pentecostal Church, as well as those who go by the name of Jesus Only. Jesus “only” is God. Or again, there is only one person in the Godhead and his name is Jesus. The “Father” and “Spirit” are only different names appropriate for different manifestations or modes of existence by which Jesus, the only true God, reveals himself.

(2) The second alternative is to stress the distinctiveness of the Father, Son, and Spirit to such a degree that the result is Tritheism, a form of Polytheism. The only link among the three is that they share a common purpose or will. Stress is placed on the personhood of each, the essence of which is autonomy and independent self-consciousness. Few embrace this view.

(3) The third and, I believe, only legitimate alternative is to accept without alteration both the oneness of God and the full deity of Father, Son, and Spirit. This is done by saying that God is one in essence and three in person.

Historic trinitarianism does not assert that God is one and three in the same sense. Rather, that in respect to which God is one is essence (or substance), and that in respect to which God is three is person. In affirming triunity in God we are saying that God is one in a sense different from the sense in which he is three.

We may thus speak about Father, Son, and Spirit both in terms of what is common to all (essence) and what is proper or peculiar to each (person). The Father is the same God as the Son and Spirit but not the same person. The Son is the same God as the Father and Spirit but not the same person. The Spirit is the same God as the Father and Son but not the same person. Or again, relative to deity, Father, Son, and Spirit are the same. Relative to person, they are distinct.

Be it noted, however, that divine “three-ness” is not merely a matter of our perception or experience of God. Three-ness belongs to the eternal essence of God no less than divine oneness.

Thus. whereas all three persons are God, none of the three has its own essence separate from or independent of the other two. Rather, each person shares equally the numerically one divine substance or essence. Numerically speaking there is only one divine essence and each of the three divine persons coinhere in that one nature. There is, therefore, no ontological subordination within the Godhead. The Father, Son, and Spirit are coequally God in terms of the divine essence. Each person is as fully God as the other.

Thus, the Trinitarian relationships as conceived in the western church may be summarized as follows:

 The Father eternally begets the Son and is he from whom the Holy Spirit proceeds. But, the Father is neither begotten nor does he proceed.

 The Son is eternally begotten and is he from whom the Holy Spirit proceeds. But, he neither begets nor proceeds.

 The Holy Spirit eternally proceeds from both Father and Son. But, he neither begets nor is he one from whom any proceed.

Another way of expressing the same thought:

 The Father is not God from God. The Father is God from whom God exists.

 The Son is God from God. The Son is God from whom God exists.

 The Spirit is God from God. The Spirit is not God from whom God exists.


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