October 1, 2017
In this issue: Trinity by Morris Fraser
If you have been a member of the Lord’s church for any length of time or have been associated with any number of denominations, you probably have been taught that the Godhead is made up of three persons – God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. The Godhead also is usually referred to as the Trinity.
Even if you firmly believe that the Trinity exists in the form stated above, you may have trouble understanding what it is. You are not alone.
The Trinity can be a difficult concept for humans to understand. We exist as individuals, with our own minds, our own goals, our own preferences. When we read about three distinct personalities who act in complete accord, we may keep looking for the interpersonal spats – even intellectual disagreements on matters of spiritual importance.
Humans can touch on the basics of two personalities living as one. If we truly understand what marriage is, we know the husband and wife live in agreement – they are indeed one (Genesis 2:24: one flesh; Ephesians 5:24: husbands must love their wives as they love their own bodies; I Peter 3:7: Christian husbands and wives are heirs together of the grace of life).
And apart from scriptural references, couples who really care about their marriage learn to come to agreement on most matters concerning their families. For many long-married couples, it comes down to almost reading each other’s minds.
But to thoroughly understand the nature of the Trinity takes a great deal more thought. The Bible never argues the existence of God as we understand God the Father. Likewise, it never argues for the existence, or the relationship, of the three persons in the Godhead. These are merely understood.
The first time God is mentioned in the Bible is Genesis 1:1: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” And here we also have the first evidence that God is more than one person. The word “God” in the original Hebrew is “Elohim.” It is correctly translated God, but the “-im” at the end is one of the ways the Hebrew language creates a plural. So “God” is presented as a plurality. We just don’t know from that passage how many make up that plurality.
Genesis 1:26 enforces the idea of the Godhead: “Let us make man in our own image.”
The phrase “let us make” is used 15 times in the King James Version, and every time it is speaking of two or more individuals making a decision; sometimes it refers to a multitude. On 11 other occasions the phrase “let us” indicates that a plurality of individuals is seeking to take some action. If the plurality of the phrase is evident in some 26 other instances, it must be that a plurality is in Genesis 1:26. More than one personality was involved in making man.
Can we determine the number and identification of the persons of the Godhead? That is an easy task.
When Jesus gave what is commonly called the Great Commission, prior to his ascension into heaven, he stated in Matthew 28:19: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” The idea of “in the name of” means “by the authority of,” much as a policeman may call after a wrongdoer, “Stop in the name of the law.” All three have power and input in authorizing baptism.
When Paul discussed the relationship between God and man in Galatians 4, he showed that young children became heirs after having no more authority than a slave. Paul expanded on that thought in verse 6: “And because ye are sons (heirs – MF), God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.” Here again, three personalities take part in establishing that glorious relationship between a faithful man and God.
The defining of the three persons of the Godhead is shown clearly in the four gospel accounts of Jesus’ baptism. In Matthew 3:16-17, scripture says, “And after being baptized, Jesus went up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God (1) descending as a dove, [and] coming upon Him (2), and behold, a voice out of the heavens (3), saying, "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased."
Similar accounts are in Mark 1:10-11, Luke 3:21-22, and John 1:32-33. Each points to three distinct identities in a situation where they are shown to be separate yet unified in purpose.
While we may have difficulty knowing exactly how the Trinity acts as one but with three distinct identities, we certainly can understand the fact of the nature of the Trinity and should not be put off because we can’t reach the level of fully understanding the nature of that perfect relationship.
Although the Bible is plain in identifying the fact of the Trinity, some religious groups do not believe three persons exist in the Godhead. This disbelief of scripture goes back as far as the First Century A.D., when a group called the Ebionites said Jesus was merely a prophet and not the Word (John 1:1).
In 325 A.D. the soon-to-be Roman Catholic Church produced the Nicene Creed, which clarified in strong terms that God was a Trinity. Anyone disagreeing with that stance was considered a heretic. But a few groups distanced themselves from that statement.
In the Fourth Century A.D., Arianism expressed the view that Jesus was less than God. About 100 years later Nestorianism espoused the belief that Jesus was merely human. In the Seventh Century, Islam claimed to be monotheistic – there was one God (Allah), according to its teachings, and Jesus was no more than another prophet. The Spirit is relegated to a role as messenger.
When a great religious expansion occurred in America, with adherents eventually spreading worldwide, some eight more or less important religious groups basically denied the biblical lessons regarding God. They taught a variety of doctrines regarding the nature of God and Jesus. Below, in no particular order, is a brief description of these groups, none of whom express belief in the biblical Trinity:
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) began to spread in the first half of the 1800s. They taught that God is a physical being, Jesus is his literal and physical son and the Spirit is an impersonal power.
Jehovah’s witnesses flourished from the 1880s. They taught that Jesus was a created being and was less than God.
About the same decade, Christian Science came into being. In keeping with the thoughts of its founder, Mary Baker Eddy, who believed nothing is physical and that all we see and touch is spiritual, the Trinity was expressed as life, truth and love.
In the 1890s, the Unity School of Christianity taught that God is a force, not a person.
In 1910, a relatively small group calling itself Oneness Pentecostal, taught that the Godhead was three forms, not persons.
In the 1930s, one of the early radio evangelists, Herbert W. Armstrong, started what became well-known as the Worldwide Church of God. He taught that God was a “family of individuals.” After he died, his followers rethought their doctrines and abandoned much of them, changing the group’s name to Grace Communion International.
The Unification Church began in Korea by Sun Myung Moon in 1954. Commonly known as the Moonies, it spread across the globe and had a strong presence in America. Moon’s Divine Principle taught that God is both male and female, that Jesus is only an image of God, and the Spirit is “a bright light or a field of magnetic energy.”
A popular, if infamous, group began in the 1950s. Author L. Ron Hubbard created the Church of Scientology, teaching that God was infinity, Jesus was not God and went on to ignore the Spirit entirely. ~