The Biblical Witness to the Holy Trinity

Article by Kim Riddlebarger – The Biblical Witness to the Holy Trinity (original source here)

It is common to hear claims that Christians, Jews, and Muslims worship the same God. The God of Abraham is often claimed as the father of the three great monotheistic faiths. A survey of the Bible, however, reveals a Triune God completely unlike the god of the Qur’an or even the God of contemporary Judaism. The doctrine of the Trinity is Christianity’s most distinctive doctrine, despite the fact that this doctrine stretches the limits of human language and logic. Admittedly, in many ways the Trinity is beyond our comprehension, yet we confess it because this is how God reveals himself to us in his word.

The biblical witness to the doctrine of the Trinity is extensive and can be set forth in any number of ways. We begin by noting that the Scriptures are absolutely clear that there is only one God. In Deuteronomy 6:4 Moses declares, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” In Isaiah 44:6 we read, “I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god.” In 1 Corinthians 8:4-6 Paul proclaims, “There is no God but one. For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth’as indeed there are many ‘gods’ and many ‘lords”yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.” James writes, “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe’and shudder!” (2:19). The Scriptures of both testaments teach there is but one God.

One God in Three Persons
Yet the Bible also teaches that, although there is one God, he is revealed in three distinct persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. When John the Baptist baptizes Jesus, the Father declares, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” even as the Spirit of God descends upon Jesus as a dove (Matt. 3:16-17). In Matthew 28:19, Jesus commands his disciples to “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.” The mission of the church is to go and make disciples by baptizing them in the name (singular) of the three persons of the Godhead (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit).

In the benediction concluding his second letter to the church at Corinth, Paul blesses his readers with, “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). In John 14:26, Jesus informs the disciples that “the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things.” As God in human flesh (cf. John 1:14), Jesus speaks of both the Holy Spirit and the Father as equals.

Another line of biblical evidence for the Trinity is that the same divine attributes of glory and majesty are assigned to each of the three persons of the Godhead. The Scriptures teach that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are eternal. According to Isaiah, God says, “I am the first and the last” (44:6), and Paul adds that God is “eternal” (Rom. 16:26), without beginning or end. John records the Son saying, “I am the first and the last” (Rev. 22:13), and Micah notes that God’s “coming and going are from everlasting” (5:2). In Hebrews we read of the Holy Spirit as “the eternal Spirit” (9:14). All three’Father, Son, and Holy Spirit’are eternal, without beginning or end. Continue reading

Three Trinitarian Controversies

Article: Three Trinitarian Controversies Every Christian Should Know by Adriel Sanchez (original source here)

Adriel serves as pastor of North Park Presbyterian Church, a congregation in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). In addition to his pastoral responsibilities, he also serves the broader church as a contributor on the White Horse Inn radio program. He and his wife Ysabel live in San Diego with their three children.

It may surprise you to find out that, generally speaking, everyone in the “Trinitarian controversies” of the ancient church had some sort of doctrine of the Trinity. Worship of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit was so entrenched in the liturgical life of the church that even those who denied the true deity of Christ still found themselves praying and singing to him! That Christ existed, and was divine in some sense, was not the primary question early on.

Throughout the history of the church, Trinitarian controversy has centered on how the Persons of the Trinity relate to one another. Here are three controversies every Christian should be aware of:

1. The Arian Controversy
Arius was a priest in Alexandria during the fourth century. Because of his views, he was excommunicated from the Egyptian church around 320AD. Arius taught that God was absolutely transcendent, and that as such could not have any genuine intersection with the created world.

Although the Arians believed Jesus was divine in some sense, they didn’t understand him to be divine in the same sense as the Father, who alone was the eternal God. Arians confessed that “God has not always been a Father,” and that “once God was alone, and not yet a Father, but afterwards he became a Father.” In other words, God the Son didn’t always exist, and at some point, came into being, making God a Father. This conclusion denies what’s called the eternal generation of the Son, a Christian doctrine that emphasizes the fact that the second Person of the Trinity has always existed—even before his incarnation as Jesus of Nazareth.

According to Arian doctrine, Jesus is the most preeminent creature created by God, but he’s still just an exalted creature! This is not very different from what some sects teach today, like the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society or Jehovah’s Witnesses.

2. The Modalist Controversy
Modalism is a third century Trinitarian heresy often associated with Sabellius of Rome.

The Modalists did not properly distinguish between the Persons of the Trinity; they taught that the Father and the Son were the same Person. Unlike the Arians, they believed in the essential deity of Christ, but they did a bad job of distinguishing him from the Father. In this understanding of the Trinity, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are simply different modes of the one God. The Father God of the Old Testament who revealed himself to the patriarchs is the same Person who took on flesh and suffered for mankind.

This failure to properly distinguish between the Persons of the Trinity involved Sabellius and his followers in another dangerous heresy called Patripassianism. This was the idea that the Father suffered on the cross with Jesus. The orthodox Christian view differed from this in that it taught that the Father and the Son participated in the Incarnation in distinct ways, and that only God the Son was incarnate, and suffered for sins.

Today, groups like the Oneness Pentecostal Church teach something similar to ancient Modalism.

3. The Filioque Controversy
Perhaps the most tragic of the Trinitarian controversies, the filioque controversy was at the heart of the split between Eastern and Western Christianity.

The word filioque is a Latin term that means “and the Son,” and it refers to an addition to the Nicene Creed in the section on the Holy Spirit. Originally the Creed stated, “And I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life, who proceeds from the Father.” Over time, the Western church began to include the word filioque after “Father,” so that the Creed stated “…proceeds from the Father and the Son.” This addition led to ecclesiastical debates about whether the inclusion of the filioque clause was in line with the apostolic faith.

In the Western church, men like St. Augustine taught that the Spirit proceeded from the Father and the Son.

The differences on this issue between the church in the West and the East were never resolved, however, and ultimately played a part in the Great Schism of 1054 AD, when Cardinal Humbert of Silva condemned the Patriarch of Constantinople. To this day, the church in the East confesses the Nicene Creed without the filioque clause, while the Western church maintains it.

These three controversies don’t exhaust the Trinitarian disputes of the last two thousand years, but they give us a glimpse into how important this doctrine is for the health of the church. In order to rightly worship God, we need to properly describe how he has revealed himself! The orthodox taught that the Son was equal to the Father (unlike the Arians), but that he was also distinct from the Father (unlike the Modalists). They based their teachings on the Scriptures, and the apostolic faith they had received through the liturgical life of the church. We need to be committed to those same Scriptures, and the proper worship of God, so that we too might rightly adore the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

God is not a man that He should lie

Dr. James White writes:

I was just perusing some comments about the debate that took place in South Africa between Jonathan McLatchie and Yusuf Ismail on the Trinity in the Old Testament. Now I wasn’t able to watch it live, and might be able to slip it into the “riding queue” for next week (I do have at least one mega long ride planned), but I wanted to comment on this statement from Ijaz Ahmad, as it caught my attention:

There were quite a few fronts that the Christian side simply did not show up for, which had they been demonstrated would have been better than merely reading off as many quotes as was possible. Take for example the argument by Jonathan that Br. Yusuf’s use of Numbers 23:19 was incorrect because it was not about the character of God, but of man, foregoing that as a Trinitarian he believes that the Person of Christ was both man and God, therefore if it did speak of the Trinity (in this case the Trinitarian Person of Jesus), then he should have not denied that it referred to the character of God, unless Jonathan himself denies that the Person Of Jesus was not a divine actor with two natures. The interesting thing here is that if Jonathan does believe that God inspired the Old Testament (in whatever form), then shouldn’t God have known He would appear as a man at some point and therefore the verse’s relevance would apply then? This seems to have gone over Jonathan’s head altogether.

I have never found the use of Numbers 23:19 by Islamic apologists to be a weighty objection, but one founded more upon ignorance of the subject than upon deep reflection. Christians use this text in responding to Mormons frequently, and for good reason:
“He came to him, and behold, he was standing beside his burnt offering, and the leaders of Moab with him. And Balak said to him, “What has the LORD spoken?” Then he took up his discourse and said,
“Arise, O Balak, and hear;
Give ear to me, O son of Zippor!
“God is not a man, that He should lie,
Nor a son of man, that He should repent;
Has He said, and will He not do it?
Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?
“Behold, I have received a command to bless;
When He has blessed, then I cannot revoke it.”
(Numbers 23:17–20 NASB)

The text comes from Balaam’s encounter with Balak and the matter of cursing or blessing the people of Israel. The issue is, obviously, the irreversibility of Yahweh’s promise to bless Israel as His covenant people in giving to them the Promised Land. Verse 19, the beginning of the word given to Balaam by Yahweh, states a basic reality: God is God. God is not human. God is the creator of humanity. This seems obvious, but Balak is undoubtedly outside the covenant community and in need of basic instruction in truth. The emphasis in pointing to the otherness of God’s nature in contrast to man is that God’s promises and blessings are not fickle, as is the case with man. Hence, immediately upon stating that God is not a man, we have “that He should lie.” Lying, being dishonest in His promises, is in the realm of fallen creatureliness; it is not something to be found in the realm of the Divine Creator. Using standard Hebrew parallelism (this is a poetic section), the same truth is restated, this time with the statement “that He should repent.”

The term used here, nacham, (the auto-correct on my computer attempted to change that to “nachos”), is deeper than the Western concept of “repent” as in “change one’s mind,” but often includes within it the idea of regret at one’s actions, or at least regret at the results of past events. In any case, the point is made plain by the rest of the verse—God has said He will bless Israel, and He will “do it” and will “make it good.” God’s revelation to Balaam cannot be changed no matter how much Balak may wish it to be so. God will not be bought off by the king’s money.

So, it is rather obvious, on any basic reading of the text in its context, that these words refer to God’s faithfulness to His promises, similar to the words of Psalm 12:6-7, for example. They are, in fact, relevant to Mormonism, which, in its orthodox historical teachings (given the nature of Mormon epistemology, all of this could change tomorrow), denies the ontological distinction between God and man. Hence, the foundation of the distinction upon which God’s word to Balaam rests, is denied in LDS theology. So, Numbers 23:19 is relevant to Mormonism, for in that religion, God and man are the same species, ontologically identical (being separated only by progression in time and status).

But the text is, rather obviously, irrelevant to the doctrine of the Trinity, and I will have to candidly admit that when I see Muslims using this text I know that their knowledge of the doctrine is, well, less than robust.

The historic doctrine of the Trinity does not teach that God’s nature is that of a man. God has eternally been God. God has never ceased to be God, and cannot by definition do so. In the Incarnation God did not cease to be God, God’s nature did not become human, etc. As I explained fairly clearly in the context of knowledgable Islamic objection in my debate with Abdullah Kunde in 2011, we believe the Second Person of the Trinity voluntarily took on a perfect human nature in the Incarnation. The Second Person did not cease being fully God, fully eternal, etc. There was no inter-mixture of the natures so that the divine became semi-human or the human became semi-divine. Two natures, one Person, “the Lord of glory” Jesus the Christ. The Word became flesh without ceasing to be the Word. The essential, eternal, unchanging nature of God did not change in the Incarnation anymore than when the Triune God brought the universe into existence. The Incarnation was a divine act in time.

The point being this: there is nothing in the statement “God is not a man” that is in any possibly logical sense relevant to the future action of the Second Person of the Trinity in taking on a human nature so as to accomplish the prophesied redemption of God’s people (Isaiah 9:5-6). God’s nature is that of God, not man—always has been, always will be. The Incarnation did not change that. Further, the point of the statement is focused upon the fallenness of man resulting in the unreliability of his promises and actions—which likewise would be irrelevant to the sinless Son when in the flesh. So any serious reflection upon the Trinity would reveal that the citation of Numbers 23:19 is errant on the part of Islamic apologists.

Now, I would likewise like to comment that I have been rather clear over the years in stating that I do not believe the Trinity is a specifically Old Testament revelation. While there are prophetic glimpses of this truth, I agree with Warfield that its primary revelation is found between the Testaments, specifically in the Incarnation of the Son and the outpouring of the Spirit. Hence, the New Testament becomes the record of this historical revelation, not the actual ground of that revelation. That is, the NT reveals the Trinity simply because it is written in light of the historical action of the Triune God that preceded it. I have addressed this in my book, The Forgotten Trinity, and you can read an excellent discussion of these issues in Warfield’s classic work, available on line here.

Delighting in the Trinity

Article by Dr. Michael Reeves, president and professor of theology at Union School of Theology in Oxford, England. He is author of several books, including Rejoicing in Christ, Delighting in the Trinity and Why the Reformation Still Matters. (original source here)

“It is not to be expected that we should love God supremely if we have not known him to be more desirable than all other things.” So wrote the great hymn writer Isaac Watts. And of course, he was quite right, for we always love what seems most attractive to us. Whether it be God, money, sex, or fame, we live for and love what captures our hearts.

But what kind of God could outstrip the attractions of all other things? Could any unitary, single-person god do so? Hardly, or at least not for long. Single-person gods must, by definition, have spent eternity in absolute solitude. Before creation, having no other persons with whom they could commune, they must have been entirely alone.

Love for others, then, cannot go very deep in them if they can go for eternity without it. And so, not being essentially loving, such gods are inevitably less than lovely. They may demand our worship, but they cannot win our hearts. They must be served with gritted teeth.

How wonderfully different it is with the triune God. In John 17:24, Jesus speaks of how the Father loved Him even before the creation of the world. That is the triune, living God: a Father, whose very being has eternally been about loving His Son, pouring out the Spirit of love and life on Him. Here is a God who is love, who is so full of life and blessing that for eternity He has been overflowing with it. As the Puritan preacher Richard Sibbes put it: “Such a goodness is in God as is in a fountain, or in the breast that loves to ease itself of milk.” Here in the triune God, in other words, is an infinitely satisfying God, one who is the very fountainhead of all goodness, truth, and beauty.

That means that with the triune God there is great good news. For here is no mean and grasping God, but a Lord of grace and mercy—one, in fact, who offers a salvation sweeter than any non-triune God could ever imagine.

Just imagine for a moment a single-person god. Having been alone for eternity, would it want fellowship with us? It seems most unlikely. Would it even know what fellowship was? Almost certainly not. Such a god might allow us to live under its rule and protection, but little more. Think of the uncertain hope of the Muslim or the Jehovah’s Witness: they may finally attain paradise, but even there they will have no real fellowship with their god. Their god would not want it.

But if God is a Father, whose very life has been about loving and delighting in His precious Son, then you begin to see a God who would have far more intimate and marvelous aims, aims to draw us into His life and joy, to embrace us with the very love He has for His dear Son.

Indeed, this God does not offer some kind of “he loves me, he loves me not” relationship whereby I have to try to keep myself in His favor by behaving impeccably. No, “to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12)—and so with the security to enjoy His love forever. Continue reading

The Old Testament Revelation of the Trinity

B. B. Warfield:

The Old Testament may be likened to a chamber richly furnished but dimly lighted; the introduction of light brings into it nothing which was not in it before; but it brings out into clearer view much of what is in it but was only dimly or even not at all perceived before.

The mystery of the Trinity is not revealed in the Old Testament; but the mystery of the Trinity underlies the Old Testament revelation, and here and there almost comes into view.

Thus the Old Testament revelation of God is not corrected by the fuller revelation that follows it, but only perfected, extended and enlarged.

—Benjamin B. Warfield, “The Biblical Doctrine of the Trinity,” in Biblical Doctrines, The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield, vol. 2 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1932; reprint, Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), 141-42.

HT: Fred Sanders’s video lectures on The Triune God

One Who Is Son

Dr. Liam Goligher is Senior Minister of Tenth Church, Philadelphia, PA.

From the Church website:
In the 1970s and 1980, a major battle was underway, often referred to as the Inerrancy of Scripture. Dr. Boice was on the front lines of that battle. Before that, Dr. Barnhouse chose to stay within the Northern Presbyterian Church, as it was called informally. He battled valiantly for the Virgin Birth of Christ, the possibility of miracles, including the resurrection of Christ, and many other core Christian beliefs under attack by the Modernists or Liberals of his day.

Tenth has a long tradition of engaging in such battles and being at the forefront of many of them. It has been a clarion voice in defense of orthodox Christian beliefs as they emerged from the Reformation 500 years ago next year. Documents were drawn up, still cherished today, which define the great truths of the Bible in the terminology of the era in which they were written. So we have the Westminster Confession of Faith and our great catechisms. People died for the truths recorded in them.

Few of us today could explain how Dr. Boice and others drew the battle lines against ‘neo-orthodoxy’ and its watered down view of Scripture in the 1970s. We acknowledge that it was important, but if called upon today to refight that battle, we would have much brushing up to do. That was less than 50 years ago. The battle with the liberals was less than 100 years ago. Few indeed, outside the seminary, would remember the shape of that debate. However, the faith of millions rode on those two battles. And Tenth’s congregation supported their ministers through those fights.

Today, Tenth has again been called to take on a serious challenge to the faith we hold dear. It is our privilege to take up ‘arms’ for our King in a battle far more foundational than those two huge debates of the 20th Century – the Doctrine of God and the full deity of Jesus Christ.

Unfortunately, false teaching has already crept, almost silently, deep inside the very walls of evangelicalism. It was Dr. Goligher who, last June, flipped the switch of the floodlights, revealing these teachings for what they are. Today we would say it went viral.

Also unfortunately, we are being called to pick up a debate that has lain dormant, not for a mere 100 years, but for 1600 years. Obviously, no one at Tenth remembers those battles and the great issues involved. Even the names of those who fought, and sometimes died, for the truth have an unfamiliar ring. That debate seems shrouded in the mists of history. It seems couched in Trinitarian language too abstract for us to comprehend. It seems as if we could never get our heads around such complexity.

We should thank God from our deepest heart that the men who fought the battle in AD 200-400 were men schooled in a world where philosophy – which at that time still included theology – was deemed the supreme field of knowledge. They were up to the task. Today, theology takes a back seat to medicine, all the sciences, history, languages, the arts and even philosophy. But those men defined the debate. We only need to relearn its terms.

Beginning October 9, when starting a series on Hebrews, Dr. Goligher began training us for the battle, which is already raging nationwide. Those have been tough sermons to follow. On the subject of the Trinity, it might be difficult to see the relevance to our daily lives.

Few people would grasp half of what they need to know on the first pass. Listening to them several times, one still finds new angles, new insights into the shape of this debate, new implications for every aspect of our faith.

The trumpet call has sounded. In accordance with Ephesians 6:13-18, let’s polish our spiritual armor. In particular, we need the sword of the Holy Spirit, the word of God as ‘unpacked’ in these sermons. There will be tough times ahead for Bible-proclaiming churches across our country. As so often in the past, many will look to Tenth to lead the charge.

Those who care deeply for the gospel faith, for our Father God, and for our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will spend time mulling over those sermons on the Trinity. As Dr. Goligher says in one of them:

“Everything is at stake! Everything is at stake!”

11/06/16 11AM Sermon “One Who Is Son” Tenth Presbyterian Church from Tenth Presbyterian Church on Vimeo.

EXTRACT: This word [Son] denotes having the very nature of God and the people of his own day, the Jews of his own day, understood this very clearly. In John 5:18, they complained, you see, “He was calling God his own Father, thus making himself equal with God.” They understood what was going on. And listen to Jesus’ reply. He doesn’t dissuade them. He doesn’t deny it; he doesn’t avoid the subject. In fact, he pursues the subject. He essentially says to them, “That is exactly… You are exactly right. ‘Son of God’ means God.”

VERSES: John 5:26, Psalm 2:7, Colossians 1:15-20, John 1:3, Mark 2:5-10, Luke 7:47-49, John 10:28, John 17:2, Philippians 3:3, Revelation 5:12-13, Matthew 2:2, John 20:28, John 9:38, Matthew 28:8, Hebrews 7:26, Isaiah 52:13, Isaiah 6:1, Philippians 2:9-10, Genesis 1, 1 Timothy 6:16, John 1:9, John 1:18, John 3:31-34, Isaiah 11:2, Colossians 2:2-3, Colossians 1:19, Luke 2:40, Luke 2:42-52, John 16:12-15, John 8:35-36, Hebrews 3:6, Proverbs 3:19, Proverbs 8:22-31, 1 Corinthians 1:30, Ephesians 1:17, John 5:18-26, John 6:46, John 8:38, John 14:7-11, John 4:24, Matthew 28:18, John 17:2, 1 John 4:8, 1 John 4:16, Romans 5:8, 2 Corinthians 5:19, John 17:3,

Series: http://www.tenth.org/resource-library/series-index/hebrews

The Trinity and the Reformation

The Significance of the Trinity Underpinning the Great Doctrines of the Reformation – Michael Reeves

Can we ever afford to be vague about the nature and identity of our God? Reformational thought is often portrayed as having little concern for the doctrine of God and for trinitarian theology. By looking at the challenges that the trinitarianism of the early Reformers presented to the Roman Catholic theology of their day, in the theology of Calvin and the Reformed tradition, the triune being of God came to constitute the shape of all Christian belief, this session will argue that the theology of the mainstream Reformers drew from – and could only have grown in – explicitly trinitarian soil.