Monthly Archives: October 2013

The Trinity – Modalism – Part 1

The doctrine of the Trinity says that God is one but exists as three persons–the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, each of whom is fully God. So far in my consideration of it I’ve looked at Old Testament intimations of and New Testament evidence for the Trinity and provided Biblical evidence for each of these statements about it: (1) God is three persons, (2) Each person is fully God, and (3) There is one God. However at least the first two of these statements have been challenged in the past and are denied today by groups calling themselves Christian. In this and my next few posts I’ll consider some errors that have arisen through denying one or more of the three statements.

I’ll begin with modalism, which claims that instead of being three persons, God is one person who has appeared to us in three different modes (forms). Yesterday in our after-breakfast Bible reading time my family and I read the section on modalism in Chapter 14, “God in Three Persons: The Trinity,” of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology (Zondervan, 1994). This post builds on my family’s reading and discussion of that section. My family’s next discussion and my next post here will focus on a modern Protestant denomination that affirms modalism.

Modalism is sometimes called Sabellianism after a teacher who lived in Rome in the early third century A.D., Sabellius. According to modalism, God is not three persons but one person who appears in different modes at different times. He appeared as “the Father” in Old Testament times, as “the Son” in the time of Jesus’ life and ministry, and as “the Spirit” after Pentecost.

Modalism is attractive because it emphasizes that there is only one God. Thus it can claim support from Bible passages which affirm that God is one, several of which I cited in my last post, “The Trinity – There Is One God.” It can also claim support from passages like John 10:30, “I and my Father are one” (ESV; all Bible quotations are from the ESV), and John 14:9, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” However, as Grudem points out, in both passages Jesus can be understood as just affirming that he and the Father are one in purpose and character rather than that they are one person.

On the other hand modalism must deny the personal relationships between the persons of the Trinity that the Bible describes. For example, at Jesus’ baptism he (the Son) was baptized, the Father spoke from heaven, and the Spirit descended on him like a dove (Matthew 4:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22). Other examples referred to by Grudem are Jesus’ praying to the Father, his or the Holy Spirit’s interceding for us before the Father, and the separate roles played by the Father and the Son in providing for our salvation.

One present Protestant denomination, the United Pentecostal Church, is modalist. Because of its denying that there are three persons in God, Grudem expresses doubt that it should be considered genuinely Christian. I’ll consider his claim in my next post.

The Trinity – There Is One God

I am the LORD, and there is no other,
besides me there is no God;
I equip you, though you do not know me,
that people may know, from the rising of the sun
and from the west, that there is none besides me;
I am the LORd, and there is no other.
(Isaiah 45:5-6, ESV; all Bible quotations are from the ESV).

Yesterday my family and I continued reading in our after-breakfast Bible reading time the section of Chapter 14, “God in Three Persons: The Trinity,” of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology (Zondervan, 1994) which develops these statements about the Trinity: (1) God is three persons, (2) Each person is fully God, and (3) There is one God. We’d already read what Grudem said about (1) and (2), and so yesterday we read what he said about (3). Here I’ll share from what we read.

From beginning to end the Bible asserts that the three persons of the Trinity–the Father, the Son (Jesus Christ), and the Holy Spirit–are one not only in purpose and thought but also in essence (essential nature). In other words, that there is only one God, not three Gods.

I opened this post with a passage in which God declares in no uncertain terms that there is only one God and that He is that one God. Here are some other passages cited by Grudem that convey a similar message:
– “Who is like you, O LORD, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?” (Exodus 15:11) This is part of the song that Moses and the people of Israel sang to God after crossing the Red Sea. Obviously the answer to their questions is, “No one is!”
– “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5) This passage is called the Shema (from the Hebrew word for “Hear”) and is part of an address that Moses made to the people of Israel as they prepared to enter the Promised Land.
– “There is no other god besides me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none besides me. Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other.” (Isaiah 45:21-22) Like the passage with which I opened this post, this is part of an address that God made to Jewish exiles in Babylon in which He comforts them by promising to display His glory.
– “Is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one.” (Romans 3:29-30)
– “Although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth…yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist.” (Romans 8:5-6)
– “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe–and shudder!” (James 2:19) James claims that even the demons realize that God is one. He adds that they shudder, knowing that more than believing is needed for salvation–accepting and acting on the Gospel are also required. However, despite that, he commends those who believe, saying that they “do well.”

The Trinity – Each Person Is Fully God – Part 2

Yesterday my family and I continued reading in our after-breakfast Bible reading time the section of Chapter 14, “God in Three Persons: The Trinity,” of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology (Zondervan, 1994) which develops these statements about the Trinity: (1) God is three persons, (2) Each person is fully God, and (3) There is one God. We finished reading what Grudem said about (2) yesterday and I’ll share here from what we read.

God the Holy Spirit Is Fully God

In my October 26 post, “The Trinity – New Testament Evidence,” I quoted these passages in which all three persons of the Trinity–the Father, the Son, and the Spirit–are named together: Mark 1:10-11; Matthew 28:19; 1 Corinthians 12:4-6; 2 Corinthians 13:14; Ephesians 4:4-6; and 1 Peter 1:2. In my October 28 (yesterday) post I provided Biblical evidence that the Father and the Son are each fully God. If all three persons are named together and two of them are fully God, It would seem reasonable to assume that the third is also fully God.

Other Bible passages that speak of the Holy Spirit as fully God are:
– “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?” (Psalm 139:7, ESV; all Bible quotations are from the ESV) David identifies trying to escape from God’s Spirit with trying to escape from God.
– “But Peter said, ‘Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit…? You have not lied to men but to God?'” (Acts 5:3-4) Peter identifies lying to the Holy Spirit with lying to God.
– “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 4:16) Peter identifies God’s dwelling in us with the Holy’s Spirit’s dwelling in us.

In my last two posts and this post I showed that (1) God is three persons and (2) Each person is fully God. This would suggest that there are three Gods. However that is not what the Bible teaches. Instead, as I’ll show in my next post, the Bible teaches that there is one God.

The Trinity – Each Person Is Fully God – Part 1

Yesterday my family and I continued reading in our after-breakfast Bible reading time the section of Chapter 14, “God in Three Persons: The Trinity,” of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology (Zondervan, 1994) which develops these statements about the Trinity: (1) God is three persons, (2) Each person is fully God, and (3) There is one God. We began reading what Grudem said about (2) yesterday and will finish reading it later today. Here I’ll consider some of the Biblical evidence that the Father and the Son are each fully God today and that the Holy Spirit is fully God tomorrow.

God the Father Is Fully God

The Bible opens with a record of God’s creating everything (Genesis 1) and closes with a vision of His sitting on a throne in the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21-22). In-between it portrays Him as sovereign Lord over all. Clearly He is fully God.

God the Son Is Fully God

I plan to consider the deity of Jesus Christ at length when my family and I read Chapter 26, “The Person of Christ,” of Grudem’s Systematic Theology, and so here I’ll give just a few passages that speak of Jesus Christ as fully God.

John 1:1-3 says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (ESV; all Bible quotations are from the ESV). In the passage John observes that the Word, whom he identifies as Jesus Christ further on the chapter, was in the beginning, that he was with God, that he was God, and that rather than being created he shared in creating everything. Thus John not only speaks of Jesus Christ as fully God but also affirms that he always was fully God.

Other Bible passages that speak of Jesus Christ as fully God are:
– “Thomas answered him [Jesus], ‘My Lord and my God!'” (John 20:28).
– “Christ, who is God over all” (Romans 9:25).
– “In him [Christ Jesus] the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Colossians 2:9).
– “He [the Son of God] is the exact imprint of his [God the Father’s] nature” (Hebrews 1:3).
– “But of the Son he [God] says, ‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever'” (Hebrews 1:8, quoting from Psalm 45:6).
– “The glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13).
– “The righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:1).

The Trinity – God Is Three Persons

In my last two posts I’ve presented Old Testament intimations of and New testament evidence for the doctrine of the Trinity, which holds that God is one but exists as three persons–the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, each of whom is fully God. They were based on my family’s reading in its after-breakfast Bible reading time of the first part of Chapter 14, “God in Three Persons: The Trinity,” of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology (Zondervan, 1994). Yesterday we began reading the second part of that chapter, which develops each of these statements about the Trinity: (1) God is three persons, (2) Each person is fully God, and (3) There is one God. In this post I’ll consider the first of those statements.

The Gospel of John opens with, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1, ESV; all Bible quotations are from the ESV). Since John 1:14 identifies “the Word” with Jesus Christ, John 1:1 portrays Jesus Christ as eternally being distinct from God and yet being God. Another Bible passage which indicates that Jesus Christ is eternal and distinct from God the Father is John 17:24, in which Jesus prays to the Father that those who believe in him may “see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.” Thus the Father and the Son (Jesus Christ) are distinct persons.

In his Farewell Discourse to his disciples Jesus tells them, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26). Thus the Holy Spirit is a distinct person from either the Father, whom He would be sent by, and the Son, in whose name He would be sent. Later in the Farewell Discourse Jesus tells his disciples, “If I do not go away, the Helper will will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:7), reaffirming that he and the Holy Spirit are distinct from each other.

From the beginning of consideration of the relationship among the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, some have understood the Holy Spirit to be the power of God at work in the world rather than being a distinct person. Grudem draws closely on Louis Berkhof’s Systematic Theology (Eerdmans, 1939) to show that the Holy Spirit is a person. Berkhof gives these proofs from the Bible on page 96 of his book:
– (1) “Designations that are proper to personality are given to him.” Although <i>pneuma</i> (the Greek word for “Spirit”) is neuter, a masculine pronoun is used of the Holy Spirit in John 14:16.
– (2) “The characteristics of a person are ascribed to him.” Berkhof cites several passages which show that the Holy Spirit shows intelligence, will, and affections. He also observes that the Holy Spirit performs personal activities such as teaching (see John 14:26, quoted above). Both Berkhof and Grudem give several examples of these activities, Berkhof on page 96 of his Systematic Theology and Grudem on pages 232-33 of his Systematic Theology.
– (3) “He is represented as standing in such relations to other persons as imply His own personality.” I quoted several passages showing this in my last post, “The Trinity – New testament Evidence.”
– (4) “There are also passages in which the Holy Spirit is distinguished from his own power.” Such passages would make no sense if the Holy Spirit is understood as the power of God rather than as a distinct person. For example, Luke 4:14, “And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee,” would mean, “And Jesus returned in the power of the power to Galilee.”

Grudem closes his demonstration that God is three persons by discussing a puzzling verse, 2 Corinthians 3:17, “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” The verse seems to identify Jesus Christ (“the Lord”) and the Holy Spirit. Grudem suggests that the verse be translated, “Now the Spirit is the Lord” (both “the Lord” and “the Spirit” are in the nominative case and thus, since word order doesn’t indicate the subject in Greek as it does in English, “the Spirit” could be taken as the subject) and that “the Lord” be understood to refer to God rather than to Jesus Christ. If his suggestion were followed, the verse would say that the Holy Spirit is God, just as the Father is God and Jesus Christ is God.

The Trinity – New Testament Evidence

Yesterday my family and I read in our after breakfast Bible reading time a section in Chapter 14, “God in Three Persons: The Trinity,” of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology (Zondervan, 1994) which lists several passages in which all three persons of the Trinity–the Father, the Son, and the Spirit–are named together.

When Jesus came up of the water after being baptized by John the Baptist, “he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased'” (Mark 1:10-11, ESV; all Bible quotations are from the ESV unless specified otherwise). Thus each member of the Trinity performed a specific activity: Jesus was baptized, the Holy Spirit descended from heaven and rested upon him, and the Father spoke to him from heaven. The incident is also recorded in Matthew 3:16-17 and Luke 3:21-22.

Before returning to heaven at the end of his earthly ministry, Jesus told the eleven disciples, “Go…make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). His naming the three persons of the Trinity in the same way (“of the [name]”) indicates that each is a person and of equal value as the other two.

Paul introduces the list of spiritual gifts that he gives in 1 Corinthians 12:4-6 with, “Now there are varieties of gifts, but one Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.” Since the New Testament epistles commonly refer to God the Father as “God” and to God the Son as “Lord,” all three persons of the Trinity are referred to in the passage.

Paul closes 2 Corinthians with the following benediction, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Corinthians 13:14), again naming all three persons of the Trinity.

Paul also refers to all three persons of the Trinity in Ephesians 4:4-6, saying, “There is one body and one Spirit–just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call–one Lord [Jesus Christ], one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”

Peter mentions all three persons of the Trinity in opening 1 Peter, saying, “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ an for sprinkling with his blood” (1 Peter 1:2).

Grudem closes his considerations of the passages in the New Testament that name all three persons of the Trinity together by explaining why he doesn’t include “For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one” (1 John 5:7. KJV). The reason is that the verse is found in only a few, late Greek manuscripts.

Job’s Friends

Yesterday evening Leonora and I attended the weekly meeting of the Life group hosted by Roland and Sherry Loder. Two attended besides the four of us, and we worked through the following discussion sheet on Job 2:11-37:24. The discussion was followed by singing.

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Life Group — Job’s Friends (Job 2:11-37:24) — October 24, 2013

The book of Job tells the story of how a “blameless and upright man [who] feared God and turned away from evil” was afflicted by Satan (chapters 1-2), of how he and his friends reacted to his afflictions (chapters 3-37), and how God responded to their reactions to his afflictions and restored him (chapters 38-42). We studied chapters 1-2 (omitting 2:11-13) last week, are going to study parts of 2:11-37:24 this week, and will study chapters 38-42 next week, considering in particular what they suggest about the problem of evil.

We’ll divide this evening’s study into four sections: Job’s Friends (2:11-13); Job’s Initial Lament (3:1-26); The Friends’ Solution for Job’s Situation (4:1-5:27); and Job’s Response to His Friends and Appeal to God (13:4-27). I’ll guide the study by asking the questions given below.

Job’s Friends (2:11-13)
1. Why do Job’s friends visit him?
2. How do they react to his condition?

Job’s Initial Lament (3:1-26)
3. Job’s wife had told him, “Curse God and die” (2:8). What does he curse in 3:1-10 instead? Why do you think that he curses it instead of God?
4. What does Job do in 3:11-26 instead of cursing? What would he prefer over his present situation?

The Friends’ Solution for Job’s Situation (4:1-5:27)
5. What does Eliphaz claim is the reason for Job’s trouble (4:7-11)?
6. What advice does Eliphaz give Job (5:8-16)?

Job’s Response to His Friends and Appeal to God (13:4-27)
7. What criticism does Job make of his friends (13:4-12)?
8. What two things does Job want from God (13:20-27)?

Reflection Questions
9. Can “correct” theology (all the right words) ever be “bad” theology in practice? When? What correctives come in mind for doing “good” theology with people in need? (on 4:1-5:27)
10. In what ways does Job lay himself wide open for yet more “bitter things” [13:26] from God? With what mistaken notion about sins and suffering is Job still burdened? (on 13:6-28)
[The Reflection Questions are from The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups, 1988, and are used by permission of Serendipity House, Littleton, Colorado 80160.]

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Some of the things which we said in our discussion of the questions were:
1. Job’s friends visited him because they had heard of what had happened to him and came to show him sympathy and comfort him.
2. Job’s friends wept, tore their robes, and sprinkled dust on their heads on seeing him, and they sat on the ground with him without saying anything to him for seven days and nights.
3. Job cursed the day that he was born and the night that he was conceived. He cursed them because of the misery that he was in, and he cursed them instead of God because of the respect that he had for God.
4. Job asked questions instead of cursing. The questions showed that he would prefer to have died at birth or to die at the time he was speaking over his present situation.
5. Eliphaz claimed that the reason for Job’s trouble was that he had sinned, his making the claim because he attributed all evil that happens to people to their being punished by God for sinning.
6. Eliphaz advised Job to seek God and commit his case to Him and he implied that Job should confess his sin(s) to God and ask for His forgiveness.
7. Job accused his friends of lying on behalf of God for what He has unjustly done to Job.
8. Job asked God to remove the misery that He has imposed on Job and to make Himself available for Job to present his case to.
9. Yes “good” theology, such as God disciplines His children, can be “bad” theology in practice when it doesn’t apply to the person or when it won’t help the person. We should give the person the benefit of a doubt and treat him or her as we’d want to be treated.
10. Job’s laying his case before God could result in his being further “disciplined.” Job seems to be burdened with the same notion as his friends were, that all suffering by a person occurs because of his or her having sinned.