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.

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