Category Archives: C – The Trinity

The Trinity – Applications – Part 2

And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:16-17, ESV)

Yesterday in our after-breakfast Bible reading time my family and I discussed the questions for personal application, read the Bible memory passage, and sang part of the hymn with which Wayne Grudem closes Chapter 14, “God in Three Persons: The Trinity,” of his Systematic Theology. I opened this post with the Bible memory passage and will close it with the hymn, “Holy, Holy, Holy” by Reginald Heber.

The previous day I’d asked the members of our family to each pick one of the six questions to think about and to start a family discussion on. We picked three of the questions. The first two focused on how the relationships in our church and the different ministries in our church reflect the unity and diversity of the Trinity, and the third considered whether the Trinity is reflected better in a church in which all members have the same racial background or one in which they come from many different races.

Holy, Holy, Holy

Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty!
Early in the morning our song shall rise to Thee;
Holy, holy, holy! Merciful and mighty!
God in three Persons, blessed Trinity!

Holy, holy, holy! All the saints adore Thee,
Casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea;
Cherubim and seraphim falling down before Thee,
Who wert, and art, and evermore shall be.

Holy, holy, holy! Though the darkness hide Thee,
Though the eye of sinful man Thy glory may not see,
Only Thou are holy; there is none beside Thee
Perfect in pow’r, in love, in purity.

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
All Thy works shall praise Thy holy namne, in earth and sky and sea;
Holy, holy, holy! Merciful and mighty!
God in three Persons, blessed Trinity!

The Trinity – Applications – Part 1

Yesterday in our after-breakfast Bible reading time my family and I read the section on applications in Chapter 14, “God in Three Persons: The Trinity,” of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology (Zondervan, 1994).

Because God in Himself has both unity (one God) and diversity (three persons–the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit), it is not surprising to find unity and diversity in the human relationships which He has established, two of which Grudem focuses on, marriage and the church.

Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11:3, “But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God” (ESV; all Bible quotations are from the ESV). Thus the relationship between a husband and a wife is similar to the relationship between the Father (“God”) and the Son (“Christ”). Other passages on marriage which Grudem quotes or refers to are Genesis 1:27; Genesis 2:24; 1 Corinthians 6:16-20; and Ephesians 5:31.

Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:12, “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body thiugh mnay, are one body, so it is with Christ.” Thus the relationship between the members of the church or body of Christ is similar to the relationship between the members of the human body, which Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 12:14-26. Other passages on the church which Grudem refers to are 1 Corinthians 12:4-11 and 27-30 on the diversity of gifts in the church (actually he refers again to 1 Corinthians 12:14-26, but I think that he intended to refer to 1 Corinthians 12:4-11 and/or 27-30); Ephesians 2:16 and 3:8-10 on the uniting of Jews and Gentiles in the church; and Ephesians 5:31-31 on the union between Christ and the church.

Grudem closes his consideration of applications of the doctrine of the Trinity by referring to the many activities that we carry out in everyday life in which many distinct individuals contribute to a unity of activity or purpose. He observes that we can see in them a faint reflection of the glory of God in his trinitarian existence.

Tomorrow I’ll share from my family’s discussion of the questions for personal application which Grudem poses at the end of Chapter 14, “God in Three Persons: The Trinity,” of his Systematic Theology. I’ll also share the Bible memory passage and hymn with which Grudem closes the chapter.

The Trinity – Distinctions between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit – Part 2

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 study of it here I’ve looked at Old Testament intimations of and New Testament evidence for it; 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; considered some errors that have arisen through denying one or more of the three statements, in particular modalism or Sabellianism and Arianism; and begun examining the distinctions between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, noting in particular their different roles in creation and redemption.

Yesterday in our after-breakfast Bible reading time my family and I finished reading the section on the distinctions between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit in Chapter 14, “God in Three Persons: The Trinity,” of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology (Zondervan, 1994), which we’d begun reading the previous day. In what we read yesterday Grudem tries to explain with the use of diagrams and analogies the relationship between the three persons and the being of God and considered whether we can understand the doctrine of the Trinity. My saying “tries to explain” instead of “explains” isn’t a criticism of Grudem’s effort; it just recognizes the impossibility of explaining the relationship between the three persons and the being of God.

Grudem opens by explaining with the use of diagrams that:
1. God’s being is not divided into three equal parts, one for each of the persons of the Trinity. Instead each person has the fullness of God’s being in himself. Thus the Father possesses the whole being of God in himself, the Son possesses the whole being of God in himself, and the Holy Spirit possesses the whole being of God in himself.
2. The personal distinctions in the Trinity considered in my last post are not something added onto God’s being, their being differences in relationship but not a difference in being.
3. The persons of the Trinity are not just three different ways of looking at the one being of God, which would be modalism or Sabellianism.

Grudem then presents two analogies, one a diagram and the other a verbal analogy to try to explain how God is three persons and the being of each of the persons is equal to the whole being of God. In our family Bible reading we read what Grudem said about the diagram but didn’t read the verbal analogy. However my wife and I did mention analogies that we’d been told of when we were young, the egg and the shamrock. Another favourite analogy is water. The egg consists of shell, white, and yolk, all of which form one egg; the shamrock has three leaves but is one plant; water can be found in three three states–liquid, solid, and vapour. Unfortunately the analogies of the egg and shamrock have tritheistic (three gods) implications and the analogy of water has modalistic implications. After our discussion, I reread the helpful account of the search for analogies in Millard J. Erickson’s Christian Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker, 2013 edition, pages 310-13).

Grudem closes the section in Systematic Theology on the distinctions between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit by considering whether we can understand the doctrine of the Trinity. His answer is that, although we can understand that God is three persons, each person is fully God, and there is one God because the Bible teaches each of those statements, we can’t understand how to fit the three statements together. It is a mystery or paradox. I agree with him.

The Trinity – Distinctions between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit – Part 1

If each of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit is fully God, then they have the same attributes. How then do they differ from each other? Yesterday in our after-breakfast Bible reading time my family and I began reading the section on the distinctions between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit in Chapter 14, “God in Three Persons: The Trinity,” of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology (Zondervan, 1994). What we read was so complete and clear that nobody had any comments on or questions about it and I wish that I could just tell you to read pages 248-252 of his book. However since most of you don’t have the book, I’ll follow my regular practice of summarizing here what we read.

Grudem starts out by demonstrating that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit had different primary functions in creation and had/have different functions in redemption. Next he notes that they will continue to have those different functions in the future. Then he demonstrates that they have always existed as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Finally he distinguishes between the “economy” and “ontology” of the Trinity

Their Different Primary Functions in Creation and Redemption

In creation the Father spoke the words that brought things into existence, the Son carried out the Father’s creative decrees, and the Holy Spirit apparently represented God’s immediate presence in His creation. Bible passages showing this are:
– “And God [the Father] said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light” (Genesis 1:3, ESV; all Bible quotations are from the ESV). See also Genesis 1:6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 24, 26.
– “All things were made through him [‘the Word’ or Jesus Christ], and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:3). See also 1 Corinthians 8:6; Colossians 1:16; and Hebrews 1:2.
– “The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:3).

In redemption the Father planned redemption and sent His Son into the world, the Son accomplished our redemption by coming and dying for our sins, and the Holy Spirit applies redemption to us:
– “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). See also Galatians 3:4 and Ephesians 1:9-10.
– “When Christ came into the world, he said, ‘Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. Then said I, <Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book>'” (Hebrews 10:5-7, with Christ quoting from Psalm 40:6-8). See also John 6:38, etc.
– “Jesus answered [Nicodemus], ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of the water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:5-6). See also Romans 8:13 and 1 Peter 1:2 on the Holy Spirit’s role in sanctification and Acts 1:8 and 1 Corinthians 12:7-11 on the Holy Spirit’s role in empowering us.

Their Eternal Existence as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit

That the Son was subordinate in function to the Father before the creation of the world is indicated by Ephesians 1:3-4, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ…he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him [the Father].”

That the Son will remain subordinate in function to the Father in the future is indicated by 1 Corinthians 15:28, “When all things are subjected to him [Christ], then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.”

By analogy with the eternal relationship between the Father and the Son, we can conclude that the relationship of the Holy Spirit with the Father and the Son before the creation of the world and in the future was and will be similar to what it was/is in creation and redemption.

The Economy and the Ontology of the Trinity

I opened this post by asking, “If each of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit is fully God, then they have the same attributes. How then do they differ from each other?” In the post I demonstrated that they had/have different primary functions in creation and redemption. This distinction between their primary functions is sometimes called “the economy of the Trinity,” using “economy” with the meaning of “the arrangement of activities.” Their being no distinction between them according to their nature and attributes is sometimes called “the ontological equality of the Trinity,” where “ontology” means “being.” Thus the Trinity is sometimes described as having “ontological equality but economic subordination,” meaning that they are equal in being but subordinate in function.

If they didn’t have ontological subordination, they wouldn’t each be fully God. But if they didn’t have economic subordination, they wouldn’t be three distinct three persons. Thus the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit’s being eternally equal in being but subordinate in function is essential to the doctrine of the Trinity.

The Trinity – Arianism – Part 2

Yesterday in our after-breakfast Bible reading time my family and I finished reading the section on Arianism in Chapter 14, “God in Three Persons: The Trinity,” of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology (Zondervan, 1994). The previous day we’d read the part of the section which describes the Arian controversy, and yesterday we read the parts of the section which consider two related false doctrines (subordinationism and adoptionism) and give reasons why it is important to hold to the doctrine of the Trinity, the belief that God is one but exists as three persons–the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, each of whom is fully God. We also read the short section in “God in Three Persons: The Trinity” on tritheism, the belief in three Gods. Here I’ll share from what we read yesterday except, because few people have held the view in the history of the church, what we read about tritheism.

Subordinationism

While Arius held that Jesus Christ was created and not divine, subordinationism held that he was eternal and not divine. Origen, an early church father, advocated a form of subordinationism in order to protect the distinctness of the persons of the Godhead. However the rest of the church didn’t follow him and rejected his teaching at the Council of Nicea.

Grudem follows his consideration of subordination with a tribute to the role played in resisting Arianism by Athanasius. He was not an official participant in the Council of Nicea, but his writings on behalf of the Bishop of Alexandria, whose secretary he was, influenced the outcome. Although condemned at the Council of Nicea, the Arians didn’t give up and prolonged the controversy through much of the rest of the century. Athanasius devoted his life to teaching and writing against them and became a focal point of their attack, which included his being exiled five times. In the article on Athanasius in The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1974), Samuel J. Mikolaski quotes a G.L. Prestige as saying about Athanasius, “By his tenacity and vision in preaching one God and Saviour, he had preserved from disolution the unity and integrity of the Christian faith.”

Adoptionism

Another false teaching related to Arianism, adoptionism, viewed Jesus Christ as an ordinary man until his baptism, when he was “adopted” by God as His “Son” and given supernatural powers. Adoptionism never became a movement like Arianism did, but from time to time there were people in the early church who held its views. Similarly there are people today who think of Jesus as a great man and empowered by God but deny his deity.

Grudem follows his consideration of adoptionism by observing that the controversy over Arianism was ended by the Council of Constantinople in A.D. 381. The council reaffirmed the Nicene Creed and added a statement on the deity of the Holy Spirit, which had also come under attack. Here is the Nicene Creed in the revised form issued by the Council of Constantinople:

I believe in one God the Father Almighty; Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; by whom all things were made; who, for us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; he suffered and was buried; and the third day he rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father; and he shall come again, with glory, to judge both the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.

And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceedeth from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spake by the Prophets. And in one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. I acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

The Importance of the Doctrine of the Trinity

Grudem gives six reasons why it is essential to hold to the full deity of the Son and the Holy Spirit:
1. If Jesus Christ was created and is not fully God, then it is questionable that he could bear the wrath of God against our sins.
2. If Jesus Christ was created and not fully God, then it is doubtful that we could trust him to save us completely.
3. If Jesus Christ was created and not fully God, then it would be idolatry to pray to or worship him.
4. If Jesus Christ was created and not fully God, then crediting salvation to him would be exalting the creature rather than the Creator.
5. If there is no Trinity, then there were no personal relationships within God before creation and it is hard to see how He could be genuinely personal.
6. If there is no perfect unity and plurality in God, then it is hard to see how there could be ultimate unity among the diverse elements of the universe.

The Trinity – Arianism – Part 1

“Arianism” is derived from Arius, a presbyter or elder of Alexandria whose views were condemned at the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D. He held that God the Son didn’t always exist but was created by God the Father at a point in time. Thus, although the Son was created before and was greater than the rest of creation and could be even described as like the Father, he was not of the same substance as the Father. The best-known Arians today are the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Yesterday in our after-breakfast Bible reading time my family and I began reading the section on Arianism in Chapter 14, “God in Three Persons: The Trinity,” of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology (Zondervan, 1994). Yesterday we read the part of the section which describes the controversy, and today we’ll read the parts of the section which consider two related false doctrines (subordinationism and adoptionism) and give reasons why it is important to hold to the doctrine of the Trinity, the belief that God is one but exists as three persons–the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, each of whom is fully God. Here I’ll share from what we read yesterday.

The Arians focused on Bible passages which called Jesus Christ the “only begotten” Son of God:
– (John 1:14) “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father), full of grace and truth” (KJV; usually I quote from the ESV, but it translates “only begotten” as “only Son”).
– (John 3:16) “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosover believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (KJV).
– (John 3:18) “He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (KJV).
– (1 John 4:9) “In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him” (KJV).
They reasoned that if Jesus Christ were “begotten” by God the Father he must have been brought into existence by Him, “beget” referring to a father’s role in conceiving a child.

Two other Bible passages which Arians used were:
– (Proverbs 8:22) “The LORD possessed me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of old” (ESV).
– (Colossians 1:15) “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation” (ESV).
They argued that “first” and “firstborn” imply that the Son was brought into existence at some time. They gained even more support from Proverbs 8:22 because the Septuagint (Greek version of the Old Testament) has “The Lord created me” instead of “The Lord possessed me.” However Grudem argues that “firstborn” is better understood to mean that Jesus Christ has the rights or privileges of the first-born and points out that the NIV translates Colossian 1:15’s “firstborn of all creation” as “firstborn over all creation.”

Grudem also observes regarding the passages which called Jesus Christ the “only begotten” Son of God that the early church felt so strongly the force of the many Bible passages showing that Jesus Christ was fully God (see my October 28 “The Trinity – Each Person Is Fully God – Part 1” post) that it concluded that “only begotten” couldn’t mean “created.” Thus the Nicene Creed in 325 affirmed that Jesus Christ was “begotten, not made” and the phrase was reaffirmed at the Council of Constantinople in 381. The Nicene Creed also insisted that Jesus Christ was “of one substance with the Father” (not just “of similar substance,” which Arius was willing to agree with) and this was also reaffirmed by the Council of Constantinople. In my next post I’ll include the Nicene Creed in the revised form issued by the Council of Constantinople.

The Trinity – Modalism – Part 2

One night in 1913, a participant in a Pentecostal camp meeting near Los Angeles, John G. Scheppe, woke everybody up by shouting the name of Jesus. He had just received a vision of Jesus that made him feel that Jesus needed to be given greater honour. Then one of the pastors, Frank J. Ewart, began teaching that the way to give honour to Jesus was to be baptized in his name. Both Scheppe and Ewart had been influenced by a sermon preached by evangelist R. E. McAlister in which he claimed that the apostles had baptized in the name of Jesus only rather than in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Soon others were spreading this “New Issue.” They declared that those who refused to be rebaptized would lose their salvation and that there is only one Person in the Godhead, Jesus, who filled the different offices of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as the occasion demanded.

The view spread rapidly, and many leaders of the Pentecostal movement were rebaptized. Soon after the Assemblies of God was formed in 1914, it decided that it had to take action on the matter. Its General Council met in October, 1916, and approved a Statement of Fundamental Truths which included a lengthy section, “The Essentials as to the Godhead,” affirming the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity. It also demanded that the Jesus Only faction accept the Trinitarian baptismal formula and the doctrine of the Trinity or leave the Fellowship. About a quarter of the ministers withdrew. Various Oneness organizations were formed in the years that followed, two of which merged in 1945 to form the United Pentecostal Church.

Note to the Reader

My last post was based on my family’s and my reading the section on modalism in Chapter 14, “God in Three Persons: The Trinity,” of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology (Zondervan, 1994) in our previous day’s after-breakfast Bible reading time. Modalism claims that instead of being three distinct persons, God is one person who appears to us in different forms or modes at different times. In his consideration of modalism, Grudem claimed that because the United Pentecostal Church is modalistic it is doubtful that it should be considered genuinely Christian.

To help my family evaluate Grudem’s assertion, I shared with them in yesterday’s family Bible reading a paper that I wrote in 1997 when I was doing doctoral studies with Louisiana Baptist University, “The Assemblies of God Trinitarian-Oneness Controversy.” The purpose of the paper was to evaluate the decision by the Assemblies of God to affirm the doctrine of the Trinity and to expel Jesus Only ministers. After giving the above historical background, I surveyed the Biblical data regarding the Godhead and noted the problem posed by it. Next, I stated the doctrine of the Trinity and the doctrine of the Godhead held by Oneness (Jesus Only) Pentecostals and considered how well they fit the Biblical data. Then I discussed the issue of the name in which baptism should be administered. Finally, I gave my opinion of the Assemblies of God decision.

When I shared the paper with my family I omitted the survey of the Biblical data regarding the Godhead and the statements of the doctrine of the Trinity and the doctrine of the Godhead held by modalists because we’d already read what Grudem said about them. I’m including them here for the benefit of readers who haven’t read my earlier posts on the Trinity, but readers who have read my earlier posts on the Trinity could skip the sections of this post containing them: “The Biblical Data Regarding the Godhead and the Problem Posed by It” and “The Doctrine of the Trinity and the Doctrine of the Godhead Held by Oneness Pentecostals.” As well, in both our family discussion and here, I omitted discussion of the name in which baptism should be administered and added an evaluation of Grudem’s assertion.

The Biblical Data Regarding the Godhead and the Problem Posed by It

The Old Testament emphasizes that God is unique and undivided. For example, Isaiah records God as declaring, “Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me. I, I am the LORD, and besides me there is no savior” (Isaiah 43:10-11, ESV; all Bible quotations are from the ESV unless specified otherwise), and Deuteronomy 6:4 records Moses as telling the Israelites, “Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God is one, the LORD is one.” The New Testament also teaches the unity of God. For example, Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6:4 when answering a scribe’s question (Mark 12:29) and James tells his readers, “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe–and shudder!” (James 2:19). (See my October 30 “The Trinity – There Is One God” post for more proof texts.)

However, although the New Testament attests the unity of God, it also recognizes three things–the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit–as God. (See my October 27-29 “The Trinity – God Is Three Persons” and “Each Person Is Fully God” posts for some proof texts.) Moreover, several times it refers to the three together as if they were separate entities. After Jesus was baptized by John, “and…was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove, and a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased’” (Luke 3:21-22).” In his farewell discourses to his disciples, Jesus promised them, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth,” (John 14:16-17). In one of his post-resurrection appearances, Jesus commissioned 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” (Matthew 28:19). Significantly, “name” is singular in the last quotation, suggesting the unity as well as the triunity of God.

In some of the passages that refer to the three together as if they were separate entities, the three are associated together in their work. For example, Paul connects each of them with spiritual gifts when instructing the Corinthians on spiritual gifts, “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same 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” (1 Corinthians 12:4-6), and Peter indicates that each of the three has his own role in salvation when he describes his readers as elect “according to the foreknowledge of the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood” (1 Peter 1:2). Finally, Paul closes 2 Corinthians with the benediction, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you” (2 Corinthians 13:14).

Reconciling these apparently contradictory views of God–that He is one and that He is three–posed a problem for the early church, a problem for which many solutions were proposed.

The Doctrine of the Trinity and the Doctrine of the Godhead Held by Oneness Pentecostals

The solution finally adopted was the doctrine of the Trinity. According to it, God is one being of three persons, each of which is fully God. The Father is God in such a way that He constitutes the whole undivided substance of God; thus He is identical with, not just part of God. The Son is God and the Holy Spirit is God in the same way. Yet, the Father is distinct from the Son and the Holy Spirit, allowing Him to have personal relationships with them. Similarly, the Son is distinct from the Father and the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is distinct from the Father and the Son. Despite recognizing its mysterious nature, the vast majority of Christians still accept the doctrine of the Trinity as making the best sense of what God has revealed to us about Himself in the Bible.

However, as evidenced by the Jesus Only controversy in the Assemblies of God, not all agree. Oneness Pentecostals also view God as one Being. However, they differ from Trinitarians by viewing Him as just one Person rather than as three Persons. To them, God is one Person, Jesus, who manifests Himself in three different ways–Father, Son, and Holy Spirit–as the occasion demands. According to the writer of a booklet which I no longer have, Gordon Magee, Jesus is the Father in His divinity, the Son in His humanity, and the Holy Spirit in emanation (Gordon Magee, Is Jesus In The Godhead or Is The Godhead In Jesus? [Houston, Texas: Gordon Magee, 1966], page 32; future references in this post to “Magee” are to this writer and booklet).

How Well the Two Opposing Doctrines Fit the Biblical Data

To determine this, I’ll examine an incident which Trinitarians cite in which the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are referred to together as if they are separate entities and a saying of Jesus that Oneness Pentecostals cite as proof that Jesus is the Father. The incident in which the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are referred to together as if they are separate entities is the baptism of Jesus. “Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove, and a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased’” (Luke 3:21-22).

Notice that Jesus was praying. To whom was he praying? A Trinitarian would likely answer, “God.” But so might a Oneness Pentecostal. However, they wouldn’t mean the same thing. The Trinitarian would mean that one Person in the Trinity, the Son, was praying to another Person in the Trinity, the Father. The Oneness Pentecostal would mean that in his human nature Jesus was praying to his divine nature. To me the latter suggests that the Oneness Pentecostal perceives Jesus as praying to himself. However, although conceding that this would be true for an ordinary person, Magee denies it for Jesus on the ground that as God and man he could perform the roles of each (Magee, page 11).

Magee goes on to describe a conversation between him and a Trinitarian which led to the latter’s agreeing that according to the doctrine of the Trinity God prayed to God in the Garden of Gethsemane, after which Magee observes, “Friends, if you ever hear someone praying, you know that they need help, and God most assuredly does not need help. A Divine Person does not need help, only men need help” (Magee, pages 10-11). Although (contra Magee) people don’t pray only when they need help, Jesus’ prayer in the garden certainly sounds like a request for help. Granting that it was, a Trinitarian might respond that Jesus is God-Man and that it was because of his humanity that he prayed as he did. However, if he did answer that way, he would enter an area of mystery just as hard to understand as the Oneness idea of Jesus’ human nature praying to His divine nature.

But, let’s go on to look at what happened as Jesus was praying after his baptism. The Holy Spirit descended upon him in the form of a dove, and a voice from heaven addressed him as “Son.” A Trinitarian sees the three Persons of the Godhead here, God the Son (Jesus) being anointed by God the Holy Spirit and being spoken to by God the Father. Magee dismisses this, claiming that according to John 1:32-34 the voice and the dove were a private sign to John the Baptist, whereby he could identify Jesus as the Messiah, and that nobody else heard or saw them (Magee, pages 27-28) .However both Matthew and Mark state clearly that Jesus saw the dove (Matthew 3:16; Mark 1:10) and Mark and Luke record the voice as addressing Jesus as “You” (Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22), suggesting that if the dove and the voice were just signs they were signs to Jesus as well as to John the Baptist. Moreover, John the Baptist doesn’t even mention hearing the voice.

Is Magee guilty here of careless exegesis (explanation or interpretation of the Bible) or of deliberately trying to mislead the reader? Possibly neither. Further on in Magee’s explanation of the event, he explains that the reason that he didn’t refer to Jesus’ seeing the dove or hearing the voice is that the man who was baptized by John was also the omnipresent God and He was responsible for the voice and the dove (Magee, page 28). In other words, Magee’s explanation here is the same as his explanation of Jesus’ praying: communication between the two natures of Jesus. At the baptism, according to Magee, Jesus’ divine nature, which Magee identifies with the Father and the Holy Spirit, spoke to his human nature, which Magee identifies with the Son (Magee, page 13).

Now to the saying of Jesus that Oneness Pentecostals cite as proof that Jesus is the Father. “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30), their interpreting “one” to mean “one person.” However, as I observed in my last post, Jesus could be understood as just affirming that he and the Father are one in purpose and character rather than that they are one person. Or he could be understood to be implying that they are one in essence or substance. In his classic A Commentary on the Whole Bible, Matthew Henry argues thus for the latter, “This denotes more than the harmony, and consent, and good understanding, that were between the Father and the Son in the work of man’s redemption. Every good man is so far one with God as to concur with him; therefore it must be meant of the oneness of the nature of Father and Son, that they are the same in substance, and equal in power and glory.” He continues, “The fathers urged this both against the Sabellians, to prove the distinction and plurality of the persons, that the Father and the Son are two, and against the Arians, to prove the unity of the nature, that these two are one.”

Our examination of Luke 3:21-22, which records an incident (the baptism of Jesus) cited by Trinitarians as one in which the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are referred together as if they were separate entities, and of John 10:30, which records a saying of Jesus that Oneness Pentecostals cite as proof that Jesus is the Father, has shown that proponents of each doctrine are able to point to Biblical passages that seem to favour the doctrine that they hold. Moreover, it has shown that, at least for the passages that I considered, proponents of the opposing doctrine are able to explain the passages cited so that they are consistent with the doctrine that they hold. Thus, each doctrine would seem to be a satisfactory explanation of the Biblical data.

Evaluation of the Assemblies of God’s Decision and of Grudem’s Assertion

Near the beginning of this post, I said that the purpose of my paper was to evaluate the decision by the Assemblies of God to affirm the doctrine of the Trinity and to expel Jesus Only ministers. I began with a survey of the Biblical data regarding the Godhead, a survey that brought to light a problem, namely, that in some way God is one and yet is three. I went on to see how the doctrine of the Trinity and Oneness doctrine solve the problem and to consider how well each doctrine fits the Biblical data, discovering that each doctrine could be a satisfactory explanation of the Biblical data.

Does this mean that the Assemblies of God shouldn’t have affirmed the doctrine of the Trinity and expelled the Jesus Only ministers? No. The insistence by the Jesus Only ministers on rebaptism in the name of Jesus and their aggressive pushing of Oneness doctrine was so divisive that, if it had been allowed to continue, it might have destroyed the young fellowship. Thus, a choice had to be made between Trinitarian and Oneness teaching, and the majority thought that the former made better sense. (I agree, thinking that the relationships between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit that the Bible describes are more credibly explained as relationships between three Persons than as relationships between Jesus’ divine and human natures.) As a result of their decision and the expulsion of the Jesus Only ministers, two strong Pentecostal denominations were birthed, one Trinitarian (Assemblies of God) and the other Oneness (United Pentecostal Church), each preaching Christ, which is the important thing, as Paul told the Philippians: “The important thing is that in every way…Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice” (Philippians 1:18, NIV).

Also near the beginning of this post, I said that the purpose of my sharing the paper with my family was to help my family evaluate Grudem’s assertion that because the United Pentecostal Church is modalistic it is doubtful that it should be considered genuinely Christian. Actually when we’d read Grudem’s assertion the previous morning I ‘d asked the rest of the family what they thought of it. One of them observed that different denominations are like the crayons in a crayon box–they may be of different colours but they’re still crayons–and the rest of us agreed. We still felt the same way after I shared the paper, thinking like Paul that “the important thing is that in every way…Christ is preached.”

Before closing I’ll mention something else that was said in our discussion. The observation was made that Magee’s explaining aspects of Jesus’ baptism as communication between Jesus’ divine nature and his human nature made it seem as if he had a split personality. I think that we’re going to have an interesting time discussing Jesus as fully God and fully man and yet being one person when we reach that point (chapter 26) in our reading of Grudem’s Systematic Theology. Wish me luck!