The Doctrine of Christ
Further Scriptural Harmony
"Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of God." (2 Tim. 2:16, NIV)
God (Elo-him) in Plural Form
THE reasoning is presented that the Old Testament Hebrew word for God is often in plural form. To the Trinitarian mind, this is supposed to prove that God is a composite of three beings somehow congealed into one identity. It never had such a connotation to the Jewish writers of the Old Testament. They did not believe in a Trinity. It is an enigma to them that, after the fact, some Christians come along and prove the Trinity where none existed in the minds of the writers of the Old Testament. Trinity never was in their thinking, and therefore it was not in their ink quills.
Commenting on Gen. 1:1, where God is mentioned in the plural as elohim, Dr. Rotherham says: "It should be carefully observed that, although elohim is plural in form, yet when, as here, it is construed with a verb in the singular, it is naturally singular in sense; especially since the plural of quality or excellence abounds in Hebrew in cases where the reference is undeniably to something which must be understood in the singular."
Oxford scholar R. B. Girdlestone writes on this matter in his Synonyms of the Old Testament: "Many critics, however, of unimpeachable orthodoxy, think it wiser to rest where such divines as Cajetan [a theologian] in the Church of Rome and Calvin among Protestants were content to stand, and to take the plural form as a plural of majesty, and as indicating the greatness, the infinity, and the incomprehensibleness of the Deity."1 The truth on this matter is clearly perceived by many scholars, but it is hard to restrain some hard-pressed Trinitarians from stretching the truth to prove the unprovable.
It should be mentioned also that the Hebrew "elohim" is used to describe pagan gods such as Dagon (1 Sam. 5:7) and Marduck (Dan. 1:2). These were singular gods. No one has claimed they were triune gods. Hence, it seems many Trinitarian scholars wince at excesses of their brethren. The higher ground for the Trinitarian is still that the Trinity is not understandable, nor explainable, and must simply be accepted as a theological mystery. This is especially difficult for fundamentalist Bible believers to accept. They find this an uncomfortable posture in which to be.
"Immanuel" and the "Mighty God"
Isaiah 7:14 reads: "Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel." We shall not enter the discussion as to whether this verse may have had a fulfillment other than to our Lord Jesus. Be that as it may, we have Matthews application of this verse being fulfilled in Jesus birth (Matt. 1:23). It is, therefore, on Apostolic authority, applied to our Lord, and that should be the end of all strife. However, when it came time to give our Lord a name, he was not called Immanuel, meaning "God with us," but Jesus, "Savior" (Matt. 1:25). Hence, the name is a title, very much as the Son of God or the Son of Man. If God was sending His only begotten Son to dwell with men, that surely would be a sign that God was with us, lifting up His countenance upon us and being gracious to us. Even today we use the expression, "God be with you." No more than this need be implied in Isaiah 7:14.
Isaiah 9:6 gives our Savior the title, "The mighty God." But the Jewish writers were not saying that the Messiah would literally be Jehovah. If judges of Israel were called "gods," as in Ps. 82:1-7, what would be earthshaking about calling Jesus the "mighty God" (Hebrew, El Gib-bohr)? Notice, he is not called El Shad-dai, a term exclusively applied to Jehovah. Further, "God" in the Isaiah text is the Hebrew EL, defined by Dr. Strong as "strength; as adj[ective] mighty; espec[ially] the Almighty (but used also of any deity)."2 The fact that the same word (EL) is used in Isa. 57:5 in describing idols shows indeed that it is a general term used to describe any mighty being and, hence, quite appropriately may be applied to our Savior, Jesus, in Isa. 9:6.
The following sources offer additional comments on Isa. 9:6 and Ps. 82:1-7: The Catholic Encyclopedia states: "Even these exalted titles did not lead the Jews to recognize that the Saviour to come was to be none other than God Himself."3 And the Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature, by McClintock and Strong, says: "Thus it appears that none of the passages cited from the Old Test[ament] in proof of the Trinity are conclusive. . . . We do not find in the Old Test[ament] clear or decided proof upon this subject."4
Scriptures with Groupings of Three Titles
Some Bible texts mention three subjects in continuity and have been seized upon as proof of the Trinity. In 1 Corinthians 12:4-6 are found Spirit, Lord and God; 2 Corinthians 13:14 lists Christ, God and the Holy Ghost [Spirit]; Galatians 4:4-6 lists God, Son and Spirit of his Son; Ephesians 4:4-6 lists Spirit, Lord and God and 1 Peter 1:2 lists God, Spirit and Jesus Christ. If we were to accept such logic as proof of the Trinity, then we would be led to believe that Peter, James and John are a Trinity because they are listed together. (See Luke 9:28.) 1 Timothy 5:21 says: "I charge thee before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, and the elect angels." Does this make angels a part of the Trinity?
Then there is the great commission text, "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the son, and of the Holy Ghost [Spirit]" (Matt. 28:19). However, sentiment is mounting that this text is a forgery. In every other instance where baptism is mentioned in the New Testament, it is shown to be in the name of Jesus. Further, many of the early Church fathers, in quoting this passage, leave out the Trinitarian formula and say simply "in my name"; that is, in the name of Jesus alone the baptism was to be carried out. In 1960, The British & Foreign Bible Society published a Greek Testament, and in Matt. 28:19 the phrase "in my name" is given as an alternative reading, with Eusebius cited as the early Church authority.
Let us note what some theologians have to say on this matter:
Dr. Adam Clark, a Trinitarian, in commenting on Matthew 28:19 as proof that the Father, Son and holy Spirit were three persons, says: "But this I can never believe. I cannot help thatyou shall not be persecuted by me for differing from my opinion. I cannot go over to you; I must abide by what I believe to be the meaning of the Scriptures." He then shows how the New Testament believers in Acts 2:38; 8:16 and 19:5 were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus alone.5 Also, G. Kittel, in his Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, states forthrightly: "The N[ew] T[estament] does not actually speak of triunity. We seek this in vain in the triadic formulae of the NT."6 Hence, there is such a thing as trying too hard to use Scriptures to infer meanings not intended, and some scholars refuse to do that.
"My Lord and My God"
One verse often used in an attempt to prove the Trinity doctrine is John 20:28. "And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God." First, let us notice Thomas did not mention the holy Spirit. He would have needed to do so for this verse to sustain any Trinity connotation. Failing in this, it becomes, at best, a stool with only two legsnot good to stand on. This verse reveals Thomas happy response on finding his Master appearing before him. He was slow to believe in Jesus resurrection, and it took this personal interchange with the Master to make a true believer out of him. He was the last of the Apostles to have been honored with a visit from the Master after his resurrection. This probably hurt his feelings to think that so many others had met with the resurrected Lord and he had not been so blessed.
Thomas resolved: "Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe [in his resurrection]" (John 20:25). Did Thomas believe that it was God the Father who was dead? Surely not. But if he believed Jesus was God, how could he believe that it was Jesus who was dead? Yet if anything at all is clear, it is that Thomas did believe Jesus was dead and was overjoyed to find him alive.
When Jesus offered to fulfill all the necessary conditions to make him believe his resurrection, Thomas cried out, "My [the] Lord and my [the] God" (John 20:28). God here is a translation of the Greek THEOS, which is defined by Dr. Young as "God, a god, object of worship."7 It is a general term in the New Testament, used frequently to denote the Heavenly Father (such as in Matt. 27:46, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me," and in many additional places). However, it is also used to depict other beings, whether good or bad. THEOS is used to describe Satan, "the god of this world" (2 Cor. 4:4), the saints, "gods, sons of the Most High" (John 10:34, 35, from Ps. 82:6, RSV), idols, or fabricated "gods who will go before us" (Acts 7:40), and heathen gods, "the gods have come down to us in human form!" (Acts 14:11, 12). Hence, THEOS is quite general in its application in Scripture, and the fact that it is occasionally used of Jesus should not be taken as proof that he was God the Father. Such usage alone is not conclusive to warrant such a distinction.
The Jews had earlier accused Jesus of blasphemy because, being a man, he made himself "God"but this was a false and exaggerated accusation against Jesus which he never is recorded as saying. Jesus response was, "Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods? If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the Scripture cannot be broken; say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God?" (John 10:34-36). Even to be called God was not earthshaking. Jesus pointed out that those to whom the Word of God came were called "gods." (The original early manuscripts were written with all capitals. Hence, translators must decide whether to capitalize or not.) But Jesus did clarify who he was. He said, "I am the Son of God."
Did Thomas now believe something different than Jesus claimed for himself? If those to whom the word of God came were called "gods," what would be extraordinary about Thomas calling Jesus "My Lord and my God"? Herods voice was called "gods" voice, and Paul was called "god" (Acts 12:22; 28:6). This, undoubtedly, was a very emotional moment for Thomas and certainly not an attempt on his part to offer advanced theology. The fact that he says "the Lord" and "the God" seems appropriate to his emotional state wherein he accepts Jesus as his resurrected "the Lord" and "the God." His very Jewishness prohibits us from concluding he thought Jesus was "God the Father." He could not possibly have fused Jesus and God the Father into one. Jesus had been his "Lord" (or "Master"), and now, believing his resurrection, he accepts him as his "God" (or "mighty one").
In addition to the foregoing, there is an alternative explanation that should be considered. This was an emotion-filled moment for Thomas, a moment about which he had spent much time in prayer to God. It may be that Thomas was merely crying out to God, his Father, "My Lord and my God" as an exclamation for answering his prayers. Today, people cry out "My God" in moments of overwhelming sorrow or joy. Jesus cried out, "My God, my God" on the cross. This may be what Thomas meant by his expression on this occasion. There is nothing to preclude this thought. One thing we know, his assertion did not include the holy Spirit, and therefore the Trinity cannot have been implied.
The Apostle John, who wrote his Gospel long years after Pentecost, likewise did not believe Jesus was God. John quotes Jesus reminder to Mary, saying, "I ascend to my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God" (John 20:17). Jesus had the same Father and God as Mary. Additionally, John sums up his lesson covering these momentous events, saying, "But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name" (John 20:31). The Apostle Thomas was a Jew who held to the view that the "Lord our God is one." To argue that he forsook his Jewish religious training at the moment in question and received Jesus as (the) God the Father is an unlikely scenario. John, who is aged and serene while writing his Gospel, summarizes this entire chapter saying, "Jesus is the Christ, the son of God." Thats what he wanted us to believeand thats what Thomas believed as well.
"In Three Days I Will Raise It Up"
In John 2:19 we read: "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." The argument is made that Jesus was God and that he raised himself from the dead. This is said in spite of the clear and oft repeated statement of Scripture that "God raised him from the dead." (Please see our Bible readings in Chapter VI.) The testimony of Scripture is so complete and overwhelming that God raised Jesus from the dead that there cannot be any shade of doubt about it.
Now let us examine some of our Lords statements on this to see if they can be harmonized. In Matthew 17:22, 23, Jesus said, speaking of his approaching death: "The Son of man shall be betrayed into the hands of men: and they shall kill him, and the third day he shall be raised again." (See also Luke 9:22; Matt. 16:21.) The angels quoted our Lords words to the women who witnessed his resurrection, saying: "Remember how he spake unto you when he was yet in Galilee saying, the Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again. And they remembered his words" (Luke 24:6-8). These verses fit in with the Bible testimony that God raised Jesus on the third day.
However, in John 2:19, Jesus said, in response to the Jews request for a sign from him: "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." John quotes Jesus and then gives the proper understanding of Jesus words. He says, "But he spake of the temple of his body" (John 2:21). Here the aged John is suggesting what Paul confirms: "For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body. . . . Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular" (1 Cor. 12:12, 13, 27). Further insight is provided in 2 Cor. 4:14, which reads: "Knowing that he which raised up the Lord Jesus shall raise up us also by [with, through] Jesus, and shall present us with you." In John 6:44 we read a similar thought: "No man can come to me, except the Father . . . draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day." This shows that Gods power would not be exercised independently but through Jesus in the resurrection of the Body of Christ.
Hence it is Jesus who will take an active role in raising his Church from the dead. John shows in 14:2, 3 when that will be. He says: "And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself, that where I am, there ye may be also." So it is at Jesus second advent that his faithful followers will be rewarded. Other Bible texts detail the timing of the Churchs resurrection yet further. Peter declares that "One day is with the Lord as a thousand years" (2 Pet. 3:8). If we divide the time from mans creation into one-thousand year days, Jesus was crucified and resurrected on the fifth (thousand year) day. If he returns in three days to raise his body members, counting inclusively from the fifth day, we arrive at the seventh (thousand year) day, which is the grand Millennial Day of blessing.
Now let us examine John 2:19"In three days I will raise it up"from another standpoint. The disciples had come to regard Jesus death and resurrection as a precursor of their own resurrection. They remembered his promise: "Because I live, ye shall live also" (John 14:19). Hence we read: "When therefore he was risen from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this unto them; and they believed the scripture, and the word which Jesus had said" (John 2:22). We must remember that before Pentecost, Jesus disciples did not entertain a heavenly hope. The last thing they asked our risen Lord before he ascended was: "Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?" (Acts 1:6). Subsequently, they came to realize they were to be a part of the body of Christ and that God would "raise up us also by Jesus" (2 Cor. 4:14). That is what they remembered Jesus words to mean.
Challenges of Interpretation
Some while back, a 31-page booklet entitled "Should You Believe the Trinity?" was circulated, which caused quite a stir in Trinitarian circles. Robert M. Bowman, Jr., rose to the occasion and wrote an entire book in reply entitled Why You Should Believe in the Trinity. His work enables one to see how a Trinitarian studies the Bible and how he comes to his conclusions. It demonstrates that an effort can be made to defend the Trinity and that Bible verses may be used in an endless array to justify said beliefs. Yet, despite a valiant overall effort, Mr. Bowman clearly falls short of the mark in at least one directionand that is in clarifying the doctrine for us. After attempting at length to explain the unfathomable mystery of the Trinity, he finally admits in summary: "The choice is therefore between believing in the true God as he has revealed himself, mystery and all, or believing in a God who is relatively simple to understand but bears little resemblance to the true God. Trinitarians are willing to live with a God they cant fully comprehend."8
Most of his arguments pertain to Bible verses where God and Christ may be, with a little effort, fused into one Being. The hard part was in adding the holy Spirit to make Trinity complete. He says, to lay the foundation for his argument: "The Holy Spirit is nothing less than God himself. God is present everywhere, so he has no problem controlling his works. He needs no force outside himself to do his works, nor does he need to emanate some of his own energy to places far from his presence in order to be there."9 Unfortunately, he asserts God is "everywhere" without a Bible citation. One must suppose this is accepted in theology. However, our Lord Jesus taught us to pray, "Our Father, which art in heaven" (Matt. 6:9). Jesus could have helped theology if he taught us to pray: "Our Father, which art everywhere," but he did not say this.
Such reasoning comes close to New Age theology which teaches that God is everywhere and in everything and if we identify with the earth, sun, water, etc., we become a part of God. The wise man said: "God is in heaven, and thou upon earth: therefore let thy words be few" (Ecc. 5:2). When Moses wished to see Gods glory, God caused a representation of Himself to pass before Moses. The restriction was that Moses would see Gods "back parts" (Ex. 33:23). How could a God who is everywhere be represented by Gods glory as it passed by? How long would it take for everywhere to pass before Moses? Also God is said to dwell in "light which no man can approach unto" (1 Tim. 6:16). If God is everywhere, he must also be in the dark holes of the universe. How could it be said: "God is light, and in him is no darkness at all" (1 John 1:5)?
If God is everywhere, then Jesus is everywhere and so also the holy Spirit. This raises a question in logic. In John 14:3, Jesus promises: "I will come again." How does someone who is everywhere come again to somewhere? Jesus also promised in John 15:26: "But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you . . . he shall testify of me." How do you send someone who is everywhere? Why would you need to? How can everywhere be moved to somewhere?
Mr. Bowman asserts God "needs no force outside himself to do his works, nor does he need to emanate some of his energy to places." It is doubtful if many theologians would back such an extravagant assertion. This would seem to rule out any use of the holy Spirit as the mind, influence, power, etc., of God. For a case in point, God says: "I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh" (Joel 2:28). How could a God-person, who is everywhere, be poured out on "all flesh"? Logic and common sense require even Trinitarians to read certain verses with the same meaning as non-Trinitarians. That is the hard part of arguing against the Trinity; it seems everyone defending it has some different ideas.
Greater minds than his have struggled to find the formula to merge three persons into one and have conceded that, after having done their best, their concepts were "incomprehensible." Mr. Bowman concludes the same, as we have observed: "Trinitarians are willing to live with a God they cant fully understand." The Trinity is a doctrine of inferencenot of Biblical statement. We doubt that many theologians would support his position that it is unnecessary for the Spirit ever to be a power or influence or the mind of God. His position seems untenable here.
Finally, every Christian must realize that there is nothing they believe that cannot be assailed by someone somewhere. The Devil quoted the Bible trying to beguile our Lord. The Judaizing Jews quoted Scripture verses to bring Gentiles under the Law. Were they sincere? Probably, but misinformed. There is not a single doctrine believed by any Christian which is not assailed with vigor and even sometimes with forceful presentations. What do we do in such an event? We can close our mind to all discussion and retreat to our trenches. That is probably good if indeed our belief is well-founded in the Word. There definitely is a cloud over the Trinity which is very troubling to many, and we trust that such will be blessed by this presentation.