Gods or God: How Many & Who?

Selwyn Stevens, M.C.R.; Ph.D.

Perhaps more than any other doctrine shown in the Bible and taught by the Christian Church, the doctrine of the Trinity has been consistently misunderstood and frequently misrepresented. Why is it important for Christians to understand the Trinity? I believe there are two main reasons. First, because Christians can’t really function in their faith on a daily basis if they don’t understand the nature of God as revealed in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. This failure may account for the malaise in the church. It may also explain why Christians lifestyles are too similar to the world’s lifestyles to make any real impact.

Secondly Christians need to be able to explain to their children and others why they believe in the Trinity. This should protect young people from the deceptions of the cults. It could even result in many cult members being converted to Christ. Cult rejection of the doctrine of the Trinity is almost certainly the main reason why they are a cult. They reject the Deity of Jesus, when He alone can offer Salvation. They reject the Deity of the Holy Spirit, when He alone empowers the Christian believer. Cults are very good at twisting Scriptures and taking them out of context in an attempt to prove their point of view.

Is the Trinity a false doctrine? Many cult groups dismiss the doctrine of the Trinity as a false theory invented by the Roman Catholic Church. The truth is that a council of the early Christian Church at Nicea in 325 AD met for the express purpose of throwing out the heresy that Jesus Christ was only a created being. This was the Arian heresy (mentioned in the previous chapter) which was picked up and boldly but falsely proclaimed to this day by cults like Jehovah’s Witnesses and Unitarian churches. It is true that the word ‘Trinity’ does not appear anywhere in the Bible. Neither does the word ‘Jehovah.’ The Hebrew name for God was written Y H W H , or J H V H. In the Hebrew language only consonants are used. Vowels were unknown and adding them was only guessing. The name ‘Jehovah’ was invented by a Catholic monk, Raymundus Martini, in 1270 AD. He simply added some vowels. This doesn’t devalue the name Jehovah, but the fact remains that it wasn’t in the Hebrew Scriptures.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Jesus Christ was ‘a’ god, but not “The God.” That is why they have no assurance of salvation through Jesus. The Christadelphians, Moonies, Baha’i, and Moslems also hold variations of this heretical viewpoint. The Mormons teach that all three members of the Trinity are separate gods. All their men are striving to become gods as well. This view that there are millions of gods is also shared by Buddhists, Hindus and offshoots such as Sikhs, Hare Krishna and Transcendental Meditation. Praise God the Bible has the truth about this matter, and it does not support any of these heresies. If Christians could only be as well trained in the proper use and interpretation of Scripture as the cult members try to make you believe they are, then the Christian Church would grow immensely in maturity and in numbers. Our nations could then be truly won to Jesus! Let us find out who God is, and how we can understand this mystery of the Godhead. Let us also clearly establish whether all three have the right to be called God.

God the Father There is no group calling itself Christian, cult or otherwise, who denies that the Father is God. “In the beginning, God…” (Genesis 1:1). From the very first chapters of Genesis God is referred to as the Creator. The Bible is not a text book that attempts to prove the existence of God – the Bible opens with the positive fact that God exists. “The Heavens declare the glory of God, and the skies proclaim the work of His hands,” (Psalm 19:1). “For He received from God the Father…” (2 Peter 1:17). Peter calls the Father God. “Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel, and His Redeemer, the Lord of Hosts: ‘I am the First and I am the Last; besides me there is no God,” (Isaiah 44:6). This verse must be a real disappointment to all those Mormon men who are planning on becoming gods. God Himself says there is no other God.

Who did God say He was? When Moses asked God this, He answered “I AM WHO I AM,” Exodus 3:14, and in the next verse He added “This is my name forever.” The Father is God, beyond all doubt.

God the Son Who is Jesus? Who did He say He was? There are many references, so I’ll just give a few here. “Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM,” John 8:58. Now that’s interesting, we’ve heard that title before. The people then picked up stones to kill Jesus. When Jesus asked why they wanted to stone Him, they answered “…for blasphemy, and because You, being a Man, make Yourself God,” (John 10:33). The Jews knew exactly what Jesus was claiming when He said “I AM.” Was Jesus suffering from a delusion that He was God? Or was He telling the truth?

The Book of Revelation answers this question. “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End,” says the Lord, “Who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty,” (Revelation 1:8). “Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last. I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forever more,” (verses 17b -18a). This reference is plain enough. Only one person spoke. The Father was never dead, but Jesus was. Later in this same book we have further proof that this was Jesus speaking. “…I am coming quickly… I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last… I, Jesus, have sent my angel…” (Revelation 22:12a,13,16). Jesus spoke this whole passage, and almost everyone agrees that it is Jesus who is coming soon. All these references are printed in red in the red-letter Bible. These are the words of Jesus.

We looked at Isaiah 44:6 in the section on the Father. He said He is the First and the Last. We have a very interesting dilemma. Either we have two Firsts and two Lasts (which is a contradiction which cannot exist), or the Father and the Son are both God. There is no other possible answer. When Jesus invited Thomas to look at and touch His wounds after the resurrection, Thomas’ response was to address Jesus as “My Lord and My God!” (John 20:28). This was either blasphemy or true. “…God was manifest (appeared) in the flesh…” (1 Timothy 3:16). There is no Biblical reference which says that either the Father or the Holy Spirit were visibly seen in the flesh. Only Jesus was. In this verse Jesus is called God. Let us look at one last verse on this matter. “To the Son, He says: ‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever…” (Hebrews 1:8a). The Father here calls the Son “God!” Because He does, so should we. Jesus is God!

God the Holy Spirit Is the Holy Spirit just the ‘power of God,’ like electricity or a laser beam, as many cults contend? A good study of Acts 13 will reveal the Holy Spirit is a person. He – not ‘It’ – prophesies through His servants and commissions them. In Acts 5:3, Peter said to Ananias “You have lied to the Holy Spirit.” No one can lie to an ‘It’, or a chair or anything inanimate. You can only lie to a person. At the end of verse 4, Peter also says “You have not lied to men, but to God.” Peter calls the Holy Spirit God. Jesus spoke several times of the Holy Spirit, and each time Jesus spoke of ‘He’, not ‘It’. “I will pray to the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you,” (John 14:16-17).

Jesus said something else significant about the Holy Spirit. “…every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven,” (Matthew 12:31). You can’t blaspheme an electric current. Only God can be blasphemed. Is the Holy Spirit only recorded in the New Testament? No! He is directly mentioned in the Old Testament three times, and is referred to as the Spirit of God or the Spirit of the Lord some 78 times. Every time the word Spirit is written with a capital S this refers only to Him. So the Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit is a person and He is called God.

Scriptures which show the Trinity together “…The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God,” (Luke 1:35). God the Father gave His only Son. God the Son was born into the world. God the Holy Spirit caused Mary to conceive. At the baptism of Jesus we see all three persons of the Trinity at work. “Then Jesus, when He had been baptised, came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were open to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him. And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased,” (Matthew 3:16-17). So here, Jesus was baptised by John, the Holy Spirit appears as a dove, and the Father spoke from heaven. Was Jesus some sort of magician to create the dove? Was He also a ventriloquist to fabricate the voice from heaven? Absolutely not, for that would make Jesus into a fraud. “For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word (Jesus), and the Holy Spirit: and these three are one,” (1 John 5:7).

What else can I say? Jesus told the disciples to go and make disciples of all nations, and to baptise them in the name of “the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit”. Why not in the names of Matthew, Mark and John? Very simply because we are called to proclaim the Kingdom of God – so we should proclaim it in the name of God as revealed in His Tri-unity, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

One God or Three?
How can we balance what we have seen above with the clear statement from the Old Testament? “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one!” (Deuteronomy 6:4). There is a Hebrew term ‘Echad’ which means one. It does not always mean absolute unity, and it frequently denotes composite unity. Let us look at some Biblical illustrations.

* A man leaves his father and mother and ‘cleaves’ to his wife. They unite and become one flesh, (Genesis 2:24). That is ‘Bosor Echad.’ They don’t become one person, but they become one in the unity of their substance. This is true unity.

* When the spies reported back to Moses after looking around Canaan, they brought back a great bunch of grapes, and this term is ‘Eschol Echad’ – hundreds of grapes on one stem – yet the word is Echad, one in the sense of origin.

* Ezra records that the whole assembly of people gathered to return to Jerusalem numbered 42,360, – Echad – one assembly with many people. There are many variations in Hebrew for one, but God never spoke of Himself as ‘Yachid’ – absolute singular, but always as ‘Echad.’ So there is one God who always refers to Himself in the plural. God in the singular sense is ‘El’, but God in the Plural is ‘Elohim’. It is Elohim which is used over 2,000 times in the Old Testament.

Let us look at just four brief references from Genesis to illustrate this point. “In the beginning, God… (Elohim)” (Genesis 1:1). “Let US make man in OUR image…” (Genesis 1:26). “Man is become like one of US…” (Genesis 3:23). “Let US go down and confuse their language…” (Genesis 11:7). From the very beginning of the Bible God is obviously trying to teach us something important about Himself. The words of that passage from Deuteronomy should more accurately be expressed like this, “Hear, O Israel, Jehovah our Elohim is One Jehovah.” Elohim – plural.

When the Jewish commentary, the Zohar, looks at this verse, it asks why the name of God is mentioned three times. It then answers by saying that the first Jehovah is the Father above.

The second is the stem of Jesse, who has come through the family line of Jesse and David; and the third one is the Spirit below, and these three are one. Christians agree with this understanding. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are one in unity but separate in personality and wills. If Jesus didn’t pray to the separate personality of the Father then who did He pray to? He couldn’t pray to Himself as He could then be accused of not knowing His own mind or will. Jesus said “No one knows the day nor the hour except the Father – not even the Son,” (Mark 13:32). Jesus undoubtedly knows this now, but He didn’t know when He said it. Isn’t it interesting that almost every cult group has put a date on Jesus’ return. True believers know better.

So the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are one God who are shown in three separate persons. One of the stumbling blocks to understanding this mystery is our use of the term ‘Person.’ We usually mean a separate distinct individual. Jesus said He only did the things the Father told Him to, and then He did them in the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus never acted alone. He prayed to the Father many times. He asked the Father to send the Holy Spirit. In Gethsemene Jesus submitted to the will of the Father. Jesus wasn’t play-acting for the sake of others. He was addressing and submitting to another person. There is a false and anti-Biblical view that Jesus is also the Father. The prayer in Gethsemene proves that wrong.

How can we understand this three-in-oneness? Our limited and finite minds can never fully understand this ‘mystery,’ as the Bible calls it. Perhaps these illustrations may help a little.

* St. Patrick is claimed to have used the shamrock, a three-leafed clover. It is one leaf but it has three distinct sections.

* Water can exist in three states – liquid, ice and steam, yet it is still H2O. There is even a scientific experiment which shows that in a vacuum at zero degrees all three states can exist at once.

* Sunlight is another illustration. The power of the sun represents the Father, the visible light represents Jesus, and the energy which melts butter and yet hardens cheese left in the same sun is the Holy Spirit.

* What about a business firm called Smith, Brown and Jones – one firm with three partners. These illustrations can never fully explain the Trinity, but they may give us some understanding. As Dr. Walter Martin quite rightly says, we aren’t asked to understand the Trinity, but we are told it is true. If we could fully understand God then He would merely be a creation of our minds, and not the Creator of the universe and all it contains.

God’s creation Anyone with open eyes can see the evidence in His creation to prove His Tri-unity. There is an intricacy and pattern throughout all of creation. It must have had a planner. Our universe did not happen by chance. The Big-Bang theory implies that an explosion in a print shop would also create a dictionary. If the Big-Bang ever does prove to be true, then the real miracle will be that the bang was precisely the size required to sustain life on Earth. A bigger bang would have sent the earth beyond the reach of the sun’s heat level required for life here. A smaller bang would have sent the earth crashing back into the sun because of gravity. There are three positive statements, backed by Scripture, which a Christian can make to explain the Trinity.

1. There is One God;

2. God exists in Three Persons;

3. God is revealed as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Some cult groups ridicule these statements by saying that 1+1+1=1 is unbelievable. They say it is foolish and unscientific to claim that God is one personality and also three personalities. I don’t believe the Bible teaches this nonsense either. In typical cultic fashion they deliberately confuse people by misinterpreting what the Bible says. “There is a three-in-oneness throughout creation which clearly reflects the triune nature of all the physical universe. The doctrine of the Trinity is mathematically sound and is reflected in all true science in an incredible way.” So said the late Gordon Lindsay, president of ‘Christ for the Nations,’ and author of 250 books on Christian belief and missions. Consider the facts.

* Space has three dimensions; length, width and depth. All are equal to each other. If one was missing the other two would lack meaning. This trinity of space – as with God – is not 1+1+1=1, but 1x1x1=1.

* Matter is a crucial part of the universe, despite the foolish remarks to the contrary by Mary Baker Eddy and her ‘Christian Scientists.’ (This group is neither scientific or Christian.) Matter is made up of energy, motion, and phenomenon. Nothing exists which does not include one of these. Each is distinctly separate, yet each is part of the whole. Not one can exist without the other two. Scientists have explained that motion reveals energy and is created by it. Phenomenon shows how motion is revealed. In the same way the Holy Spirit reveals the Son, and through Jesus the Father is revealed.

* How often do we hear of people moaning about their shortage of time, yet it has three parts too – past, present and future. The future is the invisible source of time which is made real moment by moment in the present. The past merely progresses from the present – is gone and yet continues to influence us.

* Creation is space made visible in matter, and is experienced through time. Every part is distinct and yet makes up the whole.

* We human beings are created in the image of God, according to Genesis 1:27. We are a spirit, we have a soul and we live in our body until death. These three parts make us a whole person. It is no coincidence that the physical universe parallels the Biblical revelation of the Trinity. It is totally possible mathematically, scientifically and spiritually to believe that this tri-universe was created by a Triune God.

The Nature of God In closing, consider this important point. The Trinity reveals something very unique about God’s nature. There is a point in time’s distant past when no created beings existed. If God was singular (El) there would have been no love. But God is Elohim – plural – so He has never been alone. Love has always been present because love can only exist in the context of a relationship. That is why God is Love.

At the beginning of this article I said that understanding the Trinity is essential for Christians. The Bible plainly shows there is a right way to pray, and this reveals the Trinity. We are to allow the Holy Spirit to guide our prayer, we are to pray to the Father and we pray in the name of Jesus. In summary, the Bible clearly demonstrates that there are three persons who are all called God. The Bible also plainly states that there is One God. We can reach only one possible conclusion – things equal to the same thing are equal to each other, and the Three Persons are the One God!