How Scripture uses the word “God”

This is the seventh in a series of articles on the Trinity, excerpted from “What Every Christian Should Know About the Trinity,” available by contacting the MBC or through Amazon.

To avoid confusion when exploring the Trinity, we need to understand three different ways the Bible employs the word “God” and the way we use it in our theology. Otherwise, we may be tempted to see the Trinity as three gods.

First, there are references to God as Father. The New Testament often uses this approach to distinguish between God the Father and Jesus. For example, 1 Corinthians 8:6 reads, “… yet for us there is one God, the Father. All things are from him, and we exist for him. And there is one Lord, Jesus Christ. All things are through him, and we exist through him.”

For Paul to declare Jesus “Lord,” using the Greek kyrios, is to affirm His deity. In the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, the translators used kyrios as a rendering for Yahweh, the unique name of God. So, Paul is not calling the Father “God” and Jesus a lesser being. He is simply distinguishing these two members of the Godhead.

Paul further writes in 2 Corinthians 1:3, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort.”

Second, there are references to the divine nature that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit share. For example, John writes, “and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). This does not mean Jesus (here called “the Word”) is the Father. Rather, it means Jesus and the Father share the divine nature. Further, the Holy Spirit is called the Spirit of God and the Spirit of Christ (Rom. 8:9; 1 Pet. 1:11).

This was important to early church leaders, for it helped distinguish belief in the Trinity from polytheism. Polytheists believed in many species of god – or many divine beings – while Christianity was adamant in its defense of one God – that is, one divine nature expressed in three persons.

Third, the word “God” is a reference to the entire Trinity. This usage of the term is a later development in Christianity, but it’s no less true. When Genesis 1:1 states, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth,” we come to understand by reading additional Scriptures that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit worked collaboratively in the creation of all things (Gen. 1:1-2; John 1:3; Col. 1:15).

Key truths about the Trinity

We would do well to remember several key biblical truths about the Trinity as we move further in our study. First, God is spirit. So, we should avoid thinking of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as having three separate bodies. All creatures are finite and, with the exception of angels and other heavenly beings, material. But God alone is both infinite and immaterial.

The three persons of the Godhead, therefore, do not have separate bodies, as three different human beings have. Jesus, of course, took on a body in the Incarnation, but He did not lay aside His deity to do so. Thus, He never broke eternal fellowship with the Father and the Holy Spirit.

Second, the persons of the Godhead are distinguished by name. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit carry out distinct but complementary roles in creation, salvation, and revelation. For example, the Holy Spirit is the “breathed one.” The English word “spirit” in Greek and Hebrew also means “wind” or “breath.” Put another way, the Spirit communicates the holy presence of the transcendent God.

While holding distinct names and playing complementary roles within the Godhead, the Father, Son, and Spirit are co-equal and co-eternal. All three persons are eternal, all-knowing, all-powerful, and everywhere present.

Third, the members of the Trinity are not autonomous. They never existed apart from each other. There was never a time when Jesus did not exist as the Son of God. Neither was there a time when the Holy Spirit did not exist as the Breathed One. As eternally existing persons, Jesus was always the Son of God, and the Holy Spirit was always the Spirit of God.

The persons of the Trinity, therefore, may be distinguished but never separated.

Next: The LORD our God is one