This is the second in a series of columns on the Trinity.
How do we biblically define a term that never appears in the Bible? As Jehovah’s Witnesses, Muslims, and others are quick to point out, the word Trinity is conspicuously absent from the pages of Scripture. Therefore, they argue, to embrace such a term goes against the Bible’s clear teaching.
Not so fast. While it’s true the term Trinity is not found in English Bible translations, that doesn’t mean the doctrine is missing in action. We might point out that phrases such as “the second coming” and “receiving Jesus as Savior” never grace the Bible’s pages either. Even so, Christians look forward to the return of Jesus one day, and we enjoy benefits as adopted children of God, having received Him by faith (John 1:12).
So, when we talk about the Trinity, it’s important to show how Scripture describes God as one eternal being in three persons. This is not as easy as it sounds, for the Trinity in some respects is a mystery – a revelation of God hidden in times past but revealed progressively from Genesis to Revelation.
This is the first in a series of columns on the Trinity.
Would it surprise you to know that six out of 10 U.S. adults say the Holy Spirit is a force, not a personal being? Or, more shocking, that 78 percent of Americans with “evangelical beliefs” agree with the statement that Jesus was the first and greatest being created by God the Father?
These views, part of Ligonier Ministries’ 2018 State of Theology survey of 3,000 Americans, expose the soft underbelly of evangelical Christianity in our country.
If Jesus is God’s first and greatest created being, then Arius, the fourth-century heretic, was right after all. On the other hand, if Jesus is the uncreated, eternal Son of God, then the church has made little headway in promoting sound doctrine since the councils of Nicaea and Constantinople pushed back against Arianism.
The doctrine of the Trinity distinguishes orthodox Christianity from counterfeit forms of the faith, and sets Christianity apart from other monotheistic religions such as Judaism and Islam. Even so, many Christians struggle to understand and explain this non-negotiable doctrine.
What Every Christian Should Know About the Trinity explores the biblical foundation of belief in one true and living God, who exists as three distinct, but inseparable, co-equal, co-eternal persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Written for pastors and laypersons alike, this new resource features twelve lessons that conclude with probing questions, making this an ideal resource for personal or group study.
Written by the Missouri Baptist Convention’s Rob Phillips, the book features a foreword from noted apologist Robert M. Bowman Jr.
Available in print from the MBC.
This is the second in a two-part series on the personhood and deity of the Holy Spirit.
In the previous column, we examined the biblical evidence for the personhood of the Holy Spirit; that is, the Spirit is a He, not an it. Once the Spirit’s personality is established, His deity is a biblically faithful next step.
For starters, the Spirit is active in creation (Gen. 1:2; Ps. 104:30), omniscient (1 Cor. 2:10-11), and omnipresent (Ps. 139:7) – qualities that establish Him as co-equal and co-eternal with the Father and the Son.
What’s more, the Spirit shares the divine name with the other members of the triune Godhead (Matt. 28:19).
Perhaps the most-cited passage that illustrates both the personality and deity of the Holy Spirit is found in Acts 5. After Ananias and Sapphira fraudulently claim to have given the full proceeds of a land sale to the church, Peter confronts Ananias.
“Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the proceeds of the land?” Peter asks. “Wasn’t it yours while you possessed it? And after it was sold, wasn’t it at your disposal? Why is it that you planned this thing in your heart? You have not lied to people but to God” (vv. 3-4).
To whom did Ananias lie: the Holy Spirit, or God? The answer, of course, is that he lied to both. To lie to the Holy Spirit is to lie to God since the Spirit occupies an equal position in the Trinity with the Father and Son.
This is the first in a two-part series on the Holy Spirit.
One way the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ New World Translation (NWT) seeks to undermine the Trinity is by consistently rendering the name “Holy Spirit” as the inanimate “holy spirit.”
The unnamed translators of the NWT often omit the article “the,” which results in stilted verses such as:
“That one [Jesus] will baptize you with holy spirit …” (Matt. 3:11).
John the Baptist “will be filled with holy spirit even from before birth” (Luke 1:15).
Mary, the mother of Jesus, “was found to be pregnant by holy spirit …” (Matt. 1:18).
As James White notes in The Forgotten Trinity, “Their intention is clear: the Watchtower society denies that the Holy Spirit is a person, hence, they desire their ‘translation’ of the Bible to communicate the idea that the Holy Spirit is an ‘it,’ a force or power.”
The Watch Tower argues that the phrase “Holy Spirit” in Greek is in the neuter gender, and it is. But Greek genders do not necessarily indicate personality, according to White. Inanimate things can have masculine and feminine genders, and personal things can have the neuter gender.
A better way to determine whether the “Holy Spirit” is personal or inanimate is the same way we seek to understand whether the Father and Son are personal. That is, does the Holy Spirit offer evidence of personhood? Does He speak, use personal pronouns, have a will, and so on?
The answer, of course, is a resounding yes.