This is the 12th 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 and other booksellers.
In the previous column, we examined the personhood of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. While the three persons of the Godhead are distinct, they cannot be separated. That is, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are co-equal and co-eternal. They exist simultaneously, not consecutively.
So, let’s summarize this essential truth, drawing from Scripture:
The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are present together at Jesus’ baptism (Matt. 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-23).
In the Great Commission, Jesus sends His followers to make disciples in “the name [singular] of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit …” (Matt. 28:19-20).
The three persons of the Godhead work together to grant spiritual gifts to followers of Jesus: “Now there are different gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different ministries, but the same Lord [Jesus]. And there are different activities, but the same God [Father] produces each gift in each person. A manifestation of the Spirit is given to each person for the common good” (1 Cor. 12:4-7).
This is the ninth in a series of articles on the Trinity, excerpted from “What Every Christian Should Know About the Trinity,” available through Amazon and other booksellers.
While most arguments for the Trinity are grounded in the New Testament, God begins revealing His triune nature in the Old Testament. One hint at the plurality and unity of the Godhead may be found in several passages where God speaks.
For example, Genesis 1:26 reads, “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness.’” Here, the verb “said” is singular, but the verb “let us” is plural, as are the possessive endings of the nouns “our image” and “our likeness.” Then, in the next verse we read, “So God created man in his own image; he created him in the image of God; he created them male and female” (v. 27).
Genesis 3:22-24 provides a similar clue: “The LORD God said, ‘Since the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil, he must not reach out, take from the tree of life, eat, and live forever.’ So the LORD God sent him away from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. He drove the man out …”
Other examples include:
Genesis 11:7, where the LORD says, “Come, let’s go down there and confuse their languages so that they will not understand one another’s speech.” Then, in verses 8 and 9, the LORD “scattered them” and “confused the language of the whole earth.”
Isaiah 6:8 – “Then I heard the voice of the Lord asking: Who should I send? Who will go for us?”
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 eight-part series addresses common objections to the Bible as the Word of God.
Objection 6: The Bible can’t be true because it depicts a different God in the Old and New Testaments.
Critics argue that the God of the Old Testament is distant, vengeful and harsh, engaging in genocide and punishing the innocent. Meanwhile, they say, the God of the New Testament is loving, kind and gracious, eager to forgive. Further, His Son Jesus is a gentle, meek, selfless and all-too-human being who speaks in adoring terms of His Father in Heaven. Complicating things further, the God of the Old Testament is described as one (Deut. 6:4) while the New Testament hints at a triune Godhead consisting of three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. How can the Gods of the Old and New Testaments be reconciled as one?
God’s nature and progressive revelation
First, it’s important to note that this objection reveals a basic misunderstanding of what the Old and New Testaments reveal about the nature of God. The writers of www.gotquestions.org put it very well: “The fact that the Bible is God’s progressive revelation of Himself to us through historical events and through His relationship with people throughout history might contribute to people’s misconceptions about what God is like in the Old Testament as compared to the New Testament. However, when one reads both the Old and the New Testaments it quickly becomes evident that God is not different from one Testament to another and that God’s wrath and His love are revealed in both Testaments.”
For example, the Old Testament in many places describes God as “a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in faithful love and truth” (Ex.34:6; see also Num. 14:18; Deut. 4:31; Neh. 9:17; Ps. 86:5, 15; 108:4; 145:8; Joel 2:13). In the New Testament, God’s love for mankind is manifested more fully in the sending of His Son, Jesus Christ, who died for us (John 3:16; Rom. 5:8; 1 Cor. 15:3-4). Or, consider that in the Old Testament, God deals with the Israelites much as a loving father deals with his children, punishing them for their idolatry but delivering them when they repent of their sins. In much the same way, the New Testament tells us God chastens Christians for their own good. Hebrews 12:6, quoting Proverbs 3:11-12, says, “[f]or the Lord disciplines the one He loves, and punishes every son whom He receives.”
God’s wrath – and jealousy
But what about God’s wrath – and jealousy? Both the Old and New Testaments tell us that God delivers judgment on the unrepentant. He orders the Jews to completely destroy a number of people groups living in Canaan, but only after allowing them hundreds of years to repent (see, for example, Gen. 15:13-16). In addition, God’s order to destroy the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites and others has a divine purpose: “so that they won’t teach you to do all the detestable things they do for their gods, and you sin against the Lord your God” (Deut. 20:18).
When the Old Testament describes God as “jealous” (see Deut. 4:24, for example), the word translated “jealous” (qanna) also means “zealous.” God’s jealousy “is an expression of His intense love and care for His people and His demand that they honor His unique and incomparable nature” (Apologetics Study Bible, p. 273). In the New Testament, Paul tells us that “God’s wrath is revealed from heaven against all godlessness and unrighteousness of people who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (Rom. 1:18). Jesus Himself often had harsh words for hypocrites (see Matt. 23) and even acted violently against them (John 2:15). He spoke more about hell than heaven, and He is depicted as an angry and wrathful judge in verses foretelling His return (Rev. 19:11-16). Put simply, a God who loves what is good must necessarily hate what is evil.
A Redeemer for a wrecked human race
Throughout the Bible we see a God who patiently and lovingly calls people into a relationship with Him. The entire human race is wrecked by sin, resulting in spiritual and physical death and separation from our Creator (Rom. 3:10, 23; 6:23; Eph. 2:1). Paul writes that the whole world groans beneath the weight of sin (Rom. 8:22). But from the moment Adam and Eve rebelled against God, He provided a way for that broken fellowship to be restored. He began with a promise of a Redeemer (Gen. 3:15); instituted a sacrificial system in which an innocent and spotless animal would shed its blood to atone for – or temporarily cover – man’s sin; and then He sent His Son, the Lamb of God, to take away the sin of the world (John 1:29; 3:16). When one reads the entire Bible, it becomes abundantly clear that the God of the Old and New Testaments does not change (Mal. 3:6; Heb. 13:8).
Is God one – or three?
Finally, what about the one God of the Old Testament and the triune God of the New Testament? There is no contradiction here. While the Bible emphatically declares that there is one true and living God (Deut. 6:4; James 2:19), the Old Testament hints at the triune Godhead, and the New Testament more fully reveals one God in three persons (see Gen. 1:1-2, 26; 3:22; 11:7; Isa. 6:8; Matt. 3:16-17; John 1:1, 14; 10:30; Acts 5:3-4; Col. 1:16; 2:9; Heb. 1:8; 1 Peter 1:2). An ancient saying sums up the difficulty of comprehending the Trinity but the necessity of believing in it: “He who would try to understand the Trinity would lose his mind, and he who would deny the Trinity would lose his soul.”
Copyright 2009 by Rob Phillips