Jesus-In the Trinity-From Time Eternal
In this article, I present my strong belief, perhaps I should use the word "truth" here, that Jesus is the Son of God. Jesus is not only the Son of God, but the very preexistent Son. "...the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made [Nicene Creed]." In this article, I will present evidence that God is Triune and that Jesus is the preexistent Son of God before all time.
The Unity and Diversity of God in the Old Testament
There can be no doubt that Hebrew faith as depicted in the Old Testament is monotheistic. The Shema, given to us in Deuteronomy 6:4, is clear that God is one: "Hear, O Israel: the Lord is our God, the Lord is one, " Simply put, the early Jews were not polytheists, but monotheists. Yet, some passages in the Old Testament depict God in a more complex or multifaceted way. For example, when God creates man, God says in Genesis 1:26 "Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness...: How do we explain this: To whom is God speaking: Also, in this very verse, the Hebrew word used for "God" is the plural "Elohim." Some would argue that the plural reference to God includes the angels or members of God's heavenly counsel. But if this be the case, should we assume that angels share in God's creative power and authority? I find it interesting how some deny this privilege to Jesus the Lord, but will turn around and grant such to the angels at creation.
Theologian Millard Erickson of his "Christian Theology" includes some additional theories. Old Testament scholar Walter Eichrodt, for example, argued that the use of the plural for God works as a "plural of majesty" in order to present the Creator God as the absolute ruler. Others like G.A.F. Knight are not so sure. To be sure, other words in Hebrew appear in the plural such as words for "water" and "heaven" when in fact a single body is in reference. This is what Grammarians term the "qualitative plural." Here, diversity in unity is the emphasis. Note for example the shift from the singular to the plural in verses like Genesis 1:26 and Isaiah 6:8 which reads "whom shalI I [singular] send, and who will go for us [plural]?" God is clearly depicted in these verses as being both in unity and diversity. Indeed, as early as the book of Genesis, God's complex nature is already revealed.
God in the New Testament
The word "Trinity" is never mentioned in the Bible. Theophilus of Antioch in 170 in the Greek, and Tertullian in the third century in the Latin were some of the first to use this term. It was considered orthodoxy as the first Council of Nicaea in 325. It must be said, however, that although it took time for this title to reach orthodoxy in the church, the seeds of this doctrine are clearly found in the Scriptures. Indeed, there are plenty of passages in the New Testament where God is depicted as the Trinity. Consider the baptism of Jesus in Luke 3:21-22: "When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: 'You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased." Consider also the many times Jesus addresses God the Father directly. Jesus prays to God on many occasions. Consider John 17:1-5: "After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed: "Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began."
Consider also Jesus' cry to God from the cross in Mark 15:34. If God is not a diverse being, then to whom does Jesus pray to and cry out to in these verses? Some dance around these passages by arguing that in these instances, it is "Jesus the man" addressing the divine being of God. Apparently Jesus was able to separate his physical state as a man from his divine being at will like turning a light switch on and off. This separation of Jesus' state as man and his divine being walks dangerously close to an early Christian heresy known as Nestorianism. This heresy was started by Nestorius, Patriarch of Constantinople from 428-431, and emphasized a similar disunion between the human and divine natures of Jesus. There are other passages where the three persons of the Trinity appear together. Consider the following passage in Titus 3:3-8 where the persons of the Trinity appear in relation to God's act of salvation: "At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone." Here, not only are all three persons of the Trinity mentioned, but each is depicted as having a clear role in salvation. Also note Peter's opening to his letter, how they were chosen "according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood." Many more examples could be cited.
Jesus the Preexistent Son of God
Jesus is the Son of God. Many people believe this, but unfortunately some don't believe he is the preexistent Son. They argue that his Sonship has a beginning in time. Some argue that Jesus' Sonship begins at his birth. Others argue that Jesus was made Son of God at his baptism or resurrection from the dead. All of this leads to one thing: that the Son was never a part of God's essence before all time, but was appointed such at a particular time. Thus, there is no Trinity. But let's consider the evidence. First we have Scriptural evidence that clearly depicts Jesus as the preexistent Son. Consider John 1:1: "In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God, the Word was God." Some have argued that this is not the Son, but the divine wisdom of God. Most commentators reject this. John 1:14 is also clear as to whom this verse refers: "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the Only Begotten, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth." Who else could the Only Begotten be (John 3:16)? Consider also Hebrews 1:1-2: "In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe." Colossians 1:15 is also relevant here: "For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together." It is clear from these verses and others, that Jesus is the preexistent Son of God before all creation. He also plays a role in that creation.
Some have pointed to the fact that Jesus is the Only Begotten as evidence that he has a beginning. Again, most commentators reject this. "Only Begotten" points to Jesus' unique relationship to God, and not his beginning in time. Consider for example the use of "only begotten" or "one and only" in Hebrews 11:17-18 in reference to Abraham's son Isaac:
"By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God has said to him, "It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned." Here, Isaac is referred to as Abraham's "only begotten" son. Yet we know that Abraham had more than one son. This terminology thus points to Isaac's unique relationship to his father as the promised son. In the case of Jesus, this relationship is unique in another way: Jesus is the Son by his very nature, while we are sons and daughters through faith or adoption. So, in John 3:16 and other verses where Jesus is referred to as the "only begotten" or "one and only" his unique relationship with God as the very nature of God above and against all others is emphasized, and not his being born at a certain time and place.
For those who consider Jesus to be nothing more than a man, or a man in whom a lesser manifestation of God is incarnate, let use consider the following points. First, some have tried to play on supposed differences between the divine name Yahweh and Jehovah to argue that Yahweh is the name of God, while Jehovah is the name of that which is incarnate in Jesus. Jehovah is deemed as less then Yahweh. This betrays a misunderstanding of these two names. Actually, they are one and the same. Jehovah (JHVH) is the German pronunciation of YHWH with vowels added. The difference is only in pronunciation and not in substance. Note then how Jesus assumes the divine name of "I AM" from which YHWH is probably derived. Consider the "I AM" sayings in John like 8:24 where Jesus says "If you do not believe that I AM, you will die in your sins." Consider also John 6:20 where Jesus calls out "I AM, do not be afraid." Secondly, consider Jesus' mastery over creation. New Testament scholar Marcus Borg argues that Jesus was a spirit man with the ability to perform miracles. He believes Jesus performed miracles, yet he disputes the nature miracles. These he says are impossible because for Jesus to do them he would have to be God. Yet, in several places, Jesus shows his mastery over nature. Consider the feeding miracles (Mark 6:30-44), the water into wine (John 2:1-12), the calming of the storm (Mark 4:35-41), and his walking on the water (Mark 6:45-56). Also not that when Jesus approaches the boat in the last miracle, he says "peace, IAM, do not be afraid," Third, Jesus is depicted in the New Testament, along with God the Father and the Holy Spirit as the one who saves us.
In a recent book written by theologian Frank Macchia, called the Trinity Practically Speaking, he makes the interesting point that in the Bible, only God can save. Yet, all three persons of the Trinity are depicted as saving us. We've already considered Titus 3:3-8 above where Jesus is called "Savior" and all three persons of the Trinity are depicted as participating in our salvation. Consider some other verses as well. Consider Philippians 3:20: "But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ..." or Peter's introduction to his second letter in 1:1 "Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours." And many more. Fourth, we must consider the very high place that John the revelator gives to Jesus in his letter. Note how Jesus is described very much like God in Revelation 1:12-18. Jesus also refers to himself in divine terms as the First and the Last. In fact, titles like the First and Last, the Alpha and Omega, or the One who is...and so forth are used for both God and Jesus Christ, throughout the letter. Also, note how it is God who sits on the throne in Revelation 4 and the Lamb of God in chapter 5. Revelation 5:6 says: "Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. He has seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth."
My conclusion is that God is triune in God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and that Jesus is the preexistent Son of God. This I would argue makes the most sense in light of the whole Scripture. The Shema is important, not only as a Jewish confession of faith, but also as a window into the absolute sovereignty of the Lord God. There is no God but the Lord. This however must be read in light of many other passages in both the Old and New Testaments that picture God as a diverse being. Refusal to consider important passages of Scripture, or consistent dancing around these passages leads only to overly complex theories on Jesus' human and divine natures, misguided usage of divine names, and an outright denial of Jesus' role as Son and Savior. This I would argue has no place in the faith of a Christian who truly believes that it is by no other name that we must be saved (Acts 4:12).