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The Trinity: Is Jesus God?
Holy Trinity, by Szymon Czechowicz
Recently, a youth asked me to explain the doctrine of the trinity. The request called for a basic explanation of what the trinity is, a distinction of the persons, and how it applies to prayer.
Since this is a topic of great personal interest, over time I will add more to this article, and my interest in discussing this topic with Jews and other religious groups will probably be obvious to the reader.
St. Patrick's Shamrock
St. Paul Writing His Epistles
Part 1 - The Simple Answer is Not Too Simple After All
St. Patrick is credited with using a shamrock to explain the trinity. To me, the shamrock is the most beautiful and practical illustration to help us understand what we mean by trinity.
Each of the shamrock’s leaves (a shamrock has three leaves) is made of the same substance and shares the same stem. Pulling a leaf off from the rest will not alter its substance nor make it less of a shamrock than the other two leaves are. But isolated from each other, the leaves are not a shamrock. It takes three leaves attached to the stem to make a shamrock.
When we say that God is a trinity, we are saying that He is a unique and eternal being composed of three distinct persons, and that these three persons (the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit) are made of the same substance (they are what each other is). Neither exists without the other; neither is created by the other. This one beautiful and majestic being, like the humble shamrock, is made of three.
In very relaxed and non-theological sense, we could say the Father is a part of God, the Son is a part of God, and the Holy Spirit is a part of God; but we avoid saying that because it would mislead people to think Jesus is less than God. A part can be lost without sacrificing the essence of the whole (as when a person loses an arm), but that is not the case with any person of the trinity (which we also call Godhead).
In fact, the Bible states that “In him [Jesus] dwelleth the fullness of the Godhead bodily” (Colossians 3:9, KJV). All that God is (his eternity, omnipotence, omniscience, love, holiness, and righteousness… and Father and Holy Spirit) dwells physically in Jesus of Nazareth. If you speak to the Son, your finite mind thinks you are addressing the Son only, but you are actually addressing the Father and the Spirit as well. God cannot be divided (some scientists have suggested we are not intelligent enough to fully understand the universe; much less are we likely to understand God)!
So when a disciple asked Jesus to show them the Father, Jesus pretty much said “You don’t understand what you’re talking about! You’re actually seeing Him and talking to Him as you interact with me!” (John 14:8-12). This also explains why Jesus says that he and the Father will dwell in everyone who loves Jesus (John 14:23), and yet Paul says it is the Holy Spirit who dwells in the believer (Ephesians 1:3). The full essence of God is present in each of the divine persons.
This is why the Gospel is so difficult for Jews, Muslims, and Jehovah’s Witnesses. This is why Jesus of Nazareth was accused of blasphemy and crucified (Matthew 26:65, Mark 14:64, John 10:33)! One doesn’t go claiming to be one with God throughout a religious state without paying dearly for it. If anyone were to do that in Saudi Arabia or Iran today, they would certainly pay the highest price.
It is plain, therefore, why an ancient Jew and Pharisee named Saul (a man with legal authority) sought to capture Christians and bring them to judgment to Jerusalem so they could be put to death. In his eyes, they were blasphemers! (Acts 7:58-60, 8:1-3, 9:1-2) But after Jesus appeared to him (Acts 9:3-9), Saul became a preacher of the Gospel (Acts 9:19-22), and came to be known as Paul the Apostle.
Part 2 - Addressing Common Jewish Objections to the Incarnation
I realize how blasphemous this may sound to Jews, Muslims, and Jehovah Witnesses. Does not the Torah (the Bible) say that “God is not a man”? Read it again: “God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?” (Numbers 23:19, KJV) But what this verse is actually saying is that God is not intrinsically a human being, and therefore He is not weak in character or power like we are. It does not mean that God cannot take on a human form!
In the Torah (the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible), God appeared to Father Abraham in human form. He drank water, He washed his feet, He rested under a tree, He ate a meal, and He spoke with Abraham face to face (Genesis 18).
God also took on a human form when He made all his goodness pass before Moses, but hid his face and showed him only his back (Exodus 33:11-23; 34:5-8)
Ezekiel also, not seeing all the details of his countenance, saw God on his throne, and his appearance was in human form (Ezekiel 1:26).
How else are human beings supposed to know God, if He does not reveal Himself in human form? How else will Israel see God? (Zechariah 12:10)
No, God is not a human being intrinsically. He has, however, revealed Himself in human form, and the greatest moment in history when He did so was when He endured a full human life in the body of Jesus of Nazareth.
Therefore, there is no contradiction between Colossians 3:9 and the Torah, which is the foundation for the Jewish faith, the Christian faith, and the Muslim faith. If God wants to reveal Himself as a human being, He can. Our responsibility is to recognize what He has done.
Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus 1
Part 3 - The Trinity in the Torah
We can find evidence pointing to the Trinity in some passages of the Torah (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy). Like in the rest of the Bible, the word trinity does not appear because it is a term we use to describe something we see in the Bible.
We won’t find the names Jesus of Nazareth or Jesus Christ in the Torah, since the Lord Jesus lived some two thousand years after Moses. But what we shall find is in the Torah are clues that God is a complex being composed of more than one person.
Read Genesis 1:1-5. Genesis introduces two characters: one it calls God (which is a title, not a name), and the other called the Spirit of God. That these two characters are identified with different titles shows that they are not one and the same; yet their titles also demonstrate that they are somehow related to each other. Both are intrinsically related to each other by their names: the Spirit of God is the Spirit that proceeds from God. To be plain, it cannot be denied that the Spirit of God is part of God.
God has just created the heavens and the earth, and the Spirit of God is hovering over the waters. God’s action of creating demonstrates that He is a living entity, and the Spirit’s action of moving proves that He too is a living entity. For we do not read that the Spirit of God was being moved, but that He Himself was moving.
Then God speaks to the Spirit of God, “Let there be light,” and the Spirit responds by bringing light into existence. We see here another clue for plurality in the Godhead: God and the Spirit of God interact with each other. God speaks to the Spirit, and the Spirit listens and responds to God.
As we read about the creation of the firmament, we see that the Spirit of God is also called God. God speaks on verse 6 the command that the firmament be created, and on verse 7 God responds by dividing the waters. God in verse 7 is the Spirit of God who was hovering over the waters initially; otherwise we are left with the alternative that God is commanding Himself to create. We then see the same patter in the creation of the sun and the moon (Genesis 1:15-19), of the creatures from the waters (Genesis 1:20-23), and the creation of the land creatures (Genesis 1:24-25).
Finally, God makes a reference to Himself in a plural form when creating the man. “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Genesis 1:26-28, KJV). Although Jews have argued that God is speaking here to his angels, this cannot be the case. Otherwise, the creation of humanity would be the work of God and the angels, and we would have to say that there is a possibility that angels too have creating power since God is extending an invitation to create. But we know that the work of the angels during creation was simply to praise God for his works (Job 38:7). A more consistent interpretation is that God is speaking once again to the Spirit of God (whom we call the Holy Spirit), who Himself is God and can create.
This interpretation of Genesis is reinforced by the very words Moses used to write the passage. “In the beginning Elohim created hashomayim (the heavens, Himel) and haaretz (the earth).” (Bereshis 1, Orthodox Jewish Bible; cf. Genesis 1:1) Moses called God Elohim, which actually means Gods; and the unity of Elohim is seen in that the Bible says Elohim creates (singular form bara), not a plural form.
Theology, however, demands that we translate Elohim as God, not as gods, because we must remember that although God is a complex being within Himself, He is only one being, and there is no one else like Him. That is the point of the Shema!
Moreover, the Shema, does not affirm that God is a singular one (Yachid), but a unified one (Echad). “Shema Yisroel Adonoi Eloheinu Adonoi Echad” (Devarim 6:4, Orthodox Jewish Bible; cf. Deuteronomy 6:4). Once again, the concept of God being a complex yet unified being is reinforced.
In regards to the Spirit of God, David declares that He speaks and that He is the God of Israel. And as he quotes Him, we find that the Spirit of God speaks of God in third person also (2 Samuel 23:2)
Part 4 - The Trinity in the Torah Continued
Another person that is also identified as God is the Angel of the Lord. Unlike Michael and Gabriel, Moses identifies the Angel of the Lord as the LORD Himself, even though the Angel of the Lord speaks of the LORD in third person. Just read the account in Genesis 16:7-3. Hagar herself is left wondering if she has just seen God Himself. The implied answer from the passage is yes!
The Angel of the Lord also appeared to Moses in the burning bush (Exodus 3:1-14). His title indicates he is not the Lord Himself, yet the author of the text refers to him as God, and accordingly Moses is afraid to look on him. The LORD, however, is the one who speaks through the Angel of the Lord.
Here we see a beautiful similarity of what Jesus was explaining to his disciples. By seeing him and interacting with him, the disciples were seeing the Father and interacting with Him, just as Moses was seeing the LORD and speaking with Him as he stood before the Angel of the Lord.
There is no contradiction between what Moses wrote and what Jesus taught. Jesus is God!
Essential Truths of the Christian Faith
R. C. Sproul explains in layman's terms the major doctrines of the Christian faith, provides Bible references, and includes questions for discussions. The book is also available for Kindle.
Part 5 - God the Son
Some of the terms we Christians use to explain our faith are obscure to others, sometimes even to those who attend church with us. I once was sharing my faith with someone, and this person was surprised to hear I considered Jesus to be God. The person had been raised a Catholic, yet He never understood what it meant for Jesus to be the Son of God.
If Jesus is God, how is he the Son of God?
If you read once again through the shamrock illustration at the beginning of this hub, you should be able to understand what Christians mean when we say that Jesus is God. Jesus is certainly not God the Father, nor is he God the Holy Spirit. Just as one of the leaves in the shamrock is equal to the other two leaves, yet not the same, so Jesus is equal to the Father and the Holy Spirit, yet not the same as them.
So when we say Jesus is God, we mean to say that Jesus is divine, one with the Father and the Holy Spirit, parking of the same substance, but not the Father Himself, nor the Holy Spirit Himself.
Why then is Jesus called the Son of God?
As we study the Scriptures within, it becomes clear to us that the title Son of God is used to make three statements about Jesus.
First, that Jesus is the Son of God means that he is the Messiah (Christ). The author of the epistle to the Hebrews calls Jesus the Son (Hebrews 1:2) because that is what Psalm 2:7 calls the Messiah.
“For unto which of the angels said he at any time, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee?” (Hebrews 1:5, KJV)
“I will declare the decree: the LORD hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee.” (Psalm 2:7)
According to Psalm 2, the Messiah (Anointed) is a king chosen by God to rule over Israel and the entire world with absolute power as a representative of the LORD Himself. God fights for the Messiah, and anyone who rebels against him rebels against the LORD Himself.
The title Son is applied to Jesus once again in Hebrews 1:8 to indicate that he is the Messiah (Christ, Anointed). “But unto the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is forever and ever: a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of thy kingdom” (Hebrews 1:8, KJV). Hebrews 1:8 is actually quoting Psalm 45:6-7, where once again the Messiah is presented as a human ruler who rules for God.
Moreover, Jesus is called the Son of God also because his human body was created by the Holy Spirit in the womb of Mary, which also means that Jesus of Nazareth had no biological father.
“The said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called Son of God.”
From this Scripture, it is a clear that calling Jesus Son of God is also a recognition of his virgin birth. The Holy Spirit, just as he participated in the creation of Adam, also played a special role in creating the human body of Jesus.
In support of the point that the title Son of God makes a reference to the supernatural act of creating by God we see that the Bible calls Adam son of God in Luke 3:38.
But the fact that the human body of Jesus was created does not contradict that Jesus has been one with the Father and the Holy Spirit for all eternity. In fact, the title Son of God is also used in the Bible to make reference to this point.
Part 6 - The Son of God (Continued)
In his gospel account, the Apostle John applies the title Only Begotten Son to Jesus (John 1:18). Before doing so, however, he also uses another title to describe Jesus: Word (John 1:1). Apart from helping us understand who Jesus is, this title also helps us understand a way in which Jesus is God’s Son.
John opens his gospel account with three doctrinal statements: (1) "In the beginning was the word," (2) "the word was with God," and (3) "the word was God." Each of these statements shows John’s conception of the Word and his understanding about the nature of Jesus.
The first statement is a summary of a clear doctrine in the Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible, or Old Testament): God created everything through his word: “By the word of the Lord were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth” (Psalm 33:6). It is plain to see that John has Genesis 1 in mind because he opens his gospel with the very first words that introduce the book of Genesis: "In the beginning". Moreover, John clarifies that everything that exists was created by God’s word (John 1:3). Therefore, when John applies the title Word to Jesus, he means that Jesus is the medium through which God created everything.
The second statement is a summary of a more obscure principle in the Tanakh: that the Word of God is an extension of God’s being. In other words, the word proceeds from God and is related to God, yet it can also be conceived as distinct from God. Accordingly, we read in Genesis 15:1 that the Word of God came to Abraham and said something to him. It is not God Himself who spoke with Abraham, but his Word. This formulaic expression is used throughout the Bible to present the agent through which God gives revelation to his prophets, and it is not used for the words of ordinary human beings. In fact, in Isaiah 55:11, we find that God talks about his word as an extension of Himself, which he sends to do his will, and which returns to Him. Clearly, something more than words is in sight in these Scriptures.
The third statement that John makes is that “the Word was God.” This statement is the conclusion of the first two statements: since the Word is an agent through which God created all things, and since creation is credited to God alone (Isaiah 45:18), and since the Word proceeds from God Himself, then the Word is in essence God. This makes perfect sense: the Word bears divine authority, divine power, and God’s will; ultimately, it is the revelation of God’s thoughts and feelings. Its essence cannot be separated from its source.
John also calls Jesus (who is the Word) the Light. The extended analogy lasts from John 1:3 to 1:13. Of the Light, John says that it has life in itself (Jn. 1:4), that it is separate from darkness (Jn. 1:5), that it received witness from John through his preaching (Jn. 1:6-8), and that it lights every man that comes into this world (Jn. 1:9). The title the Light, then, speaks of Jesus as a living and holy entity that through his teaching brings humanity back into a relationship with God.
It is in the context of the Word and the Light that John indicates to us that Jesus is the Only Begotten Son. “And the Word was made flesh,” says John, “and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth” (John 1:14, KJV). Thus, John tells us that the Word, the means through which God created the world (which has life and reveals God to humanity), is the only begotten (the one-of-a-kind, or unique) Son of God. Within context, then, Son of God also means that Jesus proceeds from the essence of who God is: that he is Divine.
This thought is reinforced when we consider Hebrews 1:3. The author of Hebrews explains to us that the Son is the brightness of God’s glory and the image of his person. In other words, the Son is an extension of God that is intrinsically related to God’s being (as much as God’s glory is related to Him), and playing the important role of revealing God to humanity.
In fact, this is what Jesus means when he says that God is his Father. He isn’t speaking about his human form, but about his intrinsic relationship with God. “Jesus said unto them, If God were your Father, you would love me: for I proceeded forth and came from God’ neither came I of myself, but he sent me” (John 8:42, KJV). His first statement (I proceed forth and came from God) has to do with his own origin: Jesus is an extension from the essence of God; whereas his second statement (neither came I of myself, but he sent me”) has to do with his mission: Jesus has been sent to do God’s will. If not, what else could he mean when He says, “Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me” (John 14:11, KJV), and “I came out from God” (John 16:27, KJV)?
The Shield of the Trinity
Responding to Kiss and Tales
About ten months ago, the member Kiss and Tales presented some objections to this article. I kept neglecting to respond because I have been developing other topics, but it has been in the back of my mind, and tonight I want to address his objections.
Exodus 6:3, Psalm 83:18, Isaiah 12:2, and Isaiah 26:4
At first glance, you may think these verses are talking about God's numerical composition (one instead of three), but that is not the case: the verses are really about God's uniqueness (that there is no one like Him).
God the Father, Jehovah, calls himself Most High, God Almighty, Salvation, and Everlasting Strength. It is important to recognize that these are not contradictions of his triune nature; instead, these are attributes that are true to everything that God is, and this includes the Spirit and the Son. What He predicates about Himself, He predicates about all of Himself.
John 4:34 and John 5:30
The fact that Jesus submits his will to the will of God the Father does not contradict the doctrine of the Trinity, which sees the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit as three distinct egos whose existence is inherently and eternally interdependent.
Regardless of how we define Son of God, Satan was not questioning whether Jesus is the Son of God; instead, he was trying to get the Son of God to disobey the Father. Jesus' victory proved once and for all that Jesus is the Son of God, regardless of how you define the title.
Jesus asserts that the only one who deserves worship is God, but this does not deny his intrinsic relationship to God. All of God is worthy of worship, and Jesus is part of that whole. In reality, Jesus is not saying anything about God's composition, he is only telling Satan why he won't worship him.
The doctrine of the Trinity is indispensable to the biblical faith. Since the times of Moses, God has revealed Himself to be a unique being of irreducible complexity, far beyond what we can understand.
Jesus Christ “the same yesterday, and to day, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8, KJV) was not just another human prophet, but the second person of the Godhead. As the Word of God, he is an extension of God’s being, sent to do God’s will on the Earth, and to reveal the Father to humanity in a perfect human form.
There is precedent in the Hebrew Bible of God revealing Himself in human form, for which reason the concept should not be offensive to Jews and anyone who accepts the Bible as the inspired word of God.
This then is the essence of the message of the Gospel: “God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory” (1 Timothy 3:16).
Finally, I would like to close with one more analogy for the Trinity. Imperfect as it may be, it may help us to grasp the point one more time.
Can you see the Sun in the sky? "Of course I can," you will say, but the answer is no What you see is light reflected by the sun. That light enables our telescopes to take pictures of the Sun so we can understand what it is like, but the telescopes have not come in touch with the Sun itself, only with its light. You can also feel the heat emanating fro the Sun, but you have not touched the actual Sun. Nevertheless, both the light and heat make life possible in our planet.
What if the Sun were to lose its light or its heat? The Sun would not be what it is today, and life on Earth would be drastically affected.
Jesus is the Light of the Father. He allows us to see what the Father is like, without us actually seeing the essence of God. The Holy Spirit is like the heat of the Father, empowering believers to live for Him, yet we aren't actually touching God. Nevertheless, both the Son and the Holy Spirit proceed from the Father to do his will and give us life.
Of course, the difference is that neither the Sun, nor its light, nor its heat are persons; but the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are persons, yet one being.
Ravi Zacharias Explains the Trinity
Please, take time to interact after reading the article:
(1) Watch the video
(2) Take the poll
(3) Take the quiz
(4) Respond to the questions on the comments section
(5) Leave a personal response or comment
Comprehension Checkview quiz statistics
Group Discussion or Personal Reflection
1. The author provides two illustrations to help you understand the Trinity. Which are they? Do you find them helpful? What were the strengths and weaknesses of each illustration?
2. Take time to study and interpret the Scripture references provided by the author to make his points. Do you agree with the author's interpretation of these passages? Explain your answer?
3. What other Scriptures would you use to prove the doctrine of the Trinity? What Scriptures cause you to question the doctrine of the Trinity?
4. Based on what you have read, do you think the author makes a compelling case for the doctrine of the Trinity? Why or why not?
What religion do you practice?
© 2015 Marcelo Carcach