Chapter 5

Questions People Ask

What about the charge made by Muslims and Jehovah’s Witnesses that the doctrine of the Trinity came from paganism?

This charge is without foundation. The pagans worshiped many gods. Sometimes these gods were arranged in groups of three, but they were always separate beings. They never worshiped one God who existed in three persons.

Anti-trinitarians often cite the Hindu triad Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva as a trinity. But these three gods are by no means a unity. They quarrel and fight and indulge in wicked passions.

Sometimes people try to see a similarity between the Lord Jesus and Lord Krishna, the Hindu god who is portrayed as the incarnation of Vishnu. But Krishna is not a historical person. Moreover, the myths portray him as a god with both good and bad characteristics. He had his lovers and was not always honest.

Since all three Persons in the Trinity are equally God, isn’t it wrong to refer to them as the first, second, and third Persons?

No, these terms do not indicate rank. They refer to the function of each Person—the Father as Originator, the Son as Agent, and the Holy Spirit as Applicator. Salvation, for example, originates in the Father’s love, is provided in the coming of Jesus, and is made real in our lives through the Spirit. In this sense we can speak of the first, second, and third Persons of the Trinity.

The Bible speaks of Jesus as the “only begotten” and “firstborn.” Doesn’t this indicate that He had a beginning?

The Greek word monogenes is used to refer to Jesus Christ five times in the New Testament (Jn. 1:14,18; 3:16,18; 1 Jn. 4:9). The King James Version translates it as “only begotten.” In the past, Christian scholars, believing as they did in the deity of Jesus Christ, referred to Him as having been “eternally begotten.” Today, however, new light on the Greek word has led scholars to see monogenes as the compound of the words only and kind or class. Jesus Christ is “the unique Son,” “the only one of His class.” Every other “son” of God (angelic and human) is a created being. Jesus always existed.

The term firstborn is used two ways in the New Testament. In Colossians 1:18 and Revelation 1:5, it refers to Jesus as the first to rise from death in a glorified resurrected body. In Romans 8:29, Colossians 1:15, and Hebrews 1:6, it refers to Jesus Christ as the God-man who has the place of preeminence over all creation, just as the firstborn in a Jewish family had over his siblings. These references in no way deny Christ’s deity.

If Jesus is God, how could He die? Who held the world together while God was dead?

Jehovah’s Witnesses seem to think they have dropped a bombshell on Christians with these questions. What they don’t realize is that in the Bible, death for humans is not cessation of existence. It is the separation of the soul-spirit from the body.

When Jesus cried out, “It is finished!” (Jn. 19:30) and said, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit” (Lk. 23:46), He didn’t pass out of existence. His soul-spirit went to Paradise where He was soon joined by the thief who had repented. On the third day, His soul-spirit was united with His glorified resurrection body.

If Jesus is God, why did He say,“My Father is greater than I”? (Jn. 14:28).

In His humanity, having voluntarily laid aside His glory as God, He had made Himself temporarily “lower than the angels” (Heb. 2:9). In this state of humiliation, He could speak of the Father being greater than He. He would not have said this before the incarnation, nor would He say this today in His state of exaltation.

Why did Jesus seemingly deny that He claimed deity for Himself by pointing out that the Old Testament prophets applied the term “gods” to human judges?

The incident to which this question refers is found in John 10:31-39. The Jewish leaders were about to stone Him for saying, “I and My Father are one” (v.30). At this moment, He called to their attention the fact that Psalm 82:6 says of human judges, “You are gods.” But Jesus was not putting Himself on the same level as these mere humans. He set Himself apart from them by affirming that He had been uniquely sent from heaven. However, He didn’t proceed to explain clearly His absolute deity because these people were not ready for this truth.

Therefore, just as Jesus had used parables to reveal truth to those who were ready for it, and to conceal it from those who were not ready (Mt. 13:10-17), He now spoke in terms that would both reveal and conceal. The prejudiced people did not understand. As a result, it was possible for Peter a few months later to address people who had agreed to Christ’s crucifixion and say, “Yet now, brethren, I know that you did it in ignorance, as did also your rulers” (Acts 3:17). In short, Jesus did not deny His deity. He simply referred to it in such a way that He didn’t anger those not ready to receive it.

If Jesus is God,why does 1 Corinthians 15:24-28 tell us that at the end of time, He will deliver the kingdom to God the Father and become subject to Him?

In this passage, Paul told us that the time is coming when Jesus will have completed His work as Messiah and Mediator. While here on earth, He fulfilled the law for us, paid the price for our sin, and broke the power of death. Today He is the head of the church. Sometime in the future, He will call the church to heaven at the rapture (1 Th. 4:13-18). Then He will return to earth to rule as depicted in many Old Testament passages (Isa. 2:1-4; 11:1-9; Jer. 23:5- 6). After His reign of 1,000 years, He will crush one final rebellion (Rev. 20:7- 10), purge our present earthsystem with fire, and bring out of it the new heavens and new earth (2 Pet. 3:10; Rev. 21–22).

Paul declared that at this time, Jesus Christ as the God-man Mediator will leave His place in the center of the stage, subject Himself to God the Father, and resume His original place within the Trinity as before His incarnation. The only difference will be that He shall, throughout all eternity, retain His glorified humanity.

If Jesus is God, why did He say He was going to return to His God?

Jehovah’s Witnesses often ask this question. The verse to which they refer is John 20:17, which says, “I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.” They say that Jesus placed Himself in the same relationship to God as Mary Magdalene, the person to whom He was speaking. But if that is what Jesus meant to do, why didn’t He just say, “I am ascending to our Father and our God”?

Jesus made this statement to make sure Mary Magdalene would recognize that His relationship to God was different from her relationship to God. Jesus is God’s Son by nature. Mary Magdalene was God’s child by adoption. Jesus could speak of God as His God through an eternal relationship. Mary Magdalene could think of God as her God by virtue of the grace He revealed in Christ.

The words of Jesus recorded in John 20:17, therefore, depict the fact that Jesus’ relationship to God the Father is unique.

Is it all right to address our prayers to Jesus or the Holy Spirit?

We know that it is right and proper to pray to God the Father. Jesus told us to say, “Our Father in heaven” (Mt. 6:9). We also know that we are to come to the Father in the name of Jesus, expecting Jesus to respond (Jn. 14:14). Stephen, at the moment of his death, addressed the Lord Jesus (Acts 7:59-60). We have no Bible passage that either directs us to pray to the Holy Spirit or gives us the example of doing so. However, we know that He is involved when we pray. Paul told us that the Spirit “helps in our weakness” and “makes intercession” when we do not know what to pray for (Rom. 8:26).

It follows that we probably should normally address the Father when we pray. We should come to Him in the name of Jesus. We should rely on the Holy Spirit to lead us in our praying. We should also depend on the Spirit to intercede for us when we don’t know what to say. We probably need not be unduly concerned about which Person we address. All three hear us when we pray. All are involved in the answers. Besides, no envy or jealousy exists within the Trinity.

Can we use any illustrations to explain the doctrine of the Trinity?

Probably not. I’ve seen people hold up an egg and say, “The yolk, the white, and the shell make up the egg. This is three in one.” But the yolk is fat, the white is albumen, and the shell is calcium—no real unity there. Some have said that water can exist as ice, liquid, and steam. But in any form, it is just water—not three in one. A minister thought he had a remarkable illustration when he said, “I am a father to my family, a pastor to my church, and a citizen in my community—three in one.” But he was actually repeating the heresy that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three characteristics or modes or relations of the Godhead—three ways God works.

The closest analogies probably can be found in these clusters of three:

(1) in the universe—space, time, and matter;

(2) in matter—energy, motion, and phenomena;

(3) in time—past, present, and future.

We must learn to live with a God we cannot fully comprehend.

But these analogies add little light to the subject of the Trinity. At best they may only reflect the three-in-oneness of the Creator.

We must learn to live with a God we cannot fully comprehend. As C. S. Lewis has written:

If Christianity was something we were making up, of course, we could make it easier. But it isn’t. We can’t compete, in simplicity, with people who are inventing religions. How could we? We’re dealing with fact! Of course, anyone can be simple if he has no facts to bother about (Beyond Personality: The Christian Idea Of God, London: Geoffrey Bles, 1944, p.19).

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