Some Christians have attempted to explain the three-in-oneness of God by suggesting that God has three different ways of revealing Himself to us. Sometimes He portrays Himself as Father, sometimes as Son, and sometimes as Holy Spirit.
The explanation of one God in three different roles might carry more weight if it were not for the evidence for plurality within oneness that we have already considered. Since the Old Testament does reveal a God who says, “Let Us create man in Our image,” it’s much easier for us to understand the sense of relationship, submission, love, and loyalty that the Scriptures describe as existing between the Father, Son, and Spirit.
The New Testament does not reveal these three Persons to us separately, but in a profound sense of unity. It represents all three in a relationship of oneness and love for one another and for us as well.
The New Testament relationship between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit disproves the conclusion that the Father alone should be thought of as the only True and Most High God. While it is understandable that some would try to protect the oneness of God by seeing the Son and Spirit as lesser beings or forces, such a conclusion is not valid.
The Old Testament makes it clear that the one true God of the Bible is a jealous God. He is a God who, according to Isaiah, will not give His glory to another (Is. 48:9-12).
The God of the New Testament, however, links His own name in the threefold designation as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Just as important, the New Testament shows us that the Father makes our relationship to Him dependent on our relationship to the Son, and our relationship to the Son dependent on our relationship to the Spirit. This God certainly shares His glory among three Persons, who in turn offer Their love to all who will accept the love of the Father, Son, and Spirit.
To see how the glory of a jealous God is shared in this oneness of Persons, let’s take a brief look at each Person of this one Godhead as described by the Bible.
THE FATHER AS GOD
Among those who recognize the authority of the Bible, few if any doubt the full deity of the Father. In many different ways, the Father is revealed as the personal God of creation. The Scriptures reveal God as the Father of the nation of Israel (Dt. 32:6; Isa. 1:2; Hos. 11:1; Mal. 2:10). Jesus called God His Father (Jn. 5:17-18) and taught us to pray, “Our Father in heaven” (Mt. 6:9). He told us that we are to come to the Father in His name (Jn. 16:23). He declared that both He and His Father would soon send His disciples a divine Helper (Jn. 15:26).
It is clear from these verses that the Father is God. God is Father. The apostle Paul referred to Him as the “God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort” (2 Cor. 1:3).
What is important about the Father’s revelation of Himself, however, is that He made our relationship to Him dependent on our relationship to His only Son.
THE SON AS GOD
The New Testament writers repeatedly refer to Jesus Christ as the Son of God. But what does this title mean?
Jehovah’s Witnesses take this expression to mean that He was a son of God, much like angels and other human beings. They believe that Jesus was the archangel Michael in human form.
Present-day leaders in Judaism say that Jesus was a great prophet, but nothing more. Muslims take the same view. Suzanne Haneef, a well-educated contemporary Muslim, points out that the Koran honors Jesus by teaching that He was born without the agency of a human father, and that He was a great prophet. But she insists that Islam’s sacred book “states emphatically in passage after passage that Jesus is not God’s Son, . . . that such a notion has much more in common with pagan mythologies in which ‘gods’ fathered semi-divine children by human women, than with a true religion coming from God” (What Everyone Should Know About Islam And Muslims, Haneef, 1979, Kazi Publications, Chicago).
The New Testament, however, teaches that Jesus Christ is the “only,” the unique (see p.24) Son of God (Jn. 1:14,18; 3:16,18; 1 Jn. 4:9). The Scriptures portray Christ as sharing the glory of a jealous God who, through Moses, insisted that no one deserved to be worshiped but God Himself. This God shares His love with angels and mortals. But with Christ the Son, He shares His glory.
To see the extent to which the Son shares the glory of the Father, let’s consider the evidence of Christ’s words, the testimony of the apostles, the predictions of the Old Testament prophets, and the declarations of the church fathers.
The Words Of Jesus. The four Gospels record many of the words Jesus spoke during His earthly ministry. Even if we did not believe in the inspiration of the New Testament, we would have good reason to accept what they wrote as accurate. We have strong evidence that Matthew, Mark, and Luke were written well before AD 70. And although the Gospel of John was not produced until around AD 90, the evidence is strong that it belongs to the apostle John, who was actually with Jesus throughout His earthly ministry. The apostles undoubtedly repeated the words of Christ often as they began to proclaim the gospel. Jesus’ words tell us that He definitely claimed to be God. We’ll look at only two of the tremendous statements Jesus made about Himself.
In John 8:58 we find Christ’s claim that He never had a beginning. Since only God is eternal, this amounts to a declaration of deity. To a group of hostile religious leaders, He said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.” Notice, Jesus didn’t say, “Before Abraham was born, I was born.” He said, “Before Abraham came into being, I AM.” Abraham was born within the framework of time. Jesus declared that His own existence transcends time. He has always existed. He had no beginning.
While this declaration that He never had a beginning is enough to establish Christ’s deity, some Bible students see something more in this statement. They claim that Jesus Christ declared Himself to be the “I AM” of Exodus 3:14. While this point can be debated, the very fact that Jesus Christ said He never had a beginning is enough to establish the claim of deity.
The second statement of Christ in which He calls Himself God is found in John 10:30. While attending the feast of dedication at Jerusalem, He said, “I and My Father are one.” The religious leaders recognized that He was claiming deity when He made this statement. They started throwing stones at Him and said they were doing so because of “blasphemy, and because You, being a Man, make Yourself God” (Jn. 10:33). They understood our Lord’s words better than present-day Jehovah’s Witnesses do. They realized full well that He was saying more than if a man said, “I and my wife are one.” This husband would mean simply that he and his wife are one in their desires, plans, or ambitions. Jesus obviously meant more than that. He was saying that He and the Father are one in essence. The Jews knew that Jesus had claimed deity for Himself.
Jesus clearly saw Himself as the Son of God. He viewed Himself as deity.
The Testimony Of The Apostles. The men who wrote the New Testament also had no doubt about the deity of Jesus Christ. Some of them could remember that day when their friend Thomas saw the resurrected Christ and exclaimed, “My Lord and My God!” (Jn. 20:28). This was not an expression of surprise like, “Oh my God!” that we so often hear today. No Jew in the first century would use God’s name that way. The apostles recalled full well that Jesus accepted this designation of deity.
When the apostle John, who was present on that occasion, opened his Gospel, he did so as follows:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God (Jn. 1:1).
He proceeded to declare that this Word became a human being who reflected the glory of God (see v.14). The expression in verse 1, “And the Word was God,” is so clear that almost all Bible students see it as a declaration that Jesus Christ is God. Jehovah’s Witnesses, however, do not agree. They argue that the last phrase in John 1:1 should read, “And the word was a god.” They point out that the word God does not have the definite article. It does not read, “And the Word was the God.”
They are correct in this observation, but they are wrong when they conclude that it does not ascribe deity to Jesus Christ. Robertson, Wescott, Morris, and other reputable scholars tell us that John had good reason for omitting the article here. If he had written, “And the Word was the God,” he would have denied the distinction between the Father and the Son—an error made by a man named Sabellius and rejected by the church fathers.
If John had meant to say that Jesus was a lesser form of deity, he would have used the Greek word theios instead of theos. Morris says:
This word was available, and it is found in the New Testament (e.g. Acts 17:29; 2 Pet. 1:3).
Moreover, the context makes it clear that the Word is God, not merely a quasi-divinity— a being somewhere between God and created beings. The Word existed in the beginning (Jn. 1:2). The Word was involved in the creation of everything (v.3). He possesses a life that is unique—an uncreated life that was His from eternity and is the source of spiritual light (v.4).
It is clear that the translation of John 1:1 is correct: “And the Word was God.” The very word order in the Greek, the use of theos instead of theios, and the context demand this rendering.
In addition to John’s testimony that Jesus Christ is God, we find clearer statements in the writings of Paul to the same effect. He declared that we as Christians are “looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Ti. 2:13). Notice, it is “our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” not “our great God and the Savior Jesus Christ.” Since Paul put no article before the word Savior, it is clear that he saw Jesus Christ as our great God.
The apostle Peter used a similar Greek construction when he addressed his readers as “those who have obtained like precious faith with us by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 1:1).
In Hebrews 1:8,10, we find the writer quoting several Old Testament verses that clearly refer to God and applying them to Jesus Christ.
To the Son He says: “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever” [a quote from Ps. 45:6] . . . . “You, Lord, in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of Your hands” [a quotation from Ps. 102:25-27].
The writer of this epistle, thoroughly schooled in the Old Testament Scriptures and therefore a strict monotheist, was not one bit reluctant to declare the absolute deity of Jesus Christ. He identified Jesus Christ as “God” and “Lord.”
The Predictions Of The Old Testament Prophets. Even the Old Testament Scriptures, so dear to many Jewish people, declared the deity of the coming Messiah with crystal clarity. One of the remarkable prophecies that does so is Isaiah 9:6.
Unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Two of these names given to the coming Messiah undeniably express His deity—“Mighty God” and “Everlasting Father.” Jehovah’s Witnesses translate the first expression “a mighty god” but are not consistent. They encounter the same Hebrew expression in Isaiah 10:21 where even they must admit that it refers to Jehovah, the God of Israel. The term “Mighty God” as we find it here is therefore a clear declaration of Messiah’s deity.
The name “Everlasting Father” may be translated “Father of Eternity.” But it really doesn’t matter which term we choose. Either one expresses deity. Since only God is everlasting, only God can be given the name “Father of Eternity.” And the prophet declared that this title belongs to the “Child” and “Son” who was to come as the Messiah.
The Declarations Of The Church Fathers. The early church fathers struggled to come up with a satisfying answer to the question, “Who is the Son?” They knew that the Scriptures ascribed deity to Him. They also saw in the Scriptures evidence that He was truly human. But they didn’t know exactly how the human and divine blended in His one Person. Some put so much emphasis on His deity that they tended to deny His true humanity. Others erred in the other direction.
Finally a man named Arius came up with a teaching that actually denied Christ’s deity. He said that before Jesus came into our world through the virgin Mary, He pre-existed as the first and highest of all created beings. This denial of our Lord’s deity, though promoted by some prominent leaders at the time, simply could not stand in the face of serious biblical study. Little by little, careful scholars who worked with the biblical data concluded that Jesus Christ is both fully human and fully God. Moreover, they said that these two natures—the human and the divine— were united in His one Person. The Athanasian Creed put it this way:
We worship one God in Trinity, . . . neither confusing the persons, nor dividing the substance. . . . So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God. And yet they are not three gods, but one God.
The result is that with few exceptions, Christians down through the ages have affirmed the deity of Jesus Christ as expressed in the Athanasian Creed. All the great divisions of the church—Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Baptist, and Pentecostal— agree on this point. The vast majority of those who claim allegiance to Jesus Christ have held Him to be both God and man in one Person.
The fact that Jesus was fully human is clearly revealed in the Bible. He was born a baby, grew and learned like other boys (Lk. 2:40,52), was a carpenter’s son in Nazareth (Mk. 6:3), became tired like the rest of us (Jn. 4:6), even admitted there were some things He didn’t know (Mt. 24:36), and on the night before His crucifixion dreaded the ordeal before Him (Mt. 26:36-46). Yet, the Bible also teaches that Jesus is fully God.
The church fathers couldn’t explain how Jesus could live as a genuine human being while remaining God (and neither can we). However, we are all grateful for the light the apostle Paul shed on this problem in the well-known passage about Jesus emptying Himself of His eternal glory:
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Phil. 2:5-11 NIV).
Looking back to Jesus Christ in His glorious state before He became a human being, the apostle said, “Being in very nature God” (v.6). He used the Greek word morphe, translated “very nature,” to make it clear that the outward glory He had in heaven reflected His essential being. In “very nature” He is God.
The apostle went on to say that Jesus “did not consider equality with God something to be grasped” (v.6). He let go of the glory He possessed as God so that He might become a member of the human family and be our Savior.
The phrase “made Himself nothing” in the Greek literally reads “emptied Himself.” Of what did He empty Himself when He became a member of the human family? Not of His deity! He remained God. What He did was empty Himself of the glory He possessed and place Himself in a dependent relationship with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Therefore, though He remained God, He became truly human.
Jesus had to be a member of our race to be our proper substitute on the cross. This accounts for the fact that He depended on the Holy Spirit in the same manner He expects His followers to do. He was “filled with the Holy Spirit” when He went into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan (Lk. 4:1). He cast out demons “by the Spirit of God” (Mt. 12:28). Although Jesus remained God, He voluntarily lived with the limitations of our humanity.
We may not understand fully the relationship of our Lord’s human and divine natures while He lived here in the state of humiliation. However, the Scriptures make it very clear that though He was God, it was in His elemental manhood that He faced trial, trouble, and pain—even the cross.
This is the Son with whom the Father shared His glory. This is the Son so closely identified with God that the Father makes our relationship to Him dependent on our relationship to His Son.
Our relationship with the three-in-one God, however, does not end there. As the Father made our relationship with Him dependent on our relationship with the Son, so the Son has made our relationship with Him dependent on our relationship with the Spirit. As the Father shares His glory with the Son, the Son shares His glory with the Holy Spirit.
THE HOLY SPIRIT AS GOD
Some who claim to be Bible students do not believe that the Holy Spirit is God. A writer for Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example, said, “The Holy Spirit is a controlled force that Jehovah God uses to accomplish a variety of purposes. To a certain extent it can be likened to electricity, a force that can be adapted to perform a great variety of operations” (Should You Believe In The Trinity? p.20). They believe that the Holy Spirit functions much like the Force that New Agers portray as pervading the universe. They flatly reject the idea that the Holy Spirit is a divine Person.
In so doing, however, they contradict Jesus Christ. He clearly perceived of the Holy Spirit as a Person. Speaking to the apostles on the evening before His crucifixion, Jesus said:
I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever—the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you (Jn. 14:16-17).
The Holy Spirit is “another Helper.” The implication is clear: Although Jesus would be leaving them, He would send them the Holy Spirit to guide them and empower them. This is clearly the function of a personal being.
Other Bible passages also make it clear that the Holy Spirit is a Person. Paul spoke of the “love of the Spirit” (Rom. 15:30). He also told us not to “grieve the Holy Spirit of God” (Eph. 4:30). Only a personal being can love and be grieved.
In addition, the Holy Spirit leads and guides (Rom. 8:14), teaches (Jn. 14:26), and calls and commissions (Acts 20:28).
Moreover, this Person is named with the Father and the Son in passages like Matthew 28:19. The apostle Peter expressly declared the Holy Spirit’s deity when he confronted a sinning husband and wife. He asked them why they had conspired together to “lie to the Holy Spirit” (Acts 5:3). Then he told them that in so doing, they had “not lied to men but to God” (v.4).
Who is the Holy Spirit? According to the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit is a Person who rightly shares with the Father and the Son the title and the glory of the Most High God.