The Trinity Doctrine Reconsidered
If the Holy Spirit is the third Person of a Trinity, then is not the spirit in man also another man? — Herbert W. Armstrong (Mystery of the Ages, New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1985, page 112.)
The time-honored belief in a divine Trinity posits the idea that the Holy Spirit is the third Person in that Trinity, in addition to the Father and the Son. The Spirit, according to this belief, is not just the power of God but also a distinct Person, as are the Father and the Son.
One of the strongest and most often used Scripture passages to support this doctrine is Acts 5:3-4.
In the early days of the New Testament church, a newly converted couple, Ananias and Sapphira, had sold a piece of property. Apparently, they had pledged to give all the proceeds to God’s cause, but they secretly agreed to keep back part of it for themselves. They thought they could get away with it. “But Peter said, ‘Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back [a] part of the price of the land for yourself? While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.’ ”
This scripture seems plainly to equate the Holy Spirit with God. Therefore, the easy conclusion is: the Holy Spirit = God. And the assumption by many has been that the Holy Spirit is thus the third Person in the divine Trinity.
As I will show from the “whole counsel” of the Scriptures, this assumption — that the Holy Spirit is a separate “Person” from God the Father and God the Son and thus is the “third” Person in a Trinity — does not necessarily follow from the above Bible passage!
The word “trinity” or “triune,” as any honest Bible student knows, is nowhere to be found in the Scriptures. These words were coined centuries ago on the basis of a few Bible passages where the Father, the Son (Christ), and the Spirit – all three — are mentioned together (for example: Matthew 28:19; 1 John 5:7). I will discuss more on this later.
The majority of this world’s population that claim to be Christian have assumed the doctrine of the Trinity to be absolute Biblical truth. In fact, belief in the Trinity is one of the major criteria used by watchdogs of Christendom to judge whether a denomination or church is a “cult” or not. These “guardians” consider a person who claims to be a Christian but who does not believe in the doctrine of the Trinity to be not an authentic Christian. He would, in fact, be considered a heretic.
People, over the centuries, have debated this issue of the Trinity. Book upon book, treatise upon treatise, has been written defending either side of the issue: Is God a Trinity, or something else?
Person or power of God — which?
The crux of the Trinity issue is whether the Holy Spirit is merely the “power” of God or the Holy Spirit is a distinct “person” of the “Godhead” (the divine “nature”). Thus, we might summarize the issue as that about the difference between the Holy Spirit being a “He” and the Holy Spirit being an “it.” As I will explain, the issue is not as simple or as airtight as it appears.
Many people have suggested that we can never come to a humanly sensible understanding of the nature of God, that His nature will always remain a great, unfathomable “mystery.” Is God one – or are there two Gods, or three or more?
Many are confused about what the Bible really teaches. On the one hand, the Bible affirms that there is but one God. On the other hand, the Bible talks about God the Father and God the Son. And then there is the Holy Spirit. What does the Bible really teach about the Holy Spirit? Can we really come to a right and true understanding of the Holy Spirit in relation to the Godhead?
If we are to take a cue from the apostle Paul, however, we have this assurance: “For since the creation of the world His [God’s] invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even [referring to God’s “invisible attributes”] His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse…” (Romans 1:20).
While God is invisible, and He has kept secret many things about Himself and about the universe He created (Deuteronomy 29:29), He has not left “Himself without a witness” (Acts 14:17) to mankind. God has left us a witness through His written Word, the Holy Bible, through history, as well as through “the things that are made” – the whole of God’s creation. God has revealed enough about Himself in order that we can know His divine nature and His purpose for mankind and for the rest of His creation, and so we can have a proper relationship with Him.
We can “clearly see” and “understand” the invisible attributes and the divine nature of God through “the things that are made!” And perhaps no more clearly can we see these than through our own make-up as human beings.
Man in God’s image
Genesis 1:27 declares that “…God created man in His own image [Verse 26 explains this as God’s “likeness”]; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them,” as God had planned (Verse 26).
What, then, can we learn about God’s nature from the way God has put together humankind as one of “the things that are made” by Him? Especially is this possible, since God made humankind in His very own “image” or likeness.
We can, at once, “clearly see” and “understand” that humankind has some similarity with God through Jesus Christ. Hebrews 1:1-3 declares that God “has in these last days spoken to us by His Son [Jesus Christ]…” who is “the express image of His [God’s] person…” Granting the historical existence of Christ as a human being who walked this earth many centuries ago, we have in this Man an idea of what God looks like: God looks like one of us human beings! But we can also see some distinct differences, as we will point out later.
Jesus told one of His disciples: “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). [This is not a proof, as some have mistakenly taken this Bible passage to mean, that Jesus and God the Father are one and the same Person; I will explain more about this later.] Jesus became “one of us” – a human being (John 1:1, 14). It is therefore reasonable to suppose that God the Father also looks like us – having the same general form and shape as we have – notwithstanding those who believe that God is some kind of nebulous, formless, invisible “blob” without parts.
The spirit in man
God created humankind with a “spirit in man” (Job 32:8). Paul explains that “the spirit of the man which is in him” enables man to “know the things of a man” (1 Corinthians 2:11). “Spirit” here is translated from the Greek pneuma, which means “air” or “wind.”
Some have described this human spirit as a kind of “essence” – much like distilled “spirits” (whiskey, liquor, etc.) – that gives a human being that distinct ability to acquire knowledge which only humankind, of all living things (or “life forms”) on earth, is capable of producing, storing, and using for whatever purpose. Thus, for example, humankind is unique among God’s physical creation in that humans are able to think abstract thoughts, create images and physical things, and relate with fellow-humans and other creatures in a quality and magnitude quite unlike what animals are capable of.
True, animals have certain qualities and abilities (we might call them “the things of animals”) that human beings do not have or are incapable of. [For example, without mechanical or electronic aid humans are unable to hear high frequency sounds which only dogs and other animals can hear outright; neither are humans able to fly, unaided by mechanical gadgets, like the eagle can; nor can humans stay alive day and night under the sea, without proper diving equipment or a submarine, like fish can.] But there is a vast gulf between human knowledge and animal knowledge. For example, no animal can compose a symphony, put together and intelligently use a computer, build multiple-story skyscrapers, etc., etc., etc.
And what is the reason for that gulf? The spirit in man! Besides, animals are not in the “image” or exact physical likeness of man, notwithstanding the outward similarities of apes to man. Humankind – Homo sapiens – is a unique creation by God; humankind did not arise from apes! [Click, for example, on this link (among several) : www.creationsciencetoday.com. See also: http://www.herbert-armstrong.org, click ENTER HERE, choose “Reference Material” and scroll down to the Index under “Evolution,” especially “Evolution: Can Naturalistic Evolution Explain the Origin of Life on Earth?” and “Evolution or Creation?” (UCG).]
Even with that difference, human beings are still able to relate with animals, which can respond according to human kindness, cruelty, or indifference. Otherwise, there would be no sense in our Creator saying of human beings: “…let them have dominion over [or manage] the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth” (Genesis 1:26).
Thus human beings have been able to teach dogs to obey commands (“Sit!” “Come!” “Stay!” etc.); parrots and mynas to whistle, say “Hello!” and mimic other words and sounds; circus animals to do tricks; work animals to plow fields or move logs; and so on. (Sadly, though, it is a true observation that some animals are able to “manage” humans somehow, instead of the other way around! How many people have become “slaves” to their pets? And one of the curses God has pronounced on wicked people is that beasts would attack and kill them.)
The Spirit of God
In a similar manner, God has a “Spirit” which – in one major way – is unlike the spirit of “natural” man. Paul explains that “…no one knows the things of God” – “the deep things of God“ – “except the Spirit of God” (1 Corinthians 2:10-11). In fact, Paul adds, “…the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (Verse 14).
Paul declares that the only way human beings can understand the deep things of God is by God giving these humans beings “the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God” (Verse 12). Without God’s Spirit being given him, a human being would not be able to make sense of the “things of God” in a similar manner that, for example, a dog is not able to make sense of “the things of man” such as calculus, for instance, which – let alone — even most human beings do not comprehend anyway!
The issue as to whether the Holy Spirit is a person or is merely the power of God comes alive in that above-quoted verse: is it “the Spirit who is from God,” or should it be “the Spirit that [or which] is from God?” Then, again, the phrase “Spirit…from God” or “Spirit of God” would indicate that the Spirit is “Someone” or “something” that emanates from God, or that the Spirit is the possession (whether a person or a thing) of God – an “extension” of Him.
Essential difference between God and man
Besides what has already been mentioned about how God differs from man, there is this one essential difference: while humankind has been created in the image or likeness of God, man is presently of mere physical composition. Genesis 2:7 records that “…the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.”
As a physical, material being, man is subject to the physical laws that God has set in motion in this physical universe. Man needs food, water and air – among other basic things — to survive. The law of gravity acts on man in such a way that if a man jumps — without a parachute or other safety devices — from the 20th story of a building, he will plunge to the ground and will, in all probability (like 99.9%), meet his end, unless a miracle takes place. And when man dies, his body returns to the dust from which it was taken (Genesis 3:19). [See: What Happens to Man after Death?]
By contrast, God is Spirit (John 4:24), whereas mankind is flesh (Psalm 78:39 and many other scriptures). As Spirit, God is eternal (Deuteronomy 33:27; Hebrews 9:14) – without beginning and without end, existing forever and never dying. As Spirit, God is “invisible” – much like “wind” is, as Jesus compared spirit to (John 3:8). As Spirit, God is not subject to physical laws; instead, physical laws are subject to Him [see, for example, the miracles of Jesus who, although God in the flesh for the purpose of death as Savior from sin (1 Peter 3:18; Hebrews 2:9; 9:15), retained divine power over natural laws — Luke 8:22-25; John 2:1-11; 5:5-8; 6:1-20; 9:1-7; 11:1-44; etc.]!
While God is invisible to the human eye, God can manifest Himself in such a way as to be seen, heard, and felt by human beings. We find this to be the case with our first parents, Adam and Eve, while they were in the Garden of Eden talking and walking with the Creator God face to face (Genesis 2-3). Other men and women of faith walked and talked with God face to face, among them: Noah (Genesis 6-9), Abraham and Sarah (Genesis 12-22), Isaac (Genesis 26), Jacob (Genesis 32), Moses (Exodus 3-40; Leviticus 1-27; Numbers 1-35), Joshua (Joshua 1-20) and the prophets of old.
But, just as God created humankind with a human spirit and in God’s image, so God has a Spirit at the same time that God is Spirit. Since God is without question Holy, God is a Holy Spirit, and God has a Holy Spirit. Let this be clear: we are not saying that the Holy Spirit (as power) is a separate God.
We can see this relationship between God’s Person and God’s power in this simple physical illustration. The Bible speaks of God’s Person as a God who is a “consuming fire” (Deuteronomy 4:24; Hebrews 12:29). But the Bible also speaks about God being able to send fire (as power) from heaven (Job 1:16).
Holy Spirit as power
Many scriptures show that God’s Spirit is God’s power that emanates from God to perform whatever God wills. In the same manner that the spirit in man empowers the man to generate thoughts unique to mankind, and to make those thoughts come true through some acts and works (see Genesis 11:6), so the Spirit of God is able to perform all manner of things. For example:
- Luke 24:49, “…but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.
This was fulfilled, on the Day of Pentecost after Jesus’ ascension, when the disciples received “power” (as Jesus had promised them, Acts 1:8) through the Holy Spirit resting on and filling them (Acts 2:1-4). God’s Spirit thus empowered the disciples to become witnesses of Jesus [about His life, work, death, resurrection and His coming again to establish God’s kingdom on earth] in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and throughout all the earth (Acts 1:8). Thus the Christian faith spread into much of the first-century world.
- Acts 3:12, 16, “…Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? …By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong …that has given this complete healing to him as you see.”
By his faith in Jesus’ name [which resulted from his having received the Holy Spirit], the Apostle Peter summoned God’s power to heal the man who had been lame from birth. Luke 6:19 and 8:46 speak about “power” (from the Greek dunamis, where the English word “dynamo” is taken from) that went out from Christ to heal various sick people. The book of Acts documents many other miracles that took place when Jesus’ disciples summoned the Spirit or power of God.
- Romans 8:9, “You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of Christ lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.”
Although the Spirit of Christ is unlike the spirit in man, that Spirit has the power to reside in and transform a man whom God chooses to grant that Spirit to. The indwelling Spirit of Christ in a Christian is what makes him “spiritually-minded” as against his former “carnal-minded” nature. That Spirit empowers the Christian to be subject to the law of God and thus please Him (Verses 7-8). Ezekiel 36:26-27 had promised this. [See: God’s Spirit and Obedience and The Higher Law of the Spirit.] That Spirit in a believer makes him one of Christ’s own people.
- Romans 5:5, “Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who [or which] was given to us.”
God’s Spirit, which pours out the love of God in the hearts of true Christians makes them bear the multifaceted fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). It is that same Spirit that begets a Christian as a son or daughter of God (Romans 8:14-17). And Jesus said that one who loves God keeps God’s commandments (John 14:15, 21; see also 1 John 5:2-3).
- 1 Corinthians 12:13, “For we are all baptized by one Spirit into one body…we were all given the one Spirit to drink.”
God’s Spirit has the power to unite God’s people in one body – one Church. Christ’s Spirit in true Christians brings Jesus’ presence in their lives, as Jesus promised. Although He would later bodily ascend to heaven (Acts 1:9-11), Jesus commissioned His disciples to go into all [of] the world to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom and make disciples from every nation, He promised them: “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the ages” (Matthew 28:19-20). Through His Spirit, Christ is present in His Church to unite its members and to help them fulfill His commission to them.
- John 4:13-14, “Jesus answered and said to her [the Samaritan woman by the well], ‘Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up to into everlasting life.”
God’s Spirit in a true believer of Christ is a “down payment” [KJV, “earnest”] or “guarantee” [NKJV] of the “inheritance” of God’s people (Ephesians 1:13-14) — everlasting life in God’s kingdom.
The Spirit and the Person of God
The Bible shows that God the Father has His own Spirit apart from the Spirit of His Son Jesus, in the same manner that each human being has his own human spirit that is distinct and separate from the human spirit of another human being. This shows that God the Father is a Person distinct from God the Son (Jesus); they are not one and the same Person.
In Galatians 4:6, the apostle Paul shows that “God [obviously God the Father] has sent forth the Spirit of His Son” into the hearts of true Christians, by which they are able to call God “Abba, Father!” Several other New Testament scriptures refer to “the Spirit of the Lord [Jesus Christ]” (Acts 5:9; 8:39; 2 Corinthians 3:17-18); or “the Spirit of [Jesus] Christ” (Romans 8:9; Ephesians 1:19).
In Romans 8:11 Paul talks about “the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead” – this Spirit could only be that of God the Father! In Ephesians 1:17 Paul speaks of “the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory” working “His mighty power which He worked in Christ when He [God the Father] raised Him from the dead.”
In Matthew 10:17-20 we have Jesus telling His disciples that, when in the future they would be brought before human councils, they were not to worry because “the Spirit of your Father” would speak in them. That Father is the same Father whom the just resurrected Jesus mentioned to Mary Magdalene: “I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God” (John 20:17).
So, then, if – according to the Trinitarian doctrine — the Spirit of Christ would be a Person, the Spirit of God the Father would also be another Person. In this case, there would be four Persons in the Godhead – not three! The Godhead would then be what we might call a “quadnity” – instead of a trinity! We would then have to describe God as a “quadune” – instead of a triune – God! But neither is the case, as we will explain further.
God as Spirit
While many scriptures show that the Holy Spirit is the power of God, other scriptures throw a monkey wrench on the understanding that the Spirit is merely the “power” of God.
1 Corinthians 1:24, “Christ, the power of God…” In this instance Christ (the Person), not the Spirit, is the power of God!
2 Corinthians 3:17, “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” Here’s a real puzzler! If Jesus is a separate person from the Holy Spirit, how can He be the Spirit at the same time? And how can Jesus be the Holy Spirit and also be the Spirit that comes from Him – or is His possession?
This should burst the seemingly “simple” and cut-and-dried formula posited by Trinitarians: The Father is God, the Son is God, the Spirit is God; but the Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Spirit, the Spirit is not the Father – and vice-versa: The Son is not the Father, the Father is not the Spirit, the Spirit is not the Son.
The Son is not the Spirit? But 2 Corinthians 3:17 positively says He is! In Revelation 22:17, the “Spirit” that is with the “bride” (the glorified church) and bids all to “Come! …take the water of life freely” has to be the Bridegroom, Jesus Christ, who is the Lamb that marries the church (Revelation 21:9). There is no “Person” in the Holy Spirit that is separate from Jesus Christ as the Bridegroom of the Church!
Christ is the same “Spirit” who spoke to the seven churches of Revelation 2 and 3. Christ was the “Spirit” who spoke to the church leaders as they fasted: “Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them” (Acts 13:2). Christ was the “Spirit” who “expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons…” (1Timothy 4:1).
And, would it not now be easy to understand that the “Holy Spirit” whom Ananias and Sapphira lied to (Acts 5:3-4) was no other than Jesus Christ – the Son of God, and God — Himself? That “Holy Spirit” was not another “Person” than Jesus, but was, in fact, Jesus Himself!
Mark 14:61-62, “…But He [Jesus] kept silent and answered nothing. Again the high priest asked Him, saying to Him, ‘Are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?’ Jesus said, ‘I am. And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.’” Ephesians 1:15-21 makes it clear that “the Power” at whose right hand Jesus sits is none other than God the Father – the Person of the Father.
Both Jesus Christ and God the Father are “the Spirit” and “the Power” – again confounding the Trinitarian formula. Modern science fiction has even personified the Divine (or whatever Supernatural, Cosmic Being one may imagine) as “the Force.”
The following discussion will explain, from common sense and reason (as God invites us, in Isaiah 1:18, to engage in), the relationship between the spirit and the person of man. This should shed light on the relationship between the Spirit of God and the Person of God.
A human analogy
We speak of a person who conceives of an idea or program and executes it, as the “spirit” or “the moving spirit” behind it. [We also speak of that person as “the brains” behind it.] The man’s spirit and the person are considered as one and the same.
As Mr. Armstrong insinuated in the quotation immediately under this article’s title, the spirit in man is not another man; the man’s spirit, in a manner of speaking, is the man himself!
The apostle Paul understood this concept when he wrote to the Christians at Corinth: “For I indeed, as absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged (as though I were present) him who has so done this deed. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ…” (1 Corinthians 5:3-4).
Although Paul was physically unable to be present at the meeting of the Church members in Corinth, he – himself, and not another person or man, not another “Paul” – would be present there in spirit. His prayers, his thoughts and the things he had taught them would be present there to guide them in dealing with their congregation’s erring brother. Isn’t this where we got our common expression, “absent in body but present in spirit?”
Thus it should be understandable that Paul would say that “the Lord is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:17). The Spirit of Christ is, in a manner of speaking, Christ Himself; and the Spirit of God the Father, likewise, is God the Father Himself. The Holy Spirit is not another person apart from the Father or apart from Jesus Christ! As shown above, Christ as “the Spirit” spoke to His servants and the Church of God.
We also call the person or persons responsible for the rise or presence of a structure (whether physical, political, religious, a movement, etc.) as the power behind this. We talk of a wise wife as the “power” behind a successful husband. We talk about government authorities and people or groups of people with great influence on others as “the powers that be.”
In this sense, Christ is the “power of God” – Christ is behind all the work of creation and everything else that God has been doing since then (Hebrews 1:1-3)! And God the Father as “the Power” is the ultimate Source of “every good gift and every perfect gift” (James 1:17).
If the Holy Spirit were a person
If the Holy Spirit were a separate person from God the Father and God the Son (Jesus Christ), just consider how many times New Testament writers have snubbed and insulted “Him.” For instance:
- Romans 1:7, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Why no mention here about the Holy Spirit? See also Romans 16:25-27.
- 1 Corinthians 1:3, “Grace to you and peace from our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Similar greetings without mention of the Holy Spirit are found in 2 Corinthians 1:2-3; Galatians 1:3-5; Ephesians 1:2-3; Philippians 1:2-8; Colossians 1:2-4; 1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:1-2; 1 Timothy 1:1-2; 2 Timothy 1:1-2; Titus 1:1-4; Philemon 3; James 1:1; 1 Peter 1:3; 2 Peter 1:2; 1 John 1:2-3; 2 John 3; and Jude 1.
- 1 Peter 5:10-11, “But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen and settle you. To Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.”
Again, the Holy Spirit is not mentioned here.
- Colossians 2:1-2, “For I want you to know what a great conflict I have for you and those in Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, and attaining to all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the knowledge of the mystery of God, both of the Father and of Christ” (Colossians. 2:2).
While we may not be able, in this age, to comprehend fully this mystery of God, we see here Paul including in this mystery only the Father and Christ the Son, as God; the Holy Spirit is not mentioned. But God has graciously imparted to His servants and His people sufficient knowledge and understanding of the “mystery of God” to be able to relate properly to God, truly worship God, and eventually become a part of His divine family. [See: True Worship.]
The mystery of God’s oneness
A lot of controversy has surrounded the mystery of the “oneness” of God. How can God be two, or three, or four – or even more – Persons and still be “one” God?
When we come right down to it, the mystery becomes a problem only when we approach it from a numerical or mathematical view of unity.
As the Trinitarian formula puts it, “1 +1 +1 = 1” will forever stump mathematicians – and even simpler minds, for that matter. So will “1 +1 = 1,” as the “ditheists” (those who believe that the Godhead is composed of two divine Persons) contend.
So, how can we say God the Father and God the Son are one – without us falling into the “Unitarian” ditch (that is, the belief that God the Father and God the Son are, mathematically, one and the same Person)? Here again the mystery of the “Godhead” becomes evident and can be clearly seen and understood through the things God has made.
And one of those things God has made is the institution of marriage.
We can begin to understand the “oneness” of God the Father and God the Son (Jesus Christ) when we realize how God considers a husband and wife, not as two but as “one flesh” (Genesis 2:24; Matthew 19:5-6). We refer to marriage as a union of two lives, as two hearts becoming “one.”
Paul called marriage “a great mystery” (Ephesians 5:31-32). Marriage as a union will remain a “mystery” we cannot understand if we think of the “oneness” of two persons (a husband and a wife) in mathematical or quantitative terms.
The state of being “one flesh” is not only in the act of sex between a husband and his wife (or even another woman, see 1 Corinthians 6:16), but especially in being of the same mind and spirit – which is the higher goal of marriage, beyond mere procreation or having children. We refer to this qualitative oneness when we speak of another person who shares our thinking and views as being a “kindred spirit” or a “kindred mind.” We say that that person is “our kind” of person! – in the same “class,” “ilk,” category, level, etc. as we are.
Similarly, two divine persons in God the Father and in God the Son can thus be one God! God the Father and God the Son (Jesus Christ) are one because they both share the same mind and purpose, and the same power, by which they operate all things, seen and unseen.
The same thing can be said of the Spirit of God the Father and the Spirit of the Son: they are one Spirit (Ephesians 4:4).
Jesus Christ could not have expressed His oneness with God the Father more clearly than when He told Jews and His disciples:
“…Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner. For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself does…” (John 5:19-20).
“…I do nothing of Myself; but as My Father taught Me, I speak these things” (John 8:28). “As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father…” (John 10:15).
“…He who believes in Me, believes not in Me but in Him [the Father] who sent Me. And he who sees Me sees Him who sent Me. And he who sees Me sees Him who sent Me … For I have not spoken on My own authority; but the Father who sent Me gave Me a command, what I should say and what I should speak. And I know that His command is everlasting life; therefore, whatever I speak, just as the Father has told Me, so I speak” (John 12:44, 45, 49-50).
In His prayer before He was crucified, Jesus prayed: “Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me [Jesus’ disciples], that they may be one as We are … I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they may be one in Us…that they may be one just as We are one; I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one…” (John 17:11, 20-23).
Hebrews 1:3 declares Jesus as the Son of God being the “express image” or likeness of God the Father. Their perfect unity or oneness is such that Jesus could tell His disciples: “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).
So, human though we are, we can become “one” with God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ by being of the same “kind” – class or quality — of mind, spirit, attitude, character, and behavior, as God is. And when all of Christ’s followers have that same mind and spirit (Philippians 2:2, 5; 1:27; 2 Corinthians 13:11; 1 Corinthians 1:10; Romans 12:16), they will become truly one – truly united! [See: Two Goats Together.]
1 Corinthians 6:17 nails it: “But he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him.” And as those who are truly “joined to the Lord,” those now called into the Church of God will become the “one flock” of Christ – people who, like His sheep, follow His voice as the Good Shepherd (John 10:14, 16) and flee from “strangers” (verses 3-5).
The Bible also speaks of the “oneness” of the Church and Jesus Christ through such an analogy as “Bride” and “Bridegroom” (Ephesians 5:22-33; 2 Corinthians 11:2; Revelation 19:7-9; Matthew 22:1-13). Colossians 1:18 also pictures that oneness as the organic unity of the head and the body of a person, as does Ephesians 1:22-23. 1 Corinthians 12 speaks about the unity or oneness of the Church of God as the body of Christ, despite the fact that that body is made up of different, diverse “members” or parts (which Paul compares to the diverse “gifts” of the Holy Spirit).
As Jesus said, in John 17:21-22 (quoted above), true Christians can be “one” with God, through God’s Spirit in them.
The following are some issues brought up by many people who believe in the Trinity or a “triune” (Three-in-One) God:
- Some have believed that the Holy Spirit is a “Person” because the Holy Spirit can be “grieved” (Ephesians 4:30), as God was grieved over sinful mankind whom He had created (Genesis 6:5-6).
There are two ways to look at this: 1) the “Spirit” as the Person of Christ or the Person of God the Father [see explanation above, under the headings “God as Spirit” and “A human analogy”] can indeed by “grieved” by anything that causes pain or sorrow; and 2) the “Spirit” as the mind or heart of God can be grieved, too – but that “Spirit” is not a different Person than either the Father or the Son; it is merely an extension of their Person.
Daniel said, “I, Daniel, was grieved in my spirit within my body, and the visions in my head troubled me” (Daniel 7:15). Daniel’s “spirit” was not another Daniel, but a part of himself – not a separate “person” than Daniel.
The psalmist Asaph said, “Thus my heart was grieved, and I was vexed in my mind” (Psalm 73:21). One’s heart and mind, like one’s spirit, can be grieved – and one’s heart and one’s mind are not separate “persons” from the man himself.
A third way to look at the Spirit being grieved is to see it as a personification of something that’s not really personal.
For instance, the Bible says that “the whole creation [is groaning] and [laboring] with birth pangs together until now” (Romans 8:22). Isaiah 55:12 talks about “mountains and hills [breaking] forth into singing” and “trees of the field [clapping] their hands.”
A non-person but a mere collective “creation” is here described figuratively as though it were a woman groaning and laboring in birth pangs. The same goes for those mountains, hills and trees – they are not “persons” as such, but they are described as though they could sing and clap their hands like a human being, to picture their joy at God’s intervention.
- Some have argued for the Holy Spirit being a person by using the following Scripture verses: “Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy…” (Philippians 2:1).
Does this verse prove, irrefutably, that the Spirit is therefore a “person” because we can have “fellowship” with the Spirit, like we do with our “fellow-men”? If this were so, would “the unfruitful works of darkness” then also be “persons,” because Paul tells us to “have no fellowship” with those works (Ephesians 5:11)? Not so!
To have fellowship is to take part in something – an act, a movement, etc. It could also be taking part with someone or some person, as “fellowship” is generally understood — depending on the context or meaning of what is said.
- A similar argument is made of 2 Corinthians 13:14, where it says: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”
The word “communion” is translated from the Greek koinonia, which is the same Greek word translated as “fellowship” in Philippians 2:1, quoted above. Again, we can have “communion” or fellowship with nature – or whatever element in nature: wind, sky, waves, trees, etc – and that doesn’t necessarily make it communion with a person or persons. One can even “commune” with one’s own “spirit,” heart or thoughts (Psalm 4:4; 77:6; Ecclesiastes 1:16) – and that, too, does not make one’s spirit or thoughts another person than oneself.
- Another Bible verse often used in support of the Holy Spirit being a person is Matthew 28:19, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…”
The mere mention of a “name” does not necessarily prove that what is referred to is a “person” or “Person.” Everything – man, animal, plant, mineral, concept, construct, constellation, what have you – has a name! As has been explained by some, when a police officer apprehends an offender “in the name of the law,” he is not thinking of “law” as a “person” but as an “entity” that may include City Hall, the Court, or the Prison house, etc.
Just because the “name” of the Holy Spirit is mentioned together with the name of the Father and of the Son does not constitute irrefutable proof that the Holy Spirit is a separate “Person” than the Father and the Son. We must get all the evidence (at least two or three, Deuteronomy 19:15; Matthew 18:16; 2 Corinthians 13:1) in the Bible to establish a doctrine. [See: The Whole Counsel of God.]
- Finally, there is 1 John 5:7-8, which says: “For there are three that bear witness in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness on the earth: the Spirit, the water, and the blood.”
Most Bible footnotes and Bible commentaries tell us that the older (and therefore more reliable) manuscripts of the New Testament omit the phrase starting with “in heaven” all through “on the earth” [in italics, above]. This is, therefore, not an inspired insertion! It was obviously inserted by someone or some people desperate for a supposed Biblical “proof” of the Trinity doctrine! God tells us not to add to or subtract from His revealed word, at the cost of our missing out on life everlasting (Deuteronomy 4:2; Revelation 22:19).
On the other hand, others who do not believe in the doctrine of the trinity have forwarded some arguments that, on close scrutiny from reason and from the Scriptures, are also flawed.
- “The Holy Spirit is compared in the Bible to fire (Acts 2:3), and it wouldn’t make sense to apply that to a person.” As explained earlier, God is called “a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29; Deuteronomy 4:24). That refers to God’s person, apart from the Spirit being God’s power.
- “The Holy Spirit ‘fills’ people [like air or water fills up a container, see Acts 2:4 and Ephesians 5:18], thus it wouldn’t make sense to apply that to a person.” Can we perhaps learn a bit from the late composer-singer John Denver? He wrote a song about a loved one, to whom he said: “You fill up my senses…” We can be obsessed with someone so much that he or she fills up our thoughts and consciousness all through the day, as though the person were beside — even inside — us. Jesus promised His disciples that He would send them His Spirit as a “Comforter” or “Helper” (from the Greek parakletos) after He would ascend to His heavenly Father (John 16:7). This way Jesus fulfilled His promise to them, “…lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). He “filled up” His disciples with His presence.
- “The Holy Spirit can be ‘poured out’ like water, and that wouldn’t make sense to apply that to a person.” How could the apostle Paul have told his protege Timothy “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand” (2 Timothy 4:6) if he were not a person?
As also explained earlier, these situations or conditions make sense only if we realize that God’s Spirit — like man’s spirit — can also be taken to mean God’s Person Himself.
But why does Isaiah 9:6 refer to Jesus as “Everlasting Father?”
In an obvious reference to Jesus Christ [or the Messiah], Isaiah 9:6 says, “For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given, and the government will be upon His shoulder, and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
Does this mean, then, that Jesus Christ and God the Father are one and the same divine Being (or Person)?
As explained earlier, God the Father and Jesus Christ are two distinct Persons in the Godhead. The LORD who created all things and dealt with mankind was the God who later became Jesus Christ [see: The True Christ and Peter Knew “The Holy One“].
In what sense, then, is Jesus also named “Everlasting Father?”
Referring to the LORD of the Old Testament, Isaiah the prophet prayed: “Doubtless You are our Father, though Abraham was ignorant of us, and Israel does not acknowledge us. You, O LORD, are our Father; our Redeemer from Everlasting is Your name” (Isaiah 63:16). As the 24 elders in John’s vision sang about the Lamb [Jesus], “For You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood” (Revelation 5:8-9).
The prophet Malachi asked the priests of his day: “Have we not all one Father? Has He not created us” (Malachi 2:1, 10)? Thus, Isaiah continued his prayer by telling God: “But now, O LORD, You are our Father; we are the clay, and You our potter; and all we are the work of Your hand” (Isaiah 64:8).
As Creator who directly molded and shaped man from clay, Jesus is mankind’s “Father” in the sense of Him being our “Maker” (compare with Isaiah 45:11). However, we read in Hebrews 1:1-3 that God [the Father] — a different Person — made the worlds through His Son [Jesus], who (in another sense) is also the “Father” [and that forever!] of all mankind by virtue of having created (or made) all human beings through Adam and Eve.
As the “Founder” and Builder of the Church of God (Matthew 16:18), Jesus is — in a manner of speaking — also its “Father,” and that also forever! Don’t we call the men who start or establish a movement or an organization its “founding fathers?”
Otherwise, the Bible explains abundantly that God the Father is another and distinct Person in the Godhead than Jesus Christ (God the Son).
When the LORD of the Old Testament became the “Son of God” in Jesus Christ, God the Father [whom Jesus came to declare and reveal (John 1:18; Matthew 11:27)] became not only Jesus’ Father but also the Father of those people whom the Father has begotten as sons or children of God (1 Peter 1:3-5; 1 John 3:1-2). [See: Are We All God’s Children?]
The resurrected Christ told Mary Magdalene: “Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God'” (John 20:17). Thus Jesus calls the people “My brethren” (see also Hebrews 2:9-13).
Clearly, then, the context in Isaiah 9:6 referring to Christ as “Everlasting Father” is different from the rest of the Scriptures which speak of God the Father as a distinct person from Jesus Christ as the Son of God.
As Jesus declared: “…the Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35) by any alleged discrepancy!
Growing in knowledge
The “mystery of God” is so profound that, for now, we can only figure out what He has revealed about Himself as though we are looking through a glass “dimly” (1 Corinthians 13:12). But, as Daniel 12:4 prophesies about our “time of the end” — “…many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase.”
Human knowledge has grown exponentially over the last decades – not only about the physical universe, our planet, human life and history, but certainly about the truths of God’s Word as well. Any gaps in our knowledge of who God really is will soon be filled when the very Son of God Himself – the Messiah – comes personally and bodily to earth, who knows, maybe in our lifetime! At that time “…when He is revealed…we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2; see also 1 Corinthians 13:9-10).
When Christ finally establishes God’s kingdom on this earth, true knowledge about God will become so widespread – “as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:9). Eventually, all human beings will get to know God so well that “None of them shall teach his neighbor, and none his brother, saying ‘Know the LORD,’ for all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them” (Hebrews 8:11, quoted from Jeremiah 31:31-34).
After Jesus Christ will have put all things under His authority and power, He will turn over all rule to God the Father, who will then make His dwelling with men (then made immortal like Jesus) in the Holy City which the Father will bring down with Him (1 Corinthians 15:24-28; Revelation 21:1-3; 22:1. 3).
Meanwhile, we who are alive today are exhorted to “…grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). As God reveals new knowledge to His people, they are to accept it or else be rejected by God: “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being priest for Me” (Hosea 4:6). Our call is to grow more and more in the likeness and image of Jesus Christ in the hope that, at His return, “we shall be like Him” (1 John 3:2). “And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure” (verse 3). God’s Word and knowledge will help in that purification. [See: The Flaming Sword East of Eden.]
May God help us to become more like Christ!
Pedro R. Meléndez, Jr.