God and Christ
THE doctrine of the Trinity is nowhere expressed or explained in the Scriptures, hence any discussion of it must depend on writings outside the Word of God. We have often wished for a short, authoritative statement, upon which an examination might be based. This has been furnished in the form of an address delivered at the Los Angeles Convention of the World’s Christian Fundamentals Association, in June, 1930, by Leander S. Keyser, D. D. It was later published in THE CHRISTIAN FUNDAMENTALIST, of January, 1931. It thus has the full sanction of the Fundamentalist organization.
Judging by the high rank of the author and the unusual merits of the article itself, we feel that we have before us the best possible exposition and defense of the Trinity of the Godhead. Usually such utterances are too vague, too sentimental, to afford any clear ground for consideration. Here we have definite statements which can be compared with the Scriptures, and a wealth of illustrations which may be tested for their aptness and logic. We desire to thank Dr. Keyser for this classical contribution to the subject.
It may be objected, Why consider the subject at all? Why not set forth the facts and the truth, and let this error shrink away when the light is turned on? We may as well go further, and ask, Why write about it at all? Is the truth not set forth clearly in God’s Word, where all may read and believe? This is true. They read, but they do not perceive. Their minds are so dominated by credal theology that the Scriptures make no impression. It is not until these false notions have been swept aside that their eyes are open to apprehend the Scriptures. The plainest statements are meaningless or distorted so long as the popular errors obsess them. We will have much to say as to the relations existing between God and His Son, but it is necessary to start where our readers are, and show them the need of a fresh investigation, before they are in a position to appreciate or accept it.
There is one difference between the supporters of the Trinity and our efforts to show it to be unscriptural which, to the thoughtful mind, almost settles the question even before discussion. We cheerfully reprint the whole of this article against our position, and urge our readers to weigh it carefully. Will Trinitarians have enough confidence in their own teaching to publish my reply? I am so sure that everyone who really considers my answer will be satisfied that Trinitarianism is unscriptural that I consider any article, written in its defense, destructive of its own position. Will The Christian Fundamentalist find my refutation sufficiently in favor of Trinitarianism to publish it? What orthodox publication has the courage to present both sides of the argument to its readers?
In order to distinguish the article from our discussion, it will be set off within borders. The opening paragraphs follow:
THE DOCTRINE OF THE TRIUNE GOD
LEANDER S. KEYSER, D.D.
Delivered at the Los Angeles Convention, June, 1930
Like every other doctrine of our holy faith, the doctrine of the Trinity is called into question in these days of “deadly doubt.” Not long ago, Dr. A. C. Barton, a well-known modernist, scoffed at this doctrine by declaring that there was no mathematics in time or eternity that could add three ones together and make them only one.
When I was a very young man, over fifty years ago, Robert G. Ingersoll ridiculed the sacred doctrine of the Trinity in precisely the same way. A little further along I will expose the superficiality displayed by both of these critics. It may be said here that most of the modernistic criticisms of orthodoxy are based on a lack of accurate theological knowledge and acumen. It is not at all probable that all the great evangelical scholars of the centuries, from Athanasius to Warfield, have believed a palpable absurdity.
The article begins with a very grave defection from the faith, which is the key to all of the infidelity that follows. It does not discriminate between that which has been hallowed by God and that which is held to be holy by man. The word “Trinity” is not sacred. God has refused it a place in His revelation of Himself. It is human, unnecessary, defective, and hypocritical. It has crept in despite the apostle’s warning to have a pattern of sound words (2 Tim.1:13). I have personally made a close examination of the entire vocabulary chosen and refined by God and find no expression in Hebrew, Chaldee, or Greek, which answers to the term “Trinity,” used in connection with this theme in the Scriptures.
With many this will have little weight, for they worship man and not God. But it should have a powerful appeal to Fundamentalists and all who really revere God’s holy Word. No doctrine is holy which has not been put into words by the holy spirit of God. Thus the article begins with a false note. It is the duty of faith to doubt man-made substitutes for divine revelation. Such doubt is not deadly, but safe. If there is such a thing as the doctrine of the Trinity, let us have it in God’s words. We are convinced that the subject is beyond man’s intellect, so it is sheer folly to let him repudiate God’s expressions, with the subtle insinuation that his are better.
We do not at all relish being classed with Modernists and agnostics. I realize the popularity of such an appeal to prejudice. At the beginning of this discussion, however, it is a fatal sign of weakness. It is quite possible for unbelievers to disbelieve that which is false. The great differences which exist between godly believers certainly show they are not infallible. This is only another appeal to man. The doctrine does not go back to the apostles, but to Athanasius. All of this is utterly prejudicial to the subject. Logically, it leads to Rome. If a doctrine is true because it has the support of human minds and masses of men, divine logic should proclaim it false, rather than true.
A BIBLICAL DOCTRINE
The primary reason why our great orthodox theologians have believed the doctrine of the Trinity is that they have found it clearly taught in the Bible. A scientific correlation of all the teaching of the inspired volume yields the doctrine of the triune God. That is also the reason why the great ecumenical creeds and all the evangelical confessions teach the same doctrine. The great confessors of the evangelical church did not develop the doctrine out of their own intellects or out of the speculations of Greek philosophy; no, they found it clearly taught in the Holy Scriptures. Finding it there, they, like true scientific thinkers, formulated the Biblical teaching into consistent statements of doctrine. That is something which the scientific and scholarly mind ever seeks to do—synthesize and classify into a system the varied data of any field of investigation whether they belong to the physical, the psychical, the ethical, or the spiritual realm.
A careful comparison of these statements is all that is needed to show that quite a number of them are the expression of a wish rather than a fact. Notwithstanding that the Trinity is “clearly taught in the Bible,” the Scriptures did not yield this truth(?) until a “scientific correlation of all the teaching” had been made. The plain fact is that the Trinity is not clearly taught, even in a Bible corrupted in its favor. This article is evidence that it is not clearly taught anywhere. It is a human deduction, not from all the teachings of the Bible, but from a very few isolated texts.
Anyone who knows anything of the centuries of wrangling which resulted in the creeds, will agree that the Scriptures are not clear as to any Trinity. The church did not adopt it because of a unanimity of belief, but as a compromise, a desperate alternative. The original framers of the creeds were often most dissatisfied, and only yielded to the ignorant majority. Now these same creeds are received as though they were the voice of God. The greatest stain upon the movement which battles for the supernatural in the Bible, is that it clothes the creeds with a cloak of sanctity much more inviolate than the sacred text itself.
If the creed makers found this doctrine “clearly taught in the Holy Scriptures” why was it at all necessary to “formulate the Biblical teaching into consistent statements of doctrine?” This is not faith. The Scriptures are not an undigested mass of memoranda, which God has not found time or strength to “formulate.” It is not the “scientific” or the “scholarly” mind which finds the Scriptures crude and inconsistent, needing “classification” and synthesization into a “system.” It is sheer unbelief. God’s Word is a living, life-giving organism. Do men need to analyze and rearrange the human body? No more do they need to attempt any such tinkering with the Word of the living God.
THERE IS ONLY ONE GOD
In thinking of God—I mean the God of Christianity—there is not a single passage of Scripture that either teaches or intimates three Gods. That is a heresy which the evangelical church has always rejected. The true doctrine is monotheism—monos, one, and Theos, God—the doctrine of one God.
The Bible clearly teaches that there is but one God. There is not a single passage of Scripture that either teaches or intimates Polytheism. Indeed, that doctrine is condemned throughout God’s Book of divine truth. The very first commandment of the Decalogue says most positively: “I am the Lord, thy God; thou shalt have no other gods before me.” This language can be interpreted in only one way—it teaches absolute monotheism.
Elsewhere in the Scriptures we read: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord” (Deut.6:4). Afterward Christ repeated and endorsed this very passage from Deuteronomy, quoting it verbatim (see Mark 12:29). Note Paul’s statement: “One Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all” (Eph.4:5,6). Thus it is clear that the doctrine of the Bible is Monotheism and not Tritheism.
This calls for our highest commendation. The Scriptures are quoted and believed. There is no necessity for reasoning from them. Our faith is fastened on the Word of God itself. We believe Him. This is something that “is clearly taught in the Bible.”
THREE PERSONS IN THE GODHEAD
And yet it is just as evident that the Bible teaches the doctrine that there are three persons who are called God, and they are described as Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
Our readers will agree with us that the opening statement is not warranted by the facts. It is not “just as evident that there are three persons who are called God.” There is no definite statement to that effect. None of the three are ever called “persons,” for the simple reason that such a term is not at all necessary in stating the truth as to the relations existing between the Deity, and our Lord, and God’s holy spirit. Without this man-made expression we could not be carried on into the devious doctrine of the Trinity. If it cannot be uttered in inspired words, it is not of God, and has the hallmark of error.
Note our Lord’s own words: “All power [authority] is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore and disciple all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen” (Matt.28:19,20). What sacrilege it would have been to couple those three names together if they were not all divine, all coordinate, all co-equal! To the same effect note the Pauline benediction: The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost be with you all. Amen“ (2 Cor.13:14). Here all the persons are again joined together, and Christ is even named first.
Now, instead of a clear statement of the teaching, we are asked to deduce it by inference from passages which, on their face, were never written on this theme at all. This method is specifically discredited and denounced in the Scriptures. Since sin has entered the race, men are not logical. Even minds renewed by the spirit of God are not able to safely reason out His truth. In our inability, God has graciously relieved us of the task. He has reasoned out everything essential to faith, so that we are always given the conclusion along with the premises. God does not supply us with a minor premise, and ask us to supply the major premise and the solution. This is what we find here.
The major premise may be stated as follows:
divine, coordinate, and coequal.
All else, we are told, would be sacrilege. The contrary is true. In one of the most august passages in holy Writ, which opens up the Unveiling, we read, “Grace to you and peace from Him Who is, and Who was, and Who is coming, and from the seven spirits which are before His throne, and from Jesus Christ, the Faithful Witness, the Firstborn of the dead, and the Suzerain of the kings of the earth” (Rev.1:4,5). Let us follow this line of logic. The seven spirits must be essential Deity. Hence here we have nine persons in the Godhead! Indeed, many have tried to argue that the seven are the one spirit of God! Such reasoning would soon wreak havoc with the divine records.
It is hardly wise to select one benediction which seems to prove a point and ignore others. To the same Corinthians Paul had written before, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you! My love be with all of you in Christ Jesus!” Did Paul put himself in the same rank with Christ by coupling their benedictions in this manner? Was Gideon put in the pantheon when he was told to shout, “The sword of the Lord and of Gideon” (Judges 7:20)? There is no ground whatever for the main premise on which this reasoning is founded. It is contrary to the facts. It is worse than no reason at all.
The subject of the passage is not the constitution of the Godhead, but the baptism of the nations in the day of the Lord. The titles used in baptism are always chosen with the utmost exactitude, and varied to accord with the relationship of its subject to the administration in which it occurs. During the coming eon the nations will receive blessing. There will be great spiritual endowments, as the earnest in Acts. Hence they will be baptized into the name of the spirit. The nation of Israel will monopolize the title “Christ” as they did in the past. Hence they are related to our Lord as the Son. It will be the beginning of God’s rule of the nations through Israel. The character of His government will be paternal. Hence the name “Father.” The formula used is fitted for its purpose. It has no bearing on the subject in hand.
That the Father is represented in the Scriptures as God is so plain that it needs no argument. But the Son is also called God. Note: “In the beginning was the Word [Logos], and the Word was with God. The same was in the beginning with God. And by Him were all things made, and without Him was not anything made that was made....And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory” (John 1:1-14).
Surely this sublime passage teaches the deity of the Son, for the term Logos can refer to no one but to Him. Observe: “The Logos was with God,” making a distinction between the Father and the Son; and yet “the Logos was God,” indicating that in their Godhood or deity the Father and the Son are identical. This passage can be explained only according to the Trinitarian conception. Elsewise it has no meaning that makes sense.
Here is another false premise: All who are called by the divine title are, of necessity, absolute Deity. This is quite contrary to the facts. Not only the Son is called God, but even Satan is called the god of this eon (2 Cor.4:4). The term Elohim is applied to arbiters in Israel (Ex.21:6; 22:8,9,9,28, judges) and to unruly spirit beings (Psa.82:6). Do not mistake me. I am not reasoning concerning the relation of Christ to His Father. I am merely showing the fallacy of this method of inference. If the application of a divine title proves Deity, then there is no mere Trinity, but “gods many,” as the Scriptures declare. However, they do not stop with this statement. They assure us that, for us, there is one God, the Father, and one Lord, Jesus Christ (1 Cor.8:6).
God does not normally speak directly to His creatures; He speaks through the Logos, the Expression, the Word. Now that this Word is to become flesh it is necessary that It be introduced by describing Its relationship to God. First, we are told that It is toward God. The rendering with is inexact and misleading. It fails utterly to convey the sense. Sound is directive. Christ came, not to reveal Himself, but the One Who sent Him. As the Word He was in the direction where God is. He was toward God. The Deity is also invisible. Who then was that One Who appeared to Adam, to Abraham, and to Moses? That “God was the Word.” This is the exact phrase of the original. It is not “the Word was God,” but “God was the Word.” The incarnate Word is the God of the Hebrew theophanies.
This not only “makes sense” but is vigorous and revealing. Accounts like Matthew and John must relate themselves to previous revelation. Matthew traces His physical connections, so that He may have the throne. John shows that, from Eden on, He was God’s audible expression, the Elohim, the Jehovah, through Whom He made contact with mankind and Israel. It is not sense, but non-sense, after saying that the Word was with God, to add that the Word was God. It is absolutely incomprehensible. If you do not think so, explain it, or get someone else to make it clear. No “Person” can be with another “Person” and also be that “Person.”
Again, the Angel of the Annunciation said to Joseph when he was troubled about Mary, his betrothed: “She shall bring forth a Son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus; for he shall save his people from their sins” (Matt.1:21). Do you know what the name Jesus means when traced back through the Greek to the Hebrew? It is derived from Je-Hoshea, and that means Jehovah-Saviour, teaching plainly that Jesus is identical with the Jehovah of the Old Testament.
The same angel at the same time said of the Child who was to be born of the Virgin Mary in fulfillment of prophecy: “They shall call his name Immanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.” Have you ever studied the etymology of that word Immanuel? It is thus composed: immanu, with us, and El, the first syllable of Elohim, which is another Hebrew name for God. And where do we first find that holy name? In the very first verse of the Bible, “In the beginning God (Elohim) created the heavens and the earth.” Thus the little child who was to be born of the lovely virgin was identified with the Creator of the universe. So Jesus must be God as well as man—the eternal Son of God, who in the fullness of time became God incarnate in human form, and tabernacled among us.
Here is another false assumption. It may be stated thus: Everyone whose name includes a divine title is a “Person in the Godhead.” The mere statement of it should be enough to show how shallow the argument is. Many of the names in the Hebrew Scriptures are compounds, including a divine title. All the — iah’s, —ijah’s, and el’s, according to this, are in the Godhead! Our Lord’s personal name means Jehovah-Saviour, and He was the visible Jehovah, but we must look for proof of that elsewhere than in His name, for Joshua and Isaiah are mere variations of this name. Are they in the Godhead?
It is not wise to confound the title El with Elohim. There is no question, that our Lord was the Elohim of Genesis 1:1. The title El, however, does not associate Him with creation, but priesthood. The verb ale, from which El (or, better, Al), comes, means invoke. He is the One Who is invoked. The first occurrence is in the description of Melchisedec, who was a priest of El, the Supreme (Gen.14:18), and this is the connection in Matthew also. It follows immediately after the declaration that He, in accord with His name, Jehovah-Saviour, shall save His people from their sins (Matt.1:22,23).
Many other proofs might be set forth to establish the true Godhead of Jesus Christ, but I need only to mention a few. When Thomas called Jesus, “My Lord and my God,” Jesus commended him. Jesus is called, “God manifest in the flesh,” and, “God blessed forever more.” He was in ‘the form of God.’ He Himself said, “I and my Father are one...He that hath seen me hath seen my Father also.”
The Father is invisible (Col.1:15). The Son is His Image. God can be seen only in His Son. Therefore, He said these things. If He actually were the Deity what sense is there in saying that He was in the form of God? He is the appearance of God, the Effulgence of His glory. These glories do not identify Him with God. They do not involve a mythical “Godhead,” of which nothing is said by God Himself, but they give Him the right to be called God. An image may have and should bear the name of the one that it represents. Of a painting or a statue we say, “This is so and so.” No one, in common life, mistakes our meaning.
God was not, however, manifest in flesh. The secret of devoutness it was that was manifested in flesh. The old reading will not bear investigation (1 Tim.3:16). Not that it affects the question of the Trinity. God has taken great pains to show us that He was not manifested by the flesh of Christ, by setting it forth typically as the veil, or curtain, which hid the Shekinah glory. It was only at His death, on the accursed cross, that God was manifested, and, to certify to its truth, an invisible hand rent the veil of the temple in twain, from the top to the bottom. No such passage should be injected into this discussion.
On a later occasion our Lord prayed for His disciples, “that they may be one, according as We are.” Does this prove that all who are Christ’s are included in this Trinity? Our Lord said that the oneness between Him and the Father is the same as that between Himself and His saints. This is against, not for the Trinity.
In the same way the Deity of the Holy Spirit may be established by an appeal to the Holy Scriptures. For instance, Ananias lied to the Holy Ghost, and Peter accused him of lying, not to men, but to God (Acts 5:4). The Holy Spirit possesses divine attributes: He is eternal (Heb.9:14); He is omnipresent (Psa.139:7); He is almighty (Luke 1:35); He is all-wise (1 Cor. 2:10); He performs divine works (Gen.1:2; Romans 8:11; John 6: 53).
Why should not God’s holy spirit be identified with Him? There is not the slightest need to prove its deity. But it is utterly illogical and unscriptural to infer that it is a distinct “Person” from God. Who ever thinks of making Christ’s spirit another deity? If He is divine, co-ordinate and coequal with God, why is His spirit not also another “Person” with these attributes? If this is not so of Christ’s spirit, then it is not true of God’s spirit. In the original both are always in the neuter gender, it. God’s spirit has His “Personality,” but is not a separate “Person” from God Himself. God and His spirit are both given as the Father of our Lord. How can two distinct “Persons” be His Father?
Now we have proved from the Holy Scriptures that there are three persons who are divine, and yet there is only one God. Is the Bible a welter of contradictions and inconsistencies? Nay, nay! A book that has lasted through the ages and through whose teaching so many people have been saved from sin and despair, must be a good and consistent book; and so we must and can correlate the varied teachings of the Bible and show it to be a wonderful unity. That is just what the great and erudite confessions of the evangelical church have done in our great ecumenical creeds.
The Bible is a great book! To survive the opposition of its enemies is a miracle. But a far greater marvel is its persistent purity, in the original, notwithstanding the erudition of its defenders! Any other book, would long ago have gathered into itself the philosophical accretions which cover it in Christendom’s creeds. This very subject of the Trinity affords a wonderful example of its power to repel error. Only one passage in current versions gives any coloring to the triune theory. And it is universally admitted, even by Trinitarians, that “the three witnesses” is a crass corruption, with the avowed purpose of putting the Trinity into the sacred record!
The words “in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit, and the three are one, and there are three which bear witness in the earth” (1 John 5:7,8) have been the stronghold of Trinitarianism. One of our greatest scholars declares that “the authenticity of the words will, perhaps, no longer be maintained by anyone whose judgment ought to have weight.” On this account it is not necessary here to detail the long story of their shady history. We would never have had them in our Bibles if Erasmus, one of the early editors of the Greek Scriptures, had not been badgered into making the promise that, if one Greek manuscript could be found, he would insert them. No other text has so little authority. It is a crime to publish a Bible containing it.
“These three are one” is the only statement which may be construed to express the idea of the Trinity in our Bibles. The criminal record of these words is a strong argument against the doctrine. They were unknown until after the theory arose. Realizing how much better it would be if at least one passage actually taught the Trinity, an effort was made to insert it, but without much success. Erasmus could not find a single text which contained it until he published his third edition. Can we account for its inclusion on any other grounds than its popularity in man-made theology? Is it not an overwhelming indictment of the Trinity and of those who allow it a place in God’s revelation?
GOD IS BOTH ONE AND THREE
Let us not think superficially on these profound and uplifting doctrines of Holy Writ. God is not one and three in the same respect. That would be an absurdity indeed. He is one in one respect and three in another respect, which is also quite possible in many other realms. Even a block of wood is one in substance and three in dimensions, and besides, it has weight, form, and color.
It is rather unfortunate to introduce this ramble into the world of figures by comparing the Godhead to a block of wood! I once thought that I was a blockhead because I could not understand this doctrine. Now, however, I have a secret inclination to confer the title on those erudite mortals who have formulated it and whose followers seek to explain it, not because they lack in mental acumen, but because they seek, in the realm of reason, what can only be found in the sphere of revelation. Real mental capability realizes the limitations of the human mind. It procures knowledge from One Who knows, when its own powers are patently inadequate.
Some will object violently to the statement that the Trinity is not in the sphere of revelation. They say that the Trinity is purely a matter of revelation. Where then, is it? It is never asserted. It must be inferred. Hence it is a “decision of reasoning” (Rom.14:1) to which no one can be compelled to assent. Here we have touched a sore spot. Most men imagine that, if they have a text, they can combine it with their own deductions and still retain the truth. All that really remains is a pious perversion.
A comparison should have some points of contact, some resemblance, let us say. Now in what way is the Godhead like a block of wood and the three Persons like its dimensions? Is the “omnipresence” of God to be explained in that One has length, the other breadth, and the other height? As Persons, then, they are decidedly constricted, for each of these occupy no space at all! How about weight, form, and color? If we add a few attributes, such as temperature, elasticity, and all of its other physical peculiarities, do we enlarge the Trinity? May we add the three dimensions, and the various colors, and make a real pantheon?
A block of wood might illustrate an idol, but it utterly fails to suggest one phase of the Deity which is strongly stressed in the divine titles. That is time. Jehovah, commonly rendered LORD, is the God of the eons. He is, and was, and is to come. That is the significance of His name. In the titles, not in the “Godhead,” there are distinctions which correspond to the items of our experience, but it is evident that as to such matters as size and weight and form, no comparisons can be drawn. In fact, we have the definite statement that the Son was in the form of God. They are the same in apparent dimensions.
Concisely stated, what is the true doctrine of the trinal deity? It is this: He is one in essence; three in Persons; one in Being; three in hypothesis or subsistences; one in His Godhead; three in centers of foci of self-consciousness. And let us remember that self-consciousness is the core of personality. You and I have consciousness of self; therefore, we are persons. A stone has no consciousness; therefore it is not a person. Three powers of self-consciousness in God constitute Him tri-personal; and that is the holy doctrine of the Trinity.
Having convinced themselves that God scattered hints here and there which He expects them to work up into a scientific statement of His being, men were now prepared for the highest effort of human wisdom. To the well-balanced mind it must seem strange that God should continually warn us against reasoning, and then expect us to use our corrupted faculty in deducing the most important and fundamental fact in the universe. I do not say that He did. I know He did not. But that is the only way in which the Trinity has come to us. We cannot believe God. We must deduce it.
Now let us get a clear conception of the Trinity. The first and chief definition is that God is one in essence; three in Persons. I must pause to register my utter repudiation of the two chief words in this definition. They are the essence of a corrupt mind and haughty audacity. God has spoken. It apes insanity to ignore His utterances. He has charged us to hold to a pattern of sound words. These words are fundamentally unsound. They are the terms of a false philosophy, not the purified phraseology of revelation. Nevertheless, under protest, we will consider what they say. We will not allow ourselves to be fuddled by their vagueness. Vagueness is the vogue in theology, especially when considering this theme. As one has lately said, When we throw dust into the air, the scientist says, “I can’t see,” but the theologian asserts, “I can see!”
There is only one rational way to test this idea of three persons, one in essence. We are not familiar with any persons but our fellow humans. Fortunately all humanity has come from a single original, Adam. Hence it is essentially one. Consequently, according to this definition, God is like the human race, one in essence, many in persons. But this is true of the ancient polytheisms which were denounced by God! They were one in essence. This proves polytheism. They had many persons. There is no use juggling with the word essence. It is made out of putty. God has never said He was one in essence. He claims to be one in “person.” “Hear, O Israel! Jehovah, our God, is one Jehovah!” (Deut.6:14). He is the God of gods (Deut.10:17). If there are three gods then He is God of the other two. We know that He is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Now to the next “definition:” “One in Being; three in hypothesis or subsistences.” The fog is thickening! Is the “three persons” in the Trinity only a hypothesis, a theory or supposition? It is a Greek compound, meaning literally UNDER-PLACE. The verb is used in the Scriptures with the sense of jeopardize (Rom.16:4) and suggest (1 Tim.4:6). Its theological intention is as luminous as darkness. If anyone should call our God, or His spirit, or our Lord Jesus Christ an hypothesis, I would put him down as an agnostic, if not an atheist. It is the hypotheses of science which conflict with Scripture, and it is this hypothesis which hinders the knowledge of God and of His Christ.
However, I am inclined to the idea that the printer “improved” this definition, and substituted “hypothesis” for “hypostasis.” We must not blame him, for he was anxious that it should mean something, and, though a loyal fundamentalist, he probably had never heard of “hypostasis.” First we will give the theological definition. The Council of Alexandria defined hypostasis as synonymous with person. In fact, this merely repeats, in an unknown tongue, what has been already stated: “three in Persons.” But it sounds more convincing and dreadfully erudite. Ordinary folk would not dare to contradict it, because they feel it is beyond their range. It is not a revelation. It is an obfuscation.
Once more, leaving out “hypostasis,” and substituting existence for being: “One in existence; three in subsistence.” It will be necessary to grope our way in this Egyptian murk. We all know what existence means, and are glad to learn that God exists. In fact, we agree thoroughly so far. One God exists. Perhaps we should understand that He did exist once, but now He continues to exist, or subsists, as three persons. It is evident that plain English only makes this statement ridiculous. It is a theological term which is supposed to mean the same as hypostasis. In plainer language, the idea seems to be that God’s mode of existence is in three Persons. His Being, individualized, becomes three.
The sad feature about this, however, is that the word, hypostasis is a scriptural term. I consider it one of the major crimes of the church that, not content with inventing their own vocabulary, they actually use one of God’s words, distort it out of all recognition in their usage, and then claim for it all the sanctity of a divine revelation. Hypostasis, UNDER-STANDing, is a postulate, an assumption, and is used of the various characters God assumes in relation to His creatures, which are made known to us through Christ. God is our Father. Those who have seen Christ have seen the Father, for He is the Emblem of all of God’s assumptions hypostasis. This word does not represent His “person,” for no other passage in which the word occurs will bear this meaning. Paul assumed boasting (2 Cor.9:4; 11:17). Faith is an assumption of what is being expected (Heb.11:1). The Son is the Emblem of God’s assumption (Heb.1:3).
The third “definition” is “one in His Godhead; three in centers of [or?] foci of self-consciousness.” Here we have a geometrical “explanation.” It is evident to the writer that three “centers” is not any too clear. Are some of them eccentric? It is impossible and absurd. So he resorts to foci. Two foci would make an ellipse. But three foci! We do not feel privileged to give our readers a headache, so will not ask them to draw or imagine a —what?— with three foci. This explanation is just as difficult to apprehend as the Trinity. With three centers we might have managed something, even if they were no longer centers. But hardly with foci, without introducing more difficulties than explanations.
If this matter were stated plainly, no one could believe it, hence this welter of words. Here it is: God is not a Person essentially. When He becomes such He splits up into three. All of the endless discussions about the Trinity have scarcely concerned themselves with the Scriptures, but with the impossible terms of the creeds. They really have the elements of pantheism—an impersonal god—and polytheism—many persons. That is what the Trinity really is—a combination of the two great errors concerning, the Deity seeking to find some support in God’s holy Word. It is pantheistic polytheism. One impersonal God with three conscious personalities!
This great and profound doctrine has often been derided by superficial critics. Dr. A. C. Barton recently held it up to ridicule. Mr. Ingersoll was wont to make fun of Christian people by saying they did not know as much about arithmetic as a district school-boy, for the school boy would solve the simple problem in addition in this way: “One plus one plus one equals three,” whereas ignorant Christians would say, “One plus one plus one equals only one!” And then he would laugh and his audiences would laugh with him.
Well, if the infidel could be “smart,” perhaps some of the rest of us can be “smart” too. Let us look a little further into our simple equation. Suppose we imagine it being written on the black-board: one plus one plus one equals three. How many figures are there on the right side of the equation mark? Only one—the figure 3. So in one respect one plus one plus one equals one; in another respect it equals three—one figure composed of three units. So God is one in Essence, three in person, or in self-conscious powers and qualities.
A believer who is charged with agreeing with agnostics is put in a most uncomfortable position. If the Trinity were true, would it be necessary to outsmart the unbeliever? Why not produce a passage from God’s Word? If the explanation proves anything it also proves that each of the members of the Trinity is one-third of a god, for we are dealing with mathematical addition. We must take the relative values. If three represents the one God, then one cannot do so. The mere appearance is utterly misleading. God appears in only one—Christ.
You can take three pieces of crayon, and bunch them together, and as the result you will have one group and three pieces. However, we may find better illustrations, for God is psychical or spiritual Trinity; therefore our best analogies will be found in the realm of the human mind, which has been created in the divine image. The mind is one—a unity; it is not composed of divisible parts as is a material object. And yet it functions in three well-defined major ways: intellect, emotion and will. But there is only one mind. The intellect will equal the whole mind; the emotion equals the whole mind; the will equals the whole mind; yet all three of them together equal the one whole mind. That is, when the mind functions, it does so as a whole. It is one in essence or entity three in functioning power. So the Trinity is one in one respect and three in another respect. He is not one and three in the same respect.
If the implications of these illustrations had been seriously weighed they would never have been used. The Deity, we are told, is a group of Gods! The mind of man is a poor illustration of three distinct persons. Does the intellect have self-consciousness distinct from the emotion and will? Do each of these function as a separate person? Is God the Father restricted to the will, without emotion or intellect? Is Christ only an emotion, without intellect or will? How each of these equals the whole mind is not at all clear, especially when it takes all three to equal one whole mind.
What contradictions have we here! “When the mind functions it does so as a whole...three in functioning powers!” If this is a sample of the functioning of the mind, it certainly should never be used as a figure of the “Godhead!” Besides God the Father and Christ the Son do not necessarily “function” alike. There came a time when it was not at all Christ’s will to suffer, yet He bowed to the will of His God. There is not the least support in God’s Word for this fantastic illustration.
A still profounder analogy may be found in the realm of self-consciousness. You and I have a single ego or “I-hood;” yet in the analysis of the self-conscious a three-fold process is clearly seen. You are yourself; yet you can think of yourself, objectify yourself; that makes two. Now by a third process you perceive the two to be one and the same Ego or self. Thus you have the subjective Self, the objective Self and the percipient Self; yet they are all one Ego, one Self, in essence of entity. This is not a perfect analogy, as I shall indicate in a moment, but it does prove in a profound way that an entity can be one in one respect and three in another respect without inconsistency and contradiction.
In the Scriptures we are given a perfect illustration of the relation of God’s spirit to Himself. Christ had a spirit. Human beings have a spirit. The same language is used in each case, so that we know that God’s spirit is not an ego distinct from Himself, but one and the same. Let each reader ponder this simple and satisfactory fact. It is impossible to consider the spirit apart from the ego. We may consider it apart from the body, and distinct from the soul, but, being the seat of life itself, the spirit can by no manner of means be detached from us so that there are distinct personalities, each with a separate self-consciousness.
We are told that the Trinity is in the “Persons” of the “Godhead.” Now we are supposed to find three persons in ourselves! Does the fact that you can think of yourself make you two persons? The very statement of the case sounds like a sleight of hand performance. First, you think of yourself and create a duplicate. Then you perceive that you are not two, but one, and so become three! This, we are told, is not a perfect analogy. If it were, God could not think of Himself without danger of becoming dual. This is sheer philosophy, utterly foreign to God’s Word. An appeal to it is, in itself, all the proof that is needed that error, and not truth, is dependent upon it.
Now let us consider another important distinction. While man was created in the image of God, he is only a finite image, not a complete replica of God. Man has only a single Self, or “I-hood” or center of self-consciousness; therefore he is only finitely conscious. The Triune God of the Bible has three foci or powers of self-consciousness, and these three constitute the three persons of the Godhead—the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost— co-eternal and of majesty coequal. I think we can see from this analysis that the Father eternally begets the Son and the Holy Spirit eternally proceeds from the Father and the Son. Surely what God is now He must have been from eternity. If He is a Trinity now, He must have always been a Trinity.
Let us suppose that man was created in the image of this triune deity. Then each of us would be three persons! Not twins, but triplets! But man is created in the image of God. The difference between his single self-consciousness and the Trinity’s triple self-consciousness is not infinity. If God is infinite in this manner, three must be multiplied by infinity, and we have pantheism. If it is a matter of mathematics God is one, not infinity. Is it not significant that divine revelation never speaks of infinity, a word most essential to theology? No one comprehends infinity, so why bring that up?
Again we are asked to consider the figure of three foci. A diagram should have been given. All of these illustrations are very helpful in showing us that the idea of the Trinity is so hopelessly hazy that the very illustrations used are outside the realm of sober thought. This has nothing whatever to do with time, yet there is no hesitancy in assuming that the foci are “co-eternal.” Even though we cannot place the three foci in any relation to each other, we are asked to close our eyes and make them “co-equal.” As a consequence we find ourselves on a sea of mysticism far from the solid ground of revelation.
We are told that “the Father eternally begets the Son.” If we can go this far, why not invent something worth while? Why not include the virgin Mary in this eternal process? Why not expunge such passages as “Today have I begotten Thee” (Heb.1:5)? It does not seem possible that the organ of the Fundamentalist organization would allow such a sentence in its columns. Still I doubt very much if they dare to repudiate it. If the Father eternally begets the Son, when will He be begotten? This has all the vagueness and vapidity of an incantation. God forgive us for even repeating such unholy vaporings!
We are also told that “the Holy Spirit eternally proceeds from the...Son.” According to this Luke was mistaken when he ascribed the conception of our Lord to holy spirit (Luke 1:35). God’s Word says that the Son proceeded from the holy spirit and the Father. How then can the holy spirit proceed eternally from the Son? The holy spirit operates through the Son, but it is God’s spirit, and can proceed only from Him. The inference that God is always the same is true only in a limited sense. Scripture gives no ground for such a conclusion. There the figure is not a trinity, but Father and Son. Any reasoning based on this would lead in an opposite direction.
There is still another difference between God and the human beings whom He has brought into existence. Think of three different human persons. As to their minds, their substances are of the same kind, namely, psychical substances; but they are not the same substances; for each individual has his own mental substance. But in the Triune God all the divine persons inhere in, and possess and function in and through the whole divine substance. Thus each have the one infinite, absolute substance with threefold consciousness. In God the substance is Homoousios, that is the same substance; in human personalities the substance is Homoiousios. In describing God the Iota must stay out; in describing human beings, the Iota must be inserted. Those marvelously acute Nicene fathers (325 A.D.) made this profound distinction in the God-head, and thus avoided Monarchianism, on the one hand, and Tritheism, on the other; they were true Trinitarians.
Faith, our King James Version tells us, is a substance. We will need a great deal of it to assimilate this mysticism. This sort of faith is of no value. Let us reserve “faith” for confidence in God. An extraordinary capacity for credulity alone will convince us of this venerable folly. First we are told that our minds are made of psychical substances. It is not clear just what this means. In the Scriptures, psychic means soulish, having sensation, once translated sensual (James 3:15). But, as the character of this “substance” seems to be of no special importance, we will not follow this further, except to say that “substance,” “essence,” and “hypostasis,” and “subsistence” all have one common meaning—which is as vague as vacuity.
The real point lies in the two Greek words, which we will turn into good English, lest our readers lose all anchorage and drift helplessly away. The great battle which was ended (or begun) by the Nicene creed, was, as stated, about “I.” Leave it out, and we have SAME-BEING. Put it in, and we have LIKE-BEING. Some said that the “substance” of Christ was like God’s. Others insisted that it was the same as God’s. Is there anything in God’s Word as inane as this! God is spirit. Christ became flesh. All speculation about a common or similar “divine substance” is only the nightmare of unbelief.
Which side was right? No side is ever right which departs from God’s revelation. Both were wrong. Not only were they wrong, but the so-called Monarchianists (meaning only supreme) were also wrong, for they taught that Christ was a mere man, with no special spiritual relationship to God. The Tri-theists, on the other hand, held that there were three Gods. Trinitarianism is a compromise, a combination of errors so subtle and so illusive, that few indeed even care to investigate it.
Still another fact is to be kept in mind. Your Ego (self-consciousness) functions in and through your whole being—your body and mind, your intellect, emotion and will. In the trinal Godhead each Ego functions in and through the whole infinitive divine Essence or Being. Thus again we see how each person is Deity, and all are Deity, and yet there is only one Deity—a glorious Triunity, Three in one—the Trinity of the persons.
We see! What we do not see is our ego. In the Scriptures the ego (the Greek pronoun I), includes our “body and mind and intellect and will.” It is not another person using our apparatus. We see that this definition of the ego is not God’s. It is human philosophy. Therefore there is no such thing as three Egos in the “Godhead” apart from the “divine Essence or Being” through which they function. Just try to imagine a God Who is not a Being! Imagine Him using a Being. But always read a portion of the Scriptures after such efforts, so as to wipe away the stain which such vain imaginations leave.
ALTRUISTIC LOVE AND THE TRINITY
If God were a mere Monad with only one conscious center, it is hard to see how He could have had from eternity anything but egoistic love—that is, if He could have had any love at all in His nature. This would give us a frightful conception of God. But, thanks be to Him, He has been a tri-personal God from eternity and so from eternity He has been moved by altruistic love, and not merely by ego-love for the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit have had among the eternal movement and fellowship of love for one another.
Yes, God has had other-love from eternity, since He is tri-personal, and so He could create human personalities like you and me who have other-love in our finite degree as well as self-love. Hence, He could consistently issue the command to every human creature created in His similitude, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” Other-love in God is the source and basis of all other-love to create personalities.
Moreover, where there is other-love there can also be self-sacrificing love. Hence the Triune God could surrender the Son in utmost pitying love to become incarnate in human nature and to sacrifice Himself on the cross as man’s divine-human substitute for the expiation of the sins of the race. If God made no sacrifice for man, He is not a God of true, self-abnegating love. But God does truly love us, for He made an infinite sacrifice for our redemption. Yes, He loved me, and gave Himself for me. And again the triune God is the primal source and spring of all self-immolating love in the human family. Such love could not spring from insensate matter, nor from the selfish and struggle for existence. It could come only from the loving God.
“If God were a mere Monad” comes as near blasphemy as I care to go. Monad simply means One. How often has He declared that He is! Not only that, but He has declared that He is Love. What basis is there for comparing Him with sin-sickened men? What right have we to insist that He was without objects for His affection in past “eternity?”
What right have we to give the name love to one Being with three Persons? Would not the fact that they have a common “substance” make their attraction for one another self-esteem? Let us get back to the Scriptures. No man ever yet hated his own flesh. Is that altruistic? Now if three persons used the same body, would not real, self-sacrificing love be out of the question? The argument here is self-destructive. There is only one God. If He loves any other Person, He must still love the one God.
God’s love is not manifested in loving God, as Trinitarianism teaches, but in loving objects far, far beneath Him. That such objects were ever wanting is only an unfounded inference. What unscriptural expressions follow this departure! God gave His Son, not Himself. He did not become incarnate “in human nature.” He became flesh. Never is He called a “substitute.”
God’s love should never be judged by man’s. He is its source. Man is its object and reflection. To argue that God would not be love without an outlet is not only irrational but derogatory. It is not a subject for debate. It has no bearing on the Trinity. The number of “Persons” does not alter the great fact that God is love, any more than it does the companion truth, that He is light. One torch is light just as truly as three. And light does not become darkness if there is no one to observe it. Love is altruistic and unselfish, or it is not love.
A full-toned Christian experience requires a God who is triune. It needs and knows God as Father; it needs and knows God as Son and Redeemer; it needs and knows God as Holy Spirit and Sanctifier; each a distinct person and each God. Be it remembered, a true, full-toned Christian experience is Trinitarian, not Unitarian. Let us hear the Gloria Patri:
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.
An experience that glorifies God must be based upon faith. Not mere confidence in a creed, but vital dependence upon, and living acceptance of His revelation. Whatsoever is not of faith is sin. It is a sin to “believe in” a triune God, a Trinity. There is no escape except to believe God Himself. There is a curse on confidence in mortal men. If we cast out all of these human excrescences on God’s revelation we will by no means lose Him as our Father. We will still know His Son as our Redeemer. And we will be filled with holy spirit as never before.
A superficial reading of the article we have been answering will doubtless confirm those who are already Trinitarians, but the effect upon those who examine it carefully is just the reverse. If such is the basis of Trinitarianism, it must be false. There is not a single divine fact in its foundation. Like evolution, it thrives on theory and speculation, but lacks the least shred of actual evidence in its support. In a world teeming with evidence, the evolutionist cannot find a grain of sand on which to sustain his religion. So he inflates it with the hot spirit of the times, which floats it above our heads until the gas escapes or cools off. So also with this theologic theory. The god of this wicked eon has driven men away from vital touch with God through His Word, and has inflated them with the false philosophy that, by reasoning they can supersede revelation. He scores no greater triumph than when he manages to cloak a delusive error with the sanctity of a divine fiat, and then persuades God’s slaves to bow in obeisance while suffering for their loyalty to Him, and publicly protesting against the very course they are pursuing. Stand firm for God’s Word, my brethren! But be sure that it is God Himself Who is speaking!
A. E. Knoch
This publication may be reproduced for personal use
(all other rights reserved by copyright holder).