The Trinity: Foundations


Today I am beginning a series of sermons on the doctrine of the Trinity. And you might wonder how an abstract doctrine like this could be of any practical value to a Christian. I hope before very long any such thought is totally banished from your mind. Yes, it will challenge our thinking; yes this is a hard doctrine to wrap our minds around; but you will find that this doctrine will pay huge dividends in your life – especially in the later sermons, as the foundations are more and more solidified. But errors on this doctrine are rampant in the twentieth century church, and you can see the negative side-effects.

In a later sermon we will be seeing that you cannot even pray rightly if you do not understand the inter-relationships of the Trinity. Over and over again in the Scripture we are commanded to pray to the Father, through the mediation of the Son by the empowering of the Spirit. Many prayers and many forms of worship completely invert that order. Many parents teach their children to pray, "Dear Jesus," and that's the only person of the Trinity that they pray to. In a couple of weeks we will see the potential fall-out of using a different pattern than the one that Jesus and the apostles taught us. In about three or four weeks, we are going to be seeing that the Charismatic movement has, for the most part, a faulty view of the iner-Trinitarian relationships. Radical feminism has insisted that the Son does not submit to the Father and that the Spirit does not submit to the Son, and their denial of 2000 years of teaching is logically necessitated if they are to maintain their radical feminism. On the other hand, we will be seeing that the Father's relationship of authority over the Son models how to honor and lift up those who are under our authority.

Let me just give you a sneak preview of that. You know, in our human relationships, we have a tendency to want to be first, and to have the glory and the place of honor whether we have authority or under authority. The disciples were arguing amongst themselves about who was the greatest. And as a correction, Jesus teaches them how the three persons of the Trinity defer one to another. And so the doctrine of the Trinity became a correction of their social relationships.

For example, John 16:13-14 speaks of the Son's total authority over the Spirit. He said, However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine [that's pretty comprehensive, isn't it? "all things that the Father has are Mine"]. Therefore I said that He [that is, the Spirit] takes of Mine and will declare it to you.

In that passage we see that the Son is under the Father's authority, and the Spirit is under the Son's authority, but each of the Persons of the Trinity defers to each other. Everything that was under the Father's authority, He gave to the Son, and the Son in turn gives to the Spirit rather than keeping the prerogative to Himself. So the Son honors the Spirit. But the Spirit honors and glorifies the Son. In fact, in our sermon on the Spirit in about three weeks we will be seeing that absolutely everything that the Spirit does, He does to promote, and highlight and push forward and glorify the Son.

But when we look at the Son, we don't see the Son saying, "I am the greatest. The Father honors Me and the Spirit honors Me. I guess I will honor Me." No. In John 8:54 Jesus says, If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. Instead, He glorifies the Father. In John 8:28-29 Jesus said, …I do nothing of Myself; but as My Father taught Me, I speak these things…. [and in the next verse he says] for I always do those things that please Him [that is, the Father]. And so the Spirit pleases the Son and the Son pleases the Father. In John 5:30 Jesus says, I can of Myself do nothing. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me.

But then you might expect that since the Spirit does nothing except what the Son permits and since the Son does nothing except what the Father permits, that the Father might think, "Look at Me. I am the greatest." But no. For the most part, the Father does not even talk. He defers to the other two members of the Trinity. The only two times that the Father talks in the Gospels, He highlights and glorifies the Son. This is My beloved Son, hear Him.

And I won't spend more time on it, but it demonstrates that we misuse our authority if we use it to put down and demean our wives, or our employees or others who are under our authority. True authority ministers to, and praises and pushes into the spotlight the very people who submit to our authority. They don't put themselves in the spotlight. True leadership brushes credit off to those who help them. I could not do the things that I do without my wife.

And true submission is not bothered in the least by the fact that everything we do must be done under the authority and approval of another. Instead, submission glories in this and delights in respecting and pushing forward and honoring and obeying the one who is in authority. Nor does submission mean weakness. When you realize that the Spirit did and does nothing without the Son's permission, then it becomes especially significant that all of Jesus' ministry was entirely by the empowering of the Holy Spirit. He was filled with the Spirit, led by the Spirit and driven by the Spirit. I'm not going to spend a lot of time on this right now, but I think you can see that the inter-Trinitarian relationships have radical implications for our own human inter-relationships. And radical feminism has turned both honor, deference and authority upside down and destroyed what God wanted to bless. If you do not understand the Trinity, you do not understand most of Christianity. You do not worship rightly, because our worship must conform to the Trinitarian pattern. The doctrine of the Trinity impacts our view of culture, service, love, community and many other things. We must understand this doctrine, and we must be able to oppose the false views of God that are so prevalent in the church today.

I've given you a handout of twelve errors that you can find in modern America. And I will be referring to some of those heresies throughout this series. But today I want to start laying the groundwork for what the doctrine of the Trinity means. Let me start with the beginnings of a definition. Later we will add to this, but any definition of the Trinity must have at least these three parts.

  1. First, there is only one true God, perfectly unified and of one essence.

  2. Second, this one God exists in three Persons: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

  3. These three Persons are not parts of God (as if the Father is a third of God and the Spirit is another third of God). Instead, they are each, fully God. Another way of saying this is that the three Persons are co-eternal, co-equal, co-inherent and of the same substance or essence, even though they are distinct Persons.

And we will be seeing how most illustrations of the Trinity violate this point. People sometimes use illustrations like ice, water and steam all being H2O, but while it is helpful with a certain aspect of the doctrinal truth, it unfortunately illustrates the heresy of modalism much better than the Trinity. Modalism teaches that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit cannot exist at the same time. They say that there is One Person who is manifested in different states just like H2O can be manifested in different states but cannot be water, ice and steam at the same time. In fact, almost all illustrations that use nature fall down at some point, because Scripture indicates that the doctrine of the Trinity cannot be known apart from revelation. So be a little leery about trying to illustrate the Trinity by something like an egg or H2O.

Probably the best illustrations that I have seen are 1x1x1=1 – though there are problems even with that one, and the illustration that draws a circle with a blue pen (blue representing the Father) and the circle represents the whole of God. And then a red circle is drawn right over top of the blue one tracing exactly the same line, and that represents the Son, also encompassing the whole circle of what represents God. And then a yellow circle is drawn over top of the others representing the Spirit. That illustration does capture the essentials of the Trinity.

There is only one God

Let's look at each of those points. First, there is only one true God. That is absolutely essential to the definition of Trinity. Trinity means three in one or Tri-Unity. And so Christianity is a monotheistic religion. We do not believe in three Gods. That is a heresy. We are monotheistic. Monotheism from mono (one) and theism (belief in God). So monotheism is belief in only one God.

Believe it or not, that is surprising to some Christians. They hear a Mormon definition of God and they think it is the same as ours. I want you to listen to this Mormon definition of God, and hopefully you can instantly recognize it as heretical. McConkie (a Mormon apostle), says this in his book:

There are three Gods [by the way, he doesn't believe in only three gods. He believes in billions of gods. But these are three that we have to do with. So anyway, he says,] There are three Gods--the Father, Son and Holy Spirit--who, though separate in personality, are united in one purpose, in plan, and in all the attributes of perfection. (McConkie, 317)

Christians hear them saying, "they are united in purpose, plan and in all the attributes of perfection." If those three Persons are united in all th eperfections of their attributes, isn't that the same as what we teach? They speak of a unity and a plurality. But the mistake they make is to say that there are three Gods. And that is a doctrine of demons. It is the doctrine of polytheism which Scripture says is non-Christian. You cannot be a Christian and hold that there are three Gods.

Look at our text. Deuteronomy 6:4 says, Hear, O Israel: The LORD [that's Yahweh, or some people are familiar with the pronunciation Jehovah. Any time you see all capital letters for LORD you know it is the name Yahweh. And so this says, "Hear, O Israel:"] Yahweh our God, Yahweh is One." Let me quickly give you some other references and we will return to this text toward the end of the sermon. In Deuteronomy 32:39 God says, there is no God besides Me. That's pretty straightforward, isn't it? There is no God besides Me. Isaiah 43:10 says, You are My witnesses," says Yahweh, and My servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe Me, and understand that I am He. Before Me there was no God formed, nor shall there be after Me. Isaiah 45:5 says, I am Yahweh, and there is no other; there is no God besides Me.

Let me assure you that the New Testament is just as strongly monotheistic. For example, Jesus quotes this Old Testament verse in the Gospels and affirms, the LORD our God, the LORD is one (Mark 12:29). Mark 12:32 says, there is one God, and there is no other but He. 1 Corinthians 8:6, there is one God. Galtians 3:20: God is one. Ephesians 4:5 one Lord, next verse one God. 1 Timothy 2:5, For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus. James 2:19, You believe that there is one God. You do well. And there are many other New Testament passages that affirm monotheism. I have given more of the New Testament ones because I think there's is a tendency for Christians to think that the Old Testament was monothesistic, while the New Testament is Trinitarian, as if Trinitarianism is different from monotheism. It is not. The Bible from Genesis to Revelation has a unified testimony that there is only one God. We will be seeing the practical ramifications of this teaching, but for now, it's important to realize that Mormonism is not even remotely Christian. It is a polytheistic heretical religion that believes in many gods. And these gods are actually demons, and not gods. It grieved my soul when I saw a former member of a previous church attending a mormon church and not recognizing the difference. This is a doctrine of critical importance.

This one God exists in three Persons: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit

Let's go on to the second part. The second part of the definition of the Trinity is that this one God exists in three Persons: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Another way of saying this is that Jesus is Yahweh, the Spirit is Yahweh and the Father is Yahweh, but there are not three Yahweh's, but one. Yahweh is the name for God, and there are three persons that bear this name and all three Persons this one God. And that might remind you of our baptismal formula: "I baptize you in the name [singular] of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." That is taken from Matthew 28:19, which says, 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. Notice that it is one name. Why? Because there is only one Yahweh. Zechariah 14:9 says, The LORD is one, and His name one. If the name was "Father, Son and Holy Spirit" you wouldn't have the words "and of the" before each of those three persons. The Son isn't the name. There is a name that pertains to the Son. The Father isn't the name. There is a name that belongs to the Father. And those aren't names anyway: those are positions or titles. All three bear God's name Yahweh. One God; three Persons. As Zechariah says, "The Lord is one, and His name one." One name, but three Persons have that one divine name.

And so 1 Corinthians 8:5-6 teaches that the Father is God. Paul says, for us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we live. Did you get that? He is saying that there is one God, the Father through whom everything came into existence, and there is one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom everything came into existence. Paul has no problem affirming that there is only one God and yet saying that Jesus is God and the Father is God. Now almost everybody believes that the Father is God, so I won't belabor this one.

But Scripture also says that the Son is God. John 1:1 says, In the beginning was the Word [later he defines this Word as the preincarnate Son of God. So he says, "In the beginning was the Word"], and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. If everything that was made was made by the preincarnate Jesus, that means that the Son of God was not made. John is doing exactly the same thing that Paul did. John is saying that the Son is different from the Father and yet one with the Father in essence. You can distinguish Father and Son, but you cannot separate them. Both Father and Son are God. The Word was with God and the Word was God.

Thus, when Jesus is worshipped and called God by humans, He does not rebuke them and refuse their worship as being blasphemy. If He was merely a man, or an angel or some other creature, He would have to stop them from worshipping Him. But instead we find that He welcomes their testimonies and their worship. When doubting Thomas finally calls Jesus, My Lord and my God in John 20:28, Jesus goes on to say that this is true faith. Several times in the Gospels Jesus calls Himself God. In John 8:58 Jesus claims to be the I AM who existed before Abraham and who revealed Himself to Abraham. He said, before Abraham was I AM. The immediate reaction of the Jews is to pick up stones to stone Him for blasphemy in claiming to God. By the way, the Hebrew for I AM is the root of the name Yahweh. In John 5 Jesus says that just as the Father raises the dead, the Son has life in Himself and can give life to whomever He wills (verse 21), that the Father has committed all judgment to the Son (verse 22) and that all should honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him. And this is why Colossians 2:9 says, For in Him [Jesus] dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. In Titus 2:13 Jesus is called, our great God and Savior Jesus Christ. In Isaiah 9:6 He is called Mighty God. In Matthew 1:23 he is called Immanuel which means God with us.

Hebrews 1 over and over quotes passages from the Old Testament that are applied to Jehovah, and applies them to Jesus. Verse 8 says, But to the Son He says: ‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever" He's calling Jesus "God" there. Yet to this God who rules on the throne, He says, Therefore, God, Your God, has anointed You. That is God anointing God. Verse 10 applies Psalm 102 to Jesus, saying, You, LORD [and the Word being quoted there from Psalm 102 is Yahweh – "You Yahweh"] in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; and they will all grow old like a garment; like a cloak You will fold them up, and they will be changed. But You are the same, and Your years will not fail. In that verse the Son is called Yahweh and is said to be creator of all, eternal and immutable. Verse 6 says, But when He again brings the firstborn into the world, He says, "Let all the angels of God worship Him." Hebrews 1 is a fabulous chapter to turn to to prove the deity of Jesus. It quotes all these and other passages to prove that Jesus is Yahweh God. And we could go on and on with hundreds of verses which say that Jesus has all the attributes of God, is to be worshipped as God, is called God, and has Old Testament Scriptures which apply only to Yahweh being applied to Jesus.

But the Holy Spirit is also called God. He is called the Spirit of God 26 times, the Spirit of the Lord 28 times. He is called the Spirit of Christ and the Spirit of your Father. 2 Corinthians 3:17 says that those phrases are the same as saying "the Lord is the Spirit." Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. In Acts 5:3-4 Peter says to Ananias, Why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit… You have not lied to men but to God. Lying to the Spirit is lying to God. They are one and the same. In fact Spirit is called God so many times that most people don't try to deny His deity. Instead they try to deny that He is a Person.

Jehovah's witnesses will say is that the Spirit is simply the power of God. But Scripture is so clear that we can have fellowship with the Spirit (Philippians 2:1). You don't fellowship with a power, but with a Person. And there are many other things that the Spirit does that only a person can do. He speaks, teaches, sends, guides, bears witness, forbids people from doing things (Acts 16:8), is insulted (Heb. 10:29), is grieved (Eph. 4:3), has a will (1 Cor. 12:11) and a mind (Rom. 8:27), etc. In otherwords, He is a Person that we can relate to. And we will make a big deal over that when we get into the inter-relationships between the Persons of the Trinity in a later sermon.

So we have seen first, that there is only one true God, perfectly unified and of one essence.

Second, this one God exists in three Persons: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

These three Persons are equal in power and glory

Third, these three Persons are equal in power and glory. We have already quoted John chapter 5 to show the deity of Jesus. But John's comments on Christ's words are very interesting. John 5:18 says, Therefore the Jews sought all the more to kill Him, because He … said that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God. That's not just the people's interpretation. This is John's commentary. This is John's opinion that Jesus made Himself equal with God. Philippians 2:6 speaks of Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God. It couldn't be robbery if He was in the form of God. Equality belonged to Him; it wasn't stolen. In John 17:5 Jesus says, And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was. John 10:30, I and My Father are one."

The immediate response in the next verse is this: Then the Jews took up stones again to stone Him. Jesus answered them, "Many good works I have shown you from My Father. For which of those works do you stone Me?" The Jews answered Him, saying, "For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy, and because You, being a Man, make Yourself God. Jesus answered… do you say of Him whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, "You are blaspheming," because I said, "I am the Son of God?" If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me. But if I do, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, that you may know and believe that the Father is in Me, and I in Him. Then they sought again to seize Him, but He escaped out of their hand. There are so many aspects of this equality in the God-head in that passage. I don't think that I need to belabor that, though I will bring it up again in later sermons.

Modalism is not possible because the Father, Son and Holy Spirit appear together in so many places at the same time

But I do want to counter some errors that can be found in the modern church that need to be corrected. The first error is actually held by many Trinitarians. They do not consider the doctrine of the Trinity to be a critical doctrine. They believe it, but they say that people don't really need to believe it to be Christians. Now that's quite a different stance than the one that was taken for the past 1700 years. From the time of the early church and on through to the Reformation and even into modern times, most churches would excommunicate you if you denied the Trinity. It was a foundational doctrine. But these modern evangelicals think differently: "After all" they will claim, "there was no mention of the Trinity in the Old Testament, yet people were saved back then. And if God chose not to reveal the doctrine of the Trinity in the Old Testament, then it cannot be a very important doctrine, and we cannot insist that it is an essential doctrine today. An assistant pastor from one of the largest evangelical churches in Omaha said this to me. He said, "Are you saying that we are going to exclude United Pentecostals simply because they don't believe the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are three Persons? And I said "Yes. T. D. Jakes and others cannot affirm even one of the creeds of Christendom." They are outside the church. He thought that was ridiculous, and unloving and that these modalists should be admitted into CELNet.

There are others who say that modern Jews worship the same God that we do. President Bush says that Muslims worship the same God that we do. How can they say that? They think it is consistent because all three religions are monotheistic. But the God of modern Judaism and modern Islam is utterly, utterly different from the Christian God. And we cannot fall into these politically correct traps.

And so, I want to examine that question. Is it truly just a New Testament doctrine? You would think that if it was so all-fired important, you would find it in the Old Testament. Are there Old Testament passages that show all three Persons together in the same way that Matthew 3 does? Matthew 3 shows that modalism simply cannot work. Modalists say that there is one God and one Person, but this one person appeared in different forms. He appeared as Father in the Old Testament, and then He changed into Son during the New Testament and then He changed His form into Spirit from Acts chapter 2 and on. But here's what Matthew 3 says: When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him. And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." Jesus is standing there, the Spirit has come out of heaven and alighted on Jesus, and yet a voice comes out of heaven. The Father speaks from heaven while the Spirit anoints the Son. That's not modalism because the three are present at the same time.

Are there these kinds of distinctions in the Old Testament? Some scholars doubt it. Others dogmatically say that there are none. I would agree with those scholars who emphatically say, "Yes, the Trinity is so clear in the Old Testament that Old Testament saints could have concluded at least the rudiments of Trinitarian doctrine." In David Cooper's massive study, he says, "In our investigation thus far we have seen that Moses and the prophets were Trinitarians. They believed in the three divine personalities who subsist in the one divine essence.

This conclusion is inescapable – for one who is willing to take the Holy Scriptures at their face value." After reading his book, I would have to say that this is not hyperbole. And the interesting thing that I have found is that the most ancient Jewish writings – the Targums – which originated when Israel was in exile in Babylon and were later codified and written; when these Targums comment on the Scriptures, they give indication that the ancient Jews already believed there were three Personalities that were all Yahweh. They were Trinitarian. One of these Personalities is called by the Targums, "The Word of Yahweh,"and He seems to be the one that interacts most of the time with the earth and with humans. It's the Word of Yahweh that creates, that gives the law, that reigns down fire on Sodom and Gomorroah, etc. And the Word of Yawheh is also called Yahweh, but speaks to Yawheh in heaven. The one in heaven is also called "Father in Heaven" over one hundred times in the rabbinic literature. There are other designations, but it is interesting that the Father, the Word and the Spirit are all referred to before the time of Christ. The Holy Spirit is frequently called the Spirit of Yahweh in the Targums, and this being has all the divine attributes, and yet is different from Yahweh. Modern Judaism is nothing like the faith of ancient Israel.

So let's look at a few Scriptures that they would appeal to. Turn first to Genesis 1. There are literally hundreds and hundreds of verses in the Old Testament that simply cannot be interpreted in any other way than that God is composed of three Persons. Some of the passages only mention two Persons, others three. But let's just take a quick survey.

Genesis 1:1. The very first verse confronts us with a plurality in unity. IN the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The word God (Elohim) is a plural noun. In fact, it is the same noun that is translated gods elsewhere – thou shalt have no other gods before me" is "thou shalt have no other elohim before Me." But it can't be translated Gods here because the verb is singular. There is only one being that creates (thus a singular verb) and yet this one being exists as a plurality in some way. And the very next verse begins this differentiation. The earth was without form, and void, and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. So you have God and you've got the Spirit of God. Then in verses 3 and following, you have the revelational God speaking and creating, and the Jews spoke of this speaking God as the Word of Yahweh.

Look at verse 26. Then God said, "Let US make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion… etc. Notice the plural pronouns. Jews try to weasel out of this by saying that it is the plural of majesty. But that is nonsense. When God speaks to man, or speaks to creation, it is in the singular. If you needed the plural of majesty, it would be needed when speaking to men. But whenever God talks to God, He uses the first person plural. Let us make. Look at chapter 3:22. Then the LORD [or Yahweh] God said, "Behold, the man has become like one of Us, to know good and evil. One Yahweh, yet more than one something that has self-consciousness and can use terms like "us" and "we."

We speak of such entities of self-consciousness as Persons. Look at Genesis 11:6-8. And the LORD [that's Yahweh] said, "Indeed the people are one and they all have one language, and this is what they begin to do: now nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them. Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another's speech." So the LORD scattered them. Who is the "Us that scatters them? It is the LORD, Yahweh. Ecclesiastes 12:1 says, Remember now thy Creators in the days your youth. Look it up. It's in the plural. Psalm 149:2 says, Let Israel rejoice in his makers. Well, I won't belabor that, but there are literally hundreds and hundreds of Old Testament passages which use plural nouns for God with a singular verb, or plural verbs with a singular noun, or plural adjectives for God.

Not only that, but God speaks to God in other ways. Let me give you one example. Isaiah 44:6 says this: Thus says Yahweh, the king of Israel, and His Redeemer, Yahweh of Hosts. [ there are two Persons who bear the name Yahweh, and what are they saying? The next phrase tells us:] I am the First and I am the Last; besides Me there is no God. Why don't you turn with me to Psalm 45:6-7. This Psalm is a prophecy of the coming Messiah, and this Messiah is clearly called God. Hebrews quotes verse 6 and prefaces the quote with the words by saying, to the Son, He [that is God] says, and then comes verse 6. Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; a scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your kingdom. You love righteousness and hate wickedness; therefore God, Your God [now wait a minute? Isn't the Person He is addressing called God in verse 6. Then how can God be said to have a God? Of this Messiah, who is God, it says: "Therefore God, Your God"], has anointed You with the oil of gladness more than Your companions. God anoints God. Is that not what happened at the baptism of Jesus? Oil represents the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament. So God anointed God with God. And God spoke to God. Is this not the Trinity?

Look at Isaiah 48:16. I really want you to see this one, so look this one up. It's Isaiah 48:16. And just to give you context, beginning at verse 12 it is God who is speaking, and this God is Messiah. Isaiah 48, beginning at verse 12. It says, Listen to Me, O Jacob, and Israel, My called: I am He, I am the First, I am the Last. [That's a divine title, by the way. In the next verse He says,] Indeed My hand has laid the foundation of the earth. So this is clearly God, and because Jesus is the First and the Last, I believe it is specifically God the Son. You can read the rest of verses 13 through 15 for yourself to see how it applies to Son. But for now, let's just look at verse 16. Come near to Me, hear this: I have not spoken in secret from the beginning; from the time that it was, I was there [the "it" referring to the beginning. So He is saying that in any beginning to have been begun, this Person was already there. But look at what this divine being says in the next phrase:] And now the Lord GOD [that's adonai Yahweh] and His Spirit have sent Me. There's the Trinity for all Jews to behold. A divine being who existed before time began and who created the world is speaking, and this divine being says that He has been sent by the Lord Yahweh and by Yahweh's Spirit.

Can you see how the Trinity is clearly in the Old Testament? And it is certainly in line with Christ's expectations of the Jews, as we will see in a moment. Psalm 110 has Yahweh speaking to David's Lord and saying Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool. So we have seen a plurality in God, we have seen God speaking to God, the Persons of the Godhead all being called Yahweh.

Tying Monotheism together

But that in no way denies monotheism. Turn to Deuteronomy 6:4. This is the classic text that teaches monotheism, the belief in one God, and yet the Trinity is hinted at even there. Let's read this verse again. This is the verse on monotheism that every Jew had to recite.

Deuteronomy 6:4: Hear, O Israel: Yahweh our God, Yahweh is one. In light of everything we have seen so far, this is very interesting. The name Yahweh is singular, but the word for God (Elohenu) is a plural construct and it could actually be translated as "our gods" since it doesn't have the singular article in front of it. But context demands it be a compound singular. There is a clear cut plurality in the word God (Elohim), but the name Yahweh is singular mandating that this not be gods, but God.

Furthermore, the word chosen for "one" is אֶחָד (echad). The Hebrew word echad is defined in one of my Hebrew books this way: "While the fundamental idea is that of a compound unity or the oneness of different elements or integral parts, it came to be used to express one in the absolute sense as the numeral one… This fact being true, it becomes necessary to study the context wherever it occurs in order to ascertain which idea is conveyed in each particular case." And of course, how Moses uses it is the most important. And the book goes through several examples of a compound unity (in other words, a number of things that are united).

In Genesis 1:5 it says, and there was evening and there was morning, day one." Dr. David Cooper says, "This statement brings together two contrasting ideas – light and darkness – into a compound unity, which idea is normally expressed by echad." Genesis 2:24 says, Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh. The author comments: "In this passage one sees two individuals, man and woman, and yet God said that they constitute a unity – a unity made by joining two opposites into a real oneness."

That's an interesting example because there are two persons (Adam and Eve), but by their marriage and union they are said to be one (echad). And he gives numerous other examples of a compound unity. Interestingly, this Hebrew scholar in his massive study, sees the use in Deuteronomy 6:4 as being a compound unity. Elohim is plural, but to avoid the idea of plural gods, Moses says that this Elohim is one Yahweh, one Lord and the word one is a compound one – a unity. So the Hebrew of the strongest verse on monotheism gives hints that this one God is composed of a plurality. I've got an unbelieving Jewish commentary that says on this verse, "For all its familiarity, the precise meaning of the Shema is uncertain." Well, isn't that convenient?! It is uncertain because it speaks so strongly to a plurality within the Godhead. Prior to Maimonides (who lived in the twelfth century AD), the Jews always used echad to describe the oneness of God. But from Maimonides on, they used yashid because it embarrassed them to see this compound unity.

What understanding did Jesus expect of first century Jews?

To close off the sermon, let me affirm that there are literally hundreds of Old Testament passages which affirm the Trinity in clear and unambiguous language. They are every bit as clear as the New Testament. This is not a New Testament doctrine.

This is why Jesus held the Jews accountable for not believing Moses when Jesus claims to the Son of God in John 5. They picked up stones to stone Him because He said that God was His Father [they know from the Old Testament what that means] and it goes on to say, making Himself equal with God. Why would calling Himself the Son of God make Himself equal with the Father? On earth it doesn't. On earth a son is always lesser than the father because the Son begins after the Father. But the Jews had a theology of God that knew the Father, and knew that since the Father is called an eternal Father, there never was a time when there was not an eternal Son. They could not escape from it. So they knew the Father, and the Word of the Father (sometimes known as Son) and the Spirit of the Father. And they knew these Persons to be all equally God; equally Yahweh. They know Jesus claims to be fulfilling their theology, and fulfilling the Old Testament. What's Jesus response? Does He let them off the hook because the Old Testament was not sufficient to teach the doctrine of the Trinity? No. He says, Do not think that I came to accuse you to the Father; there is one who accuses you: Moses, in whom you put your hope. For if you had believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote about Me.

In John 12:41, the apostle John says that Isaiah saw Jesus on the throne. You know the passage in Isaiah. Isaiah says, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple. And He goes on to talk of the angels crying out in Trinitarian worship Holy, holy, holy. Why three holies? Because there are three Persons. Holy, holy, holy is Yahweh of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory. Well, John quotes the words of this divine being in Isaiah chapter 6 and then concludes that the glory Isaiah saw was Christ's glory and that Isaiah spoke of Him. In other words, according to Jesus and according to the apostle John, the Jews should have known. And many of them did. That's why the Magi had no problem worshipping the baby Jesus. They knew He was more than just a baby.

That's why there is no controversy whatsoever among the apostles or among the early disciples about the Trinity. Isn't that an interesting thing. There were plenty of other controversies, but the Trinity was not. The early church all believed that the Father was God, that Jesus was God and that the Holy Spirit was God. That's clear from the New Testament. It was not until later church history when heretics crept in that any questions arose. And as frequently happens, doctrine that is believed in general has to be clarified and reclarified and crystallized and defended in answer to those who reject the clear testimony of the Scripture. And so in the council of Nicea, the doctrine of the Trinity was clarified and carefully worded to keep heretics with weasel words from being able to come into the church.

But you know what? That council affirmed that the church always believed this: that this was the catholic doctrine. They claimed that this was not new. I did some research to see if that was true. And it was. You can see the doctrine of the Trinity hinted at in the Didache (which was written before Jerusalem fell), in Justyn Martyr and other fathers from the first, second and third centuries. But more importantly, the doctrine has been with us right from Genesis chapter 1.


In the next two or three weeks I want to teach you about the fabulous implications of the Inter-Trinitarian relationships. Today's was more of a foundation. But let's close with a few applications.

The first application is that you need to be wary of modern scholarship. Some people are embarrassed to differ with any modern scholars, and modern scholarship says that the Trinity was invented by the early church, and that it's not important. Evangelicals even say that. And we would say, "No. They clarified the doctrine, but they did not invent it."

Secondly, we must treat modern errors on the Trinity just as seriously as Jesus did. Jesus obviously sees this doctrine as foundational to the Christian faith. We cannot cut people any slack on this. If you go to the bookstore you will see books by modalistic heretics – heretics like T.D. Jakes, Kenneth Reeves, David Campbell. And Evangelicals embrace them and work with them. Christ did not. Modalism is a dishonor to Christ and a dishonor to the Spirit.

Third, you should be nervous about modern talk of a Judeo-Christian consensus. If by that phrase they meant Old Testament and New Testament consensus, it would be right on. But they mean that Christians and Jews of today have a common consensus. We do not. Most Jews of today aren't even religious. But we don't have a consensus even with the Orthodox Jews. They believe the Talmud, not the Bible. And the Talmud is the compilations of the oral traditions of the Pharisees and elders which Jesus rejected with the fiercest rhetoric. He said, "They make void the law of God with their man-made traditions." And the same is true on the doctrine of the Trinity. They worship a different God. Islam worships a different God. The God of the Old Testament was the Trinity.

Fourth, I would urge you to begin to glory in God's perfect community of love and service and communication. We'll have more to say about this in later sermons, but begin to meditate on what it would mean to have a marriage that reflects God. After all, God made Adam and Eve together in His image. There are awesome implications of modeling our social relationships after God's. And the fact that this is God's purpose makes it achievable by His grace.

Fifth, if this sermon has blown you away as being too difficult, then I challenge you to begin studying the doctrine of God. It ought to be so familiar to you that you can discuss it with anyone. In past ages, what I have been teaching would have been considered basics. It shows how shallow the Christianity of moderns has become when they cannot recognize heresies that even the children were able to recognize in the time of Athanasius and Arius. Our Christianity needs to dig a little deeper.

Lastly, learn to take doctrine and worship with it. Glory in who God is. Jeremiah 9:24 says, But let him who glories glory in this, hat he understands and knows Me, God wants us to understand and to known Him and to glory in Him. May we do so. Amen.

The Trinity: Foundations is part of the The Trinity series published on February 13, 2005

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