"Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ." - Jerome

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

How can God be one, AND more than one?

This post is an outline for the material I taught a few weeks ago in a "mid-week" class I am team-teaching with Jay Bennett, a pastoral intern at my church (PCPC).

God is One

We see in Scripture that the most fundamental confession of Israel in the Old Testament is "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one." (Deut 6:4) The language and confession is repeated as the most basic declaration of faith in 1Kings 8:60 and Isa 45:5-6 .

Then, in the New Testament, we see three names, that seem to be distinct, called God.
1) God the Father such as in 1 Cor 1:3
2) Jesus (also called the Son or Word) in places such as John 20:28, or John 1:1-14
3) The Holy Spirit in places such as Acts 5:3-4

How is it then, that God is one, and these three are God? The Early Church stuggled with this question, with many answers being posited by men such as Arius, Apollonarius, Sabellius and Athanasius. How do we speak of these three? How do we speak of this one?


The first answer we will look at is the one given by a man named Sabellius. His answer was simple, logical and seemingly true to the Biblical witness. It goes like this:

God is one
The Father is God
The Son is God
Because the Father is the Son

Sabellius would even start calling this Person of God the "Sonfather." It sees one God, with different modes or manifestations. in fact, if we read John 10:30, where Jesus declares "I and the Father are one" this explanation seems to have biblical support. Modalism appealed to some in the Early Church because:

– Preserves equal worth of Son and Father
– Maintains the Fully Deity of the Son

If we are searching for model for this explanation, we may think of water (and in fact, we may shutter to think this may have been how God was explained to us). You see, the Modalist will say, Water can be solid, liquid or gas manifesting itself as an ice cube, a glass of water or steam. Yet, it is all the same water.

Tertullian voiced many of the objections of the other leaders in the church to this teaching, because while Modalism helped explain some things, it also:

– Denies distinction of Father and Son
– Denies the distinct Personhood of Son

The explanation is too simple. If the Son and Father are the same, why does the Son who was on earth, teach us to pray to the Father who is in heaven? Why does the Son pray to the Father in the Garden? How is it that the Son and Father have different roles and actions (John 5:22) if they are the same person?

No, the church could not accept the denial of the division between Son and Father. Other means must be solicited.


Arius was a superb Biblical scholar. He used the technique taught in seminaries across the world: Let the New Testament aid in interpreting the Old Testament. Like a good evangelical, Arius placed his trust in his hermenutic. Finding that Paul had called Christ "the wisdom of God" in the New Testament, Arius knew he had been given the key to understanding the passage about wisdom in the Old Testament in Proverbs 8:12, 22. Here, wisdom personified declares: "The LORD brought me forth as the first of his works." This translation is based on the Greek translation of the Old Testament, and while the Hebrew has a meaning closer to "possessed me at the beginning of your works" still this translation persists today in the NIV and NET as alternative readings. Arius also pointed to the very word "begat" as proof that the Son was distinct, but a created being, divine and the greatest of God's creation, but not God.

Apolloniarius also had a theory of "Son as lesser being" teaching that Jesus was "adopted" at his baptism, when the Holy Spirit decended, as God's vehicle, Jesus then was a man who became God or divine. Yet, still not God as the Father is God.

What does it mean that the Son is Deity?

This is a difficult question, especially when facing the language of "begotten." Our favorite verse in America is John 3:16, containing the very word "begotten." Does this word mean? Very early in the history of the Church was the church father Irenaus. The apostle John had as a disciple Polycarp and Polycarp trained Irenaeus in the teaching of John. Irenaeus, even before Arius, taught what John meant by this word as communicating:

“The Father is God, and the Son is God, for whatever is begotten of God is God.”

If a human begets a son, it is human? Does it share the qualities that make the father human? Then if God begets a Son, then the Son is God in the same shared qualities of Deity. One of these qualities is Eternality. The Son himslef makes this claim as to himself in John 8:58. So also to say the Son is begotten of the Father and shares Eternality is to say there is no time in which the Son did not exist. There was never a time when the Son "was not." For the Son is I AM.

This understanding informs the Creed believed by the Church from 325AD to the present: The Nicean Creed in which it is confessed:

"We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made."

The bishop of Alexandria, Athanasius, continued this argument after the Council issued this creed. Athanasius tried to answer: Why is this even important? Athanasius related this back to our salvation. For:

– Man has debt
– Man has no means to pay this debt
– God has means to pay debt
– God has no debt to pay
– Must be paid by a God-man

The denial of the full deity or full humanity of Christ, leaves us dead in our sins and without hope for salvation.


Can we have a model for God? Can we speak of him as exactly like a Father and Son? Can we speak of Him as water? Augustine wrestled with the same problem and asked this rhetorically:

How can we find a model in nature for a God outside of nature (supernatural)?

The answer: We cannot. Yet, we also long to understand the one-ness and three-ness of God. To this end, we have this model from Augustine:

On the one-ness of God, the Early Church tried to answer when Jesus said "I and the Father are one," Jesus is saying they are one...what?

The word they settled on was "Ousia." This is translated as Substance or Essence. This is defined as Traits of Deity that are shared by Father, Son and Spirit, such as
• Eternality
• Power
• Worth

As for the "Three-ness" of God, the word commonly used was that God is three in hypostasis. This is commonly translated as "Person." Basil simply defined hypostasis as “That which is spoken of distinctly." So:

Ousia - the common traits of God
Hypostasis - that which is spoken of distinctly

Another way to think of it is:

Ousia = What
Hypostasis = Who

We can see this simply defined in the Westminster Confession of our Church:

"In the unity of the Godhead there be three Persons of one substance, power, and
eternity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. The Father is of
none, neither begotten nor proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the
Father; the Holy Ghost eternally proceeding from the Father and the Son. "

And even more importantly in the Nicean Creed, the creed of our common Christianity, confessed by Reformed, Lutherans, Methodists, Anglicans, confessional Baptists, Catholics and Orthodox everywhere:

We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father. Through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father [and the Son.] With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified. He has spoken through the Prophets. We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen
If you are interested in more on this, my highest recommendation is for T.F. Torrence's "The Trinitarian Faith."



M. Jay Bennett said...

Great outline!

You did a fine job teaching this class as with the others. I plan to start posting my lecture notes soon too. We should link them to one another.

Adam Pastor said...

Wonderful outline of the history of this incredible doctrine of the trinity

It shows how many, no doubt, sincere people try to describe God using tools that they ought not to! That is Greek and Hellenistic concepts & philosophy!
[cp. Col 2.8]

However, the Bible began, especially in regards to the OT, as a Hebrew book.
And the GOD of the Hebrews, the GOD of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob;
has always described Himself as ONE!
Never more than ONE!

This fact moved straight over into the NT without any deviation.
As Paul said:
(1 Cor 8:4) ... that there is none other God but one.
(1 Cor 8:6) But to us there is but one God, the Father,

And Jesus our Lord and Master declared:
(John 17:3) And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.

(John 20:17) ... go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.

The Jews, including Christ's disciples, have ever known only ONE GOD; that is, ONE Person who is Almighty GOD.
Jesus himself called GOD his Father,
the only true GOD

So may I suggest another answer which your outline does not speak of.
I believe it is the clear biblical model, which has sadly been slandered for centuries, especially from the time of the Nicene Council.

It is the biblical unitarian model:
That is ...
there is solely ONE GOD, the Father
[1 Cor 8.4,6; 1 Tim 2.5]
and there is solely ONE MAN;
whom the ONE GOD has raised from the dead, highly exalted him, and made him, 'Lord of all'
[Acts 2.36, 10.36; Phil 2.11]

So ...
ONE GOD, the Father; &
ONE Man, the man Messiah Jesus our Lord!!


(1 Cor 8:6) But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.

(1 Tim 2:5) For there is one God, and one mediator between [that ONE] God and men, the man Christ Jesus;

(Mat 16:16) And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.

This is the biblical model! That if only, the Gentile, Hellenistic church had stuck too,
history would have told another story! But alas no!!
It was this Gentilized, Hellenistic church which struggled with this manmade question:
"How is it then, that God is one, and these three are God? "

Not the church of NT times!
They neither invented nor struggled with such a question!

For the NT clearly declared solely ONE GOD, the Father.
[(1 Cor 8:6) But to us there is but one God, the Father ...]
whilst Jesus of Nazareth was a man approved of the ONE GOD [Acts 2.22]; a man who was begotten into the world by the miraculous power of the living GOD;
and for that reason (dio kai), said the angel Gabriel, he shall be called the Son of God!
This man, the foreordained, promised Messiah of GOD [Luke 9.20]; obeyed the ONE GOD even to the death of the cross [Phil 2.8]; therefore, the ONE GOD, raised him from the dead, glorified and highly exalted him, setting him at His own right hand, making him both Lord & Christ;
[Acts 2.22-36]
hence he is the Lord Jesus the Christ!

Thus, in this Biblical model, there is no need for any controversy. No need for any questions about more than one; seeing that there is solely ONE being, ONE person who is Almighty GOD, the Father.
Hence ONE Deity!

Therefore, there is no need for modalism, arianism or trinitarianism!
No need for any further creeds.
In fact, Jesus' creed is Deut 6.4 as shown in Mark 12:28-32.
Both Jesus and the scribe were not trinitarians.
They obviously believed that there was solely ONE Person, ONE Being, who is Almighty GOD.
Note the scribe's response and understanding of Jesus' words:
(Mark 12:32) And the scribe said unto him, Well, Master, thou hast said the truth: for there is one God; and there is none other but he:

There is no understanding of a three-ness of God here!!

So the Biblical model is that there is

ONE man whom the ONE GOD has made

All verses such as John 20:28, John 1:1-14, Acts 5:3-4, John 8.58;
can be explained using this biblical model.
To find out how and for more info,
I humbly suggest that you take a couple of hours to watch this video at:

The Human Jesus

Yours In Messiah
Adam Pastor

Jared Nelson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jared Nelson said...

I affirm your creed and confession that Jesus is man. I am, however, in disagreement with you over your abandonment of the faith of the apostles and the church that came after them.

One must deal with those passages which call Jesus God. Such as Thomas’ confession that Jesus is “ Κύριός μου καὶ ὁ Θεός μου” My Lord and my God. In John 1, Jesus is called the Word and the Word is God. So let us do away with this talk of the early faith of the apostles not being that they believed Jesus was God. Let us also leave behind this idea that “Lord” and “God” may be separated and acknowledge the confession of Ph 2:11 that Jesus is Lord is not excluding His being God. I think you may be tripped up by the prose of the Bible which will often times use the word Theos, Θεός as a shorthand merely for the Father, yet this does not limit this term for merely the Father and not for the Son, as we see throughout the gospel of John and this is no more contradictory than my father primarily being the person referred to when people talk about Mr. Nelson, though I am also Mr. Nelson. (though this is not a complete analogy as Theos is more than a name)

The other part of the problem your definition of “one” “אחד” echad. This is the word in Deut 6:4 to describe God. One must ask if one ever means one “what” or one as united. In a similar way, the word is used in Gen 2:24 to describe two persons, Adam and Eve, or man and woman, come together in marriage to become one using the same word “one” “אחד” echad. So by your narrow definition of the word “one” “אחד” echad this would mean they come together to be one person. Therefore, “one” in Deut 6:4 is a case in itself that God is one person anymore than Adam and Eve, or my wife and myself are one person.

Though you are concerned about not using “extra-biblical” language, you did so in your confession and creed about God and Christ you have just written on my blog, namely you called God one Person, going beyond the biblical language. Also, every word you typed is unbiblical because they are written in English. Thus, as you have acquiesced to the ability for us to use words not in the Bible to communicate biblical truth, let us acknowledge the biblical language that “Jesus is God, the Father is God and they are two persons, one essence” the teaching of the Church, who merely used these word “person” and “essence” to aid in grasping the biblical teaching. This is same church of which Jesus Christ declared “I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” This is the faith of the Church in the apostles. This is the faith of their followers such as Ignatius, disciple of John, who told us Jesus “was God in human form.” (Ignatius letter to the Ephesians ch 19).

It is a difficult teaching, but it is the teaching of Christ, the apostles and the church. One might not accept it, but this does not mean your belief is more ancient, but novel, new and ahistorical. You may believe that “God is one,” but remember the warning of James 2:19, even the demons believe that and shudder, it is not enough to ensure your hope of eternity. Your only hope is believing in the actual Son whom Thomas confessed as God, that God the Father sent, not in a false image you call the Son. Believe the God-man, the Son of God has come, that all who believe have had their sins atoned for in his perfect propitiation. A propitiation that could be paid by no man, but only the God-man, Jesus the Messiah. You will be in my prayers that you may accept the faith of our Christ and the church. To explore it more, I would encourage you to find a local expression of this body, here is a directory of such a grouping of churches: https://processor.pcanet.org/ac/directory/directory.cfm . The local pastor will be able to answer your questions on the Christian conception of God. I pray the Holy Spirit will open your mind to His teaching.

yours in Our Lord Jesus Christ, the God-man of our salvation,


Matthew Bradley said...

Yes, Jared. Quite.

Praise God from Whom all blessings flow! Praise Him all creatures here below! Praise Him above ye heavenly hosts! Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost! Amen.

Denying the deity of Christ is necessarily a rejection of the messiah. 1 John 2 calls such a person an anti-christ. And, ironically, also teaches that such a person denies the Father as well.

Outstanding defense of the faith, Jared.

Jared Nelson said...

Some correctives to my post, I meant to sight John 20:28 as the confession of Thomas.

Also, I mean that merely citing Deut 6:4 was NOT a case in and of itself. The context tends to indicate what I mean.

I also meant that we need biblical language and non-biblical language when non-biblical language (about "person") is being used by those who do not mean what the bible means.

I hate not being able to correct my grammar on a comment post!

Adam Pastor said...

Greetings Jared Nelson

The Scriptures indeed sets the precedent in stating in what sense Jesus the Messiah can indeed be called "God"
(As already explained in the video)

Are men, human beings, called "God/elohim" in Scripture? Yes!!
That is,
Moses: Exo 7.1, 4.16;
The judges. Exo 21.6, 22.8-9, 28,
Psa 82.6

Now in John 10.33, Jesus was accused of making himself [a] God!

Note Jesus' reply.
Look at all the myriad of Scriptures Jesus could have used if he was about to affirm the fact that he, himself, is indeed Almighty GOD!!

Yet, of all the OT verses Jesus could of possibly used (which indeed both trinitarians & modalists & other God-man believers would jump to),
what does Jesus do?
He quotes a section of scripture whereby men, unjust men even! Are called "God/elohim" by GOD Almighty Himself, because His unbreakable word had come to them!!
Psa 82.6 is not a prooftext that the Messiah is Almighty GOD.
Rather, Psa 82.6 is a prooftext that Jesus is GOD Almighty's ultimate 'God' i.e. GOD's ultimate Judge & Representative; the 'God/elohim' who will speak for, represent & judge on behalf of YAHWEH ELOHIM.
And just as the other men who bore this title before Christ were not deity, the same goes for our Lord Jesus Christ!

As one writer puts it:
'Moreover, John 10:30-34 is particularly revealing. The fourth Gospel describes how when the Jews heard Jesus proclaim, "I and my Father are one," they immediately wanted to stone him. When Jesus asks them why they wanted to kill him, the Jews responded because "you claim to be God." Upon hearing this, Jesus asked, "Is it not written in your law, 'I have said you are gods'?" This response is one of the most important statements in the Book of John, and should at least give Trinitarians pause.

The verse is found in Psalm 82:6 where the Bible refers to judges who teach God's divine law as gods. This title was bestowed on them because they were teachers of the Almighty's divine law, not because they were actually God in any way. This usage is quite common in the Jewish scriptures. For example, in Exodus 7:1 Moses is called a god because he was God's representative to Pharaoh. In essence, Jesus' reply supports the very opposite of what missionaries are trying to put forth. Jesus, as depicted by John, is explaining that his identification with God is comparable to the Jewish judges' identification with God.'

Therefore, if unjust judges can be called "God"; how much more the man whom GOD Almighty has ordained and sanctified to be the Messiah, the Son of GOD; how much more he can indeed be called "God" in that context!!
As the ultimate Judge, Messiah and Representative of the ONE GOD ALMIGHTY;
the Lord Jesus can indeed be called "God" in that sense.

Hence Thomas' words in John 20.28.
[Also Heb 1.8, Psa 45.6, Isa 9.6]

In John 1:1-4, Jesus isn't mentioned at all; one must read Jesus into the text.
You heard what Colin Brown said on the video; here's a repeat:
"It is a common but patent misreading of the opening of John's Gospel to read it as if it said: 'In the beginning was the Son, and the Son was with God and the Son was God' (John 1:1). What has happened here is the substitution of Son for Word (Greek logos), and thereby the Son is made a member of the Godhead which existed from the beginning."

Its in verse 14 that GOD's [spoken] word became flesh resulting in Jesus Christ.
Jesus therefore is what the word/logos of Almighty GOD became; to quote:
Kuschel (Born Before All Time?, p. 382) ...
"From this it may be concluded that he [Jesus] is the Logos in person, the wisdom of God in human form. ... We may therefore follow Leonhard Goppelt in seeing the focus of the content of the prologue as this: 'The logos of the prologue becomes Jesus; Jesus was the logos become flesh, not the logos as such.'"

Read Phil 2.11 again:
(Phil 2:11) And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

There is clearly a distinction between Lord & GOD here?
Why? Because GOD Almighty made Jesus, "Lord", to His glory!
(Acts 2:36) Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ.

This same distinction is shown in
1 Cor 8.6, Psa 110.1, etc.
Jesus will be confessed as "Lord" to the glory of another? Who?
Jesus' GOD and Father, the one GOD, YAHWEH!!

ECHAD (as the Rabbi on the video stated) means ONE!
The numerical adjective “one” can of course, in English and Hebrew, modify a collective noun. A collective noun is a word like “family” or “cluster” or “team.” We sense at once that these words suggest one and many at the same time. But note carefully “one cluster of grapes” is still one cluster and not two or more clusters. If someone tells you that the word “one” contains in itself a notion of plurality, point out to them that it is the noun cluster and not the word “one” which signals plurality. The word “one” continues to describe a single object — one single cluster. Should that noun contain the notion of plurality (cluster, family, etc.) it is the noun in question which conveys the plural idea. Thus when Adam and Eve became “one flesh,” you know from the context that the two of them were combined in “one flesh.” But this was precisely “one flesh,” and not “two fleshes.” “One couple” means a single couple and not more than one. One just means one.
One flesh is still one flesh though two are involved as a single couple. “One day” is still one single day and not two or more days. When we read that God gave the people one heart, the meaning of one is still “one single” and not more than one heart.
To repeat: The Hebrew numeral “one” functions, in fact, just like the English word “one.”

For more info on the word echad
I recommend:

Elohim and Echad

Mathematics Gone Mad: When One is Supposed to Mean Three

I cannot recall saying anything about
"extra-biblical” language" as you put it; so I don't know why you mentioned that.

You may quote Ignatius; rather, I will stick with both the wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ [1 Tim 6.3]; and the words which were spoken before of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ
[Jude 17].
And the fact yet remains, that neither spoke of Jesus being "God in human form."
I guess Ignatius' Letter to the Ephesians' quote shows the speed that Greek philosophy & Gentilization corrupted the pure faith of the early church
(cp. Acts 20.30-31);
the early church who solely believed in ONE GOD, the Father.
[1 Cor 8.4,6]

Jesus himself said to his disciples, that
(John 20:17) ... I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.
Even in Heaven, Jesus said:
(Rev 3:12) Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name.

And the writer of Hebrews confirms ...
(Heb 9:24) For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us:

GOD is now in the presence of GOD for us!?! Pleassseee!

Its not that it is difficult teaching; it is a senseless teaching; a teaching that did not come from the words of Christ or his apostles.

Who is Christ to the early church?
(1 Tim 2:5) For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men,
the man Christ Jesus;

It is that simple.

There is ONE GOD, the Father.
The man Christ Jesus our Lord is in Heaven at the ONE GOD's right hand.
The Lord Jesus is the ONE GOD's right hand man so to speak!
ONE GOD and ONE man!

It's that simple. It is not a difficult teaching at all.

But once, Hellenism & Philosophy turned the man Jesus into a "God-man" ... such teaching departed from the pure scriptures, & the rest is history.

You say the propitiation could be paid by no man

Well Scripture says:
(Rom 5:15-19) But not as the offence, so also is the free gift. For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many. 16 And not as it was by one that sinned, so is the gift: for the judgment was by one to condemnation, but the free gift is of many offences unto justification. 17 For if by one man's offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.)
18 Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. 19 For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.
(1 Cor 15:21) For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.

(Think about it, Jared? Would Paul really compare GOD Almighty with Adam?!?
Isa 40.18, 46.5, Rom 1.23)

Jared, the choice is yours.

Yours In Messiah
Adam Pastor

Jared Nelson said...

I have posted my reply to you sir.