Biblical Research Society Jan., 1976
by Dr. David L. Cooper
The doctrine of the Trinity is the basic teaching of the Scriptures in both the Old and the New Testaments. One must establish himself upon this doctrine in order to correctly view any of the Scriptures. A failure to recognize this fact leads to a position from which the truth cannot be seen in its entirety.
In the Apostle Paul's Mars Hill speech, the Athenians were told that "we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and device of man" (Acts 17:29b). The word translated Godhead may also be rendered that which is divine, or deity. In his letter to the Colossians the Apostle Paul asserted that in Christ "dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily" (Col. 2:9). These two passages clearly refer to the Godhead as being exclusively comprehensive of all that is divine. But this term gives us no hint as to the nature of deity--as to personality or personalities.
Upon opening the Bible one reads these words from the first verse: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." A reference to the Hebrew text immediately reveals that the word rendered God is in the plural number, Elohim; indicating more than one divine personality. Properly translated the passage reads, "In the beginning Gods created the heavens and the earth." The translators of our English Bible have rendered this noun of plural number as though it were singular in order to avoid any misconception concerning the one true and living God for, while the noun rendered God is in the plural number it is used with a verb in the singular. These facts are equivalent to an affirmation that the Godhead is comprised of more than one person but that they exist as One in a very definite and specific sense. Hence there is no inference of polytheism to be found in this verse.
The word trinity is of Latin origin and means three in one. Webster defines it as follows: The union of three persons ... (the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost) in one Godhead, so that all the three are one God as to substance, but three persons ... as to individuality. This definition is accurate and unmistakable; it renders the exact teaching of both the Old and New Testaments.
The Plurality of Divine Personalities
The Hebrew word which appears in the text of the Old Testament, usually translated in singular form, is in the plural number when applied to the true God. This same word, when applied to idols or heathen gods, appears in our English translation as gods. However, when used with reference to the true God, the translators invariably spelled it God as though it were a singular noun. Before the creation of man the divine personalities comprising the Godhead held a council. In Gen. 1:26 we read that God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness ..." There is only one image or likeness that was common to all who held this conference. God could not have been speaking to any celestial creatures because none of them possesses a divine nature. Since all those engaged in this conference were the same in nature and image, all were Divine Persons.
The Unity of Divine Personalities
The literal translation of Moses' exclamation in Deut. 6:4 is "Hear, O Israel, Jehovah our Gods is Jehovah a unity." This faithfully and correctly conveys in the English that which is found in the original text. In this fundamental passage we are taught that there is a plurality of divine personalities who constitute a unity. Jesus, in confirming what is the first and greatest commandment, said, "Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God, the Lord is one ..." (Mark 12:29). Thus we see that both the Old and New Testament teach the unity of the divine personalities.
In Gen. 48:15,16 we read that when Jacob invoked God's blessing upon Joseph's two sons he prayed, "The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac did walk, the God who hath fed me all my life long unto this day, the angel who hath redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads ..." In this passage three divine personalities are called upon to bless Joseph's sons: the God before whom Abraham and Isaac walked; the God who fed Jacob through his lifetime and the angel who redeemed him from all evil. That each is a divine personality, coequal and coeternal with the others, is clear from the fact that no Hebrew would have placed created beings upon a level with the Eternal God, as is done here.
In Isa. 48:1-16 we see Isaiah the prophet impersonating the Messiah and speaking for Him. Verse 13 reveals Him as the Creator of the Universe. In vs. 16b He says, "And now the Lord Jehovah hath sent me, and his Spirit." In this impersonation the Messiah is saying that the Lord Jehovah has sent Him and also has sent His Spirit (the Holy Spirit). According to this verse there are three divine personalities.
In Isa. 63:8-10 we see God the Father mentioned in vs. 8 as the Saviour of Israel; God the Son who is called "the angel of his presence" (vs. 9) and the Holy Spirit (vs. 10).
In the New Testament we find the Lord Jesus also teaching the doctrine of the three divine personalities; of their constituting a unity in the literal sense of the term.
Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you: and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. (Matt. 28:19,20)
The disciples, as is shown here, were commissioned to baptize believers--not into names (plural), but into the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Herein is clearly echoed the doctrine of the plurality of the divine personalities of the Godhead; of their constituting a unity--a tri-unity (the Trinity).
Frequently the order in which the three divine personalities of the Holy Trinity are listed is found to be different. Illustrations of this are seen as follows:
In Matt. 28:19,20 the order is Father, Son and Holy Spirit; in 1 Cor. 12:4-6 it is the Holy Spirit, the Lord Jesus and God the Father; in 2 Cor. 13:14 it is the Son, the Father and the Holy Spirit; in Eph. 4:4-6 the order is the Holy Spirit, the Son and the Father. This varying order of reference to the divine personalities is conclusive proof that they are coequal--on an equality one with the other. It is improper and incorrect to speak of the respective persons of the Trinity as either the first, the second or the third person of the Godhead. They are all divine, coequal, coeternal, comprising the Holy Trinity.
The Four Usages of "Jehovah"
The Lord spoke of Himself as the "I Am"--the self-existing One who, in philosophical language is called "the Uncaused Cause" of all things. The Hebrew word rendered "I AM" is the verb meaning "to become, or to be." It is in the first person, singular number. According to Exod. 6:2,3 God revealed Himself to Moses as "Jehovah." He had not made Himself known by this name to Abraham, to Isaac or to Jacob. Many eminent Hebrew scholars see in this sacred name the third person singular number of this same verb inthe Hiphil stem. Should this be the correct analysis, the word Jehovah literally means "He causes (things) to become, or to be." The meaning of this word, therefore, is essentially the same as that of "I AM," with an additional injection of the idea of causation.
There are four usages of the Word Jehovah in Old Testament passages.
Jehovah the Father:
But now, O Jehovah, thou art our Father: we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand (Isa. 64:8-see also Ps. 110:1).
Jehovah the Son:
Behold, the Lord Jehovah will come as a mighty one, and his arm will rule for him: behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him (Isa. 40:10--see also 33:17-22).
Jehovah, the Holy Spirit:
And the Spirit of Jehovah shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of Jehovah (Isa. 11:2--see also 63:14).
The entire Trinity:
In the expression of the plurality and unity of Jehovah in Deut. 6:4 the entire Trinity is seen to be included when accurately translated. Jesus said this was the most important passage in the Bible (Mark 12:28, 29).
Echoes of the Trinity
The doctrine of the Trinity is also found in several other Old and New Testament passages.
And Jehovah spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto Aaron and unto his sons, saying, On this wise ye shall bless the children of Israel: ye shall say unto them, Jehovah bless thee, and keep thee: Jehovah make his face to shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee: Jehovah lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace. So shall they put my name upon the children of Israel; and I will bless them. (Num. 6:22-27)
Oh give thanks unto Jehovah; for he is good; for his lovingkindness endureth for ever. Oh give thanks unto the God of gods; for his lovingkindness endureth for ever. Oh give thanks unto the Lord of lords; for his lovingkindness endureth for ever. (Ps. 136:1-3)
And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, Holy, Holy, is Jehovah of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory. (Isa. 6:3)
And the four living creatures, having each one of them six wings, are full of eyes round about and within: and they have no rest day and night, saying, Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come. (Rev. 4:8)
Trinity Doctrine Essential to Understanding
Many passages of Scripture remain as enigmas to the person who does not understand the teaching of the Scriptures concerning the Holy Trinity. But when one sees that there are three divine persons in the Godhead who are coequal and coeternal and reads carefully each passage involving one or more of them, the truth can be seen more clearly. It is of paramount importance, therefore, that we understand the Scriptural doctrine of the Trinity.
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