Editor’s note: If you missed Part 1 of this series, please click here.
Concepts About God
From these creeds, we can see that most churches have certain basic ideas concerning God, i.e., that he is a huge immaterial spirit, filling the universe, three persons in one God, each with the same power and attributes, each separate but all a single God. There are a few exceptions, however, such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Seventh-Day Adventists who, although they are not sure exactly what God is physically, admit that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost (whom they generally consider to be only a power, not a being) are separate individuals.
The Christian Science religion, while departing from other teachings held in Christianity, concur in some respects with the creedal definitions of God. The Second Tenet, penned by Mary Baker Eddy, founder of the movement, declares, “We acknowledge and adore one supreme and infinite God. We acknowledge His Son, one Christ; the Holy Ghost or divine Comforter; and men in God’s image and likeness.” 1 Eddy later wrote, “We understand that God is personal in a scientific sense, but is not corporeal nor anthropomorphic. We understand that God is not finite; He is the infinite Person, but not three persons in one person. Christian Scientists are theists and monotheists . . . Christian Scientists consistently conceive of God as One because He is infinite; and as triune, because He is Life, Truth, Love, and these three are one in essence and in office . . . We believe, according to the Scriptures, that God is infinite Spirit or Person, and man is His image and likeness: therefore man reflects Spirit, not matter.” 2
The Latter-day Saint view of creeds was explained by Joseph Smith: “that the most prominent difference in sentiment between the Latter-day Saints and sectarians was, that the latter were all circumscribed by some peculiar creed, which deprived its members the privilege of believing anything not contained therein, whereas the Latter-day Saints have no creed, but are ready to believe all true principles that exist, as they are made manifest from time to time” ( History of the Church 5:215). Consequently, the first Article of Faith states simply, “We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.”
A Biblical Examination of the Facts
Based on the creeds and other official declarations, we can summarize the major teachings of the Christian churches regarding the Godhead as follows:
- God is incomprehensible,
- The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are equal in power, authority, and knowledge.
- The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost have always been as they are now; they are made of the same substance.
- The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost comprise one God.
- God fills the universe.
- God is invisible.
- God is a spirit.
- God has no body or parts.
- God has no passions (a belief found only in the Church of England and its offshoots).
We shall examine each of these in light of what the Bible says.
1. God is incomprehensible.
To be sure, none of us can fully understand God for, as he said through Isaiah, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9). But the Bible teaches that we can and must come to know God. For example, the apostle John recorded the words of Jesus’ prayer, “And this is life eternal , that they might know thee the only true God , and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3). If God is really incomprehensible, then none of us can qualify for eternal life, for John also wrote that “this is the promise that he [God] hath promised us, even eternal life ” (1 John 2:25). Job 22:21 declares that we should “acquaint [ourselves] with him,” which cannot be done if he is incomprehensible. How can we have “no other Gods before [him]” (Exodus 20:3; Deuteronomy 5:7) if we cannot understand him well enough to distinguish him from false gods?
2. The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are equal in power, authority, and knowledge.
Jesus clearly taught that he was subordinate to the Father. He declared, “my Father is greater than I” (John 14:28). 3 In the same discourse, he said that the Father would send the Holy Ghost (John 14:16, 26). If they were truly equal in power and authority, there would be no need for the Father to send the Holy Ghost; he could come on his own. On numerous occasions, the Savior made it clear that he had not come of his own accord, but that the Father had sent him 4 and that he only delivered the message given him by the Father and obeyed his Father’s commandments . 5 Similarly, he taught that the Holy Ghost would not speak for himself, but would deliver the message entrusted to him (John 16:13).
Of particular importance is Christ’s declaration in John 7:16-17: “My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me . If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself .” This clearly suggests that the Father and the Son are separate individuals and that the Father is superior to the Son. This is also reflected in the fact that Jesus frequently prayed to his Father. 6
Jesus also made it clear that the Father had knowledge that even the Son did not. Of his second coming, he said, “But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father ” (Mark 13:32).
Jesus submitted his will to that of the Father, saying, “ I can of mine own self do nothing : as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just; because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me ” (John 5:30). Praying to his Father in the garden of Gethsemane , he said, “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt ” (Matthew 26:39). Jesus expressed a similar sentiment earlier that same evening: “Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour. Father, glorify thy name. Then came there a voice from heaven, saying, I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again. The people therefore, that stood by, and heard it, said that it thundered: others said, An angel spake to him. Jesus answered and said, This voice came not because of me, but for your sakes” (John 12:27-30).
3. The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost have always been as they are now; they are made of the same substance.
This is clearly not true of Christ, who did not have a physical body until he was born of the virgin Mary, nor was he always a resurrected being as he is now.
Some modern Christians believe that Jesus discarded his body when he ascended to heaven, but there is no scriptural support for this concept. Indeed, when Christ bodily ascended from the mount of Olives, two angels came and told his apostles that “this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11).
All would agree that the Holy Ghost or Holy Spirit is a spirit. 7 In this, he differs from Christ who, after his resurrection, appeared to his disciples, saying, “Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have” (Luke 24:39).
4. The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are but one God.
Latter-day Saints are wont to say that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are one Godhead, but individuals within that governing body of the universe. 8 In the response to No. 2, above, we saw that the Father and the Son differ in authority and knowledge and that, while in mortality, Jesus freely submitted his will to that of the Father. Jesus taught that the Holy Ghost would not come until he (the Savior) had gone away (John 16:7; see also 15:26). This suggests that they are two separate individuals. Other passages that demonstrate the separate nature of the three members of the Godhead include:
- “The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into his hand” (John 3:35).
- “Then answered Jesus and said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do : for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise. For the Father loveth the Son, and sheweth him all things that himself doeth: and he will shew him greater works than these, that ye may marvel. For as the Father raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth [them]; even so the Son quickeneth whom he will. For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son: That all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father which hath sent him.” (John 5:19-23).
- “He that hateth me hateth my Father also. If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin: but now have they both seen and hated both me and my Father ” (John 15:23-24).
- “Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32-33).
- “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5).
When a rich young man came to Jesus and called him “Good Master,” Jesus responded, “Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God” (Matthew 19:16-17). The Savior did not say that he was not God, but the passage implies that the Father and Son are not the same.
Some rely on 1 John 5:7-8 to demonstrate that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are one: “For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one.” Bible scholars call this passage the “Johannine comma.” Verse 7, however, is a later addition and does not appear in genuine Greek manuscripts (omitted in 250 of them). Of all the pre-printing Greek manuscripts, it is found only in the 11 th -century Codex Montfortii in Trinity College , Dublin . Its earliest appearance is in the Latin Vulgate, but only in copies from the 7 th century onward. It is not in the ancient Greek fathers or most of the Latin fathers and clearly was added by the western church. 9
Indeed, 1 John 5:7 was in none of the manuscripts available to Erasmus and was hence excluded in his first (1516) edition of the Greek New Testament. To his critics, he replied that he would add it if they could show it in a Greek manuscript. He was told of a recent Greek manuscript and added it, against his better judgment, in his third edition (1522). Martin Luther omitted the passage from his Bible. Tyndale, Coverdale, and Cranmer and other pioneers in English Bible translation placed it in brackets and italics. It was marked as doubtful in the Bibles of Henry VIII and other editions that followed. It was omitted from the British and American standard revisions without comment and has also been omitted from other modern translations. 10
Another passage often cited to demonstrate that the Father and the Son are the same God is John 10:30, where Jesus declares, “I and my Father are one” (see also verse 38). But what does “one” mean in this passage? That it cannot refer to physical or substantial unity is clear from the fact that later in John’s account, when Jesus prays for the apostles, he says to his Father,
“Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us : that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one ; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me. Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, the world hath not known thee: but I have known thee, and these have known that thou hast sent me. And I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it: that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them.” (John 17:20-26)
Just as the apostles are not physically one, we need not assume that members of the Godhead are physically one. The unity Christ sought was of unity of purpose. Thus, he told the apostles, “At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you ” (John 14:20; see also John 15:4-6). In prayer, he said, “Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are ” (John 17:11).
Another passage used by Trinitarians is John 14:8-12: “Philip saith unto him, Lord, shew us the Father, and it sufficeth us.
Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Shew us the Father? Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? the words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works. Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me: or else believe me for the very works’ sake. Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.”
On the surface, this seems to be saying that Jesus is the Father, but he concludes by saying that he would go away to his Father, suggesting that the Father was elsewhere. What the Savior really meant is likely that he looked exactly like the Father. For example, in Hebrews 1:1-3, we read “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person , and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high” (see also Philippians 2:6-9). We can compare this with Genesis 1:26-27, where God proposed (to his Son, according Moses 2:26 and to many early Church Fathers), 11 “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness . . . So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him ; male and female created he them.” 12 That this refers to God’s physical image is suggested by the fact that we read in Genesis 5:3, “And Adam lived an hundred and thirty years, and begat a son in his own likeness, after his image ; and called his name Seth.” Both passages use the same wording. In Colossians 1:15, we read that Jesus “is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature,” but the Greek word rendered “invisible” does not mean “unable to be seen,” but, rather, “unseen.” 13
Jesus frequently told his disciples that he had come from the Father and would go back to his Father, clearly suggesting that the Father was physically located elsewhere. 14 We later read that, following his resurrection, “he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God ” (Mark 16:19). 15 Stephen, the first martyr of the early Church, while he was being stoned, “being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God , And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God ” (Acts 7:55-56). While the Holy Ghost was physically with Stephen, he saw the Father and the Son as separate individuals, the Son standing to the right of the Father. Similarly, as Jesus came out of the waters of the Jordan at the time of his baptism, the Holy Ghost descended like a dove and the voice of the Father came out of heaven (Matthew 3:16-17; Luke 3:21-22; Mark 1:9-11).
Another passage cited by Trinitarians is John 1:1-2, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. From verse 4, it is clear that Jesus is the Word: “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) 16 full of grace and truth.” In my commentary on John, 17 I wrote:
“Contrary to the KJV wording, the passage does not suggest that God and the Word are the same Being. The first occurrence of God, in the Greek text, is preceded by the definite article, which is missing in the second occurrence. This second occurrence is an anarthous predicate, actually written before ‘the Word’ in the Greek, meaning that it assigns a quality to ‘the Word’ (like an adjective), making him divine. But the English term ‘divine’ is not strong enough to explain what John means here. In reality, he is saying that the Son is exactly like the Father but is separate from the Father. (The divinity of Christ is affirmed in John 20:28 and hinted in 5:18 and 10:33.) That the Greek construction does not mean identity of the Word and God is further clarified by this vs. and by vs. 2, where the Word is ‘with God’ (Greek has, literally, ‘with the God’) and by vs. 18, where the Son ‘is in the bosom of the Father.’ The fourth-century Christian writer Chrysostom was the first to note that the first occurrence of ‘was’ in this vs. refers to the existence of the Word, the second to the relationship of the Word to God, and the third denoting what the Word was.”
Please join us on Meridian tomorrow when we will publish part 3, the last of this series from John Tvedtnes on Creeds and the Godhead.
1 Mary Baker Eddy, Church Manual of the first Church of Christ Scientists , in Boston , Massachusetts , 15.
2 “Message for 1901,” in Mary Baker Eddy, Christian Science vs. Pantheism and Other Messages to the Mother Church (1908), 4-5.
3 This point was made at the council of Nicea, but did not sway the majority, who replied by citing John 10:30, “I and my Father are one.” This passage, however, was (and continues to be) misunderstood by most Christians, who ignore Jesus other statements on the subject, as discussed in No. 4, below.
4 John 3:17, 34; 4:34; 5:23, 30, 36-38; 6:29, 38-40, 44, 57; 7:16, 18, 28-29, 33; 8:16, 18, 26-29, 42; 9:4; 10:36; 11:42; 12:44-45, 49; 13:20; 14:24; 15:21; 16:5; 17:3, 8, 18, 21, 23, 25; 20:21; 1 John 4:9, 14; JST John 1:16; 6:44, 65. See also Matthew 10:40.
5 John 4:34; 5:17, 20, 30, 36; 8:26-29, 38; 10:18, 32, 37-38; 12:49-50; 14:10, 31; 15:9-10, 15; 17:4, 7-8.
6 Matthew 14:23; 26:36-44, 53; Mark 1:35; 6:46; 14:32-39; Luke 3:21; 5:16; 6:12; 9:18, 28-29; 11:1; 22:32, 41-46; John 11:41-42; 12:27-30; 14:16; 16:26; 17 (all).
7 The English term ghost is of Germanic origin and has the same meaning as spirit , which is of Latin derivation via Old French.
8 This is how one must read Book of Mormon statements that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are “one God” (2 Nephi 31:21; Alma 11:44; Mormon 7:7; see also the last sentence in the Testimony of Three Witnesses and D&C 20:28).
9 Some fifth-century AD fathers interpreted the original passage about the Spirit, the water, and the blood, as a reference to the Trinity, hence the later insertion, which may have begun as an explanatory note in the margin of a manuscript, was intended to reflect this post-biblical idea.
10 See the NIV reading and the note at http://www.audio-bible.com/niv/ .
11 The Fathers also saw Genesis 11:5-7 as the Father addressing the Son.
12 In Genesis 9:6, the Lord tells Noah, “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.” From this, we learn that the serious nature of murder is that the murderer is destroying the image of God, which would constitute blasphemy.
13 Note, for example, Colossians 1:16, where we read that the Lord created “all things . . . visible and invisible,” i.e., seen and unseen (such as things deep inside the earth that are capable of being seen but unseen to those who dwell on its surface).
14 John 16:10, 16, 27-28, 30; 17:8, 11.
15 See also Acts 5:30-31; Ephesians 1:20; and cf. Matthew 26:64; Mark 14:62; Luke 22:69.
16 Christ’s glory was shown to Peter, James, and John, atop the mount of transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-2; 2 Peter 1:17-18).
The commentary has been posted at http://feastupontheword.org/images/d/db/10_John.pdf.