The Trinity: the Deity of Christ, the Son of God

Introduction: During the last phase of my own graduate studies, I taught church history as an adjunct professor in a well-known Christian college. Over a period of three years, about three hundred students passed through my classes. One of the things I asked them to do from time to time was to keep track of the sermon topics they were hearing in their home churches. The disproportionate share of these were topical “how to” sermons that focused on relationships and the like and had more in common with the pop-psychologist John Bradshaw than with the text of Scripture.[i] (During the U.S. Military operation “Desert Storm,” I did notice an increase in speculative prophetic themes among those my students listed.) Distinctively doctrinal sermons that would have at one time been essential to an understanding of the evangelical faith were conspicuous by their absence.

I discovered to my astonishment that only a handful of them had ever heard a sermon on the deity of Christ. When I asked if they thought this was an important doctrine, most of them shrugged and said that it obviously was not all that important otherwise they would have heard about it from their pastors. Our Lord asked the Pharisees, “What do you think of the Christ? Whose Son is He?” (Matt. 22:42). Robert Reymond correctly notes, “Even though a significant portion of modern New Testament scholarship has urged major modifications in the church’s understanding of Christology, the average Christian can hardly be blamed if he expresses some hesitancy about a theological shift that discards the central feature (one person, two natures) of a doctrinal formulation that virtually all of Christendom for fifteen centuries has adjudged the doctrinal reflection of the teaching of Holy Scripture itself. I think all will agree that this is no light matter. It is no small matter either that an outright rejection of incarnational Christology as such would require radical revision not only in Christology, but also throughout the entirety of Christian dogmatics, because of the interrelatedness of the doctrines of the Christian system one with the other. (For–example, Trinitarianism would give way to Unitarianism; salvation would become a variant of philosophical existentialism or socio-religious humanism.) In fact, unless there are uncommonly sound reasons approaching the level of unimpeachability for such a shift, the average Christian is justified if he concludes that such a departure from the established faith of the centuries is grossly irresponsible.”[ii]

I fear, however, that the average Christian today (especially those who sit comfortably in many of our user-friendly, seeker-sensitive contemporary evangelical churches) is not the least bit interested in such things.[iii] Michael Saward, a British evangelical, after surveying the state of present day evangelicalism would lament, “This is the disturbing legacy of the 1960s and 1970s. A generation brought up on guitars, choruses, and home group discussions. Educated, as one of them put it to me, not to use words with precision because the image is dominant, not the word. Equipped not to handle doctrine but rather to ‘share’. A compassionate, caring generation, suspicious of definition and labels, uneasy at, and sometimes incapable of, being asked to wrestle with sustained didactic exposition of theology. Excellent when it comes to providing religious music, drama, and art. Not so good when asked to preach and teach the Faith.”[iv]

Review:

1.  There is but One God: and God is oneindivisible.

2.  Within the one indivisible divine Being: there exists eternally Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Each person possesses the whole essence of Deity and each is a distinct person.

3.  This distinction is a personal one: in the following senses.

A. The use of the personal pronouns: I, You. He.

B. A concurrence in counsel and mutual love.

C. A distinct order of operation.

4.  One King, One Intelligence, One Will: Having said this, we must remember that in the Godhead there is but One King, One Intelligence, One Will and that the three persons eternally co-exist in all that pertains to the Godhead.

5.  Order and Operation: Although the three persons of the Trinity possess equally all of the divine attributes, etc., they nevertheless are revealed in Scripture in a certain order and operation.

A. Of Subsistence: insomuch as the Father is neither begotten nor proceeds, while the Son is eternally begotten by the Father, and the Spirit eternally proceeds from the Father and the Son;

B. Of Operation: insomuch as the first person sends and operates through the second, and the first and second operate through the third.

Hence, the Father is always set forth as the first, the Son as the second and the Spirit as the third.  This does NOT imply rank or dignity, but order.  The doctrine of the Trinity is not a simple doctrine nor one that we can easily comprehend because God is Himself incomprehensible.  We should expect that the profound truth concerning the Godhead should be veiled in mystery. The doctrine of the Trinity is a suprarational (not irrational) doctrine.  It is beyond our limited minds to be able to grasp how God can be one and yet three.

I.  The Messiah in the Old Testament

That the Messiah was to be human was clearly revealed in the 0.T. and understood as such by the Jews.  He was to be the Son of David after the flesh. But the reluctance to acknowledge the Messiah’s Deity (with all of the force that the 0.T. teaches this truth, cf. Mt. 22:41-45) can only be attributed to the blinding effect of sin and Satan. (cf. II Cor. 3:14-16. II Tim. 2:26—esp. II Cor. 4:3-4).

A. Divine Attributes Predicated To Christ. cf. Gen. 18:2,17; 28:13; 32:9,31. This person is called Jehovah, and at the same time an angel, or sent one—comp. w/Gen. 31:11,13; 48:15-16; esp. Ex. 3:14-15 comp. w/Acts 7:30-35 and Ex. 13:21; 14:19 and 20:1-2 comp. w/Acts 7:38.

B. God (The Father) Has Never Been Seen. Cf. Jn. 1:18 and 6:46. How can this be explained except by the Deity of the Son? He has been seen (I John 1:1,2) and sent (Jn. 5:36). Cf. also Zech. 2:10,11; esp. Isa. 6 comp. w/Jn. 12:339-41. He is expressly declared to be eternal, cf. Mic. 5:2 and Isa. 9:6,7 comp. w/Mt. 4:14-16; 2:6 and Jn. 7:42.

II.  The Old Testament as Cited by the New Testament

A. Ps. 45–considered by the Jews to refer to the Messiah and applied to Christ in Heb. 1:8.9.

B. Ps. 110—Jesus declared that this Psalm referred to the Messiah (and the Scribes and Pharisees did not disagree), cf. Mt. 22:43,44. The Epistle to the Hebrews attaches it to Jesus, cf. 1:13; 5:6, 7:17, 10:13 comp. w/I Cor. 15:25 and Acts 2:32-36. Ps. 110 is the most frequently cited O.T. text in the N.T.

C. Ps. 102 –things that only God possesses are nonetheless ascribed to Jesus in Heb. 1:10,12.

D. Ps. 2 – cited by Paul in Acts 13:33.

In summary we note that the Messiah of the O.T.  was clearly identified in the N.T. as Jesus and that in the pages of the O.T. two Persons,  both having divine attributes  are linked with the divine and incommunicable name of Jehovah. One is the Sender, the other the Sent.   One acts with a certain reserve and invisibility, while the other is visible and is referred to as ‘the angel of His countenance’; cf. Isa. 63:9 comp.  w/ Col. 1:15 and Heb. 1:3. The title ‘Angel of Jehovah is so often applied that it at length becomes a proper name; cf. Mal. 3:1-3 and Isa. 40:3.  John the Baptist declared that he was the ‘voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, prepare ye the way of Jehovah.  Malachi teaches that a forerunner was to precede, when the Lord whom the Jews were expecting, even The Angel Of The Covenant, would suddenly come to His temple;  He is clearly Deity, and John the Baptist pointed to Jesus Christ—cf. Mt. 11:10;  Mk. 1:2; Lk. 1:76 and 7:27. Our Lord Jesus Christ was therefore the Angel of the Covenant, the owner of the Temple, the Jehovah of Isa. 40:3,5, whose glory John the Baptist announced. Thus, the various theophanies in the O.T. not only disclose a personal distinction in the Godhead, but clearly show the pre-existence and Deity of the Son, Jesus Christ.

III.  DIVINE ATTRIBUTES PREDICATED TO CHRIST

A. Is the Father Eternal? So is the Son—Micah 5:2; Jn. 1:2,14: 8:58; Rev. 1:8, 11, 17, 18; 2:8; comp. w/Isa. 44:6, 48:12.

B. Is the Father Omnipresent? So is the Son. Creation demands omnipresence—Mt. 18:20; 28:20 (comp. the phrase “TĒS SUNTELEIAS TOU ALŌNOS” w/Mt. 13:39, 40, 49 and 24:3 and 23:38,

C. Is the Father Immutable? So is the Son—Heb. 13:8 and 1:8,10.

D. Is the Father Almighty? So is the Son. Creation demands omnipotence—Jn. 1:3; Col. 1:17; Mt. 28:18; esp. Jn. 5:17-19, where Jesus declares that He does what the Father does. Comp. w/Rev. 1:8, 13, 17; 2:8; 22:13, He is “almighty”.

E. Is the Father Himself Incomprehensible While Comprehending All Things? So is the Son—Jn. 21:17; Mt. 11:27 (How can a creature possess this kind of knowledge?) comp. w/Jn. 10:15. He is unsearchable in himself, Eph. 3:18,19 and Col. 2:3.

F. Is the Father Infinitely Good and Holy? (cf. Mt. 19:7 and I Sam. 2:2) So is the Son—Acts 3:14; Heb. 7:26; Jn. 1:14; 10:14.

G. Is the Father the Creator, Preserver, and Governor of All Things? So is the Son—Col. 1:16; Jn. 1:3; Heb. 1:3; Jn. 1:4, 14:19; Heb. 1:8; Rev. 19:16; NOTE Dan. 7:14; 9:24-26 comp. w/Lk. 2:28-38.

H. Is the Father the Searcher of Hearts? So is the Son—Rev. 2:18-23; Jn. 2:24,25.

I. Is the Father the Most High Judge of All? So is the Son—II Cor. 5:10; Mt. 25:31,32.[v] Thus, the essential attributes of the Godhead are ascribed to the Lord Jesus Christ.

IV.  Direct and Divine Worship is Paid to Christ

In this section our attention will be directed to worship of the Son and prayer that is addressed to Him.

A. Worship. The principle word occurs some 60 times in the N.T. (Gk. PROSKUNEŌ). The basic meaning of PROSKUNEŌ is lit. “to kiss”. It is translated in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the O.T. Hebrew) SÂHĂH, meaning ‘to bow down’.

1. 22 times it is used of worship offered to God the Father—cf. Jn. 4:20-24.

2. 5 times it is used intransitively of Divine Worship—cf. Jn. 12:20.

3. 15 times it is used of worship to Jesus Christ, cf.: (1.) Mt. 2:2,8,11—by the magi (2.) Mt. 8:2—by the leper (3.) Mt. 9:18—by the ruler (4.) Mt. 14:33—by the disciples after the storm (5.) Mt. 15:25—by the women of Tyre (6.) Mt. 20:20—by Salome (7.) Mt. 28:7,9—after the resurrection (8.) Lk. 24:52—at the ascension (9.) Jn. 9:38—by the man born blind (10.) Heb. 1:6—by the angels (11.) Mk. 5:6—by the possessed (12.) Mk. 15:19—offered in mockery.

4. 17 times of idolatrous worship condemned—cf. Acts 7:43 and 10:25,26; esp. Rev. 19:10; 22:8,9.

5. 2 times of salutation to man—cf. Mt. 18:26,29.

Note: In light of the fact that PROSKUNEŌ is refused by men expressly stated that only God is to be worshipped), the worship of Jesus Christ, which he accepted, is either explicit or implicit of His Deity.

B. Prayer—cf. Acts 7:54-60 comp. w/Ps. 31:5 and Ecc. 12:7. Comp. also I Thess. 3:11 w/II Thess. 2:16,17. See also I Cor. 1:2 and comp. w/Ps. 145:18

C. Worship of Christ and the Father Joined Together—cf. Rev. 5:8-14 comp. w/Rev. 22:1-3.

Conclusion: The Deity of Jesus Christ is not confined to those texts (whether in the O.T. or the N.T.) that expressly assert and declare that Messiah is God. His human life, His supernatural birth, His character and especially His cross-work and triumph over death unite with one voice to proclaim that “Christ…who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen” (Rom. 9:5). This is a critically important doctrine, one that Christians cannot afford to be indifferent about, much less to treat with disdain. Sadly, this pitiful state of affairs is manifested in a growing number of evangelical circles. David Tomlinson is indicative of this changing mood when he writes, “I am not saying that theology and doctrine are unimportant, far from it; but there is no evidence from the Bible that it is of ultimate importance. Doctrinal correctness matters little to God and labels matter less; honesty, openness and a sincere searching for truth, on the other hand, matter a great deal . . .God is ultimately unimpressed with our church pedigrees or our spiritual experiences or our creedal affirmations. St. Peter will not be asking us at the pearly gates which church we belonged to, or whether we believed the virgin birth; the word ‘evangelical will not even enter the conversation.”[vi]

I disagree (and I think the history of the church would testify to this as well). The truth of the matter is this: It does matter how we answer the question, “What do you think of the Christ? Whose Son is He?” Jesus obviously thought it was important. Jesus elsewhere in the Gospels declared, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be; you will indeed die in your sins.” (John 8:23-24). John the apostle tells us, “Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist—he denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also.” (I John 2:22-27). “Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist. Watch out that you do not lose what you have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully. Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him. Anyone who welcomes him shares in his wicked work.” (II John 1:9-11).

References

[i] Respected sociologist James D. Hunter has observed the massive inroads pop-psychology has made in many Evangelical circles. Although attempts are made to dress this up with verses of Scripture, the result is decidedly unbiblical. “This is not an unconscious parroting of contemporary moral psychology. Evangelicals seek, rather, to co-opt the psychology for their own purposes, making therapeutic concepts subordinate to biblical wisdom. The premise is that psychology provides tools that are, by themselves, theologically and morally neutral but useful all the same when linked to the truths of Christian faith. Yet insofar as popular psychology provides the framing categories for this literature of popular guidance and admonition, it is the Christian worldview that undergoes a peculiar reworking.” The Death of Character: Moral Education in an Age Without Good or Evil (Basic Books, 2000), p. 133.

[ii] R.L. Reymond, Jesus, Divine Messiah: The New Testament Witness (P & R, 1990), p. 6.

[iii] This mentality was most recently illustrated by Gwen Shamblin, (cf. the insert in this week’s bulletin) a professing evangelical who authored The Weigh Down Diet (over a million copies sold) and who emphatically denies the doctrine of the Trinity. In an interview with Christianity Today (Oct. 23, 2000) she said outright, “People don’t care about this. They don’t care about the Trinity” (p.15).

[iv] As cited by Iain H. Murray, Evangelicalism Divided: A Record of Crucial Change in the Years 1950 to 2000 (Banner of Truth, 2000), p. 254.

[v] I have adopted this section from Edward Henry Bickersteth’s classic study The Rock of Ages, or Three Persons But One God (rpt. Kregel, 1957).

[vi] as cited in Murray, op. cit. p. 251.

Additional Resources

Devotions from the Pen of Jonathan Edwards

by Jonathan Edwards

Jonathan Edwards, who is considered the finest theologian America has ever produced, was known for his logical mind and warm devotion to the Lord. His exposition of Scripture remains a source of powerful edification for the church. This book contains 120 excerpts from the writings of Edwards arranged in a daily devotional format, and is a good resource for personal devotions or as an introduction to the thought of Edwards.

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