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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine the biblical case for the deity of Jesus Christ and we ended last time by starting to look at the passage in Philippians 2:5-11, which says this, “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” [1]

We pointed out last session that the first part of the passage tells us plainly that Jesus Christ is God. Dr. Spencer, the next line has caused trouble for some; it begins by saying that Jesus “made himself nothing”. What does that mean?

Dr. Spencer: The question of what it means for Jesus to have “made himself nothing”, or as the ESV and some other translations put it, to have “emptied himself”, has caused trouble for some since the mid 1800’s. But it should not be a problem since the sentence itself goes on to tell us what is meant by the phrase; it tells us that Jesus took “the very nature of a servant” and was “made in human likeness.” In other words, it means that he humbled himself and took on human nature. He did not somehow stop being God, nor did he give up any of the attributes that are essential to God’s being.

Marc Roby: I like what the Westminster Shorter Catechism says on this point. Question 27 asks, “Wherein did Christ’s humiliation consist?” And the answer is this; “Christ’s humiliation consisted in his being born, and that in a low condition, made under the law, undergoing the miseries of this life, the wrath of God, and the cursed death of the cross; in being buried, and continuing under the power of death for a time.”

Dr. Spencer: That is a very succinct and yet complete description of what is meant by Christ’s humiliation. But getting back specifically to what it meant for Christ to have “made himself nothing”, the right meaning is stated by Wayne Grudem in his Systematic Theology book. He says that “The emptying includes change of role and status, not essential attributes or nature.”[2] But let’s not lose sight of the main point we were making; the verse states in unequivocal language that Jesus Christ already existed prior to his incarnation and that he is fully God. But, it also says more. Before we go on though, I want to point out again that James Boice uses this passage from Philippians 2 in his book Foundations of the Christian Faith to argue for the divinity of Christ and I am summarizing his arguments here.[3]

Marc Roby: What else does Boice say about that passage?

Dr. Spencer: He wrote that “having described how Jesus laid aside his former glory in order to become a man and die for us, Paul goes on to show how he received that glory back, noting that he is now to be confessed as Lord”.

Marc Roby: Before you go on I want to discuss that statement. You said a moment ago that God did not give up any of the attributes that are essential to God’s being when he became incarnate, but Boice says here that he laid aside his former glory. Now, isn’t God’s glory one of his attributes? Can you explain why it is not one that is essential to God’s being?

Dr. Spencer: Whether glory is or is not an attribute depends on how you define it.[4] The word glory has a wide range of meanings. Grudem points out that it often means simply honor or excellent reputation and that “In this sense, the glory of God is not exactly an attribute of his being but rather describes the superlative honor that should be given to God by everything in the universe”.[5]

And what Boice said is perfectly biblical. In John 17:5 Jesus is praying and requests of the Father, “glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.” When Jesus said that he “had” this glory, which is past tense, it is clear that he didn’t possess it at the time he made this statement. So, this verse makes it clear that Jesus laid aside his glory, meaning the honor due to him as God, when he became incarnate. That honor is something that is due to him as God, but is not an essential attribute of his being. So, what I said is accurate, Jesus Christ did not cease to be God when he became incarnate, nor did he surrender any of the attributes that are essential to God’s being.

Marc Roby: Alright, I think that explains it well enough, so let’s get back to Boice’s argument. He says that Jesus received his glory back, meaning when he ascended into heaven after his resurrection, and that he is to be confessed as Lord.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And here is the really important point. When Paul wrote that God “gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” he is obviously alluding to Isaiah 45:23 where we read that Jehovah God declared, “By myself I have sworn, my mouth has uttered in all integrity a word that will not be revoked: Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear.”

Marc Roby: Paul’s allusion to that verse is indeed obvious.

Dr. Spencer: It certainly is. And Boice points out what is perhaps the most amazing fact about this passage.

Marc Roby: What’s that?

Dr. Spencer: It is that Paul was not to making an argument for the deity of Christ! Paul’s major point in the passage is that we should be humble and he uses Jesus Christ as the supreme example of that humility. In the course of making that argument, he simply assumes, as it were, the deity of Christ. Now you have to think about that fact for a moment for it to have its full impact.

If I want to make an argument to prove some point, I am not going to introduce something else that needs to be proven first if I can possibly avoid doing so. I’m going to make my argument using information that is already known and agreed to by my listeners.

Marc Roby: Therefore the implication is that Paul assumed the recipients of his letter already believed that Jesus Christ is fully God.

Dr. Spencer: That is exactly the point. Paul himself had founded the church in Philippi. In fact, one of its early members was the famous Philippian jailer who had cried out, “What must I do to be saved?” In any event, Paul had stayed in contact with this church and undoubtedly had made sure that they had good teaching. Therefore, he knew that they were fully aware of this fundamental Christian doctrine; that Jesus Christ is the second person of the Holy Trinity.

Marc Roby: You’re right; once you think that through it is a very impressive bit of evidence.

Dr. Spencer: Boice quotes an English commentator, Bishop Handley Moule on this point, and I think he does an excellent job of driving home the implication of the argument. He wrote, “We have here a chain of assertions about our Lord Jesus Christ, made within some thirty years of his death at Jerusalem; made in the open day of public Christian intercourse, and made (every reader must feel this) not in the least manner of controversy, of assertion against difficulties and denials, but in the tone of a settled, common, and most living certainty. These assertions give us on the one hand the fullest possible assurance that he is man, man in nature, in circumstances and experience, and particularly in the sphere of relation to God the Father. But they also assure us, in precisely the same tone, and in a way which is equally vital to the arguments in hand, that he is as genuinely divine as he is genuinely human.”[6]

Marc Roby: What a great summary of the importance of this passage. And this passage also reminds me of another one that speaks about the humiliation and exaltation of Christ. The writer of Hebrews quotes from Psalm 8 and then applies it to Christ and says, in Verse 9 of Chapter 2, “we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.”

Dr. Spencer: That does make the same point clearly. Theologians talk about the humiliation of Christ. And by that they are referring not just to his being tried, mocked, spit upon, flogged and crucified, but they are referring to the fact that he became man.

Marc Roby: That doesn’t exactly flatter us human beings.

Dr. Spencer: It isn’t meant to flatter us. But it is accurate. It would be infinitely less of a humiliation for me to become an ant than it was for the Creator and Lord of the universe to become man.

Marc Roby: We again see the need for us to properly grasp the Creator/creature distinction.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, we do. But let’s get back to the point of proving that Jesus Christ is God.

Marc Roby: Very well, what do you want to look at next?

Dr. Spencer: Let’s look at Chapter 12 of John’s gospel. We read there about the unbelief of the Jewish people with regard to Christ. John tells us that in spite of all the miracles he performed among them, they would not believe and he says, in Verses 39 and 40, “they could not believe, because, as Isaiah says elsewhere: ‘He has blinded their eyes and deadened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts, nor turn—and I would heal them.’” Now, this is a quote from Chapter 6 of Isaiah, which is where we read of Isaiah’s amazing vision of God on his throne in heaven.

Marc Roby: Which I might add is, perhaps, the greatest vision of God given to anyone in all of history.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right, it is. And let me quote a lengthy passage from Boice because he summarizes what this means very well. He wrote, “To people living today, particularly Christians, the reference may seem natural, for we are used to theological statements giving full deity to Christ. But that was hardly natural for John, a monotheistic Jew, or for his contemporaries. For a Jew of John’s time God was almost inaccessible in his transcendence. He was the holy One of Israel. He dwelt in glory unapproachable. None actually saw him. And when on some unusual occasion some remarkably privileged person, such as Moses or Isaiah, had received a vision of God in his glory, it was not believed even then to be an actual vision of God as he is in himself but rather only an image or reflection of him. Yet such a vision filled one with awe and wonder.

“What Isaiah saw was the closest thing in all Jewish writings or tradition to an actual ‘portrait’ of the living and holy God. Yet that vision with all its breathtaking splendor John applies to Jesus. Without questioning, it would seem, John takes the most exalted vision of God in the Old Testament and says that it was a portrait of a carpenter from Nazareth who was about to be crucified – so great is John’s opinion of him.”[7]

Marc Roby: It is hard for us to grasp just how radical that view was at that time.

Dr. Spencer: It certainly is, but Boice does a good job of explaining the importance. John was clearly convinced by all that he had seen, heard and experienced that Jesus Christ was God. So, anyone who believes the Bible to be true must join with John in recognizing this fact. To do otherwise is to deny the veracity of the New Testament and the apostle whom Jesus loved.

Marc Roby: I agree. What other evidence do you want to adduce in support of this view?

Dr. Spencer: Another important point that often goes unnoticed by modern readers is the way Jesus referred to God the Father. As we have noted, the Jews considered God’s name to be so holy that it should not even be spoken. And they considered, as Boice pointed out in the passage I just read, God to be so transcendent that he was inaccessible to human beings. No first century Jew would ever have thought of referring to God as his personal father, and yet, that is the way Jesus most commonly referred to him.

Marc Roby: That is a fascinating observation, and I agree that most modern readers gloss right over that point because we are used to people referring to God as their Father.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, and Jesus even went further. In John 10 we read about a very interesting exchange between Jesus and some Jews in an area near the temple in Jerusalem. They asked him to tell them plainly if he was the Christ, the promised Savior of the Jews. Jesus responded by saying that he had already told them because his miracles spoke for him. And he then said to them, in John 10:26, “you do not believe because you are not my sheep.”

Marc Roby: That was not a very politically correct response.

Dr. Spencer: Thankfully, they didn’t have our modern idea of political correctness. And it wouldn’t have mattered anyway, because Jesus simply spoke the truth. We need to remember that the Jews at this time were expecting a political Messiah who would deliver the Jewish people from Roman rule and establish a new Jewish state. They were not thinking about eternal salvation. For Jesus to say that he is the promised Messiah, but they, as Jews, were not his sheep, was a shocking a statement. They thought that all Jews were God’s chosen people and would be saved – again in the political sense – by the Messiah.

Marc Roby: Jesus often had to contend with this false understanding of what the Messiah would do.

Dr. Spencer: Yes he did, that wrong understanding frequently caused problems. And Jesus went on in what he said to them. We read in John 10:27-30 that he said, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”

Marc Roby: And we read in Verses 31-33 that the people picked up stones to try and stone Jesus for blasphemy, so they certainly understood that he was claiming to be God.

Dr. Spencer: They certainly did understand. How can you not understand what he meant? He calls God his Father, not in some abstract sense, but in a very personal sense, implying the closest of all relationships. And then he makes a completely explicit claim; “I and the Father are one.” The only way someone can fail to understand what he is saying is if they refuse to accept that the one true and living God might exist in more than one person.

Marc Roby: We discussed way back in Session 2 that this word “person” can be a problem for people in this regard.

Dr. Spencer: It certainly can be, but we shouldn’t get hung up on that. We are made in God’s image, but he is the original, the archetype, we are made in his image and therefore share some of his qualities, but we are not exactly like him. He is tri-personal, we are not.

Marc Roby: And it shouldn’t be at all surprising, as we have pointed out before, that God is greater and more complex in a sense than we are.

Dr. Spencer: Not only should that not be surprising, it is what we should expect. No matter how great and beautiful a human creation is, say a statue, or a painting, or a piece of music, or whatever, it is certainly not as complex, deep and beautiful as the person who created it. In the same way, we as creatures are not as complex and deep as our Creator.

Marc Roby: We are out of time today and this looks like a good place to stop. I would like to once again remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We look forward to hearing from you.

 

[1] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[2] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Inter-Varsity Press, 1994, pg. 550

[3] James Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith, Revised in One Volume, InterVarsity Press, 1986, pp 268-270

[4] E.g., see John M. Frame, The Doctrine of God, P&R Publishing Company, 2002, pg. 593 and Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Inter-Varsity Press, 1994, pg. 220

[5] Grudem, op. cit., pg. 220

[6] Boice, op. cit., pp 269-270

[7] Ibid, pp 272-273

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Marc Roby: Well, Dr. Spencer, it’s a little hard to believe, but this is our 52nd session. We are completing one full year of podcasts.

Dr. Spencer: That is hard to believe. I’ve enjoyed the year and I hope our listeners have as well. I’m ready to start a second year. But, before we do, I need to clarify something from our last session. In speaking about the I Am statements of Jesus, where I Am is the English translation of ἐγὼ εἰμί (āgō āmē) in the Greek, I said that “the Greek construction ἐγὼ εἰμί is the way the Jews rendered the Hebrew tetragrammaton, Jehovah, in the Greek translation of the Old Testament”, which is unintentionally misleading. It sounds like I’m saying that is the way they rendered the tetragrammaton everywhere in that translation, when, in fact, what I had in mind was only the statement in Exodus 3:14 where God first revealed his covenant name to Moses as we discussed in Session 49. Elsewhere in that Greek translation, which is called the Septuagint, the Jews rendered the tetragrammaton as Κύριος (Kurios), the Greek word for Lord.

Marc Roby: But, in any event, the ἐγὼ εἰμί construction is used in Exodus 3:14 and the point we were making is completely correct. The Jews who heard Jesus knew he was claiming to be God, which is why they picked up stones to stone him.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right.

Marc Roby: Very well. Are we ready to resume our study of the doctrine of the Trinity?

Dr. Spencer: I think we are.

Marc Roby: At the end of our previous session, you said that to establish the doctrine of the Trinity, we must establish three things: First, that God exists in three persons; second, that each person is fully God; and third, that there is one God. And we then looked at John 1:1-2 as an example of a passage where we see a plurality of persons in the godhead; in that case Jesus Christ and God the Father. What do you want to look at next?

Dr. Spencer: I want to look at the famous high priestly prayer of Jesus, which is found in John Chapter 17. Jesus is praying to God the Father and in Verse 5 he says, “And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.”[1] This statement makes no sense unless Jesus is a separate person from the Father, so it again shows that they are distinct persons. But it goes further because it also makes it clear that Jesus had an intimate relationship with the Father prior to the creation of the world.

There are many other verses we could cite, but let’s look at just one more for now. In Acts Chapter 7 we read about the stoning of Stephen and as he was dying God graciously gave him a vision of heaven.

Marc Roby: That passage is always moving to read. What an amazing experience that had to be for Stephen, as he is going through this terribly painful ordeal God granted him a vision of heaven itself. He must have been filled with great joy even as he was being stoned.

Dr. Spencer: It’s incredible to think about what that must have been like. But my point here is that in Acts 7:55 we are told that “Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.” I want us to notice two things about this statement. First of all, Jesus is standing at the right hand of God, which must be God the Father, so the two of them are clearly distinct persons. Also notice that Stephen was full of the Holy Spirit, so we have now introduced the third person of the Trinity as well, and it is also clear that the Holy Spirit is a distinct person.

Marc Roby: Of course, there are those who would say the Holy Spirit represents the power of God, or something along those lines, rather than being a real person.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true, but that view is incompatible with the totality of the Bible’s teaching on the subject. For example, consider Luke Chapter 4 where we are told about Jesus spending 40 days in the desert fasting and being tempted by Satan. When the 40 days are over we read in Verse 14 that “Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit”. Now, if the Spirit is the power of God, then this verse would mean that Jesus returned in the power of the power, which makes no sense.

Marc Roby: It certainly doesn’t. And that is similar to Acts 10:38, where we read that “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power”.

Dr. Spencer: Right. If the Holy Spirit is the power of God that would be saying that Jesus was anointed with the power and power, which again makes no sense. Wayne Grudem also gives a list of scriptures showing that various activities are ascribed to the Holy Spirit that only make sense if the Holy Spirit is a person.[2] For example, in Romans 8:26 we are told that “We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.” Now, first of all, it says “the Spirit himself”, which only makes sense if the Spirit is a person. Secondly, he intercedes for us, which is not something a power or cosmic force can do. This verse also does not allow for saying the personal reference to the Holy Spirit is just a metaphorical personification, which has been suggested by some.[3]

Marc Roby: No, that doesn’t work in this verse at all.

Dr. Spencer: It also doesn’t work in John 14:26 where we read that Jesus said, “the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”

Marc Roby: That obviously cannot be a personification. And it is also impossible to reconcile this verse with the idea of the Spirit being the power of God. A power doesn’t teach and remind and would not be called a counselor.

Dr. Spencer: You’re right, it wouldn’t work at all.

Marc Roby: I also find this verse very interesting in the Greek. The word for Spirit is neuter in the Greek, and yet the verse uses the masculine demonstrative pronoun ἐκεῖνος (ekānos) to refer to the Holy Spirit, which violates the rule of grammar, but makes perfect sense if the Holy Spirit is a person.

Dr. Spencer: That is an interesting point. Finally, let me point out that there are verses in the New Testament than name all three persons of the Trinity in a way that implies that they are equal, and yet separate, persons. For example, in what is commonly called the Great Commission, Jesus commanded us, in Matthew 28:19, to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”. That clearly implies that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are separate persons, and yet equal. It is also interesting that it says, “in the name of”, using the singular for name, rather than saying “in the names of” as we might expect. Which is consistent with the fact that these three persons are one and the same God.

Marc Roby: And, of course, there is also the familiar benediction from 2 Corinthians 13:14, where we read, “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”

Dr. Spencer: That is another good statement. I think we’ve put forward enough examples to reasonably prove our first point; namely that the Bible teaches that God exists in three persons. So, now we need to go on the second point, which is that each person is fully God.

Marc Roby: I don’t think we need to do much to prove the case for God the Father.

Dr. Spencer: No. If someone believes in a personal God at all, then they have to accept that God exists in at least one person, so I don’t think we need to do any work at all to make the case that God the Father is God.

Marc Roby: I agree. So, how do you want to make the case for the deity of Jesus Christ?

Dr. Spencer: Let’s begin with John 1 again. We looked at it before, but there is more to be said. Verses 1-4 say, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men.”

Marc Roby: We previously noted that the Jehovah’s Witnesses claim that Verse 1 should say that “the Word was a god.” And we argued that the Greek does not support their position.

Dr. Spencer: That’s correct. In fact, if any of our listeners have a serious interest in this issue – perhaps you are thinking about becoming a Jehovah’s Witness, or you know someone who is. If that is the case, I strongly recommend that you look at Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology. He discusses a tract put out by the Jehovah’s Witnesses themselves where they acknowledge that the Greek grammar in Verse 1 is, by itself, inconclusive and that the context must decide how to translate the verse.[4] But they then fail to examine the context and simply state as somehow obvious that it should be translated “a god.”

Marc Roby: And yet, the first four verses, which you just read, certainly argue against that view. They tell us that all things were made through Jesus Christ.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And, just in case we might think that means everything other than Jesus himself, it goes on to say that “without him nothing was made that has been made”, which is pretty clearly exhaustive. Nothing that has been made, in other words no created being, was made without the work of Jesus Christ. Therefore, it is clear that he himself cannot be a created being; he is the Creator. In other words, he is God.

We also see his deity in the last verse I read, Verse 4, which begins by saying “In him was life”. That cannot be said of any creature. Life is given to creatures, it is not in them inherently. This is in agreement with John 5:26, which we examined in Session 50, where Jesus says that “as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself.” As we noted at the time, to have life in himself is a clear statement of his independent self-existence; in other words, of his deity.

Marc Roby: That is very clear. And of course, there is more in John 1 as well. We read in Verse 14 that “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

Dr. Spencer: Yes. This verse clearly says that the glory of the Word, who is Jesus Christ, is “the glory of the One and Only”, in other words, God. And Jesus possesses the glory of God precisely because he is God.

We can also look at Verse 18 of this chapter, where we read that “No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.” This speaks of two separate persons, both called God. If you put the sentence in front of you, and I encourage our listeners to do this, and stare at it for a minute, it is absolutely clear. The first clause says that “No one has ever seen God”, and uses the standard Greek word for God, θεός (theos). Then the next clause says “but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.” It is probably a little hard to get this while listening, but it is clear if you look that “God the One and Only”, which again uses θεός in the Greek, is a separate person from God in the first clause, who is the antecedent of the pronoun him when it says “has made him known.” Therefore, God has made God known to us. If you now go back to Verse 14 that we read a moment ago, you see that it was the Word, Jesus Christ, who became flesh, who came and dwelt with us and made the Father known. So, we could say simply that God the Son made God the Father known.

Marc Roby: John 1:1-18 really is an amazing passage to read. And if you read it carefully in a good translation it forcefully presents Jesus Christ as God.

Dr. Spencer: I completely agree. But let’s move on to another verse. In John Chapter 20 we read about the apostle Thomas, often called doubting Thomas because of this passage. The other apostles tell him about Jesus appearing to them when Thomas was not there and he says, in Verse 25, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.” Then, a week later, Jesus appears to them again while Thomas is with them and Jesus tells Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” We then read Thomas’ response in John 20:28, “Thomas said to him, ‘My Lord and my God!’” And, rather than rebuking him as you would expect if Jesus were not God, Jesus says to him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Marc Roby: Jesus is saying that we, who have not seen him, will be blessed if we will join with Thomas in believing that he is our Lord and our God.

Dr. Spencer: That is exactly what Jesus is saying. And there is no doubt that John wanted us to get that message from this story because the next two verses, 29 and 30, say, “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

Marc Roby: That’s wonderful. What else would you like to look at?

Dr. Spencer: Another passage that is very compelling is Philippians 2:5-11. The apostle Paul wrote this passage to convince Christians to live humble lives in service of others by using Jesus Christ as our prime example of humble service. He wrote, “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Marc Roby: That is a very rich passage.

Dr. Spencer: It most certainly is, and we will not be looking at every aspect of it. But James Boice uses this passage in his book Foundations of the Christian Faith to argue for the divinity of Christ and I’d like to summarize his arguments here.[5] He first examines the phrase that, in our translation, says that Jesus, “being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped”. Notice that this verse first says that Jesus had the “very nature” of God. Boice points out that the Greek word rendered here by “very nature” means that “he possessed inwardly and displayed outwardly the very nature of God himself.”[6] Secondly, the verse says that Jesus “did not consider equality with God something to be grasped”, which means that Jesus did not consider his equality with God to be something he had to hold on to. Boice again points out that the Greek word used for equal here is very strong.

Marc Roby: That verse is quite clear. And I look forward to hearing what else this passage says in our next session, but we are out of time for today. So, let me remind our listeners to email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org, we truly appreciate hearing from you.

 

[1] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[2] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Inter-Varsity Press, 1994, pg. 232

[3] Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1938, pg. 96 (This can be purchased as a combination of his Systematic Theology and Introductory Volume to Systematic Theology in one text from Eerdmans, 1996)

[4] Grudem, op. cit., see the extensive footnote 13 on page 234

[5] James Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith, Revised in One Volume, InterVarsity Press, 1986, pp 268-270

[6] Ibid, pg. 269

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine the doctrine of the Trinity. We ended last time citing a number of scriptural passages to show that God had provided evidence of his triune nature even in the Old Testament. How do you want to proceed today Dr. Spencer?

Dr. Spencer: I want to spend a little more time in the Old Testament, specifically, I want to look at Isaiah 48. In Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology he notes that Verse 16 of that chapter provides evidence for the Trinity, and he is in agreement on this point with the great Old Testament scholar E.J. Young.

Marc Roby: Some background to Isaiah 48 will probably help many of our listeners. Isaiah prophesied to the southern kingdom of Judah beginning slightly before the time that the northern kingdom of Israel was carried into captivity by the Assyrians in 721 BC and continuing on into the early 7th century BC. Even though this was about 100 years before the southern kingdom was carried into captivity by the Babylonians, Isaiah spoke of their captivity as God’s punishment for their apostasy and, most amazingly, he prophesied, by name, that Cyrus would deliver them from that captivity.

Dr. Spencer: That is one of the most amazing and specific of all biblical prophecies. We spoke about it in Session 20. In Isaiah 44:28, God says of Cyrus, “He is my shepherd and will accomplish all that I please; he will say of Jerusalem, ‘Let it be rebuilt,’ and of the temple, ‘Let its foundations be laid.’” [1] And Cyrus the 2nd, the king of Persia, conquered Babylon in 539 BC and let the exiles return to rebuild Jerusalem in 537 BC just as Isaiah had predicted about 150 years before.

Marc Roby: That is irrefutable evidence that the God of the Bible is the Lord of history. And after talking about Cyrus in Chapters 44 and 45, Isaiah goes on to describe the fall of Babylon and to assert the Lord’s superiority over the so-called gods of the Babylonians, whom he mocks. He points out that the Lord alone is the creator of all things, that he alone predicts the future, and that he alone will redeem his people.

Dr. Spencer: And, in Chapter 48, God addresses himself to his people and chastises them for their false religion. He tells them that his “chosen ally” – referring to Cyrus – will defeat Babylon. And then we get to the verse we want to look at. At the end of Verse 16 we read, “And now the Sovereign LORD has sent me, with his Spirit.” And we must ask, “Who is speaking in this verse?” Both Wayne Grudem[2] and E.J. Young[3] say that the speaker is the Servant of the Lord, to whom we are first introduced in Isaiah 42:1, which says, “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations.” In other words, it is the Lord Jesus Christ. And look at what he says. He says that the “Sovereign LORD” has sent him, along with his Spirit. In other words, looking back at this passage with the knowledge added by the New Testament, we can clearly see all three persons of the Trinity. It is not explicit in the passage itself, but it is there. We aren’t adding something foreign to the passage, we are just making explicit what is already there. As John Murray said, “because of the unity of revelation and the unity of what we call both Testaments, what is patent in the New is latent in the Old.”[4]

Marc Roby: And I think you have demonstrated that the Trinity is certainly latent in this verse in Isaiah. Is there more to say about the Trinity in the Old Testament?

Dr. Spencer: There certainly is. In the chapters we have mentioned in Isaiah for example, we see that God – meaning Jehovah – is the Savior. We read in Isaiah 45:21, for example, that God says, “there is no God apart from me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none but me.” We also see that God calls himself the Redeemer. In Isaiah 44:24 we read, “This is what the LORD says— your Redeemer, who formed you in the womb”, which equates Jehovah the Creator with our Redeemer. And yet, based on the New Testament, who is our Savior and Redeemer?

Marc Roby: The Lord Jesus Christ. His name is Jesus because he will save his people from their sins we are told in Matthew 1:21.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And there are many other places in Isaiah and the rest of the Old Testament were God tells us that he alone is our Savior and will redeem his people. So, if you believe the New Testament at all, you must conclude that Jesus Christ is God. And even if you don’t believe the New Testament, you must conclude that the Old Testament speaks about one God who is, nonetheless, plural in some sense.

Marc Roby: To modify Murray’s line we could say that the Trinity, which is explicit in the New Testament, is latent in the Old.

Dr. Spencer: We definitely could say that. And now I would like to turn to the New Testament.

Marc Roby: Alright, where do you want us to look in the New Testament.

Dr. Spencer: I want to start with Hebrews Chapter 1. We read, in Verses 1-3, “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.”

Marc Roby: I love that passage. And for those of our listeners who may not be familiar with it, if they go on and look at Hebrews 2:9 they will see that this passage is clearly speaking about Jesus Christ, even though he is not explicitly named in these verses.

Dr. Spencer: I love this passage too. And it is a very important passage because it tells us a several things we need to know about Christ. We learn that Jesus “provided purification for sins”, which speaks of his being our Redeemer. But we saw in Isaiah that our Redeemer is Jehovah. The passage also tells us that Jesus is the heir of all things and that God created the universe through him, which is a point we will come back to, but clearly points to his deity, he is the Creator. We are also told that Jesus Christ “is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word”. That is an amazing statement and we should take a minute to look at it.

First of all, Jesus sustains all things by his powerful word. That is clearly something that only God can do. Secondly, we are told that he “is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being”.

Marc Roby: That is a difficult phrase to understand.

Dr. Spencer: I agree. Let me use an analogy to help. If you see a great painting of someone, you might say something like “that is a perfect representation of him”. What you mean is that given the medium of paint on a canvas, the artist has done the best possible job of representing the person.

In the same way, given the medium of a human being, Jesus Christ is the exact representation of God. Now if you go back and look in Genesis, you see that man was originally created in God’s image. Unfortunately, that image was radically defaced by the fall. So, in the New Testament, we are told, in Romans 8:29, that we are “predestined to be conformed to the likeness of” Jesus Christ. In other words, the radical defacing of the image of God brought about by sin is being repaired, so that when we finally receive our glorified bodies in heaven we will perfectly represent God in human form, just as Jesus Christ, in his humanity, perfectly represented God in human form.

Marc Roby: But, of course, Jesus Christ was more than just a perfect man; he was also fully God.

Dr. Spencer: And we will never be gods, contrary to what Mormons and the Word of Life preachers say. But, our point here is just that Jesus Christ is perfect man and, as we read, he is also God because all things were created through him and he upholds all things. If you go on in that passage of Hebrews you will see that the author applies several Old Testament passages to Jesus Christ in a way that makes his deity clear. But I want to jump to another passage.

Marc Roby: Which passage is that?

Dr. Spencer: I want to look at Titus 2:13, where Paul writes about the grace of God teaching us to say “no” to ungodliness, “while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ”.

Marc Roby: I know that the Jehovah’s Witnesses Bible says that we wait for the “hope and glorious manifestation of the great God and of our Savior, Jesus Christ”.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, I know they parse it that way, which requires inserting a comma in the Greek to separate God from Savior. But that cannot be justified because even in the Jehovah’s Witness’ own Bible it says a few lines later, in Titus 3:4, that God is our Savior. It also says that in Titus 1:3. So in the local context of this letter, it is clear that our God and our Savior are one and the same, Jesus Christ.

Marc Roby: We have also looked at Colossians 1:16 before, in Session 43, and in that verse, Paul is speaking about Christ and says that “by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.”

Dr. Spencer: That is another very good verse. Everything was created by Jesus Christ, whether in heaven or on earth, whether visible or invisible, everything was created by him. There is no escaping the fact that he must be God for that to be true. He is not a created being, he is the Creator.

Marc Roby: And he himself clearly claimed to be God.

Dr. Spencer: Yes he did. Probably the most famous statement to that effect was made when he was disputing with some of the Jewish teachers of the law and he said, in John 8:56, that “Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.” To which they responded incredulously, “You are not yet fifty years old, and you have seen Abraham!” And, in response to this, Jesus said “I tell you the truth, before Abraham was born, I am!” And that statement in the English does not properly give the force of the Greek.

We must remember that Jesus was speaking Aramaic, so we are reading a translation. But the way in which Jesus is reported as saying “I am” was not the normal, straightforward way of saying it. Instead, the Greek construction ἐγὼ εἰμί, is the way the Jews rendered the Hebrew tetragrammaton, Jehovah, in the Greek translation of the Old Testament[5]. And it is in the present tense, even though he is speaking about the past. The idea is clearly that he himself had no beginning, but existed always, certainly before Abraham. It is certainly reasonable to conclude that in writing his gospel, John chose this Greek construction deliberately to give the full force of Jesus’ assertion.

Marc Roby: And the people who heard him say this certainly understood his statement to be a claim to deity since we read in the next verse that “they picked up stones to stone him”.

Dr. Spencer: That is an extremely important point. Whatever Jesus’ actual words in Aramaic were, they were clearly understood as being an assertion of his deity. And, I’m sure many of our listeners are aware that Jesus didn’t just say this one time. There are seven famous “I am” statements in John. In John 6:35 Jesus said, “I am the bread of life.” In both John 8:12 and 9:5 he said, “I am the light of the world.” In John 10:7 he said, “I am the gate for the sheep” and then he repeated “I am the gate” in John 10:9. In John 10:11 and 14 he said, “I am the good shepherd.” And in John 11:25 he said, “I am the resurrection and the life.” In John 14:6 he said, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” And, finally, in John 15:1 he said, “I am the true vine” and then nearly repeated that in Verse 5, saying, “I am the vine”.

Marc Roby: Those are all amazing claims to deity. And he repeated that claim again when he was being arrested on the Mount of Olives. In John 18 we see in three places, in Verses 5, 6 and 8, that he again said, “I am”.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, and we’re told that the people fell down when he said it. There really is no doubt that he claimed to be God. Let me quote from C.S. Lewis because I think he summed up this point very well. He wrote that we should never say we will accept Jesus as a good moral teacher, but not accept his claim to be God incarnate. And he wrote, “That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any partronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”[6]

Marc Roby: Lewis had a way with words; that is a great statement.

Dr. Spencer: It is a wonderful statement. And because the doctrine of the Trinity is so important, I want to take some more time to lay out a careful biblical case for it. In doing so, I’m going to follow the outline given in Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology,[7] which is very similar to what is used by Boice in his Foundations of the Christian Faith.[8]

Marc Roby: What is that outline?

Dr. Spencer: To firmly establish the doctrine of the Trinity, we must establish three things: First, that God exists in three persons; second, that each person is fully God; and third, that there is one God.

Marc Roby: Very well. I assume you are going to start by showing that the Bible teaches that God exists in three persons. What verses do you want to cite?

Dr. Spencer: Let’s begin with the famous beginning of the gospel of John. In John 1:1-2 we read, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.”

Marc Roby: When John wrote “In the beginning was the Word”, I’m sure he had Genesis 1:1 in mind, where it says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

Dr. Spencer: I’m sure he did have that verse in mind, and he wanted his readers to recall it as well. The point there is that the Word existed eternally, prior to the creation, just as Genesis 1:1 tells us that God was pre-existent. But, for our present purposes the only thing I want us to see from this verse is that this it shows there are at least two different persons referred to as God. We see that “the Word was with God” and that “He was with God in the beginning”, which clearly speaks of two different persons, and yet we are also told the “the Word was God.” Later in the passage, in verses 14-17, it becomes clear that the Word is Jesus Christ.

Marc Roby: I’m sure many of our listeners are aware that the Jehovah’s Witnesses claim this should be translated to say that “the Word was a god”, which a little ‘g’ since the Greek does not have the definite article.

Dr. Spencer: As you well know, this verse by itself is not definitive on this point. We will make the case for the deity of Christ later, but this verse clearly is consistent with that view and shows that the Word, Jesus Christ, is distinct from the Father, who is just called God in this verse, which is the main point I want to make for now.

But, let me say just a bit more about this verse at this time. The definite article in the Greek tells us which word is the subject in this statement; so the subject is ὁ Λόγος, the Word. The word order, however, emphasizes Θεὸς, the Greek word for God. The context of the passage makes it clear that the Word refers to Jesus Christ and that when the Word is distinguished from God, God refers to God the Father. The lack of an article on Θεὸς simply tells us that the Word, Jesus Christ, and God the Father are not exactly the same person. William Mounce[9] relates what Martin Luther said about this verse, that “the lack of an article is against Sabellianism”. Sabellianism is the view also called modalism; namely that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are three different modes of one God, sort of like my being a father, a son and a brother. If that view were correct, then there would be a definite article in front of Θεὸς. Luther also said that “the word order is against Arianism”. Arianism is the view that Jesus Christ is not God. Jehovah’s Witnesses agree with Arianism on this point, so the word order argues against their translation. And, as we will see in a later session, there is a great deal of other evidence to show conclusively that their view is unbiblical, Jesus Christ is God.

Marc Roby: I’m glad you said “in a later session,” because we are out of time for today. I’d like to remind our listeners that they can send their comments and questions to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We would truly love to hear from you.

 

[1] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[2] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Inter-Varsity Press, 1994, pg. 228

[3] E.J. Young, The Book of Isaiah, W.B. Eerdmans Pub., 1972, Vol 3, pg. 259

[4] John Murray, Collected Works, Vol. II, Banner of Truth Trust, 1977, pp 172-173

[5] I was not clear in this statement; ἐγὼ εἰμί is used for the tetragrammaton in Exodus 3:14, which is where God reveals his name to Moses as was discussed in Session 49. Elsewhere in the Septuagint the tetragrammaton was rendered by the Κύριος, the Greek word for Lord.

[6] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, MacMillan Pub. Co., 1952, pg. 56

[7] Grudem, Op. cit.

[8] James Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith, Revised in One Volume, InterVarsity Press, 1986

[9] William D. Mounce, Basics of Biblical Greek Grammar, 3rd Ed., Zondervan, 2009, pg. 27

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine the attributes of God. Last time we ended discussing the aseity of God, which is his self-existence. We noted that he does not need man in any way, which is a profoundly humbling thought. Dr. Spencer, what else do we want to say about God’s aseity?

Dr. Spencer: I want to begin by looking at the Scriptural basis for this idea. Last time we talked about the name by which God revealed himself to Moses, which is “I Am”. Remember that in Exodus 3:14 we read, “God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: “I AM has sent me to you.”’” [1] And we noted that only God can say “I Am” in an absolute sense. I can say that “I am”, but, sooner or later, I will die and I will not “be” in my present state any longer. And there was a time when I did not exist at all. In other words, I am dependent; whereas, God is completely independent.

Marc Roby: What other Scriptural support do you want to cite for this attribute?

Dr. Spencer: One of the best verses is John 5:26, where Jesus says that “as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself.” We do not have life in ourselves. As I just noted, my life had a beginning and it will have an end, which can come at any time. Even though we believe that all human beings will, in fact, live forever, either in hell or in heaven, our living is still contingent, totally dependent on God. God, on the other hand, “has life in himself”, which speaks of his self-existence.

Marc Roby: That reminds me of the apostle Paul’s statement to the Athenians. In Acts 17:24-25 we read that Paul said, “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else.”

Dr. Spencer: That is an obvious result of the fact that God is the only one who has life in himself. All other life is derived from him. As Paul put it, “he himself gives all men life and breath”. Another good passage is Psalm 102:25-27, which says, “In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. Like clothing you will change them and they will be discarded. But you remain the same, and your years will never end.” God existed before creation and will never perish; in fact, it is impossible for him to not exist.

We can also look at Psalm 90:2, where we read, “Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.” From everlasting to everlasting is a clear reference to eternity past and eternity future.

Marc Roby: Of course, to speak of past and future is to cater to a limitation known to us as creatures, but not to God. In Verse 4 of that Psalm we read, “For a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night.” Which, as you noted before, in Session 8, is a hint at the fact that God does not experience time in the same that way we do.

Dr. Spencer: Very true. And Isaiah 40:28 says, in part, “Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.” God is everlasting – in other words, without end. He exists necessarily. Finally, in Revelation 4:10 we are told that “the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne, and worship him who lives for ever and ever.” To say that God lives “for ever and ever” is again a clear reference to his having no beginning or end. He is self-existent.

Marc Roby: That really is impossible for us to grasp.

Dr. Spencer: It certainly is. We are bound to our existence and dependence and can’t really conceive of what it means to be self-existent and independent. In fact, theologians have struggled throughout history with the idea of the knowability of God. In other words, what can we truly know about God. It has often been noted that we are finite creatures and that the finite cannot comprehend the infinite. But, while we certainly cannot have a comprehensive knowledge of God, it is important to maintain that we can have a true knowledge of God.

Marc Roby: But that knowledge must be based on his revelation to us.

Dr. Spencer: Yes it must. In fact, the fact that God told his name to Moses points out that we only know about God because we exist in relation to him, he has chosen to reveal himself. And, in terms of that relationship, he is our covenant Lord. We cannot properly conceive of God outside of his lordship, or rule, over our lives. We dare not think of him as just the Creator, or some cosmic force, or as the universal policeman, or anything else. He is Lord.

Marc Roby: I think this is the main reason people get so offended at real Christianity.

Dr. Spencer: I agree. People don’t get so offended if you talk about some force, or nebulous god who makes no claim to lordship. But true Christianity is different. John Frame wrote the following: “Although the opinion makers tell us that there are ‘many paths to God,’ they exclude the Christian path because it claims to be exclusive. The interesting fact is that both those who idolize secularity and those who promote alternative spiritualities agree in rejecting the God of Scripture. Only he is of sufficient weight for them to recognize as their enemy. … Our message to the world must emphasize that God is real, and that he will not be trifled with. He is the almighty, majestic Lord of heaven and earth, and he demands our most passionate love and obedience.”[2]

Marc Roby: Frame does a good job of emphasizing the lordship of God. He also wrote that “The first thing, and in one sense the only thing, we need to know about God is that he is Lord.”[3] And he notes how often God says in his Word that he did something so that one group or another “will know that I am the Lord.”

Dr. Spencer: In fact, I did a quick search on my computer and that exact phrase “will know that I am the Lord” occurs 63 times in the 1984 NIV translation. And I’m sure there are other more-or-less equivalent sayings as well. It is a common theme in the Bible. We will come back to that topic of lordship more later.

Marc Roby: Very well, for now though let’s get back to our discussion of God’s aseity. You noted that even though we cannot know God completely, we can, nonetheless, have true knowledge about him.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. We only know what God chooses to reveal to us. But the knowledge that we obtain from his revelation is true knowledge as far as it goes. And we can clearly know from the passages we’ve adduced that God is self-existent and independent of his creation.

Marc Roby: The Westminster Confession of Faith gives a wonderful summary of this point. In Paragraph 2 of Chapter 2, which is on God and the Holy Trinity, we read the following; “God has all life, glory, goodness, blessedness, in and of Himself; and is alone in and unto Himself all-sufficient, not standing in need of any creatures which He has made, nor deriving any glory from them, but only manifesting His own glory in, by, unto, and upon them. He is the alone fountain of all being, of whom, through whom, and to whom are all things; and has most sovereign dominion over them, to do by them, for them, or upon them whatsoever Himself pleases.”[4]

Dr. Spencer: That is a great summary, and it is also a good place to end our discussion of God’s aseity.

Marc Roby: What attribute would you like to discuss next?

Dr. Spencer: I want to discuss God’s triune nature.

Marc Roby: In other words, the fact that he exists in three persons, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit?

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. I think that this aspect of God’s nature is even harder for us to grasp than his aseity, but both of them highlight the radical difference between God as the independent Creator and us as dependent creatures made in his image. God’s Trinity is sometimes not considered an attribute, because God’s attributes are meant to describe God’s nature and all of them apply to all three persons of the Trinity. Therefore, it is most often dealt with separately and you will often see it referred to as the doctrine of the Trinity.

Marc Roby: This doctrine has caused many problems in the history of the church and even today you have Jehovah’s Witnesses and others, who call themselves Christians, but who deny this doctrine.

Dr. Spencer: The reason it has caused so many problems is that it is a very difficult doctrine to understand. But it is also a clear teaching of the Bible as we will show. It is not possible to be a true Christian and deny the Trinity.

Marc Roby: Of course, the word itself, the Trinity, doesn’t occur in the Bible.

Dr. Spencer: No, it doesn’t. But the term is one we use to explain the clear teaching of the Bible. Part of the reason the truth of the triune nature of God has been a problem is that it differs from the understanding of the Jews at the time of Jesus, so people sometimes think that it is a new teaching that contradicts the Old Testament.

Marc Roby: Which, of course, is not true.

Dr. Spencer: No, it isn’t true at all. What is true is that the Old Testament teaching is not as explicit as that in the New Testament, but the idea of the Trinity is definitely there as we will show.

Marc Roby: Many people reject this doctrine because they claim it is a logical contradiction or, at the very least, incomprehensible. How would you answer them?

Dr. Spencer: The answer has two parts. First of all, the doctrine of the Trinity is absolutely not a logical contradiction. If I said that God is one person and that God is three persons at the same time, that would be a contradiction. But the doctrine of the Trinity says that there is one God, who exists in three persons.

The second part of the answer is that I agree the doctrine is incomprehensible, if by that you mean that we cannot fully comprehend it. But that in no way militates against the doctrine being true. Our physical universe is incomprehensible too if we are talking about a complete understanding. In fact, we don’t even know what mass and energy are. In high-school science you learn that energy is the ability to do work and is a property of matter. So, for example, if I throw a baseball, that object possesses kinetic energy, which would allow it to do the work of breaking your living room window.

Marc Roby: I wouldn’t be very happy if you did that.

Dr. Spencer: I’m sure you wouldn’t. But you, and a whole lot of other people, would be even more unhappy if I somehow converted even a tiny amount of the mass in that baseball directly into energy. Einstein’s famous formula, E = mC2, tells us that mass and energy are in some sense the same thing. And even a tiny amount of mass possesses an incredible amount of energy, that is the basis of atomic weapons and atomic power. I don’t want to go into a bunch of physics, but my point is simply this. We don’t know what mass and energy really are at the most fundamental level. In fact, the best current understanding is that everything in our universe is a wave of some kind, there really aren’t any particles in the sense we usually think of them.

Marc Roby: That is all very confusing to most people.

Dr. Spencer: And that is precisely my point.

Marc Roby: You wanted to confuse people?

Dr. Spencer: Yes. For a good purpose. My point is an argument from the lesser to the greater. If the creation itself is, at the most fundamental level, incomprehensible to us, wouldn’t you expect the Creator to be even more incomprehensible? Why would anyone think that you or I, or any other finite creature, should be able to comprehend God? So, while we should not accept anything that is a real logical contradiction, we should not expect God’s nature to be something familiar to us from creation itself or to be something we can fully understand. We shouldn’t limit the nature of God because of our limited mental capabilities.

Marc Roby: That sounds reasonable. So, what biblical support do you want to look at for the doctrine of the Trinity?

Dr. Spencer: I want to start with the Old Testament since, as I said, people sometimes erroneously think that the Trinity contradicts the Old Testament view of God.

Marc Roby: Okay, what Old Testament passages do you want to look at?

Dr. Spencer: Let’s begin in Genesis 1. In the first two verses we read, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” And, we are immediately confronted with a question. Who is this “Spirit of God” that is hovering over the waters? I understand that we sometimes also talk about the spirit of a man, and by that phrase we would often mean the central core of his being and personality, or something like that. But you wouldn’t say that the spirit of a man was hovering somewhere. That usage sounds like you are talking about a distinct person.

Marc Roby: That is interesting, but not exactly conclusive. What other evidence do we have?

Dr. Spencer: Let’s move down to Verse 26 of Genesis 1, where we read, “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness …’”. It is interesting that God refers to himself in the plural here. He says, “Let us”, not I will, or Let me, or anything like that. Now some have said that this is a “plural of majesty”. And they support this idea by pointing out, for example, that Alexander the Great and others referred to themselves in the plural. But, Wayne Grudem points out in his Systematic Theology that there is no other example in ancient Hebrew writing of this kind of use of the plural, so this is a conjecture with absolutely nothing to support it.[5]

Marc Roby: That also isn’t the only place in the Old Testament where God refers to himself in the plural. Grudem mentions Genesis 3:22, 11:7 and Isaiah 6:8.[6]

Dr. Spencer: He also points out that there are passages in the Old Testament where more than one person is called God or Lord in the same statement. For example, in Psalm 110:1, which was written by King David, we read, “The LORD says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.’” This is a very interesting statement. David was the absolute monarch at the time, so the only one he would call Lord is God. And yet, he says , The LORD says to my Lord”, which implies two distinct persons, both of whom David refers to as God. Also, who could say to God “Sit at my right hand” but someone else who is also God?[7]

Marc Roby: That is a very interesting argument. And that passage was used by Jesus to stump the theologians of his day too.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it was. In Matthew 22:41-46 we read about Jesus questioning some of the religious leaders of his day. They had just been grilling him with what they thought were very difficult questions, in the hope of tricking him into some kind of error. And, after answering all of their questions, Jesus turned the tables a bit and asked them, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” They correctly replied, “The son of David.” Jesus then asks them a question about this psalm. He says, “How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him ‘Lord’? For he says, ‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.”’ If then David calls him ‘Lord,’ how can he be his son?”

Marc Roby: And we know that that question stumped them, because we read that “No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions.”

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. They didn’t want to admit that there was a plurality of persons in the godhead, but there is not other way to understand that verse, so they stayed silent. Grudem points out that the Jewish theologians today still have no answer to this question.[8]

Marc Roby: This is a very interesting conversation, but we are out of time for today. I’d like to remind our listeners to send their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org, we’d appreciate hearing from you.

 

[1] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[2] John M. Frame, The Doctrine of God, P&R Publishing Company, 2002, pp 2-3

[3] Ibid, pg. 21

[4] Minor updating of the English.

[5] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Inter-Varsity Press, 1994, pg. 227

[6] Ibid

[7] Ibid, pg. 228

[8] Ibid, pg. 228

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