A Brief Introduction
In the Second Century a heretical doctrine immerged in the Church called Sabellianism that did away with Jesus as the Eternal Son of God. It was a doctrine that had the Spirit take on modes under which He was called the father, then the Son and then the Holy Spirit. Sabellias, the originator of this doctrine, taught that God was a Divine Oneness who revealed himself to mankind by projecting Himself into the Father and into the Holy Spirit. God being only one at a time, became another for different dispensations of time. In the first dispensation of time the Father was the creator and the lawgiver, then for the next dispensation of time the Son was the redeemer and for the last dispensation of time the Spirit was the giver of grace. Sabellias could not accept that God could be three persons all co-existing at the same time in perfect unity as the One Eternal God. In other words his doctrine denied the eternal relationship of the Trinity within the Godhead.
This was another form of Gnosticism. In reality those who held to this doctrine taught the Lord Jesus was a created being in Mary’s womb and did not previously exist as the Eternal Son as one substance with the Father yet separate and distinct from the Father and from the Holy Spirit within the Godhead. In reality they denied that the Eternal Word of God, the Lord Jesus Christ pre-existed as the Eternal Son of God and the one who “became flesh and dwelt among us.”
In the time of the Apostle John the false doctrine of Gnosticism already existed and the basis of their teaching was the denial of Jesus as the Eternal Son of God. The Gnostics also denied that the Lord Jesus Christ was the only way to the Father contradicting the words of the Lord Jesus Himself who said, “I am the way, the truth and the life and no man comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). Today the modern version of the ancient heresy of Gnosticism would be the New Age Movement with its many and varied ‘paths’ to God. However, there are various forms of Gnosticism in the Church! and one of these errors is the teaching that God is One and not Triune in nature.
The adherents of this teaching today would be the Oneness Pentecostal movement which is now the third largest anti-Trinitarian Church in the World, having anywhere from 5-6 million or more adherents. Oneness Pentecostals are unique as far as being considered a cult. Much of what they say and teach would be in agreement with what is in accord with sound Biblical doctrine; however, the very nature of God is at the centre of this modern day heresy. They are be “in bed” with those who would call themselves Unitarians.
Unlike the other cults that deny the deity of Christ they affirm it but redefine it according to their own theology and not according the revelation of God’s Word. They have the right Jesus but the wrong Jesus. If He is not the Eternal Son of God, one substance with the Father yet separate and distinct from the Father then He is not truly God. For Jesus to be truly God He would have to be eternal in nature as God Himself is eternal. Jesus was not created the Son of God at the time of his conception in the womb of Mary to be the mode of the Father expressed in flesh. The word that correctly defines God becoming flesh is the word “incarnation” and not “creation.” In other words the Eternal Word existing with the Father became flesh.
The purpose of this study is to clearly show from both testaments that God is One yet three persons and to expose the error of Oneness theology as defined by the Oneness Pentecostal teaching. While the word “Trinity” does not exist in the Bible it does not negate the fact that the Bible itself in both testaments clearly show that God is a Triune God and that within the Godhead the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit enjoy an eternal relationship with each other.
The modern beginnings of the “Oneness” Doctrine
The Pentecostal movement was from its inception Trinitarian. It was from the revival at the Azusa Street Mission from 1906 to 1909 that the Pentecostal experience spread throughout the world. When this modern day revival had first occurred with the baptism of the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues, it was upholding the doctrine of the Trinity. The message of “Oneness” was first delivered to the Pentecostals in a camp meeting in Arroyo Seco, California at a Pentecostal camp meeting in 1913 where hundreds of preachers were attending. To be brief, at this meeting, an evangelist by the name of RE McAlister propagated the doctrine of the Oneness of God in conjunction with baptism in Jesus name only formula and not in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
At the time the Pentecostal leadership took him aside and told him not to preach this doctrine. Unfortunately many took up this doctrine giving birth to the Oneness Pentecostal Movement. In the preceding years following 1913 it was the Oneness Pentecostals who isolated themselves from Main-stream Christianity declaring that they were the only ones who held to true apostolic doctrine regarding the nature of God and baptism. (For a full treatment of this subject relating to the Oneness Pentecostals go to the “Let us Reason Website.”)
In reality the Oneness Pentecostals have joined with many others that have preceded them to lay their claim to restoring the truth such as The Mormons, 7th day Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christadelphians and every other sect that denies the Eternal deity of Jesus Christ as the third person in the Trinity and the one who was fully God and fully man manifest in the flesh. To hold to the “Oneness” position is to in fact side with all the cults who deny the Pre-existence of Jesus Christ as the third person of the Trinity. It actually denies him as God the eternal Son co-equal in divinity with the Father and with the Holy Spirit. The following teaching is by no means exhaustive but sufficient to show that the Trinity runs all through the Bible in both Testaments.
The Trinity as revealed in the Old Testament
1. The use of the name “Elohim” “A Plural Noun” “Gods.”
It is generally agreed among Biblical scholars that the Hebrew word “Elohim” used for God in the Bible is a Plural Noun having the masculine plural ending “im.” In the Bible the word “Elohim” is used of the One True God yet the word itself contains the idea of plurality.For example, in Genesis we read, “In the beginning God (Elohim) created the heavens and the earth”(Genesis 1:1) and again we read in Exodus, “You shall have no other gods (Elohim) before Me”(Exodus 20:3) and again in Deuteronomy we read, Let us go after other gods” (Elohim) (Deuteronomy 23:2). One thing we must keep in mind when looking at the Trinity as revealed in the Bible is that we are not speaking about three Gods but three persons in One God, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit who are all equally God. While the use of the plural word “Elohim” does not in itself prove a Tri-unity within the Godhead, it certainly opens the door to a doctrine of plurality in the Godhead since it is the word that is used for the one true God as well as for the many false gods.
2. In the Bible there are places where the word is used of the true God and yet it is followed by a plural verb.
For example, in Genesis we read these words spoken by Abraham, “And it came to pass, when God (Elohim) caused me to wander from my fathers house…(Genesis 20:13) Literally, “THEY caused me to wander.” Again in Genesis we read these words concerning Jacob, “Because their God (Elohim) appeared to him” (Genesis 35:7) Literally, “THEY” appeared to him.” Another two examples of this word are found in 2 Samuel and in the Psalms. “And who is like Your people, like Israel, the one nation on the earth whom God (Elohim) went to redeem for Himself as a people.”(2 Samuel 7:23) Literally, “Whom “THEY” went to redeem for Himself as a people.” Again in the Psalms we read, “Surely He is a God (Elohim) who judges in the earth” (Psalm 58:11b). Literally, “THEY” judge.” In these references when the Bible speaks of God performing an action it uses the word “THEY” to refer to the One God.
3. The singular form for “Elohim” exists in the use of the word “Eloah.”
Two examples of the use of this word “Eloah” in the Bible are found in Deuteronomy 32:15-17 and Habakuk 3:3. God speaks of Himself as being “One God” however, in its context where the word “Eloah” is used by God to speak of Himself as being “One God” it is showing that He is the One and Only God and that there are no other gods beside Him. When God refers to “other gods” He is not speaking of other deities but the demons that people worship when they bow down to worship idols. (Deuteronomy 32:16-17) (1 Corinthians 10:20) When God speaks of Himself as being “One God” in this context it is not implying that He is not Triune in nature. The word “Eloah” itself is only used 250 times. However, the plural form “Elohim”is used 2,500 times. The far greater use of the plural form again turns the argument in favour of plurality in the Godhead rather than against it. So those who try to use these scriptures and others where “Eloah” is used to argue for the “Oneness Position” miss the context altogether. God is not contradicting Himself in the Bible when He is also called “Elohim.”
3. The Use of Plural Pronouns.
Another case in point regarding Hebrew grammar is that often when God speaks of Himself, He clearly uses the Plural Pronoun: For example in Genesis when God created man it says, “Then God (Elohim) said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness” (Genesis. 1:26). He could hardly have made reference to angels since man was created in the image of God and not in the image of angels. Again in Genesis God speaks concerning Adam and Eve, “Then the LORD God (YHVH Elohim) said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us” (Genesis. 3:22). God also speaks of Himself using the Plural Pronoun when dealing with the situation at the Tower of Babel, “Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language.” (Genesis 11:7). When Isaiah the prophet heard God speak to him, the Lord used the Plural Pronoun when referring to Himself, “Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying: “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” (Isaiah 6:8). Again it is clear from these passages from the Bible that God can be viewed as a plurality in unity.
4. God is at least “Two Persons.”
The words “Elohim” and “YHVH” are applied in scripture to show at least two Personalities within the Godhead. To make the case for plurality even stronger, there are situations in the Hebrew Scriptures where the term “Elohim” is applied to two personalities in the same verse. For example in Psalm 45 God speaks to His Eternal Son within the unity of the Godhead. The writer to the Hebrews in chapter one in the New Testament also confirms this truth. However, let’s look at what Psalm 45 says. “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever: A scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your kingdom. You love righteousness and hate wickedness; Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You with the oil of gladness more than Your companions” (Psalm 45:6-7).
In this passage of scripture God the first “Elohim” is speaking to the second “Elohim.” God Himself is addressing His Son in the realm of eternity. Of course when the Word Himself, who was “face to face with God,” became flesh God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit, the third person within the Godhead. At the Baptism of Jesus we see the Trinity present. Jesus was there at the river Jordan in the flesh. The Father spoke from heaven and the Holy Spirit came down to rest upon Jesus Himself. This event recorded in scripture clearly defines the three persons within the Godhead! Now let’s continue. “Yet I will have mercy on the house of Judah, will save them by the LORD their God, and will not save them by bow, nor by sword or battle, by horses or horsemen” (Hosea 1:7).
The speaker is “Elohim” who says He will have mercy on the house of Judah and will save them by His instrument “YHVH.” In other words Judah’s “Elohim” number one will save Israel by means of “Elohim” number two! Not only is Elohim applied to two personalities in the same verse, but also the very name of God is also applied to them both. When the Lord “YHVH” reigned down brimstone and fire on Sodom and Gomorrah He did it through “YHVH” number two! “Then the LORD rained brimstone and fire on Sodom and Gomorrah from the LORD out of the heavens” (Genesis19:24). Clearly we have “YHVH” number one raining fire and brimstone from a second “YHVH” who is in heaven, the first one being on earth at the time. Again in the prophet Zachariah we have “YHVH” number one sending “YHVH” number two to perform a specific task. “For thus says the LORD of hosts: “He sent Me after glory, to the nations which plunder you; for he who touches you touches the apple of His eye. For surely I will shake My hand against them, and they shall become spoil for their servants. Then you will know that the LORD of hosts has sent Me” (Zechariah 2:8-9).
5. Then there are Plural Descriptions of God.
Another point that also comes out of the Hebrew language is the fact that often nouns and adjectives used in speaking of God are plural. Some examples are as follows: (Ecclesiastes12:1) “Remember now your Creator … (Literally: “CREATORS”.) (Psalm 149:2) Let Israel rejoice in their Maker. (Literally: “MAKERS”.) (Joshua 24:19) … holy God … (Literally: “HOLY GODS”.) (Isaiah 54:5) “For your Maker is your husband. (Literally: “MAKERS” or “HUSBANDS”.)
Everything that has been said so far rests firmly on the Hebrew language of the Scriptures. If we are to base our theology on the Scriptures alone, we have to say that on the one hand they affirm God’s unity, while at the same time they also reveal the concept of a compound unity allowing for a plurality in the Godhead.
6. Then there is “The Shema” Israel’s Great Confession of God.
“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one! (or “Oneness”) (Deuteronomy 6:4). This is Israel’s great confession concerning the Lord their God. This verse is used more than any other verse to affirm the fact that God is one and is often used by the Jewish people to contradict the concept of plurality in the Godhead. But is it a valid use of this verse? On the one hand it should be noted that the very words “our God” are in the plural in the Hebrew text and literally mean “our Gods.” (Again not three separate Gods but three persons in the One God.) However, the main argument lies in the word “one,” which is the Hebrew word, “ECHAD.” A glance through the Hebrew text where the word “ECHAD”is used elsewhere can quickly show that the word “ECHAD” does not mean an absolute “one” but a compound “one.” Let’s look at some other examples from scripture.
The combination of evening and morning comprise one (echad) day. (Genesis 1:5) A man and a woman come together in marriage and the two “shall become one (echad) flesh.” (Genesis 2:24) In Ezra we are told that the whole assembly was as one (echad), (Ezra 2:64) though, of course, it was composed of numerous people (or persons). Then Ezekiel provides a rather striking example where two sticks are combined to become one (echad). (Ezekiel 37:17) Thus, use of the word “ECHAD” in Scripture shows it to be a compound and not an absolute unity.
There is a Hebrew word that does mean an absolute unity and that is “YACHID,” which is found in many Scripture passages, For example it is used in the following scriptures (Genesis 22:2,12) (Judges 11:34) (Psalm 22:21 25:16) (Proverbs 4:3) (Jeremiah 6:26) (Amos 8:10) (Zechariah 12:10) the emphasis being on the meaning of “only.” In other words these scriptures affirm the fact that God is the One and only God and that there are no other “gods.” When God acts and speaks He acts and speaks as the One true God, however, this in no way disproves the Triune Unity within the Godhead! If Moses, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, intended to teach God’s absolute oneness as over against a compound unity, then the word “YACHID” would have been a far more appropriate word for him to use. However, Moses did not use this word. In Deutoronomy 6:4 (The Shema) does not use “YACHID” in reference to God!
7. God is Three Persons.
How Many Persons are there? How many personalities exist in the Godhead? We have already seen the names of God applied to at least two different personalities. Going through the Hebrew Scriptures we find that three, and only three, distinct personalities are ever considered divine.
The First Personality: There are the numerous times when there is a reference to the Lord “YHVH”. This usage is so frequent that there is no need to devote space to it.
The Second personality is referred to as “The Angel of YHVH.” This individual is always considered distinct from all other angels and is unique. In almost every passage where he is found he is referred to as both “The Angel of YHVH” and as “YHVH Himself.”
For instance in Genesis16:7 He is referred to as “The Angel of YHVH,” but then in Genesis 16:13 as “YHVH Himself.” Again in Genesis 22:11 He is “The Angel of YHVH,” but then as “God Himself” in Genesis 22:12. Again there is another interesting reference in the book of Exodus referring to the Angel of the Lord as being God. It is found in Exodus 23:20-23. This angel has the power to pardon sin because God’s own name YHVH is in him, and, therefore, He is to be obeyed without question. This can hardly be said of any ordinary angel! But the very fact that God’s own name is in this angel shows his divine status. We will deal with the Angel of the Lord later in Part three of these studies.
The third major personality that comes through is the Spirit of God, often referred to simply as the “Ruach Ha-kodesh.”
There are a good number of references to the Spirit of God among which are to be found in (Genesis1:2, 6:3) (Job 33:4) (Psalm 51:11; 139:7) (Isaiah 11:2; 63:10, 14) The Holy Spirit cannot be a mere emanation because He has all the characteristics of personality (intellect, emotion and will) and is considered divine. The New Testament clearly proves and affirms this truth! So then, from various sections of the Hebrew Scriptures it is clearly shown that three personalities are referred to as divine and as being God: namely, “The Lord YHVH”, “The Angel of YHVH” and “The Spirit of YHVH.”
The Three Personalities in the Same Passage of Scripture.
In the Hebrew Scriptures you will also find all three personalities of the Godhead referred to in single passages. “Listen to Me, O Jacob, and Israel, My called: I am He, I am the First, I am also the Last. Indeed My hand has laid the foundation of the earth, and My right hand has stretched out the heavens; when I call to them, they stand up together. All of you, assemble yourselves, and hear! Who among them has declared these things? The LORD loves Him; He shall do His pleasure on Babylon, and His arm shall be against the Chaldeans. I, even I, have spoken; yes, I have called Him, I have brought Him, and His way will prosper. Come near to Me, hear this: I have not spoken in secret from the beginning; from the time that it was, I was there. And now the Lord GOD and His Spirit have sent Me” (Isaiah 49:12-16). (KJV)
It should be noted that the speaker refers to Himself as the one who is responsible for the creation of the heavens and the earth. It is clear that He cannot be speaking of anyone other than God. But then in verse 16, the speaker refers to Himself using the pronouns of “I” and “Me” and then distinguishes Himself from two other personalities. He distinguishes himself from the Lord YHVH and then from the Spirit of God. Here is the Tri-unity as clearly defined as the Hebrew Scriptures make it!
Then there is another reference also found in Isaiah the prophet. “I will mention the lovingkindnesses of the LORD And the praises of the LORD, According to all that the LORD has bestowed on us, And the great goodness toward the house of Israel, Which He has bestowed on them according to His mercies, According to the multitude of His lovingkindnesses. For He said, “Surely they are My people, Children who will not lie.” So He became their Savior. In all their affliction He was afflicted, And the Angel of His Presence saved them; In His love and in His pity He redeemed them; And He bore them and carried them All the days of old. But they rebelled and grieved His Holy Spirit; So He turned Himself against them as an enemy, And He fought against them. Then he remembered the days of old, Moses and his people, saying: “Where is He who brought them up out of the sea with the shepherd of His flock? Where is He who put His Holy Spirit within them, Who led them by the right hand of Moses, With His glorious arm, Dividing the water before them To make for Himself an everlasting name, Who led them through the deep, As a horse in the wilderness, that they might not stumble?” As a beast goes down into the valley, And the Spirit of the LORD causes him to rest, So You lead Your people, To make Yourself a glorious name” (Isaiah 63:7-14). (KJV)
In this passage, there is a reflection back to the time of the Exodus where all three personalities were present and active. “The Lord YHVH” is referred to in verse 7, “The Angel of YHVH” in verse 9 and “The Spirit of YHVH” in verses 10, 11 and 14. While often throughout the Hebrew Scriptures God refers to Himself as being the one solely responsible for Israel’s redemption from Egypt, in this passage three personalities are given credit for it. Yet no contradiction is seen since all three comprise the unity of the one Godhead.
Concluding the revelation of the Old Testament.
The teaching of the Hebrew Scriptures then is that there is a plurality of the Godhead. The first person is consistently called “YHVH.” The second person is given the names of “YHVH,” “the Angel of YHVH” and “the Servant of YHVH.” Consistently and without fail, the second person is sent by the first person. The third person is referred to as “The Spirit of YHVH” or “the Spirit of God” or “the Holy Spirit.” He, too, is sent by the first person but is continually related to the ministry of the second person.
If the concept of the Tri-unity of God is not Jewish according to modern rabbis, then neither is the Hebrew Scriptures. Jewish Christians cannot be accused of having slipped into paganism when they hold to the fact that Jesus is the divine Son of God. He is the same one of whom Moses wrote when the Lord said: “Behold, I send an Angel before you to keep you in the way and to bring you into the place which I have prepared. Beware of Him and obey His voice; do not provoke Him, for He will not pardon your transgressions; for My name is in Him. But if you indeed obey His voice and do all that I speak, then I will be an enemy to your enemies and an adversary to your adversaries For My Angel will go before you and bring you in to the Amorites and the Hittites and the Perizzites and the Canaanites and the Hivites and the Jebusites; and I will cut them off” (Exodus 23:20-23).
This Angel of the Lord that God sent had the name of God in Him and the power to pardon transgressions. This indeed was the pre-incarnate Son of God. The problem with the Jewish people today is not that they do not believe in Jesus as many of them believe that he did exist and that he was even a prophet, however, the real problem with the Jewish people is that they do not believe the Torah. They cannot see that Moses himself clearly testifies concerning the true nature of Jesus Christ Israel’s true and only Messiah.
Sources: Mike Oppenheimer. (Jewish Hebrew Scholar) “Let us Reason” website. Arnold Fruchtenbaum of “Ariel Ministries” (Jewish Hebrew Scholar). Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry website. My own Bible references and research as well. Texts used are the NIV and the King James Version.