Theology or Revelation


Introduction

We know nothing of God apart from revelation. The essence of the glad tidings is that God has spoken in order that "out of darkness light should shine" for He has "shone in our hearts for the shining forth of the knowledge of the glory of God in [the] face of [Jesus] Christ" (2 Cor. 4: 6). The question is raised in the Bible "Canst thou by searching find out God?" (Job 11: 7) and the only answer is clearly No. God must reveal Himself. Hagar was right when she "called the name of Jehovah who spoke to her, Thou art the God who reveals himself" (Gen. 16: 13). Indeed, God has "hid these things from wise and prudent, and hast revealed them to babes" (Luke 10: 21)—proving that the matter has nothing to do with man’s reasoning faculty. The mind of man (in which he glories so much) is utterly excluded from the equation (interestingly, the word faith is never identified with the word mind in Scripture for the source of faith is the heart, not the mind). This does not mean we leave our brains at home when it comes to the things of God, for we are not to be "children in [your] minds" (1 Cor. 14: 20), but our understanding comes from revelation not reasoning.

The Words of Revelation

Despite being designated the father of the faithful (see Rom. 4: 16), Abraham was an idolater (see Josh. 24: 2) until "the God of glory appeared" to him "when he was in Mesopotamia" (Acts 7: 2). Later on, God also revealed Himself to Moses, and followed this up by saying "I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, as the Almighty God; but by my name Jehovah I was not made known to them" (Ex. 6: 3). This verse illustrates why the record of the words of revelation is so important, for the words tell us the nature of the revelation. Without the words, you and I have nothing. Hence the apostle refers to speaking "not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, communicating spiritual [things] by spiritual [means]" (1 Cor. 2: 13). People place great value in having faith, but faith is utterly valueless unless it is in God. How do we know that our faith is in God? Because His Word is believed: "he that is of God hears the words of God" (John 8: 47).

   All this would seem to be self–evident truth, and yet it is sobering to observe how much the mind of man—even of good men—has trespassed upon the holy subject of what God has said about Himself. The creature, with his finite abilities, has taken the irreverent liberty of submitting the infinite to his analysis—and in much the same way as an anatomist might dissect the human body. With the ‘science’ comes the ‘technical language’—which naturally supersedes the terminology of the Bible and its words "taught by the Spirit" (1 Cor. 2: 13). It must be so because man does not like to be kept out of the picture. He would presumptuously take it upon himself to ‘fill in’ what he deems are the ‘gaps’ in divine revelation in order to ‘explain’ God ‘better’ than God Himself. However, man’s wisdom can never enhance the light of divine revelation but serves only to blur and obscure.

   Furthermore, man being the creature that he is, his thoughts and his words inevitably take on a dogmatic element. The end result is that man’s creed becomes the test of what is right and true rather than the Bible. In essence, the authority is transferred from God to man. We get a picture of this arrogance in John 9 where the Pharisees declared of Christ that "We know that this man is sinful" (v24, my emphasis) and had "agreed that if any one confessed him [to be the] Christ, he should be excommunicated" (v22). In actual fact they did not know, but they were prepared to act on their ignorance!

The Trinity

If we are honest with ourselves, what we believe is a mixture of things: some were obtained directly out of the Bible, some were acquired indirectly from the Bible through the instrumentality of others, and some were imbibed from the traditional teaching of the Christian culture in which we move. Separating these out is not always easy, and we may find that what we thought was ‘truth’ may not be truth, or only partially so. A good way to illustrate this is by examining a human construction that most, if not all, would regard as the epitome of orthodoxy—the word Trinity. The first problem with this word is that in itself it forms no part of divine revelation. Does this matter? Yes, fundamentally it does, because to repeat what I said earlier, faith is to be in God’s Word. And yet what do we find insisted upon? That faith be placed in a word of man’s devising. Hence the common mantra ‘I believe in the Trinity’. Of course, some will accuse me of being pedantic, alleging that the word Trinity simply conveys Scriptural truth with which all are familiar. Sadly, this assumption that we all know what we mean by our words is palpable nonsense—and I shall demonstrate this in a moment. This brings me to the second problem with the word Trinity, namely that it is inadequate for the purpose for which it is being used. ‘Oh’, people say, ‘But surely Trinity is the best explanation of the Godhead there is?’ Here we are getting to the nub of things, and the obvious retort ought to be devastating to any true believer: Is God not able to explain Himself in His own Word? Sadly, it is clear that many secretly entertain the blasphemous notion that He cannot (or at least they think they can do it better than He can). Others, when pressed as to the legitimacy of their language, immediately fall back on the argument that long–use somehow invests the word Trinity with the necessary authority. This ought to be called by its proper name—traditional teaching—and its advocates need to abandon their boast of being ‘Bible–believing’ Christians.

   Now in itself, the word Trinity means no more than a group of three—but this hardly conveys the fullness of the truth of Scripture. It reduces the Godhead to a committee, downgrading the oneness of God. Employing the word unity does not help combat this problem either (and indeed, the Bible never uses it to describe God). Unity has shades of meaning, and the consequence of this is that Trinity is also invested with those differences. Being at one, or together, for example, is not the same as the numeral one. Thus, what is understood by unity in relation to the Trinity may differ from person to person!

   Let us turn then from man’s unstable thoughts to the certainty of divine revelation. That there is plurality in the Godhead is indicated in the first verse of Scripture: "In the beginning God created …" (Gen. 1: 1). Here we have in the Hebrew a plural noun ("God") with a verb ("created") in the singular. Later on, we learn that this plurality is limited to three and that these three are to be distinguished as Father, Son and Holy Spirit (see John 5: 18; 15: 26 etc.). However, it is also asserted in the strongest possible terms that "Jehovah our God is one Jehovah" (Deut. 6: 4, my emphasis; see also Mark 12: 29), and it is a false exegesis to interpret this statement as a union between the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. Deut. 6: 4 was addressed to the nation of Israel, and no Israelite would have ever understood this passage to have anything other than its obvious meaning—that is, God as a singularity. It is one God in contrast to the many gods of "the peoples that are round about you" (v14). Furthermore, the word one occurs 18 times in Deuteronomy and 25 times in Mark (including Mark 12: 6, 28 and 32) and in every case it means a singularity. Indeed, this oneness of God is insisted on in the Bible in a way that the plurality is not. It is a simple fact that Scripture never actually states that God is three—the Greek word for three () and its derivatives occur nearly 150 times in the NT, but are never used in relation to God (the latter part of 1 John 5: 7 in the AV is spurious). By contrast, the Bible consistently and explicitly asserts throughout that God is one (see Deut. 6: 4; Is. 45: 5; Mark 12: 29; 1 Tim. 1: 17; James 2: 19 etc.). This testimony will also be operative in the future (see Zech. 14: 9) for "I Jehovah change not" (Mal. 3: 6). It also bears mentioning that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are never said to be one, only the Father and the Son (see John 10: 30; 17: 11, 22 etc.), and that care must be taken to interpret the meaning of that oneness from the context in which it is set.

   The summation of all that we have considered is that the word Trinity, as with all human terms, is not actually very helpful in setting out what is in the divine mind. Understandably, the reader may now protest that he is left struggling to understand how God can be both a singularity and a plurality but the answer is simple: why does he think that he was ever expected to understand it? If God could be explained then He would cease to be God, and the reader would no longer be a creature! Yes we are constantly told that God has been revealed but Scripture never uses such language because that would imply that everything about God can be known. What is true is that all that can be known of God as Father is seen in Christ.

Divine Persons

Use of the word Trinity leads quite naturally to the expression ‘the first, second and third persons of the Trinity’ and the concept of God as ‘one being, three persons’. However, the word being is never used in the Scriptures of God, and the English dictionary definition of being as a living creature or a person or thing that exists does not help at all. Of course being is used of man in Psalm 104: 33 and Acts 17: 28 (AV) in the sense of existence, and certainly no true believer doubts that God is the I AM (see Exod. 3: 14)—Jehovah, the existing One. However, to go further, and connect His oneness to the word being, and His plurality to the word person is entirely arbitrary. It is all about fitting God into a theological scheme, rather than simply accepting the facts of divine revelation, both explicable and inexplicable.

   The Greek word for person () occurs nearly sixty times in the NT, and in the majority of cases, it refer to a literal face (as in Matt. 6: 17), or a metaphorical face (as in Matt. 16: 3)—"ye know [how] to discern the face of the sky". Sometimes it refers to appearance or countenance (as in Rev. 10: 1) or presence (as in Acts 3: 13). By contrast, the English dictionary defines person as a human being regarded as an individual, but with very few exceptions this is not the sense of the word in Scripture. Of course there are some Scriptures that appear to validate the expression divine persons but none stand up to close inspection. Thus while the Darby translation uses  in Heb. 1: 2 ("at the end of these days has spoken to us in [the person of the] Son"), the word person there is not part of the inspired text and is not essential to give the sense. Again, the word person in the AV of Heb. 1: 3 is not  but  and is better translated as substance, for it refers to Christ being God in His essence. There is only one occurrence of the word that has any relevance to the matter being considered, and that is in 2 Cor. 2: 10. There we read of "[the] person of Christ". Here  is used in relation to Christ as an individual. However, Christ is the title of the Lord as a man (see Luke 9: 20; 1 Cor. 11: 3) and not in the setting of the Godhead. As a man the Lord was an individual and distinct from all other men. He "became flesh" (John 1: 14) and entered into limited conditions, although ever remaining who He ever was and always will be in the Godhead. The Christ is the man who ate and drank, who wept and sorrowed, who was tired and slept—and indeed, who suffered, died and rose again. It is to this Man that the word person in 2 Cor. 2: 10 refers. Christ can be spoken of as a person, for He was God "manifested in flesh" (1 Tim. 3: 16), had entered into conditions of limitation and could therefore be taken account of as an individual. However, it does not follow that what is said of the man Christ Jesus can also be said of Him as viewed in deity—and it certainly cannot be extended to include the Father and the Holy Spirit. Those who speak of the person of the Father, the person of the Son and the person of the Holy Spirit (or collectively, of divine persons) take the thought of distinction in the Godhead beyond the Scriptural revelation. There is certainly distinction because the Father sent the Son (see 1 John 4: 14), but there is also identity for the Son declared "I and the Father are one" (John 10: 30). Clearly, it is for Scripture alone to dictate where the line should be drawn. If God were said to be a person, then there could be no plurality in the Godhead. On the contrary, if we speak of three persons in the Godhead, then God is no longer one. The fact of the matter is that if you use expressions not found in the Bible, you are liable to get yourself into serious difficulties. We should not therefore anthropomorphize the Godhead by using terminology which applies to man, but which Scripture never uses in relation to God. We may think it helps explain God to our minds, but that is precisely what it does not do. It actually creates a false understanding of God. True understanding can only come from the revelation preserved to us in the Scriptures. It seems to have been forgotten by many that the Christian is to contend for the faith once delivered (see Jude v3), not man’s explanations of it.

God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit

Closely related to the concept of divine persons is a form of words on many lips: ‘God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit’. Indeed, this has taken on such an aura of orthodoxy that to raise the slightest question about it is to invite charges of heresy. Strangely, those who advocate such terminology seem utterly unaware of their own heretical tendencies, namely that to speak of ‘God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit’ is to effectively proclaim three Gods. This drift towards Tritheism is vociferously denied, but then error can be unwittingly taught through phraseology as well as systematic doctrine. There may be a well–meaning desire to uphold the deity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but, as we shall see in a moment, the expression undermines the fundamentals of the Christian revelation. The root problem with this terminology (as usual) is that it is not found in Scripture. If we step outside the bounds of divine revelation (particularly dangerous when speaking about God Himself), then we are more than likely to stray from the truth. Orthodoxy is no safe protection from error. Thus, while you will find the expression ‘God the Father’ in the Bible, you will search in vain for ‘God the Son’ or ‘God the Holy Spirit’. These uncomfortable facts ought to make the more thoughtful zealots pause before they rush to judgment. If divine revelation teaches the deity of both the Son and the Holy Spirit (and it does), then it must have a reason for not using the terminology that is on so many believer’s lips. Sadly, for the majority, this question is of little or no interest. But what is more important? Man’s theological scheme or God’s revelation? In many minds, orthodoxy has more weight than the Bible. Why? Because they fear man (particularly their brethren in Christ), more than they fear God. Like the blind man’s parents, they have a terror of rejection (see John 9: 22).

God the Father

In the NT Scriptures, the words God and Father are coupled together around forty times. One of the most significant is the Lord’s proclamation to Mary "I ascend to my Father, and your Father, and [to] my God and your God" (John 20: 17). Indeed, this is the pattern of what follows in the rest of the NT. Thus we have "God our Father" (Rom. 1: 7; 1 Cor. 1: 3; 2 Cor. 1: 2 etc., my emphasis), and "God and Father" (Rom. 15: 6; 1 Pet. 1: 3; Rev. 1: 6 etc., my emphasis). Similar expressions occur in 2 Cor. 1: 3, Eph. 5: 20 and James 1: 27. The expression "God the Father" (my emphasis) itself is found in Col. 3: 17, as well as ten times elsewhere without the definite article (although it is implied). Now if you had a Scripture which said the Father is God with two definite articles in the Greek (‘the God the Father’), then that would mean that the Father is God to the exclusion of the Son and the Holy Spirit. As it stands, the use of the single article simply couples the two nouns God and Father together in oneness. All of this is totally in keeping with what we have in 1 Cor. 8: 6, namely that "to us" (that is, to us Christians) "[there is] one God, the Father, of whom all things, and we for him". This is not saying that the Lord or the Holy Spirit are not God, but that in the way that God has been pleased to reveal Himself in Christianity, He has been revealed as Father. Thus Paul writes of "the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory" and "one God and Father of all" (Eph. 1: 17; 4: 6).

   Of course, it is often said that God has been revealed as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but while the NT clearly teaches a plurality in the Godhead, and also that that plurality is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, it never actually goes as far as to explicitly state what many have been led to believe it does. What it does state is that God is revealed in the Son as Father, and that revelation can only be by the Holy Spirit (see Matt. 11: 27; John 1: 18; 14: 7–10; 20: 17; 1 Cor. 2: 11). Thus, the Scriptural expressions "God the Father", "Son of God" and "Spirit of God" are entirely in keeping with that revelation. ‘God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit’ is an unbiblical formula that runs counter to the fundamental truth that God is one (Mark 12: 32 etc.). The baptismal formula of Matt 28: 19, despite what many appear to think, says nothing about revelation. Certainly, there could be no revelation of the Father without the Son or the Holy Spirit, but that is not the same as saying that God has been revealed as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The genuine believer will confess the Father and the Son (see 1 John 2: 23), but it does not follow that God is revealed as the Father and the Son. The Son is God, but in the Scriptural presentation He is the Revealer and not the one revealed (see Luke 10: 22).

The Son of God and the Spirit of God

The Gospels are the record of the Lord’s time here on earth as the sent one of God, and it is therefore incongruous to refer to Him in that context as ‘God the Son’. It would be equally out of place to talk of God the Son in 1 Cor. 15 where Christ gives up the coming kingdom "to him [who is] God and Father" and "the Son also himself shall be placed in subjection to him who put all things in subjection to him, that God may be all in all" (vs. 24, 28). The exact words that the Spirit of God uses in penning Scripture are vital, and even their order is important. Thus, while God and Son are coupled together numerous times in the Bible, they are never once put in the format that modern theology demands. ‘God the Son’ is not the equivalent of ‘Son of God’—just as ‘Isaac the son’ (of Abraham) is not the same as (Jacob) ‘son of Isaac’! Son of God occurs many times in the NT (see Acts 9: 20; Rom. 1: 4; 1 John 3: 8 etc.) but is relative to God, rather than an absolute expression of deity. Much the same can be said of "His Son"—referring back to God—(my emphasis, see Rom. 1: 3; 1 John 1: 7 etc.) and "God’s "own Son" (Rom. 8: 3, my emphasis; see also Heb. 1: 5; 5: 5; 1 John 4: 9). Of course, in Heb. 1: 8 the Son is explicitly addressed as God (hence "let all God’s angels worship him"—v6) but the Son being God does not in any way legitimise the expression ‘God the Son’. God has not been revealed as the Son (see Matt. 11: 27; Luke 10: 22) even though in the Son "all the fulness [of the Godhead] was pleased to dwell" (Col. 1: 19). What Scripture teaches is that God has been revealed in the Son as Father (see John 1: 18; 14: 7–10; 20: 17).

   When we come to the Holy Spirit, we do not find the expression ‘God the Holy Spirit’ anywhere in the Bible (‘God and Spirit’ would be nonsensical and ‘God our Spirit’ would be blasphemous). If the word God is coupled at all with Spirit, then it is never the Holy Spirit in a distinctive sense. Thus we have "my Spirit" (Matt. 12: 18) and "the Spirit of his Son" (Gal. 4: 6)—referring back to God—the "Spirit of your Father" (Matt. 10: 20), and the "Spirit of our God" (1 Cor. 6: 11). The expression "Spirit of God" (with some variation) is itself is much more frequent (see, for example: Gen. 1: 2; Matt. 12: 28; 1 Cor. 2: 11), but the same caveats apply. The Holy Spirit’s deity is implied in Acts 5: 3, 4 and Eph. 2: 22 but nowhere is He presented objectively in deity by Himself. The proponents of the expression "God the Holy Spirit" are no doubt well–meaning, and think that they are upholding the faith once delivered, but their doctrine actually subverts the Christian revelation.

Conclusion

Little more needs to be said apart from making one final appeal: On this most holy of subjects it is imperative that we never ever go beyond Scripture. "Add thou not unto his words, lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar" (Prov. 30: 6). All of the human expressions we have considered suffer from the same defect—they all take the concept of distinction in the Godhead over and above divine revelation. Human wisdom in divine things always leads to error. To our finite minds, distinction and identity are mutually exclusive concepts, but it is foolish to seek to explain what God has not sought fit to explain to us. If God is both a plurality and a singularity, then our place is to believe what has been revealed rather than attempting to analyse what will remain forever inexplicable. Orthodoxy is irrelevant and Scripture everything. I close with the point I began with, namely that all that can ever be known of God is by revelation—and that revelation is recorded for us in God’s own words in the Bible.

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