Are hymns to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit Scriptural?

It is clear that the first Christians sang praises to God (see Acts 16: 25; Eph. 5: 19; Col. 3: 16), although we do not know anything about the wording of any of their compositions. That they sang out of the Book of Psalms is just an assumption (the psalm in 1 Cor. 14: 26 may have been a contemporary work). Indeed, the doctrine expressed in the OT Psalms is not always suited to the Christian faith and is far more applicable to the spiritual condition of the Jewish remnant in the great tribulation to come. Of course, if we continue to insist (as some do) that the early Christians did sing from the book of Psalms, then our question is answered for us straightaway, for these 150 poems are addressed to God or Jehovah, and not Father, Son and Holy Spirit. However, if we accept the possibility of new compositions being used, then we must consider whether addressing praise to God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit is in accord with how God has been revealed to Christians. If it is not in accord with that revelation, then the practice is not Scriptural.

   The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are only mentioned together in one Scripture, namely Matt. 28: 19: “Go [therefore] and make disciples of all the nations, baptising them to the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”. Now the setting of this verse is Jewish rather than Christian, earthly not heavenly (no ascension is mentioned) and the Lord goes on to tell His disciples that He will be with them “all the days, until the completion of the age” (v20). This expression “the completion of the age” is mentioned elsewhere in Matthew’s Gospel (see Matt. 13: 39, 40, 49) and culminates in Christ taking up His rights publicly on the earth (see Matt. 24: 3). The basis of the comfort that the Lord gives His disciples in Matt. 28: 20 is clearly quite different from the comfort He gives to the Thessalonians in 1 Thess. 4: 18 and is based on Jewish expectations rather than the Christian hope. The believing Jews of a coming day will of course understand that God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but that is not the same as God being revealed to them in that way in order that they might know Him as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Matt. 28: 19 is about baptism, not revelation or declaration, and refers to the submission of the Gentile nations in the coming kingdom to the true nature of God (for example, according to Is. 19:24, God will bless both Egypt and Assyria, but today these nations are characterised by a denial of the deity of both the Son and the Holy Spirit).

   Attention is also often drawn to Ps. 22: 22: “I will declare thy name unto my brethren”—as if we had licence to insert Father, Son and Holy Spirit wherever we find the word God (a proposition that can lead to absurdities). As an OT Scripture, this has nothing to do with God being known as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The name declared is Jehovah, as the surrounding context makes clear. Certainly, the verse is also quoted in the NT (see Heb. 2: 12), but if Scripture is to be interpreted properly then you must ask why it is quoted. The purpose of the quotation is not to explain what exactly is meant by declaring the name of God in a Christian context, but to prove to the Hebrew Christians from their own Scriptures the truth of what the writer has just said, namely that “both he that sanctifies and those sanctified [are] all of one; for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren” (v11). Much the same could be said about Ps. 18: 49 (quoted in Rom. 15: 9). In both these Psalms, the Lord is presented as a man in relation to God and there is no basis for trying to force an equivalence between the name of God in them and the name in Matt. 28: 19.

   In Christianity, God is revealed as Father (see Matt. 11: 27; John 1: 18; John 20: 17). This does not mean that the Son and the Holy Spirit are not God, only that the way in which God has been pleased to reveal Himself is as Father. This is what Paul effectively says in 1 Cor. 8: 6: “to us” (that is, us Christians) “[there is] one God, the Father … and one Lord, Jesus Christ”. That is why the expressions God and Father, God the Father and God our Father occur over 40 times in the NT, but not once do we read of God the Son or God the Holy Spirit. The Bible never says that God is revealed as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but what it does teach is that God is revealed as Father in the Son, and that this is by the Holy Spirit. The Lord declared the Father’s name (see John 17: 6, 26) and we address Him as Father because He is in that relation to us. By contrast we typically address the Son as Lord, or as Son in relation to God (not to us).

   To conclude: the term Father, Son and Holy Spirit is never presented as a form of address in Scripture, and hymns of that nature are therefore not Scriptural. Their unfortunate tendency is to obscure the Christian revelation of God as Father, and to give succour to the false doctrine (latent in some minds) that the Father is only a part of God.