God is One
God cannot be explained. Theology may attempt it but will always fail for God is not subject to human explanations. The question is asked “Canst thou by searching find out God? canst thou find out the Almighty to perfection?” (Job 11:7). The implied answer is negative because our knowledge of God is entirely subject to what He has been pleased to make known of Himself. Now creation is God’s universal testimony of Himself to all men and reveals much of “both his eternal power and divinity” (Rom. 1: 20). However, the revelation of the “divine nature” (2 Pet. 1: 4) enshrined in the statement that “God is love” (1 John 4: 16) awaited the wondrous moment when “the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us (and we have contemplated his glory, a glory as of an only–begotten with a father)” (John 1: 14). Our contemplation of this glorious matter, unlike John’s, is only through the Scriptures—for it is there that God has been pleased to place on record all that we can know of Him.
While we read that “God has been manifested in flesh” (1 Tim. 3: 16), we are reminded after the advent of the Son that “No one has seen God at any time; the only–begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared [him].” (John 1: 18). Note the language carefully: God has been declared, even manifested, but both terms fall short of saying that God has been seen (in the full sense of the word). Again, the advent of the Holy Spirit has not changed this for John says in his epistle (written long after Pentecost) “No one has seen God at any time” (1 John 4: 12). Thus Paul speaks of God as “dwelling in unapproachable light; whom no man has seen, nor is able to see; to whom [be] honour and eternal might. Amen” (1 Tim. 6: 16). The revelation of God is limited and not absolute and never can be, for man is a creature with limitations, but God is infinite. We rightly speak of God as omniscient, (all–knowing), omnipresent (present everywhere) and omnipotent (all–powerful). There is thus that which is of God which will be forever beyond us. Hence Scripture never says that God has been revealed. Jehovah yes (see Gen 16: 13; 1 Sam. 2: 27; 3: 21), the Father yes (see Matt. 11: 27; Luke 10: 22) but God as God, no.
Theology and Scripture
For what it is worth, the world honours three monotheistic religions: Judaism, Islam and Christianity. While radically different, they each teach the same truth, namely, that there is one God in contrast to the multiplicity of the gods of other faiths such as Hinduism. However, it is on this very point that the Muslim, for example, has the greatest difficulty with Christianity. To him Christianity is a religion of three gods, not one. Why is this? It is because of the theological terms and expressions that are often used by Christians in speaking of God. What other meaning can the Muslim and others understand when they hear of ‘God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit’? This is the language of theology, not the language of the Bible. Again, how can they be blamed for the wrong impression they get when they hear of ‘Divine Persons’ and that ‘God has been revealed in three Persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit’? Not only are the expressions themselves absent from the pages of the Book but the meaning those expressions convey is not there either. The universal testimony of the Bible is not only that there is one God but that God is One. There is nothing in the language of the Bible that militates against this cardinal truth—in fact quite the reverse for the Bible insists upon it, not only in the OT but also in the NT. I recognise that many would say that the theological expressions I have just mentioned simply mean that there is only One Being, although three Persons and that each of the Persons is God in Himself and so on, but this will not do. No matter what may be offered in explanation, the fact remains that it is not how the Scriptures speak. It gives men, and Muslims in particular, wrong impressions of the blessed God.
The Oneness of God
Both Judaism and Christianity accept the OT as inspired truth and a primary truth enshrined there is that “Jehovah our God is one Jehovah” (Deut. 6: 4). The incarnation, as men speak, of the Lord Jesus did not negate or even weaken this truth for He Himself quotes this very verse in Mark 12: 29 : “the Lord our God is one Lord”. In so doing, the Lord Himself carried this cardinal truth of the OT over into the NT. Hence it is not just an OT truth but one that is the very backbone of the whole of Scripture. When we come to the epistles we have “For God is one, and [the] mediator of God and men one, [the] man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2: 5). Again, “… there [is] no other God save one. For and if indeed there are [those] called gods, whether in heaven or on earth, (as there are gods many, and lords many,) yet to us [there is] one God, the Father, of whom all things, and we for him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom [are] all things, and we by him” (1 Cor. 8: 4, 5, 6). The background to the latter Scripture is the multiplicity of gods in the heathen world, and the secondary gods or lords of which there was also no lack. In contrast, Paul states that “to us”, that is, to us Christians, there is “one God, the Father” and “one Lord, Jesus Christ”. He does not say ‘one God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit’. The God known to the Jews as Jehovah, the selfsame God is known to Christians as Father. Thus when we have deity or “divinity” (Rom. 1: 20) presented to us in Christianity, it is identified with the Father; when Lordship (administrative authority) is presented, it is identified with the Man Jesus Christ. This does not mean that the Lord Jesus is not God in the full sense of the word (see Heb. 1: 8), nor that lordship cannot be ascribed to the Father (see Matt. 11: 25). It is simply how God has chosen to present Himself. Time and again we read such phrases as “God our Father” (Rom. 1: 7; 1 Cor. 1: 3; 2 Cor. 1: 2, etc.) showing that God stands in relationship to us as Father, and again “God [the] Father” (Gal. 1: 1, 3; Eph. 6: 23 etc.), identifying God as Father. In keeping with this, the Lord Jesus is generally presented to us as Man and accordingly we find the phrase “God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 15: 6; 2 Cor. 1: 3; Eph. 1: 3 etc.)—the words “God … of our Lord Jesus Christ” clearly show that the Lord Jesus is viewed as Man. There is a difference between what He is in Himself and how He is presented to us in the Scriptures.
Singularity and Plurality
Let us return to Deut. 6: 4: “Jehovah our God is one Jehovah”. The word for God in that verse in the Hebrew is Elohim and this is a Hebrew plural (number in Hebrew, [as in Classical, but not NT, Greek] is singular (one), dual (exactly two) or plural (three or more). Hence we have both singularity and plurality together! This veiled plurality is strikingly present in the very first verse of Scripture: “In the beginning God (Elohim—Hebrew plural) created (Hebrew singular) the heavens (Hebrew dual) and the earth (Hebrew singular)”. A plural with a singular verb is of course grammatically incorrect, but here, as ever in the Bible, theologically perfect! This is not an isolated instance. There are other examples of the plural noun Elohim being used with a singular verb. A little further on in the Bible we read “And Jehovah Elohim said, Behold, Man is become as one of us” (Gen. 3: 22—my emphasis). Other similar Scriptures are Gen. 11: 7 and Is. 6: 8. Thus while the OT stresses the oneness of God, it also admits of the plurality of the Godhead (see Col. 2: 9).
Love Demands Plurality
Indeed this plurality in God in the OT is absolutely essential for the grand truth revealed in the NT that “God is love” (1 John 4: 8). Why? Because one in isolation can neither show nor experience love. Love requires more than one. Hence the blessed truth that God is love demands plurality in the Godhead. The Muslim knows nothing of this for his god is not a god of love but of fear.
However, it is only since “God has been manifested in flesh” (1 Tim. 3: 16) and “the Word became flesh” (John 1: 14) that what is vague and obscure in the OT is brought sharply into focus. Once the Son is here we have the definitive names of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. What was a vague plurality in the OT becomes a clear definity in the NT. Nonetheless it is important to appreciate that the oneness of God is not in any way changed or weakened in the NT. The plurality is now limited to three and we have the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Distinction and Identity
In the NT distinctions are now made and yet with those distinctions there is also identity and oneness. I read that the “Father has sent the Son” (1 John 4: 14) and the Son Himself spoke time and again of “the Father who has sent me” (for example, John 8: 18)—that is distinction. But the Son also said “I and the Father are one” (John 10: 30; see also John 12: 49; 14: 9)—that is identity. While these two concepts are contradictory to the human mind, they are the truth of God.
Distinction and identity do not just belong to the sphere of revelation but are also carried back before time into the Godhead itself. I read “In [the] beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1: 1). The Word is the name given to the Lord Jesus as the One who expresses the mind of God (just as we use words to express the thoughts that are in our minds). Now this Scripture speaks of One who was there in the beginning. When it says that the “Word was with God”, that is distinction; when it says that the “Word was God” that is identity. Thus these two truths of distinction and identity are carried back into the Godhead and do not just belong to the sphere of revelation.
One not Three
John 1: 1, along with other Scriptures clearly establishes the truth of the deity of the Lord Jesus. Similarly, Acts 5: 3, 4 also establishes the deity of the Holy Spirit. Yet the presentation of God in the NT is not of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but of Father. Why is this? Why does Scripture identify the Father with God and not the Son or the Holy Spirit? Indeed in that Scripture in 1 Cor. 8: 5, 6 why is the Holy Spirit not mentioned at all? It all has to do with the way in which God has been pleased to make Himself known. 1 Cor. 8: 6 says that “to us [there is] one God, the Father ... and one Lord, Jesus Christ”. This is an objective presentation. Both the Father and the Son have objective places in the economy of revelation but the place the Holy Spirit has taken is subjective. Both the Father and the Son are presented as objects of faith (see, for example, John 14: 1). I have faith in the Lord, I put my trust in God as Father. But where in the Book am I called upon to believe in the Holy Spirit as an object of faith? The service of the Holy Spirit is to make good in me what the Father and the Son have done for me. Each have their place in the economy of love. Now I read “but the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and will bring to your remembrance all the things which I have said to you” (John 14: 26). As the Holy Spirit is presented as one that is sent by the Father, it clearly teaches that in that position He is subordinate to the Father. Again I read “But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes forth from with the Father, he shall bear witness concerning me” (John 15: 26). As sent by both the Father and the Son, the Holy Spirit has taken a place subordinate to both. (This is why people wrongly speak of the Son as the Second Person of the Trinity and the Holy Spirit as the Third Person of the Trinity).
So why does Scripture identify the Father with God and not the Son? Because while the Son is presented objectively He is also presented as the sent one of the Father (John 5: 37 etc.). Thus the Father alone remains in the position of supremacy. Hence to us there is one God, the Father. None of this has anything to do with the eternal place of equality that each occupy in the Godhead but the relative places they have taken in the economy of revelation. Furthermore, since the Lord Jesus has entered manhood and taken a subordinate place, not only as Man, but also as Servant, His person is guarded with the utmost care by the Spirit of God: “All things have been delivered to me by my Father, and no one knows who the Son is but the Father, and who the Father is but the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son is pleased to reveal [him]” (Luke 10: 22; see also Matt. 11: 27). There is that which will ever remain beyond our knowledge.
The Person of the Christ
The English meaning of the word person is clear—it applies to human beings. A dog or a fish is not a person. The Greek word used in the NT for person is prosopon. The primary meaning is face with person only as a secondary meaning. (The word is still used in modern Greek with exactly the same meanings: primary face, secondary person.) Two men may be twins with a great deal of identity, but nevertheless they are still two distinct persons. Person carries with it not only a sense of distinction but a sense of individuality and limitation. The Scriptures never speak of the Person of God—for that would be to deny His plurality. We also never read of the Person of the Father or of the Person of the Holy Spirit, although we do read of “[the] person of Christ” (2 Cor. 2: 10). (The word prosopon is used of the Father in Matt. 18: 10 only in its primary sense to express the ancient idiom of beholding the face to mean presence. In the context of the passage the secondary meaning of person would be inappropriate.) The phrase “[the] person of Christ” in 2 Cor. 2: 10 clearly refers to the Lord as Man—for the name Christ means the Anointed One. As Man the Son came into limited and defined conditions. He could be touched, He was weary, He was only in one place at a time and so on. To carry the idea of person back into the Godhead has, I believe, gone beyond Scripture. While not as careless as ‘God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit’, it is still a step too far in the same direction, for the thought of individuality and limitation is too prominent in the word person. While we have the truth of identity and distinction both in the Godhead and in the sphere of revelation, there is never any thought of limitation. So why is the word person never used of the Father or the Holy Spirit in the sphere of revelation? It is because neither has come into the limited conditions of manhood to which the word person can be applied. The phrase ‘divine persons’ used in relation to the Godhead is suggestive of three gods and thus runs counter to the truth as given in the Scriptures. It is a misguided attempt to bring the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit within human comprehension instead of refusing to go beyond divine revelation. Yes, there is distinction on the one hand for “the Father has sent the Son” (1 John 4: 14) but there is identity on the other for “I and the Father are one” (John 10: 30). This may be beyond explanation, but it is the truth.
Finally, Oneness but not Unity
Following on from what I have just said, we often hear of the ‘unity of the Godhead’. Unity (Greek enotes: unity) carries the thought of distinct and independent persons coming to an agreement. Hence we read of believers being exhorted “to keep the unity of the Spirit” and arriving at “the unity of the faith” (Eph. 4: 3, 13). This is understandable but there is no such thought of unity in regard to the Godhead ever expressed in Scripture. The word used in relation to the Godhead is one (Greek eis: one). The Lord Jesus uses this word strikingly several times in John 17: 22, 23, in connection with Himself, the Father and men. His prayer to the Father was not that ‘they may be united as we are united’ but “that they may be one, as we are one”. What is the object of this oneness in believers? It is “that the world may know that thou hast sent me”. Hence the Lord makes the oneness of the Father and the Son, reflected in believers, the very fulcrum on which acceptance by the world of His apostolic mission hinges. Can we not say by extension that the truth that “God is one” (1 Tim. 2: 5), seen in believers, is the divine pivot for the world to believe the testimony that “the Father has sent the Son [as] Saviour of the world” (1 John 4: 14)? Thus the doctrine of the oneness of God is not a mere academic nicety, but is at the very heart of divine truth.