In Part 1, we determined a working definition of the Trinity: God is one Being, three Persons. We carefully observed the difference in meaning between being and person, and how understanding these categories can annul the confusion that arises both among those who casually affirm the Trinity and those who deny it. Now, we will examine the challenges that Les Burch poses in his book It Isn’t The Way We Think It Is, chapter 5 “The Trinity–Help or Hindrance?”
Analogies and Confusion
In the first five pages of this chapter, Mr. Burch asks questions about the definition of the Trinity and attempts to get the reader thinking–thinking that the concept of the Trinity is hopelessly confusing. He asks:
“Do you understand the trinity? Can you explain it with conviction to someone else? Have you used the trinity as central in helping believers to deeper God knowledge or drawing the open-hearted to salvation? If your answers are ‘not really,’ ‘I don’t think so,’ or ‘no, I haven’t,’ then this chapter will help.”
I will raise my hand to answer “yes” to these questions. I led a four-month long Bible study on the subject of the Trinity that clarified it and reinforced it. Mr. Burch continues with more statements intended to confuse the reader:
“I get it. They are the same but they are different. They are three but they are one. There is one what and three whos. I don’t know about you but these explanations don’t help much.”
The problem here is that Mr. Burch is setting up a straw man. He takes various statements about the Trinity (some from people who do not understand it very well themselves), expresses his own confusion in the matter, and knocks the concept down as hopelessly confusing. The statement about “one what and three whos” is the most accurate if we allow it to define the Trinity without the other ambiguous statements to lead the reader astray. I would recommend that Mr. Burch read The Forgotten Trinity by James White to alleviate any confusion he may have about what the doctrine of the Trinity really espouses.
Next, Mr. Burch provides several analogies often used of the Trinity (such as the three components of an egg and the three states of water) to demonstrate the failure of analogies. With this I wholeheartedly agree! Analogies using the creation can never be sufficient to explain the nature of the Creator. As I quoted in Part 1 of this post series:
“To whom then will ye liken God? or what likeness will ye compare unto him?”
— Isaiah 40:18
Analogies necessarily fail. I would likely not use an analogy if I were explaining the Trinity. If I were pressed and had to use one, I would also be quick to point out that the analogy is still insufficient.
Monotheism–the basis for the Trinity
Mr. Burch begins to lead the reader away from reliance on the Trinity and the fear of abandoning a long-held tradition. After casting doubt and confusion in the reader’s mind by avoiding any solid definition of the Trinity, Mr. Burch assures the reader that “[t]he trinity as an explanation of God can be questioned without compromising any characteristic owned by Christ.” Let’s see about that!
Remember our definition of the Trinity: God is one Being, three Persons. God is not one in the same category that He is three. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are the three Persons that share the one divine Being of God. The distinction between being and person is important because to confuse them results in theological errors.
If you say that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all one Person, you end up with the error of modalism (or Sabellianism). This position is untenable because the Scriptures clearly distinguish the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit act in different roles at the same time. The Father and Son speak to each other. This will be explained more in a future part of this series.
If you say that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are not only distinct Persons, but also distinct Beings, you end up with any of the errors of tritheism (if they are all equal) or of Arianism, subordinationism, or henotheism (if the Father is by nature above the Son and the Holy Spirit). The Word of God clearly declares that there is only one true God worthy of worship. We cannot regard more than one Being to be treated as worthy of worship as a deity, now, can we?
Mr. Burch adds more confusion and distortion to the idea of the trinity by ignoring its real definition and the distinction between the Being of God and the Persons of God. He asks:
“Are there three Gods or only one? We know the Scripture insists on one. Right away we have a conflict. The trinity concept insists that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are all God, which implies three Gods.”
No, the whole idea of the trinity is that of careful distinction between being and person. The way Mr. Burch oversimplifies the argument, one would think that the doctrine of the Trinity formed in a vacuum. On the contrary, the apparent “confusion” of the Trinity demonstrates careful respect for the harmony of the text of Scripture over and against simple human ration about the way one would expect to define God–like us, just “bigger.”
“First, let’s put this phrase [Different Persons but the Same Essence] down to its most simple form: different but the same. This is a fundamental and blatant contradiction. These words are opposites with opposite meanings.”
Once again, Mr. Burch ignores the distinction between Being and Person (or in this case, Essence and Person). Although the words different and same are opposites, which Mr. Burch correctly notes, Persons and Essence are entirely different categories, making the phrase complementary rather than contradictory. Let’s not equate apples with oranges, shall we?
God–the One and Only!
“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD:
And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.”
Deuteronomy 6:4 is often called the Shema, because in the Hebrew it reads Shema Yisrael YHWH Eloheinu YHWH Echad. This has become part of a twice-daily prayer in orthodox Judaism, although Jews will replace the audible name of God “Yahweh” with Adonai (“master”) or ha-Shem (“the name”).
The belief in one true God (monotheism) is an important part of Judaism, and the daily Shema helps remind them of this. The Israelites in the land of Canaan had to deal with the challenges of idolatry from their pagan neighbors who worshiped many gods made of wood, stone, gold, and other elements of the creation. This same monotheism is also a central tenant to Christianity, and, yes, of the doctrine of the Trinity. The Trinity asserts that there is one true God worthy of worship, just as does Judaism and Islam, but that this one Being of God is shared by three coequal and coeternal Persons.
As Mr. Burch and I would agree, the Scriptures are potently clear that there is only One True God. However, as I will show from these Scriptures, I strongly believe the monotheistic texts of the Bible will prove to be a thorn in the side of those who would deny the Trinity–particularly that Jesus Christ is Yahweh ontologically. It is these very monotheistic passages that enforce, rather than refute, the doctrine of the Trinity!
“Unto thee it was shewed, that thou mightest know that the LORD [Yahweh] he is God; there is none else beside him.”
Of what is there none else? Well, clearly there is only one Yahweh. But, what is the grammatical antecedent to “none else” in this statement? God! This verse says that there is no other “God,” but Yahweh. Mr. Burch and I would wholeheartedly agree here in terms of monotheism, but the implications are troubling to such a view that makes Jesus Christ a created being ontologically distinct from Yahweh, as we shall soon see.
One good god deserves another
Like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, and other groups that deny the Trinity, Mr. Burch attempts to diminish the term god so that he can deal with the fact that it is clearly applied to Jesus Christ without allowing Jesus Christ to be ontologically the One True God.
“The word god is a title, much like the word king. The title God has the literal meaning of one who subjects persons to himself or put another way ‘one to whom others are subject.’ That is the definition of the word and why it can be applied to many other than the one true God.”
Mr. Burch is correct that the word god (el or elohim) in Scripture is applied many times to things other than the One True God. The question is what is being communicated when this title is being applied? Mr. Burch quotes 1 Corinthians 8:5-6 to prove his point. Let’s see what is said here:
“For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,)
But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.”
–1 Corinthians 8:5-6
In this text the use of the term god in reference to “many” is not saying that these “many gods” are legitimate gods. It is saying that they are called “gods.” In this respect there are “many gods” to the pagan Gentiles, but none of them are true gods. For, Paul declares that there is only one God. In other words, while other things physical or imagined may be given this title, they are given it either falsely or mockingly. There is only one God, and worship is due only to this one God. Mr. Burch continues:
“The Hebrew word for god is elohim and is used for all gods, not just the one God of Israel.”
Of course, this is true, but what is implied by the reference to these gods? Are these idols real gods or are they false gods? What does the One True God say about all other “gods”? Mr. Burch quotes Deuteronomy 10:17, which I will produce in my translation of choice:
“For the LORD your God is God of gods, and Lord of lords, a great God, a mighty, and a terrible, which regardeth not persons, nor taketh reward:”
Mr. Burch provides this commentary: “Even if there are other gods, He is above them all. Even if there are other lords, He is the masterful One.” Agreed, but the Scripture is clearly communicating the fact that Yahweh is the only true god, and all the other “gods” that He is above are false gods. They are not gods in any proper sense by Yahweh’s definition of what a true “god” is.
Got a Ph.D? Try God for a title.
Mr. Burch says that Yahweh sometimes gives His title to agents. He quotes Exodus 4:14-16, where Yahweh tells Moses that he will be to Aaron “as God” (NKJV) or “instead of God” (KJV). He then quotes Exodus 7:1 in which Moses is made elohim (“a god” or “like God”) to Pharaoh. Mr. Burch explains that as representative for God, Moses could then “rightly” bear the title “God.” In a sense, this is correct. It still does not make the agent a different legitimate god, but only in that the agent speaks God’s words and is the mediator between the recipient and God. Notice that Moses is “as God” to Aaron, not that he is a god. Let us also look at it in the sense of the superstition of Pharaoh. Being an Egyptian polytheist (and regarded by the people of Egypt as one of the gods of the pantheon), Pharaoh could be superstitious that the Yahweh about whom Moses spoke was a real god like his, but was not as powerful. In fact, Yahweh refers to Himself as “God of the Hebrews” to Pharaoh six times (Exodus 3:8; 5:3; 7:16; 9:1; 9:13; 10:3).
Then, of course, Mr. Burch quotes the infamous John 10:33-36 for the same reason the Jehovah’s Witnesses quote it to turn the title god into a diminutive.
“The Jews answered him, saying, For a good work we stone thee not; but for blasphemy; and because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God.
Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods?
If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken;
Say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God?”
Jehovah’s Witnesses quote this passage to diminish the title god. Mormons quote this passage to argue that men can become gods. What is the point of this passage? What is Jesus really communicating?
Jesus is quoting from Psalm 82:6, which says “I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High.” The context of this short Psalm is the One True God standing in the midst of the rulers of Israel who were supposed to enforce His law, but were unjust judges. In verse 7, the psalmist declares that these high and mighty unjust judges “shall die like men, and fall like one of the princes.” Thus, in John 10:34-36, Jesus is comparing these Jews to the unjust judges of old who failed to discern the Word of God that they had been given. He is contrasting these “false gods” with the One “whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world.” Remember, the emphasis is on them being unjust judges of the Word of God. They are being condemned for mishandling the Word of God and being blind to the truth standing in front of them.
“Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.”
Because these Jews and their rulers failed to discern the Scriptures and to practice them justly, these “gods” would “die like men.” The accusation was back onto them, but Jesus is the One Whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world. The context of these people being “gods” is still a strongly negative one. Jesus is not proving that the title god can be diminished against the charge of blasphemy, it is rather that Jesus is leveraging the title of “false god” back onto them and comparing them with the unjust judges “unto whom the word of the Lord came.”
Who should we worship as “God”?
To determine what is a true god in the way Yahweh defines qualifiers to the title, let us see what He says about Himself against other “gods.”
“Produce your cause, saith the LORD; bring forth your strong reasons, saith the King of Jacob.
Let them bring them forth, and shew us what shall happen: let them shew the former things, what they be, that we may consider them, and know the latter end of them; or declare us things for to come.
Shew the things that are to come hereafter, that we may know that ye are gods: yea, do good, or do evil, that we may be dismayed, and behold it together.
Behold, ye are of nothing, and your work of nought: an abomination is he that chooseth you.”
Comparing Himself to the idols of the Canaanites that the Israelites had adopted, Yahweh begins defining the qualification of a true “god” against the pretenders (or false gods). He asks, “Produce your cause.” “Present your case.” Demonstrate that you are a true god. What is a true god? One who can declare things that will happen in the future! This is obviously the purview of someone who is truly divine. “Show what is to come that we may know that you are gods“! The false gods “are of nothing.” The people who worship them are tô‛êbah–an abomination. Why? Because God did not make them His legitimate agents? No! Because they do not possess the divine attributes that qualify them as a true god.
“I am the LORD: that is my name: and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise to graven images.”
Yahweh declares that He will not give His glory to another or share it with another. This is a very important statement, as we shall see later. Yahweh will not share His glory with any other being, because this glory belongs only to Yahweh, the One True God.
“Ye are my witnesses, saith the LORD, and my servant whom I have chosen: that ye may know and believe me, and understand that I am he: before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me.
I, even I, am the LORD; and beside me there is no saviour.
I have declared, and have saved, and I have shewed, when there was no strange god among you: therefore ye are my witnesses, saith the LORD, that I am God.”
This is strong, exclusive language by Yahweh of Himself. Besides Yahweh, “there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me.” There is no other being, whether imaginary, physical, or spiritual who could be a legitimate god by the definition that Yahweh gives to this title! Notice what Yahweh says about the title “Saviour.” Besides Yahweh, there is no Saviour. Hmm. Of course, we know that Joshua was a “savior,” but we need to dig deep to see what comes of the frequent references to the name of Jesus Christ as “our Saviour” later!
“Thus saith the LORD the King of Israel, and his redeemer the LORD of hosts; I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God.
Fear ye not, neither be afraid: have not I told thee from that time, and have declared it? ye are even my witnesses. Is there a God beside me? yea, there is no God; I know not any.”
Yet again we see the mantra of Yahweh. There is no God besides Him. What of all the other so-called “gods”? They are false gods!
“Then shall it be for a man to burn: for he will take thereof, and warm himself; yea, he kindleth it, and baketh bread; yea, he maketh a god, and worshippeth it; he maketh it a graven image, and falleth down thereto.
And the residue thereof he maketh a god, even his graven image: he falleth down unto it, and worshippeth it, and prayeth unto it, and saith, Deliver me; for thou art my god.”
What defines a true god? It is worthy of worship! If something is given worship besides Yahweh, it is a false god. The definition of a god in the sense of one defined by Yahweh is something that is worshiped. The word for worship in the Hebrew is shâchâh and in the Greek Septuagint it is proskunéō. This Greek word will be very important as we explore its use in the Greek New Testament, as the Old Testament to the writers of the New Testament was undoubtedly the Greek Septuagint for their Greek-speaking audience.
“Thus saith the LORD, thy redeemer, and he that formed thee from the womb, I am the LORD that maketh all things; that stretcheth forth the heavens alone; that spreadeth abroad the earth by myself;”
When comparing Himself with all the other gods (who are not gods at all), He declares that He alone “maketh all things,” “stretched forth the heavens,” and “spreadeth abroad the earth.” One of the definitions of a true god is that it is the creator of everything that exists. That’s pretty exclusive! Yahweh is the only true God, and He says that He did all of it alone. This will be very important when we look at statements about Jesus!
“I am the LORD, and there is none else, there is no God beside me: I girded thee, though thou hast not known me:
That they may know from the rising of the sun, and from the west, that there is none beside me. I am the LORD, and there is none else.
For thus saith the LORD that created the heavens; God himself that formed the earth and made it; he hath established it, he created it not in vain, he formed it to be inhabited: I am the LORD; and there is none else.
Tell ye, and bring them near; yea, let them take counsel together: who hath declared this from ancient time? who hath told it from that time? have not I the LORD? and there is no God else beside me; a just God and a Saviour; there is none beside me.
Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else.
With all the repetition that we have just read, we had better get the point that there is only one true God. There is “none beside” Yahweh! Yes, indeed, Mr. Burch will affirm this, but we will see the implications of these statements later regarding Jesus Christ. Yahweh is the only God and Yahweh is the only Savior! Now, about that matter of worship again:
“I have sworn by myself, the word is gone out of my mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, That unto me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear.”
Yahweh said that He swore by Himself and that His words shall not return. What did He swear by Himself? That only He will be worshiped, because only He is God! He said that “unto me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear.” This statement is VERY important as we will see later, again, regarding Jesus Christ!
The verdict of what is a true God
In concluding this part, what do we see as Yahweh’s verdict on what constitutes a true god? Yahweh has defined the category of “true God” as one that exercises divine power that only He has–such as declare why things have happened and what will happen in the future. He has defined the category of “true God” one who is worthy of true worship. He is defined the category of “true God” as containing exactly one member–Himself. There is only one Being Who is a real god–Yahweh. All others are false gods!
“And I John saw these things, and heard them. And when I had heard and seen, I fell down to worship before the feet of the angel which shewed me these things.
Then saith he unto me, See thou do it not: for I am thy fellowservant, and of thy brethren the prophets, and of them which keep the sayings of this book: worship God.”
Worship (proskunéō) doesn’t belong to any angel. It belongs to God alone! Now, let’s see what to do about this Jesus Christ! Stay tuned!
- Les Burch, It Isn’t The Way We Think It Is: Seven Common Beliefs That Aren’t in the Bible (Mustang, Okla.: Tate Publishing & Enterprises, LLC, 2013), 74.
- Ibid., 76.
- Ibid., 78.
- Ibid., 81.
- Ibid., 82.
- Ibid., 84. (bold replaces italics in source)
- Ibid., 85.
- Ibid., 86.