The Trinity – De Trinitas

De Trinitas

Copyright © 2019 by Ray B. May IV, Believe Better Ministries,
Released under a Creative Commons Attribution, Non-Commercial, No Derivative Works 4.0 International License.

Note: All Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Introduction

The Trinity – that is the Triune1 God – is a complex subject. It is something we cannot hope to fully grasp. Our finite imperfect minds will always struggle when attempting to comprehend the eternal, infinite God. Because this subject is something we will never fully understand, it is also something we have argued over for as long as Christianity has been around. Part of these arguments, sadly, have been the result of our inability to fully articulate what we are trying to explain.

To that end, before I go any further in writing this paper – since it is on a core tenet of the Christian faith – I want to make everything abundantly clear: I am a believer in the Triune God (that is the Father, Son, and Spirit), the Trinity. I believe in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit as coequal, coeternal persons (or individuals) who are totally united, inseparable, one, God. I do not profess to understand the eternal, but rather stand on the shoulders of my fellow theologians, those who have come before me. I am not a modalist2 and as such do not follow the teachings of Sabellius, who taught, in the beginning, was the Father (Yahweh), who then became the Son (Yehoshua/Jesus) at the incarnation, who, finally, became the Holy Spirit at the ascension. I am, also, not a polytheist, or more specifically a tritheist, who believes in three Separate gods (Yahweh, Jesus, and Holy Spirit).

There is one huge problem in writing on the subject of the Trinity, which has been universally acknowledged by scholars since, about, the 18th century. This problem is in regard to our language. In writings on the Trinity, brothers and sisters, and Theologians throughout the centuries, have struggled with sounding as if they believed in one of the two heresies I listed above. As I already stated I am from neither of these camps, yet let us clear the air now, my wording in this paper may fall, at times, into one or the other. This is because of the uselessness of our finite languages to explain the eternal God. Clement of Alexandria (c. 155–220) wrote of this in his Stromata Book VI Chapter 18: “For just as far as man is inferior to God in power so much feebler is man’s speech than Him; although he does not declare God, but only speaks about God and the Divine Word. For Human speech is by nature feeble, and incapable of uttering God.”3

In many of the books and papers I have read on the subject of the Trinity, the author’s words seem to drift from one camp to another, and the author must apologize for doing so. It is in this vein I wish to start. I know in my own writing on this subject my words have strayed (and will do so in the future) into areas where I sound as if I believe in a heresy. I assure you, I do not! I believe the orthodox (or traditional) definition of God. That is: One God, three persons, the Triune God.

So, in this paper, I do not expect to be able to explain the Trinity better than the two thousand years’ worth of attempting to do so. I merely wish to move the baton forward by one generation, adding my small voice to the countless others who have already made their attempt to write – or speak – on the subject. I do sincerely hope I will enlighten someone, the way I’ve been enlightened by those who’ve gone before me.

Part 1

I must admit, the Trinity is not an easy subject to write about. My mind can barely comprehend the Trinity, let alone put it into words. I’ve read book after book and listened to sermon after sermon in order to be ready to write this paper. I read through theological writings – books so thick I had a hard time getting through them – all the way through to less technical – which were rather brief. I drew from this abundant well and you can read many of the titles if you turn to my list of sources.

I want to start out with a brief summary of the things I believe which I really have no words to explain better than their titles, or names. This is something like the “Triunity” of God. I believe God is Triune which means “three in one” but I can’t explain it beyond that word. In my study of the Trinity, I discovered scholars have even tried to coin new meanings for words to help explain what the Trinity is and how it works. You read things like “hypostatic union” or “whom dwells hypostatically with the Father.”

I will admit “hypostasis”4 and “hypostatic”5 are words I had to look up. My goal is not to be purely scholarly and write a tome of theology as some have. After looking up these words I do believe God hypostatically exists as three coequal persons indivisibly linked as the one (and only) eternal God. While, there are things in this belief which I still don’t (and no one does or will) understand6. However, I do take the leap of faith in this belief and my experiential evidence of God moves and soothes my soul.

I think the heart of the matter comes down to that: Experience. I think this is why the Triune God is never explained as such but the Doctrine of the Trinity is put forth for us to understand experientially, just as the authors of the New Testament understood this doctrine. For example, Paul gives a wonderful explanation of the Trinity in his letter to Titus:

“For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:3-7)

Here, we see Paul telling us about the Trinity. However, he does not say “God is three coeternal, coequal persons, existing in total unity as one God.” This would have been so much easier on all of us followers as we struggle to comprehend these statements. What he does tell us is key to our own understanding of the Trinity. Paul, very clearly, gives us an experiential example of the Trinity. This is where we must start. Our experience of God shows us who He is.

One of the hardest things we have to start with is monotheism. People seem to have the hardest time understanding how God can be one, totally, yet three. One question which is brought up is the math doesn’t make sense7. We have so many verses telling us God is the one and only God. It goes without saying the Bible teaches one God. Yet, we also have the Bible teaching Jesus is God. This is again, accepted by us and our hearts through our experiences. We experience the forgiveness of our sins through the lightening of our load (as Jesus said in Matt 11:28-30). We feel the presence of God through His Spirit. These experiences are inextricable from understanding the Trinity.

However, our experiences are not the only teachings on the Trinity. God, Himself, preached about His nature and His Trinity. First, we know God’s unity. We have outright declarations of His unity: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” (Deut 6:5) Yet, we have no statement of His three-ness within the one. God says He is the only God, before whom there was no god formed, nor will there be any after Him (Isaiah 43:10).

Curiously, however, from the beginning, we have a plurality within God. He is referred to numerous times throughout the Old Testament with the plural “Elohim”8. In fact, our first introduction to God in the Old Testament in Genesis 1:1 is to a plural Elohim. The discussion of making man is also the plural Elohim. Elohim literally means “gods” in English. This passage would be more literally translated “The Gods said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness’” (Genesis 1:26a). God is one, yet the offspring of a virgin birth shall be called Immanuel (God with us, Isaiah 7:14). This child will also be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6). To cap it off, this singular God says He has been sent by the LORD with the LORD’s Spirit (Isaiah 48:16).

So, quite clearly in the Old Testament, we have a peculiar plurality within the singular – one – God. In the New Testament, this fad continued. In the Gospels, we have many things spoken about Jesus. The angel Gabriel tells Mary outright that Jesus will be known as the Son of God (Luke 1:35), and Joseph is told Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit (Matt 1:20-21). God, Himself, calls down from heaven while the Holy Spirit descends on Jesus pointing out Jesus as the Beloved Son of the Father (Matt 3:16-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22). All this brings us, then, to John 1.

“Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος,” this is the opening phrase to John’s Gospel9. In English, this literally says “In [the] beginning was the word” and equates this phrase to the very first words of the Bible – to the first words of Genesis. In fact, John lifts the first two words of his statement off the page of the Septuagint10 where Genesis 1:1 starts: “Ἐν ἀρχή ἐποίησεν ὁ θεός” (literally “In [the] beginning made God”). John 1:1 doesn’t end there but fully says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

This is something new! While the Old Testament does witness to the Trinity it is definitely harder to see than in the New Testament. Here we have an explicit statement of more than one person within the one God. This is something explicit, however, rather than, merely, implied – as in the Old Testament. We know, from the Old Testament, God is beyond our understanding, even His ways are above our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9). God is not a man (1 Samuel 15:29).

This strangeness, difference of God from us, is important. It is what makes us made in the image of God rather than having a god made in our image. This “higherness” of His ways are what allow us to have God being three persons in one substance. It, also, allows us to let mystery exist within God.

Part 3

The mystery of the Trinity is something the Church has considered a mystery from the beginning. Origen wrote in De Principiis Book 1: “We go on to say that, according to strict truth, God is incomprehensible, and incapable of being measured. For whatever be the knowledge which we are able to obtain of God, either by perception or reflection, we must of necessity believe that He is by many degrees far better than what we perceive Him to be.”11 God is beyond our ability to understand!

The reason this is so important is then the math doesn’t have to work out. God being above us and incomprehensible can be three in one. This also makes the experiential evidence more important, and more trustworthy. We experience God, and therefore we know Him. Paul says in Romans “the Spirit himself, bears witness with our spirit” to us having been made children of God. And, John said in his first epistle, “But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie – just as it has taught you, abide in him.” So, we have the Holy Spirit (which is the anointing written about by John) being experienced through our life.

Even the testimony of the Bible is experiential in nature. I’ve already quoted Paul in his writing to Titus on our experience of the Trinity. In this passage is “God [the Father] our Savior” or is “Jesus Christ our Savior”? Well, Paul in this section says both are our savior. Another question which could be asked of this passage (and the Bible as a whole) is: “Whose grace are we receiving?” Some passages tell of the grace of God (i.e. the Father – Acts 6:8; Rom 3:23-24; Eph 2:1-10; Titus 2:11; Heb 4:16; 1Pet 4:10) while others tell of the grace of Christ (John 1:16-17; Acts 15:11; Rom 5:15; 2Cor 8:9, 13:14; Gal 1:6; 1Tim 1:14; 2Tim 2:1).

We have this amazing paradox in the Bible of the terms for God in His three persons being inextricably linked with the experience of Him. This allows the Apostle Paul, who said “there is one God, the Father… and one Lord, Jesus Christ,” “and one Spirit,” to also say, “Now the Lord is the Spirit.” This is the same Paul who in Romans says, “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” We experience all of God through the indwelling of His Spirit.

These experiential circumstances are highly important. It helps us to understand what is happening. We learn about God through the Son’s testimony in the Gospels and through the anointing of the Spirit upon us. It helps us understand how Paul calls Him (Jesus) “our great God and Savior” in Titus 2:1312 and “The Christ, who is God over all,” in Romans 9:513, and still say “there is one God, the Father.” This only comes from experience. This only comes from deeply understanding God is the Trinity, this comes through living out the Christian life.

This experience, also, shines forth the beautiful message of the Gospel. The message of the Gospel is: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” and “by works of the law no human being shall be justified in his sight”. However, God made us for love, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son,” God bridged the gap no human could, “that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Through Jesus, God’s Son, the uncrossable was crossed so we could be with God for all eternity. We are washed “of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” when He comes and lives in us. This is the message of the Gospel.

This message only works if God is, in fact, a Trinity. Only God, Himself, could fulfill the righteous requirements of the law, “No one is good except God alone.” This means it takes the power of God to fulfill the righteous requirements of the law. Christ is the atoning sacrifice for all the sins of all the world: “and he did for all”; “Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.” Christ died for our sins and rose to give us life.

Part 3

In “Part 1” we introduced two important aspects about our topic – namely our experience of God’s Triune-ness, and some Scriptural support of God being a Trinity. In “Part 2” we focused on the experiential evidence of the Trinity, and its importance. Now, I would like to return to the Scriptural support of the Trinity.

First, we must start with the Father. The Father is the first revealed and, as such, most of the references to “God” in the New Testament (Gr. Θεὸς – Theos) are to Him (this is not universal as we shall see). The Bible, on the very first page, in the very first statement, assumes God is real. In Genesis, it starts with “Bereshit bara Elohim” or in Greek “En archē epoiēsen Theos”. In English, we have it thus, “In the beginning, God created”. Now, this God in verse 1 of Genesis is the Triune God.

However, the interpretation of this God, by the people Jesus came to witness to, turned Him into merely the Father. He was alone for all eternity until he decided to create. Jesus, Himself, testified to the Father being God many times. He explicitly does so in his prayer to close out the “Upper Room Discourse”: “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God.” I have yet to discover anyone who calls themselves a Christian and denies the Father is in fact God14. Those who do deny Jesus still believe in God the Father. The Jews believe Yahweh of their Scriptures (our Old Testament) is just the Father. However, we know the God of the Old Testament is the Triune God.

We have Jesus identified as God in the New Testament, though this is argued against strongly by people who do not want to agree. We will start with John 1:1-18. We have some very important things taught about Jesus in this section. We started touching on this at the end of “Part 1”. Let’s pick up the thread and go over this whole section of Scripture.

First, we have an equating statement. In the beginning – without origin – existed this “Word” with God, and it was the very God. If this was the end of the section even Jews would agree with this statement. God’s word is a picture of His character, power, and will. God’s word is who God is, because God does not, will not, and cannot lie (1Sam 15:29; Titus 1:2). However, thankfully John does not end there. “He was in the beginning with God.”

This pronoun refers us back to the previous statement to try to figure out who “He” is. We have two clues to explain to us the subject of this statement. First, in the Greek this pronoun immediately follows “the Word”. Second, we already have the only other referent from the previous statement already mentioned in this statement, namely God. So, “God was in the beginning with God” does not make any sense. So, this must be a repetitive reference, but one important point is made: The Word from v. 1 is not merely God’s voice, it is a person!

This applies an important context to verse 1. We now have two persons within the same God. This is clearly pointed out because the Word is with God and is God. This equative statement at the end of v. 1 is conveying the point of the Word and God being exactly the same in essence and substance. This equative statement following the previous statement equates the Word and the Father in substance and essence without equating the persons15. Now, the question becomes how then do we understand this Word and God?

It is two verses later in the passage which help us understand exactly who the Word is. Verse 9 says “The true light [that is the Word – see vv.4-5], which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.” And, v. 14 says, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Now, in these two verses, John doesn’t explicitly say, “And the Word is Jesus.” Sometimes, many of us in our hearts, wish God simply answered in a straight forward way, explicitly telling us in His Scriptures these deep truths. We do have it explicitly stated this Word came into the world and was clothed in flesh.

It is important, now, to see greater context. We have a context within the New Testament at large as well as an historical context. John knew the Synoptic Gospels16 were already written. So, he quotes from John the Baptist to start showing who the Word is. This Word who was with and is God is Jesus. If we then take this section as a whole, we have Jesus being presented in one way: a coeternal person of God, equal in essence and substance. Verse 3 tells us Jesus is the very God of Genesis 1, of creation. This has been put forward and shown from the Genesis passage by others: We have God (who is the Father) in v. 1, the Spirit hovering over the deep in v. 2, and God creates through His Word in vv. 3-27 (“And God said, ‘Let there be light’”).

This starting thesis (this section, John 1:1-18) shapes John’s writing and it causes him to put forward statements of Jesus which show His Deity from His own mouth. John’s whole reason for writing was to show Jesus was fully God and fully man. The biggest reason John wants to convey this to us is because he heard it from Jesus. We’re only going to take a look at a few verses, and we’re going to start with John 5.

In chapter 5, Jesus heals a man on the Sabbath at the Pool of Bethesda. Finally, the Jews confront Jesus about this work on the Sabbath and Jesus responds, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” This is a statement which we can only understand if we put on the mindset of first-century Jews. In the culture of Jesus’ day and area (the first-century middle-eastern Jews), a person’s adult son (this can especially be seen when we look at dignitaries) was considered equal in stature, privilege, and power with the father. So, for Jesus to be “calling God his own Father,” meant in the culture of the day, He was “making himself equal with God.”

This shows us exactly why the Jewish leaders, here, are so angered. When this is realized, it also makes sense of the leaders wanting to put Christ to death over this, and then they finally succeed in their goal. For Jesus to be the personal Son of God means He is equal with God. This is the cultural context of the Gospels. Another context is also working in the Gospels, and this is the specific Jewish one. In this context, God’s unutterable name is a synonym for the Hebrew word for “I am”17. No one could refer to themselves in certain formulaic ways or they risk referring to themselves as God.

This all plays out to its greatest extent in chapter 8. Here, we have Jesus having a debate with the Jews. This all climaxes in Jesus giving a statement which brings Exodus to mind. “Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.’” The grammar of this statement is awkward, to say the least. He is saying before Abraham ever existed (in the past) I am (which is a present continual verb meaning, “I have always been existing”). This brings to mind Exodus 3:14, “God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM.’ And he said, ‘Say this to the people of Israel: “I AM has sent me to you.” ’ ” The grammar of both of those statements link them together.

This link is hefty and it is not merely Christian interpreters who see Jesus as making this parallel, for the Jews made the same connection. This is evident by this climactic statement ending the debate, and stirring up the Jews so much they immediately jump to murderous action. They were so overwhelmed by the connection between Jesus’ words and God’s revelation of His name in Exodus they attempt to stone Him.

These things affected John so much as to him understanding Isaiah’s vision of the glory of God (of the Lord in Isaiah 6:1) is a vision of Jesus. This comes from chapter 12 of John’s Gospel. The word for “Lord” in Isaiah 6:1 is not the name of God, but “Adonay”. However, the angelic beings (seraphim) call out to the Lord: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” This is an immense statement of the Bible interpreting itself. This tells us Isaiah seeing the “LORD of hosts” is Isaiah seeing Jesus. And Old Testament prophet not only saw Jesus as the Messiah, but as the very God of Israel.

Finally, I will end my proving of Jesus being fully God by pointing to Him being fully man. For this, I’m going to move over to John’s first epistle. 1 John 4:2, in telling us how to test spirits, says, “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God.” The question becomes why? Well, when John was writing people didn’t deny Jesus existed, but they didn’t believe he truly came in the flesh, but only came as spirit. So, John wants to make sure we understand that “the Word became flesh.”

This was not an exhaustive support of Jesus being fully man and fully God. We already believe the Father is God, but what about the Holy Spirit? God the Spirit is the member most often left out. Unitarian Christians believe Jesus exists – even though they remove His glory and power – but deny the Spirit. The few Binitarian sects believe in the Father and the Son but deny the Spirit. Some forms of Modalism deny the Spirit. Sadly, the very personal Spirit, who is the very revelator of God, is denied His place. We’re going to show from the Scripture quite a few things about Him.

The first thing we need to do is establish the personhood of the Spirit. This is because, those who deny the Spirit is God, deny His personhood. For this, we have to turn to the Scriptures as they are the measuring rod by which we test all things. We use the Scripture to know whether our experiences are giving us true insight or are twisting our point of view. The question is: What does the Scripture say about the Spirits personhood?

To start off, to be a person the Spirit has to have a mind, will, and emotions of His own. We can see He does in the Scripture. In Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians, Paul tells us God revealed the deep things Paul had written “through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.” This points out the Spirit has a mind of His own. He is not just some force from God, but searches out the depths of God. Later, in the same letter, in speaking of the gifts of the Spirit, Paul writes, “All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.” The Spirit has a will of His own18. Finally, in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians in a section of teaching Paul exhorts, “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”

These three passages point out the Spirit has a mind, will, and emotions of His own meaning He is, in fact, a person. Now, the Holy Spirit is a person, but is He God? This is easily answered, first and foremost, He is God’s Spirit (1Cor 2:11, 3:16; 2Cor 3:3; Phil 3:3). Second, the Apostle Peter outright calls Him God in dealing with Ananias and Sapphira: “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.”

Here, Peter says lying to the Holy Spirit is not lying to man, but to God. So, the Spirit is a person and He is God. In the Bible, we have one eternal God (Deut 6:5; Isaiah 43:10). Then we have three persons labeled as God: The Father is God (John 6:27; Rom 1:7; 1Pet 1:2); the Son is God (John 1:1, 14; Rom 9:5; Col 2:9; Titus 2:13; Heb 1:8; 2 Pet 2:1; 1 John 5:20); and the Holy Spirit is God (Acts 5:3-4; 1Cor 3:16). So, the Bible has one eternal God revealed in three coeternal persons, namely the Triune God.

Conclusion

Much, much more could be written on this topic. I would urge you to go to my list of sources and read more on the topic. I’ve merely touched on the topic, however, I do hope, even with my brief treatise, you can see the truth of the topic, as well as the importance of the subject in our experience. When we approach the message of the Gospel, if Jesus was not God, He is merely Hercules. Do you really want to put your hope in another fallen man?

I do not! God, alone, is my hope. The beauty of the Gospel is God performed what we (not a single one of us) could not. Removing this from the Bible – from the Gospel – removes the very beauty – the very love – being portrayed in the Gospel. It removes the meaning of John 3:16 (and following). If Jesus was just some herculean character, then God could have simply made another one – or made all like him without his needing to die. This is a hugely important doctrine, then, and it is this importance which caused me to write.

The reality of the Trinity is in scripture and there is so much more I could say, but I will leave you with this: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”

Notes:

1 Triune is a complex word which comes from the English “tri” (itself from the Latin “tres”) meaning “three” and the Latin “unus” meaning “one”. Triune then means “Three in one”.
2 Modalists follow a doctrine called “Modalism” which was first recorded as being taught by a man named Sabellius who lived sometime around the beginning of the third century A.D. Modalism can be best understood as one God in three different “modes” (or “moods”). In the past He (that is God) was the Father (or Yahweh of the OT), in the incarnation He became Jesus, and finally at His ascension He became the Holy Spirit. One God three modes.
3 The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, Vol. II, p. 519.
4 Hypostasis, noun, 1. one of the three real and distinct substances in the one undivided substance or essence of God. 2. a person of the Trinity. 3. the one personality of Christ in which His two natures, human and divine, are united. – via Dictionary.com
5 Hypostatic, adjective, pertaining to or constituting a distinct personal being or substance. – via Dictionary.com
6 For example: How did the Triune God send a third of Himself to earth forming a new hypostatic union in the God-man, Jesus?
7 i.e. 1+1+1≠1, that is one plus one plus one does not equal one.
8 It is interesting to note in relation to God the plural “Elohim” always has singular verbs.
9 According to the Nestle-Aland apparatus, there is not a textual variance for John 1:1.
10 The Septuagint is the pre-Christian, Jewish translation of the Old Testament out of Hebrew into Greek. It is commonly referred to as the LXX.
11 The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, Vol. IV, p. 243.
12 “The terms “God and Savior” both refer to the same person, Jesus Christ. This is one of the clearest statements in the NT concerning the deity of Christ. The construction in Greek is known as the Granville Sharp rule, named after the English philanthropist-linguist who first clearly articulated the rule in 1798. Sharp pointed out that in the construction article-noun-καί-noun (where καί [kai] = “and”), when two nouns are singular, personal, and common (i.e., not proper names), they always had the same referent. Illustrations such as “the friend and brother,” “the God and Father,” etc. abound in the NT to prove Sharp’s point. The only issue is whether terms such as “God” and “Savior” could be considered common nouns as opposed to proper names. Sharp and others who followed (such as T. F. Middleton in his masterful The Doctrine of the Greek Article) demonstrated that a proper name in Greek was one that could not be pluralized. Since both “God” (θεός, theos) and “savior” (σωτήρ, sōtēr) were occasionally found in the plural, they did not constitute proper names, and hence, do fit Sharp’s rule. Although there have been 200 years of attempts to dislodge Sharp’s rule, all attempts have been futile. Sharp’s rule stands vindicated after all the dust has settled. For more information on Sharp’s rule see ExSyn 270-78, esp. 276. See also 2 Pet 1:1 and Jude 4.” – Translators’ Note on Titus 2:13 from the NET Bible, 1996 – 2007 by Biblical Studies Press, LLC.
13 “Or “the Christ, who is over all, God blessed forever,” or “the Messiah. God who is over all be blessed forever!” or “the Messiah who is over all. God be blessed forever!” The translational difficulty here is not text-critical in nature, but is a problem of punctuation. Since the genre of these opening verses of Romans 9 is a lament, it is probably best to take this as an affirmation of Christ’s deity (as the text renders it). Although the other renderings are possible, to see a note of praise to God at the end of this section seems strangely out of place. But for Paul to bring his lament to a crescendo (that is to say, his kinsmen had rejected God come in the flesh), thereby deepening his anguish, is wholly appropriate. This is also supported grammatically and stylistically: The phrase ὁ ὢν (ho ōn, “the one who is”) is most naturally taken as a phrase which modifies something in the preceding context, and Paul’s doxologies are always closely tied to the preceding context. For a detailed examination of this verse, see B. M. Metzger, “The Punctuation of Rom. 9:5,” Christ and the Spirit in the New Testament, 95-112; and M. J. Harris, Jesus as God, 144-72.” – Translators’ Note on Romans 9:5 from the NET Bible, 1996 – 2007 by Biblical Studies Press, LLC.
14 Modalists do in fact believe the Father is God. In classic modalism they simply believe Jesus was the Father before His incarnation. More neo-modalism (like Oneness-Pentecostalism) also believe God (the one God) chose (or chooses) to reveal Himself as the Father in the past (or even present).
15 For a greater discussion of this see the note from the NET Bible on this part of John 1:1.
16 That is Matthew, Mark, and Luke. These three are considered the Synoptics as they treat similar subject matter (or follow the same events) in the life of Jesus.
17 God’s personal name “YHVH” (יהוה) is related to the Hebrew word for “I am” (אהיה – “Ehyeh”).
18 This is one of the mysteries of the Trinity: How They have separate wills, and yet He has the one will.

Sources:

1. Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith – Michael Reeves
2. The Eternal Sonship of Christ – George W. Zeller, Renald E. Showers
3. The Forgotten Trinity – James R. White
4. The Testimony of Church History Regarding the Mystery of the Triune God – Bill Freeman
5. The Ante-Nicene Fathers – Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson
6. When God Became Man – J. Vernon McGee
7. Reexamining the Eternal Sonship of Christ – John MacArthur
8. The Word – Only Born – Firstborn – Chuck Schiedler
9. Through the Bible, Bible Commentaries – J. Vernon McGee
10. Harper’s Bible Dictionary – HarperCollins
11. The NET Bible – Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C.
12. ESV Study Bible – Crossway
13. NIV Study Bible – Zondervan
14. MacArthur Study Bible – Thomas Nelson
15. Recovery Version New Testament – Living Stream Ministry

New Year’s Thought – 2018

Well, this year went by in a blaze of speed I had not yet felt. I can’t believe it is now 2018. I’ve been through a lot this year for it to be over so soon. I’ve finished some projects and had to reevaluate others. I’ve missed out on some goals while pursuing others. I didn’t quite complete my goal of getting the commentaries on 1 – 3 John finished in order to get them to print, but I see a bright future in 2018 for the Believe Something Better Bible Commentary Series. I also feel excited for the possibility of a newsletter for Believe Better Ministries. We will see what the Lord permits me to do this year.

My thoughts this time of year are typically very reflective. Christmas is over, things are winding down it is time to sit down and read my journal and see what happened this year. (Most of the time what I really mean is see how I messed up this year.) This year has been different. I am not saying I am different, but the time is different. I still feel reflective, I just haven’t had the time to sit down and read my journal or really put any effort into self-doubt (I will admit I am not suffering from the symptoms of seasonal depression as badly this year.

This has brought to mind a truth which I seem to remember about January 12th and forget again on February 1st. We are not meant to wallow in our past mistakes! We need to forget them and move on. I am not saying we need to ignore them, I’m saying we need to learn from them but then move passed them. There is a verse which is commonly used as a new year’s verse (so you will forgive me for doing it now) and it is appropriate.

“Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

Philippians 3:13-14 ESV

This is not just something I want to remember during the first and last weeks of each year, but rather it is something I want to remember for this whole year. I am going to put it on my book marks, in my notebooks, on a card in my wallet, simply it is going to be everywhere for me this year. I am going to make it my verses of the year.

Maybe we can do it together. Let’s make these two verses the verses of 2018, and let’s treat those around us with the same courtesy. The friend whom you’ve had an argument with and you can’t remember how it started? End it, forget it. The estranged family member? Reach out to them, you make the steps for mending your relationship. How we treat the people in our lives should be a reflection of how we love God (see 1 John), so, treat your loved ones with full unconditional love (agape love).

This is my major goal for 2018: Unconditional, godlike, love through forgetting what lies behind and striving to what lies before. Happy New Year, everyone!

A Conversation with a Martyr

Download the Story A Conversation with a Martyr here →

OK, that could be a very misleading title!

I want to make it clear I have not personally contacted a martyr for the faith. Rather this is a work of fiction. I have always been – at least when it comes to writing – a fiction writer. I love to write fiction, especially science fiction and fantasy. You in fact can read my fiction online as it is currently being serialized. Well I was sitting in my chair reading Voice of the Martyrs and the Lord smacked me on the head with an idea I just couldn’t shake. Well… I think it was the Lord anyway. As I said I just couldn’t shake it I had a visceral need to write it and finish it.

I thought I’d give you all a chance to read it. I’ve been holding it back as it is different from anything else I’ve ever written. The idea is I’ve been praying to God about being the kind of person who is willing to lay their life down for Him. I’ve never thought I was this person. I want to be this person, but never felt like I had the courage to be. This part is not fiction, this part is absolutely true. I have prayed this question many times in my life. Wondered for many years if a great persecution happened here in the USA would I be the person hiding his beliefs to get by or would I stand up and shout God’s good news from the roof tops?

The story is essentially God giving me an answer. Whether this answer is real or fake, I cannot tell. I’ve pondered it and handed the story to wiser men than I. I have nothing more really to say about the story.

I hope you enjoy it.

Download the Story A Conversation with a Martyr here →

Thoughts on Actions – 2017

Well, I’ve been trying over the past several years to write an article for Believe Better Ministries on the subject of Actions. I feel as though I’ve been blocked. I don’t know if I have the words to bring this subject to bare. I’ve prayed over it and still do not feel led to write a full paper on the subject. So, I’m going to give my thoughts and leave it at that. (Quick side note: I think the reason I’ve been stopped from writing is due to it being very, very hard not to become legalistic when putting forth this subject. So I pray for a grace filled message.)

My main thought, when I’ve written things down about actions, is we’re not meant to be stagnant, passive followers, sitting in pews. We are meant for so much more! So many believers think the meeting of the Church involves going to a building, sitting in a pew (or chair), singing some songs, listening to a message, drinking a little grape juice and eating a cracker, giving a little money, and then going home. This is NOT the meeting of the Believers! If this was the way our meetings were to be conducted in this day and age why do I even need to go? Can I not accomplish all of this from my sofa? My couch is way more comfortable to sit in than any pew (or for that matter any chair) I’ve ever sat in in any Church Meeting Hall, I can easily buy grape juice (or wine if I wanted) and crackers, I can listen to KLove or some other Christian music network (heck I could pull it up on Pandora if I wanted), I can watch any of a number of different speakers on TV or listen on radio for a message, I can give money over the phone or straight through the internet, and in the end I’ve accomplished about the same thing.

Are either of these a true form of a meeting of the Church? No! Again, I say no! We are called to service. Our Lord and Savior, Jesus, gave us an example (John 13:12-17). Jesus was among us as a servant and said the greatest in His Church (the believers) would be the one who served (Luke 22:24-27). We are to be ready to act! I like how the ESV translates the first half of Luke 12:35: “Stay dressed for action”! We are to be ready. The type of readiness is the same as a soldier.

The literal translation of the phrase is “gird up your loins”. This girding of the loins was what a soldier would do before putting on his chest plate. He would take a strip of tough cloth and tightly wrap it around his waist preparing himself for action, for combat. This is what the Lord Jesus was saying. Let alone His brother, James, who gave us “faith without works is dead” (James 2:26b) Why? Does this mean we need to follow the legalist? No! It simply means this: You can see the fruit!

As those who follow Christ, we have invited God into our hearts and He is faithful and indwells us. So, since we have the Holy Spirit living in us – conforming us to the image of the Son (see Romans 8), helping us to put off the old self and to put on the new self (see Colossians) – there should be fruit. Now, here is where this topic gets sticky and this is where my words fail me. I would never tell you to judge someone else, lest we forget what the Lord Jesus said about removing the log from our own eye before removing the speck from our brother’s eye.

I am not saying we need to apply these principles to others. I am saying we need to do these ourselves and let the Lord deal with everyone else. Remember this Christian life is all about a relationship with the Almighty. He teaches His children what they need when they need it. You may not see fruit in someone else’s life, but you also don’t know about the rocks their roots have been fighting with.

I think I should leave it at that. We need to be more active in our faith. The things we say we need to do. Having said this I also want to remind you, take this to heart for yourself, don’t push it on others or judge others for what you don’t really know. The lord is working in their lives just as He is in yours and in mine.

Experiencing Something Better

Believe Better Ministries is proud to announce a new project we are working on. This project is called Experiencing Something Better and it is written by Christians for Christians. The project is a series of books each containing stories of real experiences Christians have had with God. So here is what Believe Better Ministries is looking for: Your Story! We are looking for Christians to write stories to fill the pages of this new project.

We will not turn any story away based on denomination, creed, orthodoxy, or the lack thereof. The goal of this series is encourage Christians of all walks of life from every denomination. The way we are defining experience is anything from an answered prayer to a Christophany (a visitation of Christ). So start writing your story about your experience with God and submit them to us via our e-mail. Subject: ATTN: ESB Story.

We look forward to reading your story.

On Condemnation

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On Condemnation

By Ray B. May IV

There is a lot that can be said on the subject of condemnation. My point is this: If you are a Christian then you are not under condemnation and should therefore not condemn others, but relate to others in the same way God chooses to relate to us: with grace and love. There are many points of view that differ from mine but I will hope to give you a concise understanding of my point. If you disagree with me, that does not bother me and it will not change my belief. I hope that you, as I will, will be able to prove from scripture that your belief is correct. For the purpose of this paper “Christian” is defined as one who believes in Christ as their savior, regardless of denomination, orthodoxy or other differences in belief; “Condemnation” as judgment passed on a person(s) and legalistic “rules to salvation” ideas/methodologies; “Grace” as the free gift God gives us that we may have a relationship with Him. In this paper you may have arguments with my definitions, but, again, this is a paper of my point of view.

What is condemnation? This is a question we need to ask ourselves. The answer hits closer to your heart than you think. Condemnation is judgment and judgment comes from the idea that we can find justice. Justice is something that we only want for others, because we want others to live up to the rules when we know we can’t. As Christians we are called to “forgive those who trespass against us,” not to judge (and therefore condemn). Jesus even says “Do not judge.” Point blank are His words and there are no other qualifications for His next words go on to say that “in the same way you judge others, you will be judged.” This is the way Jesus speaks of condemnation and judgment. Sadly His followers – Christians or the Followers of the Christ – do not say the same thing about condemnation and judgment.

One of the next questions we must answer is, sadly, a hard question for us (believers) to even hear. This question is: “Who do Christians condemn?” The answer – and it hurts my heart to write it – is everyone. Every person on the face of this planet is in some way condemned by the current church. We, Christians (and yes, I am including myself here), even condemn and judge each other. I have noted through conversations with others that we evangelize to non-Christians, but judge and condemn other Christians. A close friend summed up the idea: “We bring people to Christ so we can judge and condemn them.” Is this not backwards? We do not condemn non-Christians very strongly because they do not have the knowledge of our beliefs. But when it comes to Christians, they know and therefore they need to be judged. Does that make sense? Not only did Jesus tell us not to judge, but He told us what His mission on Earth was. In John 3:17 Jesus says that He did not come into the world to condemn it but to save it. Let us think about this verse logically. First let us look at “the world might be saved.” What did He have to save us from? The verse tells us: “to condemn,” this is condemnation. So what did He come to save us from? Condemnation, so then why do we condemn each other? or anyone else?

In the next verse (3:18) Jesus says “Whoever believes in him is not condemned,” (John 3:18 ESV). This simple phrase should stop condemnation in its tracks. For those who believe in Him (Christians) there is no condemnation. Paul agrees and told us in Romans – specifically Romans 8:1 – that there is no condemnation for those in Christ. The full verse reads: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1 ESV). So if there is “no condemnation for those who are in Christ” then what reason do we have to condemn? I cannot speak to an exact reason for it is different for each person and each denomination. For the most part it comes from a legalistic idea from which we approach all things. Paul speaks over and over of the gospel (good news) of grace. A gospel that defeats the idea that there can be a legalistic point of view applied to the teachings of Jesus. Think of the thief hanging on a cross next to Jesus’ own. “Remember me,” was all he said. Jesus responded with: “Today you will be with me in paradise.” Jesus did not apply legalistic rules but in fact rebuked the Pharisees and broke down their legalistic ideas.

So if we are not to apply a form of legalism to ourselves or others, how are we supposed to relate with one another and the world around us? The answer is the same way God relates with us: grace. Grace is how we are supposed to relate to everyone. If this is how we are supposed to relate to one another than what is grace? Paul in his letter to the Romans explains grace very thoroughly. If legalism is a set of rules that we must follow then grace is the exact opposite. Grace takes those rules and breaks them all up and throws them away. There is a glorious metaphor way back in Exodus chapter thirty-two when Moses has just received the Ten Commandments for the first time. Moses has just come down from the mountain and has the two tablets. He sees what the Israelites are doing and throws the tablets at the ground destroying them. This metaphor can be seen in the cross. Christ on the cross, body broken and utterly destroyed freed us from the condemnation of a legalistic system. That is grace. Grace is the free gift God gives us that we may have a relationship with Him.

Our definition may make a few more questions arise. One major question is: Where does this grace come from? The answer usually leaves people unsure of God, Himself. This is because the answer is grace completely and totally comes from God. Then what about the Ten Commandments? That is a picture. It is a picture of God’s character. The Law (the first five books of the Bible) is a statement of what holiness is. It gives us a very clear definition of holiness and it points out that we (human beings) do not measure up. If no one measures up to this definition of holiness except God then the cross was the only answer. In the blood sacrifice on the cross a Holy God is able to forgive his wretchedly sinful creation. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians points out that grace comes from God alone: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast,” Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV.

This answers another question often asked as well. Why Grace? The answer to this takes us back through the information we have already trodden. We look at the Law and the fact that no one can measure up to the Law. Even Paul, himself, who was able to count himself blameless before the Law could not measure up. Paul said to the Philippians: “though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ,” Philippians 3:4-7 ESV. Paul couldn’t even measure up. That is the “why” God sent His Son and gave us grace.

So if we have grace then do we not also have freedom? Paul seems to think so. He tells the Galatian churches of this freedom. “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery,” Galatians 5:1 ESV. Christ has set us free! But the question is: Free from what? The answer is we are set free from the legalistic system of condemnation and judgment. This takes us back to the point made in John 3:17. As I have stated before, Christ’s mission on Earth was to save us from condemnation. Salvation is freedom; freedom from an otherwise endless cycle of condemnation and judgment. The Law did not breed freedom and love in the hearts of mankind, but condemnation, judgment and fear. This is not freedom, but slavery and Paul tells to not submit to a yoke of slavery.

Those who argue against me will no doubt say: What about Sin? If a person is completely free in Christ what is to stop them from sinning? The answer is harder to swallow than anything else I have yet stated: Love. Paul says that the entire Law is fulfilled in the phrase “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” If you truly love someone (be it God or man) would you do those things against them? The answer is no, of course not! Would you cheat on your spouse? For couples who love one another the answer always is no. In the same vein what is the most common reason people give for adultery? “There wasn’t any love in our relationship anymore.” It is hard to truly love others.

“Love is so messy and rules are just easier.” My opponents say. Do we have to love? Yes we do! We are brothers and sisters in Christ, the Body of Christ, the Bride of Christ; any way it is stated it all comes back to love. Love frees us from condemnation because love does not use condemnation. God – who is the perfect embodiment of love because He is love (1 John 4:8) – sent His Son to Earth, suffered through human life and gave His life completely and totally on the cross. Why? So we could be saved and live eternally with Him. Love does not condemn. What does love do then? It convicts our conscience so that we do not want to sin. If someone loved me that much (as much as God) my life goal would be to make them happy in every way possible. Conviction reminds us of God’s love. Conviction does not make us feel guilty but reminds us of the calling on our lives. Conviction is bred out of love. Conviction makes us want to change our lives for the better, where as condemnation just makes us feel guilty. Conviction comes from love, where as condemnation comes from judgment. This is why we must love. (That is apart from Jesus’ words in John 13:34.)

In conclusion every Christian will tell you condemnation is wrong and we are not to do it to others. At the same time they tell you it is wrong, though, they will be doing it to the other people around them. Some Christians do not even realize that they are condemning others, or passing judgment on those they love. If we are to pass upon ourselves a list of rules – even ones that are not necessarily found in the Law – then all we do is put ourselves under the Law and condemnation, yet again. If we are going to judge others then we will be judged in that way. God tells us that we are to forgive others. Finally it is very important for us to remember that condemnation only brings us pain and fear. Is that what our relationship with God is supposed to be? Is that the way that the God, who is love, wants us to relate to Him? No He wants us to love Him, others and ourselves. The entire Bible is laced with the idea, especially, though, the New Testament and the teachings of Jesus. Look up Matthew 22:36-40, Galatians 5:14, John 13:34 and 1 John 4:7-8 to get a small taste. Read though the Word and look for God’s love. You will see it on every page. That is His purpose for us: Love!