Plural Pronouns For Plural Persons

Basic reason is enough to know that when only one person is spoken of, singular personal pronouns are employed, while when a plural number of persons are in view, this is grammatically reflected by the usage of plural personal pronouns. The inspired scriptures are careful in this respect, since they are in every respect accurate and without error. Every letter of the holy scriptures, the Lord taught, is of value, importance, and significance (Matt. 5:17-18, Matt. 22:32). Thus we can and must learn even from the fine details of scripture, not least of which is the sort of pronouns it uses; ordinarily when scripture uses a singular pronoun, it is intentionally communicating to us that a single person is in view, while it denotes multiple persons by using plural personal pronouns.

This basic logic disproves the false claims made by semi-modalists that whenever God is spoken of as a person, “God” ought to be taken as signifying the Trinity, although nothing in the passage would suggest such a reading. Far from giving us a reason to think this, scripture refutes this attempt to import heretical presuppositions into scripture by frequently using singular personal pronouns for God, thus showing that the subject referred to by the term “God” -usually the Father- is a single person, not a plurality of persons.

Yet, the resilience of this error shows itself, when, instead of conceding their error in the face of conviction by both basic logic and the holy scriptures, the semi-modalists instead attempt to turn things on their head once more by declaring that singular personal pronouns must be used for a plural number of persons of the Trinity. They argue this point by means of further extra-biblical theories, among which, is the notion that all three persons of the Trinity always act inseparably with one united action; thus since the action is singular, the personal pronoun must also be singular.

We might first observe in response to this that nowhere does scripture say that the Father cannot act without the Son and Spirit, although they are correct in noting that the Son acts only according to the will of the Father, and at the instigation of the Father. Frequently we see God work through the Son and Holy Spirit. Yet to say that this is always so is scripturally unwarranted.

Further, and more definitively, we may respond by simply noting that the pronouns under discussion are not pronouns used to refer to an action- which may perhaps be singular, although performed by multiple persons in unity- but rather refer to the actors themselves Who perform the action. In such a scenario then as that three persons together act with one action, although the action is then singular, and may be referred to as such, yet the actors remain plural, being three persons, and the way they are referred to must logically remain plural personal pronouns. To use a singular personal pronoun from Them would not so much indicate a unity of action, but would cause the three persons to appear to be a single actor and a single person.

So much then, for the attempt to justify using singular personal pronouns for a plural number of persons. When the semi-modalists do so, though they may object and try in vain to find some justification for it, yet it is proven that they, by their use of a singular pronoun for three persons, present the three persons of the Trinity as a single individual, in true modalist fashion.

Finally it is worthwhile to note that those who insist that singular personal pronouns ought to be used for the persons of the Trinity together, charge the scriptures with erring, since the scriptures, as one would expect, and as we have said above, use plural pronouns for multiple persons of the Trinity together:

“Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; 17 for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?” (Rev. 6:16-17 NASB)

“Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.” (John 14:23 NASB)

The home that is made is one; the day of wrath is one; yet, God and His Son are two persons, and so scripture speaks in accordance with that truth by using plural, not singular, personal pronouns for both persons together.

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Do You Believe in the Son of God?

“If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater; for this is the witness of God which He has testified of His Son. 10 He who believes in the Son of God has the witness in himself; he who does not believe G

od has made Him a liar, because he has not believed the testimony that God has given of His Son. 11 And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. 12 He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.” (1 John 5:9-12 NKJV)

The truth laid out in these verses is simple- he who has the Son has life; he who does not believe in the Son of God, does not have life. Salvation comes through Jesus Christ, the one Mediator between God and man (1 Tim 2:5), and no one comes to the Father except through Him (John 14:6).

To believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, then, is manifestly required for salvation. The confession that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God” is central to the true Christian faith (Matt 16:16).

Yet tragically, many professing Christians deny the Son of God. They do this by embracing Augustinian trinitarianism.

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Is the Holy Spirit a Person?

The personhood of the Holy Spirit is something many Christians assume. Because we are well used to the idea of the Trinity being a group of three persons, many people come to the texts of scripture with an a priori assumption that the Holy Spirit is person, and that wherever the Spirit of God is mentioned, that is understood to refer to a distinct person from the Father and the Son.

Others, on the other hand, have questioned this doctrine. Rather than approaching scripture with an assumption about the Spirit’s personhood, some have come to the scriptures viewing it as an open question, and have chosen to articulate what they understand of the scriptural data differently. Rather than seeing the Holy Spirit as a distinct person they suggest that the Holy Spirit is better understood as God’s active presence or power. They note that God is spirit, and therefore the mere etymology of “Holy Spirit” can fairly be taken as applicable to the one God, the Father. Also, the fact that the Spirit is never given distinct worship along with the Father and the Son, and that often in New Testament epistles simply a couplet of persons is mentioned (For example “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Cor 1:3 NKJV) are both pointed to supporting the idea that the Spirit is not a distinct person at all.

It must be admitted that the absence of distinct worship for the Holy Spirit and some of the other things these people point to do not seem to be what we would expect if the scriptures taught a co-equal Trinity of three persons, of which the Spirit is one.

There is, however, good scriptural reason to believe that the Holy Spirit is a person- such strong evidence, in fact, that while the point is never explicitly stated, it can be considered a necessary conclusion from what we are told in scripture. I would ask those who question the personhood of the Spirit to weigh these scriptural arguments objectively and ask themselves if there is really any room left for doubting that the Holy Spirit is a third distinct person in light of the following propositions:

Firstly, the Holy Spirit being sent by the Son indicates that the Son has authority over the Holy Spirit. This means that the Holy Spirit cannot be the Father, for if the Holy Spirit were the Father, or some aspect of His action, or some part of Him, then the Son could not have any authority over the Spirit, since “God is the head of Christ” (1 Cor 11:3). But if the Spirit were the Father, that statement would be untrue. Since the Father is the head of Christ, and is His God (Rev 3:12), Christ is under the authority and Godhood of the Father, not the other way around. If even part or some aspect of God were under the authority of the Son, statements such as that ‘God is the head of Christ’ would be untrue because in fact only part of God would be the head of Christ, while part would be under His headship, which is obviously absurd.

For the Spirit then to be under the authority of Christ would require that the Spirit is a distinct individual from the Father; and for the Spirit to be sent by the Son, is to show the Spirit to be under the authority of the Son, just as the Son being sent by the Father shows His own subordination to the Father. That the Spirit is sent by the Son (and thus under the headship of the Son) is seen clearly in two passages of scripture:

“But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me.” (John 15:26 NKJV)

“Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you.” (John 16:7) NKJV)

Thus the Spirit must be understood as a distinct person from the Father, since He is under the authority of the Son, while the Father is not, but is rather the God of His Son.

Secondly, along similar lines, the Spirit is also sent by the Father. “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.” (John 14:26 NKJV). This language shows that the Spirit is not merely the presence or activity of the Father, or a part of Him, since one does not “send” themself. That the Spirit is sent by God, and by His Son, shows that the Spirit is a distinct individual from the Father and the Son, Who is under the authority of both.

Thirdly, the Holy Spirit is said to intercede for believers:

“Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. 27 Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God” (Romans 8:26-27 NKJV)

Here we must consider what ‘interceding’ is. In the Greek, the term actually indicates praying for another. To intercede for someone is to make requests for them to another. Being an intercessor involves taking on an intermediary role between two parties, which requires being distinct from those two parties- one by definition cannot intercede for themself. The Spirit’s intercessions are between us and God, as the Spirit assists us in praying to God. This then shows that the Spirit is not merely an aspect or part of God, or God’s active presence, but is a really distinct individual from the one God, the Father.

All in all, these arguments require us to understand the Spirit as being a person. A person by definition is a rational individual. That the Spirit is under the authority of both God and His Son demonstrates that the Spirit is a distinct individual, as does His intercession on our behalf. That the Spirit is rational is clear from His knowing, speaking, and interceding throughout scripture. It is then an important and scripturally inescapable conclusion that the Holy Spirit is a person, distinct from both the persons of God and His Son.

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The Meaning of the Term ‘God’

That the Father is the one God is important to know, for scripture reveals it; but it is important to know not only that these words are true, but what those words mean according to the scriptures. How, after all, can the Father be the “one God” (1 Cor. 8:6), while the Son is also called God (Jn 1:1)?

To answer this question it is important to understand what the term “God” even means in itself. It is a term used very frequently throughout the scriptures, not only for the Supreme God, the Father, the “Lord God Pantokrator” (Rev 4:8), but also for beings as low as men and angels. As Jesus noted in John 10:35 “He [God] called them gods, to whom the word of God came”, speaking of a psalm where the men of Israel were called “gods”. In Psalm 82:1 “God stands in the congregation of the mighty; He judges among the gods”, calling created angels gods. Paul is well aware of this when he writes “For even if there are many called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as there are many gods and many lords), 6 yet for us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we live.”

Scripture then presents the word “God” as something which may be ascribed to many persons. What’s more, scripture treats the word “God” as a relative word, denoting relation rather than some absolute quality. Thus all throughout scripture we have statements where phrases like “my God”, “your God”, and “our God” are used. Sir Isaac Newton comments well on this point:

“This Being [God] governs all things, not as the soul of the world, but as Lord over all: And on account of his dominion he is wont to be called Lord God Pantokrator [Greek word usually translated “Almighty”], or Universal Ruler. For God is a relative word, and has a respect to servants; and Deity is the dominion of God, not over his own body, as those imagine who fancy God to be the soul of the world, but over servants. The supreme God is a Being eternal, infinite, absolutely perfect; but a being, however perfect, without dominion, cannot be said to be Lord God; for we say, my God, your God, the God of Israel, the God of Gods, and Lord of Lords; but we do not say, my Eternal, your Eternal, the Eternal of Israel, the Eternal of Gods; we do not say, my Infinite, or my Perfect: These are titles which have no respect to servants. The word God usually signifies a Lord; but every lord is not a God. It is the dominion of a spiritual being which constitutes a God; a true, supreme, or imaginary dominion makes a true, supreme, or imaginary God.” (Newton, General Scholium)

Newton’s observations well account for how scripture uses the term “God”. To be “God” therefore is to have dominion, and Godhood is dominion. Thus scripture can justly call the judges of Israel and holy angels “gods” without this in any way blaspheming the one supreme God, the Father. That the Father is the one God then does not tell us something about His nature, but rather tells us that He is the one Who alone has supreme dominion over all, absolutely. Thus on the one hand, as Paul and other scriptures said, there are many gods, and yet in another sense, the highest sense, there is only one God, the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, Who alone has dominion over all things absolutely. This dominion (or Godhood) extends not only over all creation, but also over His own only-begotten Son, as we saw above. Thus Christ could say to His disciples, looking forward to His ascension “I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.”

That the Son, although He is another individual person from the Father, the one God, is also called “God” should be no surprise at all. For the Lord said “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” (Matt 28:18). Having thus received Godhood over all creation from His Father, “in Him the fulness of deity dwells in bodily form” (Col 2:9). Nor was this deity something the Son merely received upon His exaltation to the right hand of the Father, but from the beginning, as the only-begotten Son of God begotten prior to creation and all time, the “the Word was God”. And thus the Son is called “Mighty God” (Isa 9:6), and thus the Psalmist says to the Son “Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: the sceptre of thy kingdom is a right sceptre. 7 Thou lovest righteousness, and hatest wickedness: therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows.” (Ps 45:6-7 KJV).

The Son is then God and true God, but this does not make Him the Lord God Almighty, the one God, the only true God- for these titles belong to His Father alone, as His Father alone has Godhood over all things absolutely, including over the Son Himself; while the Son has Godhood over all creation which was made through Him, given to Him by the Father, which He exercises according to the Father’s will, on His behalf (John 5:30).

Godhood then is dominion, not a nature, and to be “God” is to have this dominion. For Christians then there is one God, the Father, the one Supreme Ruler over all, and His Son is also God, because the Father has given Him a share in that dominion over all creation, while the Son Himself is still subject to the Father as His God.

Scripture then uses the term “God” as a term for an individual possessing dominion, without respect to the metaphysical nature or essence of that person. And in the case of the Father, Who is alone the Supreme God over all, “God” is frequently used as a name denoting His office. Just as King Richard, a monarch, may simply be referred to by His subjects as “the King”, and may simply be addressed as “King” as a name, yet “King” is used that way because of Richard’s office, not because “King” has become his proper name. Similarly in the case of the one God, the Father, Who is the Monarch of the universe, He is frequently called simply “God” as a name, and referred to by scripture without further qualification as “the God”, not because “God” is the proper name of the Father, but because it denotes His role as the one Who possesses supreme dominion (Godhood) over all.

Thus in scripture when the term “God” is used as a name for an individual without qualification, it nearly always refers to the Father, “the Lord God Pantokrator”, the Supreme God. We see this usage throughout the scriptures, for instance in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” In that verse it is clear that the person denoted by “God” is the Father, although there is no term in addition to God denoting that. That is because the default usage of the term “God” as a name, biblically, is in reference to the one God, the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ.

And thus also God can reveal His proper name and speak of His name being the unutterable tetragrammaton, for “God” is not His proper name, but a title denoting His Supreme Godhood over all (Jer 32:18).

This understanding is an important basis for any discussion of theology or the Trinity. Without knowing what we mean by the term “God” and what it means for there to be “one God”, and without knowing what “Godhood” is, we cannot hope to accurately evaluate theological statements concerning the Trinity.

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