Examining Scripture: Deuteronomy 6:4 “the Shema”- the Father, or the Trinity?

Deuteronomy 6:4 is a famous verse: “Hear, O Israel, The Lord our God is one Lord.” (LXX Bible). It is used not only by Christians, but also Jews and various other sects to prove that the scriptures teach monotheism, the belief that there is only one God.

This is of course true; but it is also noteworthy that this passage of scripture tells us that God is one and does not include an explanation of what is meant by this in relation to the Trinity. Revelation was progressive, and at this point in history, not as much detail had been revealed about the Trinity in the scriptures. That said, this verse is not primarily intended to teach us about the doctrine of the Trinity; it is a blanket statement of monotheism.

As previously discussed in The Priority of the New Testament in Trinitarian Doctrine, we must read less clear passages of scripture with the aid of those which are more clear. When a given passage of scripture reveals that there is only one God, and does not speak in further detail to how this fits with the doctrine of the Trinity, our first response should be to seek clarification on this topic from other passages of scripture that speak to this point. It is unwise to simply jump to trying to invent our own custom interpretation of the passage without examining it in light of other related passages of scripture.

When we look at New Testament passages related to Deut. 6:4, we find several. Firstly let us note that it is quoted in Mark 12:28-34:

“Then one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, perceiving that He had answered them well, asked Him, “Which is the first commandment of all?”

29 Jesus answered him, “The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. 31 And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

32 So the scribe said to Him, “Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth, for there is one God, and there is no other but He. 33 And to love Him with all the heart, with all the understanding, with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is more than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

34 Now when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”

But after that no one dared question Him.” (NKJV)

This whole exchange is admittedly vague enough to say that it does not speak with certainty as to who the person Deuteronomy 6:4 refers to is, but it is noteworthy at the very least that the Lord gives no indication whatsoever that he views that verse as referring to Himself. This is significant, because if the Trinity in totality were being referenced there, as semi-modalists suggest, then it would refer to Christ, along with the Father and the Spirit. The lack of any indication this is the case leaves no support for interpreting Deuteronomy 6:4 as referring to the whole Trinity in this passage.

Let us then examine other passages which could be considered parallel in the New Testament, inasmuch as they also speak of the fact that there is only one God:

“There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:4-5 NAS)

“This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” (John 17:3 NAS)

“yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him.” (1 Corinthians 8:6 NAS)

Unlike Deuteronomy 6:4, these passages not only state clearly that there is only one God, but also explicit identify Who is referred to by that title: the person of the Father in particular. Theses passages, unlike Deuteronomy 6:4 go beyond merely affirming monotheism to include detail on how these statements fit with the doctrine of the Trinity, by identifying the one God as the first person of the Trinity.

If then we are willing to read the less-clear passage, Deuteronomy 6:4, with the assistance of these more-clear passages, we will be forced to admit that the most reasonable interpretation of Who Deuteronomy 6:4 is referring to is the person of the Father alone. This is to read the less-clear passage in light of the more-clear, and to read both Testaments in tandem with each other, assuming that when scripture speaks of there being one God in the Old Testament it means the same thing, and refers to the same person, as the the New does when it speaks of the “one God”.

That Deuteronomy 6:4 is most reasonably taken, then, as speaking of the person of the Father, I have now shown. And on the basis of sound reasoning from the scriptures, this conclusion ought to be accepted. Yet I am aware that many throughout church history have insisted that this verse refers to the entire Trinity, or even to the person of the Son in some stranger interpretations. Because of this, I think it useful to include a few quotes here from the church fathers, showing that several of them also regarded this as an acceptable interpretation:

 

Ignatius of Antioch:

“For Moses, the faithful servant of God, when he said, “The Lord thy God is one Lord,” and thus proclaimed that there was only one God, did yet forthwith confess also our Lord when he said, “The Lord rained upon Sodom and Gomorrah fire and brimstone from the Lord.”” (Epistle to the Antiochenes, Chapter 2)

“There is then one God and Father, and not two or three; One who is; and there is no
other besides Him, the only true [God]. For “the Lord thy God,” saith [the Scripture], “is
one Lord.” And again, “Hath not one God created us? Have we not all one Father?
And there is also one Son, God the Word…” (Letter to the Philippians, Chapter 2)

Irenaeus of Lyons:

“…or shall it be (what is really the case) the Maker of heaven and earth, whom also the prophets proclaimed,—whom Christ, too, confesses as His Father,— whom also the law announces, saying: “Hear, O Israel; The Lord thy God is one God?”” (Against Heresies, Book 4, Chapter 2)

Apostolic Constitutions:

“For He did not take away the law of nature, but confirmed it. For He that said
in the law, “The Lord thy God is one Lord;”1168 the same says in the Gospel, “That they might know Thee, the only true God.”” (Apostolic Constitutions, Book 6, Section 4, Chapter 23)

Athanasius:

“Has then the divine teaching, which abolished the godlessness of the heathen or the
idols, passed over in silence, and left the race of mankind to go entirely unprovided with
the knowledge of God? Not so: rather it anticipates their understanding when it says:
“Hear, O Israel, the Lord thy God is one God;” and again, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy
God with all thy heart and with all thy strength;” and again, “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve, and shalt cleave to Him.” 2. But that the providence and ordering power of the Word also, over all and toward all, is attested by all inspired Scripture, this passage suffices to confirm our argument, where men who speak of God say: “Thou hast laid the foundation of the earth and it abideth. The day continueth according to Thine ordinance.” And again: “Sing to our God upon the harp, that covereth the heaven with clouds, that prepareth rain for the earth, that bringeth forth grass upon the mountains, and green herb for the service of man, and giveth food to the cattle.” 3. But by whom does He give it, save by Him through Whom all things were made? For the providence over all things belongs naturally to Him by Whom they were made; and who is this save the Word of God, concerning Whom in another psalm182 he says: “By the Word of the Lord were the heavens made, and all the host of them by the Breath of His mouth.”” (Contra the Heathen, Part 3)

And of the Father it is written, ‘The Lord thy God is One Lord,’ and, ‘The God of gods, the Lord, hath spoken, and hath called the earth;’ and of the Son, ‘The Lord God hath shined upon us,’ and, ‘The God of gods shall be seen in Sion.’ And again of God, Isaiah says, ‘Who is a God like unto Thee, taking away iniquities and passing over unrighteousness?’” (De Synodis, Part 3)

That the Word “God” Never Refers to Multiple Persons of the Trinity Together in Scripture

As we examined some in The Priority of the New Testament in Trinitarian Doctrine, semi-modalists have their own special hermeneutic by which they insist that the scriptures must be interpreted. This hermeneutic is nothing other than insisting that every time the word “God” is used without qualification, this refers to the entire Trinity. They then employ this to say that the vast majority of places in scripture in which God speaks, it is in fact the Trinity in view.

This hermeneutic has no basis in either scripture or rationality, but rather serves the end of semi-modalists by inserting their absurd concept of a person who is three persons into everywhere in scripture that does not explicitly state that this is not what is meant.

This is quite contrary to the plain sense of the scriptures. In most places scripture speaks of “God” there is something in the context which indicates that a single person is in view, such as a singular personal pronoun. This then excludes the Trinity from being in view in such places, as the Trinity is not a single person, but a group of three persons. When scripture tells us there is a single person in view by using singular personal pronouns, we must acknowledge that only one person, and thus not the entire Trinity, is in view.

The word “God” (except perhaps when speaking of idols) is in scripture only ever used for a single person in any given instance; there are myriad places in scripture where this is obvious from the context and grammar. It is only natural to read any ambiguous places the same way, since scripture is consistent with itself, and reason teaches us to interpret those passages which are less clear by those that are more clear. And if we take our hermeneutics from scripture, we will quickly see that not only is the word “God” used for a single person, but that usually the person in view is the Father, although sometimes it is used of the Son as well.

We can again arrive at this understanding from scripture itself. Throughout the New Testament, when the term “God” is used absolutely and without qualification, it is in reference to the person of the Father. This is ubiquitous throughout the New Testament. Only a few times the word is used for the Son. If then we read the the Old Testament with the aid of the New, so that we are interpreting those older scriptures in which were hidden many things in type and shadow and mystery with the aid of those scriptures which provide us with a fuller and clearer revelation, then we will likewise understand that normally in the Old Testament, as in the New, the term “God” is usually used to denote the person of the Father.

Several of Samuel Clarke’s theses from The Scripture Doctrine of the Trinity are related to this:

VIII. The Father (or First Person) is absolutely speaking, the God of the Universe; the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the God of Israel; of Moses, of the Prophets and Apostles; and the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

IX. The scripture, when it mentions the One God, or the Only God, always means the Supreme Person of the Father.

X. Whenever the Word, God, is mentioned in Scripture, with any High Epithet, Title, or Attribute annex’d to it; it generally (if not always) means the Person of the Father.

XI. The Scripture, when it mentions GOD, absolutely and by way of Eminence, always means the Person of the Father.

XXIV. The Word, God, in the New Testament, sometimes signifies the Person of the Son.

XXXIII. The Word, God, in Scripture, never signifies a complex Notion of more persons than One; but always means One person only, viz. either the person of the Father singly, or the person of the Son singly.

Clarke’s assessment of the manner in which scripture speaks is attested to by several early church fathers as well:

Justin Martyr

“Accordingly, it is shown that Solomon is not the Lord of hosts; but when our Christ rose from the dead and ascended to heaven, the rulers in heaven, under appointment of God, are commanded to open the gates of heaven, that He who is King of glory may enter in, and having ascended, may sit on the right hand of the Father until He make the enemies His footstool, as has been made manifest by another Psalm. For when the rulers of heaven saw Him of uncomely and dishonoured appearance, and inglorious, not recognising Him, they inquired, ‘Who is this King of glory?’ And the Holy Spirit, either from the person of His Father, or from His own person, answers them, ‘The Lord of hosts, He is this King of glory.’ For every one will confess that not one of those who presided over the gates of the temple at Jerusalem would venture to say concerning Solomon, though he was so glorious a king, or concerning the ark of testimony, ‘Who is this King of glory?'” (Dialogue With Trypho, Chapter 36)

“But when you hear the utterances of the prophets spoken as it were personally, you must not suppose that they are spoken by the inspired themselves, but by the Divine Word who moves them. For sometimes He declares things that are to come to pass, in the manner of one who foretells the future; sometimes He speaks as from the person of God the Lord and Father of all; sometimes as from the person of Christ; sometimes as from the person of the people answering the Lord or His Father, just as you can see even in your own writers, one man being the writer of the whole, but introducing the persons who converse. And this the Jews who possessed the books of the prophets did not understand, and therefore did not recognise Christ even when He came, but even hate us who say that He has come, and who prove that, as was predicted, He was crucified by them.” (First Apology, Chapter 36)

“And that this too may be clear to you, there were spoken from the person of the Father through Isaiah the Prophet, the following words: The ox knows his owner, and the ass his master’s crib; but Israel does not know, and My people has not understood. Woe, sinful nation, a people full of sins, a wicked seed, children that are transgressors, you have forsaken the Lord. And again elsewhere, when the same prophet speaks in like manner from the person of the Father, What is the house that you will build for Me? Says the Lord. The heaven is My throne, and the earth is My footstool. Isaiah 66:1 And again, in another place, Your new moons and your sabbaths My soul hates; and the great day of the fast and of ceasing from labour I cannot away with; nor, if you come to be seen of Me, will I hear you: your hands are full of blood; and if you bring fine flour, incense, it is abomination unto Me: the fat of lambs and the blood of bulls I do not desire. For who has required this at your hands? But loose every bond of wickedness, tear asunder the tight knots of violent contracts, cover the houseless and naked, deal your bread to the hungry. Isaiah 1:14, Isaiah 58:6 What kind of things are taught through the prophets from [the person of] God, you can now perceive.
And when the Spirit of prophecy speaks from the person of Christ, the utterances are of this sort: I have spread out My hands to a disobedient and gainsaying people, to those who walk in a way that is not good. Isaiah 65:2 And again: I gave My back to the scourges, and My cheeks to the buffetings; I turned not away My face from the shame of spittings; and the Lord was My helper: therefore was I not confounded: but I set My face as a firm rock; and I knew that I should not be ashamed, for He is near that justifies Me. Isaiah 50:6 And again, when He says, They cast lots upon My vesture, and pierced My hands and My feet. And I lay down and slept, and rose again, because the Lord sustained Me. And again, when He says, They spoke with their lips, they wagged the head, saying, Let Him deliver Himself. And that all these things happened to Christ at the hands of the Jews, you can ascertain. For when He was crucified, they did shoot out the lip, and wagged their heads, saying, Let Him who raised the dead save Himself. Matthew 27:39
And when the Spirit of prophecy speaks as predicting things that are to come to pass, He speaks in this way: For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. And He shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people; and they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. Isaiah 2:3 And that it did so come to pass, we can convince you. For from Jerusalem there went out into the world, men, twelve in number, and these illiterate, of no ability in speaking: but by the power of God they proclaimed to every race of men that they were sent by Christ to teach to all the word of God; and we who formerly used to murder one another do not only now refrain from making war upon our enemies, but also, that we may not lie nor deceive our examiners, willingly die confessing Christ. For that saying, The tongue has sworn but the mind is unsworn, might be imitated by us in this matter. But if the soldiers enrolled by you, and who have taken the military oath, prefer their allegiance to their own life, and parents, and country, and all kindred, though you can offer them nothing incorruptible, it were verily ridiculous if we, who earnestly long for incorruption, should not endure all things, in order to obtain what we desire from Him who is able to grant it.” (First Apology, Chapter 37-39)

Irenaeus of Lyons

“it is necessary to say that it is not David who speaks, nor any one of the prophets, in his own person: for it is not a man who speaks the prophecies; but the Spirit of God, assimilating and likening Himself to the persons represented, speaks in the prophets, and utters the words sometimes from Christ and sometimes from the Father.” (Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching)

Origen

“But if he were dealing honestly in his accusations, he ought to have given the exact terms of the prophecies, whether those in which the speaker is introduced as claiming to be God Almighty, or those in which the Son of God speaks, or finally those under the name of the Holy Spirit.” (Against Celsus, Book 7, Ch 10)

All these ancient theologians attest to the fact that throughout the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit speaks sometimes in the person of men, as recording what they said, and at other times in His own person, and at other times He speaks in the person of the Son, or of the Father, as communicating Their words. They never consider it possible nor make any mention of the possibility that “a complex notion of more persons than one” is speaking as a single person.

The Priority of the New Testament in Trinitarian Doctrine

Semi-modalists, wishing to make it seem as though the scriptures support their idea that the three persons of the Trinity are a single person, often rely heavily on the Old Testament for their arguments. In doing so, they twist the Old Testament scriptures contrary to their true meaning. This is a deceptive tactic that takes advantage of the fact that God’s revelation in scripture is progressive. The Old Testament did not deliver a full disclosure of all doctrinal truth to God’s people. Thus the New Testament is clear in speaking of the fact that some things were hidden in a mystery until the coming of Christ, when the mysteries were revealed, and a fuller knowledge was given:

“Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you, 11 searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. 12 To them it was revealed that, not to themselves, but to us[b] they were ministering the things which now have been reported to you through those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things which angels desire to look into.” (1 Peter 1:10-12 NKJV)

“Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret since the world began” (Romans 16:25 NKJV)

“However, we speak wisdom among those who are mature, yet not the wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. 7 But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory, 8 which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9 But as it is written: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, Nor have entered into the heart of man The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” 10 But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 2:6-10a NKKV)

“8 To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9 and to make all see what is the fellowship[a] of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ;[b] 10 to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places, 11 according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through faith in Him.” (Ephesian 3:8-12 NKJV)

“of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God which was given to me for you, to fulfill the word of God, 26 the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints. 27 To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which[d] is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Colossians 1:25-27 NKJV)

Even during the Lord’s earthy ministry, He left some things hidden as a mystery to most, only revealing the fullness of His teaching to the apostles privately:

“And He said to them, “To you it has been given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God; but to those who are outside, all things come in parables,” (Mark 4:11 NKJV)

Such was the nature of the law of bondage given through Moses, that through earthly and carnal types and shadows, the people might be lead away from idolatry and drawn up to spiritual and heavenly truths, delivered to them in a mystery. And likewise, because of the hardness of the peoples’ hearts, even the Lord Himself did not make known the fullness of divine revelation to them, but preached to them in parables.

The Old Testament scriptures then, although “written for our sakes”, and profitable for us, do not deliver the fullness of divine revelation in the fullness and clarity that we see in the New Testament, when type and shadow have given way to worship in spirit and truth, and a knowledge of divine mysteries hidden in ages past. For this reason then, Christians have historically interpreted the Old Testament in light of the New, since in the New we have a more clear and full revelation by which to understand the mysteries of the Old. Reason would have us interpret that which is less clear by that which is more clear; and on that basis, we must interpret the types of the Old Testament by the fulfillment and revelation of the New.

When we come to the doctrine of the Trinity then, it should not surprise us that we do not see it revealed in the same detail and clarity in the Old Testament as in the New. And yet, semi-modalists often treat the Old Testament with priority over the New in respect to trinitarian doctrine, because this allows them to twist the less-clear teachings of the Old Testament to their own ends.

For example, typically semi-modalists will establish the scripture’s teaching that there is only one God, not from the New Testament, but from the Old. They will quote passages that speak clearly about the fact that there is only one God, and no other, and yet do not usually clearly speak of how that fits within the doctrine of the Trinity. They then ignore the New Testament passages that are equally clear in teaching that there is one God, and also give detail on how this fits with the doctrine of the Trinity at the same time by explicitly identifying the one God as the person of the Father alone.

Instead of using the clarity offered by the New Testament as a starting point and an aid to interpreting the Old, semi-modalists want to treat them in a disjointed fashion and refuse to read the Old in light of the New on this subject. But if we start with the New Testament, we are able to easily understand not only that there is one God, but that this is the person of the Father. Once we understand this, we can easily understand that the person referred to as the “one God” in the Old Testament is the same person as in the New- the person of the Father.

We also see in the New Testament that usually the term “God” is used for the person of the Father, only being used for other persons in a few instances. Careful reflection on this point teaches us that the normal expectation we should have for what the word “God” refers to in scripture is the person of the Father, although we must examine context to see if it may be speaking of a different person. Yet this convention is ignored and contradicted by the semi-modalists, and when “God” is used in the Old Testament, instead of basing their understanding of what is referred to by it off of the New, and understanding that in most cases it refers to the person of the Father, they make up their own rules instead which have no warrant from scripture whatsoever.

They have invented their own hermeneutic, not drawn from scripture in the slightest, but contrary to it, that whenever the word “God” is used in scripture absolutely and without qualification, this must be understood to refer to the entire Trinity. This is an absurd proposition, but one that is necessary for their false teaching. By mutilating the meaning of the scriptures this way, they insert their false doctrine into the whole Bible.

If human authority can arbitrarily establish rules by which we must interpret scripture contrary to its natural meaning, then surely the semi-modalists cannot be argued against on this point. But if anyone will admit that we must interpret the Bible only by rules of interpretation founded upon sound reason and the way scripture itself teaches us to interpret it, then it will quickly be recognized that the semi-modalist hermeneutic must be rejected as a human contrivance designed to further the dogma of semi-modalism.

If the term “God” used absolutely and without qualification nearly always refers to the person of the Father in the New Testament, which is clear throughout, then what possible sense would it make to read the Old Testament differently? It makes no sense, as one God is the author of both Testaments, speaking through His one Word, authoring the scriptures by the inspiration of one Holy Spirit. The Old and New Testament are consistent with each other, not teaching one God in the Old, and a different God, the Father, in the New, but both Testaments teaching and affirming that there is only one God, the Father Almighty, Who created all things through His only-begotten Son.

Equivocation Over the Term “Person”

Semi-modalism is the false doctrine that teaches that the three real persons of the Trinity are together a single person. Most semi-modalists, however, refuse to use the term “person” for the Trinity, although conceptually they treat the Trinity as a whole as a person in every way except using that term for it.

For example, instead of saying that they believe that ‘God is a person who is three persons’, they will say that ‘God is a being who is three persons’. This sounds closer to orthodoxy; yet there is no substantial difference in meaning.

Such is the skillful deceptiveness of this soul-poisoning error. By minutely altering that ancient saying “one essence in three persons” to “one being in three persons”, no apparent error is introduced, since “being” is a term vague enough to denote either person or essence. Yet this vagueness is used to alter the meaning entirely from the original.

For when the semi-modalist speak of one “being” who is the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, is it not obvious from their employment of the personal pronoun “who” that they regard this being as a person, just as when we speak of a “human being”, we usually do not refer to the human nature considered in abstract, but to an individual human person? So these deceivers equivocate with the terminology of “being” to teach their counterfeit doctrine of the Trinity, which in truth is no doctrine of the Trinity at all, since by making the Trinity itself as a whole out to be a person they introduce a fourth person, and destroy the doctrine of the Trinity and instead teach a quadrinity.

Yet these false teachers act as though if only they can avoid pronouncing the word “person” they will not be convicted of error by the Lord, as though the word used in expressing oneself is the thing of primary importance, and not the meaning and idea behind it.

Others will say that the Trinity as a whole, that is, the Father, Son, and Spirit together are not one person, (for they deny this word), but rather say that it is a single subsistent “thing” or “reality”. Again we see what vague language they must introduce in order to keep up the subterfuge that they are trinitarians. What then, is this “thing” which is the Father, the Son, and the Spirit together, when we closely enquire as to their meaning?

We find that this “thing” meets the very definition they will admit for “person”; though they pretend they are not the same. For a person, they will say, is an individual subsistence of a rational nature. Thus angels, for example, as being both individual existences and possessing a rational nature, are persons. So too they will admit individual men are persons under this definition, and also the real persons of the Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. But what then is this thing? For they identify this “thing”, this “reality” which is the Trinity as truly existing, or subsisting, and define it as being individual and singular, and also regard it as being of a rational nature, namely, the divine nature. In what area then, does it fall short of the definition of “person”? In truth, it does not.

And the same false teachers treat this “thing” which meets the definition of a ‘person’, yet is robbed of the title by them, as being a person in every way. They pray to “God the Trinity”, the “triune God”; they speak of this “thing” using singular personal pronouns; they attribute to it consciousness, will, and action, and speech, and in short, everything pertaining to a person, excepting that they deny it the word “person”. Their deception then is obvious, although perhaps it is as much a self-deception as it is a deception of those who hear them.

Let those then who equivocate over the terminology of “person” give up their subterfuge, and like Van Til, come out and openly admit what they think in language that does not hide it. For by hiding their true belief behind ambiguous language, and equivocating as they do, do they not acknowledge the shamefulness of their own belief? For if it is true, it is noble, for truth is excellent; let them then come out and openly make it known. Or else why do they so dishonor the god of their imaginations by denying him personhood? What insult to the “triune God”, that he may receive men’s worship and prayers, and be called by personal pronouns, and have names and titles belonging to the real persons of the Trinity applied to him, and yet he is denied the honor of being called a person!

Or if those who are merely confused and ill taught speak in these ways, and treat the Trinity as a person in the way they speak, and yet acknowledge that it is in truth an error to regard the Trinity as a whole as a person, and for this reason deny it the term “person”, they do well; but let them then abandon their misunderstanding wholeheartedly, and not waver between truth and error any longer. But let them acknowledge the one true God as a person; the person of the Father. And let them acknowledge a second divine person also, one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of the one true God, and together with Him and His Father, Who is the one true God, let them acknowledge a third divine person, the Holy Spirit. And these three persons together are the Trinity; not a singular person, but a group of three and only three persons. And so we may return to that ancient faith in one God, and His only-begotten Son, and His Holy Spirit, and not giving in to any system of false doctrine that would confound this to teach a person who is three persons.

 

Demonstration From Scripture that the One God is the Father in Particular

It is important to see every point of doctrine proven from scripture in order to know with certainty that it is true; conversely we endanger ourselves if we rashly accept what merely seems plausible without a true demonstration from the scriptures. For scripture commands that we “Test all things; hold fast what is good.” (1 Thess 5:21)

For those who think this idea is merely a peculiarity of the protestant tradition, we may learn that this idea is in fact a patristic doctrine held by the early church fathers:

“Have thou ever in thy mind this seal, which for the present has been lightly touched in my discourse, by way of summary, but shall be stated, should the Lord permit, to the best of my power with the proof from the Scriptures. For concerning the divine and holy mysteries of the Faith, not even a casual statement must be delivered without the Holy Scriptures; nor must we be drawn aside by mere plausibility and artifices of speech. Even to me, who tell thee these things, give not absolute credence, unless thou receive the proof of the things which I announce from the Divine Scriptures. For this salvation which we believe depends not on ingenious reasoning, but on demonstration of the Holy Scriptures.” (Cyril, Archbishop of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lecture 4)

We see the same idea expressed by Clement of Alexandria:

“But those who are ready to toil in the most excellent pursuits, will not desist from the search after truth, till they get the demonstration from the Scriptures themselves… He, then, who of himself believes the Scripture and voice of the Lord, which by the Lord acts to the benefiting of men, is rightly [regarded] faithful. Certainly we use it as a criterion in the discovery of things. What is subjected to criticism is not believed till it is so subjected; so that what needs criticism cannot be a first principle. Therefore, as is reasonable, grasping by faith the indemonstrable first principle, and receiving in abundance, from the first principle itself, demonstrations in reference to the first principle, we are by the voice of the Lord trained up to the knowledge of the truth.
For we may not give our adhesion to men on a bare statement by them, who might equally state the opposite. But if it is not enough merely to state the opinion, but if what is stated must be confirmed, we do not wait for the testimony of men, but we establish the matter that is in question by the voice of the Lord, which is the surest of all demonstrations, or rather is the only demonstration; in which knowledge those who have merely tasted the Scriptures are believers; while those who, having advanced further, and become correct expounders of the truth, are Gnostics. Since also, in what pertains to life, craftsmen are superior to ordinary people, and model what is beyond common notions; so, consequently, we also, giving a complete exhibition of the Scriptures from the Scriptures themselves, from faith persuade by demonstration.” (Stromata, Book 7, Chapter 16)

And Irenaeus of Lyons considered it so important to see even the most basic tenets of the Christian faith demonstrated from the scriptures, and not believed on the authority of mere human opinion, that he authored his Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching, in which he admirably shows the agreement of the holy tradition of the church with the holy and infallible scriptures, and proves each point of the traditional faith from the same.

And the teaching of these ancient Christians is itself well supported from the scriptures, which commend the Jews of Berea as “noble-minded”(Act 17:11) because they did not accept or reject what the Apostle Paul himself taught except upon seeing it proven from the scriptures, the Holy Spirit through the apostle in another place commanding every Christian to “Test all things; hold fast what is good.” (1 Thess 5:21).

Having then, demonstrated the need for demonstration from the scriptures itself from the scriptures, and having provided a few testimonies to the same effect from the holy fathers of the church, let us move on to our main subject, concerned with the identity of the one God.

The opinion of many, led astray by false teachers, is that the one God is a person who is the three persons of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The greater part who have been deceived have no idea of their own peril, but having uncritically accept what some teachers have told them, have been carried away by lies contrary to the teaching of scripture.

But the teaching of scripture stands, and the truth in unchanged by the false opinions of the multitude. And as Justin Martyr says “Neither shall light ever be darkness as long as light exists, nor shall the truth of the things pertaining to us be controverted. For truth is that than which nothing is more powerful. Every one who might speak the truth, and speaks it not, shall be judged by God.” I must then, although I would rather avoid the controversy entailed, do my best to speak the truth, although I am the least of all Christians.

The points of doctrine then, which I undertake to prove from the scriptures, that you may have a true knowledge of them, not founded on human opinion or plausible arguments, but upon proof from very voice of God speaking in the holy scriptures, are these:

  1. That the “one God” of scripture is a person.
  2. That the person of the one God is the Father in particular.

Firstly, let us fix in our minds what a “person” is: a person is commonly acknowledged to be an individual of a rational nature. For instance, we may speak of human persons, since individual men are individual and possess a rational nature. We may also regard angelic creatures as persons, since they also exist as individuals and possess a rational nature. God, His Son, and His Spirit are also persons, since each of them is an individual of a rational nature. Persons, since they are by definition rational and individual, possess their own distinct consciousness, will, and mind. As rational individuals, they act, think, and speak.

That the “one God” scripture reveals is a person is demonstrated from;

  • That it is self-evident that the “one God” is individual.
  • His actions demonstrate that He is rational.
  • That He is God proves He is rational, since rationality is necessary to exercise dominion and rule as God does.
  • Scripture’s use of singular personal pronouns for Him demonstrates that He is an individual.

Thus, once we see all these points proven, we will have it proven that the one God is both rational and individual; thus, by definition, a person.

We see that the one God acts in these passages of scripture:

“Have we not all one Father? Has not one God created us? Why do we deal treacherously with one another By profaning the covenant of the fathers?” (Malachi 2:10)

“since there is one God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith.” (Romans 3:30)

We see that God is rational from these passages of scripture:

““Come now, and let us reason together,” Says the Lord, “Though your sins are like scarlet, They shall be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They shall be as wool.” (Isaiah 1:18)

“Have you not known? Have you not heard? The everlasting God, the Lord, The Creator of the ends of the earth, Neither faints nor is weary. His understanding is unsearchable.” (Isaiah 40:28)

“For the Lord gives wisdom; From His mouth come knowledge and understanding;” (Proverbs 2:6)

Having it proven then from the holy scriptures that the one God is rational, and from the very term “one God” itself having it self-evident that He is individual, we have proven that He is a person. But scripture gives us further proof of this by using singular personal pronouns for Him; since by definition a singular personal pronoun indicates a single person.

We have already quoted above:

“since there is one God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith.” (Romans 3:30)

The “one God” then is not an “it” and so impersonal, but is rather called by scripture “who”, thus teaching us that the one God is a person.

“So the scribe said to Him, “Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth, for there is one God, and there is no other but He. 33 And to love Him with all the heart, with all the understanding, with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is more than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” Now when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”” (Mark 12:32-34)

Here the scribe says that there is one God, and calls Him “He”. If then, the one God were not a person, then the scribe did not indeed answer wisely, since he speaks of Him as one. But Christ, the Wisdom of God, acknowledges that “he answered wisely”.

Again the Spirit through Paul teaches

“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.” (1 Corinthians 8:6)

We see then the one God spoken of with the singular personal pronouns “whom” and “Him”.

Lastly we will cite Ephesians 4:6:

“one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.”

Here again we see the one God is proven to be a person by the use of the personal pronoun “who”.

So we see it proven again that the one God is a person, having proved it first from the fact that scripture shows the one God to be an individual of a rational nature, and thus a person by definition, so also we have now shown that scripture declares that the one God is a person by using personal pronouns for Him. We have then, demonstrated from infallible scripture this first point of doctrine, that the one God is a person.

On then, to the second point of doctrine of our demonstration, that is, having established that the one God is a person, proving now from the scriptures that He is the person of the Father in particular.

This is made clear from the following passages:

“There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.” Ephesians 4:4-5 NAS

Here the one God is explicitly shown to be the same person as the Father.

“This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” John 17:3 NAS

Here the Lord teaches us to call the Father the “only true God” by His own example when He prayed to the Father on the night He was betrayed.

“yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him.” 1 Corinthians 8:6 NAS

Here the Holy Spirit expressly declares through the apostle that the one God is the Father.

From these explicit testimonies is clearly demonstrated the fact that the one God is the Father. And He cannot be, as some have though, the Father, the Son, and the Spirit if He is a person; for a person, as we have said, is an individual, and thus singular. And we also noted the use of singular, not plural, personal pronouns used for the one God, thus proving that the one God is not a company of persons but a single person, and that this person is none other than the Father, the one Whom the Lord Jesus Christ called “the only true God”.

Here then both points of doctrine have been clearly and thoroughly proven from the scriptures; let he who has ears hear. What you may once have safely regarded as mere opinion is now declared to you by the voice of God to be sure and certain truth, which cannot be safely disregarded.

But someone will perhaps not regard the testimony of scripture alone as sufficient, but will require an official ruling from the church. Such foolishness deserves no answer; but that they may through the truth be drawn to repentance, let them read only the first line of the Creed composed by the Council of Nicea, the first ecumenical council, when it says “We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things..” and they will know that what I have already demonstrated from the scriptures is indeed true.

 

Above scripture quotations taken from the NKJV unless otherwise noted.

The Need to Be Discerning Regarding the Doctrine of the Trinity

Scripture calls Christians to “Test all things; hold fast what is good.” (1 Thessalonians 5:21 NKJV). This is important when we come to the doctrines of the Christians faith, since scripture warns that there are many false teachers and antichrists who have gone forth teaching false doctrine, twisting the scriptures to their own destruction (1 John 2:18-22).

In the face of so many false teachers, it is important to see every point of doctrine proven from scripture before we believe it, in order to have certainty regarding every point of doctrine, rather than merely being carried away with strange theories, mere probabilities, and false teachings.

On this subject, fourth century church father Cyril Archbishop of Jerusalem said:

“Have thou ever in thy mind this seal, which for the present has been lightly touched in my discourse, by way of summary, but shall be stated, should the Lord permit, to the best of my power with the proof from the Scriptures.  For concerning the divine and holy mysteries of the Faith, not even a casual statement must be delivered without the Holy Scriptures; nor must we be drawn aside by mere plausibility and artifices of speech. Even to me, who tell thee these things, give not absolute credence, unless thou receive the proof of the things which I announce from the Divine Scriptures.  For this salvation which we believe depends not on ingenious reasoning, but on demonstration of the Holy Scriptures.”

It is necessary then, to have clear demonstration form the scriptures on every point of doctrine, so that we have a sure and true knowledge of what is true.

In the Protestant tradition, this idea is greatly emphasized as part of doctrine of Sola Scriptura. Protestantism broke with the Roman Catholic church in large part over the doctrines regarding how a person is saved and brought into fellowship with God (this area of doctrine is called soteriology).

Protestants disagreed with the Roman Catholic Church’s teaching on soteriology because they saw that it was contrary to what scripture teaches. They examined the Roman doctrines on the basis of scripture, and found that they contradicted them. So they instead sought to articulate what scripture teaches on soteriology as accurately as possible.

This caused a great deal of controversy. In the midst of this controversy, a great deal of work was put into how to best and most accurately articulate soteriology. Hundreds of well-known theologians of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries expended a great deal of energy to articulate these doctrines in an extremely detailed and thorough way. To this day, as a result, many modern Protestants are still very articulate in this area of doctrine. Even those who are largely untrained in theology and doctrine are often able to articulate soteriology in some detail, and are able to distinguish between their own understanding of it and the Roman Catholic position.

The outlook of critically examining what is being said on the topic of soteriology in order to avoid accepting false teaching that cannot be proven from scripture is a common one among believing Protestants. This is in large part because the doctrinal truths regarding how a person is reconciled to God are recognized as being extremely important, and that importance leads people to take the issue seriously and not just accept anything they hear without seeing actual proof from scripture.

This attitude is largely non-existent, however, in regards to the doctrines pertaining to the Trinity. This is unfortunate because these doctrines are foundational even to soteriology itself. Rejection of them constitutes a rejection of Christianity. What is at the core of what is being dealt with in trinitarian doctrine is the very identities of the persons of God, His Son, and His Holy Spirit. Who is the God we are reconciled to and forgiven our sins by in the gospel? Who is the Lord Jesus Christ through Whom we have this salvation? Who is the Spirit Christians are sealed with? It is these questions that are ultimately at stake in trinitarian doctrine.

Christians need to strive to have an attitude that is more obedient to the scripture’s command to “test everything, and hold fast that which is good” in respects to the doctrine of the Trinity. Too often it seems like the attitude people take towards trinitarian doctrine is far different than that they have towards soteriology. Unlike soteriology, trinitarian doctrine is regarded as something esoteric and mysterious, to be accepted from trustworthy teachers without question or criticism- without discernment. This opens the door to receiving false teaching, intentional and otherwise. Just as many recognize a need to exercise careful discernment in respect to the gospel, lest they believe a false gospel, so we must also exercise discernment in respect to the doctrine of the Trinity, lest we find ourselves believing a false doctrine of the Trinity.

Just as it is not sufficient for us to believe a point of doctrine related to soteriology that a notable and respected theologian has taught without also critically examining what is being taught and making sure it can be proven from scripture, so also we need to do more than just ‘take Augustine’s word for it’ with respect to the Trinity. The fact that men like Augustine, Calvin, and Van Til have said or not said something on any point of doctrine does nothing to make that point of doctrine true or false. Even the godliest, wisest, most intelligent men err. No amount of good intentions makes it impossible to make an honest mistake, or to misunderstand something. We need to be willing to do the work of looking critically at what theologians tell us about the doctrine of the Trinity- and only accepting that which we see truly proven from the scriptures. Without a critical attitude on these doctrines, we open ourselves up to adopt all the errors and mistakes of those we learn from, in addition to all they teach correctly.

Reclaiming the Language of the Nicene Creed

The Nicene Creed, which is historically one of the most important trinitarian confessions, begins by saying “We believe in one God, the Father Almighty…”. Scripture speaks this way as well:

“This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” John 17:3 NAS

“…yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him.” 1 Corinthians 8:6 NAS

But the equation of the “one God” with the person of the Father in particular is something that many modern Christians are uncomfortable with. There are actually quite a few legitimate reasons why this might be the case.

Many anti-trinitarian heresies comandeer this sort of language to try to argue against the divinity of Christ. Jews, Arians, Socinians, Muslims, and various other anti-trinitarian heresies all argue that the one God is the Father in particular in order to exclude the Son from divinity. They try to weaponize what the Nicene Creed lays out as the first article of the Christian faith, in order to deny the second.

In light of this, it is understandable that the language of “the one God being the Father” would make some people uncomfortable.

Despite this, I would argue that we must seek to reclaim the language of scripture on this matter, rather than cast it aside because if its misuse by heretics. Defining the “one God” of the Christian faith as the Father is something scripture does, and language scripture uses. Its the way that God chose to reveal these truths to us. We must seek to embrace the langauge scripture uses on this matter, while being careful at the same time to distinguish what we believe from anti-trinitarian heresies.

This is precisely what the early church did. Although in the first few centuries of Christianity the church was faced with several heresies attacking the fundamental articles of the faith, including the divinity of Christ, hereies which often twisted and misused scripture in doing so, the early church did not reject the concepts and language of scripture that were being misused. Rather, they contended for them, and carefully distinguished what they were saying from the false teaching of the various heretical sects. This is why the Nicene Council, for example, although writing in opposition to Arianism in the defense of trinitarianism, did not shy away from saying that the “one God” is “the Father Almighty” in the very document in which they were articulating the doctrine of the Trinity. Its misuse by heretics did not stop them from embracing the doctrine that the one God is the person of the Father- instead they sought to demonstrate how this truth is compatible with the other doctrines that scripture teaches that Arianism opposed.