When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?”
So they said, “Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.” [Matthew 16:13-17]*
In the first two installments of this series, we looked at the Messianic prophecies and their fulfillment as proof that Jesus of Nazareth was the promised Messiah.
As we continue this series we will now look at the Scriptural teachings that because Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah, He is more than a mere man—He is the very incarnation of God.
Before delving into this definitional doctrine,ŧ we must precede the study with looking into another definitional doctrine—the Trinity.
B. B. Warfield, cited in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia explains the doctrine in this manner:
When we have said these three things, then—that there is but one God, that the Father and the Son and the Spirit is each God, that the Father and the Son and the Spirit is each a distinct [not separate] person—we have enunciated the doctrine of the Trinity in its completeness.
It is important to note that the “one-ness” of the Godhead, and the “three-ness” of the Persons do not exist in the same respect. The terms “one” and “three” are not simultaneously affirming and denying the same thing at the same time. When we say God is One, we are referring to His essence or substance. When we say God is Three, we refer to the plurality of Persons, who are of the same essence. The One-ness of God is expressed in His unity of character, purpose, and will. The Three-ness of God is manifest in relational and functional aspects.
The clearest statement of the One-ness of God is found in what is called the “Shema” [pronounced “sh’-MĂH”, not “SHĒ-măh”]: Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! [Deuteronomy 6:4]. [In Hebrew, this reads: Sh’mah Y’Is-ro-ayl, ‘Ah-do-nai ‘Eh-lo-hay-nu, ‘Ah-do-nai ‘eh-khad!]Throughout the Old Testament, it is repeated that there is no God but One [Deuteronomy 4:35, 39; 32:39; 1 Samuel 2:2; 2 Samuel 7:22; 22:32; 1 Kings 8:23, 60; 2 Kings 19:19; Psalm 86:10; Isaiah 43:10; 44:6, 8; 45:5-6, 18, 21-22; 46:9; Jeremiah 10:6; Joel 2:27]. This affirmation is carried over in the New Testament [Mark 12:32; John 17:3; Romans 3:29-30; 1 Corinthians 8:4; Galatians 3:20; Ephesians 4:6; 1 Timothy 2:5; James 2:19].
So we have no problem with asserting that there is only one God. The problem comes when we assert that although there is only one God, that He is manifested in a plurality of three persons. First off, it must be noted that nothing in the Old Testament prohibits or eliminates such a declaration from consideration.
Why can we say this? This is the first point we must recognize—that there is a difference in meaning between being and personhood.
To support this idea, one must first look at the Hebrew word ‘eh-KHAD, [translated as “one”] found in the Shema. The word designates what Hebrew specialists call “composite unity.” The same word is found in Genesis 2:24 to describe the relationship between husband and wife when they are said to be l’bah-shar ekh-ad, which most translations render as “one flesh.” The same word is found in Numbers 13:23, when the 12 spies returned to the Israelites after spending forty days in the promised land. When they returned they brought with them ‘ah-nah-viim ‘ekh-ad which was so large that it required two men to carry it on a pole. While the phrase is usually rendered as and understood to be one [NKJV] or a single cluster of grapes [NASB, ESV, HCSB], the phrase itself is literally “one grapes,” the singular number in conjunction with the plural noun signifying composite unity. The same construction of singular number in conjunction with a plural noun is found in the Shema, when it says ‘Ah-do-nai ‘eh-khad is ‘Eh-lo-hey-nu. This is a predicate construction in which the plural noun ‘Ey-lo-hey-nu is linked to a singular number/subject.
Which leads to the second point suggesting a plurality of persons within the Godhead. The word translated as “God” from the Hebrew in most instances in the OT is ‘Eh-lo-hiim, the plural form of ‘Eh-loh.
The third clue indicative of plurality of persons within the Godhead is found in four notable passages within the Old Testament: Genesis 1:26; 3:22-24; 11:6-7; Isaiah 6:8. In those passages, God speaks in the first person plural. Some commentators attempt to explain God’s use of the first person plural as a form of the majestic or editorial plural. Even suggesting the majestic plural originated in the Old Testament. The only problem with this is that there is no record in the Old Testament where any of the Hebrew kings ever referred to himself in this manner.
On the John Ankerberg Show in 1985, a debate occurred which featured E. Calvin Beisner and the late Walter Martin debating Nathaniel Urshan and Robert Sabin from the United Pentecostal Church on the nature of the Trinity. Urshan and Sabin represent a cult which denies the Trinity and argued that the instances of God using the first person plural in the Old Testament were examples of the majestic plural. Martin debunked this, showing that this understanding and usage of the first person plural did not occur until the middle ages to bolster the claims of the so-called “Divine Right of Kings” in which many European kings claimed to be speaking for God and thereby invoked the right to speak of themselves in the plural.
An additional Old Testament evidence suggestive of a plurality of Persons within the Godhead is the theophanies during which God [believed to be the second Person of the Trinity] appeared. Examples of Theophanies are:
The Angel of the Lord: Genesis 16:7-14; Genesis 22:11-18; Exodus 14:19 [ Cf. Exodus 16:10; 24:16-17; 33:9-10; 40:34-38; Numbers 12:5; 16:42; Deuteronomy 1:33; 31:15]; Numbers 22:22-35; Judges 2:1-4; Judges 6:11-23; Judges 13:3-22.] Four characteristics show that these events were visible manifestations of God: (a) when the Angel of the Lord spoke, He spoke as God. (b) The Angel of the Lord is viewed as being identical to the Shekinah [the pillar of smoke and fire which led the Israelites through the wilderness and which abided over the Tabernacle in the wilderness]. (c) The Angel of the Lord accepted worship and sacrifice [Compare to Revelation 19:9-10; 22:8-9]. (d) In Judges 13:18, when asked His Name, the Angel of the Lord stated that it was “Wonderful,” the same Hebrew word used in the Messianic passage in Isaiah 9:6-7 which identifies the Messiah as being the Incarnation of God.
The One who wrestled with Jacob: Genesis 32:24-32. When Jacob asked for the Name of his opponent, the response he received was the same response as was given to Manoah in Judges 13:18.
The Captain of the host of the Lord: Joshua 5:13-15. The One who appeared to Joshua claims the same reverence as was demanded of Moses at the burning bush [Exodus 3:5-6]. The passage shows that Joshua did indeed bow in worship. If this was merely an angelic being and not a visible manifestation of God, he would not have accepted worship. [Compare with Revelation 19:9-10; 22:8-9.]
Why are these theophanies believed to be appearances of Christ prior to His incarnation? There are three reasons: (a) No man has seen the Father at any time—Exodus 33:20; Job 9:11; 23:8; John 1:18; 5:37; 1 Timothy 1:17; 6:16; 1 John 4:12. (b) The Son is the express image of the Father—John 14:9; Colossians 1:15; Hebrews 1:3. (c) This Person was seen face-to-face—Genesis 32:30; Joshua 5:13-15; Judges 6:11-23; 13:3-23.
For this reason, we believe that while there is only one God, there is a plurality of Persons evident within God. We shall explore this further in the next installment, when we look briefly at the Person identified as the Holy Spirit.
* Unless noted otherwise, all Bible references are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
ŧ A “definitional doctrine” is a doctrine which is essential to one’s identity as a Christian. Denying or equivocating about such doctrines should be taken as indicative of one not being a Christian.