Sun | Oct 1, 2023

Clinton Chisholm | The Trinity – a mystery, not a contradiction – Part 2

Published:Sunday | June 4, 2023 | 1:03 AM
Rev Clinton Chisholm
Rev Clinton Chisholm

AS WE come now to the New Testament evidence I want to quickly dispose of the binitarian argument that the Holy Spirit is God and personal but not a person. It is sufficient to ask for a logical explanation of how the Holy Spirit could be personal without being a person.

Jehovah’s Witnesses who argue that the Holy Spirit is simply a force just like a radar beam, would be hard pressed to explain the fact that Acts 5.3-4 refer to the Holy Spirit as God and they must be tongue-tied in any attempt to explain Mt. 12.31-32, where blasphemy against Jesus, a person, is pardonable but blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (a thing, according to them) is not pardonable!

The witness of the New Testament concerning the trinity is quite clear. The doctrine of the trinity, the ‘tri-unity’ or ‘three-in-oneness’ can be stated as follows: God eternally exists as three persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – and each person is fully God, and there is one God.

Father, Son and Holy Spirit appear in the New Testament as separate persons, or entities if you like, and each is called God. The Father is called God in Jn. 6.27, the Son is called God in Heb. 1.8 and the Holy Spirit is called God in Acts 5.3-4.

Father, Son and Holy Spirit are clearly distinguished from each other in passages where they appear together, like Mt. 3.16-17, the baptism of Jesus, where Jesus, while coming out of the water sees the Spirit in dove-like form coming upon Him and hears the Father expressing approval of Him. This passage is a major problem for Apostolic brethren.

But additionally, Father, Son and Holy Spirit are clearly distinguished from each other in passages where they are mentioned together, like Jn. 14.16, 26, “I will pray the Father and he will give you another Comforter that He may abide with you forever…But the Comforter, 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.”

If Jesus is Father, Son and Holy Spirit then these verses constitute a hopelessly convoluted way of talking. On the ‘oneness’ perspective Jesus would be praying to himself to send Himself as the Holy Spirit in His name. Our Lord would need several lessons in the use of language if he believed what the ‘oneness’ brethren believe.

But I can hear a ‘oneness’ believer urging me to deal with Jn. 10.30, which says, “I and the Father are one.” This brings us back to the issue of words for ‘one’, the very issue with which we began. This time we are dealing with Greek not Hebrew.

The wider context of Jn. 10.30 must be read and understood. So, let’s read from v.27 through to v.30.

“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand. I and My Father are one”. (NKJV)

Our Lord is arguing with Jews who rejected Him, and he tells them that His true sheep will not reject Him but will listen to Him and these sheep have guaranteed security, double security in fact, because Jesus and the Father ground the believer’s security. Then comes the double security clincher in v. 30, “I and the father are one.” This has nothing to do with identity or sameness of person but unity of purpose because the Greek word for one is not the masculine form (heis) but the neuter (hen) and moreover, the verb is plural, so an explanatory reading would be, ‘I and the Father, we are one [in essence and in the enterprise of securing the sheep]’.

I close now is a philosophical quotation of the kind that the Council of Nicaea in AD 325 wrestled with.

“The philosophical law of noncontradiction informs us that something cannot be both true and false at the same time and in the same sense … and the doctrine of the Trinity does not violate [that law] … The Trinity is not the belief that God is three persons and only one person at the same time and in the same sense. That would be a contradiction. Rather, it is the belief that there are three persons in one nature. This may be a mystery, but it is not a contradiction.” ( Norman Geisler & Abdul Saleeb, Answering Islam, 2002, 272)