The Biblical Basis of the Doctrine of the Trinity - Part One
An Outline Study
1. OT: Deut. 4:35, 39; 32:39; 2 Sam. 22:32; 2 Kings 5:15; Is. 37:20: 43:10; 44:6-8; 45:5, 14, 21-22; 46:9
2. NT: John 5:44; Rom. 3:30; 16:27; 1 Cor. 8:4-6; Gal. 3:20; Eph. 4:6; 1 Tim. 1:17; 2:5; James 2:19; Jude 25
1. Explicit statements: Ex. 8:10; 9:14; 15:11; 2 Sam. 7:22; 1 Kgs. 8:23; 1 Chr. 17:20; Ps. 86:8; Is. 40:18, 25: 44:7; 46:5, 9; Jer. 10:6-7; Micah 7:18
2. Being like God a Satanic lie: Gen. 3:5; Is. 14:14; John 8:44
3. Fallen man become “like God” only in that he took upon himself to know good and evil, not that he acquired godhood: Gen. 3:22
C. Only one true God: 2 Chr. 15:3; Jer. 10:10; John 17:3; 1 Thess. 1:9; 1 John 5:20-21
1. Antitrinitarians sometimes argue that the word translated “true” in John 17:3 (alêthinos) actually means “archetypal,” referring to the Father as the archetypal or original God, thus allowing Christ to be designated “God” in a derivative or secondary sense.
2. Even if this interpretation were possible for John 17:3, it is not for the OT texts, since the Hebrew word for “true” (‘emet) never means “archetypal.”
3. Elsewhere, the expression “the true God” in context contrasts this God with idols or false gods, not with genuine though derivative gods:
a. 2 Chron. 15:3—Just as Israel was for many days “without the true God” but then turned back to him (vv. 3-6), so Asa turned to him by first removing all the idols from the land (v. 7).
b. Jer. 10:10—Israel not to fear the gods of the nations, worshiped in idols (10:1-9); the true God is the living God (v. 10) and the Creator of the world (vv. 11-12).
c. 1 Thess. 1:9—the Thessalonians turned from idols to serve the living and true God.
d. 1 John 5:20-21—We are in the true God and eternal life (v. 20b), and should guard ourselves from idols (v. 21).
4. We should read the expression “the true God” in John 17:3 in light of its use elsewhere in the Bible as well as in its immediate context in John. Jesus’ point is not that the Father is the archetypal God from whom all other Gods are derived, but that God is only truly known in the Father whom Jesus his Son came to glorify. That God the Father cannot be known apart from the Son is a major theme in John’s writings (e.g., John 1:18; 8:19; 14:6-7, 9, 23; 17:25-26; 1 John 2:23; 5:20). The parallel with 1 John 5:20 is especially significant: eternal life consists in knowing the Father as the true God and Jesus Christ (John 17:3); we know the true one in his Son Jesus Christ, and this is the true God and eternal life (1 John 5:20).
5. Ironically, critics of the Trinity often lean hard on John 17:3 to try to prove that Jesus cannot be God because the text says that the Father, as distinct from Jesus Christ, is the only true God. But this argument backfires when the “archetypal” understanding of John 17:3 is refuted, because John explicitly identifies Jesus as God (John 1:1, 18; 20:28; see IV.A.2-4 below). Although Christ humbly honors the Father in this statement as the only true God, his statement does not necessarily mean that he (Jesus) is not also God—and the explicit statements in the same Gospel prove this was not his meaning.
D. All other “gods” are therefore false gods (idols), not gods at all: Deut. 32:21; 1 Sam. 12:21; Ps. 96:5; Is. 37:19; 41:23-24, 29; Jer. 2:11; 5:7; 16:20; 1 Cor. 8:4; 10:19-20
E. Demons, not gods, are the power behind false worship: Deut. 32:17; Ps. 106:37; 1 Cor. 10:20; Gal. 4:8
F. How human beings are meant to be “like God”
1. The image of God indicates that man is to represent God and share his moral character, not that man can be metaphysically like God: Gen. 1:26-27; 5:1; 1 Cor. 11:7; Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10
2. The goal of being like Christ has the following aspects only:
a. Sharing His moral character: 1 John 3:2; Rom. 8:29.
b. Being raised with glorified, immortal bodies like His: Phil. 3:21; 1 Cor. 15:49.
3. Becoming partakers of the divine nature refers again to moral nature (“having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust”), not metaphysical nature: 2 Pet. 1:4; see also Heb. 12:10; on the meaning of “partakers,” see 1 Cor. 10:18, 20; 2 Cor. 1:17; 1 Pet. 5:1.
G. Are mighty or exalted men gods?
1. Scripture never says explicitly that human beings are gods.
2. Powerful, mighty men are explicitly said not to be gods: Ezek. 28:2, 9; Is. 31:3; 2 Thess. 2:4.
3. Man and God are opposite, exclusive categories: Num. 23:19; 1 Sam. 16:7; 1 Chron. 29:1; Job 32:13; Ps. 56:4, 11; Prov. 3:4; Is. 31:3; Ezek. 28:2, 9; Hosea 11:9; Matt. 19:26; John 10:33; Acts 12:22; 1 Cor. 14:2.
4. Moses was “as God,” not really a god: Ex. 4:16; 7:1.
5. Ezek. 32:21 speaks of warriors or soldiers as “mighty gods,” but in context they are so regarded by their pagan nations, not by God or Israel; cf. Ezek. 28:2, 9
6. The elohim before whom accused stood in Exodus was God himself, not judges, as many translations incorrectly render: Ex. 22:8-9, 28; compare Deut. 19:17.
7. The use of elohim in Psalm 82, probably in reference to wicked judges, as cited by Jesus in John 10:34-36, does not mean that men really can be gods.
a. It is Asaph, not the Lord, who calls the judges elohim in Ps. 82:1, 6. This is important, even though we agree that Ps. 82 is inspired.
b. Asaph’s meaning is not “Although you are gods, you will die like men,” but rather “I called you gods, but in fact you will all die like the men that you really are.”
c. The Psalmist was no more saying that wicked judges were truly gods than he was saying that they were truly “sons of the Most High” (v. 6b).
d. Thus, Ps. 82:1 calls the judges elohim in irony. They had quite likely taken their role in judgment (cf. point 6 above) to mean they were elohim, or gods, and Asaph’s message is that these so-called gods were mere men who would die under the judgment of the true elohim (vss. 1-2, 7-8).
e. Christ’s use of this passage in John 10:34-36 does not negate the above interpretation of Psalm 82.
f. The words, ““The Scripture cannot be broken,” in this context probably mean “the Scripture cannot go without having some ultimate fulfillment” (cf. John 7:23; Matt. 5:17). Thus Jesus is saying that what the OT judges were called in irony, he is in reality; he does what they could not do and is what they could never be (see the Adam—Christ contrasts in Rom. 5:12-21 and 1 Cor. 15:21-22, 45 for a similar use of OT Scripture).
g. The clause, “those against whom the word of God came” (John 10:35) shows that this “word” was a word of judgment against the so-called gods; which shows that they were false gods, not really gods at all.
h. Finally, these wicked men were certainly not “godlike” or “divine” by nature, so that in any case the use of elohim to refer to them must be seen as figurative, not literal.
8. Even if men were gods (which they are not), this would be irrelevant to Jesus, since He was God as a preexistent spirit before creation: John 1:1.
H. Are angels gods?
1. Scripture never explicitly states that angels are gods.
2. Demonic spirits are not gods, 1 Cor. 10:20; Gal. 4:8; thus, being “mighty spirits” does not make angels gods.
3. Satan is therefore also a false god: 2 Cor. 4:4.
4. Psalm 8:5 does not teach that angels are gods.
a. Ps. 8:5 is paraphrased in Heb. 2:7, not quoted literally (for a similar example of such paraphrase, cf. Ps. 68:18 with Eph. 4:8). In Ps. 8:5, elohimcertainly means God, not angels, since Ps. 8:3-8 parallels Gen. 1:1, 8 16, 26-28. (Hebrews is here following the Septuagint, or Greek translation of the OT, in using “angels” in place of “God.”) Note that the Psalmist is speaking of man’s exalted place in creation, whereas Hebrews, while agreeing on man’s exalted status compared to the rest of creation, applies the Psalm to speak of the lower place taken by Christ in becoming a man compared to his intrinsic status as divine. Thus, Heb. 2:7 may not mean to equate angels with gods at all (and the writer never draws that conclusion).
b. Having argued that Christ, unlike the angels, bears the designation “God” (1:8), it would be odd for the writer to imply just several verses later that the angels were “gods” (supposedly in 2:7).
c. Even if Heb. 2:7 did imply that angels are “gods,” in the context of Hebrews 1-2 these angels would be those falsely exalted above Christ. (The focal claim of Hebrews 1-2 is that Christ is greater than all the angels.) Cf. also Rev. 19:10 and 22:8-9 on the problem of the worship of angels (as well as possibly Col. 2:18).
5. Elsewhere in the Psalms angels, if spoken of as gods (or as “sons of the gods”), are considered false gods: Ps. 29:1; 86:8-10; 89:6; 95:3; 96:4-5; 97:7-9 (note that these false gods are called “angels” in the Septuagint); 135:5; 136:2; 138:1; cf. Ex. 15:11; 18:11; Deut. 10:17; 1 Chr. 16:25; 2 Chr. 2:5.
6. Even if the angels were gods (which the above shows they are not), that would be irrelevant to Jesus, since He is not an angelic being, but the Son who is worshipped by the angels as their Creator, Lord, and God: Heb. 1:1-13.
I. Does the plural form of Elohim refer to “gods” or “Gods”?
1. It is true that the Hebrew word elohim (usually translated “God”) is grammatically a plural form. However, when it refers to “gods” in the plural (typically false deities), elohim regularly takes plural verbs, adjectives, and pronouns (e.g., “other [pl.] gods,” Ex. 20:3; Deut. 5:7; frequent in the OT; “these [pl.] are the gods,” 1 Sam. 4:8; “so may the gods do [pl.] to me,” 1 Kings 19:2; “you [pl.] are our gods,” Is. 42:17; etc.). When it refers to the true God, the Creator, the object of Israel’s proper worship, it regularly takes singular verbs, singular adjectives, and singular pronouns. For example, “created” in Genesis 1:1 is a singular verb form, despite the fact that elohim (“God”) is grammatically a plural noun. Most Hebrew scholars understand this use of the plural formelohim for God to be an example of the plural of fullness (or plenitude, amplitude, etc.).
2. The simple fact that the OT occasionally uses elohim with reference to a single pagan god, such as Ashtoreth, Chemosh, or Molech (1 Kings 11:5, 33), is sufficient to show that elohim can refer to a single deity (see also Judg. 6:31; 11:24; 16:23, 24; 1 Sam. 5:7; 1 Kings 18:24a, 25; 2 Kings 1:2, 3, 6, 16; 19:37).
3. The Greek OT (or Septuagint) translated elohim in these contexts consistently with the singular noun theos (“God”), and when the NT quotes the OT it also uses the singular form theos (e.g., Deut. 6:13, in Matt. 4:10 and Luke 4:8; Deut. 6:16, in Matt. 4:7 and Luke 4:12; Ex. 3:6, in Matt. 22:32, Mark 12:26, and Luke 20:37; Ps. 22:1 in Matt. 27:46 and Mark 15:34; etc.).
4. Since the plural form elohim can be used even with reference to an individual pagan deity, we should also not regard this plural form as evidence of the Trinity.
J. Conclusion: If there is only one God, one true God, all other gods being false gods, neither men nor angels being gods, and none even like God by nature—all of which the Bible says repeatedly and explicitly—then we must conclude that there is indeed only one God.