A view widely held today is that the Old Testament is the product of a long process of evolution of Hebrew thought, and that the God of the Old Testament is a tribal God, cruel and capricious as the gods of the mythologies of other ancient races. A careful reading of the Bible corrects this mistaken view.
The Bible being God's revelation, His existence is therefore generally assumed in its pages. The sublime opening words of the book afford an illustration; "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth", can be truthfully affirmed because God has revealed it. Similarly the fact that the Bible is God's revelation is not elaborated it is asserted to be so; thus it is stated "God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son" There is a difference between the two channels here referred to, but it is not that one is erring and the other true; their accuracy is not in question -- both, being God's revelation, are truth. The earlier was partial, and was cast in many forms: but all past revelation had for its focal point the coming of one who was the Son of God -- in whom we have the fullest expression of God's revelation to man. There were many communications, each setting out some phase of the Son and his work, a type or representation here, a dramatic revelation there, but no one person could typify all he would be, as no offering or incident could foreshadow all he would do. But this incompleteness, this lack of finality, in previous communications lies in the nature of what is revealed each part is accurate and true, but each part only reveals a portion of what that one would be in whom all the beams of Old Testament light come to a focus. Because revelation in the Old Testament primarily reveals God and His purpose in His Son, that Son is "the Word made flesh", revealing God in fulness.
The Son of God did not discuss whether God exists or not. His hearers, like himself, believed that God had given them their Scriptures - the record of His actions in the founding and guiding of their nation and even of His overthrow of their kingdom for disobedience to His law. God existed~ of the reality of His existence there was neither doubt nor question in the thought of Jesus.
The Scripture assumes God's existence
The Bible makes occasional reference to some of the reasons why men should recognize that God exists, but it is not only to prove that existence but to draw out its implications. Thus Paul says that men are not free from responsibility to God because "that which may be known of God is manifest to them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead so that they are without excuse" (Rom. 1:19, 20). To worship "things that are made" is folly for the things made tell of their Maker to whom alone worship and praise are due. In simpler terms to an unlettered audience, Paul sought to restrain the worship of Barnabas and himself whom they took to be gods in the guise of men. He said:
"Sirs, why do ye these things? We also are men of like passions with you, and preach unto you that ye should turn from these vanities unto the living God, which made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are therein who in times past suffered all nations to walk in their own ways. Nevertheless he left not himself without witness, in that he did good, and gave us rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness" (Acts 14: 15-17).
The world about us is an evidence of the Creator's existence; it is appealed to in the Scriptures as a reason why the actions of men should be influenced thereby. A further simple statement of the same argument is to be found in Hebrews 3:4. What God is doing with men may be compared to the selection and preparation of materials for a house of which God is builder. The writer remarks that every house is builded by some man, but he that built all things is God". As a house witnesses to the work of architect and builder so the world witnesses to its designer. A house reveals a plan and a purpose, and the history of man reveals the divine purpose working out God's plan of redemption.
A cogent argument for God's existence, and therefore of man's responsibility to Him, is found in the Psalms. There were transgressors in Israel who denied that God saw their evil ways. The folly was exposed in simple but effective terms. " He that planted the ear, shall he not hear? He that formed the eye, shall he not see? (Psa. 94 9). The argument is conclusive, otherwise the Power whose greatness so far exceeds man's would be in respect of seeing and hearing inferior to man -- which is absurd. But another corollary follows. Even the perverse in Israel recognized God's right to deal with Gentiles; if He is judge then He must be judge of all mankind, and Israel too must come under His correction (verse 10). God must see, hear, and know -- for these are attributes of men whom God has created in His own image. The Psalmist has thus a practical object in his statement, but this emphasizes rather than otherwise the strength of his reasoning.
The concluding chapters of the book of Job make effective appeal to the wonder and the might of God's wisdom and power revealed in created things, as a reason why man should reverence Him and submit to His will. So in the "nature" Psalm (104) God's power in creation is the ground upon which men should praise Him. Psalm 19 asserts that the heavens declare God's glory and the firmament shows forth His handiwork; but the Psalm asserts that the revelation of God is two-fold -- in nature and in His word; and the second half of the Psalm is a sustained eulogy of the Word of God.
In language which seems to anticipate poetically modern discovery of the relation between the volume of water, land surface and atmosphere in the earth as a home for man, it is declared in Isaiah 40:12-17: "Who bath measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, and meted out heaven with the span, and comprehended the dust of the earth in a measure, and weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance? Who hath directed the Spirit of the Lord, or being his counseller hath taught him? With whom took he counsel, and who instructed him, and taught him in the path of judgment, and taught him knowledge, and shewed to him the way of understanding?" Depths of waters, height and weight of atmosphere, the relationship of mountain height to sea depths, the disposition of the soil of the earth-all afford evidence of the existence of an intelligent Creator, because they are in right proportion and show the adaptation of the world for man's existence.
How real to the writers of the Bible was their conviction of God's existence is clear from this method of appealing to nature as witness of the fact of God's existence and the use of that evidence for moral ends. In this respect Jesus is, of course, outstanding. Take, for brief reference, the Sermon on the Mount. In that leading example of the teaching of Jesus, his disciples are called upon to be children of their Father who is in heaven to be perfect as He is perfect. The Father is shown to be a rewarder; He hears men's prayers; He is to be served. Men should not be anxious therefore about temporal things, for God who clothes the fields with grass and flowers, and who feeds the birds, knows their needs, and, as their Father in heaven, He will give good things to them. Their first consideration should therefore be to seek the kingdom of God and the righteousness of God, knowing that all other things will he added unto them (Matt. 5 to 7). So Jesus combines present and future as alike subject to God's will. With great earnestness, and with an authority that only belongs to divine prerogative, he says that men who build their lives on his sayings are the truly wise men, building on a foundation which when subjected to the time of trial will stand the test and remain unmoved. Jesus not only knew God but also knew His will. In his teaching there is no speculation and theorizing; as those who heard him remarked, he spoke as "one having authority".
The same God throughout the Bible
A careful examination of both Old and New Testaments shows that the God revealed by Jesus is the same God that the Old Testament prophets worshipped. One of the most important announcements ever made concerning the character of God is recorded in Exodus 34: 6-7: "And the Lord passed by before him (that is, Moses), and proclaimed, The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth; keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children's children, unto the third and to the fourth generation".
In this declaration there is a correct and balanced blending of the goodness and the severity of God. God is holy and righteous; man has transgressed God's law and has brought upon himself the punishment due to disohedience. The supremacy and righteousness of God must be upheld. Yet if His purpose with man had not to fail, a way must he found for God to forgive man's transgression. How God has done this is the very essence of the gospel of the grace of God. But here in Exodus is the announcement that God, who is strong and mighty, is also merciful and gracious, tender and patient with His creatures, kind and loving towards them: abounding in goodness and in truth, His mercy extending to thousands of generations (Deut. 7:9); who also forgives, and the abundance of His forgiveness is shown in the multiplied terms -- "iniquity, transgression and sin" -- used to describe man's sin. With such emphasis given to the goodness of God, it is necessary that the other side of His character be stated -- that He holds men accountable to Him - that sin involves punishment, and such a punishment may extend through heredity to future generations.
The excellence of Israel's God over the gods worshipped by the surrounding Gentiles is declared: "Who is like unto thee, O Lord, among the gods? who is like thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders? (Exod. 15:11). God is holy and He calls for holiness from His people: "For I am the Lord that bringeth you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God: ye shall therefore be holy, for I am holy" (Lev. 11:45). "The Lord is righteous in all his ways, and holy in all his works" (Psa. 145:17). "But the Lord of hosts shall be exalted in judgment, and God that is holy shall be sanctified in righteousness" (Isa. 5:16). "Justice and judgment are the habitation of thy throne: mercy and truth shall go before thy face " (Psa. 89:14). These are but illustrations of the tenor of Scriptural statements concerning the holiness of God.
The Character of God
How much the terms of the proclamation of the name of God to Moses, as recorded in Exodus 34:6, entered into the thought of the devout in Israel is shown by the references to it in later writings. In a time of national crisis Moses himself recalled that former declaration: "The Lord is longsuffering and of great mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression, and by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation" (Num. 14:18). At a time of reformation in the days of king Hezekiah, men were urged to turn back to God because of His character revealed in the words quoted: "For the Lord your God is gracious and merciful, and will not turn away his face from you, if ye return unto him" (2 Chron. 30:9). After the exile the governor Nehemiah found in the history of his people an exemplification of God's character previously revealed "But thou art a God ready to pardon, gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and forsookest them not" (Neh. 9:17) Joel and Jonah both reflect the proclamation of Exodus 34:6 "Turn unto the Lord your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil" (Joel 2:13). "For I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil " (Jonah 4:2). Its very words are like a refrain in the Psalms, finding definite quotation in 86:15; 103:8 ; 111:4; 112:4; 116:5; 145:8. Nothing in the New Testament exceeds in tenderness the language of David in Psalm 103 as he meditates on the meaning of God's declaration in Exodus. After quoting that God "is merciful and gracious" he adds, "He will not always chide: neither will he keep his anger for ever. He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him. As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us. Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him" (Psa. 103:9-13).
There is thus a perfect harmony throughout the Bible concerning the character of God; His mercy is extolled; His severity and righteous judgments are given their place.
The Unity of God
"Which is the first commandment?" a scribe asked Jesus, with evident appreciation of his ability to answer questions. The answer was ready, clear and unmistakable "The first of all the commandments is, Hear, 0 Israel The Lord our God is one Lord: and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment" (Mark 12:29,30). Thus Jesus gave his endorsement to the great declaration of Moses in Deuteronomy 6:4,5: "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord: and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might."
The Bible consistently proclaims that God is ONE Israel's monotheism is founded upon the divine proclamation of Deuteronomy 6:4,5. God is called the "Holy One of Israel" in many statements in psalm and prophecy. Through Isaiah God declares, "Before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me. I, even I, am the Lord: and beside me there is no saviour" (Isa. 43:10-11).
Equally emphatic are the same prophet's words in Isa. 44: 6-8: "Thus saith the Lord the King of Israel, and his redeemer the Lord of hosts; I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God. . . . Is there a God beside me? yea, there is no God I know not any". Again: "Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else ; I am God, and there is none like me" (Isa. 46:9).
On this, as on all other subjects, the Old and New Testament agree. Jesus not only endorsed the words of Moses in Deuteronomy 6:4, 5, but added his own testimony: "And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent" (John 17:3).
In the proclamation of the gospel by the apostles the same essential truth of the unity of God is emphasized. Paul wrote: "To us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him: and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him" (1 Cor. 8:6). "For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus" (1 Tim. 2:5).
This is reasonable, understandable and satisfying. There is one power in the universe -- the power of the One Creator, the One God. He has no peer: He is the One Uncreate, "who only hath immortality, dwelling in light which no man can approach unto" (1 Tim. 6:16).
God and Angels
It is necessary to recognize that there is a form of speech in the Bible describing God's intervention in human affairs, either for judgment, or more frequently, for redemption, by which the agency of God's manifestation is spoken of as God Himself. Thus, Joseph on his deathbed expressed his faith that God would fulfil His purpose announced to Abraham and would deliver his descendants from Egyptian bondage (Gen. 50: 24). God "will surely visit you", said Joseph. This language did not mean that God would personally descend to earth, but that He would exercise His power for their deliverance. An angel was the medium of this manifestation, as we read in Exodus 3:2 "And the angel of the Lord appeared unto him (Moses) in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed". The angel, being God's representative, spoke in God's name, saying, I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. And Moses hid his face; for he was afraid to look upon God" (verse 6). "The angel of his presence" is Isaiah's apt description of this manifestation of God (63 9). Stephen in the New Testament refers to the matter in these words "This is he (Moses), that was in the church in the wilderness with the angel which spake to him in the mount Sina, and with our fathers: who received the lively oracles to give unto us" Acts 7:38). The history of the Exodus informs us that God said: "Behold, I send an Angel before thee, to keep thee in the way, and to bring thee into the place I have prepared. Beware of him, and obey his voice, provoke him not; for he will not pardon your transgressions: for my name is in him" (Exod. 23:20-21).
This form of language, illustrated in connexion with the redemption of God's nation from the bondage of Egypt, is the basis of prophecies concerning the coming of God's Son and is the mold in which is cast the language of the New Testament which speaks of Jesus as the mani-festation of God among men. Thus John says, "No man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven" (John 3:13). And Jesus several times spoke of coming down from heaven. "I came down from heaven." "I am from above, ye (the Pharisees) are from beneath." This language is obviously not literal: but it is easy to understand when it is remembered that its basis, as of most of the idioms and figures in the speeches of Jesus and the writings of the apostles, is to be found in the Old Testament.
The angels are immortal beings who do God's bidding, whether in creation (Job 38: 7) or in providence (Psa. 34 7; 103:20 ; Heb 1:14). They were God's messengers in revelation (Gen. 18:1,2, with Heb. 13:2 ; 32:24, with Hos. 12:4); in judgment (Gen. 19; Exod. 14 19, 24; 2 Kings 19: 35); in connexion with Jesus -- in the announcement of his birth (Luke 1:26) ; at the close of his temptation (Matt. 4:11); in his agony in Gethsemane (Luke 22:43); at his resurrection (Matt 28:2; John 20:12); and at his ascension (Acts 1:10). It will be noted that in several of these references angels are spoken of as men, and were indistinguishable in form from men. Their message, and their power, however, were divine.
Jesus makes several references to them and their work in the past and in the future (Luke 15:10; Matt. 24:31; Matt. 25:31; Mark 8:38). These matters have an added interest from the statement of Jesus that those who attain to the future age and "the resurrection of the dead, neither marry, nor are given in marriage: neither can they die any more: for they are equal unto the angels; and are the children of God, being the children of the resurrection " (Luke 20:35, 36). Those who attain to the future age and "the resurrection of the dead, neither marry, nor are given in marriage: neither can they die any more: for they are equal unto the angels; and are the children of God, being the children of the resurrection " (Luke 20:35, 36).
The Son of God
The fullest revelation of God is in His Son. Jesus is called " the Word . . . made flesh " (John 1:14); "the only begotten son" (John 1:18; 3:18). The greatness of God's goodness to men is expressed in the fact that He "gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3:16). These terms show the unique relationship existing between Jesus and God. Jesus "hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they (the angels). For unto which of the angels said he at any time, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee?" (Heb. 1:4,5).
The birth of Jesus is the subject of historical record in Luke 1:30-35. The virgin's son is the Son of God, his birth the most momentous event in the history of man. In Jesus as the Son of God the promises of God from the heginning of human history find their fulfilment: he came as the seed of the woman, promised in Eden (Gen. 3:15), the seed of Abraham (Gen.12:7 with Gal.3:16), and as the seed of David (2 Sam.7:12,14). Psalmist and prophet had foretold his coming (Psa. 2:7; Isa. 7:14). At last God did "visit" His people (Luke 1:68) as "the dayspring from on high" (verse 78).
Jesus referred to God as "my Father", never confusing his own special relationship to God with that of other men as God's children. He taught them to pray "Our Father" but he did not join himself with them into so addressing God; he reserved for his own use the singular form "My Father".
The apostolic writings maintain the divine sonship of Jesus. Thus Paul says the gospel of God concerns "his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh; and declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead" (Rom. 1:1-4). To the Ephesians he writes: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Eph. 1:3). He petitions on behalf of the Roman believers: "Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be likeminded one toward another according to Christ Jesus: that ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Rom. 15:5,6). Peter has the invocation: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy bath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead" (1 Pet. 1:3). Paul further speaks of God as "the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" (2 Cor. 11:31). The Almighty was the God of Jesus, as He is our God. "I ascend", said Jesus after his resurrection, "unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God" (John 20:17)
The fact that God is "the God" of our Lord Jesus Christ, leads to a further examination of the Bible teaching concerning their relationship. The life of Jesus, since he was Mary's son, began when he was born of her. Though Son of God, he was born of the seed of David, and was subjected to the conditions of human life. He "increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man" (Luke 2:52). "Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered" (Heb. 5:8). In that process we see him guided by the word of God (Matt. 4:4,7,10). We see him in the attitude of prayer in every crisis in his life (Luke 3:21 etc.). In Gethsemane, in an agony of sweat as it were blood, he prayed that if possible the cup of suffering might pass from him (Luke 22:42-45) on which the comment is made in Hebrews 5:: "he . . . offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death.
The Son Dependent on the Father
In keeping with this dependence upon his Father we see Jesus testifying to the fact that God was greater than he; and that he was the messenger speaking God's word; the servant doing God's will and work. "The word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father's which sent me" (John 14:24). "I give unto them (my sheep) eternal life . . . My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand" (John 10: 28, 29). He speaks of himself as sent of God: He that sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him" (John 8:29). "I am not come of myself but he that sent me is true" (John 7:28). " This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent" (John 6:29).
As Son of God it was his greatest pleasure to subordinate his own will, and to know and to do God's will. I do nothing of myself; as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things" (John 8: 28). "I have not spoken of myself but the Father which sent me, he gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak" (John 12: 49). In Jesus were fulfilled the words of Isaiah: "The Lord God hath given me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to him that is weary: he wakeneth morning by morning, he wakeneth mine ear to hear as the learned. The Lord God hath opened mine ear, and I was not rebellious, neither turned away back " (Isa. 50: 4,5).
As Son of God Jesus was entrusted with exceptional powers: his words have never been equalled in charm or graciousness; his works of healing, giving sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf and even raising the dead, were works that attested his claims to be the Son of God. But the power was his Father's: he was the one to whom the power was given. Thus he said "The Son can do nothing of himself but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise. For the Father loveth the Son, and sheweth him all things that himself doeth: and he will shew him greater works than these, that ye may marvel" (John 5:19,20). Looking back on his ministry, Peter declared that Jesus of Nazareth was "a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know" (Acts 2:22). Again, God "anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power: who went about doing good and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him" (Acts 10:38).
As a man, though Son of God, Jesus offers praise and thanks to God for His work in him: "I thank thee, 0 Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes" (Matt. 11:25), and his dependence upon God was recognized: "All things are delivered unto me of my Father" (verse 27). The whole of John, chapter 17 is devoted to a prayer of Jesus in which, on the eve of his arrest, his relationship to God, his dependence upon God, his work which glorified God, his faithfulness to God, his knowledge of God, all find fitting and beautiful expression.
The Authority of the Son
There is another side of the life in which the Sonship of Jesus finds expression. The people noted that he spoke with authority. The prophets had prefaced their words with "Thus saith the Lord"; but Jesus spoke as one who bore a different relationship to God. He placed his authority side by side with the authority of God, when he prefaced his commandments by the words: "I say unto you" (Matt. 5:22, 28, 32, 34, 39, 44). He affirmed that persecution suffered by his followers for his sake will bring eternal reward (5:11 -12). He declared that men will be judged and their destiny determined by their attitude to his words (7:24-27): "Ye are my friends if ye do whatsoever I command you." (John 15:14)
It would be startling to hear a man speak like that today in any of our public places: yet from the lips of Jesus it comes naturally and with appropriateness. We must determine why this is so. The only answer is that he was God's son.
The Obedience of the Son
There was between Jesus and God a unity of purpose that enabled Jesus to say: "I and my Father are one" (John 10:30). "I delight to do thy will, O God" had been written before concerning him (Psa. 40: 8, with Heb. 10:7). Another Psalm said of him, "Thou lovest righteousness, and hatest wickedness: therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows" (Psa. 45:7) Jesus could, therefore, speak of the perfect harmony that existed between hirnself and his Father "I and my Father are one", a saying which can be understood by the words that Jesus used in his last prayer as recorded in John 17:21: I pray", he said, "that they may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us that the world may believe that thou hast sent me." Because of his perfect obedience God raised him from death, and exalted him to His own right hand; the "oneness": was not of equality, but of purpose: he obeyed, God glorified him. "He became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name" (Phil. 2: 8, 9). "Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it", declared Peter (Acts 2:24). "The God of our fathers raised up Jesus . . . Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour" (Acts 5: 30,31).
The Teaching of the Apostles
In the letters of the apostles we find the same truths concermng Jesus and his relationship to the Father set forth as in the gospels. "The head of Christ is God" (1 Cor. 11:3). "Ye are Christ's; and Christ is God's (1 Cor. 3: 23). The distinction between God and His Son is well defined: "To us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him" (1 Cor. 8:6). "For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus" (1 Tim. 2: 5). There is "One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all", (Eph. 4:5,6). In a statement the significance of which cannot be over-emphasized, Paul affirms God's purpose through Jesus to abolish all evil, but in all this work Jesus is subordinate to the Father, and when the work is completed the Son himself will still be subject to the Father, who is alone supreme, and then "all in all". "For he hath put all things under his feet. But when he saith, all things are put under him, it is manifest that he is excepted, which did put all things under him. And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all" (1 Cor. 15: 27, 28).
The facts declared in the Scriptures concerning Jesus Christ and his Father are harmonious and intelligible, if we recognize the work of God in raising up His Son. Since the days of the apostles, however, men schooled in pagan philosophies have speculated concerning the relationship of the Son to the Father and have developed credal statements which conflict with the simple facts of Scripture. As our aim now is to set forth the Bible teaching, we shall not here discuss these philosophical speculations, but a series of quotations showing how the doctrine of the Trinity developed by assimilation of Christian teaching to pagan thought, and admissions by Trinitarians themselves that the doctrine of the Trinity is not in the Scripture, is presented in the second part of this chapter. The redemptive work of reconciliation wrought by God in His Son will be considered in a later chapter.
The Spirit of God
A comparison of one Scripture with another shows that the Spirit of God is His power emanating from Himself, and is the basis of all things that exist. God is the source of all. Thus Paul says: "To us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him" (1 Cor. 8:6). "For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things" (Rom. 11:36). It is not without interest to note that modern scientific thought appears to be approaching closer and closer to this scriptural conception of the origin of the universe.
The Psalmist says: "By the word of the Lord were the heavens made ; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth . . . For he spake, and it was done; he commanded, and it stood fast" (Psa. 33: 6-9). The account in Genesis shows that the Spirit was the agency employed in the execution of the work: "The Spint of God moved upon the face of the waters" (Gen. 1:2). In the book of Job it is declared: "By his spirit he hath garnished the heavens" (26:13). In the Psalms we read "Thou sendest forth thy spirit, they are created: and thou renewest the face of the earth" (Psa. 104: 30).
Divine power in universal diffusion is the means by which God is present in all creation, as David says "Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea: even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me. If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be light ahout me. Yea, the darkness hideth not from thee; but tlle night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are hoth alike to thee" (Psa. 139:7-12)
The Holy Spirit
When this power is used for particular purposes it is described as Holy Spirit -- holy meaning that which is set apart for divine use. Thus we read of God by His Holy Spirit so guiding and directing men's thoughts that what they said or wrote under its influence was God's revelation: "Prophecy (the prophetic message) came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Spirit" (2 Peter 1:21). In harmony with this we read of God's Spirit resting upon the elders causing them to prophesy (Num. 11:25); and of the Spirit of the Lord coming upon David (I Sam. 16 13). David himself said: "The Spirit of the Lord spake by me, and his word was in my tongue" (2 Sam. 23:2). In pre-eminent measure this power of God was with Jesus. "God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him" (John 3:34). It was foretold that the Christ would be thus endowed: "The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek ; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord" (Isa. 61:1,2) quoted by Jesus in Luke 4:17, and declared by him to be then fulfilled: "This day is this scripture fulfilled", verse 21). The miracles that he did were performed by God's power so fully at his disposal. Peter sums up the matter: " God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him" (Acts 10: 38).
The apostles were endowed with Holy Spirit power on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2: 4) and the miracles they were enabled thereby to perform were, in Paul's language, in demonstration of the Spirit and of power" (1 Cor. 2: 4). The possession of the Spirit gave the apostles ability to discern falsehood as in the case of Ananias, Peter saying to him: "Why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Spirit?" (Acts 5: 3) or, in other words: "Thou hast not lied 'into men but unto God" (verse 4). In the first century churches Spirit gifts enabled the recipients to exercise powers of healing, prophecy, or tongues, in accordance with the gifts bestowed (1 Cor. 12 and 14). But this manifestation was temporary, as Paul said: "Whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease" (I Cor. 13: 8); but the gifts served the purpose of enabling the elders to instruct and guide the Christian communities until the fullness of the divine revelation was reached with the giving of the Revelation -- the the divine revelation was reached with the giving of the Revelation -- the closing book of the Bible -- by the ascended Lord (Rev. 1:1).
In the preceding pages we have found that the Bible teaches that God is One; that Jesus is His Son, being begotten of God and born of the virgin Mary; and that the Holy Spirit is the power of God. There are truly profound aspects of God's revelation -- that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself; that Jesus revealed the Father; that God dwelt in him; yet the facts of Bible teaching on this subject are easily understood, in marked contrast to the complicated definitions of God and Christ and the Spirit in the creeds which were elaborated later in Christendom. This contrast indeed is generally recognized, but it is claimed by many who believe in the doctrine of the Trinity that the doctrine is implicit in the New Testament, and that its explicit formulation in the later creeds was an inevitable development arising out of the experience of the Church. As, however, the doctrine of the Trinity is not the only doctrine widely held throughout Christendom which is expressed in language very different from that of the New Testament, it is proper to enquire if such a development was foreseen or provided for in the arrangements made by Jesus and the apostles.
Every reader of the gospels is aware that Jesus opposed the religious leaders of Israel, who at last silenced his denunciation by bringing about his death. Some of the language Jesus used is instructive. He said that these religious guides had made void the word of God by their tradition; that they taught for doctrines the commandments of men (Matt. 15: 1-9). Jesus strongly opposed such a change, as marking declension and unfaithfulness on the part of the leaders'. They had turned from God's word and had built up traditions which contradicted God's revelation. They taught error for truth, and were blind leaders of a people that was also blind.
If we recognize that such a departure from God's revealed truth took place among a nation that prided themselves on being God's people, and who thought the possession of a revelation from God their greatest privilege, we should also recognize the possibility that a similar thing might happen in Christendom. When we read the New Testament we realize that such a repetition of history becomes more than a possibility -- for according to the prophecies of the aposdes the history of the Christian Church would show a departure from the teaching of Jesus and the apostles, and the uprise of speculative philosophic doctrine in its place. A few of the statements of the apostles may be cited. Paul warned the elders of the church of Ephesus "Of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things" (Acts 20:30) He wrote to Timothy "Evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived" (2 Tim. 3: 13). "The time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine . . . they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables" (2 Tim. 4:3, 4). Peter utters similar warnings: "There shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in destructive (R.V.) heresies . . . and many shall follow their pernicious ways, by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of" (2 Pet.:1). When John wrote his epistles the decline from truth had begun. He counselled that teachers should be tested, "because many false prophets are gone out into the world" (1 John 4:1). These quotations are illustrations of the earnest warnings that changes would come in the Church which would be a turning from truth to fable.
The question therefore arises whether the doctrine of the Trinity as defined in the later creeds is a reflection of the truth taught by Jesus and the apostles, or is one of these departures from the truth predicted by the apostles.
Three principal creeds set out the doctrine about God the one called the Apostles' Creed, developed from a second century form of baptismal confession; the Nicene Creed, early in the fourth century, and the so-called Athanasian Creed, in the fifth century (Athanasius himself lived in the fourth century).
The Apostles' Creed is in scriptural terms, and is simple and understandable:
"I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth; and in Jesus Christ His only Son our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the virgin Mary".
The Nicene Creed expands the clauses of the Apostles' Creed in many particulars, but the one which concerns the Lord Jesus is as follows
"And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of his Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; by whom all things were made, who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven".
The reference to the Spirit in relation to Jesus is still brief: "And was incarnate by the Holy Ghost, of the Virgin Mary". As the original Nicene Creed only mentioned the Holy Spirit in general terms which permitted the interpretations that the Spirit was either a person or an influence, the Council held at Constantinople A.D. 381 added the clause "Who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified", and in the words of Mosheim "gave the flnlshing touch to what the Council of Nicea had left imperfect, fixed in a full and determinate manner the doctrine of three persons in one God"
The Athanasian Creed, of which belief is demanded as essential for salvation, is too long to quote in full, but the following sentences from it show the fully developed doctrine of the Trinity:
"The Catholic Faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the Persons: nor dividing the Substance. For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son: and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one: the Glory equal, the Majesty co-eternal. Such as the Father is, such is the Son and such is the Holy Ghost. The Father uncreate, the Son uncreate: and the Holy Ghost uncreate. The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the Holy Ghost incomprehensible. The Father eternal: the Son eternal: and the Holy Ghost eternal. And yet they are not three eternals but one eternal. As also there are not three incomprehensibles: nor three uncreated: but one uncreated, and one incomprehensible . . . He therefore that will be saved must thus think of the Trinity."
Changes in Creeds
The witness of the Creeds themselves is evidence of change which cannot be called a development in definitions, for it is quite impossible to find even the germs of the Athanasian statements concerning Jesus and the Spirit in the language of the "Apostles'" Creed. The later statements changed the doctrine as there defined. Thus Harnack, a recognized authority on the history of the early Christian church, declares that by the phrases "the Son" and the "the only Son ", the Apostles' Creed does not claim for him a pre-existent Sonship
"After Nicea these words came to be unanimously believed by the Church to refer to the prehistoric and eternal Sonship of Christ .... But to transfer this conception to the Creed is to transform it. It cannot be proved that about the middle of the second century the idea 'only Son' was understood in this sense on the contrary the evidence of history conclusively shows that it was not so understood."
Similarly, the changes in words in the Creeds defining the Holy Spirit represent also a change in doctrine. The Apostles' Creed did not represent the Spirit as a person. Harnack says:
It looks therefore as though the writer of the Creed did not conceive the Holy Ghost as a Person, but as a Power and Gift. This is indeed literally the case. No proof can be shewn that about the middle of the second century the Holy Ghost was believed in as a Person. This conception, on the contrary, is one of much later date, which was still unknown to most Christians by the middle of the fourth century... In the Creed the Holy Ghost is conceived of as a gift, but as a gift by which the Divine life is offered to the believer; for the Spirit of God is God Himself" - (The Apostles' Creed, translated by Mrs. H. Ward: Nineteenth Century, July, 1893).
The word "trinity" is not found in the Bible, and the gradual adoption of language leading to the full development of the doctrine has been noticed by historians. Thus Gibbon wrote
"If Theophilus, Bishop of Antioch (who wrote in A.D. 182) was the first to employ the word Triad, Trinity, that abstract term, which was already familiar to the schools of philosophy, must have been introduced into the theology of the Christians after the middle of the second century" - (Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, ch. 21).
Gibbon's "if" suggests a caution. Tertullian is said by some writers to be the first to use the words Trinitas and persona in the controversies with Praxeas concerning the relationship of the Word to God. But Tertullian (A.D. 150-230) did not teach the doctrine of the Trinity as formulated in the Athanasian Creed; his teaching is somewhere between the teaching of the apostles and the creed, and is a step in the course of development of the doctrine of the Trinity as the teaching of Christendom.
Influence of Plato
The earliest generations of Christians knew nothing of the controversies which raged in the fourth century over this doctrine, for the simple reason that no one taught it in Christian circles. Mosheirn, in his Ecclesiastical History says
"The subject of this fatal controversy, which kindled such deplorable divisions throughout the Christian world, was the doctrine of three Persons in the Godhead, a doctrine which in the three preceding centuries had happily escaped the vain curiosity of human researches, and had been left undefined and undetermined by any particular set of ideas."
Gibbon connects the speculations of Christian teachers with those of contemporary pagan philosophers, and this suggests that the origin of the doctrine is to be found in the teaching of philosophy and not in the Bible. He writes: "The respectable name of Plato was used by the orthodox, and abused by the heretics, as the common support of truth and error: the authority of his skillful commentators, and the science of dialectics, were employed to justify the remote consequences of his opinions, and to supply the discreet silence of the inspired writers. The same subtle and profound questions concerning the nature, the generation, the distinction and the equality of the three divine persons of the mysterious Triad, or Trinity, were agitated in the philosophical, and in the Christian, schools of Alexandria. An eager spirit of curiosity urged them to explore the secrets of the abyss; and the pride of the professors and of their disciples was satisfied with the science of words. But the most sagacious of the Christian theologians, the great Athanasius himself, has candidly confessed that, whenever he forced his understanding to meditate on the divinity of the Logos, his toilsome and unavailing efforts recoiled on themselves; that the more he thought, the less he comprehended; and the more he wrote, the less capable was he of expressing his thoughts "-(Decline and Fall, ch. 21). To this statement Gibbon adds as a footnote the words previously quoted.
Some Trinitarians have freely admitted that the doctrine of the Trinity is not to be found plainly taught in the Bible. Dr. W. R. Matthews, Dean of St. Paul's, in his book God In Christian Thought and Experience (page 180) says:
"It must be admitted by everyone who has the rudiments of an historical sense that the doctrine of the Trinity, as a doctrine, formed no part of the original message. St. Paul knew it not, and would have been unable to understand the meaning of the terms used in the theological formula on which the Church ultimately agreed."
Dr. J. S. Whale, formerly President of Cheshunt College, Cambridge, in his book Christian Doctrine (1941), (page 116) says
"The result (of controversy) was the doctrine of the Trinity, slowly worked out and formulated during the fourth century. Christian thought, working with the data of the New Testament and using Greek philosophy as its instrument, constructed the doctrine of Trinity in Unity."
Greek philosophy supplied the arguments used to prove the doctrine of the Trinity. The celebrated Hooker (1553-1600) wrote
Our belief in the Trinity, the co-eternity of the Son of God with his Father, the proceeding of the Spirit from the Father and the Son, these with sucn other principal points are in Scripture nowhere to be found by express literal mention; only deduced they are out of Scripture by collection" - (Ecciesiastical Polity, i, 14)
Neander, the Church historian, has these significant words: "This doctrine does not, it appears to me, belong strictly to the fundamental articles of the Christian faith; as appears from the fact that it is explicitly set forth in no one particular passage of the New Testament; for the only one in which this is done, the passage relating to the three that bear record (1 John 5) is undoubtedly spurious, and in its ungenuine shape testifies to the fact, how foreign such a collection is from the style of the New Testament writings. We find in the New Testament no other fundamental article besides that of which the apostle Paul says that other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, the preaching of Jesus Christ as the Messiah; and the foundation of His religion is designated by Christ himself as the faith in the only true God and in Jesus Christ whom He hath sent" - (History of Christian Religion, vol. ii, page 286).
John Henry Newman, while contending for the doctrine as scriptural, makes the admission
"It may startle those who are but acquainted with the popular writings of this day, yet, I believe, the most accurate consideration of the subject will lead us to acquiesce in the statement, as a general truth, that the doctrines in question (concerning Father, Son and Holy Spirit, page 48) have never been learned merely from Scripture" - (The Arians of the Fourth Century, page 50).
Many other writers might be quoted to similar effect, witnessing to the changes in belief which led to the formulation of the doctrine of the Trinity, long after the days of the apostles, and to the dependence for proof, not on the Bible, but on Greek philosophers or an alleged tradition of the Church. Those cited sufficiently illustrate the matter.
We need not, then, be surprised that when men have been independent thinkers they have repudiated the doctrine of the Trinity as unscriptural. In the seventeenth century in particular, when there was much independent study of the Bible, men like Milton, Newton and Locke all expressed their disbelief in the Trinity. John Milton wrote: "For my own part, I adhere to the Holy Scriptures alone. I follow no other heresy or sect. If therefore, the Father be the God of Christ, and the same be our God, and if there be none other God but one, there can be no God beside the Father". In his own noble way Sir Isaac Newton wrote: "There is One God, the Father, ever living, omnipresent, omniscient, almighty, the maker of heaven and earth, and one mediator between God and men - the man Christ Jesus. The Father is the invisible God, whom no eye hath seen or can see. All other beings are sometimes visible. All the worship (whether of praise, or prayer, or thanksgiving) which was due to the Father before the coming of Christ, is still due to him. Christ came not to diminish the worship of his Father."
In the blunt fearless style of his day William Penn, the Quaker (b. 1644, d. 1718), thus expressed his view "Before I shall conclude this head, it is requisite I should inform thee, reader, concerning the origin of the Trinitarian doctrine: - Thou mayest assure thyself, it is not from the Scriptures nor reason, since so expressly repugnant; although all broachers of their own inventions strongly endeavour to reconcile them with that holy record. Know then, my friend, it was born above three hundred years after the ancient Gospel was declared; it was conceived in ignorance, brought forth and maintained by cruelty; for though he that was strongest imposed his opinion, persecuting the contrary, yet the scale turning on the Trinitarian side, it has there continued through all the Romish generations" - (Quoted by Stannus, Origin of Doctrine of the Trinity).
The evidence of the changes in the creeds themselves, and also of the historians, then, leads to the conclusion that the doctrine of the Trinity was gradually adopted as Christian doctrine about the third century and was the subject of much strife and contention when introduced. Proof of the doctrine is not found in the Scriptures; it must therefore be one of those changes which represent a departure from apostolic teaching, and is a particular fuiffiment of the apostles' forecast of apostasy from the faith they taught.