Recently, a reader took issue with our article on the Trinity, the doctrine that states that God is one Being in three persons (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit).1

The following email is that response:


There's only two right now: God the Father, and God the Son--Jesus Christ. Jesus was conceived in the womb of Mary by the Holy Spirit. If the Holy Spirit is a person, then the Holy Spirit would be the father of Jesus Christ. But the Holy Spirit is the power of God the Father.

Also, Paul in each of his epistles, addresses the person or persons and blesses them with peace and grace by God the Father and Jesus Christ. He leaves out the Holy Spirit because the Holy Spirit is not a person. God is a Family, not a Trinity. Christ told Nicodemus that the things of heaven are much like the things on earth. (John 3:12). We don't have trinities on earth. We have marriages and families. No wonder why God is difficult for you to comprehend. And if it is difficult for you to comprehend, how do you expect the Muslims to comprehend it, as you have in the latest Answers Magazine?


Before addressing these particular concerns, I need to state that since the doctrine of the Trinity is firmly grounded in Scripture, it is absolutely non-negotiable for us. We will not change our position on this crucial biblical teaching. Although the Bible does not use the term “Trinity,” it does state that there is only one true God, and it also reveals that the Father is God, the Son (Jesus Christ) is God, and the Holy Spirit is God. These are not contradictory teachings.

There's only two right now: God the Father, and God the Son--Jesus Christ. Jesus was conceived in the womb of Mary by the Holy Spirit. If the Holy Spirit is a person, then the Holy Spirit would be the father of Jesus Christ. But the Holy Spirit is the power of God the Father.

We agree that the Father is God and Jesus Christ is God. But Jesus stated, “I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever—the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you” (John 14:16–17). Jesus said He would give His disciples “another Helper” after He ascended to heaven, implying that the Helper (the Spirit) would be like Him. So just as Jesus was and is a personal being, the Holy Spirit is a personal being (not an impersonal force). Also, Jesus said that the Spirit will dwell in believers forever, so He must still exist today.

Jesus also called Him “the Spirit of truth,” both here and in John 16:13. “However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come.” Only a person can know and proclaim truth.2

It is true that Jesus was conceived in Mary’s womb by the power of the Holy Spirit. Mary was told, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). Matthew 1:20 similarly says that Mary conceived by “the Holy Spirit.” It does not follow logically or biblically that the Holy Spirit is therefore an impersonal force. Nor would it logically or biblically follow that the Spirit, as a person, would be the Father of Jesus Christ. You have made an erroneous assumption concerning the reason for calling Jesus “the Son.” He is not called “the Son” because He took on human flesh and was born of a woman. He has been the Son in submission to the Father from eternity past.3

Also, Paul in each of his epistles, addresses the person or persons and blesses them with peace and grace by God the Father and Jesus Christ. He leaves out the Holy Spirit because the Holy Spirit is not a person.

This is an argument from silence. Just because the Holy Spirit is not mentioned in Paul’s greetings proves nothing. Doctrines are not built solely upon the introductory greetings in the epistles. Paul mentions the Holy Spirit many times in other places. For example, he closed his second letter to the Christians in Corinth with the following words:

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen. (2 Corinthians 13:14, emphasis added)

He told the Christians in Rome that he had written boldly on some points as a reminder because of the grace given to Him by God.

That I might be a minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God, that the offering of the Gentiles might be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:16, emphasis added).

In both verses, Paul acknowledged all three members of the Trinity—God (the Father), Jesus Christ (the Son), and the Holy Spirit. There are 14 other books in the New Testament that Paul did not write (assuming he was not the author of Hebrews) and 39 books in the Old Testament, and those that address this subject do so with complete harmony.

You claim that “the Holy Spirit is not a person,” but merely “the power of God the Father,” and you aren’t the first person to hold such ideas. Throughout church history, some unorthodox groups have denied the personhood of the Holy Spirit (Arians, Monarchians, Socinians, and more recently the Unitarians, as well as some liberal and neo-orthodox theologians). However, there are solid biblical reasons to accept the personhood of the Holy Spirit.

If the Holy Spirit is not a person, please explain the following biblical teachings:

  • The Holy Spirit is described with masculine pronouns in Greek (John 16:7–15).4
  • He searches all things and knows the thoughts of God (1 Corinthians 2:10–11).
  • He teaches (1 Corinthians 2:13).
  • He has a will (1 Corinthians 12:11).
  • He exhibits feelings and can be grieved (Ephesians 4:30).
  • He convicts the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8).
  • He guides people into the truth (John 16:13).
  • He performs miracles and has empowered others to perform them (Acts 8:39; Romans 15:19).5
  • He intercedes for believers (Romans 8:26).
  • He can be blasphemed (Matthew 12:31).
  • He can be insulted (Hebrews 10:29).
  • He can be resisted (Acts 7:51).
  • He can be lied to (Acts 5:3).
  • He is called God (Acts 5:3–5).

Each of these passages reveals that the Holy Spirit is a person instead of being simply the impersonal “power of God.”

God is a Family, not a Trinity. Christ told Nicodemus that the things of heaven are much like the things on earth. (John 3:12). We don't have trinities on earth. We have marriages and families.

With all due respect, that’s not the point of the verse. John 3:12 states, “If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” This does not at all mean what you claim. Jesus made the point that if Nicodemus couldn’t trust Jesus about things on earth (that Nicodemus could see with his own eyes—in this case, the behavior of the wind), then how would he ever trust Jesus with spiritual things (that Nicodemus could not see, in this case the new birth and kingdom of God). In the very next verse He explained that He is the only one who has come down from heaven, so He is the only one with the knowledge to tell us what it is like. Consequently, your point about marriages and families is wide of the mark.

No wonder why God is difficult for you to comprehend.

I am thankful that there are many things about God that are difficult for me to comprehend. He’s God and I’m not! He is infinite, holy, omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent. I’m finite, sinful, and limited in knowledge, power, and space. If God was easy to comprehend, then He wouldn’t be God and worthy of our worship, trust, and obedience. Nevertheless, we can know what God has revealed about Himself in Scripture. Also, when Jesus walked the earth, He was a perfect representation of the Father (Colossians 1:15; Hebrews 1:3), and He even told Philip that he who had seen Christ had seen the Father (John 14:9).

And if it is difficult for you to comprehend, how do you expect the Muslims to comprehend it, as you have in the latest Answers Magazine?

Part of the difficulty for Muslims is that Muhammad had a distorted view of the biblical doctrine of the Trinity, perhaps as a result of contact with a pseudo-Christian group. In the Quran, Sura 5:116 explains that Christians believe in three gods—the Father, the Son (Jesus, called Isa in the Quran), and Mary. This is absolutely false.

First, the Holy Spirit, not Mary, is the third person of the Trinity.6 Second, this description would be an example of tri-theism (three gods), whereas Christians believe in one God in three persons. This may be difficult (and perhaps impossible) for us to fully comprehend, but it is not a contradiction. If we believed in three gods in one God or three persons in one person, then that would be a contradiction.

We are not called to deny biblical truth to make the saving message of Jesus Christ more palatable to an unbelieving world. So we do not deny the Trinity or any other biblical truth, such as the Genesis account of a six-day creation about 6,000 years ago, as we seek to persuade people to trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Yet we are commanded to speak the truth in love, so we must strive to be gentle and respectful in our approach. Perhaps it is fitting to close this feedback with words from Paul’s final chapter to Timothy.

I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. (2 Timothy 4:1–4)

We will not budge from the doctrine of the Trinity because it is firmly rooted and grounded in Scripture.

Sincerely,
Tim Chaffey, AiG–U.S.

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Footnotes

  1. The term “person” as used in discussion of the Trinity does not refer to human beings, but to the fact that each member of the Trinity has distinct personalities. Back
  2. The Greek word for “spirit” in v. 17 is pneuma, which is neuter, as is the pronoun in the latter part of the verse. But Bible translations (e.g., KJV, NKJV, NASB, NIV, ESV, and HCSB) correctly translate that following pronoun as “Him,” not “it,” because of the verses discussed in the text above and in many other passages of Scripture. Back
  3. This has been called the doctrine of eternal generation. While some Christians do not agree with the name of the doctrine, conservative scholars agree that Christ has always been the Son. Noted theologian John Walvoord summarized orthodox Christian teaching when he wrote, “The Scriptures represent Christ as eternally the Son of God by eternal generation. While it must be admitted that the nature of the sonship and the nature of the generation are unique, being eternal, it has been used in the Bible to represent the relationship between the First Person and the Second Person. In Psalm 2:7, Jehovah speaks, ‘I will tell of the decree: Jehovah said unto me, Thou art my son; This day have I begotten thee’ (R.V.) … All three of the citations in the New Testament draw on Psalm 2:7 for proof of the unique status of Christ and confirm rather than deny His eternal sonship. Further evidence for eternal sonship is found in the fact that Christ is represented as already the Son of God when given to the world (John 3:16, 17; Gal 4:4).” John Walvoord, “Series in Christology Part 2: The Preincarnate Son of God,” Bibliotheca Sacra Volume 104, (January 1947), pp. 163–164. Back
  4. In verses 13 and 14, the Greek demonstrative pronoun (ekeinos) is not neuter, but masculine, just as we would expect grammatically, since in context it is referring to the Spirit of truth (which in Greek is the neuter word, pneuma). This emphatically shows that the Spirit is personal. Back
  5. Although some do not view it as miraculous, most commentaries consulted on this subject view the statement, “The Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away,” as referring to a miraculous act of transferring Philip from one place to another. For example, see William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1995), § Acts 8:39. Back
  6. The doctrine of the Trinity was clearly delineated by the early church. It had been clearly explained by church councils (Nicaea—325, Constantinople—381) and Augustine’s exhaustive work entitled De Trinitate (On the Trinity) more than two centuries before Muhammad founded Islam. Back