Life Giving Spirit
Romans 10:9 - That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.
1 John 1:3 - That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.
1 John 2:22-23 - Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son. Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father: he that acknowledgeth the Son hath the Father also.
These verses all have something in common. All of them have something to say about salvation, but none of them say anything about believing in the trinity, nor do they say anything about believing in the Spirit as a third divine person. In fact, there are no verses in the Bible that do. Yet some trinitarians insist that belief in the trinity - that the one true God is a three person being - is required for salvation. These people are unlike the late Edward Fudge, a humble and respectable man that claimed to be a trinitarian, but who said the following when asked if saying God is a trinity, or that he is one God in three persons, is necessary for salvation:
“Evidently not, since the New Testament Scriptures never use the word “Trinity” or the expression “three persons.” However, Scripture says much indeed concerning the nature and identity of Jesus Christ, who is the divine Word-made-flesh. lt also speaks of the Holy Spirit in personal terms. Whatever Scripture clearly affirms regarding what Christians traditionally refer to as “trinitarian” doctrine, we should be eager to affirm. But God nowhere requires us to embrace or to use uninspired language in trying to explain the nature of deity, however logical that language might seem or however long it has been used by a majority of those calling themselves Christians. Make no mistake — I am a trinitarian, as I understand that term, and I try to persuade others to be as well. I sing, praise, worship and pray to “God in three persons” — although I am quick to confess that I understand very little of what that really means. But I am not ready to take up a spiritual sword against godly men and women of faith who do not understand this matter fully either, and who might be less ready than I am to use non-biblical language to describe the part they do understand” (emphasis mine); (source).
I am one of those who are less willing to use non-biblical language to describe God, Christ, and the Spirit. Listening to trinitarians defend trinitarianism would be funny if it wasn’t such a serious topic. They stumble over themselves, then some of them will get mad when you don’t accept their nonsensical explanations. One tried to tell me that God is a being and that he is comprised of three persons, then he tried to explain to me the difference between a being and a person, and when I said he was saying God is not a person he called me ridiculous. I posted his description of the trinity on a chat forum (without naming him) and asked for help in trying to make sense of his words. No takers.
I simply do not affirm the doctrine of a triune God. Not just because of the simplistic argument that the term trinity is not in the Bible, but because the language used to describe the concept of the trinity is not in the Bible. I am aware that some people think the language is there, because they have been trained by the words of others who have accepted the trinitarian label. Some attempt to force it upon certain texts. It is hard to see how anyone could read the Bible and come up with the language that is used to explain trinitarianism unless they come to the Bible with that presupposition. This is a teaching that many church-goers have inherited, along with the idea that it is “heresy” to deny it. Some think that being a trinitarian is what it means to be a “real” Christian, and they defend the trinity - while acknowledging the incoherency of trinitarianism. One well known trinitarian has argued that a good analogy for the trinity is something like the three-headed dog in Greek mythology called Cerberus, since Cerberus has three minds but only has one body. Foregoing the criticism of fancifulness, this seems to amount to partialism, which other trinitarians will reject. The ways of trying to explain the trinity are numerous, and the strange examples given to try to explain it should let us know how incoherent the doctrine really is.
Trinitarianism is not a part of the gospel message preached by Christ and the apostles. Conscientious trinitarian scholars acknowledge this:
"No responsible NT scholar would claim that the doctrine of the Trinity was taught by Jesus or preached by the earliest Christians or consciously held by any writer of the NT. It was in fact slowly worked out in the course of the first few centuries…"
(Hanson, Anthony Tyrrell. The Image of the Invisible God. London: SCM Press, 1982. p.87.)
“It must be admitted by everyone who has the rudiments of an historical sense that the doctrine of the Trinity formed no part of the original message."
(Matthews, W.R. God in Christian Experience. Whitefish: Kessinger Publishing, 2010 (1930). p. 180.)
“The Church’s doctrine of the Trinity would seem to be the farthest thing from [Jesus’ and the writers of the New Testament’s] minds, and today’s reader may well wonder if it is even helpful to refer to such a dogma in order to grasp the theology of the New Testament. When the church speaks of the doctrine of the Trinity, it refers to the specific belief that God exists eternally in three distinct ‘persons’ who are equal in deity and one in substance. In this form the doctrine is not found anywhere in the New Testament; it was not so clearly articulated until the late fourth century AD.”
(Kaiser, Christopher B. The Doctrine of God: A Historical Survey. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2001. p. 27.)
“We today believe in the Trinity not because of direct biblical revelation but because of majority votes in certain councils—in other words, by extra-biblical revelation.”
(Wagner, Peter C. “But That’s Not in the Word!” Charisma Magazine, 2 June 2014. Accessed Online. 19 December 2014.)
“I affirm that the doctrine of the Trinity is not “gospel.” Nor is it part of the gospel we preach. It is a human construct and a defensive one.”
(Olson, Roger E. “How Important is the Doctrine of the Trinity?” Patheos.com. 29 April, 2013. Accessed online. 12 January 12, 2015.)
“For numerous Christian theologians past and present, the doctrine of the Trinity is crucial, essential, indispensable to a robust and healthy Christian view of God. The problem is, of course, that many, perhaps most, Christians have little or not understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity. And they couldn’t care less.”
(Olson, Roger E. “How Important is the Doctrine of the Trinity?” Patheos.com. 29 April, 2013. Accessed online. 12 January 12, 2015.)
"This doctrine in many ways presents strange paradoxes... It is a widely disputed doctrine, which has provoked discussion throughout all the centuries of the church’s existence. It is held by many with great vehemence and vigor. These advocates are certain they believe the doctrine, and consider it crucial to the Christian faith. Yet many are unsure of the exact meaning of their belief. It was the very first doctrine dealt with systematically by the church, yet is still one of the most misunderstood and disputed doctrines. Further, it is not clear or explicitly taught anywhere in Scripture, yet it is widely regarded as a central doctrine, indispensable to the Christian faith. In this regard, it goes contrary to what is virtually an axiom (a self evident truth) of biblical doctrine, namely, that there is a direct correlation between the Scriptural clarity of a doctrine and its cruciality to the faith and life of the church."
(Erickson, Millard J. God in Three Persons: A Contemporary Interpretation of the Trinity. Michigan: Baker Pub Group, 1995. p 11-12.)
“In the final analysis, the Trinity is incomprehensible.”
(Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, Second Edition, 1999. p. 363.)
These quotes and others were compiled here at the godofjesus.com (I do not necessarily agree with all of the content on this site).
I must stress the point that refusing to affirm trinitarianism is not renouncing belief in the divinity of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, instead, it is as Fudge said, refusing to “embrace uninspired language” to “explain the nature of deity.” Nowhere does the Bible say that the one God is a multi-person being, or that there are three persons who comprise one God.
Biblical Unitarians argue that God is the Father alone, and that is something I agree with. When the Bible refers to God, as in the one true God, I believe it is clearly referring to the Father, not the so-called trinity. There are several instances where Christ is called God, however this is simply to reveal that he is divine, not that he is the same person as the Father, or that he is part of a multi-person God. Unitarians err, I believe, in that they either teach modalism, or, they (those who do not ascribe to modalism) deny the deity and preexistence of Christ in the face of scriptural statements to the contrary (though they interpret those statements differently of course). They believe in his unique humanity, but not his divinity. They believe he is an anointed man, God’s Messiah, even God’s Son, but a mere man nonetheless. This I do not affirm.
I believe the Father and the Son are distinct and that both are fully divine. I also affirm the personality and divinity of the Holy Spirit, however, I do not affirm that the Spirit is a third, distinct center of consciousness in a so-called triune God. I believe in the Spirit’s personality and deity because the Bible teaches that the Spirit is the Spirit of God, God’s Spirit, that is, his personal, divine presence. I have no problems referring to the Spirit as “he” or “it”, as the KJV does, for there is a sense in which both are true; God is a Spirit (he), and God possesses and gives his Spirit (it). The same can be said of Christ. Paul said: “The Lord is that Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:17), and the “last Adam became a quickening Spirit (life-giving Spirit)” (1 Corinthians 15:45). We also read of the Spirit of Christ (Romans 8:9). Thus, Christ is a Spirit and he possesses and gives his Spirit. Since there is one Spirit (Ephesians 4:4), and since the Spirit of God is equated with the Spirit of Christ (Romans 8:9), it seems we can rightly say the Father and the Son share the same Spirit (see Why I Became a Biblical Binitarian by Mario Shepard).
Again, the Bible states that the Lord Jesus Christ is the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:17;1 Corinthians 15:45). Consider these observations of this truth by the following men:
James D. G. Dunn - “Paul identifies the exalted Jesus with the Spirit—not with a spiritual being or a spiritual dimension or sphere, but with the Spirit, the Holy Spirit. Immanent Christology is for Paul pneumatology; in the believer’s experience there is no distinction between Christ and Spirit."
James D. G. Dunn, “1 Corinthians 15:45 – last Adam, life-giving Spirit," Christ and Spirit in the New Testament, Barnabas Lindars and Stephen S. Smalley, eds. (Cambridge: University Press, 1973), p. 139; see also pp. 132-133, 141; “Jesus—Flesh and Spirit: An Exposition of Romans I. 3-4,” Journal of Theological Studies, XXIV:1, April 1973, p. 67; Christology in the Making: A New Testament Inquiry into the Origins of the Doctrine of the Incarnation (London: SCM Press, 1980), pp. 145, 146
G. W. H. Lampe - “Jesus’ promise that the Spirit of truth will ‘be with you for ever’ is only another form of the promise, ‘I will not leave you bereft; I am coming back to you’; for the indwelling Spirit is the mode in which Jesus returns.”
G. W. H. Lampe, God as Spirit (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977), p. 10
Hendrikus Berkhof - “…The word “Lord” in verses 17 and 18 always means Christ. He himself is the Spirit; as the close of verse 18 repeats: “this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” Other features of this conception in Paul are found in 1 Corinthians 6:17: “he who is united to the Lord becomes one Spirit with him,” and in Romans 8:9-11, where the divine principle which dwells in the faithful alternately is called the Spirit, the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Christ, and Christ.”
Hendrikus Berkhof, The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit (Richmond, VA: John Knox Press, 1964), pp. 24-25; see also pp. 18, 25-27
Karl Barth - “…He [the Spirit] is no other than the presence and action of Jesus Christ Himself: His stretched out arm; He Himself in the power of His resurrection, i.e., in the power of His revelation as it begins in and with the power of His resurrection and continues its work from this point.”
Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, IV:2: The Doctrine of Reconciliation, G. W. Bromiley & T. F. Torrance, eds. (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1958), pp. 322-323
Alan H. McNeile - “Thus if the Holy Spirit of God is the Spirit of Christ, it is equally true to say either that the Holy Spirit or Christ is in Christians, and they in Him.”
Alan H. McNeile, St. Paul: His Life, Letters, and Christian Doctrine (Cambridge: University Press, 1920), pp. 283-284
W. H. Griffith Thomas - “Then there is a close association of the Spirit of God and the Spirit of Christ with the Person of Christ. No line of demarcation is drawn between Christ and the Spirit. The great passage is 2 Cor. iii. 17. ‘Now the Lord is the Spirit.’ So close is the association that [A. B.] Bruce is able to say, ‘The Spirit is the Alter Ego of the Lord.’
W. H. Griffith Thomas, The Holy Spirit (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1986), p. 34
Alexander Balmain Bruce - “Hence it comes that the Spirit and Christ are sometimes identified, as in the sentence, “The Lord is the Spirit,” and the expression, “The Lord the Spirit.” As a matter of subjective experience the two indwellings cannot be distinguished; to consciousness they are one. The Spirit is the alter ego of the Lord.”
Alexander Balmain Bruce, St. Paul’s Conception of Christianity (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1896), p. 254
David Somerville - “But Paul not only identifies the Spirit of God with that of Christ, he identifies both with the very Person of Christ. “The Lord is the Spirit,” we read; and again, “we are changed into the same image by the Lord, the Spirit.” …in the thought of the apostle, “Christ,” the “Spirit of Christ,” and “the Spirit of God” are practically synonymous. At the Resurrection Christ became a Life-giving Spirit to mankind…”
David Somerville, St. Paul’s Conception of Christ (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1897), pp. 117-118; see also pp. 121, 122
Andrew Murray - “It was when our Lord Jesus was exalted into the life of the Spirit that He became ‘the Lord the Spirit,’ could give the New Testament Spirit, and in the Spirit come Himself to His people.”
Andrew Murray, The Spirit of Christ (Fort Washington, PA: Christian Literature Crusade, 1963, 1978), p. 167; see also p. 168
Hermann Gunkel - “It must seem strange that in some passages Paul simply identifies the Spirit with Christ (1 Cor. 15:45; see 6:17; 2 Cor. 3:17). According to these passages the Spirit does not come through Christ; rather, Christ himself is this Spirit.”
Hermann Gunkel, The Influence of the Holy Spirit: The Popular View of the Apostolic Age and the Teaching of the Apostle Paul, translated by Roy A. Harrisville and Philip A. Quanbeck II (Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press, 1979), p. 113
A. B. Simpson - “Let us bear in mind … that the Holy Spirit identifies Himself with the Lord Jesus and that the coming of the Comforter is just the coming of Jesus Himself to the heart.”
A. B. Simpson, When the Comforter Comes, 2nd day (Harrisburg, PA: Christian Publishers, c1911)
Charles Hodge - “The Lord is the Spirit,” that is, Christ is the Holy Spirit; they are one and the same.”
Charles Hodge, An Exposition of the Second Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1859, 1980), p. 74
Joseph Cook - “It is significant beyond comment that our Lord was often called “The Spirit,” and “The Spirit of God,” by the early Christian writers. “The Son is the Holy Spirit,” is a common expression. Ignatius said: “Christ is the Immaculate Spirit.” Tertullian wrote: “The Spirit of God and the Reason of God—Word of Reason and Reason and Spirit of Word—Jesus Christ our Lord, who is both the one and the other.” Cyprian and Iræneus said: “He is the Holy Spirit.”
Joseph Cook, The Boston Monday Lectures, vol. 1 (London: Richard D. Dickinson, 1881), p. 78
Athanasius - “Study too the context and ‘turn to the Lord;’ now ‘the Lord is that Spirit;’ and you will see that it is the Son who is signified.”
Athanasius, “Against the Arians, I, 4:11,” A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Series 2, Vol. IV, Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, eds., (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1891), p. 312
Marius Victorinus - “ The Holy Spirit in some sense is Jesus Christ Himself, but a Christ hidden from sight, a Christ within, who converses with souls and teaches these things; gives understanding…”
Marius Victorinus, quoted in Henry Barclay Swete, The Holy Spirit in the Ancient Church (London, Macmillan and Co., Ltd., 1912), pp. 306-307
(These quotes and others were compiled here at Contendingforthefaith.com)
While these men perhaps describe the Spirit in other contexts as being a distinct “person” in the trinity, it is interesting how they let the Bible speak for itself on this matter and they acknowledge that Christ is the Spirit.
There are verses in John chapters 14 through 16 (John 14:17; John 14:26; John 15:26) that are not as easily explained. In an effort to harmonize these passages with the overall biblical data, some consider the Spirit of truth to be Christ himself (albeit in a different form) and that he was speaking in the third person sense (which he often did – see Matthew 24:30-31 for example; Son of Man, he) since he specifically said “I will come to you” (John 14:18, 23; 17:26), and since the Bible states he is “that Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:17). The fact that Christ used the term “another” Comforter could simply mean that Christ was claiming he would come as Spirit and comfort his followers along with the Father, who also comforts us
(2 Corinthians 1:3-4). Christ comes to his disciples in an altogether different way since his resurrection and ascension; he comes as the life-giving Spirit (1 Corinthians 15:45), and he comes to indwell us (John 14:20; Romans 8:10; Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 3:17-19; Colossians 1:27; 1 John 3:24), and this informs us why it was “expedient” for him to depart (John 16:7). Christ was in human form and could not be with all of his disciples at once. Now that he has a glorified body and is Spirit, he can be with all of his disciples all over the world through the extension of his Spirit that he shares with the Father. He and the Father share the same Spirit and both of them dwell in us, just as the Lord Jesus said.
What about Matthew 28:19?
"Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:"
Much is read into this verse by trinitarians, but all we can affirm is there are three subjects named – three designations – Father, Son, and Holy Ghost (or Spirit, both are the word pneuma in the Greek language and it is not clear why the KJV translators used both of these words). Look at 2 Corinthians 13:14:
"The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen."
Here we have the same three-fold designation, but there is nothing to indicate these are three persons in one God. We see God the Father and the Son referenced in this passage, and also a reference to the communion of the Spirit. As John said, our fellowship (or communion) is with the Father and the Son (1 John 1:3), and here, we see it is of the Holy Spirit, the one Spirit that unites the Father, the Son, and all Christians. Just so, in Matthew 28:19, we see these same three designations - the Father, the Son, and the Spirit that binds together the family of God. This could be a reference to the Spirit shared by the Father and the Son, or it could be the designation for the Lord Jesus who is the Spirit that would come, or a designation for the Father who is a Spirit.
Much gets made of the fact this verse says in the “name”, singular, rather than in the “names”, but it seems to be much ado about nothing. Yahweh is the "One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all" (Ephesians 4:6), and who is the “head of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:3). Christ stated: “I am come in my Father’s name” (John 5:43). As such, the Lord Jesus said: “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth" (Matthew 28:18). Christ bears the name of his Father, the God who is above all. As Yahweh’s supreme Agent, the divine Son has come and he speaks with the same authority and operates under the same name (see Micah 5:4; John 5:43). Salvation comes to those who submit to the Lordship of the Son. “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6). God, through his Spirit, his active presence, influences our minds with the truth that we must submit to the rule of Christ. We are baptized into the body of Christ by the Spirit. “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body…” (1 Corinthians 12:13). The Son has come from the Father (John 16:28), the Spirit is sent by the Father (Galatians 4:6), therefore, the Father and the Son, and the Spirit they share, all operate in the name of the Father - Yahweh - the one who is above all. Accordingly, I do not believe this verse necessitates three separate centers of consciousness or the idea of a multi-person God.
Trinitarianism is a man-made creed using non-biblical language. It is a theological formula based on inferences made by certain men, many years ago. In 381 AD, Emperor Theodosius issued a decree in which all his subjects in the Roman Empire were required to affirm trinitarianism. Though there were disagreements about the topic among professing Christians, all other beliefs were declared heretical (see a description of this historical event here; note, I do not necessarily agree with all of the views of the source article; see also History of Trinitarian Doctrines here). Think about that. None of the apostles taught the doctrine of trinitarianism. The Lord Jesus did not teach it. Yet many mainstream Christians consider it to be the ultimate truth about God that must be accepted, even though it was a doctrine that was established in the 4th century through political force.
As is normally the case, the establishment decided for everyone else what truth is, and to be outside of the establishment was to be a heretic. Many people then and now are afraid to be outside of the religious and/or political establishments, and it is easier for them to go along and to let others do their thinking for them. The theological affirmations of many people stem from the consequences of groupthink, in which the urge to conform with the conclusions of “the group” is strong. They do not dissent because 1) they do not apply themselves to the work of truth-seeking to begin with, and 2) they are afraid of being disapproved by the group. May we have the courage to seek the truth, no matter where it leads us, and no matter how many people criticize us for it.
In short, I believe in one God, the Father, and one Lord, Jesus Christ. The humanity of Christ had a beginning, when he was conceived in the womb of Mary, however, the “subsistent subject” (to use the words of Aquinas), the One who became flesh, the Word who was with God and was God (John 1:1-3), is uncreated and eternal. I, with Christ, affirm the supremacy of the Father (John 14:28; John 5:26; John 20:17, etc.) and the Son’s full divinity under the headship of his Father. I do not affirm that the Spirit is a third distinct person, though I deny that the Spirit is a mere impersonal force. I believe when the Bible refers to the Spirit, it is referring to God himself, who is Spirit, or to God’s Spirit, as in the Spirit he possesses, and in some instances to Christ himself, or to the Spirit the Son shares with the Father.
No one has the right to make man-made creeds the basis for Christian fellowship. In doing so, they err greatly. May the Lord help all of us who are sincere seekers of the truth.
"And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou has sent" (John 17:3).