Trinity vs One God

Is God three people or one person? The Bible says God is one (Deut 6:4). Yet the Gospels suggest Jesus claimed to be God in the flesh. John 1:1-14 says, in the beginning, was the Word, and the Word with was God and was God and the Word became flesh as Jesus. Matthew 1:23 quotes from Isa 7:14 and Isa 8:8-10 saying that a virgin will conceive a child and his name will be Immanuel (God with us). Daniel 7:13 alludes to a messianic king called the “Son of Man”, that goes into God’s space and rules the world. Lastly, Jesus refers to himself as the Son of Man in many places like in Luke 5:24, where he shows that like God the Father, has the authority to forgive sins. The Holy Spirit that came upon Jesus (John 1:32-34) will be given to us (John 14:16-17), and the Holy Spirit is God’s presence from the Tabernacle/Temple in the old covenant. The concept of Oneness vs. Trinity is debated all the time because it goes beyond our comprehension.

They all operate in harmony as one but can be three presentations. Whether you believe they are the same being expressed in three modes or three separate individuals, they never conflict or contradict one another, and are in perfect harmony. Trinity seems to mean they are separate individuals in a group of three, rather than one being, whereas Oneness or Triune means that it’s all one God operating in three states. A common verse for the view that they are the same is John 1:1. The Word was God and the Word was with God. That however presents a paradox, how can the word be with God and be God at the same time? This is what makes the subject seem complicated.

Some say Jesus was the word in the beginning, but he only became the son when he was born as a human. Therefore the word is inseparable from God before Jesus was born and then when he came he was Immanuel (“God with us”). One question that comes from this is, can we observe the Son of God in the Old Testament besides in prophecy? It doesn’t seem like it so the idea that the son only existed after being born seems to hold up. There’s no sinless human in the Old Testament, so we don’t see God the Son manifest in the Old Testament exactly. There are theories about Melchizedek but those are based on Apocrypha and not what the actual Torah teaches. The son was born in the first century, so that is the beginning of the son on earth as a separate person.

Whenever we see visions of God’s throne we don’t see his son seated at his right hand, outside of prophecy. However, we know that the Son existed alongside the Father before he came into the world based on John 1:1 as well as John 17:5, and 26. Some conclude from this that since before Jesus was born God never became the son, and therefore the only way for John 1:1 to be true is if they are one and the same, rather than two separate individuals. Immanuel, the title Jesus had before he was born means God with us (Matt 1:22-23). John 10:30, says “The Father and I are one”. This is the argument of the Oneness view. Others say they are separate because John also says the word was “with” God in John 1:1 and they will argue that the statement, “the Father and I are one”, is comparable to a married couple “being one flesh”, even though they are two individuals.

Some scriptures to ponder: Jesus is the father, son, and spirit according to John 14:8-20. John 14:7-13 alludes to Jesus as the father. John 14:16-20 alludes to Jesus as the holy spirit. In chapter 14 of John Jesus said the Father was going to send the Comforter, but then in chapter 16, Jesus said that He Himself is going to send the Comforter. Did Jesus lie? No, because Jesus and the Father are one. This is consistent with John 1:33 which has God saying, ‘The one on whom you see the Spirit descend and rest is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ This is when the holy spirit descended upon Jesus when John the Baptist baptized him. Later on, Jesus promises to send the Comforter because He’s the one who “baptizes us with the Holy Spirit.” Can three individuals “be one” but separate at the same time? The spirit operates as one with the Father and Son, but we see the spirit descend on the Son at baptism and later on his disciples at Pentecost after the resurrection, so yes it is. In Ephesians 4 Paul says: “4 For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future. 5 There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all, in all, and living through all. 7 However, he has given each one of us a special gift through the generosity of Christ.” This oneness doesn’t mean all believers fused into one physical body but together operate as a united movement, according to the ways of the Spirit, as if we are one entity.

Also, notice this, Jesus is not omniscient. The Father can withhold knowledge from the Son and the Spirit. In Matt 24:36 when asked about his future return Jesus said that no man, nor angel, nor even the son of God knows this information, but only the Father. It makes sense for this information to be kept with the Father since only Son and the Spirit interact with humans directly and the Spirit currently shares God’s knowledge with his people. So the Father has to keep it locked up so that the people won’t know until the appointed time. In Matt 20:20-23, when asked by James and John who’s thrown will be next to Jesus, in the kingdom, Jesus didn’t know the answer. He said this was something only God decided (Matt 20:20-23)

One thought by the Oneness argument is that God is like water. Water can exist in three states, solid, liquid, and gas. If you have a sealed container of liquid water and you heat it up or freeze it, at certain temperatures the water will change to vapor or ice respectively. So who is to say God can’t change states and still be the same one, God? Water can’t be in multiple states at the same time, nor can most things on our level of existence, yet, in Quantum Mechanics things can operate like this. Think of Quantum superposition which is the ability of a quantum system to be in multiple states at the same time until it is measured. However, God is described as omnipresent, meaning he is in all places (micro and macro levels) and all time (past present, and future). An example is wave-particle duality, which is when a particle can function as a wave, and still be counted as a particle at the same time. This idea that the Father, Son, and Spirit are all operating in different “modes”, is called modalism. The thing is, Jesus is not omnipresent because he has a human body and could only be in one place at a time, the Oneness idea gets stopped here. Jesus talked to the Father as a separate person, and how the works he does is the will of his Father (John 8:28). Jesus also references the Spirit as someone who will come to replace him on earth when he ascends (John 14:26), and the spirit is not limited by space/time. Is there some third explanation that incorporates elements of both?

Our human thinking is limited to our understanding of reality. What if God can operate as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit because he can occupy all of space and time, but doesn’t do it as one being with many modes but as one partitioning his authority to others?

In Ex 23:20-21 the “Angel of the Lord” in the old testament is distinct from God himself yet he his given authority to judge the Israelites.

Ex 23:20 “See, I am sending an angel before you to protect you on your journey and lead you safely to the place I have prepared for you. 21 Pay close attention to him, and obey his instructions. Do not rebel against him, for he is my representative, and he will not forgive your rebellion.

There are some who say the Angel of the Lord is the holy spirit and others who believe he is a pre-incarnate Christ. Either way, it’s obvious God is assigning authority to a spiritual being that is not him, to do things he would normally do. There are other strange instances where God is referring to himself in the third person or speaking through what appears to be an angel like in Gen ch. 18 when Abraham is talking to three men and two of them (later revealed to be angels) go to Sodom and Gomorrah to rescue Lot in the next chapter. The third one, referred to as “the Lord” remained with Abraham as he pleaded for God to spare those cities. In Gen ch. 32 Jacob gets the name Israel which means “to wrestle with God”, after wrestling with a man who appears to be an angel from heaven. This seems to show that God can delegate his status to other heavenly beings (like the Angel of the Lord) that can appear as a humanoid on earth.

The New Testament reveals God doing the same with Jesus. It says things like “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy. Listen to him.” (Matt 17:5, Mark 9:7, Luke 9:35), and later in Matt 9:1-8 & Mark 2:1-12 when heals the Paralyzed man he says “Be encouraged, my child! Your sins are forgiven”. The Pharisees responded by saying that he blasphemed because only God can forgive sins. Jesus replied, “Is it easier to say ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or ‘Stand up and walk’? So I will prove to you that the Son of Man has the authority on earth to forgive sins.” (Matt 9:5-6, Mark 2:9-10). The man was healed in front of a crowd of people.

When the religious leaders criticized Jesus for healing on the Sabbath he responded by saying, “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself. He does only what he sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows him everything he is doing. In fact, the Father will show him how to do even greater works than healing this man. Then you will truly be astonished. For just as the Father gives life to those he raises from the dead, so the Son gives life to anyone he wants. In addition, the Father judges no one. Instead, he has given the Son absolute authority to judge, so that everyone will honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Anyone who does not honor the Son is certainly not honoring the Father who sent him” (John 5:19- 23).

Jesus clearly has authority delegated to him by God, Paul even says this in his letters (Ep 4:21-22, 1 Cor 15:27-28, Col 2:10). He doesn’t have to be God the Father to have his authority and power because God the Father can delegate those task. Jesus then delegated the power to operate on earth when he left through God’s spirit (John 14:15-21, John 16:5-15).

John 16:5 “But now I am going away to the one who sent me, and not one of you is asking where I am going. 6 Instead, you grieve because of what I’ve told you. 7 But in fact, it is best for you that I go away because if I don’t, the Advocate (the Holy Spirit) won’t come. If I do go away, then I will send him to you. 8 And when he comes, he will convict the world of its sin, and of God’s righteousness, and of the coming judgment. 9 The world’s sin is that it refuses to believe in me. 10 Righteousness is available because I go to the Father, and you will see me no more. 11 Judgment will come because the ruler of this world has already been judged. 12 “There is so much more I want to tell you, but you can’t bear it now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own but will tell you what he has heard. He will tell you about the future. 14 He will bring me glory by telling you whatever he receives from me. 15 All that belongs to the Father is mine; this is why I said, ‘The Spirit will tell you whatever he receives from me.’

In conclusion, the Father sent Jesus to take on the consequences of our sin, which is death, then Jesus rose and ascended to prepare for the Kingdom of Heaven’s conquest of Earth, and in the meantime, he sent the Holy Spirit to do God’s will on earth and bring people into the Kingdom by faith through evangelism by believers filled with the Spirit of God. Both serve God and do his will without fail, but both are distinct from God the Father and represent him when he is not present on Earth before men. This is evident in the fact there are things Jesus doesn’t know, like when he will return (Matt 24:36) and he wasn’t able to tell James and John would sit next to him on his throne because this was something only God decided (Matt 20:20-23). God the Father’s presence hovered above the Ark of the Covenant (Ex 25:22) in the Jerusalem Temple until the Babylonian Exile. Then Jesus was born as God’s representative on earth and he was filled with the Holy Spirit after being baptized (Matt 3:16-17) and operated in most of the gifts of the spirit (1 Cor 12:8-11). He did the work of God on Earth (John 6:35-40) until the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension. Hebrews ch. 5-7 explains that Jesus functions now as a high priest for believers in heaven, mediating this new covenant, while on Earth we communicate with him through the Holy Spirit. The Spirit came upon his followers at Pentecost and dwells with them now until his return (Acts ch. 2).

It seems to me that both are true in some way. God is one being that can delicate aspects of himself to separate spiritual entities, and even share in his authority with but they each are still separate operators with unique features. Finally, in 1 Corinthians 15:27-28 Paul said that Jesus was given all authority over everything except God because it was God that assigned that authority to him, this to me suggests they are different entities yet bonded together and inseparable in will and motive.

1 Cor 15:27 For the Scriptures say, “God has put all things under his authority.”[Ps 8:6] (Of course, when it says “all things are under his authority,” that does not include God himself, who gave Christ his authority.) 28 Then, when all things are under his authority, the Son will put himself under God’s authority, so that God, who gave his Son authority over all things, will be utterly supreme over everything everywhere.

The Bible Project attempt at explaining the Trinity/Triune God

An article exploring the Jewish understanding of this concept