Following is another in a series of columns on The Baptist Faith & Message 2000.
Article II of The Baptist Faith & Message 2000 reads:
“There is one and only one living and true God. He is an intelligent, spiritual, and personal Being, the Creator, Redeemer, Preserver, and Ruler of the universe. God is infinite in holiness and all other perfections. God is all powerful and all knowing; and His perfect knowledge extends to all things, past, present, and future, including the future decisions of His free creatures. To Him we owe the highest love, reverence, and obedience. The eternal triune God reveals Himself to us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, with distinct personal attributes, but without division of nature, essence, or being.”
The Bible consistently declares there is one true and living God, the self-revealed Creator who alone must be loved and worshiped. All other gods are false. The physical depictions of these gods, as carved images or naturally occurring phenomena such as stars and trees, in fact represent demons (see Deut. 32:16-17; 1 Cor. 10:19-20).
Perhaps nowhere is the exclusivity of God stated more clearly than in the Shema, an affirmation of Judaism and a declaration of faith in one God. It is the oldest fixed daily prayer in Judaism, recited morning and evening since ancient times. It consists of three biblical passages, two of which instruct the Israelites to speak of these things “when you lie down and when you rise up.”
The best-known part of the Shema is from the first biblical passage: “Listen, Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength” (Deut. 6:4-5).
The prophet Isaiah echoes this cry as he calls the Israelites to return to the Lord. Isaiah 44:6 – 45:25 is a powerful reminder from Yahweh that He alone is God. Consider just a small portion of this passage:
“This is what the LORD, the King of Israel and its Redeemer, the LORD of Armies, says: I am the first and I am the last. There is no God but me” (44:6).
“I am the LORD, and there is no other; there is no God but me” (45:5).
The New Testament consistently upholds the theme of one God. To cite but two examples:
Mark 12:29-30 – In response to a scribe who asks about the greatest commandment, Jesus says, “The most important is Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.”
1 Timothy 2:5-6 – Paul writes, “For there is one God and one mediator between God and humanity, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, a testimony at the proper time.”
While the theme of one God runs consistently through Scripture, both the Old and New Testaments offer us increasing light into the existence of this one being in three persons.
J. I. Packer writes that the basic assertion of the doctrine of the Trinity is that the unity of the one God is complex: “The three personal ‘substances’ (as they are called) are coequal and coeternal centers of self-awareness, each being ‘I’ in relation to two who are ‘you’ and each partaking of the full divine essence (the ‘stuff’ of deity, if we may dare to call it that) along with the other two.”
Defining the Trinity
How do we biblically define a term that never appears in the Bible? As Jehovah’s Witnesses, Muslims, and others are quick to point out, the word Trinity is conspicuously absent from the pages of Scripture. That doesn’t mean the doctrine is missing in action.
When we talk about the Trinity, it’s important to show how Scripture describes God as one eternal being in three persons. This is not as easy as it sounds, for the Trinity in some respects is a mystery – a revelation of God hidden in times past but revealed progressively from Genesis to Revelation.
But we may begin with a simple definition of the Trinity. The word comes from the Latin trinitas, meaning “threeness.” We may rightly say Trinity is a term used to describe the one true and living God, who exists as three distinct, but inseparable, co-equal, co-eternal persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
As Christian apologist Freddy Davis notes, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three distinct centers of consciousness within the single God. They are “able to interact with one another in a legitimate personal relationship.”
It may advance our understanding to distinguish between being and person. As the late Nabeel Qureshi, a former Muslim, explains, “Your being is the quality that makes you what you are, but your person is the quality that makes you who you are.” For example, if someone asks who you are, you don’t reply, “I’m a human being.” You respond by sharing your name, which identifies you as a person.
When we say God is triune, then, we are describing the what of God. When we speak of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we are referring to the who of God – three persons, indivisible in substance and nature, but distinct in identity.
Next: Article II-A of the BF&M: God the Father