The Plurality of One God

I have undertaken to explore the question, Is Jesus God?, by looking first at the claims Jesus made about himself. After all, if Jesus didn’t really claim he was God, we would have to wonder about others making that claim. The religious authorities, at least, understood what Jesus was saying, and they condemned him precisely because he was making claims of equivalence with God.

I also explored what people in the time of Jesus said about him. Some people claim that the early followers of Jesus didn’t really think he was God, that the God-claim arose generations later in the way of a legend. Unless the Gospels and letters collected in the New Testament were written generations later, clearly, his early followers, and even people opposed to him, believed that he was God or, at least, that he claimed to be God.

One puzzle that remains, though, is how the claims made by Jesus and his Jewish followers fit into an ancient Judaic theology built on the foundation of one true God. Jesus, himself, quoted the sacred text handed down from Moses: “You shall worship the Lord your God and serve him only.” (Luke 4:8, quoting Moses Deut. 6:13) So how do we square that statement with his evident claims that put him on a par with God?

There is no dearth of resources addressing the idea of the Trinity, but I turn to a former Muslim for help. Muslims have a robust view of God (Allah) as one. Allah is not a father and does not beget sons. He is single, undivided, and purely one God.

Nabeel Qureshi is my source for an explanation of the Trinity. Nabeel was a devout Muslim turned Christian after his college years, and he went on to become a Christian apologist.

Nabeel recalls that one of the most recited passages of the Qur’an is Surat-al-Ikhlaas, 112:2 – “God is not a Father, and He is not a Son.” This “doctrine above all doctrines” in Islam is known as Tawhid – God is absolutely one and cannot be father or son.

The question that troubled Nabeel when he was comparing the two religions was this: How can the Trinity be harmonious with a monotheistic doctrine?

Part of the problem from a Muslim perspective is that they believe that Christians claim Jesus is the son of God in a biological sense. How can the God of the universe have sex with a woman and conceive a child with her?

This isn’t the Christian view, of course. It isn’t far fetched to conceive that the God who created the universe out of nothing could implant a child in the womb of a women. God doesn’t need to have “sex” with her. God is not flesh and bones. He isn’t made of matter at all, so it would be absurd to think of God begetting anyone in a biological sense.

God is transcendent, existing outside of time, space and matter. But, having created the universe by His very word, He can call matter into existence, including matter that is human.

Nabeel credits science with helping him to understand the concept of the Trinity. Even the tiniest things in the universe are incredibly complex. Cells, and DNA, and epigenetic material, and atoms, and protons and nuons. The tiniest matter we are able to detect is incredibly, incredibly complex.

Neutrinos are so small that they can pass through the core of the earth without even hitting other matter. The tiniest matter we can presently detect is made up of even tinier matter. There is no end that we can see to the progression.

Science has revealed that light is both a particle and a wave. How can that be? It’s contradictory, isn’t it? Yet, as near as we can tell, both are true. Light is both a particle and a wave.

Water can be liquid, solid and gas. It’s all water. The chemical composition is exactly the same, but we find water in all three forms.

The Old Testament teaches that God is one (Deut. 4:35), but it seems to suggest that He is also somehow plural. The idea that God is plural appears all the way back in Genesis. Gen. 1:1 reads, “In the beginning, God created….” The word for God, אֱלהִים, transliterated, Elohim, is plural. It is in the plural form right in the first verse of the Bible.

(Granted there are nuances with the Hebrew words for God that make this analysis much more complex than it might seem. The plural could mean “the royal we””, for instance.)

Even in a statement in the Old Testament about God being one, it seems we find a plural nuance. Deuteronomy 6:4 states, “Hear O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is One”. The word for Lord is יְהוָֹה, transliterated, Yhvh, or Yahweh; and the word for God is אֱלהִים, (Elohim). This phrase could be translated: Yahweh, our Elohim (plural) is one.

In fact, however, it’s very unclear (and rather unlikely) that Elohim, which is plural, was meant in a plural sense (as in numerical). (See God: Is Elohim a Plural Word?) Further, in the Ancient Near East, people commonly worshiped multiple gods, so it was important to distinguish Yahweh from the multiple gods of surrounding nations, the type of gods that Ancient Near East people were familiar with. The idea of One God was a radical departure from cultural and time period concepts of gods.

The emphasis in these early verses was clearly on the oneness of God in contrast to the gods of the time. So, these verses may not be a good argument that Elohim (plural) supports the idea of the Trinity. Neither does such nuanced analysis preclude the idea as revealed elsewhere.

In Exodus, when Moses encounters God at the burning bush, he says, “The angel of the Lord appeared to him….” (Ex. 3:2) Then he says, “When the Lord saw that he [Moses] turned aside to look, God called to him….” (Ex. 3:4) Then the Lord said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” (Ex. 3:6)

This is the same passage in which God answers the question from Moses, who should I say sent me, as follows: “[S]ay to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’…. ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is My name forever, and this is My memorial-name to all generations.’” (Ex. 3:14-15)

Notice at the beginning of Exodus 3 that “the angel of the Lord appeared to Moses. (v.2) Then, the Lord (Yahweh) called to Moses. (v.4) Then the Lord said, “I am the God [אֱלהִים, Elohim – plural] of Abraham….” (v.6) The verses seem to interchange angel of the Lord with God.

Another Old Testament verse that Jesus quotes is spoken by David in the Psalms: “The LORD says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool’” (Psalm 110:1) Jesus quotes David’s words in a discussion with the Pharisees:

While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, “What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is he?”

“The son of David,” they replied.

He said to them, “How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him ‘Lord’? For he says,

 “‘The Lord said to my Lord:
“Sit at my right hand
until I put your enemies
under your feet.”’

If then David calls him ‘Lord,’ how can he be his son?” No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions. (Matthew 22:41-46)

Jesus was making this point because he claimed to be both the Son of God and the Son of Man. The Lord (Yahweh) is speaking to someone else who is also David’s Lord (Adonai). This “one” is both the son of David (as Jesus is called) and David’s Lord. (See GotQuestions)

When Jesus said, “Before Abraham was, I AM”, he might as well have said, too, “Before David was, I AM.”

And more significantly, Jesus called himself the Son of Man – an even more sacred term.

The idea of the triune nature of God is evident throughout the New Testament. John 1:1 states, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Then, John says, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” (John 1:14)

Jesus spoke often of God the Father, while referring to himself as both the Son of God and the Son of Man, and he spoke of the Holy Spirit who he would leave behind to guide his followers. After his resurrection, Jesus told his followers, “[G]o and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:19) These three persons share the name, Yahweh.

The Bible teaches that God is one Being and three in person. A being and a person are two different things. A being is what you are. Being is whatness. A person is who you are.

What I am is a human being. Who I am is Kevin Drendel. I am a human being and a person. Human is what, not who, I am. I am an unique person. I am one being and one person.

God is one God, and three persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The three persons are all God. The persons have unique roles or manifestations, but they are (together) God.

The Sonship of Jesus is not a physical reality, as in a biological reality, but a role. Jesus is, thus, inferior to the role of the Father, but he is equal in being. Just as my father is superior to me in terms of his role in my family, but we are equally human. We not equal in relationship, but we are equal in substance. God the Father is greater than Jesus in His role, but they are the same in essence. They are the same in their Godness.

I’m afraid this only scratches the surface. Hugh Ross, the astrophysicist, speaks in terms of multi-dimensionality. Others speak in terms of different manifestations. We may not be able to understand the plurality of one, true God completely, but the construct exists throughout Scripture from the very beginning (literally).

For a better and more nuanced description, watch and listen to Nabeel Qureshi below:

“All sorts of people are fond of repeating the Christian statement that ‘God is love’. But they seem not to notice that the words, ‘God is love’, have no real meaning unless God contains at least two Persons.

Love is something that one person has for another person. If God was a single person, then, before the world was made, He was not love.

Of course, what these people mean when they say that God is love is often something quite different: they really mean ‘Love is God’. They really mean that our feelings of love, however and wherever they arise, and whatever results they produce, are to be treated with great respect. Perhaps they are: but that is something quite different from what Christians mean by the statement ‘God is love’. They believe that the living, dynamic activity of love has been going on in God forever and has created everything else.

“And that, by the way, is perhaps the most important difference between Christianity and all other religions: that in Christianity God is not a static thing—not even a person—but a dynamic, pulsating activity, a life, almost a kind of drama. Almost, if you will not think me irreverent, a kind of dance.”

CS Lewis, from Mere Christianity

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