Is God One or Three

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No one would know better whether He is one or three than God Himself. Let us assume the Nature of God is three: three persons in One. We may rightly assume God is capable of communicating this idea to His worshippers if He so chose. Let us assume He wishes to convey this Trinitarian or triune idea to people. How could he go about it? He could be plain, simple, and direct for it is not difficult to say: "I am three" or "I am three in One: the Father, the Son, and the Spirit."

On the other hand God may choose to reveal Himself progressively to His chosen people throughout the Old Testament so that by the end of 39 inspired books the Jews would have an intelligent comprehension of the truth that "God is Three."

The first phrase of the Bible is: "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth." In Hebrew the word God is elohim which literally means "gods." Now, this could be the first hint to a plurality in God’s Nature. However, it would infer "gods" without indicating the number. That the Jews did not understand this to be so is the way they translated the Hebrew to Greek in the Third Century BC. They did not use theoi which means "gods." Rather they used ho theos which means The God in the masculine singular.

In the Bible’s second verse something else is first mentioned: "And the spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters." This word "spirit" is from the Hebrew ruach which means either breath or wind. In Greek this phrase is kai pneuma theou or "the breath of The God." A pneuma or ruach is an invisible force which exerts a pressure like wind. Pneuma or ruach is not a person but is a force. Some translators actually use "wind" instead of the Old English word ‘spirit."

In a later verse (26) Elohim (or ho theos), The God, speaks to someone else: "And The God said: ‘Let us make man according to our image." Is The God talking to Himself as if He were plural? The Jews did not understand that to be so. They thought these others were angels. (Job 38:4-7) There is no way of knowing, reading from verse 1, who this "us" might include. It is only after thousands of years of retrospection that Trinitarians construct a Trinity out of "God" of verse 1, "spirit" of verse 2, and the "Son" (or, the Spirit and the Son) of verse 26. Of course, there remains only one of these identified as "God" in verses 1 and 26. Nothing in these verses proves the spirit is a person or that the Son is meant in verse 26. These are later ideas imposed on the Genesis text.

What conclusions can we draw from just Genesis chapter one? There is the Creator, The God (ho theos vss 1, 26). There is the wind or breath of The God moving across the waters. And, there are others implied by "us" and "our" in verse 26. Does it seem fair to conclude that God is not communicating some mysterious three in His nature? If that had been so the Jews would have grasped the meaning right away.

How might God have inspired the verses if He wanted to communicate the plurality of His nature in three persons? It would not have been difficult, with an infinite vocabulary at hand, to have said: "In the beginning the Three Natures of God created ... and the Third Person was moving over the waters. ... And, the plural nature of God said to Himself: ‘Let us .... ‘" This would not have been difficult.

On the other hand, if the truth is "God is One," then Genesis 1:1 would mean there was one God, The God. The godly breath or divine wind of The God moved over the waters. Then, in verse 26, The God (ho theos) spoke to an unknown number of others who shared in His making of man. No matter how many are involved in the words "us" and "our" there is only one God, The God, giving the command to some unidentified other(s).

The Name of God — "One" or "Three"?

In Genesis 2:4 the Name of God is introduced for the first time. What does this Name mean? Does it convey the idea of a plurality of three or does it infer only One. There is some disagreement on this. However, when the Jews of the Third Century translated the Hebrew YHWH to Greek they gave the meaning ho On which means according to most scholars: "The One Who Is." Does the meaning of the Name convey plurality or oneness? It seems fair to state that ho On conveys only the idea of One?

Had God wanted to reveal his plural nature in three it would not have been difficult to state in some manner something like ho trias — The Three. Or, ho theos trias — The God Three, or The Three-God.

Is God "One" or "Three" in the Old Testament?

The Jews never comprehended any threeness in God as the Greek Philosophers or the Egyptian priesthood did. The idea of a triune god, or three gods in one, was right there in the religious cultures of the ancient world. It would not have been a difficult thing to convey this same idea if that is what God wanted to do. Why convey the idea of One when it was in fact Three given all the religions that surrounded Israel who already had trinities?

It is fair to state that nothing in the OT conveys the idea of a Trinity otherwise the Jews would have been the first to comprehend the notion. It is only by looking backwards through Trinitarian filters that triune-obsessed Christian scholars begin to conjure up Trinitarian images in Genesis chapters one and eighteen; or, Isaiah 6:3.

Illustrating this forced interpretation — looking for three when there is only One — is the Trinitarian twist to Deuteronomy 6:4 where the Shema declares the LORD to be One. Because the Hebrew echadh may mean one or first of others, it is argued that this verse becomes the "most explicit declaration of the Trinity in the whole Bible"! Even if one were to accept the quaint Trinitarian notion that the Hebrew word for "one" in some way conveys "one of more" it is only by retrospective Trinitarian filters this can mean three rather than an unknown number.

Is God "One" or "Three" in the New Testament?

When we come to the New Testament we could ask this same question: How would God go about revealing He was a plural of Three and not just one person alone? This is not difficult to write: "Our God is three." Nothing even remotely like this occurs.

Jesus the Nazarene has plenty of opportunity to use the number three in some connection with God. Note John 8:16-18: "The father who sent me is with me. Also, in your own Law it is written: ‘The witness of two persons is true.’ (Deuteronomy 19:15) I am one that bears witness about myself, and the Father who sent me bears witness abut me.’" Can anyone deny that abundant opportunity is present here to use the "three" of Deuteronomy 19:15 in revealing the three-fold nature of God. Jesus would have had no difficulty in saying: "As your law states: ‘The witness of three persons is true.’ I am one who bears witness of myself, and the Father bears witness of me, and the Holy Spirit also bears witness.’" Jesus could have actually used the same phrases in the fake text, 1 John 5:7 had he been a Trinitarian.

Paul is not ignorant of the number three for he uses it at 2 Corinthians 12:2 (tritou), 14 (triton); 13:1 (triton, trion), the later in the context of quoting Deuteronomy 19:15 and a plurality of persons. Paul also quotes Deuteronomy 19:15 but he adds "three" showing Jesus could have done the same.

It seems strange indeed that if Jesus were part of a Trinitarian deity — he would surely know this — and miss his opportunity in John 8:17, 18. It is probably fair to state that a real Trinitarian would not have included only two in this case but would have conjured up a 1 John 5:7.

Jesus has another opportunity when he quotes the Shema of Deuteronomy 6:4 in Mark 12:29: "Jesus answered, ‘The first is "Hear, O Israel, the Lord is one."’" Understanding what Jesus meant, the Jewish scribe says: "You are right, Teacher, you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other.’" To which Jesus says the man is "not far from the Kingdom of God." (Mk 12:29-34 RSV) Jesus could have easily given the Trinitarian explanation of the Hebrew echadh or the Greek heis as indicating three persons. Rather, the Nazarene praises the scribe for his conclusion: "(God) is One, and besides Him there is no other." Something which could not be said if God were Three.

This opportunity to involve three in a formula occurs also at Matthew 11:27: "No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him." (RSV) Why would the Son omit the Third Person of the Holy Trinity? For surely — if the Trinity be true — the Spirit would know the Father and the Son also. It would have been easy to say: "No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son, and the Holy Spirit knows both the Son and the Father as He is known by them."

Paul also makes it plain that "God is One" ignoring any opportunity to explain the Mystery of the Trinity. Twice in the contexts of others — with the opportunity to form some triune plurality — Paul stress "God is One." First in Galatians 3:20: "Now there is no mediator where only one person is concerned, but The God is only one [ho de theos heis estin]." Paul does this again at 1 Timothy 2:5: "For there is one God [heis gar theos]; there is also one mediator between God and humankind." Just as there is only "one mediator" and not some plural mediator, there is only one God.

In the very context of the plurality of "gods" Paul speaks of only one God: "There is no God except one. ... Yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist." (1 Corinthians 8:4, 6 RSV) Something pops right off the page: the missing Holy Spirit. With full opportunity and a mastery of language, Paul misses the chance to declare: "To us God is three: the Father, the Lord Jesus, and the Holy Spirit." It is a simple sentence. Why would God Himself miss this opportunity to inspire Paul to declare a triune Godhead?

Finally, some will immediately want to jump to Ephesians 4:4-6 and what will be declared to be a triune formula. Read it clearly and fairly: "There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all." (RSV) Only "one" is declared to be God in these verses. Rather than being a triune formula it encompasses seven "ones." It is the "one God" only who is "above all" — which would include the Christian "body" and the "one Spirit" and the "one Lord."

Had Paul been a Trinitarian and had a Trinitarian God inspired him would he have written Ephesians 4:4-6 in this manner? For he omits the spirit and Jesus from his declaration of "one God" and includes only the Father who is "above all" including the spirit and Jesus.

Summary

The above is presented as a statement of the Biblical truth that "God is One" and not three. It is presented to demonstrate that if "God is Three" the Bible seems to go in another direction. It is assumed God can communicate the simple truth that He is Three and if this is His intent he falls far short of it in the many declarations that "God is One." We ask, then, why the number "Three"?

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Nazarene Commentary 2000© by Mark Heber Miller

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