I was handed the July, 2012 Signs of the Times (Australian) opened to page 13 and asked “Read this and tell me what you think.” The article is titled “God is a Family” and it seeks to explain how God can be three and yet be one. Let’s have a look at the ideas and proof texts put forward and test them just as we are admonished to do.
After correctly stating that “the word Trinity does not appear in the Bible”, the article then asserts that the “idea of the Trinity shows up very clearly in the Bible”. This creates a quandary according to the article. The article asks:
But if God is Three Persons, how can we say that we believe in one God?
By asking “if God is three persons”, the way is immediately open to considering the negative, “if God is not three persons”. Let’s ask the question in the negative. “If God is not three persons, how can we say we believe in one God?” In this context the answer is very easy. No quandary at all. We believe in one God because, according to a plain reading of Scripture, He is one God, the Father (1 Corinthians 8:6, John 17:3).
The article then turns to nature for an example to “help to clear up the problem.” It offers the clover leaf, being one leaf with three segments, as an illustration of the three-in-one nature of God.
The first point to make here is that NOWHERE in the Bible are we given such an illustration of God. If the Bible writers, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21) were not moved to find an illustration of God in nature, then by what authority does the author of the Signs article do so?
A close look at the second commandment reveals that God has expressly forbidden us to make “any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth”. When a person likens God to a clover leaf, have they not done what God has expressly said not to do? In Romans 1:23, the apostle Paul warns of those who
changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things
Surely, here is a condemnation of those who liken God to the things in nature.
Writing under inspiration, Ellen White was very clear on this point when she said the following. Notice the opening words below, “I am instructed to say”. When God instructs His prophet to say something, it is in our eternal interests to pay strict attention!
I am instructed to say, The sentiments of those who are searching for advanced scientific ideas are not to be trusted. Such representations as the following are made: "The Father is as the light invisible; the Son is as the light embodied; the Spirit is the light shed abroad." "The Father is like the dew, invisible vapor; the Son is like the dew gathered in beauteous form; the Spirit is like the dew fallen to the seat of life." Another representation: "The Father is like the invisible vapor; the Son is like the leaden cloud; the Spirit is rain fallen and working in refreshing power." (SpTB07 p62, emphasis added)
Now comes a string of powerful sentences starting with:
All these spiritualistic representations are simply nothingness. (ibid p62)
That is followed up with the next sentence which says:
They are imperfect, untrue. They weaken and diminish the Majesty which no earthly likeness can be compared to. (ibid p62)
Her next sentence deals a devastating blow to the use of things in nature to illustrate God:
God can not be compared with the things His hands have made. (ibid p62)
She then says:
These are mere earthly things, suffering under the curse of God because of the sins of man. (ibid p62)
And now comes the final crushing blow:
The Father can not be described by the things of earth. (ibid p62)
Who cannot be described by the things of earth? - the Father! Notice that two sentences before this she states,
“God can not be compared with the things His hands have made.”
What about the Son of God? What about the Holy Spirit? Is it OK to describe them by the things of earth? The answer has to also be "No". The reason is that the Son of God is the express image of His Father (Hebrews 1:3) and is also God (John 1:1, Hebrews 1:8). The Holy Spirit proceeds from God (John 15:26) and is the Spirit of God (Genesis 1:2, Matthew 3:16). Therefore what pertains to the Father applies likewise to His Son and to the Holy Spirit. So in this powerful passage, Ellen White not only condemns three-in-one representations of God, but by logical implication, she is also saying that God is not three-in-one.
Can this be stated any more clearly? Here we have clear instruction not to do what the author of this article has done. Here we have clear instruction NOT to use illustrations in nature to describe God. The Bible writers did not do it and NOR SHOULD WE! God has made this abundantly and expressly clear through His faithful prophet to His remnant people. We ignore this instruction at our eternal peril.
The Signs article then went on to offer some proof texts to support the Trinity “idea” as the article terms it. The first text is Genesis 1:26 where God says
Let us make man in our image.
The author correctly points out that the pronoun “us” is plural in both English and Hebrew. However, the article has already defined this plurality as being three. It says
However, it [the Trinity]’s clearly suggested in the Old Testament, beginning with the first chapter of the Bible.
Is this a correct assessment or is this mere speculation? We will let the Bible be its own interpreter and test the author’s view.
We will firstly pursue the term “our image” and we will look at Hebrews 1:1-3:
1 God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, 2 Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; 3 Who being the brightness ofhisglory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high;
Here we see clearly stated that God has a Son who is the express image of His [God's] person. Nowhere in Scripture is anyone else described in such terms. It is true that man was created in the image of God and after His likeness but the Son of God is the express or exact image of His Father. The language here is clearly different. Also, this passage tells us that it was by God’s Son, that God made the worlds. Could the Father and His Son be the “us” in Genesis 1:26? The answer must be "Yes" because the same is also said in Ephesians 3:9; Colossians 1:15, 16; John 1:1-3 and Revelation 4:9-11. Notice that it was by the Son of God that God created everything. No one else is mentioned. We cannot find a third being to include in “us”.
So this is what has been revealed. Firstly, the Son of God is the only being who is the express image of God. Secondly, the Father created everything (“the worlds”) by His Son which makes it a creation by two (and two is the minimum number required to constitute “us”, that is, you do not need three to constitute "us" because it can be done with two).
We can only conclude therefore, that the “us” in Genesis 1:26 is the Father speaking to His Son. To arrive at any other conclusion is to go beyond what God has revealed and that is speculation. Whilst Genesis 1:2 clearly states that the “Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters”, the Bible is clear that it was Jesus who created the world, as we have seen above. We must also conclude that the Holy Spirit is different to the Father and the Son for again, there is no revelation to confirm otherwise. (This is another study on its own and is not dealt with in this paper.) To include the Holy Spirit in “us” is to go beyond what has been revealed and into the realm of speculation.
In Spiritual Gifts, volume 3, pages 33, 34, Ellen White makes this unambiguous statement:
After the earth was created, and the beasts upon it, the Father and Son carried out their purpose, which was designed before the fall of Satan, to make man in their own image. They had wrought together in the creation of the earth and every living thing upon it. And now God says to his Son, "Let us make man in our image."
There we have the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy totally consistent in what has been revealed and neither reveals a trinity in Genesis 1:26.
The next proof text in the Signs article is Genesis 11:7 where God says
Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech.
The article compares this with verse 4 where the people said “let us build us a city and a tower”. The author muses
It’s interesting – and I believe significant – that the Bible uses the same word [us] when quoting God.
Surely the word “us”’ is used on any occasion that one individual speaks on behalf of themselves and at least one other. Why would there be one word “us” applying to humans and a different word “us” when applying to God? The ancient Hebrew language did not cater for that and neither does English which is why the Bible translators used the only word available which is “us”. There was, and still is, no other alternative word. Again we find the author speculating beyond that which is revealed and providing no evidence to support these suppositions. There is no evidence that Genesis 11:7 is referring to any other “us” than the same “us” referred to in Genesis 1:26. Having already found that the Bible interprets the “us” in Genesis 1:26 as the Father and Son and with no clear evidence to the contrary, it is reasonable to interpret “us” in Genesis 11:7 as referring to the same two divine beings, and once again, we fail to find a third being revealed.
Isaiah 6:8 was the next text offered as proof of the plurality of God because in it the Lord says “who will go for us?” In verse 1 of chapter 6, Isaiah says that he saw “the Lord sitting upon a throne” and that “His train filled the temple”. Clearly, he was looking at only one divine being and, as the Father is invisible to humans and has not been seen by any man (John 1:18), Isaiah must have been looking at the Son of God. So who is the “us” of verse 8? In the vision, Isaiah saw one divine being and at least two seraphims. Could they be the “us”? This is unlikely, because angels are messengers of God and are not able to send humans on missions for themselves. That is a right that belongs to God alone (1Corinthians 8:6). We have already established that “us” in Genesis 1:26 and 11:7 is referring to the Father and His Son, so could “us” be the Son of God speaking on behalf of Himself and His Father in Isaiah 6:8? This is the explanation that is most consistent with the rest of Scripture.
The article then moves on to Deuteronomy 6:4,
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.
The author states,
Interestingly, however, the Hebrew word [for one] isechad, which, like the English wordsflockandherd, is a singular word with a plural meaning. A flock of birds includes many birds, and a herd of cattle includes many bulls and cows.
Let us put this assessment of echad to the test.
Firstly, we should note that the Jews have been quoting this text for a very long time. They are monotheistic and they say it means “one”. On the Jewish website “Judaism 101” for example, you can see that echad is clearly stated as “one”. No one knows the Hebrew language better than the Jews so if they cannot see a plural God in Deuteronomy 6:4, then one has to question the accuracy of any interpretation that purports to do so.
It must be admitted however that there is divergence of opinions on the true meaning of echad among the various Hebrew dictionaries. Strong’s Concordance, for example, tells us that the meaning of echad (#259) is “united, one or first”. It goes on to state, “Echad stresses unity/oneness but recognises diversity within that oneness.” The New American Standard Hebrew Lexicon defines it as, “a primary cardinal number; one.” The Brown-Driver-Brigg’s Hebrew Lexicon says, “one (number).” Note that the Hebrew word yachad (Strongs #3161) does mean unite or join, so one must question why Moses did not use that word in Deuteronomy 6:4 if plurality was the intended meaning.
If the Hebrew scholars cannot agree on the true meaning of this ancient word, can we discern its meaning from its use elsewhere in Scripture? The good news is that we can. Echad was used 951 times in the Old Testament (according to Strong’s Concordance) and was translated “one” on 687 of those times. This is the power of context. A few examples will suffice to prove the point and we will start with the books written by Moses since he also wrote Deuteronomy. The way Moses used echad elsewhere in his books will give us a clear picture.
In Genesis 27:38, Esau asked Isaac
Hast thou but one [echad] blessing, my father? Bless me, even me also, O my father.
Isaac indeed had only one blessing and he had already given it to Jacob. Here we see that echad means one and has no room for plurality else Isaac would have been able to give Esau another blessing.
In Genesis 42:11, Joseph’s brothers, when they came to him in Egypt for food, said,
We are all one [echad] man’s sons; we are true men, thy servants are no spies
Again there is no room here for unity/oneness or group plurality. One father is nothing like one flock of birds. The idea is naturally inherent in the use of the word. They were all one [echad] man’s sons, not one [echad] men’s sons. A few verses later in verse 16, Joseph said,
Send one [echad] of you, and let him fetch your brother
It is clear that Joseph intended to keep all but one in prison and for one only to return for Benjamin. There is no suggestion of a plural number returning for Benjamin in that verse. In verse 19, Joseph said
let one [echad] of your brethren be bound in the house of your prison
Verse 24 confirms that Simeon only was kept in Egypt and the remaining nine brothers returned to Canaan. The language is clear and the meaning is clear.
While we are in Genesis, we need to look at Genesis 2:24 which says,
Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one [echad] flesh.
Although not offered as a proof text in the Signs article, this text is often quoted as evidence that echad means united and so it should be examined here also. The short answer is that indeed the text is referring to the marriage union but it is the sum of the words that defines the concept and not the concept defining the words. By that I mean the words “they (plural) shall be one (singular) flesh” taken together defines the concept of the marriage union. The concept is two becoming one unit. Consequently, the only way for “echad flesh” to mean one singular unit is for echad to mean one. It simply defines the number of units. This position is confirmed in Ephesians 5:31 where Paul in quoting Genesis 2:24 uses the Greek word mia (Strongs #3391) which means one only and has no sense of being compound.
In Exodus 25:18, 19, in explaining to Moses how to build the Ark of the Covenant, God said,
And thou shalt make two cherubims of gold, of beaten work shalt thou make them, in the two ends of the mercy seat. And make one [echad] cherub on the one end, and the other [echad] cherub on the other end: even of the mercy seat shall ye make the cherubims on the two ends thereof.
This is abundantly clear. One [echad] cherubim on one end plus one [echad] cherubim on the other end made a total of two cherubims. Each cherubim individually is an echad cherubim.
A little further on in Exodus 29:38, 39, we read,
Now this is that which thou shalt offer upon the altar; two lambs of the first year day by day continually. The one [echad] lamb thou shalt offer in the morning; and the other lamb thou shalt offer at even.
As in the example of the cheribum above, one is literally one and two is literally two.
Let us move on to Deuteronomy and look a little past chapter 6 and go to chapter 17 and verse 6 where there is another very clear example of the singularity of echad. It says,
At the mouth of two witnesses, or three witnesses, shall he that is worthy of death be put to death; but at the mouth of one [echad] witness he shall not be put to death.
Here we see echad contrasted to both the number two and the number three. It can therefore only mean one and cannot mean more than one or a unity as it is clear from the verse that more than one single witness is required for a death sentence.
Now, let us have a look at how, in his unparalleled wisdom, Solomon used the word echad. In Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, Solomon said
Two are better than one [echad]; because they have a good reward for their labour. For if they fall, the one [echad] will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone [echad] when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up. Again, if two lie together, then they have heat: but how can one [echad] be warm alone? And if one [echad] prevail against him, two shall him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken.
Here we have the wisest man who ever lived, making a very clear distinction between one person and two persons and he uses the word echad to do it. Notice that he also uses echad for “alone”. Echad can only have a singular meaning here for a compound unity in these verses would make absolutely no sense of what Solomon was saying.
Further on in the Old Testament, Ezekiel 9:2 says,
And, behold, six men came from the way of the higher gate, which lieth toward the north, and every man a slaughter weapon in his hand; and one [echad] man among them was clothed with linen, with a writer's inkhorn by his side: and they went in, and stood beside the brazen altar.
Here we have Ezekiel using echad to draw particular attention to one man among a group of six men. It is clear that he means one man only because a writer’s inkhorn was by his (singular) side. The language is clear and there is no indication of plurality in reference to the man clothed in linen. He is one (singular) man.
In the last book of the Old Testament, Malachi, we read in chapter 2 verse 10,
Have we not all one [echad] father? hath not one [echad] God created us? why do we deal treacherously every man against his brother, by profaning the covenant of our fathers?
The first use of echad in this verse is to demonstrate one (singular) father. The language can mean nothing else. The second use of echad is to demonstrate one (singular) God, however a Trinitarian would argue that since God is three-in-one here is proof that echad has a plural meaning. We will let the Jews settle this point.
In John 8:41, Jesus said to the Jews,
Ye do the deeds of your father [clearly singular].
In the same verse, the Jews then referred to Malachi 2:10 in response saying,
We be not born of fornication; we have one Father, even God.
The word “one” is the Greek word heis (Strong’s #1520) which means “a primary numeral; one”. So here the Jews of Jesus’ time have clearly interpreted echad, when describing God, to mean one just as it does when it is applied other than to God. Notice that, when you read the rest of John 8, Jesus does not correct them. Clearly, He must have agreed with the interpretation for surely here was a perfect opportunity to set the record straight on the multiple personalities of God if indeed He is multiple persons. We can say that with confidence because the next words of Jesus settle the matter. It says in verse 42,
Jesus said unto them, If God were your Father, ye would love me: for I proceeded forth and came from God; neither came I of myself, but he sent me.
The word “God” is translated from the Greek word “theos” (Strong’s #2316) which is used in the singular form. So Jesus is clearly agreeing that God is singular and His use of “Father” is also singular.
This should be enough evidence that echad is NOT “like the English wordsflockandherd” and is NOT “a singular word with a plural meaning” as the author of the Signs article states. When Moses said “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one” that is exactly what he meant. He did not mean the Lord is three or three-in-one or a unity of three or any other variant of three. He meant what he said that there is one Lord our God.
To remove any lingering doubts, let us have a look at how Jesus Himself quoted Deuteronomy 6:4. It is found in Mark 12:28-34 and it says (emphasis added),
28 And one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, and perceiving that he had answered them well, asked him, Which is the first commandment of all? 29 And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: 30 And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. 31 And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these. 32 And the scribe said unto him, Well, Master, thou hast said the truth: for there is one God; and there is none other but he: 33 And to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbour as himself, is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices. 34 And when Jesus saw that he answered discreetly, he said unto him, Thou art not far from the kingdom of God. And no man after that durst ask him any question.
Note the bits in bold type above. Jesus Himself said in verse 29 that “the Lord our God is one Lord”. The word “Lord” is translated from the Greek word kurios (Strong’s #2962) and is singular. The word “God”, as we saw above, is translated from the Greek word “theos” (Strong’s #2316) and is singular. The word “one” is the Greek word heis (Strong’s #1520) which, as we have also seen above, means “a primary numeral; one”. All of the language is singular. There is no indication here whatsoever from Jesus Himself of any plurality in God. Surely, if God was meant to be spoken of in the plural, here was another perfect opportunity for Jesus to set the record straight. But He did not do it and nor should we.
The scribe confirmed what Jesus said by saying “for there is one [heis] God [theos]; and there is none other but he” (see Deuteronomy 4:35,39). Notice that Jesus affirmed the scribe in his understanding saying that “Thou art not far from the kingdom of God”.
So here we have it from our Lord Jesus Himself. Those that understand that “there is one God and none other but he”, are “not far from the kingdom of God”. It is worth further pointing out that in John 17:3 Jesus said, when praying to His Father,
And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God [theos], and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.
The apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 8:6,
But to us there is but one [heis] God [theos], the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one [heis] Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.
Scripture is very clear. There is one only God, the Father, and there is one only begotten Son (John 3:16) of the only true God. Where is the compound unity? Where is the three-in-one? They are certainly not found in a plain reading of Scripture, that is, a plain “Thus saith the Lord”.
The Signs article then goes on to talk about God being a family saying,
God is a single unit that consists of Three Members, the Trinity. Thus, God is both singular and plural at the same time, which is no more of a mathematical problem than thinking of a family as both singular and plural at the same time.
The problem with this statement is that we have just seen that God is singular all of the time. Jesus Himself confirmed it in John 17:3. Saying that God is plural is speculation because the Bible simply does not say it.
The article further states,
If God is a Family, then God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit love each Other in much the same way that truly loving family members in our own world love each other. And that puts a whole new slant on the wordTrinity. It’s really just another name for God’s loving Family.
Let’s put that to the test.
John 5:20 tells us “For the Father loveth the Son” so we know that God loves His Son. We know that Jesus loves His Father because, as we saw above in Mark 12:28-34, Jesus said that the first great commandment was “thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart”. We know Jesus kept all of His Father’s commandments because He said so in John 15:10:
If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in his love.
So, though not stated directly, we can connect Scripture to see, indirectly stated, that Jesus loved His Father. However, nowhere does the Bible speak, either directly or indirectly, of the Father or the Son loving the Holy Spirit or of the Holy Spirit loving the Father or the Son. To make this assertion is speculation for the Bible does not say it. The only family relationship, in the genetic sense, in Heaven of which the Bible speaks is the Father and His Son. The Bible does not say that the Holy Spirit is a personal being like the Father and the Son. The Bible does not speak of a family relationship as we understand it involving the Holy Spirit. To ascribe these characteristics to the Holy Spirit is speculation for the Bible does not say it.
In wrapping up, the article states,
Now think of this: If Jesus was truly God,then it was God who went to the cross, who took upon Himself the guilt of our sins and paid for them with His death.
Here we get to the nub of the issue. The author has drawn this logical, but incorrect, conclusion because the Trinity doctrine treats the members of the Trinity as being indivisible and inseparable. Whilst it is true that “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself” (2 Corinthians 5:19), it is not the same as saying that “it was God who went to the cross”. The Bible makes it clear that it was the Son of God who died on the cross. Matthew 27:46 gives us this record,
And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?
If it was God Himself on the cross as the author asserts, to whom was this prayer directed? The Bible says it was Jesus hanging on the cross and as such it was His Father to whom the cry of anguish was directed. When we speculate beyond what Scripture says we enter dangerous ground.
The article next states,
And that gives me a whole new way to think about God. It gives me a reason for loving Him that would never have occurred to me had I thought Jesus was only a human like the rest of us.
Here we have a very dangerous idea. The Bible teaches clearly that Jesus was human like the rest of us. Romans 8:3 tells us,
For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh:
Hebrews 4:15 says,
For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.
So Jesus was human like us. He looked like us. His body was subject to the ravages of 4,000 years of sin as were the bodies of all people at that time. But He was also God. John 1:1, 14 says
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . . .14 And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.
It was the divine Son of God, the Word, who dwelt among men as a man, went to the cross as a man, died as a man and was raised as a man by His Father as Paul tells us in Ephesians 1:20 where he says,
Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places
It had to be the divine Son of God who died on the cross because it is He and He alone who is the substitute for us. John makes this clear in 1 John 2:1-2 where he said,
My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.
Clearly it was not God who went to the cross but His Son.
So is this article correct? Is God a family? We would have to say from the evidence shown in the Bible, that God is a single personal being although invisible to us. On any definition of “family”, the idea of God being a family fails.
A better question to ask is “Does God have a family?” On that point we do have clear revelation in Scripture. God has a beloved Son. Two times, at the baptism of Jesus in Matthew 3:17 and at the Mount of Transfiguration in Mark 9:7, the voice of God confirmed that Jesus was His beloved Son. The good news is that, as the article correctly points out, we too are sons and daughters of God. The author referred to that wonderful text, Ephesians 1:5 which says,
Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will,
There we have the plainest of statements that we are adopted children of God.
Also note that Job 1:6 speaks of “a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan came also among them.” We would understand this to refer to God’s created sons being the angels.
So clearly, God indeed does have a family made up of His only begotten Son, His created sons and His adopted children being repentant sinners.
It is because of Jesus, the only begotten Son, that every repentant sinner is part of God’s family and that is good news.
(I am grateful to Lynnford Beachy whose “Answering Objections” series helped me in researching this article. All Bible quotes are from the KJV.)