Nothing to support the dogma [of the Trinity] can be pointed out in cripture.” — Luther
The Importance of Our Topic At present the world is deeply divided over who Godis. Millions of Jews and over a billion Muslims are a like repelled by the historic Christian doctrine that God is three in one. As long as that central tenet is maintained it fosters a religious hostility between peoples of the world faiths. Our difficulties as a human race are firstly theological. We are hopelessly disunited on the issue of who God is. Collectively we do not know how to define God. Thus we do not know which God to serve. And we have apparently forgotten that Jesus was a Jew reciting, as his most precious doctrine, the Shema: “Hear O Israel the Lord our God is One Lord” (reading the Greek LXX of Deut. 6:4, cp. Mark 12:28ff), which as everyone should know is a unitarian creed .
At stake is the central question of obeying and following the teaching of Jesus. If our God is not the God of the Hebrew Bible, of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and of Jesus himself, are we floundering in the chaos of polytheism? It is at least worthwhile to explore that threatening possibility. In so doing we may be able to confirm our salvation and rejoice in the truth as Jesus taught it. No considerations of party loyalty, “what we have always believed,” “what my church says,” or fear of standing alone should deter us for one second from the Berean exercise to which we are all committed (Acts 17:11). God is to be worshiped, Jesus said, “in spirit and truth.” Error can only obstruct our relationship with God. Confusion over who God is inevitably reaps a reward of confusion and debilitation in our lives, which are strong only in so far as truth is their dynamic foundation. Jesus was not kidding when he warned that understanding the Lord our God as one single Lord is the proper basis for our theological and Christian lives and witness (Mark 12:28-34; John 4:24).
Now consider the current situation, as tradition has bequeathed it to us. “Distinguished but undivided, bound together in therness, one in three : that is the Godhead and the three are one ” (Credo of Gregory of Nazianzus, AD 381). This language is still heard in Roman Catholic liturgy. It presides over evangelical churches of all sorts.
Thus Hans Kung has spoken of “the unbiblical, very abstractly constructed speculation of the Roman Catholic treatises” and “the
Hellenization of the Christian primordial message by Greek theology.” He expresses “the genuine concern of many Christians and the justified frustration of Jews and Muslims in trying to find in such formulas the pure faith in one God.”
Amen! Claus Westerman said, “The question of relationships of the persons in the Trinity to one an other and the question of the divinity and humanity in the person of Christ as a question of ontic [having to do with ‘essence’] relationships could only arise When the Old Testament had lost its significance for the early church. The Christological and Trinitarian questions structurally correspond to the mythological questions into relationships of the gods to one another in a pantheon.”
Is anyone alarmed, or is the status quo to continue without a batting of the eyelids? When did intelligent evangelicals last inspect the “books” of their churc Does the creed definitely reflect a creed which Jesus could have wholeheartedly approved and poclaimed?
A Mother of Muddles: A Confusion over the Bible’s Word for God One does not have to advance very far into Scripture to arrive at the word God, with a capital G (although in the original there are no capitals as distinct from lower case). “In the beginning God created… ” We confront here the Hebrew word Elohim followed by a verb which is singular (“he,” not “they” created). In G.T. Armstrong’s paperback of 1977, The Real Jesus, the author announces that “it is time you met the real Jesus” (p. 1). Armstrong investigates the birth narratives. After a spirited description of the human being, Jesus of Nazareth, we learn that the Creator, obviously here not Jesus but the Father, was announcing the birth of His Son through three different groups of individuals. Surprisingly, the visitation of Gabriel to Mary declaring the basis on which Jesus might be called Son of God , that is, by the procreating activity of the Father (Luke 1:35; Matt. 1:18, 20), is completely bypassed in Ted Armstrong’s account. We are immediately, however, plunged into a chapter entitled “Jesus the Creator — His Former Life.” Jesus in his former life, we are told, had spoken to Abraham in Genesis 18. Jesus, said Mr. Armstrong, was not understood by his opponents when he spoke of Abraham having looked forward to his appearance (p.14). “Jesus was thinking in another dimension — the full knowledge and awareness of who and what he was, of his spiritual background and timelessness.” Armstrong then moves from Abraham to John 1:1: “There are two other important Scriptures relative to Christ’s preexistence: ‘In the beginning God created…’ (Gen. 1:1) and ‘In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.’”
Now I do not wish in any way to come over as “smart” or condemning, but what follows in The Jesus sets out a whole theology which has had dramatic consequences for the education and spiritual journeys of countless thousands of people over some 70 years. G.T.Armstrong says: “The Hebrew word for God is Elohim.
It is an interesting word with a plural form (the –im ending).” “A little research,” says Mr. Armstrong, “demonstrates that Elohim can indicate more than one person ; and can be taken to mean a family of persons.”
Our author goes on: “Elohim means more than one and while not necessarily limiting the number, many other texts prove there was the Father (whom no man has ever seen at any time) and the Son. Therefore in our modern English language, the beginning text of the Bible would be more understandable if it were written thus: ‘In beginning the family of God, consisting of the Father and the Son, created the heaven and the earth.’”
Presumably it would follow that the thousands of appearances of that same word Elohim in the Hebrew Bible are likewise, ccording to the Armstrong scheme, mistranslated, and really mean “the one God-Family.
The proposal is surely a momentous one setting the standard for an entire theology. At the same time this proposal claims to correct all the standard translations of Scripture. Was G.T. Armstrong equipped to instruct the entire modern academy of theology? Would not common sense itself suggest otherwise? The die is now cast. We are launched, I think, into polytheism, based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the facts of the Hebrew language — the use of the word Elohim.
I would invite you to pause and reflect on what is happening here. Let us ask this question: Since the Bible was translated into English from Hebrew and Greek in hundreds and hundreds of translations into hundreds and hundreds of languages, has any single translator or committee of scholars who rendered the sacred text from the Hebrew, at any time, proposed or sanctioned that translation, which our author, who would claim no specialist training in language modern or ancient, offers us: “In the beginning the family of God, Father and Son, created the heavens and the earth”?
Armstrong goes on: “The Hebrew word elohim in Genesis 1:1 means that there was more than one member of the God family involved in the creating… The Word of John 1 was the executive member of the Godhead of whom the Bible says all things were made by him. Perhaps the clearest description absolutely proving that the Jesus Christ of the New Testament was the same
Being who was the Eternal Creator of the Old Testament, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, is Colossians 1:16…
The Bible clearly shows, without any interpretation or exegesis, that the creator being who is called ‘God’ (Elohim or Yahweh) in the Old Testament is the same individual who became the Jesus Christ of the New Testament…The personage who emptied himself and became flesh, born of the virgin Mary to become the baby Jesus in Bethlehem was the same individual who created Adam, who saved Noah, who appeared to Abraham. He was the same personality of the Godhead or God family who wrote the 10 commandments and ruled Israel. The Bible absolutely proves the fact that Jesus Christ of the NT is the same person as the God of the OT” (p. 18, emphasis added).
If we now review the information presented in The Real Jesus, we have been told that:
1) Elohim is plural in meaning
2) It means the Family of God
3) It means one member of that family, the one who became Jesus.
There are a number of serious problems with these declarations. If Elohim is plural in meaning then it should always be translated Gods. In this case it would refer to two or more Gods. A word cannot mean both God and Family. This would be to assign two completely different meanings to the same word. If the Bible wanted to speak of the Family of God it could do this quite easily, a s for example the “family of David,” “family of Egypt.” There is a perfectly good Hebrew word for family, but the Creator is nowhere said to be a Family of Persons. However, if Elohim means “family,” and yet is a plural word, why should it not be rendered “families”? And if it means in Genesis 1:1 “Gods,” or Family of God, how can it also refer to one single member of that family, Jesus Christ?
A number of more serious problems arise on these premises: If Elohim is plural and thus mean Gods then what is the significance of the singular verb following (“he [not they] created”)? We would have to translat e, “In the beginning Gods, he created” or “
Gods was the creator.” We are rapidly reducing the sacred text to nonsense.
Have readers who were once persuaded by the Armstrongs realized that they may have been induced into reading and speaking and even teaching nonsense as biblical truth? Did not many invest their precious earnings in support of this brand of “theology”?
What we are seeing here is a highly problematic shifting of definitions, which in every other field would be detected and recognized as a form of confusion and deception. What Mr. Armstrong presents is a grammatical method in which all sorts of grammatical laws, rules and definitions are thrown aside. Dictionaries and lexicons are discarded as unnecessary and imagination is given free rein. A kind of mystical grammatical category is created by which an innocent word like Elohim has taken on a speculative new dimension, allowing this disaster: that precious monotheism is undermined — and the evidence of standard lexicons and commentaries is allowed no place.
Moreover, the Jewish understanding of God (remembering that the sacred oracles were committed to Jews) is arbitrarily and amateurishly overthrown. If Elohim is really plural in meaning in Genesis 1:1, then it should be translated “In the beginning GODS —he created the heavens and earth.”
Unfortunately, it is by changing, or interchanging, the meaning of words, without notice, that a major piece of disinformation can be created, and millions taken in (both dollars and persons!).
Firstly, then, Elohim cannot mean at the same time in Genesis 1:1 three different things:
2) Family God and
3) One member of that Family.
“Gods” is of course plural, family is a singular word and one member of the family is also singular. To ask the same word in Genesis 1:1 to have all three definitions is utterly impossible. “God” and “family” are quite distinct ideas and cannot possibly be covered by the one term Elohim.
Now one could argue that Elohim is a collective noun, like team, family, committee. But in that case it is not plural — not like teams, families or committees. A collective noun denotes a collection of persons, places or things regarded as one (flock, forest, crowd, committee, jury, class, herd, covey, legislature, battalion, squad, and squadron). The objects collected into one term have some characteristics in common, enabling us to regard them as a group. The words “audience” and “congregation” enable us to gather individuals into a single unit. But the fact needs to be stated clearly: Elohim is never in the Bible a collective noun — never. It is not a “group” word when used of the One God. It does not function like the word “family.” No lexicon lists it as a collective noun.
Peloubet’s Dictionary of the Bible (1947) stated the truth: “
The fanciful idea that Elohim referred to a Trinity [or we could add Binity] of persons in the Godhead hardly finds now a supporter among scholars.”
In what Mr. Armstrong called The Real Jesus we were introduced into the realm of grammatical fiction and fancy. We were invited in fact, under the guise of intelligent Bible study, to embrace a pagan godhead consisting of more than one Person.
Twenty years later, when Ernest Martin issued his comprehensive account of The Essentials of New Testament Doctrine in 1999, the same confusion over God was reinforced and with a greater degree of dogmatism. It is worth observing first, though, an extraordinary assertion of E.L. Martin in regard to the status of the teaching of Jesus. His ultra-dispensation alist point of view represents, I think, a dangerous rejection of Jesus: “
All the teachings Christ gave to the Jews during his earthly ministry within the Old Covenant framework were of no importance to Paul (in matters elating to salvation). Paul did not refer to any of Christ’s teachings (other than the bread and wine) given by Christ while in the flesh ”
I invite our readers to ponder this statement long and hard. This amazing dictum would mean that the sermon on the mount and the parable of the sower, the Olivet Discourse, and the rest of Jesus’ precious utterances (including his affirmation of the creed of Israel in Mark 12:28-34) are of no interest to the Christian!
This devastating confusion is compounded when E.L. Martin declares: “We need to know what ‘God’ signifies in Scripture…
It will be found that both God the Father and His Son are ‘God,’ yet they are both separate personalities united together in a singular purpose.”
Martin then speaks of “confusion regarding who or what ‘God’ really is” (p. 450). “This misjudgment occurs because most people assume the term ‘God’ always means a singular and exclusive Supreme Being.”
Now this: “Whether the Greek word theos is used to describe the Deity or the Hebrew word elohim, it was fully accepted [by the writers of the Bible] that there existed more than one ‘god’” (p. 451). “Elohim is clearly a plural word. The two terminal letters ‘
im ’ make the word to be plural…
Since Elohim is plural, the simple meaning of Elohim is ‘Powers’ or ‘powerful ones.’ However, we will see that when Elohim is governed by a singular verb (which occurs often in Scripture) the stress coalesces the plural meaning into a singular understanding (but still with plural significance)” (p. 488). “The plural is fused into meaning a singular ‘group of powers,’ or worded differently ‘a Congregation of Powers.’” “No matter what we have been taught over the years about the singularity of God, the word Elohim is a simple plural. If we wish to use the English word ‘God’ as its translation, we must (to be grammatically harmonious and consistent) place the letter ‘s’ on our word God throughout the Hebrew Scriptures” (p. 488).
Martin here proposes a corruption of the Hebrew Bible and accuses, by implication, the writers of the New Testament of ignorance. No New Testament writer ever rendered the Hebrew word for the One God as “ theoi” (Gods).
Elohim when referring to the One God comes into the inspired Greek of the New Testament (some 1310 times) as theos (singular). This proves of course that the translations are all correct when they say “in the beginning GOD created the heavens and the earth.”
Thousands of singular personal pronouns standing for Elohim, and His other names, can only affirm, massively, the fact that God is a Single, Divine, Personal Being.
Martin repeats himself: “If one wishes to retain the English word ‘God’ one must put an ‘s’ on ‘God’ each time it is used. By stating this I would normally be subjected to ridicule by those who read and know the Hebrew language, because it is evident that in the great majority of cases Elohim, though plural in grammatical construction, is governed by singular verbs and must be understood in a singular manner. Yes, but I state dogmatically [here E.L.M. goes into bold print] that the only way to make sense out of the Hebrew in regard to understanding the Godhead is to put the letter ‘s’ on the end of every word translated ‘God’ in the English
language if the Hebrew word is Elohim” (p. 490). “[In the Shema] the very text itself says that Elohim (‘Gods’) is one. This cardinal point emphasizes the singularity of the plural word Elohim.” “The Hebrew word ‘one’ ca actually carry the meaning of more than ‘one’ (a single person). Note carefully when Adam was married to Eve they became ‘one flesh’ (echad) though they represented two separate personalities (Gen. 2:24)” (p. 495). “The Hebrew word echad is more expansive in the plural meaning than that…
So the plural Elohim refers to one Godhead made up of many individuals (the Father, the Firstborn and other Sons of God, along with female members, see Proverbs 8:2-31)” (p. 495). “Just what is God? Elohim is the One divine family to which all of us
belong” (p. 499).
All this prodigious effort to turn one into two or three or more, of course, began early in church history and continues unabated in some evangelical Trinitarian and especially Messianic Jewish Trinitarian circles. By the time of Origen (c. 185-254) a confusion over God was in full swing. The historical Son of God had been turned into the “eternally generated” Son. This concept was
at the heart of the whole traditional creedal system of Roman Catholics and Protestants. It produced the problem that though God is one, yet since the Son is also fully God, somehow two has to be one.
Ernest Martin and Ted Armstrong were unwittingly in the Roman Catholic tradition, a tradition, however, based on arguments about Elohim , in fact rejected by the best Roman Catholic and Protestant scholars of the biblical languages for many centuries.
Before illustrating some of the ancient debate over Elohim and the supposed plurality in the Godhead (Binity or Trinity), here is the state of play in the third century (a papyrus first published in 1949). Origen is discussing the Godhead with a certain Bishop Heraclides. He wants to check him out and verify his “orthodoxy”: “Since the bishops present had raised questions about
the faith of the bishop Heraclides, so that in the presence of all he might acknowledge his faith, and each of them had made remarks and had raised the question, the bishop Heraclides said: ‘And I too believe exactly what the divine Scriptures say: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into existence through him, and nothing came into existence apart from him.” So we agree in the faith and, furthermore, we believe that the Christ assumed flesh, that he was born, that he ascended into the heavens with the flesh in which he arose, and that he is seated at the right hand of the Father, whence he is going to come and judge the living and the dead, being God and man.’
Origen: I ask you, Father Heraclides, God is the Almighty, the uncreated, the supreme one who made all things. Do you agree?
Heraclides: I agree; for this I too believe.
Origen: Christ Jesus, who exists in the form of God, though he is distinct from God in the form in which he existed, was he God before he entered a body or not?
Heraclides: He was God before.
Origen: God distinct from this God in whose form he existed?
Heraclides: Obviously distinct from any other, since he is in the form of that one who created everything.
Origen: Was there not a God, Son of God, the only-begotten of God, the first-born of all creation, and do we not devoutly say that in one sense there are two Gods and, in another, one God?
Heraclides: What you say is clear; but we say that there is God, the Almighty, without beginning and without end, containing all things but not contained, and there is his Word, Son of the living God, God and man, through whom all things came into existence, God in relation to the Spirit and man in that he was born of Mary.
Origen: You do not seem to have answered my question. Make it clear; perhaps I did not follow you.
Is the Father God?
Origen: Is the Son distinct from the Father?
Heraclides: How can he be Son if he is also Father?
Origen: While distinct from the Father, is the Son himself also God?
Heraclides: He himself is also God.
Origen: And the two Gods become one?
Origen: Do we acknowledge two Gods?
Heraclides: Yes; the power is one.
Origen: But since our brethren are shocked by the affirmation that there are two Gods, the subject must be examined with care in order to show in what respect they are two and in what respect the two are one God.”
This today remains the problem for all those who propose that God is in some sense more than one . Once the unitary nature of God slipped from the church’s grasp, and once a Trinity or Binity is embraced, it becomes necessary to force that idea back on to the Bible.
“Elohim” is the point of attack in this procedure. It is a relief to return to the theology of Jesus in Mark 12:28-34.
Eohim (the Hebrew word for God), in fact, is singular in meaning when referred to the One God. This is shown by the singular verbs which normally follow, and by thousands of singular personal pronouns. Elohim has a plural meaning when it refers to pagan “gods.” Elohim has a singular meaning when designating a single pagan god, Milchom, Astarte, etc.
Elohim, El, Eloah, and Yahweh are all words for the true God and are identical in meaning, and singular in meaning when referring to the one true God. They are replaced, and thus defined, by singular personal pronouns, over and over again. The Greek word for God is “ O [the] theos [God],” and it is always and invariably singular in meaning when referring, some 1300 times (!) to the One God, the Father of Jesus, the Son.
This information can be inspected in the Hebrew text, in translations and in all the standard Hebrew lexicons (Brown, Driver and Briggs, Kohler Baumgartner, Jenni and Westermann, etc.). For the New Testament, which is in Greek, we have many standard
lexicons. One of the most famous is the one by Walter Bauer. The article in Bauer on God (theos) and Father (pater) provides excellent information. You will be impressed that there is a special name for the Father, which is GOD-Father, or God and Father. You will find no entry (because the word is absent from Scripture) for “God the Son”!
Those of us who followed the Armstrongs (Worldwide Church of God) in defining God rejected the testimony of history, of the Hebrew text and of the Hebrew lexicons and grammarians. We preferred to believe the teaching of those who had no formal trai
ning in languages, biblical or otherwise. We were taught to despise all scholarship. This was a colossal error and we learned the lesson (a valuable one) at great cost. In no other field than “Bible” would you imagine entrusting yourself to a non-expert, who nevertheless claimed to know what he was saying. He was encouraged in this self-deception, and this continues, by trusting and gullible followers, who usually knew as little about Greek and Hebrew as Herbert Armstrong did. Armstrong’s pontifications (like those of Victor Paul Wierwille of the Way International on a different subject) on the Sabbath in Colossians 2:16 are striking examples of straining the language to breaking point. The Problem: How to Reconcile One with Two or One with Three We have seen that Elohim meaning the One God will not yield to any attempts to force it into a support for a Trinity or God-Family of two or more. The fundamental problem remains for all subscribers to the Trinity or Binity (“two Gods in the God-Family”) as to how three X’s can be one X. This is logically impossible. But the Athanasian creed which speaks of the Father being God, the Son being God and the Holy Spirit being God, “and yet these are not three Gods but one God” asks us to indulge in illogical nonsense.
As Geoffrey Lampe, Regius Professor of Divinity at Cambridge remarked with restrained British humor: “The classical statement of the doctrine of the Trinity, the so-called Athanasian creed, ends: ‘This is the catholic faith, which unless a man believes it faithfully he cannot be saved.’ This has been paraphrased in less dignified language: ‘Accept my model or I’ll do you,’ or rather,
‘This is God’s model: accept it or He will do you.’”
The awful, threatening words of the Athanasian creed speak loudly about the spirit which had gripped the Church. Think about this and warn your children. The churches have been amazingly cruel to those noble souls who challenged the extraordinary proposition that God is more than one Person and that Jesus is 100% God and 100% man. They burned dissenters, exiled them,
defrocked them and even passed laws of Parliament against them. You can check this appalling history of senseless, murderous violence in the name of Jesus.
Back to our subject: What then if the Trinity or Binity means 3 X’s or 2 X’s = 1Y? This is logically feasible, but what does it mean in terms of defining Xand Y? You need all of this information, and more, if you are serious about winning the billions of souls on earth, who “What Future for the Trinity,” Explorations in Theology, 8, SCM Press, 1981, p. 31. or their own blessing need to understand who the one and only true God is.
On the admission of the best contemporary Trinitarian experts, no one has ever been able to explain in what sense they mean God is one and in what different sense more than one. Thus the leading exponent of the Trinity among contemporary evangelical
sadmits the desperation of the situation. Professor Millard Erickson wrote God in Three Persons: A Contemporary Interpretation of the Trinity (1995). By all means own this book and commit yourself to a thorough study of it.
First Erickson comments on the state of the Trinity in the mind of an average churchgoer: “It is a matter of not knowing whether they believe or disbelieve the Trinity
because they do not know what the doctrine says.” No one has preached to them on this central doctrine.
“Christians who believe this strange doctrine seem incoherent.” (Is God pleased with that?!)
“We can make it partially understandable…” “We may not be much closer to being able to articulate just what we mean by this doctrine [of the Trinity] than were the delegates to the Councils of Nicea and Constantinople” (p. 19).
Erickson later writes: “Although [Stephen Davis, a logician] does not dogmatically hold that the doctrine can never be shown to be coherent, he claims that this has not yet been achieved” (p. 256).
“Davis has examined the major contemporary explanations, and, having found them not to accomplish what they claim to do, has been honest in acknowledging that he feels he is dealing with a mystery. In so doing, he has perhaps been more candid than many of us, who when pressed may have to admit that we really do not know in what way God is one and in what different
way He is three ” (p. 258).
“To say the doctrine has been revealed is a bit too strong, however, at least with respect to the biblical revelation” (p. 258).
“It simply is not possible to explain [the Trinity] unequivocally. What must be done is to offer a series, a whole assortment of illustrations and analogies, with the hope that some discernment will take place. We must approach the matter from various angles, ‘nibbling at the meaning’ of the doctrine, as it were… It may also be necessary, in order to convey the unusual meaning
involved in this doctrine, to utilize what analytical philosophers would term ‘logically odd language.’ This means using language in such a way as intentionally to commit grammatical errors. Thus, I have sometimes said of the Trinity, ‘He are three,’ or ‘They is on
e.’ For we have here a being whose nature falls outside our usual understanding of persons, and that nature can perhaps only be adequately expressed by using language that calls attention to the almost paradoxical character of the concepts” (p. 268-270).
But this is desperation. Where does the Bible say that God breaks the rules of grammar in order to reveal Himself and how many He is? Erickson has surrendered the grammatical method. God speaks to us in terms which are meant to reveal truth to us, not confuse us. We are reminded here of G. T. Armstrong’s assertion that Elohim (God) must be taken as plural resulting in “Gods, he
created” in Genesis 1:1.
I trust the reader will note the blatant polytheism! But millions did not flinch. How right Dr. Colin Brown of Fuller Seminary was when in a famous article on orthodoxy he noted that most churchgoers “postpone thinking about the Trinity [who God is!] for as long as possible…The other way of dealing with the Trinity is to practice tritheism [belief in three Gods], in all but name”(Ex Auditu , 1991).
So how many YHVH’s do you, as reader of these lines, believe in? If you say “One,” then one might immediately ask: “Well, you certainly know that the Father is YHVH. But you also seem required to believe, as an evangelical, Bible-believing, churchgoing member in good standing, that ‘Jesus is YHVH.’ That sounds awfully like two YHVH’s.”
How well will this match up when we face Jesus and his own statement, agreed to by a fellow Jew, that “
the Lord our God is ONE LORD [Yahweh]”? You will find this classic statement of belief from Jesus in Mark 12:29.
Jesus was confirming what every good Jew knows to this day. The Trinity should prevent Jews from accepting the Churches’ Jesus as Messiah. Jesus never claimed to BE God, a second God!
By Anthony Buzzard