Is God three, or is God one? Let me begin by saying that I do not like to use terms that are unbiblical to determine biblical concepts. Thus, while I am a Christian, I do not like the term ‘Trinity,’ or the phrase ‘God in three PERSONS’ because neither of these are actually biblical terminology. Please don’t let me lose you over spliced terms; most Christians who understand my perspective would say that I am ‘Trinitarian’ (and I don’t fully shrink from the term, I just don’t care for it as it is not a biblical word). I believe that God is three-in-one that is that Father, Son and Holy Spirit comprise one God.
I think that often the Trinitarian emphasis in Christianity so strongly divides the character, and person of God, that we have congealed it into a form which completely bowls over the Oneness of God. This lack of grasping God’s oneness puts us into an odd perspective where we so thoroughly splice the roles that we are not sure which of the members of the Godhead we ought to pray to (our theology should not become a point of personal confusion that hinders our fellowship with God – but I have seen an over-emphasis on the Trinity do that very thing); it often so congeals the roles of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, that we are unable to distinguish fully the oneness of God. This is unfortunate, because I believe that the Oneness of God is the foundational basis for understanding the Godhead.
I believe God first gave us the revelation of His oneness (‘Hear O Israel, the LORD (YHWH) our God is one Lord.’ (Deut 6:4)) at least in part so that when He revealed Jesus (the Word) Christ: Messiah (Holy Ghost) we would not too strongly divide Him but abide in the understanding that these three are, in fact, ONE. I’ve decided to use this post to give explanation to my perspective of the Godhead (which biblical term I am clearly more comfortable using, than ‘Trinity’:))
The best illustration for the Godhead that I’ve found is man, himself (who was created in the image of God). In fact, the bible says that all of creation testifies of God so let me use God’s living created beings to give an illustration of the Godhead (or ‘Trinity’ if you prefer. I’m hoping to have both Muslim and Christian readers, and form a basis for understanding that everyone can grasp; feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below:)).
God has created in the world what I will term three basic life forms. Those life forms are: Plants, Animals, and man. (Some would lump man in with animals, but I believe that man, unlike the animals, was made in the image of God and therefore has a supernatural element which animals do not have. (As I go on with the illustration, the distinction will become more clear.))
Let’s look at these three basic created life forms, starting with:
A tree, for example, is a living being. A tree is a body with life in it. Yet, a tree does not have a brain, it is therefore incapable of intellect, emotions, and willpower. A plant grows in a way that we might call ‘autonomic,’ it is as though the life force of a plant itself has some sort of instinctual self-interest. In fact, a plant cannot actually have what we refer to as ‘instinct’ as such, because in order to have a degree of true instinct it would require the capacity for some level, or degree of subconscious thought, which it does not have for lack of brain. Yet the life force of a plant will automatically cause it to photosynthesize, to grow root systems and branches that will take in as much nourishment as possible. The very life force of a tree causes it to act in self-preservation (I believe that self-preservation is a basic tendency of life, and thereby of every life-form).
This first physical form of life, which God has created is a living BODY only.
The second basic life form that God created are animals (like cute puppies:)). Animals, like plants, have physical bodies. But animals also have another component that plants don’t have: a brain. Now the brain is actually a part of the physical body, BUT it contains a PERSONALITY. A plant cannot have a personality, it has no brain, and therefore no psyche.
Psyche is the first real theological term I will use in my illustration. The English word ‘Psyche’ comes from the Greek word… ‘Psyche’ which actually means ‘SOUL.’ The synonomous Hebrew word is ‘nephesh.’
The Hebrew word for soul: nephesh means ‘a breathing creature’ and includes animals.
The Greek word, as mentioned ‘Psuche,’ or ‘Psyche’ means the same, and is also used to describe the ‘sentience’ of animals.
An animal has a brain, and therefore has 1) a limited capacity for intellect, 2) the ability to have emotions (which also takes place in the brain) and, 3) a personal willpower.
Animals are beings which have a body, AND a mortal soul. In animals we see the full power of instinct. Instinct is a subconscious prompting which leads to action. Fish swimming upstream for mating season, for example, is born of instinct. The fish has a brain, and therefore can reason to some very limited degree (typically its thinking is probably contrived expressly of how to swallow that next bit of food, where to hide from danger, etc.). Something within the brain of the fish – a combination of strong emotional urge, and limited reason compel it to swim upstream.
Like a plant, whose life-force naturally tends to self-preservation, an animal has this at a heightened degree because of the power of the responses of their mind. Because of that mind, the animal 1) has an instinct, 2) has a willpower to enact the desire of that instinct 3) has limited ability to reason its way around obstacles in its pursuit of that instinctual desire. As we see in plants (which have no soul, but are only LIVING BODIES), the life-force itself seems to compel a being to self-interest/ self-preservation. That life force now affects the mind of an animal and creates a compulsion to certain acts and behaviors through the mental faculties. That is ‘instinct.’
Most animals do not have the capacity to make fully reasoned decisions based upon their intellect alone, (although this varies from animal to animal depending upon the level of their intelligence (certain types of whales, for example, DO make rationale decisions based upon their intellect)) therefore some combination of (rather autonomic) emotional, and intellectual responses – which we call ‘instinct’ guides them.
I will liken instinct to a sort of soul level, subconscious BELIEF. I’ll not use the term ‘faith’ because I want to clearly distinguish the spiritual from the natural, BUT, I believe that an animals instinct is a sort of temporal shadow of faith. (That is to say, it emulates tendencies similar to spiritual faith.) I believe that God’s design of intelligent beings has placed within them certain instincts. I believe this is also true of man both on the soul level (psyche) as it is for animals – but also on the spiritual level; even as it is written: ‘…He also set ETERNITY [(Hebrew ‘Owlam’)] in the hearts of men…’ (Eco. 3:11 NIV)
Spirit Beings/ Angels
In Greek and Hebrew there are synonomous words for which we get the word ‘spirit’ in English.
ruwach (roo’-akh); wind; by resemblance breath, i.e. a sensible (or even violent) exhalation; figuratively, life, anger, unsubstantiality; by extension, a region of the sky; by resemblance spirit, but only of a rational being (including its expression and functions)
pneuma (pnyoo’-mah); a current of air, i.e. breath (blast) or a breeze; by analogy or figuratively, a spirit, i.e. (human) or (superhuman) an angel, demon, or (divine) God, Christ’s spirit, the Holy Spirit
The concept of a spirit is much more ethereal than either o the two other elements we have discussed so far. We see that in both of the original languages of the written bible, the word for ‘spirit’ also means ‘wind’ or breath.’ Interestingly, this is the same analogy that Jesus used when speaking to Nicodemus about those who were ‘born again,’ or ‘born from above’:
The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.
In this passage (and many others) we can see that the witers of scripture used the word both for wind, and also for a spirit being (in Greek ‘pneuma’ is used both for ‘wind’ and ‘Spirit’ in this verse).
But what, exactly, is a spirit (Hebrew ‘ruwach’; Greek: ‘Pnuema’)?
A spirit is a life-form existing at a higher level than the physical. It has substance (or ‘essence’) which may best be defined as an ethereal force (like ‘wind’). In scripture, and biblical language, God is a Spirit, angels are spirits, and man has a spirit (I say here man ‘has’ a spirit, rather than ‘is’ a spirit simply to distinguish our three basic life-forms, to point out that man is the sum of all of his parts (body, soul, & spirit).
The essence of a spirit is eternal. God cannot die, angels cannot die, nor will the spirit of man ever die. When a man dies, his physical habitation (body) perishes, so also his interactions in the physical world cease, but his spirit is eternal. A Christian has an eternal habitation in the heavenlies with Christ, there his spirit will abide when he dies. A non-Christian goes into a holding place (biblically called ‘hades,’ or ‘hell’) until the final judgment when they will stand before Christ.
It is evident from scripture that there are beings which are exclusively comprised of spiritual essence (angels, for example, and God, Himself before He became carnate in the physical expression of Christ (we will go into this more as we continue).) They have no body, and therefore no PHYSICAL brain. That is not to say, however, that spirit beings do not (of certainty) have souls (or ‘psyches’). It is evident that God has the greatest intellect of all beings, but as the scripture declares: God is a Spirit (John 4:24). It is also evident from biblical accounts that angels have – at least – the ability to reason (probably also an emotional capacity.) (Seasoned ‘exorcists’ will also tell you that demons have varied intellectual capacities and can range from less intelligent than animals to genius level in intellect.) As with God, their intellectual range seems to be contained in some way within the spirit itself with no need of physical brain – this tells me that in probability, when man dies and is severed from access to his physical brain, he will retain in his spirit all revelatory, or spiritually derived knowledge (Job 32:8; Eph. 1:17 & 18 (For ‘…the knowledge of the holy IS [True] understanding.’ (Prov. 9:10)).
Yet the mind of spirit-beings is not housed centrally in a physical body, as it is with physical creatures (animals, humans). Rather, a spirit is the essence of a being without physical form. As it is written: ‘He maketh His angels spirits [or ‘winds’], His ministers a flaming fire.’ Angels are not confined to any PHYSICAL form, they are ‘spirits,’ or ‘winds’ (as the word for ‘spirit’ also means ‘wind’ or ‘breathe’ in both Greek and Hebrew.) Though they are spirits, I do not believe that angels are omnipresent, and here is why:
There are several passages in scripture which refer to angels in transgression as having quote: ‘left their habitation’ for example –
And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day.
There are a handful of similar passages; these seem to imply that angels are assigned some sort of non-physical form, or at least sphere of presence/ operation. If an angel has ah habitation which is possible to leave, then it characteristically has something in common with a locale (though not necessarily the same thing in the way that we think of one in the physical). (These passages also may also shed some light on why demons attempt to inhabit human bodies, or ‘demonize’ people – they no longer have an habitation, but they know that a human’s spirit exists in a house of clay (Body, form; habitation).)
This concept means that God has provided even spiritual beings with some sort of FORM, though not an earthly body.
Now I could go into more depth on spirits, and what a spirit is, but to narrow it down to a simple concept, let’s just say that a spirit is the eternal essence of a being.
The Image of God
(Form, Mind, Essence)
Man and God
The bible declares that man was made in the image of God (Gen 1:27).
We typically understand that concept as a divine mystery, and I don’t want to take away from that – I think it has far more meaning than what I am presenting here.
Unlike all other forms of life in the created universe – man is comprised of:
- Body (physical form)
- Soul (Psyche – Intellect, emotions, willpower)
- Spirit (eternal essence/ force)
It is important to note that man is comprised of these three elements, and that his composition is (at present) completely inseparable. You cannot remove the spirit from the physical housing without destroying the physical housing. These are three individual aspects of man – each of which can be individually defined, but only function as a SINGLE PERSON when all are synergistically combined.
This three-in-one existence of man is (I believe) the perfect illustration of the Oneness of God. I do not believe that God is comprised of three PERSONS for that would imply He has three separate personalities. Rather, throughout the bible what we see is that God has a SINGLE PERSONALITY – He is ONE PERSON. Yet, there are three living elements which comprise His being.
Let’s look at each of those parts with understanding of God’s creation, because I believe He is trying to teach us through that creation.
God’s One personality exists as what is biblically called ‘the Godhead.’ That is:
- The Father
- The Word, and
- The Holy Ghost
These three are one. (1 John 5:7 KJV)
Just as man has a body (form) a soul (psyche, or ‘mind’), and a spirit (eternal essence); so also the Godhead comprises a similar buildup of the Person of God.
- The WORD is declared to be God in John 1:1. The Word was God even before He existed in the man Jesus Christ (who is: the Word BECOME, or ‘MADE’ flesh (John 1:14)). The WORD is (and has always been) the FORM of God. Just as we use words as the form of ideas, or thoughts. An idea may exist in one’s mind, but without words which REVEAL the idea it has NO FORM. By this we can also better undestand the ‘inception’ of the Word. The Word was always WITH God, and always, He WAS God, yet, He was BEGOTTEN of the Father. That is the Word always existed in the Mind and Spirit of God, but only when God SPOKE – turned His thoughts into Words – was there a distinguishable FORM of His Person. Jesus is the express image of the invisible God (Col 1:15), and the fullness of the Godhead bodily (in FORM (Col 2:9)). The Word = the FORM of God.
- The Father: It is in the MIND (psyche) that intellect, willpower, and emotions exist, and take place. The Father is the MIND, or SOUL of God (yes, God has a ‘soul’ (Ps. 11:5; Is. 1:14, etc.)). It is in the soul of God that emotions take place, decisions are made, and actions initiated. For example, John 3:16 – ‘For God so loved [(emotion)] the world that He gave [(decided action based upon reason and willpower)] His only begotten Son…’ this verse reveals the MIND of God – His soul. The Father is the member of the Godhead who reasons, feels, and makes decisions. The Father = the MIND of God.
- The Holy Ghost is the ETERNAL ESSENCE of God. Before the form was brought forth the Spirit of God is the essence of His being.
These three elements of His being have always been, and always will be. They are not different persons, but combine to make the unified whole. If I were to say that your mind is the real you, and that your body was also, sort of you, but actually a different person that would be nonsensical. In this present life, your SINGLE human personality is comprised of three elements, and those three (body, soul, spirit) all combine to make a single person. Your body is the part of you that represents your soul, and spirit to those who know you. I do not know your soul, and could not percieve what you think, feel, and will without watching your bodies’ behavior it is through your body (or through studying your words) that I can know your soul.
When Jesus was born into the world, He was the Word MADE flesh. That is: the form of God now existent within a human body. The personality of God was not changed, nor did the meaning of His form, but was now the same form housed in clay. Because the Word now had a physical body, and was made as a man, He was made with the full triune autonomy of a man. Body, soul, and Spirit. I believe that the Spirit remained the eternal essence of God (the Holy Ghost), but Jesus had to grow in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man (Luke 2:52). That is: his earthly tabernacle which included a human mind (soul) that was integrally connected to His earthly body needed to grow and increase in its capacity to be ENTIRELY USED BY GOD. Jesus declared that He did only those things which the Father revealed to Him – that is: the Father ALWAYS remained the MIND (soul) of God/ Christ. Now, God’s form was simply in a capacity to enact the divine will of God (just as He always had done, simply in a different form).
If you are a Christian, it is your goal to be One with Christ – just as Christ is, was, and always will be one with the Father.
Thanks for reading – feel free to debate, ask questions, or share thoughts below. God bless! 🙂