The Meaning of the Godhead
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Gen.1:1.
“Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness…So God created man in His own image; in the image of God, He created them; male and female He created them” Gen.1:26-27.
“Therefore, a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” Gen.2:24.
“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one!” Deut.6:4.
“…The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.” Lk.1:35.
“When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending upon Him like a dove and alighting upon Him. And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Matt.3:16-17.
“And I will pray the Father; and He will give you another Helper; that He may abide with you forever.” Jn.14:16.
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Matt.28:19.
“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.” 2 Cor.13:14.
“And I looked and behold in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as though it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent out into all the earth. Then He came and took the scroll out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne.” Rev.5:6-7.
Although the focus of this letter is on God the Father, the first person of the Godhead, it is necessary at this juncture to clarify what Christians mean when they refer to the Godhead.
It should be noted that the title has been carefully chosen as “The Meaning” not “Understanding” the Godhead.” The purpose is to state, albeit in a few words, what Christian orthodoxy means when it uses the term Godhead. Other terms such as trinity or the triune God have often been used with the same meaning. In Christian history, trinity seems to be the earliest formula adopted by the Church fathers and early theologians to express their understanding of the Godhead. The term trinity, not mentioned in the Bible, was coined by the North African church father, Tertullian, who lived in the late second century AD. Later, the use of the shamrock leaf, which is ascribed to St Patrick, the missionary to the Irish people was introduced. And still later, the analogy of water as ice, liquid form and steam has also been adapted for the same purpose. But suffice to say that none of these theories is adequate to give a satisfactory explanation for the infinite mystery of the Godhead.
However, while the full concept of God exceeds human comprehension, it does not imply that the human mind is totally without insight on the nature of God. Ps.19:1-4; Rom.1:19-20.
The Evidence of Scriptures
Scripture is its own witness. The opening statement of the Old Testament introduces God as oneness in plurality as shown above. The name, Elohim, is plural in Hebrew, but no Jewish scholar has ever questioned its being translated as God (singular) whereas in the decalogue (Exod.20:3.), the same word is translated as gods (plural) when referring to pagan idols. In addition, although in Genesis 1:1, Elohim is plural, the verb, “created” (barah) which goes with it is singular. Allowing this grammatical inconsistency can only suggest that Elohim is recognized as a divine plurality acting as a unity.
The occurrence of this divine plurality is common in the book of Genesis. “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in our image, according to our likeness…. So, God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him, male and female, He created them.” 1:26-27. Cf.3:22-24; 11:5-8. The divine plurality appears also in Isaiah. In his vision, 6:1, he saw the Lord (Adonai) And in verses 3 and 5, that Lord is identified as the Lord of hosts. Then in verse 8, the Lord of hosts asks, “Who shall I send, who will go for Us?”
Nearly all through the Old Testament, God is presented as oneness in plurality and not as a singular monotheism. Both the singular form, El and Elohim, are used 2750 times in the Old Testament. But of significance is that Elohim is used 2500 times.1.
The evidence of oneness in plurality is probably more profoundly expressed in the Jewish Shema which is recited twice daily by every orthodox Jew. “Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one.” Deut.6:4. Ironically, many Jews and others who dissent from the idea of the tri-unity of the Godhead think that this verse argues their case with finality. But a closer examination shows the contrary. The Shema more firmly establishes rather than refutes the plurality of the Godhead or the case for tri-unity. The last word of the Shema, echad (One) is commonly understood in Hebrew grammar as a compound- unity noun. It is a noun which demonstrates unity, but at the same time contains several entities. In simple terms, it is a noun that expresses oneness in plurality. Typical usages are in Genesis 1:5. The “one day” or “first day” is echad. It is used to express the dual oneness of evening and morning as the” first” day. It is the same word used by Moses to describe the oneness of marital union. “Therefore, a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they both shall become one flesh.” Gen.2:24. It is also used to describe those who aspired to build the tower of Babel. Gen.11:6. Cf. also Exod.26:11; Num.13:23;1 Sam.13:17;2 Sam.2:25;1Kgs.7:42;11:13;1 Chron.17:21.; Ezra 2:64.
To further strengthen the argument for the use of echad, it is to be noted that the Hebrew language has another word, yachid, which is used when only one or single unit is intended. Cf.Gen.22:2,12,16; Judg.11:34; Ps.22:20; Jer.6:26; Amos 8:10; Zech.12:10.
There is an abundance of similar cogent examples throughout the Old Testament, but space constraints would only allow the above references.
The New Testament Testimony
The New Testament is by no means silent on the witness of the plurality of the Godhead. Although there is elaborate evidence, space would only allow a handful of witnesses.
The New Testament not only elucidates but mentions the number of persons that constitute the Godhead. It provides the stance for understanding the unity and equality shared by the three persons of the Godhead. It further demonstrates that the “Father” “Son“ nomenclature is not a title of superiority or of servility, but of administration and function.
The New Testament presents all three members of the Godhead as involved together in many aspects and roles. All three were involved in the incarnation of Christ. Lk.1:35. At the baptism of Jesus and His empowerment for service. Matt.3:16-17; Mk.1:9-11; Lk.3:21-22. In the sending of the Comforter.Jn.14:16,25:15:26;16:5-15. In the Great Commission.Matt.28:19. In the work of redemption.2 Thess.2:13-14;1 Pet.1:2-3. In the gifting of the church.1 Cor.12:4-6. In the benediction.2 Cor.13:14. In heaven, all the three members sit on the glorious and majestic throne and are worshiped by the heavenly hosts. Rev.5:1-14.
As apparent from the Scriptures, no one “plays a second fiddle” among the members of the Godhead. Each has and plays His assigned roles. This amicable relationship is referred to as co-equality in the Godhead.
As this brief survey has shown, the anti-trinity groups such as the Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses, Unitarians, and the Muslims are in error by rejecting the plurality of the Godhead. Those of them who appeal to the Bible for their position have failed to grasp the Hebrew usage of God’s name in the Old Testament, the Shema, and the witnesses of the New Testament.
When Christian orthodoxy speaks of the Godhead, either as Trinity or Triune God, it means that God exists in three distinct co-equal persons as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. As the theologian, Dr. J. Sidlow Baxter succinctly adds, “There are three real distinctions within the Godhead, each having distinct consciousness, will, feeling, personalness, yet all coalescing in the one essential being of the only true God.”
Who is God?
Although the study of all things about God is theology, but there are subdivisions within the science of theology which classify some aspect of theology as Christology, Pneumatology, Soteriology, and Eschatology. Christology and Pneumatology relate to the Son and the Holy Spirit, but when the reference is God alone, it refers to the Father. The ECWA Articles of Faith and Practice seem to be in agreement. It describes God as follows:
“There is one God, the Creator and Preserver of all things, infinite in being and perfection. He exists in three Persons-Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who are co-equal and co-eternal (Deut.6:4; Matt.28:19; Heb.1:1-13; Col.1:15,19).
The deity of God the Father seems to be assumed by nearly all religious groups, including non-Christian religions and Muslims. The Father is the only one that the orthodox Jews recognize as God based on their understanding of the Shema. He is the only one that they call their father.
Deut.32:6; Isa.1:2; Hos.11:1; Mal.2:10. Two passages in the Old Testament refer to Jesus as the Son of God. 2 Sam.7:14; Ps.2:7. Several times in the New Testament, Jesus was referred to as the Son of God. More than 50 times in the Gospels, Jesus referred to God as His father. He even claimed to be one with the father. Jn.10:30; 14:9-11. Paul often called God the father of our Lord Jesus Christ.2 Cor.1:3; Eph.1:3; Col.1:3; Cf. also 1 Pet.1:3. Nearly at the beginning of all his epistles, Paul separately called God the father.”
As stated earlier, the nomenclature “Father” “Son” does not imply superiority or servility, but of function and administration. All members of the Godhead are co-equals.
The Affirmation of the Church Council
Systematic doctrinal Confessions were still a thing of the future in the early church. It was therefore no surprise that several erroneous doctrines and aberrational teachings were propagated, sometimes unintentionally, by some leaders and bishops. As one would expect, many of these erroneous doctrines involved understanding about the Godhead-mainly about Christology and later Pneumatology. The first three Councils, Nicea, 325 AD, Constantinople, 381 AD, and Ephesus, 431 AD reached a consensus affirming the deity of three persons of the Godhead, and that all three are one in essence. It is to be noted that the Councils did not add anything to the position of the Scriptures on any of the discussions. They reached their decisions guided by the light of the Scriptures.
The Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) has three different long statements defining God and the Trinity. The first, which seems to refer essentially to God the Father states:
There is but one only, living, and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts or assions;immutable,immense,eternal,incomprehensible,almighty,most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute, working all things according to the counsel of his own immutable most righteous will, for his own glory; most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; the rewarder of them that diligently seek him; and withal, most just, and terrible in his judgements, hating all sin, and who will by no means clear the guilty.
The third statement which relates to the Trinity states:
In the unity of the Godhead there be three persons of one substance, power, and eternity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost: the Father is of none, neither begotten, nor proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; the Holy Ghost eternally proceeding from the father and the Son.
While the full understanding of the Godhead surpasses all human comprehension, sufficient revelation has been provided in the Scriptures so that men are without excuse. Ps.19:1-4; Rom.1:19-20. The full comprehension of the Godhead is concealed in the eternal mystery of which Moses spoke to the Israelites. “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” Deut.29:29.
THE FINITE HUMAN INTELLECT IS TOO INFINITESIMAL TO WRAP AROUND THE INFINITE
1. Rosenthal, S. The Tri-Unity of God in the Old Testament. (A tract) The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry, W. Collingswood, NJ