Genesis (Study 4)—The Great Three-in-One (Gen 1:1)
The Bible reveals that God is Trinity even here in the first chapter of Genesis. The word translated God is plural—Elohim—rather than the singular Eloah (although usually followed by a singular verb). But we don’t by the word alone understand God to be Trinity. After all, Trinity is not simply multiple. It is the concept of three in one. Actually, when we look back to our argument regarding God’s most notable attribute (which we determined was love), our rejection of the attribute of holiness may leave us a little confused. We stated that holiness could not be God’s most notable attribute, or even really an attribute at all because it was a comparison word, requiring someone or something else to exist for God to be holy (separate, transcendent) from or to it. Since God is the only necessary being (not requiring anything else) when there was nothing else prior to creation, we wouldn’t use the term holy to describe him. He was then not separate from anything; he was all there was.
But couldn’t we reject love as his most notable attribute for the very same reason? Love by definition (a simplified, yet encompassing one) is giving of self for the benefit of another. There must be some “other” then for love to occur. Before creation, when all there was was God, could love then exist? Whereas holiness could not exist in such a situation, love could in the understanding of Trinity.
God must be one. It is philosophically impossible to imagine the side-by-side existence of two infinite beings. To be truly infinite, a being cannot be limited by anything else. Thus, if one being is infinite in power, the second being could not overcome that power. But not being able to overcome is a limitation rendering that second being finite. Therefore, for God to be infinite, he must be one—the only infinite.
If, however, God created us, his image bearers, because he needed someone to love, he would be, in an absolute sense, incomplete without us—not infinite because not infinitely complete. At its core, perfect sufficiency is what infiniteness is all about. Here, then, is the philosophical basis for our concept of a Trinity. The Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—existing in one essence albeit in three persons is revealed in concept and activity through the biblical record (although never expressly stated as such). But the idea is also upheld by this philosophical truth: God is love, and for love to exist, there must also exist some other to love. It is in the Trinity’s three-person existence that God may love without any other. Each Person of the Trinity loves—has the attitude (what the Bible describes as a submissive or servant attitude) of giving of self for the others in communicating the truth, goodness, and beauty which are the very essence of God. So, then, God is independent, finding in himself the eternal and infinite satisfaction for all that he is. Yet, God in himself reveals that love is his means for communicating his truth, goodness, and beauty in relationship. There is, then, no inconsistency with God in understanding who he is and for what purpose he is and acts. He is truth, goodness, and beauty. He recognizes, acknowledges, and holds that truth, goodness, and beauty in faith. He looks forward to the exaltation of that truth, goodness, and beauty in hopeful expression of desire and plan. And, importantly, he communicates that truth, goodness, and beauty in love—the selfless and serving care to benefit others in encouragement and promotion of that truth, goodness, and beauty that are essentially God.
Of course, there are further reasons to understand God as Trinity. Jesus had to be God in order to meet the demands of the Messiah Redeemer. All those born of Adam who are finite in nature fall prey to the dominance of our cursed essence—this physical creation. However, Jesus—importantly, in that same “flesh like ours under sin’s domain” (Romans 8:3)—could not be overcome by evil’s influence because he had the perfection of Spirit in that flesh. And so he was able to lay down his life (not have it taken from him because of sin) and then take it up again also because of that perfect Spirit (Acts 2:27). A limited, finite spirit (such as are all we) could not do that (Romans 3:23). Jesus had to be God.
And as we review the Bible’s emphasis on love—that highlighting of relationship, extolling of the servant attitude toward others that even God exhibitsin his creating and redeeming work—we suddenly and gloriously understand what Jesus meant when, standing before Pilate, he declared his kingdom not of this world. Pilate’s concern with Jesus as king was that Jesus would act like any other earthly king for pursuit of self. But Jesus said his kingdom was not like the world’s evil. His kingdom was one of love—a giving of self for the benefit of others. And that community of love relationship is magnified by Jesus because it is exactly the image of the community of God—the Three-in-One.
There is one more broad topic we must cover in our discussion of the Bible’s opening presumption of God, and that is how God communicates. Of course, we’ve already said the communication of God is his love—the revelation of himself. But how does he accomplish that. There are three specific means the Bible discloses regarding God’s revelation. The first may be called general or natural revelation. This revelation finds support in Romans 1:18–20. In that passage, Paul reveals that God’s invisible attributes of divine nature and eternal power are clearly seen in the things he has made—his creation.
Natural revelation, then, is revelation that God has given to his creation. We (Biblically faithful Christians) have long understood this natural revelation as something to be seen in nature. We’d toss into this category David’s exclamation that “the heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1). CARM (the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry) says it this way: “Natural revelation is the revelation of God in nature. Nature can tell us certain things about God. Since nature is ordered, we can conclude that God is ordered as well. Since the universe is well-balanced we can see that God is wise. Furthermore, we can see reflections of the Trinity in creation. For example, time is past, present, and future. Space is height, width, and depth. Matter is solid, liquid, and gas. So, we can see a trinity of trinities, and it is reasonable to conclude that the created order reflects the Creator himself who is a Trinity.”
While this definition is helpful to an extent, and nothing is particularly false in it, I think it does a disservice to the full extent of natural revelation—it seems to water it down somewhat. Paul’s understanding of this natural revelation appears dramatically stronger in his characterization of the revelation being “evident” and “clearly seen” coupled with his conclusion that because of natural revelation, humankind is “without excuse” for its rejection of God. In other words, there is something more than general order in nature that compels us to understand that God is.
There are two points in Paul’s discussion that I want to highlight. The first is that it is God’s divine nature and eternal power that are being revealed. We have talked extensively already of his divine nature and his eternal power. His divine nature regards the truth, goodness, and beauty of his essence. His eternal power—his eternal activity—is the outward expression in love of who he is. Therefore, everything we have talked about God in this presumption-of-God section is what has been revealed.
The second highlight is that Paul states the revelation is evidentand clearly seen,“being understood through what he has made.” It is not only the stars in the sky and the mountains and valleys that have been made. We ourselves are part of this creation. So we ourselves have received this revelation right in the core of our very beings. God has revealed who he is to every person so that all are without excuse. No one approaches the subject of God from a purely objective vantage point. We are all already given the revelation of his divine nature and eternal power. And that means all those who do not follow God have personally rejected him, or as Eugene Peterson says in his translation The Message: “People try to put a shroud over truth” (Ro 1:18b). And that’s precisely it—they cover the truth of God’s revelation personally given to them with a shroud, considering it dead.
Another type of revelation is personal revelation. We may call this direct or special. It is the type of revelation Moses knew or Adam or Abraham or Elijah. It is God speaking directly to them (whether out loud or within their minds and hearts is not clearly seen in each instance, but it is personal communication to these prophets.) But that personal revelation was not just for OT prophets. God speaks to people today. Jesus promised that when he said the Spirit would guide us into all truth (John 16:13), and Paul said as much when he told us the Spirit testifies to our spirits (Romans 8:16). This personal revelation, however, is never new in the sense that it takes us in a different direction from what is revealed in the written Word of God, which is the third type of revelation.
What I find unimaginable is not that a book that we have comes from God but rather that anyone could believe a God of love whose whole purpose in creation was to build an eternal love relationship with us would nothave communicated so much and so well as through this written Word. And we even find within its pages a continuing insistence that this is God’s truth to us. When we say the Bible is inspired, we mean that God, in infinite, sovereign control, so moved in the lives of the writers that what they wrote was what God wanted to communicate.
From the fact of inspiration comes the idea of inerrancy, but we have to be careful here. Most well-meaning inerrantists have taken the idea and extrapolated out a kind of odd emphasis that actually serves only to water down what they are hoping to establish as a rock. The idea of verbal inspiration has morphed into a kind of mechanical dictation of the Bible’s words (although fiercely denied by these who do it). The concentration has moved from what God wants to communicate to us to a veneration of the actual words used so that it is claimed only the exact words of the original autographs are the inspired words of God.
This idea obviously makes inspiration almost non-sensical. We don’t have the original autographs any more. But these rabid inerrantists insist on inerrancy for the originals, claiming that unless God ordered every word, we could not be confident of what was from him and what was not. But if so, that argument would have to hold true for our entire collection of manuscript evidence we currently have, making nothing about the Bible trustworthy. When this point is pointed out to these inerrantists then, they switch to say that God preserved his communication in the manuscripts we have. But then what was the point about the original documents? And was God not able to muster as strong a miracle in his preservation as he had in his original inspiration to preserve those exact inspired words?
Realizing the difficulties of claiming inspiration for only the originals, some theologians, pastors, and teachers have shied away from using the word inerrancy. And I sort of do as well. I would never claim to be an inerrantist without the opportunity to explain what I mean by inerrancy. I define inerrant as without error in regard to what God wanted to communicate to us. With this definition, I can wholeheartedly hold to a full dynamic belief in God’s preservation of his Word through the manuscripts we have now to emphasize what is, in fact, the crux of the whole matter: the trustworthiness of God’s communication to us whether or not we have the originals. With the body of manuscripts we have and a full faith and trust in a God of revelatory love who desires to communicate with us, we can find exactly what God wanted to communicate to us.
Here’s a list of qualifications that support our understanding of inerrancy but, because of our definition, do not have to be mentioned every time:
1. Inerrancy does not imply verbal exactness of quotations. (Example: Paul quoting from Septuagint rather than original Hebrew)
2. Inerrancy does not imply verbal or intentional agreement in parallel accounts of the same event. (Example: Luke and Matthew may record different aspects of the same event based on perspective)
3. Inerrancy does not preclude figurative speech, rounding of numbers, and other such imprecisions of language. (Example: the Bible can say the sun rises without charge of falsehood)
4. Inerrancy does not require historiography of exact standards. (Example: genealogies may leave some people out of the list for certain unstated reasons)
5. Inerrancy does not require full implication of words by writers. (Example: Hosea may have meant Israel in 11:1 without knowing that God’s primary point was for Jesus as in Matthew 2:15)
6. Inerrancy does not preclude use of non-precise descriptions of books by their authors. (Example: The statement “The proverbs of Solomon” is not in conflict with the book also containing proverbs of Agur—Proverbs 30:1)
Finally, based on inspiration of God leading to being without error in all God wanted to communicate to us, we now consider this written record from God as authoritative—the right understanding of which should be believed and serve as foundation for our lives.