Is Christ Only Represented in the Believers?
The material on this page was written in the 1970s to respond to the criticisms of Walter Martin, founder of the Christian Research Institute (CRI) and the original “Bible Answer Man.” CRI has since withdrawn those criticisms and reversed its earlier conclusions (see “A Brief History of the Relationship between the Local Churches and the Christian Research Institute”). The text of this article is published here for the historical record, for the important points of truth it addresses, and because CRI’s criticisms, although withdrawn, are still repeated by others.
From: Answers to the Bible Answer Man – Appendix
The Bible Answer Man has insisted repeatedly that Christ is represented in the believer by the Holy Spirit. This position actually reveals that the Bible Answer Man has three Gods. Such a statement seems shocking, but the facts warrant it. Here are some of his statements taken from radio broadcasts of October 8th and 15th:
The Holy Spirit represents the Trinity on the earth now since Jesus Christ ascended into heaven.
Christ dwells in you in the Person of the Holy Spirit who represents the Trinity.
He [Christ] sent the Holy Spirit to be the representative of the Trinity in us. So the Holy Spirit…represents the Father and the Son in the church…. The Holy Spirit lives within us as the representative of the Trinity.
Jesus said, if I do not go away, He will not come to you. But if I go away, I will send Him to you. He was talking about the Holy Spirit. He did not say, if I go away, I will come to you; He said He will come, so the Holy Spirit is a separate Person from the Lord Jesus.
What the Answer Man Says
On the October 8th program the Bible Answer Man had two of his research assistants on the program with him. One of them made an absolutely staggering statement which apparently represented the Bible Answer Man also, since he let it stand without correction. The assistant said, “Just because three Persons dwell in us, it doesn’t mean that they become each other.” This statement along with the previous ones already quoted reveal the utter confusion of the Bible Answer Man and his staff. This last statement is an admission that three – God, Christ and the Holy Spirit – indwell the believer. Yet the Answer Man said previously that the Spirit represents the other two who are absent and that Christ does not dwell in the believer. Who can unravel such appalling confusion? It is also clearly, unequivocally stated that three Persons dwell in us, and that they are not each other. I would like to ask the Bible Answer Man how this differs from tritheism. All his statements and those of his assistants indicate that he is a tritheist. If he is not, I would like to know what distinguishes him from the tritheists.
In the brief quotations cited above, the Bible Answer Man uses the word represents or representative five times. All of these quotations are in reference to John 14, where the Lord said that He would send another Comforter. Since John 14 is such an enlightening record of the meaning of the Triune God, and since it came from the mouth of the Lord Jesus Himself, it seems important that we examine the chapter carefully, and note how it is consistently interpreted by the Bible Answer Man in a tritheistic way.
What Jesus Says
In the first seven verses of John 14 the Lord Jesus spoke of the Father in a way which seemed to take for granted that the disciples knew what He was talking about. In verse two He mentioned the Father’s house, in verse six He spoke of coming to the Father, and in verse seven He said, “If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also.”
Philip said to Him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how do you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works. Believe Me that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me; otherwise believe on account of the works themselves” (NASV, vv. 8-11).
Here the word is very clear. When Philip said, Show us the Father, Jesus said to him, Have I been with you for over three years, and yet you do not know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how do you say, Show us the Father? Then He proceeded to say that He was in the Father and the Father was in Him. Even the words He was speaking to them were not initiated by Him, but were from the Father abiding in Him. I believe that up to this very moment, even for many reading these words, this passage is a mystery. What does it mean? Are the Son and the Father two, or are they one? I would have to say they are just one, and on the other hand they are two. If you press me further, how this could be, I must answer, I don’t know. I only know that on the one hand the Son and the Father are one. If you have seen one, you have seen them both. The Father is in the Son, and the Son is in the Father. The speaking of one is the speaking of the other. If you know one, you know the other. If one has been with you, both have been with you. But on the other hand they are still two. This is the mystery of the Triune God.
Distinction Without Separation
There are many who interpret these verses in a tritheistic way, as the Bible Answer Man does. He makes an absolute distinction between the Father and the Son. But the Father and the Son are not two Gods. To say they are two Gods would be heresy. We do not have three Gods. The God of the Bible is one unique God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Here I do not use the word Persons for that would only be to confuse the issue. To say there are three Persons in the Godhead may at times be necessary, but in fact it goes too far. An eminent theologian, Dr. William Sanday, said: “Person, in Trinitarian usage, is a mode of being which serves as a ground or basis of special function, but just stops short of separate individuality. It implies distinction without division.” And H. R. Mackintosh, author of a classical work on The Doctrine of the Person of Jesus Christ, writes:
Words in such a realm are more or less arbitrary, and must be taken in a sense appropriate to their objects of denotation; and it is certain that hupostasis in Greek theology, and persona, its Latin equivalent, do not mean now, and never have meant, what they usually intend by Personality. In strictness, then, as was argued previously, we use the word “Person” from simple poverty of language: to indicate our belief, that is, in the reality of Divine distinctions, not to affirm separate conscious beings (p. 524).
The Son and the Father are One
In John 14:10 and 11 the Lord said that He was in the Father and the Father was in Him. This is no place for the human mentality to come to rest. As Dr. Mackintosh has said, “In regard to such matters a certain type of mind (like most children) is often curious. But why should we pretend to know where all is unknowable?” The facts are simply stated: The Son is in the Father, and the Father is in the Son; when the Son speaks, the Father does His work; the Father works through the Son’s speaking because the two are one. Note that the Lord Jesus never says that He and the Father are two. In Marshall’s Interlinear Greek-English New Testament John 10:30 is translated, “I and the Father we are one.” Here it is clear that the “We” are the “one.” We must take the mystery of the Triune God according to the clear Word of the Bible and not according to our preconceived theology.
The Son is Called the Father
Isaiah 9:6 was a prophecy concerning the mystery of the Father and the Son. This verse says:
For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.
This verse is a prophecy concerning the Son who would be given; yet He was called the everlasting Father. If you ask whether He is the Son or the Father, I must answer He is both, just as He is both the Child and the Mighty God. Do you believe that the Child is the Mighty God? Then you must also believe that the Son is called the Father.
Dialogue between the Answer Man and Jesus
If the Lord Jesus were here in the flesh today, perhaps the Bible Answer Man would say to Him, “Lord, show us the Father.” Jesus would say, “Answer Man, have you not read Isaiah 9:6: the Child shall be called the Mighty God, and the Son shall be called the everlasting Father? Don’t you know that I am the Son and I am also called the Father? Answer Man, you are asking me the question which my disciple Philip asked two thousand years ago. Have you not read what I said to him in John chapter fourteen? I now repeat for your benefit, Answer Man, what I told Philip over nineteen centuries ago: He who has seen Me has seen the Father. Answer Man, do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me?” The Word of God is so clear. None of us should be a Philip today. But even if we were, the Lord would make us clear even as He made Philip clear.
The Son is Realized as the Spirit
When the Lord Jesus was on the earth, He could be with the disciples to express the Father, but He did not have the ability to be in them (John 14:9a, 17c). This is why John 14:16-18 is necessary. In this section the Son tells us that He as the Spirit will enter into the disciples themselves. Notice I did not say He would enter in the Spirit but as the Spirit. First He came in the flesh to walk among men; then He took steps to get into men. This required a change, a transformation, in His being. John 14:16-18 says:
And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper [Comforter], that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not behold Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you, and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you (NASV).
It is in relationship to these verses that the Bible Answer Man uses the word represents and representative referring to the Spirit. He interprets these verses to say that the Son, one Person in the Godhead, prayed to the Father, another Person in the Godhead, to send the Holy Spirit, a third Person in the Godhead, and that this third Person is the representative of the Trinity on the earth today. But as we have already pointed out, it is a questionable practice to use the term “Person” in reference to the members of the Godhead; and it is also a very questionable, even heretical, practice to make an absolute separation between the Son and the Father. This kind of teaching is in fact tritheism.
An Absent Christ
What the Bible Answer Man actually believes and teaches is that Christ is absent from the earth today. He believes that Christ is now in heaven and that He has sent the Holy Spirit to the earth to be His representative. Otherwise the word representative would have no significance. If I send a representative to a certain location, it means I am not going there myself, but I am sending someone there to represent me. In effect, this means that I am absent. This is the Trinitarian theology of the Bible Answer Man. It was precisely to this kind of heretical theology that Dr. Mackintosh wrote the following words:
The coming of the Spirit…is not to be conceived as forming a compensation or substitute for the absent Christ; it is…Christ Himself…present. “I will come to you” and “when the Comforter is come” occur interchangeably, and any doctrine of the Trinity which finds this an insuperable obstacle stands so far convicted of tritheism. Between the Spirit and Christ in the heart no experimental distinction can be made. The one is the method of the other (p. 374).
No words could be clearer than these.
- The coming of the Spirit is not a substitute for the absent Christ.
- The Spirit is Christ Himself present.
- The Spirit’s coming in verse seventeen is Christ’s coming in verse eighteen.
- No experimental distinction can be made between the Spirit and Christ.
- The transformation of Christ into the Spirit is the method by which He would come to be in His followers.
- Anyone who finds this an insuperable obstacle stands convicted of tritheism.
The Coming of the Spirit is the Coming of Christ
In a marvelous passage from The Doctrine of the Person of Jesus Christ, Dr. Mackintosh proceeded to make this matter crystal clear:
The coming of the Spirit is equivalent to the return of Christ as an unseen and abiding presence, yet while Jesus lived on earth this more intimate fellowship could not be realized. On earth He had been manifested as a human individual, hedged about by physical necessities, absent from these followers that He might be with those. And before “I am glad for your sakes that I was not there” could pass into “Lo, I am with you always,” a vast transformation in His…existence must occur. It was death and resurrection which formed the transition-point and installed Him in a new order of conditions, through which He became the indwelling life of His Church. “This universality of operation, both intensive and extensive,” writes Dr. Forrest, “cannot belong to the Divine while clothed and localized in ‘flesh and blood’; it must be liberated from these bonds before it can attain it. The external factor must disappear ere the Incarnate can enter into His glory.” Thus only after the resurrection could the Spirit of Christ – or Christ as Spirit – be shed forth as a widespread, actual experience (pp. 375-376).
We are sorry that the Bible Answer Man feels compelled by his erroneous theology to preach an absent Christ. But praise God, Christ is not absent! When the Lord spoke to the disciples about the coming of the Spirit, He did not mean that the Spirit was coming to represent Him. He said the Spirit “will be in you” (John 14:17), and “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you” (v. 18). It is clear from these two verses that the coming of the Spirit is the coming of the Lord Himself. Then when we read verse 23, the Lord said, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him, and make Our abode with him.”
The One is Three and the Three are One
Our God is uniquely one, and in His Divine being our God is also triune. If you have one, you have all three. If you have the Son, you also have the Father. This is why 1 John 2:23 says, “Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father; the one who confesses the Son has the Father also” (NASV). This is equally true of the Spirit. When one examines Romans 8:9-11, he discovers that the terms “the Spirit of God,” “the Spirit of Christ,” and “Christ” are all equivalent terms. If you have the Spirit of God, you have the Spirit of Christ, and if you have the Spirit of Christ, you have Christ. It is equally true that if you have the Son, you have the Father, and if you have the Spirit, you have the Son. These are not three Gods. They are one God who is triune in His being and existence. Today the Lord Jesus Christ is on the throne of the universe (Rom. 8:34), with a body of flesh and bones (Luke 24:39). But He is also in us (2 Cor. 13:5) as the life-giving Spirit (1 Cor. 15:45). He is the Son, but He is also called the Father (Isa. 9:6). He has a body of flesh and bones, but He is also the Spirit (2 Cor. 3:17). In Matthew 10:20 we are told “the Spirit of your Father is the One speaking in you” (Gk.), but in 2 Corinthians 13:3 we read that “Christ [is] speaking in me.” In John 14:26 we are told that the Spirit who has come to dwell in us “shall teach [us] all things,” but in Ephesians 4:21 we are told “that ye have heard him [Christ], and have been taught by him [Christ].” No human mind can reconcile all these diverse statements. Those who try to reconcile them get themselves into the heresy of tritheism, as the Bible Answer Man has done. We prefer to leave them as a mystery. Our God is uniquely one and He is also triune. He is triune not only in His manifestation, but also in His very being. Doctrinal statements concerning Him tend to emphasize one side and neglect the other.
Mackintosh aptly summarizes the whole matter at the end of his book on the Person of Jesus Christ:
It is in the unity of God as known in Christ that our minds come finally to rest. The triune life is apprehended by us for the sake of its redemptive expression, not for the internal analysis of its content. The problem can never be one of ontology mixed with arithmetic. Throughout, our aim is bent on history and its meaning, as we strive to apprehend the one God in His saving manifestation. To this point of view faith is constant. From this point the doctrine must set out only to circle round at last to its fruitful origin. God as Holy Love we name the Father; this same eternal God, as making the sacrifice of love and appearing in one finite Spirit for our redemption, we name the Son; God filling as new life the hearts to which His Son has become a revelation, we name the Spirit. In this confession we resume the best it has been given us to know of the eternal God our Saviour.
This is the second of a series of five articles.