Article Summary:

A critique showing that Walter Martin’s explanation that the Three of the Divine Trinity are separate persons sharing an ill-defined common nature is tantamount to having three separate Gods.

The Bible Answer Man has Three Gods

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 CRI has since withdrawn those criticisms and reversed its earlier conclusions (see “A Brief History of the Relationship between the Local Churches and the Christian Research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here for the historical record, for the important points of truth it addresses, and because CRI’s criticisms, although withdrawn, are still repeated by others.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

January 7

Proved by His Interpretation of John 1:1

The Bible Answer Man has three Gods. This is not an empty assertion. It is a conclusion arrived at by a close examination of his public statements both on the radio and in writing. I do not say that he admits to having three Gods. This he would vigorously deny. But I do say that when one closely examines his statements regarding the Godhead, the inevitable conclusion is that, practically and functionally, he is a tritheist.

Let us first examine his statements regarding John 1:1:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

Concerning this verse the Answer Man said on his radio program October 8, 1977, that to say ” ‘The Word was God’ does not make the Word the God with whom He was.” This statement must be examined closely. When this verse is literally translated it reads:

In [the] beginning was the Word, and the Word was with the God, and God was the Word.

The word God appears in this verse two times. My question is this: Does the word God in the first instance refer to one party, and in the second instance refer to another party? This is the inference from his statement that to say ” ‘The Word was God’ does not make the Word the God with whom He was.” If the Word was not the God with whom He was, then is the Word another God? In the second clause of John 1:1 it says clearly, “The Word was with God,” and in the third clause it says clearly that “the Word was God.” According to the Answer Man the word God in one instance refers to someone the Word was with, and in the second instance the word God refers to the Word Himself, but he denies that the God that He [the Word] was, is the God He was with. This means that he believes that in John 1:1 there are two parties who are called God.

On October 15, 1977, pursuing the same argument on John 1:1 the Answer Man insisted that to say that “the Word was the God with whom He was would be actually Sabellianism, the heresy of modalism in which you destroy the distinctions and Persons in the Godhead…” This statement reveals how he reads the Bible, and especially how he reads John 1:1. He reads the Bible through the tinted glasses of historical controversy. It has been observed time and time again that he reads the Bible this way. Before us is a concrete example. He is unable, apparently, to come to the pure Word of God and let the Word speak for itself. Sabellius taught that the three of the Godhead did not have simultaneous existence, but rather appeared successively one after another, first the Father, then the Son, then the Holy Spirit. Sabellianism denies the triune nature of God as indicated, for instance, in Matthew 3 verses 16 and 17 where Jesus is seen coming up out of the baptismal water, the Spirit of God is descending upon Him like a dove, and the Father’s voice is speaking from heaven saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” That is the pure word of God in Matthew 3:16 and 17. It is clear from these two verses that all three of the Godhead were simultaneously present, not present one after another as modalism teaches.

But the question before us is this: Can we allow John 1:1 to speak in the same unhindered fashion without importing into it the color of a later doctrinal controversy? When studying the Bible, we must set aside historical controversies and come to the pure Word. To interpret the verse as the Answer Man does is to read into it something which is not native to it. This is called eisegesis. In his book on the Jehovah’s Witnesses entitled Jehovah of the Watchtower, the Answer Man chided the Witnesses for this very practice. He said:

Since Jehovah’s Witnesses profess to believe in the Bible as the infallible Word of God and their guide in all doctrines, this study will be based entirely upon what the Bible itself teaches, and not upon what it is thought to teach. We know it is possible to “eisegete” (read into) the Scriptures many ways, but impossible to “exegete” (take out) from them more than one way, at least where cardinal doctrines of the Christian faith are concerned (p. 12).

I would urge him in this matter to take his own advice and to base his study on what the Bible actually teaches, and not upon what it is thought to teach either according to history or according to any other outside influence. I would urge him to go to the Bible and take out of it what it actually says, and not to read into it the historic controversies.

It seems the Answer Man is more strongly influenced by the fear of being called Sabellian than by the desire to discover what the Word of God actually says. This is indicated by his radio statement that to say, ” ‘The Word was the God with whom He was’ would be actually Sabellianism.” John 1:1 does not lend itself to Sabellianism, for Sabellius contended that the three of the Godhead did not exist simultaneously. John 1:1 refutes Sabellius at the outset. The second clause of John 1:1 makes it clear that the Word and God were existing together simultaneously. The problem comes when we reach the third clause: “and the Word was God.”

Having seen that the Answer Man reads the Bible through the colored glasses of history, it becomes clear why he prefers to translate the second reference to God in John 1:1 as Deity. Rather than saying, “The Word was God,” he prefers to say, “The Word was Deity.” Though in John 1:1 the two words for God are the same, Theon and Theos respectively, he interprets the first one God and the second one Deity. In other words Theon he would render God and Theos he would render Deity, although there is absolutely no grammatical or linguistic reason for making this distinction. To interpret the verse his way is to say that the Word has divine quality, but is not God Himself. Once again I would refer the Answer Man to the advice he himself gave the Jehovah’s Witnesses in the book by him already referred to. He said:

It is nonsense to say that a simple noun can be rendered “divine,” and that a noun [without an article] conveys merely the idea of quality.

This advice was given the Jehovah’s Witnesses on John 1:1 where they prefer to interpret Theos as a divine quality. Yet, on his radio program he turns around and does exactly the same thing he chides them for doing, that is, rendering Theos as Deity. And all the time he is refusing to equate the Theon of the second clause with the Theos of the third clause. He is saying that he believes that there is only one God because both parties in John 1:1 share the same nature. To quote him exactly from his radio program of October 15, 1977, “He [Christ] shares the nature of God.” But to say that Christ shares the nature of God is a long way from saying that He is God. According to 2 Peter 1:4, even believers share the divine nature, but this by no means makes them God. The fact of John 1:1 is that the Word was not only with God, the Word was God. The Word not only shares the nature of God. This is so of every child of God. But Christ, the preexistent Word, was with God, and was God. The translators of the Amplified Bible caught the force of John’s meaning when they translated the verse this way:

In the beginning [before all time] was the Word [Christ], and the Word was with God, and the Word was God Himself.

This is without doubt a great mystery. But when we come to the pure Word of God and read it without outside interference, and believe it exactly the way it is written, we must bow in adoring worship and confess that:

The Word was with God, and the Word was God Himself.

Proved by His Definition of God

On October 15, 1977, the Answer Man asked a member of his radio audience, “What do you think the word ‘God’ means? Define it for me.” Then in answer to his own question he said, “Does it not mean Divine Nature?” According to him the term “God” equals “Divine Nature.” On the same program, referring to John 1:1, he said, “The Word shares the nature of Deity; the Word is true Deity.” Then he continued, “Jesus Christ is eternal God ]i.e., He has the same nature as God]. He is face to face with God. He shares the nature of God. He is God as the Son, second Person of the Holy Trinity. He is not the Father, who is the God with whom He was.” Finally, speaking of the three of the Trinity, he said, “Each one of them shares the Divine Nature.”

Four observations must be made concerning the Answer Man’s view of God. The first is that for him “God” equals “Divine Nature.” He said clearly, “The word ‘God’ means…Divine Nature.” According to this definition, God is not a divine being, but a divine nature. This explains how he can have a plurality of Gods. The nature of anything may permeate a number of different parts. For instance, the nature of a chair may be wood, the nature of a table may be wood, and the nature of a stool may be also wood. In nature these three items are all one, but numerically they are three. One could say that the chair, the table, and the stool are three in one; three in number but one in nature. This is the way the Answer Man views the Triune God. His view is that the three of the Godhead, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, are three in number, but since they all have the Divine Nature, they are one God.

This brings us to the second observation, namely, that the oneness of the Triune God, for the Answer Man, is not quantitative but qualitative. This means that for him the oneness of the Triune God is not in quantity, that is, God is not uniquely one in quantity, but is one in quality, in all the members of the Godhead having the same quality of nature. The number one is God’s unique number. The unity of the Godhead is not just a “unity of substance” as he says in his book Jehovah of the Watchtower, page 45. God is not one in substance only, as if you could line up three human beings and say that because they all have the same substance, or nature, they are one. That may be “unity of substance,” but that is not the unique numerical oneness of the Bible. The unique numerical oneness of the Bible when referring to God is that He is not only one in nature, but He is one Being. The Answer Man begins with the three of the Godhead and then proceeds to account for the oneness of the Godhead by explaining it in terms of a “unity of substance.” But the Bible turns the matter around and begins with the unique oneness of God. The foundation truth concerning God in the Bible is that God is uniquely one. On this matter the Word of God is uncompromising: “Hear, 0 Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord” (Deut. 6:4). To the Hebrew of the Old Testament it would have been unthinkable that God was multiple in His being and one in His nature. To them God was one Lord, that is, He was numerically one. When the Bible says that God is one, this does not mean that you can line up three separate parties and say, because they are all composed of the same substance with the same nature, that these three are one. This is not the oneness of God. This is the natural human concept attempting to explain the inexplicable. Where, in the whole Bible, does it say that God is one only in quality but not in quantity? If the Answer Man would protest that I have quoted from the Old Testament, then I refer him to the words of the Lord Jesus in Mark 12:29 where He said: “The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord.” If he still protests that the doctrine of the Trinity was not yet developed in the Gospels, then I refer him to 1 Corinthians 8:4 where Paul says: “There is none other God but one.”

The Bible begins with the truth that God is one. Without ever dropping God’s unique oneness, their experience of Christ and the Holy Spirit in the New Testament led the Lord’s people to realize that in the one unique God there are three, interpenetrating each other. The interpenetration of the three of the Godhead is to such an extent that what is done by one is said to be done by all. Thus the Lord Jesus could say, “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father” (John 14:9). This is also why in Isaiah 9:6 the Child is called the mighty God and the Son is called the eternal Father. There is such an interpenetration of the three of the Godhead that one cannot be separated from the others. According to the Bible, the Father is in us (Eph. 4:6; Matt. 10:20); Christ is in us (2 Cor. 13:5); and the Spirit is also in us (Rom. 8:9). This does not mean that there are three different divine beings, separate from one another, inside of us. This would be tritheism. No! To say that the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, who interpenetrate one another, are in us is to say that the one unique God, who is triune, is in us. In like manner Matthew 10:20 says, “The Spirit of your Father is the one speaking in you” (Gk.). But in 2 Corinthians 13:3 Paul says “Christ [is] speaking in me.” This surely does not mean that there are two separate beings speaking inside of us, one called the Father and the other called the Son. No! You may say that the Father speaks inside of you, and you may also say that Christ speaks inside of you; for where one is, both are. This is exactly the point of John 14:10: “The words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works.” When Philip said to the Lord Jesus, “Show us the Father,” 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?” On the one hand, there is the Lord Jesus and there is also the Father; but on the other hand, “I and the Father are one.” This is the mystery of the Triune God. On the one hand, “The Word was with God,” but on the other hand, “The Word was God.” This is the revelation of the Bible.

Proved by His Teaching of One God in Three Separate Persons

In his book entitled Essential Christianity, the Answer Man says that “Certainly the teaching of ‘one God in three Persons’ was accepted in the early church…” (p. 22). It has already been pointed out that his definition of “God” is “Divine Nature.” When this phrase is substituted for the word “God,” one can more clearly see what the Answer Man is saying. He is saying that three separate Persons are divine in nature, which means they are God. To say that the Bible teaches there is one divine nature in three Persons is surely to misunderstand the Bible; for this is not the teaching of the Bible but the teaching of tritheism, the doctrine that there are three separate Gods. This is the Answer Man’s doctrine of the Triune God, and this is why we say that he has three Gods. The Bible nowhere teaches that there is one Divine Nature in three separate Persons. The teaching that there is one Divine Nature in separate Divine Persons is rank heresy. What the Bible does teach is that there are the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit not in one Divine Nature but in one Divine Being.

On the same page of Essential Christianity a phrase is quoted from the Athanasian Creed: “neither confounding the Persons nor dividing the substance.” Of course, this Creed has put everything into nice, convenient categories for the human mind. “Not confounding the Persons” means not confusing the Persons with one another.

The concept of making an absolute distinction between the three of the Godhead is found in the post-biblical age of the councils and the creeds, and it is from this post-biblical age that the Answer Man has derived his concept of the Trinity. He did not get it from the Bible.

Isaiah, speaking under divine inspiration, could surely be accused of “confounding the Persons,” for he prophesied: “The Son…shall be called the eternal Father” (Isa. 9:6). Paul could equally be accused of the same error, for he wrote: “The Lord [Christ] is the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:17). And our Lord Himself could be accused of compounding the error, for He not only said: “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9); He also said: “The Spirit…will be in you,” and “I am coming to you” (John 14:17-18).

The problem of “confounding the Persons” was raised in an age which had substituted theological formulas for Biblical revelation. It is from this later source that the Answer Man gets his doctrine of the Trinity.

His doctrine could be illustrated as follows: Let us say that we line up three men named Peter, James, and John. These three men are all human beings, so they all have the same human nature. Concerning these three individuals, we could now say that there is one human nature in three persons. They all have the same human nature, but they are three separate persons. Their unity consists in the fact that they are all composed of the same substance, that is, the substance human beings are composed of. And on the side of three, it is obvious that there are three because three individual men are standing there. This is an illustration of the Answer Man’s concept of the Triune God. We may now say that the names Peter, James, and John are changed to Father, Son, and Spirit. These are the three divine Persons. All three are composed of the same divine substance, and all three are Deity in nature. This is what composes the unity or the oneness of the three. Of course the triad aspect needs no explanation, for there standing before you are three parties: Father, Son, and Spirit. This kind of teaching is called tritheism, and a tritheist is a person who has three Gods.

Now we may illustrate the teaching of the Bible in this way: We will begin by saying not as the Answer Man does that there is “one God in three Persons,” but that there are three in the Godhead. It is important to realize that it is not that there is one Divine Nature in three separate Persons, but that there are three (we do not say Persons for the Bible does not say so) in one God. And when we say “one God,” we do not mean one Divine Nature, as the Answer Man does; we mean one Divine Being. According to the Bible, God is not only one in nature because that could allow numerically for a countless number of parties. When we say “one God,” we mean one numerically. There is only one God according to the Bible, and this God Who is one in number is triune: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, all existing simultaneously from eternity. This is the mystery of the Triune God.

The trouble with the Answer Man is that he is captured not by the Word of God, but by theology, doctrine, theologians, creeds, councils, and systematic thought. In Essential Christianity, page 23, he says, “According to Christianity, the doctrine of the Trinity teaches that within the unity of the one Deity are three separate Persons….” This may be “according to Christianity” and it may also be what “the doctrine of the Trinity teaches,” but it is a far cry from what the Bible says. This is his theology; it is not his reading of the Bible. To say that God is composed of three distinct parties who have the same nature is not the monotheism of the Bible but the tritheism of theology.

I would counsel the Answer Man to take the advice of his superior at Melodyland School of Theology, J. Rodman Williams, and “go back behind creed and dogma to the Scriptures themselves.” We agree with Dr. Williams when he says:

There is no doctrine of the Trinity in the Bible. The word “Trinity” is nowhere to be found, nor the language “one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity,” and certainly nothing about needing to believe this for salvation. What we do have, however, might be called the raw materials for such a doctrine; for the New Testament is laden with the names of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, while vigorously affirming that God is one (The Pentecostal Reality, pp. 100-101).

Dr. Williams continues,

The earliest disciples of Jesus did not, by any means, start with a doctrine of Holy Trinity. There was not yet any dogma, no New Testament Scripture. The only thing that they had ever heard about God numerically was that He was one and not three. The Old Testament had vigorously affirmed, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord.” This was not just doctrine they had been taught, it was also deeply ingrained in their life and experience. The early disciples, as orthodox Jews, were radical monotheists; they abominated anything by way of idolatry or polytheism that would possibly dilute their faith. They were Unitarian—quite far from being Trinitarian. Yet, something amazing happened in their experience: a band of orthodox, monotheistic, even Unitarian Jews began to speak about the one God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Before too long the early church was baptizing people into this Triune Name. Such an extraordinary change was not due to better or higher instruction. This could not have brought it about. Like their earlier faith in the one God, the conviction of His reality as Triune was burned into their life and experience (pp. 102-103).

The point of quoting this passage from the Answer Man’s superior is that he makes the following points:

  1. In the Bible God is numerically one, not three.
  2. The Old Testament Jews and the early Christians were radical monotheists.
  3. Their Trinitarianism developed out of their experience, first of Jesus and then of the Holy Spirit.

Dr. Williams goes on to point out that such an enlargement and development of their view of God occurred over a period of years and “happened because of their association with Jesus of Nazareth.” They began with the truth that God was numerically one. Then gradually through their experience with Jesus, and later with the Holy Spirit, they came to realize that they were in touch with the living God. For the early disciples the reality of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit was not theology or creed, but rather a living experience. This was not their doctrine, but their experience. It was not their creed; it was their reality. The early Christians, like the Old Testament Jews, believed in one God. But when they touched Jesus, they knew they touched the one God. And when they contacted the Holy Spirit, again, they knew they contacted this one God. It took theologians of another age, using mental gymnastics, to turn the experience of the triune God into meaningless jargon: “neither confounding the Persons nor dividing the Substance.”

We praise God that today we need not settle for abstruse theological formulas. It is still possible to experience the one God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in our daily lives. May all of God’s seeking children forsake the dead, dry surroundings of creedalism and return to the living joy of experiencing the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Proved by His Doctrine of “Composite Unity”

The Bible Answer Man has three Gods. This is proved conclusively by his teaching of corporate oneness, or what he calls “composite unity.” In his book Essential Christianity, page 25, he gives his explanation of how God can be three and also be one. He begins by asking the question, “What does the word ‘one’ mean? Does it always indicate solitary existence?” He then proceeds to list five examples of oneness which are not “solitary” but are examples of what he calls “composite unity.”

  1. Adam and Eve. According to Genesis chapter two, God spoke of Adam and Eve becoming “one flesh.” The Answer Man points out that God did not mean that Adam and Eve were to become each other, but that they were to become “as one before Him.” “So we see” he says, “that unity of a composite character was recognized by God Himself as existing within the world which He had created.”
  2. The marriage relationship. When Jesus said in Mark 10:8, “They are no more twain, but one flesh,” He was recognizing a composite unity about people joined in marriage.
  3. Numbers chapter thirteen, where the spies returned from the land of Canaan bearing “one cluster of grapes.” This means that a number of grapes were hanging from one solitary stem, which again refers to “a composite unity rather than merely a solitary ‘one.’ “
  4. National oneness. “If the United States should be attacked by a foreign power,” says the Answer Man, “everyone would ‘rise as one’ to the defense of the country. Yet no one would say that everyone had instantaneously become ‘one person.’ Rather, we would be one in a composite unity.
  5. Oneness in faith and doctrine. One might speak of being “one in faith or doctrine” or of “standing as one” in a time of crisis. This would also be considered a composite oneness. Then the Answer Man draws his conclusion: “Why then should we not accept composite unity where the nature of God is concerned?”

The Answer Man has left us in no doubt concerning his view of the unity of God. It is not the unique numerical oneness of the Bible, but rather a corporate unity. It is a unity in kind like that of two people united in marriage, or like the citizens of the country who rise as one in time of crisis, or like a cluster of grapes which can be said to be one cluster composed of many grapes. There is, of course, this kind of oneness. It does not violate the term “one” to define it in this way under certain conditions. But the question is this: Is this the oneness of the Godhead? Is God a corporation, so that when we see Him one day we will behold three distinct parties, rather than one unique God? Is it true, as the Answer Man says, that the unity of the Godhead is “a unity of…substance,” and that “Deity is that substance”? This would be similar to lining up three human beings and saying that they are one because they are composed of the same substance and that humanity is that substance. Is this the unity the Bible speaks of? Our answer must be unequivocally no. This is not the oneness of the triune God according to the Bible.

According to the Bible, there is no such clear-cut distinction of “Persons” as the Answer Man suggests, but rather a “perpetual intercommunication…motion…and interpenetration” between the divine three of the Godhead (Creeds of Christendom, Philip Schaff, Vol. 1, p. 38). It took theologians of the period following the New Testament to reduce the Trinity to neat, doctrinal categories. Take for example the Athanasian Creed, which Philip Schaff says “is unsurpassed as a masterpiece of logical clearness, rigor, and precision” (History of the Christian Church, Vol. 3, p. 690). It may be unsurpassed as a masterpiece of logical clearness, rigor, and precision, but at just these points it outdoes the Bible – for the Bible does not have the kind of logical clearness, rigor, and precision this creed has. In Baur’s three-volume work on the history of the doctrine of the Trinity, he disposes of this creed in a brief note (Vol. 2, p. 33), “as a vain attempt to vindicate by logical categories the harsh and irreconcilable antagonism of unity and triad.” Here is an author who at least realizes that one cannot reduce the Triune God to “logical categories,” nor reconcile the antagonism between one and three. What we have in the Bible is the matter of the one unique God who is in His being also Triune. Such distinction of Persons as the theologians of later eras attempted to make is not found in the Bible at all.

Take for example Isaiah 9:6.

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.

The prophet Isaiah was under no compulsion to be logically consistent when he uttered this verse by divine inspiration. No doubt many commentators, and the Answer Man himself, wish Isaiah had been more theologically discreet and had not included the phrase “everlasting Father.” But there it is! The child is the mighty God, and the son is called the everlasting Father.

We find the same apparent lack of theological precision in John 14:8-9. In verse seven Jesus said to the disciples:

If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also: and from henceforth ye know him, and have seen him.

This raised the curiosity of the disciples concerning the identity of the Father because the Lord Jesus had just said, “If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also: and from henceforth ye know him and have seen him.” Philip, expressing the perplexity of the group, said, “Lord, show us the Father, and it sufficeth us.” Jesus replied, “Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip?” Note, now, the following words of our Lord: “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father.” No doubt the theologians, like the Answer Man, wish that for the benefit of later ages Jesus had been more considerate in the way He expressed Himself. It would have caused much less complication if He would have expressed Himself in language similar to that of the so-called Athanasian Creed: “That we worship one God in trinity, and the trinity in unity; Neither confounding the persons; nor dividing the substance. So there is one person of the Father; another of the Son; another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost is all one: the glory equal, the majesty coeternal.” Such is the language of the Athanasian Creed, but such is not the language of our Lord Jesus Christ. He makes no such logical, rigorous, and precise distinction between Himself and the Father, but shows, as we have indicated before, an intercommunication, motion, and interpenetration of the three of the Godhead.

We find this same intercommunion and interpenetration of the three of the Godhead in another portion of John 14. In verses 16, 17, and 18 our Lord said:

I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.

Here we have present the three of the Godhead: Jesus who is speaking, the Father to whom He prays, and the Spirit who will come. But when one examines verses 17 and 18 carefully, one finds that the Lord Jesus did not speak in the precise theological terminology of the creeds. Here again no doubt the commentators and theologians wish He had been more exact, for the language our Lord used does not exactly lend itself to systematic formulation.

This is what He said: I will ask the Father to give you another Comforter. This Comforter will be with you forever, and He will be the Spirit. The world can’t receive Him because the world can’t see Him and doesn’t know Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and shall be in you. In other words, Jesus said the One who is coming, whom He called the Spirit, was right at that moment dwelling with them and would later be in them. Then He changes the pronoun He to the pronoun I, and says, “I will not leave you orphans; I am coming to you” (Gk.). In verse 17 our Lord said He, the Spirit, will come, but in verse 18 He said I will come. Surely this is “confounding the Persons,” which the Athanasian Creed condemns under penalty of damnation.

May God’s people forsake the sterile, complicated language of theology and return to the simple, uncomplicated, nourishing language of the Word of God.

Proved from His Speculative Theology

As proof that the Answer Man has deviated from the Bible to the sphere of human wisdom and speculation, we cite his definition of God from a cassette tape distributed by his own Research Institute: “Within the nature of the one true God, there are three eternally distinct persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” This definition is an excellent example of human speculation. Nowhere in the entire Bible from Genesis to Revelation is the word “nature” used in reference to God, and nowhere does it refer to the three of the Godhead as separate “Persons.” These are words and phrases which the Answer Man has borrowed from the world of speculative theology, which is a branch of the wisdom of this world. When he further explains the term “nature” as a “nature of substance, and that deity is that substance,” he is fully in the realm of speculation. One can only be dismayed by such verbal gymnastics. The same is true in his application of the term “Persons” to the three of the Godhead. Where amidst the tens of thousands of words in the Bible does the term person once refer to the Divine Trinity?

In a matter so mysterious and so far above the capacity of the human intellect to grasp, it is a dangerous thing to import terms and phrases which are foreign to the Bible itself in describing the mystery. I refer to H. R. Mackintosh, a renowned Scottish theologian at the turn of the century. In his classical work, The Doctrine of the Person of Jesus Christ, he quotes William Sanday who says: “Person, in Trinitarian usage, is a [state] of being which serves as a ground or basis of special function, but just stops short of separate individuality. It implies distinction without division.” Then Mackintosh goes on to comment:

It is certain that hupostasis in Greek theology, and persona, its Latin equivalent, do not mean now, and never have meant, what we usually intend by Personality. In strictness, then,…we use the word “Person” from simple poverty of language: to indicate our belief…in the reality of Divine distinctions, not to affirm separate conscious beings (p. 524).

This word is very clear.

  1. The term Person when applied to the Trinity implies a special function, but stops short of separate individuality.
  2. It implies distinction without division.
  3. The Greek and Latin words from which we derive the word Person do not mean now and never did mean what is usually intended by Personality.
  4. The reason the word “Person” is used at all is because of poverty of language.
  5. It is used to indicate our belief in the reality of Divine distinctions, not to affirm separate conscious beings.

The words quoted from Dr. Mackintosh should be read and memorized by the Answer Man and inscribed indelibly upon his mind, for he uses the term “Person” in exactly the way the superior theologians say it should not be used. He uses it not only to indicate a special function but also to indicate separate individuality among the three of the Godhead; he uses it not only to indicate distinction but also division among the three of the Godhead; he uses it in the way we commonly use the term person, to describe a self-contained being; and he uses it to affirm that in the Godhead there are three separate beings. Thus, we say that the Answer Man has deviated from the Bible to human wisdom and human speculation in the way he deals with the matter of the Triune God, and by so doing has gotten himself fully enmeshed in the error of tritheism.

To base our theology on speculation and even on inferences derived from the Bible always holds the risks of getting us into error. The Bible is a book of history. It does not deal with matters of speculation. Concerning the Godhead, for instance, it does not give us an “internal analysis of its contents.” It does not mix ontology (the philosophy of being) with arithmetic. The Bible is peculiar in that the only arithmetic applied to God in its pages is the mathematics of one. God is said to be one (Deut. 6:4); He is never said to be three. The historical data in the Bible indicate that in the being of God He is triune. But it is the one God who is triune; it is not three separate Persons who are united together by a likeness of substance, as the Answer Man teaches (Essential Christianity, p. 25).

The writers of the Bible make no such absolute distinction between the three of the Godhead as the speculative theologians make. That there are differences between the three of the Godhead no one who believes in the Bible would deny, but that those differences are so vast as to be considered as separate Persons is to leave the pages of the Bible for the world of speculation. Isaiah 9:6 is a prophecy concerning the Son:

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.

All Bible students recognize that this verse refers to Jesus Christ. In several of his books the Answer Man also recognizes that this verse refers to Christ. He even uses it against the Jehovah’s Witnesses to prove that Jesus Christ is not “a mighty God” inferior to Jehovah (Jehovah of the Watchtower, p. 47). When the Jehovah’s Witnesses argue that this verse, which refers to Christ, does not mean that He was the “mighty God,” we agree with the author when he asks them, “Are there two ‘mighty Gods’?” But because of his Tritheistic concepts, in which he makes absolute divisions between the three of the Godhead, when he comes to the phrase, “His name shall be called…everlasting Father,” he himself attempts to explain it away by saying that this is not the unique eternal Father of the Godhead. We, therefore, turn the question to him: Is there more than one eternal Father in the Godhead?

His theology of speculation concerning God: that “within the nature of the one true God there are three eternally distinct Persons” has led him to forsake the pages of the Bible; he has exchanged the simple truth of God’s Word for the theological wisdom of this age. And he has adopted a theological point of view which is external to the Bible. The church is the “church of the living God,” not the church of a theological God, or a creedal God. And the truth which the church holds up among men is the Biblical truth of the living God. It is not philosophical truth or speculative truth or even truth drawn from inference. It is the historical truth revealed in the Bible. When the ground of historical revelation in the Bible is forsaken, or interpreted through the glasses of inference, philosophy, or speculation, the result will be error. This is the mistake the Answer Man has made. He has adopted a view of God which he derived from outside the Bible. This extra-biblical view has led him to believe that there are three separate Personalities in the Godhead and that the oneness of the Godhead is in the fact that these three separate Persons have the same nature. This is not the revelation of the Bible; this is tritheism. And this is why we say that he has three Gods.

This is the third of a series of five articles.

Posted in 1970s Responses, Responses, Walter Martin and tagged , , , , , .