A while ago I wrote a very short introduction about the doctrine of the Trinity, that God is three persons yet one. (To read that short essay click here.) This essay will continue with that concept and will focus specifically on the Divinity of Jesus Christ, meaning that Jesus is God and is the second Person of the Blessed Trinity.
THE DOCTRINE OF THE TRINITY
The doctrine of the Trinity has been a stumbling block for many Christians, going back to at least the 4th Century and also in our present day with heretical groups who identify themselves as Christians but deny this very important dogma of Faith, such as the Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses, Unitarians, etc. Many of them claim that this was an invention made later by “Christians” and was not part of the deposit of Faith given to the Apostles to proclaim the Gospel. And yet Catholics, Orthodox and Protestant Christians (including those who identify themselves as non-denominational) all adhere to this dogma even if we disagree about various points. Why? Because it is true and because it is Scriptural.
First off, let us establish the important core principle: there is only ONE God. “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Mark 12:19, Deuteronomy 6:4). But He is also THREE Persons; as Jesus said to the Apostles in Matthew 28:19, “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.” Jesus did not use the plural form of “Names” but instead said in the NAME in the singular form to designate that the Three Persons are united as one God. The doctrine/dogma of the Trinity does not designate that the Three Persons are three separate Gods but that They are Three Persons united in one Divine Essence/Substance. Paragraphs 253-255 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains it this manner:
253 The Trinity is One. We do not confess three Gods, but one God in three persons, the "consubstantial Trinity". The divine persons do not share the one divinity among themselves but each of them is God whole and entire: "The Father is that which the Son is, the Son that which the Father is, the Father and the Son that which the Holy Spirit is, i.e. by nature one God." In the words of the Fourth Lateran Council (1215), "Each of the persons is that supreme reality, viz., the divine substance, essence or nature."
254 The divine persons are really distinct from one another. "God is one but not solitary." "Father", "Son", "Holy Spirit" are not simply names designating modalities of the divine being, for they are really distinct from one another: "He is not the Father who is the Son, nor is the Son he who is the Father, nor is the Holy Spirit he who is the Father or the Son." They are distinct from one another in their relations of origin: "It is the Father who generates, the Son who is begotten, and the Holy Spirit who proceeds." The divine Unity is Triune.
255 The divine persons are relative to one another. Because it does not divide the divine unity, the real distinction of the persons from one another resides solely in the relationships which relate them to one another: "In the relational names of the persons the Father is related to the Son, the Son to the Father, and the Holy Spirit to both. While they are called three persons in view of their relations, we believe in one nature or substance." Indeed "everything (in them) is one where there is no opposition of relationship." "Because of that unity the Father is wholly in the Son and wholly in the Holy Spirit; the Son is wholly in the Father and wholly in the Holy Spirit; the Holy Spirit is wholly in the Father and wholly in the Son."
A critic of this doctrine might point out that the word Trinity does not appear in Scripture, which is true. The term Trinity does not appear in Scripture because it was not used to describe this concept until the 2nd Century; Saint Theophilus of Antioch was the first known man to use the Greek term Trias and Tertullian was later the first known to use the Latin word Trinitas. Revelation from God has been a gradual process and our understanding of it is also a process and we have had to develop terminology to describe the Divine concepts in a manner so that we can understand it; our vocabulary for the Trinity is but one of many examples of this. As paragraphs 250-252 of the Catechism explain:
250 During the first centuries the Church sought to clarify her Trinitarian faith, both to deepen her own understanding of the faith and to defend it against the errors that were deforming it. This clarification was the work of the early councils, aided by the theological work of the Church Fathers and sustained by the Christian people's sense of the faith.
251 In order to articulate the dogma of the Trinity, the Church had to develop her own terminology with the help of certain notions of philosophical origin: "substance", "person" or "hypostasis", "relation" and so on. In doing this, she did not submit the faith to human wisdom, but gave a new and unprecedented meaning to these terms, which from then on would be used to signify an ineffable mystery, "infinitely beyond all that we can humanly understand".
252 The Church uses (I) the term "substance" (rendered also at times by "essence" or "nature") to designate the divine being in its unity, (II) the term "person" or "hypostasis" to designate the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in the real distinction among them, and (III) the term "relation" to designate the fact that their distinction lies in the relationship of each to the others.
When God first revealed Himself to man, He did not simply reveal Himself to be Three Persons. In fact, when He first truly began to reveal Himself to man through Moses, He declared, “I AM THAT I AM” (YHWH/Jehovah, Exodus 3:14). What many Jewish, Christian, and Muslim scholars have come to interpret this to mean is that God has declared that He is existence itself without a cause for His existence; He is not merely the highest Being, He is Being itself. All things that exist have a cause for their existence and are dependent upon those causes. God does not have a cause, He simply is. The question, “who created God?” thus does not have merit because what cause can there be for existence itself for this cause would have to exist separate from the act of existence. For this reason, we believe that God is eternal and has no beginning or end. He created Time, Space, and Matter for the material creation and for the immaterial and thus He is not bound by the confines of His own creation. He is thus omnipotent (having unlimited power; able to do anything) and omnipresent (present everywhere at the same time and at all times). God thus is present everywhere in the past, present, and future at the same time and for Him they are all the now. As Saint Augustine had once said:
Nor dost Thou by time precede time; else would not Thou precede all times. But in the excellency of an ever-present eternity, Thou precedest all times past, and survivest all future times, because they are future, and when they have come they will be past; but You are the same, and Your years shall have no end. Your years neither go nor come; but ours both go and come, that all may come. All Your years stand at once since they do stand; nor were they when departing excluded by coming years, because they pass not away; but all these of ours shall be when all shall cease to be. Your years are one day, and Your day is not daily, but today; because Your today yields not with tomorrow, for neither does it follow yesterday. Your today is eternity… (The Confessions of St. Augustine XI.13.16, translated by J.G. Pilkington)
As for the Revelation of the Trinity, although clues are provided in the Old Testament, it is not revealed to mankind until the coming of the Second Person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ. In Jesus, God became man (the Incarnation) and took our nature along with His own, having two natures in one Person (the Hypostatic Union).
There were many extreme viewpoints during the 4th and 5th Centuries about the natures of Christ. Was He fully man and not Divine (Arianism)? Was He fully Divine and not really human at all (Docetism)? Or was He both human and Divine (Trinitarianism)? The Trinitarian view was always the orthodox view of the Church it was the first dogma that the Church ever defined, which was at the first ecumenical council held in Nicaea/Nicea in 325 and reaffirmed again at the Council of Constantinople in 381. (Technically the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15 is the very first ecumenical council, but Nicaea is the first one recognized by historians to be called outside of the age of the Apostles.) In this dogma it was declared that God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are Three Persons though one God who share the same Divine Essence and Nature.
But after the doctrine of the Trinity was elevated to the level of binding dogma and that Christ is both human and Divine, the question continued as to whether how much of Christ is Divine and how much is man. Using the words that Saint Paul declared of Jesus in Colossians 2:9, “in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily”, the Council of Ephesus held in 431 declared that Christ is both 100% man and 100% Divine and that both natures were held in one person: Jesus. And both of these natures became united in one person at the moment of the Incarnation (i.e. when God became man – John 1:1-3, 14). This became known as the Hypostatic Union. By consequence, this council also declared the dogma that the Virgin Mary is the Theotokos, the Mother of God (a term used to describe her in the writings of the Church Fathers long before this council), and it was only in response to the natures of Christ being challenged that this title was applied to her.
To understand this, we now have to explore the Scriptural data.
THE DIVINITY OF JESUS
The New Testament provides many clues and some blatant references to the fact that Jesus is God:
John 1:1-3, 14 – In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made… And the Word became flesh [Incarnate] and dwelt among us…
Colossians 1:15-17 – He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation; for in Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities--all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.
Colossians 2:9 – In Him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.
These passages clearly declare that Jesus if God and that He is the Creator (along with the Father and the Holy Spirit in Genesis 1 and 2). They also provide the Biblical basis for not just the doctrine of the Trinity but also (as previously noted) the doctrines of the Incarnation and the Hypostatic Union, which are fully dependent on the doctrine of the Trinity for their basis. The following passages also reflect the divinity of Christ:
Titus 2:13 – … our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.
1 John 5:20 – And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, to know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.
John 20:28 – (Thomas exclaims TO Jesus after touch the wounds of the Body of the Resurrected Lord) "My Lord and my God!”
Matthew 1:23/ Isaiah 7:14 – "Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and His name shall be called Emmanuel" (which means, God with us).
Moreover, Jesus is called and referred to as Lord numerous times in the New Testament, a term and title used in the context of God as Lord (Adonai) in the Old Testament. For Jesus to be called Lord thus signifies His Divinity. A perfect example of this point can be drawn from Luke 1:39-43:
In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a city of Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and she exclaimed with a loud cry, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”
In this passage we see that Elizabeth was guided by the Holy Spirit to declare the Divinity of Jesus who had not been born yet. Moreover, she also called the Virgin Mary the mother of her Lord, providing the Biblical basis for the aforementioned dogma that Mary is the Theotokos, the Mother of God.
But did Jesus Himself ever declare His Divinity? Yes, and the clearest example comes from John 8:58-59 during one of the many encounters that Jesus had with the Pharisees:
Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM." So they took up stones to throw at Him; but Jesus hid Himself, and went out of the temple.
In this passage Jesus is daring to say the Sacred Name of God “I Am” given to Moses at the burning bush in Exodus 3:14. The Name of God (YHWH) was held to be so sacred that no Jew to this day dares to ever utter it or accidentally slide his finger over it when he reads the Torah; in fact when they write God in English they tend to write G-d. We see this clearly in Leviticus 24:14-16, 23 that anyone who blasphemed the Name of God was to be put to death by stoning. Therefore, this passage of John clearly declares that Jesus takes the Sacred Name for Himself because the Jews wanted to kill Him for blasphemy as a result as they were technically obligated to do so according to the commandment found in Leviticus 24.
Since the Pharisees were scholars of the Law/Torah, they knew this passage from Leviticus very well and they felt morally obligated to stone Jesus because of what Jesus had said. If Jesus were not God and He said “I AM” then He would have been truly guilty of blasphemy and deserving to be stoned. But since we believe that Jesus never sinned and never uttered any blasphemy, we thus have to conclude based upon how the Jews reacted to what He said that Jesus was declaring Himself to be God.
Although a Christian heretic will have trouble debunking these clear pieces of data to support the Divinity of Christ, a Jewish critic will argue that these examples have no merit because the New Testament of the Bible is simply a Christian invention and not part of God’s Revelation. However, this can be verified in Old Testament as well, Genesis in particular, for God refers to Himself as “Us” three times:
Genesis 1:26 – Concerning the creation of man, God said, “Let US make man in OUR Image.”
Genesis 3:22 – Concerning the fall of Adam and Eve, God also said, “Man has become like US knowing good and evil.”
Genesis 11:7 – Concerning the men who were building the Tower of Babel in the city that would later become Babylon as a form of sacrilege against God, the Lord said, “Let US go down, and there confuse their language.”
Jewish commentary says that when God said these things He was referring to the angels. This is probable for Genesis 3:22 since by that point in time the angels did come to know good and evil just as God does and for Genesis 11:7 since it is very possible and likely that God used the angels to confuse the languages of man at Babel.
However, the argument does not seem logical for Genesis 1:26 when God said concerning the creation of man, “Let Us MAKE man in Our Image” because that would imply then that the angels were co-creators of man with God and we have no evidence from Scripture or from any Jewish sources outside of Scripture to indicate this notion. Thus, we have to conclude that even if God were talking to the angels in the two other passages of Genesis, He could not have been talking to them about the creation of man and thus God had to have been speaking to Himself in the plural form and the Trinity is the most logical conclusion. Therefore, from Genesis we can see that Jesus was an active participant with God the Father in the Creation and that would have included the creation of the angels. Saint Augustine articulates this point as well:
We might have supposed that the words uttered at the creation of man, Let us, and not Let me, make man, were addressed to the angels, had He not added in our image; but as we cannot believe that man was made in the image of angels, or that the image of God is the same as that of angels, it is proper to refer this expression to the plurality of the Trinity. And yet this Trinity, being one God, even after saying Let us make, goes on to say, And God made man in His image, [Genesis 1:26] and not Gods made, or in their image. And were there any difficulty in applying to the angels the words, Come, and let us go down and confound their speech, we might refer the plural to the Trinity, as if the Father were addressing the Son and the Holy Spirit; but it rather belongs to the angels to approach God by holy movements, that is, by pious thoughts, and thereby to avail themselves of the unchangeable truth which rules in the court of heaven as their eternal law. For they are not themselves the truth; but partaking in the creative truth, they are moved towards it as the fountain of life, that what they have not in themselves they may obtain in it. And this movement of theirs is steady, for they never go back from what they have reached. And to these angels God does not speak, as we speak to one another, or to God, or to angels, or as the angels speak to us, or as God speaks to us through them: He speaks to them in an ineffable manner of His own, and that which He says is conveyed to us in a manner suited to our capacity. For the speaking of God antecedent and superior to all His works, is the immutable reason of His work: it has no noisy and passing sound, but an energy eternally abiding and producing results in time. Thus He speaks to the holy angels; but to us, who are far off, He speaks otherwise. When, however, we hear with the inner ear some part of the speech of God, we approximate to the angels. But in this work I need not labor to give an account of the ways in which God speaks. For either the unchangeable Truth speaks directly to the mind of the rational creature in some indescribable way, or speaks through the changeable creature, either presenting spiritual images to our spirit, or bodily voices to our bodily sense. (St. Augustine, the City of God 16.6, translated by Marcus Dods)
Every Jew that I have lovingly and respectfully asked for their interpretation of these passages of Genesis have all fallen upon the argument that God was speaking to the angels. But when I address this emphasis that this would imply that the angels would be co-creators of man, they have been puzzled. Since this is in the original Hebrew of the Genesis text that can be found in the Jewish translations of the Torah and is not a Christian corruption or mistranslation, I have sought for an honest understanding of how the Jews interpret this passage.
However, when it comes to being challenged by various Christian heretics about the doctrine of the Trinity, especially by Jehovah Witnesses, this is my go to passage in conjunction to the data found in the New Testament. In the New Living Translation, they have rewritten the Bible to fit their doctrinal views. For instance, they have rewritten the passage of John 1:1 that the Word was “a god” rather than the Word “is God”, despite the fact that the original Greek supports the Trinitarian position and not theirs. Having said this, they neglected to mistranslate these passages from Genesis which has God speaking to Himself in the plural form. When I bring Genesis 1:26 into the debate, I have not been able to find any Jehovah Witness who can adequately defend his or her position and the conversation always comes to an abrupt end resulting in them leaving my home.
Jehovah Witnesses are thoroughly trained in the apologetics of their heresy to argue against the dogma of the Trinity and they are used to encountering Christians who do not know how to defend their Faith using Scripture and history. Many Protestants have the great advantage of knowing Scripture, but the majority of them know nothing about the history of the Early Church. Sadly, many Catholics can be ignorant of both. All Christians who adhere to the dogma of the Trinity need to know both to defend their faith and to combat heresy.
Why? Because the Divinity of Jesus is not just a dogma that all Christians have to believe in, it is beautiful! Think about it! God loves humanity so much that when Adam and Eve damned themselves and all of humanity into sin and damnation to Hell for eternity, God HIMSELF became man to pay the price of atonement for our sins on the Cross. Only man could be able to pay the price of atonement since it was he who committed the sin that needed to be atoned; but no man was perfect enough to pay that price. Yet God, not even the angels, is the only absolutely perfect Being who could pay that price, but He was not one of us. Therefore, He BECAME one of us! As Saint Paul put it:
For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Therefore, not only is the dogma of the Trinity required for us to believe, not only is it beautiful, all of our Salvation is dependent upon the FACT that Jesus is God.
IS JESUS YOUR LORD?
Christian doctrine and Sacred Scripture make it very clear that Jesus was not just a great teacher, He is our God, He is our Master, He is our King, and He is our Lord. I will save the explanation of the Kingship of Jesus and the Church as the Kingdom of God for a later essay so that I can explore those concepts in great depth. However, let me leave you with this point to mediate upon.
If Jesus is truly your God, your Master, your King, and your Lord, are you really obedient to Him? Do you only have faith in Him and believe that He exists, or do you believe AND obey Him? You need to come to sincerely love Him and have faith in Him, but as He made it clear, if you love Him you will also OBEY His Commandments (John 14:15, 23) and you will seek what He wants for your life and not just what you want. In other words, if Jesus is truly your God, you will want His Will to be done and you will want to attune your will to His. The Blessed Virgin Mary set the example when she said yes to God, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). Moreover, Jesus Himself also set the example in His obedience to God the Father, “Not My will but Your Will be done!” (Luke 22:42, Matthew 26:42-44, Mark 14:36, and elsewhere).
Godship, Mastership, Kingship, and Lordship all demand love, devotion, loyalty, and obedience. Defending the Divinity of Jesus is not just defending a doctrine, it is acknowledging Him as YOUR God.
Do you love Him?
Are you devoted to Him?
Are you loyal to Him?
Are you obedient to Him?