II. The Holy Trinity

“We all believe in one true God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.” So we often sing in our orthodox Lutheran churches. But this statement is not merely a line from a Lutheran hymn; the hymn itself is a metrical form of an ecumenical (or world wide), catholic (or universal) creed which all Christians in the world have confessed since the earliest Christian centuries, which indeed the Christians (or believers in the promised Messiah) believed and confessed even before God’s Son came in the flesh, on the basis of the revelation of this doctrine in the Old Testament. There never has been a child of God, nor ever will be, in whose heart there has not lived this faith in the Father, who sent His Son to be our Savior, to whom the Holy Spirit testifies in the Gospel of our salvation, one eternal God in three coeternal and coequal Persons — and this for the simple reason that, as Luther puts it so forcibly in his “Battle Hymn of the Reformation:” “There’s none other God.” Any so-called “god” aside from the Holy Trinity is an idol of the sinful human imagination and has no real existence. This is the clear statement of Holy Scripture, which all true Christians receive as God’s own Word: “Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father: he that acknowledgeth the Son hath the Father also” (1 John 2:23). “All men should honor the Son, even as they honor the Father. He that honoreth not the Son honoreth not the Father which hath sent Him” (John 5:23). “If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His” (Rom. 8:9).

Every Christian believes in one true God, and confesses one only God who is infinite (unlimited), and beside whom, therefore, there can be no other God: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord: and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might” (Deut. 6:4, 5). He recognizes in the false worship with which he is surrounded, not only in heathen lands, but in so-called “Christian countries” like our own, that “there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many and lords many),” 1 Cor. 8:5; yet he cannot regard any of this false worship as being really addressed after all to the one true God, because God Himself does not so regard it. It is God who says: “All the gods of the nations are idols: but the Lord made the heavens,” Psalm 96:5. It is God who says: “The things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God,” 1 Cor. 10: 20. All attitudes which are more tolerant than God’s Word in this respect, giving “respect” or “reverence” to the worship of other objects than the one true and living God (such as lodge-religion and Boy Scout religion), are recognized by true Christians as manifestations of polytheism (the worship of more than one God), with which they can have no fellowship (“I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils,” 1 Cor. 10:20); for every Christian confesses with God’s Word: “There is none other God but one,” 1 Cor. 8:4.

Every Christian believes in Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. He finds this triune God (three Persons in one divine Being) revealed on the very first page of his Bible, where God is said to create all things through His Word, that Word being explained in the first chapter of St. John’s Gospel as being in the beginning with God, and as being Himself God, through whom all things were made, “and without Him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:1–3). The same Word, we are told in the fourteenth verse of this chapter, “was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father), full of grace and truth.” That is our Lord Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary. As for the Spirit, who proceedeth from the Father and the Son, the first chapter of Genesis tells us that “the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters,” thus participating in the work of creation. Later in this chapter (v. 26), in connection with the plan of the Holy Trinity to create man, we are told that God said: “Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness.” Of such testimonies to the Christian doctrine of the Holy Trinity the Old Testament Scriptures are full, so that to give a mere listing of them would exceed the limits of this summary. One very familiar passage is the Trinitarian benediction customarily pronounced at the close of our Morning Service, taken from the Book of Numbers, ch. 6, vv. 24–26.

The New Testament is even more clear and explicit in identifying the one true God as three distinct, but inseparable, coeternal and coequal persons, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. This manifestation is given in visible and audible form at the baptism of Jesus, where the Word made flesh stands in the Jordan, the Father speaks from heaven, proclaiming Him as His beloved Son, in whom He is well pleased, and the Holy Spirit descends upon Him in the form of a dove (Matt. 3:16, 17). In the baptismal formula, commanded for the use of His disciples until the end of the world, our Lord tells them to baptize “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost,” Matt. 28:19, thus naming the three Persons of the one God (“name,” not “names”) in the customary order. In that benediction, however, which we commonly call the Apostolic Benediction (2 Cor. 13:14), the order of naming the Father and the Son is reversed, thus showing the complete equality, the one Essence or Being, of the three Persons: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all.” On this and other passages of Holy Scripture is based the admirably clear statement of our “Athanasian Creed:” “And in this Trinity none is before or after other; none is greater or less than another; but the whole three Persons are coeternal together and coequal, so that in all things, as is aforesaid, the Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshiped.” Of this faith the concluding sentence of the Athanasian Creed correctly states: “which except a man believe faithfully and firmly, he cannot be saved.” Please read this entire Creed, as you will find it on page 53 of your Lutheran Hymnal.

The personal distinctions within the Holy Trinity are defined in Holy Scripture as follows: The Father eternally begets the Son, and the Son is from eternity begotten of the Father (Psalm 2:7; also the many New Testament passages where Jesus is called the “only-begotten Son of the Father” — knowingly and intentionally falsified in the RSV, but correctly translated from the original Greek in our King James Version); the Holy Ghost from eternity proceeds from the Father and the Son (John 15:26: “Who proceedeth from the Father;” not, however, from the Father alone but also from the Son, being called “the Spirit of God’s Son” and “the Spirit of Christ,” Gal. 4:6; Rom. 8:9).

We do not wish to anticipate some later chapters of this book by giving in detail at this place the Scriptural evidence for the Christian faith in the full and perfect deity of each Person of the Godhead. But we may at least mention one passage for each Person. While no false teachers, except the fools who profess to be atheists, deny the Godhead of the Father, yet none except true Christians even know the Father, for there is no God the Father except “the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 15:6; 2 Cor. 1:3, etc.): “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him,” John 1:18. Every Christian worships Jesus Christ as true God, equal with the Father: “Christ, who is over all, God blessed for ever,” Rom. 9:5. (Here the RSV text deliberately mistranslates, giving the correct rendering of the Greek, in agreement with the KJV, only in a foot-note, though no other translation is at all admissible). Every Christian worships the Holy Ghost as true God, equal with the Father and the Son: “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?” 1 Cor. 3:16. Certainly the Spirit of God, dwelling in the temple of God, is God. Every Christian believes, confesses, and worships the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, “the Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity,” the Triune God.