What is the Godhead?
Question: "What is the Godhead?"
The term "Godhead" is found three times in the King James Version: Acts 17:29; Romans 1:20; Colossians 2:9. Three different Greek words are used, but each one means “divinity.” It is important for us to understand from the outset that God exists in three Persons. The concept of the Godhead is that God is one yet God is three. How can this be?
While the word “trinity” is not found in the Scriptures, the concept is found there from beginning to end. There is no question about it—the doctrine of the Trinity is divinely revealed biblical truth: our one God exists in three Persons. That is not to say that the authors of Scripture understood it clearly. When Peter, John, and the other disciples first saw Jesus they did not say, “Oh look, there goes God in flesh, the second Person of the holy Trinity.” Yet as they heard Him claim to be the revelation of the Father with the prerogatives of deity, and as they watched Him perform the supernatural works of deity, they came to the convinced persuasion that He was God the Son.
Additionally, they probably gave very little thought at first to the Holy Spirit being the third Person of the eternal Godhead. But when the events of the day of Pentecost had ended, it was obvious to them that the power they had witnessed working in them and through them was not their own. It was the power of God. The Spirit who indwelled them was none other than God Himself. So then, led by that same divine Spirit, they revealed to us in their writings the Trinity of the eternal God.
Explanation of the triune Godhead
What then does it mean that God exists as the Trinity? It is a basic principle of our biblical faith that there is only one God. “Hear, O Israel! The LORD our God, the LORD is one!” (Deuteronomy 6:4). The unity of the Godhead cannot be questioned. God does not consist of parts. He is one. But Scripture reveals that there are, in that one divine essence, three eternal distinctions. Those distinctions seem best described as Persons, known as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. All three have identical attributes, however, and therefore they are one—not merely one in mind and purpose, but one in substance. To possess all the same attributes is to be one in essential nature. The three Persons of the Godhead possess identical attributes. They are one in substance and one in essence, and therefore they are one God.
Evidence for the Triune Godhead
While the primary emphasis of the Old Testament is on the unity of God, the indications of His triune nature are clearly seen even there. We need not read very far to find the first one: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). Elohim, the Hebrew name for God in this verse, is plural. That may not prove the Trinity, but it definitely points to more than one Person in the Godhead. There was no other logical reason to choose a plural name. As such, we are not surprised, then, to hear Him say a short time later, “Let us make man in our image” (Genesis 1:26, emphasis added). The plural pronouns could not refer to angels because they were never associated with God in His creative activity. Consequently, more than one divine Person was clearly involved. The plural pronouns make no sense otherwise (Genesis 3:22; Genesis 11:7). John reiterates this truth when, speaking of Jesus, he declares, “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made” (John 1:3). Clearly, Jesus was present and involved in the act of creation, yet Genesis 1:1 says that “God created the heavens and the earth.”
The undeniable biblical testimony to the Trinity is simply that all three Persons are referred to as divine. First, the Father is called God. He is referred to as “God the Father” (Galatians 1:1), “God our Father” (Galatians 1:3; Ephesians 1:2), and “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 1:3). His deity is unquestioned. But the Son is likewise referred to as God. He possesses the attributes of deity such as eternality, immutability, omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence. He bears the names of deity such as Jehovah, Lord, Immanuel, and the Word. He even permitted Thomas to call Him “my Lord and my God” (John 20:28). He exercises the prerogatives of deity such as forgiving sins, raising the dead, and judging all men. And He accepts worship reserved only for God.
Jesus claimed that He deserved the very same reverence that was reserved for God the Father. He was not a liar or a lunatic, so He must have been who He claimed to be—God the Son, equal with the Father and worthy of the same honor as the Father. The Father Himself addressed His Son as God: “But about the Son He says, ‘Your throne, O God, will last forever and ever’” (Hebrews 1:8). Paul further explains that “in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily” (Colossians 2:9). The Greek word translated “godhead” is theotēs which means “divinity,” so the totality of divinity (God) is in Jesus. The prologue to John’s gospel tells us one reason Christ came to earth: to make the Father known, to reveal God to men (John 1:18). We can know more of what God is like by examining the Person of Jesus Christ. He was God in flesh. As we explore Scripture and seek to discover who God is, we cannot neglect the earthly life of Jesus Christ. He is God the Son.
But the Holy Spirit is also part of the Godhead. His name is “the Spirit of God” (Genesis 1:2). He, too, possesses the attributes of deity and performs the works of deity. While He is the Spirit who proceeds from the Father (John 15:26), He is at the same time called “the Spirit of Christ” (Romans 8:9). He is coequal with both the Father and the Son. The Apostle Peter clearly viewed Him as God when he said to Ananias, “Why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit? . . . You have not lied to men, but to God” (Acts 5:3-4). If the Father, the Son, and the Spirit all bear the names of God, possess the attributes of God, and perform the works of God, then there is no alternative but to acknowledge that our one God exists in three Persons.
The Ministry of the Triune Godhead
Scripture links these three Persons of the Godhead together so closely in so many divine activities that it would be foolish to deny that any one of them is God. Observe some of those activities:
• Creating the World. All three were involved in creation: the Father (Genesis 1:1); the Son (John 1:3, 10; Colossians 1:16); and the Spirit (Genesis 1:2, Psalm 104:30). If all three created, then God the Creator must exist in three Persons.
• Sending the Son. All three members of the Trinity were active in the incarnation. When Mary questioned the angel about the possibility of a virgin birth, the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). The power of the Father, ministered through the agency of the Spirit, resulted in the birth of the Son into the world. This close association in the birth of the Savior is further indication of their oneness.
• Identifying the Messiah. At precisely the proper moment, Jesus Christ was revealed to Israel as her Messiah. John the Baptist was the chosen instrument and the act of baptism was the chosen means (Matthew 3:16-17). As the Spirit came upon the Son, the Father’s voice was heard from heaven expressing His approval. It was another powerful testimony to the eternal triune Godhead.
• Providing Redemption. Two central passages bring the three members of the Godhead together in providing for man’s eternal salvation. “How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!” (Hebrews 9:14). It was the offering of the Son to the Father by the power of the Spirit. The Apostle Peter taught, furthermore, that God the Father chose us to salvation, God the Son paid for it by shedding His blood, and God the Spirit set us apart unto the obedience of faith (1 Peter 1:1-2). Without each Person of the Godhead doing His part, we would remain in our sins.
• Proclaiming Salvation. In the early years of the church, God did some spectacular things to verify the gospel message which the apostles were preaching. The writer to the Hebrews tells us, “How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, God also bearing witness with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will” (Hebrews 2:3-4). It was the same message that was first spoken by the Son Himself. When the apostles proclaimed it, the Father bore witness to its truthfulness by bestowing miraculous gifts through the Spirit. It was not only a powerful witness to the truth of the message, but another demonstration of the triune God at work.
• Sending the Spirit. The three Persons of the Trinity are so interwoven in sending the Spirit into the world that it is difficult to distinguish between them. In one passage it is stated that the Father would send the Spirit in Christ’s name and that He would testify concerning Christ (John 14:26). In another it is said that the Son would send Him from the Father (John 15:26). In yet another, the Father sends Him and calls Him the Spirit of His Son (Galatians 4:6). What a picture of unity—such perfect unity that the actions of one are considered to be the actions of the other. The Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son. But all three are vitally involved in His coming.
• Indwelling Believers. Jesus taught His disciples that both He and His Father would make their home with them (John 14:23). But their indwelling would be in the Person of the Comforter, the Spirit of truth (John 14:16-17). As the Spirit of both the Father and the Son, His indwelling is the indwelling of the Godhead. That would not be possible unless the three are one.
• Baptizing Believers. In our Lord’s commission to His disciples He said, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). The unity of the Godhead is declared by combining them in one “name” (singular). Yet the distinctiveness of the Persons is maintained by listing them separately. It is another link in the long chain of evidence that the Father, the Son, and the Spirit are one God.
• Entering God’s Presence. All three members of the Godhead are intimately involved in the believer’s access into the presence of God. Speaking of Christ, the Apostle Paul taught, “For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit” (Ephesians 2:18). Both Jews and Gentiles can approach the Father through the merits of the Son with the help of the Spirit.
• Blessing Believers. In Paul’s final remarks to the Corinthian Christians, he linked the three members of the Godhead together in a beautiful benediction: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all” (2 Corinthians 13:14). Unless the three are one, eternally and equally supreme, there would be little reason to put them together on an equal basis like this in a divine blessing. The apostle certainly considered them to be one.
The reality of the triune Godhead cannot be denied. Those outside of Christ may object to it, but their objections arise primarily because they seek to understand the Creator in terms of the creature, to see God as merely a bigger and better version of man when in reality He is a totally different kind of being, an infinite being whom our finite minds cannot fully comprehend. We believe in the Godhead not because we understand it, but because God has revealed it. It is not incidental or unimportant. It is the very essence of His being, the way He is. And it is necessary for us to know it if we hope to grow in our understanding of His nature and perfections.
Making Sense of the Trinity: Three Crucial Questions by Millard Erickson and The Forgotten Trinity by James White and Logos Bible Software.
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