Apr 18, 2012

Three Persons

Forty years ago this August my father baptized me "in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit" according to the instructions given by the Lord Jesus in Matthew 28: 19.  I am satisfied with this baptism and never expect to be baptized again.  In that act I was expressing belief in the one known in Scripture as "the Father," and the one known as "the Son," and the one known as "the Holy Spirit."  I believed then as I do now, that "these three are one."  (I John 5: 7)

The baptism of Christ shows that the Father, Son, and Spirit are three distinct persons.  When Christ was baptized the Father spoke from heaven and the Spirit descended in the form of a dove. 

In the Great Commission Jesus authorized his disciples to baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Matthew 28: 19

“...baptizing them in the name of the (tou) Father and the (kai tou) Son and the (kai tou) Holy Spirit.”

The repetition of the article tou (“the”) before each noun, and the conjunction kai (“and”) joining the nouns, clearly denotes a distinction between all three divine persons named.  Such a rule of Greek grammar is similar to the Granville Sharp rule which says that the absence of the definite article before the second noun shows that the same person is under consideration by both nouns.  The presence of the definite article before the three nouns however shows that three distinct persons are being referred to. 

One Name or Three Names?

The emphasis of the Modalists and others on the singular form of “name” and the arguments made upon that fact are not valid or cogent. The use of the singular “name” is grammatically justified when more than one name is implied.

Of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” is a string of three genitive phrases modifying “name.” The prepositional phrase, “in the name,” is implied for both the Son and the Holy Spirit, so that the intended sense of the verse is, “Baptizing them in the name of the Father, and (in the name) of the Son, and (in the name) of the Holy Spirit.”  We see the same structure when God says - "I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob."  He does not mean that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are the same person.  The statement should be read as - "I am the God of Abraham, (and the God of) Isaac, (and the God of) Jacob."  It is doubtful that Jesus had a single name in mind at all, but simply means the same thing as when we say, “Stop! In the name of the law.”

The Modalist reads the words of Christ as though they said - "baptizing them unto the name of Jesus which is the name of the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit."  But, the name "Jesus" (Yeshuah) is never applied in Scripture to the Father or to the Spirit. 

"Jesus Only" Pentecostals and other Modalists argue that the New Testament refers to people being baptized "in the name of Jesus," but there are only four such passages (Acts 2:38, 8:16, 10:48, 19:5). These passages, however, do not use the same designation in each place (some say "Lord Jesus," others say "Jesus Christ").  This indicates that precise verbal formulas were not used in baptism but were simply descriptions by Luke of the announced authority for performing the rite. These four descriptions are not to be considered as a substitute for or contradiction to the divine command of the Lord Jesus Christ to baptize "in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Matt. 28:19).  "Jesus" (Yeshuah) is not the name of the Father and Holy Spirit.  Jesus is rather the name of "the Word" that was made flesh, or of the Son of the Father begotten in time in the virgin's womb. 

God has many names, and yet the scriptures always refer to God's "name" in the singular.  We never read of "the names of God."  In the Old Testament God was known as "Yahweh" ("Jehovah") and as "ehyeh asher ehyeh" ("I am that I am"), or simply as "ehyeh."   Further, the name Yahweh is applied to both the Father and to the "Angel of Yahweh" (Malak Yahweh) and it is the Malak Yahweh that appears in the burning bush and says "I am that I am."  Yahweh is always in the singular and is applicable to either Father, Son, or Spirit.  It is like the common family name or last name of a person. 

It is sometimes argued that the terms "Father," "Son," and "Spirit" are titles, not names.  But, in scripture the Greek word "onoma" is not so restricted, but includes both names and titles. 

"His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns; and he had a name written, that no man knew, but he himself...And he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS."  (Rev. 19: 12, 16)

Here Christ Jesus is said to have at least three names, two written and known, and one secret.  The two revealed names are Basileus Basileon ("kings king" or "king of kings") and Kurios Kurion ("lords lord" or "lord of lord"). 

"Jesus" also is another name of the incarnate Son of God.  Isaiah says that "he shall be called (named and titled as)  Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God ("El Gibbor"), The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace."  (9: 6)  He would also be called "Immanuel."   (Isa. 7: 14) 

"The Word" and "Son of God" has many names, though "Jesus" is the one most known and used. 

The Name of the Father

"Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name."  (Matt. 6: 9)

"Father, glorify thy name. Then came there a voice from heaven, saying, I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again."  (John 12: 28)

"Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are."  (John 17: 11)

"I am come in my Father's name, and ye receive me not: if another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive."  (John 5: 43)

The word "father" is itself a peculiar name of the first person in the holy Trinity.  In this he is distinct from the "son."  "The Father" is never called "the Son" in scripture and vice versa.

"And I looked, and, lo, a Lamb stood on the mount Sion, and with him an hundred forty and four thousand, having his Father's name written in their foreheads."  (Rev. 14: 1)

Who's name?  The name of the Father of Jesus, which is not the same as the name of Jesus. 

The word "Name" carries a number of different connotations. It sometimes means "authority," as in: "Stop in the name of the law." It can mean reputation, as in: "He has a good name."
Believers are baptized "unto" (eis) the name of God the Father, and God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.  But, this Trinitarian baptism is performed "in the name of Jesus," that is, by the authority of Jesus.

The Name of the Holy Spirit

In the Old Testament the Holy Spirit was Ruach HaKodesh

"...and now the Lord GOD, and his Spirit, hath sent me."  (Isa. 48: 16)  Thus, Isaiah could well say that he went "in the name of" the Spirit. 

The authority for John to baptize came "from heaven," or from the Father.  (Matt. 21: 25) 

"...he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost."  (John 1: 33)

It was the Father who authorized John to baptize.  The authority for baptism after the resurrection of Christ comes from the Lord Jesus but does not exclude the authority of the Father and Spirit. Everything that Christ did was in the name of the Father.  Christian baptism is done by the authority of both Father and Son, as well as in the name of the Holy Spirit. 

Besides, if we take the terms "Father," "Son," and "Holy Spirit" as the names or titles ("onoma"), then there are obviously three names/titles. 

"Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of (the name of) God the Father."  (Phil 2: 9-11)

Christ was given the name of "Jesus" in regard to his birth of the virgin.  Of course, the word "name" may here denote "reputation" and so mean - "God has given him a reputation..."  The text does not say - "God (the Father) has given him (Christ) his own name."  Clearly the Father who has given Jesus his name is distinct from Jesus.

Another passage of Scripture that clearly presents the Father, the Son (Word), and the Holy Spirit, not as three mere modes of a unipersonal deity, but rather as three distinct persons.

2 Corinthians 13:14

"The grace of the (tou) Lord Jesus Christ, and (kai) the love of the (tou) God, and (kai) the fellowship of the (tou) Holy Spirit be with you all."

Again, the presence of the definite article before each person shows that Paul is not viewing each named person as being the same person. 

In II John 9 John speaks of those who "abide in the doctrine" as having "both" the Father and the Son.  But, if the Father and the Son are the same person, then it would not be correct to speak of them "both." 

In Ephesians 2:18, Paul gives us the prayer formula:

"Through Him (Christ) we have both access by one Spirit unto the Father." 

To view the three named persons as being the same person would be nonsensical.   It makes no sense to read it after the manner of the Modalists - "through the role of Christ and by the role of the Spirit we have access unto the role of the Father."

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