Friday, January 11, 2019

The God Who is Love

In his first letter, the apostle John twice affirmed that “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16). On page 371 of his commentary, A.E. Knoch wrote the following concerning this short but profound statement about God’s nature:

We are never told that God is justice, or God is power, or God is wisdom. These are His attributes, not His essence. The distinction is of vital import, in the conflicting maze of reasoning concerning God's ways and words. Justice and power and wisdom are relative, but love is absolute…All His attributes appear and withdraw at the beck of love. All serve it, and never go counter to its commands. We cannot reason that God will do thus and so because He is just, or strong or wise. Love may not give leave. But we can safely lay our heads on the bosom of His love and there learn the great lesson that He IS love, and has both the power and wisdom to carry out the dictates of His affection. What clearer proof can be given that all that He has done and is doing is leading up to that grand ultimate when He will be All in all, and love will rest in being loved?

Knoch makes an important point that is often overlooked or ignored within mainstream Christianity. God is certainly just and powerful and wise. However, as important as these attributes are to his divinity, God is never said to be these attributes. Yet God is said to be love. Since God is said to be love, love must be understood as his very essence. It is what motivates all of God’s actions.

When a Christian says (as they so often do) that “God is love, but he is also just,” what they’re really saying is that God’s justice is not, ultimately, an expression of his love, and that God’s love and his justice can (and do) operate independently of each other. They’re saying that, when God acts justly toward a sinner, his love for them (assuming he loved them at all) has “taken a back seat,” so to speak, and has no influence on, or “say-so” concerning, the actions by which his justice is expressed. And this would imply that God’s love is not (necessarily) just, and that his justice is not (necessarily) loving.

This view of God’s love - and how it relates to his other attributes - completely misses the point of John’s twice-repeated affirmation that “God is love.” Since God is love, any view of God which trivializes his love - or which minimizes the influence of his love on all of his actions in relation to his creatures - must be understood as necessarily mistaken, and as promoting a false view of God. And this includes the view of God that is affirmed within mainstream Christianity.

According to mainstream Christianity, it’s God’s will that a vast number of his sentient, intelligent creatures be eternally banished to a place of endless torment (i.e., “hell”). This incomparably nightmarish state of affairs is thought by most Christians to be an expression of God’s “justice,” and the means by which it is “satisfied.” Now, I deny that scripture provides us with any reason whatsoever to believe that God’s justice will ever find expression in the endless torment of anyone, or that God’s justice could possibly be satisfied through such a horrific event. However, even if one could possibly reconcile such a scenario with God’s justice, only the most powerful of deceptions could lead an otherwise rational person to consider the endless torment of any creature as being an expression of God’s love for them.

It might be objected that our understanding of the nature of love is simply too limited for us to make such a decisive judgment at this. However, scripture itself reveals enough concerning the nature of love (e.g., in Rom. 13:10 and 1 Cor. 13:4-7) for us to be able to reasonably conclude that a God who is love would not (and indeed could not) tolerate such a state of affairs as is affirmed by those holding to the doctrine of eternal torment. Only a malevolent or callously indifferent “God” could tolerate the eternal torment of even a single creature (let alone billions of sentient, intelligent creatures that he himself created). And this simple fact necessarily disqualifies the god of mainstream Christianity from being the God who, according to the apostle John, is love.

The identity of the God who is love

In addition to what’s said above, there is another way in which the god of mainstream Christianity is disqualified from being the God who is said to be love. In part one of my five-part study on the identity of the one true God (, I sought to explain what the majority of Christians believe concerning the identity of the God revealed in Scripture. As argued in my study, most Christians do not believe that the one true God is a single, self-aware individual; rather, Trinitarians believe that the one true God is a triune being comprised of three distinct, divine persons (i.e., “God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit”). In contrast with this view, I argued that the one true God is the Father alone – i.e., the divine person whom we find referred to on several occasions as “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Now, if the position I defended in the aforementioned study is correct, then we would expect the God whom John said “is love” to be the Father alone. And, as I’ll be demonstrating in the remainder of this article, this is precisely what we find.

Notwithstanding the clear scriptural evidence there is for this view, most Christians believe that the God who is said to be love is none other than the tri-personal God of their Trinitarian theology. Not only this, but some Trinitarians have gone so far as to say that God could not even be said to be love if “he” wasn’t, in fact, a multi-personal being comprised of at least two persons. For example, well-known Christian apologist C.S. Lewis wrote the following in his book Mere Christianity: “All sorts of people are fond of repeating the Christian statement that ‘God is love’. But they seem not to notice that the words ‘God is love’ have no real meaning unless God contains at least two Persons. Love is something that one person has for another person. If God was a single person, then before the world was made, he was not love.”

Lewis’ argument is somewhat under-developed, but if we were to give it a more formal expression, it might look something like this:

1. God is love.
2. Love is something that one person has for another person.
3. If God was a single person, then before the world was made, he was not love.
4. But God has always been love.
5. Therefore, God is not a single person.

In response to Lewis’ argument, it should first be noted that, in both the immediate and larger context in which the words “God is love” appear, it’s clear that the God to whom John was referring is the Father alone. Earlier, John wrote that “God is light.” But based on the immediate context in which he wrote this, it’s evident that the God whom he identified with “light” is the Father alone. In 1 John 1:3-7 (ESV) we read:

…that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.

In these verses we find that the God who is said to be “light” is the God of whom Jesus is the Son. The God who is light is, in other words, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Similarly, in 1 John 4:7-21 we read:

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.

By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for usGod is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.

As is evident from the context, the title “God” has a specific personal referent, and is interchangeable with “the Father.” It is clearly the Father alone whom John had in mind as having dispatched “his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him,” as being the God whom “no one has ever seen,” and as being the God who had “given us of his Spirit.” The God who is said to be love in John 4:8, 16 is, therefore, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

This simple, contextually-informed understanding of the identity of the God who is love is in contrast with the view that only a triune god could truly be considered “love.” Any claim that the God to whom John was referring when he wrote “God is love” should be understood as being someone other than the Father alone is completely at odds with the very context in which the words “God is love” are found. If we are to remain faithful to the inspired source from which the statement “God is love” is derived, we should be able to use “God” and “the Father” interchangeably (so that “God is love” becomes “the Father is love”). So, irrespective of what Lewis believed concerning the sense in which God “is love,” the God who is said to be love in 1 John 4:8, 16 is, without question, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. And unlike the triune being of Trinitarian theology, the Father is not multiple persons or selves.

Now, when we revise the first premise of Lewis’ argument to reflect the truth of who, exactly, John had in mind, the entire argument begins to drift in a direction that doesn’t actually support Lewis’ conclusion. For the third premise would then have to be revised as follows: “If the Father was a single person, then before the world was made, he was not love.” Rather than getting us closer to the conclusion of the original argument, we’re getting closer to having to affirm that the Father is more than one person (a conclusion with which I doubt Lewis would’ve been comfortable).

It may be objected that the Father cannot be described as being “love” unless he has always been in a loving relationship with another self-existent person. This seems to be what Lewis was arguing. But why couldn’t John have referred to the Father as “love” simply because he has always had a perfectly benevolent disposition toward the human race? Couldn’t the Father be said to be love simply because his nature is such that he necessarily loves every personal being he creates with a perfect, unconditional love? It’s simply not the case that the Father must be eternally related to any personal being (whether created or otherwise) in order to be described in this way by John.

Moreover, in the context in which the words “God is love” appear, it is God’s love for his estranged human creatures (which was manifested most fully in history by his sending his Son into the world) that is clearly in view. That is, the love that God is said to be is, in the context, connected with the Father’s love for those on whose behalf he sent his only-begotten Son into the world. This act of sending his Son into the world as “a propitiatory shelter concerned with our sins” is said to have manifested the love of God. Nothing else seems to be meant by the expression “God is love” than that the disposition of the Father toward the human race is that of perfect, unconditional benevolence. A reasonable position to take concerning the meaning of the words “God is love” would, therefore, be that John was referring to that aspect of God’s nature, or essence, that determines how God relates to his creatures. Understood in this way, God is said to be love itself because of the fact that everything God does in relation to his creatures is necessarily motivated by love, and can be understood as an expression of his love for them. All of God’s actions are grounded in his unchanging, perfectly benevolent character.

Thus, even if we were to understand the words “God is love” to imply that God has always had love for one or more persons, it would be more in keeping with the context in which the words “God is love” appear to understand this love to be that which God has (and, by virtue of his perfect foreknowledge, has always had) for the created persons he has always planned on bringing into existence. The love which John had in view is clearly a love that God has for created persons, and not the love that God has for himself. That is, the love being emphasized is God’s love for that which isn’t God, and not God’s love for God.

So, assuming that God’s being love necessarily means that he has always and necessarily loved another, it doesn’t follow that the love God has always had for another is a love that exists between two or more uncreated, co-eternal, divine persons (who collectively constitute this God). For insofar as God has always possessed knowledge of every person he has ever brought (or will bring) into existence, then one can believe that God has always loved each and every created person who will ever exist. And this is, in fact, precisely what I believe. I believe that God has always intended to create every created person who has ever existed or will ever exist, and that he has always loved every created person he has always intended to create.

Now, another Trinitarian (who, incidentally, affirms the truth of the salvation of all) has attempted to strengthen Lewis’ argument by formulating it as follows:

1. God is love.
2. Love is essentially other-oriented.
3. Therefore, God is essentially other-oriented (from 1+2).
4. God can only be other-oriented if there is an other for God to be oriented to. Therefore,
5. God requires an other to be what God essentially is (from 3+4).
6. God is self-sufficient and does not depend on anything outside of God to be who God essentially is.
7. Therefore, the other that God requires to be who God essentially is must be an other that is not outside of God (from 5+6).
8. Therefore, within God there must be God and an other.

This is a clever argument, but is it sound? I don’t think so. Although the first three premises could use some further clarification,[1] I believe it is premises four and five which are the most problematic. According to premise four, God can’t be essentially other-oriented without the existence of another.[2] But this premise could be disputed as follows: if a single divine individual (i.e., the Father alone) had always intended on bringing others into existence before actually doing so, he could justifiably be said to have been essentially other-oriented even prior to the time when he began bringing others into existence.

A single-person God does not, therefore, require the eternal existence of “an other” (or others) alongside him in order for him to be considered essentially other-oriented; rather, God’s being essentially other-oriented simply requires that he has always intended on bringing others into existence. As long as God has always intended on bringing others into existence, the (temporary) non-existence of others is perfectly consistent with God’s being essentially other-oriented. This fact places premise four in need of revision. So let’s revise it as follows: God’s being essentially other-oriented means that God has always intended on bringing others into existence.

In response to this revised premise, the Trinitarian may object, “But that would still mean that God needs others to be what he essentially is.” But that’s not the case at all. Saying that God “needs” others to be what (or who) he essentially is would be to confuse the cause (i.e., God and his other-oriented nature) with the effect (i.e., God’s decision to bring others into existence). Given the fact that God is essentially other-oriented (as is affirmed in premise three of the argument), God’s choosing to bring others into existence must be understood as the result of what God essentially is (i.e., other-oriented). Thus, it’s not that God must bring others into existence in order to be what he essentially is; rather, it’s that God chooses to bring others into existence as an expression of what he already essentially is. The creation of others should, therefore, be understood as the effect of God’s being essentially other-oriented rather than the cause.

This consideration, I believe, undermines the entire argument.

We could also understand the second premise as follows: in relation to other existing persons, love is essentially other-oriented. Understood in this way, premises four and five of the original argument do not follow from premise two. If the second premise (“love is essentially other-oriented”) simply means that, in relation to other existing persons, love is essentially other-oriented, then it would in no way follow that “God requires an other to be what God essentially is.“ God could still be referred to as love apart from the existence of others, since God’s being love would only mean that God is essentially other-oriented in relation to other existing persons (i.e., when there are others in existence, God is necessarily oriented to them).

When Paul, for example, wrote that love is not rejoicing in injustice or taking account of evil (1 Cor. 13:5-6), he didn’t, of course, mean that love cannot exist apart from the existence of injustice and evil. He simply meant that, when there is injustice and evil, love does not rejoice in injustice or take account of evil. But a person can have love apart from the actual existence of injustice and evil. In the same way, a single-person God (i.e. the Father) can be said to be essentially other-oriented even apart from the existence of others; it’s when others become “part of the equation,” so to speak, that his other-oriented nature manifests itself. The nature of love is such that it will manifest itself in certain appropriate ways depending on the circumstances in which it exists, but it does not require the circumstances in order to exist. So premise two need not be understood as implying the necessary existence of another in order for it to be true to say that “love is essentially oriented.” All that this premise need be understood as requiring is that love is essentially other-oriented in relation to others. That is, an individual who has love will be other-oriented when others exist by virtue of the fact that this is how love manifests itself when there are others.

The God who will be All in all

As a way of concluding this article, I’d like to respond to an argument that’s been made by some Trinitarians who also believe (as I do) that all people will ultimately be saved. According to these “Trinitarian universalists,” belief in a tri-personal God should be understood as more consistent with the truth of universal salvation than belief in a single-person God. According to this position, we can have more confidence that all will be saved if God is multi-personal in nature, as opposed to being a single-person individual.

The problem with this position is that there’s nothing logically inconsistent with the idea of a tri-personal God failing to possess the same love for "his" creatures that is shared between the persons constituting the tri-personal God. That is, there’s nothing incoherent about the idea of three uncreated divine persons who, despite loving each other perfectly, choose to bring into existence created persons whom they ultimately hate, or toward whom they are completely indifferent (arguably, Calvinism affirms just such a god as this).

Such a malevolent god as this could, of course, be considered fundamentally irrational and unworthy of being worshipped by its creations, but this only shows that there’s nothing about being “multi-personal” that somehow makes it more likely for a three-person God to love and will the salvation of created beings than a single-person God. We have far more reason to believe that an essentially rational and benevolent single-person God (i.e., the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ) will save all created persons than we have to believe that an irrational and malevolent multi-personal god would ever do so. Thus, logically speaking, the number of persons that God is (or isn’t) is completely irrelevant in regard to how likely God is to desire and bring about the salvation of all created persons. The only way that God’s being love can be understood as supporting the truth of the salvation of all is if the love that God essentially “is” necessarily involves a love that God has for all of the created persons that he has chosen to bring into existence. Unless the love that God has and “is” necessarily involves a love for all created persons, it doesn’t matter whether God is understood to be one single person, three persons, or an infinite number of persons.

That the God who will, in fact, accomplish the salvation of all is not the triune god of Trinitarian theology is evident from what Paul himself wrote. In 1 Timothy 4:9-11 we read the following:

Faithful is the saying and worthy of all welcome (for for this are we toiling and being reproached), that we rely on the living God, Who is the Saviour of all mankind, especially of believers. These things be charging and teaching.

What is the identity of the “living God” who we’re told is “the Saviour of all mankind, especially of believers”? Is this not the God to whom Peter referred when he correctly identified Jesus as “the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16)? Undoubtedly. Then it follows that the “living God” who is “the Saviour of all mankind” is the Father alone – i.e., the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. This fact is confirmed in 1 Tim. 2:1-6:

I am entreating, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, pleadings, thanksgiving be made for all mankind, for kings and all those being in a superior station, that we may be leading a mild and quiet life in all devoutness and gravity, for this is ideal and welcome in the sight of our Saviour, God, Who wills that all mankind be saved and come into a realization of the truth. For there is one God, and one Mediator of God and mankind, a Man, Christ Jesus, Who is giving Himself a correspondent Ransom for all

The same God referred to as the “living God” and the “Saviour of all mankind” in 1 Tim. 4:10 is, in this passage, referred to as “our Saviour, God” and as the “one God!” The one God of whom Jesus is the one Mediator is not the triune god of mainstream Christianity. Rather, the God of whom Jesus is the Mediator (and who sent Jesus into the world to procure mankind’s salvation by dying for our sins) is the divine being who Christ referred to as his God and Father.

That the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is the God whose will it is that all mankind be saved – and who, through the mediating work of his Son, will actually be successful in accomplishing this incomparably great event - is further evident from what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:20-28:

Yet now Christ has been roused from among the dead, the Firstfruit of those who are reposing. For since, in fact, through a man came death, through a Man, also, comes the resurrection of the dead. For even as, in Adam, all are dying, thus also, in Christ, shall all be vivified. Yet each in his own class: the Firstfruit, Christ; thereupon those who are Christ's in His presence; thereafter the consummation, whenever He may be giving up the kingdom to His God and Father, whenever He should be nullifying all sovereignty and all authority and power. For He must be reigning until He should be placing all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy is being abolished: death. For He subjects all under His feet. Now whenever He may be saying that all is subject, it is evident that it is outside of Him Who subjects all to Him. Now, whenever all may be subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also shall be subjected to Him Who subjects all to Him, that God may be All in all.

As I’ve argued elsewhere, being vivified (or “made alive”) in Christ means more than “merely” being resurrected. It means being introduced into the same incorruptible, deathless state into which Christ was introduced when he was resurrected by God three days after his death. The only way that death can be “abolished” is if all people are ultimately made immortal and thus unable to die. That being vivified in Christ means to be given the same permanent life that Christ has is further confirmed in 1 Cor. 15:42-44, where Paul described the body that those resurrected will have as being incorruptible, glorious, powerful and spiritual (cf. :53-54). Thus, it follows that all mankind will ultimately receive the same “power of an indissoluble life” which, in Heb. 7:16, is said to be possessed by Christ. And since death is the penalty of which sin makes us deserving (Rom. 1:32; 6:23; 1 Cor. 15:56), it follows that, when all humanity has been vivified in Christ, they will have been justified and thus saved from their sins (which, of course, is what Christ died to procure).

Now, according to Paul, the “consummation” of which he wrote in the above passage will be occurring “whenever [Christ] may be giving up the kingdom to His God and Father, whenever He should be nullifying all sovereignty and all authority and power.” Since the “last enemy” to be abolished is death, it follows that Christ will continue to reign until death is abolished, and that the “consummation” referred to will involve the abolishment of death. When death is abolished, Christ’s reign ends. Thus, the abolishing of death is the event by which Christ subjects himself to God so that God may be “All in all” (v. 28).[3] But notice what Paul reveals concerning the identity of the God who, at the consummation referred to, will be “All in all.” According to Paul, the God who is going to be “All in all” is the God to whom Christ will be subjecting himself after he has abolished death. The God who will be “All in all” is, in other words, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

From everything said above, it follows that the triune god of Trinitarian Christianity is neither the God who is love nor the Saviour of all mankind on whom believers are to rely. Rather, the god of Trinitarianism is a false god, and ought to be rejected by all people as such. And one day - thanks be to the one, true God - what ought to be, will be. And then (to quote the words of A.E. Knoch once more) all people will  ”safely lay [their] heads on the bosom of His love and there learn the great lesson that He IS love, and has both the power and wisdom to carry out the dictates of His affection.”

[1] In premise one, love is being personified. Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong with personifying love; Paul does the same thing in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 and Romans 13. However, when formulating a logical argument, literal and more precise language is preferable to more figurative and poetic language. So what exactly does “love is essentially other-oriented” mean? Well, when Paul wrote, “love is patient” (for example), he likely meant that being patient with others is an expression of one’s love for them. Love and impatience are incompatible and cannot co-exist. In the same way, to say that “love is essentially other-oriented” is to say that one cannot have love for others without necessarily being “oriented to them.”

[2] If the second premise of the argument is to be understood as implying that love cannot even exist apart from the existence of at least two persons (and that love thus requires the existence of at least two uncreated persons), then the very conclusion of the argument is hiding in this premise (for if God is love, and love cannot exist apart from the existence of at least two persons, then God must be at least two persons). Thus, if that’s what the second premise actually means, then we can reject it as question-begging.

[3] Paul’s sequence of events in this passage, therefore, goes as follows: (1) Christ, “the Firstfruit,” is vivified; (2) “those who are Christ’s in His presence” are vivified; (3) the “the last enemy,” death, is “abolished” (which is the consummation), and God becomes “all in all.” And since the abolishing of death means that no death can remain, it follows that every human who has ever lived will be immortal when God becomes “all in all.” Contrary to the belief of most Christians, there must be another category of human beings who will be vivified in Christ after the vivification of “those who are Christ’s in his presence.” Otherwise, it wouldn’t be true that all who are dying in Adam will be vivified in Christ. And this class of humanity must be understood as constituting a third and final “order” in Christ’s conquest of death. Thus, we can conclude that those who do not fall into the second category of those who are to be vivified in Christ will be vivified at a yet future time – i.e., when Christ’s reign ends, and he delivers the kingdom up to God. It is at this future time that every human being not yet vivified will be vivified.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

One God and Father of all: How the scriptural revelation of the one true God contradicts the doctrine of the Trinity (Part Five)

For part one of this study, click here:

Part Five: Confirmation from the Hebrew Scriptures

If, as I’ve argued in parts two through four of this study, the one true God is the Father alone, then we would expect the Hebrew Scriptures to reflect and confirm this truth. That is, we would expect the one true God to be depicted in such a way that we would have good reason to believe that he is a single person or self, rather than a multi-personal being consisting of three distinct persons or selves. And, I submit, that’s just what we find.

In Exodus 20:1-3, God is recorded as declaring the following words to his covenant people, Israel: “I am Yahweh your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.” Although there are a number of verses in Scripture that affirm Israel’s obligation to worship one God only (i.e., Yahweh), the importance of these verses can’t be understated.  The commandment, “You shall have no other gods before me” is, of course, the very first of the “Ten Commandments,” and makes clear that the God who brought Israel out of the land of Egypt must be the exclusive object and focus of Israel’s worship.

I think Trinitarians would agree that the First Commandment clearly affirms Israel’s covenantal obligation to be a monotheistic nation, worshipping and obeying one God only. However, what I think Trinitarians fail to appreciate is that, in these verses, it’s no less clearly affirmed that the one God before whom Israel was commanded to have no other gods is a single divine person or self. Here, again, is Exodus 20:2-3 (notice the words placed in bold and underlined): I am Yahweh your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.” Understood in a natural and straight-forward way, God’s use of the singular personal pronouns “I” and “me” imply that the same God who spoke the words recorded above is a single divine person or self. The God of Israel - Yahweh - is, in other words, the Father alone.

In regard to God’s use of singular personal pronouns when referring to himself, Exodus 20:1-3 is by no means the exception to the rule. All throughout Scripture we find God repeatedly referring to himself (or being referred to by others) with the use of singular personal pronouns and verbs. The reader is free to locate and examine all 20,000+ instances of this at his or her leisure, but the following examples should suffice for the purpose of this study:

Numbers 3:11-13
Then Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying: “Now behold, I myself have taken the Levites from among the children of Israel instead of every firstborn who opens the womb among the children of Israel. Therefore the Levites shall be mine, because all the firstborn are mine. On the day that I struck all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, sanctified to myself all the firstborn in Israel, both man and beast. They shall be mineI am Yahweh.”

Isaiah 45:22-23
Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other. By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return: “To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance.”

Hosea 11:8-9
How can I give you up Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel? How can I treat you like Admah? How can I make you like Zeboiim? My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused. will not carry out my fierce anger, nor will I turn and devastate Ephraim. For I am God, and not man – the Holy One among you. will not come in wrath.

The only exceptions to God’s use of singular personal pronouns in the entirety of Scripture are found in Gen 1:26; 3:22; 11:7 and Isaiah 6:8. But rather than implying a multi-personal God, the plural pronouns in the early chapters of Genesis should, instead, be understood as implying (and, in the case, of Genesis, as first revealing) the existence of non-human, intelligent beings who, with God, populate the heavenly realm, and constitute the “hosts of heaven” (see, for example, Job 1:6-12; Job 38:4, 7; Deut 33:2; Josh 5:13-15; 2 Sam 5:24; 1 Kings 22:19-23; 2 Kings 6:8-17; Psalm 82; 148:1-5; Jer. 23:18; Dan 7:10; Neh. 9:6).

That God was speaking to (and on behalf of) these heavenly beings by his use of the words “us” and “our” is the view found in the NIV Study Bible as well as in the NET Bible[1] (neither of which can be accused of being biased against the doctrine of the Trinity). In the NET Bible notes under Genesis 1:26 we read,

“In 2 Sam 24:14 David uses the plural as representative of all Israel, and in Isaiah 6:8 the Lord speaks on behalf of his heavenly court. In its ancient Israelite context the plural is most naturally understood as referring to God and his heavenly court (see 1 Kings 22:19-22; Isaiah 6:1-8). If this is the case, God invites the heavenly court to participate in the creation of humankind (perhaps in the role of offering praise, see Job 38:7), but he himself is the one who does the actual creative work (v. 27). Of course, this view does assume that the members of the heavenly court possess the divine “image” in some way. Since the image is closely associated with rulership, perhaps they share the divine image in that they, together with God and under his royal authority, are the executive authority over the world.”

Significantly, in Job 38:4-7, we find that the same celestial beings referred to in the first two chapters of Job (i.e., the “sons of God”) were present at the beginning of creation as well: “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?”

In fact, in the immediate context of one of the four verses in which we find God using the plural pronoun “us,” we find certain members of God’s heavenly hosts prominently in view. In Isaiah 6:1-8, we read: In the year that King Uzziah died I saw Yahweh sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple.  Above him stood the Seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew.  And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is Yahweh of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”  And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke.  And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, Yahweh of hosts!” Then one of the Seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” And I heard the voice of Yahweh saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.”

To whom was Yahweh referring when he said, “Whom shall I send…?” Answer: he was referring to himself. But then Yahweh includes (and speaks on behalf of) the Seraphim, who are described as standing above him and praising him: “…and who will go for us?” And insofar as this is the case, it’s reasonable to understand God to have been speaking to, and on behalf of, these (and perhaps other) created, intelligent beings in the opening chapters of Genesis as well (i.e., the “sons of God” referred to in Job). It’s also reasonable to believe that this was how Moses and the original readers of Genesis would’ve understood God’s use of the plural “us” and “our.”[2]

Moreover, assuming (as is reasonable) that Isaiah already believed that Yahweh was a single divine person (rather than multiple persons, as Trinitarians believe), would his vision of Yahweh in the temple have further confirmed him in his belief that God was a single person? Or, would it have led him to doubt this belief, and to entertain the idea that perhaps God was really a multi-personal being? Obviously, the former is the case. Isaiah’s vision would’ve only served to confirm his belief that God is a single person. Or, if for whatever reason Isaiah had been unsure as to “how many persons God is,” this vision would’ve removed any uncertainty. The enthroned being whom Isaiah would’ve understood to be a depiction of Yahweh, the God of Israel, did not manifest himself to Isaiah as two or three persons, but rather as a single person sitting on a single throne.

Some Trinitarians have claimed that the person seen by Isaiah should be understood as Jesus Christ in a “pre-existent state,” rather than as a depiction of the Father. However, that the enthroned person seen by Isaiah is meant to be understood as a depiction of the Father is evident from what we find described in two subsequent visions involving this same enthroned person.

In Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14 we read the following:

I perceived until thrones were situated, and the Transferrer of Days sat down. His clothing was pale as snow, and the hair of His head was like immaculate wool; His throne was flares of flame and its rolling wheels a flashing flame. A stream of flame was flowing and issuing from before Him. A thousand thousands ministered to Him, and ten thousand ten thousands stood before Him…I was perceiving in the visions of the night, and behold, with the clouds of the heavens One like a son of a mortal was arriving; He came unto the Transferrer of Days, and they brought Him near before Him. To Him was granted jurisdiction and esteem and a kingdom, that all the peoples and leagues and language-groups shall serve Him; His jurisdiction is an eonian jurisdiction that shall not pass away, and His kingdom shall not be confined.

There can be no doubt that the enthroned person referred to as “the Transferrer of Days” (or “Ancient of Days”) is meant to be understood as Yahweh, the one God of Daniel and his people (Dan 9:4, 9, 13). It’s also evident that the person who is described as “One like a son of a mortal” (or “One like a son of mankind”) is the Messiah. He is, in other words, the Lord Jesus Christ, and is clearly distinguished from Yahweh (before whom he is presented, and from whom he receives his jurisdiction, esteem and kingdom).

Similarly, in John’s vision of the heavenly throne room (as found in Revelation 4-5), we read that he saw a single person sitting on a throne:

After this I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, ‘Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.’ At once I was in the spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne. And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald. 

As in Isaiah’s vision, this enthroned person is surrounded by winged, flying beings who are described as offering continual praise to the one who is enthroned: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” Other celestial beings (the twenty-four elders) refer to the one on the throne as their “Lord and God,” who is said to have created all things, and by whose will everything was and is created (4:8, 11).

We read that the one on the throne has a sealed scroll, and when no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth is found worthy to open the scroll and break its seven seals, Jesus Christ appears (who is seen as a seven-horned, seven-eyed Lamb appearing as if it had been slain). We then read that the celestial beings referred to earlier sing the following song to Jesus Christ:

“Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”

In both Daniel’s and John’s vision, the enthroned person that is seen cannot be understood as a depiction of anyone other than the Father. We can therefore reasonably conclude that the enthroned person seen by Isaiah in the vision described in Isaiah 6 is also a depiction of the Father.[3]

In response to what has been said so far, the Trinitarian may attempt to argue that God’s use of singular personal pronouns means that only one of the persons of the Trinity is speaking, and that the use of singular pronouns shouldn’t be seen as precluding the existence of two other divine persons as well. Well, let’s apply this theory to Isaiah 44:24 and 45:5-6, 21. In these verses we read the following: Thus says Yahweh, your Redeemer, who formed you from the womb: “I am Yahweh, who made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth by myselfI am Yahweh, and there is no other, besides me there is no Godthere is no one apart from Me; I am Yahweh, and there is no otherthere is no other god besides me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none besides me.”

Now, I think that Trinitarians will agree that, among the persons whom they believe to constitute the one God, the Father is the most likely person whom we are to understand as having spoken the above words. And if the Father indeed was the person speaking and referring to himself by the use of the words “I” and “myself,” then we should be able to convert the above statements that were declared by the Father into truth statements about the Father. Consider the following:

1. “I am Yahweh, who made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth by myself…”

The Father made all things; he alone stretched out the heavens, and spread out the earth by himself.

2. “…besides me there is no God…there is no one apart from Me; I am Yahweh, and there is no other…

Besides the Father there is no God. The Father is Yahweh, and there is no other.

3. “…there is no other god besides me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none besides me.”

There is no other god besides the Father, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none besides him.

Moreover, replacing “the Father” with another member of the Trinity wouldn’t help the Trinitarian’s position, since it would still lead to a conclusion that the Trinitarian could not accept (i.e., that there is only one divine person who made all things, and that, besides this one divine person, there is no God).

Some have attempted to argue for a multi-personal God by appealing to the use of the Hebrew term translated “God” in these verses (Elohim), which is plural. However, in the Hebrew Scriptures, the plural form of a noun can be used in two different ways: (1) It can denote numerical plurality (“numerical plurals”) or (2) it can be used for the purpose of emphasis, intensity and amplification (“intensive plurals”). Here are just a few examples of the use of the plural for emphasis and intensity: Gen 4:10 (“bloods”); Gen 19:11 (“blindnesses”); Gen 27:46 (“lives”) Psalm 45:15 (“gladnesses”); Ez. 25:15, 17 (“vengeances”), etc. Again, the plurality of the word simply intensifies it.

In the NET Bible notes for Genesis 1:1, we read the following remarks concerning the use of the plural noun Elohim (emphasis mine): This frequently used Hebrew name for God (אֱלֹהִים,’elohim ) is a plural form. When it refers to the one true God, the singular verb is normally used, as here. The plural form indicates majesty; the name stresses God’s sovereignty and incomparability – he is the “God of gods.”[4]

Similarly, the NIV Study Bible has the following (emphasis mine): “The Hebrew noun Elohim is plural but the verb is singular, a normal usage in the OT when the reference is to the one true God. This use of the plural expresses intensification rather than number and has been called the plural of majesty, or of potentiality.” It should be noted that both the NET Bible and NIV Study Bible could be considered “mainstream” (and “pro-Trinitarian”) in regard to the doctrinal views they support in their notes. Given their clear support for the doctrine of the Trinity elsewhere, it’s significant that these Bibles do not attempt to argue that the use of the plural term elohim supports this doctrine.

The common characteristic of intensive plurals is that they have a plural suffix while denoting singular objects, and thus receive singular adjectives and verbs. These characteristics indicate that the plural form of the noun is not being used as a numerical plural. In contrast, a plural verb (as well as a plural suffix and plural adjective) is used to denote something that is numerically plural. The use of singular verbs and adjectives with the plural noun Elohim is exactly what we would expect if the term were being used as an intensive plural and not a numerical plural. It indicates that the term Elohim – when used as a title for Yahweh, the one true God - should be understood as an intensive plural rather than as a numerical plural (which, again, is for amplification and intensification). For more examples of the intensive plural being used in reference to the one God, see Job 35:10; Psalm 149:2; Is 54:5 (literally, “Makers”) and Eccl 12:1 (“Creators”).[5]

On the other hand, when the plural elohim is being used as a numerical plural, it refers to multiple gods (and is translated to reflect this fact). Thus, if we were to understand elohim as a numerical plural in Genesis 1:1 (despite the use of the singular verb) it would mean that multiple gods created the heavens and the earth, and would therefore prove too much for the Trinitarian (who doesn’t believe that Yahweh is actually multiple “gods”). But the fact that, when referring to the one God of Israel, the term elohim is consistently translated “God” (rather than “gods”) means that the translator correctly understood that it was being used as an intensive plural rather than a numerical plural.

It should also be noted that, in Psalm 45:6-7 (which is a Messianic prophecy), we find two distinct persons – i.e., Jesus Christ and his God and Father – both being referred to as “Elohim”: “Your throne, O Elohim, is for the eon and further; a sceptre of equity is the sceptre of Your kingdom. You love righteousness and hate wickedness; therefore Elohim Your Elohim has anointed You with the oil of elation beyond Your partners.”

If the title Elohim is to be understood as denoting a “multi-personal being” when used in reference to Yahweh, the one true God, then we would have to conclude that Jesus Christ and the Father are both distinct, multi-personal beings. But that, of course, is absurd. Neither Jesus Christ nor his God and Father are multiple persons.

Another related point is that, in the Greek scriptures (including in the quotation of Psalm 46:6-7 that we find in Hebrews 1:8-9), the inspired equivalent for “Elohim” is the singular term for “God” (i.e., Θεοῦ, or “Theou”). In contrast, whenever multiple “gods” are in view, the plural form is used (i.e., θεοὺς or “theous”; for some examples of the plural form, see John 10:34-35; Acts 7:40; 14:11; 19:26; 28:11). Since the singular rather than the plural term for “God” is used as the equivalent for “Elohim” in Hebrews 1:8-9 and elsewhere, it’s clear that, when referring to Yahweh, the term Elohim is to be understood as an intensive plural rather than a numerical plural.

[2] In Hastings Dictionary of the Bible, we read: “The Old Testament can scarcely be used as authority for the existence of distinctions within the Godhead. The use of ‘us’ by the divine speaker (Gen. 1:26, 3:32, 11:7) is strange, but it is perhaps due to His consciousness of being surrounded by other beings of a loftier order than men (Isa. 6:8)” (A.B. Davidson, "God," Hastings Dictionary of the Bible, Vol. II, p. 205).

Similarly, Gordon Wehham’s Word Commentary on Genesis (p. 27) remarks as follows: “From Philo onward, Jewish commentators have generally held that the plural is used because God is addressing his heavenly court, i.e., the angels (cf. Isa. 6:8). From the Epistle of Barnabas and Justin Martyr, who saw the plural as a reference to Christ, Christians have traditionally seen this verse as foreshadowing the Trinity. It is now universally admitted that this was not what the plural meant to the original author.”

[3] Based on what we read in John 12:37-41, some have argued that Isaiah must’ve seen Jesus Christ in a “pre-existent state.” Here’s the passage as found in the CLNT: Yet, after His having done so many signs in front of them, they believed not in Him, that the word of Isaiah the prophet, which he said, may be being fulfilled, “Lord, who believes our tidings? And the arm of the Lord, to whom was it revealed?” Therefore they could not believe, seeing that Isaiah said again that He has blinded their eyes and callouses their heart, lest they may be perceiving with their eyes, and should be apprehending with their heart, and may be turning about, and I shall be healing them. These things Isaiah said, seeing that he perceived His glory, and speaks concerning Him.

In the first verse that John quotes (i.e., Isaiah 53:1), the “Lord” being referred to is clearly Yahweh (whose name actually appears in the original verse John was quoting). And the second verses quoted by John (Isaiah 6:9-10) are a quotation of the words of Yahweh himself, who spoke to Isaiah during the vision described in Isaiah 6 (which involved seeing Yahweh sitting on a throne in the temple). Thus, the person whose glory we’re told Isaiah saw, and the person concerning whom Isaiah spoke, would’ve undoubtedly been understood by Isaiah to have been Yahweh.

That the person being referred to as “His” and “Him” in verse 41 is Yahweh, the God of Israel, is confirmed from the fact that the same person who’s referred to as “Him” in v. 41 is also in view in v. 40: “…Isaiah said again that He has blinded their eyes and callouses their heart, lest they may be perceiving with their eyes, and should be apprehending with their heart, and may be turning about, and I shall be healing them.” Who was John referring to as “He” in this verse? Answer: John would’ve believed that Yahweh himself was ultimately responsible for the circumstances being described in this verse.

That God is ultimately the one responsible for the blinding and callousing of unbelieving Israel is further confirmed from Romans 11:8, where Paul wrote concerning unbelieving Israel, “Now the rest were calloused, even as it is written, God gives them a spirit of stupor, eyes not to be observing, and ears not to be hearing, till this very day.” Had Paul believed that Jesus was the one who was callousing Israel, he would’ve said so. But Paul said it was “God” who was doing this. And the only person whom Paul referred to as “God” in his letters – and repeatedly distinguished from the Lord Jesus Christ - is the Father. Thus, we can understand the one whose glory Isaiah perceived to be a depiction of the Father.

[5] In addition to being used for titles applied to the one God of Israel, the intensive plural was used for the titles of individual humans as well. For example, in Genesis 42:30, Joseph is spoken of as the adhoneh (literally, “lords”) of Egypt. Though the word adhoneh is plural, this title does not make Joseph a multi-personal being. In Isa 19:4, we read, “I will imprison the Egyptians in the hand of a harsh master; and a fierce king shall rule over them.” In this verse the fierce king that will enslave Egypt is described as “a hard (singular) master (plural).” The plural suffix attached to the word “master” does not make it a numerical plural (“masters”) but instead intensifies the meaning (i.e., “great” master”). Because the word “master” is here an intensive plural and not a numerical plural, it receives the singular adjective (“hard”) and not the plural adjective that would be required for a numerical plural.

Similarly, in Exodus 21:28-32 the owner of the “goring ox” is repeatedly referred to with the plural suffix even though the ox is only owned by one person. In this case, the plural suffix intensifies the noun, imbuing it with a connotation of “absolute owner” or “complete master.” Because “owner” is an intensive plural, it gets a singular verb. Thus we read concerning the negligent owner whose ox has killed someone, “the ox shall be stoned and the owner (he) will be put to death” (Ex 21:29). The verb “he will be put to death” is in the singular even though the word for “owner” has the plural suffix. And in Mal 1:6, God says, “A son honours his father, and a servant his master (“masters”). If then I am a father, where is my honour? And if I am a master (“masters” again), where is my fear?” In both cases the word is not a numerical plural, but an intensive plural (i.e., “great master”). What’s interesting is that Yahweh is clearly taking human titles that have nothing inherently or necessarily to do with Deity and applying them to himself to make his point.

In Judges 19:26 we read, “And as morning appeared, the woman came and fell down at the door of the man’s house where her master (adoneyah, “lords/masters”) was, till it was light.” Here the concubine's master is referred to by the intensive plural for “lord.” It’s clear from the context (where the referent of the plural noun is a single individual) that the plural emphasizes the Levite’s absolute authority over the woman. In Gen. 24:9-10 we read, “So the servant put his hand under the thigh of Abraham his master and swore to him concerning this matter. Then the servant took ten of his master’s camels and departed, taking all sorts of choice gifts from his master; and he arose and went to Mesopotamia to the city of Nahor.” In all three cases, “master” is plural. But since Abraham is a singular being, the plural is to be understood as an intensive plural, not a numerical plural. In Gen 40:1 we read, “Sometime after this, the cupbearer of the king of Egypt and his baker committed an offense against their lord (“lords”) the king of Egypt.” Again, same thing here; the plural is clearly intensive, not numerical.

There are other examples of the intensive plural being used, but I think the above are sufficient to show that, while certainly not as common as when God is being referred to (for obvious reasons, since God is the main character of Scripture), the intensive plural was an idiom not used exclusively or reservedly for God. The Jews were thoroughly familiar with the idioms of their own language, and have consequently never understood the use of the plural elohim to indicate a plurality of persons within the one God.