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Biblical versus Trinitarian Meanings of Bible Terms

Biblical versus Trinitarian Meanings of Bible Terms

Because trinitarian doctrine has changed the meanings of key terms in the Bible, it is important for us to clarify the meanings of some of these terms right from the start or else it would be impossible for us to understand what the Bible teaches. We now look at the terms God, Lord, Father, Jesus, and Son of God. These will be discussed only briefly, just enough to highlight the points of departure between the Biblical and the trinitarian meanings of these terms.

God

Right from the start we need to consider the central person of the Bible: God. By “God” trinitarians mean the Trinity—a God consisting of three persons who share one substance. But neither the concept of a divine substance (which comes from Greek thinking and polytheistic faiths) nor that of a tripartite God whose three persons share one substance, exists in the Bible. The one and only God of the Bible is called “Yahweh,” a name which occurs some 7,000 times in the Scriptures. In striking contrast, the trinitarian God has no name at all! Even if some trinitarians equate Yahweh with God the Father, the fact remains that this God the Father is only one of three persons in the “Godhead”.

It is universally admitted by trinitarians (consult any Bible dictionary or systematic theology) that the word “trinity” does not exist in the Bible. In any case, “trinity” is not a name but a descriptive term for a non-existent tripartite God (non-existent, that is, in terms of its being absent from the Bible). The tripartite aspect of trinitarianism has given rise to the situation in which some Christians pray to the Father, others pray to Jesus, and yet others, especially those from charismatic circles, pray to the Spirit.

But Yahweh is one Person, not three, and He certainly has a name. Yet for all intents and purposes, that Name has been obliterated in Christendom. Most Christians don’t know who Yahweh is, though they have heard of Jehovah, an inaccurate form of the Name which they associate with a group called the Jehovah’s Witnesses, leaving them with negative feelings towards the name Jehovah and by extension Yahweh. The name Yahweh has been tossed out (except in academia) despite the fact that it occurs on almost every page of the Hebrew Bible (which Christians call the Old Testament), in fact six or seven times per page on average.

The New Testament, like the Old Testament, is strictly monotheistic, a fact that is known to all biblical scholars. But because true monotheism is incongruous with trinitarianism, trinitarians try to get around this by changing the meaning of “God” such that God is “one substance” or “one essence” rather than one person despite the absence of the term “one substance” (or its concept) in the Bible.

The elimination of Yahweh’s Name

The gradual disappearance of God’s personal name, Yahweh, had its beginnings among the post-exilic Jews (those who lived after the return from the Babylonian exile) who felt that it was reverent to refer to Yahweh not as Yahweh but as Adonai (Hebrew for “Lord” or “my Lord”). Most crucially, the practice of not uttering the name Yahweh was soon reflected in what was being done in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible known as the Septuagint (from septuaginta, Latin for seventy), often shortened to LXX, the Roman numerals for 70, since according to tradition the translation was done by 70 or 72 translators. The LXX is not a “translation by committee” as we might understand that term today, but a collection of disparate translations done over a period of two centuries and was completed a century or so before Christ.

Most significantly, the LXX renders “Yahweh” as kyrios (Lord), the Greek equivalent of Adonai (Lord). In other words, God’s unique personal name, Yahweh, was replaced with a descriptive title, “the Lord” (kyrios, a word that is also applied to human beings). Despite this mistranslation of “Yahweh,” the Greek-speaking Jews had the benefit of knowing that kyrios in many contexts refers to Yahweh, the credit for which could be given to their Jewish religious heritage. But the same could not be said of the non-Jews (the Gentiles) because most of them don’t know that kyrios (Lord) is often simply a substitute for “Yahweh”. [1]

Because of the Gentile ignorance of this fact, within three centuries after the time of Jesus, the title “Lord” as applied to God was conflated with the title “Lord” as applied to Jesus, who was by then declared to be “God the Son,” a trinitarian title found nowhere in the Scriptures. By as early as the mid-second century, by which time the western churches had become predominantly non-Jewish, the name “Yahweh” had practically disappeared from the church.

Significantly, with the elimination of the name Yahweh, the church entered into a state of spiritual decline that continues to this day. In the fourth century, the Roman emperor Constantine made himself the de facto head of the Christian church, a move that was for the political objective of stabilizing his empire. This further hastened the spiritual decline of the church; and not long after that, the Pope of Christendom was functioning like a Roman emperor. The church was being steadily absorbed by the world.

The elimination of the name Yahweh began with the post-exilic refusal to pronounce it for fear of unintentionally misusing it, notably by violating the third commandment (“You shall not take the name of Yahweh your God in vain”). In the end, no one could be exactly sure how the Name was originally pronounced, though the authoritative 22-volume Encyclopedia Judaica says that the original pronunciation was “Yahweh” and that it has never been lost.

Does it matter today how His name was exactly pronounced? Doesn’t God look into our hearts to see if we genuinely call upon Him and His name? Even if we knew how YHWH was originally pronounced, would we know with certainty where the stress was placed, on the first syllable or the second? (The stress is almost certainly placed on the first syllable because “Yah” is the short form of “Yahweh,” hence YAHweh is more probable than YahWEH.)

The near elimination of Yahweh’s name has given trinitarianism an opportunity to establish its errors. These errors will wilt and die if we restore His Name. And Scripture says that Yahweh’s name is to be proclaimed, not suppressed:

Deuteronomy 32:3 For I shall proclaim the name of Yahweh. Oh, tell the greatness of our God! (NJB)

Isaiah 12:4 Give thanks to Yahweh; proclaim His name! Celebrate His works among the peoples. Declare that His name is exalted. (HCSB)

The Jewish reluctance to utter the name “Yahweh” explains why it is not used in the New Testament. The New Testament was written for the Jews in the first instance. Since they held back from uttering God’s name, they would have shunned any evangelist who spoke it, and this would have shut the door on evangelism. The churches that Paul wrote to were composed mainly of Jewish believers though some of the churches had sizable Gentile minorities. And since Paul adhered to the principle of preaching the gospel “to the Jews first,” he would never risk turning the Jews away from the gospel by uttering Yahweh’s name. In any case, the reluctance to say Yahweh’s name was not a serious problem in practice because the Jews knew that the title “Lord” in many contexts refers to Yahweh.

Lord

When the gospels and the New Testament letters were being written some 150 years after the LXX had been completed, the LXX had by then become entrenched and widely circulated in the Greek-speaking world. The Greek language itself had become the lingua franca or universal language of the Roman world, especially in commerce, much as English has become the language of international commerce today. That is why the New Testament writers would usually cite Old Testament passages not from the Hebrew Bible but from the LXX, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible. It is only natural for the New Testament, which has come to us in Greek, to cite Scripture from the Greek LXX.

The word kyrios (Lord) in the LXX verses quoted in the New Testament refers to Yahweh in most instances. That Yahweh is called “Lord” in the LXX (and in the New Testament passages which quote the LXX) was not a source of confusion to the early Jewish believer, for he was aware of the referential equivalence of YHWH and “Lord”. At the same time, he also knew that “Lord” is a broad term that may refer to persons other than Yahweh. When Peter told the multitudes in Jerusalem that God had appointed Jesus “both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36)—that is, Jesus was exalted as Lord Jesus Christ at his resurrection—the Jewish believers did not confuse “Lord” as applied to Jesus and “Lord” as applied to Yahweh God.

But the situation changed when the New Testament writings fell into the hands of the Gentiles, for they were unable to distinguish “Lord” as applied to Yahweh and “Lord” as applied to Jesus. This conflation and confusion suited trinitarianism perfectly, and facilitated its rise in the early centuries of the western Gentile church.

In the New Testament, “Lord” may refer to Yahweh, to Jesus, or to either Yahweh or Jesus. This variability in meaning is not the result of any careless or deliberate confusion of persons, but arose from the fact that in the work of salvation, Jesus functions in perfect unity with Yahweh his Father who accomplishes mankind’s salvation in and through Jesus Christ. In the work of salvation, God and Jesus cannot be separated. That is why in many instances we don’t need to look for sharp distinctions in the use of “Lord”. For example, “the Lord” may refer to God or to Jesus in verses such as 1Cor.16:7 (“if the Lord permits”), 1Cor.16:10 (“doing the work of the Lord”), and Phil.4:4 (“Rejoice in the Lord”).

On the other hand, there are many instances of “Lord” that make a clear distinction between God and Jesus, for example, 1Cor.6:14, “And God raised the Lord,” where “Lord” can only refer to Jesus. The distinction between God and the Lord Jesus is often made by an explicit reference to them as separate persons, e.g. “from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom.1:7; 1Cor.1:3; 2Cor.1:2; Gal.1:3; Eph. 1:2; Phil.1:2; 2Th.1:2; Phlm.1:3).

Sometimes it is not immediately clear who “the Lord” refers to, but an examination of the text would usually clear up the uncertainty, as is the case with “the Lord of glory” in the following:

7 But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. 8 None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. (1Cor.2:7-8, ESV)

Who does “the Lord of glory” refer to? Since Jesus is not mentioned in the preceding verse (v.7) or the following verse (v.9), and since God is mentioned in both these verses, do we take “Lord of glory” as a reference to God, as many have done? Yet a careful examination shows that “the Lord of glory” refers to Jesus, not to God, because:

  1. In v.2, Paul speaks of “Jesus Christ” as the one who was “crucified”. Hence context alone confirms that “the Lord of glory” in v.8 refers to Jesus.
  2. James 2:1 speaks of “Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory”.
  3. Since God is immortal (Rom.1:23; 1Tim.1:17) and cannot die, “the Lord of glory” can only refer to Jesus, who is mortal and has died for mankind.

Any of these points would be sufficient to establish that “the Lord of glory” in 1Cor.2:8 refers to Jesus, yet we bring up all three to show that it is not difficult to find out who “Lord” refers to if we are willing to go through the proper exegetical procedure.

In the church today, “Lord” is used indiscriminately of God and of Jesus in a way that conflates the two. This serves the objectives of trinitarianism because trinitarians do not want to make a distinction between God and Jesus. In trinitarian churches, referring to Jesus as Lord is tantamount to saying that he is God. But not so in the New Testament. Addressing Jesus as “Lord” is to acknowledge him as the master of our lives; it is not an assertion of his deity.

The New Testament, notably in Paul’s letters, often makes an intentional distinction between “God” and “Lord”. James D.G. Dunn says:

In various passages Paul uses the formula, ‘The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ’. The striking feature is that Paul speaks of God not simply as the God of Christ, but as ‘the God…of our Lord Jesus Christ’. Even as Lord, Jesus acknowledges God not only as his Father but also as his God. Here it becomes plain that the kyrios title [Lord] is not so much a way of identifying Jesus with God, as a way of distinguishing Jesus from God. (Did the First Christians Worship Jesus? p.110, emphasis Dunn’s)

Today there is the further problem that “Lord” has become an archaic word that is no longer in everyday use, having been replaced by words such as chief, boss, CEO, and so on.

Because of the conflating use of “Lord” in the church today, this title will be used sparingly in this book until we come to our study of the New Testament application of “Lord” to Jesus.

My book Totally Committed! [2] expounded Deuteronomy 6:5 (“You shall love the Lord [Yahweh] your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might”) from a trinitarian perspective, replacing Yahweh with Jesus as the object of commitment. I now realize that this is a serious error, indeed a serious sin, but like Paul I can only plead that I did it in ignorance and on those grounds hope to receive mercy (1Tim.1:13). Many thousands all over the world have read the book or received its teaching as a Bible course. I can only hope that they will have the chance to hear the message of the present work.

The Father

The Israelites regarded Yahweh God as their Father as seen in verses such as Isaiah 63:16 (“You, O Yahweh, are our Father”) and 64:8 (“Yahweh, you are our Father”). In the Old Testament, nine persons are named Abijah, which means, “my Father is Yah(weh)” (Yah is the short form of Yahweh).

But to trinitarians, the Father is only the first person of the Trinity. Just as “Father” is not a proper name but a term that defines one’s relationship to his own son, so in trinitarianism, God the Father has no name but is defined in relation to the second person, God the Son, who ironically does have a name. His name “Jesus” is a very human name that was common in Israel in New Testament times.

Jesus

Trinitarians say that Jesus is “not just” a man but the God-man, as if Jesus is demeaned when we say that he is true man. In trinitarian dogma, no one other than Jesus, not even God the Father or God the Spirit, is God-man. This leaves Jesus in a category all of his own.

The trinitarian assertion that Jesus is fully God and fully man ultimately means that he is neither truly God nor truly man. It is simply impossible for anyone to be 100% God and 100% man at the same time. When we make Jesus 100% God and 100% man, we are fabricating a non-existent person to suit our doctrines, doing this without regard for reality or plain logic, and coming up with statements that are patently false, nonsensical, and unbiblical. Falsehood may sound convincing enough to deceive people but that doesn’t make it true. False gods are worshipped in many religions but that doesn’t make them true.

There is a subtle, and for this reason dangerous, implication in the God-man doctrine: Are we making Jesus more than God? In trinitarianism, God the Father is “only” God whereas Jesus is God + man. We cannot discount man as having zero value with nothing that can be added to God. In fact, man is the apex and crown of God’s creation—a creation that is deemed to be “very good” in God’s eyes (Gen.1:31).

Even if we insist that man is worth nothing, the fact remains that a person who is both God and man would be far more appealing and attractive to human beings than one who is “only” God. It is psychologically easier for us to relate to someone who is human than to someone who is not. This goes a long way towards explaining the great appeal of the trinitarian “God-man” construct of Jesus and its power of deception.

It is the human element that accounts for the strong appeal of Mary, the mother of Jesus, to the Catholics who worship her. Whereas the Jesus of trinitarianism is vested with divinity and humanity, Mary is entirely human and for that reason would be more appealing than Jesus to many Catholics. Her appeal is strengthened by her status in Catholicism as “the Mother of God,” making her power of persuasion before God unsurpassed in the eyes of her devotees. It is not surprising that statues of Mary are found in most Catholic churches, and that many churches are dedicated to her, such as the cathedral in Montreal called “Mary, Queen of the World”. The fact that Mary is “merely” human and not divine does not deter her devotees from adoring and even worshipping her.

But if we go with the biblical view that Jesus is a true man, a 100% man, this will elicit the trinitarian protest that we are reducing Jesus to a “mere” man. But every human being on the face of the earth is “mere” man or woman, yet was created in “the image of God”. As for Jesus the “mere” man, it has so pleased Yahweh the Most High God to exalt him above the heavens and to seat him at His right hand, making Jesus second only to Yahweh in the universe. Jesus is thus “crowned with glory and honor” (Heb.2:7). But how can the trinitarian Jesus be crowned with—conferred with—glory and honor when as God he has always had this glory from all eternity?

The Son of God

Finally, what does the title “Son of God” mean to most Christians? As good trinitarians we stressed the word “God,” so we read “Son of God” as “God the Son”. Our eyes saw “Son of God” but our trinitarian minds were trained to see it as “God the Son”. The fact that our intelligent and educated minds could so easily reverse the words back to front, is a fearsome demonstration of the power of error. But even if we clarified this error, most Christians still would not know what “Son of God” means in the Bible.

The title “Son of God” as applied to Jesus simply affirms that Jesus is the Messiah or the Christ, the one anointed by God (Messiah is the Hebrew term and Christ is the Greek term for “the Anointed One”). This basic fact is acknowledged by trinitarian references, e.g. Westminster Theological Wordbook of the Bible, which says that “Son of God is a synonym for Messiah”. It goes on to give examples of this equivalence such as Peter’s confession of Christ as the Son of God (Mt.16:16) and the centurion’s similar confession in Mk. 15:39 which “should be understood as an acknowledgment of Jesus’ messiahship” (p.478).

The titles “Son of God” and “Christ” (Messiah) are found in juxtaposition for example in Mt.26:63 in which the high priest says to Jesus, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.”

Jesus kept silent before the presiding judges who wanted him to say something self-incriminating, so the high priest invoked the name of “the living God” to compel Jesus to say under oath whether he was the Christ, the Son of God. It would be ludicrous to conclude that the high priest was really trying to force Jesus to admit that he was “God the Son,” not only because the actual term used by the high priest was not “God the Son” but “Son of God,” but also because the Jewish people as a whole had never believed that the Messiah (the Christ) is God. In fact the Jews thought that the thoroughly human John the Baptist could be the Christ (Lk.3:15). But in typical trinitarian fashion, we read into the high priest’s words something that he would never have thought of asking, namely, whether Jesus was the divine God the Son, the second person of the Trinity.

The juxtaposition of Christ and Son of God is also found in John 20:31:

… but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

John is asking his readers to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, these two titles being equivalent. The title “Son of God” is equivalent to “Messiah” (mashiah, מָשִׁיחַ), Yahweh’s anointed King and the Savior of Israel and of the world. In donning our trinitarian spectacles, we read John as if he were asking us to believe that Jesus is God the Son. John does not ask us to believe that Jesus is God but that he is the Messiah. The Old Testament references to the Messiah do not indicate that he is divine. The Jews as a whole have never expected a divine Messiah.[3] N.T. Wright says something along the same line. [4]

The two equivalent titles, Christ and Son of God, appear together several times in the gospels. In addition to the verses already cited, we have the following (all from ESV):

Matthew 16:16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Mark 1:1 The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Luke 4:41 And demons also came out of many, crying, “You are the Son of God!” But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that he was the Christ.

John 11:27 “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”

In the New Testament, “Christ” (Messiah) and “Son of God” often appear together as synonymous titles. That is because the two titles refer to one and the same person in Psalm 2, which is the Old Testament basis for the equivalence. We now quote Psalm 2 in full because of its importance. Note the constant reference to the Messiah (the anointed King) or to the Son of God:

1 Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? 2 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against Yahweh and against his Anointed, saying, 3 “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.” 4 He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision. 5 Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying, 6 “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.” 7 I will tell of the decree: Yahweh said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you. 8 Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. 9 You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” 10 Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. 11 Serve Yahweh with fear, and rejoice with trembling. 12 Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him. (Psalm 2:1-11, ESV, “Yahweh” restored)

Verse 7 speaks of Yahweh’s Son (“You are my Son; today I have begotten you”), this being the key verse that establishes the messianic aspect of the title “Son of God”. And since the Messiah is the Anointed One, therefore v.2 (“his Anointed”) and v.6 (“my King”) refer to the Messiah-King whom God has established on “Zion, my holy hill” from which the Messiah will reign, not only over Israel but over all the nations to the “ends of the earth” (v.8). The Messiah will come in Yahweh’s name as Yahweh’s representative, and it is through him that the people will “serve Yahweh with fear” (v.11). The final verse (v.12) has yet another reference to the Son: “Kiss the Son, lest he be angry… Blessed are all who take refuge in him”. Kissing a king expresses reverence and submission.

The New Testament likewise says that Christ (the Messiah) comes in God’s name: “I come in my Father’s name” (John 5:43) and “the works that I do in my Father’s name” (10:25).

The Son of God, the final heir to the Davidic throne, will be King not only over Israel but over all the nations of the earth. It is to this exalted position, the highest in all the earth, that Jesus the Messiah has been appointed by Yahweh. The Messiah will govern the nations of the earth—an earth in which Yahweh’s name will be known to all its inhabitants. Christ will represent Yahweh in the administration of every matter in international affairs, ushering peace on earth and creating good will among men, as announced long ago by the angels at his birth.

For many centuries the Jews have been looking with eager expectation to the coming of the glorious Messiah, the One who will liberate them from the oppression they had endured under Gentile nations for much of their history. More than that, their Messiah will be like Moses who will teach them Yahweh’s truth, and guide them in the ways of Yahweh God.

The challenge for the Jews is that they have no easy way of identifying the Messiah when he comes, for their Scriptures do not teach them to expect the arrival of a divine man but the arrival of “a prophet like me,” that is, a prophet like Moses: “Yahweh your God will raise up a prophet like me” (Dt.18:15, NJB; quoted by Stephen in Acts 7:37).



[1] Most English Bibles render “Lord” in small capitals as “Lord” where the word in the Hebrew text is YHWH or Yahweh. In the history of the Bible, this convention is a relatively modern typographical device, and is not followed by all English Bibles (e.g. not by the Geneva Bible of 1599 or the modern-day Orthodox Study Bible). In the present book, we don’t find it necessary to render “Lord” in small capitals as “Lord” except when quoting from Bibles that use such capitalization. It is usually more accurate to restore the name “Yahweh” or to point out that the original word in the Hebrew text is YHWH. A few English translations preserve the name “Yahweh,” either consistently (NJB, WEB, Lexham English Bible) or some of the time (HCSB). ASV uses “Jehovah” consistently.

[2] Totally Committed: The Importance of Commitment in Biblical Teaching, Eric H.H. Chang, Guardian Books, 2001. A new 2016 edition that restores Yahweh God as the object of the believer’s commitment is available from Amazon.com (ISBN 978-1515071686).

[3] ISBE (revised, volume 3, “Messiah”): “Haggai and Zechariah as well as rabbinic Judaism understood the Messiah as an ordinary human being, although one ‘anointed’ by God and thus endowed with extraordinary capacities.”

[4] N.T. Wright says: “‘Messiah’, or ‘Christ’, does not mean ‘the/a divine one’. It is very misleading to use the words as shorthands for the divine name or being of Jesus. It is comparatively easy to argue that Jesus (like several other first-century Jews) believed he was the Messiah (see JVG, ch. 11). It is much harder, and a very different thing, to argue that he thought he was in some sense identified with Israel’s God.” (The Incarnation, p.52, Oxford University Press)

 

(c) 2012 Christian Disciples Church