- Argument for the Trinity #12: The Proper Understanding Defense
- Argument for the Trinity #11: How the Old Testament Prepared God’s People for the Trinity – Section 4: The Angel of Yahweh
- Argument for the Trinity #10: How the Old Testament Prepared God’s People for the Trinity – Section 3: The Name of Yahweh
- Argument for the Trinity #9: How the Old Testament Prepared God’s People for the Trinity – Section 2: The Word of Yahweh
- Argument for the Trinity #8: How the Old Testament Prepared God’s People for the Trinity – Section 1: Plurality in One God
- Argument for the Trinity #7: The Deity of the Persons – Section 4: Still more of the Son
- Argument for the Trinity #6: The Deity of the Persons – Section 3: More of the Son
- Argument for the Trinity #5: The Deity of the Persons – Section 2: The Son
- Argument for the Trinity #4: The Deity of the Persons – Section 1: The Father and the Spirit
- Argument for the Trinity #3: The Holy Spirit, a True Person
- Argument for the Trinity #2: The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are Distinct Persons
- Argument for the Trinity #1: Yahweh is Unique
- The Arguments for the Trinity
- The Biblical Definition of the Trinity
As stated in the introduction post, this series will build the case for the Trinity by establishing each of its biblically definitive statements, one by one. So, of course, no one article in this series establishes the full doctrine of the Trinity on its own. Taken together, the combination of all the conclusions of these arguments simply are the definition of the Trinity, and so, if true, establish its truth.
Here in part 1, we will examine what I’m calling the uniqueness of Yahweh. This is known more generally as monotheism, the belief in only one God. We’ll get into why I’m using this different terminology later, but for now, let’s start with what I mean by the uniqueness of Yahweh. According to Scripture, there is none like Yahweh. There is only one Yahweh. Yahweh alone created all things, and so nothing exists apart from Yahweh except that which was created by Yahweh. Yahweh is the God of Israel and is Israel’s sole redeemer, having called Israel out of the nations by a covenant with Abraham. The name “Yahweh” applies to nothing else but this God. No created thing is Yahweh, and since there is nothing outside of Yahweh except those things that are created, there is nothing but this God alone that can be called “Yahweh”. While there may be beings that are called “gods”, nothing but Yahweh is properly called “Yahweh”.
Different religious groups deny the Trinity in different ways. Those who want to still claim a biblical pedigree will typically not deny all of the definitional Trinitarian truths, but will maybe only deny one or two of them. The most prominent group that denies the truth we’re examining in this article is the LDS Church, or the Mormons. Foundational to Mormonism is the doctrine of eternal progression, which is encapsulated in the couplet, “As man is, God once was. As God is, man may become.” Mormons believe that God has not always been God, but is one of a countless number of Gods in the universe, many much older than He is. He alone is the creator of this planet, but He is not the all-powerful sovereign creator of all things. He is an exalted man who made this world, but got to be so by obeying His God. Combined with this teaching is the belief that, in the Old Testament, “Elohim” is the name of God the Father, and “Jehovah” (Yahweh), is the name of His son, who becomes Jesus in the New Testament.
This article will not, of course, be addressing all of Mormonism, but it does address this doctrine of eternal progression, since, If Yahweh really is God eternally, and the only one of His kind, and the creator of absolutely everything outside of Himself, then the central doctrine of Mormonism is false.
The number of Scriptures that attest to this truth is great, and it is done in many ways, but probably the most famous is the Shema, Deuteronomy 6:4
Hear, Israel, Yahweh our God, Yahweh is unique.
Like no other verse in the Scriptures, this one captured the heart of devotion solely to Yahweh. Notice that “our God” is called Yahweh, not Elohim. Yahweh is “elohenu”, “ourGod”. As the remainder of the passage this verse is found in attests, this is a call to the sole worship of Yahweh alone. This can be seen when we read the second half of the Shema in verse 5, the command itself:
And you shall love Yahweh your God with all of your heart and with all of your soul and with all of your might.
If you are to love God with your entire heart, soul, and strength, what room is there for other gods? And Scripture is full of the reasons why it is only Yahweh that is worthy of our worship.
Yahweh alone is creator:
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth
Thus says Yahweh, your redeemer,
and he who formed you in the womb:
“I am Yahweh, who made everything,
who stretched out the heavens alone,
who spread out the earth—who was with me?
Yahweh alone is the Redeemer or Savior of His People:
Thus says Yahweh, the king of Israel,
and its redeemer, Yahweh of hosts:
“I am the first, and I am the last,
and there is no god besides me.
Declare and present your case,
also let them consult together!
Who made this known from former times,
declared it from of old?
Was it not I, Yahweh?
And there is no other god besides me,
a righteous God besides me,
and no savior besides me.
Yahweh is unique in His nature:
“You are my witnesses,” declares Yahweh,
“and my servant whom I have chosen
so that you may know and believe in me
and understand that I am he.
No god was formed before me,
and none shall be after me.
And who is like me? Let him proclaim it!
And let him declare it and set it in order for me
since I established an eternal people and things that are to come,
and let them tell them the things that are coming.
I could multiply attributes, but these are sufficient to show that Yahweh alone is our creator and redeemer and our God, and that no other being in existence compares with Him. This is why it is Him we worship and no others. More on this later.
Now, there is no argument that Scripture applies the word for god, “elohim”, to beings other than Yahweh. There is an argument among scholars whether some of these other beings, the “other gods” mentioned in Scripture, are actually real, divine beings that are worshiped by pagans and the like. I do believe that Scripture speaks of these other gods as if they actually exist far more and in clearer ways than it says that there are “no other gods” besides Yahweh. On either side of this debate, one must take something to be figurative language. Scripture talks about other gods, and Scripture says there are no other gods. Either Scripture talks metaphorically about non-existent beings as if they exist, due to peoples’ devotion to them, or Scripture talks metaphorically about there being “no other gods”, as a way of referring to the incomparable nature of the one creator, Yahweh. In either case, Yahweh is absolutely unique. There is a divide between the Creator and that which is created. There is no ambiguity about that.
References to other gods, whether they are real or imagined, do not take away from the fact that there is absolutely only one Yahweh, and Yahweh is the only all-powerful, sovereign creator of both heaven and earth.
Those who try to say that Scripture teaches other gods in any sense that does not preserve this uniqueness do so in stark contrast with the Scriptures quoted above. Some liberals try to say that ancient Israel was polytheistic and only evolved into monotheism through the Babylonian exile. This contradicts the text, in that the texts that seem to indicate these other gods are real created beings come from later Old Testament writing even more than the older books. Mormons, as mentioned before, take Yahweh to be the spirit-son of Elohim, and a lesser being. While Yahweh later becomes Jesus, and is a god like Elohim, He is not our god, since our heavenly father, Elohim is the God of this world. The Mormon perspective flatly contradicts the Shema quoted above. The Shema uses “elohim” in its general sense, not as a name, and says that Yahweh, alone, is our elohim. Also, notice the above passages about the uniqueness of God are all about Yahweh.
Now, in a similar way to the term “god”, there are other terms in the Hebrew Scriptures that, on the one hand, are said exclusively of God, but then are also said of others in a different way. These include two very important terms, “savior”, and “worship”. As some of the Scriptures cited above attest, Yahweh repeatedly states that there is no Savior besides Him, and sometimes even in parallel with there being no other God (Isa. 45:21). On the other hand, God talks about raising up other “deliverers” as well, and the book of Judges calls many of the judges “deliverers”. Worship, likewise, is a concept that finds separate contexts–religious and cultural/political–in which the same Hebrew or Greek term for bowing down may be used, but there is a definite difference in concept between the actions. For all three concepts, there is a clear divide between the mundane uses and those reserved especially for Yahweh. There are other “saviors”, but not the way that Yahweh is our Savior. There are others who can be “worshiped”, but that is a completely different category than the worship reserved for Yahweh. Finally, there may be other beings that are called “gods”, but what they are is a finite, imperfect analogy to the one and only infinite creator “God”, Yahweh. No one else is God like He is. No one else is Savior like He is, and no one else can be worshiped like He is.
You may have noticed that I have, in this article, referred to God as “Yahweh” far more than as “God”. This has been intentional. As I mentioned before, no matter how they come down on the propriety of referring to real divine beings as “gods”, scholars and theologians agree that the Hebrew “elohim” is a more general term that is applied, in some way, to other beings than the one God of the Bible. On the other hand, the proper name of God, “Yahweh”, does not apply to anyone else. Sure, there are theophoric names that have it as part of another name, like Joshua or Jehu, but the Divine Name itself belongs to no other. This name is derived from the same Hebrew phrase that is translated “I am”, in Exodus 3. It speaks of existence itself, and most scholars agree that it is a reference to His nature being uncreated. Nothing else in all creation can say “I am” the way He does, because, while we or the angels do exist too, ours is a derivative existence, dependent on Him. His existence is the only one that is independent.
Understanding this distinction is so important when discussing the other definitional statements of the Trinity, since it can potentially deflect the “Shaliach defense” I wrote about before. The fact is, there are other things besides God that are “gods” in some sense, but no one in the Old Testament was ever Yahweh except Yahweh. So, as we move into the other articles in this series, it is important to remember that the question is less about whether there may be more than one Person who gets called “God”, though that does carry weight. The real question is what Person or Persons are actually called “Yahweh”. That proves far more, and that will be for the next installment.