Bart Ehrman and the Trinity Pt. 3

In this third part of my discussion (https://answeringislamblog.wordpress.com/2019/01/29/bart-ehrman-and-the-trinity-pt-2/; https://bloggingtheology2.com/2019/01/29/guest-article-by-sam-shamoun-bart-ehrman-and-the-trinity-pt-2/), I am going to end the series by providing the scriptural data supporting the divine Personhood of the Holy Spirit. This in turn will highlight the biblical foundation for the doctrine of the Trinity, demonstrating why the early church was forced to come up with the language that it did in order to articulate the explicit witness of the God-breathed Scriptures that within the one Godhead there exists three eternally distinct, divine Persons.

Recall that in the first part of my series I quoted Ehrman stating that without 1 John 5:7, “the doctrine of the Trinity must be inferred from a range of passages combined to show that Christ is God, as is the Spirit and the Father, and that there is, nonetheless, only one God…” (Misquoting Jesus, p. 81).

With this in perspective, I will be citing a range of passages that clearly describe the Holy Spirit as being both personally distinct from, and yet identical to, Jehovah God Almighty.

The Holy Spirit is Eternal

The God-breathed Scriptures affirm that the Spirit proceeds from the Father:

“When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf.” John 15:26

What this implies is that the Spirit is not a part of creation, but is rather an essential, intrinsic aspect of God’s own eternal Being, which is precisely why he is even said to be eternal:

“how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to worship the living God!” Hebrews 9:14

The Holy Spirit is Creator and Life-giver

God’s Holy Spirit is depicted as being actively involved in the creation of the cosmos:

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving (marahepet) over the face of the waters.” Genesis 1:1-2 Revised Standard Version (RSV)

The Hebrew verb rendered as “was moving,” is used only one other time in the Pentateuch:

“As an eagle stirs up its nest, and hovers (yarahep) over its young; as it spreads its wings, takes them up, and bears them aloft on its pinions,” Deuteronomy 32:11

Just as an eagle hovers over her young to protect and nourish them, in a similar manner the Spirit moved over the earth in its pre-biotic stage with the obvious purpose of transforming it into a habitable place suitable for life.

This helps us appreciate who God was speaking to/with when it came time to create mankind:

“Then God said, ‘Let US make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’ So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” Genesis 1:26-27

Seeing that the Spirit was there with God in creating life, it is reasonable to assume that God was speaking to his Holy Spirit in order to involve him in creating human beings in the image of God. This point is explicitly brought out by Job:

The spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.” Job 33:4

Not only do these texts identify the Holy Spirit as the Creator and Life-giver, but they further affirm that he is a divine Person, One with whom God spoke and had fellowship.

Other passages, which affirm the Spirit’s role in creating the cosmos, include:

By His Spirit He adorned the heavens; His hand pierced the fleeing serpent.” Job 26:13 New King James Version (NKJV)

“Heavens be made steadfast by the word of the Lord; and all the virtue of those by the spirit of his mouth. (The heavens were made by the word of the Lord; yea, all the host of them, by the breath from his mouth.)” Psalm 33:6 Wycliffe (WYC)

It is vitally important to keep in mind that God by nature isn’t a physical being who physically has a mouth or literal breath. As such, these statements are anthropomorphic descriptions, metaphors, meant to point to something deeper. In this case, the metaphor of God breathing from his mouth is intended to point to God commanding the Spirit to go forth and give life to creation. After all, when we think of mouth we think of words, and when we think of breath we think of life, since a person cannot live if s/he isn’t able to breathe. We also think of the breath it takes to formulate our words.

Therefore, this is simply a poetic way of describing God’s action of sending forth his Spirit to create and bring life.

This is brought out more clearly from the fact that the Holy Bible describes the Holy Spirit as regenerating, replenishing and/or resurrecting the dead and the earth itself:

“When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust. When you send forth your spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the ground.” Psalm 104:29-30

“Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act, says the Lord.” Ezekiel 37:12-14

Since the Spirit is able to give life to all creation, as well as recreate/regenerate the dead and the whole earth, the Spirit must be omnipresent and omnipotent. This brings me to the next section.

The Holy Spirit’s omni-attributes

The scriptures ascribe omnipresence, omniscience and omnipotence to God’s eternal Spirit:

Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast. If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night,’ even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.” Psalm 139:7-12

“Who has directed the spirit of the LORD, or as his counselor has instructed him? Whom did he consult for his enlightenment, and who taught him the path of justice? Who taught him knowledge, and showed him the way of understanding?” Isaiah 40:13-14

“I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances.” Ezekiel 36:25-27

“and I will never again hide my face from them, when I pour out my spirit upon the house of Israel, says the Lord God.” Ezekiel 39:29

The fact that the Spirit is able to indwell a nation of people in order to spiritually quicken and empower them to live morally righteous lives, indicates that he possesses all of God’s essential omni-attributes.

Another indication of the Spirit’s omniscience is his ability to foretell the future:

“‘Friends, the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit through David foretold concerning Judas, who became a guide for those who arrested Jesus—for he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.’ (Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness; and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. This became known to all the residents of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their language Hakeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) ‘For it is written in the book of Psalms, “Let his homestead become desolate, and let there be no one to live in it”; and “Let another take his position of overseer.”’” Acts 1:16-20

“At that time prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. One of them named Agabus stood up and predicted by the Spirit that there would be a severe famine over all the world; and this took place during the reign of Claudius. The disciples determined that according to their ability, each would send relief to the believers living in Judea; this they did, sending it to the elders by Barnabas and Saul.” Acts 11:27-30

“And now, as a captive to the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and persecutions are waiting for me. But I do not count my life of any value to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the good news of God’s grace. And now I know that none of you, among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom, will ever see my face again.” Acts 20:22-25

“While we were staying there for several days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. He came to us and took Paul’s belt, bound his own feet and hands with it, and said, ‘Thus says the Holy Spirit, “This is the way the Jews in Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles.”’ When we heard this, we and the people there urged him not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul answered, ‘What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.’ Since he would not be persuaded, we remained silent except to say, ‘The Lord’s will be done.’ After these days we got ready and started to go up to Jerusalem.” Acts 21:10-15

“Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will renounce the faith by paying attention to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the hypocrisy of liars whose consciences are seared with a hot iron.” 1 Timothy 4:1-2

The Holy Spirit is a Person

This highlights another important aspect of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, namely, the eternal Spirit is a divine Person and not merely God’s presence and/or power. The Holy Bible ascribes the following personal traits to God’s eternal and glorious Spirit.

1. Has a mind and will.

 “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” Romans 8:26-27

“All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.” 1 Corinthians 12:11

2. Speaks, commands, teaches, instructs, etc.

The spirit entered into me, and set me on my feet; and he spoke with me and said to me: Go, shut yourself inside your house.” Ezekiel 3:24

“Then the spirit of the Lord fell upon me, and he said to me, ‘Say, Thus says the Lord: This is what you think, O house of Israel; I know the things that come into your mind.’” Ezekiel 11:5

“You gave your good spirit to instruct them, and did not withhold your manna from their mouths, and gave them water for their thirst… Many years you were patient with them, and warned them by your spirit through your prophets; yet they would not listen. Therefore you handed them over to the peoples of the lands.” Nehemiah 9:20, 30

“But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” John 14:26

““I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.” John 16:12-13

“Then the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go over to this chariot and join it.'” Acts 8:29

“While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, ‘Look, three men are searching for you. Now get up, go down, and go with them without hesitation; for I have sent them.’” Acts 10:19-20

The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house.” Acts 11:12

“Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the ruler, and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off. So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia; and from there they sailed to Cyprus” Acts 13:1-4

They went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. When they had come opposite Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them;” Acts 16:6-7

“And we speak of these things in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual.” 1 Corinthians 2:13

3. Testifies.

““When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning.” John 15:26-27

“And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.” Acts 5:32

4. Has discernment.

“For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to impose on you no further burden than these essentials:” Acts 15:28

5. Has emotions.

“But they rebelled and grieved his holy spirit; therefore he became their enemy; he himself fought against them.” Isaiah 63:10

“I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in earnest prayer to God on my behalf,” Romans 15:30

And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption.” Ephesians 4:30

6. Can be tested and lied to.

“‘Ananias,’ Peter asked, ‘why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, were not the proceeds at your disposal? How is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You did not lie to us but to God!’… Then Peter said to her, ‘How is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test? Look, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.’” Acts 5:3-4, 9 

The Holy Spirit is Jehovah God

As if this weren’t amazing enough, the Spirit is even identified as the Lord in the sense of his being Jehovah.

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.” 2 Corinthians 3:17-18

Here the Spirit is said to be both the Lord himself, and the Spirit of the Lord!

That’s not all. David describes the Spirit as the God of Israel who spoke through him in composing his Psalms:

“Now these are the last words of David: The oracle of David, son of Jesse, the oracle of the man whom God exalted, the anointed of the God of Jacob, the favorite of the Strong One of Israel: The spirit of the Lord speaks through me, HIS word is upon my tongue. The God of Israel has spoken, the Rock of Israel has said to me: One who rules over people justly, ruling in the fear of God, Footnotes: 2 Samuel 23:1-2

This explains why texts where Jehovah appears and speaks are ascribed to the Holy Spirit, as in the following cases:

“So they disagreed with each other; and as they were leaving, Paul made one further statement: ‘The Holy Spirit was right in saying to your ancestors through the prophet Isaiah, “Go to this people and say, You will indeed listen, but never understand, and you will indeed look, but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes; so that they might not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and understand with their heart and turn— and I would heal them.”’” Acts 28:25-27

Paul states that the Holy Spirit spoke through Isaiah in the vision where the prophet beheld Jehovah enthroned in heaven:

“In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.’ The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. And I said: ‘Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!’… Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go FOR US?’ And I said, ‘Here am I; send me!’ And he said, ‘Go and say to this people: “Keep listening, but do not comprehend; keep looking, but do not understand.” Make the mind of this people dull, and stop their ears, and shut their eyes, so that they may not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and comprehend with their minds, and turn and be healed.’” Isaiah 6:1-5, 8-10

Thus, the Apostle believed that the God whom the prophet saw and heard was actually the Spirit of Jehovah!

“Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, ‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, as on the day of testing in the wilderness, where your ancestors put me to the test, though they had seen my works for forty years. Therefore I was angry with that generation, and I said, “They always go astray in their hearts, and they have not known my ways.”’ As in my anger I swore, “They will not enter my rest.”’” Hebrews 3:7-11

This is another example where the words of Jehovah are attributed to the Holy Spirit:

“O come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker! For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. O that today you would listen to his voice! Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness, when your ancestors tested me, and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work. For forty years I loathed that generation and said, ‘They are a people whose hearts go astray, and they do not regard my ways.’ Therefore in my anger I swore, ‘They shall not enter my rest.’” Psalm 95:6-11

Finally:

And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us, for after saying, ‘This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds,’ he also adds, ‘I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.’” Hebrews 10:15-17

Compare:

“But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.” Jeremiah 31:33-34

We again have an OT text, where Jehovah speaks and even forgives sins, being applied to the Holy Spirit.

The preceding data help us to see that the composers of the Nicene Creed were absolutely correct when they stated that the Holy Spirit is “the Lord, the Creator of life, Who proceeds from the Father, Who together with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified, Who spoke through the prophets.”

The explicit biblical witness left them no other choice but to affirm that the very Scriptures, which the Holy Spirit produced through holy men whom he had appointed,

“First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” 2 Peter 1:20-21

Emphatically testify to the Spirit being an eternal divine Person who is inseparably one with the Father and the Son in the common essence they possess as God.

In conclusion, Ehrman’s statements concerning the text of 1 John 5:7-8 end up proving that Jesus in John’s Gospel claimed to be God by affirming his essential unity with the Father. And when we then add the over all witness of Scripture to the eternal, divine nature of the Holy Spirit, we can see why the early church could not avoid formulating the doctrine of the Trinity, since this is the only teaching that makes sense of what the Holy Bible teaches as a whole. The fact is that the fair, consistent reading of the inspired Scriptures leaves us with no choice but to affirm that there is only one true God eternally existing as three distinct, yet inseparable divine Persons.

So even though 1 John 5:7 doesn’t necessarily speak to the essential unity of the Godhead, it nonetheless accurately represents the witness of the God-breathed Scriptures that there are in fact three, and only three, that bear witness in heaven: the Father, the Word/Son and the Holy Spirit, and these three are indeed one in their respective essence, glory, power and honor.

Unless noted otherwise, all biblical citations taken from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Holy Bible.

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