Q.8: Are there more Gods than one.
A. There is but one only, the living and true God.1
1Deuteronomy 6:4; Jeremiah 10:10
Besides monergism, monotheism is the doctrine that most distinguishes Christianity from myriad other world religions. While it could be argued that all religions besides Christianity promote a works-based view of salvation, there are admittedly other religions that hold to monotheism. Judaism and Islam are just two such religions. Other religions, like many pagan religions, teach a view known as polytheism. This view teaches that there are many gods. Mormonism and many Hindu sects teach henotheism, a brand of polytheism in which only one of the many gods is to be worshipped.
Still others, like Buddhism, are ultimately atheistic or agnostic at their root, teaching no particular view of God or the gods. Other religions teach pantheism (all things are god) or even panentheism (god is all things and more). Others, like African Traditional religions, have adopted animism teaching that all things (plant, animal, and mineral) have a soul and are animated by a supernatural force in the world.
Christianity affirms the Shema of the ancient Hebrews: “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one!” (Deuteronomy 6:4; NASB). God is not many. He certainly is not three gods, as Christians are slanderously charged as teaching in the Quran. As has been attested by Christians throughout the history of the church, going all the way back to creation itself, there is only one God.
“The unity of the world shows there is only one Maker. The voice of conscience testifies that there is only one Lord and Master. Reason teaches that there can be but one infinite and absolute Sovereign. This one God is called the living and true God, to distinguish his name from those of the false gods the heathens worship, who are false and dead,” (A.A. Hodge, The System of Theology Contained in the Westminster Shorter Catechism. Wipf and Stock Publishers, Eugene, OR. 2004, pg. 16).
Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, God is recognized to be only One, though subtle hints to His triunity are peppered here and there throughout. The term most commonly translated God in the Hebrew text is the word אֱלֹהִים (transliteration: Elohim; cf. Deut. 4:35; 39; 7:9; 1Kgs. 8:60; Isa. 45:18), which is notably a plural noun. The term is used 2,570 times in the Hebrew Scriptures the first of which is the first verse of the Bible in which it is the fourth word written. God is also notably designated plural pronouns in several passages of the Hebrew Scriptures (e.g. Gen. 1:26; 3:22; 11:7; Isa. 6:8).
What does all of this mean? Is God one or is He not? God certainly is but one true and living God. Yet, God has also revealed Himself in three infinitely eternally distinct Subsistences: the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. For this reason, Christians honestly confess that we are neither Unitarian monotheists nor Tri-theists. We believe, as Scripture teaches, in the triunity of God. He is one God, and the Father is God, and the Son is God, and the Spirit is God. These three are different Persons, and yet they are one God.
“To apply arithmetical notions to God is as unphilosophical as profane…. He is not One in the way in which created things are severally units; for one, as applied to ourselves, is used in contrast to two or three or a whole series of numbers. But God has not even such a relation to His creatures as to allow, philosophically speaking, of our contrasting Him with them’ (Newman),” (Alexander Whyte, An Exposition of the Shorter Catechism. Christian Focus Publications, Ross-shire, Great Britain. 2004, pg. 29).
God is one, but we dare not assign to him an anthropomorphic (human-like) oneness. God is otherly one. He is one in the sense that only God may be one. Thus, it should not baffle us when cultists like Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Oneness Pentecostals mistaken Christian theism with Tri-theism and deny on its face the oneness of the Christian expression of monotheism. They forget that we are not talking about their false gods. We are talking about the God of Scripture. Even in our agreement on the term monotheism, we find no neutral ground on which to stand with Unitarian monotheists.
Decidedly less of a temptation for Christians is to affirm any form of polytheism. Polytheists cannot goad us into engaging the accusation that we do not truly believe in “three.” We do not believe in “three.” At least, we do not believe in a plurality in the way that they would affirm a plurality. There is a plurality of Subsistences in the Godhead, but these Subsistences are not three gods. They are each God, and there is only one God. Again, God is divinely other in His oneness. He is neither like us in His oneness, nor is He like the gods we fabricate in their supposed oneness.
“But the Lord is the true God;
He is the living God and the everlasting King.
At His wrath the earth quakes,
And the nations cannot endure His indignation,” (Jeremiah 10:10; NASB).
God, then, is distinguished in His oneness both from any oneness that may be found in His creatures and from any conception of oneness His creatures may venture to fathom or fabricate. To say that human beings can wrap our minds around such a oneness as is found in the Christian doctrine of the Trinity is to say that we are the judge of all sound reason and revelation. Consider the testimony of our Confession:
“The Lord our God is but one only living and true God; whose subsistence is in and of Himself, infinite in being and perfection; whose essence cannot be comprehended by any but Himself,” (The Baptist Confession, 2.1; emphasis added).
God’s oneness is essential to all that we confess as orthodox Christians. It is a necessary confession for all who would claim to believe in the one true God of the Holy Scriptures. To say that we are monotheists is to distinguish ourselves from all non-monotheistic world religions. However, this affirmation does not serve to link us with Unitarian monotheists. Rather, Christians hold to the Triune monotheism of Scripture, a monotheism that accords with sound reason, but a Triunity that stretches our finite minds beyond the third heaven.
5 thoughts on “Studies in The Baptist Catechism: Section Two – Theology Proper (Q.8)”
Excellent article! However, I think there is a typo toward the end. You state “For us to say that we CANNOT wrap our minds around such a oneness as is found in the Christian doctrine of the Trinity is for us to say that we are the judge of all sound reason and revelation.” Did you mean to say “For us to say we CAN wrap our minds…”? The way you write it to sounds like we can comprehend the Trinity, and thereby contradicting the statement from the confession.
Thank you for the correction. Actually, right after posting it, I went back and read it again, and I noticed the same thing. It has been corrected. Honestly, I think I started typing the sentence thinking I would say one thing, but decided to go a different direction and did not adjust the first part of the sentence accordingly. Thanks for blessing me by holding me accountable to biblical accuracy.
I am completely sympathetic to that. I’d hate to know how many times I’ve switched my train of thought in mid-expression and had to go back and correct myself. Glad I could be of assistance.
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