Q.9: How many persons are there in the Godhead.
A. There are three persons in the Godhead, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one God, the same in essence, equal in power and glory.1
11 John 5:7; Matthew 28:19
As we move from the question of how many Gods to the question of how many Persons, we must keep in mind that our subject has not changed. We are still speaking with reference to triune monotheism. We have simply moved from our focus on the monotheism part of the construction to a focus on the triune part.
To put it another way, we are speaking with reference to the fact that God is one God eternally existing in three distinct Persons. In answer to the last question, we focused on the oneness of God. In answer to this question, we shall focus on the tri-unity of the Godhead. The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God.
“Q.1. Whence is it that this article of our holy religion has been much opposed by adversaries, in every period of the church?
A. The devil and his instruments have warmly opposed it, because they know it is the primary object of our faith and worship; it not being enough for us to know what God is, as to his essential attributes, without knowing who he is, as to his personality, according as he has revealed himself in his word, to be Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, 1 John ii. 23, ‘Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father,’” (Westminster Assembly, The Assembly’s Shorter Catechism Explained, pg. 40).
Even to our day, there is no shortage of heretics who deny this essential doctrine of our faith. We need not think long to recall a handful of these groups: Islam, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormonism), The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (Jehovah’s Witnesses), Oneness Pentecostals, Unitarian Universalists, etc. The mere existence of these heretics demands that we study our faith.
Apologetics (the defense of the faith) ought to be an essential motivation for learning the catechism. As we learn the catechism, we are learning the essential elements of the Christian faith and thus tearing down strongholds erected in our own minds against it.
“4For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, 5casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, 6and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled,” (2Cor. 10:4-6; NKJV).
Catechetical instruction (discipleship) is of utmost importance. The lack of it has led to a tremendous deficiency in the church’s ability to defend the faith. For this reason, Jehovah’s Witnesses are notorious for being able to twist Christians in doctrinal pretzels. Jehovah’s Witnesses hold up to four meetings a week in order to indoctrinate their followers in the teachings of the Watchtower. Conversely, imagine if Christian parents committed themselves four or five nights a week to reading the Bible with, and catechizing, their families. Christians would be as immersed in the truth of God as Jehovah’s Witnesses are immersed in the lies of the devil.
The first article of this faith, the foundational principle of the Christian religion, is the triune God of Holy Scripture. God is one God, and He is three Persons. As the Westminster Assembly cited in the above quotation: “Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father; the one who confesses the Son has the Father also,” (1Jn. 2:23; NASB). To deny the deity of the Son of God is to deny God Himself.
There are several passages that demand our affirmation of the triune nature of God.
“22Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son. 23Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father; the one who confesses the Son has the Father also. 24As for you, let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son and in the Father,” (1Jn.2:22-23; NASB).
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ. . . with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth. In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will. . . In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory,” (Eph. 1:3, 10-11, 13-14; NASB).
“for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father,” (Eph. 2:18; NASB).
“14For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, 16that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, 17so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love,” (Eph. 3:14-17; NASB).
“4There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all,” (Eph. 4:4-6; NASB).
The above passages from Ephesians demonstrate what has commonly come to be known as the economic Trinity. When we talk about the economic Trinity, we mean God as He acts with respect to redemption. Insofar as God’s Covenant of Redemption is eternal, it could be said that God’s roles in accomplishing redemption are eternal. That is not, however, to say that God’s eternal roles impact His eternal nature. Regarding His nature, the Catechism affirms that He is “the same in essence, equal in power and glory.”
In regard to God’s acts of redemption, there is a subordination of roles. The Father elects us from eternity past and sends His Son, the Son condescends in time, obeys the Father perfectly, and atones for our sins, the Father and the Son send the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit applies to us the redemption accomplished by Christ. The Baptist Confession explains it in this manner:
“…the Father is of none, neither begotten nor proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father and the Son,” (LBC 2.3).
When we speak of roles within the Trinity, and especially when we speak of these rolls in relation to the fact that human beings are created in His image (Gen. 1:26-27; 2:23; 1Cor. 11:3, 7-11), we must recognize that we are speaking in regard to the economic Trinity, the Godhead in relation to God’s work of redemption, not the ontological Trinity. However, we must simultaneously recognize that, when we speak of the economic Trinity, we are not to divorce the redemptive work of God from His eternality. Though much of God’s work of redemption occurs in time and space, it is rooted in His eternal decree, which we shall consider in our examination of questions 10 and 11.
The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are each fully God in all that entails. Whatsoever we affirm of God in is infinitude, eternality, and immutability is true of the Father. The same is true of the Son, and the same is true of the Holy Spirit. As we affirm the Godhead’s unity of essence, glory, and power, we will guard ourselves from moving from a biblical affirmation of triune monotheism into a heretical affirmation of tri-theism.
Again, affirmation of the triune nature of the Godhead is essential to the Christian faith. It is so essential, in fact, that affirmation of it was included in the earliest recorded baptismal formula. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,” (Mt. 28:19; NASB). The saints followed in the example of our Lord in their adopting of future baptismal formulas, requiring of baptismal candidates that they affirm the redemptive work of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Let us testify, along with the saints throughout all of church history, the triune nature of the God we serve.