4. God's Relationship With Jesus
I would now like to investigate the properties of models. The term model means different things to different people, but the modern scientific method makes extensive use of them. As a result, it is not surprising that the study and analysis of the Bible and God has included the use of models in an attempt to gain further understanding.
Do you think that people believe in a flat earth today? Apart from the flat-earth society, consider the drawing of maps and plans. When you look at a street map, do you consider it to be flat or to be spherical? - most people with consider it to be flat. You might argue that it is a projection of a spherical surface onto a flat plane, but for all practical purposes, that section of the world could be considered to be flat. If you were drawing a map of the local sporting field, for example, the best assumption you could make about the earth is that it is flat, not spherical. What you would be using would be a flat-earth model. You assume that the earth is flat - and it is a convenient thing to do. In this case, the earth is modelled as a flat plane, and that is the most appropriate model for the particular job. Anything else would be unjustifiably complex. In contrast, an alternate model would be a sphere. This is the one that most people would think of if asked directly. This is much more appropriate when considering larger areas of the Earth's surface. The flat-earth model would be an over-simplification if you were attempting to draw a map of all countries. Instead, you have to assume a spherical earth, and make the appropriate projection onto a flat surface for the map.
The point of this example is to show that we generate and use models that are appropriate for given situations. While on the global scale, the flat earth model is not appropriate, it is very convenient for many applications. You cannot rationally explain someone circumnavigating the world under this model, but when you look out the window, you see a flat earth, not a spherical one. Unless it is necessary to do so, you do not want to add the additional complications of the spherical geometry.
The Trinity Model
The Trinity is a model of the relationship between God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. This is not a formal structure that is explained in the Bible by that name. In fact the concept itself is not directly taught in the Bible.
The theological treatment of the trinity in The New Bible Dictionary opens with the following statement, “ The term `Trinity' is not itself found in the Bible. It was first used by Tertullian at the close of the 2nd century, but received wide currency and formal elucidation only in the 4th and 5th centuries. Three affirmations are central to the historic doctrine of the Trinity: 1. there is but one God; 2. the Father, the Son and the Spirit is each fully and eternally God; 3. the Father, the Son, and the Spirit is each a distinct person. Nowhere does the Bible explicitly teach this combination of assertions. It may, nevertheless be claimed that the doctrine of the Trinity is a profoundly appropriate interpretation of the biblical witness to God in the light of the ministry, death and resurrection-exaltation of Jesus - the `Christ event'.”
In essence this description admits and claims that the trinity is indeed a model of God that has been developed to “appropriately” describe the nature of God. The concern is that just like the flat-earth model, it may not always be a valid model, and some versions may be quite inappropriate. In fact, most models of scientific significance only have a limited region of applicability.
Most people recognise that there is no rigorous basis for the Trinity doctrine in the Old Testament. The few passages that are cited have only circumstantial support and fall a long way short of being proof. The lack of Trinity symbolism in the Old Testament lends support to the contrary, and suggests it may not be an appropriate model. The Jewish belief in a single God consisting of a single being testifies to this.
The New Testament, however, offers more support for the Trinity model. This is not surprising, as it was developed to explain sections of the New Testament.
The basic foundation of the Trinity is to explain the divinity of Jesus. Indeed, according to the source quoted above, the best support for, and hence the main need for, the Trinity arises in John 15. In this passage, Jesus revels how the Holy Spirit was to appear after he ascended into heaven,
John 15:26.: " But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me. NKJV
The important aspect of this passage is that it is Jesus who sends the Spirit from the Father. The concern here is that Jesus is somehow Lord over the Father. As a result of this, it is convenient to say that Jesus is part of God, and so it would make sense to say that he would have power over the Father. The Trinity provides a model that allows Jesus to be considered equal with the Father without saying that there is more than one God.
However, in this very aspect where the Trinity shows the best fit to the record in the Bible, it can be shown to be potentially a poor model and misleading.
In John 14, Jesus was preparing his disciples for his death, resurrection and ascention into heaven. At the start of the chapter, he talks of leaving for a time of preparation
John 14:1.: Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. 2. In My Father's house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. 3. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also. NASB
So Jesus was to prepare this dweling place, and then come back again where they could be together. Further down, he assured them of his return
John 14:18. : I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19. After a little while the world will no longer see Me, but you will see Me; because I live, you will live also. 20. In that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you.
It would be a hard time for his disciples, after his departure, so Jesus was anxious to assure them of his return, and the reunion at that time.
In verse 28, Jesus goes a step further to reveal his purpose and destination,
John 14:28.: You heard that I said to you, "I go away, and I will come to you.' If you loved Me, you would have rejoiced because I go to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. NASB
They were to rejoice at the news of him going to the Father and the reason for the rejoicing was that the Father was greater than Jesus himself. This is, of course, is opposed to the intent of the Trinity model in this issue. The need for the trinity was established based on the need for explaining how Jesus could be greater than the Father. But this passage shows that the Father is unquestionably greater. This not only makes the Trinity model unnecessary as an understanding tool, but also misleading.
Clearer Evidence of the Relationship
During the course of his ministry, people often marvelled at the teachings of Jesus, especially given that he was only a carpenter by trade. One occasion is described in John 7,
John 7:14.: Now about the middle of the feast Jesus went up into the temple and taught. 15. And the Jews marveled, saying, "How does this Man know letters, having never studied?" 16. Jesus answered them and said, "My doctrine is not Mine, but His who sent Me. NKJV
Again this is inconsistent with some common views of the Trinity model. Far from exerting lordship over the Father, Jesus did not even claim his doctrine to be his own. If Jesus does not have ownership of his teachings, then it is no longer appropriate to say that Jesus is God. In the analogy above, some aspects of the nature of Jesus don't fit the Trinity model, just as the international date-line doesn't fit the flat-earth model.
In John 5, Jesus says more on the relationship between himself and the Father.
John 5:26.: "For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself, 27. "and has given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man. 28. "Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice 29. "and come forth -- those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation. 30. "I can of Myself do nothing. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me. NKJV
This shows that the Trinity can create more problems in fitting scriptual coherency than it solves. In this passage Jesus claims that he always seeks the will of the Father, rather than his own. So there is quite clearly a God and an ambassador, not two entities within the same God.
The common perception of a God can be misleading, as it can be defined based on what is unknown. As a result a paradox is formed when evidence for the existence of a God is sought. This is likely to put God in opposition to science, wheras from the Bible God is the creator of science. The Bible makes the claim that there is only the one true God, and further to this it shows that that God is specific about how he is to be worshipped. In particular, the golden calf episode from Exodus is condemned as idolatry even though the people thought they were worshipping the true God that had brought them out of Egypt. This brings into question the use of models to describe the nature of God. The widely used Trinity model fits well with some parts of scripture, but can fail to be coherent with the whole of the Bible. As a result, there is the danger that the God of the Bible would consider some Trinity-style models to be an idol, and in the same class as a golden calf.