by Pastor Jim Jester
February 4, 2024
SCRIPTURE READING: Colossians 1:15-18
“Christ is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: 16 For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: 17 And he is before all things, and by him all things consist. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.”
The epistle of Paul to the Colossians was written primarily to deal with the doctrinal heresy reported by Epaphras. The strange doctrine is not described directly, but we can infer its nature from what Paul says. It was a mixture of Judaism and some early form of Gnosticism which taught that Jesus was superhuman, but not truly God. He was greater than mankind, but not great enough to be the Savior. Thus those who believe in Christ must also go through angels to get to deeper levels of spirituality.
Epaphras was the minister of the church in Colosse, and had come to Paul while he was in Rome in prison and had related unto Paul some of the dangerous heresies that had begun to be spread there in Colosse. And so, Paul is writing the epistle to correct these heresies that were becoming popularized in that community. One of the heresies was that of Gnosticism, which denies the deity of Jesus Christ. Another heresy was that of Judaism, which of course was the mixture of works along with faith for salvation. The letter was written at the same time (64 A.D.) he wrote his letter to the Ephesians and was carried by the same messenger, Tychicus, during Paul ’s first imprisonment. (Smith’s Bible Dictionary)
In response, Paul wrote that Christ is “all and in all” (Col. 3:11). He is all we need, and He is our only hope of salvation. The apostle does not directly argue with the Colossians about their false doctrines. Rather, he builds a positive case for the Christian truth in order to show them the futility of their ideas.
In the Scripture reading we find that Paul says things of Jesus the Christ that are usually said to be attributes of Father God (Yahweh). This often brings up the topic of what is usually called the Trinity. We all were taught this doctrine if we were brought up in church; that it is a word to describe the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. That is harmless enough and nothing wrong about it. But there is a problem when these three personalities are “three Gods in one” as most of churchianity believes.
There are three verses in the KJV New Testament (almost exclusively) that use the word “Godhead,” which I believe is wrong and comes from Catholic influence, where they can insert either of the three persons of God into the framework of their Godhead. However, the meaning of the Greek word “theotes” (θεότης) used here, simply means “Deity,” the state of being, or what comes from God. Thus, in Colossians 2:9, RSV, “For in him [Christ]the whole fulness of deity[not Godhead] dwells bodily.” The term “Head” (as in Godhead) implies a superior position, or hierarchy. If all persons of the Trinity are equally God, there can be no hierarchy. “Hear, O Israel, The Lord our God is one Lord.” (Deut. 6:4) Thus, the Father, the Son, and the Spirit are all One and the same with the Almighty God of the Old Testament. The Holy Spirit is also called the “Spirit of Christ” or the “Mind of Christ” in the Anointed Standard Translation. They are all manifestations of the One God of Israel.
Paul attested in Ephesians, “There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; 5 One Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.” (Eph. 4:4-6) If there is one Spirit then the “Spirit of the Lord” is the Holy Spirit, and if there is one Lord then Christ is God, the same Lord of both Old and New Testaments.
So, I do not consider myself a trinitarian, although I respect the term “Trinity” if it is defined properly. Therefore, “three persons of God” is wrong, but “three manifestations of God” is correct. In like manner, God manifested himself in the Old Testament as a “burning bush,” a “pillar of fire” and a “pillar of cloud,” etc. The term itself is not so important as the definition. No need to fuss over a term just because others use it incorrectly.
The doctrine of the Trinity may have its problems but it is not a dangerous doctrine like certain other beliefs are. It certainly is not a threat to anyone’s salvation in Christ. It is quite innocuous, and has been a part of Christianity for over a thousand years.
By the fourth century A.D., the controversy between the Trinitarians and the believers in One God, led by Arius, became quite bitter. Arius did not believe in One God in the same manner as the Christians, since he did not consider Christ to be God. Arianism held that Christ was distinct and subordinate to the Father. In an attempt to resolve the conflict, Emperor Constantine called the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D. and commanded the divided church to settle its controversy. At this council, the Trinitarians outnumbered the Arians, so on a numerical vote, the doctrine of the Trinity was adopted by the established church.
The term ‘Trinity ’ dates from the second century, being found in Greek in Theophilus of Antioch (A.D. 181); and the actual Latin word, from which we derive our English term, in Tertullian (A.D. 200). Its use is sometimes criticised because it is not found in the Bible, but this is no valid objection to it. Like other words,e.g. ‘Incarnation, ’ it expresses in technical language the truth about the Godhead which is found implicitly in the N.T. The real question is whether it is true, and whether it is fairly expressive of Bible truth. It is intended to express that real and essential unity of the Godhead which is at the root of the distinctions of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The term ‘Person‘is also sometimes objected to. Like all human language, it is liable to be accused of inadequacy and even positive error. It certainly must not be pressed too far, or it will lead to Tritheism. While we use the term to denote distinctions in the Godhead, we do not imply distinctions which amount to separateness, but distinctions which are associated with essential mutual co-inherence. (Hastings Dictionary)
Thus the Trinity concept has been with us ever since, and was retained even after the Reformation. Evidently, the Reformers saw some value in it.
“The Trinity in the Universe” (from Nathan R. Wood). Notice the Threes:
- Space: Length, Breadth, Height — a Universe of space.
- Matter: Energy, Motion, Phenomena — a Universe of matter.
- Time: Past, Present, Future — a Universe of time.
These are basic to the structure of the Universe. Is it a coincidence that there are 3 characteristics to all we know; and further, is it a coincidence that there are 3 laws that define each characteristic? I don’t think so.
Is there any other basic element in the physical universe, which is not resolved into one or all of this trinity of space, matter and time? No. We know of no other. All can agree upon this.
Is there anything that these three — space, matter and time — have in common? Is there anything of a universal structure in all three? There is one thing which these basic realities have in common. It is that each one of these elements of the physical universe is threefold:
- It is length, breadth and height, in one Space.
- It is energy, motion, and phenomena, in one Substance.
- It is past, present and future, in one Time.
That is truly a vast coincidence!
As a space universe, as a substance universe, and as a time universe, it is, in each case, three things in one. This is at once the most obvious and the most striking thing about this structure of space, matter and time. Different as these three elements are, they have this in common: each is three things in one. So why is the physical universe three things in one?
Where is the answer? How far does this triune coincidence extend? Does it include man, who is a vital part of the universe? Does it include God, who is the ground of the universe? How far does this coincidence, found in the threefold structure of space, the threefold fabric of matter, and the threefold existence of time extend? It extends as far as God does.
There is a striking answer: The greatest religion in the world presents God also as being threefold. In the word “universe,” uni means one and versus means turned — thus, “combined into one, whole.” While the universe is one in itself, it is actually a tri-universe. The entire triune universe, a vast ascending merging of space, matter, time and mortal existence, surrounds us and demands that its Cause and Original should be a Triunity in God.
When we look at the universe and say “There must be a God,” we do not mean that God had to exist because of the universe. We mean that we must recognize that there is a God, because we see the universe.
So when we look at this tri-universe and say, “God must be Triune,” we do not mean that He is, or had to be, Triune because the universe and mankind are triune. We mean that we must recognize that He is Triune, as the New Testament reveals, because we see that His universe, which reflects Him, and man who reflects Him, are both triune.
You do not exist because of your image in the mirror. But your image in the mirror is overwhelming evidence of your existence and your appearance.
The Trinity seems to be presented everywhere as a fact. It comes to us above all in Jesus Christ, in both what He says and does. It shows itself in all that He tells of himself, of the Father, and of the Spirit.
Scripture proves the co-equal Deity of Jesus Christ with the Eternal Father:
- By a comparison of the attributes, the majesty, and the claims of the Father and Son;
- By the appearances of God to the Old Testament saints;
- By the direct and Divine worship paid to the Christ;
- By the conjunction of the Father and Son in Divine offices;
- By explicit assertions that Christ is God.
And here we would apply that great principle of heavenly scholarship, “the comparing spiritual things with spiritual.” For just as in algebra, from the combination of two known quantities the unknown is found out; as in trigonometry, if out of the six parts of a triangle any three, one being a side, are given, the others are discoverable, from which simple law have resulted all the triumphs of astronomy; so, in searching the Scriptures, those students, who prayerfully compare and combine them, shall know “the things that are freely given to us of God.” (I Cor. 2:12-13)
Here, side by side we make this brief comparison of the attributes, majesty and claims of the Father and the Son:
Our Father which art in heaven
The Son of man in heaven. (Jn 3:13)
Hallowed be thy name
The name of our Lord Jesus. (2 Thes 1:12)
Thy kingdom come
The everlasting kingdom of our Lord Jesus. (2 Pet 1:11)
Thy will be done in earth
Ye serve the Lord Christ. (Col 3:24)
As it is in heaven
Jesus Christ gone into heaven. (1 Pet 3:22)
Give us this day our daily bread
He shall feed his flock. (Isa 11:11)
Forgive us our debts
Forgiving one another. (Col 3:13)
And lead us not into temptation
He leadeth them out. (Jn 10:3)
But deliver us from evil
Jesus Christ who gave himself …deliver us from this present evil world. (Gal 1:4)
For thine is the kingdom
He shall reign forever. (Rev 11:15)
And the power and glory for ever
To Him be glory and dominion for ever. (Matt 6:9-13)
Amen. (Rev 1:6)
This is but a minuscule of the Scriptures that we could compare this way.
“Scripture asserts that the Son, equally with the Father, is the first and the last; is omnipresent, immutable, almighty; is incomprehensible, absolutely holy, indefectible; is the Creator, Preserver, and Governor of all things in heaven and earth; is the Searcher of all hearts, the final Judge, and the Awarder of everlasting life and death. Now One, possessing such properties and fulfilling such offices, must needs be God. But there are not two Gods. Therefore, the Son is one with God, and is God.” (The Trinity, Edward Bickersteth, p 51)
Who knows? Maybe if Arius had known more about the tri-universe, he would have changed his mind about the Deity of Jesus the Christ.
OVERVIEW OF COLOSSIANS
“And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.”(Col. 1:18)
The word for “preeminence” is the Greek, prōteuō. Strong’s definition: “To be first, in rank or influence.” So what does Paul, in his letter to the Colossians, say concerning the things that Christ is first in rank over? We shall list those things.
- In government: Christ is the visible image of God (1:15); He is the agent of creation (1:16); He is the Sustainer (1:17); He is the Head of the church (1:18). Did you notice where Paul starts here? He starts at the top — government — and then works his way down. Hasn’t the Christ been kicked out of America? No wonder we are in such a mess!
- In reconciliation: Christ pleases the Father (1:19-20); “For in him all the fulness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” He reconciles us through His death (1:21-22); “And you, who once were estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death…” He lives in us: Our hope of glory (1:27); “To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”
- In wisdom: Christ is the source of all treasures (2:2-3), “That their hearts may be encouraged as they are knit together in love, to have all the riches of assured understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, of Christ, 3 in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” Worldly philosophy does not conform to Him (2:8); “See to it that no one makes a prey of you by philosophy and empty deceit…”
- In religious observance: Christ has made us alive in Him (2:11-13); “In him also [something added] you were circumcised with a circumcision [spiritual] made without hands, by putting off [cutting off]the body of flesh [inward sin ]in the circumcision of Christ; [Note: Doctrinally, this is what we call Sanctification, which was brought forward in the last sermon.] 12 and you were buried with him in baptism [of death], in which you were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 And you, who were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him…” There is no need for legalism or ritualism any longer (e.g. 2:16-23).
- In Christian living: Christ is our life (3:3); “For you have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God.” And this continues the thought from the point above. Because of this new life in Christ we are able to “put off the old man” and avoid wrongdoing. Then in turn, we can be a blessing to others (3:12-14); “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience, 13 forbearing one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”
Having spoken of our redemption, the apostle, in terms of highest significance, dwells upon the dignity and supremacy of the Redeemer.
Remember, the Gnostics with their heresy was creeping into Colosse and were denying the deity of Jesus. So Paul now stresses the preeminence of our Lord.
DEITY OF CHRIST
Jesus the Christ holds the highest rank in the universe; he is pre-eminent above all others; he is at the head of all things. “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.” (Col. 1:15, NKJV) The expression here does not mean that He was “begotten before all creatures,” as it is often explained (and expressed in KJV), but refers to the simple fact that he sustains the highest rank over the creation. Jesus is not a part of the creation, but the relation of the creation to Him is determined by the fact that He is the “firstborn of all creation” (RSV); just as the firstborn son has primogeniture over the entire family. As the Son of God he is heir of all things. Without Him creation could not exist.
“For in him the whole fulness of deity dwells bodily.” (Col. 2:9, RSV) Jesus Christ is “the very image” (Heb. 1:3) of God, and He is able to say, “He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father.” (Jn. 14:9)
John 1:18, RSV, “No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known.”
How can anyone deny the deity of Jesus the Christ? I’m sure those who do have their reasons and explanations. Perhaps some of their reasons are as fickle and arbitrary as not wanting to be like establishment Christianity or judeo-Christians in any way whatsoever. But that is not a good reason. I cannot find a reason why the doctrine of the Trinity and deity of Christ would be a harmful concept in any way. I cannot imagine a church without the Godhood of Jesus Christ, for the first thing they would have to do is create their own special Bible translation; then throw out all of their hymn books from the pews; for most all of them grant Him worship.
A VERSE NOT THERE
In the book of First John there are added phrases that don’t appear in certain Greek manuscripts.
“For there are three that bear witness in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one. 8 And there are three that bear witness on earth: the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and these three agree as one.” (I Jn. 5:7-8, NKJV)
From my Bible notes: “Most scholars agree that the words beginning with in heaven (v. 7) and continuing through on earth (v. 8) were not in the original manuscript (only 4 or 5 very late mss. contain these words in Greek). The water and the blood have the same meaning as in verse 6.” (The Wesley Bible, NKJV, 1990)
Jesus’ baptism and death are witnesses to His being clothed in flesh in order to die for Israel. The Spirit attested to His baptism by John and spoke from heaven, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” (Matt. 3:17) Furthermore, His blood was proof of His death. This is all the passage is saying, and should be rendered, “For there are three that bear witness: the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and these three agree as one.”
This passage is not a Trinity of Godhood; but it appears that someone wanted a Trinity inserted here. This verse simply is a witness to the Deity of Jesus the Christ.
I thought it appropriate to conclude with this from Smith’s Bible Dictionary:
Genesis one tells us, “In the beginning, God created…” The word “God” there in Hebrew is Elohiym, which is plural. The Hebrew singular for God is El. The dual tense is Eloi. “In the beginning God,” Elohiym plural, I believe, is a hint of the Trinity, right there in the very first verse of the Bible; the fact that they would use the word “God” in a plural form.
And when it came to man and God said, “Let us make man in our likeness and after ourimage” (Gen. 1:26), not, “I will make man after My likeness, after My image.” But “Let us,” in the divine counsels of the Father, Son and the Spirit, man was created in the likeness and the image of God. So in John, chapter one, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God, and the same was in the beginning with God. And all things were made by Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made” (Jn. 1:3). Jesus, the active agent in creation, “For by Him were all things created.” The “all things,” means just that, to be taken literally for things that are in heaven and things that are in the earth, the whole universe, created by Him. Things that are visible and things that are invisible. So, the visible material universe that you can see, plus the invisible universe that you don ’t see: the spirit beings, the angels, the various rankings and orders of spirit beings, here referred to as “thrones or dominions or principalities or powers” (v. 16). All things were made by Him and for Him. So, not only is He the creator, but here, He is the object of creation. They were made by Him: All of the universe, all of the things within the universe, were made for Him, and that includes you. (Smith’s Bible Dictionary)
And so, this brings us to our final verse, from Timothy:
“By common confession, the secret of our godly worship is great: In flesh was he revealed to sight, kept righteous by the Spirit’s might, adored by angels singing. To nations was he manifest, believing souls found peace and rest, our Lord in heaven reigning!” (I Tim. 3:16, ISV)