How do you think of God? As a Trinity? Do you think what you believe about God would agree with what Jesus’ disciples believed and taught about God?
For centuries after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, theologians, priests and bishops debated the most fundamental questions about the nature of God the Father, God the Son and the Holy Spirit.
What? These things had to be debated? Didn’t the apostles know what God was like and teach others about God? Why weren’t these things known from the earliest times?
What has come down to us today is the result of numerous church councils held by men over hundreds of years. But would the apostles of God, who walked and talked with Jesus personally, recognize the “God” described by later church councils?
Let’s look at the writings of the apostles and understand what they themselves believed about the nature of God and the Godhead.
When the apostles wrote about the Godhead, did they describe it in terms of a trinity? It is clear from their words that the Godhead consisted of God the Father and God the Son. Both were members of the Godhead; and they understood the Father to be the Supreme Head, with authority even over the Son, though they were united and in agreement in every way in mind and purpose. The Holy Spirit, however, is not mentioned by the apostles as a member of the Godhead.
The term Godhead is only used three times in the Authorized Version of the Bible—the King James Version.
- In Acts 17:29 Paul used theios (Godhead) when speaking about the true God to the men of Athens. From the Online Bible Greek Lexicon, theios is described as “a general name of deities or divinities as used by the Greeks.” Paul related his message to his audience (1 Corinthians 9:22) choosing a word familiar to the Greeks and used in relation to their own gods. But he revealed significant truths about the Godhead different from the pagan idols worshipped there—that He is Spirit and He doesn’t dwell in manmade temples; He is the creator of all things, the giver of life, supreme, with power over death, and that He will judge the world (Acts 17:24-31). Paul described God’s nature (spirit), His divine attributes, power and authority.
- In Romans 1:20 Paul used the word theiotes, describing attributes of God’s divinity that are known through His creation. His eternal power is evident.
- In Colossians 2:9 Paul uses theotes to refer to the essential nature of the Godhead—the deity of God—when speaking of Christ: “For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily [marginal note, “in bodily form”].” It is clear that Paul believed that Jesus Christ was a member of the Godhead, but in what way?
“For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as there are many gods and many lords), yet for us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we live.”
In this passage Paul refers to God the Father as the one God. What did he mean by that phrase? Did the apostles believe that there was literally only one member of the Godhead? This was the view of the Jews, and it is also the view of Muslims today. Or did they view the Father as the Supreme Head of the God family and Jesus as a member of the one divine God family as well? We need to let the Scriptures explain this.
The Word who became flesh—a member of the God family
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. … And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”
The apostle John clearly said that the Word was God. The Word was the member of the God family who was conceived in the womb of Mary and was born as a human child to become the flesh and blood man, Jesus Christ (Luke 1:31-35; John 1:14). John also explained that the Word who was God had been with God—God Most High—from the very beginning. Finally, John also clearly said that all things were made through the Word. The Word who became flesh was the member of the God family who did the actual work of the creation of all things (John 1:10).
The truth that the Word—who became the man Jesus Christ—was the One who created all things is an important truth that the early Church understood. The apostles understood that God the Father was the Supreme Head of the God family, and they referred to Him as the “one God.” However, they knew that the Word—Jesus the Christ—was a member of the Godhead as well.
God Most High had given the command to create, and the Word carried out that command.
Paul said in Ephesians 3:9: “And to make all see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ.”
In Hebrews 1:5, 8 God Himself said this about His firstborn Son:
“For to which of the angels did He ever say: ‘You are My Son, today I have begotten You’? … But to the Son He says: ‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, a scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your kingdom.’”
The Father Himself clearly emphasized the truth that His firstborn Son is a member of the Godhead—the God family. There can be no doubt of this!
God our Savior
The Word was the member of the God family who emptied Himself of His divinity to become the man Jesus Christ, who died for our sins. Paul records this profound truth in Philippians 2:5-8 from the Revised Standard Version:
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto the death, even death on a cross.”
The point is clear: Although the apostles and early Church referred to God the Father as the one God, they understood that Jesus was also a member of the Godhead—the God family. They understood there to be two members of the Godhead. This truth is repeated and made very clear numerous times in Scripture.
But were there three members of the Godhead? The apostles never wrote so.
The apostles’ greetings and references to the Father and the Son
The apostles’ belief that the Godhead had two members is evident in the way they addressed their letters to the churches. The Holy Spirit is seldom referred to except as the instrumentality or power by which God the Father or the Son accomplish Their work.
Paul’s standard greeting is found in most of his letters—1 Corinthians 1:3; 2 Corinthians 1:2; Galatians 1:3; Ephesians 1:2; Philippians 1:2; Colossians 1:2; 1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:2; and Philemon 1:3 all begin with the same salutation:
“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
In 1 Timothy 1:2 he writes: “To Timothy, a true son in the faith: Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and Jesus Christ our Lord.”
In 2 Timothy 1:2 we read: “To Timothy, a beloved son: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.”
In Titus 1:4: “To Titus, a true son in our common faith: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ our Savior.”
In all of these greetings we see that Paul only makes reference to the Father and the Son, who is known as the Lord (Master) Jesus Christ. He never refers to the Holy Spirit, which would be expected if the Holy Spirit were indeed a coequal, cosubstantial third member of a trinity. Would the apostle Paul have allowed such a slight to dishonor a member of the Godhead?
Paul was not the only apostle to omit mention of the Holy Spirit when referring to the Godhead. The letters of each of the other apostles continued this understanding.
James, the brother of Jesus Christ, states in James 1:1: “James, a bondservant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad: Greetings.”
The apostle Peter writes in 1 Peter 1:3: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”
And in 2 Peter 1:2-3: “Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness.”
John wrote in 1 John 1:3: “That which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.”
Also, in 2 John 1:3: “Grace, mercy, and peace will be with you from God the Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love.”
Then there is Jude 1:1-2: “Jude, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James, to those who are called, sanctified by God the Father, and preserved in Jesus Christ: Mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you.”
In 1 John 2:21-23 we have a passage written by the apostle John under God’s inspiration that emphasizes the family relationship of the two members of the God family. “I have not written to you because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and that no lie is of the truth. Who is a liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist who denies the Father and the Son. Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father either; he who acknowledges the Son has the Father also.”
The relationship in the Godhead is one of family—the Father and the Son. God is spirit, and the Holy Spirit is the power of God, the agency by which God works in man’s life, dwells within us, and sustains the creation. We must have and be led by the Spirit of God in us or we are not His (Romans 8:9). But the apostles never understood the Holy Spirit to be a separate being or personality within a trinitarian Godhead!
Children of God
Incredibly, God’s plan for humanity is to add more sons and daughters to His family. We read in 2 Corinthians 6:17-18: “‘Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you.’ ‘I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the LORD Almighty.’”
This is not just figurative language! Read elsewhere on this site about the amazing plan God has for you, about what it truly means to become a son or daughter of God, what the promise of the resurrection really is, and how you can inherit all things as a son of God (Revelation 21:7) in His Kingdom.
Of course, humans will never be equal to the eternal, all-powerful, creator God, but our potential as a child in His family is far more than just floating on clouds plucking harps. Have you ever really studied what the Bible says about the “children of God”?
When Paul said in 1 Corinthians 8:6, “Yet for us there is one God,” he did not say that there was only one member of the God family. The apostles believed that the Word who became Jesus Christ was also a member of the God family. The Word was God. They understood that the Word was the One through whom God Most High created all things. The apostles viewed the Godhead as a family relationship—God the Father and God the Son.
And God wants you to know Him as a Father, in a deep, personal relationship (Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6) and to know Jesus Christ as your Savior, elder Brother and friend (John 15:15). Get to know God just as the apostles did!
For more study on this topic, see the articles in the section: “Who Is God?”
Another resource that can be helpful is “Knowing God,” our free seven-day Journey. Let us be your guide as you spend a week discovering who God is and what He has in store for you—in this life and the next.