The Trinity in the Book of Hebrews

by Luke Wayne
5/4/17

The doctrine of the Trinity is the historic Christian teaching that there is only one God and that the one God has eternally existed in three distinct persons; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. While there are a variety of texts that point to this truth in many different ways, on its most basic level the claim is derived from three basic biblical principles:

  1. The Bible clearly establishes that there is one and only one God, YHWH (variously rendered as "Yahweh," "Jehovah," or "the LORD.")
  2. The Bible speaks of three distinct and interactive divine persons; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit
  3. The Bible identifies each of these persons as YHWH.

While this case is best made by taking the Bible as a whole and looking at all that it says (which is what Christians have always done), it is striking that the Book of Hebrews alone affirms all the essential points of this doctrine.

Only One God

While it would be fair to assume up front that the author of this letter upholds the exclusive monotheism of the Hebrew Scriptures, the text does not leave it up to mere assumption. The author warns, for example, to:

"Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God," (Hebrews 3:12).

He does not speak of a living God, but rather of the living God. There is only one living God. All other supposed gods are lifeless facades. Even clearer, he goes on to write:

"For when God made the promise to Abraham, since He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself, saying, 'I will surely bless you and I will surely multiply you.' And so, having patiently waited, he obtained the promise. For men swear by one greater than themselves, and with them an oath given as confirmation is an end of every dispute. In the same way God, desiring even more to show to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of His purpose, interposed with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us," (Hebrews 6:13-18).

Passages such us this make clear the utterly unique character of the God of Abraham. There is nothing equal to or greater than Him, and He is eternal and unchanging. The author also proclaims God to be the sole creator in phrases like "the builder of all things is God," (Hebrews 3:4). By these and other statements, it is clear that (as we ought to expect) the author of the Book of Hebrews believes that the God of the Hebrews is the one and only God.

YHWH and the Three Divine Persons

Taking, then, as our starting point that there is only one God, and specifically that He is YHWH, the God of Abraham and unchanging creator of the world, let's take a look at what the Book of Hebrews has to say about the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The Father

It is generally uncontroversial to say that the Father is YHWH, God Almighty. This is usually taken as a given. However, it is worth noting that the Book of Hebrews applies the Old Testament in a manner that makes this explicitly clear. For example, in showing the superiority of the Son over the angels, the author points out:

"But to which of the angels has He ever said, 'Sit at My right hand, until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet'?" (Hebrews 1:13).

And again later on in the book:

"but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time onward until His enemies be made a footstool for His feet. For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified," (Hebrews 10:12-14).

These passages are applying Psalm 110:1

"The LORD says to my Lord: Sit at My right hand Until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet.”

The all-caps "LORD" in this verse is the name YHWH. Such uses clearly show that it was YHWH who said these things to our Lord, the Son. The Book of Hebrews also applies a later verse in the same Psalm:

"The LORD has sworn and will not change His mind, 'You are a priest forever According to the order of Melchizedek,'” (Psalm 110:4, see Hebrews 5:6, 7:17).

The implication is the same. The Son received this promise from YHWH who sent Him. The Father is YHWH.

The Son

The Son is also identified both as God and specifically as YHWH through the Old Testament passages applied to Him. For example, the author writes:

"But of the Son He says, 'Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, And the righteous scepter is the scepter of His kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness; Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You With the oil of gladness above Your companions,' And, 'You, Lord, in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the works of Your hands; They will perish, but You remain; And they all will become old like a garment, and like a mantle You will roll them up; Like a garment they will also be changed. But You are the same, and Your years will not come to an end,” (Hebrew 1:8-12).

The phrase "your throne, O God," is a direct address to the Son. Even more significantly, the author says that the verse "You, Lord, in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the works of Your hands..." is talking about the Son. While the Greek here simply contains the word "kurios" or "Lord/Master," the quote is from Psalm 102, and "the LORD" in this passage is unquestionably YHWH. Though the author of the Book of Hebrews is quoting from the Septuagint (the ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures), in the original Hebrew the name YHWH is used throughout the Psalm rather than the title "Lord." This Psalm about YHWH as creator is claimed here to be about the Son. The Son, therefore, is YHWH.

The Son, however, is clearly distinguished from the Father by phrases like "God, your God" and by the other passages cited above. The Son is not the Father and the Father is not the Son, yet both are the one and only YHWH. Indeed, the book opens by testifying that the Son created the world and upholds all things by His power:

"God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high," (Hebrews 1:1-3).

Interestingly, the Son is the creator and sustainer of all things, which can only be said of God, but the Son is also sent by God. We have both a unity and a distinction. Similarly, the author later writes:

"Jesus has been found worthy of greater honor than Moses, just as the builder of a house has greater honor than the house itself. For every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything. 'Moses was faithful as a servant in all God’s house,' bearing witness to what would be spoken by God in the future. But Christ is faithful as the Son over God’s house. And we are his house, if indeed we hold firmly to our confidence and the hope in which we glory," (Hebrews 3:3-6).

The difference between Jesus and Moses as not merely one of degree. Jesus is greater than Moses as the one who built the house is greater than the house. God is the builder; we are the house. Moses is high and lofty, but he is still in the category of "the house." He is a thing that was made. Jesus is not in that category. The Son is in the category of the maker, not in the category of things made. The Son is Creator, not creation. The Son is God, but is also in eternal fellowship with God. In His very being, He is what God is and is not a part of what God made, yet the Son does not exhaust all that God is. The Son and His Father are distinct persons but are both the one true God, YHWH.

The Spirit

Finally, the Spirit also speaks as YHWH. For example, the author writes:

"Therefore, just as the Holy Spirit says, 'Today if you hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts as when they provoked Me, As in the day of trial in the wilderness, Where your fathers tried Me by testing Me, And saw My works for forty years. Therefore I was angry with this generation, And said, ‘They always go astray in their heart, And they did not know My ways’; As I swore in My wrath, ‘They shall not enter My rest,’” (Hebrews 3:7-11).

The Book of Hebrews takes the very words of YHWH and quotes them by saying, "The Holy Spirit says..." He doesn't say that God says through the Holy Spirit. He does not claim that the Lord utilized the means of His Spirit to reveal these words. He says that the Holy Spirit said those words which are plainly the words of YHWH. This occurs again later in the book:

"And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us; for after saying, 'This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws upon their heart, And on their mind I will write them,' He then says, "and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more,'” (Hebrews 10:15-16).

Such passages not only equate the Holy Spirit with YHWH, but they do so in a way which shows the Holy Spirit as personal and interactive. The Holy Spirit is not an abstract aspect of YHWH's nature. He speaks, testifies, displays anger and wrath, makes covenants with people, and forgives sins. The Holy Spirit is a divine person. He is YHWH. Yet, again, He is not the Father or the Son. Each of the divine persons is distinct from and interacts with the others, as we elsewhere read:

"How much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? " (Hebrews 9:14).

Here we see the beautiful interaction of Father, Son, and Spirit in the divine work of redemption. YHWH, the one true God, is a Trinity, and His gospel is a Trinitarian message. One God in three persons carrying out the redemption of sinners to His own eternal glory.

 

Inside the Bible

Jesus said
John 14:9, "Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?"

John 15:26, "When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify about Me."

Matthew 28:19, "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,"

Paul said
Colossians 2:8-9, "See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form."

2 Corinthians 3:17, "Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty."

2 Corinthians 13:14, "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all."

 

Inside CARM

What is the Trinity?
The word "trinity" is a term used to denote the Christian doctrine that God exists as a unity of three distinct persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Each of the persons is distinct from the other yet identical in essence.  In other words, each is fully divine in nature, but each is not the totality of the other persons of the Trinity.

Is Jesus God?
Yes, Jesus is God, but the answer needs to be expounded upon. When we say that Jesus is God we're using the term "God" in reference to the divine nature. But we have to be careful because we don't want to say Jesus is God and fail to understand that God is a Trinity. The Christian doctrine of the Trinity is that God exists as three distinct persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.