The term "Godhead" (actually an archaic spelling for "Godhood") refers to the concept that God exists in the form of Three Persons. Another expression for this concept is the word "Trinity." Our English word "Trinity" comes from the Latin word for "three."
Never Taught Explicitly in the Bible
While many Christians believe in the concept of the Godhead or the Trinity, the honest student of the Bible must confess that this doctrine is not explicitly or expressly taught anywhere in the Scriptures. No biblical writer ever discusses it, and no biblical passage ever uses the terms "Godhead" or "Trinity" in referring to the nature of God. In fact, neither term is ever used anywhere in the Bible.
The Term "Godhead"
Now the term "Godhead" does actually appear three times in the old English translation of the Bible known as the "King James Version" or "Authorized Version" of 1611. In the King James Version at Acts 17:29, the Apostle Paul stands before the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers there in Athens and declares: "Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man's device." And again in Romans 1:20, the same inspired writer assures his Roman readers: "For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse." And finally in Colossians 2:9 as it is rendered in the old, venerable King James Version, Paul, in writing about the "Christ" (vs. 8), emphatically affirms: "For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily."
But contrary to the wording of the King James Version, none of these passages is actually talking about the "Godhead" or the "Trinity" as a reference to the Tripartite Nature of God. Since the New Testament portion of the Bible was originally inspired and written in the ancient Greek language, anyone wanting to know precisely the meaning of a biblical term or phrase in this portion of the Bible must consider carefully what the Greek really means. And in none of these three passages does the Greek actually refer to the "Godhead" or the "Trinity" as the Tripartite Nature of God. Instead these Greek words are referring to the concept of "deity," or the "divinity," or the "divine nature" of God.
Now it is true that in each of these three passages, Paul uses a different Greek word. But in each instance, the Greek word that Paul uses merely refers to the "divine nature" or "divinity" of God. In none of these three passages does Paul actually affirm that God has a tripartite nature. Instead, each of these three Greek words is related to the other two, just as in English "divine nature" is related etymologically to "divinity." But none of them refers to the concept of the "Godhead" or the "Trinity."
For this reason, more modern English translations of the Bible use terms like "Deity" (Revised Standard Version, first published in 1946) or "Divine Nature" (New American Standard Bible, first published in 1963, and the New King James Version, first published in 1979) instead of "Godhead" in their wording of Acts 17:29, Romans 1:20, and Colossians 2:9. So the term "Godhead" is only found in older translations of the Bible like the King James Version. But in actuality, the term never really occurs in the Bible.
The Term "Trinity"
Likewise, the term "Trinity" never occurs in the Bible. The English term "Trinity" comes from Latin and is derived from the Latin adjective trini meaning "three" or "threefold." The word "Trinity" as used of God was forged in the heat of the many controversies surrounding the nature of Christ that sprang up when the Roman Empire officially stopped persecuting Christians in A.D. 313. There were, unfortunately, differences in beliefs among Christians before this date, but the threat of persecution kept these differences in check. As long as the Roman Empire was persecuting Christians, Christians were less inclined to fight among themselves.
But peace and prosperity finally came to the church with Constantine, the first "Christian" emperor of Rome. In time Constantine made Christianity the state religion of the empire. With no more enemies from without to hold it together, Christianity began to break apart from the internal fissures created by the Christians themselves due to their differences over the nature of Christ and His relationship to God.
In an effort to restore peace within the church, the emperor began the practice of holding a general church council and inviting representatives from every segment of the empire. He pressured all of the participants to agree on a "creed" or official statement of their beliefs. But such creeds only served to deepen the lines of division, thus calling forth another council. In the many ecumenical church councils that followed, the term "Trinity" became an important word for those who claimed to represent the orthodox position of the Bible. God, they explained, exists in three distinct persons.
Thus, the terms "Godhead" and "Trinity" are never actually found in the Bible. They came to be used by Christians in an effort to formulate their own understandings of the biblical concept of God. But the Bible never explicitly teaches a doctrine of the Godhead or the Trinity.
But Is the Godhead Taught Implicitly in the Bible?
Since the terms "Godhead" and "Trinity" are not found in the Bible, many modern scholars have concluded that it is a doctrine not found in the Bible. For example, in The New Encyclopedia Britannica, one can read:
Neither the word Trinity nor the explicit doctrine appears in the New Testament, nor did Jesus and his followers intend to contradict the Shema in the Old Testament: "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord" (Deuteronomy 6:4).
The doctrine developed gradually over several centuries and through many controversies. . . . by the end of the 4th century . . . the doctrine of the Trinity took substantially the form it has maintained ever since [Micropedia, vol. 11 (1991), p. 928].
One can find a similar statement in The Encyclopedia Americana that seems to go even further in denying that the doctrine of the Trinity is taught in the Bible:
Christianity derived from Judaism and Judaism was strictly Unitarian [believing that God is one person]. The road which led from Jerusalem to Nicea was scarcely a straight one. Fourth century Trinitarianism did not reflect accurately early Christian teaching regarding the nature of God; it was, on the contrary, a deviation from this teaching [vol. 27 (1956), p. 294L].
More startling is this statement from Yale University professor E. Washburn Hopkins:
To Jesus and Paul the doctrine of the trinity was apparently unknown; at any rate, they say nothing about it [Origin and Evolution of Religion (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1923), p. 336].
Perhaps Paul did not fully understand everything that he wrote by inspiration. But even Jesus did not know about the doctrine of the Trinity? Such statements like this one deny the divinity of Christ. He Who knew the very thoughts of every man (Mark 2:8; John 2:24-25) also knew where He came from and Who He was (John 17:5). Surely Jesus Himself knew whether there was a Trinity or not!
Many liberal theologians and scholars today with a low opinion of the Bible and its divine origin believe that the church of the fourth century invented the doctrine of the Trinity. But the early church did not create this doctrine. We must be careful to distinguish between the creation of a doctrine and the recognition of a doctrine. And we must also be careful to distinguish between that which is explicitly taught in Scripture and that which is implicitly taught in Scripture.
That Which Is Implied Is Also True
Even Jesus Himself was careful to recognize that whatever is implied in Scripture is just as true as that which is expressly stated. For example, in His debate with the Sadducees on the Tuesday before His death, Jesus proved the resurrection of the dead from a clear implication of a biblical statement. When the Sadducees, who denied the bodily resurrection, challenged Jesus, He replied: "Now concerning the resurrection of the dead, have you not read the statement spoken to you by God, 'I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'? He is not the God of the dead but of the living" (Matthew 22:31-32; compare Mark 12:26-27 and Luke 20:37-38). Jesus here is quoting Exodus 3:6, where God is speaking to Moses from the burning bush. Jesus cites this statement as proof that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob still exist somewhere, even though they have been dead by the time of Moses for many centuries. Like the Jehovah's Witnesses today, the Sadducees believed that a person's soul does not survive death. Jesus, on the other hand, taught that a person's soul does indeed survive death (Matthew 10:28) and that on the last day one's soul will be reunited with the body in the Great Resurrection (John 5:28-29; 11:23-26, 43-44; see also James 2:26).
Everything implied by biblical statements is just as true as the biblical statements themselves. Now it is possible for us humans to fail in recognizing an implication or to err in overstating its significance. But whatever is truly implied in the Bible is just as true as the Bible's bold declarations, for God has inspired both of them (2 Peter 1:21). In regard to the doctrine of the Trinity, I believe that it is found in the Bible but was not discovered or more fully understood until much later.
Statements in the Old Testament
The very first verse in the Bible teaches us that there is a plurality as well as a unity in the nature of God. In Genesis 1:1 we read, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." Now in Hebrew, the word here for "God" (???????? or Elohim) is a plural form, but the verb "created" is in the singular. Thus, the very first verse of the Bible tells us that there is something plural and yet curiously singular about the nature of God.
Later in this same chapter, we hear God say, "Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness" (Genesis 1:26). To whom was God here speaking? It was not to His angels, for the next verse clarifies that the possessive pronoun "our" actually refers only to "God." Genesis 1:27 states that "God created man in his image; in the image of God he created him. . . ." The text does not say that God made man in the image of Himself as well as that of the angels. God made man only in His Own image. Here again we see that there is something plural and yet curiously singular about the nature?the image?of God.
Again in Genesis 11:5-8, one reads where "the Lord" came down to see the Tower of Babel and says, "Come, let us go down and confuse their language" (vs. 7). And then in vs. 8, we read where "the Lord" scattered them over all the earth. Perhaps the pronoun "us" here includes the Lord's angels, but there is no mention of His angels in this text. Sandwiched between references to "the Lord," this "us" appears to be another reference to the plurality of God's nature.
Some students of the Bible also see a reference to this plurality of God in Isaiah 6:8, "Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?" Here again we find the singular ("I") juxtaposed with the plural ("us"). There are those who would argue that this "us" includes the Seraphim in vs. 2 or perhaps even God's angels. Admittedly the reference here to the plural is less clear, as in the previous instance. Nevertheless, when taken together, all these passages seem to affirm that there is some sort of "plurality" in the nature of God.
But There Can Only Be One God?
And yet there are clear statements in the Bible that declare that there is only one God. For example, in what is known as the "Shema" (= "Hear" in Hebrew), the singularity of God is unmistakably affirmed: "Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God; the Lord is one" (Deuteronomy 6:4). And again one reads in the prophet Isaiah, "I am the Lord, and there is no other. Besides me there is no God" (Isaiah 45:5). And finally there is this brief but clear statement from the Apostle Paul: "There is no God but one" (1 Corinthians 8:4).
So how can there be "three" when there is only "one" God"? This is precisely where many people, like the Muslims, believe that the concept of "one God" (Quran 3:2, 62) rules out any notion of a Trinity (Quran 4:171; 5:73; 6:19). Even within Christendom, there are groups like the Jehovah's Witnesses who deny the doctrine of the Trinity.
But does a divine truth become negated simply because it extends beyond the limits of human understanding? Why should we humans, with our limited capacity for knowledge, expect to fathom all the mysteries of a limitless God and His nature? Should we be surprised to learn that there are some aspects of the nature of Almighty God that are so great that they surpass our limited capability to grasp them? Even in his own treatise on the doctrine of the Trinity, Augustine of Hippo felt compelled to admit, "I . . . confess that the wonderful knowledge of him is too great for me, and that I cannot attain to it" (On the Trinity 15.27.50 = Philip Schaff, ed., Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers, First Series, vol. 3, p. 227).
A Helpful Illustration?
Several years ago in a college class, I witnessed a helpful illustration of how there can be three entities, and yet at the same time from another perspective there is only one entity. Using a transparency projector, my professor projected onto a screen the image of a circle. "How many circles do you see?" he asked the class. Only one was visible. And so we students all answered in unison, "One!" Then the professor took his finger and moved the top transparency sheet just a few inches over. "Now," he asked, "how many circles do you see?" There were now two circles visible on the screen. And so we all answered together again, "Two!" He then took his finger once more and moved the second transparency that was beneath the upper one, so that now three distinct circles were being projected onto the screen. "How many circles do you see now?" We all responded together, "Three!"
At this point, several of us students began to realize that our professor had lying on his projector three, clear transparency sheets, and on each of these transparency sheets there was a single circle. The professor then picked up these three transparency sheets. Aligning them once more in his hands, he gently tapped the bottom edge of the three-layered stack of transparency sheets on the top surface of the projector, and then laid them down flat on the surface of the projector. "So how many circles do you see now?"
Only one circle was now visible on the screen. Yet all of us knew that there were actually three separate transparency sheets lying on the surface of the projector, one stacked on top of another. And since each transparency sheet had a circle on it, we knew that there should be three circles. But only one was visible. Why? Only one circle was visible now because all three circles again had the same center point and the same radius. With the same center point and the same radius, the three circles on the transparency sheets appeared to be only one circle on the screen. But actually we all knew that there were three circles lying on top of each other.
We humans are all different. No two of us are exactly alike. Some of us are short, while others of us are tall. Some are thin, while others are fat. Our differences represent various degrees of limitation. But can you imagine a level of being where all of the individuals are exactly alike in every conceivable respect? None of them has any limitation. All of them are perfect in every characteristic. They are all identical. Each of them is good and holy to the nth degree. There can be no subtle differences among them in regard to their essence or to any characteristic, for any single difference from their perfect state would result in an imperfection in one of them. Just as the three circles with the same exact measurements appeared as one circle, in a similar way three individuals at the level of being which we call "God," each having the same exact characteristics and the same exact essence as the other two, would appear as one: One God, but three separate persons.
The Nature of Jesus Christ
Admittedly, the concept of one God but three separate persons is difficult, if not impossible, for us humans to grasp. Admittedly, such a concept is never mentioned explicitly in the Bible. However, there are some passages in the New Testament where this concept does seem to be taken for granted. In other words, it appears to be implied. And this concept of the Godhead or the Trinity also seems to be implied, if we take seriously certain statements in the New Testament made about Jesus Christ and His relationship to God.
Statements on the Trinity in the New Testament
There are statements in the New Testament where the concept of the Godhead or Trinity seems clearly implied. The first such statement is the "Great Commission" according to the Gospel of Matthew. Just before his ascension, Jesus issued this final charge to His Apostles: "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you" (Matthew 28:19-20a). Here we find the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit in parallel, a situation which would seem to make Them equal to Each Other in some sense. The phrase "in the name of" probably means "by the authority of," the use of the singular "name" here suggesting that They stand equal in authority to Each Other and perhaps even have the same authority.
Another statement is the Apostle Paul's closing benediction to his Second Letter to the Corinthians: "May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all" (2 Cor 13:14). Paul's bracketing "God" here with "the Lord Jesus Christ" on one side and with "the Holy Spirit" on the other would seem to imply that these Three Divine Persons are all three on the same level. If "God" in this verse refers to "the Father," then we have here another reference to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This passage explains that each of these Divine Persons shows a particular aspect of God toward humans. The Son shows us grace through his vicarious death for the sins of all mankind (John 1:15-17, 29). The Spirit embraces us in fellowship when He indwells in us, once our sins have been taken away (Acts 2:38; Romans 8:9). But it is God the Father from Whom we receive love, (1 John 3:1), for all "love comes from God" (4:7). These distinctive roles for each Person in the Godhead will be explained later when we consider the tripartite nature of man (see the final section below).
One can also find traces of the Divine Trio in Ephesians 2:18 and 1 Peter 1:2. In all of these passages, references to "the Son" or Jesus and to "the Spirit" or "the Holy Spirit" are placed on the same level with the references to "God" or "the Father." In none of these instances is Their relationship to Each Other explained. It is merely assumed. It is as if God does not feel the need to explain Himself fully to man. It is our responsibility to respect Him, to fear Him, and to obey Him. For us to do so, there are certain things that we must understand about Him. But such an understanding has its limits, for indeed our own ability to understand has its limits.
Misunderstandings Force the Issue
The biblical concept of the Godhead or the Trinity includes the nature of Jesus Christ's Relationship to God. Indeed, it was a misunderstanding in this latter area that forced the church of the fourth century to confront the subject of the Godhead in the first place. Now there had been false teachings about the nature of Jesus Christ even during the Apostolic Period of the first century (e.g., 2 John 7). While such misunderstandings continued to increase in the two succeeding centuries, the same Roman persecution that forced the church to remain underground during this period also kept these false teachings in check.
This situation radically changed in the fourth century, however, when Emperor Constantine brought an end to the persecution of the church. Now unimpeded, the infection of several Christian heresies spread rapidly throughout the whole church, with each heresy taking the name of its founder. Sabellianism (from Sabellius, who lived in the early third century) held that there was only One Person in the Godhead and that this Single Person acted in three different modes as Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. For this reason, it was also called "Modalism," because of its insistence that the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit were just "modes." Another name was "Patripassianism," from the Latin for "the passion of the Father," since the proponents of this heresy maintained that it was actually the Father, in disguise as the Son, who suffered upon the cross. Arianism (from Arius, who lived A.D. 256-336) affirmed that Jesus was a created being and thus was not eternal with the Father. Nestorianism (from Nestorius, who lived ca. A.D. 386-ca. 451) taught that there were two distinct persons in Jesus, one human and the other divine; and Apollinarianism (from Apollinaris, who died in A.D. 390) believed that Jesus was just like other men except that at His baptism, the divine Logos replaced His natural mind.
All of these heresies were eventually rejected and condemned by mainstream Christianity. In A.D. 325, the Council of Nicea condemned Arianism, a decision later reaffirmed at the First Council of Constantinople in A.D. 381, which for the first time formally enunciated the doctrine of the Godhead by declaring that there were Three Persons in the Godhead. The Council of Ephesus (A.D. 431) condemned Nestorianism. The Council of Chalcedon (A.D. 451) condemned Apollinarianism. Sabellianism was rejected but never formally condemned at one of these ecumenical church councils. In fact, several leading theologians in the medieval church continued to have leanings toward this viewpoint.
Jesus Is God (John 1:1)
Unlike the doctrine of the Godhead or the Trinity, which is not taught explicitly in the Bible, the doctrine that "Jesus is God" is taught explicitly in the Bible. The clearest statement of this truth is found in John 1:1, "And the Word was God" (John 1:1, ??? ???? ?? ? ?????). The Jehovah's Witnesses, who reject the concept of the Godhead or the Trinity, render this phrase in their New World Translation as "and the Word was a god." This is an inaccurate translation intended to diminish Jesus's equality with the Father, which is what the Greek here indicates. According to the Jehovah's Witnesses, Jesus was not actually "God" like the Father, but He was some sort of lesser divine being; He was "a god" of some sort. The Jehovah's Witnesses attempt to defend their inaccurate translation by pointing out that the definite article (= "the") is actually absent in the Greek text.
Now it is true that indefinite nouns (e.g., a man, a book, etc.) lack the definite article in Greek. But it is also a rule of Greek grammar that the definite article is often used to distinguish the subject of a sentence from the predicate, whenever there is the possibility that the reader might confuse the two. In other words, the noun that serves as the subject of a sentence has the definite article (when it refers to a definite person or thing), while the noun that serves as the predicate nominative lacks the definite article (even though it clearly refers to a definite person or thing). There are several passages in the New Testament that illustrate this Greek rule. For example, in Matthew 13:39 "the end of the world" lacks the definite article, even though it is definite noun, for there can only be one "end" to the world. In contrast, "the harvest" has the definite article, since it is the subject of this sentence. But in the very next verse, vs. 41, "the end of the world" now has the definite article, for there is no longer any need to distinguish it from the subject (here it is the object of the preposition "in"). In Mark 2:28 the predicate nominative "Lord of the Sabbath" lacks the definite article in Greek, even though it is definite, for there is only one Lord of the Sabbath: "For the Son of Man is the Lord of the Sabbath." In 1 Timothy 6:10, the presence of the definite article in Greek marks "the love of money" as the subject, while the absence of the definite article indicates "the root of all evil" as the predicate nominative. And in Revelation 21:22, the definite article is omitted with the word "temple" in the second clause, even though it is definite ("the temple of it," not "a temple of it") in order to show that "temple" is the predicate nominative in this second clause and not its subject.
All of these examples can be seen in Benjamin Wilson's Emphatic Diaglott, a work originally published in 1864, but since 1942 it has been distributed by the Jehovah's Witnesses themselves because they believe that it teaches in particular their false doctrine on Hell or Gehenna. But unknown to them, Wilson contradicts their own translation of John 1:1. For though he does have "and a god was the Word" as his interlinear translation under the Greek text, he correctly has "and the Logos was God" in his polished translation in the right-hand column of p. 312 of his Emphatic Diaglott. On p. 8 of his introduction (in the upper-left column), Wilson explains that his polished translation is based on the interlinear. His use of "a god" in the interlinear rendering is merely a device to indicate the absence of the Greek definite article. He never intended this rendering to convey the proper meaning of the Greek (note also how the word order of his interlinear is backwards: "and a god was the Word"). Wilson intended his interlinear merely as an aid for those who need help in identifying the Greek words.
Now if John 1:1 really means that Jesus is "a god," as the Jehovah's Witnesses claim, then that would mean that there are two gods, one superior to the other. In Greek mythology, even Zeus was considered "the god" over the others since he was regarded as superior to them. Thus, if Jesus is indeed "a god," then the New Testament teaches that there is more than one god. But Paul says that there are no other gods but the one God, Jehovah (1 Corinthians 8:4-6). The other so-called gods really do not exist!
Other Passages on the Nature of Jesus
There are several other passages in both the Old Testament and the New Testament that teach that Jesus is God. Jesus is clearly called "Mighty God" in Isaiah 9:6. And again, even though the Hebrew lacks the definite article here, it cannot mean "a mighty god" since that would imply a plurality of gods, and the Bible says that there is only one. In fact, the definite article in Hebrew does not occur with any of these epithets, and yet surely all of them are definite. Would one regard Jesus as the Prince of Peace, or merely just a prince of peace? The same phrase "Mighty God" is found without the article and yet clearly refers to God in Isaiah 10:21.
In John 12:41, the Apostle John comments that the prophet Isaiah saw "His glory and spoke of Him," referring to Isaiah's vision of God in Isaiah 6:1-5, 10, which the Apostle John quotes in John 12:40. The only possible antecedent of John's "His" and "Him" in John 12:41 is Jesus (vss. 36-37). Matthew 1:23 (quoting Isaiah 7:14) states that Jesus was "God with us." In what sense was Jesus on earth "God with us"? Clearly this phrase implies that Jesus is God, so that when Jesus was with us humans, one could also say that "God is with us."
According to John 5:18, the Jews understood that when Jesus said that God was His Father, ?e was "making himself equal with God." In John 10:33, the Jews accused Jesus of blasphemy because ?e "claimed to be God." However, the New World Translation also mistranslates this passage to make it say that Jesus claimed to be "a god" (again, the absence of the definite article here identifies this noun as the predicate). The Jews at this time rejected any notion that there were other gods besides the one true God. Unless Jesus was actually making such a claim, no Jew would have accused Him of such a thing.
The Apostle Thomas calls Jesus "My Lord and my God" in John 20:28. Apparently Jesus accepted this identification in verse 29, since He does not correct Thomas here. The Apostle Paul calls Jesus "our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ" (Titus 2:13). One should note here that the New World Translation has added a "the" (the definite article in English) here (which at least is put in brackets) in order to make it sound like "God" and "Savior" refer to different persons. But the Greek text (as Wilson shows in his Diaglott) has only one definite article before both nouns, "God" and "Savior," which seems to imply that both nouns refer to the same person! While some scholars might debate this (it seems likely, but it is not certain that only one person is intended), the Jehovah's Witnesses in their New World Translation go ahead and add a "the" even though one is not there in the Greek. This instance, like the "a" in John 1:1, shows that one cannot trust the New World Translation to reflect accurately what is there in the Greek text. In one instance, John 1:1, they insist that the absence of the definite article in Greek makes the noun "God" indefinite (even though there is a good rule to explain this absence). But then in another instance, Titus 2:13, they insist that the absence of the definite article in Greek does not require the noun "Savior" to be indefinite. They insist here that the noun "Savior" is definite and so add a "the" before it.
Revelation 1:17-18 refers to Jesus as "the first and the last," a phrase which in the Old Testament is reserved only for God ?imself (Isaiah 41:4; 44:6; 48:12). How can you have two firsts? two lasts? Surely this phrase shows that Jesus is God!
The Meaning of Philippians 2:6
Another passage that speaks of Jesus Christ's divinity is Philippians 2:5-11. Here Paul states that Jesus was "in the form of God" and had every right to hold on to this position of equality with God (vs. 6). But ?e emptied ?imself and switched over to "the form of a servant" when He became a man (vs. 7).
The New World Translation of the Jehovah's Witnesses, on the other hand, seems to color the language in vss. 6-7 to imply that Jesus was not equal with God: "who, although he was existing in God's form, gave no consideration to a seizure, namely, that he should be equal to God." Is the Jehovah's Witnesses' translation right? Compare it with verses 6-7 in other translations of the Bible:
King James Version (1611):"Who, being in the form of God, though it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men."
American Standard Version (1901):"who, being in the form of God, counted it not a prize to be on an equality with God, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men."
Goodspeed, An American Translation (1923):"Though he possessed the nature of God, he did not grasp at equality with God, but laid it aside to take on the nature of a slave and become like other men."
Revised Standard Version (1946):"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."
The Amplified New Testament (1958):"Who, although being essentially one with God and in the form of God [possessing the fullness of the attributes which make God God], did not think this equality with God was a thing to be eagerly grasped or retained; But stripped Himself [of all privileges and rightful dignity] so as to assume the guise of a servant (slave), in that He became like men and was born a human being."
Phillips, The New Testament in Modern English (1958):"For he, who had always been God by nature, did not cling to his prerogatives as God's equal, but stripped himself of all privilege by consenting to be a slave by nature and being born as mortal man."
Taylor, The Living New Testament, Paraphrased (1967):"Who, though He was God, did not demand and cling to His rights as God, But laid aside His mighty power and glory, taking the disguise of a slave and becoming like men."
New International Version (1973):"Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness."
New Revised Standard Version (1989):"who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, and being born in human likeness."
New Living Translation (1996):"Though he was God, he did not demand and cling to his rights as God. He made himself nothing; he took the humble position of a slave and appeared in human form."
The rendering in the New World Translation "that Jesus should be equal to God" (emphasis added) seems to imply that ?e was not, in fact, equal with God. But the other translations above do not imply this inequality in His preexistent state. They either allow or imply that ?e was, in fact, equal with God.
An important question to consider, however, in regard to Paul's statement in Philippians 2:7 is, "Of what did Jesus 'empty himself' when he became a human?" During His existence here on earth as a human, Jesus possessed a supernatural knowledge of men's thoughts (Matthew 9:4; Mark 2:8; Luke 5:22; 6:8; 9:47; John 2:24-24). And yet in Matthew 24:36, He admits that He does not know the time of his Second Coming, but the Father does. Thus, Jesus's knowledge here on earth is not equal to that of the Father. Other passages depict Jesus now in a subordinated role to the Father (1 Corinthians 11:3; 15:27-28). The Bible nowhere explains this matter further. Did Jesus permanently sacrifice some part of His Divine Nature in becoming a man or in bearing our sins? What are the full implications of His cry from the cross, "My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?" (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34).
Man's Reflection of God's Image
Perhaps we should not try to answer questions that the Bible itself does not answer. Rather we should be content simply to believe what the Bible says. The Bible never explicitly teaches about the Godhead or the Trinity. But there are some passages that seem to imply that our singular God exists in a plurality of three: One God in Three Persons or entities.
The Difference between Man's Soul and His Spirit
One can see this Tripartite Nature of God in man himself. In 1 Thessalonians 5:23, the Apostle Paul mentions that man has a body, a soul, and a spirit. While many believe that the soul and the spirit are synonymous, the Bible carefully distinguishes between them (Hebrews 4:12). The soul is the seat of one's emotions and desires, of one's appetites and cravings.
Deuteronomy 23:24 [in the Hebrew text, vs. 25], "In case you go into the vineyard of your fellowman, you must eat only enough grapes for you to satisfy your soul, but you must not put any into a receptacle of yours." The Hebrew literally says, "You shall eat grapes according to your soul, your satisfaction" (Note that the last two terms are nouns and are synonymous).
2 Samuel 3:21, "You will certainly become king over all that your soul craves" (also 1 Kings 11:37).
Most biblical scholars and commentators dismiss Paul's clear statement in 1 Thessalonians 5:23 and insist that the Bible teaches that man has only a bipartite nature, a body and a soul/spirit, the latter two terms being nearly synonymous. However, there have been notable exceptions. See, for example, Charles J. Ellicott, St Paul's Epistles to the Thessalonians: With a Critical and Grammatical Commentary, and a Revised Translation (4th ed.; London: Longman, Green, Longman, Roberts & Green, 1880), p. 85. Also J. B. Lightfoot, Notes on Epistles of St. Paul from Unpublished Commentaries ([ed. J R. H.; 2nd ed.; London: Macmillan, 1904), pp. 88-89. Like Ellicott and Lightfoot, I too believe that the Bible teaches that man has a tripartite nature.
It is illogical to point to passages in the Bible where only two of these three components of man's nature are in view and then attempt to explain away Paul's clear statement in 1 Thessalonians 5:23, just as it would be unfair to Philo's thought to cite only the passage where he mentions the "body" and the "intelligence" (????) as the components of man's nature (Allegorical Interpretation or Legum allegoriae 3.55 [Loeb Classical Library, vol. 226 = Philo, vol. 1, pp. 336-37]) and then to ignore the earlier passage where he clearly distinguishes the "body," the "soul," and the "intelligence" (ibid. 1.32-33, pp. 166-69). Like Plato in Timaeus 30b (Loeb Classical Library, vol. 234 = Plato, vol. 9, pp. 54-55), Philo here prefers the term "intelligence" (????) over "spirit" (??????).
Some later Christians, like Irenaeus, believing in only a bipartite nature, see the "spirit" here in 1 Thessalonians 5:23 as referring to God's Spirit (Against All Heresies 5.6.1 [see Roberts and Donaldson, eds., The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 1, pp. 531-32]). But Origen clearly distinguishes all three as the "body," the "soul," and the "spirit" of man (Commentary on Matthew 14.3 [see Roberts and Donaldson, eds., The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 9, p. 496]).
The Hebrew term for "soul" can even refer to animals, since they too have appetites and cravings ("living creatures," Genesis 1:20-21). It can even refer to the sex drive/cravings of a zebra in heat: Jeremiah 2:24, "A zebra accustomed to the wilderness, at the craving of her soul, snuffing up the wind; at her time for copulation, who can turn her back?"
It can also refer to loftier or spiritual appetites and cravings, as in Psalm 42:1-2 [in the Hebrew text, vss. 2-3], "As the hind that longs for the water streams, so my very soul longs for You, O God. My soul indeed thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?"
As the seat of one's emotions," the "soul" is the part of man that loves (Deuteronomy 30:6; Song of Solomon 1:7; 3:1-4; Jeremiah 12:7), and rejoices (Psalm 86:4), and even weeps (1 Samuel 1:10). In contrast, the "spirit" is that part of man that reasons, thinks, and communicates with others (Exodus 28:3; Deuteronomy 34:9; Job 32:8, 18; Ezekiel 11:5b; 20:32; Mark 2:8; 1 Corinthians 2:11).
Since man was created in God's image (Genesis 1:26-27), we should not be surprised to find that the Tripartite Nature of God is mirrored in man's nature.
In the Godhead, it is the Father that expresses emotion: "For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son . . ." (John 3:16). "See how great the love which the Father has given to us . . ." (1 John 3:1). In man, it is the soul that expresses emotion. In the Godhead, it is the Son that carries out the actions: "All things were made through Him, and nothing was made without Him" (John 1:3). "All things were created by Him" (Col 1:16). It was the Son Who came to earth and made atonement for sin. It was He Who carried out the will of God on earth (Hebrews 10:5-7). In man, it is the physical body that carries out the actions. In the Godhead, it is the Spirit that communicates (1 Timothy 4:1) and inspires men to speak prophetic messages (2 Peter 1:21). In man, it is his spirit that reasons and communicates with others.
Since the concept of the Godhead or the Trinity is not taught anywhere explicitly in the Scriptures?no biblical writer ever discusses it, and even the very words "Godhead" or "Trinity" are not found anywhere in the Bible?perhaps we Christians should not make this doctrine a test of fellowship or condemn others for not accepting it. As long as a person is not being contentious or is not stirring up trouble and controversy in the church over this issue (Titus 3:10-11), we should not press or force our understanding of this concept on others. It is a doctrine that many simply cannot understand, and it is surely one that none of us can fully fathom.
Yet this doctrine is indeed implied in the Scriptures. In order to accept all of the statements in the Bible about Jesus at their face value, one is forced to accept the Godhead or the Trinity. And since everything implied in the Scriptures is just as true as everything explicitly taught in them, we must conclude that the doctrine of the Godhead or the Trinity is true.
Perhaps we humans should find comfort?and even take pride?in the fact that at the very core of our being, we bear the unmistakable imprint of our God.