God Has Many Names, But Do We Need One More?

God Has Many Names, But Do We Need One More? June 12, 2013

Can’t Christianity think of a better name for its god than “God”? While modern Jewish authors sometimes refer to him as “G-d” so that they don’t violate the fourth commandment, there is no such fear of blasphemy among Christians. A god named “God” is like a cat named “Cat.”

The fourth name of God

While we’re talking about names, if Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are the persons, what do you call the union of these into one god? Ice, water, and steam are three states of H2O. Shell, white, and yolk form an egg. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit form who?

You need a fourth name. Do you call it “God”? But the Bible tells us that “God” is the one who created everything, and that’s supposed to be the Father. The Father can’t be both the first person of the Trinity and the overall god at the same time.

Calling this union the Trinity commits the heresy of Partialism, the claim that the three persons of God are three separate parts. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit don’t form a what, they must form a single, unified who. Another problem with “the Trinity” is that’s an odd name for a monotheistic god. It’s a label, not a name. Call the three persons “a council of three” if you want, but that doesn’t make clear the unity like a proper name would.

That the Old Testament uses one name for God (okay, it uses lots of names—Yahweh, Jehovah, Elohim—but that’s a different issue) makes clear that they saw no distinction between God the Father and this Trinity. Without this distinction, it’s clear that there is no Trinity in the Old Testament.

Let’s see this another way. Consider this passage from Isaiah 45:5–6:

I will gird you, though you have not known Me; that men may know from the rising to the setting of the sun that there is no one besides Me. I am Jehovah, and there is no other.

There are two interpretations of this passage.

  • If Jehovah is a synonym for “the Father,” this means that he reigns alone (since “there is no other”) and we must discard the Trinity.
  • If Jehovah is a synonym for “the Trinity,” then it makes nonsense of the singular pronouns (Me and I) in these verses and confuses passages such as “Then Jehovah spoke to Moses” (Ex. 40:1) or “After Jehovah had spoken these things to Job” (Job 42:7).

The problem, of course, is demanding a Christian interpretation of a Jewish text. There’s nothing confusing here from a Jewish viewpoint, which was the intended audience. There is no Trinity, and the only god that exists is Jehovah.

Well, at least the only god at this time in the evolution of Judaism. It’s a little more complicated because Old Testament Jews didn’t begin as monotheists. The Old Testament documents their evolution from a kind of polytheism (that’s an aside that I explore more here).

Admittedly, one handy trait of the Trinity is that it gives Christians a way to salvage some embarrassing passages from the Old Testament.

Let us make mankind in our image (Gen. 1:26)

The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil (Gen. 3:22)

Let us go down [to Babel] and confuse their language so they will not understand each other (Gen. 11:7)

These are no problem if “us” refers to the three persons of the Trinity. But if God were a trinity, it’s hard to imagine him not making this clear from the beginning. Judaism’s evolution from polytheism explains this nicely. The concept of the Trinity confuses, it doesn’t clarify.

See alsoThe Long, Strange Story of the Trinity.”

Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used
against unintelligible propositions.
— Thomas Jefferson

(Some of this post was originally published 11/11/11.)

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