The Christian Shema: What About the Holy Spirit?

In the previous segment (https://answeringislamblog.wordpress.com/2019/07/04/the-christian-shema-confessing-jesus-as-yahweh-god-the-son/), I had discussed the following text,

“And the Lord shall be king over all the earth: in that day there shall be one Lord, and his name one (to onoma autou hen),” Zechariah 14:9

To show that Yahweh is said to be only one. Here I want to emphasize the fact that this verse also affirms that Yahweh’s name is one since this is where it becomes quite interesting.

According to the inspired Christian Scriptures, that one name of Yahweh is equally shared by three distinct Persons, namely, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit:

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the NAME of the Father and of the Son AND OF THE HOLY SPIRIT,” Matthew 28:19

The implications of our risen Lord’s words are crystal clear. By uniting the three divine Persons under a single name, Christ was essentially affirming that the one Lord of Israel, the one who alone is Yahweh, exists as a tri-Personal Being.

The Baptismal “formula” basically ascribes a threefold Personality to Yahweh, in that Yahweh is now identified as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. As the late great Princeton theologian Benjamin B. Warfield explained it:

 

THE BAPTISMAL FORMULA:

Meanwhile, the nearest approach to a formal announcement of the doctrine of the Trinity which is recorded from our Lord’s lips, or, perhaps we may say, which is to be found in the whole compass of the New Testament, has been preserved for us, not by John, but by one of the synoptists. It too, however, is only incidentally introduced, and has for its main object something very different from formulating the doctrine of the Trinity. It is embodied in the great commission which the resurrected Lord gave His disciples to be their “marching orders” “even unto the end of the world”: “Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Mt 28:19). In seeking to estimate the significance of this great declaration, we must bear in mind the high solemnity of the utterance, by which we are required to give its full value to every word of it. Its phrasing is in any event, however, remarkable. It does not say, “In the names (plural) of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost”; nor yet (what might be taken to be equivalent to that), “In the name of the Father, and in the name of the Son, and in the name of the Holy Ghost,” as if we had to deal with three separate Beings. Nor, on the other hand does it say, “In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost,” as if “the Father, Son and Holy Ghost” might be taken as merely three designations of a single person. With stately impressiveness it asserts the unity of the three by combining them all within the bounds of the single Name; and then throws up into emphasis the distinctness of each by introducing them in turn with the repeated article: “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost (the King James Version). These three, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost, each stand in some clear sense over against the others in distinct personality: these three, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost, all unite in some profound sense in the common participation of the one Name. Fully to comprehend the implication of this mode of statement, we must bear in mind, further, the significance of the term, “the name,” and the associations laden with which it came to the recipients of this commission. For the Hebrew did not think of the name, as we are accustomed to do, as a mere external symbol; but rather as the adequate expression of the innermost being of its bearer. In His Name the Being of God finds expression; and the Name of God — “this glorious and fearful name, Yahweh thy God” (Dt 28:58) — was accordingly a most sacred thing, being indeed virtually equivalent to God Himself. It is no solecism, therefore, when we read (Isa 30:27), “Behold, the name of Yahweh cometh”; and the parallelisms are most instructive when we read (Isa 59:19): `So shall they fear the Name of Yahweh from the west, and His glory from the rising of the sun; for He shall come as a stream pent in which the Spirit of Yahweh driveth.’ So pregnant was the implication of the Name, that it was possible for the term to stand absolutely, without adjunction of the name itself, as the sufficient representative of the majesty of Yahweh: it was a terrible thing to `blaspheme the Name’ (Lev 24:11). All those over whom Yahweh’s Name was called were His, His possession to whom He owed protection. It is for His Name’s sake, therefore, that afflicted Judah cries to the Hope of Israel, the Saviour thereof in time of trouble: `O Yahweh, Thou art in the midst of us, and Thy Name is called upon us; leave us not’ (Jer 14:9); and His people find the appropriate expression of their deepest shame in the lament, `We have become as they over whom Thou never barest rule; as they upon whom Thy Name was not called’ (Isa 63:19); while the height of joy is attained in the cry, `Thy Name, Yahweh, God of Hosts, is called upon me’ (Jer 15:16; compare 2 Ch 7:14; Dan 9:18, 19). When, therefore, our Lord commanded His disciples to baptize those whom they brought to His obedience “into the name of ….,” He was using language charged to them with high meaning. He could not have been understood otherwise than as substituting for the Name of Yahweh this other Name “of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost”; and this could not `possibly have meant to His disciples anything else than that Yahweh was now to be known to them by the new Name, of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost. The only alternative would have been that, for the community which He was rounding, Jesus was supplanting Yahweh by a new God; and this alternative is no less than monstrous. There is no alternative, therefore, to understanding Jesus here to be giving for His community a new Name to Yahweh, and that new Name to be the threefold Name of “the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost.” Nor is there room for doubt that by “the Son” in this threefold Name, He meant just Himself with all the implications of distinct personality which this carries with it; and, of course, that further carries with it the equally distinct personality of “the Father” and “the Holy Ghost,” with whom “the Son” is here associated, and from whom alike “the Son” is here distinguished. This is a direct ascription to Yahweh, the God of Israel, of a threefold personality, and is therewith the direct enunciation of the doctrine of the Trinity. We are not witnessing here the birth of the doctrine of the Trinity; that is presupposed. What we are witnessing is the authoritative announcement of the Trinity as the God of Christianity by its Founder, in one of the most solemn of His recorded declarations. Israel had worshipped the one only true God under the Name of Yahweh; Christians are to worship the same one only and true God under the Name of “the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost.” This is the distinguishing characteristic of Christians; and that is as much as to say that the doctrine of the Trinity is, according to our Lord’s own apprehension of it, the distinctive mark of the religion which He founded.

GENUINENESS OF BAPTISMAL FORMULA:

A passage of such range of implication has, of course, not escaped criticism and challenge. An attempt which cannot be characterized as other than frivolous has even been made to dismiss it from the text of Matthew’s Gospel. Against this, the whole body of external evidence cries out; and the internal evidence is of itself not less decisive to the same effect. When the “universalism,” “ecclesiasticism,” and “high theology” of the passage are pleaded against its genuineness, it is forgotten that to the Jesus of Matthew there are attributed not only such parables as those of the Leaven and the Mustard Seed, but such declarations as those contained in 8:11, 12; 21:43; 24:14; that in this Gospel alone is Jesus recorded as speaking familiarly about His church (16:18; 18:17); and that, after the great declaration of 11:27 if, nothing remained in lofty attribution to be assigned to Him. When these same objections are urged against recognizing the passage as an authentic saying of Jesus own, it is quite obvious that the Jesus of the evangelists cannot be in mind. The declaration here recorded is quite in character with the Jesus of Matthew’s Gospel, as has just been intimated; and no less with the Jesus of the whole New Testament transmission. It will scarcely do, first to construct a priori a Jesus to our own liking, and then to discard as “unhistorical” all in the New Testament transmission which would be unnatural to such a Jesus. It is not these discarded passages but our a priori Jesus which is unhistorical. In the present instance, moreover, the historicity of the assailed saying is protected by an important historical relation in which it stands. It is not merely Jesus who speaks out of a Trinitarian consciousness, but all the New Testament writers as well. The universal possession by His followers of so firm a hold on such a doctrine requires the assumption that some such teaching as is here attributed to Him was actually contained in Jesus’ instructions to His followers. Even had it not been attributed to Him in so many words by the record, we should have had to assume that some such declaration had been made by Him. In these circumstances, there can be no good reason to doubt that it was made by Him, when it is expressly attributed to Him by the record. (The Life, Thought, and Works of Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield (1851–1921), “Trinity”; underline emphasis ours)

What we, therefore, have in our risen Lord’s command to baptize all nations is a clear-cut testimony to God’s Triunity, e.g., the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are distinct divine Persons who coexist as the one God Yahweh:

There are a number of scriptural indications for three-in-oneness in the Godhead. Perhaps one of the best illustrations is Matthew 28:19. After Jesus had been resurrected from the dead, He referred to all three Persons of the Trinity while instructing the disciples… It is highly revealing that the word ‘name’ is singular in the Greek, indicating that there is one God, but three distinct persons within the Godhead–the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.6 Theologian Robert Reymond draws our attention to the importance of this verse for the doctrine of the Trinity:

Jesus does not say, (1) ‘into the names [plural] of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,’ or what is virtually equivalent, (2) ‘into the name of the Father, and into the name of the Son, and into the name of the Holy Spirit,’ as if we had to deal with three separate Beings [akin to the Muslim charge of tritheism]. Nor does He say, (3) “into the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit’ (omitting the three recurring articles), as if ‘the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost’ might be taken as merely three designations of a single person. What He does say is this: (4) ‘into the name [singular] of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,’ first asserting the unity of the three by combining them all within the bounds of the single Name, and then throwing into emphasis the distinctness of each by introducing them in turn with the repeated article.(Rhodes, Reasoning from the Scriptures with Muslims [Harvest House Publishers, Eugene, Oregon 2002], 7. The Biblical View of God, pp. 118-119)

This helps us better appreciate why the inspired NT authors such as Paul could identify both Christ and the Holy Spirit as that one Kyrios (“Lord”) of the Hebrew Bible:

“Seeing then that we have such hope, we speak with great boldness, not as Moses, who put a veil over his face, so that the children of Israel could not look intently at the end of what was fading away. Instead, their minds were blinded. For until this day the same veil remains unlifted in the reading of the old covenant, the veil which was done away with in Christ. But even to this day, when Moses is read, the veil is in their hearts. Nevertheless when anyone turns to the Lord (Kyrion), the veil is removed. Now the Lord (Kyrios) is the Spirit. And where the Spirit of the Lord (to Pneuma Kyriou) is, there is liberty. But we all, seeing the glory of the Lord with unveiled faces, as in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory by the Spirit of the Lord (Kyriou).” 2 Corinthians 3:12-18

Paul remarkably describes the Spirit as being both Lord and as belonging to the Lord, who in context is actually Christ. I.e., both Christ and the Spirit are the one Lord whose luminous, glorious appearance caused Moses to veil himself in the presence of the Israelites, due to the light that shone from Moses’ face as a result of his encounter with Yahweh (cf. Exodus 33:18-23; 34).

Note how various English translations render the key text:

“Now, ‘Adonai’ in this text means the Spirit. And where the Spirit of Adonai is, there is freedom.” 2 Corinthians 3:17 CJB

“Now, ‘the Lord’ in this passage is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is present, there is freedom.” GNT

“Now the Lord is the Holy Spirit. And where the Spirit of the Lord is, freedom is also there.” NIRV

“Now, the ‘Lord’ I’m referring to is the Holy Spirit, and wherever he is Lord, there is freedom.” TPT

“And the Spirit is the Lord; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” WYC

This further explains why OT texts where Yahweh is addressing his community are attributed to the Holy Spirit in the New Testament. Note, for instance, the following examples:

“Being in disagreement with one another, they were dismissed after Paul had said one word: ‘The Holy Spirit accurately spoke to our fathers through Isaiah the prophet, “Go to this people and say: You shall certainly hear, but never understand; and you shall certainly see, but never perceive; for the heart of this people has grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, and they have closed their eyes, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.”’” Acts 28:25-27 – Cf. Isaiah 6:9-10

“Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says: ‘Today, if you hear His voice, 8 do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of temptation in the wilderness, where your fathers tested Me and tried Me and saw My works for forty years. Therefore I was angry with that generation, and said, “They always go astray in their heart, and they have not known My ways.” So I swore in My wrath, “They shall not enter My rest.”’” Hebrews 3:7-11 – Cf. Psalm 95:7-11

The Holy Spirit also witnesses to us about this. For after saying, ‘This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws into their hearts, and in their minds I will write them,’ then He adds, ‘Their sins and lawless deeds will I remember no more.’” Hebrews 10:15-17 – Cf. Jeremiah 31:33-34

In these three cases, Psalm 95:7-11, Isaiah 6:9-10, and Jeremiah 31:33-34 are all ascribed to the Holy Spirit, even though in their respective contexts it is Yahweh who is actually speaking.

We thus have the application of the divine name not just to the Son, but also to the Spirit, thereby identifying the Spirit as Yahweh as well.

This, in turn, forms the biblical basis for the doctrine of the Trinity, e.g., the one true God Yahweh is a threefold Personality, having eternally existed as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

I now bring out the logical implications of the aforementioned texts:

  1. There is only one Yahweh (Deut. 6:4; Neh. 9:6).
  2. Yahweh is not only one, but his name is also one (Zech. 14:9).
  3. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit all possess one and the same name (Matt. 28:19).
  4. Both the Son and the Holy Spirit are identified as that one Lord (2 Cor. 3:17-18).
  5. Texts, where Yahweh speaks, are ascribed to the Holy Spirit, thereby identifying him as that very Yahweh who spoke through the prophets.
  6. Therefore, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are in fact Israel’s one and only Lord.
  7. This in turns establishes that the one true God Yahweh is a tri-Personal Being who eternally exists as three distinct and yet inseparable divine Persons.

Unless noted otherwise, Scriptural citations taken from the Modern English Version (MEV) of the Holy Bible.