God in Christianity

God in Christianity
Conceptions of God
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In Christianity, God is the eternal being that created and preserves the universe. God is believed by most Christians[citation needed] to be immanent (meaning that he is with and within all things), while others believe the plan of redemption show he will be immanent later.[1] Most trinitarian Christians believe he is also transcendent (meaning that he is outside space and time, and therefore eternal and unable to be changed by forces within the universe),[2] based on the New Testament only though God the Son,[clarification needed] a Jewish God-man called Jesus, was on earth during his Ministry and will return to earth in the Second Coming of Christ, to fulfill his commitments as the Christian Messiah.

God is usually held to have the properties of holiness, justice, omnipotence, omniscience, omnibenevolence, omnipresence and immortality.

The Christian Bible never speaks of God in an impersonal sense. Instead, it refers to him in personal terms—as one who is, who speaks, who sees, hears, acts, and loves. God is understood to have a will and personality and is an all powerful, divine and benevolent being. He is represented in Scripture as being primarily concerned with people and their salvation.[3]

God is understood by trinitarian Christians as God the Father, God the Son and the Holy Spirit; an infinite Godhead of three distinct persons who is both within and beyond nature. Less commonly, nontrinitarian denominations define the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit differently.

The divinity of Jesus Christ and his position as God the Son in Christianity as set forth in the Chalcedonian Definition stems from the opening of the Gospel of John, commonly translated into English as: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God". It is the most important difference from Judaism, which vehemently rejects the concept that God is man.



The doctrine of the Trinity is considered by most Christians to be a core tenet of their faith. Since the 4th century, in both Eastern and Western Christianity, this doctrine has been stated as "three Hypostases (or, less precisely, persons) in one God",[citation needed] all three of whom, as distinct and co-eternal persons, are of one indivisible Divine essence, a Divine simplicity. The majority of Christians are Trinitarian and regard belief in the Trinity as a test of true orthodoxy of belief.[4]

The term "Trinity"

The term "trinity" does not explicitly appear in either the Old or New Testament, but trinitarians believe the concept is implicit in various biblical passages. The most widely recognized Biblical foundations for the doctrine's formulation are in the Gospel of John. The Trinity concept is not to be confused with tritheism, which is the notion of three separate deities acting together as one. The Trinity of mainstream Christianity is seen as one God manifested as three distinct, but not separate, and co-equal persons.

Trinitarian doctrine

The doctrine of the Trinity is the result of continuous exploration by the church of the biblical data, argued in debate and treatises.[5] It was expressed in early writings from the beginning of the 2nd century forward.[5] The First Council of Nicaea in 325 AD and later the First Council of Constantinople in 381 AD established a nearly universal trinitarian doctrine and expressly rejected any heresies.

The doctrine of the Trinity states that God is one being who exists, simultaneously and eternally, as a mutual indwelling of three persons: God the Father, God the Son (incarnate as Jesus of Nazareth) and the Holy Spirit (or Holy Ghost). Since earliest Christianity, one's salvation has been very closely related to the concept of a triune God,[citation needed] although the Trinitarian doctrine was not formalized until the First Council of Nicaea, a council of Christian bishops convened in Nicaea by the Roman Emperor Constantine I in 325 AD. The Council was the first effort to attain consensus in the church through an assembly representing all of Christendom.[6]

Most Christians believe that God is spirit, an uncreated, omnipotent, and eternal being, the creator and sustainer of all things, who works the redemption of the world through his Son, Jesus Christ.[citation needed] With this background, belief in the divinity of Christ and the Holy Spirit is expressed as the doctrine of the Holy Trinity,[7] which describes the single Divine substance existing as three distinct and inseparable persons: the Father, the Son (Jesus Christ the eternal Word), and the Holy Spirit.[1 Jn 5:7 ]

"Father, Son and Holy Spirit"

The "Hospitality of Abraham" by Andrei Rublev. The three angels symbolize the Trinity, which is rarely depicted directly in art.

"Father, Son, and Holy Spirit" is a quotation of Jesus' words as recorded in the Great Commission: “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.”[Mt 28:19] The names, in similar order, later appeared in the Apostle Paul's apostolic benediction: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all."[2Cor 13:14]

Since the first century, Christians have called upon God with the name "Father, Son and Holy Spirit" in prayer, baptism, communion, demon exorcism, hymn-singing, preaching, confession, absolution and benediction.[4]

God as Father

Face of God from Creation of the Sun and Moon by Michelangelo

In Christianity, God is called "Father" in a more literal sense, besides being the creator and nurturer of creation, and the provider for his children.[Heb 1:2-5] [Gal 4:1-7] The Father is said to have an eternal relation to his only begotten son, Jesus Christ, which implies an exclusive and intimate familiarity: "No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and any one to whom the Son chooses to reveal him."[Mt. 11:27] In Christian theology, this is the revelation of a sense in which fatherhood is inherent to God's nature, an eternal relationship.[cf. Jn 17] In the New Testament, God is called "Father" 245 times.

In the third century, Tertullian claimed that God exists as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit—the three personae of one and the same substance.[8][page needed][9] To trinitarian Christians (which include Catholic Christians, Eastern Orthodox Christians, and most but not all Protestant denominations), God the Father is not at all a separate god from the Son (of whom Jesus is the incarnation) and the Holy Spirit, the other Hypostases of the Christian Godhead.[8]

According to the Nicene Creed, the Son (Jesus Christ) is "eternally begotten of the Father", indicating that their divine Father-Son relationship is not tied to an event within time or human history. See Christology.

To Christians, God the Father's relationship with humanity is as a father to children. Thus, humans in general are sometimes called children of God. To Christians, God the Father's relationship with humanity is that of Creator and created beings, and in that respect he is the father of all. The New Testament says, in this sense, that the very idea of family, wherever it appears, derives its name from God the Father,[Eph 3:15] and thus God himself is the model of the family.

However, there is a deeper sense in which Christians believe that they are made participants in the eternal relationship of Father and Son, through Jesus Christ. Christians call themselves adopted children of God:

But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts crying out, "Abba, Father!" Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.

The Gospel of Mark records that Jesus used the term Abba when praying to God the Father during his Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane shortly before his crucifixion, saying: "Abba, Father, all things are possible to you; remove this cup from me. Yet not what I want, but what you want."[Mk 14:36] Here is the fervent appeal of a son to a beloved father, followed quickly by an assurance that, in any event, he would remain obedient.

In Eastern Orthodox theology, God the Father is the "arche" or "principium" (beginning), the "source" or "origin" of both the Son and the Holy Spirit (which gives intuitive emphasis to the threeness of persons); by comparison, Catholic theology explains the "origin" of all three Hypostases or Persons as being in the divine nature (which gives intuitive emphasis to the oneness of God's being) while still maintaining God the Father as the Source of both the Son and the Spirit.[8]

God as Son

In the mainstream interpretation of the Bible, the second Person of the Trinity, because of his eternal relation to the first Person (God as Father), is the Son of God. He is considered coequal with the Father and Holy Spirit. He is all God and all human: the Son of God as to his divine nature, while as to his human nature he is from the lineage of David.[Rom 1:3,4] [10] The core of Jesus' self-interpretation was his "filial consciousness", his relationship to God as child to parent in some unique sense[3] (see Filioque controversy). His mission on earth proved to be that of enabling people to know God as their Father, which Christians believe is the essence of eternal life.[Jn 17:3]

God as Holy Spirit

In mainstream Christianity, the Holy Spirit is one of the three divine persons of the Holy Trinity who make up the single substance of God; that is, the Spirit is considered to act in concert with and share an essential nature with God the Father and God the Son (Jesus). The Christian theology of the Holy Spirit, or pneumatology, was the last piece of Trinitarian theology to be fully explored and developed. For this reason, there is greater theological diversity among Christian understandings of the Spirit than there is among understandings of the Son (Christology) and understandings of the Father. Within Trinitarian theology, the Holy Spirit is usually referred to as the "Third Person" of the triune God - with the Father being the First Person and the Son the Second Person.

A rare image illustrating the Christian Trinity displaying God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit

Christians believe that the Holy Spirit leads people to faith in Jesus and gives them the ability to live a Christian lifestyle. The Holy Spirit dwells inside every Christian, each one's body being his temple.[1 Cor 3:16] Jesus described the Holy Spirit[Jn 14:26] as paracletus in Latin, derived from Greek. The word is variously translated as Comforter, Counselor, Teacher, Advocate,[11] guiding people in the way of the truth. The Holy Spirit's action in one's life is believed to produce positive results, known as the Fruit of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit enables Christians, who still experience the effects of sin, to do things they never could do on their own. These spiritual gifts are not innate abilities "unlocked" by the Holy Spirit, but entirely new abilities, such as the ability to cast out demons or simply bold speech. Through the influence of the Holy Spirit a person sees more clearly the world around him or her and can use his or her mind and body in ways that exceed his or her previous capacity. A list of gifts that may be bestowed include the charismatic gifts of prophecy, tongues, healing, and knowledge. Christians holding a view known as cessationism believe these gifts were given only in New Testament times. Christians almost universally agree that certain "spiritual gifts" are still in effect today, including the gifts of ministry, teaching, giving, leadership, and mercy.[Rom 12:6-8] The experience of the Holy Spirit is sometimes referred to as being anointed.

After his resurrection, Christ told his disciples that they would be "baptized with the Holy Spirit" and would receive power from this event,[Ac 1:4-8] a promise that was fulfilled in the events recounted in the second chapter of Acts. On the first Pentecost, Jesus' disciples were gathered in Jerusalem when a mighty wind was heard and tongues of fire appeared over their heads. A multilingual crowd heard the disciples speaking, and each of them heard them speaking in his or her native language.

God as the God of Jesus

Pope Benedict XVI, in The God of Jesus Christ: meditations on the Triune God (2008), explores the nature of the Trinity, discussing the different attributes of each member of it and how they form a whole. The description of God as "God and Father" of Jesus occurs five times in the New Testament, with a further reference to God as "his God". Jesus seven times refers to God as "my God". Paul also refers to God as "the God of our Lord Jesus Christ".[12]


Some Christian traditions reject the doctrine of the Trinity. In the early centuries of Christian history Arians, Ebionites, Gnostics, Marcionites, and others held nontrinitarian beliefs. These views were rejected by many bishops such as Irenaeus and subsequently by the Ecumenical Councils. The Nicene Creed raised the issue of the relationship between Jesus' divine and human natures. Monophysitism ("one nature") and monothelitism ("one will") were heretical attempts to explain this relationship. During more than a thousand years of Trinitarian orthodoxy, formal nontrinitarianism, i.e., a doctrine held by a church, group, or movement, was rare, but it did appear.[citation needed]

The Protestant Reformation of the 16th century also brought tradition into question. At first, nontrinitarians were executed (such as Servetus), or forced to keep their beliefs secret (such as Isaac Newton). The eventual establishment of religious freedom, however, allowed nontrinitarians to more easily preach their beliefs, and the 19th century saw the establishment of several nontrinitarian groups in North America and elsewhere. These include Christadelphians, Christian Scientists, Jehovah's Witnesses, Dawn Bible Students, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Unitarians. 20th-century nontrinitarian movements include Iglesia ni Cristo, Oneness Pentecostals, and the Unification Church. Nontrinitarian groups differ from one another in their views of Jesus Christ, depicting him variously as a divine being second only to God the Father, Yahweh of the Old Testament in human form, God (but not eternally God), prophet, or simply a holy man.

During the Protestant Reformation (as Catholics maintained the authority of all the Councils), most of the emerging Protestant groups rejected some councils which were contrary to their beliefs as being spiritually tainted.[13] Clemens Ziegler [1], Casper Schwenckfeld, and Melchior Hoffman, advanced the view that Christ was only divine and not human. Michael Servetus denied that the traditional doctrine of the Trinity was necessary to defend the divinity of Christ. He claimed that Jesus was God himself in the flesh.[14]

Mormons recognize the divinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but believe they are distinct beings, united not in substance but in will or purpose.[15] They believe that the Father, like the Son, has a glorified physical body. (See God in Mormonism.)

Ecclesiastical Swedenborgians, such as those in the New Jerusalem Church or Swedenborgian Church of North America take a somewhat different approach to nontrinitarianism. Emanuel Swedenborg spoke sharply against the concept of the Trinity in most of his works. Members of the New Jerusalem movement view Jesus Christ alone as the one god, of whom the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are aspects (corresponding roughly to Wisdom, Love, and Earthly Activity). This is somewhat akin to modalist theology.

Present-day groups that do not consider Jesus to be Almighty God include Unitarians,[16] descendants of Reformation era Socinians, Christadelphians,[17] Dawn Bible Students, and Jehovah's Witnesses.[18]


A depiction of Jesus and Mary, the Theotokos of Vladimir (12th century)

Christology was a fundamental concern from the First Council of Nicaea (325) until the Third Council of Constantinople (680). In this time period, the Christological views of various groups within the broader Christian community led to accusations of heresy, and, infrequently, subsequent religious persecution. In some cases, a sect's unique Christology is its chief distinctive feature, in these cases it is common for the sect to be known by the name given to its Christology.

Christians believe that, as the messiah, Jesus was anointed as ruler and savior of humanity, and hold that Jesus' Second Coming will be the fulfillment of messianic prophecies of the Old Testament. The Christian concept of the Messiah differs significantly from the rabbinical concept.[19] The core Christian belief is that, through the death and resurrection of Jesus, sinful humans can be reconciled to God and thereby are offered salvation and the promise of eternal life, see also New Covenant.

While there have been theological disputes over the nature of Jesus, Christians believe that Jesus is God incarnate and "true God and true man" (or both fully divine and fully human). Jesus, having become fully human in all respects, suffered the pains and temptations of a mortal man, yet he did not sin. As fully God, he defeated death and rose to life again. According to the Bible, "God raised him from the dead", According to the Gospels, Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born from the Virgin Mary. Little of Jesus' childhood is recorded there in comparison to his adulthood, especially the week before his death. The Biblical accounts of Jesus' ministry include: his baptism, miracles, preaching, teaching, and healing.

See also


  1. ^ 1 Corinthians 15:28, Colossians 1:19-20, and Ephesians 1:10
  2. ^ Machen, J. Gresham. God Transcendent. Banner of Truth publishers, 1998. ISBN 0851513557
  3. ^ a b Stagg, Frank. New Testament Theology, Nashville: Broadman, 1962. ISBN 085416137
  4. ^ a b Vickers, Jason E. Invocation and Assent: The Making and the Remaking of Trinitarian Theology. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2008. ISBN 0802862691
  5. ^ a b McGrath, Alister E. Understanding the Trinity. Zondervan, 1990. ISBN 0310296811
  6. ^ Richard Kieckhefer (1989). "Papacy". Dictionary of the Middle Ages. ISBN 0-684-18275-0.
  7. ^ J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines pp. 87-90; T. Desmond Alexander, New Dictionary of Biblical Theology pp. 514-515; Alister E. McGrath, Historical Theology p. 61.
  8. ^ a b c Critical Terms for Religious Studies. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1998. Credo Reference.27 July 2009
  9. ^ Catholic Encyclopedia: Tertullian: "Tertullian has the true formula for the Holy Trinity, tres Personae, una Substantia. The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are numerically distinct, and each is God; they are of one substance, one state, and one power. So far the doctrine is accurately Nicene."
  10. ^ Compare.Galatians 4:4; John 1:1-14; 5:18-25; 10:30-38
  11. ^ Spurgeon, Charles H. "The Comforter", 1855. Online: http://www.spurgeon.org/sermons/0005.htm Accessed 29 April 2009
  12. ^ Ephesians 1:17
  13. ^ MacCulloch, Reformation pp. 185, 187
  14. ^ Servetus, Michael. Restoration of Christianity. Lewiston, New York: Edwin Mellen Press, 2007.
  15. ^ Dahl, Paul E. (1992), "Godhead", in Ludlow, Daniel H., Encyclopedia of Mormonism, New York: Mcmillan, pp. 552–53, ISBN 0-02-904040-X, http://contentdm.lib.byu.edu/u?/EoM,3733 .
  16. ^ On Unitarians, see: UUA.org, Unitarian Views of Jesus; on connection with Socinianism, see: sullivan-county.com, Socinianism: Unitarianism in 16th-17th century Poland and Its Influence (Note that the icon at the top of the page expresses Trinitarian theology with a symbolic hand gesture); on this matter they parallel the ancient Ebionites, see: J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines pp. 139
  17. ^ One God or a Trinity?, James and Deb Flint (Printland: Hyderabad). Assessed: 08–15–2007. Available online
  18. ^ Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, What Does the Bible Say About God and Jesus?
  19. ^ Jewfaq.org, The Messiah

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