Torrey, What the Bible Teaches, Chapter 2


[See previous discussions at the Torrey Book Review link in the Menu bar above.]

After discussing God as Spirit Torrey excavates probably the deepest facet in the diamond of theology: the unity of God. There are plenty of Scriptures to show that there is only one God, there is only one entity worthy of the name GOD. Particularly the Deuteronomy verse used universally by Jews to this day: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord.” (Deut. 6:4) Even Jesus’ own words validate this. (Mark 12:2). Torrey correlates this Divine unity to the unity such as a man and wife becoming one, or Jew and Gentile being one in the Church, even pre-Tower of Babel peoples being one people group, but these seem a tad forced when applied to the person of God. Mentioning of the unity of God implies some concept of Godhead, and the topic of the Trinity is inescapably involved.

On the face of it it seems superfluous to discuss the unity of God. Most people, at least those who don’t worship trees or the sun and stars, understand the concept of one Supreme being, “one” being the operative word. Obviously there is only one God from Whom all things proceed. Of course, soon after Creation and the Fall, man’s divorce from his Maker left him without constraint, enabling him to believe anything he desired or could fabricate, worshiping a host of inanimate objects indiscriminately and with abandon.

But talking about God’s unity seems like discussing the unity of yourself. How many of you are there? Well, just one I hope! Although my personal favorite analogy of the concept of the Triune Godhead does use the principle of personhood: you are a physical body, you are a spiritual being, you have a mind and intelligence; three distinct entities make up your one being. But you are still one person. You have a body, a personality and intellect, and a spirit or soul. Of course, all human analogies ultimately fail when pressed too firmly, and Torrey acknowledges that “A perfectly satisfactory answer to this question is manifestly impossible from the very nature of the case.” Sounds like a cop out but it is recognizing man’s finite limitations; Torrey writes, “God is infinite and we are finite. He ‘dwells in the light no man can approach unto.'” Kind of like expecting ants to understand humans. Well, maybe not.

But with the ministry of Jesus and statements He made about who He is and His relationship with the Father, and of the Helper who was to come after, there became a need right from the birth of the Church to understand exactly what all His these things meant. The Trinity was not an obvious theological concept in Old Testament studies so it became a big surprise after the Resurrection, a Biblical Easter Egg one might say. And the early Church was to find out that there were many ways to interpret these mysterious sayings of Jesus, as well as statements of the Apostles, particularly in the writings of Paul. Divisions and factions would challenge the early Church, heresies would run rampant, and it would take 300 years and the Council of Nicaea 1 to define an orthodox response to the questions, “who is God, who is Jesus, who is the Holy Spirit?” Torrey tries to summaries the issue of the Godhead in a scant three pages. But the subject is too vast for such a limited treatment. He barely scratches the surface, but this is a summary work after all. The doctrine of the Trinity is probably the largest theological concept to arise since the closing of the Old Testament canon (along with Atonement and the Resurrection). It is still a hot topic today. The Mormons don’t believe in it, Gnostics either, Jehovah’s Witnesses do not, neither Oneness Pentecostals. (I would mention Unitarians, but you can’t even call them a Christian sect!) The beliefs and heresy of 3rd century Arius (ca. AD 250–336) are very much alive today in these organizations.

But comprehending exactly who is Jesus Christ becomes the focal point of salvation history. Can you be a Christian, can you be born again, and not believe that Jesus is the visible representation of the invisible God? “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.” (Heb. 1:3) That is the centuries old question, which underlies Torrey’s need to include this section in his book. There are reams and volumes opposing this single proposition since at least the second century. The Apostle John gives little doubt for anyone who genuinely has been born of God in the Spirit, and so Torrey includes this amazing declaration from the first line of John’s Gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” It seems clear to me that anyone who has been “born of the Spirit,” in John’s terms (John 3:5,6,8), would permit the Spirit to enlighten him in this truth, since “God is not a God of confusion.” (1Cor. 14:33) The identity of Christ was so important a point that all three Synoptic Gospels paint the scene of Jesus quizzing His own disciples, “who do you say that I am?” (Matt.16:15) Can one be a Christian and not believe that Jesus was God? I’d ultimately have to defer to the providence of our Lord on that judgement, but it is very hard to understand how a Believer could be so inclined considering what seems indisputable evidence: that it is indeed Jesus who is, was, and will be. After all, He did tell the Pharisees, “before Abraham was born, I AM.” (John 8:58) What else could that possibly mean?

1 Particularly enjoyable is reading Schaff’s description of the Counsel of Nicaea, in his History of the Christian Church, Volume 3, Nicene and Post-Nicene Christianity, A.D. 311-590, section 120.

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2 Responses to Torrey, What the Bible Teaches, Chapter 2

  1. Pingback: The Unity of God | The Esther Project

  2. Lex says:

    “Can one be a Christian and not believe that Jesus was God?”

    I agree with your hesitation, John, as scripture clearly warns us not to judge someone else’s salvation. We can, however, apply the Word of God, and I think you’re right on when you ask, “What else could that possibly mean?”

    Jesus said over and over that He is the Son of God, and that He and God are One. To disbelieve that is to disbelieve Jesus’ ministry. If Jesus was wrong, then He was committing blasphemy, which is sin, which means He wasn’t a perfect sacrifice on the cross, which means we are all dead in our sins.

    I’m not qualified to judge a person’s salvation, but in general, I think that answer is a resounding, “No.” Jesus is. End of story.

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