Our critic of the week is Ned who has taken issue with our recently posted articles demonstrating that the Bible teaches the doctrine of the Trinity. In particular, Ned rejects the Holy Spirit as the third person of the Trinity. But is his reasoning cogent and consistent with Scripture? His letter is in purple text with my comments in black.
Ned: Because your article claiming to prove a Trinity doctrine, is based upon false assumptions, I want removed from your emails.
Dr. Lisle: Done.
Ned: Here’s why the Trinity premise is false: Review the greetings of each New Testament book. Half of the 22, 11 of them, have greetings to the churches that the letters were written to. Each greeting mentions praise for God the Father, and the Son, Jesus Christ. A Holy Spirit person or entity is never even mentioned.
Dr. Lisle: This is a classic example of the fallacy of the argument from silence. This is the error of making assumptions based on what is not written in the text. However, just because something isn’t mentioned doesn’t mean it isn’t there. After all, the Bible never says that John the Baptist ever went to sleep. Can we therefore conclude that he didn’t? Of course not. We should not build our theology on what is absent in the text of Scripture, but rather on what is present in the text of Scripture.
Critics often use this error to claim that the Bible is full of contradictions. For example, Matthew 8:28-32 records the account of Jesus casting out demons from two men. The same account in Mark 5:2-13 mentions only one of the two men. The critic irrationally assumes that Mark means the other man wasn’t present just because he wasn’t mentioned. But this does not follow logically. We can speculate endlessly on why Mark didn’t mention the other man, but regardless of his reasons we cannot assume that the other man wasn’t there just because he wasn’t mentioned.
The Apostle Paul often introduced his epistles with a greeting in the name of God the Father and the Lord Jesus without mentioning the Holy Spirit by name. Of course, Paul does mention the Holy Spirit throughout His letters (e.g. Romans 8:16, 26-27, 9:1, 14:17, 15:16). And we can speculate on why Paul usually mentioned only the Father and Son in His introduction. But how does that even remotely suggest that the Holy Spirit is not God? Could it be that Paul recognized that the people he was addressing in His letters already had the Holy Spirit present with them (John 14:16-17; Romans 5:5; 1 Thessalonians 4:8)?
Ned: So if there is a 3rd person/entity of a trinity,…
Dr. Lisle: Person – not entity. The Holy Spirit is a person because He testifies (Acts 20:23) of what He witnesses (Acts 5:32). Under biblical law, one person counts as one witness (Numbers 35:30; Deuteronomy 17:6, 19:15; Joshua 24:2; John 8:17; 2 Corinthians 13:1; Hebrews 10:28).
Ned: …then the Apostles not to [sic] mentioning a greeting to the Holy Spirit is not only gross neglect, but also a shameful slap into the face, to a 3rd entity. Logic tells us that this would not stand.
Dr. Lisle: No, there is nothing logical about such reasoning. There is no biblical requirement that we must mention all three persons of the Trinity in a greeting. The introduction to the book of Acts (Acts 1:1-2) mentions only Jesus and the Holy Spirit. The Father is not mentioned. Can we conclude therefore that the Father is not a person of the Trinity? Ned’s reasoning is self-refuting.
Ned: Sensible reason tells us that the Holy Spirit is purely the Power of God the Father.
Dr. Lisle: Ned may think his reasoning is sensible, but it is not biblical. The Holy Spirit is not merely an impersonal aspect of God, such as God’s power. Rather, the Holy Spirit is a person. We know this Scripturally, because the Holy Spirit is a witness (Acts 5:32), who can testify (Acts 20:23; Romans 8:16; Hebrews 10:15; 1 John 5:6). One person counts as one witness under biblical law (Deuteronomy 19:15, 17:6; Numbers 35:30; Matthew 18:16). Impersonal forces do not literally testify. The Holy Spirit intercedes for the saints (Romans 8:26). How could an impersonal force intercede? The Holy Spirit has a mind (Romans 8:27) and knows God’s thoughts (1 Corinthians 2:11), but an impersonal force would not. The Holy Spirit has a will (1 Corinthians 12:11).
The Holy Spirit makes moral evaluations (Acts 15:28), but an impersonal force cannot do that. The Holy Spirit speaks (Acts 13:2, 28:25; Hebrews 3:7; 1 Timothy 4:1; Revelation 2:7,11). The Holy Spirit issues commands (Acts 16:6), something that impersonal “power” will not do. The Holy Spirit can be grieved (Ephesians 4:30; Isaiah 63:10) and insulted (Hebrews 10:29). How can an impersonal force experience grief? That would make no sense. The Holy Spirit has the name of God; Jesus affirms that believers are to be baptized in the name (not names) of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in Matthew 28:19. The Holy Spirit can be put to the test (Acts 5:9), which is sin (Deuteronomy 6:16). But that wouldn’t make sense of an impersonal force.
Jesus said that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is an unforgivable sin (Mark 3:29; Luke 12:10; Matthew 12:31). But how can you blaspheme an inanimate force? Blasphemy is the act of insulting or showing contempt or lack of reverence for God. Therefore, it would be impossible to blaspheme the Holy Spirit if He were not God, and Christ’s statement would make no sense. Moreover, the Scriptures are clear that the Holy Spirit is God (Acts 5:3-4).
Ned: You can twist all other Bible passages into different assumed context any way you wish.
Dr. Lisle: That is what it would take to deny that the Holy Spirit is a person of the Godhead since the Scriptures so clearly teach the deity and personality of the Spirit (e.g. Acts 5:3-4, John 15:26).
Ned: Yet the fact remains that if there was a 3rd Holy Spirit entity, that was anything other than God’s own power, He or It would have been mentioned in praise Each time they addressed New Testament churches. Such is not even mentioned!
Dr. Lisle: Again, this is the fallacy of the argument from silence. The notion that each person (not “entity”) of the Trinity must be mentioned by name in a greeting is simply an arbitrary, unbiblical assertion. The Bible has no such requirement. And the assertion is self-refuting. Sometimes the biblical authors mention only Jesus and the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 13:14; Acts 1:1-2). That doesn’t mean the Father is not a person of the Trinity. Sometimes the Father and Holy Spirit are mentioned without mentioning the Son (Luke 11:13, Matthew 10:20). That doesn’t mean that the Son is not a person of the Trinity. But Jesus mentions all three persons of the Trinity in Matthew 28:19.
Incidentally, the Hebrew term for God (Elohim) itself indicates that there cannot be merely two persons in the Godhead, but three. This is because Elohim is plural (literally meaning “Gods”), yet used with singular verbs. Unlike English, in Hebrew the plural form indicates three or more. To indicate two of something, there is a separate form called the “dual.” If the Holy Spirit were not a person of the Godhead, if the Godhead were only a “Binity” of the Father and the Son, then the term for God would be the dual form (Elohayim).
The errors in Ned’s comments show how easily one can be drawn into heresy when one does not follow correct biblical principles of interpretation and when one fails to reason properly. The overarching error in Ned’s letter is the failure to follow one of the most basic principles of hermeneutics: to interpret the unstated or ambiguous in light of the explicit and clear statements. Rather than speculating on why something is not mentioned, and then building a theology on that assumption that would then reject the clear and direct teaching that the Holy Spirit is God (e.g. Acts 5:3-4), we do the reverse. We start with the direct and clear, and then draw tentative inferences in instances when something isn’t mentioned.
To reduce such errors, we have resources at the Biblical Science Institute on both hermeneutics and logic. Understanding Genesis shows to properly interpret Scripture by following biblical principles. Introduction to Logic shows how to reason properly and avoid fallacies.