Is the Holy Spirit a third entity, or is the Spirit only the omnipresence of Jesus and/or the Father?
The terms Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are found in the OT. However, the terms are more clearly brought out, used, and linked together in the NT. No one to my knowledge argues that these terms do not appear in Scripture. Rather, the argument revolves around the realities that these terms represent. For instance a trunk can mean a car trunk, luggage trunk, tree trunk, elephant trunk, and body trunk. Each of these diverse realities are connected by the same word, yet have different meanings. This applies to the words Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The Dynamic Monarchianism of the 2nd century asserted that God is not a plurality of Persons but rather one sovereign eternal being. Consequently, as the Spirit descended upon Christ, He was “adopted” as God’s Son. The One God connects with Christ through impersonal spiritual power.
Near the end of the 2nd century, Modalistic Monarchianism, like Dynamic Monarchianism, claimed that there is only one God, the Father. As a result, Father and Son are not two different persons; rather they are names that refer to the same God involved in different activities and at different times. Within this framework, the Spirit is merely another name to designate the Father.
In Sabellian Modalism, God is a monad. In this setting, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit merely constitute three modes in which God operates in history. These modes of operation do not belong to the being of God Himself.
Lastly, Arius (250-336 AD), like Origen (185-254) believed that God was immutable, timeless, and simple, meaning that God was incapable of interacting in history and experiencing change in Himself. However, unlike Origen, Arius did not believe that God generated Christ in timeless eternity, which means that Christ had a beginning in time. This is why Arius famously asserted, “there was when He was not.”
Recently, there has been a variation that has arisen from the Arian assertion that Christ had a beginning. A similar branch from the tree of modalism concludes that the Holy Spirit is just a name for the Father, meaning that the Spirit is not a third entity but rather the omnipresence of Father and/or Son.
My purpose in this brief newsletter is merely to examine whether the three terms Father, Son, and Holy Spirit refer to one, two, or three entities.
As I begin to delve into this question, I will make use of the following interrelated hermeneutical/interpretive principles: (1) the plain and obvious reading of God’s Word instead of a method that spiritualizes away what is real, (2) the heavenly sanctuary is a real material structure that is analogous to what was revealed to Moses (Exod 25:8, 40; Heb 8:1-5) and David (1 Chr 28:11, 12, 18), and (3) the sanctuary functions as a complete system of Truth that connects and interprets what is linked to it. Hence, for the purpose of this brief newsletter, we will employ the heavenly sanctuary as an interpretive tool to answer whether the three terms Father, Son, and Holy Spirit refer to one, two, or three realities.
God’s Name and His Presence in the Sanctuary
When God’s people assembled at the base of mount Sinai, He had them construct the sanctuary. His stated purpose for doing so is that He could actually dwell (šākan) among them (Exod 25:8). The notion of God dwelling among His people is closely associated with placing His name in the place of His choice:
- Deut 12:5 “But you shall seek the place where the Lord your God chooses, out of all your tribes, to put His name for His dwelling place (šēken); and there you shall go.”
- Deut 12:11 “then there will be the place where the Lord your God chooses to make His name abide (šākan)….”
- Deut 16:6 “but at the place where the Lord your God chooses to make His name abide (šākan), there you shall sacrifice the Passover….”
- Deut 16:11 “You shall rejoice before the Lord your God, you and your son and your daughter, your male servant and your female servant, the Levite who is within your gates, the stranger and the fatherless and the widow who are among you, at the place where the Lord your God chooses to make His name abide (šākan).”
- After the Lord’s presence filled the temple so that the priests could no longer minister, Solomon said, “The Lord said He would dwell (šākan) in the dark cloud. I have surely built You an exalted house, And a place for You to dwell in forever.” 1 Kings 8:12, 13. Later in 1 Kings 8:29 Solomon prays, “that Your eyes may be open toward this temple night and day, toward the place of which You said, ‘My name shall be there,’ that You may hear the prayer which Your servant makes toward this place.”
From these passages it is evident that God’s name is synonymous with His presence, and that God dwelling in the sanctuary is synonymous with His name abiding or dwelling in the sanctuary. According to Exod 3:14-15 God said I AM is my name forever, and is my memorial to all generations. Moreover, I AM is synonymous with Lord God. In a previous newsletter, we discovered that God’s name (I AM and Lord God) is linked with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We will now examine two New Testament events that occur in the heavenly sanctuary so that we can explore whether the terms Father, Son, and Holy Spirit refer to one, two, or three entities. As we examine these events, we will keep in mind the hermeneutical principles noted above.
The Heavenly Sanctuary in Acts 2
In the minds of most people, the day of Pentecost is almost entirely associated with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. However, a closer examination of the passage reveals that the inauguration of our Lord Jesus Christ as our high priest in the heavenly sanctuary was actually the event that led to or we could say caused the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and gave authenticity and legitimacy to that inauguration.
In Acts 2:30 we read that God “would raise up Christ to sit on his throne.” Acts 2:32-35 states, “This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses. Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear. “For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he says himself: ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand, Till I make Your enemies Your footstool.”’
If we allow the Bible to unfold its plain and obvious reading, we conclude that:
- There is a temporal sequence that begins with Christ’s life that is followed by His crucifixion, burial, resurrection, and inauguration as high priest sitting at God’s right hand after the order of Melchizedek (Psalm 110:4). As a result, a plain reading of Acts 2:30-35 does not allow Christ to be in heaven and on earth simultaneously.
- The throne upon which Christ sits is a real throne that is analogous to our earthly thrones. Only a plain reading of the Word prevents us from spiritualizing the throne and at the same time making Christ omnipresent. Hence, Christ is at a particular location in this passage, which is at the Father’s right hand on the throne.
- The only one in Acts 2:30-35 who is present during the inauguration of Christ as high priest in heaven, and who is also at the same time revealed here on earth, is the Holy Spirit. Since Father and Son are both seated together, we conclude that the heavenly sanctuary interprets the Holy Spirit is a third entity; and that He is omnipresent. The arrangement of Christ and the Father seated together on the throne and the Holy Spirit as omnipresent is not limited to the outpouring of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. In Acts 2:33 Christ’s exaltation and enthronement in heaven is linked with the outpouring of the omnipresent Spirit to Pentecost in Jerusalem and to the entire world throughout the centuries as a result of the promise in Acts 2:39.
The Heavenly Sanctuary in Rev 4-5
These two pivotal chapters bring out in a clearer way the role of the heavenly sanctuary in differentiating between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit by closely associating them with the articles of furniture that are in the sanctuary. We will now apply the plain and obvious reading of God’s Word to the sanctuary, the articles of furniture, and the Godhead in order to determine if the Spirit is or is not a third entity.
The throne is mentioned 19 times between Rev 4-5, and it is only the Father who is seated on it. The following points reveal that the throne is in the center:
- The 24 thrones on which the elders are seated are around the central throne (Rev 4:4).
- “In the midst of the throne, and around the throne, were four living creatures” (Rev 4:6).
- In Rev 5:6 the Lamb is in the midst of the throne, and of the four living creatures, and of the elders.
- “Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne, the living creatures, and the elders” (Rev 5:11).
A plain reading of God’s Word reveals that the Father is in heaven and not simultaneously on earth:
- He is seated on the throne (Rev 4:2, 3, 9, 10; 5:1, 7, 13).
- In Rev 4:10 the 24 elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne, and they cast their crowns before the throne. This fact negates the notion that wherever God is there is the throne. This spiritualizes away that which is plain, which is that crowns are cast toward a specific location and that elders worship toward a specific location. Hence, if crowns, elders, thrones, and the central throne cannot be spiritualized away, then neither can one assert that the Father is simultaneously in heaven and on earth.
Next, the Lamb is in the midst of the throne in a standing position before the One seated on the throne (Rev 5:6, 13). The Lamb obviously refers to the incarnated Christ, since literal lambs don’t stand on two legs (John 1:29). The scroll that the Lamb takes out of the Father’s hand is in a particular location. The clear implication here is that the Lamb is not in the specific location of the angels that are around about the throne (Rev 5:11), and neither is the Lamb on the throne (Rev 5:6, 13). Hence, since scrolls and thrones are real entities that are connected to the Lamb in a specific location, a plain reading of Scripture precludes the Lamb being in heaven and on earth simultaneously.
Finally, a plain reading of God’s Word reveals that the seven lamps of fire burning before the throne are the seven Spirits of God (Rev 4:5). This means that the Holy Spirit’s location in the heavenly sanctuary is before the throne, not on it (Rev 1:4; 4:5). Moreover, although the Spirit is also the I AM and thus a divine being worthy of worship, yet He is not the recipient of the kind of universal worship that the Father and Son receive in any of the seven hymns in Revelation. This fact, along with the symbolic language of seven lamps (Rev 4:5), seven eyes and seven horns (Rev 5:6) most likely points to the invisible presence of the Holy Spirit who is sent out into all the earth (Rev 5:6). Thus, once the symbols are decoded, a plain reading of Scripture reveals that only the Holy Spirit is simultaneously in heaven (Rev 1:4; 4:5) and throughout all the earth (Rev 5:6).
Let’s briefly summarize what Rev 4-5 reveals:
- The Father and Son are not simultaneously in heaven and on earth. If one makes this assertion, then on the basis of similar hermeneutical principles one must spiritualize away all of the entities that are connected with Father and Son in the heavenly sanctuary.
- The symbols of seven lamps, seven eyes and seven horns point to the invisible presence of the Holy Spirit who is omnipresent.
- The Spirit is closely associated by his presence before the throne and not on it, and by the location of the seven lamps in the holy place. The Father by contrast is on the throne, and the Son is standing in the midst of the throne. If the seven lamps and the throne constitute distinguishable entities, then it is logical to assume that the members of the Godhead that are closely associated with those real material entities are also distinguishable entities.
Clarifying Jesus’ Statements
Finally, the following statements lead some who believe that the Spirit is not a third entity to conclude that it is actually Jesus who is here with us while simultaneously in heaven:
- Matt 28:20 “And lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
- John 14:15-18 “If you love Me, keep My commandments. And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever— the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.”
When we take into account the interpretive framework of the heavenly sanctuary we realize that the Father and Son are in the heavenly sanctuary. Moreover, the sanctuary reveals that the Holy Spirit is the only One that is simultaneously in heaven and on earth. In the Matt 28:20 and John 14:15-18 Jesus is simply illustrating the same truth that He uttered to Philip when He stated, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). Hence, just as Christ who is the I AM represented His Father who is also the I AM, so the Holy Spirit who is the I AM can represent Christ (John 16:7-15). This reassures the disciples that the One who will come when Christ departs shares the same family name (Exod 3:14-15; Matt 28:19).
For a description of Monarchianism, Sabellianism, and Arianism among those in the early church, see Fernando Canale, “Doctrine of God,” in Handbook of Seventh-Day Adventist Theology, ed. Raoul Dederen (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald, 2000), 140-144
“The subject of the sanctuary was the key which unlocked the mystery of the disappointment of 1844. It opened to view a complete system of truth, connected and harmonious….” Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy, (Nampa, ID: Pacific Press, 1911), 423.
The following passages link the throne with the right hand Acts 2:30, 34; cf. Psalm 110:1; cf. Matt 22:44; Mark 12:36; Luke 20:43-43; Heb 1:13; also Heb 8:1; 12:2. In the following passages, Christ is seated at the right hand, which is assumed to be by the throne, Mark 16:9; Acts 2:33; 5:31; Eph 1:20; Heb 1:3; 10:12; 1 Pet 3:22; and Rev 3:21.
Of the seven hymns in the book of Revelation, none are directed to the Holy Spirit. The first in Rev 4:8 is sung to the Father, the second in Rev 4:11 is also to the Father, the third in Rev 5:9-10 is to Jesus, the fourth in Rev 5:12 is also to Jesus, the fifth in Rev 5:13 is directed to both Father and Son, the sixth in Rev 7:10 is directed to Father and Son, and the seventh hymn in Rev 7:12 is directed to the Father. See Ekkehardt Mueller, “Christological Concepts in the Book of Revelation-Part 2: Christ’s Divinity,” Journal of the Adventist Theological Society 22 no. 1 (2011): 74-79.