How to Cult Proof Your Mind – Program 2

By: Dr. John Ankerberg; ©1998
Christians believe the Bible teaches God exists as a trinity – Father, Son and Holy Ghost, yet that there is only one God. Many other religious groups say this teaching is a false doctrine that is a form of polytheism.

God in Three Persons? Is the Trinity a False Doctrine?

With Dr. John Ankerberg, Dr. Calvin Beisner, Mr. Bill Cetnar, Mrs. Joan Cetnar, Mr. Ed Decker, Dr. Walter Kaiser, Rabbi Pinchas Lapide, Mrs. Lorri MacGregor, Mr. James Mock, Mrs. Debbie Oakley, Mr. Ken Oakley, Mrs. Helen Ortega, Mrs. Mary Kay Radpour, Dr. Robert Sabin, Dr. Walter Martin, Mr. Nathaniel Urshan


[Excerpt from Former Jehovah’s Witnesses Testify]
Mr. Bill Cetnar: The basic reason I changed my mind was that Jehovah’s Witnesses claim to be speaking for God. The Bible says that if you are speaking for God, the prophecies that you make, the statements that you make, have to be absolutely true. They have to happen. Jehovah’s Witnesses announced the end of the world for 1874, 1879, 1881, 1914, 1918, 1925, 1975. And now they display that new disease called “loss of memory.” They can’t remember ever predicting the end of the world.”
[Excerpt from An Interview with Dr. Walter Martin]
Dr. John Ankerberg: “Okay, what do you do when they say, “Now, if you really want to know the truth, what you have to do is, you’ve got to go and pray about it”?
Dr. Walter Martin: Well, you don’t have to go and pray about something God has specifically said. For instance, God said, “Thou shalt not steal.” Now, it’s ludicrous when you have an opportunity to steal something to bow your head and say, “I’ve got to pray about it.” You know automatically God said it. So when Mormons say, “Pray about the Book of Mormon,” you don’t have to pray about the Book of Mormon, all you have to do is take God’s Word, compare it to the Book of Mormon and Mormon theology and God has spoken. You reject it.

Ankerberg: Besides the major religions in our country, there are more than 3,000 cult groups, all claiming different ways to God. But Jesus said He is the only way to God. Who is right? Logically, one leader or one group could be right, but they can’t all be right at the same time if they are saying contradictory things.

If you are a Christian, do you know how to present the evidence about Jesus? Do you know how to answer people’s questions from the Bible? Is your own mind “cult-proofed” or do you have unanswered questions that cause you doubts? The Bible tells Christians, “Always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you.” [1 Pet. 3:15]

On this edition of The John Ankerberg Show, we want to help you by showing you how you can answer the questions of sincere people in the cults and skeptics who are searching for the truth. For your own peace of mind, to learn the information people desperately need to hear, we invite you to join us.

Program 2

Ankerberg: Welcome. Have you ever been asked the question, “If there is only one God, how can you say Jesus is God, the Holy Spirit is God, and the Father is God? Isn’t that an illogical and contradictory belief?” Mormons say the Father and the Son were two different Gods and believe there are millions of gods in the universe. Mormonism declares just like Jesus and God the Father were once human beings who became God, we, too, can someday attain to being gods.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses deny the Trinity, claim there is only one Almighty God, and go on to say Jesus was not Almighty God but He was “a god.” In saying this, they join the Mormons in being polytheists, that is, they believe in two or more gods. Biblically, both the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses are wrong. Let’s look at how you can respond to these different groups and present the biblical evidence for the doctrine of the Trinity. To begin, let’s start with a biblical definition. God in the Bible reveals Himself as being the one true God. There are not two gods or three gods, there is only one. He alone is God. Isaiah 45:21-22 says, “There is no God apart from me… for I am God, and there is no other.”

Deuteronomy 6:4 says: “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” But further, God in the Bible reveals that He is triune in personality, that is, there are three persons comprised in the nature of the one true God. This is clearly taught by Jesus in Matthew 28:19 where He said: “Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name [singular] of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Notice that in front of the words “Father,” “Son,” and “Holy Spirit” is the word “the.” This is the definite article which precisely indicates that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are three distinct persons. Then also notice Jesus said we are to baptize in the name [singular] of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He didn’t say we are to baptize in the names [plural] of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. So, the Greek words and grammar in this verse clearly indicate that Jesus is teaching that within the nature of the one true God there are three distinct persons.

Now, as you know, in our debates with those in the cults and those of other religious groups, the doctrine of the Trinity has often appeared. I’d like you to listen to a clip of one of our programs in which Dr. Walter Martin, the author of the classic book, The Kingdom of the Cults, defined simply and biblically the doctrine of the Trinity and why all should accept it.

[Excerpt from An Interview with Dr. Walter Martin]
Walter Martin: When you’re talking to a Jehovah’s Witness, or for that matter, a cultist, about the Trinity, the simplest thing to do is to say, “Look, the nature of God is beyond our understanding. Everybody knows that.” I’ve said it many times. It’s true. If you could understand how God was God, you’d be God. He doesn’t ask us to do that. He simply says, “This is my Word and in there I have revealed myself.”
So in the Word of God you have the Father declared to be God; in 2 Peter :17, God the Father. You have the Son declared to be God in John 1:1. You have the Holy Spirit declared to be God in Acts 5:3-4. Then the Bible says, “And these three persons are the One God.” Why? Because there’s only one God. [Deut. 6:4] So you don’t have to be a great logician to figure out that if the Father is called God, the Son is called God, the Spirit is called God, and there’s only one God, then the Father, the Son and the Spirit are the One God whether you understand it or not. That’s where they break down. They will not take the leap of faith that if God says it, that’s sufficient.

Ankerberg: Now, those in Islam, as well as those in Orthodox Judaism, believe that God is one and conclude that since He is one being, God must be a solitary unity, an absolute one. But God in the Bible doesn’t reveal to us that He is an absolute unity; rather, He has revealed Himself as being a composite unity, that is, one being comprised of three distinct persons within. Where in the Bible do we find God revealing Himself as a composite unity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit? And especially, where in the Old Testament do we find the evidence for this?

To answer these questions, I’d like you to listen to Dr. Walter Kaiser, President of Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary. He is a distinguished professor of Semitic Languages who was debating Orthodox Jewish Rabbi Pinchas Lapide. In this excerpt you’ll hear Dr. Kaiser present some Old Testament passages that clearly show God has not only revealed Himself as a composite unity, but also that someday God the Son would enter the world as the Messiah.

[Excerpt from Do the Messianic Prophecies of the Old Testament Point to Jesus or Somebody Else?]
Dr. Walter Kaiser: In Isaiah 9:6 here you have a son that is to be born and what is this son’s name? The son’s name is “Wonderful Counselor, Almighty God – El Gibbor – Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” This is some Son! We’ve never had one like this that is called in these terms. Now, we can try to soften down the phrase, “Almighty God,” El Gibbor, but it’s a pretty good Hebrew expression there, and it is one, I think, that is promising to us that God does have a Son. This is an amazing thing, especially in light of the Shema, Deuteronomy 6:4: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God… is echod, is one.” It doesn’t say yachiyd and it doesn’t say that the Lord our God is absolute one, unity, but it says He is composite unity.
And I read in the biblical text to my surprise that while God is one, and I don’t believe in two gods, three gods – one God! It is heresy to believe in two gods; there’s only One. And yet, to my amazement, the text, the Hebrew text, not the “Christian text,” – though I hate that distinction, or I guess I should say dislike it – I really think that it still is a real problem here. Proverbs 30:4 in which you have God Himself speaking and it says, “And what is His Son’s name?” And I want to say, “Beg your pardon? God has a Son?” But sure enough, the text is talking about that.
Or, in Psalm 2, lo and behold, here again I have the nations are in turmoil and they are all stirred up and there is a regular earthquake here. The Aramaic word probably like ra-ash, in tumult. They are trembling. And what is the problem? They are agitated against the Lord and against His Anointed, His Mashiach. And they say, “Let’s break their bands. Let’s cast their court.” [Psa. 2:3] And I’m surprised! I can’t believe it! There’s a plural there. What’s that plural doing there? It almost looks like some Christian got at the thing and worked on it. But there it is. And I say, what can I do? It is in the text.
So I listen to the text and here I hear in Isaiah 9 that God has a Son and that His name is “Wonderful Counselor.” Really, the word “Wonderful” there is “Miraculous,” miracle worker. The very word used back when Abraham was asked, “Is anything too pele, too wonderful for God?” Too miraculous for God, too difficult for Him. [Gen. 18:14] Here, the One who is beyond all difficulty – that’s His name: Miraculous Counselor, Almighty God, Everlasting Father. I am stunned by the verses! Just bowled over! Here you have the Lord Himself talking about His Son, and yet, in a strict, monotheistic context in which God is echod – He is One; composite unity, not yachiyd like Abraham had his, or others here in Genesis 18, “an only son” where it’s talking about absolute unity.

Ankerberg: We have just started to scratch the surface as to the Old Testament evidence about God being a composite unity, that is, within the one true nature of God there exist three distinct persons. I want you to hear more biblical evidence for this doctrine. So let’s go to our debate with the United Pentecostal Church International leaders who deny the doctrine of the Trinity and believe God is only an absolute unity. They hold to views condemned by the early Church Councils, namely Modalism or Sabellianism, which stated that God manifests or shows Himself in different ways to us according to circumstances. God is Father at one time, at another time God puts on the mode of Son, at another time the mode of the Holy Spirit. But it is one and the same God who appears to us in these modes. It is like a person picking up a different mask one at a time. They do not believe God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit exist distinctly and continuously as the one true God. Now, during our debate the evidence against this position and for the doctrine of the Trinity was presented from the Old Testament.

I’d like you to listen as Dr. Walter Martin debates United Pentecostal Church International leaders Dr. Robert Sabin and Rev. Nathaniel Urshan. Also representing orthodox Christianity is Mr. Calvin Beisner.

[Excerpt from The Trinity or “Jesus Only”?]
Ankerberg: Alright, let’s move on then.
Martin: Let me ask, What does “let us” mean then to you? I mean, we’re talking about it for us, all right? “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” [Gen. 1:26] means for us that within the Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were speaking. Now let me finish. That’s what it means to us, alright? Now, we would like you to tell us what it means to you.
Dr. Robert Sabin: I’ll tell you as soon as you answer my question. Who is God that says, “Let us make man….” Who is speaking?
Martin: The Eternal Triune God. The Father to the Son.
Sabin: The Trinity is speaking?
Martin: The Father to the Son.
Dr. Calvin Beisner: One of the Persons includes all other Persons.
Sabin: Is the Trinity speaking also when He uses “Me” and “I?” You said that before.
Martin: Well, look, if you really want to get technical on “me” and “I,” alright. Zechariah 12:10 says, “They shall look upon me…”
Sabin: Absolutely!
Martin: “…whom they have pierced.”
Sabin: Right!
Martin: Right? Who’s the “me”?
Sabin: Jehovah!
Martin: No, who’s the “me”?
Sabin: Jehovah. It tells you Jehovah, right? If you look at Zechariah you can see…
Martin: “They shall look upon me whom they have pierced.”
Sabin: Absolutely!
Martin: “They shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only son.” You’ve got two people in that passage, any way you slice it.
Rev. Nathaniel Urshan: Alright, let me ask you this then. Jehovah declares in Isaiah 44:6 that He alone is the first and the last and the only God, which eliminates forever any confusion as to there being two “firsts” and a “last.”
Martin: I am with you to the end on that, okay? You’re right! Isaiah 44:6. Now, let’s go to Revelation. Revelation 1:7-8, “Behold he is coming with clouds; and every eye shall see him, those also who pierced him: and all nations of the earth shall mourn because of him. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, the First and the Last, the Almighty One.”
No doubt about that! It’s Jehovah God! You go to verse 17, it specifically says “the First and the Last” is identified with the Lord Jesus Christ. No problem with that whatsoever.
You go to Revelation 20, Alpha and Omega is identified again; you go to chapter 22 and it is identified with “I, Jesus, the Alpha and the Omega.” You have Two Persons described as eternal Alpha and Omega, First and Last, and the only possible explanation is that they share the same nature. They’re both Deity.
Sabin: So that I understand you, do you believe that God in His existence can swirl around between these modes and He can speak as Son and then speak as Father and then speak as the Holy Ghost in His modes?
Martin: Whoa! I’m not the modalist, you are! You’re the Sabellian, I’m not. I’m the good guy. I’m the Orthodox.
Sabin: You’re creating modes within the Godhead.
Beisner: No! There’s certainly no “swirling around,” because these Persons are eternally distinct. You bring up the change in the nature of God by saying suddenly that once He’s the Father and then He becomes the Son and then He becomes the Holy Spirit.
Sabin: But you say that He can speak as the Father and then as the Son in the same verse.
Beisner: Because He is always the Father; He’s always the Son; He’s always the Holy Spirit. That doesn’t ever involve any change in His nature.
Sabin: Show us where God is a composite unity in the Old Testament.
Martin: Yes, I would cite Genesis 1:26, of course, which we just did. I would cite the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11:7, “Let us go down and confound their languages” as conversation within the Trinity; I would cite Isaiah 6:8: “Whom shall I send; who will go for us” as conversation within the Trinity, as classic illustrations of it. Then I would talk about composite unity on the basis of such passages as Genesis 2:24, which is quoted by the Lord Jesus in Mark 10:8 that Adam and Eve became “one flesh.” It’s obvious that Adam did not become Eve; it’s obvious that Eve did not become Adam. They were two persons, but they shared a specific unity. Perhaps I could illustrate it by saying, if our country is attacked tomorrow morning, then as “one,” as a man, we would all compositely rise to the defense of our country. We wouldn’t say that each one of us would become the other. We would say, “We, all together,” had a unity, and this is the kind of unity I’m trying to talk about in the nature of God. A composite unity.
Sabin: Okay. Take the analogy….
Martin: Well, could I quote the last two verses and then you can refute it if you want to?
Sabin: Sure!
Martin: Numbers 13:23 is to me a classic illustration which is always overlooked by Sabellians. In Numbers 13:23 in your King James Bible it says that they took a cluster of grapes from the Promised Land. It was such a big cluster that they had to put a man on either end with a pole and then the two of them carried it. Yet the Hebrew says, if you want to get to the Hebrew of the text, Eschol echod, “one grape.” Now, we know that it wasn’t one grape, because no grape is so big that two guys have to haul it from Canaan over the river. So, obviously the concept of many grapes attached to one stem indicates that the Jews had an idea of composite unity. I am suggesting that if they had that idea of composite unity – so many could be in union – it is not illogical to say that there could be three persons in unity.
And finally, in Deuteronomy 6:4, which is your passage, the Shema, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One” quoted by Jesus Christ in Mark 12 and explained by Him in John 10 where He says, “I and my Father are one” in union. He doesn’t say, “I and my Father are the same Person.” As a matter of fact, what’s so devastating about the passage and why it brings this all together is that in John 10:30 it says, “I and my Father, we are in union. Two Persons, we are in union; composite unity. Jesus said it. “We” means two. Bob and I could say “we” are in this room. If it’s just me in the room, it’s “I.” But Jesus said, “I and my Father, we are in union.” And it’s in the context of Deity that Jesus answers it, because the Jews had challenged His Deity.
Urshan: Jesus also said, “He who hath seen me, hath seen the Father.” [John 14:9] If they see you, Dr. Martin, they don’t see me.
Martin: No, and I’m not suggesting that’s true, which I think is irrelevant to the point that I make, which is….
Urshan: The point is that, “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father.” You’re separating them.
Beisner: All that he was doing with the analogy with “you and him” was pointing out that you had to use a plural verb when two subjects were involved. If he were talking about the two of you being in this room, he’d have to say “we are” not “I is.”
Sabin: I just hope that we get enough time to deal with the things you brought up as you’ve had to present them.
Martin: As much time as we have.
Sabin: Excellent. Let’s take Genesis 2:24. Are the Persons of the Trinity as separate as a husband and wife?
Martin: I tried to point out something before in this connection and I will answer it categorically. The members of the Trinity, being of the nature of Deity, transcend human experience and knowledge by infinity.
Sabin: Okay, we’ll accept that.
Martin: It has to!
Sabin: Okay, this says “one flesh,” it does not say “one person.”
Martin: But you see, the concept….
Beisner: But neither does the Trinity! Straw man again!
Martin: Neither does the Trinity. See that….
Beisner: Neither does the Trinity! Why do you keep arguing against what we don’t believe?
Sabin: You said the “one” in Genesis 2:24 is the same “one” in Deuteronomy 6:4; it has the same sense. And it doesn’t have the same sense, and you don’t have to explain that to me….
Martin: Bob, you keep accusing us, and Cal just pointed it out: you’re accusing us of what we don’t believe. We do not believe that there are three gods. We believe there is only One.
Sabin: You said that God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Ghost are One like a husband and wife.
Martin: No, no, I didn’t say that!
Sabin: Let’s go to Numbers.
Martin: I didn’t say that!
Sabin: I thought you did.
Martin: No, no, I’m not…this isn’t fencing trying to beat the point, it’s trying to get to the fact of what the text itself says. It says Adam and Eve were “one flesh.”
Sabin: One flesh.
Martin: All I’m saying is that this indicates a unity between them that is not solitary unity. There was composite unity. There were two of them who became one in union. That’s all I’m saying the passage says. Now will you go over to the other passages, Deuteronomy 6….
Sabin: Numbers first.
Martin: Okay. Numbers first.
Sabin: How about Numbers?
Martin: Eschol echod means here is a cluster of grapes which…
Sabin: One cluster.
Martin: I’m aware of that, but I’m trying to make the point that the grapes are called in the Hebrew not “cluster.” They’re called “grape,” one “grape.” Eschol echod means “one grape.” So the Jews must have understood that there was a unity, a composite meaning to the word echod. See, what you’re doing is saying….
Sabin: If they understood that, why didn’t they prepare then to serve a God who was a composite unity?
Martin: Could I ask you a question?
Sabin: Sure, but answer that question.
Martin: Why did they blow it when they came out of Egypt with all the miracles that they saw, got on the other side, the Red Sea opens up, they walk through on dry land, and it’s a couple of days after that they’re doing what? “Would to God we were back in Egypt!” [Ex. 14] They saw all these miracles. Who can understand people who can receive all the miracles and power of God and then move over across the river and want to go back to the land of Egypt and to slavery again?
Sabin: Are you telling us that God did not want to impress Israel with the fact that He was absolutely One or a solitary One, but that He was trying to tell Israel that He was a compound One, and so between two and six thousand times He re-emphasizes this?
Martin: No, I am not trying to interpret the mind of God or to think God’s thoughts after Him; I don’t have the capacities. I’m trying to say that simply because the Jews didn’t understand the nature of God doesn’t mean that God cannot be composite; that there cannot be a Person called the Father, Son and Spirit. Bob, you and I are two persons.
Sabin: That’s right.
Martin: Nathaniel is a third person.
Sabin: That’s right.
Martin: Let me finish. We would be absolutely insane, the three of us, if for one minute we suggested that we could move from our concept of “person” into the infinity of God who is as high above us as the heavens are above the earth and say, “Well, if there’s three of us here and we all don’t look differently” and we start using the analogy of ourselves and applying it to God, we would be taking God from the throne of Heaven, bringing Him down to earth and saying, “Well, why don’t you talk to us as Trinity? Why don’t you explain yourself?” And the answer would be, “Take off your shoes! You’re on holy ground! [Ex. 3:5] Don’t talk to me about Who I am or how I am, just believe me when I tell you that I am.”

Ankerberg: How can three persons be God when there is only one God? The Bible reveals God is one in essence but three in persons. God has one nature but three centers of consciousness. This is a mystery but not a contradiction. It would be a contradiction to say God was only one person but also was three persons. Or, that God is only one nature but that He also has three natures. But it is not a contradiction for Christians reading their Bible to state that God is one essence, eternally revealed in three distinct persons.

Next week we’ll answer the question: “When Jesus said, ‘My Father is greater than I,’ why does Christianity teach that Jesus is equal to God?” I hope you’ll join me to hear the biblical answer.

Read Part 3


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