Primer on the Trinity - a Classical Perspective

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Primer on the Trinity - a Classical Perspective

#1

Post by Jac3510 » Fri May 15, 2015 7:21 pm

So I thought K made a good point in the thread on why God created us when he pointed out that all the conceptions of the Trinity he knew of were faulty. I think he is right largely because the Protestant world has given up on classical theism and therefore the explanation that the Church spent 1000 years developing. I wouldn’t have as much of a problem with that if the explanations that have been offered in its place were coherent, but as K points out, they really just aren’t. In response, it seems to me that the Protestant (or just non-classical) world is content to write off the Trinity as a mystery. That doesn’t cut it for me, though, and I don’t think it should cut it for anyone else. So what I want to do is offer a primer on the Trinity as classical theism presents it.

I want to start by laying out five biblical propositions that form the basis of everything we can and must say about the Trinity. They are:
  • 1. There is one God
    2. There is a Person called the Father who is God
    3. There is a Person called the Son who is God
    4. There is a Person who called the Holy Spirit who is God
    5. These three Persons are distinct (that is, the Father is not identical to the Son or Spirit, nor is the Son identical to the Spirit)
Now, whatever we say about how these five statements are true, we must ensure that we take all five statements seriously. And that is what I’m going to attempt to offer.

I would start by noting that to take (1) seriously is to affirm that there is only one divine nature. It should be clear that if there were two or more divine natures, then there would be no way to say that both are God. For if there were two, then the two natures would have to be different in some way, and then that would mean that one is God and the other is not. Further, if there were two or more divine natures, then (2)-(4) would not be true, or they would at least be meaningless, because the word “God” would have to mean different things in each sentence.

Second, notice that if there is only one divine nature, then it is common to all three Persons. Now, there are two ways we can take that sentence. First, we can say that the nature is common to the Persons in the sense that my wife and I have a common human nature. In this way of thinking, the divine nature is a really existent reality apart from any of the Persons themselves, and that the Persons have and in some sense exhibit that nature. To stick with my example, “humanity” is a really existent nature. My wife and I each have and exhibit it. But I would submit to you that this cannot be what we mean when we say that divine nature is common to all three Persons. Because if that were the case, we would have three beings exhibiting a common nature, which would be tri-theism. That would be in contradiction with (1).

Third, I would note that if there is only one nature, then there can be no distinction between the Persons at the level of nature. One common misconception to illustrate this: people often tend to think that the Father, Son, and Spirit all have their own wills, and that these three wills are “one” in the sense of being in agreement. But two distinct wills means two distinct natures. In fact, there is exactly one will in God, and that one will is common to all three Persons. In short, if we propose any distinction between the Persons that would require multiple natures, then that distinction is false and must be rejected.

So how can we distinguish between the Persons? Since we cannot distinguish at the level of nature, and since we cannot distinguish at the level of bodies (which is the way we distinguish between material entities of the same nature—you can distinguish between my wife and I even though we have a common nature because, while our nature is identical, we are different instances (different bodies) of that same nature, and so we are more than one; we are two), there is only one option left: we distinguish between the Persons via their relations.

Let me explain. In (2)-(4) above, we identified three Persons: Father, Son, and Spirit. The Father is related to the Son, and the terms “Father” and “Son” implicitly tell us something about their relationship. The Father’s relation is what we call “paternity.” The Son’s relation is what we call “filiation.” Where there is paternity, there is necessarily filiation, and where there is filiation, there is necessarily paternity. Paternity is not filiation, and filiation is not paternity, so this distinction in real. Yet the Scriptures tell us of a third relation. His name is “the Holy Spirit,” so we call that relation “spiration.” Now, this is important: the Son is begotten of and proceeds from the Father. So, too, does the Holy Spirit. But if the Son proceeds from the Father and the Spirit proceeds from the Father, then how do we distinguish between them? Remember, the only way we can distinguish between the Persons is via relations! This is why the Western Church claims that the Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son. So we see the three Persons are distinct by their relations only. The Father is the Father because He begets the Son; the Son is the Son because He is begotten by the Father; the Spirit is the Spirit because He proceeds from both the Father and Son.

So, fine, the Persons are distinguished only by their relations to each other. But relations necessarily require two or more entities, and if there is only one divine nature, what is related to what? It isn’t enough just to say “the Father is related to the Son,” because, remember, the Persons are nothing more than the relations. Such an answer, while perhaps true as far as it goes, just begs the question. So the classical answer here is that the relations are between the divine processions.

Ok, so what are the divine processions? There are two: the procession of the intellect and the procession of the will. For reasons I won’t bore you with here, there can be no more and no less than these two processions. So let’s take them in that order. An intelligent, rational entity necessarily has an intellect. It knows things. In God’s case, what He primarily knows is Himself—His own infinite nature. He knows it completely, fully, absolutely. The self-knowledge of God is called a “procession,” insofar as God’s knowledge of Himself “proceeds” from His very nature. A second procession is the will, for all volitional entities will things. Now, what God primarily wills is Himself (for reasons, again, I won’t bore you with; it has to do with the will necessarily being related to the good and God being the very nature of Good-in-itself). Thus, like God’s self-knowledge is a procession, God’s self-willing is a procession.

I want to pause here, because it might be tempting to identify the nature as the Father, the procession of the intellect as the Son, and the procession of the will as the Spirit. But that would fail, because that would mean that the Father had no intellect or will in Himself (but only relative to the other two Persons), and thus He would be incomplete. That is, He would be imperfect, and therefore not God. Just so with the Son, who would lack a nature and will, and the Spirit, who would lack a nature and intellect, and thus neither would be God. The point is that it is the relations that are related to one another. And that is where we see that one relation is called paternity, one relation is called filiation, and one relation is called spiration.

So there are a lot of other technical questions we could get into, but I don’t want to press things too far. I’m already close to 1500 words, so let me stop here. I just want to offer something that I hope is helpful in giving people a start on what “the Trinity” entails. Each of the three Persons are identical the one divine essence, but the three relations are necessarily distinct, not by nature or essence, but by their relation one to another, as paternity (Father), filiation (Son), and spiration/procession (Spirit). As such, all three Persons share a common nature even as they are distinct one from another. All three are absolutely identical at the level of nature and there is nothing to distinguish them save these relations. In other words, one God subsisting in three Persons, all of whom are distinct from one another even as they are identical with the divine essence.
Proinsias wrote:I don't think you are hearing me. Preference for ice cream is a moral issue
And that, brothers and sisters, is the kind of foolishness you get people who insist on denying biblical theism. A good illustration of any as the length people will go to avoid acknowledging basic truths.

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Re: Primer on the Trinity - a Classical Perspective

#2

Post by 1over137 » Sat May 16, 2015 11:05 pm

Jac, thank you for the first post in row. I would love to see (you already may plan it) Bible verses included to understand them better.
But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good.
-- 1 Thessalonians 5:21

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.
-- Philippians 1:6

#foreverinmyheart

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Re: Primer on the Trinity - a Classical Perspective

#3

Post by EssentialSacrifice » Sun May 17, 2015 5:54 am

I just want to offer something that I hope is helpful in giving people a start on what “the Trinity” entails. Each of the three Persons are identical the one divine essence, but the three relations are necessarily distinct, not by nature or essence, but by their relation one to another, as paternity (Father), filiation (Son), and spiration/procession (Spirit). As such, all three Persons share a common nature even as they are distinct one from another. All three are absolutely identical at the level of nature and there is nothing to distinguish them save these relations. In other words, one God subsisting in three Persons, all of whom are distinct from one another even as they are identical with the divine essence.
even in knowing, in that process of understanding, that transcends actual knowledge, is firm belief. The faith that wills the belief held on the understanding of the Trinity is very full here, in this explanation. As i said, or meant to say, the concept is unknowable in it's complete sense, but this definition is as close/complete and concise as I've ever read. It can stand alone, as in all belief, it should be able to.
Trust the past to God’s mercy, the present to God’s love, and the future to God’s providence. -St Augustine

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Re: Primer on the Trinity - a Classical Perspective

#4

Post by B. W. » Mon May 18, 2015 7:44 am

I simply like the ancient Hebrew text in how it reveals God. In that it reveals that God's oneness is unlike anything we can fully conceive of so that there is none like God in the absolutist of terms. From the text, one simply see's that as the Father has wisdom, so does the Son and Holy Spirit. The Son and Holy Spirit are living expressions/actions of the Father's wisdom. The phrases, arm of the Lord i.e. extension, or presences/faces i.e. panim of YHWH also express this. In the NT, Jesus mentions he proceeded forth from the Father as does the Holy Spirit. In the OT language, you see this as well as that is how God chose to reveal himself in truth - showing himself as he really is. Our minds cannot grasp this fully but we can gain an understanding of God's triune nature through truth YHWH reveals about himself in the bible and in nature as Roman chapter One discusses.

Take an orange:you have orange peel, orange fruit, and orange juice. You cannot take the orange out of the peal, the fruit, or the juice, yet, each differ from each other while they are the same. Likewise The Son and Holy Spirit are the living expressions of Godhead's righteousness, holiness, wisdom, justice, judgement, love, mercy, compassion, will, purpose, etc and etc ... in other words, they do the will/work in living ways. They are the living expressions of the Father's will, differing in actions, yet coequal. Eternal, and living because God's nature is one of life. There is really no way to humanly express this other than how God reveals himself in the bible. One God in three persons of one divine essence. The Father's wisdom, is carried out and expressed forth by and in the actions of the Son and Holy Spirit. That is just how God is simple being.

An aside note

I also find it interesting that in Exodus 24:9-11, that 74 people went up the mountain and saw HaElohim, yet Moses was called to the top of the mountain where he received the Tablets of Stone written by the finger of God, Exodus 31:18. There you have 73 of the leaders of Israel dinning with God, seeing a theophany of God, while Moses was called to Higher where he received the Tablets of Stone from God. Very interesting information in these chapters as well as the use of HaElohim in verse 11.

It was not until later, in Exodus 33:17-23 that Moses desired to see the full glory of YHWH’s panim united and was told no mortal could see this manifestation because a mortal would die. So Instead, God provided a way in which Moses could gain a glimpse only of YHWH’s back as he passed by. Amazing, that the Tablets that were broken were written by the finger of YHWH and the new tablets YHWH dictated to Moses to write, Exodus 34:1-4.

There the triune nature of God was revealed to Moses...

Exodus 34:5-8, "The LORD descended in the cloud and stood there with him as he called upon the name of the LORD. 6 Then the LORD passed by in front of him and proclaimed, "The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; 7 who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations." 8 Moses made haste to bow low toward the earth and worship." NASB

So you have some of the attributes of the Godhead revealed in the text as...compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; keeping lovingkindness for thousands, forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; and by no means leave the guilty unpunished...

Therefore as the Father, Son, Holy Spirit have these same attributes, the Son and Holy Spirit demonstrate the living expressions/actions of the Father's wisdom in these matters.

I do not think human being can fully explain the Trinity. Yet, like Moses, we can get a glimpse of Him as he leads us homeward y:-?
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Re: Primer on the Trinity - a Classical Perspective

#5

Post by EssentialSacrifice » Mon May 18, 2015 4:52 pm

Gotta say Jac and B.W. ... two of the best back to back posts since I've been here. Both excellent... thanks for the thoughts and education.
Trust the past to God’s mercy, the present to God’s love, and the future to God’s providence. -St Augustine

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Re: Primer on the Trinity - a Classical Perspective

#6

Post by Storyteller » Tue May 19, 2015 4:17 am

What ES said :)

I am fascinated by the Trinity, just when I think I have some kind of understanding of it something crops up and I have to start again. I`m not sure we will ever truly grasp how it all works. I try and figure it out all the time. It`s mind bending! Three different "personas" yet the same. How?????

I had always kinda thought it went something like this....

God.... the Father, the Creator.
The Son... God as man.
The Holy Spirit... the breath of God, our spirits living in the love of God.


Here`s something I puzzle over...

Jesus sits at the right hand of God. How? He is God. When we arrive in Heaven, will we see God and Christ? What about the HS? Will we just see one "being"? Or all three?

(That`s put really badly but hopefully you get the gist)
Faith is a knowledge within the heart, beyond the reach of proof - Kahlil Gibran

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Re: Primer on the Trinity - a Classical Perspective

#7

Post by PaulSacramento » Tue May 19, 2015 5:58 am

If you want to define the Trinity, you must first define "person".
After that the term "beget" needs to be clarified ( if the son is begotten then that SEEMS to imply that at one point, HE didn't exist).
After that you need to address the issue of the HS and how the HS is not simply "just" the spirit of God.

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Re: Primer on the Trinity - a Classical Perspective

#8

Post by melanie » Tue May 19, 2015 6:12 am

PaulSacramento wrote:If you want to define the Trinity, you must first define "person".
After that the term "beget" needs to be clarified ( if the son is begotten then that SEEMS to imply that at one point, HE didn't exist).
After that you need to address the issue of the HS and how the HS is not simply "just" the spirit of God.
Is the Holy Spirit a person? Sitting where? At the left hand of God?
I am not convinced.
Hence why I have never called or considered myself a trinitarian. Apparently according to dogma that makes me a heretic.
I'm not too concerned, I have poured over scripture and literature on the matter and I'm comfortable in my views.

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Re: Primer on the Trinity - a Classical Perspective

#9

Post by Storyteller » Tue May 19, 2015 6:15 am

melanie wrote:
PaulSacramento wrote:If you want to define the Trinity, you must first define "person".
After that the term "beget" needs to be clarified ( if the son is begotten then that SEEMS to imply that at one point, HE didn't exist).
After that you need to address the issue of the HS and how the HS is not simply "just" the spirit of God.
Is the Holy Spirit a person? Sitting where? At the left hand of God?
I am not convinced.
Hence why I have never called or considered myself a trinitarian. Apparently according to dogma that makes me a heretic.
I'm not too concerned, I have poured over scripture and literature on the matter and I'm comfortable in my views.
Hey Mel :)

So who/what is the Holy Spirit to you then?

That sounds a little abrupt doesn`t it? I don`t mean it like that, I`m just curious as to how you see the HS if not within the Trinity?
Faith is a knowledge within the heart, beyond the reach of proof - Kahlil Gibran

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Re: Primer on the Trinity - a Classical Perspective

#10

Post by RickD » Tue May 19, 2015 6:27 am

melanie wrote:
PaulSacramento wrote:If you want to define the Trinity, you must first define "person".
After that the term "beget" needs to be clarified ( if the son is begotten then that SEEMS to imply that at one point, HE didn't exist).
After that you need to address the issue of the HS and how the HS is not simply "just" the spirit of God.
Is the Holy Spirit a person? Sitting where? At the left hand of God?
I am not convinced.
Hence why I have never called or considered myself a trinitarian. Apparently according to dogma that makes me a heretic.
I'm not too concerned, I have poured over scripture and literature on the matter and I'm comfortable in my views.
Mel,

If you believe God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, are all God, then don't discount the Trinity.
1 Corinthians 1:9
9 God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

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Re: Primer on the Trinity - a Classical Perspective

#11

Post by melanie » Tue May 19, 2015 6:50 am

Storyteller wrote:
melanie wrote:
PaulSacramento wrote:If you want to define the Trinity, you must first define "person".
After that the term "beget" needs to be clarified ( if the son is begotten then that SEEMS to imply that at one point, HE didn't exist).
After that you need to address the issue of the HS and how the HS is not simply "just" the spirit of God.
Is the Holy Spirit a person? Sitting where? At the left hand of God?
I am not convinced.
Hence why I have never called or considered myself a trinitarian. Apparently according to dogma that makes me a heretic.
I'm not too concerned, I have poured over scripture and literature on the matter and I'm comfortable in my views.
Hey Mel :)

So who/what is the Holy Spirit to you then?

That sounds a little abrupt doesn`t it? I don`t mean it like that, I`m just curious as to how you see the HS if not within the Trinity?
Hi Annette
I'm happy to share my views although I have not really up to now on here. For a couple reasons firstly cause I'm going to get slammed ;) and because I know how much it goes against orthodox teaching. Which is why I have spent so much time praying, and researching. Nobody has influenced me, it is my interpretation of scripture. I do a couple things, I put everything else aside and weigh in biblical teaching, then I read everything I can get my hands on and review it in light of scripture. It would be easier to conform and just accept but I have to be honest to myself and if that means going against the mainstream then I have to, not necessarily because I want too.
I believe that Jesus is God and the Son of God. I believe in the Holy Spirit as a manifestation of God. I am in no way taking away the significance of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is the very nature, presence and expression of God’s power actively working in us.
Scripture speaks of the Fathers throne and Jesus at the right hand of the Father, the Holy Spirit is not mentioned as such. Whilst the Father and Jesus are referred to in references to personhood the Holy Spirit is referred to in symbols and manifestations like wind, fire, water, oil, a dove, that we can drink, partake of, and be filled with.
The trinity is God in 3 distinct persons with the same divine nature. The book of Matthew says that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit but Jesus refers to God the Father as His Father.
When scripture says the wisdom of God we do not think wisdom to be a person. The Holy Spirit is the spirit of God, so yes very much God but not in the sense the trinity explains it.

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Re: Primer on the Trinity - a Classical Perspective

#12

Post by Storyteller » Tue May 19, 2015 7:04 am

Sounds perfectly reasonable to me :)

I kinda assumed that the Holy Spirit was/is something that dwells in God, Christ, and us rather than a distinct "persona"
Like the breath of God, kinda.

I don`t fully understand it but always assumed, or believed, that there were three forces at work here, God, the Father, Christ, the Son and the Holy Spirit, the (and this is where I fall down, I don`t have a word for what I feel the HS is)

I`ll try and explain it a little.

I quite often stand out in my garden to look at the stars and ponder on God. Very often I feel a kind of presence, a feeling, especially if it`s windy or stormy, and I`ve always thought that it`s the HS I feel. The HS and Christ are all God to me somehow, I dunno, maybe different aspects of Him but still Him. The HS, to me, had always been that feeling of God.

Christ to me, was always God personified, He was/is God in human form, now I`m starting to re-think that. How can He be God yet be His own Son?

Just a random thought here, where is the femininity in all this? Maybe that`s why I`m drawn to Catholicism, because of Mary?
Faith is a knowledge within the heart, beyond the reach of proof - Kahlil Gibran

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Re: Primer on the Trinity - a Classical Perspective

#13

Post by melanie » Tue May 19, 2015 7:55 am

Storyteller wrote:Sounds perfectly reasonable to me :)

I kinda assumed that the Holy Spirit was/is something that dwells in God, Christ, and us rather than a distinct "persona"
Like the breath of God, kinda.

I don`t fully understand it but always assumed, or believed, that there were three forces at work here, God, the Father, Christ, the Son and the Holy Spirit, the (and this is where I fall down, I don`t have a word for what I feel the HS is)

I`ll try and explain it a little.

I quite often stand out in my garden to look at the stars and ponder on God. Very often I feel a kind of presence, a feeling, especially if it`s windy or stormy, and I`ve always thought that it`s the HS I feel. The HS and Christ are all God to me somehow, I dunno, maybe different aspects of Him but still Him. The HS, to me, had always been that feeling of God.

Christ to me, was always God personified, He was/is God in human form, now I`m starting to re-think that. How can He be God yet be His own Son?

Just a random thought here, where is the femininity in all this? Maybe that`s why I`m drawn to Catholicism, because of Mary?
Don't burn your bra just yet ;)
I get what your saying though. Mary had the absolute blessing of sustaining and bearing Jesus. Her role so significant.
I think God encompasses everything in existence. Male and female. We are all children of God, equal in every way.

I have felt the HS and those experiences have changed me. God working within me. There is no question that the HS is God, but not a person per say, but God actively working within us. His power and His Spirit.

It's hard to get your mind around Jesus being God's son and being God.
I look at it like this; when we have children they are our offspring , part of us, human.
When God the Father has a Son, He is His offspring and the nature of His Father which is God.
Jesus was in unity with the Father before he was born of Mary on Earth. Always co-existing with the Father
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.

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Re: Primer on the Trinity - a Classical Perspective

#14

Post by Storyteller » Tue May 19, 2015 7:59 am

Will add some thoughts later, gotta shoot now but thanks Mel, great post, food for thought x
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Re: Primer on the Trinity - a Classical Perspective

#15

Post by B. W. » Tue May 19, 2015 8:22 am

Isaiah 48:16,17, "Come near to Me, listen to this: From the first I have not spoken in secret, From the time it took place, I was there. And now the Lord GOD has sent Me, and His Spirit." 17 Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel, "I am the LORD your God, who teaches you to profit, Who leads you in the way you should go." NASB

God speaks of himself in a manner that is astounding... Let me add the proper names in the verse quoted above:

"Come near to Me, listen to this: From the first I have not spoken in secret, From the time it took place, I was there. And now adoni YHWH has sent Me, and His Spirit." 17 Thus says YHWH, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel, "I am YHWH your Elohim who teaches you to profit, Who leads you in the way you should go." NASB

Elohim is a plural noun and when referring to God it is revealing God as the majestic plural One who is unlike anything we can imagine.

Next, when Hebrew word - the - looks like - Ha - is attached to the front of a Plural Noun as in - HaElohim - it should be interpreted as all of God or in Greek - the Godhead. When Haelohim is used to denote pagan deities it is spelled in English as gods/idols denoting all the gods/idols. When used in context of the Lord God - HaElohim denotes God in his full being.

We miss this in our English translations of the OT but the word is there. In fact the book of Eccl uses HaElohim. HaElohim is used in Gen 22:1,9 which adds more details to the chapter often missed. It is found in Gen 5:22,24, Gen 6:2,4,9, Gen 17:18, Gen 20:6 and in Gen 31:11.

In Gen 31:11 HaElohim is used to denote the Malek HaElohim or Messenger HaElohim and the Messenger identifies himself as God (El - singular noun) in Gen 31:13. Very interesting to see God revealing Himself as he really is in the OT just how the Christian doctrine of the Trinity defines God to be like. HaElohim is used in Gen 35:7 as well adding more insight into the text.

HaElohim is used in Exodus 3:6 - where it reads - Moses was afraid to look upon HaElohim. HaElohim is used in Exodus 3:11,12,13 as well too and note in verse 14 and the three I AM statements used. Note Exodus 4:20 where HaElohim is used. Also note that in Joshua 22:34 and Joshua 24;1 and 1 Kings 18:24,37,39 YHWH is called HaElohim. Also HaElohom is used in Judges 6:36,39 and Judges 13:6,8,9 and note the Messanger was not an angelic being but rather God (Elohim) as Judges 13:22-23.

Yes there is a lot within this word HaElohim when used to denote YHWH. Too bad our English translations do not identify this and use a word such as Godhead in its place.

We do miss a lot as it is lost in translation.

So Hope this helps readers understanding a bit more on this subject.
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Science is man's invention - creation is God's
(by B. W. Melvin)

Old Polish Proverb:
Not my Circus....not my monkeys

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