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Note the text of 1 Cor 12:4-6 is written in parallelism:

  1. There are different gifts, but the same Spirit.
  2. There are different ministries, but the same Lord.
  3. There are different ways of working, but the same God works all things in all people.

In a previous answer and question it was asked whether the triplet refers to the Trinity or not. It received some heated answers. Is Paul referring to the Trinity in 1 Corinthians 12:4-6?

If, for the sake of this question we accept that this triplet is NOT discussing the Trinity (as some assert in the linked Q), is it effectively saying that the Holy Spirit is "Lord" and "God"? If not, does this leave only the possibility that it is discussing the Trinity?

That is, is it possible to make a cogent case one way or the other?

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  • 4
    An interesting nuance on the original question. For the sake of clearly disambiguating the two, would it make sense to modify the title to something like '1 Cor 12:4-6 - What are non-Trinitarian hypotheses for this verse?'
    – Steve can help
    Feb 22, 2022 at 12:19
  • @Dottard I deleted my comment.
    – RonJohn
    Feb 24, 2022 at 15:57
  • @Dottard. Your Q has names of god and trinity tags. What is the name of the triune god? Feb 25, 2022 at 5:43
  • I think other added some of those tags. In any case, the Names of the "triune-God" is "I AM" and "YHWH" according to Ex 3:14-16. Others such as "Father", "God", "Almighty", "First and Last", "Alpha and Omega", "Beginning and End", etc, are titles.
    – Dottard
    Feb 25, 2022 at 6:13
  • 1
    @JesseSteele - I have put a link to the other question where such assertions are made, especially in the comments. See also the comments and answers below.
    – Dottard
    Mar 9, 2022 at 5:11

10 Answers 10

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Though I've got no issues with the Trinitarian interpretation of these verses, I would suggest that there's a general risk across the New Testament of eisegesis by capitalising the 'S' in spirit. πνεῦμα or 'spirit' appears 383 times in the New Testament, and ~240 of these tend to be capitalised in modern Bibles.

πνεῦμα is a perfectly ordinary word that can refer to human, divine or otherworldly spirits, as well as potentially alluding to moods and motives; and without ἅγιος (hagios / holy) it can be very difficult to determine whether other usages are intending to denote 'the Holy Spirit'. And so some could look at these three verses in isolation and explain it away in that manner.

However, the surrounding context has a lot to say on the matter - 1 Corinthians 12 contains perhaps the densest pneumatology in the New Testament:

  • The verse immediately follows a direct invocation of the 'Holy Spirit' in v3, as well as a direct association of Jesus = Lord: "Therefore I want you to know that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit."
  • The verses immediately following appear to increasingly personify the Holy Spirit, culminating in v11: "All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines."

On balance, weighing in the pneumatology of the surrounding verses, it would be difficult to suggest that the πνεῦμα of v4 is anything other than a personified being, and if so, the author makes no attempt whatsoever to disambiguate it from the 'lord' or 'God' of v5 and v6. So even the sceptic in me finds it difficult to construct an alternative viewpoint, unless it involved ignoring all the surrounding verses.

Conclusion

  1. To me, it appears certain that the πνεῦμα referenced here is clearly and explicitly a personified 'Holy Spirit' as referenced elsewhere in the passage.
  2. The 'Lord' of v5 is almost certainly a reference to Jesus, following the 'Jesus is Lord' reference in the previous verse.
  3. Verse 6 is almost certainly a clear expression that there is only one God at work through all of it. Looking critically at the passage I'd suggest it isn't open-and-shut that this includes the Lord Jesus, but in the context of the passage it does seem almost certain that the spirit is being referred to as God, yet with a distinct personification.

To me, I don't believe that the first century church had a clear formulation of 'one God in three persons', but passages like this built the case upon which that formulation later was founded. And so we don't see Paul or others trying explicitly to frame such a formulation, but we do see various expressions that begin to crystallise aspects of this understanding. This passage gives an in-depth pneumatology that spells out 'the Holy Spirit is God and there is only one God', whereas other passages do the same in respect to Jesus.

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5

Let’s first add the context. At the start of this chapter, Paul was beginning his remarks about spiritual gifts by reminding these Corinthians that they had once been deceived into worshiping idols. This was to warn them that they could not just trust their own judgment. They had been led astray before. They needed to give heed to his instructions. If the use of the spiritual gifts doesn’t match Paul’s instructions, then we are using them incorrectly.

The Trinity is clearly referred to in these verses. 1 Corinthians 12:4 says these are the gifts of the Holy Spirit. 1 Corinthians 12:5 says Jesus administers the gifts. 1 Corinthians 12:6 says God the Father is the one who is at work through the gifts.

Paul was saying that God is the one working all these gifts in all people (“The same God works all of them in all men,” New International Version). The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are directly in control of all the gifts of the Spirit, so the point being made is people are not free to do “their own thing” with these gifts.

Paul was saying that even though there are different gifts (this verse) and different ways of administering the gifts (1 Corinthians 12:5), all the spiritual gifts come from the same Lord through the same Holy Spirit, and therefore, they are all subject to the instructions he was giving.

So this chapter, in context, is teaching the correct structure and use of the gifts. The issue of ‘the trinity’ is secondary.

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  • Excellent point "this chapter, in context, is teaching on the correct structure and use of gifts"
    – David D
    Feb 22, 2022 at 18:47
  • Thanks for this. So, what is your conclusion? Does this passage refer three times to the Holy Spirit, or do we have Spirit, Son and Father in the triplet?
    – Dottard
    Feb 22, 2022 at 21:35
  • @Dottard On the ‘Believers’ end, from a believers perspective, they [only] ‘receive’ via the Spirit.
    – Dave
    Feb 22, 2022 at 23:37
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It is hardly surprising that there were some heated arguments about this point (in a previous question). Every time a trinitarian flags up some scripture that speaks to him or her of the Trinity, anti-trinitarians swiftly respond to tear the point to pieces. It is wearisome, and it is also futile.

That is because that is no way to treat scripture. It degrades scriptural discussion to mere arguments about proof-texts. The Holy Spirit gives the understanding to those who already have "the mind of Christ" (1 Cor. 2:16). Indeed, that whole section of 1 Corinthians chapter 2 is instructive in explaining why chapter 12 triggers such heated disagreements! Consider...

Paul starts that epistle by saying the preaching of the gospel and the cross of Christ is foolishness to those who perish, but to the saved, it is the power of God. Such 'foolish' preaching saves them that believe, while Jews consider it a stumbling-block and Greeks call it foolishness. In chapter 2 he explains that he speaks the wisdom of God in a mystery; it is a hidden mystery:

"But God hath revealed unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? Even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God, which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned... But we have the mind of Christ." (1 Cor.2:7-16)

That is why Jesus rejoiced when Peter understood that Christ was the Son of God; "Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven" (Matt.16:17). Divine revelation was needed for that, because to declare Christ to be the Son of God requires the Holy Spirit to open one's mind and heart to just who this person of Christ actually is, just as Paul said in 1 Cor.12:3-

"Wherefore I give you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed, and no one can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Spirit." 1 Cor.12:3

Now, you asked us "If, for the sake of this question we accept that this triplet is NOT discussing the Trinity (as some have asserted), is it effectively saying that the Holy Spirit is "Lord" and "God"?" Well, no, that verse is not saying that the Holy Spirit is both Lord and God. The context of that previous verse has Jesus Christ being called THE Lord, and Christians must confess that Jesus Christ is their one Lord - 1 Cor.8:6; 2 Cor. 4:5; Eph.4:5; Phil.2:11; 2 Pet.3:18.

This does not mean that God cannot be called Lord, however, because the scriptures do just that: "I am the Alpha and the Omega, says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is coming, the Almighty." (Rev.1:8) That is not a contradiction because Father and Son share the one, divine nature.

This does not mean that the Holy Spirit cannot be called Lord, however, because the scriptures do just that: "Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. ...the Lord who is the Spirit." (2 Cor.3:17-18) That is not a contradiction because the Father and the Son share the one, divine nature with absolute unity of the Spirit in that nature.

Alas, to those who deny the deity of the Holy Spirit, and to those who deny the deity of Christ, that just makes no sense (humanly speaking) and so they argue about proof-texts. Well, "To the faithful you show yourself faithful, to the blameless you show yourself blameless, to the pure you show yourself pure, but to the crooked you show yourself shrewd" (2 Samuel 22:26-27).

God reveals himself as he sees fit, and does not reveal the mystery of "Christ in you, the hope of glory" except to those who do have "Christ in them" - by the indwelling Holy Spirit. To those ones, they see the trinity all over the place in the scriptures, once the scales have dropped from their eyes. To those who do not have "the mind of Christ", given by the teaching of the Holy Spirit, they cannot see the revealed mystery no matter where they look in the scriptures.

If you think about this, I have just made a cogent case either way, which is your final question.

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  • Thanks for this. Are suggestion that it means both? or that Paul was deliberately ambiguous?
    – Dottard
    Feb 22, 2022 at 21:02
  • @Dottard Paul was perfectly clear; those to whom he wrote had the same "mind of Christ" and the same teaching of the Holy Spirit, which was the subject he was writing to them about - the exercise of his gifts. But if a reader thought there was info about gnosticism in that section, confusion would result and that misguided reader might think Paul was being ambiguous about gnosticism. The verses you ask about do not deal with what came to be known as the Trinity doctrine, yet everything Paul said substantiates belief in the triune Godhead, if you're open to see that. Paul was not ambiguous.
    – Anne
    Feb 23, 2022 at 14:40
  • I am still not sure I understand what your answer is. Are you suggesting that if Paul did not explicitly teach the trinity, the the above obviously Hebrew triplet was either (a) three names for the Holy Spirit, namely, "Spirit", "Lord", and "God"; or, was it an allusion to the three members of the Godhead? Or was it something else.
    – Dottard
    Feb 23, 2022 at 20:25
  • @Dottard It is what it is. Paul is clear. Only people aware of the later clashes about the triune nature of the Godhead would ask Qs like this. But that’s reading into the account a later perspective. Keep Paul’s words in context, how he is addressing various gifts of the Holy Spirit compared with pagan views and idolatry, and how the Holy Spirit unites all Christians who are part of the one ‘body’ of Christ, arranged in their places by God. The three are mentioned, working in harmony, but he’s not giving a treatise on the triune nature of the Godhead.
    – Anne
    Feb 24, 2022 at 16:19
4

I'll chime in with a non-Trinitarian view, not because I expect people to agree with me, but for just the opposite reason: the OP sought an explanation of differing viewpoints, and I am the only adherent of my particular viewpoint currently active on this site.

Let us consider the two most common non-Trinitarian readings of this passage:


A. Thou shalt not capitalize in vain

The view that "Spirit" should not be capitalized in this passage. This view was explored by Olde English in the parallel question, and examined by Steve Taylor in response to this question. On this view, just two Beings are being discussed: the Father and the Son.

A proponent of this view can claim that believing the words of Paul written circa AD 55 does not obligate one to accept the interpretations of those words held by the King James translators, in the work they published in 1611 (same argument could be made with respect to other versions). A more detailed explanation of this view would be best coming from someone who holds to it.

Decisions of capitalization in the Biblical text are complicated by the fact that the original manuscripts had no distinction between capital & lower-case.


B. Paul did not teach the Nicene Creed

The view that the Spirit discussed here is indeed the Holy Spirit, in which case the passage does refer to three Beings: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

A proponent of this view can hold that believing the words of Paul written circa AD 55 does not obligate one to accept the interpretations of those words rendered by the Nicene Creed (or Athanasian, or Chalcedonian, etc.) centuries later.

The term "ὁμοούσιος" ("one substance") is not found as a descriptor of Deity anywhere in the Bible, or in any of the writings of those who knew the apostles, or in the writings of those who knew people who knew the apostles. It is therefore possible to believe in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost without holding that the term ὁμοούσιος is an accurate descriptor of their relationship.


Unity among diversity

On view B, the triplet reinforces the cooperative work of the different members of the Godhead, just as Paul spends much of the chapter focusing on the need for cooperation among the different members of the faith. These members may have different gifts, assignments, or responsibilities in carrying forward God's work, but they are all united in one mission. The Godhead is given as the ideal example of this cooperation and unity that the faithful are expected to aspire to.

That unity in the faith is an over-arching focus of Paul's message here is supported by the way the topic is introduced in the first 3 verses of the chapter:

  • In verse 1 Paul sets the stage for addressing a misunderstanding of spiritual gifts
  • In verse 2 Paul acknowledges that some of the Corinthians had been worshipping false gods
  • In verse 3 Paul takes down the view that would enable people to mix prior pagan beliefs with the Gospel of Jesus Christ: if you are claiming spiritual gifts that lead to denying Jesus those gifts are not from God.

Paul then proceeds to illustrate this by demonstrating that although we believe in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, there is no conflict/competition among them--this is in stark contrast to the polytheistic views prevalent in Greece at that time.

--

Conclusion

Paul's Corinthian audience was intimately familiar with theologies in which one god/idol could be sought for one blessing, and a different entity sought for another. In some tales of Greek mythology, the gods were pitted against one another and mortals got roped into their competing schemes.

Paul emphatically denies any such mischief among the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Any divine blessing is fully supported by all members of the Godhead; one cannot please the Father without pleasing the Son, and so forth. On non-Trinitarian view B, then, Paul is emphasizing--and holding up as an example--the unity among the members of the Godhead, rather than making a statement about shared substance.

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  • 1
    Some interesting thoughts here, thanks for sharing! On reflection, I'd be interested in how your view approaches verse 6, which suggests it's one and the same God who 'works all things in all people'. From an LDS perspective, would you be suggesting this explicitly referenced 'god' is the Holy Spirit and not the Father or the Son? Or is it something different?
    – Steve can help
    Feb 22, 2022 at 21:33
  • @SteveTaylor thanks! I understand v6 to be a reference to the Father; this would be consistent with Paul's combined usage of the terms God & Lord elsewhere (eg 1 Thess. 1:1). Paul refers to the Father, Son, & Holy Ghost, acknowledging that divine gifts come from all of them. To use a semi-analogous example, if my parents agree on & send me a gift, let's say my mom bought the gift and my dad put it in the mail, from whom was the gift, mom or dad? Both. I understand one God NT passages to highlight their unity (contra the Greek gods) as described in John 17, not a common substance. Feb 22, 2022 at 23:36
  • @SteveTaylor I opened a chat if that didn't answer your question or you'd like to discuss further. Feb 22, 2022 at 23:37
  • 1
    Well delineated. + 1. Feb 24, 2022 at 1:55
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That is, is it possible to make a cogent case one way or the other?

one way: Trinity
the other: That the Spirit is being referred to as God and Lord and there are not three persons in this passage.

Definition of "cogent" - just to be clear:
cogent
ADJECTIVE
(of an argument or case) clear, logical, and convincing.

I'd like to offer a third option; that it is more Scriptural to say "God", "Jesus", and the "Spirit" than to use the word "Trinity"

Steve has a well thought out discussion has a well thought out conclusion.

So even the skeptic in me finds it difficult to construct an alternative* viewpoint, unless it involved ignoring all the surrounding verses.

*Alternative to the Trinitarian view of the passage.

Steve's answer touches on the surrounding verses. I'll attempt to make it more visual to further illustrate Steve's point.

Let's look at the surrounding verses.

Verse 1: "Now about the gifts of the Spirit, brothers and sisters..."
Verse 3: "Therefore I want you to know that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit."
Complete verse 4-6:
"4 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. 5 There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 6 There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work."
Verse 7: "Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good."
Verse 8: "To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit,"
Verse 9: "to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit,"
Verse 11: "All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines."

The focus of the passage is not who God is, who Jesus is or who the Spirit is.

Paul knows who he is talking about, has a personal relationship with God, Jesus, and the Spirit and assumes the reader knows who they are. Based on Paul's assumption he makes important points explaining their work in the life of the Christian and the Church and the response that the Christian should have to that work.

In context the key points of the passage are:

  1. The Spirit in this passage is the Spirit of God (v3)
  2. The Spirit empowers Christians to acknowledge "Jesus is Lord" (v3)
  3. The Spirit empowers Christians through a variety of gifts to serve the Lord (v4) for the common good (v7) as the Spirit determines (v11)
  4. This passage is the introduction for the next part of the letter which makes a very strong statement on the importance of Christian unity as parts of "the body of Christ" (v27) "And God has placed in the church..." a variety of roles.

The passage refers to God, the Spirit, and Jesus/Christ as having different roles. In context, including the whole chapter, making Paul refer to the Spirit as God and Lord is very strained.

Does this refer to "Trinity"?
Trinity is an invented word (it does not appear in Scripture) that attempts to describe the roles/names that appear in this chapter. The word has been loaded with meanings and explanations over the centuries. It sometimes appears that the word exists to provide a label to judge fellow Christians as heretics.

It would be more Scripturally accurate to talk about God, the Spirit, and Jesus rather than to refer to them as the Trinity. They have three distinct ways of working in the life of a Christian and in the church as described in Scripture. Christians should be able to speak of and know God, the Spirit, and Jesus just as Paul does.

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  • Trinity stresses the tri-unity of God. The word is invented by the Church, not inspired scripture, but so are many things we use to understand God and the Bible. If you talk only of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, then it will sound like tri-theism. So you'll need some additional way to stress the oneness of God.
    – curiousdannii
    Feb 23, 2022 at 6:10
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    @curiousdannii It sounds like you are saying that the Bible was not clear enough. Is Scripture sufficient and complete?
    – David D
    Feb 23, 2022 at 13:42
  • The Bible is sufficiently clear for us to come to salvation (the doctrine of the clarity of scripture is always scoped in this way, see for example the Westminster Confession 1.7), but it also has many mysteries. God wants us to search and investigate, guided by the Spirit.
    – curiousdannii
    Feb 23, 2022 at 23:02
  • Good answer, + 1. I wish you had not kept on capitalizing (S)pirit though. Feb 24, 2022 at 2:06
  • 1
    The spirit, of God and by extension Jesus, does empower but it's their active force. By capitalizing the word, you are giving into the idea of proper noun status and personhood. You might as well flat out agree with the concept of the Trinity, which is a concept that I thought you were trying to avoid. Feb 24, 2022 at 17:24
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While I do not see these verses as an endorsement for the Trinity, neither do I see them effectively saying pneûma in verse 4 is both Lord and God. From my perspective, what it does appear to communicate concerning spiritual matters is the following:

Verse 4 There is a diversity of gifts. Perhaps the clearest example of a diversity of gifts is set forth in Ephesians 4:11. Other gifts are spoken of in Acts 2:38; 10:45, Rom. 5:17; 6:23, and Eph. 2:8... but, given the lack of much distinction between them, it seems that these might only be descriptive nuances of one and the same gift common to salvation. Regardless of how many distinct or diverse gifts we might contend should be tied to verse 4 here in 1Corinthians, the point being made is that these all stem from (or are the result of... however you prefer to think of it) the one and the same spirit that we each receive when we are saved.

1 Corinthians 2:12

Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.

The spirit we have received (which is what I see being referred to verse 4) is "of God." In other words, given of God... but not God Himself.

Verse 6 It is the same God that worketh (energizes) all in all. This plainly sets forth the truth that even though it may be through you, or by way of the spirit within you, it is God that brings it to pass.

Ephesians 2:10a

For we are his workmanship...

Philippians 2:13

For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.

Verse 5 There are differences of operations/functions/services, but the same Lord. This sets forth that there is one who is (or at least, should be) in charge. Directing these various functions or services is one Lord. There is no doubt that this refers to the Lord Jesus Christ (aka, Christ Jesus or just "Christ.") Using the phrase "the same Lord" simply emphasizes that he is one and only one that is directing us.

Romans 6:23b

...the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Romans 14:9

For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living.

1Corinthians 1:8

But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.

Colossians 1:18

And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.

In conclusion, it does not appear to me that "the same spirit [pneûma]" of verse 4 effectively (or in any other way) means or is the same as "God." However, that said, I would agree that it might be another way of referring to or perceiving Christ, given that he is both the one who ascended and is the source of a diversity of gifts (see below), as well as the one Lord directing the operations/services within the body.

Ephesians 4:8

Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men.

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  • I believe your answer should first address the passage in question since the Corinthians will understand what was written to them. You may certainly support you conclusion by referring to other letters. But it is impossible to see how the Corinthians would understand a letter written to them by referring to letters written to the Philippians, Ephesians, Romans, and Colossians Feb 23, 2022 at 8:00
  • 1
    Given what Paul wrote to these Corinthians a bit earlier in this same epistle (see 3:1-5), it doesn’t exactly inspire a lot of confidence in me to believe that suddenly these carnally minded folk are now suddenly going to have a good understanding of these spiritual matters being explained to them by Paul (who evidently wrote things that even Peter acknowledged as sometimes being hard to understand.) However, I have no doubt that Paul understood what is written in these verses, so it makes good sense to look in other scripture he has written to see how other “spiritual things” compare to it.
    – Hugs
    Feb 23, 2022 at 8:54
  • The sense it makes from other letters cannot override the sense intended in this letter. However problematic the Corinthians, the reality is Paul and wrote and expected them to understand what he wrote. As I said earlier, there is merit in supporting a conclusion by comparison to other letters, but it is impossible to believe the Corinthians would "file away" their letter until the other letters could be examined in order to make sense of their letter. You must first determine meaning in each letter. Feb 23, 2022 at 15:20
  • 1
    Why do you suppose the sense intended in this letter should or would be any different than the intended sense of it in any other of Paul's letters? Wasn't this (and his other letters) eventually circulated to and amongst all these other locations? Were each of them to "understand" or interpret things that were written to other churches differently than had they been written more specifically to them? I find that hard to imagine, much less comprehend. But aside from this... exactly what is that I wrote that you have (or think the Corinthians would have had) a hard time seeing or agreeing with?
    – Hugs
    Feb 23, 2022 at 16:42
  • 1
    Oh... so you're suggesting that a doctrine formulated nearly three hundred years later better explains how the Corinthians would perceive or understand what was written to them? Wow. Ok, seems now I "get" what your angle is. No wonder your comments haven't made much sense to me. Oh, and btw, I don't agree that the Trinity "better explains" God or much of anything in scripture, much less these specific verses. Perhaps if I had stated that more plainly in my opening line more attention would have been given to my use of 1Cor.2:14 to show that "spirit" in 12:4 does not equate to God in verse 6.
    – Hugs
    Feb 23, 2022 at 19:30
3

Possibly, not necessarily.

Start with the text...

1 Cor 12:4-6 (NASB)

4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5 And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. 6 There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons.

1 Cor 12:4-6 (SBLGNT)

4 Διαιρέσεις δὲ χαρισμάτων εἰσίν, τὸ δὲ αὐτὸ πνεῦμα · 5 καὶ διαιρέσεις διακονιῶν εἰσιν, καὶ ὁ αὐτὸς κύριος · 6 καὶ διαιρέσεις ἐνεργημάτων εἰσίν, ὁ δὲ ⸃ αὐτὸς θεός, ὁ ἐνεργῶν τὰ πάντα ἐν πᾶσιν.

The translation from Greek is pretty useful, I won't dive into word studies too much to find deeper meaning for our purposes.

1. The doctrine of the Trinity was post-NT

Even if this reflects a view of the Trinity, it is not intended to drive at that conclusion. At most, this reflects a multi-faceted view of God at the level of presumption. (I explained how the Bible may presume certain ideas, but not teach them directly in this Answer.)

If this passage has been used to defend Trinitarian beliefs by the Early Church or Church Councils, that would be a historical-theological study more appropriate for Christianity.SE. Could it turn up in such research? Probably, here's why...

2. Look at the pairs first, the three-part list comes later

4: [many] gifts ...but same [God-related origin]

5: [many] ministries ...but same [God-related origin]

6: [many] effects ...but same [God-related origin]

3. Context from same passage

Most relevant many be v12 on unity...

1 Cor 12:12 (NASB)

For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ.

This entire passage is a kind of written sermon that we enjoy the strength of our diversity when we find unity in our common source. All our good differences came from the same God.

4. Analyze the three-part list in lieu

In this passage, viz v1 the opening of the pericope, "gifts" are spiritual gifts from the Spirit Jesus promised.

Opening...

1 Cor 12:1 (NASB)

Now concerning spiritual gifts...

...specifically, which Jesus promised...

Acts 1:4b (NASB)

...wait for what the Father had promised, “Which,” He said, “you heard of from Me;

So...

4: spirit gifts - from Spirit of God (as understood by NT audience, just explained)

5: ministry - from God as Lord (quasi government-feudalistic lingo)

6: effects - from God who works all things (governor-creator)

5. Conclusion

The Question seeks a perspective built on the assumption the passage is not specifically a proof text for the Trinity; I elaborate on that in points 1 & 3. Trinity was neither a question nor direct teaching of the New Testament nor its audience.

The Question also asks whether there is room anyway for arguing Trinity from this passage. Yes, but not necessarily. One could argue modalism or trinity, but only bearing in mind that the main point was about God's relation to us, much as a united nation has various branches of government and sectors of economies and culture. The main point of the passage is our own unity. Our diversity is explained not by disagreement among us, by the same God doing various, diverse works in us all—all with the same, good, unified, grand purpose. Any further theology study must begin with thoroughly understanding why this passage teaches that.

Analyzing those aspects in which God operates differently, but with unity of intent and outcome, would in deed be a good platform on which to defend a Trinitarian doctrine, but not from any direct teaching; this would use a hermeneutic of extrapolating meaning from presumption.

Any value from the main point of this teaching would not be diminished by a monotheist, non-Trinitarian doctrine such as Modalism. However, a tri-theology or a polytheism would almost surely diminish accurate understanding of this text. The theological presumption of the passage is that God remains united, even in His diversity of action, and that this is why we all should get along.

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1 Corinthians 12:4-6 - Trinity or something else?

For what it's worth, here goes. However, I can't believe that this Q. hasn't been closed already, for expressing theological view points but there we are.

It is well known among most of the proponents here, involved in this Q., that I, myself, am not a proponent of the Trinity concept, and, as already noted, nor was Paul, it being anathema to me and to Paul. Consequently, I think these verses, in question here, are talking something else.

My stance on Monotheism

One has the Almighty God (JHVH or YHWH); the only begotten son of JHVH (The Word/Jesus) and their active force, (Ruach) ...breath, spirit even. Two spiritual persons; one combined spiritual force; Deification, belonging to Father and Son (one with a capital "D" and one with a small "d").

NB

In every instance, when the OT is talking Jehovah, it is in reference to the Almighty. Jesus was not even a product of the OT, as this distinction belonged to a god, The Word/Logos, as per John 1:1 (NWT). Jesus did not become a product until the NT.

And she will bear a son; and you should call his name Jesus. Matt 1:21

The so called triplet, in the Q., here, verses 4,5 & 6, is in reference to The Almighty (G)od; the lord (g)od Jesus; and spirit/breath/force of both. It is through the recognition of the spirit of both, that varieties of spiritual gifts are readily available. But, one cannot recognize the true meaning of the spirit, until one truly recognizes the very distinction between the Father and the son, to whom their own varieties belong. But it is The Almighty only who works all things in all persons/peoples.

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    Then what of places like Heb 1:10-12 which quotes Ps 102:25-27 about YHWH and applies it to Jesus? The same is true of Phil 2:10, 11 quoting Isa 45:23; and Matt 3:3 quoting Isa 40:3; etc. Should these instances of the the tetragrammaton be applied to Jesus?
    – Dottard
    Feb 24, 2022 at 2:12
  • Thanks for expanding upon this viewpoint, which I only briefly addressed in my own post (I didn't feel qualified to give so thorough a description of this view). +1 Feb 24, 2022 at 2:52
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    @Dottard - In your 1st instance, God works through Jesus. In the creating, God was the Architect and then Jesus was the Contractor. 2nd instance: God again works through Jesus. 3rd instance: In the NWT, Jehovah is used in Matt 3:3 and Isa 40:3 but again Jesus does the bidding of his Father. The crux of the matter is, that nothing should be attributed to Jesus alone. Feb 24, 2022 at 3:10
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    @HoldToTheRod - Thanks for the kind words. Feb 24, 2022 at 3:18
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Since Paul did not use the term Trinity, I will follow his example.

If Paul's understanding of "God" included the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, then one challenge to that understanding is his failure to include the "Father" in these verses:

4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. (ESV)
4 διαιρέσεις δὲ χαρισμάτων εἰσίν τὸ δὲ αὐτὸ πνεῦμα 5 καὶ διαιρέσεις διακονιῶν εἰσιν καὶ ὁ αὐτὸς κύριος 6 καὶ διαιρέσεις ἐνεργημάτων εἰσίν ὁ δὲ αὐτὸς θεός ὁ ἐνεργῶν τὰ πάντα ἐν πᾶσιν

To overcome this apparent oversight one must assume when he wrote ὁ θεός he meant "Father." This is the doctrine of Father only is God. In other words, in order to maintain the doctrine that there is only one God the Father, one must assume Paul uses θεός and πατὴρ interchangeably.

Not only does that assumption fly in the face of Old Testament monotheism, Paul routinely identifies the Father as θεοῦ πατρὸς or ὁ θεὸς καὶ πατὴρ. If Paul really held to the doctrine there was only one God the Father, he would not use different terms to describe the one God nor would he fail to include the word "Father" if that one God was the Father. Therefore, the Pauline corpus clearly and consistently should be taken as written: Paul makes a distinction between "God" ὁ θεὸς, and God the Father, θεὸς πατὴρ, as would be expected if he understood the equality of Son, and Spirit with the Father.

There are different activities but the same God, that is, not the Father alone who empowers them in everyone:

6 and there are varieties of activities [ἐνεργημάτων], but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working [ἐνεργήματα] of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.

Paul clearly states the Spirit is also part of the workings of miracles, and just to be sure there is no misunderstanding, the word he chose for workings, ἐνέργημα, is not used in the LXX. It is a New Testament description for what God does.

-2

1 Cor 12:4-6 is written in parallelism: 4. There are different gifts, but the same Spirit. 5. There are different ministries, but the same Lord. 6. There are different ways of working, but the same God works all things in all people.

*** 1) Does triplet represent three names for the Holy Spirit as "Spirit", "Lord" and "God" – 2) If not what does it mean?

A cogent case cannot be made to support the trinity or Holy Spirit as "Spirit", "Lord" and "God". I Corinthians 12:4-6 does not explicitly states that the three are one, some have taken it to imply such a connection. This is another one of these peculiar verses that people latch on to, but in my opinion has no substance. Paul mentioned the Father and Jesus in every introduction never the Holy Spirit of every letter he wrote (Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:3; 2 Corinthians 1:2; Galatians 1:3; Ephesians 1:2; Philippians 1:2; Colossians 1:2; 1, Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:2; 1 Timothy 1:2; 2 Timothy 1:2; Hebrews 1:1-2), but he never mentioned the Holy Spirit.

Lord

Lord was used loosely, masters, kings, chiefs, pious people etc... the scribers decided when it should be used with a capital not God or Jesus.

1 Kings 18:7 - As Obadiah was walking along, Elijah met him. Obadiah recognized him, bowed down to the ground, and said, “Is it really you, my lord Elijah?” (not only calling Elijah lord but also bowing down – in respect not worship)

God does not philosophize and speak all the way around matters. He doesn't beat around the bush. He speaks clearly and in no uncertain terms so that there can be no doubt as to what He meant. If God was indeed a Trinity why would He not simply just come out and say so, just as clearly and decisively as He does when He speaks about his uniqueness?

The LORD said to my Lord, "Sit at my right side, until I make your enemies into a footstool for you." (we have 2 lords – all capital and ‘L’)

The Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands. — Deuteronomy 7:9

Matthew 4:10 "Away from Me, Satan!" Jesus declared. "For it is written: 'Worship the Lord your God and serve Him only.'

(we have God referred to Lord – only capital ‘L’)

Genesis 18:12 Therefore Sarah laughed within herself, saying, After I am waxed old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?

God

There is no need to be abstract, God or Jesus could have easily clarified this, but nothing said by God or Jesus implies trinity.

The following are clear as to how the Jews understood God

Deuteronomy 4:39 "Know therefore this day, and consider it in thine heart, that the LORD he is God in heaven above, and upon the earth beneath: there is none else."

Or Isaiah 43:10-11: "Ye [are] my witnesses, saith the LORD, and my servant whom I have chosen: that ye may know and believe me, and understand that I [am] he: before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me. I, [even] I, [am] the LORD; and beside me [there is] no saviour."

Or Zechariah 14:9: "And the LORD shall be king over all the earth: in that day shall there be one LORD, and his name one."

Or Isaiah 45:18 For thus says the LORD, who created the heavens (he is God!), who formed the earth and made it (he established it; he did not create it empty, he formed it to be inhabited!): “I am the LORD, and there is no other.

Or Isaiah 45:6 that they may know from the rising of the sun, and from the west, that there is none besides me: I am Jehovah, and there is none else.

Or Isaiah 44:6 Thus says LORD JEHOVAH, the King of Israel, and his Savior, LORD JEHOVAH of Hosts his Name: “I AM The First and I AM The Last, and there is no god outside of me

Or Isaiah 45:22 Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is none else.

Or Exodus 20:3 Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

Or Exodus 34:14 (for thou shalt worship no other god: for Jehovah, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God);

No mention of any Holy Spirit or trinity

Spirit / Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit or Spirit are not a divine person and are used in different context.

The spirit is the Divine Power of God, that God uses, to help and guide his servants Gods Holy spirit / guidance / knowledge / strength / force / influence etc…

Isaiah 11:2–3 - "The Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD, and He will delight in the fear of the Lord."

(the above clarifies very clearly)

Psalms 34:18 - The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

(clearly Lord and spirit are not the same)

1 Peter 3:19 19 After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits

Luke 24:37-39 - 37But they were startled and frightened, thinking they had seen a spirit. 38“Why are you troubled,” Jesus asked, “and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39Look at My hands and My feet. It is I Myself. Touch Me and see—for a spirit does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”…
(Jesus says he is not a spirit – even though Jesus was conceived with the HS and received the HS when baptised)

Matthew 22:30 - For when the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage. In this respect they will be like the angels in heaven.

Luke 20:36 Neither can they die any more: for they are equal unto the angels; and are the children of God, being the children of the resurrection.

(when you die you become a spirit)

some say the below passages – Advocate & Spirit of Truth are the Holy Spirit

John 16:13 - When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.

John 14:26 - But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have told you.

John 16:7 - 7But I tell you the truth, it is for your benefit that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.

(if the advocate and spirit are HS – why does Jesus (Lord or God) need to go away before it comes, when HS before Jesus, when he was conceived and when baptised)

1 Timothy 4:1 Now the Spirit expressly states that in later times some will abandon the faith to follow deceitful spirits and the teachings of demons, (is the HS / Lord / God – also deceitful?)

More detailed explanation of the Holy Spirit: https://hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/a/74548/33268

For completeness - I will briefly cover some other passages / points

God is two

John 1:1 - In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. See: https://christianity.stackexchange.com/q/84384/47775

John 8:58 Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am.” See: https://hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/a/60969/33268

2 Corinthians 13:14 14 May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. See: https://hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/a/55482/33268

God is three

1 John 5:7

King James Bible For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. • New Living Translation So we have these three witnesses— • English Standard Version For there are three that testify: • American Standard Version And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is the truth. • Contemporary English Version 7 In fact, there are three who tell about it.

The text quoted does appear in the Kings James Version but has been omitted by most of the editors of the recent versions e.g. Revised Standard Version, New American Standard Bible, New English Bible, Phillips Modern English Bible, because the quoted text does not appear in the older Greek manuscripts.

Some quotes: Renowned historian Edward Gibbon calls the addition a "Pious Fraud" in his famous history book `Decline and Fall of Roman Empire'.

According to Newton, this verse first appeared for in the third edition of Erasmus's (1466-1536) New Testament.

Peakes commentary on the subject reads; "The famous interpolation after "three witnesses" is not printed even in RSVn, and rightly. It cites the heavenly testimony of the Father, the logos, and the Holy Spirit, but is never used in the early trinitarian controversies. No respectable Greek MS contains it. Appearing first in a late 4th-cent. Latin text, it entered the Vulgate and finally the NT of Erasmus."

Oxford Companion to the Bible we read: "The earliest New Testament evidence for a tripartite formula comes in 2 Corinthians 13.13, where Paul wishes that 'The grace of the Lord Jesus, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit' be with the people of Corinth. It is possible that this three part formula derives from later liturgical usage and was added to the text of 2 Corinthians as it was copied…"

Richard Porson who also proceeded to publish devastatingly conclusive proof that the verse of 1 John 5:7 was only first inserted by the Church into the Bible in the year 400C.E.(Secrets of Mount Sinai, James Bentley, pp. 30-33).

The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, Vol. 4, p. 871, Abingdon Press. "1 John 5:7 in the Textus Receptus (represeted in the KJV) makes it appear that John had arrived at the doctrine of the trinity in explicit form ('the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost'), but this text is clearly an interpolation since no genuine Greek manuscript contains it"

Others, such as the late Dr. Herbert W. Armstrong argued that this verse was added to the Latin Vulgate edition of the Bible during the heat of the controversy between Rome, Arius, and God's people.

The scripture translator Benjamin Wilson gives the following explanation for this action in his "Emphatic Diaglott." Mr. Wilson says: "This text concerning the heavenly witness is not contained in any Greek manuscript which was written earlier than the fifteenth century. It is not cited by any of the ecclesiastical writers; not by any of early Latin fathers even when the subjects upon which they treated would naturally have lead them to appeal to its authority. It is therefore evidently spurious."

Gospel of John: see https://hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/a/63568/33268

What does this passage mean

Very difficult to confirm what pauls intention was as with many other things he says, pausl teachings are hard to understand and often conflict with Jesus’s teachings see links below for more detail. https://hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/a/62976/33268 https://hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/a/74491/33268

There is also the issue of the scribes changing / manipulating / corrupting the text;

Jeremiah 8:8 “‘How can you say, “We are wise because we have the word of the LORD,” when your teachers have twisted it by writing lies?

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    I did not ask for a rebuttal of the trinity. I asked about what this passage meant. So this does not answer the question. If it does not represent the trinity then would you agree that the triplet represent three names for the Holy Spirit as "Spirit", "Lord" and "God"/ If not what does it mean? Or is it "an odd passage that should be excised from the NT?
    – Dottard
    Feb 23, 2022 at 20:20
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    You still have not addressed the question. What does the passage mean? All you have said is what it does not mean.
    – Dottard
    Feb 24, 2022 at 21:34
  • I concur that you haven't really answered the question. Your final paragraphs basically say "I don't know".
    – curiousdannii
    Feb 25, 2022 at 14:56
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Steve can help
    Mar 7, 2022 at 10:20

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