When we had some Mormons visiting us last Summer, one of them used this passage in the gospel of Matthew to try to disprove the Trinity. I was dumbfounded for awhile as I was trying to figure this out. This is the baptism of Jesus. How does the baptism of Jesus disprove the Trinity?
Well, let’s go to the text in Matthew 3.
16As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. 17And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”
Matthew’s gospel is the one that has John’s hesitancy to baptize Jesus, pointing to his identity. More of John’s thought on the matter is explained in the gospel of John. (Though keep in mind, it is not John the Baptist who wrote that gospel.)
John’s hesitancy also indicates to us that Jesus was righteous at this point. He didn’t need to be baptized to repent. He was not at this point some man that God chose to use to bring about salvation as the adoptionists would want people to believe.
The idea that this passage is used to disprove the Trinity still boggles my mind. And yet, I can bet there are some people in the church who would have fallen for that Mormon’s argument. In fact, I can be sure there are or else he wouldn’t have used it. The reason he used this argument is apparently it worked so well.
And yet, it’s fundamentally flawed in that it doesn’t even get the doctrine of the Trinity right.
What our Mormon told me was that they couldn’t be three persons if they were all one person. To that, no Christian should disagree. If there was any necessary contradiction in orthodox Christianity, then we would have to abandon it.
While we had the Angel of the Lord and God at times in the Old Testament, when we get here, we see from further revelation, which, I think best waited till Israel got past idolatry less they misconstrue the doctrine, all three persons working together in unity. Note also I think God in his wisdom waited until Israel worked out their doctrine for we will see as we go through that Jesus fits in very well with Wisdom doctrine in Jewish thought.
The identity of the Son is seen in his relationship to the Father. When Jesus is called the Son of God, it means in the context one who has the nature of God in this unique way. There are other meanings of “son of God” throughout Scripture. Christians today could be called sons of God, but only by adoption. We are sons in that way while he is the Son by nature.
All three are seen here as Jesus prepares for his ministry. The Son being the agent, the Father sending, and the Spirit providing ministry all throughout. The Holy Spirit has been considered the silent person of the Trinity, but as we go through the New Testament, we’ll see him.
When we go through further, we need to keep in mind passages like this one. They have a rather explicit Trinitarianism and it won’t be the last time this happens in Matthew.