The Trinity

What is God like? And how can we find out? He is not part of the universe, so He is not open to scientific investigation. He can’t be dissected, put under a microscope, or analysed by a spectrometer. Can we determine His nature by reason alone, from first principles? Many philosophers, both Christian and non-Christian, have tried. What sort of God do they end up with? Nothing so complicated or uncomfortable as the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. So where does it come from? Straightforward monotheism (‘One God’) would be so much simpler, so much more aesthetically pleasing. It would link Christianity with the god of the Greek philosophers (from Aristotle onward), and with the god of Islam. But it just does not fit with what the Bible tells us about God. And it is the Bible that must be the foundation for all Christian belief.

The word ‘Trinity’ is not found in the Bible (it was coined by Tertullian, around the beginning of the third century). There is nothing particularly unusual about this; you won’t find words such as ‘sacrament’ or ‘monotheism’ in the Bible either. They are useful technical terms, nothing more. And the doctrine of the Trinity is not explicit in the Bible. The Bible is not a theological textbook: it presents us with the facts, and generally leaves us to work out the theology for ourselves. And this is what the early Christians did. The Trinity is not the product of a few mystics huddled together inventing a religion sometime in the fourth century, but the result of three centuries of extended (and sometimes intense) debate as Christians tried to make coherent sense of the data presented to them: the doings and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, and the experiences of His first disciples and subsequent generations of believers. They especially needed to reconcile the strict Jewish monotheism of Jesus’ first disciples with their deepening convictions about who Jesus was. The end result is “a human endeavour to fit the revelation of God within the limitations of [human] reason.” (Leonardo Boff) It probably isn’t perfect; but it’s the best ‘working hypothesis’ that makes sense of all the Biblical data.

So the word ‘Trinity’ sums up the totality of what the Bible teaches us about the nature of God. The Athanasian creed  (probably composed in the fifth century) is the Church’s final, definitive statement on the subject:

 “And the catholic faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; neither confounding the persons nor dividing the substance. For there is one person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Spirit. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit is all one, the glory equal, the majesty coeternal…”

It’s easy to be put off by the vocabulary: ‘substance’ has a material sound to it, as if God were a lump of rock or plastic, but the actual meaning is more like ‘essence’. The idea that God consists of some kind of ‘single divine substance’ comes from the Greek philosopher Aristotle, and it has become deep-rooted in our thinking because the early Church fathers used his terminology when formulating the creeds. But our God is not ‘a divine substance’; He is spirit (John 4:24), and He is personal. In the Bible, nobody ever meets a ‘divine substance’ – they meet the Father, the Son or the Holy Spirit.

Also, the word ‘person’ does not imply that Father, Son and Spirit are separate individuals – three gods who happened to meet up and now like to hang around together. It means that, although one God (they always act as one and cannot be divided), they can be distinguished from one another – not by any differences in their essential nature, but in the way in which they relate to one another. They are neither identical nor interchangeable, but perform different roles with respect to one another and with respect to us. Even their names make no sense without these distinctions: the Father must have a Son (to be ‘Father’ of), the Son must have a Father (to be ‘the Son’ of), and the Spirit must be ‘the Spirit of’ Someone. And we find as we read the New Testament that the Father sends the Son (never the other way round), the Son obeys the Father (never the other way round), and the Spirit is ‘breathed’ by both Father and Son.

So what exactly do orthodox Christians believe?

That God is one (so we do not worship three separate gods, like the Mormons).

That this one God exists as three distinct ‘Persons’ within that unity (so we are not modalists – who believe that the one God merely manifests Himself in three different ways at different times).

And that all three ‘Persons’ are equally divine (so we are not Arians, like the Jehovah’s Witnesses – who believe that Jesus is a created being, and that the Holy Spirit is an impersonal force).

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8 Responses to The Trinity

  1. Raise Up a Prophet. Deuteronomy 18:18 **
    Jesus was prophesied by God when speaking to Moses at Deuteronomy 18:18: “I will raise them up a prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee; and I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak unto them all that I shall COMMAND him.” (Capitals for emphasis)

    How was this promised prophet “like unto” Moses?

    Moses and Jesus both escaped the wholesale slaughter of male infants as ordered by the ruler of their time.—.Exodus 1:22; 2:1-10; Matthew 2:13-18.

    Moses was called out of Egypt with Jehovah’s “firstborn,” the nation of Israel.
    Jesus was called out of Egypt as God’s firstborn Son—
    Exodus 4:22,23; Hosea 11:1; Matthew 2:15, 19-21.

    Moses and Jesus were exceptionally meek and humble.— Numbers 12:3; Matthew 11:28-30.

    Jesus fasted 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness: Matt. 4:1,2, Luke 4:2; Luke 22:20
    Moses fasted 40 days: Exodus 34:28

    Moses and Jesus both performed miracles.—
    Exodus 14:21-31; Psalm 78:12-54; Matthew 11:5; Mark 5:38-43; Luke 7:11-15, 18-23.

    Moses and Jesus both served as mediators of covenants between God and His people.—Exodus 24:3-8; 1 Timothy 2:5,6; Hebrews 8:10-13; 12:24.

    God established the [old] covenant through Moses, and promised a new covenant at Jeremiah 31:31

    The New Covenant.
    God established the “new covenant” through Jesus. Matt 26:28, Mark 14:24, Luke 22:20, Hebrews 9:15

    Peter identifies this ‘prophet’ that God would ‘raise up’ as Jesus, in Acts 3:22,23.

    Malachi 3:1: Behold, I send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant, whom ye desire, behold, he cometh, saith Jehovah of hosts.

    So we see that Jesus is like unto Moses.
    Now we examine the rest of Deut 18:18: … “I will put my words in his mouth and he shall speak all that I COMMAND him.”

    Jesus confirms those words:
    John 8:42 ASV: Jesus said unto them, If God were your Father, ye would love me: for I came forth and am come from God; FOR NEITHER HAVE I COME OF MYSELF, but HE SENT ME. (Capitals for emphasis)
    John 5:30: “I CAN OF MYSELF DO NOTHING: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is righteous; because I seek not mine own will, BUT THE WILL OF HIM THAT SENT ME.”

    John 12:49,50: “For I spake not from myself; but the Father THAT SENT ME, he hath given me a COMMANDMENT, what I should say, and what I should speak. 50 And I know that his commandment is life eternal: the things therefore which I speak, even as the Father hath said unto me, so I speak”

    John 14:31: but in order for the world to know that I love the Father, even as THE FATHER HAS GIVEN ME COMMANDMENT [to do], so I am doing. Get up, let us go from here.

    The pagan Trinity doctrine makes nonsense of all the above, or to put it another way; the above makes nonsense of the Trinity doctrine!

    Matthew 7:15 NIV: “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.”
    Take care!

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  2. Thank you Deborah for such a prompt response.

    Let’s start with Deut 18:18: (foretelling Jesus) “I will raise them up a prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee; and I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak unto them all that I shall COMMAND him.”

    As a Trinitarian you consider Jesus to be God the Son within a Trinity with the Father and the holy ghost, all equally God.
    That does not fit with: “I shall put my words in his mouth” and he (Jesus) shall speak all that God COMMANDS him.

    According to the Trinity doctrine, the Father is God, the Son is God and the holy spirit is God. So, is God putting “His words” in His own mouth and commanding Himself to speak those words?

    If Jesus is one person in a Trinitarian godhead, he is carrying out not his own will but the will of his Father who sent him. Jesus admits at John 5:30 that he cannot do a single thing of his own initiative because he seeks not his own will but the will of Him who sent him. Your pagan trinity says they are equal, yet Jesus says the Father is greater than him

    Come on Debby old girl, if Jesus has his “own will” then the holy ghost who according to the Trinity is a person and therefore has a will and the Father has His will, there would be continuous arguments and punch-ups in heaven. 😉
    Have a look at Hebrews 7:25 “Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.

    1 Timothy 2:5 For there is ONE God and ONE mediator between God and man.
    So in that verse we have ONE God, ONE mediator between God and MAN, the mediator being Jesus.

    If the trinity was fact and Jesus was God, he would be mediating with himself
    Jesus fasted 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness: Matt. 4:1,2, Luke 4:2; Luke 22:20
    When Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, he was tempted by the Devil.
    James 1:13 informs us: “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God; for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempteth no man:”(James 1:13)
    Satan knew only too well that he was not tempting God at Matthew 4:1.

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    • Deborah says:

      Fergus, what kind of god do you believe in? Can you really imagine the Father, Son and Holy Spirit bickering amongst themselves, just like human beings would do? We are talking about the Holy One!

      In actual fact, as the Bible says, Father and Son “are one” (John 10:30). They are of one mind (we can even say that of groups of people, without implying that they share a mind) and have one purpose. A ‘difference of opinion’ between them is nothing more than a potentiality – we catch a glimpse of that in Gethsemane (Mark 14:36), but Jesus, as always, aligns Himself there with the will of the Father (John 6:38). This voluntary submission does not imply inequality, any more than submission of a wife to her husband necessarily implies their inequality.

      “According to the Trinity doctrine, the Father is God, the Son is God and the Holy Spirit is God. So, is God putting “His words” in His own mouth and commanding Himself to speak those words?” But you are only stating HALF of the trinity doctrine. The other half of it is: The Father is NOT the Son, the Son is NOT the Father, etc. So it isn’t nonsense to talk about the Father commanding the Son to speak, or about the Son praying to the Father. The whole point of the trinity doctrine (as opposed to modalism, which you are persistently confusing it with) is that it recognises the distinctions between the ‘Persons’.

      I Timothy 2:5 In order to mediate effectively between two parties, the go-between has to be able to represent each one to the other. No being less than God can represent God (otherwise we would have idolatry). In order to represent mankind as well, Jesus had to become Man (hence the emphasis on His humanity).

      So Jesus is a ‘special case’ – not only God, but also Man. Only as Man could He suffer and die – and only as Man could He be tempted.

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    • Hi once again Deborah I hope the following will be helpful.
      Excerpt:
      How Greek Philosophy became the wisdom of the elite
      In such a time was Christianity born. On one side were persecutions; on the other the seduction of philosophy. To remain faithful to the belief of Jesus Christ meant hardship and ridicule. It was only for the simple poor and the rich in faith. It was a hard time to convert to Christianity from the relatively safer paganism. In the desire to grow, the Church compromised truth, which resulted in confusion as pagans became Christians and intermingled beliefs and traditions. In his Emergence of Catholic Tradition, Pelikan discusses the conflict in the Church after AD 70 and the decline of Judaic influence within Christianity. As more and more pagans came into Christianity, they found the Judaic influence offensive. Some even went so far as to reject the Old Testament.

      (Jaroslav Jan Pelikan (December 17, 1923 – May 13, 2006) was a scholar of the history of Christianity, Christian theology and medieval intellectual history.)

      With this background, the growth and evolution of the Trinity can be clearly seen. As previously stated, the Bible does not mention the Trinity. Harnack affirms that the early church view of Jesus was as Messiah, and after his resurrection he was ‘raised to the right hand of God’ but not considered as God (1: 78). Bernard Lonergan, a Roman Catholic priest and Bible scholar, concurs that the educated Christians of the early centuries believed in a single, supreme God (119). As for the holy Spirit, McGiffert tells us that early Christians considered the holy Spirit ‘not as an individual being or person but simply as the divine power working in the world and particularly in the church’ (111). Durant summarizes early Christianity thus: ‘In Christ and Peter, Christianity was Jewish; in Paul it became half Greek; in Catholicism it became half Roman’ (Caesar 579).

      http://www.heraldmag.org/olb/Contents/doctrine/The%20Origin%20of%20the%20Trinity.htm

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      • Deborah says:

        Is this all you can find to say? An article by someone I’ve never heard of (with no academic credentials that I can find) and with no proper references? One that trots out all the tired old anti-trinitarian myths without actually checking their provenance, and misinterprets the Church Fathers by quoting them out of context?

        The ‘threesomes’ of paganism usually quoted are often nothing more than groups of three gods – something very very different from the Christian Trinity. But in any case, any real or imagined resemblance to the beliefs of other ancient religions is irrelevant to the argument. There is, after all, no reason why they should not have had glimpses of the truth somewhere in the midst of all their error.

        Nobody has to resort to “Greek influence” or to a desire to accommodate paganism in order to explain the origins of belief in the Trinity. Do you actually know what Gnosticism was? The Trinity doctrine doesn’t come from that source!
        On the other hand, there is plenty of evidence in the New Testament that the apostles themselves considered Jesus to be God. I have laid it out here:
        https://deborahsbiblestudies.wordpress.com/the-trinity/3-is-jesus-god/

        The Trinity doctrine stands or falls on Scripture alone, and that is where we must base our arguments.

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  3. Good evening Deborah and thank you for your reply. You asked, what kind of God I believe in.
    That’s easy, I believe in a loving God who loved us so much He gave His only begotten Son as a ransom so that whoever has faith in him should not be destroyed but have eternal life.

    The “ransom” was in payment for the perfect life lost by Adam.
    Since a perfect human life was lost, no imperfect human life could ever buy it back. (Psalm 49:7,8) What was needed was a ransom equal in value to what was lost. This is in harmony with the principle of perfect justice found in God’s Word, which says: “Life will be for life.” (Deut 19:21) So, what would cover the value of the perfect human soul, or life, that Adam lost? Another perfect human life was the “corresponding ransom” that was required.— 1Timothy 2:6.

    By the way, I am surprised that you suggest that I implied that the Father and Son bicker among themselves. The section you refer to was intended as “tongue-in-cheek”…why do you conveniently ignore the “smily” I suggest you lighten-up.;-

    To continue:
    The holy spirit is not a person or part of this pagan trinity godhead. If the “holy spirit is a person, why is it not included when Paul, John and Peter in their letters to the churches never include the “holy spirit”.

    1Cor. 8:6 “yet to us there is ONE GOD, the Father, of whom are all things, and we unto him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and we through him.
    (The Father (Jehovah) is God and Jesus is Lord, so, Jesus is subordinate to God which Paul confirms at verse 3 chapter11. Notice that Paul mentioned the Father and Jesus, but never the supposed third person, the holy spirit. The very fact that the “holy spirit” has no name speaks volumes as to personhood)

    Paul confirms
    1Cor 11:3 But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the HEAD OF CHRIST IS GOD.

    2 Cor 1:3 Blessed be THE GOD and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort,

    2 Cor 11:31 THE GOD and Father of the Lord Jesus, he is blessed for evermore…

    Ephesians 1:3 Blessed be THE GOD and FATHER of our Lord Jesus Christ….

    1 Timothy 2:5 For there is one God, ONE MEDIATOR also between God and men, [himself] man, Christ Jesus,
    (If Jesus is God, then he is mediating with himself)

    Hebrews 9:24 For Christ entered not into a holy place made with hands, like in pattern to the true; but into heaven itself, now to APPEAR BEFORE THE FACE OF GOD FOR US: (Only two different separate entities could appear before one another)

    1Peter 1:3 Praise be to THE GOD and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,….

    Now we go to Revelation and read what Jesus has to say from Heaven.

    Rev. 1:1: The Revelation of Jesus Christ which GOD GAVE him so that his servants might have knowledge of the things which will quickly take place: and he sent and made it clear by his angel to his servant John;
    (Consider, Jesus is now communicating with John from heaven and passing on a Revelation which GOD GAVE him.

    (Surely if Jesus was GOD, he would have had the Revelation, but obviously he didn’t because he is NOT GOD!)

    Rev. 1:6 “And he made us to be a kingdom and priests to HIS GOD and Father”;
    (John the author of Revelation tells us that Jesus has a God)

    Rev. 3”2 Jesus speaking through an angel of the congregation at Sardis: “Be thou watchful, and establish the things that remain, which were ready to die: for I have found no works of thine perfected before MY GOD.
    (Jesus has a GOD)

    Now if we go to Rev 3:12: “He that overcometh, I will make him a pillar in the temple of MY GOD, and he shall go out thence no more: and I will write upon him the name of MY GOD, and the name of the city of MY GOD, the new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from MY GOD, and mine own new name.
    (Four times in one verse Jesus tells us he HAS A GOD)

    Jesus calls out to his God:
    Matthew 27:46 About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli,lemasabachthani?” (which means “MY GOD, MY GOD, why have you forsaken me?”).

    At John 20:17 Jesus speaks to Mary Magdalene saying: “Do not touch me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, and MY GOD and your God.'”

    Finally, you say “The Trinity doctrine stands or falls on Scripture alone, and that is where we must base our arguments. That’s fine with me, so please address each of the Scriptures which I present above.

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    • Deborah says:

      I Cor 8:6
      “The Father (Jehovah) is God and Jesus is Lord, so, Jesus is subordinate to God.” ???? No, this does not follow. ‘Lord’ is also a title for God, in many places in the New Testament. This is a Trinitarian text.
      In any case, as I have already explained, subordination does not imply inequality – either for God and Jesus, or for husband and wife.

      I Tim 2:5
      I have already addressed this.

      Heb 9:24
      This is Jesus in His role as High Priest. As I keep having to remind you, the Father is NOT the Son – they ARE distinct entities, so we have no problem here.

      Matt 27:46
      Jesus is not using His own words here but quoting Psalm 22 – originally written by David, of course.

      “The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” is a common way of describing God. It can be understood in two ways: “The God of our Lord Jesus Christ who is also the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” or, “God, who is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Not a proof-text in either direction, then.

      And yes, there are a few places where Jesus refers to His Father as ‘my God’ – because He is also Man, and so has two kinds of relationship with His Father.

      The evidence for the Holy Spirit being personal is summarised here:
      https://deborahsbiblestudies.wordpress.com/the-trinity/6-the-holy-spirit/

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