Trinity

Godhead

NOTE: The Christian Trinity concept is totally based on a single idea, that there is One True God as the First Commandment described. No Christian has ever doubted that. But the New Testament contains a number of references to where Jesus was apparently speaking to "the Father" (God).

Most modern Christian Theologians believe essentially this: That the One True God in Heaven Chose to share the human experience for 33 years; that He needed to make sure that all the other needs in the Universe were provided for during those years, so He needed to maintain a Presence in Heaven; that He wanted His human experience to be as "normal" as was possible, so He arranged a Birth through Mary, and a childhood and early adulthood which did not include His (earthly) knowledge of Whom He really was (possibly through a Kenosis type "emptying" of His Knowledge of His True Divinity) and that His earthly knowledge only learned of His True Divinity rather late in His human life.

This situation resulted in His human existence, as Jesus, sometimes oddly asking His Own Divine existence, Whom He called Father, about various things. Early Christians were confused at why Jesus would want or need to comunicate with . . . Himself! This was troubling to early Christian leaders and they decided that a "Trinity concept" was necessary to explain how the One True God could seem to be talking to Himself!

The desired result was that our One True God has existed since before Genesis, and that necessity required that He remain in Heaven at the same time that He experienced the human condition. Since God has unlimited capability, He could certainly do this. At no time has there ever been more than One True God, but we humans get confused because He seemed to be in more than one place during those 33 years! So, the One True God is firmly back in Heaven, and the Trinity concept suggests that He may equally be thought of as being One True God or as being Three rather different experiences that humans have associated with Him, the Father experienced by ancient Jews, the Son, Jesus, physically experienced by people of two thousand years ago, and the Holy Spirit experienced by all believers ever since. The actual result was probably as much confusion as there had been before the Trinity concept was formulated!

General Information

The Trinity refers to the Christian understanding of God as a unity of three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. All are equally God and so One, each sharing in the divine attributes of ultimacy, eternity, and changelessness; yet they are distinguishable in their relations to each other and in their roles within creaturely and human life and destiny.

The doctrine of the Trinity is a postscriptural attempt to bring to coherent expression diverse affirmations about God, all of which seemed necessary to a full statement of Christian experience and belief. First, from the Hebrew Scriptures and the clear tradition of Jesus' teaching, the church affirmed that not only is God One, but he is also the creative and sovereign Father and thus, by implication, transcendent of finite limits, time, and change - all of which characterize God's creatures.

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Second, it was affirmed that Jesus Christ was more than a great prophet adopted by God; rather he was "the Son of God," "the Word made flesh," the divine Logos itself incarnate in a man. Third, the Holy Spirit, from whose presence the community of believers received their faith, their confidence in the truth of that faith, their holiness, and, above all, the efficacy of both baptism and the Eucharist, was necessarily also God - God's presence in their midst. For Christians, then, the one God appeared in what they called a threefold "economy," in, so to speak, three forms or modes.

Difficulties soon emerged in formulating and understanding this threefold "economy." Divergent views led early to numerous Trinitarian controversies such as those over subordinationism (the teaching that the Son is subordinate to the Father and the Holy Spirit to both; see Arianism) and modalism (the view that the three modes are transitory; see Monarchianism and Sabellianism). The Councils of Nicaea (325) and Constantinople (381) outlined the dogma of the Trinity in express rejection of these teachings.

The Nicene, or Niceno - Constantinopolitan, Creed has defined through the ages, for both Catholic (Roman and Orthodox) and Reformation (Lutheran, Reformed, and Anglican) churches, the basic doctrine of the Trinity. Catholic and Protestant theology has sought in various ways to make the doctrine stated at Nicaea comprehensible.

Saint Augustine's lucid analogies of the divine Trinity in our experience of ourselves as memory, understanding, and will, and in our experience of our own existence as characterized by being, truth, and love, have been the point of departure for most subsequent study. In the religious thought of the Enlightenment (17th and 18th centuries), there was a strong reaction against Trinitarianism as an "orthodox" mystery without basis in either experience or reason - this was the view of Unitarianism and Deism and of much 19th century liberal theology. The great figures of 20th century theology - Karl Barth, Paul Tillich, and, most recently, Karl Rahner - despite their diversity of outlook, have again found the Trinity a central, in fact an unavoidable, structure for expressing the Christian understanding of God.

Langdon Gilkey

Bibliography
E J Fortman, The Triune God: A Historical Study of the Doctrine of the Trinity (1972); B J F Lonergan, The Way to Nicaea: The Dialectical Development of Trinitarian Theology (1976); B M Stephens, God's Last Metaphor: The Doctrine of the Trinity in New England Theology (1981); C Welch, In This Name: The Doctrine of the Trinity in Contemporary Theology (1952).




Trinity

(Editor's Note)

The early Christian scholars attempted to make sense of many confusing aspects of Scripture. Many DIFFERENT ideas were proposed and considered. After a number of generations of those scholars dealing with those "problems" it became generally accepted that a concept of a Trinity was able to "best" explain and describe the many situations that Scripture presents.

These articles in this BELIEVE presentation make it clear that the Trinity is not directly from Scripture. The articles do, however, point out the numerous references to "Father" (mostly by Jesus), the "Son" (again, often by Jesus), and the Holy Spirit (by many sources, including Jesus). We trust in Jesus' words. He wouldn't have made irrational comments about such subjects. SOME explanation regarding these three clearly separate concepts seems necessary, since Scripture makes it so obvious that all Three apparently exist. Given that both the Old and New Testaments make it absolutely clear that there is ONE God, those early scholars came up with the Trinity (or Godhead) as being the "best" available explanation.

Throughout the centuries, many alternative explanations have been thought up to explain their individual Existences, but they have invariably failed, usually because they would necessitate some other number than "ONE" for how many Gods exist.

To this day, the Trinity "seems" to be the "best" explanation. Concerns about the "un-Scriptural" nature of the Trinity concept are valid. It is not specifically mentioned in Scripture (although all Three are, generally separately). Therefore, technically, it IS un-Scriptural, actually even somewhat "artificial". But the vast majority of modern Christian scholars do not think that necessarily means that it is wrong. Maybe consider it a "working" premise! If, some day, someone comes up with a "better" explanation of the individual Presence of the Holy Spirit, and Jesus, and the Father, (which we all agree actually exist) while still confirming that we only have ONE God, maybe we will discard the concept of the Trinity for that "better" explanation. It's been close to 2000 years now, and a lot of the world's greatest minds have worked on these difficult matters, and the Trinity concept still seems to be the "best" available explanation.

These comments are meant to explain why the concept of the Trinity, while being technically un-Scriptural, is such a central foundation of Christianity. The article immediately following gives a pretty compelling logical argument for the concept of the Trinity, with massive Scriptural references.

As an observation, I think that Christians tend to confuse themselves by calling Jesus the SON of God, since He really IS God Himself! Yes, the way that He entered human society, through Mary, certainly makes central the idea of "Son of man" and during His human life, even Jesus felt He was "Son of the Father". But when we get too carried away with the "Son" concept we tend to forget that He really is, was, and forever will be, the One and Only True God of the Universe. Jews called Him Jehovah, Adonai, Elohim, YHWH and many other Names, but always knowing that there is One True God. Christians call Him Father, or Son or Holy Spirit, but sometimes seem to forget that He is One! People in other Faiths often criticize Christians for this, in appearing to be Worshipping "more than one god"! But we really only have One True God, who was initially called the God of Abraham. Muslims seem especially forthright in their criticism of Christians about this, particularly since they worship the very same God of Abraham (Whom they call Allah) with a clear insistence that He is the One True God. If we Christians would just get a little more solid on stating that we Worship the One True God of Abraham, the One True God that Moses told us about in the First Commandment, we would receive far less criticism for "worshipping more than one god"!


Trinity

General Information

By the Trinity is meant the unity of three persons in one Godhead; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Representing God as one, the Scriptures also ascribe divinity to Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Outline of the Argument

  1. God is One. Unity is ascribed to God.
  2. The Father is divine: a distinct person.
  3. The Son is divine: a distinct person.
  4. The Holy Spirit is divine: a distinct person.
  5. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are classed together, separately from all other beings.

Details of the Argument

  1. God is One.

    Ex 20:3 De 4:35,39 6:4 1Sa 2:2 2Sa 7:22 1Ki 8:60 2Ki 19:15 Ne 9:6 Ps 86:10 Isa 44:6-8 45:22 Jer 10:10 Joe 2:27 Zec 14:9 Mr 12:29 Joh 17:3 Ro 1:21-23 1Co 8:4-6 Ga 3:20 Eph 4:6 1Ti 2:5

  2. The Father is divine and a distinct person. The word "Father" is used in the Scriptures in a two-fold sense in relation to the Godhead: sometimes as equivalent to God, sometimes to the first person of the Trinity.

    1. Passages where "Father" is used as equivalent to God, not implying personal distinctions.

      De 32:6 2Sa 7:14 1Ch 29:10 Ps 89:26 Isa 63:16 Jer 3:19 Mal 2:10 Mt 6:9 Mr 11:25 Lu 12:30 Joh 4:21,23,24 2Co 6:18 Php 4:20 Jas 1:17 1Jo 2:15,16

    2. Passages applied to God in contrast with Christ, denoting a special relation to Christ as Son, in his office of Redeemer.

      Ps 2:1-11 Mt 11:27 25:34 Mr 8:38 14:36 Joh 5:18-23,26,27 Joh 10:15,30 17:1 Ac 2:33 Ro 15:6 1Co 8:6 15:24 2Co 11:31 Ga 1:1-4 Eph 1:2,3 4:5,6 Php 1:2 1Th 3:11,13 2Th 2:16 1Ti 1:2 2Ti 1:2 Tit 1:4 Phm 1:3 1Pe 1:2,3 2Pe 1:17 1Jo 1:3 1Jo 4:14 Jude 1:1 Re 3:21

  3. The Son divine, a distinct person from the Father.

    1. Christ pre-existent. Existed as a distinct person before he came into the world.

      Mic 5:2 Joh 8:56-58 17:5 1Co 15:47 Php 2:6,7 Col 1:17 1Jo 1:1 Re 22:13,16 * read 13 & 16 together

    2. Not merely pre-existent, but pre-eminent, above all things except the Father, co-eternal with the Father.

      Mt 11:27 28:18 Lu 20:41-44 Joh 3:13,31 Ac 10:36 Ro 14:9 Eph 1:20-22 Php 2:9,10 Col 1:15,17,18 Heb 1:4-6 1Pe 3:22 Re 1:5 3:14

    3. Creator of the universe

      Joh 1:3 Col 1:16 Heb 1:2,10

    4. Divine attributes ascribed to him

      1. Omnipotence

        Isa 9:6 Mt 28:18 Joh 10:17,18 11:25 1Co 1:24 Php 3:21 Col 2:10 2Ti 1:10 Heb 1:3 Re 1:8

      2. Omnipresence

        Mt 18:20 28:20 Eph 1:23

      3. Eternity

        Mic 5:2 Joh 1:1 Re 1:8

      4. Omniscience

        Mt 11:27 Lu 10:22 Joh 2:24,25 21:17 Ac 1:24 Col 2:3 Re 2:23

      5. The divine name is applied to him as to no other being except the Father, implying supreme divinity.

        Ps 102:24,25 Heb 1:8-10 Isa 7:14 9:6 Mal 3:1 Mt 1:23 Joh 1:1 20:28 Ac 20:28 Ro 9:5 Eph 5:5 Php 2:6 Col 2:9 Tit 1:3 2:13 Heb 1:8-10 Ps 102:24,25 2Pe 1:1 1Jo 5:20 Re 17:14 19:16

      6. Exhibited in the Scriptures as the object of religious worship.

        Mt 2:11 14:33 15:25 Lu 24:52 Joh 5:23 Ac 7:59,60 1Co 1:2 2Co 12:8,9 Ga 1:5 Php 2:10 1Th 3:11,12 2Ti 4:18 Heb 1:6 Ps 97:7 2Pe 3:18 Re 5:13

  4. The Holy Spirit is divine and a distinct person from the Father and the Son.

    1. The Holy Spirit is divine. Called the Spirit of the Father, the Spirit of the Son, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth, the Spirit of life.

      Ge 1:2 6:3 Ne 9:30 Isa 63:10 Eze 36:27,28 Ac 2:16,17 Joe 2:28 Mt 10:20 Lu 12:12 Joh 14:16,17 15:26 Ac 5:3,4 28:25 Ro 8:14 1Co 3:16 Ga 4:6 Eph 1:13 1Th 4:8 Heb 2:4 1Pe 1:2

    2. Is distinct from Father and Son, and is personal. The personal pronoun HE applied to him; personal acts ascribed to him.

      Mt 3:16,17 28:19 Mr 1:10,11 Lu 3:21,22 Joh 14:26 15:26 16:13 Ac 13:2,4 15:28 Ro 8:26 1Co 12:11

    3. Converting, regenerating power ascribed to him

      Ne 9:20 Isa 44:3 Eze 36:26,27 37:14 Joe 2:28 Mt 3:11 Joh 3:5,6 14:26 Ac 9:31 Ro 8:9,11,14 1Co 6:11 2Co 1:22 5:5 Ga 4:6 5:22 Eph 1:13 3:16 1Th 1:6 2Th 2:13 Tit 3:5 1Pe 1:2 1Jo 3:24 Re 22:17

  5. The Father, Son, and Spirit are classed together, separately from all other beings, as divine.

    Mt 28:19 Ro 8:9,14-17 2Co 13:14 1Pe 1:2 Jude 1:20,21

Result of the Biblical evidence in respect to the divinity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

  1. That the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are personally distinguished from each other. There is recognised throughout a personal relation of the Father and Son to each other. So of the Holy Spirit to both.

  2. They each have divine names and attributes.

  3. Yet there is only one God.

H B Smith


Trinity

Advanced Information

Trinity is a word not found in Scripture, but it is used to express the doctrine of the unity of God as subsisting in three distinct Persons. This word is derived from the Gr. trias, first used by Theophilus (A.D. 168-183), or from the Lat. trinitas, first used by Tertullian (A.D. 220), to express this doctrine.

The propositions involved in the doctrine are these:

  1. That God is one, and that there is but one God (Deut. 6:4; 1 Kings 8:60; Isa. 44:6; Mark 12:29, 32; John 10:30).
  2. That the Father is a distinct divine Person (hypostasis, subsistentia, persona, suppositum intellectuale), distinct from the Son and the Holy Spirit.
  3. That Jesus Christ was truly God, and yet was a Person distinct from the Father and the Holy Spirit.
  4. That the Holy Spirit is also a distinct divine Person.


(Easton Illustrated Dictionary)


Trinity

Advanced Information

Trinity is the term designating one God in three persons. Although not itself a biblical term, "the Trinity" has been found a convenient designation for the one God self-revealed in Scripture as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It signifies that within the one essence of the Godhead we have to distinguish three "persons" who are neither three gods on the one side, nor three parts or modes of God on the other, but coequally and coeternally God.

The main contribution of the OT to the doctrine is to emphasize the unity of God. God is not himself a plurality, nor is he one among many others. He is single and unique: "The Lord our God is one Lord" (Duet. 6:4), and he demands the exclusion of all pretended rivals (Deut. 5:7-11). Hence there can be no question of tritheism.

Yet even in the OT we have clear intimations of the Trinity. The frequent mention of the Spirit of God (Gen. 1:2 and passim) may be noted, as also, perhaps, the angel of the Lord in Exod. 23:23. Again, the plural in Gen. 1:26 and 11:7 is to be noted, as also the plural form of the divine name and the nature of the divine appearance to Abraham in Gen. 18. The importance of the word (Ps. 33:6), and especially the wisdom, of God (Prov. 8:12ff.) is a further pointer, and in a mysterious verse like Isa. 48:16, in a strongly monotheistic context, we have a very close approach to Trinitarian formulation.

In the NT there is no explict statement of the doctrine (apart from the rejected I John 5:7), but the Trinitarian evidence is overwhelming. God is still preached as the one God (Gal. 3:20). Yet Jesus proclaims his own deity (john 8:58) and evokes and accepts the faith and worship of his disciples (Matt. 16:16; John 20:28). As the Son or Word, he can thus be equated with God (John 1:1) and associated with the Father, e.g., in the Pauline salutations (I Cor. 1:3, etc.). But the Spirit or Comforter is also brought into the same interrelationship (cf. John 14-16).

It is not surprising, therefore, that while we have no dogmatic statement, there are clear references to the three persons of the Godhead in the NT. All three are mentioned at the baptism of Jesus (Matt. 3:16-17). The disciples are to baptize in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost (Matt. 28:19). The developed Pauline blessing includes the grace of the Son, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost (II Cor. 13:14). Reference is made to the election of the Father, the sanctification of the Spirit, and the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ (I Pet. 1:2) in relation to the salvation of believers.

The fact that Christian faith involves acceptance of Jesus as Savior and Lord meant that the Trinity quickly found its way into the creeds of the church as the confession of faith in God the Father, Jesus Christ his only Son, and the Holy Ghost. The implications of this confession, especially in the context of monotheism, naturally became one of the first concerns of patristic theology, the main aim being to secure the doctrine against tritheism on the one side and monarchianism on the other.

In the fully developed doctrine the unity of God is safeguarded by insisting that there is only one essence or substance of God. Yet the deity of Jesus Christ is fully asserted against those who would think of him as merely adopted to divine sonship, or preexistent, but in the last resort created. The individuality of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is also preserved against the notion that these are only modes of God for the various purposes of dealing with man in creation or salvation. God is one, yet in himself and from all eternity he is Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, the triune God.

Trinitarian analogies have been found by many apologists both in nature generally and in the constitution of man. These are interesting, but are not to be thought of as providing a rationale of the divine being. More pregnant is the suggestion of Augustine that without the Trinity there could be no fellowship or love in God, the divine Triunity involving an interrelationship in which the divine perfections find eternal exercise and expression independent of the creation of the world and man.

Rationalist objections to the Trinity break down on the fact that they insist on interpreting the Creator in terms of the creature, i.e., the unity of God in terms of mathematical unity. More scientifically, the Christian learns to know God from God himself as he has acted for us and attested his action in Holy Scripture. He is not surprised if an element of mystery remains which defies ultimate analysis or understanding, for he is only man and God is God. But in the divine work as recorded in the Bible the one God is self-revealed as Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, and therefore in true faith he must "acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity."

G W Bromiley
(Elwell Evangelical Dictionary)

Bibliography
K. Barth, Church Dogmatics, I/1, 8-11; J.F. Bethune-Baker, An Introduction to the Early History of Christian Doctrine, 139ff.; W. H. Griffith Thomas, The Principles of Theology, 20-31; J. Moltmann, The Trinity and the Kingdom; R. W. Jensen, The Triune Identity; P. Toon and J. Spiceland, One God in Trinity; E. J. Fortman, The Triune God; D. M. Baillie, God Was in Christ; C. W. Lowry, The Trinity and Christian Devotation; E. Jungel, The Doctrine of the Trinity; K. Rahner, What Is the Trinity? C. F. D. Moule, "The NT and the Doctrine of the Trinity," ExpT 78:16ff.; T. F. Torrance, "Toward an Ecumenical Consensus on the Trinity," TZ 31:337ff.



Another Editor's Note!

In addition to these articles by noted Christian scholars, I believe a new and unique approach aimed at better comprehending and understanding the Trinity exists. This approach doesn't actually change any beliefs regarding the Father, Son or Holy Spirit. I (the Editor of BELIEVE) have written an essay which does not contradict any of these accepted thoughts, but allows a visualization of how it is simultaneously possible to be Three Persons and One Substance. That essay is not actually part of the BELIEVE compilation of scholars' articles, but you are invited to read it at Trinity. http://mb-soft.com/public/trinity2.html


The individual articles presented here were generally first published in the early 1980s. This subject presentation was first placed on the Internet in May 1997.

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