God, The Trinity

trinity

In this post I will tackle one of the more challenge aspects of the doctrine of God–the Trinity. 

In a previous post I said that I often am asked, “What is God like?” and I usually think of the answer in two ways. The first is His character–what qualities does He possess? The second is His nature–a Trinity.

There is no reason to hide the fact that the word “trinity” does not exist in the text of the Scriptures. W. Fulton is helpful giving us the history of the word as follows:

The term “Trinity”, is not found in the Bible. Theophilus of Antioch around 180 A.D. first used the Greek term trias(a set of three) in reference to God, his Word, and his Wisdom. However, Tertullian in 215 A.D. was the first one to state this doctrine using the Latin term, Trinitas (Trinity), referring to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. [1]

While the word “trinity” is not in the Bible, that does not mean that it is not taught within its pages.

The Trinity in the Old Testament

The Old Testament (OT) is replete with references that suggest a Trinity. While a complete theology of the trinity is not complete until we arrive in the New Testament (NT), the doctrine begins to form early in the Scriptures.

The first example comes in Genesis 1:26 where God says, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” We see a plural “let us” and “our” in reference to God which suggests a plurality of persons. At the time of its writing the readers would have not known how many were included in the process, but the language here would have suggested more than one. This concept also holds true for Genesis 3:22, 11:7, and Isaiah 6:8.

Throughout the OT, the Holy Spirit is shown to be separate and unique from God, while still being referred to as God.

For instance, in Isaiah 63:10 we are told that God’s people rebelled against Him, “and grieved his Holy Spirit.” This distinction tells us that the Holy Spirit is different than God, but is a part of God. The Spirit here is grieved, which shows that the Sprit has emotions of His own. Isaiah 61:1 and 48:16 also makes this distinction between the Spirit and God.

The Trinity in the New Testament

There are plenty of passages that allude to the trinity in the NT, but it is easier to see this concept in passages where all three members of the trinity are present.

Matthew 3:16-17

And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

Matthew 28:19

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,

2 Corinthians 13:14

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

Ephesians 4:4-6

There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

1 Peter 1:2

according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ

Jude 20-21

But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.

The NT gives the final and complete picture of the doctrine of the trinity. While that word does not show up in the text, it’s concept is present throughout the Bible.

biblie-verses-trinity-diagram-esv-study-bible-father-son-holy-spirit-triangleThis brings us to a point of summary. It is said that the doctrine of the trinity can be summarized in three statements. [2]

  1. God is three persons.
  2. Each person is fully God.
  3. There is one God.

 

Errors Concerning the Trinity in Church History

Wherever a doctrine exists, you can be sure that there were some heresies that lead to its formation. This is especially true with the doctrine of the trinity.

Modalism

This is the error that teaches that there is one person who appears to us in three different forms (or “modes”). God has shifted from OT “father” to NT “Jesus” to post-Pentecost “Holy Spirit.” Believed by the United Pentecostal Church. Sometimes illustrated by the cycles of “water” (water, ice, steam).

Arianism

The name for this error comes from the man who taught this view–Arius. Arianism teaches that God the Son was at one point created by God the Father, and that before that time the Son did not exist, nor did the Holy Spirit, but the Father only. They use verses like John 1:14; 3:16; and 1 John 4:9, which use the word “begotten” to support their view. These texts do not need an “Arian” understanding to understand what they mean. What the original authors are trying to convey is that Jesus is the “same stuff” as God. The early church fathers were so adamant that Christ was God that they said, “Whatever ‘only begotten’ means, it does not mean ‘created.'”

A second aspect of Arianism was the Jesus was inferior to the Father–called subordinationism. This too is an error.

Adoptionism

This false teaching is characterized by the idea that Jesus was just a normal person before God “adopted” him as his “Son” and gave him supernatural power. This means that Jesus would not have existed before he was born as a human, thus under this belief he is not eternal.

Conclusion

There are many religions that do not believe in the Trinity. Jehovah Witnesses – Mormons and Muslims just to name a few. But the Bible is clear. There is only one God (Deut. 6:4) who exists as three persons. (John 6:27, Ephesians 4:6, Hebrews 1:8, Acts 5:3-4 – these passages show the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as being God). If we deny the truth of the Trinity, then we deny the truth of Scripture. If we deny the truth of Scripture, then how are we to believe what the Bible claims about salvation? This is why it is key to understand God as Trinity.

So what can we conclude regarding the trinity? We go back to Grudem’s three statements.

  1. God is three persons.
  2. Each person is fully God.
  3. There is one God.

 

 

 

 

[1]  W. Fulton, Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics. More information on the development of trinitarian theology at http://www.theopedia.com/development-of-trinitarian-theology

[2] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994) 231-241.

 

 

 

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