The Trinity – An Ageless Question
The word Trinity is not mentioned by that specific name anywhere within Holy Scripture. The word Trinity is derived from “trinitas“, which means “threeness“, and was used for the first time by Tertullian in 220 A.D. to express this doctrine.
It is safe to state that ever since the time of its initial introduction, the Trinity has raised questions amongst Christians as to just exactly what it is, and as to just exactly how it might be defined.
The Hebrew concept of one God is well known (underlined emphases are mine):
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. (Deuteronomy 6:4)
However, this appears to be a contradiction to other Holy Scripture:
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” (Genesis 1:26)
And the LORD God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” (Genesis 3:22)
As 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. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:16-17)
At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:9-11)
When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:21-22)
For those readers who desire a somewhat more formal definition of what a ‘contradiction’ is, and why believing in the concept of the Trinity and a Triune God does not represent a contradiction with the concept of one God, an extract from ‘The Apologetics Study Bible: Real Questions, Straight Answers, Stronger Faith (p. 1459)’, author Douglas K. Blount, will be presented shortly. First, I will present what my understanding of the Trinity is.
The Trinity is essence (being), persons and relationships.
-The attributes that make God, God.
Please understand that we humans are finite in every respect: we are mortal, and we are limited in what we can do and comprehend by the constraints of physicality and intelligence. In no way can I describe in either adequate number or in sufficient detail the totality of the attributes of God. God is limitless, and our weak ability to describe His attributes is but the most pale shadow of what He is. To even attempt to ‘define’ God is to limit Him to what our human nature can discern regarding Him… an impossible task, and in my mind a close neighbor to blasphemy. Critical attributions that I ascribe to God are “the Omnis”…
God is present everywhere, past, present and future, both inside and outside of time.
God possesses unlimited knowledge.
God possesses unlimited power.
God has these three attributions, and all others (that we know of in our limited vocabulary and understanding), including those attributions that we are not aware of, and cannot discern. The common touchstone across every attribute of God, known or unknown to us, is absolute perfection. These absolutely perfect attributions constitute God’s being.
-The manifestations of essence (being).
The essence of God is manifested in three persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Since the concept of 3 persons in 1 God and 1 God in 3 persons is where we humans can’t get our minds around what it truly represents, one analogy is to say that the persons of the Trinity are the forms with which God has chosen to reveal Himself to humanity. A second analogy is to consider the three dimensions within which we humans operate. Using one dimension, lines can be drawn. Adding a second dimension, plane geometrical figures can be created (like squares and triangles). Adding a third dimension, spatial objects can be created (like 6-sided cubes and 4-sided pyramids). Since God is outside of the dimensions that we humans know and understand, it can be concluded (even with our limited logic) that new dimensions are available to Him; it follows necessarily that new forms of manifestation for God are possible: which will not be understandable to we humans. A third, admittedly simpler, analogy, is that God is the Word, Jesus Christ is the Word Incarnate (the Word made flesh), and the Holy Spirit is the Word in spirit and in truth:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. (John 1:1-2)
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)
No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known. (John 1:18)
Read this to see the presence of Jesus in the Old Testament.
Read this to see the presence of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament.
-The interactions of persons.
The relationships between the persons of the Trinity can be seen throughout the entire sweep of Holy Scripture. The verses from Genesis 1:26 and Genesis 3:22 quoted above prove the active presence of, and the making of rational decisions by, the persons of the Trinity. The relationships between the persons of the Trinity brought all creation into existence, set the plan of redemption from the Fall into motion, sent the only begotten Son of God into the world to pay the penalty for all sin, sent the Holy Spirit at Pentecost to enable God’s work of salvation to proceed throughout the entire world, and will bring all human history to a close with the defeat of the enemies of God and the judgment of believers and unbelievers alike.
The extract from ‘The Apologetics Study Bible: Real Questions, Straight Answers, Stronger Faith (p. 1459)’, author Douglas K. Blount:
On its face, however, the doctrine of the Trinity might look like a contradiction. It might seem impossible that God be both one and three. Indeed, the apparent absurdity of this doctrine has led to at least two major errors, each of which elevates one of the doctrine’s claims at the other’s expense. On one hand, some stress the oneness of God at the expense of His threeness, claiming there is only one divine person. Those who describe God in this way usually say that the one divine person appears in different guises or masks, sometimes as Father, other times as Son, and still other times as Spirit. Since this view says the one divine person changes His mode of appearance, it is called modalism. On the other hand, some stress God’s threeness at the expense of His oneness, claiming each of the three divine persons is a distinct god. This view, which says that there are three gods, is called tritheism.
But modalism and tritheism are at odds with the Bible, which presents God as both one and three. There is just one God (Dt 6:4), yet this God is three persons—Father, Son, and Spirit (Mt 3:16–17; Mk 1:9–11; Lk 3:21–22). No doubt it is difficult (or perhaps even impossible) for us to understand how God is both one and three. But something’s being difficult (or even impossible) for humans to understand doesn’t make it a contradiction.
A contradiction involves saying that something is both true and false at the same time and in the same way. So, for instance, one who says both that Napoleon lost the Battle of Waterloo and that Napoleon did not lose the Battle of Waterloo contradicts himself. It is logically impossible for Napoleon to have both lost that battle and not to have lost it. His claim is contradictory.
Now if Christians said both that (1a) there exists precisely one God, and that (1b) it is not the case that there exists precisely one God, they would contradict themselves. So also if they said both that (2a) there are three divine persons, and that (2b) it is not the case that there are three divine persons, they also would contradict themselves. But Christians do not affirm both 1a and 1b. Neither do they affirm both 2a and 2b. Rather, they affirm 1a and 2a. And this would be contradictory only if either 1a entails 2b or 2a entails 1b.
To put the point differently, when Christians say that God is both one and three, they do not say that He is one in the same way in which He is three. So, for instance, they do not say both that (1a) there exists precisely one God, and that (1c) there exist three gods. Nor do they say both that (2a) there exist three divine persons, and that (2c) there exists only one divine person.
Since 1c entails 1b, affirming both it and 1a would be contradictory. And since 2c entails 2b, affirming both it and 2a also would be contradictory. But, as a matter of fact, Christians deny both 1c and 2c. In affirming 1a and 2a, then, Christians affirm that in one way God is one and in another way He is three. And in so doing they do not contradict themselves.
So, then, those who think the doctrine of the Trinity is contradictory misunderstand either the nature of a contradiction or the doctrine itself. Perhaps they confuse contradiction with mere paradox, taking our inability to understand how the doctrine is true to entail that it is false. But our inability to understand how God is both one and three tells us far more about ourselves than it does about God. The Bible presents God as both one and three; that suffices for us to know that He is so, regardless of whether we understand the how of it.
My thought is how blessed we are as believers to have God in all of His manifestations leading us through this life into the next life. Father God… glorify Your names!!