The Doctrine of the Trinity

November 6, 2006 — 3 Comments


The doctrine of the Trinity has for ages thrown theologian’s minds into disarray and confusion, leaving many unable to accept the Trinity or at least remaining skeptical of such a doctrine as three beings in one. Many have come to the conclusion that the doctrine of the trinity is beyond understanding and therefore have denied it amidst the Trinitarian idea found within the pages of scripture. Theologian James Boice noted that some complain that “theology should be ‘simple’ because simplicity is beautiful, God is beautiful and must therefore be simple and so on.” He declares this a misunderstanding of reality.

Reality “is not neat, not obvious, not what you expect…” says C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity, “Reality, in fact, is usually something you would not have guessed.” Lewis makes similar statements in his sermon “The Weight of Glory.” In that sermon, he is speaking of the hereafter versus reality, and relating to us that human language and images cannot fully express heavenly things. It is similar to this when we examine the doctrine of the Trinity – many of our words cannot fully express such “the arithmetic of heaven” as Daniel Webster put it when he was challenged for his belief in the trinity.

Countless verses that we observe in Scripture point us to the Trinitarian characteristic and understanding of God. When examined in Hebrew, verses in Deuteronomy 6, which states that the “Lord our God is one Lord,” point us to an understanding of the trinity. The word “one” found in the above passage is echad, meaning one in unity. “It is the word used in speaking of one bunch of grapes,” says Boice, “or in saying that the people of Israel responded as one people.” It is another example of not having a language to grasp fully the meaning within a text like that. (This interpretation of the original language could be further debated, but the ultimate point still stands, as my Hebrew scholar friends may conclude with me).

“One of our difficulties at this point,” concludes Boice, “is that we do not have an adequate word in English…to express the nature of the different existences within the Godhead.”

Yet additional verses in Scripture explicitly point to the trinity, such as Genesis 1:26. “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” Or Genesis 11:7. “Come let us go down, and there confuse their language.” Or “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” stated in Isaiah 6:8. And these are only three verses – there are many, many more.

The Importance of the Trinity

“The doctrine of the Trinity is one of the most important doctrines of the Christian faith,” says theologian Wayne Grudem. “To study the Bible’s teachings on the Trinity gives us great insight into the question that is at the center of all our seeking after God: What is God like in Himself?”

So we examine some of the central tenets of the Trinity, namely God exists in three persons: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The Father is fully divine. The Son is the second person of the Godhead and is fully divine, and also came to earth in the likeness of man. The Holy Spirit is also fully divine. Although each is fully divine, they are “related to each other in a way that implies some differences” (Boice) Finally, they all work together.

God exists in three persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit

We have already examined just a few verses, but it would be wise to look at a few more to prove from Scripture the truth of the trinity. Take for instance Matthew 28:19: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” If that is not obvious in informing us of the Trinitarian teaching of Scripture, I don’t know what will.

Another passage that refers to the three persons, or as Calvin preferred, the “subsistence” of the Godhead, is 1 Peter 1:2, which states that “According to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit that you may obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with his blood.” Another is found in Jude 20-21: “But you, beloved, build yourselves up on you most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit; keep yourselves in the love of God; wait for mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.” (pg. 231, Systematic Theology)

The Son is the second person of the Godhead and is fully divine/The Holy Spirit is Divine

I do not know any of us who would not accept this teaching of the divinity of Christ and the Holy Spirit in an instant. Jesus told us that “I and the Father are one” (Jn. 10:30) and that “He who has seen me has seen the Father.” It is quite obvious that if he was not fully divine, there was no way that he could have been perfectly holy, and therefore could not have been a pleasing sacrifice, a pleasing atonement for our sins. The entire saving work of the cross would all be for naught.

We also believe the if the Father and Son are fully divine, the Holy Spirit must be fully divine. Otherwise, our theology would fail.

Conclusion

Although the doctrine of the Trinity is hard to grasp, it is so important to work to understand. This significant doctrine is a true doctrine, albeit a difficult one to grasp. Perhaps a few human images or illustrations will help us to explain it in some way.

James Boice relays to us one illustration which is that of a cake which is made up of layers, slices, and ingredients. The Father would be the ingredients, the Son the layers (“by which God comes down to us”) and the Holy Spirit would be the slices of the cake (“by which he is passed around”).

Yet he does not feel quite satisfied with that analogy, and prefers the “light, heat, and air” illustration (used by none other than Donald Grey Barnhouse in his book, Man’s Ruin.).

“If you hold out your hand and look at it, each of these three things is present. There is light, because it is only by light that you can see your hand. In fact, even if the darkness of night should descent, there would still be light. There would be infrared light. Although you couldn’t see it, it could be picked up by special equipment. There is also heat between your head and your hand. You may prove it by holding out a thermometer. It will vary as you go from a cold room to a warm room or from the outside to indoors. Finally there is air. You can blog on your hand and feel it. You can wave your hand and thus fan your face.”

The point, he says is that all three of these things is distinct. Yet at the same time it is “impossible to have any one without the others.” Ironically, these elements are all used in relation to God (see 1 Jn. 1:5, Heb. 12:29, and Jn. 3:8).

In a final conclusion, this confusing doctrine that has thrown theologians into disarray and theological dismay, and some into theological liberalism, is Scriptural. It is still a mystery to us, but we must understand what we see and are being taught as much as we can, and remain faithful to the infallible Word of God.

Tim Sweetman

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Tim Sweetman is a 22-year-old writer, blogger, and student who lives near our nation’s capital, Washington D.C. He has been much more widely known by his “code-name,” Agent Tim. This name also served as the name of his popular blog, which received over 750,000 visits between 2005 to 2007. In 2005, he quickly rose to become a leading teenage spokesperson and cultural critic within the booming blogosphere, taking on issues such as MySpace, alcohol, homeschooling, pride, racism, tolerance, and other topics relating to our culture today. His blog has come to the attention of people such as Albert Mohler, C.J. Mahaney, Alex and Brett Harris, and La Shawn Barber. Tim’s written work has appeared in Lifeway’s Living With Teenagers (February 2012), Lookout Magazine, FUSION Magazine, The Brink Online, The Old Schoolhouse Magazine, Virtue Magazine, Regenerate Our Culture Online Magazine, and on many other blogs and websites across the internet like Marry Well and the Lies Young Women Believe Blog. He has also been featured in WORLD Magazine, The Towers Magazine, and Maryland Newsline. He is scheduled to have an article appear in Veritas Magazine this December. Most recently, his work can be found on Focus on the Family’s Boundless Webzine. His personal interests include writing (surprise!) and sports, both watching and playing. He is a die-hard Washington Redskins fan.

3 responses to The Doctrine of the Trinity

  1. Interesting and challenging article. Another ananlogy of the Trinity is that it’s like a strange carrot. Many of the carrots from a garden start big at the base, then branch out into three different “prongs”. The Trinity comes out of one God, then branches out into three seperate jobs.

  2. I think the thing that makes the doctrine of the Trinity so difficult to grasp is the fact that each member of the Godhead is in fact God: Each one is supremely divine and powerful. And yet, when combined into the Godhead, they are not some sort of amazing Tri-God… instead, they are simply God. We can’t understand this, of course, because according to our limited logic, it seems impossible in the same way that saying 1 + 1 + 1 = 1 is illogical.

    Perhaps in reality, a better equation to relate the Trinity to would be 1 x 1 x 1 = 1, for each member is in Himself God, and when forming the Godhead they are not merely added one on top of the other, but combined with each other. Since each member is God, not so much a being that merely exists as one that is in fact the very basis of existence, it stands to reason that He would not change or increase (something that requires existence) when the threefold nature of the Godhead is considered.

    Perhaps I’m just rambling… But it does make sense in my head that the acts of changing or increasing would first require existence, something that God Himself transcends.

  3. Many world religions such as Judaism and Islam have taught that God is ONE but there have been other religions who have presented God as having many different faces all derived from one most perfect God. In Hindu tradition for example, if we were to ask the question – “Which is true: is there one God or are there many Gods?” – the answer would be that both statements are true. One way to understand this is to recognise that although we see God as perfectly ONE we experience God in many ways – for example as a counsellor we can confide in, as a leader we wish to follow, as a father figure that loves us, or as a warrior that fights spiritual battles on our behalf.
    Thinking about God in this way leads us to wonder whether God is just simply ONE or whether there are a number of key attributes needed to make up this ONENESS. But at this point we need to look at ourselves to get some insight into this question.
    Imagine that you want to paint a picture – or to put it more strongly – you would love to paint a picture. But your desire to paint on its own won’t ever produce a painting. You need to know how to paint and to have the right tools available, if you are to achieve anything. Your love must wrap itself around your knowledge or wisdom if you are to achieve your aim. And then together your love to paint and your wisdom as to how to do it combines beautifully in activity, and a painting is produced. Whether we are aware of it or not everything we do follows this pattern of motivation (love), know-how (wisdom) and resulting product (activity).
    And right near the beginning of the Bible it says that “God created man in his own image…”.
    If we put these thoughts together we can begin to see that God is ONE but that this ONENESS is made up of Love, Wisdom and Activity. The Divine nature is thus both ONE and THREEFOLD in nature. Thus there is a TRINITY in ONE God.

    The Christian idea of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit can also be understood in terms of the Love (Father), Wisdom (Son) and Activity (Holy Spirit) of the ONE personal GOD.

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