Friday, July 15, 2011

Explaining the Trinity


I noticed in my stats tab an increase in reading Defense of the Trinity part 3, so I thought I would put all parts in one post. 

The trinity is one of the great mysteries of the Christian faith. Mystery, unlike antinomy and paradox, does not mean contradiction, rather it means beyond reason, but not against reason. It is known only by revelation. The word trinity does not appear in the Bible, however, the concept is taught in the Bible. What is the concept? Simple:

1. There is one God
2. There are three distinct persons who are God: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. 

I'm quite certain that Christian and Jew alike agree that there is one God, no problem, yet there is some disagreement on the second part of the trinity concept: three persons who are God. This is quite controversial. On the surface, one might think it's even contradictory. Before I dive into scriptural proof for the trinity, I want to focus on the logic of the trinity; a philosophical defense of the trinity you could call it. 
The Logic of the Trinity

There are principles of knowledge, one of which is the law of non-contradiction and it is the fundamental law of all rational thought. The law of non-contradiction informs us that something cannot be true and false at the same time and in the same sense. The doctrine of the trinity does not violate this law. To show this, I will state what the trinity is not. 

Taken from the Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics:

"The Trinity is not the belief that God is three persons and only one person at the same time and in the same sense. That would be a contradiction. Rather, it is the belief that there are three persons in one nature...Further, the Trinity is not the belief that there are three natures in one nature or three essences in one essence. That would be a contradiction. Rather, Christians affirm that there are three persons in one essence. This is not contradictory because it makes a distinction between person and essence. Or, to put it in terms of the law of non-contradiction, while God is one and many at the same time, he is not one and many in the same sense. He is one in the sense of his essence, but many in the sense of his persons. So there is no violation of the law of non-contradiction in the doctrine of the Trinity."

So, one could say that God has one "What" and three "Whos." The three persons (Whos) share the same essence (What). Norman Geisler stated, "So God is a unity of essence with a plurality of persons. Each person is different, yet they share a common nature." God is one in his substance. The unity is in his essence, while the plurality is in God's persons, or how he relates within himself. Descriptions of this relationship are within the Bible, showing how the Son and the Father relate, and how the Father sends the Spirit as a Messenger, and the Spirit is a Witness to the Son (John 14:26). Reading descriptions like that help us to understand the functions within the unity of the Godhead. "Each is fully God, and each has his own work and interrelational theme with the other two. But it is vital to remember that the three share the same essence, so that they unify as one Being," (Geisler).


Illustrations of the Trinity

The illustrations given will be my attempt to show the unity of God while showing a simultaneous plurality. Hopefully, the following analogies will shine light on some misunderstandings. First, there is a misconception that believing in the Trinity is believing in three gods; doesn't 1 + 1 + 1 = 3? It does if you add them, but what if you multiplied one three times? Will you not get one? God is triune, not triplex. So, we can see from this that there is no mathematical contradiction to the Trinity. 

Another illustration is the triangle, probably the most popular illustration of the Trinity. A triangle has three corners, inseparable, and simultaneous to one another. This explains the Trinity well in a simple way that is easy to remember. There is also a moral illustration suggested by Augustine. *The Bible informs us that "God is love" (1 John 4:16). Love involves a lover, a beloved, and a spirit of love between lover and loved. The Father might be likened to the lover, the Son to the beloved, and the Holy Spirit to the Spirit of love. This is a strong example because it is personal, in that it involves love, which comes from persons. 

There is also an illustration based in human nature; the relation of the human mind, to its ideas, and the expression of those ideas in words. So we have mind to ideas to words. There is a unity among the three without having an identity, in that sense, the three illustrate the Trinity.* So I hope the above illustrations give a better understanding of the Trinity. In my opinion, they are great examples to share with others for their simplicity and they are also very illustrative. 

Scriptural Defense

Ah, here comes the part the critics have been salivating at the mouth for me to get to: the evidence in scripture. Are you ready? I'm ready to get into it too because there is good evidence in the Bible for the Trinity. I'm quite sure most Christians understand God as Father, there really isn't much debate on that so I'll start with the deity of Christ, or the Son of God and then end with the Holy Spirit. 

The Son is God

Jesus claimed to be Yahweh God; YHWH translated in some versions Jehovah, was the special name for God revealed to Moses in Exodus 3:14, the "I AM WHO I AM," scripture. Jesus declared "Before Abraham was, I am," in John 8:58. That declaration claims equality with God and existence before Abraham. Also, when you couple the verses Luke 4:8, "And Jesus answered him, "It is written, "'You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve." and Hebrews 1:6, "And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, "Let all God's angels worship him," you see that God is the only being to be worshiped, yet the Son is worshiped in Hebrews 1:6, along with Joshua 5:13-15; Mark 5:6; John 9:38; Luke 24:52; Rev. 7:9, 10; and Phil. 2:10,11. In those verses the Son is worshiped, yet God alone is to be worshiped, so we can see that the Son is God. 

Now, it's important to note that the Son and the Father are not two separate beings, for God is one being: "The Lord our God, the LORD is one" (Deaut. 6:4). Both Jesus (Mark 12:29) and the apostles repeat this formula in the NT (1 Cor. 8:4, 6). So, there is one being and that is God. 

The Holy Spirit is God

The Holy Spirit is called "God" (Acts 5:3-4). Walter Martin explains the verse well, "The literal force of the Greek verb translated "to lie" is to impose a lie upon someone. In this case the someone was not men (verse 4) nor even Peter, but God in the Person of the Holy Spirit. The parallel of verses 3 and 4 clearly indicates that the Holy Spirit is a person and is God."
*The Holy Spirit possesses the attributes of deity: omnipresence (Ps 139:7-12) and omniscience (1 Cor. 2:10, 11). He is associated with God the Father in creation (Gen. 1:2). He is involved with other members of the Godhead in the work of redemption (John 3:5-6; Rom 8:9-17, 27-27; Titus 3:5-7). He is associated with other members of the Trinity under the "name" of God (Matt 28:18-20). Finally, the Holy Spirit appears, along with the Father and Son, in New Testament benedictions (for example, 2 Cor. 13:14). 


I hope to communicate clearly that not only does the Holy Spirit possess deity, but that he also has a differentiated personality. I'll give three reasons why the Holy Spirit has a differentiated personality. 

Personal Pronouns

Scripture refers to the Holy Spirit with personal pronouns (John 14:26; 16:13). 

He Does Things Only Persons Can Do

Teach (John 14:26; 1 John 2:27)
Convict of sin (John 16:7-8)
Be grieved by sin (Ephesians 4:30).
Intercedes (Romans 8:26). 

The Holy Spirit has intellect (1 Cor. 2:10, 11), will (1 Cor. 12:11), and feeling (Eph. 4:30). 

I will close with an excerpt from an article written by John Macarthur:

In describing the Trinity, the New Testament clearly distinguishes three Persons who are all simultaneously active. They are not merely modes or manifestations of the same person (as Oneness theology incorrectly asserts) who sometimes acts as Father, sometimes as Son, and sometimes as Spirit. At Christ’s baptism, all three Persons were simultaneously active (Matt. 3:16–17), with the Son being baptized, the Spirit descending, and the Father speaking from Heaven. Jesus Himself prayed to the Father (cf. Matt. 6:9), taught that His will was distinct from His Father’s (Matt. 26:39), promised that He would ask the Father to send the Spirit (John 14:16), and asked the Father to glorify Him (John 17:5). These actions would not make sense unless the Father and the Son were two distinct Persons. Elsewhere in the New Testament, the Holy Spirit intercedes before the Father on behalf of believers (Rom. 8:26), as does the Son, who is our Advocate (1 John 2:1). Again, the distinctness of each Person is in view.

There is only one God. The members of the Godhead are co-existent, co-equal, one in essence and yet three in person. Remember the mathematical illustration of 1 x 1 x 1 = 3, and the love illustration to help you with understanding the doctrine of the Trinity. It is a monotheistic belief rooted in scripture; not a belief in three gods in one or a belief of one person manifesting himself in three ways. Norman Geisler puts the Trinity in words as, "while God is one and many at the same time, he is not one and many in the same sense. He is one in the sense of his essence, but many in the sense of his persons."


Sources:

Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics

Augustine, On the Trinity

Walter Martin, King James Study Bible

John Macarthur, "Our Triune God."


More information

My discussion with a oneness on why he doesn't hold the Trinity as true


R.C. Sproul, "Mystery of the Trinity."
 
William Lane Craig, "The Trinity and God's Omni-Attributes
 
William Lane Craig's "higher learning" article on the Trinity

Walter Martin Video What is the Trinity? 

Excellent article, "What is the doctrine of the Trinity?" by Matt Perman

The Trinity: One What and Three Whos by Ken Samples

Image taken from this website

2 comments:

  1. Art
    I thought I would post this for you on your site as you asked.....
    I originally addressed this to Michael also, so some of his statements are answered. But you'll get the ideas.....
    Thanks for your replies. How do I "seem particularly bitter towards dogma" by simply being a bit dogmatic in my views?
    And, why do you think I am "closing my ears, eyes and mind" if I just do not agree with you, and RC Sproul?
    The reason I support Oneness is I think it is less confusing and has far fewer "scriptural problems" than the Trinity. For example, as I demonstrated, the doctrine can be summarily expressed by simply quoting scripture. Try that with the Trinity.

    Making a reference to the plural language in the opening chapter of the Bible (Gen. 1.26) is a great example of Trinitarian exegetical folly. There are over 10,000 references to God in the OT, with 7,000 of those being with His personal name of Jehovah (Heb. Yahweh) and all of them are associated with singular verbs and pronouns except four. Your approach to Biblical interpretation violates a basic rule: Interpret unclear passages in light of the larger number of clear and numerous passages, according to the broad context of the document. All scholars, including Trinitarian agree that the OT teaching on the nature of God is strictly monotheistic and contains no teaching of a Trinity. In fact, scholars can only honestly say that the Trinity is implied or assumed in the NT, not explained at all.

    If you really think "God the Son" (a non-biblical "person" of Trinitarian creation) actually prayed to God the Father, you have one "person of God" in submission to the other, as a demigod, and you simply have polytheism. Christ prayed because He had a fully human nature as well as divine nature: and only in the role of human, did he grow up, be anointed and empowered by the Spirit, be tempted, suffer life as a man, and die on the cross. We understand that sometimes he spoke and acted as the very human Son of God; but sometimes He spoke and acted as God Himself, as the divine representative of God. As a human, Almighty God was not only his Father but also his God, to whom he not only submitted when in Canaan, but to whom he still submits today (e.g. Rev. 1.6 etc.—His God and Father). On the other hand, the Oneness view sees Jesus as fully divine: the human manifestation of God, so that we understand such Scriptures as, Col 2.9-10, For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him, you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority… Trinitarian theology agrees with the dual nature teaching, but Oneness follows Scripture and takes it further.

    If you are interested in really learning something about the Biblical view of the nature of God, I would recommend David Bernard's book, Oneness of God (Pentecostal Theology vol. 1) 1983, available here at Amazon, including a Kindle version for $9.99. It is really a fascinating subject.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Art-- You can notify me of any response at my email of

    Revelation0108@Yahoo.com

    ReplyDelete

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