The Trinity is like…
…nope, He’s not like anything else.
There is no adequate comparison to God. He is unique
and any time we make a comparison it (necessarily) leads to a misunderstanding. Let me help you dispel some of the false ideas about God:
- Modalism (sabellianism, noetianism, or patripassianism) says Father, Son and Spirit are just three different “modes” or expressions of the same entity. The truth is, all three are eternally coexistent.
- Adoptionism says Jesus was not always God, but he was adopted to be God’s son. The truth is, Jesus always was and will be eternally God.
- Arianism says Jesus is substantively lesser than the Father and is a created being. The truth is, Jesus was not created and He is eternal God.
- Tritheism says that Father, Son, and Spirit are three separate gods. The truth is, They are One God, distinct but not separate.
The concept of God that we call “the Trinity” is not easy to understand (nor one that I think we can fully understand). However, what we can do is rely on what the Bible has to say. The Bible teaches that there is only one God, but that God is three. Think of God like this, if He were easy to understand, could He really be God?
I’m a Biblical Studies major so that means that I study the Bible. This is a different discipline than Theology. Sometimes I say things that are a bit negative towards Theology (proper), this is usually a bit toung-in-cheek. Think of these two disciplines as poles on a spectrum that keep us in balance, they “check” each other. Theology synthesizes and harmonizes what the Bible says, it seeks to make the Scriptures clearer and paint in broad brush strokes. Biblical Studies, on the other hand, focuses on what the words of the Bible are actually saying. What are the correct words, how were they formed, what do they mean (independently). Theologians use the work of Biblical Scholars to put together a vast puzzle of the Word of God, but Biblical Scholars rarely look at the big picture. Theologians use deductive reasoning to fit the parts to the whole, and Biblical Scholars use inductive reasoning to produce the individual bits that add-up to a whole. We need both! Biblical Scholars help Theologians see that the Bible is not as “nice and neat” as any systematic theology, and Theologians help Biblical Scholars from veering off on some obscure interpretation of any particular isolated text. We need both.
With that said, this is why I don’t like using the word “Trinity.” I believe the doctrine of the Trinity is true, but “Trinity” is also a theological word, not a biblical word. It is a theological synthesis. One thing about theology is that they create words to make things easier, but invariably the definitions “drift” and you end up with many different views using the same words that mean something altogether different (Inerrancy is one such word).
So the Bible never says “Trinity,” but it is a term designed to describe God—three coexistent, co-eternal Persons, but what does the Bible say? Is the Trinity biblical? YES!!! Both OT and NT affirm the Trinity!
1) There is one God (Deut 6:4; 1Cor 8:4; Gal 3:20; 1Tim 2:5).
2) God consists of three Persons (Gen 1:1, 26; 3:22; 11:7; Isa 6:8, 48:16, 61:1; Matt 3:16-17, 28:19; 2Cor 13:14). The Hebrew noun “Elohim” is used in Genesis 1 and is plural (I think this is a hint at the Trinity). Gen 1:26, 3:22, 11:7 and Isa 6:8 all use the plural pronoun “us” for God. These words refer to “more than two.”
Isa 48:16 and 61:1 show the Son speaking and making reference to the Father and Spirit (Compare Isa 61:1 to Luke 4:14-19). Matt 3:16-17 describes Jesus’ baptism and all three are present, Father, Son, and Spirit. Matt 28:19 and 2Cor 13:14 show three Persons within the Trinity.
3) Each of the three are distinguished. “LORD” is usually distinct from “Lord” (Gen 19:24; Hos 1:4). The LORD has a Son (Psa 2:7, 12; Prov 30:2-4). The Spirit is different from the “LORD” (Num 27:18). God the Son is not the same as God the Father (Psa 45:6-7; Heb 1:8-9). Jesus speaks to the Father, and it is Jesus who sends the Spirit (John 14:16-17).
4) The Father is God (John 6:27; Rom 1:7; 1Pet 1:2). The Son is God (John 1:1, 14; Rom 9:5; Col 2:9; Heb 1:8; 1John 5:20). The Holy Spirit is God (Acts 5:3-4; 1Cor 3:16).
5) The members of the Trinity have different roles. The Father is the ultimate source or cause of the universe (1Cor 8:6; Rev 4:11); divine revelation (Rev 1:1); salvation (John 3:16-17); and Jesus’ human works (John 5:17; 14:10).
The Son is the agent through whom the Father created and maintains the universe (1Cor 8:6; John 1:3; Col 1:16-17); Jesus is the agent of divine revelation (John 1:1, 16:12-15; Matt 11:27; Rev 1:1); and of salvation (2Cor 5:19; Matt 1:21; John 4:42). The Father does all these things through the Son.
The Holy Spirit is also the means by whom the Father created and maintains the universe (Gen 1:2; Job 26:13; Psa 104:30); He is also the agent of divine revelation (John 16:12-15; Eph 3:5; 2Pet 1:21); as well as salvation (John 3:6; Titus 3:5; 1 Peter 1:2); and Jesus’ works (Isaiah 61:1; Acts 10:38).
There are no adequate analogies or illustrations for God. The egg/apple analogy with the shell, the white, and the yolk are parts of the egg, but they are not each the egg itself. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not parts of God; each of them is God. The water illustration fairs no better, ice, liquid, and steam are all modes of water, but not distinct. A man who is a son, a husband, and a father is also modalism, not a good picture of the trinity. None of them work because God is different.
The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God—but there is only one God. That is what the Bible says, that is the doctrine of the Trinity.
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways. ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?’