On The Trinity

One of the major doctrines core to the Christian faith is the doctrine of the Trinity. This doctrine holds that God is three in persons and one in essence. That is, He is three "Who's" (
) in one "What" (essence). A person is a being with a personality. An essence is what that being must be necessarily, that is, what cannot be changed about a being. There are three persons who are equally and essentially God. This concept is illustrated by the illustration above. This doctrine is recognized by the majority of Christians today.

Many have offered illustrations that help us in understanding the Trinity. Some of these illustrations are somewhat decent, while other illustrations are bad and usually imply a heresy of one type or another. Some of the better illustrations are:

1.) The Trinity is like a triangle. A triangle necessarily must have three sides, three angles, and all of the angles must add up to 180 degrees. In the same way that a triangle has three distinct sides while remaining one shape, so the three persons of the Godhead are three distinct persons and one divine essence.
2.) The Trinity is like one to the third power. 1x1x1 is always equal to 1.
3.) The Trinity is like love. For love to exist, there must be three things: a lover, a beloved, and a spirit of love.

Although these are better than some others, it should be said that there is no illustration that completely captures the Trinity. It will eventually break down at some point.

Some of the less-than-accurate illustrations are:

1.) God is like one plus one plus one. This is not an accurate illustration because it leads us to a heresy known as tritheism.
2.) God is like three states of water (solid, liquid, gas). This illustration is bad because it leads us to the heresy of modalism.
3.) God is like three links in a chain. This illustration also leads to the heresy of tritheism. 

These latter illustrations should be avoided, since they do not illustrate what they were intended to and ultimately lead to heresies.

Although the term "Trinity" never appears in the pages of Scripture, the concept of the Trinity appears in Scripture from the very first verse. The term "Trinity" itself was coined by the church father Tertullian (c.145-220) and has been used by the church ever since. The doctrine itself has been held since the earliest days of the church, and can be seen throughout the pages of Scripture in both the Old Testament and the New Testament.

In the Old Testament, some have claimed that we can clearly see the concept of the Trinity from the very first verse of Genesis, which states,

"In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth."

The word used here to refer to God is the Hebrew word ElohimElohim is plural, meaning that this passage is referring to more than one. However, the literary structure of this passage uses this plural word as though it were singular, implying a plurality in a unity. This is entirely in accord with the doctrine of the Trinity, yet the use of the word Elohim appears to counteract the notion of only a singular person in the Godhead, such as is held by Muslims (the doctrine of tawhid
) and Oneness Pentecostals. The plurality of persons in one essence becomes clear in verses 26-27, which state:

"Then God said, 'Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness.............So God created man in His own image; He created him in the image of God; He created them male and female."

Here, we see God referring to Himself in the plural, yet He is still one Being who made mankind in His own image. Thus, in the opening chapter of Scripture, we see the idea of the Trinity already present. It should not surprise us, however, that this concept is found here. After all, the first chapter of Genesis is really God telling us something of Himself. Likewise, the rest of the Old Testament has something to say about the concept of the Trinity. For examples, see Isaiah 63:9-11, Isaiah 48:16, Psalm 110:1, Psalm 2:2,6-7, etc. These passages clearly show the concept of a plurality of persons in the unity of the Godhead. Furthermore, we also see mentioned God, a Son of God, and a Spirit of God.In all honesty, however, it is probably not best to understand the passages of the Old Testament as teaching this expressly. The Old Testament is consistent with this truth, but does not explicitly state it, and the original audience would most likely have not understood the Trinity from these passages.
In the New Testament, the doctrine of the Trinity is expressly taught. This doctrine was taught from the earliest days of Christianity, by the apostles and the early church fathers. Among the New Testament passages expressing this doctrine is the baptismal formula found in Matthew 28:19, which states,

"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."

It is important for us to note that the word translated here as "name" (ὄνομα) is singular. That is, Jesus was commanding His disciples to baptize new believers in the singular name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. That is, there are three separate persons named here, yet Jesus made it clear that these three all have one and the same essence. Another example can be seen by looking at the baptism of Jesus. When Jesus came to be baptized by John the Baptist, we are told that,

"As soon as He came up out of the water, He saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending to Him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: You are my beloved Son; I take delight in You!" (Mark 1:10-11)

All three members of the Trinity were present at the baptism of Jesus. The Father was speaking from Heaven, the Spirit descended as a dove, and, of course, Jesus was baptized. This stands in stark contrast to the concept of modalism, which holds that God simply manifests Himself in three different ways. For other examples from the New Testament, see 1 Corinthians 2:2-5, 1 Corinthians 6:11, 2 Corinthians 13:14, Galatians 4:6, etc.

The concept of the Trinity was taught by the early church fathers, both before Tertullian coined the term and afterwards. For example, Polycarp (c. 70-155 AD) wrote, "May the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ Himself, who is the Son of God, and our everlasting High Priest, build you up in faith and truth." Likewise, Justin Martyr wrote, "The most true God is the Father of righteousness....We worship and adore Him, the Son.....and the prophetic Spirit." Here, we see the concept of three in one clearly taught by two of the early church fathers. Other early church fathers who make reference to the Trinity or the concept of the Trinity include Ignatius, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Origin, Clement of Alexandria, Gregory Thaumaturgus, Hippolytus, and others. It cannot be said that there are no early sources attesting to the doctrine of the Trinity.

The Bible also shows that each person of the Trinity has a personality. That is, the Trinity involves three distinct persons, not merely three modes of revelation. If the three Persons of the Trinity were merely three modes of revelation, what would follow would be the heresy of modalism, not Trinitarianism. However, several passages of Scripture show that each Person of the Trinity has a distinct personality.

The Personhood of the Father

Several passages of Scripture tell us that God the Father has a distinct personality. The Father is said to do things that indicate His Personhood. For example, the Father is said to:

1.) Speak (Genesis 1:3,6,9,14,20,24,26; Isaiah 6:8; Jeremiah 29:4; Matthew 3:17; Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22; etc.)
2.) Love (Isaiah 43:4; Jeremiah 31:2-3; Malachi 1:2; etc.)
3.) Bless (Genesis 12:1-3; Numbers 6:22-27; Isaiah 19:24-25; etc.)
4.) Reveal Himself (Exodus 6:2-5; Isaiah 65:1; Ezekiel 20:5; etc.)

There are many more that can be listed, but this sample is sufficient to show that God the Father is a person with a distinct personality. In addition, the Father has a will that He desires to see done. This, along with the clear Scriptural indications show that the Father is a distinct Person of the Trinity.

The Personhood of the Son

As with the Father, there are several passages of Scripture that clearly indicate that the Son has a distinct personality. Perhaps the most obvious fact that demonstrates this is the incarnation. That the Son took upon Himself a human nature and revealed Himself in human form demonstrates that He was a unique person. Other Scriptural descriptions of the Son's personhood include:

1.) The Son's ability to teach (Matthew 5:1-2; Mark 12:18-23; Luke 20:28; John 11:28; etc.)
2.) The Son's ability to show compassion (Matthew 9:35-38; 14:14; Mark 6:34; etc.)
3.) The Son's prayer life (Matthew 6:9-13; Mark 1:35-37; Luke 5:15; etc.)
4.) The Son's ability to respond logically to His critics (Mark 3:22-30; 7:1-23; etc.)

Of course, there are several other reasons to accept the personhood of the Son. One clear example comes from the final hours Jesus spent in the Garden of Gethsemane as shown in Luke 22:39-42. That the Son has a distinct personality is not seriously in dispute.

The Personhood of the Spirit

The Spirit, as well, has a distinct personality. The Spirit can be:

1.) Grieved (Ephesians 4:30)
2.) Blasphemed (Mark 3:28-30)
3.) Resisted (Acts 7:51)
4.) Received (John 20:22)
5.) Lied to (Acts 5:3-4)
6.) Our Counselor (John 14:16)
7.) Our Teacher (John 14:25-26)

There are others that could be added to this list, as well. The fact that the Holy Spirit can be blasphemed also speaks to His deity. In addition, Acts 5:3-4 clearly shows the deity of the Holy Spirit.

In addition to the passages that speak to the distinct personhood of each Person of the Trinity, several passages of Scripture speak to the unity of the Persons of the Trinity. For example, Jesus makes the claim in John 10:30 that He is one with the Father. In addition, Jesus and the apostles affirmed that the Holy Spirit is God in multiple places (for example, see Acts 5:3-4, mentioned above). With both the personhood of each Person of the Trinity and the unity of the Trinity firmly established, it cannot be said that this doctrine does not find early support from the church fathers and from Scripture itself.


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