The Trinity by Samuel Green


#1

The following is an excellent article my friend wrote for the Salt magazine. Posted here with his permission.

THE TRINITY

There are many important doctrines (teachings) in Christianity. There are the doctrines of God, humanity, creation, holiness, sin, judgement, salvation, resurrection, etc. Any Christian who dedicates some time to learning these will be richly blessed. The Trinity is one such doctrine but I think that out of all the doctrines this may be the one that many Christians find most challenging.

When we consider the Trinity we need to remember that God is not subject to our scrutiny. We cannot do an experiment on him and describe him as a result, instead we must listen to what God has revealed about himself. Also, our first question may be, "How can 3 be 1 and 1 be 3. This is a good question, to which we will return, but it is not where the Bible begins when it teaches this subject. The Bible begins by introducing the Father, Son and Spirit.

In the Law of Moses we see that God is the father of the nation of Israel and Israel is his son.

This is what the LORD says: “Israel is my firstborn son …” (Ex. 4:22-23, Dt. 32:6)

This Son (Israel) has the Spirit of God working in him. The Spirit inspires Israel’s prophets and those who build the tabernacle (Ex. 31:3, 35:31, Num. 11). We see this relationship throughout the time of the Judges as well.

When God established David as king over Israel he made this covenant with David and his descendants.

I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with the rod of men, with floggings inflicted by men. (2 Sam. 7:14, Ps. 2)

(God) said to me (David): “Solomon your son is the one who will build my house and my courts, for I have chosen him to be my son, and I will be his father.” (1 Chron. 28:6)

So we see that the King of Israel, the son of David, the Messiah, was the son of God and God was their father. The books of Kings and Chronicles are a record of these sons of God. They record the failure of the sons of God. Even the great kings like Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah and Josiah were unable to lead Israel into a permanent righteousness and overt the judgement of God.

Through the prophets God said that he himself would act and bring glory to his name, salvation for his people and judgement for his enemies. He would do this himself because Israel had failed to do it (Is. 59:15-16). God himself would come (Is. 40:3-4, Mal. 3:1), there will be a new Spirit filled son of God (Is. 9, 11, Ez. 37:27ff), and God will pour out his Spirit (Ez. 36:26ff). So the Old Testament ends with a promise of Father, Son and Spirit.

It is important to realise that Father, Son and Spirit are not new ideas that Christianity invented; these were names for God and the son of David in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms. They described how God related to his Messiah and people.

The coming of Jesus is the fulfilment of these Old Testament promises and its final revelation. In the Gospel Jesus calls God Father and he is identified as the Spirit filled Son (Mat. 12:15ff); the Son who gives the Spirit (Jn. 15:26). We see the relationship of Father, Son and Spirit in the birth of Jesus, his baptism, temptation, ministry, death, resurrection and ascension. In every situation the three persons are always present. God the Father comes to us through his Son and by his Spirit.

As Christians our experience of God is based around these three persons too. For example when we pray we pray to God the Father, through or in the name of Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit.

For through him (Jesus) we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. (Eph. 2:18)

But Jesus is not just another son of God like those in the earlier prophets. God had said that Israel and all people had failed to live righteously and bring him glory, so now he alone was going to do it. God is not going to rely on anyone to fulfil his promises this time. He will do it alone. And so we see that Jesus is the true Son of God, the divine Son.

(Jesus said) If then David calls him “Lord”, how can he be his son? (Mt. 22:45)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Jn. 1:1)

The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being. (Heb. 1:3)

These verses are monotheistic. There is the God who speaks his word and the God whose glory radiates out. Yet we are told that Jesus is this Word and glory. These descriptions show us that Jesus is of the same nature as God. God does not create his word but creates by it. It is of his nature to speak. God does not create his glory, creation shows his glory but God’s glory radiates from him naturally. This is how Jesus comes from God, not by way of creation but by generation, by nature.

The result is that Jesus receives the worship of God.

Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, that all may honour the Son just as they honour the Father. He who does not honour the Son does not honour the Father, who sent him. (Jn. 5:22-23, Rev. 5:13)

The Spirit is not created either but proceeds from the Father through the Son (Jn. 5:26). He leads, makes things known, can be grieved, blasphemed and lied to. He is our counsellor. He is personal.

It is from these descriptions of the Father, Son and Spirit, and the consistent teaching that there is only one God, that Christians have concluded that God is more complex than us and that the one God has three persons.

Living with the Trinity

  1. In the early centuries of Christianity there was much debate about the three persons and the one God. The Arians believed that the Son and Spirit were created. The Modalists, that the one God had three different modes of relating, just like a man can be a father, son and brother at the same time. It is important to realise that everyone accepted the fact of the Father, Son and Spirit because this was the universal message of the Law of Moses, the Prophets, the Psalms and the Gospel, where they disagreed was how the Father, Son and Spirit related to each other.

The strength of the views of Arius and the Modalists was that they gave a simple solution, but after much discussion these views were rejected because they did not represent what the scriptures declared and the church experienced. The church chose instead to stay with the more difficult solution that there is one God who has three persons. Over the centuries Christian theologians have returned to scriptures to understand more about this matter and this is a very worthwhile area of study for any Christian.

  1. Is the Trinity logical? Yes. God is more complex than us and since he is personal and self-sufficent his person attributes must be met within himself otherwise he is dependant upon creation for expression of his being.

  2. While the Father, Son and Spirit are all equally God they are not interchangeable as persons. It was the Father who gave his Son by the Spirit to die on the cross for our sins. It was not the the Father or the Spirit on the cross. And we pray to the Father in the name of the Son by power of the Holy Spirit.

  3. When we put our faith in Jesus, the true son, we are united to him and so fulfil our destiny and became sons of God with God as our father.

  4. The doctrine of the Trinity shows us the great love of God, for here we see God giving of himself at great cost as he gave his only Son to pay for our sins.


#2

The doctrine of the Trinity was never propogated until the fourth century. Its inherent contradictions confuse many. There are many thousands of people who think they are Trinitarians, but who are actually Modalists. The first one I encountered when I was 19 years old. She was a Baptist minister’s wife. I was a Trinitarian at the time, and I had a question about the Trinity at a young people’s meeting. She made the statement, “There’s only one God, you know.” There was something about the way the woman said this along with other statements that cause me to realize that she believed that God was a single divine Individual. So I asked her, “How then could Jesus have talked to the Father as to another person?” Her answer: “Paidion, haven’t you ever talked to yourself?”

I don’t blame people for thinking that their Modalism is Trinitarianism. Modalism pre-dated Trinitarianism by a couple of centuries or more.

I gathered from reading second-century Christian literature that the prevailing view was that Jesus is just as divine as His Father due to the fact that the Father begat Him “before all ages” (as the early Christians put it). Just as we beget (or “generate”) offspring who are human, God begets (generates) offspring who are divine. I know that’s a simplistic way of putting it. For we read, “Who shall declare his generation?” As human beings, we are incapable of explaining how God could generate the Son. Thus the historic Christian concept differs markedly for the Trinitarian concept that the Father and Son, together with the Spirit are all part of a compound God. As for the Spirit, Jesus said to his disciples, “The Father and I will come and make our dwelling with you.” The Father and Son can extend their personalities anywhere in the universe. Is that not what the Holy Spirit is? We read of the spirit of God in the Bible, and we read of the spirit of Jesus. We do not read of the spirit of the Spirit! Most prayer mentioned in the Bible is addressed to God the Father. However, Stephen prayed to Jesus as he was being stoned, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” But never in the Bible is a single prayer addressed to the Holy Spirit. Could the reason be that the Spirit is not a “third divine Person” but the Persons of the Father and the Son? Yet there is only one Spirit and not two. Somehow the Father and the Son share the same Spirit.

Also, second-century Justin Martyr and the Jewish man Trypho with whom he was talking (Dialogue with Trypho), each spoke of the Holy Spirit. Clearly Trypho was not talking about a Third divine Person, since he, as a Jew, believed God was a single Individual. But neither was Justin talking about a Third Person! Indeed, at one point he asked Trypho if he supposed that there were a third divine person. (I’m doing this from memory). Trypho answered something like this, “How can we admit this since you’ve taken all this time to try to convince us that there are two?” Justin then said that he had asked the question just to see if Trypho was contradicting something he had said previously (I didn’t fully understand Justin’s reason for asking even after he explained it). In any case, having asked this question, this would have been a prime moment to bring in the Holy Spirit as a third divine Person if Justin had believed it. But obviously he held no such belief.

In closing, I just want to say that I am not trying to argue against Trinitarianism. I’m merely sharing some observations I have made in my reading over the years.