IS THE TRINITY TRUTH OR A JUST A FALSE TRADITION?
Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness:
He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels,
proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.
First Timothy 3:16
There is no greater mystery than God. And perhaps there is no greater quest than to answer the question who is God? as truthfully as possible. When the identity of God is discussed there are a wide range of ideas put forward. Some have gained acceptance and formed the basis for the world’s religions. For those who have realised that God must have an identity they conclude that He must be a person. This is called theism- or more precisely, monotheism. Judaism, Islam, and Christianity are three great monotheistic religions of the world. But Christianity is further distinguished from these other monotheistic religions by identifying God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The reason for this is the clear presentation in Scripture of God’s identity by these three terms. For example-
The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”
Acts 5:30-32 ESV
For there are three that bear witness in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one.
First John 5:7 NKJV
But the mystery of the Scripture’s presentation of God as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is that it in no way diminishes the emphatic declaration of “one God”-
For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”— yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.
First Corinthians 8:5-6 ESV
We refer to the Scripture’s presentation of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as the “Trinity”. Some have argued that this is a false conclusion about the identity of God. Some of these opponents of the Trinitarian concept of God claim that God is a singular Person. This is called “Unitarianism”. One of the main reasons for rejecting Unitarianism is that it presents us with a major contradiction about the Supreme Being. Since God is Supreme He can not change- either in nature or character (since this would bring into question whether He has improved- then He was never ‘supreme’– or diminished- maybe He is no longer supreme?). The unchangeable nature of God is referred to as immutability.
“For I the LORD do not change…”
Malachi 3:6a ESV
Since God is eternal (always been) and immutable (unchanging) it is just not possible for Him to be the “Eternal Father” if there was ever a time when He was not a Father. Likewise it is not possible for God to have been indifferent then to have become loving. This is the logical equation of saying that God was a singular being who originally dwelt alone. Genuine love is only possible when there is an object of love. To argue that God has always loved even though He had no-one to love is to either suggest that He was self-obsessed, or that He needed to create an object of love due to His desperate loneliness. Both of these proposals are obnoxious and impugn the nature and character of God.
When we refer to God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we use the term ‘Trinity’ which identifies them as three co-equal, co-eternal, immutable persons, who are one.
“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.”
Deuteronomy 6:4 ESV
We do not claim that God is Three Gods. That is not the Trinity. We worship One God. The Hebrew word in Deuteronomy 6:4 for “one” is echad. It can mean first, a unit, or most commonly united. It is different to the more common Hebrew word for a singular unit iysh. Deuteronomy 6:4 declares that God is echad – “united” – and that is exactly where the Biblical revelation of the Trinity begins: the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one God, not three. This is monotheism. There are clues to understanding this one-ness of God when the Scriptures give us ‘shadows’ of God, such as marriage, where a husband and his wife are referred to as being “one”. We refer to this as a “shadow” because it is not the exact likeness of what it illustrates (in much the same way as a shadow is similar to, but not exactly like, the object it shadows).
We also get another picture of “one” from Christ’s statement in John 17-
[I pray] that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one,
The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are eternal. Again, we have no parallel, or even a shadow to compare this concept to. The closest we can get to defining ‘eternal’ is to say that something had no beginning and will have no end. But even this definition still attempts to describe ‘eternal’ in terms of time. And that’s what makes the no beginning and no enddefinition so inadequate- since the very point of ‘eternal’ is that it is not subject to any form of time lapse (making such expressions as beginning and end not only irrelevant terms but absolutely foreign concepts).
The Biblical concepts for eternity include God’s statement to Moses that He was the “I AM” and that He alone dwells in “today” or “now”. Not one of us live in the “now”. We are either going to do something (future), or we have done something (past). Even if we ask someone what they are doing “now” they can never tell us because the moment they tell us what they are currently doing it is already in the past! Only God is constantly in a state of “now” because only He is eternal.
When Constantine converted to Christianity he declared himself the Pontifex Maximus of the Church. He called for a Council of Bishops to come to Nicea to resolve the divisive doctrine invented by Arius that Christ was a created being and therefore the Trinity was not a Biblical concept. It was Athanasius (depicted above) who swayed the debate in favour of accepting Christ’s claims of divinity and the Biblical presentation of the Tri-une God. He argued that if it could be shown that God the Father was eternal, then He must have an eternal Son. Similarly, if Christ is eternal, then He must be the eternal God. This is what they conferred-
We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, light from light, True God from true God, Begotten, not made, Of one Being with the Father;
Through him all things were made. For us and for our salvation He came down from heaven, was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became truly human.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; He suffered death and was buried.
On the third day He rose again in accordance with the Scriptures;
He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father [and the Son],
Who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified, who has spoken through the prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come.
The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are equal. This does not mean that that they are a triumvirate (the rule of three), but God is instead, a Trinity (the rule of one). The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit equally deserved to be honoured and worshiped. This is what Christ taught-
that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.
but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”—
While each member of the Trinity or the Biblical word: Godhead (Romans 1:20; Col. 2:9) [note Strong’s Concordance #2305, Greek: theiotes; divinity — “Godhead”] are equal, there is still order within that equality. This is something that we often struggle to understand. How can there be rank and order among persons who are equal? The Scriptures present God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit as equal yet in that order. We have such a weak understanding of ‘order’ that we find such concepts of submission and hetero-authority among equals as inconceivable. That’s why we need to understand that ‘equal’ does not mean ‘the same’ in all respects (especially in role and authority). The Biblical presentation of equality is that a husband and wife are equal, while not being the same. In one respect a cup of sugar is equal to a cup of flour, but in another respect they are different. Because Christ submits to His Father does not mean that He is less than, or inferior to, His Father.
For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.
And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human!
Phil. 2:6-7 THE MESSAGE
The Trinity is sometimes presented as the One divine Person who has either simultaneously or progressively revealed Himself as Father, then the Son and then the Holy Spirit. This is variously referred to as “One-ness”, “Unitarianism”, or “Modalism”. In essence it says that the one God has manifested Himself in three ways- or that God is as three. But the Bible presents God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit who are eternally in communion with each other which is revealed by their simultaneous appearances and conversations. For example, in the act of forming the earth it says that God [the Father] created the Heavens and the Earth in the beginning (Gen. 1:1) and that the Spirit of God [the Holy Spirit] was hovering over the surface of the waters (Gen. 1:3). In Genesis 1:4 it says that God spoke “Let there be light.” The New Testament reveals that this was Christ.
Christ is the one through whom God created everything in heaven and earth. He made the things we can see and the things we can’t see — kings, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities. Everything has been created through him and for him.
Colossians 1:16 NLT
Therefore, we see the simultaneous involvement of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in Creation. We also read of the members of the Godhead in Isaiah 48:16-
Draw near to Me [Christ], hear this:
from the beginning I have not spoken in secret,
from the time it came to be I have been there.”
And now the Lord GOD [the Father] has sent me, and his Spirit [the Holy Spirit].
Isa. 48:16 ESV
Some say that while all this may be interesting, it cannot be true because God cannot die. Since the doctrine of the Trinity states that Christ is the co-equal, co-eternal God, how could He die? After all, wouldn’t that immediately disqualify Him from being God? This type of reasoning is grounded in a faulty understanding of death. For many, “death” means ceasing to exist. But Biblically it refers to “separation” between a body and its life-source.
For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.
While the eternal Son of God is in eternal communion with His Father when He entered into this dimension of time by incarnation He also became subject to all of the limitations associated with His humanity (for example, He could “thirst”, “grow older”, “get weary”, and “hunger”). When Christ died on the Cross He did not cease to exist. He was simply separated from His body. In this death He became the object of the wrath of God in our place-
He was handed over to die because of our sins, and he was raised from the dead to make us right with God.
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Second Corinthians 5:21 ESV
Because of Christ’s death on the Cross and His resurrection from the dead (reunion with His body) we now know that the highest possible price for our redemption has been paid. Therefore the death of Christ on the Cross is not an argument against the Trinity but an argument for it.
We see several pictures of the Trinity within Scripture. For example,
* At the baptism of Christ the Father spoke from Heaven and the Holy Spirit descended upon Christ.
* In Revelation 5 we are given a brief glimpse of the centre of Heaven where we see the Glorious Father on the Throne, the Majestic Holy Spirit portrayed as the Seven Flaming Spirits of God and the Son of God portrayed as the Seven Eyed and Horned Lamb.
THE IMPLICATIONS OF GRASPING THE TRINITY…
When we appreciate that God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit who are each co-equal and co-eternal, we will realise that God has always lived in community. Since we are created in the image of God this explains why we are generally drawn toward community as well. It should also help us to appreciate that God wants us to be in community and not to attempt life as an independent venture. At the very least we need to live in communion with God.
The doctrine of the Trinity is the only satisfactory theological reason for explaining why Creation reflects both diversity and unity. It is in essence reflecting the nature of its Creator. If God was monolithic (one Person) rather than the (monotheistic) Trinity then creation would more likely reflect a monotone than the actual harmony which we see.
But the ultimate implication of understanding the Trinity involves our worship. We are called to worship God in Spirit and in Truth. We are able to worship the True God accurately because we are more accurately able to identify Him. Worship is really the ultimate response and purpose of mankind toward God. This response is diminished if we don’t truly know who we are worshiping. We acknowledge that the Father is God, Jesus Christ is God and the Holy is God, yet they are One God.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
Second Corinthians 13:14
Andrew Corbett, January 2006