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What is the Trinity?

GOD - THE HOLY TRINITY - What God has revealed to us about His nature!


 ✏  The Biblical teaching concerning the Holy Trinity is this: Within the Godhead we find three distinct persons, 1. the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. There are three distinct persons but only one God, 2. three Persons not three Gods. There is no doubt that this teaching is one of the great mysteries of the faith. Undoubtedly, this side of heaven, we will never fully understand this concept. It is, however, what God has revealed to us concerning His ‘substance' or ‘nature.'  3. When one considers all of the Bible passages where God has told us something about Himself, the only possible description we can come up with concerning God and His nature or substance is the Trinity. It is important to note that the word Trinity is not found in the Bible but was used by the early church to describe what the Bible teaches. 4. The word is the Latin trěnitâs, from trěnus, two words tri (three) and unitas (unity, from Latin unus one) thus the three in one. This word, Trinity, is a simple and convenient way of describing what the Bible reveals to us about God. The authoritative statement of the early Church on this matter is found in the Athanasian Creed. 5.

- The Biblical teaching concerning the Holy Trinity is summed up in the Athanasian Creed. Here are some of the main points of that document:

There are three distinct divine Persons in the Godhead.

 ✏  These three Personalities are equal in their characteristics but are only one Being.

 ✏  These three Personalities are properly called God, whether separately or collectively.

 ✏   They are not three separate Gods, but only one eternal God, Father, Son and Spirit. 6.

 ✠   There is no question that the biblical passages and teachings (doctrines) concerning the Holy Trinity are confusing. It is one of the great mysteries of the faith. This should not surprise us as God is far beyond our comprehension. However, if we are to believe what the Bible teaches we must acknowledge that the Trinity is at least possible.

 ✏  “Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has God not made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe . . .”  1st Corinthians 1:20-21 (NASB)

 ✏   “Looking upon them, Jesus said, “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.” Mark 10:27 (NASB)

 ✠   The question, ‘Is the doctrine of the Holy Trinity Biblical?’, cannot be answered by man’s reason. Man's reason due to its fallen nature will never lead us to God. That is why God has chosen to reveal Himself to us through His Word, the Holy Bible. That it is possible for God to be Triune, three-in-one should be a given. Whether or not it is true, depends upon what God has to say. God has revealed to us quite a bit about His nature in the Holy Bible.

 ✠   In this study we will be looking at what the Bible, God's Word, has to say. We will not be discussing man’s opinions but God's Revelation.

 ✠   Let us then examine what God reveals to us concerning His nature. To begin with, we find that the Bible clearly speaks of Three Distinct Persons who are called God.

 ✏  FATHER: “For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, such . . .” 2 Peter 1:17 (NASB)

 ✏  SON: “But of the Son He says, “Thy Throne, O God, is forever and ever, . . .” Hebrews 1:8 (NASB)

 ✏  HOLY SPIRIT: “But a certain man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, and kept back some of the price for himself, with his wife's full knowledge, and bringing a portion of it, he laid it at the apostles' feet. But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit, and to keep back some of the price of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control? Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men, but to God.”  Acts 5:1-4 (NASB)  7.

 ✠  Here we see something very important. Three distinct persons are all called God. In the Bible we find those who claim to be God (false gods), we also find some references to those whom God has called and commissioned and thus called gods. 8.  However, as we search the Bible we find only One God who is God by nature and substance. That is the Triune God.

God is One: The Bible also clearly teaches that God is One.

 ✠   The Hebrew word used to describe the oneness of God in the O.T. is ‘ehad. The “Theological Wordbook” of the Old Testament gives us this definition. “one, same, single, first, each once. - This word occurs 960 times . . . It is closely identified with yahad “to be united” . . . It stresses unity while recognizing diversity within that oneness.”  9. In Deuteronomy 6:4 and Genesis 2:24 the same word is used.

 ✏   ‘‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one!’’ Deuteronomy 6:4 (NASB)

 ✏   ‘‘For this cause a man shall leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.” Genesis 2:24 (NASB)

 ●   I believe that all of us would agree that in the one flesh of marriage we find two distinct and separate persons.  10. The point to be made here is a simple one. By the choice of this word as well as the manner in which He describes Himself to us God has certainly indicated that He is more than one person. He could have chosen to reveal Himself to us in another way that might have ruled this out. He choose not to do so.

 ✠   If we simply let the early chapters of Genesis speak for themselves, we also find the oneness/diversity of God clearly coming through.

 ✏   “Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness; . . .He created him;” Genesis 1:26-27 (NASB)

 ●   It is interesting that in the account of creation the word translated God is plural, and the verb is singular. Setting aside the reason of man, which argues for a plural of majesty at this point, let us examine what God has told us here. God has chosen to reveal Himself to us in the plural. Think about that for a moment. God could have chosen a singular noun but He didn't. With a plural noun God then chose to use a singular verb. In English this would be equivalent to saying something like, ‘‘We am going downtown.’’ This is certainly bad grammar. Yet this is how God has chosen to reveal Himself to us, plural yet singular. Would God lead us astray in an area as important as His nature?

 ●  Concerning this Luther writes: “. . . the word “Let Us make” is aimed at making sure the mystery of our faith, by which we believe that from eternity there is one God and that there are three separate Persons in one Godhead: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The Jews indeed try in various ways to get around this passage, but they advance nothing sound against it . . . . In the fifth place, here both appear: “Let Us make” and “He made,” in this plural and in the singular; thereby Moses clearly and forcibly shows us that within the very Godhead and the Creating Essence there is one inseparable and eternal plurality.” (What Luther Says, 4929)

 ✠   There are many other places where the Trinity is taught. 11. For instance, Jesus in the New Testament tells us: ‘‘Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name  12. of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’’ Matthew 28:18-20 Here we are commanded to baptize in the name (singular) of the Triune God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We could go on with many other scriptural proofs of God's Triune nature. 13. However, these should be enough to show us why the early Church after years of Bible Study came up with the Athanasian Creed.

1. By the term person we mean an individual and rational being existing by itself. “The word “person” is to be understood as the Fathers employed this term in connection, not as a part or property of another but as that which exists of itself.” Lutheran Confessions. AC I, page 28 Tappert.

2. Our confessions state: “That is to say, there is one divine essence, which is called and which is God, eternal, incorporeal, indivisible, of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness, the maker and preserver of all things, visible and invisible.” AC I page 27 Tappert

3. For further reading see: Pieper, Francis, Christian Dogmatics, Concordia Publishing House: St. Louis, MO, 1950, Vol. 1, pg. 371-463.

4.  It was apparently either coined or first used by the early church father Tertullian (145-220 A.D.) in the last decade of the 2nd century.

5.  This Creed settled the question once and for all for Christendom. If you do not subscribe to this creed you should not call yourself Christian. Our God is a Triune God.

6.  See Christian Dogmatics, John Theodore Mueller, CPH 1955 pg. 143-153.

7.  You lie to people, or to a person. You don’t lie to a ‘radar beam’ or some sort of ‘impersonal force.’

8.  John 10:34-37 - In this passage Jesus sets Himself apart and above those who are called gods. His argument is that if you can refer to those who in the O.T. were called and commissioned by God as gods, (e.g., Ex. 21:6; 22:8; Psalm 82:6; where Elohim (gods) refers human judges), then how much more should He, Jesus, God the Father’s Son, be called God. It is also important to note here that Jesus refers to God as My Father, not our Father, as He has taught us to pray. This clearly states that Jesus has a relationship with God the Father that is different from ours.

9.  Harris, R. Laird ed. Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, Moody Press: Chicago, 1980, page 30, Vol. 1.

10.  This is an example of what one might call a ‘plural’ oneness.

11.  See - Christian Dogmatics, John Theodore Mueller, CPH 1955 pg. 158-160.

12.  Note that we are to baptize in the name (singular) of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (three persons, plural.)

13.  The best analogy I have come across to represent this is that space contains three dimensions (length, breadth, height), yet the dimensions are not ‘parts’ — the concept of ‘space’ is meaningless without all three dimensions. (Creation Magazine, June-August 2005)

Copyright 2012,  Rev. Mark Danielson (part of his Christian Discipleship Class)