Day 2, Talk 2: Doctrine of Trinity

One + One + One = One! That's some mind-boggling but life-changing theology. Explore this amazing topic by watching the video by Bible Project and then read the notes given. Finally, summarise your thoughts, doubts and queries in the comments below.


Trinity


The Unity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit in the Godhead


1. Introduction

Trinity is at the heart of the Christian view of God. A clear understanding of Trinity will help us in having a right understanding of our God especially in a pluralistic society such as ours and this is derived only from the Christian revelation. The early Church obtained the Doctrine by pure induction applied after collecting and assembling what the Scripture has to say concerning the Godhead and the three agents of human salvation.


2. The doctrine of Trinity is progressively revealed in Scripture


(i) Partial revelation in the OT (Plural use of the word ‘God’)

The faith of Israel was strictly monotheistic, i.e., they believed in one God (Dt 6:4). Such a faith was unique and significant because Israel was surrounded by idolatrous and polytheistic (faith in many gods) nations. However, the chief concern of the Old Testament is the unity of God and a careful reading of it reveals that the unity is not a mathematical or an indivisible unity, but a plurality or diversity in the Godhead.

  • God is not alone in heaven. He is repeatedly described as the Lord of Hosts and God often refers to Himself in the plural – Gen 1:26; 3:22; 11:7; Is 6:8

  • The Spirit of God in the OT is not just an influence or impersonal force, but a special agent of God and the very essence of God Himself. Gen 1:2; Neh 9:20; Ps 139:7; Is 63:10-14.

  • The word of God is referred to as God’s creative utterance. Ps 33:6, 9; cf. Gen 1:26.

  • In the story of Creation: Elohim (plural and implies God of Creation, providence & supreme Deity, occurs 2000 times) creates by means of His word and Sprit of God [Gen 1:1-3; Ps 33: 6]

  • In the creation of Man [Gen 1:26]: We see here a striking case of plural and singular interchanged suggesting plurality in unity.

  • There are passages where one person is called “God” or “the Lord” and is distinguished from another person who is also said to be “God” Ps 45:6-7; Ps 110:1; Is 63:10; Mal 3:1-2; Hos 1:7; Is 48:16

  • Some places angels of the Lord is a messenger distinct from God and some places he is addressed as “Lord” or “God” Gen 16:13; Ex 3:2-6; 23:20-22; Num 22:35, 38; Jud 2:1-2; Jud 6:11

The Old Testament references to the Trinity are merely a shadow of the fuller teaching in the New Testament.


(ii) Further revelation in the NT

It is very unique to note that in NT the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are often mentioned together:

  • Baptism of Jesus (Mt 3:16-17)

  • Great Commission (Mt 28:19-20)

  • Unity in the Church (Eph 4:4-6)

  • Spiritual gifts (1 Cor 12:4-6)

  • The apostolic Benediction (2 Cor 13:14)

  • Christian greetings (Eph 1:1-14; 2 Th 2:13,14; Tit 3:4-6)


God’s unity is not questioned in the NT, and it is here that we get the clearer picture of the Triune God.


3. God is revealed as “triune” God

The word "Trinity" does not appear anywhere in the Bible. In the Bible God has revealed himself in three distinct persons – the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. In His Divine being, there is one indivisible essence: God is one in His essential being. In His Nature and Character, He is one and this cannot be divided or separated. In His Divine being, there are three persons: The Father, the Son & the Holy Spirit. Scripture says the three persons are:


Self-Conscious and Self Directing (but never hints that one person could act in opposition to another)

Co-Equal and Co-Eternal.


There are three affirmations implied in the doctrine of trinity. They are as follows:

(A) God is three persons

(B) Each person is fully God

(C) There is one God


These statements may defy human logic and may prove to be a real puzzle to explain. So how do we come to grips with a doctrine which we can neither comprehend nor explain? In order to do so we must anchor on what God has made explicitly clear and accept in faith those areas which are not explicitly clear.


4. A. God is three persons

God has revealed himself in three person and these three persons are not the same i.e. they are distinct persons. So, the Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Father .... each of them is distinct.

  • The Father is not the Son (Jn 1:1-2; 17:24; I Jn 2:1; Heb 7:25)

  • The Father is not Holy Spirit (Jn 14:26; 16:7; Rom 8:27)

  • The Son is not the Holy Spirit


4. B. Each person is fully God



4. C. There is one God

Bible teaches that there is one God. Dt 6:4 - Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. I Tim 2:5 - For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus. Is 45:5 - I am the Lord, and there is no other; apart from me there is no God….. Mk 12:29 - …‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.


5. Relation of the three Persons in the Godhead


(A) The persons of the Trinity have different primary functions in relating to the world

Let us cite only one example. For Redemption –

  • The Father planned it (Jn 3:16; Gal 4:4)

  • Son obeyed the plan and accomplished Redemption for us (Jn 6:38; 10:18; Heb 10:5-7)

  • Holy Spirit obeyed the Father (Jn 14:26)

  • Holy Spirit also obeyed the Son (Jn 16:7)

  • And he is continuing his work today (Regenerates us - Jn 3:3-5; Sanctifies us – I Pet 1:2)


Three persons are equal in all their attributes, they differ in their roles and responsibilities: These differences in role are not temporary but eternal. So, there is equality in being but there is relational subordination.


(B) The persons in the Trinity eternally existed as Father, Son and Holy Spirit

What we see today as different persons this existed from eternity; before the creation Father was the Father, Son was the Son and Holy Spirit was the Holy Spirit.


6. Few Clarifications

(i) God’s being is not divided into three equal parts belonging to the three members of Trinity.

(ii) The persons of the Trinity are not just three different ways of looking at the one being of God.

(iii) Equality in dignity: The three persons are in perfect equality in nature, in honour and dignity between the persons. (Eph 3:15, Jn 5:18, 1 Cor 2:10)

(iv) As it is the Son’s role to reveal the Father, so it is the Sprit’s role to reveal the Son (Jn 16:14)


7. All analogies have shortcomings

  • If we deny the first statement - then it is one person with different names/roles; which is a heresy

  • If we deny the second statement - either Son or the Holy Spirit will not be considered God; that is also a heresy

  • If we deny the third statement – pantheism; this is completely contrary to the Bible


8. Orthodox understanding of Trinity

One God who eternally exists in three different persons—the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit—all of whom are fully God, all of whom are equal.


9. Implications

a) God can be only known by accepting His self-revelation.

b) Trinity is a mystery that may transcend reason but never contradict it.

c) Enables us to offer true worship (it reveals the ultimate, eternal God)

d) Helps us to understand the true riches of our life in Christ.

e) Social implication:

  • Interdependence and not independence: God has made us ‘social beings’ in need of one another’s company, and responsible to one another.

  • Love & Unity: Different yet same. We are made in the image of God, who is in some mysterious way a community of three in Himself. So, it demands a harmonious relationship in society and reminds us about our social obligations.

  • The Trinity is the model and inspiration for mutual love, communication and function. (It lays the foundation for harmonious relationship in family, church and in the society.


References:

Millard J Erickson, “Introducing Christian Doctrine”, Michigan, USA: Baker Books, 1992.

Training Department, UESI, "An Outline of Christian Doctrines”, 2016, Unpublished Manuscript. Wayne Grudem, “Systematic Theology”, Michigan: Zondervan, 1994.

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