Thursday, March 16, 2023

What Is the Trinity?

The Trinity is a doctrine in Christianity that describes the nature of God as a unity of three distinct but equal persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This belief is central to the Christian faith and is based on the teachings of the Bible and the traditions of the Church.

The Father is considered the first person of the Trinity and is often described as the creator and sustainer of the universe. He is the source of all life and the origin of all things. The Son, also known as Jesus Christ, is considered the second person of the Trinity and is believed to be the incarnation of God in human form. He lived on earth, died on the cross, and rose again, providing salvation for humanity. The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity and is believed to be the presence and power of God in the world. The Holy Spirit guides and empowers believers, and it is through the Holy Spirit that people can experience a personal relationship with God.

Although the three persons of the Trinity are distinct, they are also one in essence and share the same divine nature. The Trinity is often described using the term "three persons in one God" or "one God in three persons." This is a mystery that is difficult to understand fully, but it is an essential belief of the Christian faith.

Christians understand God the Father to be the source of the Godhead itself. He is unbegotten and ungenerated. He is the fountain of divinity. The Son is eternally begotten (generated) from the Father. The Holy Spirit proceeds eternally from the Father and the Son.

What the Trinity is NOT:

1. It is not polytheism. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct Persons/Personalities, but share precisely the same eternal, divine essence (being).

2. The Trinity is not composed of “parts” like a three-leaf clover. God cannot be divided or reduced. A more apt representation would actually be space, which consists of height, width, and depth. Without height, there can be no width or depth; without width, there can be no height or depth; and so forth. Likewise, God's nature cannot be represented by 1+1+1=3, because God is One and not three. 13=1 might be a better comparison.

3. The Trinity is not “modes.” In other words, God is not three “manifestations” or “forms.” He is one being with one form and that form is Spirit. Modalism as is found in Oneness Pentecostalism is kind of a hybrid doctrine between traditional Christianity and classic Unitarianism. It teaches that God is a bit like water, which can take the form of a solid, liquid, or gas. This is not an accurate reflection of what the Bible teaches about the nature of God. The Father and the Son are distinct Persons. The Father can't “become” the Son and vise versa. Furthermore, the Son lacks nothing that the Father has, and the Spirit lacks nothing that the Son has. The Three possess the same being, powers, and attributes.

Where Does the Word “Trinity” Come From?

The word “Trinity” is not found in the Bible, but it was a term coined to describe God's nature as revealed in the Bible with a single word. It is the English transliteration of Latin Trinitas. The earliest reference actually belongs to Theophilus, the Patriarch of Antioch, and not Tertullian, as some have suggested. The corresponding Greek word Theophilus used was Τριάδος, mentioned by Theophilus in the 2nd century in reference to Theos ("God" - the Father), the Logos ("the Word" - the Son), and Sophia ("Wisdom" - the Holy Spirit).

It should come as no surprise that the word Trinity is not found in our Bibles, as it isn't a name or title for God, but purely a systematized description of what the Bible reveals. “Substitutionary atonement” is also not found in our Bibles, yet is the very basis of our faith. Theologians “systematize” a doctrine to find a coherent description of what the Bible teaches on a particular subject. For example, the doctrine of faith alone (sola fide) was not systematized until the 16th century, but that doesn't mean the Bible doesn't teach the doctrine. It simply means that it wasn't a major focus of intense study until that time. In fact, there are dozens of references to the doctrine of sola fide in the early Church even though it wasn't systematized until much later. Regarding the Trinity, the reason it became a major subject of focus in the 2nd through 4th centuries was because it was during that time that numerous sects came on the scene either denying that Christ was God (Arianism) or denying that the Father, Son, and Spirit were distinct Persons (Sabellianism).

What Does Scripture Say About the Trinity?

  • All three Persons were present at creation: God the Father (Gen. 1:1), God the Holy Spirit (Gen. 1:2), and God the Son (Gen. 1:3; cf. Jn. 1:1–3).
  • All three Persons were involved in the incarnation of Christ as foretold at the Annunciation (Lk. 1:35).
  • All three Persons were involved at the baptism of Christ (Mt. 3:13–17; Mk. 1:9–11; Lk. 3:21–22; Jn. 1:29–34).
  • All three Persons were involved in raising Christ from the dead (Rm. 6:4; Gal. 1:1; Jn. 2:18–19; 10:18; Rm. 8:11; 1 Pt. 3:18).
  • All three Persons were involved in founding the Church (Acts 1:4–8).
  • All three Persons dwell in us who believe (Jn. 14:23; Rm. 8:9–11; 1 Cor. 3:16; Eph. 3:17; 4:6; Col. 1:27; 2 Tim. 1:14; Rev. 3:19–20; cf. Jn. 14:10–11).