The Doctrine of the Trinity
The doctrine of the Trinity has for ages thrown theologian’s minds into disarray and confusion, leaving many unable to accept the Trinity or at least remaining skeptical of such a doctrine as three beings in one. Many have come to the conclusion that the doctrine of the trinity is beyond understanding and therefore have denied it amidst the Trinitarian idea found within the pages of scripture. Theologian James Boice noted that some complain that â€œtheology should be â€˜simpleâ€™ because simplicity is beautiful, God is beautiful and must therefore be simple and so on.â€ He declares this a misunderstanding of reality.
Reality â€œis not neat, not obvious, not what you expectâ€¦â€ says C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity, â€œReality, in fact, is usually something you would not have guessed.â€ Lewis makes similar statements in his sermon â€œThe Weight of Glory.â€ In that sermon, he is speaking of the hereafter versus reality, and relating to us that human language and images cannot fully express heavenly things. It is similar to this when we examine the doctrine of the Trinity â€“ many of our words cannot fully express such â€œthe arithmetic of heavenâ€ as Daniel Webster put it when he was challenged for his belief in the trinity.
Countless verses that we observe in Scripture point us to the Trinitarian characteristic and understanding of God. When examined in Hebrew, verses in Deuteronomy 6, which states that the â€œLord our God is one Lord,â€ point us to an understanding of the trinity. The word â€œoneâ€ found in the above passage is echad, meaning one in unity. â€œIt is the word used in speaking of one bunch of grapes,â€ says Boice, â€œor in saying that the people of Israel responded as one people.â€ It is another example of not having a language to grasp fully the meaning within a text like that. (This interpretation of the original language could be further debated, but the ultimate point still stands, as my Hebrew scholar friends may conclude with me).
â€œOne of our difficulties at this point,â€ concludes Boice, â€œis that we do not have an adequate word in Englishâ€¦to express the nature of the different existences within the Godhead.â€
Yet additional verses in Scripture explicitly point to the trinity, such as Genesis 1:26. â€œThen God said, â€˜Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.â€ Or Genesis 11:7. â€œCome let us go down, and there confuse their language.â€ Or â€œWhom shall I send, and who will go for us?â€ stated in Isaiah 6:8. And these are only three verses â€“ there are many, many more.
The Importance of the Trinity
â€œThe doctrine of the Trinity is one of the most important doctrines of the Christian faith,â€ says theologian Wayne Grudem. â€œTo study the Bibleâ€™s teachings on the Trinity gives us great insight into the question that is at the center of all our seeking after God: What is God like in Himself?â€
So we examine some of the central tenets of the Trinity, namely God exists in three persons: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The Father is fully divine. The Son is the second person of the Godhead and is fully divine, and also came to earth in the likeness of man. The Holy Spirit is also fully divine. Although each is fully divine, they are â€œrelated to each other in a way that implies some differencesâ€ (Boice) Finally, they all work together.
God exists in three persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit
We have already examined just a few verses, but it would be wise to look at a few more to prove from Scripture the truth of the trinity. Take for instance Matthew 28:19: â€œGo and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.â€ If that is not obvious in informing us of the Trinitarian teaching of Scripture, I donâ€™t know what will.
Another passage that refers to the three persons, or as Calvin preferred, the â€œsubsistenceâ€ of the Godhead, is 1 Peter 1:2, which states that â€œAccording to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit that you may obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with his blood.â€ Another is found in Jude 20-21: â€œBut you, beloved, build yourselves up on you most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit; keep yourselves in the love of God; wait for mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.â€ (pg. 231, Systematic Theology)
The Son is the second person of the Godhead and is fully divine/The Holy Spirit is Divine
I do not know any of us who would not accept this teaching of the divinity of Christ and the Holy Spirit in an instant. Jesus told us that â€œI and the Father are oneâ€ (Jn. 10:30) and that â€œHe who has seen me has seen the Father.â€ It is quite obvious that if he was not fully divine, there was no way that he could have been perfectly holy, and therefore could not have been a pleasing sacrifice, a pleasing atonement for our sins. The entire saving work of the cross would all be for naught.
We also believe the if the Father and Son are fully divine, the Holy Spirit must be fully divine. Otherwise, our theology would fail.
Although the doctrine of the Trinity is hard to grasp, it is so important to work to understand. This significant doctrine is a true doctrine, albeit a difficult one to grasp. Perhaps a few human images or illustrations will help us to explain it in some way.
James Boice relays to us one illustration which is that of a cake which is made up of layers, slices, and ingredients. The Father would be the ingredients, the Son the layers (â€œby which God comes down to usâ€) and the Holy Spirit would be the slices of the cake (â€œby which he is passed aroundâ€).
Yet he does not feel quite satisfied with that analogy, and prefers the â€œlight, heat, and airâ€ illustration (used by none other than Donald Grey Barnhouse in his book, Manâ€™s Ruin.).
â€œIf you hold out your hand and look at it, each of these three things is present. There is light, because it is only by light that you can see your hand. In fact, even if the darkness of night should descent, there would still be light. There would be infrared light. Although you couldnâ€™t see it, it could be picked up by special equipment. There is also heat between your head and your hand. You may prove it by holding out a thermometer. It will vary as you go from a cold room to a warm room or from the outside to indoors. Finally there is air. You can blog on your hand and feel it. You can wave your hand and thus fan your face.â€
The point, he says is that all three of these things is distinct. Yet at the same time it is â€œimpossible to have any one without the others.â€ Ironically, these elements are all used in relation to God (see 1 Jn. 1:5, Heb. 12:29, and Jn. 3:8).
In a final conclusion, this confusing doctrine that has thrown theologians into disarray and theological dismay, and some into theological liberalism, is Scriptural. It is still a mystery to us, but we must understand what we see and are being taught as much as we can, and remain faithful to the infallible Word of God.