Saturday, January 10, 2015

The Doctrine of the Trinity

As we are working through the doctrine of the Holy Spirit this January, we, rightfully so, will also be spending some time addressing and looking at the doctrine of the Trinity.

Ah yes, the Trinity. It's one the foundational beliefs of Christianity; and yet it is also one of the most difficult doctrines to understand. And man oh man, can we really botch this one up! (Here's a helpful article on the erroneous views concerning the Trinity.) Here are some ideas concerning what orthodox Christianity has historically affirmed about the doctrine of the Trinity:

The Doctrine of the Trinity:
The Trinity: God eternally exists as three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and each person is fully God, and there is one God.
~ Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology

…we worship one God in trinity and the trinity in unity, neither blending their persons nor dividing their essence.   For the person of the Father is a distinct person, the person of the Son is another, and that of the Holy Spirit still another.  But the divinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is one, their glory equal, their majesty coeternal.
~ excerpt from The Athanasian Creed
This creed is named after Athanasius (A.D. 293-373),
the champion of orthodoxy against Arian attacks on the doctrine of the trinity.

The basic assertion of this doctrine is that the unity of the one God is complex. The three personal “subsistences” (as they are called) are coequal and coeternal centers of self-awareness, each being “I” in relation to two who are “you” and each partaking of the full divine essence (the “stuff” of deity, if we may dare to call it that) along with the other two. They are not three roles played by one person (that is modalism), nor are they three gods in a cluster (that is tritheism); the one God (“he”) is also, and equally, “they,” and “they” are always together and always cooperating, with the Father initiating, the Son complying, and the Spirit executing the will of both, which is his will also.
~ JI Packer, Concise Theology

Orthodox Christianity is Monotheistic:
The Shema  (Deut. 6) “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.

The Lord alone is Israel's God, “the only one.” Though often used to defend the internal unity of God, the Shema is mainly a statement of exclusivity. This point arises from the argument of Duet. 4:35 and the first commandment (have no other gods before me).  Deuteronomy requires Israel to observe a practical monotheism. This stands in sharp contrast to their polytheistic peer group, the Canaanites (as well as Egyptians, Moabites, etc.).

(The following are excerpts from the ESV Study Bible)

The Diversity + Unity:
As the nature of God is progressively revealed in Scripture, the one God is seen to exist eternally in three persons. These three persons share the same divine nature yet are different in role and relationship. The basic principle at the heart of God's triune being is unity and distinction, both coexisting without either being compromised. Anything that is necessarily true of God is true of Father, Son, and Spirit. They are equal in essence yet distinct in function.

Some O.T Passages on the Unity + Diversity of the Trinity:
In the beginning of the Bible, the Spirit of God is “hovering over the face of the waters” at creation (Gen. 1:2) and is elsewhere described as a personal being, possessing the attributes of God and yet distinct from Yahweh (Isa. 48:16; 61:1; 63:10).

The plurality within God is seen in the Hebrew word for God, ’Elohim, which is plural in form (though others disagree that this is significant; the word is used with singular verbs and all agree that it has a singular meaning in the OT). In addition, the use of plural pronouns when God refers to himself hints at a plurality of persons: “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image’” (Gen. 1:27; cf. Gen. 3:22; 11:7; Isa. 6:8).

There are also passages in the OT that call two persons God or Lord: “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever. The scepter of your kingdom is a scepter of uprightness; you have loved righteousness and hated wickedness. Therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness above your companions” (Ps. 45:6–7). David says, “The Lord says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool’” (Ps. 110:1). The God who is set above his companions (Ps. 45:6) and the Lord of Psalm 110:1 are recognized as Christ in the NT (Heb. 1:8, 13). Christ himself applies Psalm 110:1 to himself (Matt. 22:41–46).

Some NT Passages on the Unity & Diversity of the Trinity:
The OT glimpses of God's plurality blossom into the full picture of the Trinity in the NT, where the deity and distinct personalities of Father, Son, and Spirit function together in perfect unity and equality.

One of the clearest picture of this distinction and unity is Jesus' baptism, where the Son is anointed for his public ministry by the Spirit, descending as a dove, with the Father declaring from heaven, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:13–17). All three persons of the Trinity are present, and each one is doing something different.

The NT authors often employ a Trinitarian cadence as they write about the work of God. Prayers of blessing and descriptions of gifts within the body of Christ are Trinitarian in nature, e.g., “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Cor. 13:14).

The persons of the Trinity are also linked in the baptismal formula of Matthew 28:19–20, “baptizing them in [or into] the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

There are many other passages that reveal the Trinitarian, or at least the plural, nature of God (e.g., John 14:16, 26; 16:13–15; 20:21–22; Rom. 8:9; 15:16, 30; 2 Cor. 1:21–22; Gal. 4:4–6; Eph. 2:18; 4:4–6; 1 Pet. 1:1–2; 1 John 4:2, 13–14; Jude 20–21).

Differences in roles also appear consistently in biblical testimonies concerning the relationships between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The uniform pattern of Scripture is that the Father plans, directs, and sends; the Son is sent by the Father and is subject to the Father's authority and obedient to the Father's will; and both Father and Son direct and send the Spirit, who carries out the will of both. Yet this is somehow consistent with equality in being and in attributes. The Father created through the Son (John 1:3; 1 Cor. 8:6; Col. 1:16;Heb. 1:2), and the Father planned redemption and sent the Son into the world (John 3:16; Rom. 8:29; Gal. 4:4; Eph. 1:3–5).  The Son obeyed the Father and accomplished redemption for us (John 4:34; 5:19; 6:38; Heb. 10:5–7; cf. Matt. 26:64; Acts 2:33; 1 Cor. 15:28; Heb. 1:3). The Father did not come to die for our sins, nor did the Holy Spirit, but that was the role of the Son. The Father and Son both send the Holy Spirit in a new way after Pentecost (John 14:26; 15:26; 16:7).  These relationships existed eternally (Rom. 8:29; Eph. 1:4; Rev. 13:8), and they provide the basis for simultaneous equality and differences in various human relationships.

Within God there is both unity and diversity: unity without uniformity, and diversity without division. The early church saw this Trinitarian balance clearly. Once again, the Athanasian Creed says:
We worship one God in the Trinity and the Trinity in unity; we distinguish among the persons, but we do not divide the substance. . . . The entire three persons are co-eternal and co-equal with one another, so that . . . we worship complete unity in Trinity and Trinity in Unity.

This unity and diversity is at the heart of the great mystery of the Trinity. Unity without uniformity is baffling to finite minds, but the world shows different types of reflections of this principle of oneness and distinction at every turn. What is the source of the transcendent beauty in a symphony, the human body, marriage, ecosystems, the church, the human race, a delicious meal, or a perfectly executed fast break in basketball? Is it not, in large part, due to the distinct parts coming together to form a unified whole, leading to a unified result? Unity and distinction—the principle at the heart of the Trinity—can be seen in much of what makes life so rich and beautiful. Woven into the fabric of the world are multiple reflections of the One who made it with unity and distinction as the parallel qualities of its existence.

The Mystery:
God to his people will always be allusive yet intimate, mysterious yet accessible.  We see in the Scriptures how The Father, Son, and Spirit work together as one in creation, redemption, and restoration for harmony and intimacy and connectedness; but his complexity (’Elohim) will always be wondrous and mysteries leaving us in full awe of his glory and, at the same time, ever drawing us in.

Here are some recommended (and FREE) resources on the doctrine of the Trinity:

Also, here some free video teachings by RC Sproul entitled, The Mystery of the Holy Spirit:

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