Friday, November 13, 2009

The Trinity

In an attempt to make this blog more edifying, here is a post from my work blog. It's a short article I wrote up for a class we offer called "Biblical Theology."

The Trinity

Although the word “trinity” never appears in the Bible, the doctrine of the trinity is, perhaps, the most important statement of the Christian faith. It lies at the very center of Christian theology, and is one of only a few doctrines that mark out historical, orthodox Christian faith. In other words, if you don’t believe in the trinity, you stand outside of orthodox Christianity.

Wayne Grudem defines the doctrine of the trinity this way: “God eternally exists as three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and each person is fully God, and there is one God.” (Grudem, Systematic Theology, 226) Let’s break this definition down into three statements and examine each more closely.

God eternally exists as three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit

God is three persons. This means that the Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is not the Father. There is a distinction of personhood within the Godhead. The Scripture that most clearly demonstrates these distinctions is the baptismal formula given by Jesus to the disciples at the end of Matthew’s gospel: “…baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” By arranging the names in this way, Jesus is equating the three in status. He would not have, after all, given the disciples a command to baptize anyone in the name of a mere creature. It is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, not Father, Son, and the archangel Michael.

John 1:1 says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The Word, of course, is Jesus. John plainly states that Jesus was both with God in the beginning and that he was God. Jesus and God (whom we also call “The Father”) are the same in essence, and yet there is distinction in their personhood.

John 16:7 says this about the Holy Spirit: “But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.” The Counselor is the Holy Spirit, and we see here a distinction between him and Jesus. The Holy Spirit is sent by Jesus (and he reveals, later, by the Father as well) once he returns to the Father. And so we see that the Scriptures testify that God eternally exists as three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Each person is fully God

Each person of the trinity bears the full essence and character of divinity. The Father is clearly God—we take that as a given. Jesus is called God in several locations throughout the NT: John 1:1, John 20:28, Hebrews 1, Titus 2:13, 2 Peter 1:1, Romans 9:5, Colossians 2:9.

Once we understand that God the Father and God the Son are both fully God, it becomes evident, from the Trinitarian expressions elsewhere in the NT that the Holy Spirit is also fully God. Jesus declared that the only unforgiveable sin was to commit blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. How can one blaspheme that which is not God? We see, also, numerous instances in which the Spirit is placed alongside the Father and the Son: 1 Corinthians 12:4-6, 2 Corinthians 13:14, Ephesians 4:4-6, 1 Peter 1:2, Jude 20-21. So we see that the Scriptures testify that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are each fully God.

There is one God

Scripture is clear that there is one, and only one, God. The core prayer of the Hebrew people is the Shema: Hear, O Israel, YHWH your God, YHWH is one. Over and over again, God attests to his own uniqueness through the prophets. There is no other god like him. The gods of the pagan nations are all worthless idols. Isaiah writes, “And there is no God apart from me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none but me. Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other.”

The New Testament is also clear in its assertion that there is one God. For example, Paul writes to Timothy, “For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” Nowhere in Scripture does it teach that there are three Gods. Rather, the testimony of the Scriptures is that there is only one God.

So What?

The doctrine of the trinity serves as a boundary marker for historical, orthodox Christian faith. To deny that either the Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit are God is to place yourself outside of the faith of the Church and to reject the teaching of Scripture. What, you ask, is at stake if we reject the doctrine of the trinity?

When we lose the trinity, we lose the atonement for our sins. If Jesus is not God, how can he bear the wrath of God for our sins? How can he bear all of our sins in his body on the cross? “Could any creature, no matter how great, really save us?” (Grudem, 247)

When we lose the trinity, we lose justification by faith. We cannot possibly hope to be justified before God by putting our faith into a mere man, a created being. We cannot trust him to save us if he is just another human, regardless of the magnitude of his accomplishments or the majesty of his message.

When we lose the trinity, we lose worship. It is idolatry to worship a created being rather than the Creator. What hope is there that Jesus or the Holy Spirit will hear our worship and our prayers unless they are each God?

When we lose the trinity, we lose salvation. All three members of the Godhead are on display in the work of our salvation—the crucifixion and resurrection of the Son. God judged and poured out his wrath on the Son, who bore all the sins of humanity in his body when he died, but then was vindicated three days later when he rose from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit. If God is not intimately involved at every step of this process, then we are entrusting our salvation to a creature rather than to the Creator.

This is only a brief introduction to the glorious truth that we have in the doctrine of the trinity. For more information, please listen to the e4 session on the trinity, or look into any of these resources:

Wayne Grudem | Systematic Theology

Colin E. Gunton | The Promise of Trinitarian Theology

Gerald Bray | The Doctrine of God

Richard Bauckham | God Crucified

Donald Bloesch | Essentials of Evangelical Theology

Robert Letham | The Holy Trinity: In Scripture, History, Theology and Worship

Peter Toon | Our Triune God: A Biblical Portrayal of the Trinity


Corey said...

If you want people to understand the trinity why don't you just tell them to read The Shack?


Adam Pastor said...

Greetings Andy

On the subject of the Trinity,
I recommend this video:
The Human Jesus

Take a couple of hours to watch it; and prayerfully it will aid you to reconsider "The Trinity"

Yours In Messiah
Adam Pastor