Trinity: Part One
This article originally appeared in the March 19 edition of the Cottonwood Chronicle
© 03.16.09 By D. Eric Williams
I recently received an e-mail from someone who visited our church website, examined the articles of faith and contacted me with a question concerning the Trinity. Based on his inquiry I concluded he is a modern Modalistic Monarchianist - one who believes the Father, Son and Spirit are simply modes or operations of God and not three persons. In other words he believes God "wears different hats" according to the circumstance. This is an ancient heresy which relies upon human reason alone to understand the nature of God and thus rejects all mystery concerning the Godhead.
The orthodox position concerning the Trinity is that God is one God (Deuteronomy 6:4), in three persons (Matthew 28:19). In other words, the Divine Being is of one indivisible essence and yet three individual subsistences (having real being or existence). Thereby the whole undivided essence of God belongs equally to each of the three persons in the Godhead. The divine essence is not separated into three portions and doled out to the three persons in the Godhead, rather, the essence of God with all of its attributes and perfection is altogether present in each one of the three persons of the Trinity.
In the older Testament the doctrine of Trinity is suggested but not fully developed. We find a hint at the very beginning of Scripture when the Creator says "let us make man in our image according to our likeness" (Genesis 1:26, italics added; in this passage, elohiym [god], is the plural form). Obviously this is not a complete development of the doctrine; it does preset the idea of plurality in the Godhead - but almost as an aside.
Hence, the Bible does not argue in favor of Trinity as an abstraction but presents the Trinitarian Godhead as a living relationship among the persons of the Deity. This relationship is revealed in the works of creation and providence and especially in the work of redemption. For example, the Angel of Yahweh (preincarnate Christ), identified as a separate person and as God Himself, leads the people of God, brings the law to them and acts as Judge (Genesis 16:7-13, 18:1-21, Exodus 13:21, 14:19-24, 23:20-21, Numbes 20:16, Isaiah 63:9, Acts 7:38,53).
When we encounter the teaching of Jesus Christ and his apostles, we are introduced to a more complete doctrine of Trinity. The older Testament reveals Yahweh as the redeemer and savior (Job 19:25-27, Psalms 78:35, 106:21, Is. 41:14, 43:3,11,14, 47:4, 49:7,26, 60:16, Jeremiah 14:3, 50:14, Hosea 13:3); the New Testament reveals it is Jesus Christ who is the redeemer and savior of mankind (Matthew 1:21, Luke 1:76-79, 2:17, John 4:42, Acts 5:3, Galatians 3:13, 4:5, Philippians 3:30, Titus 2:13-14). Throughout the old covenant it is God who dwells among his people and in the hearts of those who are joined to him (Psalms 74:2, 135:21, Isaiah 8:18, 57:15, Ezekiel 36:27, 43:7-9, Joel 3:17,21, Zechariah 2:10-11). The New Testament represents the Holy Spirit as dwelling with and in the covenant community of God (John 7:38-39, Acts 2:4, Romans 8:9-11, 1 Corinthians 3:16, Galatians 4:6, Ephesians 2:22).
Furthermore, the New Testament informs us God is the one who sent his Son into the world and that the Father and the Son both send the Holy Spirit. The New Testament reveals an intimate relationship between the Father and the Son and a like intimacy of God's people with him through the agency of the Holy Spirit. When Jesus Christ was baptized there was a representation of each member of the Trinity and this reality is confirmed by Christ's command to baptize in "the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Matthew 28:19). Indeed the reality of the Trinity is assumed throughout the newer Testament: consider 1 Corinthians 12:4-6 (identifying "the Lord" with Jesus Christ, cf. 2 Corinthians 13:14 and 1 Peter 1:2).
Next week: Humanity, Deity, Spirit.