How do we understand the trinity?


We can infer that there are 3 persons in the Godhead from the Baptism of Jesus, for example.
But can you point to a verse that infers there are more than three? Or is this some sort of hidden knowledge?

(Mitchell W McKain) #22

It should also be mentioned that unlike the issue of universalism, the doctrine of Trinity IS definitive of the Christian religion. And this has nothing whatsoever to do with any personal feeling of mine that this is more important – quite the contrary. It is a conclusion drawn from the simple fact this was the focus of creed of Nicea 325 AD. And there is the fact that this doctrine also clearly distinguishes it from other religions like Islam.

I mean, I like the doctrine of the Trinity. Though my reasons will probably sound like the reasons usually given by people for why they don’t like it. Like the fact that it is not in the Bible. I find that a delightful counterpoint to the Bible thumpers which punches a hole right through their usual arguments of Bible-only nonsense. I like the fact that it makes God a little strange – definitely not a deity created in our own image.

But as much as I like the doctrine of the Trinity, it is still pretty low on my list of thing of great importance taught by Christianity. If I found out it was wrong, this wouldn’t bother me much at all. Except… there is a connection to a teaching of Christianity which is rather high on my list… and that is the teaching that God became a helpless human infant to live and grow up among us. That in my view is the very best part of Christianity, revealing a God who cares nothing about power and everything about love.

There is plenty of room for inferring all kinds of nonsense from any number of things in the Bible. But we do not know that there are only 3 persons of God. And like I said the word “godhead” isn’t in the Bible any more than the doctrine of the Trinity. But you are quite correct that we also do not know that there are any more than 3 persons of God. So it would be wise in this case to stick to what we know and say no more.

(Robin) #23

Yes, I totally agree with the general notion that this is a surefire way of developing a raging headache…I have “heard” the trinity described as like the dimensions of an object – that is, an object has length, width, and depth – yet it is one and the same thing.

I have also heard the egg simile — an egg has shell, white, and yolk – yet it is one egg…

I like best (at the moment) the idea, taught centuries back by a missionary (apparently) to the Native Americans, that the Trinity is like a handkerchief stuffed into the pocket of a jacket, which has three corners sticking above the rim of the pocket — yet, when you pull the handkerchief out of the pocket, it is one handkerchief. That is, the three corners are parts of one piece of material.

It may be that we must stick with the reality that the New Testament teaches a triune being – and there is evidence of some sense of God’s binitarian quality within the Judaism of Jesus’ day – and assert simply that God is a complex Being. He is One, as He told Israel in the Shema, but He has a complex nature, something seen a bit better as Scripture developed (the Book of Daniel, 1 Enoch and/or 4 Ezra I think) and more obviously complex in New Testament text.


You mean nonsense like the Trinity? The thing is, Christians believe that God is in three persons. And I’d be willing to bet that a good number of evangelicals believe this.

But if not three persons, then how many? Are there more waiting to come out of in a future revelation?

(btw, The word godhead actually is used in some versions. It means deity, but I hesitate to get into another word thing. )

(Quinn) #25

In my opinion, the Trinity is to complex for us mere humans to understand and thus all attempts to try and understand it have always (though not at all times) lead to a hearsay one way or another its best to leave it as a mystery of faith and accept that God is a triune being, three-in-one.

(Shawn T Murphy) #26

The reason that I write about this topic on Christian forums is because I believe it is the most important, misunderstood teaching in Christianity. God is the Father of all in Heaven and He is the giver of eternal life. Jesus is the greatest servant of God and He is the King of Heaven. He has a multitude of holy spirits who serve Him, led by the other six Spirits of God, who in turn lead the 24 Elders and the twelve tribes of Heaven.

The trinity denies the multitude of God’s servants working tirelessly to fulfill His Will. The trinity denies the sovereignty of Jesus as the sole King of Heaven.

(Phil) #27

There have been some who postulate Wisdom a fourth person of God.
Or perhaps the Bible:
Certainly, some fundamentalist groups have been accused tongue in cheek as worshipping the Father, Son, and Holy Bible.

(Phil) #28

Enjoyed the link, Randy. Lots to think about.

(Randy) #29

I’ve had an amicable discussion with a Muslim who believed that most Christians identify the Trinity as Mary, God and Jesus, based on some misapprehensions in the Qur’an. (for example It’s interesting how confusing it can be. Thank God he takes us “as a father” from Psalm 103 and understands that it’s all confusing!

(Mitchell W McKain) #30

Well if you insist… how about infinite. I believe in a God who is infinite, unlimited in every way and not a God who is just three – not a God who arbitrarily limited to three persons for no rational reason other than a bunch of Christians who overestimate their knowledge of God and their own importance.

(Robin) #31

The assertion that Jesus is God and that God is a triune being can be found in Revelation as much as other places. The notion that God has a complex nature extends back into the Judaism of Jesus’ era and approx the century before that, as has been asserted by some rabbinic scholars as well, Shawn. The NT introduces the idea of the Holy Spirit but also equates Him with being God, while at the same time affirming the concept of the Shema, which is that God is One…

As for why the doctrine is so important to Christians – it has to do with the entire concept of God’s revelation of Himself. He has revealed Himself as a complex Personality. Jesus said “I and the Father are One…He who has seen Me has seen the Father.” These two remarks would simply be examples of a larger set of remarks that have been and can be handled only in one way.

(Robin) #32

Well said Sealkin!!

(Shawn T Murphy) #33

Dear @bluebird
To say on this this forum that a concept is too difficult for the science community to understand today does not sit with me. I will concede that one might be able to solve it, but we should be able to form a logical hypothesis.

What I will not accept in the 21st century is the use of ‘anathema’ or ‘heresy’ to scare people away from forming a straw man. Yes, the straw man that I have presented is heresy in the eyes of the medieval church, a church with very little credibility in the scientific community.

Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. (John 16:13)

Jesus promised Truth, not mystery.

(Robin) #34

That is placing a bit too much importance on the science community, Shawn…the reality is that I am not Sealkin but think he/she is on to something. A little humility goes a long way…The reality is that the “concept” or discussion that God might be One yet binary began with Judaism in the century or decades before Christ and then was enhanced in the writings of the New Testament which went on to a triune Being not just binary…

I am not sure what the medieval church has to do with this – and also what the scientific community has to do with it either. The concept of a Triune Deity precedes both these two groups.

(Shawn T Murphy) #35

Dear Robin,
Since you uploaded @Sealkin I assume you agreed. The medieval church propagated the false worldview from Aristotle, which is only one of its many failings. They used the term ‘mystery’ to to support illogical concepts and killed heretics who questioned them. (The case of Galileo is well know on this forum.)

Binary or two-faced gods have existed since the beginning of time, and this has been due to the usurpers who impersonates God and leads His followers astray by pretending to be god. As was the case with Moses and the reason he could not enter the promised land. God is not two-faced and this is the reason behind the first commandment. We are tasked with recognizing who He is from His commandments.

Many people find my study of the Greek gods as absurd. But I do it to understand how the usurper functions, so we can recognize who is God and who He is not. The symposium is one of the greatest works in this regard. We are able to see to the apparently binary god Eros described by the enlightened Greeks and the pagan Greeks. Taken together Eros in binary. Taken separately, he is two distinct gods - one revered by the Spartans and one honored by the enlightened Greeks and the founders of logic.

The history of human behavior shows a commonality. A god becomes popular and gathers followers. The usurper sees an opportunity and leads the follows astray by corrupting the priests. This is the source of the binary, not God Himself.

(Quinn) #36

I think you need to understand that we are dealing with a supernatural being, the Lord God Almighty who is beyond time and space. We cannot use human science to try and understand His nature. When we try to use natural science and logic to understand the supernatural God we go to either atheism (concluding that God isn’t real due to “natural science” showing there is no god.) Deism in that God is real but far and distant from His creation. We are dealing with something beyond human understanding and it’s best to leave it as a mystery of faith. Hebrews 11:1 says “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen”.

(Shawn T Murphy) #37

The likes of Euclid, Pythagoras, Democritus and Socrates operated under the theory that by studying the laws of nature, one could gain wisdom and knowledge about its creator. The aforementioned have proven they understood the laws of nature and, therefore, making their views worth investigation. This is how they created theories that have lasted 2,500 years.

Your quote of Hebrews does not trump my quote of John 16:13. I am not saying we can know everything about God, but we can still use the logic He gave us to know more about Him than just throwing up our arms and saying we cannot know anything.

(Robin) #38

Well, I noted — not sure about “uploaded” — Sealkin because they seemed to have a good thought on the subject.

We were talking about the concept of the Trinity. You linked it to the medieval church and to your beliefs – certainly faith-based — that modern science can make a definitive and somehow exhaustive study of the matter and come to certainty over the issue. Settled and decided!!

That rather presupposes a whole lot of things. One is that the medieval church was composed of somewhat unlettered rubes (I suppose) who could not come up with a clear concept of things. That may or may not be true. But the concept of the Trinity goes back much beyond medieval times.

The other is that science can come up with a definitive statement on the Trinity – something that probably most scientists would not care to claim. At least, I do not think they have a government grant for doing so. (That was a joke. Money makes the world go round, you know.)

Aristotle was not the inspiration for the Judaism of the first centuries BC/AD entertaining some sort of complexity to God’s nature — while still affirming God as One. Scripture was the source for this. They took seriously their ancient writings …

To say God is Three-In-One is not to say He has three faces or anything of the sort. What Sealkin was saying — as far as I can tell – is that we as mere humans have a hard time comprehending the nature of God. Hence our moderator, “Dr Phil’s” suggestion that a headache of some sort can be attached at times to grappling with the concept. And the example of the three corners of one handkerchief (three in one !!!) sticking out of a man’s jacket pocket…

Sealkin was not discussing headache remedies, only that, in the end we have a self-revelation of God which is hard for us to grasp – like someone without 20/20 vision (or anything close) trying to see objects clearly.

The phrase “seeing through a glass darkly” is of biblical origin. It is far weightier in this subject than science or two-headed Januses (January is past) or the vagaries of the medieval church.

We only know what God has revealed. When Jesus said “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” – “It is my Father who glorifies me, of who you say ‘He is our God’” —“No man comes to the Father but by Me” — “I and My Father are One” – He was attaching Himself to the Godhead and part of it while also sounding as though He is a separate entity while at the same time dependent upon it…Go figure!! Saying “it is a mystery” is an acceptable approach. It is better than ibuprofen at any rate…

(David Heddle) #39

They are not exclusive. We can can either in reality (as I do) or as an exercise accept that everything in the bible is true. That does not mean that mystery is eliminated. On the contrary the bible promises mystery, more or less saying that while it is the best possible revelation of an infinite, transcendent deity for a finite, localized (in time and space) humanity, there is unsurprisingly, as a result of this effectively infinite chasm, mystery. How anything can be eternal is a mystery. How anything can create ex nihilo is a mystery. The tension between God’s sovereignty and man’s free will does not imply something is “wrong,” it is ultimately a mystery. Nor is the Trinity wrong solely because we can’t fully comprehend it. Saying something is a mystery in science is tantamount to giving up. Not so with the doctrine of God–it’s a recognition that we have incomplete data.

The biblical proof of full Trinitarian theology (e.g., “of one substance” argument) may not be satisfying to all, but the scriptural foundations of the Trinity–with omni_blank and eternality attributes shown to belong to all three, is plain enough.

Finally, words have meaning. You wrote “[The Trinity] is the most important, misunderstood teaching in Christianity.” You are semantically wrong at least in the sense you mean. Christianity is defined, in part, by the Nicene formulation of the Trinity. You do not correct Christianity by telling it that its view of the Trinity is incorrect–you can instead propose an altogether different religion… You can even call it Christianity, but it’s not.

EDIT: typos

(Shawn T Murphy) #40

Christianity started much before 325 AD in Nicene! Yes, the trinity is an ancient pagan concept not brought by Jesus in the New Covenant. Rather Jesus revealed Himself as the only way to the Father as the King of Heaven. He is one with God, but oneness is difficult concept for many to perceive, especially modern philosophy. Jesus explains His oneness with God in Will and in spirit, but also shows His separation from God in person by saying “only the Father is Good” and “you get to the Father through me”. Jesus is a gatekeeper to the Father, not the Father. This was taught in the first Centuries of Christianity and declared anathema by the aforementioned political forces of Rome.