How do we understand the trinity?

(Cindy) #41

We can assume that is what is meant and I did state that it seemed a natural assumption. I claimed no “secret knowledge”; I just simply asked a question.

(Robin) #42

Beaglelady…the concept of the Trinity exists and is taught in the New Testament, including in the words of Jesus. I think the three-in-one statement is best to stick with. There is no “future revelation,” according to the New Testament itself.


Yes, we won’t understand everything. We know we see through a glass darkly, but that isn’t a good excuse to neglect study of the blessed Trinity. It’s Christianity 101, and essential to an understanding of Christology. Even Peter admitted that some of Paul’s teaching are hard to understand, but we try.

It’s hardly the only difficult concept in the faith; for example the jury is still out on the meaning of the Imago Dei. And what about the Revelation?

It’s usually at these difficult points that heresies arise.


Arbitrarily? Actually a bunch of Christians who are constrained by Scripture.

(Mitchell W McKain) #45

Incorrect. Nowhere in scripture does it say that God is three persons. So this would Christians going beyond what it says in Scripture to simply assume that they know all the person’s of God. It is rather reminiscent of the way that creationists assume that having read Genesis alone they know everything there is to know about how God created the universe and all the living things in it.

It is an incredibly bizarre way of reading the Bible since it is demonstrable that the universe contains far far far more than what is contained in the Bible. So the reality is that just like such Christians have insisted that the universe fit the tiny picture of what is described in the Bible they also insist that God fit the tiny picture of what is described in the Bible. The former is demonstrably wrong but the latter is even less sensible.

(Cindy) #46

Can you provide the reference for this? I know that Jesus stated that He and the Father are One and yes, at His baptism there were three persons known as Father, Son, and Holy Ghost but I know of nowhere where Jesus clearly states that there are three and only three persons in the Godhead.

Again, I am not stating that there are more; I’m simply trying to establish that this is an assumption. A perfectly reasonable one perhaps, but an assumption all the same.

Or maybe I am wrong? If so, I’d love to know the verse that clearly states this.

(Mervin Bitikofer) #47

“Clearly stated” won’t be in there anywhere - at least not in the form that the doctrine was finally developed. Otherwise we wouldn’t have all this fun dickering over it.

But I would suppose that for Trinity defenders, the conclusion of Matthew’s gospel would be a well-worn “go-to”. …Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded…


We can infer from Scripture that God is in three persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. There is only one God. Jesus is his only-begotten Son. There is one Holy Spirit.

If three is the wrong number, let’s hear about the rest, and don’t go beyond what Scripture says.

(btw, you can believe what you want)

(Cindy) #49

OK, I’d put that as a clear inference to three persons.

I just ordered a slew of books and articles on the subject. Can’t wait to dig up old Trinity arguments! Wonder if they had as much fun as we are dickering it.

(Robin) #50

Hello Cindy — or “Seeking Harmony.”

The Latin word “trinitas” – Trinity – was first used by the ancient church lawyer/theologian Tertullian and he coined it in the mid or late 2nd century A.D. Before that time, the concept was just a concept without a name, even if it does appear in the earliest post-biblical writings. The word was developed by Tertullian to define an extant biblical concept.

This is important to note for two reasons — one, it means you and I will not find the word in the biblical text. Two, it rather bruises the arguments of some who assert that the concept of the Trinity came via ancient Greek sources like Plotinus, who lived after Tertullian.

The concept that God had a complex nature was already “in the air” of first century A.D. Judea/Galilee due to things seen and puzzled over in the Hebrew Scriptures — incl the “son of man” idea of Daniel 7, plus a couple of intertestamental books.

I believe this also applies to a word used in one or more of the Gospels which refers to a judgment seat – something that, in the first century A.D., was a seat occupied not only by Caesar himself but also by another. Thus-- one judgment seat but two (?) judges. That is — a single authority with multiple (in that case, two) personalities involved. (Am trying to find my reference for this last point.)

So the “thought” about the “complex” nature of the One God was already in existence st the time and simply magnified in New Testament statements — without, of course, saying “Trinity” per se.

As for things that Jesus said, I know you have a couple in mind. But also:

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:19)

“The Father loves the Son and has given all things into His hands” (John 3:35)

“The wind blows where it wishes. … So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8)

“I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me … for You loved Me, before the foundation of the world” (John 17:23-24)

“All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him” (Matthew 11:27)

“…hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of our God and Father, … but also in power and in the Holy Spirit …” (I Thess 1:3-5)

“…the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit …” (2 Corinthians 13:14)

“I am the First and the Last…I am the Living One. I was dead, and behold I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the key of death and Hades.” (Rev 1:17-18

“I will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels. He who has an ear to hear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” (Rev 3:5-6)

There is more, of course. If you and I had all day ----!! The terms Father, Son, Spirit/Holy Spirit are used throughout, especially in the New Testament and in various sayings of Jesus’ and in various epistles, etc.

The earliest post-biblical writings also carry the same sense of things about God’s Nature. I think that to state there are “more” than three in the Godhead would be tough, since you and I really can only find these three entities in Scripture. I would not venture to “add” names to this or to speculate beyond three. The Bible is rather suspicious of people attempting to add “new” stuff to its scriptures, for one reason, and the decisions of the Council of Nicaea rather quantified the issue and were hard for some groups to accept, even at that!

OK…I think I have gone on enough. Or do you have another question.

(Jay Johnson) #51

I thought this was an interesting article. Although focused on Edwards’ view, the author interacts extensively with Augustine and other views:

Here is how the author characterized Edwards’ view of the Trinity:

For Edwards, God the Father is “the Deity subsisting in the prime, unoriginated and most absolute manner.” He is the “fountain of the Godhead,” and thus Scripture rightly refers to God as “without any addition or distinction.” But since the Father is infinitely happy in himself, it follows that he “perpetually and eternally has a most perfect idea of himself, as it were an exact image and representation of himself ever before him and in actual view. This perfect idea is exactly like him in every respect and therefore “is God to all intents and purposes.” Indeed “by God’s thinking of the Deity, [the Deity] must certainly be generated.” A second person of the Godhead is begotten, and that person is the Son. Edwards was convinced that this view was in agreement with Scripture, and he cited 2 Cor 4:4, Phil 2:6, Col 1:15, and Heb 1:3 in support… (T)he Son is “God’s perfect idea of God.” He is the Word of God and the wisdom of God since knowledge, reason, and wisdom are the same as God’s perfect idea of himself.

Edwards identified the Holy Spirit as the divine act of love between the Father and the Son. Relying on 1 John 4:8, Edwards argued that the Godhead subsists in love. If we have love dwelling in us, we have God dwelling in us (1 John 4:12), and “that love is God’s Spirit” (1 John 4:13). Edwards believed that 1 John 3:23–24 reinforces this view: love is the sure sign of the Spirit’s presence in the believer. And 1 John 4:16 “confirms not only that the divine nature subsists in love, but also that this love is the Spirit: for it is the Spirit of God by which God dwells in his saints.”… He then asked why the Spirit is excluded from Paul’s salutations at the beginning of his epistles and why there is no mention of the Holy Spirit’s love for believers or love for the other two persons of the Trinity in Scripture. He concludes that it is because the Spirit is himself the divine love, as expressed both immanently within the Trinity and economically towards believers.

Edwards’ own summary of the idea:

“And this I suppose to be that blessed Trinity that we read of in the holy Scriptures. The Father is the Deity subsisting in the prime, unoriginated and most absolute manner, or the Deity in its direct existence. The Son is the Deity generated by God’s understanding, or having an idea of himself, and subsisting in that idea. The Holy Ghost is the Deity subsisting in act or the divine essence flowing out and breathed forth, in God’s infinite love to and delight in himself. And I believe the whole divine essence does truly and distinctly subsist both in the divine idea and divine love, and that therefore each of them are properly distinct persons.”

The problem with this analogy is that it doesn’t really do justice to the persons of the Trinity as persons. The article points out that if the illustration is effective, it “would prove modalism, not orthodoxy.” Still, an interesting analogy.


It was after reading some of the complex arguments by the medieval Franciscan philosophers and teachers Bonaventure and Duns Scotus that I came to understand the Trinity in a new way in which it ceases to be a conundrum, because it is about production. The Word and the Spiirt produced by the First Principle before the existence of all else.

The First Principle who is eternal love and life, because of the abundance of that love, produces from “His” own essence the Word who in relation is the Son. In the same overflow love the Spirit is “breathed” out of the same essence. They are distinct from each other but because fhey all share the same original essence thay are united in it and by it and hence still One God. The divine nature (as essence or “substance”) is a single infiniite whole but there is a communal life within it thaht we can only describe as “person” although that is an inadequate word for somethng transcendent and not of this world.

Perhaps a material analogy would be a singe shoot of a plant that produces two new shoots. There are three shoots but a single plant that shares the same whole life and nature.

What becomes important is that God is communal in love within the oneness and that communal love is related to us being “made in God’s image” , to be communal persons who come from love and are to be part of the divine loving. It is always self giving and going out beyond itself to find unity in the diversity.

(Phil) #53

Here too is a recent comment on the nature of the trinity and how easy it is to misunderstand or get confused, even for trained theologians:

(Roger A. Sawtelle) #54

Yes, it is clear from the NT that God the Father is God the Creator; the Jesus Christ is also God, God the Son and Logos; and God the Holy Spirit of Love. God is One in that these three Persons always act together and none other must be worshiped as God, not the Bible, not the Church, not angels.

The Greeks posed the puzzle, the One and the Many, which is the key to understanding the structure of Reality. The Trinity is God’s revelation as to how to solve this puzzle.

(Shawn T Murphy) #55

Dear Roger, it is not clear at all from NT that Jesus is God!

Mark 13:31-32 Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away.But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.

Mark 13:32 is one of the many times that Jesus says the Son is not the Father. Here are some others.

John 20:25 - 30 Jesus answered them, I told you, and ye believed not: the works that I do in my Father’s name, they bear witness of me. But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand. I and my Father are one.

Jesus says the Father is greater than all, including himself. He is telling us that He is one in will with God, but explaining how He is not God.

Matt 19:16–17 And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.

Jesus says he is not Good, only the Father is Good.

Luke 22:41–43 And he was withdrawn from them about a stone’s cast, and kneeled down, and prayed, Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done. And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him.

Jesus prays to the Father expressing his will, but accepting the Father’s will. This is oneness, not one person.

(Mitchell W McKain) #56

Agreed. It is not absolutely clear. There are passages in the Bible on both sides of this question. But what then is the result when you take them all and discard none? Like these…

  1. Jesus in the beginning with the Father. John 1
  2. All things created through Jesus. Colossians 1:16.
  3. Jesus letting go of an equality with God to become a man. Phillipians 2:6.
  4. Jesus and the Father are one. John 10:30, John 17:21.
  5. He who as seen Jesus as seen the Father John 14:9.
  6. To know Jesus is to know the Father Matthew 11:27.

It is hard to see how you can keep these and not come to the conclusion that Jesus is God. Besides… The doctrine of the Trinity already says that Jesus is not the Father and not the same person, so that is two cases where the Bible passage you quote are inapplicable. One simply speaks to the father-son relationship, so it is not convincing either. And the other can be taken in more than one way – focusing on why the man calls Him good and giving the man a choice: if good then He is God, or if He is not God then He would be a sinner rather than good.

Col 1:16 and Philip 2:6 are the passages that tip the scale for me. Besides, as I have said elsewhere this belief that God chose love over power to become a helpless human infant is the very best thing Christianity has going for it.

(Charles Keller) #57

There is a scientific way to think about the Trinity
It involves asking if we can sense the mind if the creator which might show the creator’s essence as seen from creation

Now we know that all things come through quantum mechanics from sub-atomic particles and forces. Everything is made from these. Recognizing this we might be on to something. The way God creates shows us something of God’s essence

In fact there is a trinity-like aspect at the root of quantum things. It is called wave-particle duality. Most sub atomic particles and indeed even light has two aspects. One experiment shows them to be waves but another experiment shows them to be particles. Which you get is determined by what you look for. So in theological terms we can say matter is two persons in one being! Does this sound like the Trinity?
And so God has created out of “his” essence!
Now this doesn’t explain wave particle duality not the Trinity, but it does make it seem that our God is quantum-like

(Mitchell W McKain) #58

No, it sounds more like modalism to me. The doctrine of the Trinity is that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three distinct always existing persons, but only one God. The wave-particle duality is more about the different ways one single thing interacts with other things.

However, I would say that the doctrine of the Trinity is like quantum physics in the way it defies our common sense. In science this way in which quantum physics is telling us something so contrary to what we are inclined to believe is one of the things which tells us most strongly that science is getting at the truth of something outside of ourselves. I am inclined to think of the doctrine of the Trinity in the same way for theology.

(Roger A. Sawtelle) #59

No one is saying that the Son is not the Father.

Jesus does not say that the Father is greater than the Son. He says that He and the Father are One (but not identical or the4 same )

Jesus did not say "Only the Father is Good. He said, “God alone is Good.” If some one calls you good, even if they are a Pharisee, your enemy, one would think that they thought that you were actually good and thus inline with God, and not Satan.

Exactly and that is precisely what the Doctrine of the Trinity says, Three distinct

Persons Who are One God. This does violence to the logic of the philosophers 1. Law of Non-Contradiction, 2. Excluded Middle, and 3. Law of Identity because God is both One and Complex, both Unifie4d and Diverse.

Very good. In this passage the Rich Young Ruler has to take back his use of good or acknowledge that Jesus comes from God.

@cfkellerSVS, you have a very good point except for the last sentence in this quote. Factually you do not get what you look for in quantum physics, although the measurement does affect the observation. This is not the4 same for God either, although you are much more likely to find God if you look for God, as long as you do not put limits on your search

@mitchellmckain, you have a good point also.
This is a duality, not a trinity. There would have to be a third aspect to the quantum particles/waves, something like a mechanism which would determine whether the particle/wave would show up as a particle or wave.

Thus far there is no evidence for this, but there is still much we do not know about the quantum world. I would think that it would be very possible

As you say the quantum world seems to be Relational, as is the rest of the physical universe and rational and spiritual Realities as well.

(Albert Leo) #60

Like so many Christians over the centuries, I puzzled over how these seemingly contrary concepts could be reconciled–especially so if they were to be compatible with what I learned while training as a scientist. But, lo and behold, I did find a way that did satisfy me. So why do I not see this ‘enlightenment’ proposed prominently on this Forum?? Surely I am not the only person to have thought of it. It’s more likely that I am just misguided, and self-delusional–not clear thinking and logical. Let me briefly state my “solution”, and invite any of the contributors to this forum to point out it’s shortcomings. The key to this line of thought is to clearly separate the title, Christ, from the human being, Jesus.

Before creating the Universe and the concept of Time and Space, God wanted it to be free to create something Good on its own–something not completely and directly the result of His power. As far as we can discern, He chose as the creative mechanism, the Big Bang to initiate the Cosmosphere, and later (in a way we still have not discerned) gave it a ‘spark of life’ to initiate the Biosphere, which then continued the creative process thru evolution.

The material Universe that resulted over the course of some 13 billion yrs. was truly amazing in its beauty and variety. BUT, as God was aware prior to the Big Bang, it would lack the Spiritual Dimension that would make it truly Good. We ‘enlightened’ human beings have given that freely-operating redeeming Force, existing from the beginning of Time, the Title: Christ (or Messiah).

As soon as Homo sapiens was endowed with Mind & Conscience and could fulfill the role of ‘humankind’, that gave us the potential of becoming Images of our Creator and co-creators with Him. To some degree we see this in our fellow human beings. But only one human, Jesus, fulfills that potential to an extent that he can truly claim to be Son of God, and reconcile the 6 points listed above.

IMHO, I think it’s just quibbling to argue if Jesus is thus 100% God and 100% Man; or if he thus fulfills the role of Second Person of the Trinity. @mitchellmckain hits the nail on the head when he states:

Jesus, in his role as Christ, asks us to “follow him”. If we can do that, the rest is just icing on the cake.
Al Leo