What is the Trinity?
The word "trinity" is a term used to denote the Christian doctrine that God exists as a unity of three distinct persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Each of the persons is distinct from the other, yet identical in essence. In other words, each is fully divine in nature, but each is not the totality of the Trinity. Each has a will, loves, and says "I", and "You" when speaking. The Father is not the same person as the Son who is not the same person as the Holy Spirit who is not the same person as the Father. Each is divine, yet there are not three gods, but one God. There are three individual subsistences, or persons. The word "subsistence" means something that has a real existence. The word "person" denotes individuality and self awareness. The Trinity is three of these, though the latter term has become the dominant one used to describe the individual aspects of God known as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Included in the doctrine of the Trinity is a strict monotheism which is the teaching that there exists in all the universe a single being known as God who is self-existent and unchangeable (Isaiah 43:10; 44:6,8). Therefore, it is important to note that the doctrine of the trinity is not polytheistic as some of its critics proclaim. Trinitarianism is monotheistic by definition and those who claim it is polytheistic demonstrate a lack of understanding of what it really is.
- The Trinity
- God is three persons
- Each person is divine
- There is only one God.
Many theologians admit that the term "person" is not a perfect word to describe the three individual aspects/foci found in God. When we normally use the word person, we understand it to mean physical individuals who exist as separate beings from other individuals. But in God there are not three entities, nor three beings. God, is a trinity of persons consisting of one substance and one essence. God is numerically one. Yet, within the single divine essence are three individual subsistences that we call persons.
The word "trinity" is not found in the Bible. But this does not mean that the concept is not taught there. The word "bible" is not found in the Bible either, but we use it anyway. Likewise, the words "omniscience," which means "all knowing," "omnipotence," which means "all powerful," and "omnipresence," which means "present everywhere," are not found in the Bible either. But we use these words to describe the attributes of God. So, to say that the Trinity isn't true because the word isn't in the Bible is an invalid argument.
Is there subordination in the Trinity?There is, apparently, a subordination within the Trinity in regard to order but not substance or essence. We can see that the Father is first, the Son is second, and the Holy Spirit is third. The Father is not begotten, but the Son is (John 3:16). The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father (John 5:26). The Father sent the Son (1 John 4:10). The Son and the Father send the Holy Spirit (John 14:26; 15:26). The Father creates (Isaiah 44:24), the Son redeems (Gal. 3:13), and the Holy Spirit sanctifies (Rom. 15:16).
Is this confusing?Another important point about the Trinity is that it can be a difficult concept to grasp. But this does not necessitate an argument against its validity. On the contrary, the fact that it is difficult is an argument for its truth. The Bible is the self revelation of an infinite God. Therefore, we are bound to encounter concepts which are difficult to understand -- especially when dealing with an incomprehensible God who exists in all places at all times. So, when we view descriptions and attributes of God manifested in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, we discover that a completely comprehensible and understandable explanation of God's essence and nature is not possible. What we have, however, done is derive from the Scripture the truths that we can grasp and combine them into the doctrine we call The Trinity. The Trinity is, to a large extent, a mystery. After all, we are dealing with God Himself.
Baker's Dictionary of Theology, Everett Harrison, ed. Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1960.
Berkhoff's Systematic Theology, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1988.
Grudem, Wayne, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI, 1994.
Hodge's Systematic Theology, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1981.