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Part Two: A Brief Explanation of the Trinity Doctrine

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When discussing, teaching, or explaining a topic so critical to our faith, it is important that we first define terms that will be used frequently throughout the discourse. The doctrine of the Trinity has many terms that, I believe, are often misunderstood, misrepresented, or are simply confusing among Christians and non-Christians, and this is a lot to do with why many non-Christians fail to have a proper understanding of this doctrine according to its understanding in church history. For the sake of this writing and my attempt to represent this doctrine faithfully, I will offer here a brief glossary of terms that will be used throughout the remainder of this series.

  • God – the central deity of the Bible as revealed to Moses in the Tanakh by the proper name יהוה‎ (YHWH; Yahweh); referred to commonly within the Tanakh by multiple Hebrew terms, notably אֱלֹהִים‎ (elohim; God) and אֲדֹנָי‎ (adonai; My Lord(s)). Referred to commonly with the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Tanakh) as κύριος (kurios; Lord; used in place of the divine name יהוה‎ and in general usages) and θεός (theos; God).
  • Being – the substance of God; it is that which makes him “God.” God’s being is eternal, omnipresent, omniscient, unique. Contrary to humans, God’s being is not limited by time, space, or knowledge; God’s being is that he is infinite (unlimited) while his creation (us, the universe) is, by nature, finite (limited).
  • Person – that which makes someone (in this case, God) who he is. When used alongside the term being in reference to God, the term person dictates the revelation of God’s personal character.

I will be borrowing from Dr. James White’s division of the doctrine of the Trinity into three foundations, as expressed in his The Forgotten Trinity, as I continue to explain this doctrine using the aforementioned terms. Please refer to this brief glossary if you become confused as to what I am trying to communicate.

Foundation One: Monotheism – the Belief that There Is Only One God

Monotheism is what separated ancient Israel from their surrounding neighbors in the Ancient Near East. Every surrounding tribe and nation in the ANE were a form of polytheists (many gods), pantheists (everything is god), henotheism (many gods with one most powerful god), or a mixture of the three. Monotheism asserts that there exists one single god and that no other deities exist above, beside, or below him/her.

As Trinitarians, we believe in the existence of one single deity, namely יהוה‎ (YHWH; Yahweh) as expressed in the text of the Bible. The authors of both the OT and the NT, as well as Jesus himself, affirm that biblical faith is necessary monotheism, and trinitarians do not deviate from this. Though many opponents of the doctrine of the Trinity make the claim that we (trinitarians) are polytheists (more accurately, tritheists), that is not the case when considering how we define the terms above. We believe that God is one being and that his being is shared by three divine, equal, eternal persons; I will explain this further in foundation two.

As I stated in part one of this series, I believe that God has chosen to reveal this doctrine to us through his word, thus making this a biblical doctrine. How I believe he has revealed this foundation of the doctrine through the Bible can be found in classical passages of the text, from both the OT and the NT. The Shema (Deut 6:4-9) is the classical call to monotheism found within the Bible and is the foundational assertion of who God is and who he expects his people to be.

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”
(Deuteronomy 6:4-5 ESV)

Jesus quoted verse 5 of the Shema in Matthew 22:37 when asked which of the commandments in the Law was the greatest; he followed up by quoting Leviticus 19:18, claiming it was the second greatest commandment (to love your neighbor as yourself). Jesus’ callback to the Shema confirms that the gutter between the two testaments did nothing to change the principle of necessary monotheism as expressed in the Tanakh. Besides Jesus, we have numerous NT authors echoing the call to monotheism (see 1 Timothy 2:5, Romans 3:30, 1 Corinthians 8:6, James 2:19).

Again, I must stress the necessity of monotheism in the doctrine of the Trinity. When one denies this pillar, we find them in places such as the Mormons, for they believe that there are many gods and that YHWH and Jesus were merely two of the total number of existing deities, and that is not an accurate reflection of this doctrine. Rather, trinitarians confirm the existence of YHWH alone existing as one being in three separate persons, which brings us to foundation two.

Foundation Two: There Are Three Divine Persons

I have found that this foundation is the central location of the most misrepresented, misunderstood, and miscommunicated part of the doctrine of the Trinity. As we learned in foundation one, trinitarians confirm monotheism, but we then have a contradicting foundation one and foundation two unless we define the term person as I have in the introduction of this article. By defining person as that which makes someone who he is rather than what he is, we can reconcile the idea of a single God existing in three respective persons.

I would first like to begin by addressing a common misunderstanding of the personhood of God. Most laypeople within the church today who claim to be trinitarians actually are modalists. Modalism is a Christian hersey (deemed so in the 4th century by the church) that, on the surface, seems to be what we mean by trinitarianism; but rather, modalism is a form of monarchianism, which claims that God operates in the “modes” or “manifestations” of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Modalism says that God can switch modes of expression of himself; they would say that God has shown himself in the mode of the one God of Israel in the OT but now as the suffering servant Son of the NT. The problem with this is that there then exists one being and person expressing itself in various ways and that is not what the Bible teaches concerning the nature of God. People who use the analogy of H20 being able to exist in three different states of matter (solid, liquid, gas) are actually promoting modalism rather than trinitarianism.

Trinitarianism says, rather, that YHWH is one being, just as I am one being, but that his being is unique in nature, existing in three divine, equal, eternal persons which are completely independent of each other yet of the same being. I will not attempt to offer an analogy for his personhood because analogies appeal to the created, and being that God’s personhood is a completely unique personhood, no appeal to the created can sufficiently represent his being. However, we can see throughout the text of the New Testament that each person of the triune nature of God is represented as having the same being while sometimes having different roles in the redemption process.

The redemption process required that the Father send the Son to die for the sins of mankind, later also giving the Spirit to dwell within the hearts of the faithful. Likewise, the Father, as per John 14, has a “greater” role in the redemption process, because he sent the Son, than the Son does, but this does not mean that the persons are not equal.

You heard me say to you, I am going away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.
(john 14:28 ESV)

The Jehovah’s Witnesses will be quick to say here that this is clear proof that Jesus is therefore not divine because the Father is God and Jesus is not God. However, in the context of this passage, we can see that Jesus is not speaking of his personhood, but rather concerning his role in the process. Jesus temporarily emptied himself of his glorification which he shared with God prior to the creation of the world (John 17:5) and became lower than the angels (Hebrews 2:7). His appeal here, and John’s as the author, is that the Son is, at this point in history, lower in regards to glorification than the Father currently exists. If we were to say that this passage is an indicator of the personhood of the Son being inferior to the Father, we would be ignoring the remaining entirety of John’s gospel, as the entire point of his writing was to show how the eternal, all-powerful Logos of John 1 became flesh (John 1:14) and revealed to us who God is in human form (John 14:9).

Though I do believe that this foundation is the foundation on which most people misunderstand the doctrine of the Trinity, I do believe that an understanding of it, as expressed here in this section, displays a biblical reconciliation between the seemingly contradictory claims that the doctrine of the trinity affirms the existence of one God – one being – who exists as three unique persons.

Foundation Three: The Persons Are Co-Equal and Co-Eternal

This foundation has already been covered slightly in the concluding paragraphs of the previous section, but I would like to use this section to take a closer look at some particular verses within the New Testament which show clearly that each person of the Trinity is co-equal and co-eternal beginning with the prologue of the Gospel of John.

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.
(John 1:1-3 ESV)

John opens verse 1 with a recalling of Genesis 1:1, but it relates here not to the act of creation, but to what existed prior to the creation, namely the Logos – the philosophical concept of reason in regards to God’s existence; John first appeals here to the preexistence of the Logos and then explains its role in the act of creation in verse three. The contemporary reader, having already read Genesis 1, would expect to read, “In the beginning…God,” but rather than God being the focus of John 1, the Logos is. We can then conclude that John is first claiming that the Logos existed prior to the creation events of Genesis 1, necessitating that the Son is divine in nature and eternally preexistent.

Further in verse 1, we see John explain that the Logos was in the presence of God, literally “with the God.” John sets the foundation here with the claim that everything that Jews believe that God did in the creation of the universe was done alongside the Logos – the person of the Son – not apart from it. He explains further in verse 3 that during the creation events, all things were created through the Logos rather than apart from the Logos. This, then, necessitates that the Son is the creator God YHWH spoken of in Genesis 1, proving that he is not only preexistent but also omnipotent (all-powerful). 

We are now faced with a dilemma; we are either to deny monotheism, thus setting aside foundation one, or to recognize that the being God existed and exists eternally as separate persons. We are forced, as I opened this series in saying, into the doctrine of the Trinity; God has revealed himself and his nature to the world through his word that he is completely unique in that though he is of one being, he exists eternally as three persons, and one of those three persons – the Son, the Logos – was made into the God-Man and dwelt among his people, fully revealing the mystery of the Messiah by the Spirit (Eph 3:1-6).

Evidence also exists within the text that the Spirit – the third person of the Trinity – is also of the same being. In what I believe is the best example of the explicit stating of the Spirit’s being, we see Peter condemn Ananias for lying to the Spirit.

But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land?  While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.”
(Acts 5:3-4 ESV)

Here we have Peter condemning Ananias for lying about his keeping of some of the proceeds of the church. He expresses clearly that Ananias has lied to the person of the Spirit, but then repeats himself in verse 5 by claiming that Ananias lied not to men, but to God. Notice that Peter does not say that Ananias lied to the person of the Father, but to the person of the Spirit and to God – of whom the Spirit is the third person. Many people fail to see this assertion of Trinitarianism because they have a misunderstanding of what I have spent time trying to reconcile here; they are ignorantly modalists, being that they believe that the Father is the Son is the Spirit, but that is not the case as we have seen today. Rather, The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Spirit is God, so lying to any one of the persons of the Trinity means you have lied to God, but not that you have lied to one of the other persons. I could continue to give examples on the distinction between the persons of the Trinity but I will leave that for the coming parts of this series where I address each person and their confirmations of divine being individually. 


Though a work of this length could never match an explanation of the doctrine of the Trinity as well as works like White’s The Forgotten Trinity, I do believe I have been exhausting in my attempt to address and correct some misunderstandings and misconceptions of the doctrine, and that is a sufficient goal for me as someone still working to become a scholar himself. I hope that with an understanding of the terms I defined so early on in this article, you now have a better grasp of what I mean when I say that I am a Trinitarian and better understand the gravity and necessity of holding to such a biblical doctrine.

I hope you continue this journey with me as we now begin to examine the divine nature of each person of the Trinity and how a better understanding of their nature can we learn to know more our God.

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