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Mountains Reflecting on Water

The Trinity

The doctrine of the Trinity is one of the primary tenants of the Christian faith.  It is not important merely for the sake of tradition, or because the word itself is taught in the Bible (the word is not).  However, Christians through the ages believe in the Trinity because the truths it represents are taught in the Bible.

The Trinity is established by 3 Biblical truths

1. There is one God.

We believe in only one true God in all existence, in all places, at all times.  The word “God” in this sense is defined as a single being, having all divine attributes. These attributes are: omnipotence (all-powerful), omniscience (all-knowing), and omnipresence (exists in all places).

2. There are 3 persons who exist as one being, that is one God.

Notice the distinction between persons and being. We define a person as one having a will and who is distinguishable from another person. A person distinguishes himself from others by saying “me, mine, you, yours, etc.”  A being is the whole nature or essence of something.  Therefore, in this context, God is the “what” and the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are the “who”.

The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are each called Jehovah (or Spirit of Jehovah), given divine attributes, and are distinguished from one another.

The Father – Matthew 27:45-46 (usually there is no argument that the Father is not God, since every place Jesus speaks to God, he is addressing the Father.)

The Son – Phil. 2:5-6; Col. 1:15-17, 2:9; Heb. 1:8-12; 1 Pet. 3:15; John 17:1-4

The Holy Spirit – Acts 5:3-4; John 14:16-17, 26; John 16:7-13

3. These 3 persons are each fully God and eternally existing.

None of the 3 are “less divine” than the others. They all exist as fully God, with none of them lacking in any attribute or aspect that defines God. This description that all persons are fully God is called the “Ontological Trinity”. Ontological means the ‘nature’ or ‘essence’ of something.  Therefore, we would rightly say, within the Ontological Trinity, there is no variation or distinction made. In other words, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have a unique and unbreakable unity, and their existence together is the being that is God.

In contrast to the Ontological Trinity, there is the Economic Trinity.  The term “Economic” refers to the roles, functions, and relationships that exist within the Trinity.  The Bible reveals that each person of the Trinity has unique roles, relationships, and functions which are distinct from one another.  These things are referred to as the Economic Trinity. Examples of these different roles would be:

The Incarnation: Only the Son became incarnate, took on flesh.

Sending of another: The Father sends the Son, and both the Father and Son send the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit and Son do not send the Father.

Intercession: The Son intercedes as our High Priest before the Father.  The Holy Spirit prays for us. The Father hears their intercessory prayers.

Conclusion

Believing in the above 3 points leads all Christians to acceptance of the doctrine of the Trinity. When you encounter a person or group who denies the Trinity, it is merely a matter of walking through these 3 points, to see where they diverge from Biblical teaching.

Analogies for the Trinity

In an attempt to explain the Trinity, there are some bad examples people use, and some better ones.  Because God is utterly unique, all comparisons will fail at some point. If you need to use an analogy, then use a good one.  But remember, it is much better to let Scripture teach the 3 points above which establish the doctrine of the Trinity than to rely on analogies.

Bad Analogies for the Trinity

The Egg Analogy – God is like an egg.  The Holy Spirit is the shell, Jesus is the egg white, and the Father is the egg yolk.  They are three in one egg. This is a bad analogy because it fails at the truth that all three persons comprise the fullness of God.  God is not made up of 3 ‘parts’ like the 3 parts of the egg.

Water Analogy – God is like water, or H2O, which can exist in 3 forms. Water can be frozen and is called ice.  It can also be a liquid and called water. Or water can be evaporated and called steam. It is still H20, but just different forms. This is a worse analogy than the egg because it is more analogous to the heretical doctrine of Modalism/Oneness than for the Trinity. This is because the H20 is changing forms in representing each person. It is not existing as 3 different parts (persons) at the same time.

Relationship Analogy (Husband/Son/Father) – God is like a person with different relationships just as a man can be a Dad, but also someone’s Son, and also someone’s Husband. So God performs 3 different roles/relationships but 1 God. This is just as bad as the Water analogy and leads to the same error.  It does not represent 3 persons existing simultaneously. It only has 1 person acting in three different roles. The very definition of the heresy known as Modalism/Oneness is that there is one person existing in three different modes or manifestations.

All of the above Bad Analogies would perhaps do more harm than good if used in explaining the Trinity.

Better Analogies for the Trinity

Time Analogy – God is like time. Time exists as 3 things: past, present, and future.  The past is not the present and the present is not the future, yet all three together is what we call time.

Space Analogy – God is like space. Space consists of three things: height, width, and depth.  Depth isn’t the same thing as height and height isn’t the same thing as width, yet all three together are what comprise space.

1 What and 3 Who’s

When discussing God, especially in regards to his nature, being and persons, a simple statement to articulate the Trinity is:  God is 1 what and 3 who’s*. This is a quick way to describe the doctrine of the Trinity — namely, God is 1 being (the what is God’s nature, essence, being) and 3 who’s (the who’s being Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). However, keep in mind that the one being who is God is a personal being. This means there is a sense in which all 3 persons may act or speak as one.

Trinity Verses

Below is a compilation of the verses that reference all 3 persons of the one God.  This is not an exhaustive list:

  • Matt. 28:19, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,”
  • 1 Cor. 12:4-6, “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit.  5And there are varieties of ministries and the same Lord. 6And there are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons.”
  • 2 Cor. 13:14, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.”
  • Eph. 4:4-7, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.  7But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift.”
  • 1 Pet. 1:2, “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, that you may obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood: May grace and peace be yours in fullest measure.”
  • Jude 20-21, “But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith; praying in the Holy Spirit; 21keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life.”
  • Eph 2:18,22 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father., 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.
  • John 14:16;26, “16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”

Further Reading

For further reading on the Trinity, I would recommend James White’s The Forgotten Trinity, Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology and online articles by CARM.org.

Lastly, below is a helpful graphical chart explaining the doctrine of the Trinity I found  from the Christian blog by Tim Challies found at Challies.com