The mystery of trinity
The Bible is the book given to men to know about God, and it talks very clearly who God is. Thus, the Bible is a theological book. Among the many divisions of theology, the doctrine of trinity is one of the most important as well as disputed one.
Trinity is distinctively the Christian understanding of the nature of God. It is the most enigmatic of all Christian doctrines. This is the most difficult and yet one of the most important doctrines of the Christian faith because not only is it concerned with what God is like in Himself in His very being, but it is also related to other issues like our salvation and the deity of Jesus Christ. When we try to understand the trinity, we are trying to understand the very nature of God. If we understand fully about something then it is not God. No one can fully understand God only to the extent of His revelation given in the scripture. This means that we only see hints and hear rumors of God’s existence and nature from the world around us, but God’s only revelation of Himself gives us deeper insight into His nature and that there is bound to be mystery in our understanding of what God is like.
Christianity has peculiar teaching in relation to God. It does not believe in One simple theism but Trinitarian Theism. Therefore, Christianity is unique among the world religions in its Trinitarian understanding of God. There is no other religion that gives us this kind of special insight into the nature of God. This may be the reason that this doctrine has been widely disputed and has provoked debate throughout the history of the church. This doctrine is attacked as being insufficiently monotheistic and is accused as thritheism (believing in three Gods) by Jews, Muslims and Jehovah witness.
The doctrine of trinity must be distinguished from both thritheism and Sabellianism. Thritheism denies the unity of the essence of God and holds to three distinct Gods. Sabellianism held to a trinity of revelation, but not of nature. It teaches that these are not three distinct persons but three different personalities of one Person.
The term trinity does not occur in the Bible, but it had very early usage in the church. Its Greek form, trias seems to have been first used by Theophilus of Antioch (A.D 181) and its Latin form, tritutas by Tertullian (A.D 220). Since, the term ‘trinity’ is not found in Bible, people often say that this doctrine is invented by the Christians and it is not biblical teaching. Therefore, this article will focus on how the Bible progressively reveals God to us as Trinitarian being.
Scriptural Proof for the Doctrine of Trinity
The Bible never deals with the doctrine of trinity as an abstract truth, rather reveals the Trinitarian life in its various relations as a living reality, to a certain extent in connection with the works of creation and providence, but particularly in relation to the work of redemption. Its most fundamental revelation is a revelation given in which the redemptive work of God is more clearly revealed, as in the incarnation of the Son and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
Trinity in the Old Testament
Many people think that the doctrine of trinity is found only in the New Testament but not in the Old Testament. But it is not true. If God eternally existed as ‘One God in Three Persons’ and revealed Himself progressively then there must be some indication of this in the Old Testament. Unquestionably the O T emphasizes the unity of God. However, there are clear suggestions that there are more than one Person in the Godhead. Therefore, one might say that the O.T contains intimations which allow for the later revelation of the triunity of God.
- The Unity of God
The main emphasis in the O T is on the ‘Oneness’ of God. The celebrated Shema in Deuteronomy 6:4, which became Judaism’s basic confession of faith teaches the unity of God. According to these verses there is only one God and He is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The passages like Exo. 20:3, Deut. 4:35; 32: 29; Isa. 45: 14 and 46:9 insist on
’s loyalty to the one God. Israel
But there are some kinds of plurality indicated in different sections of O. T within the being of this One God. It does not mean that there is more than one God but Oneness of God or unity of God.
- The Plural Words
The first person plural of Genesis 1:26; 3:22 and 11:7 is generally regarded as a clear evidence for the doctrine of trinity in the O.T. It is obvious that the passages in which God speaks of Himself in the plural, Gen. 1:26; 11:7 contain an indication of personal distinctions in God, though even these do not point to a trinity but only to a plurality of Persons. Some try to explain it as a plural of majesty. But this does not carry much weight because in the O. T Hebrew there are no other examples of such use of the first person plural by a monarch. Some others teach that God probably was speaking to the angels. But this cannot be true because Bible never says that angels participated in the creation of man. Moreover, man is not created in the image of angels but in the image of God (Gen. 1:27).
- The Angel of Yahweh
Bible says angels are the creation of God and they are inferior to Him. Therefore, they are His servants subjected to carry out His will. Nevertheless, this is not true with the Angel of the Lord referred in the O.T. He is clearly in some sense a separate person from God, sometimes that angel is referred to as God, yet distinguished from Him (Gen. 16:7-13; 18: 1-21; 19: 1-28, Mal. 3:1). This point to personal distinctions within the Godhead. Since the angel is called God, He could hardly be only a prophet.
- Distinction of Persons
Some passages apparently distinguish Persons within the God head. (1) The Lord is distinguished from the Lord ( Gen. 19:24; Hos. 1:7). (2) The redeemer is distinguished from the Lord (Isa. 59: 20). (3) The Spirit is distinguished from the Lord (Isa. 48: 16; 59: 21; 63: 9-10). This distinction indicated that there are different persons in the Godhead.
- Personification of Wisdom
Wisdom is personified in some of the O.T passages like Prov. 8:12-31 and Psa. 33:4. In Proverbs 8 the write invites men to receive instructions from her. From verses 22 onwards the write says about ‘wisdom’ that seem to go far beyond mere personification for literary effect. In this section the relationship of wisdom to God is expounded and the impression is created that this is a relationship between two persons. Apostle Paul spoke to Christ as the wisdom of God (1Cor. 1;24, 30; Col. 2:3). So wisdom here seems to really refer to the Son of God before His incarnation.
Trinity in the New Testament
Though the New Testament contains no explicit statement on the doctrine of the trinity of God, it does contain a great deal of evidence. That evidence lies along tow paths: one insists that there is only One true God and the other presents a Man Jesus and the Holy Spirit who both claim to be God. To emphasize the oneness while disregarding the threeness ends in Unitarianism. To emphasize the threeness while disregarding the oneness leads to thritheism. To accept both leads to doctrine of the triunity of God.
- The Evidence for Oneness
Like the O.T the N. T also emphasizes that there is only One God (Matt. 23:9, Mk. 10:18; 12:29; Jn. 5:44; 17:3; Rom. 3:30; Gal. 3:20; Eph. 4:6, 1Tim. 1:17; 2:5;
2:19; 4:12; Jude 25). N. T teaches that they are three and different divine Persons but One in Essence (Jn. 10:30; 17:11). The neuter gender word ‘one’ indicates that they are One in Substance. Jam.
- Evidence for Threeness
New Testament insists that the Father is God (Jn. 6:27; 1Pet. 1:2), also in the same way Christ referred as God in the N.T. He possesses the attributes which only God possesses. Like, omniscience (Matt. 9:4), omnipotence (Matt. 28:18), and omnipresence (Matt. 28:20). He does the things which only God can do, like forgiving sins (Mk. 2:1-12), and raising the dead (Jn. 11: 36) further, the N.T assigns other works which only God can perform to Christ, like upholding the things (Col. 1;17), creation (Jn. 1:3) and future judgments (Jn. 5:27). Holy Spirit is recognized as God. The term ‘Spirit’ (Greek Pneuma) is neuter gender in Greek, but surprisingly there are places where the masculine pronoun ‘he’ (Gk. Ekeinos) rather than the neuter pronoun ekeirzo is applied to the Holy Spirit (Acts 14:26; 15: 26; 16:13-14). And throughout the Bible we see explicit teaching that Holy Spirit is a different person and recognized as God (Acts 5:3-4). He possesses attributes which only God has, like omniscience (1Cor. 2:10) and omnipresence (1Cor. 6:19), and He regenerates people (Jn. 3:5-6,8), which is an exclusive work of God.
There are at least nine places in the N.T where all the three persons of the trinity are named together, they are (1Cor. 12: 4-6; 2Cor. 13:14; Eph. 4:4-6; 1Pet. 1:2; Jude 20-21). The three persons manifested together at the baptism of Jesus Christ in Matthew 3:16-17, which is a clear evidence for the trinity. If it is One person with three personalities (which is Sabellinism) as it is impossible to demonstrate three personalities at a time. Therefore, it is not three personalities but three Persons. Also we read in Matthew 28: 19, Jesus is telling His disciples to baptize the people in the name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. The occurrence of three names for one purpose indicates that they are recognized as three divine Persons but there are not three Gods but One.
Therefore, God is unity of essence with plurality of Persons. This means that the divine essence is not divided among the three Persons, but is wholly with all its perfection in each One of the Persons. Therefore, the very term ‘Trinity’ means that, in the Godhead there are three Persons co-equal and co-eternal, One in Substance and three in Subsistence.