What is the “Trinity” that Christians talk about?

Jun 05, 2016

From the outset of any discussion of God, his being, and his attributes, there must be the open admission that we cannot possibly fully comprehend the infinite God with our simple and finite minds. Yet, because God has revealed certain things about himself in his Word, we must strive to describe God so as to communicate and understand whom it is that we speak about and believe in. While we cannot fully understand or define God, our best description is nonetheless necessary.

Ultimately, all language is analogical (making analogies) when we speak of God, because created words can't exactly describe or define an uncreated and infinite God.

In a Sense, God Is a Mystery

The central mystery of the Bible is who God is — therefore, to understand meaning, life, etc. we must recourse to mystery.

This is not a dark or bad mystery, but actually a sense-giving, explanation-providing mystery, that still leaves much we won't ever understand. Yet, the option to the mystery is worse — an understanding that may seem more complete but is inaccurate.

John Calvin reminds us how serious this error would be when he begins his Institutes with the striking statement, “Our wisdom, insofar as it ought to be deemed true and solid wisdom, consists almost entirely in two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.” In fact, as Calvin goes on to explain, if we are not accurate in our knowledge of God, we will never be accurate in our knowledge of ourselves. So, when embarking on the delightful, and yet limited, study of God, we must resort to mystery.

However, it is important to understand that mystery is not irrational just because it surpasses our understanding. In fact, in the biblical sense, “mystery” is by definition knowledge that we cannot gain by our own logic, understanding, or investigation and therefore must be divinely revealed to us. Thus, the entire New Testament gospel concerning Jesus Christ is in the Bible described as a “mystery” (Ephesians 3:3-4).

This Mysterious God Has Revealed Himself

We must, then, strive for a systematic, Bible-encompassing description of God. And this will necessarily lead us to Trinitarian considerations.

While the Bible is explicitly monotheistic (Deuteronomy 6:4; Isaiah 43:10; 46:9), even the early and internal communication by God, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” in Genesis 1:26 clearly indicates a plurality and relationship within the godhead.

Thus it becomes immediately clear, as Liam Goligher so well puts it, “There is only one God, but He is not a simple oneness.” Further, though God is spirit (John 4:24), he is a personal being (not an “it”). In Exodus 20:1, 2 for example God uses the personal pronoun for himself, communicating with the Israelites, and expressing to them “I am your God,” and clearly thereby suggesting a relationship.

Though God is one essence, or substance, God exists eternally as a trinity — three persons. It is one thing to distinguish, but another thing to separate. With the persons of the Godhead, we must distinguish but must not separate. That is one of our goals when we speak of God as being one substance.

Seeking to put it as simply as possible, we might say that the Trinity can be biblically described in this way: there is only one God, but in the unity of this one God there are three distinct persons who are coequal and coeternal.

In 1 Peter 1:2 the Father is called God; in Isaiah 9:6, Titus 2:13, 2 Peter 1:1, and John 1:1, 18 Jesus is called God; in Acts 5:3-4 and 1 Corinthians 3:16 the Holy Spirit is called God. In Matthew 3:16-17, Matthew 28:19, and John 14:16-17 we see, though, that they are three separate persons. Meanwhile, even though the heavens cannot contain God, Jesus insists: “Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me...” (John 14:11).

This God Is Incomparable

If the single cell could look at man, he would probably think that, because man is many cells he must be many persons; however, man is many cells and yet only one person. As our existence transcends the existence of a single-celled animal, so too God’s existence excels our existence.

In fact, there is no illustration in all of creation of the Trinitarian nature of God (e.g. water as liquid, vapor, and ice is just modalism, and three drops of water making one drop of water does not keep each distinct); this is because “there is none holy as the Lord” (1 Samuel 2:2), neither is there anything—in heaven or on earth—that can be compared to him (Psalm 89:6). As we consider the truth of the Trinity, we see just how deeply true this statement is!

Recommended Resources: Why is the doctrine of the Trinity essential to the Christian faith?; Our God; The Attributes of God

Resource: Q&A
Categories: Apologetics, Bible Study, God & His Attributes, Names of God

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