Through the past couple of months, I have encountered several people who disapprove of the notion of the Trinity. I have also found that not a single one of these people has an accurate perspective as to what the Trinity is. Thus, I felt it necessary to formulate the doctrine in my head. This represents my effort to do so. Additionally this is to serve to help other people who have trouble putting the Trinity into words. Lastly, this is also something to hand to someone else if you want to explain it to them.
So this post will be divided into two categories: Definition and importance.
This, the definition section, is not an attempt to explain the full doctrine of the Trinity with all of its nuances of language and theological implications. Instead, I state here only what is necessary for the common believer to understand and verify as a foundation of faith. Because of this, I intentionally do not use the common theological jargon, as correct as it may be. I instead use terms with less connotation to them, so I can build concepts without the need of breaking others. Example: I will use the term persona here instead of person. This is not because persona is more correct, for it isn't, but because a homonym of person which is used in the vernacular has the implication of separate being which is incorrect. Therefore, I will use persona, and add concepts which the term lacks in definition.
First and foremost, the Trinity is an attempt to describe the anatomy of God. This undertaking alone is difficult, but nonetheless, that is the attempt. There are three aspects of God in the Scripture that seem a bit confusing without the Trinity. They are Monotheism, the deity of Christ, and the clear differentiation of the Father and Son. So, if the Father is God, and the Son is God, and they are different, but there is one God, what can we conclude? Simple, that the Father and the Son are different ways at looking at the same entity.
The Trinity goes on and says that God, Yahweh, is one entity, but has three different personas: Father, Son (Yeshua the Christ), and the Holy Spirit: Yahweh is the name of God in entirety, while Yeshua or Jesus is the name of one person of God: the Son. The Trinity means literally Tri-unity, a word that the church fathers made up. Thus the adjective form is Triune (literally three-one). This is divergent from the Triad, which is a collection of three deities (tritheism) which is heretical.
Now, in the sense of entity or essence, it is meant that there is only one God; all the personas of the Trinity are completely intact and united in a substantial way. By persona, we mean that there is a substantial differentiation between Father, Son, and Spirit. This difference is characterized by the possession of independent thought and action, but not independent being.
They are one entity, one substance. There is no absolute division among them.
As an analogy, just like God is Father, Son, Holy Spirit, a human is mind, body, soul. This is called the human Trinity. Many correlations have been made between these two Trinities, the most common being: Father=mind, Son=body, Holy Spirit=spirit. This correlation though is very simplistic, but does sort of get the idea across. However, it is important to remember that this is an analogy. Though this is a perfect example of a Trinity, it is a much different kind of Trinity than God's.
A second analogy is that of a lamp with three light bulbs. There are three sources of light, but there is one lamp, and the action of all three bulbs merge as one light. There is no division of being, purpose, or achievement, yet all three add to the one light.
Now, the Nicene Counsel defined the Trinity in reference to what it isn't, thus it is accurate to say that orthodoxy was formed as a response to heresy. So, for proper understanding, it behooves one to know the common non-trinity explanations:
- Tritheism: This is the most common confusion with the Trinity. Tritheism is polytheistic. It is the belief that there are three gods, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. A variation of this is held by the Church of Latter Day Saints Mormons).
- Monarchianism/Patripassism:This is the other common confusion with the Trinity. It is a denial of the separation within God. Modelism is a unique form of it saying that God was first the Father, then the Son, and then the Holy Spirit, but never simultaneously. Another form is Adoptionism/ Sabellianism, where the spirit of God came down on Christ at the baptism, and before that, he was completely human.
- Gnosticism:Actually a collection of various Greek based religions, only some of which incorporated Christian thought. Of these, we shall refer to as Christo-gnostic (I am making this word up by the way). Again, there are a collection of these, but all state that the creator of the universe is evil, and not truly God. Thus this is a denial of the Creator-God. (As a side note, The Matrix movies were not based on Christianity, but these Christo-gnostic religions)
- Arianism: This is the denial of the divinity of Christ. This is what is held by the Jehovah Witnesses, though it is a more developed understanding of it.
- Ebionism: basically a combination of Adoptionism and Arianism. Basically it was stated that Christ was 100% human, and that the Holy Spirit was just really really strong in him.
- Macedonism: Not really present any more. This is the denial of the divinity of the Holy Spirit.
The Trinity, therefore, is best understood by saying that Jesus, the Father, and the Holy Spirit are God, and Patripassism and Tritheism are wrong. Whatever you're left with will be some form of the Trinity. That is how the Trinity got defined, they took these concepts that I listed, and put the one concept that remained into words, and named it Trinity.
Ok, this is the end of the definition section. To show that there is a change, I will have a string of hyphens. Enjoy:
The importance of the Trinity falls on the reasons why the other doctrines are discredited. Number one is the Scriptural evidence. However, even those discrediting the Trinity will claim that Scripture is on their side. The second reason is the implications of the rejections towards salvation, or another essential doctrine. Therefore, let us look at each aspect one by one:
- Monotheism: Monotheism is probably one of the most precious doctrines of all the Hebraic faiths. Any attempt to contradict it will result in diminishing His glory. This is because encapsulated within the doctrine is that He is the Supreme authority, the Ultimate Being, that nothing even comes close to who He is. If there is more than one, the God shares His glory with others, meaning that one can appeal to them if they don’t like how God is doing things.
Furthermore, it means that His word is not the end all and be all. This is because if there are other entities other than God, than they must be different. If they are different, that means that they do not always agree. If they do not always agree, than at some points one is right, and the other wrong. To claim that God can at times be wrong, is a very bad thing.
- The Deity of the Father: This is in refutation of Gnosticism. By Father, here, I mean the creator of all things. If the creator isn't God, but is rather an agent of God, then what good is God? Without God as our creator, what good is our loyalty to Him? It is in knowledge of creation that we derive purpose, and worth. It is in knowledge that we were created by His very hands that we come to understand and appreciate His love for us. If someone else created us, then why would the Father care to redeem us?
- The Deity of Christ: Only God has the ability to defeat sin. Any creature has the power to defeat one sin. If the creature is not perfect, then it can only atone for one of it’s own sin, thereby not being a sacrifice at all, for it died anyway. Even the most perfect man can only defeat a single sin. ONLY an infinite being can atone for all sin. Therefore, if Christ was not divine, he could only defeat a single sin.
Jehovah Witnesses agree (I got this from an ex-Jehovah Witness, but I am open for correction here), and say that Christ atoned for Original Sin alone since they believe him to be a mere angel, a created being. Beyond that, one must earn their salvation. Therefore, without the deity of Christ, salvation comes from works. However, this is problematic. Upon the acceptance of the sacrifice, one would be cleansed of Original sin, and thus the innate desire to sin. But, one would still be surrounded by humanity, which stays in sin. Additionally all past sins would still not be atoned for. So, in order for one to be sinless, one must accept the sacrifice in isolation from man. But, the knowledge of the sacrifice was given to man. Therefore, in order to know of the sacrifice, and thereby be cleansed of original sin, one must be in contact with man. So in isolation of man, one is possessed of Original Sin, and with man, one is seduced into sin, therefore, all are still dead in sin, and the sacrifice is in vain.
There is a second reason for the importance of the Deity of Christ. This isn't as important as the one above, but it is significant. If Christ wasn't God, then God did not save us from our sins, but sent someone else to do it for Him. This is a bit more of a subtlety, but it is a far stronger statement of love that God was willing to humble Himself, in the form of a man, to deal with a people so vile as to spit on His name and deny His very existence, and then, through an act of rejection, take on all of the consequences, and pain, and suffering, and defilement that comes through our wickedness, wrestle with it to the point of its defeat, and then declare Himself to us to be ignored again by many, simply on the grounds that He loves us. I know this, God loves me.
- The Humanity of Christ: Well, the primary reason has to do with the objective of Christ's mission. His intent was to cleanse mankind by first being a clean and honest man, and then, being pure, cleanse that which He is. If Christ wasn't man, then Christ couldn't heal man, because there is no purity in the parts. It wasn't' just individual man that had to be cleansed, but that which was essentially human! To do that, He must be a pure human in every sense of the word.
Furthermore, The wages of sin is death, therefore the only cure to sin is death. Therefore, in order for a sacrifice to be viable, it must be able to die. God cant die! A man can!
Therefore, Christ had to be fully man in order to truly die!Analogy: There was a great warrior who we shall call Josh. He had an apprentice, who we shall call Luke. Josh was greater than Luke in all ways, and out of jealousy, Luke rebelled, and was banished. Now there was also a town called Heere, that never allowed anyone to enter unless they are a citizen of Heere. Luke tricked a guard named Adam, who he subsequently killed, and then started running around Heere killing everyone he could. Now, only Josh had the skill to defeat Luke, but not being a citizen of Heere, could not enter the town. Therefore, he had to become a citizen first, and then he could enter, and defeat Luke.
The point, only God had the ability to defeat sin and death, but only a human could gain access to it, for God cannot stand the presence of sin, and only a human can die.
- The Deity of the Holy Spirit: This is similar to the reason stated above. If the Holy Spirit is not God, than it is not God who meets with us when we worship, then it is not God who guides us in our actions, and it is not God who displayed the powers of God through the disciples. This, then, means that we are guided by a lesser being. The effect of believing this is simply that God is unwilling or unable to deal with us directly, and needs gofer. If God is unwilling to deal with us directly, then what was the point of the Passion? If God is unable to deal with us, then what happened at the Passion? For the Passion eradicated sin, that we be in fellowship with Him. Therefore, the Passion shows that He is willing, and the Passion means that He is able.
- The differentiation within God: This is most easily seen when examining the term Patripassism. The prefix Patri means father, the root pass is the same root as the word passion. Though Monarchianism and Patripassism have the exact same meaning, Monarchianism refers to how it is good (there being one ruler, thus emphasizing Monotheism), while Patripassism refers to why it is bad (that the Father endured the Passion). For those of you who don’t know what I mean by the Passion need to look up recent Mel Gibson movies.
The basic problem with this is soteriological (that which pertains to salvation), as all things that pertain to the Passion are. The Passion is a sacrifice, and all sacrifices are offered from one who is humble to one who is exalted, signifying humiliation before the exalted one. Therefore, there are three elements to all sacrifices: a giver, a sacrifice, a receiver. In the Passion, humanity was the giver, Christ was the sacrifice, and the Father was the receiver. This is not to say that Christ and the Father are different Gods, but to say that Christ is the part of God that was offered up, and the Father was the part of God that received it. To unify all three, though the giver can remain separate, you combine the sacrifice and the receiver. Thus the sacrifice receives the sacrifice. This does not make any sense. The sacrifice receiving the sacrifice is like paying yourself, nothing really happens. Thus to say that the Father endured the Passion, is to say that the Father was offered to the Father, meaning that debt was not paid, thereby saying that the Passion is void, and we remain in our sin.