Monday, September 19, 2011

Lecture Notes on the Trinity

Introduction to the Doctrine of the Trinity

Trinity: The union of three divine persons (or hypostases, being or person, as opposed to ousia, essence), the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in one divinity, so that all the three are one God as to substance, but three Persons (or hypostases as to individuality).

Person: In speaking of the Triunity, the term “person” is not used in same way it is in ordinary usage in which it means an identity completely distinct from other persons. According to the teaching of Scripture, the three Persons are inseparable, interdependent, and eternally united in one Divine Being.

Essence: In its theological usage, essence refers to “the intrinsic or indispensable, permanent, and inseparable qualities that characterize or identify the being of God.”

The doctrine of the trinity states that there is one God who is one in essence or substance, but three in personality. This does not mean three independent Gods existing as one, but three Persons who are co-equal, co-eternal, inseparable, interdependent, and eternally united in one absolute Divine Essence and Being.

Ancient Diagram of the Holy Trinity

Recognizable and Important Distinctions

In the relationship between the Persons there are recognizable distinctions.

a. Unity in diversity

b. Equality in dignity (Ephesians 3:15; John 5:18).

c. Diversity in operation (John 16:14).

Errors to Avoid Concerning the Trinity

Tri-theism: three Gods associated

Modalism: three manifestations of one God.

Arianism: The Son is subordinate to the Father; the Son the first created. In Arianism, the role of the Spirit is unclear, most likely a metaphor for the action of God.

Biblical Support for the Trinity

Scriptures on the Oneness of God

Old Testament

(1) Deuteronomy 6:4 “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one!”

(2) Deuteronomy 4:35 “To you it was shown that you might know that the LORD, He is God; there is no other besides Him.”

(3) Isaiah 46:9 “Remember the former things long past, For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me.”

(4) Isaiah 43:10 “You are My witnesses,” declares the LORD, “And My servant whom I have chosen, In order that you may know and believe Me, And understand that I am He. Before Me there was no God formed, And there will be none after Me.”

New Testament

(5) 1 Corinthians 8:4-6 “Therefore concerning the eating of things sacrificed to idols, we know that there is no such thing as an idol in the world, and that there is no God but one. For even if there are so-called gods whether in heaven or on earth, as indeed there are many gods and many lords, yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things, and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him.”

(6) Ephesians 4:4-6 “There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.”

(7) James 2:19 “You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.”

Scriptures Demonstrating God, Who is One, is Also Three

Old Testament

(1) The name Elohim, translated God, is the plural form of El. While this is what is called a plural of plenitude pointing to the power and majesty of God, it certainly allows for the New Testament revelation of the Triunity of God.

(2) There are many instances where God uses the plural pronoun to describe Himself (see Genesis 1:26; 3:22; 11:7; Isaiah 6:8).

(3) In the creation account, both God the Father and God the Holy Spirit are seen in the work of creation. It is stated that God created heaven and earth (Genesis 1:1), but that it was the Holy Spirit who moved over the earth to infuse it with life in the sense of protecting and participating in the work of creation (Genesis 1:2).

(4) Writing about the Messiah, Isaiah reveals Him to be equal with God, calling Him the “Mighty God” and “Eternal Father” (Isaiah 9:6).

(5) Several passages reveal a distinction of Persons within the Godhead.

· In Psalm 110:1, David demonstrates there is a distinction of Persons between “LORD,” the one speaking, and the one addressed called by David, “my Lord.” Cf. Psalm 2:7-12.

· The Redeemer (who must be divine, Isaiah 7:14; 9:6) is distinguished from the Lord (Isaiah 59:20).

· The Spirit is distinguished from the Lord in a number of passages (Isaiah 48:16; 59:21; 63:9-10).

(6) In the Messianic prophecy of Isaiah 7:14, God made it clear that the One who would be born of the virgin would also be Immanuel, God with us.

(7) Two other passages which imply the Trinity are Isaiah 48:16 and 61:1. In Isaiah 48:16 all three Persons are mentioned and yet seen as distinct from each other. See also Gen. 22:15-16.

New Testament

(1) The Father is called God (John 6:27; 20:17; 1 Corinthians 8:6; Galatians 1:1; Ephesians 4:6; Philippians 2:11; 1 Peter 1:2).

(2) Jesus Christ, the Son is declared to be God. His deity is proven by the divine names given to Him, by His works that only God could do (upholding all things, Colossians 1:17; creation, Colossians 1:16, John 1:3; and future judgment, John 5:27), by His divine attributes (eternality, John 17:5; omnipresence, Matthew 28:20; omnipotence, Hebrews 1:3; omniscience, Matthew 9:4), and by explicit statements declaring His deity (John 1:1; 20:28; Titus 2:13; Hebrews 1:8).

(3) The Holy Spirit is recognized as God. By comparing Peter’s comments in Acts 5:3 and 4, we see that in lying to the Holy Spirit (vs. 3), Ananias was lying to God (vs. 4). He has the attributes which only God can possess like omniscience (1 Corinthians 2:10) and omnipresence (1 Corinthians 6:19), and He regenerates people to new life (John 3:5-6, 8; Titus 3:5), which must of necessity be a work of God for only God has the power of life. Finally, His deity is evident by the divine names used for the Spirit as “the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11).

Difficulties With the Trinity Considered and Answered

The Meaning of Monogenes

This word appears in Luke 7:12, 8:42, 9:38; John 1:14, 1:18, 3:16; Hebrew 11:17 and 1 John 4:9.

There has been a “swing” in our understanding of this term in the last generation, from “only begotten” to “one and only” or “unique.” Etymologically, monogenes seems to mean “only generated”, but comparsions with prior and contemporty usagaes (including elswhere in the NT) have moved scholarship in the direction of “one and only” (see John 3:16 in the NIV).

The “begotten” understanding (which Greek seems to have grown toward in the centuries after the NT era) creates a problem: in what sense does the Father “beget” the Son? In the Nicene Creed, this was addressed by says that the Son is “eternally begets” the Son.

The Meaning of Prototokos

This word appears in Romans 8:29; Colossians 1:15, 18; Hebrews 1:6; and Revelation 1:5. The “straight-forward” meaning is “first born.” This again tilts in the direction of an in-time origin for the Son.

However, protokotos also means, “having first priority.” In Colossians 1:15 actually announces His divine sovereignty over all creation, even as a first-born child is designated as heir of the father. Compare Psalm 89:27 in the LXX.

Practical Ramifications of the Doctrine of Trinity

(1) It teaches us that God is a God of revelation and communion.

(2) It means that the Trinity is the basis of all true fellowship in the world (Jn. 17:21).

(3) It gives variety to the life of the universe. (Francis Schaeffer elaborates on this theme in He is There and He is Not Silent.)


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. Trinitarianism is the unelaborated assumption of the NT.

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