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Christian doctrines vary somewhat in their views of the nature and personhood of God. Most, but not all, Christian denominations believe in the triune nature of God, holding that God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are one, yet separate entities. The term "Trinity" is not a Biblical term, and the concept is not clearly defined in Scripture. Some scholars speculate that the Trinity was not covered in any detail in the Scriptures because the human mind was incapable of understanding the concept. There is nothing else in the universe like Him in this respect, so there is nothing that can help us comprehend the nature of the Trinity. Although the Trinity is not specifically declared in the words of Scripture, references are made to all three parts of the Trinity, particularly in the New Testament. The Christian doctrine of the Trinity holds that the Father, the Son (Jesus Christ), and the Holy Spirit are one God in three divine persons, each of which is distinct yet of one nature. The word may not be used in Scripture, or the concept defined, but the Gospel of Matthew tells us to baptize “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” and the John 1:1-4 tells us that Jesus Christ was the Word and that the Word was with God at the time of creation. The Ante-Nicene Fathers, who followed the Apostolic Age of the 1st century down to the First Council of Nicaea in 325 AD, held to the deity of Christ, and spoke of “Father, Son and Holy Spirit,” although the Doctrine of the Trinity was not codified until the 4th century. Even before that, Ignatius of Antioch called for obedience to “Christ, and to the Father, and to the Spirit” around 110 AD. Agreement was not universal however, and many of the early creeds reflected attempts at clarifying the issue. Today, most Christian churches are trinitarian. Exceptions include the Christadelphians, Christian Scientists, Jehovah's Witnesses, Unitarian Universalists, and the Mormon Church.

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God, the Father - Yahweh

God, the Son - Jesus Christ

Holy Spirit - Holy Ghost

 

 

Feature Article


Is the Trinity Scriptural?


the Trinity

Although interpretations may vary, nearly every Christian church today accepts the doctrine of the Trinity, of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In fact, a belief in the Trinity is mandatory in many Christian churches.

But that wasn't always the case. The early Christian church struggled with the concept. For one thing, the first few generations of Christians were raised in Judaism, and one major tenet setting the religion of the Jews apart from the pagan religions around them was their belief in the one true God, and many were disinclined to accept a doctrine that admitted to multiple deities.

Indeed, there are no explicit references to the Trinity in Scripture. The closest thing to a clear reference to the Trinity can be found in 1 John 5:7, in which the text reads, "For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one." However, this verse is not found in the more recently discovered earlier manuscripts, so many scholars consider this to have been a later addition to the text, and thus not the words of the original author.

The word "Trinity" is not found in the Bible. Quintus Septimius Florena Tertullianus, most commonly known as Tertullian, an early Christian apologist and author, coined the word approximately two centuries after Christ's death and resurrection.

Tertullian didn't invent the concept of the Trinity, though. While he invented a new word, he did so as a means of explaining and defending what many in the church already believed.

The early church's positions on the nature of God has changed over time, however. The current Western understanding of the Trinity is derived from the teachings of Augustine.

As I mentioned earlier, the early Christian church wrestled with the concept of the Trinity, although they didn't have the word for it, and there were cultural objections. In fact, as most of the discussion involved the Father and the Son, it is unclear as to whether the very early church held a belief in the Holy Spirit as a separate entity, or what their understanding was regarding the Holy Spirit.

Clear Scriptural teachings of absolute salvation in Jesus Christ distinguished him from the many Hellenistic demigods, who had limited power, yet in bringing salvation to mankind, Christ has to be fully human and fully god. Christians with Jewish roots, which made up the bulk of early Christianity, were hesitant to admit to more than one divine being.

The Ante-Nicene Fathers spoke of "Father, Son and Holy Spirit," although it does not appear to be clear that this was a codified doctrine, or even that it indicated a belief in a Triune God.

Some, in the early church, sought to safeguard monotheism by denying the pre-existence of Christ, afraid that such an idea would lead to a belief in two gods, the Father and the Son. They claimed that Jesus became divine only after his baptism by John the Baptist.

Others argued that the Father and the Son were one and the same being, fulfilling different roles.

These proposals were deficient, and recognized as such, as evidenced by the changing nature of the church's positions on these matters. Origen, whose father became a Christian martyr in 202 AD, grew to become a scholar and early Christian theologian, particularly in the areas of textual criticism, biblical exegesis, and hermeneutics. He asserted the unity of the Father and Son, stating that while the Son is a second being, and not part of the Father, he eternally proceeds from the Father.

Differing views were not taken lightly, though, once the Christian church became established. Among the most significant teachings regarding the Trinity came about in reaction to Adoptionism, Sabellianism, and Arianism.

Adoptionism referred to the belief that Jesus was an ordinary man, born of Joseph and Mary, who became Christ at the time of his baptism by John the Baptist. In 269 AD, the Synods of Antioch condemned Paul of Samosata for his Adoptionist theology.

Sabellianism held that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit were one and the same, the difference being semantic, describing the varying roles of a single being. For this view, Sabellius was excommunicated as a heretic in 220 AD.

Arianism taught that the Father existed prior to the Son, and that the Son was a changeable creature who was granted the privilege of becoming the Son of God. Arian was deemed a heretic by the First Council of Nicea of 325 AD, but later exonerated at the First Synod of Tyre, in 335 AD. After his death, the First Council of Constantinople (381 AD) again pronounced him a heretic.

The official viewpoints of the Church said little about the Holy Spirit. The doctrine of the personality and divinity of the Holy Spirit was developed by Athanasius in the latter part of his life, and Augustine restated the doctrine of the Trinity as it is found in the Nicene Creed, which was first formulated at the First Ecumenical Council, held in Nicea in 325 AD, and revised at the Second Ecumenical Council, held at Constantinople in 381 AD.

We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father.  Through him all things were made.  For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man.  For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried.  On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.  He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father.  With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified. He has spoken through the Prophets.  We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.  We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.  We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.  Amen. -- Nicene Creed (325 AD)


The earliest Christians seemed not to have a clear concept of the nature of God, and the organized Christian church changed its positions on the Trinity several times. Since the Christian church was split during the Protestant Reformation, and further by the Radical Reformation, different Christian denominations hold varying views on the Trinity.

Modern non-trinitarian churches or denominations include the Christadelphians, Christian Scientists, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Dawn Bible Students, Friends General Conference, Jehovah's Witnesses, Living Church of God, Oneness Pentecostals, Unitarian-Universalist Christians, The Way International, and the United Church of God.

All branches of Judaism are non-trinitarian, and Islam considers Jesus to be a prophet, but not a god.

Yet, the vast majority of Christian churches hold the doctrine of the Trinity to be central to their beliefs. If, indeed, the Trinity is not taught in Scripture, how has it come to be of such importance to so many churches whose beliefs are derived from Scripture?

While there are no Biblical references to the Trinity in Scripture, there are ample passages, even in the Old Testament, that can be seen as giving reference to the Triune nature of God, without reliance on imagination.

In the Genesis account of creation, God is continuously referred to in the plural, as in Genesis 1:26: "And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth." (KJV)

Of course, John 1:1 tells us something about who was with God at the time of creation. The text reads, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." John's reference to "the Word" is assumed to have been a reference to Christ.

Isaiah 48:16 makes reference to the Spirit as being separate from God: "Come ye near unto me, hear ye this; I have not spoken in secret from the beginning; from the time that it was, there am I: and now the Lord God, and his Spirit, hath sent me." (KJV)

"And the Lord God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever:" -- Genesis 3:22

The New Testament is full of references to each of the elements of the Trinity.

"Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:" -- Matthew 28:19

"But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him." -- 1 Corinthians 8:6

"But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you." -- John 14:26

"Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross." -- Philippians 2:5-8

"And the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon him, and a voice came from heaven, which said, Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased." -- Luke 3:22

There are many other such references, in both the Old and New Testaments, yet it might seem odd that Christ did not more clearly teach the nature and composition of God, except perhaps if you consider that his audience had trouble comprehending the simpler things that he taught repeatedly.

There is a story about Augustine walking along a beach contemplating the mystery of the Trinity. He came upon a boy who had dug a hole in the sand. The boy was going out to the sea, again and again, bringing water to pour into the hole that he had dug. Augustine asked him what he was doing and the boy replied that he was going to pour the entire ocean into the hole that he had dug.

"That is impossible," Augustine said. "The whole ocean won't fit into the hole that you have made."

The boy replied, "And you cannot fit the Trinity into your tiny little brain."



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