Series 1 Episode 6

Trinity, Nature, Personhood 

If you missed any other the previous episodes, you’ll want to go back and watch them first. There’s 5 episodes where we break down Why doctrine Matters, What doctrine is, and in the last three of those 5 episodes we talk about how we discern doctrine from scripture, how we discern it from church tradition, and the last episode explores even further how we can make sense of church tradition – a strategy for looking into church tradition.

 

I loved those last episodes. And here’s two main ideas that I learn from it:

 

  1. Church tradition is incredibly important to our faith
     

  2. We can all lay claim to early Christianity

 

In this next series we’re going to look at the next few words in the Apostles Creed. Last series covered “I believe.” And now we want to talk about “God, The Father.” And what those words mean.

 

So first let’s take a look at the Trinity.

 

A lot of people want to know - why does it matter?

Take  a look at these Three Quotes
​​

  1. (In the fourth century it seemed as if people thought it was all that mattered): Gregory of Nyssa said “Everywhere, in the public squares, at crossroads, on the streets and lanes, people would stop you and discourse at random about the Trinity. If you asked something of a moneychanger, he would begin discussing the question of the Begotten and the Unbegotten. If you questioned a baker about the price of bread, he would answer that the Father is greater and the Son is subordinate to Him. If you went to take a bath, the bath attendant would tell you that in his opinion the Son simply comes from nothing.”
     

  2. In the 18th Century, Philosopher Immanuel Kant said: “The doctrine of the trinity provides nothing, absolutely nothing, of practical value, even if one claims to understand it; still less when one is convinced that it far surpasses our understanding. It costs the student nothing to accept that we adore three or ten persons in the divinity… furthermore this distinction offers absolutely no guidance for his conduct.”
     

  3. Thomas Jefferson is said to have stated: …that three are one, and one is three; when we shall have knocked down the artificial scaffolding, designed to hide from view the very simple structure of Jesus - when, in short, we shall have unlearned everything which has been taught since his day, and got back to the pure and simple doctrines he taught, we shall then be truly and worthily his disciples.”

     

 ASK: What do you think? Why does it matter? consider pausing this video and brainstorming a few answers. One of the fun things about theology is doing the work of the theologian. Here’s my list. An accurate understanding of the Trinity -

  1. Keeps us from Idolatry
     

  2. Deepens our understanding of prayer: To Father, in the Name and according to the authority of Jesus, and we pray through the Holy Spirit
     

  3. It matters for evangelism: The Christian God is different than the God of Islam or Judaism and so I need to share my faith with people of other faiths.
     

  4. It matters because it has implications about who God is: (God’s independence, God’s love, will touch on later)
     

  5. Loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength is the most important thing we can do with our time. It matters because we’re asked to love God with our minds. That means – knowing Him as best we can.
     

  6. Worship God in Spirit and in Truth. We’re called to worship with our hearts and our minds.
     

  7. It could affect how we view Our destiny – we can’t and won’t become God nor will we be fully absorbed into God so as to lose our identities but Mormons, who have a different understanding of God would disagree with that and so would many Hindus. 
     

  8. It increases our Understanding of the power and dignity given to us: Christ (fully God and fully man) is on the throne, we are adopted into God’s family, and the Holy Spirit resides in us.
     

So we should be able to easily see how understanding the Trinity could be an important issue for us. Even if we just stopped at reason number 1 but those are 8 solid reasons and maybe you can come up with others on your own.
 

One being, three persons

When we use the word “God” we’re talking about being (Just like when we say humanity, we’re talking about our nature, our essence, or our substance)

 “Being” refers to substance (what we are).What words would you use to describe Our substance?
 

  • We're circumscribed

  • We’re limited

  • We’re finite – not just by space but also time. We were born. We die. We’re temporary.

  • Physical – you can touch us and measure us and detect us with the senses.


What words would you use to describe God’s substance?
 

  • Uncircumscribed – unbound, unlimited, everywhere

  • Infinite

  • Spiritual

  • Eternal
     

That’s God’s being. God refers to His substance or His nature. He’s not a squirrel. He’s not a human. He’s not an angel. He’s not an angelic creature. He’s not black holes. He’s not gravity. He’s not light. He’s not a force. He’s God. His own separate nature.
 

Why do we say “One” God? What we mean when we say “One”
 

The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit, being fully God in every way, meaning that they are infinite, uncircumscribed, and co-eternal, so they must mutually indwell one another and therefore there is

 

One God.
Deuteronomy 6:4

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.

 

Isaiah 44:6

“This is what the Lord says—
    Israel’s King and Redeemer, the Lord Almighty:
I am the first and I am the last;
    apart from me there is no God.;

 

1 Timothy 1:17

Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.

So you see time and time again, scripture affirms there is just one God. Both in the New Testament and Old Testament this remains true.

 

Persons refers to personhood (So not, what we are but who we are). The philosophical term finds its origins in theological discussion. It comes from persona which refers to theatrical characters) So although it’s hard to define, we’re talking about something like: Self-awareness, consciousness, emotions, speech, recognition of others, etc. Some have said it’s the ability to say “I." I am a human, the person saying “I” is “Keith."

 

Sometimes using Other combinations of beings and persons have been used to help us demonstrate the idea of personhood within the trinity:

  • Classically speaking a statue is a “being.” It has a certain substance, maybe marble and though it is shaped like a man, and circumscribed like a man, and has a beginning like a man, it was created… yet it has no personhood. It cannot say “I.”

  • People have substance – humanity, and we also have one person. I call my person “Keith.”

  • God has a substance and three persons.

  • The movie “Split” by M. Night Shyamalan is a fictional look at multiple personality disorder and imagines what it would be like if those multiple personalities were truly multiple persons contained within one body.

  • The movie “Get Out” examines what it would like if we could transfer personhood from one body to another.

Difficulty with “persons” language when it comes to gray areas:

  • Is a person in a “vegetative state” still a person?

  • Is an animal a person?

  • Is a fetus a person?

My preference is to say that everyone who has the potential to distinguish themselves from others are in fact persons even if their current state makes it impossible for said person to communicate.

So here’s the Trinitarian shield which is often an illustration or tool that’s used to show and explain the Trinity.

Evidence of Trinity From Scripture

  • Made in the Image of “Us” (Genesis 1:26)

  • “Elohim” connotes a oneness and a plurality at the same time

  • Abraham’s three guests Genesis 18:1-3

  • Jesus’ Baptism has all three persons present (Matthew 3:16)

  • Jesus’ baptismal formula (Matthew 28:19 note baptize in the name, not “names”)

  • Prologue of John (John 1:1-4)

  • Jesus’ farewell discourse (John 14:26&15:26)

  • The varieties of the gifts from God the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:4-6)

  • Paul’s Apostolic Benediction (2 Corinthians 13:14)

  • The Ephesian Formula (Ephesians 2:18)

  • The Kenosis Declaration (Philippians 2:5-11)

  • Intro to Colossians (Colossians 1:12-19)

  • Summary of Salvation History (Hebrews 1:1-5)

  • Johannine Letters (1 John 3:23-4:3)
     

From Tradition

It was not angels therefore who made us… For God did not stand in need of those beings… For with Him were always present the Word and Wisdom; the Son and Spirit… by whom and in whom… He made all things, to whom also He speaks, saying, ‘Let us make man after Our image and likeness.” (Irenaeus, 130-202)
 

“This is the rule of faith which I profess… the Father, and the Son, and the Spirit are inseparable from each other… the Father is one, and the Son one, and the Spirit one, and they are distinct from each other.” (Tertullian, 155-240)
 

“Since the three are one, how can the Holy Spirit be at peace with him who is the enemy either of the Son or of the Father?” Cyprian, 200-258AD)
 

“They are not three Gods, but one God… He who is the Son is not the Father; and the Holy Spirit is neither the Father nor the Son, but only the Spirit of the Father and of the Son, Himself also co-equal with the Father and the Son, and pertaining to the unity of the Trinity. (Augustine, 354-430)
 

"If anyone would say that the Word of God or the Wisdom of God had a beginning, let him beware lest he direct his impiety rather against the unbegotten Father, since he denies that he was always Father, and that he has always begotten the Word, and that he always had wisdom in all previous times or ages or whatever can be imagined in priority . . . There can be no more ancient title of almighty God than that of Father, and it is through the Son that he is Father" (Origen, 185-254).
 

You not only see it in the writings of the Fathers but also in the Creeds

  • The Apostle’s Creed

  • The Nicene Creed

  • Athanasius Creed 

Outside of both scripture and tradition – I believe there’s Evidence of Trinity From Reason. Notice the key word here is evidence. Not Proof. So don’t be too hard on these next examples. They’re not meant to prove the trinity but may give the Christian even more confidence in the doctrine of the Trinity.

 

Take Community & Context for example:

We need outside influences to recognize our own existence. Part of what defines me is the fact that I know what I am not. I know myself apart from my environment. C.S. Lewis explores that concept in His book The Problem of Pain. If God was one person in one being He would need creation in order to know that he exists. Reality is conceived based on our interactions and the things around us. So if God always existed and if He was simple but not Triune – it might seem reasonable that He’d be dependent on creation. (C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain)
 

Furthermore if God were one person and one being He would not be able to fully know Himself. We often say at funerals that when a friend (let’s call him Bob) dies we not only lose Bob but we lose who we are when we’re with Bob and we also lose who our friends are when they’re with Bob. Why? It’s through relationship that we’re able to see ourselves more fully. If God were one person then He wouldn’t exist in community the way a Triune God exists in community. A One person god might not easily know himself without being able to be known by other persons. A Triune God always exists in community.
 

Others have said before that the concept of Love necessitates a triune God.
 

If God is love (which scripture reveals him to be) and God is one person then He would’ve loved himself too much and would never have sought to share or to create. A one person God is more likely to be too self-absorbed, too egomaniacal.
 

If God is love and one person and somehow was not too self-absorbed then He may at the very least be overly dependent on the created order. He would need to have something to love and He would need to have something love Him. A triune God can love Himself without being egomaniacal.

A Triune God can love others without being dependent on their love in return.
 

Lastly – Reliably Witness.

 

Scripture tells us that testimonies are only reliable if they’re established on the grounds of two or three witnesses. We know that God is the perfect Judge and as such a Triune God perfectly contains three persons who witness our every move and thought.

Consider 2 Corinthians 13:1 This is the third time I am coming to you. Every charge must be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.
 

Deuteronomy 19:15  “A single witness shall not suffice against a person for any crime or for any wrong in connection with any offense that he has committed. Only on the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses shall a charge be established.
 

Matthew 18:16  But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.
 

Numbers 35:30  “If anyone kills a person, the murderer shall be put to death on the evidence of witnesses. But no person shall be put to death on the testimony of one witness
.

1 Timothy 5:19  Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses.

Deuteronomy 17:6  On the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses the one who is to die shall be put to death; a person shall not be put to death on the evidence of one witness.
 

1 John 5:7-8  For there are three that testify: The Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree.
 

Hebrews 10:28  Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses.

 

Next it can be helpful for us to explore Metaphors of Trinity

All fall short and therefore tend to cloud rather than clarify our idea of God. But identifying what’s wrong with each metaphor can help us to better understand the trinity.


From Ancient sources

 

Western Theology (Emphasizes persons)

  • The Egg: yolk, egg white, shell

  • The Tree: Trunk, Branches, Leaves

  • Family: father, mother, child
     

Eastern Theology (Emphasizes nature)

  • Humans: Dave, Kory, Keith

  • The Sun: Fire, Heat, Light

  • Roles: Father Husband and Friend,
     

From Modern Sources

  • Water as solid, liquid, or gas (Ice, water, steam)

  • Three leaf clover

  • 3 in one shampoo

  • Triangles

  • Multiple personality disorder

  • Fidget Spinners
     

Finally, what metaphors have you heard from the Trinity?
 

If you’ve got time, explore the St Patricks Bad Analogies Video.
 

Here’s the Trinitarian Heresies Spectrum! Notice there’s not much wiggle room in this spectrum compared to our previous ones.

Waite Park Church is a multi-generational, neighborhood church that strives to share the life Jesus promised in our community and around the world.

ADDRESS

1510 33rd Ave NE

Minneapolis, MN  55418

(612) 781-7434

office@waiteparkchurch.org

QUICK LINKS
  • Facebook - White Circle
  • White YouTube Icon