Even this morning as I began to write this article, my roommate expressed his fear of studying the Trinity. For so many Christians, the Trinity remains a mystery because they are afraid of slipping into heresy. Yet, if the Trinity really is the foundation of the Christian Faith, it should be at the forefront of our minds. My hope for this article is not to provide a defense of the Trinity, but to argue for why we should study it.
Now, let’s be clear, in many ways the Trinity is a mystery because, of course, it is the study of God’s triune nature. Throughout church history, theologians have referred to this inability to fully describe who God is as ineffability. The word “effable” is an adjective that means “able to be described in words.” Contrarily, “ineffable” simply means “too great or amazing to be described in words.” As Christians, we believe that God is ineffable, but we also believe that he has revealed himself through the Word.
In a study conducted by Anchored Passion in 2020, 82% of American Evangelical young adults believe that God exists in three persons, 96% believe that the Son and Spirit were equal to the father, and 95% believe that Jesus was truly man and truly God. Well, it seems like the vast majority of Bible-believing Christians here in the United States have a basic understanding of the Trinity. Despite this, 43% of respondents go so far as to say that there are three different Gods. This shockingly high number demonstrates a widespread lack of clarity around the doctrine of the Trinity.
When studying the Trinity or any theological topic, it can be easy to view it, primarily, as an intellectual exercise. Yet, I want to challenge you to view it as an act of worship. The purpose of studying the Trinity is not to win debates, but to know God. As our knowledge of God increases, our love for Him ought to increase with it.
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What Does The Bible Say?
Perhaps much of the confusion around the Trinity exists because the Bible itself does not explicitly use the word “trinity,” yet the doctrine of Biblical trinitarianism is built off of three foundational truths.
- There is one God. (Deuteronomy 6:4)
First, throughout the Old and New Testament, Judaism and, subsequently, Christianity are constantly put against the polytheism of ancient culture. From Baal to the altar to the unknown God, polytheistic religion was the norm in the culture that the Bible was written in. The Scriptures are clear, Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.
- God exists in three persons. (Matthew 3:13–17)
Second, the Bible is clear that Jesus is not the same as the Father. While they are both God, the baptism of Jesus, among other passages, teaches us about the importance of the distinction between different persons of the Trinity.
- Each person is truly God. (John 8:58, Acts 5:3–4)
Third, the Bible teaches that the Father, Son, and Spirit, are all truly God. This is evidenced through the story of Ananias and Sapphira and the instance when Jesus, himself claims to be “I AM.”
Three Dangers To Avoid
Now that we have laid a foundation for what the Bible does say about the Trinity, it is important to be aware of three false views of the Trinity that have been popularized and, subsequently, condemned throughout church history.
- Modalism is the problematic idea that condenses the three persons of the Godhead into one person. This heresy has been spread through the analogy that God exists like H₂0, in three different forms. At its core, modalism teaches us that God manifests himself as three modes, moods, or forms while Biblical trinitarianism teaches us that God exists as three distinct persons. Simply put, modalism succeeds in teaching that God is one, but fails to teach the distinction between the three persons of the Triune God.
- Tritheism is the heresy that there are actually three distinct gods. This idea has been analogized by comparing the Trinity to an egg which exists as three distinct parts: white, shell, and yoke. In this dangerous analogy, the egg is simply a sum of the parts. At its core, tritheism teaches us that God exists as three distinct gods while Biblical trinitarianism teaches us that God exists as three distinct persons. Simply put, tritheism succeeds in teaching that there is a distinction between each person of the Trinity, but fails to recognize the unity of the Triune God.
- Subordinationism teaches that one person of the Trinity is inferior to another. This idea has been popularized by groups such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses who teach that the Spirit is an impersonal force and the Son is a created being. At its core, subordinationism often denies the deity of Christ or the Spirit. Simply put, subordinationism succeeds in recognizing the distinction and unity of each person of the Trinity, yet fails miserably to acknowledge the deity of each person of the Trinity.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Understanding the basics of Biblical trinitarianism is essential to understanding who God is. The Trinity is not simply another doctrine about God, but is the foundation and core of the Christian faith. The beginning of the Athananasian Creed goes so far as to argue that you cannot reject this and be saved.
Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith; Which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly. And the catholic faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the persons nor dividing the substance. For there is one person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Spirit. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit is all one, the glory equal, the majesty coeternal. Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Spirit. The Father uncreated, the Son uncreated, and the Holy Spirit uncreated. The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the Holy Spirit incomprehensible. The Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Spirit eternal.
And yet they are not three eternals but one eternal. As also there are not three uncreated nor threeincomprehensible, but one uncreated and one incomprehensible. So likewise the Father is almighty, the Son almighty, and the Holy Spirit almighty. And yet they are not three almighties, but one almighty. So the Father isGod, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God; And yet they are not three Gods, but one God. So likewise the Father is Lord, the Son Lord, and the Holy Spirit Lord; And yet they are not three Lords but one Lord.
May we not simply pray in Jesus’ name, but in the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit. May we remember that the Father did not die on the Cross for us, but the Son. May we remember that God exists as three in one.