In part 1, I posed this question; “is the Trinity a biblical teaching?” The importance of this question should not be taken for granted. Trinitarian theology is fundamentally important to the faith that was once delivered to the saints (Jude 3). Although this doctrine’s significance can not be overestimated, many Christians feel intimidated and/or confused about Trinitarianism. That feeling is certainly natural, and it’s my intention to help us feel less intimidated and more confident in how we think and talk about God.
Not Confusing the Persons…
Are you good with names? I am not particularly good with names, and that is not a very becoming characteristic of a pastor. Please forgive me. I have embarrassed myself on several occasions by confusing one person for another. Can you relate? I think we have all been guilty of that embarrassment at least once. I find that most people are generally gracious and forgiving. Certainly, the Lord is infinitely gracious and merciful to forgive us for confusing His persons.
Did that last sentence sound strange? Basic Trinitarianism is the teaching that God is one being who eternally is three persons. That language is difficult for us because there’s simply no comparison between God and His creatures. I am one being and one person, just like you, but God is in a category all to Himself. The Athanasian Creed, probably written around 500 AD, helpfully states “…we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in unity, neither confounding the persons, nor dividing the substance.”
“Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic (universal Christian) 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 there persons, not dividing the substance.”-Athanasian Creed
Using the language of this ancient creed helps to provide us uniform language as we discuss Trinitarianism. Let’s focus upon that line about “neither confounding the persons”. To confound or confuse the persons of the Trinity has always been a problematic issue. Throughout church history, there have been believers who have mistakenly confused the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit by not properly acknowledging the distinction of the persons.
What is the distinction of the three persons of the Trinity, and why does it matter? This blog post is merely scratching the surface of this glorious doctrine, but the distinction of the persons is to recognize that the Father is not the Son or the Holy Spirit, the Son is not the Father or the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is not the Father or the Son. So then, the three persons are in fact three real distinctions in God, but they are the one God. This matters because the Scripture distinguishes between these three persons (subsisting relations) as they relate to one another.
“And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: And lo, a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”Matthew 3:16-17
One example of the distinction of the three persons is seen at Jesus’ baptism. In the synoptics (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) the baptism narrative is explicitly teaching us that The Son is acted upon by the Spirit who descends and rests on Jesus, and the Father speaks from Heaven to announce Jesus’ identity as God’s Son. This might seem redundant, but the Father is clearly not the Spirit because the Spirit has descended and rested upon the Son while the Father speaks from Heaven. The Father is clearly not the Son because He is distinguished by this relation and Jesus’ physical location in contrast to the voice of the Father from Heaven who is Omnipresent. Who was baptized? The Father? The Spirit? No. The Son was baptized. John the Baptizer handled the Son of God (1 John 1:1) and not the Father or the Spirit.
Not Dividing the Substance…
A common objection might be made in response to this point, “if these three persons of the Godhead are distinct from one another, then are we talking about three gods?” No, we aren’t. As we have already discussed in part 1, monotheism is the clear teaching of both the Old (Deuteronomy 6:4) and New Testaments (James 2:19).
The Athanasian creed’s language is helpful because it is a summary of the entire biblical teaching. Consider this line from the creed, “neither confounding the persons nor dividing the substance”. What is “the substance”? The substance is another way of speaking about the being of God. Monotheism is the scriptural teaching to describe that there is only one divine being/substance. Therefore, our one God is not made up of three beings/substances.
Additionally, God isn’t made up of three persons either. We should not conceive of God as if each person were 1/3 part of God. The three persons are co-equal, co-eternal, and while they are rightly distinguished from one another in our thinking they should never be divided into parts. The one God simply is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Harmony is beautiful…
In our brief and basic two-part introduction of Trinitarianism, we have discussed (1) the Biblical teaching of monotheism, (2) the biblical teaching of the three divine persons, and (3) the biblical teaching of the real distinctions between the three divine persons. Finally, we will address (4) the biblical harmonization of the previous three points discussed.
The Gospel according to Matthew, in its entirety, is so helpful in forming our Trinitarian thinking. Trinitarian theology is not built upon a few disconnected Bible verses and a lot of historical tradition. Rather, Trinitarianism is built upon the harmonization of the entire canon of Scripture. No, I will not be attempting to prove that last statement in this blog post. I’m sure you’ll forgive me. For the sake of brevity, we will focus on illustrating this harmonization with the last chapter of Matthew’s gospel.
“And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”Matthew 28:18-20
The Gospel of Matthew is written from a Jewish perspective and for a primarily Jewish audience. This is relevant because Judaism has always been fiercely monotheistic. God, as described in Matthew 1, is the very same God that King David and Isaiah the prophet worshipped. Did they worship three gods (polytheism)? Or did they worship One God (monotheism)? Matthew was a faithful Jew, following the faith of men like Isaiah and David before him who worshipped Jehovah (Monotheism).
Therefore, Matthew’s Gospel isn’t proposing three gods, but careful Bible students do detect a new way of describing God. For example, Matthew identifies three divine persons at the baptism of Jesus (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). As the story progresses Matthew continually illustrates the divinity of all three persons and clearly differentiates between each divine person. With all this talk of three, we must make sure that we don’t lose sight of Matthew’s clear monotheism. But how does Matthew harmonize the three divine persons with the fundamental belief that there is only one God?
In the Conclusion of Matthew’s book, Matthew 28:18-20, harmonizes his Trinitarianism in Jesus’ “great commission”. The resurrected Christ declares Himself to be given all authority. This authority has been given to Him by the Father. Jesus also assures the apostles that He will be with them even unto the end of the world. This declaration is referring to the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. Still, the clearest statement of Matthew’s Trinitarian monotheism is in Jesus’ baptism formula. In Jesus’ final command to the apostles, He sends them to be evangelists who will baptize converts “in the name” of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
What is the significance of “in the name”? Look closely, because the word name is singular and not plural. Why singular? This harmonizes the three divine persons in the one divine being. Matthew sees no contradiction between His Judaism’s Monotheism and all three divine persons because the three are of “one name”. BB Warfield in “The Biblical Doctrine of the Trinity” writes about this passage, “all (Father, Son, and Spirit) unite in some profound sense in the common participation of the one Name.” As Warfield continues his argument he explains Jesus to be substituting the “name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost in the place of the Name of Jehovah. Jesus’ baptismal formula is significant because He commands that the apostles to administer this sacred ritual of worship in the name of God, now articulated as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
First, I sought to show the Trinity to be “Biblical” teaching through proving that the Scripture teaches monotheism. Second, I sought to prove that the Scripture teaches us that the three persons; Father, Son, and Spirit are all truly God. Third, I sought to prove that the Scripture teaches us that the Father is not the Son or the Spirit, the Son is not the Father or the Spirit. Fourth, I sought to prove that the Scriptures themselves harmonize those previously mentioned points. Did I succeed? I think so, but I barely began to scratch the surface. There is still so much more inside the Bible to help us deepen the roots of this teaching in our thinking. The doctrine of the Trinity is thoroughly Biblical and fundamental to our faith.