Briefly Explaining the Trinity

During the early phase of writing and preparing my article on the deity of Christ, I had a dialogue with a Muslim regarding some of the passages I discussed in chapter one. When we came to John 1:1, he asked me a question that went somewhere along these lines: “If the word is with God and the word is God, then doesn’t that mean God is with God?” Unfortunately, this kind of misunderstanding leads to all sorts of strawman arguments against Trinitarian beliefs. They will quote, for example, the Shema in Deuteronomy 6:4 which goes, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.”

Many Christians will respond by saying that God is one, but He is three-in-one. Unfortunately, this just leads to even more confusion on the part of those who do not understand Trinitarian theology (and unfortunately, the Christian making this response probably does not understand it himself/herself either), especially since it is usually not explained in what sense God is three-in-one. Thus, it is necessary to give a brief explanation of what we actually believe regarding the Trinity.

Perhaps the most concise and accurate definition of the Trinity that I can think of is the one provided by Dr. James White in The Forgotten Trinity. It goes something like this: Within the one Being that is God, there exists eternally three coequal and coeternal persons, namely, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

There, we see what it means when Christians say that God is three-in-one. Actually, there are two Greek words that all Christians (and non-Christians who wish to understand what biblical Christianity teaches) need to know. The first word is ousia, and this is the word which we translate as being, essence or substance. This is the word that is used in the Nicene Creed when we say that Jesus Christ is “of one being [homoousion] with the Father.” The second Greek word is the word hypostasis, which is generally translated as person. Thus, when we say that the Word was with God and is God, what we mean to say is that within the one ousia of God, there are three hypostases that have eternally been together. So when we say that the Word was with God and was God. There are various places in the Old Testament wherein God is presented as being multi-personal, such as Genesis 19:24 and Zechariah 2:8-11. In these passages, Yahweh interacts with Yahweh (a strange thing to behold if He was Unitarian in nature). In addition, this doctrine is encapsulated in the Trinitarian formula that appears in these passages:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit

(Matthew 28:19)

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

(2 Corinthians 13:14)

…according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood…

(1 Peter 1:2)

Please note that merely quoting these verses in and of itself does not prove the Trinity. Now, I believe that these passages do support Trinitarian theology, but that careful exegesis of these verses must be done first, which I do not have the space to do here. Also, much of what has already been written in this booklet should help to provide a solid foundation for an orthodox Trinitarian view of the nature of God. In summary remember that there are three foundations of Trinitarian theology that must always be kept in mind, and that denial of any one of these three foundations results in a heretical viewpoint that is no longer biblical Christianity. These three foundations are:

1. Monotheism, that there is only one God (denial of this foundation leads to Polytheism).

2. There are three Divine persons (denial of this foundation leads to Modalism or Sabellianism).

3. The three Divine persons are coequal and coeternal (denial of this foundation leads to Subordinationism or Arianism).

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