Saturday, August 11, 2012

Understanding Our Triune God

The doctrine of the Trinity did not have any relevance to my life (that is, I did not believe it had any relevance) until the night the Trinity saved me. The truth is that the Trinity was always relevant, even in my stubborn rebellion. Our Triune God will always be relevant to humans, whether they're saved or not. The Godhead is a diverse community working together in perfect harmony and is thus the perfect example for us to unite in our differences. When we work together in fellowship, our unity should reflect the unity of the Trinity. God commands us to be holy as He is holy (1 Peter 1:15-17) because it leads to the best for our lives. God did not create mankind because He was lonely; the Trinity undermines this assertion. Rather, He created mankind to allow us to experience the ineffable bliss with Him.

Those who say the Trinity is a man-made doctrine simply because the word "trinity" is not in the Bible are making a poor excuse. The word "rapture" is not in the Bible either, but the concepts of both are clearly taught in Scripture. The word "rapture" comes from the Latin "raptus", which means "caught up" or "taken away". In the Bible, the Greek "harpazó" is used, which means "seize by force". Similarly, we gave the name "Passion" to the suffering of Christ from the Greek "paschó" (meaning "suffer") used in the Bible. In the Vulgate, the Latin "passio" is used, meaning "suffering". The word "bible" is not in the Bible either, so should we not believe that the books we have are the Bible? [On an interesting side note, the Koine Greek "ta biblia" ("the books") was also used by Hellenistic Jews to describe their Septuagint and the singular "biblion" had the meaning of "scroll" before it was used to mean "book".]

Anyway, a recent session in my apologetics group has made me understand the Trinity and its relevance better than I did before. One thing I learned in particular stood out and I felt a need to share it.

One in Three & Three in One

There are two misunderstandings of this doctrine that I must address first: 1) the Trinity comprises three gods, and 2) the Trinity is one God playing three roles. Concisely put, the first doesn't work because three independent gods would be finite rather than infinite and the second doesn't work because it cannot make sense of the relationship between the Father and the Son. The Trinity is monotheistic. The Trinity should be understood as being one essence and three persons. This is why John's Gospel uses masculine gender for each of the persons of God, but neuter gender for God's substance as a whole. It is logically contradictory to say God is one and three or that one is three and three is one. Instead, Christians have been saying for nearly 2,000 years that God is one being who exists in three persons; He is one what and three whos. I have come across a good way of thinking about this and it was mentioned in our discussion. Mathematically, God is not 1+1+1=3, but rather 1x1x1=1. Now, I understood that God's essence exists within all three persons, but reading about the Trinity in the Bible during this session begged a question in my mind: does this also mean that the essence present in all three is also present in each of the three persons? In other words, do the Father and the Son exist in the Holy Spirit while the Son and the Holy Spirit exist in the Father while the Holy Spirit and the Father exist in the Son? I will try to explain what I mean.

Before I do, we must understand our God as Triune and we only need three types of verses to make a solid case for the Trinity in the Bible: 1) those stating there is only one God, 2) those stating the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are God, and 3) those stating the three persons are separate from each other.

1.
The Shema Yisrael - the most important part of Jewish prayer service, commanded to be recited twice daily - encapsulates God's monotheistic essence. "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one!" (Deuteronomy 6:4) The Hebrew word used here for "one" is "echad" and could refer to a composite oneness rather than an absolute oneness. For example, one cluster of grapes is still made up of a multiple number of grapes. The same Hebrew word is used to refer to man and wife becoming one flesh (two bodies becoming one together). An instance of an absolute oneness is found in Genesis 22:2, where the word "yachid" is used for Abraham's one and only son. I once stumbled upon a site that erroneously claimed the Bible proves there are more than one God because "elohim" is plural, but this only affirms the plurality of God's persons. We don't need to look far into the Bible to find evidence for the Trinity as it is present in the first book, even from the first verse. The Spirit of God is mentioned in the second verse and the pre-incarnate second person of God is mentioned in the third chapter (God also appears in visible form in Genesis 18, 22, 32, and in other parts of the Bible, such as Joshua 5). In Genesis 1:26, God is not talking to other gods when He says, "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness..." God had to create the relational community between man and woman to express the image of His plurality. The existing complementarity between man and woman is a reflection of the sacred complementarity within God's being. This plurality of God's oneness is what makes sense of messianic prophecies like Psalm 2:7 and Psalm 110:1. In addition, God cannot be an impersonal force, as some choose to believe. He must be a being with a personality. This is a more accurate understanding of God, because He has to be personal to have created our personalities. Personality requires relationality and this is evident in the Trinity; the Father personally relates to the Son through the Spirit. In John 17:20-26, where Jesus prays that the Church may be one, He is reflecting the oneness that exists within the Triune God. This was realized with the Holy Spirit being sent to believers. Furthermore, Jesus praying to the Father means they exist at the same time, making the so-called sequential "modes" in Oneness Pentecostalism unsupported and biblically incorrect.

2.
a) In common knowledge, God is understood to be the Father, as recited in the Lord's Prayer. A couple verses that define God as Father are Psalm 89:26 and 2 Corinthians 6:18.
b) Now, the Son also being God is what other Abrahamic religions don't see eye to eye on. Unfortunately, denial of this is denial of God's means of salvation. Rejecting this as God's complete revelation is also why some Jews might believe in reincarnation and not in an afterlife. During God's visit to the dusty streets of Palestine, all Jews were (and still are) strict monotheists. However, they misunderstood the concept of God's plurality in their Hebrew Bible and so misunderstood God's revelation through the Lord Jesus Christ. They clearly saw Him as a man, but were blind to His divinity shining through His humanity. Jesus showed signs of being God. First, He excluding Himself from praying the Lord's Prayer ("When you pray...") since He does not need forgiveness. Instead, He forgave sins, something the Jews knew only God is able to do. Also, He spoke to creation as if He were its Creator, like when He calmed the storm. Of course, to finalize His claims, Jesus had to be resurrected and He was. Perhaps the most known verses defining God as Jesus, that certain cults try to ignore, are John 1:1 and 1:14. Other parts of the Bible confirm this, including Matthew 1:23, Titus 2:13, 2 Corinthians 4:4, Philippians 2:6, and Colossians 1:15-20. After Thomas had his doubts completely cleared, he reacted by saying, "My Lord and my God!" (John 20:28) Elsewhere in the Fourth Gospel, Jesus Himself says that He is one with His Father (John 10:30). In John 14:9-10, Jesus says that those who saw Him saw the Father and that He is in the Father and vice versa. The most telling statement from Jesus of His personal relation to God is in John 17:5: "And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was." However, His I AM statements are what got Him in most trouble. Jesus said that those who don't believe He is God will die in their sins (John 8:24) and that He was before Abraham (John 8:58). In John 13:13, He affirms being both Teacher and Lord. As if that wasn't enough, God Himself speaks to the Son as being God anointed by God (Hebrews 1:8-9) and being blessed forever by God (Psalm 45:2). It is all-too-common for people to believe in God or a "higher power", but disbelieve in Jesus Christ or see Him as just a good teacher/leader/example/inspiration. They like to think that a good God would allow them to be with Him based on their supposed goodness (Psalm 14:1). Though, it's not enough to just believe. Even Satan knows He exists. The only way to receive God is to receive Jesus Christ as Saviour. He is the only Way to the Father (John 14:6). When Jesus said "no one comes to the Father except through Me", it is because He is the Father! This is God's free gift for us sinners. Rejecting Jesus' atonement and relying on personal "goodness" is the equivalent of rejecting God's invitation, but still expecting to be allowed in His Home. Jesus is God, so if you believe in God, you must believe in Jesus.
c) The Bible also asserts the Holy Spirit as being the Lord God in 2 Corinthians 3:16-18. Another passage connecting the Holy Spirit and God as being one and the same is Acts 5:3-4, where Peter first tells Ananias that he has lied to the Holy Spirit and then tells him he lied to God. The Bible clearly states the Spirit is the Lord. He is not the angel Gabriel as Muslims contend.

3.
One passage supporting the individuality of the three persons is Ephesians 4:4-6. Verses mentioning the three persons of the Trinity separately include Matthew 28:19, Luke 3:22, 1 Timothy 3:16, Zechariah 12:10, Isaiah 48:16-17, and 2 Corinthians 13:14. Jesus hints at the Trinity in John 15:26, when He talks of the Helper who will be sent from the Father and who will testify of Him. Notice that Jesus says He will send the Spirit of truth from the Father and not simply that the Father will send Him. I believe He is implying here that Him and the Father are identical. By Jesus being in the world, Father and Son are in separate locations (John 16:28). Still, Jesus says they are the same in John 5:18-23. First, He states that they work together and cannot work apart. Second, Jesus says that those who do not honour the Son do not honour the Father who sent Him. Since we know the Spirit is Lord and Jesus is Lord, Jesus completes the circle when he says the Helper won't come unless He goes away (John 16:7). This shows that Jesus and the Spirit are separate, yet they are also the same. In John 14:16-18, Jesus says the Spirit "will be in you" and "I will come to you". The Apostle Paul understood this, because he wrote that Jesus Christ is in believers (2 Corinthians 13:5). In Romans 8:9, we read that the Spirit of Christ is also the Spirit of God. We know from above that Jesus is also the Father. These verses show us that the three persons were all separate. Even so, the Bible teaches they are all the same God because there is only one God. When Christian groups dismiss or deny the foundational doctrine of the Trinity, they must in turn deny other biblical truths. For example, by believing the Heavenly Father has a physical body, Mormons must also go against the omnipresence of God. By rejecting the long-recognized dogmas in the history of the Church, these groups make up unfounded beliefs. Without believing the Father and the Son as being "homoousios" ("consubstantial"), Jehovah's Witnesses attempt to explain the Godhead by making Jesus Christ created by God (while also being Archangel Michael) and the Holy Spirit impersonal. These sects cannot be accurately called Christian if they do not hold to the doctrine of the Trinity, because Jesus Himself claimed to be God. How can they be truly following Christ by rejecting His claims? How can they have a right relationship with the Father by not accepting His revelation through Christ? This leads to other false teachings like work salvation. Like Catholics, they wrongly believe in a second chance after death (Hebrews 9:27), having their views on Hell and the afterlife nowhere corroborated by the Word of God. Not only does their denial of the Trinity cause their downfall, but they replace the only meaningful symbol of our salvation with an apparent angel named Moroni and a watchtower.

It saddens my heart and soul to read of those who were apparently Christian converting to other religions, due to misunderstood concepts such as the doctrine of the Trinity. If all this still doesn't present a real base for the Trinity in the Bible, there is also the controversial Johannine Comma; 1 John 5:7: "For there are three that bear witness in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one." There is debate about this verse not being in the majority of Greek manuscripts (though it is in several) before the 17th century. However, there is external and internal evidence for its authenticity. Minority readings are not always ungenuine. The Critical Text favours the reading Iesou (of Jesus) over Iesou Christou (of Jesus Christ) in 1 John 1:7, even though only 24 manuscripts support it, while 477 support the reading Iesou Christou found in the Textus Receptus. In 1 John 2:20, it also chooses pantes (all) as being original, in only 12 manuscripts, rather than the majority reading panta (all things) found in 491. Most Greek manuscripts don't even have 1 John itself and the apparent "Majority" text was actually based on limited manuscripts. Hermann von Soden - a German biblical scholar whose critical text on the New Testament has been deemed most important since Westcott and Hort's - found that the Majority text is not a collation of the majority of the Greek manuscripts at all. Following the deaths of the original apostles, false doctrines were introduced through heretical teachings. People taught that the Son was created or not God, or that He became God at His baptism, or that the Holy Spirit was not God or eternal, etc. The early Roman Catholic Church eventually agreed on the Trinity, so they had no reason to remove this verse. In the mid-200s AD, though, Sabellius taught that the three persons of the Trinity are identical. This teaching is the same as today's Oneness. However, Sabellius also taught that the Father suffered with the Son on the cross and would use the Johannine Comma to claim the Trinity as being the same person, as opposed to the same substance. It is plausible that this verse was removed from manuscripts to prevent problems. Still, it is referenced by many other sources before the King James Bible, including Tertullian (Apology, Against Praxeas), Cyprian of Carthage (On The Lapsed, On the Novatians), Athanasius (De Incarnatione), and Aurelius Augustine (De Trinitate). The Council of Carthage also appealed to it. While the Greek support may be weak, the Comma has strong support in the Old Latin manuscripts (which outnumber the Greek). The Waldensian (a.k.a. Vaudois) bibles were believed by most Reformers, like John Wesley, Jonathan Edwards, and Theodore Beza, to have been translated from the Scriptures of early Christians of Antioch of Syria. They were then passed down, while attacked by the Roman Catholic Church, until the Protestants translated them into other languages during the Reformation. The Vaudois would pay with their lives before they would compromise the Word of God. Unlike those at Alexandria, whose few 45 manuscripts disagree, the Vaudois were successful in preserving God's Word (Psalm 12:6-7). The Comma was also in Jerome's original Vulgate. This is how it was included in the King James Bible. The Comma is Johannine in style, since John is known for referring to Christ as "logos", meaning "the Word". John draws parallels in 1 John 4:13-14, so it's not surprising that he would do the same in 1 John 5:7-8. The strongest internal evidence is in the Greek text itself. If verse seven was just an interpretation of verse eight, we would have three neuter nouns ("Spirit", "water", and "blood") followed by a masculine participle ("that bear witness"; Greek "oi marturountes"). Verse six has the same participle in the neuter ("to marturoun"). This grammar only makes sense if the Johannine Comma is added, having two masculine nouns ("Father" and "Word") and one neuter noun ("Spirit"). With this clause, it becomes proper for the participle to be masculine, because of the two masculine nouns. Even Gregory of Nazianzus, who did not affirm the Comma's authenticity, mentioned the flawed grammar without it in his Theological Orientations. Other scholars also agreed: Robert Dabney in The Doctrinal Various Readings of the New Testament Greek, Bishop Middleton in Doctrine of the Greek Article, and John Reynolds in a note in Matthew Henry's commentary. In short, "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God" (2 Timothy 3:16) and the Hand of God truly preserves His words! [For much more information on this, read Dr. Thomas Holland's book titled Crowned With Glory: The Bible from Ancient Text to Authorized Version.]

Now that the doctrine of the Trinity has been thoroughly established in your mind (I hope), I finally come to my question: is the essence present in all three persons also present in each of the three persons? Better still, does the Spirit indwelling true believers also mean that the Father and the Son also indwell them? It is commonly said that the Holy Spirit indwells the believer upon salvation, but a few verses make me see this slightly differently. When Jesus speaks to Nicodemus, the requirement of being born again is not the only thing He reveals to him. In John 3:13 (for which there is also internal support and external attestation, but I will spare your time by not including it here), the Christ also reveals to him (and us) that He is on earth and in Heaven at the same time. Yet, Colossians 2:9 reveals to us that the Godhead (i.e. the Trinity) dwelled fully in the Son. The Father and the Son were separate, but they were still together. God was transcendent over creation while being immanent in creation. The verses that really begged my question are John 14:17,18, and 23. In verse 17, Jesus says the "Spirit of truth...will be in you." Right after, in verse 18, Jesus says "I will come to you." A little further, in verse 23, Jesus says His Father and Him both "will come to him and make Our home with him." Clearly, Jesus was making a point here. So, why does the Church only stress the Holy Spirit indwelling Christians? What a much more amazing thought it is that our entire Godhead is in us! Forgive my toddler faith if you have already thought about this and it has become just another of many habitually-accepted Christian beliefs to you, but I find it truly amazing and awesome and fascinating. Since the Trinity exists in a union of three persons, each person must therefore not stand alone. The only break in the Godhead, in the history of the universe, happened at the cross. There, Jesus had to be substantially separated from Yahweh in order to bear the punishment for all the sins ever of humankind. This is why Jesus sweat blood. He knew He had to go through with the sacrifice. The real agony came from imagining the Father forsaking Him because of our sins and being isolated from the Father He was always with.

In conclusion, the doctrine of the Trinity is not a mystery. It is simple. The image of God is not the gray-bearded one portrayed in Michelangelo's paintings. God is all omnipresent, as evidenced in such verses as John 3:13 and Matthew 18:20, too. Keep in mind that God being everywhere in the universe at once is not the same as Him being the universe. God's form is that of a spirit, not a body, and the omnipresence of God deserves our true worship. God is the holy substance of three persons, just as love is the substance of all virtues, and the omnibenevolence of God urges us to discover that relational holiness in our relationships. God's knowledge is complete, yet dynamic, and the omniscience of God requests for us to pursue the truth. The mystery of the Trinity is how God exists in such a way, but that has been concealed for a reason. If we understood that, we would be on the same level as God. Even as an atheist, I knew that our puny minds will never understand the vastness of the universe, let alone an infinite God, and I understood the futility of us attempting to - it's just common sense. Explaining the relationality of the Trinity as a mystery does not mean it is an incoherent belief. It means it is too infinite of a matter for our finite minds. As John Wesley reportedly said, "Bring me a worm that can comprehend a human being, and then I will show you a human being that can comprehend the Triune God!" The fact that we cannot fully comprehend the Trinity should not keep us from pondering it, since thinking about the LORD God brings us closer to Him. I also firmly believe that we should seek to answer any and all doubts we may be having in order to strengthen our faith, not turn us away from it. The Trinity is a wonderful mystery to ponder and I am now wondering what will be revealed to us fully in Heaven. What if God only chose to reveal these three persons to us, but is really composed of more persons we don't know about? Now, that is something intriguing to mull over...just don't make a doctrine out of it.

Keep on thinking,
Mike

3 comments:

  1. "What a much more amazing thought it is that our entire Godhead is in us! Forgive my toddler faith if you have already thought about this and it has become just another of many habitually-accepted Christian beliefs to you, but I find it truly amazing and awesome and fascinating. Since the Trinity exists in a union of three persons, each person must therefore not stand alone. The only break in the Godhead, in the history of the universe, happened at the cross. "
    I have never thought about indwelling like this. What a precious thought to have our heavenly Father, our Bridegroom, and our Comforter with us and IN us at every moment since salvation! It can only make us prize the cross even more--God sacrificed His Son to His wrath and the Son sacrificed His nearness to the Father. All for us.."praise the Savior, you who know Him! Who can tell how much we owe Him?"

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  2. I came across an article yesterday defending the Trinity and one point stuck with me that I want to include here: "a multiplicity within the Godhead is the only way in which God’s love can be an eternal attribute (within a monadic concept of God, to whom did God show affection before creation?)." Ravi Zacharias said it this way: "If God ever says He loves, who was He loving before the creation? If God says He speaks, who was He speaking to before the creation? So, communication and affection, or love, is contained in the Godhead right from the beginning...in the Christian faith ONLY, does love precede life. In EVERY other faith, life precedes love."

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  3. Wow. "Love precedes life"...and we foolishly try to earn God's love thinking it depends on us! That's a really awesome thought...He'll always love without fail because He IS love. :)

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