A Brief Definition of the Trinity
by James White
1. I know that one of the most oft-repeated questions I have dealt with is, "How does one explain, or even understand, the doctrine of the Trinity?" Indeed, few topics are made such a football by various groups that, normally, claim to be the "only" real religion, and who prey upon Christians as "convert fodder." Be that as it may, when the Christian is faced with a question regarding the Trinity, how might it best be explained?
2. For me, I know that simplifying the doctrine to its most basic elements has been very important and very useful. When we reduce the discussion to the three clear Biblical teachings that underlie the Trinity, we can move our discussion from the abstract to the concrete Biblical data, and can help those involved in false religions to recognize which of the Biblical teachings it is denying.
3. We must first remember that very few have a good idea of what the Trinity is in the first place - hence, accuracy in definition will be very important. The doctrine of the Trinity is simply that there is one eternal being of God - indivisible, infinite. This one being of God is shared by three co-equal, co-eternal persons, the Father, the Son, and the Spirit.
4. It is necessary here to distinguish between the terms "being" and "person." It would be a contradiction, obviously, to say that there are three beings within one being, or three persons within one person. So what is the difference? We clearly recognize the difference between being and person every day. We recognize what something is, yet we also recognize individuals within a classification. For example, we speak of the "being" of man—human being. A rock has "being"—the being of a rock, as does a cat, a dog, etc. Yet, we also know that there are personal attributes as well. That is, we recognize both "what" and "who" when we talk about a person.
5. The Bible tells us there are three classifications of personal beings—God, man, and angels. What is personality? The ability to have emotion, will, to express oneself. Rocks cannot speak. Cats cannot think of themselves over against others, and, say, work for the common good of "catkind." Hence, we are saying that there is one eternal, infinite being of God, shared fully and completely by three persons, Father, Son and Spirit. One what, three whos.
6. NOTE: We are not saying that the Father is the Son, or the Son the Spirit, or the Spirit the Father. It is very common for people to misunderstand the doctrine as to mean that we are saying Jesus is the Father. The doctrine of the Trinity does not in any way say this.
7. The three Biblical doctrines that flow directly into the river that is the Trinity are as follows:
1) There is one and only one God, eternal, immutable.
2) There are three eternal Persons described in Scripture - the Father,
the Son, and the Spirit.
These Persons are never identified with one another - that is, they are carefully differentiated as Persons.
3) The Father, the Son, and the Spirit, are identified as being fully deity—that is, the Bible teaches the Deity of Christ and the Deity of the Holy Spirit.
One could possibly represent this as follows:
8. The three sides of the triangle represent the three Biblical doctrines, as labeled. When one denies any of these three teachings, the other two sides point to the result. Hence, if one denies that there are Three Persons, one is left with the two sides of Full Equality and One God, resulting in the "Oneness" teaching of the United Pentecostal Church and others. If one denies Fully Equality, one is left with Three Persons and One God, resulting in "subordinationism" as seen in Jehovah's Witnesses, the Way International, etc. (though to be perfectly accurate the Witnesses deny all three of the sides in some way—they deny Full Equality (i.e., Jesus is Michael the Archangel), Three Persons (the Holy Spirit is an impersonal, active "force" like electricity) and One God (they say Jesus is "a god"—a lesser divinity than Yahweh; hence they are in reality not monotheists but henotheists). And, if one denies One God, one is left with polytheism, the belief in many gods, as seen clearly in the Mormon Church, the most polytheistic religion I have encountered.
Hopefully these brief thoughts will be of help to you as you "grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ."
Our Comments on The Article
The first illogical, false and deceptive thing this writer tries to do is to distort the meaning of the word, "being". He says in paragraph 3 that there is one "being of God" shared by three persons. Here He means a classification of being, or a kind of being. However, He tries to make the word "being", which clearly refers to an individual, refer to more than one. To every individual of a certain kind. In paragraph 4 he continues to build on this false definition. He says, "we speak of the ‘being' of man—human being. A rock has ‘being'—the being of a rock, as does a cat, a dog, etc." When we refer to human being, are we referring to all humanity? The "being" of all mankind? Or are we referring to an individual? Is the word "being" a collective noun, meaning a group of persons, or does it mean a single entity? Of course it means one! If we referred to more than one, we would say, "human beings! Because a being is an individual. More than one individual are beings. Now this man tries to give the word, being, a different meaning, but it does not fit. If we accept this man's definition them when we say human being, we would be referring to all humans! However, if "human being" means one individual, then, "divine being" must also refer to one individual.
This is clearly the way the word "God" is used in Scripture. Not as a collective noun, referring to a classification of being, but rather as the personal name of an individual Being who, over and over is referred to as "He." A single person. Not a group, a committee or an agency.
In paragraph 5 he again tries to pull the wool over our eyes when he says, " the Bible tells us there are three classifications of personal beings …. God, man and angels. This is deliberate deception. If we are speaking of classifications, we must, to be consistent say, "godkind (or divinity), mankind (or humanity) and angelkind. If we are speaking of several, then we must say, "gods, men and angels." If we say "God, man and angel (not angels)" then we are clearly referring to individuals. Sometimes we do use the word man in a generic way, to refer to mankind. However, it is clearly understood that this is not the common usage of the word, and that when it is used in this way, it actually means mankind. The same thing applies to the words God and angel. They can also be used in the generic sense, but this is not the common usage of the words and it certainly is not the way the word God is used in the Scriptures except in one or two instances (John 1:1). In the vast majority of cases the word God clearly and unarguably refers to a single individual who is referred to as He, rather than them.
By this definition, when we say there is only one God, what we mean is that there is only one kind of being who may be called God. Not that there is one individual. The problem is that every false, polytheistic religion could agree with that, because even the heathen believe in gods who are of a different nature than men. They believe that their gods are beings who are of a different kind than men. This does not mean that they believe in only one god, even though they may believe in one kind of god. The fact that they believe in several individuals within their concept of godkind, makes them polytheists and sets them in opposition to the clear biblical truth, "the Lord thy God is one Lord." The same applies to this teaching. One kind of being called God, but several persons with the title is polytheism, even if we give it the title of Christian.
The logical conclusion of this warped reasoning is found in the last sentence of paragraph 5 where he refers to God as a "what," while the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are "whos." It hardly needs to be said that this kind of garbage is far removed from the simple Biblical truth that God is an individual person, our Father. A He, not a what.
In paragraph 7 under subsection 2, again we have a glaring untruth to catch and deceive the unwary. It says, "These Persons are never identified with one another - that is, they are carefully differentiated as Persons." Is this true? It is true where the Father and His Son are concerned. They are never identified with each other. They are very clearly two distinct and separate persons with one being God, and the other His Son. But what about the Holy spirit? What do the following quotes mean?
(Eph 4:4) There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling;
(2 Cor 3:17) Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.
(John 14:16-18) And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever …. I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.
(John 17:23) I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one…
Finally, the diagram: By using one untruth and one half-truth, the author has come up with a convenient, but very false picture which is only a clever device for illustrating a falsehood. The three sides are supposed to represent three "biblical truths. However, the Bible does not teach "three persons," as one side indicates. Furthermore, the other side which reads, "equality of persons," needs a modification. The Father and Son are equal in nature and character as the Scriptures clearly teach. However, they are not equal in authority as the Scriptures also clearly teach. Hence, subordinationism (if this means the Son is subject to the Father) is true. Also, since the Father comes to us in the form, or the "mode" of the Holy Spirit, then this is also true as far as the identity of the Holy Spirit is concerned.
“All who love not the light must hate him who is continually labouring to pour it upon them.” --Wesley