Monday, January 17, 2011


Three easy steps to understanding the Trinity
By Ham

One of the most difficult issues in Orthodox Christianity is the concept and understanding of the Trinity. The concept seems too daunting, that many simply want to dismiss the concept completely. However, when we dismiss this concept, we have to ignore many scriptures that point towards or articulate what seems to be saying God in unity as three. This article is for the Christian struggling with the concept of the trinity, not so much to fully articulate the trinity through scripture.

Before we get started, let’s cover a few ground rules. We have to understand that because of our fallen sinful nature, we cannot be in the presence of God. We need a savior, messiah, suffering servant that will redeem us from this sin. In other words since man has broken the Adamic covenant by eating the forbidden fruit from the tree in the Garden of Eden we can see good and evil. (see Genesis chapter 3) Man now experiences death, knows evil, is separated from God now because of this act.

We know that there is a God and he is one. This is expressed in Deuteronomy 6:4 Listen, Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! We know that God stresses this point of him being one because of the surrounding cultures worshipping many gods. In Deuteronomy 11:16 Make sure you do not turn away to serve and worship other gods! [NET Bible] This brings us to step #1

Step #1
Since we know God is one and there are no other gods, lets create a visualization in terms that we as humans can grasp. Bear with me, in this process. Of course we know that God is not limited to our understanding of him—but we will need some visualization to get past the barriers our human mind and intellect. We will be using a line to represent God and we will label this line as “G” for God. (As shown below)

Now we know that God never changes because he is immutable. Malachi 3:6 "For I, the LORD, do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed. [NASB] This is of course about God’s word and promises and we only need to refer back to Deuteronomy 6:4 to know that God is one and he never changes his character or traits. The line represents God (for our purposes here) as always being this line and cannot change his shape.

Step #2
Now we know that the Israelites fell into idolatry numerous times throughout the OT. The Mosaic covenant (Law) was a bilateral agreement. In Jeremiah 31:29-34 we find that there is a new covenant on the way.
The Lord Will Make a New Covenant with Israel and Judah

Jeremiah 31:29 “When that time comes, people will no longer say, ‘The parents have eaten sour grapes, but the children’s teeth have grown numb.’ 31:30 Rather, each person will die for his own sins. The teeth of the person who eats the sour grapes will themselves grow numb.
31:31 “Indeed, a time is coming,” says the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah. 31:32 It will not be like the old covenant that I made with their ancestors when I delivered them from Egypt. For they violated that covenant, even though I was like a faithful husband to them,” says the Lord. 31:33 “But I will make a new covenant with the whole nation of Israel after I plant them back in the land,” says the Lord. “I will put my law within them and write it on their hearts and minds. I will be their God and they will be my people. 31:34 “People will no longer need to teach their neighbors and relatives to know me. For all of them, from the least important to the most important, will know me,” says the Lord. “For I will forgive their sin and will no longer call to mind the wrong they have done.”
We know that the Law (Mosaic) is weak because it is dependant on flesh. The Abramic Covenant (Land) was sealed with blood by the circumcision in that it cannot be broken because if was a unilateral covenant. We know that the new covenant (Jer. 31) must be in blood for it to be from God and not dependant on mans efforts. Isaiah 53 talks about a suffering servant to come and redeem the people of Israel. As Christians, we know these points to Christ. The hypostatic union is what we see in John 10:30 The Father and I are one.” (cf 10:38) John14:6 Jesus replied, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

In John 1 :1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was fully God. 1:2 The Word was with God in the beginning. 1:3 All things were created by him, and apart from him not one thing was created that has been created. 1:4 In him was life, and the life was the light of mankind.

Col 2:9 For in him all the fullness of deity lives in bodily form, 2:10 and you have been filled in him, who is the head over every ruler and authority.

We know that the word was fully God, and was with God always. This word becomes flesh in John 1:14Now the Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We saw his glory – the glory of the one and only, full of grace and truth, who came from the Father”. The NWT suggests that the word was a god, but that introduces polytheism into the Bible and paints John as a polytheist. Nowhere in any Greek Manuscript is the word referred to as a god. Nor is Jesus ever clearly called an angel let alone Michael in the scripture. (Despite any church fathers heretical belief). [1]

Can an Angel be the Son of God?

Hebrews 1:5 For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my son! Today I have fathered you”? And in another place he says, “I will be his father and he will be my son.” 1:6 But when he again brings his firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all the angels of God worship him!1:7 And he says of the angels, “He makes his angels spirits and his ministers a flame of fire,” 1:8 but of the Son he says,” Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, and a righteous scepter is the scepter of your kingdom.
Hebrews1:13 But to which of the angels has he ever said, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”? 1:14 Are they not all ministering spirits, sent out to serve those who will inherit salvation? [NET Bible Bold denotes quotations or allusions]

John 8:58–59a
“Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am.’ Therefore they picked up stones to throw at Him.” (cf. Exodus 3:14 as by the reaction of the Jews that were going to stone him). Jesus is the ego eimi.

We know that John the Baptist was to be the sign of Elijah that has to come before the suffering Messiah. Micah 4:5 Look, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of the Lord arrives. 4:6 He will encourage fathers and their children to return to me, so that I will not come and strike the earth with judgment.”

John 1:6 A man came, sent from God, whose name was John. 1:7 He came as a witness to testify about the light, so that everyone might believe through him.

Matt 17:12 And I tell you that Elijah has already come. Yet they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they wanted. In the same way, the Son of Man will suffer at their hands.” 17:13 Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them about John the Baptist.

Now we are ready for line 2 which is marked “J” for Jesus.

Since Jesus states he and the Father are one they are now together as one line. (Subsistence= the state of existing in reality; having same substance)

Let’s stop here and understand the concept. Note most importantly that these features; the lines are identical in length, shape, and form. When connected they are one continuous line. We know that we cannot add to God’s nature, he is one not three. But this concept is for the visualization purposes of The Father and the Son being one of the same essences. We know the two are separate for each one is separate, but they share the same essences is our point here. This visualization will become much easier when we get to the conclusion. Remember Jesus sits at the right hand of the throne.

Step #3

The Holy Spirit, the comforter, advocate is sent in John 15:26 When the Advocate comes, whom I will send you from the Father – the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father – he will testify about me. John 16:7 But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I am going away. For if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you, but if I go, I will send him to you. [Emphasis mine] It seems as if the Holy spirit is a who, he, and him.
Ezekiel 11:19 I will give them one heart and I will put a new spirit within them; I will remove the hearts of stone from their bodies and I will give them tender hearts, 11:20 so that they may follow my statutes and observe my regulations and carry them out. Then they will be my people, and I will be their God. (cf 36:27)

Is the Spirit eternal?
Jn. 14:16 “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever.” [emphasis mine]

2 Cor. 3:17–18 “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.”

Acts 5:3–4
“But Peter said, ‘Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back some of the price of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control? Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.’” [Emphasis mine]

The Holy Spirit is a Person:
Ø   The Spirit has His own intelligence (1 Cor. 2:10–13).
Ø   The Spirit manifests emotions (Eph. 4:30).
Ø   The Spirit demonstrates His own will (Acts 8:29, 9:31; 13:2; 15:28; 16:6;1 Cor. 12:11).
Ø   Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is worse than blasphemy of Christ or the Father (Matt. 12:32).
Ø   The Spirit humbles Himself by willingly diverting attention away from Himself to Christ (John 15:26; 16:13–14).

Just as Christ humbled Himself in becoming a servant of man (Phil. 2:5–8), the Holy Spirit humbles Himself in that He is the . . .
1. Least known
2. Least worshiped
3. Least individualized of the Godhead [The Theology Program Trinitarianism Notebook]

Now that the Holy Spirit is eternal, and shares the same essence as God the Father, and God the son, the Holy Spirit is also distinct from the two. This brings us to line #3.

Now knowing that the Holy Spirit comes from God and shares the same essences as the Father and Son we will unite all three. They all share the same essence, eternality and cannot be separated from the union. (1 times 1 times 1 equals 1) We must be careful here for we are not saying there can be more than three, but the three are one. This is not the concept of polytheism. The concept of polytheism means separate gods but not equally sharing the same essence or powers over all things—they were limited as the sun god, god of thunder etc. Now we have the three united as shown below. This is the mystery revealed. The Trinity is the coequal, coeternal nature shared in three separate distinguishable persons, these three being one in unity.

Some issues with the views of Trinity
Notice the three are one line. However, if we were to take these three to form an equilateral triangle we can run into some problems. If we form these lines into a triangle, we may want to divide the essences. By this I mean 60 degrees shared or divisible make 360 degrees, therefore they are the same angle but divisible. God is not divisible in his simplicity. Many folks tend to see the equilateral triangle as a summation of 3-60 degree angles; however, this is what we call tritheism. Tritheism is a heretical view of the Trinity. Even though the triangle has three sides it is still one triangle not three triangles as a sum for our definition.

In other words the Father is not 60degrees, the Son is not 60 degrees, and the Holy Sprit is not 60 degrees, nor do they all three add up to 180 degrees by division. They are more like the straight line concept as shown earlier. The early Church had a symbol that represented the Trinity that looked like a triangle. However, they made a circle surrounding the triangle (shield) to keep from viewing the three 60 degree angles as a summation by division.

                                                       Diagram courtesy of wikipedia

Notice that the Triangle in the center showing the Father is God, The Son is God, and the Spirit is God. On the outer area is the circle that shows that The Father is not the Son, The Son is not the Father, and The Holy Spirit is not the Son or the Father, and so on. All three being--separate and equal but not the same personhood.
Modalism taught that God was manifested into three entities and was only one at a particular time. Note here the word manifested. Many people use this terminology to articulate the Trinity. The confusion is the definition implied with this word.
“Reveal its presence or make an appearance”
This could mean we have one line but each manifestation is not present at the same time. This divides the three from one and then it becomes “Oneness” theology. The one manifests itself into another essence (takes on the form) of one position so to speak. Here is the visualization.

The problem with taking this God is one too far we also distort the full scriptures pertaining to God for we know that one (ehad) can be a unity.
Ø  Gen 2.24--the man and his wife will be one (ehad) flesh--clearly a composite unity.
Ø  Ex 26:6, 11--the fifty gold clasps are used to hold the curtains together so that the tent would be a unit (ehad).
Ø  2 Samuel 2:25--many soldiers made themselves into 'one group' (ehad)
Ø  Gen 34:16 --the men of Shechem suggest intermarriage with Jacob's children in order to become 'one(ehad) people'. 
Ø  Joshua 9.2 -- the western kings agree to fight Joshua as "one (ehad)  force"
Ø  Josh 10.42-- "And Joshua captured all these kings and their lands at one (ehad) time" (NAS) or "All these kings and their lands Joshua conquered in one (ehad) campaign" (NIV)
Ø  Ex 24.3 --"Then Moses came and recounted to the people all the words of the Lord and all the ordinances; and all the people answered with one (ehad) voice, and said"

We must notice that the one in unity does not violate monotheism. If we go with tritheism it makes three divisible gods (60 degrees times 3). God is still one (one line as we have shown). Now these three have always existed before creation. However, Jesus is the word that became flesh. He humbled himself as shown in Philipians 2:5 You should have the same attitude toward one another that Christ Jesus had, 2:6 who though he existed in the form of God did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, 2:7 but emptied himself by taking on the form of a slave, by looking like other men, and by sharing in human nature. 2:8 He humbled himself, by becoming obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross!

A poor visualization of Trinity (notice the difference essences no like essences of the egg=modalism)

Courtesy of The Theology Program Trinitarianism notebook

Notice the same problems with using H2O (each is a different essence=modalism).

Jesus fully man and God?

Now some state this verse (Phil 2:5-7) as the Kenosis theory where Jesus gave up (emptied) some his powers. However if we take this verse in context, the emptying is because he took on the form of a slave (servant). The problem is that then Jesus cannot be viewed as fully God and fully man when we accept the Kenosis theory. When Jesus (The word) had become flesh, he was now bound by time and its effects. Jesus readily submits to the Father knowing that he had become flesh. When Jesus became flesh on earth, he became apt to temptation, hunger, tiredness, and submissive to the Father in Heaven. This is the ontological conception of Christ through his incarnation and his submissiveness to the Father. Of course, after the bodily resurrection of Christ, his body is now eternal, just as our resurrected bodies will be no longer bound by death or the bondage to decay. This paints a picture of what we can expect of our bodies.
Do we need to accept Jesus as the ego eimi?

Now if we eliminate Jesus as being the messiah and dismiss his claims as being the “I AM” (fully God) then we are left with this picture.

Notice as Jesus says this:
John 6:44 No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day. [Emphasis mine]
Matt 10:40 “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me. [Emphasis mine]
Notice that when we eliminate Jesus as the ego eimi then we cannot have a relationship with God the Father, nor will we be able to be raised up at the last day. The most important issue is accepting Jesus—the word becoming flesh—God becoming flesh. Without the Holy Spirit being involved in our walk, we cannot receive the comforter that helps us. If one does not fully understand the Trinity concept—that is fine, but if you cannot fully articulate it in human terminology then at least accept it by faith and ascent to the knowledge of the scriptures that allow us to view the triune nature and trust in those scriptures to be true.

[1] Remember that God does not share his power or authority with a mere god or angels as the JW wish us to think. If God shares these powers or authority he becomes divided when it is shared with one not of equal essence. Understand these words. Matt 3:24 “If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom will not be able to stand.” 3:25” If a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.” Matt 3:28 echoes this quite nicely when in juxtaposition with Jesus and God and Holy Spirit when view as a Trinity.