The Trinity: One What and Three Whos

A Jehovah’s Witness who had knocked on my door challenged me in the course of our conversation to give a clear and concise definition of the Trinity doctrine. Here’s how I responded: The word “trinity” refers to “tri-unity” (three in one), thus conveying the biblically revealed truth that there is plurality within the unity of God’s nature (one God in three “persons”). The doctrine of the Trinity should be understood within the broader context of the Christian view of God. The God unveiled in the Bible (and later described in the ancient creeds of Christendom) is the one sovereign and majestic Lord. Historic Christianity thus affirms belief in one infinitely perfect, eternal, and personal God—the transcendent Creator and sovereign Sustainer of the universe. This one God is triune. He exists eternally and simultaneously as three distinct (though not separate) persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

All three persons in the Godhead share equally and completely the one divine nature, and are therefore the same God—coequal in attributes, nature, and glory. God has revealed Himself as one in essence, but three in personhood. In terms of what God is (essence), God is one; in terms of who God is (personhood), God is three. God is therefore “one What” and “three Whos.” The God of the Bible therefore reflects both a unity of nature (monotheism) and a plurality of personhood (trinitarianism).

Since the Trinity doctrine is so crucial for Christians, and since it is so often distorted or misunderstood by various critics, it is important for believers to be able to define this basic Christian doctrine. Even though the Trinity doctrine is not fully comprehensible to the finite human mind, what Christians believe about the doctrine is clear and distinct in the church’s creeds and statements of faith. The truth of this doctrine, however, can only be clearly and cogently communicated if believers take seriously their responsibility to study and show themselves approved (2 Timothy 2:15).

For more on the doctrine of the Trinity, see my book Without a Doubt: Answering the 20 Toughest Faith Questions (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004), chapter 5.

  One thought on “The Trinity: One What and Three Whos

  1. Carl
    July 16, 2011 at 12:10 am

    Above, you said: “The doctrine of the Trinity should be understood within the broader context of the Christian view of God. This one God is triune.” Is it so that the God of the Bible is triune? Is that the “Christian view of the “one God”? If it is, then, Jesus MUST have taught it. After all, he said at John 8:31, 32: “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. And you will know the truth.” Did Jesus teach that God is triune? No, to him, his Father–a single person–is the “only true God.” (John 17:3) The Christian Bible writer Paul concurred with Jesus that the Father–a single person–was the only God. At 1 Cor. 8:6, he wrote: “There is only one God, the Father.” He added that there is “one God and Father, who is over all and in all and living through all.” (Eph. 4:6) Does that sound like Paul viewed God as being triune? No.

    If the other Bible writers viewed God as being “a unity of three persons,” why can’t you show proof of that? Could it be that you have no proof? The only Scriptural reference you have above says absolutely nothing of a trinity.

    • Ron
      August 21, 2011 at 10:30 am

      Good thoughts Carl. Even many Trinitarian scholars agree that the Trinity is not “taught in the Bible.” They say it is only alluded to, implied, or assumed to be true. They admitted that the term Trinity and all the words used to explain are extra-biblical and based in philosophy. Then they have justified the theory on the grounds that, “preserving the truths of the Scripture is more important than preserving the terms of Scripture (See Warfield on the Trinity in Intl.Stan.Bib.Ency., available online). This makes absolutely no sense of course.
      I disagree with you about your statement about the Father being a “single person.” The key error of Trinitarian theology is using the term “person” as a paradigm, blindly following its narrow use into a web of defensive and non-biblical arguments. One may say that the Father is the “one and only God,” as the Shema of Deut.6.4 and the entire Bible testifies, but adding “single person” must be always carefully qualified, since the term is never used of Him in Scripture. He is an “eternal, infinite, omnipotent, invisible,(etc.),” and uniquely divine spirit. He is transcendent, vastly different than anything or any creature He has created. Calling Him “person”, reduces him to a finite character, which may apply to men and angels, but not to God without qualification.
      Jesus Christ was and is today a “person” because He was fully human. But the Bible makes it clear that He was also fully divine, being the “image of the invisible God,” “Immanuel which means ‘God with us'”, our “God and Savior. Does this mean there are two “persons” of God? Not at all since the nature of the finite human person is completely different than that of the infinite Spirit of God, that dwelt within the Messiah, and exalted him, as a man to the highest place, to rule and reign with the authority of God himself.

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