Trinity 1: What Do We Do with All These Guys?
A few weeks ago my friends and I got in a discussion about the Trinity. It came up at Bible study. Although I wouldn’t be surprised with these girls if the discussion came up over coffee or during a long car ride. Talking about theology is fun, right?
Anyways, it went something like this: “So, where did the Trinity come from?” “Is it ok to think of the Trinity as one God in three roles or jobs?” “Why is the Holy Spirit a separate part of the Trinity, isn’t the Spirit just the presence of God?” “Why is thinking about the Trinity correctly even that big a deal?” I’m pretty sure my answer was, “mmmm, well…. huh… let me think for a second… mmm….” Yep, great answer. That’s about all two years of seminary will get you. A few theological inklings and a long string of speech fillers.
But it will also get you a great love of theology and a few tools to start searching for the answer yourself. So, I decided to start exploring the Trinity.
First off, the word “trinity” never appears in the Bible. Seriously, you can take a look yourself. The doctrine of the Trinity came about over time in the history of the church over several centuries. And it wasn’t easy to get there. As early church father Gregory of Nyssa states:
Everywhere, in the public squares, at crossroads, on the streets and lanes, people would stop you and discourse at random about the Trinity. If you asked something of a moneychanger, he would begin discussing the question of the Begotten and the Unbegotten. If you questioned a baker about the price of bread, he would answer that the Father is greater and the Son is subordinate to Him. If you went to take a bath, the Anomoean bath attendant would tell you that in his opinion the Son simply comes from nothing.
-Oratio de deitate Filii et Spiritus Sancti, ~380 ad
So we join in a centuries-old discussion, often asking the same questions today. Because the Trinity just isn’t easy to pin down.
The Bible instead points to the truth of the Trinity. We find passages that seem to require a Trinitarian understanding of God, such as:
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you. – 2 Cor 13:13
But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God. – 1 Cor 6:11
There are also many passages that point towards a Trinitarian relationship between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit such as Matthew 3:16-17 (Jesus’ baptism), Eph 1:3-14 (the economy of salvation), and John 14-17. Even more importantly, the New Testament constantly shows Jesus’ Lordship (John 1:1, 20:28, Rom 9:5, Titus 2:13) and God’s presence through the Holy Spirit, which pushed early believers to integrate their understanding of God to include these three dimensions of their experience of God.
This was no easy task. As Jews, the earliest followers of Christ and the earliest church were adamant about God as one. The Hebrew Bible may not be clearer about any other message than God is One. Again and again, worshipping other gods from surrounding nations brought punishment and even exile to the Israelites. They proclaimed, “Here, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength” (Deut 6:4-5).
So, going from this strict monotheism to a Trinitarian view of God was not an easy move for the early church, but the Lordship of Jesus and the presence of the Holy Spirit pointed towards a God that was a bit more complex than previously understood.
This is the first in a series of posts on the Trinity.