THE DOCTRINE OF THE TRINITY
I. THE TRINITY DEFINED
Perhaps the meaning of the Trinity of God has never been better stated than it is stated by A. H. Strong- "in the nature of the one God there are three eternal distinctions which are represented to us under the figure of persons, and these three are equal" (Systematic Theology, p. 144).
The principles of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary set forth the doctrine of the Trinity as follows: "God is revealed to us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each with distinct personal attributes, but without division of nature, essence, or being."
In consideration of these definitions, note:
1. THE TRINITY CONSISTS OF THREE DISTINCTIONS.
The doctrine of the Trinity does not mean that God merely manifests Himself in three different ways. There are three actual distinctions in the Godhead. The truth of this will appear more clearly later.
2. THESE THREE DISTINCTIONS ARE ETERNAL.
This is proved, on one hand, by the immutability of God. If there was ever a time when these distinctions did not exist, then when they came to exist God changed. It is proved again by the Scriptures which assert or imply the eternity of the Son and the Holy Spirit. See John 1:1,2; Rev. 22:13,14; Heb. 9:14.
"It is no reply to this, that the expressions 'begotten,' and 'proceedeth from,' involve the idea of the antecedent existence of him who begets, and from whom there is procession. For these are terms of human language, applied to divine actions, and must be understood suitably to God. There is no greater difficulty here than in other cases in which this principle is readily recognized" (Boyce, Abstract of Systematic Theology, pp. 138, 139). Just as there can be logical order without chronological sequence, and just as a cause and its effect can be simultaneous, so we have the eternal Father, the eternal Son, and the eternal Spirit. "If there had been an eternal sun, it is evident that there must have been an eternal sunlight also. Yet an eternal sunlight must have evermore proceeded from the sun. When Cyril was asked whether the Son existed before generation, he answered: 'The generation of the Son did not precede His existence, but He always existed, and that by generation'" (Strong, Systematic Theology, p. 165).
3. THESE THREE DISTINCTIONS ARE REPRESENTED TO US UNDER THE FIGURE OF PERSONS, BUT THERE IS NO DIVISION OF NATURE, ESSENCE, OR BEING.
The doctrine of the Trinity does not mean tritheism. When we speak of the distinctions of the Godhead as persons, we must understand that we use the term figuratively. There are not three persons in the Godhead in the same sense that three human beings are persons. In the case of three human beings there is division of nature, essence, and being; but it is not so with God. Such a conception of God is forbidden by the teaching of the Scripture as to the unity of God.
4. THE THREE MEMBERS OF THE TRINITY ARE EQUAL.
Many of the same attributes are ascribed to each member of the Trinity, and the attributes thus ascribed are such as could not be possessed without all other divine attributes. The equality of the members of the Trinity is further shown by the fact that each one is recognized as God, as we shall see later.
II. SCRIPTURAL PROOFS OF THE DOCTRINE OF THE TRINITY
1. THE FATHER, SON, AND HOLY SPIRIT ARE ALL RECOGNIZED AS GOD.
(1) The Father Recognized as God.
"Elect . . . according to the foreknowledge of God the Father" (1 Pet. 1:1,2).
(2) The Son Recognized as God.
A. He is Called God.
John 1:1; Rom. 9:5; 1 John 5:20.
Matt. 3:3- alluding to Isa. 40:3; John 12:41-alluding to Isa. 6:1.
C. The Son Possesses the Attributes of God.
Eternity: John 1:1; Omnipresence: Matt. 28:20 and Eph. 1:23; Omniscience: Matt. 9:4 and John 2:24,25 and John 16:30 and 1 Cor. 4:5 and Col. 2:3; Omnipotence: Matt. 28:18 and Rev. 1:8; Self-existence: John 5:26; Immutability. Heb. 13:8; Truth: John 14:6; Love: 1 John 8:16; Holiness: Luke 1:35 and John 6:39 and Heb. 7:26.
D. The Works of God are Ascribed to the Son.
Creation: John 1:3; 1 Cor. 8:6; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:10. Preservation: Col. 1:7; Heb. 1:3. Raising the dead and judging: John 5:27,28; Matt. 25:31,32.
E. He Receives Honor and Worship Due to God Alone.
John 5:23; Heb. 1:6; 1 Cor. 11:24,25; 2 Pet. 3:18; 2 Tim. 4:18.
A. The Attributes of God are Ascribed to Him.
B. He is Represented as Doing the Works of God.
2. THE FATHER, SON, AND HOLY SPIRIT ARE ASSOCIATED TOGETHER ON AN EQUAL FOOTING.
(1) In the Formula of Baptism. Matt. 28:19.
(2) In Apostolic Benediction. 2 Cor. 13:14.
3. THE FATHER, SON, AND HOLY SPIRIT ARE DISTINGUISHED FROM ONE ANOTHER.
(1) The Father and Son are Distinguished From Each Other.
The Father and the Son are distinguished as the begetter and begotten; and as the sender and the sent. The distinction between the Father and Son was manifested at the baptism of Jesus when God's voice from Heaven was heard saying: "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased" (Matt. 3:17). Christ distinguished Himself from the Father when He prayed to the Father, as He often did. That the distinction thus implied was not a temporal one, continuing only so long as Christ was In the flesh, is proved by the fact that Christ still intercedes with the Father (Heb. 7:25; 1 John 2:1). He is a perpetual mediator between God and man (1 Tim. 2:5), and thus is perpetually distinguished from God the Father.
The Spirit is distinguished from the Father when He is said to proceed from and to be sent by the Father (John 15:26; 14:26; Gal. 4:6).
Jesus referred to the Spirit as "another Comforter" (John 14:16). And Jesus spoke of Himself as sending the Spirit (John 15:26).
Trinity means tri-unity, or three-oneness. We have shown that there are three distinctions in the Godhead. Now, in order to prove the doctrine of the Trinity, rather than the doctrine of Tritheism, we must show that the three, while being distinguishable from one another, are yet one. This is proved:
(1) By All Passages Teaching the Unity of God.
(2) By The Fact that Each One of the Three is Recognized As God.
We have already shown that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are severally recognized as God in the Scripture. This shows their unity, because God is represented as being the supreme being. For that reason there could not be three Gods. Supremacy is possible to only one.
(3) By the Fact that the Three are Equal.
III. THE DOCTRINE OF THE TRINITY IS A MYSTERY INSCRUTABLE AND INSOLUBLE TO FINITE MINDS; BUT IT IS NOT SELF-CONTRADICTORY.
We make no attempt to deny or to explain away the mystery of the doctrine of the Trinity. It is a high mystery that human minds can never fathom.
Yet the doctrine of the Trinity is not self-contradictory. God is not three in the same sense that He is one. He is one in essence, nature, and being; but in this one essence, nature, and being there are three eternal distinctions that are represented to us in such a way that we call them persons. Who can say that such distinctions are impossible in the nature of God? To do that one would have to have perfect understanding of God's nature. So we do well to accept what the Scripture teaches, and leave the mystery for solution when we have further light, if such light as will enable us to explain and understand it is ever given to us. The mystery comes because of our inability to understand fully the nature of God.