Thursday, March 24, 2011

CGtM: A Biblical Defense of the Trinity

            One of the most confusing central doctrines of Christianity is the Doctrine of the Trinity: the concept that there are three divine personages (The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost) in one entity (God).  As I mentioned earlier in my “Christian’s Guide to Mormonism”, Mormons reject the Trinity, because they reject that God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son, and the Holy Ghost are one being.  Muslims also reject the trinity for two reasons: they deny the deity of Jesus and that God is more than one person.  Since both religions somewhat acknowledge the authority of the Bible (Mormons slightly more so than Muslims), this post is devoted to giving a Biblical look at the Trinity.

There are essentially three objectives (no direct connection to being triune intended) in defending the Trinity.  Everyone knows that the Father is the divine God.  Thus, our first two objectives are to show that the Son and the Holy Ghost are also divine personages in the Godhead.  The third objective is to show that the Trinity is comprehensible.  Or at least logically coherent.

First of all, let’s look at Christ.  Now getting into Jesus’ radical notion of being divine with Mormons gets really, really confusing, because it gets into the actual Hebrew words and…well I’ll do a post on that later.  So, I’ll give a couple verses in favor of showing that Jesus is God.  Isaiah 9:6 is familiar, especially around Christmas time: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and he shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” (by the by, this is identical to the Book of Mormon’s 2 Nephi 19:6)  Matthew 1:23 states “Behold, a virgin will soon be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.”  1 Timothy 3:16, “And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.”  Along the same lines, there’s John 1:1, 14, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory and the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.”  These verses clearly indicate that Jesus, the one made flesh who dwelt among us, is both with God and being God, simultaneously.

My favorite way to show that Jesus is God is to ask the question, “Was Jesus good?”.  The automatic response is, “Well of course, he never sinned.”  Well let’s see what Jesus himself said.  “And a certain ruler asked him, saying, Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”  Here, in his typical style, Jesus avoids the question at first and says something a little odd.  “And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? None is good save one, that is, God.”  So, the argument goes like this: only God is good, if Jesus is good, he must be God.

On to the Holy Ghost.  Acts 5:3-4, “…why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost…thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God.”  Here, the Holy Ghost is actually equated with God.  The Bible also describes the Holy Ghost as having the attributes of a deity such as omnipresence, Psalm 139:7-12, and omniscience, 1 Corinthians 2:10-11.  A little later in this post, I will show more evidence that the Holy Ghost is also God in a less direct manner.  Of course there’s slightly less overtly textual evidence to show that the Holy Ghost is a personage of God.  One would think that the Holy Spirit being the living breath of God among humans would be evidence enough of his place in the Godhead.

A kind of fun way to look at the Trinity is to ask a few questions that have some…interesting Biblical answers.  So, let’s look at some of these questions.

Whose Spirit indwells all believers; the Spirit of God the Father, Spirit of Christ the Son, or the Holy Ghost?  Well, Romans 8:9-13 states, “But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you.  Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his…But if the spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you…by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.”  So here we have both the Spirit of God and the Spirit of Christ dwelling in believers.  In 1 Corinthians 6:19, we see “…Your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God…”  So, we see that all three Spirits are in believers.  But are there three separate Spirits?  1 Corinthians 12:13 says otherwise: “for by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.”  So, all believers have the one Spirit of God (Father, Son, AND Holy Ghost).  The Romans verse “…Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead…” leads to our next question.

Who raised Jesus from the dead?  Well, Galatians 1:1 states, “Paul, and apostle, not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead.”  So the Father raised him.  Well, then what about John 2:19, 21, “Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I [referring to himself, Jesus] will raise it up…But he spake of his body.”  So Jesus the Son raised himself from the grave.  Confusing, unless of course the Father and the Son are the same being.

OK, so it’s still confusing.  I’ll try to make it a little more clear.

An illustration of the Triune can be shown with human nature, specifically the mind, since man is made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27).  The relationship between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost is analogous to the relationship between the mind, its ideas, and the expression of those ideas in words.

Many Mormons object to the Trinity on the grounds that it is incomprehensible.  However, being incomprehensible is kind of an attribute of the Almighty God (remember the “mystery of godliness”?).  It’s rather unhelpful for gaining an understanding of God, but it’s not entirely implausible that God would escape our powers of comprehension.  What we can ask is “is the Trinity contradictory?”.  The doctrine of the Trinity does not state that there are three essences in one essence, nor three natures in one nature.  Those would be contradictory.  Instead, Christians believe that God is three natures (persons) in one essence (being/entity).  Another way of putting it is this: there are three “Who’s” in one “What”.  The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are the three “Who’s”, and God is the “What”.  Take a look at this diagram.
All three personages of the Trinity exist inseparably and simultaneously in one being, which is God.

I’ll end with an illustration that Pastor Jan at New Covenant Community Church (who's own blog can be found here) loves to use to better understand the Trinity.  As 1 John 4:16 tells us, “God is love”.  But love is triune in that it involves a lover, a beloved (the one being loved), and a spirit of love between them.  In the same way, the Father is the divine Lover, the Son the divine Beloved, and the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of love.  Love must have all three of these existing inseparably and simultaneously.  Yet love is one: three in one, just as the one God is three distinct personages in one holy being.

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