And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken.
The Trinity is a doctrinal understanding of the essence of God that has a long history of both ardent defense and constant attack. It is an official dogma of the Roman Catholic Church, and many Protestant denominations confess belief in it as well. Many creeds, confessions, and statements of faith have expressed it in different words ranging from a short sentence to paragraphs and pages. In recent years, many that confess the name of Christ are beginning to question the doctrine of the Trinity, and the numbers of those in other religions that reject this doctrine–such as Islam and Judaism–are growing. Sub-christian sects and cults such as Jehovah’s Witnesses and Christadelphians are seeing a resurgence based primarily on getting Christians to question the doctrine of the Trinity.
The danger exists because many that affirm the doctrine of the Trinity do so out of tradition and little else. They believe it, but cannot describe or explain it when asked. They become easy picking for evangelists and apologists from various cults and religions who spend hours of study in the Bible and philosophy to dismantle this long-held tradition. I have often called the doctrine of the Trinity a “gateway doctrine,” because it is the weakest link for many Christians. It is always the very first doctrine the outsider addresses and questions, becoming the “gateway” to get the uneducated Christian to believe all kinds of strange things. After all, nothing can be stranger than the Trinity!
Just what is the Trinity, anyway?
Before we can begin to defend the doctrine of the Trinity we must first construct a working definition of it. We must clearly understand what the Trinity is and what it is not. Here is the simplest statement I can use to explain the concept of the Trinity:
God is three Persons in one Being.
Notice that I have italicized two words in this short statement: Persons and Being. I did this for a good reason, because it is very important to understand what these terms mean and how they differ from each other.
Being is what something is.
Person is who something is.
Everything has being. A rock has being. You and I are both human beings.
You and I are both persons. We have consciousness and distinct wills. A rock has being, but it is not personal.
You and I are each one separate being. Each of our being is shared by only one person. You are one being, one person. I am one being, one person.
God is different from us in this respect. The Bible, when taken together as a whole, describes God as one being, three persons. The one Being of God is shared by three Persons. Hank Hanegraaff has also described this concept of God as one What, three Whos.
God is NOT three Beings in one Being.
God is NOT three Persons in one Person.
God is NOT three gods in One.
God IS one Being, three Persons.
You may think that this is strange, or even preposterous. However, remember that God is the Creator and we are His creatures. We may be made in the imago dei (the “image of God”), but that does not mean God has to be like our being in every respect, but just “bigger.”
“To whom then will ye liken God? or what likeness will ye compare unto him?”
We need to be careful when we expect to understand God by how we understand ourselves. This is the temptation that every cult that denies the Trinity tries to foist upon a weak Christian. “That Trinity doctrine just doesn’t make any sense!” they would say. “How can God be one and three at the same time? 1 + 1 + 1 does not equal 1, it equals 3! How can you worship a god you can’t understand?”
Now you also understand that these charges against the doctrine of the Trinity are unfounded. The Trinity does not say that 1 + 1 + 1 = 1. This oversimplification ignores the important distinction between being and person. God is not three in the same category that He is one. Therefore, the attempt to make an equation out of the Trinity fails. Some have explained that the real equation is 1 x 1 x 1 = 1. Although this is a step up from trying to use addition to describe the Trinity, I simply do not think we need to derive an equation from the Trinity. Because the “oneness” of God and the “threeness” of God are different categories, it would be a category error to try to put the Persons of God on one side of an equation, and the Being of God on the other side.
Who and What is God?
Now, we understand that the Triune God can be described in the following ways:
One Being, three Persons
One What, three Whos
Let’s expand these statements about the Trinity with what the Bible says about Who God is. Dr. James White provides a very good statement in his book The Forgotten Trinity:
“Within the one Being that is God, there exists eternally three coequal and coeternal persons, namely, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”
–James White, The Forgotten Trinity, p. 26
The Word of God names three Persons that identify Who God is:
“Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:”
“And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him:
And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
“Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.
And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord.
And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all.”
–1 Corinthians 12:4-6
“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen.”
–2 Corinthians 13:14
“For through him [Jesus Christ] we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father. ”
“There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling;
One Lord, one faith, one baptism,
One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.”
Why am I posting a defense of the Trinity on this blog?
I have recently come across a book entitled It Isn’t The Way We Think It Is: Seven Common Beliefs That Aren’t in the Bible by Les Burch. Chapter 5 of this book is called “The Trinity–Help or Hindrance?” Normally, I would include this in the list of “yet another article, essay, chapter, or book attacking the Trinity and trying to make trinitarian Christians feel dumb.”
The difference is that Les Burch is a member of my extended family. He is a very smart and intelligent individual who has a genuine respect for the Bible as the inerrant, infallible Word of God. In chapter 5 of his book mentioned above, he questions the doctrine of the Trinity and denies it. He takes the unitarian position that the Father alone is the One God and that Jesus Christ is the first created being–a position akin to that of the Watchtower Society. Interestingly, Les does not really address who (or what) is the Holy Spirit.
When I held my book signing event for Freedom to Give, I invited Les Burch. He attended and he bought a copy. He asked me about how I got my book published and that he was writing a book as well. I asked him about the subject matter of his book. He explained that it was about traditions within Christianity that are not Biblical–an example being the Trinity. I then spent most of the rest of my time at my book signing debating the Trinity with him.
The identity of God is fundamental to understanding the complete message of the Bible. The very essence of salvation is affected drastically by one’s understanding of Who Jesus Christ is and how He is able to be our Perfect Substitute. Indeed, the truth of the Trinity is one that I believe Christians need to understand when they try to present Christ and His work on the Cross to a dying sinful world that needs Him.
In the subsequent parts of this series of blog posts, I will analyze the arguments that Les Burch provides against the Trinity in his book. I will refute them thoroughly with Scripture. We will dive deep in the ebb and flow of Scripture and we will sometimes look at the Hebrew and Greek to see just how inescapable the doctrine of the Trinity really is. I am a hard-core, dyed-in-the-wool Trinitarian. I believe that the Word of God oozes, bleeds, and screams the truth of the Trinity. I hope that you will see what I see when you finish reading the posts in this series defending the unbreakable threefold cord of the Trinity.