Church Education Trust

Christian Belief

ST004/2 The Trinity


The Doctrine of the Trinity.

The doctrine of the Trinity is not merely the result of the reasonings of philosophy; it is the inevitable outcome of religious and spiritual experience as revealed to us in the New Testament. Four facts are clear in the worship of God as revealed in the Scriptures and especially in the New Testament.

God the Father is described as Deity; God the Son is recognized as co-equal with the Father and thus one with Him in all essentials of Deity; God the Holy spirit is spoken of as personal and likewise God; and yet God is always and consistently represented as being One. These four facts make a doctrine of the Trinity necessary to our faith.

1. The Fact of the Trinity.

The doctrine of the Trinity is clearly and exclusively one of revelation. It could not possibly be reasoned out from any facts we have in the world around us. There is no formal statement of the doctrine in the Scriptures, but as we have already seen there are facts of revelation which make it necessary. Three observations made by Miss Bowie will be helpful here before going on to study more fully the Scriptures and the doctrine resulting from them.

(a) The fact of the Trinity is not contrary to reason.

Always remember that the doctrine of the Trinity does not state that the Persons of the Godhead are three in the same sense that they are one. They are three in personal consciousness, but one in essence or substance.

(b) The fact of the Trinity is inscrutable because there is no adequate analogy in human experience.

Many have been used e.g. sun, light, heat; fountain, flux, stream; intellect, will, feeling; body,soul, spirit; subject, object and identity of two. None is really adequate. That of body., soul and spirit is obviously not so, for these elements are inseparably woven into one personal consciousness, whereas the Persons of the Trinity are self-conscious and at the same time conscious of one another.

(c) The fact of the Trinity is an essential truth.

God cannot be thought of as a perfect personal being without this threefold reciprocal union. To be perfect love and have perfect fellowship, for example, He must have a perfect person to love and to have fellowship with. This person must therefore be within the existence of the Godhead.

According to the Scriptures also the three Persons of the Godhead are necessary to our redemption. God as judge forgives; God as priest and sacrifice provides the ground for that forgiveness; and God in the Holy Spirit ministers to man the benefits of the atonement. On this point some remarks are relevant which were made by Handley Moule in his little work "Outlines of Christian Theology".

He says "Why should the Third Person be specially 'The Spirit', when altogether 'God is Spirit' (John 4:24)? The answer is to be humbly sought both in the inner relations of the Persons and in their outgoing redeeming work. 'The Spirit', The Breath', is the fit designation of the Third Person if, in the ineffable intercourse of Godhead, He is the eternal 'Nexus' of the Father and the Son, the eternal Resultant and Vehicle, if we may venture on such words, of their infinite, mutual love in its yearning, and breathing." (p.123).

2. The Scriptural Development of the Doctrine.

There are two aspects of the Scriptural doctrine of the Trinity, the first that of the Unity of God and the second that of His Triunity.

  • (a) The Unity of God.

By this is meant that there is "but one God in the universe, who exists as an infinite, eternal and self-existent Being." This is a truth that is asserted clearly and plainly all through Scripture. The following are some of the relevant passages ( Deut,6:tf; Isa.42:8; 44:6,8; Exodus 20:3; Dout.4:399 Mark 12:29; John 17:3; 1 Cor.8:4-.6; Gal.3:20.)

  • (h) The Triunity of God.


In a general way such statements as those found in the baptismal formula (Matthew.28:19) point to the fact of a triunity; so also do the benedictions (cf.2 Cor.13:14).

ii. Old Testament.

There are no explicit statements in the Old Testament and the full light of the New Testament was required to make the doctrine clearly known. It is there in germ, however, and then, are a number of anticipations to be found. One of those is that the name for God is always plural (Elohim) and is always used with a singular verb.

This is even so when the unity of God is solemnly asserted as in Deut.6:4. The actual force of the argument from the name itself is strongly discounted by many but it is quite reasonable to suppose that the passages in which God speaks of Himself in the plural (Gen.l:26; 11:7) "contain an indication of porsonal distinctions in God".

The threefold use of "Jehovah" in the triple blessing of Aaron (Nun.6:24-27) and the Trisagion of Isaiah (Isa.6:3) can also be included in this category. An interesting point is that the vision and voice in this latter passage are referred by John to Christ (John 12:43), and by Paul to the Holy Spirit (Acts 28:25,26).

The R.V. and the R.S.V. rendering of Isa.48:16 is also interesting in this connection, where the clear distinction is made between God, the Servant or Messiah, and the Spirit. ("And now the Lord God has sent me and His Spirit" — R.S.V.) In addition the frequent reference to the angel of the Lord and the personification of Wisdom in the Book of Proverbs seem to point to the fact of the Messiah as one of Godhead.

iii. New Testament.

We have already shown clearly that as far as the New Testament is concerned both the Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit are considered, spoken of and worshipped as God. Two other passages in the New Testament are worth mentioning, however. One is that concerning the gifts of the Spirit (1 Cor.l2). Here Paul, in speaking of the diversities of spiritual gifts attributes them to the "self same Spirit" and also of "the self same Lord" and then concludes with the statement that it is "the same God which worketh all in all".

The other is the account of the Baptism of Jesus where our Lord, the Father and the Holy Spirit are all mentioned separately and as separate Persons. ( Matthew.3:16-17).
From the Scriptures therefore it is obvious that a doctrine of the Trinity cannot be avoided. This can be stated in one of its simplest forms in the words of the Methodist Articles, "In the unity of the Godhead there are three Persons of one substance, power and eternity the Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost.!"

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