The majority of Christians who believe the doctrine of the trinity find it hard to understand, and even more difficult to explain. Reg Wright examines the history of this belief and related Scriptures.
One of the central beliefs of the Christian world is the doctrine of the trinity.
The doctrine of the trinity was established by the Roman Catholic Church and its catechism states, "The faith of all Christians rests on the Trinity."
This is a very significant statement. If the claim that the faith of all Christians rests on the Trinity IS true, then as Christians we must without hesitation, and unequivocally, embrace the Trinity doctrine.
The doctrine of the trinity has wide acceptance through the general Christian world and we can conclude that, as this doctrine is reported to have a significant bearing on our faith, it must be supported by well-documented easy-to-understand Scriptures.
Yet the majority of Christians who believe in this doctrine find it hard to understand, and even more difficult to explain.
But should such a significant doctrine, dealing with the very nature of our great God in heaven, and which, according to the Catholic Catechism, has significant bearing on our faith - should such a significant doctrine be beyond our ability to understand and comprehend?
Does the Bible support The Doctrine of the Trinity?
Is it soundly supported by clear and easy-to-understand Scriptures?
These are the questions I want to address today.
I refer to the Catholic Catechism again regarding the Doctrine of the Trinity. It says:
From the beginning, the revealed truth of the Holy Trinity has been at the very root of the Church's living faith. During the first centuries the Church sought to clarify her Trinitarian faith.
It was in the third and fourth centuries AD that various councils of the Catholic Church were convened and from their deliberations the "Dogma of the Holy Trinity" was established. According to the New Catholic Encyclopaedia it was in the last 25 years of the fourth century that "the definitive Trinitarian dogma -- 'one God in three persons' --became thoroughly assimilated into Christian life and thought."
The Trinity is One. [The word "trinity" simply means a group of three.]
The Trinity is One. We do not confess three Gods, but one God in three persons , the 'consubstantial Trinity.' The divine persons do not share the one divinity among themselves but each of them is God whole and entire. "The Father is that which the Son is, the Son is that which the Father is, the Father and the Son that which the Holy Spirit is, i.e. by nature one God". (emphasis mine)
The Catechism goes on to say:
The divine persons are really distinct from one another. "God is one but not solitary. 'Father', 'Son', 'Holy Spirit' are not simply names designating modalities of the divine being, for they are really distinct from one another. "He is not the Father who is the Son, nor is the Son he who is the Father, nor is the Holy Spirit he who is the Father or the Son". (emphasis mine)
"While they are called three persons in view of their relations, we believe in one nature or substance. Indeed 'everything (in them) is one where there is no opposition of relationship.' "Because of that unity the Father is wholly in the Son and wholly in the Holy Spirit; the son is wholly in the Father and wholly in the Holy Spirit; the Holy Spirit is wholly in the Father and wholly in the Son."
So let's pause for a moment and list the essential elements in this Dogma of the Trinity from what we have read:
Now just how this all fits together is to me completely baffling. It is indeed a mystery.
But why should our Creator be a mystery to us?
The Trinity Doctrine is widely accepted in the Christian world in general but the average lay person finds it very difficult to really understand. Most lay people simply take it for granted - leaving the mysteries of the doctrine to the theologians.
Harold Lindsell and Charles Woodbridge who co-authored a book entitled A Handbook of Christian Truth made the following observation:
The mind of man cannot fully understand the mystery of the Trinity. He who would try to understand the mystery fully will lose his mind. But he who would deny the Trinity will lose his soul. (emphasis mine)
Such an observance brings us to an obvious conclusion. If we want to be right with God, we have no option but to accept the Trinity doctrine, whether or not we understand it.
If we do not accept it, then we have forfeited our salvation. This is indeed a very powerful leverage over a believer's mind.
But merely accepting the doctrine of the Trinity without proving it would be totally contrary to Scripture. The Apostle Paul wrote:
1 Thessalonians 5:21 Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. (emphasis mine)
How do we prove all things? Christ said, Thy Word is Truth. Therefore, it is logical to prove all things against the Word of God, which is the truth. The Word of God is the litmus test.
Is the doctrine of the Trinity supported by Scripture -- that is the key question.
Jude 3 Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. (emphasis mine)
A common problem through all ages for the church has been to remain faithful to the truth of God's Word and not be tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness by which they lie in wait to deceive - as it says in Ephesians 4:14.
Is then the doctrine of the Trinity, part of the "faith which was once for all delivered to the saints"?
Earnestly contending for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints means setting our minds to understand if a doctrine, or a teaching, is true or false. It means diligently studying the Word of God to ensure that the faith that we have embraced is sound and that what we believe will stand the test of time.
We are duty bound as Christians to prove whether or not God is a Trinity, as defined in the Catholic Catechism.
This is quite an important subject for us in the United Church of God because some who make contact with us ask if we believe in the Doctrine of the Trinity as a test of whether or not they will continue to have any further contact with us. This is because the Trinity Doctrine has such a high profile in the Christian world.
It is therefore important to address this subject of the Trinity. And we do not have to be theologians to understand the Word of God. We do not need a Doctorate of Divinity to understand what God teaches in His Word.
1 Corinthians 1:26-29 For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in his presence.
If one needed a Doctorate of Divinity, or to study at a Seminary, in order to understand the Word of God, why would God call the weak of the world? That does not make sense. God has made provision for the Scriptures to be understood by the weak of the world. As average people, we can understand the Bible.
Now I am not saying that it is wrong to be a theologian, or that it is wrong to have a Doctorate of Divinity, or that it is wrong to study at a Seminary. Some may choose to do that and that is fine and is by individual choice.
The point I am making is that God makes it possible for all whom He calls to understand the Bible, no matter what our station in life they may be.
After all, how can we be ready to give an answer to those who ask, if we don't understand the Scriptures ourselves.
1 Peter 3:15 But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear. (emphasis mine)
This is not an instruction for the ministry only but for all the Church.
But the Scriptures also show that the ministry are to be devoted to the Word of God and to teach it with clarity, and with understanding
Paul wrote to the Timothy, a younger man in the ministry:
2 Timothy 2:15 Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. (emphasis mine)
It is a responsibility of the ministry to teach sound doctrine, and it is also the responsibility of each person individually to search the Scriptures for correct understanding on any particular subject.
Therefore, we do not need to be intimidated into believing that we are unable to test the Doctrine of the Trinity against the Word of God and determine if it is true, or not true.
Let's look at the Doctrine of the Trinity and see if it is supported by Scripture, and whether or not the faith of all Christians rests on belief in this doctrine.
First of all I believe it is important to state what the United Church of God teaches regarding this subject.
The United Church of God teaches that God is a family. At the present time there are two eternally living beings in that God family - the One we call the Father, and the One we call Jesus Christ. Both are separate and individual ever living Beings and from them everything exists and is sustained.
The United Church of God also teaches that the Holy Spirit is not a person but is the power of God - the power of the Father and Jesus Christ - it is the power through which they create and sustain everything that exists.
Now to deny that the Holy Spirit is a person is very controversial. If the Holy Spirit is not a person then the Doctrine of the Trinity is unacceptable and does not uphold the truth.
We need therefore to examine the Scriptures for proof that the Holy Spirit is not a person.
Acts 2:17 And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, That I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh;
In the last days, God said He would pour out His Spirit upon all flesh. How do you "pour out" a person on the human race - on all flesh?
1 Thessalonians 5:19 Do not quench the Spirit.
This verse says that the Holy Spirit can be quenched. How do you quench a person? You may quench a person's enthusiasm, or a person's commitment. But how do you quench a person?
Titus 3:5-6 not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit,
It says that the Holy Spirit must be renewed . How do you renew a person?
In other passages in the Bible we are told that people can drink of Holy Spirit, partake of it, be filled with it. And Holy Spirit can be stirred up within us.
These are impersonal characteristics and are certainly not attributes of a person.
The events surrounding the conception and birth of Jesus Christ also helps us understand that the Holy Spirit is not a person.
Luke 1:35 The angel answered and said to her [Mary], The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.
Matthew 1:20 ...Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. (emphasis mine)
Jesus Christ was conceived in the womb of Mary His mother by the Holy Spirit. If the Holy Spirit is a person, as taught by the Doctrine of the Trinity, then it is logical to believe that the Holy Spirit is Jesus' Father. Yet Jesus never ever called the Holy Spirit His Father. He never prayed to the Holy Spirit. He spoke about, and prayed to, another eternally living Being who was, and is, His real Father in heaven.
The Holy Spirit is not a person, but it is the power God the Father used to conceive Jesus in the womb of Mary His mother. And because this power emanates from God, it is holy, just as God is holy. It is the Holy Spirit, the holy power, of God.
On the Day of Pentecost when the New Testament Church began, Peter said to the assembled people:
Acts 2:38 Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (emphasis mine)
Upon repentance and baptism we are given the gift of the Holy Spirit.
If the Holy Spirit is a person, do we receive the gift of a person? How can this be, when thousands and thousands of people also receive the same gift?
2 Corinthians 1:21-22 Now he who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us is God. Who also has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a deposit. (emphasis mine)
This Spirit of God is given as a deposit, or a down payment, on eternal life to come.
If the Holy Spirit is a person, then how is this person given to us in our hearts as a deposit. It doesn't make sense. But if it is the power of God, then we can better understand it.
At baptism God gives us a small measure of the power that comes from Him, and it imparts to us His divine nature. This power, this Holy Spirit of God, unites with our human spirit and what happens, we become His begotten children.
1 Peter 1:3-5 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (emphasis mine)
We were begotten the first time by our human father and we became the children of our physical fathers. But as Christians we are begotten again this time by the Father in heaven and we have become His children - we are children of God.
We were born as physical babies to our human parents, we are born into the human family, but we are yet to be born again into the family of God by the resurrection to eternal life - and that is yet to come.
And we are kept by the power of God - the Holy Spirit of God - while waiting to receive that incorruptible inheritance.
But what about Scriptures such as:
Hebrews 3:7-8 Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, Today, if you will hear his voice, Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, In the day of trial in the wilderness. (emphasis mine)
Here it indicates that the Holy Spirit speaks. How can this be if the Holy Spirit is the power of God and not a person?
One of the main principles of Bible Study is to make sure you get all the Scriptures throughout the whole Bible, on any given subject. And, the weight of evidence in Scripture shows us that the Holy Spirit is the power of God, as we have just reviewed some of that weight of Scriptural evidence.
So when we read that the Holy Spirit says, or said, something, it is called a personification. A personification is a figure of speech in which a lifeless thing is spoken of as if alive.
Let me give you an example in Scripture:
Proverbs 1:20 Wisdom calls aloud outside, She raises her voice in the open squares, She cries out in the chief concourses, At the openings of the gates in the city, she speaks her words.
Is wisdom a person? No! Wisdom is using the knowledge we have in a right way. Wisdom is not a person. But wisdom here in Proverbs 1:20 is spoken of as being alive and she is crying out in the various places in the city where people gather and she is giving advice to all who pass by. It is a figure of speech in which a lifeless thing is spoken of as if alive.
Similarly, when we read at times the Holy Spirit speaks, or says something, it simply means that God is working through the agency, or power, of His Spirit to give instructions. This power extends or emanates from Him and carries out His will.
If we have received the Holy Spirit, we are begotten by the Holy Spirit, and we are now a child of God, if the Holy Spirit is a person as it taught by the doctrine of the Trinity, we could safely assume that the Holy Spirit is our Father.
We were begotten by our physical father and we can't deny this heritage. We were not begotten by some other person, we were begotten by a specific male person, the one we call our father, or our Dad.
So if the Holy Spirit is a person, as stated by the Doctrine of the Trinity, then we cannot deny that the Holy Spirit is our spiritual Father.
So when the disciples asked Jesus how to pray, what was His response?
He said, When you pray say, Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name, ...
That's in Matthew chapter 6.
Jesus explained to the disciples that when we pray, we are to pray in secret, or privately, to whom -- our Father in heaven.
He did not say, pray to the Holy Spirit. He pointed us to the Father in heaven - a separate eternally living Spirit Being who is indeed our heavenly Father who has begotten us through the power of His Spirit.
So we are to talk to our Father in heaven, in prayer -- But what does our heavenly Father look like?
Having never seen the Father, what do we, as human beings, mentally picture when we talk to our Father, in prayer.
Can we know what He looks like? Can we visualise what the Father looks like?
Yes, we can.
The Bible clearly shows that we, us human beings, are made in the image and likeness of God. If we look at ourselves, we have a likeness to our Father in heaven. We are like God the Father, and also the One who became Jesus Christ.
Genesis 1:26 On the sixth day of creation, God said, Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness; (emphasis mine)
It is important here not to miss these little words "US" and "OUR". Let US make man in our image, according to our likeness. God is not speaking to Himself. 'US' and 'OUR' are plural words. There are at least two beings here -- who are called God in the English language -- and one said to the other, Let us make man in our image according to our likeness.
The Hebrew word translated God in this verse is Elohim (or Elohiym)
Elohim allows for more than one God being.
In the Hebrew language, if it was referring to one God - that is, a singular being - it would use Eloahh
And the plural of Eloahh is Elohim.
Elohim is a noun that is plural in form but is usually paired with a singular verb.
Let me give you an example:
The United States is a good example. The United States is a federation or union of some 50 States. So the United States is a plural noun but when we use it in a sentence, we use a singular verb.
We might say, The United States is in the northern hemisphere. We don't say, The United States are in the northern hemisphere.
While in the plural form, the United States collectively is one nation.
It is the same with Elohim.
Eloah means "Mighty One."
Elohim means "Mighty Ones."
And the Scriptures identify two Mighty Ones - the One we call the Father, and the One we call Jesus Christ. Collectively, together, they are called Elohim (in the Hebrew language).
We translate Elohim into God in the English language because God is the word that denotes a supreme being - that is, there is no other being greater than God.
Now, unfortunately, when we use the word God in the English language, we think of one eternal Supreme Being - it is singular in form. "God" in the English language is not an adequate translation of the Hebrew "Elohim".
The Church many years ago, I believe, came up with a better English translation of the Hebrew word "Elohim." Taking the whole Bible into account, and understanding what God is doing, and what the very purpose of human life is, the Church refers to Elohim as the God family. And I personally believe this is a very good choice and a clear reflection of what God is.
God is a family of eternally living supreme beings.
And Scripture shows that there are two eternally living beings - NOT THREE - BUT TWO -- the One we call the Father, and the One we call Jesus Christ - both form the God family - that is, a family of Beings who are supreme - they are both eternally living Beings, and they are both creators, they are the source of everything that exists, -- they work together in perfect harmony, and they are bound by a love for each other that cannot be broken. And they have the same divine nature.
And in Genesis 1:26 it is recorded that one said to the other, Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness. (emphasis mine)
Let's look for a moment at those two words "image" and "likeness".
For emphasis, so that we could not misunderstand, the statement that we are made in God's image and likeness is repeated another four times in the Book of Genesis.
Genesis 1:27 (twice) So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.
Both men and women bear the image of God.
Genesis 5:1 In the day that God created man, He made him in the likeness of God.
Genesis 9:6 Whoever sheds man's blood, By man his blood shall be shed; For in the image of God He made man.
The Hebrew word for image is tselem and according to Strong's Exhaustive Concordance means: resemblance , hence a representative figure (Strongs No 6754).
And the Hebrew word for likeness is demuwth, meaning, resemblance, model, shape, fashion, likeness, manner, similitude (Strongs No 1823 ) .
Psalm 106:19 They [ancient Israel] made a calf in Horeb, and worshiped the molded image (NKJV).
The word "image" here is the same Hebrew word "tselem" used in Genesis 1:26 where God said, Let Us make man in our image, after our likeness.
What did this molded image that ancient Israel made in Horeb look like? The Scripture says it was made in the shape of a calf. When people looked at it, they recognised what it represented, what it resembled. The molded image was made in the likeness or image of a calf - it had the shape and form, the outline of a calf. No one disputes this understanding.
Genesis 5:1-3 This is the book of the genealogy of Adam. In the day that God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. He created them male and female, and blessed them and called them Mankind in the day they were created. And Adam lived one hundred and thirty years, and begot a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth.
Adam had a son, Seth, and this son was in Adam's own likeness, after his own image.
What did Adam's son look like. He looked just like Adam.
Seth didn't have three arms, five legs, three pairs of eyes and look like something out of Star Wars. He looked like a man. He looked like Adam. He looked like a male human being. He was recognised by this mother, he was recognised by his father, he looked just like them.
The children of Adam and Eve looked like them. This is very easy to understand. Adam and Eve's children had two arms, two legs, two feet, two eyes, two ears, a head, hair, face, and so on, and all in the right places too.
When children see their Dad and Mum they see that Dad and Mum have the very same shape and form. When parents see their newly born babies, they see little ones in the same shape and form as they are.
God (Elohim) said, Let US make man after our likeness, after our image. And that is what God did. We have been made in God's likeness and image.
As human beings we resemble God. We look like God the Father, and we look like Jesus Christ.
When I speak to the Father in heaven in prayer, I visualise a enormously powerful Being, and I look like Him. When the time comes for us to see the Father and Jesus Christ face to face, we will not see some kind of one God in three persons who are configured in such a way that they look nothing like we are.
When the day comes that I am able to come before the Father in heaven, as an eternally living son of God, I do not expect to see three hands beckoning me to come forward. I do not expect to see "one God in three persons" - something which would totally confuse me as a son of God.
No, I will be able to say, as a child of God, as a son of our Father in heaven, I AM LIKE HE IS.
I AM MADE IN THE IMAGE AND LIKENESS OF GOD.
I am made in the image and likeness of Elohim - the two great divine beings - the Mighty Ones. These Mighty Ones who said, Let Us make man in Our image, after our likeness.
Now I want to develop this point a little further.
Having been made in the image and likeness of God, Christ said, When you pray, say, Our Father in heaven, hallowed be thy name and so on in the model prayer.
When we talk to God in heaven, we are to address Him as Father. He is our heavenly Father.
To be able to call Him "Father" means we are His children
That is a special relationship - that is a family relationship.
1 John 3:1 Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called the children of God.
As children of God we pray to our Father in heaven.
Hold that thought while you read:
Romans 1:20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead [or as the margin says "divine nature, deity"].
What was one of the great institutions that God established in the Garden of Eden, something that was made and which helps to understand what God is like?
It is the human family.
We have Adam and Eve, male and female, and what did God say to them, Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth (with children) and subdue it.
Genesis 4:1 And Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain.
Notice that Eve is called Adam's wife so we have the first husband and wife. And a child is born to this husband and wife. So a family, the first human family, is formed.
And the human family is a type of the God family. Adam was Cain's father. Eve was Cain's mother. And later more children were born.
As the young men and young women grew older and were mature enough to marry, God said they are to leave father and mother and be joined together [in the marriage union] as one flesh. In this marriage union, God approved sexual relations between the husband and wife, and from this union children would be born. Human families come into existence.
And the human family is a type of the divine family .
There is the human family and there is the God family.
That is the very purpose for each and every human being - to become an ever-living member of the family of God.
Just as a husband and wife in the human family are able to bring children into the world, in their image and likeness, God the Father, and Jesus Christ, are working to bring children into their family, children in their image and their likeness, but these children will have the gift of eternal life and live forever.
And just as the father in the human family is a separate individual, and the mother in the human family is a separate individual, and each of the children are separate individuals, so too God the Father and Jesus Christ are separate individuals, and the children are separate individuals.
This to me is easy to understand.
In the human family, the human father begets the children. The child is conceived in the body of the mother, and it develops there, is nourished and protected there for nine months at which time the child is born into the human family.
God the Father begets His children through the power and indwelling of His Holy Spirit.
The newly begotten Christian is placed into the Body of Christ, the Church, of which Christ is the Head. The children of God develop, are nourished, and are protected, in the Body of Christ and there will come a time when the children of God will be born into the family of God through a resurrection to eternal life.
The invisible things of God are clearly seen by the things that are made. And the human family is a pattern of the heavenly family.
God is not a Trinity - one God in three persons -- but a family of two eternal beings composed of the Father, and Jesus Christ.
And the Father and Christ are expanding their family. This is the great purpose for each and every human being - to one day become part of God's family. God the Father and Jesus Christ will always be supreme but they are offering us the gift of eternal life as their children, living and enjoying life at a level of existence far far beyond anything we have ever experienced.
The doctrine of the Trinity - one God in three persons - must be totally rejected because it denies the powerful determination made by Elohim in Genesis 1:26, Let us make man in our image after our likeness. As children of God, we do not bear the image and likeness of a Trinity.
The Trinity Doctrine denies a glorious truth - that we can become part of the greatest family of all - the family of God.
1 John 3:1-3 Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!".
Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him ".
Not only do we bear the image of our human father, but we are destined to bear the full image and likeness of our heavenly Father. And that is the really good news for us, and not only us, but for all mankind.