Understanding The Bible
BY THE AUTHOR
Dr. Clarence E. Mason, Jr.
Philadelphia College of Bible
THE DOCTRINE OF THE TRINITY (TRI-UNITY)
"The doctrine that there is one only and true God, but in the unity of the Godhead there are three eternal and co-equal Persons, the same in substance but distinct in subsistence." (B.B. Warfield)
"In the unity of the Godhead there are three persons of one substance, power, and eternity: God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit." (Scottish Confession)
"In the nature of God there are three eternal distinctions and these three are equal: not merely three persons in One, nor that God manifests Himself in three ways. There are three essential distinctions in the subsistence of God." (Strong)
One writer has described the tri-unit" as "three subsistencies in one essence."
The doctrine of the Trinity is a revealed doctrine. It was nut, nor could it be, discovered by reason. The term "Trinity" is not, of course, a Biblical word. Its earliest known usage was by Tertullian in the 4th century.
The term "Trinity" is incomplete in that it denotes only the state of being three, without any implication as to the unity of the three. For this reason many prefer to use the term "the Tri-unity of God. "
Although neither the term "Trinity" or "Tri-unity" is not a Biblical expression, the doctrine itself is necessitated by the plain statement of Scripture. Neither is the doctrine irrelevant for it underlies the entire program and work of God. Flint says of it: "It is indeed a mystery, yet one which explains many other mysteries, and which sheds a marvelous light on God, on nature, and on man.
STRONG'S six statements show the necessity of the doctrine of the Tri-unity of God and are as follows:
In Scripture there are three recognized as God
New Testament witness
Father is recognized as God:
There are many Scriptures on this point, such as Jn. 6:27; 1 Pet. 1:2: "God the Father."
Jesus Christ is recognized as God
Jn. 1:1; 20:28; Tit. 2:13; Heb. 1:8; 1 Jn. 5:20
descriptions of God are applied to Him,
Mt. 3:3, cp. Isa. 40:3; Jn. 12:41, cp. Isa. 6:1
possesses the attributes of God,
Life (Jn. 14:6)
Love (1 Jn. 3:16)
Holiness (Jn 6:69)
Eternity (Jn. 1:1)
Omnipotence (Mt. 28:20)
Omniscience (Mt. 9:4)
Omnipotence (Mt. 27:18)
Self-existence (Jn. 5:26)
works of God are assigned to Christ (beyond His miracles),
Creation (Jn. 1:3
Raising of dead (Jn. 5:27)
Upholder of all things (Col. 1:17)
Judgment (Mt. 25:31-32)
receives honor and worship due only God,
Jn. 5:23; Rom. 10:9; Phil. 2:10; 2 Pet. 3:18
name is associated with that of God upon a footing of equality,
Mt. 28:19; 1 Cor. 1:3
with God is expressly claimed,
Jn. 5:18; Phil. 2:6
The Holy Spirit is recognized as God
is spoken of as God,
Acts 5:3-4; 1 Cor. 3:16; 12:4-6
possesses the attributes of God,
Life (Rom. 8:2)
Truth (Jn. 16:13)
Love (Rom. 15:30)
Eternity (Heb. 9:14)
Holiness (Eph. 4:30)
Omniscience (1 Cor. 12:11)
Omnipresence (Ps. 139:7)
does the works of God,
Creation (Gen. 1:2)
Casting out demons (Mt. 12:28)
Conviction of Sin (Jn. 16:8)
Regeneration (Jn. 3:8)
Resurrection (Rom. 8:11)
receives honor and worship due only God,
1 Cor. 3:16
name is associated with that of God as equals,
Mt. 28:19; 2 Cor. 13:14
Intimations in the Old Testament
Passages which appear to teach the plurality of the Godhead
name Elohim (a plural noun) is used often with a singular verb,
Gen. 1:1; 3:22; 48:15
of plural nouns and pronouns in referring to God,
Gen. 1:26; 11:7; Isa. 6:8
son is ascribed to Jehovah,
Spirit of God is distinguished from God,
is distinguished from Jehovah,
Passages relating to the Angel of Jehovah
of Jehovah identifies Himself with Jehovah,
Gen. 22:11, 16: 31:11,13
is identified as Jehovah by others,
Gen. 16:9, 13; 48:15-16
accepts worship due God,
Ex. 3:2,4-5; Jud. 13:20-22
Description of the Messiah
is one with Jehovah,
Isa. 9:6; Mic. 5:2
is in some sense distinct from Jehovah,
These three are so described in Scripture that we are compelled to conceive of them as distinct persons
Father and Son are Persons distinct from each other
distinguishes the Father as "another",
and Son are distinguished as the "begetter" and the "begotten",
Ps. 2:7; Jn. 1:14; 3:16
arc distinguished as the "sender" and the "sent",
Jn. 10:36; Gal. 4:4
Father and Son are distinct from the Holy Spirit
distinguishes Himself from both,
proceeds from the Father,
is sent by Father and Son,
Jn. 14:26; 15:26
The Holy Spirit is a Person
proper to personality are given Him,
name is mentioned in immediate connection with other persons in
such a way as to imply His own personality,
Acts 15:28; Mt. 28:29; 2 Cor. 13:14
performs acts proper to personality. He searches, reveals, convicts,
commands, guides, inspires, etc.,
Gen. 6:3; Lk. 12:12; Jn. 3:8; Acts 8:29; Rom. 8:26
is affected as a person by the acts of others,
Isa. 63:10; Mt. 12:31; Acts 5:3-4,9; Eph. 4:30
manifests Himself in visible form--distinct from Father and Son,
This tri-personality of the Divine nature is not merely economic and temporal, but it is immanent and eternal
proof that these distinctions are eternal,
Jn. 1:1-2; 8:58; Rev. 22:13-14; Jn. 17:5
Errors refuted by these passages
Sabcllius (c. AD 250) held that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit arc mere developments or revelations to creatures, in time, of the otherwise concealed Godhead. They are forms or manifestations of God (denial of the Deity of Jesus Christ and of the Holy Spirit).
Arius (c. AD 300) held that Father is the only divine Being absolutely without beginning. The Son and the Holy Spirit, through whom God creates and recreates, were themselves created out of nothing before the world was. Christ is called God because He ranks next to Him. He is of similar substance (homoiousian) to the Father, but not of the same substance (homoousian). Thus He is not really divine or human. "
This tri-personality is not tri-theism; for while there are three Persons, there is but one Essence
The term "Person" must be used in a qualified sense. It only approximates the truth. A better description might well be "three subsistencies in one essence."
necessary qualification is that, while three persons among men have
only a specific unity of nature or essence--that is, have the same species
of nature or essence, the Persons of the Godhead have a numerical unity
of nature or essence—that is, have the same nature or essence.
The three Persons--Father, Son, and Holy Spirit--are equal
These titles belong to the Persons
The Father has relationship to the Son and through the Son and Spirit to the Church.
The Son designates the relationship to the Father whereby He is sent to redeem the world.
The Holy Spirit designates the relationship to the Father and Son whereby He is sent by them to accomplish the work of renewing the ungodly and of sanctifying the Church.
Qualified sense of these titles
Like the word "person," the names Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not to be confined within the precise limitations of meaning which would be required if they were applied to men.
"Generation" and procession consistent with equality (cp. Ps. 2:7)
Eternal "generation" does not speak of creation or procreation, but the Father's communication of Himself to the Son.
It is not a commencement of existence, but an eternal relationship he Father, there never having been a time when the Son it exist as God with the Father.
It is not an act of the Father's will, but an internal necessity of the divine nature, so that the Son is no more dependent upon the Father than the Father is dependent upon the Son.
It indicates that although the Persons of the Godhead are equal, they stand to each other in an order of personality, office, and operation in the plan of redemption.
This order of priority is not necessarily superiority, The possibility of an order need not involve inequality. Indeed, when the plan of redemption is completed with the destruction of the last enemy, death, the Son is said to deliver up the kingdom to the Father, that (the) God(head) may be all in all (1 Cor. 15:24-28). Thus, any order of authority is assumed for purposes of redemption. When this is completed, co-equality is eternally restored (positional restoration).
Inscrutable, yet not self-contradictory, this doctrine furnishes the key to all other doctrines.
The mode of this triune existence is inscrutable
This is because there are no analogies to it in our finite experience.
The doctrine is not self-contradictory
We assert simply that the same God who is one with respect to His essence is three with respect to the internal distinctions of that essence. The possibility of this cannot be denied, except by assuming that the human mind is in all respects the measure of the divine.
The doctrine of the Trinity has important relation to other doctrines
It is essential to any proper theism.
Anti-trinitarianism almost necessarily makes creation indispensable to God's perfection.
It is essential to any proper revelation.
It is essential to any proper redemption.
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