The Tri-unity of God

We worship God in “trinity, and trinity in unity, neither confounding the persons, nor separating the substance” (Athanasian Creed).  The entire witness of Scripture requires a tri-une understanding of God. “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” (H. Thiessen).

A. Three persons recognized as one God

An honest reading of Scripture, reveals the same three persons operating throughout the account. The reader will also notice an equality recognized for each of the three who are at work.

1. Statements on the oneness of God (monotheism)
Deut. 6:7; I Cor. 8:4, 6; I Tim. 2:5-6; Ja. 2:19
These statement were given to people who lived in the midst of polytheistic societies.

2. Allowances for oneness in a compound sense-There is a plurality within the oneness of God. In Gen. 1:1 the word for God (Elohim) has a plural ending; In Gen. 1:26; 3:22; 11:17; Isa. 6:8 we observe plural pronouns in reference to God. Deut. 6:4 uses a compound unity noun in reference to God (Cf. Gen. 2:24; Num. 13:23; Ez. 2:64; Jer. 32:38,39). Consider also: Theophanies/Christophanies – “The Angel of the Lord” – Gen. 16:7-13; Ex. 3:1-6; Jud. 13:21-22; The Angel of the lord is called God. Zech. 1:12 – “Then the Angel of the Lord answered and said, ” Lord of Hosts”… The Angel of the Lord talks to God. YET: John 4:24 “God is Spirit”; John 1:18 “No man hath seen God”.

3. Distinctions of Father, Son, Holy Spirit –(Mt. 3:16-17; 28:19-20; Jn. 5:32,37; Acts 7:56 w/Heb. 1:3; Isa. 48:16; Jn. 14:16,17; 15:26; I Cor. 12:4-6; II Cor. 13:14).

4. Co-sharing of attributes, works and titles between Father, Son, and Spirit

a. Each is immutable –

Father – Ma. 3:6; Ja. 1:17
Son – Heb. 13:8
Spirit – Heb. 9:14

b. Each called God –

Father – I Pet. 1:2
Son – John 1:1; 20:28; Ti. 2:13; Rom. 9:5; II Pet. 1:1
Spirit – Acts 5:3-4; I Cor. 3:16; I Cor. 6:19
Our body – temple of the Holy Spirit

c. Each involved in creation –
Father – Heb. 11:3; Ps. 102:24, 25; Rom. 11:35
Son – Col. 1:16; Jn. 1:3
Spirit – Heb. 9:14

d. Each is eternal –
Father – Ps. 90:2; Isa. 40;28
Son – Jn. 8:58; Rev. 1:8
Spirit – Heb. 9:14

5. Statements on equality in key passages –
Phil. 2:5-10; Heb. 1:1-3; I Jn. 5:20

6. Father, Son and Holy Spirit at work in salvation –

Eph. 1:3-4 – Chosen by the Father
Eph. 1:5-7 – Redeemed by the Son
Eph. 1:13-14 – Sealed with the Spirit
The Father sent the Son (Jn. 3:16), the Son sent the Spirit (Jn.16:7-14).

B. Practical Implications of this doctrine A Church father once said, “He who would seek to understand the trinity is in danger of losing his mind; yet he would deny the trinity is in danger of losing his soul.” The practical implications of this doctrine relate to who God is, how He works, and how He is to be approached by people. For example, in His tri-unity, God is a relational being and has made us relational beings (in His image).  Yet since God is one, we must not divide our worship and allegiance (Ex. 20;3-5; Deut. 6:13, 14; Mt. 10:37).

C. The difficulty of this doctrine –  This truth about God may appear self-contradictory to some people. Yet we must always be ready to distinguish things that are beyond our knowledge from things that contradict what we know. The God revealed in Scripture infinitely transcends our finite comprehension. What we do know about God, we know because he has condescended to reveal himself to us.  But we are wise to expect truths about His majestic existence that would be beyond the realm of finite minds (Is. 55:8-9; Job 11:7; Rom. 11:33). This is not truth that contradicts our knowledge but truth that is beyond it. The unified testimony of Scripture in its entirety conclusively leads to the triune understanding of God.

Deeper reflection on the doctrine of Trinity: 

  • God in Three Persons: A Contemporary Interpretation of the Trinity and Making Sense of the Trinity, by Millard J. Erickson.
  • God the Holy Trinity: Reflections on Christian Faith and Practice, Timothy George (editor)
  • The Beauty Of The Infinite: The Aesthetics Of Christian Truth, David Bentley Hart
  • God’s Life in Trinity, Miroslav Volf and Michael Welker (editors)
  • The God Who Is Triune: Revisioning the Christian Doctrine of God, Allan Coppedge

Steve Cornell

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