THE TRINITY

download

The Old Testament stresses monotheism, yet we confess our faith in a triune God. The doctrine of the Trinity, one of the most mysterious doctrines of the Christian faith, has caused no small amount of controversy throughout church history. Some of the controversy stems from misunderstanding the Trinity as three distinct gods— Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This idea is called “tritheism,” which is a form of polytheism.

How can the Christian church affirm the Trinity, that God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? The doctrine of the Trinity is established by the New Testament itself. The New Testament speaks of God in terms of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. No text expresses this concept more clearly than the opening chapter of John’s gospel, the prologue of which sets the stage for the church’s confession of faith in the Trinity:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God , and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1: 1– 5)

We translate the Greek word logos as “word,” so the actual Greek reads: “In the beginning was the logos, and the logos was with God, and the logos was God.” John makes a distinction between God and the logos. The Word and God are together yet distinct—“ the Word was with God.”

The word with may seem insignificant, but in the Greek language there are at least three terms that can be translated by the English with. There is sun, which comes across as the English prefix syn-. We find that prefix in synchronize, which means “to occur at the same time”; we synchronize our watches to gather at the same time. The Greek word meta is also translated as “with.” In the term metaphysics, meta is used in the sense of being alongside of. A third word for “with” used by the Greeks is pros, which forms the basis of another Greek word, prosōpon, which means “face.” This use of with connotes a face-to-face relationship, which is the most intimate way in which people can be together. It is this term John uses when he writes, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God.” By using pros, John is indicating that the logos was in the closest possible relationship to God.

So we see that the logos was with God from the beginning in an intimate relationship, but the next clause seems to confuse that: “and the Word [the logos] was God.” Here John uses a common form of the Greek verb “to be,” a linking verb used here in the copulative sense . This means that what is affirmed in the predicate is found in the subject, such that they are reversible: “The Word was God and God was the Word .” This a clear ascription of deity to the Word. The Word is differentiated from God, but the Word is also identified with God.

The church developed the doctrine of the Trinity not only from this New Testament text but also from many others. Of all the descriptive terms used for Jesus in the New Testament , the one that dominated the thinking of theologians during the first three hundred years of church history was logos, because it gives such an exalted view of the nature of Christ. John also gives us the response of Thomas in the upper room . Thomas was skeptical about the reports he had received from the women and from his friends of the resurrection of Christ, and he said, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe” (John 20: 25). When Christ appeared and showed His wounded hands to Thomas and invited Thomas to put his hand into His wounded side, Thomas cried out, “My Lord and my God!” (v. 28).

The New Testament writers, particularly the Jewish ones, were acutely conscious not only of the first commandment of the Old Testament but also of the second commandment, the warning against making graven images. The prohibition against all forms of idolatry— creature worship—is deeply rooted in the Old Testament. Because of that, the New Testament writers were aware that Christ could be worshiped only if He is divine, and the fact that Jesus accepted the worship of Thomas is significant.

When Jesus healed on the Sabbath and forgave sin, some of the scribes objected and said, “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Mark 2: 7). Every Jew understood that the Lord of the Sabbath was God, the One who had instituted the Sabbath, so when Jesus explained that He had healed the man “that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins,” He was declaring His deity (v. 10). Many reacted in anger because Jesus was claiming authority that belongs only to God.

When John writes, “He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made,” the logos is identified with the Creator. John also says, “In Him was life.” To say that life is in the logos, that the logos is the source of life, is clearly to attribute deity to this One called “the Word.”

In a similar fashion, the New Testament attributes deity to the Holy Spirit. This is often done by ascribing to the Spirit attributes that pertain to God alone, including holiness (Matt. 12: 32), eternality (Heb. 9: 14), omnipotence (Rom. 15: 18– 19), and omniscience (John 14: 26). The divinity of the Holy Spirit is also demonstrated when He is placed on the same level with the Father and Son, as in the baptismal formula in Matthew 28: 18– 20 or Paul’s benediction in 2 Corinthians 13: 14.

~Excerpt from  Everyone’s a Theologian: An Introduction to Systematic Theology by R.C Sproul (Reformation Trust Publishing, 1994, page 53).

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s