by Randy Bushey ~ Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19).
The foundation of biblical Christian faith is said to contain 3 imponderables.
The first two are eternity – how can we understand time without beginning and ending? – and the Incarnation: the Son of God adding to His deity, humanity.
Each is a concept that mere human minds cannot scale to measure, reach to evaluate, or observe to fully comprehend. Each is humanly incapable of being understood with any metric approaching precision or completeness.
And that is also true of the third, the Trinity.
Yet a scripturally precise understanding of the Trinity is foundational to understanding God and eternal truth.
Much is at stake, and it’s this simple: getting the Trinity wrong distorts the Gospel because, “[t]he doctrine of the Trinity is one of the most important doctrines of the Christian faith”, says Theologian Wayne Grudem.1
The Bible’s teaching can be stated as follows: One God eternally exists in 3 Persons, and although each Person is distinct, together they are one God.
Here are the 3 basic declarations of orthodoxy, a basic familiarity with which will keep you from sliding into heresy. (This will require some hard thinking – but stay with me; it’s worth it!)
1) The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct Persons.
In everyday speech we define a person as an “independent individual”, and every individual person is a separate being.
But not so with God. He is 1 Being, expressed in 3 Persons.
Sometimes God is wrongly thought of as rotating through 3 different roles or modes, wearing 1 of 3 alternate masks.
But again, although His Being or essence is 1, He expresses Himself in 3 Persons.
This might help: theologian Norman Geisler explains that being or essence is what you are, person is who you are.
In other words, God is 1 what, and 3 whos.2
2) Each Person of the Trinity is fully God.
Each is not one-third God. The Triune God is not made up of 3 incomplete pieces
3) There is only One God.
The Gospel is emphatically monotheistic.
When questioned as to which is the greatest commandment, Jesus began His answer this way: Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one (Mark 12:29).
Skeptics rashly label the doctrine of the Trinity as a contradiction. However, to be contradictory, a statement must be simultaneously affirmed and denied.
When Charles Dickens opened his famous novel with, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”, was he engaging in incoherence or contradiction?
Of course not! Every reader understands that Dickens didn’t use the terms best and worst in the same way.3
When we define the Trinity, we assert that God is 1 and 3, but not in the same way.
God is 3 in a different way than He is 1.
That’s because He is 3 Persons, sharing a single essence, or Being.
And that is why disciples of Christ are to be baptized in the name [not the names, plural] of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19).
Takeaway: in seeking to get our mind around the Bible’s doctrine of the Trinity, we are wrestling with that which for us, is imponderable.
But it is true.
Theologian Lewis Sperry Chafer: “Though no finite mind has ever comprehended how three Persons may form but one Essence, that precise truth is the testimony of all parts of the Bible.” 4
1 Grudem’s Systematic Theology, Zondervan.
2 Matt Perman, Desiring God website: https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/what-is-the-doctrine-of-the-trinity
3 example used by R.C. Sproul.
4 Chafer’s Systematic Theology, volume 1, Dallas Seminary Press.