Home Articles & Books
(C) In the Public Domain: If you use this material, please, credit the source and do not in any way misquote the author.
"TRINITARIANISM" By H. LaVern Schafer, B.A., Th.M., Th.D. Chairman of the Department and Professor of Theology in THE SAN FRANCISCO CONSERVATIVE BAPTIST THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY 1225 Franklin Street, San Francisco, California 94109 (These notes are class handouts from Theology Proper, 102, 1965) According to the Scriptures God is one in essence yet three in persons. God as God is one in a different way than he is three. The one infinite Spirit which is God is shared simultaneously and equally by three divine persons. The doctrine of the Trinity is a Biblical revelation. This triune concept of God does not come from reason, philosophy, analogy, nor from natural phenomena. The Trinity is not the same as the triad of gods found in ancient heathen deities. The heathen concept of a virgin and child; or a mother, father and son; or of three separate gods, as of three different forms of one god; or of a three headed god, is not comparable to the Biblical doctrine of a Trinity within a Godhead. Human reason and wisdom are incapable of discovering the doctrine of the Trinity. Therefore, all precepts and concepts of this doctrine must come from Biblical revelation. Although the doctrine is not rationally derived, still it is not rationally contradictory. Moreover, in keeping with the revelation of God, it is rationally explainable to a Spirit-illumined mind. It is thus a truth that is mentally apprehensible though, because of human limitations, it is not completely comprehensible. The word Trinity does not occur in Scripture, yet the doctrine concerning the Trinity is wholly a Biblical doctrine. All of the factual material which makes up the doctrine is contained in the Bible. Therefore, the human devised term, Trinity, defines and explains accurately Divinely revealed facts concerning God. Therefore, the doctrine of the Trinity is wholly a Biblical doctrine. However, since no one verse contains the complete statement of the doctrine, an inductive study of the total testimony of the Scriptures related to this subject is necessary. Without this scientific approach to the whole truth concerning this subject one can not understand it. The doctrine of the Trinity is peculiarily a New Testament revelation. This does not mean that the Old Testament does not contain veiled hints concerning a plurality within God. It does mean that these Old Testament intimations are unintelligible apart from the plain revelation of the New Testament. In the New Testament alone the doctrine is taught with utmost clarity. The New Testament is dependent throughout on the doctrine of a Trinity within the Godhead. Every activity of God in providing or applying salvation for man is stated to be a work of the one God who is in a different sense three. A Trinity in unity, not in a unit. The New Testament is as careful as the Old Testament to oppose the thought that there is more than one God. In presenting God as triune the New Testament does not contradict the Old Testament. Rather the hints and veiled statements of the Old Testament are clearly explained in the New Testament. The pages of the New Testament clearly teach that God is one and yet in an altogether different way He is three. Lucidly this section of Holy Scripture sets forth the fact that the Father is God, and the Son is God and the Holy Spirit is God. On the other hand the clear statement is that these three are not three aspects of the same person, but three persons having an essential relationship to each other. There are three divine persons but one God. God's dealings with man in the Old Testament made it unnecessary for this doctrine to be revealed then. God progressively revealed Himself and His plan of salvation. The work on the cross necessitated a fuller revelation of God so that man could understand what God had done. Therefore, after the cross God manifested by clear revelation the truth concerning the Godhead. During the Old Testament times this was unnecessary for the nation Israel. The polytheistic idolatry to which Israel was exposed required only the revelation which emphasized Jehovah as the one true God. Though the intimations and foregleams of this doctrine are in the Old Testament, none of the Israelites saw in these shadows the details we now have. Now Christians with their full revelation plainly see a Trinity in unity and a unity in Trinity. The relation of Old Testament and New Testament revelations is such that the believer is prevented from thinking that in the New Testament there are simply two persons added to the God of the Old Testament. Therefore, New Testament revelation clarifies Old Testament shadows in such a way as to show that God has not changed, but He simply has revealed more about Himself. There is one God, but there are three who are God. One of the two major objections to the doctrine of the Trinity is that it has no practical application to daily life for the believer. Indeed, very few, if any, of the books written on the subject relates this most important doctrine to situations of daily life. However, according to the New Testament nothing could be more closely related to daily life and experience. Every aspect of the Christians life is related to different persons of the Godhead. The very life that the Holy Spirit manifests through the believer, comes from the indwelling Son of God. The new nature which opposes the old nature, comes from the indwelling Father who is God. In fact the whole triune Godhead is involved in every Christian experience. In fact a complete Christian experience is based on an apprehension of the doctrine of the Trinity. The second major objection is that the word Trinity is not found in the Bible. Though the word Trinity does not occur in Scripture, yet the concepts and precepts which make up this doctrine are all found in the Bible. Therefore there is a doctrine of the triunity of God clearly stated in God's Word for which the term Trinity has been descriptively applied. This same problem exists with most doctrines of Scripture. The doctrine of the Church uses a term to describe ecclesia which is not a translation but descriptive. "Church" means, belonging to the Lord, but ecclesia means, called out ones. The word church is a term devised to describe the "called out ones" of the Bible. Few object to this descriptive word, yet in an analogous situation some object to the term Trinity. One of the most accurate and brief statements of what the Bible teaches concerning the Trinity is the Athanasian Creed: "We worship one God in trinity, and trinity in unity; neither confounding the persons nor dividing the substance." The Biblical statement of this doctrine is contained in many verses, which must inductively yield their truth. However, the Bible does state succinctly in one verse this doctrine. The golden text of Trinitarianism is Matthew 28:19: Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." TRINITARIANISM -- 21 Summary Statements 1. The Trinity is therefore three eternally inter-constituted, inter-related, inter-existent, and therefore inseparable Persons within One Being and of One Substance or essence. John 10:30 2. The unity of God does not infer that He possesses but a single personality, but a oneness of essence and being, as the one and only Deity. This unity is therefore a compound or composite unity rather than a simple or single units. 3. Thus, the one indivisible divine essence, as a unity, exists eternally as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, so that each Person possesses the whole essence, and yet is constituted a distinct person by certain incommunicable properties not possessed in common with the others. 4. God is thus not one and three, but one in three. [Colossians 2:9] 5. Therefore the essence is not one constituent factor by itself, apart from the persons, nor the persons three constituent factors by themselves, apart from the essence. 6. The one essence is simultaneously three persons, and the three persons are one essence. The Trinity is simple and uncomplex. 7. Therefore the Trinity is not an essence without distinctions united with three distinctions so as to make a complex being. 8. This doctrine is logically consistent because it affirms that God is one in another sense than He is three; and three in another sense than He is one. 9. We do not state that three beings are one being or that three persons are one person; or that three intelligent beings are one intelligent being; but we do state that in the same undivided essence are three different personal distinctions or personal subsistences. 10. The divine nature is distinguished from human nature in that the divine nature can subsist wholly and indivisibly in more than one person simultaneously. 11. A trinitarian person is thus the entire Divine nature subsisting in a particular manner, as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. 12 Therefore, when it is stated that there are three persons in one essence, it does not mean that the essence is a fourth thing. 13 The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are each simultaneously the whole divine essence; so that while there are three persons, there is but one essence. 14. The substance of one Divine Person is the substance of the others, both numerically and identically. In this instance, there is no division of substance. The whole undivided Divine nature is in each Divine person simultaneously and eternally. (John 14:10, 20) 15. One human person exists externally to another, and separate from him; but one Divine person exists in another, and inseparably from him. Thus one human person can exist apart from another; a Divine person cannot. John 14:10, 20; John 12:48-49; 16. The difference between one Divine person and another is greater than the difference between the person and the essence. The essence is predicated of each Divine Person but the personal characteristics cannot be predicated of any Divine person except the one to whom it belongs. 17. A trinitarian person is not so comprehensive as the Godhead. A trinitarian person includes all that is in the unity, but not all that is in the trinality of God. Thus he does not possess the personal characteristics belonging to the other two persons. 18. The trinitarian persons are not so real as to constitute three essences, or beings, but the whole Divine essence is in each trinitarian Person. 19. The three persons are so real and distinct from each other, that each possesses a hypostatical or trinitarian consciousness different from that of the others. These three hypostatical consciousnesses constitute the one self-consciousness of the Divine essence. 20. There is only one essence, having one understanding, and one will, yet this unity of essence, understanding and will, has three different forms of consciousness because it has three different forms of subsistence as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. 21. The Divine self consciousness is not a fourth consciousness additional to the three hypostatical consciousnesses but is the resultant of the Three. The three consciousnesses are the one Divine self-consciousness, and the one Divine self-consciousness is the three hypostatic consciousnesses. I. THE NEW TESTAMENT REVELATION OF THE DOCTRINE OF THE TRINITY A. A Plurality of Persons are Associated as God 1. Two Persons are Associated as God-- a. John 10:30 b. John 5:17-29 c. 1 Corinthians 8:6 2. Three Persons are Associated as God a. Ephesians 1:3-14 b. Ephesians 4:4-6 c. John 1:29-34; cf. Matthew 3:16-17 d. John 14:16-17, 26; 15:26; 16:7-15 e. 2 Corinthians 13:14 f. 1 John 5:1-12 B. Three Persons are Declared to be God 1. The Father is Declared to be God a. Title God is usually joined with reference to Father (1) 1 Corinthians 8:6; Ephesians 4:6 (2) Romans 15:6; 1 Corinthians 15:24 (3) John 6:27; James 3:9 b. Title God when used alone usually refers to Father (1) James 1:5 (2) 1 Peter 3:18 2. The Lord Jesus Christ is Declared to be God a. The claims of Jesus (1) He claimed to be God (a) Matthew 4:6-7 (b) Matthew 26:63-64; cf. Mark 14:61-62; Luke 22:67-70 (c) John 4:25-26; 9:35-38; Luke 19:10 (2) He claimed to come from heaven (a) John 1:11; cf. Matthew 10:34-35; Mark 2:17 (b) John 3:13 -- first occurrence of phrase "came down from heaven" (c) John 5:36-37 -- first occurrence of phrase "Father hath sent me" (d) John 8:42; 16:28,30 (3) He claimed a unique relation to God as Father (a) Matthew 7:21; 10:32-33; 11:25-27 (b) Luke 22:29; 24:49 (c) John 5:17 ff -- many references follow this (d) Matthew 6:8-9 (note "Your Father" and "Our Father") (e) John 20:17 (note "my Father" and "your Father") (4) His claims validated by His enemies' reactions (a) John 5:18; 8:59; 10:31, 39 (b) Matthew 26:63-64 (c) John 18:31; 19:7 b. The testimony of others (1) Introduction--John 5:31-47 (2) John the Baptist: (a) John 1:23 (b) John 1:15,30 (cf. v. 27) (c) John 1:34 (3) God the Father (a) Matthew 3:16-17 (b) Matthew 17:5 (4) Angels (a) Luke 1:31-33, 35 (b) Luke 2:11 (c) Mark 1:24 (5) The disciples (a) Matthew 16:16 (cf. John 6:68-69) (b) John 20:27-29 (6). Other persons (a) Elizabeth -- Luke 1:43 (b) Zachariah -- Luke 1:78 (c) Thief on cross -- Luke 23:42 (d) Centurion at cross -- Mark 15:39 (7) New Testament writers under inspiration and their inspired writings (a) Romans 9:5 (b) John 1:1, 18 ("only-begotten God") (c) Titus 2:13; 2 Peter 1:1 [Granville Sharp rule] (d) Acts 20:28 (e) Romans 10:9; Philippians 2:11; Acts 2:34,36 (f) 1 Corinthians 2:8; 8:6 (g) Romans 14:8-9 (h) Hebrews 1:8, 10 3. The Holy Spirit is Declared to be God a. His titles relating Him to God (1) Spirit of God -- Matthew 3:16 (2) Spirit of the Lord -- Luke 4:18 (3) Spirit of your Father -- Matthew 10:20 (4) My Spirit -- Acts 2:17-18 (5) Spirit of Christ -- Romans 8:9 b. Specific statements (1) Acts 5:3-4, 9 (distinctly called God) (2) 2 Corinthians 3:17-18 (see RSV) (3) 1 Corinthians 3:16; cf. 6:19; Ephesians 2:22 (4) Comparison of New Testament quotations with Old Testament passages quoted (a) Cf. Acts 28:25-27 with Isaiah 6:1-13 (b) Cf. Hebrews 3:7-11 with Psalm 95:7-11 (c) Cf. Hebrews 10:15-17 with Jeremiah 31:31-34 (d) Cf. Acts 7:51 with content and Old Testament C. Three Persons Possess the Attributes and Characteristics of God 1. Representative Attributes and characteristics of God in New Testament a. Power -- Matthew 19:26 b. Goodness -- Matthew 19:17 c. Mercy -- Luke 1:78 d. Grace -- Luke 2:40 e. Love -- 1 John 4:8, 16 f. Light (holiness) -- 1 John 1:5 g. Knowledge -- Luke 16:15 h. Truth -- John 3:33 i. Righteousness -- Romans 1:17; Acts 10:34 j. Life -- Matthew 26:63 2. Attributes and Characteristics Possessed by the Father a. Holiness -- John 17:11 b. Righteousness -- John 17:25 c. Life -- John 6:57 (also of Christ) d. Mercy -- 2 Corinthians 1:3 e. Omnipresence -- Matthew 6:4, 6 f. Omniscience -- Matthew 6:8 g. Love -- John 5:20 3. Attributes and Characteristics Possessed by the Lord Jesus Christ a. Eternity -- John 1:1; 8:58 b. Omniscience -- John 1:47-48; 2:24-25 c. Omnipresence -- John 1:48-50; Matthew 18:20; 28:20 d. Life -- 1 John 1:2; 5:20 e. Love -- Ephesians 5:2 f. Immutability -- Hebrews 13:8 g. Truth -- John 14:6 4. Attributes and Characteristics Possessed by the Holy Spirit a. Holiness -- Ephesians 4:30 b. Truth -- John 14:17; 15:26; 16:13; 1 John 4:6 c. Life -- Romans 8:2 (John 17:2-3 -- also Father and Son) d. Grace -- Hebrews 10:29 e. Knowledge -- 1 Corinthians 2:11 f. Eternity -- Hebrews 9:14 g. Glory -- 1 Peter 4:14 D. Three Persons Exercise the Prerogatives of God 1. Representative Prerogatives of God in the New Testament a. Receive worship -- John 4:24; Matthew 4:10 b. Forgive sin -- Mark 2:6-7 c. Receive service -- Matthew 6:24 d. Bestow reward -- Hebrews 11:6 e. Be the object of faith -- Mark 11:22 2. Prerogatives Exercised by the Father a. Receive worship -- John 4:23 b. Forgive sin -- Matthew 6:14 c. Receive praise -- James 3:9 d. Bestow reward -- Matthew 6:6 e. Give commands -- John 14:31 3. Prerogatives Exercised by the Lord Jesus Christ a. Receive worship -- John 9:38; 20:28 b. Forgive sin -- Mark 2:8-12 c. Bestow reward -- Revelation 22:12 d. Be the object of faith -- John 1:12; 20:31 e. Give commands -- John 15:12, 14 4. Prerogatives Exercised by the Holy Spirit a. Receive worship -- Hebrews 10:29; Ephesians 4:30 (implied); 1 Thessalonians 5:19 b. Give commands -- Acts 8:29; 10:19 c. Bestow gifts -- 1 Corinthians 12:4, 7-8 cf. 11 E. Three Persons Execute the Works of God 1. Representative Works of God in the New Testament a. Creation -- Mark 13:19; 1 Timothy 4:3-4 b. Providence -- Matthew 6:30 c. Resurrection -- Acts 2:24, 32 d. Revelation and Inspiration -- Hebrews 1:1-2; 2 Timothy 3:16 e. Judgment -- Romans 2:2, 5 2. Works Executed by the Father a. Creation -- 1 Corinthians 8:6 b. Providence -- Matthew 6:26 c. Revelation -- Matthew 16:17 d. Resurrection -- Romans 6:4 e. Judgment -- Matthew 15:13 3. Works Executed by the Lord Jesus Christ a. Creation -- John 1:3, 9; Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 1:2, 10; Ephesians 3:9; 1 Corinthians 8:6 b. Providence -- Colossians 1:17; Hebrews 1:3 c. Resurrection -- John 10:17-18; 5:28-29 d. Revelation -- John 16:12-13 e. Judsnent -- John 5:22, 27; Acts 17:31 4. Works Executed by the Holy Spirit a. Revelation and Inspiration -- 2 Peter 1:21; 1 Corinthians 2:12-13 b. Resurrection -- Romans 8:11 c. Guidance -- Romans 8:14 d. Security by sealing -- Ephesians 1:14 e. Indwelling -- 2 Timothy 1:14 f. Quickening -- 1 Peter 3:18 II. THE OLD TESTAMENT IMPLICATIONS OF THE DOCTRINE OF THE TRINITY A. Implications of a Plurality in God 1. The Plural Name Elohim -- Other explanations of the plural form of this name are given; but in the light of the New Testament revelation of the doctrine of the Trinity, the concept that it is a foregleam of that revelation divinely purposed is the most satisfactory. 2. Other Plural Titles for God a. "Thy Creators" Ecclesiastes 12:1 b. "Thy Makers" -- Isaiah 54:5 3. Use of Plural Pronouns and Adjectives by God a. Genesis 1:26; 3:22; 11:7; Isaiah 6:8 -- pronoun b. Deuteronomy 5:26; 1 Samuel 17:26; Jeremiah 10:10 -- adjective 4. Dual [compound] Form of Word One with reference to God -- Deuteronomy 6:4 cf. Genesis 2:24 5. Jehovah Distinguished from Jehovah -- Hosea 1:7 6. Jehovah Declared to Have a Son -- Psalm 2:2, 6-7; Proverbs 30:4 B. Old Testament Doctrine of the Angel of Jehovah 1. Introduction -- The sanctity of God's name -- Isaiah 42:8 2. Amount of Evidence -- The Angel of Jehovah appears about 25 times in the Old Testament, never in the New Testament. 3. Titles Used of This Person a. Angel of Jehovah (the LORD) -- Genesis 16:7 (first reference) b. Angel of God -- Judges 13:9 c. Angel of His Presence -- Isaiah 63:9 4. Content of the Evidence a. Angel of Jehovah Identified as Jehovah (1) Consciousness of men -- Judges 13:20-22 (2) Content of Scripture -- Exodus 3:2-6 (3) Revelation of God -- Genesis 31:11-13 b. Angel of Jehovah Distinguished from Jehovah as a Person -- Zechariah 3:1-2 5. Conclusion from the Evidence -- The Angel of Jehovah is a divine Being who is distinguished from God as a Person, a fact which indicates plurality in the Godhead. C. Old Testament Doctrine of the Spirit of God 1. The Spirit Possesses the Attributes of God a. Wisdom -- Isaiah 11:2 b. Omnipresence -- Psalm 139:7 2. The Spirit Executes the Work of God a. Creation -- Job 26:13; Psalm 33:6 b. Restrains sin -- Genesis 6:3; Isaiah 63:10 3. Conclusion from the Evidence -- The Spirit of God is a divine Being who is distinguished from God as a Person, a fact which indicates plurality in the Godhead. D. Repetition of the Threefold Formula 1. Isaiah 6:3 -- "Holy, holy, holy" 2. Numbers 6:24-26 -- The Aaronic Benediction upon Israel 3. Genesis 48:15-16 -- The Benediction of Jacob upon Joseph's Sons III. THE DOCTRINAL EXPLANATION A. The Theological Statement 1. Three Persons are God a. The Father is God b. The Lord Jesus Christ is God c. The Holy Spirit is God 2. God is One a. Deuteronomy 6:4 (Mark 12:29) b. John 17:3 3. The Concluding Statement a. The Biblical revelation of God is that God is a unity as far as essential nature is concerned and yet subsists as a Godhead of three Persons, co-equal and co-eternal each of whom possesses the totality of the divine essence simultaneously while existing as a separate personal manifestation. b. The Athanasian Creed -- page 1. 4. The Remaining Mystery -- Having stated the doctrine as a conclusion from the Biblical revelation, one must immediately confess the remaining unfathomable mystery of the doctrine and its supra-rational character. It must be accepted by faith in God and in His revelation of Himself in the Bible. B. Errors to Avoid 1. Tritheism -- The polytheistic concept that God is in reality three Gods, being three separate individuals such as Peter, James, and John. This is not the Biblical doctrine, even though Christians are accused of holding such a doctrine by Jews, Mohammedans, and Unitarians. 2. Monarchianism -- The viewpoint that God is ultimately one, explaining away the Biblical evidence of the trinity of Persons in one of two major ways. a. Dynamic Monarchians (1) Makes the Biblical revelation of the Father the only true God (2) Denies in effect the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ, making him in effect a mere man who is indwelt and empowered by the spiritual force of God which came upon him at his baptism and left him on the cross. (3) Denies the personality of the Holy Spirit, making Him simply the personification of the power or forceful influence of God. b. Patripassion Monarchians (same as modalism or Saballianism) -- Considers God as basically one who variously presents Himself in Scripture in the role of the Father or the role of the Son or the role of the Holy Spirit. Cannot explain passages where Christ addresses the Father or speaks concerning Him or concerning the Holy Spirit as separate persons. IV. THE NATURAL ILLUSTRATION -- This doctrine has no real and perfect illustration, because God is unique; but it does permit of almost endless analogies in the created world: light, man, egg, time, etc. Five Important Statements on the Trinity 1. There can be no subordination, as to essential Being, of the one person of the Godhead to another. 2. The subordination is only in respect to order and in relationship to creation. 3. There is no subordination as to the possession of the divine essence, but in the manner of personal subsistence and in manifestation. 4. Certain personal operations are not performed by the three persons jointly but by individual persons exclusively. 5. The oneness of essence explains the fact that (while Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as respect to their personality, are distinct subsistences) there is an intercommunion of Persons and an immanence of one divine person in another which permits the peculiar work of one to be ascribed, with limitation, to either of the other, and the manifestation of one to be the manifestation of the other. (John 14)
Return to Top