TRINITY. There is one eternal God, the Lord, who is holy love. Through his self-revelation he has disclosed to his people that he is the Father, the Son, and the. Yet he is not three deities but one Godhead, since all three Persons share the one Deity/Godhead. The biblical teaching of the Trinity is, in a sense, a mystery; and the more we enter into union with God and deepen our understanding of him, the more we recognize how much there is yet to know. The biblical teaching has led to the Christian confession that God is One in Three and Three in One.
V. God, the Lord, Is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This confession and understanding may be said to be basic to the faith of the writers of the NT, though they rarely express it in precise terms. But in certain passages the doctrine is articulated (
VI. Biblical Doctrine and Church Dogma. There is no systematic explanation of the doctrine of God as Trinity in the NT, though the Trinitarian pattern (see no. V and
Bibliography: A. W. Wainwright, The Trinity in the, 1975; P. Toon and J. Spiceland (eds.), One God in Trinity, 1980.——PT
The central tenet of the Christian faith is that God is one, personal, and triune. Trinitarian theology coheres with belief in the personal nature of God,* the Incarnation,* the Atonement,* the life in the Spirit, and the ultimate relation of redeemed men to God in Christ.
The* states: “We worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the Substance.” The truth that in the unity of God there is a trinity of persons can be known only by revelation,* but the truth is seen as neither irrational nor peripheral to faith. Trinitarian faith does not derive from the Church Fathers, but from the apostolic faith and teaching. The controversies of the first four centuries do not comprise attempts to impose alien Greek or other ideas upon Christianity, but attempts by the Fathers to assimilate adequately the empirical facts of the Christian revelation in an age which had neither categories nor language adequate to the new Christian realities.
The faith that the Father is God is held by all Christians. Monotheism* is deeply embedded in both Old and New Testaments, but the OT does contain important clues to plurality in God, including the Sh'ma, “Hear O Israel, Yahweh our Gods (Elohim) is Yahweh a unity;" the plural in Genesis 1:26 and 3:22; the three visitors to Abraham (Gen. 18:1-22); the captain of the Lord's hosts (Josh. 5:13-16); the Spirit of Yahweh passages (Gen. 1:2; Isa. 40:13); the triune invocation of the divine name (Isa. 6); and the striking words of Isaiah 48:16.
Historically, Trinitarian doctrine originated in the necessity Christians faced to distinguish Jesus from God, yet to identify Him with God. With the descent of theat Pentecost, the empirical facts were all in hand for the subsequent formulation of the doctrine. Hence there is no hint of embarrassment in the NT to Jewish Christians due to Trinitarian theology. The doctrine is solidly embedded in the fabric of the NT (Matt. 28:19; 1 Cor. 12:3-6).
Through the Incarnation the first Christians learned to distinguish the Father and the Son while maintaining the faith that both are God. Thewas known in the OT. The unique NT teaching is that the Father and the Son are God, and that God is “the God and Father of our Lord ” (Rom. 15:6; 2 Cor. 1:3; Eph. 1:3; 1 Pet. 1:3).
Thus the doctrine of the Trinity is derived from the truth of the Incarnation and is to be tested by it. Jesus Christ is trulyand distinctly God the Son (John 1:1,18; 20:28; Col. 2:9; Titus 2:13; Heb. 1:8,10). Subordinationism* and Adoptianism (Dynamic Monarchianism*) comprise two active, polemically minded erroneous alternatives. In the former the Son has a derived existence, in the latter he is only a man divinely energized for a mission. Neither of these alternatives adequately handles the empirical data of apostolic experience and witness. Their anti- Trinitarianism derives from a presupposition regarding the meaning of unity, rather than from the truth of the Incarnation.
While all Christians acknowledge the Holy Spirit* to be God, there remain two further levels of biblical understanding: the Holy Spirit is personal, and He is distinctly personal. Recent biblical studies are reluctant to make of the Spirit simply divine pervasive or invasive power. Some tend to identify Christ and the Spirit, although the Scriptures nowhere say that the Spirit is Christ. While some biblical passages do not demand a personal reading of the Spirit's reality, the controlling passages unambiguously declare the Spirit to be distinctly personal (Mark 3:22-30; Luke 12:12; John 14:26; 15:26; 16:7-15).
The most intractable problem faced by Christians has been how to conceive of the Trinity in unity. Traditional presuppositions that unity is simple and undifferentiated have forced many (including Subordinationists and Sabellians*) to jettison Trinitarian faith. However, if one sees unity as inclusive rather than exclusive, the problem is at least mitigated. If all approximations to unity are to be measured by a scale of degrees of absence of internal multiplicity, then Trinitarian theology and monotheism are irrevocably incompatible. But if the degree of unity is be be measured by the intensity of the unifying power in the life of the whole, then there is the prospect for at least partially comprehending the unity of the Godhead (cf. John 17:20- 23) and other complex unities.
That God sent His Son to the cross and that God was in Christ is comprehensible on Trinitarian terms alone. Athanasius declared that only if Christ is truly God do we have contact with God in Him. Trinitarian faith in the NT enriched Christian experience. The Christian is said to be joined to the Trinitarian life of God through the redeeming work of Christ and the fellowship of the Spirit (Eph. 4:2-6).
A.E.J. Rawlinson, Essays on the Trinity and the Incarnation (1928); G.L. Prestige, God in Patristic Thought (1936) and Fathers and Heretics (1940); L. Hodgson, The Doctrine of the Trinity (1955); S.J. Mikolaski, “The Triune God,” in Fundamentals of the Faith (ed. C.F.H. Henry, 1969); K. Rahner, The Trinity (1970).
TRINITY. The Christian doctrine of God is distinguished by its emphasis on divine three-in-oneness, that is, the eternal coexistence of the Father, Son, and in the inner personal life of the Godhead. Evangelical theology affirms that the living, speaking, and acting God is a personal divine trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the eternal unity of God Himself, and in His work. The one God, the subject of all divine revelation, is self-disclosed—as the Bible authoritatively teaches—as the invisible Father (from whom all revelation proceeds), the Son (who mediates and objectively incarnates that revelation in a historical manifestation) and the Holy Spirit (who is divinely outpoured and subjectively applies that revelation to men).
It is the Ger. theologian’s special merit that he has reiterated the indissoluble connection of this view with the fact of divine self-revelation. Not only medieval Scholasticism but also modern Protestant theology readily expounded God’s essence and attributes first, and then appended a discussion of God’s triunity, as if the reality of God as personal, and specifically as triune, were irrelevant to man’s knowledge of the divine nature and perfections.
The Bible witnesses to plurality of personality in the self-revealed God; it does not, as neo-Protestant writers prefer to put it, affirm that God is a person or that He has a personality. In his 1918 Gifford Lectures, Clement C. J. Webb emphasized that the historic creeds affirm personality in God rather than the personality of God (God and Personality , 24f.).
The doctrine of the Trinity, or of Divine Triunity, has been at the heart of much theological controversy. The routine objection is that the doctrine sacrifices monotheism to tritheism. But this objection thrives on a misconception of divine personality in the image of disparate individual human selves. A type of rationalistic apologetics, promotive of trinitarianism on speculative rather than revelational grounds, regrettably encourages this misunderstanding. Insisting that divinity must by definition be personal, and presuming to derive the doctrine of the Trinity by formal logic from empirical philosophical considerations rather than from God’s revelational activity, the argument is vulnerable to secular counterattack.
Independently of divine disclosure, man possesses no knowledge of divinity that qualifies him to declare surely who or what God is. No apriori reason can be given why God must be an invisible person (man’s spiritual nature exaggerated to unipersonal infinity), and not the spirit of the universe (regarded as His body), or not rather the eternally triune God—unless God has somehow truly revealed His reality and perfections. Indeed, divine revelation is a matter of sovereign freedom; no advance necessity exists that God should reveal Himself, or reveal Himself intimately.
But the reality and nature of God known in the light of divine disclosure yields the historic Christian conviction, grounded in the NT, that God’s being is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in His self-manifestation. This insistence on three eternal modes of consciousness in the one God has no parallel in religious philosophy. Quite different are the Platonic Ideas and Demiurge, triadic gods of some ancient polytheistic religions, the Stoic Logos and the Neo-Platonic Nous, and Hegel’s exposition of a three-beat movement in the self-manifestation of the Absolute, much as they seek to emphasize vital relationships within the life of the divine.
By its very emphasis on the progressive character of historical revelation, the scriptural record of the self-manifestation of the living God cautions against any notion that the doctrine of the trinity was fully knowable in OT times. First and foremost, the revelation of the Bible presents throughout the truth of monotheism, against the polytheism and the practical atheism of the ancient world. God’s unique transcendent glory is reflected by the OT’s explicit prohibition of all graven images, whether in the similitude of nature or creatures. The Genesis creation narrative emphasizes, however, that God made unfallen man in the divine image. In the NT, God’s glory is manifested in the incarnation of the Logos, bearing the express image of the divine in human nature. Nowhere does the NT emphasis on the deity of, or in its trinitarian statements, deviate in the slightest from the uncompromising monotheism of the OT; both Testaments deplore polytheism.
However, the possibility of OT intimations of the doctrine of the Trinity is again being discussed. G. A. F. Knight notes that of the two Heb. words for “one” (’ehādh and yahidh) the latter means “unique” (the only one of its kind), whereas the former does not preclude distinguishable entities (as in
Explicit trinitarianism is dependent upon the NT revelation of the sending Father, the sent Son, and the outpoured Spirit. In the experience of the disciples, the disclosure of the deity of Christ may at first have impressed them with an intermediary or temporary binitarianism of Father and Son. Since Jews viewed Jesus’ claim of oneness with the Father as blasphemous, His assertion of the unity of Father and Son clearly implied oneness of essence and was not reducible only to moral and purposive harmony. But God’s revelation in Christ was soon grasped as a revelation not of a part of deity but of complete divinity; Jesus of Nazareth unveiled the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. The revealed presence of God demanded recognition not only of the person of the Son alongside the person of the Father, but the person of the Spirit as well.
In view of the interdependence of trinitarianism and progressive divine disclosure, a question might be raised whether God may not yet show Himself to be other than we now know? The query has the merit of emphasizing that authentic religious knowledge turns on God’s self-revelation. Christian theology has no other reason for asserting the finality of trinitarian monotheism than the fact of God’s self-disclosure attested in Holy Scripture. The content of the Christian doctrine is given by the divine affirmation of Jesus of Nazareth as the supreme and final revelation of the Father, and the Holy Spirit’s witness to the Son, and not to another. Whoever takes his stand beneath the reality of the NT revelation—rather than behind it or outside it—is driven to trinitarian theology.
C. K. Barrett remarks that more than any other NT source, the writer of the fourth gospel “lays the foundations for a doctrine of a co-equal Trinity” (The Gospel According to John , 159). But the threefold formula is found also in the Great Commission (
The term “trinity” is not a Biblical term, and Scripture gives the doctrine not in formulated definition but in fragmentary units similar to many other elements of the Christian system of truth. R. B. Crawford insists rightly that there are “good grounds for believing that the doctrine of the Trinity is scriptural” (Scottish Journal of Theology, Vol. 20, No. 3 [Sept. 1967], 286ff.). It is the unifying presupposition of the NT revelation of God. B. B. Warfield remarked that the entire NT “is Trinitarian to the core; all its teaching is built on the assumption of the Trinity; and its allusions to the Trinity are frequent, cursory, easy and confident” (ISBE, V, 3014d). There is in the NT, as in the OT, only one true and living God; and in its view, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit are each God in the fullest sense; and Father, Son, and Spirit stand related to each other as I, Thou, and He.
Crawford notes that unitarian views have invariably tended toward deism or toward pantheism, whereas trinitarianism has preserved the unity of God. The inner life and outer work of God were soon conformed to unitarian prejudices to avoid tritheism once the term “persona” was detached from a Biblical witness to God’s self-revelation, and speculatively expounded in the context of the modern understanding of the finite self as a disparate psychic entity. Modern philosophy then regarded the absoluteness and infinity of God as incompatible not only with a doctrine of the Trinity, but with divine personality as well (misunderstood in this speculative way), and idealistic philosophy soon revived the pagan Gr. antithesis of sovereignty or personality. This antitrinitarian claim that God’s uniqueness precludes His inclusion in the highest values of human nature, e.g., personality, was unfortunately countered by the wrong reasons for personality in God, e.g., that man’s highest perfection must be like God (so that transcendent personality could be projected from the finite). The door was now open to every variety of postulatory theism in the name of Christianity. An ingenious “theology” of that kind—based on the longing of the human heart, the will to believe, the supposed infinite value of human personality, or the significance of personality in world culture, etc.—was readily inverted and dismissed as “higher anthropology.” Leonard Hodgson argues in defense of the Trinity that organic unity is more complex than mathematical unity; that psychological unity (thinking, feeling, and willing) is more complex still; and that the nature of God is even more complex than human nature (The Doctrine of the Trinity ).
Evangelical Christianity needs to heed every warning against a speculative derivation of divine personality simply by examination of fallen man’s consciousness apart from reliance on supernatural revelation, for this requires different presuppositions about God than does the view of divine nature and activity predicated upon the living God who speaks and acts and is present in His self-disclosure. For the very reason that the scriptural revelation is the decisive center of God’s self-disclosure, first given in deed and then authoritatively interpreted in word, neo-Protestant speculation is doubly arbitrary in its dismissal of trinitarian theology as a reflex of pagan philosophy, while it proceeds to recreate the God image along the lines of fashionable contemporary thought.
K. Barth, Church Dogmatics; A. Kuyper, The Work of the Holy Spirit (1941); L. Hodgson, The Doctrine of the Trinity (1944); C. W. Lowry, The Trinity and Christian Devotion (1946); H. B. Swete, The Holy Spirit in the(1964).
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
1. The Term "Trinity"
2. Purely a Revealed Doctrine
3. No Rational Proof of It
4. Finds Support in Reason
5. Not Clearly Revealed in the
6. Prepared for in the Old Testament
7. Presupposed Rather Than Inculcated in the
8. Revealed in Manifestation of Son and Spirit
9. Implied in the Whole New Testament
10. Conditions the Whole
11. Father and Son in Johannine Discourses
12. Spirit in Johannine Discourses
13. The Baptismal Formula
14. Genuineness of Baptismal Formula
15. Paul’s Trinitarianism
16. Conjunction of the Three in Paul
17. Trinitarianism of Other New Testament Writers
18. Variations in Nomenclature
19. Implications of "Son" and "Spirit"
20. The Question of Subordination
21. Witness of the Christian Consciousness
22. Formulation of the Doctrine
1. The Term "Trinity":
The term "Trinity" is not a Biblical term, and we are not using Biblical language when we define what is expressed by it as the doctrine that there is one only and true God, but in the unity of the Godhead there are three coeternal and coequal Persons, the same in substance but distinct in subsistence. A doctrine so defined can be spoken of as a Biblical doctrine only on the principle that the sense of Scripture is Scripture. And the definition of a Biblical doctrine in such un-Biblical language can be justified only on the principle that it is better to preserve the truth of Scripture than the words of Scripture. The doctrine of the Trinity lies in Scripture in solution; when it is crystallized from its solvent it does not cease to be Scriptural, but only comes into clearer view. Or, to speak without figure, the doctrine of the Trinity is given to us in Scripture, not in formulated definition, but in fragmentary allusions; when we assemble the disjecta membra into their organic unity, we are not passing from Scripture, but entering more thoroughly into the meaning of Scripture. We may state the doctrine in technical terms, supplied by philosophical reflection; but the doctrine stated is a genuinely Scriptural doctrine.
2. Purely a Revealed Doctrine:
In point of fact, the doctrine of the Trinity is purely a revealed doctrine. That is to say, it embodies a truth which has never been discovered, and is indiscoverable, by natural reason. With all his searching, man has not been able to find out for himself the deepest things of God. Accordingly, ethnic thought has never attained a Trinitarian conception of God, nor does any ethnic religion present in its representations of the divine being any analogy to the doctrine of the Trinity.
Triads of divinities, no doubt, occur in nearly all polytheistic religions, formed under very various influences. Sometimes, as in the Egyptian triad of Osiris. Isis and Horus, it is the analogy of the human family with its father, mother and son which lies at their basis. Sometimes they are the effect of mere syncretism, three deities worshipped in different localities being brought together in the common worship of all. Sometimes, as in the Hindu triad of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, they represent the cyclic movement of a pantheistic evolution, and symbolize the three stages of Being, Becoming and Dissolution. Sometimes they are the result apparently of nothing more than an odd human tendency to think in threes, which has given the number three widespread standing as a sacred number (so H. Usener). It is no more than was to be anticipated, that one or another of these triads should now and again be pointed to as the replica (or even the original) of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. Gladstone found the Trinity in the Homeric mythology, the trident of Poseidon being its symbol. Hegel very naturally found it in the Hindu Trimurti, which indeed is very like his pantheizing notion of what the Trinity is. Others have perceived it in the Buddhist Triratna (Soderblom); or (despite their crass dualism) in some speculations of Parseeism; or, more frequently, in the notional triad of Platonism (e.g. Knapp); while Jules Martin is quite sure that it is present in Philo’s neo-Stoical doctrine of the "powers," especially when applied to the explanation of Abraham’s three visitors. Of late years, eyes have been turned rather to Babylonia; and H. Zimmern finds a possible forerunner of the Trinity in a Father, Son, and Intercessor, which he discovers in its mythology. It should be needless to say that none of these triads has the slightest resemblance to the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. The Christian doctrine of the Trinity embodies much more than the notion of "threeness," and beyond their "threeness" these triads have nothing in common with it.
3. No Rational Proof of It:
As the doctrine of the Trinity is indiscoverable by reason, so it is incapable of proof from reason. There are no analogies to it in Nature, not even in the spiritual nature of man, who is made in the image of God. In His trinitarian mode of being, God is unique; and, as there is nothing in the universe like Him in this respect, so there is nothing which can help us to comprehend Him. Many attempts have, nevertheless, been made to construct a rational proof of the Trinity of the God head. Among these there are two which are particularly attractive, and have therefore been put forward again and again by speculative thinkers through all the Christian ages. These are derived from the implications, in the one case, of self-consciousness; in the other, of love. Both self-consciousness and love, it is said, demand for their very existence an object over against which the self stands as subject. If we conceive of God as self-conscious and loving, therefore, we cannot help conceiving of Him as embracing in His unity some form of plurality. From this general position both arguments have been elaborated, however, by various thinkers in very varied forms.
The former of them, for example, is developed by a great 17th-century theologian--Bartholomew Keckermann (1614)--as follows: God is self-conscious thought; and God’s thought must have a perfect object, existing eternally before it; this object to be perfect must be itself God; and as God is one, this object which is God must be the God that is one. It is essentially the same argument which is popularized in a famous paragraph (section 73) of Lessing’s The Education of the Human Race. Must not God have an absolutely perfect representation of Himself--that is, a representation in which everything that is in Him is found? And would everything that is in God be found in this representation if His necessary reality were not found in it? If everything, everything without exception, that is in God is to be found in this representation, it cannot, therefore, remain a mere empty image, but must be an actual duplication of God. It is obvious that arguments like this prove too much. If God’s representation of Himself, to be perfect, must possess the same kind of reality that He Himself possesses, it does not seem easy to deny that His representations of everything else must possess objective reality. And this would be as much as to say that the eternal objective coexistence of all that God can conceive is given in the very idea of God; and that is open pantheism. The logical flaw lies in including in the perfection of a representation qualities which are not proper to representations, however perfect. A perfect representation must, of course, have all the reality proper to a representation; but objective reality is so little proper to a representation that a representation acquiring it would cease to be a representation. This fatal flaw is not transcended, but only covered up, when the argument is compressed, as it is in most of its modern presentations, in effect to the mere assertion that the condition of self-consciousness is a real distinction between the thinking subject and the thought object, which, in God’s case, would be between the subject ego and the object ego. Why, however, we should deny to God the power of self-contemplation enjoyed by every finite spirit, save at the cost of the distinct hypostatizing of the contemplant and the contemplated self, it is hard to understand. Nor is it always clear that what we get is a distinct hypostatization rather than a distinct substantializing of the contemplant and contemplated ego: not two persons in the Godhead so much as two Gods. The discovery of the third hypostasis--the--remains meanwhile, to all these attempts rationally to construct a Trinity in the Divine Being, a standing puzzle which finds only a very artificial solution.
The case is much the same with the argument derived from the nature of love. Our sympathies go out to that old Valentinian writer--possibly it was Valentinus himself--who reasoned--perhaps he was the first so to reason--that "God is all love," "but love is not love unless there be an object of love." And they go out more richly still to Augustine, when, seeking a basis, not for a theory of emanations, but for the doctrine of the Trinity, he analyzes this love which God is into the triple implication of "the lover," "the loved" and "the love itself," and sees in this trinary of love an analogue of the Triune God. It requires, however, only that the argument thus broadly suggested should be developed into its details for its artificiality to become apparent. Richard of Victor works it out as follows: It belongs to the nature of amor that it should turn to another as caritas. This other, in God’s case, cannot be the world; since such love of the world would be inordinate. It can only be a person; and a person who is God’s equal in eternity, power and wisdom. Since, however, there cannot be two divine substances, these two divine persons must form one and the same substance. The best love cannot, however, confine itself to these two persons; it must become condilectio by the desire that a third should be equally loved as they love one another. Thus love, when perfectly conceived, leads necessarily to the Trinity, and since God is all He can be, this Trinity must be real. Modern writers (Sartorius, Schoberlein, J. Muller, Liebner, most lately R. H. Grutzmacher) do not seem to have essentially improved upon such a statement as this. And after all is said, it does not appear clear that God’s own all-perfect Being could not supply a satisfying object of His all-perfect love. To say that in its very nature love is self-communicative, and therefore implies an object other than self, seems an abuse of figurative language.
Perhaps the ontological proof of the Trinity is nowhere more attractively put than by. The peculiarity of his presentation of it lies in an attempt to add plausibility to it by a doctrine of the nature of spiritual ideas or ideas of spiritual things, such as thought, love, fear, in general. Ideas of such things, he urges, are just repetitions of them, so that he who has an idea of any act of love, fear, anger or any other act or motion of the mind, simply so far repeats the motion in question; and if the idea be perfect and complete, the original motion of the mind is absolutely reduplicated. Edwards presses this so far that he is ready to contend that if a man could have an absolutely perfect idea of all that was in his mind at any past moment, he would really, to all intents and purposes, be over again what he was at that moment. And if he could perfectly contemplate all that is in his mind at any given moment, as it is and at the same time that it is there in its first and direct existence, he would really be two at that time, he would be twice at once: "The idea he has of himself would be himself again." This now is the case with the Divine Being. "God’s idea of Himself is absolutely perfect, and therefore is an express and perfect image of Him, exactly like Him in every respect. .... But that which is the express, perfect image of God and in every respect like HIm is God, to all intents and purposes, because there is nothing wanting: there is nothing in the Deity that renders it the Deity but what has something exactly answering to it in this image, which will therefore also render that the Deity." The Second Person of the Trinity being thus attained, the argument advances. "The Godhead being thus begotten of God’s loving (having?) an idea of Himself and showing forth in a distinct Subsistence or Person in that idea, there proceeds a most pure act, and an infinitely holy and sacred energy arises between the Father and the Son in mutually loving and delighting in each other. .... The Deity becomes all act, the divine essence itself flows out and is as it were breathed forth in love and joy. So that the Godhead therein stands forth in yet another manner of Subsistence, and there proceeds the Third Person in the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, namely, the Deity in act, for there is no other act but the act of the will." The inconclusiveness of the reasoning lies on the surface. The mind does not consist in its states, and the repetition of its states would not, therefore, duplicate or triplicate it. If it did, we should have a plurality of Beings, not of Persons in one Being. Neither God’s perfect idea of Himself nor His perfect love of Himself reproduces Himself. He differs from His idea and His love of Himself precisely by that which distinguishes His Being from His acts. When it is said, then, that there is nothing in the Deity which renders it the Deity but what has something answering to it in its image of itself, it is enough to respond--except the Deity itself. What is wanting to the image to make it a second Deity is just objective reality.
4. Finds Support in Reason:
Inconclusive as all such reasoning is, however, considered as rational demonstration of the reality of the Trinity, it is very far from possessing no value. It carries home to us in a very suggestive way the superiority of the Trinitarian conception of God to the conception of Him as an abstract monad, and thus brings important rational support to the doctrine of the Trinity, when once that doctrine has been given us by revelation. If it is not quite possible to say that we cannot conceive of God as eternal self-consciousness and eternal love, without conceiving Him as a Trinity, it does seem quite necessary to say that when we conceive Him as a Trinity, new fullness, richness, force are given to our conception of Him as a self-conscious, loving Being, and therefore we conceive Him more adequately than as a monad, and no one who has ever once conceived Him as a Trinity can ever again satisfy himself with a monadistic conception of God. Reason thus not only performs the important negative service to faith in the Trinity, of showing the self-consistency of the doctrine and its consistency with other known truth, but brings this positive rational support to it of discovering in it the only adequate conception of God as self-conscious spirit and living love. Difficult, therefore, as the idea of the Trinity in itself is, it does not come to us as an added burden upon our intelligence; it brings us rather the solution of the deepest and most persistent difficulties in our conception of God as infinite moral Being, and illuminates, enriches and elevates all our thought of God. It has accordingly become a commonplace to say that Christian theism is the only stable theism. That is as much as to say that theism requires the enriching conception of the Trinity to give it a permanent hold upon the human mind--the mind finds it difficult to rest in the idea of an abstract unity for its God; and that the human heart cries out for the living God in whose Being there is that fullness of life for which the conception of the Trinity alone provides. 5. Not Clearly Revealed in the Old Testament:
6. Prepared for in the Old Testament:
It is an old saying that what becomes patent in the New Testament was latent in the Old Testament. And it is important that the continuity of the revelation of God contained in the two Testaments should not be overlooked or obscured. If we find some difficulty in perceiving for ourselves, in the Old Testament, definite points of attachment for the revelation of the Trinity, we cannot help perceiving with great clearness in the New Testament abundant evidence that its writers felt no incongruity whatever between their doctrine of the Trinity and the Old Testament conception of God. The New Testament writers certainly were not conscious of being "setters forth of strange gods." To their own apprehension they worshipped and proclaimed just the God of Israel; and they laid no less stress than the Old Testament itself upon His unity (
7. Presupposed Rather Than Inculcated in the New Testament:
The simplicity and assurance with which the New Testament writers speak of God as a Trinity have, however, a further implication. If they betray no sense of novelty in so speaking of Him, this is undoubtedly in part because it was no longer a novelty so to speak of Him. It is clear, in other words, that, as we read the New Testament, we are not witnessing the birth of a new conception of God. What we meet with in its pages is a firmly established conception of God underlying and giving its tone to the whole fabric. It is not in a text here and there that the New Testament bears its testimony to the doctrine of the Trinity. The whole book is Trinitarian to the core; all its teaching is built on the assumption of the Trinity; and its allusions to the Trinity are frequent, cursory, easy and confident. It is with a view to the cursoriness of the allusions to it in the New Testament that it has been remarked that "the doctrine of the Trinity is not so much heard as overheard in the statements of Scripture." It would be more exact to say that it is not so much inculcated as presupposed. The doctrine of the Trinity does not appear in the New Testament in the making, but as already made. It takes its place in its pages, as Gunkel phrases it, with an air almost of complaint, already "in full completeness" (vollig fertig), leaving no trace of its growth. "There is nothing more wonderful in the history of human thought," says Sanday, with his eye on the appearance of the doctrine of the Trinity in the New Testament, "than the silent and imperceptible way in which this doctrine, to us so difficult, took its place without struggle--and without controversy--among accepted Christian truths." The explanation of this remarkable phenomenon is, however, simple. Our New Testament is not a record of the development of the doctrine or of its assimilation. It everywhere presupposes the doctrine as the fixed possession of the Christian community; and the process by which it became the possession of the Christian community lies behind the New Testament.
8. Revealed in Manifestation of Son and Spirit:
We cannot speak of the doctrine of the Trinity, therefore, if we study exactness of speech, as revealed in the New Testament, any more than we can speak of it as revealed in the Old Testament. The Old Testament was written before its revelation; the New Testament after it. The revelation itself was made not in word but in deed. It was made in the incaration of, and the outpouring of God the Holy Spirit. The relation of the two Testaments to this revelation is in the one case that of preparation for it, and in the other that of product of it. The revelation itself is embodied just in Christ and the Holy Spirit. This is as much as to say that the revelation of the Trinity was incidental to, and the inevitable effect of, the accomplishment of redemption. It was in the coming of the in the likeness of sinful flesh to offer Himself a sacrifice for sin; and in the coming of the Holy Spirit to convict the world of sin, of righteousness and of judgment, that the Trinity of Persons in the Unity of the Godhead was once for all revealed to men. Those who knew , who loved them and gave His own Son to die for them; and the Lord , who loved them and delivered Himself up an offering and sacrifice for them; and the Spirit of Grace, who loved them and dwelt within them a power not themselves, making for righteousness, knew the Triune God and could not think or speak of God otherwise than as triune. The doctrine of the Trinity, in other words, is simply the modification wrought in the conception of the one only God by His complete revelation of Himself in the redemptive process. It necessarily waited, therefore, upon the completion of the redemptive process for its revelation, and its revelation, as necessarily, lay complete in the redemptive process.
From this central fact we may understand more fully several circumstances connected with the revelation of the Trinity to which allusion has been made. We may from it understand, for example, why the Trinity was not revealed in the Old Testament. It may carry us a little way to remark, as it has been customary to remark since the time of, that it was the task of the Old Testament revelation to fix firmly in the minds and hearts of the people of God the great fundamental truth of the unity of the Godhead; and it would have been dangerous to speak to them of the plurality within this unity until this task had been fully accomplished. The real reason for the delay in the revelation of the Trinity, however, is grounded in the secular development of the redemptive purpose of God: the times were ripe for the revelation of the Trinity in the unity of the Godhead until the fullness of the time had come for God to send forth His Son unto redemption, and His Spirit unto sanctification. The revelation in word must needs wait upon the revelation in fact, to which it brings its necessary explanation, no doubt, but from which also it derives its own entire significance and value. The revelation of a Trinity in the divine unity as a mere abstract truth without relation to manifested fact, and without significance to the development of the kingdom of God, would have been foreign to the whole method of the divine procedure as it lies exposed to us in the pages of Scripture. Here the working-out of the divine purpose supplies the fundamental principle to which all else, even the progressive stages of revelation itself, is subsidiary; and advances in revelation are ever closely connected with the advancing accomplishment of the redemptive purpose. We may understand also, however, from the same central fact, why it is that the doctrine of the Trinity lies in the New Testament rather in the form of allusions than in express teaching, why it is rather everywhere presupposed, coming only here and there into incidental expression, than formally inculcated. It is because the revelation, having been made in the actual occurrences of redemption, was already the common property of all Christian hearts. In speaking and writing to one another, Christians, therefore, rather spoke out of their common Trinitarian consciousness, and reminded one another of their common fund of belief, than instructed one another in what was already the common property of all. We are to look for, and we shall find, in the New Testament allusions to the Trinity, rather evidence of how the Trinity, believed in by all, was conceived by the authoritative teachers of the church, than formal attempts, on their part, by authoritative declarations, to bring the church into the understanding that God is a Trinity.
9. Implied in the Whole New Testament:
The fundamental proof that God is a Trinity is supplied thus by the fundamental revelation of the Trinity in fact: that is to say, in the incarnation of God the Son and the outpouring of God the Holy Spirit. In a word, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit are the fundamental proof of the doctrine of the Trinity. This is as much as to say that all the evidence of whatever kind, and from whatever source derived, that Jesus Christ is God manifested in the flesh, and that the Holy Spirit is a Divine Person, is just so much evidence for the doctrine of the Trinity; and that when we go to the New Testament for evidence of the Trinity we are to seek it, not merely in the scattered allusions to the Trinity as such, numerous and instructive as they are, but primarily in the whole mass of evidence which the New Testament provides of theand the divine personality of the Holy Spirit. When we have said this, we have said in effect that the whole mass of the New Testament is evidence for the Trinity. For the New Testament is saturated with evidence of the Deity of Christ and the divine personality of the Holy Spirit, Precisely what the New Testament is, is the documentation of the religion of the incarnate Son and of the outpoured Spirit, that is to say, of the religion of the Trinity, and what we mean by the doctrine of the Trinity is nothing but the formulation in exact language of the conception of God presupposed in the religion of the incarnate Son and outpoured Spirit. We may analyze this conception and adduce proof for every constituent element of it from the New Testament declarations. We may show that the New Testament everywhere insists on the unity of the Godhead; that it constantly recognizes the Father as God, the Son as God and the Spirit as God; and that it cursorily presents these three to us as distinct Persons. It is not necessary, however, to enlarge here on facts so obvious. We may content ourselves with simply observing that to the New Testament there is but one only living and true God; but that to it Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit are each God in the fullest sense of the term; and yet Father, Son and Spirit stand over against each other as I, and Thou, and He. In this composite fact the New Testament gives us the doctrine of the Trinity. For the doctrine of the Trinity is but the statement in wellguarded language of this composite fact. Through out the whole course of the many efforts to formulate the doctrine exactly, which have followed one another during the entire history of the church, indeed, the principle which has ever determined the result has always been determination to do justice in conceiving the relations of God the Father, God the Son and God the Spirit, on the one hand to the unity of God, and, on the other, to the true Deity of the Son and Spirit and their distinct personalities. When we have said these three things, then--that there is but one God, that the Father and the Son and the Spirit is each God, that the Father and the Son and the Spirit is each a distinct person--we have enunciated the doctrine of the Trinity in its completeness.
10. Conditions the Whole Teaching of Jesus:
11. Father and Son in Johannine Discourses:
12. Spirit in Johannine Discourses:
This last feature is even more strongly emphasized in yet another passage in which the work of the Spirit in relation to the Son is presented as closely parallel with the work of the Son in relation to the Father (
It is not to be said, of course, that the doctrine of the Trinity is formulated in passages like these, with which the whole mass of our Lord’s discourses in John are strewn; but it certainly is presupposed in them, and that is, considered from the point of view of their probative force, even better. As we read we are kept in continual contact with three Persons who act, each as a distinct person, and yet who are in a deep, underlying sense, one. There is but one God--there is never any question of that--and yet this Son who has been sent into the world by God not only represents God but is God, and this Spirit whom the Son has in turn sent unto the world is also Himself God. Nothing could be clearer than that the Son and Spirit are distinct Persons, unless indeed it be that the Son of God is just God the Son and the Spirit of God just God the Spirit.
13. The Baptismal Formula:
14. Genuineness of Baptismal Formula:
A passage of such range of implication has, of course, not escaped criticism and challenge. An attempt which cannot be characterized as other than frivolous has even been made to dismiss it from the text of Matthew’s Gospel. Against this, the whole body of external evidence cries out; and the internal evidence is of itself not less decisive to the same effect. When the "universalism," "ecclesiasticism," and "high theology" of the passage are pleaded against its genuineness, it is forgotten that to the Jesus of Matthew there are attributed not only such parables as those of the Leaven and the Mustard Seed, but such declarations as those contained in 8:11,12; 21:43; 24:14; that in this Gospel alone is Jesus recorded as speaking familiarly about His church (16:18; 18:17); and that, after the great declaration of 11:27 if, nothing remained in lofty attribution to be assigned to Him. When these same objections are urged against recognizing the passage as an authentic saying of Jesus own, it is quite obvious that the Jesus of the evangelists cannot be in mind. The declaration here recorded is quite in character with the Jesus of Matthew’s Gospel, as has just been intimated; and no less with the Jesus of the whole New Testament transmission. It will scarcely do, first to construct a priori a Jesus to our own liking, and then to discard as "unhistorical" all in the New Testament transmission which would be unnatural to such a Jesus. It is not these discarded passages but our a priori Jesus which is unhistorical. In the present instance, moreover, the historicity of the assailed saying is protected by an important historical relation in which it stands. It is not merely Jesus who speaks out of a Trinitarian consciousness, but all the New Testament writers as well. The universal possession by. His followers of so firm a hold on such a doctrine requires the assumption that some such teaching as is here attributed to Him was actually contained in Jesus’ instructions to His followers. Even had it not been attributed to Him in so many words by the record, we should have had to assume that some such declaration had been made by Him. In these circumstances, there can be no good reason to doubt that it was made by Him, when it is expressly attributed to Him by the record.
15. Paul’s Trinitarianism:
16. Conjunction of the Three in Paul:
17. Trinitarianism of Other New Testament Writers:
18. Variations in Nomenclature:
It will not have escaped observation that the Trinitarian terminology of Paul and the other writers of the New Testament is not precisely identical with that of our Lord as recorded for us in His discourses. Paul, for example--and the same is true of the other New Testament writers (except John)--does not speak, as our Lord is recorded as speaking, of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, so much as of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. This difference of terminology finds its account in large measure in the different relations in which the speakers stand to the Trinity. our Lord could not naturally speak of Himself, as one of the Trinitarian Persons, by the designation of "the Lord," while the designation of "the Son," expressing as it does His consciousness of close relation, and indeed of exact similarity, to God, came naturally to His lips. But He was Paul’s Lord; and Paul naturally thought and spoke of Him as such. In point of fact, "Lord" is one of Paul’s favorite designations of Christ, and indeed has become with him practically a proper name for Christ, and in point of fact, his Divine Name for Christ. It is naturally, therefore, his Trinitarian name for Christ. Because when he thinks of Christ as divine he calls Him "Lord," he naturally, when he thinks of the three Persons together as the Triune God, sets Him as "Lord" by the side of God--Paul’s constant name for "the Father"--and the Holy Spirit. Question may no doubt be raised whether it would have been possible for Paul to have done this, especially with the constancy with which he has done it, if, in his conception of it, the very essence of the Trinity were enshrined in the terms "Father" and "Son." Paul is thinking of the Trinity, to be sure, from the point of view of a worshipper, rather than from that of a systematizer. He designates the Persons of the Trinity therefore rather from his relations to them than from their relations to one another. He sees in the Trinity his God, his Lord, and the Holy Spirit who dwells in him; and naturally he so speaks currently of the three Persons. It remains remarkable, nevertheless, if the very essence of the Trinity were thought of by him as resident in the terms "Father," "Son," that in his numerous allusions to the Trinity in the Godhead, he never betrays any sense of this. It is noticeable also that in their allusions to the Trinity, there is preserved, neither in Paul nor in the other writers of the New Testament, the order of the names as they stand in our Lord’s great declaration (
19. Implications of "Son" and "Spirit":
Such facts as these have a bearing upon the testimony of the New Testament to the interrelations of the Persons of the Trinity. To the fact of the Trinity--to the fact, that is, that in the unity of the Godhead there subsist three Persons, each of whom has his particular part in the working out of salvation--the New Testament testimony is clear, consistent, pervasive and conclusive. There is included in this testimony constant and decisive witness to the complete and undiminished Deity of each of these Persons; no language is too exalted to apply to each of them in turn in the effort to give expression to the writer’s sense of His Deity: the name that is given to each is fully understood to be "the name that is above every name." When we attempt to press the inquiry behind the broad fact, however, with a view to ascertaining exactly how the New Testament writers conceive the three Persons to be related, the one to the other, we meet with great difficulties. Nothing could seem more natural, for example, than to assume that the mutual relations of the Persons of the Trinity are revealed in the designations, "the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit," which are given them by our Lord in the solemn formula of
20. The Question of Surbordination:
21. Witness of the Christian Consciousness:
The Trinity of the Persons of the Godhead, shown in the incarnation and the redemptive work of God the Son, and the descent and saving work of God the Spirit, is thus everywhere assumed in the New Testament, and comes to repeated fragmentary but none the less emphatic and illuminating expression in its pages. As the roots of its revelation are set in the threefold divine causality of the saving process, it naturally finds an echo also in the consciousness of everyone who has experienced this salvation. Every redeemed soul, knowing himself reconciled with God through His Son, and quickened into newness of life by His Spirit, turns alike to Father, Son and Spirit with the exclamation of reverent gratitude upon his lips, "My Lord and my God!" If he could not construct the doctrine of the Trinity out of his consciousness of salvation, yet the elements of his consciousness of salvation are interpreted to him and reduced to order only by the doctrine of the Trinity which he finds underlying and giving their significance and consistency to the teaching of the Scriptures as to the processes of salvation. By means of this doctrine he is able to think clearly and consequently of his threefold relation to the saving God, experienced by him as Fatherly love sending a Redeemer, as redeeming love executing redemption, as saving love applying redemption: all manifestations in distinct methods and by distinct agencies of the one seeking and saving love of God. Without the doctrine of the Trinity, his conscious Christian life would be thrown into confusion and left in disorganization if not, indeed, given an air of unreality; with the doctrine of the Trinity, order, significance and reality are brought to every element of it. Accordingly, the doctrine of the Trinity and the doctrine of redemption, historically, stand or fall together. A Unitarian theology is commonly associated with a Pelagian anthropology and a Socinian soteriology. It is a striking testimony which is borne by E. Koenig (Offenbarungsbegriff des Altes Testament, 1882, I, 125): "I have learned that many cast off the whole history of redemption for no other reason than because they have not attained to a conception of the Triune God." It is in this intimacy of relation between the doctrines of the Trinity and redemption that the ultimate reason lies why the Christian church could not rest until it had attained a definite and well-compacted doctrine of the Trinity. Nothing else could be accepted as an adequate foundation for the experience of the Christian salvation. Neither the Sabellian nor the Arian construction could meet and satisfy the data of the consciousness of salvation, any more than either could meet and satisfy the data of the Scriptural revelation. The data of the Scriptural revelation might, to be sure, have been left unsatisfied: men might have found a modus vivendi with neglected, or even with perverted Scriptural teaching. But perverted or neglected elements of Christian experience are more clamant in their demands for attention and correction. The dissatisfied Christian consciousness necessarily searched the Scriptures, on the emergence of every new attempt to state the doctrine of the nature and relations of God, to see whether these things were true, and never reached contentment until the Scriptural data were given their consistent formulation in a valid doctrine of the Trinity. Here too the heart of man was restless until it found its rest in the Triune God, the author, procurer and applier of salvation.
22. Formulation of the Doctrine:
The determining impulse to the formulation of the doctrine of the Trinity in the church was the church’s profound conviction of the absolute Deity of Christ, on which as on a pivot the whole Christian conception of God from the first origins of Christianity turned. The guiding principle in the formulation of the doctrine was supplied by the Baptismal Formula announced by Jesus (
In the nature of the case the formulated doctrine was of slow attainment. The influence of inherited conceptions and of current philosophies inevitably showed itself in the efforts to construe to the intellect the immanent faith of Christians. In the 2nd century the dominant neo-Stoic and neo-Platonic ideas deflected Christian thought into subordinationist channels, and produced what is known as the Logos-Christology, which looks upon the Son as a prolation of Deity reduced to such dimensions as comported with relations with a world of time and space; meanwhile, to a great extent, the Spirit was neglected altogether. A reaction which, under the name of Monarchianism, identified the Father, Son, and Spirit so completely that they were thought of only as different aspects or different moments in the life of the one Divine Person, called now Father, now Son, now Spirit, as His several activities came successively into view, almost succeeded in establishing itself in the 3rd century as the doctrine of the church at large. In the conflict between these two opposite tendencies the church gradually found its way, under the guidance of the Baptismal Formula elaborated into a "Rule of Faith," to a better and more well-balanced conception, until a real doctrine of the Trinity at length came to expression, particularly in the West, through the brilliant dialectic of Tertullian. It was thus ready at hand, when, in the early years of the 4th century, the Logos-Christology, in opposition to dominant Sabellian tendencies, ran to seed in what is known as Arianism, to which the Son was a creature, though exalted above all other creatures as their Creator and Lord; and the church was thus prepared to assert its settled faith in a Triune God, one in being, but in whose unity there subsisted three consubstantial Persons. Under the leadership of Athanasius this doctrine was proclaimed as the faith of the church at the Council of Nice in 325 AD, and by his strenuous labors and those of "the three great Cappadocians," the two Gregories and Basil, it gradually won its way to the actual acceptance of the entire church. It was at the hands of Augustine, however, a century later, that the doctrine thus become the church doctrine in fact as well as in theory, received its most complete elaboration and most carefully grounded statement. In the form which he gave it, and which is embodied in that "battle-hymn of the early church," the so-called, it has retained its place as the fit expression of the faith of the church as to the nature of its God until today. The language in which it is couched, even in this final declaration, still retains elements of speech which owe their origin to the modes of thought characteristic of the Logos-Christology of the 2nd century, fixed in the nomenclature of the church by the of 325 AD, though carefully guarded there against the subordinationism inherent in the Logos-Christology, and made the vehicle rather of the Nicene doctrines of the eternal generation of the Son and procession of the Spirit, with the consequent subordination of the Son and Spirit to the Father in modes of subsistence as well as of operation. In the Athanasian Creed, however, the principle of the equalization of the three Persons, which was already the dominant motive of the Nicene Creed--the homoousia--is so strongly emphasized as practically to push out of sight, if not quite out of existence, these remanent suggestions of derivation and subordination. It has been found necessary, nevertheless, from time to time, vigorously to reassert the principle of equalization, over against a tendency unduly to emphasize the elements of subordinationism which still hold a place thus in the traditional language in which the church states its doctrine of the Trinity. In particular, it fell to Calvin, in the interests of the true Deity of Christ--the constant motive of the whole body of Trinitarian thought--to reassert and make good the attribute of self-existence (autotheotos) for the Son. Thus Calvin takes his place, alongside of Tertullian, Athanasius and Augustine, as one of the chief contributors to the exact and vital statement of the Christian doctrine of the Triune God.
F. C. Baur, Die christliche Lehre von der Dreieinigkeit Gottea, 3 volumes, Tubingen, 1841-43;
(NOTE.--In this article the author has usually given his own renderings of original passages, and not those of any particular version--EDITORS.)
Benjamin B. Warfield