Trinity using Bible words, trying to reconcile with theological terms

This essay will attempt to explore the definition of the term trinity, in relation to God, as well as what the Bible teaches concerning the nature of God in this area. Before we begin this discussion, we must realize that our human understanding pales in comparison to that which is God. We can never truly fully understand God (Isaiah 55:8-9). Additionally, sometimes theologists, like most specialists, invent words or hijack existing terms and change their meanings to make them mean specifically what they mean those terms to mean. This is unfortunate, but seems to be a common practice among specialists of all sorts. Having said that, we will begin by looking at a definition of trinity.

Easton’s Bible Dictionary defines trinity as:

a word not found in Scripture, but used to express the doctrine of the unity of God as subsisting in three distinct Persons. This word is derived from the Gr. trias, first used by Theophilus (A.D. 168-183), or from the Lat. trinitas, first used by Tertullian (A.D. 220), to express this doctrine. The propositions involved in the doctrine are these: 1. That God is one, and that there is but one God ( Deuteronomy 6:4 ; 1 Kings 8:60 ; Isaiah 44:6 ; Mark 12:29 Mark 12:32 ; John 10:30 ). 2 . That the Father is a distinct divine Person (hypostasis, subsistentia, persona, suppositum intellectuale), distinct from the Son and the Holy Spirit. 3. That Jesus Christ was truly God, and yet was a Person distinct from the Father and the Holy Spirit. 4. That the Holy Spirit is also a distinct divine Person

Charles Ryrie quotes B.B. Warfield’s definition of trinity as: “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.” But since  person has a specific meaning to many people, this term causes difficulties in understanding what is meant. For this reason, some people choose to use the term subsistence in place of person. Kenneth Boa is quoted to have said in Unraveling the Big Questions About God, “The word substance speaks of God’s essential nature or being and subsistence describes His mode or quality of existence.” We will examine this definition based upon what the Bible teaches.

People have long wanted to understand the nature of God. And while we are not able to fully understand the nature of God, we must certainly try to understand as much as we are capable of understanding. We have been given two guides with which to know about and understand something of God. First, we have His creation, the universe. As Romans 1:20 tells us,

“For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divinenature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.”

We have the Bible, which is the history of God’s interaction with mankind through the eyes of one family and tells us who God is, what God has done, is doing, and will do, and what God wants from us and for us. As people who are called to teach what God has aid, we must be able to teach in accordance with sound doctrine (Titus 2:1). Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 3:15-17,

“15and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation throughfaith which is in Christ Jesus.16All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, fortraining in righteousness ;17so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”

As such, we need to look to scripture to see what God has said about who God is.

Some things about God’s nature are explicitely taught in the Bible, such as there is one God  (Isaiah 43:10; John 1:18; 1 Corinthians 8:4-6; Ephesians 4:4-6), God is one (Deuteronomy 6:4; James 2:19), no one is like God (Exodus 8:10). Yet, even though there is One God, who is One, and no one is like God, the word translated as God in Genesis 1:1 is from the term Elohim, which is plural. Additionally, God refers to Himself in the plural (Gen. 1:26; 3:22; 11:7; Isa. 6:8). And while some things might be explicitly mentioned in the Bible, others things are not so explicit and must be deduced from what IS explicitely mentioned in scripture. In fact, one can even see the trinity (where Jehovah sent His First and Last as well as His Spirit) in Isaiah 48:12-16:

12“Listen to Me, O Jacob, even Israel whom I called ; I am He, I am the first, I am also the last.13“Surely My hand founded the earth, And My right hand spread out the heavens ; When I call to them, they stand together.14″Assemble, all of you, and listen ! Who among them has declared these things ? The LORD loves him; he will carry out His good pleasure on Babylon, And His arm will be against the Chaldeans.15″I, even I, have spoken ; indeed I have called him, I have brought him, and He will make his ways successful.16″Come near to Me, listen to this : From the first I have not spoken in secret, From the time it took place, I was there. And now the Lord GOD has sent Me, and His Spirit.”

Jehovah, and the Redeemer, and Jehovah’s Spirit are all mentioned in Isaiah 59:20-21,

20″A Redeemer will come to Zion, And to those who turn from transgression in Jacob,”declares the LORD. 21″As for Me, this is My covenant with them,” says the LORD : “My Spirit which is upon you, and My words which I have put in your mouth shall not depart from your mouth, nor from themouth of your offspring, nor from the mouth of your offspring’s offspring,” says the LORD, “from now and forever.”

Isaiah 63:7-10 shows us the same thing – Jehovah, the angel of His presence redeemed and saved the people, and  the Holy Spirit of God was grieved:

7I shall make mention of the lovingkindnesses of the LORD, the praises of the LORD, According to all that the LORD has granted us, And the great goodness toward the house of Israel, Which He has granted them according to His compassion And according to the abundance of His lovingkindnesses. 8For He said, “Surely, they are My people, Sons who will not deal falsely.” So He becametheir Savior.9In all their affliction He was afflicted, And the angel of His presence saved them; In His loveand in His mercy He redeemed them, And He lifted them and carried them all the days of old.10But they rebelled And grieved His Holy Spirit ; Therefore He turned Himself to become their enemy, He fought against them.

But even though these three are mentioned in the Old Testament, there is little doubt the people living then did not see it. That was not the purpose of that text at the time and place it was given.

In the first century, there were people called Gnostics who wanted to say that Christ was not God and was of an inferior nature to God, as well as saying God did not come in human form. To combat this heresy, the apostles wrote something of the nature of God, indicating time and again that far from being an inferior nature than God, He had the same nature. God always existed and became human (John 1:1-18). Christ is the image of God (Colossians 1:15) and in Him all the fullness of Deity dwelt in bodily form (Colossians 2:9). In fact, Christ claimed to be the Son of God (making Himself equal in quality to God, Jn 5:16-18 and Jn 19:7). Christ claimed to be God (Jn 10:30-33). While both God the Father and God the Son are mentioned as being God, they are obviously not the same. But more than being God, Jesus was God who had taken on human form (John 1:1-18; 1 John 4:1-6). Jesus was fully God and fully man. This is not to say that there is more than one God, because there is only one God, as we have seen. Trying to understand and describe what appears to discrepancies, whether there are multiple gods or one, whether Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit are part of God, or ARE God, or whether Christ was really human, etc., are what brought the church’s leaders to discuss and debtate the issue. All this led up to the definition of the doctrine of the trinity.

Just as we see in Genesis 1:1 that God is plural in the original language, so too in Genesis 1:2 do we see the Spirit of God was involved in creation, hovering over the waters. But not only that, we see in John 1:1-18 that God the Son was also involved in the creation. While both the Holy Spirit and God the Son were involved in creation, we see in Scripture that God the Father is not God the Son (Matthew 3:16-17; Matthew 17:4-6; Mark 9:5-8; Luke 9:28-36; 2 Peter 1:16-18; John 1:1-18; Colossians 2:9; 1 Timothy 3:16). In fact, Scripture shows the Holy Spirit is not God the Son and not God the Father (Matthew 3:16-17; Matthew 28:19; 2 Cor 13:14; John 14:26; John 15:26; Luke 10:21; 1 Peter 1:2; 1 Corinthians 12:4-11; 1 Timothy 3:16). While the three are not the same, we see an eternally existent relationship between God the Son and God the Father (1 Corinthians 8:6; John 1:1-18), just as there is an eternally existent relationship between the Holy Spirit and God the Father (Genesis 1:1-2).

Just as we saw in the Old Testament where there is mention of God the Father, the Holy Spirit, and God the Son, we see various places in the New Testament where God the Father, the Holy Spirit, and God the Son (Jesus the Christ) are mentioned simultaneously.

  • Mat 3:16-17 (cf Mark 1:10–11; Luke 3:22; John 1:32-34)

16After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water ; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him,17and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.”

  • Luke 10:21

21At that very time He rejoiced greatly in the Holy Spirit, and said, “I praise You, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligentand have revealed them to infants. Yes, Father, for this way was well-pleasing in Your sight.

  • Mat 28:19

19 “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,

  • Acts 2:32-33

32“This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses.33“Therefore having been exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from theFather the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured forth this which you both see and hear.

  • Acts 7:55

55But being full of the Holy Spirit, he gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.

  • 2 Cor 13:14

14The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.

  • Hebrews 9:14

14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God ?

  • 1 Peter 1:2

2according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood : May grace and peace be yours in the fullest measure.

Thus we see there are three – in both the Old Testament and in the New Testament. Yet, we have seen that the three are one God and one Lord (Isaiah 43:10; John 1:18; 1 Corinthians 8:4-6; Ephesians 4:4-6; Deuteronomy 6:4; James 2:19). There is only One God, which we see in Isaiah 45:5-6 5“I am the LORD, and there is no other; Besides Me there is no God I will gird you, though you have not known Me; 6That men may know from the rising to the setting of the sun That there is no one besides Me. I am the LORD, and there is no other.” According to Deuteronomy 6:4 4“Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one!”

And even though there is only one God, John 5:18 shows us that Jesus made Himself out to be equal to God. And we are told in Psalms 104:30, “30 You send forth Your Spirit, they are created ; And You renew the face of the ground.” The Holy Spirit is sent by both the Father and the Son (Isaiah 48:12-16; John 14:26; 15:26). 1 Cor 2:10-15 shows us the Holy Spirit is both from and of God, and He teaches us what God has said and done. This very same Spirit sent by God raised Christ from the dead and has made us adopted children of God (Romans 8:11-17). Not only that, but the Holy Spirit has traits consistent with a person (Romans 8:16; Ephesians 4:30). The Holy Spirit can be lied to and it is lying to God (Acts 5:3-4). The Holy Spirit can be grieved (Isaiah 63:10; Ephesians 4:30). The Spirit of the Lord speaks through people (2 Samuel 23:2; Zechariah 7:12). But although God sends out His Spirit (in the same way Jesus spoke of God sending His Spirit), His Spirit is everywhere, according to  Psalms 139:7, “7Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence?” This shows the divine attribute of omnipresence. Indeed, where God’s Spirit (translated from Ruwach in Isaiah 48:16) is, so is His presence. In fact, the Spirit of God IS His presence (Psalms 139:7).

Now, the word translated as ‘presence’ in Psalms 139:7 is ‘Paniym’, according to the New American Standard Hebrew Lexicon. This word is translated as face, presence, or person.

Genesis 4:16 (example of ‘Paniym’, as presence)

Then Cain went out from the presence of the LORD, and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden.

Genesis 32:30 (example of ‘Paniym’, as face)

So Jacob named *the place Peniel, for he said, “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been preserved.”

Ecclesiastes 2:26   (example of ‘Paniym’, as sight)

6 For to a person who is good in His sight He has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, while to the sinner He has given the task of gathering and collecting so that he may give to one who is good in God’s sight. This too is vanity and striving after wind.

Malachi 1:8-9 (KJV) (example of ‘Paniym’, as person)

8 And if ye offer the blind for sacrifice , is it not evil? and if ye offer the lame and sick , is it not evil? offer it now unto thy governor; will he be pleased with thee, or accept thy person? saith the LORD of hosts. 9 And now, I pray you, beseech *God that he will be gracious unto us: this hath been by your means: will he regard your persons? saith the LORD of hosts.

Another word for person is Nephesh. This is translated as soul, living being, person, as well as other things. My point here is that this seems to have a reference to the internal person, while ‘Paniym’ seems to refer to that which is visible. Interestingly,  I can see in scripture that God redeems our soul (psalms 49:15), and sustains our soul (Psalms 54:3-4). But I can not find the term nephesh applied to God.

Having looked at the Holy Spirit, we will now take another look at Jesus Christ. We know God sent His Son to take on human form, according to John 1:1 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”, John 1:14 “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth“, and John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”

God has a nature. In Hebrews 1:1-4, we see Christ is the exact representation (charakter – a precise reproduction in every respect) of the nature or subsistence (hypostasis) of God. Is this a case where we have merely a reflection of what is, or do we have a duplicate, 2 hypostases, if you will? I think it is likely the latter. And if this is the case, then we have the biblical use of multiple hypostases when discussing the One God.

1God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in manyways,2in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things,through whom also He made the world.3And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,4having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent namethan they.

In Heb 9:24, we see that Christ appears in the presence (prosopon) of God. Indeed, the word prosopon is also translated as ‘presence’ in Acts 2:28; 20:25-38; 25:16; 3-19; 5:41; 2 Corinthians 2:10; 2 Thessalonians 1:9; Revelation 6:16. The same word is translated as ‘face’ in Acts 6:15; 17:26; 20:38; 25:16 ;1 Corinthians 13:12;1 Corinthians 14:25; 2 Corinthians 3:7,13,18; 2 Corinthians 10:1; Galatians 2:6; Colossians 2:1; 1 Peter 3:12; James 1:23. In fact, the Father’s face is discussed in Matthew 18:10. Jesus’ face is discussed in Matthew 26:39. Interestingly, prosopon is translated as both ‘face’ and ‘person’ in 1 Thessalonians 2:17. But its translated ‘sight‘ (as in my face was unknown) in Galatians 1:22, and ‘partiality‘ in Galatians 2:6. In 2 Corinthians 1:11, prosopon is translated as ‘person‘. In 2 Corinthians 5:12, it is translated ‘appearance‘. In 2 Corinthians 8:24, it is translated ‘openly‘. We know prosopon is not likely to mean merely outward appearance, as eidos means that. and eidos (translated as appearance) was used together with prosophon (translated as face) in Luke 9:29. But even so, like the Hebrew ‘Paniym’, the Greek prosopon seems to have something to do with the visible, not necessarily the internal person, nor that which is the internal person’s essence. The theological discussions began using the idea of prosopon and hypostasis. But ended up using hypostasis and ousia. Instead of saying God has masks (prosopon), something external which did not reflect a reality of person, the church fathers used a word which spoke more of the internal nature of God and chose to use hypostasis.

There is no use of the term ousia in the Bible. Nor is there any other term which seems to describe the internal nature of God. The language adopted in the East for trinity uses the terms three HYPOSTASES in one OUSIA while the language in the West used three PERSONAE in one SUBSTANTIA. As James E. Kiefer suggests, “[I]t was natural for a Greek-speaker, reading a Latin document that referred to One SUBSTANTIA to substitute mentally a reference to One HYPOSTASIS, and to be very uncomfortable, while a Latin-speaker would have the same problem in reverse. Thus the seeds were sown for a breakdown of communication.” (http://www.spurgeon.org/~phil/creeds/nicene.htm).
So the trinity is found in scripture. But the words used to describe it in Greek and Latin were not found in the Bible as used. Does this make the doctrine of the trinity inaccurate? No. As I said earlier, theologians (as with many specialists) have a tendency to take a term and tweak it to make it mean what they want it to me.

For more info, please see: Jesus in the Torah?, Did Jesus exist before time? Is Jesus God?, IS the Holy Spirit separate from God the Father or God the Son?, JESUS VS PAUL # 15: Jesus God’s equal?, Is the relationship between God the Father and Christ supposed to be familial?, More on whether Jesus Christ is God. http://bible.org/article/trinity-triunity-god, Trinity = Three Persons in One God
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5 Responses

  1. Keifer, by the way, is wrong on his little analogy. There is a Latin word for Essence, which is what Ousia is. Hypostasis, found in Scripture, is applied only to God. To move that to a second level is scriptural.

    Further, I would urge you to study what ‘Son of’ mean during that time, the fact the you mentioned a Scripture where the Spirit is Created, or that in Romans, it says Christ was appointed the Son by the Spirit, how that God says that no one is equal to Him and that He would share his glory with no other. If you have three that are co-equal and share their glory, that plurality dismisses what God said about Himself. (note, plurality vs singleness). A reflection is not a duplicate, because if so, you again, have a duplicate God with the second being created and subordinate to the original.

    Speaking of equality – how it is equality when one owns another? If it is God’s Spirit, then God possesses the Spirit. Christ too is said to send the His Spirit, so you have the Spirit, a supposedly co-equal, who is possessed by two. Further, we have to ask, can the Spirit send God? Can Christ send God? If not, they by nature, those two are subordinate and thus not-equal, which goes against your understanding of equality.

    While we may safely sit hundreds of years removed from the battle, it was a battle to produce this theology three hundred years after the New Testament was written. Was it produced in the synagogues where the Jewish Apostles sat? No. These theologies were developed in the philosophical schools of Rome, Athens and Alexandria. Ousia is not just a foreign term to the bible; it is one familiar to Greek thought. Further, hypostasis is Greek and served the author of Hebrews fine, as did prosopon.

    Further, Tertullian wrote in Greek as well as Latin and he developed in Latin the formula three personea, one substantia which used the biblical words, three prosopon, one hypostasis. So, no, Keifer is wrong. Further, The councils of Nicaea were debated in Greek, not Latin. I would urge you to pick up the history of the development of this doctrine, and to measure that against your understanding of sola scriptura.

    Before we go into proper interpretation, let us examine that. Is sola scriptura still a doctrine to be held? And to what level does Developed Tradition and Doctrine play into it? Yes, we can set now after Developed Tradition and Doctrine and interpret Scripture through that – because, so has everyone else form the Gnostics tot he Arians – or we can first examine if development is allowed. Is it? And is it through the battles which were fought in the fourth century?

    • How do you have the Father being in the Son and the Son in the Father? We can not adequately explain God. But its evident that the Father is not the Son nor is the Son the Father. In the same way, The Holy Spirit is not either of them, nor merely just an expression of the power of God, for Ananias and Saphira lied to the Holy Spirit and it was called lying to God. The plurality and the uniqueness and singleness of God are all evident in scripture. There is ONE. God is ONE. Yet, scripture also shows that the Son is God and the Holy Spirit is God (not modes or parts of). We dont know if If Christ can send the Father (scripture does not tell us), but both the Father and the Son send the Holy Spirit, just as the Father sent the Son. And yet The Son is God, just as the Father is God. So God can send God.

      All doctrine must be examined and re-examined in light of what Scripture says. I have no problem with a developing understanding of what Scripture says, so long as it is actually what scripture says. As I’ve said, its evident to me that the Holy Spirit is a person, just as Christ is a person, just as the Father is a person, that they are all God, that there is only one God.

      If you try to deny the singleness and simultaneous plurality of God, you risk denying that the Son became human while at the same time was God.

  2. No, we cannot adequately explain God. I agree, but I try to used the words and phrases of the New Testament writers and leave it at that. The Son is not the Father, the Father not the Son. But, then we get into economic or ontological. So, again, I leave it as Paul wrote as Peter wrote without further need for speculation or added words on my part.

    The Scripture doesn’t say anything about a Trinity or a division in the God head, nor about ousia, essences, or that the Spirit is a person. To the contrary, it says that God is one, that God is a hypostasis and that the Spirit is God.

    The plurality of God was denied by greater men than I, Wb, long before even Nicaea. Again, to what extent is the plurality? Economic or Ontological? No, you are correct. When you say that the Son is the Father then you destroy the Incarnation. But when you add to Scripture, you take away from it as the only foundation upon which we stand.

  3. it also says Christ is an exact representation of Father. Yet, the Son is not the Father, and vice versa.

    Hebrews 1:2-3

    2 in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. 3 And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,

    It also says The Holy Spirit will be sent by the Father and will teach.

    John 14:26

    26″But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.

    The Holy Spirit will be sent by the Son from the Father and will testify about Christ.

    John 15:26

    26″When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify about Me,

    John 16:7

    7″But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.

    John 14:9

    Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?

    There is Christ and the Father, each is not the other and yet both are God (two distinct persons in one God). That seems plural to me, in terms of persons. But there is only one God (Mark 12:32; Ephesians 4:4-6), which is the unity and uniqueness and singleness of God.

  4. Wb, you may choose today to stand today and interpret those Scriptures, but tell me, do you think that the early Church saw it that way? Because if you do, history says something completely different.

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