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The Doctrine of the Trinity


Theissen, Lectures in Systematic Theology

The Unity of God

1.         There is only one God (Deuteronomy 4:35, 39; 1 Kings 8:60; Isaiah 45:5ff; Mark 12:29-32; John 17:3; 1 Corinthians 8:4-6; 1 Timothy 2:5)

2.         He is the only God (Exodus 15:11; Zechariah 14:9)

3.         The divine nature of God is undivided and indivisible (Deuteronomy 6:4; Mark 12:29; James 2:19)

The Trinity of God

1.         The doctrine of the trinity is not a truth of natural theology, but of revelation.

a.         Its Greek form, trias, seems to have been first used by Theophilus of Antioch (d. A.D. 181)

b.         Its Latin form, trinitas, by Tertullian ( A.D. 220)

c.         In Christian theology, the term “trinity” means that there are three eternal distinctions in the one divine essence, known respectively as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  These three distinctions are three persons, and one may speak of the tripersonality of God.  We worship the triune God.

d.         Athanasian Creed:  “We worship one God in the Trinity, and the Trinity in unity; we distinguish among the persons, but we do not divide the subtance… The entire three persons are coeternal and coequal with one another, so that … we worship complete unity in Trinity and Trinity in unity.”

e.         The doctrine of the trinity must be distinguished from both Tritheism and Sabellianism. 

1)         Tritheism denies the unity of the essence of God and holds to three distinct Gods.  The only unity that it recognizes is the unity of purpose and endeavor.  The three persons are consubstantial.

2)         Sabellianism held to a trinity of revelation, but not of nature.  It taught that God, as Father, is creator and lawgiver; as Son, is the same God incarnate who fulfills the office of redeemer; and as Holy Spirit, is the same God in the work of regeneration and sanctification.  In other words, Sabellianism taught a modal trinity as distinguished from an ontological trinity.  Modalism speaks of a three-fold nature of God, in the same sense in which a man may be an artist, a teacher, and a friend, or as one may be a father, a son, and a brother.  But this is in reality a denial of the trinity, for these are not three distinctions in the essence, but three qualities or relationships in one and the same person.

2.         In the Old Testament God used plural pronouns (Genesis 1:26; 3:22; 11:7; Isaiah 6:8) and plural verbs (Genesis 1:26; 11:7) to refer to Himself.  The name Elohim is plural and may imply plurality, though this is dubious.  The plural form is probably used for intensity, rather than for expressing plurality.

                        More definite indications that this plurality is a trinity is found in the following facts:

a.         The Lord is distinguished from the Lord (Genesis 19:24; Hosea 1:7; Zechariah 3:2; 2 Timothy 1:18)

b.         The Son is distinguished from the Father (Isaiah 48:16; cf. Ps. 2:7; 45:6f; Isaiah 63:9f.)

1)         Jesus is not only called the Son of God (Romans 1:4), but also the only begotten Son (John 3:16, 18)

2)         Jesus is called His first-born son (Hebrews 1:6)

3)         Jesus was the eternal Son of God even before He was given (Isaiah 9:6; Micah 5:2)

c.         The Spirit is also distinguished from God (Genesis 1:1, 2; Genesis 6:3; cf. Numbers 27:18; Psalm 51:11; Isaiah 40:13; Haggai 2:4f)

d.         Other such matters as the triple use of “holy” in Isaiah 6:3 may imply trinity (cf. Revelation 4:8), as well as the triple benediction of Numbers 6:24-26.

e.         The oft-recurring phrase, “the angel of the Lord,” as found in the Old Testament, has special reference to the pre-incarnate second person of the trinity.  His appearances in the Old Testament foreshadowed his coming in the flesh.  The angel of the Lord is identified with the Lord and yet distinguished from Him.  He appeared to Hagar (Genesis 16:7-140), Abraham (Genesis 22:11-18), Jacob (Genesis 31:11-13), Moses (Exodus 3:2-5), Israel (Exodus 13:2-25), Elijah (1 Kings 19:5-7), and David (1 Chronicles 21:15-17).  The angel of the Lord slew 185,000 Assyrians (2 Kings 19:35), stood among the myrtle trees in Zechariah’s vision (Zechariah 1:11), defended Joshua the high priest against Satan (Zechariah 3:1f.), and was one of the three men who appeared to Abraham (Genesis 18).

f.          In light of the above intimations of the trinity in the Old Testament, we conclude with Berkhof, “The Old Testament contains a clear anticipation of the fuller revelation of the trinity in the New Testament.

3.         In the New Testament the doctrine of the trinity is more clearly set forth than in the Old Testament.  It can be proven along two lines:  by means of general statements and allusions and by demonstrating that there are three that are recognized as God.

a.         General statements and allusions.  Several times the three persons of the trinity are shown together and seemingly are on par with one another.

            1)         Baptism of Jesus (Matthew 3:16f.)

2)         Jesus prayed that the Father would send another Comforter (John 14:16)

3)         The disciples were told to baptize in the name (singular) of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19)

4)         The three persons of the trinity are associated together in their work (1 Corinthians 12:4-6; Ephesians 1:3-14; 1 Peter 1:2; 3:18; Revelation 1:4f.)

5)         Apostolic benediction unites the three together (2 Corinthians 13:14)

            b.         The Father is recognized as God (John 6:27; Romans 1:7; Galatians 1:1)

            c.         The Son is recognized as God

                        1)         Matthew 16:15; 22:42  What think you of Christ?

2)         Christ possesses the five attributes that are uniquely and distinctly divine:  eternity, omnipresence, omniscience, omnipotence, and immutability.

3)         He is eternal

            a)         He was before John (John 1:15)

            b)         He was before Abraham (John 8:58)

c)         He was before the world came into existence “in the beginning” (John 1:1, cf. 1 John 1:1)

d)         He was from “the days of eternity” (Micah 5:2)

e)         He continues forever (Isaiah 9:6f.; Hebrews 1:11f.; 13:8).

f.          The Father’s

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