Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Systematic Theology--Chapter 14

God in Three Persons: The Trinity 
How can God be three persons, yet one God?

*The biblical teaching on the Trinity tells us that all of God's attributes are true of all three persons of God, for each is fully God. Thus, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are also eternal, omnipresent, omnipotent, infinitely wise, infinitely holy, infinitely loving, omniscient, and so forth.

*God eternally exists as three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and each person is fully God, and there is only one God.

A. The Doctrine of the Trinity Is Progressively Revealed in Scripture
   1. Partial Revelation in the Old Testament

  • Although the doctrine of the Trinity is not explicitly found in the Old Testament, several passages suggest or even imply that God exists as more than one person.
    • Genesis 1:26--Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
    • Genesis 3:22--Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—”
    • Genesis 11:7--Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another's speech.”
    • Isaiah 6:8--And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.”
    • Psalm 110:1*--The Lord says to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand,until I make your enemies your footstool.”  *This verse could be paraphrased, "God the Father said to God the Son, 'Sit at my right hand.'"
    • Isaiah 48:16--Draw near to me, hear this: from the beginning I have not spoken in secret, from the time it came to be I have been there.”
      And now the Lord God has sent me, and his Spirit.
   2. More Complete Revelation of the Trinity in the New Testament

  • Matthew 3:16-17*--And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” *Here at one moment we have three members of the Trinity performing three distinct activities.
  • Matthew 28:19--Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
  • 2 Corinthians 13:14--The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
  • 1 Peter 1:2--according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you.
  • Jude 20-21--But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.
B. Three Statements Summarize the Biblical Teaching

  • In one sense the doctrine of the Trinity is a mystery that we will never be able to understand fully. However, we can understand something of its truth by summarizing the teaching of Scripture in three statements:
    • God is three persons.
    • Each person is fully God.
    • There is one God.
  • God is Three Persons.
    • John 1:1-2*--In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. *The fact that the "Word" (who is seen to be Christ in vv. 9-18) is "with" God shows distinction from God the Father.
    • In John 17:24, Jesus speaks to God the Father about "my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world," thus showing dinstinction of persons, sharing of glory, and a relationship of love between the Father and the Son before the world was created.
    • 1 John 2:18*--My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. *In order to intercede for us before God the Father, it is necessary that Christ be a person distinct from the Father.
    • John 14:26*--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 have said to you. *This verse is evidence of the Holy Spirit's existence as the distinct third person of the Trinity.
    • John 16:7--Nevertheless, 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.
  • Each Person is Fully God.
    • God the Father is Clearly God. This is evident from the first verse of the Bible, where God created the heavens and the earth. It is evident through the Old Testament and New Testament, where God the Father is clearly viewed as sovereign Lord over all and where Jesus prays to his Father in heaven.
    • The Son is Fully God. (*This point will be developed in greater detail in chapter 26, "The Person of Christ.")
      • John 1:1-4 clearly affirms the full deity of Christ:
        • Here Christ is referred to as "the Word," and John says both that he was "with God" and that he "was God."
        • The Greek text echoes the opening words of Genesis 1:1 ("In the beginning. . .") and reminds us that John is talking about something that was true before the world was made.
        • God the Son was always fully God.
      • John 20:30-31--Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
      • In Hebrews 1, the author says that Christ is the "exact representation" of the nature or being of God.
      • Titus 2:13--waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ,
      • 2 Peter 1:1--Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ:
      • Romans 9:5--To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ,who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.
      • Colossians 2:9--For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily,
    • The Holy Spirit is also Fully God.
      • In Acts 5:3-4, Peter asks Ananias, "Why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit. . .? You have not lied to men but to God." According to Peter's words, to lie to the Holy Spirit is to lie to God.
      • Psalm 139:7-8 attributes the divine characteristic of omnipresence to the Holy Spirit, something that is true of only God.
      • Paul attributes the divine characteristic of omniscience to the Holy Spirit in 1 Corinthians 2:10-11.
  • There is One God.
    • Scripture is abundantly clear that there is one and only one God. The three different persons of the Trinity are one not only in purpose and in agreement on what they think, but they are one in essence, one in their essential nature. In other words, God is only one being. There are not three Gods. There is only one God.
    • Deuteronomy 6:4-5-- “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.
    • Exodus 15:11--“Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?
    • 1 Kings 8:60--that all the peoples of the earth may know that the Lord is God; there is no other.
    • When God speaks, he repeatedly makes it clear that he is the only true God; the idea that there are three Gods to be worshiped rather than one would be unthinkable in the light of these extremely strong statements. God alone is the one true God and there is no one like him.
    • Isaiah 45:5-6--I am the Lord, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; I equip you, though you do not know me, that people may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me; I am the Lord, and there is no other.
    • Romans 3:30--since God is one—who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith.
  • Simplistic Solutions Must All Deny One Strand of Biblical Teaching.
    • Throughout the history of the church there have been attempts to come up with a simple solution to the doctrine of the Trinity by denying one or another of the 3 basic truths of the Trinity. (See Point B above.)
      • If someone denies the first statement, they deny God's ability to act as 3 distinct persons simultaneously. This view essentially denies Matthew 3:16-17 among other Scripture.
      • Denying the second statement would have to deny an entire category of biblical teaching as noted above.
      • Denying that there is one God would result in a belief in three Gods, which is also clearly contrary to Scripture.
  • All Analogies Have Shortcomings.
    • If we cannot adopt any of these simple solutions, then how can we put the three truths of Scripture together and maintain the doctrine of the Trinity?
      • To say that God is like a three-leaf clover, which has 3 parts but remains one clover, fails because each leaf is only part of the clover and not fully clover. In the Trinity, each of the persons of God is fully God.
      • The tree analogy fails as well for similar reasons. Although roots, trunk and branches constitute one tree, none of the parts alone can be said to be a whole tree. An additional problem with this analogy is that all of the parts have different properties, unlike the persons of the Trinity, all of whom possess all of the attributes of God in equal measure.
      • The analogy of the 3 forms of water (steam, water and ice) is also inadequate because (a) no quantity of water is ever all 3 of these at the same time, (b) they have different properties or characteristics, and (c) the analogy has nothing that corresponds to the fact that there is only one God (there is no such thing as "one water").
      • Some compare the Trinity to a man who functions in three different roles at different times (e.g. a farmer, the mayor of his town, an elder at his church), but he is one man. This analogy is very deficient because there is only one person doing these 3 activities at different times, and the analogy cannot deal with the personal interaction among the members of the Trinity. (In fact, this analogy simply teaches the heresy called modalism, discussed below.)
      • Another analogy is the union of the intellect, the emotions, and the will in one human person. While these are parts of a personality, however, no one factor constitutes the entire person. And the parts are not identical in characteristics but have different abilities.
      • It is best to conclude that no analogy adequately teaches about the Trinity, and all are misleading in significant ways.
  • God Eternally and Necessarily Exists as the Trinity.
    • When the universe was created God the Father spoke the powerful creative words that brought it into being, God the Son was the divine agent who carried out these words (John 1:3; 1 Cor. 8:6; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:2), and God the Holy Spirit was active "moving over the face of the waters" (Gen. 1:2).
    • If all three members of the Trinity are equally and fully divine, then they have all three existed for all eternity, and God has eternally existed as a Trinity.
C. Errors Have Come by Denying Any of the Three Statements Summarizing the Biblical Teaching
  • The major trinitarian errors that have arisen have come through a denial of one or another of these three primary statements:
    • God is three persons.
    • Each person is fully God.
    • There is one God.
   1. Modalism Claims That There Is One Person Who Appears to Us in Three Different Forms (or "Modes")
  • Modalism teaches that God is not really three distinct persons, but only one person who appears to people in different "modes" at different times. (e.g. God the Father in the Old Testament, God the Son in the Gospels, God the Spirit after Pentecost.)
  • Modalism is also sometimes referred to as Sabellianism or "modalistic monarchianism."
  • The fatal shortcoming of modalism is the fact that it must deny the personal relationships within the Trinity that appear in so many places in Scripture.
    • It must deny three separate persons at the baptism of Jesus, where the Father speaks from heaven and the Spirit descends on Jesus like a dove.
    • It must say that all instances of Jesus praying to the Father are an illusion or a charade.
    • The idea of Jesus or the Holy Spirit interceding for us before God the Father is lost.
    • Modalism ultimately loses the heart of the doctrine of the atonement--that is, the idea that God sent his Son as a substitutionary sacrifice, and that the Son bore the wrath of God in our place, and that the Father saw the suffering of Christ and was satisfied (Isa. 53:11).
    • Modalism denies the independence of God, for if God is only one person, then he has no ability to love and to communicate without other persons in his creation.
   2. Arianism Denies the Full Deity of the Son and the Holy Spirit
      a. The Arian Controversy
    • The term Arianism is derived from Arius, a Bishop of Alexandria whose views were condemned at the Council of Nicea in A.D. 325. Arius taught that God the Son and God the Holy Spirit were created by the Father and have not always existed. Thus, they are not fully God.
    • Arians use Colossians 1:15 to support their view based on the phrase "the first-born of all creation," but this phrase is better understood to mean that Christ has the rights or privileges of the "first-born"--the privileges of authority and rule with respect to the whole creation. The NIV translates it helpfully, "the firstborn over all creation."
      b. Subordination
    • This belief held that the Son was eternal (not created) and divine, but still not equal to the Father in being or attributes--the Son was inferior or "subordinate" in being to God the Father.
    • This belief was clearly rejected at the Council of Nicea.
      c. Adoptionism
    • This is the view that Jesus lived as an ordinary man until his baptism, but then God "adopted" Jesus as his Son and conferred on him supernatural powers.
    • Adoptionists would not hold that Christ existed before he was born as a man; therefore, they would not think of Christ as eternal, exalted, or supernatural.
    • Adoptionism never gained the force of a movement in the way Arianism did, but it is included here in relation to Arianism because it, too, denies the deity of the Son.
      d. The Filioque Clause
    • Filioque is a Latin term that means "and from the Son."
    • The original Nicene Creed stated that the Holy Spirit "proceeds from the Father."
    • In A.D. 589, at a regional church council in Toledo (in what is now Spain), the phrase "and the Son" was added, so that the creed then said that the Holy Spirit "proceeds from the Father and the Son (filioque)."
    • Controversy over this clause caused a split between western (Roman Catholic) and eastern (Greek and Russian Orthodox, etc.) Christianity which has not been resolved to this day.
      e. The Importance of the Doctrine of the Trinity
    • The atonement is at stake. If Jesus is merely a created being, and not fully God, he could not bear the full wrath of God against all of our sins.
    • Justification by faith alone is threatened if we deny the full deity of the Son.
    • If Jesus is not fully God, why should we pray to him or worship him? If Jesus is merely a creature, no matter how great, it would be idolatry to worship him--yet the New Testament commands us to do so (Phil. 2:9-11; Rev. 5:12-14).
    • The independence and personal nature of God are at stake: If there is no Trinity, then there were no interpersonal relationships within the being of God before creation, and, without personal relationships, God could not be genuinely personal or without the need for a creation to relate to.
   3. Tritheism Denies That There is Only One God
  • A final possible way to attempt an easy reconciliation of the biblical teaching about the Trinity would be to deny that there is only one God. The result is to say that God is three persons and each one fully God; therefore, there are three Gods. This view is called "tritheism."
  • This is not a common belief, although shades of it are evident among those who do not recognize the unity of God as one undivided being.
D. What are the Distinctions Between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit?
   1. The Persons of the Trinity Have Different Primary Functions in Relating to the World.
  • Different functions in the work of creation
    • God the Father spoke the creative words to bring the universe into being.
    • God the Son carried out the creative decrees. (See John 1:3; Col. 1:16; Psalm 33:6, 9; 1 Cor. 8:6; Heb. 1:2)
    • God the Holy Spirit was "moving" or "hovering" over the face of the waters, sustaining and manifesting God's immediate presence in his creation.
  • Distinct functions in the work of redemption
    • God the Father planned the redemption and sent his son into the world (John 3:16; Gal. 4:4; Eph. 1:9-10).
    • The Son obeyed the Father and accomplished redemption for us (John 6:38; Heb. 10:5-7; et al.).
    • The Holy Spirit was sent by the Father and the Son to apply redemption to us (John 16:7; John 15:26). It is especially the role of the Holy Spirit to give us regeneration (John 3:5-8), to sanctify us (Rom. 8:13; 15:16; 1 Peter 1:2), and to empower us for service (Acts 1:8; 1 Cor. 12:7-11).
   2. The Persons of the Trinity Eternally Existed as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
  • Scripture indicates many times that there was a Father-Son relationship before Christ came into the world.
    • John 3:16-17--“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
    • Galatians 4:4--But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, bornunder the law
    • Hebrews 1:2--but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.
    • 1 Corinthians 8:6--yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.
  • Each person is fully God. The only distinctions between the members of the Trinity are in the ways they relate to each other and to creation.
  • Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, while equal in essence and dignity, stand to each other in an order of personality, office, and operation. The subordination of the person of the Son to the person of the Father, or in other words an order of personality, office, and operation which permits the Father to be officially first, the Son second, and the Spirit third, is perfectly consistent with equality. Priority is not necessarily superiority. We frankly recognize an eternal subordination of Christ to the Father, but we maintain at the same time that this subordination is a subordination of order, office, and operation, not a subordination of essence. --A.H. Strong
   3. What Is the Relationship Between the Three Persons and the Being of God?
  • It is important to affirm that each person has the whole fullness of God's being in himself.
  • When we speak of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit together we are not speaking of any greater being than when we speak of the Father alone, or the Son alone, or the Holy Spirit alone. The Father is all of God's being. The Son also is all of God's being. And the Holy Spirit is all of God's being.
  • But if each person is fully God and has all of God's being, then we also should not think that the personal distinctions are any kind of additional attributes added on to the being of God. Rather, each person of the Trinity has all of the attributes of God, and no one person has any attributes that are not possessed by the others.
  • There is no difference in attributes at all between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The only difference is the way they relate to each other and to the creation.
  • This tri-personal form of being is far beyond our ability to comprehend. It is a kind of existence far different from anything we have experienced, and far different from anything else in the universe.
   4. Can We Understand the Doctrine of the Trinity?
  • We should be warned by the errors that have been made in the past. They have all come about through attempts to simplify the doctrine of the Trinity and make it completely understandable, removing all mystery from it.
  • It is also incorrect to say we cannot understand the Trinity at all. Certainly we can know and understand that God is three persons, that each is fully God, and that there is only one God. We can know these things because the Bible teaches them.
  • It is spiritually healthy for us to acknowledge openly that God's very being is far greater than we can ever comprehend. This humbles us before God and draws us to worship him without reservation.
  • Scripture does not ask us to believe in a contradiction. "God is three persons and there is one God" is a mystery but not a contradiction.

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