5/29/2007

The Trinity is Logical

At the request of a Muslim I have been having online exchanges with, I wrote the following bit about the trinity. I have reprinted it here, along with links, quotes and augmentations.

You had requested an explanation of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. Pardon my delayed response due to my father-in-law’s illness.

To begin, God is one being. Christians do not worship three Gods, but one (Deuteronomy 6:45; Isaiah 45:5-6 and 21-22; Isaiah 44:6-8). We do not worship more than one God as Surah 5:73 states. That would be “tritheism,” which we condemn.

Baptists like myself do not see Jesus, Mary, and God as the trinity as is suggested by Surah 5:116-117. This elevates a human, Mary, into the God-head, and we would see that as “adoptionism,” which we condemn. We would also condemn as adoptionism any thinking that says Jesus ever became God. Jesus was not created. He did not become God at some time. He has eternally existed.

God exists as three persons and as one being. This is logical. Aristotle’s Law of Non-contradiction, the foundation of the laws of logic, states that something can not be what it is and not be what it is at the same time and in the same relationship. The trinity is not a contradiction because we say God is one in His being and three in His person.

In the logical sense, we change the relationship in the definition above. If we said God is three in person and one in person we would have a contradiction. If we said God is three in being and one in being we would have a contradiction. But we do not say either of those things. We say God is three in person and one in being. As R. C. Sproul says:

The historic formulation of the Trinity is that God is one in essence and three in person. Though the formula is mysterious and even paradoxical, it is in no way contradictory. The unity of the Godhead is affirmed in terms of essence or being, while the diversity of the Godhead is expressed in terms of person. – Essential Truths of the Christian Faith p. 35.

My layman’s understanding of the trinity begins with verses I read in the Old Testament. In Genesis 1:26, God says, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” The pronouns He chooses are plural. We have the same thing in Genesis 3:22, 11:7, and in Isaiah 6:8. These verses do not reveal all of the doctrine, but they hint at multiple persons in God’s being.

In the New Testament, we find Matthew 3:16-17. In this passage we see three persons: the Father speaking, The Spirit descending, and the Son receiving power. We see that Christians are to baptize in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19). We see three persons mentioned separately and as equals in Ephesians 4:4-6, 1 Peter 1:2, and Jude 20-21. Acts 5:3-4 equates the Holy Spirit to God.

This is a mystery, something that we cannot understand completely as finite creatures. There are many things about God we cannot completely understand. I wanted to quote from Isaiah 40:10-18:

Behold, the Lord God comes with
might, and his arm rules for him …
He will tend his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arms;
he will carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead those that are with young.
Who has measured the waters in the hollow of
his hand and marked off the heavens with a span,
enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure and
weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance?
Who has measured the Spirit of the Lord, or what man
shows him his counsel? Whom did he
consult, and who made him understand?
Who taught him the path of justice,
and taught him knowledge,
and showed him the way of understanding?
Behold, the nations are like a drop from
a bucket, and are accounted as the dust on the
scales; behold, he takes up the coastlands like fine dust …
All the nations are as nothing before him, they are
accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness.
To whom then will you liken God, or what likeness compare with
him?



Everyone we met has only one personality, but have you ever met anyone like God? If there is none like God, why should we expect Him to have a personality like everyone else? I am not surprised He has three persons. I cannot understand this completely, but I can know something about it. The being of God is something we stand in awe of, not something we completely comprehend. As Romans 11:33-36 says:

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable
are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
"For who has known the mind of the
Lord, or who has been his counselor?”
“Or who has given a gift to him that he might
be repaid?” For from him and through him
and to him are all things. To him be
glory forever. Amen.

Other articles on this subject can be found here, here, here, here, here, and here.

8 comments:

Neal Pumphrey said...

J.K. Thanks for the comment on my blog. You have some great ideas and material here. Richard Swinburne has some great material about the trinity in The Christian God. Are you a Calvinist? I only ask because of Sproul and Piper. I will pray for you all and your father-in-law.

J. K. Jones said...

Thanks, especially for your prayers.

I follow the 1689 London Baptist Confession (http://www.founders.org/library/bcf/bcf-10.html) verbatim. I am a Calvinist of a sort, but I am definitely not Hyper-Calvinist.

I don’t argue about it. With so much of the church these days unaware of or un-affirming of: penal substitutionary atonement, logic that applies to religion, words that are meaningful, and praise that is Biblical, arguing about Calvinism seems a little like ‘re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic.’

Matt Jones said...

Awesome post. I think you laid things out there extremely rationally and logically with the argument well founded. I hope the Muslim you are conversing with find it helpful.

Steve said...

The Athanasian Creed is a great statement of we, a catholic (universal not Roman) Chirstians teach and confess about the Holy Trinity. In the Lutheran tradition, we recite this great creed on Trinity Sunday. While it is the longest of the three great creeds, it explain the nature of the trinity.

The early Church had to deal with the Trinity in the same way we continue to struggle with understanding and teaching about Trinity. Even today, many Christians do not have a proper understanding of the Trinity. We see it "Oneness" Pentecostalism as an example.

J. K. Jones said...

Matt, please pray for him. His name as listed on the web is AlHaj.

Thanks for you comment.

J. K. Jones said...

Steve,

The Athanasian Creed is a great summary of a difficlut doctrine. I wish we recited creeds in our church.

The modern church is scary in more ways than one.

Steve said...

This Sunday (June 3) in Holy Trinity Sunday. This is great day to recite the Athanasian Creed.

The historic Baptist position of "No Creed But the Bible" cuts them off from great Christian documents that explain the faith. This type of thinking creates an ahistoric church that cuts itself off from centuries of great Christian thinkers who had to struggle with the same questions we struggle with today.

J. K. Jones said...

Steve,

Your comments on the modern (dare I say post-modern) Baptist Church are instructive and good to hear. Church history, especially the way controversies were settled, is great to learn. It is always good to learn from other peoples’ mistakes instead of making our own.

Just remember that not all historic Baptists would leave out the role of tradition or the creeds. I count myself one of them. I even have (horror of horrors) a confession of faith I subscribe to (The 1689 London Baptist Confession, see http://www.founders.org/library/bcf/bcf-10.html). A quote from the first article:

“We also accept that certain aspects of the worship of God and of church government, which are matters of common usage, are to be determined by the light of nature and Christian common sense, in line with the general rules of God's Word from which there must be no departure.”

Some of us Baptists do believe there are things we have to decide based on tradition and good sense. But there is a point where only Scripture provides the right answer. Another quote from the first article:

“All religious controversies are to be settled by Scripture, and by Scripture alone. All decrees of Councils, opinions of ancient writers, and doctrines of men collectively or individually, are similarly to be accepted or rejected according to the verdict of the Scripture given to us by the Holy Spirit. In that verdict faith finds its final rest.”

“No creed but the Bible” is an unfortunate statement because it can so easily be miss-understood. It is, at best, based on a half-truth.

The link to your profile does not seem to work. What’s up with that?

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