The Doctrine of the Trinity and Christianity

I don’t think the bible affirms this…Man has defined God as three persons, the Word distinguishes separate functions and relatable aspects to God’s unknowable being so that man can have a limited understanding, but the trinity is a man made concept and I think lacking. I would argue that the bible teaches that God is in everyone and everything, so how many persons is that? I was surprised that the dictionary lists “person” as something defined within the trinity, still trying to reconcile that in my head, doesn’t seem right.

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Your comment seems to be leaning towards pantheism or something similar. Since I also have problems with some of your conception of God, I’d suggest finding a theologian you trust and hashing this out with them. It’s been Christian orthodoxy for 16 centuries. So you don’t have church history on your side.

Contra what @thoughtful said, this is simply the doctrine of God’s immanence, and as long as you do not equate “everyone and everything” with God himself, then you are not falling into pantheism. That God is everywhere (meaning one cannot physically hide from God) does not mean that everything is part of God, nor that this has anything to do with the number of Persons in the Godhead.

That being said, Valerie is right that the doctrine of the Trinity is a marker of Christian orthodoxy. Since the 4th century the church universal has been in agreement that Scripture testifies of God as one being in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is also true, however, that “person” is not a word that is found directly in Scripture, and it is not easy to articulate what “person” (hypostasis) actually means (it is not exactly the same as a human person or human personality) - many books have been written over the centuries by theologians debating on the right way to explain it without falling into the two heretical extremes of tritheism or modalism. For the regular Christian however it is sufficient to affirm that God is revealed to us in Scripture as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each of whom equally possess the fullness of divinity yet are distinct from each other.

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It’s been a long time since I’ve studied this. But I looked up “immanence” and “pantheism” and I’m not sure Wikipedia agrees with you though it’d be interesting to see how you define immanence.

It looks like “immanence” depends on your tradition. I’ve only been taught omni-presence. I don’t remember discussing immanence in church at all. I mostly objected to God being “in” everything and everyone. I would have limited it to God being everywhere present. But it’s something I really should study again myself.

Immanence

According to Christian theology, the transcendent God, who cannot be approached or seen in essence or being, becomes immanent primarily in the God-man Jesus the Christ, who is the incarnate Second Person of the Trinity. In Byzantine Rite theology the immanence of God is expressed as the hypostases or energies of God, who in his essence is incomprehensible and transcendent. In Catholic theology, Christ and the Holy Spirit immanently reveal themselves; God the Father only reveals himself immanently vicariously through the Son and Spirit, and the divine nature, the Godhead is wholly transcendent and unable to be comprehended.

Panentheism (meaning “all-in-God”, from the Greek πᾶν pân , “all”, ἐν en , “in” and Θεός Theós , “God”)[1] is the belief that the divine pervades and interpenetrates every part of the universe and also extends beyond space and time.

To be clear…the word trinity does not appear in the bible. I don’t need a theologian to tell me that, I can read. The concept of the trinity is man made (based on scripture, but still inferred and not written in scripture). Defining God as a “person” in any way is in my opinion giving very low value to His being as creator. I pray to God the Father in the name of Jesus and ask the Holy Spirit to guide me. I get the concept. I don’t mind bucking church history, man’s religion is horribly flawed, that’s why God loves me and why He saved me, because I won’t follow anyone but Him.

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It’s because you don’t seem to understand what “Person” means in the doctrine of the Trinity.

It’s true that the word “Trinity” is not found directly in Scripture, but Christians don’t read the Bible in isolation. Christians have always read the Bible together with the guidance and collective wisdom other faithful Christians who are part of the universal church across the ages. The doctrine of the Trinity took several centuries to be fully articulated precisely because it is not easy to understand the witness of Scripture as One God existing as Father, Son, and Spirit. Since the 4th century, Christians have collectively agreed that the Trinity is the best way to take into account the full witness of Scripture regarding the Godhead. Thus it is in fact a very biblical doctrine.

Regardless of what you think, I strongly advise you to first seek to properly understand the doctrine of the Trinity before rejecting it as “unbiblical” or “man-made”. This chapter from Louis Berkhof’s Systematic Theology is a good start.

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But only because if you don’t agree, you aren’t counted as Christian.

OK, but even numbers-wise there are way more Trinitarian Christians than not.

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The term “trinity” is clearly from man, otherwise you would find it in the bible. Why is that so hard to digest? I am as Christian as they come, why does everyone keep wanting to give me advice on what I “need” to do? I have devoted my life to Christ, I live by Gal 2:20, I live in a bible college surrounded by similar minded students and teachers, I am following Jesus usashamedly…I appreciate that you may think you are defending Christianity and the bible, but you’re preaching to the choir. I am fully committed to the gospel of Christ and the infallibility of the Word of God. I am not however going to subscribe to the infallibility of mans understanding of that Word throughout history. If everyone truly understood the Word, the world would be different.

I fully understand the doctrine of the trinity, probably better than most. I don’t question God, or Jesus, or the Holy Spirit…I question man. The only “person” in the trinity is Jesus. I don’t care what other men think, I don’t follow other men.

Then what is your understanding of the term “Person” as it applies to the Trinity?

I don’t think it is accurate (yes, I know that thousands of years of theology say that it is) to say that God the Father or the Holy Spirit are persons. I think that Jesus is the only portion of God that can be considered a person (as persons are considered persons). I understand that they are all one, Jesus said they were (John 10:30). I think that Jesus is the portion of God that we can relate to. God the Father is beyond our understanding. The Holy Spirit, though we communicate and experience the Spirit moving through us, is not a person and is also beyond our understanding. We were given the gift of Jesus so that we might understand God on a human level, because the Father and the Holy Spirit require faith beyond what we know.

Again, what is your definition of “person”? We can’t agree or disagree on an issue if we can’t even agree on the definition of terms.

Ha, when I used the dictionary definition of “person”, it was pointed out that the third reference is “the three parts of the trinity”.

This is the first definition, which I have quoted before:
noun

  1. a human being regarded as an individual.

Edit: I think that man, in his search for understanding, has assigned the term “person” to God and to the Holy Spirit to bring others to believe, but realistically just cloud the understanding. It seems to me that ID continuously puts God in a taskworker/button pusher/architect type of light because they misunderstand God as a person. That just seems foolish to me. How can we know?

Well, that explains our misunderstanding. Trinitarian theologians do not think of the three divine Persons as “individual human beings”, because of course God is not a human being. They are not using this definition of “person”.

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This raises an important point. There are non Trinitarians that affirm something that is consistent with what many trinitarians believe, but reject the term “trinity”.

Likewise, many, perhaps even most, trinitarians explain the trinity in a way that is inconsistent with historical trinitarism.

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Mark, I would suggest that maybe what you’re missing is seeing yourself as part of the visible church and the church of believers throughout history. Perhaps it starts with seeing that as the Holy Spirit works in you, He also works in others:

Acts 2

And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.

And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God,
That I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh;
Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
Your young men shall see visions,
Your old men shall dream dreams.
18 And on My menservants and on My maidservants
I will pour out My Spirit in those days;

So to deny significant battles fought for orthodoxy in church history as irrelevant to your faith and walk with God may be to deny the Holy Spirit working in others.

1 Corinthians 12

For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. 13 For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink [g]into one Spirit. 14 For in fact the body is not one member but many.

15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body? 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body? 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling? 18 But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased. 19 And if they were all one member, where would the body be?

20 But now indeed there are many members, yet one body. 21 And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary. 23 And those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, on these we bestow greater honor; and our unpresentable parts have greater modesty, 24 but our presentable parts have no need. But God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it, 25 that there should be no [h]schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. 26 And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.

27 Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually. 28 And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? 30 Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? 31 But earnestly desire the [i]best gifts. And yet I show you a more excellent way.

I’ve watched a lot of these Learning About Other Churches - YouTube so fascinating to understand the differences better and that maybe many of them have to do with talking past each other and politics making Christians unable to speak the truth in love. But the ones that touched on the Trinity were interesting. Interesting that the Coptic and Eastern Orthodox are trying to repair their relationship over a split that involved that doctrine 1500 years ago. They decided they might be saying the same thing using different words.

Are you talking about laypeople who might not understand the doctrine fully, or actual serious theologians who have studied the doctrine and reject the term? I think there’s a difference between a layperson not understanding the doctrine versus understanding it and rejecting it.

Although I’m not sure which theologians you are referring to exactly, I agree that this statement is correct regarding many American evangelical theologians writing about the Trinity in the last 50 years or so. (It is nowhere near as bad among Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox theologians, for example.) The problem seems to be that many evangelicals have little awareness of historical theology and careful philosophical articulation - many prefer to “go straight to the Bible” and deduce their Trinitarian theology anew from it. A minority go as far as not requiring belief in the Trinity at all, like Mark here in this thread. The issue with this approach is that for some difficult issues, biblical interpretation is not something that is likely to be rightly decided by a single theologian studying a few Scriptural passages by himself over a few days - in the case of the Trinity it took decades, even centuries of thought on the subject to articulate the historical orthodox view. To refuse to even look at all of that work in favor of starting anew with one’s personal interpretation of Scripture is a great loss.

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Yes I mean both informed and uninformed Christians. Remember, many trinitarians do not articulate trinitarian descriptions of the trinity.

Many statements of the trinity among layperson Trinitarians are more consistent with modalism, which was ironically declared a heresy by Trinitarians.

It appears the term “Trinity” itself is part of tradition, in a way that outstrips particular ideas it used in reference too, and became a confessional litmus test. In some ways, this might parallel the use of “Inerrancy.” In this context, it should not be surprising that some people affirm the term “Trinity”, but fill it with alternate meanings, and others reject the term “Trinity” on principle, even though they could adaptively affirm it in light of its extremely flexibility in current usage.

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Are there particular theologians you have in mind? My own experience has been the opposite - many evangelical theologians tend towards tritheism rather than modalism.

I don’t think the two cases are comparable. I don’t think “inerrancy” was a significant term or even formally articulated (other than the general doctrine of the authority of Scripture) until the 20th century, as a reaction to certain modernist or liberal tendencies. The term has never really caught on in Catholic or Orthodox circles. Only certain American evangelicals, for example, really care for the CSBI. In contrast, the Trinity has been a universal marker of orthodoxy for millennia. It is on a different level of importance compared to doctrines regarding Adam or original sin, for example.

And yes, some people have understood the technical details of the doctrine differently - a disagreement on systematic theology. However, the vast majority would still affirm the basic contours of the Trinity as dogma, embodied in statements such as the Nicene creed. In other words, even if one could argue that theologian X’s Trinitarian theology is not really orthodox if you examine it closely, the fact that he still claims to adhere to the Nicene creed does make a difference, because it gives a foundation for further discussion and dialogue. That’s why we call it a creed - it serves an ecclesiastical and sociological purpose as much as a purely academic one, and I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing.

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There is a branch of the Pentecostal movement called Oneness. There was a remarkable split over the Trinity in the very early days of Pentacostalism, just in the early 1900s. I know several Oneness, in part, because my wife was raised in this tradition.

I’ve studied the history of this split and it is quite remarkable. If I recall correctly, the movement began as a radical rejection of past traditions, to build a new tradition based upon Scripture. It was not based around scholarship and was not lead by scholars; it might have had an anti-intellectual bias. In several meetings, they gathered to build up new creedal-theology from Scripture alone. Obviously, they did not find the Trinity in Scripture. A large contingent would not agree to affirming the term “Trinity.”

This disagreement persisted until there was a split.

I know several Oneness Christians, including pastors educated in seminaries, and have discussed with them. They note:

  1. They are accused of modalism, but Trinitarians today use modalist analogies to describe the Trinity.

  2. They object to the persecution of Christians in the early Church that did not affirm the Trinity.

I’ve asked, “So it seems you could pass as Trinitarian as is commonly explained by Trinitarians, but as a matter of principle you will not affirm the term ‘Trinity’ as a description of your beliefs.” They seemed to agree this is a valid assessment.

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