The Doctrine of the Trinity and Christianity

I’d be interested to add to my reading list.

I really like this book:

Written by a Catholic author ($11 on Kindle), but Protestants and Catholics should be on the same page regarding the doctrine of the Trinity - it’s part of our common theological heritage.

I’ve also heard good things about this newly released intro to the Trinity, although I haven’t read it myself:


Daniel Ang has mentioned some books which I have not read. I can make no comment on them, but based on the general soundness of Daniel’s remarks, I imagine they are good, and they may be all you need for starters.

I mention a few older books which, while they written fairly clearly, are unapologetically academic, intended for serious undergraduate and graduate students of Christian thought. They might be better as follow-ups to the books Daniel recommends than as starting points:

Leo Donald Davis, The First Seven Ecumenical Councils
(a historical overview of the great Councils and the theological issues they debated; not primarily about the Trinity, but dealing with it; not a “must” book for Trinitarian doctrine, but perhaps helpful as an ancillary historical reading)

Henry Chadwick, The Early Church (Pelican/Penguin)
(a historical and theological introduction to the early Church, again, not entirely about the Trinity but covering important aspects of it; years ago this book was used as an undergrad text in many history of Christian thought courses)

Jaroslav Pelikan, The Christian Tradition (A History of the Development of Doctrine), Vol. 1
(not light reading, and very compressed in its treatment of a vast body of ideas, but with detailed links to primary sources; it has much on the Trinity as well as other key doctrines discussed by the early Church)

J. W. C. Wand, The Four Great Heresies
(a 1950s book intended by its author as a short layman’s summary of doctrines connected with the Trinity; of course, what was expected to be accessible to lay people back then may seem more academic and difficult to lay people now, given that subjects such as Latin, ancient history, Greek philosophy, etc. are no longer part of the general mental background of even educated lay people; in any case, I expect the book is long out of print, and I would not pay high used book prices for it, but if you can find it in a library, it may be helpful)


I understand it. Thank you for your concern. I obviously have not represented my thoughts well. It is not an easy discussion. I suppose my criticism is that if “scholars” wanted to give clear understanding they should have used a word other than “person”, or made a new word and defined it properly. It is not that I don’t understand the trinity, it is that I understand it enough to know that man’s approach to defining what is true seems to be lacking (not that I have a better way, just that it doesn’t seem right according to what I receive in truth from the Holy Spirit, I do not claim superiority, just confusion). There is no amount of reading that will change my mind on that, I think Academia in general thinks that the information is there, you just have to study more. I disagree and think man’s definition is incomplete and misleading. You will say, “oh, but just read this and you will understand as I do.” To which I will respond, “I already understand and disagree.”

Well “person” isn’t the word they used. That word didn’t exist at the time, nor did English in any form recognizable to us. That’s just a translation.


Well, I can agree with you to this extent: if Christianity were just being formulated for the first time today, in English-speaking lands, then, given the accretions of meaning that have slowly turned the technical Latin term persona into the modern English “person”, it would be better to find a word other than “person” to render the Greek term hypostasis. But at the time when the Trinitarian doctrine was being worked out, not only Modern English but even Old English did not yet exist, and the theologians (prior to Nicaea, and during that council, and after it) understood themselves to be working with a technical term and were not concerned with what might happen to that term in popular usage in a language that did not yet exist!

So I don’t blame the “scholars”, i.e., the Greek and Latin Fathers who made the effort to make sense of the Trinity. Rather, I blame the theological educators of the West over the past few centuries, who have not made sure that Christian believers understand the theological language they are using, and who have failed to offer clear teaching about the meanings of the key terms. The fact that most American Protestant pastors these days don’t know Latin any more, that at most seminaries only a minimum of Greek is required, and that the intellectual life of the Church prior to the Reformation is very much de-emphasized in Protestant theological education, doesn’t help matters. I remember my Anglican minister referring vaguely to the “Mystery of the Trinity”, but I never remember him teaching me a blessed thing about it. I ended up having to learn my classical Christian theology from secular religion scholars, or from Christian scholars who were teaching not in seminaries but in secular religion departments. The clergy of most churches didn’t see it as their business to articulate doctrine with any rigor. Maybe, if they weren’t so busy preaching feminism and multiculturalism and gender theory and socialism and environmentalism, they would be more successful in producing a Christian laity that actually understood something of classical Christian doctrine, including the technical meanings of the major theological terms.

See, we do agree on something… I will someday be able to articulate my reluctance to describe the trinity in terms of persons. For now, I will just say that I think labeling God and the Holy Spirit other than how scripture describes them is biblically inaccurate. And I know of no scripture that refers to either as one of three persons in a triune Godhead. (If it’s there in Greek, Hebrew or Aramaic I would love to know.) So, no matter how you slice it, it’s not scripturally accurate. I suppose I will need a doctorate, then write a book and get all kinds of worldly accolades for anyone to agree, which is sad. I will just have to keep defending the truth (which I know by revelation through prayer and study of scripture, not by man’s teaching.)

That said, God the Father IS, any lesser description cheapens His sovereignty…Jesus, the Son of God who became a person for our sakes IS and was and will be forever, and in Jesus words in John 10:30, “I and my Father are One.”…and the Holy Spirit is a gift from the Father and the Son to help connect us to them and bring us to the truth and salvation through Jesus. They are one and invite us to be one with them for eternity…we will not be one with their persons (or persona, or περιχώρησις perikhōrēsis, hypostaseis, or circumincession).

Perhaps we will be one with their infinite and eternal divine presence beyond our comprehension…is there a word for that? God?

I think the Church Fathers did not see themselves as going against the descriptions in Scripture, but as working out their full implications in the language of philosophy. In order to do this, they sometimes needed to employ vocabulary that Scripture does not use, because Scripture was not written by philosophers for philosophers. But they saw themselves as employing that language in the service of Christianity. They thought that by expressing Christianity in terms that philosophers employed, they could show that Christianity was actually more coherent than any other philosophy, as a description of reality.

You can disagree with some of the conclusions they came to, but unless you understand the motivation, I think you will miss what they were trying to do.

Thus, even if no formal doctrine of Trinity is taught in Scripture, from their point of view, it was necessary to make sense of scattered statements in Scripture about the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (or, as we used to say when I was younger, the Holy Ghost). To the philosophical mind, those scattered statements cannot simply be left undigested, but must be somehow integrated into a coherent view of God. You can complain about particular integrations offered by particular Church Fathers, Creeds, etc., but it seems unreasonable to ask highly trained human minds not to try to formulate a theology that is intellectually coherent.

I don’t see any statements in Scripture that would ban or forbid the attempts of human beings to come up with a systematic theology. Nor do I see any statements in Scripture that say, “In the future, when you talk about God, or Jesus, or the Spirit, make sure you limit yourself to exactly the Greek and Hebrew vocabulary you find in these Scriptures, and do not use any other words or concepts.”

I’m not sure who is claiming this. Certainly none of the people you mentioned in a slighting way above (YECs and ID proponents) have claimed that we will be one with any of the Persons of the Trinity. Nor have I heard any simple lay churchgoer making that claim. You seem to be reacting against views that I have not heard expressed in typical Church circles.

2 posts were split to a new topic: ID and Christian Theology

So does Joel Osteen (and many like him), who is basically leading everyone to destruction. Jesus warned us in John 16:2 - 2 They will put you out of the synagogues; yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service.

2 Peter 2:1-3 - 2 But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. 2 And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed. 3 By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words; for a long time their judgment has not been idle, and their destruction [a]does not slumber.

My point is that just because everyone has been buying it for 1600 years doesn’t mean that it is a good thing. To be clear, I am not against the concept of the trinity, I am against the blasphemy that comes with grieving the Holy Spirit by representing the Father and the Spirit as simple beings. By packaging the trinity into an “easy to understand” systematic theology, scholars discount the purpose of scripture. They lessen the need to take the bible as a complete work, that takes time to digest and there is no “summary statement”.

No one says it outright…but I hear it implied when YEC and ID camps claim God does this or that, intervenes in this way, planned that, created it for this purpose, etc…this type of shallow view of God comes from thinking that God is “one of us” and controls life like a person would, like an architect or a puppet master. It bothers me that these folks obviously care and want to do God’s will, but don’t understand what that will is because of the skewed version of faith that is force fed in simplicity to society by “scholars”. The truth comes through repentance and revelation, through prayer and a personal seeking and relationship…it does not come by scholarly pursuits, systematic theology or clever religious practice and ritual. This is written all over the bible, but you have to do the work to find it.

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Please keep posts on this thread on the topic of the Trinity…

I know nothing about Joel Osteen. I tend to read serious, important theologians – Augustine, the Greek Fathers, etc. What some popular American evangelical preacher has to say about theology – frankly, I couldn’t care less. My whole point is that Christian theology is at some points theoretically difficult. Simple Christian faith is another matter. Even a person of very little intellect can have genuine faith. But theology, at least, theology at a very high level, and that’s what we’re talking about here, the subtleties of the doctrine of the Trinity – that’s for people with intellectual gifts in such matters. If someone wants to say that all the Greek and Latin Fathers were wrong about the Trinity, that someone had better be able to demonstrate that he has a grasp of philosophy and theology equal to that of those Fathers.

Again, who is doing this? Show me where Lactantius, Augustine, etc. have done this. Provide passages.

I see no reason why systematic study of doctrines such as the Trinity needs to exclude the study of the Bible as a complete work. It is quite possible, for example, for a theologian to devote half his time to textual study of the Bible and the other half to systematic questions. I think both the Biblical and the systematic approaches are necessary.

How can you object to such language, when such language is found throughout the Bible itself? God is often “intervening” (or if you will, acting “in history”, or performing “mighty works”), and often God himself, or the narrator, tells us that God is acting for this or that particular purpose. Are you defending a remote God who does not interact with his creation, but merely “sets it up” so that it can run on its own, and watches the show? That’s an Enlightenment conception of God, not a Biblical one. But it’s very common, that Enlightenment conception of God, among TE/ECs.

There seems to be some confusion here. The view of most “scholars” (by which I assume you mean university and college and seminary teachers of religion and theology), outside of a few fundamentalist places, is that God keeps his direct involvement in his creation to a minimum, preferring to act exclusively through “natural causes” if possible. If the lay Christians in the pews, the ones you seem to be worried about, followed the views of “scholars”, they would all be near-Deists and not Biblical in their conception of God’s hands-on activity. If you want Christians to be more “Biblical”, you would hardly be chiding them for stressing God’s hands-on activity. “Where you are coming from” is far from clear.

Maybe it would help people here if you told us something about your educational background – where and when you studied theology – and your confessional or denominational commitments. Frankly, I can’t make head or tail of the form of Christianity you are presenting here.

Ok, I’ll play on your turf, but I will have to study a bit. We can take scholars to mean your lofty and arrogant “people with intellectual gifts” that “understand the subtleties of the trinity”…I will use Augustine and Lactantius as you have suggested.

My education is of no importance, I have no theology degree if that’s what you mean. However, I am not naive, nor intimidated by those that lean on Academia to assign worth. I seek truth and I don’t take the Word of God lightly.

I object when it is not scripture.

So you don’t think that Scripture represents God as performing “mighty works” to liberate Israel from Egypt? That it represents God as feeding Israel in the desert? That it represents Jesus as calming storms, performing instantaneous healings, etc.? Yet these are things that the YEC and ID people you deplore all accept from Scripture. So where is your disagreement with them? You seem to be offended that they have an “interventionist” idea of God as acting upon and within the created world, yet that’s the idea of God I see in the Bible.

I don’t say you should be intimidated by academics. I challenge the consensus of academics all the time. But it’s important to be clear what it is that you are challenging. If you are saying that the doctrine of the Trinity, as understood in Nicene times, is not found explicitly in Scripture, no one will disagree with you. But it doesn’t follow that it couldn’t be implied in Scripture, or at least compatible with Scripture. It’s not impossible that God would have given only a sketchy outline in the Bible, knowing that human beings with their intellects would later systematize those indications. It’s not impossible that God willed this to happen – that he wanted his Church to do just that, to work out the implications of Biblical statements systematically.

If you’re saying that a Christian doesn’t have to assent to “three persons in one substance” to be “saved”, I will gladly agree with you. I don’t think God judges souls on what theoretical constructs they hold. I think it’s possible to be skeptical of some of the formulations of Trinitarian doctrine (and many other doctrines) while still being a faithful Christian. But it still might be the case that the Bible implies some sort of “threeness” regarding God – even if no theologian or Council has yet adequately worked out the full nature of that “threeness.”

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Deplore is a strong word, I don’t deplore anyone. I don’t agree that God is a task master, nor do I agree that man can know God’s motives apart from what we are told in scripture. I don’t agree with a literal interpretation of time in regard to God operating within the limits of time (or space). I think that Jesus is the only “person” (however defined) of the trinity we can know fully as humans. We can respond to the Holy Spirit and recognize God’s will in a situation, but we will never know the full scope of His plan, nor will we know the fullness of God’s “person”. YEC and ID camps both like to claim that God does this or that for this or that purpose. I find that in error, as they cannot possibly know God’s intent (unless it is scripture, where God gives clear direction).

Ecclesiastes 8:17 - then I saw all the work of God, that a man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun. For though a man labors to discover it, yet he will not find it; moreover, though a wise man attempts to know it, he will not be able to find it.

I am challenging the wisdom of describing God the Father and the Holy Spirit in finite human terms as persons separately and one together. Jesus clearly can be described that way, and I believe that is why He was sent (to know Him), but I don’t believe we can know God the Father or the Holy Spirit in that manner. (not that I have a better way, I just think its enough to revere their awesomeness and be OK with faith in their glory beyond our comprehension.) I do not challenge the concept of the trinity, I challenge the way man defines God in three persons.

Yes, I am saying this, and I am saying that the trinity as explained by Nicene scholars is inconsistent with what I receive from God through the Holy Spirit in terms of the scope of their being. I do not claim that it is impossible for me to be wrong, it is totally possible that I am incorrect.

The trinity is clearly implied, my argument is that scholars have over simplified God the Father and the Holy Spirit to be humanized as “persons” and represented as a finite being with clear separation and non-omnipresence. This is in my opinion misleading and allows believers to package the glory of God into a bite-sized chunk of misunderstanding. You don’t have to tell me again that I don’t know what they mean by “person”…I do, and I find it to be a unique/individual/finite/limiting term for an infinite and omnipresent being beyond simple understanding.

I think the apostles did a lot of this with their epistles, but that work was also written and canonized as scripture, recognized as inspired by God through the Holy Spirit and confirmed by the Holy Spirit in others. The apostles allude to the concept of the trinity, but focus more on oneness than individuality. It is the individuality and “personhood” that I find in contrast with scripture.

Acts 2:32-32 - 32 This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses. 33 Therefore being exalted [j]to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear.

Even Peter had a hard time describing the presence of the Holy Spirit (but mentions all three in one verse). It seems also that he views the Spirit more as a verb, an action of communication emanating from the Father and Son than a noun with separate being.

Agreed. I would say that the bible more implies oneness, and that oneness includes us. (don’t worry, I don’t mean we are gods, I mean that once Jesus approves us, we will receive the crown of life and be one in heaven with God (referring to James 1:12)). I suppose we have the opportunity to commune with them now, and are called to, the kingdom of God is accessible to us all on earth as it is in heaven.

Jesus speaking:
John 15:26 - 26 “But when the [c]Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me.

John 16:13-15 - 13 However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. 14 He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. 15 All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that He [c]will take of Mine and declare it to you.

It feels to me that when Jesus speaks of the Father and the Holy Spirit, He tries to convey that they are in concert with Him more than separate from Him. Also that the Spirit is more of an action of communication from the Father and Son than a unique and separate being. Though the descriptions Jesus gives are of different purposes in their oneness, they still (to me) retain an element of mystery that is beyond definition. So, I suppose that I consider that human need for definition to be what is in error and in my humble opinion has the potential to lead people astray.

With all that said, I would guess that we see the trinity in very much the same light of truth, just quibbling over definitions. I also understand that I am probably alone in my views and disagreement and I’m ok with that.

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Mark: I will make two points here, one about the Trinity, and one about the proper interpretation of the Bible:

The point is that, in Greek, they did not speak of “person”, but of hypostasis. Does hypostasis imply all the things that the English word “person” does? Even supposing you to be completely correct about the implications of the term “person” in modern English, does that mean the term hypostasis was incorrect?

In the West theologians adopted the term persona as a translation of hypostasis. But did persona, at that time, and in that technical theological context, have the meaning of the modern English word “person”? And even if it did, it wouldn’t follow that the Greek term hypostasis was an inappropriate one. It’s quite possible that Latin theology introduced misconceptions that were absent from Greek theology. It might be that your battle is with Western, Latin theology, rather than with the Nicene formulation itself.

Thus, this is a discussion that requires lengthy historical and philosophical analysis of theological terminology. It has to be a scholarly discussion, in other words. And I’m not sure that a blog site is the best place for a lengthy scholarly discussion.

Understand that I’m not saying the Nicene formulation is beyond challenge or is completely compatible with Biblical language. My point is that it is not automatically incompatible with Biblical language, merely because it uses some terms that are not found in the Bible. I don’t find the movement from “X is not found directly in Scripture, therefore X is not Christian” to be convincing. I guess this shows that I am out of sympathy with much of free-church, sectarian Protestantism.

I note that you two or three times now have not answered my other question, about whether the Bible depicts God as choosing, planning, “intervening” (or if you don’t like that term, “acting directly within the created world” or “doing works which demonstrate his presence”), etc. Do you think the Bible denies that God ever acts directly on nature, or directly on his creation? Are you affirming that God works only through intermediaries such as natural laws or a natural evolutionary process? If so, then I understand your aversion to YEC and to many ID proponents, who do believe that God has sometimes acted directly. But that would then put you at odds with the plainest sense of many passages in the Bible – and you say that you hold the Bible to be authoritative and true. So some clarification is in order: what exactly do you think the Bible teaches about direct divine action?

We humans cannot even fix the momentum and location of sub-atomic particles precisely, what makes us think we are sufficient to contain and comprehend the qualities of an infinite and all-the-omnis God?


Mark McGowan:

In agreement with your suggestion that we keep the discussion to one thread rather than two, I’m continuing the discussion from “ID and Christian Theology” here, so that we can return to the original themes of the Trinity, and the depiction of God in the Bible and Christianity.

I am suggesting that at this point you focus your response on two posts: first, the one just above that of “ProfBravus”, which ends with my question about the Bible and divine action; second, the post I’m copying (at least in part) from the other thread, here:

"How do you explain the clearly personal language used by the Biblical writers about God? I don’t mean that they use the word “personal” itself; I mean they describe God and his actions in personal terms. I quote myself:

"He also creates, makes, divides, forms, produces serpents out of staves, feeds Israel in the desert, remembers, etc.

“This is not language one would use about some impersonal “Ground of Being.” How do you explain this language? I do not know of any Christian theologian who does not admit that God is in some sense personal. Can you name me any? Orthodox, Catholic, or Protestant? Over the entire history of Christian thought? Why are you determined to eliminate the personal aspects of God – without which devotional religion makes no sense at all?”

thank you for this…not sure why I keep fighting this battle with my fellow Christians. Seems like a no-brainer.

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No, I don’t deny this, but I also wouldn’t presume to know His intent.

No, God is God, who am I to critique His methods.

I think the bible teaches that God IS, and is beyond my comprehension. Yet I believe that He is a living God who is light and love and is righteous and eternal. He saved me when I finally repented and called out to Him, that was pretty direct, but I co1uldn’t tell you how or why He did…

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