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Saturday, April 24, 2010

Lesson 2 - The Doctrine of the Trinity Defined


It is my opinion that out of all the great doctrinal themes of the Bible, the subject of Theology Proper (the doctrine of the Godhead), is the most important. To be grossly mistaken in this area is fatal, rendering the soul lost and destined for hell. Therefore, we must be cautious and on guard at all times!

Experience has taught me that for everything true, there is a counterfeit. It reminds me of the Scotland Yard detective that was world renown for his ability to recognize counterfeit money. They asked him if he spent a lot of time studying counterfeits, to which he replied: “No, I hardly ever study counterfeit money. I spend so much time studying legitimate currency that I can immediately detect an imitation.” Refuting false doctrine has to be approached the same way. We should know the truth so well that when we are faced with a counterfeit, we immediately know it!

With that in mind, I think it is only suiting to follow lesson one with a brief discussion on what the doctrine of the Trinity is. Although I will, in later lessons, expose and refute the vast majority of the Oneness believer’s most obvious heresies, I truly believe the greatest safeguard against false doctrine is knowing the truth!

The Trinity Defined

Jesus Only adherents are taught from their youth that Trinitarians believe in three gods, but this is not true! Statements like these demonstrate at least two things: (1) Trinitarians have done a poor job defending their faith; and (2) the deceitfulness of the Oneness preachers’ hearts and their willingness to say anything necessary to proselytize those they are talking to!

The Bible teaches that God is a Trinity, meaning, there is one God eternally existing in three distinct persons; namely, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Though each person of the Godhead is distinct, they are indivisible in essence, substance, unity, purpose, kingdom, and will. The Bible emphatically states that there is but one God; and the doctrine of the Trinity in no wise deviates from that monotheism.

The Trinity is to never be viewed as three separate gods, which doctrine is called tri-theism. Tri-theism is simply another form of polytheism, the belief in or worship of more than one god! To believe that there are three gods in the Godhead that are unified in will and purpose only, is to stray far from traditional Christianity--it is to misunderstand the triune nature of God.

Tri-theists envision God as three separate kings, ruling and reigning independently, but in perfect agreement with one another. They use the common analogy of three humans sharing a common humanity. This is false because, first, humanity is not restricted to three men. It is possible to envision one man or a hundred-million men. The Trinity consists of three–no more and no less! Secondly, three men are separate, divided, and independent, whereas the Trinity share the identical divine substance, indwell one another, and occupy the same divine space at the same exact time. I repeat: The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost share the identical divine substance, indwell one another, and occupy the same divine space at the same exact time. Three humans can never achieve this type of oneness because they cannot indwell one another, nor are they homoousion (of the same identical substance)!

Dear listeners, you must remember that God is triune (three and one simultaneously) and, consequently, maintain the proper balance. If you only focus on God’s three-ness, you will inevitably lean toward tri-theism. If you only focus on God’s oneness, you will inevitably lean toward Modalism.

Now, I am very much aware that I just lost some of you professing Trinitarians. In fact, I know there will be some that are audacious enough to accuse me of being Oneness myself. But here is the thing, I am not doing these lessons because I want to become your favorite preacher. I am writing this book because many of our precious people are guilty of gross ignorance and need to be taught the truth of God’s Word! I cannot sit by and allow our honest hearted saints to continue on in false doctrine. Nor can I, with a clear conscience, allow anyone to call themselves “Trinitarian”, when in fact, they are Tri-theists.

Some of you may decide to continue viewing God as three separate, divided, independent men- that is your prerogative. But I want you to know, if you so choose that, you are unquestionably a tri-theist labeling yourself a Trinitarian. You also need to know that these tri-theistic leanings are the predominant reason most orthodox Jews, and wavering Oneness believers, will never abandon their two-thirds atheistic concept of God.

Not only is tri-theism erroneous, the Trinity is in no wise to be considered one Almighty God who created Jesus, making Him a lesser god and secondary to the Father. This is an impossibility anyway, considering the Bible states: “ALL THINGS were created by” Jesus, “and without Him was not anything made that was made” (Joh 1:3)! “All things” would certainly include Himself, and it is a ridiculous idea to assert He created Himself! This polytheistic false doctrine is called “Arianism”.

Finally, God is not a uni-personal monad that reveals Himself in three different modes or manifestations as the Jesus Only adherents suggest. God is a Trinity of distinct persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. The personal distinction between the three is as real as the personal distinction between Christ and His disciples (however different it may be)!

The Trinitarian view of God is the only view that is accurate, everything else is heresy!

Terminology Describing the Trinity

Theologically, the Trinity is referred to in many different ways. Let us look at a few of them.

Ontological Trinity - The word ontological refers to the God substance, or what makes God what He is. Therefore, the ontological Trinity, also known as the essential or immanent Trinity, speaks of the Trinity in terms of their essential being or essence. It refers to the inner relationship between the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost that is unaffected by the world and by humankind coming into existence. It speaks of the Trinity in terms of their co-equality and co-eternalness in power and glory.

In regards to the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, the Bible says “these three ARE one” (1Jo 5:7); not “these three are AS one”. As I have already stated, this oneness is more than a unity of will, it is also referring to the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost’s essential being. It is important for you to know that they do not exist as similar, yet different substances. The Son, being a distinct person, is SOMEONE other than the Father and Holy Ghost, but He is not SOMETHING other than the Father and Holy Ghost. The three Persons of the Trinity are of the identical substance, they are consubstantial. This means, ontologically, the Trinity is indivisibly and inseparably one, and in that sense, whenever the Son is mentioned, the Father is also present. By the same token, where the Son is, the Spirit is in Him. That is why we claim to have all three persons of the Godhead abiding within our hearts at the moment we are born again, and it is also the reason our prayers are always received by all three persons, regardless of Whom we direct them to. Ontologically, the three persons of the Trinity are inseparable; God cannot be divided into parts.

In light of our discussions on the Trinity’s ontological oneness, it is imperative that you remember, although they are of the identical divine substance, their distinctions, or differences, are in no way erased, obliterated, or eroded by that oneness! God is an eternal communion of three distinct persons in undivided union! God is three distinct, self-aware “I’s” that talk to each other, love each other, and communicate with one another. God is a trinity of self-conscious persons!

Economical Trinity - The economical Trinity speaks of the external manifestation of the Trinity in the world through creation, redemption, and sanctification. This is sometimes called the "Trinity of manifestation”. In regards to the work of redemption, the economical Trinity may be referred to as the redemptional, or soteriological Trinity. Soteriology is the doctrine of salvation, therefore the soteriological Trinity is the application of the economical Trinity to salvation. It speaks of the manner in which the three Persons work together to bring about the salvation of mankind. In John 3:12-16 you can find a beautiful breakdown of the soteriological Trinity. John 3:12 shows that the Spirit regenerates; verses 13-15 show how the Son redeems; and verse 16 shows how the Father reveals. You can also go to the book of Ephesians and find similar patterns. For instance, Ephesians 1:3-6 shows the Father’s work of love; verses 7-12 show the Son’s work of grace; and verses 13-14 show the Spirit’s work of testimony. These are just a couple of the many instances the Trinity is shown in their respective positions as it concerns the salvation of man.

It is in this economical respect that we find the subjection of one person to another come into view. You must be careful not to fall into the snare of subordinationism. Difference in function does not indicate inferiority of nature. Subjection does not mean subordination! The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are co-equal!

The Oneness people are continually getting the ontological Trinity and economical Trinity confused, which is why they think a three in one concept is contradictory. A paradox, yes! A contradiction, never! A statement is only contradictory if it asserts two contradictory things about the same subject at the same time, and in the same respect. I may tell you my house is red and then tell someone else my house is black. This is only contradictory if I mean my house is red and black at the same time, and in the same way, and in the same respect. My house could be red with black trim, therefore red and black. My house could have been red last week, but after having freshly painted it, be black this week. Therefore telling one person my house is red and another my house is black would only be contradictory if I meant it was red and black at the same time and in the same respect.

This same principle applies to the Godhead! God is not three in the same manner as He is one. Trinitarians have never said that God is three persons and one person simultaneously. Nor have we said the Trinity is three gods and one god simultaneously. We have unequivocally stated that God is one in substance, yet three distinct “persons”! There is one “what” of the Trinity, but three “Who’s”, or “I’s” in the Trinity (Mt 11:27, Ro 8:27)! When you look at the Godhead in that respect, you see there is no contradiction at all.

In summary, the ontological Trinity is what the Trinity is, the economical Trinity is what they do. Immanently, the Father begets the Son, and the Spirit proceeds from both the Father and Son. Economically, the Father sends the Son, and the Father and Son send the Spirit. “These three are one”! And it’s that simple!

The Trinity As “Persons”

Unfortunately, the use of the word persons to describe the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost is responsible for many of the misconceptions people have in regards to the unity of the Trinity. In fact, it has been a major dividing factor throughout Church history. Trinitarians freely admit it has its limitations, but no other word has been successfully agreed upon, which has led to the traditional word being retained. Such terminology is often unavoidable, even for those that are of the Oneness faith. The truth is, when finite humanity speaks of a Being who is infinite, and outside of time, space, and matter, limitations in terminology are inevitable.

Tertullian was the first person to use the word persona to describe the persons of the Godhead. Oneness adherents will tell you that he used the word to mean “a mask”, but that’s simply not true. To him, it only meant “a concrete, or real individual” (Letham, Robert, The Holy Trinity, pg. 99).

It is very important that we understand what we are saying when we use the word persons to describe the Persons of the Godhead. Today’s understanding of the word person implies a human being who is completely independent of others even to the point of being at variance with them. Webster’s Dictionary defines person as “a human being”. By no means does this definition accurately describe God! As I have already stated, we can never equate the members of the Godhead to finite humanity and our innumerable weaknesses and limitations. God is immeasurably different and greater than us. We are finite--He is infinite! We are human--He is divine! Although the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are distinct, self-conscious persons, they are not HUMAN beings!

We come into a similar dilemma when we refer to God as a “man”. Let me show you what I am talking about:

Nu 23:19a GOD IS NOT A MAN, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent.... (emphasis added)

1Sa 15:29 And also the Strength of Israel will not lie nor repent: for HE IS NOT A MAN, that he should repent. (emphasis added)

These two passages tell us that God is not a man, yet in Exodus 15:3 He is referred to as a “man of war”. How do we justify this seeming contradiction? If we will look at this from the right perspective, we will see that there isn’t a contradiction at all. The issue at hand is more or less a matter of semantics. The word man means “an adult human male” which does not accurately describe God. But God is spoken of in masculine terms and we equate masculinity with man, therefore, in that sense, it is proper to call Him a man.

It is of the utmost importance that when we think of either the Father, the Son, or the Holy Ghost as being persons, or men, it is not with the same frame of mind that we think of each other. God can be called a man, but He is not a HOMO SAPIEN (a human)! The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost can be referred to as persons (2Co 2:10, Heb 1:3, Job 13:7-8), but not in the identical manner that you and I are!

The main reason we speak of the three eternal and divine persons of the Godhead as persons is to distinguish the relationships that exist between them. These relationships are clearly seen interwoven throughout the New Testament. For example, the Father sends the Son into the world, and both the Father and the Son send the Holy Ghost. Also, the Father speaks to, and of the Son, as another beside Himself; as does the Son to the Father; and the Son likewise addresses the Holy Ghost as another beside Himself, who glorifies the Son, as the Son glorifies the Father.

To be able to do these things clearly indicates that the Father, Son and Holy Ghost are more than a uni-personal being who is operating in different modes or aspects. Each is referred to by the personal pronouns “He”, “His”, and “Him”, as opposed to “it” or “thing”.

In summary, never hesitate to call the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost persons, but make sure you do so with understanding, reverence, and respect. Furthermore, I think it is important that we DO call them persons because if we do not, some will arrive at the erroneous conclusion that a member of the Godhead is an impersonal force, or an “it”.

The Word Trinity

Jesus Only believers love to bring out the fact that the word Trinity is not in the Bible. For some reason they think that proves the doctrine of the Trinity is not in the Bible either! This argument presents us all with a small problem, we can no longer preach using the English language! The Bible was originally written in Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic. Every English word we use is foreign to the original autographs! Preachers, we had better get to the seminary quick!
The facts of it are, many words we use are not found in the Bible (which, by the way, is another “non-Biblical” word)! Should we strip God of His attributes of omniscience and omnipresence simply because these two words are not found in the Scriptures? Are we to suppose the doctrine of the incarnation does not exist simply because the word incarnation is not found in the Bible? If the Oneness people applied this argument to their own system of Theology, it would completely disappear because the words oneness, apostolic, modalism, mode, and role are not found in the Bible! Brothers and Sisters, the word Trinity may not be in the Bible, but the doctrine of the Trinity certainly is! I think it is only fair that if we can’t preach the doctrine of the Trinity because the word Trinity is not in the Bible, they should stop preaching their Oneness doctrine due to the above listed “non-Biblical” words they use when preaching and teaching.

The word Trinity was first used by Tertullian in reference to the Godhead in about 200 A.D. It seems to me that this would be enough to shut down the deceitful argument that the Trinity was invented in 325 A.D., but, unfortunately, it is not! It comes from Trinitas, a Latin noun that means three-ness, the property of occurring three at once, or three are one.

Here is a tidbit of trivia for our Oneness listeners. The name Jehovah was not used until the Middle Ages in Europe. Jehovah is simply a translation of the Tetragrammaton, YHWH. Most scholars today translate it “Yahweh”! Does this mean Jehovah God was invented in the Middle Ages? If we were to follow the Oneness people’s system of logic, we would have to cease using the names Jehovah and Yahweh altogether!

In closing out this lesson, I would like to admonish you to not allow anyone to deceive you. The fact that you cannot adequately explain every minute detail about the Trinity does not diminish the reality of the Trinity. We need to learn all we possibly can about God, but when we have finished, we will not have reached even one side, top, or bottom of His majesty! Here is what the Bible says about our attempts at understanding all there is to know about God:

Ps 139:6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it.

Ro 11:33 O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!

Job 11:7 Canst thou by searching find out God? canst thou find out the Almighty unto perfection?
8 It is as high as heaven; what canst thou do? deeper than hell; what canst thou know?

I agree with what J. Oswald Smith said, “To try and explain the Trinity is to lose your mind, but to explain Him away is to lose your soul!” God is indescribable, unexplainable, and unfathomable. He is unique, there is nothing to compare Him to! There is no means to measure Him. No analogy can demonstrate Him. His ways are past finding out! And although there may be certain dynamics of the Trinity that are hard to comprehend, this does not cause my faith to waver. In fact, it strengthens it! These incomprehensible elements only draw me closer to heaven. They drive me to my knees in humble adoration of the mighty God I serve! It gives me a higher and loftier view of Him. If I could explain my God, He would not be much of a God! Furthermore, I would much rather try my hand at explaining the mysterious dynamics that surround the Trinity than explaining the many anomalies that exist in the Oneness system of Theology. The Oneness doctrine is extremely complicated and impossible to understand. A great number of Oneness people admit that a person can’t understand it without an extra, super-duper spiritual revelation from God! I think I will stick to the faith that was once delivered unto the saints! Blessed be the holy Trinity!

Copyright 2009 by David Lamb

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