Doctrine, Q&A's



Question: What is your understanding concerning the Triune God?


The concept of the Trinity is one that can’t be answered in a few short paragraphs but I will provide a brief initial response and at a later date post more on my web site on this important and oft misunderstood and underappreciated doctrine. Firstly, we must define the term Trinity as it comes from the Latin “Trinitas” which means three in one. The word Trinity was first found in a reference text in the writings of Theopolius of Antioch in AD 180. We see expansion of usage of this term by Tertullian in AD 200 when he accurately refers to “tres personae, una substantia” (three persons, one nature/substance). The value in understanding the textual usage in history is because some have incorrectly claimed the Trinity is a recent invention of Christians.

Additionally, as we look to the Trinity it is important to understand the Trinity as one and not three. Often the term Trinity is mistaken for tritheism where one mistakes it for stating there are three Gods (as the Muslims mistakenly understand Christianity). Another common mistake is that of understanding God playing 3 roles which is referred to as Modalism (or oneness theology) – God does not change roles (Malachi 3:6).

Muslims often vacillate between tritheism and modalism or even Arianism. Arianism is an ancient theological error that appeared around the year 320. It taught that God could not appear on the earth because he was too pure, that Jesus was not eternal and was created out of nothing as an “adopted Son” (some Arians believe Jesus created the Holy Spirit). This theological fallacy is equivalent to idolatry since Jesus was a created thing and worshiping Him (as they stated we should do) would mean we violate the 1st and 2nd commandment. It was condemned by the Council of Nicea in 325.

So how do we understand God’s nature? It becomes a two-fold question of what and who. The “what” is the ontological question that speaks to God’s nature and the “who” is the economical question of how they relate to one another. The Ontological Trinity is understood as God is one in nature but three in Persons (e.g. 1x1x1=1 or 1 3) with each Person having equal attributes. The Economical Trinity communicates how the three persons in the Godhead relate to each other and work in creation. The Trinity (should be referred to as He and not the impersonal “it”) is 3 distinct Persons that are co-eternal, co-equal, and co-substantial (meaning they share the same nature).

Further study will be posted to see the role of the Trinity and His presence throughout Scripture. A post on Jesus in the Old Testament can also be referenced as it begins this discussion from the vantage point of the Son of God being ever present throughout eternity and documented even in the Old Testament.