You may notice that I’ve slightly reordered our list of essential Christian beliefs. I’ve done so because in this revised order, the first eight in our list now (as one of our more logically-minded readers suggested) makes a progressive path of doctrine that makes number 9 on our list much more understandable once you grasp these first eight. Here’s the reordered list:
1. The infallibility of the Bible in the original manuscripts
2. God’s sovereign rule over all creation
3. Human depravity
4. The necessity of God’s grace
5. The virgin birth
6. Christ’s sinlessness
7. The full humanity and deity of Christ
8. The triunity of God
9. The atoning death, burial, and resurrection of Christ
10. The necessity of faith
11. Christ’s second coming, final judgement and reign.
This makes this installment all about one of the most ridiculed and misunderstood of our core beliefs. The doctrine of the Trinity has been debated for millennia, and yet it is impossible to deny the triune nature of God without denying both essentials #1 and 7.
Many who deny the Trinity correctly point out that the word “Trinity” is not found in the Bible, and that there is no passage that explicitly states “God is three distinct Persons, yet indivisibly one in essence”.
However, the doctrine of the triunity of God is not base on any single proof text; like all of the essential beliefs it is based on careful reading of the entire Bible and a logical approach to the issues it addresses. Briefly, with a very few of the relevant passages cited, these are:
—} The is, was, and ever will be only one God (Deut. 6:4-5, 1 Cor. 8:4, Isaiah 40:10-11, I Tim. 1:17)
—} The Father, the Holy Spirit, and Jesus the Christ are distinct Persons, each showing attributes of Deity and personhood. The following chart will be helpful here.
The doctrine of the Trinity is the only answer to the question “how can there be only one God if the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct Persons, and how can they be distinct Persons if they are the same Being?”
There have been many analogies used to try and illustrate the simple yet difficult to grasp concept
of the triunity of God, and all fall short in one way or another. Some liken the Trinity to an egg, which has a shell, white, and yolk and yet is one object. Others say that since we are made in God’s image, we can understand the Trinity by seeing God much as a man who is husband, son, and father all at the same time. Others use the illustration at the right as a useful visual aid.
I won’t go into detailed discussion of how the Trinity can be understood because I believe that the concept cannot be fully understood this side of heaven – There are aspects of God that go beyond logic, and His triune nature is one of them. That is NOT to say that the doctrine is illogical, but that logic falls short of comprehending it. If God could be completely understood by our finite minds, we would be His equals – and we are obviously not in any way!
For those of you who want to look into some of the more detailed explanations of the Trinity, I have links at the end of this article for you.
In conclusion, I’ll give short descriptions of some of the major beliefs that deny the Trinity; note that with the possible exception of Modalism, every one ultimately denies the full deity of Christ.
Arianism – named after Arius, who proposed that Jesus was created by God the father, and was subordinate to Him. Modern adherents to forms of this heresy, among others, are the jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, and Unitarians.
Docetism – from the Greek term meaning “to seem”. This is the belief that Jesus only seemed to be human and only appeared to die. Variations of this idea are major themes of many Gnostic cults and Christian Science.
Modalism – the belief that There is one God who has taken on different forms (or ‘modes’) throughout history. In this view, God the Father became God the Son, and after the ascension, the Holy Spirit. Oneness Pentecostals are the most well-known proponents of this heresy.
Other groups, such as the Christadelphians deny that the Holy Spirit is a person, and equate the Spirit with God’s ‘force’ or ‘power’.
All of these anti-Trinitarian doctrines directly contradict Scripture, and I encourage you to take the time to research how they do so. I’ll devote an entire article to each in the future.
Useful on-line resources:
Matt Perman has a thorough yet readable explanation of the Trinity here at Desiring God.
Bibletruth.org has an article with many, many Scripture references as well as an expanded version of the chart I’ve included above.
Bible Knowledge has another article that is very easy to read for those of us who don’t want to deal with a lot of technical terms.
Apologeticsindex.org has a list of links from both Trinitarian and anti-Trinitarian sources.
For those of a scholarly bent, Bible.org has an in-depth article on this essentail belief that you will find beneficial.