Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Trinity

I kind of fell away from doing this series of responses because I didn’t have time, we haven’t been as focused on mormonism since the missionaries haven’t been over and the individual who posted the initial comment has disappeared (seriously, I wish I had a buck for every bold mormon apologist who posts something to set me straight and then disappears when I call them on it). But I said I was going to do a full response, so by golly I am! The next point had to do with the Trinity, this is a lengthy quote but I need to post the whole thing to be fair. You will not that we find very minimal citation for some pretty strongly declared statements (I love the appeal to agnostic Bart Ehrman!).

The Trinity:

A literal reading of the New Testament points to God and Jesus Christ , His Son , being separate , divine beings , united in purpose. . To whom was Jesus praying in Gethsemane, and Who was speaking to Him and his apostles on the Mount of Transfiguration? The Nicene Creed’s definition of the Trinity was influenced by scribes translating the Greek manuscripts into Latin. The scribes embellished on a passage explaining the Trinity , which is the Catholic and Protestant belief that God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The oldest versions of the epistle of 1 John, read: "There are three that bear witness: the Spirit, the water and the blood and these three are one." Scribes later added "the Father, the Word and the Spirit," and it remained in the epistle when it was translated into English for the King James Version, according to Dr. Bart Ehrman, Chairman of the Religion Department at UNC- Chapel Hill. He no longer believes in the Nicene Trinity. . Scholars agree that Early Christians believed in an embodied God; it was neo-Platonist influences that later turned Him into a disembodied Spirit. Harper’s Bible Dictionary entry on the Trinity says “the formal doctrine of the Trinity as it was defined by the great church councils of the fourth and fifth centuries is not to be found in the New Testament.” The Church of Jesus Christ (LDS) views the Trinity as three separate divine beings , in accord with the earliest Greek New Testament manuscripts.

Mormonism is very appealing to cultural Christians, people who think they are Christians because of church attendance and because they try to behave in a moral way. They have a rudimentary knowledge of some churchy terms and some of the stories, but their knowledge is shallow and because they are not regenerate believers they never seek to dig into the Word and they surely are not being taught the whole counsel of God in most churches. The trinity is an area where many nominal Christians and culturally conditioned church going unbelievers are vulnerable precisely because it is a heady concept and one that receives so little attention in the church. I suspect that is because a lot of preachers don’t really understand it (which is somewhat understandable) and have never taken the time to really work through it (which is not acceptable).

Mormonism is seductive because it takes some of the great mysteries of God and redefines them into more easily accessible doctrines. Sure they are contrary to Scripture, but they are easy to understand, so go for it! Kind of like the Golden Calf, it is easier for a sinful mind to worship something tangible than to worship the great I AM that you can’t see. The Trinity is a prime example of that because it is a doctrine that gets right to the heart of who God is, His very nature. Obviously anytime a mortal, fallible, sinful human tries to wrap his mind around the infinite, holy, self-existent God of the Bible, he is going to fall woefully short but that doesn’t give us a free pass to create gods in our own image. Unfortunately, the fact that the nature of the Triune God is so hard to grasp in many ways makes it a prime target for heresy, from Arianism to Mormonism to modern day modalism.

The Trinity is not something that is specifically spelled out in the Bible, that much is true. In other words, there is not a verse that gives a dictionary definition or says: There is one God, eternally existing in three persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. On the other hand, it is also in no way a result of Greek philosophy, something made up in a church council or the other drivel people cut and paste as a “refutation” of the doctrine of the Triune God. It is a doctrine that is clear when you look at the totality of the Biblical witness, something intertwined in the story line of redemption recorded in the Bible, but like many of the other great truths of the Bible it requires you to read and study and pray. In other words, put in a little effort!

Christ exemplifies the attributes that are unique to God and since the Bible is equally clear that there is but one God, we have a quandary. Either Jesus is not God, or there is more than one God or something else. That "something else" is where we find the Trinity. Jesus is clearly divine, uncreated, self-existing, immortal, in other words He is God in a way that only the God of the Bible can be. So it cannot be that He is not God. The Bible is also unequivocal that there is only one God. Not one God of this world or one God that we know about. In all creation, in all things that ever have or ever will exist, there is only one God. The most heinous of sins is idolatry and worship of other, false gods. So it cannot be that there is more than one God. What then? We are left with Christ, who has all of the attributes of God, who declares Himself to be God and is worshipped by the apostles as God. We also have the Father and the Spirit, who are personal, have all of the attributes of God and are distinct from Christ and from each other. So what does this tell us? It tells us that there is one God, eternally existing in three persons: the Father, the Son and the Spirit. That is the only explanation that makes any sense at all. Lots of things are declared in the Bible that are hard to figure out. How can a sinner be made right with a infinitely holy and just God by the death of one Man? It just is and the fact that it is a tough concept is no reason to feel free to rewrite Scripture and reject what the Word says to make a tough concept easier for us to understand.

That Jesus Christ is God even as He is also man (the hypostatic union) is evident in the pages of Holy Writ. I am not going to try to replicate the volumes of work done by scholars who are better read than I and have done a much better job explaining the Trinity (see additional resources at the bottom of this post), but there are a few basic, fundamental points that show unequivocally that the doctrine of the Trinity is found clearly in the Bible. It is complicated and can be hard to wrap your mind around, but all of the great truths of God are taxing on the limited, selfish and sinful minds of mere mortal humans.

Jesus declares Himself to be divine

Jesus disciples and the NT writers recognized His unique and divine nature

Jesus was worshipped as God and accepted that worship

Jesus is uncreated and eternal, and shares the attributes of God

Pointing out that Jesus interacted in a personal way with the other members of the Trinity does not refute the Trinity, it supports it!

As I said, I don’t want to reinvent the apologetic wheel on the Trinity, so check these resources out for more clarification and deeper explanations.

Additional Resources:

The Forgotten Trinity, James White

The Trinity, CARM


A Brief Definition of the Trinity, Alpha and Omega


Seth R. said...

The reason the apologists do a hit and run is because your post pops up in a Google Alerts net or on a search result. But they don't bookmark the post or anything. Counterpoint and then leave.

Just like I'm about to do.

But I imagine I'll see you around on Todd's blog or something.

Arthur Sido said...

Interesting theory. I still hold that when you get past the soundbites, there isn't any substance there.

FrGregACCA said...

Let me add another resource to your list:

Being as Communion

The author is John D. Zizioulas, a bishop of the Greek Orthodox Church. He was a lay theologian when the book was written. It is published in English by St. Vladimir's Seminary Press.

edie said...

Just visiting from April's blog....very interesting story and post. I am a recovering evangelical (baptist) who is now Lutheran and I have a blog friend who's mormon and is always very interested in my theological-leaning posts. I'll definitely snoop around on your blog. Thank you for your insight.