Question: Can you explain what the Trinity is, and how it makes sense? I mean, wouldn’t this mean a belief in tritheism?
Answer: The Trinity is the belief that God is one in being and three in person. Right off the bat, this is not a contradiction. Notice that this belief is not three beings in one being or three persons in one person; this would essentially be the belief that somehow God is three-gods-in-one, which is not only false but logically impossible. Your being is the essence or quality that makes you what you are. Your person is the essence or quality that makes you who you are. I am Adam Brown, so Adam is who I am. What I am is a human being. Using this same logic, what God is, is a divine being, and who God is, is the three persons of the Trinity. You and I share the same type of being, we are both humans, but you do not share the same person that I am.
What is a person?
A person is a “center of self-consciousness.” A person has emotions, a mind, can communicate with others, and can perform actions. Saying that God is three in person, means He has three self-distinctions in Himself. These distinct persons communicate with each other and have existed from eternity past. This point about communication raises an important philosophical question, because when Scripture mentions God speaking, who was He speaking to before the creation? According to Scripture, God has been speaking before the creation of anything capable of talking back, which means He was speaking to Himself, right? If the Trinity doesn’t exist, then yes. Without the other persons of the Trinity, God becomes a contingent entity, who has to rely on created beings to communicate appropriately without the attribution of insanity. Communication is double-ended. It requires sending and receiving on both sides. This is where the Trinity makes sense. This concept doesn’t create a problem; it’s a solution to one because while it shows that communication (which is required for relationships) has existed from eternity past, it also reveals something about the nature of God. More on this later.
Is This Beyond Comprehension?
Because we cannot find a concept (or even give a relevant example) like this anywhere here on Earth, this makes the concept false, right? Wrong! This just goes to show that the infinite God is ultimately more complex than us finite human beings. We needn’t be surprised by this fact. Although we cannot fully comprehend everything about God’s triune nature, we don’t have a problem. There is enough evidence in the areas we can understand, to trust that God exists and that His revelation regarding His nature is real. We’ll see some examples below.
The Word Trinity is not Found in Scripture
Did you know the word trinity doesn’t exist anywhere in Scripture? Wait. What? I’m telling you the truth, investigate for yourself! While it is true that the word trinity doesn’t exist within the text of Scripture, the concept itself does; and in case you’re wondering, it’s not only found in the New Testament. I’m guessing you’d like a few examples so here we go: (Keep in mind that Hebrew reads from right to left)
- In Genesis 1:1, (בְּרֵאשִׁ֖ית בָּרָ֣א אֱלֹהִ֑ים אֵ֥ת הַשָּׁמַ֖יִם וְאֵ֥ת הָאָֽרֶץ׃) the Hebrew word used for God is ʾělō·hîm, which is properly translated as Gods (plural). The word created or bā·rā in Hebrew is treated as a singular verb. So we have plurality and singularity right from the get-go.
- In the Sh’ma, found in Deuteronomy 6:4, (שְׁמַ֖ע יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֵ֖ינוּ יְהוָ֥ה׀ אֶחָֽד׃) the word used to say that God (Adonai) is “one” is ʾě·ḥāḏ, which is used to describe a compound unity. Remember, the claim is that God is one in being and three in person – a compound unity.
- Examples of compound unities:
- Genesis 1:5 – Evening and morning make one day.
- Genesis 2:24 – Man and women become one flesh.
- Numbers 13:23 – One cluster of grapes.
- Examples of compound unities:
- In case you think that there isn’t a sufficient word to use besides ʾě·ḥāḏ, I’d like to present the word yā·ḥîḏ (יָחִיד) found in Judges 11:34 and Jeremiah 6:26, where you can see that there is no compound unity in the usage of the word one. yā·ḥîḏ is a perfectly acceptable word to say that God is one, yet we see the word ʾě·ḥāḏ being used instead.
- In Psalm 110:1 (לְדָוִ֗ד מִ֫זְמ֥וֹר נְאֻ֤ם יְהוָ֨ה׀ לַֽאדֹנִ֗י שֵׁ֥ב לִֽימִינִ֑י), it reads the LORD says to my Lord.
- The first instance of LORD is written as YHWH (יהוה), which represents the actual spelling of God’s name. (The correct pronunciation has been lost over time, though various attempts have been made recently).
- The second instance of Lord (notice this one is not in ALL CAPS) is written as Adonai (אָדוֹן), which is a title given to God.
- We can infer that David may prophetically see the future Messiah, receiving a divinely appointed role. This inference would seem to be a bit of a stretch, had it not been for Messiah quoting this Psalm passage in reference to Himself, in Matthew 22:44, Mark 12:36 and in Luke 20:42-43
I can list examples for days, but you get the idea. The word Trinity is not found in Scripture, but the concept is. The word itself was created by Theophilus of Antioch before 181 B.C.E. to provide a way to refer to God’s revealed nature. Before the word trinity, God’s nature was described as God, His Logos (Word), and Wisdom, which later became referenced as Father, Son, and Spirit.
Finally, let us get back to the question of God’s ability to communicate and His nature. God’s nature is that of love. He is the essence of love itself. But this raises another philosophical question on who God loved before his creation? On a monadic concept of God, there was no one for God to love before the creation. He could only become loving once He created people (someone to love). This would imply that love and communication preceded life, but you see the error in this concept, right? This would mean that God was contingent on something, namely us, to achieve these two things. To claim that a maximally-great being needed anything, would be to remove His maximal-greatness, thus diminishing God while heightening love and communication above Him. Like I mentioned before, the concept of the Trinity doesn’t create a problem; it solves it. It’s logically impossible to deny the trinitarian concept while holding a view of God as a maximally-great being. The Trinity is not an easy concept to comprehend or explain, but we shouldn’t shy away from the challenge, especially because we can see the evidence throughout Scripture.