Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe (2010) [Chapter 1]

[Articles in the Summed Up series are intended to be summaries of chapters of selected theological books. The author(s) will be quoted verbatim for the purposes of ensuring accurate representation]

Trinity: God Is

(pp. 11-35)

A) About the author(s):

Mark Driscoll has a Master of Arts degree in exegetical theology from Western Seminary. He was the founding and preaching pastor of Mars Hill Church, and former president of the Acts 29 Church Planting Network

Gerry Breshears is a Professor of Theology at Western Seminary and earned his PhD in Systematic Theology from Fuller Theological Seminary.

B) Chapter Summary:

i) What is the Trinity?

“God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. One God. Three persons. While the word Trinity does not appear in Scripture, this One-who-is-Three concept clearly does.”[1]

“… to say that each member of the Trinity is a “person” does not mean that God the Father or God the Spirit became human beings. Rather, it means that each member of the Trinity thinks, acts, feels, speaks, and relates because they are persons and not impersonal forces.”[2]

“The doctrine of the Trinity brings together three equally essential biblical truths without denying or diminishing any. First, there is only one true God. The Old Testament contains a number of clear statements that there is only one God. Likewise, the New Testament clearly states that there is only one God.”[3]

For OT, see Gen. 1:1; Deut. 4:35, 39; 6:4-5; 32:39; 1 Sam. 2:2; 2 Sam. 7:22; 22:32; 1 Kings 8:59-60; 2 Chron. 15:3; Ps. 86:8-10; Isa. 37:20; 43:10; 44:6-8; 45:5, 14, 21-22; 46:9; Jer. 10:10

For NT, see John 5:44; 17:3; Rom. 3:30; 16:27; 1 Cor. 8:4-6; Gal. 3:20; Eph. 4:6; 1 Tim. 1:17; 2:5; 1 Thes. 1:9; James 2:19; Jude 25; 1 John 5:20-21

“Second, the Father, Son, and Spirit are equally declared throughout Scripture to be God.”[4]

Father as God – see John 6:27; 17:3; 1 Cor. 8:6; 2 Cor. 1:3; Eph. 1:3; 1 Peter 1:3

Jesus as God – see Matt. 28:9; John 1:1-4, 14; 5:17-18; 8:58; 10:30-38 … Matt. 26:63-65; John 5:17-23; 8:58-59; 10:30-39; 19:7.

Holy Spirit as God – see Gen. 1:2; Ps. 104:30; Heb. 9:14; Mic. 3:8; Isa. 40:13-14; Ps. 139:7; Acts 5:3-4

“Third, though one God, the Father, Son and, Spirit are distinct persons, The Father and Son are two persons in frequent salutations of letters in the New Testament, as well as in other Scriptures. Scripture is also clear that Jesus and the Holy Spirit are not the same person. Likewise, the Father is not the Holy Spirit.”[5]

Father – Son: Rom. 1:17; 1 Cor. 1:3; 2 Cor. 1:2; Gal. 1:3 … John 3:17; 5:31-32; 8:16-18 …

Jesus – Holy Spirit: Luke 3:22; John 14:16; 15:26; 16:7; 1 John 2:1

Father – Holy Spirit: John 14:15; 15:26; Rom. 8:11, 26-27; 2 Cor. 1:3-4; Gal. 1:1

ii) What is the Trinitarian God of the Bible like?

“In [1 John 4:8] stating that “God is love,” the Bible also reveals that the Trinitarian God of the Bible is simultaneously the definition, example, and source of true love.”[6]

“In the Old Testament the most sacred name for God is Yahweh. Yahweh is distinctively a proper name for the God of the Bible. Because it is sacred, it is never used to refer to any pagan gods; neither is it used in regard to any human. It is reserved solely for the one true God alone.

The name Yahweh appears some 6,823 times in the Old Testament … The third commandment warns us not to use his name in vain or thoughtlessly. The name of Yahweh is so sacred that Leviticus 24:16 commanded that anyone who used it in a blasphemous manner was to be put to death. The severe consequences associated with the misuse of the name Yahweh cause God’s people such great reverence that they were exceedingly cautious to write or speak his name.

Consequently, when reading the Old Testament Scriptures, Jews did not speak the name Yahweh but replaced it with ‘Edonai’ (“Lord,” often transliterated from the Hebrew as “Adonai”). The ancient Hebrew Bible only had consonants, so the name of God was written as YHWH. When your translation has the word “LORD,” in all capital letters, you know this is the personal name of God, YHWH.”[7]

iii) Does the Trinity appear in the Old Testament?

“The opening lines of Scripture reveal God in a most surprising way:

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

We see both God the Father and the Spirit of God involved in creation.

It gets even more interesting when we look at how ancient Jewish rabbis understood this passage as they did their interpretatitve translation of the Hebrew Bible into Aramaic, the common language of the people. They did a word study of “beginning” (re’shit in Hebrew) and found that it is used in synonymous with the Hebrew word for “firstborn” (bekor in Hebrew) four times in the Old Testament. This would mean that the two words “beginning” and “firstborn,” can have the same meaning. Thus, their translation of the opening words of the Bible includes both words:

In the beginning, by the firstborn, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

In this important translation, predating the birth of Jesus Christ by approximately two hundred years, we find three divine persons – the Firstborn, God the Father, and the Spirit – at work in creation.”[8] (emphasis mine)

See also Gen. 1:26; Isa. 61:1; 63:9-10

iv) Does the Trinity appear in the New Testament?

“The New Testament continues and deepens the revelation of God living and active in three fully divine persons. While we get glimpses into the inner heavenly life of Father, Son, and Spirit (what theologians call the immanent or ontological Trinity), Scripture focuses on the concrete and historical acts in which the Trinity is revealed as the three persons working together in creation (what theologians call the economic Trinity).”[9]

Examples of the entire Trinity being involved:

In Mary’s conception of Jesus – Luke 1:35

At the baptism of Jesus – Matthew 3:16-17

The Great Commission – Matthew 28:19

Our salvation – Eph. 1:4-13; 1 Pet. 1:2; Titus 3:4-6

Bestowing of spiritual gifts – 1 Cor. 12:4-6; Eph. 4:4-6

v) What is the history of the doctrine of the Trinity?

“Tertullian, who converted to Christianity just before AD 200 and defended Christianity prolifically until he died around AD 200, initiated the use of the Latin words Trinitas, persona, and substantia (Trinity, person, and substance or essence) to express the biblical teaching that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one in divine essence but distinguished in relationships as persons within the inner life of God himself.”[10]

“The Council of Nicaea (AD 325) included some three hundred bishops, many of whom bore the scars of persecution, and was convened primarily to resolve the debate over Arianism, the false teaching that Christ was a creature, an angel who was the highest created being, but not God. The Council of Nicaea concluded that the Son was one substance (homoousious) with the Father. The Logos, who was incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth, is God himself. He is not like God, but is fully and eternally God.”[11]

“With the deity of Christ officially recognised, the Council of Constantinople (AD 381) extended the discussion to the identification of the Holy Spirit within the Godhead. Constantinople expanded the Nicene Creed, making the creed fully Trinitarian, and officially condemned Arianism. It solidified the orthodox doctrine of the full humanity of Jesus Christ.”[12]

“The Council of Chalcedon (AD 451) focused on the relationship of Christ’s humanity to his divinity (known as hypostatic union) and issued the formula of Chalcedon, which became the orthodox statement on the person of Christ. Hypostatic union means that Jesus is one person with two natures and therefore simultaneously full God and fully human.”[13]

“The contribution of the councils to the doctrine of the Trinity can be summarized under four headings:

1) One Being, Three Persons. God is one being and has one essence. There is no God but the triune God who exists eternally in three distinct persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The whole God is in each person, and each person is the whole God …

2) Consubstantiality. One identical divine substance is shared completely by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Any essential characteristic that belongs to one of the three is shared by the others. Each one of the three divine persons is eternal, each almighty, none greater or less than another, each God, and yet together being but one God.

3) Perichoresis. This concept, also called circumincession or interpenetration, refers to the loving interrelation, partnership, or mutual dependence of the three persons …

4) The Order of the Persons. There is a clear order of the relations between the three fully divine persons: from the Father through the Son by the Holy Spirit.”[14]

vi) Why should we study the doctrine of the Trinity?

J.I. Packer: “The historic formulation of the Trinity … seeks to circumscribe and safeguard this mystery (not explain it; that is beyond us), and it confronts us with perhaps the most difficult thought that the human mind has ever been asked to handle. It is not easy; but it is true.”[15]

“Practically speaking, studying the doctrine of the Trinity helps believers appreciate their great salvation, which is frequently described in Paul’s writings as the work of the triune God.”[16]

See 1 Thess. 5:23; Heb. 13:21; Eph. 5:26-27; 1 Cor. 6:11; 2 Cor. 3:18

“We are further blessed when we study the Trinity because we then learn how the cross enables believers to share the unity and love that exist eternally between the Father and the Son, and how the cross, resurrection, and ascension of Christ brings to us the full power and knowledge of the Holy Spirit.”[17]

See John 17:11, 22-26; 14:16-17, 26; 15:26; 16:13

vii) What are the major doctrinal errors regarding the Trinity

Modalism teaches that God is successively Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; he is not simultaneously Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Modalism is a heresy that does not view the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as three particular persons in relation but merely as three modes or manifestations of the one divine person of God.”[18]

“For a modalist, the God of the Old Testament is the Father. In the incarnation, God was manifested in Jesus. Then, after the resurrection and ascension of Christ, God came in the mode of the Holy Spirit. However, the baptism of Jesus and Jesus’ prayer in the garden of Gethsemane reveal clearly that the three persons converse with each other simultaneously.”[19]

“The central characteristic of [Arianism] was that because Jesus is one, Jesus could not have also been truly God. In order to deal with the scriptural testimony to the exalted status of Christ, Arius and his followers proposed that Jesus was the highest created being of God. So although Christ was fully human, he was not fully God.”[20]

Tritheism teaches that the Trinity consists of three equal, independent, and autonomous beings, each of whom is divine. Tritheism stresses the plurality of the Godhead.”[21]; there are three gods

C) Chapter Review:

  • Readability: 10/10
  • Theological depth: 6/10
  • Any other comments: The chapter is perfect for anyone who is looking for a basic treatise on the doctrine of the Trinity.

[1] p. 12

[2] p.13

[3] p.13

[4] p.14

[5] p.15

[6] p.16

[7] pp.16-17

[8] p.19

[9] p.22

[10] p.25

[11] p.25

[12] pp.25-26

[13] p,26

[14] pp.26-27

[15] J.I. Packer, “Trinity,” Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs (1993), p. 40

[16] p.29

[17] p.30

[18] p.31

[19] p.31

[20] p.32

[21] pp.32-33

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