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The Doctrine of the Trinity in Scripture and History

 Dr Mike Johnston, Editor

Anti-Trinitarians are heretics! One of the most distinguishable traits of cults and heretics is their denial and blasphemous attacks against the trinity. One reason often cited is that it cannot be explained. I love the comment by lecturer, scientist, archaeologist, author, pastor, crusader, debater, fundamentalist, soul winner Dr. Harry Rimmer who wrote: “Therefore we say if (a) theory cannot be comprehended by man, it could not be invented by human processes.” Oh how true that is!

The doctrine of the trinity is as orthodox as salvation by faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ. It was affirmed and taught in the early church (which we’ll discuss shortly), settled in the Councils of Nicea (325 AD) and Constantinople  (361 AD), and taught through the ages. Still, there are those around us today who deny it in the same manner other cultists deny the deity of Jesus Christ- which often go hand in hand. Since they have the impossible task of refuting it using the Bible alone, they cling desperately to the argument from silence pointing out that the Bible doesn’t mention it by name, and therefore it doesn’t exist. My friend, the word grandfather doesn’t appear in the King James Bible either- so are we to assume that they too don’t exist?

The trinity can be seen from the first three verses in the Genesis creation account: In the beginning God (v1) (elohim is plural); and the spirit of God moved (v2); and God said (v3) here is the Word- Christ (John 1:1; 14).

All the elements of the doctrine are taught in Scripture as evidenced in the following brief [1] list:

  • One God (Deut. 4:35; 6:4; Eph. 4:6)
  • The Father is God (1 Cor. 8:6)
  • The Son is God (Isa. 9:6-7; John 1:1; 1 Tim. 3:16)
  • The Holy Spirit is God (Deut. 32:12 and Isa. 63:14; Acts 5:3-4;
  • The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three persons (i.e., they are not each other, nor are they impersonal; they relate to one another personally)

The Lord explicitly states: I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God (Isaiah 44:6).

While this alone doesn’t prove the trinity, the fact that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are mentioned as co-equals in the following verses certainly makes a strong case for believing it:

  • The Old Testament foreshadowed the triune Godhead using the Hebrew.  5 key pieces of evidence of the trinity because of plural references to God:
  1. Two plural nouns are applied to God: God and Lord, are almost always plural when applied to God. These two plural nouns (God – elohim, Lord – adonai) are the two most frequently used nouns of God in the Old Testament.
  2. “Let US make man in OUR image”: Three plural pronouns, (We, Us, Our) used 6 different times in four different passages: Gen 1:26; 3:22; 11:7; Isa 6:8. The unanimous opinion of the apostolic Fathers was that the Father was talking to Jesus.
  3. Five plural verbs are applied to God: creates, makes, wanders, reveals, judges. In English, these plural verse do not indicate a plural persons, “God creates”. But the plurality of Hebrew verbs follow the noun. This is not the case in English. This plurality of verbs associated with God, is most striking and unusual to those who read Hebrew.
  4. Plural adjectives that describe God: “holy”. Again, this is a function of Hebrew grammar that does not exist in English. The plurality of adjectives is tagged to the associated noun, which in this case is God. It is most unusual to have a plural adjective describing God.
  5. Single verses that contain both singular and plural references to the same person.

 

  • The New Testament presents a consistent triad of Father, Son, Holy Spirit (God, Christ, Spirit): Matt. 28:19; 2 Cor. 13:34; also Luke 1:35; 3:21-22; 4:1-12; John 4:10-25; 7:37-39; 14-16; 20:21-22; Acts 1:4-8; 2:33, 38-39; 5:3-4, 9, 30-32; 7:55-56; 10:36-38, 44-48; 11:15-18; 15:8-11; 20:38; 28:25-31; Rom. 1:1-4; 5:5-10; 8:2-4, 9-11, 14-17; 1 Cor. 6:11; 12:4-6, 11-12, 18; 2 Cor. 1:19-22; 3:6-8, 14-18; Gal. 3:8-14; 4:4-7; Eph. 1:3-17; 2:18, 21-22; 3:14-19; 4:4-6, 29-32; 5:18-20; Phil. 3:3; 1 Thess. 1:3-6; 2 Thess. 2:13-14; Tit. 3:4-6; Heb. 2:3-4; 9:14; 10:28-31; 1 Pet. 1:2; 1 John 3:21-24; 4:13-14; Jude 20-21; Rev. 2:18, 27-29

Since the Bible does teach the Trinity, we might ask ourselves, What Difference Does The Doctrine Of The Trinity Make? The answer: it makes a whale of a difference in at least 10 different areas:

  1. Sovereignty: Because the three persons have each other, we can be assured that God created us only to share the love they have and not as a means to His own end: Acts 17:25; John 17:21-26
  2. Mystery: The triune God is totally unlike anything in our world, and therefore greater than anything we can comprehend: Rom. 11:33-36; Isa. 40:18
  3. Salvation: God alone planned our salvation, came to save us, and dwells in us to complete our salvation: 1 Pet. 1:2; Eph. 1:3-18; etc.
  4. Prayer: We pray to the Father through the Son, and also pray to the Son directly, in the Spirit: John 14:13-14; Eph. 2:18; etc.
  5. Worship: We worship Father and Son in the Spirit: john 4:23-24; Phil. 3:3; Heb. 1:8; etc.
  6. Love: The love among the three persons is the basis and model for our love for one another: John 17:26
  7. Unity: The unity of the three persons is the basis and model for the unity of the church: John 17:21-23
  8. Humility: As the persons of the Trinity seek the glory of each other, so we should seek the interests of others above our own: Phil. 2:5-11; John 16:13-14
  9. Sonship: We are “sons of God” as we are united with the Son of God by the work of the Holy Spirit and the adoption of the Father: john 1:12-23; Rom. 8:14-17
  10. Truth: All those who wish to worship and love God must seek to know Him as He is in truth, for God, as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is truth: John 4:24; 14:6, 17; 15:26; 16:13

 

Trinity as Taught in the Old Scofield Bible

God

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth (Genesis 1:1). 

“Elohim” (sometimes “El” or “Elah”), English form “God,” the first of the three primary names of Deity, is a uni-plural noun formed from “El”, means “strength”, or “the strong one”, and “Alah”, “to swear”, “to bind oneself by an oath”, so implying “faithfulness”. This uni-plurality implied in the name is directly asserted in (Gen_1:26) (plurality), (Gen_1:27) (unity); see also (Gen_3:22). The Trinity is latent in Elohim. As meaning primarily the Strong One it is fitly used in the first chapter of Genesis. Used in the Old Testament about 2500 times.

Jesus (at His baptism)

And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased (Matthew 3:16-17). 

For the first time the Trinity, foreshadowed in many ways in the Old Testament, is fully manifested. The Spirit descends upon the Son, and at the same moment the Father’s voice is heard from heaven. 

Name (used in baptizing converts)

Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen (Matthew 28:19-20).

The word is in the singular, the “name,” not names. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is the final name of the one true God. It affirms:

(1) That God is one.

(2) That He subsists in a personality which is threefold, indicated by relationship as Father and Son; by a mode of being as Spirit; and by the different parts taken by the Godhead in manifestation and in the work of redemption, for example (Joh_3:5); (Joh_3:6); (Spirit), (Joh_3:16); (Joh_3:17) (Father and Son). In; (Mat_3:16); (Mat_3:17); (Mar_1:10); (Mar_1:11); (Luk_3:21); (Luk_3:22); the three persons are in manifestation together.

(3) The conjunction in one name of the Three affirms equality and oneness of substance. [2]

The Trinity in History – Early Trinitarian Quotes

The doctrine of the trinity was taught from the beginning of the church as evidenced by the Didache and the following quotes. Noted historian Philip Schaff writes: “Every important dogma now professed by the Christian church is the result of a severe conflict with error. The doctrine of the holy Trinity, for instance, was believed from the beginning, but it required, in addition to the preparatory labors of the ante-Nicene age, fifty years of controversy, in which the strongest intellects were absorbed, until it was brought to the clear expression of the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed.” [3]

Anti-Trinitarians share the stage with other cultists  such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, The Way International, Christadelphians, etc. who all deny the Trinity, claiming it was not mentioned until the time of the Council of Nicea (325). While we needn’t expect vile godless heretics to be persuaded by facts, the following quotes prove the doctrine of the Trinity existed many years before the Council of Nicea of 325 AD:

Ignatius of Antioch (died 98/117).  Bishop of Antioch.  He wrote much in defense of Christianity. “In Christ Jesus our Lord, by whom and with whom be glory and power to the Father with the Holy Spirit for ever” (n. 7; PG 5.988). “We have also as a Physician the Lord our God Jesus the Christ the only-begotten Son and Word, before time began, but who afterwards became also man, of Mary the virgin.  For ‘the Word was made flesh.’ Being incorporeal, He was in the body; being impassible, He was in a passable body; being immortal, He was in a mortal body; being life, He became subject to corruption, that He might free our souls from death and corruption, and heal them, and might restore them to health, when they were diseased with ungodliness and wicked lusts.” (Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, eds., The ante-Nicene Fathers, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975 rpt., Vol. 1, p. 52)

Polycarp (70-155/160).  Bishop of Smyrna.  Disciple of John the Apostle. “O Lord God almighty… I bless you and glorify you through the eternal and heavenly high priest Jesus Christ, your beloved Son, through whom be glory to you, with Him and the Holy Spirit, both now and forever” (n. 14, ed. Funk; PG 5.1040).

Justin Martyr (100?-165).  He was a Christian apologist and martyr. “For, in the name of God, the Father and Lord of the universe, and of our Savior Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, they then receive the washing with water” (First Apol., LXI).

Theophilus of Antioch (169-181) Theophilus of Antioch’s Ad Autolycum is the oldest extant work that uses the actual word “Trinity” to refer to Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The context is a discussion of the first three days of creation in Genesis 1-3. “It is the attribute of God, of the most high and almighty and of the living God, not only to be everywhere, but also to see and hear all; for he can in no way be contained in a place…. The three days before the luminaries were created are types of the Trinity, God, his Word, and his Wisdom.” [4]

Irenaeus (115-190).  As a boy he listened to Polycarp, the disciple of John.  He became Bishop of Lyons. “The Church, though dispersed throughout the whole world, even to the ends of the earth, has received from the apostles and their disciples this faith: …one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them; and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who became incarnate for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit, who proclaimed through the prophets the dispensations of God, and the advents, and the birth from a virgin, and the passion, and the resurrection from the dead, and the ascension into heaven in the flesh of the beloved Christ Jesus, our Lord, and His manifestation from heaven in the glory of the Father ‘to gather all things in one,’ and to raise up anew all flesh of the whole human race, in order that to Christ Jesus, our Lord, and God, and Savior, and King, according to the will of the invisible Father, ‘every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess; to him, and that He should execute just judgment towards all…'” (Against Heresies X.l)

Tertullian (160-215). African apologist and theologian.  He wrote much in defense of Christianity. “We define that there are two, the Father and the Son, and three with the Holy Spirit, and this number is made by the pattern of salvation… [which] brings about unity in trinity, interrelating the three, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  They are three, not in dignity, but in degree, not in substance but in form, not in power but in kind.  They are of one substance and power, because there is one God from whom these degrees, forms and kinds devolve in the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” (Adv. Prax. 23; PL 2.156-7).

Misc Writings. “For if [the Holy Spirit were not eternally as He is, and had received knowledge at some time and then became the Holy Spirit] this were the case, the Holy Spirit would never be reckoned in the unity of the Trinity, i.e., along with the unchangeable Father and His Son, unless He had always been the Holy Spirit.” (Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, eds., The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975 rpt., Vol. 4, p. 253, de Principiis, 1.111.4)

“Moreover, nothing in the Trinity can be called greater or less, since the fountain of divinity alone contains all things by His word and reason, and by the Spirit of His mouth sanctifies all things which are worthy of sanctification…” (Roberts and Donaldson, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 4, p. 255, de Principii., I. iii. 7).

Summary Analysis: Anti-Trinitarians are in error either through spiritual blindness (1 Cor. 2:12-14) or bald faced factual dishonesty. The doctrine of the trinity is clearly taught in Scripture and by the early church. However, heretical cults claim it should be rejected because it can’t be understood and it didn’t exist until the Councils of Nicea (325 AD) and Council of Constantinople (360 A.D). Admittedly the early church didn’t create an official apologetic for the trinity until Constantinople, first because it had been declared the enemy of Rome and was considered illegal; and second, because there wasn’t a need until anti-Trinitarian heretics began circulating through the church assailing it- just as they are today. The Councils of Nicea and later Constantinople didn’t create the doctrine of the trinity, they merely settled it.

We conclude, therefore, that if Anti-Trinitarians wish to continue their vicious attacks against the doctrine of the trinity they must- in all honesty- do so by means other than Scripturally or historically.

[1] This list is by far not exhaustive.

[2] We have these Old Scofield Study Bibles in bonded leather, KJV, available for a gift to PMI of $30 to help us minister to you and others. Please remember, when you order from us, you help support us. Stamps are welcome.

[3] Schaff, Philip, History of the Christian Church, Vol. 1: Apostolic Christianity, A.D. 1-100, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, rpt. 2006) p. 10.

[4] Wikipedia

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