What is the doctrine of the Trinity? Is it necessary to believe in this doctrine? Does the Old Testament reveal a three-in-one God? Does the New Testament teach the doctrine of the Trinity? How does the New Testament specifically defend the doctrine of the deity of Jesus? This article is an in-depth study of the doctrine of the Trinity.

2014. 14 pages. Transcribed by Jeanette de Vente. Transcription started at 2:27 and stopped at 1:00:31.

The Trinity School of Theology Series: Lecture 15

The doctrine of the Trinity. Let’s begin on page two [of the handout].


I have a few allusions here to some important creeds. I chose a Polish Catechism to begin with: The Racovian Catechism of 1605. This was a catechism that made its rounds in the seventeenth century, and the English Parliament voted to seize and burn copies of the Racovian Catechism that was circulating. At the time of the writing of the Westminster Confession in the 1640s, there were in fact a number of Trinitarian issues floating around: One known as Socinianism, and another through the influence of this Racovian Catechism.

Prove to me that in the case of the essence of God, there is but one person?

This indeed may be seen from hence, that the essence of God is one, not in kind but in number. Wherefore it cannot, in any way, contain a plurality of persons, since a person is nothing else than individual intelligent essence. Wherever, then, there exist three numerical persons, there must necessarily, in like manner, be reckoned three individual essences; for in the same sense in which it is affirmed that there is one numerical essence, it must be held that there is also one numerical person.Racovian Catechism, 1605

This is Unitarianism. This is the Racovian Catechism saying: If there is one essence/substance of God (“God-ness”), then there can only be one person.

It is against that kind of thinking that the early Church creeds [were written]—the Athanasian Creed of around 500 A.D. and perhaps the more familiar Nicene Creed (or to be more accurate, the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed) of 381 A.D. These are creeds that define for us in very precise terms the nature of the doctrine of the Trinity.

(Transcription of audio file from 05:12 to 05:32 omitted.)

Is the Doctrine of the Trinity Necessary?🔗

Let’s get into some of the issues. First of all: Is the doctrine necessary?


If we begin with the fundamental statement of the Old Testament, we probably would go to Deuteronomy 6:4 (this is the Shema of Israel that Orthodox Jews would recite three times a day): “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” [There are] similar statements. I will just pick out a few of these references. Isaiah 45:5: “I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God.” In distinction from all of the nations around Israel with their polytheism, their multiplicity of gods, Israel distinguished herself by being insistently monotheistic. There is only one God, and every other god is an idol.

That is one truth that Scripture teaches. It is absolutely insistent on monotheism. There is only one God. There are not two gods or three gods or four gods. There is only one God. That is an absolute within the Scriptures.

There Is More Than One Who Is Called God🔗

But then in addition to that, Scripture posits another truth: That there is more than One who is that one God. There is more than One who is called God. Jesus, at the Great Commission in Matthew 28, prescribes baptism in the one name (not in the names, in the plural, but in the one name) of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. In addition to the Father, Jesus is also called God (John 20:28-31, Thomas’ post-resurrection affirmation: “My Lord and my God”). The Father is God; the Son is God. And then not long after Pentecost, Peter recognizes that to lie against the Holy Spirit is to lie against God (Acts 5:3-4, the accusation that is made in the case of Ananias and Sapphira). So you have the benediction of 2 Corinthians 13:14: “The grace of the Lord Jesus and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”

There is only one God, and yet there is more than One who is called God. The Father is called God; the Son is called God; the Holy Spirit is called God. And yet there is only one God. There are three who are one; there is one who is also three. There is a three-in-oneness truth being asserted in the Scripture.

You may say, “I don’t understand this,” but it is not important that you understand it. It is important that you believe it. It is important that you see what Scripture is teaching here. And Scripture is teaching us two truths which seemingly (at least to us) may appear to be a contradiction. But they are not a contradiction. They are held together in the mind and being of God in absolute perfection.

There Is One God, and There I “More Than Oneness” in the One God🔗

So there is one God, and there is more than oneness in the one God. There is plurality within the oneness. Those are just the facts of the Bible. The Bible teaches that there is one God, and the Bible teaches that there is more than One who is that one God.

And this plurality is more than plurality of functions, or a plurality of attributes, or a plurality of aspects of God. There is a sense in the Bible in which the three relate to each other in a way that looks to us like communion/fellowship. They talk to each other. They communicate with each other. They have discourse with each other. Within the one God, there is communication. And it is not as though God is simply talking to Himself. In a sense He is talking to Himself, but in another sense too there is differentiation, there is separation and there is discernible identity (a differentiation of identity) within the one God.

Two Questions🔗

That raises some questions (and they are not easy questions): What is the relationship of the three to the one (the one God, the one essence), and what is the relationship of the three to each other (how does the Father relate to the Son; how does the Son relate to the Father, and to the Holy Spirit, and so on)?

Now, those two questions are raised not by philosophy, they are raised by Scripture itself. We have not engaged in any sleight of hand or in any magical hermeneutic in trying to understand the Bible here. We are just trying to put two truths that the Bible portrays/teaches/conveys to us [together]. God reveals/discloses Himself as one and three, as three in one. If Jesus is God, how does He as God relate to God the Father?

One possible answer to that question is that He is a different God, in which case you have two Gods. Jews and Muslims regard the doctrine of the Trinity as inherently polytheistic. That is the charge that Jews and Muslims will make against Christianity. That is one reason why John Stott, for example, has often (in print and other places) played down [the doctrine of the Trinity]. He never denied the doctrine of the Trinity, but he did play it down in the interest of trying to witness to Jews and to Islam. So we need to ask ourselves this question: How does Jesus as God relate to God the Father? One answer is that He relates to Him as a different God. That would lead to polytheism.

Or is Jesus perhaps less than God? God-like perhaps? God in the sense of a God to us, but not God in the sense of God the Father? A superman, or an uberman; something less than God the Father? If that is true, the extent that Jesus is less than God is the extent to which (a) He has no right to demand worship of us and (b) we have no right to offer Him worship. That, by the way, was the point made by Athanasius in the great Christological debates of the early Church. It is because Jesus is God that He demands to be worshipped. It is the right thing; and it is the appropriate thing. When people fell down and worshipped Him in the pages of the Gospels, Jesus never says that is inappropriate. He saw it as something that was essentially appropriate because He was indeed God.

Is the Doctrine of the Trinity Taught in the Old Testament?🔗

Is the doctrine of the Trinity taught in the Old Testament?

Shema Israel🔗

We have already alluded to Deuteronomy 6:4 and the shema. It was the great distinctive of Judaism that they were insistently monotheistic, regarding all the “gods” (the claims to deity) by the nations that surrounded them as so much idolatry. They were exclusive monotheists.

The Bible begins with creation: The God of Israel is the only God there is. He is not simply the God of Israel (i.e., Jehovah is the God of Israel and Molech is the god of some other nation, etc.). No. When the Bible tells the story, it begins with this one God as the Creator of the heavens and the earth, as the only God there is. That is how the story of the Bible begins. So when we read Genesis 1, the One who created the heavens and the earth is Jesus of Nazareth, the second person of the Trinity. Jesus is that one God. Now, He is not the only One who is that one God, but Jesus is that one God.


We are familiar with Augustine’s famous statement: “The new is latent in the old, the old is patent in the new.” It is sometimes misunderstood partly I think because “latent” and “patent” as Augustine was using the term (he would have been using it in Latin) means something a little different from what is customarily thought by that statement. “What is hidden in the old is open/revealed in the new.” Another one of Augustine’s ways of describing the old in relationship to the new is that the Old Testament is like a room full of furniture, but the lights are out. And what happens in the pages of the New Testament with the coming of Jesus and the incarnation of Jesus in the Christmas story is that suddenly someone has brought some candles into the room, has brought light into the room, and all the furniture is there. It had been there all long, except that you could not see it, but perhaps you had only seen vague shapes of that furniture.


The predominant name for God in the Old Testament is the name Elohim (in our English Bibles: Lord). The “-im” in Hebrew is the plural form. “El” is the generic name for God in Hebrew. Elohim is the plural form. It is a bit like saying my name is “Dereks.” God’s name is Elohim. You might say, “How useful and convenient indeed that God should give Himself a name that is actual in the plural form!” Even though there is only one God, it is [a name that] is consonant with the fact that there is more than One who is that one God.

Genesis 1:26🔗

Or Genesis 1:26: “Let us make man in our image.” There are some theologians (Meredith Kline, for example) that regard the “us” there as a reference to angels. So God is conferring with the angels: “Let us make man in our image.” That is a rather weird and strange interpretation. I think a more natural interpretation is to see that as God communicating within Himself. It is perfectly consonant (if there is more than One who is the one God) that that kind of conversation/communication can take place within the Godhead. God is conferring. The Father is communicating with the Son; the Son is communicating with the Father. There is a similar reference at the end of the famous Isaiah 6 passage (Isaiah 6:8): “I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’” There it is again in the plural.

The Angel of the Lord🔗

We are not going to look at all of these passages [in the handout], but [think of] the Angel of the Lord phenomenon that you see especially in the patriarchal narratives (the Malak Yahweh). Sometimes as you read the narrative, the Angel of the Lord is God Himself, and sometimes the Angel of the Lord appears to be someone other than God (sometimes speaking of God in the third person). In Genesis 16:11, the Angel of the Lord appears to Hagar and says to her, “Behold, you are pregnant and shall bear a son. You shall call his name Ishmael, because the LORD has listened to your affliction.” The Lord is in the third person here, so [it seems that] he is speaking about someone else. But then in other passages the Angel of the Lord is the Lord Himself. I have given you some references [in the handout] that you can chase after. [This is] that phenomenon of the Angel of the Lord as a theophany.

(Transcription of audio file from 20:45 to 21:00 omitted.)

B.B. Warfield🔗

B.B. Warfield says: “An underlying suggestion of a three-fold causality.” Psalm 33:6: “By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host.” You have the “Lord,” you have the “word,” and you have “breath.” Warfield sees in that an underlying suggestion of a three-fold cause. I am not absolutely convinced about the exegesis of that. But certainly there are these hints of three-fold causality in the Old Testament.

Personal Hypostases within God in the Old Testament🔗

Personal hypostases within God in the Old Testament: That there is a plurality within the essence of God. Proverbs 8 is often suggested, where wisdom is personified. Wisdom takes on personification, as though it is more than just some generic wisdom that is in view, but a person who is wise. Again, I am not absolutely persuaded by that. We find in the New Testament Christ as the wisdom of God for sure, but we also speak of Christ as the “power” of God and we do not in that case make power to be a personification in any sense. But that is another avenue of the Old Testament for the doctrine of the Trinity.

Promises of a Divine Messiah🔗

The promises of a divine Messiah (not just the promises of a Messiah, but that the Messiah who will come will be divine). Psalm 110:1: “The LORD says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.’” There is the LORD who is communicating with another who is also Lord, who is given total sovereignty (to whom total sovereignty in the universe belongs). There is a suggestion here that there is a deity (a “divineness”) that belongs to Messiah Himself. There is a similar suggestion in Daniel 7:13-14 and several other passages.

However, the Doctrine of the Trinity Is Not Self-Evident in the Old Testament🔗

Now, on the top of page 6 [of the handout], here is my caveat in all of that. We need to be very careful how we utilize that information. No Jew (and I do not mean an unbelieving Jew, I mean a believing Jew; somebody like Moses, or David, or Isaiah, or Ezekiel, or Daniel, or one of the minor prophets) in the Old Testament with simply the Old Testament before him ever, ever, ever suggested that there is plurality within God!

The information is all there. We look at Genesis and we see that the first name that God gives is Elohim in the plural. Well, how convenient—there is plurality within the one God. But while that may be obvious to us, it is only obvious to us after Luke 24 and after the hermeneutic that Jesus provides. We go back to the Old Testament carrying the candles that Augustine talks about, and now we see with a veil taken away truths that even godly Jews did not see with only the Old Testament before them.

So I think that should put a little brake on what we see in the Old Testament and the extent to which we see it. We see things in the Old Testament because we are now interpreting it in the light of and with the governing hermeneutic of the New Testament Scriptures. That is very important. The doctrine of the Trinity is not self-evident in itself in the Old Testament. But the doctrine of the Trinity is taught in the Old Testament if you have New Testament eyes to see it.

The Trinity in the New Testament🔗

Let’s move on to the Trinity in the New Testament.

1 John 5:7 (KJV)🔗

If you have a King James Version, all you need is 1 John 5:7-8 and you are home and dry. 1 John 5:7-8: “For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.” That is it. It is perfect. It is clear. Except there is a huge textual issue with this text! If you have the ESV, after the comma after heaven, the rest of that text is not there (it might be in a footnote somewhere). Because there is a great deal of mistrust as to the origin of this particular text. It is not in the more important manuscripts, for sure. It looks as though someone later, in order to bolster the doctrine of the Trinity, inserted this little addition to make it absolutely clear that the New Testament is teaching the doctrine of the Trinity. This is the so-called Johannine Comma.

The Doctrine of the Trinity as Presupposed in the New Testament🔗

I love this statement by B.B. Warfield: “The doctrine of the Trinity does not appear in the New Testament in the making, but as already made” (Biblical Doctrines, 1981). That is a wonderful observation. You [often] find in the New Testament writers spending a great deal of time trying to prove something. Paul, for example, takes four chapters in Romans to prove the universality of sin (that Jews and Gentiles are sinners). But there is nothing like that in the New Testament for the doctrine of the Trinity. There is nothing like that for the deity of Christ, or perhaps even more problematic, the deity of the Holy Spirit. It is simply asserted. So that by the time Paul is writing, by the time Peter is writing, by the time John is writing, this was already accepted in the Church. It was already doctrine that was accepted.

That in itself is quite remarkable, since the New Testament writers and the early New Testament believers are Jews—Jews who would have held stubbornly to monotheism! Who had read the Old Testament from beginning to end as insisting on strict monotheism! And all of a sudden, now they are saying that the Father is God, and Jesus is God, and the Holy Spirit is God. That is a staggering feature of the New Testament, and a testimony to the power of the witness that Jesus gave to these early disciples. It was beyond dispute. It was a part of accepted doctrine among New Testament believers.

New Testament Terminology🔗

Thirdly, the New Testament does not contain any of the technical terms we now associate with the doctrine of “three-in-one-ness”—terms like Trinity, person, hypostasis, substantial, essence, nature, etc. These are some of the words that we commonly employ when we try and describe the doctrine of the Trinity. They are the words used, for example, in the creeds. But they are not New Testament words.

Trinity and the Experience of Salvation🔗

The doctrine of the Trinity appears in the New Testament in particular in the way the New Testament explains and elaborates the experience of salvation. You see it very graphically in Ephesians 1. Ephesians 1 says a great deal about the Father, and then it says a great deal about the Son, and then it says a great deal about the Holy Spirit. The Father who predestines (verse 3), the Son who redeems (verse 7), and the Spirit who seals (verse 13) is part of what Ephesians 1 is all about. In the accomplishment and application of redemption, these three—the Father, the Son and the Spirit—are all employed in bringing salvation and making it effective within the individual. That is the predominant way in which the New Testament goes about describing the existence and work of the Trinity.

New Testament Doctrine of the Trinity and the Deity of Jesus🔗

The New Testament doctrine of the Trinity merges in particular as a consequence of the deity of Jesus. That is the most important feature of the New Testament. The fact is that the New Testament is insistent that Jesus is God. Jesus also addresses His Father, who is also God. And there is only one God. That information alone forces the New Testament into a plurality within the one God.

The Deity of Christ🔗

The deity of Christ. There is information here [in the handout] that belongs here in the doctrine of the Trinity. There is information here [in the handout] that also belongs to a course on Christology (if we were looking at the person and work of Christ). We will be doing that sometime in the future. But I wanted to give you some of the evidence (and I have given you a lot of evidence here) on the absolute insistence in the New Testament on the deity of Christ. First of all, in terms of divine titles that Jesus has.


Theos is the Greek word for God. On Sunday morning, Dr Ferguson was looking at the prologue of John: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (1:1). If a Jehovah Witness knocks on the door, have this [handout] handy, and you can explain to him why there is what is called the predicate before the verb, and therefore lacks the article. It is not that Jesus was a god or God-like, but that He was God, the only God there is. And there is a perfectly reasonable Greek grammar explanation for why John does it the way that he does. Because if he did it the way that Jehovah Witnesses sometimes suggest that he should have done it, you would have ended up with John saying that the Father is the logos (which is what John is not saying) or that the logos includes the entirety of the Godhead (which is not what John is saying either). There is God with God, and yet there is only one God. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God”—God with God. Almost “side by side” with God. Actually, it is more likely to be a preposition of movement; suggesting God moving towards God. And yet there is only one God.

[Maybe] your mind is stretching and you can’t take that in, and yet you would only need to study basic Greek for an hour (a vocabulary of twenty words, a little bit of basic grammar of tenses) and you could translate John 1:1 in Greek in a hurry. It is very simple and basic. The words are very small. And yet, as Augustine wrote about the doctrine of the Trinity: “I see the depths, but I cannot see the bottom.” John’s prologue is a place where children can paddle and a place where elephants can swim.

John 1:18: “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.” It is a very strong statement that Jesus is God. “God, who is at the Father’s side”—the Father is God, and yet there is God at the Father’s side. And yet there are not two Gods; there is only one God. It is a strong statement on the deity of Jesus.

Thomas’ words in John 20:28: “My Lord and my God!”

Romans 9:5: “To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.” You need to check your [Bible] version as to the punctuation. Sometimes a period is introduced into the punctuation after the word Christ (“…according to the flesh, is the Christ. God, who is over all, be blessed forever”), and then “God” would be a reference not to Christ, but to the Father. But the ESV (I think correctly) punctuates it in this way, with a comma after Christ, suggesting that “God” in the next clause is actually referring to Christ (“…Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever”).


Then not only Theos, but perhaps more especially: Kurios. Kurios is the Greek word that was used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament to translate the divine name Yahweh/Jehovah (the Tetragrammaton; the name that God gives in Exodus 3; the covenant name of God). It is quite breathtaking. There is a great deal of criticism in liberal Christology about all of this. But the New Testament is abundantly clear here. The New Testament does in fact use the term kurios (Lord), the divine name. Greek speakers (especially Jewish Greek speakers) would read their Old Testament not in Hebrew, but in a Greek translation, and kurios was the translation for the divine name Jehovah. So when they read that Jesus is kurios, what they are hearing is: Jesus is Yahweh/Jehovah.

James 1:2; 2:1: “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.… My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord [kurios] of glory.” The Lord of glory! Now, just bear in mind that James is Jesus’ brother (half-brother if you want to be technical about it, but he is Jesus’ brother). He was raised in the same house as Jesus. He probably slept in the same room as Jesus. He ate at the same table with Jesus. He played outside as a little boy with Jesus. I have an older brother. I love him. I respect him. I am somewhat in fear of him. He is ex-military (he was twenty-five years in the army) and has that military kind of disposition. But it never occurred to me to call him “Lord”! And certainly not Yahweh or Jehovah! He is many things to me, but he is not Yahweh or Jehovah. The fact that James would call his own brother Yahweh (kurios) is breathtaking! If you put me up against the wall and said, “Why do you believe that Jesus is God?” that would be one of the reasons. His own brother believed Him to be God. My older brother knows more about me than I would want you to know. He knew what I did when I was a young boy. He knew what I did when I was a teenager. We did things together. He could tell some stories—and some of them would be embarrassing stories, to be honest about it. I wasn’t a Christian. The fact that James calls Jesus kurios (Yahweh for a Greek speaking Jew) is breathtaking. It takes my breath away every time I think about it.

And then the confession of the early Church. It becomes a confession, a little creed. Early Christians would say, “Jesus is Lord.” 1 Corinthians 12:3: “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit.” There is something similar in Romans 10:9.

What does kurios signify? It signifies many things, not least a consideration of how they would view the name kurios with Yahweh in the Old Testament. That is basically what I am getting at on page 9 [of the handout]. There are three passages. Mark 1:2 is a reference to Malachi 3:1, and it is speaking of Jesus as “Lord” where in the Old Testament reference the name is Yahweh/Jehovah. So you have Mark doing it in Mark 1, referring to a passage in Malachi 3. You have Peter doing it in his Pentecost sermon (Acts 2:21ff), referring to a passage in Joel 2 (Joel 2:32). And then in Philippians 2:10 the same thing is happening, where it is referring to Isaiah 45:23: “So that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” “At the name of Jesus…”—‘Jesus’ isn’t the name here. “At the name of Jesus every knee should bow…and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord”—that is the name! That Jesus is kurios. In Philippians 2 (the Carmen Cristi, the song of Christ), there is coming a day where every tongue will confess—whether they believe it and worship, or whether they now believe it and gnash their teeth in hell—that Jesus is Yahweh. He is kurios.

The “I AM” Sayings in John🔗

The “I AM” sayings. Whatever you make of the “I AM” sayings, I personally think that John is picking up language of Yahweh in Exodus 3. When God reveals His divine name, it sounds like the verb “to be” (“I AM THAT I AM,” and then it get shortened to “I AM”). I think Jesus is making a very deliberate reference to the “I AM” in Exodus 3.

Others are not so convinced of this.

(Transcription of audio file from 43:02 to 43:16 omitted.)

All of that information is proving the deity of Jesus. And it is the deity of Jesus that raises the issue of the Trinity. If the Father is God and Jesus is God, then you already have a problem here: That there is more than One to whom you may attribute the term God, and yet there is only one God.

The Holy Spirit in the New Testament🔗

A similar issue is raised with the deity of the Holy Spirit. There are lots of reasons why we think of the Holy Spirit in terms of a divine person within the Godhead. 1. In the baptism of Jesus, the key issue is the distinctiveness of the Holy Spirit. 2. The Great Commission in Matthew 28:19: “Baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” 3. The extent of the punishment of Ananias and Sapphira: They lied to the Holy Spirit and they die as a consequence. 4. The commissioning of Saul and Barnabas in Acts 13 and the role of the Holy Spirit. There are lots of reasons why the New Testament says that the Holy Spirit too is divine and to be distinguished from the Father and from the Son.


Let’s think a little bit about some heretical ways of bringing this material together.


One way of bringing this material together is known as Adoptionism. There have been Adoptionists in the past and there are Adoptionists in the present. [This belief says] that Jesus was a man upon whom the Spirit came. He is not God in the sense that He has always been God and that before the creation of the world there was God and Jesus was God. [Instead], God the Father adopts this person. He is an extraordinary person to be sure, but he is something less than God. And there are various forms of Adoptianism, but all of them end up with a view of Jesus that is less than true God.


Patripassionism emerged around the year 200 A.D. from a man by the name of Praxeus, with whom a great deal of correspondence took place and controversy with Tertullian, out of which the doctrine of the Trinity emerges. Patripassionism says that it was the Father who suffered on the cross. So it submerges Jesus and it submerges the Holy Spirit, and the one predominant person here is the Father, so that the Father becomes everything.


Sabellianism is a third one (sometimes known as Modalistic Monarcianism). It comes from a person by the name of Sabellius (early third century). Sometimes this is known simply as Modalism, or “moodalism” (Michael Reeves, Delighting in the Trinity). There is something of that in Karl Barth. I have said some negative things about Karl Barth already in this course, and certainly here I think I would be fairly negative about Karl Barth. Karl Barth distrusted traditional creedal use of terms like “persons,” “substance,” “essence,” and so on. And I think Karl Barth sometimes ends up in the Modalist view of the Trinity. It is sometimes called the “Peter Sellers” view of the Trinity. Peter Sellers is the British actor who played Inspector Clouseau in the Pink Panther, and he would come on sometimes as different parts. The same actor (one actor, one person) with different roles. So the “Peter Sellers” view of the Trinity is that there is one person here, but sometimes He appears as Father and sometimes He appears as Son and sometimes He appears as Holy Spirit., but never three at the same time. That is the Modalism view of the Trinity.


We will look at Arianism when we look at Christology. Whether he actually said this or not, Athanasius claimed that Arius said: “There was a time when the Son was not.” In other words: Great as Christ is, at the end of the day He is a created being. He is above Michael and Gabriel and the archangels, but at the end of the day He is a created being.


Pneumatomachianism. It is two words: “pneuma” (Spirit), and the Greek word “to kill” or “to slay.” These are the Spirit slayers. These were folks who upheld the deity of the Father and the deity of the Son but would not uphold the deity of the Spirit. This was a heresy condemned at the Council of Constantinople.

Clarity of Expression🔗

So that we are clear here what the doctrine of the Trinity means, let’s think about some statements. There are three, and there is one. There is oneness, and there is threeness. The three are one in essence, not in person. The three persons are one by unity of essence. There are three, but in terms of their essence they are one. When we talk about the doctrine of the Trinity and we explore what Scripture teaches about the Trinity, what we see is that God cannot be other than Triune. It is the way He is. God exists Trinitarian—He always has and He always will. When you look at the nature of creation, the creation of the world can only be because God is Triune. The way redemption [and] the gospel is explained in the pages of the Scripture, the gospel that we see in Scripture is a gospel that could only be and could only work and could only have the contours and shape that it does because God is Triune. If God was not Triune, the shape of the gospel would have to be different. God is necessarily Triune just as the way of the gospel is necessarily the way that it is.

If Scripture teaches that God is Triune, we must worship Him in a Triune fashion (i.e., in our praying and in our speaking of Him). That is why for centuries gathered corporate worship has always begun with a hymn expressing the Triune nature of God (that God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit). That is why we began singing the hymn based on the Te Deum at the beginning of our lecture this evening.

What Does “Person” Mean?🔗

So there is one God/essence/substance (whatever you want to call it), but there is also threeness. And those Three appear to have properties that we think of in terms of what we think of when we say “person.” They are not three attributes; they are not three phases; they are Three who communicate with each other. There are three personal substances/hypostases within God.

We are just throwing out terms here. If you were in the early Church and you happened to be in the West, you would be speaking Latin, so you would use a Latin term (and the term that came up was a term proposed by Tertullian): person. If you were in the East, you would be speaking Greek and probably did not know Latin (just as those in the West who were speaking Latin did not speak Greek, i.e., I do not think Augustine spoke any Greek at all). So you have two sides of the Church, and one is using the term “person” and the other side of the Church is using “hypostasis.” There is a whole story in that in and of itself, because the Latin folk could not translate the Greek correctly and were accusing each other of heresy left and right because of a lost in translation issue!

What does “person” mean? What do we mean when we say “person”? Let me suggest four things when we use the term “person.”


First, we use it to underline distinction. The Father is not the Son; the Son is not the Spirit; the Spirit is not the Son or the Father. They are distinct. They are essentially distinct. That is what we mean when we say “person.” There is distinction. Within the oneness there is distinction. One is not the other.


Secondly, agency. Each distinction is an agent. We can say, “He did it,” meaning, “The Father did it,” or “He did it,” meaning the Son did it, or “He did it,” meaning the Holy Spirit did it. There is agency.

Although there is agency, all the work that God does outside of Himself involves all three persons. So you have this little formula: Opera ad extra trinitatis indivisa sunt. It is a wonderful little phrase; it is a very important phrase. “The external operations/works of the Trinity cannot be divided.”


Thirdly, there is relationship. They do not relate as ideas or like chemicals relate to each other. They have a specific kind of relationship, which from a human point of view is best thought of as the kind of relationship that individual persons have with each other. If you were in the Eastern Church you would have called it perichoresis; if you were in the Western Church you would have called it circumincessio (one is Greek; one is Latin). [It is] the dance of the Trinity. [Think of] the question that Augustine was asked: What was God doing before He created the world? God is in love within Himself. The Father loves the Son. The Son loves the Father. They were gazing into each other’s eyes. They were communicating with each other. They were discussing together the mysteries of what it would mean to create a universe like the one that we know. There is communication. And all we are doing is pulling the curtains back and just trying to glimpse something that is unglimpsable and that is essentially incomprehensible.

(Transcription of audio file from 56:16 to 56:21 omitted.)

A Unique Incommunicable Property🔗

The fourth thing we mean by “person” is that each has a unique incommunicable property. Each appropriates to Himself a unique incommunicable property. The Son we speak of as begotten. The Father we speak of as unbegotten. The Spirit we speak of as proceeding. The Father is unbegotten; the Son is begotten; the Spirit proceeds. Now, don’t ask me to explain what any of that means, but you are necessarily forced into those areas. And the creeds are defining the boundaries here.

Some Practical Implications🔗

Are there practical considerations for the doctrine of the Trinity? Yes, a whole lot. Think of communion/fellowship. God exists in fellowship. God has always existed in fellowship. God has always been communicating within Himself—the Father to the Son, the Son to the Father, the Spirit to the Father and the Son. There has always been communion. There has always been love. So when God says, “Let us make man in our image,” what kind of creature does He create? He creates somebody who is in communion, who needs fellowship, who needs love and is capable of giving love! So the love that you have for your newborn grandchild or the love that you have for your spouse or for your children is just a little spark of that great fire that kindles within God Himself. That is all it is. It is just a little spark of the flame that engulfs the Godhead Himself. That is why God says it is not good for man to be alone, because in that way in some capacity he does not reflect fully God as He is within Himself. Do you see the importance of the doctrine of the Trinity?

(Transcription of audio file from 59:23 to 59:58 and 01:00:09 to 01:00:20 omitted.)

We need to be intentional, if we are Trinitarian (and we are!). The Athanasian Creed said you cannot be saved if you do not believe in the doctrine of the Trinity. That means that when we pray, we pray to the Father through the Son by the help of the Holy Spirit. We are intentionally Trinitarian.

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