The Trinity

Last month I wrote a couple of posts about our class on the attributes of God. If you don’t remember them, here are the links:

The Attributes of God

The Attributes of God part 2

In the final lesson of that class we discussed the trinity. No study of God is complete without addressing this doctrine which is the foundation on which the Christian church rests. Although the word “trinity” is never used in the Bible, there are a number of references to the three-fold nature of God. The one cited most often is in the book of Mark:

“At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.  And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”” Mark 1:9-11

We see here three names and 3 actions: Jesus is baptized, God speaks, and the Spirit descends.

After the death and resurrection of Christ many heresies about the trinity arose. Here’s a brief synopsis of some of the more prevalent misconceptions:

  1. Modalism — the three persons of the trinity have separate functions: creator (the Father), redeemer (Jesus) and comforter (the Spirit). In fact, all three persons are involved in every function.
  2. Subordinationism–the Spirit and Jesus are subordinate to the Father.
  3. Tritheism–the three persons are separate and are in effect three Gods

Many analogies have been used to try and explain the mystery of the Trinity. It has been likened to water, steam and ice, which all have the same chemical makeup; a triangle which has 3 sides but is one triangle; or the clover, three leaves but one plant.

To combat different false teachings in the early church, a number of ecumenical councils were convened. At the first Council of Nicaea (325) the doctrine of the Trinity was addressed and defined in the Nicaean Creed. If you’re a Lutheran, you probably recite this almost every week during the worship service. Don’t skip over this lightly! Repeating and understanding the creeds helps us to remember exactly what we believe.

False teaching is still out there, alive and well. Often it sounds good and makes sense to our limited understanding. So know what you believe and why, starting with the Trinity.

For more about the Trinity see:

John Donne on the Trinity

An Image of the Trinity

Lutherans Explain the Trinity

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