A Website for Basic Christian Doctrine

What is the Trinity?

By Jeremy Cagle

It is an astounding fact that every cult and false religion in the world hates the idea of the Trinity.  If one was looking for a common thread that unites all the non-Christian religions in the world, this would be it.  They either deny or ridicule or misunderstand the Trinity.  For example, the religion of Islam does this in The Koran 4:171:

Speak nothing but the truth about God. The Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, was no more than God’s apostle and His Word which He cast to Mary: a spirit from Him, so believe in God and His apostles but do not say, “Three.” Forbear, and it shall be better for you. God forbid that He should have a Son!1

The cult of Mormonism despises the Trinity as well.  In his writings, Joseph Smith said:

Many men say that there is one God; the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost are only one God. I say that is a strange God – three in one and one in three. It is curious organization. All are crammed into one God.2

Christian Science falls into line with these other ones.  In Mary Baker Eddy’s book, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, it tells us that:

The theory of three persons in one God (that is, a personal Trinity or tri-unity) suggests polytheism, rather than the one ever-present I AM.3

The Jehovah’s Witness say a similar thing in their publications.  In Let God be True, they give the following words:

Satan is the originator of the Trinity doctrine . . . sincere persons who want to know the true God and serve Him find it a bit difficult to love and worship a complicated, freakish-looking, three-headed God . . . the plain truth is that the Trinity is another of Satan’s attempts to keep God-fearing persons from learning the truth of Jehovah.4

Finally, the Worldwide Church of God echoes these other passages.  In one of his writings, Herbert W. Armstrong states:

Christ is God! God Almighty His Father is god. They are two separate and individual Persons . . . I suppose most people think of God as one single individual Person. Or as a “trinity.” This is not true.5

All of the cults and false religions have one thing in common: they all deny the doctrine of the Trinity.  They all hate the God of the Christian religion.  As Walter Martin put it in his book, The Kingdom of the Cults:

One prominent trait of all non-Christian religions and cults is their pointed denial of the Scriptural doctrine of the Trinity and the Deity of Jesus Christ.6

Yet, despite such opposition, the church has unashamedly taught this doctrine throughout its history because it is found in the Bible.

When Christians say that God is a Trinity, they mean that “God is one God in three Persons.”7  God is one God represented in three distinct individuals.8  God is God the Father and God is God the Son and God is God the Holy Spirit.  The word “Trinity” is borrowed from the Latin word Trinitas,9 which is a combination of the word tri meaning “three, threefold, or triple” and unus meaning “one.”  God is tri-une.  He is Trinitas.  He is one God in three distinct Persons that are each fully God.

The Trinity can be compared to a marriage relationship.  While a husband and wife both have the same essence, they have different roles.  While they are both human beings, their humanity expresses itself in different ways.  It is similar with the members of the Trinity.  Each member is equal in essence but some members play a subordinate role to other members, which is where some of the ridicule comes from with regard to cults and other religions.

Now before exploring this a little more, it needs to be said that to explain the Trinity is to explain a mystery.10  There are things about the trinity that cannot be known but that does not mean that we can know nothing.  It does not mean that we should throw the whole doctrine out the window.

To say this another way, the Trinity is a mystery but it is not a contradiction.  There are secrets within this doctrine but the doctrine itself is not one big secret.  To quote from Wayne Grudem,

Scripture does not ask us to believe in a contradiction. A contradiction would be, “There is one God and there is not one God,” or “God is three persons and God is not three persons” or even “God is three persons and God is one person.” But to say that “God is three persons and there is one God” is not a contradiction.

It is something we do not understand, and it is therefore a mystery or a paradox, but that should not trouble us as long as the different aspects of the mystery are clearly taught by Scripture, for as long as we are finite creatures and not omniscient deity, there will always (for all eternity) be things that we do not fully understand.11

The Trinity has some unknown parts to it but what we know about it is true.  It is a mystery but not a contradiction.  And, in order to know more about this mystery, here are two ways to look at the Trinity.

I. THE ONTOLOGICAL TRINITY

The Ontological Trinity refers to the idea that “each member of the Trinity has the same essence.”12  It refers to the fact that all three members of the Trinity are the same in their worth and nature and greatness.  In the words of the Nicene Creed,

We believe in one God, the Father Almighty . . . And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God . . . being of one substance with the Father.13

Ontology is the study of essence14 and the Ontological Trinity is the study of the essence of the Trinity.  It is a way of looking at what each member of the Trinity is composed of and how the members view one another apart from creation.15  It is the study of the Godhead apart from mankind.16

To say this another way, the Ontological Trinity is the study of what the three members have in common.  It is what the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit all share together.  When that is considered, four facts about the Ontological Trinity are brought to light.

1. Every Member of the Trinity is Fully God 

When it concerns the essence of the Trinity, every member is fully God.  It is not that God the Father is 33 % God and God the Son is 33 % God and God the Spirit is 33 % God.  It is not that God the Father is 50 % God and God the Son is 25 % God and God the Spirit is 25 % God.  No.  God the Father is 100 % God and God the Son is 100 % God and God the Spirit is 100 % God.

Every one of the three Persons of the Godhead has the fullest essence of God at all times and in every way.  There was never a time when they were not God and there never will be a time when they are not God.  None of the members was ever created and none of them could ever die, which is a bit mysterious when we think of Jesus’ death on the cross.17

Some passages that talk about the Trinity being fully God include Matthew 7:21, where the Father is fully God.

Not everyone who says to Me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.

John 1:1-4 shows that the Son is fully God.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men.

Acts 5:3-4 shows that the Spirit is fully God.

But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back some of the price of the land? . . . You have not lied to men but to God.”

Lying to the Spirit is the same as lying to God Himself because the Holy Spirit is God.

2. Every Member of the Trinity is Fully Equal 

If all the members of the Trinity have the same essence, and if they have always had the same essence, then it follows that every member is fully equal.  They all have the same nature, so they are peers.  They are equals.

As the Athanasian Creed put it in the 6th Century:

In this Trinity none is afore, or after another: none is greater, or less than another. But the whole three Persons are coeternal, and coequal.18

None of the members of the Godhead were ever placed under any of the other members because they were of a lesser importance.  They are all equal.  No member is greater than another.

While every analogy for the Trinity breaks down at some level, this one is as good as any.  The story is told of some Moravian missionaries who heard about an island in the West Indies where there was a whole colony of African slaves who had never heard the Gospel.  In their zeal to reach these lost souls for Christ, the missionaries asked the owner of the slaves and of the island if they could come and minister there.  In reply, the owner said that he would never allow anyone but slaves to enter his island.  So, after talking about it with their families and spending much time in prayer, the Moravians, as free men, sold themselves into slavery to go to the island and witness to the inhabitants.

The argument could be made that the members of the Trinity did a similar thing when they chose to save mankind from sin.19  Because when the Son submits to the Father and the Spirit submits to the Son they do that of their own free will.  No one forces them to submit.  No one compels them to obey.  Their essence is not a subservient essence.  Their nature is not a lesser nature.  Therefore, any decision to submit is totally free and voluntary on their part.  All three members are the same in importance.  They all have the same nature and authority.

Some passages that talk about the equality of the Trinity include Matthew 28:19:

Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Second Corinthians 13:14:

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.

Jude 20-21:

But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life.

In all of these passages, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are mentioned together as being God and they are mentioned together as being equals.

3. Every Member of the Trinity is Fully United 

All of the members of the Trinity are in full union with each other.  They are in total agreement in everything.

In other words, God is one.  God is not three gods in one person; that would be tritheism.20  God is not three gods in three people; that would be polytheism.21  God is one God in three Persons; He is a Trinity.  And, as such, He is one.  He is perfectly unified.  He is not divided in any way.

Every one of the three Persons works in perfect co-operation with all the other Persons.  They never butt heads.  They never work against themselves.  They live and move and exist in perfect harmony and have done so for all eternity because God is one.

Deuteronomy 6:4 says this very succinctly:

Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one!

The early Jews referred to this verse as the shema, which is the Hebrew word for “hear.”  According to the Rabbis, Deuteronomy 6:4 was the greatest commandment that the Israelites were to “hear” or pay attention to.

The Mishnah or Rabbi’s commentary on the Old Testament said that Jewish males were to repeat the shema two times every day.  They were to repeat it once after waking up in the morning and once before going to bed at night.  Jewish boys were taught the shema as soon as they learned to talk and the shema was the last thing that Jewish martyrs were to quote before being executed.  The shema was also part of the last rites or death bed confessions of a dying Jew.22

Needless to say, the Israelites placed a huge importance on Deuteronomy 6:4.

Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God, the Lord is one!

They did this to emphasize the point that God is not one God ruling alongside others.  He is one.  He is perfectly alone.23  In reference to the Trinity, this means that God is perfectly at peace with Himself.  He lives in perfect harmony within His three Persons.  Each member of the Godhead has the same purpose in mind.  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit all have the same goal.  They are united.

In fact, the only time that there was disharmony in the Trinity was at the cross.24  The Father crushed the Son for our wickedness25 and was displeased with Him when He became sin on our behalf.26  That was the only time in history where there was any conflict within the Trinity, which is what made it so painful for Jesus.27

Other passages that talk about the unity of the Trinity include John 17:1-2, 5:

Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You, even as You gave Him authority over all flesh, that to all whom You have given Him, Hey may give eternal life . . . Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.

John 17:20-21 also says:

I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.

4. Every Member of the Trinity is Fully Distinct 

Each member is completely separate from the other members.  Each Person is set apart.  While they share the same essence and nature, they do not share the same identity.  They are unique in their own special way.  As Herman Bavinck summarizes in The Doctrine of God:

These three persons are really distinct; they are not three parts of one whole nor three names for one and the same object. The Father alone is Father, the Son alone is Son, the Spirit alone is Spirit.28

A lot of ink has been spilled over how each member is different and what their particular roles are but no one can deny that each member of the Trinity is His own Person.

To highlight this, there were several times in Scripture when all three members did three different things at the same time.  One of those times is at Jesus’ baptism in Matthew 3:13-17:

Then Jesus arrived from Galilee at the Jordan coming to John, to be baptized by him. But John tried to prevent Him, saying, “I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?” But Jesus answering said to him, “Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he permitted Him.

After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him, and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.”

Now is not the time to explore this passage in detail but notice that the Son was baptized, the Spirit descended on Him like a dove, and the Father spoke from Heaven all at once.  All three Persons were active at the same time.  All three were involved in Jesus’ baptism in their own special way.

Another example of all three members doing different things at the same time is at creation.  At that event, Genesis 1:1 says that the Father was creating.29  Genesis 1:2 says that the Spirit moved over the waters and John 1:3 says that through the Son all things came into being.

So again, all three members were doing different tasks but accomplishing the same goal.  To be even more specific, they were doing the same thing in three different ways.  All three Persons of the Godhead were working together in perfect harmony to create the earth.  One God in three Persons, acting in full co-operation.

II. THE ECONOMIC TRINITY

The Economic Trinity refers to the idea that “each member of the Trinity has a different role.”30  The word “economy” means how something functions or relates to other things.31  The Economic Trinity, then, is how the Trinity functions.  It is how the members of the Trinity relate to one another and reveal themselves to creation.32

To use marriage as an illustration, husbands and wives are equal before God.33  They have the same nature but a different function.  The wife submits to the husband34 and the husband leads his wife just as Christ leads the church.35  Their humanity does not change, nor does their standing before God.  They are still equal in that regard but they have different roles.

The Trinity is similar.  While the members all have the same nature, some members submit to other members.  While they all share the same ontology, they do not share the same economy.  They have the same nature but different roles.

When all of this is taken into consideration, two facts are brought to light about the Economic Trinity.

1. The Son Submits to the Father 

When we consider how the Trinity works, it becomes apparent that God the Son submits to God the Father.  He chose to come to the earth36 and live a sinless life37 and die as a sacrifice for our sins38 and rise from the grave39 and prepare a place for us in Heaven40 all under the supervision of His Heavenly Father.  The Son chose to become a human being and place Himself under the leadership of another.

To think of this from another angle, the most humbling thing about Jesus’ birth was not that He was born in a manger but that He was born at all.  In the words of Philippians 2:6-7:

[The Son], although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.

Philippians 2 says that the Son chose to temporarily give up some of His divine attributes such as omnipresence41 and omnipotence42 and eternality43 when He became a man.44  The Son did all of this because He submitted Himself to the Father.

Theologians describe all of this with the term “generation.”  Generation means that “God the Son was born”45 or “begotten.”46  Jesus was born.  In submitting to God the Father, God the Son chose to enter this world through birth like a normal human being.  He did not enter it through sexual union of a man and a woman like we experience but through the miracle of a virgin birth.47

This is seen in several passages of Scripture.  To quote from Philippians 2 again:

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness (vv. 5-7).

Examples of Jesus’ submission are found in passages which say that He was “sent” by the Father.

John 3:7:

For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.

John 4:34:

Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work.”

John 5:36:

But the testimony which I have is greater than the testimony of John; for the works which the Father has given Me to accomplish—the very works that I do—testify about Me, that the Father has sent Me.

John 6:57:

As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me, he also will live because of Me.

John 7:16:

So Jesus answered them and said, “My teaching is not Mine, but His who sent Me.”

John 8:16:

But even if I do judge, My judgment is true; for I am not alone in it, but I and the Father who sent Me.

Again and again and again in the New Testament, Jesus says that God the Father sent Him.  He was a Man under orders.  He was a Person under the leadership of someone else.  The Son did not come on His own authority.  He could have.  Had every right to, but He did not.

There are also passages that mention the Son being begotten by the Father.  John 1:14, 18 says:

And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth . . . No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.

The Greek word for “begotten” is monogeneis; a compound word from mono meaning “only” and geneis meaning “born.”  Putting the two words together, monogeneis means “only begotten” or “only born.”48

The Son is the only One born or “generated” from the Father in every sense of the word.49  He is the only One literally born of the Holy Spirit50 and, therefore, He is the only One born without sin.51  Christians today are born of the Spirit52 but not like Jesus was.  He was born sinless.

The English Standard Version translates this word differently in John 1:14 but with the same idea.

And we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Jesus Christ is the “only Son” of God the Father.

2. The Spirit submits to the Father and the Son 

J. I. Packer once called the Holy Spirit “the Cinderella member of the Trinity” because Christians seem to know so little about Him.53  We talk a lot about the Father and the Son but talk so little about the Spirit.

There are several reasons for this.  One is because it is the Spirit’s role to serve the Father and the Son, so His role is much more discreet than theirs.  He does not seem to think for Himself because His primary work is to submit to the will of the other two members.54

Another reason we know so little about the Holy Spirit is because there are so many abuses floating around today in His name.  He is said to do bizarre things like enabling people to get rich55 or keeping them from getting the measles.56  Many people think that the best way to combat this wrong thinking is to say nothing about the Holy Spirit.

You can add to this that a lot of churches today teach that salvation is a work of God plus man instead of a work of God alone.57  Many professing Christians think that they do not really need the Spirit’s work in drawing them to Christ.  They think they can choose Him all on their own.  The Spirit has a small part to play in their salvation if any at all.  Their theology totally excludes the Holy Spirit.

All of this kind of thinking is wrong because the Holy Spirit has an enormous part to play in every aspect of the Christian life, especially salvation.  He regenerates us.58  He indwells us.59  He baptizes us.60  He fills us.61  He convicts us.62  He inspires Scripture63 and opens our eyes to understand it.64  We could not be saved apart from the work of the Holy Spirit.65  He is anything but a passive member of the Trinity, although His work is mysterious.

Theologians use the term “procession” to describe how the Spirit submits to the other members of the Trinity.  In simple terms, procession means that “the Holy Spirit comes from the Father and the Son.”66  He proceeds from them.  As Robert Duncan Culver writes:

Since the Holy Spirit is said in Scripture to proceed from the Father (John 15:26) and the Son (John 14:26), His distinct property is eternal procession.67

This is the economy of the Trinity.  This is how the three members work.  The Son is sent from the Father to be born and to die for our sins, and the Spirit is sent by the Father and the Son to live within us68 and to open our eyes to what the Son accomplished.69

It is important to clarify that to say that the Holy Spirit comes from the Father and the Son is not to say that the Holy Spirit was created by the Father and the Son.  Again, this is not a reference to Who the Spirit is but to what the Spirit does.  This is not His ontology; this is His economy.  He is God and, as God, He was created by no one.  He always was and He always is.  But, as He interacts with the world, the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son.

The best passage to see this is John 14-16.  In these chapters, Jesus is teaching His apostles one last time before He is crucified.  In doing so, He encourages them by saying that He will not leave them alone.  He will send them someone to help them once He has gone, and that someone is the Holy Spirit.  John 14:15-17 says:

If you love Me, you will keep My commandments. I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you.

The word “Helper” here is parakleitos or “one who is called or sent for to assist another.”70  One ministry of the Spirit is to be a Helper or a Comforter71 to believers.  He will come alongside them and comfort them.  Verse 16 also says the Father will send the Spirit to help.  The Spirit will proceed from the Father.

The second title for the Holy Spirit in verse 17 is “Spirit of truth.”  The word “Spirit” in Greek is pneuma, which can literally mean “wind or air in motion.”72  Just as Jesus is called the Son of God because He is born of a virgin,73 the Holy Spirit is called the Spirit of God because He is invisible and mysterious, just like a Spirit.

Another passage that talks about the procession of the Holy Spirit is John 15:26.

When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify about Me.

Here we have the same two titles for the Spirit: Counselor (parakleitos) and Spirit of truth (pneuma).  The verse also says that the Spirit is sent by the Father and the Son.

This was a major debate in the 11th Century between the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church that eventually led to their split.74  The Eastern Orthodox Church held that the Spirit came from the Father but not the Son.  The Roman Catholic Church held that the Holy Spirit came from the Father and the Son.  Passages like John 15:26 show that, on this issue, the Roman Catholic Church was right.

The Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son.  He submits to the will of both of them.  Jesus sends Him and the Father sends Him.  He has a procession, which is why He is called the third Person of the Trinity.  He is not third in importance.  He is third in appearance.

CONCLUSION

Several years ago, a friend told me the story about the time he took his five year old son to church.  Instead of hearing a sermon from a live preacher, the church listened to a sermon from a cassette tape player placed at the front of the sanctuary.  The five year old, however, could not see the tape player because he could not see over the pew in front of him, and the voice startled him.  After the service, with eyes wide with fear, he told his father in a trembling voice, “Daddy, I never heard God speak to me before today.”

While God no longer speaks in audible form, He does speak to us through His Word and one of the things He tells us is that He is a Trinity.  He is Trinitas.  He is one God in three Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Each Person is fully God, fully equal, fully united, and fully distinct.  Furthermore, the Son proceeds from the Father and the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son.

It is my prayer that this article would help you to understand this God more and to see how the He stands apart from all the others.

Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts:

“I am the first and I am the last,
And there is no God besides Me.
Who is like Me? Let him proclaim and declare it . . .”

“Is there any God besides Me,
Or is there any other Rock?
I know of none.”75

 

 

  1. The Koran, trans. N. J. Dawood (Auckland, New Zealand: Penguin Books, 1999) 4:171 []
  2. Joseph Smith, Joseph Smith’s Teachings, 372. []
  3. Mary Baker Eddy, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures (Boston: Trustees under the Will of Mary Baker G. Eddy, 1934) 256. []
  4. Let God be True (Brooklyn, New York: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, 1946) 101–102, 111. []
  5. Herbert W. Armstrong, Just What Do You Mean – Born Again (Pasadena, Calif.: Ambassador Press, n.d.) 16–17. []
  6. The Kingdom of the Cults (Minneapolis, Minn.: Bethany House Publishers, 1985) 145. []
  7. Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000) 1255. The Trinity is “the doctrine that God eternally exists as three persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – and each person is fully God, and there is one God.” []
  8. Charles Ryrie, Basic Theology (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 1999 ed.) 632. “In the one living and true God there are three coeternal and coequal Persons, the same in substance but distinct in existence.” []
  9. J. I. Packer, Concise Theology (Carol Stream, Ill.: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1993) 40. []
  10. Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Carlisle, Penn.: Banner of Truth Trust, 2003 ed.) 89. “The Trinity is a mystery, not merely in the Biblical sense that it is a truth, which was formerly hidden but is now revealed; but in the sense that man cannot comprehend it and make it intelligible . . . The real difficulty lies in the relation in which the persons in the Godhead stand to the divine essence and to one another; and this is a difficulty which the Church cannot remove, but only try to reduce to its proper proportion by a proper definition of terms. It has never tried to explain the mystery of the Trinity, but only sought to formulate the doctrine of the Trinity in such a manner that the errors which endangered it were warded off.” []
  11. Grudem, 256. []
  12. This is my own definition but a similar one can be found in Alan Cairns’ Dictionary of Theological Terms, (Greenville, S. C.: Ambassador Emerald International, 2002, 3rd ed.) 314. []
  13. The Creeds of Christendom, Volume 1, ed. by Philip Schaff (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2007 ed.) 28-29. []
  14. Antony Flew, A Dictionary of Philosophy (New York: Gramercy Books, 1979) 255-256. []
  15. John Frame, The Doctrine of God (Phillipsburg, N. J.: P & R Publishing, 2002) 706. “The ontological Trinity (sometimes called the immanent Trinity) is the Trinity as it exists necessarily and eternally, apart from creation. It is, like, God’s attributes, what God necessarily is.” []
  16. This is in no way to imply that the members of the Trinity started submitting to each other once the world was created or once mankind came into the picture.  The Son always submitted to the Father (Jn 17:5; Acts 13:33) and the Spirit always submitted to the Father and the Son (Heb 9:14; Rev 1:4). The Ontological Trinity is simply a way of looking at the Trinity without looking at the roles that they play in creation. []
  17. Just as the Trinity is mysterious, so is the Incarnation: when Jesus became a man.  It becomes even more mysterious when we try to explain how the Son of God died. One theologian expressed the difficulty this way: “This concept of the hypostatic or one-person union of the divine and human natures in one person is probably one of the most difficult concepts to comprehend in theology. Not one of us has ever seen Deity except as the Scriptures reveal God, and not one of us has ever seen perfect humanity except as the Scriptures reveal prefallen Adam and our Lord. To try to relate these two concepts to the person of Christ adds complexities to ideas that are in themselves difficult to comprehend” (Ryrie, 287). []
  18. The Creeds of Christendom, Volume 2, ed. by Philip Schaff (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2007 ed.) 68. []
  19. As mentioned above, all analogies to the Trinity break down at some level. This analogy breaks down in that the Moravian missionaries decided to sell themselves into slavery in response to the owner’s position that no one can come to the island except slaves. There is nothing in Scripture which suggests that the three Persons of the Trinity decided to save man in response to man’s sin. Everything points to the fact that this decision was made long before man ever sinned. Ephesians 1:3-4 makes this perfectly clear: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as he chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him.” The Trinity did not decide to save us in response to our sin but before the foundation of the world. []
  20. Millard J. Erickson, The Concise Dictionary of Christian Theology, Revised Edition (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 2001) 205. Tritheism is the “belief in three separate gods.” []
  21. Ibid., 156. Polytheism is “belief in more than one god.” []
  22. This information concerning the Shema is found in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Volume Four, ed. by Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1988) 469-470. []
  23. A. W. Pink, The Nature of God (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999) 14. This is known as the attribute of Independence, which A. W. Pink describes this way: “[God] is solitary in His majesty, unique in His excellency, and peerless in His perfections. He sustains all, but is Himself independent of all. He gives to all and is enriched by none.”  []
  24. This explains why Jesus cried out from the cross: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me” (Mk 15:34)? []
  25. Isa 53:5. []
  26. God was not displeased with Jesus in the sense that He disapproved of Jesus Himself. He was displeased with Jesus in the sense that He punished Jesus for our sin. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says that, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” On the cross, God the Father treated God the Son as if He had committed every sin ever committed by any believer. He was displeased with our sin and, in His great love for us, poured out that displeasure on His Son in our place. []
  27. Luke 22:43-33 says that, at the mere expectation of this conflict, “An angel from heaven appeared to [Jesus,] strengthening Him. And being in agony He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground.” []
  28. The Doctrine of God (Carlisle, Penn.: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2003 ed.) 282. []
  29. While the text does not say that it was God the Father creating in Genesis 1:1, it does mention the “Spirit of God” in Genesis 1:2, suggesting that the Spirit was not being referred to in verse 1. Furthermore, John 1:3 says that “all things came into being through [the Son],” suggesting that the Son was involved in creation but more as a channel than as a primary agent. From what we can tell, then, the member of the Godhead that was creating in Genesis 1:1 was the Father. []
  30. This is my own definition but a similar one can be found in Millard J. Erickson’s Pocket Dictionary of Christian Theology, Revised Edition (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 2001) 55. []
  31. Most standard dictionary definitions relate “economy” exclusively to money. Webster’s New World Dictionary, for instance, defines it as “the management of the income, expenditures, etc. of a household, government, etc.” (Webster’s New World Dictionary, ed. by Michael Agnes [New York: Wiley Publishing, Inc., 2003] 207). The word can also mean “good management or administration” (The New American Roget’s College Thesaurus in Dictionary Form, ed. by Philip D. Moorehead [New York: Penguin Books, 1985) 174). In the theological realm, however, the term means the way something works or relates to something else. Specifically, it means the way the members of the Trinity have planned to enact our salvation and worked that plan. To show this, the Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms defines the Economic Trinity as “the manifestations of the three persons of the Trinity in relationship to the world, particularly in regard to the outworking of God’s plan (economy) of salvation” (Stanley J. Grenz, David Guretzki, & Cherith Fee Nordling, Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms [Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1999] 42). []
  32. Frame, 706. John Frame defines the Economic Trinity as “the Trinity in its relation to creation, including the specific roles played by the Trinitarian persons throughout the history of creation, providence, and redemption.” []
  33. Galatians 3:28 says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” []
  34. Eph 5:22-24. []
  35. Eph 5:25-30. []
  36. Phil 2:5-6. See quotation below. []
  37. 2 Cor 5:21; Heb 4:15. []
  38. Heb 10:11-18. []
  39. Rom 4:25; 1 Cor 15:20; 2 Cor 4:14; Gal 1:1; Eph 1:20; Col 2:12; 3:1; 1 Thess 1:10; 1 Pet 1:21. []
  40. Jn 14:2-3. []
  41. A. W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy (New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1961) 74. Omnipresence means that God is everywhere. In the words of A. W. Tozer, “God is everywhere here, close to everything, next to everyone . . . God is our environment as the sea is to the fish and the air to the bird.” []
  42. Ibid., 65. Omnipotence means that God has all power. “God possesses what no creature can: an incomprehensible plentitude of power, a potency that is absolute.” []
  43. Ibid., 39. Eternality means that God has no beginning and no end. “Because God lives in an everlasting now, He has no past and no future.” []
  44. Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, Vols. 7 & 8 (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1976) 197. Theologians call this the Incarnation or the doctrine that the Son of God became a human being without giving up His divine nature. Lewis Sperry Chafer says, “Through His incarnation Christ combined both the perfect, divine nature of God and human nature in one Person. He was no less God because of His humanity and no more than human as respects humanity because of the divine being that He was.” []
  45. Paul Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology, Revised and Expanded (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2008) 712. This is my definition but a similar one is, “The miraculous act of the Holy Spirit who came upon Mary supernaturally (Luke 1:31, 35) and caused her pregnancy that produces the sinless humanity of Christ.” []
  46. Frame, 707. John Frame describes Jesus being begotten in these terms: “In human life, a child’s existence begins in an event called begetting or generation. The same was true of the incarnate Christ: Jesus was begotten in the womb of Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit . . . His sonship is ontological, not merely economic. The begetting of Jesus in the womb of his mother was a historical event, an economic event.” []
  47. Matt 1:18-24; Lk 1:26-38. []
  48. Jospeh H. Thayer, Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, 1996 ed.) 417-418. []
  49. Believers are born of God but, in the strictest sense, they are born again of God (Jn 3:1-8; 1 Pet 1:3, 23; 1 Jn 2:29). They are born once physically and born again spiritually as Jesus tells Nicodemus in John 1:3-8. Jesus Himself did not need to be born again because He was born without sin the first time. He was born of God at His physical birth. []
  50. In Luke 1:35, an angel tells Mary about the Holy Spirit’s part in Jesus’ birth: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God.” []
  51. Luke 1:35 describes Jesus as a “holy child” but other passages mention His sinlessness as well (2 Cor 5:21; Heb 4:15). []
  52. See footnote 49. []
  53. J. I. Packer, Knowing God (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1993) 68. In his own words, “The person and work of Christ have been, and remain, subjects of constant debate within the church; yet the person and work of the Holy Spirit are largely ignored. The doctrine of the Holy Spirit is the Cinderella of Christian doctrines. Comparatively few seem to be interested in it.” []
  54. This is not actually the case, though because there are many times in Scripture where the Spirit acts on His own initiative. For instance, Romans 8:27 says that the Holy Spirit thinks and intercedes for us. 1 Corinthians 2:13 says that He teaches: “which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words.” []
  55. For an example of this kind of teaching, see DeWayne Owens’ How to Get Rich on Purpose (N Harmony Publishers, 2002). []
  56. A good example of this is found in Kenneth Copeland’s Eagle Mountain Church in Newark, Texas. The Senior Pastor spoke out against measles vaccinations saying that the Holy Spirit would keep believers from it. Unfortunately, a measles outbreak occurred. For more on this, see www.worldmag.com/2013/08/signs_and_wonders_measles_outbreak_plagues_texas_megachurch as of 10/3/13. []
  57. Grudem, 1236. This is known as Arminianism, which Grudem defines as “a theological tradition that seeks to preserve the free choices of human beings and denies God’s providential control over the details of all events.” In making this claim, many Arminians teach that since salvation is freely chosen by man, it can be freely lost by him (Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms, 15). []
  58. Chafer, 265. Regeneration is the giving of a new eternal life to the soul. Titus 3:5-7 has a very clear passage on the Holy Spirit’s role in regeneration. []
  59. Rom 8:9; 1 Cor 3:16; 2 Cor 6:16; Gal 4:6. []
  60. Rom 6:3; 1 Cor 12:13; Gal 3:26-27. []
  61. Eph 5:18. []
  62. Jn 16:7-11. []
  63. 2 Pet 1:20-21. []
  64. 1 Cor 2:14-15. []
  65. 2 Thess 2:13. []
  66. Frame, 714. This is my own definition. John Frame provides a similar definition with these words: “The Father and the Son send the Spirit to earth, so that he proceeds from them.” []
  67. Systematic Theology (Ross-shire, Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications, 2008) 121. []
  68. See the passages on indwelling in footnote 59. []
  69. 1 Corinthians 2:14-15 talks about this when it says, “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one.” []
  70. Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words, ed. by William D. Mounce (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006) 1234. []
  71. Some translations such as the King James Version translate this word as “Comforter.” []
  72. Mounce, 1247. []
  73. Luke 1:32 calls Jesus “the Son of the Most High” because He is born of a virgin but it is the same idea as “Son of God.” []
  74. The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church, ed. by J. D. Douglas (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1978) 324. This was known as the Great Schism and was precipitated by political issues more than doctrinal ones. Such issues included a disagreement about how much power the Pope and the Roman Church should have over other churches. []
  75. Isa 44:6-8. []