1999 James A. Fowler
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I. Biblical references to "trinity"
A. There are no references to the
word "trinity" in the Bible.
B. Development of the word "trinity"
in reference to God.
Means "threefold" or "threesome"
Used by Theophilus of Antioch c. 175 A.D.
tri means three; unitas means unity
Used by Tertullian c. 210 A.D.
Root of English word "trinity"
word was employed in attempt to correlate and integrate the revelation
of God as
yet functionally diverse in three distinct personages.
necessity of correlating oneness and threeness of God
concept of "trinity" inherent in Scripture "in
C. References to the oneness or unity
6:4 - "The Lord our God, the Lord is one!"
32:39 - "I am He, and there is no god besides Me"
43:10 - "Before Me there was no God formed, and there will
be none after Me"
46:9 - "I am God and there is no other; there is no one
Cor. 8:4-6 - "there is no God but one. ...there is but one
God, the Father...; and one Lord,
3:20 - "God is only one"
D. References to the diversity of God
1:1 - "In the beginning God (Elohim - plural) created..."
1:26 - "Let Us (plural) make man in Our (plural) image"
6:8 - "Who will go for Us (plural)?"
9:6 - (Messianic) "Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of
3:16,17 - "being baptized, Jesus...saw the Spirit of God
descending...and a voice,
'This is My beloved Son...'"
28:19 - "baptizing them in the name of the Father and the
Son and the Holy Spirit"
Cor. 13:14 - "the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the
love of God, and the fellowship
the Holy Spirit, be with you all"
4:6 - "God sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts..."
4:4-6 - "one Spirit...one Lord...one God and Father of all..."
Pet. 1:2 - "foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying
work of the Spirit, that
may obey Jesus Christ..."
Jn. 5:7 (KJV) - (without adequate MSS evidence; interpolation)
Father as God
6:27 - "the Father, God, has set His seal"
4:6 - "one God and Father"
Pet. 1:2 - "God the Father..."
Son as God - (cf. I Jn. 5:20; Phil. 2:6
1:1 - "the Word was God"
20:28 - "My Lord and my God"
2:13 - "our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus"
1:8 - "of the Son, 'Thy throne, O God, is forever..."
Pet. 1:1 - "God and Savior, Jesus Christ"
Holy Spirit as God
5:3,4 - "lie to Holy Spirit...you have lied to God"
8:9 - "the Spirit...Spirit of God...Spirit of Christ
Cor. 6:11 - "the Spirit of our God"
Cor. 3:17,18 - "the Lord is the Spirit"
II. A brief history of Christian discussion concerning
A. Justin Martyr (100-165) - while
arguing for monotheism, refers to Jesus as "a second God
B. Theophilus of Antioch (c. 175) - first
to use Greek trias for "threesomeness" of God.
C. Tertullian (160-220) - first to use
Latin terms: trinitas explained as 3 personae in
D. Origen (c. 182-251) - subordinated
Jesus and Spirit to the Father; Father is God in Himself,
image of Father, Spirit is image of Son.
E. Arius (c. 250-336) - Son brought into
being by God, and thus made God.
F. Athanasius (296-373) - first to employ
Greek homoousion as explanation of trinity.
G. Council of Nicea (325) - accepted
Athanasius' homoousion explanation as orthodox
teaching. Some wanted homoiousion.
H. Cappadocian theologians (4th century),
Basil, Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory of Nazianzus -
on 3 hypostaseis in 1 ousia.
I. Augustine (354-430) - Three persons
in 1 nature or essence. Many psychological analogies
J. Eastern Orthodox Church (1054) - rejected
filoque concept of Spirit generated from Father
the Son"; division from Western Latin Church
K. Richard of St. Victor (c. 1120-1173)
- God as love demands a plurality of persons.
L. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) - three
subsistences in one God.
M. John Calvin (1509-1564) - made more
distinction between Son and Spirit.
N. Karl Barth (1886-1968) - three modes
of being in one God, who is both I and Thou.
III. Issues of consideration concerning the "trinity"
A. Identifying the Oneness
B. Identifying the Threeness
psychologically - personalities, self-conscious beings
sociologically - interrelational, interpersonal
C. Interrelational factors of threeness
Son, Holy Spirit
paternity, filiation, procession
unbegotten, begotten, procession
in relational function, but not essential being
eternality of such
God is Person
God is Love
God is Faithful
D. The tension or dialectic between
E. Avoidance of extremes
F. Inadequacy of all human analogies
liquid, gas, solid
3 notes, 1 chord
3 bulbs, 1 lumination
neutron, electron, proton
space: length, width, height
matter: energy, motion, phenomenon
time: past, present, future
G. Necessary balance
IV. Implications of attempting to understand the "trinity"
A. Correlates with age old philosophical
question of one and many
"theory of relativity" and "unified field theory"
were attempts to explain that the
relate to a constant and a singularity.
B. Three alternatives of response to
Scriptural teaching of oneness/threeness
as incompatible with human reason - absurdity
to human reason - emphasize oneness or threeness
the revelation of God - hold in balance/tension of dialectic
Natural reason will never arrive at trinitarian understanding
Must accept God in the manner He has revealed Himself
Failure to do so is deification of human reason
C. Centrality of trinitarian understanding
to all Christian teaching
every doctrinal category
Incarnation - Jesus as God-man
of trinitarian assent for Christian belief
God has revealed Himself in His Son, by the Spirit
He cannot be known in any other way, except through the Son,
by the Spirit -
The gospel of salvation/sanctification requires the persons and
work of Father, Son,
Must allow for latitude of differentiation in human struggle
to understand and express
tension between oneness and threeness
Can never adequately express in human thought or words
Point out dangers and fallacies of overemphases
of Nazianzen (c. 329-389 A.D.) - "I cannot think of the
One, but I am
surrounded with the glory of the Three; nor can I clearly discover
I am suddenly carried back to the One."