In our discussions about the ways in which we understand the nature of God we began to focus on the difference between a strictly Unitarian view of God and the classical Trinitarian view of God. In last week’s blog entry we said that for “the Trinitarian Christian, who takes the Biblical witness on the nature of God and the person and work of Jesus seriously, the Qur’an in 4:171 will likely be very problematic [(Sura: An-Nisa’ in the YUSUFALI English translation): “O People of the Book! Commit no excesses in your religion: Nor say of God aught but the truth. Christ Jesus the son of Mary was (no more than) an apostle of God, and His Word, which He bestowed on Mary, and a spirit proceeding from Him: so believe in God and His apostles. Say not “Trinity”: desist: it will be better for you: for God is one God: Glory be to Him: (far exalted is He) above having a son. To Him belong all things in the heavens and on earth. And enough is God as a Disposer of affairs”.]”
Although the word “Trinity” does not appear in the Bible, it is possible to support the Trinitarian nature of God from the Biblical witness, as was shown in comments on last week’s blog entry, which are repeated here for clarity:
First point: There is One God (now and forever):
RSV Deuteronomy 6:4 “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD;
RSV Isaiah 43:10 “You are my witnesses,” says the LORD, “and my servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe me and understand that I am He. Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me.
Second point: God is Father:
RSV 2 Peter 1:17 For when he received honor and glory from God the Father and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,”
Third point: God is Son:
RSV John 20:28 [speaking to Jesus]: Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”
Fourth point: God is Holy Spirit:
RSV Acts 5:3-4 But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? How is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.”
Note here the synonymous parallelism that shows that the Holy Spirit is equated with God.
Fifth point: The three separate and distinct persons are one God:
RSV Matthew 28:19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
Note: In Greek, when two or more singular personal nouns (not proper names) are separated by “and”, and are preceded by the definite article, two or more separate and distinct nouns are referred to. In other words, there is only “one” name for the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
I would add now that the account of the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist shows the (simultaneous) presence of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and so argues against modalism (the idea that God is sometimes the Father, sometimes the Son and sometimes the Spirit).
So why does this matter? In our conversation we noted that the Doctrine of the Trinity indicates that God may be viewed as “community” and, further, that community is not made up of essentially identical characters but is a community of three distinctly different “persons”. In other words, community and diversity are inherent to the nature of God.
We considered how one might understand a statement such as “God is love” in the light of this understanding of God. It is of course possible to think of love as an abstract concept but if that love is to be instantiated (made real in the universe) then it seems that there must be a vehicle by which it can be made real. The Trinity provides such a vehicle. God can be seen as “love” in a very real sense because the Trinity allows for such a relationship between the persons of the Godhead. It was difficult for us to see a way to make “love” real in the person of God if God is a strictly Unitarian entity.
Further, we saw how some artists have portrayed the Trinity (e.g. Rublev’s icon of the Trinity) in a way that invites a person to enter into the relationship that constitutes God. Hence, the notion of the Trinity seems to provide a means by which one might enter into a personal relationship with God. It seems that the Trinitarian understanding of God might help us in answering a number of the questions that we have been asking recently (e.g. Is God personal or impersonal?).