For hundreds of years, the doctrine of the Trinity has been a much debated and often misrepresented belief. Words cannot express the importance of every Christian having a proper Biblical understanding of this essential doctrine.
Definition of the Trinity
The Trinity can be defined as “one God in three distinct equal persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit; equal in nature, distinct in person, subordinate in their duties.” Notice that each person of the Trinity is subordinate (relational subordination) to the other. Jesus submits to God (Matthew 26:39), and the Spirit speaks not of Himself (John 16:13, 14) but of Christ. This subordination is a subordination of order and operation, not a subordination of essence, which is also often referred to as subordinationism (Christ and the Holy Spirit are subordinate to God the Father in nature and being). Included in relational subordination is the view that each member of the Godhead has different roles and/or responsibilities. For example, Christ is the instrument of external revelation of the Father, while the Holy Spirit is the instrument of internal revelation.
When trying to define and understand the doctrine of the Trinity, it is vitally important to remember that it is impossible for a finite mind to completely comprehend this concept of God. There is no denying that faith plays a critical role in understanding the nature of God. What a comfort to know that we serve a God that transcends human comprehension.
Though there is debate concerning its date and authorship, the Athanasian Creed is the first creed in which the equality of the three persons of the Trinity is explicitly stated. This creed is divided into two sections, with the first 28 lines devoted to affirming the Trinity. The Athanasian Creed in its defense of the Trinity clearly rejects subordinationism as well as tritheism (belief in three gods).
Those who reject the doctrine of the Trinity will often claim the Trinity is a product of the Council of Nicaea (325AD) and the decisions that were made during that time. This concept is easily refuted due to the existence of several writings of ante-Nicene fathers that prove an early date for the belief of this fundamental principle. Men such as Cyprian of Carthage, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Hippolytus of Rome, and Justin Martyr allude to the Trinity in their writings.
We’ve only scratched the surface of the awesome doctrine of the Trinity. Next month we will look at the Old Testament evidence for this great fundamental of the faith.