Re-examining the Trinity – Jesus

As longtime readers of this blog already know, a number of the issues I have addressed here come from my collisions with classic Evangelical statements of faith.  One common element of such statements is a clause on the Trinity.  Here’s a good example, cribbed from the website of a well-known Evangelical organization:

We believe that there is one God, eternally existent in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

This simple phrase is further amplified by the new EFCA statement of faith:

We believe in one God, Creator of all things, holy, infinitely perfect, and eternally existing in a loving unity of three equally divine Persons: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Having limitless knowledge and sovereign power, God has graciously purposed from eternity to redeem a people for Himself and to make all things new for His own glory. 

There’s a long tradition behind the notion of Jesus as fully God and fully human, dating at least back to the Nicea, as immortalized in the Nicene Creed:

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made. 

But with all due respect (but no more than due) to the church fathers, I’m not absolutely sure they got it right.  There can be no doubt that Jesus represented himself as divine.  I refer you to an excellent word study my Mom published over at the Pioneers’ New Testament, on the subject of Jesus use of the “I AM” phraseology–a construct that made no sense at all in Greek unless it was hearking back to God’s declaration to Moses at the burning bush (Exodus 3:14).  There’s no reasonable question that his hearers heard Jesus characterizing himself as divine, either, as they tried more than once to stone him for blasphemy when he said it (see John 10:30-33).

Nevertheless, Jesus also, and just as clearly, referred to himself and the Father in language that seems awfully much like he saw God the Father as truly and distinctly other than himself.  Take for example Matt. 10:32-33, where Jesus speaks of acknowledging and/or denying people before his father, or Matt. 11:27 where he describes having authority delegated to him by his Father.  Or look at Matt. 20:23, where Jesus tells James and John and their mom that the authority to decide who sits at his right and left hand, has been reserved by the father and is “not mine to grant.”  Perhaps most tellingly, Jesus’ prayer to his Father in the garden that the cup of his suffering pass from him (see Matt. 26:39), does not sound like a unity of being.  These passages all  have their parallels in the other gospels; I’m not trying to be exhaustive here, but rather to point out the case that is to be made.

The question, then, is why we must make a big deal out of determining the appropriate Christology to think, in order to be judged a worthy disciple of Christ the King.  It took between two hundred and three hundred years for the church to come to the point of carving out the distinction (Nicea was in the early 300s–a time when a lot else got loused up by the church as well).  I submit that a healthier, and more biblical approach, would be to live with the tension of Jesus’ divinity and his humanity–to recognize that when he referred to there being only one God, he was referring to his Father at the same time that he knew he, also, was begotten by the Father in a divine, non-human sense before creation, and then incarnated as the Word become flesh at a later point in history.

Bottom line, it doesn’t take sorting out the finer details of this paradox, to get us down to the business of following him.   We would do well to get our priorities in order.

9 thoughts on “Re-examining the Trinity – Jesus”

  1. Ruth

    AMEN!!!
    For those who feel the "details" are so important, Please find us even one place where Jesus quizzes anybody on the fine points of what they "believe"(read, "think") about him, or anything else, for that matter. Acknowledge him as King — and act like it — and we are his! He is so much more gracious than most of those who claim to define "his people".

  2. brettact2

    As a non-trinitarian, I've put up with a bit about how important this doctrine is suppose to be. I haven't heard any sermons or testimonies saying what difference it has made in anyone's life. And yet, because I can't believe it, I can't participate in any church ministry; no matter how i promise to handle the topic.

    I've reached the point where I'm just telling people (when this topic comes up) that I follow a religion of revelation, not speculation. Since God didn't think the mechanics of the Godhead was important enough to us to spell it out, I'm not going to guess at something only He can tell me.

  3. Adam Pastor

    Greetings Dan Martin

    On the subject of the Trinity,
    I recommend this video:
    The Human Jesus

    Take a couple of hours to watch it; and prayerfully it will aid you to reconsider "The Trinity"

    Yours In Messiah
    Adam Pastor

  4. Rich G

    I do agree with your bottom line statement. But of course I don’t think any christian would disagree with it. I am trying to give you another way of understanding the Trinity that you may not have already heard. But it looks as though you have already heard many explanations. To me understanding that there is one God, and that he created a spiritual dimension and our physical dimension. That as, Jesus, he existed before he was born and as the Holy Spirit he existed before there was any spiritual dimension. Then I (this is the way my mind thinks) would wonder if God was being split up into three diferent pieces? No, he is fully God in all three forms. Have you ever prayed about more understanding of the Trinity? One thing that I can say from experience, is that when He explains something to you, you will have trouble explaining it in human terms. You have alot of knowledge that has come from the bible, which is good. It will help you in understanding what ever He will tell you. So ask God.

  5. Dan Martin

    I guess I’d just say in response that, if as I argue, the Trinity is an extrabiblical construct, why bother asking God to clarify to me whether a concept that he never mentioned, is true? I’d rather contemplate what he has said, than what everybody else says about him…

  6. jason

    I recently stumbled upon Ms. Ruth`s Pioneer`s NT. So far I have found her insight quite accurate. I am sure there will be something/s that I will disagree with, especially since I just found it today, but so far so good 🙂 I agree that the word Trinity is not “Biblical”, of course calling the Bible “the Word of God” does not seem to be Biblical either. Athanasius went to far and states that they are equal in authority yet Jesus states that the Father is greater which would make them a subordinated unity. The Logos being the substance of God, from the beginning, is one of the pillars of the faith even being “the Rule of Faith” and was a universal teaching in the early church. I think that those who were closest to the fount, especially in the first and second century are worthy to be listened to on topics that are major such as this. I wish your mother would have done a Pre-Nicene NT with explanations of words and practices by early writers that give great insight, then I would be really excited.

    1. Dan Martin Post Author

      Hi,

      I don’t know how much you’ve read around the blog but I, too, agree that calling the Bible “the Word of God” is unbiblical … see http://nailtothedoor.com/some-of-what-i-believe-today-%e2%80%93-biblical-interpretation/.

      Re: the Trinity … I don’t think the Logos as “substance of God” is incompatible with my interpretation that Jesus is divine, pre-existent to creation, but somehow distinct from and subordinate to the Father. In fact, I believe my perspective to be in accord (or at least not in disagreement) with either the Rule of Faith or the Apostles’ Creed. My questioning whether the Holy Spirit is a being/entity/person or merely a manifestation of the Father’s presence and work, would not quite jive with the Rule though.

  7. Paul Pavao

    Personally, I would say that you nailed all the important things that the Council of Nicaea was trying to cover concerning the Father and Son. I’m pretty impressed by what you wrote here.

  8. Robert Roberg

    One day when Yahoshua was teaching in the synagogue, a man with an unclean (angel) demon came in and the demon shouted in a loud, terrifying voice, “Yahoshua of Netzaret, what are you doing here? I know who you are. You are the Messiah, the holy sanctuary (hagion) of El Shaddai. Is this the day of our doom?” Luke 4:34
    (ASV)  When therefore ye see the abomination of desolation, which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy sanctuary (hagion) (let him that readeth understand), Mt 24:15

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