© Charles A. Clough 1999
Charles A. Clough
Biblical Framework Series 1995–2003
Part 5: Confrontation with the King
Appendix A: The Doctrine of the Trinity
Lesson 115 – The Doctrine of the Trinity
04 Mar 1999
Fellowship Chapel, Jarrettsville, MD
We finished the notes that dealt with the birth of Christ and the hypostatic union and we said there were some practical results that followed from this doctrine of the hypostatic union and this truth. Turn to Colossians 2:8, the fourth thing, a very basic thing that follows, once the full deity of Christ is appreciated. This is a verse that has been woefully neglected over the centuries of church history. It’s a truth that Paul pointed out to the Colossians centuries ago, and very few Christians have followed up on this. It’s a verse that everybody reads it and goes on and doesn’t give it much thought, but it’s a very important one.
Paul says: “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.” In that sentence he sets two things over against each other. He says we have a choice, we can begin and we can follow philosophy that is according to, kata, a Greek preposition meaning according to a standard, we can believe, we can have our viewpoint, we can have our basic belief system, he says “according to the tradition of men, according,” and the comma there is apposition, “according to the elementary principles of the world. The word he uses is stoicheia, is a word that was used centuries before Paul by Greek philosophers and they had something very special in mind by this stoicheia. What they had in mind were the basic elements and building blocks of the universe.
Does anyone remember what the Greeks thought the universe came from? Earth, fire, water, air. Those are four very common elements that the Greeks thought about. We ought to be careful before we laugh at that, because if you think of what these four elements are, fire, air, water, and earth, what does that look like. It corresponds to what in our modern scientific terms: it’s the three phases, the three states of matter, liquid, gas and solid, and the fire is energy. So it really wasn’t too off base. Today we are taught in our schools the same thing. When you were trained in school, what did they say everything came from? Atoms, energy, all these different things; those are the basic categories, and then we use those basic categories and build everything from them.
Paul says in verse 8, don’t be taken captive by that kind of thinking, “according to the principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.” What is striking about this verse is that he is contrasting stoicheia with Jesus Christ. We have to stop here and observe text carefully and ask why does he do this? How can you contrast earth, fire, water and air to Jesus Christ? Why is this contrast there? And he’s making it a point of orthodoxy. He’s saying let no man be deceived, he says you have two paths; you have two fundamentally different world views. You can build one on this basis or you can build the other one on that basis. The last four or five weeks we’ve talked about the hypostatic union of the Lord Jesus Christ where the Creator and the creature meet in one person. So what he is arguing for is that the basic category that we have to begin with is the Creator/creature distinction, because it’s the Creator/creature distinction that’s fundamental to understanding who Jesus Christ is.
You cannot understand who the person of Christ is without understanding the Old Testament Creator/creature distinction; it’s fundamental. The Lord Jesus Christ has a human body made of matter. Moreover, Jesus Christ’s human body that’s made of matter, it’s not a pile of atomic particles that happen to be rearranged in sort of a form. What do we understand if we read Genesis 1 about the image of man? We understand that he’s made in God’s image. Remember we made a big point that the image of God, in which we are made, is not just the immaterial part of man, but that our bodies, fingers, head, ears, these correspond to what God would look like were He to appear in a finite form. So the human body is not the casual result of a chance caused evolution. The human body’s shape is derivative of the character and being of God Himself. That means that form and matter have a different agenda here than they do in here. Here form and matter are sort of an antagonism to one another, whereas in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ the form and matter fit together in one shape.
This is a difficult area that we’re going into, so follow in the notes, the first part of the doctrine of the Trinity, the whole doctrine itself is difficult but in this section we’re going to get into a lot of Bible passages about the Trinity. I’m tired of hearing this stuff about oh, the Trinity is not taught in the Bible. All that shows is that whoever says it never reads the Bible, its self-indictment.
Tonight we want to set things up so that when we come to the text and we look at the biblical verses that have to do with the Trinity, you’re asking the right questions, the big questions. Scripture is like a wonderfully rich gold mine, and you get out of it as much as you dig. We can come into the cave and pick a few nuggets but if we really want the good stuff you have to dig, and the way to dig with the Scripture is bring the heavy questions to the text and let the text answer the heavy questions, which means first we have to deal with what are some of the heavy questions. We have to be careful that we word those questions in a Scriptural fashion.
What we want to do is turn the tables on what usually happens with this doctrine of the Trinity. Nine times out of ten when the doctrine of the Trinity is taught, someone will say but that doesn’t make logical sense, you Christians have an irrationalism in your faith, you have a logical internal contradiction in the very heart of your faith; how can God be three and how can God be one. What happens is that the non-Christian starts here, with his logic machine and then he wants to subject God to the logic machine. What we’re going to do is show you that it’s actually the reverse, that the logic machine can’t exist without the Trinity. It’s exactly the opposite. It’s only because we have the Trinity that we have the ability to think logically and in language.
I want to review how the pagan mind works because this is heavy stuff, and if you don’t get it, don’t worry about it, we’ll just go a little at a time. This will not affect the benefit of the Scripture verses we’ll have next week. But for those of you who have banged your head on the wall in this area, try to stay with me as I work through this, because what I am trying to show you is actually a truth about the Trinity that wasn’t well perceived prior to the 20th century. In the progress of the church the Holy Spirit teaches men; then the next generation that comes along builds on the shoulders of the previous generation. In the 20th century because so many battles were fought in the 1700s and 1800s over the faith, fundamentalist Christian thinkers at the turn of the century realized that something needed to be reformed in how we deal with issues of our faith, on how we deal with the big questions because it wasn’t being dealt with very skillfully in the 19th century.
Out of this came an approach called the presuppositional apologetic, largely developed in Westminster Seminary by Cornelius Van Til, largely a produce within the Reform Calvinist circles, a very powerful insight into Scripture. Cornelius Van Til is not well known, he never really wrote a popular book in his life, no paperbacks, no Christian publisher published his stuff. The books that he did write were classroom syllabi that people insisted on reforming and finally going out and publishing. He wrote articles, forty or fifty of them in some of the Reform Christian magazines for the Reform faith. I was talking to Dr. Tommy Ice about him, his background. Cornelius Van Til earned his PhD at Princeton, and he was one of those men who was involved in the day when Princeton was going and the big fundamentalist/modern controversy was around, so he regularly hung out with J. Gresham Machen who wrote the basic text in New Testament Greek. He was raised with Robert Dick Wilson who knew twenty-five Semitic languages; this is the kind of clientele this guy worked with. He was a brilliant guy; he actually wanted to be a farmer in Michigan, a very home-spun type guy, but he was very brilliant. God had gifted him in a very interesting way. At Princeton his teachers encouraged him to go on, and he eventually wrote his PhD dissertation on Immanuel Kant. Tommy was telling me that that PhD dissertation on Immanuel Kant was used by the professor of philosophy at Princeton to write the standard text on Immanuel Kant that still used today, one of the basic texts. So this guy is not some obscurantist.
What Van Til pointed out to Christians is that the fundamental question behind all philosophy throughout the centuries has been the question of the One and the Many. This is very practical in its results: the One versus the Many. The ancient world had a problem with this; the modern world has a problem with this. Politicians have a problem with this. Accountants have a problem with this. Secretaries have a problem with this. This is a problem that permeates all of life.
Let me try to develop a little bit more. The problem of the One and the Many is this: which is more important, is it that which unifies or is it the individual. For example, politically is it better to have individual rights and risk breaking society up into little clubs, gangs, groups, ethnic groups, etc., everybody has their rights, then you lose your unity. You can go over here and emphasize I am an individual and I have my rights; I have the right to liberty and I do this and I do that, this individualism. Does anybody know the end result of this kind of thinking politically? Anarchy.
The other side of the coin is, in order to have social order, we are going to have the ultimate authority in the state, and the state will determine what is right and what is wrong, therefore the state is the most important and not the individual. The political label to this is totalitarianism. So you have these extremes and people have fought this battle for ages. Communism came out on the totalitarianism side of the spectrum. The Libertarian political party in America right now is aiming in this direction, the recently elected Governor of Minnesota on the Reformed platform philosophically is tending toward anarchy, I’m not saying he’s an anarchist, I’m just saying that’s the emphasis. We have these two extremes. We’ve always had them in politics.
Let’s take it in another area to see the One and the Many; let’s take marriage. Marriage is an institution. You could say the husband and the wife should not lose their individual personalities and identities; marriage isn’t there to crush and erase the individual personality. The husband has a right and the wife has a right. But if this is made to be the final story we go to divorce and the dissolution of marriage because the marriage isn’t as important as the individuals in the marriage. On the other hand you can have a strong (quote) “marriage,” honoring marriage to the point where one or the other or both spouses are totally crushed in their individual expressions, their gifts and their use, etc. You can have the same thing in the family. You can have a family that’s a splinter family or you can have a family that’s a total dictatorship and domineered. So I think you can see that in the social realm you have a tendency to the One or the Many. And it goes on and on and on. But it’s not just in the social realm where this occurs, it occurs in other areas.
Let’s take the simple case of a secretary or at home, you have a filing cabinet. You’ve got all this stuff, materials scattered hither and yon and you say I want some order in this stuff. So you sit down and start sorting it out into categories; you put this in this file, this in that file, etc. What sometimes happens is that, say this is March, you go through and you spend a week organizing all your stuff in this great filing system. Then you don’t pay any attention to it until October and then you wonder where did I put this, because the system of organizing the material doesn’t somehow fit any more, there was a bad emphasis on the structure of the filing system. In this illustration what is the One and what is the Many? The Many is the stuff that’s going into the file, the individual things, and you’re trying to organize it. By the way, why do you want a filing system?
Think about it, why is there a need for a One in the middle of the Many? A filing system is a wonderful illustration of this. Why do we bother to file anything? Because we want to manage it. You can’t manage individual marbles rolling all over the place, it’s just chaos. So the only way you can manage things is to have it organized, and if you’re going to organize it, what do you have to have by way of organizing principles? You have to have something that makes sense so that it’s not just all red marbles and all blue marbles or something like that. You’ve got have something that really means something, so you have to think through how do you do a filing system.
The same thing happens in accounting. Accounting, basically you have all these transactions all over the place, and you go crazy trying to treat all these little transactions. A checkbook is a good example. You have a mess if you don’t have some way of categorizing these transactions. No way could an investor figure out the value of a business if he couldn’t get some idea of where’s the debt, what kind of debt quality is this, what kind of assets does it have, where are the liabilities, what are the tax debts, what is the cash flow in this thing, what are the debt ratios, etc. All these things come out of analysis of the individual transaction, how many widgets were sold last week. Those are the individual things. Everybody knows that you can’t have a mess. That’s why we have accountants; that’s why we have filing systems; that’s why we have government to bring social order.
There’s got to be something that emphasizes the One, and you’ll see that the people who emphasize the One want meaning, they want the big picture. On the other hand, that can become very oppressive. So the other tendency is to fly in the opposite direction and say I want my freedom, I want my rights, and put those in quotes because there’s an eternal contradiction with even that usage, because if everything is truly individual then there’s no such thing as an abstract right. The point is that there’s this tendency wherever you look, whatever century you’re reading, men have struggled with this issue.
I want to move on, on page 3 because I want to show that it’s even more serious than politics, filing systems and accounting. This is a problem is at the nuclear level of our entire way of thinking and knowing. The One and the Many has to be solved in order to deal with language, and I’m going to hyphenate language-thinking (I didn’t do this in the notes but maybe it will make it clearer) because you cannot think without language, period. All you can do is feel. All you can do is emote. That’s why the more illiterate a group is, and I don’t mean illiterate in the sense of reading; the people in Bible times were illiterate in the sense of formally, they couldn’t read but they were very literate people, they governed themselves, they thought in terms of absolutes, they had laws, they had rules of evidence, they could discuss large issues, so they were literate in that. That’s the general sense of what I mean; they could think. They just didn’t go oomph and feel. So thinking requires language.
Also involved in this is logic, because logic is involved in this. In order for us, at the most basic part of our souls to function, we need language and we need logic. Here’s the issue. What I’m doing here is I’m building something because the critics like to say the Trinity is a logical contradiction. What I’m going to show you is that if the Trinity doesn’t exist then there is no language or logic.
Language and logic both struggle with the One and the Many. Let’s take a simple sentence; my dog is a German shepherd. In that sentence there’s One and the Many. What is the individual item? My dog. I’m classifying my dog as part of a class called German shepherds. In that sentence I haven’t talked about what a German shepherd is, I’ve said it’s a classification into which my dog fits, one German shepherd, it’s what eats food next to my refrigerator, that’s my German shepherd. But I don’t know all German shepherds. Even if I was a breeder and I’d seen hundreds and hundreds of German shepherds, I would ultimately still be dealing with an abstract classification called German shepherds. Breeders can sometimes argue about where the boundaries are in some of these things. What is and what isn’t a German shepherd? How much mongrel gene do you get into this thing before he’s a mutt and he’s no longer a German shepherd? Where do you draw the boundaries? There are all kinds of debates over how many mammas and daddies you have to have in the line, etc.
But the point we’re making is that here is an ordinary sentence that everybody uses every single day and we have to deal with the One and the Many. The Many is any item, any individual item that we’re thinking about, and when we think about any individual item, whether it’s a transaction, whether it’s an object in our house, or anything else, we have to link that with some sort of class, classification, some sort of property. If we don’t, we really don’t know it. Think of anything you know, I just picked animals. When you go to describe your dog to the friend down the street, how do you describe him? You describe him in terms that he’s a German shepherd, he’s brown, etc. what are you doing? You’re describing him in terms property. So you have to have a set of properties out there in order to describe and know him, or it’s just I have an oongk in my house, oh, it’s an oongk, come over and see it. Now until you come over and see an oongk, you don’t know anything about what oongk is. If I’m going to tell you what oongk is, I have this list, a set of properties that you know intuitively exist, that you know about.
The point is that language, in a miraculous way, is daily solving the problems and nobody can explain how it works. The philosophers have struggled with this question, but in practice, life forces the accountant to deal with it; life forces society to deal with this. Life forces us to think in these terms. We just find ourselves thinking this way.
Let’s look at logic, which is closely related to this. In order for there to be any logical coherencies to thinking you’ve got to have, again, properties and classifications. Let’s say that we have this sentence: all dogs have four legs. If we’re sloppy in our logic here’s what happens. X has four legs, this is a bad syllogism, therefore X is a dog. Something’s wrong here, it’s not true. That’s a disorganized and false syllogism. But one of the problems with these syllogisms and why they break down is that words switch meanings in the process of talking about these things. For there to be a legitimate assertion, not only do they have to be organized in the right way, but there has to be a consistency of usage. If I start talking about dogs and I have in mind four-footed creatures, and you use the word d-o-g and you’re referring as a metaphor to something else, we’re going to be totally confused in our communication, because when I use the word dog I’m talking about those four-legged things with a tail. When you use the word dog you might be sarcastically referring to a car that doesn’t work or something. If we try to think across those boundaries we utilized the word d-o-g different. What saves us?
Aristotle pointed this out centuries and centuries ago. He made a very perceptive statement, as a pagan thinker; here’s Aristotle thinking through, Plato had started to work with this, Aristotle and Plato developed logic, etc. Here’s what their conclusion was, and nobody’s refuted them. What they basically argued was that you cannot have genuine logic unless you have 100% perfect categories. The moment the category boundaries smear out, your logic starts to leak, as well as your language. That was great, but the problem that Aristotle and Plato found as pagans was: what do you have to have in order to have a genuine 100% perfect sharp category? Think about it. If you think in terms of dog, German shepherd, that’s a category. Breeders can spend their lives working with German shepherds and still out there in the fuzzy edge, not know what a German shepherd is. What kind of knowledge do you have to know to have the perfect knowledge of exactly what a German shepherd is and what he isn’t? You have to go into the DNA, etc. But what kind of knowledge is required? Omniscience.
Follow us, we’re coming to thick stuff here, but here’s where the payoff is. Think of what we just said. In order to have language and logic function you need 100% perfect categories, but who in finite men and human thought can get hold of 100% universal categories. None of us, because to have 100% universal categories you’ve got to have omniscience, you’ve got to know everything in order to classify it in terms of universal classes, because if you classify it in terms of four German shepherds and here comes a fifth one, you have to say ooops, I have to adjust for that one. You look at the stock market, some computer guru has this model that works great for three years, and then the fourth year the market … oh, we’ve got to adjust our model. The problem is a finite person is always subject to the n + 1 observation. All knowledge would be contingent.
So the problem and the dilemma of the One and the Many is simply this, let’s try to phrase this… because this is going to make us appreciate… this doctrine of the Trinity that came out of 400 years of church history, that everybody says oh that was imported from the Greeks, you’re about to see how stupid that statement is. The Greeks said One and Many, and they were smart enough then to realize that in order to get unity in classification you’ve got to be God, G-o-d. You’ve got to have God-like knowledge to anchor logic and language. You’ve got to, because you’ve got to have universal categories that aren’t going to go away on Tuesday afternoon, they’re going to be valid Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, the year 2000, 2010, 3000, 4000 if the Lord tarries. You can’t have these things changing or you don’t have knowledge. So the One has got to be divine.
Now let’s look at the other side. The other problem is that you’ve got to also have an infinite set of observations of the individual things. You’ve got to have some idea of … here’s an object, here comes something else, like reading the morning newspaper, you open up the newspaper, well now what kind of a mess do we have today? You have these things coming to you, and what the Greeks realized was all you have back of here as the source of these individual things is pure chance, or they like to call it fate. So the problem of the Many is that you’ve got all these things coming out of nowhere, and you can’t really know where these things are coming from, they just happen. They just happen, they pop into your life, go away, pop into your life, they go away, new things come popping into your life every day. The problem here is that if everything is really chance, what does that do to the One? If you really don’t know where this stuff is coming from, how do you know you can ever get a One, how do you know you could ever get a classification going at all? You don’t.
The One and the Many are in perpetual antagonism to each other, on a pagan basis. Finite man is torn between trying to establish all the marbles in a pattern, on one hand getting the pattern under control and on the other hand once he gets it, it freezes on him and now he has no freedom; now he has no rights, no individual room to move. So here’s the picture of the unbeliever, going back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. That’s human history. In a personal private way you can see this in religious circles, including our Christian circles by a tendency of those people who in the flesh, when we’re not following the Holy Spirit, not filled with the Spirit, not obeying Scripture, not walking by faith, we drift in one of these two directions in our spiritual life. The direction toward the One is characterized by legalism. We’re going to establish a principle, whether God leads us to that or not, we’ve got to have a principle, got to follow the principle, come hell or high water we’re going to follow the principle; don’t adapt it to the situation, we’ve got to follow the principle!
The problem is often times the principles are just part of our own personalities, we happen to be more comfortable with this life style, so all the Christians have to fit our principle whether it’s in the Scripture or not. That’s legalism; we have no right to impose some standard outside of the Scripture on other people, other Christians. We’re going to meet people that just grate our souls, but we have to have grace. God has grace. It doesn’t mean we abandon His standards, but it also means we’re sensitive to these things. Paul deals with this, if you want some good Scripture, Romans 14, 1 Corinthians 8-10. Those are central passages, Romans 14, 1 Corinthians 8-10 are practical problems where Paul had to deal with this legalism situation; people were worried about eating.
I’ve watched evangelicals, we’ve been in different churches for 30 years or so, and congregations in the whole evangelical community go through these fads. What was the thing where no mother was considered spiritual unless she nursed her baby; that was back in the 70s, we went through that. There were some women who couldn’t nurse their babies so they were looked upon as some sort of unspiritual people. Where in the heck does the Bible say that every woman has to nurse her child whether she can medically do it or not? That’s not in the Scripture. But we have all this peer pressure set up inside Christian circles. We can get into it in our won congregation, we can say boy, everybody’s home schooling their kids. That’s fine, some people might not want to home school. The Bible doesn’t say to home school. The Bible gives you educational principles; it says parents are in charge. It doesn’t specify exactly how. I think home schooling is great but I wouldn’t say that’s for everybody. And if you make it for everybody it’s legalism, it’s because we’ve got a principle now and we’ve got to cram, ram and jam it. That’s going for the One.
On the other hand we have the Many. Well, I don’t think we should judge anybody, you know let Him judge, we don’t want to evaluate anything, so we’re free to do anything, it’s grace, grace all the way, so we can go out and raise all kinds of hell and Jesus will forgive it. So we have that group, and that’s the licentious group. So here we go, back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, we’re doing the same thing in our Christian circles. We still haven’t solved the One and the Many. I want you to see that this thing is all permeating.
Here is where the Trinity comes in. On page 4, watch what happens in the next few sentences, because one of the things we said from the very beginning is the One and the Many may be an interesting question, it may be a very vexing question, it may be a basic question, it may not be solved by any pagan, but before you answer a question what do you always do? Check to see if the question is phrased right. Remember the story, how many times last week did you beat your wife? How do you answer that one without incriminating yourself? You don’t answer questions unless first you run it through a grid to say wait a minute, is the question itself honoring to Scripture. Am I coming to this thing with a biblical point of view or not, so that’s what I say in this paragraph.
“The Bible-believing Christian, on the other hand, sees the One and the Many in creation as derivative of the One and Many in the Creator.” What did we say is fundamental to the Christian worldview over against the pagan? What is the difference between the Christian and the non-Christian? The Christian thinks in terms of two levels of being, the Creator and the creature. The pagan doesn’t have that, he thinks of being, everything just exists, God exists, man exists, nature exists, the rocks exist, one level of being. The Christian can’t do that, we have to come over and say there’s two levels of being. So when we ask the question of the One and the Many, instead of doing it like Aristotle and Plato, we say wait a minute, we’ve got to ask our One/Many question in terms of the Creator and the creature, there’s a One and Many here. Here’s where the Trinity starts to show up.
This is fundamental; this is what separates biblical Christianity from all other religions. Do you remember when we were going through different heresies? Go back to that chart on page 37, when the church was arguing about who the person of Jesus Christ was, they ran into all these heresies. Many times the heresies were majority viewpoints. It wasn’t until the Holy Spirit led the church through a series of fierce debates that the cause of these heresies was finally swept out the door. On the right column of that table I have underlined certain words. The words I have underlined in the right column refers to the bedrock view of God that was wrong; behind the heresy there stood a false, deceptive, wrong, erroneous view of the being of God. It was because of that wrong view of God that these men could not handle the person of Christ. They just could not deal with Jesus Christ correctly, because in their presuppositional level of their most basic level of thinking they were screwed up and that led them to have falsified views of the person of Jesus. That’s why the church went and threw them out.
Notice what we’ve underlined: solitary monotheism, in terms of what we’ve been talking about the last forty-five minutes what’s the error here, is this drifting toward the One or to the Many? It’s drifting to the One. Islam does this. Allah is God and God alone, he doesn’t talk, there’s no communication. Who does Allah talk to besides himself? Does he have soliloquies, forever and ever? Think of this in terms of before creation. Allah is all alone. Can Allah have what we would call a social relationship? Can Allah exercise the attribute of love? Where’s the object of Allah’s love before the Creation? How can you get an attribute of love in a solitary God? Here’s how you can try to do it … try to do it: have him create something in order to love. But, once you have to have a god creating something external to himself in order to exercise this principle, you’ve made God dependent on the external creation. So now God is no longer a self-contained God, he is a God dependent on the universe, and the cosmos. This is why the Trinity is central to our faith. If we abandon the Trinity we go into something like Islam or Judaism, it’s as simple as that, and once we do that, we compromise the attributes of God.
What we have done is show …, and let’s let this flow out a little more, with the Creator/creature we have God and looking at the Trinity because God is One, and God is Three, there’s multiplicity in God. We want to look at this oneness and this threeness. We want to be careful about something. The church came in the Chalcedon Creed to say that Jesus Christ is undiminished deity and true humanity united in one person. We want to be careful when we say that the Trinity, God is one in essence, He is righteous, He is just, etc. and He is three in personality. That’s often the way we say it. I just want you to urge you to be careful. A Mormon can say the same thing. How are you going to distinguish how a Mormon talks about the Trinity, and how an orthodox Christian talks about the Trinity. A Mormon interprets that to mean there are three persons, all of whom are gods, plural. So you have the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, each one is God and you have three Gods. Wait a minute, that’s not the Trinity. So what’s missing?
How do we state the Trinity? Here’s the dilemma, we’ve got to state the Trinity so God is as much one as He is three. It’s like Jesus Christ is as much God as He is man. That’s where the critic, the pagan, thinks there’s a contradiction, he says something can’t be three and can’t be one. But the critic is down here inside the creation, he has something called number one and he has something called number three. You can’t have something one and three, clearly there’s a conflict there. What is he doing? He’s saying there’s a concept called oneness and there’s a concept called threeness, and those two [blank spot]
… but in order to think clearly you have to have 100% certainty and purity of your concepts. The pagan, including the Mormon, is out here with his concept of oneness and his concept of threeness and what is he doing? He’s grabbing God and trying to put Him into this concept of oneness and threeness and coming up short.
What did Paul say in Colossians 2:8; not according to the elements of this world, not according to the basic concepts, but according to Christ. So what do you do to your basic concepts? You have to have the concept of oneness and threeness derived from the Trinity. In other words, our idea of what oneness and threeness is comes derivatively out of the Trinity itself. You can’t subject the Trinity to a human concept of oneness and threeness. The human idea of oneness and threeness is rooted, first in the very character of God. What does this mean? Well it means that God can speak of Himself as I, personal pronoun, singular, I AM. What did He say to Moses? He didn’t say we are, He said I AM. God can speak and self-refer to Himself with a first person plural. What does He do in Genesis 1:26, how does He refer to Himself there? “Let us,” first person plural. First person singular pronoun; first person plural pronoun, and God refers to Himself that way, alternately, one, three, one, three, one, three. You say wait a minute, I can’t grab this. That’s right. What does the Bible say: “My ways are not your ways, neither are your thoughts My thoughts.” There’s an incomprehensibility about God.
But what we can say is that in God the oneness and the threeness are of equal importance, and that’s the key. In the Trinity it’s not one over the three, it’s not three over the one. Mormonism elevates the three over the one; they have three individual gods running around so the three, the Many, has been exalted over the One. Islam elevates the One over the three and they have an Allah that can’t love. In the Trinity God is as equally three as He is one, we do not understand that because our concepts are finite and they’re exhausted by trying to grapple with this infinite dimension. So God is one and God is three, and that’s the data that we’re getting from His revelation. That’s what He speaks, that’s what we’re hearing; we’re hearing a first person singular and we’re hearing a first person plural pronoun. One day He says “we,” the next day He says “I.”
The Trinity, then, is something that is not at all common in any of the columns on page 37; it is alien to every single one of those beliefs. It is not contained in any way, in any shape, in any form by any of those heresies. What does this do when somebody in the classroom tells you the Trinity was imported from the Greeks… oh, yeah, tell me the Greek that it came from. The table on page 37 tells you all the stuff that was being imported into the church and it certainly wasn’t the Trinity. The Trinity arose, not because somebody stole it from some Greek pagan somewhere, the Trinity arose, men were forced into this; it’s uncomfortable because we have to confess we don’t know what we’re talking about here ultimately. God is incomprehensible. We are forced into the doctrine of the Trinity by the Scripture. It is the Scripture that drives us into this position. It cuts us off every time we want solitary monotheism. It cuts us off every time we want a tri-theism. It never fits; the verses keep colliding with each other. So we’re boxed in with the Scriptures, and we have to confess the Trinity on this basis.
Having said all that, and we’re going to get into the details of the Scripture next time, what we want to show is that this shouldn’t seem strange after all, because what does the filing cabinet do, what does the accountant do, what do we do in our normal sentences when we talk every day, and when we think. Aren’t we balancing the One and the Many and operationally speaking, in spite of our theories, aren’t we operating every single day of our lives as though the One and the Many are in perfect harmony. We all know that that’s true. Every accountant knows that’s true. Every secretary who files knows that’s true. And when we think about it, every time we utter a sentence we know that’s true. So we can sit here and fret all we want to about we’re into hard stuff and I don’t understand it, but it’s equally hard to understand a normal sentence, because we don’t think about thinking. We don’t think about our language. It’s just all of a sudden when the doctrine of the Trinity appears all of a sudden we’ve got a problem. The problem is we had the problem all the time; we had it every time we spoke, every time we filed, every time we did this, every time we did that, it’s just that we never thought about it in those terms.
If you want to argue the Trinity as problematical, I can turn it right back to you and say explain the last sentence you just said, tell me, what do you mean by a property? Duh! What do you mean by a property? The dog is a German shepherd? What’s this property German shepherd, I never saw an ideal German shepherd, where is one, show me one. You can’t show me one, but you’re always talking about German shepherds. Yes, but I want to see one. Well this is an individual example of the class. I know, but I want to know what the class is. Tell me empirically and scientifically what is this class. He can’t tell you. Logic isn’t determined empirically. Did you ever hear this story, well I can’t believe Jesus, I can’t believe that religious stuff, you can’t touch it, taste it, measure it, etc. Can you touch, taste and measure logic? Do you have a law of logic, what does it smell like? Did you ever see one? What does it taste like? It’s not subject to empirical investigation. So here you are telling me all this stuff that you don’t believe because there’s no empirical evidence and you’re tools for which there’s no empirical evidence. How silly.
The point we’re trying to get at is this doctrine of the Trinity is strange, but it’s no stranger than the One and the Many in our every day lives. Later on I’ll show some examples of the One and the Many. I’ll just kind of give you a fore taste of these, sometimes you hear people use an egg, but that really isn’t an illustration of the Trinity; some theologian laid an egg when that one came out. A better illustration of the Trinity would be space. How many dimensions does space have? Isn’t it interesting that space is three dimensions. Isn’t it interesting that time has three dimensions. You begin to see this one and threeness throughout the creation. Why aren’t there four dimensions? Or two? Isn’t it strange that you always wind up with three? These are the kind of hints that God has built into His creation that surrounds us all the time that He is one and three.
Look in the notes for next week, I show some of the verse references, and I urge you to look at these in light of what we talked about tonight. In particular, on the bottom of page 5, there are the references to the problem, and it is a problem because notice the use of plural pronouns three out of the four times that I’ve referenced occurs in the first book of the Bible [Genesis 1:26; 3:22; 11:17; Isaiah 6:8] Isn’t that interesting; why does that happen? On page 6 we deal with another evidence of the Trinity and that is the mysterious angel of Jehovah. This is a truly enigmatic figure out of the Bible. On the one case he is not Jehovah, yet on the other case he is Jehovah, so how can the angel of Jehovah be Jehovah and be distinct from Jehovah. Then we go on to what is called the word of Yahweh, and that’s kind of a mind-blowing experience because many of you think of that as the written Scripture. But the prophets had this technical term that was used in the Old Testament, “The word of the Lord came to me.” We often think that was just a thought, it was a little more than that. So it’s this “Word of the Lord” that comes.
Finally on page 7 I’m going to take you to those passages, and you really want to look at those passages and see whether I’m pulling your leg or not. Look at those passages, they are Old Testament passages, centuries before the church, and yet they seem to talk about a Trinity, a plurality in Jehovah God and there’s threeness there, long, long before Paul, John, Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
We’re going to work with the biblical text next week, but tonight I want to show as an introduction to the Trinity, this is a strange doctrine, yes. Can we comprehend it? No. Is it logically contradictory? No it isn’t if you operate in terms of the Creator/creature distinction. And if you want to say it’s logically contradictory, then I will challenge your method of logic.
Question asked: Clough replies: The church has basically decided that that’s the [can’t understand word/s] three in persons one in essence, and as long as you keep that in your mind you’ve kind of got to be careful… I first became aware of the weakness of that formulation, believe it or not, when I was working with some Mormons, because they sat there right across the table and said we believe that too. I knew enough about Mormon theology to know, no you don’t, not what I’m thinking. But the problem is it’s this business, that you know that you don’t believe that way, but somehow they’re able to twist those words around and make three persons, all of whom are gods, plural. If that’s so, then you’ve made a property God’s essence and these are individuals, all of whom share that property. In which case what you’ve done is you’ve made the property independent of God.
I think maybe the best way of thinking about it is this, let’s think of another property. Forget the oneness and threeness for a minute and think of any other attribute of God. Let’s think of His holiness. Plato, in his book, raised this question; keep in mind Plato raised this question without thinking in terms of the biblical God. Here’s the question he raised, and see if you can see where it goes. He said is good good because it’s a standard to which the gods and men hold, or is good good because the gods decree it to be so? If you take the answer that good is an abstract property or quality that God fits, what you have done is you have just made this abstract quality independent of God and He happens to fit that template. That’s a pagan way of thinking, that’s saying there’s a standard over and above God to which God holds. That’s not the biblical view.
The biblical view is that holiness is what God is, it’s His character. On the other hand, Plato’s question was is holiness merely what the gods say it is, so God could change tomorrow? It’d be arbitrary then. That’s not what the Bible says either because God says I cannot lie, God is for sure He’s always the same, His character doesn’t change. So it’s not true that the properties are something less than and manipulatable by God. They reflect His character so we have to be careful when we say there is an attribute of God, holiness; what we must be careful of is to realize that when we say that there is holiness, that what we’re saying is there is a property that we can observe that comes from His character. It doesn’t come from above God, it doesn’t come from outside of God, nor is God free not to be holy tomorrow because that’s His character. His character is to remain forever to be holy.
What we call properties, like goodness, that derive from holiness, I’m using them synonymously, what we say is light or goodness or holiness, the revolutionary thing in all this is to think of it as totally derivative of God Himself. Holiness is our understanding of the character of God; it is not something over and above God to which God holds to. There is not an abstract thing, God is made up of this, He’s made up of this, He’s made up of that, and all those properties are together and sort of like I can say that of my dog or my cat, I can say that of my chair, the chair projects a squareness and I have some sort of idea of squareness. A chair isn’t communicating squareness to me; the chair fits this higher standard. But when we get to deal over and above, not at the creature level, but when we go up to the Creator level we can’t do that. We have to say that squareness is what God defines it to be, that’s the way He thinks, and we think that way because He first thought that way.
That’s why the Reformers defined the role of man to think God’s thoughts after Him. I think that’s a neat saying, it’s one of those careful things you kind of have to think about. Notice what they said. We are to think God’s thoughts after Him. What does that mean? It says first of all we think and God thinks, analogous. Why, because we’re made in His image. Why do we think? Not because the biochemicals got to be soup some place and sort of evolved up and we have this neuroelectrical activity in our brains and that’s thinking. We think because that is an activity God designed into us so that we reflect Him and so that when He chose to incarnate Himself in the person of Jesus Christ, He wasn’t going into a rock, He wasn’t going into a plant, He wasn’t going into an animal, He was going into a man. The way we are designed is a finite replica of God Himself. So we think; God thinks.
But the Reformers were careful; they said we are to think God’s thoughts after Him. What they meant by after is derived and dependent upon Him. So when we talk about moral goodness, cleanness, holiness, we are to think God’s thoughts after Him. That means He thinks holiness, He thinks light, and our concept of whatever is good is derivative and a finite version of His. His thinking is good not because something is in back of Him to which He adheres, there’s not some yardstick up there, it’s because He is, that is His character. He’s not anything else.
So having said that, you could do that with all the attributes, God is holy, God is righteous, God is loving. What is love? John says “God is love.” See, that’s a dangerous thought the way it’s interpreted. You can have some person out there believe in some eternal goo, and there’s this vague concept of love, and God is that concept. No, no, no! God is there, and love is a concept that exists because it’s a reflection or projection of His character. It’s God’s nature to love, and that’s what sets up the category of love, His character.
Now let’s come to the threeness and the oneness. Why we have trouble with that is because God’s character has this threeness to it, which means He has a numerical quality. Think about that. Allah does not have a numerical quality so that number, distinction of numbers, is a relatively superficial and trivial thing. I was just reading that there’s a strong streak in Islam, I was not aware of, they said wherever Islam has been allowed to take its own course without religious government decreeing it, you will find that Islam gravitates to mysticism, where everything gets kind of smeared together. I was unaware of that. The reason for that is individual things don’t matter any more, it’s like oriental religion, everything’s a one, just one big blob, there are no individual distinctions. God says in His character there are distinctions, there’s the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit and they’re eternally distinct. So distinctions count, they’re not just one smeary blob, which is oriental religion. Oriental religion tends to oneness, and you want to see that played out in history? What was the religion in China before communism took over. People were always amazed, why did communism take over China so fast? Think of what was there before communism? It was Confucianism, it was just a superficial ethic borne out of oriental thinking. They were already set up for totalitarianism.
In God we have this individuality, the Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit is not the Son, so there’s distinction. That means, since it’s forever, it’s an eternal distinction, it means that threeness is as much of God as His love is, it’s as much of God as His holiness, it’s as much of God as His omniscience, it’s a much of God as His omnipotence and all the other attributes. The threeness factor is another attribute of God. Our problem is how do we really state that because we see the Holy Spirit, we see the Father, we see the Son, we see Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane talking to His Father. That was the early problem the Sabellians had because remember what Sabellianism held to, the fact that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit were just masks that the one God put on. The problem was, who was Jesus talking to then in the Garden? Was He saying Father and then He’d play this role; Son and then He would play this role, was He doing that, sort of like a play that’s short of characters, one character has to play two people. That would be Sabellianism. That’s not the Trinity.
In the Trinity there’s genuine exposure. Jesus, in John 17 says something, He says to His Father in that prayer: Father, You loved Me before the foundation of the world. That tells you that they were in eternal communion before the first atom of the universe existed. What that tells us is that our God is self-dependent and self-contained, and doesn’t need the universe. All other gods need the universe. Our God does not. He’s totally independent.
So what we’re grappling with in the Trinity, I guess what I’m trying to say here is that you’re grappling with the same thing we’ve been grappling with with all the other attributes, it’s just that now all of a sudden it just hits us because it’s so difficult, so clear that we have to deal with this thing because now we’re talking about Jesus Christ. One of the three of the Godhead walks into history, talks to us, saves us, appears to be in the New Testament what the angel of Jehovah was in the Old Testament, then that means when we see the angel of Jehovah functioning in the Old Testament we’re really seeing the Lord Jesus Christ in His preincarnate form doing His thing. Then we have the fact, well, that’s interesting because in the New Testament Jesus is very gracious; in the Old Testament He’s slaughtering armies. How do you put that one together? It is, in the book of Revelation, Jesus Christ comes back and He fulfills the role that the angel of Jehovah did in the Old Testament, except now he’s called the Lord Jesus Christ. So you see there’s a continuity, He’s always the Father, always the Son, always the Holy Spirit.
Then we have to be careful in our Christian thinking, why the Trinity is so important is we tend to depersonalize the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is as much a person as the Father and the Son. What happens is because of the so-called subordination, or the order of the Trinity, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit honors the Father by revealing the Son. And He’s always kind of like, again thinking in terms of a drama, He’s more like, if the Lord Jesus Christ is the actor on the stage and the Father is the playwright, the Holy Spirit is the technician behind the scenes, working the lights and all the rest of it, and you never see Him. Yet He’s responsible for pulling it all off. The Holy Spirit is responsible for Scripture, preserving the Scripture. But sometimes we have a tendency not to honor Him as a separate person. All this is just trying to create a balance at the very core of our theology, the very core of our faith. That’s why in subsequent weeks we’re going to go into stating the elements that you need to hold in balance on the Trinity. We’ll deal with that.
But to get back to your question about personality doesn’t work, I don’t know what else does, because the language the church has chosen has been traditionally God is three in persons and one in essence, and I guess it’s okay, as long as you don’t run into somebody that’s so totally pagan in their thinking that their interpretation of that sentence is that you have three people who happen to share the same attributes and there’s no personal unity among them. God is one, He can manifest Himself as one being, and yet He can manifest Himself as three … I don’t know that works, but I know that we certainly don’t believe in tri-theism.
Question asked: Clough replies: It would be a good example if you did it right, what you have to do in these examples is that whatever you do with the Many, the parts of the egg in this case, the problem I see with the egg illustration is that the yoke etc. are separate and distinct parts, they satisfy that part of the equation. What they don’t satisfy is that the yoke isn’t all the egg, the yellow isn’t all the egg, the white isn’t all the egg. Whereas some of the illustrations I’m going to mention, time and space and matter, actually were mentioned by Dr. Nathan Wood who for many years taught at Gordon-Conwell in Boston, and what Wood pointed out was, again it’s not a perfect illustration, but what he said was that you can look, every point in space has three specifications, x, y, and z, you can visualize, reach every point with an x, every point in space has an x dimension to it, or has a y dimension, or has a z dimension to it. So every point can be described in terms of x or y or z. There’s no point in space that doesn’t have an x; there’s no point in space that doesn’t have a y; no point in space that doesn’t have a z. So that geometrical illustration is better because it grabs more of what God is. All of God can be described as Jesus Christ, the Son; all of God can be described as the Holy Spirit; all of God can be described as the Father. Nothing is left out, just like no point in space would be left out that way.
So that’s why in the few illustrations we want to try for accuracy. The egg is fine for a kid or something, but you’ve got to watch it, because we want to beware that the Trinity is so much the focal point of attack, Satan has attacked ever since the church formulated it, because He knows that the Trinity is the only thing that holds the whole Christian theology together. You mess up here and you set in motion denials of the cross, salvation, all kinds of manifestations with this, because ultimately a poor inaccurate and erroneous view of the Trinity demeans the person of Jesus Christ, because you want to keep it in context.
What I’ve tried to do in the series is always think of key events and link your doctrine to those events so that in your mind if someday you’re thinking this through, you’ve got a Bible lesson or you’re just trying to work something through spiritually in your own life, you grab hold of a truth and you say to yourself, what’s the biblical imagery behind this truth. Well, what’s the biblical imagery behind the Trinity? Why do we even bother with the Trinity? What are we discussing here, we’re not discussing the Kings, we’re discussing Christ. So that should set off alarm bells that if I tamper with the Trinity I’m tampering with Christ. Just like if I tamper with salvation, judgment/salvation in the Old Testament, I’m messing up the Exodus, or if I mess up the Exodus, I’m messing up my doctrine of judgment/ salvation. That’s why it’s all interrelated.
Question asked: Clough replies: There’s a distinction between the ontological Trinity and what is called the Economic Trinity. Here’s what we mean. We can describe God as He is in and of Himself, try to, based on what we know of His revelation, what life was like before the universe, what He was like, and there were certain things that were true of Him before time, before the universe was created. Once the universe was created, He has a plan for this universe and He interacts with it, revelationally. He has a plan, and what you asked is why Jesus had to leave for the Holy Spirit to come. It’s not that Jesus is saying the Holy Spirit wasn’t here before, because in His omnipresence the Holy Spirit has always been here.
Now we have to ask well, what is it about the Holy Spirit that’s coming, certainly not His presence, His presence was always here, He’s always omnipresent, He was present in the Old Testament, present at creation, present at the fall. So what do we mean? The New Testament says that the Holy Spirit coming, the coming of the Holy Spirit is connected with Christ in that the Holy Spirit is working a work on planet earth that is absolutely new, that was not true in the Old Testament, could not have happened in the Old Testament, and was contingent upon Jesus Christ getting to the throne. What that work that the Holy Spirit does is actually building the body of Christ, which is a new entity all together. It’s not Israel, it’s not the pagans, it’s a new entity that He’s building.
So when Jesus says the Holy Spirit, the Comforter will come, but He won’t come until I go to the Father, He’s obviously sequencing it, and it has to do with the building of the church, and what is the church but the body of Christ and what is the body of Christ but Christ’s human righteousness is being regenerated and projected into the church, and the Holy Spirit does that. And He didn’t do that before.
What that entails practically is the whole thing, when we get into the Church Age, but what I want to do in the person of Christ … that’s why you hear me say, when we get into the life of Christ in the next chapter you’ll hear me say several times, some of you have commented already when you’ve heard me say it the first couple of times, is that you can look upon the human Jesus walking abound the earth as a test pilot. I have to be careful, this is kind of like the egg, you have to watch it because no illustration is perfect. I don’t mean by that that God’s plan of salvation and His sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit could have erred, could have screwed up and Jesus had to test it out, that kind of thing. What I meant is that Jesus Christ was the pioneer. So the first member of the human race ever to be filled with the Spirit in the sense that the church is, with this recapitulated nature of Christ … that happened with Jesus, and it’s His walking abound obediently and trustingly that created in history genuine righteousness out of the human race; that had never been seen before. Adam could have, theoretically, maybe, but here for the first time, the angels, Satan and everyone observed the human masterpiece walking the face of the earth in perfection. And He proved thereby that the human race could do it.
He even inherited a title, which we’ll get into in another appendix, the Son of God and the Son of Man. Those are technical terms, they are not used as synonyms, and often times we want to present the flavor of those terms. The Son of Man doesn’t just refer to His humanity and the Son of God doesn’t just refer to His deity. They have a lot more stuff in there. One of the terms, the Son of Man is actually the Son of Adam [he pronounced it Ah dahm], the son of Adam, and it means that He justifies the creation of the human race by doing it right. And when He gets done doing it right He has created and generated what righteousness looks like, the perfect example of human righteousness, never before observed. And it’s that righteousness He carries to the Father’s throne, and He dispenses through the Holy Spirit reproducing that righteousness when we’re filled with the Spirit, as much as it can be in fallen beings.
But before in the Old Testament, it’s not that Old Testament saints weren’t righteousness, but there was no prior person that proved the point. Jesus defeated Satan this way, and that’s another aspect, the victory of Jesus over Satan. Until Jesus got to the throne, think of the hierarchy, man was created lower than the angels, Satan is an angel, therefore, man is created lower than Satan on the totem pole of authority and power. What happened when Christ crashed through the heaven of heavens, He ascended to be at the Father’s right hand? Now who’s at the helm of the universe? For the first time in history, a man, the son of Adam.
Now the helm of the universe is clearly in Adam’s hands, and Satan has lost out, and the church pictured this as a fishhook, in the ancient church writings they loved the [can’t understand word] of the fish, we’re always talking about the fish. Well, they also had another metaphor, the hook, and they said see, God hooked Satan. In this case Satan was the fish, and God hooked it, He had a plan and Satan fell for it. Satan thought he was going to stop God by murdering Jesus Christ. The very act of murdering Jesus Christ was to set it up, that’s exactly what God wanted him to do and that’s exactly what defeated him. And he’s hated that ever since, and he chaffs and he’s resentful, this is why there’s a hatred against all Christians because we are the only touchable part, He can’t touch Jesus, Jesus is at the Father’s right hand.
Why does he go about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour? Peter says “a roaring lion,” out for prey, he wants to kill, he wants to maim, he wants to destroy because this is the only way to get back at what happened. He knows what’s happened; there’s been a momentous change in the whole cosmos because of the resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. And he knows that very well, he knows the implications of that, so that promotes a fury and an anger that’s directed toward us. That’s why Peter wants us to be carefully and recognize that these things have all caused this.
But the coming of the Holy Spirit is like the coming of Jesus, there was a sequence and there was an order. The Father it seems like is emphasized much in the Old Testament, though Jesus and the Holy Spirit are there, in the New Testament Gospels it’s the Son who is emphasized, and in the epistles the Holy Spirit tends to be emphasized. So there’s that progression, and that’s the economic Trinity, the economic Trinity being the individual roles that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit play in this plan.
We’ll end; if you look at some of those verses it’s pretty amazing. I hope that your eyes will be opened to the plurality of God and the Old Testament, and be prepared so that when people say oh, the Christians invented the Trinity, just read a little bit in the Old Testament.