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  • Writer's pictureBrian O'Kelly

6- A God Like No Other

Updated: Apr 12, 2022

6 – The Trinity Doctrine

What is the Trinity Doctrine?

According to Wikipedia: The Christian doctrine of the Trinity defines God as being one God existing in three coequal, coeternal, consubstantial divine persons: God the Father, God the Son (Jesus Christ) and God the Holy Spirit, three distinct persons sharing one homoousion (essence). In this context, the three persons define who God is, while the one essence defines what God is.

This doctrine is called Trinitarianism and its adherents are called trinitarians, while its opponents are called antitrinitarians or nontrinitarians. Nontrinitarian positions include Unitarianism, Binitarianism and Modalism.

Early Christian theologians

Speculated in many ways on the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit

No one clearly and fully asserted the doctrine of the Trinity until around the end of the so-called Arian Controversy.

Antitrinitarian literature paints “the” doctrine as influenced by, or even stolen from some non-Christian religious or philosophical tradition.

Divine threesomes are common in the religious writings and art of ancient Europe, Egypt, the near east, and Asia. These include various threesomes of male deities, of female deities, of Father-Mother-Son groups, or of one body with three heads, or three faces on one head.

Similarity doesn’t prove Christian copying or even indirect influence, and many of these examples because of their time and place are unlikely to have influenced Christianity.

Early Christian Influence

A direct influence on second century Christian theology is the Jewish philosopher and theologian Philo of Alexandria (a.k.a. Philo Judaeus) (ca. 20 BCE–ca. 50 CE). Philo read the Jewish Bible as teaching that God created the cosmos by his Word (logos), the first-born son of God.

Justin Martyr

Describes the origin of the logos (= the pre-human Jesus) from God using three metaphors (light from the sun, fire from fire, speaker and his speech), each of which is found in Philo.

Justin’s triad is hierarchical or ordered. And Justin’s scheme is not, properly, trinitarian. The one God is not the three, but rather one of them and the primary one, the ultimate source of the second and third.

Justin and later second century Christians didn’t conceive of God made man - “no one with even the slightest intelligence would dare to assert that the Creator of all things left his super-celestial realms to make himself visible in a little spot on earth.”

Consequently, any biblical theophany (appearance of a god) on earth, as well as the actual labor of creation, can’t have been the action of the highest god, God, but must instead have been done by another one called “God” and “Lord”, namely the logos, the pre-human Jesus, also called “the angel of the Lord”.

Plotinus offered a triad of the One, Intellect, and Soul

in which the latter two mysteriously emanate from the One, and “are the One and not the One; they are the one because they are from it; they are not the One, because it endowed them with what they have while remaining by itself” Plotinus even describes them as three hypostases, and describes their sameness using homoousios.

This is closest yet to the Trinity doctrine

The One God in the Trinity

No theologian in the first three Christian centuries was a trinitarian in the sense of a believing that the one God is tripersonal, containing equally divine “persons”, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The terms we translate as “Trinity” (Latin: trinitas, Greek: trias) seem to have come into use only in the last two decades of the second century; but such usage doesn’t reflect trinitarian belief.

These late second and third century authors use such terms not to refer to the one God, but rather to refer to the plurality of the one God, together with his Son (or Word) and his Spirit. They profess a “trinity”, triad or threesome, but not a triune or tripersonal God. Nor did they consider these to be equally divine. A common strategy for defending monotheism in this period is to emphasize the unique divinity of the Father.

Origen: “The God and Father, who holds the universe together, is superior to every being that exists, for he imparts to each one from his own existence that which each one is; the Son, being less than the Father, is superior to rational creatures alone (for he is second to the Father); the Holy Spirit is still less, and dwells within the saints alone. So that in this way the power of the Father is greater than that of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and that of the Son is more than that of the Holy Spirit…”

This is known as “subordinationism”, as the Son and Spirit are always in some sense derivative of, less than, and subordinate to their source, the one God, that is, the Father. Modern day Jehovah’s witnesses and Mormons are subordinationists.

Views of the Holy Spirt Undeveloped, but Jesus was Worshipped

While views about the Spirit remained comparatively undeveloped, and as in the New Testament the Spirit was not worshiped, in the second and third centuries Christianity came to attribute a “a divine nature” to Jesus, and to firmly establish his being called “God”.

Language which had been very unusual in the first century now became the norm; Jesus was now “God” or “a god”, but not the one true God.

This divine Son (i.e. the pre-human Jesus) was mysteriously “generated” by God either just before creation or in timeless eternity

While these developments were new, the worship of Jesus was not.

Recent work has shown that Jesus was worshipped alongside God in the earliest known Christianity


An important transitional figure is Tertullian. He was pressed on one side by Christians who objected to late second century logos Christology on which the pre-human Jesus (the “Word”, Greek: logos of John 1) was God’s instrument of creation. John1: 1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. 4 In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.

They considered this scheme of two creators and a divine Jesus to be inconsistent with monotheism.

Some of these thought Jesus to be a man empowered and indwelt by God, while others thought that Jesus and the Father were one and the same—the same self and the same god.

In opposition to these he asserted and developed logos Christology in a unique way. Here is a graphic illustration of Tertullian’s trinity—not a triune God, but rather a triad or group of three, with God as the founding member.

Under the influence of Stoic philosophy, Tertullian believes that all real things are material.

God is a spirit, but a spirit is a material thing made out of a finer sort of matter. At the beginning, God is alone, though he has his own reason within him.

Then, when it is time to create, he brings the Son into existence, using but not losing a portion of his spiritual matter.

Then the Son, using a portion of the divine matter shared with him, brings into existence the Spirit. And the two of them are God’s instruments, his agents, in the creation and governance of the cosmos.

The Son, on this theory, is not God himself, nor is he divine in the same sense that the Father is. Rather, the Son is “divine” in that he is made of a portion of the matter that the Father is composed of. This makes them “one substance” or not different as to essence. But the Son isn’t the same god as the Father, though he can, because of what he’s made of, be called “God”. Nor is there any tripersonal God here, but only a tripersonal portion of matter - that smallest portion shared by all three. The one God is sharing a portion of his stuff with another, by causing another to exist out of it, and then this other turns around and does likewise, sharing some of this matter with a third.

Against believers concerned with monotheism, Tertullian argues that although the above process results in two more who can be called “God”, it does not introduce two more gods - not gods in the sense that Yahweh is a god. There is still, as there can only be, one ultimate source of all else, the Father.

Thus, monotheism is upheld. The one God is unipersonal both at the start and the end of this process. Nor are the persons equally divine; Tertullian holds that the Son is “ignorant of the last day and hour, which is known to the Father only” (Matthew 24:36).

What is Tertullian’s answer to his critics?

First, he strongly emphasizes that these are truly three; none of the three is identical to any other.

They are “undivided” in the sense that the Father, in sharing some of his matter, never loses any; rather, that matter comes to simultaneously compose more than one being.

The chart might suggest that this portion of matter is one thing with three parts; but it is conceived of merely as a quantity of matter. The Father is one entity, the Son is a second, and the Spirit is a third. Nor are they parts of any whole; the latter two simply share some of the Father’s divine stuff. Tertullian does not argue that the three compose or otherwise are the one God. Instead, Tertullian replies that a king may share his one kingdom with subordinate rulers, and yet it may still be one kingdom. Likewise, God (i.e. the Father) may share the governance of the cosmos with his Son (Praxeas, ch. 4)

Despite these fundamental differences from later orthodoxy, Tertullian is now hailed by trinitarians for his use of the term “Trinity” (Latin: trinitas) and his view that it (at the last stage) consists of three persons with a common or shared “substance”.

The Old Testament

No trinitarian doctrine is explicitly taught in the Old Testament

we can see that a number of texts either portray or forshadow the co-working of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The preincarnate Son of God is mentioned, or even appears in bodily form (CHRISTOPHANY) to do the bidding of his Father, and is sometimes called the “angel of the Lord” Genesis 18, Yahweh appears to Abraham as three men, and the text has often been read as though the men spoke as one, with one voice.

Gen 18:2 Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground.

In my view this doesn’t fit the idea of the trinity. In the trinity only one of the members has a physical body. Jesus alone ever did that. This is more properly understood as a Christophany

Exodus 3:1-6 “Moses was shepherding the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian. He led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. Then the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire within a bush. As Moses looked, he saw that the bush was on fire but was not consumed... God called out to him from the bush, “Moses, Moses!” “Here I am,” he answered. ‘Do not come closer,’ he said. ‘Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.’ Then he continued, ‘I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ Moses hid his face because he was afraid to look at God”

Daniel 3:25 He answered and said, “But I see four men unbound, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods.”

Some have even identified the preincarnate Christ as Michael, protecting angel over Israel mentioned in the books of Daniel, Jude, and Revelation. This is the view of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Seventh Day Adventists.

JWs see Jesus as a created being

SDAs see Jesus as eternally existent and the appearances of Michael as Christophanies.

And in several passages, Yahweh refers to himself, or is referred to using plural terms. Non-trinitarians usually read this as a plural of majesty, a form of speech which occurs in many languages, or a conversation between God and angels, while trinitarians often read this as a conversation between the persons of the Trinity.

"Let US make man in OUR image" Gen 1:26

Christians read the Old Testament through the lens of the New.

The former speaks of God as working by his “word”, “wisdom”, or “spirit”.

Some New Testament passages call Jesus Christ the word and wisdom of God.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus talks about the sending of another comforter or helper, the “Holy Spirit”.

Some Christians claim the door was open to positing two divine intelligent agents in addition to “the Father”, by, through, or in whom the Father acts, one of whom was incarnated in the man Jesus.

In opposition, other Christian readers have taken these passages to involve anthropomorphization of divine attributes, urging that Greek speculations unfortunately encouraged the aforementioned hypostasizations.

The New Testament

The New Testament contains no explicit trinitarian doctrine.

The doctrine can be inferred from what the New Testament does teach about God.

In contrast, others claim that the doctrine of the Trinity

can’t be inferred from the Bible

that there’s inadequate or no evidence for it there

That what is taught in the Bible is incompatible with the doctrine.

Many Christians believe the doctrine solely on the authority of doctrinal pronouncements of theologians

Many Christian apologists argue that the doctrine of the Trinity is “biblical” using three sorts of arguments.

They begin by claiming that the Father of Jesus Christ is the one true God taught in the Old Testament.

That given what the Bible teaches about Christ and the Holy Spirit, they must be “fully divine” as well.

Thus, we must, “move them within” the nature of the one God. Therefore, there are three fully divine persons “in God”. While this may be paradoxical, it is argued that this is what God has revealed to humankind through the Bible.

The types of arguments employed to show the “full divinity” of Christ and the Holy Spirit work as follows.


The bible says only divinity can perform action A. (Resurrection, Miracles which suspend natural law, creative power. Receiving worship)

For any Individual, if Individual does action A, Individual is fully divine.

Jesus, did action A

Therefore, Jesus is fully divine.


The Bible applies title or description T to identify full divinity (first, last, alpha/omega)

For any Individual, if the Bible applies title T to them then Individual is fully divine.

The Bible applies title T to Jesus

Therefore, Jesus is fully divine.

Qualities or attributes

The Bible identifies quality Q to identify full divinity (sinlessness, omniscience, the power to perform miracles, something Christians should be baptized in the name of)

For any Individual, if the Bible applies quality Q to them then Individual is fully divine.

The Bible applies Quality Q to Jesus

Therefore, Jesus is fully divine.

Another form of argument runs as follows.

Passage “P” is a true prophecy predicting that the God of Israel, Yahweh, will do action “X”.

Passage ”Y” truly asserts that the prophecy in “P” was fulfilled by action “X” in the life of Jesus Christ.

Therefore, Jesus Christ is the God of Israel, Yahweh.

The Arian Controversy

It was only in response to the controversy sparked by the Alexandrian presbyter Arius (ca. 256–336) that a critical mass of bishops rallied around what eventually became standard language about the Trinity.

This controversy was complex, and it can be briefly summarized as follows. Arius taught, in accordance with an earlier subordinationist theological tradition, that the Son of God was a creature, made by God from nothing a finite time ago.

Around 318–21 a controversy broke out, with Arius’ teaching opposed initially by his bishop Alexander of Alexandria. Alexander examined and excommunicated Arius.

Numerous churchmen, adhering to subordinationist traditions about the Son rallied to Arius’ side, while others, favoring theologies holding to the eternal existence of the Son and his (in some sense) ontological equality with the Father, joined his opponents.

The dispute threatened to split the church, and a series of councils ensued, variously excommunicating and vindicating Arius and his defenders, or their opponents. Each side successively tried to win the favor of the then-current emperor, trying to manipulate imperial power to crush its opposition.

From the standpoint of later orthodoxy, a key episode in this series occurred in 325, when a council of bishops convened by the Emperor Constantine (ca. 280–337) decreed that the Father and Son were homoousios (same substance or essence).

Arius and his party were excommunicated.

By the time of the council of Constantinople (381 CE), an anti-subordinationist reading, vigorously championed by Alexandrian bishop Athanasius (d. 373) had the upper hand; homoousios was understood as asserting the Father and Son to not merely be similar beings, but in some sense one being. While it stopped short of saying that the Holy Spirit was homoousios with the Father and Son, the council did say that the Holy Spirit “is worshiped and glorified together with the Father and the Son”, and added in a letter accompanying their creed that the three share “a single Godhead and power and substance” Over the ensuing period the same sorts of arguments used to promote the divinity of the Son, were reapplied to the Holy Spirit, and eventually inhibitions to applying homoousios to the Holy Spirit evaporated.

The pro-Nicene Consensus

Around the time of the very messy Council of Constantinople as imperial and ecclesial forces began to systematically extinguish subordinationist groups in the eastern and western empires the kind of trinitarianism which finally prevailed within the mainstream institutions of Christianity began to gel into a recognizable form.

The “Athanasian” Creed

The so-called Athanasian Creed is a widely adopted and beloved formulation of the doctrine.

It reads, in part: “We worship one God in trinity and the Trinity in unity, neither confusing the persons nor dividing the divine being. For the Father is one person, the Son is another, and the Spirit is still another. But the deity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is one, equal in glory, coeternal in majesty. What the Father is, the Son is, and so is the Holy Spirit. Uncreated… infinite… eternal… And yet there are not three eternal beings, but one who is eternal… Almighty is the Father… And yet there are not three almighty beings, but one who is almighty. Thus the Father is God; the Son is God; the Holy Spirit is God: And yet there are not three gods, but one God….not three lords, but one Lord … The Father was neither made nor created nor begotten; the Son was neither made nor created, but was alone begotten of the Father; the Spirit was neither made nor created, but is proceeding from the Father and the Son. Thus there is one Father, not three fathers; one Son, not three sons; one Holy Spirit, not three spirits. And in this Trinity, no one is before or after, greater or less than the other; but all three persons are in themselves, coeternal and coequal; and so we must worship the Trinity in unity and the one God in three persons. Whoever wants to be saved should think thus about the Trinity.

Medieval Theories

Church council decisions are treated by Catholicism and Orthodoxy much like supreme court decisions in American jurisprudence. While early rulings may be bent and twisted to meet new needs, they are at least in theory inviolable precedents. Thus, the structure of Christian churches ensured that these boundaries weren’t violated, and theorizing about the Trinity from around 400 CE until the Reformation (ca. 1517) was forcibly kept within the bounds of creedal orthodoxy.

Post-Medieval Developments:

During the Protestant Reformation many Christians re-examined the New Testament and rejected many later developments as incompatible with apostolic doctrine.

Many Reformation leaders de-emphasized the trinitarian doctrine, and seemed unsure whether to keep it or discard it along with papal authority and transubstantiation.

In the end, they decisively fell in line on behalf of creedal orthodoxy (roughly in line with the pro-Nicene consensus)

Other groups, now described as the “Radical Reformation”, either downplayed it, ignored it, or denied it as inconsistent with the Bible and reason. This led to several controversies between creedal trinitarians and what came to be called “unitarians” about biblical interpretation, christology, and the Christian doctrine of God.

In Modern theology

the Trinity has become a popular subject for speculation, and its practical relevance for worship, marriage, gender relations, religious experience, and politics, has been repeatedly asserted.

It has fallen to Christian philosophers and philosophically aware theologians to sort out what precisely the doctrine amounts to, and to defend it against charges of inconsistency and unintelligibility.

The doctrine’s basis or lack of basis in the New Testament, so vehemently debated from the 16th through the 19th centuries, is not presently a popular topic of debate.

This is probably because some theologians hold the attempt to derive the doctrine from the Bible to be hopelessly naive, while other theologians, many Christian philosophers and apologists accept the common arguments as decisive.

Finally, it may simply be that trust in the mainstream tradition, or in various particular Christian traditions, currently runs high; many confess trinitarianism simply because their church officially does, or because it and/or the mainstream tradition tells them that the Bible teaches it.

One-self Theories (Modalism) - One-self theories assert the Trinity, despite initial appearances, to contain exactly one self.

A self is a being who is in principle capable of knowledge, intentional action, and interpersonal relationships.

A deity is commonly understood to be a sort of extraordinary self. In the Bible, the deity Yahweh commands, forgives, controls history, predicts the future, occasionally appears in humanoid form, enters into covenants with human beings, and sends prophets, whom he even allows to argue with him. More than a common deity in a pantheon of deities, he is portrayed as being the one creator of the cosmos, and as having uniquely great power, knowledge, and goodness.

Trinitarians hold this revelation of the one God as a great self to have been either supplemented or superseded by later revelation which shows the one God in some sense to be three “Persons.”

But if these divine Persons are selves, then the claim is that there are three divine selves, which would seem to be three gods. Some Trinity theories understand the Persons to be selves, and then try to show that the falsity of monotheism does not follow.

But a rival approach is to explain that these three divine Persons are really ways the one divine self is, that is to say, modes of the one god. In current terms, one reduces all but one of the three or four apparent divine selves (Father, Son, Spirit, the triune God) to the remaining one. One of these four is the one god, and the others are his modes. Because the New Testament seems to portray the Son and Spirit as somehow subordinate to the one God, one-self Trinity theories always either reduce Father, Son, and Spirit to modes of the one, triune God, or reduce the Son and Spirit to modes of the Father.

What is a mode? It is a “way a thing is”, but that might mean several things.

The Son is the event of God’s relating to us as friend and savior.

The Son is the event of God’s taking on flesh and living and dying to reveal the Father to humankind.

If an event is a substance having a property at a time, then the Son will be identified with God’s having a certain property, or being in a certain relation, at a time.

Mainstream Christian theologians nearly always reject “modalism”

Modalism conflicts with episodes in the New Testament where the three appear simultaneously, such as the Baptism of Jesus in Matthew 3:16–7.

Held to be objectionable because it is held that a doctrine of the Trinity should tell us about how God really is, not merely about how God appears, or because a trinitarian doctrine should express God’s essence.

Trinity as Incoherent

The simplest sort of one-self theory affirms that God is, because omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent, the one divine self, and each Person of the Trinity just is that same self. The “Athanasian” creed seems to imply that each Person just is God, even while being distinct from the other two Persons. Since the high middle ages trinitarians have used a diagram of this sort to explain the teaching that God is a Trinity.

If each occurrence of “is” here expresses numerical identity, commonly expressed in modern logical notation as “=” then the chart illustrates these claims:

Father = God

Son = God

Spirit = God

Father ≠ Son

Son ≠ Spirit

Spirit ≠ Father

But the conjunction of these claims, which has been called “popular Latin trinitarianism”, is demonstrably incoherent because claims 1–3 imply the denials of 4–6. If 1–6 are steps in an argument, that argument can continue thus:

God = Son (from 2, by the symmetry of =)

Father = Son (from 1, 4, by the transitivity of =)

God = Spirit (from 3, by the symmetry of =)

Son = Spirit (from 2, 6, by the transitivity of =)

God = Father (from 1, by the symmetry of =)

Spirit = Father (from 3, 7, the transitivity of =)

This shows that 1–3 imply the denials of 4–6. Any Trinity doctrine which implies all of 1–6 is incoherent. To put the matter differently: it is self-evident that things which are identical to the same thing must also be identical to one another. Thus, if each Person just is God, that collapses the Persons into one and the same thing. But then a trinitarian must also say that the Persons are distinct from one another.

In the Gospels, we have the spectacle of God–as–Son praying to himself, namely to God–as–Father. Perhaps most poignant of all… are the words of abandonment on the cross, “My God, why have you forsaken me?” On the view we are considering, this comes out as “Why have I–as–Father forsaken myself–as–Son?”

Difficulties for One-self Theories

Any one-self theory is hard to square with the New Testament’s theme of the interpersonal relationship between Father and Son.

Any one-self theory is also hard to square with the Son’s role as mediator between God and humankind. These teachings arguably assume the Son to be a self, not a mere mode of a self, and to be a different self than his Father.

Theories which make the Son a mere mode, make him something less than a self, whereas others make him a self, but the same self as his Father. Either way, the Son seems not to be qualified either to mediate between God and humankind, or to be a friend of the one he calls “Father”.

The Holy Spirit as a Mode of God

Some ancient Christians, most 17th-19th century unitarians, present-day “biblical unitarians”, and some modern subordinationists such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses hold the Holy Spirit to be a mode of God—God’s power, presence, or action in the world.

Three-self Theories

One-self Trinity theories are motivated in part by the concern that if there are three divine selves, this implies that there are three gods. Three-self theories, in various ways, deny this implication. They hold the Persons of the Trinity to be selves. A major motivation here is that the New Testament writings seem to assume that the Father and Son (and, some also argue, the Holy Spirit) are different selves

Ersatz Monotheism

A problem for any three-self Trinity theory is that three selves are, it would seem, three things. And according to a theory of essences or natures, a thing which has or which is an instance of an essence or nature is thereby a thing of a certain kind. All Trinity theories include the Nicene claim that the Persons of the Trinity have between them but one essence or nature, the divine one. But it would seem that by definition a thing with the divine essence is a god, and so three such things would be three gods.

Some three-self theories in effect concede that they imply tritheism (three things, each of which has properties sufficient for being a god), but argue that surely a correct Trinity theory can’t avoid the right type of tritheism, and can avoid any undesirable tritheism, such as ones involving unequal divinity of the Persons, Persons which are in some sense independent, or Persons who are in principle separable

Trinity Monotheism

Isaiah 44:6-8 6“This is what the Lord says— Israel’s King and Redeemer, the Lord Almighty: I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God. 7 Who then is like me? Let him proclaim it. Let him declare and lay out before me what has happened since I established my ancient people, and what is yet to come— yes, let them foretell what will come. 8 Do not tremble, do not be afraid. Did I not proclaim this and foretell it long ago? You are my witnesses. Is there any God besides me? No, there is no other Rock; I know not one.”

The Trinity monotheist says that even though there are three divine Persons, there is one God because there is one Trinity. William Lane Craig has defended the best known such theory. The aim is to go beyond mere analogies, providing a literal model of how to understand traditional trinitarian claims.

Craig offers Cerberus, the three-headed dog from Greek mythology as “an image of the Trinity among creatures”. The point of this fictional example is that Cerberus would be one dog with three “centers of consciousness”. Though only parts of one dog, each head is literally canine. If we were to upgrade the mental capacity of the three here, it would be one dog which is three persons. And if we imagine that Cerberus survives death, in that case we can’t say that the three are one dog because they have one body. In fact, we’re now imagining one (canine) soul which supports three persons. Change canine to divine, and this is the model of the Trinity.

God is an immaterial substance or soul endowed with three sets of cognitive faculties each of which is sufficient for personhood, so that God has three centers of self-consciousness, intentionality, and will…the persons are [each] divine… since the model describes a God who is tri-personal. The persons are the minds of God.

Only the Trinity, on this theory, is an instance of the divine nature, as the divine nature includes the property of being triune.

Beyond the Trinity “there are no other instances of the divine nature”. So if “being divine” means “being identical with a divinity”, then none of the Persons are “divine”. But the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are each “divine” in that they are parts of the one God, as the heads of Cerberus are “canine” (592).

But doesn’t the Bible portray God as a self who speaks in the first-person? Christians should read the Old Testament as corrected by the New Testament. And in the New Testament arguably there are “three divine persons. Old Testament passages where “God” speaks first-person should be read as the Father speaking on behalf of the Trinity.

The account is not polytheism because only the Trinity is God, and because of the necessary unity of the three. But isn’t “Every divine person is a god” true by definition? No, because “divine” can mean relating to a god (without being a god), and in this common meaning the Persons of this theory are “divine”. Similarly, a hand can be “human” without itself being a human being.

There is…considerable plausibility in the claim that a truly solitary person who throughout all eternity never expressed any love for anyone would not be a perfectly loving person.

Thus, given that God must be perfect independently of creation, “a truly solitary person would not be divine, for it would not be perfectly loving” It is “inconceivable” that a divine Person should flourish without loving another, and that surely only the love of finite selves would not be enough. A solitary divine Person would be “an appropriate object of pity.

The Bible suggests that a divine Person must have not only splendor (exalted attributes) but also glory, “something at least akin to fame–a kind of recognition, approval, or appreciation” which is conferred by another. A solitary divine Person would be lacking this glory; but presumably a divine Person must have glory. Thus, there couldn’t be just one divine person.

Others object to arguments that there can’t be a single divine self, based on divine happiness or flourishing, urging instead that a divine self who exists and is perfect of himself would automatically be well-off, happy, or flourishing despite lacking countless important goods. It is too anthropomorphic, he argues, to suppose that a god or a divine self, like a human, is a social animal which can’t flourish without interpersonal relationships.


Mysterianism is a meta-theory of the Trinity, that is, a theory about trinitarian theories, to the effect that an acceptable Trinity theory must, given our present epistemic limitations, to some degree lack understandable content. “Understandable content” here means propositions expressed by language which the hearer “grasps” or understands the meaning of, and which seem to her to be consistent. Mysterians view their stance as an exercise of theological sophistication and epistemic humility, the view that one can understand and say what God is not, but not what God is, while others simply appeal to the idea that the human mind is ill-equipped to think about transcendent realities.

Extreme Mysterianism

Holds that no first-order theory of the Trinity is possible

We must be content with delineating a consistent “grammar of discourse” about the Trinity, i.e., policies about what should and shouldn’t be said about it.

In this extreme form, mysterianism may be a sort of sophisticated position by itself—to the effect that one repeats the creedal formulas and refuses on principle to explain how, if at all, one interprets them.

Moderate mysterianism

supplements a Trinity theory which has some understandable content, but which is vague or otherwise problematic. Thus, mysterianism is commonly held as a supplement to one of the theories.

It may serve as a supplement not to a full-blown theory but rather to one or more analogies. Unitarian views on the Father, Son, and Spirit are typically motivated in part by hostility to mysterianism.

Negative Mysterianism

The negative mysterian holds that the true doctrine of the Trinity is not understandable because we don’t have enough intelligible content for it to seem either consistent or inconsistent to us.

The late fourth-century pro-Nicene consensus this takes the form of refusing to state in literal language what there are three of in God, how they’re related to God or to the divine essence, and how they’re related to each other.

The Persons of the Trinity, in this way of thinking, are somewhat like three men, but also somewhat like a mind, its thought, and its will, and also somewhat like a root, a tree, and a branch. Multiple incongruous analogies are given, the idea being that a minimal content of the doctrine is thereby expressed, though we remain unable to convert the non-literal claims to literal ones, and may even be unable to express in what respects the analogies do and don’t fit.

Negative mysterianism goes hand in hand with the doctrines of divine incomprehensibility (that God or God’s essence can’t be understood completely, at all, or adequately) and divine ineffability (that no human concept, or at least none of some subset of these, applies literally to God). Some recent studies have emphasized the centrality of negative mysterianism to the pro-Nicene tradition of trinitarian thought, chastising recent theorists who seem to feel unconstrained by it.

The practical upshot of this is being content to merely repeat the approved trinitarian sentences.

Positive Mysterianism

In contrast, the positive mysterian holds that the trinitarian doctrine can’t be understood because of an abundance of content.

So while we grasp the meaning of its individual claims, taken together they seem inconsistent, and so the conjunction of them is not understandable, in the sense explained above.

The positive mysterian holds that the human mind is adequate to understand many truths about God, although it breaks down at a certain stage, when the most profound divinely revealed truths are entertained. Sometimes an analogy with recent physics is offered; if we find mysteries (i.e., apparent contradictions) there, such as light appearing to be both a particle and a wave, why should we be shocked to find them in theology.

Logic Puzzles and Language

While many discussions start with claims that are seen as the heart of the “Athanasian” creed there is this seemingly inconsistent triad of claims:

God is triune.

The Son is not triune.

The Son is God.

Another inconsistent Triad

The Christian God is a self.

The Christian God is the Trinity.

The Trinity is not a self.

The philosophical challenge of the Trinity as centers on the key Nicene term “consubstantial” (Greek: homoousios). How can the three Persons be “consubstantial” so that each equally in some sense “is God”, while retaining individuality

The fundamental challenge for the orthodox trinitarian as showing how this seemingly inconsistent triad of claims is, rightly understood, consistent:

There is exactly one God.

There are exactly three divine persons.

Each divine person is God.

The Bible Case

Old Testament

"Let US make man in OUR image" Gen 1:26

Isaiah 6:8-9 Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?"

Isaiah 44:6-8“This is what the LORD says—

Israel’s King and Redeemer, the LORD Almighty:

I am the first and I am the last;

apart from me there is no God.

Who then is like me? Let him proclaim it.

Let him declare and lay out before me

what has happened since I established my ancient people,

and what is yet to come—

yes, let them foretell what will come.

Do not tremble, do not be afraid.

Did I not proclaim this and foretell it long ago?

You are my witnesses. Is there any God besides me?

No, there is no other Rock; I know not one.”

Isaiah 45:23-24: Isaiah 45:23-24: "I have sworn by Myself, The word has gone forth from My mouth in righteousness And will not turn back, That to Me every knee will bow, every tongue will swear allegiance. They will say of Me, 'Only in the Lord are righteousness and strength.' Men will come to Him, And" all who were angry at Him shall be put to shame.

New Testament

Mark 2:5-12 And Jesus seeing their faith said to the paralytic, "My son, your sins are forgiven." But there were some of the scribes sitting there and reasoning in their hearts, "Why does this man speak that way? He is blaspheming; who can forgive sins but God alone?" And immediately Jesus, aware in His spirit that they were reasoning that way within themselves, said to them, "Why are you reasoning about these things in your hearts? "Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven'; or to say, 'Arise, and take up your pallet and walk'? "But in order that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins"—He said to the paralytic— "I say to you, rise, take up your pallet and go home." And he rose and immediately took up the pallet and went out in the sight of all; so that they were all amazed and were glorifying God, saying, "We have never seen anything like this."John 1:1 "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."

John 5:8-18 Jesus said to him, "Arise, take up your pallet, and walk." 9 And immediately the man became well, and took up his pallet and began to walk. Now it was the Sabbath on that day. Therefore the Jews were saying to him who was cured, "It is the Sabbath, and it is not permissible for you to carry your pallet." But he answered them, "He who made me well was the one who said to me, 'Take up your pallet and walk.'" They asked him, "Who is the man who said to you, 'Take up your pallet, and walk'?" But he who was healed did not know who it was; for Jesus had slipped away while there was a crowd in that place. Afterward Jesus found him in the temple, and said to him, "Behold, you have become well; do not sin anymore, so that nothing worse may befall you." The man went away, and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well. And for this reason the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because He was doing these things on the Sabbath. But He answered them, "My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working." For this cause therefore the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God.

John 8:56-59 "Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad." The Jews therefore said to Him, "You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?" Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am." Therefore they picked up stones to throw at Him; but Jesus hid Himself, and went out of the temple.

John 10:25-39 If You are the Christ, tell us plainly." Jesus answered them, "I told you, and you do not believe; the works that I do in My Father's name, these bear witness of Me. "But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep. "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish; and no one shall snatch them out of My hand. "My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. "I and the Father are one." The Jews took up stones again to stone Him. Jesus answered them, "I showed you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you stoning Me?" The Jews answered Him, "For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy; and because You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God." Jesus answered them, "Has it not been written in your Law, 'I said, you are gods'? "If he called them gods, to whom the word of God came (and the Scripture cannot be broken), do you say of Him, whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, 'You are blaspheming,' because I said, 'I am the Son of God'? "If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; but if I do them, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me, and I in the Father." Therefore they were seeking again to seize Him, and He eluded their grasp.

John 19:7 The Jews answered him, "We have a law, and by that law He ought to die because He made Himself out to be the Son of God."

Philippians 2:9-11: "Therefore also God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."

2 Corinthians 13:14 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.

Philippians 2:1-2 "If therefore there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.

1 Corinthians 1:9 God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Philippians 2:5-11 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore also God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Revelation 1:5-8 5 and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, 6 and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen. 7 “Look, he is coming with the clouds,”[b] and “every eye will see him, even those who pierced him”; and all peoples on earth “will mourn because of him.”So shall it be! Amen. 8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.”

Revelation 21:22; 22:1-5 "I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple." ... "Then he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the middle of its street. On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. There will no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His bond-servants will serve Him; they will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads. And there will no longer be any night; and they will not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God will illumine them; and they will reign forever and ever."

Revelation 22:12-13 12 “Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.


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