Thoughts on the Trinity

This Sunday we will be taking a look at Acts 2:1-41, were the Holy Spirit rushes (“like a mighty wind”) into the lives of some bewildered disciples of the ascended Christ. This moment would forever change the course of human history. The God of the universe has become available to humankind through Jesus Christ – and now the Holy Spirit. It will be helpful for us to consider the mystery, or paradox, of the Trinity…

Neither of the words “Trinity” nor “Tri-unity” appears in the Old or New Testaments, yet the concept has its basis in an understanding of scriptural teaching. Our English word “Trinity” is derived from Latin, “Trinitas,” meaning “the number three, a triad.”  This abstract noun is formed from the adjective trinus (three each, threefold, or triple),  — just as the word unitas is the abstract noun formed from unus (one). The corresponding word in Greek means “a set of three” or “the number three.”

Tertullian, a Latin theologian of North African decent, who wrote in the early third century, is credited with first using the words “Trinity,”  “person,” and “substance”  to explain that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are “one in essence – not one in Person.”

About a century later, in 325, the First Council of Nicaea established the doctrine of the Trinity as orthodoxy and adopted the Nicene Creed that described Christ as, “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father.”

The concept of the Trinity was introduced by Jesus Christ himself,  in Matthew 28:19-20:

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”

Jesus not only defines the Trinity, but appears to indicate that there is one name that encompasses the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Timothy Keller in his remarkable book, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism describes the inner workings of the Trinity as a dance into which we are invited. Imagine that – the God and Creator of the universe invites us into this dance of perfect unity and love. How could anyone resist such love? Keller says, “Christianity, alone among the world’s faiths, teaches that God is triune and the trinity means that God is, in essence, relational. That is why we were created, to be in a relationship and a community with God and that the ultimate end of creation is union in love between God and his loving creatures.” Keller goes on to say, “we were made to center our lives upon him, to make the purpose and passion of our lives knowing, serving, delighting and resembling him. This is the dance of God, and we lost the dance when we became stationary, self-centered, self-absorbed and consumed with the “endless, unsmiling concentration on our needs, wants, treatment, ego, and record.” But Christ died for us and in his dying, invited us back into the dance. And if we accept the invitation, we can put our lives on a whole new foundation, making him the center and stop trying to be our own Savior and Lord.”

Finally, in his resent book, Irresistible Revolution, Shane Claiborne states that, “community is what we are created for. We are made in the image of God who is community, a plurality of oneness. When the first human was made, things were not good until there were two, helping one another. The biblical story is the story of community” (pg 134).

For a more scholarly yet conversant treatment of the Trinity, read Jonathan Edwards’ unpublished essay on the Trinity. You can find it here.

The pic above is entitled, The Holy Trinity (The Hospitality of Abraham) and is a famous icon by the Russian artist, Andrei Rublev c. 1360-1430.  Icon is a Greek word that means “image.” Throughout Christian history, especially during the time when literacy was not an opportunity for all, icons were used to teach or inspire common people telling the stories of the faith. To watch a clip of how and why icons are made click here.

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