the doctrine of trinity was inferred, not defined (2.50 / 8) (#68)
by Berkana on Sat Aug 21, 2004 at 07:29:35 AM EST
The Council decided the definition of the Christian deity as the Holy Trinity, God the father, God the son and God the Holy Spirit. . . However, the nature of its creation, a council, and the diplomatically sensitive way in defining the formula, too many suggest the creed of the Holy Trinity to be rather a political construct between theologians and politicians rather than anything achieved by divine inspiration.
The doctrine of the Trinity was not merely defined at the Council of Nicea; it is and was considered to be divinely inspired by Christians, not because the Council of Nicea had divinely inspired conclusions but because the doctrine of the Trinity was inferred from the Bible, which the bishops believed to be inspired. Even though the term for "trinity" is nowhere found in the Bible, the term merely summarizes an idea that Christians had inferred from various passages. Before I begin, let me summarize some of the issues on which the doctrine of the Trinity was depends on.
The doctrine of the trinity is not that there are three gods in one; it is that there is one god, but that this one god has three persons in the godhead. (The key idea is that person ≠ god.) The Old and New Testaments are both in agreement that there is only one god, but both the Old and New Testaments imply that there are multiple divine persons in this god. Infact, one of the names of God in the Old Testament is Elohim, which is a plural form.
- The divinity of the Messiah
- The personhood of the Holy Spirit
- Their union in the Godhead
The Divinity of the Messiah
(For the sake of clarity, I'll start by arguing for duality rather than trinity by considering the issue of whether the Messiah (a.k.a. the Christ) was the son of God according to the Bible, and whether this makes the Messiah a second person in the godhead. Later, I'll address the issue of the Holy Spirit.)
The question of whether the Messiah was divine is pretty clearly settled if the New Testament is your prooftext. In the all four of the gospels, Jesus makes claims to divinity (both implied and explicit), and his divinity is expounded on all over the epistles as well as in various verses in the gospel according to John. Since this is not much in question, I'll spare you the detailed explanation from the New Testament about the Messiah's divinity and his union with God the Father; instead, I'll focus on the Old Testament prooftext for the divinity of the Messiah.
The following yet-unfulfilled prophetic Psalm is clear that the Messiah (the anointed one) is the son of God.
Why do the nations conspire
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth take their stand
and the rulers gather together
and against his Anointed One.
"Let us break their chains," they say,
"and throw off their fetters."
The One enthroned in heaven laughs;
the Lord scoffs at them.
Then he rebukes them in his anger
and terrifies them in his wrath, saying,
"I have installed my King
on Zion, my holy hill."
I will proclaim the decree of YHWH:
He said to me, "You are my Son;
today I have begotten you.
Ask of me,
and I will make the nations your inheritance,
the ends of the earth your possession.
You will rule them with an iron scepter;
you will dash them to pieces like pottery."
Therefore, you kings, be wise;
be warned, you rulers of the earth.
Serve YHWH with fear
and rejoice with trembling.
Kiss the Son, lest he be angry
and you be destroyed in your way,
for his wrath can flare up in a moment.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him.
The following verses are Messianic prophecies from the Old Testament. The Highlighted verses imply that the Messiah is divine.
Isaiah 9:6(Digression: Christians take this last title to mean peace between God and man; persecution and painful conflict with loved ones over faith convictions is promised to followers of Jesus.
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Father of eternity, Prince of Peace.
"But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me
one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old,
from days of eternity"
The Personhood of the Holy Spirit
The divine Holy Spirit is not a notion that was come up with in New Testament Times; throughout the Old Testament, even from the very first book, the Spirit is mentioned:
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence
nor take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
Isaiah 63:7-10, 13-14
I will tell of the kindnesses of YHWH,
the deeds for which he is to be praised,
according to all YHWH has done for us-
yes, the many good things he has done
for the house of Israel,
according to his compassion and many kindnesses.
He said, "Surely they are my people,
sons who will not be false to me";
and so he became their Savior.
In all their distress he too was distressed,
and the angel of his presence saved them.
In his love and mercy he redeemed them;
he lifted them up and carried them
all the days of old.
Yet they rebelled
and grieved his Holy Spirit.
So he turned and became their enemy
and he himself fought against them.
. . . Like a horse in open country,
they did not stumble;
like cattle that go down to the plain,
they were given rest by the Spirit of YHWH.
This is how you guided your people
to make for yourself a glorious name.
The notion that the "Spirit of YHWH" was something divine is pretty clear, but the thing that establishes the doctrine that the Holy Spirit is a personal being is that the Holy Spirit can be grieved; grief, or any emotion, is considered a trait signifying personality. Here are some more verses that support the personhood of the Holy Spirit.
Ephesians 4:30Once personhood can be established from prooftext, the doctrine that the Holy Spirit is a third person in the trinity is established.
. . . And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.
. . . Peter and the other apostles replied: "We must obey God rather than men! The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead--whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel. We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, *whom* God has given to those who obey him." [personhood is implied]
When they heard this, they were furious and wanted to put them to death. But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honored by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the men be put outside for a little while. Then he addressed them: "Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men. Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing. After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered. Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God."
Coming over to us, he took Paul's belt, tied his own hands and feet with it and said, "The Holy Spirit says, 'In this way the Jews of Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles.' " [personhood is implied in the highlighted text.]
This response has become longer than I intended. Anyhow, I just wanted to point out, the doctrine of the trinity of the Godhead was not defined at Nicea as a "political construct between theologians and politicians"; it was recognized by Christians before then because it was inferred from the Bible, which was believed to be divinely inspired. I'll conclude with the verse that has all three persons of the godhead present in some manifestation:
At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased."