More Thoughts on the Trinity



This Sunday churches around the globe will celebrate Trinity Sunday. Even Disciples of Christ churches may choose to observe the day (we will at my congregation). With that in mind, I wanted to share a little more from an essay I'm working on that is intended to help folks from my tradition consider the value of the doctrine of the Trinity. It's not our way to impose a doctrine, so I will have to be persuasive. So here are few paragraphs from the section exploring the biblical framework of the doctrine. 

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While it is understandable that the Hebrew Bible might have few if any explicit trinitarian declarations, one might expect the New Testament to be more forthcoming. However, even here there are no explicit statements of a trinitarian doctrine. The doctrine is a theological construction that attempts to make sense of the biblical witness, especially those texts that affirm the primary relationship between Father and Son. The most explicit statement is the baptismal formula found in Matthew 28:19. In the Great Commission, Jesus commands his followers to make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. While this is the only New Testament expression of this formula, it has become the standard formula for most churches. A second passage, 2 Corinthians 13:13 (14), is more helpful in defining the relationship, but it’s not without its own difficulties. The declaration is: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.” In Romans 8:11 we see implicit reference to plurality within God with regard to the resurrection: “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.” 

Barton Stone is correct— “that there is but one living and true God, is a plain doctrine of revelation. ‘We know that an Idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one. For though there be that are called Gods, whether in Heaven or in earth (as there be Gods many and Lords many). But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.’ 1 Cor. 8, 4-6. Also Deut. 6, 4. Mark 12, 29, &c.”[1] All Christians agree on the oneness of God. We hold this belief in common with our Jewish and Muslim kin, and yet the doctrine Trinity emerged from the Scriptural witness to a more complex understanding of that oneness. Veli Matti Karkkainen, suggests we avoid trying to find prooftexts and attend to the basic issue at hand: “So, what we have is this: on the one hand, the doctrine of the Trinity cannot be found even in the NT; on the other hand, Jesus’s unique relation to the Father calls for an explanation that really takes us beyond the boundaries of the OT.”[2] It is the relationship of the Father to Jesus that calls forth further reflection.

            While we might wish there were explicit definitions of the Trinity to be found in the New testament, affirmations of the full divinity of Christ and the person of the Holy Spirit required further development. While the fourth century formulations might not be perfect, they have stood the test of time. Theologian Elizabeth Johnson captures the vision that the doctrine Trinity engenders in Christian theology:
At its most basic the symbol of the Trinity evokes a livingness in God, a dynamic coming and going with the world that points to an inner divine circling around in unimaginable relation. God’s relatedness to the world in creating, redeeming, and renewing activity suggests to the Christian mind that God’s own being is somehow similarly differentiated. Not an isolated, static, ruling monarch but a relational, dynamic, tripersonal mystery of love—who would not opt for the latter? [3]




[1] Barton Stone, Address to the Christian Churches, in Kentucky, Tennessee & Ohio on Several Important Doctrines of Religion. Second Edition—Corrected and Enlarged, (Lexington, KY, 1821). 
[2] Veli Matti Karkkainen, Christian Understandings of the Trinity, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2017), p. 16.
 [3] Elizabeth A. Johnson, She Who Is: The Mystery of God in FeministTheological Discourse. (New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 2002), p. 192.

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