Trinity Series- Part 1: What Does “Trinity” Mean?

Introduction

Trinity. This is a word/concept that many of us have heard before, but what do we really understand about it? Do we conceive its significance not only in the Word of God but in our lives? The word “Trinity” is not found in Scripture; however, it is a term first used in the second century to describe who God is based on Scriptural evidence. Throughout the last two thousand years there have been numerous theories and doctrines offered by historical church figures who have sought to define or clarify the concept of the Trinity. Some of these doctrines have become foundational beliefs in the church. One example is the Nicene Creed, established in 325 A.D. to combat Arianism, a doctrine that denied the divinity of Jesus:

We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of all things visible and invisible, and in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only-begotten of the Father, that is, of the substance [ousias] of the Father, God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one substance [homoousion] with the Father, through whom all things came to be, those things that are in heaven and those things that are on earth, who for us men and for our salvation came down and was made flesh, and was made man, suffered, rose the third day, ascended into the heavens, and will come to judge the living and the dead.[1]

While we could explore the plethora of arguments and historical documents related to this topic, it is my opinion that the best source to use is Scripture itself. Over the last few weeks, I have been encouraged, challenged, and amazed while spending time in the Word to understand the Trinity more fully. God has truly given us all we need to know if we are willing to ask Him and take the time to dig into His truth. Since there are numerous passages that are worth discussing in regard to the Trinity, I will be writing a mini-series on the topic. While focusing on Scripture, I will also incorporate biblical research that offers insight on the original languages and cultural background. Illumination on these subjects helps to establish a clearer picture of the biblical audience and the intended message. As the first part of the Trinity series, this post aims to unpack the basic idea of “Trinity” and what it means to be made in the image of God.

In the Beginning

As we open our Bibles to the first book, Genesis, we are confronted with a magnificent picture and puzzling language: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). In this context, the word for God in Hebrew is “Elohim,” which is actually plural in form. While some scholars argue that the plural form of God, which is found throughout Scripture, is in reference to the greatness “of majesty or completeness” of God, others conclude that this plurality gives credence to the Trinity.[2] As explained in the New Bible Dictionary, “Three affirmations are central to the historic doctrine of the Trinity: 1. there is but one God; 2. the Father, the Son and the Spirit is each fully and eternally God; 3. the Father, the Son, and the Spirit is each a distinct person.”[3] While the term “Elohim” may leave some in doubt of a Trinitarian concept of God, the language used in Genesis 1:26-27 provides further evidence of the Trinity: “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”[4] The plurality of the verb “make” and the plural pronouns are unmistakable, thus providing support for the Trinity.[5] But what does it mean to be made in the image of God (Trinity)?

Being Made in the Image of God

There is no denying that people have questioned how God can be three persons yet one God. Muslims declare that the Christian belief in the Trinity is to believe in a plurality of gods, and I’m sure others have come to the same conclusion. However, to understand how the Trinity works, we must look at how we were created.

When I look at myself in the mirror, I see a body (σῶμα; 1 Cor. 12:12), but that’s only part of who I am. I also have a spirit (πνεῦμα; Matt.5:3; 26:41; Heb. 4:12). This is my personality, the essence of Lauren, if you will. But even with a body and spirit, I am not whole. I also have a soul (ψυχή; Matt. 10:28; 16:26; Heb. 4:12), the part of me that will live eternally. I cannot touch my spirit or my soul, but they are always real and present. Without them, I would not be me nor would I live eternally since the body decays and ceases to exist. With this in mind, I could argue that I am three persons in one, completely unified yet each part is distinct.[6] I believe this is a simple yet powerful explanation of what being made in the image of the Trinity means, and it helps us to see how the Trinity is possible. Scripture explains to us the distinct roles of each Person of the Trinity and also how God Himself is the very representation of unity. The following is a very basic outline of the roles of the Trinity which will be explored in future posts: God the Father is spirit, unseen except by the Son (John 1:18; 6:46), who is Creator and Judge over all creation. Jesus Christ is the Son of God, physical in form, who is seen in both Old and New Testament writings. He is also involved in creation and is the Mediator, the High Priest, between us and the Father (Heb. 8:1-6). The Holy Spirit, also present in both Old and New Testament writings, is the power of God. He is the Guide and Counselor (John 16:5-15) who dwells within the followers of God as a seal of their eternal salvation.

Searching the Scriptures

While there is much more to be written on this topic—coming soon—I want to leave you with this challenge: Search the Scriptures. If you truly want to know God more, seek Him. Ask Him questions and read His Word for answers. Too often we go to self-help books or books written by famous Christians to find what we’re looking for. I was one of those people who bought book after book explaining this and that. But in truth, nothing compares to reading His Word. I also want to encourage you to read a translation that doesn’t try to use relevant language. In other words, do not pick translations that rewrite passages with American/Western cultural pictures or language (especially do NOT use The Message paraphrase). I prefer using the New American Standard translation because it is one of the closest translations to the original Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic languages, although I’m not saying that this is the only translation to use. Another challenge I offer is to read through the chapter and verse breaks. Chapters and verses were added to Scripture for ease of reading and research, but these are not in the original texts. I recommend reading through an entire book in one sitting, if possible (I know this is difficult for OT books). It is amazing what reading Scripture in context (see Cutting the Context), rather than pulling out a verse here and there, will reveal!

As I prepare for the next part in the Trinity series, please feel free to ask questions in the comments section. I will do my best to incorporate answers in future posts. I look forward to searching the Scriptures with you over these next few weeks! God Bless 🙂

 

©Lauren Heiligenthal

 

Footnotes

[1] Paul P. Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1989), 420–421.

[2] Guy P. Duffield and Nathaniel M. Van Cleave, Foundations of Pentecostal Theology (Los Angeles, CA: L.I.F.E. Bible College, 1983), 63.

[3] M. Turner and G McFarlane, “Trinity,” ed. D. R. W. Wood et al., New Bible Dictionary (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 1209.

[4] Bold print added for emphasis.

[5] Even though Gen.1:27 switches to the pronoun “He” (singular) instead of “Us”(plural), The NET Bible First Edition Notes explains that “The third person suffix on the particle אֵת (’et) is singular here, but collective.” While “He” is singular in form, it is collective in meaning. Biblical Studies Press, The NET Bible First Edition Notes (Biblical Studies Press, 2006), Ge 1:27.

[6] Also mentioned in my post “Once Saved, Always Saved?” is that humans are uniquely created with free will, thus we have the ability to choose where our soul will eternally live.

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4 thoughts on “Trinity Series- Part 1: What Does “Trinity” Mean?

  1. dear Lauren..
    this is great introduction of the Trinity. I can’t wait for the next part. Oh by the after this series done, may I print it out for my private archives? Thank you for writing the important thing in Christianity..God bless you and all family.

    Like

    1. Hey Karina 🙂

      Thanks for the encouragement 🙂 I sent you an email yesterday with a copy of the first part in the Trinity series. I’ll keep sending you the next parts when they are finished. Also, feel free to print straight from the website if you want to do that, too. Have a wonderful day!

      Liked by 1 person

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