[This post is a work in progress as part of the CAA Catechism.]
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Summary in 400 words or less:
The doctrine of the Trinity is a cornerstone doctrine for the Christian faith. Although it is sometimes seen to be a contradiction, this could not be further from the truth. This accusation is often leveled because of a poor understanding of the terms used in this important locus of theology, and can easily be responded to by a proper explanation of the doctrine.
First, a few definitions that are important. The language of the Trinity was appropriated from Aristotelian metaphysics and uses a few specific terms that are critical. The first is ousia (substantia in Latin). This Greek term is sometimes translated as “nature”, “being” or “essence.” In a technical sense, this term refers to a set of attributes that define what it means to be something. In our context, it refers to the set of attributes that define what it means to be God. We call this the divine nature. The second term to be aware of is hypostasis (persona in Latin). This Greek term is usually translated as “person.”
The orthodox historical expression of the Trinity is: “Three persons in one substance” and appears as early as the second century. This immediately overcomes one objection that the Trinity was a doctrine that was created at the Council of Nicaea in AD 325.
The most common and serious accusation of the Trinity is that it is logically incoherent. “How can something be both three and one?” the antagonist asks, “Is this not a violation of the law of non-contradiction?” This stems from a misunderstanding of the difference between hypostasis and ousia. The Law of non-contradiction states that something cannot be *A and *non-A at the same time and in the same way. So the objection leveled is “How can God be one (A) and three (non-A) at the same time. The answer is that God is not one and three in the same way. God is three in one way, and one in a different way. That is, God is three in person (there are three divine persons) and one in another way (there is one divine nature). Since the objection is leveled against an argument that Christians do not make, it is by definition a straw man and clarifying the actual doctrine overcomes the fallacy put forward by your opponent.
Scripture for YouVersion:
Deuteronomy 6:4, Matthew 3:13-17, 28:19, John 1:1, 10:30, Ephesians 4:4-6
Three questions (1 fill-in-the-blank, 1 multiple choice, and one discussion question):
References for further reading:
What is the Trinity? – RC Sproul
Our Triune God – Philip Graham Ryken
The Christian Faith (Chapter 8) – Michael Horton
Life in the Trinity – Chapter 3 – Donald Fairbairn
I think we may need to break up the Trinity into multiple sections. Perhaps one for each major objection. – Tony Arsenal
CLEE – good idea.
E. A. Abbott’s “Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions” I think is one of the best explanations of how a being can be three yet one.
The fictional account takes the view of objects on a plane, free in two dimensions. One day, a three dimensional object (a sphere) passes through their “land” (or plane), which boggles their minds. (If we added to this analogy, imagine a fork, prongs first, passing through the plane.) Just as a three-dimensional object is somewhat incomprehensible to two-dimensional objects, a Being who is free in four dimensions (or at least not bound in the four dimensions) would be difficult for three-dimensional beings to understand. And we say that God exists outside of Time.
Collaborators: Tony Arsenal, Chris Lee (CLEE)
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