Thoughts on the Trinity
by Pat Goltz
This essay was written in response to an email inquiry which asked the following questions:
"In my studies of the Godhead and Trinity, Mormons seem to have the most logical explanation of this scenario.
"My questions have been, Did God leave heaven for 33 years to become Christ to leave the example of how we should live and treat others?
"It is perplexing to me that God would leave his heavenly abode for 33 years to return after being Jesus.
"Also, at Jesus' baptism was the Holy Spirit manifest as a dove by some form of ventriloquism?"
Here is my answer:
God is the Creator of the universe. Naturally, any Being that is big enough and great enough to do something like that will be beyond our comprehension. This doesn't mean that He hasn't told us things about Himself that we can understand. But it does mean that we cannot bring Him down to our size, to be a Being just like us.
God is perfectly logical, but at the same time, God transcends logic. I will therefore use both Bible passages and logic in my explanation.
In order to make the concept of the Trinity a little more understandable, I will offer you some examples from everyday life. We have triune structures that we can readily observe.
To begin with, we are triune in a sense. Each of us is one human being. But each of us has a body, a mind, and an eternal spirit. My body is me, my mind is me, and my eternal spirit is me. But my body is not my mind, my mind is not my spirit, and my spirit is not my body. There are three components to me, but I am one person. And the three components are completely integrated together.
Take another example: an ordinary apple. An apple has seeds, flesh, and a skin. The seeds are not the flesh, and the flesh is not the skin. The skin is not the seeds. But all of these are apple, and there is only one apple. Likewise, a chicken egg has a shell, a white, and a yolk. But there is only one egg. Each cell of a living creature is triune: it has a cell wall or membrane, the protoplasm, and the nucleus, but there is only one cell. An atom has protons, neutrons, and electrons. They are distinct from each other, but they must be integrated to be an atom of a particular element. Physicists have learned that WHILE they are integrated, they cannot be distinguished from each other. Yet, each can exist as a separate particle. Nature is full of triune structures.
One final example: the triple point of water. If you put water into a test tube, and hold it at a particular temperature and pressure, there will be ice, liquid water, and steam in the test tube at the same time. Ice is not liquid water, liquid water is not steam, and steam is not ice, but all of them are water.
The Mormon godhead is not great enough to be the creator of the universe. The Mormons make a common mistake: they anthropomorphize God, which is to say, they make Him over into our image, and think of Him in terms of what we are. Such a god is not great enough to create the universe. We can make things from what God provided, but God created out of nothing.
Now there are certain reasons why God has to consist of several Persons, thinking about it from a logical point of view. One reason is that if God were only one Being with no Persons, God would never have thought about creating us. He would be totally alone. Another reason God has to consist of several Persons is because if God were only one Being, He would not understand love. Any feelings He had along those lines would be narcissism, not love.
Lutherans explain the Trinity this way: God consists of three Persons. The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God. But the Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is not the Father, but all are God, and God is only one God.
Going back to the original Hebrew, God explained His nature in the grammar. The most important verse in this regard is Deuteronomy 6:4. It reads in transliterated Hebrew, "shma yisrael adonai eloheinu adonai echad." In order, the words mean: "hear israel lord our god lord one". Looking at the grammar: the word "adonai" is plural. "Adon" is the singular form. Hebrew has a dual. This means that the plural represents at least three. "Eloheinu" means "our god". However, the word "elohim", which is used frequently to refer to God in the Old Testament, is plural. The singular is "el." The word "echad" means "one" but it has the connotation of compositeness. The same word is used in the passage in Genesis 2 where it says that two became one flesh. The word "one" in this passage is "echad." The word is also used to refer to the bunch of grapes that the spies brought back from Canaan, while the Israelites were wandering in the desert for forty years. If God had intended to convey the idea that He is an absolute unity, with no compositeness, He would have used the word "yachid," which is absolute unity. Throughout the Old Testament, God refers to Himself as "elohim" and "adonai." In other places, God uses a singular subject with a plural verb. For example, when God talks about creating the world in Genesis, He uses a plural verb meaning "create" with a subject in the singular. In Proverbs 30:4, the question is asked: Who hath ascended up into heaven, or descended? who hath gathered the wind in his fists? who hath bound the waters in a garment? who hath established all the ends of the earth? what is his name, and what is his son's name, if thou canst tell?" God the Father, and His Son, two distinct Persons. In Psalm 2:7, we read, "I will declare the decree: the Lord hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee." In verse 12, we read, "Kiss the Son, let he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little." Here we have a Father and a Son mentioned. The Father is commonly referred to as God, so in some contexts, "God" is synonymous with "Father." In Genesis 18, starting at verse 1, we learn that the Lord (meaning God) visited Abraham, and Abraham saw three Men. After a short conversation, two of the three went to see Lot, who called Them Lords, and the other one stayed with Abraham, and Abraham referred to Him as Lord (chapter 19). From verses 1 and 2 of Genesis 18, we learn that the Lord spoken of, Who appeared to Abraham, appeared in the form of three Men. God is referred to interchangeably throughout the entire chapter as both Lord and three Men. In John 8:56, Jesus refers to this incident when He says that Abraham rejoiced to see His day. Jesus was one of the three Who appeared to Abraham. A couple of verses later, Jesus says, "Before Abraham was, I am." The words "I am" here are "ego eimi" in the Greek, used in that word order to refer to someone other than Jesus only once. The same Greek words were used in the Greek Septuagint to translate the Old Testament passage where God told Moses "I am that I am, tell Pharaoh I am sent thee." The letters yod, hay, vov, hay in the Hebrew, "I am," present tense, first person singular, are the ones we commonly pronounce "Jehovah". Jesus was claiming here to be God, and the Jews recognized that claim as such. They tried to stone Him. The reason for the stoning is made clear in a similar incident in John 10:32-33. They tried to stone Him for blasphemy, for claiming to be God. Blasphemy was a capital offense, punishable by stoning until dead. Jesus Himself is a mystery: how can God be Man at the same time and still remain God? We have this same integrated nature. We are both spiritual and physical beings at the same time. Jesus continually makes a distinction between Himself and His Father, throughout the four Gospels. But He also calls Himself "I am" repeatedly. This is obscure somewhat in the English because frequently He also named one of His attributes, for example: "I am the door." But when you go back to the original Greek, you see those same two words: "Ego eimi." One of the most interesting passages in that regard is John 16. In this passage, Jesus speaks of the Father as distinct from Himself, and He also mentions the Comforter (Holy Spirit) as distinct. But although Jesus plays down His deity, in other passages, for example, John 1:1, and Hebrews 1, His deity is made plain. Jesus created the universe, i.e. the space-time structure "aionas" in the Greek. We know that God created the universe, so therefore Jesus is God. The passage in Hebrews again makes a distinction between the Father and the Son, but They were united in creating the universe. We also learn that the Holy Spirit is a Person, not a mere force, from Acts 5:3-4, where Ananias and Sapphira lied to the Holy Ghost, and it says that they lied to God. You cannot lie to a force. You have to lie to a conscious Being.
John 1:1 says that Jesus was both with God, and Jesus was God. The Greek word translated as "Word" ("In the beginning was the Word) is "logos", which is the root of our word "logic." Here God establishes that He is logic Personified. Again, both a distinction and a reference to unity are in the same passage.
The three Persons are named in Matthew 28:19. We are commanded to baptize in the name (singular) of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. One Name, three Persons. And then there is the passage where Jesus is being baptized, while at the same time, the Father speaks from heaven while the Holy Spirit descends as a dove. See Matthew 3:13-17. The Father doesn't speak from the dove, but from heaven. So ventriloquism is not an option. Furthermore, ventriloquism does not explain the physical appearance of a dove. The Father is still in heaven while Jesus is on earth, so God the Father did not leave His heavenly abode. While Jesus is dying on the cross, He says, "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?" He is crying out to God the Father, "Eli" means "my God". Once more, Jesus indicates He is distinct from the Father. There is alienation between two Persons of the Trinity for the first and only time.
We can only imagine what it must be like to have such a total and complete union among separate Persons. Because we are sinners, we are alienated from God and from each other. Even our own bodies and minds betray us. I think this is one of the major reasons why we have difficulty understanding the Trinity. But I believe God put enough information in the Bible so we can know what kind of structure we are talking about. Comprehension of this structure comes partly, to the Christian, by the power of the Holy Spirit. But complete comprehension must wait until we meet Him face to face in heaven. Nevertheless, there is enough information in the Bible so we can know that God is triune, without any additional understanding imparted by the Holy Spirit. It remains a mystery to the nonchristian, and a partial mystery to the Christian, but the structure is made plain.
You spoke of Jesus leaving heaven to be our example. But that was not the most important thing Jesus came to do. Jesus came to redeem, to save us. If we trust in Him by faith, that He paid the price of our sins, and accept His free gift of salvation, then we can live with Him eternally in heaven. If we merely attempt to follow His example, we will fail, and be doomed to eternal separation from God. We are not capable of saving ourselves because God cannot tolerate one tiny imperfection. Only if God credits us with Jesus' perfect life and sacrificial death can we be saved. God looks at the Christian and sees only Jesus. That is why we have become righteous in His eyes, and can spend eternity in heaven with Him. Praise God!
For further insight into God's plan of salvation, please read the English page on my web site.
For additional information on the Trinity, see:
Please note: we are not in agreement with this site's teaching on baptism. Concerning baptism, we have written an article of our own.