Debate Topic: Is the Trinity Doctrine Biblical?
On Monday, May 12, 2008 I debated a Mr. Roger Perkins on "Is the Trinity doctrine biblical?" Mr. Perkins is a Oneness believer and an ex-pastor in the oneness movement. Mr. Perkins denies the Trinity.
I opened with the follow text which I read word for word--except in a few places where I ventured away from the text for a brief moment:
The Trinity is one of the foundational doctrines of orthodox Christianity. It is the true revelation of God about himself.
The Trinity is not the teaching, in spite of some of its critics, that there are three gods, nor is it the teaching that one person is three persons. Such statements would be illogical and impossible. Instead, the doctrine of the Trinity states that there is one God in three persons; or, to put it another way, in the one substance of divinity, in the one being that is God, there are three co-eternal, co-existent, simultaneous persons: The Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit.
Without a doubt, the Trinity can be difficult to understand. How can one God exist as three persons? How is it possible that one being can co-exist as the Father, who speaks to the Son, the Son who speaks of the Father, and the Holy Spirit who is sent by both the Father and the Son? How do we get our heads around the eternal being which is completely self-sufficient in himself and who refers to himself in the singular but also reveals himself in the plural? Such questions have kindled theological discussion throughout history; and as a result, by God's grace, the Christian Church has defined the proper, biblical definition of God. We call it the Trinity.
But, there are always dissenters. There are always those who misinterpret God’s word--who submit it and God to their own understanding--and in so doing lower the infinite and majestic Lord to an image more compatible with human understanding. The result is always error--error that leads to heresy, apostasy, and idolatry.
So, this is what brings us here tonight to debate this topic. Is the Trinity doctrine biblical, or is it a false teaching? My opponent, Mr. Perkins, strongly believes that the scriptures speak against the Trinity. I believe Scripture reveals it. He believes it is illogical. I believe it violates no laws of logic. So, who is right? He believes it is idolatrous. I believe it honors God.
I am sure there are people here tonight on both sides of the debate who already have their opinions. I only ask that all of you consider what is said here tonight and weigh it and your presuppositions against Scripture. Let God’s word be the final judge.
Establishing the Trinity--Monotheism
So, let me begin my defense of the Trinity by directing our attention to the Scriptures, so that we might learn how it is derived and so we might also understand what it is and what it is not.
The first step is to establish how many gods are in existence. There are many verses that establish that there is only one God in all existence. Let me turn to just two of them.
- Isaiah 44:6, “Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: ‘I am the first and I am the last, and there is no God besides Me.”
- Isaiah 45:5, "I am the Lord, and there is no other. Besides Me there is no God."
Clearly, the Bible teaches monotheism--the belief that there is only one God in all existence. Therefore, the first step in understanding the Trinity is to declare that it is monotheistic. Any assertions to the contrary misrepresent the Trinity doctrine.
Establishing the Trinity--Three Persons
The next thing we need to do is deal with the term “person." Why do we use and it and what does it mean? After all, the Trinity is three persons.
In order to answer this we must look at scripture that deal with the qualities and attributes of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Each are called God
First, we see that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are each called God.
In Phil. 1:2 it says, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Concerning Jesus, Heb. 1:8 says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever and the righteous scepter is the scepter of His kingdom.”
We see that the Holy Spirit is called God in Acts 5:3-4 which tells us, “But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit, and to keep back some of the price of the land? 4 . . . Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men, but to God.”
Each indwell the believer
Second, we see that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit each indwell the believer.
In John 14:23 Jesus said: “ . . . If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him, and make Our abode with him.”
Jesus also tells us in John 14:16-17 that the Holy Spirit lives in us. He says, “And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; 17that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not behold Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you, and will be in you.”
Each have wills
Third, we see that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit each have wills.
In the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus was praying to the Father, he has asked that he not go through the ordeal of the crucifixion. But, he submits to the will of the Father. In Luke 22:42 Jesus said, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Your will be done.”
The Holy Spirit also has a will. 1 Cor. 12:11 says, “But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.”
Fourth, we see that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit each speak. In Matt. 3:17 The Father speaks at Jesus’ baptism when He says, “ . . . This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.”
Of course it goes without saying that the Son speaks--just read the Gospels.
We also find that the Holy Spirit speaks in Acts 13:2, “And while they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”
Each use pronouns
Fifth, we see the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit each use pronouns such as you, yours, me, my, they, and them.
Again we look at Luke 22:42 where Jesus says, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Your will be done.”
Also, once again, Acts 13:2, “And while they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”
I could go on with many such examples, but we have a limited amount of time; and I cannot fit even a tenth of them into our debate. But, I think you can easily see that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit each are called God; each indwell the believer; each have wills; each speaks; each says you, yours, me, mine; each are self-aware; and each are aware of others. It is precisely for these reasons that we refer to them as persons; and since there are three in the Godhead who exhibit these attributes, attributes that distinguish themselves from each other, we say there is one God in three persons, hence, the Trinity.
Let me say this again. This is how the doctrine of the Trinity is established. We see the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit each are called God; each indwells the believer; each has a will; each speaks; each says you, yours, me, mine; each are self-aware; and each are aware of others. The Son speaks to the Father. The Son sends the Spirit as does the Father. It was not the Father who became incarnate but the Son. It was not the Holy Spirit who bore our sins but the Son. They are distinct. They are three. They are the Trinity.
God is not one person
Now, Oneness theology teaches that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are really one person. In fact, it maintains that Jesus is the one person of God. Different explanations have been offered by Oneness believers on how this is possible. Some say Jesus has manifested himself in three modes. Others say three offices.
Generally, my research into Oneness theology has led me to understand that they teach that when Jesus was praying to the Father, it was actually his flesh praying to his divinity!
But this makes no sense because it risks the very incarnation of God. Basically, if the Word which was God and was with God, became flesh and dwelt among us as John 1:1 and 14 say, then we have a total incarnation of the person of the Word--not a partial incarnation of some aspect of divinity that is separated from the personhood of Jesus by having the fleshly part of Christ pray to the divine part which are, apparently, in different locations. Remember, in the Garden of Gesthemene, Jesus was praying to the Father. This means that the Son in the Garden was praying to the Father in heaven. But, if Jesus is the Father, then how is this possible?
It is the Trinity that makes possible the true incarnation of the Word in physical form in the person of the Son. Thus we have in the single person of Jesus two natures: the divine and human--inseparable from the person of the Son. And, when the Son prayed to the Father, he was actually praying to the person of the Father and not to the divine aspect of himself.
Before I conclude my argument in this brief amount of time, I must focus on one other aspect of the Trinity: The eternal Sonship of Christ. The Divine Word which was with God did not become the Son at the incarnation. He has always been the Son, not biologically, but positionally. He was the Son to the Father from all eternity; and by establishing this, we can disprove the Oneness error. Let’s look at scripture again.
The Father didn’t send the Word who then became the Son upon entering the world at birth. Instead, he sent the Son into the world. In other words, he was already the Son before he was sent into the world. Jesus, speaking of himself, says in John 5:23 that the Father sent the Son. In John 10:36 Jesus rebukes the false teaches and says that the Father “sanctified and sent him into the world.” From this we see that the Word made flesh did not become the Son at his incarnation, for he was already in that relationship with the Father before he was sent into the world--which is why he says that he, the Son, was sent into the world by the Father.
Heb. 1:1-2 says, “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, 2in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.” We see here that God made the world through the Son. But Jesus didn’t live as a man until around 2000 years ago. Therefore, these verses must be referring to the eternal aspect of the Son’s relationship to the Father before creation. This is why it says that the Father made the world through the Son.
Also, consider where Jesus was praying to the Father in John 17:5, “Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.” If the Son is the earthly fleshy body of Christ or is somehow the same person as the Father, then how is it that Jesus requests the glory he had with the Father before the world was made? Again, this shows a Father-and-Son relationship before Jesus’ incarnation since he refers to glory he had with the Father before the world was.
In 1 John 1:2-3 it says, “and the life was manifested, and we have seen and bear witness and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us--3what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, that you also may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.” These verses speak of the present relationship between the Father and the Son as just that, Father and Son; and this is after Christ’s ascension into heaven. We still see the Father-and-Son relationship even now being clearly taught in Scripture. The designations of the Father and the Son show their relationship to each other--not of the flesh to the spirit but the Father who is called God and the Son who is called God.
If God is one person, why are we called into fellowship with the Father and with his Son? If God is one person, why did he make the world through the Son? If God is one person, why did Jesus request the glory he had with the Father before the world was made?
Answering these from the oneness perspective cannot make sense, but answering them from the Trinitarian perspective does. We see that within the Trinity, the Holy Spirit is sent by the Father and the Son (John 14:26 and 15:26). We see that the Father sent the Son. We see that the Father made the world through the Son, and that we are to have fellowship with the Father and the Son and, according to 2 Cor. 13:14 with the Holy Spirit as well.
Let me conclude by saying I believe I have adequately shown that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are the three persons in the Godhead. Each are called God; each indwells the believer; each have wills; each speaks; each says you, yours, me, mine; each are self-aware; and each are aware of others. The Father-and-Son relationship existed before creation and is still in existence now. We have the demonstration of the attributes of personhood and the manifestation of the inter-Trinitarian relationship of Father and Son.
This relationship has not changed and will not change because God does not change as Mal. 3:6 clearly teaches us. God is a Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This is the true and living God.
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