by Jacob Allee
The Bible teaches that within the one being that is God, there is a simultaneous existence of three coequal and coeternal persons; namely, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This doctrine is typically called the Trinity (derived from tri-unity, three in one). While there are a number of important terms here such as “coequal” (which means all three persons of God are equal in power in glory), and “coeternal” (which means all three persons of God have existed eternally as God, none are created), and “simultaneous” (which means all three persons of God have existed at the same time), for this short paper let us focus on clarifying the most common source of confusion concerning this doctrine, which is what is meant by the words “being” and “persons.”
Philosophically speaking, the word “being” merely refers to the totality of what a thing is. Rocks have being, chairs have being, humans have being, etc. Any quality or feature that can properly be attributed to something is part of its being. Part of a rock’s being are the minerals that it has. A chair’s being might contain wood, metal, or plastic and have 3 to 4 legs and any number of colors, all of which would be characteristics of its being (existence). Human beings are different from the beings of chairs or rocks in many ways, but one important way humans differ from the beings of inanimate objects in particular is that human beings have “personhood"; that is, human beings are intelligent, conscious, and unique individuals, where a rock is not. Human beings can be defined by their attributes of a skeletal system, organs, flesh, their personhood, and their intelligence, which separates them from rocks and trees and chairs. Every human being has one person as a part of his or her being. God, however, is unique from rocks and chairs, but He is also unique from human beings in that the totality of what God is contains three distinct persons as opposed to human beings who only have one person as part of their being.
Many people who reject the biblical doctrine of the Trinity do because of confusion and misunderstanding. They think we are saying the Bible teaches that God is one person and God is three persons at the same time and in the same way. If that was actually what we were saying then the Trinity would indeed be a logical contradiction. However, when properly understood that God is one “being” who exists as three “persons,” and we understand the difference between the words “being” and “person,” then there is no logical contradiction in the Trinity. The fact of the matter is that God is simply a different kind of being than human beings, containing more persons in His existence than humans. Some will say “but there is nothing else like this to which we can point!” We as Christians say “Amen. There is no one like our God!” It is exactly for this reason that we should not try to explain God by comparing Him to things in this world. There is nothing to which He can be compared.