This was originally posted on Two Minute Theology.
Can you believe something without knowing anything about it? Some Christians seem to think so. Ask the average Christian if they believe in the Trinity, and they’ll say yes. But ask them what the Trinity means, and they’re likely to laugh at you: “Nobody can explain that!” If you ask them “so what do you believe about the Trinity, then?” you might just get a blank stare.
It’s true that we can’t fully understand God, but there’s a middle ground in between knowing everything about the Trinity and knowing nothing about it. That middle ground is to state just what the Bible says about the Trinity—no more, no less. When most theologians attempt this, they say that God is three in one sense and one in another sense: specifically, that He is three “persons” and one “essence.” The problem is that they usually don’t explain where these concepts of “person” and “essence” come from in the Bible. However, Dr. Scott Horrell, a professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, is currently doing research into the Biblical foundation and historical development of the doctrine of the Trinity. Based on his research, we can now have a clearer Biblical foundation for our understanding of person and essence.
First, what does it mean that God is three in person? It doesn’t mean they’re people in exactly the way we normally think about people: completely separate beings. If so, that would be tritheism: three different gods. Instead, the sense in which the members of the Trinity are three people is that they have real relationships with one another. The Father loves the Son (John 3:35). The Son loves the Father (John 14:31). The Father and Son both send the Spirit (John 14:26, John 15:26). The Spirit hears from the Father and Son (John 16:14-15).
This contrasts with the view of modalism, which says that there is only one God, and he just appears in three different forms. If this were true, the Father wouldn’t have a real relationship with the Son, because the Son would actually be the Father himself. Bruce Wayne can’t be friends with Batman, because the two are different forms of the same person.
In my next post, I’ll talk about the Biblical grounding for the concept of God’s oneness of essence.