Sunday, June 19, 2011

Do we need a "Trinity verse"?

I guess what set me in motion was his claim, which struck me as unreasonable, that it’s a good thing that there’s no “Trinity verse” in the Bible – i.e. one which explicitly and clearly states the doctrine.
In fact, up until I think some time in the late 19th c., trinitarians thought they had something pretty close: 1 John 5:7. (Compare the KJV with any modern translation.) This was shown by Isaac Newton and a number of other to be a late corruption. Needless to say, this verse was much appealed to – none of the trinitarians were wishing it gone, so they could instead appeal to the whole Bible.
Surely, I argue, it’d be better if there were such a verse (assuming there is a true Trinity theory), because then Christians wouldn’t spend so much time puzzling and fighting about the matter, as we fairly frequently have through church history.

Tuggy's contention is absurd. Even if the Johannine Comma were authentic, it would hardly be a one-stop prooftext for the Trinity. It doesn't say how the Father, Word, and Holy Ghost are "one." It doesn't say how they are "three." It doesn't say they are divine. It doesn't say they are coeternal. It doesn't say they are persons. It doesn't say if this refers to the immanent Trinity or the economic Trinity. And so on and so forth.

So a unitarian could weasel out of that.

In the nature of the case you can't have a one-stop prooftext for the Trinity. There are too many ingredients to squeeze into one compact verse.

And that’s true of Biblical doctrines generally. These are elaborate theological constructs, with many different lines of evidence feeding into them. 


  1. -And that’s true of Biblical doctrines generally.-
    Amen to that.

    Church is a messy thing indeed, isn't it. This Sunday is Trinity Sunday, and that's fine. But there's so much we simply need to say about how messed up we all are. It's such a mixture of sinners in the Body of Christ.
    Jesus is perfect and awesome, but we need a lot, a very lot of grace and help.

  2. "thought they had"

    Of course that verse wouldn't be adequate.

    If my view, a trinitarian doesn't NEED any one genuine prooftext. If their theory really best makes sense of the texts as a whole, then it just does, and should be accepted on that basis.

    But IF a Trinity doctrine were true, THEN it would be desirable for it to be stated outright.

    Really, this point shouldn't be controversial.

  3. Dale,

    But IF a Trinity doctrine were true, THEN it would be desirable for it to be stated outright.

    Really, this point shouldn't be controversial.

    What would be uncontroversial would be this:

    IF a trinity doctrine were true, and if it were possible for it to be stated outright, THEN it would be desirable for it to be stated outright.

  4. I have to agree with Dale here. It would be desirable for the doctrine to be stated outright given its truth. I take this to be true of lots of stuff: if God existed, it would be desirable for the nuclei of cells to be tattooed with "God did it," in Hebrew, of course. And if God desired no more snooty academic debates in the world, it would be desirable if he would outright tell us the answers to the hardest questions we face. So I agree with Dale concerning what is desirable, but I don't think this shows anything significant. Perhaps that's why the point is uncontroversial.

  5. Paul, sure.

    But I'm unclear on the point of your extra "if" clause. Are you hinting that in your view, the (correct) Trinity doctrine can't be explicitly state?

  6. Dale,

    As a mysterian (positive, you'd say :-) I think it very well can't be "stated outright"; well, at least to us finite humans. If my view of the Trinity is that it's a paradox, then it's not being stated outright is exactly what I'd expect. In fact, it's desirable that it not be stated out right since it would most certainly be gibbersaih to me! So I think your conditional isn't neutral with respect to any and all trinity view. But your conditional is interesting with respect to other trinity views. For example, it should be pretty easy to present us the social trinity doctrine. So why not do it?

  7. AS a Trinitarian -- I state without reservation that a certain verse is not needed.

    I believe that the Witness of Scripture, diligently attended to by the person desiring to have their mind transformed by being renewed through the study of the Word, will lead a person to embrace a witness that speaks to the Trinitarian understanding.

    One reason I am persuaded over and above the witness of Scripture was expressed by someone when they said to have love there must be someone to love. So the Oneness Modalism of God as epoused by many is rendered suspect.

    And when Jesus speaks of sharing the glory of the Father in John 17, there is clearly expressed an equality that cannot be dismissed.

    And when Paul enjoins us to grieve not the Spirit and where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty and the Lord indwells His people through the Spirit. Equality and Oneness is spoken of and testified to.

  8. Steve, you said to me in another comment string about the Trinity, "There's extensive scholarship that lays out the exegetical case for the Trinity in minute detail."

    Could you recommend to me what you think is the single best resource in this regard?


    Steve...Could you recommend to me what you think is the single best resource in this regard?

    I'm sure Steve has a much better list that he could give than I could. But here are some classic (but FREELY available) resources that helped me out of an Arianistic view and into a Trinitarian view years and years ago.

    The only problem with these classic works is that they sometimes appeal to passages that have textual variants which they either weren't aware of (in their day and age);
    or they just didn't take the time to explicate the possible inplications of the variants;
    or they appeal to passages that involve the scribal tendency of "expansion of piety" where, for example, the original reading might be "Jesus" but later manuscripts have "Lord Jesus Christ";
    or didn't take into consideration or lived before the formulation of Granville Sharp's Rule;
    or appeal to verses that could be interpreted contrary to their preferred exegesis without mentioning opposing views (e.g. 1 John 5:20) etc.

    So I personally wouldn't use those passages in a positive defense of the doctrine of the Trinity. For example passages like:

    John 3:13; Acts 2:28; Rom. 14:10; 1 Cor. 10:9; 15:47; 1 Tim. 3:16; 2 Tim. 2:19; Titus 2:13; Heb. 1:8; 1 John 5:7; Rev. 1:11

    Doctrine of the Trinity: The Biblical Evidence by Richard N. Davies

    The Trinity by Edward Henry Bickersteth
    direct link to pdf

    The Eternal Sonship of the Lord Jesus Christ by J.C. Philpot

    An Unpublished Essay On the Trinity by Jonathan Edwards

    Athanasius' works especially his Defence Against the Arians. (Apologia Contra Arianos)

    Brief Declaration and Vindication of The Doctrine of the Trinity by John Owen

  10. Additional comments.

    So I personally wouldn't use those passages in a positive defense of the doctrine of the Trinity.

    [Or if I did, I would give certain qualifications and be more balanced and open about the controversies concerning those passages. For example, a case could be made that 1 John 5:20 (which has no textual variant) teaches that Jesus Christ is the "true God and eternal life". But it's not definitive.].

  11. oops, I forgot to add the link to J.C. Philpot's work

    This work is not specifically a defense of the Trinity. Rather it's about the controversy of the "Eternal Sonship of Christ" that was raging in his circles at the time.

  12. Annoyed Pinoy, thanks for the recommendations.

    I find Arianism as distasteful as Trinitarianism. However, I am taking a look at the first book on your list (Davies). Unfortunately, like other Trinitarian teachings I have read it tends to pontificate and obfuscate more than it elucidates.

    Here's one of Davies' sentences for you: "The prayerful study of the Bible, from the day of Pentecost down, has convinced men that Almighty God exists as a Trinity of co-equal persons in the unity of the Godhead." This reminds me of the old line, "'Shut up!' he explained."

    Nevertheless, I'll poke around some more and see if I can find something a tad more enlightening in his work.

    In the meantime, I'll simply say that the reason most Trinitarians don't see how their doctrine obscures the doctrine of Christ is that they think their foil is Arianism or some derivative. In other words, for them Trinitarianism is, among other things, a way of proclaiming the deity of Christ. Therefore, they don't recognize how making Him "the second person of the Godhead" actually diminishes the place given Him by the New Testament...and by the Old Testament, for that matter.

  13. BLOGFORTHELORDJESUS (henceforth "BlogFTLJ"),

    From a historical trinitarian point of view, there are various heresies beside Arianism that touch on the doctrine of God and/or the doctrine of Christ.

    For example, Gnosticism, Docetism, Apollinarianism, Nestorianism, Dynamic Monarchianism, Sabellianism/Modalism, Adoptionism, Eutycheanism, Monophysitism, Monothelitism, Binitarianism, Pneumatomachianism/Macedonianism et cetera, etc.

    The question is what does the Bible teach. From my (admittedly) limited studies and by standing on the shoulders of other scholars and theologians I've concluded that Trinitarianism does best to explain all the data the Bible provides about the nature and attributes of God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

    When I first let go of Arianism by becoming convinced of the full deity of Christ, I was briefly a Modalist. BlogFTLJ, I don't know what your position is, but from the little you've said, I'm guessing you might be a Modalist too. Whatever the case, I encouraged you to continue studying the various options as well as church history. I'm convinced that if you do, you'll eventually come to Trinitarian conclusions too.

    Experience can never prove the truth of a theological position. Scripture is the final authority. Nevertheless, I do find it interesting and confirmatory that of those movements and groups that God seems to have used (and blessed the efforts of) since coming of the Messiah, that they have often been Trinitarian groups.


    I moved our dialogue to this location:

    and responded to you there.

  15. If anyone is interested, I did respond to BLOGFORTHELORDJESUS both on his blog and mine.