Quick! Guess! What was the hot topic for Christian leaders a few centuries after Jesus Christ died?
Naturally, they were having a spirited discussion about the nature of God.
But that doesn’t quite capture what was going on.
In the late 200s and early 300s, the leaders of the Christian Church were locked in a pitched battle about what the (then) fairly new books of the New Testament meant when they talked about the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (also called the Holy Ghost).
And wow, were they confused! What they were reading just didn’t make sense to them. So they began coming up with theories, staking out positions, kicking each other out of the church, and telling each other to go to . . . oh, wait, that’s not quite right. They told everyone who didn’t believe what they themselves believed that they would go to hell.
Yes, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit was the hot topic among Christian leaders in the year 325. That’s when the Roman emperor Constantine invited all 1,800 Christian bishops to a council held in a town called Nicaea. Two or three hundred of them actually showed up. In meetings attended by the emperor himself, these bishops came up with the first version of a statement of belief that attempted to define the relationship between Jesus Christ (the Son) and the Father. The statement they drafted is called the Nicene Creed. The vast majority of Christians and Christian churches have accepted it as essential Christian doctrine ever since.
Although the Nicene Creed does not actually use the word “Trinity” or the word “Persons” (neither does the Bible, by the way), what it did say about the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit set the Christian Church on a course toward the doctrine of the Trinity of Persons. One and a half to two centuries later, the Athanasian Creed, another statement of belief that greatly expanded on the Nicene Creed, did use the terms “Trinity” and “Persons,” making explicit the doctrine that the earlier creed had strongly implied.
And according to Swedenborg, the doctrine of a Trinity of Persons in God led to a quick death for true Christianity by introducing contradiction, confusion, and polytheism into the church.
What is a Trinity of Persons?
So . . . what’s a Trinity of Persons?
I don’t know. I’ve never been able to figure it out.
That puts me in good company. Nobody has ever been able to figure it out. When it comes right down to it, even the people who believe it and teach it end out saying it’s a mystery that you just have to believe.
But here’s the general idea:
The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are three in Person, but one in essence. Each Person is individually God—infinite, eternal, uncreated—and each has a distinct role; but the three Persons are still one God because they share a common essence and always act in unison.
The Trinity of Persons is a human-created doctrine
Of course it’s called a “mystery.” Because the reality is that it makes no sense. How can three Persons be one God? Millions of words have been written over the centuries in an attempt to explain it, and none have succeeded.
The fact is, no matter how many times the proponents of the Trinity of Persons say it’s one God, they are really thinking of three. In other words, the lips say “one,” but the mind says “three.” The Athanasian Creed itself recognizes this when it says:
The Father is one person, the Son another, and the Holy Spirit another. The Father is God and Lord, the Son is God and Lord, and the Holy Spirit is God and Lord. Nevertheless there are not three gods and lords; there is one God and Lord. Just as Christian truth compels us to confess each person individually as God and Lord, so the catholic religion forbids us to say three gods or three lords.
Are you confused yet?
If not, you should be. Because the doctrine of a Trinity of Persons in God is not a “mystery”; it’s a contradiction. It makes no sense. And it is taught nowhere in the Bible.
Let’s be clear: the doctrine of a Trinity of Persons in God was formulated and taught by human beings, not by the Bible. And any doctrine not plainly and clearly taught by the Bible has no claim to being essential Christian doctrine.
The proponents of a Trinity of Persons have put human teachings ahead of the teachings of the Word of God. In so doing, they have introduced contradiction, confusion, and polytheism into the church.
One of the primary reasons people who belong to monotheistic religions such as Judaism and Islam reject the Christian Church is that they view it as polytheistic—as teaching that there are three gods. And no amount of saying “one” can erase the fact that Christians who believe in a Trinity of Persons think in terms of three distinct gods. Even classic Christian art commonly portrays the Trinity as three separate individuals, the Father being portrayed as the traditional white-bearded old man, the Son as a young man with the scars of his crucifixion, and the Holy Spirit as a dove. And the different roles given to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit make it clear that those who believe it are thinking of them as three, not as one.
What is the real Trinity?
Though the Bible does not use the word “Trinity,” that word is not the real problem. The real problem is the word “Persons”—plural. Everywhere the Bible speaks about how many Gods there are, it always says the same thing: there is one and only one God. The Old Testament says it. The New Testament says it. Jesus himself says, “The Father and I are one” (John 10:30).
If there is one God, that means God is one person, not three people.
And it’s really not hard at all to understand how there can be a Trinity in one God.
The Bible says that God created human beings in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26–27). So if there is a Trinity in God, that means there must be a trinity in each one of us, too. Otherwise we would not be in God’s image and likeness.
Now let me ask you a question: Are you three persons, or one person?
Uh huh. I thought so! And God is one person, too.
Now let me ask you another question: Are there different parts to who you are as a person?
Yes, of course there are. Just as there are different parts of God.
When the Bible talks about the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, it is using visual images to talk about three different parts of God. And the easiest way to understand those different parts is to think of three basic parts that we as human beings have:
- The Father is like our soul.
- The Son is like our body.
- The Holy Spirit is like all of our words and actions.
These are three distinct parts of who we are. Yet together, they make the one person who is us:
- Our soul, or spirit, is our inner self, where we love, think, understand, and desire things.
- Our body is the way we express what we love and what we think, and how we become present with other people.
- Our words and actions are the actual expression of who we are as a person, going out into the world and affecting the people around us.
Even this basic understanding of who we are as human beings makes it possible for us to get a basic, sensible idea of the Trinity that exists in the single Person of God. Yes, of course, God can and does get much more complicated than that. But the complications are not illogical or contradictory. They’re just infinite expansions and developments of the basic three-part nature of God as expressed in the Gospels by the highly symbolic ideas of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
For now, let’s just take a simple view of what each one of these ideas, or parts of God, means:
As presented in the Bible, the part or aspect of God that is called “the Father” is the infinite, eternal, and unknowable core of God. We finite human beings can never fully understand the inner nature of God. God is so far above us that if we were to try, it would be like trying to understand the nature of the sun by flying into it. We would be instantly vaporized.
And yet, we can still have some basic idea of what the “Father” aspect of God is all about.
The core of God is love, just as the apostle John says in 1 John 4:8, 16. This infinite, eternal love is so powerful that it created this entire vast universe. Everything we see around us on this earth and millions of light years away in the universe was and is created from the love of God.
That same love that created the universe and everything in it is also an intense love for everything in the universe, including every one of us. God loves each one of us, and wants to give every one of us eternal joy and happiness. That is God’s goal in creation: to create a heaven from the human race—meaning a heavenly community of people who love God by loving and serving their fellow human beings.
Though we can never know the “Father,” or the core being of God, directly, God reaches out to us so that we can have some way of approaching, knowing, and loving God.
What the Bible calls “the Son” is the way that God has reached out to us and become present with us so that we can know and love God. For Christians, the Son is Jesus Christ as the human presence of God.
Just as we humans need a body in order to interact with each other and have relationships with each other, so God needs a human presence and a human body in order to interact with us and have a relationship with us.
The infinite being of God is far beyond our limited ability to understand and approach. But we can understand, approach, love, and listen to Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ, “the Son,” is God coming to us in person so that we can know, love, and follow God, and have a personal relationship with God just as we have a personal relationship with our fellow human beings.
The Holy Spirit
When we have a relationship with God, it affects us. We hear the words God speaks to us—usually through written Scriptures such as the Bible—and it changes our lives from the inside out. We become new people because we learn and know that God loves us, that God has a purpose for us, and that God has specific teachings and guidelines for us to live by.
The Holy Spirit expresses all of the ways God touches us through words and actions. This can come:
- From the outside, such as by reading the Bible and other spiritual literature, or listening to spiritual talks, or
- From the inside, such as by feeling God’s love and sensing God’s guidance within our own soul, and being changed and uplifted by it.
When we feel moved and our life is changed by God’s presence, that is the Holy Spirit of God coming into us, renewing us, and changing us into a better and truer version of our own deepest self—which also comes from God.
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one God
Yes, it’s understandable that those Christian leaders who lived a few centuries after Jesus Christ died were confused by the Bible’s statements about Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. After all, many of them had come from polytheistic religions themselves. So when they read about Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, it was fairly natural for them to think in terms of three Persons, or three gods.
It helps to understand that the Bible commonly speaks in figurative and symbolic language. As soon as we understand that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not meant to be read as distinct beings, but as symbolizing different parts of the one Being of God, then it all starts to make sense.
Of course, this brief introduction can only scratch the surface. But I hope it helps steer your mind toward a clear understanding and appreciation of the true oneness of God as presented in the Bible, which is at the heart of true Christianity.
For further reading: