What is a person? This question launches into the great ontological question that every human has to deal with. For a Christian, being is defined by God and therefore the being of God is intrinsic to the being of the created person. There are three windows by which to see this ontology of God’s being, natural revelation, experiential revelation, the economic Trinity, and, the arbiter of all revelation, the scriptures. Throughout all forms of revelation there is a distinct understanding that God exists in a state of unity in diversity. In nature diverse elements combine to become another element, like hydrogen and oxygen make water. In experience those being saved by God feel the unity of God in each person of the Trinity acting. In the scripture God clearly states his nature. God has revealed himself as one, in mind, in intent, in action, essence, yet three in person; and each person is co-equal, co-powerful, co-eternal and this is mystery, God is alone as no created thing can fully display God’s true unity in diversity.
The Concept of Person and the Relations among the Divine Persons
Personhood in Relationship
The ontological Trinity consists of three persons, in one essence. Before one essence can be explored it is necessary to understand person as it relates to God. Human person exists inside the realm of time and matter and God does not have these limitations so there are limitations in explaining the personhood of God using human personhood as an example. One way to go about explaining what is meant by person is to highlight the idea of distinction. God exists in three distinct persons, each having their own volition, and therefore their own personhood. Jesus is revealed as having a will and surrendering that will to the will of God to go to the cross. The Father’s will is distinct from the Son’s as it pleased the Father to crush the Son. The Spirit is also distinct in will as he gives gifts as he wills to the church. The meaning of this is that there are three fully volitional persons that make up the essence of God.
From the Father, by the Son, Through the Spirit
Essence then is the aforementioned co-equal, co-powerful, and co-eternal. The class lecture narrows the definition to “Spirit-person.” This definition of God will work as long as it is stated in the absolute sense, God is thee spirit person. The absolute sense necessary because it the key to explaining the one essence of God. Each member of the Trinity is co-equal, co-powerful, and co-eternal because they are co-infinite. If each member of the Trinity exists in an infinite state, then nothing can be added to them, they are fully God in each one; however, though there can be different types of infinity, there is only one truly infinite everything so the three infinite person must share the one truly infinite state. This one truly infinite being is what is defined as the Father from which all proceeds, the Son then, though he shares this state of infinity, is distinct in his volitional proceeding from the Father and the Spirit volitionally proceeding from them both. Though all three are equal they proceed in a relational way one from the other. This relation proceeding is a necessity of infinitude. Since they are infinitely perfect, included in that perfection must also be perfect relationship. This is where the finite examples found in the natural revelation of mathematics start to fall short and this is why Baik’s thesis is that there will always be an undeniable element of mystery in the study of the ontological Trinity.
The Basis of the Doctrine of the Trinity
There is One God
The scripture states in no uncertain terms that God is one: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” This singleness is to be celebrated by singleness of worship, every part of the being is to worship the one God fully. In the outlined worship, “… with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might …,” there is another picture of the unity and diversity in God. Three elements, heart, soul, and might, combine in one focus of worship.
Three Distinct Persons
From the beginning of the church there were experiential Trinitarians. The doctrine of the Trinity would not be fully developed until about four or even five centuries of the churches existence. However, the early believers had seen the three persons in action. Jesus is baptized and ascends from the water to the Father saying, “this is my beloved son” and the Spirit descending like a dove. Though the early church did struggle to come up with a consistent definition there was an understanding that Jesus had to be explained in the context of personhood. Spencer uses Athanasius’ words sums up the argument here
Athanasius pointed out that, had his opponents understood Jesus “to be the proper offspring of the Father’s substance, as the radiance is from light, they would not every one of them have found fault with the [Nicaean] Fathers; but would have been confident that the council wrote suitably
The argument then was not that that there were persons, rather it was about what nature those persons had.
God the Father’s deity is not really in question, he is the one true God spoken of in Deuteronomy six. The deity of Jesus is quickly summed up by Paul with these words, “… by him all things were created… in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell…” and John added a verse consistent explanation “the Word was God … All things were made through him.” Jesus then affirms the deity of the Spirit in two ways, in stating that he proceeds from the Father and Son and that he is part of the name by which believers confess in baptism.
Economy of Salvation
Believers sum up the Trinity’s action up by the words, drawn or given by the Father, raised by the Son, and sealed by the Spirit. This acting of God shows three distinct persons engaged in the work of salvation. Sanders says it this way “We meet the triune God as he gives himself to us in the history of salvation, as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”
Reinforcement of the Trinity in the Church
The church celebrates the Trinity. As already mentioned, baptism is performed in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Also, there is a distinction made in prayer, Christian’s pray to the Father in the name of the Son by the Spirit.
The persons in the Godhead are best seen by the distinction of their wills one from the other. In all the things God does there is unity displayed in diversity. The nature of God as three infinite persons dictates that those persons must be in perfect relationship. God displays this diversity in the way He saves, the way He calls for worship, and the way He creates. The scripture clearly speaks of a God that has revealed Himself as one essence and three persons, co-equal, co-powerful, co-eternal and co-infinite it is this mystery that makes God, God alone.
. Luke 22:42, ESV.
. Isaiah 53:10, ESV.
. 1 Corinthians 12:11, ESV.
. GCU. HTH-505 Topic 3 Lecture. 2017. Grand Canyon University.
. Gordon, James R. 2015. “The Holy Trinity – God for God and God for Us: Seven Positions on the Immanent-Economic Trinity Relation in Contemporary Trinitarian Theology.” International Journal Of Systematic Theology 17, no. 4: 484-488. Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed August 23, 2018). 488.
. Deuteronomy 6:4, ESV.
. Deuteronomy 6:5, ESV.
. Matthew 3:17, ESV.
. Matthew 3:16, ESV.
. Spencer, William David. 2011. “An Evangelical Statement on the Trinity.” Priscilla Papers 25, no. 4: 15-19. Religion and Philosophy Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed August 23, 2018). 15.
. Colossians 1:15–19, ESV
. Jn 1:1–3, ESV.
. John 15:26, ESV.
. Matthew 28:18-20, ESV.
. John 6:44, ESV.
. John 6:40, ESV.
. Ephesians 1:13
. Fred Sanders. 2017. The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything. 2nd ed. Wheaton, IL: Crossway. 89.
. John 16:23, ESV.
. John 14:13, ESV.
. Romans 8:15, ESV.
GCU. HTH-505 Topic 3 Lecture. 2017. Grand Canyon University.
Gordon, James R. 2015. “The Holy Trinity – God for God and God for Us: Seven Positions on the Immanent-Economic Trinity Relation in Contemporary Trinitarian Theology.” International Journal Of Systematic Theology 17, no. 4: 484-488. Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed August 23, 2018).
Sanders, Fred. 2017. The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything. 2nd ed. Wheaton, IL: Crossway.