As I promised yesterday, in our first message in the new teaching series Experiencing the Trinity (Click here to Watch), here is the first in a series of articles that will post this week to help flesh out some of the detail I talked about in yesterdays sermon. I hope that you will use this series in your own Bible study and share with others who might also be intersected. Be sure to follow my blog so that you will get an automatic email update for each new installment.
How would you explain the Trinity?
When asked to explain the Trinity, most Christians will offer some kind of an analogy – comparing the Trinity to an egg, to water, or to various other human relationships. The problem, however is that in the end every one of these analogies falls short of the Biblical truth. One reason this is true is that the Trinity is a mystery and is beyond our human experience. So, no human analogy or word picture will ever do justice to the Biblical doctrine, therefore, we need to look for a better way of understanding it.
The very best way that I have found to understand the Trinity it to simply learn three simple statements that summarize the Biblical doctrine. The goal is to equip you to give a clear, concise, and Biblical explanation of the Trinity. One this foundation is in place, you will be equipped to understand not only to recognize heretical views of the Trinity but also will be equipped to recognize how we experience the Trinity in our daily Christian lives.
If you were look up the word Trinity in a concordance, you will find that the word is never used in the Bible. That’s right! In the entire Bible, the word Trinity is never used. But that does not mean the doctrine is not Biblical. The word Trinity is a compound word made up of tri, meaning three, and unity. So, the word Trinity simply means three in one. Long ago, theologians coined this word as a shorthand way of summarizing the key Biblical teaching that there is one God who eternally exists in three distinct personalities — the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. There are three key statements that you need to memorize to understand and articulate this doctrine.
Today, we will look at the first and most basic of these three statements.
1.There is Only One God
The most fundamental declaration in the Bible is that there is only one God. This truth is found in many passages. For instance, in Deuteronomy 6:4 the Bible says, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is One.” In 1 Kings 8:60 God says that He desires that all “peoples of the earth may know that the Lord is God; there is no other.” Later in the book of Isaiah, God says, “I am the first and the last; besides me there is no god.” (Isa 44:6-7, see also 45:21-22)
We call the teaching that there is only one God, monotheism (mono= god, theos=god). Along with Christianity there are two other major monotheistic religions in the world — Judaism and Islam. This does not mean that all three of these religions are worshipping the same God, but simply that they all claim there is only one God. In contrast, there are several other world religions who teach that there are many gods — these are known as polytheistic religions (poly=many, theos= gods).
The belief in only one God set ancient Israel and the New Testament church apart from most of the people who lived around them. This is easy to see in the Old Testament, where Israel had to constantly guard against the temptation to chase after the many false gods of their neighbors. As we read the pages of the Old Testament we are constantly reminded of the temptation Israel faced from false gods such as Baal and Ashtoreth, just to name two of the most prominent.
The New Testament world was just as polytheistic as the Old Testament world. You may remember reading some of the Roman and Greek myths in school. Back in Paul’s day, there were people who worshipped Zeus, Diana, and the other gods and goddesses of the Pantheon. A great example of this is in Acts 17:16-34, when Paul went to preach at the Areopagus in the city of Athens. In verse 22, of this passage Paul mentions that as he was passing through the city he, “observed the objects of [their] worship.” This is a reference to the many statues dedicated to the various Greek and Roman gods set up throughout the market place. Athens was not alone in its dedication to polytheism. In Ephesus, for instance, Paul was confronted by an angry mob aroused by a silversmith named Demetrius, who was upset because the number of people converted by the gospel was cutting into his business. (Acts 19:23-29) In truth, every city Paul visited was filled with multiple temples, statues, and shrines dedicated to the Roman and Greek gods. Polytheism was as common as air in the ancient world.
In addition to worshipping the traditional Pantheon of god’s and goddesses, the Romans also claimed their emperors were divine — the Emperor cult. This created an especially difficult situation for the early church because at various times the Romans required everyone to offer sacrifices to the gods and specifically, to the Emperor — who was sometimes referred to as the son of god. Because of their strict monotheism, Christians refused to offer these sacrifices, which at once made them suspicious to the people living around them and occasionally resulted in being labeled as enemies of the state. The primary example of polytheism today would be the Hindu religion, which according to some counts recognizes 330 million deities.
When we say, there is only one God we are talking about more than His existence. We are also talking about His divine essence. Without getting into too great of detail, God’s essence refers to His being and nature. Theologians describe the nature of God by pointing to the various attributes used to describe what He is like. As we will see, all three members of the Trinity share the same divine essence.
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Click here to view Experiencing the Trinity Part 1 in its entirety