Trinitarian Issues

“My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.”

- Isaiah 55:8

Historically, as we have seen, there have been many formal heresies that have confronted the church’s confession of God as the Holy Trinity. Modalism and Arianism plagued the church during its earliest years, and even now many cults teach these heresies. Yet formal heresies have not been the only issues that people have raised with respect to Trinitarian doctrine. The church has had to deal with other accusations made against the doctrine as well.

Many people, for example, reject the doctrine of the Trinity as a contradiction. However, once we understand what actually constitutes a logical contradiction, we see that Trinitarian doctrine is not contradictory. Logical contradictions violate the law of noncontradiction, which says that A cannot be both B and non-B at the same time and in the same sense or relationship. It would be a contradiction to say that Robert is a father and Robert is not a father if we were talking about his relationship to the same set of children, but it would not be a contradiction to say that if we were talking about his relationship to other kids. Robert can be the father of Leah and Mary and not the father of Claire and Elizabeth; he cannot be the father of Leah and Mary and at the same time not the father of Leah and Mary.

The doctrine of the Trinity is not a contradiction because while God is both one and three at the same time, He is not one and three in the same sense. God is one in essence but three in person. We are not saying that God is “one in essence” and “not one in essence” or “three in person” and “not three in person.” Now, we cannot completely understand how it is that God can be both one in essence and three in person, but that makes the Trinity a mystery, not a contradiction. A mystery, in theological terms, refers to something God has revealed but that escapes our full comprehension. A mystery is not logically incoherent, and while we cannot fully understand the mystery of the Trinity, God can and does. But even God cannot understand a contradiction because a contradiction is by definition nonsensical, and God is not the author of nonsense or confusion (1 Cor. 14:33).

Others have objected to the doctrine of the Trinity because the word Trinity is not found in Scripture. It is true that the term Trinity is not found in Scripture, but the concept it represents suffuses the Bible. And the term usefully summarizes biblical teaching in a way that allows us to confess the biblical teaching and identify those who deny it. This helps us teach truth and reject error.

Coram Deo

Because God is God and we are not, we should expect some things about Him to escape our full comprehension. But our failure to understand something completely does not make it a contradiction. We are called to study God’s Word and to grow in our knowledge, but there will be points where we can go no further because God is infinite. At those points especially, we must bow our heads and worship our Lord.

Passages for Further Study

Deuteronomy 29:29
Job 11:7–9
Psalm 147:5
Romans 11:33–36

First published in Tabletalk Magazine, an outreach of Ligonier. For permissions, view our Copyright Policy.