1) Monotheism: There is only one God
2) There are three Divine persons - All being God
- The three do not make up God
- As a friend of mine shared in relating an analogy from Dr. Moorcroft: God is not like a cake mix. In that God is not made up of 1/3 the Father, 1/3 the Son and 1/3 the Holy Spirit. But He is all three at all time and all are equally divine
3) The three persons are all coequal and coeternal
The diagram below shows in a pretty basic way that if you deny any one of the three pillars mentioned above it will point you to one of three heresies. By drawing an arrow from the doctrine denied you will see the corresponding doctrinal error.
Explanation of above views:
Modalism (or Sabellianism 3rd Century):
One form of Modalism existing today is “Oneness Pentecostalism” which consists today of the United Pentecostals and United Apostolic Church. They may not word things the same historically as Modalist have but would still fit into the Modalist camp by their denial of the coexistence of three “distinct” yet equal persons. Historically Modalism stresses that the three parts of the Trinity are merely three manifestations, or as I have been told in a comment – “simultaneous aspects of the nature of God”. Modalism, again this may not be how all would relate this, has spoken of God as such:
- God is one and He has manifested Himself in the mode of the Father in the OT
- He then manifested Himself in the mode of the Son at the incarnation
- Then on Jesus departure He manifested Himself as the Holy Spirit
Key is that all never exist at the same time and thus do not coexist. Modalists will claim equality but again they will not agree to not coexistence.
Subordinationism (late 2nd to early 3rd Century):
This is a view of the relationship of the Father to the Son which subordinates the Son to the Father in essence and status. This is not denying the Son is subordinate to the father in way of submission, which is biblical as in 1 Cor 15:28:
“When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.”
The issue to the Subordinationist is that Jesus’ nature is different than the Father. They see Christ as eternal, not created, and divine but not equal to the Father. While the Trinitarian view speaks to all three being equal in power and glory
Polytheism simply says that there are more than one God. This is the claim that anti-Trinitarians often make towards those who hold a Trinitarian view of God.
Some Historical Heresies
Marcionism claims that Christ came at the Baptism and left at the crucifixion and they believed that the wrathful Hebrew God was a separate and lower entity than the all-forgiving God of the New Testament. This is a dualistic view of God that, even if they do not realize it, many professing believers hold today. The Marcionites held that Jesus came to liberate man from the God of the Old Testament.
Arianism (modern day Jehovah’s Witnesses) 4th Century:
Arians deny the deity of Christ and personhood of the Holy Spirit. They see Christ as created being with Jehovah’s Witnesses seeing Christ as Michael the Archangel. As we have already seen this heresy was condemned at the Council of Nicea (325)
Apollinarianism – 4th Century:
This view held that Christ had no human spirit. And that the divine Logos replaced it thus making Christ a “third thing”, a middle being between God and man. Being one part divine (spirit) and two parts (body and soul) human fused into a new nature. Apollonarius was against Arianism but probably fell more into the homoiousians (similar natures) camp. This view was declared a heresy by the First Council of Constantinople in 381 as it denied what is known as the Hypostatic Union: That Jesus is completely man and completely God (John 1:1, 14 & Col 2:9)
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Jn 1:1
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Jn 1:14
"For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily," Col 2:9
Nestorianism – 5th Century:
Nestorius held that there were two distinct persons in Christ; one human and one Divine. Making Christ a God-bearing man (double personality) rather than the God-man (theanthropos) and thus got the natures correct but had Christ having two personalities. Nestorius distinguished the human Jesus, who died, from the Divine son who cannot die. This view was condemned at the Synod of Ephesus (431) where it was confirmed that Jesus was one person in two distinct and inseparable natures.
Eutychianism – 5th Century:
This view began as a reaction to Nestorius’ dual personalities view of Christ. This view made the Divine nature absorb the human nature and thus Christ only had one nature. A nature that was not like ours as He had one nature, divine. They sought to elevate the divine nature by minimizing the humanity of Christ. This too was condemned, at the Council of Chalcedon (451)
I list these heresies because I pray you hear the many explanations that people give to explain the Trinity so it conforms to what they feel comfortable with. Also, these heresies show that the arguments and human reasoning used to deny the Trinity are not new. We do not stand alone in the fight to defend what is true.
At the end of the day this all shows that Ecc 1:9 is so true:
“The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.”
In Part 4 we will begin to look at a few arguments against the Doctrine of the Trinity as well as look at what I feel is often a key issue and that is the understanding of the difference between “apprehending” the Doctrine of the Thirty and “comprehending “ it.
(Updated 8/20/10 - Due to a comment I wanted to be more clear above on Modalism)
Doctrine of the Trinity Series:
Sermon Series on The Doctrine of the Trinity: Part 1 and Part 2
(all verses used are from the ESV unless stated otherwise)