Trinity, attributed to Andrei Rublev, 15th century, Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, Russia
Thomas Jefferson considered the doctrine of the Trinity bunk, because it goes against reason. In a 1810 letter he called it “a mere Abracadabra.”
The doctrine of the Trinity teaches that there is only one God who eternally exists as three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Not three gods. Not three personalities. One God; three Persons. All three Persons are God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I’ll admit it strains the intellect to say 1+1+1=1. Then again, it also strains the intellect to think that God became incarnate in the person of Jesus, that he rose from the dead, or that God spoke the universe into existence.
The supernatural world has its mysteries as does the natural world. A human being is an incredibly complex organism. Can anyone fully comprehend how a single cell can grow into a human baby in just 40 weeks? By all rights a hummingbird shouldn’t be able to fly, but it does fly – forwards, backwards, sideways, upside down, and can even hover. How do you explain the fact that the earth is the perfect distance from the sun to sustain life? If it were just a little closer to the sun, the oceans would boil away. If it were just a little farther away, they’d freeze. The natural world is full of mysteries. It’s not surprising that spiritual world is too. One of those mysteries is the Trinity. It cannot be fully comprehended by man’s sin-tainted, fallen intellect. But it can be grasped by the mind and held by faith.
The doctrine of the Trinity is challenging to me for a different reason than it was to Thomas Jefferson. It doesn’t offend my reason (even if I can’t full comprehend it), but it does challenge my doctrine of religious authority. Baptists aren’t a creedal people and we believe that the Bible alone is all the religious authority we need. We hold to the Protestant doctrine of “sola scriptura,” which means that our religious authority is in the Bible alone – not in popes, church councils, or any extra-biblical authority. I wonder, Would I believe the doctrine of the Trinity on the evidence of Scripture alone? Maybe. Maybe not. The Trinity is a doctrine derived from Scripture. It’s mainly an inference from what the New Testament teaches about Jesus and the Holy Spirit, worked out by theologians and church councils over the first few centuries of Christian history. If I didn’t already know the doctrine as it developed over time and as it is expressed in the creeds, and if I had only the Bible to guide me, Would I be able to arrive at to the full expression of the doctrine of the Trinity as found in the Nicene Creed? If not, I am left with one of two unsettling possibilities: either my doctrine of the Trinity is wrong or my doctrine of religious authority is wrong.