Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Trinity Window

This photo was taken by a woman who lives in Iowa who comments sometimes on this blog. She has given me permission to use it in this post, for which I am grateful. It caught my attention when she posted it on her blog a few days ago. The photo is of a beautiful stained glass window in the balcony of the Lutheran Church in Iowa that she attends, an edifice built in 1873. It is called “the Trinity window.”

This is a very ancient Christian symbol that tries to describe the Triune God, Who (I think) is indescribable. In the center is a circle containing the Latin word Deus (God). Surrounding the circle is a triangle with the word Pater (Father) at the top, the word Filius (Son) on the left (actually, the Son is at the Father's right hand as the symbol is facing toward the observer), and the words Spiritus Sanctus (Holy Spirit) on the other side. Along each side of the triangle are the Latin words Non Est, which mean “is not” or “He is not.” So basically the window tells us that God, the center of all things, is a Trinity consisting of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And it tells us three other things. First, the Father is not the Son and the Son is not the Father. Second, the Son is not the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit is not the Son. And third, the Father is not the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit is not the Father. They are three distinct persons, making up one Godhead in what Dr. Scot McKnight, a professor at North Park University in Chicago, calls “a perichoretic dance of mutual interpenetrability.” I was valedictorian of my high school class, but I have no idea what that means. The Trinity is a concept I can't really get my head around. It is a mystery that three can be one and one can be three, a very great mystery. But because I can't understand it, I believe it.

People have used various illustrations through the years to try to help explain the Trinity. The Trinity, they say, is like an egg, which has three parts--a yolk, a white, and a shell--and yet is one egg. The Trinity, they say, is like a molecule composed of two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen, which exists in three forms--water, ice, and steam--and yet its molecular structure remains the same. The Trinity, they say, is like a candle, which has three parts--the wax, a wick, and a flame--and yet is one candle. And God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and yet is one God, not three. All of the illustrations help, but all fall short.

I especially like two other illustrations that use a human being to illustrate the Trinity. St. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, “And I pray your whole spirit and soul and body will be preserved blameless unto the coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ.” We ourselves are a trinity. With our body we have world-consciousness, with our soul (that is, our mind, emotions, and will) we have self-consciousness, and with our spirit we have God-consciousness. At least we did before Adam fell. Man's spirit, the part of him that is conscious of God, is what died that day. When a candle is deprived of oxygen, there can be no flame. But when God's Holy Spirit is restored in our lives, the oxygen returns and the flame can burn once more. Without Him, we have only a capacity for flame (wax and wick, body and soul), but no flame. The other illustration explains it best to me. I am one person, but I have different relationships. With my children, I am a father. With my parents, I am a son. With my wife, I am a husband. Yet I am still one person. I like this explanation best, but it still falls short of explaining the Trinity.

There is a verse in the Old Testament, Deuteronomy 6:4, which is called “the Shema” by Jewish people; it is at the core of Judaism and repeated often. In English, it says, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.” In Hebrew, the words are, “Shema Yisroel, Adonai Elehenu, Adonai Echad.” (Jewish people substitute the word Adonai, Lord, for the word Yahweh, Jehovah, in the verse because they consider God's name, which means I AM THAT I AM, too sacred to speak.) It is interesting to me that there are two words in Hebrew for the concept of “one.” Yachad means an indivisible, sole, solitary oneness, as in “Take your son, your only son Isaac.” But echad means a compound unity, a oneness consisting of multiple parts, as in “The morning and the evening were the first day” (“first” is the ordinal number corresponding to “one,” a cardinal number) or “The people stood up as one man” or “one cluster of grapes” or “the man and his wife shall be one flesh.” And in Deuteronomy 6:4 the word used is echad.

It is truly a great mystery. I believe in monotheism--I believe there is only one Supreme Being--and I believe in the Trinity.


  1. I like your word illustration of the world, self, and God-consciousness-es.

    That word perichoretic is in none of the dictionaries I have, although Google shows 6690 links for it.

    Most times, I need to understand how something can be true, but the Trinity concept simply must be taken on faith. Although, recently I've read about new research findings concerning light. (God is Light, you know.....Jesus said that.) Its been discovered that light exists as wave and particle.....and, who knows, maybe there is another dimension to light, that would make it a trinity.

  2. Jeannelle, thanks as always for commenting on my blog. The world-, self-, God-conscious example is not original with me. I think it came from Watchman Nee's book, The Spiritual Man, which I read years ago. But it could have come from somewhere else. I know it stuck with me, and I have used it on occasion. It also occurs to me that the idea about the candle's capacity for flame, but there being no flame possible without oxygen, was something I heard Dr. J. Sidlow Baxter say in a sermon in Florida almost forty years ago. Our family attended a large non-denominational church in Boca Raton that had week-long Bible conferences every winter, from after Thanksgiving until almost Easter, and he was one of the featured (and favorite) speakers. You hear a good illustration, it sticks with you.

  3. Greetings

    First & foremost, I would say, that the reason that the Triune God is indescribable, the reason why you can't get your head around it & can't understand it; is because this 'God' is a manmade concept which neither the Scriptures, Christ nor any of his apostles taught! This concept was foisted onto Christianity hundreds of years after the ascension of Christ. It is a manmade mystery.

    In contrast, the GOD of the Scriptures is in this context, understandable.

    He is ONE!! ONE GOD, ONE Being, ONE Person, the Father.

    (1 Cor 8:4) ... there is none other God but one.
    (1 Cor 8:6) But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; ...

    He is ONE!! Anyone can get their head around that! :-)

    Indeed you quoted Deut 6.4, the Shema. This is the very verse which confirms both the monotheism & oneness of Almighty GOD.
    There is simply no room in the Shema for a trinity.

    And I'm afraid you are very mistaken about echad. Echad simply means ONE.
    When Jews count, they don't use yachid; they use echad. It is CARDINAL ONE.
    The so-called notion of a compound unity is another manmade concept, a manmade fallacy; invented to try to get the OT scriptures to cater for the manmade trinity.

    I recommend this article, Elohim and Echad;
    it goes into further detail to explain the true meaning of the Hebrew word, echad; this word indeed affirms the ONENESS of GOD.

    But there is no need to take my word for it; listen to Jesus and the scribe:
    (Mark 12:28-32) And one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, and perceiving that he had answered them well, asked him, Which is the first commandment of all? 29 And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: ... 32 And the scribe said unto him, Well, Master, thou hast said the truth: for there is one God; and there is none other but he:

    Do you see that?
    There is none other but HE! Not them!
    Obviously then, neither Jesus nor the scribe, were trinitarian!

    For more info & in consideration of your other points, I recommend this video:
    The Human Jesus

    Take a couple of hours to watch it; and prayerfully it will aid you to reconsider "The Trinity"

    Yours In Messiah
    Adam Pastor

  4. Adam,

    First, thank you for commenting on my blog. I looked at your own blog and appreciate all the time and effort you have taken in your studies. You seem to me to be a Messianic Jew. Is that correct or am I wrong?

    Also, Is Adam Pastor really your name or is it just a blogname? Because to claim to be the shepherd of mankind requires quite a bit of chutzpah on your part. If it's your actual name, I withdraw my comment!

    Of course echad is one, just as yachad is one. I'm not saying God is three. I believe God is one. I just find it interesting that in all the examples I cited there is the idea of compound unity. Numbers 13:23 ("one cluster of grapes") is echad eshkowl enab in Hebrew; and Genesis 2:24 ("they shall be one flesh") is echad basar in Hebrew; and Genesis 1:5 ("the evening and the morning were the first day") is echad yowm in Hebrew; and several references to the people gathered or arose or knit together "as one man" (Judges 6:16, 20:1, 20:8, and 20:11; Ezra 3:1, and Nehemiah 8:1) are echad iysh in Hebrew. But references to "only son" are always ben yachid (Genesis 22:2, 22:12, and 22:16; Jeremiah 6:26; Amos 8:10, and Zechariah 12:10).

    I also wanted to point out that when you cited Mark chapter 12, you stopped before Jesus answered and said, while He taught in the temple, How say the scribes that Christ is the Son of David? For David himself said by the Holy Ghost, "The Lord said to my Lord, Sit on my right hand, till I make your enemies your footstool." David therefore himself calls him Lord; and how is he then his son? And the common people heard him gladly (verses 35-37).

    I am happy to count myself among the common people.

    Shalom. According to Romans 10:9-10, you are my brother in Christ.

    Bob Brague (rhymeswithplague)

  5. A correction: instead of ben yachid I meant to say ben yachiyd (and sometimes the ben is understood in the context.

  6. Greetings Bob Brague

    My name is Adam Pastor.
    I am not a Messianic Jew.

    Now, yachad is not "one" in the same sense as echad
    Because yachad is not a number; whilst echad is!

    When a Jew learns to count, they begin with echad.
    Ask any Jew.

    Now, I have to tell you, that the so-called "compound unity" is a fallacy. There is no such thing. It is manmade concept in an attempt to read the trinity into the OT/Hebrew Scriptures.

    To quote:
    "Echad occurs 970 times in the Hebrew Bible and it is the number "one."
    It means "one single." It is a numeral adjective, the ordinary word for "one" functioning very much like our English number "one."
    The Hebrew for eleven is "one (echad) plus ten."

    Lexicons of the Hebrew offer no support at all for any complication of the simple word "one." Some unsuspecting readers have been bamboozled into the fraudulent argument that because "one" in English or Hebrew can modify a compound noun, then the word "one" itself must be "compound"!

    One can think of humorous ways of exposing this trick. Does the word "one" mean "black and white" in the phrase "one zebra"? Does "one" mean "one single" in the phrase "one loaf of bread" and yet more than one in the phrase "one loaf of sliced bread"? We trust that the point is clear. One tripod is still one tripod, despite the three legs on the tripod. It is the noun, in these examples, which contains the idea of plurality (three legs), while the word "one" maintains, thankfully, the stable meaning of "one single." One tripod is a single tripod. "One Lord" in the Bible does not mean two or three Lords.
    The meaning of "one" is precisely the same in "one rock" and "one family." The numeral adjective "one" is not affected in any way by the collective noun "family."

    According to numerous popular websites and even a number of textbooks, the combination "one bunch," we are invited to think, shows that "one" means more than one, so-called "compound one" or "composite one." The mistake is quite obvious. One bunch is still in Hebrew and English one bunch and not two or more bunches! It is nonsense to suppose that the word "one" has altered its meaning when it modifies a compound noun. It is the noun which is compound and gives us the sense of plurality. The word "one" is fixed and unchanged in meaning in both "one pencil" and "one bunch." The numerical adjective, "one," retains its meaning always as "one single." When Adam and Eve are "one flesh," they are not two or more "fleshes"! One still means one. The combining of Adam and Eve as "one flesh" has not altered the meaning of "one" (echad).

    On this amazing piece of verbal trickery Christians have been persuaded that in the phrase "one God" the word "one" imparts some sort of plurality to the word God. This is completely unfounded. It is plainly false.

    Imagine the confusion which would ensue if when we present our one-dollar purchase at the check-out counter, we are told that "one" is really "compound one." Thus the item will cost three (or more) dollars!

    A compound noun is clearly made up of a number of items. But the word "one" which stands before it is not in any way changed by its proximity to the compound noun. However, the unwary have been taken in by the most amazing assertions that echad tells us that God is more than one!"
    [Jesus Was Not a Trinitarian,
    Restoration Fellowship, 2007, p. 308-310]

    For more info on this subject, I again recommend the article Elohim and Echad
    The aforementioned video also deals with this topic.

    Concerning Mark 12:
    First Jesus confirms the Jewish understanding of the ONE GOD YAHWEH in Mark 12:28ff in agreement with the Jewish scribe.
    After confirming the fact of the ONE GOD, YAHWEH i.e.
    Hear O Israel, YAHWEH OUR GOD, YAHWEH IS ONE ...

    Jesus of Nazareth then quotes Psalm 110.1 to present his relationship to the ONE GOD, YAHWEH.
    Psalm 110.1 is the most quoted OT verse in the NT. It defines Jesus' Lordship.
    It informs us what was & is meant when calling Jesus 'Lord'
    Psalm 110.1 is an oracle from the ONE GOD which declares:
    "The LORD [YAHWEH] said to my Lord [adoni],
    Sit on my right hand, till I make your enemies your footstool."

    There are two occurrences of the word 'lord' here in our English bibles. However, two totally different Hebrew words are being used to denote two distinct beings.
    The first 'LORD' corresponds to the ONE GOD's name YaHWeH i.e.
    The ONE GOD of Abraham, Isaac & Jacob;
    the GOD & Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

    [2 Cor 11.31, Eph 1.3, Col 1.3, 1 Pet 1.3]

    The second word 'lord' however is adoni.
    A Hebrew word which is never ever used in all its 195 occurrences
    in ref. to Almighty GOD.
    It is a Hebrew word specifically used to denote a 'lord' who is NOT GOD, NOT deity!
    Hence it is solely used in ref. to human lords and occasionally angels.

    (Hebrews Chapters 1-2 clearly show that Jesus was/is not an angelic being.
    He is a human being, hence human 'lord')

    So Jesus using Psalm 110.1 identifies himself as that 'lord' who was to one day be invited to sit at the ONE GOD, YAHWEH's right hand.
    Thus, Jesus is not only David's son.
    Seeing that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of GOD,
    Jesus is therefore, David's 'lord/adoni';
    he is our Lord/adoni as well,
    'Lord/adoni of all';
    to the glory of GOD the Father.

    [Acts 2.36, 10.36, 1 Cor 8.6, Phil 2.11]

    Therefore, Peter declared on the day of Pentecost:
    (Acts 2:34-36) For David is not ascended into the heavens: but he saith himself,
    The Lord [YAHWEH] said unto my Lord [adoni], Sit thou on my right hand, 35 Until I make thy foes thy footstool. 36 Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly,
    that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ.

    In light of Psalm 110.1, Jesus is
    that "man" whom YAHWEH has made
    both Lord and Christ.
    He is that 'one Lord' who is now at
    the ONE GOD's right hand.

    So there is ONE GOD, the Father, namely YAHWEH
    And there is ONE Lord, the man Jesus of Nazareth, whom YAHWEH made both Lord/adoni & Christ/Messiah; and set at His right hand.

    ONE man. the Lord Messiah,
    namely Jesus of Nazareth.

    [Luke 2.11, Col 3.24]

    (1 Cor 8:4) ... that there is none other God but one.
    (1 Cor 8:6) But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.

    (1 Tim 2:5) For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;

    Yours In Messiah
    Adam Pastor
    The Human Jesus

  7. Adam,

    Yachiyd means "only" in the verses I cited. It is also translated "solitary" in Psalm 68:6, "God sets the solitary in families" (Hebrew, elohiym yashab yachiyd bayith. Solitariness, aloneness, onliness all imply singular, so why wasn't yachiyd used in the Shema instead of echad? And what about the word "elohim" itself? Sometimes it is used for the false gods of other nations and sometimes it is used of Israel's God Who is One, even though the word elohim is a plural form just like seraphim and cherubim.

    Adam, I do not believe in three Gods. There is only one Supreme Being. But your arguments against the Trinity only reinforce what I was trying to say earlier. One zebra has two colors. One day does have both an evening and a morning. A tripod is not a tripod at all unless it consists of three legs. One loaf of bread can have many slices, yet it remains one loaf. One pencil consists of both lead and casing. "One flesh" requires a husband and a wife, both an Adam and an Eve. Finally, a dollar is three dollars, it is one dollar. If it had three equal parts, each part would be 33.333333...(to infinity) cents, which cannot be adequately described by any combination of coins. 33.333... x 3 = 99.999..., not 100 after all. God is unfathomable, indescribable, eternal, infinite, beyond our mortal minds. And He is a Spirit, and we who worship Him must worship Him in Spirit and in truth.

    I do not think we are saying different things, but we are definitely coming at the truth from different directions. I do not believe in three Gods or three LORDS or three lords. One YHWH consists of what? No one really knows. He is what He told Moses He is, that which He is. Maybe one, maybe oneness, maybe something else we can only wonder about as we worship. Historically, Christians have believed in "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit." But water baptisms are not performed in the "names" but in the "name" (singular) of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. One single name.

    You also say that adoni is never used of YHWH. In the Shema, Deuteronomy 6:4-5, it does. So if it can indeed apply to both God and man, how do you know your interpretation of Jesus' words is correct? (Or I, mine, for that matter? We believe what we believe by faith, not because we can prove it. If we could prove it, it wouldn't require faith, now, would it?)

    I also believe that Jesus the Christ (Yeshua ha-Moshiach) is fully God and fully man. The Incarnation alone (Emmanuel, God with us) is enough to mess up anyone's thinking. Or the Resurrection, or the Ascension, or Pentecost. We believe them by faith. I don't think any of us understands fully or has a corner on the truth.

    Are you perhaps a member of the Jehovah's Witnesses group? I had a co-worker, Brenda Gibson, who passed away several years ago, who was a JW. We had wonderful discussions because we respected each other's opinions and our arguments, always friendly, were always from Scripture.

    I am thankful for your input to these discussions. I do not think that I am going to change your mind or that you are going to change mine.

  8. Oops! That sentence was supposed to say, A dollar is not three dollars.

  9. I have a small book, "Pocket History of Theology" by Roger Olson and Adam English. They discuss the origins of Christian doctrine.

    Concerning the Trinity, I like the info they gave on Gregory of Nazianzus (329-391), who conceptualized the Trinity thus:

    "Within the Trinity itself, he (Gregory) explained, there are not 'three beings' but 'three relations', and relations are neither substances (beings) nor merely actions (modes of activity). The Father's unique identity within the one divine being is his relatedness to the Son and Spirit as their begetter and source of procession. The Son's unique identity is as the One who is eternally generated from the Father as his express image and agent. The Holy Spirit's unique identity is as the One who eternally proceeds from the Father as his wisdom and power. Each member's identity is defined only in relation to the other members of the Trinity. In other words, Father, Son and Spirit do not possess independent identities, lest such identities constitute them as independent beings. Rather, ontologically speaking, God's on being is composed of three relations......"

    This has helped me to come to a tiny comprehension of how the Trinity possibly works. Its like God is specialized in three ways so as to get things done.