On the Trinity as a Divine Mystery

A common view among professing Christians today is that the doctrine of the Trinity is a divine mystery to be accepted blindly on faith, rather than understood. Thus attempts to define the doctrine carefully, and discuss the merits of differing articulations of the doctrine, are vain, dangerous, and perhaps even sinful, in this view. In this article I want to briefly answer this argument that is often leveled against explanations of the biblical doctrine of the Trinity.

Argument: The doctrine of the Trinity, of one God in three persons, is a divine mystery, to be accepted on faith without full understanding. As a divine mystery beyond human reason, it is dangerous to try to fully understand the doctrine of the Trinity. We must humbly accept the doctrine without question.

Answer: That there is such a thing as divine mysteries, worthy of blind faith, is a true point. “The secret things belong unto the Lord our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law.” (Deut 29:29 KJV). These mysteries are such things as scripture does not leave wholly explained. Sometimes this may take the form of scripture telling us two things that appear contradictory, or which we cannot fathom how they fit together. Surely in such an instance, we must accept what scripture says, even when we fail to understand how the two seemingly contradictory things fit together. We must take on faith that both are true, despite our lack of understanding and rational comprehension, because we know God is trustworthy, and His word to us in the scriptures is true and infallible.

We must then give unwavering trust to actual divine mysteries; however, we must at the same time be careful to distinguish between those things which are truly divine mysteries, and those doctrines which are such in name only. “Add thou not unto his words, lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar.” (Proverbs 30:6 KJV). True divine mysteries will be known to be such from divine revelation; they are divine mysteries, because they are revealed to us by God. Human doctrines and conjecture stand in contradistinction to this; and to pass off mere human theories, and doctrines not found in the scriptures, as a divine mystery, is to add to the word of God, a lie against the truth.

The notion that there is one God in three persons, were it found in the scriptures, would be worthy of absolute credence, although it appears wholly nonsensical; however, it is not found anywhere in any book of the Bible. Nowhere does scripture give us such statements as ‘one God in three persons’ or ‘one God who is Father, Son, and Spirit, or a ‘tri-personal’ or ‘triune’ God. All doctrines and theories pertaining to these matters, then, having no basis in divine revelation, cannot be divine mysteries, as they have not been so revealed by God, and in truth, rather stand in opposition to what He has revealed in the scriptures. Since all such doctrines of triunity of the Supreme Being come not directly from scripture, but have come about by way of inference and interpretation of the scriptures, these doctrines cannot be given the same credence and faith as something taught directly by the scriptures themselves; rather, these systems of interpretations and inferences must be tested, and subject to scrutiny. “Test all things; hold fast what is good.” (1 Thess 5:21 NKJV). Scripture is infallible; the interpretations and inferences of men are not, and therefore to give the same innate faith and credence to such interpretations and inferences as we give to the word of God, is most irrational and dangerous.

We cannot safely then regard the doctrine of ‘one God in three persons’ as a divine mystery, to be taken on faith; for this is to give the same faith we give to God and the holy scriptures, to something we have received from neither. Rather, we must reason carefully from the scriptures, making use of the best helps available to us, to understand them accurately and truly, and to test all human doctrines and interpretations by them, including the various doctrines of the Trinity that are presented to us. Such doctrines, even more so than others, are of the highest importance to test, and only accept that which we see demonstrated to be true from the scriptures, as they pertain to the highest and most foundational subjects, namely, the very identity and character of God, and of the Lord Jesus Christ His Son.


Commentary on 1 John 5:7

“For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one.” – 1 John 5:7

When the text says, and these three are one, it is not [εἰς unus] one and the same person; but [ἓν unum] one and the same thing in effect [or, purpose], i.e. one and the same testimony. Even if the Comma Johanneum is genuine, which I do not grant, the phrase ἓν εἰσι (are one) could not be proved in this text, to mean anything more than agreeing in one and the same testimony. Beza himself understood the oneness here spoken of, to be only oneness in testimony. Consider the words of Christ’s prayer for his disciples, “that they may be one, ὦσιν ἓν, as we are.” Are we to then conclude, that the disciples are one individual being? I do not cite this text to say that if it does not mean unity of being there, then it can not mean unity of being here. That would be a word fallacy (illegitimate totality transfer). However, what I am saying is that it is apparent that a unity of concord (agreement) is an entirely different thing from a unity of being. And since the Greek expression nowhere appears to indicate a unity of essence, this unity must be proved by the context or by some other argument. The only type of union that can be inferred from the text, is one of testimony: “there are three that bear testimony, μαρτυροῦντες,” v. 7. There is no hint of any unity of metaphysical nature or essence in the surrounding context, but the text deals wholly with testimony, viz. “that Jesus is the Son of God,” v. 5. It is therefore completely unwarranted to use the Comma Johanneum, regardless of its authenticity, as justification for the notion that the three persons are one individual being.

The above is the combination of the insightful thoughts of Clarke, Pierce, and Alexander Asciutto on the spurious text of the Johannine comma. See Alexander Asciutto’s website here.