By Bob Passantino, © 1992
As a member of the historic Christian Church, I answer this resolution in the affirmative: Yes, the creedal doctrine of the Trinity is biblical.
Affirming this resolution means the doctrine of the Trinity represents the uniform and consistant teaching of the historic Christian church from the original revelations contained in the Bible, through the development of the early Christian church, and as reflected in the ecumenical creeds adopted by the Church. I believe the early Christian church and the Bible agree on the doctrine of God, namely, the Trinity. I will show this argument in several different ways: (1) The New Testament teaching of the doctrine; (2) Continuity in the history of preserving the doctrine; and (3) Continuity in the formulation of the ecumenical creeds.
I will prove my affirmation by using the logical argumentation form called perfect induction. Induction argues from specific to general. Since general induction takes particular examples and builds from that a general conclusion, it offers probable or statistical truth, but not absolute certainty. The next sample could (hypothetically) disprove the universal application of the conclusion. There is a way to achieve certainty in some instances, through a method called perfect induction (also called induction by complete enumeration), a method of rational analysis that can give certainty, because the items in the field (all possible samples), as well as the field itself, are limited and known. For example, through induction you might postulate that all crows are black because in your extensive sampling, all the crows you saw were black. However, a white crow could fly in tomorrow and disprove your claim. The situation changes if you have a limited field (one room), and a limited number of items in the field (three crows), and all of those items (crows) were black, then you could by perfect induction know for sure that all crows in the room are black.
This resolution can be resolved using perfect induction. It is my conviction that the biblical nature of the creedal doctrine of the Trinity has a limited field (the Bible), limited items in the field (the terms), and all the items are known. Therefore, it is possible to use perfect induction to know for sure that the creedal doctrine of the Trinity is biblical.
This resolution, by its very wording, limits the field of inductive inquiry: (1) The doctrine to be discussed is the creedal doctrine, not any other. (2) The Trinity as articulated by the creeds is to be discussed, not philosophical speculations about the Trinity. For the purposes of this debate, doctrine refers to “teaching” (2 Timothy 3:16); and the doctrine to be considered concerns generally the doctrine of God, and specifically the doctrine of the Trinity.
By “biblical” I mean the doctrine contained in the sixty-six books of the Old and New Testaments, accepted by all segments of the historic Church, including Eastern, Roman, and Protestant.
I do not mean to include the Apocrypha, which is not accepted as scripture by the Mormons or the Protestants.
By “trinity” I mean that within the nature of the one true God, there are three eternal, distinct Persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. These three persons are the one God. By using the logical technique called the transitive property of equality (things equal to the same thing are equal to each other), I will now demonstrate the biblical doctrine of the Trinity.
The Bible teaches that there is only one uncreated, eternal, true God (Exodus 3:14; Deuteronomy 6:4; John 17:3).
The Bible teaches that there will never be any other uncreated, eternal, true God(s) to come into existence (Isaiah 43:10; 44:6-8; 1 Cor. 8:4-6; Galatians 4:8).
The Bible teaches that this one true God created everything ex nihilo, or from nothing (Psalm 90:2; Isaiah 44:24; Hebrews 3:4; 11:3).
When we say “the Father is God,” we mean that a distinct person known as the Father is identifiable as the one true God, the creator ex nihilo (1 Cor. 8:4-6; 2 Peter 1:17). When we say “the Son is God,” we mean that a distinct person known as the Son is identifiable as the one true God, the creator ex nihilo (John 1:1-3; Colossians 1:16).
When we say “the Holy Spirit is God,” we mean that a distinct person known as the Holy Spirit is identifiable as the one true God, the creator ex nihilo (Job 33:4; Acts 5:3-4; 1 Corinthians 2:11).
Therefore, as the transitive property of equality shows us, the three Persons Are the One God (Matthew 28:19).
This biblical doctrine of the Trinity does not allow for a plurality of gods. Although the Bible uses “god” in a variety of ways, there is only one uncreated Creator. Scriptures such as Exodus 4:16; Psalm 82:6; John 10:30-36; etc. use “god” in a symbolic or representative way. Nowhere does the Bible describe anyone other than the one true God as the Creator ex nihilo. In fact, the Bible declares that all the so-called gods that did not make the heavens and earth will perish (Jerimiah 10:11). This is also a perfect induction argument, that is, the field of the term “god” is limited to creator ex nihilo, and the one member of that field is known, the biblical God, creator of the heavens and the earth. The biblical doctrine of the Trinity affirms a unity of divine essence (numeric identity). As theologian William Shedd describes, “the substance of one divine person is the substance of the others, both numerically and identically.”
The biblical doctrine of the Trinity affirms one and only one uncreated, true God who created everything else from nothing; and this God is three eternal, distinct Persons (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). By “creedal doctrine” in this resolution is meant the doctrine associated with the ecumenical creeds generally accepted by the Christian church, including the Apostles and the Nicene.
The New Testament creedal phrases from the apostles reflected a body of belief, within which was the assumption of the doctrine of the trinity, exemplified by Matthew 28:19 and 2 Corinthians 13:14.
The Bible is God’s Word, and the creed is the believer’s confession of commitment to what God’s Word teaches. Creedal phrases abound in the New Testament, including Matthew 28:19; 1 Corinthians 15; Romans 10:9-10; and Philippians 2:5-11.
The Apostles Creed was ascribed to the apostles, whether they had personal involvement in its formation or it merely reflects the core of apostolic teaching. It was used throughout the Western Church, perhaps from apostolic times. Writers of the second and third centuries already referred to it as the established, common confession of the church. Our first extant copy of the Greek text is from around 336-341, and a Latin text dates from around 390. The Apostles Creed was brief and with little detail since it preceded most of the Church turmoil caused by later heresies.
The Nicene Creed is named after the Council of Nicea (325), although the text underwent clarification and reached its final form around 381. It is also called the Nicene- Constantinopolitan Creed. Church historian and scholar G. W. Bromiley notes how even the very early creedal development affirmed the biblical doctrine of the Trinity. He says, “Fragmentary creeds from the second century . . . support the thesis that creeds quickly became Trinitarian, or were so from the outset.
Here are only a few of the earliest references to the creedal doctrine of the Trinity from the early Church:
- The Didache (35-60): “baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
- Irenaeus (115-190): “The Church . . . . [believes] in one God, the Father Almighty . . . and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God . . . and in the Holy Spirit.”
- Tertullian (190-200): “Thus the connection of the Father in the Son, and of the Son in the Paraclete, produces three coherent Persons, who are yet distinct One from Another. These Three are one essence, not one Person.”
Creedal support of the biblical doctrine of the Trinity is made clear simply by quoting the relevant portions of both the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed, corresponding to the biblical argument previously presented:
- Only One True God (Uncreated, Eternal Creator) Apostles Creed: “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.” Nicene Creed: “I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth and of all things visible and invisible.”
- The Father is God Apostles Creed: “God, the Father Almighty.” Nicene Creed: “God, the Father Almighty.”
- The Son is God Apostles Creed: “Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.” Nicene Creed: “And in one Lord Jesus Christ . . . God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God.”
- The Holy Spirit is God Apostles Creed: “Jesus Christ . . . was conceived by the Holy Spirit, . . . . I believe in the Holy Spirit.” Nicene Creed: “I believe in the Holy Spirit . . . who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified.”
The creedal doctrine of the Trinity was fully expressed by the later Athanasian Creed (900s), which says in part, “And the catholic faith is this, that we worship one God in three persons and three persons in one God, neither confusing the persons nor dividing the substance. For there is one person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Spirit. . . .”
On the basis of the argumentation and evidence presented here, I affirm the resolution: Yes, the creedal doctrine of the Trinity is biblical.