The triune nature of God explained in four perfect sentences

stoolsThe idea that God is the ultimate hat trick—that he is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit all at once—is something that has always confused and challenged Christians and everyone else with a normal, binary-style brain.

But a look at the opening of the Gospel According to John perfectly explicates the triune nature of God:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men.

And there it is. That’s the whole three-bite enchilada, right there.

What (I believe) John is expressing there is that God exists in three ever-present simultaneous modes*: Absolute and unchanging, exuberantly creative, and within the heart and soul of every person. He uses the word God to refer to the absolute and unchanging aspect of God’s reality, Word to refer to the exuberantly creative aspect of God’s existence (by which, as we shall see, he means Jesus), and light of men to refer to God as the Holy Spirit.

Badda-bing, badda-triune nature of God.

Let’s break down John’s words to look at them more closely:

In the beginning

That’s the Big God, God the Father/Mother/Everything, eternal and unchanging—the same one, if you’ll note, that with the exact same words opens the Bible: In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

was the Word

The reason that John echoes Genesis’ In the beginning, God, with his, In the beginning, the Word, is to bring home the idea that the Word, which is Jesus, is God.

Attaching a word to something—naming it—is how you individuate that thing; it’s how you separate it from the giant, all-encompassing absolute that is everything else. That’s why naming something has always been appreciated as a sacred act of consecration: it’s the moment that bestows inviolate, unique identity. The name of what God is when God individuates—when he/she steps from the absolute world to the relative world—is Jesus.

and the Word was God.

That’s to again illuminate the point that God and Jesus are one—just as I remain the same person whether I am asleep or awake.

He was with God in the beginning.

Huh? Huh? Did you catch that, the way John so artfully transformed Word into He? That’s John making sure that we’re all fully tracking the idea that God and Jesus are one.

Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.

Now this is the radical moment in … well, the entire Bible. Because it declares that Jesus is the very means by which all of life is created: it is through him that all things are made. And though that’s not usually how we think of Christ–we usually associate the act of creation with the big absolute God—it’s perfectly right that we do understand Christ as the creative agent and catalyst for life. Because if you’re a Christian, you believe that Jesus is the means by which the very nature of your life is changed, is wholly recreated. It is through Jesus Christ that you are born again.

So yes, of course, you would be born again the same way you were born the first time: through Jesus.

Perfect!

In him was life, and that life was the light of men.

God the absolute became Jesus the differentiated, became the Holy Spirit so differentiated that he/she/it exists in the heart and soul of each and every person.**

And that’s the mystical triune nature of God, explicated in four short sentences.

And people say there’s nothing wondrously miraculous about the Bible.

 

* I am aware of the troubling history, relative to the doctrine of the Trinity, of the word mode. But I don’t care. Language is language. I couldn’t think of/find a better word than “mode,” so that’s the word I used. I figure enough time has gone by that no one will accuse me of heresy for doing so. (Though this is the Internet, where ignorance and anonymity are forever fusing to produce … well, you know.)

** Many Christians, of course, believe that the Holy Spirit is awakened only in those who first accept Jesus Christ as, as they say, their personal lord and savior. I’m acutely uncomfortable with that assertion, as it so readily feeds into the conviction that only some people understand the truth. That conviction is how wars are begun.

Print Friendly

About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here), and executive editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians group blog.  (In total John's two blogs receive some 250,000 views per month.) John is also co-founder of The NALT Christians Project, which was written about by TIME,  The Washington Post, and others. His website is JohnShore.com. John is a pastor ordained by The Progressive Christian Alliance. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. And don't forget to sign up for his mucho awesome monthly newsletter.

  • http://restoringhopelive.com mac

    John…

    I have been reading your blog…

    and I’d like to meet you .

    Coffee?

    What the best location for you?

    I live in Clive ( Woodlands) and work on Sky walk in HUB Tower,

    Thanks

    mac

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      I live in San Diego. I often work in a Starbuck’s that’s between a Kentucky Fried Chicken and a Kragan Auto Parts, at It’s a Grind next to a yogurt shop and a fitness equipment place, or at Peet’s Coffee between a Trader Joe’s and a furniture store.

      So, yeah, with the coffee, for sure.

  • Janet

    “He?” Someday you’ll have to tackle that one (if you haven’t already).

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      I have:

      Must God be a He-Man? and tenet #6 for Unfundamentalist Christians:

      Using masculine pronouns to refer to God is strictly a matter of convention, a profoundly unfortunate necessity of the English language, which to date offers no satisfactory alternative. But God is neither male or female. God is both. God is all.

    • Curtis

      “He was with God in the beginning.”

      It is generally understood that the “he” in this case is Jesus. There is general agreement that Jesus is male. So “he” is appropriate in this case.

      • http://brmckay.wordpress.com brmckay

        Hmm….how does that work?

        • Curtis

          Just take every instance of the pronoun “he” and substitute the name “Jesus”.

          Gender-neutral translations, like NRSV or TNIV, replace the word “men” with the word “people” at the end.

          So you end up with:

          In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Jesus was with God in the beginning. Through Jesus all things were made; without Jesus nothing was made that has been made. In Jesus was life, and that life was the light of people.

          Using the male pronoun instead of the name “Jesus” follows the view that the historic Jesus was male and had a penis. So it is appropriate to replace the word “Jesus” with the pronoun “he”.

          Of course, you could argue that God’s presence in Jesus is more metaphoric, and not so literal, therefore, God’s presence in Jesus is gender-neutral, and so the male pronoun is not appropriate for Jesus. Of course doing that runs the risk of making Jesus seem less human, and more supernatural, when the whole point of Jesus is to emphasize the humanness of God.

          I think most people go along with the idea that Jesus was plainly male, so there is not any problem with using masculine pronouns for Jesus. If you want to argue that Jesus is gender-neutral, you are free to make your case, but I don’t think many people will agree with that.

          • JWBS

            There is no indication whatsoever in the Bible that Jesus had a penis. We do not witness him unclothed. His death was predicted and took place before he married and/or fathered. He is routinely described as “perfect”, hence would have no need for a useless appendage. Next question – did he have a veriform appendix?

          • James Walker

            actually, Jesus was required to have all his male parts, else He would never have been allowed on the temple grounds in Jerusalem.

          • JWBS

            They checked? I know somebody who would have loved that job.

          • James Walker

            yes. the Jewish priests were required to inspect the entire bodies of all men seeking entrance to the temple. eunuchs were forbidden entrance as were any men with moles, blemishes, or other signs of being “unclean” in their bodies.

  • http://brmckay.wordpress.com brmckay

    John Shore – “Using masculine pronouns to refer to God is strictly a matter of convention, … . But God is neither male or female. God is both. God is all.”

    This too, applies to Jesus as Christ.

    And as the Carpenter; as with us?

    The four directions, and Time.

    No difference. God is all.

  • Brian W

    John,

    Stick to writing, where you are truly talented and not theology LOL!!. The correct teaching of the Trinity is one God in three eternal coexistent persons (not “modes” as you wrote): The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

    Furthermore, later in John 8:12 we read:

    “Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.”

    Clearly, Jesus is teaching that HE is the light (not the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit bears witness of the Light) and there are those that walk in darkness, so not everyone possess or walks in the light , that is only possible through Christ. That is life given to a person when they are born again into the family of God. Aside from the light of Jesus Christ, our entire being is infected by sin and thus we do not, we can not and we will not understand God’s ways, we will by this sinful nature have, at best, a self-serving infected and perverted “desire” for God. Sin cursed humanity tries to satisfy the inward “God consciousness” (that all people posses) with religion, but religion will never do it, only Jesus Christ can – he is the Light of World. He is the true giver of Life, it is in Christ that we can truly live.

    • Jill

      Recommend that you write your own blog, give your own theologic spin there, and allow your readership to decide for themselves whether your version of events speaks to them individually.

      Isn’t this what sports fanatics would call armchair quarterbacking?

      • Brian W

        Isn’t this a place we can all post freely or do we always have to be thanking John for everything he says and never have a point that may be……different? Jill, no this is not armchair quarterbacking.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

          Is this a trick question? Cuz if it’s not, I’m gonna vote for the one where everyone always thanks me for everything I say. That’d be awesome. Let’s go with that one. Everyone on board? Great!

        • Jill

          Brian, it goes back to delivery. All I have are your words, which are “the correct teaching of the Trinity is…”

          If you had said “my understanding of the teaching is…”, I’d have no argument with your argument. Saying that you know you are correct doesn’t make it so. Humility in conversation goes a long way.

          I’ve disagreed with John’s take before, but I didn’t assume that I’m correct and he’s…mistaken.

          • http://www.lifewalk.info David Foreman

            Good comment, Jill. As soon as someone start with “The correct teaching is,” you can pretty much skip over their comment. There are, I’ve read, over 400,000 (that’s right. Four-hundred Thousand) “Christian” denomination. There is not one, unified “Christianity.” There are, in fact, many “Christianities.” Many of these claim to “just believe the Bible” while, strangely, continuing to disagree with each other. Hmmm. If that doesn’t give the “correct teaching” folks pause, I don’t know what will.

          • Jill

            Hi David,

            Just reading the number 4 with 5 zeros after it… made me pause. No wonder I’m having such a time figuring this thing out! To me, it says there are about as many ways to the knowing about God as there are people on this planet.

          • http://www.lifewalk.info David Foreman

            OK, Jill. I’ll be the first to admit my shortcomings. It seems I mis-remembered. It’s 40,000; not 400,000. A very significant difference. Zeros can be so hard to manage.
            :-)

            Although I was WAY off in the number which I thought I remembered, I believe Forty-Thousand Christian denominations still more than validates my point.

            http://wiki.answers.com/Q/How_many_Christian_denominations_are_there

          • Jill

            Oh, well only 40,000. That should just be a piece of cake. ;)

    • http://brmckay.wordpress.com brmckay

      Brian W – ” The correct teaching of the Trinity is one God in three eternal coexistent persons (not ‘modes’ as you wrote)”

      This is why I have trouble thinking of myself as Christian. Endless Bible quoting one-upmanship. (Not in your case John, that is why I listen to you.)

      And there’s that word “sin”. It evokes a stench and a sense of slime.

      “Ignorance” of our non-separateness in God, is the only problem that needs resolving. Knowledge of our non-separateness in God is “Christ”. This knowledge is God.

      • http://www.notjustablonde.com Not Just A Blonde

        brmckay, I agree. I feel good about being called a Christian… I just prefer to qualify that I am an unfundamentalist one! ;)

        Thanks John for this essay! My brain has felt like scrambled eggs for quite awhile trying to understand what those verses meant and how this “Trinity” thing works. I actually gave up and figured if it were that important God would have made it easier to understand. Lol.

        I strongly disagree that John Shore should stay OUT of Theology… we all very much benefit from him being IN. :) This essay is a case in point. Thank you!

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

          Thanks, NJB (and brm and Jill)! I appreciate it.

      • Brian W

        The Bible is the written Word of God, our source of who God is and His eternal redemptive purpose of His people and quoting Gods Word makes you have trouble thinking of yourself as a Christian? Sin evokes a stench and a sense of slime, as well it should, sin is the cause of all heartache in this world. “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God, for there is none that does good no not one”. Does that mean you too? Sin is what seperates us from God, Jesus is who reconciles us to God

        • http://Fordswords.net David S.

          Brian

          Um…is that it? That’s all you took from brmckay’s comment? Maybe you should dig a little deeper. For starters, it’s a reflection on the division in the body of Christ where our faith has devolved into biblical one upmanship. It’s also a reflection of how we treat one another (btw, following a comment up with LOL doesn’t make it any less insulting…that’s like Simon Cowel saying “I don’t mean to be rude, but you sing like a castrated chicken.”)

          What you did seem to take from brmckay’s comment was the idea that s/he doesn’t take scripture seriously. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but there’s no telling from the comment.

          Regardless, I wonder if your being offended by a perceived disrespect of scripture is warranted. Scripture is a powerful way for us to understand God, for sure. But scripture is not God and is not the only way He is revealed. To worship scripture is to disbelieve the promise of Emmanuel.

          Ironically, in your critique of a post on the trinity, you minimize the Holy Spirit and replace it with the Holy Bible.

          • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

            Whoa. Very nicely said, Ford.

          • Jill

            Double whoa.

        • http://brmckay.wordpress.com brmckay

          I appreciate very much the points that David S. has made. It’s a rare thing that I get backup like that. (At least on the other sites that I frequent.)

          Brian,

          I just want to add a clarification about “sin” and why I don’t go for the “heebie-jeebie” version of it.

          Because we live in hall of mirrors, confused by the foolishly consumed apple, we experience our mortal life through a prismatic array of opposites. Happiness and Sorrow. Love and Hate. Good and Evil. Birth and Death. Youth and Old age.

          Our actions in this world are always relative to the polarity. Us and Them…Me and God.

          If we act out of love, courage, honor, even though it be only the relative sort of virtue, the result is not slimy, does not smell even though it is still what you call “sin”. Whether you have thought of it this way or not.

          I prefer to keep the whole picture in mind and call it “ignorance”. This leaves the door open for the redemptive awakening.

          There is only God.

          • Jill

            “we experience our mortal life through a prismatic array of opposites…Our actions in this world are always relative to the polarity. Us and Them…Me and God.”

            I cannot stop saying whoa in this thread. Really good, brmckay.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      Brian: So those are your two big bitches—that I used the word “modes” instead of “persons” (and yes, I’m aware that “modes” has its own history relative to Christian theology; I just don’t care), and that only Christians are super-wise and enlightened and “walk in light?”

      Tell you what. I’ll quit writing theology if you quit being such an exclusionary schoolmarm.

      (And, fwiw, it’s not like I’m completely devoid of theology-writing creds. I did, after all, write Being Christian, which was published to great fanfare by Bethany House, a Christian publisher conservative enough to please, I daresay, even you. )

      • Brian W

        John,

        Fair enough, not bitching at all just making a post and by all means post all that you want on theology, its your blog!!

  • Jill

    I really appreciate this. Thanks, John.

  • Richard W. Fitch

    Try this on for size: The doctrine of the Trinity sees the “Eternal Now” in three personae. This concept derives from the Greek drama where actors often played more than one role in a given play. To keep from confusion, the actors wore a different mask for various parts. These masks are the origin of our English word, ‘person’, to sound(sona) through(per). So the three different modes of action are different ‘masks’ which the selfsame actor employs. One actor; three modes.

  • http://www.lifewalk.info David Foreman

    In the book “The Square Root of God”, by Timothy Carson, one of the things we do is examine the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. We are led beyond both Unitarianism and Trinitarianism (I’ve been in those battles. They’re not usually pretty!) to a mathematical metaphor that suggests that God can never be the product of addition. As it is expounded upon, our author’s proposal would seem to satisfy Unitarians, at the same time retaining a sense of Son and Spirit in a way that would be palatable to many Trinitarians.

    Check it out:

    http://lifewalkblog.wordpress.com/2013/07/20/the-square-root-of-god/

  • http://www.lifewalk.info David Foreman

    Also, I got a really good laugh at that line in the comments, “The ‘correct’ teaching of the Trinity.” That’s a hoot!

  • Elizabeth

    My first comments were on your theology posts, back in the Dark Ages when I “saw” the Internet on a giveaway phone with a 1.5-inch screen. Still my favorites.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      I remember! Ah. Good times. (What’s weird for me is how much I cringe looking at stuff I wrote years ago. Like, with this piece. My plan was to simply pull it forward and republish it. And–as absolutely invariably happens–I instead ended up so heavily “editing” it that I essentially rewrote it. Which is great, actually. Because then I feel such pieces have sort of … benefitted from time. Like, I totally redid the recently reposted “10 Ways Christians Fail” piece–which was the first piece of mine that really went crazy viral (not off my blog, but from when I first published it on HuffPo). Well, I seriously reworked it–and now it’s about a zillion times better than it was. Why am I babbling like this? Why aren’t I going to freakin’ bed already? Weirdness. Sorry to bore you with this stuff.)

  • Allie

    I don’t disagree with you, but I do have a question re: your beliefs surrounding that uncomfortable assertion. What, exactly, do you believe is the difference between the state of being a Christian and not being one? Do Christians really GET ANYTHING out of being Christian, and if so, aren’t you by definition saying that non-Christians are missing out on those benefits? If not, what’s the point?

  • http://brmckay.wordpress.com brmckay

    John Shore – “Now this is the radical moment in … well, the entire Bible. Because it declares that Jesus is the very means by which all of life is created: it is through him that all things are made. And though that’s not usually how we think of Christ–we usually associate the act of creation with the big absolute God—it’s perfectly right that we do understand Christ as the creative agent and catalyst for life. Because if you’re a Christian, you believe that Jesus is the means by which the very nature of your life is changed, is wholly recreated. It is through Jesus Christ that you are born again.”

    As I process and translate the above:

    Father

    “In the beginning” = Infinite Potentiality

    God as absolute singularity. The Entirety.

    Son

    “The Word” = “I Am” = Christ (aka. Jesus*)

    Emergent Property, Creativity, Receptivity, Relativity, The primordial “Self”

    Holy Ghost

    Life = Self replication

    God experiencing creation as you and me.

    (And lest we forget, “sin”. The confusion of identity where by we think our “self” different than our neighbor’s.)

    Born Again

    Redemption, release, freedom, enlightenment.

    Jesus as the Son of Man, unconfused, un-entangled by illusion. Knowing the Truth of Self as himself. Reveals that “self” is actually “Self” not separate.

    ——-

    * I’m afraid that I am still confused by the use of the Carpenter’s name at this point in the diorama. Though in religious terms, it does focus one’s attention.

  • Sheri

    Love this post. I’d just add that everything that John says about the Word/Logos had already been said prior about Wisdom/Sophia (for more on this, see my essay “Wisdom became Flesh” in the June issue of Currents in Theology). I would then say that this Word/Wisdom, this Christ, was incarnated in the body of Jesus but Word/Wisdom is Christ in the biggest, universal sense, not Jesus in the historical-person-only sense.

  • Kim

    Do you no longer do the podcast?): There’s only 4 .

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      There should be six of them there, as I recall? But, yes, I stopped doing them. The amount of time it took to do them wasn’t worth, frankly, the pretty small number of people who listened to them. (Although, yikes! I just went over to my SoundCloud place, and I see my podcast is being followed by 89,814 people? That’s insane. That’s gotta be some kind of Not Real thing.)

      • Jill

        Ahem, but considering how many times I’ve listened to them, it’s gotta count for a few people combined.

  • Clarity

    The only problem with all of this is that the Logos/Word concept was sort of erroneously added to the Christian paradigm by the apologists who first used the very Hellenistic/Greek concept to explain Christianity to pagan non-believers who already were quite familiar with Logos. The original apologists hoped that by showing that Christianity was “similar” to concepts already understood the “strangeness” and otherness of Christianity would give way to acceptance. Unfortunately, the explanatory comparison BECAME the representation.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      But all you’re really saying is that John didn’t write what’s ascribed to him. But the words, as they are, still work in the way I’ve said. So … you know: that’s the thing, to me.

    • Jon

      Clarity – how do you know what the apologists hoped or intended? How do you get there without starting from the proposition that the last thing we should do is take the words at face value? Logos existed as a concept, yes, but haven’t you given the game away with the use of the word ‘erroneously’?

    • http://brmckay.wordpress.com brmckay

      “Erroneous”?

      Again, the need for special handshake, trademark and copyright!

      The Constantine effect?

      A remedial course in dream interpretation…

      Couldn’t hurt.

  • Tom Krajecki

    I agree with everything and understand where you are at. I would be careful about the word mode. It makes it sound like God is a changeling and does not exist in all three forms at once.

    I love the idea that CS Lewis talked about, that God is three brings that love each other so much that they are a perfect one. I see two people in marriage as the imperfect likeness of that bond. I also think we will become part of that bond in eternity.
    I don’t comment much but I love your posts and read them every day.

  • Jon Wilson

    Your language is, to me, too abstract. God is Person who has always loved, and has always loved Another, the Son, who also eternally loves the Father. That eternal love given and returned is Person, the Holy Spirit. This all from the N.T.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X