Is the Trinity Biblical?

Is the Trinity Biblical? February 3, 2015

In the most recent issues of JETS is a review by Jeffrey A. Stivason of my Evangelical Theology. Its quite a fair review, with a bit of push back, and some nice points of affirmation as well.  Stivason claims that because I am reluctant – unlike B.B. Warfield – to find an explicit Trinitarian affirmation in the NT, that I thereby “weaken rather than strengthen this fundamental doctrine among evangelicals” and contribute to a belief that the Trinity is “the most abstract and impractical of all Christian doctrines.”

Let me say that I believe that the Trinity is “biblical” in that it is thoroughly rooted and authorized in Scripture. That said, there is no single text that you can cite to prove that God exists as three persons in one “substance, power, and eternity” as the 39 articles say. In fact, some of the biblical materials could, if viewed in isolation, lead to decidedly non-trinitarian views. Consider some material from the Gospel of John:

A passage like John 1:1 (“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”) easily lends itself to what we would now consider an orthodox view with Jesus as one with God and equal with God.


A passage like John 14:9-10 (“How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?”) by itself could lead to a modalistic view whereby Father, Jesus, and Spirit are merely the mask that the one divine being wears.

What is more

A passage like John 14:28 (“If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I”) could support an Arian or subordinationist view where Jesus is inferior to the Father.

In my mind, the Trinity is both a biblically analytic doctrine (based on the raw data of Scripture) and also a theologically synthetic doctrine (based on inferences drawn from Scripture). In other words, Scriptures gives us “biblical pressure” (Kavin Rowe’s term) to construct a Trinitarian doctrine even if it does not explicitly lay out that doctrine. That is because of the triadic nature of the economies of creation and redemption which include Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and because of scriptural affirmations about the personhood and deity of the Father, Son, and Spirit which are also affirmed in Scripture. The Trinity is the conceptual model we use to make sense of the biblical materials and to show their theological coherence. While classic Trinitarians statements in some sense go beyond the New Testament, without the Trinity we have a hard time making sense of what the New Testament says about the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

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