Sunday Scriptures: The Trinity

Sunday is a busy day here, as its the only day we all get to spend together as a family. So in this weekly spot I’ll dig out some interesting bits of religious literature and will post them without much comment.

In a break to the ecumenical nature of this series, here are some Christian scriptures affirming the trinity. These scriptures are significant, because the doctrine of the trinity took 400 years after Jesus’ death to fully emerge. The biblical basis of the doctrine is pretty week. Most of the new testament is written in such a way as it affirms a decidedly non-Trinitarian God. But then there are these nuggets of early theology. Much has be written about what these might have meant to their original authors.

For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.

— 1 John 5:7-8

This is the Johannine comma, which is the only passage that says something theological about the trinity (that its members are ‘one’). Unfortunately, it isn’t considered to be original, even for this very late-written text (1 John is mostly likely 2nd century). It doesn’t appear in most versions of the text we have. It could be a quite late addition (4th century, even) though it is very hard to say. Next let’s go to Paul, who signs off a letter:

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

— 2 Corinthians 13:14

This seems to be evidence that a trinitarian formula was being used as a blessing pretty early in the life of the church (pre 70 CE). It shows us the three agents involved, but doesn’t attempt to describe their relationship to one another.

At this point it is worth noting that one of the three members of Paul’s trinity is just ‘God’. This is significant, because as the trinity became a doctrine, all three members came to be thought of as ‘God’. This early liturgical form, in the two versions we have in the NT, suggests that initially the three members of the trinity were thought to be distinct entities, only one of which was God, capital G.

Similar is Peter (around a generation later than Paul) who opens a letter:

…chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ…

— 1 Peter 1:2

And finally, we can go to the Gospels for the strongest authentic scripture:

Go and make disciples of all nations; baptise them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit

— Matthew 28:19

Here the trinitarian formula is extended to baptism. The words are spoken by Matthew’s Jesus post-resurrection. They are found in all manuscripts, without significant variation. So they are likely to date from around 60-80 CE. Which is very early. It still doesn’t tell us what the trinity meant to Matthew, but clearly it moves on one step further than a  blessing.

And that’s it. Those are the only scriptures to mention the trinity, as such. There are other passages that mention the three, individually, in pairs and sometimes in threes. But they never talk about them in any trinitarian sense. So the NT witness to the trinity is quite sparse, but suggests that it had quite an early origin as a liturgical form.


2009-02-07: Added 1 Peter 1:2 and paragraph about Paul’s trinity only mentioning ‘God’ not the Father.



Filed under sunday scriptures

2 responses to “Sunday Scriptures: The Trinity

  1. Good thoughts Ian. Hope it is okay that I invited some non-trinitarians to your blog today.

  2. Ian

    Thanks Bob, and thanks for stopping by!

    Its fine to point anyone here. I love hearing different viewpoints.

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