Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Biblical Teaching: The Holy Trinity


Today we will examine the biblical texts that reference the Holy Trinity in both the Old and New Testaments. Keep in mind that the Old Testament was written prior to Christ and the New Testament was written after Christ. What do we find out about the Holy Trinity in the Bible?

Old Testament

The teaching of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is presented in a brief and implicit way, primarily due to the fact that divinely revealed truths are not always made obvious due to the limitations of those to whom they are revealed, namely human beings who are the imperfect agents on the receiving end. Therefore divinely revealed truths occur in a progressive and gradual manner dependent upon the spiritual and moral development of the recipients of the revelation. We must also acknowledge that our brothers and sisters of the Jewish Faith were prone to an understanding of God apart from the unity of the three Divine Persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Approaching God from the strictly monotheistic understanding, as the Jewish people did, it becomes easy to overlook the hints that were revealed about the nature of God as three Divine Persons united as one. 

This section on the biblical understanding of the Holy Trinity is not limited to an Eastern theological perspective. For our purposes going forward, the proper understanding of the Holy Trinity, as embraced in Eastern theology, is essential to the ensuing series that I will provide on the Fall of Man, Original Sin, Grace, the Church, the Holy Mysteries and in a particular way the celebration of the Divine Liturgies of Sts. John Chrysostom, Basil and James. Without a proper foundation of understanding the nature of the Holy Trinity as divinely revealed in Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, we cannot fully grasp the spiritual reality at the core of the other mysteries of faith.

In Genesis (1: 26; 3: 22; 11: 7) God is expressed in the plural: 

"Then God said, 'Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness,'" (1: 26).

"Then the Lord God said, 'See, the man has become like one of us,'" (3: 22).

"Come, let us go down and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another's speech,'" (11: 7).

In Isaiah (6: 3) the cherubic hymn (Agios/Sanctus) is sung to God suggesting the adoration of the three Divine Persons in the One God:

"Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory," (6:3).

In the Book of the Prophet Malachi (Mal. 2: 10) God is referenced as 'Father': 

"Have we not all one Father?" (2:10). A reference inclusive of all humankind.

To all of the people of Israel more generally:

Deuteronomy 32: 6; Jeremiah 31: 9; Malachi 1: 6

To the more devout people of Israel more specifically:

2 Samuel 7: 14; Wisdom 2: 18 and Psalm 2: 7

"I will tell of the decree of the Lord: He said to me, 'You are my son; to day I have begotten you," (Psalm 2: 7). A reference to the Anointed One (Jesus Christ) of the Father.

A reference is made regarding the Father by which we can intuit that God the Father is distinguishing himself as the efficient and final cause, hinting at the Messiah as Second Person of the Holy Trinity, through whom our Redemption is brought about:

"I, I am He, who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins," Isaiah 43: 25).

Eastern/Orthodox theological circles make particular reference to Isaiah 7: 14 as indicative of the Second Person of the Holy Trinity: 

"Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel," (Isaiah 7: 14). 
(In the New Testament the holy Gospels of Matthew and Luke reference this revelation regarding the Messiah: Matthew 1: 23; Luke 1: 3; 9: 6).

The activity of the Holy Spirit is found throughout the Old Testament repeatedly:

Genesis 1: 3; Psalm 51: 11; Psalm 104: 29-30; Job 27: 3; Ezekiel 36: 27; Exodus 3: 2, 4, 6 and 14; Numbers 12: 8; Judges 6: 12-14, etc.


The New Testament

The teaching of the Holy Trinity in the New Testament is both explicit and implicit. In the following passages the doctrine of the Holy Trinity as three Divine Persons is implied:

Matthew 3: 13-17; Mark 1: 9-11; Luke 2: 21-22; John 1: 32.

The account of the Transfiguration of Our Lord on Mount Tabor also is implicit of the triune Godhead:

Matthew 17: 1-8; Mark 9: 2-7; Luke 9: 28-36; Peter 1: 16-18; John 12: 20-32.

The most explicit reference to the Holy Trinity comes from Our Lord to the holy Apostles: 

"Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit," (Matthew 28: 19).
***Herein lies the most explicit mention of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, and it comes directly form Our Lord Jesus Christ. 

St. John in his Gospel account spends a lot of time teaching on the doctrine of the Holy Trinity: 

John 3: 3-18; 16: 14, 15, etc.

St. John's teaching of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity can be found most explicitly in the following text: 

Jesus speaking: "When the Advocate [the Holy Spirit] comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of Truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf," (John 15: 26).

In St. Paul's Second Letter to the Corinthians the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is explicit in the sacred greeting, clearly identifying the unity of the three Divine Persons in this prayerful profession of faith: 

"The grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you," (2 Corinthians 13: 13).

In summary, the Bible teaches three important aspects regarding the dogma of the Holy Trinity:

(1) The three Divine Persons share the same Divine Nature as God, eternally of the same essence. This is evident in Sacred Scripture since the attributes of God are ascribed to the Father, at other times to the Son and equally to the Holy Spirit.

(2) The unity of the One Essence of God does not allow for a subordination or less equal reality with any one of the three Divine Persons in the the One God.

(3) The Essence of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit is an eternal energy that proceeds from the One Will [of God], yet each of the Divine Persons is attributed with specific aspects of their Divine activity: 

a. the Father as Creator of all things.
b. the Son, by whom all things were made (John 1: 3), and as Redeemer. 
c. the Holy Spirit, the treasury of graces and the Giver of Life, the sanctifier, completing the work of the Father and the Son. It is the same Holy Spirit who sanctifies us in our Christian journey, beginning at our Baptism and culminating in union with the Father and the Son. 

Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 
now and always, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

A bishop blessing.

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