To believe rightly about God is supremely important.
Every error in religion and in morals can be traced to some mistaken belief about God.
For a man's conduct and his whole outlook on life depend on the kind of God that he really believes in
(not necessarily the kind of God that he says, or even thinks, he believes in).
If he believes in a national deity, he will despise or hate men of other nations.
If he believes in a God of infinite good-nature, he will spoil his children.
Because it is so important that men should believe rightly about God,
and because they cannot discover for themselves all that they need to know about Him,
God has revealed to them truths about Himself that are beyond the reach of reason,
though not inconsistent with it.
The chief of these truths is the doctrine of the Holy Trinity.
It is a truth of revelation, not of reason.
But having been revealed, it helps us to solve the problem that confronts every Theist:
if God is eternal and unchanging, how can He enter into relations with His creatures?
If He is Love, what eternal and infinite object can there be for His love?
Before the universe was made, who was there for Him to love?
The Christian replies that there are relations and an Object for Divine Love within God Himself.
No philosopher has ever discovered the doctrine of the Trinity without the
aid of revelation.
(Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva, who are sometimes called the Hindu Trinity, are merely aspects of the impersonal Brahm, and have nothing to do with the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. Other "pagan trinities" are merely groups of three gods chosen out of many.)
Since the doctrine of the Trinity is revealed, Scripture must prove it,
which is the record of revelation.
It is not explicitly stated in Scripture, but has been worked out by the Church as the only possible conclusion from the evidence given in Scripture.
Nothing may be said to be revealed unless it can be found in or proved by
The canon or list of the books of the New Testament was first drawn up in the second century
expressly in order to exclude unauthorized traditions.
The Greek and Latin Fathers (writers of the early Christian Church) were agreed that all necessary doctrine must be found in or proved by Scripture; and this doctrine has been given special emphasis, for reasons that will be explained later, by the Anglican Communion.
When we say "proved from Scripture", we mean from the general
sense of Scripture.
We must not take particular passages out of their context or apply to them far-fetched or allegorical interpretations.
Mystical or allegorical interpretation was used by the Apostles (e.g., Acts 1.20; I Cor.9.9), and has its place,
but it is not to be used as a proof of doctrine.
The Scriptural evidence for the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is summed up in the following nine propositions:
There is no real revelation of the Holy Trinity recorded in the Old Testament.
The Hebrews had to be thoroughly taught that God is One
before they could go on to the further truth that He is Three.
The passages, which the older apologists used to quote from the Old Testament as evidence of the doctrine of the Trinity,
must be interpreted otherwise, though we may claim that they would not have been written as they were if there had been no doctrine of the Trinity still to be revealed.
The use of the plural in Gen.1.26, 3:22, 11.7, Isa.6.8 may refer to the court of the angels by whom God is surrounded (which is the meaning given by most Jewish commentators), or may be (except in Gen.3.22) what Driver called the "plural of majesty".
In Gen.3.22 it is perhaps a survival from an older form of the story that was polytheistic.
The usual Hebrew word for God, Elohim, is plural in form and may be explained in the same way.
The later Jewish writers had so much reverence for God that they did not
venture to represent Him as coming into direct relations with men. Earlier
writers had not hesitated to say that God spoke directly to men.
But later writers preferred to say "the angel of the Lord", "the word of the Lord", "the wisdom of the Lord", "the spirit of the Lord".
We find many passages in which the Word or the Wisdom of God is almost regarded
as a separate person;
almost, but not quite.
Such passages as Prov.8.22-31, Wisdom 7-8, were regarded by Christian theologians as referring to the Second Person of the Holy Trinity.
But their authors had no such idea in their minds.
The Word or Wisdom of God was not really regarded as a separate person.
Again, the heavenly Messiah of Daniel and others (Dan.3.25, 7.13)
appears to Christian eyes as a clear reference to the Eternal Son of God,
but there is no reason to think that the authors intended this.
All we can say is that such passages prepared the way for the full Christian revelation
but were not themselves early instances of that revelation.
Before we turn to the evidence of the New Testament,
something must be said about the nature of that evidence.
The New Testament can be used in two ways.
It is a collection of documents that furnish historical evidence about the origins of the Christian religion,
and these documents must be treated like any other historical documents.
It is also a collection of books that Christians regard as inspired.
That is, it is believed that their authors received special guidance from God for the purpose of recording His revelation.
It is the business of New Testament critics
to discover whether the account of the origin of Christianity which is given there is true.
These books have been tested by a severer process than any other books in the world;
and though the result is still highly controversial in many respects,
it is now pretty generally agreed that they are all writings of the first century (except II Peter),
and that the account of Christian origins which they give is in general true,
though not free from inaccuracy or inconsistency in detail.
The historical Christian religion,
which converted first the Roman Empire and then the barbarians,
which is one of the chief elements of modern civilization,
and which is still extending its power in many parts of the world,
is founded upon the New Testament.
Some people maintain that what Jesus Christ intended was something quite different from the actual Christian religion;
and that the apostles or their successors corrupted what they had received so completely
that we must go behind them to discover what real Christianity is.
(Something like this is the traditional Moslem view of the New Testament.)
It is the business of apologetics to confute such theories;
they cannot be dealt with here.
Christianity is the historic religion of that name, not something that has lately been discovered.
Christians have regarded the whole New Testament, ever since it was written, as the source from which they learn what Christianity is.
We therefore accept the New Testament as the basis of our doctrine,
recognizing that some parts of it are of greater historical value than others,
but maintaining that whether a particular doctrine was explicitly taught by our Lord Himself,
or deduced by the apostles from His teaching,
or taught by the apostles under the guidance of the Holy Spirit,
is of little importance for our purpose.
We believe that the Christian religion,
as it was at the end of the first century and has been ever since,
is the religion revealed by God in Jesus Christ,
and we are not concerned here with such questions as who wrote the Fourth Gospel,
how many of the epistles of St. Paul are genuine,
or how far "form-criticism" is a true guide to the sources behind the Gospels.
The writers of the New Testament assume that there is one God, the Father,
to whom the Old Testament bears witness.
In the first three Gospels (commonly called Synoptic Gospels), our Lord uses language that implies His Godhead.
In the fourth Gospel, in the letters of St. Paul, and in Hebrews and Revelation, His Godhead is explicitly stated.
The same is true of the Godhead of the Holy Ghost.
The evidence will be given in detail in a later chapter.
The Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are distinct from each other, but there is only one God.
All Three are personal beings capable or relations to each other (such as love).
None of them is a mere aspect or influence.
We have the materials for the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, but it is not explicitly given.
The nearest approach we find to an explicit statement is found in II Cor.13.14; St. Matt.28.29.
(We cannot refer to I St. John 5.8 in the Authorized Version because it is not found in the original Greek.)
The reason for this absence of explicit statement is that the writers of
the New Testament
(all but St. Luke, who was a historian rather than a theologian) were Hebrews, not Greeks.
Their business was to proclaim the Gospel as prophets,
not to think it out as philosophers, which was the work assigned by Divine Providence to the Greeks.
Five centuries of discussion followed.
Every possible theory was put forward to explain the facts given in the New Testament.
The full theological definition of the doctrine, in technical terms as finally worked out, was accepted by all Christians everywhere,
and is accepted still by all the main divisions of Christendom, whether Eastern, Roman, Anglican, or Evangelical.
This full definition consists of five propositions:
Compare the answer in the Church catechism:
I believe in God the Father, who made me and all the world.
I believe in God the Son, who redeemed me and all mankind.
I believe in God the Holy Ghost, who sanctifieth me and all the elect people of God.