Saturday, February 5, 2011

No Dead Illustrations of the Trinity

We know we are supposed to believe in the Trinity so, when asked, we say we do. But for many of us, it is a distant truth. It seems academic or technical. It is often out of mind and has yet to touch our hearts.

Part of the trouble is the illustrations of the Trinity generally used. For example, I've heard it compared to an egg: the yolk, white, and shell.

The paradox involved in the "one and three" is never enlightened by inanimate examples such as ice, water, and steam; three leaf clovers; or that the sun is round, hot and light. The most enlightening path is to keep as close to scripture and the actual saving experiences of Christians as possible. To do otherwise is to worship (and become like) something less than human. (C. Fitzsimons Allison, The Cruelty of Heresy, p. 72)

The usual illustrations sap the personhood, life, love, and saving acts right out of the Trinity. That's what deprives the Trinity as presented of its intimacy in our salvation, life, love, and destiny. It doesn't have to be that way.


  1. While I would be guilty at one time or another for using “dead Illustrations” to describe the Trinity, I cannot refrain to consider Isaiah’s description of the Trinity in the 48: 16 – 17. There are many others that could be considered also.

    [16] Come ye near unto me, hear ye this; I have not spoken in secret from the beginning; from the time that it was, there am I: and now the Lord GOD, and his Spirit, hath sent me.

    [17] Thus saith the LORD, thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel; I am the LORD thy God which teacheth thee to profit, which leadeth thee by the way that thou shouldest go.

    The Old Testament speaks of God under various titles. While it is not described the same way in all versions, the one above is helpful when studying the Old Testament to see what person of the Trinity is responsible of the action. The couplet Lord God which in many versions (King James, Revised Standard, Revised Version, American Standard etc.) bring out something insight and understanding of God. They appear in two different type styles. They can only be used as they appear together with or without the qualification of a personal pronoun. As in Lord our God, or Lord thy God or Lord God for example.

    The two references are Lord GOD and the second is LORD God. It seems like an insignificant difference in English but has a significant difference in the original Hebrew. The first Lord GOD in Hebrew is translated as Adonai Jehovah. The second LORD God is translated as Jehovah Elohim. These two combinations are intended to differentiate between two distinct persons of the Trinity. It is important to remember that when they appear alone i.e. God or Lord there is no qualification. And secondly the key is limited to the Old Testament except when the translation is from Hebrew and not Greek.

    And of course to round out the Trinity Isaiah speaks of the third personality in verse 16 “and his Spirit” which makes three.

  2. Thanks, Aurelius. That is some useful stuff.

    Jesus used that in Matt. 22:41-46, when he quoted Psalm 110:1, "The LORD said to my Lord." There he shows two Persons.

    In recent months I have been gravitating to the English Standard Version. Your posting prompted me to look at it a little this morning from the standpoint of how well it does indicating in English the different Hebrew names of God. It did well with the verses you mention in Isaiah and in Psalm 110. According to the ESV Preface, it is likely to do as well as the NKJV.

    I just got a thinline ESV, and because of your posting I notice that the Concordance even distinguishes, using separate entries for Lord when Adonai and Yahweh are being translated. Not bad for a thinline concordance.

    So that made me curious. What about the other two ESVs that I have. Sure enough, the concordances in my ESV Study Bible and The Lutheran Study Bible also make the distinction with separate entries.

    If concordance creators keep doing this, it is one step that should help raise the consciousness of English Bible readers to the Trinity in the Old Testament in the way that your posting explains.