Trinity and Sunday School

Yesterday I had a very good time teaching Sunday School. After an edifying service where I had the privelege to lead in worship, and an excellent sermon by Christian, I felt spiritually prepared to teach on that glorious mystery that is the foundation of our life: the Holy Trinity.
This lesson has been the most rewarding so far for me, personally. I have been team-teaching Sunday School with my good friend Harry, and I know that we are both deeply enjoying it and learning as we go along. Our study is based upon the Second London Confession of Faith (1689). I highly recommend that churches bring their people through their church standards, it is very important and helpful.
There is so much to teach about the Trinity. Our finite minds, even in the new heavens and new earth, will never plumb the depths of the Triune God. So teaching on this doctrine for an hour really only touched the tip of the iceberg. My prayer is that I honoured the Trinity as I taught on him and his profound character.
I began by reading through the pertinent section in the 1689 Confession on the Trinity, highlighting certain terms and briefly explaining things like the Father being unbegotten, the Son being eternally begotten and the Spirit proceeding from the Father and Son. These were issues that we didn’t get into, but I wanted to make sure that the students had at least some exposure to it.
I then gave a simple, but adequate definition of the Trinity that I have found helpful, though certainly not perfect. “The Trinity is one in essence and three in persons.” From there I attempted to work through that definition by explaining some key terms like essence, person, Trinity, ontological and economic. I was anxious to get into Scripture passages about the Trinity in the Old and New Testaments, so I didn’t belabour these key terms either.
I started the section on the Trinity in the Old Testament with a quote by B.B. Warfield that I blogged (see below), that I absolutely love. Then I explained the word ruach in the Old Testament – how it can be defined as wind or breath and also spirit. Following this we looked at some passages in the Old Testament that have Trinitarian underpinnings such as Genesis 1:26; Psalm 33:6; Isaiah 6:1-5 (with its correlates in John 12:41 and Acts 28:25) and Isaiah 61:1 (and its NT correlate in Luke 4:17ff). I think that everyone was impressed by seeing the relationship between Psalm 33:6 and John 1:1ff and John 20:22.
In the New Testament we examined Jesus’ baptism in Matthew 3 and the Great Commission in Matthew 28. In the former I mentioned the heresy of modalism and how a passage like this does significant damage to their view. In the latter I emphasised the oneness of God in the fact that we are to baptise into the one name of the Trinity and that the conjunction “and” linked them all together in equality. I also emphasised their threeness by pointing to the fact that the name we baptise into is three and that they are differentiated by the definite article “the.”
I looked at the theological significance of the Trinity in only three ways, although much more could be said. I looked at the fact that God is eternally personal and relational and that the intratinitarian relationship is the foundation between all relations in creation. I pointed out that the gods of Islam, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Unitarians cannot account for personality because their gods are one only. How do their gods have relation with their creation when they are not inherently personal?
I also looked at the Covenant of Redemption (pactum salutis) and how significant it is for a proper understanding of our salvation. The Father requested the Son to become incarnate and
redeem his people out of Love. The Son willingly offered to become man and take the sins of his people upon himself, dying and raising again.
Sadly, because of time, I did not get into the famous problem of the one and the many that philosophers have debated over the years. I would have mentioned how the equal ultimacy of the members of the Trinity provide the foundation for understanding the relationships between universals and particulars. You can see the Rushdoony quote that I gave earlier for more on that.
Quickly, I went through certain historical understandings of the Trinity. In specific I looked at Irenaeus’ “two hands” and the Nicene Creed. Although I didn’t get to spend much time on either because I wanted to get to the final section. I wanted to make sure that the students knew that the doctrine of the Trinity wasn’t a Constantinian construction of the 4th century.
Finally I gave some practical application for the doctrine of the Trinity. Primarily I wanted to look at devotion to the Trinity, especially in prayer in meditation. I mentioned that there were two schools of thought on how to pray to God. The one school, the “Father only” school argues that the Bible only records prayers to the Father, through the Son in the power of the Spirit. They would say we should not go beyond what the Scripture says. I hold to the second school of thought, the “all Three” school that says that because the three Members are all God, they all deserve worship. Part of worship is prayer, therefore they all deserve prayer. I agree that there is a pattern in the NT that the “Father only” school recognises and I generally follow that pattern. But I don’t think that the descriptive nature of NT narrative prescribes a pattern of prayer to the Trinity.
I mentioned that in our meditation and prayer we should think on the great works of each member of the Trinity. The Father who created, the Son who redeemed and the Spirit who glorifies. I also mentioned that when we think of Father as Creator, we can also think this of the Son and Spirit and so one for each of their roles. I finished with the great quote by Gregory of Nazianzus who said something to the effect: “When I think upon the one, my mind is then brought to the three. When I think upon the three, my mind hearkens back to the one.”
I did want to mention the necessity for Trinitarian baptism but didn’t get the chance to talk about it because class was finished.
All in all, as I said, I really enjoyed the study both in terms of prep and delivery. The students appeared interested and asked questions and read aloud in their Bibles the relevant passages.
I close with a good article by the Scottish theologian Donald MacLeod hosted at the Reformation 21 site: The Doctrine of the Trinity: Some Preliminaries.


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4 responses to “Trinity and Sunday School

  1. Anonymous

    have you ever read any of the works of flavius josephus? as person studying to be a church history teacher you should definitely check them out. he was a 1st century roman historian circa 30c to 100c. his works revolve around christianity and judaism in relation to rome. also interestingly enough he never made any mention of the trinity in christianity or judaism. also it a well know fact among historians that early christians didn’t believe in the trinity, jews didn’t believe in the trinity either(and remember jesus was jew till he instituted the lords evening meal right before he was killed.) also interestingly enough the word trinity doesn’t appear in the bible.

    but you are right the trinity was around long before the 4th century. the babylonians and many other pagan nations practiced various forms of the trinity. however the trinity wasn’t part of christianity till the 4th century. ya know when the christians stopped keeping separate from the world.

    psalms 1:26 is easily explainable because they were going to make intelligent, reasoning creatures, since all of the other creatures on earth were animals.

    the rest of the scriptures you cited don’t really have anything to do with the trinity or lack there of hardly at all.

    i think this one does tho…John 14:28, “”You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.” (NIV)

    i’ve never met one person that can make sense of the trinity to me. all i hear is, “god is a mystery.”

    also i believe in a personal god that is not jesus. i use god’s name jehovah. i don’t see how you can ever have a personal relationship with anyone when you don’t even know or use there name.

    if you can explain it…

  2. Ian

    Hi there,
    Thanks for you post, I appreciate you taking the time to read what I wrote.
    I am quite familiar with Flavius Josephus and have his Works in fact. Although I admit I haven’t read all of it. Really only bits and pieces as my interest is piqued. A good friend of mine just read his autobiography and really enjoyed it.
    I am not at all surprised that Josephus wouldn’t have written on the Trinity. He wrote a history of the Jews and was himself a Jew, so it wouldn’t make sense for him to write on Christian doctrine. For an early church historian I would recommend Eusebius of Caesarea, although he is post-Nicene.
    In terms of the Trinity being a Christian doctrine earlier than the 4th century, I would again recommend you to Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons who wrote around the late second century. His “two hands,” as I mentioned, are clearly trinitarian. It can be found in his “Against Heresies” Book V.
    You are right when you say that the word “Trinity” isn’t found in the Bible. In fact, it is a term coined by the North African bishop Tertullian who invented the word to try and describe, in human words, something that he clearly saw in the Bible: namely God’s oneness and threeness. Just because the word isn’t found doesn’t mean that it isn’t there.
    Don’t be expecting an email any time soon from me trying to explain the Trinity to you. If the depths of the Triune God could be plummed by such a finite and sinful mind as mine, I tell you he wouldn’t be God at all. He would be the vain imaginings of a sinner. Any god that can be so easily explained is no god at all.
    In my lecture I provided a quote by the Puritan Thomas Watson that I didn’t put in the post. He said, “Our narrow thoughts can no more comprehend the Trinity in Unity, than a nut-shell will hold all the water in the sea.” I think that well encapsulates it.
    For the record, I won’t try to explain Creation ex nihilo, the Incarnation, the indwelling of the Spirit, walking on water, the resurrection, or other such mysteries either. And I am quite glad not to!
    For the record, if this is such a big deal to you, the word Jehovah is also not found in the Bible. It is a later rendering of YHWH.
    I hope to hear again from you. Thanks for posting!

  3. Anonymous

    Hello Ian. I just read your comment and the added reply.

    You mentioned the name Jehovah was not in the bible. This really is not so and is not the point of the second comment. If you would quibble about language translations then you have a real problem, consider that the name Jesus is not Jesus at all, it is closer to Yeshua.

    The name Jehovah is the translated equivalent to YHWH in our language; would you remove all translations of the scriptures simply because it is not in the original Hebrew Aramaic and Greek?

    You failed to answer why Jesus would say he is going off to his Father, the Person who is greater than he. Are we to think Jesus was attempting to deceive?

    If John 17:3 states we must gain knowledge of God, then why wouldn’t the basic information as regards his identity be simple? Does it really make sense that it would be unfathomable?

    Sir Issac Newton knew the Trinity to be a lie, yet he feared for his life to proclaim it. Church Dogma had been corrupted, and he knew it.

    The fact remains, it was a Pagan teaching orchestrated by God’s rival Satan, who covets all of the attention deserved to Jehovah, and if it means he can convince all of creation to worship a thing created whether it be Jesus or Budha, then he has won.

    It is a shame the majority, like Noah’s time, have been blinded by Jehovah’s adversary. Even his very name has been replaced by LORD in most translation. If he had his name YHWH put in the bible don’t you think he wanted us to know and use it? Who would benefit from it’s removal?

    Satan and those who beleive Jesus is GOD the almighty want the name Jehovah expunged.

    God wants to be worshipped in truth not false traditions and teachings.

    Good day.

  4. Ian

    Sorry, no qibble over translations at all. I have a Greek exam on Thursday, so trust me, I am well aware of the significance of language. My comment was said tongue-in-cheek to make the point that just because something isn’t readily apparent to the eye, doesn’t mean that it’s not there.
    You mention that I failed to answer your question regarding Christ going to the Father. I would remind you that you failed to answer mine regarding Irenaeus. I can provide other historical evidence for the Trinity in the early church if you would like.
    In regards to Christ’s statement about the Father being greater than He, I have a question for you. If you were to say Charles Russell is greater than I, what would you mean by that? Would it exclude you from being a human? Is your ontological significance any lesser than his? Jesus’ saying that the Father is greater than He in no way depreciates His divinity. The burden of proof is on you to show otherwise.
    Drudging up an old Arian like Isaac Newton makes no difference to me. Einstein revolutionised Newtonian physics, the Bible destroys his sever misunderstanding of Christ’s divinity. Why not point to another of his time who was by far a greater thinker and read Jonathan Edwards’ work on the Trinity?
    As I said previously, the unitarian God of your faith does not provide the ground for personality. As a system, your worldview falls flat on its face, because the very personality you have as a human being proves that your belief is wrong. If there were no Trinity, personality, love, relationship, etc., would be impossible. Every time you say hello to your mother, you are proving the existence of the Trinity. It’s the only possible explanation for the personal relationships you hold so dear. How does a unitary god have personality?? That may be a greater mystery than the Trinity, because it’s one that is logically impossible to understand, because it’s a contradiction.

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