Reading about the Trinity

Reading about the Trinity: A List for Additional Research

Resources for the Bible student who wishes to gain a better understanding about the Trinity.

Rollin Shoemaker, D.Min., S.T.M., is a pastor with the Southern New England Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, South Lancaster, Massachusetts, United States.

Bauckham, Richard. The Theology of the Book of Revelation. New Testament Theology. Edited by James D. G. Dunn. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994. Bauckham points out that Revelation has the same fundamental belief in the Trinity that led to the early development of the trinitarian doctrine. In fact, on page 164 he writes, “Revelation has the most developed trinitarian theology in the New Testament, with the possible exception of the Gospel of John, and is all the more valuable for demonstrating the development of trinitarianism quite independently of hellenistic philosophical categories.” (See specifically pages 23–25 and 164.)

Bickersteth, Edward. The Trinity. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1971. Bickersteth writes in the preface “That the one Infinite God claims our supreme and undivided confidence; that the same confidence is, on the warrant of Scripture, to be reposed in the Father, and in the Son, and in the Holy Ghost; and that therefore Father, Son, and Spirit, are equally God over all, blessed for ever, the Triune Jehovah, in whose name alone we trust, on whose arm we rely, and whose majesty alone we adore and love” (7).

Calvin, John. “Institutes I.” The Library of Christian Classics. Edited by John Baillie, John T. McNeill, and Henry P. van Dusen, 20. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1967, 140–159. Calvin defines the Trinity to be the Father, the Son coming forth from the Father, the Holy Spirit coming forth from the Father and the Son (143). In §§ 16–20 Calvin writes about the distinction and unity of the Three Persons. In §§ 21–29 Calvin refutes antitrinitarian heresies.

Canale, Fernando L. “Doctrine of God.” Handbook of Seventh-day Adventist Theology. Edited by George W. Reid, 12. Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 2000, 105–159. Canale comments directly on the Trinity in “Affirmation of the Biblical Trinity” (149, 150).

Dederen, Raoul. “Reflections on the Doctrine of the Trinity.” Andrews University Seminar Studies 8 (1970). Dederen states that the doctrine of the Trinity lies at the root of theology and affects one’s creed and practice. He discusses the doctrine of God and the biblical view of the Spirit. According to the author, there are clear trinitarian confessions in the New Testament. He then gives a brief history of discussions on the Trinity. The section on the relationship between the Father, the Son, and the Spirit is helpful.

Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology. 2d ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1998. The author’s goals in regard to the Trinity (346–367) are as follows: “1. To understand and explain the biblical teaching on the Trinity in three aspects: the oneness of God, the deity of three, and three-in-oneness. 2. To list and explain the historical constructions of the Trinity, such as the ‘economic’ view, dynamic monarchianism, modalistic monarchianism, and the orthodox view. 3. To describe the essential elements of the doctrine of the Trinity and explain why they are so vital to the Christian faith. [And] 4. To articulate the various analogies used in describing or clarifying the doctrine of the Trinity” (346). The author ends this chapter with an interesting comment: “Try to explain it, and you’ll lose your mind;/But try to deny it, and you’ll lose your soul” (367).

________. Making Sense of the Trinity: Three Crucial Questions. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000. The book is divided into three parts: (1) “Is the Doctrine of the Trinity Biblical?” (2) “Does the Doctrine of the Trinity Make Sense?” and (3) “Does the Doctrine of the Trinity Make Any Difference?” The author states in his introduction, “The doctrine of the Trinity is a major distinguishing feature of Christianity which sets it apart from these other religions. On the one hand, it clearly distinguishes Christianity from the strongly monotheistic religions such as Judaism and Islam. On the other hand, it separates Christianity from polytheistic and pantheistic religions such as the Eastern religions” (14, 15). The author not only demonstrates the Trinity’s biblical basis but he also demonstrates its relevance for the world of today.

Hall, Douglas John. The Cross in Our Context: Jesus and the Suffering World. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2003. Hall has a short section which he has entitled “The Trinitarian Presupposition of the Theology of the Cross” (83–88), in which he states, “If Jesus Christ is the Revealer of God and not merely a subordinate who, finally, submits to the will of his superior (The Father Almighty), then the cross must be understood to apply to God’s own being and acting and not only to that of the Christ” (84).

Hatton, Max. Understanding the Trinity. Grantham: Autumn House, 2001.

Heick, Otto W. A History of Christian Thought. Vol. 1. 2 vols. Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press, 1973. Heick discusses the history and development of the doctrine of the Trinity in a section entitled “The Doctrine of the Trinity” (143–169). He notes that both the conservatives and progressives looked upon the doctrine of the Trinity as the “very foundation of the biblical history of redemption” (166).

Kelly, J. N. D. “The Doctrine of the Trinity.” Early Christian Doctrines. New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1960, 252–279. In this chapter on “The Doctrine of the Trinity,” Kelly describes the history of the events surrounding the development of the doctrine of the Trinity.

Küng, Hans. Christianity: Essence, History, and Future. Translated by John Bowden. New York: Continuum, 1995. Küng (95–97; 297–305) states on page 95 under the title “No doctrine of the Trinity in the New Testament,” “In short, in Judaism, indeed throughout the New Testament, while there is belief in God the Father, in Jesus the Son and in God’s Holy Spirit, there is no doctrine of one God in three persons (modes of being), no doctrine of a ‘triune God,’ a “Trinity.’ ” On page 305 he states, “In light of the New Testament, no more is required than that the relationship between Father, Son and Spirit should be interpreted in a critical and differentiated way for the present. The ‘heart’ of Christian faith is not a theological theory but belief that God the Father works in a revealing, redeeming and liberating way in us through his Son Jesus Christ in the Spirit. Any theological theory must not complicate this basic statement; rather, it must be seen simply as an instrument for clarifying it against differing cultural horizons.”

Lewis, Alan E. “From God’s Passion to God’s Death.” Between Cross & Resurrection: A Theology of Holy Saturday. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2001, 197–257. Lewis has divided the chapter into three parts (“I. The Trinity and the Passion of God,” “II. The Trinity and Death in God,” “III. The Trinity and the Death of God”). His central thesis “is that this promise [“one who loses life shall find it”], from the lips of Jesus, is a true statement about God. God is the one who knows how to die and knows that in accepting death there is life, and life only through accepting death. In the Father’s surrender of the Son, and the Son’s raising by the Spirit, God brings about this life-through-death, this resumption beyond rupture, in self-fulfillment and for the sake of the world” (255). In my view, a very interesting and informative article to read.

Ministerial Association, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. Seventh-day Adventists Believe: A Biblical Exposition of Fundamental Doctrines. 2d ed. Nampa, ID: Pacific Press Pub. Association, 2005. The article on the Trinity (23–33) begins by stating the position of Seventh-day Adventists. It reads, “There is one God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, a unity of three co-eternal Persons. God is immortal, all-powerful, all-knowing, above all, and ever present. He is infinite and beyond human comprehension, yet known through His self-revelation. He is forever worthy of worship, adoration, and service by the whole creation.” The chapter continues with the topics “Knowledge of God,” (God can only be known by His self-revelation, which is primarily in Christ Jesus but also in the sacred writings of the Bible), “The Existence of God,” (evidenced by creation and Scripture); “The God of the Scriptures,” (Scriptures use of God’s Names , God’s Activities, and God’s Attributes), “The Sovereignty of God,” (the meaning of “Predestination and Human Freedom”), the “Dynamics Within the Godhead,” (how the Godhead functions); and the “Focus on Salvation.” The chapter also addresses the trinitarian statement of Matthew 28:19. The article notes, “Looking at the cross, we gaze into the heart of God” (32).

Moltmann, Jürgen. The Crucified God: The Cross of Christ as the Foundation and Criticism of Christian Theology. Translated by R. A. Wilson. New York: Harper & Row, 1974. Moltmann notes that it was the doctrine of the Trinity that marked Christianity off from polytheism, pantheism, and monotheism. Moltmann discusses the meaning of the Cross in light of the Trinity in the section entitled “Trinitarian Theology of the Cross” (235–248). He states that “The place of the doctrine of the Trinity is not the ‘thinking of thought’, but the cross of Jesus. . . . The perception of the trinitarian concept of God is the cross of Jesus. . . . The theological concept for the perception of the crucified Christ is the doctrine of the Trinity. The material principle of the doctrine of the Trinity is the cross of Christ. The formal principle of knowledge of the cross is the doctrine of the Trinity” (240, 241). He also discusses “Trinity and Eschatology” (256–278).

________. The Trinity and the Kingdom of God: The Doctrine of God. Translated by Margaret Kohl. London: SCM, 1983. The theology of the Cross undergirds all of Moltmann’s understanding of the Trinity. He writes, “On the cross the Father and the Son are so deeply separated that their relationship breaks off. Jesus died ‘without God’—godlessly. Yet on the cross the Father and the Son are at the same time so much one that they represent a single surrendering movement. ‘He who has seen the Son has seen the Father.’ The Epistle to the Hebrews expresses this by saying that Christ offered himself to God ‘through the eternal Spirit’ (dia pneumatos aioniou) ([Heb.] 9.14). The surrender through the Father and the offering of the Son take place ‘through the Spirit.’ The Holy Spirit is therefore the link in the separation. He is the link joining the bond between the Father and the Son, with their separation” (82). Moltmann also believes that the doctrines of the Trinity and Christology go together, and that they cannot be separated since God cannot be understood without Christ, and Christ cannot be understood apart from God.

Neuner, J., and J. Dupuis, eds. The Christian Faith in the Doctrinal Documents of the Catholic Church. New York: Alba House, 1990. In chapter II entitled “The Triune God” (103–124), the Trinity is discussed. The book’s statement on the origin of the Trinity is “The Father is absolute origin, from Himself . . . the Son is born from the Father, from eternity . . . the Holy Spirit proceeds from Father and Son” (105).

Pfandl, Gerhard. The Doctrine of the Trinity Among Adventists. Silver Spring, MD: Biblical Research Institute, 1999. Pfandl gives a brief outline of the development of the doctrine of the Trinity within Adventism. He notes that many Adventists up until the 1890s advocated an Arian or semi-Arian position. Pfandl cites the positions of various early Adventists who held these views. He then outlines Ellen G. White’s view. The author notes the official statements on the trinitarian doctrine after 1900, as well as the struggle between the trinitarians and the antitrinitarians within the Adventist Church up to the publication date of this article.

________. The Trinity in Scripture. Silver Spring, MD: Biblical Research Institute, 1999. Pfandl addresses the Old and New Testament witness in regard to the Trinity. He also looks at some difficult texts and shows how they support the trinitarian doctrine.

Rice, Richard. The Reign of God: An Introduction to Christian Theology From a Seventh-day Adventist Perspective. Berrien Springs, MI: Andrews University Press, 1985. His article on the Trinity (88–92) states that the Trinity represents the distinctively Christian understanding of God. He poses some frequently asked questions about the Trinity. He notes the genuine self-revelation of God is in Christ Jesus. He writes, “the doctrine of the trinity expresses the belief that the one God is present in Jesus through the Holy Spirit. . . . It is the belief that God is Father, Son, and Spirit in himself, as well as in our experience of him” (90). He tells us that there are only two trinitarian passages in the New Testament, Matthew 28:19 and 2 Corinthians 13:14. He mentions that there were some heretical views espoused. He then talks about how the Eastern and Western churches addressed the concept of the Trinity. Last of all, he talks about the terms used in trying to explain the Trinity. In the end, he writes, “The doctrine of the trinity is one of those areas where faith affirms what reason cannot totally comprehend” (92).

Strong, Augustus Hopkins. Systematic Theology. Vol. 1. 3 vols. Old Tappan: Fleming H. Revell, 1970. Chapter II, “Doctrine of the Trinity,” is thoroughly done and demands knowledge of Greek from those who wish to study it. It covers pages 304–352. However, the book was written more than a century ago. But note: Systematic theologies usually have a section on the Trinity. The systematic theologies of the following authors could also be recommended: K. Barth, C. Hodge, N. Geisler, and W. Grudem.

Tillich, Paul. Systematic Theology: Three Volumes in One. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1967. In volume three, section IV (283–294), Tillich addresses the trinitarian issue under the title “The Trinitarian Symbols.” The chapter is divided into three parts: “A. The Motives of the Trinitarian Symbolism,” “B. The Trinitarian Dogma,” and “C. Reopening the Trinitarian Problem.” Under part A, Tillich writes, “. . . the trinitarian doctrine is the work of theological thought which uses philosophical concepts and follows the general rules of theological rationality. There is no such thing as trinitarian ‘speculation.’ . . . The substance of all trinitarian thought is given in revelatory experiences, and the form has the same rationality that all theology, as a work of the Logos, must have.” Tillich concludes under part C with “The doctrine of the Trinity is not closed. It can be neither discarded nor accepted in its traditional form. It must be kept open in order to fulfill its original function—to express in embracing symbols the self-manifestation of the Divine Life to man.”

________. A History of Christian Thought. New York: Harper & Row, 1968. Tillich notes Tertullian's and Irenaeus’s views on the Trinity in the section entitled “Trinity and Christology” (46–48). He also reviews the historical development of the Trinity and the events that surrounded the development of the doctrine.

Toon, Peter, and James D. Spiceland, eds. One God in Trinity: An Analysis of the Primary Dogma of Christianity. London: Samuel Bagster, 1980. The purpose of the book “is to commend the orthodox doctrine as being more faithful to the biblical witness than either unitarianism or binitarianism” (xii). The origin of the book is from a conference held in Durham in 1978. The chapters originated for the most part from papers given at the conference. The book is composed of ten chapters, an introduction, and an epilogue. Chapter 1, “The Meaning of the Trinity,” by Roger Nicole. Nicole defines the Trinity as “1) There is one God and one only. 2) This God exists eternally in three distinct persons: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. 3) These three are fully equal in every divine perfection. They possess alike the fullness of the divine essence” [1, 2]); Chapter 2, “The New Testament,” by Bruce N. Kaye; Chapter 3, “The Discernment of Triunity,” by Christopher B. Kaiser; Chapter 4, “The Patristic Dogma,” by Gerald Lewis Bray; Chapter 5, “The Filioque Clause,” by Alasdair Heron; Chapter 6, “Karl Barth,” by Richard Roberts; Chapter 7, “Bernard Lonergan,” by Hugo Meynell; Chapter 8, “Jürgen Moltmann,” by Richard Bauckham; Chapter 9, “Process Theology,” by James D. Spiceland; Chapter 10, “Recent British Theology,” by Brian Hebblethwaite; and the introduction and epilogue by Peter Toon.

Whidden, Woodrow Wilson, Jerry Allen Moon, and John W. Reeve. The Trinity: Understanding God’s Love, His Plan of Salvation, and Christian Relationships. Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 2002. The book is divided into four sections: (1) “The Biblical Evidence for the Full Deity of Christ, the Personality of the Spirit, and the Unity and Oneness of the Godhead,” (2) “The History of the Trinity Doctrine From a.d. 100 to a.d 1500,” (3) “Trinity and Anti-Trinitarianism From the Reformation to the Advent Movement,” and (4) “The Doctrine of the Trinity and Its Implications for Christian Thought and Practice.” There is a very interesting discussion on two key councils (Nicaea a.d. 325 and Constantinople a.d. 381) and their aftermath on pages 139–145, 150–155 respectively, and the role of Arius and others. The book lays out the issues and its relevance for today.

White, James R. The Forgotten Trinity: Recovering the Heart of Christian Belief. Grand Rapids, MI: Bethany House Publishers, 1998. The author makes a statement that he reiterates throughout his book: “God revealed this truth about himself most clearly, and most irrefutably, in the Incarnation itself, when Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, took on human flesh and walked among us. That one act revealed the Trinity to us in a way that no amount of verbal revelation could ever communicate” (14). The author defines the Trinity as “Within the one Being that is God, there exists eternally three coequal and coeternal persons, namely, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit” (26). The book has many insightful footnotes.

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Rollin Shoemaker, D.Min., S.T.M., is a pastor with the Southern New England Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, South Lancaster, Massachusetts, United States.

February 2009

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