why the Trinity is not polytheism

photo credit: Cayusa via photopin cc
photo credit: Cayusa via photopin cc

 

No, I don’t know who any of the people in that picture are. I do wonder where Atlas got that huge earth though. Very cool.

I wrote a post on the Trinity for another blog and the site manager was leery about posting it because he/she thought my description of the Trinity made it sound like 3 gods instead of one God and 3 persons. And that’s understandable because it’s hard to conceptualize how God can be 3 and 1 at the same time. But it’s important to understand that the Father, the Son, and the Spirit are each their own person (that’s the 3) but are of one mind and essence (that’s the 1).

I’ve touched on this topic before, but I thought perhaps it was time to revisit it.

When I think about polytheism, I think about mythology. All those Greek and Roman gods and demi-gods. My oldest daughter is really into Greek mythology because of Rick Riordan’s series on the Olympians and tween books like The Goddess Girls. Who doesn’t like stories of Hercules?

The thing about the Greek and Roman gods, though, is that they were petty, selfish, self-centered, and fought one another with the world as their battlefield. They could get bored and use people as pieces on a game board for no other reason than as a diversion. They could have children with humans and create demi-gods like Hercules. They could lie, cheat, and steal. Are these the kinds of mercurial gods you would want to worship? Sure, they make for great stories, but how could they have created the universe? I don’t think they could work together long enough to make a blade of grass, assuming they had the power.

 

photo credit: mmarftrejo via photopin cc
photo credit: mmarftrejo via photopin cc

When we see the Father, Son, and Spirit, we have 3 persons (unique in identity), that are in perfect agreement, perfect harmony, perfect unity in purpose. Unlike the rest of creation, the Son and Spirit were not created. They come from the Father –the Son as externally begotten of the Father, and the Spirit as one who proceeds from the Father. Who they are (the Father, Son, and Spirit=3) is different but what they are (divine from the essence of the Father) is the same. Same = 1.

If, at this point, you’d like to take a break to go and pound your head against the wall, I totally understand. There’s a big dent in the wall by my desk as I struggled with these concepts last semester.

But can you see that there is no polytheism with the Trinity? Because there is singleness of mind, purpose, unity, everything. Perfect harmony. As my friend, RL Copple states in his post on the subject of the Trinity:

The human nature is changeable, finite, imperfect. The divine nature is changeless, eternal, infinite, and complete. Because of that, each person sharing the divine nature are perfectly harmonized in one will, one dream, one direction, one existence.

So while there are three, they work in perfect harmony as one due to the perfect divine nature they share. It wouldn’t matter how many of them there would be, there would still only be one God, as stated in Scripture. Not three.

Human nature is what we see epitomized by the Greek and Roman gods. That is polytheism. Perfect nature and singleness in mind and purpose is what we see with the Father, Son, and Spirit. That is GOD.

“Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one!” – Deuteronomy 6:4

Tell me, friends, is this new to you? (It was for me). Do you think the church should do a better job of teaching foundational concepts such as the Trinity, or do you think it’s too complex a topic for most believers? Are we doing future generations a disservice by only teaching this topic at the seminary level? (and on rambling blog posts) 😉 I’m very interested to know what you think.

10 thoughts on “why the Trinity is not polytheism

  1. Yes! I had to learn this in bible class at my university. I think we have to make sure we understand what we believe for ourselves as a sign of spiritual growth. What hangs me up when discussing this with others is the verse (can’t think where it is) where Jesus is called the firstborn of all creation.

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    1. Gretchen –

      The “firstborn of all creation” doesn’t mean the Jesus was the first created. The world and everything in it was made by Him and through Him. He is “pre-eminent in creation” – the better translation/meaning for firstborn. First as in premier, highest, etc.

      Hope that helps.

      -L

      On Thu, Jan 23, 2014 at 9:58 AM, Lisa Godfrees

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  2. I recognize a few. Mostly from Riordan’s books. Girl with a bow is Artemis/Diana. Guy in purple with the pine cone is Bacchus (Dionysus), Woman with smaller earth I think is Gaea. Woman with box is Pandora. Woman with cornucopia is Hercules’s wife but can’t remember her name.

    I love Greek and Roman mythology. One of the things I loved most about sixth grade. And reading Riordan’s books, if I were a demigod, I would be a child of Athena.

    I’m glad I’m a daughter of the King! Singleness of mind – great description of why the Trinity is one.

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  3. I’m the odd one out in that I never understood the appeal of Greek & Roman mythology. I read a lot of the tales as a youngster and even tried reading Homer as a teen but I just could never get into it. Even Riordan’s series – the movie was okay but nothing about it made me want to read the books. It’s odd since I don’t feel that way learning other mythologies.

    And I can see why the site manager was leery. Some of the wording does give a “3 Gods, 1 essence” vibe instead of “1 God, 3 persons”. Does that make sense?

    I’m not sure how good a job the church does teaching the trinity. I don’t think I ever had any in-depth study until college. But I certainly heard sermons, and had Sunday school class discussions regarding “God in three persons, blessed trinity”. I just chose to accept it as one of those things beyond our realm of comprehension – one God, three separate persons, beyond my understanding but still 100% true.

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    1. I think most people think it’s beyond comprehension so they just believe. Which is great. Faith is believing without seeing. The problem comes when your faith is challenged, such as having a JW come to your door and tell you what the Trinity means and why it’s wrong. If you don’t really know what the Trinity means, and you take their word for it, then you could be in trouble. If no one questions your faith, then believing on principle is fine. I believed on principle for a long time. I figured God understood it, and that was good enough for me. There’s a lot of things that fall in that category for me. 😉

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  4. Maybe if this kind of doctrinal stuff was taught more often people would have an easier time understanding it (or at least accepting it, some mysteries of God will only be fully understood in heaven). I understand not wanting to confuse people or turn them off from the church, but that’s where we need to obey God and trust Him to open their minds and hearts to Him.

    I’ve really enjoyed your blog posts on the Trinity by the way. Much better than your meerkat post 😉

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    1. What?! The Trinity is better than meerkats? It’s funny, but I actually lost 3 FB followers after the meerkat post. Not that I’m counting. 😉

      Someone said that the Trinity is something to understand as you grow in your faith. I’d agree with that. It’s cerebrally fun for me to think about. And it’s an exercise in humility as well.

      Thanks for the feedback on your post preference. I guess when I write a nothing post, people feel like they better comment on the something post, eh? That’s positive reinforcement!

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  5. Good post, since you quoted me. (LOL).

    As you can see, in Western thought especially, it is hard for people to wrap their minds around 3 persons being one God, because they want to make each person their own individual god. Somehow, they speculate, there is still only one person. But the doctrine is clear that what makes the three one God is the essence, not the distinct persons. We tend to want to superimpose our own experience of human essence upon the Trinity, and say if that is what makes it one God, then you have three gods, not one, because we experience human nature that way.

    But if my son and I were perfectly unified, always acting with one will and mind, and never counteracting each other like you note mythological gods did, we would be two persons, one human. If we always acted as one, there would never be two humans. Of course, due to our nature, we can’t accomplish that. Due to God’s nature, He can and does.

    The problem is when people see one God to mean one entity, one person, and don’t want to interpret “person” as a separate existence, but some metaphysical, can’t really understand it, they are three, but no, still one existence. What you end up with in that case is modalism. That there is only one entity, person, called God, but He manifests himself in three different forms.

    As you point out, there is only one God because they share the same, perfect, infinite divine nature that brings all three into a perfect harmony, acting and being one God, unlike mythological gods who were anything but perfect and acting with one will.

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    1. Hey, Rick. I wrote this great reply to you on my new iPad mini today and then couldn’t get it to actually reply. *sigh*

      For a long time, I was confused about the Trinity because of the water analogy. When people use it, yes, ice, liquid water, and steam are all forms of water. The problem with this approach is that its modalistic. It makes it seem like God could either be the Father or the Son or the Spirit, but not all three together at any one point, except if you use some very rare physical sublimation of water or something. So, for a long time I was a modalist and didn’t realize it because I didn’t understand it.

      The Eastern v. Western thought processes are interesting though. Great point on that.

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