Into The Trinity

It is with some sense of fear and hesitancy that this entry is written. The nature of our Creator is revealed through the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures as “Trinitarian”. How can we speak of One so complex and powerful, Creator of the vast unseen universe of matter, from super-galactic to sub-atomic? In order to accommodate our limited ability to reason and sense, He reveals Himself as Trinitarian in nature. It’s probably woefully incomplete and simplistic, but it suits His purpose.

God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,

Hebrews 1:1-3 NASB

The writer of the letter to the Hebrews has the daunting task of describing our relationship with a single Divine Substance revealed in three Persons. And so we are left with dizzying references to an “exact representation of His nature” (Hebrews 1:3), and then the “Author of Salvation” being subjected to suffering (Hebrews 2:10) by Someone. How is it possible for the Divine Substance to suffer punishment without some outside entity subjecting Him to such suffering? It’s an impossible task the writer has undertaken.

But we do see Him who was made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone. For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings. For both He who sanctifies and those who are sanctified are all from one Father; for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren,

Hebrews 2:9-11 NASB

In Hebrews, chapter 1, Jesus is the exact representation of the substance of the Creator. He is superior to any created thing, including angels. And He is, Himself, Creator. Then, in chapter 2, the writer turns to the topic of how this exact representation of God’s substance is also Savior. As He is described as the Agent of Creation, He now becomes the Agent of Salvation. The precisely indistinguishable Persons of Father and Son are described as the One subjecting, and the One suffering.

Paul had the same struggle. How do you describe the Divine Substance as becoming something else without “emptying” (Philippians 2:7)? The struggle for the writer of Hebrews is to answer the questions: 1) How can this Divine Substance then be both Father and Son unless He is multiple Persons? And, 2) How are these multiple Persons One? And yet, Jesus is an exact duplicate of God (Hebrews 1:3). So, Jesus is both a Brother to His human creatures (2:11), and their Creator (1:2), being both simultaneously.

If you are honest, you may find yourself in the same place Nicodemus found himself while speaking with Jesus, asking “How can these things be?” How can they be? Simply put, they simply are; how is irrelevant, immaterial, and a futile search. The Creator of the universe is necessarily complex and powerful. Why would we expect Him to somehow fit neatly into our limited view? A Divine Substance with three Persons is a fair representation of One of whom we have no hope of understanding fully.

And so, like the writer of Hebrews, we too struggle on to grapple with explaining how we can have a relationship with such a One. Perhaps, like Andrew, our response should be to the questioning Nathaniel’s of the world, “Come and see.” We can’t explain it, we live it. And invite others to experience the reality of Him for themselves.

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation

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2 Comments

  1. Ed says:

    Hey Matt. I suppose a non-trinitarian would argue that Hebrews 1:3 says ‘exact representation’, which is different than the ‘original’ I suppose someone could build an exact representation of the Titanic, but it would not be the original. Then, Hebrews 2:10 (a truly unruly verse) might refer to the perfect/completion of Christ’s Person-hood, through the suffering. To me, this make sense when considering Paul’s statement: And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. (Col 1:18)

    I tend to think the biggest scriptural hurdle for non-trinity folks is in the beginning of John’s gospel.

    But, as I read the scriptural epistles and especially the writings of the church Fathers, I don’t think this was a major issue, or at least a DIVISIVE issue for at least the first 200 years of the church. I wonder if the church might have developed differently (perhaps even in a more healthy way) if church leaders would have focused on issues of following Christ instead of difficult-to-understand theological interpretations.

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    1. Matt Brumage says:

      Hi Ed, this is another example of where the English can’t do the Greek text justice. There’s simply no good way to translate that. The Greek reads “struck image of the substance”, which refers to one coin image being exactly like another image, but then referring to the substance of God (translated “nature” by the NASB). So, “representation” is actually weaker than the Greek text. And the reference to substance (nature) is the exact word used by the Early Church Fathers to refer to the Trinity (3 person, 1 substance), they used the same word for substance the writer of Hebrews uses. So, it’s not as easy to bypass this reference as it seems in an English translation.

      John’s Gospel is another excellent argument for the deity of Jesus, even without the “definite article”. Philippians 2:6 is another excellent option, although we can say two distinct things can be equal.

      Church history does contain much that would have been best left unfought. As a race, humanity is a bag of cats, even with the saving grace of our Creator, we’re still a mess. If we could just keep from eating from the wrong tree, but the game of “if only” doesn’t really get us far. It’s the grace of our Creator as Savior or nothing.

      Thanks for commenting! Keep them coming!

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