Theology Thursday – The Trinity (part 2)

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Last time with Theology Thursday, we began to work through one of the most difficult theological topics in all of Christianity; the doctrine of the Trinity.  We examined the 3 Persons/1 God construction to begin our last portion in mini-series on God’s nature.  Today, we’ll dive into understanding the divinity of each Person, discuss the Comma Johanneum, and examine some of the prevalent heresies that have come from a misunderstanding of the Trinity.

The Divinity of Each Person
Historically, deniers of the Trinity have often attacked the divinity of at least one, and in some cases two, of the Persons.  Yet, an examination of Scripture finds that the Bible calls each Person, God.

The Father is called God throughout Scripture, but He makes the claim for Himself most famously in the First Commandment:

Then God spoke all these words, saying, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. {Exo 20:1-2 NASB}trinity004

The Divinity of Jesus is also affirmed throughout Scripture.  I believe it best shown in Mark 2 where Jesus demonstrates the power to forgive sins (something only God can do).  We also find the following throughout Scripture (we’ll reserve the Granville-Sharp discussions for another post):

For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him (Jesus), and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven. {Col 1:19-20 NASB}

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. {Jhn 1:1 NASB}

And finally, throughout Scripture, the Holy Spirit is called God.  For example, it is wrong to blaspheme against Him:

but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”– {Mar 3:29 NASB}

We see Him as a teacher:

“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you. {Jhn 14:26 NASB}

David understood the Holy Spirit was God when He was grieved in repentance:

Do not cast me away from Your presence And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. {Psa 51:11 NASB}

Undoubtedly, the clear teaching of the Bible is that all three persons are the same God, and share the same nature; but are yet, distinctly, persons.  It is evident that the divinity of each person is not in question.’

The Comma Johanneum 

What is a legitimate question is why the Bible doesn’t deal with the Trinity in a clear, straightforward, explicit way.  While it’s not fair to say that the Bible doesn’t teach the Trinity (it clearly does), it is fair to say that the doctrine is implied rather than laid out in one place.  Yet, many believers think the Trinity is taught in one place in Scripture… 1 John 5:7-8

The King James Bible reads:

For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one. {1Jo 5:7-8 KJV}

This passage is known as “The Comma Johanneum” and is a large part of what has sparked the ever ugly “King James Only Controversy”.   It is found only in the King James Bible.  For example the ESV and NASB read as follows:

For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement. {1Jo 5:7-8 NASB}

For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree. {1Jo 5:7-8 ESV}

greekHere’s the story:  When the King James translators were compiling the KJV, they had a VERY limited amount of manuscripts.  Generally speaking, manuscripts can be divided into four major textual families.  The largest and “fullest” of these manuscripts is the Byzantine family.  The reason for that is because the other areas of textual development were generally oppressed and war torn areas while the Byzantine Empire remained relatively peaceful and friendly to Christianity.  As a result, many copies of manuscripts were not only made, but preserved as well.  This glut of manuscripts ALSO meant that the manuscripts became “fuller” than others.  This means that over time, words would be added, notes would be transcribed along with the original words, and phrasing would occasionally change.  For example, a phrase like “Jesus said…” would become “The Lord Jesus said…”  Additionally, mistakes became prolifically copied because more manuscripts means more opportunities to make a mistake.  Textual Critics call these mistakes “Variants”.  99.5% of these variants are completely inconsequential, and 95% of these variants can be explained easily by reconstructing the progression of different manuscripts.  Mostly errors are spelling, changing word order, and occasionally writing a word twice.  “Jesus is Lord” may become “Jesus is Lowrd”, “Jesus Lord is”, or “Jesus Jesus is Lord”.  When you’re writing with pen on paper, mistakes become permanent.  This is kind of thing is recorded in all ancient literature and, in comparison, lends a great deal of credibility to the Bible.  We can trace the manuscript evidence of the Bible, explaining the various quirks along the way.  We can’t do this with the Book of Mormon or the Koran.

Well, one of these errors is the Comma Johanneum.  The earliest manuscripts of 1 John 5:7-8 from all textual families contain nothing regarding the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Yet, in the fuller Byzantine family, after a few centuries, the manuscripts begin to show the verse as it appears in the KJV.  Clearly something changed.  What is believed to have happened is that a scribe made a copy of 1 John from a master copy that had notes in it and when he got to 5:7, accidentally copied the notes as if they were in the original text.  The KJV only translators only had copies of this textual family and so, rightly and naturally, they assumed it was the original text.  Yet, in hindsight, examining better and diverse textual evidence, we can easily spot the error.  As a result, the later and newer translations like the NASB and ESV removed that portion of the verse.

It was the right call.  None of this means anyone was “changing the Bible” as has been alleged.  Quite simply, translators are using the best evidence available to be as accurate as possible just like the KJV translators were doing when they worked with considerably less in the 1600s.  Removing the allusion to the Trinity in 1 John 5:7-8 does not negate what we’ve already said about the Trinity from elsewhere in the Bible nor does it change the fact that the doctrine is overwhelmingly implied throughout the Bible.

A Christian should not assert 1 John 5:7-8 as proof of the Trinity because doing so is to argue from a false premise, but Christians should, nonetheless, have every confidence in the doctrine of the Trinity.  Protests to the opposite on either points fail to meet the standard of credibility.

Popular Heresies

book stackThe heresies against the Trinity are legion.  It is one of the most maligned doctrines in Christian history.  Mormons, Christian Science, Quakers, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Oneness Pentecostal, Seventh Day Adventists and many others all deny the Trinity in one aspect or another.   Some of these opposition views arise out of misunderstanding or, worse yet, believing that they actually do agree with Biblical Christianity.  One of the things that makes the Trinity so maligned is that it is a fragile doctrine (not unsupported, but it is easy to fundamentally alter it by making small mistakes), widely misunderstood, and not often studied.  We must guard against this.  Rather than run through a list of why each group is a heresy, the better way to approach such a difficult doctrine is to practice the principles therein and to be sure to know them well.  Believe the right things, know why you believe them, and compare what you hear to them.  Once you do that, recognizing a heresy is easy.

One final thought, difficult doctrine is a blessing to believers, not a curse.  If all doctrine was vague and non-specific, it would invite a great deal of people to claim adherence to it and yet leave a lot of room for interpretation.  When a doctrine is specific and detailed, it is difficult to obfuscate and confuse.  The Trinity, rightly understood, is one of those doctrines.  The better we understand it, the more clear it becomes.

 

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