Why three persons in Godhead?

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J. Williams

Puritan Board Freshman
Why is it necessary that there be Three Persons in the Godhead? Why would two be insufficient, or four excessive?
 

Ed Walsh

Puritan Board Junior
Why? I wouldn't even want to think about that question let alone come up with some sort of an answer. That's my prima facie answer to your question. I Am that I Am is God's proclamation of who He is and He can be no other.

Everyone should be careful trying to answer this question.
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
Those are speculative inquiries. Someone could come up with a reasonable proposal to answer it; but the basic problem is the conjecture. There's simply no way to prove the truth of the proposal one way or another.

We are Trinitarian--and not polytheist, and not unitarian, and not whatever else you can imagine--because this, and nothing else, is what is revealed in the Bible about the nature of God, about the composition of the Godhead. The doctrine of the Trinity is just about the first piece of systematized theology that was ever thoroughly worked out in Christian history. It was a major intellectual undertaking, in answer to false choices being offered, of how the "puzzle" ought to go together.

That's how we got the doctrine of the Trinity: getting the whole Bible, OT & NT, to render up its truly, positively coherent representation (non-pictorial, I might add) of God. It's not that: some one or group thought up a sweet little idea that "something we'll call Trinitarianism will answer to our favorite philosophical curiosity." The Trinity isn't a via-media between monotheism and polytheism. The Triune deity isn't a theory in search of a justification.

The Trinity is the true "picture" of God that emerges when the puzzle of the Biblical data is sorted and laid out and fitted together.
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Amanuensis
WGT Shedd:


God’s Personality

  1. Personality is marked by two characteristics

    1. Self-consciousness

      1. Regarding the Trinity, “the media to self-consciousness are all within the divine essence” (173).

      2. God distinguishes himself from himself, thus two acts. There is now a reciprocal object-ego, which then requires a third term, percipient between the two (174).
    2. Self-determination
  2. “The three distinctions in the one essence personalize it: God is personal because he is three persons” (171).
 

J.EdwardNewhill

Puritan Board Freshman
Our God is the One "who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen." (1 Tim 6:16)

It is enough to know that God is Trinity, that in itself is a revelation bright enough to light our hearts and minds for a lifetime. I agree with the others who caution against any more being said along these lines.
 

RPEphesian

Puritan Board Junior
@J. Williams

If you want to know the Trinity, Communion with God by John Owen. In a few words, Angel's Food. Read. Digest. Apply. Worship. You will know the Triune God in a deeply satisfying fashion.
 

Ed Walsh

Puritan Board Junior
Why is it necessary that there be Three Persons in the Godhead? Why would two be insufficient, or four excessive?
Mr. Williams,

I genuinely hope our answers have not discouraged you in any way. I often wonder about "curious" topics. Eg., Why is there a God. How could He be eternal? Why is He good. What if He isn't good. What if heaven is not as good as we hope. And on and on and on. Once I realize that I am heading down a dead-end road, I usually (I hope) catch myself as I call to mind both the answer from the Westminster Larger Catechism cited below and its proof-text Deuteronomy 29:29. I have voiced some dumb questions and made some foolish answers here on the Puritan Board.

Too all, I exhort you to remember Deut. 29:29. God has even providentially arranged for the chapter and verse to be easily remembered. How often could this, coupled with verses like Romans 8:28, help us in troubled times and to stand on the evil day. (Ephesians 6:13)

God bless you and keep asking questions.

Ed

Q. 113. What are the sins forbidden in the third commandment?

A. The sins forbidden in the third commandment are, the not using of God’s name as is required;d and the abuse of it in an ignorant,e vain,f irreverent, profane,g superstitious,h or wicked mentioning or otherwise using his titles, attributes,i ordinances,k or works,l by blasphemy,m perjury;n all sinful cursings,o oaths,p vows,q and lots;r violating of our oaths and vows, if lawful;s and fulfilling them, if of things unlawful;t murmuring and quarrelling at, curious prying into,w and misapplying of God’s decrees and providences;y misinterpreting,z misapplying,a or any way perverting the word, or any part of it,b to profane jests,c curious or unprofitable questions, vain janglings, or the maintaining of false doctrines;d abusing it, the creatures, or any thing contained under the name of God, to charms,e or sinful lusts and practices;f the maligning,g scorning,h reviling,i or any wise opposing of God’s truth, grace, and ways;k making profession of religion in hypocrisy, or for sinister ends;l being ashamed of it,m or a shame to it, by unconformable,n unwise,o unfruitful,p and offensive walking,q or backsliding from it.r
––––––––––––––
w Deut. 29:29. The secret things belong unto the Lord our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us, and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law.

Westminster Assembly. (1851). The Westminster Confession of Faith: Edinburgh Edition (pp. 264–270). Philadelphia: William S. Young.​
 

Wretched Man

Puritan Board Freshman
I believe there are three persons (revealed in Scripture) in God. I don’t recognize any other persons described in Scripture. I don’t question why.

But is it possible there are more persons in God, not mentioned in Scripture? Is it correct to categorically say there are only three persons in God?
 

RWD

Puritan Board Sophomore
Why is it necessary that there be Three Persons in the Godhead? Why would two be insufficient, or four excessive?
It’s sounds as though you’re conflating contingent and necessary truths. It‘s a bit like asking why is it necessary that 1 + 1 = 2.
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
I think Shedd makes a nice point. I'm confident Bosserman also makes for an interesting read.

But I would argue: that in each and every case, these good men take what is given, i.e. that God is the Trinitarian God of Scripture; and then supply philosophical adjuncts to show how good and reasonable and helpful the Trinity is.

Van Til said that the Trinue God is the best "answer" ever posed to the problem of the one-and-the-many. We can delight in that answer, but the Trinity doesn't have meaning because there's a problem to solve.

Nor is the Trinity, because a fourth would (might!) cause an imbalance or other deficiency in an otherwise perfect Personal relationship. We don't have to wonder IF a fifth member of the Godhead is, or is not, the quintessence of deity.

If we had a different revelation than the one we have, we'd be doing similar work showing how what we have is the solution to something or other, explains X like nothing else could, and the like.

It's not wrong to explore the benefits of the Trinity which we have, or come up with reasons why any other imagination would be unprofitable. But the specificity which the NT imposes on the data of the OT, means that any ambiguity latent in the OT monotheist conception is developed in one, and only one way.

Like watching a vertebrate zygote develop: mere observation without detailed knowledge of the genetic code leaves one wondering a while what of many apparent possibilities will show forth. But eventually just the one possibility is present with minimal variation.

Since God is sui generis, its impossible to say anything about him other that what he IS; which, moreover, is what he chooses to be in some sense, since his will is just as ultimate as his being.

If God's Personality was not fixed at 3, would that predicate an insoluble problem of Being or of rationality? Would it inevitably falter into a polytheism or pseudo-polythesim, or collapse into a black-hole of monism? Those questions qualify as "thought experiments," but they don't really teach us anything more about God, as he is, as taught us in his revelation.
 

RWD

Puritan Board Sophomore
Those are speculative inquiries. Someone could come up with a reasonable proposal to answer it; but the basic problem is the conjecture. There's simply no way to prove the truth of the proposal one way or another.

We are Trinitarian--and not polytheist, and not unitarian, and not whatever else you can imagine--because this, and nothing else, is what is revealed in the Bible about the nature of God, about the composition of the Godhead. The doctrine of the Trinity is just about the first piece of systematized theology that was ever thoroughly worked out in Christian history. It was a major intellectual undertaking, in answer to false choices being offered, of how the "puzzle" ought to go together.

That's how we got the doctrine of the Trinity: getting the whole Bible, OT & NT, to render up its truly, positively coherent representation (non-pictorial, I might add) of God. It's not that: some one or group thought up a sweet little idea that "something we'll call Trinitarianism will answer to our favorite philosophical curiosity." The Trinity isn't a via-media between monotheism and polytheism. The Triune deity isn't a theory in search of a justification.

The Trinity is the true "picture" of God that emerges when the puzzle of the Biblical data is sorted and laid out and fitted together.
The original post is: “Why is it necessary that there be Three Persons in the Godhead? Why would two be insufficient, or four excessive?”

Bruce,

As I understand your post, I can’t agree with your: “There's simply no way to prove the truth of the proposal one way or another.”

If the OP is merely asking whether we’ve interpreted revelation aright, you’d say yes, we can prove that God has revealed himself as triune.

The OP doesn’t just ask whether God could be four persons. It also asks whether God could be two persons, which is one person less than God has positively revealed. Accordingly, the OP doesn’t concern itself with whether we’ve (a) interpreted revelation incorrectly by inferring three persons in Scripture when Scripture reveals only two, or (b) whether God might have held back revealing a fourth person.
In other words, the proposal doesn’t imply that God might not actually be triune. The proposal as stated, whether intentional or not, merely raises the question of whether the proposition God is triune is a necessary truth. I must insist that that can be proven (but not so easily apart from distinguishing types of truth).

That Bruce is an OPC pastor is a contingent truth. Although it’s true, it could be false (and is false in many possible worlds). That Bruce is male is an essential truth. Whenever Bruce exists, he exists as male. However, if God is triune, then God is necessarily triune. Who God is cannot be otherwise, unlike his works of creation, providence and grace. The necessity of God must be true lest God could be something other than I Am.
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
The original post is: “Why is it necessary that there be Three Persons in the Godhead? Why would two be insufficient, or four excessive?”

Bruce,

As I understand your post, I can’t agree with your: “There's simply no way to prove the truth of the proposal one way or another.”

If the OP is merely asking whether we’ve interpreted revelation aright, you’d say yes, we can prove that God has revealed himself as triune.

The OP doesn’t just ask whether God could be four persons. It also asks whether God could be two persons, which is one person less than God has positively revealed. Accordingly, the OP doesn’t concern itself with whether we’ve (a) interpreted revelation incorrectly by inferring three persons in Scripture when Scripture reveals only two, or (b) whether God might have held back revealing a fourth person.
In other words, the proposal doesn’t imply that God might not actually be triune. The proposal as stated, whether intentional or not, merely raises the question of whether the proposition God is triune is a necessary truth. I must insist that that can be proven (but not so easily apart from distinguishing types of truth).

That Bruce is an OPC pastor is a contingent truth. Although it’s true, it could be false (and is false in many possible worlds). That Bruce is male is an essential truth. Whenever Bruce exists, he exists as male. However, if God is triune, then God is necessarily triune. Who God is cannot be otherwise, unlike his works of creation, providence and grace. The necessity of God must be true lest God could be something other than I Am.
This below could all (or mostly) be redundant, and repetitive of what you wrote.

I'm taking the questions posed as a single inquiry. If answered in a philosophical way, rather than by recourse to divine special revelation, then whatever that proposal is is not worthy of full persuasion. It cannot be proven, but is a mere probability. It rests at most on axioms of thought that may be widely agreed upon, yet about which various schools of thought differ.

On the other hand, I wrote that Scripture being the source of our knowledge of God's being and mind, God IS revealed as the Trinity or Triune God. I don't accept the legitimacy of alternate reconfiguration of that "picture," or its enhancement by other sources of revelation that should give a "sharper image," a better or fuller representation.

So, I think Scripture excludes the possibility of God being four Persons, or his being two. And so, in that sense it was my intent to convey that Scripture (exclusive of philosophical rationale) necessitates the Trinitarian Godhead.

You could be correct about the OP's inquiry, or you could be correct about what the OP asks when the question itself is rigorously interrogated. I think my answer was adequate, given my interpretation of the inquiry.

I also agree with you that God is most necessary, and therefore he is necessary in the kind (i.e. Trinitarian) of Being that he's revealed himself. That revelation is sufficient to tell us enough so that we can know him aright, and turn from false representations.

That revelation has also increased over time, especially OT to NT; and the sufficiency with respect to time has promoted proper discrimination always, whether in old time when the Trinitarian divine nature was out of focus, or in the current age when it is clearly set forth.

In the eschatological age to come, there could be a qualitative improvement of our knowledge of God, which makes the quantum leap in clarity from OT to NT look trivial. The increased sophistication by which we speak of the One God, now inclusive of the Three Persons, could then look even more like the "baby talk" it is (the language of Calvin in describing God's communication to us).

And all of it will be as necessary as the God who reveals himself. But, I no more think we will abandon Three Persons, than we ever abandoned One God.
 

RWD

Puritan Board Sophomore
This below could all (or mostly) be redundant, and repetitive of what you wrote.

I'm taking the questions posed as a single inquiry. If answered in a philosophical way, rather than by recourse to divine special revelation, then whatever that proposal is is not worthy of full persuasion. It cannot be proven, but is a mere probability. It rests at most on axioms of thought that may be widely agreed upon, yet about which various schools of thought differ.

On the other hand, I wrote that Scripture being the source of our knowledge of God's being and mind, God IS revealed as the Trinity or Triune God. I don't accept the legitimacy of alternate reconfiguration of that "picture," or its enhancement by other sources of revelation that should give a "sharper image," a better or fuller representation.

So, I think Scripture excludes the possibility of God being four Persons, or his being two. And so, in that sense it was my intent to convey that Scripture (exclusive of philosophical rationale) necessitates the Trinitarian Godhead.

You could be correct about the OP's inquiry, or you could be correct about what the OP asks when the question itself is rigorously interrogated. I think my answer was adequate, given my interpretation of the inquiry.

I also agree with you that God is most necessary, and therefore he is necessary in the kind (i.e. Trinitarian) of Being that he's revealed himself. That revelation is sufficient to tell us enough so that we can know him aright, and turn from false representations.

That revelation has also increased over time, especially OT to NT; and the sufficiency with respect to time has promoted proper discrimination always, whether in old time when the Trinitarian divine nature was out of focus, or in the current age when it is clearly set forth.

In the eschatological age to come, there could be a qualitative improvement of our knowledge of God, which makes the quantum leap in clarity from OT to NT look trivial. The increased sophistication by which we speak of the One God, now inclusive of the Three Persons, could then look even more like the "baby talk" it is (the language of Calvin in describing God's communication to us).

And all of it will be as necessary as the God who reveals himself. But, I no more think we will abandon Three Persons, than we ever abandoned One God.
I appreciate the post, especially about the potential of our understanding in the world to come.

I definitely think we are likely in full agreement. I can’t imagine otherwise!

“If answered in a philosophical way, rather than by recourse to divine special revelation, then whatever that proposal is is not worthy of full persuasion. It cannot be proven, but is a mere probability.”

My quibble(?) is that I would not want to suggest that it is even a mere probability. I’d prefer to say that the proposal cannot be true. That’s because (as we agree): if God is a necessary being, then there’s no possible world in which he is other than what he is. Therefore, if God is triune, then necessarily God is triune.

You stated earlier...

“There's simply no way to prove the truth of the proposal one way or another.”

If by one “one way or another” you meant that there’s no way to prove the proposal true or false, then that would be obviously false. So, I won’t take you that way. Yet if you meant that there is no way whatsoever (“one way or another”) of proving the proposal true, well then of course that is true, but that’s precisely because a necessary being cannot possibly be ontologically contingent. So, my preference would be that it not merely be noted that the proposal is not provable (or that the proposal is a mere probability). After all, some things can possibly be true that cannot be proven true. Yet this proposal is no such thing. Rather, the proposal is patently false.
 

py3ak

They're stalling and plotting against me
Staff member
Why is it necessary that there be Three Persons in the Godhead? Why would two be insufficient, or four excessive?
A classic book on this subject is Richard of St. Victor, On the Trinity, now available in multiple translations. Starting from what is revealed, what he believed and sung every day in the creed, Richard undertakes a logical investigation. Most of the book is quite clear and forceful.
 

David Taylor

Puritan Board Freshman
Why is it necessary that there be Three Persons in the Godhead? Why would two be insufficient, or four excessive?
Is it that it is necessary? Or is it just that it is? I don't think this is a question to ask. We just know that is how God is because of what He has revealed.
 

RWD

Puritan Board Sophomore
Is it that it is necessary? Or is it just that it is? I don't think this is a question to ask. We just know that is how God is because of what He has revealed.
If God is x, then necessarily, God is x.
(See posts above regarding contingent vs necessary truths and essential properties etc.)
 

JonC

Puritan Board Freshman
Why is it necessary that there be Three Persons in the Godhead? Why would two be insufficient, or four excessive?
Had God revealed Himself as Father and Son, or God and Spirit, then I suppose two would be sufficient. Had God revealed Himself as Father, Son, Spirit, and something else then I suppose four would be sufficient.

But God revealed Himself as Father, Son, and Spirit so anything more or less is insufficient.
 

RWD

Puritan Board Sophomore
Had God revealed Himself as Father and Son, or God and Spirit, then I suppose two would be sufficient. Had God revealed Himself as Father, Son, Spirit, and something else then I suppose four would be sufficient.

But God revealed Himself as Father, Son, and Spirit so anything more or less is insufficient.
Sufficient and insufficient for what? Our salvation? His ontological existence? Our knowledge of God? These terms of sufficient and insufficient mustn’t be batted around this way.

Folks, it is necessary that God is triune because God is eternally triune.

“Had God revealed Himself as Father, Son, Spirit, and something else then I suppose four would be sufficient.“

Sufficient for what if God is triune? It’s not as though God is contingent upon who he reveals himself as being. Rather, his revelation of himself is constrained by what God is. God revealed himself as one essence for most of redemptive history (with hints of plurality). In these last days God has revealed himself as one God eternally existing in three distinct persons. God also revealed his self existence in terms of paternity, filiation and spiration.
 

David Taylor

Puritan Board Freshman
If God is x, then necessarily, God is x.
(See posts above regarding contingent vs necessary truths and essential properties etc.)
I agree, but that wasn't really the point I was making but I understand, and agree, with what you are saying.
 

TheInquirer

Puritan Board Freshman
OP, can you provide a bit more context for your question? As stated, it is a bit hard to understand your core issue or maybe what prompted it (apologetics, evangelism, personal inquiry, etc.)
 

JonC

Puritan Board Freshman
Sufficient and insufficient for what? Our salvation? His ontological existence? Our knowledge of God? These terms of sufficient and insufficient mustn’t be batted around this way.

Folks, it is necessary that God is triune because God is eternally triune.

“Had God revealed Himself as Father, Son, Spirit, and something else then I suppose four would be sufficient.“

Sufficient for what if God is triune? It’s not as though God is contingent upon who he reveals himself as being. Rather, his revelation of himself is constrained by what God is. God revealed himself as one essence for most of redemptive history (with hints of plurality). In these last days God has revealed himself as one God eternally existing in three distinct persons. God also revealed his self existence in terms of paternity, filiation and spiration.
Sufficient or insufficient for doctrine. Jesus, not our doctrine, saves.
 

jwright82

Puritan Board Graduate
Why is it necessary that there be Three Persons in the Godhead? Why would two be insufficient, or four excessive?
The other responders have done well in their posts. It is a fact that the trinity comes from special revelation. I think, as others have pointed out, it seems you are asking (and if I'm wrong please correct me) for some logical "proof" of the trinity. I agree with everyone here that that's not possible. But as, has pointed out, the concept of a trinity does solve the ancient problem of the one and the many (or the problem of unity and diversity in our experience). So transcendentaly it does solve that problem. But as Bruce pointed out we don't need the trinity to simply solve problems, it's true regardless.
One point though, since philosophy (and logic, science, etc) only investigates this world (creation) we can't assume that creational features (philosophy, logic, science, etc) can ever on there own investigate the Creator.
 

jwright82

Puritan Board Graduate
A better question would be how could we through logic, philosophy, science, etc discover (apart from the bible) that God is triune?
 
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