Trinity or Quadrinity or.?
Of the various approaches to solving the problem of reconciling biblical assertions that "there is one God" (e.g. Mk. 12:32) with the teaching that Father (e.g. John 1:18), Son (e.g. Matt. 26:63-65), and Holy Spirit (e.g. 1 Thess. 4:8) are all part of the God equation, the Trinity doctrine faces the fewest problems. The Trinitarian method is to see God as one complex being consisting of various "parts" called, most unfortunately and misleadingly, "persons". (The term "person" in the Trinity doctrine does not mean the same thing it does in common parlance.) Hats off to the Trinitarian method, which reconciles God's oneness with His apparent plurality. But as for the Trinitarian formula - one God in three parts (persons) - well, that's another matter entirely.
The formula as we know it has not changed since about the end of the fourth century. Naturally, theologians have philosophized about and debated various niceties of the doctrine almost without let, but few, relatively-speaking, question the accuracy of the central dogma. Mainstream Christianity virtually is the Trinity doctrine. Almost anything else you can think of is up for grabs, but the Trinity stands sacred and inviolate. (Unitarians make up the largest group that openly attack the dogma; their solution to the problem is to deny divinity to the Son and the Holy Spirit, leaving only one God, the Father. Their rejection of the doctrine, and particularly their denial of divinity to Jesus Christ, has earned them the status of heretics in the eyes of most Christians.)
But should believers in the truth of one God and in the divinity of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit be afraid to question the standard formula and treat it as if it is backed up by all the authority of Almighty God Himself? Scripture does not explicitly teach the formula. The closest you can get to a proof text is Matthew 28:19:
Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit .
However, you cannot base the Trinity doctrine on this verse; it fits the doctrine, but it certainly doesn't establish it. This saying would equally well fit a Tritheistic understanding (there are three God beings) of God. In addition, you cannot use it to prove the "threeness" of one God as the meaning of the saying can be variously interpreted. The triune nature of God is accepted almost universally for a simple reason: the church has taught it for centuries and has hectored and harassed many who have questioned it. Sir Isaac Newton, it has emerged, did not accept the idea but kept his beliefs quiet "for fear of being labeled a heretic". Michael Servetus was burned at the stake for his Unitarian stance - not by the Catholic Church, mind you, but by the Protestant Geneva governing council.
Should not the antiquity of the doctrine be sufficient cause for subjecting it to critical reappraisal? After all, where would medical science be today if it slavishly adhered to the understanding of Galen of Pergamon because of his authority in matters medical? Stop and think. What are the chances that a band of Latin-speaking churchmen, with
limited Greek and Hebrew linguistic skills and without the benefit of computer Bible programs to check and recheck every possible reference that might have any bearing on the topic, could have hit the bulls eye on such a complex topic? Especially when they had a ruthless Roman emperor (Constantine) breathing down their necks! Don't you think it's time that the formula itself - not just interesting asides such as the subordination of the Son to the Father (see, for example, "The Obedient Son"), and so on - was revisited? Serious Bible students should feel free to examine the topic without the authority of the Church breathing down its neck.
For instance, was "the Son" really an eternal hypostasis (person, part) of a triune Godhead, or was He "begotten" at the birth of Jesus Christ? After all, Scripture says,
"You are My Son, today I have begotten You"? And again: "I will be to Him a Father, and He shall be to Me a Son"? (Heb. 1:5).
"Today I have begotten a Son". Whoa! Sure, Trinitarian theologians have their explanations of this verse, but their interpretation is conditioned by their commitment to the early Catholic model. Perhaps "the Son" should not be seen as an eternal distinct person of the Godhead.
Furthermore, a fair argument could be made for inserting a fourth "person" (assuming one retains the Son as a person) into the orthodox formula. Consider Ezekiel 10:19 and 44:4:
When they went out, the wheels were beside them; and they stood at the door of the east gate of the Lord's house, and the glory of the God of Israel was above them.
Also He brought me by way of the north gate to the front of the temple; so I looked, and behold, the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord; and I fell on my face.
And how about 2 Chronicles 7:1:
When Solomon had finished praying, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices; and the glory of the Lord filled the temple.
"The glory of the Lord" filled the First Temple and will also fill the millennial temple (Ez. 44:4). (And the Son will be there, too.) A study of Scripture shows that the "glory of the Lord" (kabod yhwh) gets a lot of coverage, appearing 36 times in the Old Testament, compared with only 31 instances for "the Spirit of the Lord"! And it's not found only in the Old Testament; when Jesus was born, God visited nearby shepherds:
And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid (Luke 2:9).
Did the fourth century theologians consider and reject the "glory of the Lord" as a possible fourth person? Why should it be left out of the formula, while "the Spirit of the Lord" is in? Who can prove that "glory" is intended descriptively while "Spirit" must be taken. ugh. ontologically? Binity, Trinity, Quadrinity? Which should it be? Or are even more persons missing from the formula?