A Troubling Claim Made by Professing Believers
On my Facebook time online, I’ve come across more than a few professing Christians who have claimed that God may be more than tripersonal. Their argument is that the Scripture never says that God is only three divine persons, and so to draw the conclusion that God is only three divine persons is to go beyond Scripture. The claim is troubling because it demonstrates either an ignorance of the doctrine of the Trinity or an inability to think clearly about the most important subject set before man, the identity of his Creator, Judge, and Savior. In this short post, I hope to make it clear why God has indeed revealed that he is only three divine persons.
Peculiar Relational Properties = Only Three Divine Persons
The doctrine of the Trinity teaches that in the
…divine and infinite Being [i.e. God] there are three subsistences, the Father, the Word or Son, and Holy Spirit, of one substance, power, and eternity, each having the whole divine essence, yet the essence undivided: the Father is of none, neither begotten nor proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father and the Son; all infinite, without beginning, therefore but one God, who is not to be divided in nature and being, but distinguished by several peculiar relative properties and personal relations; which doctrine of the Trinity is the foundation of all our communion with God, and comfortable dependence on him.1
In this short paragraph, we learn that the Father alone begets and does not proceed, the Son alone is begotten, and the Spirit alone proceeds from the Father and the Son. These “peculiar relative properties” exclude the possibility of there existing another person in God. Let us examine this in a little detail.
Now since the Father has the peculiar property of begetting only one begotten Son, the Logos/Christ, it follows necessarily that he does not beget other divine persons. And if the Father alone has the peculiar property of being neither begotten nor proceeding, then he cannot be said to be one begotten of another divine person, nor one who proceeds from another divine person. Thus, because the Father is unbegotten there is no divine person that precedes him; and since he has only one begotten Son, there is no other divine person that succeeds him via begetting.
Additionally, since the Son is begotten only of the Father, there is no other divine person, besides the Father, who precedes him. And since the Son does not beget, there is no other divine person who succeeds him via begetting.
Lastly, since the Spirit alone proceeds from the Father and the Son, there are no other divine persons who precede the Spirit via spiration. And since the Spirit neither begets nor spirates divine persons, it follows that no other divine person succeeds him via begetting or spiration.
There Can Only Be Three
Therefore, when properly understood, the doctrine of the Trinity necessarily implies that God is only three persons. Indeed, it teaches us, albeit implicitly, that God cannot be anything other than a Trinity of divine persons given the peculiar relational properties definitive of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. While it is true that Scripture does not explicitly state that God is only three divine persons, it necessarily implies this is the case, and a proper grasp of the Scriptures’ teaching involves understanding the explicitly and implicitly revealed truths in them, given by God.
Soli Deo Gloria
1 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith, Ch. 2 Art.3.