Holy trinity

The Holy Trinity: not demonstrable from the Scriptures alone?

I was writing with a Protestant pastor. He said how, if he spoke of the Trinity in a Catholic environment, the Catholics present would think that the Protestants “obtained” the doctrine of the Trinity from the Catholics and not from the Scriptures alone and that the Catholics believe it only because the L ‘Church teaches it, and not [also] because the Bible teaches it. That was my answer:

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That’s not at all how most Catholics I know would think of it. We would rejoice in the truths you have taught, knowing that we have them in common. We would be happy to know more about a very important topic. It doesn’t matter whether you are a Protestant, nor does it matter that William Lane Craig is a Protestant philosopher when he defends the Resurrection or gives his brilliant version of the cosmological argument.

I like that stuff, just like most sane Catholics. We quickly forget that the source may turn out to be a Protestant and we rejoice in the truth presented. Only a controversial and overzealous Catholic could think as you have described. Now, okay, if there was a big debate on the subject some might come out, but even then I think you’ve caricatured our position.

I’m an apologist, and I wrote about this very thing, and I would never put it in such terms. It’s much more complex than that. But in a nutshell I would say: yes, the Trinity can be explicitly proven from many biblical passages. I do it myself. I presume that it is clear and undeniable from the scriptures alone:

Holy Trinity: Hundreds of Biblical Evidence (RSV Edition) [1982; rev. 2012]

Jesus is God: Hundreds of Biblical Evidence (RSV Edition) [1982; rev. 2012]

The sufficiency and clarity of the Scriptures and the Trinity [6-16-03]

Seidensticker Folly # 9: Trinity is unclear in the Bible? [8-17-18]

What we are actually saying about the question of authority with regard to the Trinity is that (as you would say, I’m sure) human sin and false premises can lead to human beings sinners to distort this Bible and find in it a non-Trinitarian vision. . We see the examples all around us: JWs, Christadelphians, Mormons et al. So an authoritative church is very helpful in stating things dogmatically.

It does not follow that the Trinity was not clear in the Bible alone without the Church. If you read the Church Fathers Opposed to the Arians, you see this dynamic very clearly. They argue for the Bible, but then they end the argument by appealing to the Church and apostolic tradition. The first thing is the material element and the second is the formal element. They will say: “The Church has always taught the Holy Trinity from the beginning; So that’s true, because the Church is protected by the Holy Spirit, and the teaching goes back to Jesus and the apostles.

But the Arians did not have such a history that they could produce, so they had to fall back only on the Bible: but they distorted the Bible with false texts of proof that Jesus was created.

Both things are true: both / and: the Trinity is true because the Bible teaches it, and it is true because the Church has always taught it. The second is not “on” the first, as if the first had no validity in itself.

We believe exactly the same about the canon of the Bible. The Bible is what it is, independent of the Church to declare so be it. Books don’t get inspired just because the Church says so.

They are inspired because they are inspired by God. Vatican I and Vatican II both say so. Nonetheless, it is good to have a list of authoritative canonical books because, in fact, the fathers disagreed somewhat with those of the early centuries, and an objective statement was needed to avoid persistent disagreement.

You can always find people who will think illogically and fail to understand the teaching of the Church of which they are a part. In the end, you can only trust the official teachings of the Church. But I haven’t found this particular thing to be the case very often, and I’ve been a committed evangelical for 13 years and I’m a committed Catholic for 17 years and an apologist on both sides.


(originally 5-4-08)

Photo credit: AnonMoos (2014) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]