General Question

AstroChuck's avatar

How is it that God is three people?

Asked by AstroChuck (37306points) September 27th, 2008 from iPhone

First off, I’m atheist. I am not knocking the Christian faith but just wish to understand it.
God claims that there is no other than Himself, correct? Yet we’ve all heard of the Holy Trinity; Father, Son, Holy Spirit. Christians will say that God is three seperate beings but He is one. Huh? I’ve never understood this and it’s never been explained to me in any way that made sense. Please explain to me how Christians are not polytheists.

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48 Answers

JackAdams's avatar

He ain’t.

It’s insulting to refer to Him as “people.”

robmandu's avatar

A natural phenom that’s commonly used as an analogy is the triple point.

The triple point of water, for example, is the temperature and pressure at which the three phases—gas, liquid, and solid—coexist in thermodynamic equilibrium.

Like any analogy, it’s imperfect. The point is that water is water, but that its physical nature can be more than one phase simultaneously, like God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Each has its own properties (identity) but all are one and the same.

marinelife's avatar

I agree with JA. You are presupposing that God is “people.” God is a god: different abilities.

Harp's avatar

“Persons” is the accepted term

tWrex's avatar

It’s because while some of us on earth don’t believe in cloning he does and replicated himself twice in one of Calvin’s brilliant transmogrifier’s. I never could get my boxes to do the things his did.

Randy's avatar

It’s not supposed to make sense. God has/does/is/can do many things that our brains just can’t comprehend.

gailcalled's avatar

Here’s the sonnet John Donne wrote in the seventeenth century

Enigmatic issues generate beautiful poetry, often.
Number 74: Batter my heart, three person’d God; for, you…

BATTER my heart, three person’d God; for, you
As yet but knocke, breathe, shine, and seeke to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow mee,‘and bend
Your force, to breake, blowe, burn and make me new…...

AstroChuck's avatar

I don’t see how I am “presippossing” that God is people. I used the term “beings.”
And I still don’t understand. Also, saying that God can do things that are beyond our comprehension is a bit of a cop out.

AstroChuck's avatar

I stand corrected. I did say “people” in the initial question. I should have said persons or beings. Good call, Marina.

Randy's avatar

It may be a cop out but that’s what makes him God. If we understood everything he does or could do, then we might as well be him.

Harp's avatar

As an outsider like AC, I’ve wondered about this as well. When I’ve asked Christians about it, they seem completely unquestioning of the paradoxes the Trinity doctrine raises. Many seem to de-emphasize the “oneness” aspect of the Godhead, and think of “God” as being something like an office held by three persons.

After all the thinking I’ve done on this, the Trinity looks more and more like an attempt to reconcile the fact that in some scriptures Jesus clearly addresses “the Father” as a separate person (e.g. “not my will, but yours be done”), with the few other scriptures that suggest some identical relationship (e.g. ”...the Word was with God, and the Word was God).

The Trinity doctrine just seems to me like the strange kind of thing you come up with when you’re given a bunch of seemingly conflicting statements and you have to make them fit together and look like they agree. The Church felt the need to assert Jesus’ divinity, but couldn’t ignore the accounts of Jesus talking to God and submitting to his will. There is no explicit statement of the Trinity in the original writings.

tWrex's avatar

OK. This page confused the hell out of me, but provides a bit of an answer, but this site provided a better answer. Here it is summarized:

’“Trinity” is a term that is not found in the Bible but a word used to describe what is apparent about God in the Scriptures. The Bible clearly speaks of God the Father, God the Son (Jesus Christ), and God the Holy Spirit…and also clearly presents that there is only one God. Thus the term: “Tri” meaning three, and “Unity” meaning one, Tri+Unity = Trinity. It is a way of acknowledging what the Bible reveals to us about God, that God is yet three “Persons” who have the same essence of deity.’

I keep trying to put the right words to make this all come together, but I keep losing my train of thought, so I’ll leave it at that. damn football.

gailcalled's avatar

Here’s another piece of RC poetry by Gerard Manley Hopkins (28 July 1844 – 8 June 1889), an English poet, Roman Catholic convert, and Jesuit priest, whose 20th-century fame established him posthumously among the leading Victorian poets. (Wikipedia.) Hard to understand but beautiful to read aloud. Note the title:

The Windhover

To Christ our Lord

I caught this morning morning’s minion, king-
dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dáwn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
Of the rólling level úndernéath him steady áir, & stríding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl & gliding
Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird,—the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!

Brute beauty & valour & act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, o my chevalier!
No wónder of it: shéer plód makes plóugh down síllion
Shine, & blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
Fall, gáll themsélves, & gásh góld-vermílion.

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JackAdams's avatar

You know, the best one to ask, would be God Himself. After all, he IS a Flutherer!

So why not ask Him, via PM?

sundayBastard's avatar

Forget this Trinity business. There is only one God… and we don’t believe in him either!

maccmann's avatar

Yeah, well if you look into the annals of Roman Catholic history, this is another was for them to take “pagan” ideas and integrate them into the Christian faith system. Qabalah also has a Trinitarian view of God, but interestingly enough sans Jesus. And that idea predated Christianity by a couple of millennia.

It has always been my stance that this “Holy Sprirt/Ghost” business is a personification of a manifestation of what is reported to be God’s divine power in the Bible proper (non-canonized texts notwithstanding…or actually withstanding if you are a Gnostic!)

Yes, Jesus is reported to have made referneces to being “one with The Father” and such. But there are people out there who would argue that he was not claiming that distinction for himself alone. Yes…you too could be “one with The Father” as Jesus reported. Try that on for size!

Who really knows? IMHO, it’s a human idea to explain something that we really don’t get. There is no mention of a Holy Trinity in the canonized or non-canonical texts. It is never named or described as such. It’s a construct of Man in his quest to understand The Divine nature of God. That’s all.

jlm11f's avatar

[mod says:] A friendly reminder to everyone that we should remember to respect other’s religious beliefs no matter how different/contradictory they are to our own. This includes not making fun of or insulting someone else’s deity. Thank you, and Fluther on :)

AstroChuck's avatar

JA- What happens if I don’t add God to my fluther? Do I get to look forward to a hot time later? Or could that just be Grace Slick’s daughter?

SuperMouse's avatar

Here is how I have always looked at it.

God – The Almighty, All Knowing, Loving Creator
Jesus – God’s personification/manifestation on Earth (Baha’i’s believe Baha’u’lla’h was also the manifestation of God on Earth).
Holy Spirit – God’s spiritual all encompassing presence that is felt everywhere everyday by believers.

sundayBastard's avatar

mind police….

JackAdams's avatar

AstroChuck, I’d add Him to your Fluther.

Why take any chances?

sundayBastard's avatar

This is the best source on religion. Period!

JackAdams's avatar

Thanks, sundayBastard.

George had all the answers…

scamp's avatar

It’s like cherry pie!

sundayBastard's avatar

@JA No problem if I can’t say what I want on here without being FCC’d up. The I will let others do it for me. lol

JackAdams's avatar

“A friendly reminder to everyone that we should remember to respect other’s religious beliefs no matter how different/contradictory they are to our own.”

It would be so wonderful if everyone’s comments were allowed to remain posted, so each individual member of The Collective could read a controversial remark and decide for themselves if a comment is in bad taste. (Instead of having someone else decide for them.)

What’s next? Will some moderator someday tell me who I can fuck, and who I can’t? What about what I can eat at dinner? What movies I can see? Oh, visions of 1984!

A good example of what I am saying, are the Red Foxx comedy albums.

I am FREE to listen to them anytime I want and decide for myself if they are “vulgar” or “disgusting” or “inappropriate,” and no total stranger (“moderator”) is going to walk into a store and pull those CDs off the shelf, Praise Gawd.

That’s what America is all about: Freedom of Choice, and Freedom of Speech.

Except in here…

robmandu's avatar

@JackAdams, when Fluther is absorbed by the U.S. Gov’t for the “good of the country”, then your complaint will hold water.

Until that occurs, you’re just being whiney.

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sundayBastard's avatar

Words! That’s all they are. You don’t have to read’em! you must be simple minded anyway if they hurt you soooo bad. Take an EQ test and buy some self improvement books and get a life.

sundayBastard's avatar

@JA I like the way you talk too.

JackAdams's avatar

@robmandu: I can’t argue you with you about being “whiney,” as you have more experinece with doing that in here, than do I.

AstroChuck's avatar

Please don’t use this thread to offend another’s faith. I didn’t intend for this question to trash anyone’s beliefs.

Response moderated
JackAdams's avatar

AstroChuck is right. It’s offensive to disagree with him, or with anyone who agrees with him.

sundayBastard's avatar

@JA Gotcha!

@AstroChuck….Sure I hear you, but when these jesus humpers trash islam, scientology or any other cult besides their own it’s cool. But soon as you put their Jesus in a nasty little porn joke. It’s moderator time.

Response moderated
JackAdams's avatar

Let me respectfully suggest that it is OK (IMHO) to attack the message without attacking the messenger.

I have no objection whatsoever, to someone saying that my beliefs are wrong.

But it is wrong to say that I am wrong.

Blast my opinions all you wish, with impunity, but don’t blast me, as a person.

That’s fair, isn’t it?

osullivanbr's avatar

A few minor issues I’d like to point out with regards to the doctrine of the trinity as we know it today.


OK. Let’s start with the passage itself as seen in the Bible and how it got there…
“For there are three that bear record in Heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.”

This is the only passage that explicity states the doctrine of the trinity in the New Testament.

Now, this verse is not found in any of the best early greek manuscripts that we have of the New Testament, nor is it mentioned by any of the greek writing Church Fathers. All evidence tends to lead us to believe that it was added in later. The reason the Greek documents are important here is simply that they were written first, and then translated to Latin later.


The reason the doctrine of the trinity is so very commonly held in modern Christianity is in no small part because of it’s inclusion in the KJV of the Bible.

Now to the reason it is actually found in the KJV.
There was a Rennaissance Humanitarian named Desiderius Erasmus who published a version of the New Testament, but because he couldn’t find it in any copy of a Greek manuscript, he didn’t include the verse I’m talking about. Theologans went crazy, accusing him of heresy and such, and he replied saying that he simply couldn’t find it in the Greek manuscripts available at the time, but if they could produce a Greek manuscript with this verse in it he would include it in his next edition. So his critics, went off and actually produced a manuscript in Greek and inserted the verse into it. When they handed it over to Erasmus, he was true to his word, and included it in his next edition. It was this edition then that was at the heart of the King James Translations in the sixteenth century. So, in real terms, the only reason that verse is there to begin with is simply an accident of history.


And actually, some numbers for yeah. There are 64 different versions of the Bible that I am aware. 40 of them do not include this passage. 9 include it without commenting on it. The rest do include it but also explain in one way or another the problems that are surrounding the passage. All modern critical editions and translations of the NT omit it as it has no warrant in the best and most ancient manuscripts or in the writings of the early church fathers. My guess, it didn’t come into existence until the 2nd half of the the fourth century when it was simply invented by the Proto-Ortodox Christians, at a time when they were trying to comprehend the whole was jesus human or devine problem.

When these early Christians started to think about God they found it troublesome because they were Jews and they believed in the one, single God of the Old Testament. But then they encountered Jesus Christ. And they had come to believe that Jesus Christ was not just a rabbi, a teacher, or a prophet but that in some way God himself was uniquely present in Jesus. And so God was both in heaven sustaining the world, and yet also on Earth as a human being. Hence the need for the trinity was invented.

So to summarize.
We’re getting wound up about an invented doctrine to help the Proto-Orthodox Christians understand the problem of Jesus on Earth and God in Heaven.

OK I’m done.

robmandu's avatar

@osullivanbr, now that is a Great Answer!

Knotmyday's avatar

Genesis 2:24 states that “a man and his wife shall be one flesh.” Are they physically one flesh? Of course not, but they are joined together into a new, immediate family. The concept of the Trinity may just be a misinterpretation of biblical language.

I’m no theologist, but I would assume that a godhead Trinity, composed of Father, Son, and Spirit, each possessing the omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent characteristics of the other two would be so unequivocably linked to each other that the only way you could tell them apart would be to observe what each was doing at the time, and apply an attribute to that action.

But like I said, I’m no theologist…maybe the answer lies more in anthropology anyway.
For example, the idea of the Trinity could have been an attempt to rationalize the triune attributes of a single deity, without making Him seem bizarre and inhumanized (i.e. a three-headed monster or something similar).

Simple question, millenia of debate.

Knotmyday's avatar

Osullivan- think you hit it, by george…

marinelife's avatar

@JA Will you get off your bash the moderating hobby horse? You don’t have any rights on this, a private site. You abide the rules or you exercise your freedom of choice to go elsewhere.

@sundayBastard You have some valid points, but they are obfuscated by your choice to use offensive language.

fireside's avatar

My personal understanding from growing up Catholic is right in line with the comments from Supermouse above.

From Wiki:
The first recorded use of this Greek word in Christian theology (though not about the Divine Trinity) was by Theophilus of Antioch in about 170. He wrote:

“In like manner also the three days which were before the luminaries, are types of the Trinity, of God, and His Word, and His wisdom. And the fourth is the type of man, who needs light, that so there may be God, the Word, wisdom, man.”

Tertullian, a Latin theologian who wrote in the early third century, is credited with using the words “Trinity,” “person” and “substance” to explain that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are “one in essence – not one in Person.”

About a century later, in 325, the First Council of Nicaea established the doctrine of the Trinity as orthodoxy and adopted the Nicene Creed that described Christ as “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance (homoousios) with the Father.”

maccmann's avatar


Yeah, like I said. The Church decided it. It’s a man-made construct. They borrowed the idea from Jewish Mysticism. And, BTW Theophilus of Antioch was a “converted pagan” who it is theorized was quite familiar with the concept of a Triune Creator prior to his apologetics on the subject after he had been “converted.” We all return to our roots.

fireside's avatar

Personally, I think that God is within and surrounding us at all times.
We just chose to connect with our spirit or instead stay focused on the mind or the body.

I guess God is sort of like the the Higgs Field in that respect.
Can’t find a very good reference for the Higgs field, but this is pretty good.

The Higgs’ ability to fill space with its mysterious presence makes it a vital component in more ambitious theories of how the Universe burst into existence out of some initial quantum fluctuation, and why the Universe prefers to be filled with matter rather than anti-matter; that is, why there is something rather than nothing.

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