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three Persons one God

I recently drove past a church which had the sign: “Two people can do anything – as long as one of them is God”.

One interpretation would be a moral one: God is permitted to do absolutely anything God wants… God can do anything… and you are permitted to do absolutely anything you want if you feel God allows you to…

Let’s put that interpretation to one side. The interpretation that leaped out at me was putting God in the category of “people”. This appears to me to be anthropomorphism to the extreme and merely play into the misconception of God-as-superman.

In speaking of the mystery of the Holy Trinity, we use the word “person” – but I would be similarly taken aback, as I was to the sign, if I read “God is three people“. The First Council of Constantinople recognised one could use hypostasis, prosopon, and persona with the Trinity. I suspect that, like me, they would balk at using “people”.

What do you think?

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11 thoughts on “three Persons one God”

  1. My understanding is that the word “person” meant something different in Latin in the 4th century – persona was a mask used in dramas so the word is more like a role – also the Greeks used a different word – more like “being”

  2. Jonathan Streeter

    The Hebrew scriptures are filled with reference to God as Yahweh, who very clearly walked on Earth with people and was a “person.” Of course, there’s also the “Elohim” God, up there on a cloud with a choir of angels, thundering around and being kind of remote and scary. I don’t really have a theological problem with “God as superman” unless you mean that guy with the blue tights and the curl on his forehead.

  3. Hi Bosco, just spent this morning unravelling this one in the sermon. At the end of it all I suggested that we’re better to look beyond the limitations of the language we use to describe the relational nature of God,(i.e not get caught in the literal – but allow our imagination to take over) and to let it be a vehicle for us to enter into the mystery and love of God. As for person/people, I too shy away from thinking about God in the personal sense as 3 people, but I do think that “person” in the way it was used centuries ago is helpful – person as one in relation to others in community. Our identity is not formed on our own as an individual, but by virtue of our being in relation to others. Still getting my head around exactly how that works – but it’s the understanding and experience of person as it relates to God that holds the most meaning for me. Peace, Andrew

  4. We have to be careful that we don’t let person = role. That is modalism, which is most commonly expressed in the water/ice/steam or analogy.

    One aspect of “people” over “person” may be helpful – the distinction. That the Father is not the Son, the Son not the Spirit, and the Spirit not the Father; they are distinct entities. But then we must be drawn back because while distinct they are one.

    But then the problem of ascribing “people,” that is humanity, to the godhead is quite misleading. Only one of the persons of the Trinity is actually a “people/human” – Christ; the other two as I imagine are incorporeal.

    How am I going to preach this tomorrow…

    1. Even there, Joel, I would be more cautious than you. You say “Only one of the persons of the Trinity is actually a “people/human” – Christ”. I would say that the Second Person of the Trinity is hypostatically united with the fully human Jesus. In the end, like even with physics and chemistry, we do not access the reality “neat”, we access reality through models, signposts, metaphors, stories.

  5. David |dah•veed|

    Jonathan and Joel are almost sounding Latter-day Saint in their concept of the Trinity. Mormons believe that the Godhead are three distinct persons; the Father and Son are both resurrected beings with bodies of flesh and bone, and that the Son is the literal spiritual and later physical offspring of the Father, but the Holy Spirit is a personage of spirit without a physical body.

    Which is why it is important that when speaking with Latter-day Saints you understand that they use the same terminology as other Christians, but have vastly different meanings to what they say.

    1. Is it not ever thus, David: I find when I say “Christian” or “saved” or “God” or “liturgy” or “God’s word” or “catholic” or “prayer”… I’m regularly using the same word as many others, but I think we are actually talking about quite different concepts. Add 🙂 or 🙁 depending on your mood.

  6. Peter Sebastian

    I understand Trinity as 3 persons with one mind (perichoresis)
    There should be no dispute, for those who earnestly read and understand the Bible

  7. I am totally confused. In the OT, God is on record as insisting that he is alone, none other beside him etc such that there was no doubt in the minds of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses and all the rest. If God were 3 persons, which person was speaking the words “I am that I am”? If the Father, Son and HS were God and no other, why not just say “Behold O Israel the Lord your God is 3”? What’s wrong with that. since each of the 3 persons is God and there isn’t any other? What’s so wrong about worshipping 3 Gods since each is truly God and there is no other?
    I don’t understand this post-Nicean obsession with the term ONE God if it is so clearly conclusive that there are 3 distinct, independent, equal persons, with a divine nature that is exclusive to them? After all, what is the significance of 1 when in effect it is ALWAYS 3.
    If the term “One God” refers to a “godhead”, is this “godhead” a person, or a generic term, like pair, bunch, couple etc. Who was Jesus referring to when he prayed”..you, the ONLY true God”?

    1. I think, Sam, accepting that God is beyond our comprehension is a positive place to be – not a negative one, as your comment appears to imply. You can find God referring to himself in the plural in the OT – but that wouldn’t be my starting point. I guess one starting point is the question: does one accept that Jesus is God? That appears to me to be what Nicaea is grappling with, and deciding that Jesus is fully God, and fully human.

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