Valid Clues in the Ancient Dilemma
.... But now comes something about the Doctrine of the Trinity that is really beautiful. It is wonderfully good at stealing thunder from its doctrinal opponents! With a little further examination, we’ll see that there were actually three very good Scriptural reasons why the Gentiles would reach the conclusions they did, even though some serious misunderstandings had also been intermingled.
.... First, in John 1:9, the Bible teaches us that Jesus Christ is the true light who enlightens every man who comes into this world. From the day that you were born, God built a knowledge of Jesus Christ deeply within you; and in Colossians 2:9 we find that "in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily."
.... Now the Godhead is what this discussion is all about; the Godhead is the Biblical word for describing the person of God. In Christ dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily, and God has revealed something of Christ within you for the day you were born. Therefore, within every man is some basic, natural understanding of the Godhead. And that’s the first thing I’d like you to consider.
.... Second. Paul tells us, in Romans Chapter 1, about the witness of the creation, and he tells us that the creation can naturally direct us toward God as well. In verse 20 he says: "God’s invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse."
.... Paul teaches in this chapter that God has revealed something of His own person, His Godhead, through the witness of creation. Now Paul said in verses 18-19 of the same chapter that if you did not catch something about what God was trying to say about Himself through the creation, which would include a basic understanding of the Godhead, Paul would say that you are without excuse; he would accuse you of suppressing the truth in unrighteousness.
.... So before we press on to our third element, let’s consider what we’ve got so far. God is revealing Himself, His Godhead, within every person. That testimony has been in each one of us since the day we were born. God is also revealing something of His Godhead through the witness of creation. That testimony is external, but it matches the witness He has already built inside each one of us. Well, ‘in the mouth of two or three witnesses let every word be established’. You’re really going to be without excuse if you don’t see something about the Godhead through the efforts God has made toward you. If you don’t see something of the Godhead through this, Paul says, you’re suppressing the truth in unrighteousness.
.... Now let’s put this together with one more element. Paul teaches in Acts 17:26-27, that God has destined the Gentiles to seek for Him and to grope for Him in the hope that they might find Him – though He is not very far from each one of us.
.... God has worked in an overall way toward all men that they should seek Him; He has revealed Himself within each man; He has revealed Himself through the heavens to each man. This is not nearly as specific as what He was doing in Israel, to whom He had committed His oracles. But still, He was revealing Himself to the Gentile nations in a basic way, including a revelation of the Godhead itself, that they might seek for Him in the hope of finding Him.
.... So let’s picture what is going on in the heart of one of these Gentiles in the ancient world. He’s not an Israelite, Christ has not yet come, but he’s got this knowledge that God has built within him about the Godhead. He’s struggling with it. He has a matching testimony in the heavens and he’s struggling with that too, because God has built a destiny within his heart that he’s supposed to seek God, to know Him. He knows, somehow, that there is one- and yet there is three; there’s one, and yet there is three – and this has got to be difficult for him to understand – people are still having a hard time understanding it today. There’s one, and yet there is three.
.... So what most of those Gentiles would do – seeking for God, groping for Him, with the knowledge that God Himself had built within them for this very purpose – seeing one, and yet seeing three – well, they didn’t do perfectly in their conclusion. That’s where they made a mistake. But the basic elements they were working with along the way were essentially correct:
.... "Yeah, one and three; one and three: I know! There’s three gods, but they rule together in a triumvirate as one!"
.... And that’s the part where they blew it. But remember the underlying elements that went into their conclusion. It was a good hat, but in the end they hung it on the wrong peg, so to speak. The underlying concept of three beings, and yet one, in not too far removed from what the Trinity teaches: that there is only one God, ruling alone, yet He exists in three distinct personages: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
.... If we can steal one last bit of thunder from our doctrinal opponents: this pagan belief in a triumvirate – which is a wrong doctrine, but we’re simply looking at the elements that were involved in their thinking – this belief in a triumvirate could be found in Europe, in Egypt, in Babylon, in Rome, in Greece, in India, in Southeast Asia, it could be found all over the world. People who had no means of communicating with each other to form a human consensus, completely on their own, were all reaching similar conclusions for they all saw the same elements involved: "There’s three, and yet there’s only one; there’s three, and yet there’s only one."
.... Now, how could they possibly have know this unless all that we just said from the Scriptures is true? That God Himself was revealing something of His Godhead to every man in nations throughout the world. They did make a mistake in the way they were putting it all together and they came up with a triumvirate, which is polytheism, which is heresy. But when we look at the basic elements they had to work with, we can see how they struggled with a true understanding and ended up with a faulty conclusion. But in the sense of those underlying elements, it wasn’t too far removed from the truth, the Doctrine of the Trinity.
.... Okay, now I didn’t bring up all of that history to give you a basis for Trinitarian doctrine. God knows I wouldn’t use paganism as a basis for anything in Christianity. But I brought it up for two other reasons. First, because the Trinity’s opponents are going to bring it up, and they’re going to use it to try to shake your faith. So I want you to be able to give a defense for the hope that dwells within you, and explain this to them. And second, I wanted to give you a background for the rest of the discussion, which is about to follow.