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Oneness and Threeness

I remember a friend asking me what I thought God was doing before the creation of the world.  I answered "They were enjoying one another."  He looked very quizzical and then said, "....Oh! You mean the Trinity!" I remember thinking "Well yes, what god were you thinking of?"

Yet many will think of God in ways that are divorced from the lively interaction of Father, Son and Spirit.  What about you?  How do you think of God's pre-creation life?  His OT activity?  His work in providence?  His divine attributes?  Do you naturally and enthusiastically conceive of these as the out-flow of the mutual relations of Persons?  Is your account of these shaped by triniarian inter-play?  Or do you try to conceive of these as, to all intents and purposes, unitarian activities to which we add trinitarian nuances (when we discuss salvation).   

Another way of asking this is - how do you think about the relation of Oneness and Threeness in God. 

Is it like this?  (Forgive the very amateur graphics/formatting)

Oneness and Threeness 1 

Here, Oneness is defined as the substrata - the substance of God underlying the Persons.  The fundamental truths about God are cast in unitarian terms.  To this is added multi-Personal considerations.  Is this how you consider the interplay of Oneness and Threeness?

Or what about this view:

Oneness and Threeness 2

Here Oneness and Threeness are laid side by side.  We consider 'De Deo Uno' and De Deo Trino' but separately.  We can even subscribe to phrases like "the equal ultimacy of the One and the Three."  Yet what we mean by this is a commitment to hold two fundamentally incommensurate doctrines of God together.  It can even foster a refusal to let the Threeness of God define the Oneness.  Here the One God is not constituted by the relations of the Three - Oneness is something else (divine simplicity, aseity etc etc).  And the Three do not find their particular identities in the Oneness communion.  No.  Instead Oneness and Threeness remain unco-ordinated.  It's a tri-unity by forcing One and Three together not because the 'tri' and the 'unity' mutually inform one another. 

But what about if we saw things like this...

Oneness Threeness 3b 

Here the Oneness is precisely the mutual relations of the particular Persons.  And these particular Persons find their identity in the communion that is God's Oneness.  "God's being is in His communion" (John Zizioulas).  The Three are three in their Oneness (not considered apart from it).  The One is one in the Threeness (not considered apart from it).

This is truly a trinity.  Here the 'tri' and the 'unity' are maintained from precisely the same perspective.  Here is a real 'equal ultimacy of the One and the Three.'

 The benefits of such a perspective?  Many - I hope to blog on many more in the fulness of time.  But for now (since we're in the middle of a series on mission) - we see that our doctrine of God, whether considering 'De Deo Uno' or 'De Deo Trino' is always a doctrine of the interplay of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  It is always an investigation of the economy of salvation in which the Three are disclosed.  It is always 'Gospel' theology.  The God of missions is a Gospel-alone God who is served in the world by a Gospel-alone mission.

18 thoughts on “Oneness and Threeness

  1. kc

    Glen, this is an excellent illustration (graphics aside ;-)). I think the contrasting perceptions are very helpful as well. I also appreciate this quote, “God’s being is in His communion”. In relational terms I perceive God as perfect intimacy.

  2. jefe

    | --Father-- |
    | --- Son --- |
    | Holy Spirit |
    (talk about bad graphics...)

    In dealing ith the subject of the Trinity, we always seem to begin with the 'three' and attempt to unify them as 'one'.

    What would happen if we began with the 'One'? (which I think you did in your last illustration, so some extent)

    What I'm thinking is that there is one God.
    God is God
    God is Jesus
    God is Holy Spirit

    God is God
    Jesus is God
    Holy Spirit is God

    God with 3 expressions (or maybe 'personalities'?), but still one God?

    (personally, I think this falls under the "I know in part" that Paul spoke of...)

    Excellent discussion.

  3. glenscriv

    Hi KC, God is 'perfect intimacy'! Nice one!!

    Hi Jefe, good to meet you. I think my concern is never to conceive of the "One God" apart from consideration of the Three Persons who constitute the One God. The Oneness of is a compound unity - it's the unity of community - that is, Persons in relationship. We must not begin with some abstract sense of Oneness (as though the One God could ever be conceived of as *anything* like the unitarian god of philosophical theism or modern unbelieving Judaism or Islam).

    The word for "one" in the OT (e.g. Deut 6:4) is 'echad' a word for compound unity. See Gen 2:24 - the two will become one. See also Gen 11.6; Ezra 6:24 or 2 Chronicles 30:12; Ex 26:6, 11; 2 Samuel 2:25; Gen 34:16; Joshua 9.2; Josh 10.42; Ex 24.3; 2 Chr 5.12.

    The word for "one" in the NT is also a word for persons in communion. See John 17:11,21,22 (also Gal 3:28). The Father and the Son are "one" in the same way that the church is "one" - distinct persons united. No-one thinks of the 'Oneness' of the church as some kind of distilled ecclesial essence! Neither should we conceive of God's Oneness as some distilled divine essence. His One-ness is the united-ness of Father, Son and Spirit.

    In this way I *am* advocating beginning with the Three and "unifying them". To do otherwise is beset with many dangers.

    The problem with "beginning" with the One is I think shown by your suggestions. God with "three expressions" sounds quite like the first illustration of my post. On the other hand your "God is God... " sounds quite like the danger of the second illustration - that Oneness and Threeness are stated and upheld but not truly integrated. One-ness and Three-nes don't mutually inform one another on this view. My fear in that case is that Oneness will be defined in ways that don't fit with a lively inter-play of multiple Persons.

    The One-ness of God is *not* the One-ness of mathematical singularity - if it's defined like that then the Three-ness of God is at odds with His Oneness.

    The Oneness of God only makes sense as a unity *of* the Three. For that reason I believe we must begin with the Persons (after all that's who we meet in the economy of salvation - we meet the Son in the Spirit who reveals the Father). Yet beginning with the Persons at the same time upholds the One-ness *because* Jesus is in the Father - 'one with Him'.

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  5. jefe

    In Genesis, God/Elohim said, "Let us make man in our image". Then He created man.

    Could it be that man is also a three-part being, truly made in God's likeness?


    If we were truly intended to be in His image, I wonder if God's wish isn't that as a triune being, we were as "at one" as you describe here...

    Thanks for a thought-provoking post.

  6. glenscriv

    Hi Jefe,

    Genesis 1:26 is very interesting isn't it? The plural Elohiym, takes a plural consultation in order to create a humanity that images His life. And of course the only kind of life that properly images the divine life is life in community. And so "male and female" He created them. That's so important. The *interaction* of male and female is at the heart of humanity and at the heart of what images God. The community of Father, Son and Spirit is not so much imaged by a single person who has three faculties but by multiple persons in union with one another. Male and female are meant to relate with deep oneness (Gen 2:24 - they become "one" - same word as is used for God's unity in Deut 6:4). It's speculation to go further and say that "proceeding from the union of the two is to come a third party - offspring" but what they hey - let's speculate as long as we're aware that that's what we're doing! From the union of two proceeds a third - and in this way humanity images the divine life.

    It's interesting that NASA have sent out space capsules into the far reaches of space with Leonardo Da Vinci's 'Vitruvian Man' (you know the naked dude in the circle) so that any alien life will know what humanity is like. Now it's a nice drawing and all, but isn't it missing some pretty basic elements of humanity?? i.e. community, distinctions & difference (where's Vitruvian Woman'?, where's 'Vitruvian child'?), mutual relations?? But actually it's a brilliant summation of what the *western* mind thinks of as humanity - an individual in perfect proportions. We don't naturally think in communal terms - our lowest common denominator is the individual.

    And the western church's trinity suffers from a similar individualism. In the Augustinian tradition, the One God is conceived of as uni-Personal. Just last night I was reading James Jordan - an excellent biblical theologian - in his book "Seeing through New Eyes." It's a wonderful read as it takes you through biblical symbolism:

    But in the midst of it all he makes this throw-away remark:
    "God, after all, is both a Person and a Society, both One and Three."

    Do you notice how we equates "the One" with God's being "one Person"??! It's a terrible mistake but very common in the Augustinian tradition. I am adamantly opposed to this view. God cannot be conceived of as a single Person - He is always Persons in relationship. His One-ness *is* those relationships, not some alternative unitarian perspective.

    Now it was Augustine who really championed the notion of uni-personal analogies of the trinity. (your example of spirit, soul and body is an example of a uni-personal analogy - there's only one person but they have these three aspects). For Augustine, memory, understanding and will were three faculties that work together in the human person to give us one operation of perception.

    Now 1 Cor 2 certainly shows that that the Spirit of God can be likened to our spirits in that He searches the deep things of God, just as our spirits know our minds. So there's clear likenesses here! But Paul is not seeking here to give us an analogy of the trinity, he is arguing for the need for the Spirit to give us knowledge of God. It's an argument about how we know God, not about His being. And Paul wouldn't want us to press this analogy very far since his whole point is to insist on the necessity of a *distinct* action of the Spirit. The Spirit's distinct Person-hood is vital for Paul - and that's something that would get lost if we pressed the uni-personal analogy too far.

    Now clearly the whole creation cries 'trinity'! Why do we live in a triple-decker universe (heavens, earth, under-the-earth)? Why do we see in three dimensions? Why are there three primary colours etc etc? All reality is triadic - it bears the imprimatur of its Three-fold Maker. But humanity is supremely in the image of God. And let's take seriously the fact that humanity is not a single perfectly proportioned individual. The western church starts down that track and individualizes everything and suddenly mind, rationality, individual ethics etc become the seat of the imago dei. No let's resist the western, enlightenment, individualistic mind-set. Let's go back to the bible. Humanity is persons in relation. Church, the new humanity, is persons in relation. And this united multiplicity is what images God (Gen 1:26; John 17:11,22,23).

    Now being "at one" in terms of having my body, soul and spirit at peace is, I suppose a good thing. But really I feel the one-ness we are called to in the Bible is a one-ness of person*s*. God wants us to be at peace among many selves. Again, our culture tells us to be at peace with ourselves, to love ourselves, to pursue personal enlightenment and wholeness etc etc. But the Bible doesn't really speak of this. It speaks of living at peace with one another.

    A uni-personal 'imago dei' leads to one kind of one-ness (a one-ness *within* myself). But I'm not sure that it's a) the kind of imago dei the Bible pictures or b) the kind of 'one-ness' the Bible is driving me towards. I think we need to reclaim a multi-personal imago dei. I think we need to buck the trend of our culture. I think we need to stop being so individualistic. Our God is a lively community. And He calls us out of ourselves and into lively community. Let's think communal!

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  8. jefe

    I appreciate your insights on this. The communal aspect of trinity is essential to the message of Christ... but not to the exclusion of personal, internal unity within oneself.

    For community to work, the individuals must have some sense of internal unity... a personal wholeness in Christ. But no man is an island. Much of that internal, personal unity between spirit, mind & body occurs when the individual is interacting (sharing in community) properly with others.

    I believe the balance between the two is paramount.

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  10. joeavalos

    Cry one ness poem I wrote
    through the ancient deserts trounce
    the silent winds of light and time
    whispering in the sands onthe shorelines of mankind
    decades screaming for the light
    frightened not the faithfull servant
    choosing good instead of evil
    unity will overcome

  11. Jon

    I have always wondered why people sit back and dewell on something over and over to try and make themself feel as if they have truth. This is a dangerious thing for any one to do. I will explain... If people would study more and realy look at the Word of God and the truth that is revealed within it, on e whould find it easy to understand. Let's look at it this way. God's word can not have any different meaning it has to be pure. So if the bible teaches for example in Water Baptism that We are to baptize in th NAME of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost then it means just that. However we find also where it teaches us to be baptized in the Name of the Lord Jesus. So we have problem or we don't. The Biblr must zero - so the verses must mean the same thing. So we must take a closer look at the scriptures and find out what that name is mentioned in Mattew. I have said all this to build an understanding of God.
    God is One and not three. Never anywhere in the Word of God does it teach a trinity doctrine. It does however teach that God is One. Not three agreeing as one.
    John 1:1 In the Begining was the WORD and the Word was with God and the Word was God. The word WORD here (Logos) expresses a thought. A thought of the Only wise God, The one God of the Bible (the thinker = logos) had a thought of creation. not another god agreeing with him but his own thought. When we have a thought and then put it into action it become words. So the One god of the Bible thought about the creation, and put his words into action. Not two or three agreeing together as soom think. You can not make god into three part's that it not at all what the bible teaches us. The trinity doctrine was first introduced around 325AD. If you want a better understanding on how the false doctrine of the trinity came about read up on the The Council of Nicaea. It is very important to study God's Word with prayer and fasting so you can get the truth revealed to you. We have let man made doctrine's cause us to fall to false doctrine's but the bottom line is we are going to heald in judgement by ourself. Great is the myster of God - GOD was manifested in the flesh... Col 2:9 the fulness of the Godhead dwelt in Jesus. Fullness meas all - not parts.

    Love and prayers for you all as you search the Word God with and open heart and mind.

  12. Rich Owen


    Interesting comment - thanks for posting it. Have a read through some of Glen's other stuff on the site - he addresses a lot of your questions.

    What is your background, Jon?


  13. John


    The answer to your question - I'm a Free Apostolic Minister that loves to spend hours studing the Word of God. This is what we need more of. Men and Women that desire to reach a lost and dying world with truth and understanding. I hope to have my website up in a few weeks. I'll let you know once it up and running.


  14. Rich Owen

    Thanks Jon.

    I've not come across the Free Apostolic Church before. In terms of understanding how you come to a unitarian position, when you say "studying the Word of God", it is quite possible that we might mean different things.

    For example, JWs have changed quite a few verses (believing they were inspired to do so). Mormons likewise, but have in effect whole extra revelations, whereas Catholic Unitarians might refer to the apocrypha etc.

    It may seem tedious to define terms, but I hope you see that it would be helpful.



  15. moz165

    good day to all everyone!

    I'm here to share you the good news about these two doctrines oneness and trinity, they have same salvation why I say that? because I've been a oneness Christian for many years yes their testimonies are very real, and God never forget us those miracles gave us in my parents and my siblings for many times, Holy Ghost has been moved upon me and I've been turned away from my being atheism, I know God made this doctrine for better understanding its Word of Jesus than trinity, and the trinity made some awesome powers worked by the Holy Spirit, testimonies are very same as oneness, but there was a problem between these doctrines doesn't make a great unity because of their differences but in the end they will know what the truth comes they have equal salvation, I don't know what will happen next thank s for posting by and reading by...


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  18. AservantofJEHOVAH

    The problem with the trinity is that none of the persons are superlative ,as defined by the dictionary or can claim exclusive Devotion as defined by the dictionary
    Psalm83:18ASV"That they may know that thou alone, whose name is JEHOVAH, Art the MOST HIGH over all the earth." thus none of them can claim to be the JEHOVAH of scripture. Also they are each redundant and not necessary and thus are unworthy of the claim that they are fully God

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