I'll give it a try (but of course keep in mind that I'm not defending it, just
trying to explain it from a creedal Christian point of view).
There are a number of variations of trinitarianism, but I'll stick with the basic
one set up at the Council of Chalcedon. The creedal statement basically reads that
God is three in person and one in substance (not three persons in one, which is
how many LDS -- indeed many Catholics and Protestants themselves, misunderstand
it). When the Orthodox and Roman churches split in the 11th century or
thereabouts, it was over a minor aspect of trinitarianism which I won't get into
here, but the eastern churches felt that this was a mystery which transcends
rational understanding, and culturally they had no problem with that. This
approach dates back to the Cappadocians of the 4th or 5th century.
The Roman approach was taken by Augustine and expanded. Augustine felt that there
had to be a rational explanation, so he took earlier interpretations by a group of
Church fathers known as the Apologists (because they defended early Christianity
against Jewish and Greek pagan critics) and expanded on it. The Apologists were
the first well-educated members (as a group) but they were trained in the Greek
tradition of rationalism, also sometimes called neo-hellenism, or to get
technical, Middle Platonism. Plato held that there existed something called a
"universal." If you have a red chair, then clearly it exists as a chair. But does
"redness" exist independently? Some would say, no it doesn't -- it's merely a
characteristic of something which exists, but Plato taught that it has an
independent existence. The Middle Platonists took this idea of the universal and
said that that's what "God" is: a universal, which manifests itself in three
When you read the original Greek of John 1:1, known as the Johannine Prologue,
part of the verse reads "...and the Word was God." The naive literalist
interpretation of this by creedal Christians is that Jesus Christ was a
manifestation of God. However, this interpretation has to be read back into the
original text, because John wrote in ignorance of Platonism, and the Greek
actually indicates what's known as a predicate relationship between the Word and
God (the Father).
Here's what I mean by a predicate relationship, as opposed to an identity
relationship (the naive, everyday Protestant's and Catholic's view, and the
caricature that most LDS have of the trinity).
When I say "The United States is the 50 states, territories, the land and
inhabitants thereof, plus the government" I am making an identity statement. I am,
in effect, defining, in a one-to-one way, what a term *is* (hence "identity"
But if I say "The United States is George Washington, Old Glory, motherhood and
apple pie" I am saying something else entirely. This is clearly not an identity
relationship. It is known as a "predicate" relationship, something that's hard to
show in English, but fairly easy to show in NT Greek (by means of an anarthous
proper noun, for those who care).
What "...and the Word was God" is, is a predicate relationship. It is saying that
"whatever God was, that, too, was the Word." Trinitarians take this and say that
that "whatever" is a universal which has independent existence. They believe that
even though this is not found in John's writing, which predate this philosophical
view, that trinitarianism is a later but entirely legitimate clarification of how
to resolve the dilemma of monotheism but three Gods.
We LDS are actually closer to this view than many might think. The difference is
that we reject Middle Platonism, and would say that the "universal" is an abstract
concept only. It's as if there were an office with a brass nameplate on it reading
"God," which has three persons in it.
Does that help, or just muddy the waters more?
> Stacy Smith wrote:
> > I think that as a former Protestant I understood much about trinitarian
> > theology and understood what it meant. I had very few vague ideas about
> > the subject.
> Could you explain it to me, then? In all my years in Southern Baptist,
> and in all my wife's years in various Protestant churches, neither of us
> thought it made sense. I thought it sounded like an accident with
> Scotty's transporter. ("Aye, Cap'n -- we've accidently merged two life
> forms again.")
> "Start by doing what's necessary, then what's possible, and suddenly you
> are doing the impossible."
> /// ZION LIST CHARTER: Please read it at ///
> /// http://www.zionsbest.com/charter.html ///
Marc A. Schindler
Spruce Grove, Alberta, Canada -- Gateway to the Boreal Parkland
“Man will occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of the time he will pick
himself up and continue on” – Winston Churchill
Note: This communication represents the informal personal views of the author
solely; its contents do not necessarily reflect those of the author’s employer,
nor those of any organization with which the author may be associated.
/// ZION LIST CHARTER: Please read it at ///
/// http://www.zionsbest.com/charter.html ///
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