Alternate title: “Trinitarian Heresy 101”

“The doctrine of the Trinity is like an egg: three parts, one thing.” Ever heard that? How about this, “The doctrine of the Trinity is like a three leaf clover: three leaves, one clover.” Or how about THIS, “The doctrine of the Trinity is like water: three forms (ice, steam, liquid) one substance.” But the greatest I ever heard was by a guy in one of my classes. He said that he thought that the Trinity was like 3-in-1 shampoo: three activities, one substance.”

Stupid statements. Creative, but stupid. Don’t use them. Any of them. Ever.

Explanation coming… Hang with me.

Last week I taught a group of kids about the doctrine of the Trinity here at the Credo House as part of our Theology for Kids series. The ages were anywhere from 7 to 13. Though I regularly teach this subject to adults, this was the first time that I taught the doctrine of the Trinity to kids. I was surprised that it went well. It is confusing enough for adults, how much more for kids?

Teaching the Trinity, I have found, is more about giving basic principles of what it is and then shooting down illustrations about what it is not. Proper Trinitarianism is about a delicate balance between the unity and diversity in the Godhead. Christians believe in one God, i.e., one essence, who eternally exists in three separate persons, all of whom are equal.

We often employ illustrations that help us to make the ineffable, effable, the abstract, concrete. But when it comes to the nature of God, especially with regard to the Doctrine of the Trinity, illustrations should only be used to show what the Trinity is not.

Let me list the three major heresies or departures from orthodoxy with regard to the Trinity:

1. Modalism: The belief that God is one God who shows himself in three different ways, sometimes as the Father, sometimes the Son, and sometimes the Holy Spirit. It describes God in purely functional terms. When he is saving the world on the cross, he is called Jesus. When he is convicting the world of sin, he is called Holy Spirit, and when he is creating the world, he is called Father. The error here is that this is contrary to what we believe: one God who eternally exists in three persons, not modes of functionality. It is not one God with three names, but one God in three persons.

2. Tritheism: The belief that we have three Gods, all who share a similar nature, but not the exact same nature. In this, the nature of God is either distinguished or divided, which destroys the unity of God. We don’t believe in three persons who share in a species called “God,” but three persons who share in an identical, united nature.

3. Subordinationalism: This is a subset of tritheism, but deserves its own category. In other words, if you are a subordinationalist, you are also a tritheist by definition, even if you don’t recognize it. The subordinationalist says that there is one God in three persons, but the essence of each person exists in a hierarchy. For example, many believe that God the Father is the greatest and the most powerful. Coming in second is God the Son, followed by the second runner-up, the Holy Spirit. Orthodox trinitarianism confesses an essential equality among all the members of the Godhead. None are greater in essence than the other.

Here is a “Trinitarianism Heresy Test Chart” I have created. Keep this by your bed.


  • If equality is denied, on the opposite side it points to subordinationalism.
  • If diversity is denied, the result is modalism.
  • If unity is denied, the result is tritheism (or polytheism —many gods).

With this in mind, let me now cover the “stupid statements” and why they don’t pass the test:

1. The Trinity is like 3-in-1 shampoo. This can only point to modalism or tritheism. It is modalistic if you are saying the shampoo performs three functions, yet is one substance. But you can also break down the various elements that perform each function and see them separately. That is tritheism since all of the elements are not the same. They may work together to perform a specific goal, but they are not really the same substance.

2. The Trinity is like an egg. This is most definitely tritheism. While the egg is one, each of the substances that makes up the parts (shell, white stuff, and yoke), are most definitely distinct. The yoke is completely separate in nature from the shell.

3. The Trinity is like water. This is a modalistic illustration. Ice, steam, and liquid are examples of the same nature which at one time or another has a particular mode of existence. Sometimes it is liquid, sometimes it is ice, and sometimes it is steam. God is not sometimes Son, sometimes Father, and sometimes Spirit. He is eternally each, always at the same time.

4. The Trinity is like a three leaf clover. This is a form of tritheism. Each leaf of the clover is a separate leaf. It does not share in the same nature as the other leafs, but only has a similar nature. In the Trinity, each member shares in the exact same nature.

5. The Trinity is like a man who is simultaneously a father, son, and husband. This is an often used illustration, but it only serves to present a modalistic understanding of God that is false. Father, son, and husband only describe various functions of one person. Each function cannot exist in a simultaneous relationship with each other, can’t talk to each other, and cannot exist in an eternal relationship with each other. 

6. The Trinity is like a person who is one, yet has a spirit, soul, and a body. This one, like the first, can commit either a tritheistic or modalistic error, but cannot be used to illustrate the orthodox definition of the Trinity. It is modalistic in that the spirit, soul, and body are three functions of one conscience or person. But it can also be tritheistic when one considers that the spirit is not the exact same nature as the body (or the soul if you are a trichotomist—another lesson).

In the end, I do not believe that there are any true to life illustrations that can or should be used to teach or describe the Trinity. The Trinity is not a contradiction (i.e. one God who eternally exists as three separate Gods), but it is most definitely a paradox (a truth that exists in tension).

This graph is helpful in describing the Trinity. It is called the “Shield of the Trinity.”

 It is always best to remember that the Father is God, the Holy Spirit is God, and the Son is God, but they are not each other.

One more thing. I often tell my students that if they say, “I get it!” or “Now I understand!” that they are more than likely celebrating the fact that they are a heretic! When you understand the biblical principles and let the tensions remain without rebuttal, then you are orthodox. When you solve the tension, you have most certainly entered into one of the errors that we seek to avoid.

Confused? Good! That is just where you need to be.

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. He can be contacted at [email protected]

    160 replies to ""The Trinity is Like 3-in-1 Shampoo". . . And Other Stupid Statements"

    • Jugulum

      I hope you don’t mind the cross-blog link, but I’m reminded of a recent STR entry about teaching the Trinity to junior highers.

      Transforming Little Heretics

    • Lisa Robinson

      Transforming Little Heretics? LOL. That MUST go over well with the parents.

    • C Michael Patton

      I doubt that this will (should) be too controversial.

      I like what Glen Krieder said on Facebook when he read this: “Try this: the Trinity is like . . . the Trinity. The God who is is the only one who is and he is unlike anything in creation.”

    • Tara

      Hmmm…I’ll be the dissenter here. I agree with the things you’re saying…I’m neither modalist, nor tritheist, nor subordinalist. I disagree, however, that any of those illustrations need *necessarily* be interpreted in a way that leads to one of those heretical views. For example, I think that the clover illustration can serve exactly the same function as your “Shield of the Trinity” graph. The clover as a whole is God. The first leaf is not the second leaf is not the third leaf, but the clover is each leaf (without each leaf, it wouldn’t be a clover), and each leaf is the exact same essence – it is the clover. Similarly, each leaf must be attached to the others for it to be a clover – one clover leaf by itself is not a clover. So, same purpose, and not tritheistic. Honestly, your Shield of the Trinity graph even looks a little bit like a clover. 🙂

      My two cents…and I can also see where each of those illustrations could be understood in a heretical way. I just don’t think they *necessarily* have to be.


    • Tara

      Also, I do think there is some value in illustrations like that. I have friends from other parts of the world who have never even heard of any sort of concept or person even similar to God…illustrations like that are very helpful for them to begin to understand. But I probably feel that way because I’m a Navigator…we’re big on illustrations. 🙂

    • Jugulum

      But in the clover, each leaf is only part of the clover.

    • Growing up, I was fed all these illustrations, and it wasn’t until I was reading through Grudem’s systematic that it finally dawned on me that all these illustrations were actually clouding the doctrine of the Trinity and not clarifying it. Great post, sir…

    • Gammell

      What’s your perspective on the use of Marriage as an analogy for the Trinity? Obviously greatly limited, but it seems there’s value in drawing on the practical experience of seeing two-become-one to point to the three-in-one.

    • C Michael Patton

      I would say that it is ok so long as you are talking about the analogy of the community that exists in marraige, but if you are trying to draw parallels to help understand the nature of the Trinity, it is bad.

    • EricW

      Growing up, I was fed all these illustrations, and it wasn’t until I was reading through Grudem’s systematic that it finally dawned on me that all these illustrations were actually clouding the doctrine of the Trinity and not clarifying it. Great post, sir…

      Douglas: What in Grudem clarified the Trinity for you?

    • Geoff

      I think the best way to understand the Trinity is to understand Jesus. He had the fullness of God in Him. Colossians 1:19 says 19For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him. If you have seen Jesus you have seen the Father

      It came to mind that it seems like looking to nature to understand the Trinity might not be a bad thing even though I know that we won’t ever be able to fully understand the Trinity until we see things clearly. 1 Corinthians 13:12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.

      Romans 1:19-20 says 19 because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His 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.

      Maybe I am interpreting Romans incorrectly in this perspective, but it seems to be saying to me that we can see His attributes by studying His creation. I enjoyed reading what Tara had to say and I found her arguements equally valid from the perspective she was coming from.

    • Mike B.

      I notice that this is something that the theologically educated really get up in arms about. We went over all of this in Systematic theology here at seminary, all of the illustrations and why they’re bad. And I can see the point; but in the end, I don’t really think that any of these illustrations were ever meant to describe the trinity with technical precision, but rather to illustrate in very general terms that it is not totally insane to talk about something that is both one and three at the same time, that there are things in this world that we talk about in a similar way, even if they are not exactly the same.

      One thing I am a little bit disappointed with is the way in which you explain why Modalism, Tritheism, and Subordination are wrong, “The error here is that this is contrary to what we believe…” I have to say that this is not particularly helpful. The fact that it goes against what the majority consider to be orthodox does not make it wrong. You have to show from the scripture why these are not satisfactory explanations.

      Personally, I have been wrestling a lot with the issue of the trinity, and I have some questions. First of all, I have trouble seeing what is so bad about modalism. I understand that it is certainly confusing when it results in having one expression of God talking to another expression of God (being both water and steam at the same time, so to speak), but how is that any more weird or bizarre than having two people who are the same person talking to each other? I am not convinced that modalism is the right way to think about it, but it has the advantage of being the most straightforward way of maintaining monotheism while still believing in the divinity of Jesus (which is, I believe, the central issue in trinitarian doctrine).

      Moreover, I am not sure how saying that all members of the trinity have the same nature does not make it tritheism. And the trinitarian triangle, while clever, cannot help but seem like one of those impossible figures that can be drawn but could never exist in the real world.

      The Bible doesn’t speak of the “nature” or “essence” of God. That is more of a philosophical construct with no meaning in the real world. I personally really like Richard Bauckham’s divine identity Christology, in which he speaks of Jesus being included within the identity of God. While I think that this is closer to how the scriptural author’s conceived it, and more fitting to a 2nd Temple Jewish context, I am not entirely sure that it is all that much easier to wrap one’s mind around.

      It is a complex issue, and I do not think that any attempt to wrap one’s mind around it should immediately be labeled stupid.

    • Nick

      Well said Michael. I get sick of illustrations about the Trinity really.

      btw, since you’re dealing with stupid statements, are you going to make any blogs about what the critics are saying about the upcoming season of Smallville?

    • EricW,

      Grudem makes the following point on pg 240 of Systematic Theology:

      “Sometimes people have used several analogies drawn from nature or human experience to attempt to explain this doctrine. Although these analogies are helpful at an elementary level of understanding, they all turn out to be inadequate or misleading on further reflection. To say, for example, that God is like a three-leaf clover, which has three parts yet remains one clover, fails because each leaf is only part of the clover, and any one leaf cannot be said to be the whole clover. But in the Trinity, each of the three persons is not just a separate part of God, each person is fully God. Moreover, the leaf of a clover is impersonal and does not have distinct and complex personality in the way each person of the Trinity does.”

      That, and his continuing discussion on pg 241, nailed it for me…

    • Barrett Young

      Thanks Michael,
      This sunday, my high school guys Bible study is on the chapter covering the Trinity in Berkhof’s Summary of Christian Doctrine. You have put my mind at ease in teaching this, especially when you stated “Teaching the Trinity, I have found, is more about giving basic principles of what it is and then shooting down illustrations about what it is not.” This was the direction I was going to head. I was going to share the Scriptures that teach God is one, then share the Scriptures that teach the three as distinct, and leave the tension hanging, and answer their questions as best as I can. Your timely post has encouraged me not to speculate.

    • Jason

      I’ve heard a lot of these illustrations, and they strike me as either a.) revealing the speaker’s own unorthodox beliefs; or b.) failing to express what the speaker believes. I’ll be more direct — I’ll admit clearly that I’m unable to be orthodox regarding the Trinity. Part of the reason is that I can’t swallow the following true statement:

      I often tell my students that if they say, “I get it!” or “Now I understand!” that they are more than likely celebrating the fact that they are a heretic! When you understand the biblical principles and let the tensions remain without rebuttal, then you are orthodox.

      I’m unavoidably doubtful about any idea that we know is true, but we also know we can’t understand, and about which someone who is generally and laudably unafraid to exercise his brain says the only path to orthodoxy is to “let the tensions remain without rebuttal.” To my mind, that’s the same as saying, “It’s wrong to think about the trinity”; the essence of rationality is to either harmonize or rebut contradictory statements.

      I’ve read many of the most powerful and oft-referenced explanations of the Trinity, and the more I study them and the Bible, the more I’m inclined to believe that the whole idea is neither Biblical nor true. I’m open to convincing, however; I also greatly doubt myself whenever I find myself opposed to almost two thousand years of received consensus.

    • Nick

      Jason. Would you care to present why you think it isn’t true?

    • Jason

      Nick – I’d be happy to, but I think that might cross Michael’s rule about not making the comments your place to hold forth at length. If he says it’s okay — even though it will be somewhat lengthy — I’ll do so.

    • Nick

      If he does, let’s do try to do this one at a time. Nothing like “20 reasons why you shouldn’t believe in the Trinity”, lest we get bogged down.

    • Jason

      Good plan, I think. If not, I’d be happy for Michael to send you my e-mail so we can discuss it in that way, and if you want to post our discussion on your blog or elsewhere, we could do that.

    • Wonders for Oyarsa

      I still like Dorthy Sayers’ explanation of it, in “The Mind of the Maker”. She sees a “trinity” in the creative work of any artisan:

      For every work [or act] of creation is threefold, an earthly trinity to match the heavenly.

      First, [not in time, but merely in order of enumeration] there is the Creative Idea, passionless, timeless, beholding the whole work complete at once, the end in the beginning: and this is the image of the Father.

      Second, there is the Creative Energy [or Activity] begotten of that idea, working in time from the beginning to the end, with sweat and passion, being incarnate in the bonds of matter: and this is the image of the Word.

      Third, there is the Creative Power, the meaning of the work and its response in the lively soul: and this is the image of the indwelling Spirit.

      And these three are one, each equally in itself the whole work, whereof none can exist without other: and this is the image of the Trinity.

    • Mike S

      Mike B,
      The reason why it is so important is that an un-orthodox view is a false god and not the One True God. A denial of the two natures of Christ is a denial of the incarnation, death and resurrection. To deny the separate nature of of the Persons of the Trinity, one will end in polytheism and declare the Son a created being. There are things that you HAVE to believe about the Trinity. To reject them, well, makes one not a Christian.

      Jesus was born human and became divine? Heresy – Adoptionism

      Jesus had a human body and soul, however his rational mind was Divine/Logos? Heresy – Appollinarianism

      Jesus is of similar essence with the Father but not the same? Heresy – Arianism.

      Jesus only appeared to be man? Heresy – Docetism.

      Jesus’ human nature was absorbed by his divine nature? Heresy – Monophysitism.

      Jesus had only his divine will? Heresy – Monothelitism.

      There is a divine Jesus and a human Jesus? Heresy – Nestorianism

    • Jugulum


      “To say, for example, that God is like a three-leaf clover, which has three parts yet remains one clover, fails because each leaf is only part of the clover, and any one leaf cannot be said to be the whole clover.”

      Say, this Grudem guy sounds pretty smart. 🙂

    • pankaj

      I believe we need to emphasis on the aspect of Plurality in Unity rather than Singularity in Unity ( which is concept of allah and other cults) and in that fashion it is going to make perfect sense. Many entity which exist is plurality in Unity Like Family, Couple, community and nobody is going to say “contradiction” only thing to be emphasized is that the Plurality in Trinity in inseparably united like the three angles of Triangle as well well as Perichoretic Unity. I give following defense of the trinity


      1) When we look at the universe, we observe that it is made up of so many diverse things like plants, animals, humans, stars etc. Sunlight which appears white to naked eye, viewed through prism appears to be made of seven colors. We are made, physically and chemically, of the same elements yet we are so different from other human beings, things and animals. A word is made up of many Alphabets; A painting of many colors produces a harmonious mosaic. An orchestra of many musical instruments produces a symphony, instead of cacophony. If there is unity in diversity in the creation, is it not reasonable to expect unity and diversity in the creator.

      2) Bible says God is love. If God is unipersonal, He will not be love. For God to be love there must be Subject-Object duality, without which loves will not be a possibility. In absence of plurality of persons within the being of God, love will remain as potential and not an actuality. So in one sense, we (creation) would have helped God find His perfection by being the object of His love! This of course is absolute nonsense. We have to reach the unavoidable conclusion that within God there has to be a plurality – a Subject (Father) Who loves, an Object (Son) Who is loved (John 1&:24) and a Medium (Holy Spirit) through Whom that love is communicated (Romans 5:5). This combined with the unity of the Essence of God is the Christian doctrine of the Trinity.

    • Josh Parsley


      What do you think about this quote?

      “Tell me how in this room there are three candles and but one light, and I will explain to you the Trinity – the mode of the Divine existence.” – John Wesley

    • pankaj

      I request those who want to study philosophical defense of trinity, read the chapter on Trinity by L.T.Jeyachandran in the book “BEYOND OPINION” by Dr. Ravi Zacharias. This is the most brilliant defense of Trinity as far as I have studied

    • Jugulum,

      Yeah he’s burning some serious braincells ;)…

    • Joe

      This might be usefully cross-linked (by someone who knows how to do that here), to a more academic discussion on this blog: “In what Sense Are Jesus and the Father One, Part I.”

      Which at times went so far, (in an animated discussion now largely deleted) as to question the viability of the concept of the Trinity. By discussing its nature in detail.

    • Mike B.

      Mike S:

      I think you may have misunderstood my comment.

      When I was speaking of “nature” I was referencing Michael’s comment that orthodox trinitarianism is different from tritheism because the father, son and Spirit all have the same “nature.” I wasn’t referencing the dual-nature of Christ. But your comment illustrates well one of the difficulties with the whole discussion. It’s the confusing terminology. So Michael says that we need to affirm that all the persons have the same nature, and you say that we need to affirm their separate natures. I think you mean two different things by your uses of the word nature.

      At any rate, I agree that correct trinitarian doctrine (whatever that is) is important for the reasons you mentioned. But I believe now, and I always have believed that the central issue is not really that of the “nature” or “essence” of God, as if we could know such things anyway, but rather the question of how we can consider Jesus to be divine and yet still call ourselves monotheists. It is a question, not of what we affirm philosophically, but how we worship. If we worship Jesus and he is not God, then we are idolaters. If we do not worship Jesus, and he is God, then we are deniers of God. So if we worship Jesus AND we worship God, we need to have a pretty darn good explanation for why we are not worshiping two Gods. And not just any explanation, but preferably the correct one.

      But it happens that that explanation is rather hard to pin down.

    • just some guy

      Water Illustration as commonly told suffers from modalistic tendencies…

      but Water illustration highlighting the “triple point” – The single combination of pressure and temperature at which water, ice, and water vapour can coexist in a stable equilibrium.

      In other words… in a scenario where the temperature and pressure are lowered to a specific point, water exists in its three main forms (gas, liquid, solid) simultaneously.

      Now that Modalism has been averted, what is the fatal flaw of this illustration?

    • C Michael Patton


      not sure as I am not familiar with the chemistry of what you are talking about.

    • Nick

      One problem could be is that each possesses a property the others don’t. It’s like different variations of the same substance simultaneously. I’ll grant it’s better than the typical water analogy.

    • j

      man, and I thought “the shed” took care of this whole mess . . . .

    • j

      oh wait, that was “the shack”. I guess “the shed” (or behind it) is the place for heretics

    • The triple point breaks down in that, while you have water, ice and steam are simultaneously present, they are not in equal quantities, while all three members of the Trinity are eternal and co-equal…

    • Jugulum

      And being in equal quantities doesn’t make the ice, water, and steam “coequal”. It’s still like the clover–equally-sized leaves, equal amount of H2O. Each a third of what’s there.

    • EricW

      Okay, I’ll have to read p. 241 in Grudem at the bookstore.

      Although I wonder if he interacts with the Cappadocians and Maximus the Confessor?

      If he doesn’t do that, I’m not sure he is really doing the subject justice. 🙂

      (FWIW, I once fully comprehended and understood the Trinity, but then the pharmacological effects subsided and I was back in 4 dimensions….)

    • Joe Chavez

      Little late to the discussion.

      I love the “Shield of the Trinity” illustration.

      I’ve heard it said that anyone who claims to completely understand the Trinity is lying. It’s so profound in its implications that the more you study it or the more you meditate on it, the less you seem to understand. The Trinity just “is” and maybe we should leave it at that.

      One close visualization I heard to describe the Trinity is like taking three candles that are all lit. If you put each end together, they form one flame but they are still three candles. Even that really doesn’t get to the true nature.

      Great post.

    • Neal A.


      I’m unavoidably doubtful about any idea that we know is true, but we also know we can’t understand.

      Contrary to your post, I think the fact that we don’t (can’t) understand the Trinity is natural. That’s not a plea for ignorance, I think very strongly that we ought to strive to understand as much as we can. At the same time, if God truly is infinite, it seems necessary that there are things about him that I simply can’t understand. The categorical difference means the I should expect this. Much the same way that I expect an ant really has very little understanding of me.

      I’m not sure that it unique either. There are somethings we know we can’t know. Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle comes to mind, though it is admittedly a much easier topic.


    • Mike S

      This would be a good time for Michael to post on Gregory Palamas’ essence and energies of God.

    • Hans Zaepfel

      “To say, for example, that God is like a three-leaf clover, which has three parts yet remains one clover, fails because each leaf is only part of the clover, and any one leaf cannot be said to be the whole clover.”

      But each leaf is in essence clover.

    • C Michael Patton

      But each leaf is not everything that the clover is, it is only a part of the whole. In the Trinity, each member is not simply a part of the whole (ontologically), but each are fully everything that the whole is, sharing in its unified essence.

    • Jason

      Neal –

      I agree that there are many things about God that none of us can understand, because of God’s infinite nature, in part, but even more because of His power and his general intangibility. In that way, we’re very like your ant, who probably not only fails to understand you in many ways, but (if it is able to hold a belief at all) also holds incorrect beliefs about your nature.

      In another important way, however, we differ from the ant: we have significant reasoning ability. That means that we can reason about God, and examine what we believe we do know about Him. If we find that our beliefs about God contradict our secure knowledge about the nature of things in general, we have to reconsider one or the other. We either have to reconsider our idea of the Trinity, or our secure knowledge that in general 1!=3. We either have to reconsider our idea of the Trinity, or our secure knowledge that if a==d and b==d and c==d then a==b==c.


    • Nick

      The Trinity does not teach that 1 = 3 nor does it teach that each person is equal to the Trinity or that each person is another person. The persons of the Trinity differ by relationship. Only one begets. Only one is begotten. Only one is proceeding from two others.

    • Tara

      Hans –

      That’s pretty much where I was going with that.

      I think it’s clear that each of the illustrations breaks down at some point or another. But again, I do think that they have value in helping to explain who God is at an elementary level. I’m sorry, but not all people have the advantage of being able to ponder the philosophical and theological implications of the Trinity on the level of Modalism vs. Tritheism vs. Subordinalism – or on Wayne Grudem’s level, either. I very strongly believe in the value of getting to that point, too – don’t get me wrong. Christians need to be able to think, and think well. All I’m saying is that most people can’t start there, and we shouldn’t discourage them from learning and trying to understand as much as they can about God because they’re not up to that level yet. Saying “Don’t use these illustrations ever, because they’re stupid” when when there are people who desperately needs Jesus and would be genuinely helped by them doesn’t proceed from conversation that comes from grace – it seems to proceed from arrogance, because not everybody is as smart as we are.

      I’m truly not trying to be offensive by saying that – if it comes off that way, I apologize. The main reason I say it is that I have friends who aren’t able to converse on that level – sometimes because they haven’t been educated that far yet, but also sometimes because they barely understand English or come from cultures that have never heard of any supreme creator at all. A good example would be my Japanese friend Ai-chan – I scribbled the clover illustration on a napkin for her a few years ago in order to help her begin to understand, because she asked me about the Trinity, and in her culture, the only gods they’ve heard about are buddhas or little rock and tree-spirits called “kami.” The notion of one supreme God itself doesn’t make sense to them at all – let alone one God eternally existent in three persons.

      Debate the finer points of theology all you want – that’s very good and excellent, and it helps us grow in our understanding of God. But what I was mostly trying to say before is that I would encourage everyone not to shy away from simpler explanations when it will help the gospel go out to people that need it – and save the theological debating for when they’re more mature and their faith is well grounded, and they’re able to reason on that level. Debating theology does no good if we’re not able to love people well while doing it – and the best way of loving them is to let them hear the gospel in a way that they can understand.

      That’s my other two cents – I guess I’m up to about 6 cents now? 🙂

      Grace and peace,


    • Jason

      Nick –

      I’ll clarify what I meant by a==d etc. The Athanasian view of the Trinity says:

      The Father is God
      The Son is God
      The Holy Spirit is God

      But it also says:

      The Father is not the Son
      The Son is not the Holy Spirit
      The Holy Spirit is not the Father

      That is, it denies that the persons of the Trinity have a transitive relation.


    • Dr_Mike

      (I left this comment on the following post but thought it to be simply so stunningly brilliant as to warrant posting it here, too. Such is my devotion to propagating my own heretical views serving others that I would do something like this, i.e., go the extra 1.6 kilometers.)

      How ’bout an individual suffering from Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID, previously known as Multiple Personality Disorder).

      Such an individual has three distinct personalities and yet all have the same essence, i.e., a common brain with the same, shared neuropathways. It could also be that each distinct personality is aware of the others, shares the same values, purposes, experiences, etc., and that the three personalities relate to one another.

      Not that God suffers from DID, but I think it is a close and perhaps even viable illustration.

      Or maybe I – or one of I – are missing something.

      (For the record, I didn’t say that: I did.)

    • Lisa Robinson

      Tara, the problem with using illustrations that do not accurately define the triune God is that it conveys a distorted message concerning Him. I think it much more honoring to God to define the Godhead without illustrations than to insist upon them, and paint a wrong picture. That means simply explaining one God existent as 3 distinct persons, who are each identified as God with distinct roles without the use of illustrations. I do believe there is a tension in not fully comprehending how this work even for those who have seriously investigated the topic.

      I also believe the Spirit can overcome these difficulties anyway in the hearts of those we are trying to convince concerning the trinity.

    • EricW

      My question is:

      When the Son weds His Bride, does the Godhead become a Quaternity? 🙂

    • Tara


      I would agree that you are correct – a distorted message can be a problem with using those illustrations. I disagree, however, that it’s wrong to use them – because I think the first priority is the message of the gospel, not the specifics of the doctrine of the Trinity, and the gospel may be well served by the use of an illustration that breaks down at some point. I would agree that you don’t want to stick with that illustration to explain the Trinity forever, but I think that saying “The Trinity is *kind of* like this” is a good start, as it was for my friend Ai-chan, and the distinctions about where the illustration breaks down and the point at which we must all humbly confess our inadequacy to accurately or fully understand a mystery like the Trinity can and should be discussed, debated, and honed later, as that person is being discipled and is maturing in his or her faith.

      I think a lot of doctrinal issues are like that, actually – Calvinism vs. Armnianism, for example. I listened to a John Piper message once where he stated that no one starts the Christian life as a Calvinist – we’re all born Arminians and some change on that point later. 🙂

      And I believe that the Spirit can overcome the difficulties inherent in fallible illustrations in the minds and hearts of people we are trying to convince of the gospel, as well – not just that He can overcome the difficulties of being unsure.

      At any rate, I think that’s probably enough spare change from me – blessings to you all. 🙂


    • mbaker

      I’ve heard all the explanations above, except for the shampoo one, but the one I like best was a mathematical example, which I think came from Billy Graham. He said, regarding the Trinity. “It isn’t 1+1+1 =3, as most people suppose when they hear the term ‘triune God’, it is 1 x 1x 1=1.”

      I agree with CMP in that we shouldn’t over teach or over simplify this concept, except to the extent we emphasize that Christ was Lord long before He became our Savior. And even though He already held that lofty position, He loved us enough to be born on earth in humble circumstances, and to live a sinless life, and to die as the ultimate sacrifice to reconcile humanity back to God. I think when you explain to folks like that they better understand the sheer extent of what has been done for all of us by Christ.

    • Mark Begemann

      Analogies are useful in some ways (maybe more useful in pointing out their shortcomings, agreed) and pictures/graphs are useful in some ways… but they fall short, too. It seems inconsistent to sing the praises of a graph that still FAILs while calling all analogies “stupid” and to never use them ever. The shield isn’t all that great! It *might* do a better job of conforming to language used in creeds but it still falls short. For years i thought i had the trinity all figured out because i understood the shield. Now i realize it was a gross oversimplification and actually hindered my understanding of our great God. Point people to scripture- and not just a few proof texts, the whole of scripture. Encourage much study and prayer and meditation.

      Sorry to be so negative. I do appreciate your last few statements.

      Grace and peace,

    • EricW

      Okay, I skimmed Grudem pp. 241ff. He covers a lot of territory. I found a contradiction he needs to correct and/or his editor should have caught. Where he discusses the filioque, he says that it was added to the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed (not his term, but that’s the correct term for the Creed as finally formulated by the two Councils) and explains when, where, why, etc., as well as his view that the Western addition has a slim edge in terms of correctness vs. the pre-filioque Eastern version that accepts that the Spirit proceeds from the Father only. Eastern Orthodox disagee with Grudem, of course. But then a few pages later where he is discussing the importance of the correct doctrine of the Trinity, he quotes “…the Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father and the Son” and says that’s as the Creed was originally written (as I remember from having skimmed/read it at the bookstore; those who have a copy can verify this).

    • mbaker

      Yikes, Eric,

      Tell us non-informed folks who go more by scripture than the creeds, or the church fathers where we fit in here.


    • EricW


      filioque = “and from the Son” (Latin). For political/theological reasons (i.e., to assert the full, the Western Church added that phrase [in brackets] to: “And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord (or Lordly One – Pelikan), the Lifegiver, Who proceeds from the Father [and the Son], Who with the Father and the Son is co-worshiped and co-glorified, Who spake through the prophets.”

      The East rejects it because they say Jesus specifically said the Spirit proceeds from the Father (as well as because Creeds are not to be altered except by the whole Church). They also say that the double procession of the Spirit (i.e., from both the Father and the Son) upsets the order of the Trinity.

    • EricW

      Sorry, I was interrupted. It should read:

      filioque = “and from the Son” (Latin). For political/theological reasons (i.e., to assert the full deity of the Holy Spirit against heretics), the Western Church added the phrase filioque (what I put [in brackets]) to: “And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord (or Lordly One – Jaroslav Pelikan CREDO, I believe), the Lifegiver, Who proceeds from the Father [and the Son], Who with the Father and the Son is co-worshiped and co-glorified, Who spoke through the prophets.”

      The East rejects it because Jesus specifically said the Spirit proceeds from the Father, and also because Creeds are not to be altered except by the whole Church. They also say that the double procession of the Spirit (i.e., His proceeding from both the Father and the Son) upsets the order of the Trinity as they understand it: i.e., the Father begets the Son, and sends forth the Spirit; the Son is begotten and the Spirit proceeds; that’s one way these two members of the Trinity are distinguished from each other in relation to the Father. For both the Father AND THE SON to send forth the Spirit would mean that the Spirit is dependent on and/or subordinate to both the Son and the Father, whereas the Son is only dependent on/subordinate to the Father, which makes the Son and the Spirit no longer co-equal, because the Son would have only one source, whereas the Spirit would have two sources – or something like that.

    • David Zook

      Great post…great comments. One for the ages. After wrestling with this topic and illustrations for years, I have finally submitted to the wonderfully glorious fact that this doctrine is shrouded in mystery that the human mind will never fully comprehend because it is unique. There is nothing like it, there is nothing to compare it to.

      Ahhh the mystery of Creator and the Gospel wrapped in omniscience and perfection. It’s too lofty for me to understand, yet it is lofty enough to worship.

    • […] point that Michael Patton reinforces in his posts regarding the stupidity of using these illustrations to teach the trinity. He states that teaching the trinity “is more about giving basic principles of what it is and […]

    • Grackle

      I would disagree a little bit with CMP’s point six. It depends on how one’s understanding of nature of man. Which is of course very little! But the Bible seems to suggest man as a triune being:

      From Matt 10:28, we learn that the soul is distinct from the body.
      From Heb 4:12, we learn that the soul can be divided from the spirit.

      From this we can gather that the soul is not the body, the body is not the spirit, and the spirit is not the soul. But we can reasonably say that the human body is human, the human spirit is human, and the human soul is human. Yet they are not 3 humans but one human being. In fact you can use the Shield of the Trinity with the human personas, just put ‘human’ for ‘God’, the soul, etc for the Father, etc.

      This concept is not modalistic nor can it lend to tritheism; experientally I am not a spirit one moment, then a soul or body the next! Neither can I divide my nature such that I should need 3 separate driving licenses for my soul, spirit, and body.

      Now, I recognized that (1) it is inherently impossible for the finite to fully explain the Infinite, so my finite human trinity cannot explain fully the Holy Trinity.(2)there is a basic futility in trying to explain one thing we cannot fully understand (God) with one we struggle to understand (man).But the human trinity concept has been helpful to me personally in trying to grasp the Trinity. It does help when the concept of a Triune being does not attack my seat of reason because I am one myself. So while inadequate, there is at least a small anchor of reason to ensure that my belief in the Trinity is not unreasonable faith. The problem of course is when we reject this trinity of man.

      I think we can permit SOME of these little illustrations provided they are presented with caveats; otherwise even CMP’s charts should not be allowed, since they mislead us into thinking God can be adequately presented through diagrams!

    • EricW

      From Heb 4:12, we learn that the soul can be divided from the spirit.

      Not necessarily. Check out some commentaries on the meaning of the Greek phrase used. Also, joints and marrow don’t even touch each other, so they can’t be “divided” from each other, even though that’s what some translations say or imply.

    • Robert J.G.

      I would guessthat people like Grudem are interpreting “person” to mean “personality,” which is not what the ancient term meant. On the doctrine of the Trinity, I think we shouldn’t speak of 3 centers of consciousness because I don’t see how you can say that without concluding there are three Gods. The ancient church never spoke as if God has three minds or wills (of course, being ancient, they did not share the modern obsession with something called “consciousness”). They followed the rule that everything in God is one except where they are related differently (e.g. Son is related to Father as begotten, Father to Son as begetter). This essentially means we do not try to look “inside” each of the persons as if they had a distinct consciousness or personality we could know. They are persons ONLY in relation to one another: we see them and understand them only in their dramatic relations to one another.

      This is the original sense of “person” (Latin persona) which literally meant mask, referring to the characters in a play who in ancient times all wore distinctive masks (hence the list of characters in a play is still sometimes called dramatis personae, literally “masks of the drama”). Hence the term suggests: (1) we don’t look behind the masks to find three “real persons” or centers of conscious, because who these characters are is defined not by their inner consciousness but by their dramatic interaction with each other and (2) it’s not just one person wearing three different masks (which would be modalism). The drama, in this case, is mainly the drama of salvation, in which the Son is incarnate. It’s as incarnate Son, i.e. as a man, that he addresses his Father as “Thou,” just as it is only in his incarnate life as a man that he can speak of his will as other than the Father’s (as he does in Gethsemane when he prays, “Not my will but Thine be done”). As God his will and mind are no different from the Father’s. If there were two divine wills, minds or consciousnesses, then it would be possible for them to disagree, feel differently, go their separate ways, etc., and that would mean there were two different gods here, which is quite contrary to the doctrine of the Trinity.

    • a different Joshua

      The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed… small and yellow and adds flavor to food.

      The kingdom of God is like leaven – it emits gas bubbles in dough to make bread.

      The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure in a field – covered up with dirt and invisible to all who are nearby save the lucky guy who happened upon it.

      The kingdom of heaven is like a net thrown into the sea. If you don’t dry it out on the rocks and constantly mend it, it will eventually break apart and lose the whole catch.

      I have to side with Tara here. All analogies eventually break down, that shouldn’t keep us from using them to illuminate a difficult or obscure topic.

      You can spritualize it all you want, a principled avoidance of all analogies, stories, narratives, and illustrations may just be poor communication.

    • Lisa Robinson

      Joshua, that is the beauty of human language. You can accurately describe something using words without the use of visual aids. I don’t that equates to poor communication skills, at all.

    • EricW

      Robert J.G.:

      A church in our area has this on its “We Believe…” page:

      There is one eternal God, who exists in three distinct personalities: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit — The Trinity. (1 John 5:7; Matthew 28:19)

      So,… what does “three distinct personalities” mean in terms of Trinitarian doctrine?

    • a different Joshua

      I agree that there is much beauty in human language, especially the ability to “paint pictures with words.” Jesus is still renowned for the parables and analogies he used to make the concepts of God and the kingdom come alive to his audience. (of course we don’t know that he didn’t point to the mustard tree or the fishing nets while he spoke. Even if he didn’t, the entire audience pictured (visually) in their minds the analogy.)

      My point was not to exalt multi-media communication, but to avoid statements that imply that analogies must be without fault in order to be useful.

      To be sure, some of the illustrations do come across pretty stupid to me as well, but several of them may offer facets of truth, that allow brief glimpses of clarity or flashes of insight into admittedly knotty subjects.

      As long as we aren’t claiming that the trinity is exactly like H2O, or exactly like a shamrock, why should we avoid them at all costs? No analogy on any topic is foolproof, and analogies of the trinity are no different.

      (even if we avoid all analogies… “non-visual” descriptions and definitions on this topic are also difficult to get right – it took the combined efforts of the entire church several hundred years to figure out how not to say it wrong… and some still argue about it).

    • […] is a nice post over at Reclaiming the Mind on why the use of imperfect analogies to describe the Trinity are not worth their trouble. Based on […]

    • […] Michael Patton of Parchment and Pen has some excellent pointers and even a couple of visual aids for teaching the doctrine of the […]

    • Michael,

      Allow me to quote from a posting I did earlier on a series I started on the Trinity at

      “Writers in the early church compared God to a river. Each stage of a river is different, from where it may start as a spring bubbling out of the ground, through the meandering in may experience through the countryside, to the delta it forms as it empties itself into the ocean. We would not try to say that the start of the river is identical to the end of the river, and yet we would say that each part of it is the river.

      If a guide takes me to the head of the Amazon river, he would say “that’s the Amazon river.” When he takes me to the middle of the Amazon river, he would say, “that’s the Amazon river.” When he takes me to where the Amazon river empties into the ocean, he would say, “that’s the Amazon river.” Each part of the river is called the river, and yet each part of the river makes up the river as a whole.

      That being said, every analogy of the Trinity will break down if stretched too far. This is simply as a result of not being able to describe the infinite with finite language.

      As Joshua Hearne, a co-author of Eclectic Christian notes in the comments:

      The problem with the river image is that a particular section of the river is not simultaneously source and delta. We must be careful not to slip into modalism and assert that each of the three coequal persons of the trinity are one God serving/manifesting in three different roles. This is a similar theological problem to what we end up with when we look at “forms of water” or “the egg.”

      I agree that you can’t limit the Trinity to the roles that are played within the Trinity. Each of the three persons of the Trinity have different roles to play, but their interdependence is so much greater than the roles they play. The river analogy breaks down when you consider that a river can have many sources. Take away one source, and you still have a river. A river may, or may not have a delta. Not having a delta does not detract from the fact that it is a river.

      The same can not be said for the Trinity. I believe that there is an interdependence in the Trinity that is not properly captured in the river analogy…”

      Still, I think the river analogy is better than most.

    • #John1453

      I have to say that I’m completely with C. Michael Patton on this one. I’m all for helping people to understand things in the Bible and understanding God, but (1) I don’t think any of the alleged analogies are helpful, nor do I think they communicate anything useful about the triune nature of God (they all try to use physical material substances to describe a spirit entity), and

      (2) this aspect of God is so transcendant that it should not be reduced to an analogy of any kind. It’s best to state it outright and leave it at that. There is no way, this side of heaven, that we will be able to understand it. I also think that we should be satisfied to approach the matter the way the Bible does, more simply and directly.

      This does not mean that I oppose scholarly articles exploring or attempting to understand this doctrine. Nor would I oppose making the fruit of such work available to the rank and file.


    • EricW

      We act and talk like we think we can understand and explain salvation and the atonement and the incarnation, so I don’t know why we act and talk like we don’t think the Trinity can be grasped or explained or analogized, taking strident issue with those who attempt to explain it or dare to analogize it.

      For every attack on The Shack there should be equally vociferous criticisms of things like The Four Spiritual Laws. 😀

    • EricW


      We act and talk like we think we can understand and explain salvation and the atonement and the incarnation, so I don’t know why we act and talk like we don’t think the Trinity can be grasped or explained or analogized, taking strident issue with those who attempt to explain it or dare to analogize it.

      Paul writes about the mystery of the Gospel and the mystery of our faith and the mystery of Godliness – things which have to do with salvation, the atonement, and the incarnation. Yet we treat these and the teaching of them as if they are 1-2-3 explainable and understandable like a set of assembly instructions for an IKEA bookcase.

      For every attack on The Shack there should be equally vociferous criticisms of things like The Four Spiritual Laws and a lot of other things that are out there in the guise of “teaching the faith.” 😀

    • Jason

      I’m pretty sure there are equally vociferous criticisms of the works you mention . . . you’re probably just reading the wrong (or right, depending on your point of view) people. In fact, you can find some pretty forceful criticism of anything that might be written about religion.

      Probably more of the reason for writings about the Trinity being controversial is the lack of a clear Biblical pattern for understanding the Trinity. Matters regarding salvation and the atonement, though hard to understand, at least have enough Bible text behind them that there is an inarguable basis for discussing them; the incarnation and the Trinity, not so much so.

    • mikelioso

      I’ve always argued that the variety of opinion and lack of understanding of it disqualifies a beleif in the Trinity as a requirement of salvation. It’s like saying ant good citizin must understand E=MC Squared.

    • C. Barton

      Two things:
      1) When we say that the Trinity are “equal”, how do we measure that? We simply can’t reduce God to salient qualities, especially because all we know of Him was volunteered by Him in the first place. I mean, even Moses had to ask His name: “Um, and who shall I say is calling?”
      2) Not to get all mystical and such, but we order things as one, two, three, because we have this physical space of three dimensions, time, etc., but these things do not exist outside of the physical creation; simply because we cannot imagine a concrete example does not make the existence of the Trinity less real. As C.S. Lewis surmises, Heaven will appear more “real” than the earth ever did.
      This makes Jesus’ sacrifice all the more amazing to me, because God Himself became a human and will remain human (in Jesus’ glorified body); now His name is above all other names, both in Heaven and on earth – God as Messiah!

    • Doug Knighton

      Daniel Fuller combined the arguments of Jonathan Edwards and C.S. Lewis in his book _Unity of the Bible_ (Zondervan, 1992) (see chapter 8 “God’s Necessary Work of Being a Trinity”) into the most coherent and cogent analysis of the Trinity I’ve read. John Piper later adapted it in his book _The Pleasures of God_ (see chapter “The Pleasure of God in the Son”). Both authors (along with their predecessors) offer a construct that uses biblical categories while it presents an analogy to which human beings can relate.

      Fuller answers two important questions in his presentation: 1) Why must God be a trinity? and 2) Why would an all sufficient being need/want to create? The implications of his argument reach far beyond.

      At the risk of distorting a long argument, I will try to summarize his thinking: God, the Father, knows himself perfectly. He is able to view himself in all his perfection. The (self)image he has is so perfect that it has life in itself. The Father’s Image is necessarily identical in every way with the Father. This Image is what we call the Son. As the Father and Son relate to one another, the love they generate encompasses all their perfections. The love of the Father and Son is so fulsome and spirited that it has life in itself. This esprit between the Father and Son is what we call the Holy Spirit. Thus the Holy Spirit is labeled the “love of God” in Romans 5:5. Because the Father has always had this perfect image of himself, and because the Son and the Father have always loved each other in their perfection, the Trinity has always and necessarily existed.

      So the Trinity is not unlike anything in creation, nor is it a paradox — there no contradictory properties to this arrangement.

      I commend Fuller’s work to thoughtful people.

    • Warren Lamb

      Very meaty discussion all around. Michael (CMP) are usually onthe same page, but not always. This is one of those times when we are close but not exactly inthe same place.

      An illustration (as many have laready noted) will eventually break down. However, Jesus used word pictures a great deal in order to make an eternal truth comprehendable within the frame-of-reference of His hearers. Every good teacher does the same.

      So, in my own attempts to help people grasp an inkling of an understanding of how God can be three-in-one, I use the illustration of time.

      Time consists of past/present/future, all at the same “time”, yet all trhee are distinct, and all three are necessary for one to have “time”. Also, while all three exist simultaneously, they do not function identically.

      I know, I know – there are weaknesses with this, but there is an element of ungraspability to trying to “picture” past/present/future all at the same time, which is where I mention something like, “And that illusiveness is a tiny gimmer of just how much more difficult it is for mere mortals to truly comprehend the Trinity.”

    • Kalyn

      I read this earlier today and came back to it as it was on my mind — a LOT. I have heard the water/ice, vapor before. I remember the first time I heard it, the image that came to mind was the shape shifter from star trek.

      Backtracking a bit, when I first came to Christ from a NON Christian background and not knowing anything about it until I first heard the gospel for the first time in 1983, I had always believed Christians believed in 3 gods. I even thought that they had to come up with a New Testament because they found errors in the Old Testament. The trinity was something that I really struggled with BIG TIME when I was saved. It was so difficult that I just gave up and didn’t think about it — didn’t want to hear about it, talk about it because it made me crazy trying to figure it out. That is until I someone said to me “body, soul and spirit” yet one person. That I could wrap my mind around. I am not human unless I have those three — I could be missing eyes, legs, arms, etc. but I am not a living human being unless I have those three.

      My struggle was over. I also realize that this is not a good explanation of the infinite — we are finite and simply lack the ability to understand. I can accept that and, in fact, do accept that. However, the only thing that I disagree with in your blog post that to use that explanation is tritheistic or modalistic error. God is God because He is the Father AND the Son AND the Holy Spirit, separate but one. How that really works, I don’t know. I’m not smart enough.

      But for me, I needed something to wrap my mind around especially in light of the fact that I come from a background that believed Christians worshipped 3 gods and worshipped a man named Jesus.

    • mbaker


      As you said, there are weaknesses in all the examples we humans can wrap our finite minds around regarding the Trinity, yet I find common sense examples useful myself, to relate the natural (God’s) to the supernatural (God’s). Since He is a relational God, I believe this is why Jesus spoke so often to people in parables, which bridged the gap from their everyday understanding of the stark realism of their daily lives, to be able to embrace supernatural concepts more readily.

      So I agree with both you and Kayln that it isn’t necessarily a bad thing to do, and indeed at times can be very helpful.

    • C Barton

      Jesus explained once that He spoke in parables to present a challenge to the hearers; He hid the plain truth in His parables, perhaps knowing that those who understood were inspired by God the Father to understand.
      But other times, Jesus presented a parable, or simile, by saying, “What can the Kingdom of Heaven be compred to . . .”, or, “What is the Kingdom of Heaven like?” So He was trying to explain a different spiritual dimension, not directly known by us, in ways we could understand.
      Let us remember that God was fully present in Jesus’ body (Col. 2:9), so that He really knew how to explain with skill what He wanted us to know.
      And by the way, how do we know the details of, say, the temptation in the desert? Jesus, I believe, told the apostles what they needed to remember and write down when they had the chance. He knew that His words would be canonized for our benefit.

    • Matt B.

      To be quite honest, I’ve never understood the big deal that we make about this. It is a very confusing topic that our minds really cannot grasp, but where in the bible does it say understanding the Trinity is vital to our salvation? Why would somebody be a heretic for being confused about it?

    • C. Barton

      Paul says in 1 Cor. 13 that we see things “darkly”, or in an imperfect way, while in the flesh, but that this carnal veil will be lifted one day. Could this not be applied to our understanding of the Trinity also? Let’s face it guys, we sometimes have to say, “I don’t know yet”, about some of the mysteries of God’s Kingdom. Take care that pride of knowledge doesn’t divert you into foolish arguments.

    • Jason R.

      I realize this reply is several weeks old, but I simply cannot resist pointing out that Christ himself was a pretty big fan of illustrations and analogies. When Christ began his teachings with “The Kingdom of Heaven is like…” He did not then stop and say, “Oh wait, that analogy is going to break down. Better not say that; it would be stupid.”

      I enjoyed the post. I love a good theological debate as much as the next guy. But I think that if your theology becomes so esoteric that you would deny pedagogical methods Christ whole-heartedly embraced, your theology is almost certainly in error.

    • Anne

      “Confused? Good! That is just where you need to be.”

      LOL. Of course that is what religion likes, for people to be too confused to know for sure that you’re just talking through your hat. What a nonsensical bunch of baloney.

      If god is three in one, then how come god as Jesus didn’t seem to know he was part of the same god? What was the point of sacrificing himself to appease his own anger over Original Sin? (or don’t you believe in that…exactly?)

      The really amusing part is that you have zero evidence for any of these explanations being either right or wrong outside, possibly, of a couple of cryptic passages in the bible. The world around you does not support the existence of any god, much less your bizarre trinity.

    • Daniel B

      “But when it comes to the nature of God, especially with regard to the Doctrine of the Trinity, illustrations should only be used to show what the Trinity is not.”

      What’s the justification for that statement?

      Saying “three persons, one nature” isn’t a useful statement without explaining the difference between a person and a nature. What does “three persons” mean if it doesn’t mean “three separate individuals” – which is the usual and natural way to interpret “persons”.

      I have always thought that the illustration of a person’s body, soul, and spirit is a great one if it’s not taken in a “this is EXACTLY the same as God in EVERY way” sense. We are made in God’s image, so it makes sense that we would have been trinitarian. It doesn’t mean we have the exact same kind of trinitarianism that God has, of course. But it’s very useful conceptually because they are both paradoxical in similar ways. My soul, spirit, and body, are 3 distinct things that can relate to one another, yet there is only one me.

    • Warren


      A couple of difficulties with that illustration. First of all, there is a LOT of disagreement on whether man is trichotomous or dichotomous.

      Second, the illustration you chose actually describes modalism – it’s only ONE person. God is THREE persons. It is His “ontos”, His “essence”, that is one.

      Simply put, there is no ideal word picture to describe the Trinity because everything we can get ahold of is immanent, while the Trinity is transcendent.

    • SirRuncibleSpoon

      Truly this whole thread illustrates the truthfulness and wonder of Ecclesiastes 3:11:

      “He has made everything appropriate in its time. He has also set eternity in their heart, yet so that man will not find out the work which God has done from the beginning even to the end.”

      With respect to all you have wrestled with: The energy of your great struggles to render comprehensible the ineffable will have a moment when it all dissolves in a moment of recognition.

      I John 3:2- “Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.”

      One day we will be like Him-whatever changes that may entail. We will know this because we see Him, at last, just as He is. We don’t discover our similarities as the final flowering of our logical powers. We simply and without impediment ‘see’ Him . . . just as He is. None of us shall reach for our Grudems, and even Ravi’s jaw shall slacken in awe.

      I can’t wait!

    • […] blog post by theologian C. Michael Patton, who blogs at Parchment and Pen: a theology blog. In his interesting post, he says that all the typical analogies for the Trinity (shamrock, egg, water-ice-vapor, etc.) are […]

    • Ron Krumpos

      Every religion has a “trinity” of sorts. They are just three aspects of the same thing (just don’t try to name that thing).

      Jesus Christ……..Nirmanakaya……human form
      God the Father…Sambhogakaya…celestial/deity
      Holy Spirit………..Dharmakaya…….formless essence

      Hinduism, Islam and the Kabbalah of Judaism have combinations of three, but they are less easily compared than those above.

      Don’t tell a Christian to pray to Buddha or a Buddhist to pray to God. Then there is Brahman, Allah and Hashem (the name). They are just words. Now if you want to get beyond them, read my book at Mystics don’t need a name: “One” is close enough for most of them.

    • Ron Krumpos

      A little more detail about “three aspects” in Buddhism and Christianity:

      Mahayana and Vajrayana vehicles of Buddhism speak of Trikaya, or three bodies: Nirmanakaya is the Buddha in human form, Sambhogakayais celestial Buddha and Dharmakayais the formless essence, or Buddha-nature. The Theravada primarily addresses the historic Buddha. The “Three Jewels” are the Buddha, the dharma (his teachings) and the sangha (the community of monks and nuns).

      Christianity has its Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit referring to God, Jesus Christ and their spiritual bond of unity (some say the Godhead). Interpretation of the essential nature of each, and their relationship, differed among the churches. In Christian mysticism, the three ways of the spiritual life are the purgative in being purified from sin, the illuminative in true understanding of created things, and the unitive in which the soul unites with God by love.

    • Ron Krumpos

      The “three aspects” in the Kabbalah, Hinduism and Islam (Sufism):

      In the Kabbalah of Judaism, sefirot – sparks from the divine – have three fulcrums to balance the horizontal levels of the Tree of Life: Da`at (a pseudo-sefirot) is knowledge combining understanding and wisdom; Tiferet is beauty, the midpoint of judgment and loving kindness; Yesod is the foundation for empathy and endurance. They also vertically connect, through the supreme crown, the infinite and transcendent Ein Sof with its kingdom in the immanent Shekhinah.

      Hinduism’s trimurti are the threefold activities of Brahman: in Brahma as creator, in Vishnu as sustainer and in Shiva as destroyer. Saccidananda are the triune attributes or essence of Brahman: sat, being, cit, consciousness and ananda, bliss. The three major schools of yoga are bhakti, devotion, and jnana, knowledge and karma, the way of selfless action. Raja yoga can apply to, and integrate, all three in mental and spiritual concentration.

      In Islam, nafs is the ego-soul, qalbis heart and ruh is spirit. Heart is the inner self [soul], hardened when it is turned toward ego and softened when it is polished by dhikr, remembrance of the spirit of Allah. This is a three-part foundation for Sufi psychology. Initiation guides them from shari`a, religious law, along tariqa, the spiritual path, to haqiqa, interior reality. It is a gradual unveiling of the Real.

    • Veritas

      “Confused? Good! That is just where you need to be.”

      Sounds like something Satan might say to a Christian looking for truth.

    • […] "The Trinity is Like 3-in-1 Shampoo". . . And Other Stupid Statements digg_bgcolor = '#ffffff'; digg_skin = 'compact';  Print This Post […]

    • VW

      Most ‘Trinitarians’ believe that each part (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) of the Trinity is ‘separate’ and ‘fully’ God. An elementary examination of this supposition concludes three Gods exist. Though the tongue may confess one God, the heart confirms three. They can’t possibly conceive an idea of one God when three are viewed from within.

      This could be compared to a beast with three heads, or a one-headed beast with three bodies…utter nonsense.

      Throughout the OT, God states there is ONE God and there is NONE beside Him. So the picture of Jesus (separately and fully as God) sitting next to the Father (separately and fully as God) is refuted from scripture itself.

      As far as the functions of God, the OT again is filled with God calling Himself Savior and Redeemer. These are the same functions of Jesus. Same God, same functions.

      One can examine himself and carefully reflect whether he/she thinks of three persons/Gods when considering the Trinity. If so, the absolute doctrinal truth of ONE GOD is compromised.

    • John N

      Some form of modalism seems to me the sole way of reconciling monotheism with the assertion that Jesus is the incarnation of God the Son. To go beyond thinking of one God revealing himself in three aspects (modalism, or some form of it) to try to say anything about the ontological substance of God seems unwarranted both Scripturally and intellectually.

    • Andrae Vasquez

      When God created man in His own image and likeness, I think He was pulling from His trinity model of existence.
      The Father seems often times to be the “brains of the operation”
      Jesus is the executor of the plan
      The Holy Spirit is the life/power source of it.

      When God created us, He gave us
      A soul (brains)
      A body (what we use to execute our plans)
      A spirit (life source)

      I may be wrong entirely, but I haven’t found reason to believe otherwise just yet. What do you think?

    • Jen

      Jesus, clearly, was Jewish. An honest reading of the Old Testament will slowly force you to see that the Trinitarian God you worship is something new. Christians ought to take the Reformation back beyond the manipulations of Athanasius and the political bishops of the fourth century, to discover and revive the beliefs of the earliest Christians. God is One. PEACE.

    • Becka

      Here’s what I’ve learned from my own studies about the Trinity. I’ve been praying for God to reveal His nature to me — if it can even be understood. I want to know Him as the Apostles knew Him.

      Yes, Christ was Jewish, and until that point, Yahweh was known as ONE God. We know God never changes. Therefore, the “Son” was nothing new to God. It seems the Bible’s focus “changes” from Father to Son in the NT. But God never changes… Therefore, if God reaches men through Yeshua the Son, He’s always done it that way — the burning bush, the pillar of fire, wrestling with Jacob, in the fiery furnace — ALL Yeshua.

      Now, throughout the OT, you have verse after verse proclaiming Yahweh as the Good Shepherd. The Holy One of Israel. The Savior and there is none beside Him. Unto us a son is born, and His name shall be everlasting Father, Mighty God… When Christ is revealed at the incarnation, HE is now attributed as the Good Shepherd – who lays down His life for His sheep. HE is now referred to as the Holy One of Israel and the Savior of the world. By Christ’s own mouth, He and the Father are One, and if you’ve seen Him, you’ve seen the Father.

      Therefore, “Yahweh” cannot just be the Father, Yahweh must also be the Son, since by John the Apostle’s words in John 1, CHRIST was Creator, as without Him, not anything was made that has been made. Paul expounds that everything is made by Him and for Him, and THROUGH Him everything holds together.

      Also, the name “Yeshua” was a common name in ancient Israel, so why should THAT name be above all names? It isn’t. The name given above all names is YAHWEH. Therefore, if all power is given to the Son and the Son is the Creator, the Savior, the Holy One, and given the name above every other name (even the Father’s?) then it doesn’t make SENSE to me that the Father would sit back in the shadows while the Son inherits the Kingdom — UNLESS the Son IS the Father and simply CALLED the Son (the only begotten of the Father) during His incarnation.

      It is my opinion that the Spirit is God’s omniscient love, power, and knowledge – His invisible qualities that indwells us. Therefore, this makes more sense to me as to how God could be “ONE” and yet appear as three.

      If there are three persons or essences to God, then He would be like a braid, three strands forever entwined, never unraveling. This would fit the model that they are always fully the braid, but three parts of the braid; never separate, always woven together.


    • C Michael Patton


      I am so very pleased that you are thinking so hard about this very important issue.

      The one thing to keep in mind as you prayerfully think about this is that the father is not the son, and the spirit is not the son. And the son is not the father. Yet they are all God. Otherwise who is Christ praying to in the Garden the night before his crucifixion? Who does the Son say he is going to send in the upper room. Certainly not himself. He does not have multiple personality disorder! When Jesus says that the Father loves him he is not saying that he loves himself. So it is important that we keep the distinction of person in place as well as the unity in the essence of the Godhead.

      Again, what a wonderful thing you are doing in praying that you can know Him more. God bless you!

    • Becka

      In other words, Christ’s very LIFE was a parable of sorts, for those who had ears to hear. Calling Himself the “Son” was giving us a model for submission to God the Father while at the same time appearing as “separate and apart” from the Father, for those who did NOT have an ear to hear.

      Everything He did, whether praying or thanking the Father was a lesson for US, as to how WE should pray or thank the Father. Even going off to be by Himself with God. If Christ was Yahweh incarnate, He would need to teach not only by words, but also by deeds and example. So people claiming, “Then Who’d He pray to?” don’t really have a leg to stand on in that regard.

      Even in the Garden of Gethsemane, it was a lesson in submission to God’s will, no matter the cost. (As a side note, none of the Apostles were awake when Christ prayed to God with sweat as blood, so I’ve always wondered when did they get that knowledge of what Christ prayed for? Did Christ tell them after the resurrection? Did they just know by the Spirit?)

      But this Scripture tells me that Christ’s life itself might have also been a parable regarding the Father/Son relationship (emphasis mine):

      John 16:25-27:
      25 “I have said these things to you in figures of speech. ***The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures of speech but will tell you plainly about the Father.*** 26 In that day you will ask in my name, and ***I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; 27 for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.***


    • C Michael Patton

      Well a parable is not a true story. Christ’s incarnation was a historical event. But certainly his life is an example of submission to the Father.

      But you are right that they are all YHWH. In the Old Testament we have many hints to a plurality in the Godhead but it is not explicitly revealed until the New Testament. Notice for example that God said “let US make man in OUR image”. Both plural pronouns. However whe God does make man it say “he” made man in his image. There we have both unity and plurality represented.

    • Becka

      Haha! Thanks for the welcome! I didn’t know you’d answer me so quickly. 🙂 I don’t claim to have it all figured out, and even now I waffle between the oneness theory and the Trinity because I simply don’t “know”. None of us really do understand the essence of it.

      However, even if Yeshua ISN’T Yahweh incarnate (or at least the Father, since the Son IS God), then I think the Trinity would be much more tightly knit than we understand it. Saying there are “three persons” brings to mind there are three separate personalities in Heaven. But even the prophets, when they saw God’s throne, only saw ONE throne. Therefore, if the Trinity exists, they really are ONE, perhaps able to separate, but forever woven together.

      See, I believe Heaven will be a very personal place. My prayer life with God is intensely personal, therefore, I believe we will have public worship in God’s Temple, but also personal fellowship with Christ as His Bride. If Christ is able to appear to each of us personally in Heaven, most likely through His omniscience, then perhaps He is able to also separate Himself as such for the incarnation.

      Just thinking about it twists my brain into a pretzel! And you’re right, I don’t think we will fully understand it by any stretch until we’re before Him ourselves. 🙂

      God Bless,

    • C Michael Patton


      You are on the right track on two points. 1) we don’t have it all figured out and 2) that the members of the trinity are very close even in person. It is often called the “perichoresis”. It means “to dance around”. It was articulated best by the capidocian Fathers in the fourth and fifth centuries. It speaks of the mutual indwellin of the persons of the Godhead. The Father is in the Son, Son in the Father, etc. look it up. It is very helpful.

    • Jeremiah

      How about a musical chord? Three notes. One chord.

    • Colin Haines

      Have you guys ever heard of the triple point of water. It’s where al three states of water exist at the same time. That’s why skating works. I think that water is an excellent way to describe the trinity.

    • Fawn Hull

      God is 3 in 1 “Trinity” He made the world so why wouldn’t He stamp His “nature” into the things He made? I think water and light are perfect examples of the Trinity. Jesus is the Living Water and the Light of the world. Water can exist in 3 forms but it is always H2O, what does it matter that ice can melt on earth? With the Godhead they do each hold their own form for eternity. With light the primary colors spin around extremely fast to form ONE white light, but each component is still light. I see nothing wrong with continuing to use these illustrations.

    • Darryl

      I guess the best way to describe the Trinity is like the color triad. Red, blue, and green are various shades of color yet they are all different manifestations of the same white light from which all color is made. The colors we see are the entities of the Trinity yet when they come together they form the pure white light, from which all the colors emanate.

    • Isha

      Ohhh I have to ask a question…

      What about C. S. Lewis’ analogy of the trinity? After explaining that his analogy is weak, he said to imagine trying to explain what a cube is to a square living in a 2-D world.

      I always liked that analogy. It says to me: yes it is totally possible, but not graspable.

      Is this one stupid, too? Or can I keep it as my hazy analogy of the Trinity?

    • matthew macarthur

      The main reason it is so hard for anyone to expain the trinity doctrine is because it a false teaching of the 325.AD council of Nicaea. The first church believed and was baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sin. The council of 325 and the ones following get credit for what Satan and the Pharisees and Sadducees tried to do after the death of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; and after His spirit was poured out on the day of Pentecost. That was to make them (His disciples, the ones He spent three years teaching and showing them and preparing them for the building of His church) to stop preaching, baptizing, healing and casting out of unclean spirits in His name. They” the religious leaders of that time” the ones who killed our Lord Jesus, wanted to stop the spread of this great gospel. Why is it so hard to understand that the God of creation and the Lord of glory, took a robe of flesh for Himself. “for God is a spirit, and they that worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” Then took that flesh to the cross and died for my sins, for without the sheading of blood there is NO remission of sin. Without that wonderful blood that was shead on the cross, I would be forever lost!! The trinitiy doctrine is not in the Bible, and the Bible only teaches that God is One!! Det 6:4 Hear O Israel the Lord our God is One Lord. This verse I really like because it blows your misguided attempt to prove that the son was in heaven all the time. Det 32:39 See now that I, even I, am He, and there is no God with Me. James 2:19 Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well; the devils also believe and tremble. The change that the 325 council made to baptizum is a pure adulterated twist of the truth. Matthew 28:19 Jesus told them to go into all the world baptizing in the name,” singlar not plural and not titles” of the father and the son and holy spirit, and that great name is JESUS!! There is none other name, givin among men whereby we must be saved!!

    • matthew macarthur

      It is good to see that some things never change, like the way the truth makes those who believe a lie run and hide! What the matter, did what I have to say make you think? Is that why you just took my post down without even an answer? You know if you read the Bible, and forget about mans way of twisting it you’ll find that the trinity doesnt work. The only way that you can explain the Godhead is to believe ” that He is”. The way they have tried to explain the trinity will never make sence. God is God and He stands alone, He doesnt need help from anyone other than Himself. The way you try to explain makes God weak, that He is not the almighty; that He would push on someone else the dirty deed of the cross. He wouldnt and He didnt, but what He did was to put on a robe of flesh and take that body, “the only begotten” and allowed them to lie about it, make fun of it, spit on it, beat it, whip it, then He carried that cross up Golgotha hill, where He allowed them to hammer nails into His hands and feet; and then drop Him in a hole to watch Him die. When they could not wait any longer they stuck a spear in His side, so that the water and blood would pour on the ground. My God is not weak or afraid, He is the Almighty God!! In the form of man called Jesus, that is His name!

    • Fawn Hull

      @ Matthew Macarthur…you need to remember that when the Hebrews heard Det 6:4 Hear O Israel the Lord our God is One Lord; the word one in that verse is echad which is unified oneness such as one cluster of grapes, one group, one community, etc., and is used many times in reference to God. The word yachid which is the singular one is never used in reference to God. It was only after Jesus and the rise of Christianity that the Jews tried to replace echad with yachid.

    • Jeremiah

      Maybe this will help, Matthew.
      The doctrine of Trinity was not an invention of Nicea. It is ancient apostolic doctrine.

    • Jeremiah

      You should be very careful when using the H20 analogy. It could be used to illustrate modalism quite well. The Bible teaches that the Father, Son, and Spirit are in an eternal relationship of loving self-giving. God is not simply three manifestations of one thing (like H20).

      It’s exciting to think that Jesus loves us with the same love that the Father loves Him with. Now we can come to the Father in the name of the Son. We’re taken into the very love of the Trinity through the Spirit! (John 15:9-17; Gal 4:1-7; Rom 8:12-17)

    • Fawn Hull

      I sort of understand what you’re saying, but I know that God is three eternal coexistent persons: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. They are all separate beings and none of them are the other, however they all have the same nature just as H2O is still H2O in the forms of ice, water and steam.

      Ice can’t be steam, steam can’t be water, yet these things share the same properties of the molecules hydrogen² & oxygen. If someone was wanting to say that these three things can only exist one at a time as only ONE entity at a time and in consecutive order (ice, water, steam) then I could understand how you might think the H2O analogy could represent modalism. But we know from earthly experience that I can have ice in my freezer, run water from the tap and boil water to steam on my stove top and there you have H2O all existing at the same time in 3 different forms.

      In my opinion, you can twist it to show either point of view, just like many twist the Word of God to try and support what they want to believe rather than what the Word of God truly teaches.

    • matthew macarthur

      I can give you verse after verse that states that God is God alone, as the matter of the fact thats all it declares. Never once does the Bible state that there are three gods in heaven. No man has seen God at anytime, God is invisible, God is a spirit and they that worship must worship in spirit and in truth. But the robe of flesh that God took for Himself in the form of man Christ Jesus was seen by many, and when we get to heaven that will be the ONLY GOD you will see. If interested in knowing the truth about the God that shed His blood on the cross for your sins, just ask!!

    • kashmir

      What I would like to know is who or what is the ‘God’ in the center of the Trinity Shield. If I calculate correctly, and, as you say, God is a person, I see four persons in that shield.

      You also say each person is a separate entity; so with that reasoning, you must have three Gods. If the three make up one God, then each cannot be 100% God, for this would make three (300%).

    • Jeremiah

      What percentage of Jesus is human? And what percentage is Divine?

    • kashmir

      100% Human, 100% Divine. And His Divine Human is in ONE person, not two.

      Now who or what is the ‘God’ in the center of the Trinity Shield? It seems to me this ‘God’ is some essence, character, or attribute. Is this correct?

    • matthew macarthur

      Kashmir is correct, 100% both God and man. The thing that confuses people is that when they read the Bible they dont understand the dual nature of Christ. We see that He speaks and acts in His humanity, he was hungry, he slept, he was afraid, then we see Him act and speak in His deity, He forgave sin. They asked Him who can forgive sin but God, He can! He talk to the wind and sea, and they were calm. He raised the dead, and healed the sick. He said tear down this temple and in three days I’ll raise it up, and we know He was talking about His human body; but we know that the Bible says that God raised Him from the dead. In the garden we see Him praying, God not my will but yours, thats His human side crying out; but later we see Him putting the guards ear back on, God! In Matthew we see Jesus telling them to baptize in the name of the father, son and holy ghost. In Acts we see Peter telling the crowd, when they asked what must we do to be saved. His answer was repent and be baptized everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of your sins and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. So who is right, Peter or Jesus, both. The name of God is Jesus, they shall call His name Jesus for He shall save His people from their sin. Father is not a name and neither is son, so when you baptise using those words you’re only repeating what Jesus comanded and not doing what He said. Is it by chance that Jesus said ” before Abraham was, I am”, and was it by chance that God told Moses to tell them “the I am sent you” No. Isaiah 9:6 tells us that ” For unto us a child is born (Jesus) unto us a son is givin, (how is He givin, as a sacrifice for our sins) and the goverment shall be upon His shoulder; and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor. The mighty God, the everlasting father. The prince of peace. Just one more thing, how is the father the father, when in Matthews gospel it declares that what’s in Mary is concieved by the Holy Ghost. Jesus…

    • matthew macarthur

      Can’t help myself, I just feel like the world needs to know, that God is God and His name is Jesus!! Isaiah 46:9″ For I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me.” Zechariah 14:9 And the Lord shall be king over the earth: in that day shall there be one Lord, and His name one. There is only one name for our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. James2:19 Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils believe and they tremble. Deuteronomy 32:19 Seee now that I, even I, am He, and there is no God with me; I kill, and I make alive, I wound and I heal; and niether is there that can deliver out of my hands. Psalms 86:10 For thou art great, and doest wonderful things; thou art God alone. So we see that the old testament writers heard from God, and wrote what He wanted; and no where do we see God giving credit to another form of god, as to the fact, Isaiah 42:8 declares ” I am the Lord; that is my name; and my glory I will not give to another. Our God wants credit for the great things He’s done, that includes the cross! John 10:30 “I and my father are one” Are we going to argue with Jesus, He would know that if there was two, He would have said so. And like wise God would have said that He and His son would have created the heavens and the earth. Gen 1, God created. John 1, All things were made by Him, who Jesus! John 14:9 he that hath seen Me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, show us the Father. 1 John 5:7 For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. Isaiah 43:11 ” I, even I, am the Lord; and beside me there is no savior. Acts 2:16 Know for certain that this Jesus, that you crucified, that God made Him both Savior and Lord. 1 Timothy 3:16 ” and without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the spirit, seen of angels, preched unto Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory…

    • Janet Wilson

      Matthew, I have always been confused as to the explanations of the Trinity…people have asked me for my thoughts – “When I pray, where do I use ‘God’ and where do I use ‘Jesus”? I was inclined to say “They are interchangeable”…’Twas blind, but now I see!!! You have a beautiful illustration of the dual nature of Christ…it all makes sense now!!! Thank you for sharing your wisdom and bringing me closer in my personal relationship with Jesus Christ…now I truly know God. AMEN!

    • matthew macarthur

      How can God be three different persons, but yet one God? How can three people share one mind? What if I want to ask one for something and the other doesn’t want me to have it? What if I ask the Father for something in Jesus name, does He get mad? How come we worship His holy name Jesus and not Jeovah? Does the Father get mad when the Son gets all the credit for everything? Didnn’t Jesus create everything? Wasn’t it made by Him, and for Him? Was not everything that was made, and without Him was not anything made that was made? Isn’t He the light of the world? Why don’t we pray and ask for anything in the Fathers name, or do we? Is God the Father our only Saviour, or is Jesus our Saviour? Who is the Word, God or Jesus? Who is the first and last? Who forgives my sins, God the Father or Jesus? Who is our redeemer, God Or Jesus? Who do we only worship, God or the Son? Who is the I am, God or Son? Who raised Jesus from the dead, Himself or the Father? Who is the judge of the whole earth? Who blood purchased my soul, God the Father or the Son? Who name is Wonderful, Counseller, Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace, it’s Jesus!! As you can understand now, that believing in the trinity is more than confusing; it just wrong! Why don’t you quit trying to explain what you cant, and give our God the credit He deserves. The One who loved us from the foundations of this world, the One who has ruled forever, the One that shed His blood on the cross. To the One that sits on the throne, the One whom the angels gather around and worship, the One I cant wait to look upon His face, the One who saved me by His grace, and there I’ll fall on my face and worship Him forever!!!

    • Jadeism

      I wonder when the early church fathers were throwing around all these Greek philosophical terms to describe what should be a simple monotheism if when they talked about god and Jesus actually pictured a middle eastern man standing in the void of eternity with his father, an old man with a beard, or I’d they pictured something like divine energies or cosmic elementals, etc.

    • matthew macarthur

      Why is it so hard to understand that your God took a robe of flesh for Himself; then took that flesh to the cross, and died for your sins? If you cant understand that, then you’ll never know the God that loves you! To think that the Almighty God would need, or want help with the dirty deed of the cross; then you dont know Him. No greater love, then to lay down your life for a friend. Wont you seek after Him today? If you want prayer, or someone to help you understand who He really is, I’ll be more than glad to help. Your friend Matt.

    • […] “The Trinity is Like 3-in-1 Shampoo”. . . And Other Stupid Statements […]

    • Matthew MacArthur

      When it’s all said and done, it will be all said and done, and then it’s to late; Now is the day of your salvation. To understand God in His fullness, is a wonderful thing! I want to see Him, the One who died for me, the One who spilled His blood for me. The One who sits on the Throne, JESUS!! It’s so sad to have to tell you, if you’re not buried in the water in His wonderful name, been filled with His spirit, you wont even see the kingdom of God. But you will stand before Him anyway, there you will kneel before Him, and there you will confess that He is Lord! He is God, and God alone!! So much for bowing before a bunch of grapes, or a glass of ice water evaporating, or an apple! For God is a spirit, and they that worship Him, worship in spirit and truth.

    • Rachael

      I just wanted to say that I think you are missing the point of an illustration (ie: egg, apple, 3 leaf clover) when speaking to kids. As you stated the Trinity is like the Trinity. I completely agree that there is nothing like our triune God. We will never fully grasp the mystery of God in this way, at least while we are here on Earth. However, I think you’re going a little overboard on your dismissal of an illustration. It is meant to cause them to think & find some common understanding while using something they are familiar with in their everyday life. Adults have (hopefully 🙂 rational & critical thinking that can help them understand & learn about things outside of their life. The life of a 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 year old is based on themselves. They can’t see past anything that is in “their everyday world”. That’s why we, as teachers, try to connect ideas from things they see. You made an excellent point of teaching what the trinity is not and using the triangle, but a preschooler or even a first grader is going to look at you like you grew an alien from your forehead. Illustrations keep it simple.

    • matthew

      There is one person in the Godhead. The man Christ Jesus, the image of the invisable God. There is no trinity, ONE GOD! And His name is Jesus!!

    • Abdullah

      I enjoy reading your blog !
      especially this page.

      I’m a muslim and our view is simple: God is one !
      and jesus is His messenger

      how about that ? it is very simple

    • matthew macarthur

      Every knee shall bow, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of the Father. “Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equel To God:” Philippians 2:6. ‘And the Lord shall be King over all the earth: and in that day shall there be One Lord, and His name one.” Zechariah 14:9. Every time you diminish The Lord Christ Jesus to a role less than He is, you take glory away from the God of heaven and earth. For it is that same God that created all; That lived, and died for our sins in the man Christ Jesus!

    • […] leads to a heresy called Tritheism. To read more about how these examples are insufficient click here. Therefore, I recommend simply teaching the truths using the […]

    • […] you probably should consider being a Oneness Pentacostal, but it may actually be Tritheism. "The Trinity is Like 3-in-1 Shampoo". . . And Other Stupid Statements | Parchment and Pen […]

    • Diana

      “It is always best to remember that the Father is God, the Holy Spirit is God, and the Son is God, but they are not each other.”

      God + God + God but not each other is polytheism.

      The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are separate persons but the same God.

    • matthew

      I’m going to be blunt here, because it calls for it. To believe that God is three persons, but one God is stupid. No where you are in the world does 1+1+1=1. that’s three (3) no matter what grade you’re in. You’re misguided at best, but totally confused for sure. Your belief in God comes from a pagan understanding of God. God doesn’t lie, so if there was a mini me God, He’d said it! All through the Bible God declares Himself to be One. He is the almighty God in One person, the man Christ Jesus. God in the Father, God in the Son, God in the Holy Ghost. There is only one person in the God head, the man Christ Jesus! There is only One name for God, JESUS! There is only one Lord, one Savior, one Redeemer of our soul. God in the flesh, Christ Jesus.

    • matthew

      The first misconception with the trinity doctine is to believe in three persons in the God head. Webster’s definition of a person is, (noun) “a human being.” Seeing there is but one human beinging in the God head, The man Christ Jesus; there is only one person in the God head. The spirit of God lived in that man wholly, and holy in Deity, and humanity. A spirit is not a person, it’s a spirit.

    • Johny

      I think that the first “stupid” mistake that many people make (including you) is that they use the word “IS” with the analogy. As you state on your explanations; “let me now cover the “stupid statements” and why they don’t pass the test” — you start wrongly with the premise that everyone believes that this is how God IS. I have yet to hear someone tell me that God IS like a three leaf clover or H2O or anything else. People use it as analogies or examples to explain how something can be divided or have three parts and yet still be the same essence or being but never to say that this IS how the Trinity works.
      These are examples or figures that when properly explained can help unbelievers arrive to a better understanding/reasoning on how something can be three or three can be one. NOT that this is what God really is (because after all no one knows or comprehends exactly the trinity to its fullest) but that if God wanted to divide himself in 3 – 4 -5 or 6… He could because He is God and I’m not. All we know is that He decided to reveal Himself to us in Three different persons and we learn it, bow our knees, accept it, and worship Him.
      And if people need descriptions of H20 or clovers to learn it, then use them correctly without calling them stupid. By the way I totally agree with you in your believe of the Trinity, I just don’t think that we do much help to unbelievers when we use words such as “stupid”.

    • Matthew

      Well Johny, looks like the trinity scalars have won out again. Your brilliant definition on the word “is” reminds me of Bill Clinton. To refresh you on the matter “it depends on the meaning of ‘is’ is!” and we all knew he was lying too! The reason you, or nobody else can explain the trinity, is because it’s full of conjecture. It was arrived from idiots trying to define a God they never knew. Instead of reading all the gospels, and Acts; they focused on one scpiture. And what the came up with was a terrible interpretation of the scriptures. It’s like any lie told long enough, there will be many that believe it for the sake of believing; but in any lie when pressured to hold up under scrutiny it begins to unravel. The first Church was all baptized in the name of Jesus. That is the name of the One True King! He is the only person in the God head. When you define the father, and the holy ghost they are a spirit, not a person. And they are the spirit of the man Christ Jesus; making Him God in the flesh!

    • Thomas

      I’m fascinated by this intriguing dialogue. It’s hard to understand this three person God. The way I understand your explaination is three different persons, and one God. Wouldn’t that make four gods? Is the father God, or is the son God, or is the holy ghost God? Do they sit around talking to each other. And if they’re three seperated and different gods, who is the real God thats in control of everything. And you keep saying that God revealed Himself in three different persons, where did you find that in the bible? I’ve looked and cant find anywhere that the father, and or the son, and the holy ghost was ever seen together in person. I’ve read where a voice was heard from the heavens declaring Jesus as His son, but never the person was seen. Is God not omnipotent? Is God not omnipresensce? I believe that Jesus was God in man, and at times He used His deity in the onmipresence to revael to man His deity. But nevertheless, three gods, or four gods is to confusing for me.

    • […] is a diagram from Michael Patten’s Blog that illustrates that last […]

    • Joy

      This is a great explanation of how lacking these analogies can be. That said, people who use it usually point out that it is just simple explanation of one of the mysteries of our faith and cannot fully explain the complexity of the Trinity. We are only human and our understanding is not God’s understanding. I think people who use these analogies do the best they can to explain the doctrine of the trinity to others. Don’t forget that Jesus being fully God and full man chose to use everyday objects to teach complex spiritual lessons as well!

    • hargis

      So you believe in three gods. A schizophrenic god.

    • kashmir

      Man is a trinity, but not three persons. Man’s trinity, like God’s, consists of the body, soul, and spirit.

      Jesus represented the body, and within Him resided His soul (Father) and spirit. Therefore Jesus said He and the Father were one. Isaiah also said the Son that was born was called the everlasting Father.

      One God, Who was called Redeemer, Savior, and King in the Old Testament was the very Jesus in the New Testament. Isaiah also gave this truth, “Declare and set forth your case; Indeed, let them consult together. Who has announced this from of old? Who has long since declared it? Is it not I, the Lord? And there is no other God besides Me, A righteous God and a Savior; There is none except Me” (45:21). As God has stated through Isaiah, “there is no God besides Me”, He also stated there is no Savior besides Him.

      So I ask, are there ‘two’ Saviors who are two separate persons? Are there ‘two’ Kings, and also, are there ‘two’ Redeemers?

      I will also ask, Who was the first and the last? Is it the God in Isaiah (whom most consider the Father), “Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: ‘I am the first and I am the last, And there is no God besides Me (Isaiah 44:6), Or, is it Jesus, the Son, who stated in Revelation 22:13, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end”? You can’t have ‘two’ firsts and ‘two’ lasts!

    • Tom

      The reason he starts out by telling you never to use those statements ever; is that it will expose the trinity belief as the lie that it is. The reason you can not explain, or ever make it make sence, is that it’s false teachings of a pagin church.
      There ia only one person in the God head, and thats the man Christ Jesus. And that person was, and is God Amighty.

      • Belle

        Are you then denying the Holy Spirit?

    • Blandell

      My thing is, if it is all the power of God, then why split his power all up into halves if it is all him? None of them can work without him. He is the creator of the titles. Doesent make sence. You cant liken God to the earth, not spiritual with natural, but spitural with spiritual. If we mix spitural with natural then we do not have the mind of Christ…

    • Leonard Hoy

      Your comment is my excuse to stop fussing with a door installation for a moment or two. Thanks.

      Those who encounter a triune God in the biblical text discover a God who, from Eternity Past, is relational in His very essence. The phrase “authentic individuality, complete union and perfect community in the Trinity” describes a relationally self-sufficient God. He created us not from a Sovereign Being’s need to dominate someone (read: Allah), nor from a lonely Cosmic Entity’s need to divert Himself with our foolish carryings on. No, a Triune God created out of a surfeit of love. In creating us, God magnifies His experience of love in ways that authenticate and magnify love beyond even the moral and relational perfection the GodHead enjoyed in Eternity Past.

      The love that the GodHead experienced certainly becomes magnified arithmetically by adding new persons to the list of persons loved and, conversely, by experiencing love from new sources. This math exercise represents the least interesting line of love’s development.

      With the Creation, God qualitatively perfected, authenticated His/Their experience of love. Love, to be more than mere affection or pleasant emotional diversion, requires choice and sacrifice on the part of the lover. Where, how or when were the three persons of the Trinity ever required to make a hard choice for the sake of their love for one another before the Creation? What painful sacrifice did one of the three persons of the Trinity ever have to make for the sake of His love of the others? Such love without an experience of hard choice or sacrifice may exist in moral perfection but not in perfect authenticity.

      With the creation, and with humanity’s descent into sin, God perfects and authenticates His/Their love. Jesus makes an agonizing choice to die for us in the Garden, an agonizing choice to obey the Father whose plan Jesus will carry out. The Father must choose to make the Son “to be sin” with…

    • Jason

      Ok, So I have a question regarding the H2O analogy, which I have always found to be perhaps the best (albeit misleading analogy). In relation to the diagram at the bottom of the post (which is the most clear visual representation of the Trinity that I’ve seen), could we not make the exact same diagram with H20 in the middle and ice, water, and steam on the outer circles. If we, for a moment, we forget about the fact that one substance CAN transform into the others given different conditions (temperature/pressure).
      Ice is neither liquid or steam.
      Liquid water is neither steam or ice.
      & Steam is neither liquid water, or ice.
      all are H20.
      So, if we explain that we are to ignore the factor that one can in fact turn into the other given certain conditions, would the H2O analogy not be pretty apt at discribing the trinity? It certainly does fit into the bottom diagram quite well, the the only problem being in the Trinity, one does not Transform into another, but rather simultaniously pre-existing. Any thought for/against this?

      • Belle

        The triple point exists my friend. All three all at once.

    • Patent Attorney

      Sometimes it helps to have things explained without the pretentiousness or the jargon, and you realise this expertly here.

    • Daniel King

      By Daniel King

      It doesn’t make sense,
      The Trinity,
      For all of time,
      A mystery.

      Three in One,
      One in Three,
      That is the way
      that it has to be.

      In the Old Testament,
      God is One.
      But in the New Testament,
      Born is a Son.

      One from the Beginning,
      They developed a plan
      Jesus is God,
      He’s also a Man.

      So, there’s a Father
      And a Son,
      Don’t stop yet,
      Because we’re not done.

      The Spirit was promised,
      On Pentecost He came,
      Now there’s three,
      But they’re all the same.

      The Father,
      The Word,
      The Bird,
      It’s a little absurd.

      Three beings,
      One whole.
      Try to explain it, lose your mind;
      Try to deny it, lose your soul.

    • fred

      The egg sounded like a good analogy until I dropped it. Oooooooooh, what a mess…cannot stand up to a little pressure.
      The three-leaf clover. Nice try until I chopped it up with my lawn mower, what a mess…this one is easily cut apart.
      Water. Three states [solid, liquid and gas] but never at the exact same time. Now when Jesus ‘the ‘Son’ ” prayed to “the ‘Father’,” they must have been in two different states
      at the exact same time. This analogy melts under a little heat.
      How about using three parts of bread:
      The center/dough; The outside crust; and, the holes, which will mean it is holy.
      Ultimately, the Scriptures must have absolute evidence that the “trinity” is all one god. Did Christ ever say “I am the Almighty God?” Or, where did the holy spirit ever say such?
      Until there is Scriptural proof, not some assumptions as per John 1:1, this thing about having three gods is cracked, half-baked and nothing more than vapour.

      • Belle

        “We will make mankind in OUR image.” Genesis. And the royal we never existed during this time frame as monarchy was never a thing and such plurality was never needed so no- that’s not an excuse.

    • matt

      This whole notion that the Creator would baffle our minds with this convoluted theory of His true identity is insane! The same God that told the Hebrew children that, He is one, and beside Him there is no other; is the same God that hung on the tree for our sins. There is only one person in the God head, and thats the man Christ Jesus. The same God that spoke to Moses in the desert, is the same God that walk apon the water. The same God that forgave King David of his sin, is the same God that healed the man in Capernaum in Mark 2. by forgiving his sins. And those around that knew the verses marveled at such a statement for they knew, that God alone can forgive sins! Jesus spoke in parables so that the people would understand; God is easy to understand! It’s the lies of man that can’t be understood! To arrive at the teachings of the trinity, is to fall for lies told by satan 1700 years ago. If Satan can hide from you the true nature and identity of our Great Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
      the battle is his; as far as your soul is concerned.

      • Belle

        Literally finite minds cannot comprehend that what is infinite. So it doesn’t matter how dumbed down the word of god is- we will never understand him as a being. And when we refer to him, that’s the reference of all three as all three are HIM. That’s what Trinitarianism is all about :/

    • Trish Campbell

      As I was reading many of the comments from 2009-2014, I suddenly realized that Job has the answer. God rebuked Job’s three friends, “…because you have not spoken of Me what is right as my servant Job has…”

      This judgment of God prompted me to look again at what Job had said, since God declares Job’s final words as “right.”

      So I read in the 42nd chapter where Job had said, “I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted…therefore I have declared that which I did not understand…I retract, and I repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:2, 3b, 6)

      Basically after all the discussion and debate, Job declared that God is too wonderful to understand, and God said that this is the only right statement.

      One day we will see His face, and live! At last will know fully as we have been fully known. Until that astonishing day however, let’s conclude, “I know that I cannot understand such a wonderful God as You!”

    • Lynn

      I am curious if the water, ice, steam example is viable when we consider triple point. (triple point is the pressure and temperature at which all 3 exist at once and are still part of each other, ie not separate containers)


    • Paulo

      Thank you for the concise, accurate information. I, from time to time, use the water analogy but always specify the limitations of that analogy.
      Regards and God bless.

    • John Piermont Montilla (The Pantheist)

      None of the illustration is nearer to what the doctrine of the trinity tries to convey. Nor the attempt to explain the Trinity as a “mystery” that has no explanation is worst than a believer believing it without reason. There is a theological explanation and the explanation is not scientific but rater metaphoric or abstract . The Holy Trinity is a belief system and not a knowledge system that tries to explain the Triune God that is believed all through out the ages.. The problem in the understanding of the this dogma or doctrine which outside the domains of nature is to force it to be explained within the domains of nature which is governed by logic and human reason according to scientific terms. That’s the confusion.

      My two cents with regards this Doctrine is as follows:

      Review and compare the book of Genesis and the Book of John and then ponder.

      The Book of Genesis is the most ancient narrative of creation among the three Abrahamic Religions. All through out the narration, it mentions that “God” created the heavens and the earth. In every process of creation, the narrative states that this God speaks an instruction for each, and the narration made mention that after speaking every instruction it narrates that ” the Spirit of God” was hovering over the waters.

      the instructions are as follows:

      – “Let there be light”,
      – “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water”,
      – “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear”,
      – “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds”,
      – “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.”
      -“Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky”,
      – “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind”
      – “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals,[a] and over all the creatures that move along the ground”
      – and so forth

      Now, lets go to the New Testament in John 1:1. It restates the Genesis creation process and introduces another Christian doctrine known as the “Incarnation of the Word”.

      The first five verses states:

      1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
      2 The same was in the beginning with God.
      3 All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.
      4 In him was life; and the life was the light of men.
      5 And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

      So it is very clear that the Word spoken by God to create during creation in the book of Genesis was the Word not yet in flesh and became flesh in the new testament and that is Jesus known as the Son of God And the Spirit that hovers after each Word spoken completes the creation process and the same spirit that breath life to the first man, Adam (He breathed the breath of life into the man’s nostrils, and the man became a living soul)

      In Genesis, there is only one Being with three creative processes (God, his word, and the spirit). These three are inseparable in the creation process.

      In the new testament, specifically in the Book of John started the Christian Doctrine that holds that God is one God all three coeternal and consubstantial but with three earthly manifestations. In short, one God in three Divine persons.

      The Triune God was debated and finalised during the time of Athanasius the Chief defender of the Trinity against Arianism and forms the basis of the Athanasian Creed adopted by the Council of Nicaea in 325.

      Okay, since there are people that really wants to laymanize this doctrine for their own understanding, the illustrations regarding water, three leaves clover, three in one shampoo, and etc. are ridiculous analogies that does not come any nearer to what the doctrine is all about.

      However, If there is an analogy that I can offer is this analogy:

      The Fire:

      God is the flame, the heat that comes out of it is Jesus, and light that emanates from the flame and the heat is Jesus. Each are coexistent. If you take one, the other cannot exist. The Science of Physics can prove this.

      Thank you.

    • gary

      I would bet good money that if Jesus were still alive today he would be horrified that his modern followers believe that he was claiming to be God. One only has to look at Jesus’ trial before the Sanhedrin in Mark chapter 14 to see that NO ONE, not even the high priest, accused Jesus of claiming or even inferring to be God. The divinity of Jesus and the Trinity are later inventions of Gentile Christians.

    • Belle

      Ok but the triple point isn’t SOMETIMES liquid, gas, or solid. It’s ALL those things coexisting simultaneously in a very exact temperature/pressure. Solid, liquid, and gas are all present within the solution. No different than how the father, the son, and the Holy Spirit are. All those states exist simultaneously as ONE. At least do research before babbling about how wrong people are.

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