The Trinity

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This article is one in a series of studies on William Branham and the Trinity - you are currently on the topic that is in bold:

The Trinity is an explanation of the The Godhead that has historically been accepted by the vast majority of the world's Christian churches. The word "Trinity" was first used circa. A.D. 200 by Tertullian, a Latin theologian from Carthage.

The doctrine of the Trinity is shown in John 14:23, when Jesus says:

If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.[1]


William Branham's Critique of the Trinity

William Branham's arguments against the doctrine of the Trinity can be referred to as "straw man" arguments:

They also state, "God, according to the Bible, is not just one person, but He is three persons in one God. That is the great mystery of the Trinity". It sure is. How can three persons be in one God? Not only is there no Bible for it, but it shows even a lack of intelligent reasoning. Three distinct persons, though identical substance, make three gods, or language has lost its meaning entirely.[2]
Satan is a liar and the father of lies, and whenever he comes with any light it is still a lie. He is a murderer. And his doctrine of the trinity has destroyed the multitudes and will destroy until Jesus comes.[3]
Therefore, if any Trinitarian here would just let yourself loose a minute, you can see that Father, Son, and Holy Ghost is not three Gods. It's three attributes of the same God. See, it's expression. Father, He was, wanted to be a Father. He was a Father, He was a Son, and He is the Holy Ghost. And the Father and the Holy Ghost is the same Spirit. Don't you see? You get it? [Congregation says, "Amen."--Ed.] Not three gods. The devil has told you them things, to make an idolater out of you. See? [4]

A straw man argument is when someone establishes a position, claims it is the opponent’s position, and then attacks it, when it is not, in fact, the opponent’s position at all.[5]

The straw man fallacy was so named because of the ease with which a straw image can be knocked down as opposed to a real man made of bone and muscle. A straw man may be an extreme or exaggerated version of another’s position or an oversimplification of it. It is always easier to dispose of an exaggerated or simplistic argument than a well-balanced and substantive argument.

William Branham alleged that the doctrine of the Trinity was unbiblical because it teaches three Gods. However, this objection is a straw man because, in fact, the doctrine of the Trinity affirms the existence of only one God.[6]

William Branham also criticized Oneness theology by saying "you get off the wrong track when you try to think that God is one like your finger is one. He can't be His Own Father."[7] If Jesus could not be his own father, then it is difficult to see how William Branham could reject the doctrine of the Trinity.

It is important to notice that William Branham's critique of the doctrine of the Trinity is not backed up by a lot of scripture. So first, he misrepresented the doctrine of the Trinity through a straw man argument (no Trinitarian believes in three Gods), and then critiqued his own misrepresentation of the Trinity.

The Historic Doctrine of the Trinity

So that we are all on the same page, a basic definition of the Trinity is necessary:

Within one Being that is God, there exists eternally three coequal and coeternal persons, namely the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.[8]

Commonly referred to as "One God in Three Persons", the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are identified as distinct and co-eternal "persons" or "hypostases," who share a single Divine essence, being, or nature.

Three Gods?

William Branham's primary argument against the Trinity was a logical fallacy referred to as "a straw man".

A misleading impression of the Trinity (by Fridolin Leiber) as "person" does not mean "individual". Don't try to paint God (or take pictures of lights and claim it's God) and think you're going to get it right.
A man come to me the other night to show me where I was wrong, or to talking about the trinity. I got thousands of good trinity friends. They're in that Babylon. I got a lot of Oneness friends in that Babylon, too. See? But what happened? He said, "It's terminology, Brother Branham. You believe in the trinity?"
I said, "Certainly." I said, "I'll take your word: terminology." I said, "How do you believe it?"
He said, "I believe in one God."
I say, "You do well." See?
He said, "I believe there's one God, and three persons in the Godhead."
I said, "Aren't you a--a student of BIOLA?"
He said, "Yes."
I said, "Sounds like it." I said, "That don't speak very good for your education." I said, "Three persons, and one God?" I said, "According to Webster, there, it has to be a personality before it can be a person. You believe in three gods, mister." You cannot be a person without being a personality, 'cause it takes a personality to make a person.[9]

William Branham clearly understood that the doctrine of the Trinity did not teach that there were three gods but chose to ignore the reasons for this position. Instead of focusing on the reasons that the church had adopted this position for millienia, he chose to reject it simply on the basis that it didn't make sense to him.

However, his position disagrees with all of the great spiritual men of the church that preceded him, and he chose to ignore them as well:

A Defense of the Trinity by historical Christian figures

The following are a few well known Christian figures through history that have defended the Trinity doctrine in very clear terms:

Martin Luther

The evangelist clearly differentiates between the Word and the Person of the Father. He stresses the fact that the Word was a Person distinct from the Person of the Father, with whom He was. He was entirely separate from the Father. John wishes to say: “The Word, who was in the beginning, was not alone but was with God.” Just as if I should say: “He was with me; he sits at my table; he is my companion.” This would imply that I am speaking of another, that there are two of us; I alone do not constitute a companion. Thus we read here: “The Word was with God.”
According to reason, this would mean that the Word is something different from God. Therefore he continues and drives home his point: “And God was the Word.” He does so, in order to forestall any attempt to separate the Word from God, that is, the Son from the Father, in view of the statement: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God.” Now this gives the impression and sounds as if there were more than one. “You are right,” he says, “inasmuch as you distinguish between the Person of God and the Person of the Word, since God is one Person and the Word is another. Despite this, the Word, i.e., the Son, is and remains eternal and true God together with the Father.”
Our reason makes an entirely different deduction and says: “If you insist that the Word is with God, then are there two Gods?” Therefore St. John wants the three Persons distinguished from one another within the one divine essence. And then he joins Them together again in order to avoid the impression that They are divided into three Gods, and in order to stress that there is only one God: God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, by whom all things were made. It is as if St. John were to say: “I wish to preach of a Word who became flesh but who was with God and beside God from the beginning. He could not be elsewhere than with God, since no creature existed as yet. It is true, I make mention of two, namely, God and the Word, i.e., the Father and the Son. But this Word was with God, yet not as a separate, distinct God; no, He was the true, eternal God, of one essence with the Father, equal in might and glory. The distinction is that the Father is one Person, and the Son is another Person. Although the latter is a different Person, He is nevertheless the same God as the Father. Although there are two of Them, yet the Son remains the one true God with the Father. The two Persons are distinguished thus: It is the Father who speaks; the other Person, the Son, is spoken.”
There are two distinct Persons; and still there is one single, eternal, natural God. The Holy Spirit is likewise a Person, apart from the Father and the Son; and at the same time the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are one divine essence and remain one God, three Persons in the one divine essence. Therefore the Holy Trinity must be spoken of correctly and accurately: The Word, which is the Son, and God the Father are two Persons but nevertheless one God; and the Holy Spirit is another Person in the Godhead, as we shall see later.[10]

John Calvin

Sabellius says that the Father, Son, and Spirit, indicate some distinction in God. Say, they are three, and he will bawl out that you are making three Gods. Say, that there is a Trinity of Persons in one Divine essence, you will only express in one word what the Scriptures say, and stop his empty prattle. Should any be so superstitiously precise as not to tolerate these terms, still do their worst, they will not be able to deny that when one is spoken of, a unity of substance must be understood, and when three in one essence, the persons in this Trinity are denoted. When this is confessed without equivocations we dwell not on words. But I was long ago made aware, and, indeed, on more than one occasion, that those who contend pertinaciously about words are tainted with some hidden poison; and, therefore, that it is more expedient to provoke them purposely, than to court their favour by speaking obscurely.
For it is absurd to imagine that our doctrine gives any ground for alleging that we establish a quaternion of gods. They falsely and calumniously ascribe to us the figment of their own brain, as if we virtually held that three persons emanate from one essence, whereas it is plain, from our writings, that we do not disjoin the persons from the essence, but interpose a distinction between the persons residing in it. If the persons were separated from the essence, there might be some plausibility in their argument; as in this way there would be a trinity of Gods, not of persons comprehended in one God. This affords an answer to their futile question—whether or not the essence concurs in forming the Trinity; as if we imagined that three Gods were derived from it. Their objection, that there would thus be a Trinity without a God, originates in the same absurdity. Although the essence does not contribute to the distinction, as if it were a part or member, the persons are not without it, or external to it; for the Father, if he were not God, could not be the Father; nor could the Son possibly be Son unless he were God. We say, then, that the Godhead is absolutely of itself. And hence also we hold that the Son, regarded as God, and without reference to person, is also of himself; though we also say that, regarded as Son, he is of the Father. Thus his essence is without beginning, while his person has its beginning in God.[11]

John & Charles Wesley

In the three Divine Persons we acknowledge a distinction established upon Scripture authority; but, holding the unity of substance in the Godhead, we protest against tritheism, or the notion of three Gods, and confine our worship to the one Supreme.[12]
To God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost, who yet are not three Gods, but One, revered by all His host... [13]

Charles Spurgeon

I no more believe in three Gods than I believe in thirty gods. There is but one God to me, and therefore I am in that sense a Unitarian, and Socinians have no right to the name merely because they deny the Godhead of our Lord Jesus. We believe Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to be one God; but Jesus Christ is God, and whosoever casts that truth away casts away eternal life. How can he enter into heaven if he does not know Christ as the everlasting Son of the Father? He must be God, since he has promised to be in ten thousand places at one time, and no mere man could do that.[14]

C.S. Lewis

You know that in space you can move in three ways – to left or right, backwards or forwards, up or down. Every direction is either one of these three or a compromise between them. They are called the three Dimensions.
Now notice this. If you are using only one dimension, you could draw only a straight line. If you are using two, you could draw a figure: say, a square. And a square is made up of four straight lines. Now a step further. If you have three dimensions, you can then build what we call a solid body: say, a cube – a thing like a dice or a lump of sugar. And a cube is made up of six squares.
Do you see the point?
A world of one dimension would be a straight line. In a two-dimensional world, you still get straight lines, but many lines make one figure. In a three-dimensional world, you still get figures but many figures make one solid body. In other words, as you advance to more real and more complicated levels, you do not leave behind you the things you found on the simpler levels: you still have them, but combined in new ways – in ways you could not imagine if you knew only the simpler levels.
Now the Christian account of God involves just the same principle. The human level is a simple and rather empty level. On the human level one person is one being, and any two persons are two separate beings – just as, in two dimensions (say on a flat sheet of paper) one square is one figure, and any two squares are two separate figures. On the Divine level you still find personalities; but up there you find them combined in new ways which we, who do not live on that level, cannot imagine.
In God’s dimension, so to speak, you find a being who is three Persons while remaining one Being, just as a cube is six squares while remaining one cube. Of course we cannot fully conceive a Being like that: just as, if we were so made that we perceived only two dimensions in space we could never properly imagine a cube. But we can get a sort of faint notion of it. And when we do, we are then, for the first time in our lives, getting some positive idea, however faint, of something super-personal – something more than a person. It is something we could never have guessed, and yet, once we have been told, one almost feels one ought to have been able to guess it because it fits in so well with all the things we know already.[15]

The Limitations of the Doctrine

The doctrine of the Trinity is the summary expression of what Christians have to say in answer to the question who God is and what God is in the divine life and in relation to what is not God.[16]However, William Branham felt that he could reject almost 2000 years of thought and study out of hand:

So they say... He said, "Well, Mr. Branham, you know, even the--the theologians can't explain it."
I said, "That's exactly right. The Word don't come to a theologian." Uh-huh. I said, "The Bible is all tied into the Revelation, 'Upon this rock I'll build My Church, and the gates of hell can't prevail against It.'" See? Amen, there you are. See? But then when it comes to those things... Oh, my![17]

However, it is important to understand that theologians believe that the doctrine of the Trinity is a very difficult issue:

We do not think it open to full explication in human thought. It is not wise to attempt more than is attainable. Yet the manifest prudence of this law has often been violated in strivings after an unattainable solution of this doctrine. We shall not repeat the error. Still, the divine Trinity is so manifestly a truth of Scripture, and so cardinal in Christian theology, that the question cannot be omitted. If a full solution cannot be attained, the facts may be so presented as not to appear in contradictory opposition. With this attainment, nothing hinders the credibility of the doctrine on the ground of Scripture. [18]
How is it that the Father is God, that the Son is God, and that the Holy Ghost is God, and yet that there are not three Gods, but one God? I cannot tell you. I know it is so, for so it is revealed; but how it is so it is not for us to guess, because it is not revealed or explained. Our understanding can adventure as far as the testimony, and no farther. Many attempts have been made by divines to find parallels in Nature to the Unity and the Trinity of God, but they all seem to me to fail.
Perhaps the very best one is that of St. Patrick, who, when preaching to the Irish, and wishing to explain this matter, plucked a shamrock and showed them its three leaves all in one—three, yet one. Yet there are flaws and faults even in that illustration. It does not meet the case. It is a doctrine to be emphatically asserted as it is expounded in that Athanasian Creed; the soundness of whose teaching I do not question, for I believe it all, though I shrink with horror from the abominable anathema which assert that a man who hesitates to endorse it will “without doubt perish everlastingly.” It is a matter to be reverently accepted as it stands in the Word of God, and to be faithfully studied as it has been understood by the most scrupulous and intelligent Christians of succeeding generations.
We are not to think of the Father as though anything could detract from the homage due to him as originally and essentially divine, nor of the only begotten Son of the Father as though he were not “God over all, blessed for ever,” nor of the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father and the Son, as though he had not all the attributes of Deity. We must abide by this, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord thy God is one Jehovah”; but we must still hold to it that in three Persons he is to be worshipped, though he be but one in his essence.[19]

Must one believe the Trinity in order to be a Christian?

Roger Olson, a well known Christian theologian and author (Foy Valentine Professor of Christian Theology of Ethics at George W. Truett Theological Seminary of Baylor University) stated the following:

...the doctrine of the Trinity is not part of the gospel; it is not revealed truth. It is constructed out of revealed truth and constitutes necessary reflection on revealed truth in the light of heresies (subordinationism, adoptionism, modalism, tritheism, etc.). Once the doctrine of the Trinity was constructed and embraced by the church ecumenical (Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant) it could not and should not be set aside, ignored or rejected. But neither should it be confused with revelation itself or the gospel of Jesus Christ.
...If the doctrine of the Trinity is not part of the gospel, what doctrine is? Central to the gospel are the deity and humanity of Jesus Christ (incarnation) and the atonement (the cross as saving sacrifice for sins). Also included are salvation by grace through faith and Jesus’ and our resurrections by the power of God. These are necessary beliefs, insofar as they are known and understood (however dimly), for being “Christian.” Part and parcel of the gospel is that God has come to us and for us as the Father of Jesus Christ and that Jesus Christ is God and savior and that the Holy Spirit is the personal power and presence of God in resurrection life.
...How one can grasp the gospel and not believe in the doctrine of the Trinity is difficult to understand, but it happens. Many Christians simply cannot “wrap their minds around” the doctrine of the Trinity and so put it on a shelf, so to speak, and leave it there — neither believing it nor denying it. A few deny it simply because they misunderstand it and it’s difficult to blame them. According to a famous statement often attributed to St. Augustine “If you deny the Trinity you lose your salvation but if you try to understand it you lose your mind.” That’s the difficulty many Christians find themselves in and they feel caught between having to believe a doctrinal formulation they can make no sense of and being threatened with losing their status as Christian (if not their salvation).
...Please don’t get me wrong; I think belief in the Trinity, that God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit and yet one God, is essential to authentic Christianity. But someone who demurs from confessing the “one substance, three persons” for reasons other than denial of the deity of Christ and the Holy Spirit, are probably just confused, mystified, perplexed. I would not join a church that did not confess the doctrine of the Trinity in some form (at least implicitly if not explicitly), but I cannot deny the Christian status of someone who is genuinely confused and uncertain about it.
A few years ago I visited a church that claims not to believe in the doctrine of the Trinity. A soloist sang a song titled “O Lamb of God” the first line of which says “From your side you sent your Son.” I tried to ask my friend who is an elder of the church how they can sing that song and mean it and at the same time deny the doctrine of the Trinity. He looked at me bemused and said “We believe whatever the Bible says.” Then I was bemused. My life experiences and reading of Brunner have led me to think that the doctrine of the Trinity, although extremely important as a landmark, if not a pillar, of Christian doctrine, is not essential to being Christian. But I suspect that if I could get any real Christian who claims not to believe in the Trinity alone in a room, one-on-one, for an hour long conversation about the matter I could convert them to belief in it.
In sum, then, I am suggesting that the doctrine of the Trinity lies in a liminal position between or overlapping the borders of dogma and doctrine as I described these as two of three categories (the third being opinion) of Christian beliefs. “Dogma” is the category of essentials of the Christian faith, what is required to believe in order to be considered Christian. There I would place the deity and humanity of Jesus Christ (incarnation). “Doctrine” (in the sense of this taxonomy) is the category of important but not essential beliefs. There I would place, for example, universal atonement. “Opinion” is the third category in which I would place premillennialism.[20]

Quotes of William Branham

And you Oneness brethren, many of you get off the wrong track when you try to think that God is one like your finger is one. He can't be His Own Father. He can't be.[21]


But here, remember, there was a Gethsemane conference come one time, when God and His Son had to get together. After all, there was no one else could die for the sins of the world. There was nobody worthy to die, no man.[22]


God does everything in threes. He wrote three Bibles. He had three comings of Christ. There is three dispensations of grace. There's three persons in the Godhead, three manifestations of the one Person in the Godhead, rather. And all those things. See?[23]


The same God the Father was made manifest in flesh, and now in the Holy Spirit. That's the reason the baptism is in the Name of Father, Son, Holy Ghost (See?) the trinity—the trinity, not three gods, but three persons in one God, one… three gods… One person in three dispensations. See?[24]

Anyone that knows God, and knows His Bible, know that those three are One. Not three gods, one God, manifested in three persons.[25]


Jesus said, "Except you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins." He is the revelation of God, the Spirit of God revealed in human form. If you can't believe that, you're lost. You put Him a third person, second person, or any other person besides God, you're lost. "Except you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins." A revelation![26]


That's God. God in a trinity is One, and without a trinity He's not God. He can't be manifested any other way.[27]


Footnotes

  1. The Holy Bible: King James Version, Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), Jn 14:23.
  2. THE REVELATION OF JESUS CHRIST - CHURCH.AGE.BOOK CPT.1
  3. PERGAMEAN.CHURCH.AGE - CHURCH.AGE.BOOK CPT.5
  4. CHRIST.IS.THE.MYSTERY.OF.GOD.REVEALED_ JEFF.IN V-3 N-7 SUNDAY_ 63-0728
  5. Norman L. Geisler and Ronald M. Brooks, Come, Let Us Reason: An Introduction to Logical Thinking (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1990), 194.
  6. Kenneth Richard Samples, A World of Difference: Putting Christian Truth-Claims to the Worldview Test (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2007), 66–67.
  7. 59-0823, Palmerworm, Locust, Cankerworm, Caterpillar
  8. James White, The Forgotten Trinity, Bethany House Publishing, 1998
  9. WHO.DO.YOU.SAY.THIS.IS_ PHOENIX.AZ V-6 N-9 SUNDAY_ 64-1227
  10. Martin Luther, vol. 22, Luther's Works, Vol. 22: Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 1-4, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald and Helmut T. Lehmann, 15-16 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999).
  11. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 1997).
  12. Charles Wesley, A Short Commentary on the Church Catechism, 16-17 (London: S. Low, 1836).
  13. John Wesley and Charles Wesley, The Poetical Works of John and Charles Wesley, Volume 2, ed. G. Osborn, 21 (London: Wesleyan-Methodist Conference Office, 1869).
  14. C. H. Spurgeon, The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, Vol. XXX, 46 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1884).
  15. C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, p. 161-162
  16. Colin E. Gunton, The Doctrine of Creation : Essays in Dogmatics, History and Philosophy (London; New York: T&T Clark, 2004), 155.
  17. WHO.DO.YOU.SAY.THIS.IS_ PHOENIX.AZ V-6 N-9 SUNDAY_ 64-1227
  18. John Miley, Systematic Theology, Volume 1, 223 (New York: Hunt & Eaton, 1892)
  19. C. H. Spurgeon, The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, Vol. LXII, 315-16 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1916).
  20. Must You Believe in the Doctrine of the Trinity to Be a Christian?, Roger E. Olson, published on www.patheos.com, February 5, 2015
  21. 59-0823, Palmerworm, Locust, Cankerworm, Caterpillar
  22. William Marrion Branham, 63-0608, Sermon: Conferences
  23. 54-1006, Law Or Grace
  24. 53-0829, The Testimony Of Jesus Christ
  25. 56-1207, Gifts
  26. 65-0725M, The Anointed Ones At The End Time
  27. 65-0815, And Knoweth It Not


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