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Bad Theology About the Trinity

Main Point: The Trinity is difficult to understand, but instead of relying on man’s flawed analogies, we should trust in the Bible’s perfect teaching on the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The Discussion Starter:
This is a funny little take on the difficulty of truly understanding the Trinity as revealed in the Bible. Of course, most of us know that the word “Trinity” never actually appears in the Bible, though it is used to describe the completely unique revelation of God as Father, Son, and Spirit.

It’s very important to study the doctrine of the Trinity, because in doing so, we will better understand God. But the relationship of the Father, Son, and Spirit can be difficult to process at times. This little cartoon clip focuses on that difficulty, and gives us the proper way to think of the Trinity, instead of the flawed “illustrations” that have been passed on for many, many years.

NOTE TO LEADERS: You may want to do a little extra study on your own before tackling this topic. There will be notes below, but you will almost certainly be asked questions by your students that may not be addressed in the discussion guide, below. Further, there will be some “churchy” words in this guide, such as heresy, Modalism, Arianism, etc. It may take a little more effort on your part, but your students will be grateful for the extra study.

Video Clip:
The video can be found at the following link:

Transitional Statement:
OK, that was a funny little clip, but the topic it addressed was a serious one. The Trinity is an often misunderstood part of our Christian teaching; unfortunately, since the Trinity is the revelation of God Himself, what we discover is that we’re actually confused about God! That’s not good! Without a doubt, many of us have heard the analogies “St. Patrick” tried to use on the two Irishmen. Let’s spend the next portion of our time discussing the Bible’s revelation of the Trinity so we can best understand God’s revelation of Himself.

Divide into Small Groups:
Let’s go ahead and split up into our discussion groups, and then afterward we’ll come back together for a final word.

CLICK HERE for a quick training article on how to maximize your small groups using our small group format—a great resource to equip your small group leaders.

Discussion Questions:

  1. AROUND THE CIRCLE: As we get started, let’s all take a second to share our names and one thing in the Universe we don’t understand.

  2. ASK A FEW: So the clip was obviously about a subject in Christianity that is difficult to understand: the Trinity. Are there other parts of our Christian faith that you find difficult to understand?

  3. ASK A FEW: The “St. Patrick” figure in the video clip tried to use a few well-known analogies to explain the Trinity to the poor Irish farmers. Can you remember which ones they were? (Leaders – The analogies discussed were “the ice, water, steam one,” “the sun being star, light, heat one,” “the 3-leaf clover one,” “the same man can be father, son, and employer one,” and “the 3 layers of an apple one.”)

  4. ASK A FEW: What were the Irish famers’ response to the analogies St. Patrick was using? Why?

  5. ASK A FEW: Do you know what the word “heresy” means? (Leaders – The definition of heresy is basically “false teaching.” Sometimes the heresy results from greed or some other kind of sin, but often times, heresy is simply the result of mistaken thinking.)

  6. ASK A FEW: Have you ever heard of Modalism, Arianism, or Partialism? If so, could you put them into your own words? (Leaders – Below, is a quick, and hopefully, easy way of thinking about the various heresies.)

      Modalism is the incorrect belief that says God takes the form (or “mode”) of the Father, OR the Son, OR the Holy Spirit one at a time. In other words, according to Modalism, God can’t be Father, Son, and Spirit at the same time. He can only “morph” from one form (or “mode”) to another. Wrong!

      Arianism is the incorrect belief that basically says Jesus came “from” God, or “after” God. In other words, God “created” Jesus. Some believe this false teaching because the birth of Jesus isn’t described until the New Testament. But after researching Scripture, we realize that Jesus existed all along even though He didn’t come to Earth until His birth.

      Partialism is the other incorrect belief that the Father, Son, and Spirit are “parts” of God. The problem is, a “part” cannot be the “whole.” Since there are three mentioned in the Trinity, partialists claimed that the Father was 1/3 of God, the Son was 1/3 of God, and the Spirit was 1/3 of God. In truth, the Father is all God, the Son is all God, and the Spirit is all God.

  7. ASK A FEW: Why is it important to understand the Trinity properly?

  8. ASK A FEW: If you had to put the Trinity in your own words, how would you do it?

  9. Read the following passage:

      Mark 1:1-11

      The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 2 It is written in Isaiah the prophet: "I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way"-- 3 "a voice of one calling in the desert, 'Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.'" 4 And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. 6 John wore clothing made of camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 And this was his message: "After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8 I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit." 9 At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased."

  10. ASK A FEW: Can you identify the three Persons of the Trinity in this passage?

  11. ASK A FEW: Mark chose to open his Gospel (the biography of Jesus) by saying that the Trinity – the Father, Son, and Spirit – was present at Jesus’ baptism at the very beginning of His ministry. Why do you think Mark started his Gospel that way?

  12. ASK A FEW: How does this passage deny the truth of Modalism? (Leaders – They may need to be reminded of that heresy, so keep your notes close by. Essentially, Modalism teaches that God can only be revealed as one Person in the Trinity at a time, but in this passage, we see all three Persons of the Trinity present at Jesus’ baptism.)

  13. Read the following passage:

      Deuteronomy 6:4

      Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.

  14. ASK A FEW: This passage is called the Shema. It was very important to early Israelites and is now very important to Christians. Why do you think this passage is so important to us?

  15. ASK A FEW: What does it teach us about the Trinity?

  16. ASK A FEW: In the clip we watched, “St. Patrick” said the following about the Trinity: The Trinity is a mystery which cannot be comprehended by human reason, but is understood only through faith and is best confessed in the words of the Athanasian Creed which states that we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity, neither confusing the Persons nor dividing the Substance, that we are compelled by the Christian truth to confess that each distinct Person is God and Lord, and that the deity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit is One, equal in glory, co-equal in majesty. Even though all of that statement is important, which portion of that belief means the most to you?

  17. AROUND THE CIRCLE: Now that we’ve had this discussion, how can you help someone best understand the Trinity?

Wrap Up:
I sincerely hope this has been a helpful discussion. It’s extremely important that we do all we can to understand the Trinity because in doing so, we better understand God Himself! He has revealed Himself to us in His Word as Father, Son, and Spirit, so we need to know the three Persons of the Trinity to fully and truly know God.

Unfortunately, there isn’t an “easy” way to understand the Trinity…because there isn’t an easy way to understand God. Think about it. If we understood God…He wouldn’t be God. He’s supernatural, and we’re not. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to know Him as deeply and as accurately as possible. For instance, if you’re dating someone, you don’t just want to know their first name. You want to know everything about them! You want to know their character. Studying the Trinity helps us to deeply know God.

If you see nothing else, I want you to see the unity that is found in the Persons of the Trinity. The Father and the Son and the Spirit are the Persons of the Trinity, but look at how each of them interacts with one another. The Father, the Son, and the Spirit have one will and are perfect. Each of them point to the others. They are perfect love.

So, don’t get fooled into thinking that Jesus or the Holy Spirit are less important than God the Father. Don’t get fooled into thinking that Jesus (or the Holy Spirit) hasn’t existed as long as the Father. In the very beginning of the Bible, Genesis1:1-3 in fact, we see more evidence of the Trinity working perfectly together…and that was before time began!

You are loved by God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit. One has created you, One has redeemed you, and One sustains you even now. That’s the Trinity!

Close in Prayer

Written by David R Smith

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Comments on this post

   Laura         1/25/2018 2:49:33 AM

Great resource, thank you! Looking forward to sharing this with our youth tonight who asked specifically to learn about the Trinity. No more bad analogies from us! Thanks :)

   David R Smith         2/27/2017 12:20:25 PM

Hey Ray, I was just forwarded your comment by email. Here are my responses to your questions/thoughts: It’s not exactly true that Israel “never proclaimed a three in one God” as you say. Granted, I’ll concede the “three” part, but a couple of passages come to mind in thinking about the self-revelation of God. In Genesis 1:26, God talks about “us” creating humankind in “our” image. Again, to your point, no specific number is provided, but it’s fairly plain to see that God was speaking of Himself in Persons. Perhaps the clearest reference to the Trinity can be found at Jesus’ baptism (Matthew 3). The Father is heard speaking, the Son is the One being baptized, of course, and the Holy Spirit is personified by a dove. You’re also right that the Bible does not contain the phrase “God the Son,” but that’s not worrisome at all, given Jesus’ teaching in John 10:30. (There He says He and the Father are one.) I would suggest a good study of Colossians 1:15-19. There, we’re taught that Jesus was “the image of the invisible God” and that in Jesus “all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.” Pretty clear teaching therein on the legitimacy of Christ’s deity. By the way, I discuss this subject in simple terms in the fourth chapter of my book, “Christianity…It’s Like This.” Lastly, to what I’ll call your “if” scenarios (about Jesus being God, about Him facing temptation, about Him not sinning when He had the prerogative to, etc), I can only point out to you Hebrews 2:18 and then Hebrews 4:15. I’ve always found those verses to be helpful. I hope my blend of Old Testament and New Testament passages has been helpful. (I started with the OT because you seem to be more familiar with them, but the fulfillment you speak of in your comment doesn’t actually take place until the NT in Jesus.) If you have further questions, please don’t hesitate to clarify or re-ask. I’ll do anything I can to help. I’ll leave you with this quote from St. Augustine: “If you deny the Holy Trinity, you will lose your soul. If you try to understand the Holy Trinity, you will lose your mind.” Ancient words that still ring true. Blessings, David

   Ray         2/23/2017 7:50:35 AM

I have trouble with the whole trinity concept. I was raised with a lot of Jewish influence. Christians claim to warship the God of Israel, but Israel has never proclaimed a three in one God. What is wrong with this picture? Should the coming of Messiah change who we believe God to be? I believe that Jesus is literally the son of God, in the same manner that you are the son of your own father. Fathers and sons can be similar, but not identical. I have yet to find the phrase "God the Son" in my bible. (that doesn't seem to bother most people). In fact, if Jesus is God, you do not have a savior. Why do I say this? People always talk about what Jesus accomplished for us. What did he have to accomplish to become our savior? He had to fulfill the law. He had to walk every day of his life without sin. If he even blew it one time... If Jesus was God, and we know God can not sin, there would have been no way he could fail. No contest. Nothing accomplished. BUT, if he was indeed the son of God, a man tempted in all things and did not sin based on his own free will, well, now you got something! I am familiar with all the verses that are used to support the tritheism doctrine, but at the end of the day I have to accept what makes the most sense to me.

   Shawn         2/12/2014 7:54:50 PM

I would prefer to base my belief of God on the infallible Word of God rather than a counsel of men. #OneGod #NoBiblicalSuppotOfTheTheologyOfTheTrinity #IBetThisPostDoesntGetPosted

   Cheryl         2/12/2014 9:56:38 AM

We would actually say that the Son existed for all time with the Father and the Holy Spirit. When the Son took on flesh (the Incarnation) He entered into history, the God-Man, Jesus, but Jesus didn't exist for all time, only the Son. NOW Jesus, the God-Man exists forever, reigning in Heaven. Also, Theology of the Body (John Paul II) is an amazing, beautiful explanation of Trinitarian Life and the Communion that exists between Father, Son, and Spirit. Belief in the Trinity is the very foundation of our faith, because without Father, Son, and Spirit, there is no Christian faith. Christ died and rose so that we could participate in the very life of the Trinity.