The first principle of interpreting Scripture is, in fact, not the literal principle of interpretation, but another which comes before it. The first principle of interpreting Scripture is to know that God has truths which cannot be known and truths which can be known (see Deut 29:29). Those truths which can be known are revealed, that is “uncovered.” Not everything that is revealed is plainly stated with literalism. What is typical of literature is also typical of divine revelation. Both unfold.
The Bible is not a list of syllogisms or propositions. The Bible is God’s truth unfolded, uncovered. The richness of literature is the also the richness of Scripture. It is full of profound simplicities, figurative language and multi-layered metaphors all of which are in the service of divine truth progressively unfolded in a long narrative.
That said, the beautiful doctrine of the tri-unity of God is an unfolded, uncovered truth. The inner DNA of the trinity is present from before the beginning. The trinity of God is not entirely new information that must somehow be reconciled with contradictory information that went before it. No, the doctrine of the trinity is a further unfolding, a revealing, of the inner relational nature of Yahweh’s very Being.
When Yahweh declares his name and he also declares its significance and meaning (see Exodus 3). Yahweh says, I AM who I AM. This is not only a declaration of his personal name or label. It just as much declares the core nature of his Being and for that matter what it means to be. As we noticed above there are a several key foundational truths in his Name. The first is his Aseity, his self-existence. There are other truths embedded in his essence identity, but the one we will focus on here is his divine Self-Reflection. When Yahweh says, I AM who I AM that is a statement about his pure (absolute) Being and in conjunction with pure (perfect) relation to himself, his Self-Knowing, Self-Love.
Do you see how the DNA for the doctrine of Yahweh’s tri-personal nature is present in the very holy Name of God? Without compromising his own unity of Being, his own Oneness, he reveals, unfolds, to us that he is in relation to himself, Self-Reflective, Self-Knowing and yes, Self-Enjoying. When Yahweh says, I AM who I AM that should be appreciated by us as a divine admission of adoration as much as one of existence.
To exist, to be a pure Being in absolute form, is to be in full enjoyment and engagement with all that it means to be. Yahweh does not need us or the world. He does not make a world in order to have company or in order to have others to love. No, he loves himself purely, absolutely and relationally without the necessity of making anything. I AM who I AM is Yahweh is perfect enjoyment with himself.
Jonathan Edwards wrote what has been titled, ‘An Unpublished Essay on the Trinity’ which by now is widely published. I commend it to you and hope you will take time to google it and let his meditation sink into your learning on the trinity of God. He begins this way:
“IT IS COMMON when speaking of the Divine happiness to say that God is infinitely happy in the enjoyment of Himself, in perfectly beholding and infinitely loving, and rejoicing in, His own essence and perfection, and accordingly it must be supposed that God perpetually and eternally has a most perfect idea of Himself, as it were an exact image and representation of Himself ever before Him and in actual view, and from hence arises a most pure and perfect act or energy in the Godhead, which is the Divine love, complacence and joy. The knowledge or view which God has of Himself must necessarily be conceived to be something distinct from His mere direct existence. There must be something that answers to our reflection. The reflection as we reflect on our own minds carries something of imperfection in it. However, if God beholds Himself so as thence to have delight and joy in Himself He must become his own object.”
How beautifully expressed. Those is Judaism, Islam, in Eastern mysticism and perversions of Christianity have missed is the relational nature of reality which is endemic to being itself. Nothing can “be” if it is not in relation to something else. God is in perfect relation to himself and this is what his tri-personal nature is about.
The Father knows (self-reflection) that he is the Father as he eternally looks to the Son and the Son knows (self-reflection) that he is the Son as he eternally looks to the Father and the Spirit know (self-reflection) that he is pure fullness of being as he eternally looks to the Father and Son. Furthermore, when we speak of the trinity of God we are not speaking of a threeness in God that is an abstraction divided 3 ways (a triad as in Hinduism). We can speak of God in abstract ways, but that is not who he is in his Being. God is always in lively relation within himself to all that he is within himself.
So when we speak of the love of the Father we know just as truly that it is no less the shared love of the Father, Son, Spirit for each and in each other. God’s essence is not partitioned among the three Persons, but uniformly shared, indwelt fully in each Person and for each Person and from each Person. The Nicene Creed and Athanasian Creeds affirm this clearly.
This is a reality of absolute divine Being which no other system of religion claims or for that matter is interested in claiming or have made any reasonable attempt to claim. Christianity is wonderfully unique in this regard and that, in fact, is at the core of its message, the Gospel. God as three Persons loved the world and thus the Father loves the world through the giving of the Son and the Son loves the world through the unfettered giving of the Father and the Spirit loves the world through the plentiful giving of the Godhead’s loving bond poured out and extended beyond the borders (see John 3:16).
This is why in Isaiah 6 we see Yahweh approaching the prophet in order to send him as a messenger to call a hard necked people to repentance. Yahweh could without hesitation swiftly bring them all to end. Instead he extends his grace to them by giving a prophet in their own tongue with the call of faith and repentance on his lips that they would enter his covenant love, a love flowing out from Yahweh’s triune community of deferential goodness.
The Advent is a trinitarian business.
– Lo, How A Rose ‘Er Blooming –
From tender stem hath sprung!
Of Jesse’s lineage coming
As men of old have sung.
It came, a flower bright,
Amid the cold of winter
When half-gone was the night.
Isaiah ’twas foretold it,
The Rose I have in mind:
With Mary we behold it,
The virgin mother kind.
To show God’s love aright
She bore to men a Savior
When half-gone was the night.
This Flower, whose fragrance tender
With sweetness fills the air,
Dispels with glorious splendor
The darkness everywhere.
True man, yet very God,
From sin and death He saves us
And lightens every load