Reflections of a Political Economist: Selected Articles on Government Policies and Political Processes

By William A. Niskanen | Go to book overview

41. A Personal Reflection on the Trinity

Good morning. Today is Trinity Sunday, the sermon for which many rectors assign to a seminarian. For the church has never been very clear about the doctrine of the trinity, and a seminarian would at least remember the orthodox version.

My brief remarks this morning summarize how this one lay Christian has come to terms with the Nicene Creed. I must acknowledge that I have repeated the Creed almost every Sunday for years but with little more understanding or conviction than when I sang the Creed twice last weekend—in Church Slavonic! As a lay Christian, I do not have the education of a seminarian or the disciplined reflections of an ordained minister. As a consequence, I recognize that my understanding of the several sources of Christian authority on this issue is only “as through a glass darkly.”

As a former Baptist, I am first inclined to look to the authority of the Scriptures. As it turns out, the Scriptures do not provide very clear guidance on the doctrine of the trinity. The word “trinity” is not included in the New Testament. The most explicit description of the trinity is a passage in the First Epistle of John that “There are three that bear witness in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Spirit, and these three are one.”

The problem is that there is no record of this passage in the early Greek manuscripts; this passage is almost surely an insertion by Jerome or some later Latin scholar. And the doctrine of the trinity may also reflect a misleading translation. Both the Greek and Latin words that have been translated as “persons,” as in “One God in Three Persons,” would be more accurately translated as “masks,” as in “One God in Three Masks.”

This lay sermon was presented on Trinity Sunday in June 2006 to Christ Church,
Washington Parish in Washington, D.C.

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