This is the sixth in a series of articles on the Trinity, excerpted from “What Every Christian Should Know About the Trinity,” available by contacting the MBC or through Amazon.
In seeking to simplify the complex truth of one God in three persons, Christians sometimes resort to analogies – the comparison of two things for the purpose of explanation or clarification. While analogies applied to the Trinity seem helpful on the surface, they fail to do justice to our infinite and eternal God. Worse, “each represents an ancient heresy,” according to Nathan Jacobs, visiting scholar of philosophy at the University of Kentucky.
As Jacobs points out, Trinitarian analogies typically fall into three groups:
Parts-whole. In parts-whole analogies, the Trinity may be likened to an egg, which has a shell, egg white, and egg yolk. Each part is fully egg but not the whole egg, and thus each part is distinct from the others. As another example, the Trinity sometimes is said to be like a three-leaf clover. Each leaf is distinct from the others, but the clover is incomplete without all three. One other example, from ancient times, is that the Trinity is like a single lump of clay divided into three parts.
Parts-whole analogies are similar to the heresy of Tritheism, which takes two basic forms: (1) the belief that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three separate divine beings, and (2) that the divine nature may be divided into three parts. This reduces God to the sum of His parts.