Bavinck: Our Knowledge Of The Trinity Is Only Grounded In Scripture

Now, over against all those who want to base the doctrine of the Trinity on rational grounds, we must undoubtedly maintain that we owe our knowledge of this doctrine solely to God’s special revelation. Scripture alone is the final ground for the doctrine of the Trinity. Reason can at most somewhat clarify this doctrine a posteriori. Nevertheless, the arguments advanced to shed light on the dogma of the Trinity are not devoid of all value. In the first place, Scripture itself gives us the freedom to use them when it says that the entire creation and especially humankind is a work of the triune God. Certainly, all God’s works ad extra are undivided and common to all three persons. Prominent in these works, therefore, is the oneness of God rather than the distinction of the persons. In this unity, however, the diversity cannot be lacking. For Scripture itself points to this truth by saying that all created beings will show these imprints and human beings will exhibit the image of the triune God. Hence, however much the revelation of God in his works has been shrouded and our mind’s eye has been darkened by sin, it cannot a priori be denied that the mind, illumined by revelation, can discover in nature the imprints of the God whom it has come to know from Scripture as triune in his mode of existence and actions. Furthermore, though none of these arguments is capable of proving the dogma of the Trinity, and none can or may be the basis for our faith (we would be abandoning the truth to the ridicule of our opponents if we accepted it on such feeble grounds as reason can produce), yet these arguments can serve to refute various objections that have been lodged against the dogma.214 They can show that what Scripture teaches us is neither impossible nor absurd and demonstrate that the belief of our opponents is ill-grounded and contrary to reason itself.

—Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics: God and Creation, vol. 2, trans. John Bolt and John Vriend (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004), 329–30.

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Why Analogies And Illustrations Of The Trinity Fail

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  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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  1. I will try to avoid anything that might be misconstrued. Having said that, I have misgivings about the way the PRC defines the Trinity. I cannot agree with the generation of essence (eternal or in time) concerning the deity of Christ. But it seems that that is what they are saying in their literature. I am at the moment reading Brannon Ellis’s “Calvin, Classical Trinitarianism, & The Aseity of the Son.” I don’t believe that Ellis supports the idea that Calvin abandoned the Nicene Creed. I think he believes that Calvin did not support the language of the Nicene. It is the eternal generation of the Person of the Son and not that of the Essence which all three Persons have equally and identically. They are One God!

    • With Ellis, I believe that Calvin was attempting (successfully, I think) to uphold the doctrine of the Trinity by way of divine revelation and not (to be tied to) the language of the Creeds. The Latin and Greek use of “ruled Trinitarian language” can be confusing because some things are lost in move from Greek to Latin terms – historically and linguistically speaking.

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