The Gospel Coalition

Common sense would tell you that the younger a child is, the harder it is to explain the Trinity in an understandable way.

Common sense can be wrong.

When my daughter was 5 we talked about the Trinity, and she explained to me that it's a hard doctrine for little kids (like her younger brother) to understand, and that it's only older kids (like her) who truly understand it.

Now that she has a few more years under her belt (age 7), she has become more confused about the Trinity—to the point where she was having trouble sleeping due to it being so perplexing to her.

On our ride to school recently I did my best to give her some help. Her response was: "You just made things more confusinger."

Humbling.

(Hint to parent-theologians: just skip the part using an apple as an illustration of the problem of induction—apparently it doesn't work well with 7-year-olds!)

Now that you know that I'm a non-expert on teaching at this level, here's at least the essence of what I went on to try to convey, in illustrated form:

Basically, there are three persons, each person is God, each person is distinct, and there's only one God.

One simple way to get at the difference between person and substance/essence/nature is to say that the Trinity is "three who's" and "one what."

To help my daughter try to think through the difference between a "who" and a "what," we thought about some examples:















Who are you? Jasper Michael Justin
What are you? Dog Archangel Human Being


Applied to God, it looks like this:















Who are you? Father Son Holy Spirit
What are you? God God God

































Father Son Holy Spirit Jasper Michael Justin
Person? X X X X X
God? X X X


This at least seemed to help my daughter. At least until next year!


Comments:

Explaining the Trinity :: Restoration Church

October 25, 2010 at 06:44 AM

[...] the best way to explain the Trinity is not by analogy, but by illustration.  That’s what Justin Taylor has done for [...]

WoundedEgo

October 22, 2010 at 12:13 PM

According to "The Doctrine of the Trinity," the one God is a man, his father and a ghost. Children are not as easily duped as adults, so don't be surprised when they say "Hey look! Emperor Constantine's God has no clothes!!"

Now, to be scriptural, you need to tell your children that the Trinity is a number that you have to put on your forehead, and on your hand, or you can't buy, sell or post comments on a Catholic or Protestant blog.

Clarification Dave

October 18, 2010 at 11:32 AM

The reality is that there is NO illustration or analogy that can adequately explain the Trinity, I think we can all agree. The Trinity is a unique reality in that it is the reality of the Absolute Being of God and thus nothing other than God can explain it.

We can proclaim the components of the dogma as the diagram and charts above, but all of our analogies or illustrations break down eventually when pressed.

I still find Begbie's chordal harmony explanation to work the best. I'm always on the look out for others. Stan Norman's Aquafresh toothpaste analogy also has some usefulness. (I went to school with him).

pduggie

October 18, 2010 at 09:30 AM

One question would be, is that if we have "one what", is "do we pray to a what?" or do we pray to a whom.

Can we only pray "to the father" or can we pray to "God"?

Is the unity of God "impersonal"?

D.R. Randle

October 17, 2010 at 10:36 PM

Justin,

Explaining the Trinity to a 7 year old was the exact assignment one of my professors at Seminary (Stan Norman @ NOBTS) gave his students as a part of his theological worksheets for Systematic Theology. As I remember the best illustration one of my classmates came up with was Aquafresh toothpaste. Each aspect of its triple protection is fully toothpaste, but each acts differently, having different roles in the process of cleaning your teeth.

The illustration does break down at numerous points if stretched too far (as all do), but it was far better than the others (like water, the apple, a 3-leaf clover, etc.).

Blest

October 16, 2010 at 11:44 AM

Have some questions about this “Chart?” “Diagram?”
And using the word “Trinity”
1 - “Trinity” is NOT in the Bible.
2 - There are different versions of the “Trinity.”
You have to explain which one you’re talking about
Some versions say there is hierarchy in the god head.
Some say No hierarchy - Father, Son, Holy Spirit are equal.
Some say God is NOT a person. That brings God down to our level.
Using “Trinity” does NOT explain all the differences.

I can find scriptures that say...

(1) There is only one God.
(2) The Father is God.
(3) The Son is God.
(4) The Holy Spirit is God.

But have questions about the diagram...

(5) The Father is not the Son.
..... The Son is not the Father
(6) The Son is the not the Holy Spirit.
..... The Holy Spirit is not the Son.
(7) The Holy Spirit is not the Father.
..... The Father is not the Holy Spirit.

Do you have any scriptures to show this?
Or is this just “traditions of men” that nullify “the Word of God?”
Why not just use the scriptures?

Jesus said, I and the Father are “ONE.”
John said, “God is Sprit.” Doesn’t “God” include Father, Son, Holy Spirit?
John said, The Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit are “ONE.”

1 - Could the Holy Spirit be the Father of Jesus?

Mat 1:18
Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise:
When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph,
before they came together,
**she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.**

Mat 1:20
...for that which is conceived in her **is of the Holy Ghost.**

Luke 1:35
And the angel answered and said unto her,
**The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee,**
... that holy thing which shall be born of thee
shall be called **the Son of God.**

2 - Could Jesus be the Everlasting Father in Isaiah 9:6?
If not Jesus, who is Isaiah 9:6 referring to as Everlasting Father?

Isaiah 9:6
For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given:
and the government shall be upon his shoulder:
and **his name shall be called**
Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God,
**The everlasting Father,** The Prince of Peace.

3 - Could John the Baptist been preparing the way for Jehovah our Father.
And Jesus is the one who showed up?

John the Baptist only knew OT prophesy.
And he was to prepare the way of Jehovah our Elohim.
And Jesus showed up. Wouldn’t that mean - Jehovah = Jesus?

Isaiah 40:3
The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness,
Prepare ye the way of the LORD, (Jehovah)
make straight in the desert a highway for our God. (Elohim)

Mat 3:3
For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying,
The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord...
Wasn’t John the Baptist looking for Jehovah? Jehovah = Jesus?

4 - In the OT, Jehovah, and Jehovah Elohim, is also our Father.
And Jehovah is not only our Father, Jehovah is also our redeemer. Hmmm?
If Jehovah is our Father, our redeemer, and Jesus showed up? Jesus = Father?

Isaiah 63:16
...thou, O LORD, art ** our father,** ** our redeemer;** thy name is from everlasting.

Isaiah 64:8
But now, O LORD, { Jehovah } thou [art] **our father**...

1Chronicles 29:10
...Blessed [be] thou, LORD God { Jehovah Elohiym } of Israel **our father**...

Hmmm?
1 - Seems The Holy Spirit could be the Father of Jesus.
2 - Seems Jesus is called the Everlasting Father.
3 - Seems John the Baptist was preparing the way for
Jehovah our elohim, our Father, our redeemer, and Jesus showed up.

And the list goes on, and on, and....

Nah! the diagram needs to be “Reformed.”Or thrown out...

I’m Blest... because I’ve returned to the Shepherd and Bishop of my soul...

barb

October 16, 2010 at 10:47 PM

For those who don't know, the diagram and a write-up are on pages 2513&2514 of ESV Study Bible(Hardback) - BIBLICAL DOCTRINE: AN OVERVIEW.

Um, Blest, "Jesus showed up"?

Ken

October 16, 2010 at 07:53 AM

Does anyone ever say to their kids "No one can ever fully understand the trinity?" Because, well uh, we don't. Perhaps we could begin with the fact that only God fully understands God and all we know is what He has told us. What He has told us is fantastic. If you can then explain the trinity and not have confusion, then you have erred somewhere.

[...] If you’ve ever wondered how to explain the Trinity to your young kids, I encourage you to check out his post here. Written by Doug Wolter - Visit Website This entry was posted on Friday, October 15th, 2010 at [...]

Martin Ricquebourg

October 15, 2010 at 12:08 AM

I like! A very neat and accessible way of communicating the doctrine. Thankyou ;-)

Clarification Dave

October 15, 2010 at 11:55 AM

Jeremy Begbie, using a piano, has explained it like this (My paraphrase)

He played a chord (simultaneously playing all three keys at once) using three piano keys to make the sound. (I don't remember which ones, a musician might be able to help you).

He explained that the sound of the chord fills the entire room with sound that is unified (that is, it is one sound filling the room)

He then played each of the keys individually. Each key's sound filled the same space of the room as when he played them all together.

Also, each individual key's vibration of its piano string sound resonates with the other keys' strings' sound creating a chordal harmony of unity ("chordal harmony" may not be an actual musical term; I don't remember how he described it).

The Trinity is illustrated by the sound filling the same aural space of the room. All three keys together fill the same aural space. Each individual key fills the same aural space. When they are played together the sound exists both aurally distinctly with each key's sounding and paradoxically unified and filling the same aural space at the same time as a chord of unified sound.

Hope that makes sense and is not "confusinger".

Chris

October 15, 2010 at 11:14 PM

I explain to my kids like this...

You are you.

Your words are you.

Your thoughts/feelings/desires are you.

But there is only one you.

Well Jesus is the word of God made flesh.

And the Spirit is God's emotions and desires.

One God, three persons

Rachael Starke

October 15, 2010 at 11:07 AM

Jr, would it be more helpful/precise to use the term "submission" rather than "subordination"? My understanding is that subordination carries the idea of diminishment or reduction (consider how "subordinate" is used in the workplace or the military), which is certainly not what happens within the Godhead. Submission, OTOH, is definitely a function/action, with no such diminishment attached. I am not my husband's subordinate, but I am certainly submitted to him.

Rachael Starke

October 15, 2010 at 11:02 AM

“You just made things more confusinger.”

I got a various of that same response with my nine year old daughter! Glad I'm not the only one. :)

I'm wondering if a similar chart could be put together to help kids define family roles - as in, Mommy and Daddy are not God, Mommy and Daddy are submitted to God, you are not God, you are not Mommy and Daddy, you are submitted to us.....

In general, it more deeply understanding the Trinity that helped me understand and receive the idea of submission as a way to uniquely reflect the character of God, rather than a consequence of the Fall.

Larry

October 15, 2010 at 10:33 AM

wait...now I'm confused

Jr

October 15, 2010 at 10:23 AM

Andy, you may want to rephrase: "like the fact that there is a hierarchy within the Trinity." Only because some can get confused at this, because it is how a Jehovah's Witness may try and describe it (I think?).

I think a better to say it is that the Father, Son, Holy Spirit are ontologically the same (that is, no subordination/hierarchy in their divinity, they are each fully God); yet there is functional and relational subordination (Father sent the Son, the Son did not send the Father, etc.), which helps us escape Modalism and things like patripassianism further.

Grace to you -
Jr

Brian K

October 15, 2010 at 09:44 AM

I meant to say the third chart.

Brian K

October 15, 2010 at 09:43 AM

It looks like your second chart 3 persons and 3 gods.

Ched

October 15, 2010 at 09:31 AM

“You just made things more confusinger.”

Snap!

What a adorable, but sobering moment.

Daryl

October 15, 2010 at 09:26 AM

"Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are merely three different names for the same person, but three distinct persons. (rejects modalism, unitarianism, etc)"

Huh? Did you maybe ean "...are not merely three..."

Lauren

October 15, 2010 at 08:56 AM

I was told (when I was much older) that it was much like the way one is a daughter, while at the same time a sister, and at the same time a niece. :S

Andy

October 15, 2010 at 08:00 AM

I think my parents conveyed it to me in two simple truths, without trying to reconcile them:
1) There is only one God (rejects polytheism, mormonism, etc)
2) Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are merely three different names for the same person, but three distinct persons. (rejects modalism, unitarianism, etc)

Taken on their own, both are easy to understand. It's the combination of the two that blows our mind. I think it's reasonable to tell a child (or an adult) that since God is so much bigger than us, there are a lot of things that are hard for us to understand about him that are nevertheless true.

As an adult, I still have to remind myself of things like the fact that there is an hierarchy within the Trinity, and that the Holy Spirit is an actual person, not just some vague impersonal Star Wars-style force.

Craig Hurst

October 15, 2010 at 07:11 AM

Our teacher used the triangle diagram in college to help illustrate this to us. The fact that I have never forgotten it is a testament to the fact that it worked well as an vivid instructor.

Terry

October 15, 2010 at 05:43 AM

Thank you! A couple of years ago, the doctrine of the Trinity came up in our Bible reading. I mentioned that the Father is God and that Jesus is also God. My son said, "We have two Gods!?!" I responded, "No, no, actually there are three...uh, wait a minute...that's not what I meant...uh...well, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are God, but there is only one God..." I muddled my way through the conversation, but it was a mess. Thanks for helping me get through it the next time the topic arises!

Kim in ON

October 15, 2010 at 05:42 AM

What a great memory that conversation will be to her when she is older and teaching her own children. She will take that truth with her.

Mike Perrigoue

October 15, 2010 at 02:43 AM

Nice! I'm sitting down with my 7 year old and tackling this subject with her tomorrow...we'll see!

dave

October 15, 2010 at 01:45 AM

Mike Reeves' Trinity mp3 series at TheologyNetwork.org has a similar goal - 'the Father, Son and Holy Spirit loving one another'

Debbie

October 15, 2010 at 01:39 AM

This is just spectacular Justin! Thank you so much and hey....you could also say in your title...*Explaining the trinity to a 53 year old!* Thanks so very much! Blessings~ Deb