Why are there three gods in Christianity?

From Jesus to the Trinity

Helmut Fischer: "Do Christians have three gods? Origin and understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity", Theologischer Verlag Zurich 2008, 120 pages

How it came from belief in Jesus of Nazareth to belief in the triune God, Helmut Fischer explains. (Stock.XCHNG / Robert Aichinger)

Like Jews and Muslims, Christians believe in the One God. However, they pray to God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. “Do Christians have three gods?” Is the central question in Helmut Fischer's little volume, in which he discusses this peculiarity of the Christian faith and explains its development.

Christians are monotheists, believers in one God of a special kind. This is explained by history. Christians follow those who do how Believe Jesus of Nazareth. Christians also follow those who at Believe in jesus the christ.

Jesus of Nazareth was a Jew. He believed in the God of his fathers. He had proven himself to be the liberator of the Jews from the bondage of Egypt. Contrary to all the polytheism of the surrounding cultures, the Jewish creed reads: "There is no god but Yahweh". Jesus did not deviate from this strictly monotheistic understanding of God in his religion. Nor did he see himself as God.

People followed Jesus, followed his teaching about God, which set new accents. In addition, people experienced the closeness of God in the practice of the traveling preacher from Nazareth, for example in the healings. This is what the Gospels tell about, which can be read as retrospective testimonies of faith.

Gradually, especially because of the raising from the dead, the belief developed that God was visible in Jesus. In short: Jesus is the visible side of God. This belief initially fell back on terms that were familiar from the Jewish tradition: Jesus is "God's Son", he is "the Messiah", Greek: "the Christ".

Furthermore, after Jesus' death and resurrection, people experienced the "spiritual side of God", the Holy Spirit. They were certain "that they were filled with the spirit of Jesus and that out of this spirit they could lead a new life." The writings of the New Testament also report this.

In its further spreading and profiling, Christianity had to look outside the box of the Jewish-Palestinian cultural area in order to survive in the broad market of competing cults and religions. While ideas that were more familiar to Hellenistic thinking found their way into the New Testament, in the following centuries the discussion about the God-thinking of Greek philosophy was on the program.

The aim here was to show that God is not just an abstract, transcendent being, but a person. Because Jews, Christians, Muslims pray to God, they talk to him, they experience him. It was also important to make the confessions of Jesus, the Christ, and the Holy Spirit contained in the New Testament compatible with the current ideas of current philosophy.

In the course of this, the doctrine of the Trinity arises, the doctrine of the Trinity of God - the ONE God shows himself in THREE ways. First of all, a "doctrine of binary" is developed, which emphasizes the duality of father and son. This is like the later doctrine of the Trinity

"The great attempt to keep the understanding of God contained in the message of Jesus alive in the confusion of Hellenistic ideas of God and to formulate it in such a way that it satisfied the requirements of Hellenistic thought and was understandable and communicable to the people of the Hellenistic world."

From the "doctrine of binary" the path quickly leads to the doctrine of the Trinity, when it is clarified with philosophical terms that people in Jesus of Nazareth as well as in the work of the Holy Spirit "do not encounter any masks and veils of God, but directly meet the living God." In Fischer's eyes this is not a necessary development, as it is less due to the biblical impulses than to "the inner logic of Neoplatonic thinking".

Fischer provides concentrated and well-founded information about the origins and objectives of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity up to the fifth century. At its core, this is not easy fare. The normal Christian has always found it difficult to nibble on classical Greek terms such as "ousia" (to be) and "hypostasis" (mode of being). However, since Fischer not only explains the dogmatic doctrinal statements, but also defines the larger framework, especially the biblical background and the Christian experience base, his booklet is easy to digest even for readers without previous theological knowledge.

Reviewed by Thomas Kroll

Helmut Fischer: Do Christians have three gods? Origin and Understanding of the Doctrine of the Trinity
Theological Publishing House Zurich 2008
120 pages, 11.80 EUR