How are We to Understand the Word “Persons”
as Used in the Doctrine of the Trinity?

© Spotlight Ministries, Vincent McCann, 2003

A typical Trinitarian statement of faith would declare something like “There is One God manifested in three Divine Persons”. What does this mean? The word “Persons” is often used of the distinctions in the Trinity. One of the primary misunderstandings that people apply to this word is that when they think of persons, they envisage separate human beings. This does not apply to God. In Trinitarian thinking, the word "Persons" is therefore simply used as a convenient shorthand to refer to the distinctions within the Trinity. This in no way detracts from the fact that they are personal, as opposed to impersonal, as God is not some sort of impersonal force, but has personality, will, emotions, etc. All attributes that are clearly personal. It must be admitted, that the word "Persons", when used of the members of the Trinity, is an imperfect term, but no universally acceptable alternative has ever been accepted by the Church, so the word remains.

Even non-Trinitarians use the term “Person” when speaking of God. For example, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society are clearly comfortable with calling God a Person:

"Some find it hard to think of God as a Person...when we hear the word "person" we may automatically think of a human. Webster's Third New International Dictionary, for example, defines "person" as "an individual human being." But it also defines "person" as "a being characterized by conscious apprehension, rationality, and a moral sense." Therefore, one can accurately think of God as a Person without depicting him as human." (The Watchtower, April 1, 1987, p. 3)

Similarly, another Watchtower source states the following:

"While most people say they believe in God, many do not think of him as a real person. Is he? Well, it can be seen that where there is intelligence there is a mind...So, then, the great mind responsible for all creation belongs to the great Person, Almighty God." (You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth, p. 36).
But by speaking of God in this way, and using the word Person, it may well be misunderstood to mean that God is a human being of flesh and bone. This is clearly not the case however, but the point is, that the word “Person” when used of God, is open to being misunderstood. It is the same when the term “Persons” is used of the Trinity.

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