The Trinity and States of Matter, A Bad Analogy

Any time the subject of the Trinity comes up, it seems someone brings up the analogy of three states of matter: solid, liquid, and gas. That always makes me cringe. First, I’m just enough of a nerd to recognize that it’s bad science. Second, and more importantly, I’ve studied enough theology to know that it’s bad theology.

Before we get into this, what is the doctrine of the trinity? The doctrine can be summed up in the following three statements:

  1. There is one God.
  2. God eternally exists as three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
  3. Each person of the Trinity is fully God.

Denying any of these three statements results in an inadequate, unbiblical view of God.

First the scientific problem with this bad analogy. There are a lot more than three states of matter. There are four classical states that are commonly seen: solid, liquid, gas, and plasma. There are many less common states, including Bose-Einstein condensate, degenerate matter and superfluid. And there are even more theoretical phases that haven’t been observed.

Even if we ignore all but three states, ice, water, and vapor are not an adequate analogy for the Trinity. Three states of matter would be analogous to modalism. Modalism teaches that God exists as a single person, who manifests himself in three forms. So, modalism denies the second doctrinal statement listed above, that God exists as three distinct persons. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are not three forms or modes of God. They are three distinct persons.

Yes, the Trinity is undeniably a very difficult concept, but can we retire this overused inadequate, and fundamentally flawed analogy? (And while we’re at it, let’s do away with the clover and the egg, too.)

5 Replies to “The Trinity and States of Matter, A Bad Analogy”

  1. But water itself is made of 3 atoms: 2 hydrogen and 1 oxygen. Whether or not water is ionized, the composition will never change and it will always be made of 3 atoms. So we could take the modalism and say for example the 3 atoms are the 3 persons of the trinity and together they form 1 God (water). The reason for explaining the states just explain how God likes to manifest in people’s lives. Solid was Jesus coming and dying for our sins, water is the holy spirit because of all the scriptural references, plus being “filled” will the Holy Spirit, etc. Then gas would be the Father because we can’t see Him, but that doesn’t mean we don’t know He’s there.

    1. Water molecules do consist of three parts, but God does not consist of three parts. God is one.

      Oxygen is not water. Hydrogen is not water. However, Jesus is God. The Father is God. The Holy Spirit is God.

      It is not accurate to say Jesus is God in physical form. Jesus was always Jesus from eternity past. His form is irrelevant to either his personhood or his “Godhood.”

  2. This is the exact analogy I use to introduce The Trinity to children. Take a vase of water, pour it into 3 cups: one cup remains liquid; one cup is ice; one cup is vapor. The essence of each is still the same (Hydrogen 2 Oxygen), Liquid is water, Vapor is water, Ice is water. Liquid is not Vapor or Ice. Vapor is not Liquid or Ice. Ice is not Vapor or Liquid. The 3 cups are 3 persons. This is the way that God has existed since the beginning. Some people believe that at one time, God was the vase. This is not true. God has only EVER been the 3 cups. The essence inside the 3 cups are distinctive to God only. There is no other substance that contains the exact properties that are found inside the 3 persons. But the 3 persons are all 3 made up of the Holy substance that we call God.

  3. Thank you L.A. I can think of nothing better to explain the Trinity to children than the concept of water, and using the three cups with the water (Person), is a brilliant idea (in my estimation.)
    We are not comparing the states of matter, we just want the children to see that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, although they have “individual tasks”, have always existed as One (God). Water, in whatever form it exists, is still water.

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