The Trinity


In many of our statements of faith such as those used for our various associations, we read something like the following:  We believe that there is one and only one living and true God, the Maker and Supreme Ruler of Heaven and Earth; and there is a Godhead, one in spirit, essence and power, and that this Godhead consists of three persons: Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

This foundational belief is referred to as the doctrine of the Trinity. In this article we will look at some of the evidence of this doctrine found in the Scripture. In the interest of time and space, only a portion of the evidence will be presented.  On each major point, a sampling of scripture references will be provided should you wish to study the subject further. You should understand this is a complex and fascinating doctrine. This article only provides enough on the subject so that you can be confident of its truthfulness.   

Interestingly, the doctrine of the Trinity is unique to Christians.  No other religion believes in a triune God. It is also a doctrine that is rather difficult to understand.  There is not really anything quite like it to which we can point as an illustration which fully displays its character.  As a result, we sometimes neglect to teach it as we should. It is a mistake to avoid such an important doctrine.  As we will see today, the Scriptures clearly teach the doctrine of the Trinity and we should therefore embrace its wonder and recognize that God is far greater than we can imagine.

What does the Bible say About the Trinity?

            The word “Trinity” does not show up anywhere in the Bible.  Rather this is just a word that has been coined to give short hand to the doctrine presented in the opening paragraph of this lesson.  While the word does not appear in Scripture, the doctrine does. 

            The word Trinity is made up of two words – “tri” and “unity” or three in one.  There are three statements that summarize this doctrine: (1) There is one God (2) God is three persons (3) Each person is fully God.  If we remove any of these three, we are no longer thinking Biblically about the Godhead.  Let’s consider each of these vital points.

            God is One.  The Trinity does not mean that there are three Gods.  That is a belief known as “tritheism.” Such a belief is in direct conflict with a mountain of Scripture. Deuteronomy 6:4 states it succinctly “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD.” You can also see this truth presented in a variety of other passages (A sampling from the Old Testament: Psalm 86:10; Isaiah 43:10; 44:6, 8; 45:5-6, 18, 21-22; 46:9; And a sampling from the New Testament: Mark 12:29; John 10:30; John 17:3; Romans 3:30; 1 Corinthians 8:4-6; Ephesians 4:6; 1 Timothy 2:5). 

It is evident from these samplings of scripture that the Bible is very clear that God is one. You might wonder why.  Historically, Israel was surrounded by polytheists.  These are people who believe in multiple gods. Israel was called to counter this wrong view of God. Some people think that mankind was originally polytheist and then came to believe in one God.  The Bible presents the opposite.  Man was made to know the one true living God and then became corrupt and began worshipping many false gods.  God separated Abraham from these idol worshippers so that He might have a people that would serve as a witness to Him. That responsibility has now been passed on to the Church today.

Polytheism was a tool of Satan to confuse mankind.  He later tried another tool – to present God as one, but not the God of the Bible.  Perhaps the most fundamental teaching of Islam is that there is only one God and Mohamad is his prophet.  To the Muslim, the idea of God having a son or that there can be three persons in the godhead is anathema – a strong curse.  But Biblically we know that to deny the Son is to deny the father (John 5:23, 8:19, 10:30, 15:23, 24; 1John 2:23; 2 John 1:9-11).  We see then that it is important that we get this doctrine right.    

            God is three persons.Though God is one, He exists in three distinct persons.  This is contrary to the teaching of some that say the Fatherbecamethe Son, and then becamethe Holy Spirit. No, the Bible presents them as three distinct persons. We see this for example in the command to baptize.  Jesus said we are to baptize “in the name of the father, and of the son, and of the Holy Ghost” (Matthew 28:19).  Notice how each person of the Godhead is separated and distinguished by the article “and.”  This is a method in language that accentuates each item in a list. It means that God would have us know and understand that each person is distinct.  That each are distinct is evident in Scripture.  We see all three listed in 2 Corinthians 13:14. We can find a distinction made between the Father and the Son (the Word) in John 1:1-2, 14. We see Jesus praying to the Father in John 17 – if he is praying to the Father then he must be distinct from the Father. Likewise, the writer of Hebrews tells us that Jesus is our High Priest that makes intercession with the father for us (Hebrews 7:24-28).  The Scriptures also make a clear distinction between the Son and the Holy Spirit.  For example, Jesus speaks of his leaving so that the Holy Spirit might come (John 14:15-31). All three are of course present at the Baptism of Jesus (Mark 1:9-11). 

            While the Trinity is not fully presented until the New Testament, there were hints of this doctrine  in the Old Testament.  In particular, we see that the Godhead was presented as a plurality (consisting of multiple persons). This was evident for example when God said “Let usmake man in ourimage after our likeness” (Genesis 1:26). We likewise see this idea presented in many other scriptures (Genesis 3:22; 11:7; Isaiah 6:8).

            How do we reconcile the idea that there are three person and yet God is one?  Frankly, we cannot.  Our minds cannot comprehend a being that exists as three persons, just as we cannot fathom a being that is eternal.  There is nothing like it; there is no illustration to help us comprehend it.  Perhaps this is by design.  Perhaps God would have us in awe of a being more glorious than we can imagine.  

Each person in the Godhead is fully God. This means that each possess the whole essence of God. Every attribute of God is present in God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.  For example, the Bible speaks of the “fullness of God” dwelling in Jesus (Colossians 1:19). We see this truth presented in a variety of ways in the scripture (Matthew 1:23; John 10:10; 14:9-10; 17:21; 1 John 5:7,8). Many of the attributes of God are explicitly applied to Jesus: Eternalness (John 8:58), Immutability (never changing, see Hebrews 13:8); Omnipotence (having all power see Matthew 28:18), Omnipresence (present everywhere see Matthew 28:20), omniscience (having all knowledge see John 1:48).  He is likewise presented as the creator, the one in whom all things consist, and the judge of all mankind (See Colossians 1:15-19).  

We can likewise see that the Holy Spirit is presented as fully God.  For example, in Acts 5:3-4, Peter speaks of a man lying to the Holy Ghost as lying to God. He is likewise presented as being eternal (Hebrews 9:14), omnipotent (Luke 1:35), omnipresent (Psalm 139:7-10), and omniscient (John 14:26). He is presented as the creator (Genesis 1:2; Job 33:4). There are a multitude of other passages which demonstrate that both Jesus and the Holy Ghost are fully God. These references are sufficient to demonstrate the truthfulness that each person in the Godhead is fully God. 

Why Does the Trinity Matter?

            As we have seen, the Trinity is something that has been revealed in Scripture – it is part of the specific revelation which we call God’s Word, the Bible. While it is hinted at in the Old Testament, it becomes clear in the New.  It is also in the New Testament that we get the clearest view of God’s plan of redemption.  We see how God will be both just and merciful: He sends His only begotten Son to take our place as an atonement for our sins. The Trinity is then essential to the plan of redemption.  It is only through a plurality in the Godhead that God can be both just and justifier of those that believe (Romans 3:23-26).

            The Trinity provides the only means of truly knowing God.  If there is a multitude of gods, as the polytheists believe, we would never know which god to worship and we could not possibly worship them all. Even if there were only two gods, we could not possibly give total devotion to both, even as we cannot serve God and mammon.  Likewise, if everything is god as the pantheist believe, then God is not a person but a force – spread so widely that knowing that force requires knowing the universe! But if God is one in the sense that Islam teaches, God is distant and unknowable as he does not reveal himself as does the God of the Bible. In contrast to these views of God, the triune God of the Bible, in whose image we are made, is touched by the feelings of our infirmities.  He reveals himself to us and is therefore truly knowable.

            The Trinity is also essential for the Glory of God.  For example, we are told that God is love (1 John 4:8).  This is part of His glory; it is what makes Him worthy of praise. But love must have an object. If God is love, who did He love before the beginning when there was only God? The answer is He loved Himself, but not the way you and I might love ourselves. There was a circle of love flowing between the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.  Jesus spoke of this love in John 17:24. In fact, we see later in that chapter, the plan of redemption means the expansion of that circle to include all that believe (John 17:26). With this expansion, the Glory of God is magnified.

            It is in the doctrine of the Trinity we see unity in diversity and through that, the glory of God.  This theme of unity in diversity is beautiful. Think of a husband and a wife, though different in so many ways yet joined together as one. Think of a church filled with so many different personalities, yet unified in the service to the Lord. Think of millions of voices, from every nation, unified in praises to Jesus Christ (Revelation 7:9-12) – unity in diversity bringing the glory and honor due to God.  It is then through the Trinity, that God will tear down the walls between people and unify them with Himself, bringing Himself honor.

Conclusion

            The doctrine of the Trinity is not some obscure notion for theologians locked in ivy covered towers. The Trinity is a fundamental doctrine to the Christian faith. It is a Christian distinction. We believe that God the Father, sent His only begotten son to provide a means that we might be justified. We further believe that when someone repents and trusts Jesus Christ as savior and Lord, the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in them, giving them the desire and power to please God (Philippians 2:12,13).  We are then to give full devotion and worship to each of the three persons in the Godhead. We pray to the Father, in the name of the son, in the power of the Holy Spirit.