Understanding The Trinity

We Cannot Fully Comprehend God

Before we examine what the Bible says about the nature of God, we must first humbly admit that God is an infinite being, while we are finite.  It would be presumptuous to assume that we could completely grasp the nature of an infinite God. Our limited minds are not big enough to fully understand a far, far greater being. Romans 11:33-34 says:  “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?”  God is unsearchable! His paths – his way of doing things – cannot be traced out by us. How can we know his mind? How could any of us presume to be his counselor – to dictate the truth to God?

The Basic Idea of the Trinity

Yet God has chosen to reveal something about himself to us.  Humbly we search the pages of his Word, the Bible, to discover what God has said about himself.  The word “trinity” is not found in the Bible. But the concept is there. In fact, it is the only view that takes full account of everything the Bible reveals about who God is.  In short, the Bible clearly teaches that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are all divine persons. At the same time, it also teaches that there is only one God.  Thus the Bible presents the doctrine of the Trinity: that God is one being, existing in three persons. Even though it may not fully make sense to our limited human minds, we accept it because it is revealed in the Word of God.  Let’s examine the biblical teaching in more detail. (All quotes are from the New International Version of the Bible.)

The Father Is God

The Bible speaks of God as the Father. In the Old Testament, Deuteronomy 32:6 says, “Is the Lord not your Father, your Creator, who made you and formed you?” Isaiah 63:16 adds: “You, O Lord, are our Father, our Redeemer from of old is your name.”  The Father is also revealed as a distinct person in the New Testament. In John 8:54, Jesus told the Jews, “My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me.” Thus the Father is God.

The Son Is God

The Bible teaches that Jesus Christ is a separate person from the Father and that he is also God.  He is called “Immanuel,” meaning “God with us” (Matthew 1:25). Hebrews 1:8 says, “But about the Son he says, Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever.” Romans 9:5 speaks of “Christ, who is God over all, forever praised!”  Perhaps the clearest biblical statement is John 1:1, which states, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” John 1:14 then reveals “the Word” to be Jesus. Thus Jesus Christ is God.

The Holy Spirit Is God

The Holy Spirit is also a divine person. The Bible never specifically calls him “God,” but it does portray him as all-knowing (1 Corinthians 2:1-11) and eternal (Hebrews 9:14).  He is given divine titles: the Spirit of Christ (1 Peter 1:11), the Spirit of the Lord (Isaiah 11:2), the Spirit of grace (Zechariah 12:10) and the Spirit of holiness (Romans 1:4).  Acts 5:3-4 equates lying to the Holy Spirit with lying to God.  The Holy Spirit is also spoken of as equivalent to the Father and the Son in Matthew 28:19 and 2 Corinthians 13:14.  The Holy Spirit is seen in the Bible doing things that properly belong to God, such as convicting of sin (John 16:7-8) and providing guidance (John 16;13). Thus we rightly conclude that the Holy Spirit is God.

Yet There Is Only One God

The Father is God. The Son is God. The Spirit is God. The three are distinct and separate persons. But the Scripture also clearly teaches that there is only one God.  Deuteronomy 6:4 defines the oneness of God: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” Whether he is called by his Hebrew name Jehovah (English “Lord”) or Elohim (“God”), there is only one God. The Lord our God is one in his nature or essence.  God spoke to the prophet Isaiah in unmistakable terms about himself:  “Before me no god was formed, nor will there be one after me” (Isaiah 43:10).  “I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God” (Isaiah 44:6).  “Is there any God besides me? No, there is no other Rock; I know not one” (Isaiah 44:8).  “Surely God is with you, and there is no other; there is no other god” (Isaiah 45:14).  “There is no God apart from me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none but me.”(Isaiah 45:21).  “I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me” (Isaiah 46:9).  In these clear statements, God testifies that he is not merely the God of our world, or the God with whom we have to do. In his infinite knowledge, he knows of no other gods – period!

But who is speaking in these Isaiah passages? If it is one member of the Godhead, does it mean that the other two do not exist, or that they are not God? No, it is God – Father, Son and Spirit – speaking as one being.  The New Testament adds more evidence. 1 Timothy 1:17 says: “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.”  1 Corinthians 8:4 adds: “So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one.”  When he says “there is no God but one,” which one does the writer mean? Is the Father or the Son “the only God”? In fact, the apostle is not speaking of either the Father, Son or Spirit as a separate person, but only of the one God who encompasses them all.

Supporting Scripture

Several other passages in the Bible make sense in light of this view of God and help support it. From the Old Testament: “The Lord God said, The man has now become like on of us…” (Genesis 3:22).  “But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building. The Lord said, Come, let us go down and confuse their language…” (Genesis 11:5-7).  Both of these are early hints of plurality in the oneness of God. The Lord (singular – not Lords or Gods) spoke of himself as “us” (plural – not me or I).

Consider also supporting passages found in the New Testament: “For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him [Jesus]; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his Father, making himself equal with God” (John 5:18).  In this case, the Jews wanted to execute Jesus for blasphemy because he claimed oneness with the Father. They accurately understood that he was “making himself equal with God.”

“Jesus answered, I and the Father are one. Again the Jews picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me? We are not stoning you for any of these, replied the Jews, but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.” (John 10:30-33).  Here, when Jesus said, I and the Father are one, the Jews would not have accused him of blasphemy and tried to kill him if he had meant oneness only in will or purpose or some other, lesser fashion. They understood that he was claiming a more essential kind of union with the Father.

“Jesus said, Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day: he saw it and was glad. You are not yet fifty years old, the Jews said to him, and you have seen Abraham! I tell you the truth, Jesus answered, before Abraham was, I am! At this they picked up stones to stone him” (John 8:56-58).  Here, when Jesus said, Before Abraham was, I am! he identified himself as the God who appeared to Moses – the God who named himself in Exodus 3:14: “This is what you are to say to the Israelites: I AM has sent me to you.”  The Jews were outraged because Jesus called himself by the name of the God of the Old Testament. They understood quite clearly that he was equating himself with the God of the Exodus.  These verses do more than show that Jesus is God. They all point to a oneness between Jesus and God the Father that extends to their very identity.

Affirming All of God’s Word

How do we reconcile this data? The Bible teaches that the Father is God, the Son is God, the Spirit is God. Yet it also teaches that there is only one God.  Again, we must affirm all that the Word of God says. We cannot with integrity ignore or deny any of these biblical claims. They must all be held equally valid and authoritative – whether we fully understand them or not.  To reject what the Bible says just because we cannot figure it out, or because it does not fit some preconceived idea we have of what makes sense, is to say that our intellect is a greater source of truth than the inspired Word of an infinite God.  The biblical evidence does not allow us to confuse the three persons of God. They are separate. This confusion of persons takes place whenever someone asks, Who was Jesus praying to in the Garden of Gethsemane? The answer is simple: he was praying to his Father, not to himself. Because the Father is not the Son. The Son is not the Spirit. The Spirit is not the Father.  Nor does the biblical evidence allow us to divide the nature or essence of God. This division takes place whenever someone asserts that there are three Gods in the Godhead. As human beings, we are unipersonal. The only thing we have ever experienced is for one person to exist as one being. But there is no reason why the divine being cannot be tripersonal. According to the Bible, God must exist in three persons without dividing those three persons into three separate Gods.  It may be more convenient to minimize either the oneness of God or the deity of the three persons. But to do so puts us in authority over the Bible, instead of letting God’s Word inform us about what is true. Whatever God has said, we must believe.

Conclusion

To understand how we can uphold these seemingly opposite truths, consider the following illustration.  Imagine yourself suspended in a barn high above the ground. In each hand, you hold a rope to keep from falling. You dare not let either hand slip, for you know that high in the rafters, up in the shadows where you can only dimly see, the ropes in both hands stretch over a pulley. What seem to be two ropes are really not two at all, but only one. If you let go of the rope in either hand, you will fall.  In a similar way, the truth about God also has two equally important sides. In one hand is the fact that three persons are God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In the other hand is the fact that there is only one God. Yet somewhere up there, in the realm of the infinite where we cannot fully see, there is only one truth. If we dismiss or minimize either side of it, we have lost the whole and we will fall.

Thus we humbly accept the truth God has revealed about himself to our finite minds in the Bible. The infinite God is one being existing in three persons.  And if we cannot figure God out, then let us bow in worship before One who is infinitely greater than ourselves.

For a more visual explanation of the Trinity, see this infographic.

For a more in-depth treatment of this topic, go to: www.irr.org/mit/trinity1.html

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.