There is not a more important doctrine within the Christian faith that is more mysterious to so many than the doctrine of the Trinity. However, I am convinced that God has not intended Christians to be puzzled about the nature of who God is. It is true that we in our finite minds will never come to a full understanding of the totality of God’s nature in this life, but we can come to a true knowledge of who God is through the self-revelation that God has given His people: the Scriptures (Deuteronomy 29:29; 2 Timothy 3:16).
This blog post is going to serve as a mere appetizer in laying a biblical foundation for our understanding of the Triune God. I pray that what is briefly discussed here will birth within us a deeper hunger for a lifetime of studying the doctrine of the Trinity. Here in this short blog post, I desire to accomplish three things: 1) provide a definition for the Trinity; 2) see the Trinity in the Scriptures; and 3) consider how the church throughout the ages have understood this essential truth of the Christian faith.
Defining the Trinity
The Trinity can be defined as such: The Bible teaches that God is one in Being (or Essence), yet three in Persons. The Bible does not teach that God is polytheistic, meaning that there are many gods. The Bible does not teach that God is unitarian, meaning that there is one divine being who is also possessed by one person. The Bible teaches, and therefore the Christian faith proclaims, that God is monotheistic; and this means that there is only one true God.
The Scriptures reveal to us who this God is, and as such the Word of God reveals to us that within the Godhead are three distinct Persons who are one in divine nature in its entirety. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit – One God, three Persons. The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Spirit is God, yet Christianity does not worship three gods. We worship one God who exists eternally (meaning there was never a time in eternity past where God was not God) as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We worship three distinct Persons who hold in common, complete unity, the same being and essence.
The Father never becomes the Son, the Son never becomes the Father, and neither become the Spirit. Each Person of the Trinity is distinct yet also co-equal in being and essence. We see within Scripture a distinction within the Trinity only in roles, but never in being. The Father, the Son, and the Spirit have always and forever will be the being of God.
The Trinity in the Scriptures
The Bible teaches that there is only one true and living God
- “Before Me there was no God formed, and there will be none after Me.” – Isaiah 43:10
- “Even from eternity I am He, and there is none who can deliver out of My hand; I act and who can reverse it?” – Isaiah 43:13
- “I am the first and I am the last, and there is no God besides Me.” – Isaiah 44:6
- “Is there any God besides Me, or is there any other Rock? I know of none.” – Isaiah 44:8
- “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one!” – Deuteronomy 6:4
The Bible teaches that the Father is God
- “For You are our Father, though Abraham does not know us and Israel does not recognize us. You, O LORD, are our Father, our Redeemer from of old is Your name.” – Isaiah 63:16
- “Yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him.” – 1 Corinthians 8:6
- “One God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.” – Ephesians 4:6
The Bible teaches that the Son (Jesus) is God
- “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. John testified about Him and cried out, saying, ‘This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.’ For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace. For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ.” – John 1:1-3, 14-17
- “Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am.’ Therefore they picked up stones to throw at Him, but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple.” – John 8:58-59 | Note: The Jews clearly understood what Jesus meant in verse 58. Jesus was claiming to be God, which is why in verse 59 the Jews pick up stones to stone Him for blasphemy. Jesus is testifying to His pre-incarnate existence as God. Jesus also identifies Himself with the divine name of God by referring to Himself as “I am” (cf. Exodus 3:14). This is one of the clearest places in Scripture where Jesus Himself testifies to His divine nature.
- “I and the Father are one.” – John 10:30
- “After eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then He said to Thomas, ‘Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.’ Thomas answered and said to Him, ‘My Lord and my God!'” – John 20:26-28
- “And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.” – Hebrews 1:3
The Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit is God
- “But Peter said, ‘Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back some of the price of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control? Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.'” – Acts 5:3-4
- “While they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.'” – Acts 13:2
The Trinity: Understood Throughout Church History
One of the earliest confessions in church history is the Nicene Creed (325 AD) where we see a full description of Trinitarian theology. The Creed states, “I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made… And I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life; who proceedeth from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spake by the prophets.”
I believe the Athanasian Creed (5th-6th century) is the best confession that we have on Trinitarian theology. It states in part, “And the catholic faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; neither confounding the persons, nor dividing the substance. For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son and another of the Holy Spirit. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit is all one, the glory equal, the majesty co-eternal. Such as the Father is, such is the Son and such is the Holy Spirit. The Father uncreated, the Son uncreated, and the Holy Spirit uncreated. The Father is incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the Holy Spirit incomprehensible. The Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Spirit eternal. And yet they are not three eternals, but one eternal. As also there are not three uncreated nor three incomprehensibles, but one uncreated and one incomprehensible. So likewise the Father is almighty, the Son almighty, and the Holy Spirit almighty; and yet they are not three almighties, but one almighty. So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God; and yet they are not three Gods, but one God. So likewise the Father is Lord, the Son is Lord, and the Holy Spirit is Lord; and yet they are not three Lords, but one Lord. For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity to acknowledge every person by himself to be God and Lord; so we are forbidden by the catholic religion to say: There are three Gods or three Lords. The Father is made of none, neither created nor begotten. The Son is of the Father alone; not made nor created, but begotten. The Holy Spirit is of the Father and of the Son; neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding. So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; one Holy Spirit, not three Holy Spirits. And in this Trinity none is afore, nor after another; none is greater, or less than another. But the whole three persons are co-eternal, and co-equal. So that in all things, as aforesaid, the Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshipped. He therefore that will be saved must thus think of the Trinity.”
In God’s kind providence, these creeds help preserve the Scriptural teaching of Trinitarian theology. This doctrine is not secondary and non-essential. It is essential that we understand who God is to not only be saved, but to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord (2 Peter 3:18).
This blog post is the first of a 4 part series on the doctrine of the Trinity. In the coming weeks, Lord willing, I will post 3 more blogs entitled: The Father: His Nature & Role in Redemption, The Son: His Nature & Role in Redemption, and finally The Spirit: His Nature & Role in Redemption.
In the meantime, here is a great video teaching series on the Trinity by R.C. Sproul.