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A Short Study on the Trinity

What It Is and Why Christians Believe It

by Justin Oswalt

The Doctrine of the Trinity is a vitally important doctrine of the Christian faith because this doctrine explains in essence who God is and what His nature is like. It is part of what distinguishes Christianity from all other religions, especially other Monotheistic faiths. In examining who God is, and to explain the Trinity, we must go to the Bible to present the case for this belief. The Doctrine of the Trinity can be seen in the Old Testament, but can most fully be understood in the revelation of the New Testament scriptures. It can be broken down to the following premises1:

1. There is only one God.

2. God has revealed himself as three distinct persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit within the Godhead (Trinity).

3. Each person of the Godhead (Trinity) is fully God, co-equal and co-eternal in essence.


In sum, Christians are Trinitarian Monotheists, that is, Christians believe that there is only one God who has eternally existed and is the Creator of the heavens and the earth. God has made himself known in creation, but as a Trinity has been only revealed through divine revelation in Scripture (The Bible). Each premise will be further examined through the Scriptures, to establish each case2.

1. There is only one God.

This premise can be established through the various teachings of the Old and New Testament. In Deuteronomy 6, the "shema", the heart of the Jewish confession of who God is, is understood in verse 4, when we read, "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one." (Deut. 6:4). In the New Testament, Jesus would reiterate these words as well in the greatest commandment, in Mark 12:29, Jesus answered, "The most important is, 'Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one." In Isaiah, we see this teaching again in verses like Isaish 43:10-11, "You are my witnesses," declares the LORD, "and my servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me. I, I am the LORD, and besides me there is no savior."

Again, we see the teaching that there is only one God also communicated in the New Testament as well. Paul, writing to the church in Ephesus, says, "...one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all..." (Eph, 4:5-6) and to the church in Corinth, "...yet for us there is one God, the Father..." (1 Cor. 8:6). Paul, again writing to Timothy about salvation says, "For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus..."  (1 Tim. 2:6). Many more texts can be presented, but this to name a few.

2. God has revealed himself as three distinct persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit within the Godhead (Trinity).

3. Each person of the Godhead (Trinity) is fully God, co-equal and co-eternal in essence.

For the second and third premises, we need to establish that God has revealed himself in the scriptures as three distinct persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit and that each person is fully God and fully distinct from one another in role in the relationship of the Trinity. The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, and yet the Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Father, the Father and the Son are not the Holy Spirit. Again, we will go to the scriptures to establish this point:

    i. The Scriptures teach that each person of the Trinity is God: The Father is God, the Son is God, and The Holy Spirit is God.

1.      God the Father - The Scriptures cited above in premise 1 can reference to God the Father. Normally, referencing the Father is God is never really a problem or objected.

2.      God the Son - The Bible teaches through the Old Testament. and New Testament that the Son is God as well. (c.f. John 1:1)  "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." Notice the Word is in the beginning, and that the Word is with God as well as being God. John 1:14 then says the Word became flesh, speaking of Christ (God the Son). In the Old Testament, an example would be Isa. 9:6 "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called, Wonderful  Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace", speaking of the Son's divinity. Again, in the New Testament, we see that Christ is God. Paul, in writing to Titus, says in Titus 2:13, "...waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ." Other examples in scripture include such as in John 12:37-41. In this example, John is writing about the many signs that Jesus would perform in the crowd's midst while being in Jerusalem during the feast, but many would not believe. John explains this is to fulfill what the LORD spoke through Isaiah in chapter 6 and 53 of Isaiah. In verse 41, John writes that "Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and he spoke of him." in which John is identifying Jesus as Yahweh (YHWH), the LORD, of the Old Testament. Again we see this in 1 Peter 3:15. Notice how it says to "...but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord..." The word Lord in the greek is "kryios" and again, kyrios is used to speak of the LORD in the Old Testament. When the Old Testament (Hebrew) was translated into (Greek) as the Greek Septuagint (LXX), we find that the LORD (YHWH) is translated in the Greek Septuagint as kyrios, (references came be found in many places, such as Zech. 14:9 as an example) which going back to 1 Peter 3:15, is identifying Christ as YHWH. Again, there are many references in the New Testament as identifying the Son as God. (See also Jude 1: 4-5 as another example. Note how Jesus is identified as Lord "kyrios" in verse 4 and verse 5. Some translations have Jesus instead of Lord in verse 5, but take note the reference to either Lord or Jesus "...who saved a people out of the land of Egypt...." which again is identifying Jesus as LORD (YWHW) in the Old Testament.). It's also important to note that the Jews in Jesus day clearly understood what Jesus saying, since they often found themselves picking up stones to stone Jesus. In John 10:33, we see the Jews saying, "It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God." Another example of this can be seen in John 8:56-59.

3.      God the Holy Spirit - The Bible teaches once again that the Holy Spirit is God. It's important to understand that the Holy Spirit is a Divine Person in the Godhead (the Trinity) and are not speaking of a force or a spirit. In Acts 5:3-4, with Ananias and Sapphira, notice how lying to the Holy Spirit is equated with lying to God. "But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? “While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.” See also Esphesians 4:30, where Paul instructs the Christians in Ephesus to "...not grieve the Holy Spirit of God."

    ii. The Scriptures teach that the Father is distinct from the Son and the Holy Spirit, that the Son is distinct from the Father and the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is distinct from the Son and the Father.

This can be easily seen in passages such as in the Great Commission, as an example of: "baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit..." (Matthew 28:19). Notice that, as mentioned above, that the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God. But also notice here, that the Father is distinctive from the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Each person of the Godhead is fully Divine and fully equal with one another in being God, yet still being one God. See also 2 Cor. 13:14 and Peter 1:2 as other examples of this. Another example of this is early in Jesus's ministry, when John the Baptist baptizes Jesus in the Jordan River. There we see in scripture that when Jesus came out of the water, we see the Trinity in harmony. The Father speaks of Jesus as his Son whom He is well pleased, Jesus, of course, being baptized, and the Holy Spirit descending on Jesus as a dove. Other passages in scripture make distinctions as well within the Trinity. John 3:16, a passage most famous to all, says that "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son..." This is to show that God the Father gave His one and only Son, that is God the Son, showing the distinction between God the Father and God the Son. Another example of this can be found 1 John 2:23. Notice how the distinction is made again of the Father and the Son, and yet the importance of both in salvation. 1 John 3:23 says that "No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also."

Finally, we come back to resolve that there is only one God, and that is what Christians profess and believe. The Trinity should not be understood as three separate and different gods, or one God who has manifested himself in phases or stages as in history as the Father, then the Son, and now the Holy Spirit. The Trinity should be understood as the creedal belief,  "...That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity, neither confounding the persons, nor dividing the substance."3



1There are many resources to go further in depth into the Doctrine of the Trinity. One recommended article on the subject can be found in Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology, which was a reference for the writing of this article.

Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology. An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2000) 226.

2The verses referenced in this article are cited from the English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible.

The Holy Bible. English Standard Version. (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2016).

3The confession mentioned here is the Athanasian Creed.

Athanasian Creed, as cited from the article "Athanasian Creed (A.D. 500)." Slick, Matt. CARM, Christian Apologetics Research Ministry.<https://carm.org/athanasian-creed-500-ad>

 

  • 9 June 2020
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