On the Trinity
By Nathaniel Bickford
For the past 150 or so years there has been an ongoing debate as to whether we should collectively affirm the historic doctrine of the Trinity. On one hand, it has been argued that the Trinity is part of the foundation of Christian belief and is, in one sense or another, an essential aspect of salvation by grace, through Faith in Christ alone. On the other hand, others have argued that it is merely a construct of the Roman Catholic church, a late addition to Christian belief, an extra-biblical teaching, or even an anti-biblical teaching. This has, it seems, prevented this denomination from fully joining together in Christian unity. And although in recent weeks these arguments have been brought forth anew as we together consider whether we should adopt the NAE statement of faith as our own, there has yet to be an argument set forth publically for or against the Trinity based on the Biblical evidence. It is, therefore, my intent to show the reader that the Trinity is an essential and biblical doctrine.
Before we get started with the Biblical evidence, I would like to take a moment and consider the term “Trinity.” Some might argue that we cannot use this term because it is not used in the Bible. Monotheism and atheism are other such terms that the Bible does not use, but that also effectively describe clear, Biblical truth. Monotheism is the belief in only one God (see Deuteronomy 6:4-5). Atheism is the belief that there is no God (see Psalm 14:1). So should we stop using these terms simply because do not appear in the Bible? I would argue no. We do not need to fear words. Language is a gift given by God, not just in the Bible, but in all of life. He has used it to graciously communicate to us and give it to us to communicate with one another. So at times we come across an idea in God’s Word that may be complex and we want to represent that idea, that belief, with a single word so that others will know what we are all talking about without having to give a full explanation every time we want to reference that doctrine. That is the case with the doctrine of the Trinity. Certainly, that word is found nowhere in Scripture, but the concept is. I see no reason to avoid using an extra-biblical word to explain a very Biblical concept.
So then like the Bereans before us, let’s tackle Scripture to see if the doctrinal development in the early centuries of the church holds up to Biblical scrutiny.
I would define the Trinity with a threefold statement: 1. There is only one God; 2. This God exists in Three Persons; and 3. These Three Persons are coequal and coeternal. Let’s tackle these one at a time.
There is only one God.
Deuteronomy 6:4-5 states, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. (ESV)”
What better place to go than the Shema to declare that our God, the One, True, God is only one. We do not have three God's, as Muslims would charge. We do not have hundreds or thousands of gods, like the Ancient Greeks or modern Hindus. Instead, we have, and worship, one God (Exodus 20:2). He has revealed Himself to us as Yahweh, the Great I Am (Genesis 2:4; Exodus 3:14). To have or to worship any other deities, even if they are viewed as lesser, is an affront, an offense, to Him (Exodus 20:2-6; Deuteronomy 5:7-10).
From that standpoint, this would seem to negate any possibility of a Triune God. How could one God possibly be Three? It does not make sense to our limited minds. And that is the problem: we are finite creatures trying to explain and comprehend an infinite God. How is it that we could expect to fully grasp the being of the infinite God if He would not even reveal the fullness of His being to such great prophets as Moses and Elijah? It was my high school Sunday School teacher that first helped me to grasp this concept. It is as though there is a line drawn in the midst of all God teaches us to believe. Anything below the line is comprehensible by our limited minds, but anything above that line is incomprehensible to us. We accept all that God teaches us, but sometimes how those things fit together is beyond our reach.
Figure 1: God’s self-revelation
2. This God exists as Three Persons.
So if God is One, is there any place in Scripture that teaches us that God is also three? Allow me to list a few verses that seem to indicate this.
Matthew 12:28 “But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. (ESV)”
Matthew 28:19 “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, (ESV)”
John 14:26 “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. (ESV)”
John 15:26 “"But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. (ESV)”
Acts 2:33 “Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. (ESV)”
I Corinthians 6:11 “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (ESV)”
Galatians 4:6 “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!" (ESV)”
I Peter 1:1-2 “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you. (ESV)”
Those are but a few verses in the New Testament that indicate the personhood of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each as Persons with the Godhead. I would encourage the reader to take some time to study Ephesians 1:3-14, which beautifully describes the individual roles of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
It is still possible, considering what we have looked at so far, that perhaps these Three Persons are not equal, or are not all eternal.
3. These Three Persons are coequal and coeternal.
Coequal: this means that all three persons of the Godhead (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) are equal in their nature and being, though they are different in roles.
Matthew 28:19 Is the verse that, in my thinking, most clearly shows the equality of the Three Persons. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, (ESV)” In Greek, name is singular, and each of the Persons is given the article. Grammatically speaking, this indicates that the name is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, together, equally, as One.
Coeternal: this means that all three persons of the Godhead have always existed and will always exist. There has never been a time when any of the Three did not exist.
John 1:1-3 states, “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 were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. (ESV)” You see, John tells us that Jesus, the Word, was present in the beginning, before anything was made. After all he does say that all things were made through Jesus. If Jesus had been created by God the Father, then He could not have been the Creator of all things. Colossians 1:16 tells us the same thing, “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. (ESV)”
But could it be that in some way these three are really all the same one, but appearing in different forms? Many of those verses seem to indicate otherwise, but it is made very clear in the baptism of Jesus: “In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased." (Mark 1:9-11, ESV)” in these verses we can see that Jesus the Son, the Holy Spirit, and God the Father are all present and active, personally, at that one moment.
This is not, of course, an exhaustive look at the Biblical support for the Trinity. Entire books have been written on this subject and I would encourage everyone who desires to search out this doctrine more fully to read well. I will leave you with three recommendations:
What is the Trinity?; by David F. Wells
The Holy Trinity: In Scripture, History, Theology, and Worship; by Robert Letham
God the Trinity: Biblical Portraits; by Malcolm B. Yarnell III
May the Spirit enlighten our minds to seek out the truths of God in His Holy Word, so that we might bring all the more glory to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.