What the Bible teaches us about … The Trinity
More than half the world’s population believes in One God – Jews, Christians and Muslims. If we add all those who believe in a Supreme Being or force the number rises even higher.
Q> If we all believe in One God what is one of the things that makes Christianity distinctive – in regard to the being of God?
Among other things, our belief in the Trinity.
The Next question is –
Q> Where in the Bible do we read about the Trinity? In Which text do we find the word Trinity?
The answer is that the word ‘Trinity’ does not appear in any text in the Bible.
How then do we arrive at this Christian belief in the Trinity?
It seems to me that it is so unique, so profound and difficult to explain that no human mind could have thought it up. Yet if we are going to be true to what the Bible teaches we have to accept the following statements about the being of God:-
There is one God.
God is three ‘persons’.
Each ‘person’ is God.
Q> How is it possible to say that the Father, the Son, the Spirit IS one?
It is like saying 1+1+1=1.
It is difficult, if not impossible, for our limited, finite minds to understand. It is trying to explain the inexplicable.
Ever tried to explain the Trinity to an unbeliever?
Q> If it is so difficult to understand and explain how can we be sure that it is true?
The knowledge of One God who is at the same time three persons could hardly have been a human invention – it could only have come through the revelation of scripture.
The ONE GOD is not a simple unity, but a complex unity of Father, Son and Spirit.
- 1. ONE GOD – A COMPLEX UNITY
Both the OT and NT are adamant the there is only one true God.
4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. (NIV)
Look at Isaiah 45 – scan through and read out any verses that assert God’s oneness.
The worship of others creatures, beings, idols etc. is condemned in scripture.
In the NT – 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10 9 for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead — Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath. (NIV)
1 Timothy 2:5 5 For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, (NIV)
Romans 3:30 30 since there is only one God, ………
1 Corinthians 8:6 6 yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; ………
There is no difficulty believing that God is one – we have no difficulty agreeing this with Jews and Muslims.
We have difficulty when we claim that God is ‘Three In Unity’
- 2. GOD IS THREE ‘PERSONS’
In the OT.
There are strong hints of this Tri-unity within the OT. These are not sufficient for us to understand the teaching about the Trinity but they do point in that direction.
There are occasions in the OT where God refers to himself in the plural.
Q> Can anyone give references to this?
Genesis 1:26 26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, ….
Genesis 3:22 22 And the LORD God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. …. (NIV)
Genesis 11:7 7 Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.” (NIV)
8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” (NIV)
There are reference to the Angel of the Lord – not an angel messenger but some who is identified with God and yet distinct from him.
Exodus 3:2-6 2 There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. 3 So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight — why the bush does not burn up.”
4 When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!”
And Moses said, “Here I am.”
5 “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” 6 Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God. (NIV)
[Also Judges 13:2-22 – the angel of the Lord appears to Samson’s parents to tell them of his birth – in v.22 he is identified as God]
The Spirit of God is referred to as God’s personal agent..
Genesis 1:2 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. (NIV)
Nehemiah 9:20 20 You gave your good Spirit to instruct them. You did not withhold your manna from their mouths, and you gave them water for their thirst. (NIV)
10 Yet they rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit.
So he turned and became their enemy and he himself fought against them.
11 Then his people recalled the days of old, the days of Moses and his people —
where is he who brought them through the sea, with the shepherd of his flock?
Where is he who set his Holy Spirit among them,
12 who sent his glorious arm of power to be at Moses’ right hand,
who divided the waters before them, to gain for himself everlasting renown,
13 who led them through the depths?
Like a horse in open country, they did not stumble;
14 like cattle that go down to the plain, they were given rest by the Spirit of the LORD.
This is how you guided your people to make for yourself a glorious name.
The wisdom of God – is personified esp. in Proverbs 8. In the NT we see Christ identified as the wisdom of God.
The coming of the Messiah who was seen as distinct from the Lord God is identified as divine
6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (NIV)
We can’t built a doctrine of the trinity from these passages in the OT but there are clear hints which are more fully expressed in the NT.
In the NT.
The early disciples were faced with the claims of Jesus – his teaching, his claims about himself, his character, his miracles and more than anything his resurrection.
The activity of the Holy Spirit and the reality of his power in their lives showed that God was present with them. And also Jesus’ teaching about the Holy Spirit, and what he would do after Jesus had gone away into heaven.
There are a number of NT passages that show God as a Trinity.
16 As soon as Jesus was baptised, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (NIV)
Matthew 28:19 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name [singular] of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
John 14:15-31 – Father, Son, Spirit.
Ephesians 3:16-19 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge — that you may be filled to the measure of all the fulness of God.
2 Corinthians 13:14
14 May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (NIV)
- 3. EACH ‘PERSON’ IS GOD.
The Father is God. Matthew 6:8f; Galatians 1:1.
The Son is God. John 1:1-14;
Romans 9:5 5 Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, for ever praised! Amen. (NIV)
Col.2:9; Titus 2:13; Hebrews 1:8-10.
The Spirit is God.
John 15:26 26 “When the Counsellor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me. (NIV)
2 Corinthians 3:17 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. (NIV)
We could spend a lot of time talking about each of these and there are many more references.
4. DIFFICULTIES WITH UNDERSTANDING AND EXPLANATION.
The problem of language.
Q> Why is language a problem when it comes to understanding the Trinity?
We know that there are three – but three what?
The word ‘person’ we use to describe the three members of the Trinity is really a very inadequate term. But we are unable to find a better one.
Person to us means an individual – however we do not mean that God is three separate individuals.
He is three but he is a unity.
Our great problem is the poverty of human speech.
The Problem of analogy.
- The three leaf clover – fails because each leaf is only part of the clover and cannot be said to be the whole.
- The tree with roots, trunk, branches – fails for the same reason with the added problem that the parts are completely different unlike the clover leaves which are the same.
- Water in its three states of steam, water, ice – no quantity of water can ever be in all three states at once.
- Human analogies also fail – a lady who is a teacher, mother, wife – but here we have one person fulfilling three roles. There isn’t an interpersonal relationship between the roles as she is one person YET God is one and there is an interpersonal relationship between F, S, Sp.
There are other analogies – some may be helpful in one or two respects but ALL are inadequate and misleading in some way.
- ERRONEOUS TEACHINGS THROUGHOUT CHURCH HISTORY.
There have been many false teachings about the Trinity all through Church History.
They either deny God is three-in-one or in some way lessen or restrict the deity of the Son and the Spirit.
These go right back to the early days of the Church.
Q> But we still have them with us today – In what form?
JW’s – Mormans. Muslims…..
- THE IMPORTANCE OF THE DOCTRINE OF THE TRINITY.
Q> Why is a belief in the Trinity so important?
Is it really essential for Christians / the Church to hold to the full deity of the Son and the Spirit?
The doctrine of the Trinity has implications for the very heart of the Christian faith.
1) The Atonement. If Jesus is just a created Being and not fully God it is hard to see how a creature could bear the full / infinite wrath of God against all our sin. Could any creature no matter how great really save us? If Jesus is not God then my sin should have nothing to do with him – What separates me from God is my sin and in the end it is the offending sinner having to have dealing with the offended God. Only God can forgive sin – if Jesus deals with my sin he must be God.
2) Justification by faith alone is threatened if we deny that Jesus is fully God. (this is seen in the JW teaching that salvation is by faith + works) If Jesus is not God could we really trust him fully to save us completely.
3) If Jesus is not fully divine should we pray to him and worship him. Who but an infinite, all-knowing, all-powerful God can hear and respond to the prayers of millions of Christians around the world? Who but God is worthy of worship? If Jesus is just a creature and not God then by worshipping him we are guilty of idolatry. Yet the NT commands us to worship him. (Phil 2:9-11 Rev.5:12-14)
4) If Jesus is just a created being and we teach that he saves us then we are crediting our salvation to a creature and not to God. We would then be exalting the creature rather than the creator and scripture never allows us to do that.
5) If there is no Trinity then God as a self-sustaining, self-sufficient Being is at stake. Without the interpersonal relationships within the Godhead it is difficult to see how God could be genuinely personal without a NEED for a creature to relate to.
6) If the Holy Spirit is not God how can he impart to us the life and power and love of God.
There are other implications but these are some of the important ones.
The entire fabric of our Christian Faith and experience depends wholly on the three-in-oneness of God. The Trinity is as important as that.
Our time for now is gone but we can and must continue in our quest to understand in an ever-deeper way who God is and what he is like.
To quote Charles Spurgeon:- “Nothing will so enlarge the intellect and magnify the soul of man as a devout, earnest, continued investigation of the whole subject of the Trinity”
Thomas Watson :- “Our narrow thoughts can no more comprehend the Trinity in Unity than a nutshell can hold all the water of the sea”
A W Tozer “Love and faith are at home in the mystery of the Godhead. Let reason kneel in reverence outside”
John Calvin was right when he said “The end of theology is not knowledge but worship”
God’s Being is not divided into three equal parts belonging to the three members of the Trinity
There are three distinct ‘Persons’, and the being of each ‘person’ is equal to the whole being of God
The Persons of the Trinity are not just three ways of looking at the one being of God
The personal distinctions in the Trinity are not something added on to God’s real being