First published in: Apologia 5(2):37–39, 1996
The doctrine of the Trinity is difficult for some people to understand. But this is what God has revealed in Scripture about His own Being, so we should believe it.
The doctrine of the Trinity states that in the unity of the Godhead there are three eternal and co-equal Persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the same in essence but distinct in role — three Persons (or three centres of consciousness) and one Being (see diagram, below). The different senses of one-ness and three-ness mean that the doctrine is not self-contradictory. This is similar in principle to saying that the navy, army, and airforce are three distinct fighting entities, but are also one armed service. NB: this is not to suggest that the three persons are ‘parts’ of God. Indeed, each Person has the fullness of the Godhead (see Colossians 2:9). A better analogy is that space contains three dimensions, yet the dimensions are not ‘parts’ — the concept of ‘space’ is meaningless without all three dimensions.
All things necessary for our faith and life are either expressly set down in Scripture or may be deduced by good and necessary consequence from Scripture. Some cults, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons, and groups known as ‘Oneness’, or ‘Jesus-only’ Pentecostals (not to be confused with mainstream Pentecostals who do believe in the Trinity), are fond of pointing out that the word ‘Trinity’ is not found in the Bible. But the doctrine can be logically proven from the following clear teachings of Scripture as follows:
There is only one God (Deuteronomy 6:4, Isaiah 44:8). Note that the Hebrew word for ‘one’ is echad which means composite unity — it is used in Genesis 2:24 where the husband and wife become ‘one flesh’. The word for absolute unity is yachid which is never used of God in the Scripture.
The Father is called God (John 6:27, Ephesians 4:6).
The Son is called God (Hebrews 1:8. He is also called ‘I am’ in John 8:58 cf. Ex. 3:14 — see below for more biblical proof). He has always existed (John 1:1–3, 8:56–58), but took on full human nature in addition to His divine nature at the Incarnation (John 1:14, Philippians 2:5–11).
The Holy Spirit is called God (Acts 5:3–4), and is personal (Acts 13:2), not some impersonal force as the Jehovah’s Witness cult believes.
They are distinct, e.g. at the baptism of Jesus in Matthew 3:16–17 all three were present and distinct. The Son is baptized, the Father speaks from Heaven, and the Holy Spirit, in the form of a dove, flies down and lands on the Son. See the baptismal formula in Matthew 28:19 ‘baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.’ Note that the word ‘name’ is singular, showing that all three Persons are one Being.
The distinction in persons within the one God means that it is possible for Jesus to be the ‘one mediator between God and men’ (1 Timothy 2:5), and to be our ‘advocate with the Father’ (1 John 2:1) when we sin. An advocate is a defence lawyer, who pleads our case before a judge. This demonstrates a distinction between the persons.
The distinction makes the Substitutionary Atonement possible. How else could Jesus be the One on whom the LORD has ‘laid … the iniquity of us all’ (Isaiah 53:6)? The one laying and the one on whom our sins are laid must be distinct.
Jesus said that His Father sent Him (John 14:24) and that the Spirit was sent by both the Father (John 14:26) and the Son (John 15:7). This also points to distinct centres of consciousness within the one God.
The fact that Jesus prayed to God the Father (John 17:1) shows there was a distinction between Father and Son. Since Jesus was fully human (as well as fully divine), and humans should pray, it follows that it was proper for Jesus to pray in His humanity.
Also, the deity of the Son, Jesus Christ, is further proved by the fact that He has attributes belonging uniquely to God, e.g.:
He is the Creator (Colossians 1:16–17).
He has the ability to forgive sins (Luke 7:47–50) and judge all people (John 5:27).
He sends forth the Holy Spirit (John 15:26).
He accepts worship (Hebrews 1:6, Matthew 14:33).
He is called ‘Lord’ (Romans 10:9) where ‘Lord’ (kurios) is a translation of the Old Testament Yahweh (= God). (Romans 10:13 cites Joel 2:32 which makes this clear.)
And He is identified with the ‘Alpha and Omega’ and the equivalent ‘the first and the last’ (Revelation 1:8, 17–18, cf. Isaiah 44:6).
In the Old Testament, He is the Child who is called ‘Mighty God’ and ‘Everlasting Father’ (Hebrew is literally ‘Father of Eternity’, meaning ‘Author of Eternity’) (Isaiah 9:6, cf. 10:21) He would be born in Bethlehem, yet His ‘goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.’ (Micah 5:2)
Despite the clear Biblical evidence for the Trinity, some cults have objections based on misunderstandings of Scripture.
Jesus said: ‘My Father is greater (meizon) than I’ (John 14:28). But this refers to the Father’s greater position in Heaven, not superior nature. Philippians 2:5–11 states that Jesus had equality by nature with God, but voluntarily took on the lower position of a servant. The same arguments apply to related passages about Jesus submitting to His Father’s will.
The word ‘better’ (kreitton) would have been used to describe superiority in nature if this is what had been meant. Indeed, kreitton is used to describe Jesus’ superiority in His very nature to the angels (Hebrews 1:4). The distinction can be illustrated in the human realm by the role of the Prime Minister — he is greater than us in position, but he is still a human being like us, so is not better in nature.
Jesus is called ‘the firstborn of every creature’ (Colossians 1:15). However, in Jewish imagery, ‘firstborn’ means ‘having the rights and special privileges belonging to the eldest child’. It refers to pre-eminence in rank more than to priority in time. This can be shown in passages where the term ‘firstborn’ is used of the pre-eminent son who was not the eldest, e.g. Psalm 89:27, where David is called ‘firstborn’ although he was actually the youngest son.
‘Firstborn’ does not mean ‘first created’; the Greek for the latter is protoktisis, while firstborn is prototokos. In fact, the verses after Colossians 1:15 show that Christ Himself is the creator of all things.
Jesus is Son of God. From this, some cults try to show that Jesus is somehow less than God. But in Jewish imagery, ‘the son of’ often meant ‘of the order of’ or ‘having the very nature of’. For example, ‘sons of the prophets’ meant ‘of the order of prophets’ (1 Kings 20:35); ‘sons of the singers’ meant ‘of the order of singers’ (Nehemiah 12:28). Jesus’ Jewish contemporaries understood that He was claiming to be God, which is why they wanted to kill him for blasphemy (John 19:7).
Jesus is the ‘only-begotten Son’ (John 3:16). The Greek word translated ‘only-begotten’ is monogenes, which means ‘unique, one of a kind’. Jesus is the unique Son of God, because he is God by His very nature (see above). Believers in Him become ‘sons of God’ by adoption (Galatians 3:26–4:7).
This is shown in the human realm by Hebrews 11:17, where Isaac is called Abraham’s ‘only begotten son’. Abraham had other sons, but Isaac was the unique son of the Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis chapters 15–18, 20), born when his parents were old.